31 December 2009

Best of 2009 -- Top Ten Books of the Year

Finally, the moment you've all been waiting for, Word Nerd's top ten list for 2009.

A few reminders on the selection process: Word Nerd decides the top ten of what she's read in the past 365 days, publication year matters not. Several of the titles or authors have popped up in the other awards posts, but hey, they do that for the Oscars and things, so Word Nerd thinks there's precedent.

So, the envelope please....

Word Nerd's Top Ten Books of 2009:

10. Cold Tangerines, Shauna Niequist (non-fiction)

9. Sandman Slim, Richard Kadrey (urban fantasy)

8. The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova (historical fiction)

7. The Poet, Michael Connelly (mystery)

6. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collines (YA)

5. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (YA)

4. Love in the Time of Fridges, Tim Scott (science fiction)

3. The Domino Men, Jonathan Barnes (science fiction)

2. The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (literary fiction)

1. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Reif Larson (literary fiction)

Top honors went to T.S. Spivet because it has pictures. Seriously. The book is so endearing because of all the doodles and maps and things in the margins. Word Nerd is a sucker for mixed media like that.

Other than the first two, most of the list is a surprise to Word Nerd. As she was compiling it, she kept thinking of titles only to discover she read those books in 2008 and already gave them an award. So, with a general criteria of "if I had unlimited time to read, which of the booksread this year would stand up to a second reading" Word Nerd combed her list and searched her reviews for ones that she prognosicated would end up in a top ten list.

Sandman Slim, Love in the Time of Fridges and Domino Men are definitely the dark horse picks for this year, particularly Domino Men ringing in at number 3. All three are bizarre, bizarre books which is why they stuck with Word Nerd. A second read would likely make them all make more sense. Hopefully.

So these are Word Nerd's picks, along with the rest of the awards for Best First Book in a Series, Best Discovered Author and Best of the Genres.

What books topped your list(s) this year?

30 December 2009

Best of 2009 -- The Best of the Genres

This year, Word Nerd is introducing a new awards category -- Best of the Genres.

Word Nerd reads gobs of genre fiction, across myriad genres (and subgenres, come to that.) While these books don't always rise to the level of a top ten, many of them are downright entertaining reads. So, starting this year, Word Nerd's opening a new category, to recognize the best in the genres that she's read in the past year. Like many awards, there will be some double winners from this category and others.

But without further delay, here are this year's Best of the Genres winners:

Fantasy -- Taltos, Steven Brust
Word Nerd's been rereading this highly entertaining series over the past year. They are all good, but Taltos is probably the best, telling Vlad's backstory is such a captivating way. It's an amazing skill that Brust has to tell the story out of chronological order and get all the pieces to line up.

Historical Fiction -- The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet, Arturo Perez-Reverte
Perez-Reverte is somewhere is Word Nerd's awards almost every year and 2009 is no exception. The fifth Captain Alatriste book exemplifies the political intrigue, romance and swashbuckling that makes the whole series so good.

Mystery -- The Poet, Michael Connelly
From her Michael Connelly jag this year, The Poet is Word Nerd's favorite so far. Finally, a realistic portrayal of what reporters are really like. Plus, a darn good mystery story in the process that kept the pages turning right up to the end.

Paranormal -- Shadowlight, Lynn Viehl
Word Nerd is a regular reader of Lynn Viehl's great blog, Paperback Writer, and through there, got introduced to her paranormal Darkyn series. Shadowlight was the first of a few spin-off series, the Kyndred, and Word Nerd's loving the new take. It's great to see the cross-over characters and the wrinkles to the already deep world Viehl has created are amazing.

Urban Fantasy -- Deathwish, Rob Thurman
Cal Leandros. Sigh. Niko Leandros. Sigh. Ok, Word Nerd will admit a bit of a literary crush on this pair of monster-slaying brothers. Thurman's use of mythology and legends is great, weaving old stories into modern-day New York. Moreover, her monsters stay scary (and her heroes are scary too sometimes, which makes for great reading).

Science Fiction -- Conspirator, C.J. Cherryh
Since Word Nerd's on this trend... Bren Cameron. Double sigh. When Cherryh's Foreigner universe series caught Word Nerd's attention back when she was in high school, Bren Cameron has been such a clear character in her mind. Once again, in the 10th volume in this universe, what it means to be human and alien is challenged, flipped over and done so with deft prose.

Young Adult -- The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
A student in the program Word Nerd works for in her day job recommended this book and wowzers, is it a doozy. Word Nerd laid awake one night worrying about the protagonist. That alone gives the book high marks for tension, pacing, plotting, character development and that sine qua non that makes a book like this special. The sequel, Catching Fire, also gets big thumbs-up.

29 December 2009

Best of 2009 -- First Book in a Series

Awards week rolls on here at Word Nerd with the next annual category -- Best First Book in a Series.

Word Nerd is a big series reader, loving the big story arcs and characters who develop over time. She is also fairly careful to not be in the middle of more than, say, seven series at the same time. 2009 has been a year of series reading, but some rereads and some that she'd already started in 2008. Nevertheless, a clear winner emerged.

For its breezy tone, fun premise and engaging characters, 2009's Best First Book in a Series for Word Nerd is... The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig.

This year's runner up for best first book was Michael Connelly's The Black Echo.

Pink Carnation won because its premise is so original. Take the Scarlet Pimpernel, make him real, and see how England and France react with their litany of flower-named spies. Intrigue and romance round out a fun read.

28 December 2009

Best of 2009 -- Best Discovered Author

Welcome to awards season at Word Nerd for 2009.

Things are starting with this first category -- Best Discovered Author. Word Nerd isn't after a new author (as in debut) here, just the best author who she started reading in 2009.

So, the first envelope please ....

The winner is Michael Connelly.

Word Nerd started reading his Harry Bosch series in February because Connelly was coming to Bouchercon as the keynote speaker and she thought she should read at least one of his books in preparation. Seven books later, she is a definite fan and will continue reading through his backlist.

21 December 2009

Book Banter -- Red Blooded Murder

Title: Red Blooded Murder (Izzy McNeil bk 2)

Author: Laura Caldwell

Genre: mystery

Length: 453 pages

Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Izzy is trying to piece her life back together after her former boss was murder, her former fiancee implicated and her former law office fired her. She's still moonlighting for PI John Mayburn when she gets offered a job as a reporter for the brand-new Trial TV. But when Trial TV's star anchor ends up dead, Izzy is suspect number one. Desperate to prove her innocence, Izzy puts herself and many of her already floundering relationships in danger to clear her name.

Banter Points: Amazingly, this book is WAY better than the first one. Often, series have the second book slump, but not here. Izzy lost a lot in the first book, but in this book, the stakes feel higher, that losing any more will be a real problem for her life. Moreover, the whole plot was tighter and kept Word Nerd guessing about the real identity of the murdered the whole time.

Bummer Points: Like the first one, the book was too long. 453 pages for an almost-chick-lit mystery just feels too much. The problem is the subplot. Again, it was good and provided needed comic relief. But on the other hand, it just made things wordy.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Easy read, albeit with a bit of a commitment given the length. Word Nerd will read the last one of the Izzy books out so far.

15 December 2009

Book Banter -- Out at Night

Title: Out at Night

Author: Susan Arnout Smith

Genre: mystery/thriller

Length: 293 pages

Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Authors on the Web review copy

Plot Basics: Crime tech Grace Descano is called into a hotbed case by her FBI agent uncle -- uncovering the truth about the brutal murder of a professor in a field of genetically modified soybeans -- right before a big agriculture conference. Protestors abound and tempers are high about the modified seeds, leading to plenty of suspects, even within Grace's own family. As as radical environmental group plans a major act of terrorism, only Grace can stop it and save thousands of lives.

Banter Points: The whole premise of this book -- genetically modified food and ecoterrorism -- was what kept Word Nerd reading. It was clear that Smith had done her homework on this topic, but not to the point of overwhelming readers with science. She put enough info to make it more than a little creepy to think about what could be (or is) going on in the food industry.

Bummer Points: This book needed another pass by a copy editor. The number of typos that made it through was astounding, from characters names being misspelled to many sets of missing quotation marks. Also, this is a sequel and Word Nerd felt like there was a lot about Grace Descano that she should have known from book one and didn't. Word Nerd didn't really like Grace, as a character, because she let the people in her life walk all over her. Smith tried to make her a 3D character with a subplot involving her daughter and her ex-guy (never clear if they were married or not), but it just took away from the good thriller plot and made Grace seem less strong as a character.

