Monday, June 30, 2014

Excerpt No. 1 from The Pit (YA contemporary)

Image Credit: Marcos Molina via Flickr
As I had mentioned in my last post,  one of the projects I'm working on  is a YA contemporary novel called The Pit. It's about a sixteen-year-old girl named Han who's having to face the loss of her older brother after he's killed in action in Afghanistan. She's also a violinist, and her relationship to music plays out (no pun intended) as she deals with various issues in her life.

This will be the first time I've attempted a work for a younger audience that doesn't involve a) magic, b) sci-fi, or c) swords. I've had the idea for this story for several years, but I just didn't know how to approach it without boring myself. So, after doing some reading and fiddling around with voice, I think I have a better understanding of the characters (particularly Han's) to where I think I can tell her story authentically (despite it still being fiction).

Anyway, to show you what I mean, I'm posting the first and second (not finalized) chapters here.

- - -

THE PIT by Christina Daley


Movement 1 - The Horrible Homecoming

My brother Thanh was notorious for not listening to me. Like the time he disassembled my tricycle to every factory part (pink handlebar tassels not withholding) and earned a proper beating from Dad. Or when he tried to "modify" our beloved Joyota's engine for more horsepower based on instructions procured from YouTube, which made me late for an important violin recital. And especially when I used the specific words "don't die" before his third tour of duty to Afghanistan, from which he had the balls to return in a flag-draped oblong box.

Said box is currently making its way down from the plane's baggage hatch, while my father and I wait silently under a terminal at DFW Airport. Dad's normally not a chatty person anyway, but his nonchattiness tonight was of a graver variety (no pun intended).

I'm a hobbit standing next to him. My dad's unusually tall and solidly built for a man of Vietnamese origin, most likely due to ancient Mongol genes that also passed on to Thanh. (Sadly, I had inherited our maternal unit's petite frame and large teeth that vie for supremacy in a mouth of limited capacity, but that's for another time.) I'd given up long ago trying to guess my dad's thoughts, but if they're anything on par with mine tonight, I'd hazard "this is bullshit" numbers among them.

Up in the terminal, some passengers from the same flight line against the glass to witness Thanh's final homecoming. Few of them probably knew that a deceased soldier was riding along with their checked luggage. What would the flight attendants have said? "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for choosing Moneysuck Airlines. We would like to extend a warm welcome to all our elite fliers and the dead guy in the cargo bay. Economy doesn't sound so bad to the rest of you peasants now, huh?"

A group of non-dead (but non-zombie) soldiers are on hand to collect Thanh and his patriotically embellished box. After placing it on a clever coffin-carrying contraption, they ceremoniously accompany it to where Dad and I stand. One steps forward and salutes. He'd said his name when we had arrived, but I've already forgotten it and my sucky Asian eyes are poor at reading things like tiny name tags in the dark.

He relays the details of keeping Thanh's box for us at their base before transporting it to the cemetery and blah blah blah. It's nearly midnight, after all, and oh yeah, my big brother's just arrived home in a box because he didn't listen to my very specific instructions. Funeral arrangements are not a high priority to my grieving, sleep-deprived sixteen-year-old cerebral cortex.

"Can we see him?" I blurt out to no one in particular.

Sergeant Whatshisname stops his logistical ramble and regards me. He keeps a straight face, though I can tell my question makes him a little uncomfortable. "I would not recommend that," he says. "Corporal Vo's remains are not suitable for viewing."

Not suitable for viewing. I guess that's the gentle way of saying, "Physics, with the help of an IED, tore your brother and two other guys from his unit to bits. I think we got their pieces sorted into the correct oblong boxes, but you know, mistakes can happen. Better that you don't look and see an extra kneecap while another family looks in theirs and finds one missing."

So, Thanh, not only did you decide to come home in a box, but you also made it impossible for me and Dad to say goodbye to your face. I hope you're satisfied.


Movement 2 – The Awful Reunion

We don't have a funeral for Thanh, because Dad can't afford one. No viewing (he's not suitable anyway), no printed programs, no speeches, and no cookies and punch. Just Hearst, pallbearers, and ground while we watch. A few people turned up. Some of Thanh's friends, both in and out of the army, as well as a few family members who could make it on such short notice. My friends from school are also here. All two of them. Moral support for myself, yes, but they also knew Thanh. He'd been our designated chauffer on many occasions, back before any of us could drive.

Arabella, a black girl with natural hair wrapped in a colorful headband, gives me a warm, squishy hug. "Han, I'm so sorry."

She pronounces my name correctly—"hon" with a clipped "n" at the end. It's one of the many reasons why I'm friends with Arabella, in addition to her squishy hugs.

