Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Lovely Bones

If you’re not a fan of the book, there are only two reasons to watch The Lovely Bones. One, Saoirse Ronan’s acting. Two, the CGI. Everything else is… well, I’ll get to that.

The story is straightforward. Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon is lured into a hideaway by a neighbor and killed there, but her spirit, from heaven, watches as her father and sister try to find out the truth and slowly put their lives back together. The theme is one of accepting what we can’t change, relinquishing what we can’t have and learning to let go. But in a happy way, because there’s something good ahead.

Saoirse Ronan is a talented actress, and it’s difficult not to like her as a teenager who’s by turns exuberant, shy, annoyed with her parents and filled with dreams—typical, in other words. And the scene where Mr. Harvey meets her in the cornfield and persuades her to check out a cool underground room is very tense.

Stanley Tucci’s performance as George Harvey is… mostly good. A bespectacled middle-aged man, he’s the embodiment of the phrase “banality of evil”. What I found a bit difficult to buy was the way he babbles and giggles once he’s lured Susie down. I get that he’s excited (while Susie quickly realizes something’s wrong) but he’s more scary when he’s calm and serious.

What I also found difficult to buy was that he excavated this room in a field in winter and no one noticed. There’s a shot of him digging at night, but it’s still an elaborate feat of secret construction. Still, the best way to enjoy this film is not to think deeply. For instance, if I went to my personal heaven (a limbo meant for people who haven’t yet moved on), I would want to be with people I cared about. Instead, Susie gets Holly, a girl who appears out of nowhere and who tells Susie nothing about herself, but who becomes Susie’s BFF.

If you’ve ever watched Mary Poppins, remember the scene where they go into the chalk painting? Something similar happens here. With her new pal, Susie romps through a magical landscape that keeps changing to entertain her. No lingering trauma from murder, no attempts to change anything or tell her family the truth.

And it’s clear that she can influence the occasional event on Earth, if she tries hard, but her major accomplishment there is to put herself in a living girl's body so she can finally kiss the boy she likes. Meanwhile, just outside, Mr. Harvey disposes of the safe containing Susie’s body, which she knows about. Yet the kiss is more important.

I suppose that was part of her acceptance-and-letting-go, to not care about her body… but wouldn’t her parents care? Wouldn’t they want her remains to be laid to rest with dignity, rather than never even knowing where she might lie?

But, like I said, don’t think too much. Or you might wonder, if the real heaven is a place where there’s “no memory”, is there a blank in your mind when you try to think of how you got there? And it’s clear that Susie’s heaven is influenced by other victims of Mr. Harvey’s, which leads to a truly schmaltzy scene where all of them come smiling out of the horizon while the music swells.

I did get teary when the little girl—the youngest victim, who’s six—gives Susie an evaluating look, then smiles, runs up to her and hugs her around the waist. But then I wondered, is that girl going to stay six years old for ever? An eternal child, frozen at the moment she died? Anne Rice did that more realistically with Claudia in Interview with the Vampire.

I understand why the joyous get-together, since there was a previous scene when Susie’s heaven showed her the corpses Harvey had discarded, so Jackson had to assure the audience that these women and girls are now frolicking in paradise. Plus, they’re all friends together in a Raped-N-Murdered club.

But back on earth, Susie’s father is ham-handed in his attempts to find her killer and to stop Harvey, whom he suspects despite having no evidence. So her sister breaks into Harvey’s house to find some. This is the second tension-filled scene in the film, though I have no idea why the sister carefully leafs through Harvey’s scrapbook upstairs even after she hears him enter the house. Wouldn’t it be better to leave and then check out the book?

Still, all ends well. This isn't a bad film per se, just a slow-moving one which has little going for it besides its prettiness and philosophizing. I couldn’t help sympathizing with one reviewer who said Susie’s endless voiceovers became so annoying that if she wasn’t already dead, he would have shot her.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Infamous Cat Incident

That's how I think of it, after I started this thread on Absolute Write to discuss something that happened in my third novel. I wanted an idea of how readers might react to the antagonist harming an animal, and... well, I got that idea, all right.

Though learning how people felt and discussing the issue gave me enough material for a short article on the topic, and that appeared today on Writers Helping Writers. Check it out! And a big thank you to Angela and Becca for hosting me. I love their thesaurus collections, which are just a great, easy-to-browse resource for writers.

