31 March 2011

Anna Karenina Pts. III and IV

I have a writer friend who is keeping track of my progress through Anna Karenina (Insert nasty comments about Stacie dropping out here). Said friend is watching so that when I'm done, she can rant. This makes me a little nervous, so I hope to clear the air a little bit today on what I really think about Anna Karenina, halfway in.

Let me say for the record, I'm not the newest fan of Leo Tolstoy on the planet, but I don't hate the book. I may bluster about reading it, but some of it's just talk.

He's got some good chapters in there. The one where Anna thought she might die and when Vronsky tried to kill himself and failed were actually kind of tense. I like the brimming story between Levin and Kitty. I have trouble with the chapters when Levin's threshing wheat with the peasants and when Alexey Alexandrovitch (aka Karenin) is going on about something with the native tribes and some kind of legislation.

I get it. I understand why Tolstoy writes them. I just don't enjoy them. I like genre fiction, about plot and not always about character and the mise en scene of a novel. I'm sure that I'm missing literary symbolism left and right in the story. Maybe if I was reading it for class and had a professor asking pointed questions, I would be getting more of the subtext.

I'm letting myself read the next Casey Daniels/Pepper Martin book and then I'm going back to AK Pt. V to keep making progress.

30 March 2011

Author Answers: Connie Hullander

Today's Answers are from first time novelist Connie Hullander. Connie writes from the point of view of a trouble teen girl. Jump in and hear more.

WN: Tell me more about your protagonist Carly in Snowstorm.

CH: Carly is like thousands of teens struggling to grow up without the support or guidance of a responsible adult; she is angry and depressed. I wanted teen readers to identify with her, so I designed her life to be difficult, but not the worst in the world. She is a tough sixteen year-old growing up in a tough place.

From Carly's blog (Carly's Life) we learn that the blog is for extra credit in English. We also find out that home life is anything but stable for Carly. What role does her teacher play in the novel?

CH: I wrote Carly’s blog as a sort of prequel to Snowstorm to introduce her to potential readers. This particular English teacher doesn’t appear in the novel, because Carly gets new teachers at the psychiatric hospital. The teacher in the blog, however, does represent the many dedicated teachers who look every day for creative ways to connect with floundering students and keep them involved in school.

WN: Writing about Carly and her life must have been tough. What compelled you to write her story?

CH: I guess you could say writing about Carly and the other kids in the book was a little like therapy for me. Putting the story into words provided a way to show how bright, talented children can become belligerent teens and ultimately unhappy adults. As a teacher, I have known numerous kids in desperate need of help they never get. In addition, my husband, Dale, is a psychologist who specialized in working with teenagers for some twenty years. His work, done mostly in inpatient facilities, gave me the setting as well as a lot of technical information.

WN: What's the most important thing to know about Carly and the psychiatric hospital she finds herself in?

CH: The most important thing to know about Carly is she could be any kid you see on the street. She hides her scars as well as she can, but she still suffers from her injuries. Doing well in school or behaving according to society’s rules seem useless to her, when she can see no good things in her future.

What everyone should know about the hospital is this kind of long-term treatment exists mainly for those who can afford to pay privately. About twenty-five years ago most insurance companies stopped covering inpatient psychiatric care for kids beyond a two or three-week stay, usually used to medicate and stabilize a patient.

WN: Switching gears a bit, what is your writing space like?

CH: I had to smile at this question. I have an ancient PC in a basement room of my home. I like using that particular computer because it will no longer access the internet and therefore, I can’t use it to distract myself when I hit a rough patch in writing. I usually play a CD, which I never really hear, because by the time I block out the music, I’ve found my focus. From then on it doesn’t much matter where I am physically. My head is in the book. Oh, and my feet are under a dog named Clancy. I’m not sure I could write a word without him.

WN: Snowstorm is your first novel. How did you feel when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?

CH: In a word, stunned. I opened the attachment from Echelon Press and my hands flew up to cover my face. I just sat for a moment, staring. And grinning, there was a lot of grinning.

WN: What advice do you have for writers looking to be published?
CH: That’s a hard one, because I sure don’t feel like any kind of expert. When I slide into the story the way I described in number 5, I lose all track of time. I think if the same thing happens to you, you’re destined, or doomed, to write. If that’s the case, you use every resource you can find to study writing and improve your technique. Eventually you’ll get your work in front of someone who appreciates your unique style and wants to see more. Some of it is a “right time, right place” thing, but when you find the “right” situation, you have to be ready!

Thanks for the answers, Connie! And congratulations on your first novel.

29 March 2011

Rules of Writing

Everyone has their favorite writing rules, but nothing is quite like taking a look at a well known author's to see what makes the list from different sources.

A quick Google search turned up these four:
  1. Janet Fitch
  2. Elmore Leonard
  3. Jonathan Franzen
  4. George Orwell

I think my favorites are as follows:
  • Torture your protagonist. (Janet Fitch)
  • Keep your exclamation points under control. (Elmore Leonard)
  • It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction. (Jonathan Franzen)
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (George Orwell)

What is your favorite writing rule?

