28 February 2011

Bethany's February Bibliometer and the Choice to Stop Reading a Book

February's reading total seems skewed, but that's because of Anna Karenina, which doesn't count as a whole book until I'm done with it.

I also started a book in February that I decided I'm not going to finish. I rarely do that, but after 100 pages, I've decided that the content just isn't something I really want to put into my head. I realized I'd rather be reading more Anna Karenina than this particular book and that was the deciding factor to me.

Here's the thing: The book is good. It was given to me by the author to review and I'm grateful for that. I've been asked to review a few things in the past that were just so bad that I couldn't do it. Such is not the case here. It comes down to subject matter.

Surely, you say, reading is supposed to stretch the reader. Yep, I would agree. But I also know as a reader that I have boundaries. I have things that make me uncomfortable. Sometimes I make myself push through them; such was the case the first time I read "The Cider House Rules."

This book is about inner city youth that get caught up in drug running and violence. The problem for me is that it's too close to what I do. I work for an organization trying to keep good kids from going down that road, to stay on the path to academic success to break the cycle of poverty. When I read the book, my heart just breaks because I know that the circumstances for the main character are too true for too many teenagers today. The violence and hopelessness are just too much.

It's OK to put books down for whatever reason; this title just made me remember this in a new way. 

So,  here are the February totals:
5 books
2304 pages
82 pages/day

14 books
4610 total pages

25 February 2011

Little by Little

Goals are funny things.

Like Bethany's FB meme from yesterday, it's fun to use a standard to set a goal (by the way, I read 45 of those titles. But it's not a race.)

Personally, I think that lists like that are put together by some slightly pretentious person to feel better about themselves. It's a measuring stick. After all, we all claim to have read Ulysses, but really, who did? (okay, you in the back, put your hand down.)

Instead, I'd rather see a must read list from today's thought leaders on current books that have changed their lives. I would make it my goal to read all 100 of those titles. I loved many of the titles on there, but question the seriousness of any list that puts both "Far from the Madding Crowd" and "Harry Potter" on it. It just seems to be at cross-purposes.

Here's my goal: Collect 100 titles from the readers of Word Nerd. What books published in the last twenty years were awe inspiring when you first read them, re-read them or passed them to a friend?

We'll call it the Word Nerd meme, launch it into the world and see what it looks like when it comes back to us.

I'll start; check out the comments.

(Oh, and by the way, yes, I've been feeling rather parenthetical lately. My apologies for not making it shorter; I simply ran out of time.)

24 February 2011

What I've Read -- and Not

This meme pops up from time to time on Facebook, with the claim that the BBC says people have only read 6 of the following 100 titles. A little snooping turns up that the list probably has little to do with the BBC. A good look at the list also reveals some odd things with two title counted twice... The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe is part of the Chronicles of Narnia; likewise, Hamlet is part of the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting list and I had to go ahead and play this game.

The rules are to bold what you've read and italics what you've started and never finished. With only 4 italics, this also reveals that I finish everything I read, even if I don't really enjoy it. In a few months this will drop down to three once I finish Anna Karenina.

I've read 28 of these titles and I think I may come back to this list to pick the other three "important" books that I set out to read as a goal for this year.

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
 9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
 11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
 12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy 
13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
 14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien 
 17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
 18. The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver
 19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
 20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
 21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
 22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
 23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
 24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
 25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
 27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
 28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
 29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
 30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
 31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
 32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34. Emma – Jane Austen
35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere
39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
 41. Animal Farm – George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
 43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
 45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
 46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
 48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
 49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
 50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
 51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
 52. Dune – Frank Herbert
 53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
 54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
 55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
 56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
 57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
 58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
 59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
 60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
 62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
 63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
 64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
 65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
 66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
 67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
 68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
 69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
 70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
 72. Dracula – Bram Stoker
 73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
 74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
 75. Ulysses – James Joyce
 76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
 77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
 78. Germinal – Emile Zola
 79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
 80. Possession – AS Byatt
 81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
 82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
 83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
 84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
 85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
 86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
 87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White
 88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
 90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
 91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
 92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
 93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
 94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
 95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
 96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
 97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
 98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
 99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
 100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Belinda Kroll contest Winner!

We have our winner in the contest from last week with indie author Belinda Kroll.

4ndyman -- you win!

Email me at bkwarner at gmail dot com with your mailing address and I'll pass it along to Belinda to get your prize to you. Congrats!

23 February 2011

Author Answers with Pamela Callow

Word Nerd's gone north of the border for today's Author Answers contributor, Pamela Callow. Callow hails from Halifax and her second thriller, Indefensible has recently released. You can find out more about her at her website.

