Introducing… Chicago Review of Books!

For those of you who follow my daily adventures on Instagram and Facebook, you may remember this cryptic post about an exciting new project I’m taking part in. Today I can finally share the details with you all. Without further ado, I’m excited to introduce Chicago Review of Books!


This online literary review site is the brain child of my pal Adam Morgan, and I was thrilled when he asked me to contribute to the project as fiction editor. My first review is live on the site: a spotlight for Chicago-native author Jessica Chiarella‘s debut And Again. Check it out!

There are a ton of other great reviews up as well, so be sure to give them all some love. I’ll be reviewing monthly (or so) and am excited to spread the word about Chicago authors in addition to other non-local writers as well. Oh, and be sure to check out CHIRB on Facebook and Twitter as well!

#PitchWars Mentee Bio

Hi, friends. This year has been the year of the contests for me. I’ve entered novel #1 in some twitter contests and the like, and am throwing my hat in the ring for one more: #PitchWars. For those of you not familiar, a lovely writer named Brenda Drake has organized a group of 75 published/agented authors to mentor 75 unagented writers. Then, the mentors will read and make suggestions for edits of their mentees. In November, there will be a handful of agents reading all of the sparkling, perfect novels… and I hope mine is one of them!

Thanks to Dannie Morin for creating this mentee blog hop! You can read other hopeful mentee’s posts here.

Twitter Photo10 Things You Might Not Know About @LaurenStacks:

1. I hail from small-town Michigan, but after living in Chicago for six years, I am truly a city girl through and through. (I moved to the city to receive an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University.)

2. I’m married to a funny guy and we have an even funnier doggie. Her name is Frankie (or, #MissFrankie) and she is a three-year-old Boston Terrier with a BIG personality.

3. I work in Human Resources at a large Chicago-area University, but work on my historical fiction novels before work, in the evenings, and on lunch breaks. I’m a firm believer in 6 a.m. writing sessions.

4. Some of my favorite books include: THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson, The HIS DARK MATERIALS Trilogy by Phillip Pullman, THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. As you can see, my reading list is wide-ranging.

5. My husband and I collect vinyl. My favorite musical artists are Carly Simon and Carole King. (And yes, I’m not even 30 yet… what can I say? I grew up listening to great 70s/80s music!)

6. I really love to sleep. Really. Like 8-10 hours a night is my favorite. (Which isn’t always conducive to being a writer.) 

7. My favorite meal on the planet is a cheeseburger and fries (with aoli) from Au Cheval paired with Vandermill‘s Totally Roasted Cider. Throw in ice cream or a slice of flourless chocolate cake for dessert and then I’m in heaven.

8. Things I don’t like: moths, filling up the car with gas, the ending of a book/movie/TV series being spoiled for me (HIMYM!!), beer, and any song by Pink (sorry, I just really don’t like her music).

9. Favorite TV shows include How I Met Your Mother, Dexter, Girls, Breaking Bad, Lost, Entourage, and Gilmore Girls. My guilty treadmill pleasures consist of Pretty Little Liars and Scandal.

10. And in case you didn’t notice from my lists above, I AM a fan of the oxford comma. :)

If you’re curious about anything else, feel free to ask! I’m looking forward to seeing the mentor’s decisions come September 3rd. Best of luck to all the other hopeful mentees!

Happy writing,

L. Stacks

HNS Short Story Contest Short List!

V-Mail_cover-2001_2001_329closed Image Credit

It’s time for some news! I’m excited to announce that my short story V-Mail made the short list of ten stories for The Historical Novel Society’s  Short Story Contest. The short story is actually an excerpt from a chapter of my first novel, Thicker Than Water, and it is about a college co-ed named Evelyn who writes to dozens of military men during WWII, looking for her next suitor. But when one of the men shows up in her small town expecting more than she wants to let herself believe, she must face the reality of the fantasy she’d been painting both for herself and for the men waiting for her words. It sounds like HNS may compile the short-listed stories into a e-book compilation for purchase–don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know when it’s available!

On other fronts, I’m still plugging away at novel #2 and enjoying my summer! More updates to come soon.

