November 28, 2011

Query Responses

I've been out of it for the past few weeks (life stuff is stressing me out big time), but I've heard there are some things going around on the internets about whether an agent has a responsibility to respond to each query he or she receives. So, my brief thoughts.

1. Agents are busy people. Many queries they receive are (to say it politely) just slightly unhinged. Not to mention the hordes who don't read instructions, who query on projects outside of what the agent represents, who can't spell to save their lives.... The list goes on.

2. I don't believe that agents have an absolute responsibility to reply individually to each query they receive. Given that some bigger agencies receive hundreds of queries per agent, per day, I don't think it's feasible. It would be nice...but I think there are better ways for agents to be spending their time.

3. However, I do feel that if an agency has a "no response means no" policy, they do have a responsibility to have an auto-response indicating receipt. Color me slightly unhinged myself (and let's face it, what writer isn't?), but I'm just neurotic enough to bite my nails for six weeks straight worrying that my query was eaten by a spam filter. An auto-response means that after six weeks I can accept the rejection and move on, rather than tearing my hair out wondering if maybe, just maybe, my query wasn't received (and should therefore be re-sent).

So, thoughts. Now I'm out. Maybe next week I'll have fought my way out of the stress-monster.

November 14, 2011

True Confessions: The 99%, Occupy Cal

Much life-ness going on, and much I'm not sure I want to talk about on this blog. The truth is, there are many things I'm just not sure about. And there is enough not-sure-ness to keep from writing coherently about it. But these things are haunting me - enough so that I feel compelled to write something, despite the not-sure-ness I feel. So. True confession time.

I sympathize with the frustrations expressed by the Occupy Wall Street crowd. At one point I was reading the We are the 99% Tumblr and shaking my head inside. I am blessed enough to have been born into a fairly well-off family, enough so that I could afford to attend college and graduate with no student loans, private or federal. (I still owe a lot back to my family, but I'm lucky not to have the atrocious terms attached to outside loans.) I am lucky enough to still be covered by my family's health insurance plan, though I'm paying out-of-pocket costs of several hundred dollars for annual doctors' visits and prescriptions. I'm fortunate enough to have found a full-time job right out of college that enables me to pay for those visits, as well as the occasional dinner out or new dress.

But there are so many people who don't have those privileges. A response Tumblr, We are the 53%, seems to have an audience saying (generally speaking) that the 99% are nothing more than lazy. That if they just tried more, or worked harder, they'd be fine. Again, I have nothing more to say than "Screw you," to those folks.

Sure, there are some people complaining about nothing much in their own lives. I'm sure there are some currently unemployed people who are lazy. But for most of the 99%, at least what I've seen, this couldn't be farther from the case. Most of 99% messages I saw referred either to crushing student loans (the majority of which were over $100,000), or exceptionally high health care costs, usually related to a severe illness such as cancer. So, 53%, are you blaming these people for getting cancer?

I don't pretend to know the best way to fix this country. But I do know there is something terrifyingly wrong when our citizens' futures are compromised because of circumstances largely outside of their control. I believe there are minimum services the United States government can and should provide to all citizens, at affordable prices. Students should not have to work full time so they can afford to attend college at the same time. Every person in this country should have access to affordable health insurance and health care. Getting a quality education should not put anyone into insurmountable debt. Being diagnosed with cancer should not be an automatic bankruptcy sentence.

Back to Occupy Wall Street. I'm not sure what can realistically come of the movement, but I support the motivation and the right of the people to protest nonviolently. I'm pretty sure that for this next bit to make sense, I need to out myself as a Berkeley resident. I moved here to attend UC Berkeley, have since graduated, and now work full time in Berkeley.

So I heard about Occupy Cal as it was happening. I rode past it on my bike, though I was not part of the crowd. I heard the helicopters outside. I watched the live broadcasts online late, late into the night last Wednesday. And I was absolutely disgusted to see what I saw, and read what I read following the incident. (Please see this link for fairly comprehensive coverage, as well as this article at The Daily Cal, the UC Berkeley student newspaper.) These are students and professors being beaten and offering no resistance while being arrested. (Arrests which, I should note, they did not resist.) One notable professor, Celeste Langan, was yanked by the hair and forced to the ground in the course of her arrest.

Berkeley, I don't know what to say. I admire the UC Berkeley students and professors who stood in peaceful protest. I condemn the UC Regents leadership and police team, whose use of force in the events of November 9, 2011, were atrocious and completely unwarranted.

What's my position on all this? Nebulous and not easily articulated. But I've been thinking a lot about it recently, and I hope you will as well.

November 2, 2011

Some thoughts

...These are kind of uncollected, and all relating to NaNoWriMo.

So, it's started. So far it's been going well (after two days, possibly the best I've ever done NaNo). This is my fifth year participating. I've "won" every year, but for the most part, produced nothing I'm interested in hanging on to. Over the past few years I became a master at mass-producing crappy words. This year, I'm going for leisure (and quality). Hitting 1,667 (good words) a day is a lot easier when I'm used to churning out 5,000+.

It's also very bizarre working on my NaNo WIP. The WIP I've been revising has been the only thing I've worked on for the past year, literally. It's weird to be writing something new, and weird to be writing the sequel. All the characters who show up in the second book are so different from the way they are in the old one, and working on the two side by side is messing with my mind. (Not only am I aiming for 1,667 on the new WIP, I'm also trying to revise one scene on the old WIP per day.)

...Now that I'm working on two big things at once, I'm thinking I should give them different code names. They can't both be simply "WIP." They can't even both be simply "NaNo WIP." Well. Secret Novel and Agent Orange? Thing 1 and Thing 2? Blue Spots and SnoogyBoo?

Anyway, those are my scattered thoughts. I'd try to mess this into a better blog post, but I need to get back to NaNo. Hope it's going well for you all!

October 25, 2011

The Canon: Ella Enchanted

This is not a very good image of the cover, but it will have to do.

So I asked you all a few weeks ago about "the canon": what books you would stock your child's library with. My long term goal with that project is to talk about every single one of those books, but first I have to reread each of them and make sure that a: I still think they make the cut, and b: I remember what happens.

Ella Enchanted is first. Why? Mostly because it's the book I reread first, but it's an obvious choice for my child's library. I have a paperback copy. The binding is worn out and the cover is torn. I keep meaning to purchase a nice hardcover, but I never get around to it. Suffice to say this book has been well-loved, and I will (eventually) buy another copy. In the meantime, my copy shows its 50+ reads.

I reread it yesterday. There's something innately comforting about Ella Enchanted, like snuggling into a comfy chair with a mug of hot chocolate on a rainy day. For those of you who haven't read the book (Where have you been living? Under a rock?), Ella Enchanted is a retelling of the fairy tale Cinderella. The hook? Ella, our heroine, has been saddled with a curse of obedience: When given an order, she must follow it. Add in some ogres, giants, a very charming prince, and devious step-siblings, and you have one interesting ride.

I love Ella because she's stubborn and independent, and she doesn't take no for an answer. She is an active heroine who spends an understandable amount of time wallowing in her misfortune before picking herself back up and moving on. Char, her love interest, is also compelling, if not equally so, and he's a genuinely nice guy (a rare creature if ever there was one in the current YA scene). Gail Carson Levine's writing is smooth and playful, and honestly, every single page of this book is a pleasure to read.

Let's not talk about the ill-advised movie adaptation. This is definitely one where I say READ THE BOOK. The movie is not worth your time.

In conclusion, why does Ella Enchanted make my canon? First, because it's a fairy tale. I am a fairy tale devotee -- telling me that your book is based on a fairy tale automatically makes me about twice as likely to pick it up. Second, because it's a fun, well-written adventure about an independent girl with a big heart and a taste for adventure. The world needs more heroines like Ella. Third, because after 50+ readings (and who am I kidding, it's probably more like 100+), this story doesn't lose its charm. I can easily imagine reading it to my child night after night after night. In fact, I might just go reread it now...

October 19, 2011

NaNoWriMo!

These days I'm trying not to look at the calendar too much (seriously, what day is it again?) because if I see how much time is left in the year I might actually pass out. Where did 2011 go? But one thing that makes counting down to the end of the year slightly more bearable is the arrival of NaNoWriMo.

Many "serious" writers and publishing folk tend to scoff at NaNoWriMo, claiming that no "serious" writer would ever stoop to attempting the challenge (in basic terms, to produce 50,000 new words in the 30 days of November), claiming that NaNoWriMo is nothing more than a colossal waste of time.

To which I say, "Sucks to be you, then." (Short side note: there is SO MUCH kerfluffle in my small niche of the book world [Nano enthusiast and YA writer/reader] that at the end of the day I don't have much energy to say anything other than "Whatever, screw you," to each new article claiming that such and such doesn't count as "real literature" or is worthless or is corrupting our children! or.... Yeah.)

Don't get me wrong, NaNoWriMo doesn't work for everyone, and its purpose is easily misinterpreted. If you sit at your computer at 12:01am November 1st, expecting to have a completed, query-ready novel at the end of the month... Well, then you don't really know much about writing, or the industry.

In my experience, NaNoWriMo is the perfect antidote to writer's block, an excellent kick-starter, and an all-around good time. NaNo is great if you've been meaning to write that novel FOREVER, but just haven't found the time. NaNoWriMo tells you, "This is the time!" NaNoWriMo is excellent for those people (like me) who have a serious perfectionism complex, resulting in hours and hours spent varying four words in a 75,000 word manuscript. NaNoWriMo tells us, "There's no time for dilly-dallying! Get those words writ, man!"

