31 October 2011

27 October 2011

The Sci-fi/Fantasy Flow Chart

Have you seen this flow chart?


Click for full size image
 Earlier this year, NPR set out on a quest to identify the Top 100 Sci-fi/Fantasy books with reader input. I'm pretty sure I participated.

The list is out now, but SFSignal took the whole thing and put many of the choices into this flowchart to help you narrow down exactly what kind of book you're looking for in that wide genre.

The flowchart breaks down what's out there through questions like the following:
Do you like Arthurian legend? If you answer Yes, you move on to "Which character is your favorite?"
Morgan le Faye points to "Mists of Avalon," Merlin to "The Crystal Cave" and Arthur to the classic "Once and Future King."

On the sci-fi side, for example:
Ready to blast into space? --> Maybe, let's stay close, I'm new at this --> 2001: A Space Odyssey.
From there comes an arrow --> Too far. Too trippy. How about Mars?
That branches off to How Would You like to see the Red Planet?"
Vignettes gives you "The Martian Chronicles"
Environmentally gives you Kim Stanley Robinson's MarsTrilogy and
Through the Looking Glass is C.S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet"

Spend your lunch hour perusing this diagram... it'll likely lead you to a new favorite book.

26 October 2011

The Audiobook Experiment, Part II

To review, the experiment was this: does it make a difference for reading comprehension/enjoyment to just listen to the audiobook. (My full explanation of the experiment can be found in this post.)

To wit, I have tried this with one book and, therefore, have a conclusive answer for you all.

The answer is, a brand new book can be enjoyable and comprehensible just listening to the audio.

So much so, that I'm completely captivated by Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series and have the sequel, Behemoth, on hold in the audiobook version.

There was one plot point that had I been reading the book, I would have gone back a page or two to double-check. As it was with how it was tracked, rewinding wasn't really going to work. So, I just had to go with it and assumed that I missed a nuance or the track skipped or something. (I'm not saying what it was, because I don't want to put a spoiler out there.)

The other great thing about audiobooks (some that I've read for adults and definitely the kid and YA titles) is that the readers do voices. They don't just read the book, the vocally act the book. Leviathan was read by Alan Cumming who not only did changed pitches or cadences but accents for the Austrian, Germans and British characters. I think my favorites were his Count Volger and his Dr. Barlowe (OK, here's a shortcoming of audio books... I don't know how to really spell character names!)

Part of the original question was also about appreciation of the work. In the case, I think I was more appreciative to see how Westerfeld made an alternate history fit in a YA book that comprises steampunk, modern genetics, and warfare and still told a great story. Several times, I was nervously drumming my thumbs on the steering wheel to find out what would happen next.

Clearly, my deep scientific research  has proven this question, that comprehension really isn't lost when delving into an audiobook as opposed to hardcopy.

25 October 2011

Feedback

I am constantly thinking about feedback. It seems a little weird, until you realize that putting on a sweatshirt, or adding ice to your drink is a form of feedback. It is so unconscious, we have lost the ability to think about it as such.

Most feedback is like this until something shakes us up. Occasionally, feedback walks up and slaps us in the face. Maybe it is the critique that went less than stellar. Maybe it is the performance review at work that caught you off guard.

I had a piece of feedback from school this last week that had me shaking my head and wanting to share. Context: I was third presenter in line at the end of the lecture delivered by the professor. My thunder was gone - not just stolen, but gone. Keyser Soze style.

Here it goes:
Done well: Compared goals and objectives very well. Nice powerpoint. Research, good conclusions, concise. Good eye contact. Good examples of companies in the area, objectives were well laid out. Good pausing.
Opportunities for Improvement: Talk a little louder, be more enthusiastic. Seemed a little lacking compared to the amount of information others had. Seemed brief and minimally detailed. Better eye contact. Slides were too busy with too many details in some. Add more supporting info.
Gotta love those contradictions.

I had two main thoughts on the feedback:

  • No criteria was issued by the professor as to what made a good presentation. Ergo, my audience compared me to everyone else they had seen that night.
  • You can't please everyone.
Personally, I'm okay with the feedback. I had concerns about the presentation I gave versus everyone else because I was succinct, aiming to meet the six minute time constraint (others in the class went over by five or more minutes). I figured I would be compared to everyone else, and choose to not change what I did as it met the requirements.

