blog about reviews writing

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grammar Wars: The Dialogue Battle

Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness something special.  You're about to see the start of a new series of posts titled "Grammar Wars".  These posts will be your swords and shields so you can battle the evil grammar monster and emerge alive and (relatively) unscathed.  I don't know how regularily I'll post them yet.  They'll probably just show up randomly when I think of something.
First, we're going to start out with a nasty little group of villains that make no sense.  They love to confuse writers and make them want to bash their heads against the wall.  Well, bash no more, because I shall (at least try to) explain. Note: This post will cover only the technical grammar aspects of dialogue.  Later I'll cover other aspects.

A dialogue tag is a set of words placed directly before or after dialogue.  He said, she said, I yelled, and so on.  If you've got just a piece of dialogue with a tag, it'll look like this:
"I just went to the store," he said. 

Let's look at that again.
"I just went to the store." He said.
"I just went to the store," He said.

"I just went to the store," he said.
Note the comma and lowercase h.  Never use a period before a dialogue tag.  Always use a comma, and never capitalize the next word unless it's I or a name.

"Did you buy me anything," she asked.

"Did you buy me anything?" she asked.
This is a question mark, so don't use a comma.  Don't use one instead of an exclamation point, either.

"No," he replied.  "But I knew I was forgetting something."

"No," he replied, "but I knew I was forgetting something."
Since No, but I knew I was forgetting something. is actually one sentence, you use a comma before the tag, and a comma after the tag.

"Aww," Susie pouted.

"Aww."  Susie pouted.
There's no comma here, since Susie pouted. isn't a dialogue tag.  It's simply stating an action.  You can't pout a word, can you?

"How did you do that" he asked.
"I talked to him yesterday" he said.

"How did you do that?" he asked.
"I talked to him yesterday," he said.
You always need puncuation with your dialogue.

"Hey, that was funny," I laughed. 
You can't laugh a word.  You can't smile it either, and if you hiss it, it'd better have an s unless you speak Parseltongue. 

"Hey, that was funny."  I laughed. 
I laughed isn't a tag, it's just a sentence. 

"Hello everyone" he said.
"Hello everyone", he said.

"Hello everyone," he said.
You always, always, always need punctuation inside your quotes.  Always.  I can't think of a reason you wouldn't.

"Billy, did you do your homework?" the teacher asked.  "No, my dog ate it," Billy replied.

"Billy, did you do your homework?" the teacher asked.
"No, my dog ate it," Billy replied.
Always, always, always start a new line for each new speaker. 

I don't know why the rules are so confusing.  I didn't write them.  Yes, I know they don't make sense.  You just have to learn to deal with it.

I hope that helped.  Since I probably forgot something (or quite a few things), there's also a really great article here.  The best way to learn all these rules is simply to read a lot of books.  Books have a lot of dialogue, and hopefully you'll learn how it works as you read.  Pay close attention, and watch where punctuation is placed in different situations.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask me!

Brought to you by your resident Grammar Nazi. 
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How to Finish a Book

For me, and many other authors, starting a book is lots of fun.  Everything is exciting and new and fresh, and you're really into your story.  But once the excitement wears off, writing a novel can sometimes become a tough, slow, unpleasant process.  Well, it'll always be tough and slow, but there are ways to make it less unpleasant.

Starting books and being able to finish them is the difference between a writer who'll never get published and a successful, published author.  A published author has deadlines, and people expect him/her to actually finish books. 

In this post, I will tell you how to finish a book.  I'll be giving tips on how to stay motivated and keep pushing through until the very end.  Keep in mind that no two writers are alike, so these might not work for everyone. 

