Monthly Archives: July 2015

Milestones

Last week Thursday, July 16th, wound up being something of a banner day for me, though I hadn’t expected it to be so when I woke up that morning. But that was the day that I got my first galleys/ARCs of The Violinist of Venice, and by that evening I had sent off my second book to my editor.

For those of you who don’t know, galleys or advanced reader copies (ARCs) are pre-copies of a book that are printed in advance of the release date for publicity and promotional purposes. They’re not final – all the changes from first pass pages may not have been incorporated, and the cover design isn’t final – but still, the pages are typeset, the copyright page is there, and it is bound into actual book form. So this was the first time I was able to hold my book in my hands when it actually looked and felt like a book – and it smells like a book, too!

I don’t know if there has ever been a more amazing moment in my life. It didn’t hit me right away, but rather it took a few minutes. I was sitting on the couch with one of the copies, flipping through it, and suddenly I burst into (happy) tears. (My dog was quite concerned). I was holding a book, a real book, full of words that I wrote. It was a book like one you might find in a bookstore, like one of the countless books I’ve read throughout my life, except this was one that I wrote.

It was an incredible, wonderful moment. My fondest hope is that anyone who aspires to write and publish a book will one day experience that moment, because there is nothing else like it. I’m still so excited; even driving home from work today I thought back to the day I started writing Violinist, and felt that wonderful sense of disbelief and happiness and accomplishment all over again.

However, once I managed to pull myself together, I had work to do. I had gotten on quite a revising roll with my second book, which wasn’t due to my editor until the end of August. I didn’t have much more to go, so I had a feeling I could finish it that night, as I wasn’t anticipating needing to make too many changes to the last few chapters.

So I did. I finished the second draft and sent it off to my editor.

Anyone who’s a writer will know that wonderful “I-finished-a-draft” feeling, and this was even better. I had come in ahead of my deadline; I had written a book that I loved and was proud of and had worked so hard on in less time that I had thought I could; and, as you’ll know if you’ve read some of my previous blog posts, this book was a problem child almost from day one and gave me no end of problems. That it had come so far after such a difficult and frustrating start – and that I had come so far as a writer in the process – felt amazing. It still does. I’m still riding the end-of-draft-high.

And even though Violinist isn’t even out yet, I’m already excited for this second book to come out into the world, partially because it was such a struggle at times. The first step, of course, is to see if my editor likes it, but I think she will. Though it’s in a different place and time period than Violinist, it’s somewhat in the same vein. It’s still me. It’s reflective of who I am as a writer and a reader and as a woman, and of my interests. In some ways I think it’s a bit darker than Violinist, and maybe deals with some heavier themes – both of which are things I didn’t plan out ahead of time, but which emerged organically as I was drafting, and then got polished up in revision.

But that’s all I’ll say about book 2 for now.

Almost as soon as I hit “Send”, of course, my brain was asking, What next? And I’m not sure. It’s a wonderful and also slightly scary feeling to know that I can start writing something brand new, something that’s anything I want it to be. And I have plenty of ideas, believe me. I’m not sure yet which one I’ll end up going with. My plan is to give my brain a few weeks to rest and refresh itself – something I’ve found that’s always necessary for me after finishing a draft – and then I’ll see which of the ideas I gravitate towards the most.

And there’s now a copy of a book that I wrote on my desk for if and when I need a little confidence boost, a reminder, a reassurance, or just a visit with old friends.


My Top 10 Books of the First Half of 2015

Believe it or not, we are already into the second half of 2015! I have been absolutely spoiled as a reader so far this year, which is why I knew I would need to do two “best of 2015 books” posts. And where better for the first one than at the end of the first half of the year?

Below is my list of the top 10 books I’ve read in 2015 that were published in 2015:

10. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

This historical YA, about a Chinese teen and an escaped slave who go on the run together into the Wild West, was absolutely perfect for me, Oregon Trail-loving child that I was 🙂 Issues of race are masterfully addressed, as are those of gender (the two girls disguise themselves as men on their travels). Lee clearly did her research, and her vibrant characters sparkle against the vivid historical backdrop.

9. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Based on events in Blume’s own childhood, this adult novel by the patron saint of YA chronicles a series of three plane crashes in the same town over a span of mere months. The aftershocks of these tragedies on the community is extensively (though by no means exhaustively) explored, and the vivid reality of these characters and their lives will stick with you long after you turn the last page.

8. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I’ve been super into YA fantasy lately, and this book is a perfect example. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast but with faeries? YES PLEASE. Add in a badass, feminist heroine, a swoonworthy hero, and a gorgeous setting, and you have an un-put-down-able read.

7. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Believe the hype about this book. It is a gorgeously written, beautifully imagined retelling of the Thousand and One Nights. I started out breathlessly turning the pages to find out how Shahrzad would outwit her murderous groom, and Ahdieh manages to keep up the same level of tension throughout the book as new characters and new conflicts are introduced. This is an “I need the sequel ASAP” read.

6. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

I hadn’t read any Sarah Dessen since I was a teenager, and so I decided to give her latest a try. This book is a gorgeous, realistic YA story of the kind that she is so well known for. The characters leap off the page, and their conflicts are struggles are so, so relatable. I am on a mission to go back and read most of Dessen’s backlist this summer. Protip: Have both pizza and French fries handy when reading this book.

