Thursday, February 28, 2013

Japan: A quick trip report continued (Days 3-5)

Continuing on with my trip report, we travelled via the Shinkansen to Universal Studios in Osaka and stayed at one of the hotels overlooking the park. The hotel had different themes, even a giant T-Rex hanging from the ceiling at one of their cafes.

Of course we had to go to Universal Studios. Okay, Australia doesn't have many theme parks, especially Universal Studios and Disney, so this is the only place we've been to this theme park and as I understand, it's the only one that you can still go on the Jaws park (my brother's favourite ride). Coming in 2014 a new ride will be opening up, and that's when I plan to come back here. Harry Potter is coming to Japan and all I saw were the cranes signifying they were in the middle of building. Since it was a cold day, we spent ages searching for the one curry shop in the whole of Universal Studios. It was called Happiness Cafe and here you had to order before entering, which was a very different experience. Something else that was different about here was we noticed people finding a table and then leaving all their bags and going to get their food. That is something that would definitely not happen in Australia for fear of people stealing something. So it can be said that Japan is a very safe country with little theft problems. Another place I had to find even though it was a tortured experience was the Hello Kitty Apple Fries (which had to be healthy didn't it, it's made of apples). This was a very pink place with very cheerful music playing in loops, enough to make one go mad. And the staff were chipper, and not the fake chipper either.

Okay, Universal Studios wasn't the only reason to go to Osaka. We also wanted to walk around and I wanted to get "food on sticks". Yeah, I had my mind set on eating things on sticks for dinner and wouldn't settle for anything else, which meant walking around until I found something, and then I found someone standing in a costume. Who doesn't love costumes? I just had to see what he was offering and who would have guessed it, he had exactly what I was looking for, food on sticks or the more technical term "kushiyaki".

So far Kushiyaki turned out to be one of my favourite foods, even though I had no idea what I was eating half of the time, on the trip, and we tried so many different foods.

Here's a question of the day, what's your favourite food?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When you're on a roll...

Sometimes life can get so overwhelming and I don't have enough time to prepare for my obligations let alone do any writing, but for the past two weekends I've been able to have a breather and spend the entire weekend writing. This has helped me re-write the first 20 chapters of my WiP, Shinigami Eyes.

The one thing that has helped me to get ahead in my WiP is setting a deadline (and having beta readers craving more chapters). I'm actually on a pretty crucial deadline because my alpha reader moves to Japan in less than a month so I lose the person who's making sure the plot makes sense and everything in Japan is pretty accurate (my beta readers... who are Japanese or living in Japan are helping with the rest of the inaccuracies).

The one problem I'm finding now that I'm on a roll is that I don't want to stop.

Do you set a deadline with your writing? How do you feel when you get on that writing roll?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Synopsis (From Goodreads): Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story... 

 Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. 

 So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay. 

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. 

 And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

I first had Anna Dressed in Blood on my to-read list ever since I first heard about it. I'm an absolute sucker for a good ghost story, and Kendare Blake certainly produced one with Anna. Cas is a ghost hunter. His father was before him and now he follows in his footsteps, preparing for the time he can face the ghost who took his father's life. Anna is not supposed to be anything different, just another ghost he's meant to kill, but there is something different about Anna, for some reason Anna decides to spare his life. As Cas tries to understand the motivations of Anna and why she doesn't behave like any normal ghost, he becomes fascinated with her, he has to figure out whether he can kill her in the end.

Kendare Blake has written an original ghost story with a splash of romance chucked in between the two most unlikeliest of couples. It's always good to find a story from a well-written male perspective, and Cas was a strong hero with his own insecurities and vulnerabilities, but also one who knows his own duties and he's a character that I fell in love with from the first page till the end. Anna, for the ghost and supposed villain at the start of the piece, it was easy to sympathise with and I loved that the reader was made to feel sorry for her rather than hate her.

The plot was fast-paced and will keep the reader guessing with many twists and graphically described scares, everything that a good ghost story needs. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves to be scared or loves a good horror story, and I definitely can't wait to see where Anna's story heads to next.

Source: kindle
2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge: #3 of 21

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Japan: A quick trip report (Day 1-2)

Wow, it's been nearly two months since I came back from Japan. I just can't believe it, time sure has flown by, and I thought it was about time I went through my pics (there's about 5k of them) and post a small trip report about what I did and my experiences while over there. Since we had a 2 week trip, I'll split the trip report into little posts so it's not too long (and I won't break blogger).

