Monday, December 31, 2012

It's the end

It's the end of 2012. It's been one heck of a year, friends.

My husband graduated law school, took the bar, passed the bar, and opened his own law firm.

We moved from Florida to Arizona and are still staying with my parents (hopefully for just a couple more weeks, though).

I had major surgery in April and a miscarriage in October/November.

My oldest started first grade.

I submitted my first novel.

And got my first rejection.

(Three publishers still have it on their desks, though, so... fingers crossed!)

I started my first steampunk novel.

And temporarily shelved it because of all the research.

I started (and finished a first draft of!) my first fantasy novel.

I read 70 books. Just by the skin of my teeth, but STILL.

And I tweeted. A lot.

See ya'll in the new year, folks. It promises to be better.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Recommendations

This is a rant, followed by some (I believe) sound advice. Proceed accordingly.

I am completely shocked by the number of times the following happens on facebook:

Original Poster: Just got a kindle/nook/B&N gift card (or starting a book club)!!! Give me book recommendations people!
Friend #2: Dan Brown's books. OMG, He is such a goooooood writer.
Friend #3: Twilight. It's this book about vampires and it's awesome and you'll love it.

And this happens with practically ZERO variation.

Here are the problems with these suggestions:

1. All three people are recommending old-but-not-too-old best sellers. These books (or authors) have been around long enough that everybody and their grandmother (seriously, I got a twitter follow from somebody called "TwilightGrandma" the other day) has heard of them. Opinions have been formed or the books have already been read. If your friend hasn't heard of or read this book, don't worry, it will be the one suggested on the front display in the store or when they first sign on to Amazon.

2. All three people are recommending pretty BLAH books. Let me tell you how that Nicholas Sparks novel goes: Boy meets girl, societal differences keep them apart, they fall in love anyway, death and disease threatens to tear them apart, they recommit themselves to each other, one of them dies. You'll cry, I'm sure, but COME ON. That's the BEST you have to recommend to somebody???

3. There's no accounting for personal tastes. Not everybody likes the same books as you. Shocking, I know.

4. That all said... if this person is the type of person who was given a Nook/Kindle/B&N Gift Card as a present... they've read those books. They are a "book person" and they either have read or formed opinions about those books already.


I'm not good at a lot of things. I don't know how to make cheesy sauces that aren't gritty, I can't scrapbook to save my life, and I don't even know how to hem my own pants. But I am good at recommending books. Here's my advice on the subject:

1. Find out what other books they've read that they've enjoyed. You don't need to recommend books in the same genre (especially since if they are asking for recommendations, they are probably looking to branch out a bit), but note the tone of what they like to read. The person who loved "The Kite Runner" will likely not enjoy a Sophie Kinsella novel. Pay attention to the tone: Serious? Adult? Fun? Fluffy? YA? Emotional-Heartstring-Tuggers? People will generally enjoy books that feel similar, even if they are in a different genre/category.

Sidenote: YA is a category, not a genre. Middle Grade (MG) is another category. Within each of those, there are genres, the same as in the adult category: fantasy, sci-fi, romance, mystery, suspense, non-fiction, memoir, biography, etc.

2. Get an idea of what their expectations around content are. I've posted before about people having surprising standards around language and sex. Don't recommend Game of Thrones if they thought Twilight was really violent and sexually charged.

3. Try to get off the beaten path a little. Anybody who's ever set foot in a bookstore has heard of the Notebook and the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. If your friend hasn't read them, there are probably reasons. (You can try to win people to your side, of course, but that's not a "recommendation") Recommend an author that maybe doesn't get the front-and-center display at the bookstore, or maybe isn't even sold at Target and Walmart. If you know of some indie-press authors (or really WELL-DONE self-published authors), recommend those.

4. Be careful about mentioning that you are friends with the author. A lot of people take this to mean "I am helping to hock their book because it sucks but I feel obligated to help a friend." Or, alternately, "I want to seem like a big shot." At best you'll get a "I know one of So-and-So's friends. Now I am an expert on So-and-So's books." I've never seen this work out well.

There you have it.

My advice and complaints about book recommendations. What advice do you have and more importantly, do you have a book you'd like to recommend?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Best and Worst Books of 2012: Part 3

These are the Best Books I Read in 2012 That Were Released in Previous Years. AKA: I'm a little slow. And busy. But mostly slow.

