Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Uglies

Scott Westerfeld strikes again.  Remember my rave review of Leviathan?  Westerfeld proves he is a master of many talents, going from Steampunk to Dystopian YA.  Uglies satisfied all of my Dystopian cravings, left in the wake of Hunger Games.  Both books are why I love Dystopian: you never know what's coming around the corner (there's a reason my mother hates watching TV with me--can you say predictable?).  Tally lacks Katniss's killer instinct (but it's really not needed in this world), but she has plenty of her own spunk.  She's very relatable to today's teenager.

Synopsis:  From Amazon:
"Tally Youngblood lives in a futuristic society that acculturates its citizens to believe that they are ugly until age 16 when they'll undergo an operation that will change them into pleasure-seeking "pretties." Anticipating this happy transformation, Tally meets Shay, another female ugly, who shares her enjoyment of hoverboarding and risky pranks. But Shay also disdains the false values and programmed conformity of the society and urges Tally to defect with her to the Smoke, a distant settlement of simple-living conscientious objectors. Tally declines, yet when Shay is found missing by the authorities, Tally is coerced by the cruel Dr. Cable to find her and her compatriots–or remain forever "ugly." Tally's adventuresome spirit helps her locate Shay and the Smoke. It also attracts the eye of David, the aptly named youthful rebel leader to whose attentions Tally warms. However, she knows she is living a lie, for she is a spy who wears an eye-activated locator pendant that threatens to blow the rebels' cover. Ethical concerns will provide a good source of discussion as honesty, justice, and free will are all oppressed in this well-conceived dystopia. Characterization, which flirts so openly with the importance of teen self-concept, is strong, and although lengthy, the novel is highly readable with a convincing plot that incorporates futuristic technologies and a disturbing commentary on our current public policies. "
First Sentence: "The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit."

Do I even need to comment on this?

Brownie Points: The world in which Tally lives is so familiar it's scary.  Which is what makes a great Dystopian novel.  The characters are very real and completely fun to read.

Ending: Cliff hanger!  Did I read the next book?  You bet.  The rest of the series sits on my desk, waiting for me to have time to read them.  PS do not try this at home.  If you are not a published, proven, tried and true author, do not leave your book with a cliff hanger.  The first book needs to be a stand alone.  If that is received well, go ahead and write the rest (see Hunger Games).

Would I represent it? I'd jump on it.  Grab it in my hands and dare anyone to pry it from my cold dead fingers.  That's how much I would love to represent something like this.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I attended the second annual SteamCon (steam punk conference) in Seattle this weekend, my first Steam Punk event.  Everyone was so nice, and super excited about all of the events.  The event ran smoothly (no easy feat, so thank you people who ran it).  Here is an article about it here.

The theme this year was the Weird Weird West, highlighting American Steam Punk.  While I didn't dress up, many people did.  I saw gunslingers, women in corsets and leather, ray guns, what I think was a very elaborate picture taking device, boots, spurs, hats, monocles, goggles, and even a few men in utilikilts and a girl in blue and black fur boots and tail.

People came from everywhere.  I met a nice girl from Chicago, who flew in specifically for SteamCon, with a plan to stay two extra days to sight-see our lovely (cold) Seattle.

Events included music, dancing, speakers all days, art exhibits, and a "mercantile."  I spent a good deal of time in the mercantile.  You can learn a lot about Steam Punk just by talking to the people who run these booths.  There were everything from weapons to books, from clothes to jewelry (I bought only one bracelet; lucky I didn't bring a lot of money with me).  I talked to the book guys for a while, learned a lot more about Steam Punk and other SciFi books, and came away with a pretty list.  Look forward to more Steam Punk Wednesday Reads in your future.

Of the events I attended (all were amazing), my favorite was the panel titled "How to Become a Writer" with Caitlin Kittredge, Jay Lake, and Michelle Black.  Following is a bullet point list of topics and advice, because otherwise I could write a good ten pages on what they covered in 50 minutes.
  • On average, it takes a writer 11 years to get published from the time they start trying to get published, to when they get published.
  • Get a mentor who has been recently published--"recent" as in one to two years before, because publishing changes a lot.  
  • Join online critique groups and writers workshops
  • On word length--depends on the genre, but CK just sold a 150,000 word novel.  (My note: don't do this unless your publisher gives you permission, meaning you have been successfully published beforehand)
  • "Don't worry about market before you write (especially your first novel), write the novel YOU want to write."  AKA, don't follow the trends.
  • Revision tip, use [square brackets] to edit, revise, or add your own comments.  You can search for them later since you never use them otherwise (and you won't accidentally leave something in).
  • JL does not read in his genre while he is writing a novel, he reads other genres.  BUT he confessed he can write a novel in 6-8 weeks, lets it sit before revising it another few weeks, and during that time he returns to reading his genre.  (My note: If you are also unable to read in your genre while writing, do not neglect your genre, you must be aware of who is writing what, the trends, and your comparables.)
  • Take every opportunity to talk to the "pros" and get advice.
  • Even as published authors, all the panelists say they use critique groups or partners.  "You cannot judge your own work."
A few references they suggested:
  • ralan.com
  • acknowledgments page in your comparables
  • Jane Friedman's There are No Rules
  • Colleen Lindsay
Just goes to show you, no matter where you are, you can always find something interesting.

