Saturday, December 28, 2013

WIP Marathon Check-In #4

Last check-in: 1300 words into re-writing chapter 3

Currently: Finished chapter 3 at 2600 words. Finished editing chapters 4 and 5. (current word count = 12,800)

WIP issues this week: Relatively smooth sailing this week.

What I learned this week: While details are the sign of good worldbuilding, it's important for those details to reflect the "heart and soul" of that world. A good fantasy/sci-fi world should have 3-4 core elements, and almost all details should reflect one or more of those elements.

But worlds are complex, you might argue, and I wouldn't disagree. But unless you're writing a geography book, you can't ask your readers to memorize every detail of your world. So that's why it's a good idea to pick 3-4 elements that are most important for your readers to understand. (Probably not more than that, unless you're very experienced or you're George R.R. Martin. And not less either--otherwise your scope is too limited.)

Take The Hunger Games, for example. The 3 core elements of Panem are as follows:

1. The Capitol's power over the districts. The Capitol exerts its power through economic inequality, militant fear tactics, separating the districts (each district specializes in one particular industry, thus ensuring that they cannot survive independently), and of course, the Hunger Games.

2. Wealth vs. poverty. (Actually, this could be a subcategory of #1). There are a lot of details about food and fashion. These aren't just for scenery--they illustrate the extravagance of the Capitol vs the poverty of the districts.

3. Futuristic technology: Convenience living, hovercrafts, arena technology, genetic engineering.

My own novel is organized around 4 core elements. This wasn't how I originally planned it, but it's how I figured out which details to keep or discard.

1. societal structure: small, close-knit, and agrarian, with no technological development

2. religion: the Pathways of Fate = Takiran Code and personal Guides

3. magic system: there are 3 "sources" of magic in the novel -- while they are not initially apparent, it was important for me to have an explanation for why certain characters have non-talisman powers

4. the relationship between Takira and the Severed World (our world): My novel is Portal fantasy, which is generally thought of as the "wish fulfillment" genre--but it doesn't have to be. One thing that's important for portal fantasy writers to consider is the relationship between the magical world and the "normal" world. You can't expect me to believe that even though characters can jump between them, the worlds never interact. Even if the portal didn't exist until your protagonist came along, you still have to consider the implications of said portal.

While some people might see this "core element" thing as limiting, it's helpful in that not only does it make your worldbuilding less scattered, but it makes you think about what your readers need to know in order to understand your world. It also gives your readers a context for what's going on and helps minimize info-dumping.

(You can really tell the difference between which novels have "consistent" vs. "scattered" worldbuilding. For an example of a novel that does this well, see The Girl of Fire and Thorns. For an example of a novel that does this considerably less well, see Shadow and Bone.)

What distracted me this week while writing: The usual. Social life, laziness, internet.

Last 200 words: Nope. Spoilery.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

WIP Marathon Check-In #3

...or #2, I guess, since I skipped last week's.

Last check-in: In the middle of re-writing chapter 3 (600 words)

Currently: Still on chapter 3, but much farther in (1300 words). Also, I started outlining a plot event that happens much later in the story (where my last draft ended).

WIP issues this week:

1) New world = lots of descriptions. I'm not good with descriptions. Most of them come out very generic.

2) New characters. Is there a limit to how many characters you can introduce in a single chapter?

3) Figuring out where this scene is going. The main purpose of this chapter is introduction. The plot doesn't really take off until the next chapter. But I'd like to introduce a bit of tension into this scene, something that will lead in to the story. I have some ideas, but I'm still sorting through them.

What I learned this week:

When asking for research advice, make sure you're asking someone who has practical, real-world experience in that field. I'm a first-year medical student, so if you ask about a blood vessel or muscle or organ, I can tell you what it does, where it's located, what nerve innervates it, and possibly a few things about its embryological origin and microstructure. However, having very little experience in clinical medicine, I cannot tell you how you would treat an injury to that structure or how quickly said injury would kill you. For that reason, I went to the AbsoluteWrite research forums. Out of all the people who responded, only one of them had anything on her profile page that indicated real-world knowledge of traumatic injuries (paramedic). Other people gave me answers from out-of-date books or from god-knows-where-else they picked up that information.

Also, something I wish other people would learn: When someone wants research advice, they are not asking for writing advice. Telling someone how to write a book that you know nothing about is nothing short of condescension.

What distracted me this week while writing:

Last week I had finals, and then I spent the weekend with some friends in rural Indiana. I expected to get more done this week, after coming home from the holidays, but that didn't quite happen. I spent way too much time watching various movies, Pretty Little Liars (I took advantage of my friend's inebriation to get her into it. It worked.), and Once Upon A Time (I finally gave up halfway through the first season, when it exceeded my patience for cliche romance and suburban mom warfare).Also, I found a copy of The Republic of Thieves at my local library. (Yay!) Also, doctor appointments and lots of cooking.

Last 200 words:

On the opposite side of the lawn, the Temple waited before them. It was a large structure, constructed out of white-and-gold-and-beige marbled stones that reflected the late afternoon sun. The roof was almost dome-like, but tapered in at the center; it reminded Olivia of the open mouth of a jug.

“Come,” said Katil.

The walk across the lawn was slower than expected; nearly everyone standing around the lawn, priests and citizens and half-Takirans alike, came forward to greet them. Olivia quickly gave up trying to remember all of their names.

At last, they reached the steps that led up to the entrance—not a door, but a veil of the same sky-blue color as the priests’ robes. One of the priests pulled it aside, revealing a large foyer. The aromas of sandalwood and rose petals welcomed her inside. Heads turned in their direction, and more than one person rose from the woven-straw benches that occupied the room.

“Nathaniel!” A woman strode towards them with arms outstretched. Nathaniel met her in the center of the room.


“She’s my mother,” Katil said, as Mr. Arken and the woman clasped hands. Despite the hint of wrinkles around her eyes, her smile had the same energy as Katil’s.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Should this bother me?

1. A few months ago, a blogger acquaintance self-published her NA novel. I wasn't sure if it was my thing, but it was on sale for $0.99, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Some time later, that same author announced that she was publishing a novel with a new e-press--except when I read the blurb, I realized it was the same novel, although it sounded like she'd made some changes to it. (I haven't gotten around to reading it yet.)

2. Last night, I couldn't sleep, but I was tired of studying, so I started a different self-published NA novel that was sitting in my Nook library. It was very readable, and involved a topic that I've never seen before. Even though I haven't finished it yet, I was curious about how the author had researched the topic, so I looked up the book and the author online. On the author's website, she announced that the book was no longer available because it had gotten her an agent.

I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this. I understand that some successfully self-published books are picked up by mainstream publishers, and I doubt the authors are doing anything dishonest. And don't get me wrong, I don't judge either of these authors for trying to make their books as widely-read as possible. In fact, I'm happy for both of them.

But in the case of Book #1, I was somewhat annoyed. The summary of the book that will soon be published is very different than the summary of its self-published version. Does that mean I essentially paid for a rough draft? And what about Book #2? How much will it change if it gets picked up by a publishers? Is the novel I'm reading right now going to be the same as the novel that sits on a bookstore shelf?