In short, the ideal product of NaNoWriMo is a draft of a novel. It may be misshapen and slightly green, but it's a draft. (The founders are very clear about this. If you go to the site, there's an entire section devoted to what to do after NaNo, the biggest point of which is REVISE.)

If that sounds like a good time, then by all means, hop on. This ride is for you. But please please please remember: Do not submit your NaNo novel to agents at 12:01am December 1st. There are publishing folk everywhere girding their inboxes for the onslaught of queries reading something like "OMG I TOTES finished this book in 28.4 days and it is TOTES AWESOME!"

*Side note to those who claim nothing but crap ever comes out of NaNoWriMo: The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern), Water For Elephants (Sara Gruen), The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Carrie Ryan), and Cinder (Marissa Meyer) all started as NaNo novels, among others.

October 12, 2011

All quiet on the blog frontier

So it's been quiet. Too quiet. So quiet I can't even think of where to begin updating on what's been going on in my life. I have a feeling that if I started meandering about everything that I'm occupied with these days, this blog post will get so long no one will make it to the end. It would become one of those endurance courses: can you get to the third paragraph? The fifth? The fourteenth?

My time recently has been spent occupied by one or more of the following:

1. Work. An unfortunate necessity. I don't think anything more needs to be said on the subject.

2. Writing. This is going - going! This is the first time I'm announcing it in public, so here goes: I'm aiming to have my first substantive revision done (and off to as-yet-undecided betas) by November 1. Conveniently, this allows for a break from this WIP to work on an altogether different WIP during NaNoWriMo (which is approaching, as you all should know).

3. Running. It's puzzling. I say I hate running...and yet I do it anyway. Why? Mostly because it's the easiest way I can think of to get in a decent workout. So that's been happening. Puzzlingly.

4. Choir. I've been kicking around an idea about tying in my choir with my WIP (there's lots of singing in both), but haven't really figured out how to articulate it yet.

What I haven't really been doing: Reading. Oh, there are books. But not enough that I feel like I'm really reading, not like I'm used to. Apparently this is an unfortunate side effect of spending most of my free time writing.

More to come. I feel like I'm shaking the dust off my blog and sending back out into the world. Hello, world!

September 22, 2011

Paralysis

Seems like the writer's life is plagued by paralysis. At least, mine is. It took me a lot longer than expected to finish the first complete draft of my current WIP, and I'm pretty sure I could only do it because I gave myself permission, nay, ordered myself to suck.

After I finished this draft I took a little break. Did some TV-watching, book-reading. But my WIP was always in the back of my mind. I just got a new computer, and to celebrate, I got myself a copy of Scrivener. There are hundreds of cool features. I've probably used four of them. Even so, I'm already finding Scrivener helpful in terms of organizing the whole project and switching back and forth between layouts to get a better view of the story as a whole. I've taken a lot of notes, and I've marked a lot of scenes as extraneous. But here's the part where it gets tricky.

You see, I'm pretty sure I've done what I can in the re-reading and note-taking department. It's time to dive headfirst into a sea of revision, and I'm coming up against a wall: paralysis.

Paralysis is a common writerly affliction, mostly (in my experience) brought on by thoughts of the "This sucks!" "How can I possibly make this better?!??" "I don't know what I'm doing!" variety. I overcame paralysis in my last draft by allowing myself to be crappy. But how can I do that this time around, where the point is to be improving the writing?

My particular issue (currently) is first lines. I'm convinced that nothing I come up with is anything more than mediocre, and my brain is insisting we not move on to meatier parts of the book until I have the perfect first line, darn it! How can I possibly induce agents and editors to pick up the book if my first line isn't all shiny and eye-catching?

Argh, it's not going so well. I probably should have expected it, but it's disappointing nonetheless. I thought it would be easier to improve something that already existed, but I'm having trouble getting started now that there's a bar: my first draft. (Low, admittedly, but still there.)

How do you get over paralysis when you can't simply allow yourself to suck any more?

September 20, 2011

The Canon

I've decided to create The Canon (according to Rebecca). Briefly, it's a list of books that I would purchase for my (hypothetical, future) child. Books I think are worthwhile for one reason or another. Books that make me laugh and make me cry. Books that changed (or will change) the world. And I need your help!

I've read too many books in my life to remember them all, even some of the good ones, so I'm enlisting you all, my fellow readers and book lovers. What book(s) would you purchase for your children, and why? All books are welcome, from picture books to classic literature to young adult. They just need to have one thing in common: They need to be worthy.

If you nominate a book that makes it into The Canon, you will be recognized for your contribution.

September 19, 2011

Netflix, you are stupid. (One consumer's perspective)

In case you haven't heard, Netflix is at it again. First they raised prices (a de facto 60% price increase for subscribers of both streaming and DVD-by-mail service). Now, they're "apologizing" for messing up... while making it worse. Not better.

For the record, I can see the sense in raising prices of the DVD-by-mail service. Before the switch, I was paying $7.99 a month for unlimited streaming, + $2.00 flat for 1 DVD out at a time. I don't know about you, but I can go through those DVDs like nobody's business. Let's assume that I have 2 DVDs out a week (reasonable if I watch each DVD the night I receive it and mail it back the next morning). That adds up to about 8 DVDs per month. $2 doesn't even cover the shipping fees for that service. We can quibble about the exact price charged, but $7.99 for this plan makes sense if Netflix wants to, say, make money off of it. And I'm assuming for the moment that they do.

I disagree with the implementation of the price change in two ways. First, I disagree with the way it was presented. Seriously Netflix, you need a whole new PR department, because selling a price increase by saying that you want to satisfy your customers? SUCH a bad idea. How about going with the honesty approach? Tell us that charging $2 for a DVD service isn't sustainable, that you're losing money. Tell us that you are paying more for renewals of streaming licenses, and to keep the quality content, you need a price increase. Netflix, your subscribers aren't stupid. The way you handled that first price increase, PR-wise, was a nightmare.

The second (and perhaps more important) problem I have with the price increase was that it doesn't have a bundled price for people who want both the streaming AND DVD services. I understand that the whole point was the separate out the streaming and DVD services, but bundling really is everywhere. The whole pill would have been easier to swallow if Netflix had provided that option. Want streaming only, or DVDs only? Pay $7.99. Want both? How about a low price of $12? The price would have gone up, but it would have been a smaller leap, and it would have been a recognition of the large segment of customers (like me) who use both services. Netflix has great content in both the streaming and DVD libraries. But until there is a significant increase in the amount of overlap, it's not realistic to expect that customers will be satisfied with the offerings from only one option.

...And that's what they seem to be doing with this newest snafu. Please refer to the article I linked to above, but the gist of it is: Netflix is dumping its DVD program. From here on out if you're a Netflix DVD subscriber -- oh wait, you're not. You're a Qwikster customer. Netflix, that was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. There may be good business reasons for doing what you're doing, but there are NO good consumer reasons. So if you want your consumers to stay happy, you'd better provide one hell of an explanation, or just stop this nonsense before you sink the whole ship. Let me tell you about what I care about as a consumer:

1. Content. Netflix, you seem to be under the impression that I care about whether I get my media via streaming or DVD. The truth is, I don't. If your entire library was available on streaming, I would probably be a streaming-only customer. But since it's not, I use the DVD service. Consumers don't care about DVDs vs. streaming issue nearly as much as they care about the content. Lesson #1: Keep the CONTENT together. If you make me log into two different websites just to search the same company's database to see if a particular movie available, I'm going to want to strangle you. And I will most likely be canceling my DVD service. Same thing with the ratings. Do you really think that I'm going to rate things twice just to get the same suggestions in two different places? Your suggestion algorithm has shown me some gems, but splitting it down the middle like this seems like a horrible idea.

2. Convenience. Two websites? Two lists? Two bills? Need I say more? People don't want to log on to two sites to search for one movie. It seems likely that many will let go of one or another, in favor of one of the other services (Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Blockbuster Express, etc.) currently on the rise. And if anyone comes up with a site where you can do both, I imagine we're going to be seeing a much faster drain as current Netflix subscribers jump ship to a new site that will be (effectively) what Netflix just abandoned.

3. Affordability. Truthfully, I don't think there's an issue here at the moment. If you use both services actively, $7.99 per is actually pretty reasonable. But again, it would be so much more convenient if you'd just kept them together in the first place.

The bottom line, Netflix, is that from a consumer's perspective this makes no sense whatsoever. You are taking away convenience. You are taking away content. You are annoying people, period. See the following for more coherent (and knowledgeable) opinions of this mess: here and here.

For the moment I'm staying with you. Even with the increase, it's still a reasonable price for the amount of content I watch through Netflix each month. But if you keep making decisions like this, it might not be that long before I'm saying goodbye.

September 15, 2011

MacBook. No, really.

So it's official. I type this post from my brand spanking new computer, which has now taken over the coveted position of "on the desk." (In its transitional phase it was perched semi-precariously on top of a plastic set of drawers from Target while I toggled back and forth between the old PC, the external hard drive (doing all of the heavy lifting), and the new MacBook Pro).

I've downloaded all the programs I need. I reset all of my bookmarks and saved passwords on Firefox. I even (after about 2 hours of wrangling) figured out my iTunes problems and finally managed to get all my music from the old computer to the new (thankfully!). I even had some fun looking through all the Word documents I've lugged around throughout the years. I had story snippets in my files that hadn't been modified since 2001! (Yeah... those were the awkward middle school years, and you can totally tell.)

Most of those ones are now gone (I finally made an executive decision to trash everything dated earlier than 2005), but there are actually some things that are surprisingly not-horrible. Which is not saying they're examples of stellar (or even good) writing. Not at all. But some of those did make it through into this computer.

Anyway, now that all the moving in is done, it's time to start living here. And it begins with... revisions? Eep!

(And I think Time Machine is done backing up now... I had no idea when I started it for the first time that there would be over 1,000,000 items! Egads.)

September 10, 2011

Giveaway of Triumph Winner!

Thanks so much to everyone who spread the word and entered my giveaway! I'm especially looking forward to following the bits of advice you gave, both for revision and relaxing. I'm pleased to announce that the winner is:

Tiffany at Books For Bears!

Congratulations! (PS: I just checked out Tiffany's blog and it is adorable. Really, really adorable. Seriously, who couldn't love bears with books?)

September 9, 2011

I can has Macbook? Pro?


So I've been in the market for a new computer for a while. My current computer (an HP) has been fuzzy for a long time. The big problem (among several smaller ones) is that it overheats very easily, and the fan is super super noisy. So in order to get anything done I have to accept the fan running in the background, take out the battery, and prop the whole thing up on top of some books to facilitate air flow.

Anyway, after many months of hemming and hawing, I finally have a 13" Macbook Pro. The problem now is that I don't quite know what to do with it. I work on Macs at the office, so I know my Mac basics. But this thing is so... shiny. And thin. And I seem to have been hit by a sudden attack of HP nostalgia, missing (in advance) my 15" screen and the current setup (cozy, if occasionally aggravating). I am entrenched in the familiar. This Macbook Pro, which is currently sitting innocuously on a set of drawers, happily charging away, is an imposter. I'm almost scared to touch it.

I suppose part of my reluctance to get it all set up is that I'm afraid of losing data on the transfer (not least my novel draft, but also my other WIPs, music, etc. etc. etc.). I have an external hard drive so it shouldn't be a problem. It's just the getting started that's the hard part.

Do any of you have tips for getting through all this transferring nonsense and setting up the new computer? I'm sure that once I actually start using it I'll be zoinks!amazed, but right now it's hard to fathom resigning my current trusty (if LOUD and ANNOYING) PC to the backup closet.

August 31, 2011

Triumph! (And a contest!)

Wow, this post is a long time coming. I haven't been around that much lately, for a few reasons:

1. Scary bike accident. Seriously, potholes are no fun. Neither are huge scrapes across one's back.

2. Camp NaNoWriMo! Now you can churn out lots and lots of (generally crap) words every month! I've been doing that this August, which leads to point three:

3. My WIP. IT. IS. DONE. Well. Not exactly. This particular draft is done, ringing in at 71,598 words. This is a big deal. This is a huge deal. This is an unbelievable deal. First off, I'm a writer, or I'm trying to be. But I'm really bad at finishing things. This is the first full draft of a novel I've finished since...okay, that's embarrassing. But it's been a long time! Right now I'm feeling more exhausted than elated, but one thing I said about today was that if I finished my draft today, I'd hold a contest!

So here it is: a sneak peek of the books you can win:

I am in love with Stephanie Perkins' books. They are cute, fun, flirty, and all-around delicious. And if you enter this contest, you'll have a chance to win a pre-order of her newest, Lola and the Boy Next Door!

Okay, so if I'm in love with Stephanie Perkins' books, I may just be in love with Jackson Pearce, period. Her vlogs are awesome. I wish I were as charming as she is. Up for grabs here: a copy of her hot-off-the-press, just-released book Sweetly, a reimagining of the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. (Also, fairy tales? Awesome. So awesome.)

I have been jealous of those folks at BEA forever, and this is one of the reasons why. There is just something so attractively different about this book -- the title, the cover, the description... If you have been as jealous of me, this is your chance to win a pre-order of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.








Here's the deal. There are some awesome books. If you enter this contest, you have a chance to win your choice of ONE. I'm ordering through The Book Depository, so this contest is international! (Well - open to wherever TBD ships. Be sure to check on that!) A winner will be drawn randomly.

To enter, just fill out THE FORM.

*(This event will close at 11:59 PM EST, September 7. The winner will be announced on or by September 10.)

August 22, 2011

Alternate Histories

I tend to talk a fair amount about YA trends I just can't stand, so I thought I'd take a moment to talk about something I would love to see A LOT more of: alternate histories.

I realized this as I was finishing up Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld) last night. What drew me in the most about this book was the alternate history. For those who haven't read the book, I don't think I'm giving too much away by saying that the book starts on the eve of World War I (before it was called WWI, obviously, but even before it was termed 'The Great War'), in a world where the British and their allies are "Darwinists," and the Austro-Hungarians are "Clankers". The Darwinists use genetically engineered animals and ecosystems as vehicles and weapons; the Clankers use machines.

I love that stuff. Can't get enough of it. It appeals to the history buff in me, and I'm in awe of the people who can do this well, because to do alternate history well, you need to be neck-deep in research for a very long time if you want to avoid sounding like an idiot. Maybe that's why I don't see more of these sorts of books in the YA market.

But there must be some! I'm racking my brains right now and am only coming up with a few on the YA side (although to be fair, I can only come up with a few on the adult side as well):

Young Adult Alternate History

1. Year of the Hangman, by Gary Blackwood. Possibly the first alternate history book I ever read -- the premise is that the Americans did not win the Revolutionary War.

2. Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest. Haven't finished this one, but the premise is that the Civil War just did. Not. End. (After 16+ years.)

Adult Alternate History

1. Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, by Orson Scott Card. This one is a little more complicated, but the premise is that in the distant future, everything sucks (to put it bluntly). A team of scientists believe they have traced the tipping point to 1492, when Christopher Columbus "discovered" the Americas. So they send a team back in time to stop Christopher Columbus from making his fateful discovery... only to discover that somewhere, somewhen, someone else has already made the same journey.

2. The Eyre Affair and sequels, by Jasper Fforde. Very difficult to describe, except to say that it's an alternate version of Great Britain circa 1985. There's time travel, cloning, and you can, literally, get lost in a good book. Very cool for fans of Jane Eyre.

There are more -- there HAVE to be, right? And I want to read them. So, friends -- anyone have any suggestions for further alternate history reading? My list is pathetic. Help me out!

August 12, 2011

Friday Five

Because Kristin Creative was doing one, and I got lazy.

1. I have 33 books on my nightstand, literally. How is that possible? I need to start laying down the law around here - no more library books until I return the ones I have out! Slightly related: I think my #fridayreads is Entwined, by Heather Dixon.

2. I discovered the pool at my gym this week. Since my knee started bothering me I haven't been running, but maybe swimming is the thing right now? I swam on Monday, and that was tough. I think swimming laps is a lot harder than running, but maybe that's just me. And if I keep this up, I really need to buy a decent pair of goggles.

3. Jackson Pearce rocks. Specifically, her vlogs. (And her live show!) If I were an author I would want to do vlogs like her, but I don't know if I'd have the stomach for it. I'm more of a hide-behind-the-books sort of girl.

4. Downton Abbey. A Donna Hosie (of Musings of a Penniless Writer) recommendation. I LOVE IT! And it's on Netflix instant, for those of you who have that. I watched six straight episodes yesterday (seven total) and now I'm chomping at the bit for January to come around so I can watch the second season. It's so...!!!

5. Denver Publishing Institute. It's a little hard to believe that I graduated from DPI just over a year ago, and that I've been working in my current (publishing) job for almost exactly a year. Wow, time flies. Recently I've been thinking about the newest graduates and wondering if any of them are going to write me up and ask me for all the publishing savvy I've accumulated in the last year. (Hard to think that I actually have some...)

August 4, 2011

Marshland

I haven't talked about writing in a while, so I thought I'd take this beginning-of-August thing to give you all an update.

For those of you who don't know, I've been working (on and off) on the same book since last November, when I wrote what I like to call the spaghetti draft of my WIP during NaNoWriMo. (At least for me, NaNo is a really good way to get a spaghetti draft of a story down.) A few fun facts: 1. I'd been thinking about this book for about three months before I wrote the spaghetti draft. 2. Spaghetti drafting is my crazy draft. Throwing spaghetti on the wall, seeing if any of it sticks. I wrote a ton of stuff, and a ton of stuff out of order. 3. For those who are interested, my current WIP is a retelling of the fairy tale "The Little Mermaid." (I think that doesn't give away too much -- I mean, take a look at all the mermaid books that are out there right now!)

After that I sat on it for a while, until I opened it back up a few months ago and started chipping away at it again. Right now I'm working on moving all my out-of-order scenes into order, and doing a little bit of light editing as I go along. My goal for this draft is to get every scene in the right place, and fill in the blanks where there are scenes missing.

So, progress. I've been working seriously on this book for the last month and a half, and sometimes it seems like I haven't made progress at all. I know that's not true -- I've figured out a number of plot things and details about the world, and added in characters, and (hey!) written 10,000 words in the last three days... But to me, there's not a lot that's really tangible about that work. It's not the same as saying, "I worked for the last six weeks and now I have a completed draft!" Right now, I'm in the middle of the marshland, putting one foot in front of the other, feeling like I'm working hard and getting somewhere... but that it might just be taking me around in circles.

