Thursday, May 31, 2012

Follow Friday!

Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read and is all about Blogosphere love, every Friday.
Follow me either via GFC or NetworkedBlogs, and I'll follow right back. Leave a comment!

Q: You are a matchmaker — your goal, hook up two characters from two of your favorite books. Who would it be? How do you think it would go?

A: Um, hardest question EVER! I'm terrible at crossover fanfiction, and usually run far from fanfics that mix up my favorite book characters- but a hook-up between books is always fun! 
So let's see.
If I pair up Karou from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone with Barron Sharpe from Holly Black's Curse Workers, the result would be catastrophic. He'd con her out of all her wishes, and she'd kick his ass big time for it. Would be a fun scenario.

Cover Crazy: Guest Post by Kelan O'Connell

Today, Kelan O'Connell, author of YA crossover Delta Legend stops by- to tell us how that gorgeous cover came into being.

YA indie authors- if you're looking for advice on cover designing, look no more!

Without much ado, let's go directly to Kelan and what she has to say about the mastermind(s) behind the piece of art you see on the right.

Take it away, Kelan!

When Varsha contacted me about doing a guest post, she asked if perhaps I would be interested in talking about the cover art for Delta Legend. As you can see, Wishful Thinking is beautifully designed and Varsha herself is a Photoshop Queen. I love it when bloggers have suggestions for guest posts. It gets me started in the right direction regarding the style of their blog and what they think their followers might find interesting. And the cover of Delta Legend, well that's a subject that's near and dear to my heart.

Not to sound vain, but I never tire of looking at the image myself (I have one of the 13 x 19 posters of it above my desk). Thanks to graphic artist, Dave Williams, Delta Legend has a book cover that achieves everything a cover is supposed to do: it catches the eye, sparks curiosity, and people remember it. They also give it more than just a passing glance. Some have even said they were "drawn in" by it. Bingo.

As most of you know, for better or worse, Indie Authors don't have the luxury of being just writers. We're also the marketing team. When I made the shift from agent-shopping to embracing the idea of self-publishing Delta Legend, I knew it was going to be imperative that the book's cover not only stand out from the crowd but be as good as any artwork produced by a traditional publishing house. Thankfully, my partner Tom Size knew just the right person for the job. 

Dave Williams is an amazing artist who does exceptional graphic design for a variety of products. He's the Creative Director and graphic designer for Mouth Man, the company that makes those magical animated hoodies that are all the rage. You can check them out here:

Dave's also designed his share of album covers along with a slew of logos. And yes, all you Indies out there who are heading to the finish line and getting ready to self-publish, Dave is open to doing more book covers. Delta Legend was his first and judging by people's reaction to it, it won't be his last.

For our first meeting, I took Karsten Knight's Wildefire with me so Dave could see the level of artwork I was going for. When I first saw Wildefire in the bookstore, I was immediately drawn to it and quickly made it mine at the cash register in less than five minutes. Talk about successful visual marketing. 

We discussed a couple ideas I had and quickly narrowed it down to one. I knew from the start I didn't want any models or even ambiguous representations of Calvin and Mei Li on the cover. I realize I break from the rest of the YA pack here, but I'm simply not a fan of casting on the cover. Novels are one the last forms of entertainment where we get to use our imagination to envision what the characters look like. The author gives us some descriptives and we take it from there. Once a book goes to screen, a casting director takes that privilege away from us, and more often than not, their idea of the perfect actor to play a character is nothing like we envisioned them. Sure we adapt and in most cases accept the actor, but why stomp on one of the best things about reading if you don't have to? I realize this puts me outside the norm in today's YA market where casting on the cover and book trailers are common place, but the hugely popular Wildefire (which was traditionally published) gave me the courage to follow my gut.  

Working with a professional artist to bring a cover idea from concept to final product was a great learning experience. One of the biggest things I learned was that you don't really know what you want until you see it. You verbally describe your vision to the designer, they go off and create their interpretation of that vision, then you go back and forth adjusting it until it's a match. And even then, you need outside eyes and trusted advisors to keep you on the right path. I strayed off that path on more than one occasion but was brought back to clarity by both Dave and Tom. 

Dave delivered several versions of the eye, each of them slightly different and interesting in their own way. Toward the end, he delivered one that was exactly what I had asked for. It was completely black, glossy, and vacant. I was going for this whole black crystal ball thing. I went to bed that night thinking, this is it, this is what I want. By morning, Tom had all the images Dave had created up to that point on his computer screen as thumbnails, including that last one that I thought was “it”. As I looked at them side-by-side in the size that most people would be seeing them when shopping on, I realized that the one I thought was sooo perfect was not right at all. Dave had delivered exactly what I'd asked for, only what I'd asked for was all wrong. There just wasn't anything going on in it, and the previous ones were so much better. Still none of them were "it".    

