Monday, May 27, 2013

Quotes from Famous Writers

Happy Memorial Day to everyone in the US! Hope the weather is beautiful wherever you are, and that your grill gives plenty of bounty. :)

I've got some more great quotes for you today. Enjoy!

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
- G K Chesterton

Don't get it right; just get it written.
- James Thurber

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.
- Stephen King
Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about...)
- C.S. Lewis

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.
- Margaret Atwood

The free-lance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.
- Robert Charles Benchley

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.
- John Steinbeck

Read, read, read.  Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.  Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.  Read!  You'll absorb it.  Then write.
- William Faulkner

There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.
- Walter Smith

I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.
- Peter De Vries

It requires more than mere genius to be an author.
- Jean De La Bruyere

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Louder Than Words by Laurie Plissner

Since the snowy night when her family's car slammed into a tree, killing her parents and little sister, Sasha has been unable to speak except through a computer with a robotic voice. Nothing is wrong with her body; that's healed. But, after four years, Sasha's memory, and her spirit, are still broken. Then one day, she's silently cussing out the heavy book she dropped at the library when a gorgeous, dark-haired boy, the kind of boy who considers Sasha a freak or at least invisible, "answers" Sasha's hidden thoughts -- out loud. Yes, Ben can read minds; it's no big deal. He's part of a family with a host of unusual, almost-but-not-quite-supernatural talents. Through Ben's love, Sasha makes greater progress than she has with a host of therapists and a prominent psychiatrist. With him to defend her, bullies keep the world from ever understanding Sasha, he pulls away. Determined to win him and prove her courage by facing her past, Sasha confronts her past -- only to learn that her family's death was no accident and that a similar fate may wait for her, in the unlikeliest of disguises.

An okay story. The premise is very intriguing, but the execution wasn’t my favorite. I was pulled out of the story many times due to inconsistencies and things I just didn’t believe.

I wasn’t all that fond of Sasha, and I couldn’t connect to her because I thought her characterization was inconsistent. She starts off telling us what happened to her family and what she remembers when she woke up in the hospital, and then all of a sudden she’s telling one of her classmates ‘f-you’ in the middle of class. Apparently, this is a common occurrence because the detention teacher knows her well, as do the other students who are regulars. This threw me. I get that people can change drastically when they’ve lost their entire family to tragedy and then been teased for four years. But we need to see that change, or else it’s too jolting.

BTW, even though the opening to this story breaks some rules, it totally works in this case. I hear editors say all the time not to start a story with a character waking up or with a flashback, but we get a flashback of Sasha ‘waking up’ in the hospital. And it works. We get her backstory in an interesting way, and I developed something of a relationship with her. But then she turned into someone else entirely when we see her in school, so I was really bummed about that.

I’m glad that Sasha has a good, loyal friend (Jules), and that there aren’t any mean, catty girls in the story. Jules is even head cheerleader, so it was a refreshing change of pace. I wish her character had been more consistent, though. She starts off as an upbeat supporter, but then sort of morphs into something else. And then she shocks Sasha by saying swear words, even though Sasha will say the f-word in class. So I didn’t really get their relationship.

Ben was okay, though too good to be true. He’s a bit over the top with opening doors, coming to Sasha’s rescue all the time, likes old music stuff, plus he’s a sexual genius. He’s also a fourth degree black belt—BTW, I didn’t buy that part at all. It’s not that it’s impossible to become a fourth degree black belt at such a young age, but it’s *highly* unlikely. If one has gotten so far so young, then there’s no way he would be so easily disarmed by an untrained jock. And he certainly wouldn’t be rendered helpless by the loss of his nunchucks. A first degree black belt can see a punch coming long before it gets there and will get out of the way, let alone a fourth degree black belt.

The sex and lust between Sasha and Ben was over the top. I don’t mind love scenes, but Sasha was a walking porn site (another thing Ben comments on). I also didn’t buy all the profanity. It felt gratuitous to me. If I understood the characters better, then this might have felt more natural.

