Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Reads: Lord of the Rings

To be fair, this has been an off and on read of mine for about a month (and I'm still not done--I keep going back to it and reading another book from the story).  My Nook died in the middle (the MIDDLE!) of Martin's A Dance with Dragons and I needed a chunker to get me through.  I found this in my husband's section of our library--yes, that's right, I'd never read it:

Genre: Fantasy--in all its original epic-ness.

By: JRR Tolkien.

What's it about?  When accessories go bad.  

Why did I pick it? Aside from just needing something to read, I felt my geekiness was not complete unless I read these books.  I love the movies, and no nerd should see the movie and not read the book, right?

Who will like it?  If you like immersive, loooong books, give this one a try--lazy summer afternoons and long winter evenings would be a good backdrop.  There's also something nearly anthropological about Tolkien's exploration of the cultures and places the characters visit, so it's kind of like an epic story and travelogue in one.

Judging a book by its cover: Can you for this book?  Honestly, I hate the cover.  The one pictured isn't even the one I have, but it's a movie tie-in cover like this one and I have an irrational hatred of those.  Even seeing "Now a Major Motion Picture!" splashed across the original cover is enough to make me bristle.  So, no--you can't.  The book is a piece apart from the movie--you'll recognize the story and characters, but there's a lot that the films changed and left out and highlighted that won't be matched to the book.  (And, by the way, I think that's awesome--Jackson truly adapted the books for the screen, they're not a literal translation.)

What are you reading heading into the weekend?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Reviewing Books: What's a Writer To Do?

You'll notice something about my blog: I don't write book reviews.  I do Friday Reads every week, but I don't tell you if I'd recommend the book or not, or pick apart what I thought worked well and what I thought   was a little meh.

This is deliberate.

I've noticed something in a lot of writerly blogs and Goodreads reviews--we're squeamish about truly reviewing books.  We're happy to recommend and gleeful about sharing what we love, but we're hesitant to say "This wasn't up to par for reasons I shall enumerate herein."

Yes, there are nasty reviews out there.  And yes, there are still honest, forthright reviewers, too.  But for the most part?  We as writers are kind of yes men to books.

Maybe it's because we're all reading things we truly, truly enjoy and can find nothing negative to say.  Maybe it's just because we appreciate the work and dedication that go into a book and gloss over anything we're not fond of relatively easily--more easily than a non-writer could.

I think it's more than that, though--I think we aren't quite sure how to be critical yet supportive of our fellow writers.  I'm not sure, actually, that we can be effective critics and effective support teams.  To me, when one reviews a book, one is responsible to potential readers, not to the author.  The author is owed nothing in the review except for fair consideration.  The reader, however, is owed honesty and criticism and praise to carefully weigh the choice of a purchase and time spent reading.  A review doesn't exist to help an author promote books--it exists to share the reading experience with other readers and help them decide whether to purchase the book or not.

I'm not sure how often reviews sway a purchase--I know I've bought books without reading reviews, and I've even bought books having read negative reviews, knowing that the things the reviewer complained about would be things I would actually enjoy.  Still, I'm not up for that responsibility here.  Especially if I'm reading and sharing a book written by someone I know--someone from my network here in WebernetWritingWorld.

So I don't review books--I share what I'm reading and let you take things from there.  At some point I might find myself more comfortable with the idea--but right now I'm not willing or able to be a true reviewer.

What do you think?  Am I overthinking what it means to review a book?  Are you able to be an objective reviewer, or do you find it difficult?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Reads: Throne of Glass

Reading this Friday:
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

By: Sarah J Maas, about whom more can be found here.  Debut novel.

What's it about?  What if the pretty princess was an assassin, and the big event was a competition to be King's Champion instead of a ball?  But you still kept romance and intrigue in the mix and threw in some mystery and magic for good measure?

Why did I pick it? I've been an avid reader of the blog PublishingCrawl ever since before it was PubCrawl and was Let the Words Flow.  Sarah has been a regular contributor and I've loved her story of how Throne of Glass evolved from being a FictionPress story to a published book.

Who will like it?  I won't say you  have to like fantasy to like this book, but if you are a fantasy fan, this is a great pick.  It also helps if you like strong but complicated heroines and love interests with some depth.

Judging a book by its cover: Can you for this book?  I love the nearly etched look of the Glass Castle in the background, but have to confess--Celaena wears way better clothes in the book than she does on its cover.

What are you reading heading into the weekend?

More on Friday Reads here

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

YA Highway Road Trip: Dear WIP, I Think I Like You

I love a good blogaround, and YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday is pretty much one of the best.  I couldn't resist this week's topic:  A "this is why you're awesome" list to your WIP.

