28 April 2006

How to Find an Opal and Dan vs. J.K.

Finding an Opal, as in a copy of Kaayva Viswanathan's book, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life," just got harder.

Viswanathan's publisher -- Little, Brown and Company -- has asked that copies of the book be pulled from shelves and that retailers send copies back to the publishers, according to a story from the Associated Press.

Viswanathan has admitted to lifting passages from Megan McCafferty's books.


In other book news, The DaVinci Code, is still riding high in the best-sellers list. With the release of the paperback version, the Dan Brown novel is at number 1 in the USAToday top 150 Books list. According to the list, it's been in the top 150 since 2003. This is the second week that the paperback version is in the top selling slot.

By comparison the paperback version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth book in the series, entered the top 150 just three months after Brown's book in 2003. HP:OotP was in the list for 140 weeks, but doesn't currently appear on the list at all.

27 April 2006

Book Banter -- Reaper Man

Title: Reaper Man (Discworld bk. 11)
Author: Terry Pratchett
Length: ~300 pages
Genre: fantasy
Plot Basics: Life and death on the Discworld are going along as normal until Death gets the notice that he is being forced into retirement. And as Windle Poons, the 130-year-old wizard discovers, when Death is off the job, life takes over.

Banter Points: Of the recurring Discworld characters, Death is Word Nerd's favorite because he always has great times trying to live and figure out the meaning of life. Pratchett is laugh-aloud funny.
Bummer Points: ummm.... Word Nerd is having a hard time coming up with any. That's probably a good sign.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you've never read a Discworld book, this one or "Mort" (also featuring Death) might just be the places to start.

26 April 2006

How Viswanathan Got a Book Deal, Got Publicity... and Got Caught

A new fracas is brewing in the publishing world.

In one corner is Kaayva Viswanathan, the Harvard University sophomore who landed a six-figure book deal and who's debut novel, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life" was met with good reviews.

In the other is Megan McCafferty, author of "Sloppy Firsts," "Second Helpings" and "Charmed Thirds."

The problem? Viswanathan's novel contains more than 20, and possibly up to 40 passages (depending on who's side of the story you listen to) that are substantially similar to McCafferty's.
The Harvard Crimson -- the student newspaper at the Ivy League school -- first broke the story about the similarities.

A USAToday story today says Viswanathan admits taking material but that it was accidental. In an appearance on the TODAY show this morning, Viswanathan said she read McCafferty's first two books several times and had "internalized" them. She also apologized to McCafferty on air.

So far, McCafferty's publisher, Random House, hasn't accepted that Viswanathan's mistakes were unintentional.

25 April 2006

Author Answers with Clyde Edgerton

Say hello to this week's author providing some answers, Clyde Edgerton.

Edgerton hails from North Carolina. Reviewers, critics and others in the know about books have compared his work which describes life in Southern small towns to what Garrison Keillor has done for the North with Lake Woebegon.

Edgerton is the author of Raney, Walking Across Egypt, The Floatplane Notebooks, Killer Diller, In Memory of Junior, Redeye: A Western, Where Trouble Sleeps and Lunch at the Picadilly.

1. Place you do most of your writing:
Right hand corner of the couch in the sunroom.
2. While you write, do you do anything else (munch on carrots or drink tea or listen to heavy metal, for example?)
3. What author(s) inspire you?
O'Connor, Welty, Faulkner, Hemingway, Twain, Larry Brown, Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Cormac McCarthy, Malena Moring, Milan Kundera, Faulkner, Cervantes, Voltaire.
4. How long did you have to work before your first book was accepted for publication?
Five years.
5. What made you keep working until it was done?
I enjoyed reading what I was writing. I thought it was good work.
6. You're classified as a southern writer... would you consider yourself a southern writer and how does that label impact or not impact your writing?
I write out of my experiecne, observation, and imagination, and thus my surfact subject matter is often by definition "southern." The label doesn't bother me one way or the other. It may effect readership. Some people may avoid reading me because they'd like to avoid the south and don't care to look for universal meanings beneath a southern surface. Other people think the south is quaint and cute and thus they like "southern" writing. I'd like to think that both these responses are extreme--though I'm not sure they are.
7. How did you feel when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?
I felt very happy. A dream I was once afraid to have had been realized.
8. If you had to actually live the life of one of the characters in your book(s) who would you want to be and why?
That's a hard question for me. I'd say. . . Stephen in Where Trouble Sleeps--because he's the youngest main character, and that would leave me more time to live, but considering that all the characters will always be the same age, and alive, in a sense--I still pick Stephen, because he's young enough and in a place where he's experienced and understood love, but has not experienced despair.

