Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review #16: Survivors

This month's Animal Fantasy Book Review features the first novel in Erin Hunter's brand new series, Survivors.  Subtitled The Empty City, it leaves the realms of cats and bears to focus on everyone's favorite pet: dogs!  (Can you guess I'm a dog person?)  Now, don't get me wrong.  I like cats and I like bears, but I love canines!  Here's the book blurb from the official Survivors website:

Lucky is a golden-haired mutt with a nose for survival.  He has always been a loner—roaming the streets of the busy city and relying on his instincts to get by.  Other dogs have Packs, but Lucky stands alone.
Then the Big Growl strikes.  Suddenly the ground is split wide open.  The Trap House is destroyed.  And all the longpaws have disappeared.

Now Lucky is trapped in a strange and desolate new world with no food, foul water, and enemies at every turn.  He falls in with others left behind, including his littermate Bella, a Leashed dog. Relying on other dogs—and having them depend on him—brings new dangers that Lucky isn’t prepared for, but he may not be able to survive on his own.  Can Lucky ever be a true Pack Dog?

If you write or read animal fantasy, then the name "Erin Hunter" should definitely be familiar to you.  (You also probably already know that it's a pseudonym for several writers, but for the sake of this review, I'm going to reference them by their collaborative pen name.)  Further, I'm guessing you're rather familiar with the ginormous displays of Warriors and Seekers books found in stores.  As a writer of animal fantasy, I was so happy to discover Survivors in my library.  Hunter's two sprawling series--and the addition of this third series--are proof that kids love animal fantasies and want to keep reading them.  (Seriously, go take a look at the extensive list of books on the Warriors website:  That is a LOT of books!)  Hunter keeps kids coming back for more with her great characters and unique stories.  Survivors is no exception, and I was particularly impressed by Hunter's set up for the series as well as her canine-view of the world she created.

Survivors is a perfect example of a "What if..." scenario expanded into a great story.  In this case, the question is, "What if dogs survived doomsday and were forced to live without their owners?"  It's a fascinating story premise, and not that far-fetched with natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy fresh in our minds.  What if you had to evacuate your home so quickly that you couldn't even take your beloved pets with you?  What would happen to them?  Could they find food and water?  Would they move on and forget you ever existed?  Or would they loyally wait for you on the front doorstep until you returned?  The questions just raise more questions, and the outcomes are limitless, creating a fantasy world that Hunter can do so much with over the course of a series.  It just goes to show that inspiration for a good animal fantasy story can come from anywhere--even that weather report on TV and the tail-wagging buddy sitting next to you on the couch.

This post-apocalyptic scenario becomes even more interesting when Hunter shows us the world from two different viewpoints: canines who are accustomed to eating out of silver bowls, and others who have gone dumpster-diving their entire lives.  The story is told from Lucky's point of view.  He's a tough pup who grew up on the streets and graduated from the obedience school of hard knocks.  He scoffs at "Leashed Dogs," pitying their dependency on "Longpaws" (humans) and deeming them crazy for trusting the kicking, yelling, abandoning species.  (Yeah, he has just a few gripes about humans.)  Of course, Lucky finds himself stuck with a pack of pampered pooches who need him to show them the ways of the worldBut, they quickly prove they aren't as soft and helpless as they seemHe teaches them how to hunt; they show him how car doors open.  He saves them from drinking poisoned water; they rig up a makeshift refrigerator.  Together, their combined skills enable the survival of a pack in the dangerous, desolate world where "Big Growls" (earthquakes) can strike at any moment and "Shapclaws" (cats) lurk in the shadows.  (Did I mention Hunter is awesome at coming up with canine-isms, too?)  The contrasting views of the world add so much humor and drama to the story, resulting in a much deeper tale than if Lucky had found himself in a pack with other same-minded, street-wise dogs.  Hunter can definitely teach you a thing or two about incorporating different viewpoints in your own animal fantasy story.    

If you're a fan of doggy stories, then Survivors is a great choice for you.  If you enjoyed Hunter's other series, then you will certainly be a fan of this canine-world, too.  (That is, unless you're a stalwart cat person!)  And of course, if you write animal fantasies, you should read this book for all the reasons I discussed above--and more!  You should then pick up any of Hunter's other numerous novels, too, so you can uncover the secrets that make kids collect her books like Beanie Babies.

You can find out more about Erin Hunter and Survivors on the book's website here:  

And if you read this book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.

Happy reading!

Note: Cover art and summary blurb are both from the Survivors official website, listed above.        

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

COSCBWI January 2013: 1st Meeting & 1st Pages!

Hello all my writer and illustrator friends!

Since this is my first COSCBWI meeting summary blog post for 2013, I figured I ought to do a formal introduction to kick off the new year.  I'm the Membership Coordinator for COSCBWI and have been a member of the group since 2008.  I help out with planning events and workshops, as well as rolling out the welcome mat to members.  If you're a regular to my blog, then you know that each month I do a little summary of the COSCBWI meeting.  And if you're new around here, now you know it, too!

