If it wasn’t for you: A thank you to the women authors who’ve inspired my writing

“The best readers are the best writers.”

A friend spoke these words to me years ago, back when I was still a “closeted writer” who feared her lack of an English/writing degree would prevent her from being accepted in the official “writers club”. At the time, I didn’t really get the meaning of this quote. I mean, I definitely liked it: “The best readers are the best writers.” Well, that’s great, I thought, because I read. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot, a lot!). Yet, as the years have gone by, and my stack of read books has grown taller and taller, I’ve finally come to understand it.

Reading = Knowledge

Reading = Inspiration

Reading = Writing

More Reading = Better Writing

It’s true. Well, at least for me. Reading books  has taught me how to write (and, yeah, sometimes how not to write). There’s no doubt in my mind that books have strengthened my storytelling skills, expanded my creative horizons and given me a plethora of inspiration (oh yeah, I totally just used the word plethora). Now, I can’t tell you exactly how many books I’ve read (500? 1,000? 10,000?), but I can tell you which authors have impacted me the most.

Today, in honor of celebrating women in fiction (#ReadWomen2014), I’d like to pay tribute to the female author’s who’ve effected me the most. If it weren’t for their various inspirations, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.

Patricia BeattyThe Dream Starter

9780688066871What a young person reads becomes part of his or her mental luggage forever! This is the learning time, short but vital to the future adult. That mental luggage deserves to be filled with the best stuff only, not pap. It may have a long, long way to go.” – Patricia Beatty

The day I picked up “Charlie Skedaddle” by Patricia Beatty was the day I became a book fanatic. It was also the day I realized I wanted to be an author when I grew up. After reading and absorbing Beatty’s novels (multiple times), I nervously began writing my own. Admittedly, most of this “writing” took place in my daydreamin’ head, safe and sound where nobody but me could experience them. However, a few made it into a notebook I kept hidden under my pillow, and one even made it onto a computer when I was in 6th grade (a 32-page story about a girl who traveled back in time to the Civil War era…Yeah, it was awesome.). Despite my terror to admit to the world I wanted to be a writer (that confession wouldn’t come for years, after I graduated college), I was able to admit my creative passion to myself. Even though I was only 10-years old, I knew I wanted to spend my life telling stories.

So, thank you, Patricia Beatty. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with reading, and I wouldn’t be pursuing my dream of being a published author.

Marie LuThe Style Guru

9275658One of the up’s (and down’s) of reading a lot while you write is you accidentally mimic the author you’re currently reading. This happened to me while I was devouring Marie Lu’s “Legend”. Suddenly, my writing became clearer and more precise, my characters more likable and endearing, my plot faster and tighter. Ever since that happy accident, I’ve aspired to keep writing in a fashion similar to Lu’s. To use my words and sentence structures in a way that draws the reader in and keeps them there. To weave simple, yet complex story lines around my audience–around and around–until they’re trapped and can’t break free, even after they’ve finished the book.

So, thank you, Marie Lu. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t understand what good storytelling looks like and how to ensnare an audience.

Maureen Johnson & Cassandra ClareCleverness & Wit

17334064And if we get caught, I will claim I made you go. At gunpoint. I am American. People will assume I’m armed.” – Maureen Johnson, “The Name of the Star”

People tell me I’m a funny person. And I’ve been told I can be a funny writer, too. However, I don’t like to write comedy. I just don’t. My comfort zone tends to be in the suspense/horror/thriller categories. Yet, despite my preference to write about tenser subject matters, Maureen Johnson and Cassandra Clare have shown me even dark genres need to be lightened up every now and then. Adding dashes of cleverness and wit to a story can add surprising depth and meaning to a plot and its characters.

So, thank you, Maureen Johnson and Cassandra Clare. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t understand how humor can give any story layers and make it more memorable.

Let me give you a piece of advice. The handsome young fellow who’s trying to rescue you from a hideous fate is never wrong. Not even if he says the sky is purple and made of hedgehogs.” -Cassandra Clare, “The Infernal Devices”.

