Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Welcome Writer Peter T. Masson

You may remember Masson from a post I did back in August. Or you may have run into him at a Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference, his infectious smile warming your soul. Even if you didn't happen to bump into him somewhere on his world-wide travels, no worries. You can meet him here. You'll find that Peter T. Masson is the perfect combination of curious detail-seeker and quiet watcher of stories unfolding before his eyes. As a writer, he weaves a gripping plot, with careful attention to detail, and he's definitely an author to keep an eye on.

Masson's recently joined the blogging world, and I encourage you to drop by his site, explore his world, and leave your comments. Remember how strange and lonely it was when you were just starting your blog? Let's not leave a fellow writer out in the cold! :P Check out his website or his blog. Either way, you'll be glad you did. Masson's the good stuff.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Must-Buy New Authors

The long and eagerly awaited moment is upon us: Step Three of the great Hated Book Give-Away commences in 3...2...1...!

After diligent searching and thoughtful meditating, I am pleased to present the following Must-Buy new authors. Upon reflection, I decided to focus on Young Adult fantasy writers this time around, since that's the area I'm personally invested in atm. Explore their blogs, leave encouraging comments, and buy their books. Yes, I know, you have to either pre-order their books or wait until they come out this spring. My advice? Pre-order. Then you'll be surprise with a lovely gift when it arrives in your mailbox.

1. Cindy Pon, author of Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia, a YA Asian fantasy. Available in April 2009, you can pre-order now.

2. Aprilynne Pike, author of Wings. Release date is May 5, 2009, but do pre-order.

3. And finally, R. J. Anderson, author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. Release date is April 2009, as well, and, yes, you can still pre-order.

Happy Reading! And check back soon for more info on these Must-Read new authors' books, blogs, and bio's. Do let me know if you've scouted out any new authors -- in fact, post them on your blog and let us all know. There are lots of aspiring and published writers wanting to read and support the latest, newest authors out there. I know, because you've commented or emailed me, telling me so.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Lesson in Generational Dynamics: Gran Torino Style

Those who study Generational Dynamics undoubtedly have a name for the theory. Although I find the field interesting, I don't spend as much time as I should researching the concepts behind the cycle. But I do have thoughts. And I have heard the following generalization that goes something like this:
  • The Greatest Generation sacrificed themselves for others
  • The Baby Boomers sacrificed themselves for themselves
  • The Gen Exers & Gen Y's sacrifice others for themselves

Gran Torino explores these themes in subtle threads; woven with precision, it's a tribute to a generational who -- for all their faults -- were ultimately less hypocritical than we're taught in our sociology classes...and far more deserving of the respect we often deny them.

Life is complex, it's true. But many times the answers are there if we look for them. Easy to find, but difficult to act on.

Those who study Generational Dynamics believe that those born in these years will be the next Great Generation of the United States*. That, if you're paying attention, doesn't bode well.

* Different countries are on different cycles. For my friends outside of the USA, your generational dynamics may be a generation ahead or behind in the cycle.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Author -- First Book

The Third Step of the Annual Hated Book Give-Away is, by far, the best. Just to recap, you've had the chance to win three books, you've (hopefully) chosen three books off of your shelves and passed them on -- via blog or to charity or on to a friend -- and now you get to enjoy the first book of three new authors.

Here's my disclaimer: I do not have a dog in this fight. I have never met these authors, nor have I read their books, nor do I know anything about them that I haven't found for myself on the web.

My goal was simple: offer up three brand new authors for fellow writers to read and support. I advertised that concept on this blog. And you know what? Not one single new writer offered his or her services to me. So, I did what any adventurous Year of the Dragon grrl would do: I went hunting.

And, boy, do I have a treat for you! All three of the First Book Authors have intriguing blogs, books, and personal bio's. That's all I can tell you at this point. But you'll have a chance to meet them this next week, a chance to get to know about their writing lives, and, of course, a chance to order or pre-order their books.

Monday, January 12, 2009

And the Winners Are...

