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Category Archives: Books

Do You Hear the Fangirls Squee?

Don’t blame me for not posting for a month. Blame Victor Hugo. And Naughty Dog.

I just finished Les Miserables today. Okay, well, I just finished as much of Les Miserables as I want to read. In short, the Friends of the ABC bits are over. Hugo, I only came here for Enjolras.

SPOILER ALERT: Though, seriously, if you haven’t read the 150 year old book, watched any of the film adaptations, or seen the Broadway show, well, you really should.

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Les Miserables was the first Broadway show I ever saw and liked (Annie was the first, and it BLEW). “Do You Hear the People Sing?” was stuck in my head for weeks. The image of Enjolras on top of the barricade was burned onto the insides of my eyelids, fueling my then budding compulsion to write. There was also some lovey dovey shit in there, but it was all about the Friends of the ABC for me. And the Thenardiers. They were funny.

That was, geeze, probably 15 years ago, and I’ve only recently decided to tackle the book. Now, I’m no stranger to nineteenth century French literature (Alexandre Dumas is my favorite author), but, damn, Hugo sure loves his tangents. No disrespect to Victor Hugo, who was a literary master, or to Les Miserables, which is a masterpiece, but I’ll be honest here – I read a good 600 pages before saying “F*ck it” and moving on to the good parts. The ENJOLRAS parts.

It didn’t take long for me to get as irritated by Marius <3ing Cosette as Enjolras himself was. Seriously, dude, we’ve got more important shit to worry about, like, um, THE STARVING MASSES perhaps? Go listen to Dashboard Confessional and cry about it, Marius. We have a freaking riot to get underway. Jean Valjean, even you stop being interesting after you bust out of that nun’s fake grave. Enjolras, you had me at le Republique. I’m an Enjolrastifarian.

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From the very first description of Enjolras, Hugo pretty much paves the road for Fangirldom. Enjolras is beautiful, intelligent, convicted to his cause, and – perhaps most importantly – chaste. He’s so devoted to the Republic, he can’t even think about girls, and this sets him on a pedestal so unreachable, he becomes the angel Hugo repeatedly compares him to. As if it’s not obvious enough that Hugo is drooling over his own character even as he writes him, Grantaire is thrown in there to not only foil Enjolras but to fanboy over him to the extreme. Grantaire, the nihilist, the cynic, the dispassionate one, is devoted to one thing: Enjolras. Why? Because Enjolras is everything Grantaire is not. Plain and simple. Sure, it’s an ancient idea that opposites attract, but it’s ancient because it tends to be true. And with Enjolras and Grantaire, it feels much more real than most other opposite pairs in contemporary writing. In fact, their pseudo-friendship is a thousand times more poignant than Marius and Cosette’s crappy love story.

Enjolras is the revolution personified, and Grantaire is the face of people’s scorn. Enjolras is everything Grantaire wants to be, but Grantaire can never unknow what he knows except for those moments when Enjolras is there to eclipse even the shadowy doubts of his hopelessness.  Seriously, the fanfic writes itself.

ENJANDGRANT

Look, I get it. I get the 50-page chunk of Napoleonic history that appears for no blessed reason. I get that this isn’t just a story about a riot in Paris, it’s a philosophical manifesto. I get the descriptions of buildings that we never freaking go into. I get the unnecessary backstory of background characters that don’t even talk in the book. That was how they wrote back then, though Hugo may actually be one of the more tangential writers of even his time. I know I’m gonna get a lot of flak for this, but I really could’ve done without Valjean’s constant do-gooding-and-then-jailbreaking-and-then-do-gooding-again, the whole Javert coo coo crazy obsession with his warped ideas of justice, Marius and Cosette in general, and Fantine, too. A novel can’t be all war, it has to have some romance in it, and I get that. But the romance of Enjolras and Grantaire (and romance can mean bromance) would have fulfilled the love story needs of a separate book, a book about the Friends of the ABC, a book with sweeping passages of Napoleonic history thrown in just for the f*ck of it, following Little Gavroche on his sidequests, delving into the rich backstories of each unique insurgent.

My point: if you skim Les Miserables with a discerning enough eye, you’ll find L’Abaisse, which is a way better book.

 

Khan Noonien Smaug, Consulting Detective

I’m warning you guys right now: what follows is a bunch of babble.

So, as previously posted, I’ve completed my final revision is finally done. Finally. How many queries have I done in the two weeks since I finished it? Two. Yeah, I know. Why am I dragging my feet? I don’t know. I’d like to blame it on my new job. So I will.