24 April 2006

A Word Nerd story

Word Nerd's got an entry up in Jason Evans' flash fiction contest on his blog, Clarity of Night.

Evans posted a contest -- nothing like a little competition to get the creativity going. The contest was to write a story based off of a photograph he posted on the site. 250 words max.

And Word Nerd entered.

Read her story, "Blinded by the Light", here.

Book Banter -- To The Nines

Title: To The Nines
Author: Janet Evanovich
Length: 352 page
Genre: mystery/chick lit
Plot Basics: After a slump with book 8, Evanovich is back and as funny as ever in To The Nines. Stephanie Plum is after Samuel Singh, an immigrant, but finds herself up against higher stakes than just his skipped bond.
Banter Points: Evanovich made a good move in this book and that was getting Stephanie Plum out of New Jersey, at least for a few chapters. It was a good way to shake-up what was becoming formulaic with Stephanie constantly fighting crime only in her hometown.
Bummer Points: Anybody hoping for major plot movement in the Stephanie-Morelli-Ranger part of the series will be disappointed.
Word Nerd recommendation: You can't really skip book 8 to get to this one, but at least it's worth knowing that hanging in there through 8 was a good move.

21 April 2006

Book Banter -- Edenborn

Title: Edenborn
Author: Nick Sagan
Length: 311 pages
Genre: sci-fi
Plot Basics: Welcome to Humanity 2.0 as the characters from "Idlewild" try to rebuild the world.
Banter Points: "Edenborn" is different from "Idlewild" (the first book in the series) but different can be good.
Bummer Points: Again. Now Word Nerd has to wait for "Everfree," the third one in the series. Word Nerd recommendation: Instead of retyping everything, the recommendation from Idlewild still stands.

Book Banter -- Murder in the Bastille

Title: Murder in the Bastille
Author: Cara Black
Length: 276 pages
Genre: mystery
Plot Basics: Parisienne computer programmer and detective Aimee Leduc is knocked unconscious in an alley near the Bastille one night, trying to return a cell phone to a woman. When she awakes, she learns another woman was murdered that same night one passage over, and Aimee won't let anything stop her from figuring out the mystery.
Banter Points: Aimee Leduc is a great character and the challenges that she faces in this book are fantastic. Also, this book (and the whole series) just oozes with French culture and a side of Paris that isn't captured in the tourist posters.
Bummer Points: The ending is not quite as strong as rest of the book. Without giving too much away, some things that happen to Aimee in the book are undone at the end and it feels a little cheap.
Word Nerd recommendation: These books stand more on their own, but it's worth it to go back and read Murder in the Marais, Murder in the Belleville and Murder in the Sentier first. Also, check back here on in May for an Author Answers with Cara Black.

18 April 2006

Author Answers with Sarah Strohmeyer

Welcome to Author Answers, this week with Sarah Strohmeyer.

Strohmeyer is the author of Bubbles Unbound, Bubbles in Trouble, Bubbles Ablaze, Bubbles A Broad, Bubbles Betrothed, The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives, and The Cinderella Pact, coming out in June. For more about her, you can check out her website or check out The Lipstick Chronicles, where she is a regular blog contributor.

