Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Faery Rebels

A few weeks ago I discovered a wonderful thing called Book Bloggers.  They literally read a book and blog about it.  The good ones get books sent to them for free to read and review (cheap publicity).  Good thing I found them, because my well of books was running dry (only eight on reserve at the library this week, eek!).  So I found the Book Faery, and she had given a glowing review of Faery Rebels, by newcomer R. J. Anderson.  So of course I read it.  And of course I loved it.  Here's the description:

"Forget everything you think you know about faeries. . . .
Creatures full of magic and whimsy?
Not in the Oakenwyld. Not anymore.
Deep inside the great Oak lies a dying faery realm, bursting with secrets instead of magic. Long ago the faeries mysteriously lost their magic. Robbed of their powers, they have become selfish and dull-witted. Now their numbers are dwindling and their very survival is at stake.
Only one young faery—Knife—is determined to find out where her people's magic has gone and try to get it back. Unlike her sisters, Knife is fierce and independent. She's not afraid of anything—not the vicious crows, the strict Faery Queen, or the fascinating humans living nearby. But when Knife disobeys the Faery Queen and befriends a human named Paul, her quest becomes more dangerous than she realizes. Can Knife trust Paul to help, or has she brought the faeries even closer to the brink of destruction?
Talented newcomer R. J. Anderson creates an extraordinary new fantasy world and weaves a gripping tale of lost magic, high adventure, and surprising friendship in which the fate of an entire realm rests on the shoulders of one brave faery rebel. "
 Without giving too much away, let's go directly into my usual mode of critique.

First sentence: ""I only want to go out for a little, little while," the faery child pleaded.  "Just below the window, on that branch.  I won't fly away and I won't tell anyone, I promise." "
Sometimes, books that begin with conversation can drive me batty.  And I was ready to be peeved with this one (it's never good when I start reading a book in a bad mood, however, it quickly cheered me up), but the conversation and scene did such a good job setting up the life of the faeries that it redeemed itself.  It takes what you think you know about faeries, and quickly shows you that you don't know a thing.  Then unravels the rest in perfect timing.

Beefs: Because the novel is about faeries, you are, every page, prepared for cutsie.  Is that an actual problem?  The novel never delivered on the cutsie, instead it delves into betrayal, new discoveries, adventure, and the true meaning of love.  Ok, that's not an actual beef.  So, all in all, it was a fantastic read.  I recommend it.

Ending: I'm not telling.  However, I will say this: I couldn't go to sleep until I had finished it, and I fell asleep after the last page with a content smile on my face.  It left me wanting more.  A whole lot more.

Today's lesson?  If you need a good read, and your friends just aren't recommending the right stuff, find a book blogger.

Happy reading!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books

I guess I should lend my voice and opinion during this week we celebrate banned books.  I don't have anything terribly revealing to say, so I Googled banned books to see what would pop up. 

One of the first is "10 Banned Books you might not expect." 
  • "Captain Underpants" was my little brother's only source of outside-of-school reading material in elementary school.  They are reading aren't they?  Let them read!
  • Merriam Webster Dictionary and American Heritage Dictionary have both been banned in certain schools due to age inappropriate definitions including sexual terms and slang.  I say: children are going to learn it somewhere, might as well give them the proper definition.
  • Harry Potter series.  Congratulations JK Rowling, all seven of your books (and probably the supplement books too) have been banned all over the place.  I believe this should be celebrated because it is quite a feat to receive so much negative attention for writing a lovely coming of age book that does not include sex, swearing, or violence (ok, the last one is subjective).
  • Grimm's Fairy Tales.  Now that's just sad.  I'd much rather read about Cinderella's step-sisters getting toes and heels chopped off than watch Disney's pc version.  And my children are going to learn them too.  Grimm's moral: don't be selfish.  Disney's moral: get the prince.
From the link above, I found my next topic: Twilight, on the list of most banned books of 2009.  Set your beefs with Twilight aside.  When you get down to it, it's fun to read, even if you have to pull the covers over your head at night and disguise the book with a different book jacket and proclaim to anyone that will listen that you hate hate hate hate it!  And if we, the most critical of all critics, enjoy it, doesn't that mean non-critical readers will love it even more?  Ie teenagers?  From where I'm sitting, with my agent cap on (opposed to my overly critical editor cap), this is a good thing.  Twlight readers will be adult readers in two to eight years, meaning they will be clamoring for more books like Twlight, but for adults.  Which means that publishers will be paying more for high demand books (fingers and toes crossed).  I do have a few feminist complaints against the series (briefly, I don't want to get into it, a weak girl is incapable of taking care of herself and gives her entire life, body and soul, to the big mean macho man who is capable of killing her--great fantasy, not so great lesson for kids), but kids are reading again.  Harry Potter got my generation reading, but it was still "dorky" to do.  Bella and Edward made dorky cool.