What do you think? Is this something that should bother me, or is it none of my business?


Saturday, December 7, 2013

WIP Marathon Check-in #1

Last Check-in: 2 chapters (4800 words)

Currently: Re-writing chapter 3 (600 words so far)

WIP Issues this week: 

A) Exams. One down, three to go.

B) I'm introducing a new world and some new characters. In the last 600 words, one of the characters (not the POV character) met her half-brother for the first time. I'm still figuring out how that conversation would play out. (Input is welcome.)

What I learnt this week in writing: Introducing nice, friendly characters is hard. They have to have at least one visible characteristic other than being nice and friendly, or else they're boring. Also, I still need to incorporate physical description of these characters somewhere.

What distracted me this week while writing: The internet, as usual. Also, exams. I snuck in some time to write Monday and Tuesday, but on Wednesday, I was too anxious to be creative so I studied instead.

Last 200 words:

            “I’m Katil,” said the girl. “Takira’s heiress-to-the-throne.”
Olivia let her hands fall to her sides. “You—what?”
The heiress wore a loose white shirt and trousers, a periwinkle sash around her waist, and a simple necklace of turquoise beads. None of it seemed to indicate wealth or status. This is Takira, remember? Things work differently here. She bowed her head to the girl, realizing far too late that her built-in Takiran vocabulary didn’t come with a word for ‘Your Highness.’
            The girl laughed. “Nathaniel, is she always so timid?”
            Mr. Arken shrugged. Olivia blushed.
            “Come,” the heiress said. She was speaking to Paula now. “Paula, yes?”
            Paula came forward. “Yes, Heiress.” As the two joined hands, Katil’s cousin approached them.
            “Are you…Itoban?” Paula asked.
            He smiled. “I was wondering when we would meet.”
            Right. He’s her brother. Paula had mentioned her Takiran half-siblings, though Olivia hadn’t expected to be present when they finally met. Should she avert her eyes? She suddenly wished someone had taught her the etiquette for witnessing conversations between long-lost relatives.
            “I’m glad I could finally come,” Paula said. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
            “From Nathaniel?”
            “From Nathaniel, from the Wolkows—”
            “Tabitha Wolkow?”

            “Who else?” Both of them laughed.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

WIP Marathon Intro

Against my better judgment, I have decided to do WIP Marathon this time around. My writing/revision progress has been slow enough that I could use the boost. (And also, it kinda sounds like fun.)

Marathon goal: Umm, let's see. There are 9 weeks between now and February 1st. I guess my goal then is to revise ~7-8 chapters.

Stage of writing: I never actually finished the draft, so I'm alternating between writing new chapters and revising old ones. I recently revised my first chapter and re-wrote my second. Right now, I'm trying to figure out how to re-write chapter 3.

What inspired my current project: I've promised myself that I will not discuss this until the novel is finished. Which might be never.

But if you're curious, it's YA/NA portal fantasy.

What might slow down my marathon goal: Laziness. Finals. (I have four exams in the next two weeks.)

Mostly, though, it's trying to find the best way to write each chapter. Currently, I'm stuck on chapter 3. It's not the most interesting chapter. It involves seeing a new world for the first time and introducing a handful of characters. Also, I have two protagonists, and I'm not sure whose POV would work best for it.

Best time of the day for writing: I focus best in the morning, but I usually end up writing at night.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Trapped in Story Mode - Help

I haven't written a substantial amount in the last week or two, but I did write more than I wrote in a long time (read: I finally finished re-writing chapter 2). I think this is probably why I've been trapped in story mode for the last few days. As in, my brain is chronically thinking about parts of the story--scenes I'm writing or thinking about writing, scenes I've written, scenes I'll write soon, scenes that I won't get to write for a long, long time. And while this stuff has always made up a significant portion of my daily thinking, it's been worse in the last few days. All I want to do lately is lie around and re-read old chapters and daydream about the ones I haven't written yet.

You would think this would make writing more easier, or at least more appealing, but it doesn't. Partially, that's because the scene I'm currently working on (or, I should say, the part of the scene I'm currently working on) is not the most fun to daydream about. It's one of those things where I have to get through it as quickly as possible so I can get to the good parts.

Even worse, this feeling has severely gotten in the way of my ability to study. Between story mode and being sick for a week, I have effectively stopped studying and going to most of my classes. I have lost the ability to care about school--which is bad, because I have finals coming up. My grades are stable enough in most of my classes that I can get a 50% on each final and still pass the class, but that's not how I want to end the semester.

I'm not sure why I'm writing this, exactly. I'm not looking for advice or inspiration (mostly because I probably won't listen to it anyway). It's just something I want to talk about for a few minutes. And now that I've done that, I'll go do something else.

***

Reading update: I was in a huge reading slump for the last month and a half. During that time, I tried to pick up two ARCs, but I couldn't get past the first fifty pages of either. Instead, I (infrequently) read A Dance with Dragons. I finished it yesterday, and I was somewhat disappointed. Over the course of 1000 pages, very little happened. Tyrion's arc was probably the only one with a consistently moving plotline. All the others basically dilly-dallied* for hundreds of pages. And then something would happen, but it would end on a cliffhanger. It's like I just spent the last month of my life reading a 1000-page commercial for Book 6. (Not that there weren't great scenes--it just took way too long to get there.)

Anyway, yesterday I started Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel, and I can confidently say that my reading slump is over. Why? Because after only a chapter, I'm completely hooked on the voice.

*I learned this word from the lady in charge of the disabled riding program I volunteered at all through college. It's very far from my usual vocabulary, but in this case, the word seemed perfect.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

EXTRACTED Review, Interview, and Giveaway

Hi everyone! I'm really excited to be participating in the blog tour for Extracted, the first book in The Lost Imperials series. Below, you will find my review of Extracted, an interview with the authors, Sherry D. Ficklin and Tyler H. Jolley, and a giveaway for a Kindle Paperwhite Touchscreen.


Welcome to the war. The Tesla Institute is a premier academy that trains young time travelers called Rifters. Created by Nicola Tesla, the Institute seeks special individuals who can help preserve the time stream against those who try to alter it. The Hollows is a rogue band of Rifters who tear through time with little care for the consequences. Armed with their own group of lost teens--their only desire to find Tesla and put an end to his corruption of the time stream. Torn between them are Lex and Ember, two Rifters with no memories of their life before joining the time war. When Lex's girlfriend dies during a mission, the only way he can save her is to retrieve the Dox, a piece of tech which allows Rifters to re-enter their own timeline without collapsing the time stream. But the Dox is hidden deep within the Telsa Institute, which means Lex must go into the enemy camp. It's there he meets Ember, and the past that was stolen from them both comes flooding back. Now armed with the truth of who they are, Lex and Ember must work together to save the future before the battle for time destroys them both again.

***

I had a lot of fun reading this book. It combines steampunk, time travel, and a fast-moving plot. I highly recommend it for people who enjoy science fiction, alternate history, gadgets, action, and snappy dialogue.