Next year's SteamCon's theme is "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."  October 14-16th. Mark your calendars.

Happy reading, writing, and Steam Punking!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Deathly Hallows

How is it that I've done so many blog posts, but I've barely talked about Harry Potter?  This is the first book my friends and I talked about, the first time they could share in my love of something: books.  The first three came out sometime while I was in Elementary School, so of course we had games of Harry Potter.  Then, in Junior High, the movies started coming out, and we could look forward to that, then more books.  It wasn't until college though, that I truly and irrevocably fell in love with the books.  And I got involved in Harry Potter Club.  I met my best friends there, it was a great reprieve from studying, and reread the books countless times when I wanted to read something between classes but didn't have time to start a new book.

Harry Potter, like Twilight after it, started a its very own subculture.  Fan girls, a place at Hot Topic, music, clubs, Quidditch (yes I was on a team), fan fiction, an amusement park, etc etc.  The list goes on and on.

One of the most unique things about the series, is that it goes from Middle Grade to YA.  And not just any YA, rather dark, deep, and resonating YA.  It's always relevant to a teen's life--love, loss, coming into one's own, friends, school, the world bigger than you--but it manages to go beyond just one person. 

OK, enough of me gushing about the books (I think I restrained myself pretty well).  Last night, or rather just thirteen hours ago, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One came out in theaters.  And of course I was there in line.  Ready to roll my eyes at the script writers, laugh at Hermione's rampant eyebrows, snicker at teen awkwardness, I only had to restrain my inappropriate snarky comments a dozen of times (though I might let loose on a second viewing just for fun).

The movie did a good job of quickly reviewing what they neglected to add in previous movies (though it still seems as though Ron doesn't have a brother Charlie).  My friend, who is very rusty on the book's specific plots, found the movie very easy to understand.  I actually found that there were whole paragraphs and conversations taken word for word from the book (yaaay!).

My favorite part about the movie though (and all the movies actually), is the relationship between Harry and Hermione.  The movies have done a great job at building their (platonic friendship) relationship, that theirs is the most realistic of relationships in the movie--not that Ron and Hermione's, or Ron and Harry's is nonrealistic.

The bad things... I'm still running on a high of the first viewing (which is why I'm doing the review now rather than later when the cynic pops in to say hello), but I do remember my head hurting during the Trio/snatcher chase scene through the forest.  The camera was shaky, I couldn't follow the action, and the trees kept getting in the way of my eyes following the action.

Also, I miss the peacocks at Malfoy's Manor.  The Malfoys on the other hand, were splendid, each and every one of them.

Right, that's all for my review.  Go, cry your eyes out (if you know where they split the books, you'll know why), and take advantage of the fact that there is only one movie left (no more midnight premiers for me after that, heinous!).  On the whole, this is the best movie to date.  I'm excited for Part 2.

Happy Watching!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Secret Society Girl

Diana Peterfreund strikes again.  You'll remember my rave review of her Killer Unicorn book (right my faithful readers?).  Well I was so impressed by her writing that I had to read another of her books, even though this one was not my usual cup of tea.  I had a good read, and it was very engaging, so I'm glad I picked it up.  Never again will I turn my nose up at the "super popular o-so cool girl" books.  Secret Society Girl: An Ivy League Novel.

"Elite Eli University junior Amy Haskel never expected to be tapped into Rose & Grave, the country’s most powerful—and notorious—secret society. She isn’t rich, politically connected, or…well, male.

So when Amy receives the distinctive black-lined invitation with the Rose & Grave seal, she’s blown away. Could they really mean her?

Whisked off into an initiation rite that’s a blend of Harry Potter and Alfred Hitchcock, Amy awakens the next day to a new reality and a whole new set of “friends”—from the gorgeous son of a conservative governor to an Afrocentric lesbian activist whose society name is Thorndike. And that’s when Amy starts to discover the truth about getting what you wish for. Because Rose & Grave is quickly taking her away from her familiar world of classes and keggers, fueling a feud, and undermining a very promising friendship with benefits. And that’s before Amy finds out that her first duty as a member of Rose & Grave is to take on a conspiracy of money and power that could, quite possibly, ruin her whole life."

