Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Your Brain on Mute

If I pulled my brain out of my head and rubbed it across a blank piece of paper what sort of messy thoughts would smear the surface? Would phrases like "gas tank," "the dishes," "finish term paper," and "dentist appointment at 4:00 or 4:30?" soak through the page like a glossy grease stain?

Life is messy. But my head feels messier. Am I to just sit down, whip out the laptop, and let my fingers dance when my head, in all its festering, garbled clutterness, is in much need of pesticide poisoning?

Anne Lamott's book, BIRD BY BIRD, gets right to the meat of how we can begin chewing into our imagination's material when our skull's about to explode from a brain clot.

She writes:

"You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again.

Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.

The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, and guilt. Also, severe hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you have meningitis."

The solution?

"Some days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way. It is a little like when you have something difficult to discuss with someone, and as you go to do it, you hope and pray that the right words will come if only you show up and make a stab at it.

But the bad news is that if you're at all like me, you'll probably never read over what you've written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written, lest the eagerly waiting world learn how bad your first drafts are."

I suppose in the end we all have busy times. Groceries. Deadlines. Visiting relatives. Until those busy times move to chaotic. Broken car. Bronchitis. Visiting relatives. Before long life is spiraling out of your hands once again with your teeth being the only glue to hold it together. Crashed car. Kitchen fire. Knee surgery. Visiting relatives. Then you finally claw some sense of order into your shredded life to keep the tide from rising above your chin. Meteor strikes. Relatives' funeral.

Amidst this repetition between bad and worse, can we just sit down and spew all of our thoughts, and rants, and memories, and pretend castles on the Microsoft screen and pray something sticks?

Sure! Why not.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


While working my body extra hard today to digest the hoards of feasty fabulousness, my mind became drowsy and my thoughts heavy with the random wonders of writing and remixing (whilst watching football of course, and simultaneously wondering how I could use the word, 'whilst' in my next blog post.)

I used to detest remixes. Why? I believed remixes were corrupted/lesser versions of the original. This was back when I thought myself to be a truly deep-thinker and therefore, took all my thoughts very seriously. But wasn't a remix, thought I, something that cheaply tainted the purity of the artist's work? Remixes were certainly nothing more than glorified knock offs... gimmicks, contrived-sacrilegious-gambitious-audacities.

But then... how could I be an art purist if one of my all time favorite films is:

In fact, with most Shakespeare adaptations, the more creative the spin, the more fascinating the production. Is it really such a defilement then, to take a piece of art, be it music, paintings, or a piece of literature, and mix in your own style to create a different take?

I've recently heard criticism regarding the success of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, with the criticizer stating that the book was nothing more than a gimmick that cheaply imitated Jane Austen's masterpiece right down to the original plotline and word-for-word sentences. Now I agree that Jane Austen's works are classic masterpieces, but the original "pure" versions will always remain pure. They will remain untouchable.

But why not take content that is so timeless, addicting, and downright precious, and remix other styles, colors, and interpretations to it? The remixer may not exactly be breaking the same ground as the original, but their addition could provoke alternative perspectives, suggestions, and revelations. What does the contribution of zombies reveal within the PRIDE AND PREJUDICE realm? If one thinks about it, the character of Mrs. Bennett most likely WOULD risk Jane's dismemberment of limbs via zombie attack in order to get to Mr. Bingley's house to flaunt, flirt, and score some matrimony.

It could be exciting for this remixing of classics and perhaps even contemporaries to continue.

How rich could a piece of text, music, or visual art become with the remixing of various flavors, the layering of fresh paint strokes and frosted toppings? What could remixing reveal about the work's audience, the pop culture surrounding the work, or even the work itself? Is it possible that recreating, reinterpreting, and any other re-ing actually contributes to the inspiration the original artist initially started?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Yay, for the day of goblins, graves, ghosts, gremlins, and gothicism! I'm sure there's more "g" words to describe Halloween but alliteration can get old after about five words...

Time for the best of horror stories.

However, some of the best scary stories are the shortest.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Query: How to Prove your Book is Made of Awesome

Ah yes, the infamous Query Letter. So infamous that I went so far as to inadvertently capitalize a common noun in a sudden rush of reckless abandon.

But really, the query letter is a strange and horrifying thing. It's a three paragraph sales pitch that will make or break the future of your book. Granted, there are many hurtles that strut between you and a publishing contract, but for some reason, the query letter carries the most weight. It's a pretentious little microsoft document, one that continuously smirks up at you as if to say, "that's right, the fate of your soul lies entirely in my nonexistent hands."