As for the characters: Upon first read, it was hard to see them beyond their role in the story and their immediate relationships to each other (friend, sibling, boyfriend/girlfriend). But when I flipped through it a second time, I noticed many more personal details that really made the characters come alive--what they wore ("Her grey cargo pants have been haphazardly patched over with what I assume are pieces of the Hollows' common room sofa"), what they collected ("Pieces of fabric, drab costume jewelry. Feathers. A set of brass knuckles"), etc.

There were also several elements I appreciated from a feminist perspective, and I'm not just talking about kickass females. More specifically, it was the fact that those kickass females also had personalities, were allowed to like pretty things, and most importantly, had meaningful relationships with other females. One criticism of the YA genre that I keep seeing over and over again is the lack of female friendships. It often seems like female "friends" only exist as passive gossip buddies or as backstabbing sluts, something which was definitely not the case in Extracted. The female characters had actual conversations with each other, and when they fought, it was over legitimately conflicting ideals.

One of my issues with this novel is the worldbuilding. The novel did a great job with the details (ie, steampunk tech), but not so much with the big-picture. For instance, it seemed like the Tesla Institute and the Hollow Tower existed in a vacuum. Where (and when) are these institutions located? For instance, one of the characters from the Tesla Institute talks about going to the beach a lot, but other than that, I know nothing about the where-and-when. Is the Tesla Institute located somewhere in the modern United States, or is it in some futuristic steampunk world where everyone knows about time travel? (Given that the dialogue is very 21st century and that it doesn't seem like a lot of other people know about Rifting, I would assume the former.)

Additionally, I'm a little hazy on Tesla's agenda, but I assume that future books will expand upon that.

***



And now, the interview!

1. I'm always curious about the co-authoring process. What was yours like? Did you each pick a POV character to write, or did you write the whole thing together?

Sherry- We knew early on that I wanted to write Ember’s chapters and Tyler wanted to write Lex’s. But once we would complete a chapter, we would comb through it together and make suggestions, changes, or edits. We were really able to tweak and tighten each other’s work, because we both understand the characters and the world so well.

Tyler- Because I’m not totally in tune with my inner girl I’m glad that I have Sherry. From the beginning we wanted EXTRACTED to have a really strong female and male voice. And we didn’t want these two characters to be secondary characters. We alternated chapters from Lex to Ember.

2. A few of the characters in Extracted are well-known historical figures. How did you go about 'adapting' these people into fiction? Was there ever any conflict between historical accounts of these figures and the characters you wanted them to become?

Sherry- Most of it was fairly simple because we actually sort of erase their pasts (or at least their memories of the past) so we had a fair amount of leash to work with. The one thing that some of the early readers got stuck on was the fact that the historical person Lex is based on was a hemophiliac. But we didn’t want to make it a limiting factor for him in the book, so we sort of dealt with it very simply and quickly.

Tyler- I agree with Sherry. The only historical conflict was hemophilia. The rest of the characters just have their past lives, but as they live in the Hollow Tower or the Tesla Institute these lives aren’t remembered, thus it doesn’t influence how they live their day to day lives.

3. In Extracted, Lex and Ember regain memories of their lives before they became Rifters. Are any other characters going to remember their past lives in future books?

Sherry- *Spoilers* Yes. All the Tesla kids (and even a few of the Hollows) are based on real people, so bringing more of their histories in will happen throughout the series. I will say, it doesn’t happen for the others the same way it happens for Lex and Ember. Each ‘trigger’ is unique to the character and their experiences.

Tyler- In the next book there will be more reveals of past historical characters. It has been an absolute riot figuring out each trigger and how it floods their minds with past memories.

4. Describe your ideal time travel vacation.

Sherry- I would want to visit the Library at Alexandria before its destruction. So much history lost forever, I would spend weeks just rummaging through it. I went to Europe a few years back and the one place I knew I HAD to visit was the library at St. Gallen in Switzerland. It was amazing. I know, I’m a book nerd.

Tyler- I would love to go back and be part of the gold rush in Colorado. Caves and gold are intriguing to me.

***

About the authors:

Tyler H. Jolley is a sci-fi/fantasy author and full-time orthodontist, periodontist (see: Overachiever). He divides his spare time between writing, reading, mountain biking, and camping with his family.

Sherry D. Ficklin is a full-time writer and internet radio show host with more mouth then good sense. She has a serious book addiction, but continually refuses treatment, much to her husband’s chagrin.

Tyler and Sherry met one fateful day and bonded over their love for books, science fiction, and donuts. Their first co-written novel came shortly after. Now, they still do all those other things, but also go to various steampunk conventions and events under the guise of ‘research’. They can often be found lurking on the Lost Imperials Facebook page or over on the official website, www.thelostimperials.com.

***

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Extracted is out now!



Saturday, November 9, 2013

Letter to My Friend's Rapist

Dear [what was your name, again?],

Hi. You might remember me as the girl who said a few words to you at [the bar] last night. You know, about how you date-raped my friend.

I heard an interesting thing today. Apparently, you messaged K to say that you feel “threatened” by me. I never realized there was anything “threatening” about a few passive-aggressive comments. You know what is threatening? 1) Trying to force off a girl’s tights when she’s clearly not interested. 2) Pressuring a different girl to drink so much that she’s incapable of giving (or refusing to give) consent. 3) Continuing to harass both girls, even though neither wants anything to do with you.

When I mentioned what happened with K, your response was “I was pretty trashed, too.” If you rape someone when you’re drunk, you’re still a rapist, much like if you kill someone in a drunk driving accident, you’re still guilty of manslaughter. (Oh, and while we’re on the subject of drunk driving, I’d like to point out that you did that too—after all, you were the one who drove her home from the bar.)

According to the law, sexual contact with a person who is not in a condition to give consent is rape. Calling you a rapist is not a threat; it’s a statement of facts. A threat, however, sounds more like “I am going to kill/hurt/rape/torture/castrate/destroy you.” I have no intention of doing any of that – not because I don’t think you deserve it, but because I’m in medical school and it’s not worth compromising my future for someone as pathetic as you. Rest assured, your body and genitals are safe.

However, I will not play nice when you attempt to make casual conversation with my friends. If you cannot respect their boundaries, you do not deserve to speak to them. Same goes for girls who aren’t my friends. They deserve fair warning.

So in actuality, the only thing I might be “threatening” is your dating prospects. And let’s be honest – you’re not exactly a “catch” to begin with. You’re a forty-something who lives with his mom, a DJ who performs once in a blue moon, and a creeper who drowns girls half your age in alcohol so that you can occasionally get laid.

K, meanwhile, is everything you’re not: smart, fun, pretty. She has friends and a boyfriend who aren’t going to let you treat her like shit. She’s hard-working and compassionate and her patients love her for it—oh, and even though she’s been a nurse for less than a year, she’s already getting her own clinical trial. She’s actually going somewhere in life. I hope you enjoyed your five seconds with K, because in ten years, she won’t even remember your name.

Please leave K and D alone. If you have a problem with anything I’ve said, you can address it to me. Oh, and a word of advice: If you don’t like being called out for rape, try not raping people.

And now that I’ve said my piece, I’m going to go finish my homework and move on with my life.