I counted Shatter Me and Ashfall in the Best Books of 2012 list because they were released very close to the end of 2011, and most people did not pick them up until sometime in 2012, as they were both debut authors and weren't riding a publicity high from a previous release. The books on today's list are just simply old news, but I didn't get around to them until these year for various reasons.

The Leviathan Series by David Scott Westerfeld 

This is steampunk done right: A complete sci-fi reimagining of history. In this case, it's WWI, and we have a fictional heir to the Hapsberg empire. The world is split into Darwinists (people who manipulate living beasts for their use) and Machinists (people who rely on mechanical engineering) both are technologically fantastical, and the whole thing is magic.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver can rip your heart out and make you feel happy about it. My best good friend Kirsti says "This book is like Mean Girls and Groundhog Day had a baby. Except in a less creepy way than it sounds... " and that's pretty much the most perfect description of ever. I know most people wanted to throw the book at the wall when they reached the ending, but I didn't. I loved it. Especially considering the audience (YA) and the fact that they (teenagers) tend to project themselves into the characters they are reading about, I thought it was exactly the way the book should have ended. Somebody has to pick up the pieces, somebody has to learn from these lessons.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

This is my favorite book by Moran.
This is the thickest book by Moran.
This is the second-lowest rated book by Moran (on Goodreads).
This book chronicles the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror (AKA - The downfall of Marie Antoinette), which is a well-documented and visited topic in pop culture. The fact that she can breathe new life into a subject that so many of us are so familiar with is a feat all on its own. Michelle Moran can almost do no wrong, but this is by far and away my favorite of hers. (She released a book in 2012, The Second Empress, which was good, but not good enough to rank as one of the best of the year, IMO)

World War Z by Max Brooks

I don't usually go for zombies. I don't usually go for things that will keep me awake at night, period. But this was done documentary-style, ten years after the humans finally won the war against the zombies. It's fascinating, and resembles absolutely nothing like what I expected from a zombie book. It addresses geopolitical issues, emergency preparedness, government recovery, and more. Much like Ashfall, it's one of those books that keeps you thinking for weeks after. It also made me more confident in my skills to survive such an event (my book club decided hubby and I together ranked as a Class C or better in the post-zombie system).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Best and Worst Books of 2012: Part 2

Today I feature the most disappointing books of 2012. Books I ought to have loved, or was really excited for, but was underwhelmed by.

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

I really, really loved the first three books in this series. The prequels are pretty much a steampunk version of those books, so they're fun, if not particularly innovative. This second story arc, which was supposed to feature Simon (or so the legend goes...) is turning out to be really blah. Instead of Clary and Jace getting to be happy together, Clare continually finds ways to have them having Angry Make Out Time. Simon is still in the background, even pushed further back by the introduction of some new secondary characters. And for being an urban fantasy, we spend a surprising amount of time watching people make out and have sex. Seven different couples make up the bulk of this story, and clunky writing fills out the rest. If you've started the series, stop after number three. The rest of this stuff is useless.

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

It's not that this was bad. It wasn't. It's just that it wasn't nearly as good as the other stuff she's written. I've loved all of her books except this one. It was very short, given the fact that she was writing about Napoleon's court and had TONS of source material and novel-worthy-nonsense to write about. This is her lowest rated book on Goodreads, and for good reason. I just didn't feel like it was as good as the others.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

I know, this is really old. But the fourth, and final, book was released at the very end of 2011, and I barely picked up the series for the first time this year. It was underwhelming, to say the very least. A whole lot of words that don't actually amount to a whole lot of plot. Weak characters that don't ever do what you expect them to do. A semi-built world lacking in details and intrigue. Cheesy-kid-book details (Eragon = Dragon With A "E", a blue dragon named Saphira) with adult-level violence (brain matter spattering on a sword, an infant impaled on a spear). On the surface, it's fine. But it just doesn't hold up under any kind of scrutiny. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Best and Worst Books of 2012: Part 1

Some how I've managed to read a lot fewer books this year than in previous years. Maybe moving across the country had something to do with it. Maybe the prolonged miscarriage and recovery. In any case, I present to you The Best and Worst Books of 2012 (according to me, and based on what I've read)