Laini TaylorWeirdness is Goodness

8490112“I write books for youngish people, but they can also be read and enjoyed by oldish people, aka grown-ups. You know grown-ups? They tend to be a little bigger and hairier than kids. But not always.” -Laini Taylor

Okay, I admit it. I can be weird (hellllo, I’m a writer; we all have a weird screw inside of us, right?). Well, it wasn’t until I read Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” that I was able to confidently infuse that weirdness into my writing. Taylor taught me that being quirky–saying things, thinking things and creating things that make the reader go, “Huh?”–can be a wonderful and powerful tool. For example, rather than having a protagonist with brown hair and blue eyes, why not have a protagonist with blue hair and brown eyes?

“Think outside the box!” Taylor’s writing shouts when you read it. “Like way, way outside the box. Do it, do it, do it!” So, I try. Every time I sit down at my desk, I think, “Be odd. Be different. It’s okay. Laini Taylor said so.”

So, thank you, Laini Taylor. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have embraced my eccentric tendencies and breathed them into my stories.

Marissa Meyer: The Delightful Contortionist 

11235712Even in the Future the Story Begins with Once Upon a Time.” -Marissa Meyer, “Cinder”

I’ve always prided myself on being a writer that likes to brainstorm concepts that are as original as possible. I’m always sniffing around the misty alleys of my mind, trying to find an idea that just might be “the next big thing” in the YA market. I’ve never been a fan of taking already written stories (like a fairy tale) and putting a unique spin on them. Then I began reading Marissa Meyer’s “Lunar Chronicles” and my entire outlook changed. Her crazy sci-fi contortion of “Cinderella” totally sold me on the unoriginal-original concept. Why not put a new twist on an old story? Why not embrace a solid foundation and build your own–original–world on top of it? Being a writer means being creative, and if I can create a spectacular story using a tried and true formula, you should. Why not?

So, thank you, Marissa Meyer. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be willing to open my eyes and see there are stories all around me that can be bent, shaped and warped into something fresh and dazzling.

Rainbow Rowell: Character Jedi Master 

16068905Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” -Rainbow Rowell, “Eleanor & Park”

One of my biggest weaknesses as a writer has always seemed to be my characters. And I think I’ve finally figured out why: Until 2013, I’d never read a Rainbow Rowell book. Guys, if you want a “how to” lesson on character building, this is your teacher. In her novels like “Attachments” and “Fangirl” Rowell has inspired me to dig deeper and reach higher when it comes to my characters. She’s shown me characters shouldn’t be 2-D individuals who entertain an audience. They should be 3-D humans who punch through a black and white page, straight into a reader’s heart. Characters should be likable, relatable, convincible. Characters should leave a dent even after the last page is turned.

So, thank you, Rainbow Rowell. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even know how to begin writing  better, deeper, truer characters.

Kathrynn Stockett: The Cheerleader

4667024If you ask my husband my best trait, he’ll smile and say, ‘She never gives up.’ But if you ask him my worst trait, he’ll get a funny tic in his cheek, narrow his eyes and hiss, ‘She. Never. Gives. Up.‘” -Kathryn Stockett

 When people ask me what I do for a living, I joke and say, “I’m in the Industry of Rejection.” Sadly, it’s a true statement for most writers. I began sending query letters back in 2009 after I finished my first real manuscript. I was so excited, so certain I’d written a story that would get me an agent…Then I got my first rejection letter, and ooouuucchhh! That was followed by a second, and oooh, eeks! Then a third, a fourth, a tenth, a twentieth…That’s when I realized I’d chosen a career that wasn’t only hard, but could very well break my spirit.

“I loved your story, but…”. “Unfortunately…”. “Your story still needs work…”. “We regret to inform you..”. “Thank you for your submission. However…”. “Best of luck with this project and all your endeavors.”

Yeah, let’s face it, rejection hurts. Every. Time. And, I’ll be honest, after a particularly harsh round of “Thanks, but not thanks,” responses from agents, I’ve considered throwing in the towel (or maybe even smothering myself with a pillow). The biggest reason I haven’t though is because of Kathryn Stockett, author of the wildly popular novel, “The Help”.

Did you know Stockett’s bestseller was rejected 60 times before an agent finally gave her a chance? 60. Times! And, yet, after each stinging rejection, she didn’t give up. She went back, revised and then sent out more query letters. That’s how much she believed in her story. Despite the “Unfortunately”‘s and the “Best of luck”‘s, she refused to quit. Stockett’s never say die attitude has taught me that rejection isn’t the name of the game. Determination is. If you believe in your story, you should never give up on finding it a home. Keep writing, keep fighting! (Read about Stockett’s relentless journey here).

