Wednesday, December 28, 2011

RTW: Best of the Best of the Best of 2011 (aka, Look! A Post!)

No preamble here, let's just jump in: YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday, number 111 AND the last of '11. Coincidence? Well, yes. But let's revel anyhow.

This week's topic is the top five books of 2011. But "of" is so vague, and I read so very much throughout the year, that I am going to go ahead with two lists: one of books released in 2011, and one of books I read this year, but were published earlier.

So in no order, with my Goodreads reviews (if I wrote one):

Published in 2011:
° The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stifevater—specifically, the audiobook version.

This amp should go to 11; five stars is, really truly, not enough. What a story. What characters! Oh Dove, my Dove. Stifevater's outdone herself. If you can get the audio, even if you have already read the printed copy, I urge urge urge it. These readers are TOPS.

° Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake.
So, first, the cover. When I first saw this cover reveal earlier this year, I was impressed and thoroughly spooked out. When I finally got it in my hot little hands, I was even happier with it. When I turned the last page of the book, all I could think was, I wish there was more blood. So book two? Please bring me more blood front and center. Thank you. 

I loved this book. I loved this book to bits and pieces and shreds. I loved Anna; I loved Thunder Bay; I loved the improbable addition of Queen Bee Carmel to the ghostfighting squad. I loved the freshness of the writing, which was clear and honest, and filled with enough unexpected turns of phrase and thought that I burst out laughing repeatedly (in the best way). The violence and gore, too, was pitch perfect—not gratuitous, always interesting, always moving the story forward in the best, most gruesome, way. 

And Cas. I adored Cas. That he rationalizes his interest in Anna as being kind of perfect, even if it is more than a bit wrong, is realistic (well, as far as ghosts go); that he can't think about how the relationship would play out after five or ten years is even more so. He was just mature and pragmatic enough to make the effects of his job seem real, while at the same time jussssst enough self-focused and shortsighted to be a believable teenager. 

The story, too, was strong and well-paced, and ended up feeling like a very satisfying television miniseries rather than a fleshed out single episode. It was comfortable territory, coming in as a rabid fan of Supernatural, but the similarities served as a framework, a safety blanket, rather than as a reminder of a different mythology rehashed. The sequel can't come soon enough. But please: more blood!
° Don't Stop Now, by Julie Halpern.
Julie Halpern, GET OUT OF MY HEAD. Somehow, between this and WILD NERD YONDER, almost my entire high school + college experience has been thrown in a cocktail shaker, mixed up, and served over ice. I love this story, and the characters, and how the delicate structures of who each is is obvious without being heavy-handed. Lil and Josh's friendship is rock solid and leaf-thin at once, and the giddy excitement of a road trip is made clear, with the palpable sense of things being just off enough beneath it to feel absolutely true. Oh, and what a voice on Lil. Loved her.

° Entwined, by Heather Dixon.

A sweet, charming thing of a story, with a HUGE cast of equally charming, fully-fleshed out, dear characters. And such a great, tense series of action scenes at the end! Love those sisters; so much spunk. This is the kind of book that belongs on a self, to be read and reread and reread.

° The FitzOsbornes in Exile, by Michelle Cooper.

I just love these books. Sophie is so gosh-darn fantastic and kind and clever; Toby's just so funny…the whole clan is great. I am endlessly impressed by the amount of research and though that had to have gone into the writing, and how effortless and breezy it comes off. Recommend recommend recommend.

Published earlier, read in 2011:
° How to Say Goodbye in Robot, by Nat Standiford.

°  Birthmarked, by Caragh M. O'Brien.
Shelves are inundated with dystopian/bleak future stories lately, but Birth Marked stands out for the solid and believable world Caragh O'Brien has built. It is clear she has all the details established, but she doesn't belabor them in the narrative, and lets the characters live their stories, in their world, in a completely organic (and non-patronizing) way. The problems that arise are reasonable, and the reactions/solutions to them valid against the internal logic; the complexity of what "right" decisions are in a society plagued with more issues than simple struggles for power and glory is great, and the characters on either side of the wall, from all sectors of the Enclave/Wharfton society, rise to it with complexity of their own. Gaia is a fantastic heroine, and Leon's coldness and flaws are welcome in his role as romantic foil and heroic other. I am definitely anxious for November's release of Prized.
° Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver.
° The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex.
° Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler.

What a tight, lovely, sad, funny, sweet, cathartic book. Anna Abby from New Yawk is one of my favorite narrators in a long time, all stubbornness, insecurity, and wry humor. Definitely a book to keep on the shelf for re-reading every summer.

Honorable mentions for series finished in 2011:
° Mastiff, and the end of Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper series.
° Goliath, and the end of Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series—again, particularly the fantastic audio version.

And one many years old, but that I read this year and adored and have taken to carrying around in my purse everywhere:
° The Morgan Rawlinson series by Maryrose Wood (Why I Let My Hair Grow Out; How I Found the Perfect Dress; and What I Wore to Save the World)
I loved this book. Morgan's voice just screams out from page one, and she is so SURLY you can feel it in your bones. This is the kind of series I wish I'd had for shelves in my formative years.

