Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Writing Advice: By Writers, For Writers

A recent post on The League of Extraordinary Writers blog inspired my own post, as I began thinking over all the writing advice I've read over the past few years. This is particularly helpful to me right now as I haven't written anything other than an email or a letter to various relatives the past 3 weeks. If I'm not writing, I'm still reading, and as cleanliness is next to Godliness or something of the sort, so reading about writing should be next to actually doing it.

What a treasure trove of advice I've rediscovered!  The first advice that comes to mind is Elmore Leonard's essay for the NYTimes series "Writers on Writing". A complete archive of that column can be found here. I believe writing advice is as personal as shopping advice: if it doesn't fit your style, you're not going to pay attention to it. I want my writing to be the spare, pointed, hooptedoodle-lacking writing Elmore Leonard is encouraging, and so I take his advice. (Blogging is different, this is more like chatting to strangers.) But his advice might not fit you, which is why you should read through that archive; I know I'm planning to.

I also take the advice of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, because even if I don't remember everything she says, that core concept is comforting - we all have to begin somewhere, and might as well take it bird (word) by bird (word). Though I read this before grad school, I believe it was suggested or required reading for a course or two, and so I enjoyed it again, along with Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster, books I'm not sure I would have picked up had it not been for classes Writing I & I.

Some of my favorite books on writing are actually for children, most notably Avi's A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End: The Right Way to Write Writing, illustrated by Tricia Tusa.  This book is a sequel to The End of the Beginning: Being the Adventures of a Small Snail (and an Even Smaller Ant), which, while not about writing, does make some clever commentary about the nature of books and fables. As extra prizes for the Odyssey Book Shop's annual children's writing contest last year, I had the pleasure of handing out both A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End and another book on writing for children, one about the more technical aspects, entitled Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook by Ellen Potter, Anne Mazer, and illustrated by Matt Phelan. Both present encouragement and advice for aspiring young writers.

Just at the time I began writing this post, I discovered two more books about writing I need to look through. One, How Fiction Works by James Wood, has been compared to E.M. Forster's work mentioned above, but the second is the one I'm most interested in. Off the Page: Writers Talk about Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between is a compilation of authors' input marketed as a "literary tell-all". Edited by Carole Burns, with an introduction by Marie Arana, authors are quoted under section titles such as "Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?: How Characters Come to Life", "All That Jazz: Playing with Language and Style to Suit the Story", and "Good Writers Borrow, Great Writers Steal: The Writers Whom Writers Love and Why". The list of authors includes Tobias Wolff, Colm Toibin, Art Spiegelman, Marisha Pessl, Tim Parks, Joyce Carol Oates, Walter Mosley, Alice McDermott, Andrea Levy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edward P. Jones, E. L. Doctorow, Michael Cunningham, A. S. Byatt, Russell Banks, and Paul Auster to name a few.

What books about writing inspire you?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review: Blameless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger

I've decided to begin a series called MASS MARKET MONDAYS

I prefer to read my guilty pleasure mass markets when I travel. Having no car, traveling anywhere outside the city of Boston usually requires at least two T-lines, a bus, a train, possibly a taxi, and a different type of subway depending on what city I'm going to. In other words, hours and hours of travel, and the inevitable waiting in stations. Reading as quickly as I do, mass markets are the perfect book size (I believe that was the intent behind their creation in the first place) and topic - I can bring several of them along, put them down when I need to, and quickly become engrossed again to the point where I can ignore the smelly person sitting next to me or the baby crying three seats behind.

Blogging about them is a different matter. I'm not ashamed of what I read, but reading so many of them at one time (usually three or more to a trip), means after coming back from a weekend away, I would overrun the blog with them. I don't think that's fair, as I read loads of other things too. So, to blog about my urban fantasy romance mass market travel books, I've created MASS MARKET MONDAYS. Enjoy!

Blameless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel
by Gail Carriger
9780316074155, $7.99, Orbit (Hachette)

Blameless is third in the Parasol Protectorate series by first-time author Gail Carriger.

You can read my review of Soulless, the first book in the series, here.
Watch a Soulless book trailer here.
To recap: in Soulless (9780316056632), the reader is introduced to Alexia Tarabotti, who is a preternatural - someone who has no soul. When she touches a supernatural being - a being with excess soul - they lose their supernatural ability while her hands are on them. She can retract the fangs from a vampire, make a werewolf human, and permanently dispel a ghost. Living in London during the reign of Queen Victoria, the dark complected, half-Italian, intelligent and educated, secret preternatural often feels stifled and maybe even a little bored with her idiotic mother, absent step-father, and two silly younger sisters. After accidentally killing a freshly-made rogue vampire who was trying to drink from her (with her incredibly handy, personalized parasol), Alexia gets mixed up with Lord Maccon, the large, shaggy, uncouth, unwed Alpha of the local London werewolf pack. Soon they are off on a supernatural London-wide adventure involving disappearing werewolves, rogue vampires, new scientific supernatural inventions, a scientific organization known as the Hypocras Club, and just maybe, a romance neither of them expected.