Happy writing,

L. Stacks

Making Progress

The Green MillChicago’s Green Mill Jazz Club

I have some exciting news to share: as of Monday, June 16th, I have officially completed the first draft of my second novel! That means I’m a whopping 2 weeks ahead of schedule! (Which also means I’m in the middle of taking a much-needed 2-week break from novel #2.)

It took a total of 136 days and 65,000 words. I woke up at 5:30 – 6:00 a.m. at least 3 times each week from January through June to steal an hour of writing in before work, wrote during countless work lunch breaks, and on the evenings and weekends. I carted my husband all over the Chicago area for research purposes (see photo above and/or my Instagram account) and stole away to coffee shops while visiting family out of town to keep the momentum moving.

And I might be crazy, but I’m already missing my characters and their quirks and issues. Each morning, I’ve woken up wondering is it July yet? because I want to dive right in to draft two. I suppose it’s a good problem to have!

Until then, I’m counting down the days until July (–seven!).

Happy writing,

L. Stacks

P.S. Learn more about my work-in-progress (novel #2) here.

Book Reviews: The Chaperone, Letters from Skye, and The Paris Wife

photo(2)The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

This was one of those my-husband-is-purusing-Costco’s-wine-selection-so-I’ll-look-at-the-books purchases. You know the kind, right? I was intrigued by the book as it is historical fiction, and because the secondary character in the story is based on a real-life actress, Louise Brooks.

In The Chaperone, conservative, mid-30s Cora agrees to accompany 15-year-old, budding actress Louise to New York City during the mid-1920s. It is an unusual pairing from the start, and the animosity between the two border on humorous–especially when Louise goes out of her way to make Cora feel uncomfortable. However, as the story progresses the reader learns about some not-so-conservative parts of Cora’s past, and this really drives the story as she comes to terms with her relationship with Louise–in addition to others in her life.

The character development of Cora in this book is well-done and, in my opinion, is what keeps the storyline moving forward. In addition, Moriarty does a nice job balancing plot and historical details so that neither seem to be the main emphasis of the book, but rather a nice mixture of the two. I would definitely recommend this to anyone else who like historical fiction–and even those who don’t.

 Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockamole

Back in 2010, I shared that I don’t prefer books written in the form of letters, and while I haven’t changed my mind about that entirely, I did find myself reading another letters-as-book story about a year ago. I was intrigued by the premise–the story is centered around the letters of a daughter to her enlisted beau in the 1940s, and the when the daughter discovers her mother’s own love letters from 30 years earlier, she learns more about her past–and her mother, herself–than she ever expected.

Because of the format of this book, it was a relatively quick and easy read. I do feel as if something from the experience goes missing when the reader is only able to envision characters based on words that the characters themselves write. How can the reader know, then, if the character is reliable? How perceptive the character is of his or her own actions? But, the one thing that this format does seem to lend to the story is a sense of mystery in an otherwise not mysterious book. The thing about reading a book of collected letters is that there is always something left unsaid–something that the reader does not, and cannot know. At least until the character knows it and writes about it, that is. The mystery comes from the characters unfolding slower than they might in a traditional novel, and I think this is what keeps a reader engaged in the story when it is in this format.

All in all, this was an interesting read, and I enjoyed the mother-daughter relationship that unfolded throughout the book. Not to mention, now I want to visit Scotland after reading this.

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

This is my favorite book that I’ve read in the past few years. A hefty claim, I know! In The Paris Wife, McClain (who holds a MFA from the University of Michigan!) balances perfectly her beautiful prose with a rich, historical setting and a plot that is fully-formed and character-driven. When I finished reading this book, I found myself wishing that I had written it. Not in a jealous way, but rather in an inspired and awed way.

The story is loosely based on Ernest Hemingway‘s first wife, Hadley, and their relationships ups and downs while the great writer makes a name for himself. The book takes place in Chicago and Paris and Spain in the 1920s, and the picture McClain paints of the great writers of the gilded age (Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald) made me wish I was writing in that place and time rather than today. As Hemingway rises to literary fame and success, Hadley–and the reader–must question the pair’s coupling, and whether they can ultimately make it together.

