What if you knew exactly when you would die?Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.
The premise around this story is really interesting. Polygamy in a post-apocalyptic world? Very intriguing. I was excited when I sat down with this book.
It starts out well, and the horror and fear rippling through the girls is tangible. I started out liking Rhine a lot, and empathized with all three girls as they were forced into a marriage that they didn't necessarily want or understand. I really love the friendships that blossom between them, too. By the end of the story, they were close enough to be sisters, and something that affects one of them affects all. That was really well done.
I wish the world-building had been clearer. What is this virus? Why is North America the only continent left? Even if we don't get the full answer, something is better than nothing. Also, if the human race is dying, then a woman's womb would be a very precious commodity. Girls with no means would be lining up to have babies in exchange for room and board. There wouldn't be a need for Gatherers. If anything, there would be so much competition to get pregnant that the wealthy would be able to pick and choose and run any kind of genetic test they want in order to narrow down the list. The Gatherers would only be needed for dangerous or fatal medical testing--the kind no one would volunteer for. These are all very interesting concepts that I hope are explored in future books.
As the story progressed, I had a lot of difficulty with Rhine. She goes on and on about being free, and, at first, that makes sense. But then we learn more about how Linden's house works, and that Vaughn is the real villain. It's made clear that Rhine will never be harmed because she's too valuable, even though others aren't so lucky. Her reaction to this is to run away instead of trying to help. That's too cowardly for my taste. Nothing else enters her mind, like searching for ways to help the others, or even obtain some freedoms. She's First Wife, which is a position of some power, but she never uses it. It's clear that Linden has no clue where Rhine came from. If he knew she had a brother, would he have let her see him? We don't know, because Rhine never tells him anything. And yet she figures out that he's as much a prisoner as she is. That's common ground for them, and motivation for her to open up and tell him everything about her background. But she doesn't, and we're not given a reason why. A good, solid plot cannot be constructed by leaving a character in the dark for no reason. We need solid motivations for her actions, or else it comes across as contrived.
There was so much I didn't believe in this story, mostly because there were no motivations for anything. Things happened because they were supposed to happen, not because they came out of the story organically. It left me feeling frustrated and unsatisfied, and I wish we had a better understanding of why the characters did the things they did.
For a chance to win an ARC of this book, go here and fill out the form.
I don't have a real post for you today, mostly because it was a busy Easter weekend. And, I decorated a huge cake for a Teacher Appreciation Dinner happening tonight. Between those two, I didn't have time to finish my post on the craft of writing. So, it'll have to wait until next Monday.
In the mean time, I'll post pictures of the cake when I can (it looks like a basket of grapes). I hope everyone had a safe and happy weekend!
ETA: below is a photo of the cake I made. I'm pretty happy with it. I was worried because it's huge (three 8" round layers, plus a sheet cake cut up into thirds) and it was difficult to carry. Plus, the juice from the grapes made the frosting sort of ooze. But I got it to the dinner in one piece, and I am crossing my fingers that it held up until dessert. :)
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
Since I live in Chicago, I love reading books with a Chicago setting. Especially when the author knows the city as well as I do, and I can see everything she’s showing me. For the most part, Chicago is very clear in this story. I wasn’t so sure about some parts, though. I wish I could have pictured exactly where the various faction headquarters were (except for Erudite, which was next to Millennium Park), the realm of the factionless, which train stations they passed, and exactly where the fence lay. I am hoping for more detail in the next book.
As for the factions, the conflict between Erudite and Abegnation felt authentic. Actually, all the factions were drawn well, and it felt natural that the factions would evolve into what they'd become.
Except for one. I didn't completely buy the way the Dauntless faction had evolved. If their focus is bravery, then it doesn't make sense that they would support (or, at the very least, ignore) acts of cowardice. To me, Dauntless didn't feel as fleshed out as the other factions. I think there would have been more conflict within the faction, and I would have liked to see that.
The romance aspect was done well, with a slow build-up and plenty of entertaining awkwardness. I particularly liked the end where Tris realized the ridiculousness of what was going on with her. :)
This is definitely a fast-paced and compelling story, and I stayed up way too late reading. I liked Beatrice/Tris, too. The reasoning behind her choice of faction felt real and honest to me. I could feel her struggle, and honestly wasn't sure who she was going to choose in the end. Which I loved, because both choices had been set up with very interesting consequences.
