I’ll be blacking out my blog tomorrow in support of the fight against SOPA and PIPA.  If you like the internet AT ALL, you probably don’t want these bills to pass.  I know I don’t.

Want more info?  Click here.  And if you have a WordPress.com blog and want an easy way to black it out, click here.

Sporadic blogging will resume Thursday!


Yes, the title of this post is a Snoop Dogg/Flight of the Conchords mashup. That’s how awesome I am.

Aaaaaanyway, it’s time for YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday. This week’s topic:

If you couldn’t use your own name, what would your pseudonym or penname be?

It’s like these people are reading my mind! I’ve been pondering pen names for a long time now.

If/when I ever get published, do I use my real name? If yes, then which one? I’m legally an Amanda, but I go by Mandy. My last name is Aguilar (clearly Hispanic), but my maiden name is Spain (clearly… nothing?), and I’m white. What about my middle name – does it figure in anywhere?

So, if you do the math (note: not a mathematician), there are at least 12 possible names I could adopt simply by using my first and middle names plus my last name and maiden names.

So many decisions.

I mean, I could just use my Wu-Tang Clan name: Fearless Mastermind.

Or my pirate name: Fineglin’ Wally Bonny.

Or even my Hobbit name: Lila Boggy-Hillocks.

Of those three, I think the hobbit one is my favorite.

Wait, is there a romance novelist name generator??? *Googles*

Ah yes, here’s one. My name: Lavender Garden (I chose “sweet romance”).

Maybe I should stick with Mandy. Or maybe Mandy Boggy-Hillocks. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

…and that makes you follow through with it?

Well, that.

My life is littered with half-finished projects.  Scarves that are partially crocheted, needlework still on the hoop, a library only halfway cataloged, diet plans abandoned.  And then there are my novels, the things I’ve sweated blood over, that are all in a perpetual state of work-in-progress or still-editing or please-don’t-ask-me,-I’m-too-ashamed-to-say-I-haven’t-worked-on-it.

As part of my non-resolution to “be a better person” this year, I’m setting goals for myself as a writer, hoping that they will help me think positively and stay on track.  Too often, I get off track and then beat myself up over it.  No more of that, says New 2012 Me.

To that end, here are my three major projects and the goals I’m setting:

YA Novel 1: My contemporary YA novel (2008) and its unfinished sequel (2009), which are now being combined into one book.  The first book has been transferred into Scrivener, and I’ve been tinkering with it on and off for several years.  I got discouraged with the rewriting process, probably because I didn’t really know what I was doing, and so I didn’t work on it as diligently as I should.  Then, several months ago, I had a small epiphany about the timeline of the story and decided to incorporate major plot points from the sequel into the first book.  This change will up the stakes and tension, and I think it puts the novel firmly in the coming-of-age category.  I’m in the process of importing those sections into Scrivener and rearranging the outline.  That project was put on hold while I wrote my adult novel, but I’m now very anxious to see how it looks when it’s all put together.
New draft into readers’ hands: January 31, 2012
Query-able draft ready: April 1, 2012

(And you know what?  If it turns out that I still can’t get a query-ready draft out of this thing, I’ll put it in a freaking drawer.)

Adult Novel 1: My most recently finished work from NaNoWriMo 2011.  Right now, the rough draft is in the hands of four readers.  I’ve received feedback from one so far (thanks Kristen!), and it was very positive.  I know I have a lot of work to do fleshing the book out, but my reader thinks it’s got great commercial potential.  I agree with her (by the way, positive thinking is one of my goals for this year!).  I haven’t begun rewriting in earnest yet, but I am ruminating a lot on what I’d like to add while the feedback rolls in.
New draft into readers’ hands:  February 29, 2012
Query-able draft ready: June 1, 2012

YA Novel 2: My semi-paranormal contemporary YA novel, begun in 2010 and currently on hiatus.  I still really love this concept, but I am determined to finish decent drafts of my other two books before diving into this one again.  My goal is to start work on it again mid-year.
First draft into readers’ hands: December 31, 2012
Query-able draft ready: TBA

I don’t know whether these goals are too ambitious, not ambitious enough, or what.  I’m still very much a novice when it comes to these kinds of things.  I don’t want to send a complete load of crap to agents, but I also don’t want my manuscripts to languish on my computer for years and years while I debate whether to change a sentence or not.

The other reason I’m setting these goals is that I want to be ready for the Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference at the end of June.  I’m determined to go this year, and I’ll have pitches and samples and business cards and everything.  Until then, I’m focusing on networking and learning as much as possible about agents and publishing options.  I’ll be attending book clubs and meet-ups and write-ins.   I’ll even be presenting a moderated talk about YA Fiction through my writing program.  More on that to come, when the details are ironed out.

Sticking to these deadlines will be hard.  There are any number of roadblocks in my path.  I have a full-time job, a husband, friends and family, and other hobbies.  I’m also a pathological procrastinator (is that a thing?  I think it’s a thing).  Like many other writers, I suffer from anxiety and depression (mild, thank God), and while it’s getting better, it’s never really gone.  My roadblocks are certainly not unique, but they are mine.

