It’s that wonderful season again, the annual writerly Hunger Games—with less blood and more coffee. (And community. Community is awesome.) If you’re reading this, then congratulations, you’ve unlocked my special #AllPimpedUp Pitch Wars bio. No boring basic introductions for you, my fellow pitchwarrior. (Seriously, go check out my normal bio and see the difference.) I have a middle-grade fantasy this year, so if that piques your interest, hop down to the My Pitch Wars Novel section to get all the details. Otherwise, just scroll around and see whatever words (or GIFs) catch your interest. Let’s begin.
First off, I appreciate all the mentors, event organizers, and fellow contestants—yes, you guys too, taking time to hang out with the community instead of working on your pitches—giving their valuable time, so I’ll try to make this quick. (I say that a lot in my papers for English class, but then always end up with six pages. But I’ll try my best this time.) So without furthur ado, let me start digging up all the dirt you want to know about me.
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Me
- Raina Xin isn’t my real name. (Internet privacy and whatnot, not to mention my real name has altogether too many unusual letters, strung together to make funny sounds people find difficult to pronounce.)
But it is pretty close to my real name. An almost literal translation from the Chinese, in fact. And I like it that way. It still feels like me, but with a few slight tweaks. And Raina isn’t my only alias, either. I have an affinity for them. It makes me feel like a spy. (Ok, the truth is I tried a bunch of nicknames in different situations, hoping to find the one that’s right for me, and they all sort of stuck.)
- I’m a student currently living in St. Louis, but that’s not where I always was, or where I plan to stay. I was born in China but came to America when I was three, and grew up in a gorgeous small college town in New York. (Still planning on returning there.)
I moved back to China when I was in third grade and stayed there for two years, despite being almost completely illiterate in Chinese. (I could speak and understand it fine, though, thanks to my parents always insisting on speaking Chinese at home.) Thanks to my friends, family, and an awesome teacher, I picked up the language pretty quickly, and still use it now. (I have a nice collection of Chinese books I still read from time to time.)
- In addition to Chinese, I also speak fluent sarcasm (my true mother tongue), passable French (it seemed posh to my language class-choosing seventh-grade self) and a little bit of Italian I’m learning with Duolingo. (Perché? Una sola parola: gelato.)
- I love cats, but am sadly allergic. (Unfortunately, I found this out after I signed up for a summer of volunteering at the animal shelter.) Thus, I consider myself a crazy cat lady only metaphorically.
- My proudest achievement this summer consists of deciphering all the
dirty jokes andcultural and literary allusions in Terry Pratchett’s various books. That, and being able to recognize all but one of the fantasy worlds mentioned in this handy chart.
- I am lucky enough to be part of three awesome writing communities (not including Pitch Wars): Scribophile, NaNoWriMo, and Gail Carson Levine’s blog. They all have helped me immensely, and if you ever want a writing community or new friends, check them out and I’ll show you around.
- I’m a sucker for musicals. Seriously. Turn anything into a musical and I’ll watch it—19th-century litfic, 2000s Disney Channel TV shows, cartoons about anthropomorphic commando penguins and evil dolphins, highly unrealistic depictions of high school life (where’s the song about the standardized testing and finals?), heartfelt but humorous fairytale retellings, slightly-less-heartfelt but still darkly humorous (and foul-language-filled) parodies of Disney movies and fairytale retellings. I just can’t help myself.
- I once discovered a secret passageway in the girls bathroom at summer camp (the kind for high schoolers. If you know the meaning of ‘boomba hey’, then you probably went there too). In true storybook fashion, I wanted to get away from the dancing and socializing of the party in the plaza (did I mention I’m an introvert?), and hid in the bathroom of the nearest open building. I noticed a door pretty high up on the wall, and for lack anything better to do, I unscrewed the hinges of the door with my wallet ninja (I actually had lockpicks on hand that I never got to use, since it wasn’t an actual lock, just a jammed latch), and took a look inside. I didn’t go in, since it was a ten feet drop (probably an abandoned chimney chute), but I did leave a cryptic note for future adventurers with plenty of references to the Illuminati.
I kid you not. Ellis Library (Oooh, library. Mysterious.), Mizzou, first-floor women’s bathroom. See for yourself.