Good grief that was hard. I read more this year even than I realized. I feel terrible leaving off some other titles (Shade and Shine, for pete's sake! Girl of Fire and Thorns!) but these really were my absolute favorites.

Okay, 2012. I'm ready for you.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thankful Kinetic Thursday, and an RTW…Late

I know I abandoned the scary stuff reviews; I've all but abandoned the blog. But, as yesterday was Thanksgiving (so, obviously, Thursday), and as the most recent Road Trip Wednesday over at YAHighway was about what we're thankful for as writers, I thought I'd drop two birds with this little ditty:
Ira Glass on Storytelling & Creativity

It's also floating around tumblr in still form:

I am—I hope—just reaching the end of this phase. Because, between you and me, and in the most humble way possible, I have fantastic taste. I mean, I really get stuff. But getting this first manuscript where I want it to be is taking more than awhile. And while I love it, I am also sick. to. death. of it. I am so ready for the Next Big Idea (it's there; it's waiting; it's great). But I want this book to make it through the early phase. 

So I am thankful to Ira Glass for his essay, and I am thankful to the good creatives of the internet for making such nice visual representations of it.

There, that's it. I'll be around.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RTW: Changing the Bloodlight

Too punny? Let's pretend it isn't.

Over at YAHighway, this week's Road Trip Wednesday prompt is What supporting character from a YA book would you most like to see star in their own novel?

And since I am devoting October to scary reads, my first thought was resident Queen Bee Carmel Jones, from ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD.

What I liked most about Carmel was exactly what Cas does: she's smart. She's smart and put-together and fiercely determined to do the right thing, even if the right thing means confronting, with absolutely none of the requisite skills, a murderous ghost in order to give some peace to the memory of her jackass ex-boyfriend.
Carmel's status as Queen Bee is one that's obviously been earned, one she deserves, not one she tricked her way into. And watching her doggedly follow Cas through his hunt, and come out swinging when she shouldn't have a snowman's chance of surviving, is impressive.

Seeing the story from her point of view—or another, different, ghost hunting story, since [SPOILER] she makes it through book one—would be fascinating.

* that image being as artsy a bee as I could get the internet to give me. I don't abide sexy animal costumes, but I think Carmel would know just how to rock this to maintain her position.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Anna Dressed in BloodAnna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

"I'm staring up at Anna's House again. The logical part of my brain tells me that it's just a house. That it's what's inside that makes it horrifying, that makes it dangerous, that it can't possibly be tilting toward me like it's hunting me through the overgrowth of weeds. It can't possibly be trying to jerk free of its foundation and swallow me whole. But that's what it looks like it's doing." (ch. 10)

So, first: the cover. When I first saw this cover reveal earlier this year, I was impressed and thoroughly spooked out. When I finally got it in my hot little hands, I was even happier with it. When I turned the last page of the book, all I could think was, I wish there was more blood. So book two? Please bring me more blood front and center. Thank you.

I loved this book. I loved this book to bits and pieces and shreds. I loved Anna; I loved Thunder Bay; I loved the improbable addition of Queen Bee Carmel to the ghostfighting squad. I loved the freshness of the writing, which was clear and honest, and filled with enough unexpected turns of phrase and thought that I burst out laughing repeatedly (in the best way). The violence and gore, too, was pitch perfect—not gratuitous, always interesting, always moving the story forward in the best, most gruesome, way.

And Cas. I adored Cas. That he rationalizes his interest in Anna as being kind of perfect, even if it is more than a bit wrong, is realistic (well, as far as ghosts go); that he can't think about how the relationship would play out after five or ten years is even more so. He was just mature and pragmatic enough to make the effects of his job seem real, while at the same time jussssst enough self-focused and shortsighted to be a believable teenager.

The story, too, was strong and well-paced, and ended up feeling like a very satisfying television miniseries rather than a fleshed out single episode. It was comfortable territory, coming in as a rabid fan of Supernatural, but the similarities served as a framework, a safety blanket, rather than as a reminder of a different mythology rehashed.

Also: can we talk about the deep maroon font? Bloody (pun intended) fantastic.

The sequel can't come soon enough. But, you know, with more blood.

View all my reviews

It's October! Let's review some scary sh*t.

Look: I never thought this would be me. I was always that girl literally welling up with tears of fright at the intimation of the realness of ghosts. I was that toddler who, before I should have had the logical capacity for such a construction, paused in the middle of a game played in my Grandma's basement to peer around the dark corners beyond the room, and to tell my uncle, "I'm not scared now, but I think I will be soon."

So, yeah. I never thought I would be the one curling up in the dark, happily watching the Winchester boys get thrown from here to hell and back in darker and darker ways; I never thought I would put an album like Dead Man's Bones—complete with children's choir and eerie clapping—on loop every day, every October, even IF Ryan Gosling is the mastermind; I never thought I'd be devouring, and easily, spooktastic books like ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD and THE REPLACEMENT, books which give heft to the fears of the dark I grew up with.