Word Nerd Recommendation: It was an OK read, but she's not going into the library stacks to find the first one.

14 December 2009

Book Banter -- Coop

Title: Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting

Author: Michael Perry

Length: ~300 pages

Genre: nonfiction/memoir

Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Perry continues to entertain with his life story. After Population 485 and Truck, Perry is now taking on family duties. He's married, gained a daughter and has a new baby on the way. Perry decided to take up some simple farming -- including getting pigs and chickens to help feed his growing family. As Perry shares, his plans for building things -- in this case, a grand chicken coop -- often exceed his abilities. Perry's story of the chickens is interwoven with humorous insights into life and poignant stories.

Banter Points: Word Nerd thorougly enjoyed Perry's latest book, taking her back to her few years in Wisconsin. While she never lived as far north as Perry, some of the general culture was the same and it was fun to reminisce while reading. As always, he had some absolutely phenomenal catch-your-breath sentences. More than once, Word Nerd either laughed aloud or reached for her Kleenex box, because it's that kind of book. Even though Word Nerd is not a father, not a farmer, never been an EMT, doesn't have foster siblings and so much else that Perry talks about, the book is accessible to all kinds of readers.

Bummer Points: It'll be a few more years before Perry has another book.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Anyone who wants a good glimpse at life in rural Midwest needs to read Perry.

11 December 2009

Book Banter -- Red Hot Lies

Title: Red Hot Lies

Author: Laura Caldwell

Genre: mystery

Length: ~400 pages

Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Izzy McNeil is an up-and-coming Chicago attorney for whom life seems to be going well -- the boss likes her, she's got a great assistant, and she's planning her wedding to a great guy. Until, the boss ends up dead and shares of his stock are taken by her fiance, pointing all fingers to him as the prime suspect. Izzy is determined to clear her fiance's name and in trying to solve the crime, she just may dismantle her entire life.

Banter Points: Word Nerd heard Caldwell at a Bouchercon panel and thought it would be fun to check out her latest books. Izzy is a fun character, very realistic, right down to her Vespa scooter. While she had a socialite mother, it was nice to read a protagonist who felt more like somebody Word Nerd could actually know.

Bummer Points: This was a long book. Too long, in Word Nerd's opinion, for what the storyline and/or genre called for. There was a subplot that took up lots of the story and pulled the action away from the story about Izzy's fiance. Problem was, the subplot was actually the better storyline.

Word Nerd Recommendation: There are two more Izzy McNeil books and Word Nerd's got the next one checked out from the library. She's not sold on the series, but she's not giving up yet either.

10 December 2009

Author Answers with Brad Parks

Word Nerd welcomes new author Brad Parks to the blog today. Parks is a recovering journalist who has also turned to writing novels.

His first book, Faces of the Gone, came out earlier this week.

WORD NERD: With the number of mystery books out there, why should someone pick up yours? What is a reader going to like about it?

PARKS: Word Nerd, were you somehow spying on my anxiety dream last night? You know the one: I’m in the Barnes & Noble and there’s my little book, spine out on the mystery shelf, way in the back of the store, quivering in the imposing shadow created by the mountain of Sarah Palin and Stephen King books up front. And no one is even looking at my book. Then suddenly this lady who sort of looks like my eighth grade English teacher is asking her daughter, who sort of looks like my high school girlfriend, “What do you think Daddy wants for Christmas?” And I’m trying to shout, “Mrs. Meyer! It’s me, Bradley Parks! The short, fat kid who nearly had to repeat eighth grade because he couldn’t diagram sentences! Look, I’m all tall and thin now and I wrote a book! It makes a great Christmas present!” But, of course, it’s a dream, so I can’t get the words out. I suppose if I was more in control of my dreams, I’d just – ALERT: blatant self-promotion incoming! – hand Mrs. Meyer the starred review I got in Library Journal, which called FACES OF THE GONE, “the most hilariously funny and deadly serious mystery debut since Janet Evanovich's One for the Money.” And then I’d say, “See, I told you diagramming sentences was pointless.”

WN: People say "Write what you know." Clearly, you took your background in journalism to create your protagonist, Carter Ross, but the book is fiction, so you had to make some things up. How do you walk that line between keeping it real and creative license?

PARKS: I’ve been in the midst of an evolution – maybe even a revolution – on this subject. Because, as a journalist, I was loathe to make up anything at first. It’s such an anathema to my training as a reporter, and nearly everything from FACES OF THE GONE was the product of my experience rather than my imagination. But I’ve now written two more Carter Ross books – the second one is under contract and I hope the third one will be under contract soon – and I find I give myself a little more license with each one. I guess the main thing is that no matter where your material is coming from – an old reporter’s notebook or the depths of your soul – it has to pass the smell test. People have to feel like what they’re reading is plausible. So, for me, that’s the line. If I write it and feels real, I keep it. If I write it and it smells like low tide at the docks, I toss it.

WN: When you go to things like Bouchercon, do you have "fan boy" moments when you realize you're in the same room with other writers who you admire? What's your strategy for playing it cool?

PARKS: Oh, man, I don’t. Can I share my biggest fan boy moment from Bouchercon this year? Are you ready for this? You might want to sit down. Okay, here goes: I got Lee Child a Coke! It’s true! This was Saturday night, after the Reacher Feature party where you and I met, and I was back at the Hyatt bar. I was chatting with Rae Helmsworth, a lovely woman and the chair of Bouchercon 2010, and my website designer, the incomparable Maddee James (http://www.xuni.com/), who also does work for Lee. And the next thing I realize, I’m sitting at the same table as Lee Child. Now, Lee is a great guy – tremendous writer, gracious gentleman, all that stuff – and he’s also a huge Yankees fan. And on that Saturday night, the Yankees were locked in an epic, extra-inning game in the American League Championship Series. Now, I’m a former sportswriter. I can talk sports with anyone, right? And I think what saved me doing anything truly embarrassing – like asking him to sign my bosom – is that we were watching sports. Anyway, somewhere around the bottom of the 11th, I calmly say, “Hey, Lee, I’m going to the bar. You need anything?” And he says, “Yeah, would you get me a Coke?” So I got Lee Child a Coke. Been bragging about it ever since.

WN: Which of your secondary characters is your favorite and why? (C'mon, it's the cat, right?)

PARKS: I’m sensing Deadline the Cat might be your favorite, so I won’t disabuse you of the notion he’s my favorite. But, uh, you know he, uh, might just, uh… well, I don’t want to toss out any spoilers, but let’s say things get a little dicey for Deadline in FACES OF THE GONE. I guess you’ll just have to read to see if he makes it.

WN: You're a family man in addition to being an author. How do they respond to you writing?

PARKS: My son is 2 ½. When you ask him what Daddy does for work, he replies, “Daddy is auffer.” So he’s starting to get it, which is fun. My daughter just turned one and is probably my biggest fan. She literally drools over my work.

WN: The stereotypical journalist/writer is the chain-smoking, coffee-swilling, sometimes-foul-mouthed guy. How many of these things are true of you? And how many for Carter?

PARKS: I don’t smoke and neither does Carter. I don’t drink coffee and neither does Carter (we’re both Coke Zero addicts). The swearing? Well, I’m working on it. There was an, ahem, incident shortly after my son turned 2. My wife and I were driving along and suddenly from the backseat my son blurts out, “Jesus Christ f--k.” After that, we instituted a cuss jar: A buck a swear. So I’m cutting back. As for Carter’s language, my agent, Jeanne Forte Dube, and I had a come-to-Jesus moment about that not long ago. In the original draft of FACES OF THE GONE, I used the f-word 120 times and the s-word 116 times. I mean, the book is set on the streets of Newark, New Jersey (where people swear a lot) and in a newspaper newsroom (where they swear even more). But my agent made this point: No one picks up a book and makes sure the f-word is in it before buying it, but there are people who absolutely won’t buy a book that has profanity. I’m trying to reach as broad an audience as possible, so I used the word search function and spent several hours excising the swear words from the manuscript. All 336 of them. And, you know what? Other than perhaps the odd motherf---er – which really has no exact synonym, and is therefore difficult to replace – I don’t miss the profanity a bit.

WN: When you are writing, what's the biggest time-waster you find yourself distracted by?