The Annual Hated Book Give Away officially ended on December 31st, 2008. Then came the difficult and arduous task of scribbling names on slips of paper and drawing them, blindfolded, from a velveteen hat while standing on one foot and chanting Gregorian er...chants. Those names then had to simmer for several weeks before I could bring them to a boil and present them, hot hot hot, for public consumption. Without further ado, the winners are...

*drumroll please*

1. Otherlisa wins the Succubus Blues

2. Diane wins Vampire Academy

3. and Dogtrax wins The Time Paradox -- hard back copy, no less!

If you're a winner, please email me w/ your mailing info so that I can get these books out of my house and into your eager little hands!

Join the Fun: Don't sniffle. The fun is just beginning! Even if you didn't win, it doesn't mean you can't thoroughly enjoy the next romp through book land.

  • Comb through your own library

  • Pick out three books you no longer wish to own

  • Pass them on (preferably through a blog give-away, but you're the boss)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Books as Maps

Someone somewhere said that YA books provide a map of sort for teens looking for answers. The characters -- whether in fantasy worlds or far, distant planets or on the streets of Brooklyn -- encounter problems and issues common to all teens. Readers are looking for ways to negotiate bickering friends and squabbling parents and temptations galore. Teens hover between the worlds of wanting to fit in and belong and wanting to be different and stand out. They face loneliness and fear, peer pressure and rage, love and lust, and all the feelings in between. Well-written books provide a variety of answers to the questions, with a variety of possible consequences to the choices made. There's a fine line between preaching and exploring -- and it takes a deft author to weave the engaging, thought-provoking series of choices and mistakes, actions and reactions.

The same person also pointed out that teens typically haven't read the myriad of books that "came before" -- the ones that set the tone or the bar or the stage. They're fresh eyes, looking for answers that have already been answered elsewhere. But you, the young adult writer, have a mandate to provide the same variety of answers with the same clever skill as those that came before -- only different. Same, because the questions are the same. Different, because agents have read all the books that came before. Or something like that.

It was an intriguing podcast. I wish I remembered who gave the lecture, but my iPod is at home. Regardless, how do you feel about it? And is this advice only for YA writers? Or can it apply to any writer of any genre?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Characterization Confessions

Forty two doctors agree: writers should develop the characters within their novels. Ok. This is a given. But for anyone riding the fence (which is an uncomfortable position, btw), here's my take on it. Please understand that my opinions have been filtered through the many glorious readings I've journeyed on, as well as authors like Blake Snyder, Joseph Campbell, even Orson Scott Card, and I can no longer correctly attribute ideas to specific peoples and times.

Characters should grow. Sizzle. Pop. The conflicts along the way should provide opportunities for the character to try and fail, try and fail, try and fail again. But each failure brings a slightly new understanding or a nuance of shading or a moment in time for the character to reassess her progress or regression. And by the end of the novel, the final scene is ultimately inevitable if the author has layered the scenes correctly. (Notice I didn't say predictable, because that is an entirely different matter altogether.) Whether or not your final scene is victory or failure, yummy or bittersweet, is not the issue -- that's your prerogative as author.

But the first snapshot of your heroine and the final snapshot must be significantly different. There must be some kind of growth or change or metamorphosis, or your entire novel has accomplished nothing. It will leave your readers feeling empty, much like that dry rice cake leaves you mere moments after you embark on your annual Holiday Damage Control. A favorite poster child for character development is Rudyard Kipling's Captain's Courageous. The first and final pictures of Harvey Cheyne Jr., vivid and memorable, are burned into my brain for all time. And when I mouth the title of your book, similar images should quiver to the top of my memories.

Confession: I don't really like the character I've created in Lauren. I intellectually understand that if she is to develop and mature and grow into the kick-butt heroine that I like at the end of the book, the beginning picture of Lauren must be the "before" picture, however unattractive that picture may be. And because I hate angsty, I have been pretty conservative about making her "before" picture too unattractive. But darn it, I don't like her!

And if I don't like her, who else will?

And if I don't like her, will I finish her story?

And if I don't like her, can I just kill her off?

