Friday, July 29, 2011

100 Years

Last weekend I had visitors in town and we had a lovely time. One of the highlights of the trip was a stop we made on the way to Grand Central: the main branch of the New York Public Library! Settled on the eastern edge of my favorite midtown park, the library is a huge and gorgeous building guarded by the dedicated lions, Patience and Fortitude. And there are always things to see in the library—including the toy set that inspired A.A. Milne to write Winnie the Pooh! Those stuffed animals have been well loved. This visit was extra special because the library is celebrating its 100th Birthday! They’ve gathered special items from all of their collections into one fantastic exhibit. There is something for everyone! My favorites: original illustrations from The Wizard of Oz, a handwritten manuscript by George Elliot, ancient maps, and historical documents. The collection they have is worthy of any museum! So, whether you’re a New Yorker or a tourist go ‘check out’ the library!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Best Of the Month

Today’s RTW question from YA Highway: What's the best book you've read this month?
This is an easy question for me to answer this month: Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver! Her middle grade debut is exactly what I like in tween books: magic, historical (feeling) setting, powerful but subtle message. In this novel Liesl's father has mysteriously died and it's up to her and her ghost friend Po and his pet Bundle to help her fulfill her father's last wish which will allow him to rest. Like any modern fairytale there is a fair share of evil stepmothers, conniving villains, and happy coincidences.  You just can't read the ending of this novel without smiling. I highly recommend everyone read this when it finally publishes in October.
Stay tuned in the next week or so for my monthly Reading Roundup for mini reviews of all the books I’ve read this month!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Literary Dinner

I love throwing elaborate (cheesy/cutesy/dorky) parties. In college I hosted great gatherings. From my Disney-themed Jeopardy costume party to a Clue party complete with a live mystery to solve, I have almost more fun planning than partying. It’s so fun to think up all the possibilities! And then let’s not even get started with how much I like to bake! Lately, between trying to cut down on the number of sweets I eat, my boyfriend’s interest in cooking, and the random Bon Appetit magazines lying around my apartment, I’ve gotten more into ‘fine dining’ as well. There’s nothing like savoring a delicious bite of something you’ve spent hours in a sweaty kitchen concocting. So, in summary, themed party + opportunity to get creative in the kitchen = lots of happy hours planning! Since moving to NYC my tiny apartment with four roommates has prevented me from showing off my creative party planner side. But these links (here, here and here) can let a girl dream! As soon as I have my own place, a literary dinner party is in order!

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Necessary Step

The Little Engine That Could miniThis week has been about what (nearly) every author experiences and what (nearly) every author hates*: rejections. It’s part of the process and not at all fun. But hey, even famous authors and celebrities are rejected at some point in their career. I put myself out there; I talked about my writing with people in the industry who matter. That’s moving in the right direction. As of now I think I’m going to take a step back and revise more before sending out additional query letters. *Chug chug chug up the big mountain*

*Unless you’re Kathryn Stockett (The Help) who was so aware that rejection letters were part of the publication process that she was jubilant when she received her first couple (not so much after 40 or so…). 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Bad Guys (and Girls!)

Today’s RTW question from YA Highway: Who are your favorite literary villains/antagonists, and why?
There are bad guys: Lord Voldemort, Sauron, Captain Hook, etc.
Then there are bad girls: cold, vicious, manipulative women who will use any means to get what they want. Even with fantastical settings and magical abilities, I find these women more human. More real. More of someone who could really exist. And that what’s really creepy. They’re the perfect villain. Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians), Mrs. Coulter (Golden Compass), Mrs. Danvers (Rebecca), and various wicked stepmothers and witches from fairytales come to mind. My favorite bad gal, though, has to be The White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—she uses candy to lure in her victims! I wouldn’t be able to resist that. Scary, right?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bookish Fun

As everyone in the English-speaking world (and probably the non-English-speaking world as well) knows this past weekend celebrated and mourned the release of Harry Potter 7.2. Some have called it the end of childhood—since my generation was the same age as Harry, Ron, Hermione and the gang when the books were first published. I’ve admitted this before: I don’t watch the movies. So while everyone else was a tiny bit sad at ‘the end’, I was happily just enjoying all the HP conversations happening around the office, with my friends, and (more or less) on the street.

On Tuesday I participated in Harry Potter trivia, hosted by the Early Career Committee at the Children’s Book Council. They went so above and beyond in capturing the feel of Hogwarts—elaborate invitations, flying keys dangling from the ceiling, Moaning Myrtle gurgling in the bathroom, a partial Hogwarts Express. I went as Professor Minerva McGonagall and it was so much fun (even if my team came in dead last. I guess I need to reread the books again!).

Fantastic invitation delivered by 'owl'.

Me and Prof. Trelawney aka Katie, a fellow KT Books assistant.

Amazing Hogwarts crest.