I had planned this trip to be part culture, part research part geek-dom (you'll see what I mean), and I definitely got what I planned for. After a nine hour late night flight, getting in at the ripe time of 6am, we nearly got lost in the airport as we tried to find both the phone rental counter (this really helped last time to have a phone on us with a plan for unlimited internet, just so that we could use the maps in case we ever got lost in Tokyo... which did happen on occasion), and then trying to find an international ATM (yeah, stupid me forgot to get some Yen out before leaving Australia... not a mistake we'll make again since this is mainly a cash-based society).

The first few days were spent jumping around, which I had planned because we had wanted to see so many places in such a rushed time. So, the first place we ended up on our journey was Odaiba. For those that do not know, Odaiba is a man-made island, and is becoming a very popular tourist site. For us, it also has a very interesting theme park called Sega Joypolis, which is an indoor aracde/theme park. This was also where we got our horror fix with three (yep three) haunted rides. One of them you just sit down with headphones on in a pitch black room and listen to a story (which I couldn't understand a word of), but that's the scariest thing I have ever heard. The other highlight was being chased through a haunted maze by Sadako (she is the horror villain of the Ring books/movies, the American movies translated her name to Samara). That was fun, I think the entire tour group were laughing the whole way through... I don't think that's the effect you want for a horror maze. Odaiba also has a statue that the American's would be very familiar with, sitting right in front of their bay. I later found out that they also had the flame sitting in the middle of the island, I took a picture, I just don't know where that picture ended up.

 The next day was an early start as we had to catch a bus to the foot of the Mt Fuji. Most people who go to Mt Fuji have the intent of climbing it, or going to the lakes that surrounds it, we had a different desire. Our desire was to go to the theme park that sat right at the base. Fuji-Q Highland is just a small theme park, but it has about six rollercoasters that have at one time appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records, they still hold one record for the steepest drop, and I love rollercoasters.

Another reason for this stop was that both my brother and I are big anime fans, and one of those animes are Evangeleon. The hotel beside the theme park had a particular room of interest, just have a look at the figurine that was in the corner of the room. There was even a challenge where we had black lights and had to find a secret message (luckily my brother can read Japanese) and we managed to get some badges for completing that challenge.

The things that I learned on this part of the trip:

  1. Always have cash in the currency of the country when you arrive (duh *slaps forehead*)
  2. Carrying big suitcases up and down the stairs (yep, Japan doesn't have that many elevators) can give the legs a workout, but also make them really, really sore
  3. Just because something is in a capsule machine doesn't make it suitable for children. Stay away from machines that have smiling women on the side of them, you can find some things that you don't want to see (yeah, you can get anything from a capsule machine)
Stay tuned for my other posts on Kyoto & Osaka, Tokyo & you can't forget Disneyland, which I promise will be coming.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: Devil's Triangle

Devil's Triangle by Toni De Palma

Synopsis (From Goodreads): When 17 year old Cooper dies in an attempt to burn down his school, he finds himself in the afterlife. Lucy, the Devil's sister who has crossed party lines, decides to give Cooper another shot at heaven. The deal? Cooper returns to Earth and has to find a girl named Grace. The rest is up to him.

 While Cooper figures out his mission, he's thrown into the life he's always wanted. Great parents, a spot on the Varsity football team and a real future are all within reach. But what he really wants is Grace, a feisty girl with an abusive boyfriend who can pound Cooper into pulp if he doesn't watch out. 

 While Lucy plays demonic-puppeteer, clues to an unknown past between Cooper and Grace start to unravel. Cooper discovers that what's keeping him and Grace apart is far more sinister than anything this bad boy could have ever imagined.. 

Cooper is dead, but when he gets a chance to redeem himself by none other than Lucifer's spitfire sister, Lucy, he gets tossed into a boy's life who's got everything. A loving parents, a caring older brother, a spot on the football team. The one thing he doesn't have is the girl he needs to find, a girl named Grace, who he's instantly drawn to but who's with an abusive jerk of a boyfriend who could pummel Cooper to dust if he looked at Grace the wrong way. Cooper soon learns that he's more connected to this new life than he originally thought and there are sinister secrets hidden in his memories that ties him and Grace together, or are keeping them apart, and he has to remember them before it's too late.