But apparently that is me. So, in honor of my bloody, mercurial heart, and in anticipation of Neil Gaiman's All Hallow's Read, let's do October right. I haven't used this blog for reviews before, but this month that is the name of the game: Creepy, spooky, chilling reviews.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Maybe the Cover WANTS to Be Judged (Or, Reading out of Context)

Last week, on NPR's Monkey See blog, Linda Holmes began a discussion about the value of watching films out of context; that is, without the social and emotional coding that goes along with knowing something about the director, about the actors, about the production or genre or story.

This is, as she rightly points out, a very rare circumstance to find yourself in these days, in this country, where what is mainstream and domestic is almost always familiar, and what is indie or foreign is specially curated and marketed.

It's good now and then, though, to see something where, for you, there's absolutely no coding in it at all. Obviously, the marketing of a movie often sends unmistakable signals about where it's going and who the good and bad guys are before you ever get there. A story of a good and a bad brother, for instance, will tell you who's who in the commercials. Even if you don't get it from the commercials, there's a decent chance you'll get it from the casting. You'll get it from the way the two are shot from the opening sequence forward. You'll get it from the score.
When you don't know anything – what tradition the film is in, what its genre is, how it would be marketed, or who the target audience is – not only do you see that film differently, but you see other films differently, too. The lack of signals is palpable and initially unsettling because the experience is so rare, but like any negative space, it draws a kind of attention to itself.
However, to find a book that lacks coding, for you, is not nearly so difficult—at least for the general public. Going to the library, where shelves are loaded not according to inventory and best-seller lists and sales goals, with recent titles rubbing covers with those years, decades, more old, offers the average reader the opportunity to pick up books almost in a vacuum. It looks good, check it out; it doesn't, put it back.

Good for a cover, isn't it?
As a writer, though—and as a member of the thrumming online book community—this becomes much more difficult. I think the last book I picked up just because it looked interesting, even though I hadn't heard a thing about it, was Mike Wilks' MIRRORSCAPE, and that was over a year ago.
Since, my entire TBR list has consisted of titles I've read up on on Goodreads, or on blogs, or heard about from other writer friends.

These are titles I need to read to stay current in my category or genre, or to stay current with cultural literacy (though, please, no Franzen for this girl). I have three library memberships, one for digital titles (thanks, Oregon, for still letting me play), one for paper books (thanks, Dad, for letting me cling to your account), and one to keep me tethered to home (thanks, Wyoming, for being the best library system ever), and all of them have hold lists that I couldn't manage to finish by Christmas—without taking into account books I buy.

Why wouldn't I pick this up?
So context, for me, has become everything. I found a book in Fort Collins' Old Firehouse Books a couple weeks back—Scarlett Thomas' OUR TRAGIC UNIVERSE—that looked like just the kind of thing you'd want on your shelf, and it was only $8, but I couldn't bring myself to buy it because I didn't know anything about it. Well, that, and I'm an unemployed recent graduate student with loans.

But that has haunted me, that decision. I am independent-minded! I am my own person! I am…well, under-funded and wary of spending money almost anywhere, but. I buy books! Why in the world couldn't I bear to buy this book—with its black-edged pages, its shiny, metallic cover, its odd, long proportions—out of context?

I should know well enough to embrace that negative space, that lack of coding, and find value in it. I SHOULD KNOW BETTER.

So that is my middle of the year, forget ceremony and pomp and champagne, real and true resolution: to get back to reading out of context. To pull books from the shelf I know nothing about, authors I know nothing about.

And thanks for all the fish, internet.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

But Seriously

You want to talk inspiration?


I mean, right?

This is our property on Casper Mountain, in Wyoming. IN JULY. People, Wyoming is that green like, once a year. One single day. In MAY. But July?

Leaving this behind for the East Coast, even knowing we will always own it and can forever return, was hard.

Luckily, I have my WIP. Which is like all *makes wobbly hand motions* THAT, all the time. In my head.

Also, this (Black Dub's Tiny Desk Concert at NPR, which I may have already posted, but COME ON):
So that is a peek into my brain as I'm doing revisions.

What's in all yours?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

RTW: Writer's Block as Decision Fatigue, or How to Build a Better Bulldozer

This week's Road Trip Wednesday prompt is the very open-ended 
How do you get past writer's block?

and I wasn't sure if I was going to participate because
a) I am, at the moment, in the middle of the ice-fragile stage right AFTER writer's block wherein any iota of attention paid to the prospect of not being able to move forward might paralyze me, and
b) I don't really know how I got there, except for just saying to my brain, "welp, time to move on."
But then I was reading that fascinating article in the NYT about decision fatigue, and it occurred to me, that is EXACTLY what writer's block is. Because what is writing, if not a series of decision after decision after decision?
The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice.
So yes. We're not real-life judges choosing which prisoners get paroled or don't, but we are doing the same things for our characters, our worlds, our words. I mean, last night it took me a good five minutes to get from this:

Did she believe her now that this hungover Brandi had been forced out by the petite blonde?
to this:
Did she believe her now, now that this hungover Brandi had been forced out by the petite blonde?
to this:
Did she believe her now, now that this hungover Brandi had evidently been forced out by the petite blonde?
Tiny changes, and ones that today I'm not even sure I approve of. Which makes sense, since they were the last things I managed to accomplish before I had to give in to exhaustion and sleep, or risk feeling too overwhelmed by minutiae to go on (the second, full-stop, side-effect of decision fatigue). And that's not even considering the larger, major structural changes I was trying to work through before nit-picking that last page.