So, thank you Kathryn Stockett. If it weren’t for you, I may have given up on my dream a long time ago. And if it weren’t for you, I may not have the stamina to keep going now!

Thank you to all the women authors who’ve inspired me. This short list doesn’t even come close to naming all of you out there. But, trust me, if it weren’t for each and every one of you, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Jen’s Top 10 Favorite Adult Fiction

I thought I would have fun today and do another Top 10 list. Today’s focus: my favorite adult fiction books. This includes a variety of sub genres (fantasy, romance, mystery, etc.). So sit back and enjoy! And if you haven’t read these yet, go read them!

**Warning to lit critics: Please, do not get upset with me. This list is on the lighter and, admittedly, more commercial side of life. But, I assure you, all of these are good/entertaining reads. So, thank you in advance for not judging me too harshly :-).

1. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

tumblr_luaw2lcnxc1qcb6a5The Book of What? Maybe you’ve heard of this book, maybe you haven’t. I happened to discover it while browsing the shelves at The Tattered Cover (the bright red cover popped out at me and I immediately knew I had to have it). It was gamble that paid off. I found myself swiftly ensnared by the 12-year old David and his harrowing journey into adulthood. The whole time I was reading, I was wondering if what David was experiencing was real, or not–if the fantastical adventure he was on was actually happening, or if he was dreaming the whole thing.

In a way, The Book of Lost Things reminds me of a darker, twisted version of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, only we visit a disturbing fantasy land that’s filled with the fairy tales we thought we knew, but don’t (i.e. Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood). It’s been five years since I read The Book of Lost Things and I’m still thinking about it. It’s one of those books I know I’ll have on my bookshelf for the rest of my life.

Read it, read it, read it!

For more details, click here.

2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

554286I loved this book when I was a child and my dad used to read it to me before bed. I loved this book in high school when I read it for the first time on my own. And I love this book now, years later, when I go back to revisit my favorite Middle-Earth characters and their quirky, adventurous lives.

Now, some of you may be hesitant to pick this book up because you think it’ll be confusing, hard to read, and slow paced. But I assure you, The Hobbit is fun, witty and a swift page turner. It’s a book for all generations, meant to be enjoyed again and again. So go read it! It’s sure to be a classic that stays with you your whole life.

For more details, click here.

3. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett 

5826This was one of those subtly amazing books. The type you don’t realize you’ve fallen in love with until you turn the last page and feel empty and lost because it’s over.

From the rebel’s violent attack on the elite dinner party, to the surprisingly poignant relationships formed between terrorists and captives, to the fateful ending, Bel Canto sinks its sweet claws into you and won’t let go. It’s lyrical, enthralling and a true testament to the human spirit. This quote says it best: “That moment when you finish a book, look around, and realize that everyone is just carrying on with their lives as though you didn’t just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback.”

For more details, click here.

4. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein 

3153910Let me start off by saying I love dogs, but I’m not a huge fan of stories about them. To me, they have tragedy and ultimate sadness written all over them. You know–you just know–the dog is going to die. And what’s sadder than a dog dying? Seriously? Whenever I watch a movie and I see a human and dog in mortal peril, I pray for the dog. “Dear God, not the dog. Kill little Billy, but not Fido. Please!”

However, I made an exception for The Art of Racing in the Rain. A good family friend gave it to me as a gift, and after asking me multiple times if I had read it yet, I finally succumbed and read it. And I’m so happy I did! This is a wonderful story, told entirely from the narrative of a wise, funny and philosophical dog, Enzo.

I’m not going to lie, there were sad moments, but there were also many uplifting, heartwarming, cheer-worthy moments. And–after wiping my tears away–I was smiling at the end and telling everyone they needed to read it. So you should too!

For more details, click here.

5. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

7315573I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, which is strange because I love history (shrug). However, Fall of Giants kept me snagged from page one, all the way to page 960. Yes, like Follet’s other epic reads, most notably The Pillars of the Earth, this tale was a doozy. But I couldn’t put it down! In fact, I unthinkingly started it right before I was set to leave for a week-long beach vacation. Since I don’t own a tablet or e-book reader, I made the difficult decision to leave the two-ton book behind and take a couple  lighter, easier to transport ones.