In book 2, Changeless (9780316074148), Alexia, now Lady Woolsey, is suddenly left alone to deal with werewolf pack politics while her husband runs off on a secret mission. Her investigations introduce new characters such as Madame Lefoux, the men's suit-wearing French woman who owns a delectable hat shop and a fully-equipped scientific laboratory, and ends with a trip to Scotland. Unfortunately, there's a traitor on board her dirigible and Alexia has quite a few narrow escapes on her trip as someone tries to kill her. She does manage to solve the mystery, and finds her wayward husband, though a surprise twist at the cliffhanger ending is very abrupt.
I didn't review book 2 because I didn't like it as much as book 1 and I don't like to write negative reviews. Yet, if you would like to read a proper review, this reviewer on Amazon has basically said everything I wanted to say, and in a very well-spoken, respectful way, so check it out.

Now, considering my disappointment with Changeless, I picked up Blameless with some trepidation. I am happy to report, I was about 70-80% satisfied with book 3. Alexia has returned from Scotland the scandal of the London season. Dismissed from her secret position on the Shadow Council of advisers to the queen, kicked out of both her husband's house and her parents' home, Alexia turns to her famous rogue vampire friend, Lord Akeldama, for answers. Unfortunately he's disappeared, leaving Alexia with a short, somewhat cryptic message: "Leave England. And beware Italians who embroider." Leaving London again with Madame Lefoux and her father's trusty butler Floote, Alexia is chased through Paris and into Italy by vampires who want to kill her. Seeking refuge with the Knights Templar turns out to be a bad idea as they alternately ignore her, use her as bait, and then kidnap her, holding her prisoner. Meanwhile, back in London, Lord Maccon is getting increasingly inebriated, leaving his second, Professor Lyall, to hold the pack together and deal with the sudden disappearance of Alexia, Lord Akeldama, and all of Lord Akeldama's drones. Luckily this is not the first time Alexia's had to keep her wits about her, and with the help of Madame Lefoux and her scientist friend, Floote, a mysterious white werewolf who keeps showing up at just the right moment, and a beefed-up parasol, Alexia's not going to stay kidnapped for long. Blameless has the strong characterization, familiar laugh-out-loud wit, and steampunk elements mixed in with history that had gone missing in book 2.
Watch the creation of the Blameless book jacket design in sped-up time here.

Book 4 is apparently called Heartless and I can only imagine what on earth that's going to be about. No pub date as of yet, but I'll keep my eyes open.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Book Review: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

The Lover's Dictionary
by David Levithan
9780374193683, $23, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (Macmillan), Pub. Date: January 2011

akin, adj.
We were painting by numbers,
starting with the greens. Because
that happened to be our favorite color.
And that, we figured, had to mean something.

This novel is so quietly brilliant, it's a wonder David Levithan can stand his own talent. His first book published for adults, I see no reason why this can't be enjoyed by the same teenage audience that loves his Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (written with Rachel Cohn, 9780375835339) and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (written with John Green, 9780525421580), favorites among the other YA novels he's written.

cadence, n.
I have never lived anywhere but New York
or New England, but there are times when
I'm talking to you and I hit a Southern vowel, or
a word gets caught in a Southern truncation,
and I know it's because I'm swimming in your
cadences, that you permeate my very language.

The Lover's Dictionary is, according to Publisher's Marketplace, “an alphabetically episodic narrative that traces the ups and downs of an urban romance.” This is a truly genius way of telling a story that allows the reader to be at once an observer and a participant in this relationship. The couple is never identified as individuals by name or physical descriptions or a list of attributes. We come to know them slowly, as each definition unfolds a piece of the story and a piece of each person, and ultimately, a piece of you. There are words and definitions that make you laugh out loud, remembering a scene so similar in your own life. There are words that make you catch your breath as the ache of it settles deep within your chest.

candid, adj.
"Most times, when I'm having sex, I'd rather be reading."
This was, I admit, a strange thing to say
on a second date. I guess I was just
giving you warning.
"Most times when I'm reading," you said, "I'd rather be having sex."