So if writing is all decision making, and writer's block is decision fatigue, then according to the article, the best way to solve it is by…

(wait for it)

Glucose, specifically, and while I could make a joke about all that Bonnaroo Buzz I've been into lately, or about the average writer's penchant for chocolate anything*, the real advice being given by the scientists is to Just. Eat. Better. All the time. More proteins, more whole foods with natural glucose (thank goodness for peach season). 

Glucose, however, isn't everything.

So how else do you build yourself a better bulldozer? 

You learn not to trust yourself. Or rather, WHEN not to trust yourself: 
“Good decision making is not a trait of the person, in the sense that it’s always there,” Baumeister says. “It’s a state that fluctuates.” His studies show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.
“Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low,” Baumeister points out. That’s why the truly wise don’t restructure the company at 4 p.m. They don’t make major commitments during the cocktail hour. And if a decision must be made late in the day, they know not to do it on an empty stomach. “The best decision makers,” Baumeister says, “are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”

So how do we apply this to writer's block? Because writers don't want to just avoid bad decision making (that surly troll can always be cut out of—or added back INTO—the scene later), but that other wall hit by the mentally fatigued, the one where it's easier to make NO decision than risk a bad one. I'd imagine something reasonable and familiar-sounding, like
• establishing a writing schedule, and sticking to it no matter what (even better if you have a motivation buddy/crit partner to commit to something similar with you).
writing as early in the day as possible, and making sure not to write on an empty stomach if you can't get to it until later in the day.
make a habit/schedule of as many other things in your life as possible, to avoid having to add those decisions to your plate on a daily basis. Make a grocery list you will STICK to before shopping; make a meal plan for the week, so you don't stress about it three times a day; embrace the romanticism of chance by just reading the first book on your TBR pile instead of digging through each day and mulling, by just letting Netflix send you whatever's next instead of obsessing over what you might feel like watching in two days, even by ordering library books for hold instead of wandering the aisles aimlessly for an hour (although the joy of finding a gem in the stacks shouldn't be avoided always—maybe just when a deadline is looming). I am sure there are plenty of other things that can be turned into habit to free up mental decision-making energy, but that's at least a start.
As with anything simple, this won't be easy. Not for me, anyway. But I think thinking about writer's block in terms of decision fatigue, and trying to solve it with approaches used FOR decision fatigue, is something that I can embrace.
Now fingers crossed it works…
*my own ambivalence towards chocolate, I realize—along with the fact I couldn't feel the earthquake in MD yesterday, and watched a driveways full of shaking cars thinking, "huh, wonder why that huge gust of wind missed me"—makes me seem something other than human. I'm just going to go with Superhuman, call myself that. That sounds better (than crazy, I mean).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

RTW: Inspired Spaces

Let's not even talk about the month+ I've been away. Let's not even talk about it.

Road Trip Wednesday! Let's talk about that. In an effort to be THE MOST BROAD EVER, this week's prompt is What is the most inspiring setting you've ever visited in real life?

Broad is good. I can do broad.

However. I am from Wyoming. I mean, talk about inspiring settings:
I'm EXUDING inspired here, just EXUDING.

I mean, we only boarded our horses here because it was convenient…nevermind the view.
Yeah, we have a mountain, too.
And horizons for days.

That's Devil's Gate. I live near it. No biggie.

So I do feel a bit biased. And to be honest, it is THAT setting—open spaces, big sky, epic wild epicness—that really has inspired the majority of my writing.

That said, Swiss Day in the Alps was a thing of legend:
Sunset hike up the opposite side of the valley…

TIIIIINY bonfires burning on distant ridges. JUST LIKE THE BEACON FIRES IN ROHAN.
Because the moon didn't think things were dramatic enough…
…and if THAT doesn't show up sometime, in SOMETHING I write, I'll probably have to wear a big old FAIL sign around my neck. Because, I mean. Look at that.
What do you know? I'm feeling inspired ALREADY.

Alright, WIP. Let's get cracking.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Edible Snitch is Zeitgeist

Continuing my theme of too-busy-to-write-thoughtfully, there is now THIS:

I mean, Harry goes and pretty much EATS his first ever snitch, so really, why not?

I feel like I've been off the baking wagon too long, not to have considered this possibility myself. Now if only my book-loving family member whose birthday is today was ALSO an HP fan. Alas, I'll have to come up with something more appropriate to Norse eddas. 

Because, I mean...



Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kinetic Thursdays: Russian, so English

I have been MIA like whoa for almost a month, most of which has been time spent:

a) revising my thesis and/or abstract
b) graduating
c) nitpicking my thesis and/or abstract
d) packing my entire life for storage
e) nitpicking my thesis and/or abstract
f) schlepping my life into storage
g) watching maybe all of Supernatural in one extended marathon (which, as an aside, is maybe the worst show to watch concurrent to putting one's life into storage and transitioning to an existence without a fixed address and no concrete plans for the future... I mean, infinite road trip freelancing and drinking beer? I WANT THAT, and this show is making it look far too valid)
h) moving out of Eugene
i) working on a freelance Russian translation of a 1916 opera singer's travel journal
j) helping my dad finish packing my parents' life from the Wyoming house to move to Maryland
l)...still helping in the Wyoming house. Apparently we had hardwood floors all these years AND NEVER KNEW
m) more Russian translation

So, yeah. Writing and critting and blogging have all taken a back seat. But since I am immersed in Russian (and misogyny! the old philanderer...) today, I thought I'd swing my return to kinetic typography the other way and put up this lovely series from OpenUniversity, THE HISTORY OF ENGLISH IN TEN MINUTES:

I found this originally on bookshelves of doom, and it was the kickstart I needed to get back on this blog before gathering dust choked all vitality away. It's a little different from the other pieces I've posted, in that the narration is elucidated by related pictures and dates, and not just reproduced word for word, but it is just as effective.

Anyway, give me another week, and I'll have a childhood home and a Russian journal finally behind me (and, one would hope, any further revisions the dang thesis editor might demand), and I'll be back in the YA heap – writing, reading, blogging, you'll have it all AND MORE.

Did I mention the no fixed address, no concrete job plans part?

Because yeah.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

RTW: Guess This Dystopian Pitch

(updated: the link is also at the end, but the answers can be found here)

Love a puzzle. Love slapstick. Love reversal-filled, ambiguous conversations. So getting you guys to guess some of my favorite books by my own abstruse elevator pitches? On. It.

This week's topic: You're re-reading one of your faves when someone asks the dreaded question: "What's that book about?" Give us your best off-the-cuff blurb of any book, any genre, and have your readers try to guess the title in the comments!

Okay, okay. So this isn't quite about puzzles and slapstick, but I saw "blurb" and thought "pitch," and from "pitch" went straight to Abbott and Costello:

Costello: Look, You gotta pitcher on this team?
Abbott: Sure.
Costello: The pitcher's name?
Abbott: Tomorrow.
Costello: You don't want to tell me today?
Abbott: I'm telling you now.
Costello: Then go ahead.
Abbott: Tomorrow!
Costello: What time?
Abbott: What time what?
Costello: What time tomorrow are you gonna tell me who's pitching?
Abbott: Now listen. Who is not pitching.
Costello: I'll break your arm, you say who's on first! I want to know what's the pitcher's name?
Abbott: What's on second.
Costello: I don't know.
Abbott & Costello Together: Third base!
This pretty much informs half the dialogue between my MC and The Boy. Those scenes just fly.

But that isn't this week's topic. So. On to the pitches! I am going to give you two, one from my current YA pile, and one from my Russian exam pile. You'll see why in a moment.

Pitch The First
Okay, so there's this Society – and this is some unknown time in the future – where human social interaction has been turned into a science and all activity is measured and prescribed based on scientific calculations, including what once would have been called romantic pairings. The Society's solution to love is a mandatory operation that leaves people patient and unexcitable. The main character narrates a several month period in this Society after a new romantic interest comes into the picture, one who has not been assigned by the Society and who introduces to the very scientific, rule-abiding protagonist an unfettered, freer way of living life – a way that includes passion, love and an anarchic underground group that is out to antagonize the Society. 

Pitch the Second
Okay, so there's this Society – and this is some unknown time in the future – where human social interaction has been turned into a science and all activity is measured and prescribed based on scientific calculations, including what once would have been called romantic pairings. The Society's solution to love is a mandatory operation that leaves people patient and unexcitable. The main character narrates the changes that occur after the idea of love is made less abhorrent by a new romantic interest, whose presence in the story forces the main character to question the very basis of the "science" that Society uses to keep love at bay. The romantic interest also has connections to an anarchic underground group that is out to antagonize the Society.

Yes, I made those pretty dang ambiguous.


But to help you guys figured this out, here are two SPECIFIC details, one that matches to each, that make these books more distinct in an elevator pitch: one of them involves a planned spaceship project, a glass wall between the Society and the wild, and all the characters are named not with names, but with a combination of a letter and three numbers; the other one involves a rewriting of history and mythology to support the idea of love as the root disease of all human ills, cities bounded by guarded walls to keep the wild out, and characters named after prostitute "saints."

So. Guesses?

Answers – and videos! including a dance interpretation! – are in this backdated post.

Happy Wednesday, all!

Monday, June 13, 2011

RTW: Guess This Pitch REVEALED

Oh, dystopians. How we humans love you.

So! The first book Tomorrow* off-the-cuff pitched was...

The official blurb from the Mirra Ginsburg translation (trust her):
In the One State of the Great Benefactor, individuals have been replaced by numbers and passions subdued. But when the chief architect of the spaceship "Integral," known as D-503, has a chance meeting with the beautiful I-330, he stumbles upon an unexpected discovery that threatens all he believes about himself and the One State.
And, as promised, a modern dance interpretation (which is very cool):

And the second book was...

