Saturday, January 31, 2009

Kreativ Blogger!

What seems like eons ago, Brenda nominated me for the Kreative Blogger award. Thanks, Brenda!! :)

And now, I have to list seven things I love. And it's so hard to separate out just seven things, that I am going to list my seven favorite vacations around the world...and live vicariously through the memories!

1. Italy. My first trip outside the country was to Rome, Venice, and Florence, and also the trip I've enjoyed the most. Rome is so beautiful, the people are pleasant, the long history is clear, and I reveled in walking my legs off each day so I could see absolutely everything.

2. India. We have been there a few times since that's where my husband is from, and we've visited areas of the north and south. It's amazing how different one is from the other, and beautiful in their own ways. And there's still more that I have yet to see.

3. Paris. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Stunning. The whole city is a work of art, created over the ages. The taxi drivers were not nearly as pleasant as those in Rome, but it didn't really detract from enjoying the city.

4. United Kingdom. We've been there a few times: London, Cambridge, Bath, and Stonehenge. It's amazing how different London is from its outlying towns. They are so quiet, with this historic air. From there, we went to Dublin for the weekend. Visiting the Guiness brewery was a really fun experience!

5. Spain. I took a lot of Spanish in high school, and it's a good thing I did because very few people in Spain speak much English. At least, not the people we encountered. My accent is terrible and my vocabulary isn't anywhere near what it used to be, but we managed. We visited Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville. I didn't want to leave Seville, it was so beautiful.

6. Hong Kong. This is the only time I've gone somewhere where no one spoke the language we spoke. And the alphabet isn't the same, so you can't somewhat figure things out. But the people were more than friendly and we really enjoyed ourselves.

7. Carribean. Last year we went to a wedding on the Island of Turks and Caicos, and stayed at an all-inclusive resort. I'd never done this before, but, when you have kids, it's completely worth it. This was my oldest son's favorite vacation by far, and he is still asking to go back.

So now it's time for me to pass this on! I nominate The Write Game, The Good Dirt, and Resident Alien!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chalice by Robin McKinley

Plot Summary: As the newly appointed Chalice, Mirasol is the most important member of the Master’s Circle. It is her duty to bind the Circle, the land and its people together with their new Master. But the new Master of Willowlands is a Priest of Fire, only drawn back into the human world by the sudden death of his brother. No one knows if it is even possible for him to live amongst his people. Mirasol wants the Master to have his chance, but her only training is as a beekeeper. How can she help settle their demesne during these troubled times and bind it to a Priest of Fire, the touch of whose hand can burn human flesh to the bone?

I’ve been a fan of Robin McKinley for years, since I picked up a copy of BEAUTY – a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I also enjoyed THE BLUE SWORD and THE HERO AND THE CROWN. I didn't enjoy CHALICE nearly as much as I enjoyed these other titles.

Narrative fiction. There’s a place for it, and it can work really well. If done right. Unfortunately, Chalice wasn’t. The characters are not well-described, the world is not explained or shown to us in a way we could imagine, and the conclusion felt clunky, like an afterthought.

But the main thing it was lacking? Voice. There are plenty of narrative fiction works out there that work really well. And they work because the author brings out an amazing Voice in the writing. We *hear* the main character speaking, feel what s/he is going through, and sympathize as a result. I couldn’t hear the main character in CHALICE, Mirasol, hardly at all. It really felt like an outsider *telling* her story, rather than the character herself showing it to me.
I think the author didn’t delve deep enough. What is so special about Mirasol? What does the author have to offer that makes this story intriguing and unique? None of that is there, and yet she’s an established author. So why isn’t it there? I actually think that the author knows everything about this story, the setting, and the characters. I think that if I asked her any kind of question, she’d have a good answer. But, somehow, those details didn’t make it onto the page. Perhaps the deadline was too aggressive. Perhaps more editing was needed. But this book felt like a first draft to me, like the main character had just finished telling the author her story.

I wasn’t originally going to write a review of this book, but since I’ve been talking so much about Voice lately, and since this book has such a lack of it, I decided it was fitting. : )

Monday, January 26, 2009

There Is Only One Me

So, I’ve found my Voice, and it’s still with me. It’s changing, but still there. And last week I talked about the things that became less complicated as a result of my newfound Voice. This week, I want to delve into the things that seem more complicated.