Sincerely,

-Yael

[Why am I posting this here? Because I'm sick of hearing about people whose lives are ruined by a single instance of rape. Would you be ashamed if someone punched you in the face or stole your purse? Probably not, because you didn't do anything wrong. So why should rape be any different?  Why is it your job to feel guilty for something that someone else did?

And yes, I do realize that this letter is somewhat ableist. Not all rapists are unattractive middle-aged men; in many cases, they are more popular and successful than their victims. Does that make them less pathetic? Nope. Taking advantage of someone who is physically weaker than you or incapacitated is never a sign of strength, regardless of your status. It's like beating up a small child--it doesn't prove anything, except that you're an asshole.]

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Exhaustion

I've fallen out of writer mode recently. Reader mode, too.

My computer crashed (I will never buy an HP computer ever again), and it took several days for the new one to arrive. By the time it did, my e-galley of The Republic of Thieves expired so I couldn't re-download it.

I had an exam last week and two this week. They both went well, but yesterday's was really, really hard.

Part of that is because I haven't been sleeping--not because I've been staying up to study, but because I haven't been able to actually fall asleep. I don't think it's stress insomnia, either. I suffered from stress insomnia the entire week I was moving out of New Jersey, and this feels completely different. I'm not anxious. I'm just awake. And then I get really tired during the afternoon. It's like my circadian rhythm has decided to re-set itself.

I didn't sleep at all the night before yesterday's test, even after taking a benadryl. It made for a very slow, strained testing experience. Probably through sheer dumb luck, I did better on that test than on the last one.

I vaguely remember a dream from last night, so I must have slept for a little while, but I spent most of that night awake too.

Right now, I'm not tired at all. I'm not exactly mentally functional though, and the thought of being creative is  overwhelming.

You want to know what the best part of medical school is? The night after a big test, when half the people in our class go out to a restaurant, and we're having entirely dead serious conversations about male genital anatomy in public.

Dorsal nerve of the clitoris.

Peace out.

(Hopefully, I will regain my creative stride sometime this weekend. Mostly, I'm just posting this as my way of telling the world I'm not dead.)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review of Shiloh, by Helena Sorensen



Goodreads Summary:

In a world of perpetual darkness, a boy is born who wields remarkable power over fire. Amos is no more than seven when he kills a Shadow Wolf and becomes a legend in Shiloh. He would be destined for great things were it not for the stories his father tells about a world beyond the Shadow and a time before the Shadow. Only madmen hold to such tales, and in Shiloh, they have always come to bad ends.

Amos is fearless. He walks with easy confidence, certain that the Shadow cannot touch him. Even his family is in awe of him. His father marvels at his skill with the bow, his mother thanks the gods that he has all the courage she lacks, and his sister, Phebe, worships him for saving her from an attack of the Shadow Cats.

On a trip to the village of Emmerich, Amos rescues the Magistrate’s son, Simeon, from the village bullies. Simeon, fair-skinned and pale-eyed like other Dreamers in Shiloh’s history, becomes Amos’s constant companion and dearest friend. Simeon becomes a part of Amos’s family, listening to fireside stories told in a way he’s never heard them before and learning to wield a bow and arrow.

The year the boys turn twelve, they are itching to prove themselves. An impetuous plan to steal a beautiful lantern goes miserably awry, and the lantern’s owner prophecies that Amos will be devoured by the Shadow. For the first time, a seed of fear is planted in Amos’s mind, and when his father is killed by a Shadow Wolf on the last day of the Great Hunt, the fear takes hold. If so great and brave a man as his father could fall to the Shadow, what hope has he?

***

I received a review request from this author a while back. (I'm embarrassed to admit when.) I started it shortly after it showed up in my inbox, but every time I picked it up, I couldn't bring myself to read more than twenty pages at a time. Honestly, if it weren't for the fact that I promised the author a review, I probably wouldn't have finished it at all.

I'll start by saying what I liked about Shiloh. Stylistically, this book is good (minus a few instances of purplish prose). I liked how all of the characters, including the main characters, spoke with peasant accents. (You always see minor or supporting characters with accents, but never protagonists.) And I liked Simeon, Phebe, and Isolde. (The description makes it sound like Amos is the protagonist, but that's not the case--which is a good thing, because I found Amos flat, boring, and unrelatable.)

Now here's where I list the problems:

First of all, I was incredibly bored. Stuff happened. Sometimes. But there was very little by way of I-need-to-know-what-happens-next tension. Up until the last 60 pages or so, there wasn't much of a plot. No stakes. No goals or obstacles. The characters were basically just going about the motions. And when something cool did happen, it was either rushed or skipped over. (A fight with a dragon! Why didn't I get to see the fight with the dragon?)

There was also the mythology problem. There were far too many myths and stories and songs (see this post), and it finally came to the point where I was skipping over all of them. If it's not immediately relevant to the story at hand, then it needs to be condensed as much as possible.

There was also the fact that this story covered too large a timespan. It starts with a seven-year-old who kills a Shadow Cat. I don't care how much of a special snowflake he is, I refuse to believe that a seven-year-old can accomplish something like that. Did he have to be seven? At the very minimum, I would accept twelve. (And yes, the story could have easily been edited so that Amos started as a twelve-year-old and still finished the story as a teenager.)

I was also confused about a lot of the worldbuilding and magical elements (ie, the whole deal with the Hall of Shadows). Oh, and the "perpetual darkness" part. Like, how "dark" are we talking? The story references the absence of a sun, but that can't be possible--the descriptions are all very visual, there is a distinction between night and day, and the characters are capable of embroidery, fine metal forgery, and distinguishing colors. From the way I pictured things, it couldn't have been worse than rainy-day grayness. But if that's the case, where is this light coming from? It can't all be from campfires/lanterns.

So overall, I'm sorry to day that this book was not successful for me, and I apologize to the author for taking so long to review it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

So here's the deal:

I have a galley of The Republic of Thieves (book 3 in The Gentleman Bastards series) sitting in my computer. I've been waiting over a year for this book.

But I have things I must do. I have responsibilities to other writers and responsibilities to myself. So by the end of the weekend, I will accomplish all of the following:

1. Finish and review Shiloh.

2. Finish writing interview questions.

3. Watch the last 2 histology lectures. (I'm not a slacker--I was sick for a week. And histology is bad enough when you're healthy.)

4. Finish reading medicine-and-culture articles.

5. Finish The Edge of Normal.

5. Make twice-baked potatoes for my roommate.

6. Oh yeah, and there is that histology exam I have on Wednesday that I should probably study for...

All of this sounds kind of exciting, actually. Minus the histology stuff.

And then when I finish all of this, then I can read The Republic of Thieves. Yay!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Recommendations: "The Raven Boys" and "The Dream Thieves"


Today I finished The Dream Thieves, the second book in The Raven Cycle series. Since I finished both of these books within a month of each other, I decided to review them together.

The Raven Boys:

I listened to this on audiobook. I'm usually not a re-reader, but this is the sort of book that I could listen to again and again. The style is beautiful and evocative, with just the right amount of cleverness and wit. I loved how distinct Blue and all four of the boys were--how they had fully fleshed-out personalities and contradictions and tiny details that reflected everything about their personalities. I loved the character of Henrietta and how the author actually managed to evoke the sense of mystery and supernatural that seems to elude most writers of paranormal fiction.