Dear WIP,

You know I love you to spend this much time with you every day.  But just in case you forget how much I like you, a few gentle reminders of the things that make you grand:

  • Based on my favorite fairy tale
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Rooftop gardens and fantastical pools
  • Biscuits and silver-grey cats
  • Acerbic old ladies
  • Girl technical geniuses
  • Boys who dig that
  • Insecurity
  • Villains who aren't
  • Unwanted immortality
  • Tchaikovsky shout-out, tulle and organza 
  • Weirdsies genetically modified fruit
Thanks for all the awesome,


And now I think I want to get back to writing and discover a few more things to love...

How about you?  Are there a few things in your WIP that have you head-over-heels? Meet me in the comments!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cliches: You Can't Swing a Dead Cat Without Hitting a Dead Doornail

Writer's Digest website had a fun little article on the top 12 cliches to avoid like the plague (ha! sorry) and invited readers to contribute their own.  Yes, most of these turns of phrases have been overused to the point of complete staleness (though some contributions I had never heard of...making me wonder if some folks were stretching a little too hard to contribute an "original cliche" which may be my new favorite contradictory phrase).

Still, they're not the worst cliches in writing, in my view.

These are just sloppy description, placeholder ideas.  They're easily seen and easily edited out.  You might stumble across one while revising on your own, or a crit partner will point it out to you.  You'll see right away how it made the paragraph in which you unwisely included it as bland as beige.

The worst cliches are the storytelling cliches.  Everyone has their pet peeve cliche or two, but cliched storytelling is when the characters feel "done" or when the plot is populated only by familiar tropes and nothing original is added to turn the trope from "done" to "new."  In my view, tropes aren't the problem, as there are a million iterations of most tropes. "Star-crossed lovers" is a trope.  Romeo and Juliet was still original (well, kind of...but it was well-done enough to trump any "been there" feeling).  Reiterations and reimaginings aren't the problem, either--after all, West Side Story is just Romeo and Juliet redux, but it still works, because it's such a fresh take.

No, cliches are when the story hasn't been freshness sealed.  Avoid cliches.  Ziplock your stories.

A few of my pet peeve storytelling cliches:

1) The beautiful heroine who doesn't realize she's beautiful.  Let's be honest.  Most of us are pretty self-aware as to what our attractiveness is, comparatively speaking.  If you have a character experiencing an ugly duckling to swan transformation, there needs to be more than, say, a boy making her realize she's pretty.  (I have other issues with this...) Cliches take away real character development.

2) When the mystery is solved or action is dictated by a dream.  This may be just me, but I haven't stumbled across a good version of this in quite some time.  It feels lazy.  Plus, when the character starts dreaming, you *know* this is where it's going.  Cliches take away the surprise from the reading.

3) Chosen by Fate or what have you.  I have no problem with a character being the best one for the job, or being uniquely qualified for something.  That can drive a great plot.  But when the reasoning is "you've been CHOSEN!" and the immediate reaction (which takes about 3/4 of the book to overcome) is "but I am not WORTHY! You have the wrong person!" it tends to step easily into cliche land, especially if this is the driving device in the plot.  Cliches take away the potential for something new.

Now, just because I listed something here doesn't mean any story that utilizes one of these themes is automatically cliche.  There is still possibility to take a stale concept and freshen it up.  The key is the unexpected and the new--it can turn a dead doornail into a live, swinging, yowling cat.  (But please don't.  I like cats.)

Do you have any pet peeve storytelling cliches?  Any that you've culled from your own work?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Read: Shadow and Bone

So it isn't strictly a #FridayRead since I finished two days ago.  But I can certainly recommend it as a future read for you!

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

By: Leigh Bardugo, about whom more can be found here.  Debut novel.

What's it about?  Magic, monsters, an overwhelming darkness and a girl who can master light.

Why did I pick it? I have a weird obsession with all things related to Russian folklore and Russian culture.  Don't get me started on Russian short fiction, either.  And this book was not only awesome for its own story, but also kind of a giant homage to imagery and tropes familiar to the Russophile.

Who will like it?  Fantasy fans who are looking for something a little different, and nonfantasy fans who like a good yarn.  I may have covered a pretty broad range there.   But so does the story--besides magic and adventure, there is a great story of friendship and love, plus court intrigue.

Judging a book by its cover: Can you for this book?  Most definitely--the image captures the folkloric elements of the story, the importance of darkness, a taste of adventure yet also a refined touch.

What are you reading heading into the weekend?

