#PBHOWLERFEST

Today, my goodmen, today was GLORIOUS!!!!! In full nerd fashion, I embarked on a journey. A journey many months in the making, and surprisingly, not entirely about the event itself.

 

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Let me back up. Of course, the event was the entire gorydamn point. I’ve been waiting for Iron Gold for what feels like an eternity. And honestly, I probably would have simply waited for the release like any other Introvert book nerd and watched all this amazingness from afar. Except, a good friend called me, and said, “Come with me?”

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And I said YES!

So, a journey was planned. It involved matching shirts. I dyed my hair. I tried to get her to agree to matching tattoos. Spoiler: she said NO! However, she did agree to temporary tattoos as a compromise.

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But let’s get to the juicy gossip.

The event was amazing. I know that adjective gets thrown around a lot. By me. But, it was. When you walked in, they had large prints of all the fan art from around the world, and in our packet was a voting ticket.

Here’s a few for your perusal……

Once you voted, you entered the theater itself.

We also received a packet at the door, with the voting ticket and shirt ticket (if you ordered ahead of time). Our badges were Color coded and assigned us to our Color. I got Obsidian. Apparently even in this fandom, the Fandom Gods want to make me the trained killer. Weird. At least I’m not the bloodydamn villain again.

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Next to the shirt display, they had a small bookshop set up with BookSoup, featuring books Pierce himself loves. Of course I bought one or two, but you’ll have to go watch my Instagram stories in the next few days to see those goodies!

There was a bar, serving PitVipers for those daring Helldivers, and Haemanthus (mocktail) for the dreamers of the group.

Finally, there was an airbrush artist there to make sure we all had the appropriate sigils for our Color.

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And then the real fun began! Pierce came on stage, accompanied by his close friend and actor, Eric Christian Olsen. The interview was incredible to listen to on SO MANY LEVELS!

As a fan, it is always so fun to listen to an author talk about the world from their perspective. Who they see themselves in, who they had fun writing, who they hate. It’s fascinating to hear them describe the world that you, as a reader, are so immersed in. To hear the creator of that world dive into some of the rationale behind characters, plot twists, and world building is always good nerd fun!

Beyond the discussion of the world, Pierce himself is so kind and generous with his fans. He made sure to really reflect on his answers, and took his time thinking them through. His answers to questions ranged from funny, to snarky, or vague to very detailed, depending on the question. You can tell he enjoys interacting with his fans as much as we enjoy intreating with him. So much so, that he is involved in the Facebook group, Hic Sunt Leones: A Red Rising Fan Group, knows who the admins of the group are, and called up the MOST AMAZING COSPLAY EVER!!!!!

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As a writer, I LOVED EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF THIS! Not just the cosplay, although, talk about #writergoals! When he talked about his life as a writer, I was so grateful I went to this event. To hear that an author you look up to, for his incredible writing style and fantastic plotting, doesn’t outline, or take notes. That he also can face writer envy of writers he considers the greats. That he can be a harsh critic of himself or his writing.

I need to remember that novels don’t happen in a moment, they happen in a series of moments. They take time, and then they take a team of people to make them the wonderful pieces of magic we lose ourselves in. I simply have to be as true to myself and to my story as I can be. I tend to forget that.

He also talked about telling his editor that Golden Son had a moderately happy ending and getting a literal WTF text when he faced the horror of the ending that traumatized us all. Or how he had the most fun writing the Jackal, and holds an appreciation for villains. I am a big believer that villains could use a little more love!

If you doubt the sincerity of his appreciation of his fans and readers, just look at that dedication! FOR THE HOWLERS!!!!

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Of course, the afternoon ended when we got called up (by Color) to take a photo with him. Again, he asked everyone’s name, shook their hand or hugged them, and truly made each person feel seen and heard. That is an incredible skill.

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The part of the journey that wasn’t the event, was simply going. Meeting Trissina in person after talking for nearly a year was awesome, but also daunting! Hi, my name is Jena, and I’m an Internet Introvert. And, there’s something intimidating about meeting someone you’ve tried to aspire your own writing to. Not that I was worried about how he would be, more, it’s just scary to open myself up for judgement. I never said introverting logic made much sense.