  • Set goals.  I'm sorry if this brings to mind painful flashbacks of health class.  But really, goal-setting helps.  One great idea is to get a calender, and think about what timeframe you want to finish your novel in.  Do you want to have it done by next September?  Take your estimated word count, and divide it by the months remaining until your goal.  Write the number of words you want to have written by the end of the month somewhere on that month's page.  For example, say I want to have my book done by December, in four months.  It'll be a 40,000 word book.  On September's page I'd write 10k, and 20k on October's, etc.  Or just write "80,000 words by June 13 or else..." on a post-it and stick it on your computer.  Just make sure your goal is actually realistic.  Challenge yourself, but don't be absurd.  If you can usually write a thousand words a day, don't set a goal to write thirty thousand in the next week.
  • Reward yourself.  You know that CD you've been wanting to download?  That book you really want to buy?  That box of chocolates you've been eyeing at Target for the last month, the ones you don't need but really, really want?  Use these to your advantage.  Tell yourself "Okay, I'll buy this when I finish my book" or "I can't let myself get this until I reach x number of words".  Whatever happens, don't let yourself cave in and buy it before you've reached your word count.  Or, better yet, buy that box of chocolates, and put it right by your computer.  Put it somewhere that you'll see it every time you sit down to right.  But don't eat it yet.  Just let it sit there, taunting you.  You'll be surprised how eager you'll be to sit down and churn out those words.
  • Don't start other projects.  Yes, I know this is tough for some people, especially if you're that kind of person that gets too many ideas all at once.  I'm like that, too.  But if you ever want to actually finish a book, you need to learn to ignore those ideas.  Keep a separate notebook, and when an idea decides to smack you on the head, jot it down quickly.  Write it so you won't forget.  And then leave it alone.  Don't touch it.  Don't let yourself dwell too much on it.  You're still trying to finish another book, remember?  Whatever you do, don't even think of opening up a blank document and starting that other project.  Once you do, you'll never finish your first one.  This has everything to do with your and your willpower.  You simply can't let yourself do that.  Besides, ideas come and go.  By the time you're done with your current book, and go back to all the ideas that came while you were writing, you'll realize that some of them aren't as great as you first thought. 
  • Don't edit as you go.  Again, this has everything to do with your willpower.  Resist the urge to edit.  This is your first draft, not the final masterpiece.  If you edit as you go, two things will start to happen.  One, you'll spend so much time editing that you'll never finish actually writing the book.  Two, you'll start to realize everything that's wrong with your story, and you'll get discouraged.  In the first draft, nothing is set in stone.  You'll be able to change everything later, so ignore it for now. 
  • Remove as many distractions as possible.  Most of my current book has been written on a computer without internet access.  This has been a godsend.  I highly, highly recommend this for writers.  If you don't happen to have an ancient computer sitting around, disconnect your internet or something.  On Windows computers, there's probably a little button in the corner of your screen with a computer and some little parentheses things that are supposed to be internet signals.  Click it.  You see that button, the one that says "disable?"  Click it.  Then you won't be able to go on Facebook, or Inkpop, or type up blog posts like I'm doing right now.  If your iPod or phone has internet access, turn it on airplane mode.  Don't let yourself turn the internet back on.  Just put yourself in a situation, if you can, without internet distractions, shiny new books to read, etc. 
  • Make a playlist of songs that relate to your book.  I have one, and it really gets me excited about my story.  It helps me connect with my characters again, and reminds me why I started the story in the first place.  It creates an atmosphere for you to write in with the specific ideas and feel of your story.  It helps those words flow. 
  • Reread sections you thought went well.  You know that one scene, the one that just clicked?  The one that just really worked for one and shines like there's no tomorrow, even if the rest of the story is awful?  Reread it.  Reread that chapter that you love because it shows off your amazing wit.  There's got to be something you like about your story, so reread it.  Don't edit, just read.  You'd be surprised how reading your own stuff gets you excited about your story again. 
  • Outline.  Are you constantly having trouble with staring at a blank page because you don't know what should happen next?  If you keep having this problem, it's going to be impossibly difficult to finish your book.  If this is the case, sit down and write an outline of the remainder of the story.  It doesn't have to be detailed.  All you need is a basic overview of what your characters will do once they get to point A, and point B, and so on. 
  • Just sit down and write.  Force yourself to spit those words out. Personally, I'm pretty good at forcing myself to sit down and make myself do something.  Somewhere along the line my mind developed this interesting ability to mentally beat myself up if I don't do something that I know I should.  If you aren't like that, you're going to have to learn, if you want to finish a book.  No matter how hard it seems, just sit down and write.  It doesn't matter how horrible the words are.  It's your first draft.  Nobody cares.  Just write and write and make yourself finish that story.  Force yourself to push through it until the very end.  When it really comes down to it, this is the best way to finish a book.  Actually, it's the only way. 
I'm not going to lie to you.  Finishing a book is a huge task that many times seems downright impossible.  But it can be done.  All you need is the love and dedication to your story, and a will of iron.  Over time, you'll make it easier on yourself, as you learn how to best keep yourself motivated.

By the way, Stephen King says that writing a first draft should take three months.  Don't listen to that.  It would be great if you could actually do that, but most of us will take the better part of a year, if not more, to finish a book.

I wish you luck in all of your novel-finishing endeavors.  You'll need it.  If I forgot anything, or you have any tips to add, feel free to comment!

Just don't follow my example right now, since I should be writing. 

PS Later, I think I'll write up an entire post on how to keep yourself focused on a single idea, since this seems to be a huge problem for many writers.
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Monday, August 29, 2011

Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent, #1)In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the YA scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance

 First Look: ***** I've been waiting to read this for a long time.  I'm glad I own this one, because the cover is so cool!  I love the fire.  The concept sounds really awesome, and I like the idea of the different factions.  

