31 January 2007

Author Answers with Sean Chercover

The reviews are in and there's been quite a lot of praise for the debut novel by this week's author, Sean Chercover. A new mystery suspense writer from Chicago, Chercover's first book "Big City, Bad Blood" came out earlier this month.

For more on Chercover, check out his website, or catch up with him at over at the The Outfit, a group blog by a collective crime/mystery writers from the Windy City.

WN: “Big City, Bad Blood” just hit shelves – what kind of reader would really enjoy it and why?
CHERCOVER: So far, the reaction has been great, and from a much wider variety of readers that I'd expected. P.I. readers like the hardboiled detective Ray Dudgeon, while thriller readers like the plot, which is more like a thriller, and not a puzzle-mystery. Noir readers have said they like the darkness, the moral complexity, and the dry humor. Readers of urban fiction like the realistic and gritty portrayal of Chicago and the way the book peels away the glamor from Hollywood. And one group I really wasn't counting on - fans of political conspiracy thrillers, because the plot involves corrupt politicians and a cover-up that goes all the way to Washington.

WN: “Big City, Bad Blood” involves Chicago and the mob. With so many books involving those two elements, how do you keep it fresh?
CHERCOVER: Some of the characters in BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD happen to work in organized crime, while others work as cops or private detectives or Hollywood film producers or Chicago aldermen or US Senators or pimps or prostitutes or cab drivers. But they're people. They aren't "bad guys" and "good guys". I think that's the key, for me. Make them real. The reader can label them as good and bad, but as a writer, I approach them as people, some of whom are more psychologically damaged and antisocial than others. If you write them as types, they'll be stale imitations of characters from earlier books, but if you approach them as real people, they'll be fresh - and so will the plot, because plot is just character in motion.

WN: Your bio says you worked as a private eye for a while… does that make it harder or easier to write a novel with a main character who’s a private eye?
CHERCOVER: Both. It's great having the experience and it helps when it comes to getting details right and reflecting the relationships and dialogue between PIs and cops and lawyers. But at the end of the day, I'm writing fiction, and the needs of the story come first. I can't let realism get in the way of that.

WN: You’re a part of Killer Year; how has that group helped you? What’s been fun/exciting/encouraging about being part of that group?
CHERCOVER: For me, it's about the camaraderie. We're all a bunch of newbie authors, and it's great to be able to share the joys of a good review and to cheer each other on.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
CHERCOVER: The best part and the most challenging part are the same thing: Writing. Everything else is tangential to the writing.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
CHERCOVER: I have many favorite books, and I've never tried to rank them, so I don't have an official "best" book. To Kill A Mockingbird is right up there. So is The Man With The Golden Arm. And The Stranger. And Light In August. Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely) in addition to being the finest of literature, all of those books could be labeled "crime fiction".

WN: What is your favorite word and why?
CHERCOVER: Egregious. I'm not sure why. It's fun to say.

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
CHERCOVER: Ken Bruen - my Killer Year mentor and one of my all-time favorite crime fiction authors - recently reminded me to lighten up and have fun. That was truly helpful advice, right when I needed it.

29 January 2007

Bantock comes before Buechner and after Adams

Word Nerd spent a little while on Saturday trying to box up some books to make room for other titles on the bookshelf.

This was, unfortunately, before she went to Barnes & Noble. Needless to say, the shelf rearranging episode 2 is set to begin sometime in the not-too-distant future. The books in question needing shelved are Nick Bantock's second Griffin and Sabine trilogy. All three were on the bargain shelf at B&N and while not as good as the first trilogy, it's worth having.

So, now, after Richard Adams' Watership Down" and the first three Griffin and Sabine books and before Frederick Buechner's "Alphabet of Grace" Word Nerd has to make more shelf space.

Or maybe it's time to breakdown and buy another book shelf...

26 January 2007

And now for something new...

Two new things in fact.

1. Every time Word Nerd goes to USAToday's Life section to check book news, she gets the ads that cover up the text for the new Nintendo DS game Hotel Dusk Room 215. The ad says it's an interactive novel. It's apparently the reader (player?) is the detective and has to solve a murder.

Word Nerd is curious about this. Is it like a Choose Your Own Adventure book? Or like an RPG of sorts? Or like Myst where the player wanders around the world (seemingly aimlessly until you find that magic switch that starts to unlock the puzzles?) Anybody actually see/play this game in real life?