Though not told in a linear fashion, there was never a point when I questioned what was happening, and though the end doesn't leave you with a typical conclusion, these characters had so seamlessly blended with my own life, my own subconscious - despite my life being nothing like theirs - I still haven't felt as if the book is really finished, because these words live inside me now. Reading it felt like taking a shot of whiskey: the initial hit of flavor - the initial joy of beginning a truly great read; the burn down your throat - the gut reaction to a deeply meaningful passage; lighting a fire in your heart - remembering what in your own life made you feel this way; and the liquid warmth sliding all the way down into your belly - enjoying how that experience is a part of you now. It gave me goosebumps at times to read a definition about love or type of lovesick behavior that I always thought (was worried about) only happened to me; but in reading whatever that particular definition was, somehow knowing there is at least one other person in the world who has felt this way too, makes me not feel so alone.

suffuse, v.
I don't like it when you use my shampoo,
because then your hair smells like me, not you. 

Especially to someone like me who collects new words as a hobby, using them to tell a story in this way was deeply meaningful. As a writer-of-sorts, I often have plot ideas, snippets for a story, a passing fancy that something might be really neat if done right and well. As a full-time reader, I constantly run the risk of reading the very brilliance I long to create. Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks series was one such instance for me, and now David Levithan and The Lover's Dictionary.

yesterday, n.
You called to ask me when I was
coming home, and when I reminded you
that I wasn't coming home, you sounded
so disappointed that I decided to come home.

 Like most things in life that make you laugh and make you cry, The Lover's Dictionary is bittersweet, but you know for sure that you weren't unaffected.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Picturebooks for Adults, Part I

Going through the slush pile a few weeks ago, I came across an artist who layers photographs and clipart pieces to create ethereal digital collage artwork. I wish I could show them to you, but unfortunately the artist doesn't have a website. While the project wasn't right for Houghton Mifflin, the illustrations were beautiful, and for me, immediately brought to mind the song used in this video:

(The song is Strange Love by Little Annie, and it's eerie, and a little weird, and I love it. If you want to hear the whole song, click here, though I have to warn you that the typewritten lyrics on the YouTube video are a little off.)

I could envision full-color, full-bleed pictures adding their surreal quality to the already haunting lyrics. Of course, with the heavy, sexy lyrics and accompanying illustrations, this picture book is more appropriate for adults than children, and that thought made me consider the concept of picture books intended for adults as a whole.

The picture book that immediately came to mind was Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence (9780877017882, $19.95, Chronicle) by Nick Bantock. There are four books in this series that is a mysterious love story between two people named Griffin and Sabine, spanning continents and time continuums. Each book contains gorgeous hand-designed postcards and letters between the two lovers as they unravel the mystery of their romantic communication. Perfect for fans of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, though not quite as dark.

Speaking of Audrey Niffenegger, she has created several picture books for adults: The Adventuress (9780810970526, $27.95, Abrams), The Night Bookmobile (9780810996175, $19.95, Abrams), and The Three Incestuous Sisters (9780810959279, $27.95, Abrams). In keeping with the classic Audrey Niffenegger style, these picture books are dark and fantastical while exploring complex emotions of primarily female characters.

Not all picture books intended for adults are as serious as these. Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, had quite the naughty side. In addition to writing beloved children's books, Dr. Seuss was also a political cartoonist during World War II; his cartoons have been collected in Dr. Seuss Goes to War (9781565847040, $19.95, Perseus). He also wrote several picture books that are much more adult-themed in nature, including You're Only Old Once!: A Book for Obsolete Children (9780394551906, $17.99, Random House), detailing the hilarious medical checkup one of a certain age might go through, and Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History's Barest Family (out-of-print), a book featuring seven naked ladies romping through tongue-in-cheek explanations of common idioms. Then, of course, there are other Dr. Seuss classics that are favorites to give to adults upon certain graduations and employment transitions, such as Oh, the Places You'll Go! (9780679805274, $17.99, Random House).

Other children's books are often given between adults for various holidays. Two of my favorites make perfect Valentine's Day presents for both friends and loved ones: I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast (9780395071762, $6.95, Houghton Mifflin) and A Friend is Someone Who Likes You by Joan Walsh Anglund (9780152296780, $9.95, Houghton Mifflin). Both of these offer adorable illustrations accompanying sweet, child-like text celebrating like, love, and friendship. Though those were published as children's books, their full value is understood more by adults, I think, who can better appreciate the nuances of both text and illustration.

This is true for many other children's picture books, whose humor, while appealing to children, is of a particularly cheeky, sarcastic, implied, or ironic nature that is greatly enjoyed by adults. Some of my personal favorites catering to the dual audience are the Knuffle Bunny trilogy, the Pigeon books, and the Elephant & Piggie series created by Mo Willems. A classic of this genre is The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (9780670844876, $17.99, Viking/Penguin), hilarious retellings of classic fairy tales by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Lane Smith is quite the connoisseur of this type of work, both by discussing children's books in an adult way on his blog Curious Pages, and by creating books of this nature, such as the recent release It's a Book (9781596436060, $12.99, Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan), a book about the introduction of a hard copy book in a digital age.