28 March 2011

Book Banter -- The Overlook

Title: The Overlook
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Mystery
Length: 225 pages
Where Bethany's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: LAPD Detective Harry Bosch is on his first case with a special homicide division after the debacle of his last case with the Open-Unsolved Unit (Echo Park's story...) When a doctor is murdered on a highway overlook, Bosch and his new partner are called out to handle the case. In the course of investigating, they discover he has access to the radioactive material necessary to make a dirty bomb and the FBI -- including Bosch's former lover, Rachel Walling -- sweep into the case in a flurry of anti-terrorism efforts. Bosch is angry that he's getting pushed aside and that the original murder seems to be less of a priority. Bosch, however, won't let the murder go and when key evidence turns up, he jeopardizes himself and Rachel again to catch a killer.

Banter Points: This is another winner in the Harry Bosch series. The Overlook is short, but it's fast-paced which fits the fact that the whole story takes less than 24 hours to unfold. Connelly again takes current fears about terrorism and fits them neatly into a police procedural novel. It's also neat to see Bosch work with a new partner after he's pretty much had the same ones the whole series and now is faced with a younger cop in his shadow and unfamiliar with Bosch's methods

Bummer Points: This book doesn't do much to propel Bosch's character forward, focused far more on plot. Bosch is faced a little bit with his own mortality, but it didn't come across as something that's going to affect him much in future books.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you're looking for an entry point to the Bosch series without tackling the whole backlist, this is a good starting point because the quick plot will snap up any reader's interest.

25 March 2011

Agatha Christie Update

I decided that Agatha Christie reading would be a fun way to spend some of my non-homework reading time. My local library has a great electronic collection. I love audio books so it's a perfect match.

Plus I can listen in the car on my commute or while exercising. Always a good way to pass the time during those activities.

So I have finished the first two Poirot books and am about half way through the first Tuppence and Tommy book. Both are delightful for different reasons. I can really see how Poirot has influenced many detectives since his time. For example, take Monk. His fastidiousness and OCD behavior is a shared trait with Poirot. Perhaps exaggerated, but nonetheless, the roots must be in Poirot.

I'm excited about this project, even though I am not taking the time to review each title. It's an enormous task to undertake, but a fun one.

24 March 2011

Book Banter -- Eyes of the Innocent

Title: Eyes of the Innocent
Author: Brad Parks
Genre: mystery
Length: 290 pages
Plot Basics: Newark reporter Carter Ross returns in this sequel to Parks' award-winning "Faces of the Gone." Ross and newsroom intern Sweet Thang (really named Lauren) are assigned the obligatory "space heater" story after a fire in a poor apartment leads to the death of two young boys. Instead, Ross and Sweet Thang find the boys' mother and start to unravel the truth about the fatal fire. But working so close to the young, hot intern creates other problems for Ross, especially as he tries to navigate his bizarre relationship with his editor, Tina. When a city council member also goes missing, Ross and Sweet Thang bend journalism ethics to help the police fit all the pieces together -- and land a great story.

Banter Points: It's clear why Parks is an award winner. Instead a sequel slump, Eyes of the Innocent brings back his fantastic characters with as much -- if not more -- verve than they had in the first book. Ross isn't so melancholy about the future of newspapers in this one and the introduction of Sweet Thang and her Twitter-based obsession with Carter is the funniest twist I've read in a mystery book in a long time.

Bummer Points: I have to wait another year for another Carter Ross book.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Anybody who likes their mystery novels spiced with a heavy dose of comedy needs to check out Parks' books. He writes a heck of a story.

23 March 2011

Author Answers with Georgia Lowe

This week's special guest is historical fiction author Georgia Lowe. While a lot of authors look to grand periods of history (the Tudors, the Romans, etc.) Lowe looks to one of America's less-than-proud moments, the Bonus march on Washington DC in the 1930s. Welcome, Georgia, and we here at Word Nerd are glad to see her canine co-editors sharing some of her spotlight.

Lowe and her furry co-editors
WN: What's "The Bonus" about and what kind of reader would be drawn to it?
GEORGIA: Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, The Bonus tells the true story of what happened in 1932 when 22,000 American veterans march to Washington and peacefully petition Congress for early payment of their wartime service bonuses. But instead of supporting the veterans’ claim for payment of an honest debt, President Hoover orders General Douglas MacArthur, Army Chief of Staff to evict the veterans from the city. MacArthur does so with the cavalry, tanks, armed infantrymen and tear gas. Picture American soldiers attacking American veterans on the streets of our nation’s capitol. Not only is this a must read for all Americans concerned about the humane treatment of our veterans, The Bonus is also a cautionary story for those who believe we no longer need a government strong enough to provide safety nets for the most needy Americans. George Santayana’s quote seems most appropriate here: Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. In addition, I believe 20th century history buffs will be drawn to The Bonus for its honest account of a pivotal event that ushered in FDR and the New Deal.

WN: The story of is drawn, in part, from your parents lives. What was it like fictionalizing them?
GEORGIA: Oddly, the more I fictionalized my parents, the more I came to understand them. Although my father worked for a newspaper, he wasn't a reporter. My mother was a redhead, sometimes, but she wasn't 6 feet tall, nor was she a starlet. But my parents embodied many of their characteristics. They were brave and funny and patriotic.