In general, writing is complicated. Very. Everything is connected, so everything must be in balance – all the major pieces that go into a novel must balance each other out, plus everything within those pieces must balance. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle made out of a zillion scales, all depending on each other to create the big picture. Complicated. Voice is no different, in that it’s just as complicated as all the other pieces. In finding my Voice, I’ve learned the pieces that need to balance within Voice. I.E., *how* it’s complicated .

I’ve always said that I’m not an interesting person. I’m not, really. When I walk into a room, no one notices. When I speak, not many hear me. I don’t command attention. I blend into the woodwork really well. And yet...if I were really so uninteresting, I wouldn’t have any friends. But I *do* have friends, so there must be something in me that sparks a connection with others.

This is where my Voice was hiding – the interesting and unique parts of me. The things I think but don’t say aloud, except to my closest friends. And they are unique to me, because we all have our own way of saying things. Just as we, writers, have our own way of telling a story. That is our Voice, and that is why no story can be told the same way twice.

My Voice lends originality to my stories. If my friends hear of something I’ve said, they can usually guess I’ve said it before they’ve been told. If someone else tells them the same story, it’s not the same. The idea and events may be the same, but the flavor is different.

Caroline Meckler said it well when she said all writing has Voice. It may not be the right Voice, so we have to keep searching until we find it. Once we do, then what? I’ve finally found the right Voice for my work, but hanging on to it is sometimes difficult. It’s like walking an overgrown, narrow path, with my more familiar paths within sight. It’s easy to drift toward those familiar paths, then realize I’ve gotten lost and have to find my way back.

Finding your Voice is only the first step. You also need to learn how to keep it, then use it to its full potential. Knowing your Voice, where it comes from, and how to use it are what make your story strong and marketable.

Succeeding as a writer comes from a similar place – it’s not about the story I tell, it’s how I tell it. And, the pieces of myself that I put into it are what make it truly unique. All of this is related to Voice. The pieces of myself that I choose to share, to weave into my story, will be saturated with my Voice. How could they not? They come from me. Deep within me. Those are the most powerful stories a writer can tell, and that power can be harnessed through your Voice.

This is strongly connected to Write What You Know. I said in an earlier blog post that I believed writing what you know comes from your heart and experiences. I believe that even more now. The more you know and understand yourself, the more you’ll have to share in your stories. And your Voice can harness this, hand the reigns to the reader, then take them on a wild ride.

That said, knowing and understanding yourself is probably the most complicated thing ever.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What Kind of Reader Are You?

Found this quiz on Christy's blog, and loved it so I had to share. :)

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

So, I'm a Dedicated Reader. I don't think that's any big surprise. :) What kind of reader are you?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Plot Summary: Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight--she's a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king's thug. When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po's friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace--or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

I lost count of the number of people who’ve recommended this book to me, and the waiting list at the library was around the block, a few times. So when it was finally in my hands, I opened it with anticipation...and then spent the next two days obsessively sneaking in pages whenever I had spare minutes. : )

Katsa is an amazing, well-developed, real character. She was shown to us in vivid colors through her actions and reactions. I recognized and identified with her fears and emotions, since I’ve felt them myself. Very well done. Two enthusiastic thumbs up to Ms. Cashore on her character development.

That said, there were two aspects of the story that gave me pause.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

When figuring out the plot of a novel, the author needs to ask a very important question: what’s the worst thing that can happen? Because that, right there, is the highest stake your story can have.

In Graceling, the absolute worst thing to happen would have been for King Leck to turn Katsa against Po and Bitterblue, and then put Katsa under his thumb. Those are the two things she’d have hated the most. I both anticipated and dreaded this because I knew exactly how hard this would be on her. But I expected it, because I couldn’t imagine anything worse. Even Katsa acknowledges this...and I was disappointed that some version of it didn’t happen.

Which brings me to the next pause – Katsa didn’t grow as much as I’d hoped she would. Granted, she’s a character that’s resistant to change. And that’s fine. But her growth was akin to half a baby step, and I wanted more.

