Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Okay, now for my 2009 picks. As you can see from the image above, I did select a "Best Read of the Year." First, I'll break it down by the three genres I focus on (these are books I read this year, not necessarily published this year, though they are all fairly new):
Best Sci-fi: Matter by Iain M. Banks (Orbit, 2008)
Best Fantasy: A Darkness Forged In Fire: Book One of the Iron Elves, by Chris Evans (Pocket, 2008)
Best Women's Fiction: The Last Will of Moira Leahy, by Therese Walsh (Shaye Areheart, 2009)
Of those three, I chose a "Best Read" and that is the third one listed, the one that coincides with the beautiful cover above. Before you jump all over me, I know I didn't set aside a special post for the review of this fantastic novel, but that's because I just wrote the review yesterday, and the timing coincided too close to my top picks for the year, so I just put it all together. To read my review, visit The Book Book.
Next is movies. (Okay, I had to edit this part because I forgot that my favorite movie came out in January '09 and not December '08, as I'd originally thought.) Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Yes, it was better than Avatar. For specifics on why, read this post, then read this one (but only if you've seen both movies). It all boils down to characterization and dialogue.
And finally, music. The best new album release (no surprise here for those of you who have come to know and love me) is Breaking Benjamin's Dear Agony. Here are links to three of my faves from that album. Although it really is difficult to choose only three. I honestly love every song.
Give Me a Sign
What Lies Beneath
Oops, I said three, didn't I? Oh well. You got a bonus.
I'm sure Joe will have an entire differently selection of bests in all these categories. Perhaps that will be a future post, or maybe you'll see it in the comments. *shrugs*
What were your top picks for the year? Please share.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I grew up in the era of Star Wars (the original trilogy ... yes, I'm old) and later, Star Trek TNG. One of three girls and four children total, for some reason, I was the only one who showed any interest in my father's love of science fiction and fantasy. Aside from other things that I can relay only to my therapist, this is how I remember my father: If he wasn't watching a sci-fi something or other on TV, he had a fantasy book in his hand.
He introduced me to The Chronicles of Narnia when I was ... hmm ... 8 or 9, I think. We went to some convention thing that honestly bored me, but afterward, we perused the vendors. While I was aimlessly flipping through artwork of trolls and fairies, he'd bought me the boxed set of Narnia, and gave it to me when we got home. I was psyched! I loved to read as a kid. In fact, I've been reading on my own since the age of 4.
So I had this set of books to read, and my dad decides he's going to read it AT THE SAME TIME. He reads way faster than I do (at least, at that age he did), and it ticked me off a little that he was ahead of me in the series within a week or two. Ergh. Especially when he was reading other books at the same time.
My dad was a huge SHANNARRA fan. (I also remember him reading many a King Arthur tale, to the point where I heard him talking in his sleep one night about how Merlin needed to get Excalibur back to the King and everything would be JUST FINE) His excitement over the Shannarra books rubbed off on me, and when I was ... about 12 now I think, he finally deemed me old enough to give one of them a try.
"This isn't like the Narnia books," he warned. "This is an adult book. I'm letting you read it because you're mature for your age, and you like to read."
I don't remember which book he gave me first, but yeah, it was ADULT. Tiny print. Big words. Questionable innuendos. I didn't even get half-way through before I gave up. *shrugs*
The older I got, and the more Star Trek I watched, the more I tipped the scales in favor of sci-fi. The film industry had a lot to with that (Aliens ... 'nuff said), and still does. I LIKE EXPLOSIONS. And weapons. And aliens. And anyone who knows me, knows I've been a science nerd since ... 4th grade. (We shall conveniently forget my Sweet Valley High years in between all that. I was obviously going through a period of confusion and/or self-discovery.)