Tom and I had done a photo trip to the Delta so he could capture the header image for the book's website, and this gave him an idea. He brought one of the Delta pictures up on the computer screen then held his 35 mm camera up to the monitor and snapped a picture - close up and angled into the monitor. The effect was a magical light spectrum bounce back with just a trace of the original photo. Dave then took that image and built on it to create the truly haunting and stormy effect of the eye. Now it really was perfect. Most people don't realize there's a very subtle image of Delta tules and water in the pupil - and that's the way I like it - illusive, like the creature itself. And having just a hint of the creature emerging from the darkness makes you want to know what the heck this thing really is. Dave did a brilliant job of alluding to the creature without giving it away.

Font? I hadn't even thought about it, but Dave asked the right questions and ultimately found a font that has both an Asian and Celtic feel, representing both the Chinese element in the story and the Celtic roots of my name. These are the kind of things you simply don't think about, yet they contribute to the feel of the cover as a whole. The vibrant colors on black really add punch and the way the title rises to the forefront out of the dark - it's like a movie one-sheet. Dave works in extreme multiple layers of Photoshop which creates a lot of depth. It also allows you to see slightly different elements when viewing it from different angles, especially in the poster version.

Here's Dave Williams holding one of the DL posters. Thanks to him (and some help from Tom) I now have a great cover that I'm very proud of.  You can bet I'll be hiring Dave to do the cover for the next "Legend".

Oh, and teaser alert: Next time we'll be switching from black background to white and alluding to a completely different creature. Get ready Dave.


As a young adult, Kelan O’Connell spent her summers aboard a family houseboat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Apparently, she still harbors suspicions about those deep murky waters. Though she’s been writing in one form or another since the age of 20, Delta Legend is her debut Young Adult Crossover novel.

Kelan began writing in college, creating character monologues as a way to stand out in auditions while also cranking out sketch comedy. She holds a degree in Theatre Arts from San Francisco State University and has worked in the Entertainment Industry in Northern California and Los Angeles, among her many other day jobs.

She currently lives in Northern California with her partner, Sound Engineer/Producer Tom Size, and the incredibly spoiled pets of Camp Runamuck.

Thanks for stopping by, Kelan!
You guys can read more about her and Delta Legend on her website:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cover Crazy: Asian Dystopia and Awesome Art

Just a quick post before I go to bed~

Japanese Steampunk.
Yes, I said JAPANESE STEAMPUNK. Like those awesome animes. Like everything I ever wanted in a YA book. I CANNOT WAIT FOR THIS ONE.

LOOK AT THIS. Just look at it. You're gorgeous, cover. You're so gorgeous I want to scream. You're so gorgeous I want you on my shelf and I can't till September this year when you finally hit the bookstores. Add to that the awesome blurb and I'm sold.


Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff


Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her father are commanded to capture one for the murderous Shogun of the Shima Isles, they fear their lives are over. After disaster befalls the mission, Yukiko finds herself stranded in the wilderness with only the crippled griffin Buruu for company. Working together, the pair make a stand against the authorities, facing intrigue, betrayal and murder in the hope of seeing their homeland saved and Buruu flying again.

With Stormdancer, Jay Kristoff presents the Shogunate of Shima, a stunningly original dystopian steampunk world.

And since I love you all, I'll also share this:

Similar, yes? I can't decide which is more beautiful. I'm doing an Asia themed photo-manipulation on Sketch Pro now, just coz I'm so inspired!

Blurb (It's not much):

In a desert land where serpents made of unbreakable glass fly through the sky and wolves made of only sand hunt within storms, Liyana is destined to be a vessel, to sacrifice herself so her clan's goddess can inhabit her body... but her goddess never comes.

So which one do you think should sit pretty on your shelf?

Friday, May 18, 2012

REVIEW: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Title: Blackbirds
Author: Chuck Wendig (
Genre: Urban Fantasy/ Dark
Series: Miriam Black #1
Length: 384 pages
My Copy: Purchased for Kindle Reader on iPad

Goodreads Summary:

Miriam Black knows when you will die.

Still in her early twenties, she's foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.

Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can't save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she'll have to try.