I didn't exceed the expectations. I met them. It wasn't stellar and I was okay with that in this situation. Would I have done this if it were my turn for crits at a writing group? I hope not. But what if I had? Was it still worth it?

I think it was worthwhile. At some point feedback must be as much of your writing process as putting on a sweatshirt in response to cold. It has to be natural and just something you do. No emotions. It's not personal, it's something you consider about the environment and move forward in response.

What do you think?

24 October 2011

Book Banter -- The Fifth Witness

Title: The Fifth Witness
Author: Michael Connelly
Length: 421 pages

Genre: legal drama
Plot Basics: Defense attorney Mickey Haller has turned to defending foreclosure victims as the economy tanked around him and many criminal clients can no longer afford him. One foreclosure victim -- Lisa Trammel -- ends up the target of a murder investigation in the death of a banker in charge of the bank fight to take her house. Now Haller's back defending a client against the powerful economic forces of the day and he puts himself in danger to follow the case to the unexpected end.

Banter Points: Reaching this point has been a long time coming -- I have now read every fiction book Michael Connelly has published to date and there's a huge sense of accomplishment in getting here.

I don't love the Haller books as much as the Bosch books (or as much as the Poet) but, this one is probably my favorite of the Haller novels. The courtroom drama is sort of predictable but the evidence is not. The story is neatly tied into current events with the housing collapse without feeling trite.

Bummer Points: Mickey has an about-face as a character that's a little unbelievable at the end. While the whole Haller story has been showing how tough things are for him as a defense attorney, this proposed switch is just a little too much since most people really can't/don't make such radical changes to their lives.


Word Nerd Recommendation: If you're ready for the long-haul, dig into Michael Connelly's who catalog of books. You won't be disappointed.

21 October 2011

The Next Series: the Results Remix

The poll has closed and so it's time to look at results.

(Ok, I looked at results while votes were coming in... sheesh...)

For those of you just joining, here's why I was doing a poll for the next series.

According to popular opinion, it looks like I'll be trying out the Rizzoli and Isles series.

I am suspect that it won because of the TV show, or perhaps because it was first in the poll. Survey design matters, I suppose.

I will dutiful read the first book in the series (soon, but not yet, I've got a couple other things on deck already), but I'm not making promises. If it's not me, I'm not going to stick with it. I do trust the opinion of my voters, so I'm anticipating good things, but there are too many other books to move on to if I'm not entirely captivated.

For those of you that picked Rizzoli and Isles, what is it about it that love? (And no spoilers!)

20 October 2011

Book Banter: Child of Fire

Title: Child of Fire
Author: Harry Connolly
Genre: Urban fantasy
Length: 343 pages
Plot Basics: Criminal Ray Lilly and Twenty Palaces Society member Annalise are sent to the small town of Hammer Bay to investigate magical disappearances of children. When Annalise is injured and not healing like she should, it's up to Ray and his small amount of magical power to find out the truth about the town and stop the predators harming the children. Ray's investigation riles up a whole host of secrets, threatening to rip the town apart.

Banter Points: I found the third (and sadly last) book in the series on the library's new book shelf, bearing a blurb from Jim Butcher and I immediately went to the stacks to find one and two. I wanted some new urban fantasy that didn't involve vamps/zombies/etc. and Connolly delivered.

I love love love the fact that he never fully explains the Twenty Palaces Society, their magic, etc. I love it because it keeps the story from getting bogged down backstory and infodumps. As a reader, I loved the mystery that I could related to Ray in not knowing exaclty who he was working for.

I like that Ray is not a nice guy and has to come to grips with right and wrong as he moves through the story.

I love the idea of magic tattoos (thanks Weis/Hickman and the Death Gate cycle for that one).

Bummer Points: Ray Lilly basically has one magic trick to solve all his problems, his ghost knife. It gets a little repetitive to see him use it over and over.