Setting: ***** 
The idea of the factions was cool, and that aspect of it was carried out well, in my opinion.  I could really get a sense for the tension between the groups.  The rest of the setting, though, fell flat on its face.  It had no logic to it.  It was a dystopia, yes, but why?  You can't just hand us a dystopian Chicago and say "Here, this is a messed-up place. Enjoy." That's not enough. There needs to be a reason why it's so dystopic.

And frankly, there was no reason.  There was no explanation at all for how humankind got to this point.  And what about the rest of the world?  Are they like this too, or is Chicago just in a bubble? There just shouldn't be this many unanswered questions in the setting. I don't care if it's only the first book. And besides, I really couldn't get a feel for the city. We weren't given enough details to go on. I could picture the Dauntless compound pretty well, but that was it.

Characters: ****
I started liking Tris about halfway through.  I liked her courage, and the way she stood up for others and herself.  I liked how she wasn't afraid to do that.  Then we got to the romance, and I didn't like her again.  She was just selfish and whiny and her life revolved around her love.  She gained back some respect at the end, but not enough. I liked how she was so selfless and prepared to die (some nice Abnegation traits going on there, for added conflict). But in the end, it wasn't enough to make me completely like her again.

Four was the most interesting character in the book, for me.  I want to know more of his story, and how he ended up where he is now.  Caleb was very interesting, too.  He seemed to fit in so well with his faction, but then....well, I won't tell, for fear of getting too spoilerific. But I hope to read more about him in the sequel. The other characters were just okay. I didn't dislike them, but I didn't really care about them, either.

Plot: *****
I enjoyed the plot.  I was able to get into it, and it interested me, unlike so many other books I've read. I liked the conflicts between characters, between factions.

It would've been four stars, because I liked it. I really did. But then the romance came along. It wasn't one of those repulsive love triangles, but it was definitely romance. Newsflash for pitch-writers: if you promise "unexpected romance", then your readers are going to expect it. Therefore it isn't unexpected. The romance just felt all wrong. It felt like the author added it just because she felt that all YA books need romance (which is so untrue. The very idea makes me want to hit someone over the head with a copy of Airman). It just didn't work. It wasn't realistic at all. It didn't happen gradually, or in a way that made sense. It just...happened, and it wasn't good.
Uniqueness: *****
While it wasn't all that original compared to other dystopians, the idea of the factions was different.

Writing: *****
By my count, the author used the cheap mirror trick at least four times. Ladies and gentlemen, that is 400% more than it should be used. Ever. And the first was on page one or two. Not a good way to start the book, now, is it? Also, Roth used the phrase "my cheeks get warm" or "my face heats up" or something similar way too much. There was too much telling and not enough showing; too many sentences with is. And besides, it was first person present tense, which I usually hate anyways.

I liked the conflict between the factions. Very interesting. And by the way, if I lived in this world, I'd be an Erudite girl. No question about it, even if they do have, erm, not the best intentions.

Not-so-great: I don't like Four's real name. It just bothered me. I felt like "Four" represented him as a person, and his real name just felt wrong.

Total Score: 
I feel like I'm being overly harsh on this book, when really, it doesn't deserve all that criticism. In all honesty, I did enjoy this book. Yes, the romance was so unreal and the writing was annoying, but I still liked it. I liked the suspense and all the action. I liked the idea of the factions, though the rest of the setting fell flat. I'm eager to read the sequel now. Recommended for dystopian fans.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

ABC Saturday: L is for Lands Other Than My Own

L is for lands other than my own.  As in, places Annie would love to visit.  The world is just full of cool places, and she'd like to actually see some of them someday.
Some pictures of places Annie wants to go:

Yeah, that's right.  Annie wants to go to Antarctica.  It would be so cool (literally...)!
Ha.  Just kidding.  Not really.  But she could do with a nice Middle Earth vacation.  And besides, Anne simply walks into Mordor.  So there.
Annie also wants to go to Greece and see cool old stuff.  Like this.

Who doesn't want to go here?

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sent (The Missing #2) by Margaret Peterson Haddix

"I think it's probably safe to say, given when you should have landed, that you'"

"Tell me!"

"I think, right now, you're the king of England."

Thirteen-year-olds Jonah and Chip are reeling from the news that they're both missing children from history, kidnapped from their proper time period. Before they can fully absorb this revelation, a time purist named JB zaps Chip and another boy, Alex, back to the fifteenth century, where they supposedly belong. Determined not to lose their friends, Jonah and his sister, Katherine, grab Chip's arms just as he's being sent away. The result? Jonah and Katherine also end up in the fifteenth century, where they decidedly do not belong.

Chip's true identity is Edward V, king of England, and Alex is his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. But Chip is convinced that his uncle, Richard of Gloucester, plans to kill them and seize the throne for himself.
JB promises that if the kids can "fix time," he will allow them to return to the present day. But how can they possibly return home safely when history claims that Chip and Alex were murdered?