WN: To tell this story, you had to do lots of research. How did you go about that process?
GEORGIA: The research was daunting, but absolutely necessary. I took four trips to Washington, spent hours in the Library of Congress, walked the streets where the Bonus Marchers walked, sat where they sat and experienced the heat and humidity they suffered. My research also included careful study of a number of existing historical accounts of the event.

What made you want to be a writer?
GEORGIA: I've been driven to write from the time I could pick up a pen and pencil and put my thoughts on paper.

WN: What's the best piece of writing advice you ever received and how did it help you?
GEORGIA: In a writers' workshop, James D. Houston, the author of Snow Mountain Passage and many other fine historical novels, urged us to write stories we cared deeply about, stories of consequence. I followed his advice.

WN: What's next for you as a writer?
GEORGIA: I'm currently working on a prequel to The Bonus, a short novel titled An Ordinary Kid. And, I have an outline of the sequel.

22 March 2011

Needing Spring

Are you in a funk?

Almost everyone I know is. And everyone blames daylight savings time, the lack of spring or the general unrest that comes just before summer.

I'm feeling it too.

I need a productive day of resetting the to do list and getting task in order. A mental spring cleaning of sorts.

Maybe it will get me out of the funk.

21 March 2011

The A-Z Playlist

Not my hand, nor my iPod
A local radio station here every spring plays through the A-Z of Rock. They play their music library in alphabetical order, starting with the As and stopping... when they are done.

Being the kind of person who likes alphabetical order, I thought, I could do this with all my music on my iPod. It's been an interesting listening experiment that's taken a couple of weeks to get through all the way.

The drawback of this idea is multiple version of the same song, either by the same person, or a different person and they all get played back to back. I listened to three "Come Fly With Me" versions in a row -- Sinatra, Sinatra Duets and Michael Buble. Shortly after that, I had three "Cry Me a Rivers" -- Diana Krall, Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr. This is the fallback of enjoying the Great American Songbook/Jazz Standards. This problem happened throughout.. "I've Got You Under My Skin" was another one with a whopping five versions.

The other problem with this idea was when the song that came next was NOT appropriate for where my head was.

For example, I'm happily in the Fs, when the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis comes up. Beautiful piece of classical music. Also happens to be my go-to music when I can't sleep. Of course, the Fantasia pops up about 3 p.m. at work when I need to be concentrating, not nodding off. The reverse was as equally true -- when something loud and bangy came on and I was trying to keep a train of thought on the tracks.

I'm still working my way through this project, in the middle Ns at this point. Looking forward to getting back to the regular shuffle feature.

18 March 2011

Truth and Confessions Time

I tip my hat to fellow Word Nerd, Bethany, for sticking to her reading goal and getting through Anna Karenina.

I failed miserably.

I got to about the same spot I always get to, 75 to 100 pages into the story and went, blech, I don't feel like reading this.

Give me some Bronte sisters. Or some Jane Austen. Heck, I finished Pamela by Samuel Richardson even. I simply cannot make it anywhere in AK. And I don't know why.

I feared that this may happen. I have a fairly high credit load this semester (six credits). And work is demanding as always. When it came right down to it, picking between AK and my finance homework, well, finance won.

Perhaps if Bethany throws another challenge out after AK, I'll join during the summer months. For now, I'll admit that my alter identity is not a fan of the Russians.

17 March 2011

Double Edition Book Banter -- Mouse Guard Fall 1152 and Mouse Guard Winter 1152

Title: Mouse Guard Fall 1152 and Mouse Guard Winter 1152
Author: David Peterson
Length: 192 pages (each)
Genre: graphic novel
Plot Basics: In the Mouse Territories, the Mouse Guard are the protectors of all, guarding caravans and keeping mice-kind safe from all threats (owls, snakes, etc.) Three of the Guards' best -- Kenzie, Saxon and young Lieam -- investigate the death of a merchant and, in process, discover the treasonous plot to overthrow Lockhaven. To stop the traitorous mice, the guards also rediscover a famous mouse legend -- The Black Axe. Stopping the treachery takes the mice -- especially hot-headed Saxon -- into great danger. And with one threat stopped, the coming of winter brings a new battle just to survive.

Banter Points: Mouse Guard is what Brian Jacques' Redwall books would be if they were really written for grown-ups. While the idea of mice with swords and capes sounds cutesy, Peterson tells the story and does the art like any other violent comic -- there's blood and violence and some amazing panels for the fights. The art is gorgeous and it's neat to see the small mice fight off enemies that are so much bigger than they are.

Bummer Points: The story isn't actually all that good and the characterization just gets lost among all the fight scenes. The mice have so much potential -- hot-headed Saxon, young and gifted Lieam, Sadie who patrolled the coast alone for so long and now is back in civilization with the other Guard -- but it gets kind of lost in the battles. Additionally, even the big plot, the treason and the effects of winter, get swept away in the art and then suddenly the book is done and, as a reader, I had to wonder if I missed something.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I'd pick up the books for the art. When the third Mouse Guard is out, I'll read it and just fill in some of the story blanks in my head.