Here's the issue, though. There are plenty of good sci-fi films and TV shows and so forth, but I'm having a hard time finding science fiction novels that enthrall me like those early days of fantasy reading did. Why? Is it the style? The setting? The characters? Does the author get too wrapped up in facts instead of storytelling? I honestly don't know. The only sci-fi I've read recently that was an exception to this is Matter by Iain M. Banks. Good book. I wish there were more like it somewhere by a different author so I can expand my "favorites" list. (A link to my review of Matter is in the side bar under "The Book Book" )
So that's my round about way of saying that one of my personal goals for 2010 is to find GOOD SCI-FI and give it exposure.
Any thoughts? Any recommended reads? Enlighten me. Please.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I'm chillin' at Eric's corner of the web today. Check it out HERE, and let me know what you think (I'd prefer any comments be made at PMN rather than here).
We will return to our regular programming tomorrow ... and then things will pretty much be hit or miss until after the new year (hard for me to keep my mouth shut, so I'm not declaring utter silence as some others have).
Monday, December 21, 2009
As is the hype over Twilight. But unfortunately, it's not going away anytime soon.
I'm bombarded by it everywhere I go ... Borders (New Moon display right by the front door!), Wal-Mart (posters, books, magazines, t-shirts!), my Yahoo! home page (Edward and Bella were seen together, oh my!) and now, MY DREAMS. Or is that more appropriately referred to as a nightmare?
I had a dream about Twilight last night. Well, not really so much about Twilight as it was about the actors in the movies. Specifically, Edward, Bella, and Jacob. That I even know their (fake) names without ever reading/viewing anything is proof enough of our inesapable culture. That, and the fact that I had a dream/nightmare about it. *shudders*
It went something like this: I was in high school again (so right away, I knew this was a bad dream), innocently meandering down the crowded halls and Bella shows up, all out of breath and frantic. I'm like, "What's wrong?" because for some reason, I think I have to help her.
She says, "I have to hide." And of course, I accept that as an answer without any type of explanation because this is a dream, and dreams make no sense.
I take her hand and we run out of the school, and within a few paces (because again, it's a dream) we arrive at a huge scary-looking mansion typical of a vampire tale. At least, in my mind it is. We're running up and down the endless stairs and bump into Jacob. All of the sudden, Bella disappears. Why? Because my defunct sleeping brain transferred me into her persona. I AM NOW BELLA. ARGH! Even in my dream, I groaned at this realization, but I didn't have much time for self-loathing because Jacob took my hand, insisting that I had to hide from Edward.
Yes, now I have to hide because I'm Bella. Why are we running/hiding from Edward? Still have no clue, but I bet it had something to do with his foo-foo hair and skeletal appearance.
We ran for a few more minutes, getting absolutely nowhere, passing all manner of nooks and crannies that I reasonably could have hidden in, but didn't, and then we find Edward. I stopped dead in my tracks (this story is not worth coming up with something more original than the cliche), and then JACOB DISAPPEARED. So now it's just me (Bella) against a half-naked Edward. Which half? He was shirtless, and all his ribs were showing and his hip bones were sticking out above his low-rise jeans.
So what did I do? I ran toward him, hooked my hand on a hip bone as I passed, and flung his spindly body out the nearest window. He screamed like a girl (no surprise), and then I woke up.
I am still singing praises that the whole experience was merely a dream/nightmare. What's the point of this story? You can't escape your culture ... the good, the bad, and (especially!) the ugly ... and Twilight has officially ventured where it had no business going, my vulnerable subconscious. Get out of my head!
If anyone has any suggestions on how to forget this recent trauma (I thought writing about it would help, but no), please let me know in the comments. I will try anything.
Friday, December 11, 2009
So I'm begging off that task this morning.
A question for the comments: What is the best writing advice you ever received, and how did it help you improve?
Check out Moonrat's Mentors, Muses, and Monsters Contest if you haven't already. Entries are due December 15.
And for more Friday fun, here are two of my all-time favorite YouTube links, thanks to my friend Brad.