2. USAToday Book News today is also reporting about a new novel from Finland written entirely in text messages. The full story is here, but the gist is, the main character keeps in touch with people after he quits his job through text messages and the book is full of the abbreviations, etc., used in texting.

Word Nerd would be interested in thumbing through this book, just to see what it looks like with these messages on the page, but somehow she wonders how you move a plot along without having sentences with complete words in them.

25 January 2007

Book Banter -- The Eyre Affair

Title: The Eyre Affair
Author: Jasper Fforde
Length: 378 pages
Genre: fantasy/comedy
Plot Basics: Special Operative Thursday Next, a LiteraTec, knows her books. And it's a good thing, seeing as how they may know her too. When a famous manuscript is stolen by the world's Third Most Wanted criminal mastermind-- Acheron Hades -- Thursday is brought in on a special assignment to bring him in and get the manuscript back safely. That's all easier said than done, of course, and it takes help from friends, including a certain Mr. Rochester, to help rescue Jane Eyre from Hades.

Banter Points: Word Nerd feels the need to use a phrase here like, "rollicking good fun." This is quite likely the most bizarre book Word Nerd's read since last she picked up either a Douglas Adams or a Terry Pratchett book. The world of Thursday Next is like ours, but off-kilter in wacky ways -- for example, England and Russia are warring over the Crimea peninsula. Fforde peppers his novel with laughing-inducing characters (Colonel Braxton Hicks, the hotel clerk Liz Barrett-Browning, a special operative dealing in paranormal stuff named Stoker).

Moreover, Acheron Hades is a great villain, rather like the Professor Moriarty smashed together with the Joker from Batman. He gets the best dialogue in the book. ex: "The best reason for committing loathsome and detestable acts -- and let's face it, I am considered something of a expert in this field -- is purely for their own sake. Monetary gain is all very well, but it dilutes the taste of wickedness..."

Bummer Points: Word Nerd's not British. She ran across a helpful cheat-sheet online that explained things that should be funny (ex. Thursday's old flame, Landen Parke-Laine. Parke Laine apparently, in the UK version of monopoly is the equivalent of Boardwalk in the US version. So, say the name aloud again -- Landen Parke-Laine. Get it? Yeah...) Word Nerd, also, despite being the reader that she is, found some of the literary references a bit obscure.

Word Nerd recommendation: She's got the second Thursday Next book checked out from the library and is excited to know she's got time to read books 3 and 4 before the newest Thursday Next book comes out this summer.

Bonus news: Jasper Fforde will be a featured in Author Answers later this spring. Stay tuned!

24 January 2007

Author Answers with Michele Martinez

This week's featured author is Michele Martinez, author of Most Wanted, The Finishing School and the forthcoming Cover-Up, which hits shelves in March.

You can read excerpts and descriptions of all her books on her website, www.michelemartinez.com, or catch up with her adventures at The Lipstick Chronicles where she is a regular blogger.

WN: Tell us about your new book and about your main character, Melanie Vargas. Who's going to really like these books?
MARTINEZ: Melanie Vargas is a young, ambitious federal prosecutor in New York City who handles the most dangerous cases while juggling her complicated love life. Both men and women love these books. They've been called a cross between "Law & Order" and "Sex and the City" because they combine a gritty, authentic, streetwise look at crime in New York with hot romance and a glamorous Manhattan lifestyle. In "Cover-Up," (March '07) Melanie investigates the brutal murder of Suzanne Shepard, a TV reporter who was found raped and stabbed in Central Park. Suzanne specialized in digging up dirt on the rich and famous, so she had a long list of high-profile enemies.
When Melanie starts getting threatening e-mails from an anonymous stranger who knows a suspicious amount about the crime, the investigation takes an even more dangerous turn. "Cover-Up" is the third book in the Melanie Vargas series, after "Most Wanted" and "The Finishing School."

WN: How much of your background and experience as a federal prosecutor has become the background and experience for Melanie Vargas?
MARTINEZ: I was a federal prosecutor in New York for eight years, specializing in narcotics and gang cases. I could not write these books without having loads of real life experience. It's there on every page -- from how the cops talk, to how the killers think, to what happens in the courtroom, to the politics and turf battles in a big city prosecutor's office. My books are realistic in a way that sets them apart, while still maintaining a sense of humor and mixing in lots of sizzling romance.

WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you? What's the most challenging part of writing for you?
MARTINEZ: Best part -- I get to work in my pajamas. No, seriously, the best part is being able to provide enjoyment and inspiration to people I've never even met. Whether it's a grandmother writing to tell me she stayed up all night and can't wait to hear what happens next between Melanie and sexy-as-hell FBI agent Dan O'Reilly, or a Hispanic teen e-mailing to say that my books give her confidence that she can become a lawyer, I feel like I get to touch people's lives. It's a great privilege and very special!
Most challenging part -- it can be lonely sitting at the computer day after day. Sometimes the people in the book start seeming more real than they should. I have been known to talk to them while working out dialogue!

WN: What's next for you as a writer?
MARTINEZ: I am hard at work on the fourth book in the Melanie Vargas series, "Notorious," which will be out in March '08. In "Notorious," Melanie is about to bring a famous rapper to trial on murder charges when his defense lawyer is assassinated before her eyes in a car bombing. What was already a challenging case morphs into a dangerous murder investigation with national security implications.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
MARTINEZ: When I was a kid, I lived in a tough neighborhood and as a consequence I spent a lot of time indoors reading. Some of my favorite books that really inspired me? "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott, which is about overcoming hardship with the love and support of your family, and "To Kill A Mockingbird," which influences many young people to see law as an important and meaningful career path.

WN: What is your favorite word and why?
MARTINEZ: I love words like "hope" and "perseverance." I am a big believer in facing challenges with positive energy, and my books always have upbeat endings.

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
MARTINEZ: To treat writing like a job rather than a hobby. If you want to get published, you have to put in the time and make the commitment to do your very best work.

22 January 2007

Book Banter -- Precursor

Title: Precursor
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Length: 438 pages
Genre: sci-fi
Plot Basics: Three years have passed since Bren Cameron, translator between the humans and atevi, helped the two races start the construction of a space shuttle after the old human ship Phoenix reappears. In a move by the ruler of the atevi world, Bren's suddenly aboard the shuttle, sent into space to negotiate with the humans on board to figure out how to rebuild the space station. Negotiations seemingly start well, but Bren and his atevi staff end up being near-prisoners on the station and Bren finds that he has to prevent the outbreak of a new three-sided human-atevi-human war between the station and the planet.
Banter Points: Cherryh does such a good job with alien cultures. The atevi feel foreign and it's interesting to watch the character interaction of those people on the space station react to them. Her plots take lots of build-up, but once the books takes off, it's a great story.
Bummer Points: Her plots take lots of build up. This is the first book in her second trilogy set in this universe, so a bunch of the beginning of the book goes over familiar ground for readers of the first three (Foreigner, Invader, Inheritor). She spends a great deal of time, again, telling readers why the atevi are different from humans.
Word Nerd recommendation: Still pretty good, though Word Nerd thinks that readers who read these as they came out with more time between books might have liked them more because all the repetition wouldn't be so close together.

19 January 2007

Making the classics sound good

We start Friday with a short quiz.

Q1. Who is Jonathan Yardley? *
a. That guy who edits the NYT crossword puzzles
b. That guy who reviews books in the Post
c. That other guy who reviews books in the Post; choice "b" clearly refers to Michael Dirda or Ron Charles
d. That guy who does the funny quizzes on the radio

If you picked "c" good for you.

In addition to reviewing new books, Yardley also from time to time reviews old books to talk about why they are good.

You can find his second reading column archives here.

Word Nerd read his review of Ernest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" and thought maybe, just maybe, she'd have to read this one. Hemingway is not one of the classics authors that Word Nerd ever wanted to pick up ever again after high school, having to read 100 pages of a guy chasing around a big fish. ... yes, she knows, that book is really about grace under pressure... Nevertheless, Yardley's review of "Feast" makes her at least interested where she wouldn't be before.

He recently took on "The Great Gatsby" and had this to say about it:
If from all of our country's books I could have only one, "The Great Gatsby" would be it.
Word Nerd whole-heartedly agrees on his pronouncement about Gatsby. She did, after all, name her feline roommate after Fitzgerald's dubious character.

What books that you read, perhaps in school, deserve a second look?

* Bonus points for identifying the person who belongs to answers "a" and "d."

18 January 2007

Too much of a good thing?

