29 June 2007

Why the page count meter is mathematically wrong

If you look to your right, you will notice that the page count meter says "40/40, 98.8 %".

Now math was never Word Nerd's favorite subject, but she knows enough to know that 40/40 should be 100 %.

Here's the deal: The page count meter application, doesn't like halves of pages. Word Nerd input 39.5/40 and 40/40 is what she got. The percentage is correct.

What this truly means is that yes, Word Nerd is currently 1/2 page behind her monthly goal and with a busy weekend, squeezing in the last 1/2 page could be difficult.

Why stop so close to the goal, you might ask? Well, it's one of those tricks of writing. Stop in the middle of a scene where you know what happens next so that the next time you sit down to write, you have a place to start. So, Word Nerd knows what's coming and it was better to stop with a 1/2 page left.

And since part of the page count meter says she made it, who's really counting?

28 June 2007

Book Banter -- Sign of Chaos

Title: Sign of Chaos (Amber Chronicles, book 8)
Author: Roger Zelazny
Length: 214 pages
Genre: fantasy/sci-fi
Plot Basics: When we last left Merlin Corey, son of Corwin a Prince of Amber, he had been whisked off to an unknown destination. As the book opens, he's stuck in a strange version of Alice in Wonderland, complete with Mad Hatter, jabberwock and snicker-snacking Vorpol Sword. Merlin figures out what's going on and frees himself from his Lewis Carroll-inspired troubles only to find himself back in the double-crossing politics of his families both in the Amber and the Courts of Chaos.
Banter Points: The beginning of this book with the jabberwocky is fantastic. Anybody who's ever read at least that poem if not all of Through the Looking Glass will highly enjoy the first couple chapters with the references to the hookah-smoking caterpillar, Humpty Dumpty and of course, the jabberwock. Being Zelazny, of course, he doesn't stop the plot once the weirdness is gone and the book contains some exciting action scenes and the normal dose of fantastical politics expected in an Amber book.
Bummer Points: This book could have used a bit better of a recap of what had gone before. It's been a couple months since Word Nerd last read one of the Amber Chronicles, and a short refresher would have been nice, like what Zelazny has done in some of his other books.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you've gotten into the series, keep going. Again, this is classic fantasy and if you like the genre and haven't ever read this, do yourself a favor and read one of the greats.

27 June 2007

Author Answers with Jennifer O'Connell

This week's featured author is Jennifer O'Connell (aka Jenny O'Connell) who writes both YA and adult fiction books.
For more on O'Connell, check out her website.

WN: You write books for both adults and teens. What got you started doing both?
O'CONNELL: The publisher of my adult books was about to start an imprint focused on teen girls and they asked if I’d be interested in writing YA. I hadn’t seriously thought about it up until that point, but once I started thinking I had an idea for PLAN B. It went to auction and ultimately MTV won so my adult publisher didn’t get the book, but I’m thankful they made me sit down and think about it.

WN: You just put together an anthology “Everything I Need to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume.” How did you get the idea for this collection? What did you learn from Judy Blume?
O'CONNELL: I was beginning to write PLAN B and in the process I realized that the teen girls in my book were just younger versions of my adult characters. The issues were similar albeit in high school versus the workplace, etc. And then I thought, “Everything I needed to know about being a girl I learned from Judy Blume.” I’m friends with a lot of women authors who write both YA and adult and I thought it would be a lot of fun to work with them on the anthology. The essays are awesome.

WN: You make yourself available to do book club call-ins…Why is this something you make time for?
O'CONNELL: Because there’s nothing more fun than talking to people who’ve read your books and listening to how they interpreted the story and character, what they liked and disliked, what worked for them and what didn’t. It’s as beneficial to me as a writer as it is fun.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
O'CONNELL: I always loved to read. And I loved to read about girls like me – wasn’t into mysteries or fantasy, no Nancy Drew or Narnia. Just girls going to school and encountering the trials and tribulations of every day life.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
O'CONNELL: The best part has been meeting a bunch of very cool women writers in the process. They’re smart and funny and we have a blast together – and I never would have met them if I hadn’t started writing. They’re very supportive and we can laugh at ourselves and the business we’re in. The most challenging part is sitting down and writing. I like having ideas for new books. Hate having to actually write them. I enjoy writing the beginning and the ending, but in between I’m hitting the word count function on my computer every ten minutes to see how far I’ve gone. I have zero attention span, which, when you’re writing twenty chapters, isn’t such a great thing.

WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
O'CONNELL: I just sold the first two books in a series to MTV. They take place on Martha’s Vineyard, where the island transforms during the summer with rich teen socialites and the local girls are reminded there are two types of people – the ones who get to leave at summer’s end and the ones who are left behind. I’m looking forward to writing about the Vineyard, a place I love.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
O'CONNELL: I loved everything by Norma Klein growing up. Her girl characters lived in NYC, were super smart and just went through normal things like applying to college, boyfriends, divorce, etc. Her books are out of print but I’ve since gone back and purchased all of them for my daughter so she can read them one day. I also went back and re-read them all before beginning writing for teens.

26 June 2007

More Pottermania

A rare first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was recently sold at auction.

Click here to read the whole story.

And you thought you had a bad case of Potter-fever.

25 June 2007

Book Banter Trivia -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

All right, find those Remembralls and take a shot at this quiz on events in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Drop a comment in the post if you want answers.

Who is Sirius Black not related to, either by blood or by marriage?
a. Bellatrix Lestrange
b. Narcissa Malfoy
c. Molly Weasley
d. Mundungus Fletcher

What do Harry, Ron and the others have to get rid of in the curtains of House Black?
a. pixies
b. doxies
c. gnomes
d. flobberworms

When Filch catches Harry and Cho in the Owlery what does he accuse Harry of ordering?
a. dungbombs
b. canary creams
c. skiving snackboxes
d. extendable ears

What does O.W.L stand for?
a. Outstanding Wizard Luck
b. Ordinary Wizarding Levels
c. Ornery Witching Level
d. Odious Wizarding Learning

Who is the new captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team?
a. Katie Bell
b. George Weasley
c. Fred Weasley
d. Angelina Johnson

What allows a person to see thestrals?
a. turning 15
b. the ability to produce a Patronus
c. having an invisibility cloak
d. having seen death

When Harry goes into Snape’s memory, what exam had the students in the memory just finished?
a. Potions
b. Transfiguration
c. Defense Against the Dark Arts
d. Divination

What was the password into the Gryffindor Tower this year?
a. scurvy cur
b. mimbulus mimbletonia
c. fizzing whizbee
d. mischief managed

Who do Ron, Harry and Hermoine not run into at St. Mungo’s Hospital?
a. Broderick Bode
b. Gilderoy Lockhart
c. Alice Longbottom
d. Professor McGonagall

Which death eater refused to believe that Harry had broken the prophecy?
a. Antonin Dolohov
b. Walden MacNair
c. Rabastan Lestrange
d. Bellatrix Lestrange

22 June 2007

Going Back

Do you have books that you reread every so often, ones that are worth delving back into because the story's so good, or the characters so compelling that you, well, frankly, you just miss them?

Word Nerd's recently been thinking about rereading either Lord of the Rings or a King Arthur story, likely "The Once and Future King." Because it's time. It's been since the summer of 2001 for LOTR and likely summer of 2004 for "Once and Future." There have been a couple King Arthur books in there in between (or more than couple as Word Nerd read the first six, six?, of Jack Whyte's Camuloud Chronicles).

But LOTR and "Once and Future" -- there's just something that Word Nerd thinks she's ready for again in those stories. Maybe it's the fact that the themes to those books are so big... it's the least in the world with the power to save it, that might doesn't make right and that maybe, maybe, if the system is set up right, people can change how they live together.

Maybe it's just about inspiration.

What titles draw you this way? Are there books that it's time for you to reread?

21 June 2007

A glace at the Pile

Word Nerd has gone a little bit bonkers with the library card lately (although better the library card than say a MasterCard...) and now has quite the stack of books on her floor in front of the bookshelf that she should read once she's done with rereading all the Harry Potter books.

Here's what awaits her and why she picked the book up. Maybe. This pile has been known to change rapidly...