Fellow writers, do you know what I'm talking about? Are there milestones that, for you, really bring home the progress that you've made? Obviously there are the big ones -- finishing a book, getting an agent, getting a book deal, for heaven's sake -- and there are smaller ones, finishing one round of revisions, finishing a draft (and another, and another). But what about in between those drafts? What about the weeks and months it takes to move from one to the other? How do you keep yourself positive about the work that you're doing instead of getting mucked down in the marshes?

I'm going to take myself out to a (slightly) upscale restaurant when I'm done with this draft, and I already have the place picked out. But it still feels forever away...

July 28, 2011

The reader's perspective

I have been sitting on this post for a while.

Rather, I have been sitting on this topic for a while, wondering how to go about writing about it, or even if I should write about it, or if I should write about it, whether it might be better placed in a journal or diary. After much waffling, here we go:

I read the book Sisterhood Everlasting, by Ann Brashares, a few weeks ago. I didn't count, but I probably started crying about six or seven times while reading it. After I'd finished, I felt really, really emptied. Devoid, desolate, bleak. It took me a few days before I really felt back to normal.*

Why this intense reaction? Well... It's because of my baggage. What I bring to the table, whenever I sit down and read a book. Without getting extremely personal, I will say that I have experience with some of the following: suicide, depression, bipolar disorder, family schisms, and dead mothers. Sisterhood Everlasting has all of the above (in various shades), and in my opinion, Sisterhood Everlasting got it wrong.

Would I say that the book treated those topics lightly? Not lightly, exactly. But I almost felt that the book made an attempt to lighten the subject matter by making the overarching message of the book one of light, and hope. Like a character who clearly suffers from bipolar disorder (albeit a milder case) can somehow turn herself around on the dot and decide to be better. (Not exactly true, my friends.) It's odd, the way I feel about the book. On one hand, I was perturbed by the fact that the rest of the Sisterhood books are so light (not blase, but definitely light), touching on serious material only carefully, and that this one was not. And on the other hand, I was saddened by the fact that this last book aimed to cover these problems, but (in my opinion) didn't treat them with the right amount of gravitas.

Anyway. As I was sitting around despondently after reading this book, it occurred to me that no one who does not have my personal experience will likely feel this way about Sisterhood Everlasting. Looking at it from an objective perspective (or as objective I can be), I would say that it's a good book. Others will agree. Others will likely not be bothered by the way Brashares treats these topics, because others have not experienced them firsthand. And that's fine. But it does mean that a lot of how "good" people think a book is actually has to do with the perspective of the reader -- not the objective quality of the book.

Whether we like a book or not depends on how good a book is, yes. But it also depends on whether we're hungry or impatient as we read the book, or whether we're grouchy or tired, or instead in a marvelous, "I love the world!" mood. Feeling marvelous? Well, then you might enjoy a few pages about how nice it would be to have a pet tiger. Feeling sleepy? Well, then you might wish the writer would go on and kill the damn tiger already. And if you have firsthand experience with a topic covered in a book, experience that differs drastically from the way it's presented, that inevitably changes how you evaluate the story.

I've definitely put down books before that I probably would have liked, if I hadn't been tired/annoyed/sick/hungry when I started reading them. Sometimes I recognize those moods, and I make a note to pick the book up again later. Sometimes I don't, and I just let them go.

So, my friends, here's the question: How much do you think your rating of a book depends on your particular perspective, on your background, your mood, your habits, and how they relate to the book? How much objectivity can people really have when they sit down to read? Clearly my personal example is a little extreme, but have you ever noticed smaller, subtler ways in which your reader's perspective shapes the way you feel about a book?

*There is a point to be made here about the book accomplishing its purpose if reading about particular subjects brought my personal feelings SO far out of their usual hiding places. But my distaste for the book was more in the way it was handled, not so much that the topics were covered at all in the first place.

July 22, 2011

Bloggy Redirect

Sorry to pull a bait and switch on you, dear readers. The blog post I'd intended to write for today ended up over at my other blog, Lost Book Girls. If you're interested to hear about how I feel about celebrities writing memoirs, please feel free to head over!

Otherwise, I will see you on Monday. There WILL be a blog post here, and it will be good.

July 8, 2011

Harry Potter Query: Slytherin

I promise, this is not going to turn into a Harry-Potter-themed blog. But between the rereading I'm doing and the, oh, I don't know, MOVIE that's coming out next week, there's more and more of this stuff floating around on the internet and you just can't avoid it. You just can't. Expect a full return to normal programming after next week.

Example: Today I woke up to find a video blog by the delightful Jackson Pearce addressing Harry Potter. In this blog, she told us what house she would likely be sorted into if she were to attend Hogwarts. The answer, my friends, is Slytherin.

This really got me thinking. Slytherin (at least the people who get sorted into Slytherin) is supposed to have some redeeming qualities, right? Room for people with potential for greatness and all that. So why is it that everyone in Slytherin is portrayed as simply awful? And likewise, why is it that everyone who ever went bad came out of Slytherin? (Okay, technically there's Peter Pettigrew to be accounted for, but that's just one person. Seriously.)

I really think that Rowling dropped the ball here. Yes, there are some Slytherins that do some good things (sort of -- example, Malfoy's mother lying to Voldemort), so I suppose there's a little redemption going on there. But the point is that no one in Slytherin is portrayed as nice to begin with. Couldn't Harry have had a friend from Slytherin? Would that have been too much to ask? Do they all have to be described, from the beginning, as a rather "nasty bunch"?

This sort of circles back round to some of the issues raised in my last blog post, about the Sorting Hat and the strict separation of houses. (See comments.) There certainly is a problem in Hogwarts when no one will really hang out with anyone who's from a different house. In fact, really the only time I saw students from different houses mingling seriously was when Harry founded Dumbledore's Army, at which point the whole of Hogwarts society was beginning to crumble under the strain of Umbridge's awfulness anyway. (But notice that there are no Slytherins in the D.A.)

Dear readers, am I missing something here? Are there "good" Slytherins? It seems like some of them get a little redemption, but is it too much to ask that one might have been good from the start?

July 4, 2011

Harry Potter Query: First Years

Warning: this post may not be thrilling to you if you are not interested in/curious about Harry Potter minutia.

I'm busy rereading Harry Potter, and moving rather slowly. I have no particular deadline in mind, but thought it would be a good time to get reacquainted with the books. It has been a while. I used to reread each book as the next came out, resulting in my reading the first Harry Potters many times more than I read the later ones. I anticipate a few "No way!" moments when I get down the line, but for now I'm meandering through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

It's an interesting read, especially considering how many things J. K. Rowling brought back in later books. I'm sure there have been interviews on this, but did she really plot out every book that carefully, in advance? It seems just a little insane -- certainly I'm nowhere near that as a writer.

Anyway, here's one question that just occurred to me as I was reading the bit about Harry and company being sorted into their respective Houses. (I'm hoping that another rabid fan out there may be able to answer/clarify this point...) The narrative states that when Harry and his Gryffindor crew hop up to the dormitory for the first time, there is a room with five beds in it, one for each of the boys. I assume that this means there were only five male Gryffindor first years that year: Harry, Ron, Seamus, Neville, and Dean.

Carrying this further (based on the number of brooms present at the first flying lesson: twenty, for the Gryffindor and Slytherin first years combined), there are a: exactly five female first years per House, and b: exactly ten first years total per House. This comes out (assuming a 100% retention rate) to seventy students per House, two hundred and eighty students in the entire school.

Was this obvious to everyone else? Was I just being silly when I was thinking that we only focused on a few Hogwarts students per year, and there were many more who simply weren't that important? (Because this means that each student is much more important than I previously gave them credit for...)

Anyway, that's not my actual question. My question is, then: If the five and ten student quotas are set, then doesn't that mean the Sorting Hat has two tasks? First, to sort the students into their appropriate Houses, and second, to fill the quota? And if the Sorting Hat must fill the quota, then what happens if there are more students appropriate for a certain House than there are spaces? One assumes that the Sorting Hat reads your true nature and places you appropriately, but if there is a quota on how many students are sorted into each House, can this be absolutely true? OR, does this mean that admissions letters are sent to the appropriate batch of students in the first place, and the Sorting Hat is just reaffirming what the professors (or admissions committee, or whatever) knew already about which students will end up in which House?

Of course, the free-wheeling, all-powerful nature of the Sorting Hat is touted from Sorcerer's Stone onward, so it doesn't make much sense that the Sorting Hat is just reaffirming something that's already known. But if the Sorting Hat is really free to choose (and if the students, like Harry, have some say about which is their House), then how can that be reconciled with the strict ten students per year quota that seems to be in place? (This assumption follows from the fact that both Gryffindor and Slytherin have exactly ten students in the first year, five male and five female.)

Anyone have any thoughts? Or am I just taking this way too far? (By the way, Happy Fourth of July and all that.)

July 1, 2011

Public service announcement (or, living with food allergies)

On Wednesday night I went out to eat at an Indian restaurant and ordered something benign. I can't remember the name of the dish, but it had potatoes and peas in a spicy curry. It smelled delicious...but I knew after only three small bites that there was something wrong. My throat had become scratchy, and swallowing was just on the edge of painful. I was having an allergic reaction.