The whole thing with Dr. O was a bit much. Ben called the situation a bad TV movie of the week, and I have to agree. Sometimes it works when a character acknowledges something fishy, but most times it doesn’t. It didn’t in this case. And I was really disappointed with the enormous bow at the end, tying things up too neatly. Not my cup of tea.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Shape of a Story

This year has been the year of revision, so in between drafts I’ve been trying to stay on top of the towering pile of books next to my bed (and mostly failing, but that’s not the point). I’ve just read a few books that sent me pondering on the most effective shape of a story.

The shape of a story is basically a picture of the tension. If you gave tension a numerical rating, 1 being low and 10 being high, and then made a graph of the tension within the story at key plot points, you should get a gradually increasing curve.

Ahem…my inner math geek took over in the previous paragraph. Sorry about that. :) I can’t promise it won’t happen again, so I’m going to just apologize for any future hijacking.

Moving on…

On a very high level, your story should look like Freytag’s Pyramid:

But if we look closer at the rising tension, there should be moments where it’s even. Depending on the story, it could even decrease. As the story progresses, the lulls in tension should get fewer—this generally makes it more difficult for the reader to put the book down, because he/she wants to know how everything will be resolved. Basically, it should look like this:

If you start the story with too little tension, you won’t hook your reader at all. If you start the story out with too much tension, it runs the risk of either confusing the reader, or making him feel exhausted from too much going on. If you start your story with lots of tension, but then don’t increase it as you go, then the reader will either stop reading, or will get to the end and feel the story was anticlimactic.

So, generally, the story needs to start at the moment change takes place in the main character’s life. But the main character doesn’t need to be thrown into a heart-pounding action scene in order to create a sufficient hook. Sometimes that can turn the reader off. Instead, you want to introduce questions that intrigue the reader. Then you can introduce a bit more, then a bit more, and keep going until you reach the resolution.

This will give you satisfied readers who demand more of your books. :)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza

Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past—that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do.
Now she has no choice but to run—from the dangerous operatives who want her terminated because she knows too much and from a mysterious group that wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology. However, what Mila’s becoming is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own, and it just might save her life.

I wasn’t sure about this book when I first picked it up. I’m a huge fan of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and I was afraid I was going to be inadvertently comparing the two stories. Which I did, a little, but Mila 2.0 is different enough that I was able to let that go early on.

For the most part, I enjoyed this story. It starts out slow, with standard characters that don’t add much to the story: Kaylee is the typical selfish mean girl, Hunter is the typical hot guy who is inexplicably attracted to the main character, Mila is the typical angsty teenager, Mom is the typical overprotective type, etc. The relationships between these characters aren’t explored or deepened, so when they fall apart it’s not a big deal. Even though it *should* be a big deal.

But then things take an adventurous turn. Mila discovers who she is and goes on the run with Mom, and from there it’s impossible to put the book down. Mila has so many people after her that she never gets a moment of rest, and the pacing reflects that.

The lack of depth in the character relationships is problematic throughout, though, and got a bit annoying when it came to Hunter. We got such a small glimpse of him in the beginning that it’s not really clear why Mila keeps thinking about him. Well, not clear emotionally…I have a theory as to why—it’s completely plot driven, and therefore a bit contrived. I’m guessing this is going to be the opening of the next book, which will launch another break-neck paced adventure right away. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. :)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fiction Fun: Procrastination and My Old Man

I was going through some old folders over the weekend and found a bunch of poems I wrote waaay back in college. It was a pleasant surprise. :) So, I thought I'd share one of them with you all. Enjoy!

Procrastination and My Old Man
Thick, wet snowflakes float to the ground
Covering everything with white
My father's footprints the only imperfection
I am an ass for coming
For following him
To his favorite tree by the creek
He is slumped against the sturdy trunk
Nursing a bottle of Old Crow
He lifts heavy lids, blinking his blood-shot eyes
"Time to go home, eh?"
Next time, I won't come

Thursday, May 09, 2013

You Know What You Have To Do by Bonnie Shimko

You do not kill a man in cold blood and then talk your way out of it. Other than her real name — Mary-Magdalene Feigenbaum — fifteen-year-old Maggie’s problems seem ordinary. She has tiffs with her too-critical mother, a crush on her cute psychologist, and worries that her only friend — fellow outcast Abigail — is morphing into a popular girl, leaving her behind. But Maggie has a few not-so-ordinary problems. A voice in her head is telling her to kill. And not just anyone. Each time the target is a person who has done something terrible to someone Maggie cares for. You know what you have to do, the voice commands. Maggie struggles to resist, but the voice is relentless. And as its demands escalate, her world begins to crumble.