-Pretender, by C.J. Cherryh. It's book 8 of Cherryh's 9-book Foreigner cycle. Gotta get through the whole thing and see if peace is returned to the planet.
- Solomon vs. Lord, by Paul Levine. Word Nerd found out about Paul Levine over at the Naked Authors blog. The book sounds good and funny.
- Black Echo, by Michael Connelly. The PI Poll that Word Nerd was running for a time said to read the Harry Bosch books. This is the first Harry Bosch book.
- How to Seduce a Ghost, by Hope McIntyre. First and for the record, this is not a how-to book. It's fiction. A mystery actually. About a ghostwriter.
- The Hunt, by Allison Brennan. This is the sequel to Brennan's "The Prey," a book that Word Nerd only found to be so-so. But Word Nerd was told Brennan's books get better, so she picked up the second one to see for herself.
- Hood, by Stephen R. Lawhead. Word Nerd's been a Lawhead fan for years now but somehow missed the fact that he had a new series out working his magic this time on the Robin Hood legend. She spotted this book at the bookstore and promptly left it there to check out the library's copy instead.

Anybody else? What's in your Pile?

20 June 2007

Author Answers with Seth Harwood

Don't go to your local library looking for this week's author; you won't find him there. Rather, grab your iPod and your computer to download Seth Harwood's books.

Harwood's one of the authors among a growing trend of making books available only online or as podcasts and this week he talks with Word Nerd about why he's putting his books out this way and how he got into this business.

To find Harwood's books, check out his website.

WN: Your novel is available through podcasts and as a PDF file… why go that route instead of publishing it the “regular” way? What are you hoping to accomplish with the podcast novel?
HARWOOD: With the podcast novel, I’m hoping to build audience. And the truth is, it’s been working great. Not only have a lot of people started listening to my books, they’re also writing in, encouraging me, and helping to promote my work. I’ve found some true fans. As a writer, it means a lot to me to have an audience that’s out there waiting for what I write. Even with publishing stories in literary journals, I’ve never had this kind of feedback.

So basically what I’m doing is giving my work away for free right now and saying, “You, audience, you be the judge. If you like what I’m doing, great. If not, no harm done or money spent.” And so far the response has been wonderful: a whole lot of people are getting very excited about Jack Palms and sethharwood.com. They’re really liking it.

Initially when I started podcasting, my hope was to improve my agent pitch for cover letters. I wanted to tell them I had 600 listeners and… but it didn’t interest them. The fact is people in publishing still don’t seem to understand how podcasting can be a great promotional tool—even with Scott Sigler hitting #7 on Amazon.com with no promotions other than podcasting!

And back to your original question, even though I went to a prestigious grad school for creative writing, I didn’t have any opportunities to publish the “regular” way. All of my work still went into the slush piles. So I’m doing this and hoping that as I get bigger, people in publishing will start to notice.

WN: With things like podcast novels, what does that do to the future of books? Are readers going to have to trade in their library cards and bookshelves for iPods?
HARWOOD: I don’t think it does anything to the future of books. I love books and I love reading, and I don’t think anything can replace the feeling of holding a book in your hands and reading it. Nothing’s can match the joy of curling up with a book or the ease of taking a book wherever you want and diving into it. At least I hope not. Not yet anyway.

But I do think podcasting will change the face of promotions and marketing for books. I’ve been able to draw more listeners and fans by podcasting from my apartment for close to free than I could have on a big nationwide book tour. Podcasting’s a great way to introduce my work to loads of people. And these people are eager buyers. They want to buy my books when they come out, and, as a writer, my goal is to publish my work in book form. That hasn’t changed; there’s nothing I’m more eager to accomplish.

Everyone’s got time when you end up listening to the radio, music, or you just can’t read a book—whether it’s driving, or working out, or whatever—and podcasting is a great way to use that time to follow the kind of books that you like. That’s really the best thing about podcasting for listeners: is that there’s a whole world of free downloadable fiction they can find on the web and listen to whenever they want!

WN: You’ve got two podcast novels out about Jack Palms. What kind of character is Jack?
HARWOOD: Jack Palms is a one-hit-wonder action movie star who’s basically come back from a period in his life where he pissed off a lot of people, fell out of the movie business because he got caught up in drugs and a bad marriage, and now he’s clean and ready for what’s next. But he’s not sure what to do with himself. He’s looking for some kind of action and when it comes along and finds him, he does his best to stay on top of things, out of harm’s way.