How do you review a book like “Blackbirds?”
I literally had to drag myself to the laptop to type this out, because good sense dictates I should refrain from writing a review for Chuck Wendig’s gut-wrenchingly raw, impeccably plotted and entirely gruesome new novel. Because it’s not easy.
Before I begin the weekly dissection, let me make a disclaimer: Blackbirds is a polarizing novel. You will either hate it or love it. You will want to either throw up from all the profanity and descriptions or take out a pen to analyze the complex mess that is protagonist Miriam Black.
Which teams am I on, you ask? You’ll find out.
So Miriam Black can touch people and see how they die. With a concept like that, it’s obvious that she’s going to be a jaded, hard-ass, sailor-mouthed person. And she does start off like that: cynical, negative and with a mouth on her that nearly burned my face off. It’s hard to feel much love for Miriam with her attitude. Chuck Wendig does what most YA PNR novelists wouldn’t dare: take a protagonist with a dark power and make her use it as a bad thing, or at least a profitable thing. How many books have you read where a psychic protag used her power to line her pockets with cash? How many books have you read where she uses her power as a way to live?
Miriam isn’t afraid to admit she’s a bad person. She likes bad-news-guys; she sees the world as a bleak and negative place; she curses so much and so often that if you drank a shot for every curse-bomb in this book, you’d be steamrolled by the fifth page. She makes dumb decisions but here’s the difference: it isn’t that she is TSTL. She knows she’s making bad decisions; she’s just too broken to care. She’s lost faith in ever being able to control what she calls Fate. She desperately wants not to, but still believes herself to be the “hand of death”.
Herein lies the beauty of Blackbirds: its heroine is broken, snarky, and approaches blood and gore with the lightness of us girls approaching hair ribbons. But still, somewhere in the middle of this book, I wanted someone to glue her back together. I wanted to be able to glue her back together, because I began to care for her. I could see through her armor. Inside her is a train-wreck that needs to be fixed.
Mr. Wendig better do some fixing in book two, Mockingbird.
(On a side note: Miriam’s past put a voice in my head screaming CARRIE! CARRIE! You know, Stephen King’s Carrie. There’s even a, um, bloody bathroom scene. Just…bloodier. Can you even believe that?)
Yes, you heard me. Shoo, if you’re below 13, or even better, 15. Shoo.
-        Cursing: so much cursing. Every line, every page. It’s as if someone tipped a jar labeled Profanity over this book and forgot to mop it up. I’m no prude when it comes to swearing, but at one point, I almost gave up reading because of the cursing. The plot was engrossing so I stuck to it. But still, it’s just too much for a YA book.
-        Negativity: I think post-apocalyptic novels try too hard. Chuck Wendig makes today’s Earth seem like a place you’d want to blowtorch. Everyone and everything seems awful and dark. Sometimes you want to hit the man for the lack of sunshine in this thing. Blackbirds is overwhelmingly negative; if you are sensitive to that kind of thing, you’ll do well to stay far from it.
-        Gore: Death scenes, death scenes, torture scenes, painful-past scenes- bloody, bloody, bloody. Sometimes sickeningly so. Again, if you think you have a threshold for blood and gore scenes, step away.
-        Secondary Characters/ Villains: Except for the, um, hero Lewis, everyone else is as I said before, overwhelmingly negative. Ashley, Miriam’s “partner” a.k.a “boyfriend” a.k.a “idiot meth-tweaker,” is just hateable. Harriet is the most detestable person I’ve seen in a novel recently; I wanted to garrote her. Ingersoll, the Big-Bad, was brutal. Miriam’s mom was scary. Even the cameos were just horrible. A book full of awful people with Lewis like a beacon amongst them.
Cover: isn’t it gorgeous? I think it’s gorgeous.
Writing: Chuck Wendig is a terrific writer. Cinematic and inspired. Miriam is a terrific protagonist. Just wish the man would lay off the profanities for the sake of God.
Miriam: We’ve been over this, people.
Raw and Honest: If you could touch someone and see how they die, it wouldn’t really all be rainbows and lollipops in your life, right?
Guy drives a truck: No, it’s a plus. Really. We needed a trucker-dude-hero; it’s just too perfect for a lot of snappy one-liners and interesting trucker observations. And he’s sweet while the rest of the book is this poster child for bitterness.
Truly detestable villains: Ugh, they still give me the heebie-jeebies.
Plotting/ Pacing/ Writing Gimmicks: Spot on, Mr. Wendig, spot on. The Interludes after every chapter are perfect to reveal Miriam’s past. The vision/hallucination thing going on with Miriam is fuel to the fire. The chapter headings are curiosity magnets. There are no cliffhangers, thank God, but enough loose threads to easily birth a sequel.
So I will be reading Mockingbird, because I’ve come to adore Miriam and Mr. Wendig’s cinematic writing. I can’t recommend this book to everyone though, because I don’t want to be responsible for any heart attacks. Try a sample; see if you can take it. If you’re an avid Stephen King/ Dean Koontz/ Graham Masterton fan, you probably can. If you flinch at F-bombs, you probably can’t.
Final grade is 3 stars on 5. 