1. Place you do most of your writing:
We have an old bedroom I use. It is totally cluttered with bills, promotional stuff, Diet Coke cans, wasabi paste, you name it.
2. While you write, do you do anything else (munch on carrots or drink tea or listen to heavy metal, for example?)
I could never listen to music while I write. I need (prefer?) total silence. I drink a lot of water, an occasional Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke, and chew a lot of gum. At 3 p.m., I turn on General Hospital and have trained myself to write with in the background. It's been so boring, lately, this has been easy.
3. Why did you decide to be a writer?
I don't know. I always wanted to be one. Maybe it was Laura Ingalls Wilder or Louisa May Alcott. Anyway, I wrote a pledge to myself at age ten that this would be my goal in life. After that it was just a matter of wrong turns until I finally had enough guts - and humiliation - to do what I had to do.
4. What author(s) inspire you?
Gee, almost every author. Nora Roberts inspires me with her discipline and story-telling. Sophie Kinsella with her timing. Richard Hawke (Tim Cockey) with his ability to build suspense. And, of course, my friends like Nancy Martin, Susan McBride and Harley Jane Kozak inspire me every day to keep going.
5. How long did you have to work on writing before your first book was accepted for publication?
Well, I'd been writing for quite some time as a newspaper reporter, so I think that kind of shifts the balance a bit. It took me a year to write BUBBLES UNBOUND, my first piece of fiction.
6. What made you keep working until it was done?
I had a newspaper editor I desperately loathed. I had two small children at home who needed me not to work on weekends and holidays. And I had - sappy music here - a dream of a little girl I had to fulfill. (Uh, that little girl would have been me at ten. Please see above.)
7. How did you feel when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?
Hey. It should be bigger! (No, just joking. Kind of.) I thought, I hope to see many more books like these.
8. If you had to actually live the life of one of the characters in your book(s) who would you want to be and why?
I think I'd like to be Nola Devlin in THE CINDERELLA PACT (coming from Dutton in June) because she loses a ton of weight (I wish!) and gets to fall for a guy who's the spitting image of Owen Wilson.

14 April 2006

Airplane Books pt. 2

You may recall a few weeks ago, Word Nerd was asking for suggestions for what to take with her as reading material on an airplane for an upcoming trip. Well, the trip is here and that means Word Nerd is going to step away from posting for a few days.

She will post a new Author Answers on Tuesday, April 18.

In the meantime, for books and writing blogs, Word Nerd leaves you with a few links to other good reads.
Stacie @ Raspberry-Latte
The Bookseller Chick
The Lipstick Chronicles
Anne Frasier @ static

Book Banter -- Drowned Hopes

Title: Drowned Hopes (A Dortmunder novel)
Author: Donald E. Westlake
Length: ~4oo pages
Genre: comic crime
Plot Basics: An old cellmate of Dortmunder's is released from prison and enlists Dortmunder's help to retrieve stolen money from an old heist. The trouble is, the money's at the bottom of a reservoir.
Banter Points: This is one of Dortmunder's most outrageous and funniest capers ever. This is also a great starting point in the series, if you want to start reading without going back to the very beginning of the series. A few of the old crimes are referenced, but the characters are introduced well enough that this book can stand on its own.
Bummer Points: This book is almost double the length of the earlier Dortmunder novels making it heavier to lug around.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you want to get in on the Dortmunder series, this is a good one to start with that doesn't require knowledge of the 5 or 6 books that came before it. As usual, Westlake is very funny with the crazy antics of Dortmunder and Co. as they try to commit theft.

13 April 2006

"Today we'll do a lesson on dialogue," Word Nerd said.

It's hard to write a story without people talking. I'm sure there are authors out there who have done it, and quite successfully, but for the majority of writers, dialogue is a necessity.

How to write good dialogue is tougher than it sounds. Word Nerd will help get you started in three easy steps.

First, the punctuation mechanics.
· Every time someone speaks, you need quotation marks. Start and end what a speaker says with quotation marks. "Like this?" "Yes," Word Nerd said. "Like that."
· Every time someone speaks, it's a new paragraph. The previous example really should be:
“Like this?”
“Yes,” Word Nerd said. “Like that.”
Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks in almost every situation. When adding a dialogue tag (like Word Nerd said) a comma goes before the close quote and then a period after the tag. If there is no dialogue tag, the ending punctuation goes inside the quotes.
“Notice where the comma is,” Word Nerd said.
“It is inside the quotation marks.”

