Wednesday, December 28, 2011

RTW: Top Five Books of 2011

Hands-down best book I read all year: Feed, by M.T. Anderson

In no particular order:

Witches on the Road Tonight, by Sheri Holman -- If you like magic realism and really fucked up characters, this is the book for you.

The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins -- Duh.

Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami -- This book has a lot more shock value than The Hunger Games. It's more of an allegory, though, so while some characters are very well developed, others are more stereotypical.

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi -- A post-apocalyptic novel that actually delivers what it promises. It's gritty and full of action.


Honorable mention:

The Good Thief, by Hannah Tinti
The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch
The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let's play a game!

Find that list of all the books you read in 2011. Summarize your reaction to each book in one sentence.
* = recommended
(1) “Flesh and Spirit” -- Carol Berg
This book has one of the most unlikable protagonists I've ever met, but I'm pretty sure he's supposed to be that way.

(2) “The Hunger Games” -- Suzanne Collins*
(3) “Catching Fire” -- Suzanne Collins*
(4) “Mockingjay” -- Suzanne Collins*
Great action, great characters, and an author who isn't afraid to acknowledge PTSD.

(5) “The Lies of Locke Lamora” -- Scott Lynch*
Recommended for lovers of intrigue and all-around badass characters.

(6) “Trawl” -- B.S. Johnson
If you run out of Nyquil, this book will suffice.

(7) “The Name of the Wind” -- Patrick Rothfuss* (re-read)
Kvothe is a Gary-Stu, and probably one of the best narrators you will ever meet.

(8) “The Wise Man’s Fear” -- Patrick Rothfuss
I take back that last comment--I do not need to read 100 pages of fairy sex!

(9) “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” -- Stieg Larson*
Totally worth it for the scene with Lisbeth and a tattoo gun.

(10) “The Replacement” -- Brenna Yovanoff*
Creepy and intriguing mythos.

(11) “Ash” -- Malinda Lo
This book could have been so much better if it wasn't based on Cinderella.

(12) “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” -- Lewis Carroll
Much better without that obnoxious flower song.

(13) “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” -- Carrie Ryan
So much wasted potential!

(14) “Legend” -- Marie Lu
Sure, it was fun, but it felt like a B-rated action movie I'd seen a hundred times.

(15) “Who Fears Death” -- Nnedi Okorafor*
A book that can actually make me suspend disbelief.

(16) “Thirteen Reasons Why” -- Jay Asher
Not to be taken as a universal representation of suicide.

(17) “The Virtual Kibbutz: Stories from a Changing Society” -- Ellis Shuman
Some of the cheesiest short stories ever, but they do present a good picture of the Israeli Kibbutz.

(18) “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” -- Susanna Clarke*
It's good and very original, but it took me forever to read.

(19) “The Last Unicorn” -- Peter S. Beagle*
This book is both a fairy tale and a book that makes fun of fairy tales. (Pat Rothfuss' observation, not mine.)

(20) “Luminous” -- Dawn Metcalf*
This story is really confusing, but I love how Dawn Metcalf takes something morbid and makes it quirky.

(21) “Divergent” -- Veronica Roth
Good action and a great protagonist, but it falls apart if you think too hard about it.

(22) “The Good Thief” -- Hannah Tinti*
It's hard to think of what to say about this one, but I did really like it.

(23) “Witches on the Road Tonight” -- Sheri Holman*
If you like magical realism and really fucked up characters, this is the book for you.

(24) “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” -- Charles Yu*
Science fiction that screams MFA.

(25) “Ship Breaker” -- Paolo Bacigalupi*
This is what a post-apocalyptic novel should look like.

(26) “The Bookman” -- Lavie Tidhar
This is what a personality-free protagonist looks like.

(27) “Battle Royale” -- Koushun Takami*
Contrary to popular belief, it actually resembles Lord of the Flies more than The Hunger Games.

(28) “I Am the Messenger” -- Markus Zusak*
Great voice, great characters, but a very preachy ending.

(29) “Red Seas Under Red Skies” -- Scott Lynch*
It's basically a clone of its prequel, but it's still awesome.

(30) “The Scorpio Races” -- Maggie Stiefvater
This would have been my favorite book when I was twelve.

(31) “Feed” -- M.T. Anderson*
The best book I read all year--I will probably never be able to enjoy a dystopia ever again.

(32) “Across the Universe” -- Beth Revis*
I would have loved this book more if I had read it before Feed (and if it weren't so fucking predictable.)

(33) “The Graveyard Book” -- Neil Gaiman*
Who doesn't want to read a coming-of-age story set in a graveyard?

Write your own list and put the link in the comments!

Final Stretch

Where I should be by December 31st: 75,000 words
Where I should be by (the end of) today: 69,489 words
Where I actually am: 59,962 words



I have five days to finish 15,000 words. I plan on camping out at my friends' apartment until New Year's Eve. They have no internet, so that should minimize distractions.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2012 Book Resolutions

I've seen a lot of "2012 Book Resolutions" on the blogosphere this month. I've seen a lot of "I want to read x classics" or "I want to read x debuts." I considered doing something like this, or at least setting a goal of how many books I'd like to finish, but decided against it. I'll read what I read, and there's no point in deciding right now.

But there is a small category of books that I do want to read, mostly because I feel these books are somewhat relevant to The Temple Well. So I plan to read these books in 2012:

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows: It's utopian SF/fantasy, and I wanted to see how another author handled the world-building.

Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson: The main character seems similar to Olivia in many ways. I also heard that the world-building contains several religious elements.