- My written works include: an essay about the human condition and culture in relation to Pinterest; a short story about what happens after the internet crashes, leaving humanity in a dark age; a paper analyzing proper blackmail tactics (in the context of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, of course. Totally not planning on applying this to real life.) in accordance with the principles of game theory (complete with GIFs and payoff matrices); poetry about a lion, a boy, and an unfortunate incident with a selfie stick; and of course, my Pitch Wars novel.
- Here’s why you should pick me for Pitch Wars 2016:
This is my first year doing Pitch Wars, so I’m ready to learn. I love love love books, and I truly believe that reading books makes you a better writer. I have a lot of experience with middle-grade fiction, with that category being my main reading preference. In addition, being barely past that age (literally; metaphorically I’m still a 12-year-old), I still remember quite well what it felt like to be a kid. I’ve been in several critique groups, and have experience both giving critiques and receiving them. I’m confident in my work, but I also know that there’s plenty of room for improvement and I’m open to criticism. I’m also willing to put in the work necessary to make my manuscript its best. I know that the mentors’ time is valuable, and I’m grateful that they’re donating it, so I’ll do my best to honor that by working my hardest and being proactive. According to my friends* I’m funny and fun to be around. My time in high school has instilled in me a strong work ethic, and I’ll always do my best and be punctual. (I can’t guarantee that’ll last through college, but I should be good for the duration of Pitch Wars. Probably.) I try to be self-sufficient as much as I can, but having a mentor to guide me would be really helpful, especially since this is my first novel. But more than that, I just want to make friends, find and connect with people who love books as much as I do, and join the wonderful community that I’ve only been looking at through the windows up until now.
So what do you say? Let me join your team?
*most of the time.
My Pitch Wars Novel
Here’s the official description of my middle-grade contemporary fantasy/adventure/magical realism novel, THE EYES IN THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE:
A visit to Santa’s workshop is supposed to be fun. But all Angela gets is a global conspiracy and a lousy candy cane.
Born ten years after Santa Claus has revealed his existence to the world and risen to power, twelve-year-old Angela Xue is used to seeing Jolly Old Saint Nick host press conferences as one of the most beloved public figures in the world. She doesn’t bat an eye at mysterious magic that can make reindeer fly and knock out misbehaving kids. And who cares if Santa’s probably—okay, definitely—keeping some secrets underneath his red and white hat? One simply doesn’t question those in charge. (And handing out free stuff.) At least, adults don’t.
But Angela isn’t completely trusting of adults either. After all, her dream job, investigative journalist, pretty much consists of detailing all the messes adults get themselves into. So when an off-course tour tram on a school trip to the North Pole leads to a jaunt through a restricted area, Angela is quick to question just how “nice” Santa really is. And if seeing live stream of spy cameras and audio bugs hidden in the homes of supposed “naughty kids” isn’t enough to arouse her suspicions, their tour guide also tells them to forget what they saw—and all of her classmates mysteriously do two hours later.
And all that’s before Santa’s elven hit squad shows up on her doorstep.
Along with her friends cell phone-addicted Grace and Les Miserables-loving Jehan, Angela launches an investigation that nets her a lot more dirt—and danger—than she bargained for. But as she digs deeper and deeper into the layers of secrets and ancient magic surrounding Santa, she’s forced to confront some uncomfortable questions: How far is she willing to go to get to the truth? How bad are Santa’s secret operations, really? And, as she finds herself slipping into a web of deception and difficult decisions of her own—Could Santa actually be right?
But I’m rarely one to do things the “official” way. So to put it another way, this is the story of:
A peppermint-hating aspiring journalist who’s exceptionally genre savvy and quite machiavellian when it comes down to it
A cynical hipster with a cell phone addiction fluent in both sarcasm and science
A Les Miserables-loving dreamer who’s
definitely probably not going to meet the same end as the French revolutionaries he so admires
Santa and his elves like you’ve never seen before
A mysterious white horse that turns up at suitably dramatic moments
A line between naughty and nice, fairness and injustice, that starts to blur once you find yourself on the wrong side of it
Danger, duplicity—both doled out and received—and altogether too many difficult decisions
Drugged candy canes and magic sand
Snowy barricades and last stands
Myth and mystery, cabals and coups
Kindness and cruelty, belief and incredulity, innocence and subterfuge, hope and despair and everything that makes childhood magical—
—and worth watching.