Looking at the list of most banned books of 2009, I see a pattern in the reasons for banning books:
  • sexually explicit
  • offensive language
  • unsuited to age group
  • religious viewpoint
  • homosexuality
But this is the stuff of life!  So writers, your lesson for today, if you want a best seller, include elements of the above list into your work.  Just kidding.   And, looking at it, I didn't see violence at all on this list.  So war and pointless killing is ok, but loving a partner of the same sex who happens to swear, is in high school, and is religious, is completely out of the question.

My tastes actually run away from this list (mostly, with a few exceptions of course).  Look at my favorite books over there at the side bar thingy-->  There are elements of violence is almost all of them, and some romance (only one has explicit sex), but these aren't the elements I look for in a book.  They are all intelligent, creative, gets me thinking, fantastical, and have endearing characters that I care about.  So I'm not particularly a banned book reader (Harry Potter and A Brave New World are probably my favorites from those lists), but I'll continue to celebrate the fact that books (books! harmless little packs of paper with words on them) can have such an impact on our society.

So go give a sexually explicit, inappropriate book with explicit language and homosexuality to a child in your life, and, as always, happy reading!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bad bad bad query

A few days ago, I reported my rejection rate in a blog post, as well as a few reasons why queries get rejected straight off the bat.  One reason being the "bad bad bad query."

What makes a "bad bad bad query"? one reader wanted to know.  I'll share my super scientific, exact measuring and weighing system.  Okay, I don't have an exact measuring system for bad bad bad queries.  What I do have is the "ick factor."  Also known as the "Vickie's brain just got utterly scrambled by your query, therefore, after a brief therapy of carbs and Gilmore Girls, she will reject you factor."

A bad bad bad query has most of the following elements (add or subtract a few):
  • does not include a proper greeting
  • it's obviously a mass email because the sender neglected to hide the bccs
  • over or under stretches on the hook
  • does not properly describe the characters and plot
  • does not explain the conflict in the novel
  • does not include contact information or even the sender's name
  • I am left not knowing what they are pitching (new ms, self published, what?)
  • I have read it five times and still don't know what it's about
Basically, a bad bad bad query defies every query writing rule known to man.  A huge step of the writing process is research.  If it's a memoir, you spent your entire life (literally) researching the material for your book.  Historical fiction, you probably spent a good deal of time in libraries, getting a master's degree, surfing Wikipedia.  Mystery novel, you at least found out the best way to kill someone with a cocktail olive.

All that research, and you neglect to research how to write a query letter?  Your researching job is not finished.  Keep going.  And once you hook that agent, she is going to send you after more research (comparables ring a bell?).  So your job as the researcher is never finished.  You get to prove your competence as a writer through the query letter.  First impressions and all that.  Don't screw it up.

Happy (query) writing!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Cozy Mystery

A few weeks ago, I set myself a goal: finish reading one book per week and write a blog post on it.  The books I was going to review would all be related to my genres I'll be taking on as an agent (fantasy, paranormal, YA, etc).  Just a few weeks.

I failed.

I am in the process of reading two (one steampunk, one urban fantasy), and am about halfway through both.  But I couldn't get them finished in time.  So, this bodes well for my life as an agent, all those published books on my table and I don't even have time to read them (only ten on my table this week! I'm officially a recovering bookaholic).  But I have been reading some fantastic manuscripts and getting on with my training.  Part of which includes reading "how to write" books, which helps me recognize good books and make suggestions to writers regarding theirs.

I did finish one book last weekend.  It is not in my genre, but the author is one of the coolest people you'll ever meet.  And it was my first "cozy mystery" (well, it might be, I can't remember most of the books I read before I was 22--o wait, I just turned 22!).

Penny Warner (website here) weaves a delightful tale of ex-psych teacher turned party planner, Presley Parker.  I loved reading every word of it (forsaking my self-assigned reading material on my self-assigned day off), and shoved it into my mom's face as well (and you, my gentle readers, I'm not shoving, just heavily suggesting).