Liar by Justine Larbaliester, Inexcusable by Chris Lynch, and Hushed by Kelley York: All of these books have a protagonist who is severely flawed or unlikable and who may or may not have committed some sort of horrible crime. A lot of books use the anti-hero trope, but very few actually have a villain protagonist or a protagonist who is meant to be unlikable.

It's weird for me to seek out books that are similar to mine, but I should at least be familiar with some. But mostly I'm seeking out these books because I'm curious to read them.

Do you have any sort of book resolutions for 2012? What are they?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

RTW -- Where I get my books

I looked at the list of all the books I completed this year (33) and broke them down based on how I obtained them. The results:

Borders/B&N: 12 books
-As much as I value independent businesses, when it comes to bookstores, I prefer large chains. There's more selection, and I like being able to sit down in the store to read. (I sometimes have trouble concentrating on a book when I'm at home.)

Hide in bookstore & finish book: 6 books
-I know this makes me a horrible person, but up until October, I had no paying job. Therefore, it was very hard to justify paying $16 for a hardcover that I could read in a day. (Also, all six of these books were best-sellers, so I don't feel like I was cheating an author out of their money.)

Borrowed: 4 books
-Two from my roommate, one from another friend, and one from my mom

Indie Bookstore: 3 books

Library: 2 books

Amazon: 2 books
-This was early in the year, and since then, I promised myself that I'm done with Amazon.

Ordered (not Amazon): 2 books

Online: 1 book
-Free, yes. Legal, erm, probably not.

ARC: 1 book
-My roommate went to BEA and got me a signed ARC of Legend. I'm glad I didn't pay money for it. (It still has sentimental value, though, since it is my first ARC)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Review of "Across the Universe"


I don't want to say that this isn't a good book, because it is. It probably has one of the best opening chapters out of any book I ever read. The book itself is very gripping, and, as many other reviewers have pointed out, Revis is really good at creating a sense of claustrophobia. I also liked a lot of the characters.

As the book continued, however, I found myself growing disappointed. This was partly because of predictability. A lot of the major reveals I predicted halfway through the book. The Elder/Eldest clone thing I guessed within the first fifty pages. Additionally, when the killer's identity is finally revealed (another thing I predicted early on), not only is it very sudden and rushed, but that person's motives are very, well, overly paranoid and not quite believable.

The dystopia aspect was also a bit problematic. (And yes, this book definitely counts as dystopia.) This wasn't a bad dystopia by any means. The creation of the dystopian element was well-done in that the "world-building" was complex, and the author did a good job explaining how the origins of this world. The problem? It's hard for me to describe. Maybe I've just been reading too much dystopia lately, but it felt very much like "This is a dystopia and dystopia is bad." Yes, I know, that's the whole point of dystopia, but the world felt very much "on display." Additionally, it didn't feel all that original--I often felt like I was reading "Brave New World: In Space." (Does any of that make sense?)

Do I recommend reading this? Yes. The writing, characters, and world-building are good. (And really, most of the problems I had with this book aren't going to bother most people.)

The sequel comes out next year, but I'm still undecided as to whether or not I'll read it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Some News

I got a job!

Well, sort of. It doesn't pay, but it's a job in a lab that studies spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis. I met the P.I.s today and some of the people who work in the lab, and they are all awesome! (And really, the no pay thing isn't that big of a deal, since I'm baby-sitting in the afternoons, and living with my brother's family means I don't have to pay rent.)

I start in January, and I am so excited!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm not letting go, but this is why I should

I've been working on more or less the same novel for over eight years. And while there was a significant period of change between the earliest version of The Temple Well (or Fateless, as I called it at the time,) and the current version, I am still forced to work within the boundaries of a teenager's writing mistakes.

Some of these mistakes take the form of "too much dialogue and not enough action." But an even bigger problem is the complicated rules and mechanics of the plot and world-building. This requires me to incorporate more dialogue and info-dump. And it doesn't help that what I thought would be the first novel in a two-book series needed to be cut into two separate novels. I found a good place to end the new "Book One," but it still leaves a lot unresolved. And the backstory is so thick that I worried that it would overwhelm the story. In other words, even if I finish the novel, there is a good chance it will remain unpublishable.

The second half of the novel is really difficult to write. This is because a good part of it takes place in a setting that is hardly relevant to the overall plot. Because of this, it's hardly worth the word count to develop this setting well. As a result, what should be a tense and oppressive-but-not-too-oppressive setting feels more like   a room full of high school gossip and relationship drama. I keep thinking of ways I could make this setting darker and more oppressive, but a) there isn't much of a point in doing so (especially since I hate using a dark and oppressive setting solely for the purpose of creating character angst), and b) turning a "complicated but not necessarily dark" setting into an "oppressive" setting would change certain elements of the backstory, which would make my protagonist's goals, motivations, and relationship to other characters incompatible with the plot.

I'm finding ways to work within these parameters. By changing how I frame the important conversations and trying to write in a richer style, I can reveal more world-building and change the tone, without necessarily adding too much to the word count. I'm also finding ways to break up and re-distribute backstory and info-dumps so that they feel more relevant. And I can usually catch repetitive conversations in second-draft edits. (This helped me cut out about 10,000 words from the first half of the novel.) The novel won't be perfect, but I can make it the best it can be.

But wouldn't it be so much easier to scrap it all and write something else? Easier, yes. But when you spend eight years working on something, you can't just give up on it. It's a "closure" thing; I won't feel like I'm mature as a writer until I get that closure. And while it's going to hurt when people tear this novel apart and reject it, I have to give it a chance.