And that official blurb:
Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy. 
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.
No modern dance interpretations that I could find for that one on quick review. But I am sure they will come with time.

So the takeaway from all this?

1) Russian literature is on its sh*t.
2) Dystopians are forever.

Now all you YA folk: go read WE!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Kinetic (Saturdays): [dot dot dot]ting a troll

On the heels of the bananacakes WSJ business about too much darkness in modern YA literature and its subsequent fallout in the YA community and beyond, it seems like an apropos time to trot out this little gem of a kinetic typography video. Not because it's about darkness or YA literature, but because it so cleverly converses with culture of internet comments.

Happily, all of what I read regarding the WSJ article was considered and well-written – although I will admit that I consciously ignored most of the in-site comments to any of the articles in question, so I am sure my view has some skew. All the same, the vehemence with which the internet rose up in response to this issue is a good reminder (for those of us who might forget) of the sheer number of individuals out there in the world. AND THEY ALL HAVE OPINIONS.

Some are more reasonable than others.

Some, conversely, are so unreasonable that they fall in the "I couldn't make this up if I tried" category. And we creative types have field days with those.

This video falls under the second category. The author of this text, a dear soul going by the moniker Axman13, took umbrage with pretty much every aspect of a Newgrounds game called Super PSTW Action RPG, and in 2010 brought his complaints to the comment boards. What resulted was so heinously, patently bad that one of the voice actors for the game dramatized the rant, and a designer added the kinetic typography text. And the rant became golden.

So this immediately makes me think of two things.

First is the Stephen Fry speech which I posted for the inaugural Kinetic Thursday, in which he rallies against verbal snobbery, chides those "semi-educated losers" who go around sharpieing missing apostrophes onto signs and writing letters to grocery stores about "less" and "fewer," shakes his head at the idea that all that haughtiness is done for the sake of clarity. This last argument, Fry claims, "almost never holds water."

"I think," he continues, "what offends examiners and employers when confronted with extremely informal, unpunctuated and haywire language is the implication of NOT CARING that underlies it." And yet, Axman13 (and all the commenters to WSJ kershnuffle) obviously cares. He obviously cares. Cares beyond the point of "right" or "wrong" language. And his point is made! I might wince and sigh and judge at all the "resons" and "pepoles" and "blaaaaaaaam!s" used, but I still get what he means.

Proper language is wonderful, and often necessary for many kinds of clarity, but Not. Always. Communication is much more forgiving than we usage sticklers and spelling queens would like to admit.

The second thing I think of is how integrative our contemporary creative culture is, and how lucky we are for it. Just as Axman13 gave an actor and a designer the opportunity to create something bigger than the component parts on hand, the WSJ article kicked a snowball downhill that gave tens of dozens of authors a fantastic platform from which to make thoughtful, useful counterpoints. It gave a forum for tweeters – readers, writers, publishing industry folk, librarians, teens and former teens – to weave into visibility a previously invisible web of what YA literature means (#YAsaves, in particular). It created a fascinating, mostly supportive intellectual and academic dialogue in a very immediate and very public sphere.

And if that isn't what communication is really about…

Anyway, Axman13 "liked" the video.

Maybe Gurdon will end up "liking" the dialogue her odd editorial engendered, too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kinetic Thursdays (er, Fridays): Weak and Weary

...of grading, that is.

I have determined that there should be a contract in undergrad courses that your final paper will not be graded if you attend less than 90% of the lectures. It's unbearable that the professor (or GTF) should have to do the work grading the paper of a student who won't do the work to show up to class.

*glares at un-dwindling pile of essays on her floor*

So, that mood established, let's go old-school with this week's kinetic typography video*:


Now someone bring me wine for the rest of these dang essays.

*(for an intro to this new thing I am trying to institute, go here)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Have a little banjo with that drive (or, Why I Love Audiobooks)

I am not traveling anywhere today. Memorial Day in Eugene, the day before my thesis needs to be spot-on and uploaded to the ProQuest site, is exactly like any other Monday. Except that the gym is closed, and I don't have to go to my GTF job. So really it's more like any other weekend.

I used to lead a more interesting life, I promise. And after graduation, I will again.

In any case, driving is pretty much my favorite thing. I went to college thirteen hours from where I grew up, and that un-bending, un-rising, un-sinking stretch across ALL OF SOUTH DAKOTA was something that soothed rather than irritated me. It is also where I developed my love of audiobooks, with the fantastic Lenny Henry performance of Neil Gaiman's ANANSI BOYS. That book's all London and the Caribbean and godly dreamscapes, but for me, it's also Wall Drug and the Mitchell Corn Palace and that one awesome red barn with three windowed wedding-cake attics.

Audiobooks are good whenever, but there is something kind of phenomenal about listening to a whole performance in one unbroken go, watching the world roll back under your tires. Now I sometimes wish I had somewhere to drive just so I could listen to a good audiobook. I loved WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON, but I bet it would have been even more amazing accompanying a trip through the Columbia River Gorge and the mountain passes of eastern Oregon and northern Utah.