Word Nerd: What's Indefensible about and where did you get the idea for this book?
Pamela Callow: INDEFENSIBLE, the second book of my Kate Lange legal thriller series, is about trust, betrayal, and truth versus perception. It is summer time, and Kate is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the events she survived four months previously in DAMAGED. Kate’s boss, Randall Barrett, is about to begin his summer vacation: his ex-wife is arriving in Halifax with their two children, and he is planning to take his estranged son on a sailing trip. But within the space of twenty-four hours, his ex-wife is dead and he is accused of domestic homicide. The evidence is damning. His own son believes he saw his father murder his mother. The police have two suspects: the father – or the son. Abandoned by his partners and unwilling to throw his son to the wolves, Randall turns to Kate, knowing that her own past experiences will not let her walk away. But Kate isn’t sure if she can trust Randall. And she’s never practiced criminal law. While Kate races to stay one step ahead of the prosecution – and figure out if Randall truly did kill his ex-wife – a silent predator waits to strike a final blow to his family.

The seed for the premise of INDEFENSIBLE was planted long before I wrote the book. Ever since I articled in a large, corporate law firm, I’ve wondered what it would be like for an ordinary, law-abiding person to be accused of a horrible crime. At the time I was writing DAMAGED, the first book of my thriller series, there were numerous headlines in the news of people who had been wrongfully imprisoned. I wanted to explore that in a novel but in the context of someone who was uber-successful, someone who defined himself by his professional achievements and his social status. I knew I had the perfect candidate: Randall Barrett, the managing partner of series lead Kate Lange’s firm. A man who is charismatic, super-successful, and who had a very messy personal life. A man who learns that everything he believed to be true about his life was false.

Word Nerd: This is the second book in the Kate Lange... was it harder or easier to write a sequel? Why?
Pamela: Both, really. It was easier in the sense that I knew the main characters, and I knew the starting point. As I mentioned, the premise for INDEFENSIBLE came to me when I was writing DAMAGED. And I also knew that after what Kate went through in the first book, there was a lot of fallout I wanted to explore.

The hard part in writing the book was twofold. First, because it takes place just months after DAMAGED, and some of the story line ties into the first book, it took some figuring out about what could be revealed from the first book. There was no way to write about what Kate was going through without spoilers about what happened in DAMAGED. So for any readers out there who like to read in sequence, I do recommend that you read DAMAGED first, although INDEFENSIBLE stands on its own as a novel. The other challenge in writing the book was the “sophomore book” syndrome. My editor loved DAMAGED, and my publisher was very excited about it. I knew the bar had been set very high with the first book, so I had a lot of anxiety about meeting those expectations with INDEFENSIBLE. I’m happy – and hugely relieved – to say that my readers have really loved this book.

Word Nerd: 
You mention on your website that you love libraries. What is so special about them to you?
Pamela: Libraries are where I learned the joy of losing myself in a different world. When I was in elementary school, a bookmobile used to come to my neighborhood every other Friday afternoon. I’d rush there after school and spend an hour sitting cross-legged on the floor, sampling the books I would take home with great anticipation for the weekend. The staff was incredibly kind to me, and would select books from the main library for me to borrow. When our dog had puppies, one of the staff even adopted one!

Many years later, my first summer job was in Halifax’s main library branch. I was supposed to start right after my high school graduation. But on the night of my high school prom, I broke my ankle bunny-hopping (!). Again, the library was kind to me and let me work all summer hobbling around in a walking cast.

I never dreamed at the time that my books would be shelved there. It is still amazing to me.

Word Nerd: What's your writing process like? Do you outline? Write late at night, etc?
Pamela: My writing process is a combination of detailed planning and those jolts of inspiration that can turn on a dime. I spend several months researching, creating characters and back stories, interviewing experts, plotting, creating flow charts, outlining, and trying to figure out the main angles of my stories. I write in multiple points of view, so I like to know exactly what is driving each character and what they know for each event in the book.

My writing schedule has changed in the sense that I literally am at my computer all the time, unless I’m pulled away for my mom duties. I spend an hour first thing in the morning responding to emails and interacting on my Facebook Book page, then I dig into my work in progress. I work until my kids’ afterschool activities begin, then I do my mom thing until about 9 or 10 at night, and then I work again until bedtime. My deadlines are very tight with this series, so I haven’t taken much time off in the past 18 months, and don’t see that changing until the fourth book is delivered.

Word Nerd:  What books have captured your attention lately?
Pamela: My favorite read of 2010 was Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, hands down. It is Survivor 
Olympics + Lord of the Flies. I loved the social commentary in it, the scope of her imagination, and her characters. I’m a big Ken Follett fan, so I’ve got Fall of Giants on my bedside table. I’m also interested in reading Kathleen Winter’s debut novel Annabel, because we were in Newfoundland last summer. I really could use a recommendation for a funny read – really, any great reads -- so any suggestions would be welcome!

Word Nerd: What's next for you as a writer?
Pamela: I’m in the middle of writing TATTOOED, the third book of the Kate Lange series. I’m having fun
doing the research for it, as I have a cold case, and I love forensic anthropology. I also wanted to explore the mainstreaming of tattooing in our culture, so in this book, a tattoo artist who is Kate’s alter ego reappears from her past. And right after that, I’m diving into the fourth book of the Kate Lange series. Both of these books will be released in 2012.