PARKS: The Internet in general, Twitter and Facebook in particular, my e-mail, cobwebs, the need to urinate, unpaid bills, unwashed dishes, unopened mail, sweaters that are too itchy and require changing, unwanted nose hair that requires trimming, magazines, books, Kindle, that thing in the refrigerator I meant to throw away, Scrabulous (circa 2008), fantasy sports, swimming, jogging, breathing. So, yeah, I’m pretty easily distracted. Lately, I find myself writing at Hardees, which might be the last place in America that doesn’t have wireless Internet – PLUS, free refills on Coke Zero. It’s writer heaven.

WN: What's the best thing you've read in the past year and why would you recommend it to someone else?

PARKS: I’m a writer, which means I’m bad at math. So while you asked for one book, I’m going to give you three. And I’m going to leave New York Times Bestselling authors out of it, because they don’t need my help. First is A BAD DAY FOR SORRY by Sophie Littlefield. She invented an absolutely marvelous protagonist – Stella Hardesty, the vigilante sewing machine ship owner who terrorizes abusive husbands and boyfriends – and wrote her with a dead-on, middle-of-Missouri voice that I and other readers have found enchanting. Next I’d go with STARVATION LAKE by Bryan Gruley. He’s a fellow newspaperman and he has what we in the journalism business like to call “heavy fingers” – the man can just flat-out write. And as a former sportswriter, I can say with some authority he writes hockey scenes as well as anyone I’ve ever read. Finally, I recently discovered Sean Chercover (in the same way Columbus “discovered” America, I suppose… don’t worry, Sean, I have no animosity against your native peoples). BAD BLOOD, BIG CITY has everything you’d ever want in a P.I. Novel and I’ve already got TRIGGER CITY loaded on my Kindle and ready to go. Can’t wait.

For more, sign up for Brad’s newsletter at www.BradParksBooks.com, follow @Brad_Parks on Twitter (www.twitter.com/brad_parks), or become a fan of Brad Parks Books on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Brad-Parks-Books/137190195628).

09 December 2009

November 2009 Bibliometer

It's bibliometer time again.

The second half of 2009 has been much smaller on the reading total, and Word Nerd's OK with this. She's still reading, but not at the same pace.

So, for November:
5 books
2092 pages
69 pages/day

81 books
27,509 pages

Coming soon in December, Word Nerd's "Best of" awards for the year -- including best discovered author, best first in a series and her top 10 list!

07 December 2009

NaNo Excerpt

As promised, here's an excerpt from my NaNo 2009. This is most of chapter three. Chapter 1 features a house fire and chapter 2, a visit to a strange lawyer's office. Now, in chapter 3, Ainsley, the protagonist, is trying to shake off the experience in chapter 2 with a night on the town.

It's gone through, at least, a cursory polish, but any mistakes (spelling, grammar, punctuation, or just lousy word choice) are entirely my fault.

There was, I decided after a glorious steak dinner alone and now two yummy martinis my new friend Geoff – Geoff with a G, he’d told me – a serious flaw with Kate’s plan. I was feeling good, but beyond the vodka haze, I knew it was just the booze and not an upturn on life. Geoff had his own plan, that I’d go somewhere with him, but there was a serious flaw with his plan too.

“Look,” he said leaning over on the high-backed couch-booth-thing where we sat at the martini bar. He twisted his watch toward me. “11:11 p.m. Isn’t that great?”

For every martini I’d had, he’d outpaced me with at least one whiskey chaser.

“Swell,” I replied. Ainsley, I told myself, who says “swell” anymore?

I leaned back in my chair, trying to keep my head attached to my shoulders and not let it get away with that floaty feeling I got after two martinis.

Turning to my right, I saw a clock rimmed in a blue neon light hanging over the bar. The minute hand slid from 11:10 to 11:11 with a tick that sounded to me like thunder.

The blue neon edge of the clock pulsed once, like a languorous heartbeat. I could hear the sweep of the second hand, brushing though each second effortlessly. Life was present in the space between the seconds, a primal feeling of possibility and things being called forth from nothing, from imagination. This life-giving force resonated in my being, to the deepest matter of my cells. To me, it felt like an eon.

The second hand finished its upward sweep and the clock moved to 11:12.

“—the whole point of it, right?” Geoff asked. He looked at me for whatever kind of pithy response I was sure to have.

I mumbled some kind of response, half-hearted and stupid. I was still vitally aware of the past moment.

I’d never felt anything like that before in my life. I’d read plenty of accounts of strange happenings – my roommate in college was obsessed with things like alien abductions and the 11:11 phenomenon. I’d read them all with the same disinterest I’d read my economics textbook, that they were things that occurred, but that had no bearing on my life. The odd parts of our world, the unexplainable happened to other people.

I wasn’t surprised I encountered it today. Today was just too weird all the way around. I double-checked my watch just to ensure I hadn’t lost any time, like some sort of X-Files symptom. It said 11:13 now, just like it should.

“Are you alright?” Geoff asked. He put a concerned hand on my arm. Smooth, I thought.

When he asked, though, I realized I wasn’t all right. Not entirely, at least. My senses felt hyper-aware, the way they did when I had to cover an emergency, sucking in every detail. I could smell the regular bar smell, the yeast and hops and the more subtle liquors, but also the wood polish for the bar, and the cleaner rubbed over the tables. I could hear the hum of the underbar refrigerators. Taste the cigarette smoke still in the air, even though it had been a nonsmoking establishment for a number of years now. Beneath my fingers, the wood of the old table still shimmered with a life, though the tree itself was long dead.

I was, I determined, more than all right. I was aware. Of everything.

Geoff’s hand, my jeans, how the alcohol in my system was changing my responses. The flicker of the lights. The conversation three tables over. All of it was vivid and accessible to me.
This was true information overload. My brain couldn’t work fast enough to process everything it was taking in.

I shut my eyes. The darkness helped some, but not enough. While it blocked out the visual assault from the room, I could still sense all the rest. The awareness felt like it was deeper than just my senses, like it was in my blood. Even my watch, ticking against the vein in my wrist, echoed through my whole body.

If I wasn’t so aware, I would have thought Geoff roofied me. I knew from reporting about a spate of the drug that these were not the symptoms.

“Ainsley?” Geoff asked again, sounding less drunk than he had a few minutes ago.

My eyes fluttered open. “I need to go,” I said. I could only hope that the dark and quiet of my hotel room would help bring this feeling under control. And if I could sleep off what I’d drunk.

I gathered up my bag and my jacket and got to my feet. As soon as I stood, the room gave one lazy spin and I tottered.

“Let me walk you to your car,” Geoff offered, putting a hand under my elbow. “Or call you a cab.”

I waved off his help, the room righting itself. “The walk would be good. Some air.”

Geoff followed me out of the bar. As soon as I was outside, I breathed in deep lungful of the cold, winter night air. It seared going down, feeling like I was coating my insides with frost.

The air tasted like snow and freezing and truck exhaust and the hotdog stand set up down the block. Around me, I saw the blinking of traffic signals and the sheen of car-lights. The hyper-awareness was not any better outside.

Like in any big city, I had to park at least five blocks from my destination. I set off at a good clip down the sidewalk. I heard each of my own footsteps. And Geoff’s. I looked behind me to see that he was wearing some kind of soft-soled shoe that shouldn’t make noise. Nevertheless, I could hear each of his steps as he tried to keep up with my fast-paced stride.

“Where’s your car?” he asked.

I told him the intersection near the empty street space where I’d wiggled my rental Toyota.

“Wait,” he called. “It’s faster if we cut through here.” Geoff pointed at an alley running between two of the city’s tallest office buildings.

Tromping through an alley in any city was not highly rated in Ainsley’s best ideas ever, but I wanted to be home. The hotel room would have to do. Burrowed under the covers, where I couldn’t feel like this.

The alley wasn’t all that bad, I thought, looking again. Security lights brightened most of it and I didn’t hear anything scuttling around. I could see straight through to the next main street over. Geoff trotted a few steps in, stamping his feet against the cold and beckoned for me.

I supposed he could try to get friendly in there, but it took two to tango and right now, it was way too cold. I gave a wistful glance at the main street with its glowing street lights – its buzzing, glowing storefronts and traffic lights – and followed Geoff down the alley.

When we were about one-quarter of the way in, I heard another set of footsteps. Inside my coat pocket, I crossed my fingers and hoped that it was just a homeless guy hoping for a handout. But then there was another set, and another.

My stomach dropped toward my shoes. I took ahold of Geoff’s arm and whispered toward his ear. “I think we’re being followed.”