In a riveting tale that climaxes on the battlefield at Bosworth, master storyteller Margaret Peterson Haddix brings readers back in time to an unforgettable moment in history and plunges them into the adventure of a lifetime.

Um, excuse me?  Medieval castles?  Intrigue?  Time travel?  In one book?

If I wouldn't have known better, I'd say the author might possibly have been stalking me.  This book had some of my all-time favorite novel elements, all thrown into one.  The medieval setting (which was highly awesome).  Intrigue (the he's-plotting-to-get-the-throne with double, triple, and quadruple agents kind of thing).  Time travel, brother-sister stories, attempting to solve the mysteries of history, action, adventure, suspense, page-turning excitement, bla bla bla.  So, as you can see, I loved that aspect of it.

That being said, I really don't think it improved at all on the first book.  I felt like the characters were actually a bit flatter in this one, if that's possible.  The whole thing was rushed, and the plot was squeezed into too tight a space.  It should've been longer, still with a really fast-paced plot, but not so...breakneck.  I didn't really get a chance to breathe.

Another thing that's bothering me is JB. The kids started out calling him "Janitor Boy", because they didn't know his name.  Then they just shortened it to JB.  But yet they keep calling him that to his face?  And other people who knew him before the kids did call him that, too?  It doesn't make sense.

Even though this sequel wasn't quite as good as the first one, I'm still going to snatch up the final book in the series.  I'm really eager to discover what happens next, and I'm especially curious to find out who Jonah really is.  And besides, time travel is just plain cool.

Reviews of other The Missing novels:
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Miracle Stealer by Neil Connelly

The Miracle Stealer
Andi Grant adores her 6-year-old brother Daniel, a "miracle child" who fell down a mine shaft and survived. People regularly come to him for blessings and healings (which sometimes seem to work), and Andi is horrified by his exploitation, esp. when she finds signs of a stalker around their home. With the help of her once-and-maybe-future boyfriend Jeff, she comes up with a plan so audacious, so dramatic, it will stop the attention on Daniel forever: an "Anti-Miracle" that will unravel with the slightest examination of the facts, and cast doubt on Daniel's powers forever after.

As her plan comes together, the stalker draws closer, and the clock ticks toward Daniel's star turn at the local Paradise Days celebration, Andi finds herself wrestling with her own beliefs in God and her brother, and wondering if what she really needs is . . . a miracle.

First Look: ***** Wasn't quite sure what this one would be all about, but I decided to give it a go anyway.  I'm glad I did.

Setting: *****  
I liked it. It was just an ordinary small town, but I felt it as if it were real. I got a good feeling of the atmosphere, which is a huge part of setting. It felt authentic to this time period. I especially liked the aspect of the abandoned waterpark--it was spooky and cool. I also liked the fact that it was called Paradise, which was a nice contradiction.

Characters: *****  
Andi felt very realistic to me.  I felt like she was fully three-dimensional, and we really got to know her throughout the course of this short book.  Her internal struggle was as real as her outer struggle, and I really liked what she decided about her faith at the end.

Daniel seemed like a real six-year-old boy.  He was cute, but even at six he had some interesting depth to him. Much of the other characters did, too. They all were realistic and believable.

Plot: *****  
It wasn't action-packed.  It didn't leave me on the edge of my seat, gasping in horror or shock or something.  It wasn't thrilling.  And yet, I still enjoyed it.  It was full of emotions.  It made me angry, and sad, and happy, sometimes at the same time.  This is one of those plots that can best be described as beautiful, even though that really doesn't mean anything to some people. But those people that have read books like know what I'm trying to say.

Uniqueness: *****
It wasn't copying anyone, and it wasn't trying to be something it's not. I found it unique, but then again, I don't delve into this genre much.

Writing: *****
I liked how Connelly brought the emotion of the plot into the narrative, as it should be.  I could feel Andi's fear, confusion, and concern for her brother seeping off the page.  I liked how it flowed, and nothing jumped out at me that was especially annoying. Nothing that I can think of now.

I really liked the faith aspects of it.  I liked how she questioned and doubted the entire way through, but figured it out at the end.  Agnostics won't be bothered by it, Christians will appreciate it, but if I were an atheist, I'd steer clear of this one.  But I'm not an atheist.

Bla.  Another short review.

Total Score:
This was something a little different for me, but I'm glad I tried it.  I enjoyed this book.  It's a beautiful, heartfelt story about siblings, miracles, and many more things.  It brings to mind a quote from Peace Like a River: "Real miracles make people uncomfortable."  I think that fits very well with this book.  It's full of emotion, and there's no annoying love triangle or perfect characters. The characters are all real, and I, for one, don't doubt the reality of the miracles. Recommended!