It’s kind of funny: you can make an action movie and come off as a real tough guy on screen, but how does the world see the real actor? That’s one of the things that I’m interested in. In some ways, Jack’s not really all that tough, but in others, he is.

Down the road, in This Is Life, the superlative serialized sequel, he’s faced with the bigger decision of whether he’s ready for a real career as a Private Eye, or something that comes as close to that as today’s world will allow.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
HARWOOD: I always read in one form or another, usually whatever my parents weren’t suggesting: I went through a big comic book period and then in high school I couldn’t read enough about sports, basketball especially. After college, I went out and read everything I could get my hands on. Because I didn’t major in English, I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do!

I started writing stories when I was really little. My father’s been sending me these little books he’s found in his house lately, things from before I could even write or spell. I’d basically dictate the story to my babysitter and then add my own pictures. So I’ve been making books in one form or another for a very long time. When I could first write I started creating stories about aliens and dragonslayers. I used to fill up little journals. Then, in fifth grade, my teacher actually sent one of my stories to a scholastic magazine as a submission. They wrote back to say it was too violent for them. My first rejection! I guess that’s as good a way to get started as a writer as any other.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
HARWOOD: The best part of being a writer for me is feeling like there’s a demand for my work and being able to throw myself into it, just going for broke on the page, trying to find my story. When I’m in my writing mode, just trying to do my 1,000-1,500 words a day, I find those are some of the happiest days I have. Especially with the Jack Palms stuff I’m writing now.

The worst part, or I should say the hardest, has been the rejection; getting into the print publishing world has been a very hard nut to crack for me, for whatever reason. And hitting my head up against that wall for a long time has taught me a lot, but it’s also offered a lot of tough times, small setbacks. Part of the reason I love podcasting is because it means that my endpoint isn’t just the agent or editor query letter and waiting with my work on the shelf. Now I have a way to bring it out to a real audience myself.

WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
HARWOOD: I’m still working on the second part of This Is Life. My idea is to podcast it in two segments, two parts. I’ve got part 1 done, but part II is still in the works. I’ve struggled a little with the line between podcast fiction being similar to a show like The Sopranos, where everything doesn’t get wrapped up at the end of a season, or like a more traditional novel, where all the big stories get tied up. Right now, my compromise is to do the book in two parts. In the first, some of the questions get answered but not all. In the end… we’ll have to see, but my plan is to wrap them all up so I can still keep the project a novel.

Beyond that, I’ll be podcasting more of my stories in the fall, after Part I of the podcast is done, and next winter I’d like to start working on a book that I’ve shelved for a little while, something I consider my cross between Rowling and Carver.

And of course, I’m always looking for a publisher, hoping the next thing will be to get Jack Wakes Up into print.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
HARWOOD: For a long time all I wrote was short stories. I’d written a few attempted novels and just knew that the long form was more than I was ready for. So I started to go small. In this time, for about three years, all I read was short stories. I wanted to know as much about them as I possibly could. In this time, I read all of Raymond Carver, as you might imagine. And it was his first book, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? that really did it for me. This is the book that touched something inside of me and said you can write about this (whatever this was) and really opened me up to do what was probably my first good, legitimate writing. It helped me to realize how to write something that had meaning emotionally, and that made me realize what would really have meaning as fiction. I think it’s the book that really got me started as an adult writer.

19 June 2007

Book Banter -- The Liar's Diary

Title: The Liar's Diary
Author: Patry Francis
Length: 320 pages
Genre: literary fiction/mystery
Plot Basics: Jeanne Cross, doctor's wife, school secretary, perfect mom, is drawn to make an unlikely friendship with Ali Mather, the bohemian-like music teacher and violinist. As they talk, Jeanne begins to realize some painful truths about herself and her family. The life Jeanne thought she had created for her family unravels even more when a murderer strikes and her son is arrested for it.
Banter Points: The plot summary here doesn't really do this book justice, but Word Nerd didn't want to inadvertently give away some of the twists. From a writing standpoint, this book is lyrical and poignant. Word Nerd thought she was picking up a regular mystery book, but Francis' debut novel was well beyond her expectations.
Bummer Points: It would be a bummer if you don't read this book soon.
Word Nerd recommendation: Read it, read it, read it. And watch for this one to be in Word Nerd's top 1o list at the end of this year.

