September 30, 2010

BBW: Mark Twain & more Mark Twain

People challenged Mark Twain's books, even when he was alive. Why? Well, in the case of Huck Finn, it was because he's a bad role model for young impressionable children. Don't wait around to see what I have to say about it - instead, check out what Twain wrote himself about censorship in his Autobiography. I think he says it way better than I could, but the question of morality in books gets me thinking - should books be written with morals in mind?

I'm of two minds here. For all the world I tell myself that no, no characters must be moral or good role models or broccoli-flavored and therefore good for you. But when it comes to writing my own work, I tend toward the "But I can't write a weak female protagonist! Think of the children! The horror!" train of thought. In general, I would say that there is no need, or even desire, for all main characters (especially in children's literature) to be good and moral and upstanding. But I do find myself thinking, from time to time, that all books should at least hold the potential of opening one's mind to new horizons. Simply put, I'd like to be able to learn from every book I read, because that, in part, is what I read for in the first place.

There is much much more to say on that front, but I'll leave it here for now. Hope you're all enjoying Banned Books Week! (There remains the issue of how much one can learn from a floppy female protagonist whose impetus for kicking off the story is unrequited love, but I figure I'll deal with that one later...)

September 29, 2010

BBW: To Kill a Mockingbird & Jackson Pearce

Everyone should read To Kill a Mockingbird. (Harper Lee, in case you have been living under a rock your entire life.) I may quibble about who I would recommend certain books to, and which books may be passed without too much damage to little stretching/growing-up brains, but this one is a book that comes with no attachments. Everyone should read this book, and everyone should find themselves a little different in the morning. Not to mention the delectable Gregory Peck in the excellent movie adaptation.

Astute readers will notice that the book has been banned in multiple places for racism, as well as for using a less-than-savory word to describe the African-American characters in the book. To those people who would remove this incredible book from their schools and libraries, I say "Ha! I bite my thumb at you! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!" (Paraphrased quotes courtesy of Shakespeare and Monty Python.)

Seriously now. To ban this book in particular because one thinks it is racist is so absolutely moronic I don't know how to respond. To Kill a Mockingbird is a gorgeous book (gorgeous thematically and in its storytelling) that I would recommend to everyone, without fail.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, I point you toward Jackson Pearce on censorship.

September 28, 2010

BBW: Geography Club & Book-Banning Puppets

Today I'd like to mention Geography Club, by Brent Hartinger. Geography Club was challenged in Wisconsin by a group who designated it as "obscene or child pornography." Pornography? Color me in scratching my head. Sure, there are a couple of kisses here and there, but what did you expect? They're teenagers! (The good thing to note is that while this book was challenged, its challenge was beaten down unanimously by the library board.)

Geography Club is about a group of teenagers (both gay and straight) who form an undercover GSA-like club at their high school, under the guise of "Geography Club." I can't remember the first time I read it, but I must have been thirteen or so - and this was certainly one of the first contemporary books I'd read that tackled the minefield that is growing up gay in America.

There are certainly more serious books out there on this subject, but what I liked most about this one was that it dealt with the ordinariness of trying to live your life and staying true to yourself, regardless of who you are. I strongly recommend this book, especially if you haven't read much that deals with the same issues - Geography Club is an excellent introductory book.

Also, today's not-produced-by-me product of Banned Book Week:

September 27, 2010

Hello, Banned Books Week

So there's this thing going around this week that, if you're on the blogs at all, should be pretty darn difficult to miss. This thing? Banned Books Week.

I've been thinking about the right way to address it on my blog. Such things require some thought - for example, what should I write about? It is okay just to address the same things that other people have already discussed? How many times can people be told that yeah, this book is stellarly important because it got banned before the whole idea gets old? (The answer, my friends, is unlimited.)

So I'm going to go about it this way: There will be a post every day this week. And every day, I'll be talking up a book/series that should be universally read. And I'll also (if you're lucky) be linking to something else I've found discussing Banned Book Week that is just totally ridiculously awesome. Oh, yeah. I've already got major things to post in that category. Now my problem is just figuring out what books to limit myself to...

September 24, 2010

The Great Blogging Experiment: Writing Compelling Characters

Elana Johnson, goddess of all things internety/literary, has organized what shall from here on out be referred to as The Great Blogging Experiment. Today's (inaugural) topic? Writing compelling characters.

I have to say that character does not make or break a book to me. Some of my favorite books have had rather Mary-Sue-like characters, which I recognize and choose to accept anyway because the rest of the book is just that good. That being said, I've been struggling a lot in my current WIP with character.

I wrote about this recently, where I bemoaned the fact that my main character's main motivation at the beginning of the story is a man, her romantic interest. It's not necessarily that this makes her uninteresting and not compelling, but rather that I'm afraid of writing a weak main character - especially one who's a girl.

But today we're talking about compelling characters, not weak ones. And what I think makes a compelling character, or what I try to avoid when trying to write a compelling character, or what happens when compelling characters choose today to kick the bucket...

I think a lot of what makes a compelling character is realism. To me, a well-developed character, which a strong and believable history (known to the author, at least) goes a long way toward making a character compelling. If I believe in a character, if I understand their thought processes and the origins of their motivation, then I'm more likely to find him/her compelling.

And this is what I'm struggling with right now. One of the most interesting characters in my WIP when I started was a strong secondary character, the brother to the lead. But then I started writing him, and instead of being sad and soulful, he was suddenly snarky and kind of a jerk. Which isn't a problem, but at the least means I don't know him as well as I thought I did. And then what this means is that instead of being interesting and compelling (because of a great back story which, of course, I should have memorized), he's just a jerk. Without a back story. Which is not compelling.

Long story short, your main character can easily be made into a compelling person people will want to read about. The magic ingredient: back story. A believable background that provides your character's motivation, which turns him from a jerk you'd like to defenestrate into a jerk with a tragic past who you can't help but root for.

And all that means that you should spend time - a lot of time - with your characters. Get to know them. Have afternoon tea! Or trade snarky insults while you wait for the bus. Trust me, that's what I'm doing. Although it'll probably take a looong time to turn my formerly soulful secondary character into someone people have sympathy for. But it'll be worth it. Because in the long run, he is pretty awesome. You just have to get to know him first...

September 15, 2010

This is Mark Twain.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I think Mark Twain is a pretty cool guy. Consider the following:
  1. Both his pen name (Mark Twain) and his real name (Samuel Clemens) are awesome.
  2. There will never be books quite like his again, so clearly by Mark Twain. I must confess I'm not an exceptional fan of the books (I think this stems from that time in high school where I had to write a deductive essay off of Huck Finn, which probably means I should give the books another chance), but you can't deny that they had style.
  3. Mark Twain strikes me as an incredibly conscious person - that is to say, he considered what he wrote. Did you know that he went back and forth about the note at the beginning of Huck Finn, settling eventually on the incredible "persons attempting to find meaning in this narrative will be shot" bit that we all know and love, instead of a more serious (and, let's face it, boring) forward? That he considered his writing so consciously brings me to my next point (and indeed, the point of this blog), which is...
The Autobiography of Mark Twain, unabridged and published according to his wishes to wait until 100 years following his death, is finally hitting shelves this fall, presented by the University of California Press.

Consider this for a moment. Mark Twain. His autobiography, so raunchy, so depraved, so scandalous he insisted on posthumous publication (by a period of 100 years!). Okay, I'm kidding about the raunchy/depraved/scandalous part. But seriously - for all you fans of Mark Twain out there, aren't you just dying to know what he wrote? I know I am, and I'm not even that big of a fan! But I can just picture myself curling up in bed with that behemoth for the next few months (it weighs in at 743 pages, and that's just the first volume), just because Mark Twain seems to me to be a guy who would make you laugh, make you cry, and simply amaze you with his brilliant, acerbic, awesome wit.

Can't wait? Neither can anyone else, apparently, because a gorgeous website (This is Mark Twain) has been rolled out to welcome all those eager Twain fanatics. Go check it out. Oh, and work on your upper body strength too - you're going to need it if you expect to lift that book.

September 14, 2010

BlogFest Winners!


First off, I'd like to say thank you. This was a great event, with a great turnout, and excellent excellent book recommendations. I'll probably be doing a recommendation post in the next few days (for those who were around for Got Books?, this will likely look familiar). Thanks to Cinnamon of A Journey of Books for organizing, and thank you to all my new followers. I hope you stick around and say hello! I'm sure we'll have a great time getting to know one another.