The one issue I have with the two books I read by Maggie Stiefvater is that her villains tend to fall flat. I was also confused by the implications of Adam's decision at the end of the book--but that's something that we'll probably come to understand in The Dream Thieves.

***

The Dream Thieves

I got my ARC of The Dream Thieves at BEA. I hadn't yet read The Raven Boys, so I almost didn't bother, but then the girl in front of me offered to hold my place in the Harlequin line so that I could grab a copy from the Scholastic booth. I'm SO glad I did. I absolutely love both books in this series.

The Dream Thieves differs from The Raven Boys in that it mostly focuses on Ronan. But that's okay, because Ronan is awesome enough to have a whole book to himself. This book has a bit more action and romantic hints than its predecessor, but like the first book, it's really the characters, the mystical setting, and the writing style that win you over.

However, I am still waiting for a decent villain. This book almost had one, but [spoilers].

***

The Dream Thieves is out today.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sometimes, you don't have a name

There are some emotions that don't have a linguistic equivalent in certain languages. One of those emotions is the one that keeps me from being a productive writer.

It's not fear, I don't think. For a while I thought it was dread, but that would imply that there was something unpleasant about it, which isn't usually the case. If anything, it's more closely related to uncertainty.

Writing is all about putting sentences together, but how can I do that if I don't know which sentence comes next?

Is there a specific name for the feeling that prevents you from doing something you don't know how to do?

***

I've handled this before. I'm at least 80,000 words into this book. It's one of those things that gets figured out eventually.

***

Right now, the best solution might be to skip this scene. It's a smaller scene that works within the plot, but has little importance of its own. I'm worried that if I put too much into it early on, I'll make it longer than it actually should be.

Friday, September 13, 2013

New Release Review: "Rose Under Fire" by Elizabeth Wein (recommended)

[companion novel to Code Name Verity, which you absolutely have to read first]

Goodreads Summary:

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

***

[some spoilers for Code Name Verity]

It's impossible for me to discuss this book without comparing it to Code Name Verity. Both have a similar premise: young woman captured by the Nazis and living under horrific circumstances. Both center on strong friendships between female characters. (A relationship that is severely under-explored in YA/NA literature.) And both are stories of incredible bravery and desperation in the face of cruelty.

In terms of voice, this book was very different from its companion novel. In contrast to Verity's snark and wit, and Maddie's terseness, Rose's voice is almost too straightforward, though its interspersed with bits of poetry. I'm not a huge fan of poetry, though it grew on me by the end of the book.

One element that I really appreciated about Rose Under Fire was the aftermath. The story didn't end with Rose's liberation. Much of the book is devoted to Rose and her companions' re-learning how to live after their experiences in Ravensbrück. How do you regain your sense of self after that kind of experience? How do you 'tell the world' when you can't even bring yourself to speak about it? We often talk about the horrors of concentration camps, but what about the people inside them? How do you come back to being a person when, for months or years, you were treated as anything but?

[But seriously, was it really necessary to name the protagonist "Rose Justice"?]

Thursday, September 12, 2013

September Update

I just got through my first onslaught of exams, and wow, medical school tests are hard. (Apparently, it's totally fair game for anatomy teachers to test you on stuff you never learned in class.) But I passed everything (I think), so all turned out well in the end.

A lot of the books I snagged at BEA are coming out in September. I won't have time to finish all of them this month, but I will try to review as many as possible. Rose Under Fire, the companion novel to Code Name Verity, came out last week, and I plan to have it finished and reviewed tonight. It's not as good as its predecessor, but that's admittedly an impossible bar to set. I still like it a lot, an the poetry is growing on me.

The Edge of Normal came out yesterday. It's a New Adult thriller about a young woman who is recovering from a kidnapping experience. I only read a few pages of it, but it's very engaging, and I'm going to finish it soon after Rose Under Fire. The Dream Thieves, the sequel to The Raven Boys, also comes out this month. I listened to The Raven Boys on audio and absolutely loved it. I'm not a big re-reader, but it's the sort of novel you can read/listen to over and over again. As you can imagine, I can't wait to pick up The Dream Thieves. Also, I keep hearing really good things about All the Truth That's in Me.

There's also one other book I've been meaning to finish for a long time...so I should do that soon..

So that's what you can look forward to review-wise. Peace out.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New Release Review: "Duplex: A Novel" by Kathryn Davis


Goodreads Summary:

Time, place, and mind all bend in extraordinary ways in this new novel from the acclaimed author of The Thin Place and Versailles 

Mary and Eddie are meant for each other—but love is no guarantee, not in these suburbs. Like all children, they exist in an eternal present; time is imminent, and the adults of the street live in their assorted houses like numbers on a clock. Meanwhile, ominous rumors circulate, and the increasing agitation of the neighbors points to a future in which all will be lost. Soon a sorcerer’s car will speed down Mary’s street, and as past and future fold into each other, the resonant parenthesis of her girlhood will close forever. Beyond is adulthood, a world of robots and sorcerers, slaves and masters, bodies without souls. In Duplex, Kathryn Davis, whom the Chicago Tribune has called “one of the most inventive novelists at work today,” has created a coming-of-age story like no other. Once you enter the duplex—that magical hinge between past and future, human and robot, space and time—there’s no telling where you might come out.

***

I had very mixed feelings about this novel. I loved how surreal it was: the story of suburban neighborhoods where women walk their dogs and get seduced by sorcerers while girls gossip and trade cards with their robot neighbors. It was the type of story that combined everything without drawing any attention to the strangeness of it: past meets present meets future; suburban monotony meets apocalypse; fiction meets reality in a way that the two are indistinguishable.

It's a very weird, experimental story. And while I loved that element, I couldn't bring myself to love the actual story. The characters felt flat, and it was hard to relate to them or even see them as real people.

This is the type of book that will appeal to only a small subset of people. Can I recommend it to anyone in particular? Not exactly. But if you're looking for something very different, then I would give Duplex a shot.

***

Duplex is out now.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Release Review: The Returned, by Jason Mott (recommended)

Goodreads Summary:

Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That's what all the Returned were.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave's lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time ... Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.

All over the world people's loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he's their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.

With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

***

Two things I loved about The Returned:

1. THE MAGICAL REALISM. One difference between magic realism and fantasy is the sense of ambiguity that comes with the former. There are no explanations, nor rules, for supernatural phenomena. This book never explains why some people come back and why others don't. It never explains whether the Returned are truly people or merely shadows of people. It never explains why some of the Returned die natural deaths while others vanish. It never explains why people are returning now, when they never had in the past. The sense of uncertainty that surrounds these events is what creates such a fascinating story. The uncertainty is what allows the reader to truly connect to the characters.

2. THE CHARACTERS. They felt real. Believable. Complicated. They are all people trapped under circumstances that no one knows how to interpret. They react to the events around them even though they don't always know how to react. They are all, in some way, trying to do the right thing--or at the very least, something.

The Returned is a beautifully-written, moving story. It's the sort of book that will appeal to a range of audiences, and I would recommend it to just about anyone.

***

The Returned is out today.