That said, there were a few things that didn’t quite make sense toward the end. As a result, the ending sort of fell apart. For me, an ending can make or break a reading experience, and this one brought my enjoyment down a notch. I’ll still read the next book, but I don’t have quite as much enthusiasm as I did in the first two thirds. That really bums me out. Then again, not many people analyze characters the way I do, so there are probably lots of people who won’t have trouble with this. :)
If you want to know what bothered me so much, then read the last few paragraphs under the SPOILERS heading. But be warned that the spoilers are major.
Side note: there is a lot of violence in this book. I have a high tolerance for it, but there were a few scenes that were almost too much for me. So, if violence is not your thing, then this book might not be for you.
For a chance to win an ARC of this book, go here and fill out the form. Good luck!
This next part is something I almost didn’t address, but it bothered me too much to leave unsaid. I will do my best to not be so spoiler-y, but I can’t promise anything. Read at your own risk.
What happens to Tris's parents in the end felt contrived, as did much of Tris’s reaction. Neither situation made any sense, nor did they require that particular outcome, so it felt like the author simply needed to get the parents out of the way for the sake of the story. Especially Tris's mom. There is no way that a mother in her shoes would have been so careless. She would know that the best way to protect her daughter is to survive, and she would have fought tooth and nail until there was no other option. There were still plenty of options…
After Mom, it was obvious what was going to happen to Dad the second he stepped off the elevator. I actually rolled my eyes here because I didn't believe this part, either. Tris just lost her mother, so why wasn't she feeling overprotective of her father? She would have, no question about it. There is no way she'd let her untrained, Abegnation father get on that elevator with her. After everything she'd been through with Dauntless, she would know all too well what would happen to him. And she’d never let it happen.
Last week, I talked about creating a pitch that reflects the heart of your story. A couple of you asked for examples, so this week I’m going to take two published works and condense them to the single sentence and paragraph pitches. I’ve also included the jacket flap summary so we have something to compare to.
Disclaimer: These are my personal takes on the hearts of these stories—as in, this is the single most important thing I walked away with after I finished each book. Someone else might come up with something completely different.
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi Jacket Flap: In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. Sentence: This is a story about survival, whether you come from the very rich or the very poor. Pitch: The ice caps have melted and the world has become a place of Have’s and Have Not’s, where the gap between them is infinite. One teenage boy, Nailer, has spent his whole life struggling to survive on a filthy beach in the Gulf Coast region. Loyalty and survival are synonymous in his world, and the ability to depend on your crewmates is assumed (and required). Then we meet Nita, a teenage girl from the opposite economic spectrum, where assuming another’s loyalty could lead to death. When Nailer’s and Nita’s worlds collide, sparks fly in ways that neither could have imagined.
Stolen by Lucy Christopher Jacket Flap: Gemma, 16, is on layover at Bangkok Airport, en route with her parents to a vacation in Vietnam. She steps away for just a second, to get a cup of coffee. Ty--rugged, tan, too old, oddly familiar--pays for Gemma's drink. And drugs it. They talk. Their hands touch. And before Gemma knows what's happening, Ty takes her. Steals her away. The unknowing object of a long obsession, Gemma has been kidnapped by her stalker and brought to the desolate Australian Outback. STOLEN is her gripping story of survival, of how she has to come to terms with her living nightmare--or die trying to fight it. Sentence: A kidnapped girl recounts how she was stolen away to Australia’s outback. Pitch: Stockholm Syndrome is a powerful thing. Most often, it’s associated with kidnappings, political causes, and some forms of abuse. But what about a situation where there is no abuse or coercion? STOLEN is a story that starts out with obsession, evolves into a kidnapping, and grows from there. Gemma is kidnapped by Ty, whose obsession with Gemma provokes him to steal her away so he can keep her to himself. He’s not abusive in any way; he simply intends to be the prominent figure in her life. He insists she will have all the freedoms and choices she would have had in her old world. More so, because she can do whatever she wants. Except for one thing—she can never leave. Gemma grows to understand where Ty is coming from and why he is the way he is, ceasing to see him as horrible and evil, and falls into Stockholm Syndrome. How can she leave when he becomes so reasonable? So human? And yet, she has to leave or she risks feeling trapped for the rest of her life.