I don’t know how many of you out there are aspiring writers like yours truly, or how many of you potentially aspiring writers subscribe to Writers Digest, but I have a thing or two to say about this month’s (or whatever it is – WD has, like, 8 issues a year, which is super random) edition. The cover boasts that this issue is Your Guide to Genre Fiction. Being a YA Fantasy writer, I got all skippitty-doo happy and excited. Then I flipped through the magazine only to realize that by “Genre Fiction” WD meant to say “Pretty Much Just Horror Because It’s Not Like Anyone Buys Sci-Fi or Fantasy, Right?” As if I didn’t already feel like Ally Sheedy’s character in the Breakfast Club of authors, a magazine written specifically for writers has to drive that nail flathead deep into the coffin. I’ll just go back to making my dandruff art and hoping someone will give me a makeover so the captain of the wrestling team will notice me.

Am I high? Maybe I’m seriously delusional, but I thought that, within genre fiction (and I don my literary hipster glasses anytime I have to refer to ANYTHING as “genre fiction”), fantasy was kind of a big deal – and not just for larpers. Maybe I’m just being egocentric, but when I hear “genre,” my first thought is “fantasy.” Well, whatever. Up yours, you damn literary jerkwads. FANTASY RULES. SUCK IT.

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Speaking of genre (sure, why not), after seeing Star Trek: Into Darkness and falling in love with Benedict Cumberbatch, I decided to finally watch Sherlock. It took me this long because I effing hate Sherlock Holmes in general. The Hound of the Baskervilles is up there with The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, and The Catcher in the Rye (I would literally rather watch paint dry than read any of those books again). But, like so many other fangirls, I was hooked on Johnlock – uh, I mean, Sherlock – after the first ten minutes or so and watched all six episodes this weekend. Twice. I could listen to BC read the phone book and be throwing BAFTAs at him, but this show really is just so clever and the chemistry between Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is unbeatable. There better be a Sherlock reference in the next Hobbit movie.

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Taking Out the Trash: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

I don’t like to trash books. I really don’t. Maybe because I haven’t published one myself and therefore have no street cred, or maybe because I hope to publish one and would be super sad if people hated it. But every once in a while, a book comes along that makes me ask myself, “How did this get published?” Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater is one of these books.

When I came across this New York Times Bestseller (let that sink in), I was excited because a.) Young Adult Urban Fantasy is pretty cool and b.) so are werewolves. It didn’t take long for me to hate this book, and it wasn’t just because of the overuse of adverbs throughout.

Grace is the novel version of Emily, a.k.a. Egg, from Arrested Development. She is the epitome of uninteresting – even her own parents aren’t interested in her. Luckily, only some of the book is told from her perspective. Oh, no, wait – not luckily because Sam is even worse.

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Sam the werewolf – Sam the guy who is doing to werewolves what Edward did to vampires – is every stereotype any uninteresting twelve-year old girl would come up with for her fantasy boyfriend rolled up into one. He has a lot of unbelievable, unrealistic qualities (I don’t know any heterosexual males who can tell me what a camisole is), but what made me close the book and almost walk away before I hit the hundredth page is his tick of writing lyrics in his head any time anything happens. I could’ve let this cheeseballishness slide if said lyrics were any good or at least mediocre, but they’re complete, cringe-inducing crap just like everything else in this book.

I can’t really say there are two distinct voices because both viewpoints are told in the same Ben Stein-esque monotone in my head. If each chapter wasn’t labeled with its designated POV, the only tell-tale signals would be Sam’s crappy lyrics and Grace’s “wahhh my parents let me do whatever I want and I hate that because they shouldn’t have their own lives.” There’s also no strong plot that I could figure out until the last forty or so pages of the book, and even then I wouldn’t call it compelling. There are, like, two or three problems the cast of characters has to deal with, and none are convincing as things the reader should invest their emotions in.

At one point, there’s a scene where Egg and Samantha and the popular rich girl from Egg’s school, who at the time is nothing more than an uncomfortable acquaintance to Egg, all make quiche together for no clear reason. For five pages. Then there’s a whole chapter where the author tries to convince us that her protags are the bestest couple the literary world has ever seen by having a complete stranger ooh and ahh over their Super Apparent Cuteness and Perfection.

Maybe what should be the biggest problem with this book is the lack of credible fantasy rules concerning the werewolves. A discussion following the Quiche Scene points out all the holes in Stiefvater’s set of non-rules for her wolves, and these holes never get filled. They’re left as flawed and contradicting for the remainder of the “story.”