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday :)

Yay, it's another Friday. And Saturday happens to be the day I finally get to celebrate my birthday.
Let's do the basics: Feature and Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, and is ALL about some blogosphere love. So follow, follow, follow, and don't forget to leave your links so I can follow you all right back!

This week's question:

Q: This Sunday in the U.S. is Mother’s Day, in celebration, what are some of your favorite books with strong mother/child relationships?

A. The question actually got me thinking: there are so few YA books with parent-child relationships that are actually healthy! What comes immediately to mind is the Anna Dressed in Blood series: I thought Cas and his Mom were cool, there was just something about the kitchen witch and her relationship with her son that made me fall in love with the pair of them. It was one of the few books that didn't relegate the Mom to a cameo kind of role.
Then, of course, Lily Potter. I mean, she's dead at the beginning of the series, but she means so much to Harry, and she is like the epitome of maternal love. I always loved Lily :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass


For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself- and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined. 

THE SELECTION, I read with utmost certainty that I was probably not going to like at all. Any book promoted as The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games is going to make me leery. Plus, it’s got some bad rep from a few trusty blog friends. And believe me when I say I’ve just about had it with dystopian books that are more about romance than about actual dystopia.

So why did I pick up THE SELECTION? Because I’m shallow (LOL), and pretty covers grab my eye, and although I’ve recently hit 20, I’m still desperately following young adult literature. (Hey, what? I’ve had an epiphany that I’m going to be a children’s writer if I ever publish a book.) But recently I’ve been picking up stuff by Angela Carter and David Foster Wallace. I’ve been reading Milton and Poe. I needed a book to get away from all the heavyweights, and what better to put my trust in than a YA dystopian romance?

THE SELECTION is what it promises to be, literally, The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games. The story follows teenager (?) America Singer (yes, I know, what’s with all these names?) as she enters a competition called THE SELECTION which is something like the exact male-version of Rakhi Sawant’s Swayamvar (the Indians are now face palming; the others must Google this- I promise it’s damn amusing) Prince Maxon of Ilea is going to pick his bride from a group of 35 girls all vying to get his attention.

Silly plot, you say, for a dystopian book. I agree. But that’s not saying THE SELECTION is an atrocity. This is not me trashing THE SELECTION in any way, because for all its faults, it’s annoying metronome of a heroine, and it’s less-than-stellar world building, this book is amusing. It’s mindless fun for someone whose brain has been scrambled by exams. I’ll tell you why.

We girls like rags-to-riches stories. We all do. It’s part of the essential make-up that makes us girls. You could be a cool-as-hell Lisbeth Salander and deny it, but there would still be a part of you that would smile at a fairy tale. And The Selection is exactly that. America is a downtrodden heroine, someone unable to fly because of the caste system, someone who has to work hard for survival and worry about her family. Aspen, her “boyfriend” a.k.a the Other Guy, is Gale Hawthorne. (No, really. Dark good looks, moodiness, sisters to take care of, and the works) Prince Maxon is the do-gooder, awkward, eternally stumbling royalty who needs America’s passionate rebelliousness to open his eyes to a country that needs him. The country is in turmoil because of external rebellion, and there are people who are unhappy because of the caste system. So far, so good. And then there is The Selection- the kind-of beauty pageant, a mellow version of The Hunger Games (no kidding) which prises America away from Carolina and throws her into a life of luxury at the palace where she joins a group of fellow brides-to-be.

If you close your eyes to all the inconsistencies and irritating TSTL acts on America’s part, and if you stop scoffing at what you think is an atrocity in a dystopian novel (“Really? A beauty pageant? A give-me-35-pretty-girls-to-pick-from-because-I’m-the-dashing-Prince-alpha-male?”) you will actually like The Selection for the fact that it doesn’t get boring, it keeps you amused with all its simple one-layered characters, and that it doesn’t do a number on your head. In other words, it’s a book you read when you feel like you JUST. CAN’T. USE. YOUR. BRAIN anymore. (Thank you, Kerala University, for sucking my brain juice)