Of course, the big bummer is Del Rey has dropped Twenty Palaces and there won't be anymore. Connolly explains the whole thing over on his blog. My timing on this one sucked, seeing the announcement when I'm 2/3rds of the way through Child of Fire. I'm going to keep reading through books 2 and 3, but I'm bummed.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I have mixed feelings here, knowing that the series has been cancelled. Normally, I would say run right out and start reading, but... sigh... the writing is solid, but if you're looking for a long-term relationship with a series, know that you're going to be left hanging here.

19 October 2011

Author Answers with Tyler McMahon

After far too long of a hiatus on Word Nerd, we're back with Wednesday guest posts from writers. Kicking the series off again is debut novelist Tyler McMahon with a Q&A about his novel, "How the Mistakes Were Made."

Welcome, Tyler.

WN: What is it that drew you to setting a novel in the grunge music world of the 90s?
McMahon: Seattle—especially at this time period—has always cast a long shadow for me. I was 15 or so when Nirvana’s Nevermind was released. As a teenage misfit on the other side of the country, all the Sub-Pop and so-called “grunge” music—as well as the photographs and clever liner notes—fed a certain illusion that there was a place out west filled with people like my friends and me. It was a sort of Utopian vision for sloppy outsiders.

I was also interested in grunge’s relationship to earlier underground punk scenes. I think that the mainstream success of grunge gave them a certain validation. I wanted to show how marginalized or fringe artistic movements can shift the paradigm of pop culture—and grunge is a great example of that.

WN:  What kind of reader is going to really get into "How the Mistakes were Made"?
McMahon: I hope it has a fairly wide appeal. So far, I’ve been very flattered that readers with varying degrees of foreknowledge or experience with these music scenes have connected to it. Certainly, the novel doesn’t assume any punk or indie rock expertise.

Certainly, Gen X readers who grew up with Nirvana and their peers should find some resonance. However, I conjured up this idea when I was a Teaching Assistant, lecturing to college freshman about rock history. So I’ve always held out hope that the book might appeal to a younger readership, and to folks that might not otherwise read a lot of fiction.

In an odd and personal way, I truly hope that readers in the Northwest will get into the book. I started this novel after living in some small towns in Idaho and Montana, and there’s a way in which How the Mistakes Were Made is my love song to that part of the world. It’s a beautiful region full of big-hearted, creative people, and it deserves more attention that it gets in contemporary literature.

WN: You've written a lot of short stories -- what were the biggest challenges in writing a novel?
McMahon: I was ridiculously lucky in that—as a young writer towards the end of my graduate study—I stumbled into a sort of accidental apprenticeship with Brady Udall, an amazing novelist and teacher. He was my thesis advisor, and also taught a course on novel structure. Between those two things, I had a year of novel “training” that very few writers ever get.

I’ve given a lot of thought to the differences between short stories and novels in the past few years. Others have said that novels are more like drama, and that short stories are more like poetry. I’d say that’s accurate. But to my mind, novels have two fundamental requirements that shorter pieces might get away without.

The first is that a novel’s protagonist must—to some extent—be likeable. You can’t ask a reader to spend that many pages with a voice that they loathe. That’s not to say that protagonists have to be nice and charming, but they must show some redeeming qualities and inner humanity.

The second is that a novel must control tension and release—almost the way that a song does. With short stories, I used to get away with simply ramping up the tension for ten or twenty pages and then breaking the action off decisively. With novels, it’s necessary to ease up at times and let the characters catch their breath.

WN: How did your Peace Corps experience contribute to writing a novel?
McMahon: My time in El Salvador informed so much about my life since; I almost can’t imagine what things might be like if I’d not had that experience. It was certainly good training for a writer: you work on projects that are difficult, thankless, and often don’t make any sense to people outside of a small group of peers.

In another way, all the Peace Corps Volunteers I knew in El Salvador were storytellers. We might only see one another every few weeks, but our ritual gatherings invariably consisted of late-night bull sessions. We all tried to top each other with stories and anecdotes from our villages and rural communities. Some of the accounts would be second- or third-hand. The best ones would be repeated over and over, often by request.

Because that was a small community of people with shared experiences, we had a kind of shorthand, and a highly idiosyncratic lingo. Once back in the States, I often had to “translate” those stories to other friends and family. It was a great lesson in how to specific details can both pull readers in and push them out.

