Little Rock Pilgrimage & Southern YA Reads

Beware the Wild.jpg

Last week I flew with Mariella down to Little Rock to stay with my grandmother. Between the nap-heavy schedules of both a two-year-old and an eighty-five-year-old, I had ample (and welcome) quiet time to read a book at record pace since becoming a momma. My packed paperback of Natalie C. Parker's Beware the Wild helped fill my couch-sitting, air-conditioned afternoons (I tried to take the kiddo to a playground, the zoo, etc., every morning, but by 11 AM every day I'd sweated through my clothes, was in need of a second shower, and wanted only to stay inside till dusk when the mosquitos would chase me back in - welcome home!).

I both loved and didn't like this book and I've spent the days since finishing it parsing why both of these feelings coexist. The reasons I love it hinge on the writing itself and the setting. The novel is set in fictional Sticks, Louisiana. First, I think naming a backwoods southern town "Sticks" is a tad lazy, but Parker makes up for it. Parker's Sticks is populated by strong women and complicated people who are all subject to Parker's astute eye for describing southern tropes, idiosyncrasies, and contradictions. I hate books about the south that either don't understand the south or straight disparage it, and as a broad observation, those types of books are *usually* written by authors not from the south. Parker attended a southern university (is she from the south? I didn't read a comprehensive bio), and manages to include elements of the south's beauty, grit, and ugliness all in a short span of 350 large-type, YA pages. She gets it. 

Sticks is set on the edge of a swamp that essentially eats people. Those who venture in are swallowed whole, including every memory about them in the minds of everyone they ever knew. When a Sticks resident disappears in the swamp, the world rearranges as though that person never existed. But when 16-year-old Sterling Saucier's older brother, Phin, disappears into the swamp, Sterling remembers him. Worse, she alone knows the girl who walks out of the swamp and assumes his life is an imposter.

The novel is the perfect combination of atmospheric and creepy... in the beginning. My first problem comes when the secrets of the swamp are spilled before I'd even read past the first quarter of the book. The tension and elements of horror were lost, perhaps eaten by the swamp and forgotten? I don't know. I read on, though, and enjoyed the novel, but wanted to take scissors, cut out the big reveal, and paste those paragraphs in the back of the book. Wa-la. A perfect, frightening southern YA tale. Someone hire me to beta read, I'm availalble!

houseboat.jpg

My second major issue and the only other one worth mentioning is with Sterling's reason for developing an eating disorder and fighting with her brother. Phin accepted a scholarship to Tulane and Sterling, the dedicated sister, gets so upset she stops eating and lets their relationship slide into antagonism. Girl. I get that she has trauma in her backstory, but I can't fathom being almost a junior in high school - almost free of Sticks herself - and being so upset that her brother is off to university that she sabotages her health and his future. An author is free to assign motivation to a character as they please, but this made it incredibly difficult to like Sterling (ignoring that behavior, I did). 

Back to the joys of the setting, I was so engrossed in this dangerous, haunted swamp that I didn't want to leave it after finishing and spent way too long watching YouTube videos of Louisiana swamp tours and documentaries on swamp dwellers. Not time wasted, though, as this led me to learn about Gwen Roland, whose books Atchafalaya Houseboat: My Years in the Louisiana Swamp and Postmark Bayou Chene are now on my TBR short list. The documentary about her years in the swamp is free to watch on YouTube.

Now that the family visit and Little Rock-tall-pine-recharge has given way to real life in Denver, time to finish the first draft of my YA fantasy-southern-gothic-mashup (looking forward to it).

Hello There, Have We Met Before?

To those visiting my blog for the first time as part of the #PitchWars #PimpMyBio blog hop, welcome! I'm Amanda Boldenow, a professional writer in Colorado working as a development manager and marketer for the non-profit preschool and pediatric therapy clinic TLC Learning Center. This means I write boatloads of grants, ad copy, web content and the like. I moonlight over at the speculative fiction blog Fiction Unbound as a contributing editor and writer, where I get to take part in reviewing and discussing new and classic works of fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and anything else that falls under the umbrella of "speculative."