First Sentence: Not actually the first sentence, each chapter is preceded with a confession, sometimes snarky, sometimes revealing, always a good teaser.  "I hereby confess: I am a member of one of the most infamous secret societies in the world."  That gets my attention.  Yours?

Beefs: You probably won't find any problems.  Peterfreund writes in her usual, seamless style, leaving nothing wanting except more books.  Personally, I would just rather read about killer unicorns than secret societies, however, this book was far from a waste of time.

Brownie Points: Voice.  I loved the main character.  Amy is sexy, real, funny, ambitious, smart, down to earth, in all the right ways.  Fresh out of college and going into publishing, I actually have quite a bit in common with her (don't ask me about my secret society affiliations--I'll have to kill you).

Recommendation:  Even if this isn't your usual cup of tea, read it anyways.  Actually, read all of Peterfreund's stuff.  I plan to.

Would I represent it?  No.  If this came to me and the author had had no history of publishing before, I would have turned it down, probably from the query alone.  Then I would have kicked myself when it came out, of course.  But that's how my preferences roll.  If a client of mine had a successful run the first time around, I wouldn't have discouraged her from writing a book like this, and probably would have greatly enjoyed being privy to the process.

Happy reading!

Monday, November 15, 2010

NaNo Half Way Point

Today marks day 15 of NaNoWriMo, of 30 days (nice round number, I think they chose November on purpose).  So let's take a tally.

Are you on track?  Have you finished already?  Given up yet?  Tear any hair out?

As a writer, what have you learned through this process?  (if you've a NaNo survivor of past years, what have you learned before?  Are you still learning things about the writing process each year you participate?)

Any advice for aspiring writers?

What is your favorite part so far? (of the writing process or of your novel)

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Beat

Enter, James Scott Bell.  Again.  Last week, I talked about OP vs NOP.  This week, I'll borrow some more advice from Bell in his book "Plot & Structure".  This time, it's about developing your character and making us (the reader) care.

And you do that with the beat.

Scott defines a Scene as "a long unit of time and action."  In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy meets the Lion.
A Beat is "a smaller unit in a scene."  Dorothy slaps the Lion and we learn something about them both (the Lion is a coward, Dorothy is braver than we'd thought).

Scenes are important because it furthers your plot.  It has action and intrigue.  Hypothetically speaking, a story can consist of only scenes.  This happens, that happens.  The End.  Yaaaay.  But it would be pretty boring.

Enter, the Beat.  There is also what Bell calls "the Reaction Beat."  This lets us know how the main character is feeling.  The Lion cries and whines.  Reaction.  Dorothy softens and wipes his tears.  Reaction.

By mixing these elements in your writing (action, beat, action, reaction, action, etc, etc), you have suddenly created a dynamic plot with a character the reader can understand.  It also helps pull the reader in.  Without the beats, it's only heartless action.  "Henry slapped Jessica and walked away."  Without action, it's only feelings (yuck).  "Jessica felt the sting of betrayal yet again, though it wouldn't be the last time."  Put them together, "Henry slapped Jessica.  Her cheek strung with the betrayal she had hoped to never feel again.  But it wouldn't be the last time.  "F you, Henry!" she shouted as he walked away."  (amatuer writer at the helm here, hope I don't lead you astray.)  You get the picture.

So, as you're writing your novel, don't forget about your character in that delicious plot you're cooking up.  And don't forget to add a little action to your character's angst.  If any of your readers say "I don't feel like I know your main character" (I've heard that one myself), try mixing in a few more beats.  You might have too much action.  If your readers complain about not seeing enough scenery and action... guess what?  Probably too much dialogue and internal contemplation.  AKA too many beats.  You need something for the character to react to after all.

We're about the middle of NaNoWriMo now, don't lose sight of your goal writers!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Thirteen Reasons Why

I contemplated for along time whether or not to review this book.  Why?  Because it's too beautiful for words.  Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (his first book, by the way) is the sort of book that touches your heart, squeezes it in a vice grip, and never lets go.  It's sad, depressing, funny, surprising, and if I weren't broken, I probably would have been brought to tears.

"Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker--his classmate and crush--who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out how he made the list. Through Hannah and Clay's dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers."
First Sentence: " "Sir?" she repeats.  "How soon do you want it to get there?" " 
I'm not a big fan of dialogue starting a book.  You do want to know what she's talking about, and who she is talking to.  However, this prologue really isn't necessary to the book.  It's more like a teaser, but not one that necessarily compels you to read.  You continue thinking about the prologue all the way through the book though, because, sequentially, it happens at the end.  Jury's still out on this one.  I'll take the book as is.
Beefs: It made me almost cry.  Not for the faint of heart.  (Not sure if this is a complaint, I loved it, didn't I?)
Brownie Points: The dual narratives of Hannah and Clay are woven so perfectly together, it's as if you are right there with them, not just reading a book.  I've never seen this done before, and I'm likely never to see it again.  With any less skill, it would have been a disaster.
Ending: Satisfying.  Unsettling.  Sad.  Hopeful.
Recommendation: Read it.  Duh.  So good.  And give it to a teenager.  I'm curious as to how a teenager, still in high school, would respond to this.  Do you know one, or are you one, who has read it?  I want your opinion.
Would I represent it? If you don't know the answer to that by now, you haven't been paying attention.  This novel is everything I love.  (I read it in one day.)  Death, high school, real relationships, love, love lost, hope, bullies, drama, angst (in the best way possible), emotions so real you can almost touch them...  yes, i would represent it.