WN: What's next for you as an author?
McMahon: I’m a little superstitious when it comes to talking about works-in-progress. But at the moment I’m working on a manuscript about some expat surfers stuck in El Salvador in the wake of the earthquakes that devastated the country in early 2001. There’s a small port town there called La Libertad, which has an incredible world-class point break, along with an insidious crack-cocaine epidemic. The juxtaposition has always fascinated me.

It’s a subject that’s close to my heart, but the piece has moved in stops and starts, and been fraught with setbacks and second guesses. I’m hoping I can get a version of it into shape sometime in the next few months.




18 October 2011

Think Different

Apple was something that was on the edges of my life. I never had an Apple 2e nor did any of the schools I went to. They seemed to come after I had moved on to the next grade.

My first real memory of Apple was the Think Different campaign. At the time, I didn't pay attention to much other than my undergraduate work. The school that I student taught at, however, opened my eyes to the campaign.

The 4th grade teacher was extremely offended by the posters that were donated to the school. The phrase lacked the very proper "-ly" that made it grammatically correct. She tried to rally various teachers into taking the posters down, myself included.

I looked at them and smiled. Great writing is about breaking the rules. The people on the posters were rule breakers as well - Albert Einstein being my favorite one of all.

Think Different.

Yes, it should have been Think Differently. But that's the point, in my mind. It should be think different. Apple certainly would.

I'm a fan of Apple. I have a iPod and iPad. I've broken or sold other iPod models. I mourned the loss of Steve Jobs by remembering the campaign that taught me the most I ever learned about grammar.

Think Different.

17 October 2011

The audiobook experiment, part I

With the new job, I've got a longer commute which is becoming prime audiobook listening time.

Previously, audio books kept me company while doing yardwork thanks to downloadable audio books. But when the next book I wanted wasn't available for my iPod but was on CD, I remembered, "Hey, my car has one of those!" So, audiobooks, meet drivetime.

But, my audiobook choices have always been books I already read. The audiobook was a way to "reread" and not worry about having to pay more attention to my driving (or gardening) than the book at hand because I knew what happened.

Except -- there's so much stuff I want to read for the first time.

And enter a Twitter question by @tyrusbooks: Does your appreciation/comprehension of a book change between reading and/or listening?

This question had been knocking around in my head as well. So, I replied: @tyrusbooks I'm going to find out! All my audiobook exp. has been "rereading" but going to try a new book just with audio to see.


That afternoon, I went to the library and checked out an audiobook I haven't already read in paper.

For the purposes of my experiment, I decided to go easy on myself. The book in question is the first in Scott Westerfeld's YA steampunk trilogy, Leviathan. Knowing I've got a stack of mysteries and urban fantasies checked out to read in print, I didn't want a book in those genres so I wouldn't confuse the clues or wonder why the magic isn't working right because that world works differently.

I popped disc one of Leviathan in the car last Wednesday and started to get into an alternate 1914, full of airships and steam-powered Stormwalkers.

The experiment is underway. And as @TyrusBooks asked: @BKWordNerd report back with your findings, B.


I'll keep you posted.


13 October 2011

Web Comics (and a giveaway!)

When I was a kid, I loved Sundays and the colored funny pages. I always like to read "Peanuts" and "Garfield" and later "Calvin and Hobbes" and "The Far Side."

Now, when I look at the funny papers, I don't get into them that much because I think my tastes have grown up and moved from newsprint to online.

There's a huge market of web comics that span a huge range of artistic ability as well as storytelling that raises from them to comic strips to online graphic novels.

Today -- I want to highlight a few of the webcomics that I check on, from sporadically to being a faithful reader.

Xkcd: The art here is primitative, stick figures mainly, but the jokes are smart. In fact, you have to know alot about math, history, pyschology and more to appreciate many of the jokes. It's great that I can put my liberal arts education to good use somewhere. Where else do all those hours of studying for general psych, statistics, and number systems (ok, that was high school math, truth to tell) actually help out?

This is another good recent one about advertising, icons, logo and Guy Fawkes. (don't know about Guy Fawkes, go watch V for Vendetta for a action plot that at least has a little bit of historical accuracy.)