(Oh yeah, and ABC is adapting it into a television series called "Resurrection." The show premieres in March, and judging by the trailer and the character names, it appears to have very little in common with the book.)

Monday, August 26, 2013

New Release Review: Crown of Midnight, by Sarah J. Maas


[sequel to Throne of Glass]

Goodreads Summary:

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king's contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king's bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she's given a task that could jeopardize everything she's come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon -- forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice. 

Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?

***

My friend Laura has a good way of describing books like Crown of Midnight: Trashy, but enjoyable.

It's cliche, predictable, and Celaena secures herself a gold plaque in the Mary Sue Hall of Fame. But in many ways, this is the book Throne of Glass should have been. There are moral dilemmas. There are real consequences. There is a lot of action and a functional romantic plotline. Oh, and Celaena finally kills people.

So while I don't think this is a good book, it was still an entertaining read.

***

Crown of Midnight comes out tomorrow.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

New Release Review: The Twins, by Saskia Sarginson (recommended)


Goodreads summary:

They were inseparable until an innocent mistake tore them apart.

Growing up, Viola and Issy clung to each other in the wake of their mother's eccentricity, as she dragged them from a commune to a tiny Welsh village. They thought the three of them would be together forever.
But an innocent mistake one summer set them on drastically different paths. Now in their twenties, Issy is trying to hold together a life as a magazine art director, while Viola is slowly destroying herself, consumed with guilt over the events they unknowingly set into motion as children.

When it seems that Viola might never recover, Issy returns to the town they haven't seen in a decade, to face her own demons and see what answers, if any, she can find.

***

If I were to summarize The Twins, I would call it 'the story of twin girls coming to terms with their past.' However, that description alone sounds very cliche, so instead of elaborating on the plot, I'll talk about the execution.

The writing style is vibrant and picturesque, full of images and sensory details.

"Water dribbles through the ceiling in their bedroom. It seeps around the light fixing, spreading like a shadow, and drips into a bowl that Isolte put under it. It smells of moss and wet wood."

The story is narrated both in the past and in the present, from the point of view of both sisters. Viola's scenes are in first person, and Isolte's in third. This usually bothers me, but in this book, it was very appropriate. Viola is the self-contained, introverted sister, while Isolte is more focused on her relationship with the rest of the world. Their distinct characteristics might make them archetypical opposites, but that doesn't change the fact that they are fully realized, believable characters.

Another element I loved was how richly-developed the flashbacks were. 'Flashbacks' in stories usually imply Hollywood-esque tragedy scenes, but here, the scenes depicting the girls' childhood and upbringing are just as important as the scenes from their adult present. You see the girls running wild through the countryside, raised by a mother who tries and fails to live outside the bounds of society. The story is a gradual progression of events, which means it might not be for some, but those who enjoy this type of book will not be disappointed.

Overall, this is a beautifully-written story about sisterhood and guilt, and I highly recommend it.

***

The Twins comes out on Tuesday.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New Adult Project: The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon


Goodreads summary:

It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine—a young woman learning to harness her powers in a world where everything has been taken from her. It also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.

***

The Bone Season debuted with an onslaught of hype: Four book deal (out of a planned seven-book series), mid-six figure advance (from a British publisher, meaning close to a million in US dollars), movie rights optioned, a 21-year-old author who is supposed to be "the next J.K. Rowling." With all this hype, I couldn't not be curious. Even with my usual skepticism, I at least expected to get a few hours of entertainment out of the book.

That was too much to hope for.

I'll start by saying that I couldn't finish this book. I tried. I really did. I managed to slog through 150 pages before realizing that my life was just too short to justify any more of it.

I was bored. And more than that, I was insulted.

Let's start from the beginning: we have a totalitarian world, set in futuristic England, where the leaders intend to kill off all clairvoyants (aka people with powers). The magic system works through some combination of psychic powers and spirits, and it's confusing as hell. When it comes to the worldbuilding, the author does this weird combination of immersion and exposition, where the character explicitly narrates everything related to Scion (the government organization that hunts down voyants and somehow also rules the entire planet), but then when it comes to clairvoyants, you're basically on your own. As a result, I have no fucking clue what's the difference between, say, a soothsayer and an oracle. And now you're probably thinking that I'm a lazy reader or that I'm too dumb to figure stuff out on my own, but I'm actually pretty good with immersive narration--I made it through The Windup Girl, for Christ's sakes! (And if I found the narration confusing, imagine how much trouble an average reader will have with it. If you really want to publish 'the next Harry Potter,' try to find something a little more accessible to mainstream audiences.)

Anyway, the totalitarian government was shallowly-developed and kind of cliche, but the underground mafia of voyants was potentially interesting and the plot was starting to get good...

...and then, about fifty pages in, the book took a dive into the ridiculous. Because now our protagonist, Paige, finds herself among a superior race of beings (Rephaim) who want to use her and the other voyants to fight off evil alien monsters. (Not making this up.) Except the leader of the Rephaim is mua-ha-ha evil and treats humans like slaves. (Remember when I wrote this post?) And the author really beats the "evil" and "slavery" parts into your head. For one thing, all of the humans are assigned numbers instead of names, because nothing screams "oppression" like turning people into numbers. Look, I'm not saying that oppression itself is a bad element in stories, because it's not. Oppression is a terrifying, gut-wrenching phenomenon--and a writer who puts in the right amount of research and nuance can depict that. But the treatment of cruelty and slavery was so shallowly presented that I was insulted on behalf of anyone who had actually experienced that kind of trauma. 

I was also offended on an intellectual level, because it's very clear that the author knows absolutely nothing about, say, brainwashing. For instance, I'm pretty sure locking a boy in an isolated cell for nine years wouldn't make him the perfect minion--it would make him batshit insane, to the point where he'd be too unpredictable to do anything. There's also one human boy--the archetypical 'triator'-- who not only sucks up to the Rephaim, but proudly introduces himself by his numerical identity (after, like, a week or two). Last time I checked, brainwashing is supposed to turn you into a minion, not a caricature.

Now let's talk about the protagonist and the love interest (one of them anyway, because I smell a triangle). Of course, Paige's powers are super rare and powerful, so as a result, she's selected for training by a super hot Rephaite who never chooses humans. From there, their relationship is, well, inconsistent. In one chapter, she detests him (and for very good reason). A few chapters later, she's telling him intimate secrets about her dreamscape. Um...what? 

It's like the author couldn't even take ten minutes to think things out before she wrote them. Not to mention the sheer arbitrariness of certain plot elements. For instance, the Rephaim only collect voyants every ten years, and each collection is called a "Bone Season." Why every ten years? And why "bone"? I have no fucking clue. (Maybe if I finished the book...oh wait, not gonna do that.)

(And that's not even the entirety of everything that bothered me.)

So in short, The Bone Season left me bored, angry, and insulted...and I will be very shocked if that giant advance ever earns out.

***

The Bone Season is out now. I received my ARC from BEA.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Updated "About Me"

It occurred to me that I should update my "About Me" page, since a lot of the information on there is no longer true. But I get weirdly nostalgic sometimes, so I decided that instead of editing that post, I would just make a new one.