And, most importantly, I believe in my characters and their journey is important to me. Despite this novel's flaws, I believe that these aspects will shine through. This story means something to me, and maybe it will mean something to someone else, as well.

So I'm going to do my best to finish it. And edit it. And send it out for a full critique. And if all that is relatively successful, I plan to query it.

So we'll see where this goes. Maybe this won't work. But then again, maybe this will turn out more spectacularly than I'd ever imagined.

***

Where I should be by December 31st: 75,000 words
Where I should be by (the end of) today: 57,356 words
Where I actually am: 46,216 words

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What would be the ideal holiday present for your main character?

(Road Trip Wednesday question)

This one's easy.

Paula would want something expensive. Jewelry would be nice, or perhaps a gift card to some expensive clothing store*. (Emphasis on the "gift card" part. People always get her size wrong.)

Olivia would prefer something home-made. Gifts always mean more when a loved one puts their time, attention, and creativity into them. But if that's not possible, she would be happy with an iTunes or Barnes and Noble gift card.

*I still need to come up with a fictional designer's name, since I hate brand name dropping.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Google Friends/Reader

Apparently, Google will soon be discontinuing "Google Friend Connect" for people who don't use Blogger. If you're still interested in following my blog, I suggest using a Google Reader RSS feed. Google Reader is an excellent way to stay up-to-date on all of your favorite blogs!

How to subscribe via Google Reader: First, get a Google Reader account. (reader.google.com) Yes, you need a Google account for this. The blogs you are subscribed to on Google Friend Connect should automatically come up on Google Reader. If not, however, follow these simple steps:

Then, go on the website to which you want to subscribe. If you have Firefox or Internet Explorer, look for this symbol (it should be somewhere near the top right corner of the page):
This is the RSS symbol. Click on it, and then click on "Suscribe via RSS.'" Then follow the rest of the steps.

There are other ways to subscribe, but this is how I like to do it. For those who don't have Firefox or Explorer (or who are too lazy to go through all the steps) I will try to get a "Subscribe via email/RSS" widget to put on this page.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I would have respected you more if you shitted on the manuscript

Sorry for the serial posting today, but this rant couldn't wait.

Have any of you heard of the new movie "Arabian Nights" that's currently in production? If not, here is the summary (from comingsoon.net):

"Arabian Nights" centers on a young commander (Liam Hemsworth) who, after his king is murdered in a coup, joins forces with Sinbad, Ali Baba and the Genie from the magic lamp to rescue the queen, Scheherazade. Hopkins will play Pharotu, an evil sorcerer who killed Sinbad's love, a mermaid, and is looking to amass more magic for himself.

I've never read the original Arabian Nights/One Thousand and One Nights, but I would bet a lot of money that there isn't a white commander in it, (much less one in a leading role). This is just one more example of classic Hollywood whitewashing.

But the part that really pisses me off? "...rescue the queen, Scheherazade."

For those who've never heard of One Thousand and One Nights, here's a basic summary: A Persian king bears a grudge against all women due to his wife's infidelity. As a result, he marries a series of women and kills them the following morning. Then he marries a woman names Scheherazade. The night of their wedding, she begins to tell him a story, but refuses to finish it until the following night. The king allows her to live for one more day so that he can hear the rest of the story. The next night, Scheherazade finishes the story and then begins another one. She continues this ritual for many nights, further and further postponing her execution. (Some of Scheherezade's stories included "Aladdin" and "Sinbad.")

Scheherazade is probably the most empowered female character in historical literature, and this movie is knocking her down into the role of classic damsel-in-distress--you know, someone for the powerful, white male lead to rescue. Well, you know what? In the original manuscript, no one rescues Scheherezade--she saves herself, using only her brains and her incredible story-telling ability.

I cannot express in words how truly offended I am.

Oh, and you know that expression "Feminism just got set back 1000 years"? The original manuscript is 1000 years old, and the authors still understood the notion of an empowered female character.

So please spread the word. This movie is nothing more than an insult to Arab/Persian culture, women, and literature in general.

New Comment System

I recently changed my comments system to Disqus, because Blogger's commenting system doesn't allow threaded comments.

What sucks is that I don't think Disqus allows anonymous comments. However, in my last three or four months of blogging, I've only received one anonymous comment, so I guess this is worth it.

Note: The transition did delete one of the comments from my last post, strangely enough, but everything else is still there (including the one anonymous post.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How far would you go to get published?

(Question brought to you by YA Highway's "Road Trip Wednesday.")

Well, first of all, if I were the sort of person who sells herself out and writes to trends I can't stand just so I can get a big fat paycheck, I wouldn't be stupid enough to admit it on a public blog.

But, seriously, do I write to trends? Not really. I have weird taste in books, and I think I might be the only reader in the world who finds "likeable" protagonists boring. Also, I'm not a huge fan of romance or really happy endings.

But would I make some revisions after an agent or editor asks for them? Yes, if those revisions would make my story stronger. This year, I read a highly-anticipated sequel to a book I enjoyed a few years back. This author is very popular in the fantasy genre, but his sequel didn't live up to my expectations. It was about 1000 pages long, and at least 150 pages of that book didn't need to be there--and if he weren't such a popular author, then I'm sure they wouldn't be. So yes, editors are your friend.

(That, and contrary to what Anne Rice thinks, even Hemingway had an editor.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Guest Post

I have a guest post up at The Book Lantern today. It's on the topic of dystopia.

