25 April 2008

Book Banter -- The Learners

Title: The Learners
Author: Chip Kidd
Length: ~2250 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Plot Basics: A few years have passed since the end of Kidd's "The Cheese Monkeys." Happy, the protagonist, now goes to work for an ad agency where his beloved professor once worked. One of Happy's first jobs is to design an ad recruiting participants for an experiment run at Yale by Dr. Stanley Milgram. Happy later volunteers himself for the experiment and ends up on a journey about self-discovery and happiness and human capabilities.
Banter Points: Who all ever had to study Stanley Milgram in school and the ethics of his experiment? (Word Nerd raises her hand). This is by far the most intriguing look at this experiment Word Nerd's ever come across. Rather than just explaining what Milgram did, it delves into how the people who took it reacted to what they learned. Of course, Kidd's blend of graphic design lessons and over-the-top comedic characters helps too.
Bummer Points: The ending. Not what Word Nerd was expecting. Also, not quite as captivating as "The Cheese Monkeys."
Word Nerd Recommendation: Go pick up both "The Cheese Monkeys" and "The Learners" and see just how great of a writer Kidd is for yourself.

24 April 2008

Author Answers with Jill Davis

Word Nerd has been having trouble remember when Wednesdays are, so instead of waiting for another one to roll around, she's going to post this week's Author Answers column 6 days early (that sounds better than a day late, right?)

This week's author is Jill A. Davis, whose new book "Ask Again Later" recently hit shelves. For more info on Davis, check out her website.

WN: What was the inspiration for "Ask Again Later?"

DAVIS: I wrote a serialized novella for USA Today a few years ago called The Countdown. When I was finished writing that I really missed Emily. I had started writing other stories but I kept going back to her and feeling the story was incomplete. In the novella only her work life was written about. This is a comedy about growing up.

WN: You wrote for the Late Show with David Letterman. What's different about writing comedy compared to writing fiction? Is one harder than the other, and if so, what makes it more challenging?

DAVIS: Wait, wait. My fiction isn't comedic? Then I'm failing miserably. There are quite a few differences between writing for television and writing novels. When you write for television it has to be very short, punchy and you are writing in someone else's voice - a man's voice, in my case. As I wrote for him, I'd have to imagine him saying the words. This was excellent practice for novel writing in a way I couldn't have predicted. As you you write a novel you are constantly asking yourself "would this character really say this? would she say is this way?". Of course, a novel has a story to tell. So in that way, it's a different kind of commitment. It's less disposable than television. I love writing for TV and I love writing novels.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid? What turned you on to the idea of being a writer?

DAVIS: Huge reader. I would read and reread anything I could get my hands on. Sometimes this meant reading mom's mail - before mom read it. I would read age appropriate stuff and then I'd also read Sidney Sheldon at my grandmother's house when she wasn't looking. I can vaguely remember reading a biography of Shirley Temple when I was about 10. Whatever was on a shelf at her house was fair game. When I was a teen-ager I loved Hermann Hesse. I can remember stumbling upon him in the high school library and what struck me was that there were so many copies of his books. This was because the 4th year German students read his books as a class, but I didn't know that at the time. I was always a shy but funny kid. So the idea of expressing myself on paper somehow seemed easier than speaking. I never had a plan B, I always planned to write.

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

DAVIS: I'm working on a book now. But there are many things I'd like to do. I've love to write a play. I have an idea for novel for a young adults.

21 April 2008

The Revision Schedule

Word Nerd went through her WIP late last week to devise a plan for how to work through revisions. Tackling the 381-page manuscript seems to daunting when thinking about it all at once.

Word Nerd went through and added chapter breaks and her revision schedule roughly follows the chapters. All in all, it's 39 sections of about 8-12 pages each that she needs to tackle. Looking at revisions like this seems so much more do-able than thinking about the whole book.

To the right, you'll see new progress meters for revisions and the new "word count fluctuator." As Word Nerd revises, the total word count for the book fluctuates, so this seemed easier than always reposting the total.