That said, there's a lot going for that other road trip staple: awkward musical interludes.

So, for those of you who DID spend today traveling (or those of you who, like me, are not but wish you were) and filled your time with either a fantastic audiobook or a good conversation with friends and family and therefore missed out on craaaaaazy musical antics, please enjoy Chris Traeger rocking out to un-sexy banjo music in this Parks and Rec clip:

Because I am pretty sure we all would rather be in that car than any other.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kinetic Thursdays: Terence McKenna - Reclaim Your Mind

So I am trying to give myself a weekly thing to do (that isn't RTW, fulfilling as participating in that is), and am doing so in the form of kinetic typography videos that have some bearing on reading, writing, publishing, creative thought, or just things that flat out inspire.

Bookshelves of doom posted one (well, a more pictorial than verbal one) on Wednesday, a stick figure illustration of a Read it and Weep/Smart Bitches discussion of the romance genre elements of Twilight. I'm going to go in for something a little more philosophical today, with Terence McKenna's call to arms to CREATE rather than CONSUME.

Which is what we writers do on a daily basis: create create create.

On the other hand, we also (especially in YA, I think) aim to READ the world, and to contain it and portray it and embellish and embrace and display it in the stories we create. There is a fine line in this strain of judgment, as people who move from consumer to creator end up BECOMING, to a degree, the very kinds of cultural engineers that McKenna rallies against.

Because that is the other thing we writers do: we strive to shape the world, and get others to come along for the ride.

(Warning: some NSFW language within.)

I'm not claiming any one view is more valid than another, but I think it is a really fascinating debate to consider – where does creativity aim, if consumption is the enemy?


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On Inspiration

RTW! Someday I will write posts outside of the blog carnival. Someday.

This week: Who in your life has most inspired your writing?  

Writing is equal parts words and story, and with no hesitation, I can say that the reason I write has to do with words. I mean, I love a story, am fascinated by clever plotting and complex characterization, but at the end of the day, I write (and have spent my life learning other languages) because I love words.

And I love words because of my family.

My parents started me on vocab lessons early on. I feel like I learned to talk at a surprisingly young age, but memories are warped little things, so who knows. I do know that I was an early reader, and a voracious one. But my voracity really stemmed from a desire to feel new words rattle around my brain and roll their way over my tongue, which is pretty much what I love most about writing now.

By the time I had started school, I had also begun what has become a lifelong tradition of sitting with my dad and racing to solve the newspaper's Jumble puzzle in our heads. By the time I was ten, I was a regular player of Upwords with him and his mother whenever we would visit (the only game ever played in that household). By the time I was twelve, I was forbidden the use of the dictionary. They never held back on me, and trouncing happened equally on all fronts.

Upwords battle ca. 2009. My (then) 92yo grandmother still wipes the floor with us.

My mother's family plays pretty much any game but Upwords, with an equal lack of going-easy on younger players, and we all tell stories throughout. Between the two of sides of the family, my brain has pretty much adopted words as the be all and end all of creative production.

To be honest, this has turned me into a difficult word-gamer to play against casually. Sort of ruined my college hopes with that background.

But it bolstered my writing. As did my parent's high expectations for my written schoolwork, and my mother's constant badgering not to be lazy, which is turn led to my love for a harsh critique, and a keen, dauntless eye in editing anything (my critique partners know well what I mean with that). Add to that my uncle's MFA, my mother's and my aunt's and my father's arts careers, and my brother's ability to spin anything into a story (okay, THAT is where the storytelling talent in our family fell – he once seriously convinced me five times with five different stories in one conversation that he had bought a new car. Which he hadn't.), I'm surprised I didn't get serious about my writing sooner.

So inspiration? Love Brian Jacques, love Vladimir Nabokov, love Michael Chabon and Kelly Link.

But I adore my family.

Thanks, guys.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kinetic Thursdays: A beginning

So kinetic typography is a thing I am kind of obsessed with. As such, I've decided to make them a regular focus on Thursdays. I'll be starting with videos others have made, hopefully that have something to do with writing and language and reading, but the plan is to eventually move into making my own kinetic typography videos, based on YA/MG lit, the publishing industry, querying, agent advice, author/blogger/writer interviews, etc.

We'll see if I can pull it off.

In the meantime, let's start with this one: Stephen Fry, on pedants and language. Apt for me at this moment in my life, when grading and judging students' written language skills is one of my top priorities, right there alongside inventing language for my own purposes in my personal writing projects. Pedantry is good thing to rally against, all things considering, and this is a lovely example of kinetic typography at the same time.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Good Day to Die

Or, Things That Happened in the Last Twenty-four Hours.


1) ...gave a poorly planned "guest lecture" in my adviser's Prison/Siberian Lit class, that mostly consisted of my sitting in a desk and pretending to be an expert on Shukshin's Siberian "oddball" character.