For those of you that don't know, The Book Lantern is a YA lit blog where a group of intelligent, passionate, and very opinionated people discuss books and trends in YA. It's awesome, so you should check it out.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Openings

You know how the opening is considered the most important part of your novel, since that's the part that convinces people whether or not to invest in the whole book?

So what you do is you start a novel with a great opening chapter. It's intriguing and well-written and the perfect place to start your novel. And then when you're well into your draft, you put it up for critique and either no one looks at it or it gets smashed to bits. And then you brainstorm some more, and an idea hits you and you think "Yes, this!" And so you write another great opening chapter, and it's even more intriguing and well-written and the perfect than the one before. And then that gets smashed to bits in critique. And then another idea comes to you, and once again you think "Yes, this!" And then that version gets torn apart. And so the cycle continues...

Well, you know what?

I just wrote a new opening line. And an outline to follow.

And...?


Yes, this!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book Recommendation: Feed, by M.T. Anderson

Go read this book. Right now.


Let's play a game. What was the last dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel you read this year? Think about that book. What does that book say about society? Do you agree with this? Is there any chance that the grim future predicted in that book could ever come to life?

With this book, the answer is "yes." And it scares the fucking hell out of me.

In Titus' world, everyone (read: everyone who can afford it) has their brain wired to the Internet (called the Feed). They are bombarded with advertisements every day and they have no need to actually learn anything since they can just look it up.

Do you have friends who constantly text or play with their iPhone while talking to you? Now imagine that that's your entire generation, including you. Imagine a generation of chronically bored teenagers who go to the moon, not because they want to see the moon, but because they have nothing better to do. Imagine teenagers who use "da da da" (blah, blah, blah) as part of their everyday mental vocabulary because they lack the attention span for a real conversation. Imagine teenagers who have all but no notion that there is a world around them. That is the generation that M.T. Anderson paints.

This book is both satire and tragedy. And it hits so close to home. It reminds me of my friends in college who spent basically all of their waking hours in front of the internet. It reminds me of my niece and nephew, who would rather play chess on the iPad than on a real gameboard. It reminds me of the children I baby-sit--their parents specifically want me there to make sure that the kids don't spend all their after-school hours in front of a TV or computer. It reminds me of my brother and sister-in-law in San Francisco, who won't let their kids anywhere near technology because this is exactly what they want to prevent.

Titus is a victim of all this, and this is exactly what makes this book great. He isn't a hero or revolutionary. He's a first-hand look at how fucked up everything is. He's a teenager who doesn't know how to question things. When he says he feels stupid, it's because he is ignorant. He doesn't think about how the world is going to hell, even when evidence of this is thrown in his face. And when serious problems like death loom in front of him, his response is to run away, because he has no fucking clue how to deal with anything of that magnitude.

Spoiler in white: Has anyone but me noticed how the lesions make people look like zombies? Coincidence? I don't think so.

If you are going to read any book this year, it should be this one. Go read it. Now.

ETA: Holy shit, I just realized that this book came out in 2002. That's even before iPhones, text messaging, and Wifi in every cafe. Talk about scary premonitions.

This is the part where I need someone to kick me back into gear

Where I should be by December 31st: 75,000 words
Where I should be by (the end of) today: 43,017 words
Where I actually am: 40,560 words

As you can see, I am behind again. Other than the four or five scenes that I decided to save for later, I have finished "Part One" of my novel. (Note: That doesn't take into account the necessary edits I will have to make.)

The last draft of Part Two had too much of a high school drama feel. I figured out what I needed to do to fix that, but I'm not really sure how to execute it. This means I'm stuck. I'm trying to outline backwards, but I'm stuck at the point where the real "plot" ends (or begins, I should say, since I'm going backwards.)

I still have at least ten scenes that consist of character development, world-building, and flashbacks, and I need to figure out where to put them.

***

On a brighter note, I finished M.T. Anderson's Feed last night. It is, without a doubt, the best book I read all year. I will post my review of it tonight.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

Note: You will probably appreciate this review more if you've actually read the book.


If I read this book when I was 12, or maybe even 15, it would have been my absolute favorite book of all time. I loved horses and horse racing. I rode for six years, and I dreamed about becoming a jockey. While my attitude about horse racing has changed over the last few years, I still love horses, and I was really excited about this book. 

And honestly, as a horse lover, it is very difficult to love this book. This isn't because of the island's practice of capturing flesh-eating sea horses and then attempting to tame them--I don't think Stiefvater intends for her readers to agree with this practice. What bothers me is Puck: On a whim, she decides to ride in a dangerous race, threatening not only her life, but that of her sweet, loyal pony, whom Puck considers her "best friend". (Would you enter your family pet in a dogfight?)

Let me throw this out there: Puck is an idiot. She isn't brave, she is stupid.

But let's forget about Puck for a minute. Let's talk about obstacles. Maggie Stiefvater makes it very clear what the obstacles are: Not only is there a good chance Puck and Dove might be eaten alive, but the fact that Dove is not a capall uisce means that she is laughably slow. Dove is also afraid of the capaill uisce and afraid of water. And Puck thinks that she can overcome these insurmountable obstacles with better feed and a couple weeks of conditioning.

Obstacles are a good thing in books, but they mean nothing if you can just shrug them off at the climax. That makes me feel cheated as a reader.

And the whole "first girl to ride in the races" thing was really unnecessary. The rampant sexism just felt like it was forcing the "girl power!" message (which is ironic, because Puck often repeats that she isn't racing for feminist reasons). It was a cheap way to create antagonism, and it failed to make me care. That, and it felt like a slap in the face to female empowerment. An empowered female isn't one who enters a competition she has no chance of winning, but rather a woman who is actually qualified to win. (Chainmail bikinis, I'm looking at you.)

