My Projects, NaNoWriMo

Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo This Year

I’ve been participating in the National Novel Writing Month since 2011 and I’ve finished novels all but one of those years. It’s something I love doing and look forward to each year. But those five novels I’ve finished are still just sitting there in my documents folder. I’ve been querying agents for the first one, but the others I’ve only looked at once or twice since writing the first draft. I want to actually finish another novel, not just keep turning out new drafts.

And so I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Instead, I’m going to focus the intense writing time that I would normally spend on a new novel on revising the novels I wrote last year. Last year’s NaNo project turned into a duology (I finished the first book last November and the second a couple months later) and I honestly think it’s the best story I’ve ever told. I want to make it publication ready without getting distracted by another new story.

It feels so weird not to be starting a new novel today. To not have spent the past month sketching out characters, making sticky-note outlines, and getting my NaNo survival kit together. My thoughts are with everyone who is embarking on a month of noveling, and I wish you all the best of luck. And good luck to those of us sitting this NaNo out to work on other projects as well!

Book Review "The Night Circus" for #FlightsofFantasy
Book Review

Book Review of “The Night Circus” for #FlightsofFantasy

This book was one of the re-reads on my Flights of Fantasy book list. Just a few chapters in I found myself exclaiming to anyone who would listen that I’d forgotten just how amazing this book is and they simply must read it. There’s a very good reason I purchased The Night Circus online right after reading it from the library instead of waiting to happen upon it in a book shop.Book Review "The Night Circus" for #FlightsofFantasy

The Goodreads summary is extensive. A single paragraph or two couldn’t hope to do this book justice. At it’s most basic, it’s a story about dueling magicians. Yet it’s also an intricate literary fantasy, an immersive magical world, and an epic romance set within the crucible of a traveling circus. Much like The Prestige, one of Erin Morgenstern’s inspirations, the book itself is an elaborate, seductive magic trick drawing you ever deeper into the story.

It’s a mark of great books that they’re just as compelling when re-reading as they were the first time. Once again, I sank into the world, fell in love the characters, and tied my thoughts to Le Cirque des Rêves. Knowing the ending did nothing to lessen the magic of the book and the story is so intricate that I still felt I was discovering new aspects as I re-read.Book Review "The Night Circus" for #FlightsofFantasy


Giving The Night Circus 5/5 stars on Goodreads wasn’t something I debated for even a moment. Published in 2011, it was Morgensetern first novel and I eagerly await her long-promised second novel. Having begun life as a NaNoWriMo project, this story is a perfect inspiration for those of us tackling writing a novel this November. If she can craft such a masterpiece from a NaNo draft, perhaps we can as well.

Book Review "Gatefather" for #FlightsofFantasy
Book Review

Book Review of “Gatefather” for #FlightsofFantasy

Book Review "Gatefather" for #FlightsofFantasy marismckay.comI love Orson Scott Card’s Enderverse books. I think he’s a fantastic writer. Which is why I found Gatefather so disappointing — I know he can write better stories than this.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Lost Gate caught my interest with good characters and an intriguing world. Not my favorite of his books, but definitely good enough to keep me reading. The second book, The Gate Thief, started out strong but then took the story in a direction I didn’t like and ended in a truly disturbing scene that had no place in a YA novel. Book three continued everything I didn’t like about book two, so the plot wasn’t something I enjoyed.

Worse, though, was the dialogue. It just went on and on page after page in lengthy chapters that moved ideas in circles without accomplishing anything of emotional resonance. Only about 7 or 8 scenes in the whole book stand out in my mind as moving the story forward and there are 22 chapters in this 583-page book.

Even the character development suffered. Pat and Hermia have character building scenes, but that’s about it. Danny (our main character) becomes so good he’s not interesting. I can hardly tell Enopp and Eluik apart. All Danny’s female friends (other than Pat) aren’t even characters any more — they’re just teenage girls begging for the chance to have Danny’s baby (which may be the most puzzling thing about this book. I’ll buy three teenage girls wanting to sleep with him, but all wanting to get pregnant?).