"Mixing fun and fundraising for charities seemed like the perfect job for Presley Parker when she’s suddenly downsized from her position teaching abnormal psychological at the university. Pres is psyched about her first big gig—hosting a “surprise” wedding for the San Francisco Mayor at notorious Alcatraz prison.

But the party’s over when the bride bolts faster than an escaping prisoner, and is later found dead floating in the bay, a victim of poisoned chocolates. When Presley becomes prime suspect, she looks to her quirky Treasure Island co-workers for help, but it’s the attractive, mysterious crime scene cleaner Brad Matthews who helps tidy up her tarnished reputation. If she doesn’t solve this mystery, she’ll be exchanging her party dress for prison stripes."
Ok, I'll do what I always do now, apply a few basics to evaluate the book.

First line: "Through the thick morning veil of San Francisco fog, all I could make out from the ferryboat deck was the eerie silhouette of an island."

Follow up line (which is so positively on the edge of morbid, that I just have to include it): "It loomed like a giant corpse floating in the bay, its form eaten away by the relentless waves."

A quick paced plot, witty narrator, and the zanny host of characters keeps you riveted all the way through.  And the helpful "Party Planning Tips" at the beginning of each chapter had me laughing again and again.  The ending?  Completely satisfying.  Left me wanting more... there is more you say?  A series?  Well, isn't that just perfect!  Guess what I'll be doing next weekend?  (probably forsaking my self-reassigned reading--again)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Query Letter Rejection Rate

People always ask agents, how many queries do you actually request?  The number is staggeringly low.  How low?  I wanted to find out.  So I started keeping track of all the queries I was responding to over a month's period.  I counted only the initial response to the queries, whether it was an automatic no or if I requested a partial or proposal. 

It turns out that I have an 86% rejection rate  I think this is actually rather low.  Other agents will probably say their rate is 90% or higher.  Many of the queries I should have rejected, but something about them made me pause.  Next round (reading the partial or proposal) will see maybe 80% rejection.

Here are a few reasons I requested a partial (fiction) or proposal (non-fiction) based off the query.
  • great platform (non-fiction).  More times than not, it's the platform we are looking for.  Evaluation of whether the idea is marketable comes in the next round.
  • good story and/or concept.  This includes ideas that are hot right now and highly marketable.
  • something got me hooked.  I can read the worst query in the world and be left wondering what happens.  (I should not be requesting these.  Bad query more times than not means bad writing.  As an Agent-in-Training I am allowing myself a stupid period.  One day I will be all knowing, but for now I am a grasshopper.)
If you aren't getting requests from your query, you might have a bad query.  One of my favorite blogs is Query Shark, which walks readers through real queries and fixes them.

Here are some of the biggest reasons I reject queries:
  • no platform (non-fiction).  Platform sells, if you don't have it, get it before you query.
  • screenplay.  We do not accept screenplays, yet I will see a query for one about once a week.
  • bad bad bad bad query.  About once a week I'll stare in disbelief at my computer screen and want to cry.
  • wrong genre (fiction).  Check out the agent's list before you query.  It saves everyone a lot of time.
  • Simply not interesting.
I took some notes while responding to these queries.  I see these mistakes so often and agents are constantly complaining about them on Twitter and their Blogs.  Another of my favorite blogs is SlushPile Hell, because it's what every agent wishes she could say to the writers.  I know you (my very intelligent readers) will not make these mistakes.  It's the writers (I think, I hope) that aren't doing their research that make these mistakes and give you (my wonderfully intelligent readers) a bad name.
  • If we can't figure out what you are requesting/offering, we won't spend time trying to figure it out.
  • Full length novels are 60,000-100,000 words.  Too much over and it's a no.  Under, and it's a no.  Even the first Twilight book was under 100,000 words.
  • Use the agent's name, not "Dear Sir or Madam."  Do you even care?  If you don't, then I don't either.
  • Make sure I can understand the first sentence of your query.  Don't use words that I'll have to look up.  I have a large vocabulary, but I'm not a walking thesaurus (which you obviously used).  
  • Use some specifics in your query, what exactly is the protag fighting against?  It's the conflict we, as humans, love.  I don't care that you have been writing since you were two and are going to be the next Hemingway.
  • Get your genre and word count right.  For example, "chick-lit" will never ever be 130,000 words.  To me: chick-lit=mindless chatter.  130,000=philosophical debate on life.  And the two shall never meet!
So, what's today's lesson?  Learn to write a query letter.  It will make your positive response rate so much higher.  And it will make the agent's lives so much better!