15 June 2007

Book Banter -- The Prey

Title: The Prey
Author: Allison Brennan
Length: 394 pages
Genre: romantic suspense
Plot Basics: Former FBI agent-turned-crime fiction writer Rowan Smith is enjoying the success of her writing career, though she keeps the people around her at a cold distance. Her world is upset however when a killer murders a woman with the same name and in the same manner as in one of her novels. Rowan is put under the protection of bodyguards Michael and John Flynn and Special Agent Quinn Peterson as further copycat killings occur and it becomes clear that the killer is trying to send her a message. And while Rowan is terrified by the killings linked to her, she finds an unexpected solace from one of her guardians.
Banter Points: The plot is a good idea, the copycat killings from Rowan's books. And the pacing of that part of the book is well laid out.
Bummer Points: This book is romantic suspense, so all of sudden the suspense part stops and wham! the next scene is very much romance, a jarring and seemingly forced connection between Rowan and her new beau. Also, this was Brennan's first novel, and she tended to repeat some phrases and ideas more than necessary.
Word Nerd recommendation: Word Nerd put the next book, "The Hunt" on hold at the library on a recommendation that Brennan's writing gets better as she progresses.

14 June 2007

Book Banter Trivia -- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

As with the other HarryPotter books, Word Nerd is providing a little quiz of your knowledge of the books instead of writing a regular Book Banter review. If you would like to check your answers, post a comment to that effect and Word Nerd will get let you know.

What does Ron cut off from his dress robes?
a. buttons
b. lace
c. ribbons
d. medals

Where does Rita Skeeter conduct her first interview with Harry?
a. in the Great Hall
b. in the Trophy Room
c. in a broom closet
d. in the Three Broomsticks

Which champion picked first when deciding what they would face in the first task?
a. Cedric
b. Harry
c. Viktor
d. Fleur

What beverage does Madame Maxine say the Beauxbatons horses drink?
a. Water
b. Single-malt whiskey
c. Pumpkin juice
d. Red current rum

In a painting, what fruit must be tickled in order to reveal the door to the Hogwarts’ kitchens?
a. a pear
b. a banana
c. an orange
d. a peach

Who scares Mrs. Weasley in the hospital ward?
a. Severus Snape
b. Cornelius Fudge
c. Sirius Black
d. Barty Crouch

Dumbledore mentions he stumbles on a room that he’s never seen before. What’s in the room?
a. chamber pots
b. house elves
c. the Pensieve
d. thick woolen socks

Who stuffs the real Alastor Moody into his trunk?
a. Barty Crouch
b. Barty Crouch Jr.
c. Ludo Bagman
d. Igor Karkaroff

Which one of these is not one of the Unforgivable Curses?
a. Avada Kedavra
b. Crucio
c. Imperio
d. Accio

Which of these creatures does Harry help Cedric fight off right before reaching the Tri-Wizard Cup?
a. A giant spider
b. A sphinx
c. A blast-ended skrewt
d. A grindylow

13 June 2007

Author Answers with Charles Kelly

This week's author is Charles Kelly, whose first novel, Pay Here, came out last month. In addition to being an author, Kelly is a working journalist with the Arizona Republic.

For more on Kelly, check out his website.

WN: You’re a reporter with the Arizona Republic with your first novel coming out in August. Is this the classic story of a reporter with a novel stashed in the bottom desk drawer? When and how did you decide to try your hand at novel writing?
KELLY: Actually, I've got six novels stashed in the bottom drawer. I first started writing novels 21 years ago, when I was 40. I wrote six, had three of them agented, but PAY HERE is the first one that has been accepted for publication. I had always wanted to write a novel, but the real springboard was a class I took in combat pistol shooting at Gunsite, a world-class training facility in central
Arizona. Another Gunsite grad and I tried our hand at a sort of "Death Wish" novel. I wound up doing virtually all of the writing, and I eventually finished the book. Didn't sell it, though. It was pretty bad. I went on to write several thrillers featuring women as main characters, including one based on Grace Humiston, a real-life lawyer in New York City who solved several spectacular murder cases in the years leading up to World War I.

