Thursday, February 28, 2013

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

There are only a handful of authors/series whose books I will rush to buy immediately upon their release, and Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce novels are at the top of that list. The insatiable need to get my hands on these books means that I've been waiting over a year for the release of book #5, Speaking From Among the Bones.

It was worth the wait.

With a penchant for poisons and an ardent love of chemistry, Flavia de Luce is back with all her unabashed zeal for uncovering the secrets of the dead.  
As Bishop's Lacey prepares to open Saint Tancred's tomb on the 500th anniversary of the patron saint's death, who else but the eleven-year-old amateur detective would be on scene to discover not a centuries-old skeleton, but the freshly murdered remains of the missing church organist, Mr. Collicutt.
As she launches her own clever and covert investigation, Flavia uncovers an array of secrets, including some kept by her own mother, whose untimely death still shadows the de Luce family and their home estate, Buckshaw.

As both a writer and a reader I am constantly awed by Bradley's ability to set a scene with the most enchanting descriptions, not to mention the constant flow of witty dialogue and Flavia's audacious inner thoughts. There are enough twists and turns (and suspects) to keep you wondering if your guesses as to the culprit are correct, and I can pretty much guarantee, no matter how well you think you have it figured out the conclusion will surprise and delight you. As always, Flavia's methods and adventures will leave you laughing and amazed at her ingenuity. And don't forget those rare raw and feeling moments between Flavia and her family, which are even more emotionally charged as the fate of Buckshaw--and the entire de Luce family--appears more fragile than ever.

Fans of Flavia will love returning to the quaint village of 1950's Bishop's Lacey, England, and the mind of its most interesting young resident. Plus, we're treated to a deeper glimpse into the lives of some of our favorite and most endearing persons, and are given further insights into the life and character of Flavia's late mother, Harriet.

But be forewarned--the moment you read the last sentence you'll be launched into an agonizing wait for the sequel. According to, book #6, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, is set for an early 2014 release.

New to the Flavia de Luce novels? Check out book #1 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Picture Quote Monday

In the past few months I've determined to take this quote to heart, and last night after 4 months of hard work and over 62,000 words, I finished writing the last chapter of my first children's novel!

This week, whatever your dream is, keep pursuing it!

[Every Monday I'll be posting a new picture quote (thanks to my friend Chelsea over at Little Red Chair for letting me steal her idea). It may be something inspiring, humorous, or just a favorite line from a favorite book. Whether it relates to writing or just life in general, it gives me a good excuse to pull out my camera (that's my very own vintage restored Royal KMG typewriter) and my 1947 edition of Popular Quotations for All Uses. If you have a favorite quote you'd like to share, feel free to leave it in the comments!]

Saturday, February 23, 2013

It Made Sense in My Head...

My 2011 NaNoNovel went a lot like this. I think my husband can probably sympathize with Linus.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Rejection, Persevere, Win, Repeat

My latest published work, "Muddy Water" in the February 2013 issue of Sparkle

There's nothing quite like seeing the words "Written by [insert your name here]." For me, it's more than just reassurance that I really can write, it's a reminder of what I can accomplish when I persevere. Last year I sent out eleven manuscripts (fiction and non-fiction) to several children's magazines. Of those, nine came back with the words, "Thank you for your submission but..."

There are times when the rejections get frustrating. As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom with a graphic design business, I definitely don't write as often as I'd like to. And after weeks of propping my eyelids open til midnight in an effort to send off a handful of manuscripts, those "no thank you" replies can sting. (Especially when rejection letters from magazines who don't publish theme lists come back marked "did not fit our current editorial needs." Then tell me what you want from me!).

But every acceptance I receive is made sweeter by the rejections I've had to endure to get there. Since 2009 when I began submitting, I've racked up 27 rejections and 5 acceptances. My first year submitting manuscripts I didn't sell a single one. And when I did finally get my first yes, my excitement was tempered a bit by the news it would be published in a future issue--three years in the future, to be exact. (I finally get to see it in print this August).

No matter how many you receive (I've been told you never reach a point where you're above them) it's important to remember this: Rejections aren't the end of the world. It may mean you need to be humble, accept some constructive criticism and make some changes to improve your manuscript. Or it may simply mean you haven't found the right home for it. Just because it gets turned down, doesn't mean that your story (or you) is worthless.

After all, Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times before someone was smart enough to say yes.