January's meeting featured a meet-and-greet with plenty of familiar faces and some brand new ones as well.  After everyone was introduced and some announcements were made, members could volunteer for a critique of the first page of their manuscript.  COSCBWI usually does one or two first page critiques a year.  Since I've started my monthly summaries, I've done write ups for two of these critique meetings, which you can find here and here.  I won't repeat all the helpful tidbits from these posts, but I'll add a couple of new pointers we discussed!

1)  Remember to start your story on the right foot.  If you pick up some of your favorite books, you can see what appeals to you in the first page of a story.  Is it lots of action and an interesting introduction to the characters, or a long and flowing description of what the main character is wearing down to their shoelaces?  You'd probably say the former--unless the story is about magical shoelaces that give their wearer the ability to fly like a falcon.  (Hey--now there's an idea for a novel!)  By studying the first pages of published novels, you can see what works--and perhaps, what doesn't--and apply those techniques to your own writing.

2)  Don't hesitate to ask for opinions from people you trust.  Your first page is your first impression with agents, editors, and readers, so you want it to be as perfect as possible.  An extra pair of eyes (or six pairs, or twenty) can help you catch silly mistakes before you send out a manuscript with embarrassing typos or other issues.  Your manuscript only gets one first impression, so do everything you can to ensure it's a good one!  

3)  Don't get too hung up about your first page (or first chapter) when you're just drafting your novel.  Sometimes, we writers think our story starts at a certain scene or event, but when we finish drafting the whole thing, we realize it actually starts somewhere else!  First pages don't have to be perfect on the first draft.  Just get it down, move on, and see what you think after you write, "The End."  If you allow your creativity some wiggle-room, you may come up with an even better first page than your first first page.

And that was our first meeting of 2013!  For anyone reading this who couldn't attend the meeting, here are a few announcements you missed:

-Meeting days for 2013 are moving from the usual third Wednesday of every month to the FOURTH Wednesday of every month due to a scheduling conflict with the Upper Arlington Library.  (Everyone likes the venue, so we just changed the date so we could stay put.)

-Nikki Boetger, the new Illustrator Coordinator for COSCBWI, is kick-starting monthly meetings geared towards illustrators!  (Yes, that means there will now likely be 2 COSCBWI meetings per month for anyone interested in attending!)  The first one will be February 6 at 7:00 PM at the Upper Arlington Library.  (Same place as the usual monthly meetings.)  All COSCBWI members are welcome to attend, whether you're an illustrator, author, or a little bit of both.  Hope to see you there!

-COSCBWI is one of the SCBWI chapters co-hosting the Wild Wild Midwest Conference this spring!  The conference will take place May 3-5 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Be sure to check the COSCBWI website for more details soon! 

-Lastly, be sure to LIKE our new Facebook page!  Reminders, announcements, and member news are updated frequently, so check us out under "Central Southern Ohio SCBWI!"

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to check out our website here:  I hope to see you at our next meeting!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bon Voyage!

Today I have some big news to share!  After many months of writing and revising (and revising and revising and revising...), I'm thrilled to report that Pirate Ferret is finally out for agent querying!  

If you're a writer, then you know what it's like to be in the query boat.  It's utterly terrifying and nerve-wracking, but incredibly exciting at the same time.  You take your precious baby that you've been working on for goodness knows how long, fuss and fret until it makes you crazy, then send it out into the world hoping for the best.  It's easy to let your manuscript sit on your hard drive; it's much harder to take that next step and open yourself up for disappointment, tears, and worst of all: REJECTION.

But, to quote my favorite phrase once again: You can never win or lose if you don't run the race!  (Oh Psychedelic Furs--you are geniuses!)  Sure, rejection is a terrifying prospect, but hopefully the thought of kids someday reading your beloved words makes the risk of heartache worth it. 

So how should writers prepare themselves for taking the plunge?  By putting on your....

Tentacles says, "RAWR!"  (Also, "I'm very scared...")

Yes, dragon-tough skin (or pajamas) is just the thing you need if you're going to query your manuscript.  Criticism and rejections may sting, but they won't destroy you--or your manuscript--if you don't let them.  Take thoughtful feedback to heart and don't get discouraged by any "no's" that come your way.  It's hard to be brave and face the fear of rejection, but if Tentacles and I can do it, then you can too!  

This is my first time testing the waters with Pirate Ferret.  I've done all I can to prepare my little Tentacles for his voyage, and now it's time to see what the big, scary world makes of him.  Whether he'll sink or swim, I just don't know, but let's keep our fingers crossed for smooth sailing!

Friday, January 4, 2013

2013 Resolutions!

Happy 2013 everyone! I hope you all had a great time welcoming the new year!  Now that we've all evaluated our resolutions from 2012, it's time to make new ones for this year!  Just like last year, I'm not going to attempt to tackle anything enormous and over-zealous, like becoming as successful  as J.K. Rowling or buying my own island.  Instead, my resolutions are modest and achievable, but will still push me to be my very best. 

So what's on my 2013 "To Do" list?