So, what do you think of the differences between the Pitch and the Jacket Flap? Since the target audience for each is different, it makes sense to me that they would focus on different things. A reader is looking for an enticing story, so that’s the focus of the jacket flap. An agent or editor is looking for an enticing story, too, but they’re also looking at how well you can craft that story. Giving them the heart and soul shows how deep you want to go with your characters and themes, how ambitious you are, and how hard you are willing to work in order to write the best possible piece you can.
The core of your story may include key pieces of the ending, because that may be where the most important element is. Keep that in mind as you write your own pitches. It’s okay to include aspects of the ending in your pitch, because it may entice the agent or editor and make her look forward to reading the entire manuscript.
For any of you interested, here’s a challenge. Pick five or so books you’ve read recently, making sure that some of them aren’t high concept with an easy and obvious hook, and do what I just did. Write a single sentence that captures the essence of the book, then write a pitch paragraph. Don’t be surprised if it’s completely different from the jacket flap summary—a query pitch and a jacket flap summary are not always the same things.
It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.
When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.
I'm a big fan of Saundra Mitchell. Just like in Shadowed Summer, The Vespertine is rich in setting and details. Amelia is a great character with interesting strengths and flaws, and I really enjoyed reading about her and Zora. Also, the romance aspect was well done, even though it was quicker than I usually like.
The historical details are amazing. Mitchell nailed the setting in Shadowed Summer, and she did it again here. I felt like I'd been transported there--a fly on the wall, privy to Amelia's and Zora's private lives.
I do wish we had more story before the ending. I was so enthralled with the characters and all set to go on one heck of a roller coaster ride with them. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop regarding Amelia's ability, but it never did. I wanted to feel terror and fear and grief with her on a deeper level, watch everyone turn against her, and be torn between fleeing and staying to be with Nathaniel.
Still, I very much enjoyed this story, and look forward to more of Mitchell's works.
Last week, I talked about getting to the heart of your story. This week, I want to talk about how that can give you a leg up when you’re ready to send out your queries. In other words, I want to talk about the pitch.
What is a pitch? Well, it’s pretty simple, right? Basically, it’s a one to two sentence summary of your story. BUT. It’s also not that simple (how many of you knew I was going to say that?).
I’ve already said that your elevator pitch can get you on the right track toward finding the core, or heart, of your story. And I believe that’s true. Once you have that, sit down and compare it with that early elevator pitch. Do they match? Chances are, there are some differences. What does that mean? It means your pitch is wrong.
When you write your pitch, you are writing about the heart of your story. That one, single most important aspect. The one thing that you want your readers to walk away with. This is the piece that’s most important to you, the writer. It is specific and detailed (i.e. not a general theme), and then you turn that into a hook, using your main character’s voice.
I know many writers who search their manuscripts for a great hook, but leave out the heart of the story. It’s an easy thing to do because great hooks have a ‘wow’ factor. But it runs the risk of setting the wrong expectations for an agent or editor. When they read a pitch, they are assuming it’s the heart of your story. If you give them something else, it might be too jarring of an experience for them, and then they might turn you down.
If you start with the heart of your story, then they know what they’re settling into, and you can build on that with your great characters, setting, and plot.
So, the heart of your story will not only help you when revising, it’ll also help you sell your work. I can’t see any reason not to know it. Can you? :)
Set initially in a future shanty town in America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she'll lead him to a better life. This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.
I love books that can go there with the darkness of reality and how crappy life can be, and yet not come across as heavy-handed and depressing. Ship Breaker is such a book. I was amazed at how ruthless Nailer’s reality is, the horrible things he’s faced with, and yet I never felt that the subject matter was too harsh or tedious. Bacigalupi does a fantastic job maintaining that balance.
The story is not exactly dystopia since the world hasn’t been destroyed and/or civilization hasn’t fallen apart. The worst thing that’s happened is the ice caps have melted, and there is far less land than there used to be. Also, green energy is used to power ships and cars instead of oil, but it’s expensive so only the rich have it. The story does have dystopic elements, and I think that’s mostly because it takes place in an area of extreme poverty. Survival is the name of the game here, as is the case in many dystopia stories. In Nailer’s world, there is also a huge divide between the rich and the poor, which lends to the overall feel of the book.
There are also strong themes of loyalty throughout the story. The whole concept of ‘we’re crew’ means you look out for one another or risk being branded so everyone knows you’re a traitor, and then you’ll never find work again. Nailer stays with his abusive father, and even feels compelled to save his life. The half-men, genetically engineered half-man half dog. Loyalty was written into their genetic code, so they don’t have a choice in the matter.
