Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Writing in Everyday Life

I received an email today from a coworker that was, well, let's say I would be hiding under my desk in shame if I had sent it out. At the least, I'd attempt to recall it and revise so it made sense.

Photo by: Renjith Krishnan

The email attempted to explain a technical issue and how this person and their team would fix the issue. Sounds simple enough, right? Have you ever asked a first grader to explain how something works? It read kind of like that. The whole message was probably two sentences, mostly due to lack of punctuation, but it was amazing how many varying tenses were packed in there. Some words seemed to have been left out entirely, with fragmented concepts connected by a never-ending stream of "ands."

Did I mention the font varied in color every few words for no discernable reason?

This message showed me how much our daily written communication can reflect on ourselves as writers. Sure, I make spelling and grammar mistakes, but you can bet if I'm sending out a mass email to multiple departments, I am spell-checking, proofing and sending that email in an approved and readable font (in the same color). Since I started writing fiction, I view my office communication in a new way. Is this the best and easiest way to say this? Am I over explaining? Can I edit this down from 8 sentences to 4, or break up the text so it's easily readable?

Have you ever read work communication that was so bad you save it to your personal archive to look back on later? Or, have you committed the crime of sending the UNFORGIVABLE EMAIL?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Title: Revolution
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: YA Historical/Contemporary (it's both!)
Published: 2010

Jennifer Donnelly is a gifted writer. She expertly slips bits of sharp dialogue and  references to indie and classic rock alongside detailed discussion on music composition. Revolution starts with Andi, a depressed, grief-stricken Brooklyn teenager facing expulsion from her hipster-enabling prep school. Her senior thesis is due and she barely cares. Playing guitar is pretty much all that sustains her after her younger brother's death two years prior, along with a reliance on prescription medication.

Andi's father insists on bringing her with him to Paris for winter break; she can work on her senior project while he continues intensive work as a geneticist. It's through her father's friend in Paris that Andi discovers a diary hidden in an old guitar case written by a girl named Alexandrine during the French Revolution. The reader experiences the diary through Andi's eyes. While the girls lived vastly different lives, slowly parallels are revealed and the two stories intertwine closer together.

The history in Revolution is rich and detailed. Andi's angst and depression is heavy, but her journey is worth taking. She meets a cast of supporters along the way, delivering hope for Andi to become the person they know she can be. It's an engaging read. Just plug through the first 90 pages or so to get to the heart and the history. The revolution in this story is just as much Andi's as it is for the French.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Link Roundup

Here is what caught my interest this week in the blogosphere:

  • This visually captivating blog post starts off  with a collage of the "darkness" of YA covers . Then it moves into more sobering ground; how ethnically diverse/dark is YA based on covers alone? Turns out, not very.

  • Awful Library Books. The few and the dedicated do us all a favor by sorting through library stock to weed out gems like these. For a YA angle, scroll to the post from 7/21/2011 with the heading 80s Teen Fiction. One sketched cover shows what I think is supposed to be a teenager but looks more like a 40-yr-old jazzercize clown...

  • Lit Agent Rachelle Gardner did a series this week about pitching your novel, inlcuding a verbal pitch, which I thought was interesting (I took NOTES, y'all). Sometimes we lack focus when talking about our projects, so imagine pitching your work to a room full of agents. SCARY. Here's more on crafting an elevator pitch (a pitch short enough for an elevator ride).

  • Somewhat related, the blog Love YA hosted a contest (now closed) for a twitter-length pitch to an agent. I didn't participate but I read through every single pitch in the comments. For a voyeuristic look at what everyone else is writing or to get an idea of what works and what doesn't in a 140 character summary, check it out.

  • This last one is not writing or reading related, but if you're a sucker for kitties (like me), then you have no choice but to click: The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Borders Bookstores Closing - a sad day for all fans of books

I suppose it was inevitable considering all their troubles, but it's still sad to see the reality posted in the news: Borders bookstores to liquidate as early as Friday. The article I linked has more of a local angle, since Borders started as a smaller-scale independent in Ann Arbor, Mich. I'm originally from Michigan, and I think this touches me not just because the books aspect, but as another Michigan company going out of business in their struggling economy. There's been so much loss of industry in Michigan; a lot of my friends and some family have moved out of state for jobs over the past 10 years because of it.