The first thing that drew me to this story was the interesting premise. It sounded original and unique, and to top it off, it has a well-written male perspective, which is really hard to find in stories. Cooper was funny but still honest and determined, that made the story worth reading.

The start of the story felt a bit slow for me as I kept waiting for things to happen, but once the twists and turns started (and what some twists they were), it sure picked up pace and kept me wanting to find out what's going to happen next.

Overall, even with the slow start, this story still had a good build up with twists that will keep the reader guessing and a believable male character and I'd recommend this story for anyone that loves stories from a male perspective or a different love story. It will be interesting to see where Cooper and Grace's story goes next.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

To Hook or to Dangle

As a writer, I have read so many books, blog posts and articles that all sprout the same advice "you need to hook the reader from the first page" or "you need to start with a bang", but I was just wondering whether a reader will read a slow chapter one if the characters are interesting, but also the opposite, what about if the story starts with a bang but there are lifeless or unbelievable characters?

I do like to try and give a story a go, if I see characters that I like or a story that I see going somewhere, but if there's still nothing happening by chapter five then I think nothing's going to happen in the whole story. I'm the same with a movie, and there have been several movies that I have not been able to sit through (unfortunately I've attended the cinema for several of them and ended up spending the majority of the movie writing... I did get a lot of work done though :P).

I am a writer who likes to start with an action scene, but in my latest WiP Shinigami Eyes, that was not possible because my character is stuck on the train and in my first draft the entire action wasn't even seen on the pages (seriously, I'd only mentioned the action). In my rewrite, I've changed it and have been told it is better with the action, but I still worry about the hook and whether it will keep the reader wanting more (but since I've got beta readers who are anxious for me to continue I'm gathering I'm heading in the right direction).

As a reader, do you like to be hooked right from the first page, or do you keep reading if there are interesting characters? What, if anything, makes you stop reading?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Altered

Altered by Jennifer Rush

Synopsis (From Goodreads): When you can’t trust yourself, who can you believe? 

 Everything about Anna’s life is a secret. Her father works for the Branch at the helm of its latest project: monitoring and administering treatments to the four genetically altered boys in the lab below their farmhouse. There’s Nick, Cas, Trev . . . and Sam, who’s stolen Anna’s heart. When the Branch decides it’s time to take the boys, Sam stages an escape, killing the agents sent to retrieve them. 

 Anna is torn between following Sam or staying behind in the safety of her everyday life. But her father pushes her to flee, making Sam promise to keep her away from the Branch, at all costs. There’s just one problem. Sam and the boys don’t remember anything before living in the lab—not even their true identities. 

 Now on the run, Anna soon discovers that she and Sam are connected in more ways than either of them expected. And if they’re both going to survive, they must piece together the clues of their past before the Branch catches up to them and steals it all away.

Jennifer Rush has created an action-packed debut with a bit of sci-fi thrown in with mystery and romance, all tossed in to make a thrilling read. Anna's father works for a secret branch of the government, monitoring the treatments of four boys (Nick, Cas, Trev and Sam) who are being kept below their farmhouse. When the branch decides to take the boys, Sam decides it's time to escape.

Anna is caught between the dilemma of following Sam or staying behind with her old life, but her father makes Sam promise to take Anna with them and keep her away from the branch. Now outside, there's only one problem. The boys don't remember anything about living outside the branch and now they have to piece together fragments of memory from their old life to find out the truth about who they are before the branch catches up with them all.

Altered has everything that a good action story should have. Right from the start, there's the lies, deceit and the mystery, not to mention the tortured hot guys who just want to get their memories back. That's not all, it also has a heroine that's not afraid to put in a few punches too and break a few rules if necessary. I'm sure Anna could take on any of those boys if she ever needed to.

Each of the characters have their own distinct personality which was fantastic to see, and as the story progressed the reader learned more about each of the characters. The one thing that was great about this novel was the evolution of the emotions and feelings of Anna and Sam, it was great to see how they evolved and grow naturally and their emotions did not feel forced.

At times I did feel some of the characters did some stupid things, and didn't question how the branch found them so easily at times, but other than that it was a fast and enjoyable read and I look forward to seeing where the second book takes this group.

Source: audio book
2013 Debut Author Challenge: #1 of 12
2012 Audio Book Challenge: #1 of 25

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Getting things perfect

I've had a very productive weekend. I started my revisions for Shinigami Eyes and have re-wrote 2 chapters, adding extra details and changing necessary events. But before I could start these revisions I spent the majority of Saturday searching through (and renaming) over 3000 pictures from my holiday just to find the pictures that would help me describe the setting and help me picture one important event that in the first draft wasn't even seen (it was only heard of and I thought that was, well, really boring).