16 March 2011

Author Answers with Alethea Kontis

Our guest this week is a princess. OK, she's a writer too, but when I've met Alethea Kontis, she's always been sporting a tiara with an aplomb that would probably make real royals jealous and seems entirely natural on her. She's written all sorts of things -- from kids books to essays to horror. But I'll let her explain that.

WN: Your most recent book out is "AlphaOops: H is for Halloween," a sequel to the "AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First." What inspired you to do two alphabet books for kids?
ALETHEA: An Orson Scott Card lecture and a random train of thought inspired the original AlphaOops story. A friend of mine liked it and sent it to a friend of hers. It was just a fun story; I had no idea of it being a publishable book. But when the head editor of Candlewick Press calls you, speaking so quickly that she chokes up, and begs to publish your book, YOU SAY YES. 

WN: You describe yourself as a "genre-chick." What do you mean by that and how has "genre" work influenced you as a writer?
ALETHEA:  I was not familiar with the term "genre" until I started working in publishing. As a bookseller and librarian, I was taught to shelve by category. The categories most of my favorite books came from were: romance, fantasy, and mystery. When I started working in book wholesale, I became the go-to girl for questions like: "How do you tell a Nora Roberts original book from a reprint?" and "Have you ever heard of 'Sam Raimi?'" and "What's the deal with this Kevin J. Anderson guy?" Almost everybody else Had Literary Degrees and Read James Joyce. I had a degree in Chemistry and read comics. So [artist] Janet Lee and I dubbed ourselves "The Genre Chicks."

My goal as an author is to write books my twelve-year-old self would have loved, cherished, cried over, finished in one day, and read again. I want to be Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones and Lloyd Alexander and Ellen Raskin and Meredith Ann Pierce.

WN: You have also written essays from your life and collaborated with Sherrilyn Kenyon on the Dark-Hunter Companion. What interests you in such diverse types of writing?
ALETHEA:  I have always written. Between the ages of eight and twenty-five, I was a poet. I started my first novel in the seventh grade. I wrote short stories all through high school and college. I was filling up journals long before anyone conceived of the word "blog." I wrote to entertain myself and my friends, and I dreamed about having a novel published one day based on the fairy tales I'd loved as a child.

Actually being published in all these forms--picture books, essay books, science fiction anthologies, romance-novel companions--involved a lot of "being in the right place at the right time" and seizing opportunities. When someone offered me something, I said "YES!" and then figured out a way to make it happen. I swear...I published five books and hit the New York Times list solely on luck and hard work. My first novel (Sunday) will finally be published in spring of 2012. Only then will I feel like a Real Writer. 
WN again: Through a e-mail mix-up, Alethea sent me the first 7,000 words of the sequel to Sunday, called, of course, Saturday, and I read them. I am now wanting it to be 2012 so the first one comes out and I can read them for real.) 

WN: What was the best piece of writing advice you've ever received and how did it help you?
ALETHEA:  As previously mentioned, I got my degree in Chemistry. I was really good at math and really terrible at English, so I didn't have any formal writing instruction until my friend Brandi got me to apply for Orson Scott Card's Literary Writing Bootcamp in 2003...and I got in. It was a week-long experience: two twelve-hour days of intense class work (with homework), 24-hours to write a short story, and then three days of reading and critiquing everyone's stories in a round-table discussion.

On Friday night, when the class was almost over, we all went to dinner. Over dessert, Scott Card was ruminating outloud about the possibility of hosting a year-long novel-writing workshop. I expressed my interest in the workshop. He stopped talking, looked me dead in the face, and said, "Why? Just write the novel."

I think about that moment a lot: every time I distract myself from my work, or get overwhelmed with anxiety, or think I need another workshop or further instruction. I say to myself, "Shut up, Alethea. Just write the novel."

WN:  What books have really captured your attention lately?
ALETHEA: Once upon a time I read books like most people smoke cigarettes, but the more I wrote the less I read. I took on the job as book reviewer for Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show so that would be forced to read at least two books a month in the science fiction and fantasy genre. And I'm so very glad I did.

I am a big fan of Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy. Catching Fire kept the momentum of the first book, and (contrary to popular belief) I thought Mockingjay was a perfect finish. (It wasn't about what boy she ended up with, people. It was about Katniss.) I enjoyed Tamora Pierce's Terrier and Bloodhound books -- she's come a long way in all her years as a writer, and I'm happy to have matured right along with her.

I also found myself caught up in Robin McKinley's Pegasus. She's probably my favorite author of all time, but I've been disappointed in her last few books. Pegasus is a return to her former glory. I can't wait for the second installment. I hope it's about 10,000 pages long. Oh! And I just finished Howard A. Jones' The Desert of Souls. I loved that book so much that I emailed the author when I was finished to gush about it. If you like Arabian Nights, or even the thought of Arabian Nights, you will ADORE this book.

WN: What's next for you as a writer?
ALETHEA: The best story I've ever written is coming out this year--it's called "The Unicorn Hunter"--but I'm not allowed to tell you when or where or with whom yet. Other than that, I'm just writing more novels. And jumping at whatever other opportunity knocks on my door. Knowing me, it could be anything! 

15 March 2011


I've been plotting out the next steps in a couple of areas in my life.