Santa Claus is coming to town.
And here’s why you might like it:
- it has the myth and magic of RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, the government surveillance of NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, and the snark, humor, and complete irreverence of DIARY OF A WIMPY KID
- it should appeal to fans of Rick Riordan, ARTEMIS FOWL, and Zootopia
- it features three kids who see, recognize, and aren’t afraid to call adults out on their sh*t
- and a fourth wall that’s shattered, fenced off, and still smoking, with a lampshade hanging off the one piece left standing
- not to mention characters genre-savvy enough to recognize popular tropes, and flippant enough to point them out
- the protagonist is Chinese-Canadian, and yet that’s only the tip of the iceberg of what defines her
- the narrator is very similar to me in both voice and personality, so if you found this post funny, you can bet the book will make you laugh
- the vegetable-smuggling scene is 100% based on my real life
- it’s set in a future that isn’t a zombie-infested, plague-infected, environmentally-destroyed, child-sacrificing, hallucinogenic-standardized-test-taking, colorless dystopian hellhole (Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against dystopian hellholes, but I do feel that a more optimistic outlook on the future would be welcome once in a while.)
- one of the characters is a huge Les Miserables fan (even more than me, one might say. I know. Shocker.), so get ready for lots of subtle (and not so subtle) shout outs in the book
- it’s got lots of humor and snark (these are 12-year-olds we’re talking about here), but also heart and plenty of poignant bits
- it lightly satirizes the very-current and very-real issue of government surveillance, but does so in a lighthearted and humorous way (So more Zootopia and less George Orwell.)
- the elven hit squad. Did I mention the elven hit squad?
Other fun stuff:
Books: (Remember when ‘favs’ was in its plural form in the heading? Well I’m calling that in now.) WESLANDIA (PB); THIS IS NOT MY HAT (PB); The Magic School Bus series (PB); THE ORDINARY PRINCESS (MG); MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN (MG); The Artemis Fowl Series (MG); HOLES (MG); The Wimpy Kid Series (MG); CODETALKER (MG); HOMELESS BIRD (MG); THE BIG SPLASH (MG); HEIST SOCIETY (YA); The Finishing School Series (YA); ORIGIN (YA); DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE (YA); THE HUNGER GAMES; The Discworld Series (Adult); THE HELP (Adult); LES MISERABLES (Adult); ROBINSON CRUSOE (Adult); GOOD OMENS (Adult); WHAT IF: SERIOUS SCIENTIFIC ANSWERS TO ABSURD HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS (Nonfiction); BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE (Nonfiction), and even more I can’t recall at the moment. Oh, and DM OF THE RINGS, the
not really a book but too great a webcomic to pass up err, let’s call it an internet-based graphic novel. Yeah, I like the sound of that. It’s got “novel” in there. (It should be noted that I am neither a D&D player nor a die-hard Tolkien fan, but man, this is a funny read.). My current reading list consists mainly of middle-grade books (all the better to write them with, my dear) But if you ever need a book recommendation, regardless of genre or age, hit me up and I’ll give you ten. Yeah, I’ve read that many good books.
Book genre: Fantasy, but preferably with a more lighthearted tone and humorous voice. (Like Rick Riordan’s and Terry Pratchett’s books.)
Song: Rotates throughout the year, but my current summer jam is 22 by Taylor Swift. (If you couldn’t already tell from the opening GIF.)
Song from a musical (yeah, that’s a separate category, see #7 above): Rotates between One Day More from Les Miserables, On My Own from Les Miserables, and Defying Gravity from Wicked, depending on what mood I’m in.
Musical: Rotates between Les Miserables and Wicked, depending on my mood and how much I want to cry that day.
Movie: Unaccompanied Minors (2006). It’s like The Breakfast Club, but with more humor, more action, and less pot. Plus, I can never resist a good caper plot. Or holiday movie.
Fandom: The Hobbit fandom for movies, The Percy Jackson fandom for books. (Yes, books and movies are separate categories!)
Food: Sashimi. (Yup, raw fish. Must be my inner Catherine.)
Dessert: Various chocolates of the truffle variety.
TV Show: The Penguins of Madagascar. (The Nickelodeon series, not the 2014 movie.) I’m serious. Yes, it’s a cartoon meant for kids under 10, but it’s witty, smart, and hilarious. It also has a lot of (subtle) adult jokes and cultural/literary allusions, as well as the occasional bit of satire and social commentary. It’s as if Zootopia and the Discworld books had a tv show baby.