Honestly I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t put it on my Flights of Fantasy book list for 2016. I’m giving Gatefather only 2/5 stars on Goodreads with a heavy heart. It had so much potential. Book Review "Gatefather" for #FlightsofFantasy

Book Review "Cinder" for #FlightsofFantasy
Book Review

Book Review of “Cinder” for #FlightsofFantasy

I can’t resist a good fairy tale retelling. Throw in some sci-fi elements, and I can hardly believe Marissa Meyer’s Cinder has been out for 4 years already and I only just read it. At least I don’t have to wait for the sequels. Scarlet, Cress, and Winter here I come!

The plot was at times predictable (none of the twists surprised me and I guessed them well before the reveal), but it didn’t hurt this story. Meyer’s characters and narrative style are a joy to read, and wanting to know how everything happened kept me reading after I’d already guessed much of what would happen. It’s a solid story line that keeps just close enough to the original fairy tales to qualify as a retelling while putting a unique spin on the Cinderella story.

Cinder and Kai (the two main characters) have some great dialogue. I really liked that their attraction develops naturally and isn’t based on a lust-at-first-sight sort of thing. They respect each other and are strong characters in their own rights (I’d have been willing to read a story about either of them without the other). I’ve noticed that I often struggle developing secondary characters in my own stories, but Meyer doesn’t have the same problem. Her supporting characters are a wonderful part of the story (Iko is my favorite).

Cinder and Kai fan-art by lostie815

From a fantasy writing perspective, I really enjoyed the way Meyer handled her world-building. Information about the world unfolds naturally as the story progresses. There are no info-dumps or lengthy descriptions to bog the story down, but we are always given the information we need to make sense of what’s going on.

Goodreads rating: 4/5 stars. I’d recommend this story to anyone who enjoys clever fairy tale retellings or light sci-fi.

Book Review

Book Review of “Endure” for #FlightsofFantasy

I absolutely loved Defy by Sara B. Larson when I read it a couple years ago but finally getting my hands on the sequel, Ignite, was quite a let-down. It’s not that it was a terrible book — it just wasn’t what I expected from the characters I loved in the first one and that was enough to irritate me. Still, never liking to judge a trilogy by the middle installment, I read the final novel, Endure. And I’m so glad I did.

I love how her outfit matches the book cover

For the first half of the book I felt it was just continuing the themes which had irritated me in book 2, but there was a turning point where I felt an “ah-ha” moment where Larson’s writing choices made sense and I felt, “this is why I liked the first book so much.” I still didn’t enjoy Endure quite as much as I did Defy, but it made the series work.

One thing I love about the Defy series is that it doesn’t blindly follow YA or fantasy stereotypes, especially in the first book. Defy takes place in a jungle instead of the ubiquitous pseudo-European setting, has the best love-triangle I’ve ever read, and even the secondary characters are well-developed and the opposite of cliched. Some of this originality was lost when the second and third book revealed the main character as “the One” (one of my least favorite fantasy cliches, but we needed something to explain why Alexa’s not dead yet).

Overall, I give Defy 5-stars, Ignite 3-stars, and Endure 4-stars. I recommend Defy to all who enjoy YA and/or fantasy novels with strong female leads, and recommend the other two books only if you really enjoyed Defy and need to know what happens next (as I did). You can read Defy as a stand-alone, but if you go farther make sure to read through the entire trilogy.

Endure review #FlightsofFantasy

Creative Writing, NaNoWriMo

What I’m Using to Prep For NaNoWriMo 2015

This year for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been struggling to come up with a good plot, and turned to the Internet for help. While there’s a huge collection of tools out there (click here to check out one of the most impressive NaNo prep lists), sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the writing tools available.  I’ve narrowed it down to just a few main sources for the sake of my sanity (though I’ll probably use others as I discover a need). Here’s the ones I’m finding the most helpful in my NaNo preparation for 2015.

Check out what I'm using to prep for #NaNoWriMo2015 and share your favorite writing tools at


I love checklists for making sure I don’t miss anything. 6 Tasks You’ll Love Yourself for Checking Off Your NaNo Pre-Writing List is sort of a checklist for checking things off of your checklist. Since I’m using elements of an old story that I’d previously abandoned on page 58, I’m hoping this will help me make sure I’ve got all the information I need for the new and improved story.


