Goodreads

In my latest move to further build up my social online presence I’ve moved onto goodreads.com. You can find my new profile here. It’s also installed permanently on the righthand sidebar via the  icon.

Those of you who use goodreads, link to my profile and friend me. If you read and haven’t signed up for it, you might want to. Basically it’s Facebook for books. You can easily find rate and review books and then share them with your friends. I posted up about 50 book reviews (mined from this blog) and rated another 70+. Of course I’ve read over 10,000 novels so I’m not about to go back and do them all, but I’ll add them as I see them.

As an author, Goodreads is supposedly a great place to market your books, which is my nefarious ulterior motive in joining yet another social network. Muhaha!

For my book reviews, click here.

For my posts on writing, click here.

Follow The Money

Any business is about the flow of money. This is a keystone for understanding them. Dean Wesley Smith, one of self-publishing’s very vocal bloggers has an excellent article on the subject of the differing flow of money in both the traditional and self-published worlds:

But so many of the discussions about indie publishing vs traditional publishing don’t take into account a very important, and sometimes critical aspect of money for a freelance fiction writer. And that’s timing of the cash flow. In other words: How Much? And When?

And trust me, this is complex and will seem odd to many, especially newer writers. But I will do my best to be clear and let you each decide on the path that is right for each of your books. And when you do decide on a path, you might understand the cash flow of that path.

--Both traditional and indie publishing have time lags in the money.Indie publishing, given the same quality book, the same level of cover, is a much shorter time lag. And with indie publishing stores reporting in so many different ways, it takes some work to see how many books in a certain time period a book actually sold.

For example, if an author had a book up and wanted to see how many copies the book sold in January, the author might have to wait until June to get some of those exact numbers.

However, discovering sales is far worse in traditional publishing. There the author is lucky to be able to figure out royalty statements for how many books sold and were held as reserves against return in a six-month period a year after publication. And that’s if the author can get the agent to send the royalty statements.

At least with indie publishing, with a little patience, an indie author can find out how many books sold exactly in any given month.

The full original post can be found HERE.

For more of my posts on writing, click here.

Sophomore Slump – Delirium

Title: Delirium

Author: Lauren Oliver

Genre: Dystopian YA

Length: 114,500 words, 441 pages

Read: May 17-21, 2011

Summary: Big disappointment.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Earlier in the week I read Lauren Oliver’s debut novel Before I Fall and loved it. So I eagerly downloaded her second book, Delirium, on my Kindle/iPad and set to reading. Ick.

She’s a very good writer, and the prose style is nearly identical, being first person present from the POV of a 17 year-old girl. For all it’s flaws (I’ll get to those), the voice is still very good, and makes for compelling reading at first. Oliver’s still great at inner monologue.

But everything else falls pretty flat.

Let’s begin with the premise. First of all, it feels like someone told Oliver that “dystopian is hot” and she jumped on the bandwagon. As far as I can tell, she shows no knack for it whatsoever. And worse, she pushes in this direction at the expense of her considerable talents elsewhere. This version of America exists an ill-defined period in the future, probably around 2050-2075. The central premise of the society is that LOVE has been diagnosed as a disease and the source of all societal ills. But fear not, a cure exists, some kind of magic brain surgery that gets rid of most feeling and desire. Everyone gets this at 18, because conveniently, that’s the age “the cure” works at.

Now besides this ludicrous premise, which involves a drastic about face of human tenants consistant since the dawn of time, we have to accept that in 50 years almost no technology has changed. Sure there are a few nasty totalitarian rules and such, but they still use cell phones, they still text. The book has absolutely NO description of anything different other than attitudes. Hell, there was probably more innovation between 1300 and 1350 than shown here! I just completely didn’t buy the world. Not one bit. There’s no way we could get from here to there. And it’s been done to death before. Better. Delirium is like a lame The White Mountains crossed with Uglies. Both books are far better (particularly the first). The whole thing felt entirely forced, like it was all derived from the high concept premise without any other consideration.

