Sunday, June 27, 2010

Book Review: Graceling

Man, so much love for this book, I don't even know where to begin. The characters, the writing, the world? Of course, every rose has it's ugly thorns, and Graceling had some of those, too.

Lets get the ugly out of the way first. There wasn't much of it, I promise.

I had two problems with this book. One a big one, the other little enough that it only irked me. The little one was her love for starting sentences with conjunctions. Now, I'll all for the occasional sentence starting with "but" or "and" but she used them far too frequently for my tastes. This is a personal thing, of course. I felt like there some places where it was used that would have been stronger if she'd left off the "and" and started with the "he/she" that usually followed.

The big problem was her villain. He was evil enough, I guess, but he was evil for the sake of being evil. The catalyst happened not for any sinister plot, but because the villain wanted to torture someone to make people do what he wanted them to do. Even his Grace (kind of a heightened natural ability, like charming people to believe your lies, swimming really well, all sorts of things) server no other purpose than to make people do what he wanted the to do. And he had no reason. There was no motivation. No personality or sympathetic characteristic. He's a villain to hate, but not because he's evil. It's because he's flat, uninteresting. Evil for the sake of evil does not a villain make.

Now the good things, which far outweigh the bad.

The characters. Oh, how I love the characters. Katsa, the hero of the piece, struggles to break free of the uncle, her king, that uses her deadly Grace for striking fear into the people that cross him. Usually by ordering her maim them, or kill them. She gets tired of it all, though. Of being a savage creature, little more than a trained dog. Po, a prince also Graced, helps her free herself by helping her come to the simple realization that her uncle is a bully and really had no power over her.

Along with Po and Katsa, there's a whole slew of supporting cast. Kristin Cashore does a marvelous job of making the supporting characters rich and interesting, despite the fact that some of them have very limited screen time.

All these wonderful characters (excepting the villain, who's still flat and boring, remember) are set in a wonderful world, where people can have two different eye colors. Those that do are Graced. There's such a wide range of graces. No two are exactly the same. In Lienid, the home of Prince Po, Graced are respected, and free to do as they please, while in Middluns (and I think other kingdoms) where Katsa's born, Graced are giving to the kings, and the kings are then free do with them as they please. It's not that the Graces are magic. Magic has become so common in fantasy that it's not really magical anymore. The Graces, by their simplicity and uniqueness, seem magical.

Last, but not at all least, the writing. Except for the plethora of sentences started with conjunctions, the writing is beautiful. The story it's self is character driven, and Kristin Cashore does a wonderful job of describing this unique world without bogging the reader down in details.

I highly recommend Graceling. It's certainly going to be one of those books I read again and again, because I love the characters to no end. I felt almost cheated when the book ended, because I wasn't ready to give up traveling with Katsa and Po. If you haven't added it to your to-read list, go do it now. Right now. Why are you still reading this? Go! Go! Graceling by Kristin Cashore must be added to your reading lists. the demons compel you!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Little Thief

Last night, in the middle of an Ice Crown raid (I play World of Warcraft. I think this fact is established somewhere) my mom came into the office and told me in a very excited whisper that there was a raccoon in our garden.

Now, I'm sure there some folks that live in the mountains or out in the country that are snorting and rolling your eyes, and saying "a raccoon? Big whoop-di-doo. The only good 'coon is a dead 'coon." Well, guess what. It's the first raccoon I've ever seen that's not roadkill. And it was a little one, too. Not a baby, but still really small. He was about the size of a 8 weeks old lab puppy.

So, without further ado, our little visiting thief!

He's a cute little bugger ain't he? I took this photos from about four feet away, and he was totally unperturbed by my mom and I stand right there chattering away. She walked within two feet of his little hiding spot beneath the rose bush to get to the car (she'd been leaving to run errands when she spotted him.) The slamming of the car door didn't bother him, and the roar of the Skylark's engine was barely cause to lift his head.

He was down right cozy in that flowerbed. It's our smallest, with a giant rock by the corner of the porch (just a cement strip really, not much of a porch at all) with a rock boarder. The rose bush is to the left (in the photo) and the things growing up on the right are snapdragons. It made the perfect little raccoon nest.

He was munching on something. I suspect he enjoyed some of our escargot.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's All in the Details

Every once in a while, I'll pick up a book that has a really interesting blurb on the back, take it home and start reading it, only to discover that within 10 pages, I want to hurl the thing across the room and rant at whoever will listen (and those who aren't) about the horrors of bad writing.

