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.