Roger Cosmonkey: You've got to be on Twitter to read Roger Cosmonkey written by @RealCoryEdwards. When I was in college, interning at the Washington Times, I got to interview Cory for a culture page story about the rise of "clean comedy." (Google is failing me because I can't find a link to the story... never mind it was a decade ago...) This past spring, he launched the Twitter-only Roger Cosmonkey series about the space-faring simian's adventures. According to the rogercosmonkey website, more series are planned.

(A moment of full disclosure before I go on -- my top two webcomics that I read are written by my friends. Is that why they are my favorites? Maybe. On the other hand, I think I'm wildly lucky to just have super-talented friends.)

Wingmen: This comic has nothing to do with space or flying. Nope, it's the other kind of "wingman." For years now, Adam T. Williams (@wingmen_comic) has chronicled the dating (mis)adventures of his cast of characters. The wingmen have been in black and white, guested as puppets, and now have evolved to color.

Anybody frustrated with dating in the 21st century and the hidden rules, mores and expections will relate to the humorous travails of the wingmen.

This particular panel is a guest plot line from yours truly here at Word Nerd. A caveat -- there are far better ones that she had no hand in, proving that she is not a comedienne.
The Brothers Grant: This is my Tuesday guilty pleasure. Apparently, author Ginger (@LawofGar) and I went to school together, but we didn't really know each other on campus. Thanks to a mutual friend organizing a group of gamers, Ginger and I were suddenly role-playing together, our characters fighting off guys with burning hands and Bigfoot and a crazy man with a rocket launcher in a tree house. Her character, Sam, was in the game as a development ground for The Brothers Grant. TGB is still young and the story is very much just developing, but tee-hee!

And now the giveaway part!
Adam from Wingmen and Ginger at TGB are offering up some comic-related swag!
So, to win, let us know what webcomic you enjoy! Or if you aren't a web comic reader, what comic strip in the newspaper has been your favorite. Contest open to all, even if you've won something from Word Nerd before. Entry deadline: Midnight (EST), Oct 19, 2011.
Good luck!

11 October 2011

Take Two Review: Ghost Story


Title: Ghost Story
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 481 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library

Plot Basics:
Harry probably pushed it too far this time. After his last adventure, he may have succeeded in destroying the Red Court Vampires, but the ramifications begin with his death and subsequent appearance as a ghost.

Banter Points: I liked this installation in the series. I was prepared to find it slow moving and uneventful. Potentially a dud in comparison to some of the brillance I had come to expect from Harry.

Instead, I found the slower pace something that Harry and I both needed. Harry is a classic, act first think later kind of person. And while it makes him daring and dramatic, full of adventure and escape. But not too good at thinking through the consequences of his action. And when you are as powerful as Harry, not thinking is a really bad thing.

The other side of this is that it gives Harry a chance to see what life would be like for his friends without him. Since Harry has had this as a fleeting thought before, but never focused on it, it is a great time for him to experience it.

Side note: I always love Molly, but she really ROCKED in this book. I may want to be her when I grow up.

Bummer Points: Umm...waiting for the next book? 'Cos, like always, I want more Dresden?

Stacie's Recommendation: Go now. Hurry. Rush. But don't get a speeding ticket.

10 October 2011

The next series

I've got the last current Michael Connelly book checked out from the library and I'm #168 on the hold list for the new one coming out in November.

But -- after almost three years of reading, I'm done with his 20-book deep backlist.

Which brings me to the question: "Now what?"

Reading the Harry Bosch books especially (and Connelly's others) have made me realize I really like mysteries. I liked them alot as a little kid (Anyone else remember Piet Potter or Miss Mallard? Anyone?)

Of course, with so many good mystery series out there, I'm having trouble deciding what to jump into next. Having read the Bosch series (and being part way through the Jack Reacher series), I think I want to tackle a series with a female detective/cop/etc.

I can think of at least four series that sound interesting and I don't know which one to pick. Just to be clear, I've already read most of Stephanie Plum (up to at least book 12 or 13 or so) and I read a bunch of Patricia Cornwell back in high school and the A for Alibi series just feels so long that I'm not really game for diving into those.

So you, dear reader, get to help me. Poll. Over at the right.Pick your fave female sleuth (or sleuth team) from that list.

Maybe she'll be my new favorite sleuth-ess too.