Thanks so much for having me on Word Nerd today!

22 February 2011

A Mouse in the House

This weekend, my husband called me over to an open kitchen drawer. "Umm, honey? When did you last clean out this drawer?"

In the back of the drawer were some crushed peanut shells, sans peanuts.

All signs of a mouse in the house.

While I doubt he is the motorcycle riding variety, he did remind me of a few stories that I should share with the boys:

  • Ralph and the Motorcycle
  • Stuart Little (since they love the movie version)
  • If you give a Mouse a Cookie
  • The Borrowers

Stories about furry friends are always popular with kids. My ten year old loves the Poppy series by Avi. Bethany had a fondness for Brian Jacques' Redwall series. I still love reading Pidgeon books by Mo Willems.

Fond memories.

The trap is now set for our furry little friend. But a tiny part of me wishes that we could find him. And train him to drive a motorcycle.

Image from Wonder-Shirts where you can buy a Mo Willems theme tshirt or tote. Check them out today!

21 February 2011

Writing Times Three

Lately, I feel like all I've been posting are Book Banter reviews. I read a lot in January and I like doing reviews, but I thought I should shake things up a little bit on here and talk about writing.

Being co-editors is hard work. We must regain our strength.
The co-editing team of Gatsby and Mina will tell you that I'm still getting up at the crack of dawn to write. (They insist it's so I feed them, but that's just an added benefit. I swear.) Most mornings I'm writing fiction; today, admittedly, I'm writing blog posts. Gat is fully committed to this process by snoozing on my lap and Mina is hopping on and off the desk and expending kitten-ish energy that is enviable this early in the morning.

 Lately, the morning writing has been different because I'm not just working on one project. I'm working on several. Blog posts not withstanding, I've got my writing fingers in three and half projects.

There's the urban fantasy novel that was started back during NaNoWriMo 2009 and is still in process and I believe still viable. There's a collaborative short story project with a friend (who will be featured here in early March in author answers). And there's updates to the stuff I wrote for Advent as it's turning into maybe a novella and continuing to blow my mind (and I'm writing it) with it's 12 Monkeys-meets-Left Behind vibe that it's got. And the 1/2 project is a 4,500 chunk of that story for an anthology submission that has to stand on its own.

I ask myself is my mind feeling blown because I'm constantly switching back and forth? Maybe a little, I think. On the other hand, I kind of like the challenge because no one set of characters or plot has the opportunity to get stale. I work on one for a few days, finish a section, and then move to the next. And then back. You get the idea. (And there's the referee-ing between the co-editors when Mina takes to pouncing on Gat and using his tail as the Best Toy Ever.)

Being involved in multiple projects definitely keeps me on my toes in the morning. It's also a little exhausting, figuring out which thing gets top billing today, or this week.

Nevertheless, the important part is that my behind is still in the chair in the morning and my fingers (when not being chewed on by Mina) are still typing away. I'm still writing. Nothing is ever going to get finished if I don't continue this very basic process.

So here I am. Writing by 6 a.m., every weekday. Your guess as to which thing it is today.

18 February 2011

Where do you find books?

Borders news wasn't completely unexpected to me. It was fairly well known for a while that they were struggling. And while the publishing landscape is definitely changing, I heard something the other day that made me think twice about the industry and how it reaches the readers: Readers don't find books by browsing; readers find books through word of mouth.

I don't know about you, but for me, it's a fifty-fifty split. I find just as many books by browsing the shelves at the local library or Barnes and Noble. I love both, for different reasons. The cover art, the crisp pages, the dogearred copies, the smells -- just to name a few.

I have an ereader, but it doesn't beat the thrill of holding the latest book in the series and peeking at the last page to make sure that the hero makes it. It doesn't beat browsing my own shelves and finding a old favorite to read for the afternoon.

Nothing really replaces the bookstore. While Borders made a business decision, it affects readers.

What do you think? Is it word of mouth or browsing that leads you to the next read? Leave a comment to let us know where you sit on the issue.

17 February 2011

Borders' Closings

I watched Twitter light up yesterday about the Borders' bankruptcy announcement and decided I needed to scrap what I had for today and think about this news on the blog.

If you missed the big announcement, here is the Wall Street Journal's coverage of it, plus a list of store closings.

Stacie is relatively unaffected by the closures, but two stores are closing in the greater Indianapolis area, including the fabulous downtown one built into an old building, complete with old bank teller windows in the cafe part.

Downtown Indy is a thriving place, with lots of community investment in the past two decades to revitalize it. It's got a mall, theatres, arts, museums, stadiums, a new JW Marriott hotel... and now, no bookstore. That's right. Not a one.

At the IUPUI campus at the edge of downtown, there's a Barnes and Noble in the student center, but for most of us, buying a book now means a trip to the 'burbs. The downtown Borders for a while has had funky hours, closing by 7 or so on weeknights, which seems odd, given how much foot traffic there still is downtown because of all the aforementioned draws.