Katsa discovers that her Grace isn’t killing, it’s survival. This gives her the natural ability to physically take on whatever threatens her, and win. But what about emotionally? Yeah, she struggles with her feelings for Po, but that’s as far as it goes. She doesn’t struggle for her independence, she doesn’t wrestle with the idea of marriage sometime in the (far) future, and she doesn’t even attempt to be more observant of the people around her.

Let’s look at Katsa’s independence. She’d been manipulated and put under the thumb of a bully when she was eight years old. She had been made to believe that she was powerless, unimportant, and not worthy of human interaction. Pretty major stuff, which built up some hefty anger issues – not exactly easy to get over.

Yet, when she leaves King Randa, the bully, she does so pretty easily. She struggles with her anger, but not with the idea that she doesn’t deserve to be controlled. It's more like she just decides she's not going to let King Randa use her anymore, then leaves. But what about all the baggage that comes with it? While I understand the power of choice, it seems a little too convenient that her baggage was just left behind.

People who get themselves out of one trap will often fall right into another, and getting out of the second trap is where the real learning and growth begins. But this doesn’t happen with Katsa. She gets her independence and keeps it, learning nothing and doing no exploration about why she feels she deserves it. I wanted to see this.

I also wanted to see more exploration as to why she doesn’t want to get married. What is it that turns her off? The idea of losing her independence? She doesn’t want to have kids? Doesn’t want outside expectations imposed upon her? Or is it a fear of opening herself up to someone for the rest of her life? Some of these things are touched on, but not explored. Considering Katsa’s strong feelings on the subject, I wanted to know more.

Personally, I understand Katsa’s reluctance to marry. She’s been manipulated and controlled nearly her whole life, and doesn’t want to be in that position again. I’ve been there. I get it. But what isn’t mentioned is that a healthy relationship has none of these qualities. With Po, Katsa is in her first healthy, mutual relationship. Jumping into marriage at this point is not only unbelievable, it’s not smart. She’s not ready, and I think she’s right to not marry Po and go live happily ever after. However, to still refuse to marry him and not even entertain the thought that maybe, far into the future, she might change her mind, makes her seem small-minded and stubborn for no reason.

I’m not saying that I think Katsa and Po need to be married in order to have a fulfilling relationship. But to stick to your childhood ideals just because you...well, just because, does not show strength of character. This made me sad because I liked Katsa a lot, and I have high expectations from those I like.

Still, this was a good book and a fun read, and Katsa is a wonderfully strong character that I think teen girls should read. Hell, I think everyone should read about her. : )

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hiding In Plain Sight

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses in their writing. My greatest strength, by far, is Plot. My brain is good at planning, organizing, and strategy. I can visualize how Point E will be affected if Point A changes. I’ve always been this way.

My greatest weakness, however, is Voice. Always has been. I was the invisible kid in school. I spoke only when spoken to, using as few words as possible, then I’d melt back into the shadows. This made me a great observer, and I think I understand people really well because of it. But it really hurt me in the Voice department, and I’ve spent the past seven or eight years trying to find it.

Well, I've done it. I’ve *just* found my Voice. Now that I’ve found it, I understand much more about my writing world. And, to be perfectly honest, it’s both less and more complicated than I ever thought possible.

So, how did I find my Voice? Well, I read a lot of books (a LOT) in my age-range and genre, I did research, I read agent and editor blogs posts on the subject, I practiced writing a zillion different ways...I could go on, but I’d be here all day. Basically, I was determined to either find it or die tryin’. : )

Anyway, I think agent Rachelle Gardner and editor Caroline Meckler tell us all we need to know about what Voice is and where it comes from. The real trouble is finding it.

Ironically, this is where things got less complicated for me. I discovered that my Voice was there, within me, staring me in the face the whole time. I just didn’t recognize it. It had been hiding in all the things I think about but never say. My mind is a very busy place, but I only share about ten percent of what goes on in there. I sometimes don’t even pay attention to it all. That’s where my Voice was.

I felt like a complete idiot for not seeing it sooner. :) I could have found it years ago if only I’d known where to look. Or, if someone had told me where to look...which brings me to something I've given a lot of thought over the years: whether or not Voice can be taught. I’ve always said that Voice can be taught, and I’ve heard many others say it can’t be. You know what? We’re both right.