Fortunately, I know a great used book store where I can take the offending novel and get credit for later purchases.

The offender in this case is a YA novel. I like reading YA. It's fast, easy, and usually character driven with a nice splash of romance and a healthy dose of action. Because it's so fast (in this case this also means short. YA books tend to be in the 60,000 word range) the author has to compact things. Like writing a short story, every sentence needs to do something. Impart emotion, scenery, motion, plot, dialogue, convey underlying tension, and a dozen other things.

It's true what they say. It's all in the details.

In the course of my writing carrier, I've seen a lot of "show, don't tell." You read enough, you begin to see the difference.

Showing: The man stopped, the bulk of his shoulders filling the doorway. His eyes were deep set, hidden in the shadow of his overhanging brow, and when he spoke, the small hairs rose on the back of my neck.

Telling: The man in the doorway was threatening.

Okay, maybe not the best example, but you see where I'm going with this, right? A reader doesn't need to be told the man is threatening. It's all conveyed through the details. He's a big guy, right? Big people tend to be more threatening than small people (which makes showing small people as threatening without telling a fun challenge). Eyes are the windows to a person's soul, and throwing them into shadow hides a great deal from the protagonist. You know the protagonist feels something about the big guy in the doorway, especially when he speaks. And it's certainly not a warm fuzzy feeling.

I've read a lot of masterful YA. I've also ready my fair share where the author beats the readers over the head with details. They'll set up the emotions and tensions in a seen, and then ruin with a line like in the example.

Please, don't do this. Kids are not stupid. Teenagers don't want to be treated like dumb kids by people older than them. You don't need to dumb YA down because the target audience is younger. The first novel I read was Terry Brooks's The Sword of Shanara. It's an 800+ page monstrosity of a book, it took me three months to read it (the first time), and except for some words I had to look up, I understood it. Maybe there were some subtle details I didn't see, or fully understand, but I followed the main story, and I didn't need to have things pointed out to me with yard stick.

Think of Garfield. Or go watch Disney movies. They have a masterful blend of subtle adult humor mixed in with the story. Kids are innocent enough not to catch those subtle hints, and if they do catch them, it's because they're old enough to enjoy them.

Details are so important, and it's hard to find balance between too little, too much, and just enough. Don't make it harder on yourself (and your readers) by clubbing us over the head with things we've already picked up on by the wonderful subtleties in the writing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Book Review: DragonFly in Amber

I loved the first Outlander book (by that name). I enjoyed this one, too, but I must admit, I set it aside when I was around half-way through. Nothing to do with the writing, really. You know it's going to be a sad one when you start the book, and I was in school trying to cope with depression. Sad book had not been a good thing to read.

DRAGONFLY IN AMBER was brilliant, though. It continues the story of Claire, a woman from the 1940's who travels through a stone circle in Scotland back to the 1700's, and the man she's forced to marry, Jamie Fraser.

Historical fiction isn't one of my favorite genres, I gotta admit. I respect anyone with the patience to do the research it'd take to create a cast and story like what Gabaldon has assembled for her books, and Gabaldon is a master of the craft. You love the characters, even the ones you really hate, and her recreation of the the time period transports you back with Claire.

If you haven't yet, go pick up OUTLANDER, the start of Claire and Jamie's story together. It's a fabulous read, even for those like me, that aren't really big history buffs.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The History of Jacky's First Book As OS Version Upgrades

Jacky Version 1.0 (dubbed CHOSEN) was started in the fall of 2004, just as I was starting college. Through that first year away from home, I wrote 26 chapters, and then it was set aside because life developments demanded my full attention.

CHOSEN did no see the light of day again until 2007, when Version 1.0 was taken out, judged worthless drivel, and tossed to the side. A near complete rewrite saw Version 1.2 completed that year, along with several other Jacky Books that have since been sent to the junk pile to await possible recycling. Version 1.3 never saw completion, as Version 1.2 and Book 2 were decided to be better as a single unit. Thus Version 2.0, called DEALING WITH DEMONS, came into being in 2009.

Version 2.2 came quick on Version 2.0's heels, and Version 2.3 was in progress when the work being done on Book 2 (Version 2.0) brought to light a strange realization. Jacky's story didn't actually start until Book 2 (previously Book 3 Version 1.0). So, why not cut out DEALING WITH DEMONS which merely served as a prelude. An entire book's length of prelude.