WN: What is “Pay Here” about? What kind of reader should put this book on future To be read lists?
KELLY: PAY HERE is the story of an Irish-born reporter who doesn't drink but still gets in bad trouble with a woman. It's really a kind of experimental novel, if I can say that without sounding pretentious (which I probably can't). It's a re-telling of "The Third Man" story, but set in modern
Arizona rather than postwar Vienna, with all the genders and character roles shuffled around. Though it plays out in August 2000, it's really about the kind of old-time newspapering I recall going back to the 1970s, when reporters and photographers sometimes carried guns on assignments, journalists got WAY out of hand (like the Arizona Republic copy editor who robbed a bank, then was reinstated in his job), and reporters had very little respect for the efforts of editors to please advertisers. My target audience is nostalgic journalists, including laid-off journalists, so I think I'll get a lot of readers.

WN: How has your background in journalism helped you as a fiction writer… is one harder than the other?
KELLY: My background in journalism has helped me as a fiction writer because I've seen a lot of things that are potential fodder for fiction—the murder of a couple of fellow reporters (one was killed by a local businessman, another by Russian troops in Afghanistan), the bank fraud trial of one of Arizona's governors, the AZSCAM law-enforcement sting operation, missing-heir cases, etc. But I've had a hard time switching from the quick, punchy rhythms of newswriting to the long, leisurely rhythms of the novel. Fiction for me definitely is much harder than journalism. You must write fleshed-out scenes. You must have a good deal of description. You must consider point of view. Novel writing is much less forgiving than journalism.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
KELLY: I was a voracious reader as a kid. I grew up on a farm and went to a one-room country school, and I read everything in the big bookcase in the back of the schoolroom and everything I could get the teacher to bring me from the library in town ten miles away. I really didn't like the farm much, and reading took me to other worlds.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
KELLY: The best part of being a writer to me is going into the trance of writing, exploring the music of sentences and paragraphs, coming up with images and working and re-working the writing until it makes the images come alive. The most challenging part of writing for me is lengthening out the rhythms of my writing to fit the flow of novel writing. My natural style is still the quick-hit piece of journalism.

WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
KELLY: I'm working on a biography of the hard-boiled writer Dan J. Marlowe, who wrote such novels as THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH and THE VENGEANCE MAN. He was fascinating guy—a city official and a Republican, a sometimes-professional gambler, a spanking fetishist, the friend of a bank robber. After churning out 30 novels, he got amnesia and forgot everything he had written. It's a story that beats anything he ever wrote, and he wrote some great stuff. I haven't found a publisher yet. Anybody out there interested?

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
KELLY: I've read lots of wonderful novels that inspired me. I suppose the book I keep coming back to is THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder, because it has a spiritual element in it that lifts the characters beyond the story. That's important to me as a failed Catholic. You may fail, but you never are able to adjust to a life without spirituality.

11 June 2007

Book Banter -- The Finishing School

Title: The Finishing School
Author: Michele Martinez
Length: 387 pages
Genre: suspense/mystery
Plot Basics: U.S. Attorney Melanie Vargas is assigned to the case of the two apparent drug overdose deaths of two students from a wealthy prep school. As Melanie works on the case -- trying to keep focused on the investigation and not Dan O'Reilly, the hot FBI agent working with her again -- the facts she finds point not to a drug overdose, but to murder.
Banter Points: The whodunit part of this story has a pretty good twist. It was also nice to see an author work in some more modern technology, like Melanie trying to get access to the dead girls' deleted blog sites.
Bummer Points: Word Nerd had a tough time with this book, and a tougher time trying to pinpoint what it was she didn't like. All in all, she thinks the problem was the the characters all felt too two-dimensional, the plot twist while good ended up being obvious, and the romance between Melanie and Dan predictable.
Word Nerd recommendation: Word Nerd's probably done with Martinez' books, even though she's got a third one out. There's just something that doesn't sit right with her about these books.