Today, THE BEST:

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

It should be depressing. It's not.
It shouldn't be funny. It is.
But it's really about kids dealing with things they should never have to deal with, and doing a better job than anybody really expected them to do. All the things you probably hate about YA lit (insta-love, absentee parents, tropey characters) are absent. The age of the characters (thus the category they're forced into) is deliberate to the story, instead of obviously capitalizing on a trend. Green knocks it out of the park and I cannot recommend this book enough.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

One of the first books of the year, thus one of the most overlooked. It's adorable and sweet, if a teensy bit on the predictable side. Another YA in which the parents are not absentee so much as they are becoming irrelevant in their kids' lives. As if these kids have been raised and are now growing up. Crazy.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

The second-book-in-a-trilogy slump gets solved when the author wraps two stories into one, giving the book a double climax. Take that, slump. Our main character also has to actually deal with the negative consequences of her choices, and I'm excited to see how that plays out. (Because of this, the third book has the potential to be a really hormonal, emotional mess of teenage-love-angst, but that's book three... we're talking about book two here.) And I love how Oliver isn't afraid to remorselessly rip your heart out. I need to learn from her.

Honorable Mentions: (these came out in 2011, but I didn't read them until this year)

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

Action packed and thrilling, but incredibly thought provoking. One of the best Potential Book Club Books of the year, no doubt (the sequel came out this year, but I'm in line for it from the library). It raises questions about emergency preparedness, role of government in our lives - and in particular in our disaster recovery - and on and on. It's one of those haunting books that stays with you for weeks afterward.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

At first, you feel like you've fallen into a weird rabbit hole that you don't want to be in. The narrator has cracked, and the inside of her head instead particularly welcoming or pretty. It is fascinating, though, so you continue. And you find yourself in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, conspiracy, sci-fi, superhero, romance novel. And you love it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Language in Books

I was at a book club the other night.

Sometime during that event, somebody said they had an interest in reading Bridget Jones' Diary. I've read it, and since this was a church-affiliated book club, I warned the woman that this particular book does make prolific use of the swears. She immediately shrank back in her seat and said, "Oh. Never mind."

I don't mind that. I don't judge her. I don't think she's being puritanical. I actually think Bridget Jones is overboard on the swearing, and that's why I warned this woman.

The book we were discussing that night was Matched by Allie Condie.

(some of you might see where this is going, but bear with me)

If you are unfamiliar with the plot/theme of Matched, here it is: At some point in the future, Society decides our lives are too cluttered, so they destroy all but 100 poems, 100 stories, 100 songs, 100 pieces of art. All personal artifacts are destroyed, and the people live in super bland peace.

The people of this Society are not taught to write, and all communication (including the 100 poems, stories, and songs) is electronic. Electronic communication only.

One of the book club questions was around this electronic communication, and why the Society deemed that necessary. We had a lovely discussion about how electronic communication can be monitored and controlled. I also brought up the point that relying solely on controlled electronic transmission of written works, the government could easily have manipulated or censored the work.

(Side note: This book series actually made me vehemently anti-e-reader. I will always, always be a hardback kind of girl.)

This isn't crazy, it's been happening since the beginning of forever. Churches have re-translated the Bible to make it easier to understand or to mold the teachings to their particular view of the Gospel. Books have multiple versions when they are translated. Abridgements and "edited" versions of books are available for people to read when they don't want to read the whole, big, heavy, difficult book.

People often actually prefer these books. Or they rely on movie versions. "Oh, I know what Jane Austen is about. I've seen the Kiera Knightley movie."

This came back around to the swearing. One woman said she couldn't understand why swearing was ever in a book. "It demonstrates lazy language." was her argument, and she wished there were more edited versions of books available. Yet she was staunchly against what the Society in Matched had done.

I argued that sometimes authors are going for realism. Soldiers under fire in Iraq are not going to say, "Gee, that bomb came really close. I've got some dog gone shrapnel in my head and it hurts like the dickens." Stressful situations bring out the worst in us. Some people are uneducated and use foul language in place of more proper words. Some people think it's funny. And some people just don't care.

