Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: City of Heavenly Fire

Ah, the long-awaited conclusion the the Mortal Instruments series, which I almost didn't read except it has such wonderful reviews and one of my friends suggested it. I was kind of over the whole series with the last book. It's not that I still totally don't think Cassandra Clare is a wonderful writer, and that the characters are well-developed and unique and that the Shadowhunter world is vibrant and full of surprises...it's just that it's too much. It's like when a television series hangs on for too long and the cute kids are old now and they desperately throw in new, younger characters to keep it alive and then we start heading toward spin offs. CoHF was that. Exactly that.

I just re-read the book synopsis, and truth be told, that's maybe one-third of it. There is a one-hundred page end battle and then an eighty page epilogue that I mostly skimmed through. About forty-seven people narrate this story, and most segments were obvious set-up for other novels or unnecessary backstory from other Shadowhunter novels. We also have a lot of characters passing out, another situation that prevents Jace and Clary from having sex, and countless drawn out soliloquys.

"By the time we found you, you'd already broken free on your own. So what it showed you, that wasn't what you want...but it wasn't what you want, not really. So you woke up."

How many times do we have to say the same thing? And this is only one example of many, many speeches like that. What CoHF still had, what made me fall in love with the other Mortal Instruments books, was Cassandra's classic blend of humor, adventure and surprises...it was just suffocating under a lot of politics and useless drama. I certainly wouldn't shy anyone away from reading this. Overall it's a good conclusion to the series. Just be prepared to do your own editing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What's that smell

One of my first critique partners left a very simple comment that has stuck with me ever since, "What does it smell like?" Good question. What does it smell like? I often read scenes where a picture is painted describing the color of the walls, the feel of the upholstery, the glisten of sweaty muscles, the sounds of screaming, and the taste of someone's tongue...which is all great, but the picture is incomplete. We're forgetting about smell.

Smell is an incredibly important sense too because it's commonly linked with memories and emotion. When I walk by someone wearing Ponds cream, I think of my mother. Moldy basement? I remember my summers spent at my Great Aunt's house in Tennessee. Drakkar Noir? Horrible flashbacks to the elevator in my sophomore dorm.

Take this scene:
When I stepped into the living room, I was reminded of my Grandma's house. There was plastic sheeting on the floral sofa and mounds of cat hair tangled in the threadbare rug. 

Now let's add this:
When I stepped into the living room, I was reminded of my Grandma's house. There was plastic sheeting on the floral sofa and mounds of cat hair tangled in the threadbare rug. All of it complemented by the burning stench of cat pee.

We move from being a little itchy and uncomfortable to running from the room with our hand over our mouth.

But let's talk a little bit more about smells and using the right smells. The one above works because 1, we're trying to make an unsightly environment and 2, even if you haven't smelled cat pee, you've smelled pee, and you know it stinks.

Let's change our scene to something nice.
When I stepped into the living room, I was reminded of my Grandma's house. There was an overstuffed floral sofa with a sleeping cat nestled in the cushions and the smell of warm, chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. 

Now I want to live there, curl up next to the cat, and eat warm, chocolate chip cookies. But let's change it one more time.

One more time.
When I stepped into the living room, I was reminded of my Grandma's house. There was an overstuffed floral sofa with a sleeping cat nestled in the cushions and the smell of snozzberries in the air.

What are snozzberries? What do they smell like? Are they bitter? Sweet? Does this turn our cozy couch into something yucky or keep it nice?

So many times I'm reading books where a room or person smells like lemongrass or honeysuckle or some other plant I can't immediately identify with so it doesn't really resonate with me except to say, "it smelled like flowers." And then I wonder why I'd want to go out with a guy who smelled so flowery. Flowers are a lazy way of adding scents, and using rare or indistinguishable scents don't help paint your picture.

Just for fun, let's change it again.
When I stepped into the living room, I was reminded of my Grandma's house. There was an overstuffed floral sofa with a sleeping cat nestled in the cushions, and the smell of gunpowder in the air.