Then, as I was walking out the front door to head to the airport, I realized I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Fall of Giants at home–I swear, it was looking at me like a sad puppy whimpering, “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me”. So, I stuffed it in my bag and shouldered the extra weight. And I don’t regret my decision at all…except for accidentally getting sand and saltwater all over it. Then again, I spilled coffee on it a week later too, so…Poor “puppy”.

Let’s just say Fall of Giants is a well loved book in my household now. And it should be loved in yours too!

For more details, click here.

6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen 

43641I did not want to read this book. I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t! But every time I went to the bookstore or Target or someone’s house, I saw it. It mocked me everywhere I went, torturing me with its colorful cover and proclamations that it was a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Still, I stubbornly refused to buy it. I don’t know why, it just looked dull and boring and blah to me.

Then something terrible happened. I found out Water for Elephants was going to be made into a movie. Curse you Hollywood! I pursed my lips and trudged to the bookstore, determined to read the darn thing, just like I always do whenever a popular book is going to be adapted to the big screen. Book Nerd Rule #1: Always read the book before seeing the movie. Always, always! Even if you’re not planning on seeing the movie, read the book just in case!

So I did. And I loved it. Stupid, beautiful, wonderful Water for Elephants. Your reputation lived up to expectations–exceeded them. Grrr 😉 Don’t resist like I did. Check it out!

For more details, click here.

7. Perfect by Judith McNaught

129617-1Okay, fellas, turn away. I’ve got a romance here–some may even dare to call it a “trash novel”. But, not me. To me, Perfect is far from trash. It’s perfect ;-). The first time I read it was in high school. Since then, I’ve read it AT LEAST five more times. Every couple of years, I can’t resist rereading small town teacher Julie Mathison’s suspenseful, adventurous and heart-fluttering romance with ex-Hollywood superstar-now runaway fugitive, Zachary Benedict. Again and again, this story exhilarates, humors, and enthralls. And it never fails to make my heart skip a beat…or two.

If you end up reading and liking Perfect, make sure you check out Judith McNaught’s other novels (starting with A Kingdom of Dreams…sigh…hee, hee).

For more details, click here.

8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett 

4667024Yes, of course I included The Help on this list. Because it rocked!

Honestly, I can’t even remember reading this book, or who told me to read it, or why I didn’t resist reading it like I do so many big time, highly publicized books (ahem, Water for Elephants). I just know that I read it and I loved it and I think everyone else should read it too! Plus, from a writer’s standpoint, I love Kathryn Stockett’s personal journey to find this book an agent. Rejection after rejection she refused to give up on it, and she proved to the rest of us struggling writers that if you’re passionate enough to fulfill your dream, you can.

For more details, click here.

9. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith 

2161733I happened to find this book–hardback and brand new–at a garage sale. I paid one buck for it. ONE BUCK! But trust me, it is worth full retail price. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction and I’m not a huge fan of mystery. However, this book was both, and I LOVED it, which proves that it is, indeed, a worthy read. It’s an edge of your seat, stomach-twisting, palm sweating story that keeps you turning page after page. And, as an American, it makes me appreciate my daily freedoms and lifestyle.

For more details, click here.

10. Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella 

75576Once again fellas you may not be keen on this choice of mine, but who knows? Maybe you’re one of those guys who secretly enjoys romantic comedies? (I know there are a lot of you out there, even if you are hiding.) Well, this is by far my favorite chick-lit book. Like most of Sophie Kinsella stories, Can you Keep a Secret? is heart warming, hilarious and, at times, utterly ridiculous. But, I love its goofy premise and especially its shake-your-head-and-roll-your-eyes-at characters.

This is one book I wish they’d make into a movie. I think it would be outstanding on the big screen. I know I’d definitely pay to go see it (after making sure everyone reads the book first, of course).

For more details, click here.

So, that’s it! I’m certain this list will change over time as I read more books, but for now, these are my favorite adult fiction books. Hope you add them to your TBR list!

How about you? What are your personal favorites?