But like so many of the writers I admire, I will push past those hurdles.  When I fall, I’ll pick myself up and limp along with a bloody knee until the next obstacle in my path.

And please, in a few days or weeks or months, ask me how my book is coming along.  I promise not to bite.*


I want to go to there.

It’s Road Trip Wednesday Time!

This Week’s Topic
Describe your dream writing retreat. Where would you go? Who and what would you bring?
Road Trip Song of the Week:
Holocene” by Bon Iver

This is a timely topic, as I’ve been thinking about a writer’s retreat a lot in the past few days.  Mainly, I’ve been pining away for one, since I can’t have one.  No vacation days.  That’s one of the downsides of switching jobs twice last year.

Well, dare to dream, right?  So, here’s what I’d like for my retreat:

First and foremost, I would like my retreat to be somewhere wooded and beautiful.  A cabin in the mountains, perhaps, with beautiful scenery to inspire me to write beautiful words.  Something rustic, with no television.  I’ll have my computer with me, and I’m assuming this cabin will not be so isolated that I won’t have internet access.  That being said, I want some sort of parental lock on my internet access that will keep me from whiling away the hours on Twitter or Buzzfeed.  I’m assuming my time at this retreat is limited, so I can’t afford to get distracted.  Research-only internet, please.

And as secluded as I would like to be, I probably should have some other people around to help provide a little structure (and to keep me from going insane from lack of contact).  If someone was available to help me set and keep goals, to be accountable for my writing, that would be very helpful.  Fellow writers nearby to talk through ideas with me would be great.

I’ll need comfy clothes, an endless supply of tea, and headphones.  I’m assuming there’s food as well.

Who would I want with me?  Maybe my dog.  He’s a good writing buddy, and he would keep me from getting scared at night.  Any of my writer friends would be nice to have along, though I would probably get the most done with Kristen.  She and I have written together at each others’ houses from time to time, and I’ve always gotten a lot accomplished.

If I can’t have a real retreat, how about a writing shed in the backyard?  I remember salivating over this Re-Nest post about famous writers’ writing sheds and cabins.  I would take any of those, but Roald Dahl’s is probably my favorite.  I mean, it matches my house already!

Roald Dahl's adorable shed, from Re-Nest

My house. Notice the resemblance? Can I go ahead and just have Dahl's shed now? KTHXBAI.

Does it help that it was Dahl who got me into reading, way back in 3rd grade?  I mean, I read before, of course, but it was the reading of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by my third-grade teacher that really made me hungry for books.


Well, I’ll keep hoping.  And at least I have a cozy room inside my house to write in, with a desk and huge window and tons of books and a comfy couch.  That’s almost like a retreat.  Except that it’s totally not.  But it will do for now.

Someday, though, I’ll make it to a cabin in the woods.

Oh, and P.S.:  Totally love that Bon Iver song.  Though, we know that already from my 2011 Top Ten Albums list.

Sayonara, 2011!

It’s New Year’s Eve!  The last day to get all of your 2011 resolutions done.

Didn’t lose those 40 pounds?  Better get on the treadmill!

House still a mess?  Call an emergency maid service!

Novel still unfinished?  Ice your fingers and start typing!

Still stuck in old job?  Better get out the want ads!

No boyfriend or girlfriend? Match.com that shizz!

Resolutions, schmesolutions.

For me, 2011 was both a blessing and a curse.  Some really great things happened.  We sold our house and moved into a lovely new house in a wonderful neighborhood.  I screwed up the courage to get out of not one but two jobs that weren’t right for me and found one that is.  I finished a first draft of a new novel (!!!).  I had several epiphanies about the YA book I’ve been writing since time began.  I started leading a local Forever Young Adult book club, which has introduced me to new books and a lot of nice new people.  I read good books and saw interesting plays and attended fun concerts.  I traveled to weddings of people I loved and revisited some of my favorite cities.

It was also a rough year.  Switching jobs is hard.  Selling and buying a house is really stressful.  So is major surgery.  And death in the family.  And a home break-in.

So, I’m glad to see the end of 2011.  It’s been a rollercoaster year, and I’m ready for a little more peace and quiet in my life.  I can only believe that 2012 will be better.  I have a lot of hopes and aspirations and dreams that I plan to work toward in the upcoming year, but I’m old enough now to realize that it doesn’t mean that I failed if they don’t materialize.  It’s the trying that counts, no matter what Yoda says.

I’m also old enough to count my blessings.  While 2011 was rocky, I’m still alive, still have friends and family, still have a (lovely) roof over my head.  There are many out there who are not as fortunate.  The last day of the year is a time of celebration, but it’s also a time to eke out a last donation to charity in the 2011 tax year.  So, if that’s an impetus for you, go ahead and make life better for someone else.