WHAT?!? What's going on here? Who decorates like Grandma and smells like gunpowder? Why did the MC's Grandma's house smell like gunpowder? Are we looking at secret, old lady spies? Or just hardcore members of the NRA? Not only does this scent add flavor to the scene; it adds intrigue.

Now I think you're ready to start smelling things up on your own. Talk a walk through your latest work in progress and stop at each scene. Once you're there, ask yourself the burning question, "What does it smell like?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

If people acted like cats

If any of you own cats, this video is HILARIOUS! Enjoy.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How to Write a Book

One of my author friends says she gets a lot of emails, "How do I write a book?" Her answer, and I agree, "You sit down and write it." Because if you're looking for something more; you need to ask a more specific question. Like...

Q: How do I write a young adult novel?
A: Open a blank Word Document and start writing about vampires with chiseled jaws and fantastic hair.

Q: How do I write a children's book?
A: Put together pairs of rhyming words and match them with pictures of kittens.

Q: How do I write a memoir?
A: You don't. Trust me when I say your life is not that exciting.

But all kidding aside (or some kidding aside) I'm going to do my best to answer this question using my own personal experiences.*

Step 1: The Concept
Before you can write anything, you need to have something to write about. You need an idea, but more than that, you need a concept. It's true what they say, "Ideas are a dime a dozen." Everyone has them, what you need is a plot to go with it, what agents often call, "the hook."

A futuristic world where children are put into an arena to fight to the death is an idea. The story is about a girl who volunteers to fight to save her sister, and while she is fighting, she becomes an unwilling leader of a rebellion. That's something to write about.

Step 2: The Players
Okay, you've got your idea. You've fleshed out a concept. Now you've got to pick your players. This girl who's the center of your story...what does she look like? How old is she? What's her temperament? Who are her friends? Boyfriend? Family? What are they like? Who is going to tell your story? God? The girl? Her mother? Before you sit down to write, you need to make these decisions. I find it helpful to come up with some backstory for my main characters. Whether it makes it into the final manuscript or not; it helps me make decisions later, about how my characters will act and what they will say.

Step 3: The Path
Once I have an idea and some characters in mind, I start plotting. I'm not an outliner, but before I sit down at my computer, I spend some time thinking about how things are going to go. Where do I want to start my story? Where am I going to end my story? What are some key plot points along the way? How is my main character going to change throughout the novel?

Step 4: Read
I know I'm writing a YA dystopia in a first person POV. So now I pick up or re-read every YA dystopia I have that's written in first person POV. And while I'm reading, I mark places where I like or didn't like what was done. But you know what? My story has some romance in it too. So I'll read a couple of romance novels too and see how that author made us fall in love.

We learn from other writers, and one day, writers might be learning from you. I feel like newbie writers always want to skip this step, afraid they'll end up copying someone, or they're deluded into thinking they don't need help. But you do. You really, really do.

Set 5: Sit Your Ass Down and Write
You've got the basic pieces you need to write a novel, but the thing will never come together until you actually write it. A lot reveals itself in writing. Since I don't create an outline, there are often holes in my plot and characters that I patch when I let my players take over the page. In black and white, I can see what's working and what isn't, and many, many times, I'll write 100 pages only to scrap them and start from scratch at the top of a blank page.

And here's where we really separate the men from the boys. (or the women from the girls)

If I had a dollar for every time I was at a party and overhead someone say, "I should really write a book," I would be writing this post from the deck of my yacht. Because anyone can talk about writing a book. It takes patience, dedication, and hard work to actually write one. So for anyone who's done that, Bravo! Whether you're published or pre-published that is a huge deal.

For everyone else who's just in the talking about it stage (which I did for about 2 or 3 years, fyi.) Read. Keep your eyes and ears open for that hook, and then sit down and write it.