The other of my two friends is a bear of a boy with black hair and copper skin. Politics call him American Indian. Assholes call him Chief. We call him Craig.

He wraps me in one of his ursine embraces. "How are you?" he asks in a voice reminiscent of James Earl Jones.

"I'm here," I say. I'd abandoned "I'm fine" years ago when I decided not to lie to myself or others about my emotional or mental state.

"Thanks for coming, you two," I add.

"Wouldn't miss it for anything," Arabella says. "How's your dad?"

I glance over at him, nodding politely as other attendees offer their condolences. His immense shoulders are turned in, a symptom of clutching the folded flag and, oh yes, of having to stand next to a Giant Hole in the earth that will forever hold the pieces of your son.

"He's doing as well as he can," I say. I don't tell him that he'd locked himself in the bathroom to cry between four and seven o'clock this morning.

Craig looks up. "Your mom?"

I shrug. "I don't know if she's coming." Since I had refused, my father was the one to call her about Thanh and invite her to the burial. I'd told him not to hold his breath. My mother had a way of being glaringly absent from major life events including, but not limited to, birthdays, holidays, first periods (not Thanh's), and promotions to corporal (not mine).

But Craig shakes his head and points. "I mean, is that your mom?"

I follow his indicating digit to a creature stepping out of a candy apple red spacecraft that has been modified for planetary surface travel. She's wearing a little black dress with matching wide-brim hat and Audrey Hepburn sun specs. Her lipstick is the same shade as the spacecraft.

As she negotiates the grassy terrain in her glistening stilettos, another being emerges from the car—male, of distant European origin but local nationality, and most likely had Botox injections recently as evidenced by the unnatural smoothness of his fake-baked skin. How quickly these organisms are at adopting the ways of Planet Earth's One Percent.

"Excuse me," I tell my friends as I step away to intercept the Female.

She smiles. "Han! How are you, sweetheart?"

She moves to embrace me, but I swat her hands away and demand, "What are you doing here?"

Her perfectly penciled eyebrows arc from behind her Hepburn glasses. Then, they arc down. "Han, don't start—"

I cross my arms. "Start what?"

She presses her ruby lips together. "He was my son. Don't I have the right to mourn him, too?"

"You surrendered that right, among others, when you willingly abdicated Motherhood," I say.

A frustrated huff escapes her. "Why do you always do that?"

"Use two feet to stand or two lungs to process oxygen?"

Her crafted brow wrinkles. "Huh?"

"Make a more specific query if you want a more informed answer."

"That!" she snaps. "The talking over my head stuff, like you're so much smarter than me."

"Because I am."

I'm just getting warmed up when my father's voice interrupts. "Chi. I'm glad you could make it." He shoots me a "behave yourself" glare while exchanging a pleasant handshake with the Female.

She flashes her smile again, her massive teeth now stained with her lipstick. "Minh, thanks for calling."

They exchange "how are yous" as they walk towards Thanh. They look like people from two different worlds. My father's only sports coat in the world is too tight around the shoulders and too large around the middle, and his shoes are actually work boots that he tried to make socially acceptable with drugstore shoe polish. Chi is tiny and looks like a million bucks—probably because that's what her outfit costs after adjustment for inflation. If he'd wanted to, Dad could pick her up and toss her into the Giant Hole with one hand. I kinda wish he would, but he won't. My dad is the complete opposite of a violent man. To my knowledge, the only time he had physically struck anyone was Thanh—once for The Premature Tricycle Disassembly of '99 and another time immediately after The Great Pot Discovery of '04.

"Han?"

I turn to find the Male has come to invade my personal space. He smiles, which doesn't make his face anymore pleasant to regard.

"I don't know if you remember me." He tells me his name, but I refuse to make space in my memory banks to retain it. "It's been a long time."

I turn away without acknowledging him.

"Uh, I got something for you." He steps around to plague my scope of vision again and holds out a small glossy shopping bag with tissue paper peeking over the top. It's the kind of bag that, set forth by the guidelines of television, was manufactured specifically to deliver either jewelry or naughty lingerie. "Your mom thought you might like it."

Clearly, this man knows nothing about me. Because my mother knows nothing about me.

"She said that you—"

I interrupt with, "A-minus for effort in trying to win favor with a material offering. But you are screwing my mother and are, thus, not allowed to screw with me."

I wait for no response and walk with determination in no particular direction. This day has officially gone from DEFCON 5 Crappy to DEFCON 5,000 Crappy, now that the two people I loathe the most have made an appearance. I have to get away.