Yeah, 3000 pictures are a lot (believe it or not, there are still 2000 more on my brother's phone I didn't have my hands on), but I had to make it perfect. The first draft was missing the description because I couldn't picture the place, and even though I had visited it, I just needed those pictures to help me get a better idea of where things were and how things were going to happen.

Stay tuned for a post later this week about my trip and I'll show you (not the 3000 pictures) some of the places I went. :D

So, do you like to see the place you're describing or do you write purely from imagination?

Friday, February 8, 2013

The dreaded revisions

I'm about to start the revisions for the novel I completed for last year's NanoWriMo, and now it feels as though I'm staring down the barrel of a gun. Yeah, I have a manuscript, but after giving it to my first reader (believe it or not my harshest critique... my brother), I know there's a lot of work to do and I have absolutely no idea where to start.

I guess it would be common sense to start at the beginning. And with that, I have to completely re-write the first chapter because I realise that the first chapter there's not really much happening because all of the action happens off screen... which I even know doesn't make for a very successful opening chapter.

I guess after I flip through the 50 odd pages of notes my brother left me about my story about not only characters that are missing for three quarters of the story (seriously, they didn't want to show up), teachers that I need to introduce (I don't even have any teachers for my classroom scenes... whoops), and lots of notes on what not to write about Japanese culture because that's totally wrong (yeah, he's very harsh), I guess I'll start my revisions.

So, how do you handle revisions? Do you have any readers who give you feedback before you start the editing process?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Insecure Writers Support Group

It's that time of the month again, time for another Insecure Writers Support Group. Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for hosting this fantastic group.

I think my big insecurity this month is that I won't have enough time to write, period. There are a lot of commitments in life, I bet everyone has the same problem at times, and sometimes all I want to do is come home and collapse in bed (seriously, that's exactly what I did yesterday afternoon, just getting up to have dinner). I have so many things I need to get done, and that's just with my job, that I really need to find time to get to those revisions, as well as finishing the first draft of another WiP I'm in the middle of.

I know I just have to take everything in my stride and learn how to prioritise. Sometimes I will have to ignore those revisions or postpone writing just to get my work done, and I'm sure life will calm down so I can get back to writing.

So, that's my big insecurity. What's yours?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Need for Organisation

First, I would like to say I am back (YAY!) After a frantic two week holiday over at the lovely Japan and then another two weeks of busy and stressful school preparation (which has really snuck up on me), I can finally say that I am back :D

And that leads me to today's post... Organisation, something I need really badly. This year I'm teaching 6 junior classes (7-10) and I'm still trying to keep up with my writing, which includes complete the rewrites for my Japanese novel as well as write a long overdue sequel for my finished novel, Shadow Embraced (plus there are all the other WiPs I have sitting on my shelf that I would like to finish)... see really busy, busy, busy.

I don't care what anybody says, everyone needs a little bit of organisation in their lives. If they didn't have any organisation they would get nothing done. This is how I'm going to achieve my organisation challenge this year:
  1. Set deadlines:
    Not something that difficult, but if you have a goal to finish that thing that needs finishing you'll be more motivated to achieve the deadline.
  2. Reward yourself:
    For each goal you achieve, give yourself something special. It doesn't have to be anything big. It could be something like, 'I won't have any chocolate until I finish the chapter' and then reward yourself with the chocolate (okay, so I'm a bit of a chocoholic... it's my weakness).
  3. Be realistic:
    Know what you can and cannot achieve. Don't say that you're going to finish writing a novel from beginning to end in one month if you're working a full-time job as well as tending to a very needy family. It just cannot be done (I know this as well).
  4. Prioritise:
    Some things in life are going to be more important than others. Don't neglect those that you really need to get done (like your job to edit a chapter).
  5. Don't forget you need to still relax:
    Sometimes you might need to admit defeat and learn to push back a deadline or just admit you're not going to achieve that goal. There's no need to constantly stress out, life's way too short to be working every waking hour. If you find yourself getting too stressed out, you may just need to go out (the movies is the perfect unwinding escape for me), and then come back and it will probably help you in the end, especially if you are stuck.
So, how is your organisation? Do you have any other tips for organisation?

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