What did make me care was the capaill uisce. There were scenes where characters or animals died on account of them.  A particularly terrifying scene involved Puck and her family facing a hungry capall. That was enough to create tension, without all the sexism.

Maggie Stiefvater's writing style is incredible, and I wish I could have appreciated the story more. I really liked some of the minor characters, especially Finn. I liked Holly at first, but his conversations with Sean became very repetitive. ("Hey, that Kate girl...") The romantic development was both believable and satisfying.

I wish there was more I could praise this book for, but I can think of very little. I enjoyed reading it, but to love this book would require more suspension of disbelief than I am capable of.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Book Recommendation: "The Lies of Locke Lamora" and "Red Seas Under Red Skies"


   

I'm in St. Louis right now, and so far I've spent more time at my friends' apartment than I have at home. This is mostly due to the fact that a) the apartment is thirty minutes from my house, b) I am sharing a car with my sister, and c) going out with my friends involves late nights and the use of substances which make one unfit to drive. This poses a bit of a problem, because unlike my friends, I am incapable of sleeping in until three in the afternoon. So what was I doing through those long hours of lonely wakefulness? Finishing Red Seas Under Red Skies.

Red Seas Under Red Skies is the second book in Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards Sequence. I read the first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, back in January. The books are perfect for anyone who loves thieves, intrigue, and sneaky protagonists. The world-building is not only solid, but Scott Lynch weaves societies that are both interesting and complex. Take Camorr, for example. The city is  ruled not only by the nobility, but also by an organized hierarchy of thieves and con artists. And thieving? It's a religion--literally--with a god and a temple and even rituals. (And yes, the author does manage to pull this off without making it completely ridiculous.)

Oh, and Locke and Jean have the best bromance ever.

The plot is not without it's shaky points. There is also the issue of romance--Scott Lynch kind of sucks at it. Romance is supposed to be central to the third book, which makes me a bit hesitant to read it in March. (And by hesitant, I mean that I will totally read it, although my expectations won't be as high as they should be.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Halfway Done with Westboro Revisions!

Where I should be by December 31st: 75,000 words
Where I should be by (the end of) today: 33,090 words
Where I actually am: 37,889 words

I realized once again that I need to fix something that happens earlier in the plot, but I'm saving that edit for later. I did write the last couple of scenes in the context of the edited plot.

I'm three scenes away from finishing "Part One." Part One was originally 60,000 words, and I was hoping to cut it down to 40,000-45,000 words, but at this point, I'll be happy with 50,000.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Biblical Retellings

I probably don't have to tell you that Fairy Tale/Greek Mythology/Shakespeare retellings are the new "big thing" in YA. But what about Biblical retellings?

I'm not a religious person, but I'm familiar with enough Old Testament stories to know that they're loaded with sex, violence, family drama, and betrayal. The people we call Biblical heroes are heavily flawed, so they would form an excellent basis for character development. And that doesn't even begin to touch upon all the between-the-lines interpretations of all of these stories.

This morning, I woke up with Samson in mind. If you're not familiar with it, the story goes something like this: Samson is very strong because of his long hair. He falls in love with Delilah, a Philistine woman. She asks him about the source of his strength, and he reveals his secret. She cuts his hair, and, in his weakness, the Philistines blind and enslave him. Eventually, his hair grows back, and he knocks down their temple, killing both himself and Delilah. (Or at least that was the version I remember from the 1949 movie that my baby-sitter's husband was particularly fond of.)

Wouldn't some of those elements make for an awesome story? You'd have to be careful, of course, because of the unfortunate implications, but at this point, I would much rather read a Samson retelling than another Cinderella story.

What's your take on retellings? Are there any Bible stories that you would like to see "retold"? (Or is this a horrible idea that I should never speak of again?)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Global Curriculum, Please


RTW: In high school, teens are made to read the classics - Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Dickens - but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?

A couple years ago, [ETA: actually, this didn't *officially* happen until a couple of weeks ago] Arizona passed a law forbidding public schools from teaching classes that focused on a specific ethnic group. Their reasoning was that "we want to focus on the students as individuals, not as members of a group." In theory, I absolutely agree with this. However, when you look at the general curriculum favored by most American high schools, the focus is very much on Western culture. "World History" primarily deals with Europe, and with the exception of the units on colonization and imperialism, you rarely learn about other cultures. Literature classes tend to be the same way. It's this focus on white culture as the default that marginalizes other groups. If we had a more integrated curriculum, "African American studies" and "Hispanic studies" courses wouldn't be necessary.

Latin America, for example, has a lot to offer in terms of great books. Magic realism and dictator-era novels are the most famous, but one novel that is especially relevant to our generation is Alberto Fuguet's Por favor, rebobinar ("Please Rewind"). It deals with an urban culture that is obsessed with celebrities, mass media, consumerism, and globalization. As a result, the characters are detached from their revolutionary past and from each other. The book is long, yes, but it's divided up in a way that teachers could easily use individual passages from it. (It's also one of my favorite books!)



I'm sure there are a lot of great books from Asia, Africa, and the Middle-East, but I don't know about them. Maybe if they had been taught at my high school, I wouldn't have this problem...

ETA: Apparently, Por favor, rebobinar was never translated to English. Someone fix this!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Response to the "Dead Girls on Covers" article

I'm sure many of you have already seen Rachel Stark's article on the prevalence of dead girl images on YA covers. (If not, go read it now.)

