Saturday, September 27, 2014

Love / Hate Relationships: Questions and answers (hell, let's be honest--more questions than answers)

My experience with books has been mainly cut-and-dried as far as whether I find a book or book series worthy of my time and energy. This is the girl who abandoned Tolkien, not caring at all what people think or whether or not she could discuss LOTR at parties. Tolkien's worldbuilding is magnificient. The guy invented fourteen languages. My nerdy little heart should leap at this kind of thing.

But. . .

Tolkien was not exactly skilled at choosing his sensory details. By the time I'd read three pages of description of a hillside, all the way down to how many gorse bushes and how tall each one of them were, I gave up. I am extremely detail-oriented and figure that anyone who is going to spend three pages of description on one hillside is doing so because the details are important and that said hillside is going to figure into the plot at some future time.


Well into the second book, the hillside had been left far behind. When I asked a fan of the series about it, I got a deer-in-the-headlights look from him.

"You remember that?" he asked.

"Well, he spent three pages on the gorse bushes, so I figure they were going to be revisited or important in some way or another later on."

 "No, no, you don't get it. He's trying to give a sense of place."

"No, no, I do get it. This is a linguist who is brilliant but who has no real understanding of how much sensory detail to use in fiction and when. His pacing is a mess. That entire passage could have been a couple of paragraphs and I would have had no trouble getting a sense of setting. Instead, I'm holding the details in my mind because I'm sure that so much copy dedicated to it must have meant it was going to be significant later on."

I might as well have said kicking puppies was great sport. Horrified glances and gasps whenever I bring it up.

If you were to look at my Goodreads page, you will see that I have seldom given only one or two stars to a book. I know my genres, I know my authors, I read reviews and decide if this is something I want to spend time on. Rarely do I get a nasty surprise, unless it's due to devouring curiosity or a desire to be completely surprised. I have also read some one-star books because of their significance to popular culture or how well they fit into their historical context, because my students were reading them, or simply because reading less-than-stellar prose is a good way to appreciate stellar prose.

As a rule, I can put my finger on exactly what I liked and didn't like and decide whether the book or series is worth finishing. I am seldom ambivalent and have very few love / hate relationships with the books I read.

That all changed a year ago, when I was introduced to Kevin Hearne's The Iron Druid Chronicles. I love myth and folklore and have recently been introduced to the wonderful world of urban fantasy, particularly that of Emma Bull and Charles de Lint. I also have one of Jim Butcher's Dresden books and am anxious to give them a try.

I have read all six of the published Iron Druid books, all the short stories, and all the novellas Hearne has published that tie in to the series. I plan to read the next three books as well. I may or may not elaborate on his commercialism and opportunism in another post. Be that as it may, Hearne's scholarship is considerable. He juggles plotlines and pantheons with the dexterity of a brain surgeon. He even writes good fight scenes.When he does decide to let go of the '80's fratboy that lends voice most often to the 2100-year-old Druid protagonist (how coincidental is it that Siodhachan has the same tastes in entertainment as his creator), his writing can be insightful, poetic, lyrical. He's funny and witty, but too often slops over into silliness, a waste of the author's talent and sometimes downright insulting to his readers. He obviously wishes to produce "important" work but just as obviously wants to be sleeping on bags of money, and the results range from uneven to wildly uneven.

And don't get me started on Hearne's sexism. That, too, may be another post. Or perhaps I'll just refer you to my Goodreads reviews.

Never have I persevered with a book series that I hate as much as I love. I usually say, "life's too short for this tug-o-war" and toss the book aside. But I love the worldbuilding. There's so little urban fantasy out there that even comes up to halfway decent. I'm a detail freak, and I'm willing to stick with these books so that, if I have something to lambaste about them, I can do so from a position of knowledge. There are even things to love about the characters, though they definitely take a backseat to the story. Especially the women. And even more especially the goddesses of the Tuatha de Dannan, who are petty, flouncy high-school girls, cheerleaders fighting over the football captain. Brighid, Flidais, and even the Morrigan deserve better.

All I can say is, the next three books damn well better be worth the time and energy and money it will have taken to get through them all. Watch this space.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Happy 2014:catching up

I closed my editing business to have a chance to work on my own writing for awhile. It was a difficult decision and an easy one at the same time. But that means I can come here more often and talk about writing, reading, books, authors, the business, and all that other stuff.

I keep promising a post on Adults Who Enjoy YA Books, and, since Goodreads has begin censoring reader posts per new policies instituted in September of 2013, I'll probably weigh in on that too. I've already posted here about butthurt, whingey authors here and also here who flame readers for posting negative reviews, but *sigh* since so many authors feel they just have to pee in someone else's sandbox, I'll have to revisit that.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Still trapped under heavy stuff

I'm still getting quite a few pageviews despite not having posted anything since November (that's when my editing business really started taking off), so I decided to stick my head in the door and update the three of you who may be following this blog on a regular basis.

First, I'm still working on my own YA sci-fi, but extremely slowly as other people's edits are currently taking precedence. They're paying me, after all.

The promised YA post hasn't materialized yet--I agonize over every word, so these posts actually take awhile to craft before I feel they're worthy of being read.

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane comes out June 18 (cover your ears while I let out a fangirl squeeeee). Okay, I'm done. He is such a generous author; anyone who ordered an advance copy (me!) gets an autographed first edition. Links here (containing advance reviews and tour dates). Denver, where my sister lives, and Seattle, where my daughter lives, are on the list. He's not going to be anywhere near enough my neck of the woods, unfortunately *sadface* and here. The second link is an earlier post, from which you can order advance copies. Oh, that reminds me: I have to go order Unnatural Creatures and finally get around to reading Anansi Boys. 