I'm sure I'll contribute to the sales in Border's final weeks. I'll pick up some of the books on my list I know I want to own rather than to buy digital. I already began my shift away from Borders this year by purchasing more books through my independent store and through Barnes & Noble for my Nook reader. Still, I liked that Borders was easily accessible and they always had those coupons...

Will Borders closing affect your ability to buy books? Or, had you already moved on from chain retailers to buy via Amazon or other means?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Title: Going Bovine
Author: Libba Bray
Category: YA contemporary
Published: 2009

I admit, I had a hard time with the start of Going Bovine, mainly because the main character Cameron is apathetic to an extreme. He's a depressed teenager who bristles at any interaction from family or friends. He doesn't seem to even care about his friends. But as I read on, I realized how appropriate the description is of a depressed teenager, and how it captures a certain perspective of adolescence. I give Libba Bray credit for exploring this type of character. 

Cameron has mad cow disease, but even before the diagnosis, his trippy hallucinations are woven into the narrative so subtely, I think they began even earlier than I first suspected while reading. As the story progresses, the line between reality and a dream-world is intentionally blurred. It gets straight-up wacky, crossing over into satire at times when Cameron visits a cult where everyone has instant-access to smoothies and snacks and every game in bowling nets a perfect score. Add to that a talking yard gnome and visits with a punk angel; you have to suspend disbelief to go along this ride with Cameron. 

Themes are expertly woven into the story; Don Quixote, Disneyworld, old roadrunner cartoons, capturing life's moments within snowglobes. The author threads these themes so well it gives more depth to what could be dismissed as a really silly book. It felt overly long to me, I admit I skipped ahead at one point. I am glad it ended the way it did; even though I expected a different outcome. I appreciated Cameron's journey, and at the end, rooted for him to find meaning in life

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review: Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology

Title: Zombies vs. Unicorns
Author: Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier (features short stories by many YA faves including: Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, Maureen Johnson, Cassandra Clare, Carrie Ryan)
Genre: Short Stories, Anthology, Humor, Horror, YA*
Published: 2010

The deal with Zombies vs. Unicorns is half the stories are pro-zombie, half pro-unicorn, with each story introduced by either Holly Black (Team Unicorn) or Justine Larbalestier (Team Zombie), in attempt to convince the reader to choose a side.

The first few stories didn't do a whole lot for me, honestly, so I skipped around to the authors I was familiar with and read the book in a non-linear way. I greatly enjoyed Maureen Johnson's story of a nanny to a nursery of zombie tots whose mother may or may not have been a famous celebrity parent known for adopting children internationally. I also loved Scott Westerfeld's post-zomb-acolypse survivial tale, somehow with a love story and infection control thrown in, Meg Cabot's typical snarky teen girl tale with added bad-ass unicorn, and Libba Bray's sad but ... yes, sad survival zombie story of high school kids trying to have prom among the world of the undead.

The stories are mostly inventive, but a few I found a bit confusing or uninteresting.  I put an *asterisk next to Young Adult for genre because I think this is appropriate for upper-end YA. Maybe I'm a big 'ole prude, but the language and horror scenarios of several stories may make some younger readers (and their parents) uncomfortable. Just because there are cartoony pictures on the cover does not mean it's OK for a 12-year-old (think South Park or Family Guy - animiated but adult humor).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Can't Wait For... Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Sometimes I'm totally pulled in by a book cover. I love the combination of this cover and the title:

I already want to read this based on visual appeal alone. The description sounds decent, too. From Goodreads:
Amy Goodnight's family is far from normal. She comes from a line of witches, but tries her best to stay far outside the family business. Her summer gig? Ranch-sitting for her aunt with her wacky but beautiful sister. Only the Goodnight Ranch is even less normal than it normally is. Bodies are being discovered, a ghost is on the prowl, and everywhere she turns, the hot neighbor cowboy is in her face.
If this manages a haunting, vibey feel, a little bit of darkness with wit, I'll be all over it. Early reader reviews are mostly positive. The book releases this week, and my question is not whether or not I will read it, but do I get the e-book or buy the hard copy so I can have that pretty cover? (Now there's a case of #firstworldproblems...)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: Torn by Erica O'Rourke

Title: Torn
Author: Erica O'Rourke
Category: YA paranormal*
Pub Year: 2011

Torn opens with Maura, nicknamed Mo, wounded in a hospital after an attack that killed her best friend Verity. Mo's mother and her Uncle Billy watch out for her since Mo's father has been in jail for most of  her life, reportedly for a mob scandal. The stigma attached to Mo's family draws the attention of police investigating Verity's death. The police, and her uncle, believe Mo was the target of the attack, perhaps relating to her uncle's secretive dealings with the mob, which he lies about to Mo. There are things Mo is not able to explain about the shadowy dark figures who attacked them. She's not sure they were even human.