Yummy treats.

Me with a Ravenclaw student, aka Elizabeth a former FP-NC intern.

Flying keys as decorations.

Fantastic bulletin board.

Costumes and the Hogwarts Express!

Want to know more about the awesome event? We were written up in PW!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Query Letter

Sorry for my absence on Wednesday. This has been a busy week—I have started querying agents about my manuscript The Rose of Coracus! And part of that process is writing the dreaded query letter. How do you sum up years of hard work and revision and a 75k+ manuscript in 200 or so words? I don’t have answers. I don’t know if my query letter will get me an agent or not. I do know (excuse the cheesiness) that I’ve done my best and I’m trying hard and will keep trying hard until it works out. After all, “A published author is an amateur who didn’t quit.”* So, drum roll, here’s the letter that will hopefully set me down the path to publication:

Dear [agent],

Shayna won’t let anyone—from her parents to King Morader himself—tell her she can’t explore the city of Coracus just because she is Hilla, part of the hated ethnic group. She has been snubbed by merchants and even assaulted, but could always dance away her anger as the most admired performer in the bustling market square.

Growing up Prince Johnathan had obeyed when told never go near the Hilla. But the desire to know all of his future subjects leads him to see beyond the capital’s walls.

The passion in her dancing catches his eye; his chivalry helps her to trust him. Soon Johnathan is escaping the palace to dance with Shayna in smoky taverns and show her the world she couldn’t know as a Hilla. Even if those who see them disapprove—verbally and violently. They weren’t supposed to meet, let alone fall in love.

But when Shayna leads a Hilla rebellion demanding equal treatment and Johnathan joins her, the couple must choose: sacrifice their relationship so Johnathan maintains the crown and can one day secure rights for the Hilla, or stay together in an increasingly dangerous world.

The Rose of Coracus is a stand-alone 77k high fantasy young adult novel in the vein of Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore. It is envisioned as part of a non-sequential series with recurring characters.

By night I write and by day I’m an editorial assistant at Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Publishers, so I am surrounded by children’s books nearly 24/7 and couldn’t be happier. [Sentence about why I’m querying particular agent.]

Thank you for your time and consideration. 


Laurel Symonds
[contact information]

And thanks to lovely author Jodi Meadows (Incarnate, Jan. 2012) for giving me feedback on the letter!

*Author and Lit. Agent Mandy Hubbard

Monday, July 11, 2011

Reading Roundup

This month I had planned on reading less so I could write more—well, I finished my writing goals (hooray!) but didn’t read any less (not that I really thought I would…).

Fire by Kristin Cashore
I read Kristin Cashore's first book, Graceling, a few months ago. Everyone I shared this with was so excited for me, and most followed up by saying "I think I liked Fire even better." I disagree a tiny bit, but that only shows the strength of Cashore's writing. I adored Graceling; I enjoyed Fire. But I found Fire to be too meandering, full of too many “she remembered when”s and Fire was a less likeable character than Katsa. But the graceful way in which Cashore handles mature topics in YA--the male gaze, lust, the consequences of sex--was admirable. I give her so much credit. My paperback edition of Fire also included a reprinted article from the Horn Book that Cashore had written on creating her fantasy world. My goodness it was so good and helpful! Since Graceling and Fire are some of the closest comparative titles to my own WIP it was invaluable to read what Kristin Cashore had to say about her craft. Those ten pages gave me so much to think about! I look forward to reading the next book set in this world, Bitterblue.

Forever (ARC) by Maggie Stiefvater
When I snatched up a copy of this ARC at 9:30am on Tuesday of BEA, I knew my goals for the day had been achieved. I needed to read this book. Lately I’ve realized two things: 1) I don’t love paranormal novels. 2) I don’t read YA for the love story. Well, the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, which Forever, wraps up, is a werewolf romance. And I adore it. Maggie Stiefvater’s last words in the author’s note sum up my feelings well: “Many, many readers have written me asking wistfully about the nature of Sam and Grace’s relationship, and I can assure you, that sort is absolutely read. Mutual, respectful, enduring love is completely attainable as long as you swear you won’t settle for less.” Sam and Grace’s love for each other is achingly powerful, and Sam, especially, is a much-needed male figure in YA: sweet, shy, with room to grow. He might be ‘damaged’ but he isn’t a bad boy. He is good and real. I was very happy with the way Forever ends the series.

I love the beginning of the description for this middle grade adventure: “Of especially naughty children, it is sometime said: ‘They must have been raised by wolves.’ The Incorrigible Children actually were.” With a little mystery, a lot of adventure, plenty of laughs and a bit of Victorian charm, this book was everything I hoped it would be. The occasional illustrations are a nice touch.