I don't want to get into all the woes of the publishing industry. I know it's tough. I know that e-books are changing the landscape. I'm part of that change, plunking down $1.99 for all 1000 pages of Anna Karenina as a e-book instead of $7.99+ for it as a hard copy book. Of the last three times I bought hard copy books, two of those were at a Borders; one was a remainders selection at a Barnes and Noble. And when at B&N, my thought was, wow, Borders always has a better selection...

What's bummed me out really about the Borders closings is the void this puts in the downtown of my city. The public library's hours here have been cut too. In a community that struggles with education (the high school graduation rates here are terrible) losing a bookstore just feels like another blow to all of us working to turn things around for the city.

Hopefully with the closings, Borders can get its act together and keep providing good service and good selection at the stores they've got left. And maybe, maybe, they'll think about coming back downtown.

16 February 2011

Kickstarting it with Belinda Kroll

Say hello today to indie author Belinda Kroll, aka Worderella. Belinda and I have been on-line writing pals for several years now and I read an early version of Haunting Miss Trentwood. This fall, she ramped up her project and now has a finished book to show for it and we invited her here today to talk about how she did it. 

Oh, and to give some stuff away... more on that at the end.
 Kickstarting It, by Belinda Kroll
Thanks Bethany, for hosting me!

I’ve been invited to talk about my experience using Kickstarter and I’ll do so with pleasure, as that is how I funded my newest book Haunting Miss Trentwood.

First, Kickstarter, the micro-funding for creative projects website, doesn’t accept just any project. Your project needs to be creative and something that requires funding, so a book, an art project, a movie, a product, are all acceptable.

Amazon’s Merchant Services fulfill the funding, so the backers only need is a credit card to pledge, and I didn’t have to worry about processing anything. Kickstarter does take a little off the top to pay for the website and events that they hold around NYC. I had a number of pledge brackets that went anywhere from a $3 to $100.

And then the real work began.

I had a video for my project page that asked for support, but it didn’t have enough energy. I made another one, but that didn’t really work either, according to my lovely, oh-so-honest friends. The video you see took 15 tries, and boy, do I respect movie makers more after all that work. I edited the project description, and even the project title, multiple times through the 40 days that I had given myself to get to my $1500 funding goal. I was doing whatever I could from the project page to ensure that I was targeting my audience properly.

On top of all this, I had to... you know... finish writing the book and send it to my editor. Talk about self-induced pressure. My friends call me a masochist sometimes when it comes to my writing, and I think they’re only half-joking.

The majority of my backers were people I knew already; friends my graduate school, family, and then some generous strangers who absolutely blew me away with their kind offers. As we got within a week of the deadline, and the project being $300 short of the goal, I began to ramp it into high gear.

I was tweeting multiple times a day. I was telling backers to tell their friends and family. I was reporting what the editor thought about the book. I unveiled the “surprise” that the backers would receive if they pledged $25 or more (which made some earlier backers to up their pledges because they liked it so much!)

It was the kind of marketing rat race that writers dread. But there was no way I was going to give up so close to the deadline. I was shocked when I hit the goal days before, and even more so when the pledges kept coming. And all of this without the help of the Kickstarter team and marketing!

The experience was stressful, invigorating, thrilling, and fun. I would do it again just for the rush. Though, I would shorten the length of time from 40 days to 20 so the energy is more sustainable for me and the backers.

I’m thrilled that Haunting Miss Trentwood is published and getting great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It was a lot of work, but that kind of creative work feeds me.

Belinda Kroll resides in central Ohio with her laptop, handmade-over thrift shop furniture, and books. Many, many, delicious books. She is the author of Haunting Miss Trentwood and Catching the Rose. She loves to pay it forward with her fellow indie authors. Visit her website at worderella.com.

Now to the things you can win. Up for grabs is, a signed print copy of Haunting Miss Trentwood and a bar of the coffin soap that came with the $25 pledge at Kickstarter. The soap has a cinnamon scent and is truly the most adorable coffin you will ever see, so says Belinda.

What must you do to win this prize? Belinda gave away the coffin soaps because it fit with her story. What would you giveaway with your book if you could (price not a factor), or what would be the perfect giveaway with you favorite book ever? Submit an answer, or just throw your name in for consideration by 5 pm. Feb. 22 and we'll announce a winner on Feb. 24th! The contest is open to everyone, even if you've won something from Word Nerd before.

15 February 2011

Random Thought on Reading Classics

I had a random thought on reading classics that I wanted to try out, given our experiment here in reading one of the Russian Masters - Anna Karenina.

Reading a classic is like drinking a fine wine. When pair with the right item, it complements the meal. It is meant to be sipped, and savored. A classic novel moves slowly in the same way. It is the details that add the dimensions to the wine. Just as the various flavors of the wine can only be experienced when sipped, the classic novel builds on the details to make a complete picture.