First, I'm in the middle of the semester that brings me half-way through my MBA program. I mapped out my remaining classes against the proposed schedule offered by the school and I'll be done at the end of December 2012. Can I say thrilled? That's three more semesters, not counting what's left of this one.

Second, on April 16, I am running my first ever 5K. I'm taking the Couch to 5k approach. Next week's weather is supposed to be in the mid to upper 40s. I cannot wait to see how I do running my 3.1 miles outside versus in the gym on the treadmill. And at my house, it's dogs, not cats. The dogs are THRILLED about the running.

Third, writing. Actually, it's the lack there of when it comes to writing. I am starting to get that feeling in the back of my head that there's a novel or a story building. I've been ignoring it for the last three years. Other than journaling and blogging, I haven't been writing at all. And I'm okay with that.

Here's why: when I stopped writing in 2008, I never thought I'd pick it up again. I wasn't happy with so much in my life that year. Now, I realize the source of that unhappiness was coming mainly from one aspect of my life. It was very out of control and I did not know what to do about it.

I ignored that one aspect and set some goals for the MBA program. Then I added in fixing my overall health and exercising regularly. I found a plan that worked for both of those. Along the way, I found the discipline I need to accomplish the goals I set. And that piece that was making me unhappy? It is gone. Actually, it's an adjustment of attitude.

Committing to any long term program takes dedication and devotion. It means putting your time in - whether through classroom participation or making sure rubber is meeting the road. It means developing and following a plan.

I look back at where I paused my writing life, and where I am now. The countless lessons I learned between there and here convince me that come January 2013, I will be ready to get back on the writing path, happy to have completed the MBA path.

14 March 2011

Reaching the End

Getting to the end is hard.

There are stories that I don't want to end, because I love the characters or love the action or how all of it ties together. And even though I know that if the writer kept going the story would start to suck because the story's been told, I still wish it could go on.

It's not just books that make me feel this way, but sometimes TV shows too. Like currently, I have one more episode of West Wing to watch and then I'll be done with the series.

I missed this show and all its snappy politics when it was on network television -- I was busy learning how to be a reporter. And then I missed it in syndicated reruns because I didn't (and still don't) have cable. But through the power of Netflix and a good friend who owns all seven seasons, I've now watched all seven seasons, but for the last episode. And I don't want to watch the last one. Except I do.

This isn't the first show I've felt this way with. I remember this when X-Files ended. And when I reached the end of the David Tennant/10th Doctor episodes. And a little bit when watching the final season of Buffy. And Firefly. (OK, alot with Firefly...) Same with the fictional worlds of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books. And Nick Sagan's Idlewild series.

I've traveled along time with these characters. It's taken me a few years to get through all the back seasons because I didn't want to just devour them one after another. I've cried at poignant episodes and been proud of characters and ashamed with them and shocked at the turns of that fictional world's events.

I don't think the show would have continued well had it gone one to season 8 and the start of the Matt Santos presidency. I think seven years of a political procedural drama is really probably all any viewer can take. Whoever decided the show was finished at this point made the right decision.

An ending like this really allows for imagination to take over. What happens in the Santos presidency? Can Josh and Donna really make their relationship work while both working in high power positions in the White House? Does the fictional war in Kazakhstan end well?

So, by the time this posts, I will most likely have popped myself some popcorn and sat down to watch the final West Wing episode. I'll let my imagination take over for the rest.

And in the meantime, I'm taking nominations for what TV series to watch next.

11 March 2011

Tackling a Backlist

Deciding to read an author who has been publishing books for 10 or more years is a serious undertaking. Fellow Word Nerd Bethany as done this a few times with authors like Michael Connelly and Robert Parker.

I have been considering tackling Agatha Christie's backlist. She's one of those authors that spans so much of the mystery genre and has such a large influence that I thought it would be a fun romp through history to read her books. Reason two: she is referenced in Connie Willis' novels Blackout and All Clear. One of the characters in those titles loved Agatha Christie's novel so much, that when I found The Mysterious Affair at Styles available for check-out on my MP3 player, I decided to go for it.

I liked how Poirot solved the mystery. And how Hastings serves as Poirot's Watson. It amused me quite a bit. I decided that Googling Christie's novel list and getting the next few novels queued would be a good idea.

And then I found this pdf file Agatha Christie: Reading Order. See that? An eight page file for the author of back list.

Part of me wants to run the other direction. After all, I remember thinking that Connelly's was too long. And part of me thinks, really? The woman must be on to something.

I have the second title on hold for checkout. I'm looking forward to it. And I've revised my initial timeline of finishing the backlist by next fall. It's a little more open ended now.

10 March 2011

Book Banter -- Kill the Dead

Title: Kill the Dead (Sandman Slim #2)
Author: Richard Kadrey
Genre: urban fantasy
Length: 434 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, fought his way out of hell to come back to Earth to avenge his girlfriend's death. Finished with that, he's now working as hired muscle in LA to deal with problems of the monstrous or war-between-heaven-and-hell variety. When Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness himself, comes to town to oversee a biopic of his life, he taps Stark to be his bodyguard. Stark pushes into the mystery and suddenly, LA is in danger of being overrun with zombies. He must defeat them or risk being sent back to hell.