On to the best part now... I thought the turnout was so fantastic, I made the impromptu decision to add a second winner. So...without further ado, here are your winners (courtesy of

#371: Julie of Manga Maniac Cafe!

#797: Marcie of To Read or Not To Read!

Both winners have been e-mailed, and have 48 hours to reply before another winner is picked.

Again, thank you so much for stopping by. I had a great time, and hope to get to know you all better as we move forward!

September 13, 2010

BlogFest Update

I think the room just got a LOT smaller... Or maybe it's the masses of people trying to fit... Good thing this army is all for staking vampires!

Anyway, the BlogFest giveaway is officially closed. I haven't had time to tally up the results yet, but I will be doing that in the next day or so, and the winner will be announced soon - probably tomorrow or the day after.

New followers, welcome! I hope you stick around - I'd love to meet each and every one of you.

September 10, 2010

BlogFest Giveaway!


Welcome to BlogFest 2010! I'm stop #68, I think...out of more than 200!

I've been thinking about which books to give away, and I've decided to spread the love - the new author love! I've discovered SO MANY excellent authors this year who are without a doubt authors I will be following through the next few years of their career at least... So here's to new loves! I will be giving away one book (via The Book Depository) by one author I discovered this year and loved (most recent books by these authors pictured below, but you'll be able to choose any of their books if you win).

Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate, #3)The Dead-Tossed Waves (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #2)Rules of Attraction (Perfect Chemistry, #2)A Conspiracy of Kings (The Queen's Thief, #4)

So - don't you want to win a shiny new book by Gail Carriger, Carrie Ryan, Simone Elkeles, or Megan Whalen Turner? The winner of this giveaway will have a choice of ONE book by one of these fabulous authors, which will then be shipped by the Book Depository.

1. Fill out the form (below) to enter.
2. This contest is open to any country the Book Depository ships to.
3. This event will close at 11:59 PM EST, September 12. The winner will be announced on or by September 17.

What are you waiting for? Just fill out the form to enter!

PS: The next stop on this wild ride is #69, A & C Book Junkies ! Have fun!

September 4, 2010

Progress Report #2

So I'm a little stuck. Which is to say, in the last eight days, I haven't really written. Good: I'm concentrating on my work. Bad: I'm not going to meet my goal.

I say this with sadness, but not too much, because I've discovered a lot of things about myself in the process. Like how I actually write more consistently if I'm writing longhand. And since I'm writing longhand, I've made it very difficult to delete. Instead, whenever I decide the last several pages were just awful, I write a note in the margin about what should happen there, and move on. Like how I wrote about 10,000 words and then decided I should start my story in an entirely different place. Did I trash that first section? No. It's on the page, it's untrashable. Instead, I wrote a little note, something like "Start here? Flesh out society" and moved on. (See? I've moved on so much I can't even remember what I wrote.)

Anyway, I'm not going to meet my goal of finishing by September 11. 66 pages (out of a projected 350ish) is not a good place to be right now. But in light of my current circumstances, I've revised my goal and am aiming to finish my first draft by the end of September. (That times out perfectly, since I can set it aside and consider picking it back up again on the rewrite for NaNoWriMo. Which everyone should sign up for, if you haven't already.)

So that's where I am, in case you were wondering. Working full time is killer. Again, I must bow down to all those real adults out there who still manage to find the time to write. And read! Yeah, forget that. In my dreams... at the moment, anyway.

September 3, 2010

August (Exhaustedly)

So I read 28 books last month. Not all of them were that good, sadly. But some of them really were. Like...

Rules of Attraction, by Simone Elkeles.
I reviewed this book here. Basically, it comes down to this: If you like your fiction young adult, a little gritty, and contemporary, Simone Elkeles is your girl. Period.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth & The Dead-Tossed Waves, by Carrie Ryan.
I said this once before, and I'll say it again. If you're going to pick one zombie book to read (just one), it should be The Forest of Hands and Teeth. And that voice! Carrie Ryan definitely jumped onto my new favorite author list this year, which really reminds me that I should update my Readerly Recommends page... Anyway, zombies? Weird, cult-like religion? Post-apocalyptic worlds? And it's young adult? What I love the most about these books is the writing. Plenty of people come up with interesting ideas. Not all of them can really tell a story.

Stolen, by Lucy Christopher.
A difficult book because of its subject matter, but beautiful. The writing is just lovely.

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins.
Enough said.