Now, I'm a wine girl, but I love a beer every so often. A beer goes down quick and easy. Beer bongs exist for a reason, people. Same with the crazy helmets and beer pong. None of those for the wine group. Beer is more like a modern novel - fast pace and moving through life at the speed of life.

Okay, maybe given my standard reading list, I'm more of a beer girl. But I don't mind switching out for a good bottle of wine every so often.

What do you think of the analogy?

Personally, I need something to sub in for a martini. I love those on occasion too.

14 February 2011

Book Banter -- Exley

Title: Exley
Author: Brock Clarke
Genre: literary fiction
Length: 303 pages
Where Bethany's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Miller Le Ray's father went to Iraq. Or so the nine-year old thinks that's what happened after his parents split up and is convinced his father is now in the VA hospital of Watertown, NY. Miller knows his dad's favorite book is Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes and he becomes convinced that if he can find Exley, he can cure his dad. Helped (and sometimes hindered) in his quest by his therapist who has an insatiable crush on Exley's mom, the story moves defiantly through what is true and what isn't.
Banter Points: The books is clevely laid out with chapters going back and forth between Miller and his therapist's notes. Through this dual-storytelling, the reader builds a picture of when Miller is lying and when the therapist is misinterpreting events. Amazingly, both prove to be unreliable narrators and that's part of the story's genius -- it's unknown until the very end what actual truth is.
Bummer Points: Exley wasn't sharply funny the way Clarke's first novel -- Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England -- was. At first while reading Exley, I was sort of disappointed because it wasn't what I was expecting from Clarke.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Clarke's second novel is worth reading, but don't think it's going to be a repeat of Arsonists. It's a clever exploration of truth and fiction and the lies we tell ourselves as people.

11 February 2011

It can be done

I really love Manager Tools. They are dedicated, nay, passionate about making people better managers.

Last month, Wendii posted a piece on there blog called "It can be Done" where Wendii talks about how a given task can see insurmountable until you've actually worked through the process.

And it made me think about the first time I sat down to write a novel. It seemed like an insurmountable task. Yet, it was something that I really wanted to accomplish. I didn't have my own method of getting there, but found people who did.

Eventually, I finished the first book. It's collecting dust somewhere in my hard drive (and probably won't ever leave that electronic corner.)

Manager Tools
may be about being a manager, but every so often a gem about writing or regular life pops through and it changes the way I view things.

I think this is essential to writing - exposure to different thoughts and ideas to expand my own world view. What do you think? Do you have a non-traditional source of inspiration?

10 February 2011

Book Banter -- Serenity Comics Vol. 1-3

Titles: Serenity: Those Left Behind; Serenity: Better Days; Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale
Author: Joss Whedon et al
Length: ~80 pages each (160 pages total)
Genre: Sci-fi graphic novels
Where Bethany's Copies Came From: Those Left Behind and The Shepherd's Tale, personal collection; Better Days, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: (If you haven't ever watched Firefly, stop reading this blog right now, find the DVDs, watch all 13 episodes and then come back.) Jobs are still hard to come by for the crew of Serenity, and more often than not, their employment devolves into crime as this rag-tag crew of rebels, wanted criminals and mercenaries eeks out an existence in deep space. In this collection of graphic novels set between the short-lived TV series and the follow-up feature-length movie, the crew confronts an old enemy, tries for some R&R and learns the past of the mysteries Shepherd Book.

Banter Points: It's so wonderful that the great characters of Mal, Jayne, Wash, River, and the rest of the crew have more stories since the show/movie are done. The graphic novels read the way episodes feel, a combination of desperation and adventures, swashbuckling and sadness. The first two begin to fill in some of time between the end of the TV show and the movie, pushing forward great storyline that was set up in the show. Shepherd's Tale fills in Book's shadowy past in an ever flashback-ing loop that one of the most interesting storytelling formats I've ever seen.

Bummer Points: They just don't write them fast enough. I could read one of these a week and not get tired of the characters. Also, nobody draws Simon quite right. All the other characters look like the actors who played them, but Simon always look squashy or something.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you liked the show and haven't read these, my question is "What are you waiting for?" If you like good sci-fi and haven't watched the show which makes the graphic novels make sense, again, my question is "What are you waiting for?"

09 February 2011

Editor Answers with T.L. Perry

"Author Answers" is becoming "Editor Answers" this week with T.L. Perry, co-editor of the "Wretched Moments" anthology released in 2010 from Pill Hill Press. Word Nerd is a fan of T.L. -- not just because he accepted her story into said anthology -- but because he's a great writer and definitely somebody to watch for in the future.

Word Nerd: Where did you come up with the idea for the Wretched Moments anthology?
T.L.: When I was a kid, one of my aunts loved to collect Precious Moments figurines.  I always thought it would be a great idea if someone took the style of those figurines—doe-eyed and sweet—and used it to depict awful situations.  I even came up with idea for the first line: Death by Chevrolet, Face Down in a Puddle of Blood, Fido Finds The Clorox, etc.  But I’m not a very artistic guy—most of my drawings resemble the work of a third grader—so I put the idea on a shelf.  It took me twenty years to realize that the idea could translate to a theme anthology. 