Reading Shiver made me rethink my opinion of Beautiful Creatures, which I wasn’t crazy about. By page 300, I couldn’t care less what happened to Lena or Ethan, but that was because they bored me with their repetitive conversations and long stretches of who-gives-a-shit non-activity. However, Ethan’s voice was totally believable. S.E. Hinton is still the most convincing woman writing a man’s POV, but Ethan never felt like less than a real guy. It was the great writing that got me through Beautiful Creatures‘ less than great story without ever feeling like I was being tortured.

Shiver has no such redeeming qualities. Remember what I said at the top about adverbs? Count all the adverbs in this post and double that number. That’s how many adverbs, on average, are on each page in Shiver.

Don’t read this book unless you hate yourself and think you deserve to be in pain. Or if you’re just way too smart and need a way to dumb yourself down.

Ralph the Pwner

I’ve been a bad blogger. No updates in over a week. Barely any tweets. I blame my new computer and the endless sales on Steam.

On that note, it’s taken me, like, three weeks, but I’ve just finished The Well at the World’s End by William Morris. This book is the grandaddy of all modern fantasy and was highly influential on Tolkien when he was writing The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but it’s nowhere near as heavy – Morris doesn’t describe the exact shade of green contained in every blade of grass whenever the scene changes. There are even a couple times when Tolkien should probably have been sued for lifting right from The Well, but whatevs.

I’m going to have a few more points to make about this book in the near future, but for starters here’s a rage comic of one of my favorite moments early in the story.

 

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Unicorns. Unicorns everywhere.

It’s been a while, but I’m just now recovering from the mental hangover from last Saturday’s events. I’m talking, of course, about the Unicorn Writers Conference.

Yes, that’s for real what it’s called. Yes, they were selling all sorts of paraphernalia with unicorns on it. Yes, I forgot to buy a t-shirt, but I did get a commemorative mug and tote included in the price of admission.

The UWC was a great experience for me, a total amateur and first-time conference goer. Not only was it educational and eye-opening, but I met a lot of other awesome newbies. It was a great way to find out that I’m not alone, that there are a lot of aspiring authors who share my fears and doubts.

After a day of brewing up contingency plans in light of the freak snowstorm followed by a restless night in a really nice suite (restlessness due in part to jitters, in larger part to the sumo wrestler turned tap dancer staying in the suite one floor up), Heather and I steeled our introvert nerves and headed off to St. Clement’s Castle. Somehow, we made a table full of acquaintances by the time Matthew Pearl gave the key note speech, and then it was time for a long day of workshops. It was kind of like twelve hours of school except I gave a damn about what was happening. We had such a good time, we were reluctant to leave our new writers-in-arms by the end of the night, feeling silly to have ever been nervous at all.

So, for all my fellow aspiring authors, if you haven’t gone to a writers’ conference yet, do it. They’re expensive (UWC is the cheapest I’ve found so far), but it’s well worth it to learn from the varied workshops and to get a chance to network with other writers, agents, and publishers. Also, spending the day in a castle strewn with unicorn-emblazoned regalia is just totally awesome.

 

“Pastry Crust,” the New Hit Single

Peeta Mellark sings “Paper Planes” by M.I.A.

I puff like pastry, I crunch like crust
If you catch me burnin’ bread, I’ll chuck it in the dust
If you come around here, I bake it all day
I’ll throw some down in a second if you wait

Haymitch, always drinkin’ on trains,
Don’t wanna sponsor me ’cause I’ll lose the Hunger Games
There’s only one winner, and no one thinks it’s me
Even my mom says its Katniss Everdeen

All I wanna do is…
And uh…
And bake you a cake

Cato stabbed my thigh
When I screamed to save your life
Paint myself like a rock
Lethal poison from the nightlock

None of the careers have sponsors like us
We got medicine for our burns and cuts
I bet if we kiss they’ll send us more stuff
So if we’re goin’ home, you better pucker up

All I wanna do is…
And uh…
And bake you a cake

District Twelve, last stop post victory
Yeah, we’ve got more dough than a bakery
So, uh, don’t worry, Katniss

Some, some, some I, some I butter
Some I, some I just toast

Fairy Tales and Rodeos

I banged out a couple more books this week. Don’t be too impressed, they’re both super short… and awesome.

1980s: Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I never heard of Weetzie Bat until K.L. Going told me I should read it (by “told me” I meant “suggested to her readers in Writing and Selling the YA Novel“), and I’m so glad I took her advice.

Weetzie Bat is what happens when you introduce Aesop to the Brothers Grimm at a Sex Pistols concert in L.A., sprinkle them with pixie dust, and get them all high on absinthe. But this isn’t one of those books that makes you feel the need to shower afterwards – it’s actually really sweet and dreamy. It’s just over 100 pages, but you actually love the characters long before that. Best of all, it’s the first of a whole series, so as soon as you realize you’re going to miss Weetzie and Dirk, you can just go get the next book (or all of them since they’ve made a compilation by now).

1960s: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Want to feel really awful about yourself? Hinton was 15 when she wrote what would become The Outsiders, and she got the contract from the publisher on her high school graduation day.

Want to maybe feel a teeny tiny bit better? The same year she started it, she got a D in Creative Writing. There may be hope for some of us.

Look, everyone has something to say about this book. It’s a damn good book. It’s a YA classic – probably the book that helped the YA genre get a little respect for once. So instead of going on and on about how the story sucked me in, how the themes of morality and loyalty were effective without being preachy, or how I cried even though I swore I wouldn’t, I’d like to point out the one thing this book really lacks:

Rodeos.

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Seriously. You can’t throw in all this talk about rodeos and then never actually bring us to one. I had to look up barrel racing (pictured above) because I had no idea what it was – and it was totally not what I thought it was (riding in a barrel while racing another person who is also riding in a barrel, perhaps downhill). But that could have been avoided had you given us a rodeo scene, S.E. Hinton. I wanted to see Dally beat the crap out of a rodeo clown, or maybe Johnny would be terrified of a bull, or perhaps Soda would be super adorable and patch up Ponyboy’s scrape that he got when he fell off his bronco. The possibilities were endless.

1940s:


I tried to read Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly, but it was crap. I’m so sorry, Maureen Daly. I couldn’t read over 300 pages of Boring Girl dating Boring Guy, no matter how much awesome 40s slang was in there. This is like Twilight minus the vampires and werewolves.

Fun Fact: When you google Maureen Daly, the picture that comes up with her mini-bio kinda looks like Mila Kunis at first glance.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Kindig

In an effort to broaden my writing skills, I’ve been working on an independent study from Writers Digest on writing Young Adult. The main text for the course is Writing and Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going, in which Going lists some of the most notable YA novels since the 1940s, suggesting we – my imaginary classmates and I – read one from each decade.

Challenge accepted.

I know I should probably have read these in chronological order, but instead I went with length/difficulty because that’s how I jam. So, now it’s time for me to read all the books I should’ve read a long time ago.

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1970s: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

I figured I should read one of the most well known YA (more like Middle Grade) books ever, if only for giggles. And ’cause, y’know, this is one of those books that comes up a lot in pop culture. Margaret gets a lot of flak as a period book, which, yeah, it kinda is. But there’s a deeper, way more interesting struggle going on as Margaret tries to decide on a religion, having been raised without one by her Jewish Dad and Christian Mom.

Margaret’s friendships and experiences in school are actually really convincing. I think we all knew/know a Nancy Wheeler and had that mortifying moment in class where everyone else seemed to have put way more effort into their projects than you’d even considered.

Margaret’s relationship with God and her internal (and often external) conflicts over religion steal the show in my opinion. Or they would if all that period stuff wasn’t in there. I guess that was to be more truthful about 12-year olds? Personally, I never wanted any part in Nature’s cruel booby prize, but I’m thinking I might’ve been in the minority.

Anyway, if you’re a children’s or YA writer, Margaret is one of those books you kind of have to read. If you do pick this one up, be sure to use Cartman’s voice as your inner narrator – it will really make the experience.

Book Rant: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This is a book too good to write a review about without somehow ruining the still fresh memory of it – like trying to look directly at a star only to have its light diminish in your concentrated focus, or grasping to a recent dream as it slips from your memory faster the harder you try to hold on. At least, I certainly couldn’t do it right.

Never before have I laughed and cried so much in the space of 313 very short pages. And I’m not talking a simpering giggle here and there or a couple tears once or twice throughout. I’m talking husband-waking guffaws in one sentence followed in the next by such moving commentary that I had to (more than once) set the book down for a minute so I could sob unrestrained.

If you’ve ever seen a Vlog Brothers video, you know John Green is an unfairly smart and funny guy. Even so, I was not prepared for the depth, wit, and honesty with which he crafted this story about the struggles and mortality of cancer kids, the destinies of the favorite fictional characters of said fictional characters, and the demands of the universe in general.

Green makes me think he’s secretly a 16-year old girl with cancer, his voice is so convincing. He never talks down to the young adult audience here and never tries to sound hip. But whether he’s being smartly funny or devastatingly tragic, no page goes unmarked by a poignant observation on the fleetingness of life, the infinity of joy, and the looming prospect of oblivion.