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Monday, August 22, 2011

The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus #1) by Rick Riordan

The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, #1) Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper and a best friend named Leo. They’re all students at a boarding school for “bad kids.” What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly?
Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out.

Leo has a way with tools. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god.

Join new and old friends from Camp Half-Blood in this thrilling first book in The Heroes of Olympus series.

If you're anything like me, finishing a fantastic series can be a bittersweet moment.  It's all over and you know how it all ends, and hopefully all the characters got what they deserved.  Yet it can be very sad*, because you're saying goodbye to all these awesome characters and places you've come to love.

Fortunately, fans of the Percy Jackson books don't have that problem. 

The Lost Hero introduces some fantastic new characters.  I liked Piper, Leo, and Jason.  Even if I guessed their godly parents right away for two of them, I still enjoyed reading about them.  Piper's internal conflicts felt very real, as did her relationship with her father.  She was clever and probably the most sane of the three, and she finally proved the *spoiler alert: highlight to read (deals with what cabin she's in)* Aphrodite cabin's worth.  Jason was probably my least favorite of the three, even if I did like him.  I think we'll get more conflict from him in later books, though, with the Roman god thing.  And Leo was just funny and all-around awesome.

I was happy to see a few familiar faces back at Camp Half-Blood, including Annabeth, which made me happy.  The camp is just as cool as ever, especially with all the new cabins.  I especially liked the Greek-Roman aspect, new to this book.  I was actually hoping Riordan would delve into that for the first series, so I'm eager to see where he goes with it.

Actually, I'm just eager to see where he goes with the entire series.  This was an exciting read, even if the new immortal enemy is kinda stretching it for me.  I really hope this doesn't turn out like Warriors, where as the series progresses, the authors have to stretch farther and the plots just get less original and realistic. But it doesn't matter in the end, because I liked this book anyway.  Fans of Percy Jackson won't be disappointed, unless they were hoping for a bit more Percy monster-bashing.  Though I was glad of the break from him, myself.

Note: I didn't use a category review for this, even if its the first in the series, for a few reasons.  One, it's a Percy Jackson spinoff series, so I've already reviewed Riordan's settings, writing style, etc.  Two, I'm behind on my reviews and this kind doesn't take me as long for whatever reason. 
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Saturday, August 20, 2011

ABC Saturday: K is for Konfidential

K is for konfidential.  As in, you don't get to know what Annie is actually thinking, because K may or may not be an initial of hers.

So, because she can't actually tell you what the K stands for (because she doesn't want stalkers after her), here are three other good, awesome, random things that start with K.

K is for koala.  Koalas are cute and fuzzy and she wants one.
K is also for this song, which is amazing.

And finally, K is for Kelly Clarkson, who sings this amazing song:

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Snow Falling on CedarsSan Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries - memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense - one that leaves us shaken and changed.
First Look: ***** First, let me tell you that I didn't read this book willingly.  Well, I wasn't totally against it, but I would've been reading something else if I had a choice.  This is my summer reading book for Adv. American Literature.  The back blurb didn't really grab my attention, but it didn't look like a bad book, either.  I'm not much for books with court cases anyway.

Setting: *****  
Eh.  It was cold and snowy.  Everybody who didn't fish owned a strawberry farm. There was a very big snowstorm and all the power died. Everybody was either a war veteran or Japanese or both or the wife of the former or latter or both.*  I tried to get a sense from this of the time period, but it just didn't work.  The whole atmosphere was just plain dreary, like the rest of the book.  The sun didn't shine, and not many happy moments turned up.  Yes, maybe it was supposed to be this way, but I didn't really care for it all that much.

Characters: ***** 
I got a good sense of many of the characters.  I started to understand their personalities and their motives and the way they felt about things. They seemed, to me, like actual living people.

Great.  Now that I've said all that, I'm going to say this: I really didn't care for any of them.  I felt like they were either one-sided and only showed one dimension of themselves throughout the entire novel, or they were just plain rude, racist, sexist, annoying, or something equally dis-likable. Some of them didn't seem to have any point in the story whatsoever.  It was really tough to connect with them.  Now, I'm not a war veteran, have never experienced racial prejudice against me, never learned kung-fu, never gotten married, never had an arm amputated, never owned a strawberry farm, or never been on a jury.  But even so, there still should've been something I could connect to. 

The person that rescues this rating from the pit of two-stardom is Ishmael.  Besides the fact that he has a cool name, he was the only one I could really bring myself to like as a character.  During the course of the story, we saw a few different sides to him. But he shouldn't have been the only one.      

Plot: *****
I didn't like how it was strung together. It started with a scene in a courtroom, then went back to a scene from Ishmael's tragic love life, then jumped back to the courtroom, then a disgusting autopsy, and so on. Some of these scenes weren't even relavant to the plot. To me, it just felt jumbled and disconnected, though less boring than just the courtroom scenes all in a row. I will admit that I wasn't sure whether the accused man was guilty or not until pretty close to the end, but that was about all the suspense I got from it. I just didn't get a feeling that the stakes were high. I wanted more tension. I never got it, which was disappointing and annoying.