5. Three Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash

A local girl and a concertgoer fall in love over the three days of Woodstock, and get into all sorts of adventures and misadventures. This is just as fun, touching, and groovy a summer read as you would expect, and I learned some history along the way as well! As a fan of rock music and of history, I loved everything about it; I put on some Hendrix and read almost the entire thing in one sitting.

4. Lady of the Eternal City by Kate Quinn

Long one of my favorite authors, Quinn’s latest really knocked it out of the park as far as I’m concerned. She returns to ancient Rome to continue the story of legionary Vix, Empress Sabina, and Emperor Hadrian. The research and period detail were impeccable as always, but what really shone in this novel was the characterization. The characters were such flesh-and-blood, real people that they leaped off the page, and Quinn really showed the full complexity of human nature in them. My opinions about some characters from previous books underwent a complete change by the end of this one, and that to me is good writing.

3. The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack

This historical thriller follows an artist who creates vivid paintings of his past lives, and a scientist who recognizes a recurring dream of hers in one of the paintings. The novel moves back and forth seamlessly between the present and between multiple past lives. Each past era is meticulously researched and described, and the plot is tight and will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you haven’t read this book yet, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know (my copy is currently on loan with a friend) and have added it to my all-time favorites list.

2. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

This is another book that has absolutely lived up to its hype. I started it on a lazy Sunday, and thank goodness I did, because I read the entire thing in one sitting. I absolutely could not do anything else until I had finished. The plot is gripping and original, and the characters are multi-dimensional and complex. A sequel was recently announced, and as far as I’m concerned I can’t get my hands on it soon enough! Another recent addition to my all-time favorites list.

1. The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

Few books have stuck with me after finishing them the way this book has. The novel tells the story of two very different sisters in Nazi-occupied France, and explores the various forms that rebellion, courage, and sacrifice can take. This book is absolutely beautiful in every way, and I think about it often. I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially to fans of historical fiction.

And because I can never pick just 10, here are my honorable mentions!

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Duplicity by N.K. Traver

The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall

Love, Lucy by April Lindner

Dog Crazy by Meg Donohue

And also, some favorites I’ve read this year that were NOT published in 2015:

The Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

Wish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant


The Official Violinist of Venice Playlist

Here, at last, is the official playlist for The Violinist of Venice! These are all the (modern) songs that I listened to and that inspired me while writing the novel, while revising it, while editing it, while reading through it. They were added at all stages of the process – one as recently as last week, when I was reading first pass pages – and the book would not be the same as it is today without these songs. Many of them fit with a certain scene, soundtrack style, and some fit more with the overall themes of the story.

Though my love of heavy metal will be obvious here, my taste in music can be somewhat eclectic, and I think you’ll see that in these songs.

Without any further ado, here it is! Hope you enjoy! 🙂

spotify:user:alyssathegreat336:playlist:1bt0BNhbb4qRMcLKal2JW3


First Pass Pages and All the Feels

A couple days ago I finished reading through my first pass pages for The Violinist of Venice and sent them back to my editor. First pass pages are when you receive a hard copy of the manuscript that has been typeset and formatted how it will look in the actual book. Therefore this was the first time that Violinist looked like a real book, and so that was a pretty big moment in and of itself.

The point of the pass pages is for the author to go through the book again and make any small changes that still need to be made, correct anything that may have been missed in copy edits, etc. So I spent quite a while reading through the entire manuscript (it took me some time, it being a very long book). But really, I loved the experience. I haven’t simply sat down and read through the whole thing – just read it as a reader, without an eye to making changes or cutting things or revising – in over a year, since right before I began querying agents. For the first time, I was really able to read it as though it were a book, a for-all-intents-and-purposes finished piece of work, and not a work-in-progress.

It was very cool. I felt like I finally had enough distance, enough objectivity, to really see that it is a good book, that I really did pull it off and write something good. It’s strange how easy it is to lose sight of that more often than not. We writers are our own harshest critics, and so we don’t always give ourselves the credit we maybe deserve.

I tweeted some of my thoughts as I was reading, using the hashtag #ViolinistofVenice, so feel free to check that out, if you are so inclined.

I got emotional as I was reading the story, at all the right parts where I want readers to get emotional, and even with my new-found distance I couldn’t really tell if that was a genuine reaction to the text, or if it was just because this book is my baby. I’ll never be able to completely objective about it, I know. But just as there’s a moment in the book when my main character, Adriana, realizes that the music she writes really does and can mean something to other people, I realized that maybe my words could too.

Another big part of my emotional reaction to reading the pages – especially on the last day, when I finished reading and got ready to send it back to my publisher – was my realization that this was the very last time the book would be just mine, and mine alone. Soon ARCs will be printed and will be sent out into the world, for bloggers and reviewers and readers, and then the book and the story and the characters aren’t just mine anymore. That day was the last time it was just me and those words, sitting with each other at my desk. And though of course I want the book to go out into the world, am excited and proud and happy and nervous and anxious about it, it was a big deal to sort of acknowledge and be aware of that moment, and to cherish it.

My baby book is all grown up now.