But I'm brought back to Kipling's genius. Harvey is a spoiled brat kid who makes you grit your teeth -- the kind you want to backhand into next week and then taunt with the Tylenol bottle. Yet, Kipling finished the book. Readers persevered and were rewarded with the final picture, a selfless, compassionate Harvey, who understands the true definition of manhood. Decades later, an unknown blogger references the literary genius of writer and book...and tries to kickstart her own determination to return to WIP. With grace. Dignity. Determination.

Oh, Heaven help me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Seven Degrees of Separation

The lovely Diane Gallant has tagged me with the seven degrees of separation meme. I don't normally accept such challenges, but there are two reasons I accepted this one. First, Diane is truly a genius with the written word. If you haven't read her stories, I urge you to visit her site or pick up a copy of your latest science fiction magazine. She'll be there.

The second reason is entirely selfish. Coming up with seven things to tell you about myself is far easier than penning some deep and philosophical treatise on abs. Oh, wait..

1. I spent my first five years in a 30 foot travel trailer and the next ten in a one room + a loft shop building. No windows. (There was a door on the bathroom, though -- so maybe that makes it a two room garage?)

2. Growing up without a tv made me appreciate silence, books, music, and family time. I married a man with an appreciation of the same. We have chosen not to have tv in our house.

3. As a teen, my dream was to own 1000 acres and to live smack dab in the middle of it. It broke my heart when I learned that I would have to pay property tax on something I "owned." I had planned to have a garden, raise my own food, and live off of the land...which doesn't produce the green stuff of IRS fantasies. It's still my dream, but now I just have to be independently wealthy.

4. I married my best friend. I asked him to marry me.

5. My parents always read to us. My favorite two childhood books were The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Jim Corbett's Man-eating Tigers of India.

6. Although I have no natural musical talent, I decided to learn the violin two years ago. I've taken several lessons and it still sounds like I'm lighting cat tails on fire. I refuse to give up.

7. My favorite childhood author was Edgar Rice Burroughs. I could write an entire post on just Tarzan. He served as a sort of fictional role model for many years.

There's my list of seven. In order to play the game right, I need to tag seven more to continue this virtual version of truth or dare. Without the dare. I hope you'll play -- by either filling out the seven things or by visiting one of the incredible writers I've listed below.

  1. Anthony Pacheco; 'nuff said
  2. Scintillating & Sharp: OtherLisa of The Paper Tiger
  3. Uppington -- diligent motivator & encourager of self & writers everywhere
  4. Inlandempiregirl, dear friend, from Gathering Around the Table
  5. Douglas L. Perry author of Lost in the Sky
  6. Nils - the demi-god of world-building
  7. The ever radiant Elizabeth

Monday, January 5, 2009

Monday Smile: Why Teaching is Worth It

Today, the first day back after a two week break, I led my class through a series of goal-setting activities. I went over the requirements of a goal and the idea of setting mini-goals in order to accomplish the larger ones. Always using myself as an example, I talked about goals past, present, and future -- and I asked students to think about setting physical, emotional, and mental goals and mini-goals for themselves.

(Note: I give a variation of this speech every quarter, to be honest, since I believe in the power of goal-setting. But even I can't resist the gravitational pull of a New Year, and so I put a different spin on it and dragged the speech out yet again.)

Finally, one student raised his hand. When I called on him, he said, "Can you just go over all your hobbies again?"

I raised an eyebrow.

He waved a hand to reassure me he wasn't being flippant. "No, no. It's just that you do everything." He started naming things and going through his fingers.

Then he blushed. And said, "Never mind."

And it was a priceless moment in high school education.

For the record, I don't. Do everything, that is. But I do want to inspire my students to be more and to do more and to aspire to more than they ever thought possible. When I share my goals with them, it's because I want them to realize that even an old teacher can dream and believe and reach her dreams. And if I can do it, they absolutely can -- and if they can't believe in themselves yet, I will for them until they can.

Teaching is humbling and awe-inspiring and gut-wrenching every single day. And I love every moment of it.