In Before I Fall, Oliver showed herself adept at painting peer groups. This is hard stuff, and fascinating when done well. But we don’t have it here. We have a protagonist, who isn’t bad, albiet a little generic, but then we don’t have too much else. Next up we have the romantic interest and best friend — both okay also. But that’s it. The other characters are like cardboard cutouts. I find this hard to jive with her first book where even the minor characters are deftly drawn.

Also in her first book was an intricate and cleverly woven progression of plot and character, while not perfect, it formed a lovely little puzzle unfolding across the length of the novel. And most importantly, giving a sense of emotional depth.

So what happened? I’m forced to conclude that either: 1) she spent much much longer writing her first book and really polished the hell out of it (nothing wrong with that) or 2) that she should have stayed more firmly rooted in the familiar early 21st century as the complexities of world building (even this minimally) sucked her focus.

Or both.

Still, I do have to give her credit for prose skills. They pulled me enthusiastically through the first third, then groaning and moaning through the rest. If it hadn’t been for this I would have chucked it in the middle and you wouldn’t have seen the review (I rarely review the many books I give up on — doesn’t seem fair).

I’m sad. It could have been so much better. I have nothing against dystopian — I am after all a hard core sci-fi reader — I’d have read nearly anything she gave me and enjoyed it if she just provided some reason to care.

For a review of Before I Fall, click here.

Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing

Title: Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft

Author: David Morrell

Genre: Writing Guide

Length: 240 pages

Read: May 21-22, 2011

Summary: Very good.

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Having just finished the first draft of my second novel I did what I always do after a draft: take a little time to consider my craft (and not look at the book). So I pulled this puppy off my stack of books on writing. I’ve read a lot of such books, and this is one of the better ones in it’s category.

They fall into a number of broad groups: books on specific components like plot or character, books on sentences, books on editing, books on selling your books, books on summarizing your books, windy pontifications on the nature of creativity, and this type, the bit of everything, with a dose of personal experience thrown in. Lessons is a lot like Lawrence Block‘s Telling Lies for Fun & Profit. Both cover a bunch of the big areas quickly like plot and structure, and also include the author’s personal perspective on his career (Morrell’s best known for First Blood, on which the first Rambo was based) and the writing business. It does not focus heavily on sentences or editing.

There were a number of interesting insights. He has a technique for getting past sticky points in your story construction I might try (next time it happens). There were also some interesting technical thoughts on the structure of scenes and chapters. He has a perspective on selecting POV that I hadn’t come across, which was interesting. Although he is slightly dated in his opinion of first person stating that he feels it always needs a reason why the narrator is telling the story. This used to be the case, but in the last few years the rise of first person (particularly in YA) was sort of negated this.

A good chunk of the book is about his career, optioning books to Hollywood etc. This was amusing as well. He started in the early 1970s so he’s a product of that different era in publishing. The book was written in 2002 and while none of the writing advice is dated, the advent of ebooks and changes in the market are shifting the business side. Still, good writing is still good writing, and even writing style itself doesn’t change all that fast. Books I’ve read by authors whose prime was the 1950s still have plenty to offer. Last weekend I read The Postman Always Rings Twice, published in 1934, and that hardly seems dated.

So if you like books on writing and plan to read many, I’d check Lessons out. While that doesn’t sound like spectacular praise, I do like this book. Many writing books I read are total drivel. This one was worth the time, and that says something.

Some of my favorites are:

Bleeding Violet

Title: Bleeding Violet

Author: Dia Reeves

Genre: Paranormal YA

Length: 84,000 words, 454 pages

Read: March 14-20, 2011

Summary: Unique, good, and very different.

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This is a weird weird book, and I mean that in a good way. Nominally, it’s about a schizophrenic girl, Hanna, who’s dad has died and who decides to move in unannounced with her mom she’s never met. But her mom doesn’t live in a normal town. She lives in some kind of weird place in Texas where gates between universes have let all sorts of strange monsters and realities in. A town with its own supernatural police.