More on Friday Reads here

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thinking About Sex...In My YA WIP

When it comes to sex in my young adult novels, I've come to the Decision Point.  I'm surprised, honestly that I haven't before--but none of the YA stories I've written or plotted up to this point demanded that I broach the question of what to include and how to include it.  The characters, the situations, the cultures--all of it added up to books where sex just wasn't going to be an issue.

To preface--I have no issue with sex in young adult lit.  Teens have sex.  People writing for teens include this realistic scenario in their work.  Yep.  No biggie.

Still, I do think that every author has to answer the question for herself what she's comfortable including.  I tend to believe that sex isn't always a great choice for teenagers--not in all cases, but often enough to warrant being cautious about how and when I as an author present it.  I don't want to treat it flippantly, nor do I want it to be some hulking Big Deal or Moral Issue.  Yet, regardless, it's a reality for the under 18 set, not only in the deed itself, but in the importance it has as an element to explore, discuss, and become comfortable with in the long awkward adolescent years.  In many ways, there are few stories that can avoid including sex in one form or another.

The fact is, teenagers don't have to have sex to deal with sex.  In my high school years I was a peer leader in a program that, for my abstinence-only-education state, was pretty progressive: The idea was that you can't just tell kids "Don't have sex" without equipping them with the tools they need to follow through on that decision, so we taught critical thinking and assertiveness skills along with emphasizing the point that not having sex was their choice.  (As a sidenote, it "worked" in one of the only measures you can really get on these things--teen pregnancy rates went down in the school districts in which it was employed.)

Of course, some parts were a little trite and we felt silly repeating them.  One of the taglines was "It's ok to think about sex; it's ok to talk about sex; it's only to develop feelings about sex; it's just not ok to have sex now."  Yeah, you feel like a dork stating that in front of a room of middle school students.  But--it's also true of the teenage experience.  For teens not having sex, sex is still a huge part of their world.  They're thinking about it, talking about it, forming ideas and emotions about it.  We have to acknowledge that.

And when you consider that, that even a book without sex still deals with sex (often by virtue of its absence), the cardinal rule of "what do I write" comes out loud and clear: You write what the story needs you to write. You write what's authentic for the characters.

If you're not comfortable exploring certain topics, or believe that they're not good fodder for teenage readers, that's probably not the story you were supposed to write.  I'm not going to judge anyone for that decision--we all make it, whether we think we are or not.  In fact, I respect that decision--to write realistic fiction for teens that explores negative sides of sexual experiences, or portrays sympathetic characters making the choice not to have sex.  We need those books, too--if for no other reason than that they show a very real scenario for many teenagers.

So as to my story?  I'm just going to have to see where these characters want to take things.  Because they're definitely thinking about it and developing some strong feelings whether I want them to or not!  (And, as I repeated so often--"That's ok.")

What do you think?  Is including sex in YA any different from books for adults?  What decisions have you made regarding including--or not including--sex?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Recipes for Writers: Versatile Fruit Tart

I've been thinking about this lately.  A lot of writers I know love to cook (or love good food, or both).  Yet talk about a difficult choice--bake a gorgeous chocolate cake or write?  Make a homemade, from scratch meal or write?  Kitchen or computer?
Kitchen or computer?  The kitchen has a fun red teapot...

I thought about my favorite recipes.  They're versatile, they're easy, they don't take much time.  They get me back to my keyboard quickly.

Then I thought--why are they sitting in the box on my kitchen counter instead of getting shared?  Therefore, a new series: Recipes for Writers.  

Fruit Tart

Recipe Box of Happy
The reason this recipe is so perfect for writers?  One, it's easy.  And it takes barely any hands-on time, so if you have, say, a weekend afternoon to write or an evening after work, you can easily take a fifteen minute break, whip this up, and get back to the words.  Two, it's versatile.  All the ingredients are either pantry staples or totally swappable depending on what you have on hand.  So--no wasting time you could be writing with a madcap dash to the store.  

You Will Need:

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar + at least 2 tbs more for sprinkling
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon
You Choose:
Fresh Fruit: 2-3 pears, peaches, nectarines, plums or apples OR 1 cup berries
1/4 jam or preserves, any kind to coordinate with your fruit choice (apricot is a good all-around pick)

What To Do:

Find a good stopping point in your writing--one that lets you finish a thought but gives you a window to walk back into.

If your butter isn't yet soft, go get it out of the fridge, set it in a warm place, and go back to writing for half an  hour.  Aim for 500 words and when you're done, soft butter.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease a pie plate or round cake pan.

Prep fruit--slice "hard" fruits, peel if preferred (not required) or measure and sort berries.