And please, be careful out there tonight!

Favorite books of 2011

I’ve been planning a year-end favorite books list, and that happens to be YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday topic this week. I’m separating my list into two sections, because I haven’t read and loved that many books that were published in 2011. I’m including favorite non-2011 books I’ve read this year too. These are in no particular order, they’re not just young adult, and I’ve probably forgotten a ton. Anyway, here we go:

Published in 2011:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor. This was a Forever Young Adult book club selection, and man am I glad they chose it! This book had exotic locales, intricate world-building, a badass heroine, and a new book boyfriend for me. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel, because she ended the book with a huge cliffhanger.

Divergent – Veronica Roth. I was so impressed by this debut novel. Most of the things I said about Daughter of Smoke and Bone apply here as well. Great characters and world-building, fast-paced, plot-driven, and just all-around fantastic.


What Happened to Goodbye – Sarah Dessen. I love Sarah Dessen’s writing, and this book did not disappoint. Her characters are always so real, and that’s refreshing in a genre full of dystopias, impossibly rich girls, supernatural beings, etc.

The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson. Speaking of supernatural beings, Maureen Johnson’s latest is a thriller set in a present-day London gripped by copycat Jack the Ripper murders. Maureen Johnson’s books always start a little slow for me, but I’m totally hooked by the end.

New to me:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green and David Levithan. Good Lord. This book made me laugh and cry and insist that everyone I know read it. It made me go on a John Green-reading spree. It eventually made me a nerdfighter. Read. This. Book!

Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta. This book is super confusing at first, and as the mystery unravels, you find yourself never wanting it to end. I gobbled up a bunch of Melina Marchetta’s books after I read this. It’s a shame she isn’t more widely-known here in the US.

Little Bee – Chris Cleave. This came highly recommended by several of my friends. Chris Cleave writes in two distinct female voices here, and his prose is beautiful. A fantastic novel with numerous plot twists, this book really stuck with me long after I finished it.

Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins. I read this while in Paris over Thanksgiving (how fitting!). I was struggling through writing my NaNo novel for adults, and this delightful book reminded me why I love the YA genre so much.

This is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Topper. Hilarious and heartbreaking. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys funny, contemporary family drama. Also, one of the best covers I’ve seen this year (which is the reason I picked this up in the first place).

The Likeness – Tana French. I enjoyed In the Woods, but this sequel seemed much stronger to me. It has been compared to another of my favorites, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and like that novel, I wanted to inhabit French’s book.

Flowers from the Storm – Laura Kinsale. So, my mother suggested I read this, and as an equal-opportunity reader, I did. This is one of the most unconventional romance novels I’ve ever read. A couple of my friends have also read and loved it. Give it a chance… you will be surprised.

What did you love reading this year?

(but not much more)

One of my favorite Smiths quotes and so appropriate for this week’s Road Trip Wednesday! From YA Highway:

Where do you buy most of your books? No one is judging!

This issue has been weighing on me lately for several reasons. I want indie bookstores to survive. I want authors to get paid when I buy their books. And most of all, I want people to have access to books so that they can read.

Anyway, here’s my list, in order of most frequent purchases (I think, anyway).

1. Amazon. It’s easy, it’s fairly cheap, and I have a Kindle. It makes me feel kind of dirty shopping there, because I’d much rather buy from a brick-and-mortar shop, but as is well-documented, I am lazy.

2. Half Price Books. The flagship HPB on Northwest Highway is kind of a mothership to me. I probably buy the majority of my real (as opposed to ebooks) books here. This also makes me feel a little dirty, because I’m pretty sure authors don’t get paid when I buy their books used. However, HPB is based in Dallas, so at least I’m supporting the local economy (and my friend that works in their headquarters). They also have a vibrant community presence and do a lot of good for charity. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if HPB might actually beat out Amazon for my number one spot. Moving on…

3. New and used book stores in cities I visit. I travel a lot, and I visit bookshops whenever possible. I always leave space in my carry-on for a heap of books. Some favorites include Powell’s in Portland, Oregon; Dickson Street Books in Fayetteville, Arkansas; Burke’s Books in Memphis; Brattle Book Shop in Boston, and Crescent City Books in New Orleans. Over Thanksgiving, I discovered Shakespeare and Company in Paris, which was a book-lover’s dream. And I will always have a warm spot in my heart for The Winding Stair in Dublin.

4. Various other secondhand places. Like thrift stores, garage sales, library sales, etc. In Dallas, I sometimes buy a Paperbacks Plus, especially when I used to live around the corner from them.

5. Other. Like Barnes and Noble and big box stores. I much preferred Borders to B&N, and I was very sad when it closed.

So, that’s the list. One day, my friend Diana and I will open our own bookstore/cafe/small performance space, and we will merrily go into bankruptcy.

Unless there’s a miracle and bookstores begin to thrive again.

I hope there is a miracle.

So… Bookstore recommendations, anyone?