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Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNoWriMo

November 1 kicks off National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated NaNoWriMo or just NaNo to those familiar with it.  It's a challenge to write 50,000 words on an original work during the month of November.  At a steady pace, that's 1667 words per day (or about 2000 if you want to build in some days off), every single day for 30 days.  For reference, this blog post is 382 words.  I would need to write the equivalent of four and a half of these every day just to keep up.

I last participated in NaNoWriMo in 2009, when I decided to take a break from my then-current projects to write something completely different.  I wrote up a novel-length erotica, which topped out at over 80,000 words as of the 20th, so I started a spinoff.  I call that my year of the double NaNo, because I wrote over 100,000 words in November of 2009.

The following year, I was working on the third set of edits for my trilogy, and I didn't want to interrupt the edits to do something different.  This year, I have to finish up my fourth set of edits and get to working on book 2.  I may show up at a write-in, because I do like the sense of community that comes with NaNoWriMo.  But, I will not be pushing myself to write all those words.  I know I can do it.  I'm more than willing to cheer on others.  I just have other things going on with my writing.

As you may be able to glean from my post, I'm a big proponent of NaNoWriMo and the community it builds.  I would never have met the wonderful people in my writing group, if not for NaNoWriMo 2008.  It was my first year in the Capital Region, and I was eager to meet new people and make friends based on common interests.  I found a number of valuable friends among the Wrimos (what participants call themselves), and my fondest early memories of living in the Capital Region are of hanging out in a coffee shop with a laptop, procrastinating from writing with other writers.

I've often remarked that writing is a solitary activity.  NaNoWriMo, if nothing else, is an excellent way to be less alone as a writer.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stalling

I have dozens of excuses about why I haven't been writing or updating this blog, but they're just that - excuses.  If I wanted to make it a priority, I would've.  I've found time to watch TV, to play with the cats, and lots of time to catch up on sleep.  I've found time to read, even if it's not as much as I would've liked.  I've found lots and lots of time to tool around online and play games.

So why, then, haven't I found the time to update or to finish my current work in progress?

Part of it is trepidation about finishing.  The current work in progress is on its fourth draft.  When I'm done, I'm allowing myself one more read-through, and then it's going to a set of beta readers.  As you all know by now, I am a special, delicate snowflake who tosses out entire drafts of novels based on a few negative comments. (No, not really, but my hyperbole isn't far off the mark.)  But if I don't finish, nobody will ever get to read it, right?

I wasn't thinking that deliberately as I stalled on the latest draft, which is about two pages from being done.  But the thought it certainly there, hovering in the back of my mind when I'm flipping through channels thinking there must be something productive I can do.

As for not updating the blog, well, I'm running out of future topics faster than I can come up with new ones.  I can blather on about almost anything, but I'm hardly an expert.  Most writing subjects have been covered quite thoroughly by other, worthier writers.  I'm having a really hard time coming up with anything I'm qualified to comment on.

So, here's where I open it up to you, my small but brilliant set of readers:  what do you want to hear me spout off on?  Whatever I contribute will be mostly opinion and what's worked for me so far, with no publication experience or firsthand knowledge of the industry.  With that caveat, what topic related to writing do you want to read my opinions on?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Like Water for Chocolate


Like Water for Chocolate
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



This book caught my eye when some students were complaining about it as assigned reading in school. They posited that it might be more enjoyable if they hadn't been forced to read it, so I decided to test that. I can't say what made them not like this book, but I can say that I did like it, in a way I probably wouldn't have when I was in high school.

The novel is solidly in the magical realism genre, in which odd and impossible things happen, often without explanation. Had this book been my first exposure to it, I might have wasted most of the narrative waiting for the explanation, for the pieces to fall into place. But, freed from that distraction, I got to enjoy the story for the rich, lush romance it was.

The story follows the life of Tita, the narrator's great aunt, who left a book of recipes that serves as a kind of journal of her life. She falls in love, but is unable to act on it, because of a family tradition that calls for the youngest daughter to stay single so that she can take care of her mother in old age.

I liked the shades of grey even the "bad guys" were painted in. I liked that there were precious few easy choices, and no situations presented from only one side. Mama Elena is the biggest source of conflict in the book, but she's also painted as strong, competent, and having been influenced by past mistakes. Much as I sympathized with Tita, I admired and respected her mother.

The timeline of the book is hard to pin down. The chapters are named after months, but very few correspond to the months being relayed in the text. The chapter titles cover a year, but the events in the novel take place over 22 years. The timeline isn't clear until the end of the book, at which point I'd figured it out from context.