Uniqueness: ***** 
I felt like this book was trying to be To Kill a Mockingbird, just with Japanese people instead of black people. The whole white-guy-versus-minority-guy thing. I didn't like that book, and I didn't like this one, either.

Writing: *****
So much was added that didn't contribute to the overall book as a whole. For example, the scene with Ishmael during the battle. Gruesome, and definitely not needed. Unneccesary details, and entire unneccesary scenes bogged down the book and made it more boring than it had to be. We don't need a full-page-paragraph on the murdered guy's father's personality to understand the story.

There wasn't anything in the narrative to encourage me to like the plot at all. It felt like the setting: dreary. No clever symbolism or cool turns of phrase or anything like that I would've expected from a book that I was told was "literary". The narrative just didn't connect me from the story: in a way, it did the opposite.

Likes: Nothing that jumps to mind, actually, though reading this book did make me want to eat some strawberries.

Not-so-great: Ugh. I really didn't want to see all that intimacy between various characters. It added nothing at all to the story, and it didn't help the plot move forward. There was no reason at all for it. I don't want to see those things, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

Total Score: 
I didn't care for this book. The story was weirdly jumbled and the plot moved along very slow. The characters did nothing to make me care at all about them. It was a dreary book set in a dreary sort of place. It had so many extra scenes that didn't add to the book. Actually, I might've even given it three stars if not for the added details. On top of it all, I felt like it was trying to be To Kill a Mockingbird, and failing. I wouldn't really bother with this one. I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it either.

*You know, we could really paddle a big boat with all those ors. No, that really wasn't supposed to be funny.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Genderizing Problem

Note: Before you read any more of this post, remember that I am a teenage girl.  Did you hear me?  A teenage girl.  Okay, resume reading.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for awhile, but only last night did I finally reach the last straw.  I absolutely can’t stand hate detest when a teacher, reader, publisher, or anyone else “genderizes” a book. 

What does that mean?  Here’s an example: A while back, I came across an article that actually suggested that libraries/bookstores separate their MG and YA books into two sections.  “Boy books” and “girl books”. 

No joke.  I wanted to scream.  I was about ready to track down whoever wrote it and try and knock some sense into them. 

This would imply that there are certain books that girls (and only girls) enjoy and boys wouldn’t, and vice versa.  Earth to reader: do you have any idea how blatantly ridiculous that concept is? 

Firelight (Firelight, #1)If books were separated like that, I’d spend all my time in the boy section.  I’ve noticed that most of my favorite books have one thing in common.  Most of them have a review on the back that says something like “Great for boys who are reluctant readers!”  So where does that leave me?  I don’t like romance books.  Sometimes I’ll go out of my way to avoid romance. *dodges rocks*  I’m not much for general fiction, either.  I feel like the general public just assumes that all girls are interested in romance and chicklit.  No, I like my swordfights and wars and time travel and adventure—the stuff often associated with “boy books”.

Here’s my other problem: publishers seem to be mostly catering towards girls these days.  Oh, scoff all you like, but I truly believe this. 
Unearthly (Unearthly, #1)

What’s that?  What’s your excuse?  Boys don’t read?

Well, no, why would they?  Publishers aren’t giving them any reason to read.  Go on Goodreads, go on Amazon, go wherever and look at the new releases.  Yeah.  See a pattern?  Many, many, many of those covers feature a flawless female model either wearing a fancy gown, or smiling prettily and showing off part (and never the entire face, only part) of her face. 

Evermore (The Immortals, #1)This isn’t going to stop a girl from picking the book up (well, okay, it might stop me, but that isn’t the point).  A boy, on the other hand, isn’t going to even consider it.  Most boys I know wouldn’t dare be seen walking around with a book with that kind of cover.  And since most books these days seem to have a similar cover, they just aren’t going to read as much.* 

And it goes in circles.  Many publishers target female audiences, which alienates the males, which in turn reinforces the stupid idea the only girls read.  The cycle just won’t stop.

So what can we do?
Wildwing Since most of us don't work in cover designing and publishing, I'm not sure what we can do.  I'm not even quite sure what I'm trying to say here.  Maybe I just need to let off some steam.  All I'm trying to do is state my opinion.  I hope I got it across in a good way.

And, by the way, a few of my favorite books have been recommended to me by boys.  So there.

What about you?  What do you think about this?  I'd especially like to get some male opinions, if anyone's out there...

*What will boys pick up?  Hmm, good question.  Maybe something with a cover like The Marbury Lens.  "Hey!  That's creepy!  I can totally freak out my sister at the same time as I'm reading!  Two birds with one stone, dude!"  Or maybe not.