As I wade through the "slush" that will be my career (some days I'm just not sure what I was thinking!), I wonder if I will ever find a good manuscript.  Then I find a good manuscript (these are the days when I rub my English degree in my Dad's face), and it's all worth it.

Happy (query) writing!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Leviathan

"Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.
Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.
With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever." (details here)
(I must interrupt myself for just a moment to marvel at Steampunk covers.  Just walk through a bookstore (I did last week) and see how many you can pick out.  Hint, it's easy.  They really do set themselves apart.)

Scott Westerfeld creates a beautiful YA novel: a boy has just lost both his parents, is on the run, and must come to terms with becoming a man much to fast and having the weight of an entire world war on his shoulders; a girl out of place in society and not allowed to fly... as a girl, enlists the help of her brother, and fools an entire airship of men into believing she is a boy.

But, more than that, it's Steampunk.  (I delved into this fantastical world two days ago in my blog post here.)  This was the first Steampunk novel I've ever read, and it was a great start (five more are on hold at the library).  Beautifully crafted, the imagery is vivid, the pictures (which I haven't seen in a book I've read in more than ten years) helped my imagination piece together the mechanics.

What I love about this one, is that it isn't purely heavy duty machines marching around.  Pitting Clankers (the German side of the war) against the Darwinists (everyone else), we have machines versus fabricated beast-ships.

Time to apply what I've learned makes a great book:

First line: "The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised."   Nice imagery, but not a line that can be taken on its own.  The first page though, helps set up the character of Alek (we see him playing with some toys, which shows not tells us that he still acts like a boy).

Beefs: none.  I legitimately have no problems with this book.  I want to read the next one.  It was a great coming of age story, a stand alone in a series, and conforms to the idea of steampunk while being completely unique.  I also have Westerfeld's non-steampunk novels on hold at the library (Uglies, which I'm very excited to read).

Ending: satisfying.  Ties up enough loose ends to make it a stand alone, yet leaves you wanting more (the point of a series, right?).

The next in the series, Behemoth, comes out October 5th.  Check out Scott Westerfeld's site here.  I highly recommend you pick up Leviathan, because, whether or not you are into Steampunk, it's a great YA.  And, if you aren't into YA, it's a great Steampunk.  Win-win, I think.  Happy reading!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Defining Steampunk

A year ago, a member in my book club was raving about this very interesting novel and talking about how cool it was that it was set in the past with advanced mechanics.  I sorta cocked my head at it, went "cool", made a mental note (those tally up to their own version of a slush pile in my head) to read it, and forgot about it.  Until fellow intern Sarah started raving about Steampunk.  At first I just nodded along, pretending (as I usually do) that I knew what she was talking about.  Finally, she defined it for me and told me more about it.  A light bulb went on in my head.  I thought, "Wait, that's what that guy in book club was talking about!"  While he never actually used the term "Steampunk," it was apparently a pretty bright and large sized sticky note in my brain for it to stick out that much.  The novel was Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, which is now reserved at the library for me to read (review here).

My first Steampunk novel was Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  I'll be reviewing Leviathan this week in my Wednesday Reads.  In an excellent interview with him (here), he defines Steampunk in his own words. 
Steampunk is sort of like nostalgia for Victorian science fiction, and futures that never were. It's a weird mix of the future, like a spaceship, but at the same time it has a very Victorian or Edwardian design. Just those weird juxtapositions of the past and future. Most steampunk is set in the 1800s.--Scott Westerfeld
Looking for a film equivalent of Steampunk?  As of yet, there are not enough to actually consitute a genre.  However, I did find a list here (which I'm not convinced of completely, however, I'm sure they are all very good).  But, for quick reference, if you remember Will Smith in Wild Wild West, the machines were definitely Steampunk.

Steampunk began in the 1980s and '90s, but its beginnings can be traced to Jules Verne and HG Wells (neither of which I have read--bad English major, bad!). 

The coolest thing about Steampunk (to me)?  The sub-culture it has spawned.  I spent the better part of the morning bouncing from one website to another, using Twitter and Google to help me fish out the blogs, magazines, and websites.  Not only is there fashion, but also music, books (duh), comics, and cons. 

A few sites I found interesting:

Seattle is hosting its second annual SteamCon this November.

Writing Steampunk?  Get inspired with the typewriter computer.