***

Yael Itamar is a fantasy writer, book blogger, and medical student living in Louisville, KY.

***

Maybe it's just the business of orientation week, but that's about all I feel like saying about myself right now. I could write about my novel, but it wouldn't mean much to those who haven't read it. I could write about my hobbies, except that I haven't done much of them lately. I could write about where I'm from or where I went to college, or about my over-sized Israeli family, or even about my two-year exile in New Jersey, but all of that is stuff I've mentioned before. If you're really curious, go through some old posts.

***

Yael Itamar is also, apparently, too lazy to write a proper "About Me" post.

Friday, July 26, 2013

New Release: Indelible, by Dawn Metcalf (recommended)

I came across Dawn Metcalf’s Livejournal a couple of years back and was intrigued by how quirky her books sounded. I read her first book, Luminous, soon after it came out. I felt about it much the same way I feel about Neil Gaiman’s books: stylistically beautiful, with very quirky, unique elements, though I wasn’t completely satisfied with how those elements came together.  Still, I liked the book enough that I was really excited to snag a copy of Dawn Metcalf’s next book, Indelible, at BEA. (No, it’s not a sequel or a companion. Indelible is the beginning of a whole new series.)



Goodreads Summary:

Some things are permanent.

Indelible.

And they cannot be changed back.

Joy Malone learns this the night she sees a stranger with all-black eyes across a crowded room—right before the mystery boy tries to cut out her eye. Instead, the wound accidentally marks her as property of Indelible Ink, and this dangerous mistake thrusts Joy into an incomprehensible world—a world of monsters at the window, glowing girls on the doorstep, and a life that will never be the same.

Now, Joy must pretend to be Ink’s chosen one—his helper, his love, his something for the foreseeable future...and failure to be convincing means a painful death for them both. Swept into a world of monsters, illusion, immortal honor and revenge, Joy discovers that sometimes, there are no mistakes.

Somewhere between reality and myth lies…

THE TWIXT

***

The strongest element of this book: The prose. The descriptions are beautiful and detailed, and Dawn Metcalf has a gift for choosing the perfect metaphors and similes. Take these: “Joy turned his words over like a snow globe in her head, her thoughts scattered and shaken” and “an unspooled ribbon of free fall.”

I was also blown away by the intimacy and the nature of the romance. Do you ever get sick of paranormal romances that leave you wondering why a powerful, supernatural hottie is so interested in an average human girl in the first place? Indelible avoids that trope by creating a sort of wisdom-balance between Joy and Ink. Ink, as the paranormal creature, knows all about the workings of the supernatural world, but he has very little understanding of humanity—that’s Joy’s territory. As a result, Ink has as much to learn from Joy as Joy has to learn from him. And the romantic development—yes, it’s fast, but it’s so well-crafted that there’s actually a sense of intimacy, not just obsession (though, not gonna lie, there is that, too).

Joy is a dynamic character and the story does a good job of incorporating her family situation and social life. (Though she is a bit on the whiny side.) The plot has a strong focus on Joy, Ink, and Inq, and while those elements come through successfully, I felt like I wasn’t seeing enough of everything else—specifically, the worldbuilding. We only saw scattered bits and pieces of the Twixt, and while those were cool, I never got a sense of the world as a whole. It would have been awesome to see the inner workings of Folk society and culture, for example. I also wanted a better understanding of the long-term consequences and significance of signaturae. There are a few occasions where we see people get marked, but beyond a brief explanation of why they are marked, we don’t learn anything else about those characters or how their lives are changed by Folk interference. This is especially important, since the plot centers on signaturae. Also, there’s one scene where an unimportant character is being marked because she lost her virginity (her family has an ancient pact where women are “particularly gifted” but only while they remain pure.) While that scene does a good job of showing the problems with inter-generational vows, the fact that Joy doesn’t seem to take any offense might cause this scene to be construed as slut-shaming.

As I mentioned earlier, this is the first book in a series, so I’m hoping that the next book(s) will give readers a much broader view of the Twixt. I do plan on picking up the next one.

***
Indelible comes out July 30th.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Incorporating Mythology

If you read a lot of secondary fantasy, then you're probably familiar with the prevalence of history, legends, and mythology in these types of stories. Mythology can play many roles in fantasy: it can explain the origin of humanity and magic; it can show how (or whether) religion plays a role in society; it can act as a metaphor for cultural values. Etc.

I'm currently reading a novel where it seems like every other chapter, they are telling a new story of some legendary hero or phenomenon. Could I repeat any of it back to you? Nope. Not unless I opened the book to those particular pages. Why? Because a) there's too much of it, and b) none of it involves characters I know or care about. If you're asking me to remember a huge chunk of what seems like irrelevant information, there had better be a good reason for it--and even if there is a good reason, you should try to limit how much of it goes into your story.

Here are some good guidelines for incorporating mythology:

1. The mythology is only there to enrich the worldbuilding: Even if mythology isn't directly related to the plot, it often adds a sense of realism and culture to the world. If this is the case, give it to your readers in brief snatches--names and sentences interspersed among the story.

2. The myth is only relevant to this particular scene: Perhaps your characters are visiting an important historical landmark. Or maybe one character is using this myth in a metaphorical way to advise or warn one of the characters. In this case, I would limit the story to a paragraph. (If it's a particularly entertaining story, you can use two paragraphs.)

3. The myth is crucial to the plot of the story: If the characters are sitting around the campfire, listening to a story, then that story had better be important--no, indispensable--to the plot. Think about A Game of Thrones--most of the mythology is given in bits and pieces, but the history of the Tagaryens and their dragons are given a full page or two of uninterrupted narration. That's because it's important for readers to understand the potential power of dragons--something that could be major foreshadowing for later in the series. Thus, only if a myth is truly important should you dedicate half a page or more of explanation. However, even this should be done sparingly. A good guideline is no more than one info-dump myth for every 300 pages of plot. (The only good exception to this rule is A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but that's only because the gods are active characters in the story.)

Note that these guidelines also (read: especially) apply to songs. I don't care what Tolkien got away with. How many of the songs in The Lord of the Rings do you actually remember?

Most of your readers do not have robot memories. Hell, many of us have a hard enough time remembering to water the garden. It is unfair of you, as a writer, to tear your readers away from the plot and expect them to remember a bunch of information that plays no role in the story. If that unnecessary myth is truly as awesome as you think, save it for a supplementary encyclopedia, or better yet, a different book.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Will "The Name of the Wind" become the next "Game of Thrones"?

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Patrick Rothfuss and The Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy. The first book, The Name of the Wind, became an instant best-seller when it came out in 2007. The story involves a legendary hero/antihero/villain (?) telling the story of how he arose to infamy. I liked the first book in the series, but the second (The Wise Man's Fear) was too long-winded and involved the hero jumping around from "Gary Stu" to "fucking stupid." (Also, WAY too many pages of fairy sex.)

When I heard that the show was being optioned for television, my initial reaction was to get really excited. But then I thought about it for a few minutes, and now I'm not so sure there's much to get excited about.