*This is my own personal process. This is not by any means the only way to write a book, just something to help people who might not know where to begin. If you have anything to add, please put it in the comments.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Making the Switch to Digital Books

I think I've done it. I think I've finally become a convert to the digital book age. For a long while I hovered over the line, appreciating paper books for their cover design and for having something to hold in my hand after shelling out $10. But now, my stack of paper books in my TBR pile is remaining stagnant, while I rip through digital books one after the other.

Here's why I made the switch.

1. I read on my phone. I don't have to remember to bring a book with me because my phone is always there, like the fifth limb I never wanted. And if I finish a book, a new one is just waiting for me to download it.

2. Price. If you wait for book deals, you can get digital copies for less than $2.

3. Books are big. One of the paper books I have sitting on my shelf is GONE by Michael Grant. Every time I see it, I want to read it, but then I notice how thick it is and my mind mentally starts adding up the hours I'll have to invest in it. What if I hate it? And how the hell am I supposed to fit that in my purse with all my other crap? Digital books aren't as daunting, and they certainly weigh less.

4. Annotating. I always feel like a criminal when I make notes in a paper book, but with digital books, I can make all the notes I want and delete them without leaving a mark.

5. Sequels. When I read PRETTY LITTLE LIARS by Sara Shepard, the end left me with such a hunger for more, I had to immediately read the sequel. Now, I could have rushed to my local bookstore, hope they had #2 in stock, shelled out the $10, drove home and started reading it OR I could click two buttons and have it in front of me in 10 seconds. I'm impatient. I chose the digital download.

Of course there are exceptions. Graphic novels need to be on paper, along with my son's picture books. He likes to have something to hold, pages to turn. And when I have the chance to get a signed hardcover, I'm doing it.

But what about you? What do you prefer? And who is a fan of Audio books? I've had yet to cross that bridge. Are they incredible? I want to know.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Real Problem with Dystopias

I recently read this post about the problem with dystopias. I'm not trying to pick on her or start an Internet battle, I'm just providing a counterpoint. I see this a lot on Goodreads, Amazon, book review sites, articles, blogs, etc...where people dislike a dystopian novel because they find aspects of it "unbelievable."

Well, of course they do. It's fantasy. It's not intended to be real, so I think the real problem here is that the people who nitpick the validity of a dystopian society just don't get the genre.

Obviously, no one really thinks that society will put children into a fight to the death, or that one day we'll be eating ground up people, or that a virus will turn humanity into flesh-eating monsters. Dystopias aren't meant to be realistic, they are meant to magnify a problem of today by putting it far into the future and making it into the worst case scenario. It's a practice of exploration. A satire of sorts.

Americans today watch a ridiculous amount of reality television. Amazing Race, Survivor, Fear Factor...those are all shows that place people into exciting and dangerous situations, and while the contestants struggle to find food, or transportation, or chow down on a scorpion, we're sitting on our couches, munching popcorn, with our eyes glued to the television. How could this possibly get worse? Oh I know, make it a show about children trying to kill one another. What happens then? You can find out in the Hunger Games.

Or 1984. One of my favorite dystopias, which was the focus of the article above and is often said to be true to today. Obviously not all of it is, and Mr. Orwell did not intend it to be. It was inspired by the Tehran Conference. But take a look at some of his ideas in the novel: people subjected to constant advertising, a shrinking middle class, being constantly watched by the government...um, hello, Patriot Act.

Granted, this post is completely biased. I love dystopias. I love to read them, write them, and watch them. That's kind of why I'm writing this. It hurts me when I see bad reviews for books I loved simply because the reader found it, "unbelievable." It's fine if you didn't love the plot, or the characters, or the writing, but don't hate it because you can't stretch your imagination.

To you I say, "Give dystopias another chance," and quit trying to look at them as fortune telling. They're not. They're science-fiction. If you can allow for fairies and vampires and aliens, then try to make room for dictators who watch your every move.

*getting off soapbox now*