Most people don't know this, but I have an allergy to tree nuts. (Not peanuts -- peanuts are legumes. Look it up.) The reason most people don't know this is that to me, it's never been that big of a problem. Some people have life-threatening allergies, and in comparison, mine felt like no big deal. I wasn't as careful as I could have been, but my reactions, when they occurred, weren't that serious: a scratchy throat, some drowsiness, a little trouble swallowing. Just take some Benadryl, go to sleep, and wake up better. (I can see those people who carry EpiPens everywhere rolling their eyes.)

Wednesday night was different. Not from the start -- from the start it felt the same as it always did. I excused myself from the table and made for the closest Walgreens to pick up some Benadryl and water.

The trouble started after that. I'd obtained my Benadryl, but the symptoms were not going away. Au contraire -- they were getting worse. Much worse. Over the next six hours my ears swelled, inhibiting my ability to hear. I was alternately feverish and chilled. I got hives all over my body, and my eyes swelled so much that I could barely open them. I had severe abdominal pain, and I threw up multiple times.

I almost went to the emergency room, but could not muster enough energy to get out of bed. Sleep would solve the problem, I reasoned, taking another dose of Benadryl. After all, the biggest worry during allergic reactions is that the throat will swell, cutting off the airway and a person's ability to breathe. That hadn't happened to me, so in all likelihood everything else would take care of itself. (Everything else, in other words, was only painful. Not life-threatening.)

It turned out that I was right, for the most part. Most of my symptoms diminished overnight, leaving me with puffy eyes and bone-deep exhaustion in the morning. I slept most of the day, and though I'm still not feeling well, I hope to get there by tomorrow. A happy ending: no emergency room visit involved.

I am lucky. There are many people in this world who have worse allergies, life-threatening ones. I should know -- my brother is one of them. Allergies like those mean carrying EpiPens, questioning the labels on everything, and interrogating cooks at restaurants. I've always felt like my allergies are just "no big deal" in comparison. And it's true, my allergies are not life-threatening. But after my experience over the last day, I've learned that I cannot treat them like "no big deal" any more.

My allergies are not simply an inconvenience, even though that's how I've been treating them. They are painful and frightening, and they demand more attention than I have given them in the past.

I know there are people like me out there, people with moderate food allergies, people who consider this allergy to be a mere inconvenience -- nothing to fuss over. And this may be so. But after my experience, I will be taking a number of steps to prevent such occurrences in the future, and I highly recommend anyone with this level of allergy do the same.

1. I will carry at least one dose of Benadryl with me at all times in eating situations. This is just common sense, and something I should have been much better about in the past.

2. I will not be shy about asking about ingredients on a restaurant menu, even if it seems like the dish will not be a problem. This is not about being picky. This is not about seeming pushy. This is about protecting my health.

3. I will be visiting a general physician in the near future to have a full allergy test done. This may not be necessary for many of you other allergic folk out there, but the last time I had an allergy test done, I was about seven years old. You forget things after fourteen years, and you almost certainly didn't understand them well enough to begin with. Also, some allergies can develop or disappear given enough time. My server on Wednesday night assured me repeatedly that there were no nuts in the dish I had ordered. It's possible (though unlikely) that I have developed an allergy I don't even know about yet. (Certainly it would explain the severity of my reaction if this is the case, as I've never had anywhere near the same level of reaction with any previous encounters with nuts.)

In short, I will be taking steps to be much more careful in the future. I've treated my allergies like no big deal in the past, and I've been careless. If you have an allergy like mine, manifesting in relatively minor reactions (scratchy throat, sleepiness, etc.), I strongly recommend that you make sure you are prepared and knowledgeable in the event of a stronger attack. It may not happen to you. It may never happen to you. But I was sick as a dog last night after a lifetime of very minor reactions, and it scared me badly. I thought I knew what to expect from my allergies, but I was wrong, and I was unprepared for the consequences.

Anyone have any tips for living with food allergies? I'm in an advice-collecting mood, so feel free to share in the comments.

This has been a public service announcement from your scared-prepared book-blogging buddy. Be prepared and stay safe, everyone.

June 27, 2011

An Evening With Neil Gaiman

So tonight around 7:25 tonight I was sitting in a church, waiting for Neil Gaiman to show up. I was also cursing myself for being nice enough to lend my digital camera to my sister, which left me camera-less when the man himself walked into the room. No one fainted. As far as I know.

To be perfectly honest, my first thought was Man, I wish I could live-tweet this. Because if I could have, I would have been tweeting something like "Holy @#$%, he's so close you could @$@@%!&^ attack the man!" I've never had the urge to live-tweet anything before, so it took me a while to figure out where this urge was coming from. After a moment I realized that it had to have something to do with the audience. We (all 300 of us) were sitting there in jaws-dropped awe as Neil (Can I call him Neil? Probably not, we're not that close. I was only in the twentieth row or so.) Gaiman opened his mouth and started to talk. And I wanted the audience to be there together, shooting rapid-fire messages back and forth about his beard (should really come off), his Doctor Who obsession (is awesome), his dog (adorable). It was weird. I am not normally a live-tweeter, but apparently the presence of the Gaiman can do that to you.

Tweeting aside, it was a lovely evening. Adam Savage (apparently of Mythbusters fame) interviewed Neil, and off they went. At times I was tempted to think they'd practiced the whole thing beforehand, as Adam pulled obscure quote after obscure quote about literature from his pocket, dropping them haphazardly into the conversation. Neil talked about his immigrant experience as it related to American Gods, about the difference between what you intend to create and what is there when you're finally through, about Daleks and invisibility and Mars bars. It was lovely. Being in the twentieth row (or so) it was exceeding hard to see the man. I had to crane my neck -- but that's what happens when you get there only twenty-five minutes early to see Neil Gaiman.


Some selected quotes:

- Regarding the weirdness of arriving in the Midwest to live: "Does this water taste weird to you?"

- Question from the audience: "Are you tweeting right now? Like, with your feet?" Answer: "I'm tweeting with my mind. With the hashtag #whataweirdquestion"

- Oddly appropriate for my WIP: "You never had to hide behind the sofa from little mermaids."

And then there was a bit about meeting a red Dalek and feeling sorry for it, because apparently Daleks can't see the color red. Apparently this would curse it to effective invisibility.

Final thoughts: lovely show. I'd see it again. I'm tempted to type in an emoticon at this point, but will abstain.

ETA: Coincidentally, I happened to write a blog post today that mentioned memoirs, Neil Gaiman, and bee-keeping. I can say almost for sure that if Neil Gaiman writes a memoir about bee-keeping, I will read it.

Why (Read) Memoir?

Recently I put down a memoir. I'd picked it up on the recommendation of Michael and Ann of the excellent podcast Books on the Nightstand, and gotten about 40 pages or so into the story before setting it down again. At the time I couldn't quite pinpoint why I was having trouble getting into the story. The writing was quite good -- the author is a well-received writer of novels -- so that wasn't the problem. But for some reason, I just wasn't captivated.

There are a lot of reasons why books captivate or bore, and I could write at length about all of those. I'm not trying to make an all-encompassing statement here on why I read in general. But I was able, after a few days of thought, to come up with the particular reasons I'd put down this particular memoir. It wasn't because it was a bad book. It wasn't because the author is a bad writer. To put it simply, there are two reasons I read memoir (assuming, of course, a baseline of decent writing and storytelling, and the like).

1. The author. There are fascinating people out there, and though I'm not prone to celebrity stalking as much as some people, there are certain well-known people I pay attention to. Neil Gaiman, for instance. I would definitely pick up a memoir by Neil Gaiman, or by Vienna Teng. Musicians, politicians, actors, writers -- there are many whose name on a book would immediately pique my interest.

2. The subject matter. I am a travel memoir junkie, mostly because I can't afford to do any of the traveling myself. Same goes for food -- can I afford to hit the hot spots where twelve course dinners are $250 a person? Hell no. Also, I've got some food allergy troubles. But for some reason, I've been really into food memoirs lately, by chefs or just really good eaters. Add to this list the ever-increasing line of subjects I find fascinating... Bee-keeping, for one. I would read a memoir about bee-keeping. Or jaguar-taming.

The problem with the memoir that shall go unnamed is not that it was bad, as I said earlier. It's just that I read memoirs for two very simple reasons, and this memoir satisfied neither of those. I know the author's name, but am not particularly interested in him otherwise, and the lens of the story was not a subject I found interesting.

So readers, why do you read memoirs? Do you read them at all?

June 8, 2011

Running/Writing

Running is a lot like writing. This is one of those statements I feel qualified to make because I'm currently occupied with both: I just started training for a half-marathon, and I'm currently in the middle of trying to make my NaNo soup look more like a linear story. Don't believe me? Read on.

1. They both operate on delayed gratification. Sure, you can go for a run tomorrow. But when will you start to see the results? If you're like me (motivated by the desire to be physically fit and less flabby), it's going to be a few weeks before the physical changes start kicking in. In the meantime, you have to bust your butt and take the pain.

It's the same thing with writing. Sure, there may be instances of "IAFOS! The perfect sentence!", but by and large writers are partly motivated by the desire to develop their skills, finish books, and ultimately get published. Again, these are not changes you are likely to see tomorrow. And probably not in the next few weeks, either. (This is an instance of running delivering before writing does.) But if you keep at it, your writing will improve. You will finish your first draft, and then your second. And if you have the discipline and patience to keep at it, you stand a shot at being published. (Eventually.) (And because the rest of your puny competition will have thrown in the towel.)

2. They're both occasionally painful. Ever felt the muscle seize up after you ran four miles for the first time in months? Yes, that's painful. I've been running for four weeks now and still occasionally wake up sore. Don't get me wrong, I actually kind of enjoy it. It makes me feel like I've accomplished something. But it's still pain, and it doesn't really make me thrilled to get up in the morning and get to the track.

Writing? Well, keeping to a schedule and writing every day is painful too, at times. Sometimes it's really hard. Sometimes all you can do is stare at the wall and think thoughts along the lines of: "I hate this story! This sucks! It's so unoriginal! Everyone's doing vampire/werewolf/zombie/mermaid/unicorn books these days! No one is going to like it! It's not the same as it was in my head!" I may eventually take back this statement, but for now I'll lay it out there: Writing is generally painful. Writing is generally hard. But if you want to be a writer...it kind of needs to get done.

3. They are both worth it. I was a serious athlete in high school, and continued (sort of) in college. But now that I have an office job, it's difficult to motivate myself to get moving after a day of mind-numbing paper-pushing. But I still do it (and hope to continue). Why? Because exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle. Because it helps me sleep better at night. And because (yes, it's vain) I want my body to be attractive (in a healthy way), and I don't like that it's only my own laziness that stands in my way.

I also want to be a writer. I want it so badly, sometimes I can't sleep because of it. I read the agency blogs, I know the news, and every time I hear about a new book deal I think about how that's going to be me someday. Every day I sit down to write and push through the can't-find-words syndrome, that's a day closer to being where I want to be, no matter how few or how silly my words are. It's an accomplishment, writing another 750 words, running another 4 miles. It's work towards my goals. And that makes it all worth it in the end.

May 31, 2011

Extraordinary

What makes a book extraordinary? Are the necessary elements quantifiable, or ineffable?

And how many extraordinary books can one expect to read in a year? A lifetime?

I've been succumbing to reader fatigue recently, and I just really want to know. When is that extraordinary book going to appear? And how will I know it, when it appears?

May 26, 2011

By the way

By the way, I started training for a half-marathon.

I'm not sure exactly how this will inform my writing, but it's something that I've been thinking about for a while now. I've been out of college for almost exactly a year, and let's face it: my level of in-shape-ness has been on a steady decline since my varsity cross country/soccer days in high school. Am I going to turn into one of those ridiculously buff people with absolutely no fat on their bodies? No. But I'm looking to get in good shape, to sleep better, to get high off all the endorphins, etc. etc. To be healthy. To negate the effects of my largely sedentary day job. To meet the requirements of my superhero application.

So I'm running. I don't particularly like running (I kind of loathe it, actually), but it's straightforward. Put one foot in front of the other. Plus, I spent way too much time getting a running playlist together for my iPod. You kind of have to use it once you do that.

May 25, 2011

I've caved (or something)

Those of you keeping up with the blog will remember my recent entry on my development of reading discontent. In an effort to refresh, rejuvenate, and return cooler than ever, I've made a resolution. That resolution? To erase young adult literature entirely from my reading life for the month of June 2011.

It's a big step, but a good one, I think. I have nothing against young adult literature (I actually love it a whole lot more than most people think I should), but my recent oversaturation in the genre has left me...bloated. In a slouchy reader kind of way.

I don't know what's going to step up and fill the gap, but we'll be finding out soon... Thanks to those who suggested taking a step back from young adult -- I think it's really going to help!

May 23, 2011

Hypothetical Crichton

So I just read this nifty piece in GalleyCat about Micro, Michael Crichton's unfinished novel, and it got me thinking. I'm not a huge fan of Michael Crichton, but you have to wonder what he thinks about all this. One third of his novel was drafted, and someone else was called in to complete the book using Crichton's notes and outlines, etc.

(Sort of) the same thing just happened at my work, actually -- one of our authors passed away, leaving what some would have called his magnum opus unfinished. We'll be publishing it, but it certainly won't be the product that our author (or Michael Crichton, for that matter) would have completed.

You have to wonder, when this happens, why? In this case money is clearly a big factor. Michael Crichton sells many books. Oodles of them, to be precise. But would the man himself have wanted this work to be completed by someone else? Would he have wanted someone else to write the majority of the words of this book?

If it were me, I would say...no. I think. Writing is a tricky business. On the personal side, every book is someone's baby. Would I want someone messing with my book-baby? Um, no. The end-product might have my name on it, but it wouldn't be mine. You also have to wonder about what stuff Crichton was carrying around in his head that he just hadn't gotten around to putting down on paper. There could have been twists! Turns! Jumps off cliffs that no one will ever know.

So from an author's perspective: do I think that unfinished works should be published posthumously? If it were up to me, no. It wouldn't be perfect, it wouldn't be done. As a reader, however, reading an unfinished manuscript exactly as is would be a fascinating experience in the creative mind of another person.

So which is it? If you were an author, would you want your last work to be published, if it's not complete? (Or even if it's completed by someone else?) And how do you feel about these works as a reader?

May 19, 2011

Diagnose Me

I have the blahs. That gorgeous cover of the latest YA AWESOME? Eh. The best cyber-zombie-were-cow-mermaid series to hit the streets? Been there, done that. Reading? So over it.

In short, friends, I haven't felt like reading much lately. But that might be because I haven't felt like reading young adult fiction lately. At some point, they all start to blur together. Take the last book I read (title and author redacted). There was nothing inherently wrong with it. The writing didn't make me want to roll my eyes and send the author back to kindergarten. The romance didn't make me want to throw up. I wasn't immediately able to detail the entire plot from start to finish off of the jacket flap. But altogether, it was pretty much meh.

Is there something wrong with the genre, or something wrong with me? Is it even (gasp) possible that I've finally gotten tired of young adult altogether?

I hope not. There's cool stuff going on in there. It's just that I haven't read a really cool book in a very long time. Anyone else feeling the YA fatigue? What are you doing to snap yourself out of it?

May 17, 2011

WIP Update

I'm starting a mad dash to get this draft of my work in progress done by the end of May. For those who haven't been privy to the whole story, this work in progress started as an idea, which turned into my NaNo novel last November, which has been languishing ever since. Since my NaNo draft was really a splat draft, this will be my actual first draft, with (hopefully) most of the scenes present, if not perfect, and most characters and plot points in place.

In all probability I won't make it -- I'm only just over 8,000 words in, and anticipating at least 70,000 more to go before I reach the end. But it's a goal, and that's the important thing, right?

I reached two big milestones today, anyway. First, my main character has a name. (Yes, she went 8,000 words nameless, and her name still has not appeared in the text. But it will.) Also, I've discovered the first song on my WIP playlist: "Poison & Wine," by The Civil Wars. It's kind of ridiculously fitting, both in tone and message.

So that's how that's going. In the meantime I really haven't been reading much at all, yet somehow there are still 17 library books on my shelf...

May 13, 2011

The Book Lantern

I've been MIA for a while, and I apologize. Real life has gotten complicated, what with a: trying to find a new apartment, b: freaking out about graduate school applications, c: trying to write a novel, and d: worrying about my PURPOSE. That wasn't an Avenue Q reference at all.

I'm making the effort to come back soon, but in the meantime, the following:

1. Where She Went is the best book I have read in a really long time.

2. "The Book Lantern" is my new favorite book blog. Check it out!

3. I am taking book recommendations. If you were going to recommend only ONE book (let's say, one book that has influenced your life in a major way), what would it be? Keep in mind I'm attempting to branch away from young adult, but if you have an extraordinary YA book to recommend, I'll definitely put it on my list.

See you soon! I still love you, and hope you still love me. :)

April 28, 2011

Rollings Reliable

I've been slowly making my way through rereads of Anne of Green Gables, and sequels. Like so many of the series I loved as a child, I've read the first books many times. The later ones? Not so much.

I'm sure there are a few explanations for this, but one of them has to be that I just hate my favorite characters growing up and getting old and giving way to new generations. I hated it in Little Women (okay, technically Jo's Boys by that point), the later Little House on the Prairie books, and certainly once we get to talking about Rilla in the Anne books.

BUT that's not what I set out to talk about when I sat down to write this blog. I was going to talk (and will still talk) about Rollings Reliable. (For your reference, it's in the third Anne book, Anne of the Island.)

Anyone remember this? Anyone?

Well, for those who haven't read the Anne-girl books in a while, Anne tries her hand at writing. She writes a "perfectly pathetic" and dramatic story entitled "Averil's Atonement," sends it off to several major magazines, and...gets rejected. Yeah. This part should be pretty familiar to a lot of you. It's pretty dramatic -- Anne even swears that she will never write again.

I could say SO much about that (and I probably will, at some point), but this blog is not about forsaking writing forever. It's about the Rollings Reliable baking powder competition that takes place a few chapters later. Diana enters Anne's story without telling her, inserting some apt words about Rollings Reliable baking powder, and the story is picked.

Anne, of course, is devastated over the hideous commercialization of her baby. And I can understand that. But the thought that comes to mind is this: if you are a novelist, or aspiring to be, isn't some degree of commercialization to be expected? Of course the vast majority of writers have strong visions of their story, and work very hard to stay true to the heart of their story. And agents and editors -- they're lauded in the acknowledgments as always working to discover the story's soul, to make each book as perfect as it can possibly be.

But isn't there something more? Because after all, no editor would acquire a book that he or she believed would not sell. Some books are bestsellers, anticipated or not. And some books are abject failures. But besides being a beautiful work of art, besides being the vessel into which the writer pours a story that has been gnawing at her for years -- isn't the point, at the end of the day, to create something that will sell?