- - -

Like I said, it's very different from anything I've done before, but I'm having some fun with it, and so far I've gotten some really good feedback from some early critiques. So, I guess I'd better get back to it :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Writing ALL THE THINGS

Art by Allie Brosh. Meme by, I dunno, someone else.
2014 is almost half way through, and here is my current status: 1) still unemployed, 2) still alive, and 3) still writing.

In the beginning of the year, I focused a lot on getting an illustration portfolio together. Now that I've got one more or less started, I'm switching back to the word-side of my brain again. I've completed the text and some interior sketches for Shirayuki and the Seven Ninjas. Now, I'm getting back to my genre-jumping WIP list, which goes a little something a-like this (in no particular order):


1. Seranfyll #3 (MG/YA fantasy) - Still untitled, but I have first pages. This one was a challenge to do, mostly because I was going through some pretty emotional stuff (like losing my job and having to leave my apartment and studio) while working on the beginning. But I'm so glad to get back to Domrey, Rain, and Coal's adventures, and I can't wait to get it more solid so I can share more details.

2. Lady Warlord (YA historical) - I talked about this one here and in a couple other previous posts. I'm at a pausing point because I have more research to do, but this story is still very much on the list.

3. Confessions of a Grumpy Angel ( MG/YA fantasy graphic novel) - This story is about Cadam. Cadam is an angel. He's grumpy. And these are his (often hilarious) confessions. Similar to my plans for Shirayuki, illustrations will accompany the text.

4. The Pit (YA contemporary) - I'm actually attempting a novel that does not involve an ounce of magic or sci-fi (!) This is a stretch for me, but I'm (metaphorically) flexible. This involves a violinist named Han (girl), another violinist named Sy (boy), a "fight" over being concertmaster, a school production of Fiddler on the Roof that goes ridiculously wrong, and other stuff I don't know about yet because I'm still writing it.

5. The Dreamcatcher's Apprentice (YA non-dystopian sci-fi) - This is the newest project I've started, and one of the reasons I'm liking it a lot is because I'm getting back to my sci-fi roots that I started in high school. Basically, this one takes place in the far future where technology has advanced to the point that people don't have to sleep anymore. But sleep = no more dreaming, and dreams are a hot luxury, particularly among the uber rich living in the big cities. Court is apprenticed to a Dreamcatcher named Bartholomew, who does most of his catching in the outer colonies where people are still poor, still sleep, still dream, and are willing to sell their dreams for peanuts to Catchers in order to survive. But on her first solo catch, Court comes across a boy named Elias who has very different types of dreams. Dreams of future things that actually come true. Dreams that some people are willing to pay big for. Dreams that certain people are willing to kill for.

6. Alternate (YA "paranormal-lite") - Radiant was told from Mary's POV. Alternate will be from Carter's.


Whew! Yeah, I guess that'll keep me busy. And to make it more interesting for myself, I plan to have at least first drafts of all six projects done by the end of 2014. Ambitious, yes, and failure is always an option. But I don't think it's impossible, since all of these are at some degree of doneness (except for TDA, because it's just an outline) and since I still don't have full-time employment to eat into writing time. When 2015 rolls around, however, I will HAVE to find work, so I'm giving it my best before I have to give this writing thing up for a while.

So, I guess I better get back to it ;)

Monday, June 16, 2014

8 Things to Give Up

Saw this on Twitter and I really like it. I'm sure there are all kinds of variations running around on the web, but I like the cut-to-the-chase nature of this list:

8 Things to Give Up for Happiness

1. Self-rejection

2. Negative self-talk

3. Criticizing others

4. Being a people-pleaser

5. Fear of failure

6. Procrastination

7. Holding onto grudges

8. Expecting perfection

The world owes us nothing. So if life hands you crap, plant a tree, pick the lemons, and invite some friends over for some lemonade.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why I'm Not Always a Fan of Happily-Ever-After

NOTE: This post contains spoilers.

A few people have asked me why I wrote the ending of Radiant the way I did. I realize that it's not the typical happily-ever-after (HEA), but my reason for choosing the ending that it has is simply this--because it's the proper ending.


The laws of the world in which Radiant exists make it impossible for Mary and Phos to be together physically in the end. She's human. He's a radiant. I chose not to change that, and while I bent some of the laws of the story, I chose not to break them. But that doesn't necessarily mean they can't be together at all, as the last chapter implies. It just means they can't have a physical relationship. And that was sort of the point of their story. Mary and Phos loved each other for reasons beyond anything physical.

Don't get me wrong. I like HEAs, but only if they make sense. If they show up in a story just for the sake of ending on an up note, it can feel like an insult to my intelligence. If the ending was reached at great costs, then it's even worse, because it feels like the story cheated itself.