If you're new to #PitchWars, it's both a contest to work with a published writer to polish your manuscript and pitch to agents, as well as a community of dedicated writers and editors (bound by the hashtag and the wonderful work of Brenda Drake). You can read more blog intros about writers participating in #PitchWars and the #PimpMyBio blog hop here.

Etc.:

There's a lot to be gleaned about me over on my About page (with pictures!), but the CliffsNotes are that I am a former army brat from Arkansas who grew up living and traveling around the globe with our time in Izmir, Turkey, inspiring the setting of my novel In Waves. I have an 18-month-old daughter, a husband, a cat, two dogs, an ever-procreating kombucha scoby, a healthy sourdough starter, and 300 square feet of vegetable garden. I like to grow things. I follow the news a little too closely, read the public comments on Facebook way too often, stay up too late, and have a disproportionate sweet tooth. If I'm not reading speculative fiction, I'm reading southern gothic novels, narrative non-fiction (probably history, and more specifically, culinary history), companion planting manuals, The Atlantic, or travel writing about places my stories are set. My bookshelf over floweth.

As a writer, I have no problem killing my darlings, undertaking massive changes (example: my first draft of this manuscript was 115k words with 1 POV, the second was 87k words 1 POV, and the third was 160k 3 POV's [yikes! this is where I decided to bring in my original idea of dual POV's and bloated the book]). Some incredibly patient beta readers traded manuscripts with me and gave me invaluable feedback which has all led to the draft as it stands today: approximately 120,000 words with 2 POV's. Through this whole process, I've not just been writing a book, I've been learning how to write a book, from how to write characters with agency to how to map character arc and everything in between (and around, and up, and down). I promised myself when I started this book that I would NOT give up on writing it. Even if it never gets published, if it's a manuscript I'm proud of, then I've won. It's getting close, but still needs polish and tuning, and I'm caffeinated and ready to continue the work. My skin is thick. My heart committed. And publishing it would be, well, the dream.

Now that we've covered that tour de history, here's a list of various favorites to share an idea of my tastes:

Bow ties are cool.

Bow ties are cool.

Currently listening to: Say Hello, Wave Goodbye by Soft Cell. I love the 80's (despite not remembering much of them - I arrived in 1984). I loved Ready Player One and got to fangirl swoon over Ernest Cline at a screening of Fanboys (and touch his Delorean) when I lived in Austin. It goes without saying I adore Stranger Things, Jim Henson, David Bowie, and The Little Mermaid.

Music I write to: Gregory Alan Isakov (listen to his album with the Colorado Symphony. Do it now!) and Bon Iver. But mostly silence. I can't think and listen to lyrics.

Favorite books: Ready Player One, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Rachel Carson non-fiction (especially The Sea Around Us), Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The River of No Return by Bee Ridgeway, all things Margaret Atwood, all things Geraldine Brooks, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro... etc etc etc. Harry Potter is a given, right? These days most of the books I have time for read (yay motherhood) are for Fiction Unbound, including ARC's and novels to go with current book world happenings (I just finished Every Heart a Doorway as part of our post on Hugo nominated novellas).

Favorite media: all things Marvel, Game of Thrones, Fresh Off The Boat, Mean Girls, Julie & Julia. I'm fairly certain I've seen Guardians of the Galaxy 30 times, but who's counting? I love musical theatre and spelling theatre the right way.

My writing:

I studied poetry and literature in university and published a few poems in now-defunct regional journals, but always knew I wanted to write fiction. I finally committed myself to fiction when I joined the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver and completed the two-year Book Project program and a full draft of In Waves. As I'm someone who overwrites and then pares down, I've been doing a lot of editing, trimming, and reworking (because I have more ideas than I know what to do with, and usually have to try them ALL out before deciding which few, if any, to actually keep) in the few years since finishing the program. I've also had a baby, and that took up a fair amount of my time. Last June I fell in love with an agent I met in person who asked for my full, and got my first rejection heart-break when she turned down my full (which I dumbly submitted to her the SECOND I'd finished it, rather than getting outside feedback first, because, excitement). I also got a few revise & resubmit requests from agents I'd LOVE to work with in that round of querying, but I'm  yet to resubmit as I worry about being too hasty to send off the manuscript, as I was the first time. The book continues to improve, and I continue to cut it up, re-tape it, and smooth the edges. I am most definitely ready for reinforcements in revising. Let's call in the cavalry.