Rachel Stark discusses how both men and teenage girls are fascinated by the glamorized death of women. She attributes this to the way society romanticizes violence towards women and how, in death, the female body turns into an object of passive sexuality. I'm not exactly disagreeing with this, but I want to offer another analysis.

To better discuss the topic of beautiful dead girls in fiction, I first want to discuss a fictional living girl. In my Spanish Literature class, we read a story called "Fatima de los naufragios" ("Fatima of the Shipwrecks") by Lourdes Ortiz Sanchez. In the story, Fatima is a Moorish immigrant who lost her son on the voyage to Spain. Every day, she goes out to the beach and waits for him to return to her. After a while, the village grows to love and romanticize her, and she becomes a symbol of beauty, goodness, and virginity. (Yes, virginity. Even though she's a mother. God forbid we place any value on a women who has sex.)

Anyway, the aspect of this story I found most problematic (other than the virginity thing) is that Fatima never becomes a character. She has no personality, and I don't think she ever speaks. (It's been a couple years since I read this story, so I don't remember it perfectly.) She is a symbol, only there for the purpose of being romanticized.

In other words, Fatima is no different from the countless numbers of beautiful dead girls on YA covers. The reason that many teenage girls fantasize about dying, I think, is that in death, they become an enigma; people look at them, admire their beauty, idealize them, wonder about them. Can any girl pretend she doesn't want this?

No, I'm not trying to label all teenage girls as attention-whores. This phenomena is the inevitable result of centuries of treating fictional women as beautiful treasures for brave men to seek. (Remember the part in Pirates of the Carribean where Jack Sparrow says "Not all treasurer is silver and gold?") Even badass women are often shuffled into this role. (Ginny Weasley is often criticized for this.)

I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to be that girl--the one who's beautiful and who inspires curiosity everywhere she goes. However, that isn't the end-all-and-be-all of my existence. Unlike Fatima and hoards of dead girls in prom dresses, I do have a personality. I have goals, and dreams, and flaws, and habits, and ticks--and so do my characters.

So yes, Rachel Stark, we are in agreement. Death dehumanizes girls. (Actually, death dehumanizes everyone.) And I'm all in support for women who exist as more than just lust objects.

ETA: I just remembered that I recently reviewed Lavie Tidhar's The Bookman. A perfect example of a book with a personality-free dead girl who exists for no reason other than to spur the protagonist into action.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I'm really annoyed right now, because a lot of the blogs I've added to my "Follow" list aren't showing up (or are showing up as "Follow Anonymously.")

Anyone know how to fix this problem?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Writing Progress: Easy Parts Done

Where I should be by December 31st: 75,000 words
Where I should be by (the end of) today: 20,957 words
Where I actually am: 29,620 words


I have reached the point where I last stopped revising. In other words, most of the Westboro revisions have been pretty easy up until this point. I have made incredibly fast progress, which will probably slow down now that I have to do some actual writing. Although I have written versions of the next few scenes, many of those scenes will need to be cut or edited down, since I had 24,000 words worth of scenes where not much happens, (scenes that were very tedious to write, I should add). In other words, I need to find a way to go from 24,000 words to 10,000 words or less.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chain posts make me feel like a sheep (but sometimes I do them anyway)

In light of 11/11/11 and Veteran's Day, tell us about your favorite soldier and how he or she is saving the world (fictional or real life):


Some background: Although I grew up in the United States, my family is from Israel. I spent the first nine years of my education in Jewish school, I speak Hebrew (relatively) fluently, and we travel to Israel once every year or two to visit family. Although I have never lived in Israel, I do have dual citizenship. However, I do not consider myself Jewish (I'm agnostic), and I don't believe in patriotism.

In Israel, almost all young people have to serve in the army. My parents, my cousins, and my older siblings have all been in the army. My oldest nephew is currently serving. However, the soldier I'm thinking of right now isn't a family member. Actually, I don't even know if I can call him a soldier. I'm thinking of a childhood friend of mine who recently deserted from the army. I haven't spoken to him in over ten years, and I don't know what was his reason for deserting, but I'm incredibly proud of him.

Although I'm a pacifist, I understand the need for national defense, especially in country as controversial as Israel. However, in the last few years, Israel's government* has been pissing me off more and more. There's a huge difference between national defense and outright bullying. I don't want to go into a long rant, but Netanyahu is destroying any chance of peace with the Palestinians. He and his cabinet of right-wing nut jobs (Avigdor Lieberman, Yaakov Amidror) not only refuse to pull Israeli settlers out of Palestinian territories (forcing young soldiers who are barely out of high school to risk their lives by defending them), but they continue to pass laws that are dripping with fascism. (It's illegal to boycott settlement products.)

I admire those who are willing to risk their lives to defend their beliefs, or to protect others. However, I equally admire those who stand up against a corrupt government and choose not to fight for a cause they disagree with. They are the ones who remind us that war is fought by people, not nations.

*I said "Israel's government" and not "Israel" for a reason. Most Israelis do not support Binyamin Netanyahu's actions--they didn't even elect him. The woman who was elected, Tzipi Livni, couldn't assemble a coalition government in time, so the government passed to Netanyahu's party.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Over a Quarter Finished!

I'd made a lot of changes to early scenes in the rounds before this one, so many of my Westboro revisions involved little more than "copy/paste" plus line-edits. There are a few scenes that I decided to set aside for later, which means long-term progress is happening a lot faster.