Ten Good Books

2008 was a dry year, a bit oaky, but plenty of legs. I actually don't know enough about wine to add anything more to that assessment, so I'll stop. What I'm trying to say is that I didn't really read many books at all, and the ones I did either didn't stand out or were dry and boring. That doesn't stop me, however, from bringing you "Ten Good Books." After looking back at my bad books caterwauling, I decided that I'd better bring you something to enjoy. So without further ado, here is my list (culled from the 2006-2007 reading lists) of decent, enjoyable books.

Ten Good Books in No Particular Order
  1. The Meadow James Galvin: beautiful, lyrical, made me cry
  2. Singer of Souls Adam Stemple: fantasy; gritty first novel
  3. A Dirty Job Christopher Moore: delightful, sarcastic, witty, irreverent (his best, IMHO)
  4. The Alchemist Paulo Coelho: a perennial must-read for those who journey
  5. The Lightning Thief Rick Riorda: YA fun first book to series
  6. Mortal Engines Philip Reeve: YA fantasy; incredible world-building
  7. The Chalion Series: Lois McMasters Bujold: fantasy; world-building; masterful storyteller; I'm in awe
  8. The Widow's War Sally Gunning: feisty, sad, made me cry
  9. Mimus Lilli Thal: fantastical, odd, want to read the next one
  10. Odd Thomas Series Dean Koontz: don't usually read Koontz, but this was fun
Any books I should add to my must-read list for 2009? Let me know, please. I might as well get started. We're five days into the new year already!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Three Reasons Following Makes Sense

At the risk of sounding like I have a blog-crush on Anthony Pacheco, Hack Writer, I need to point to him once more as the awesome king of know-everything. Dipped in awesomesauce, even. Yeah, I know, kinda weird. But hear me out.

I was initially hesitant to put up a "Follow This Blog" sign. I felt it pretentious and weird -- and it made me feel awfully vulnerable. I mean, what if no one followed me? Yikes! But even beyond that, I always felt a little odd following someone else's blog. I felt like I was committing to a life-long relationship, and that just didn't sit right. But I ended up hanging out the sign, and Anthony's comments on that announcement set me to thinking.

Following Blogs Improves Your Readership and Your Brand Name:

1. When your picture is on someone else's blog, it's likely others will click on it. In retrospect, I realized that I often click on the pictures I see on someone else's blog. That's how I found some of you.

2. If someone doesn't have you listed on their blogroll, this is an easy way to circumvent the fact that they overlooked you. Ah yes. I have realized that I don't update my blogroll as often as I should. There are some of you that I read regularly -- but I've just forgotten to add you. Don't take it personally: just follow the blog, and your pic will be up for everyone to see.

3. Following like-minded writerly folks keeps the pressure on to continue producing high quality posts. Your name is your brand name (I learned this at the PNWA conference this summer), and it's your job to make sure others associate it with writing. We're all in this together, and this community helps keep focus, motivation, and encouragement at the forefront.

So, anyway, that's what I think. Even if you choose not to follow this blog, consider following others you read. Sometimes it feels like we're passing ships in the night, and unfortunately I've forgotten more good blogs than I've followed or added to blogroll. And if you haven't already, add this feature to your own blog. I'd love to follow you!
Note: even if you don't have a Blogger account, you can still use your Google Profile to follow others. In fact, it's a pretty good idea to have that profile updated with your current information so that people can find your blog, regardless of whether you use Wordpress or Blogspot or whatever.

Point Blank Rudeness

I spoke too soon. I really thought Anthony Horowitz was going to deliver, but instead he hooked me in with the first book. Then he started banging away with his version of morality in the second, Point Blank. And he didn't even give me any chocolate.

I briefly considered Anthony's blog a week or so back that indicated he would only write positive reviews. Yeah, but I'm not that nice. And this isn't a review. It's just a growl of disdain.

Sadly, Horowitz detours from the plot and writes an entire personal belief chapter that only serves as a detriment to the book as a whole. Now, before I get too far, you should know that the book frowns upon a pretty much universal evil: cloning yourself sixteen times and trying to take over the world by undergoing plastic surgery, then inserting yourselves into rich and powerful families. Okay, I'm pretty sure I can handle that kind of morality. But chapter five?