Not that I'm going to be putting Rollings Reliable advertisements into Chapter Three of my historical fantasy novel anytime soon... But seriously. Would any agent even look at my book (whenever it gets finished) if they thought it would never sell, or that I didn't have a talent that would, eventually, sell?

Yes, writing is about beauty. Yes, it's about issues, it's about important messages and pain and love and art. But at the end of the day, it's about money too.

(This message brought to you in a circuitous way by Anne of Green Gables, who would be appalled to hear such callous acceptance of our capitalist society.)

April 15, 2011

I think someone's missing the point

A few weeks ago I wrote about five YA trends I am SO OVER. I got a lot of good comments, and was pretty impressed that so many people seem to agree with me. (And yet there are still tacky vampire books coming out and lined up for years to come... Hmm.)

Anyway, Kay, at Dead Book Darling, added dystopian novels to the list that she would write. And at first I disagreed. I really liked The Hunger Games, and have since come across a number of YA dystopians I enjoyed as well. So I'm not convinced that I'm quite over that particular vein yet. But the more I thought about her comment, the more I realized that there really is something bugging me about the general level of YA dystopian novels being released nowadays.

You know, dystopians used to exist for a reason. 1984. Brave New World. Fahrenheit 451. I could go on. I know many people were force fed these novels in high school, and I admit, they're not the first books I would pick up, given a varied selection. But they exist to make social commentary. Really, really important social commentary. Dystopian novels used to be serious, in other words. They used to be real movers and changers. Consider that so very many things predicted in 1984 have actually come to pass. That's scary. It's downright terrifying.

At least on the young adult scene, I feel like I'm setting foot on an entirely different planet. A lot of YA dystopians nowadays (not all, but a lot), seem to include the dystopian element for much the same reason that the other trends in YA are included in books: to serve the romantic plot. It's (usually) about the main character, (usually) a girl, slowly waking up from the system, (usually) a vaguely Big-Brother-esque universe with not a lot of background given on the roots of this new society, with the help/guidance of a (usually) politically subversive male love interest. Poof, she sees the evil of the System. Poof, everything's set up for a sequel. Me against the Man. (Along with my boyfriend, of course.)

These novels, the majority of them, are not making the social commentary that dystopians were once known for. They're dystopian for one reason: because it's cool. Because the author thought it was cool, because the publishers thought teenagers would think it was cool.

Do dystopian novels have to be creepy harbingers of a dark future? Not necessarily. It's fine to write a book just because it's entertaining. But I think it's tragic that the roots of dystopia have been diluted so much in its current incarnation. For once I'd like to see a YA dystopian novel that terrifies me as much as Fahrenheit 451 did. That's not all about using the evil Society to set up a rebellious teenage love affair. That makes readers think, really think, about the world we live in, and the way we want to live.

I think we can handle it.

March 30, 2011

Five YA Trends I am SO OVER

(Not in any particular order.)

1. Eternal love. You know, the kind where for whatever reason, the protagonist (usually a girl) is reincarnated but never remembers the past, and her romantic meant-to-be interest (usually the brooding, semi-abusive guy) is stalking/"educating" her about her past. Plus some nonsensical danger thing. Sometimes involving a curse.

2. Vampires. Way back in the day (as in, WAY before vampires spiked) there were some novels I remember as being pretty cool (as in not totally sucky) -- Robin McKinley's Sunshine, Annette Curtis Klause's The Silver Kiss, and (for some random reason) Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' In the Forests of the Night. I haven't picked these up in a while, but from what I recall, the main difference was that the vampire trope was not just a foil for eternal love and crap like that. There was actually a plot. Shocking, I know.

3. Werewolves. I don't know if I've ever read a really good werewolf novel. I like the way they're dealt with in the earlier Anita Blake books, but those are certainly not YA. (Same with vampires. The early Blake books are kind of awesome.)

4. Fairies. Have I ever read a good fairy book? (I'm talking "the fair folk" sorts of stories, not "fairy tales." The two are very different.) Perhaps the only books I have ever loved that had fairies as a factor were Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier, and sequels. Probably because again, the fairies were not the love interests. Although technically, that book is both a "fair folk" and a "fairy tale" book.

5. Angels. You know it's awful when you've only read ONE book featuring angels, and the thought of more makes you gag.

It's not that I hate vampires, werewolves, or fairies. It's that I detest all books that use these tropes just to carry some half-assed story about forbidden/destined/eternal/teenage love. Period.

Any trends you're sick of? Please share!

March 14, 2011

MacBook vs. MacBook Pro

I'm considering my next computer. I've already decided on a Mac, but am having difficulty choosing between a MacBook and a MacBook Pro. For those not in the know, I generally use my computer for the following:

- internet (email, blogging, streaming video)
- DVD watching
- iTunes
- Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.

I'm a light to moderate user (I think), but I do tend to watch a lot of video content (Netflix, Hulu, DVDs) and get really annoyed when things take forever to load.

Any opinions here?

March 11, 2011

Covers and such

Today I bought a second copy of The Goose Girl. Why? Did my first get caught in the rain? Eaten by wolves? Blasted in a nuclear explosion?

No... It was just that my first copy had the photographic cover, and what I really really really wanted was the old cover. The Alison Jay cover. This is not to say the photographic cover is awful -- it's just that the Alison Jay covers are gorgeous. I want. (PS: They're coming out with Alison Jay covers for Forest Born, in case you were wondering.)

Anyway, that's that. Now I have two copies of The Goose Girl. They look right at home next to my two copies of The Graveyard Book (one US, one UK). (Although I may need to track down a hardcover copy now... with the Alison Jay cover, of course.) And now my inner self is raising an eyebrow and wondering, when did I become the sort of person to buy multiple copies of books just for the cover? It's starting slow but may be catching on... I've also got multiple copies of Les Miserables (three of them!) and two of The Brothers Karamazov. Where does it end??!?

Do any of you do this sort of thing? Buy multiple copies of a book? (For any reason... my thing seems to be the cover, but I'm sure there are vastly more interesting reasons behind such compulsions.) Speak!

March 9, 2011

Vienna Teng (and the art of creation)

I love Vienna Teng. Put simply, she writes lyrical, beautiful, meaningful songs. Gorgeous songs. Scrumptious songs. And today she has something to share with you: how to write a song, edit, record, and master it all in ONE DAY. This is the project called Dubway Days, a production of Dubway Studios, and it's all about experimentation and creation. Go check it out, and you can see how Vienna Teng (and friends) produced a song out of nothing in less than 24 hours. It's a really interesting (although certainly not comprehensive) look at the creative process.*

Yes, this is really me sidling out of having to write something about my own (pathetic) creative process.

And it's about telling the whole world about Vienna Teng, who is amazing. I can't decide which song to point you towards -- either "Stray Italian Greyhound" or "Antebellum," I think. Oh, what the heck! Listen to them all!

*Plus if you get there early enough, you can get a free download of the one-day song. Just don't tell anyone I told you.

March 7, 2011

The President's Daughter (Ellen Emerson White)

Once upon a time there was a girl named Meghan Powers. She likes her life simple, but that's not always going to be the case. Her mother, Senator Powers, is running to be the first female president of the United States.

There's more I could tell you, but I think you get the gist. There aren't any vampires in this book, or in this series. No ghosts, no aliens. Instead, there's a political race, and a teenage daughter who doesn't really want to be involved. I think you should read this book. In fact, I know you should read this book, and ALL the books in this series, and I will tell you why:

1. Family. A lot of YA these days have orphans, distant/stupid parents, mysterious circumstances of birth... Anything except a real family. The President's Daughter has that. Meg has two kid brothers who crack stupid jokes, and two parents, both successful, who bicker about spending more time with their children, parent as best they know how, and feel like real people. This family is a real family, with all of the benefits and drawbacks that come with it, and it's refreshing to see.

2. Politics (and the White House). I probably know more about politics than the average person, but I certainly don't know everything -- I can't call White on every little detail, but the politics of the book feel real. Also, there's a lot of stuff about Secret Service details, etc. Again, what do I know about Secret Service details? Not much, but what is here feels real, makes sense, and paints a very good picture of what day to day life would be like, if you lived in the White House.

3. Meg. She's got a couple of quirks, but that's what you love about her. She's the average intelligent teenager, angry at her parents occasionally, worried about doing/saying the wrong things, and it's lovely to walk through this story with a real person instead of an alien. She has a great snarky sense of humor, which she puts to good use on the campaign trail, much to the dismay of her mother's campaign team. Plus, she KICKS ASS in the third and fourth books. Just saying. So you have something to look forward to.

Bottom line: Read these books if you like contemporary YA, politics, real families (and people), and great writing. These books were first released in the 1980s, and got a reissue in 2008. In my opinion, this series is a hidden gem -- one that has gotten far less attention than it deserves. I highly recommend them.

March 4, 2011

Giddy/Bubbly

Yes, today I am feeling giddy/bubbly. Why? Well, it's because last night, I had a very productive talk with my roommate, which resulted in the discovery of the ending. Turns out the place I thought was the end of my book was actually about 4/5 of the way through. Oops.

But I'm not feeling at ALL silly about that because finally finally finally I have a clear picture of this book, this story, this heroine, in my mind. I know the stakes, the love interests, the intrigue. I know it all, if not exactly how it's going to fit together just yet, and I have all weekend to play with the outline (yes, play!) before I kick into real revisions on Monday.