Here are some stories that I think have proper endings that I don't think are HEAs:

1. The Hunger Games trilogy
Image courtesy of Scholastic.
Sure, Katniss and Peeta are together in the end. But pretty much everything else is screwed up. You can't really have a story like The Hunger Games without everyone having some degree of post trauma in the end. Yes, there is hope for the future generations, but for Katniss, Peeta, and the others, their lives are pretty much ruined.

2. The Maze Runner series
Image courtesy of Delacorte/Random House.
Another dystop, and yes, Thomas ends up with Brenda. But beyond that, the rest of humanity was screwed. I didn't like the way this one ended, but I understand it. There was no cure for the virus--plain and simple. Dashner chose not to make one, and the cost to the world of The Maze Runner was immense. But like in THG, there is hope for the immunes.

3. Code Geass
Image courtesy of Sunrise.
I realize this is an anime (which was later adapted into a manga and light novels). But Code Geass has one of the BEST endings of ANYTHING. Yes, it was immensely sad. I'd even say it was heart breaking, because you never really knew whether the main character, LeLouche, was a hero or a villain. As it turns out, he was both, and for all the right reasons. He'd known from the beginning what it was going to take to make things right in the completely jacked world that he lived in--and it only took a character as strong and messed up as him in order to do what he did.

4. Ender's Game
Image courtesy of Tor Books.
For the purposes of this post, I'm just talking about the one novel, Ender's Game, not the subsequent novels (and definitely not the disappointing movie adaptation). This is one of my favorite stories ever, and it has one of the saddest endings I think I've ever read. Yes, humanity was safe from the Formics forever, but as the ending showed, it was never in danger (not the second time, at least). And Ender himself had paid such a terrible price, being responsible for the destruction of a species and, in "winning" the second war, ensuring that he could never go back home. (Ask any soldier in real life what he or she would've thought if they'd gone to fight and then were not allowed to come home again.) There was nothing happy about the end of Ender's Game, but it was the correct ending.

Like I said before, I like HEAs in the proper context. But I respect the writers who are willing to make the hard decisions in order to deliver the best story that they can.

I know it can't be easy.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

My 'Snow White and the Ninjas' work in progress

As I had mentioned in my last blog post, I'm working on a short graphic novel for kids tentatively called Shirayuki and the Seven Ninjas. It's basically a silly twist on the classic Snow White tale with a Japanese flair.

In my version, the "mirror" is a mountain pool that a water spirit watches over and in which the Empress (Shirayuki's stepmom) likes to bath in and admire her reflection. I chose to write from the spirit's POV because...well, just because. I wrote the first draft in third-person-omniscient (in the spirit of the old "Once upon a time" fairy tales), but it didn't feel right when I read back through it. So, I'm currently rewriting it in first-person with the water spirit as the narrator.

There are also ninjas in place of the dwarves (as the working title implies). I decided on using ninjas for a specific reason (as opposed to just a bunch of little Japanese dudes running around the woods). There's a reason why they had to cover their faces and go hiding in the woods beyond being there to meet Shirayuki when she has to escape from her stepmom.

(c) Christina Daley
And I made the prince a samurai--because samurais are cool. But beyond that, like the ninjas, he has a functional reason for being a samurai.

I got the idea for this story while preparing to attend the SCBWI conference in New York this past February. For the illustrators intensive, we had an assignment to draw a scene from Snow White in our own style. I had intially sketched a traditional/European Snow White and dwarves at first, but they were kinda lame. So, I mixed up the story in my head and thought it'd be funnier if everything was set in feudal Japan and that Shirayuki (pronouced sheer-eye-yoo-kee and literally translated "white snow") took a wrong turn in the forest and ended up in the lair of these cute little ninjas who wouldn't tell her their names (otherwise, they'd have to kill her). I went back to drawing with that premise and out came the piece to the right.

Obviously, this will not be the final look and feel of the artwork. The point of this piece was just to fulfill the assignment. Once I get the text in order and send it off for beta readers to look at, I'll do more sketches and get a better understanding of how I want things to look.

I'm not sure yet if I want to put this one through the query process or just self-publish it. Haven't really thought that far ahead yet. For now, I'm just having fun with it, as I am with the other stuff I'm working on at the moment.

Monday, May 19, 2014

My Writing Process (with PICTURES!)

Thanks to the lovely Karen Lee Hallam for tagging me in this blog hop. Visit her at www.karenleehallam.com and see how she gets things done, as well as what she's working on at the moment.

To describe my process, I've employed some images. Obviously, I do not own them (unless specified), and they are the property of their respective owners.