Chapter Five: The Shooting Party has nothing to do with the plot. But, I learned some soul-enlarging, deep and complex things in it, like: 1) Rich people are bad; 2) Rich people's kids are worse; 3) They like to shoot and wound small animals; 4) and teens are not only "too young to play with guns," but they're likely to start taking pot shots at poor kids just for kicks (84). I think it would've been one thing if it had something to do w/ the plot. But, it didn't.

In my sweet & tidy little world, it doesn't matter where your own personal beliefs fall along the spectrum of any of those four: I personally don't need someone to use a cotton-candy book to clumsily foist his ideas on me -- especially when he's heavy-handed and doesn't use breath mints. For crying out loud!

I am sad and dejected. But I'm going to read book three, Skeleton Key, just in case. After all, chapter five in Point Blank might have been a fluke, and, well, I own it. Might as well read it, yeah?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Stormbreaker Unleashed

Another delightful thing about being human is the fact that we're all so bloody different. Or, as Horowitz would write, bliddy. I just finished Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz, and I enjoyed the ride. I have a feeling that many of my writerly compadres would stick up their noses at it, though, and I'm okay with that. We're different, we like different things, and that is good. With such a tremendous range in audience desires, it means that there are more opportunities for writers like us.

Fast-paced, absent of trite lessons-to-be-learned, and full of intrigue, Stormbreaker was fun and shallow. It reminded me of the days I spent as a kid bemoaning the fact that adults are so completely blinded to the possibilities wrapped up in being adolescent. They think we're so innocent and so incapable of dissembling, I thought. They'd never know what hit 'em, if they just let us kiddies be spies. I was eleven, but as far as I was concerned, I could smile angelically and slip into 007 mode without even trying. Where were books like Stormbreaker then?

And honestly? I was never one of those kids who wanted to read some angsty, pulsing full of emotion and possibility book. Not even later, in high school, when everything was one great big soap opera. Life sucks already, alright? No need to wallow in the mud. Just give me a kick-butt book with spanking good action and I don't have to think about zits, the drama of fighting friends, or boys who say, "Look me up when you're eighteen." (Though, in retrospect, maybe it was a good thing everyone knew my dad had a shotgun!)

Why, then, do I say the book was shallow? The truth is, although I've always held protagonists in great disdain when they waffle over decisions and feel nauseated when the bad guy dies, humans invariably go through a range of emotions. And although Horowitz definitely gave Alex Rider a few emotions, there wasn't really any time for thought, reflection, and coming to grips with some of his own actions. It occurred to me when I set the book down that I was left feeling a little indifferent. Fun candy -- and I'll definitely read the rest in the series -- but not much substance, either.

So, what is it that I'm looking for? Do I even know what I want? Am I impossible to please? Am I asking for Cotton Candy with Vitamins? To quote Card, who's writing about something else entirely, "it's not a contradiction -- but it is a balancing act" (Card 88). I think that fits perfectly. There was only one instance in the book that made my eyes smart, and it was when he was at the training camp. The men, for the most part, ignored him, while one made his life a living hell. For an instant, I saw Alex as human, as trying to reach out and matter to someone, and as someone whose heart ached when rebuffed.

This brings me to my own writing. My own failures in my own writing. I've been so focused on writing fun, kick-butt stuff, that I've left the relationships at a relatively shallow level. And, honestly, relationships, both in life and in novels, are what it's all about. How do I intertwine gut-wrenching relationships and kick-butt action without going all sappy and ridiculously angsty? I don't know. But I'm gonna give it a try.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Loss of Innocence

We all have those life-changing experiences -- the kind that haunt you, twist at your guts, make you feel like going down twice and only coming up once. The ones that change you for the rest of your life, give you nightmares, affect the way you look at people. Well, this post isn't about one of those. It's about the kind that changes your life, sure, scars you a bit, yeah, but isn't exactly life-threatening.

It happened when I was eleven.