07 June 2007

Book Banter -- Graffiti Girl

Title: Graffiti Girl
Author: Kelly Parra
Length: 280 pages
Genre: YA
Plot Basics: Angel Rodriguez wants her art to get noticed -- by her art teacher and by her single mom, who seems more interested in in string of loser boyfriends, or Nathan Ramos, the hot, smart guy that's in Angel's art class. Who does notice is Miguel Badalin, leader of a graffiti gang, Reyes del Norte, who offers to teach Angel how to be a graf writer. The attention from Miguel makes Nathan notice Angel too, and her ventures in graffiti art could land her in a heap of trouble if she's not careful.
Banter Points: Parra's debut novel is stellar. She doesn't mince around what high school students really do (making out, the snarkiness of peers, kids trying drugs) but she doesn't give those elements either prominent places in the story or bash them either. This level of realism would likely appeal greatly to teenagers, looking for a story that rings true to their experiences.
Bummer Points: This isn't really a YA cross-over novel that will have great appeal to adults.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you are looking for books that could be good for teens -- entertaining and not condoning sex, drugs, etc -- look for Parra's book.

Book Banter/Trivia -- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

1. Who helps Harry write his summer homework essays?
a. Mr. Ollivander
b. Cornelius Fudge
c. Florian Fortescue
d. Madame Malkin

2. What name does Harry give when he’s picked up by the Knight Bus?
a. Ron Weasley
b. Dudley Dursley
c. Dean Thomas
d. Neville Longbottom

3. Harry didn’t get to face the boggart in Professor Lupin’s class. Which other student didn’t get to try?
a. Ron Weasley
b. Parvati Patil
c. Neville Longbottom
d. Hermione Granger

4. Who helps Harry, Ron and Hermione find their way to their first Divination class?
a. The Bloody Baron
b. The Fat Lady
c. Sir Cadogan
d. Mr. Filch

5. How were the students able to open their books for Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class?
a. Riffling the pages
b. Stroking the spine
c. Singing to it
d. Bowing to it

6. What two creatures do the students work with in Hagrid’s class?
a. Hippogriffs and flobberworms
b. Griffins and grindylows
c. Hinkypucks and hippogriffs
d. Red caps and flobberworms

7. What lesson did Hermione accidentally miss?
a. Transforming turtles to teapots
b. Making shrinking solutions
c. Cheering charms
d. History of witch burning

8. In Gryffindor’s Quidditch match against Slytherin, how many points does Oliver Wood tell Harry they must be up before Harry should catch the Golden Snitch?
a. 50 points
b. 100 points
c. 150 points
d. 200 points

9. Who was Padfoot?
a. Peter Pettigrew
b. Remus Lupin
c. Severus Snape
d. Sirius Black

10. What does Ron get at the end of the book to replace Scabbers?
a. a new rat
b. a cat
c. an small owl
d. a toad

*If you want answers, drop a comment to this post including your email and Word Nerd will send them along. Blogger's currently making doing a separate post of answers complicated....

06 June 2007

Author Answers with Lesley Kagen

This week's debut author, Lesley Kagen, has been getting some buzz around her first novel, "Whistling in the Dark." Her book was a Midwest Booksellers Connection Title and a featured alternate for Double Day Book Club and the Literary Guild.

Also, she'll be here in Oshkosh on Saturday from 10 a.m.-noon at the Oshkosh Public Library, 106 Washington Ave., for a book talk and signing. If you don't have a copy of the book, they will be for sale at the event.

For more on Kagen, check out her website.

WN: How did your childhood in Milwaukee influence you when writing this book?
KAGEN: Milwaukee is such a unique city. I’ve lived in L.A. and New York and Chicago and I lived in Denver for awhile. There’s no place quite like Milwaukee. There’s a sense of community here.

In the 50s on the west side of Milwaukee…. It was so unique. There was a sense of such neighborliness and protection.

The essence of the story is two little girls who are abandoned for a summer essentially because of their mom’s illness. After the mother went into the hospital, the girls were essentially abandoned that summer because the stepfather didn’t want to hang around. The girls were on their own. If it happened nowadays, it’d be a completely different situation.

In 1959, it was a completely different situation. I think as a child, you felt that way. It wasn’t just your parents, it was the neighborhood. As the girls go about their business that summer, there’s a deep sense of that. Even though their mom is sick. [In the book there’s also a molester around] It’s a pretty scary summer for them.

A lot of the other stuff did. After my children had both taken off and gone to school, I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of a Mom was i. And what kind of a parenting did I have. That was the lifting off point for Whistling.

WN: What was your writing process like?
KAGEN: [It was a] year and half from start to finish.

I get up every morning … write from 5—10. I am not an outliner. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I go to where my computer is and hope for the best. The story as it unfolds for the reader, it unfolds for me.