DwD and Book 2 Version 2.0 were sent to the recycling heap, where they were pulled apart, and key components were withdrawn and set aside for later use. Book 1 has seen the names HUNTED, and DEMON MAY LIE, and finally settled on ANGELIC DEMON, a name previously associated with Book 2 Version 2.0. Now AD Version 3.2 is well under way. The developmental version went well, and 3.2 is going to be sporting some big changes that will help maintain plot consistency, and delve more deeply into characterization.

That was fun. Now to make more progress on AD Version 3.2.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Writing is like Assembling Furniture

This idea struck me near midnight, after I'd spent the entire day beating my head against a wall working on the second draft of ANGELIC DEMON.

Writing is just like assembling furniture.

The first bookcase I ever assembled was one of those massive five shelves things. I'd been pretty sure putting a bookcase together couldn't be hard. There's the top. bottom, sides, and the back is a thin veneer that you nail on. Not hard, right?

Oh no, of course not.

There were nuts, and nails, and little metal things that mystified me, and round plastic things that were more mystifying than the metal things. I followed the instructions, but it still took me two tries to get every pieced together. I think I gouged a chunk of wood out with my screw driver at one point, trying to twist one of those damn little plastic twisty-things. But I got it figure out. The thing even stands pretty level.

Revising this book has been something of the same way. I have a rough instruction guide (read outline) that I follow, but last night, I hit a point where I was left turning the instructions upside down and scratching my head. Things hadn't fit together the way they were supposed to, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out where I'd gone wrong. In other words, that bookcase I'd assembled had an obvious lean to it, and the shelves wouldn't stay where they were supposed to.

I stepped back, stared at it, tipped my head this way and that. I squinted at it and titled my head this way, to see if maybe it could be overlooked, but no. I had to tear the whole thing down and start again. Not the whole book, thank goodness. Just the three chapters I'd been agonizing over all week.

But it was worth it. I found out that Slot A wasn't a good fit for Writing D, and Writing F should actually come after Writing E, and Writing E needed to be moved into Slot A and bound to Writing D, leaving me to fill the hole in Slot C left by the removal of Writing F, and Writing E just needs to be twisted more so that it fits better.

See! Building instructions! Some assembly required.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Warning: Writer's Block Lane is a Dead End

Once again, I find myself digging my heels in. I've had a blank document page open all day yesterday, and it was waiting for me today. Normally having a blank page on my computer irks me enough to get my ass into gear and start writing. Yesterday (and today seems to be following the same trend) I just stared at it. There's nothing I've done that could get me to write.

Oh, I've hit the wall hard. The problem is I don't even know why.

It could be the characters. But I switched the casting around a bit and was really excited to bring back a character I haven't written with for four years. His personality works better for what I'm planning, anyway. I still didn't write anything. I decided not to do some renaming, which made me feel better because I like the names my characters have. Nope. Nothing. Na-da.

What the hell is my problem?

Maybe it's not this chapter that's the problem at all. Maybe I did such a good job with the last chapter that I have no clue how to keep things going, how to match it and surpass it. Maybe what I have planned isn't what needs to happen here. Maybe my characters are resisting because they see something I haven't, but can't speak loudly enough for me to hear them through the block that's gotten built between us. I don't know, and that's the biggest problem.

So let me ask you this: What's the worst writer's block you've ever encountered, and how to get you get around it? I feel like I'm shooting fish in the barrel... and missing every mark.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Review: Dragon Bones

First, it makes me sad that this is not actually the cover of the book I own, but it's the same book. Gotta love re-prints, right?

Patricia Briggs is a master. Just a fucking brilliant master of the craft. When you think epic fantasy, you don't typically think of a 300 page book that's capable of standing on it's own. (Fortunately Dragon Bones doesn't. I'm going to start diving into Dragon Blood tonight, and I'm so excited I can hardly stand it.) Briggs pulls it off, though.

For being so short, for fantasy that is, Briggs does an excellent job of creating a rich vivid world with characters that make you truly care what happens to them. Even the villain of the piece is sympathetic and almost likable, except for the whole being a greedy, crazy son-of-a-bitch. Ward is one of the great heroes I've read, and has such a wonderful personality. It's his ability to play lumbering oaf that makes him so lovable, though. Not many heroes will pretend to be stupid to save themselves.

Dragon Bones is two thumbs up, five stars, and a book I'm going to be rereading.

I also highly recommend Patricia Briggs's Moon Called and all the other Mercy Thompson books. If you're looking for a flexible, fabulous story teller, Briggs is it.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Revisions with an 80% Chance of Rewrites

June seems to be the month of blogging for me. Which is fine. Except for when I'm using it to procrastinate. Like I am right at this minute...