He gave a quick glance over his shoulder. “I thought that weirdo convention was next weekend,” he said.

Unable to help myself, I looked back as well.

The end of the alley we’d come from was blocked by three figures, make that four. They were dressed in some kind of robe, with cowls or hoods pulled up around their faces. Poking out from the bottoms of their pants were metallic colored pants and black booted feet.

“Who are you guys? Devo dressed up as Dementors?” Geoff taunted.

“Not helping,” I hissed at him.

The four figures advanced. Other than their footsteps I couldn’t sense anything else about them. Next to me, I could hear Geoff’s heart-rate increase, smell his beer-laced sweat and the tinge of adrenaline beginning to pump through his system. I could feel my own pulse, matching the ticking of the watch at my wrist.

This was bad, I knew, that these four were blank in my otherwise highly-tuned Spidey senses. Their chests didn’t rise and fall with breath. I caught no trace of a pulse.

I tugged on Geoff’s arm, pulling him backward deeper into the alley.

The four figures advanced as well, faster than we were retreating.

“What do you want?” Geoff shouted. “I’m calling the police.” He brandished his cell phone at them. It was off, I noticed.

They took another few steps forward. Even though Geoff’s phone was off, it gave a sick whirring noise, then sparks jumped from around the edges. Geoff yelped and dropped it in a puddle. One of the four robed guys raised what should have been an arm, but looked more like a tentacle, toward it and the phone was enveloped in a bright flash like a magnesium fire.

Geoff shoved me behind him, a gesture of chivalry that seemed completely irrelevant to me. “I don’t have much money,” he held up his hands, palms out. “What I’ve got is yours. Let me get my wallet.”

They came a few more steps closer. Geoff smelled more now of panic and fear. They smelled of nothing.

“C’mon guys,” Geoff tried again. “No police. Let’s just all be civil here.”

One of the four raised its head. From underneath the cowl, I heard something that seemed like language, but nothing I could understand. It looked at me, ignoring Geoff. It had no true eyes, just two even darker pits in the shadows of its hood.

“Ainsley Doran,” it said.

“Oh shit,” I breathed.

They took another step closer and we ran. They came after us, faster than seemed possible. One reached out a tentacle-arm and Geoff yelled. I saw red dripping from his shoulder, but he continued to run.

I was a few steps ahead of Geoff, since he’d tried to be gallant and move me out of danger. I wasn’t much of a runner, but fear does amazing things for a person.

I pushed whatever energy I had into my legs, ignoring the painful rubbing of my feet in my boots. My life right now, blisters tomorrow.

Behind me, I heard another shout of pain from Geoff, then a full out scream. I risked a quick look. One of the robed guys was on Geoff’s back, pulling him down. I stopped running.

It was like a Nature special, the pack of lions bringing down a giraffe. The robed guys lifted Geoff off his feet and then all I could see was robes swirling. Geoff screamed, the sound echoing in my ears, pain and terror. And then silence, as rivulets of blood streamed past their feet.

I let out a small whimper and one of the figures turned in my direction.

It raised a tentacle in my direction and I felt a sting across my cheek. I touched the spot with my fingers and found a bleeding cut, like a deep lash mark.

Without thinking or waiting any longer, I ran full out to my car. I didn’t hear any signs of pursuit, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of nothingness that surrounded the robed guys.

I burst from the end of the alley and slammed into a wall of sensations from the city street. It made me disoriented and I lost precious seconds trying to get my bearings. From the alley, I heard the sound of footfalls again. I whirled in a circle, attempting to locate my car.

“Give me your keys!” shouted a familiar voice off to my left.

Standing next to my Toyota was Rémi, the butler fromTulio di Lorenzo’s house.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I demanded.

“Answers later, Ainsley,” Ibsen VanderVeld (or VanderVelde) said, emerging from a recessed doorway to my left. “Ordinary blood will not sate them for long.”

“Who are you people?” I demanded again. I clutched my keys in my hand, the way we were shown in a personal safety class I took in college. I wasn’t going to be carted off by this group of wackos after escaping from those robed guys.

“C’mon!” Rémi shouted. “Your keys.”

“Hey!” I shouted to the street at large. “Some help here!”

From across the street, two other men approached. One wore a trenchcoat and looked vaguely like Columbo. The other was bald, his eyes lost behind the reflection of sodium lights on his glasses. None of the city’s other denizens stopped or even looked at me.

“Hey!” I shouted at the two men.

The guy in the trenchcoat ran over toward Ibsen, both taking up defensive postures at the end of the alley. Postures like they were ready for a fight.

The other man came up to me. “This is the best help I can offer,” he said to me.

I jerked back, but he was quicker. He grabbed me around the waist and with his other hand, put his thumb and first two fingers on my face like a Vulcan mind meld. I smelled salty ocean air, then the overwhelming sensations left me and in their place, blackness rushed in.

04 December 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009 Reflections

November is, thankfully, over and with it National Novel Writing Month 2009.

I should probably not say "never" because one never knows, but my first reaction is to say "I will never do NaNo again."

Let me back up and explain:
1. I won this year, my final NaNo word count clocking in at 50,045 words. That count left me in the middle of a scene. Literally.
2. In November, I read only four or five books (way below my normal 7 or 8) because I couldnt' do both. Frankly, I missed reading.
3. I let lots of stuff slide this month. Chores. Hanging out with friends. Volunteering.
4. More days than not, I ended up in physical pain from the number of hours I spent typing away. My chair is ergonomic and all that, but that much sitting and typing at a stretch is just too much.

So, here's where my thinking is. I won NaNo, but quite frankly, I was sure I was going to. I don't mean that to sound arrogant at all, but I know me. I don't set goals willy-nilly; I don't start things I can't finish (unless of course you count the times I've tried to read The Three Musketeers... then, well, that's different...)

I've written 50,000 words before. While I'm still working on the getting published part, I know that I can sit down and write a story with a beginning, middle and an end. And one that has a plot.

The problem I had with NaNo honestly was the no revising thing. I've mostly been a write it all the way through till it's done girl, but this time, I saw a big thing I wanted to change in the early chapters when I was about halfway through. It means I need to take some things away, and add some others. It was frustrating to not be able to make those changes right then when I needed to. Granted, I made them in my head and proceeded as if the early chapters were corrected. But still.

Conversely, I had a couple days where, because of the pace which made it so I couldn't think about it too much, things happened that were unexpected and I think, damn cool. Or if not cool, usable for the plot. Kind of nice to have to be that free in the creative process.

I wouldn't warn someone off from NaNo in the future, but I would want them to think about what their goals for it are. Is it really to write just that much quantity? Is it to play with ideas and see where they lead? Is it try to write something that will end up publishable? If it's that last one, I would definitely make sure they understand the vast, vast quantities of work to come. My editing machete will have to be used on a couple scenes (they were boring come out, so I know they will be boring to read...)

The NaNo story is not done, so I'll be back at it next week for sure. I'm not wasting these 50,000 words and the time I put in.

In the meantime, as compensation (meager, meager compensation) for all my posts about NaNo, I will post a small excerpt from mine on Monday. Happy reading.

02 December 2009

Book Banter -- The Time Traveler's Wife

Title: The Time Traveler's Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Length: 536 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Clare Abshire and Henry DeTamble carry on an evocative romance that spans decades. Henry is a time traveler and is part of Clare's life since she was a little girl. As adults, they must deal with the danger and the heartache of his disappearances and the consequences are felt for years.
Banter Points: Word Nerd knows she's way behind the times (yes, pun intended here) on this one. Finally finding a copy of this on the shelf, she snatched it up to read it over Thanksgiving break. As she posted earlier, this book is like eating steak -- rich and delicious. The story is entirely captivating and Henry DeTamble may be one of Word Nerd's favorite new characters, quirky as he is. Niffenegger's voice and use of language is phenomenal through the book. Also, Word Nerd's astounded at the talent it must have taken tot weave all the different scenes in different decades together to make a whole narrative.
Bummer Points: A reading buddy of Word Nerd's says she needs to reread the book again in 6 months to really appreciate it fully. Word Nerd's not sure she's got time for that in the TBR pile...
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you're like Word Nerd and have missed this book, it should rocket to the front of your TBR list. If you've already enjoyed it, then Word Nerd joins you in the group of people who understand what the big deal is.

30 November 2009

Winner winner, chicken dinner

Yep. It's done. All 50,045 words of it.
I think my fingers are going to fall off now.