Yes, authors are always saying their characters speak to them. Well my query letters mock and verbally abuse me.

Of course, when writing your query, your primary goal is to sell yourself. But you could also (sadistically) view it as a chance to manipulate others. Basically, you're Ursula, bouncing and singing and shimmying your voluptuous "body language" to convince Ariel (the agent) to sign a shiny gold, levitating contract (your book.) The whole sucking of the voice out of the mouth and into the shell necklance doesn't really apply to my metaphor so we'll just move on.

I realize we're now being portrayed as the evil agent in this situation, but villains have more fun anyway, especially the ones with well-endowed, purple cleavage.

The format of the query letter requires your contact information at above the greeting. Following the greeting, you will typically have three paragraphs which follow:

Phone Number
Home Address
Email Address

Dear Drusilla Von Horlacher,

Paragraph 1: You want to begin with a hook that will seduce your agent right off the bat. I've read from several agents that a major turn on is learning as much about the main character as possible within the first few sentences. Reveal the strengths of your book that prove its originality and appeal.

Paragraph 2: This paragraph includes the summary of your book. Try to do this in as few sentences as possible. Also be sure to include your book's genre and word length. In this paragraph you could also include that your book is perfect for this agent to represent because it's similar to books X, Y, and Z. This information is crucial in your query, so make sure you include it at some point.

Paragraph 3: This paragraph includes a mini-resume of other works you have published. Even if you are a first-time author, you must still include some writing credentials about yourself. These can include awards you have won, clubs you are a part of, conferences you have attended, or school experience relevant to your literary work.

Then finish your letter with a painfully polite remark. Something along the lines of "I look forward to hearing from you/ working with your agency/ being graced with your artistic genius."

Your Name (make sure your entire letter is single-spaced, including "yours truly.")

There are many options that can help guide you along the way to creating the perfect query letter. I'll be posting said options soon. But for now, begin constructing the basics, piecing together attention-grabbing sentences with personality, charisma, and flow. Best to just begin. I found the first sentence to be the most garment-renting. When overly-stressed, just think of Ursula. Actually, during all the times of the day, both good and ill, think of Ursula.

The things you can do with a pen and a book of blank paper

Noteboek from Evelien Lohbeck on Vimeo.

Monday, October 4, 2010

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."

-Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

Tunes to steampunk?

For some reason, when I think of steampunk, I think of a giant bouncing tea kettle puffing steam (brass of course, covered in cogs), and when I think of a giant bouncing brass tea kettle, I hear Goldfrapp's SATIN CHIC in my head:

Oilpunk? Plasticgoth?

I've become very amused by how literary genres are multiplying and budding right out of each other. If you set your eyes on one specific genre, odds are, it has somehow managed to procreate with itself sometime during the last year or so, breeding a plethora of subset genre spawn.

The most entertaining to investigate is the Steampunk genre, a movement that both mimics the sci-fi innovation of cyberpunk, as well as rebels against the Victorians' worship of steam-driven machinery, satirizing the belief that advanced technology would reinvent the British empire. Of course, while mocking the idolizing of super-awesome-gadgetry, the defining flavor of Steampunk is the flashy use of zeppelins, trackless locomotives, badass clocks, and any other devices bedazzled in cogs and gears.

But of course, having one genre has become so last season. Not only is there steampunk, but also:

Dieselpunk: steampunk with diesel in the engines.

Clockpunk: steampunk with a particular emphasis on clocks... ? (Sounds like a Watchmen's doomsday clock meets The Great Mouse Detective's fist fight atop Big Ben.)

Western steampunk: steampunk gone Will-Smith-in-a-cowboy-hat.

Steamgoth: that's right, steampunk, but darker!

Gaslight romance: steampunk with less sci-fi, more fantasy. Apparently, when you think of historical fantasy, you think of gaslights.

Gaslamp fantasy: the same as gaslight romance, except more gaslamps than gaslights.

Now the above list is pretty impressive. But why stop here? I'm going to write a sci-fi book about 19th century Texas and call it Oilpunk. Or I could write a Cratepaperpunk fluorescent sci-fi fantasy with elements of plasticgoth and linoleum hair metal bubble pop rock.

The real dilemma for an author would be to write about a 17th century cowboy pirate detective who battle trolls and wizards with a fire shooting gaslamp and diesel fueled engine while racing to London to stop a giant doomsday clock from striking midnight and triggering a steam pressured atom bomb.

Now I'm just having a party with myself and my own self-assured cleverness, but doesn't this perpetual begetting of subset genres beneath the umbrella of an already existing subset (isn't steampunk a branch of cyberpunk which is a branch of sci-fi?) seem a little silly?

Is a book shopper really going to choose between two sci-fi fantasy novels based on which one has the most clocks or the gothic-est gaslamp? And are there really enough dieselpunk novels to fit a shelf in Barnes & Noble, or even half a shelf?

This subset to the subset movement makes me wonder if we even need genres at all? Considering that every new book written has reimagined its own category and forged an entirely new genre?

What subset genre are planning to create? Do you agree with the excessive labeling? Would you go gaslamp goth or petroleumpunk fantasy?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dead Wood

by Annette Lyon

We tell clients (and writers at workshops) to cut dead wood from their work. Some pros go as far as to say you should always cut 10% of your final version, because that's how much dead wood you've likely got.

I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to list a specific percentage (some writers might be fine with 5%, while others should cut 20%), but dead wood is so easy to slip in and sometimes hard to find.

For the sake of illustrating what dead wood can look like, here are some examples. This is in no way an exhaustive list, because dead wood is like dust bunnies, hiding where you least expect it.

Stating the Obvious
A grin spread across her face.
He blinked his eyes.
She nodded her head.

Unless you're writing speculative fiction and your characters have mouths in a locations not on their faces, they can blink something besides their eyes, or they can nod a body part that isn't their head, don't add the body part. These aren't the only variations of this type of dead wood. ("John shrugged his shoulders" also comes to mind as freaking everywhere.)

Repetitive Words and Phrases
Dave drove to Maple Street, drove into the parking garage, and parked his car. He walked up to the street and walked over to Oak Street, three streets over, where he saw a red convertible parked by the curb.

You might not notice how many times you repeat certain words close together unless you read your work aloud and hear them.

Be sure your characters aren't repeating words in dialogue, either. Having Darlene use "quaint" could be a character quirk. Having four other characters use the same word in the same chapter is plain sloppy.

Same goes for actions and other descriptors. Make sure your characters aren't all constantly raising their eyebrows, feeling their hearts race, running fingers through their hair, or doing some other gesture. Change things up.

Lazy Verbs
90% of the time, plain old past tense is most effective. Adding a helping to be verb and -ing weakens the statement.

He was running as fast as he could before the bomb went off.
He ran as fast as he could before the bomb went off.

Unless you have a compelling reason to point out that two things are happening simultaneously (He was hiding the gun in the drawer as she walked in), don't use the helping-verb form. Keep it plain past tense. You might be able to find a stronger verb anyway.

(Instead of he was walking, how about he sauntered?)

Meaningless Words
This list could be huge. It contains words we add to sentences without adding punch or significant meaning. They include words like very, just, and really, which usually water down and tell instead of show.

For example, if she's very beautiful, SHOW her beauty to us. Or just say she's beautiful, because that single word will be more effective than a weak attempt at emphasizing it with very or really.

Another often-unneeded word is that. Yes, sometimes we need that to clarify which person or thing we're talking about, but often it's an extra piece of dead wood.

He called to tell her that their brother was in the hospital.
He called to tell her their brother was in the hospital.

Then there's the easily overlooked yet obvious (once it's pointed out): needless to say, umm, sure, and as far as I can tell.

A phrase to watch out for: THERE IS/ARE/WERE.
Again, no rule is in stone, but 90% of the time, if your sentence starts with THERE ARE or some variation, you've got a weak line and could make it stronger. Find what the real subject and verb are and start with them:

There were a lot of students disrupting class yesterday.
Lots of students disrupted class yesterday.

(Note that THERE IS and its cousins tend to use helping verbs, which by themselves are weak.)

Repeating yourself is surprisingly easy. I've seen things like true fact and famous celebrity. Don't laugh too hard; you might have done something similar without thinking! (I know I have.) Proof carefully.

Point of View Intrusion
This one's a personal peeve of mine: when we're clearly in a character's head, but instead of the author showing what the character sees, experiences, feels, hears, smells, thinks, or realizes, we're told that they do.

She realized the situation was hopeless.
The situation was hopeless.

He heard the phone ring.
The phone rang.

Now what, he thought.
Now what?
(For thoughts, if they're set aside as thoughts, we don't need to be told that's what they are.)

I'm sure you can find more types of dead wood. (Add them to the comments!)

As an exercise, try to cut each sentence in one of your scenes by one word, minimum. You might be surprised at how much stronger the final result is, and how many great new images and verbs you come up with.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Editing Process

Sometimes having your manuscript edited is a scary thing.

You don't know what it's going to come back looking like.

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.

-Hart Crane

High Fantasy: Can There Really Be Pink Trees?

At a writer's conference I went to, there was a workshop on creating your high fantasy planet entitled "Can There Really Be Pink Trees?"

I challenge all you high fantasy writers out there to go wild while constructing your own planets/middle earths/europeanlike continents. Give James Cameron's Pandora a run for its money.

The Three Fantasies

Fantasy has become the new rock. Similar to having alternative, punk, electronic, and hard rock, there are several different ways to divide up the genre of fantasy.

There are two major types of fantasy:
1. Low Fantasy: Your book takes place on earth but it has elements of fantasy within it. Ex: HARRY POTTER, PERCY JACKSON

2. High Fantasy: Your book takes place on another planet, in another dimension, or within a made up land (usually long, long ago, far, far, away). Examples: LORD OF THE RINGS, HIS DARK MATERIALS, THE SWORD OF SHANARA

Other: A subset to low fantasy is the genre of Urban Fantasy. The boundaries for this genre are a bit more blurred, but it generally entails that the tone of the story is darker, the themes more mature, and the location is in a city. (Oddly vague I know, but if your type of writing fits this bill, all the better since you want to narrow your genre down as specifically as possible.)

My definition: If your book's basic plot could be the lyrics to an Evanscence song, it's Urban Fantasy.

My prediction: Given how popular fantasy has become in adult, young adult, and middle grade fiction, I expect there to be many new "genres" budding up all over the place as publishers become more and more swamped with fantasy submissions.

Which genre of fantasy do you read/write most? What new subset of fantasy do you predict will come into being?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Genre: A Necessary Evil

Shawshank Redemption: The Walls Are Your Friends

-How did he escape?
-He put Mr. Darcy and zombies in the same book, sir.

While trying to get published, something I've learned alot about (and no, it's not how to spell "a lot") is the gargantuous amount of importance that is placed on defining your genre.

When pitching your manuscript, be it to an agent or publisher or whathaveyou, it is critical that you state exactly what genre your book will be eligible to sell in. You have to establish in your query letter that you have a complete and full understanding of what your genre entails. In fact, you know more about your genre than any other writer! You know so much about it that...'ve been able to construct a book that can appeal to readers who also bought and loved "this book", "this book", and "this book" of "this genre." And yet, while your book fits perfetly into said genre, your book brings something entirely fresh and fierce and original to the genre that no other book has in the history of the genre because your book is so incredibly different and awesome and original and oneofakind...

...Oh, but of course, your book is not TOO different and awesome and orginal and oneofakind, because then it wouldn't fit in with the rest of the books in the genre.

Sounds unnecessarily exausting, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it is. But it can be simplified by knowing immediately what kind of genre you are trying to squeeze into.

"But!" You might interject, "My book isn't like anything else out there. It is a unique work of art and doesn't need to be labeled and shoved into a category just to satisfy some industry's corporate-customers'-grab-happy needs."

If you write that in your letter, it will be shot, fried, and flushed down the toilet.

It's great to have artisic integrity, and it's wonderful if you have created something that is so prodigiously unique that it cannot be defined by the boundaries of genre (see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Tori Amos, VALIS).

But if you truly want to publish, the confines of genre must become you and your artistic baby's new best friend.


1. If you are just beginning a manuscript.
- Establish your genre immediately. If you already have an idea of where your book will fit on the bookshop shelves, research that genre right away to make sure you can fulfill all the reader and publisher expectations while you're constructing your first draft. While you're exploring the genres, observe what has been done before and what hasn't. What book is the godfather of this genre? What are some influences and inspirations you would like to pursue or avoid?

2. If you are midway through or finished with your manuscript:
- Review your manuscript, then research the different genres you think it might fit into. If there a couple of different ways you can go, let's say you've written a Science Fiction Crime Thriller, then research the several genres you could fit into and choose one. Is your story a hard core science fiction drama set in the future on another planet with a crime plot within it, or is your story a detective crime story with elements of sci-fi embedded within which later prove false when your protagonist discovers a Sherlockian/Scooby-Dooian solution?

Which way do you want to go? If your manuscript fits into neither, then go back and revise until it does.

3. You are finished with your manuscript and have declared your genre.
-This means it's time to search out an agent/publisher who works in that particular genre. Do research on them to make sure your book will appeal to their taste. What other books have they published? Will readers of those books like yours as well?

Final Thoughts:
Remember, don't let the requirements of a specific genre cramp your writing style. It is still important to let your manuscript develop organically into its own kind of monster. Let your ideas, characters, and story flow out of your during the first draft, then worry about the hassles of molding into a genre later. You may begin your story as a victorian mystery, but it evolves into urban fantasy. You may start out writing historical fiction, but shift over to steampunk.

Write what comes naturally, let your voice express yourself and your characters grow. Just bear in mind that no agent will be thrilled to hear the phrase, "fast-paced-western-ghost-story-futuristic-noir-high-fantasy-banshee-meets-Frankenstein-romance."

List of main genres:
Chick Lit
Children's Literature
Crime Thriller
Detective Fiction
High Fantasy
High Science Fiction
Historical Fiction
Low Fantasy
Low Science Fiction
Middle Grade Fiction
Paranormal Romance
Political Thriller
Realistic Fiction
Urban Fantasy
Woman's Fiction
Young Adult Fiction

What sort of genres are you interested in? What genres do you have questions about? Do you see a particular genre that I've left out?
Since my Hunger Games fetish has been in full flourish the past pre-now days, I felt Muse would be a fitting song of the week given the futuristic/fantastical anti-corruption hysteria underlying their electronic rock is a tailor made soundtrack for Collins' trilogy.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do you really need a literary agent?

To be honest, when I first heard the term "literary agent" I rolled my eyes. Really? Some opportunistic, bureaucratic suit needs to get their bony Mr. Burnsian fingers on my manuscript to use it for a piece of the profits? The road to publishing seemed overwhelming already without having to include yet another stranger in the process.

However, I understood a little more clearly what the role of a literary agent entailed after attending a writer's conference where an analogy was made that depicted agents as less of the evil connigut I imagined them to be.

The analogy was that literary agents are gatekeepers. Do you need one to get published? Short answer: if your goal is to go beyond small press and be published in a national/international market, then yes.

Apparently there is a Great Wall of China of sorts that separates us first time authors from the big time publishers, and the only way our manuscripts can get through to the other side is with the assistance of the agents (aka the gatekeepers). Agents offer us access into the major publishing houses, houses such as: Simon & Schuster, Random House, Hyperion, Little Brown, and Penguin which will not look at any manuscripts that are not represented by an agent.

Agents search out the publishers in your genre, pitch the manuscript, and manage your promotion.

Unfortunately, agents do not grow on trees (as tremendous as that image might be). Not only do we have to seek them out, but we have to completely win them over.

So to actually get yourself a literary agent (yes they are objects, not people)you have to carry out two major tasks:

1. Finding an agent. Now here's where YOU get to be picky. Like online dating. You begin by seeking out an agent that you think would be a good fit for you and your genre. You research their credibility, the authors they have worked with, as well as their personality, taste, and organization. NOTE: Savor this time period of judging others since aftewards, the tables will be forever turned.

But where do you even begin to look? I've referenced this agent's blog already, but here it is again:

Not only is he an excellent agent to begin looking into, but on his homepage, if you scroll down a ways, you'll see off to the left side a list of agents and their blogs. This list is a great way to begin agent window shopping. Browse through and see if there's anything to your liking.

Some great examples from this list include:

Janet Reid at

Jennifer Jackson at

Jonathan Lyons at

Also, to find more agents, go to where you can channel surf agents based on the genre you are interested.

2. Seducing an agent. This is when you become the creepy and desperate stalker (online.) Once you find an agent you like and are ready to submit your work to them, you have to write a query letter that manages to woo them in a heartbeat. In your query letter, you'll be explaining why they specifically will want to represent your book. In order to pull this off, you must begin observing their every move. Investigate their tastes and style as best you can so that you can properly appeal to their liking through your letter.

Do as much online research as you can on the agent (some will have far more than others.) Follow them on their twitter, on agent websites, and most importantly, on their blog. Your query will score major suck-up points if you mention something specific about their blog. Using specific examples including books that they favor or have helped get published is an excellent (and I'd go so far as to say required) way to draw comparisons from your book to their individual preference.

So start scouting out the options. Once an agent catches your eye, you must become the Austenian villain: inspect their tastes, passions, and pursuits. Then charm the hell out of them.

What are some questions that you may have? Do you have any specific agents in mind already? Do you have other input or past experiences concerning agents that you'd like to share with the rest of us novices?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Writing is a socially accepted form of schizophrenia.

- E.L. Doctorow

Book Review: Mockingjay (WARNING! SPOILERS INCLUDED!)

I've been dreading the day that I would finish this book. For when I did, the distopic, 1984ish world Collins has created, where implanted whiskers and dyed skin are fashion trends, and the capital is a replica of sci-fi, Gaga-esque Rome, would officially be over. Over! Such loss can only be equated to the disappearance of a red velvet cake slice after you've eaten every last crumb. Reading the last line of MOCKINGJAY = empty plate.

Then again, it's somewhat of a relief that Collins, aka Newly Annointed Queen of the Pageturner, decided to wrap up HUNGER GAMES as a trilogy and not drag it out any further. Who knows? The fourth book might have introduced a Damien/Samara lovechild meant to be adorable, and around which all other characters are doomed to revolve, shriveling into paralytic caricatures of their former selves while sucked into the most drably anti-climatic ending ever before conceived (no pun intended), before being strangled to death by the big red bow tied on top.

Okay, okay. Wrong book now. Let's just say that if the girl from POLTERGEIST wandered into my room at night to announce "They're heeeeeere," the first name that would come to mind is Renesmee.

So back to MOCKINGJAY.

Two words: Brutal. Unpredictable.

Like its two predecessors, MOCKINGJAY is a pageturner, with an extra shot of ritalin and a near overdose of angst. In fact, the adrenaline-junkie pacing and elusive plot suck the reader so intensely into the story that one doesn't even realize there are pages in need of turning.

Out of the entire trilogy, the first half of MOCKINGJAY is the most post-apocalyptic, featuring refugees underground, ashen wastelands, and elaborate bomb shelters. Our heroine is already a scarred, broken, traumatized version of what she used to be, and that's when she still has 390 pages to go.

The action is good, but the politics are better. Collins is at her best when exploring the medium of reality TV, the influence of celebrity, and the manipulative effects of propaganda. Ultimately, the fate of the rebellion falls upon televised broadcasts and political speeches. Ethics vs results becomes a hotly debated issue in both combat action and the public's media. Do the ends justify the means of illusion, deception, and bloodshed?

In other words, do you blow up a fifteen your old girl to ensure her celebrity sister's endorsement in your political campaign?

Collins also continues to play Russian Roulette with censorship, always succeeding in depicting visceral violence without being explicit.
After finishing, I saw MOCKINGJAY as one book with two sections. Both sections being divided by the line: And that's when the rest of the parachutes go off.

Before that twist, MOCKINGJAY was a book about overthrowing the Capitol. It was about a girl who was going to assassinate a villain, lead a revolution, and choose one of two soulmates in the process. However, Collins catapults us into left field as we follow Katniss into a downward spiral of internal horror and suicidal delerium. Our heroine finally breaks and we break with her. For us, previous motives like kill Snow and Peeta or Gale? become laughably irrelevant. By the end, Katniss is not emotionally damaged, she's obliterated.

The success of MOCKINGJAY is that there never is a plot-friendly epic battle or final showdown between hero and protagonist. Instead we are taken through the horrors of war, the hopelessness in the aftermath, and the understanding of one's need to finally off herself while in the blackest moments of her shattered psychosis.

But it's not perfect. One too many times, Collins spoonfeedingly reminds us that Katniss is STILL playing in the Hunger Games, almost as if fearful that we won't buy that the steaks are just as high as they were while Katniss was in the arena. Collins also beats Katniss with the conflict stick one too many times in order to push her, and the plot, to get closer to the Capitol. Peeta is being controlled by the Capitol, so Katniss decides to become the Mockingjay and go to District 8. Peeta has been hijacked, so Katniss goes to District 2. Three-fourths through the book I realized I was actually waiting for the next bad thing to happen that would motivate Katniss all the way to the Capitol and President Snow's bedroom.

Also, the Peeta-Gale-Katniss soap opera has always fallen flat to me. In Collins' defense, it was rarely used in MOCKINGJAY which made it feel all the more irrelevant to the final plot, like a literary hassle more than a genuine conflict. Which made my favorite lines of the book be when Katniss, after listening to the two self-piyting boys conclude that she'll pick one of them based on her survival skills, declares, "I can survive just fine without either of them."

Damn straight, girl! You kick more ass than the two of them combined! That being said, I appreciated the seasoned, mature love demonstrated in the ending, as well as that final chillingly ominous line.

What did you think of MOCKINGJAY? Was Collins' departure from the traditional climax too frustrating to be satisfying? Did you find the final chapters to be an honest portrayal of post-war trauma or too over-the-top depressing and melodramatic? What should Collins write next? Most importantly, are you Team Peeta, Team Gale, or Team Cinna?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Want to publish? How do you get started?

Excited to publish something but ultimately too overwhelmed by the process to get started? Is it worth the trouble? What does it entail?

To help you sort out how to get started, I'll offer you the two most accessible directions to take:

1. You are interested in publishing on a smaller scale. This direction provides you with several options, the two most notable being: either self-publish or submit to smaller publishing houses.

Choosing to query to a smaller market will increase your chances of being published. Smaller, independent publishing houses have their eye (eyes?) out for fresh talent, and therefore always accepting of manuscripts from first-time authors.

However, smaller publishing houses can only print a limited number of copies of your book (unless, the suppliers demand for your book increases significantly.) The copies of your book will be distributed to only smaller businesses (if any at all). Also, your publishers will not cover the expenses of promotion.

Bottom line: This option is not for you if you are looking for instant profit. (Then again, you're a writer, you have no real interest in instant profit anyway).

2. You are interested in publishing on a grander scale. This means national, mainstream publishing houses. This route can lead you toward: getting a larger number of copies printed, having promo and travel expenses covered, and being distributed to larger book retailers (Barnes and Noble)!

Bottom line: None of this is guaranteed. Even when you're published. But the chances significantly increase. So again, this option is not for you if you are looking for instant profit.

Most national publishers will not even look at a submitted manuscript unless there is a literary agent who is pitching it.

The first step then, to get into the big business is finding a literary agent. This process requires two main steps:

1. Find a literary agent to submit to and research them. The most common way to do this is to read their blogs. Find out what their tastes are. Would they have interest in your genre? What other writers have they represented?

2. Submit your work to them. They will specify to you in their submission guidelines exactly what materials you should send them. Usually an agent will require three things: a query letter, a synopsis, and a sample from your manuscript.

How do you research an agent? What is a query letter? A synopsis?

While you can Google any of these questions, a great source I can point you to is Nathan Bransford, a literary agent who enjoys sharing his pearls of infinite wisdom among us power-hungry amateurs.

If you go to his blog, you can get a better understanding of what exactly a query letter and synopsis entail. I am recommending his blog because he provides insight into what agents are looking for in a query letter, a synopsis, a manuscript, and even an overall genre.

Also, for a preview of blogs of literary agents you can surf through, scroll down his homepage 'til the list of agent sites pop up on the left side.

Browse, taste-test, and see if anything sticks to your liking.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tribute to The Hunger Games

In honor of the release of MOCKINGJAY, (okay, yes, I'm a week late) here is a brief glimpse into the elegantly warped mind of Suzanne Collins. All I can say is, bless a woman who can squish 1984, American Idol, Project Runway, Spartacus, and slasher porn together into a young adult book. Also, bless any successful author who finds their literary inspiration whilst channel surfing.
Here are the first five parts to Collins' interview (There's also an excellent interview with Borders, but I couldn't post it due to the annoying shots of audience members self-consciously blinking throughout)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

And then of course, I had to include a snippet from another interview because it answers two of my favorite questions. How do you write? and What do you read? Because, you know, if you find out those two things (along with their Ipod playlist) then you really discover what makes genius people tick.

Q: How do you typically spend your workday? Do you have a routine as you write?

A: I grab some cereal and sit down to work as soon as possible. The more distractions I have to deal with before I actually begin writing, the harder focusing on the story becomes. Then I work until I’m tapped out, usually sometime in the early afternoon. If I actually write three to five hours, that’s a productive day. Some days all I do is stare at the wall. That can be productive, too, if you’re working out character and plot problems. The rest of the time, I walk around with the story slipping in and out of my thoughts.