Jen’s Top 5 Underdogs

This weekend, there’s a little annual event called the Rocky Mountain Showdown. Now, many of you probably have no idea what that is, so I’ll tell you. The Rocky Mountain Showdown is one of the fiercest, meanest, most nail-biting college sports events of the year in Colorado, when the CSU Rams (woo, woo!) take on the CU Buffs (boo, hiss!).

130730093521_Rocky Mountain Showdown 2013

Yes, I will be cheering for the Colorado State Rams this weekend. For three reasons:

  1. I went to CSU.
  2. I’ve despised CU since the 7th grade when a CU fan spit on me and “accidentally” spilled his beer in my hair for wearing the wrong jersey.
  3. I always cheer for the underdog. And CSU is definitely the underdog in this matchup. Since 1893, our team has only won 21 times. Did you hear that? 21! CU fans never waste a second to point out that lopsided stat whenever the smack talking begins. But you know what my response to them is?

“Never rule out the power of the underdog.”

underdog

Underdogs are the slyest, wiliest and most audacious characters around. They seize the day and sneak in the back door to steal the show. Nobody expects them to win. Nobody. That’s why I love them–both on the football field and in books. When the underdog triumphs, the victory feels like the Fourth of July and a midnight Harry Potter book release party rolled into one. It’s the first day of summer and the last day of a job you hated. It’s melting ice cream cones and purple sunsets. Fluffy beds and See’s Chocolates. When the underdog wins, it’s spectacular!

So, in celebration of this weekend and the hope that the CSU Underdogs–I mean, Rams–will defeat the CU Jerks–I mean, Buffs–I’ve come up with a list of my Top 5 Favorite Underdogs. The ones that came from behind, proved their enemies wrong, and made me go, “Woo, woo!”.

1. Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter

“I’ll join you when hell freezes over! Dumbledore’s Army!” Through seven books, we agonizingly watched Harry’s fellow Gryffindor get mocked, ridiculed and called a Squib. We winced, we laughed and, best of all, we incredulously witnessed Neville Longbottom transform from a clumsy, stuttering child…

into a rebellious, dauntless young man that defies Lord Voldemort and proves Harry isn’t the only badass in town.

2. Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings

“Let us be rid of it–once and for all. Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you…But I can carry you.” Oh, little Hobbits. So cute. So small. So insignificant…NOT! Especially Samwise Gamgee.

samwiseHe may have started out as Frodo’s food-lovin’, plain speakin’ gardener, but Sam quickly proved that the little guy can win. Without him, the One Ring would’ve slipped back on Sauron’s finger and all of Middle-Earth would’ve gone up in smoke.

Poof!

3. Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice

There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” Society–Schmiety. Elizabeth Bennet may not be the prettiest or wealthiest girl in town, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping her chin up and fighting for what she believes in: true love.

jennifer-ehle-pride-and-prejudice-jennifer-ehle-16177700-1986-1980

She stands up to her own mother, evades Mr. Collins and his precious Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and even admits she, herself, can be wrong.

Her reward?

Oh, yeahhh…

4. Peeta Melark, The Hunger Games

“Yes, frosting. The final defense of the dying.” The boy with the bread. The boy with the sweet heart. The boy that nobody, not even his own mother, believed could make it through the Games.

But he did. Against all odds–which were never in his favor–Peeta Mellark of District 12 survives the arenas, the Capitol’s tortures, and the rebellion.

And, let’s just say it, he survives Katniss Everdeen, too.

5. Minny Jackson, The Help

I say ‘ That good vanilla from Mexico’ and then I go head. I tell her what else I put in that pie for her.” Minny’s “terrible awful” thing is the strongest piece of evidence that an underdog should never be mocked, discounted or disrespected.

Not unless you wanna a dash of poo in your chocolate pie.

That’s right. Chow down, Hilly Holbrook!

Underdogs. So many times they are the heartbeat of a story. They are the ones that get you to whoop and cheer inside a quiet coffee shop. The ones you run and tell your friends about. The ones you look up to. The ones you always remember.

Now, this list obviously didn’t cover all the awesome underdogs out there. In fact, my original list had 12 (and that wasn’t even thinking about it too hard). A few of those included Jack from The Pillars of the Earth, Aria from Under the Never Skyand Beatrice “Tris” Prior from Divergent.

Okay, game time! Don’t forget to root on the underdog in the Rocky Mountain Showdown this weekend, the CSU Rams! If they win, the scene could very well look like this.