When I need a break from In Waves, I work on several short stories I plan to begin submitting, two other novels, and an outline for the sequel to In Waves (which keeps changing as I modify In Waves, naturally). When not writing my own fiction, I'm reading and reviewing other people's on Fiction Unbound. 

In Waves: 

My finished (as if a WIP ever is) manuscript is In Waves (my page for it is here). It's an adult fantasy novel set in both the present day and 1522. The book is born of my obsession with mermaids, archaeology, history, mythology, folklore, Turkey, the sea, love stories, time travel, warrior huntress mother goddess women, and mother-daughter relationships. It started as a short story about a debt owed to the sea by a mermaid way back in 2010, and evolved into a means for me to write about losing close family members, into the epic (I hope) adventure romance mystery novel it is today. Here is my query, which I rewrite almost every week:

Elena Saris headlined world news after making the year’s most important archaeological discovery, but now she’ll be lucky to get out of Turkey alive. Between Interpol tracking her down and a mythological monster hunting her for a royal claim to the sea, Elena wishes she’d never found the Mycenaean pendant on a strand of silver pearls. Elena wanted to spend her summer earning credit for her Ph.D. at an archaeological dig site. She'd hoped the abandoned village, her ancestral home, would yield clues about her mother, who abandoned Elena when she was eight. After the artifact goes missing and Elena accused of the theft, though, she may never see her parents or home again.

With the help of Jacob, a Palestinian antiquities expert researching the 16th-century pearl trade, Elena evades police and learns that she – and her mother – are far more entangled in the history of the missing necklace than she ever could have imagined. Finding the necklace will not only clear Elena’s name, but will reveal the truth about her identity and how to save herself from the monster she was promised to marry centuries before she was born. If Elena can’t find the pearls first, then her freedom, her family, and the man she’s fallen in love with could be lost forever.

In 1522, Rosalyn Atavyria is desperate to find the silver pearls that lock a gateway between the mortal and immortal worlds. If she can destroy them she can save her daughter from prophesized death at the hands of a monster eager to claim dominion over the sea. As the gateway’s lock loosens and creatures of lore slip through, time is running out for Rosalyn to protect her child from the fate Rosalyn sacrificed immortality to prevent.

IN WAVES is an adult fantasy straddling contemporary and historical fiction with romantic elements, told through alternating POV’s of Elena and Rosalyn. The book is stand-alone, but first in a planned trilogy. The novel will remind readers of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones in Elena’s journey through her family’s dark past, and of Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling as the past and present interweave to determine Rosalyn and Elena’s fates. 

Novel aesthetic - perhaps a bit dreamier than representative of the pace and character agency of the story (no one stands around gazing wistfully at things), but I do love a good dreamy collage. More inspiration for my book over at my ever growing In Waves pinterest board.

Novel aesthetic - perhaps a bit dreamier than representative of the pace and character agency of the story (no one stands around gazing wistfully at things), but I do love a good dreamy collage. More inspiration for my book over at my ever growing In Waves pinterest board.

In Summary:

#PitchWars is the opportunity for me to finish this round of solo-edits on a deadline (I'd already booked a three day retreat to the mountains next week to work without interruption before learning about #PitchWars, so the timing seems fortuitous), and then with any luck, work with a skilled reader/editor/mentor to further revise so that it becomes a book I can (hopefully) share with the world and other lovers of fantasy, history, lady bad asses, lady nerd bosses, and sexy historians who scuba dive in ship wrecks and make puns in French (truth, I just swooned over my own character). Even if the second bit doesn't come to pass, I love the encouragement between authors and editors that floods my Twitter feed this time of year, and it's the beacon I need to prioritize my writing over a few dirty dishes and keep going, even way past my bedtime. 

Happy pitching!