The voice here is really fun. It’s first person past, but with a sort of cavalier devil-take-care crazy-girl style. I liked it. Some sentences were fantastic (both literally and figuratively). Not exactly in the lyrical kind of way that you might expect, but because of their deft wit, and quick and creative way of describing utterly fantastic goings on.

Because this book is FILLED, PACKED, STUFFED, with weird monsters and magic. Reeves uses the protagonist and POV character very deftly to explain it, or mostly just show what happens. She doesn’t feel the need to combine herself to easy concepts either. For example, sound sucking, student grabbing, invisible squids live inside the high school windows and one of the characters defeats them with a deck of playing cards! It’s a tribute to her skill that I could follow nearly all of this stuff. And it’s compact too, not being a very long book and containing dozens of strange encounters. The descriptions are lean but vivid. Occasionally she violates POV slightly on the side of clarity because the protagonist is new to this stuff and she explains it with a bit more understanding than she might be expected to have. But this isn’t very noticeable. Now I do wonder if someone with less experience reading speculative fiction in all its forms might have trouble with this novel. I mean, I’ve read A LOT (5000+ speculative novels), and played hundreds if not thousands of video games with magical systems etc. We won’t even count the movies and TV shows. Certainly someone who likes their reality… well… real, would be put off by the book. I wasn’t. The supernatural flavor was really interesting and unique, reminding me ever so slightly of something like the eerie Lost Room, or the wonderful but very out of print Marianne series by Sherri S Tepper.

The choice of using such a fractured POV character was interesting. There could be an argument that the entire book was some sort of delusion. I myself just treated Hanna’s view point as literal, and everything she saw as factual. The protagonist, and some of the other characters for that matter, don’t feel entirely real. They aren’t cardboard per se, as they feel well rounded, they just have a bit of surreal style to them that comes from their rather depressed moral compass. There’s a lot of killing and murder in this book, often horrifically grisly in fact, and no one seems to care too much. One of your best friends has been impregnated by evil demon spawn who are eating her from the inside out, well, just cut them out and leave her bleeding to die. That sort of thing. It works in the story, but if you stop and thing about the reactions any non psychopathic person might have… These characters just move on. It didn’t  really bother me in the context of this story as the narrator’s view point tends to whitewash away the consequences.

There’s also a good bit of cavalier sexuality — a welcome break from the self censorship that seems to be the norm since the 90s. Hanna is certainly open minded in that regard, and likes to take off her clothes. Unfortunately :-) there isn’t a lot of detail, like most everything else in the book a lot is left to the imagination. This is also part of the trend. To tell the truth Judy Blume’s Forever (1975) is still the most explicit teen book I can remember.

Overall, this is a great book, but it’s much more FANTASTIC than your typical paranormal. Being a fantasist, that was more than fine with me.

Tithe – A Modern Faerie Tale

Title: Tithe – A Modern Faerie Tale

Author: Holly Black

Genre: Paranormal YA

Length: 66,000 words, 310 pages

Read: March 13, 2011

Summary: Well written and evocative.

 

This is the second Holly Black book I’ve read. I enjoyed White Cat (REVIEW HERE) a lot and so I went back to read her debut novel. And liked it even more.

The similarities are striking. Both are short YA books, with nice prose and likable main characters thrown into ‘weird’ paranormal situations. Both have the action so condensed as to occasionally be confusing. Both wrap themselves up in the last quarter in a way that compromises the believability of the secondary characters. Both have unhappy but not completely tragic endings. While White Cat’s premise is perhaps a tad more original, I found Tithe‘s creepy fairy flavor more to my taste. Not that I didn’t like the first, but I really liked certain things about the second.

Tithe is written in third person past, with the protagonist Kaye dominating the POV. Mysteriously, approximately 5-10% is from the point of view of her friend Corny, and about 2% from the romantic interest. These outside POVs felt wrong, and at least in the Kindle version, no scene or chapter breaks announced the transitions. Every time one happened I was confused for a paragraph or two and knocked out of the story. Still, said story was more than good enough to overcome this minor technical glitch.