Next, dialogue tags.
Most of the time, using said is the best bet. Said is almost like a form of punctuation to readers. They kind of see it and skip it. At one time, Word Nerd had an English teacher who made her write a story using words other than said (exclaimed, elaborated, etc.) It was good advice for trying to give the piece more active verbs, but all-in-all, it really wasn’t the best technique for writing fiction.
Dialogue tags are necessary to help the reader follow the flow of the conversation and which character is speaking. Nothing frustrates Word Nerd more than when she has to go back to the beginning of a long conversation and reread it, adding her own tags to make sure she’s got the speakers straight at the end. This is especially necessary if there are more than two characters talking.
When possible, you can skip tags by including in the dialogue the clues to help the reader. Donald E. Westlake writes great dialogue in his Dortmunder novels, so Word Nerd turns to his book, “Drowned Hopes,” for an example. Note: Westlake does use words other than said, but the scene calls for it since one character is speaking on a cell phone during a robbery.

“John?” Kelp whispered. “Is that you?”
“What’s goin on?” demanded
Dortmunder’s voice, getting belligerent. “Who is that there?”
“It’s me, John,” Kelp whispered. “It’s Andy.”
“What? Who is that?”
“It’s Andy,” Kelp whispered hoarsely, lips against the mouthpiece. “Andy Kelp.”
“Andy? Is that you?”
“Yes, John, yes.”
“Well, what are you whispering about. You got laryngitis?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Then stop whispering.”
“The fact of the matter is, John,” Kelp whispered, hunkering low over the phone, “I’m robbing a store at the moment.”

Third, avoid Tom Swifties and other unnecessary adverbs.

A Tom Swifty is a pun, when the adverb used in the dialogue tag becomes a play on words with what was said in the dialogue. It’s called a Tom Swifty because of a book character, Tom Swift, who almost never spoke without saying it jokingly, mockingly, etc.
For example, “You have the right to remain silent,” Tom said arrestingly.
Tom Swifties often just happen without the writer meaning to create such a play on words. Best bet, leave off the –ly words with most dialogue tags. Take a look back at the scene from “Drowned Hopes” and you’ll see Westlake only used one –ly word in all that dialogue.

What goes into the dialogue is another matter all together. Stay tuned.

12 April 2006

Writing + Tunes

In her author answers yesterday, Rachel Caine mentioned that she writes better if she's got great tunes coming through her headphones. Cleverly, in the back of her Weather Warden books, she actually lists many of the songs and artists that she listened to while writing. Compile them, and the book has its own quasi-soundtrack.

This made Word Nerd think. Word Nerd rarely, rarely writes in absolute silence. She's usually got some kind of music going.

Some stories demand classical music. The moody-er the story, the moody-er the music. Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky. Peppy-er stories get Mozart. Gershwin. The CD tends to end up in the player for most of the work on a section. Case in point: Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and "American in Paris" got a lot of play time as Word Nerd worked on a section of a story getting it ready for critique.

For the new project, Word Nerd has been listening to lots of jazz. Last night, Word Nerd was writing to Frank Sinatra. It was the right sound for getting the mood in the piece.

What tunes help you as a writer or are you a fan of the sounds of silence?

11 April 2006

Author Answers with Rachel Caine

It's time for another installment of Author Answers (cue chamber music and the guy with the smoking jacket in the wing chair... oh wait.. that's Masterpiece Theatre...)

Rachel Caine is this week's featured author. Caine is the author of the Weather Warden series (Ill Wind, Heat Stoke, Chill Factor, Windfall and the forthcoming Firestorm, in November and Thin Air, for summer 2007) Devil's Bargain, Devil's Due, and Glass Houses, the first book of the Morganville Vampires series due out this fall). For more on Caine, check out Stormwatch, her website or The Weather Report, her blog.