Word Nerd: You're a lawyer by day -- what was it like working as an editor for this project?  
T.L.: Being a lawyer is a lot like being an editor.  You review a document for typographical errors and factual errors, but you also look at the ideas the author is trying to express through his or her writing.  If the idea doesn’t work, the writing—be it a brief or a short story—is DOA.  One of the big problems I had editing this book was when the idea did work, but the execution was off.  One of the things lawyers are famous for is noodling with language and structure.  I think most of us could spend days agonizing over a brief or a memo, adding things and subtracting things.  Of course, a client doesn’t want to pay for that, so we have to let go.  When I was editing this project, I felt the same urge—someone would send a story with a good idea but maybe not the best execution, and I’d want to spend a day (or two or three) reshaping the story.  Unfortunately, we had so many submissions that I just had to let those stories go.  I always tried to give a kind word to the authors, though. 

Word Nerd: Which story in the anthology is your favorite and why? (It's Pez Dreams, I'm sure...)
T.L.: I’d actually like to call out three stories as list-toppers for me.  The tone of the book ranges from funny to serious, so it’s hard to isolate a single story as the best.  The three I’ll discuss each have a distinctly different tone. 

The first is The Woman on the Horse by Brian Ray.  It’s surreal, it’s serious, it’s quirky, and it’s incredibly well-written.  Brian has said that the story is an homage to the Polish surrealist painter Zdzilaw Beksinski, who I was entirely unfamiliar with.  I checked out some of his art and Brian nailed it.  This story really captured me because, unlike most of the others, it had a distinctly literary feel. That’s not to say that the other stories aren’t well-written.  But they are, for the most part, genre pieces.  The Woman on the Horse would have been at home in any number of literary journals, but we were lucky enough to snag it for this anthology.  Brian also has a book out that I will probably pick up – Through the Pale Door.

Second is TJ Wagner’s The Stuff of Dreams.  It’s a comedic take on the afterlife and its connection to dreams that is just so depressingly funny that I challenge you not to like it.  Think Good Omens-style comedy.  This is probably the funniest story in the book. 

Last is Kris Triana’s Before The Boogeymen Come.  This is a horror comedy about the lengths to which the monsters under your bed and in your closet will go to keep their jobs.  This story probably best captures the essence of what I wanted Wretched Moments to be-cute and cuddly gone awry.  I have a two year old daughter who has been watching Monster’s Inc. on a loop for the last week, and I can’t help but think of this story every time I watch it. 

There are plenty of other great stories.  I’d be remiss not to mention Word Nerd’s own Pez Dreams, Maurice Broaddus’ Snapping Points and AJ French’s Sad Faces.

Word Nerd: What did you learn as a writer from editing others' work for this project?
T.L.:  I learned that I’m not nearly as clever as I think I am, and neither are most people.  Cleverness alone cannot support a story.  I read several stories that had intriguing twists or were built on a cool idea.  These things, though, don’t necessarily make for a good story without more: attention to detail, character development, plot, etc.  Just ask M. Night Shyamalan. 

I think every aspiring writer should have to go through a slush pile at least once.  You start to identify your own weaknesses by learning from the mistakes of others.  Now, the trick is to apply that knowledge to what I do … 

Word Nerd: What books have captured your attention as a reader lately? 
T.L.:  I generally like contemporary literary fiction, but my wife recently handed me Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  I read the whole trilogy in a matter of days.  Right now, I’m really digging Adam Levin’s The Instructions and Phillip Meyer’s American Rust.  Some other books that I’ve recently read and loved are Dan Chaon’s You Remind Me Of Me and How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. 

Word Nerd: What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever gotten and how has it helped you?
T.L.: Someone once told me that when I write,  I have access to an inner-jackass that most people don’t.  It was meant as a compliment, and I took it as one.  I immediately stopped taking myself so seriously and stopped trying to become the next Cormac McCarthy.  I started writing about situations that were amusing (at least to me).  I still work slow and I’m still serious about the craftsmanship of what I’m doing.  But the actual content?  I no longer feel trapped by trying to write something lofty or deep.  I’m just not smart enough to pull it off, at least consciously. 

08 February 2011


I first ran into Joshua Middleton when another author I like posted a link to the cover for her book.

Now, I can't remember who that original author was, but I'm delighted that he has posted another cover for his readers.

The novel, Meeting by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, is a YA fantasy novel. Based on the cover alone, I'm interested in it. It's a gorgeous picture. Pop over there to check it out.

Joshua's last paragraph sums it up nicely for writers too:
Having to occasionally make changes for editorial reasons has actually helped me a lot in not letting any part of a drawing be too precious to erase. It's hard to face facts and erase something that's not working, especially after spending a lot of time on it, but sometimes that's the best way to move forward and get the bad drawings out of the way. I still struggle with letting go sometimes, but I'm definitely more acquainted with my trash can than I used to be.
Writers need to be acquainted with the trash can too. Or the backspace button. It's tough to throw away something you like better. Remembering that the edit knows what sells is key.

cover art courtesy of Joshua Middleton.