- My novel (which also happens to be my very first!) is a NaNoWriMo baby. (NaNoWriMo is known more for its speed than the, er, quality of the manuscripts, but don’t worry, I’ve had plenty of time to edit.)
- I wrote the last line of my novel (no, it wasn’t “the end”) on the first day I started writing it. I just left it there at the very bottom, as a source of motivation to get me through NaNoWriMo. I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to cut and paste that sentence into the actual ending when I was finally done.
- My novel started as a short story featuring a tour group to the North Pole and a very sarcastic elf tour guide.
- I am very much motivated by food. That’s half the reason I’m in all the clubs and extracurricular activities that I’m in.
- I love watching the behind the scenes footage for movies. (Maybe even more than the movies themselves.) I always love seeing the bonding and joking around between the actors, and they’re usually so funny and sweet.
- My hair is ridiculously long. Like, Middle-Earth-elf-length. I haven’t cut it since 8th grade, and I’ll probably end up donating it once I do.
- I can pick locks.*
- I dabble a bit in HTML coding. WordPress autoformatting is both my best friend and worst enemy.
- Les Miserables is the only movie that has ever made me cry. (I’m talking full-on sobbing here, not just a little teary-eyed or a lump in the throat.)
- A lot of my interests are inspired by the books I read. I got interested in archery because of THE HUNGER GAMES (I even made a functional bow out of PVC pipe), and I went through a wilderness survival phase in 6th grade because of MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN.
- I know what pemmican is (and can make it, though for the record, I think it looks like cat food), I can start a fire five different ways and build a proper shelter for three different climates, and I can extract clean drinking water from plants with just a plastic bag and sunlight. (See note about wilderness survival phase above.) Thus, I’d be an excellent partner for a zombie/plague/dystopian government apocalypse.
- This website is currently running a theme meant for wedding/engagement announcements. (I tell people that the reason is because I’m “married” to my book, but in reality I just picked it because it looks pretty.)
- I sleep. A lot. Usually curled up on a sunny spot on the couch. I’m like a cat in a lot of respects.
- When I was six and playing make-believe with my friends, I thought Squareina (literally square + ina. I guess Triangulara was too much of a mouthful) and Elfina (which is weird, because I don’t remember reading a book with elves in it until much later) were wonderful names. (Don’t worry, my naming game has gotten better since then.)
- I really like the taste of cheap ramen. The cheaper, the better. My favorites are the 20-cent ones from the Chinese supermarket.
- This is the first year I’ve heard of Pitch Wars, and I’m so excited! I tried #pitmad in June, and had a lot of fun. I’m eternally grateful to Brenda Drake for setting all of this up.
*Not very well, but it sounds cooler if I leave that out.
That’s it for now, folks! Thanks so much for stopping by, and I look forward to getting to know you better throughout the contest duration. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment, or drop me a line on Twitter or Tumblr. A big thank you and shoutout to Lana Pattinson for hosting this #PimpMyBio blog hop, and of course the wonderful Brenda Drake for hosting Pitch Wars itself! (PS: Donate and get 2 extra entries!) Click the link to check out the other awesome participants, and hopefully I’ll see you in the Pitch Wars arena!
Image Credits: Scrabble!: itselea, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic 22 GIF: 22, Taylor Swift VEVO Spy Icon: made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com, attribution license Sunset at Cherry Blossom Time: Barbara Friedman, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic My Friend Catherine: xkcd, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License Map Age Guide: xkcd, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License Cat picture: OliBac, under a Creative Commons 2.0 License Starry Night Picture: Photo from Unsplash, public domain, quote designed by me. I'm releasing it under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License, so feel free to borrow. Shameless Self-Promotion Warning: Also designed by me! I'm releasing it under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License, so feel free to borrow. Lee Pace + Jimmy Kimmel GIF: Interview with Lee Pace, Jimmy Kimmel Live Book Covers: THE HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE, and MOCKINGJAY, Suzanne Collins; THE MAZE RUNNER, THE SCORCH TRIALS, and THE DEATH CURE, James Dashner; DIVERGENT, Veronica Roth; ROT & RUIN, Jonathan Maberry