Kaye is an unhappy 16 year-old with a loser mom. When they move back to New Jersey she is rapidly involved with the Fey, discovers she’s a green skinned pixie, and gets drawn into a conflict between the Seelie and Unseelie (rival fairy) courts. It’s a fun read, and the prose is fast and evocative of the fey mood. Ms Black seemed to have done at least some research and the feel is quite good. The loose descriptive style sketches some rather fantastic creatures and scenarios, and that works. There is some darkness (which I like), and wham bam death of secondary characters without the proper emotional digestion. There is sexuality, but no sex (boo hiss!).

But I really like the way she handled the fairies. There isn’t a lot of description, but what there was left me filling in my own detailed, sordid, and mysterious collage of imagery.

I was loving the first two third of the book, and then it pivoted a bit and lost me a little. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it, but the last third felt sketchier. The author had a bunch of double takes and betrayals on her outline, and it felt to me that it didn’t really matter if the secondary characters got to be true to themselves — they just followed the script. The protagonists best friend dies in like two seconds, and there is barely any reaction. Everyone also seemed to roll way too easily with the rather gigantic punches (as in Fairies are real). And to be darn good at picking up new powers in no time at all. This is a typical issue, and very hard to address perfectly, but it always bugs me when magic seems too easy. White Cat had the same final act issues.

It’s still a fun book — way above average — with nice prose and breakneck pace. But the potential for great gave way to merely very good.

Book Review: White Cat

Title: White Cat

Author: Holly Black

Genre: Paranormal YA

Length: 76,000 words, 310 pages

Read: March 12, 2011

Summary: Well written, fun, but a little contrived.

 

This is yet another foray into the world of paranormal YA (I am, after all, doing research for my own writing). Holly Black is a but best selling YA and MG author. This book, unusually, has a male protagonist, and he’s part of a family of “curse workers,” although he himself doesn’t do any magic. He lives in an alternative reality where a small minority of people are able to “lay on hands” in a bad way and curse people. They are known to society, it’s even illegal, and formed into criminal gangs in the 1930s just like the Mafia.

The premise is decent, although I’m not a fan versions of our reality with outed paranormal groups. I didn’t really buy the changes at a social level. The whole existance of this kind of power in volume would throw everything off, and here the only real social change is that everyone wears gloves (because it’s through bare skin that the magic works). We are reminded often of the glove factor.

The writing is very solid and straightforward, in first person present. So straightforward it took me awhile to even notice the tense. Or maybe writing it myself is acclimating me to it. The protagonist is likable and felt fairly real, although maybe not all of his decisions did. And I didn’t really feel the proper weight of his emotions. Big things happen, but without big feelings. By page three or thereabouts we discover he murdered his girlfriend. We’re supposed to still like him. And we do, but mostly because it’s totally obvious that he didn’t REALLY murder her, he only thinks he did. Oh and we quickly hear about the one flavor of curse worker that’s REALLY rare. And guess who’s from a magical family and doesn’t have any power…

But I enjoyed the book — quite a bit — I read it in half a day after all. Another book I attempted to read that same morning was so execrable that I only made it to fifty pages, so this was a vast improvement.

A couple other beefs. At times the writing was so lean that I felt like I missed something in the action and had to page back to find it — but it wasn’t even there. Now, it was then obvious moving forward what had happened, it just seemed that the attempt at leanness and/or agressive editing had taken the edge off the clarity. Then as we moved into the second half we hit the “after the big reveal” syndrome which many books with reveals often suffer from. I’ve mentioned this before (like HERE or HERE), but basically this is where after the big shocker no one really seems to act with appropriate emotional gravitas. I’m used to it, and it’s a tough problem to solve, so I moved on to the ending.

Which was the weakest part. Everything juggled into place such that the people were served the plot rather than their character. The plot wasn’t bad, it’s just that I didn’t really see some of the characters acting like they did.

Overall, the story was fast and fun. As I said Ms Black is a skilled writer, and the prose zipped along, with nice quick descriptions, and she isn’t afraid to be a bit dark or sexy (considering it’s YA). The gratuitous twist on the last two pages bugged me, but I ordered the sequel (which the Twitter/FB buzz says is very good) and another of the author’s books.