I fully agree with part of what this woman said: Prolific swearing is a symptom of lazy language. There's probably a better way to say what you're saying.

I also do not enjoy swearing just for swearing's sake. I prefer cleaner content in books, and I've put books down when the curse words seem to be literally inserted just to prove that the author knows how to use them (he usually does not in those cases). I also give detailed parental advisories in my reviews, including remarks about language.

There are very creative ways to get around this, of course, and I'm always profoundly pleased when I see authors go to these lengths. It maintains reality (the character curses) while not offending my delicate sensibilities (I don't actually have to read the swear words).

But my question is this: Is the desire for squeaky-clean literature any different from what the Society in Condie's novels is doing? Does putting our fingers in our ears and saying "Lalalalala, I can't hear you!" really eliminate the ugliness from our society? Is there no value in realism? Or should we be constantly seeking out the greater good? And does the category (middle grade, young adult, new adult, adult, non-fiction) matter?

What think ye?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Next Big Thing Hop

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop is a little game the writers of the internets have devised to introduce you to all the amazing up-and-coming (whether published or not) writers out there. I'm telling you a little bit about the book I'm working on now, and introduce you to five of my writing friends.

Here goes...

1- What is the working title of your book?

I am the WORST at titles. For now, the series has a working title of Evil Intentions, but I'm not sold on that and am completely willing to change it at the very first suggestion from an editor or agent or publisher.

2- Where did the idea come from for the book?

An agent said, "It would be cool to see a fairy tale told from the villain's perspective." And I took it one step further and made the villain the hero, and the traditional hero now is the villain.

3- What genre does your book fall under?

High Fantasy. Magic, swords, cloaks, the whole bit.

4- Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Right now, I see someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones as the main character (you know her as the Wicked Stepmother, but I simply call her Queen Anastasia). I like the idea of having the stepmother look very much like an older version of Snow White in many ways- it makes the jealousy a little more believable. And while she is the protagonist, her motives are not always pure, and she needs to be believable as someone with shaky morals.

For Snow White, I see someone who looks very much like Samantha Barks. Now, I have no idea if Samantha Barks could pull anything like this off. Snow White is a villain in this story, and Samantha Barks' only claim to fame is playing a very lovestruck, sympathetic character. But, golly, she is pretty, and I could believe a lot of 40 year old women being jealous of her:

I'm in the very earliest stages, still carving out the rough draft, so I can't answer this very well. This is a topic very near and dear to my heart, and I cannot give you glib answers, so you will have to wait until I know my characters better to get better answers than this.

5- What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Snow White is not who you think she is- she is a spoiled, angry, dangerous girl, and her stepmother, the Queen, will stop at nothing to protect her kingdom.

6- Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I plan to go the traditional route. I have no interest in cover design or negotiating my contracts or anything like that. I have a story to tell. The rest is business.

7- How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I started September 29th, and I'm 35K into the story with (I'm guessing) around 40K more to go. I took six weeks off while recovering from a miscarriage. First draft will take around five weeks of actual writing time.

8- What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I'm most inspired by the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind and the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima. And while there are some stylistic/storytelling similarities to those books, I can in no way claim that my series is the "next" of either of these.

9- Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I pretty much answered this in #2...

10- What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

It's a female driven story, with none of the garbage that generally makes up a female driven story. (i.e. - the female characters are not defined by how/when they choose to have sex with the male characters) There is a love story intertwined in here, but it's certainly not the core of the novel. This is the story of a woman who has a complicated life, a set of relateable problems, and one really impossible task set before her, and she has to deal with it all on her own.

Now I'm supposed to tag five more writing bloggers so y'all can go read their blogs and get to know their writing projects. The Next Big Thing just might be hiding amongst these blogs...

J. Meyers - A fellow Parenthetical Chick, a like-minded soul, and just an all around cool gal.

Darci Cole - A fellow Arizonan, mother of a couple of cute little babies, and a writer of middle-grade/ young adult fantasy.

Morgan Shamy - A spunky redhead if you ever met one, using writing as a balm to her soul.

Jo Perry - One of the more prolific writers around (seriously, her fingers must type at supersonic speeds) and a flat-out awesome person.

Sarah Anne Hayes - Literary writer who is one of the sweetest and funniest people I've met in the interwebs.