I greatly enjoyed this book. It did an excellent job of building sexual tension and depicting unconsummated passion without anything explicit. Perhaps some of the people who disliked this book wanted something more explicit. But, if it was, I can't see it being taught in schools.

I liked this book quite a bit. I don't know if I would've liked it as much as I did if it had been assigned reading. I'm glad I was able to discover it on my own, though.



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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: I Don't Want to Kill You


I Don't Want to Kill You
I Don't Want to Kill You by Dan Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



This was a very satisfying conclusion to the trilogy that started with I Am Not A Serial Killer. However, while it was compelling and an excellent story, I just didn't think the writing was as strong in this one as the last two.

The tension wasn't as high as in the last two books, for starters. I just didn't get the sense that John was being closed in on, and that he had to solve the mystery before it was too late, as in previous books. I felt like he would stumble across it when things lined up just right for him, and he did.

There was a romantic development in this book, too, that felt a bit tacked-on and forced. If I'd seen it further explored in earlier books, I might have bought it, but it was too much, too fast for one book that takes place over 2 months of story.

But, aside from those quibbles, it was an excellent story. There were some cool twists on the previous concepts, some payoffs that made the trilogy very satisfying, overall, and some scenes that are going to stay with me for a while.

If you're considering picking up this series, but you're worried it's too much like Dexter, pick it up. John Cleaver is a very different sort of character, with very different sets of problems. I would highly recommend this series to anyone who likes a sprinkling of the supernatural and creepy in your small-town dramas.



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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: Olive Kitteridge


Olive Kitteridge
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



This is not my kind of book. It was depressing and bleak and tried to make me sympathize with a character who actually turned out to be worse than initially depicted. The one character I liked died off-screen most of the way through the book, and I wound up feeling cheated more than anything else.

The book vaguely follows the later life of Olive Kitteridge, a crotchety woman who lives in Crosby, Maine. It consists of a series of random vignettes told through several perspectives. Some people have called this a strength of the book, but I just got confused from having too many people to keep track of. The book never really says how they tie in or who they are, so I spent these sections waiting for relevance that never came.

I'm sure there are readers who like gritty realism and to be smacked in the face with how bleak reality can be, but I like escapism in my fiction. Therefore, this book was not for me.



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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: A Madness of Angels


A Madness of Angels
A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



This was an excellent take on the urban fantasy genre. While it clocked in at over 600 paperback pages, I hardly noticed how many pages I was flipping. There wasn't so much as a wasted word in the text.

Madness of Angels used a lot of familiar concepts and settings, but took a twist that I haven't seen in other books. The use of London as a setting was superb, and, though I've never seen it for myself, I had a pretty good picture of Swift's London in my mind as I read. The magic system and the melding of technology and magic felt seamless and real. I didn't feel like I was plunging into a fictional universe in this book; I felt like I was stepping off a plane and getting a tour of someplace that could really exist.

The book is about Matthew Swift, who wakes up two years after he died, and wants revenge, and to find out who brought him back. To that end, he goes up against his mentor, Robert James Bakker, and the Tower, a society formed of magic users allied to Bakker. He also has to face what killed him in the first place, and we learn how it is he's alive and why his body was never found. We're also introduced to a number of magical elements, creatures, concepts, and organizations, without their introduction ever involving info-dumps or expository dialogue. All of the reveals felt natural and well-paced.

There were some features of the book that made it hard to follow, at times. Matthew refers to himself as "we" in a way that seems random and haphazard, until you're finally clued into what's going on. There are no chapter breaks in the text; instead, the book pulls you along, with small breaks between scenes, or different sections that cover 100 - 150 pages apiece. I considered those stylistic, rather than something to criticize, but some readers may be turned off by these features.

My biggest complaint was that, when I met Dana Mikeda, the book was mostly done, and I really liked her. I wanted to see more of her. I see, story-wise, why she didn't have a more prominent place in the text, but I wish Griffin could've made that work.

I will definitely be reading Midnight Mayor, the next book in this series, to see what other trouble Matthew Swift can get himself into. I enjoyed following him around all book, and would like to continue to do so.



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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: Daughter of Fortune


Daughter of Fortune
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



This is how I like my historical fiction. There were characters who felt real and three-dimensional to me, a fascinating story I could follow within the historical context, and an integration of historical details that made me feel like the story could've happened, once upon a time.

Daughter of Fortune follows Eliza Sommers, a foundling in Chile, through growing up on a chilly port town, falling in love, and following her first love to San Francisco during the Gold Rush. Along the way, she meets Tao Chi'en, a Chinese man who was pressed into service to act as a cook, but whose skill lies in Eastern medicine.