In a bowl, combine butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla.  In a smaller bowl, combine flour and baking powder (or do what I do and just add the baking powder to the measuring cup with the flour in it and carefully stir).  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix thoroughly--you'll get a dough similar to a stiff sugar cookie dough.

Press into the pan.  Arrange fruit on top--I like swirls like this for sliced fruits, or just spread berries in the center, leaving about an inch at the edges.

Mix cinnamon and remaining sugar.  (I like to totally overmeasure this and load up the top, but it's your call.) Sprinkle on top of the tart.

Pop into the oven for 45 minutes.  While it's baking, go write.  Aim for the lofty goal of 1000 words.  Fail and console self with tart, or succeed and celebrate with tart.

Pop tart out of the oven when the dough has baked to a golden brown.  Heat the preserves and spoon over the top, spreading evenly.  Cool and serve, or save in the fridge.

Combos I have used and liked:

Pears with apricot preserves
Nectarines with seedless black raspberry preserves
Blueberries with homemade blueberry compote instead of preserves
Apples with apple butter

After about an hour, you have a delicious tart and a good chunk of manuscript written!  

I cop to stealing inspiration for this format from a friend.  She is an amazing historical seamstress and theater costumer and her awesome bread recipe is literally given in how many cigarettes one should go through between each step.  Ie, "Leave dough to rise.  Smoke three cigarettes.  Punch down."  I need to find a smoker so I can actually make this bread.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Agented: An Update and Announcement and Plea for your Patience

I've been worried about writing this post.

That seems kind of silly, actually, to be worried about sharing good news.  But there it is--worried that this somehow changes things or, worse, sounds awfully braggy.

The skinny: I signed with an agent and am now represented by Jessica Sinsheimer (who is awesome).

Whew, that wasn't so hard.

Needless to say, I am very excited to tackle the next step in my writing career, and very excited to be working with Jessica (did I mention that she is awesome?).

I know that this blog has a short history, but I've been plugging away at this whole writing thing for a while, and though I know there have been times I've been quiet about where I've been at, this was not my first visit to the querying rodeo.  Not by a long shot.  At some point I'll write a big, giant "the long road up until now" post to illustrate this point (including, for instance, that I completely thank the economy tanking and the small business I worked for having to cut hours for providing the time and motivation to get serious about writing...back in 2008).

When it's less of a garbled mess, I might even post "the Call" reflections.  Which I've written down for posterity but, again, garbled mess.

And then there are the things I probably won't post.  A big part of this post is actually an apology.  Because of where we're at with the book, and because I'm a cautious and close-lipped sort of person, I probably won't be posting much in the way of "progress posts" until I have something to share.  I will post more on the project as a whole and fun stuff about writing it and all that jazz, but please be patient with me that, for me, it's just not personally comfortable or professional to slog you through the trenches of agented revision and submissions and all that stuffs.  It's not you.  It's me.

But enough about me--I want to know: What's something, big or small, exciting or just smile-inducing, that's happened recently for you?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

E-Readers: In Which I Am Addicted

A year and a half ago, my husband gave me a Nook for my birthday.  I've never been against the introduction of e-readers, though I probably wouldn't have been quite so early an adopter without his gift.

It's been my constant little companion ever since.

I still love hard-copy books, don't get me wrong.  I love paper and bindings and that inky smell.  I really love old books--I've always chosen to buy vintage or antique copies of classics because they look so darn gorgeous on a shelf.
One of my shelves of pretty old poetry books.  Decorative and  fun to read!

Still, I really love having the Nook.  It comes on vacation with me and amuses me for days with hardly any luggage space taken up.  It can hold the three books I'm reading at once on my bedside table without falling over.  It's a giant help when I'm beta reading friends' projects because I can just pop a pdf on it and go anywhere.  And when I'm reading a Giant Tome my hands don't get tired or fall asleep from trying to hold five pounds of book.

Then it happened--my Nook died.  I'm not complaining, though I did expect that it would last longer than 18 months, and I still don't know *why* it died.  The screen went half-blank and apparently there's nothing that can be done about that.

But as I mentioned, I'm addicted.  I thought briefly about cutting my losses with e-readers and going back to print-only.  I finally have plenty of space in my house for books, after all!  It didn't sit well.  I like the e-reader--I really like it.

So I trolled ebay and bought one barely used for le cheaps and it came with a cute leather cover (bonus!) and I'm happily feeding my addiction again.

New used Nook in pretty case.  With business card holder and pen slot.  Since you need those while reading.
 I think the designers of the case may have over-thought this a bit.
It made me wonder--I never would have thought that I would adopt this technology so early, that I would like it so much, and that it would change how I thought about buying and reading books.  It definitely has.  How have e-readers affected your reading habits--or have they?