Reasons The Name of the Wind probably won't adapt well to television:

1. Single character focus. Probably the main reason the book was optioned now was the success of Game of Thrones. If one best-selling fantasy series adapts to mainstream audiences, that must mean good things for another one, right? Not necessarily. One of the elements that makes Game of Thrones so popular is it's multi-character focus. Not only does more characters mean more plot, but it also gives the viewer more possibility for emotional investment. For instance, I don't care much for Jon Snow or Bran, but I love Tyrion, Daenerys, and Arya--and I will continue to watch the show because of those characters.

The Kingkiller Chronicles doesn't have that flexibility. The story follows Kvothe, and if you don't like Kvothe, too bad. While the story has some great secondary characters, most of them are there on a come-and-go basis, and very few of them have actual plotlines of their own.

2. Lack of a great villain. As of the second book, there are three major recurring villains--a Snape clone (minus any of Snape's complexity), a Malfoy clone, and a group of evil beings called the Chandrian. The Chandrian are the Big Bad, but very little is known about them, and they rarely makes an appearance. Although there are hints of another villain (and if my theory about his identity is correct, then we do see him in the second book), we have yet to see him in all of his evil, cunning glory.

3. Weak over-arching plotline. The books are mostly a series of events: Kvothe goes to the University. Kvothe defeats a draccus. Kvothe has adventures abroad. While this is great for breaking the show into episodes, you need some sort of over-arching plot(s) to bring all those episodes together, and to give the viewers a reason to keep coming back. People are eventually going to get sick of watching Kvothe be awesome at everything. If you want them to stay invested, you'll need to give them something else. The over-arching plot is important, because it makes viewers want to know what happens next. However, the only over-arching storyline is about Kvothe's hunt for the Chandrian, but so far that plot has yet to lead anywhere significant.

4. Not enough death (of important characters). There is one major massacre in the middle of the first book and the death of a minor character at the end of that book. (And when I say "minor," I really mean "minor." When I re-read the book, I thought I must have skipped over the scene during my first read, because I had absolutely no recollection of it.) No important characters die in the second book. I'm not saying that death is required for a great show, but it ups the stakes and creates a realistic sense of danger for the characters.

5. Kvothe gets older. Kvothe is a child at the beginning of the series, but is well into his teens by the end of the second book. In the frame story, he's an adult. This means they'll have to cast multiple actors for one role.

6. The book's strengths might not translate to film. Despite all of my complaints, I did enjoy the first book. One of the main reason's is Kvothe's voice. It's clever and tight and just the right amount of arrogant. But when you present the story in an audiovisual medium, the narrator takes a backseat. Another big strength is the "story" theme--the importance of stories in society and the contrast between truth and legend. And while this is a great theme, most mainstream audiences aren't going to care about it. They just want action, drama, and sex. Same with the worldbuilding--Patrick Rothfuss puts a lot of thought into his worldbuilding, but will a mainstream audience actually notice or care?


Thinking about this kind of makes you wonder--who will be the audience for this show? Fans of the book, certainly. But will the popularity spread to a less fantasy-oriented, less literary demographic? Hard to say.

That, of course, isn't taking into account any changes the creative team might make. Any story can be good, or at least entertaining, if done correctly. So who knows? As much as I'm doubtful, I am very open to the possibility of liking The Name of the Wind.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

On writing good villains (or, conversely, not writing laughably bad ones)

WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for Shadow and Bone and minor spoilers for The Bone Season.

Writing a good villain isn't something that's easy to accomplish. People are complex, and if your villain is a person, then chances are that your villain is complex, too. Complex is hard (and subjective), so I can't give easy advice for how to accomplish it.

But I can give one simple piece of advice for not writing a bad villain:

Give your readers the option of siding with the antagonist.

I was recently reading a Goodreads review of The Bone Season (a book I will review sometime in August), where the reviewer compared the plot to Shadow and Bone. I didn't disagree with this comparison.

But one place where Shadow and Bone succeeded whereas the other book failed was in its villain. Shadow and Bone is by no means a perfect book, and the Darkling isn't a perfect villain (falling in love with a girl younger than you by at least a century? seriously?) but he is very compelling. Why?

1) Hot*
2) Powerful
3) There is actually a good reason behind his actions. He wants to protect the Grisha from an outside world that's hostile to them. (Personally, I agreed more with the Darkling's actions than I did with Alina's.)

Emphasis on that last point. Not only do you want your readers to understand your villain's actions, but you want to give said readers a chance to decide for themselves whether or not they agree with your characters--not only is that a sign that you respect their intelligence, but by thinking about the book, readers are more likely to remember it.

(Or if you're looking for an even better example than Shadow and Bone, I highly recommend Watchmen--the graphic novel, not the movie.)

Now let's talk about the villains in The Bone Season. I didn't actually finish the book, so maybe the head of the Rephaim (I don't care enough to look up her name) has some sort of underlying depth that I completely missed. But all I saw were extremely heavy-handed ways to show how mua-ha-ha evil she was (ie, enslaving humans and replacing their names with numbers, needlessly killing an innocent human, etc.) This was not only ridiculous, but insulting. I felt like I was being forced to take the protagonist's side because there was no other alternative. (The same can be said for the evil king in the Throne of Glass series.)

So yes, there is your basic primer for not writing a bad villain.

*This is why other people find him compelling. I would probably agree if I were fifteen, but I've already seen so many hot villains over the course of my life that this trope has almost lost effect.

Yes, I know this type of post has been written to death. But if crappy books like The Bone Season are getting mid-six-figure deals, then some people clearly haven't gotten the message.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Write a Smart Character

I once wrote a brief post about how to (not) write smart characters. (Or you can check out Maggie Stiefvater's much more eloquent post that basically states the same thing.)

Today, I had one more realization about smart characters:

Sometimes a smart character doesn't always think of the smartest plan. Sometimes they think of something convoluted and risky, while ignoring the fact that the best plan is actually very simple and almost obvious. (This tends to be the case with a lot of "smart" villains, actually.) And sometimes that's okay, especially in high pressure situations. When you're under pressure, it's very easy to make mistakes.

So is that my realization? That smart characters aren't always smart?

Nope.

My realization is this: The smartest characters are the ones who have a backup plan.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Updates: Reading, Writing, Life

Hello everyone! I have internet in my apartment now, so I'm back to my usual mind-warped drone self.

Some updates:

Reading: I finished a couple more ARCs. I'll post brief reactions here, but the actual reviews won't go up until closer to the release date.

-Indelible - Beautiful style, unique concept, and a very original romantic plotline. I wasn't totally satisfied with the worldbuilding, though--it wasn't bad worldbuilding, I just didn't get to see enough of it. (But there's a sequel!)

-Crown of Midnight (sequel to Throne of Glass) - Cliche and predictable, but still entertaining.

I'm currently reading The Twins, by Saskia Sarginson. It's beautifully written, and the characters have incredible depth. I'm only reading two chapters at a time, since it's one of those books that's best to read slowly. I also plan to start The Bone Season tomorrow.

Writing: I'm trying this new thing where I write first thing in the morning. Most days I write very little, but it's still a good habit to get into. Will I continue this for a long time? Who knows.

Life: Two more awesome things about Louisville: 1) my roommate, 2) grilled cheese donuts


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