Word Nerd hasn't posted a book banter column in over a week.
Shocking. She knows.
Maybe this sounds odd, but Word Nerd's not that interested in reading right now.
Here's the thing: Word Nerd is enjoying the book she's reading, but it's 438 pages and rather slow-going at times as the author recaps stuff that happened in the first three books in the series. And finishing the book has just not been a priority.
Is it possible to get booked-out?
Is this just the by-product of not reading something that's a gripping page-turner? Or just that other things are taking up time (ie, trying to meet Word Nerd's self-imposed January writing goal and conquering the world in the computer game that Word Nerd's pater familias got her for Christmas? ...thanks Dad...)

Has this happened to anybody else?

17 January 2007

Author Answers with Syne Mitchell

Hey sci-fi fans -- this week's author is Syne Mitchell. Mitchell's latest book is The Last Mortal Man.

For more about her, check out her website.

WN: Why should a reader pick up one of your books?
MITCHELL: For a thought-provoking and fun read. I write what I call "firm SF" in that I work hard to get the science details right, but my real goal as a writer is to tell a great story.

WN: On your blog, you mention that Last Mortal Man will be the one and only volume in the Deathless series… as a writer, is it hard to let go of one idea and move on to the next project?
MITCHELL: I had the next two novels outlined, with the expectation that the series would continue, so yes, it was a disappointment when they weren't picked up. But I've got a head chock full of story ideas, so there's no end of material. My current project is something quite different: epic, modern day, a subtle twist of fantasy. I'm very excited about it.

WN: How much research do you have to do to get the science part of science-fiction to be real and/or believable? Where’s the line between the science and the fiction part?
MITCHELL: I have a background in science, and groan when I read a book or watch a movie with blatant scientific bloopers. When I taught, I often had to work to correct misconceptions that my students had picked up from entertainment media. So when I sit down to write a book, I try very hard to get the details right. Especially if it's a field like microbiology, which I haven't studied. I read books, ask questions through email, do scientific calculations, interview specialists, and even take tours of research facilities like genetics labs. Do I still make mistakes in my books? Of course. I'm only human. But I hope my readers give me credit for trying hard to get the details right.

WN: What’s your writing process like?
MITCHELL: I'm currently playing around with that, trying new things. Before, I always outlined each book, building a solid skeleton for the story before I wrote a word. Now I'm writing more organically, letting the story evolve as I go along.

WN: If you got stranded on a desert island with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
MITCHELL: Dyson Rader from THE LAST MORTAL MAN. (Dyson is actually Dixon Tully from TECHNOGENESIS with the serial numbers filed off. I loved that character so much that I sneakily brought him back under a different guise in my latest novel.) He's competent, sexy, smart, fun. The kind of guy who could probably find a way off the island; but with him around why would you want to?

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
MITCHELL: It would be hard to point to just one. I love the work of Larry Niven, Tanith Lee, Peter S. Beagle, Spider Robinson, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and gosh, so many more. I'm an omnivorous reader and in my school days would read a novel-and-a-half a day. (Thank goodness for libraries!) I loved different books for different things. Larry Niven's books for the brain puzzles, Spider Robinson's for the humor and heart. LeGuin's work for it's epic grandeur. Tanith's for the marvelous settings. The list is endless...

WN: What is your favorite word and why?
MITCHELL: Any word I know that my husband doesn't. Having two writers in the family, we get a bit competitive.

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
MITCHELL: "Apply your bottom to the chair and write!" to paraphrase a quote from Marion Zimmer Bradley.

The most important thing about being a writer is to write. All the agents, editors, readers in the world won't be a lick of help if you don't write the darned thing down. If it's bad, you can always fix it later.

To put it simply: Writers write.

16 January 2007

Means something like...

A glimpse into Word Nerd's morning of writing and why word choice matters.

Please complete the following sentence:

This move back into the family apartments was nothing short of ___________.

Have a word in mind? Good. Focus on that word.

Now, step back. Word Nerd got as far as the "of" in that sentence and went, Huh. Just what was the move like. And what word fits the voice of my narrator? Horrendous? Awful? Stupendous? Lousy?

Word Nerd got out her handy-dandy thesaurus. Horrendous: horrible, frightful, terrible. Nope, none of those. She tried "grievous." Grievous had lots of choices, one of which led her to "outrageous." Likewise, "outrageous" had lots of synonyms. She even had to get out her dictionary to look up "contumelious." (She didn't pick that word, just in case you're wondering. This is a story, not an SAT vocab test prep book.)