No one can teach you how to write in your own Voice, because it’s unique to you and only you can fully understand it. That said, one can point you in the right direction. Someone who understands Voice and where it comes from can give you specific tasks and exercises that may help you find it sooner.

Personally, I don’t think this strategy is much different from teaching any kind of abstract concept. In college, I majored in Math and Computer Science, and I took some pretty “out there” theoretical math classes. It wasn’t black and white there-is-only-one-answer kind of math. The professors couldn’t teach us exact steps toward understanding the theories, so they pointed us in the right direction. We were either capable of understanding or we weren’t. But does that mean they weren’t teaching? If you think they weren't, I think those professors would disagree with you. : )

Voice is different in that it’s not a “you have it or you don’t” kind of thing. Everyone has a Voice – it’s just a matter of finding it within yourself.

So, this is the part that was less complicated for me. The more complicated things will make this post way too long, so I’ll get into that next week. : )

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Free Books at Presenting Lenore!

The book review blog, Presenting Lenore, is giving away 8 books. Five of them are Penguin ARC's of books coming out in 2009, and the other three are backlist books.

To enter, leave her a comment, then stay to peruse her blog. She does some great reviews!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

10,000 Hits!!!

I never would have thought it possible. My little blog, with all my random thoughts and ramblings, has just passed ten thousand hits!

When I started this blog, it was mostly for me to sort out all the writing related things I've learned over the years. I felt like I had too much stored in my head, and if I didn't write it down somewhere, I would start losing information. Yikes!! Can't have that... :)

I originally planned to find a nice, pretty journal and then start my brain dump. But something about that bothered seemed too limiting. Why? Well, if I kept my thoughts in a journal, no one else could add to it with a different opinion or perspective. Plus, I knew what I understood, but did I understand it well enough to explain it to other people such that they would understand? I wasn't sure I could.

So, I took a deep breath and started my brain dump here, for all the world to see. I figured that if I was way off or missing something, someone would speak up. :)

I can't tell you how much this blog has helped me. I see a HUGE difference between my early posts, and the ones I'm writing now. I can't believe how much I've learned in the past year, from forcing myself to put my thought to words, to all the different opinions and perspectives all of you have contributed.

But the best part is that I've made some great friends through this blog. I love hearing about what you all are up to, what you're reading, how your work is progressing, how your kids are doing, how your bathroom remodeling is coming, etc. :) I love that there are so many ways for writers to keep in touch with each other.

Thank you to all who are reading this, and I hope there will be many more interesting discussions to come. :)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Plot Summary: Lucky, age ten, can’t wait another day. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she’ll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won’t be allowed. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has. But she hadn’t planned on a dust storm. Or needing to lug the world’s heaviest survival-kit backpack into the desert.

When this book won the Newbery, the big buzz was that it used the word ‘scrotum’ on the first page. There was talk of censoring it, removing it from library shelves, etc, which isn’t really new and I usually ignore such talk. If a book sounds interesting to me, I’m going to read it regardless of whether it’s got a stamp of approval. Anyway, what really intrigued me was a passing comment I’d recently heard...

I can’t remember who, but someone had written an article questioning the choices of recent Newbery winners, and she commented that THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY can hardly be criticized because of the use of one particular word. That piqued my interest. Did she mean there was more to criticize than that one word? I had to read it to find out...

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

The story is okay. Not terrible, but not fantastic. It didn’t really stand out as something special to me.

I will say that the mere use of the word ‘scrotum’ doesn’t bother me in the least, as long as it’s appropriate for the story. All words chosen must be appropriate for the story. Every single one.

In this case, I’m not sure if it is. Lucky has a habit of eavesdropping on Alcohol Anonymous meetings, and she overhears Short Sammy tell a story about how his dog got bit on the scrotum by a snake. Two things didn’t seem right to me here: a guy named “Short Sammy” used the word scrotum instead of the more common slang? Doesn’t ring true to me. Also, the town of Hard Pan, California has 43 people living in it. Next to a desert. In the middle of nowhere. Why does it have half a dozen AA-type programs? Makes it sound like the whole population is digging themselves out of more than one addiction...