~send out query letters for Pirate Ferret manuscript
~go Amadeus on Beast of Bannock manuscript
~maybe start a brand new project?
~catch up (and keep up) with SCBWI bulletins
~continue this delightful blog  :)
~follow more blogs on writing (and illustrating)
~read at least 4 books in my ginormous stack of neglected novels
~practice sketching digitally with my tablet
~illustrate something every month (a small or big piece is okay!)
~experiment with techniques and styles
~try something new in every piece (fur, water, wings--who knows!)
~complete one month of the exercise "30 ____ in 30 Days"
~try speed-painting for background practice (and thwarting my inner nit-picker)
~feel confident enough to throw my hat into the illustrator ring 

Pertaining to Health and/or Sanity Well-Being:
~do something active a few times a week 
~do something enjoyable every day
~complete 3 unfinished video games
~strive for 7 hours of sleep each night
~try new things to reduce my frequency of migraines (and boy are they frequent...)
~spend more quality time with my hubby and furry family
~learn how to say "No" and turn myself off occasionally

Further, if there's one thing I learned in 2012, it's that one should always expect the unexpected.  Illnesses, work demands, and an unfortunate manuscript theft situation all threw kinks into my 2012 plans.  This year, I hope to roll with the punches a little better and not let those unexpected circumstances stress me out so much, even if they mean altering my ultimate resolutions.

And those are my goals for 2013!   What are some of your resolutions for the new year?

I wish you a joyful and creative new year!  Welcome 2013!

Note: Image is from

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Upon Reflection of 2012

Well, 2012 has come and gone!  Before jumping into 2013, I feel I should probably take a moment to reflect on my 2012 Resolutions and see how many I actually accomplished.

You may remember that back in June, I did a mid-year evaluation and proposed some revised resolutions based on my ones from January.  Here's how I made out:

Revised 2012 Resolutions (as seen here)
(Note: Purple shows my mid-year progress and orange are my final results.)

~complete another round of revisions on Beast of Bannock manuscript
      -Just keep swimming...
      -Alas, no.  (My poor neglected Ellis!)
~finish first draft of Pirate Ferret
      -Just keep swimming...
      -YES! AND finished several subsequent drafts!  HAPPY DANCE!
~send out more query letters (blegh)
      -See above.  (I can't put the cart before the horse, now can I?)
      -Soooooooo very very close!
~keep up with SCBWI bulletins 
      -So far so good!
      -Totally derailed on this one.  FAILED!
~continue this delightful blog  :) 
      -Well, duh!
      -Mission accomplished!
~uncover the One Big Secret to publishing success
      -Hey, I can dream, can't I?  ;) 
      -Hopefully getting there...  :)

~just have SOMETHING artistic to show for each month
      -Baby steps  :)
      -YES!  Battleship sunk!
~draw one human--just ONE
      -I can do ONE by December 31st! I swear!
      -I did!  I did!  Booyah!  link
~experiment with digital painting tools and techniques
      -I'll learn how to paint fur and grass AFTER I figure out what all those brushes do
      -YES!  Experimented with grass, leaves, snow, and more!  (see my DA gallery)
~complete another month or two of the exercise "30 ____ in 30 Days"
      -I think the above 3 goals are plenty
      -I was right.  There was NO time for this.
~keep up with online art network
      -That deviantArt inbox is already getting full!
      -Aye!  (My DA inbox never seems to get smaller, but I guess that's a good thing!)
~feel confident enough to throw my hat into the illustrator ring
      -Maybe by the end of the year...
      -Um, this cowardly artist will also stick that under "Getting There..."

Pertaining to Health and/or Sanity Well-Being:
~play video games once a week
      -This may sound stupid to you, but it's important to me
      -Meh.  Off and on--at least more successful than most years.
~take dog for walk twice a week
      -It's summer.  No excuses.
      -Sorry puppy.  I FAILED!
~watch just 6 movies that are still in plastic wrap
      -That's only one per month!
      -This one also gets a big ol' goose egg.  FAILED!
~try one new recipe per month
      -Piece of cake! (And cake recipes count!)
      -YES!  (And what a yummy accomplishment!)
~strive to be in bed before midnight 
      -Ain't gonna happen. Why stress about it?
      -Didn't happen, but I have been getting at least 6 hours on most nights!
~spend more quality time with my hubby and furry family
      -Always room for improvement!
      -I think I did much better at this by the end of 2012!
~pay someone else to figure out how to clone me 
      -Like I have time to discover that!
      -If only... 

After weighing these successes and failures, I give myself an overall score of: Not Too Shabby!  Sure, I didn't accomplish everything on my list of resolutions, but I can definitely put check marks next to a few biggies!  Plus, some of my "failures" have actually involved taking big strides towards making them "successes," so I suppose they're not total flops after all.

Upon consideration of your own resolutions, how did you do?  I hope your successes, failures, and inbetweeners have given you a good jumping off point for 2013!

Now, it's time for me to scamper off and come up with this year's resolutions!   :)