Chime by Franny Billingsley
In this book set in nineteenth century Wales, eighteen year old Briony deals with the death of her beloved stepmother and the mental illness of her sister, both of which she believes is her fault. Because she’s a witch. Various supernatural events occur, but a charming boy from London eventually helps Briony see the truth. I’m a bit confused about how I feel about this book. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews and it has won honors, but I didn’t love it. The reasons, though, stem from my personal leaning towards straightforward books. Nothing about Chime was simple and that’s a very good thing in a world where so many books seem mass produced. The language, although convoluted, was beautiful and brilliantly captured Briony’s confusion and the ease in which witch hunts historically occurred. The overarching plot was entertaining and clever, although halfway through the book I had figured out most of the big reveal that happened at the end. Although not my favorite novel, it’s nice to read a novel that breaks the typical boundaries of YA and fantasy, and Chime does that exceedingly well. (Historical Book Challenge #4)

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
The basic plot is simple: Anna, a girl from Atlanta, is sent by her father to a fancy boarding school in Paris against her will. But then she finds a group of friends, including British-American cutie St. Clair, and discovers that Paris isn’t so bad after all. I found page 1 amusing and observant enough to share with my boyfriend; I was hooked by the Harry Potter reference on page 5. And so it went…witty dialogue, hilarious observations, a sweet and realistic romance. This is one of the best contemporary teen books I’ve read in a long time. A highly recommended read (and my favorite for June!). I’m dying to get my hands on the companion novel/sequel, Lola and the Boy Next Door.

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
It was probably foolish of me to read this right after Anna and the French Kiss, 1) because I WANT TO GO BACK TO EUROPE SO BAD and 2) it begs for comparison. Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes is the story of Ginny who is sent on a wild adventure through Europe based in the instructions her beloved dead aunt left for her. It’s kookier than Anna and takes more risks. I really enjoyed it, but had several plausibility issues, the primary being: why did Ginny’s follow-the-rules Mom let her seventeen-year-old daughter traipse through Europe by herself? Ignoring that, it’s a fun romp through Europe that has more emotional depth than I initially expected. I’m going to pick up the sequel The Last Little Blue Envelope really soon.

Manuscript: 7

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fairytale Art

It’s no secret that I love fairytales and fairytale retellings. They are some of my favorite stories out there—Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, retellings by Gregory Maguire (especially Mirror Mirror), Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, retellings by Jessica Day George (especially Princess of Glass and Princess of the Midnight Ball), Entwined by Heather Dixon and the upcoming The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell. I was delighted when I saw this yesterday; the artwork, in so many different styles, for the original Grimm fairytales is gorgeous. I am definitely adding this book to my to-buy wish list! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Inspirational Images

Today’s RTW question from YA Highway: Share some images that inspire your WIP(s).

So here are some pictures that inspired my WIP, The Rose of Coracus, almost 10 years ago when I started writing it! (For more about what inspired this manuscript, read here.)

The heroine*:

An energetic dancer from a disliked ethnic group with a talent for sewing.

The love interest*:

A handsome prince who wants to learn more about his people…so he explores the city in disguise. 

The nasty noble girl*:

No more needs to be said about her.

The setting*:

 A huge castle on the hill above the sprawling and Tudor-esque city.

I’m really really excited about this manuscript…which is good, because I’m starting to query agents! *Eep*

* Photos, top to bottom: Esmeralda from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Prince Henry and Marguerite from Ever After, Salzburg Castle and the streets of Rouen, France. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Best Places to Write

For this upcoming long weekend I’m heading up to my aunt’s house which is on an island on a lake. You can only reach it by boat. The house is really old. It’s surrounded by old forest and blueberry bushes and the sunlight seems to dance been the shadows. Shared between the other ‘camps’ on the island there’s a historic boat house, a Wishing Bridge, an outdoor chapel, and a dock where the Mail Boat visits once a day. It is, very simply, one of my favorite places on Earth. It’s quiet and comfortable but also exciting.

I’m gushing all about this place not to brag, but because it’s always been one of my favorite places to read a good book. Do I lie in the hammock, dangle my feet in the water on the dock, or catch some last rays on Sunset Deck? I’ve realized now that I have a tiny Mac that can travel more easily than my clunky old Dell laptop that this is also the perfect place to write. I’m not sure if I will take my computer with me on the zippy fifteen minute boat ride from marina to island this trip (I really plan on doing nothing!), but it’s made me ponder what a good place to write is…

Before I moved to NYC I loved the window seat in the sunroom at home in CT and there’s nothing like a sturdy desk that you can always return to. Sometimes I write in bed…but that more often than not turns into nap time. I’ve never tried writing in a coffee shop, but there’s a cafĂ© in my neighborhood that ‘all the serious writers go to.’ All in all, I’m on the lookout for a good place here in New York for me to write—somewhere in my apartment or somewhere in the wider world. What are your favorite writing places? How did you discover them?

Happy long weekend! I hope it’s full of fun and relaxation.