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.
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