Word Nerd's picked her word to fill in the blank, but isn't quite sure it's the one she wants. Words, of course, have meanings and shades and she wants to be sure she's conveying the right sentiment, which ever one she picks.

15 January 2007

More words of the year

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary also dubbed the top ten words of 2006.

They decided on words based on user submissions.

Their word of the year, truthiness.

To see the whole list, click here.

Again, bonus points for anyone who can post a sentence using any one of these words. Extra points and thumbs up for using more than one in the same, legitimate sentence.

12 January 2007

Please use the following words in a sentence

If you haven't heard, the American Dialect Society voted a week ago on the 2006 word of year.

And the winner is, "pluto" as a verb, as in "to pluto/be plutoed," meaning to "devalue or demote something/someone."

The word comes from the decision to revoke Pluto's planetary status and demote it to a dwarf planet. As in "The astronomers plutoed Pluto."

The press release from the Dialect Society is here, explaining "plutoed" and the other runner-up words in a bunch of different categories.

Looking at all these words, Word Nerd's not sure she can appropriately use them in a sentence. Bonus points to anyone who can post a sentence using "plutoed" or one of the other words. Bonus bonus points for using more than one in the same sentence.

10 January 2007

Author Answers with Marcus Sakey

Better later than never on a Wednesday, this week's spotlighted author is Marcus Sakey. Sakey's debut novel, The Blade Itself, hit shelves yesterday.

Early reviews of the book have been top-rate, including a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and the book being named a January pick by BookSense.

For more about Sakey, check out his website.

WN: The Blade Itself just came out. What should readers know about it that will compel them to go pick it up?
SAKEY: The biggest compliment I've received was from a woman who emailed to say she called in sick from work because she was 170 pages in and didn't want to quit. I think before anything else, novelists should be compelling storytellers, so that made my day.

WN: What was your reaction when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?
SAKEY: People don't realize this, but there is an enormous lag in the book industry; I actually sold THE BLADE ITSELF more than fifteen months ago, and have written another book since. So I've been living with the anticipation so long that seeing the reality was at once spectacular and supremely surreal.

WN: Killer Year. How has being a part of that group been helpful to you as a debut novelist?
SAKEY: Killer Year is a group of fourteen suspense novelists with debuts coming out in 2007, and we've pooled our resources to help each other. It's been a wonderful experience--writing is generally a solitary trade, so being part of a larger whole is a delight. It's like having a marketing team, a cheerleading section, and a support group all in one.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
SAKEY: This is a great job. I grew up loving books, loving stories, so creating them professionally is a dream come true. And the idea that other people can buy, and hopefully read and enjoy these stories, it's a wonderful feeling.

The most challenging part comes around page 200, when you're deep in the middle of a novel and doubt hits. It's tough to keep up the day-to-day progress, to remind yourself that doubt is just part of the job.

WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
SAKEY: I've actually completed my second novel, about a discharged soldier who returns from Iraq to find a similar war raging in his Chicago neighborhood. It's got greed and corruption and gang warfare and a love story and redemption and Roman history, all the good stuff.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
SAKEY: Oh, there's no answering that question. Or rather, it changes according to mood. And you're always hoping a new book will come along and knock the old contenders off the top of the heap.

If you held a Glock to my head, I'd tell you that my favorite book is CLOUD ATLAS, by David Mitchell. It's a masterpiece, a perfect blend of method and meaning, of theme and technique. And it's a great read to boot.

WN: What is your favorite word and why?
SAKEY: I like what I call "tasty" words, words that have texture and succulence on the tongue. Gnarled, eviscerate, languid, shimmer, aureole, tsunami, slither.

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
SAKEY: Start at the beginning and write to the end. Everything can be changed once you've finished the book.

09 January 2007

Book Banter -- The Buried Pyramid

Title: The Buried Pyramid

Author: Jane Lindskold

Length: 498 pages

Genre: fiction/adventure

Plot Basics: Neville Hawthorne is determined to finish an exploration in Egypt that he began years ago. As a young army officer, he accompanies a German archaeologist in search of the lost tomb of a pharaoh who may be Moses the Lawgiver. Unsuccessful the first time, Hawthorne's now trying again, and had the help of his American niece Jenny and the Egyptologist/linguist Stephen. They set out on their mission and find that there may be truth to some of the old legends and stories about the Egyptian gods.