There were some other parts to the story that didn’t make much sense to me. The first, and most obvious: Brigitte, the ex-wife of Lucky’s father, and no relation to Lucky at all. Lucky’s father asks Brigitte to essentially raise Lucky for him. I think most ex-wives would tell their ex-husbands where to stick it if they’d been asked to do this. But, not only does Brigitte agree, she moves to a different country to raise a child that’s not her own. I raised my eyebrow at that, but let it go because I’m sure there are super-nice people like that somewhere in the world. I also shrugged off the potential passport/overstay issues.

However, I couldn’t figure out why Lucky *had* to run away. I know why she did – because she thought Brigitte was leaving her to go back to France. So, why didn’t Lucky talk to Brigitte about this? If Brigitte had been gruff or a closed-type person, I could understand it. But Brigitte is incredibly nice, and it’s obvious she’d listen to whatever was bothering Lucky. So why didn’t Lucky talk to her? Given the way the story and characters were written, I can’t figure that one out. And it makes the ending feel contrived, like she needed to run away for the sake of the story, so the author pulled a reason from the air.

This brings me to the biggest issue I had with the story.

Even if there’s a good reason for Lucky to run away and I’m simply missing it, there is no way I’m going to believe the manner in which she ran away. Throughout the story, she consistently has an affinity for science. She has lived in the desert her whole life. And yet, when it’s time to leave, she puts on Brigitte’s silk slip dress before tramping off into the desert? She would know better. Heck, I don’t live near a desert and even I know better than that.

Next, a dust storm kicks up. Her idea of protection? A dish towel wrapped around her head. Again, she’d know better. Especially with a dust storm so severe that school closes.

No matter how I look at it, this book just doesn’t add up. And I’m still scratching my head as to how this book won the Newbery. But since I’m not on the committee, I’m not privy to their decision-making. Therefore, I can only offer my humble opinion.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Should I Care?

Recently, I read EVIL GENIUS by Catherine Jinks. It was enjoyable and funny with good plot twists, but I didn’t love it. At first, I thought it was because it was a bit too long and the story’s flavor wasn’t something I naturally gravitate toward. But, after reading the sequel, GENIUS SQUAD, I discovered that wasn’t true. The reason I didn’t love these books is because they evoked very little emotion from me.

The obvious question is ‘why?’ Why didn’t these books evoke much emotion? The main character has interesting problems and grows in wonderful ways. The minor characters play good roles both in the story and the main character’s growth. Plus, the story was engaging. So why wasn’t there much emotion involved?

I didn’t see it while reading the first book, but it became obvious in the second. The way both stories are written, the language used to tell the story, keeps us at a distance from the main character.

Okay, but, is that really a problem? He’s not real, so why should we care how much distance there is between us? Well, in real life, how do long-distance relationships usually turn out? Sometimes they’re fine, but often times they fail because there isn’t enough closeness.

I think fiction is very similar. The closer we are to the main character, the more emotion we’ll feel, the better we’ll understand his motivations and actions, and the louder we’ll cheer for him. If there’s distance, then he becomes this person who did this thing in a story. Kind of like reading about people in the news. We might enjoy what they did or feel sad about what happened to them, but then we forget everything because we don’t know them on a personal level. If we did know them, you can bet we wouldn’t forget anything.

I think this is the hardest part of writing fiction, especially for introverted writers. I’m an introvert, and hold myself at a nice, safe distance from people I don’t know well. In my early novels, I did the same with my main characters. Often, the minor characters were easier to know than the main character – which was another part of me coming out. I’m good at reading other people, but hide myself a little too well from others. As a result, the most common advice I got from fellow critiquers was to give them more of my main character. In order to do that, I had to do something far scarier: expose my main character completely, thus exposing myself. Yikes!

But it’s necessary. One of the biggest things I learned growing up is that we can’t really know someone unless there’s no distance between us. If there’s distance, then there’s room to hide faults and shortcomings. And if a character hides his faults from us, then how can we identify with him? A little, yeah, but not completely.

So, I guess what I’m saying, in a very round-about way, is that, in order to evoke emotion for a fictional character, we have to create a realistic relationship between that character and the reader by eliminating all distance between them. How much distance is between you and your significant other? Maybe a little...we do need personal space, after all. But there can’t be any between a character and a reader. They must be so close that the two people become one, so the reader is almost living vicariously through the character.