Some days exciting, some times, I creep in with a lot of trepidation. It’s such an incredibly fascinating process for me.

My subconscious is still pretty active and I have easy access.

In the mean time, I’m still thinking about the book, but not very much. I have excellent shower vision and it seems like I work out a lot of problem while I’m in the shower.

WN: You worked doing voice-overs for many years. Did that career help with writing?
KAGEN: I still do voice-overs for a couple clients. I started in radio in Milwaukee in 1970, three years in Milwaukee then 15 years in LA. I did 1000s of voice overs and commercial.

During the process, right before I started to do strictly acting, I was working for … Licorice Pizza. I was writing all of their commercials and writing and voicing.

When you write copy, you cannot be too wordy. You have to get to the point quick. I think that absolutely affected my writing. I like to get to the point. I like to keep it short and sweet. I do feel that some of my copywriting experience really did help with that.

WN: Now that you are out on book tour, are you having fun? Is it interesting to you to hear how readers are reacting to your book?
KAGEN: It’s really fun.

My daughter got married… I was down in Virginia for 12 days. I did first reading at a bookstore in Richmond. It’s so cool to meet people. It’s amazing to me to meet readers. I’m pretty interested in their story.

It’s kind of surreal. Writing is such a solitary thing. I get up, nobody else is awake. You work and work and you work for years. You’re never 100 percent sure anybody’s going to like this. Of course, I like it. It’s wonderful validation for people come up and say, I really like this part.

There’s a sense of phew. Thank goodness that somebody really seems to like the book. People bring up interesting questions that I never thought about.

It makes me examine motive and structure. It’s an excellent exchange.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
KAGEN: The best part is the writing. It’s so exciting to me.

I have no plan. That can be also the worst part of writing,

The fact that I come down and I’m wondering what’s going to happen. And something does happen most days. Other days, I’m concerned.

It’s sort of a double-edged sword.

WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
KAGEN: I just completed next book. It’s called, “The Land of a Hundred Wonders.”

It’s set in Kentucky in 1973. It has a little historical component to it as well. I hope it’s good. I’m in the same situation. It’s finished at least.

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

KAGEN: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” What an impact that book had on my life. As well as the movie. I can’t put into words the impact that book made. I’d have to say “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

05 June 2007

May Bibliometer

May ended up being a bumper month for books. It's amazing how much more Word Nerd reads when she doesn't get sucked into playing computer games.

The May Bibliometer reads:
10 books

2957 pages

95.4 pages/day average

YTD totals:

33 books

9838 pages

03 June 2007

Book Banter -- Night of the Living Deb

Title: Night of the Living Deb
Author: Susan McBride
Length: 352 pages
Genre: chick-lit/mystery
Plot Basics: Debutante dropout Andrea "Andy" Kendricks is back, but her boyfriend, straight-laced defense attorney Brian Malone fails to return one evening after going to a bachelor party at a gentleman's club. When Andy gets worried about him, she learns that Brian left the club, apparently with one of the (ahem) performers, who is later found dead in the trunk of his car. Not believing her man to be a murderer, Andy sets out to find him and clear his name.
Banter Points: It's nice to find a chick-lit type murder mystery that's a) not gory, b) still worth reading and c) not full of scenes that would make a reader rethink recommending the book to her mother. It's also nice that this title works as both a continuation to the series, but a first-time reader wouldn't be lost. Andy is a spunky heroine involved in a plot that's funny and still pretty believable.
Bummer Points: The epilogue is a bit of a let-down after an otherwise good book. Somehow, Word Nerd was expecting more to happen in those page between Andy and Malone.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you are looking for something else to read in between Janet Evanovich books, check these out. Chances are, you'll like them better.

01 June 2007

Please spell: Winner!

The finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee were last night.

The world of spelling has a new champ, 13 year-old Evan O'Dorney from California, who correctly spelled "serrefine" to win the national bee.

As usual, the bee featured some doozies of words like "clevis," "genizah," "partitur," "zacate" and "girolle." (Bonus points to anyone who knows what these words mean without turning to dictionary.com or the OED).

This year's bee had 286 contestants, the greatest number of spellers in the event ever.

Pretty cool to see that many kids showing an interest in words.