That’s not to say I didn’t face-palm myself a lot. It starts with the obvious parallels to The Hunger Games. The first few chapters are a route-map of HG watered down- Katniss and Gale meet at the woods before the Reaping and have their rule-breaking little feast, America and Aspen do the same in a tree house. Both Katniss and America are picked out for Games that will take them far from their homes. Both are unhappy about it. (Katniss more so, understandably.) Both have goodbye scenes with their families. Both have songbird jewelry. Both are taken to a place of luxury and fixed up in the make-up, hair and clothes department by understanding and friendly fashion designers. Both are Champions of the Downtrodden. Both are all about keeping their identity and being themselves. Both love the food at the new place even though they hate pretty much everything else. See what I mean? America Singer is like this Polaroid of a photograph of a painting of Katniss Everdeen.
LOL. Thanks

Then there are obvious YA clich├ęs. America is beautiful and everyone believes this except her, who’s too modest. America is the only girl among all the thirty-five who matter to the Prince (yeah, he’s jerking the others around and keeping ‘em all happy while his heart belongs to America, and WHY is my skin crawling?) America is the only one who tugs at his heartstrings because of her feistiness, because of her passion for the poor and downtrodden. America is also the thing he can’t have because she’s lost her heart to Aspen (who, by the way, is plain irritating. I think he has bipolar disorder or something.)
America is also extremely annoying because her mood keeps swinging like a metronome. It makes no sense to me that she’d sign up for The Selection because Aspen told her to, then be happy about getting more pocket money to do the same, then be sad when she’s picked, then be ridiculously happy again when she gets into the palace, then be sad again when…you get it, right? This girl doesn’t have one particular feeling about The Selection, and that is bad, because it shows that her character is inconsistent. Katniss, she had no choice. She HAD to participate in the Games; she HAD to pretend to be in love with Peeta at first; she HAD to survive. With America, it seems as though she’s just playing with Maxon and staying in the palace for money. As if she’s messing with Aspen when she says she loves him. As if she’s messing with us because she can’t make up her mind about anything.

 And then the whole world building. Okay, the caste system was fine and The Selection wasn’t too stupid considering the point of it (although if you noticed, they very craftily picked only beautiful girls for The Selection; despite saying that “any daughter of Ilea could be our next queen”; hypocrisy much?) but what bothered me was that the people kept going on about how good King Clarkson and Queen Amberly (Maxon’s parents) were when they’ve been apparently BLIND to the whole CASTE SYSTEM that exists RIGHT UNDER THEIR DAMN NOSES! This is NOT good for a dystopian-verse where people are SUPPOSED to be unhappy about their royalty who doesn’t see it fit to abolish the system. There is no sign of any rebellion and that is NOT GOOD.

The Selection could have been better if the threats to America and the people in her life came from internal causes. Such as the lower castes rebelling. Such as Aspen having to decide if he wants to join the rebels. Such as America herself having to decide if she wanted to stay in The Selection and the comfort of the palace or throw herself into the fray with Aspen. Instead, we get this weird North-South invasion thing that isn’t even properly explained.

The thing is that when you write a dystopian novel, you need to break hearts. That’s why it’s called dystopia and not romantic fiction. Dystopia is about oppression and terror, about living conditions so desperate and pathetic that someone is FORCED to go against the system, FORCED to put things right, FORCED to be a hero/heroine. That’s why dystopia is dystopia and superhero stories are superhero stories. You can’t make up a dystopian world and then cop out with a girly romantic fantasy. This is the one dystopian novel I’ve read where there isn’t even one bloody showdown. Where the bad guys are nothing but a bunch of invisible people. Basically, it’s so mellow you don’t know why it’s called dystopian. Everyone is pretty happy in it. I really can’t say it’s any worse than our world, so WHY is it called dystopian? Because it happens in the future after a Fourth World War? That’s FUTURISTIC fiction, not DYSTOPIAN fiction. YA authors should really get their genres right.

But then, on the sunny side, who would ever actually read The Selection expecting a fast-paced, down-on-the-floor-and-dirty-to-prove-it, bloody book? Nobody. Those pretty blue dresses ain’t gonna stand any dystopian running around.

(Note: CW and Warner Bros are making a pilot for it? Really? Ethan Peck and Aimee Teegarden included? Um, weird. Just weird. Can't see why anyone would want to watch, like, a TV show on this. We have reality shows, you know? I’ll stick to watching only VD and SPN.)

Aimee Teegarden, at the pilot-shoot of The Selection

VERDICT: It isn’t bad. Just not dystopian. Read if you want a break from heavyweights. Skip if you’re nitpicky about world building and writing.

Are YA dystopian books slipping into a stereotype? Have you read a recent dystopian novel you really liked, as in liked as much as The Hunger Games or Unwind? And when you say dystopian, what do you really want from it?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


Images used in this blog are either digital art created by the author or free photographs. Reviews and views expressed on this site are strictly personal. Text by Varsha Dinesh is copyrighted under Creative Commons.