A Capella Star Wars
Chimpanzee Riding on a Segway
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Throughout this post, I will be throwing in Kid Updates. Currently, my 5 year old son is clutching the arm of a rocking chair, claiming he is stuck. So I tried to help him get down. "No," he says. "I need Daddy to help." To which I say, "Daddy's at work. I can help you." He refused, so I left him there, like a good mother would (in case you're wondering, he is not truly stuck, it's just a game he likes to play). Not two minutes later, he says he wants to get down, but he can't because he's afraid of the mess ... uh ... that would be the mess that HE CREATED on the floor surrounding this rocking chair. "I am not cleaning up YOUR mess so you can get down off a chair that you CHOOSE to sit in, Joseph. End of discussion."
It is (in my part of the world) just after 9 a.m. and I just got out of bed. This is odd because I am usually up and raring to go at 4 a.m. Quick aside on that: It is only normal for me to be up at 4 a.m., raring to go, when I am writing a first draft of something, in this case, a novel. I'm thinking that my horrible writing experience yesterday, coupled with the fact that my husband did not get home from work until after 11 p.m., completely exhausted me.
After more than a week of letting my latest novel project basically just take me along for the writing-ride, I felt stuck yesterday. Not stuck in the usual sense of the word, though. Let me explain. I know how to "write out of my ass" if I need to. For me, it is never a problem of getting the words onto a blank screen. It is about getting the RIGHT words out. The scene I wrote yesterday started out well, and I had a general idea of where I wanted to go with it. But I kept getting hung up on word choice.
This is not good when you are a perfectionist. Yes, I understand it is a first draft that has many changes ahead of it, but when I am writing something, I have to believe that it is, at the very least, getting the point across that I intended. It should also be engaging, even in rough draft form, and it should convey at least a portion of the emotion I'm trying to emphasize.
Kid Update: Joseph found one of his dad's GameInformer magazines and is sprawled out on the couch "reading" it. No, he doesn't know how to really read yet, but you wouldn't know it by looking at him now. And he has vocally pointed out every picture of every robot in the whole magazine. He has a thing for robots.
Quick break. I'm being summoned to look at the robots now. Also, my coffee has gone cold. Must reheat. And I just realized I haven't played a single Breaking Benjamin song yet. I require my daily dose of BB. If you're curious about what exactly I'm listening to, go to YouTube and look up any of the songs on the DEAR AGONY album. I love all of them. This exact moment? I just started "Fade Away."
Okay, back to my writing troubles.
Some of my concerns with this scene were quite valid. I've written about 50 pages of this story and suddenly, I feel like I'm losing my MC's unique voice. This is my first attempt at writing a novel-length piece in first person. (I've completed two shorter works in first person, but mostly, I write in third.) Not sure if that has anything to do with it, or if, perhaps, I'm simply getting too familiar with her and losing sight of her true personality, in a way, melding it with my own. I also had to rewrite a paragraph or two because it read too similarly to a different MC of mine. More clipped and sarcastic, whereas this one has a flowy, more regal tone. This is odd because I'm not currently working on that project. Perhaps the other MC is trying to tell me that I need to give her attention again. Haha.
Desperate for help, I posted this scene for critique on the Writer's Digest SF/F critique forum. Usually, I'll give my threads a nice title. For example, with this particular piece (my novel, tentatively titled, MIRRA), I will post a scene and title it: MIRRA, Thwarted Destinies; or MIRRA, Baby Blues. Something like that. A title that somewhat fits the content of that particular scene.
The one I wrote yesterday was given this title: MIRRA, No name here because it is frustrating me and does not, as of yet, deserve a proper title.
Yes. That is how pissed I was at this scene.
Problem is, it's an uber-important scene for the story. I was thinking of burning it-- er ... cutting it, but soon realized that I can't. It is too crucial to the plot.
Kid Update: Joseph thought it would be a good idea to hide my coffee while I was typing. He's laughing. I'm not. Whatever. But one of my absolute faves just started playing, "Give Me a Sign." All is well.
Scratch that. All is NOT well. Joseph just brought back my mug. Empty. Which means my 5 year old just downed half a cup of coffee. Does that make me a bad parent?
Back to the trouble scene...
After slaving over it the entire day, I fell asleep in what Joseph calls the Thinking Chair. If you've ever watched Blue's Clues, he calls it that because it looks a lot like Steve's Thinking Chair. But black leather. And it reclines. He fell asleep on my lap (by now it was around 6 p.m.) and then I fell asleep. Then Joe calls, still at work, and tells me he's not getting off anytime soon. Hurrah. It's just me and my crappy story for the rest of the evening.
So I posted it on the forum. For some reason, seeing it in a different format suddenly makes things jump out. This is why I will print final drafts on paper to do a final-final edit. Can't explain it. I just know it works. I started changing words and sentences. Added a word to a few. Cut from others. One sentence in particular was rearranged, which then made the middle of the sentence unnecessary. That was actually a relief. I am all about efficient yet effective wording. The more I can say in less words, the better. It also made the sentence much smoother.
Even after all of that, I'm still not happy with the scene. I just checked its status on the forum, and a long-time fan/reader/critiquer of my work has pointed out that it does feel "off" from my usual writing, but it is not as bad as I think it is. She highlighted that some of the dialogue needs tweaked, and already, ideas are popping into my head on how exactly I can fix it. Another pair of eyes can work miracles sometimes.
Kid Update: He's back to the robots in the magazine, but not before he did a few gymnastics on the couch. That was entertaining, as usual.
I have another scene to write today, and I am slightly worried that it will also be crap. But that is how creative writing goes. And no one said it better than Stephen King, in one of my favorite quotes:
"Stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position."
Precisely. I am having a "shit-shoveling" week. But hopefully, it's all in my head.
Monday, December 7, 2009
I think every novel I own is printed in a different font. You don't really pay much attention to these things until you start thinking of getting your own novel published. At least I hadn't, anyway.
Font and other little details are just as important to a book as its cover. If everything was printed in Times New Roman and used asterisks for scene breaks, would you feel the same about some of your favorites? I think not. No, actually, I know for sure you wouldn't. It's part of the whole package. It's what makes a novel an experience, not just a story.
The novel I'm currently reading, The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh, is a perfect example. The typeface gives it an antique feel which, even though the story takes place in modern times, it still fits the mood of the piece. And it also enhances certain aspects of the story. The book, including the cover (which you can view on my bookshelf in the sidebar) is nothing less than a work of art. If you're curious about the actual font, it is called Bell, and there is an interesting paragraph about its history on the final page of the novel. Whoever decided to use that font AND add the page of information about it, is a downright genius, and truly understands the relationship between the reader and her book.
Why There Are Pages And Why They Must Turn (thanks to Le R for linking this a while back) further points out why things such as font are so important to books. It is worth the few minutes it takes to read, in my opinion.
Do you have any font favorites, either for reading OR writing? What's your type?
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Today's tip involves one of my favorite things about writing fiction: character development. It actually saddens me that some of the characters I make up aren't real people. But that's a chat best left for a rainy day over a cup of (spiked) tea.
Tip of the Week:
Write a scene between two characters that takes place during a time lapse between scenes or chapters in one of your WIPs. The scene doesn't have to have any purpose; you're not going to add it to the WIP.
We can't detail everything that happens to every character at every moment, so we inevitably have to jump ahead in the story by a week, a month, even a year or more sometimes. And it's easy to forget that our characters were living and doing things, interacting, during that time. All these little things still affect their view of themselves and their situation, and especially, their relationships with the other characters.
So write a scene that you know you won't use in the story. See what develops. Did your characters surprise you with something? Reveal a bit of their history or motivations that you weren't aware of? Did your view of them change? Is this new perspective something you can use to tweak a later scene in the story (one that matters)?
Has anyone ever tried something like this before? Share your results. Playing with your characters is quite fun, in my opinion.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
If you think I'm going to lean toward the negative with this post, in connection to being married to a writer, you're wrong. Joe and I have our share of writing-related arguments, especially when it involves something we are co-writing, but more often than not, we are a support to each other.
As an example, this happened just last night.
Joe walks in the door after working another 12-hour day. First words out of his mouth (after saying hello and giving me a hug and a kiss of either the I'm-too-tired-to-put-forth-any-effort variety OR the I'm-exhausted-but-I-still-want-to-****-you variety) are something about how I need to shut down whatever I'm working on because he has a story to write.
To which I said, "What story?"
"My new short story," Joe said.
"Tell me about it."
Already, if you're a writer, you can see how wonderful this is. We talk about our stories with each other as if it's the most important thing we could discuss at the end of the day.
Now, you'll also notice that I asked him to tell me about HIS story. So when I then proceeded to yammer on about the scene I wrote for Mirra yesterday (I'm guessing I went for about fifteen minutes before I even took a breath), you would expect that to irritate him, right? Especially after he'd been stressing at work all day, and all the poor man wanted to do was write his story.
No. He listened. He even laughed at a few things. And (this is noteworthy), the scene I happened to write yesterday (partially) involved sex. This is usually a topic we disagree on -- how much detail is too much detail, and things of that nature -- but Joe, even without reading the actual writing, seemed okay with it all. Perhaps he was too tired to argue.
So he finally starts telling me about his story on the way to his mother's house. We went there for dinner and, of course, to do laundry. He talked the whole way there. I listened, even though he thought at one point that I wasn't. (I was driving, dear. I can't look at you constantly.)
Hearing him talk about his ideas AMAZES me. One thing we've gotten good at is pinpointing each other's strengths and weaknesses. Being honest about it. And doing what we can to help each other improve. Joe's biggest strength? The man comes up with some crazy-ass ideas that will blow you away. Perhaps it's because his brain doesn't work like a normal person's (for details on that, click HERE), but whatever the reason, it makes me feel incredibly inadequate in that area.
All my ideas are stale. Old hat. Been done a million times in a million ways. But he tells me that's okay. Why? Now it's HIS turn to point out MY strength: little details.
That may not seem like much (little, even...hehe), but when you think about it, it really is important. After a fabulous dinner of left-over turkey, stuffing, smashed taters, etc, and after all the laundry was clean and folded neatly, we headed home again ... and started talking about our stories again.
I mentioned something else I remembered about one of the scenes I wrote yesterday that I thought was slightly humorous. (Yes, I laugh at my own stuff. Someone has to.) It was a small thing, I thought. But then Joe looks at me and says, "I just can't write like that."
"What do you mean?"
"You have this ability," he said, "to suck people into your story without them even knowing why. You throw in these little details -- little motions, little thoughts, something in the background, etc -- that keeps people reading. You make your characters so real, that the readers just have to turn the page to see what happens next."
"It's called micro-tension," I said, trying to be all technical and sound smart.
"No, it isn't."
"Yes it is. Whatever. So basically you're telling me that it doesn't matter what my plot is, people will read it because of these little things that make them fall in love with the characters."
"I'm okay with that."
But I still try to come up with unique ideas, and oftentimes, the best thing about being married to a writer is that you have someone to bounce your ideas off of, whenever the mood strikes you. It's also nice to print off fifty pages of something and have a beta reader and an editor all rolled into one, whenever you need it. We have stock in red pens.
Sometimes I wonder what our son is thinking as he sits quietly in the back seat of the car, or in the other room pretending to play Xbox, and listens to our conversations. Every kid thinks their parents are weird, sure, but we actually ARE. No denying it. When aliens and weaponry and ooh! what about THIS plot twist are considered normal conversation between a husband and wife ... we better start saving up now for the kid's future therapy.