Revision. Wow. Secret: I have never revised a novel before. I have never even attempted to revise a novel before, as long as you don't count that time in middle school... Yeah.

Anyway, I'm on a writer's high, and everything about writing is making me excited. Even the prospect of typing away on my horribly crippled computer that should probably be put out of its misery.

March 2, 2011

Endings? :(

According to my master plan of doom, I was supposed to start revisions yesterday.

Did this happen? Not exactly. But I have spent at least six or seven hours over the last few days just trying to come up with one thing: HOW does my book end?

It's a really frustrating thing. Originally I had planned it to be a book with a sequel... And I still do. But I find myself supremely annoyed (like, throw the book across the room annoyed) when I get to the end of a book and it just doesn't hold together, because everything's waiting for the second book. Yes, I like series. But I hate books that can't even pretend to stand alone.

So I tried to come up with a way to end my book in a satisfying, wrap-it-up type of way. And it's proving to be IMPOSSIBLE. I don't understand why! (Well... Part of it might be because there's a planned coup of the kingdom right at the end, but still! I have plot! I have sub plot! You would think they would lead to some sort of conclusion, right?)

Anyway, that's where I'm stuck. I feel like if I don't have a decent idea of the ending, I won't be able to write effectively. And I don't have a good idea of the ending.

Rar. It's frustrating. And maybe at this point I should just start writing and hope that something occurs to me as I'm going along.

February 28, 2011

Hello, world...

So it's been radio silence the last few weeks. I can make the usual excuses -- work, life, stuff, gunk, aliens -- but the pertinent details of what I've been up to boil down to this: I've been thinking about what I want out of life. And what I want out of life is to be a writer. This is one of those things I've dreamed of doing for forever, it seems. And I think I've been spending too much of my time not being a writer. This is not to say that taking time off is worthwhile, or having different pursuits, or any of those things, isn't great. They're all great. But at the end of the day, there's one thing that goes through my head as I lie down to sleep: This will not happen if you don't make it happen.

This will not happen if I don't make it happen. It's easy for me to kick back and watch a few episodes of a favorite television show after coming home from work. It's comforting, fun, and doesn't require much effort. But it's my dream to be a writer, and it always has been. And change is not going to happen unless I make it happen. To that end, I will be implementing a few changes here and across the internet, concerning how I present myself to the world.

1. I will no longer be accepting books for review, or reviewing on a regular basis. I will certainly talk about books, and I will definitely do my fair share of gushing over books I adore (just hand-sold a copy of Stephanie Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss the other day at a bookstore -- by (happy) accident!). But there's a line I've been straddling for a while on the blogosphere, between "prospective author" and "reviewer/blogger". I think it's time I landed firmly on the side on which I want to be.

2. I will resume my previous posting schedule -- something readerly on Mondays, something writerly on Wednesdays, and something random on Fridays.

3. This last one isn't really internety, but concerns me as an author, so here goes: I'm starting revisions tomorrow. Yipes! (Even though I haven't managed a complete outline. Even though there are still some major characters who don't exist. Even though, even though, even though there will always be more even thoughs. Or perhaps in spite of that fact.)

Sigh. I miss my internet friends. I haven't poked my head out from the burrow in weeks, either to read or write. It's good to be back with you all.

PS: The blog's getting a revamp too. Although that might take a while.

February 14, 2011

Still on Anne

To be perfectly honest I haven't been reading as much as I'd hoped this year. There's certainly still time for it to change, but for the moment (and the last few weeks) it seems I've been figuring out how to work in one of my new year's resolutions (working out) only by trading in time I would otherwise have used for reading (and/or writing).

Anyway, all that goes to show that I'm still on Anne of Green Gables, although I've blown through a few other books here and there. Anne of Green Gables is one of those books that always prompts me to start a "books I'm buying for my child, in the event that I have one" list. I certainly can't pass down this copy -- the spine is shot, and the front cover is gone, a result of an unfortunate overnight encounter with a rainstorm many years ago.

There are a lot of books I would put on my "to-buy" list for my child. Harry Potter, definitely. Anne of Green Gables, Little Women (and Little Men, etc.), Cloudy With a Change of Meatballs, Hop on Pop!, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, The Chronicles of Narnia... The list goes on. And on. And on. I should actually write that list down someday... Although I'm sure it can wait a few years, at least, before needing to serve a practical purpose.

What books would you put on your list? (And do you have a better name for that list than I do? Because "books I'm buying for my child, in the event that I have one" list is just too darn long.)

February 7, 2011

An anecdote. Some of you may be familiar with it

I went home to visit my family this past weekend.

I thought I would be safe with three books.

No. Not at all. I'd zoomed through all three (BART helps) by Saturday morning. The only thing left to do was go to the library and get more...

I managed to limit myself to five... But that means that on the way back, I was carrying eight books. Erm.

This is the part where having a Kindle would come in handy. Oh, wait! I do have a Kindle. It's just that I'm adverse to actually purchasing books to put on there, when you can get books for free from the library!

Anyway, to make a short story shorter, my shoulder is now aching slightly. Looks like I still haven't gotten over book hauler syndrome...

PS: Across the Universe, by Beth Revis. Pretty good read.

February 4, 2011

Don't demonize the textbook companies, children

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, if only for the simple reasons that a: less than 12 months ago, I was a student myself, and b: I now interact on a daily basis with textbook companies (as part of my job). This will be a glossy, windswept post just because I don't have the time to treat it in depth, but I consider myself sufficiently knowledgeable to be able to cover the gist of it, at least.

College textbooks are expensive. Take it from someone who knows -- in my short-lived career as a mathematics major, I was purchasing books that were easily $150 new. (If I was lucky, I could get them for $90 used. Maybe.) And that's just one textbook, for one class. When you're a full time student, taking four courses a semester, you can easily spend over $500 (per semester) on textbooks alone. More if you're in one of the harder sciences -- physics, chemistry, etc.

It sucks. And I totally understand the need and desire for cheaper textbooks, the irate reactions upon finding out that yeah, used textbooks are cheaper...but in the way $70 is cheaper than $95. It's cheaper, but they both hurt. And I understand the impulse to blame the college textbook industry. Those soul-sucking mother-^&*%%*%! Why can't they suck it up and bypass a bonus this quarter?!?!?!??

Children, I'm here to educate you differently. Yes, college textbooks are ridiculously expensive. But to blame the textbook companies solely is just...misguided. Ignorant of the facts. And the facts are these:

Once upon a time, textbooks weren't "used" so much. Most people bought new. Which meant that a college textbook company could anticipate getting at least four or five years (eight or ten semesters) out of one edition of one textbook. Let's do a little math: Pretend with me that you could get a certain science textbook for $30. Say one class is 20 students, that's $600 per class, per semester. Times ten semesters, $6000 for one textbook. (Remember these are pretend numbers, for illustrative purposes only.)

And then, someone had the brilliant idea of introducing the concept of "used." The books aren't changing! they cried. You can buy the very same textbook that was used last semester (that will be used next semester, come to think of it), for half the price! College students aren't suckers in this department, for the most part. 50%? Yeah, I'll take that. So the used business was born. A student who bought that new $30 textbook could sell it to a used bookstore for $10, who could then turn around and sell it to another student (for another semester) for $20. And so on, and so forth. So the students are making a little cash, saving a little cash, and they're happy. But what about the publishers?

Suddenly, things don't look so pretty. I work in publishing, and let me tell you -- the margin between black and red is pretty darn thin. Once (see above) you could expect the return on one textbook to be $6000. Now what? If only one class buys the textbook (that very first semester), and then sells it to the next class, the total amount that a college textbook publisher will receive plummets from $6000 to $600. 90% loss. Now, some people will hang on to their textbooks, and some people will buy new. Let's assume for the moment that 10% of any given class will be purchasing new textbooks, after the first semester. So, the first semester will return $600 for the publisher. After that? $60. At the end of a ten semester cycle, you're left with $1140. Not even a fifth of what you started with.

So what can a publisher do against this? Obviously it's not sustainable -- starting with an expected return of $6000, and seeing that money drop 90%? Not a workable business model. What can a publisher do? Well...they can turn out new editions faster (which will bring back the "new" prices for at least a semester, as students are forced to get them to obtain new material), or they can raise prices. How do you get back up to $6000 from $960? You raise the price of a single textbook to $158, that's how.

And just like that, more students are driven to used textbooks (because $158? for a textbook? that's crazy!), and more textbook companies have to raise prices and put out new editions faster, and more students are driven to used textbooks, and more textbook companies have to raise prices, etc. etc. etc.

Obviously this is not the complete picture. I'm working with simple numbers, not taking into account royalties, what bookstores actually pay the publishers, etc. Just simple numbers. But I hope you've gotten the gist -- once upon a time, textbook publishers could rely on their textbooks being good for at least five years (sometimes more like ten), and so reaching a profit could be spread more evenly among those five to ten years. Now, they have to count on making almost no money after the first one or two semesters. Which means higher prices. Which means more demand for used textbooks. Which means... you get the picture.

Obviously, college textbooks are too expensive. I'm not arguing that everyone go out and purchase new books, rather than used. I'm just saying that things are more complicated than they seem, and that the next time you want to curse a textbook publisher for slapping a $180 price tag on a textbook, take a deep breath and consider that they're not the only ones to blame here. Sorry about that price tag, though. Really. I remember how that feels. But it's a vicious cycle, man. Just vicious.