Banter Points: Word Nerd would be well-prepared for a pop quiz on Egyptian deities after reading this book. She might be fairly handy at reading hieroglyphs or cracking ciphers too since the characters spent pages and pages talking about all three of those things.

Bummer Points: Slow, slow, slow. The last 150 pages of the story are pretty good, but until then, the book wanders through their entire trip from England to Marseilles across the Mediterranean to Cairo, Luxor and points beyond. The details are overwhelming and many of them don't push the plot forward.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Word Nerd was expecting an Indiana Jones-adventure type story and this book is not that story.

Bonus: Raspberry Latte read this book (Word Nerd picked it up on her recommendation). For a totally different take on this book, click here.

08 January 2007

Book Banter -- Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille

Title: Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille
Author: Steven Brust
Length: ~290 pages
Genre: sci-fi
Plot Basics: Billy and the rest of his band mates along with the staff at Feng's keep avoiding nuclear disaster as the restaurant jumps through time to avoid getting hit. When they land, years in the future, on the colony of New Quebec, Billy is nearly killed by a gunman who whispers, "Sugar Bear" right before he dies. Thinking that's an odd last message, Billy and the others start looking for an explanation of the gunman's words and find that they -- and Feng's -- may be the key to humanity's survival.
Banter Points: Word Nerd's only read Brust's Vlad Taltos series, so it was nice to see his writing style with another set of characters and a different kind of locale. As usual, Brust's plot moves fairly quickly, which keeps readers on their toes.
Bummer Points: Billy seems a little bit like Vlad set in space. Dry humor, lots of discussion about a food, a hero that suffers from bouts of melancholy.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you are a fan of Brust, by all means, read Feng's. If not, bypass it until you've read some of the Vlad books and have become a fan.

05 January 2007

Book Banter -- The Green Trap

Title: The Green Trap
Author: Ben Bova
Length: 335 pages
Genre: Thriller
Plot Basics: Paul Cochrane is determined to find who murdered his brother Michael and just what scientific discovery Michael made that cost him his life.
Banter Points: The story is set in the not-too-distant future. Gasoline prices have risen to about $7 and there's a new urgency to the energy crisis. It's a great premise that the need for a new kind of fuel could put a scientist's life in danger if a new solution had been found. Again, Bova backs up his plot with plausible science.
Bummer Points: This book is tagged a thriller. A better description would be a mildly interesting book. Word Nerd was never worried about the outcome, never really felt that the main characters were in danger. And she had the double-cross figured out from the get-go.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Skip it unless you are a die-hard Bova fan. The premise is great but the execution leaves something to be desired.

04 January 2007

December Bibliometer

Despite sitting around airports at the end of December, the book count for the whole month wasn't extra high.

December's Bibliometer readings are:
8 books
2,828 pages
91 pages/day average

With December added in, that brings the 2006 Bibliometer to the following totals:
94 books
31,102 pages
85.2 pages/day average

This is Word Nerd's first year for counting page numbers for an entire year, so she's not sure how that stacks up with other years. Total number of books is higher than in years past. Word Nerd has a hunch that she read more shorter books this year, thus inflating the number.

03 January 2007

Author Answers with Patry Francis

Wait just a month and you'll know why the name Patry Francis seems familiar. Her debut novel, The Liar's Diary, comes out in February.

For more about Francis, check out her blog or find her at Killer Year.

WN: What's "The Liar's Diary" about ... what kind of reader should make it point to pick it up?

FRANCIS: Like a lot of novels that deal with a violent crime, The Liar’s Diary began with a story from the headlines that I just couldn’t forget. An adolescent universally considered a "good boy" from a "good family" had committed a particularly gruesome murder. The writer in me wanted to know who this family was beneath the veneer of respectability. How--and why--had they ignored the signs of trouble?
Once I began to write, my novel had no connection to the case from the newspaper. But the questions remained the same. As did the ingredients for disaster: a perfect family that’s not so flawless when you scrape the surface, a deeply troubled adolescent who puts on a cheerful face to the world, and a beautiful, charismatic woman who becomes the object of the family’s obsession.
A reviewer has said that the novel would appeal to readers of Jodi Piccoult, Sue Miller, and Alice Hoffman. Since I'm fans of all three of those authors, I was thrilled by the comparison.