Banter Points: It's odd to me to write a glowing review of a novel about a guy from hell fighting zombies that was uber-violent and full of trashy elements when I just put down a book about inner city youth that was violent and full of trashy elements. Nevertheless, I'm going to... Kill the Dead is brilliant supernatural noir. Stark, for all his violence and filthy mouth, manages to get you to root for him as the anti-hero of the decade. The writing is as stark as the main character and Kadrey manages to make it all poetic in its sparsity and Starks' internal self-doubt.

Bummer Points: The problem with coming into a series at the beginning is the wait for future volumes. Additionally, while reading and enjoying this book about demons and zombies and hoodoo magic, I always sort of feel like I should be getting zapped from some kind of heavenly lighting bolt because something this twisted and wrong shouldn't be so right.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I've seen a few people compare Sandman Slim to Harry Dresden and it's a comparison that sort of works if you take Harry, strip away everything that makes him a good guy, dip him in "Interview with the Vampire" angst, and roll him in something like the Screwtape Letters if they'd been written by a Satan worshipper and bake him to a crisp. I haven't ever read anything quite like these, so the recommendation is that if you're looking for something ompletely unique, Sandman Slim is it.

09 March 2011

Author Answers with Seth Harwood 2.0

Word Nerd's welcoming back a great guest this week, Seth Harwood. Seth first was here almost four years ago and we're thrilled to have him back today to talk about his latest novel, Young Junius.

   Word Nerd: Young Junius is about an African American teenager caught up in gang violence in a housing project. You're a white guy who went to the Iowa Writer's Workshop and teaches at Stanford. How did you end up writing this book?
SETH HARWOOD: This is the book I felt I had to write. After growing up around this culture and being fascinated with it for a long time, in addition to loving the work of Richard Price, David Simon and the rest of the crew at The Wire, I had to take a shot at writing this story, even being a white guy such as I am. After Jack Wakes Up, when many of my online fans were looking for more stories about Junius Ponds, it seemed like a natural fit to go back to the Boston area in the late 80s, where most of my short stories have taken place. In my teens, I watch some good friends descend into this world, and I’ve always been fascinated with it.

WN: Junius is violent and full of profanities. Did you worry about how some readers would react to the book's raw-ness?
SETH: Yes. I mean this book is definitely a dark read. But looking at the success of The Wire, Dexter, and some of the other books and series that I love, I had to take a shot at this. It’s definitely not the book for everybody, and doesn’t have as wide an appeal as the Jack Palms books, but I love this genre. I had a great time working in it.

WN: You got your start through a non-traditional means of getting your book to the public -- podcasting. What's the journey been like since the early days to now? (Check out the first Word Nerd interview with Seth to learn about his podcasting.)
SETH It’s been a lot of fun, to be honest. I mean, to some extent we’re all reinventing the publishing industry every day, which has its ups and downs, but with what I’ve been able to do by directly connecting with fans/listeners/readers… that’s really buoyed me. It’s been an amazing boost to my confidence and production as a writer.

WN: What books are capturing your attention these days?
SETH: These days I’m reading Daniel Woodrell, Lawrence Block, David Simon, and lots of George Pelecanos. Also non-fiction by Barbara Ehrenreich and Eric Schlosser as well as Stephen Koch’s excellent book on teaching writing.

WN: What's the best piece of advice you ever got as a writer and how did it help you?
SETH: Wow. That’s a tough one. I think it’s the basic line that’s ultimately the best: keep writing. There’s nothing to touch or compensate for hanging in there as far as writing and publishing are concerned. Nothing happens fast. It’s the ones who endure who survive.

WN: What's next for you as a writer?
SETH: Jack Palms II: This Is Life will be coming out this fall from Tyrus Books (in October) and we’ll have a special edition of that on sale at my site right around then. I also just podcasted a new Jack Palms tale, Triad Death Match, which is coming to ebook formats soon!

08 March 2011

Book Banter -- Insatiable

Title: Insatiable
Author: Meg Cabot
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 450 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library

Plot Basics: Meena Harper is a writer for daytime TV drama Insatiable. The vampire crazy has taken over the daytime set - and New York City. The city is plagued by a killer that is draining the victims of their blood. Lucien, the prince of the vampires, comes to New York to figure out who is behind the murders. His hosts for the trip happen to live next door to Meena. Romance ensues. Along with more murder, vampire killers and a couple of out of work financial analysts who are desparate for jobs.

Banter Points: I had hoped that this would be a fun novel, like I hear Cabot's usually are. And while the writing, tone and overall concept are fun, the actual book is, well, dull and trite. See bummer points.

Bummer Points: I should have known to stop when the vampire hunter, a rather egotistic man who is only in it for the money (even though the organization he works for is more like the typical business rather than the Catholic Church), named his sword "Senor Sticky." I hoped that it would get better.

It didn't.

Meena is so obsessed with her show that every thing in her life revolves around it. Take for instance, the dinner party where she meets Lucien. Every piece of her conversation relates back to the show. Even though he is supposedly a visiting professor from a foreign university who teaches a fascinating and slightly obscure branch of history. Instead she turns all of the conversational tidbits back to the show and its competition that is vampire-obssessed.

Meena's brother is really quite whiney. I never did figure out why he was there or what plot device he was fulfilling. Given how Meena focused on one thing only, it should not have been a surprise that her brother had the same problem. Genetic flaw, I guess.

Lucien should have been a scary vampire. He is the son of the original Vlad of the Bram Stroker fame. Yet, his freakish falling in love with Meena made it impossible to find him scary.

This should have been a light hearted romp through the vampire crazed US. Instead it was a cheezy, badly written, please skip me version of much better vampire literature.

Stacie's Recommendation: Really, don't waste your time.

07 March 2011

Book Banter -- Indefensible

Title: Indefensible
Author: Pamela Callow
Genre: Thriller
Length: 502 pages
Where Bethany's Copy Came From: Review copy from Planned TV Arts
Plot Basics: Lawyer Kate Lange wants to heal from her encounter with a serial killer and maybe figure out if the tension between her and her boss, Randall Barrett is something or not. But when Barrett's ex-wife falls to her death in suspicious circumstances, he's targeted as the murder. Or possibly his son who wants vengeance for the way his family's fallen apart. It ends up falling to Kate to defend Barrett and try to keep Barrett's family from being totally destroyed.
Banter Points: This is a thriller set in Canada, the city of Halifax specifically. That's kind of cool since most of them out there are in Chicago, Los Angeles or New York (or so it often seems.)
Bummer Points: The basic problem with this book is that it could never decide who it was really about. Chapters bounced around like pinballs between Kate, Randall, his kids, Nick and Lucy, Kate's ex-fiance who happens to the be the lead detective on the case, Randall's ex-wife (before she ends up dead) and the killer. The problem is the story ends up being about nothing more than a series of events instead of the people that it's happening to. Unlike a "Boomtown" episode which navigated smoothly between multiple main characters, this story felt jerky and erratic.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Skip it unless you want a serious case of character whiplash.

04 March 2011

Book Banter -- Venom

Title: Venom
Author: Jennifer Estep
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Length: 416
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library

Plot Basics: Mab Monroe knows someone is out for her. Gin Blanco, restaurant owner and casual student, is on the short list, but only because Mab's flunkies Jonah McAllister and Elliot Slater have it out for her. But it isn't until Roslyn approaches Gin about the new role Elliot has assigned himself in Roslyn's life that Gin openly moves against Mab.

Gin's baby sister, Bria, is back in Ashland too. She has Gin's sense of outrage at innocent people inability to fight back. Only she is a Ashland's newest detective and she is figuring out quickly that Mab runs the town.

Banter Points: Gin is beginning to recognize her own fate in her fight against Mab Monroe. It should have been a little more obvious, given Gin's love of classic literature including the Greek tragedies. But this title firmly pushed Gin into the battle, so one can forgive her late recognition.

Gin decides that it is time for her to step forward and begin crumbling Mab's empire. Between the events of the last book, including those occurring in Gin's love life, and the plea for help Gin receives from Rosalyn, Gin is neatly backed on a corner. I could imagine Estep nodding in success and challenging Gin to get out of this spot.

Of course Gin does, but not without some spectacular collateral damages to Mab's forces.

Bummer Points: Okay, it's a bit on the picky side, but Estep has a fondness for certain phrases. Like the way Gin introduces herself. It does not flow well and jarred me put of the story. There are a couple others that do it as well. The rest of the writing style is great; makes me wonder what the editor is saying about them. Sometimes the phrases are welcomed since it ties many elements together. It could be that I'm reading too fast and it makes them more apparent.

Either way, it's a nit picky comment and I'll take full lumps for tossing it out there.

Stacie's Recommendation: I'm sticking by this series. Great characters, depth and bad guys you love to hate. The ongoing mystery of Gin's family and history keeps me wishing for more.

Bonus: Jennifer has graciously agreed to be part of our Author Answers series. Watch for her interview in April!

03 March 2011

Anna Karenina Pts 1 and 2

I'm really proud of myself for getting through the first two parts of Anna Karenina and I have to admit, I'm ready to get back to it.

Somebody described it as a soap opera and I keep trying to keep that descriptor in my head while reading. I think it's helping. As I watch the tangle of lives of all the main character, it does feel like what I assume to be in a soap opera. (I've only ever flipped past them on TV and don't think I've ever even watched a whole episdoe...)

As promised, here's some discussion for parts 1 and 2. If you're reading along with us, feel free to tackle any or all of these questions in the comments:

So far, who's your favorite character and why?
If you were Tolstoy's editor today, which character would you urge him to cut out of the story at this point?
What's been the most surprising thing you noticed in how this book is put together? What would you expect to be different if Anna Karenina came out now?

02 March 2011

Author Answers with Maurice Broaddus

If you've met Maurice, you know that he's his own introduction. If you've never met Maurice, you're missing out. In addition to being the author of the Knights of Breton Court series, countless short stories and co-editor of the Stoker-nominated Dark Faith anthology, we're lucky here at Word Nerd to call Maurice a friend.

We tore him away from his busy writing schedule to answer a few questions. You can find out more about Maurice at his website.