1. Place you do most of your writing:
Coffee shop! America's Best Coffee in Arlington, Texas, specifically. Y'all come on down. Free internet and everything.
2. While you write, do you do anything else (munch on carrots or drink tea or listen to heavy metal, for example?)
I'm addicted to iTunes. I can't write (or at least, I don't write nearly as easily!) if I don't have headphones on and a healthy-sized playlist of music to keep me in the zone. Oh, and the playlist changes from one project to another. In between writing, I'm always searching for new (or old) music to add. As for drinks and snacks, I find a Caramel Mocha very inspirational. (And if you have one of those, you'd better skip the snack ...)
3. Why did you decide to be a writer?
I don't think I did, exactly. I really thought I was going to be a professional musician -- that was my real goal. But I started writing stories when I was 14, and it wasn't until I was close to 30 that I discovered that I really wanted to do that even more than music -- so I gave up the music career for the writing to give myself more time. I guess that was my decision point, but I don't think I started thinking of myself as a "real" writer until the mid-1990s. (Several years after I started publishing, in fact!)
4. What author(s) inspire you?
Oh, lordy. Too many to list, but I think Barbara Hambly is a huge inspiration to me. Every book I've ever read by Barbara is a perfect jewel, a facehugger of a read. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, together or separately. Man, those guys know how to write a cracking good story. (Try THE ICE LIMIT. Wow.) Jim Butcher, a fabulous writer. Lois McMaster Bujold, who writes the purest character-driven plots I've ever seen that don't *look* like they're character-driven. I could babble on for paragraphs ...
5. How long did you have to work on writing before your first book was accepted for publication? I'm the story everybody hates, because I didn't. I actually was hired to write my first book, STORMRIDERS, as a work for hire on the basis of some sample stories I'd written (and not finished). So essentially, although I spent 15 years writing before that book sale, I wasn't exactly working *toward* the book. But what's the saying? Luck is where opportunity meets preparation?
6. What made you keep working until it was done?
Well, I had a contract. :) That's my major driver for almost everything these days, but I still write for fun, and mostly when I do it's because I simply have to get the story out of my head. 7. How did you feel when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?
That was a complete out-of-body experience. When I saw the cover come out of the fax machine (this was in the days before emailing images easily) I just couldn't believe it. I was shaking all over. Heck, I still shake all over!
8. If you had to actually live the life of one of the characters in your book(s) who would you want to be and why?
Hmmmm, well, I certainly wouldn't want to be Joanne -- talk about a magnet for trouble! I think if I had to choose, it would be Claire in my Morganville Vampires series (coming out in October). But as a second choice, hey. I'd be a Djinn.

Thank you so much for letting me play!
Rachel Caine

10 April 2006

Book Banter -- Idlewild

Title: Idlewild
Author: Nick Sagan
Length: 275 pages
Genre: sci-fi
Plot Basics: There's not really a way to do this part without ruining the book. It's the kind of book where the plot starts with the very first sentence and won't let go until the very last. So, here are the first two sentences (just in case one isn't enough).

I'm not dead.

A dim realization but an important one, because I should have died.

Banter Points: This is Word Nerd's third reading of Idlewild. Even knowing what happens at the end does not diminish from these great characters, spot-on dialogue and WEIRD story.
Bummer Points: Obviously, if Word Nerd's read it three times, there's not overly much wrong with it.
Word Nerd recommendation: Read it. Then get the sequel "Edenborn." Then come back here on May 2 and read Word Nerd's Author Answers with Nick Sagan. Then get the third book, "Everfree" at the end of May.

07 April 2006

Book Banter -- Dating Dead Men

Title: Dating Dead Men
Author: Harley Jane Kozak
Length: 323 pages
Genre: mystery/chick lit
Plot Basics: Greeting card shop owner and artist Wollie Shelly runs over a dead body one night and sets off a chain of events that seriously interferes with the dating "research" she's doing.
Banter Points: Funny stuff, including some laugh-out-loud moments in scenes involving a dry cleaner's and later, a date in a two-seater Stearman airplane. Wollie's concern over her greeting card shop's future is a sub-plot (or plot-plot) that carries nicely throughout the whole book and doesn't take a back burner just because there's a murder mystery to solve.
Bummer Points: Wollie's best friends seem a little contrived. They do hilarious things, but it felt at times like Kozak was trying to squash them into the eccentric friend mold and they didn't quite fit.
Word Nerd recommendation: It's hard to not love a book when one of the best characters is a ferret named Margaret. Word Nerd's hoping Margaret comes back in the sequel, "Dating is Murder."