How different these neat little package YA books are from a meaty tome like The Wise Man’s Fear (which I finished the same day). There are subplots in that book about the size of this entire story.

For a review of Holly Black’s first novel, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, click here.

The Wise Man’s Fear

Title: The Wise Man’s Fear

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Genre: High Fantasy

Length: 380,000 words, 1000 pages

Read: March 4-12, 2011

Summary: A worthy sequel.

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The Wise Man’s Fear is one of 2011’s two most anticipated Fantasy novels, the other being George R. Martin‘s A Dance with Dragons (due in July). WMF, however, can be all yours right now. It’s the sequel to The Name of the Wind (which I REVIEW HERE). This is High Fantasy of a rather less epic sort. Not that it’s any less fun to read, even weighing in as it does at 1008 hardcover pages. Although, who thinks about pages these days, as I read the Kindle version on my iPad (wouldn’t want to mess up that nice hardcover first edition I had signed by Mr. Rothfuss last week!).

Despite the length, it’s well worth it. This book is seamless with the first in the series, despite the four years gap between their publication. I read The Name of the Wind a second time last week, and WMF picks up and continues with exactly the same style and pace. There is still the box story in the present, but this accounts for no more than 5% of the pages. The action mostly takes place in the past with our hero, Kvothe, continuing on for a bit at University and then venturing out into the wider world. While we sense that some bigger events are in the works, this is still a very personal tale. And it defies all normal story telling expectations in that it just meanders along. My editor’s eye says that whole chunks and side plots could be snipped out without effecting anything. And to a certain extent this is true. But would the novel be better for it? Perhaps it could have lost 50-100 pages in line editing, but I’m not sure I’d take out any of the incidents. As the novel itself says, it’s not the winning of the game, but the playing of it that matters.

That is very much what The Wise Man’s Fear is about. It’s a story about stories. It’s rich and lyrical, a luxurious tapestry of world and story, without the distraction of the intricate mechanism of plot. The little glimpses into different sub-cultures show a deft eye for details and invention. This feels like a real place, not so much explained, but revealed through the narrator’s eyes.

As Rothfuss said in an interview, Kvothe is  older now, and he gets himself into more trouble. There’s more sex and violence this time out, although the main romance is still endlessly unrequited :-) Kvothe it seems, is a hero of many talents, and that includes those in the bedroom. Rothfuss doesn’t focus on these details gratuitously, it’s not a book filled with battle (or bedroom scenes).

I’m curious to see how Rothfuss wraps this up in the third book (and I suspect the trilogy might expand). Things still feel early. We find out barely anything new about the main villains. In fact they don’t even show in this volume. Just like the first book the end is completely limp and anti-climatic. Kvothe just wraps his story up for the day and we wait (hopefully for slightly less than four years).

But I’ll be waiting. Probably for so long that I’ll have to read book one and two again. I won’t mind.

Done Again, Hopefully

My freelance editor, the awesome Renni Browne, has officially declared my novel, The Darkening Dream, done, and ready for agents!

Now bear in mind that “done” is a highly subjective term, and that as soon as anyone gives me an idea worth doing, I’ll probably do it, and that agents and editors are bound to ask for changes. Which as long as I think the ideas make the book better, is a good thing.

The new version is 5.00i, but this is my ninth full major draft. Woah.

I remember reading Sol Stein‘s awesome book on writing, where he mentioned that The Magician took 10-11 drafts (I was then on my second) and thinking: that’s crazy! I guess not. Totally coincidentally, Renni also edited that novel, published in 1971!

So it’s been a busy week, working only on The Darkening Dream (I’ll get back to my new novel shortly). In the last 10 days:

1. We finishing our big line edit

2. I rewrote the ending again.

3. I read the entire book and made minor mods.

4. Renni and Shannon (her additionally awesome co-editor/assistant) reread the beginning and the ending and did another quick line edit.