07 October 2011

Good for the ego

I'm home later than usual, as I write this post. I met with one of my teams for school to come up with a one page marketing overview on the strategy my group is taking during a simulation.

There are three of us - an operations manager for a manufacturing company, a brokerage / trader and me the Supply Chain consultant.

The Trader came with a three bullet point out line that was perfect to launch the conversation. The Ops Manager provided the meeting space.

Me? I took over the keyboard and launched into consultant speak.

At one point I had us laughing so hard with the sentence that went something like "The correlation of goals and alignment of processes truly expedites the process."

After a while, I cleaned up and turned down the extravagant phrasing and churned out some decent sentences. Not that those sentences would pass the muster of a crit partner like fellow Word Nerd Bethany, but they are good enough for this project.

It was good for my ego to be able to churn out a paper like this in 45 minutes or less. It's bad that writing like this passes muster for an MBA course.

It sort of felt like a "Dark and Stormy night" contest.

What's the best writing story you have for the week?

06 October 2011

Library rootedness

Some friends were talking about a potential up-coming move and one of them said, "We'll have to get new library cards."

In the scheme of a multi-state move with little kids in tow, new library cards are a small item compared to the other logistic hurdles they will have to overcome.

But it got me thinking about how getting a library card has been a big part of every move I've made. I've had library cards for seven different library systems in my life, not counting university libraries and including my favorite one, the Library of Congress.

When I moved to Indianapolis, getting a library card was a top priority after a day of unpacking. I needed out of the apartment and I needed to do something to make this place feel like home. The library was that connection.

The buildings are all different. The systems clearly have different purposes or different things they focused on in collections. But, getting my library card connected me to something bigger, the community as a whole.

It's a marker of identity that "yes, I belong here" no matter how temporary some of those cards were. I had my DC card for a grand total of 14 weeks but I fondly remember the Northeast Neighborhood Branch. I checked out "Interview with a Vampire" and "Cider House Rules" from their room of paperbacks. I think that was a definitive semester as I shifted what I was reading and feeling like a "grown-up" in my choices.

Every library has provided me with a feeling of home.

It is a big deal to get a new library card. I hope my friends will figure this out as they move.



04 October 2011

Reading Stress

I finally got a copy of the next Dresden files book -- Ghost Story I'm dying to get started on it.

I also lucked out and found the complete Keys of the Kingdom Series by Garth Nix at the library.

Oh, and there's the Agatha Christie books I've been trying to read in order. Been a while since I grabbed one of those too.

And, then there's that pesky school stuff too.

Gosh, that's not even touching the To Be Read pile upstairs.

Deep breath. Focus on the next one - Ghost Story by Jim Butcher.

Who knew reading could be so stressful?

03 October 2011

Book Banter -- Freedom (TM)

Title: Freedom (TM)
Author: Daniel Suarez
Length: 402 pages
Genre: Techno-thriller
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: The Daemon computer program has taken over most of the world -- from financial markets on down. Darknet operatives are banding together to form new kinds of societies that collaborate and try to restore the world with renewable energy, heirloom seeds and cooperation. But others are determined that the influence of the Daemon and the Darknet is malevolent and are set on hacking the ultimate computer hack to put power back in other hands.

Banter Points: The sequel to Daemon picks up almost where the first book left off, making me wonder if it was really originally one book that was way too long. Some editor -- a la George R.R. Martin-style -- whacked the thing in half and presto! Two books!

If not, Suarez really grew as a writer between one and two, managing in Freedom to actually get a little bit more into characters as well as techno-thriller plot. Instead of bouncing around between as many POVs, the story is focused more tightly on a handful and moves the plot forward through their perspectives.

Bummer Points: There's still not a very satisfying conclusion to this story. There's still a lot more of some characterization that I would have liked to see. The whole story line of Jon Ross feels wildly unfinished and the major reveals for his character were just kind of thrown in like an after thought.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you're looking for a series that's high on action and high on the creepiness factor of what computer technology and the Internet could really do to our lives, Daemon and Freedom (TM) are a good read. If you're looking for a book about people responding to such upheavals, these aren't it. Or, you could just wait for the movie version that's supposed to hit theatres in 2012.