To do that, the reader needs to be directly in the story. We need to show it to him, not tell it. Telling is distance; showing is transporting the reader right into the scene. Then, if your character is well-developed, then the reader will experience everything you show him through your character’s actions, dialogue and monologue. And the reader won’t be able to help but feel connected to this imaginary person.

All this is hard work. Really hard work. But, if we don’t do it, then our readers won’t connect. And, if they don’t connect, why should they care about what happens to our characters? If they don’t care, why should they read our work?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale

HUNGER GAMES Plot Synopsis: Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used to be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.

BATTLE ROYALE Plot Synopsis: As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one "winner" remains. The elimination contest becomes the ultimate in must-see reality television.

Quite some time ago, I read THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. I thoroughly enjoyed it, then looked up a few reviews to see what others thought. I was surprised to find that some people thought it was a rip off of another book, BATTLE ROYALE by Koushun Takami. Intrigued, I sought out this book to see if they were right.

ETA: people have been commenting here and there about this post, and saying that I've only read HUNGER GAMES and not BATTLE ROYALE. Even though the above paragraph states I've read it, I just want to be clear. I have read the book version of Battle Royale. As in, the original storyline that was later turned into movies and manga. I have not seen the movie, nor read the manga series. So everything in this post is related to the book version only. But, I have read it. Moving on...

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

The stories are very similar. Very. They are centered around teenagers forced to kill each other, and only one can survive. The government, which is all-powerful, has put them there because they are trying to control some aspect of the country. Those running the “games” can alter the environment so the chances of conflict is higher. The kids have access to weapons, though what they can get isn’t always equal to what someone else has. There’s a romance between the two survivors. The two survivors break the rules in order for both of them to leave the “games.”

That said, these stories are not the same and there are some major differences.

Ms. Collins says she based her story on the Greek myth THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR - King Minos of Crete waged war on Athens. He won, then demanded that the Athenians deliver 7 boys and 7 girls every seven years, to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. Theseus, prince of Athens, volunteered to go, determined to kill the Minotaur and end the horror. He fulfilled his task and returned home with all fourteen children. This fits with the kids that are selected by lottery, one boy and one girl, from thirteen different districts. In BATTLE ROYALE, all the kids of one class are sent to the arena, where they are forced to kill each other. That dynamic makes things hugely different, because you know everyone you are supposed to kill. Whereas, in HUNGER GAMES, you might know the other person who came from your district. But you won’t know the others. It makes involvement in the game a little easier.

Another big differences is the audiences. In BATTLE ROYALE, none of the country’s population is allowed to watch the games. They don’t even know it’s going on until it’s over and the winner is shown briefly on TV. In HUNGER GAMES, it’s the opposite. The population is required to watch the games, from start to finish. This illustrates very different motivations on the part of the government. BATTLE ROYALE: the point is to keep the people from trusting each other so they don’t rise against the government. HUNGER GAMES: the point is to punish the people because their ancestors rebelled and lost, and the government wants the survivors to never forget who’s boss. This makes for a very different flavor in each book.

The last major difference is that BATTLE ROYALE is far more violent and graphic than HUNGER GAMES. Plus, BATTLE ROYALE has multiple viewpoints, which makes it far more exhausting to read. You read from a character’s point of view, cheer them on through surviving a fight with his classmate, and then he’s killed by another classmate who had seen the whole thing and ambushed him. This happened often, and I eventually stopped cheering for the characters. In HUNGER GAMES, the story is told from one person’s perspective. We don’t see all the killing and violence – we just know it’s happening. It still has an impact on the reader, but not to the point where you get sick of all the killing. Essentially, BATTLE ROYALE was written with an adult audience in mind. HUNGER GAMES was written with a young adult audience in mind.

Both stories are good. They are well-written and compelling, and will keep you up at night. But they are not the same story, nor do I think HUNGER GAMES is a rip-off of BATTLE ROYALE. It’s been said that all stories have been told, there are just new ways of telling them. And I think these two books illustrate this point.