07 February 2011

Book Banter -- Fear No Evil

Title: Fear No Evil (Evil Trilogy, bk. 3) 
Author: Allison Brennan
Genre: Romantic suspense
Length: 408 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Lucy Kincaid -- youngest sister in the law-enforcement heavy Kincaid family -- is graduating from high school and going off to Georgetown in the fall. But she's got a big secret, an online boyfriend. She agrees to meet him before her graduation ceremony and goes missing. FBI agent Kate Donovan knows the psychopathic killer who's got Lucy, a e-crimes criminal who rapes and murder women as the deeds are broadcast live over the Internet to anyone willing to pay the high price to watch. Kate will have to trust profiler Dillon Kincaid to be able to stop the killer on time and save Lucy and redeem Kate from her own past.

Banter Points: Brennan knows how to write a creepy villain. It was awful to think that there are really people out there who broadcast this sort of thing over the Internet, but I'm sure Brennan did her research. Either way, the bad guy was bad and his ruthlessness was believable.

Bummer Points: I always have a little trouble with romantic suspense... that the law enforcement person and the DA/rescue worker/social outcast hook up in the midst of a case. In this one, while the suspense part of the plot was excellent, I just couldn't believe that Dillon and Kate would get together. Gee, dear, we've just gone up against a sexual-psycopath-killer, shall I rub your feet as a prelude to mind-blowing sex and ever-lasting love, as you confess your deep loneliness and fear that no one would ever love you again because you screwed up on the job in the past?

Word Nerd Recommendation: It's a heck of a suspense novel and putting aside the romance part, very worth the read. Brennan has grown hugely as a writer since her first trilogy.

04 February 2011

22 Items

This headline caught my eye -- In every woman's closet, 22 items she never wears - and the guilty complex that stops them clearing wardrobes out.

The guilty comes from the money spent (1.6 billion pounds sterling), the opportunity lost or vanity purchases. The statistics in the article are astonishing. Quick, take a look. I'll wait.

Good, you're back.

My first thought was, no way do I have 22 things in my closet. Maybe two or three, but 22? Not possible. And then I mentally started tallying things up. I have at least three shirts with tags on them. Granted, I do have a fabulous reason for those shirts; I lost 55 pounds in 2010. As I down-sized, I needed new stuff. Those were definitely part of that transition.

I still have a shirt from college that I haven't worn since then (about 10 years ago, give or take a year.) Oh, and there's the purses that I haven't used in the last two years, but they are so fabulous, what's a girl to do?

And if you were to ask my husband, he probably could fill the list for me, while wondering why I needed to actually look.

But this concept got me to thinking, what are the 22 items in your heroine's closet? The villain's?

What would it say about them?

Brad, it better not be the prestigious Sardine-y Award for Best Newly Discovered Author
of 2010.

03 February 2011

Anna Karenina reading schedule

Thanks to everyone who voted in the Russian masterpiece poll. Anna Karenina came out as the clear winner (no hanging chads here) and I've got my copy all ready to go. I went the eBook route (first one I've purchased) because the length of the book seems a little less intimidating that way. And for $1.99 vs. $7.95 for the same Barnes and Noble Classics edition in real print, it felt like a really good deal.

Stacie is joining in with this reading adventure and we'd welcome you to join us as well.

Here's what's we're aiming for:
February -- Part I and II
March-- Part III and IV
April-- Part V and VI
May -- Part VII and VIII

At the end of each month, we'll have a book club-esque discussion on each session. Watch for a sidebar to announce those dates.

Also, because Stacie and I also track reading statistics, I am instituting this rule so that we don't totally screw up our monthly totals: The pages read each month count for the monthly page total; however, only when the book is done does it count as a finished title. Make sense?

Let us know in comments if you're going to read along with us.


We haven't forgotten we need a winner for the contest from Lynn Viehl's blog post last week. What with the massive midwest ice storm, it just got postponed.

But... without any more adieu...

Phoenix-Karenee, you're the winner!

Email me at bkwarner at gmail dot com with your postal address and the prize will soon be on its way to you.

Thank you all for playing. We've got more contests coming up this spring, so keep your eyes open.

02 February 2011

Sonnets, Sardines and Community

Welcome back to Word Nerd, Brad Parks. Brad's covers in his post how he came to be here and all about the Sardine-y award Word Nerd bestowed on him in 2010. What he doesn't mention is that his first book, Faces of the Gone, won both a Shamus award and a Nero award, a feat never-before accomplished in the mystery book world. His second novel, Eyes of the Innocent, released yesterday so find it at your local bookstore.  

By Brad Parks
            There have been sonnets written about the night I met Bethany and Stacie, and with good reason.
As I recall, it was a flawless autumn evening on the Great Plains, when gossamer strands of moonlight illuminated the gently waiving wheat, when lowing cattle sang out to grazing sheep, when all of nature achieved a harmony that…
Yeah, okay, it was actually a stinky, crowded dive bar in Indianapolis. (Not that I have a problem with stinky dive bars).
And maybe there weren’t sonnets written, just a previous post on Word Nerd  (I don’t particularly like sonnets anyway).
            We were half-deaf from the too-loud cover band, desperately trying to get a drink, crammed up against each other in a mash of elbows and shoulders. I think at one point Stacie even copped a feel of my ass without meaning to. (Not that I have a problem with that, either).
            But, the point is, we made a connection. Bethany e-mailed me a few days later and we’ve been corresponding buddies ever since. I’m not sure what Bethany’s gotten out of the deal, but I know I’ve enjoyed the back-and-forth. I suspect it may have even given me a leg up on the competition in being award the prestigious Sardine-y Award for Best Newly Discovered Author of 2010.
            And it never would have happened if not for Bouchercon 2009. Which brings me around to the whole point of this post: Community, and its importance for writers of all levels.
            In some ways, I’m probably the last guy who should be lecturing on this topic. As an author, I’m just about the biggest lone wolf this side of Jack Reacher. I don’t have a critique group. I don’t share chapters with other writers as I go. I don’t get line edits from my agent. I have a few early readers – none of whom are writers – and as long as they tell me everything makes sense, I send in the manuscript.
So what does a guy like me need community for? Everything else. Encouragement on the down days. Camaraderie on the good days. Perspective on all the days in between. Knowing there are other people in the world who sits around and dreams up creative ways to kill people.
            And, man, was it a revelation to learn I wasn’t the only one. Before I signed my book deal, I actually had no clue there was such thing as mystery conventions, or writers’ organizations, or blogs, or any of it.
I wrote my debut, FACES OF THE GONE, in total isolation. It sold to St. Martin’s/Minotaur in July 2008 and in September of that year, my editor, Toni Plummer, told me about this thing called Bouchercon. I registered and sent an e-mail to this woman named Ruth Jordan – who the heck was she, anyway? – to make sure I did everything right. (Little did I know, I could have just stopped right there, put my entire life in Ruth’s hands, and ended up quite well off).
I went to Bouchercon in Baltimore and it was like the world opened up to me. I met readers, writers, bookstore owners, community legends, reviewers, publicists, bloggers, even my fabulous future website designer (hello Maddee James of xuni.com!). If I even tried to catalogue the wonderful things that have sprung from that one Bouchercon – not to mention the two that have followed it – I would totally blow the 700-word limit Bethany imposed on this guest post.
And it’s not just Bouchercon. The same applies to Thrillerfest, Left Coast Crime, Sleuthfest, and on, and on. Point is, if you’re sitting on the sidelines, wondering if you’re really “ready” for a conference, questioning if it’s worth the time and expense, my advice is quite simple: Go. Mix. Mingle. Shake a few hands. Take a few business cards.
No matter where you are in the process – slaving over that forever-imperfect first manuscript, lining your trash can with agent rejection letters, or counting all the zeros in your royalty statement – I guarantee you’ll get something out of it.
Oh, and make sure you find Bethany, Stacie and me at St. Louis Bouchercon this year. We’ll be happy to chat. We’ll try not to grab your ass.

01 February 2011

Book Banter - Web of Lies

Title: Web of Lies
Author: Jennifer Estep
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Length: 432 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library

Plot Basics: Retirement is kinda boring. So when Gin Blanco's customer Violet needs the help of the Tin Man, aka Fletcher, Gin decides that one last job is just the thing to alleviate the boredom.

Hell, it's hard to turn away an old friend in trouble. Even when the old friend brings along an evil coal mining tycoon.

Banter Points: I have to admit that I'm glad Gin found retirement boring. Running the Pork Pit is a great day job, but there is so much more to this character than meets the eye. Jo-Jo is convinced that there is more to Gin than Gin believes possible. By the end of the book, the reader believes it too.

Gin has a bumpy road in the romance department too. She's attracted to Donovan Caine, the last honest cop in Ashland, and the feeling is mutual. Only Donovan can't quite wrap his head around Gin's version of justice. Without spoiling the plot, Gin has others competing for her attentions - and he isn't likely to give up.

Gin's character is drawn out in the second book of the series. Her character has quite a bit of depth, and is well-thought out for a second novel. Learning more about her under-lying motivations and drive is a decent starting point for filling in the details behind this complicated assassin.

Bummer Points: I can't say what disappointed me the most without having a spoiler. But I will say that it involves Donovan Caine. I thought that he was tougher than this.

Stacie's Recommendation: Fans of Jim Butcher's Dresden series will find that Gin Blanco serves the same mission as Harry - only she really is a bad guy, while Harry is confused with one.
Bonus: Read the first chapter of Web of Lies.