Happy reading!

Friday, November 5, 2010

NaNoWriMo NOPness

Thus ends week 1 of NaNoWriMo.  I've held steady with 3,000 words a day.  I try not to go over because I have other work to attend to.

While writing, I've been keeping in mind the great advice and wisdom of James Scott Bell in Plot and Structure: Techniques and Exercises For Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers From Start to Finish (buy it here).  The great advice and wisdom I'll leave for another post.

Bell has a theory that there are two types of writers in the world.  NOPs and OPs.  A NOP is a "no outline" person.  While a OP is an outline person.  NOPs will sit down at their computer and bust out a novel.  Only later, after they've written a mess of pages, will they sort out what they have, and begin crafting a novel off of that.  An OP will come up with the plot, characters, and scenes before writing.  Methods include treatments, note cards, diagrams, etc.

Personally, the idea of figuring out every nuance of a novel before writing it, sounds more tedious than playing the "Why?" game with a four year old.  I am a NOP.  I always have been a NOP.  In college, writing papers for me included the same skills I'm applying to my novel.  Sit down, bust out a first draft.  If it was a 14 page paper, I'd write a good 8 pages, print them out, and go over them with a pencil, writing new lines and ideas in between the double spaced lines.  There was lots of crossing out and stars and corrections involved.  After doing that same process a good twenty times (and as many trees killed), I'd have a respectable looking 14 page essay.

NaNo crushing a hapless NOP
I don't plan to use the exact method on my projected 60,000 word novel.  But the first draft is akin to brain splatter on page.  I do have a few OP tendencies.  And I've had to adopt a few to get me through this first week of NaNo.  I started the novel with a very good idea where it was going to go, and two or three plot points (none of which I've come across yet).  I had a character fully formed in my mind (helps when you are writing about your best friend, saved me a lot of time), and the idea of what journey she was going on.  After writing my 3,000 words each day, I spend the rest of the day and night (ahem, working) thinking about what to do next.  So by the time I sit down the next day, I have a plan.  A rough plan.  Not exactly a blueprint.  The characters have minds of their own, and the story simply comes to life under my fingers.

The OP has lost his way
For me, writing a novel has become... well, I can use the sailing metaphor (haven't seen that in a while).  In sailing, the shortest distance between two points is a zigzag line.  You get there eventually, and every tack is filled with its own short little action (when in a race, also filled with potential to lose or crash into other boats, or bouys as the case may be).  Way more exciting than zooming on through with a seventy foot yacht.

So tell me, what are you?  NOP?  OP?  NOP with a little OP?  OP with a little NOP?  Sail boat or yacht or dingy or cruise ship?

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wednesday Reads: Hush, Hush

If you took Twilight, twisted it slightly, and added fallen angels instead of vampires and werewolves, you would get Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick.  Which is probably why the book has been so popular.  You've got teen drama with a more worldly issue combined with teen passionate (irrational) romance.

"Romance was not part of Nora Grey's plan. She's never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how hard her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch comes along. With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Patch draws Nora to him against her better judgment.
But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora's not sure whom to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is and seems to know more about her than her closest friends. She can't decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.
For she is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those who have fallen -- and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost Nora her life. "
First line: "Chauncey was with a farmer's daughter on the grazzy banks of the Loire River when the storm rolled in, and having let his gelding wander in the meadow, was left to his own two feet to carry him back to the chatteau."  From the prologue.  Sets up everything just right.  You also have a small impending sense of doom--obviously something is going to happen to Chauncey.  The first line and prologue are text book examples of good lead ins. 

Beefs: I have a hard time buying into the whole teenage love thing.  Lust at first sight, more like it.  But it's what sells, and Fitzpatrick nailed it.

Brownie Points: Originality.  In a world obsessed with vampires, Fitzpatrick came up with something that stood out, while still conforming to what people wanted.

Ending: Semi predictable, but satisfying.

Recommendation: If you are craving more Twilighty stuff, read it.  I wouldn't rush out and tell everyone I know to read it though.

Would I represent it? Probably not.  I think stuff like this is losing its fizzle, and they will be less in demand in a few years.  So probably not.

Happy reading!