ETA: Collins recently gave an interview with the New York Times about this issue, and states she didn't know BATTLE ROYALE existed when she wrote HUNGER GAMES. Here is a snippet:
"When I asked Collins if she had drawn from “Battle Royale,” she was unperturbed. “I had never heard of that book or that author until my book was turned in. At that point, it was mentioned to me, and I asked my editor if I should read it. He said: ‘No, I don’t want that world in your head. Just continue with what you’re doing.’ ” She has yet to read the book or to see the movie."
NOTE: Everyone is welcome to share thoughts and opinions about these books in the comments section. Keep in mind, though, that I have strict rules.
  1. No snark, sarcasm, or outright insults.
  2. No veiled or implied insults.
  3. Be civil, and keep the discussion about the books, NOT about the people discussing the books.
Any comments expressing negative opinions about people on this blog will be deleted, regardless of any relevant content also shared. No exceptions.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Me, Myself, and...Who?

“Writers are the most vain, self-absorbed, and self-important people on Earth. After all, what makes a writer think that anyone wants to hear what he has to say? Vanity, pure and simple.”

For the past several years, I’ve heard people say this in varying forms – both from writers and non-writers. Whenever I heard it, I disagreed wholeheartedly, but couldn’t articulate why. I mean, I’m a writer, but I don’t think I’m self-centered or vain. So are these people wrong, or am I deluding myself?

I had to know, so I started on an objective analysis of myself. Beginning with searching my soul for the answer to this question: why do I write?

My first answer was “because I have to.”
Well, why do I have to?
“Because if I don’t, I’ll go crazy. Then I’ll drive everyone around me crazy.”
Okay, but why would I go crazy?
“Because there are all these stories running around in my head, and if I don’t get them out, my brain will overload.”
Stories? Who’s stories are they? Mine, or someone else’s?
“Hmm, I’m not sure. I guess they could be mine, since they come from my head. But, really, they come from characters in my head. And the stories belong to them.”
But what do these characters have to do with it since I write the story? Doesn’t that make it mine?
“The story may start out as mine, but, by the time it’s finished, it’s not mine anymore. It belongs to the main character.”
But...I write the characters, and since I write what I know, aren’t the characters really me?
“Sort of. Some part of them come from me, but the rest comes from watching other people, imagining myself in their positions, and seeing the differences between us. The end result is a person who’s perhaps similar to me, but definitely not the same, who has her own story to tell.”

A-ha! I’d discovered that I really wasn’t setting out to make other people listen to me. I wanted them to listen to the main character. Then I frowned in puzzlement...why did I want people to listen to my characters? This question had me stumped for a long, long time.

Meanwhile, I had a conversation with a friend about music concerts, and which had been our favorites. She had seen some great bands who played some of her favorite music of all time. Yet, they weren’t her favorite concerts. Her favorite was Phil Collins. I was surprised, because she’d never been a die-hard fan. So I asked her why. And she said “because that man knows how to entertain!”

My mouth dropped open in amazement and I practically yelled “Oh! OH! I get it now!!” My writing wasn’t about me or my characters. It was about entertainment. I felt like such an idiot for not seeing it before.

There are stories running around in my head that I think others might enjoy. That’s what Phil Collins does – he doesn’t have to put on an entertaining show, but he does because he thinks his fans will enjoy it. Does that make him vain and self-absorbed? Nope. He just sees something in himself that he thinks others will enjoy. Rather than keeping it to himself, he shares it with us. And we enjoy it. I think this is what sets him apart from the wannabes and the blips (short-lived bands), and why he was around for so many years.

I think writers who never forget their readers are the ones who will be truly great, giving us amazing story after amazing story for years. But if you only focus within, you'll lose sight of your reader. And then who's going to read your work?

So, what are you? A wannabe? A blip? Or a writer?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Butterfly Award

Fellow blogger Jim Danielson has passed on the beautiful Butterfly Award to me. Thanks Jim!! :) If you haven't already checked out his blog, you should. He's going to have the scoop on Chicago Tribune reviews of children's books in posts to come. Looking forward to that! :)

Anyway, here's the Butterfly Award rules:

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3. Award up to 10 other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs.