Or with this Steampunk inspired laptop!

The jewelry can go from rather wacky, to absolute beauty.  Best site I found?

Buy Steampunk clothes.  Personally, I'm in love with the boots.  Sadly, I have no money.

Learn how to dress Steampunk and create your own unique looks.  Basically put together something rustic or renaissance and add goggles.

Steampunk has officially been added to the Oxford English Dictionary.  Go Steampunk!  ("bromance" and "defriend" get recognized as well, though my spell check is having a fit)
Time Magazine

Magazine dedicated to everything Steampunk.

Last but not least (attention, look here in case you are skimming!), the music.  Just as Harry Potter spawned Wizard Wrock (yes, I'm a fan), Steampunk has its own musical following.  I'm listening to radio on the Steampunk channel.  I find it strangely soothing to listen to.  A little odd, but appeals to my easily excited brain.

So there it is!  A brief overview in Steampunk!  I'm going to continue surfing around, learning more about it, listening to more of it, and reading more of it (maybe one day selling it?).  As of now, I'm the one that's sold. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Corbin Lewars on Persistence

Yesterday, at Just Write on Whidbey Island, our guest speaker was Corbin Lewars, local writing mentor and author of Creating A Life.  It took Corbin five years to see her book published, after rewrites, a fired agent, and a lot of stress, she finally went the route of small publishing.  She shared one stress saving secret though: keep yourself busy.  Corbin started a zine before she was published, which shared common themes with her memoir and helped build a platform.  The zine, Reality Mom, is in its eighth year of publication.  It started small, she shopped it around to local bookstores, but slowly the demand grew.

Corbin shared a few other words of wisdom with us:

  • Don't follow the market.  By the time you finish a novel to suit the market, it will have moved on already.
  • Research each agent you are going to query and make sure you make her list.  Look up agents in your favorite books (acknowledgments page), and research them.  Corbin hired a friend great with researching to help with her agent list.
  • To get blurbs for your book start networking with local writing groups, other authors, and mentors.
  • Non-fiction, memoirs especially, tend to be only 60,000 words--this is due to publishing costs.
  • Make sure you can get out of your agent contract if you want to.  Don't let them trap you in for a year or two years if they aren't going to fulfill their end of the bargain.  If you negotiate a publishing contract agent-free, hire a publishing lawyer or freelance agent (they help negotiate contracts, contract free, for a small sum).
  • When you are out to find an agent, don't grab up the first one you come across simply because they want to represent you.  You are out to interview that agent as well.  If you can't get along with them professionally, working together isn't going to be a lot of fun.
When asked about her preference between small and large publishing houses, Corbin replied that she was glad she went with the small publishing house for her first book.  It afforded a lot more hand holding than the large ones would have.  The down side to small presses is that they have little to no budget for marketing, so you will be nearly solo on that.  However, in today's present economy, large publishing houses may give first time authors little to no budget anyways.  Either way, look forward to a lot of self marketing.

Check out Corbin's website here, and support authors by buying her book!  All in all, I greatly enjoyed meeting Corbin.  She is a down to earth woman, absolutely gorgeous, and a great speaker.  Her parting words of wisdom on how to stay motivated: get support through a writing group or mentor, make writing a priority, nurture yourself with a walk or a latte, and remember the key to being a writer is to keep writing.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Realizations

The wind blew me a little off course this week.  I had a deadline in no way relating to my training/interning, and, therefore, I'm incredibly behind.  I finished my Indexing course today (whew, finally!), and can return to the Slush Mountain of queries and partials.  The wind is blowing steady now, and I can get back to work.

And in case you are wondering, "Navigating" comes from my love of sailing, hence the (not terribly creative) wind metaphors today.  Writers translate their hobbies into their writing, all I could do with mine was come up with a snazzy title.

What I've learned this week in publishing (things you have to learn by doing, not reading blog posts or news articles):

1.  I'm suddenly a huge fan of the acknowledgments page in novels.  I used to ignore them; they never made any sense to me.  But now, I know some of the names of the agents and editors.  The ones I don't know, I go look up.  Besides that, this little page can tell you a lot about an author.  My favorite authors based solely on their acknowledgments pages: John Green, Libba Bray.  Green uses tiny, tiny print.  Bray acknowledges everyone under the sun (four four and a half pages) and I can only guess at the meanings in more than half of them.  Good insight into the craziness that lives in the most creative minds.