25 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Word Nerd wishes you all a Happy Thanksgiving and will be back on Monday.

23 November 2009

This is like steak

Lately, Word Nerd's been reading lots of genre fiction.

Not that there's anything wrong with genre fiction, mind you. Some of its super and some of it is a little less filling and some is just plain brain candy.

Realizing that she's been deprived of reading anything in that literary fiction category for a while, Word Nerd launched into Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife this weekend. (Yep, she's a little behind...)

Wow. Comparatively, this book is like steak. Word Nerd doesn't actually want a steady diet of this, but every so often, it's good to sink into a read where the words are chewy and savory.

It's been hard not to devour the whole thing in the weekend. Word Nerd's tried to pace herself and so far is about halfway through.

But wow. Henry DeTamble may be one of her new favorite characters.

20 November 2009

Book Banter -- Echo Burning

Title: Echo Burning (Jack Reacher, bk. 5)
Author: Lee Child
Length: ~370 pages
Genre: mystery
Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Jack Reacher is hitch-hiking his way across Texas when he's picked up by a woman with a plan -- she wants Reacher to kill her abusive husband. As the temperatue in desolate west Texas rises, Reacher finds himself embroiled in her plans, despite his insistence that he wants nothing to do with it.

Banter Points: Like any good storm, this book builds and builds until the pressure boils over and races to a climactic finish.

Bummer Points: The book builds, but Word Nerd found much of it very slow, until the race through the last 100 pages. While Word Nerd likes Reacher (still not sure she'd want to meet him since crazy things happen when he's around), this one just wasn't as good as other ones. It was good solid hit in the Reacher line-up, but no home-run.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Read it if you're a Reacher fan, but this isn't the place to jump into the middle of the series.

19 November 2009

Varied Voices: Susan Arnout Smith

This week's guest blogger is Susan Arnout Smith, whose new book Out at Night just recently hit shelves. In her column today, she talks about the genesis for this new book.

(Un)comforting Food by Susan Arnout Smith

When I was growing up, often eating dinner was an anxious affair.

It’s what we did as a family at the end of a long day being apart. It’s where tempers flared, wars were fought. There were snipings, direct attacks, curve balls. And then we lunged at the butter, scooped extra servings of mashed potatoes and hunkered down for round two.

The food, always, was excellent, (my mother was a home economics teacher), but because of the uncertainty, because safety was never a given, meals were eaten hurriedly, and under stress.

We never knew if this was the meal where everything would be relaxed and cheerful, or the meal where something unexpected and fearful would come for us out of a dark place, galloping toward us with metal hooves and snapping teeth.

I know this wasn’t my parents’ intention. But it was the truth of our lives.

The table is where I learned to lie well for my own protection, to cover my feelings, and yes, to eat, even if I’d stopped long ago tasting the food or feeling hunger. It’s where I learned to hang on until dessert.

Some days I was lucky. Some days I was supremely not.

When I was thinking about writing Out at Night, my second thriller, (after writing The Timer Game, Minotaur, 2008), I thought about food and how this source of comfort and nurturing—much like a family—can be twisted into something dark and anxiety-provoking.

Perfect country for bad things. Perfect metaphor for genetically modified crops. Once an element has been added, it’s impossible to ever take it back. Not completely.

Now hunger is a terrible thing with a terrible human cost and face. It’s true that good has come from genetically modified crops: in the lab, scientists have created seeds that are drought resistant, weed resistant and even some—like Golden Rice genetically modified to carry Vitamin A, (funded by Bill and Melinda Gates)—will significantly improve the lives of children in Third World countries and prevent blindness.

It’s also true that scientists are combining genes from different organisms (translation: taking genes from humans and adding them to plants), to produce crops that will produce vaccines for AIDs and Hep B, or create insulin or help clot blood or inhibit diarrhea.

But what if you don’t want to eat a plant that produces a human gene to help clot blood? What if your blood works just fine, thank you very much, and actually you need a little aspirin every once in awhile to thin things out. What then?

Michael Fernandez, in a PEW initiative on Food and Biotechnology, makes the point that there’s no worldwide uniform standard about what constitutes seed purity. In the US, producers are required only to reveal how much of something not-seed is mixed in with that labeled seed. I take that to mean they’re not required, from the sounds of it, to disclose what that not-seed actually is. In all fairness to the producers, they might not know.

In 2005 in the UK, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs released a study that GM crops contaminate the countryside for up to fifteen years after being harvested. The study examined five locations across England and Scotland, sites not currently growing GM oilseed rape. They found ‘significant amounts’ of GM crops still there, growing willy-nilly mixed in with the new non-GM crops.

And there’s wind drift. When I was signing Out at Night on the island of Kona, I met wonderful organic coffee growers worried about this very thing. The organic papaya crops recently had been contaminated with pollen from GM papaya crops.

And the entire organic papaya crop had to be destroyed. Can you imagine, if that was your family’s harvest, your family’s work and sweat in the sun and dreaming hope of a payday, what that seemingly innocuous GM pollen drift had cost?

Sometimes even hungry countries turn back our non GM food, (we’re the world’s leading producer of GM crops), fearing contamination. That happened in 2002 when Zimbabwe refused an aid shipment of grain from the US. From where I sit, things have to be pretty serious before a starving country turns back food because it fears what it holds.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about what happens when you eat it.

In 2008, the Austrian government released results of a 20-week study. Results that confirmed that GM corn directly affected reproductive health in mice. The results were so startling (things died), that now there’s a serious and vocal push in Austria to immediately ban all GM goods and crops to protect the fertility of women around the world.

The Russians just completed a similar study at the Russian Academy. With similar results. Over half the off-spring of lab rats fed GM crops died within the first three weeks of life. And all the GM off-spring in the preliminary results were sterile.

The UK’s been worried about the cost of GM to health ever since one of their leading scientists, Arpad Puztai, went on British television in 1998 with word that biotech food stunted the growth of rats.

There’s rats. And then there’s us.

Inventive, creative problem solvers, working to eliminate drought and poverty and famine. Hopeful. Anxious.


William Neuman, in The New York Times, writes in an article August 29th about a move in the US to test and label products to identify them as being mostly biotech free. They do this already in the UK and have for some time. In order to get a ‘butterfly checkmark’ of approval, processed foods here will have to contain no more than 0.9 percent genetically modified material.

And so we live with percentages. In our food. In our lives.

The question is and always has been, at every meal, every moment, what dark thing is waiting to come inside?

17 November 2009

Book Banter -- Shadowlight

Title: Shadowlight
Author: Lynn Viehl
Genre: paranormal romance
Length: 311 pages
Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Jessa has a unique ability, to tell the truth about people and see their secrets by touching them. When her ability has brought her in contact with criminals, she's been quietly alerting the authorities. But her ability has caught the attention of not just the government, but a group of genetic researchers who want to use her DNA to replicate the effect and another shadow group who wants to protect her. Gavin Mathias ends up abducting her to keep her safe, Jessa discovers that she's can't read him. Yet a dangerous man threatens them both as he relentlessly pursues Jessa for her talent.
Banter Points: Viehl's books are one of Word Nerd's brain candy reads. Yes, they are romance, but there is a plot -- and a good one -- to back it up. Shadowlight builds on Viehl's Darkyn books and it's neat to see this spinoff series. Having read the Darkyn books is good, but not necessary to get into these. Not to spoil things too much, but it's a great intersection of science and superhero power and (ahem) vampires in her rich alternate world.
Bummer Points: Word Nerd still has an admitted problem with romance books and the whole romantic suspense genre and that's that mid-plot, when the bad guys are closing in, the alpha male and the heroine have an overwhelming desire to rip each others clothes off for a chapter and engage in some horizontal mambo-ing. Viehl makes it work better than some, but it's just difficult for Word Nerd to suspend her disbelief there. Vampires? Genetic alterations? No problem. Sex while on the run from bad guys? Really?
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you're looking for a Pultizer Prize winner, this isn't it. But, if you want something fluffy and fun, this is a good choice. Especially a good choice for people who liked early Anita Blake style books.

16 November 2009

Where I'm at, writing-wise

The word count meter got an update this morning.

I'm hovering just under 30K words and it's telling me I'm 60% done with NaNoWriMo.

60 percent, as all you math whizzes know, is less than 100 percent. The next 20K words feel very daunting. This week is not a good one for writing.

I had a great session yesterday and then this morning it was very Monday. My word count for today so far is just over 1K and my guess is in an edit, a lot of those 1K words will get changed. Or deleted.