*sigh* I could sit here all day listing really cool blogs, but I can't do that so I'll do my best at shortening the list. I, therefore, tag Jacqui, Beth, PJ, and Marcia, for having fabulous, informative blogs!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

What I Read in 2008

I've been keeping a list of the books I read last year. I'd never done this before, but I joined the 50 Book Challenge on Shelfari, so I needed to keep track. Basically, the challenge is to read fifty books in a year.

And the count? Seventy. Seventy! I'm still shocked. Reading and writing are like breathing to me, so I don't notice how much I'm doing it. If I had to guess, I'd have guessed half that number. I'm glad I kept the list, and I'm going to do it again next year.

Anyway, here's the list, in the order I read them:

1. The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
2. What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles
3. Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black
4. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
5. Rebel Angels by Libba Bray
6. The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
7. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
8. A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
9. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
10. Chocolat by Joanne Harris
11. Feed by M.T. Anderson
12. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
13. A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
14. Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
15. Rules by Cynthia Lord
16. Girls in Pants by Ann Brashares
17. The Year Of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
18. Murder Of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty
19. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
20. Wildwood Dancing by by Juliet Marillier
21. So B. It by Sarah Weeks
22. Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
23. Larger Than Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall
24. Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles
25. Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr
26. The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
27. Savvy by Ingrid Law
28. Looks by Madeleine George
29. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
30. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
31. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
32. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
33. Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
34. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
35. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
36. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
37. Skin Deep by E.M. Crane
38. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
39. Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson
40. Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
41. Shift by Jennifer Bradbury
42. Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle
43. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
44. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter
45. Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey
46. The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph
47. Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen
48. Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black
49. Rash by Pete Hautman
50. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
51. Gossip Girl #1 by Cecily Von Ziegesar
52. Prep: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld
53. Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
54. Size 12 Is Not Fat by Meg Cabot
55. Ironside by Holly Black
56. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter
57. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
58. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
59. The Emerald Tablet by P. J. Hoover
60. Austenland by Shannon Hale
61. Devilish by Maureen Johnson
62. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
63. Princess Ben by Catherine Murdock
64. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
65. All-American Girl by Meg Cabot
66. Tending to Grace by Kimberly Fusco
67. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
68. What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell
69. Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin
70. Paper Towns by John Green

I've got over 150 books on my list for next year, and it seems to be growing all the time. But I'm going to do the 50 Book Challenge again so as not to kill myself with guilt if I can't read for some reason. So we'll see how far I can get through that list...but that's a really big number! Yikes!! :)

What did you read last year? What were your favorites? Is anyone up for doing the 50 Book Challenge with me?

50 Books in 2009

The 50 Book Challenge: read fifty books in a year!

I did this last year through Shelfari and loved it, so I'm doing it again. I'll keep this list up to date, and add books as I read them.

Here is what I've read so far:

1. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
2. The Book of Luke by Jenny O'Connell
3. 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan
4. Genius Squad by Catherine Jinks
5. Slam by Nick Hornby
6. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
7. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
8. Chalice by Robin McKinley
9. I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert
10. Bliss by Lauren Myracle
11. Sliding on the Edge by C. Lee McKenzie
12. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
13. The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
14. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
15. Braless in Wonderland by Debbie Reed Fischer
16. Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
17. Harmless by Dana Reinhardt
18. The Shape of Water by Anne Spollen
19. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
20. The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante
21. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
22. 39 Clues: One False Note by Gordon Korman
23. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
24. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
25. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
26. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
27. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
28. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
29. How Not To Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler
30. Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe by Susan Patron
31. Whales On Stilts by M.T. Anderson
32. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
33. City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
34. Trigger by Susan Vaught
35. 39 Clues: The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis
36. A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris
37. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
38. The Comeback Season by Jennifer E. Smith
39. My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters by Sydney Salter
40. The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
41. I Know It's Over by C.K. Kelly Martin
42. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
43. How To Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle
44. Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith
45. Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith
46. Wake by Lisa McMann
47. Fade by Lisa McMann
48. 39 Clues: Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson
49. The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas
50. The Demon Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Yay!! I read fifty books and it's only June! Hmm...think I'd better expand my goal...


Here's to wishing everyone a very Happy New Year, filled with ridiculous resolutions and no hangovers.