Where I should be by December 31st: 75,000 words
Where I should be by (the end of) today: 15,442 words
Where I actually am: 19,404 words

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Battle Royale" vs "The Hunger Games"


I recently finished reading Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami. A lot of people refer to it as "the book Suzanne Collins ripped off when she wrote The Hunger Games." Both books revolve around the premise a totalitarian government that forces teenagers to fight to the death. However, despite the similar premise, these are entirely different books.

Note: No major spoilers here.

To start off, the characters in Battle Royale are classmates, not strangers, which changes the dynamic a lot. Instead of nameless adversaries, your "opponents" are your friends, love interests, acquaintances, and enemies. Which of them would try to kill you? Would you be able to kill them? Obviously, some turn on others, some form alliances, some go crazy or reveal themselves to be outright sociopaths, and a few of them even refuse to play. A big driving force in Battle Royale is the element of denial. Although the students knew about "the Program," they never expected that their class would be chosen. In The Hunger Games, the members were forced to watch the games year after year, so when it is their turn, they are more or less resigned to their fate, and even when alliances are formed, everyone knows they can't last forever. In Battle Royale, several students are determined to escape. This adds extra tension to the alliances--are your friends really trying to help you, or will they stab you in the back after the numbers dwindle?

A major difference is that while The Hunger Games is Katniss' story, Battle Royale shows the story through the eyes of several different students. This is both a strength and a weakness. I loved that I was able to get to know most of the students, and some of their stories were heartbreaking (and of course, there was one instance where I cheered on a girl as she fought against a particularly heinous opponent.) However, this story is in many ways an allegory, which meant that a lot of the minor characters fell flat (ie, "the gay guy," "the snobby, rich boy," "the weird girl.") One major problem I had was the book's sexism. All but two major characters were male, and of those two females, one was a "villain" (and a considerably weaker one than the primary male antagonist) and the other mainly existed to be the protagonist's sidekick/love interest/damsel-in-distress. (I'm not necessarily asking for a bad-ass fighter, but it would have been nice if she were more developed.) Additionally, I found the portrayal of the gay character offensive. Still, due to the allegorical nature of this book, none of the sexist/stereotypical characterizations of students were a deal-breaker for me.

Thematically, the books are very different. Both deal with totalitarianism and government brutality. However, The Hunger Games deals a lot more with voyeurism and sensationalized violence. The Tributes are dressed up and put on display and their deaths become a public spectacle. The book (well, the first one, at least,) isn't so much a critique against the government as it is a critique of the Capitol citizens, who are shallow, flamboyant, obsessed with celebrities, and perfectly okay with killing innocent teenagers, as long as they aren't star-crossed lovers, of course. The critique in Battle Royale, however, isn't on the society, but on the students. By delving psychologically into the characters, Takami explores brutality, paranoia, selfishness, friendship, devotion, and trust. These elements aren't absent in The Hunger Games, but due to the limited point of view, they aren't explored as broadly as in Battle Royale. (Note: I said "broadly," not "effectively." YMMV on that one.)

Stylistically, The Hunger Games is far superior, although I can't really compare them since I didn't read Battle Royale in its original language.

In terms of violence and gore, there is no competition. Battle Royale makes The Hunger Games look like candy.

So which one was better? I don't know. Instead, let me ask this: Which packed more of an emotional punch? Battle Royale was much more horrific, not just because of the gore, but also because of the sheer level of "wait--this is real" that the students were facing. However, I felt much more connected to the characters in The Hunger Games.

Both books are excellent, and of course, I recommend both.

I'm interested to hear what other people think. Did you read Battle Royale? (There's also a movie and a manga series.) Did you read Let's be honest, you've probably already read The Hunger Games. What was your impression?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Recommendation: I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak


I don't want to say too much about this book, except that Zusak nails voice and character here. The ending was a little preachy, but overall, I would recommend it to anyone.

Markus Zusak also wrote The Book Thief, which is one of my favorite books.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

If I had a writing coach (RTW)

Well, actually, I think I need two writing coaches.

1. The first one needs to be hardcore and mean. The kind of coach who won't actually look at my writing, but who will yell at me until I finish today's deadline. From time to time they will probably guilt me out about not having a real job other than baby-sitting for two hours a day. At that point, when I am feeling too down to actually be productive, I will run to...

2. ...my second coach. This person will look at my writing from time to time and they will love it. They will point out which parts they liked and be excited to read more. Of course, they will have criticism, but they will write it down and file it for later, so that I can look at it AFTER I have finished the first draft.

At this point, my main priority is to get a COMPLETED draft written. I keep going back and editing, and at this rate, I will never finish the manuscript.

Status Update:

Where I should be by December 31st: 75,000 words
Where I should be by (the end of) today: 9,927 words
Where I actually am: 3,895 words
Yes, I know this isn't nearly as far as I need to be. Certain circumstances (being sick, heavy snowfall, power outtages) have been getting in the way. But I will bounce back! (On the days where I have been writing, I averaged a little under 900 words.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Recommendation: Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor's novel Who Fears Death recently won the World Fantasy Award. In honor of this award, I decided to review it here.


For those of you who haven't heard of this novel, the basic plot can be summed up with "girl discovers her powers and then goes on a quest to save the world." And while that by itself doesn't sound very original, there are two aspects of this novel that make it absolutely worth reading: the world and the overall style and execution.

Here is my review:

It's difficult to rate this book, because it's very different from a lot of other fantasy books. Not only is it set in Africa, which is very rare in fantasy, but the book has an entirely different feel. The atmosphere is very mystical, and it often feels more like magic realism than fantasy. 