2.  Twitter makes me feel really popular.  It's like walking down the hallway in high school.  The more people you know, the cooler you are.  At this point, my follower count indicates that I'm still the awkward introvert who is determined to be Prom Queen.  Slowly but surely.  I see the shiny crown on the horizon.

3.  I guess number three is going to be something I wanted to learn this week, but didn't.  Perhaps you (my reader) can help me out here.  How do I get my readers (you) more involved with my blog?  I'm not some big publishing giant, I'm not unapproachable, I don't have vast stores of wisdom.  I'd like my blog to be a "safe place" for questions and answers: a conversation.  So tell me, what would you (the reader, still with me?) like to see in future blog posts?

Happy writing! (and enjoy the long weekend!)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Vampires

When do we know when we have gone one vampire too many?  I cannot answer that (not without revealing my bitter and cynical true self), but the last time I was at Barnes and Noble, I took a look.  One vampire, two vampire, three vampire, snore!!!

Today's post is everything VAMPIRE.  Well, at least to the extent of my knowledge, which, thankfully, isn't all that extensive.  Let's start with my favorite vampire novels.  I'll give a brief description and go through the basics: first line, first paragraph, if it reads strong throughout, if it has a satisfying ending, and why I love/hate them.

Black Dagger Brotherhood series by JR Ward starts with Dark Lover.  These lean towards the Romantic genre, but are all in all a really good read.  Plus you get some zombie-like creatures that the vampire-assassin group has to kill to protect the rest of their kind.  If you need a book to study on how to create a unique vampire world without getting too crazy, I highly recommend it.  First line: "Darius looked around the club, taking in the teeming, half-naked bodies on the dance floor."  Intriguing, but not to the extent it stands out in a line up of first lines.  It's the second line that really sets the mood and tone of the whole book: "Screamer's was packed tonight, full of women wearing leather and men who looked like they had advance degrees in violent crime."  Each book in the series follows a different "brother", and not one disappoints.  Endings of course are satisfying (they are romance after all).

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, one of my favorite books of all time).  Didn't think you'd see this one on my list?  I do think people have gotten a little overboard with the paranormal-classic twist, but Smith delivers every time he puts pen to page.  Perhaps it isn't the best book in the entire world, but I have a strange fascination with President Lincoln and the idea that he was a Vampire Hunter had me laughing from page one.  Written with conviction, if you aren't careful you could believing that this president actually was a vampire hunter.  First line: "I was still bleeding... my hands shaking."  From axes to Confederates to Edgar Allan Poe, this one is a laugh out loud thrill ride you won't want to put down.

Dead Until Dark, a Sookie Stackhouse novel by Charlaine Harris.  I have not watched True Blood.  That said, I'll concentrate on the first book in the series without outside influence.  First line: "I'd been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar."  Intriguing.  Harris has a funny voice and we learn who the main character is straight off.  She dives right into the story head first.  It was a fun read, but not filling and super satisfying.  Like cotton candy.  The ending is satisfying enough but leaves it open for book two (and three and four).

Twilight by Stephanie Meyers.  Groaning?  Rolling your eyes?  Sorry, I have to.  I'll keep it brief; this topic has been beaten like a dead horse all ready.  At the PNWA conference, Andrea Hurst held a seminar on "Crafting Fiction that Sells in Today's Marketplace."  She read an anonymous first line and nearly every person in the room (over 100) agreed that they would keep reading from that line alone.  First line: "I'd never given much thought to how I would die--though I'd had reason enough in the last few months--but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this."  Well?  Good first line?  I had read the book, professed to hating it, but I didn't recognize the line when Andrea read it, and said I would keep reading.  I groaned aloud.  It is an excellent first line.  And the entire book keeps the tension (sexual tension, life and death tension, new tenuous friendship tension), and is extremely satisfying at the end.  Those elements alone ensure something good.  Meyer also had great timing and a lot of luck.

I'd like to back track for a moment though.  One mortal girl finds herself amidst vampires.  Add in a werewolf and telepathy.  What do you get?  Actually, you get both Harris and Meyer's books.  So what makes them so different?  And why did Meyer's hit off better than Harris's book alone (not counting the TV series), which, in fact, was published many years before Meyer's?

I'd like to know your input on the Vampire phenomenon.  Has it played itself out yet?  How can you, as a writer, capitalize on it?  Is there any way to write another vampire book while keeping it fresh and orignial?  What is going to be the next big fad?

Happy writing (and reading!) everyone.