It's a Book walks that fine line between being really intended for an adult audience but being published in a children's market. There are many picture books published in this vein, such as All My Friends Are Dead (thanks to A. Neff for this!) by Avery Monsen and Jory John (9780811874557, $9.95, Chronicle), just published in June, about all the people, animals, and objects who have deceased friends. I can't think of a single friend who wouldn't snort with laughter at this snarky book.

What are some of your favorite picture books?

Stay tuned for Part II!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop

This is only my second Book Blogger Hop for my adult book review blog. This Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Crazy-for-Books, discovered (by me) through Presenting Lenore - thanks to both these blog/gers for providing a great way to meet new blog/gers!

To see the amazing blogs I discovered previously, visit my first hop.

As this is Book Blogger Appreciation Week, as part of the Hop, I will be sharing my "favorite book bloggers and why [I] love them".

I, of course, have to begin with Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, commonly known as Seven Imp, a book blog about children's books that is (if I may give my humble opinion) the preeminent children's book world blog. Interviews, artwork, children's book world discussions, this blog is a treasure trove of goodies waiting to be explored almost every day. Also, personally, they're named after a Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland quote, so how can I not love that?

a thousand Books with Quotes is another blog I look up often, as I appreciate the sampling of quotes from each book with the general synopsis. Better than any "look inside!" preview, it whets the appetite even more to find out what those quotes are about and where they fit in to the overall plot.

Last, but not least, As the Crowe Flies and Reads by my friend and former co-worker Ms. Emily Crowe is a fabulous read-and-travel-log. Sharing informed opinions, asking critical question, reviewing great books, and showcasing incredible photography and travel stories, this is one of my favorite blogs whether I'm looking for a literary book recommendation or my next dream vacation.

Blogs I have discovered today through the Hop include:

1. Pen and Paper, who gave me a great idea for a post about a Shelf of Awesome, coming soon, I hope!
2. Blkosiner's Book Blog hosted the original Shelf of Awesome idea.
3. A Trillian Books has an adorable blog design and great YA and adult book reviews.

4. For What It's Worth also has a stylish blog design and combines book reviews with music reviews - how great is that? I love discovering both!

As always, check 'em out!

Also just discovered this Follow My Book Blog Friday:

Hosted by Parajunkee, this is very similar to the Book Blogger Hop mentioned above. Today they are featuring Bailey of IB Book Blogging, and the question is: Do you read YA or stick with adult?

Both, of course! (Of course for me, anyway.) But this blog is for my children's/YA book review-related posts only. My adult book reviews can be found on Afterthoughts for Adults.

Thanks to Bloggin' 'Bout Books for turning me on to this!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Guilty Pleasures

This post comes to you via Erika Breathes Books and Breaking the Spine. "Waiting on Wednesday" is a weekly meme where you post upcoming titles you're eagerly anticipating.

I'm disturbingly behind in my book blogging; I blame that on all the traveling I've been doing lately, so please forgive me. Something else to blame on my travels - my guilty pleasure reading is disproportionately higher than my non-guilty pleasure reading. So what does this mean I'm looking forward to? These two:

Prince Charming Doesn't Live Here
by Christine Warren
9780312947941, $7.99, St. Martin's Press (MPS), Pub. Date: November 2010

Publisher's description:

Danice Carter is not one for glass slippers. A stilettos-wearing lawyer at one of Manhattan's most elite establishments, Danice has a very strong grip on reality. So when she's asked by one the firm's founding partners to take on a personal case, Danice knows she's in for the opportunity of a lifetime. All she has to do is convince her top boss's granddaughter, Rosemary, to file a paternity suit. Sounds simple enough...until Danice arrives at Rosemary's home and is pounced on by a handsome stranger.

Private investigator McIntyre Callahan's was only following his powerful client's orders: Find Rosemary--"at all costs." Instead, he's found a super-hot lawyer prowling around looking for answers he can't give. The half-human, half-Fae Mac tries to warn Danice that she's way in over her head--that Rosemary may roam among The Others, and may have dangerous ties to the Unseelie Court--but she won't be deterred. Even if that means following Mac to the ends of the earth to find Rosemary...or surrendering to his supernatural powers of temptation...until death do they part.
Happy Ever After (Bride Quartet #4) 
by Nora Roberts
9780425236758, $16, Berkeley (Penguin), Pub. Date: November 2010 

Publisher Description:
As the public face of Vows wedding planning company, Parker Brown has an uncanny knack for fulfilling every bride's vision. She just can't see where her own life is headed. Mechanic Malcomb Kavanaugh loves figuring out how things work, and Parker is no exception. Parker's business risks have always paid off, but now she'll have to take the chance of a lifetime with her heart. 

Looks like late October/early November is going to be a busy time for me!