I worked very hard on the Characterizations posts as well as the Revision Strategies, although the latter can certainly afford some tweakage now that I've been editing semi-professionally for awhile. But I am quite proud of the Characterizations essays, particularly as concerns female characters. So, in the absence of new posts every week, you can always read these.


Just finished A. L. Kennedy's The Blue Book and Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. Literary/realistic fiction is my first love and it was nice to come back to them.  Our school is participating in the 50 Book Challenge; of course the teachers are encouraged to participate as well; but having been fed a steady diet of YA most of this year, I decided to be a rebel and choose what I wanted to read for the last two months of the school year.  So there. I write reviews of most books I read, so if you want my take, head to my Goodreads "READ" shelf and see what I wrote. Review of Kingsolver forthcoming, since I only finished it yesterday.

Best YA read this year:

Far and away, hands-down, leaves-all-others-in-the-dust: Jellicoe Road the US title for On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.  Doesn't condescend, handles teen sexuality tastefully but realistically, the prose is lanky but controlled.  Worth reading twenty-five other mediocre books to have found this one.

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Where I've been lately. Also, YA fiction

Trapped under something heavy.  Actually, several somethings.

 I'm teaching two new classes this year and have taken on several new editing clients, four within a week of each other. I've got my eye on a sweet DSLR camera that goes off special at my local Costco the end of the month.  And some of my pet political projects keep e-mailing me, asking for money. I keep obliging them because my future and the future of my children and grandchildren are very important, and I have definite ideas how that should be brought about. So I take on more work. And my students keep writing essays. And I neglect this blog because sleeping, eating, taking care of my home and family can't be put on "pause" and made to wait till later. Also, watching an occasional "Grimm" or "Supernatural" episode helps keep me sane. Judgers to the left.

I am working on a huge tirade on Young Adult / Teen / whatever they're calling fiction aimed at 11 to 18-year-olds this week, because this ball keeps rolling since the Joel Stein column appeared in the NY Times back in March. I'm not expecting you to read all 400+ comments, but some of them are a scream. I've read some of the of the supposedly "adult" authors touted by some of the commenters.  Just because the protagonist is over 18 and has naughty sex with anything that moves doesn't make a novel, its story, its subject matter, or its author "mature." In fact, I've read some very "juvenile" fiction supposedly aimed at adult audiences. David Brin? Tom Clancy? E. L. James? Holy triple crap! So, Stein, talk to the hand.

And I'll be back with more on this later.  I hope.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Just when you thought the publishing world couldn't sink any lower or become any more ridiculous

First , we read about authors who create sockpuppets (here and here) or simply enlist friends, fellow writers, and relatives to either write rave reviews on their books or to defend the books from particularly negative (or insightful) reviewers.

Then, we read that, in order to be a successful author in today's dog-eat-dog online and self-publishing world, where so many more authors are getting their work known without the help of an agent or a bricks-and-mortar publishing house, you need to have a "brand." Doesn't matter if your stuff is any good--this could be a zero draft you're hitting the "publish" button on; a logo, a tagline, catchy cover art, will get your name known, and the aforementioned sockpuppets and friends who are willing to post raves for you on Amazon and Goodreads will "build" your brand. It's just good business sense.

But why go to all that trouble?  Why enlist friends and family, promise them brownies with extra frosting or free copies of your book, and create multiple accounts to post positive reviews of your own work when you can.. .

. . .wait for it. . .

Buy reviews for your books online? No, I am not making this up. You can find these services online, and they are growing in number. The business referred to in the linked Times article has gone bust, but a quick Google search to the effect of "book reviews for sale" nets some interesting results.

Yes, aspiring writers, gone are the days of honing your craft, refining your art, sweating over multiple drafts of your work, earning honest reviews by people who actually read your book. Skip all that attention to craftsmanship or the goal of telling your audience a great story and giving them characters with whom they actually want to make the journey. Pay a professional hack and don't worry about having worked for and earned positive reviews.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happy Belated 113th Birthday, Jose Luis Borges

The last two weeks have been for me a flurry of activity, with the start of a new school year and the hours of preparation; the finding of my sea legs is still in progress. Also, a huge editing job landed in my lap, so the weekly post didn't happen last week. I even overlooked all my Google Reader feeds, which I manage to check, if not daily, at least every two days or so.  I don't share much poetry here, because I don't want to fall into the trap of the quick-and-dirty copypaste blog post. But this week I'm making an exception.

So, happy belated 113th birthday (August 24) to Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges.

You Learn
After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn…
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong
And you really do have worth…
And you learn and learn…
With every good-bye you learn.

This poem was inscribed on the inside cover of many a girl's notebook in my high school. Before the interwebs, this was our version of "going viral."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"The Great American Novel": My humble (of course!) opinion

A couple of years ago, the question, "Which American novels would you recommend to a European who is trying to understand American literature and the American experience?"  was asked on a message board of an online book community. Suggestions were for the usual touchstones--Hawthorne, Melville, Faulkner, Steinbeck,  Vonnegut, et. al. One person suggested some dystopian fiction. Some even suggested Ayn Rand. Though she wasn't born here, she resonated, and continues to do so, with American narcissists and pseudo-intellectuals.If there is an afterlife, I'm betting Sartre, Descartes, and Socrates aren't inviting her for coffee. "Life's too short to read bad books." Unless you get huge giggles from trashing them.

So, here are my picks for Great American Novels, by time period, using the criteria above: