Friday, August 31, 2012

A Conglomerate of Goodies

      Since I'm doing my "difficult quarter" in school, today I'm just posting a conglomerate of goodies.
     I had to share this hilarious post on what writing/publishing feels like, for the writer. Pleasepleaseplease take a look! It's a real treat by an accomplished blogger, published author, and previous Literary Agent.
     Also, free flash fiction contest, oh yeah! 250 dollars for 250 words.
     Lastly, here are a couple reviews from my Goodreads booklist, in case you haven't seen any of those. The first review is more about the reading experience. The second review includes writing tips.
     Thanks for stopping by, Scribblers!

Book Review of "Montmorency On the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer?" by Eleanor Updale, the second installment in the Monmorency series:
     "If you're into high-stakes mysteries, torturous backstory, and fabulous European historical fiction, this book is right up your alley. This second installment in the adventures of Montmorency was even better than the first, in my opinion. The cool thing about it? If you read it first, it might be more interesting! You can read the first book afterwards to get to know Montmorency even better.
     Montmorency has been living as his better upper-half personality, rather than his low-life identity, "Scarper." Traveling the world with his best friend, Lord George Fox-Selwyn, as a spy for England, he's pulled off some amazing feats...but also gotten into some trouble. His friend will try to help him back to grace while they solve two equally distubing mysteries ravaging their homes.
     The mysteries, the suspense, the immediate connection we feel with old and new characters, pulls this read above the first. I loved every minute of this book.
     I've listened to both the Montmorency reads on my ipod; the library loans them out for free. The voice actors are great in this rendition.

Book Review of "Beka Cooper, Book 3: Mastiff, A Tortall Legend" by Tamora Pierce.
     "Pierce is one of my all-time faves! Aside from LOTR, her books were the REASON I read.
Beka Cooper, and her partner Matthias Tunstall, set off on their most important hunt yet, in this third and final installment of the Beka's series. No loyalties can be trusted on this high-stakes hunt. 
     I love inhabiting Pierce's fantasy worlds, reallyreally. Beka Cooper is one cool chick. Or should I say "mot" (slang for “women”)? Yes, Pierce invents flavorful worlds: language, including slang and noble speech, caste system in several kingdoms, and a wide inventory of magics. If you want to learn how to create great settings, I highly recommend Pierce.
     As usual, there was one particular character that I got attached to, and that was "Farmer." He reminded me a lot of Numair, from the Wildmage series. I LOVE his humor. Beka, like I said, is a great female protagonist. Pierce's always are. I've only complaint about her characters, at least in this book: they have very little moral shading. All the "good" ones agree on highly controversial topics. I disagreed with certain collective opinions, namely the ones on sex and language. It rarely happens, in life, that several people have the same exact opinion on morality. It’s unrealistic. For this, I withheld part of a star.
     The storyline moved along well, right from the beginning, and there were several twists. My only qualm was with one of the twists, in which I think a character acted "out of character." It certainly made for a twist I didn't see coming, but I really don't think the character would have done this... I took off half a star, here. When characters do things that aren't consistent with their character, the plot twists seem contrived by the author.
     I listened to the audiobook. I wasn’t a huge fan of the voice actor because she gave certain parts a slightly corny feel…like all the words of a certain (adorable!) four-year old prince. I couldn’t tell if it was what he said, or the way the voice-actor said it, but it had me groaning. :) I took part of a star here, too.
     The very end of the book (Was it an epilogue? can't remember) was a delightful addition: it jumps forward into the future, where we connect briefly with George Cooper--yes, THAT George Cooper--Beka's ancestor. It was a lovely tie to the series. It solidified my opinion, once again, how much I love Pierce’s work.
     I seesawed on whether to give three or four stars on this book, but for the sake of Pierce-love, I chose four."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Old English

     If you have any interest in language, knowing its origins can be a fun way to understand and use it better. Are you at all curious about how our modern-day English developed?
     I'll just give a little history about the earliest form of English, in this post, because I have a cool video to show you. If you enjoy it, and want to learn more about the development, leave a comment below. Then I'll know, and I'll continue the summarized history lesson :)
     In the 5th century A.D., the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain, bringing an early form of Old English along with them. This language sounded very similar to other Germanic languages of the time.
     You've probably heard that the word English is derived from the word "Angles," as in Englo-Saxons. Now you understand where that came from! You've also probably hear of the epic poem Beowulf; it was composed somewhere between the early 8th century and the late 10th century. (If you want to read Beowulf, I highly recommend the translation by Seamus Heaney).
     At this time, the language was not recognized as English at all. That recognition didn't come until the late 14th century, when Geoffrey Chaucer decided to write in English, rather than French. This gave prestige to the language (Greenblatt).
     Now, if you'd like an example of what the language actually sounded like, I have a treat for you! Below is a video of the Lord's Prayer in Old English and it's AWESOME.
     Even if you don't care much about Christianity, reading this prayer can be an interesting insight. Hearing it in Old English gets you bonus points!
     Here's a link to the Prayer in the King James Version, if you want to read along. About one word in every line is recognizably comparable to our modern-day English!
     I hope you enjoy the video as much as I did!

     Thanks to my Professor Carrie White of Regent University for presenting the video!
     Also thanks to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, from which I summarized much of this history lesson.

Photo Credit
"Part of Caroline Townshend and Joan Howson window at St Nectan's Church" by Weglinde.
Works Cited:
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. New York, NY: W.W. 
     Norton &, 2006. Print.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How to Choose Books You'll Like

Endless Choices!
     There are so many books out there. How are we supposed to choose which ones to spend out time reading? There are so many unknowns, and so many splats. It's impossible to always be correct, but I've found two steps and several ways to go about each step to help me separate the trendy trash from the true art.
     How do we begin this process?
     The First Step is to be aware of all the options. The best way I've found to gather lots of options is to create a list of all the books that capture your interest. Yes, I happen to be one of those neurotic people who thinks lists are fun. It's not necessary, but it's fun and it ensures that you won't just completely forget about a book. is a fab place to do this (although notebooks work just fine, too).
     Where can we find the books for our lists?
     This is the easy part. There are endless places to hear about books. Goodreads is full of lists and book recommendations, and sometimes perusing the stacks is just what you need. However, several other popular blogs and websites also create book lists.
     And of course, the virtual stacks are just one way to go. There's always the library, local indie bookstores, and B&N. Take a trip.
     Friends and other people also sometimes recommend books. If they interest you, add them to your list.
     These are all viable methods to find reading material.
     Okay, so now that you've got a humongo list of books, what do you do? There's too many books in the world to be read.
     Step Two is to narrow down the choices. I don't suggest doing this by eliminating books, but rather to find which books stand out from the pack.
     There are several ways to narrow the choices. My favorite is word of mouth. Several authors and agents have published the opinion that grassroots word of mouth boost book sales beyond any other measure. If I hear about a book all over the place, from friends and strangers alike, it perks my interest.
     Often, word of mouth is the way great books are spread, because people GUSH about them. Remember how in step one, I suggested getting book recommendations from friends, in order to build your list of options? Well, if you hear about it over and over, or from more than one person, there's usually a good reason for it.
     A lot of times, if you've perused some stacks, and a friend praises a book you recognize, that recognition sticks with you. Recently, a friend of mine mentioned the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield. I'd heard about the series on Goodreads, and the covers had caught my eye in the library. My friend's recommendation perked my interest. I read it, and loved it. And guess where my friend heard of the book? From a friend of hers!
     If you hear a lot about a book, it probably deserves to be read. (Of course, sometimes popular opinion is wrong about books. I mean, right now an erotica book that began as Twilight fan-fiction has blown up the best-sellers lists. It is a risk.)
     Sometimes statistics help, too. If you see that a library book has 200 holds, it might be a good option to check out. I've found a couple books that way, including The Hunger Games. Yes, before it was a phenomenon, I found it in the library catalog. (The second book was on the YALSA Teens' Top Ten list. When I saw its popularity on the library catalogue, I figured I'd better check it out.)
     Awards are always something to look out for too. If it got an award, though, it has some literary merit, at the very least.
     And there's always "the author test." If you've read and enjoyed books by an author before, then you may like other books by them as well. That's how I found The Scorpio Races, The Song of the Lioness series, and A Ring of Endless Light.
     But I can't even really say that I only choose books by these criteria. Sometimes, I just pick one up that looks interesting, and it captures me without my full consent. I say, "Wait, I have several other books in line before you! You're cutting them ALL!" But the mystery is there, and I'm hooked. This happened with Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. If you saw the book, you'd understand ;)
     It all comes down to what you find interesting, in the end, but I hope these methods help you choose some great reads! If they do, pleasepleaseplease tell me. I'd love to hear about it.

Photo Credit: By Smithsonian Institution. Found on Flickr:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Plot Project, Anyone?

     Recently, I tried a free plot project that promised results and sounded like fun. I enjoyed it and learned so much, I had to share it with my Book Bandits and Scribblers alike!
     To our left is 1 of 6 stacks of cards which I prepped for, created, and studied with for the last 12 weeks.
     It was so worth it.
     This plot program quite literally redefined the little I knew about the subject before I began. It bettered my knowledge of plot TENfold. In 12 weeks. I chose to do this in the summer because I have very little time during the school year, but you can place it anywhere you choose, in your own schedule.
     Okay, enough introduction. Here's the sum of my work:
     These are the stacks of cards. They distill the plots of 6 novels into flippable, moveable form, and as the project's inventor says, "They are gold."
     These cards taught me how to identify scenes, doorways, acts, beats, and a load of other important concepts, so that I can write them into my own work. Unfortunately, I can't explain how this whole project worked without stealing the glory from the real inventor. Fortunately, if you're curious about this program, it's easy to get ahold of! In case you're not quite curious yet, I'll defer revealing its location just a little longer...
     Here is the final (and most fun!) step of the whole program, which I completed on Monday.
    For all you organizers out there, this a dream project. Really.
     The project certainly took time, but it's fun because you choose the books you study (unlike in school). If you do end up trying this project out, I suggest doing at least one book you've already read and know you enjoy. Finishing this project was like finishing a great school project. I felt a little wistful that it was over, but deliriously happy about it all the same. So, it's basically a self-paced (8-12 weeks), self-graded (it's all about how much you want to get out of it), fun  (reading novels!) class on plotting. And it works.
     So, now would you like to know how to find out more about this project?
     Okay, okay I'll tell you: It's out of a book called Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, on pages 214-215. The whole book is fabulous for learning about the craft of fiction-writing, but this program in particular blew me away. As I mentioned before, you can do this enire program for free. Even the book! You can get from the library (it's at the Lakeport branch, but of course you can order it from wherever). I spent a total of $11 on the project: I spent $10 on a book I'd already decided to buy (The Scorpio Races, of course), and $1 on index cards from the Dollar Tree. You can make your own index cards, but I suggest buying them.
     And, in case you're wondering, there IS a reason the first two pictures of the cards look like they're part of a movie! But you'll have to read the book to find out why...muahahaha!

     *****Just as a reminder to any Teen Book Bandits, if you have been reading books nominated for Teens' Top Ten, the voting begins on Aug 13th and ends September 13th! If you haven't begun reading, you can still read 1, 2 or maybe even 3 before the voting ends. They are almost all available through the library system. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can find out by clicking the link above.
     Good luck everyone, and may the best book win!

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Case Study of Plot and Character Problems

Fencers, McGill University, Montreal, 1925
     What with America's Olympians running around in London, now is a good time to discuss crafting our own heroes and their stories.
     We usually have no trouble identifying the hero. You know, the one who lives through a surprise attack of flaming arrows/bullets/raining acid while all of his friends/enemies die around him, then tortures himself for leading them into danger that he never could have anticipated.  Sometimes we can believe in the incredible escapes are believable, and we root for the character to overcome their obstacles...and other times, we don't. Other times we yawn and wish the story was over already. Worse yet, sometimes the protagonist annoys us so much, we root for the other side. Why is that? There are many things that can cause this apathy, but today we'll talk about two reasons I recently identified.
     Not long ago, I read about a fighter heroine (let's call her Racine) that didn't command my belief or sympathy. In her case, there were two reasons for this:
     Reason #1: Credibility of Actions. Story audiences usually have a high level of tolerance for stretching believability, but there still has to be some credibility for the reader to keep engaging. Good storytellers can suspend disbelief. When reading about Racine, I believed she could protect herself from certain things that other people couldn't; however, after a point it became ridiculous.  She was stabbed or shot with arrows several times in the book, but she never took more than a few days rest before hopping back into her usual grueling work. I know that days of black-out sleep make for boring reading, but that's what white space is for. A real person can't run around like that without physical consequences. This story stretched Racine's strength beyond the realms of plausibility.
     So what's Reason #2?
     The Pity Party. Lazy or inexperienced authors characters create problems simply by being self-absorbed. Racine could have solved three and a half out of five of her problems by snapping out of her self-pity. She kept harping on mistakes she made, or things that weren't even her fault. Sure, she made mistakes, but she needed to get over them.  I call this "hero complex," and Racine had it bad. Her self-absorption caused several other problems, like sickness, anxiety among her friends, and broken hearts. In one situation, the her soul mate  practically slobbered his love all over her, but all she said was, "Oh, but he couldn't possibly love Terrible Me. He's just being all flowery." No. He wasn't. Her problems had easy solutions that she couldn't seem to see.
      The author of this book was hinging on people feeling sorry for Racine, and wanting her to succeed. Frankly, the whole book, I was thumping my fist into my forehead saying, "DUH! Just stop being dumb!" (Okay, maybe I didn't really thump my forehead, because then I'd have a bruise, and I can't afford such a blot on my image *hair flip* (( Speaking of hair flips, conceit is rarely a good way to gain reader sympathy either. Unless we're talking about Dagny Taggart. Brag away, dear, I think you've earned it. Or Hank Rearden. SaWOON!)))