With the 39 sections (3 down, 36 to go!) Word Nerd's hopeful that she'll be through the first draft by the end of May-ish. That should be cause for celebration!

17 April 2008

Book Banter -- The Gun Seller

Title: The Gun Seller
Author: Hugh Laurie
Length: 339 pages
Genre: comedy/thriller
Plot Basics: Thomas Lang is a gun-for-hire. His latest job is to kill an American industrialist, but Lang decides to warn the man instead of pulling the trigger. His refusal launches him into a James Bond-esque adventure spoof with spies, counter-spies, beautiful women, ski resorts and the dangerous world of terrorism and international arms dealing.
Banter Points: Word Nerd picked this book up solely because Hugh Laurie wrote it (and it looked interesting...) Lang finally became an interesting character about halfway through the book when the plot also twists.
Bummer Points: The first half of the book is slow and rather uninteresting. Word Nerd contemplated putting it down more than once in this period. The book is also very British and depsite what the reviewers said, it is not full of the sort of British colloquialisms that Americans love; it is full of colloquialisms this American was unfamiliar with.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Forget that Dr. House writes books. While his novel is better than a lot of celebrity writing, Laurie should stick to playing an acerbic American doctor and leave writing spoof British spy novels to somebody else.

16 April 2008

Book Banter -- Too Pretty to Die

Title: Too Pretty to Die
Author: Susan McBride
Length: ~350 pages
Genre: chick-lit/mystery
Plot Basics: Dallas debutante drop-out Andy Kendricks is dragged to a "pretty party" by her reporter-friend Janet. Pretty parties are the latest fad sweeping upper crust Dallas, replacing Tupperware with Botox and other cosmetic treatments. When Andy's old grade-school classmate, Miranda DuBois crashes a pretty party looking much worse for the cosmetic surgery wear, Andy volunteers to take her home. The next morning, Miranda is dead and while the police call it suicide, Andy just doesn't see why a former Dallas pageant winner would shuffle herself off.
Banter Points: Andy's detecting antics are top-notch again in McBride's latest offering in the Debutante Dropout series. The hilarity between her and her mother continues. And McBride keeps the whole book to to a tight time frame which is well-done and believable and prevents the action from sprawling all over.
Bummer Points: The Caviar Club plot twist seems to come out of nowhere like McBride was trying to hard for comedy and thought that scene would be funny. It's not.
Word Nerd Recommendation: On the whole, the series is good and this one is still up there, save for the Caviar Club bit.

15 April 2008

Guest Blogger -- Worderella

Word Nerd's relinquishing her post today to welcome guest blogger, Belinda Kroll, also known in the blogosphere as Worderella, the mind behind Worderella Writes.

Belinda is an historical fiction reader/writer and so Word Nerd asked her to do a post on what good historical fiction is. Here's what she has to say.

An Introduction to Historical Fiction by Belinda Kroll
"Without historical accuracy, my books would be fantasy. With only historical accuracy, they would be textbooks. For historical fiction, there must be a story, accurate in detail but brought to life through imagination and creativity."- Karen Cushman
I like to think of historical fiction as the first cousin of science fiction and fantasy, if only because all three genres depend on world-building. While science fiction and fantasy may borrow from the histories of our world, historical fiction is defined by extensive research of past eras. For many readers, historical fiction is a fun way (or only way) to learn about the past because it provides a human element to bone-dry textbook facts as the author attempts portray how life was.

The standard is any book set before 1912 (or sometimes before WWI), is considered historical, and how an author relates the historical information defines the sub-genres. There are costume dramas, where clothing defines the historical context. There are comedies of manners, where social norms define the context and provide plot twists. Historical romance has romance as the main theme with a historical context, whereas a straight historical focuses on political intrigue and may have a romance as a plot thread. War historicals rely on particular wars as the underlying theme, paranormal historicals play upon previous sensibilities about life after death... There are more sub-genres than I can ever care to list, which is the best part of historical fiction, I think.