Through Her EyesDISCLAIMER: Maybe I'm going out on a limb here.  I don't know.  Maybe the topic is just too much and that branch is about to crack.  But if I can't blog about how I feel about things, then I can't blog at all. 

I'm not saying that each and every publisher does this.  I'm just saying that I've been seeing this same pattern over and over lately.   And I'm not trying to imply anything with the books covers.  Just...take it how you will.

And yes, I get it that quite a few boys don't read.  But then again, some do.  Again, take that how you will.   If you can't disagree with me politely and act mature about it, then this blog isn't for you.  I welcome debate but won't tolerate arguing. 

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

How to Get Published

Hold on: before we get started, let me tell you two things.  1. There is no right or wrong way to get published.  2. This only applies to traditional publishing, not self-publishing.

Okay, now we're ready to go.  Most writers have at least considered getting published.  You may want to start thinking seriously about it at some point.  In that case, here is a short, simple list of the basic publishing process.  If you come across a term (agent, query letter, etc.) that you aren't familiar with, don't hesitate to visit the Glossary of Epic Awesomeness.  If the glossary is missing something, tell me!

  1. Write a book.  This is self-explanatory.  
  2. Revise until your eyes are burning.  Edit.  Revise.  Edit.  Revise.  I can't stress this part enough.  Before you even think of querying, you need to revise until you feel your novel is flawless.  Let me repeat: flawless.  If you can see a problem, then it's not time to query.  If your book sparkles like the child of Edward Cullen and Tinkerbell*, then you're ready.
  3. Write a query letter.  Send to agents.  There are many, many online resources to help you with this process.  Use them.  Since this process involves a lot of waiting, start writing your next book.
  4. Agent will request a partial if they like your query.  You send them a portion of your book.
  5. Said agent likes the partial and wants more.  You send them your entire book.
  6. Receive an offer of representation.  Accept said offer.  Again, there are websites to help you with this.  Remember: your first call from an agent will be exciting, but before you accept, do your research.  Since you and this agent will be working together for years, make sure you can get along with them.
  7. Your wonderful agent helps you revise even more.  Because...guess what!  Your book actually wasn't perfect, even if you thought it was.  Now it looks like the child of Edward and Tinkerbell, covered in glitter.
  8. Your agent tries to sell your book to publishers.  You resume writing your other novel.
  9. A publisher buys the book; you sign lots of papers.  You get an editor, and you edit more.  Because we want it to sparkle so much our eyes hurt.  Being the glitter-covered child of a little green fairy and a stalkerish vampire isn't good enough.  Now this child also exhales glitter, has a glittery aura, leaves a glitter trail when it walks.
  10. The publishing company works on covers, design, advertising, etc.  You wait.  You're still writing that other book, aren't you?
  11. Finally, your book is released.  You have a party. 
Now, after your release date, there's also stuff to do, like book signings and marketing and whatnot.  But hey, you're published, so you can deal with it happily.  This is by no means a complete list; it's just a brief overview of what to expect.  Some writers, for example, skip the agent process altogether, or self-publish.  This is just one way to do it.  It's the path I'll be taking.  Except that I'm only on step one.

Questions?  Ask away!  Comments?  Something to add?  Feel free!

*Ew.  That's repulsive, isn't it?  Sorry for the disturbing mental pictures.  I was trying to make a signature

Friday, August 12, 2011

How Not to Run a Puppet Show

I put on fifteen puppet shows this week.  That's right.  Fifteen.  I reenacted Bible stories for kids everywhere from preschool to fifth grade. 

Luckily they were a somewhat captive audience. 

So, in all this, I have learned many things.  I've learned how NOT to run a puppet show.
  • Do not have a puppet that looks like Harry Potter.  Especially not if your audience is at all familiar with the Mysterious Ticking Noise.  Not having a puppet that looks like Harry Potter, do not have a puppet that could be Dumbledore pop up in the middle of the performance.
  • Do not use a puppet that vaguely resembles Micheal Jackson as Jesus.  This is not a good idea, especially if you're performing for older kids.
  • Do not drop a microphone backstage.  Especially if it's at full volume.
  • Do not conduct an experiment to see if puppets can breakdance.  They cannot.
  • Do not make your puppets wear turbans.  They fall off onstage.  The kids will laugh, which is disconcerting because you're behind the curtain and have no idea why they're laughing.
  • Do not kneel on short carpet for three hours straight.  This is painful.  You should bring a pillow.
  • Do not use the wrong voice for your puppets.  It makes no sense for James the Apostle to have a sudden voice change, as he has already gone through puberty.
  • Do not use your cell phone ringtone as a sound effect.  Do not answer text messages backstage.  
  • Do not encourage the children to touch the puppets.  As a great movie character said, "This can only end in tears."
  • Do not retell the story of the ten healed lepers and forget to have one come back to thank Jesus.  That being said, do not forget any crucial plot elements at all. 
  • Do not conduct an unrelated conversation backstage as you are running a show.  It will not work. 
  • Do not have your lepers change races as they are healed.  This does not make sense.  If you have five leper puppets and five representing healed lepers, make sure the leper and healed are both the same race.  They are not Michael Jackson.    
  • Do not try to impersonate Neil Cicierega.  You aren't him, and his puppets are cooler than yours anyway.