Week three feels like this will be the challenge.

13 November 2009

And that's 25K words (or, who let my protagonist drive today?)

I crossed the magical 25K mark for NaNo this morning, two days before the actual halfway point of the month.

I've been pushing the pace, more like 2K words a day and sometimes more than that. I've been trying to bank words, what with holidays and meetings and the chaos of my calendar in the next two weeks.

This morning, something interesting happened.

Maybe subconsciously, I knew characters were heading in a different direction but all of a sudden. BAM! Things are happening and all I could do was keep typing.

I generally hate it when authors talk about characters doing that because it seems so false to me. Really?, I think. They really do that and you end up with this wonderful product. I doubt it. You probably had your hand on the wheel, white-knuckling it the whole time.

White knuckles are right. I was white-knuckled for a little while this morning because I was just trying to hang on and keep some control. My brain is working over time, neurons firing, with oooh, now that I've done this, that can happen in the next chapter instead of later.

Let me put one thing straight: My characters didn't truly hijack things this morning. What they did, was act in an unexpected way, but one that's not outside the realm of their personas. Part of it comes from putting characters in conflict --when someone is stressed they act differently. People ignore the warning signs in their own heads. So while I as the author hadn't thought of what happened this morning, exactly, I had created the set of circumstances that let them act how they did.

Once I got over my initial reaction -- No Way! No Way! No Way! -- and let the scene flow and happen and develop, I decided it was a good thing.

And it helped me get over the 25K hump.

Maybe I need to say "thanks" to my protagonist.

12 November 2009

Varied Voices/Author Answers with Gordon Zuckerman

Returning to an old format, Word Nerd's dishing up a Q&A today with Gordon Zuckerman who'se first novel recently hit shelves.

WN: What is the "Sentinels, Fortunes of War" all about?
ZUCKERMAN: The story line of the book deals with how six, advantaged and talented young people, having learned about the intent of the same German industrialist, who helped bring Hitler to power, to smuggle their Fortunes of War in 1943 out of Germany while there is still time oppose their effort. Concerned that the wealth could be used to fund a future Reich, the Six Sentinels develop and plsan to steal part of the money and use the appropriated funds to insure that the 2 billion dollars can never be used ireesponsibly to create another facist military dictatorship. Told through the evolving lives of each of the six principal characters, the story unfolds over two continents. Their counter-plot discovered, they are forced to evade the threat of the ever present and ruthless private security company, code named Samson.

WN: Where did the idea for the book come from?
ZUCKERMAN: Although, my education and business background have been in unrelated fields, I have remained a lifelong student of history. Having been exposed, by friends of mine in government, to the influence that cantcentrated wealth and power can exercise over our government, I wanted to write about what might have been the stories behind the stories of some of contemporary history's more significant events.

WN: What was the transition from business writing to fictional writing like?
ZUCKERMAN: As a graduate of the Harvard Business School and the founder and chief executive officer of a resort hotel company, I worked hard to develop what I considered to be good business written communication skills. When the time arrived for me to attempt the writing of th early drafts of the Sentinels, Fortunes of War, I was total unprepared for the rigors of what I quickly learned was an entirely new discipline. with the passage of time (7 years), many drafts, writing research, the assistance of several editors, I finally managed to writel my story in a form that passed the minimum threshold standards of publishers' editorial staffs. Having reached that point, I became fascinated in working with the Greenleaf staff to make my story a better book. What was the best advice I received? Early on, I was advised by an experienced editors to describe what I see as if I were telling the story out loud. since that time, I think of myself like a court room stenographer, who is recording what she sees. That's the easy part. Transitioning the early drafts into something that hopefully reads like an entertaining story is the real art form. The discipline and tenacity required to complete the process can really test the dedication and tenacity of a writer.

WN: What is the research process like?
ZUCKERMAN: This part of the writing process may be my favorite. Given my general knowledge of contemporary history, I try to outline at an early stage what I want to write about and develop a general story line.Once that is complete, I begin to search for some of the best historical works that have been written on the same subject. Fortunately, we are blessed with plethora of great historians that have gone to considerable length to brilliantly chronicle what ever subject about which I am interested in writing. Having identified three separate author's works that deal with the same subject, as seen through separate lens, I read each of the books concurrently. In so doing, I am attempting to develop a feel for what may be really happening. Using the power of logical surmise, I am always trying to develop the story by the story, hence the use of the fictional licence. I find the bibliographies of these books a treasure box of other pertinent works and with the aid of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I feel I have access to the world's great library. Newspaper archives, Google, and recommendations of critical acclaimed reports are and will always remain a treasure source of information.

WN: What has been the most influential book you've read and why?
ZUCKERMAN: There is no single author that has impressed me over all others. The works of William Manchester, Herman Wouk, Fredrick Forsythe, Flecther Knebel, Nevil Shute, Leon Uris, Tom Clancy, Ron Chernow, standout in my mind. but it is the obscure, less well distributed book that continues to gush the fresh idea, that important piece of information that can make such an important contribution to the telling of a story.

WN: What are you working on next?
ZUCKERMAN: I have just finished a second book that identifies the desire of seven major oil companies, following the completion of World War II, to control 90% of the world's future oil production. Concerned that their efforts could result in a dangerous concentration of economic and political power, the Sentinels return to oppose this manifestation of unbridled greed in its early stages.

10 November 2009

NaNo Day 10 -- Oh, the terror... the voices...

Today is day 10 of NaNoWriMo 2009. In another 15 or so hours, this insanity will be 1/3 of the way over.

I've written more than 1/3 of my 50,000 words. After this morning's writing session, I'm sitting at 19,000-odd words and plan to do another 1,000 tonight to put me over 20k. (This will also put me two full days ahead which is good because I'm seeing many things on the horizon that could impede my progress.)

The first time I tried my hand at writing a novel, I think it was somewhere around this point when I realized that I was indeed writing a novel. This was quickly followed by sheer terror.

The terror is again building. But for a different reason this time.

NaNoWriMo's lovely organizers send me email about twice a week, reminding me how hard this is. How my enthusiasm is going to peter out this week. That I shouldn't worry about whether my story is good at all. They offer tips about filling up word count with things like minute details about what everyone is wearing until you figure out where the story is going.

They even have authors giving tips. At first, when I saw an email in my inbox from Jasper Fforde, I was elated. I interviewed him a couple years ago... maybe he wanted to get back in touch for a follow-up? Nope. He offered the following:

But the overriding importance is that the 50,000 words don’t have to be good. They don’t even have to be spelled properly, punctuated or even tabulated neatly on the page.


I'm sorry, Jasper. You're wrong. Spelling does count. At least for me. And that comma that I typed outside the quote? I've got to go fix it.

I'm listening to competing voices about NaNo. On one hand, there's the NaNo crown, telling me to just write 50,000 words, no matter their order, or usefulness, or even spelling. Makes sense -- turn that inner editor off. On the other, there is another contingent of writers saying NaNo teaches the wrong things -- that quantity over quality is a bad lesson to learn. Stop and make it good the first time because you won't like the major editing that comes afterward -- and that makes sense too.

There's my own voice, too. It's not talking so much about process. No, it's saying things like, have you noticed how dusty it is in here? Or who's going to wash those dishes; the cat doesn't have thumbs. Or, go make a NaNoWriMo2009 playlist for your iPod.

And then there's the voice that says, "Those last three pages suck. They are boring. If you're bored, a reader will be doubly bored. Why aren't they good like those other three pages back a couple chapters?" Or the one that says, "Are you mental? NaNo is just crazy."

The terror comes because I don't know which voice is right. I think it's quite possible they all are.

I fix my typos. I reread part of what I wrote yesterday to get going again. I've gone back and added little bits of dialogue and description. I'm not describing every last button on someone's clothes and I'm not rewriting whole scenes. Yet I know that everything I've written for the last two days will need serious work during revisions. Serious cutting and rewriting.

Getting words on paper is important, the sheer constancy of creating. My book does have a plot. I am in an upward arc toward the 40-45K mark that will be a big revelation for the whole story.

The terror, quite frankly, is a motivation -- an I'll show them all deal. The book won't completely suck. But I'll follow the rules for the most part. For the next 20 days, I'll listen to all the voices off-and-on, when they make sense.

Even the one about the playlist.

09 November 2009

NaNo Contest Winner!

Thanks to all of you who suggested great character names to get me unstuck in my NaNo.