WORD NERD: King's Justice hits shelves here in the US in March (I saw it at Barnes and Noble yesterday, in fact). You've described your series as "Excalibur meets The Wire." How does the King Arthur myth fit into urban Indianapolis?
MAURICE: Not always comfortably, I’ll tell you that. When you mention King Arthur, everyone comes to the work with a certain amount of expectations and preconceptions. I’ll have to beg the readers forgiveness if I ignore most of them. It’s a different world than many fantasy readers are used to exploring, and I’m fine with that. If I’d set the story on a distant planet, they’d have to get use to the language and nuance of culture there also.

On the flip side, the myths are timeless and infinitely adaptable, because the themes are universal. Lost love, betrayed love, grabs for power, the bid for redemption … you can drop those themes into any setting. Plus I think what people forget is that there were a lot most stories associated with King Arthur beyond Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Merlin. And that’s where the real fun lies.

WN:  You've also got a whole host of short stories set to come out this year and more novels and stories are in the works. How do you keep track of all the plots you're working on?
MAURICE: Hmm…if the fact that I recently discovered a novel that I had started and forgotten proves anything, is that I don’t. Two things keep me on point: deadlines and energy. Either I move with whatever project has the closest deadline or I go with whatever project holds my interest and primes my creative pump.

I suppose I should add a third thing: collaborators. Currently I am juggling six collaborative projects and my partners—who also have deadlines and energy priorities—have a way of reminding me what should be on my immediate plate.

WN:  In addition to writing, you've also edited the Stoker-nominated "Dark Faith" anthology and are gearing up for "Dark Faith II." What has being an anthology editor taught you about writing?
MAURICE: For a start, it’s reminded me that being professional and adhering to the editor’s instruction already places you ahead of the game. I was stunned by how many people shoot themselves in the foot before anyone even looked at their stories.

I think every writer ought to take a turn wrangling a slush pile. When you start picking apart stories for their weaknesses, it sharpens your eye for when you turn to your own work. All of those soft beginnings, those times of style over plot, the thin characterizations, the uninspired dialogue … you start seeing enough examples of them and you immediately turn to your stories and start tossing out pages.

WN: As a reader, what books have captured your attention lately?
MAURICE: Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. I know, I’m a little late coming to that party. But I tend to read stuff based on where my creative head is (it helps as I switch from project to completely divergent project). So I have Boneshaker and the Steampunk anthologies edited by the Vandermeers. Stephen King’s The Stand. And … The Velveteen Rabbit.

WN: You also help host this convention every year in Indianapolis... Mo*Con...How did you end up with a convention named after you and what's on the docket for this year?
MAURICE: Well, the origin of the convention is that when I was going to conventions, I’d always end up in these great spiritual discussions. So I thought it would be a neat idea to build a church service around one. A friend of mine who wished to annoy me kept calling it Mo*Con and the name stuck. This year is Mo*Con VI and it continues to expand. We will have an art gallery featuring artists Danny Evarts and Steve Gilberts. We will have writers crossing all kinds of genres and media, like Cullen Bunn, Lucien Soulban, Lee Thomas, and Gina Ranalli. Plus some familiar faces will be there. One of the conversations I’m most excited about will be on the topic of homosexuality, the church, and literature. I expect that one to be the capper of the weekend.
(FMI on Mo*Con VI: Return of the Mo, go here. Maurice will be there. It's still up in the air if 1/2 of Word Nerd will be there, but we're hoping.)

WN: What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever received and how did it help you?
MAURICE: “Writers finish things.” It reminded me that a lot of people play at being writers. People find out you’re a writer and suddenly everyone tells you about how they ought to write a book. But writers finish things. We don’t just have the idea, we commit it to paper. We don’t just commit words to paper, but we have to get to the end of that story. And we don’t just stop at ending a story, but we suck it up and send it out in order to try to get published.

“We got bills to pay.” This wasn’t so much advice as much as a reminder from my wife. One, she was telling me to get over whatever bout of writerly angst I was having because we can’t explain writer’s block to the mortgage company. And two, she reminded me that was I did took time and effort and I needed to be compensated for it. Which means pursuing better markets and not settling for “exposure”.

01 March 2011

Rumor Mongering: Free Kindles by November 2011

Check out this rumor I found on kottke.org, who heard it from Kevin Kelly, who heard it from John Walkenbach:

Kevin Kelly forecasts that Amazon will soon be handing out free Kindles...perhaps to Amazon Prime members.

In October 2009 John Walkenbach noticed that the price of the Kindle was falling at a consistent rate, lowering almost on a schedule. By June 2010, the rate was so unwavering that he could easily forecast the date at which the Kindle would be free: November 2011.

Since then I've mentioned this forecast to all kinds of folks. In August, 2010 I had the chance to point it out to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. He merely smiled and said, "Oh, you noticed that!" And then smiled again.

The Kindle has never been knock-it-out-of-the-park great...it looks like Amazon's strategy is not to build a great e-reader but to build a pretty good free e-reader.

I can see this. My boss' wife got a free Kindle when she went to an Oprah show. He firmly believes she never would have bought one, but now that she has it, she gets books for it.