This is one of those books that I recommend generously and at length to anyone looking for a great read. And for any writers out there struggling to “choose” between a more literary writing style and a mainstream, plot-centered one, The Paris Wife can convince you that you don’t need to choose–it is possible to have both.

Happy reading (and writing!),

Lauren Stacks

“Novel in a Year” Project – The Second Draft

Note: This is part 2 of a 2-part blog post outlining my “Novel in a Year” project. You can find part 1 here.


The Second Draft: July through December

If everything goes well, by the time Independence Day rolls around this year, I’ll be completed with the first draft of novel #2, and will be ready to move into the revision process. I anticipate the book will finish up with a total of 16 or 17 chapters, which makes the July through December goals a little easy to describe than my first-draft goals.

My goal for July through December will be to completely edit (this could be adding historical information, removing extraneous content, adding character development or plot points, and tightening up prose) one chapter every ten days. Sure, some chapters might need a little extra help than others (obviously the first 1-2 chapters and the last chapter are extra important) but I anticipate that it should be pretty even, otherwise. Much of the time spent in the latter half of 2014 will likely be researching the time period and making sure my characters are fully-formed. I’m sure there will be plenty of posts in the future about revision and the like!

And that, my friends, is my goal for the second draft. If all goes according to plan, I should be checking back in eight months’ time (don’t worry–you’ll hear from me before then, of course) with a mostly-completed novel (I’ll still need feedback from my critique partners, etc.).

What do you think? Am I crazy? Can I do it?

Happy writing (and goal-meeting!),

Lauren Stacks

Book Reviews: The Book Thief + The Fault in Our Stars

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You probably noticed that, until a few weeks ago, things have been pretty quiet around these parts. I think that this and this post help explain my absence. But just so you know–just because I haven’t posted on book reviews for over a year doesn’t mean that I haven’t read a book since then. Quite the contrary, actually. That said, I’m going to be posting handfuls of book reviews here over the next few months to try to get up-to-date. Some of these I read more than a year ago; others, just a month or two ago. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read any of these yourself!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I had heard a bit of buzz about this book, and once I heard it was being made into a movie, I knew that I had to read it first. It is my opinion that seeing a visual representation of a character before reading about the character ruins the entire experience. One of the best parts about reading a book is realizing the characters in your own head—their features, their expressions, even their height and build. If I were to reread the Harry Potter series now, after seeing all of the movies numerous times, there’s no way that I could envision Harry as anyone other than Daniel Radcliffe… you get the point.

From the very beginning, I was intrigued by this story. The tale of a young orphan girl who likes to steal books, it’s set in WWII Germany, and narrated by a unique character—a personified version of Death. The story itself was lovely; the characters were rich and fully-formed. The plot was intriguing, though I will admit that I found myself thinking on more than one occasion that the book did not need to be as long as it was. There were certainly parts that could have been cut to keep the plot moving along at a slightly faster clip.

Growing up, I read dozens of stories about the Holocaust (Number the Stars, The Upstairs Room, I Have Lived a Thousand Years, just to name a few) and, in my opinion, The Book Thief was a more uniquely-written version of those.

Have you read The Book Thief? if so, what did you think? Or perhaps you’ve seen the movie?

The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene

This book was a quick read from the fall of 2013 (I think I started and finished it in two days’ time, which is always a welcomed turnaround for this busy gal). I can’t quite remember why I picked up this book, but possibly because I’m connected with a large number of YA writers on Twitter, and so I often hear about fabulous YA books. As of late, I’ve been hearing about Eleanor & Park, which has been officially added to my Amazon “Wish List.”

This story is about a quirky and smart teenage girl, Hazel, who is dying of cancer. She meets an equally quirky/smart AND good-looking teenager at a cancer support group meeting, and the book follows their romance. They also embark on a journey to meet the author of Hazel’s favorite novel, which is a realistic yet well-imagined story.

One of my favorite things about this story was that Greene doesn’t shy away from tough themes—fears about dying, contemplations about afterlife, real love, and hard losses. The Fault in Our Stars faces the tough issues that many YA novels shy away from—and many adult novels as well.

Also—like The Book Thief, this story will be coming out on the big screen soon. Have you caught the trailer yet?

Happy reading (and writing, of course),

Lauren Stacks