Plus, The Deepest Ocean is now on All Romance ebooks and I'm at 64K/100K on The Coldest Sea. So it's shaping up to be a pretty good day. :)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Five literary hoaxes

1. Laurel Rose Willson/Lauren Stratford/Laura Grabowski : Satan’s Underground

Laurel Willson took advantage of the ritual child abuse scare of the ‘80s to come out with this book. Published under the name Lauren Stratford, it’s the story of how she escaped a Satanic cult. One of her claims was that her children had been murdered by the cult—either in snuff films or sacrificed to Satan.

When her story started coming under scrutiny, according to an article in Cornerstone Magazine, she reinvented herself as Laura Grabowski, a Holocaust survivor—basically, replacing Satan with Josef Mengele.

The best part? As Laura Grabowski, she befriended Binjamin Wilkomirski, who had written a memoir of his time in two concentration camps and the murder of his parents by the Nazis. Wilkomirski was compared to Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank, before a journalist exposed his memoir as fiction. One of Wilkomirski’s claims was that he’d known Laura Grabowski from the camps.

2. Herman Rosenblat : Angel at the Fence

This memoir of a romance began when a little girl outside the concentration camp threw food over the fence to a little boy inside. The film rights were bought for $25 million and Oprah Winfrey described it as “the single greatest love story” on her show.

Unfortunately the truth turned out to be right up there with James Frey, partly because guards in concentration camps didn’t allow prisoners to approach electrified fences to pick up care packages. I can only imagine what the Holocaust deniers made of this. Hopefully the money was worth it for Mr. Rosenblat.

3. Clifford Irving : Autobiography of Howard Hughes

Back in the ‘70s, Irving made use of Hughes’ reclusiveness and some forged letters, claiming that Hughes had authorized him to write an “autobiography”. The publishers’ check was made out to H. R. Hughes, so Irving’s wife opened an account in the name of Helga R. Hughes and deposited it there.

A telephone conference between Hughes and seven journalists who had known him years ago started unraveling the deception. Irving was sent to prison for 17 months.

4. Sylvester Clark Long : Long Lance

In 1928, the autobiography Long Lance, written by the son of a Blackfoot chief, was a huge bestseller. The author became a sought-after guest in high society.

After his death, it turned out his father was a janitor at a school—and black. In white society, Sylvester Clark Long clearly found more acceptance as an exotic Native American chieftain’s son. When he landed a starring role in a motion picture in 1929, he was hailed as the first Native American character to play the lead role in a film. He committed suicide in 1932.

5. Norma Khouri : Honor Lost/Forbidden Lies

Norma Khouri’s best friend when they were growing up in Jordan was Dalia. But when Dalia fell in love with a Christian man, her father stabbed her to death.

This was the premise of a Random House bestselling memoir which turned out to be a sham. Khouri left Jordan for the US when she was three years old, and her life since then has included a lot more unethical activities than just a literary lie. The Jordanian National Association for Women claimed that despite promises, they received less than $100 from Khouri.

A common theme for the hoaxers these days is to catch a hot trend and ride it for all it’s worth before the scheme falls through. There are plenty more such fake memoirs—including one by another supposed Holocaust survivor who was adopted by a pack of wolves. Mowgli of Belgium later ‘fessed up. But while it lasts, there’s money and sympathy. And so people will keep doing it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Tale of Two Fishes

Today I've got a guest post on Maria Zannini's blog. It's about Demon, my favorite of all the aquarium fish I've ever had... and why I like another kind of fish as well. Check it out!

A Tale of Two Fishes

What else is happening? Well, I'll be guest blogging again at Writers Helping Writers in a week's time, but for now I'm almost halfway through the final read of The Farthest Shore. Final. I can never again wonder if I should have said "bow" instead of "prow".

And I've joined a Facebook group called Write It Now, to help me get the last half of The Coldest Sea done. I always work better to deadlines, so if everyone else is doing 20 pages a day, then I'll do my best to keep up if I kills me. Plus, revisions to The Highest Tide are due on June 1st.

So exciting! Tiring, but exciting. :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Deepest Ocean release!