As a result, this book gets away with stuff that would otherwise make me groan. If you stuck Onyesonwu in any other fantasy novel, her 'special snowflake' status would probably piss me off. The purity of Daib's evilness would never be acceptable. The way Onyesonwu is able to quickly repair a broken and divisive society is also completely implausible. However, the thing about this book is that I didn't expect plausibility. 

This is the first novel I can remember reading where I could actually suspend disbelief, and where I didn't feel like I needed a logical explanation for everything. In many ways, the story feels almost fairy tale-like. (Well, not "fairy tale," but like a story you would tell around the campfire.) 

The interesting thing is that the mystical, tale-like atmosphere doesn't take anything away from good concrete world-building. I wish I could comfortably navigate through my constructed world the way Okorafor does. She writes in details like cactus candy, rapas, water capture stations, and juju without drawing any attention to the fact that they might be unusual to many of her readers. 

In terms of characters, I like how Okorafor develops her entire cast, including the secondary characters. Luyu was probably my favorite character. I had some issues with Onyesonwu, however. At times, she seemed like a self-centered bitch. I hated the way she antagonized Diti during their fight. Although she had valid reasons to be angry at Diti, Diti herself had good reasons to be upset, especially considering that she gave up so much in order to go on a perilous journey with Onyesonwu. I also disliked Mwita, and didn't understand why Onyesonwu was so in love with him. He's often controlling, jealous, and kind of a dick.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"The Bookman" by Lavie Tidhar

Looking over this blog, I realized that I really ought to post more book reviews. So here's a book review:


The Bookman, by Lavie Tidhar, or "How to ruin what could have been an awesome book"

This book has a fairly decent and original plot. It's steampunk + alternate history + lizard kings + characters based on historical and literary figures + adventure, which should be a cool combination, except that it's very difficult to care about any of it.

How difficult? Last night I had twenty-five pages before the end of the book. I wasn't particularly tired or busy, and there was no reason why I couldn't just finish it. And yet, I decided to surf the internet and go to bed instead.

Let me repeat that: Twenty-five pages, and I couldn't bring myself to grit my teeth and finish it last night. (I ended up finishing it this morning.)

Why was it so difficult? It wasn't boring--on the contrary, there was a lot of stuff happening. The problem was the characters. The only one in the book who has significant screen time is Orphan, the protagonist, and he is about as flat as they get. He has very little by way of personality, and he is relatively passive.

There is the right way to do passive characters and the wrong way. The right (well, depending on your definition of right...) way is Quentin Coldwater, from The Magicians*. Passivity and dullness is Quentin's character. It's what makes you love hate want to bash his head into a brick wall. However, Orphan isn't the kind of passive that you can hate. He's the passive, personality-free character about whom you just don't care. He gets shuffled around from situation to situation, and all he cares about is his dead fiance. (And with how little screen time she gets, and how early she dies, the reader pretty much forgets everything about her, making it nearly impossible to sympathize with his feelings.)

Anyway, now that I've finished with that, I'm off to read I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak. If there's any author who's capable of making me care, it's Zusak. (I cried through the last fifty pages of The Book Thief.)

*Actually, I also hated The Magicians, for two reasons: 1) Grossman's lazy writing habits; 2) Quentin. However, while I hated Quentin, it was also part of what made me admire the book. It's very rare to see nihilistic fantasy with a protagonist you're supposed to hate, and the concept of the book is really cool, even if it failed in execution.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Found: Perfect cafe for writing!

I have found my new writing cafe in Montclair! It's an independently-owned place with fairly cheap coffee and really good baklava. Yay!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I love this part, but I have to cut it

Today was the first day of My Novel and Me time. I finished re-writing the first scene and hit 1000 words.

Unfortunately, a lot of that will need to be cut or edited, due to awkward wording, lack of description, or just the fact that it doesn't fit. Such as this:


An hour later, she finally pulled into her driveway, but she wasn’t alone. A round-faced, balding man was climbing out of the car in front of her.
            “Good afternoon, Aaron,” Paula said, sauntering towards him. She joined him on the front steps and handed him one of the shopping bags she was carrying. “Be a gentleman and help me with this?”
            Aaron sneered, but took the bag. “Good afternoon, Miss Jumiere.”
            “Are you here to see Nathaniel?” Paula asked, twirling her keychain in her fingers. “You have poor timing. He has a reading session with Olivia and would hate to be—”
            Aaron crossed his arms. “Do not delay me. This is urgent.”
            “Urgent? A warlock, then?” Paula grinned. “Don’t you already have enough hunting plaques lining your wall?”
            “You’re amusing, Miss Jumiere. Now please unlock the door.”
            Paula tilted her head to the side. “I’m curious, Aaron. Do Takiran women find your collection attractive?”
            She could almost see the pulsing vein in his head as he reached for the doorbell.
            “Tell me. Do you stuff the heads yourself, or do you prefer to hire a taxidermist? Because you know what King Sanrik said about getting other people to—”
            She could hear the faint echo of the doorbell inside the house. The door opened and Nathaniel nodded to both of them.


I love the snark, and especially the warlock-heads-on-a-plaque part, but the topic of human taxidermy is kind of morbid, and to present Paula with a morbid sense of humor on the first page would be a serious misrepresentation of her character. Also, it almost sounds like Paula is flirting with Aaron, and considering that there is at least a twenty-year age gap between the two of them, this is certainly not what I'm going for.


Are there any lines from your writing that you absolutely love, but had to cut for various reasons?
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