06 April 2006

A Change Will Do You Good

Word Nerd has realized that her reading habits are changing.
Change is good, right?
Word Nerd knew her habits and her preferred genre(s) were shifting, but it wasn't until she pulled out the list of what she'd read in the last year again that she realized just how much.
Of the 79 books Word Nerd read from March 21 05-March 20, 06, only 25 of them were sci-fi/fantasy. Yes, that's about a third and yes, if the Jack Whyte historical fiction King Arthur books count as fantasy then there are more (ditto with Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine series for the surreal elements there).
Just to be clear -- Word Nerd went through a phase in life where just about every book she picked up had a map, and/or glossary and/or prophecy about how the main character is somehow destined to save the world in a sweeping epic.
So what happened? Word Nerd read a lot of the good sweeping epics, and then tired of trying to untangle yet another writer's made-up language. And George R.R. Martin's new book too so long coming out that Word Nerd has almost lost interest (almost, not entirely) And then there's the kicker: Evanovich.
Word Nerd had already been starting to get back into mystery books (her favorite as a kid, back when Encyclopedia Brown was cool), reading Donald E. Westlake and Cara Black. But then a writer's club buddy (ahem, Stacie) mentioned Janet Evanovich.
But the startling fact was that from mid-August 05 to mid-October 05, Word Nerd read 19 books and not a one was fantasy/sci-fi. This is almost analogous to Word Nerd giving up double chocolate brownie ice cream for namby-pamby vanilla.
And now? Reading Evanovich has turned into reading other mysteries bordering on chick lit. Word Nerd is more apt to wander down the mystery stacks at the library than the sci-fi shelves.
Change is good.
Just don't try to convince Word Nerd to give up the double chocolate brownie ice cream.

05 April 2006

Book Banter -- The Brief History of the Dead

Title: The Brief History of the Dead
Author: Kevin Brockmeier
Length: 252 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Plot Basics: What if the dead didn't go to heaven or hell, but rather to this place called the City, so long as people still living remembered them?
Banter Points: Brockmeier had an interesting concept and this was definitely one of those books that left a reader with that feeling of "huh" at the end. The cover art was really cool and creepy, if that counts for anything.
Bummer Points: Brockmeier jumps around among characters, though he doesn't start it too much until the second half of the book, which makes everything feel disjointed. Also, the pre-supposed idea that the Coca-Cola company had sort of taken over the world felt very hokey.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you are looking for a challenging book, read it. If you want to be entertained, skip it.

04 April 2006

Author Answers with Anne Frasier

It's time for another Q&A with an author.

This week, it's Anne Frasier. Frasier is the author of Hush, Sleep Tight, Play Dead, Before I Wake and Pale Immortal, which is scheduled for release in September. For more information on Frasier, check out her website, or her blog.

1. Place you do most of your writing:
Sitting on the floor in the living room, laptop on a tray table, back against the couch.
2. While you write, do you do anything else (munch on carrots or drink tea or listen to heavy metal, for example?)
I drink tea. I always intend to drink water, but that rarely happens.
3. Why did you decide to be a writer?
I don’t think I ever decided to become a writer; I decided to write a book. Then another book. It was a long time before I ever said I’m a writer. I’ve written eighteen books and it still feels strange to say those words.
4. What author(s) inspire you?
J. D. Salinger, Stephen King, Michael Cunningham. Many more.
5. How long did you have to work on writing before your first book was accepted for publication? Four years.
6. What made you keep working until it was done?
I’m stubborn and was completely unwilling to accept defeat.
7. How did you feel when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?
I had to keep looking at it. Even though I could see it in my mind because I’d stared at it for so long, I had to keep picking up the book over and over. But there was also a very disconnected feeling and an inability to completely embraced the moment because it seemed so unreal.
8. If you had to actually live the life of one of the characters in your book(s) who would you want to be and why?
I would like to be Rachel Burton from PALE IMMORTAL -- my upcoming September release. She’s independent, and practical, yet finds herself visited and guided by the dead.

03 April 2006

March Bibliometer

Here's the reading tally for March 2006.

Word Nerd read 7 books for the grand total of 2,538 pages or almost 82 pages/day.

The books read were:
Grim Tuesday
Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe
Chill Factor
Fabric of Faithfulness.