I had been reading quite voraciously, inhaling books, if you must know. It was an addiction. In fact, my father had told me that if he caught me with a book again, he'd whip my butt. Now, before you gasp in horror and ring for the Child Protection Services, let it be known that I grew up in a book-loving family. Our family activities revolved around books and reading and magazines and anything literary. I remember cuddling up to my dad in the fourth grade as he read Romeo and Juliet aloud to me, and I would often be handed the Scientific American and told to read such and such article. If I didn't understand, my dad would just tell me, "Keep reading." And then we'd discuss it when I was done.

When I was three, my parents thought I'd clamber into the nearest car of the first person who talked to me and disappear. I was that curious and that out-going. Once I learned how to read, however, I realized that I didn't have to go off exploring the world. I could safely bury myself in a book, and mom and dad wouldn't be worried. Despairing that I'd ever enjoy the beauty of a sunset or the scent of sunlight in pines again, my parents set up certain rules. One of these consisted of hours in the garden each day, weeding.The withering sun, the dry baked dirt... But I digress. The real life-changing experience came when they insisted that I read a book of their choice for every one of mine.

Because I loved reading, it didn't matter if I was reading a book written in 1806, 1906, or 1986. But when I was eleven, my dad handed me Gone With the Wind. I'm not exaggerating when I say that reading the book destroyed me. Like the scent of old perfume that transports you back to Grandma's house or the strains of an old song that swirls you into the arms of your prom date, just the title of that book sickens the pit of my stomach. I wasn't old enough or mature enough or hardened enough by life to enter into Scarlett's world. I tore through it, just like any other book, but when I read those last words on that last page, I thought I was going to throw up. I don't think my parents even noticed that I spent the next three days in bed, bawling my guts out. I'm sure they just thought I was holed up with another book.

I felt like a part of me died that day. And thinking back, I still feel sick and there's a lump in my throat I can't quite swallow that has nothing to do with Scarlett and everything to do with the loss of innocence.

And the long-term impact of such an experience? I hate drama. I excuse myself from any in the real world that flares up around me. I just don't play. And for the literary world, I despise books that wallow in it, characters that thrive on it, and authors who capitalize on it. I don't read those kinds of books. Don't get me wrong, I love books that explore the range of emotions a human can encompass, but I don't seek out the kind that tears your guts out. And I'm always on the look out for a fun romp minus the messiness of angst. So Stormbreaker, here I come!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009: Year of the Six Pack

Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds. ~George Eliot

I love being human. How could you ever get bored? The passion, the doubt, the inconsistencies, the desire to make a difference -- whether spun from love or hate or jealousy or compassion -- it's all wrapped up into this experience we call living. I'm a geek...er, um, I mean writer, so I spend a great deal of time contemplating the nuances and, especially, the motivations of every day actions. For isn't it true that character is revealed when no one is looking?

The beginning of a new year holds so much promise. And how can humans not respond by setting new goals and focusing on buffing out the rougher spots on our souls? What makes it all the more delightful, of course, is the fact that these resolutions can be made at any time during the year. But what's the fun in that? To be honest, I do. As previously posted, I'm a list maker extraordinaire, and I craft goals and hopes and wish lists all the time.

For me, New Year's Resolutions are private. I completely understand that making things public prompts more accountability in the human, but, well, there you have it. Private Creature By Nature. (As an aside, those of you who are my Twitter buddies know that I accomplished a 2008 goal just before 4 pm yesterday. Oh the glory!) There is a resolution that that I will share with the world, however. So many other bloggers are putting their NYR's up, and I can't abide the thought that this little blogger didn't keep up with the ... oh, what am I saying?!

So, the 2009 Goal of the Year is....

(Drum Roll Please)

A Six-Pack!!! Anyone else up for joining me in my quest for the ever elusive six pack? The embarrassing revelation? I despise abs. I abhor any exercise that targets the core. I always skip the crunches and the sit ups and the cutsie little "pulse, pulse" that my BodyPump instructor sings out, as if she's discussing a curious exotic plant. But skip no more. I shall persevere. And by this time next year, it'll be my own picture I'm posting! Wish me luck. And join me if you dare.