I admit it — I’m a Pinterest addict. There’s a good reason, though. It’s the best way I’ve found to collect visuals for use in your novel. You could clip pictures from magazines, scan them from books, or draw them yourselves and keep them in a physical book or folder (that might be fun, actually), but Pinterest is faster and easier to store.

Follow Maris’s board WIP – All Under Heaven (NaNoWriMo 2015) on Pinterest.


Trying this out just to see if I like it. Hiveword is an online plot and scene outliner/organizer that also keeps track of characters, settings, and important items. There are name generators for people and places built in, you can access it from anywhere, and it’s free.

I like my writer’s notebooks, but I thought I’d give Hiveword a try. I like the idea of being able to keep track of every character without taking up pages of notebook space. I also like how detailed the character sheets are, and that I can go back and add things easily. It won’t replace my beloved sticky note outline, but I’ll use it as a supplement.


I’ve noticed a tendency in my stories to write lots of internal conflict for my main characters and either leave out or under-develop the antagonist. This story has room for a great bad guy, and I want to make sure I write him well. I’d previously pinned several articles on writing good villains, and here are the ones I think will be most helpful:

Villainy 101: Villains Are People Too – The Academy of Ultimate Villainy is here to help make sure your villain is well-written

4 Types of Villain – The Last One is Truly Scary Because He’s So Good — uses Jane Eyre to explain different villain types

Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 31: One-Dimensional Conflict — not just about villains; a good source about conflict in general


If I’d discovered the 30 Days of World Building tutorial at the beginning of this month, I’d have been very tempted to work through it as a month-long precursor to NaNoWriMo. We’ve got less than two weeks before NaNo starts, though, so I suppose I’ll have to go through it a little more quickly than intended. I’ll also pull from some of the other resoources I’ve collected on my world building Pinterest Board.

What about you — do you have any go-to resources  you recommend for NaNo?  something you discovered recently or you always use when crafting a new story? Share it in a comment!


NaNo With Pneumonia/I Love Post-It Outlines

Winner-2014-Square-ButtonAs already announced on my homepage — I won NaNoWriMo! While I keep having to explain to people unfamiliar with NaNo that you don’t actually “win” anything, writing the last of those 50,000 words sure feels like a victory. Especially since I not only hit 50,000 words, I finished a rough-draft with an ending (unlike last year, when I won NaNo but didn’t actually finish the first draft until the following September).

I’m feeling particularly victorious this year since I finished NaNoWriMo while battling pneumonia. I was literally so sick that I was writing from bed for almost two weeks. Not fun! This is why it’s so important to write extra words during the first week of NaNo, so you don’t fall so far behind when life happens.

The Great Wall Of Noveling

This year, I tried a new way of outlining my story that was somewhere between a plotter and a pantster method. I had about the first 1/3 of the story in mind when I started, so I wrote each key scene on a Post-It note and arranged them on the wall. As I wrote, more ideas came to me and the Post-It outline grew, sometimes just a scene or two ahead of what I was currently writing.

Novel synopsis: In the wake of nuclear disaster, scientists rush to find a cure for dangerous mutations that are killing young adults at an alarming rate. Instead, they accidentally create superhumans. Not content to remain as lab-rats, the supers break free and begin taking control of the world. At least, most of them do. One would rather remain hidden as Cady Wright, a deceptively harmless 16-year-old girl.

Since this story was written in close 3rd-person with multiple point-of-view characters, I color-coded the sticky notes. Pink is for Cady’s scenes. Light blue is for Alec, Cady’s love-interest. Green is for the villain, Jayden. The dark blue and purple are scenes I haven’t actually written yet — I think I’m going to work them in to provide a global perspective on the novel’s events, which will be important if I do decide to write a sequel (which I think I will).

I can’t recommend this outlining method enough. You can tear out scenes you don’t need, and replace or reorder with ease. If you have an idea that you’re not sure where it goes, just write it on a Post-It and stick it somewhere on the wall. It’ll fit eventually. I’ll definitely do this again for future projects.