Q: What were some of your favorite novels when you were a teen?

A: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Boris by Jaapter Haar
Germinal by Emile Zola
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

When you find something at which you have talent, you do that thing (what ever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes pop out of your head.

-Stephen King

"Explore the rugged edge of thought."


I used to be very anti-books-about-writing. To write, you cannot read about writing. You have to write. To me, it was the equivlanet of someone reading about the art of piano playing instead of simply practicing. Perhaps if they read one hundred different books about technique and composition, they would instantly morph into a concert pianist, right?

But then of course, as soon as I declare this new self-important verdict to myself (I was 19 and very into independent thought), along comes something like WRITING DOWN THE BONES.

As soon as I read the first chapter, it became my writer's protein, the hydrogen peroxide that purges anything clogging my brain juice flow. It's a meditative, self-help guide that encourages you to grope around for all those brilliant thoughts and original ideas you have sticking somehwere in your soul.

Natalie Goldberg's voice is nothing short of delicious. She delights in the random and abstract, often stringing words like "yellow cake", "teacup", and "ferris wheel" in the same sentence. But most of all, her passion for writing is infectious. I guarantee you won't go further than ten pages before your hand is itching, nay, convulsing to write.

Each chapter is a chocolatey morsel of wisdom (yes, now I have compared this book to both chocolate and protein), a pithy motivational speech to get you pumped for whatever "spontaneous" writing session you plan to have burst out of you that day. But what makes WRITING DOWN THE BONES really stand supreme is Goldberg's portrait of a writer. She is, what I have always pictured, that penniless artist smoking her cigarette at a cafe corner in Paris where she scribbles down entire novels by hand on napkins. Her aura is a kaleidoscope and her thoughts are Dahli paintings dripping down the brain. WRITING THE BONES are her musings in blog form, as well as her call for all writers to abandon the "typewriter" (this was written before Microsoft 2007 and Surgeon General's Warnings) and embrace the inspirational bustlings of the cafe and bistro.

So apparently, we all have a literary masterpiece inside us, we just need to clear our schedules to sit at a diner all day scribbling in a notebook in order for it all to come spurting out our ears, kneecaps, teeth, and fingertips and plop in splatters across the blank page!

I knew there was an easy way :)


1. Keep your hand moving. (Don't pause to reread the line you have just written. That's stalling and trying to get control of what you're saying.)

2. Don't cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn't mean to write, leave it.)

3. Lose control.

4. Don't think. Don't get logical.

5. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy)

These are the rules. It is important to adhere to them because the aim is to burn through to first thoughts, to the place the energy is unobstructed by social politeness and internal censor, to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel. It's a great opportunity to capture the oddities of your mind. Explore the rugged edge of thought. Like grating a carrot, give the paper the colorful colseslaw of your consciousness. (pages 8-9)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review 08/29

Outrageous. That is simply one of the more worthy adjectives to sum up this devilishly addicting book. It may be one of the few reads where every other paragraph I find myself chuckling in amazement and shaking my head in revulsion simultaneously.

Seen through the eyes of a child living in one of the most disfunctional families ever known to print, the narrative begins in the realm of a three-year-old's fairytale adventureland. The first section of the book demonstrates Jeanette Walls' most daring accomplishment as an author: seducing the reader through the luster of childlike wonder as it twinkles against the crudely cut pallete of homeless life.

The real punch in flavor comes from the severity of the delusions of her parents. With their precocious philosophies and obsession with their own audacity of being excessively bohemian, the parents are deliciously and disgustingly unpredictable.

In fact, most of the thrill lies in the question that becomes more prominent throughout the book:

Just how disturbed are these parents?

The reader instantly becomes sucked into Walls' mesmerizing grip, her seasoned storytelling fingers pulling and bending our emotions wherever she wants them to go. She is in complete control of every mouth dropping moment committed by the bipolar mother and that egomaniac bastard of a father.

THE GLASS CASTLE becomes an unexpected page turner as the reader grows from curious to desperate in seeing the protagonist's perception to change, to witness Walls mature into the disenchantment of adolescence, and to finally watch her realize just how disturbingly wrong her life actually is. Never have I, as a reader, been so intensely on edge for the character to see what I see.

Few authors have meshed the hilarious with the appalling as seamlessly as Walls does here. THE GLASS CASTLE is ultimately refreshing, jarringly and gleefully so.