5. I went over that.

6. I got back a critique on the beginning of the book, and made some changes based on that.

7. This inspired me to write two entirely different beginnings.

8. We eventually decided the original was better, although I moved a few nice tidbits from the new stuff over.

9. I reread the whole first half of the book, and the ending again, and made some more improvements.

10. On Sunday I rested.

So now I return to the agent game (referrals very welcome), and to the agonizing internal debate about the relative merits of self publishing in the modern (and very rapidly changing) market. And back to the first draft of my new novel (about 25% done).

If any of you beta readers want a copy of the new improved 95,000 word The Darkening Dream, drop me a note.

The Name of the Wind

Title: The Name of the Wind

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Genre: High Fantasy

Length: 255,000 words, 720 pages

Read: May 2008 & Feb 28-Mar 2, 2011

Summary: Best new fantasy of recent years.

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In 2008, I read this 722 page novel in Xian China during a single sleepless night, and I reread it just now for the second time in preparation for the sequel (released this week): The Wise Man’s Fear. NOTW is a beautiful book. Of all the Fantasy I’ve read in the last 15 or so years, this is perhaps second best after The Song of Ice and Fire. But that’s not to say that they have much in common, other than both being good Fantasy. George R. Martin‘s books are full of characters, POVs, violence, politics, and a darkly realistic sensibility. NOTW is much more focused and relies on more traditional Fantasy tropes. How focused can a 700 page novel be? Not very, but it is good, and it concentrates on a small number of characters and a single (albiet meandering) storyline.

Kvothe is the protagonist. He’s a young man of many many talents, of no means whatsoever, who winds his way from the actor’s troupe to the mean streets to the magical University and to (implied) great and terrible things.

If I have any beef with the book, it’s that the meta premise of the tired hero telling his story is too drawn out. This volume opens in the “present day,” where very little happens except to set us up for the life story of the hero, which is brilliant. Much like Lord of the Rings or Hyperion, the reader must slog for a bit to get to the gold. In this case about 50 pages in. But the slogging isn’t exactly painful because Rothfuss’s prose is lyrical and masterful. Seriously, it’s a wonder given the tangents, bloated conversations (the dialog is great but not efficient), and the like that this book is so easy to read — but it is. Damn easy, even the second time.

The world and the hero juggle uniqueness and heavy — but delicious — borrowing from classic Fantasy of the best sort. I sniffed out a bit of Ursula K. Le Guin (think Wizard of Earthsea), Raymond Feist, Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time), and who knows how many others. The world is extremely well developed, and feels big, but it doesn’t doesn’t have the camp and cheese of Wheel of Time (although it does pay homage). I love origin stories and I very much enjoyed Kvothe’s journey. He’s a great character: humble, proud, skilled, lucky, unlucky all at once, but in a fairly believable way. Perhaps the most important relationship in the book (and there are actually relatively few) is the romance, and it has a tragic quality that feels very refreshing, and slightly reminiscent of the best of Orson Scott Card (think his old stuff like Song Master) or Dan Simmons.

The magic is very unique and interesting, and we focus on it quite a bit, as this is a story that spends a lot of time in the Arcane Academy. This ain’t no Hogwarts either, it feels altogether more mysterious and dangerous. There are several different magic systems interwoven in what is a world overall fairly light on magic. But this is also a world that feels a bit more technological than most Fantasy, with larger cities, a little more like antiquity than the Middle Ages. The “magical bad guys” have a nice character and bit of mystery to them. I don’t like all my mystery explained. There is a lot of music and theatre in here too, and that just helps heighten the lyricism.

But what exactly makes this book so good?

Proving my geek-cred, swapping some Crash Bandicoots for signatures with Patrick Rothfuss

Fundamentally I think Rothfus is just a great writer, and a very good world builder. I don’t think he’s a great plotter. The story drifts along, relies a bit on coincidence and circumstance, and the end fizzles then pops back out of the interior story and waits for the sequel. But that doesn’t really matter, because the prose, world, and characters keep you enjoying every page.

CLICK HERE for my review of the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear.