29 April 2011

Bookish Peeves

I was thinking about the tagline for the Word Nerd's blog - "No pocket protectors here; just don't break the spines on the books."

It's appropriate.

I have another book-related pet peeve - dog-earred corners and highlighting.

In my mind, both taint the book. It shouts, "Look, someone else found me important! Significant! Worthy of their time! Look at me!"

Let me form my own opinion. I'll judge for myself, thank you very much.

I feel the same way about exclamation points. Just because you think it was important, doesn't me I will find it so.

What's your bookish pet peeve?

28 April 2011

Book Banter -- Dead Man Rising

Title: Dead Man Rising (Dante Valentine, bk. 2)
Author: Lilith Saintcrow
Genre: Urban fantasy
Length: 273 pages (e-book)
Where Bethany's Copy Came From: IMCPL Digital Collections
Plot Basics: Saint City's best bounty hunter, Dante Valentine, is leaping from job to job as a way to bury the grief from losing Japhrimel (bk. 1) and avoiding finding out exactly what she is now that he imbued her with. She and Shaman Jace Monroe are contacted by their friend Gabe at the police department to look into a string of brutal but seemingly unconnected murders. When one of the dead turns out to be an old classmate of Danny's from the infamous Rigger Hall psionic training center, Danny has to face her history to get to the bottom of the murders. The abusive headmaster at Rigger was allegedly taken down by a group of his students and as Danny learns, the dead have ties to that group. Guided by Japh's voice (even though she believes him dead), Danny goes back to Rigger to take down the murderer and face her fears.

Banter Points: It has been more than a year since I read the first Dante Valentine book and I'm wondering why I waited so long. I was definitely in the mood for some urban/paranormal fantasy and "Dead Man Rising" absolutely fit the bill. Danny is a great character - tortured and ferocious and romantic. It's easy for urban fantasy characters to be there only as window dressings between the fight scenes, but Danny herself is compelling to read the story. How she will react to the events around her kept me turning pages.

Bummer Points: I had to get entirely reconnected to Danny's world since it had been so long since I read book one. The words for the different magic types looked familiar, but I couldn't remember all the in's-and-out's of the world and it made for slower reading.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I'm definitely going to keep going with this series, and sooner rather than later. I wouldn't be surprised if the Dante Valentine series ends up in my list of "Can't Miss" urban fantasy books -- right up there with Dresden Files and Weather Warden series'.

27 April 2011

Author Answers with Taylor Morris

Today's Answers come from Taylor Morris. Taylor writes for 'tweens. Check it out.

WN: How did you become a writer for 'tweens?

TM: The short story is: When I submitted my first novel to my agent, he suggested the story was a bit more suited for tweens than my intended young adults, and I agreed to change the age by two years, down to 13. This was excellent advice, and I’ve found it a great age to write about.

The long story is that it all began in college. I was in a writing workshop at Emerson College and I wrote a story set in high school. The class really liked it and I got some great feedback, but all the other students wrote super-serious stories that were dark and had adult issues. I thought that maybe what I was writing wasn’t serious enough and I needed to do what my classmates were doing, so the next week I wrote a story about something I knew nothing about. This is embarrassing. *takes deep breath* I wrote about a high-powered executive who can’t take the pressure so she leaps to her death off a high rise in downtown L.A. I knew nothing about being a high powered anything, especially not an executive, nor did I know anything about feeling suicidal. I had minimal knowledge of downtown LA.

The feedback was mortifying. They were nice, but they also had nothing good to say about the story. Finally someone said, “Why don’t you write like you did last week?” The class agreed they liked that genre from me, and that I did it well. I told myself I’d never go back.

WN: What is it like writing for that age group? Any great stories to share?

TM: The great thing about writing for tweens is that many of the experiences the characters go through are so new. First crushes, first big fights with friends, navigating cliques, making moral choices, good stuff like that.

WN: If you had to actually live the life of one of the characters in your book(s) who would you want to be and why?

TM: I would like to be Lucia Latham of TOTAL KNOCKOUT. Despite the punches I put her through in the book, I like her because she’s much more self-assured than I’ve ever been. She plows forward for what she wants, and she’s always sure that she’s going to get it. If there’s an obstacle in her way, she’ll figure out a way to get around it. Those are great qualities. Plus, her best friend, Cooper, has a trampoline and parents who cook amazing food—huge bonuses in a best friend.

WN: What kinds of things are you doing when you are not writing?

TM: I love, love, love to travel. Any chance I have to visit a new country, I go! But since that’s an expensive hobby, I also really enjoy hiking at Breakneck Ridge in Cold Spring, NY (fresh air and nature!), and walking for miles around New York City, especially with my friend Jessamyn and her little dog, Golda. One of our last walks was eight miles from Queens and through Brooklyn on one of the most perfect spring days of the year so far.

WN: Most of your books are about a pivotal moment in a pre-teens life - an embarrassing mom, blending in, gossip, etc. What makes this a great place for you to write in?

TM: For one, there’s always lots of drama in this age group to write about—and by the way, drama is so much more fun to write about than it is to live in. Also, like I said earlier, many emotions are being experienced for the first time but you’re also learning how to handle your emotions. Usually they go spilling over because everything in life is so heightened at this age, so something like your mom picking you up in her clunky car right in front of the movie theater while all your friends—and your crush—are standing there watching can feel utterly humiliating. Believe me, I know this to be absolutely true.

WN: I have to ask - any daughters?

TM: Nope, no kids at all. I have three amazing nieces, though, each of whom I’ve dedicated one of my HELLO, GORGEOUS books to. The oldest, Haden, is almost 10 and reminds me of how I felt at her age—moments of uncertainty, moments of feeling bold, and lots of moments of wondering where you fit in.

WN: What question should the Word Nerds ask, but haven't?

TM: Good question! You should have asked me which book is closest to something that has happened to me in real life. I totally would have told you—and the true story is as good as the fictional story.

C'mon, Taylor, don't leave us hanging! What about a follow-up in the comments?

26 April 2011


I have two quotations on my cubicle wall at work.

The first is quite well-known, but only for the final statement:
For a long time, it seemed to me that life was about to begin -- real life. But there always was some obstacle in the way, soemthign to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way, so treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one. Happiness is a journey, not a destination. -- Sousa

Reading it in its entirety, at least once a week, helps me keep my perspective. I've had this quote for at least two years.

Recently, this one joined it:
Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow." -- Mary Anne Radmacher
I have found that keeping my perspective aligned is the most beneficial act I can take. Reading books helps. It provides exposure to new thoughts and ideas.

It provides an alternative to the view I normally use.

What's your favorite quote? Why?

25 April 2011

Anna Karenina Pts. V and VI

I'm through another 300-odd pages of AK and well over the halfway point. I'm feeling confident that I'll finish this book in May, just as planned.

April's goal was to get it done before I hopped on a plane for a little trip so that I could take fun books with me on the airplane (Michael Connelly, Lilith Saintcrow and Jim Butcher, anyone?)

Another friend said, "I can't get through it because it's so dark." And I thought, "Dark?" And then we promptly started talking about slogging our way through the unabridged Les Miserables and all those chapters about Waterloo...

But Anna.... I finally realized in this section that the title is really about the daughter, Anna, not Anna Arkadyevitch and I think today that an editor would demand a different title. (Of course an editor today would want graphic sex and Vronsky and Karenin would have had that duel 400 pages ago and the book would be a 1/3 of its length.)

But an editor would excise out all of Levin and Kitty which right now is the part of the story I like. And I get when Tolstoy put them in there. He had to show another couple, other than Anna and Vronsky. I like all the tenderness between them and how Levin is growing into his own from the beginning of the book.

Given the kind of story its been so far, I expect that AK will turn quite tragic in the last 250 pages. People have to start dying. No predictions yet on who it's going to be, but there's no way a book this long can have a happy ending.

22 April 2011

Good Friday

Good Friday is a time that always reminds me to be thankful to those that sacrifice for others.

Regardless of your views, please take a moment and remember those things that other have done to make our lives better.

21 April 2011

Book Banter -- Save As Draft

Title: Save As Draft
Author: Cavanaugh Lee
Genre: romantic comedy
Length: 324 pages
Where Bethany's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Izabell Chin is a young lawyer who heads to the Internet dating scene to meet someone. Thus she begins a correspondence in this epistolary email novel with Marty. But her dating situation takes a turn when she and her long-time friend and co-worker Peter hook up. The story follows this quasi love-triangle and looks at the pitfalls of dating, work and timing in relationships.

Banter Points: I was drawn to this book with its sleek cover poking fun at the Apple icon and the epistolary nature of the book. I have always like stories told in letters and this modern twist on that (emails and twitter posts) seemed clever. It was an interesting read because the reader doesn't actually see any of the action, just the words about. Marty and Izzy meet, but all you get is the follow-up emails, for example. The book is also littered with the emails that the characters write but never send, giving the reader a true glimpse into their feelings.

Bummer Points: This book reminded me why Internet dating is so hard. This book was also clearly cheap therapy for Cavanaugh Lee who even dedicates it to the real "Peter" and "Marty." She even talks about it here on her website, explaining that yes, this did really happen. While I enjoyed the book, I think I would have liked it more if she'd dreamt the whole thing up instead of pilfering her life. I'm not saying we fiction writers don't borrow heavily from what we've gone through (we do) but I was bummed because she was so blatant about it.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I read much of this book while awake in the middle of the night with heartburn (not a broken heart, mind you) and it was the right speed for that when I wasn't entirely awake and needed something distracting. Probably a good airplane/beach book. Would definitely not recommend it if you're on the rebound from a failed relationship.

20 April 2011

Author Answers: Jennifer Estep

Today's Answers come from Jennifer Estep, the author behind the Elemental Assassin series. I happened upon Estep's work while looking through Amazon's recommended reads for me. Boy, am I glad the algorithm was working that day. I'm a big fan of Gin Blanco, assassin for hire.

WN: Ashland is a tough place to live. The upper class regularly hires assassins to take out their enemies. And Gin is one of the best. Tell us more about what drives Ashland and those that live there.

JE: Well, like you said, Ashland is definitely a dark, gritty, corrupt, Southern city. It’s every man and woman for themselves in Ashland, and since the cops are so corrupt and crooked, the only justice that people get is what they make for themselves – with whatever weapon happens to be handy. LOL.

When I decided to write an assassin character, I wanted to put her in a world that would justify some of her actions. That’s why I made Ashland such a dangerous, volatile place. In Ashland, the rich scheme to get richer and bring down their enemies, while the middle- and lower-class folks are just trying to survive – something that Gin helps them with from time to time by doing her own brand of “pro-bono” work.

WN: Gin Blanco has a bit of Robin Hood in her; she takes the time and effort to help others, especially the down trodden. It is something that her mentor, Fletcher Lane, did as well. How does this fit into their lives and after hours work.

JE: Even though she’s spent most of her adult life being an assassin, Gin hates bullies more than anything else. So when she sees that someone – a good, innocent person – is being bullied or threatened, she finds herself stepping in to help them, even if it puts her in danger.

Also, family is very important to Gin since her mother and older sister were murdered, so when someone’s family is also threatened, well, that really pushes Gin’s buttons and makes her even more determined to protect and help them – no matter what.

I think it’s also a little bit of atonement as well, a way to balance out some of the bad things that Gin’s had to do herself over the years.

WN: Gin's love life - it's the one place she isn't in charge. Tell us more about the men she is (or isn't) attracted to.

JE: Well, in Spider’s Bite and Web of Lies, Gin’s love interest was Donovan Caine, a real straight-arrow detective. But at the end of Web of Lies, Donovan decided that he just couldn’t come to terms with Gin being an assassin and he left Ashland.

Lucky for Gin, sexy businessman Owen Grayson was more than happy to step up in Venom and let Gin know that he had no problems with her being an assassin, since he’s done some of the same bad things that she has over the years to keep his younger sister safe. Gin likes Owen, but she’s struggling to figure out how she feels about him … something that’s a big part of Tangled Threads, the fourth book in the series.

WN: Family is incredibly important to Gin, especially since she lost her own at such a young age. Any hints for the readers as to what's in store?

JE: Well, I can’t give out too many spoilers, but I’ll say that there’s a lot of emotion and interaction between Gin and her long-lost sister Bria in Tangled Threads. Their relationship is one of the things that drives the book, as well as Spider’s Revenge, the fifth book in the series.

WN: Let's shift gears a bit here, from your Elemental series to your writing life. What motivates you to write stories like Gin's or Gwen Frost from the Mythos academy?

JE: I love reading books that have a little bit of everything in them – magic, action, danger, romance, drama – and those are the kinds of books that I like writing too. I write books so I can tell the stories that I want to tell. It sounds a little crazy, saying that I listen to characters’ voices in my head, but that’s what happens sometimes.

So far, I’ve just been really lucky that readers have enjoyed Gin and all her crazy adventures. It’s really humbling to know that people read and enjoy my work, and I always try to make each book better than the last.

WN: Every writer has a method that gets them to the final draft. What's your writing process like?

JE: I’m a total punster. LOL. I don’t do character outlines or storyboards or things like that. I usually just think about my heroine, her magic, the key turning points of the story, and then I sit down and start writing.

I try to write at least 2,000 to 3,000 words a day when I’m working on a rough draft just so I can get the story down. Once I have around 50,000 or 60,000 words or so, I set the draft aside for a few weeks before going back to it, reading through, and seeing if the story will work.

Then, I’ll start on my second draft, where I really polish everything up and fill in all the gaps. Then, I’ll set that draft aside for a few weeks before going back to it, reading through, and making corrections, etc. I usually repeat this process three or four times until I have a finished book (90,000 words-plus) that’s as good as I can make it.

It’s not pretty, but it’s the system that works for me – so far, anyway.

WN: Anything else I should ask, but haven't?

JE: I’d just say that folks should be on the lookout for several books from me this year. Tangled Threads, the fourth book in my Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series, will published on April 26, while Spider’s Revenge, the fifth book, will be released in October.

I also write the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series. The books focus on Gwen Frost, a 17-year-old Gypsy girl who has the gift of psychometry, or the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it. After a serious freak-out with her magic, Gwen is shipped off to Mythos Academy, a school for the descendants of ancient warriors like Spartans, Valkyries, Amazons, and more.

The first book, Touch of Frost, will be out in August, while the second book, Kiss of Frost, will hit shelves in December. First Frost, a prequel e-short story to the series, will be out in July. For excerpts, free short stories and more, visit www.jenniferestep.com.

Happy reading, everyone!

Thanks so much for the Answers, Jennifer!

19 April 2011

Lessons Learned -- 5k Style

  1. If it is raining, bring dry clothes.
  2. Bring your own safety pins cos they will run out
  3. Setting a goal against yourself is better than measuring against someone else
  4. It is a rush of emotions as you cross a finish line
  5. The morale support of complete strangers is amazing
  6. Park near the finish line, not the starting point

As I ran, I kept thinking, this is amazing. And, there's a post in here somewhere.

My goals were A) run the whole time, and B) finish in forty minutes or less.

I had to walk three times and finished in 32 minutes and 14 seconds. I was a bit upset at the walking to be honest. So much so that I lead with that in every recounting of the race that I gave. Finally, my husband says, "Who cares if you had to walk. You ran it in 8 minutes less than you thought you would."

He's right. I was focused on the wrong piece. To date, that is my fast pace yet. I normally run somewhere between 12:30 and 11:30. Being with other like minded folks shaved some minutes off my mile.

New Lessons to Follow:
  1. Align yourself with people who support your writing
  2. Measure against yourself, not others

18 April 2011

Book Banter: The Final Alice

Title: The Final Alice
Author: Alycia Ripley
Genre: sci-fi?
Length: 293 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Review e-book copy from Planned Television Arts
Plot Basics: 30-year-old Alice Pleasance is the great-granddaughter of the Alice (rabbit hole, Wonderland, Jabberwocky-fame) and is waiting for her turn to experience Wonderland, as all the women in that line have. She is miserable in her non-magical life and depressed, even going so far as to attempt (and failing) suicide. Finally when her time comes, she is informed by a giant, talking deer named Simmons that she is the last Alice who must keep the Red King from invading earth. Joined by a team who all have special powers (memory erasing, telekinesis, etc.) Alice does battle with the Red King's minions on earth, continuing to grow into her own powers until the final battle and the final choice about her Wonderland reward.

Banter Points: This might be the strangest version of Alice that's out there (way weirder that even Tim Burton's trippy Alice movie) but it's oddly compelling. Even though this story happens on Earth instead of in Wonderland, most of the expected tropes are there (the EAT ME/DRINK ME food, the tea party, the rabbit, etc.) A lot of the book is action sequences as Alice destroys the Red King's minions and Ripley puts together a heck of a fight scene (and not just once, but over and over again.)

Bummer Points: This book leaps in great directions and sometimes, it's a little disorienting. And all those fight scenes get kind of gory after a while... there's an awful lot of blood. Ripley also mixes a lot of scriptural metaphors into the story, making the symbolism muddy at times (is Alice some kind of redeemer figure? and the Red King a devil? The devil?)

Word Nerd Recommendation: I just can't decide. I want somebody else to read it so I can compare my reaction, but I'm still undecided on whether I liked it or not.

15 April 2011

Continuing the Interruption

I have to pause and take a moment to brag.

It isn't often that I have a pat on the back moment that I ask for public recognition on, but darn it, today is the day.

I am on the eve of my first ever 5K.

In 2009, I decided to stop being unhappy with my physical self and shed some pounds. I found a method that worked for me and lost 55 pounds in 2010. I still have a few more to go, but I feel fantastic.

So incredibly fantastic, in fact, that I decided that the goal for 2011 was to run three 5ks. The first is this Saturday as part of the Oshkosh Half-Marathon.

I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm thinking about how great it will feel to finish.

Thanks for letting me boast.

14 April 2011

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Word Nerd Bethany is off doing her real job today.

OK, maybe that needs some clarification. She does her real job every day. But today is the 5th Annual Starfish Story Breakfast which means that she's glad-handing donors and making a little speech at about 8:04 this morning. Yes, she has scripted the event down to the minute.

Writing remarks is a totally different kind of writing that what I normally do. I think I channeled my best inner Sam Seaborn (the speech writer from West Wing, for the culturally forgetful....) and have good things to say.

If you want to know more about Starfish, you can check it out here. Also, if you're a regular reader in the greater Indianapolis area, consider being a mentor. We need more volunteer adults. It's the best volunteer thing I've ever done (and I'm not just saying that since I work there.)

13 April 2011

Author Answers: Janette Rallison

Today's Author Answers come from Janette Rallison. She's witty. She's clever. Her answers will make you laugh out loud. Dive in!

WN: What are the five things a reader must know about "How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-boyfriend"?
  1. It’s a romantic comedy so be careful not to drink soda while reading it. I’ve heard from readers that sometimes the soda ends up getting snorted into your nose.
  2. It features Giovanna and her twin brother, Dante. I have a teenage set of boy-girl twins. They are awesome!
  3. It includes some bad dates. I’m pretty much an expert on those, having gone through many myself.
  4. It involves a high-stakes theft. (Okay, it’s actually a biology room break-in involving frog corpses.)
  5. But there is a car chase in the book, so it’s all very Hollywood.

WN: From pre-teen readers to young adults, you have a bit of everything for readers. Who is your favorite audience?
JR: Anyone who has a sense of humor.

WN: Okay, this one is completely unfair -- which character is your favorite? Why? (It's sort of like picking your favorite child, I know.)
JR: It’s really hard to pick a favorite character. My 17th book will be out in a couple of weeks—My Unfair Godmother—and the 18th comes out this fall, so I have a lot of characters to choose from, My favorite would depend on what sort of mood I’m in. I’ll have to say right now my favorite girl character is Annika from Just One Wish. She’s so fearless and will do whatever it takes to help her sick brother, even though she’s struggling in so many ways herself. My favorite guy is Tristan from My Fair Godmother. I just love a geek turned hot guy.

WN: Speaking of favorites and kids, you have five kids. There's no evidence of a super hero cloak. How do you do it?
JR: Well, very often my house is a mess and I’m in my pajamas way past the normal time. I also serve a lot of pizza for dinner.

WN: Your website is geared to the young reader who might be looking for book report information. What's the best question you've gotten from a fan?
JR:Will you please write a sequel to . . . whichever book they just read. It’s a great compliment that kids like my books so much they want to know what happens to the characters next. Sometimes they even give me suggestions.

WN: What advice to you have for the budding writer? Do you give different advice to the budding writer who is willing to admit their age then one who is mumble mumble?
JR: The advice is the same no matter what age you are: Read a lot and learn the craft. There are some great books on writing. Start reading and collecting them. They’ll save you a ton of time in rewrites. Then get busy and write. Don’t worry about it being perfect. That’s what revisions are for.

WN: What question do you have for the Word Nerds?
JR: What is the deal with the letter P? I mean, was being a P not enough for this letter that he had to take over other letters’ functions? There he is in phone and pneumonia and alphabet. He’s like some social climber party crasher that noses his way into other people’s photos. Oh, there’s another one—photos. Honestly, I bet he drives the other letters crazy.

That P does sound pretty suspicious...hmm...maybe our readers have good answer. Janette has graciously agreed to give away a copy of "How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-boyfriend." To be entered, just leave a comment as to your take on the letter P to be entered to win. One name will be drawn at random.

12 April 2011

Book Banter -- Top Suspense

Title: Top Suspense
Editor: Dave Zeltserman
Genre: Mystery
Length: 198 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Advance Reader Copy
Plot Basics: Readers of mysteries will find something between these covers that will thrill them. Thirteen top authors come together to strut their stuff.

Banter Points: Whether you are seeking something from the 1920s or the future, there's a story in here for you. The point of view shifts from detective to victim to parent to child. Each story, independent from the one prior or the one that follows, captures a different aspect of a mystery.

Bummer Points: Each story has its own voice. While it was fun to see each one navigate through its own plot, they aren't really connected either, outside of the mystery theme. This is probably more of a personal perference than an actual bummer on the writing or story telling capability. I expected a bit more around a theme. This is more of a loosely related collection.

Stacie's Recommendation: It's okay. I'd probably check it out from the local library versus buying it.

11 April 2011

Bethany's March Bibliometer

Now that the first quarter of the year is done, I'm crunching book stats to make sure I'm track to hit my 85 books this year.

March was a good month and if I keep this pace for the whole year, I'll have no problem. April has a pending plane trip coming, so I'm hopeful I'll finish an extra title so that I can get ahead a little. I'm hoping only to get one book ahead because that means all my flights will be scheduled correctly...

So, March stats:
7 books
2204 pages (including parts of Anna Karenina not counted in the book total yet)
Avg. 71 pages/day

YTD Totals
21 books
6814 pages

08 April 2011

Favorite Words

I have a handful of favorite words that I've collected over the years

It always warms my heart when I see one of these words in printed material. No particular reason, it just does.

One of the things I really like about classics is the rich use of words that modern society has traded in for a straight forward word. Forget the sobriquets, everyone has nicknames now. And when was the last time you meandered or ambulated around the park? Everyone walks now. My son is no longer loquacious, instead he is talkative.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the ubiquitous state of Legos in my house. It's impossible to keep them in one location. I'm consistently finding them in the kitchen, living room, bath room, stairs, etc.

What word do you wish you heard more?

07 April 2011

Book Banter -- Tombs of Endearment

Title: Tombs of Endearment (Pepper Martin bk. 3)
Author: Casey Daniels
Genre: mystery
Length: 307 pages
Where Bethany's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: PI to the dead Pepper Martin takes on sex, drugs and rock and roll in the third book in the series. She reluctantly agrees to help rock-n-roll legend Damon Curtis, dead some 30 years, stop one of his former bandmates channeling him to write chart-topping songs so he can cross over and rest in peace. Pepper knows its silly to think a ghost is attractive, but her interactions with Damon (and the sudden appearance of Clevaland's sexiest detective Quinn, the mysterious Dan Callahan and her ex-fiance Joel) leave Pepper feeling lonely and evaluating her life. But, when the bullets start flying because Damon's former bandmates are in danger, Pepper's the only one who can uncover the real killer and send Damon off in peace.

Banter Points: I picked up Pepper again after another section of Anna Karenina because it's such the opposite end of the reading spectrum from Tolstoy. Pepper is breezy and imaginative and reading this series is complete brain candy. Except, unlike candy which only satisfies briefly and then makes you feel bad that you ate it, the Pepper Martin series is packed with a real plot and engaging characters. The on-going mystery of Dan Callahan is enough to keep me reading to figure out who he really is and if he's on Pepper's side or not.

Bummer Points: The Pepper-Quinn-Dan thing feels like it could be headed to a Stephanie-Morellie-Ranger deal and I really hope that Daniels is taking her triangle in a different direction.

Word Nerd Recommendation: A fun series that's a great choice for an airplane/bus ride/time when you just want to enjoy words on a page without having to mine for great symbolism and want a clever story.

06 April 2011

Author Answers with Joshua Grover-David Patterson

Please welcome Joshua Grover-David Patterson, author of the new e-book, "Mercy," a zombie tale, yes, but so much more. I gushed already about the book itself here and I'm happy to welcome Josh as Word Nerd's guest today. Stick around to the end so you can win yourself a copy of the book!

WN: How did you come up with the idea for "Mercy?"
PATTERSON: I’ve always been a big fan of the George Romero zombie movies, and one day my brain offered up a couple of “what if” statements.

What if a plane crashed on an uncharted island and only a handful of people survived?

What if all the people who died on the plane came back as flesh-eating zombies?

After that came more questions.  How do they survive on the island?  How do they get off the island?  Is the rest of the world overrun by the living dead, or just this one location?

I started writing, and I knew I had reached the end when I had answered most of my questions.

WN: Zombies are such an iconic monster. How did you approach writing to make them fresh for your story and yet acknowledge all the zombies that have come before?  
PATTERSON: Something I never quite understood about zombie movies, books, and TV shows is this: How is it that no one in them ever seems to have heard of a zombie?

On an emotional level, I suspect that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to cope, mentally, with the dead getting up and walking around.  That part I understand.

But George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” came out over 40 years ago.  Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve at least heard of it, and you know that there are people in it who die, come back to life, and try to consume living humans.  And those people-who-eat-people are called “zombies.”

I don’t know if acknowledging that zombies exist in popular culture really is an innovation, but I don’t recall ever seeing it happen in a dramatic zombie story.

(Off the top of my head, I can think of one comedy that does – “Return of the Living Dead.”)

WN: Without giving away too many spoilers, what was the hardest part of "Mercy" to write?
PATTERSON: There are two answers to this question, depending on how you define the word “hard.”

From a technical standpoint, the hardest thing to write were the action sequences, especially things like the zombie attack and the mutiny.

Whether you’re reading or writing, you need a general sense of place and a reasonable idea of what kind of actions are occurring.  If people are talking, you mentally can just kind of watch their lips move.

But when you get into big fight sequences, you’ve got to talk about where people are, what they’re doing, and how it’s affecting the elements around them.  If an author does a decent job of writing those details down, the reader should sail through the process without stopping to go, “Wait, what now?”

As an author, though, describing what’s happening is, for me anyway, an almost painful multi-step process.  First I have to figure out what everyone is doing.  Then I have to rewind the mental movie I just made and write down exactly what happened, which takes forever depending on how much is occurring.

Then I have to re-read what I wrote, and determine if the mental movie I just created on the page matches up with what was in my head in the first place.  Then I have to figure out what comes next, until I get to the end of the action scene.

Except I’m not done, because then I have to go back and reread the whole thing, and make sure everything follows logically, and that the whole sequence isn’t boring.

On an emotional level, the single hardest sequence was the part where Tracy finally fills in her backstory.  After writing it, I had to send it to a friend of mine who knows something about the subject Tracy was talking about, just to make sure I got it mostly right.  I had to change a few terms, but otherwise, I was given a thumbs-up. 

WN:  Your protagonist is a woman. Why did you choose to write from a first person POV that was not the same gender as you and was that a challenge?
PATTERSON: It was mostly about trying to be a little different.  The majority of zombie stories I’ve encountered either have a male protagonist, or a female protagonist who happens to have serious ninja skills. 

I thought it would be interesting to stick a very normal kind of woman into this extraordinary situation, and see what happened.

Was it a challenge?  It didn’t feel like one.  Being a parent is a fairly emotional experience, whether you’re a man or a woman, and Georgina’s experiences have a lot more to do with being a parent than a woman.  At least in my estimation.

WN: What's the best piece of writing advice you've received and how did it help you as a writer?
PATTERSON: Probably the best advice ever is, “Finish what you start.”  Unless you’re working on something very, very short, I think it’s easy to get bogged down under the notion that you might never reach the end, and even if you do, whatever you wrote might be terrible.

But once whatever you’re working on is done, it generally can be fixed. 

WN: Are readers ever going to see more of Georgina Fulci or are you working on something new?
PATTERSON: Ever since writing “Mercy” I’ve kind of wondered what would become of Fulci’s world after a few years had passed.  The book ends with everything having achieved a sort of temporary normal.  But what happens in five years?  Or ten? 

That said, I don’t think that Georgina necessarily is going to go on another adventure willingly.  So if I revisited the story, I’d probably do it through the eyes of another character from the book.

At the moment, however, I’m working on other things.  I just made one of my short stories available for the Kindle and nook, and I’m working on completing another.  I’ve got a novella I finished years ago that people keep encouraging me to publish.

And I’ve got a vampire novel I’m working on as well.  I’m excited to finish it, just because it’s got a handful of things I haven’t seen before in a vampire story.

And now, the giveaway! Josh is giving away a copy of "Mercy" to one lucky commenter. To win, all you have to do is to answer this question: If you were stuck on a desert island with a horde of zombies, what's the one thing you would want with you? The contest is open until Sunday, April 10 at 9 p.m. EST. Anyone can enter, even if you've won something from Word Nerd in the past.

05 April 2011

Book Banter -- Extras

Title: Extras
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Sci-Fi
Length: 417 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library

Plot Basics: It's several years since Tally Youngblood burst the bubblehead society and brought the mind-rain. Have things gotten better though? Now fame is decided by face rank and how many people are reading your feeds. For Aya Fuse, a face rank of 451,369 isn't good enough. She's out to find a story that will raise her from obsurity into the popularity. The story will do anything to protect themselves and keep the Sly Girls an urban legend.

Banter Points: I loved that Tally Youngblood made an appearance halfway through the story. Aya's own beginnings are similar enough, in desire anyway, to Tally's that I'm surprised that one of the Cutters didn't recognize it. Instead, the story Aya kicks is nervous-making for Tally and the Cutters. What new sort of hell has humanity thought up?

The slang in this title is fab too. Instead of making-up words, Westerfeld takes normal words and combines them in a way that is easy to follow, but sounds foreign. Dizzy-making stories are kicked to feeds that keep people from truth-slanting.

The series continues challenge the rule-makers and what is considered normal. This is a great title for teens to read. Parents should check them out too.

Bummer Points: None, really. This is a fabulous series.

Stacie's Recommendation: Start with Uglies, then Pretties, the Specials, before picking this one up.

04 April 2011

Book Banter -- Mercy

Title: Mercy
Author: Joshua Grover-David Patterson
Genre: sci-fi
Length: 408 pages
Where Bethany's copy came from: Advanced reader copy
Plot Basics: Georgina Fulci is returning from a mission trip to Ethopia when the plane she's on crashes. Georgina is one of a handful of survivors who wash up on a deserted island and must try to survive. What they are loathe the admit is the reason the plane went down; it appears to be a zombie attack, which is more unbelievable than living through a plane crash. Georgina begins to keep a journal of her survival, recording her own fears and her hope to get back home to her daughter, Mercy, and along the way, records the stories of her companions, comedian Antony, vigilante Leroy, Sharon a washed-up flight attendant and 11-year-old Tracy. Through zombie attacks, pirates and desperate conditions, Georgina finds new meaning to family and the capacity to love throughout trial.

Banter Points: Patterson has taken the zombie-pocalypse story in a fresh new direction, infusing hope and heart into a format that often only sees heart in the form of gore. Mercy is a cross between "Lost" and "Dear Mr. Henshaw" of the best kind. The epistolary format lets the reader experience the action in it's emotions, instead of action-movie sequences. The zombies are present, but not truly the deep fear of the characters but the catalysts for them to wrestle with the deep truths about who they are. This is what sci-fi should be; normal people operating in extraordinary circumstances, relying on what makes us human to prevail.

Bummer Points: At the end, I think I was hoping for one last giant zombie-battle scene. There is a pretty impressive action scene near the end, but then the action almost crawls to the end after that instead of racing toward the finish. The end remains ultimately satisfying, but it lacks the Buffy-defeats-the-big-bad feeling of victory.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Go to Amazon. Download this one. Read it, even if you don't think you like zombie novels.

01 April 2011

What does your TBR look like?

What does your To Be Read list look like? Is it a stack of books? A electronic list in Excel, Word or on Amazon's Wish List? Is it three or four titles deep? 50? 100?

My TBR is self maintaining. Three or four titles come off, four or five go back on. Occasionally, I even tackle a big enough chunk that I make a dent.

Some of my TBR is in an Excel list; same place I keep my reading list. Some of it is on my bookshelf (shh, don't tell my husband. He thinks I've read all of those.) The rest of it is in pictures on my phone. I find it much easier to snap a picture of the cover for future reference. It usually hovers between 50 and 100 titles.

I've tried just tackling the TBR and wrestling it down to zero, but it is impossible to get there. Too many good books are published each year, to say nothing about those published last year or earlier.

So dish. What does your TBR look like?

(No, this isn't an April fool's post. Everything above is true.)