But, here's the thing. I'm mostly likely to blog when I'm talking myself through my hesitation to do something. Today, that something is reading over stuff I (re)wrote yesterday. Just to check for spelling and word use errors, cause I'm prone to mixing words and letters around. Or my head will be thinking one thing while my fingers type something else.

Yesterday, this wasn't a problem, because the stuff I'd written was pretty new. I added nearly a whole new scene to the end of chapter two, and going over that was fun. So far, I've rewritten chapter four completely, and I'm not finished with it yet. Partly because I didn't finish rewriting it yesterday. My problem is this: I should probably go over what I wrote yesterday to make sure it works, but I don't want to. Not because I'm not finished with the chapter yet, but because this was the chapter that wouldn't die. I wrote and rewrote this chapter three times the first go around. If I have to rewrite it another three, I'm going to start screaming and pulling hair out.

Therein lies the fear. That it's not going to be going the way I want it to, and I'm going to have to scratch it and start over. Again.

I'm trying to decide which will be worse. Going over it and hating it and scrapping it and starting over, or keep on writing, only to go back and discover I hate it and rewrite more of it.

Stupid. The latter is worse. So very much worse.

See. Now I'm ready to tackle this sucker, and you got a chance to see how I talk myself around the barrier of procrastination. How neat is that?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Book Review: Bullet

Laurell K. Hamilton is one of those prolific authors who has a bazillion books under her belt, not including anthologies. Bullet is the nineteenth book in the Anita Vampire, Vampire Hunter novels.

The beginning was slow for me, but maybe that's because I've just come back for a conference where "action in the first chapter!" "plot catalyst in the first two pages!" was pounded into my head, and Bullet didn't start with action or a plot catalyst. But, it's LKH, this is her nineteenth book in the series, and I think it works well for her.

She works so well, with such a huge cast of characters. The cast keeps growing, though, and it's getting to the point where it's hard for me to remember names for supporting cast unless I go back and re-read a large chunk of the series. Which I don't mind doing, really. I love the first eight books (they're the best in the whole series, if you ask me), but eighteen is a bit much to chew through when a new book has been released, and I want to read it, and read it right now.

The other downside of Bullet, for me at least, was the time she took to describe all the character's wardrobe right before some big bit of metaphysics was about to happen, or there was going to be action, political kow-towing, or any other bit of action that drives any book forward. When you have one or two characters to dress, it's not a problem. When you have eight or so in the same room, being dressed in detail, it gets to be a bit much and really slows down the pacing. There were parts I was tempted to skim through, just because I wanted to get to the action. I'm of the mind that unless the characters are buck naked, I'm going to assumed their dressed in something, and I'd rather see that description come through as it's relevant, rather than have it dumped all on my head at once. Because frankly? I'm going to forget what they're wearing as soon as that first fist is thrown.

The thing that really worked for me was that LKH brought back her super evil villain. I'd been horribly disappointed by the previous book (Skin Trade) when this evil villain was taken care of quickly, with no battle of epic proportions, which what I think the villain deserves. But! Lo and behold, Anita's not out of the woods yet. That's a big "Woot!" from me.

Bullet. Really liked it, and I'm certainly going to pick up the next book when it's released. After nineteen books, there's a certain obligation to keep reading to find out how things will end. For me, for right now, it's not an obligation. I want to keep reading, because I love the characters, and care what happens to them.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review: Magic in the Blood

Devon Monk's Magic in the Blood is the second in her Allie Beckstrom series, the first being Magic to the Bone.

It's been a while since I've written a review about anything, so bear with me while I ramble.

I love Allie. She's strong willed, independent, and she has to deal with a huge load of emotional and physical shit. Pain and often a loss of memories, because you can't use magic without paying a price.

Magic in the Blood held a slower pace than her first book. Less action, but more character driven. It didn't disappoint, though. The whole thing was riveting, spelling binding, and kept me hungry for more. (If there is a more cliched review line, I'll eat my foot, but it's still true.) There was mystery and mayhem, and a great supporting cast with old characters, and new.

I can hardly wait to run out and buy the next book in the series.

Hrrgh. I think I'm going to have to practice writing reviews or something. Guess I'll just have to write more, eh?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Contest over at Ink in all Forms

Wow. Three posts in one day. Could be I'm procrastinating. Actually, that's probably exactly what I'm doing.

But this procrastination is worth it!

Laura Fitzgerald, the author of Ink in all Forms, is hosting a contest. A really awesome super cool contest. Where you can win a dozen (that's twelve, 12!) YA books in the form of hard cover and ARCs. Twelve free books? You bet I'm entering.

So, pop over to her blog, check out the contest rules, and good luck to all!

Book Reviews: Yes, No?

A question for readers, or just random people dropping by because they thought this was a sight about summoning demons and how to control them (Sorry to disappoint!) I have this huge list of books I own that I want to read, right? I keep striking titles off the list, but I haven't really said much about the books I've read. Whether I liked them, hated them, couldn't finish them. No, kidding. I've finished reading everything crossed off, I promise.

So my question to you: Should I start trying to type up quick book reviews for all the books I read? Would that be something you find interesting, or would you rather read the reviews on Amazon or Barnes and Noble?

Fell free to put your vote in the comments section. I couldn't figure out how to embed a poll into the body of this particular blog, but it's there over on the sidebar. So, feel free to put in a word, or add a vote. Or do both. That'd be awesome too.

June's To-Read List Update

Back from the conference. Have a lot of work ahead of me, and a lot of great new books to read by authors I met at said conference. In the next week or so, I'm going to blog about my New York experience, things I learned at the conference about writing, and thing I learned about the city in general.

But today, my book list!

The List (in no particular order)

Mistborn - Brandon Sanderson
The Well of Ascension - Brandon Sanderson
Hero of Ages - Brandon Sanderson
Well of Eternity - Richard A. Knaak
Shakespeare's Landlord - Charlaine Harris
Shakespeare's Champion - Charlaine Harris
Shakespeare's Trollop - Charlaine Harris
From Dead to Worse - Charlaine Harris
Dead and Gone - Charlaine Harris
Dragonfly in Amber - Diana Gabaldon
Voyager - Diana Gabaldon
Magic in the Blood - Devon Monk
Dragon Bones - Patricia Briggs
Dragon Blood - Patricia Briggs
Small Gods - Terry Pratchett
Vampire Academy - Richelle Mead
City of Bones - Cassandra Clare
City of Ashses - Cassandra Clare (borrowed)
The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova
Enders Game - Orson Scott Card (borrowed from brother, don't actually own)
American Gods - Neil Gaiman
Feast of Souls - C.S. Friedman
Kushiel's Scion - Jacqueline Carey
Kushiel's Justice - Jacqueline Carey (Don't actually own this one. Don't know how that happened.)
Kushiel's Mercy - Jacqueline Carey
Gardens of the Moon - Steven Erikson
Glass Houses - Rachel Caine
The Dead Girls' Dance - Rachel Caine
Midnight Alley - Rachel Caine
Feast of Fools - Rachel Caine
Lord of Misrule - Rachel Caine
Carpe Corpus - Rachel Caine
A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin
Firestorm - Rachel Caine
Thin Air - Rachel Caine
The Gunslinger - Stephen King
Prince of Dogs - Kate Elliott
The Burning Stone - Kate Elliott
Banewrecker - Jacqueline Carey
The Last Wish - Andrzej Sapkowski
Genesis of Shannara - Terry Brooks
Children of Chaos - Dave Duncan
In the Realm of the Wolf - David Gemmell
Hero in the Shadows - David Gemmel
The Becoming - Jeanne C. Stein
The Scent of Shadows - Vicki Pettersson
Dragonfly - Frederic S. Durbin
Love Bites - Lynsay Sands
Personal Demon - Kelley Armstrong
No Humans Involved - Kelley Armstrong
Broken - Kelley Armstrong
Inda - Sherwood Smith
His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik
Night World Vol. 3 - L.J. Smith
The Secret Circle - L.J. Smith
The Hunter - L.J. Smith
The Chase - L.J. Smith
The Kill - L.J. Smith
Bone Crossed - Patricia Briggs
Changes - Jim Butcher
Beauty - Robin McKinley
Spindle's End - Robin McKinley
Tithe - Holly Black
Valiant - Holly Black
Ironside - Holly Black
Vamped - Lucienne Diver
Speak of the Devil - Jenna Black
The Dust of 100 Dogs - A.S. King
Helpless - MJ Pearson
Survival Games - J.E. Taylor
Bullet - Laurell K. Hamilton

The big problem with book lists is they always seem to get longer. I suppose I could simply stop buying more books, but that'd be like trying to stop breathing. It's second nature and crucial for survival.