2) ...unintentionally finished the first two seasons of the BBC's ROBIN HOOD, which meant embracing pure cheese, cringing through the sheriff's screeching awfulness, getting pumped up by the title music, and COMPLETELY FALLING FOR Marian and Robin's love story.*

3) ...successfully defended my master's thesis, which resulted in me *actually* proving my ability to be an expert on Shuksin's oddballs and so much more.

Yes, The Thesis. It's done. Well, save for some revisions, and general nitpicky formatting.

So. There's that.

Obviously, to celebrate, I danced my way through this COMPLETELY UN-SIBERIAN song:

And now, back to writing the mystery WIP...

*Marian and Robin will get their own post later in the week, once I've had some time to corral my thoughts. And to decide whether or not to watch the Marian-less third season...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Audio-bibliophile (RTW + Scott Pilgrim FTW)

Oh, hey there, people. I just printed off my thesis draft for my committee. Yes, it is a day late. Yes, it is only the *first* draft. Yes, that makes me nervous. 

Also, how do you people deal with screwy Scrivener formatting after it's compiled and exported? My brain was too mushy to deal with the knobs and buttons inside Scrivener, so I ended up hand deleting all the dumb 3in tab indent arrows. Yes, dumb. I said it.

I'll sleep soon. But after RTW! 

This week: If you could choose a celebrity narrator for your WIP, who would you choose?

If I didn't love have a love affair with audiobooks, I might have skipped this week's topic. But, I just came off a really nice experience with the The True Meaning of Smekday narration (Bahni Turpin is my hero, for reals), and am continuing to feel inspired by this brand new contemporary WIP, so here I am. But quickly. Don't blink or you'll miss it.

So, if I were going to choose an audiobook narrator for my WIP, I'd probably try to cheat my way out of thinking too hard, and ask this lovely lady:

Mary is my cousin's best friend (which, PS, hot damn you're real pharmacist, Erin! Congratulations!), and I am just so pleased that the girl who was so excited to play Juliet in a second grade play grew up to live her dream. We aren't close or anything, but when I do see her every couple years, she is a sweetheart. AND, she has the perfect voice for Bennie, my Secret WIP heroine. Not just her Ramona Flowers voice, but her real voice, I mean. 

So yeah, I'd ask Mary Elizabeth Winstead to do it. And if she weren't available, I'd ask my mom.

My mom is awesome.

I like this exercise, so maybe I will come up with dream narrators for my other projects sometime in the next week, to help me ease back into the blog schedule. In the meantime, check out this lovely interview of Mary with Jimmy Kimmel, in which she tells a completely plausible story about my grandma falling asleep at a cruise ship slot machine: I'm serious. 

My grandma is also totally awesome.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Accidental poetry

I pulled this quotation from an article I am using for my thesis, and it was extracted in a narrow newspaper article format in such a way that it looks like poetry. And it's about literature! So, in honor of the Poetry Month I didn't celebrate, here you go:

(Mongrel Canons)

When the Canon is 
valued for its western-ness, its purity, we 
wall out other great traditions. This, despite the fact that Achebe or Gabriel García 
Márquez or Toni Morrison or Wole Soyinka or Bei Dao have all folded seamlessly 
into their zealous absorption of European 
and American classics (whether Cervantes, 
Faulkner or whomever) legends from the 
ancestors, oral traditions from indigenous 
predecessors, creation myths, local and 
vernacular literatures, and folk beliefs. In 
short, blind spots appear that are resolved 
only by a global examination of creativity.

Our newest family member, Remi, who is a mongrel if there ever was one. And no, the camera didn't do anything to her eyes. They really are that spooky.

Quantum mechanical magic

Yes, I'm avoiding a particularly tricky bit of thesising doing this. Yes, it's totally irresponsible. But I found this little animated video of an astrophysics lunch discussion on PHDcomics, and I wanted to share:

Dark Matters from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

So first, I love astrophysics and space and dark matter, and that is totally a direction I would take in life if I had to do my education over again. And if I didn't care about words as much as I do.

But! This is also interesting to think about IN TERMS OF writing: as writers, we spend so much time digging into the details of the details of the details of our stories, thinking that that is obviously where the heart will be, but, as the guys talking say, we really have no idea! It's by digging into the details of the details that we can get to QUESTIONS, not answers, questions that illuminate "a huge fraction of the Universe that no one's ever looked at before."

People. Our stories are exactly this. Parts of the Universe that no one's ever looked at before. We are explorers of endless frontiers, and knowing just how little we know is the best possible thing to propel us.

They, uh, go into a cool illustration of particle colliders next, and while I could extend my analysis to compare particle colliders to writing brains, I think that might be a little much.

But, what they end with is, "What should take away from all this is, we don't know what the rest of the elephant looks like… And you should be ready for some surprises."

And isn't that what all of our writing is, at the end of the day? Surprises. Not an elephant's tail. (Although…)

So any surprises for you guys lately? Mine continues to be the sudden contemporary project that popped into my head from that David Wax Museum song last week. It's been going gangbusters, and I just love it. Also, my MG stumbled into this really clever allusion/play on folklore that, even though *I* was the one who set it all up, I didn't see coming until it was on the page.

And. Back to find the elephant's tail of my thesis.

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