So! Here we go...

What am I working on?

I have a couple projects going on at the moment. First, I'm writing and illustrating a graphic novel tentatively called Shirayuki and the Seven Ninjas. It's a goofy twist on the classic Snow White tale that takes place somewhere in feudal Japan.
This one's mine. Aren't my ninjas so cute?
(c) Christina Daley
I'm also writing Book 3 in my Seranfyll series.
So is this.
(c) Christina Daley
And on the serious side, I'm writing a YA historical about Lady Trieu, who was sort of the Joan of Arc of Vietnam--except she lived about a thousand years before Joan and was kinda awesome.
This one took me THREE WHOLE WEEKS to do. Plus I had swine flu at the time. So heck to the yes I'm (c)-ing this one.
(c) Christina Daley

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I generally like to use diverse characters in my work. I'm Asian American, and I grew up with (and still have!) awesome friends from different backgrounds. I also grew up reading comics more than "normal" books, so that influences my writing as well.
I <3 forever Calvin and Hobbes.


Why do I write what I do?

Miss America answer: Because I believe in the power of storytelling to inspire future generations.

Walt Disney answer: Because writing, drawing, and being creative brings me joy.

Real answer: Because funny crap gets stuck in my head, and I have to get it out somehow.


How does your writing process work?

Well, first I get an idea, and it's like...

And then I'm like, "Maybe I should write that down." So I...


And while I'm writing, I'm sorta like, "This is..."

And when I'm finished, I look back through it and I'm like...

So then I internally pout for a while...

Until I get this nagging feeling that tells me...

So then I...

And then I might ask some friends to have a look so that I can get feedback...

And I'll use the useful stuff and ignore the useless stuff and do more rewriting (this part can repeat several times)...

Until it becomes something I can live with...

So I'll clean it up and get the layout and cover art together...

And then I'll publish it...

And then I'll sit back and relax for a little while before another idea hits and I'm like...

And the madness begins again.

That's about it. For more info on my books and artwork, visit my website at www.christinadaley.com

Now, here's a couple of talented writers you must check out next...

Milda Harris

Author Milda Harris is a Chicago girl who ran off to Hollywood to pursue a screenwriting dream! She has a dog named after a piece of candy (Licorice), was once hit by a tree (seriously), and wears hot pink sunglasses (why not?). Between working in production on television shows like Austin & Ally, Hannah Montana, and That's So Raven and playing with her identical baby twins (they're doppelgangers!), she writes young adult murder mystery, horror, paranormal romance, and chick lit novels.

Website | Twitter


Lindsay Cummings
Lindsay Cummings is a 22 year old author of YA and MG books at HarperCollins. She lives in Dallas, TX with her husband Josh, her hedgehog named Hedwig, her two German Shepherds Hurley and Kai, her wolf cub Kimber, and a draft horse named Dan the Man.  Lindsay deals with Chronic Fatigue issues, believes Jesus is the reason for all of her success, and swears that book hoarding is not a problem at all. She’s still waiting on her letter from Hogwarts–it was probably just lost in the mail. You can follow Lindsay on twitter @lindsaycwrites and instagram @authorlindsaycummings. You can also visit her book blogging website for teens at www.booknerdigans.com

Website | Twitter

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Birthday Seranfyll!

(c) Christina Daley

This week, Seranfyll turned THREE YEARS OLD! *cue fireworks*

Public domain. Courtesy of Vito Palmisano.

If you've been keeping up with the Daley, then you know that I re-did the cover art from the original 2011 cover illustrated by my friend, the talented Susan Windsor.
(c) Christina Daley
I had a couple reasons for doing this, which I wrote about here under #4. I love the old cover and it served me really well, but I felt I had to do some things so that I could move forward with this series. Now, I feel like I can.

It's kinda strange to think that three years have already passed since I started this journey with this book. While Seranfyll is far from the first book I've written, it is the first book I published. It's been the book that I've experimented with the most, and it was working on this book that I learned so much about writing, character development, world-building, book design, fonts, and illustration. It is also the first one I felt like really fighting for when no one else was willing to.

I have three books out now including this one, and I do plan to write more. But at least for now, Seranfyll remains my favorite. Yes, it is my favorite story I've told so far. But working on this book and spending time with these characters has helped carry me through some difficult times in my life, and that alone has made this "fruit of my hands" very dear to me.

So, happy birthday Rain, Coal, Domrey, Hope, Quill, Valiance, Sundance, and of course Spirit (who finally got his wish to get featured on the new cover). Here's my raised glass to more birthdays, more books, and more "BA-CLACK!"