WN: You're a part of Killer Year; how has that group helped you? What's been fun/exciting/encouraging about being part of that group?

FRANCIS: Killer Year has connected me with an amazing and diverse group of novelists--all of whom have something unique to contribute. I learn something new from this group literally every day. But most importantly, we have discovered that we can do things as a team which we could never do as individuals.

WN: What's next for you as a writer?

FRANCIS: I'm just finishing up a new novel which I'm really excited about. I've also been working on a collection of linked short stories about the character who has haunted me more than any I've ever created.
And if that's not enough to keep me busy, I have a non-fiction project
in mind which I hope would inspire a lot of people.

WN: What kind of research do you do for your writing?

FRANCIS: When I'm actually writing, I'm totally focused on the plot and characters and I don't allow anything to interfere with the flow of the story. If I'm not sure of a legal or medical fact, for example, I make it up. It's during subsequent drafts that I question any possible inaccuracies. Then I go out and question others! People have proven to be remarkably open and helpful.

WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you? What's the most challenging part of writing for you?

FRANCIS: Truly, there are so many "best parts": getting ideas, the thrill of beginning a new story, meeting an incredible character with whom you will spend many months as you plumb their secrets. I also love when everything you weren't sure would come together, miraculously DOES, and the satisfaction of typing The End on the final page.
I love the "good news days" when my agent begins the conversation by saying have something exciting to tell you..." Even better is calling friends and family to share the excitement--and the champagne!
Then there's the lifestyle: the independence, the camaraderie with other writers I've met on line, getting to work in my pajamas, with a nice cup of tea at my elbow while my favorite music plays in the background and my dogs lay at my feet...nothing beats that."
Of course, there are "bad news days" as well, days when something you'd hoped to place is rejected, or a reviewer doesn't understand what you were trying to do. Those are the challenges all writers face, but on balance, the "best parts" make them feel pretty insignificant.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?

FRANCIS: I am a manic reader who devours all kinds of novels--literary novels, suspense novels, classics, and crime fiction or noir--which is probably why my novel is something of a hybrid. But to choose a single novel that influenced me above all the others is close to impossible.
One book that I've read over and over ever since I bought it at a second hand shop almost twenty years ago is "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. While in a concentration camp, the author decided that no matter how dire the circumstances became, he would not allow anyone to take away his inner freedom and dignity. I've never failed to be inspired by this little masterpiece, no matter how many times I've read it.

WN: What is your favorite word and why?

FRANCIS: I guess I'd have to choose "luminous". Not because it's really my favorite, but because when I was editing the manuscript of my novel, it was the one that appeared so frequently, it made me wince.
In fact, my novel was so infused with excesses of luminosity that I vowed I wouldn't use the word for at least a year!

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?

FRANCIS: Love your work and give yourself to it entirely. We're not here to live in fear; we're here to give. Whether you're talking about writing or life, the message is the same.

02 January 2007

Best of 2006 -- Top Ten Books

Sorry Word Nerd's a tad late on this post. Holidays and all.

Now, without further delay, here are Word Nerd's picks for the 10 best books she read in 2006.

10. Walking on Water, Madeleine L'Engle (non-fiction)
9. Pale Immortal, Anne Frasier (fiction)
8. Purity of Blood, Arturo Perez-Reverte (fiction)
7. About a Boy, Nick Hornby (fiction)
6. Truck: A Love Story, Michael Perry (memoir)
5. The Stolen Child, Keith Donohue (fiction)
4. I am the Messenger, Markus Zusak (young adult fiction)
3. Everfree, Nick Sagan (sci-fi)
2. Gentlemen & Players, Joanne Harris (fiction)
1. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (young adult fiction)

In case anyone's interested, Word Nerd's 2005 picks can be found here.

A couple things worth mentioning about the 2006 picks. Perez-Reverte makes the top 10 for the second year in a row. Last year, his Queen of the South took Word Nerd's number 7 spot.
The big upset this year is Hornby's About a Boy. Word Nerd would never have guessed that this book would take a spot in the Best of list when she picked it up.
Word Nerd's not surprised that Zusak is in the list twice for both of his books. He is a brilliant new writer. Though his books are tagged YA, they are phenomenal. Don't pass them by if you are a grown-up.