A strange story. It's entertaining, to be sure, just different. :) First and foremost, I liked Maggie. It was incredibly refreshing to see a teen girl who isn't constantly questioning herself and never pines to be like the popular girls. I loved that.

I thought this was going to be something like a YA version of Dexter, but it's not. Not really. Maggie does kill people, because the voice in her head compels her to do so. When this voice manifests, it causes her physical pain, so she feels she has to do what he says just to get the pain to stop. I was very interested to see how her story was going to pan out.

I tried to write this review without spoilers, but found it wasn't really possible. So there are spoilers below, some big ones.

Things get inconsistent as the story progresses. She goes along with the voice when the targets are low-life abusers, but she refuses to comply when the voice tells her to throw a baby down the stairs. Or when he tells her to run over a bicyclist. There were no consequences to either incident. So why didn't she start resisting more? Then, at the end when she tells the voice his ideas are stupid, he gets weaker. Why didn't this happen sooner when she'd successfully disobeyed?

The transitions were rough, too. One minute, summer is starting, then school starts three pages later. The worst was when Harry dies. We went from he's-not-feeling-well to his funeral, and gloss over the fact that Maggie tried to kill herself afterward. We learn that bit in a whispered conversation between her therapist and her mother, but we never get to experience Maggie's grief firsthand. I'm not sure why. This book doesn't shy away from darkness (she *kills* people), so I don't know why we didn't get to be in Maggie's head when she decides she doesn't want to be in this world any longer.

There is no building tension, either. The story feels pretty even throughout. Maggie kills people. She still kills people. Her stepfather dies and she's nearly destroyed from the grief. She goes back home with plans to burn down her friend's house, after giving the voice in her head some sass. There's no beginning, middle, or ending. The fact that she's talking back to the voice in her head is a good thing, but it's not enough. I wanted to feel tension building throughout the story, and then be rewarded with an amazing conclusion that knocked my socks off. I think this story could have done it, but, sadly, it didn't.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley

Angie Chapman was thirteen years old when she ventured into the woods alone on a Girl Scouts camping trip. Now she's returned home…only to find that it's three years later and she's sixteen-or at least that's what everyone tells her.
What happened to the past three years of her life?
Angie doesn't know.
But there are people who do — people who could tell Angie every detail of her forgotten time, if only they weren't locked inside her mind. With a tremendous amount of courage, Angie embarks on a journey to discover the fragments of her personality, otherwise known as her "alters." As she unearths more and more about her past, she discovers a terrifying secret and must decide: When you remember things you wish you could forget, do you destroy the parts of yourself that are responsible?

This is a difficult book to review. The subject matter is very serious, and some events in the story are horrifying. So this isn't really a book you can sit down and enjoy. At the same time, though, this book is impossible to put down. The mystery behind Angie's disappearance is compelling and kept me glued to the pages. I read the whole thing in a day.

Angie's struggles with her gap in memory feel authentic, as well as how she attempts to come to terms with her new life, her older body, her freaked out parents, everything. Slowly, we find out where she's been and what happened to her.

Some spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk.

Angie was kidnapped by a psycho pedophile when she was 13, and he held her captive for 3 years. She suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder, which means she has multiple personalities/identities within herself. These personalities dealt with her three years of captivity, so, when she came home, she had no memory of what had happened. Slowly, through various forms of therapy, her story is revealed.

I thought it was done pretty well. Granted, some of the methods used were a little far-fetched, and the timeline of her personality integration is completely unrealistic, but, for some reason, I was okay with this. We can't follow Angie around until she's 30, and yet we also need to know what happened to her. So this was the next best thing.

This is a psychological book that doesn't shy away from the horrors of rape, so if subjects like this don't sit well with you, then you might want to pass. But if you want to read a pretty authentic tale of survival, definitely pick up a copy.