I liked a lot of the suggestions...though maybe not the one suggestion of "Dave." ;)

Some suggestions just didn't fit, largely because there were a few names that were too similar to some already existing characters.

But, one rose to the top as a clear winner.... Drumroll please....

My NaNo villain is named Sorian Pearce, thanks to Rachel's suggestion. YAY for Rachel!

In recognition of her great suggestion, if interested, Rachel wins a copy of "Mortal Path: Dark Time" from Dakota Banks. If not, the book will be donated to an outlet that needs it, like a local library. (Rachel, drop me an email to let me know what you want to do...)

Thanks for playing. I'm thinking about a possible other contest before the end of November, so stay tuned!

06 November 2009

NaNo quick contest!


It's day six of NaNoWriMo 2009 and I need a name for a character.

And not just any character, my villain!

His last name is Pearce, but he needs a catchy first name. Pearce is a global player, and can be from a family with parents of two different nationalities, so his first name might be something exotic.

Post your suggestions for a first name in the comments by Monday morning (8 am EST). If I pick yours, you'll win my undying gratitude. And possibly a cool prize. Like a free book.

Also, if you want to be NaNo buddies, my NaNo username is bkwarner.

05 November 2009

Varied Voices -- Simon Wood

Word Nerd had the opportunity to get to know Simon Wood during Bouchercon. He's quick-witted, and was one of the best moderators she saw during the convention. He was also gracious (after Word Nerd "lost" his first email in her inbox) to do a guest blog.

Scaredy Cat, by Simon Wood

People ask me what scares me, what my deepest fears are, and what sends me into a panic. Austin Powers says he fears only two things: nuclear weapons and carnies. I’m different. Pretty much everything frightens me. I think people are usually looking for a man-of-steel kind of an answer. But I have to disappoint. I’m scared of my own shadow. Literally. It’s always there, behind me, creeping up on me. There it is. Arrrrhh!!!

I’ll go into a cold sweat at a Starbucks. The choice dazzles me and I can’t make up my mind what I want. Suddenly that long line looks real short. Now the choice isn’t the scary thing, but what happens when the green aproned personage asks for what I want and my answer is er, I need some more time. I know the people behind me are going to start gnashing their teeth and all because I don’t know what fancy coffee I want. Eek!

Everyday things scare me. I lived in an apartment where the shower curtain had a habit of clinging to me when I got within a foot of it. The material had an odd texture that felt like skin when wet, which was a distinctly unpleasant sensation. I got to fear that damn shower curtain and avoided using it (and my wife got to hate that I didn’t shower). But that was enough to spur a story about a haunted shower curtain…

A while back, my Sisters in Crime chapter volunteered to man (or woman) the phones during the local PBS pledge drive. I feared my phone would ring, because I might get someone with a weird name I couldn’t spell. I thought, if I screw up the donation, PBS won’t get their money and Yanni won’t get his funding and he’ll hunt me down like a dog.

So yes, I can make anything scary. It’s a talent. Don’t applaud me all at once. You can’t all be like me.

I made author fears a topic at a World Horror Convention panel. It was a really interesting panel. A number of the authors discussed their darkest fears. Some were parents were frightened by the potential loss of their children. Several had had incidents that led them to write stories.

Fear makes for great storytelling. It’s a fossil fuel with an inexhaustible supply. It drives stories. It forces the reader, the writer and the characters to face what frightens them full on. Stories thrive on conflict and facing your fears is the greatest conflict. No one is fearless, so everyone can relate.

The best scary writing explores our archetypal “core” fears. People fear the unknown, the loss of a loved one, loss of liberty, loss of control, their position in the world. The point is that to write scary stories, you have to be fearful. The adage goes you write what you know and fears are very real and accessible. Horror stories just don’t explore someone’s fear of vampires, werewolves and Freddy Krueger. They explore a power stronger than the individual and that overwhelming power has the ability to rob you of what you hold most dear or thrust you into an environment you desire least. No one fears Freddy Krueger. Everyone fears what someone like that can do to them.

So my myriad of fears are good for my writing. They keep it real (scary). It’s easy to see what I, the writer, you, the reader, and they, the characters have to fear. For me it’s easy to slip into a fictional situation. My second thriller, Paying the Piper, was about child abduction. Now, I’m not a parent, but I can imagine myself in the parent’s position and the terrible state I would be in if my child was snatched from me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m next in line at Starbucks and I don’t know what I want.

Yours cowering under the bedclothes,
Simon Wood

03 November 2009

Book Banter -- The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet

Title: The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet (Capt. Alatriste, bk. 5)

Author: Arturo Perez-Reverte

Genre: historical fiction

Length: 364 pages

Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Indianapolis Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Melancholic and broody swordsman Diego Alatriste and his young apprentice, Inigo Balboa are in Madrid. They are unaccustomed to the high social circles there, still fairly fresh from their campaign in Flanders. But Alatriste begins an affair with a great actress, who has also caught the attention of the king.

Banter Points: This book is why Word Nerd loves the Captain Alatriste series. Swordfighting, political intrigue, love affairs, the Spanish Inquisition -- it's got it all. A great read full of fast-paced action and a page-turning political plot.

Bummer Points: Perez-Reverte still infuses his books with some history-slash-commentary about Spain during that time period and quotes lots of poetry. It can slow the read down if you don't like it.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Historical fiction fans, you need to get to know Alatriste.

02 November 2009

October Bibliometer

Another month, another bibliometer reading.

October 2009
7 books
2,698 pages
87 pages/day average

76 books
25447 pages

-6 books (83 read at the end of October 2008)

Originally, Word Nerd sort of wanted to break the 100 books in a year mark this year. Her count had steadily been going up by two each year for 2006, 2007, and 2008. But 2009 isn't likely going to be that year.

31 October 2009

NaNo starts way too soon

The NaNoWrimo countdown over there --> is now under 24 hours remaining.


This means I actually have to start this tomorrow.

Double yipes.

My goal, hopefully, for day one, is to hit the word count really hard tomorrow and get off on a really strong start. I know there are days coming in November when I'm not going to be able to write the full 1,667 words and so I want to bank some words when I can.

Even with NaNo going, I'm still going to try to blog fairly regularly during the next month. I've got some guest authors lined up, so stay tuned!

30 October 2009

Book Banter -- The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA/sci-fi
Length: ~360 pages
Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Indianapolis Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Katniss Everdeen has grown up in District 12, one of the poorest parts of the new Panem country. She hunts and forages for food to keep her mother and younger sister fed, a Robin Hood-type for her struggling town. But the political powers of the day are again holding the Hunger Games, a reality-TV show-slash-Olympics-slash-execution, in which 24 teenagers from across the country are forced to compete for their very survival. Each year, there can only be one winner.

Banter Points: Hunger Games came recommended to Word Nerd highly from the high school freshmen that she mentors and it was a recommendation worth listening to. Even though Word Nerd knew there was a sequel to this book out already, she found herself worrying whether Kat would be OK throughout the story. The story is a page-turner for sure!

Collins writing is evocative and compelling and violent. She puts her characters through their paces -- so much so at times, it's shocking and uncomfortable. Only the coldest of hearts would be undisturbed by the very premise of the Hunger Games. But like all the really good sci-fi, it's not that hard to imagine our society crumbling into this dystopia.

Bummer Points: Readers beware -- this book is so unputdownable that if you start reading it before bed... watch out! Word Nerd lost sleep over this one... even after she closed the book, she wondered what would happen to Kat. Give yourself the time to read this gem in one sitting or you'll be sorry!

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like dystopian stories and/or heart-pounding reads, Hunger Games is a must. Also, if you know a teenager, get on their coolness radar by reading this one.

29 October 2009

Varied Voices -- Guest Bloggers Kas and Effie Valentine

Just because Bouchercon is over doesn't mean Word Nerd's giving guest bloggers the boot.

Nope, welcome to Varied Voices, a semi-regular feature of guest posts from a variety of authors and writers. This week, welcome Kas and Effie Valentine. Word Nerd has no idea who the Masked Fedora really is. (All she knows is it's not her...)

Recently, The Masked Fedora had a chance to sit down with writing duo and darlings of the crime fiction set, Kas and Effie Valentine. Many rumors surround these jazz musicians, turned PIs, turned authors––that they are a brother and sister team masquerading as husband and wife (or vice versa), or that they’re just some idle rich folks using hired guns to pen their tales, or that “The Valentines” is a pseudonym for a well-known script-doctor who pays out-of-work actors to “play” the pair at signings.
Determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, Masked Fedora met the pair at their quaint park side apartment for coffee…bringing a half dozen Tim Hortons maple-dip donuts (as instructed).