Allende brings the settings to life so that I could see, hear, feel, even smell them. The characters all start out with room to grow, and grow they do, and not just in the biological sense. The book goes in a different direction than I thought it was taking me, and I liked that.

Ultimately, this is a book about not just the Gold Rush of 1849, but about growing up, finding oneself, and the love that goes beyond the initial puppydog infatuation that our culture loves so much.

Like all good historical fiction, I thought this had a lot of echoes in the modern day, and it had some things to say about them. Racism, sex trafficking, mob mentality, and a distrust of Mexicans continues to be a problem, and Allende uses these elements to good effect.

I liked this book, as a historical fiction novel, as an educational tool to show me what life was like during the Gold Rush, and as a decent story. I'd recommend it, especially if you've read and liked Isabel Allende's work before.



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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Review: Wild Hunt


Wild Hunt
Wild Hunt by Margaret Ronald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



I did not enjoy this as much as Spiral Hunt, the first in the Evie Scelan books. I did enjoy it, and I liked the use of Boston as a setting, which was as much of a character as those who had speaking roles. It just wasn't as well-put-together as the previous novel.

This book has Evie getting hired by a powerful and apparently sane magic user, who wants her to figure out which item of hers has been stolen so that she can return it. Meanwhile, Nate (Evie's good friend and potential love interest) is having some personal issues of his own, and people are putting pressure on Evie to fill the void created from her actions in book 1.

It felt like there was a lot going on, and like Evie wasn't as invested in it. She had a personal stake, sure, but I just didn't feel it the way I did in the first book. I didn't feel the passion between her and Nate, and I didn't feel her panic at the thought she might lose him. She just seemed to have so much on her mind that the budding relationship seemed like more of a distraction than a motivation.

I do plan on reading book #3, in hopes that Ronald has gone back to the style and emotional veracity that drew me through to the end of the first book. This one was a fight to get through, unfortunately, and I thought she could do so much better.



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Review: Mistress Shakespeare: A Novel


Mistress Shakespeare: A Novel
Mistress Shakespeare: A Novel by Karen Harper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Karen Harper set herself a challenging task: to balance the historical record of who William Shakespeare was with her speculation about a second Anne in his life, the Anne Whately who may have been a typo, but who Harper posits as a real person. Also, she had to write a story about Shakespeare without the connection to his writings feeling contrived or too neatly wrapped up. Third, she had to depict about 50 years in time without it feeling like a summary. In the second and third tasks, I feel she succeeded, though only just. In the first, I can only comment on the things that stood out to me.

I am no Shakespeare scholar, but I'm well aware that Shakespeare wasn't appreciated in his time. He was successful, which was why his plays survived, but he was far more looked down on than this novel suggests. I understand why Anne might gush on and on about his "genius," but that no one rolls his eyes at her irked me. In retrospect, we see his genius, but people of his time didn't all embrace him, and that glossing-over bothered me.

The idea of a writer gaining inspiration or coming up with character traits or lines felt true to me. Most writers will describe taking just bits and pieces of real life to put into their writing, and never cleaving anything off to shove in whole. So that the Will Shakespeare of this novel commented on only finding inspiration from his Anne and his personal trials felt real enough, and that it gave the author wiggle room to keep from having to write out his play's plots scene by scene probably helped free up a lot of the narrative. Still, there were times when the inspiration felt a bit pat, or like the inspiration was shoehorned in.

The timeline often confused me, though that may have been the fault of the audiobook. Maybe the text has some white space between events and timeskips. But it would seem to me, listening to the audio version, that one minute they'd be talking or arguing, and the next it would be five years later. Due to the timeline, I was often curious why one event or another would stick out in Anne's mind, and then weeks, months, or years would pass before anything more stuck out to her. Often, the events seemed like they weren't particularly memorable. Also, Anne often promises things about upcoming scenes that she fails to deliver. She apologizes for the upcoming scene of the first time she meets Will Shakespeare, but it seemed quite memorable for meeting the love of one's life, to me. She promises that the next time she sees her Will, she's much changed, but I never detected any difference.

I think that the book could've been written better, but it was enjoyable enough, and I didn't yell at it, like I often do with Shakespeare retcons. And so, if you like historical romance with minimal sex (oh, they have plenty of it, but everything is left to the imagination) and the idea of Shakespeare having a second wife doesn't repulse you, you may enjoy this. Don't expect a rehash of any of his plays, though. Harper weaves in elements of Shakespeare's play without offering us a blatant ripoff, and I appreciated that much originality.



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