So it all started when I watched Deep Blue Sea.

I’d hoped to see more done with the sharks. Special effects have come a long way since Jaws, so I was disappointed that the sharks, once again, were just the people-eating baddies who were all offed by the end. On the subway a day later, I started thinking about what a different kind of shark story might be like.

In my mind’s eye, I saw a large deep pool as if I was looking down into it from above. A plank stretched across the pool and a little girl stood at one end of the plank. The shape of a shark glided through the water just below her.

Then she ran over the plank to the other side of the pool, and when the shark took off as well, I knew they were racing. Also, it beat her every time.

A huge predator and a human would need a good reason to be in close quarters, tolerating each other or even working together. But what if the human had a mental bond with the shark?

I didn’t want the shark to have anything beyond its natural intelligence, though. It would never be Lassie-with-fins, which meant the human would have to work that much harder to understand, protect and control it.

Unlikely that such a psychic link would have just sprung up out of the blue. So there would have to be some sort of organization which found the sharks, developed the mental abilities and fitted the people out with everything they needed.

Then I remembered Denalay. When I first drew up the world of Eden, Denalay got barely a couple of lines in my notes. It didn’t have Dagre’s technology or Iternum’s powerful magic. There were a few dozen islands off its shores, so I decided the Denalaits were at war with the pirates who’d claimed those islands and left it at that.

Now I thought: what if people used their sharks to fight such a war?

Pirates and sharks were two corners of the triangle, and the apex arrived when I watched Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. That movie made me fascinated with ships, and I had my story. The hero was the captain of the ship. The heroine was a shark-bonded secret agent—in fact, she was once the little girl who’d run races with her great white—and they were ordered to work together to free prisoners taken by the pirates.

But he never expected to fall in love. And she never expected anyone like him.

The Deepest Ocean, a sharkpunk romance, was released by Samhain Publishing today. Read the first chapter on my website, but fair warning… you might not be able to stop at one.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Snow White and the Huntsman

I saw Snow White & The Huntsman for the first time a few days ago, maybe because I had a craving for Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, this was like wanting a slice of warm apple pie topped with a scoop of ice cream, and getting an apple core to nibble on.

I’ll start with the good. The black glass warriors were very cool. Also, I liked the music at the end (the coronation plus the song that plays over the credits).

Other than that, everything was blah. Except for Charlize Theron’s turn as the evil queen Ravenna, who reminded me a little of Jeremy Irons’s evil mage Profion in the similarly awful Dungeons & Dragons. It’s as though they realized they were the only elements in the films with the potential to be something other than dull, but regardless, they couldn’t possibly make the films worth watching. So they just went to town on the scenery-chewing.

I can’t even think of Kristen Stewart’s character as Snow White. That character is Kristen Stewart, wearing a perpetually dazed and open-mouthed expression. The sets and clothes are so grungy that her two upper incisors, always on display, look all the whiter in comparison. Even when she’s crowned queen, she just stands there silently with her chest heaving, a tabula rasa to the end.

You can tell they were going for a Joan d’Arc vibe, because to gain her throne she put on armor, led a tiny army and fought the evil queen, but all throughout it I just wondered why no one was wearing a helm. Plus, the resolution of the battle is telegraphed from the moment she meets the titular huntsman. If a man teaches a woman a self-defence move, I guarantee the woman will pull that move out at the last minute to save herself from the villain.

Another problem is that I was never sure what was the source of the evil queen’s power. Shades of Elizabeth Bathory here, since she imprisoned a girl, fed on the girl’s youth and became beautiful while the girl grew old. But apparently there’s a whole village of women who have deliberately scarred their faces (just pale lines down their cheeks, wouldn’t want to gross anyone out) to deter the queen from choosing them. So… she derives her youthfulness from only hot women?

Then she eats a bird’s heart, and of course she wants Stewart’s as well – though why she kept Stewart locked up in the tower for years is anyone’s guess. As for the nature of her power, that goes beyond youthfulness. She’s got Wolverine’s healing factor, Mystique’s ability to change her appearance, super strength and telekinesis (she can raise a portcullis by walking to it). Oh, she also changes into a flock of birds. Basically, she’s all over the place, and no, I have no idea why Stewart was able to kill her at the end. But it was a relief, because that meant the film was over.