Masked Fedora: Let’s start with the question on everybody’s mind. Are you two brother and sister or husband and wife?
Effie and Kas Valentine (in unison): Yes.
MF: Can you give our readers any insight into your process?
EV: Writing is the easy part—that is if you don’t count all the dishes thrown. It’s living the writer’s life that’s difficult. Especially adding in the music and the investigation.
MF: Is your work based on your actual cases?
KV: Heaven’s no. Too boring.
EV: Kas did have this actor friend who worked on one of those police shows. We had him over dinner one night, and I joked that he should try a real case. Rayelee Flynn, our crime-solving background actress was born on the spot.
KV: Yes, but that’s fiction. All real PI’s ever work are divorce cases.
EF: That’s how we met, in fact. Mr. Valentine’s services had been retained by a woman who suspected her husband of stepping out. And the husband thought the same, and hired me.
MF: Were they?
EF: You know, I can’t recall. I think––
KV: Are you sure that’s how we met? I could swear it was at the Slippery Noodle.
MF: The Slippery…
EF: Slippery Noodle. It’s a jazz and blues club in Indianapolis.
KV: Yes, I was playing string bass with the Sidney Zweibel trio and this lovely gal hops up on stage and demands that we let her sing “Lullaby of Birdland.” Which, of course, we did…she had the voice of a whiskey soaked angel. Which reminds me… (At this point Mr. Valentine produces a tumbler and a few martini glasses.) Care for a cocktail?
MF: Ummm…it’s nine AM.
KV: It’s okay, these are virgin.
EV: By that he means vodka instead of gin.
MF: So which it?
KV: It’s vodka.
MF: I mean which story. Which is true?
KV: I’m not sure. You pick.
EV: Honestly, darling. You can’t play jazz without being able to improv on the fly.
KV: Or tell if someone’s lying without being a liar yourself.
EV: Or hope to write good fiction unless you yourself are completely made up.
MF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
KV: (after a pause) Yes…I’d like to add a little more ice to this glass.

28 October 2009

The NaNo Countdown is still going

If you got worried on Monday that I was bailing from doing NaNoWriMo this year, set your concerns aside.

I’m still going forth.

I really want to challenge myself with the pace of the writing demanded to complete NaNo. As I explained earlier, the book I thought I would start during NaNo isn’t ready yet in my head. I’m not to the point where putting those words down on paper would be productive. If I were, I’d need to use a machete after it was over to whack out all the useless words and I’m not really a fan of that kind of editing.

So, I’m going to burn an idea on NaNo.

Alright, maybe “burn” is too strong of a descriptor. I hope the whole experiment doesn’t go up in flames – either literal or metaphorical.

I’m resurrecting an old idea and trying again. I wrote another novel a couple years back. I tried to revise it and realized there were huge, monstrous, man-eating plot holes in the middle of the thing. I stuck it in a binder in my file cabinet in a drawer that rarely gets opened. It could stay there a good long while, I figured.

Except parts of it I really like. Parts like the main character. And the bug scene. And the thing with the clock.

I don’t like how it’s all framed and where the story starts and some of the other things the protagonist does.

So for NaNo, I’m pulling that novel back out of the drawer. (Ok, that is a metaphor). The first draft is staying where it is and I’m starting over. I’m not planning on using anything from the first version over again. I’m keeping some of the ideas, but I’m going to new versions of those scenes. I am playing by NaNo rules and not starting to write before Nov. 1 (which I take to mean pulling scenes from the original at any point during the month.)

Do I know quite how the plot’s changing from the original? Nope. Not so much.

But that’s NaNoWriMo for you.

27 October 2009

Book Banter -- The Cleaner

Title: The Cleaner
Author: Brett Battles
Genre: suspense/thriller
Length: 464 pages
Where Word Nerd’s copy came from: Free from Bouchercon Book Bazaar
Plot Basics: Jonathan Quinn can take care of anything. He’s the guy called in to clean up crime scenes, dispose of bodies, make it so that there’s no evidence anything bad ever happened. When he’s called in to investigate a fire that is suspected of being arson, others in the criminal world take exception to his poking around. Quinn ends up in a race for his life, trusting only his apprentice, Nate, and a former colleague, Orlando, who blames Quinn for ruining parts of her life years earlier. The trio globe-hop to try to stay one step ahead of those that would see them dead and piece together the evidence to understand the secrets that could get them killed.
Banter Points: Hands down, this is the best global espionage book Word Nerd has read since she was in high school and first read Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy and she’s glad Battles has two more books about Quinn out already. Quinn is a cool character, ruthless in his efficiency and yet human in his convictions about how people should or shouldn’t be used. Global conspiracy stories are, at least to Word Nerd, hard to make seem realistic, that any one criminal enterprise could really pull off what they are attempting. Battles created a crime that was scarily modern. Drawing on geopolitical events of the last 15 years, it was not hard to see the pieces of a crime like this actually coming to be.
Bummer Points: Sometimes the book felt like a little bit like a bunch of action sequences strung together. Granted, it made for a fantastic page turner, but the pace was so fast, there was hardly time to empathize with the situation that the characters were in. (If one can empathize with getting chase by global criminals…)
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like stories like the Jason Bourne books, you need to become familiar with Quinn.

26 October 2009


One of the things that I heard a lot from authors at Bouchercon was that they had ideas for a long time before they actually got to writing the story.

They could be hard at work on one book, and thinking about the ideas that they might be using later one. Michael Connelly, the featured author, was clear that he’s thinking ahead for what’s coming up in the life of his main character – Det. Harry Bosch – and is letting that simmer in his brain for a while before putting the ideas on paper.

With the start of NaNoWriMo less than a week away now, I realized I’m not ready to start with the idea I’ve been thinking about. The past few weeks of gearing up for NaNo have been really productive. I know a lot of things about my characters that I didn’t know before. I have new characters and pieces of plot that will be great.

I know now what medical condition Timot suffers from. I know what his nickname is. I understand some of what drives Sai. I discovered why Artair is so angry.

These are good things to know. And I could barrel ahead with this plot for NaNo, but I think that’s a bad choice. I’m not ready to tell this story. My subconscious hasn’t had long enough to work on this, to figure out what truly motivates them. It’s the depth of the story that’s missing. I could put my characters through a series of actions during November, but I know that the result would not be what I’m looking for.

I don’t think I can write at the pace that NaNo demands with this plot and these characters. They are too young, too fragile in my head to waste on this frenetic month. It just doesn’t feel right to push 50,000 words with these folks. Not yet.

More to come this week on NaNo and what my plans are.

22 October 2009

Book Banter -- The Masque of the Black Tulip

Title: The Masque of the Black Tulip
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: historical fiction
Length: ~350 pages
Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Purchased, Borders Clearance
Plot Basics: Henrietta Selwick has long lived in the shadow of her older brother, Richard, and his escapades as the Purple Gentian. But no one knows that Hen is a primary contact of the Pink Carnation, actively receiving correspondence about France's treacherous plans and relaying that information to the English War Office. When the Pink Carnation warns Hen of the arrival of the Black Tulip -- a dangerous French spy back in England -- Hen decides that capturing the spy herself is a good plan. But Miles Dorrington has been charged by Richard to look out for his younger sister. As Miles tries to keep Hen safe, they are both infuriated with the other's meddling... and realize that may just lead to love.
Banter Points: Word Nerd picked up this book because she wanted to read something nice. In the run-up to Bouchercon, she read lots of mysteries, lots of things with serial killers and cops and scary guys and lots of violence. Word Nerd enjoyed Willig's first book ("The Secret History of the Pink Carnation") and was ready for another light, highly entertaining read. And Willig delivered a second time in a row. Willig manages to capture the time period without being overly stuffy in her writing. In fact, her books read like chick-lit, with the same breezy modern style but set in Napoleonic times.
Bummer Points: There is not enough of the Eloise/Colin story! Willig frames the historical fiction as Eloise's graduate school research, but the chapters of modern day action with Eloise and the reluctant Colin were far to few. Understandably, Willig is stretching that part of the story out across her series, but dang. Word Nerd wants more of that now.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you often feel like historical fiction is inaccessible, this series is for you! Willig's light tone keeps the action moving and the story doesn't get weighed down by damask and claw-footed chairs.