While her family and the police are convinced Verity's death is related to mob dealings, Luc, a mysterious guy with a southern drawl, shows up to tell Mo to keep quiet about what she saw. Through Luc, Mo pieces together the life her best friend really lived, going far beyond Chicago. Verity had secrets, which Mo needs to uncover in order to find out who - or what - really killed her.

The story does a great job of illustrating multiple paths characters can take depending on whether they keep secrets or share the truth, and thankfully, it works without being preachy. There's a love triangle here, and a good one, too. Mo is frustrated with, and enamored by, Luc, an heir to a magical destiny of sorts, and Colin, Chicago tough-guy (with a sensitive side, of course) who is hired by Mo's uncle to protect her from what he thinks are mob hits.

I put an asterisk next to paranormal here since much of the book has a contemporary feel, and the hidden magic world Verity had been a part of is slowly revealed. I liked the mix of Mo's Catholic school life in Chicago and the intricities of her family along with a pretty cool magic worldview complete with swords, spells, magic sources and creepy dark beings. I think the writing is strong with minimal points of over- description that could potentially pull a reader from the story. Some of the magic worldview explanation could get murky, but if you accept it as magic, it's a little easier to not be concerned with all the rules. Mo is figuring it out herself which helps the reader put the pieces together.

I got this as an e-book for under $7 which is a great deal. This is the Erica O'Rourke's first published book, and Torn is set as a trilogy. It's a fast, interesting read, and I enjoyed the character development.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Link Share: Book Signings

I have to share this entertaining AND informative post about what to expect at a book signing posted by Maggie Stiefvater. I saw her last month with Libba Bray and Meg Cabot, and based on this awesomly illustrated write-up I'm tempted to see her again for her solo road trip tour. I haven't even read her books yet!

What to Expect When You're Expecting a Book Signing

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

YA Discussion on NPR

Megan Cox Gurdon, author of the controversial Wall Street Journal article on YA fiction, and YA author Maureen Johnson, discuss the genre on NPR's All Things Considered. Catch it later if you miss it, or if you see this now, listen live: Article: WHYY radio

Monday, July 4, 2011

Book Review: The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller

Title: The Eternal Ones
Author: Kirsten Miller
Category: YA, paranormal
Published: 2010

I listened to the audio version of The Eternal Ones. The narrator is fantastic, a great match for the character, who added to the storytelling.

The theme here is reincarnation, which gives an interesting twist to the love story. There is a mystery wrapped up in Haven's search for her past identity, which has been revealed to her over the years in flashbacks. The southern vibe gave depth to the story by using Haven's strict grandmother and their judgemental small town to highlight the disconnect between religious beliefs and Haven's mysterious visions. Haven has a troubled family, but I liked that she had some support from her mother. There are hints of betrayal from some characters early on, but I couldn't pin down what would happen, which kept me reading.

Guy-pal Beau, gay but not totally out-of-the-closet, is probably the best aspect of the story. He is a great sidekick, and I felt for him when he was treated poorly by their town. Later Haven uses him as a sounding board for her array of crazy emotions, and while he listened to her, his character didn't have a lot to do with the progression of the story. I was hoping he would be utilized more in the second half of the book.

I felt conflicted over the love interest because he could never be shown in an entirely good or bad light. This was most likely intentional since he was part of the larger mystery. The covert organization catering to reincarnated souls is multi-layered and truly unsettling at times. I felt confused a few times with the addition of new characters and flashes through time, however that could have been due to listening to the book vs. reading a page.

This book reminded me of a more accessible "Society of S," which is a recent favorite of mine (by accessible I mean the language is more plain and the tone less creepy). Both have characters searching for their identity and involve a dark society controlling more than the character realizes.

For more about the author: Kristen Miller