Anyway, driving to LA and being away from all my puppies and my books was hard. Oh, and my husband, I miss him too. Meeting new people in an intense environment is also daunting for me. But, I am so glad I did it!

The journey is about meeting authors and listening to them talk. Taking in their advice, knowing that even the greats have bad first drafts, and realizing that the glory is in the attempt. Nothing is made from nothing, but something can be made from something.

Meeting Internet friends in real life is the business! It’s fantastic that there is an entire community of book people in this virtual world. But, to take those friendships and conversations and hug them, and talk to them? Words just don’t quite capture how incredible that feels.

In all, I’m glad that I didn’t have to go to Mordor or face the Eye of Sauron. Perhaps my journey wasn’t quite as epic as Frodo’s. But it was mine, and I feel like I’ve grown for it.

The book comes out in three days, January 16, but we got the book 3 days early for attending! Was it worth it? You’re gorydamn right it was, my goodmen!

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Good night Howlers! Per Aspera Ad Astra!!!

2018 – We have plans!

Last year I sat down around this time, give or take a few days, and started this blog. When I first started, I wasn’t exactly sure what this space was going to be. I knew I wanted to explore my writing more, and I wanted to start reviewing books. But I didn’t really know what that meant.

Fast forward a year, and the more things change, the more they stay the same!

I’ve talked a bit about my reading goals in my 2017 summary. I am once again doing Goodreads, and trying the Book Riot Read Harder challenge again. I am going to leave my Goodreads number as is, just as I did last year. It’s a good exercise for me to stop trying and changing my goals. Set them and work towards them. Even if I meet that challenge, changing it raises too much uncertainty in me. I just need to keep going forward. Does anyone else relate to that?

One of the biggest successes I had was in building relationships in the bookstagram and blogging community. I am floored by how generous and kind the people in these communities are! I talk to them every day, and my life and confidence is blooming because of them. No matter what career or hobby you find yourself in, reaching out and developing relationships with people within that area is such an enriching experience. Being able to talk to other writers and know that they go through the same roller coaster of emotions and challenges helps quiet the noise for me. It helps me feel like I’m not on this journey by myself.

I enjoyed posting my bookstagram photos before, but let me say, the experience is 1000 times better when you get involved in the community. This group of wonderful book worms has single handedly changed my experience of social media. Life is what you put into it, and the same can be said of social media. It can be intimidating and scary to reach out into the abyss of the unknown and open yourself up to strangers. But man is it rewarding! This experience was the most unexpected thing to happen in 2017, and by far one of the best.

Life as a reviewer bloomed in 2017. When I first started, I had no idea how to request books, let alone reach out to publishers or publicists to build relationships. Again, with help from some amazing friends, I learned about Netgalley, First to Read, Blogging for Books and began to email for books. This process can seem daunting when you’re first starting but it isn’t nearly as frightening as I would have initially thought.

I also learned some things about reviewing. The first is, careful what you wish for. When I first began, I emailed and requested everything from everyone. And ended up getting more than I could handle. I wish I had requested less and built better relationships with fewer publishers. Rather than feeling stressed out and spread thin. But you live, you learn, and then you do better.

Personally, 2017 was a bit of a turbulent year. We ended up selling our store in April, and at the time I thought that meant I would have more time. Time to write, time to recover, time to reconnect with myself. What I didn’t anticipate was just how exhausted and run down I had let myself get.

The thing about exhaustion that I learned, is recovery takes time. It’s a slow process. It isn’t just the physicality of it. It’s mental and emotional as well. It meant that I didn’t make as much progress on my manuscript as I thought, and that other projects I dreamed of tackling took more time as well. And when you’re exhausted like that, you can be a bit fragile. I found that my anxiety and depression, which had mostly been under control for quite a long time, hit me hard.

Recognizing that I was in a depressed state took some time. Accepting it took time. And finding my way back, took time. Bit by bit, I found my energy returning, and with it, the ability to focus. I began to feel like myself, a self that I forgot about. Because that’s the other thing with exhaustion. When you run yourself low, but just keep pushing yourself, you forget what normal feels like.

So what does all this mean for 2018 goals?

First, I am going to discipline myself with reviews more. I’m going to request less and work in personal books with my reviews. I don’t want to get back in a rut when I feel like reading is a chore.

I want to post more consistently on my blog. Since I didn’t really have goals in place with my blog when I started, I never got into a routine with my posts. Some weeks I posted daily. Some only once that week. But like anything, consistency matters. So, whether it’s a review, a check in with writing, or writing about questions of the day, I want to post at least every other day.

My manuscript is almost complete, and I want to start submitting within the second quarter of the year. This gives me time to work through a second draft, get to some trusted readers for feedback, and to review that feedback. And of course, start the second book!

I am going to become more active on my social media accounts. Developing friendships has been the best thing I could have done. I want to be sure I continue and give back to that community as best I can.

One of the big accomplishments was opening my Etsy shop! I want to keep developing that account and working on projects so that the shop is always evolving and growing. Writing is my destiny, of that I am sure, but working in this mode creatively is a very fulfilling exercise, and I want to see how far I can take that.

Finally, I want to make sure I am taking time for me. I need to be kind to myself. To forgive myself for setbacks, to cut myself some slack, to stop being my biggest critic. Life is a journey. One meant to be lived. Here’s to taking each day, the good with the bad, and living.

 

2017: A Year In Review

Reading challenge: 139/75

So back when I first began this blog, one of the challenges I wanted to do was set a goal in Goodreads, and then NOT CHANGE IT! I set my goal of 75 books based on how I did in 2016, and I ended up reading 139.

It felt strange to me after I hit the 75 goal mark to keep adding to my challenge without changing the number, but I did. Maybe it seems strange, but keeping the goal the same was a reminder of how different this year was compared to the last, and continued to remind me that it isn’t about the number, but about focusing on the reading itself.

Favorite reads by month:

There were some amazing books in 2017. And some not so amazing. I also reviewed a majority of the books I read, and that experience was better than I expected. Reviewing books changed the way I read. Rather than simply zoning out into the book, I became a more active reader. I payed attention to the things I was enjoying and the things I wasn’t. It made me notice writing techniques in a different way, and I think it made me not just a better reader, but a better writer as well.

This discovery was surprising, as I didn’t expect writing reviews to change the way or read or the way I write. It was a pleasant discovery. And while reading books I don’t enjoy wasn’t exactly a pleasurable experience, I also found value in completing those books. Again, it made me focus more on why I wasn’t enjoying it. Which helped make me aware of things to avoid in my own writing.

So whether I loved a book, or felt blah about a book, each one was an experience worth having. Here’s a breakdown of my favorite read by month, and some notables. I couldn’t just choose one!!! I’ve also linked each title to my review, if you’re interested.

January – 9 books read

How to Build a Girl

Notables: Girl on a Train, Tony & Susan

February – 6 books read

How To Murder Your Life

Notables: Red Queen

March – 6 books

Female Of The Species

Notables: All The Ugly & Wonderful Things, Carve The Mark

April – 11 books

Strange The Dreamer

Notables: Me Before You, Simon vs The Homosapien Agenda

May – 15 books

Six Stories

Notables: Follow Me Back, The Last Neanderthal, 10 Things I can See From Here

June – 15 books

Nyxia

Notables: Block 46, Lost Boy, Women No 17, Crowns of Croswold

July – 14 books

The People We Hate At The Wedding

Notables: Spoonbenders, Arena, The Address

August – 13 books

The Reminders

Notables: Fitness Junkie, Emma in the Night, Afterlife

September – 16 books

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Notables: The Salt Line, Good Me Bad Me, Mask of Shadows, Final Girls

October – 19 books

Hearts Invisible Furies

Notables: The Creswell Plot, Beneath the Trees, Blades Edge, Daughter 4254

November – 12 books read

Nevernight

Notables: Turtles All The Way Down, The Nine, Exquisite

December – 14 books read

Everless

Notables: Godsgrave, The Wife Between Us, Gunslinger Girl, The Wolves of Winter

The other reading challenge I signed up for was the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. This one I didn’t do so well at.

Of the 24 challenges, which range from “read a book about sports” to “read a book published by a micro press”, I completed 10 of those challenges. Which is disappointing, so I will be trying this one again in 2018.

It wasn’t listed in my goals, but I did sign up for a few other challenges throughout the year and several read-a-thons. They were a lot of fun and got me into different reading patterns.

2018 Goals

For 2018 I want to do several things with my reading.

First, I plan on doing another Goodreads challenge, which I will update once I’ve set it in stone.

Second, do another challenge like BookRiot’s, to add more diversity to my reading.

Third, read more of what is on my shelves, and only request what I really want to read. Mediocre books have taught me a lot, but they are also a chore to get through. I need less of that this year.

Fourth, review everything, even if it is a book just for me.

Of course, I will have other goals, namely in writing, and hope to get more writing posts into this space, but that will be another post in the New Year!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year!!! Tomorrow the entire year opens up to us, blank with enormous possibility. Let’s cheer each other on and make it the best one yet!!!

#NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don’t know what those crazy letters spell out; November is National Novel Writing Month. Or, it was, when it was November. Aspiring writers of all ages and accomplishments set their goals for 50,000 words in the month. This was the first year I participated in this event, and I was hoping to write at least 1,500 words every day in November, and end with a finished first draft.

The good news, is that I did develop the habit of writing daily, bringing me out of the slump I found myself  in. Which put a significant dent towards completing my draft. The bad news is that I officially only ended November with a little under 19,000 words written.

It seems an easy thing when sitting down at the beginning of a new month. To have a word goal. A goal that, on a good day, should only take a few hours to reach. And yet….

This was a strange year for me. I have been lucky enough to effectively remove most obstacles that have stood in my way to write full time. For years, excuse after excuse have helped soothe the fear I feel when I sit in front of a screen, or dream about submitting a manuscript to an agent. If only I had more time….. If only I could focus on just writing….. If only I had less stress….. And yet…..

Since May of this year, I have had the time, and the focus, and removed a significant source of my stress. I have been able to control my schedule and take control of my destiny. And yet, I have not made the progress I wanted to.

The sad truth is, when motivational speakers and mottos tell you that you are the only obstacle you face, they’re right. And that’s a hard thing to face. All of those excuses may have been legitimate but they were also excuses. They were fear, and once removed, I had to face that fear. I had to face myself.

It’s a daunting thing to actually go after a dream. There is no guarantee of success. There is no guarantee it will even be what you dreamed it would be. There is a chance it will be everything you dreamed it would be.

In some ways failure is more manageable. We know what it looks like, what it feels like. We know what to expect. But success, well, that’s a bit more frightening. It could be bigger than anything we imagined. It is infinite in it’s possibility, while failure has a definite bottom. Anything imagined is always harder to face than something known.

Why am I rambling on about success and failure, dreams and fears? Well, because that’s really what my Nano month was all about. I have already committed to writing, and am nearly done with a draft. But to actually face that fear. That pit in the bottom of my stomach that screams all the what if’s, some good, some bad, all unknown. That’s what has been holding me back and making it difficult to write the way I know I can.

I’ve been standing on the edge of the cliff of writing for 76,000 words. I’ve flirted with the abyss, dangled my legs, peered over the edge. But I’ve remained on the edge, afraid to commit to the jump. It’s easy to come up with excuses, before writing full time and after. Excuse after excuse, when really it’s all about fear.

So this year, I committed to a website with a word goal. I signed up and put myself out there. I joined a writer group on Instagram and checked in with them nearly daily. Some of them reached their goals, some of them didn’t. I didn’t. But we wrote. And we talked about writing. And I felt more comfortable tackling this project than I have in quite a few months.

I may not have reached my goal, but I’m closer. Writing isn’t always about the word counts I’m discovering. It’s about the moments of terror and triumph, and the thousands of moments in between.

I’ve written another 4,000 in December, and each day brings me closer to the end. It’s terrifying. It’s exhilarating. It’s daunting. And then, I have to face sitting down and editing this draft. With all the fear and doubt and frustration that goes along with that adventure.

I can do this. I know I can. Now to go do it.

January Wrap up

While February was an odd month, January ended up being a pretty productive reading month. I read 9 books. Hooray!

Now, I don’t know what the rules are, (or even if there are rules), but #bookishconfessions: Two of the books I had started in December. One of the them was mostly read in January (Queen of Shadows) but Tony & Susan was mostly December. Since I tend towards the rebel side, I’m counting them as a January read. RULES BE DAMNED!

Here are the books I read:

  • Tony & Susan
  • Queen of Shadows
  • Empire of Storms
  • The Young Elites
  • The Rose Society
  • The Midnight Star
  • How to Build a Girl
  • Girl on a Train
  • Conversion

I wrote a blog post about Tony & Susan and How to Build a Girl. I enjoyed those immensely. So, I won’t go into anything more about them.

Queen of Shadows and Empire of Storms were the last two books in the Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas. If I’m completely honest, I was hesitant to start reading these. I don’t know why, I just didn’t ever get around to them. And then there was drama.

I don’t remember exactly when the controversy started, but sometime late last year (I think), I started hearing about all this drama around this series. As I started hearing more, obviously my interest and curiosity was peaked. Don’t worry, I won’t keep you in suspense.

There were two pieces to the drama.

The first is that apparently some retailers released the newest in the series, Empire of Storms, early. *GASP* the horror!

Ok, so I get it. If you’ve been waiting an entire year to find out what happens to characters you have become legit emotionally attached to, the knowledge that someone else in the world got to find out before you is a crime of monstrous proportion. I get it. BUT. It isn’t the authors fault. So, there were death threats sent to the author and things on Twitter derailed fairly quickly. (Which, I feel is the general Twitter experience.)

Cue drama storm two.

Now, whether this was because a large amount of adolescent angst was swirling over the early release or if this was brewing before, I don’t know. But, the conversation got fairly heated over her books lacking diversity and that non-white characters were killed off more. This is actually why I ordered the books and settled in for a five book marathon reading. I’m always curious as to what detracts from a book, and to see if I agree.

I didn’t see it. In fact, I was surprised that these claims were even gaining traction. First, these are high fantasy books. There are multiple races of creatures in a variety of worlds along with several cultural variations within these worlds. Most of the characters aren’t human, and within those non-human, there are a lot of races. The main character is fae, not human.

Further, there are several same sex relationships. While they aren’t the main characters, they are prominent enough to be woven into a decent amount of the story thread. I suppose the argument could be given that it isn’t prominent enough, I don’t know. Personally, given the amount of trash talking, I was expecting a much different cast of characters.

Outside of that, I’m glad I read the books. The first book was a slow start. If I hadn’t already ordered the other four books, I probably wouldn’t have plowed forward. Oh. My. God. Am I glad I did. These books are a slow infiltration into your inner psyche. It’s a set of books that I found myself thinking about at random points throughout my day. And the end of Empire of Storms?! Holy shitballs man.

There are less than a dozen books that have left me so emotionally bereft as Empire of Storms. Game of Thrones series. Red Rising trilogy. The Dark Tower series. Very few. I felt like I was sucker punched and then had my heart ripped out. Needless to say, I will be patiently (#whydoIhavetowait) waiting for the next book. If you can make it through the first book, this series is worth the time.

After being left with a book hangover of epic proportions, I turned to an author I’ve previously enjoyed. Marie Lu.

Her first trilogy, Legend, was one I enjoyed tremendously. She did not disappoint in this series. I was excited to read this trilogy because the main character is one that can easily be described as a villain. I dabble in the Dark Side myself, from time to time, so I strapped in for a fun ride.

I don’t know what it is about being a villain that is just so fun. Even when you know it’s wrong, it’s still fun. Maybe it’s the power. Maybe it’s the strength. Maybe it’s just that we all have a bit of Dark Side in us, and it’s circumstance and chance that separates us in the end. I think for me, I enjoy exploring the tragedy that goes into making a villain. Generally speaking, most villains are not evil people. At least, not at first. Just watch Star Wars. I mean, Anakin clearly had a lot of good in him. Until he didn’t. It’s a fascinating process.

There are also some incredible quotes in this series:

“No one wants you to be yourself. They want you to be the version of yourself that they like.”

“It is pointless to believe what you see, if you only see what you believe.”

“The irony of life is that those who wear masks often tell us more truths than those with open faces.”

“Desperation brings out the darkness in everyone.”

“Tragedy follows those who cannot accept their true destiny.”

I’ve always been a firm believer that reading helps us develop empathy. And there can be no greater empathy than to those who turn to anger and hate in response to being shown anger and hate.

My next read was a change of pace, but the movie is coming out soon so I needed to read the book first. #booknerdproblems

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins already had rave reviews, and was made into a movie, so I was expecting a good story. The use of the unreliable narrator was amazing. I mean, amazing. Any book that keeps me unsure of what’s happening until the author is ready to reveal her hand, is worthy of Book God status.

The mystery and intrigue alone makes this novel compelling. But Hawkins doesn’t stop there. She makes multiple observations on how women can view themselves in today’s society. Both women live drastically different lives, yet they both feel their worth and value is dependent on the men in their lives. But these observations, these inner thoughts are so subtle, it’s easy to miss. It’s also not the point, which makes the thoughts that much more poignant. At least, in my opinion. I’m hoping the movie is done as masterfully as the novel.

Finally, I read Conversion by Katherine Howe.

This book was a bit of a miss for me. I enjoyed it until the end. Beware, because there will be some spoilers here.

The book goes back and forth between two narrators in different centuries. It’s set in Danvers, Massachusetts which was originally Salem. A series of unexplained events begin happening to the girls at a prep school, which are eerily similar to the unexplained events that triggered the Salem Witch Trials.

Now, the narration was good, and the mystery behind the plot had a nice pace and build up. We know that the girls in Salem had made the entire thing up. The narrator in the past, Ann, is actually the girl who confessed, albeit years later. She recounts how it began and how they all got wrapped up in the whirlwind of attention. It’s a fantastic reminder of how hysteria can start and blossom into a life of it’s own.

The present narrator, Colleen, is a girl who doesn’t experience any of the symptoms (at first) and is skeptical of the entire thing. But, even with her skepticism and distrust of the situation, she feels the urge to join in. The thing that sort of threw me with this book, is you are led to believe that as opposed to the confession in the past about it all being made up and exaggerated, we are led to believe that her friend Emma is actually capable of the supernatural and is behind the entire thing.

Except, you’re sort of left with more questions than answers. Which is fine, but some of these were so vague I felt they could have been wrapped up a bit better. Emma, seems to have this ability to direct her feelings and cause these strange things to happen to others. Even at the end, her mother alludes to it. Telling Colleen, that Emma is like she is and it’s better that she stays near home for school because she’s delicate. It seems like the entire thing was supernatural.

What I didn’t like, is the confession from Ann doesn’t mention any actual supernatural activities, or anything remotely similar to what happened to Colleen and her classmates. Or leave a hint that perhaps those events too were supernatural. And this is where I thought the story could be better. How could one be made up, and then the other witchcraft?

Usually, when you alternate POV, it’s because those characters intersect in some way. Other than mimicking the same symptoms, its difficult to see how they intersect. Is Emma a descendent of one of the girls? Were the claims of witchcraft true? There just isn’t anything to clear this up. Which was disappointing, because I would have loved the book if it had been just a little clearer.

I will say, ending up on antidepressants is a much better ending than getting hanged. But, I think the end could have been a touch clearer. Whether it was supposed to hint at witchcraft, or hysteria, either ending would have been better than both. Or neither.

In all, I had a good reading month. I set my reading goal at 75 books for 2017. 9 feels like a good start. Happy reading!

**Originally I listed Heir of Fire as the 4th book. I grabbed the wrong book for the picture. Oops. The writing is fixed but the picture stays**