Above all, good historical fiction will make you more interested about the time period. Good historical fiction is good literature and good history. If the author manipulates historical fact, then some historians argue the novel is no longer a straight historical. Then again, some say historical fiction is as much for historians as supernatural fiction is for ghosts, or science fiction is for physicists. One of my favorite trends from the historical fiction genre is when authors have a note at the end discussing what actually happened and why they made a time-line tweak, if they did. These author notes often come with a list of suggested reading if the reader is interested in learning more about the actual event, and for an information junkie like me, that's about the best thing an author can do.

So how do you pick a good historical fiction? I begin with Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Gaskell, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, etc., and branch out from there. Favorites in the genre are Ann Rinaldi (The Last Silk Dress, The Fifth of March, Wolf by the Ears, In My Father's House), Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring), Philip Pullman (Ruby in the Smoke), Jane Yolen (Briar Rose), Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities), Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlett Letter)...

I suggest talking to your local bookstore clerk to see what are the bestselling books in the genre, and add some of your own interests to the mix to see if there's a historical fiction book with your interest as a subplot. If you can dream it up, I'm certain some author, somewhere, did the same thing.

Belinda Kroll has a book published through Aventine Press. She writes the blog Worderella Writes at Siriomi Web Designs.

10 April 2008

A Note on the Currently Reading title

Just in case you wondered, the Hugh Laurie who wrote "The Gunseller" is the same Hugh Laurie who plays Dr. Gregory House on "House."

Apparently, he's adding fiction writing to his resume.

Word Nerd wants to see how good he is at that. Two chapters in, the verdict is still out, but it's too early, really, to tell.

03 April 2008

Book Banter -- Fighting Ruben Wolfe

Title: Fighting Ruben Wolfe
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: YA
Length: ~210 pages
Plot Basics: The Wolfe family is in financial hard times and are losing status in the community. Brothers Cameron and Ruben start boxing in an underground circuit to make money and bring a reputation back to themselves and their families. Through fighting, they learn the true cost of being brothers, having family and what the value of a name really is.
Banter Points: This is the prequel to Zusak's achingly beautiful "Getting the Girl" which also features Cameron and Ruben. Nicely, though, you don't have to read one before the other. Again, Zusak captures the frustrated poignancy of teenage thoughts and tells a wonderful story about family. The boys have great moments of astute adult insight and head-shaking moments of teenage stupidity.
Bummer Points: Word Nerd's now read everything Zusak has written. He needs to get cracking on something new, she thinks.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you have or know teenage boys, get them to read these books. If you like good books, no matter what your age, look into Zusak. He's young and likely has a long and *hopefully* prolific career in front of him.

02 April 2008

March 2008 Bibliometer

Here are the March totals for this year, which are significantly higher than last year because of Word Nerd's whole appendix adventure and recovery.

March 2008
9 books
3307 pages
107 pages/day

YTD 2008:
26 books
8431 pages

01 April 2008

Book Banter -- Death Masks

Title: Death Masks (Dresden Files bk. 5)
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: urban fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal
Length: ~370 pages
Plot Basics: Harry Dresden -- Chicago's only wizard-for-hire -- has to fight a duel, but this isn't the pistols at dawn kind of duel. Nope. He's got to go up against a major fighter for the Red Court vampires in an effort to stop a war between the Red Court and the White Court (of which Dresden is an unappreciated member). Meanwhile, he's also contacted by a rogue priest to find the stolen Shroud of Turin and hit men are taking shots at him. And his former girlfriend, Susan, is back in town still trying to deal with her near-vampirism (something else that could be blamed on Harry).
Banter Points: Butcher definitely hit his stride with this series around book 3 and each one since then has been improving. He throws everything he can think of at Dresden and forces the character to deal with it. It makes for some page-turning reads and it's fun to see character like Susan and Gentlemen Johnny Marcone come back after earlier appearances.
Bummer Points: The whole Red Court/White Court war is not Word Nerd's favorite plot point. It's getting a little convoluted and harder to remember who's on what side. Also, the Shroud of Turin? That part was a little too far flung for Word Nerd, even in a fantasy book.
Word Nerd Recommendation: This series is a must for urban fantasy/sci-fi fans.