The dwarves were awful, the takeover of the castle was unbelievable, and the black glass warriors were utterly wasted. If millions of shards of obsidian fly at you at high speed, you’ll need to be rinsed off the walls. Of course, Stewart’s love interests are barely scratched.

These love interests are the scruffy huntsman (who doesn’t even have a name) and some pretty-boy duke’s son, both of whom kiss her after she eats the apple. I’m sure you can tell which one’s kiss works, but this is a modern retelling, not “Some Day My Unshaven Prince Will Come”, so he just exchanges a few angsty glances with her afterwards.

The queen, a self-made widow, has a love interest too – her brother. Yes, they were going for Jaime/Cersei here, because this film is a patchwork of borrowed concepts covering up a whole lot of nothing. The brother has a silly haircut and that’s about all I can say of him.

If you want to see a strong yet vulnerable princess, watch Pan's Labyrinth instead, because Ivana Baquero can act, plus there’s a gripping story and a believable villain to go along with her. Everything this film doesn’t have.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Five kinds of wings in fantasy

1. Feathered wings

The most common type, though these could be as varied as actual feathers are. Not just in color but in purpose too—there’s a species of bird which has a surprisingly large repertoire of sounds it can make with its wings.

Owls’ wings have also evolved to be nearly soundless in flight—an advantage for hunters.

2. Skin wings

Like bats, whose wings are sensitive enough to detect changes in air temperature and currents, meaning bats can make swift changes to their flight patterns. This would be great for an interspecies romance too—imagine the wings being an erogenous zone.

It’s been a while since I read Anne Bishop’s Daughter of the Blood, but her Eyrians might be like this—if anyone can confirm, please let me know in the comments!

3. Insect wings

I like insect wings the most, perhaps because they look so fragile. The veins running through them help to strengthen them, but it would be interesting to see these scaled up to humanoid size. That would also raise the question of whether the humanoid could hover like a dragonfly, and whether the wings would be concealed in cases when not used in flight.

4. Mechanical wings

The Icarii of Dru Pagliasotti’s Clockwork Heart have metal wings, but these can be adapted for defense and attack as well. In the X-Men comics, Archangel’s wings had metal feathers which could be fired as projectiles, and such wings could also have guns mounted on them, similar to rotary cannons or even air-to-air missile launchers. Provided, of course, that they didn’t weigh the flyer down too much.

5. Magical wings

The angels’ wings in the Diablo video games are great examples of this.

As well as looking cool, the tentacles are also prehensile and can grasp at enemies. I love that dual purpose.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Writers who don't read

I want to get into writing but my question is: "Is there ever been any real-time authors that didnt actually previously read books, as in, more than 4 books?" because i feel that i can make it, and that i have a unique mind

Every so often, on the Absolute Write discussion board, a new writer will ask whether he or she can become successful without reading.

At first I found it difficult to understand this, because I was given books from the moment I could sit up to be read to. I tried reading my uncle’s huge hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings when I was six, and when he found out, he gave me a paperback of The Hobbit which I still have. But these writers have their own reasons for not reading.

Some of them worry that reading other people’s work in the genre may distract them from their own thoughts and ideas. They don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s imagination.

One problem with this is that while you can certainly write in a vacuum where no book exists but your own, once you send it out… well, agents, editors and the general public do read. Plus, they’re aware of books they may not have read. So if you’ve reinvented the wheel because you weren’t aware of what’s being done in your genre, there’s going to be a sad awakening somewhere down the line.

The other problem is that reading extensively is the best way to familiarize yourself with not only techniques and tricks of writing, but also the requirements of a genre. I once saw a self-published erotica novelette from an author who didn’t seem familiar with what successful short erotica provides. I say this because the sample was all about the heroine preparing lunch for herself, and the most exciting thing was a long carrot.

You see the same thing in people who’ve written a tragic love story but want to call it a romance. Not going to happen.

Another reason was provided by someone who wanted to write for teenagers, but who said, “and re reading "ya", whatever that is, books are a luxury i cannot afford” (link). Unfortunately that showed in her manuscripts, because apart from other issues, no one in them was a teenager.

I sympathize with not having money, but this isn’t such an obstacle when it comes to reading. Even if there are no libraries nearby, what about online contests and giveaways? Some publishers will send free books for reviews. And then there are garage sales or borrowing from friends. All of which I’ve done.

If you really want to read - and grow as a writer - you’ll find a way.

Learning disorders aside, some people just focus and concentrate in different ways that may make reading a novel from start to finish a difficult process. But in that case, there are other things to try—like audiobooks. Or short stories, which take less time. Some MG books are intended for “reluctant readers”.

What turns me off, though, is if someone actively looks down on other writers’ work (in general). I can understand not enjoying a specific author. But if a writer says, “I like writing because I have so many ideas, but I have no interest in anyone else’s books” (to paraphrase this), it comes off as incredibly pompous. Not something likely to make me try that writer’s work.

I'm sure there are a few writers who are so naturally talented that they can write well without having read anything, but they would be the exception. The rest of us need to read, and lots thereof.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Writing Irresistible Kidlit

I like checking out how-to books on writing, and Writing Irresistible Kidlit is by (former) literary agent Mary Kole. Although I don’t write MG or YA, I felt sure there would be ideas and techniques that would apply to adult fiction as well.

Well, there are, but I’d definitely recommend this to anyone wanting to write for children or teenagers. It’s a great resource. One chapter is devoted to understanding the mindset of these readers. What level of complexity are they looking for when they read? What themes would be too heavy to introduce directly into MG, and what to do under those circumstances? Male or female protagonist?

The book describes the “big ideas” behind some of the most popular YA fiction, cliché openings, grabby openings, characters and plots, along with input from other agents and editors giving examples of what didn’t work for them. Kole even makes a good stab at analyzing the elusive “voice” – how the words used, the emotion in them (or lack thereof), dialect and even repetition of certain words contributes to a highly individualistic result.

Voice for kidlit readers needs to be fresh, electric and immediate, in order to reflect their lives. Never let passive construction (“The party was being attended by teenagers”) sneak into your work.

What I enjoyed most, though, were the quotes from novels. I don’t read a lot of YA and MG, but with this book I got an intriguing cross-section of the best of them (nothing with vampires or werewolves, too, which was a plus for me). This book made me curious about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, and that’s one novel well worth reading. I’m also going to check out Jenny Downham’s Before I Die, although I usually don’t read books about cancer. This one just sounds too intriguing.

So if you’re thinking about writing for children or teenagers, check this book out. It’s a great starting-point.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Illegal downloads are fine because...

___ authors understand that their real problem is obscurity, not the piracy of their books.

___ authors want, most of all, to share their work with as many people as possible.

___ some authors don’t mind illegal downloads at all.

___ some authors report increased sales as a result of the book being made free to anyone who wants it.

___ someone who illegally downloads a book and enjoys it will be sure to pay for the sequel, which will be published even if sales of the first book are low thanks to illegal downloads. So because of piracy, the author has gained a honest fan… somehow.

___ e-books can be expensive. If you consider things expensive, it’s acceptable to take them without paying for them.

___ only publishers are financially affected by piracy, and they’re all big corporations which can afford the loss. They probably use it as a tax writeoff anyway.

___ it’s not like you’re taking a physical copy, or something which can’t be replaced.

___ if you wouldn’t pay for the book under any circumstances, the author has no grounds for complaint because he wouldn’t have been paid under any circumstances, so you might as well go ahead and download it.

___ it’s like borrowing a book from a friend. The only difference is that with unauthorized file sharing, you get to have your own free copy. But otherwise, it’s just like sharing a book. Sharing is good.

___ people need to read the book for free to know if they want to spend money on it, and libraries aren’t an option here, for some reason.

___ people should have what they want, when they want it.

___ people are going to do it no matter what anyone says or does, so authors might as well accept it.

I've seen all these used in favor of illegal downloading, but this article by agent Rachelle Gardner is a good summary of what authors can do about it. Most of the time, I try not to think about my work being stolen. Today, though, I noticed a thread about the topic on Absolute Write and decided to list the reasons why.

But this is my single reason why not. I spent a great deal of time and effort on my books. I think I deserve to get paid for that. Unless it's by my choice, I don't think I deserve to have them downloaded without my getting any compensation at all.

And that goes for all authors, everywhere.