The characters are amazing, my favorite being Tool. He is the epitome of individual thought, and I thought Bacigalupi drew him well. Nailer is the ultimate scrapper, doing whatever needs to be done and using whatever he has handy, in order to survive. And Nita is the perfect example of self-respect. She’s not afraid to act, but only if she can live with herself afterward.
This is now one of my all-time favorite books. Highly recommended.
I’ve been wearing multiple writing hats lately. I’m writing a new book, which I always do in layers. I’m also revising my agented book. Trying to keep my hats straight can get a bit difficult, but I’m managing.
Anyway, the last time I had my revision hat on, my agent asked me a fabulous question. “What is the most important piece of this story? What is it you want to say?” I told her my answer, and then she told me what the story means to her. On a very basic level, they were the same, but her answer went so much deeper than mine. I realized that I’ve always wanted to convey exactly what she said, but I hadn’t made myself go deep enough to be consciously aware of it. Because of that, I’m now letting everything percolate in my head before I sit down to do actual revisions.
If my agent hadn’t asked me that question, I would have been in danger of losing sight of the core of my story. But now that I’m coming back around to it, I intend to have a good, solid grasp of it before making any further changes.
This whole thing reminded me of my early novels. The ones that are now in a drawer. :) Before I knew anything about anything, I sat down to write what I thought was a fun adventure in fantasy land. That’s all fine and good, but it also wasn’t enough. My characters needed to learn something and grow along the way, but they didn’t because I didn’t know what story I wanted to tell. Is this sounding familiar to anyone, or is it just me? :)
I’ve learned a lot since then, and have realized that I need to be on an intimate level with my story’s core. What is it at its most basic level? So basic that if I changed one tiny aspect, the entire story would change. What is it that I, the author, want my readers to walk away with?
I have more than one thing that I want to convey in my stories, of course. But most are consequences of that one, single most important aspect. Once you have a firm grasp of that, then you can figure out how to tell your story in the most effective way. Maybe that means your character goes in an unexpected direction, or maybe that means certain events happen while others don’t. Or, maybe the focus on certain things needs to shift. But, if you keep the core of your story in the forefront of your mind, then you can rest assured that you are still telling the story that you want to tell.
So, how do you get to that core? Well, there’s no ‘right’ way. But there are a few things that might get you on the right track.
Explore the themes in your story. Most good stories have more than one theme, so figure out what yours are and write them down. Refine them until you come across something that feels unshakable.
Write an elevator pitch. This boils your entire story down to one or two sentences, so this is likely going to be the most important part. Or, at least, it will lead to the most important part.
From there, you can continue to explore the aspects of your story until you’ve figured out the single most important piece. The piece that can’t change because, if it did, you’d be telling a different story.
This month I've got two ARCs to give away, one of which will be released next month.
Divergent by Veronica Roth In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
Wither by Lauren DeStefano What if you knew exactly when you would die? Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out. When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home. But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.
To enter, fill out the form below and then come back here on saturday, April 30th to see if you've won. Good luck!!
So? How's it going? Are you still reading as much as the past few months? More? Less? I'm up to 19 books so far, and am pretty happy with that progress. Especially considering all I've had going on this year. :)
For those of you reading, I've got some great ARCs.
Entwined by Heather Dixon Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her . . . beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing . . . it's taken away. All of it. The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation. Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest. But there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.
Strings Attached by Judy Blundell When Kit Corrigan arrives in New York City, she doesn't have much. She's fled from her family in Providence, Rhode Island, and she's broken off her tempestuous relationship with a boy named Billy, who's enlisted in the army. The city doesn't exactly welcome her with open arms. She gets a bit part as a chorus girl in a Broadway show, but she knows that's not going to last very long. She needs help--and then it comes, from an unexpected source. Nate Benedict is Billy's father. He's also a lawyer involved in the mob. He makes Kit a deal--he'll give her an apartment and introduce her to a new crowd. All she has to do is keep him informed about Billy . . . and maybe do him a favor every now and then.
To enter, fill in the form below. One URL per entry, but you may enter as many times as you like. You must directly link to your review (otherwise your entry is void), or include a paragraph containing your thoughts on a particular book. I just need some proof that you're actually reading. :)
FYI--to get to a direct link to your Goodreads reviews, click on the title of the book, and then click on the "My Review" heading just above where you type in your review.