    And finally, the number one rule of puppet shows: Do not, for any reason, show your face.  You must maintain your secrecy at all times. 

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    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Liebster Blog Award

    So, it seems I've been nominated for a blog award, which is kind of exciting because it's never happened to me before.  Thank you, Hannah-Beth! *hugs*

    The goal of the Liebster blog award is to honor blogs with less than 200 followers, and spread the love around the wonderful land of blogger-ness.  "Lieb" apparently is German for love, which I wouldn't know because the only German words I know are swear words (thank you, The Book Thief).  So, without further procrastination, I nominate (in no particular order):

    Elanor Lawrence at Elanor Lawrence
    Kelly at The World of Writing With Kelly (which just got started but it looks great already!) 
    Evie at Dreaming in Open Fields (I can't see the number of followers, so I'll just assume.) 

    The font is purple, which means that they are awesome.  Yay for them, people!  Let's have a nice long round of applause.  Or square.  Or triangle or pentagon or dodecagon (which has 24 sides).
    If you've been nominated, you have things to do:
    1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
    2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
    3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
    4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
    5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!

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    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Advice on Chapters

    It seems like a lot of writers are worried about the lengths of their chapters.  What's considered too long, too short?  What's just-right?

    The good thing here is that the answer is short and sweet: there is no ideal chapter length.  As long as all of your chapters are reasonably consistent (i.e. don't have one chapter take fifty pages and another take five), you'll be just fine.

    Some books, like Maximum Ride, for example, have very short chapters.  Many of these chapters have two to four pages.  I've heard that Stephen King wrote a chapter that had only four words.  Having short chapters like this makes the story seem like it moves along more quickly, highlighting the feelings of action and suspense.  Some books, on the other hand, could have chapters up to fifty pages in length.  This is fine, too.  It highlights the complexity of the story, and breaks it up into broad pieces that each have something a little different.

    The one thing to remember with chapters is that you never want to end in safe place.  When you're reading a book, you want a convenient place to put it down, right?  You're not going to stop reading in the middle of an action sequence or when something important is about to be revealed.  You want to put it down in a place that's comfortable and has little or no tension.

    Because of this, you don't want to end your chapter in a "safe" spot.  Don't end with the protagonist contemplating recent events before she turns out the light to go to sleep.  Instead, end with your main character dangling off the edge of a cliff.  If you end every chapter with a moment of suspense, readers won't want to put your book down.

    Edit (8/9/11): "Safe" doesn't necessarily mean that the MC is safe from space aliens or whatever.  The character could be physically safe, but maybe the chapter ends with the revelation that the captain of the space aliens is actually her ex-boyfriend, or something.  And action doesn't have to be life-threatening, either.  It could also mean a heated argument, a love scene, etc.  

    Just remember: when you write a book, your goal is to write something that your readers can't put down.  If you end each chapter with something exciting, they'll want to stay up half the night saying "one more more chapter..."

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    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    In My Epic Mailbox: (2) Because I Missed Them Already

    This will be a very small IMM, since I only got one book this week.  It didn't even come in my mailbox.  In fact, no books ever come in my mailbox.  They come from the library, or they go UPS.  And then I get home and my brother says to me, "Hey Annie!  Guess what came for you!"  And I say, "My books!"  He replies with "No!"  I glare, then he says "Yes, of course."

    This week I finally got a copy of The Lost Hero from the library.  Because I finished the final Percy Jackson book a few weeks ago, and I miss all the half-bloods already.
    The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, #1)
    I'm assuming this will be very good, given that it's by Rick Riordan.  We shall see.

    In other news this week...
    I am one of the Pottermore chosen ones.  That's right.  I got in early to Pottermore.  I feel very, very awesome.  And magical.  And now I'm just waiting for that stupid email.  While I'm at it, here is a very amusing post on what it actually would cost to go to Hogwarts.

    I went to Boy Scout camp.  Yes, that sounds weird, but I did.  And I had fun.  I took off at one point to go into town, where--I still can't get over this--I saw an Icemark themed jigsaw puzzle (from the book The Cry of the Icemark).  What?  I did some looking on Google, only to find that this isn't an uncommon thing.  So my question is, if this world has Icemark puzzles, what's next?  Twilight jigsaw puzzles?  *shudders*

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