Have you had a victory born from perseverance? Share your wins in the comments below. I'd love to share a virtual high five!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing Lessons: Go for It

I've learned a lot of lessons as a writer over the past few years.

-In dialogue, characters can speak, shout, and whisper words, but never laugh or smile them.
-It is possible to edit 1100 words down to 500.
-I need to proof read carefully because my pinky finger has a mind of its own when I'm typing and insists on turning every "its" into an "it's".

But one of the biggest and best lessons I've learned is to just go for it. So many great things in life can come out of a willingness to take a chance.

I took a chance and, at the urging of my wonderfully supportive husband, enrolled in the Institute of Children's Literature. I've sent out dozens of short story manuscripts to children's magazines and braved the sting of rejection letters. I started a writers' group and began handing over pages filled with my heart and soul to be critiqued. Because of these things I learned how to pursue my dream of being a writer, received 5 publication acceptances, gained some wonderful friends, and my first children's novel is being edited and polished into something beautiful.

Last year I submitted a picture book manuscript to an agent. She didn't choose to take me on as a client. She said my book wasn't unique enough to make it in such a competitive market. But she did have some very nice things to say about my story. And if I hadn't gone for it, if I had chosen to let fear of rejection, fear of a harsh critique stop me, I would have never gotten those encouraging words that helped me feel like there was hope for my dream. (Not to mention that next time I get ready to contact an agent, I'll feel like I kinda, sorta know what I'm doing).

Last week I took another chance. I pitched my children's novel to NaNoWriMo's pitchapalooza. I'm sure I am just one of thousands vying for the 25 critique slots. And chances are probably slim that I'll be chosen as the grand prize winner and be introduced to an agent. But in the end, winning isn't the sole purpose of my submission. The purpose is practice. The purpose is growth. The purpose is to go for it. Like the old adage says, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If you're going to chase a dream, you're going to have to take risks and put yourself out there. Sure, it might not happen. March 5th might come around and there will be 25 pitches and their accompanying critiques posted on the website, and it's very possible none of them will have my name on it. But then again, one of them could. One thing I know: Absolute statements like "that could never happen" don't belong in my vocabulary.

Mark Twain sums it up well in this quote, which I'll leave you with...

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Name That Novel

Music is a huge inspiration to me as a writer. But it's always nice to see a great work of fiction become another artist's muse. I fell in love with this music video from the moment I saw it. And not just because it's a great song. Before you scroll down to read the rest of this post, watch the video and tell me if you get the literary reference...

If, like me, you grew up reading the L.M. Montgomery books, (or even just watched the movies), and fell in love with the spunky, red-haired Anne-with-an-e, chances are you got it within the first 30 seconds. If not, go grab yourself a copy of Anne of Green Gables.

Bonus tidbit: Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shallot was also the inspiration for the title of Alan Bradley's I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce mysteries.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Return of Flavia de Luce

Flavia is back! I've been eagerly awaiting the release of this book for months. Before I dig into book #5 in the Flavia de Luce novels, I wanted to share how I stumbled upon this brilliant series and give you a bit of a prelude to my soon-to-come review of Speaking from Among the Bones.

Flashback to the summer of 2009...

I step into a quaint little bookshop on 1st Avenue in Seattle. There on the table in front of me, front and center just inside the door, is a little green hardback book. I'm intrigued by the image on the cover--a black crow, lying claws up, with a red postage stamp impaled on its beak. I'm even more intrigued by the title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I turn it over and read the back. A story about an 11-year-old aspiring chemist named Flavia de Luce who has a passion for poisons and finds a dead body in the garden of her 1950's English home?

I was hooked and I hadn't even turned a page.

Thus began my love affair with Alan Bradley's beautifully crafted series.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a book to read.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Shake You Warmly by the Hand

I feel like all first blog posts are a bit like that awkward introduction speech Johnny Depp, (aka Willy Wonka), reads off his index cards when he meets the children at the door to the chocolate factory.

Greetings! Welcome to my blog. My name is Ashley Martin.

Along with chronicling my own adventures in author-land as I edit, revise (and hopefully publish) my first children's novel, I'll be posting book reviews, tips on great writing apps and tools, and lots of general bookworm/writer geekery.

I hope you'll stick around and check it out! Since I don't have a lifetime supply of chocolate to lure you with, I'm hoping a mutual love of all things literary will be enough to bring you back.

Until then...
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Find me on NaNoWriMo: paperpages