Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Good Issue Nonetheless

I had trouble becoming enthused about reading the last couple of issues of The Horn Book Magazine because a few months back the magazine underwent a little overhaul. I was, in two words, put off. The articles were now laid out in columns and the margins seemed larger. Didn't that mean less text? I'm a text person. Where was the text? I wanted more text! If they're cutting down on text, well, then, humph, gasp, moan. That wasn't very zenny of me, now, was it? To get all distressed about what I thought something should be, instead of, at the very least, appraising it for what it was? And, as it turned out, the March/April issue was pretty good. For instance, it carries An Interview with Katherine Patterson that includes the line "Read for your life." Just those four words made the interview for me. This issue was a sort of tribute to Patterson, who is the present (reigning?) National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Linda Sue Park did a little piece in which she wrote about being inspired by an essay on writing in which Katharine Patterson advised writing two pages a day. Park found that doable. Well, I was inspired by Park's essay about Patterson's essay. Not to write two pages a day. Hell, that's not doable. Not every day. Come on. But I thought I might be able to reread the prior day's work on my many nonworking days. I couldn't even manage that...on all the nonworking days. But I've managed it sometimes. It might make a difference. Elizabeth Bird did an interesting article on whether or not children's books of one era need to be updated when reprinted years down the line. Leonard Marcus isn't capable of writing poorly, at least on the subject of children's literature, so, of course, his article on photography as picture book art was good. Though some of us in the kidlitosphere feel there's not a lot of true science fiction being published for young readers, this issue of The Horn Book carried reviews of two books that sounded like pretty hard core scifi: Living Hell by Catherine Jinks and Stuck on Earth by David Klass. Couldn't help but notice. So there is a lesson for me in my recent Horn Book reading experience--and if for me, then for us all, because that's how the personal essayist I aspire to be thinks. Look at what's there instead of what you think should be there. Read mindfully, you might say. And by the way, even after having been revamped, The Horn Book Magazine, is still small enough to stick in a bag or backpack and to read comfortably while on the treadmill. Some people might think that if a publication has that going for it, what else does it need?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Detail Tipping Point

I've been struggling with a chapter this week, totally bogged down with a dinner scene. The problem, I finally realized late today, is that I'm loving a lot of unnecessary details. They're fun, but they don't support anything.

Details are what make a piece of writing interesting. You need details to support character, scene, point of view, theme, and plot, all of which support story. The problem, as I see it, comes about when a writer (this writer) falls in love with the details of a character or a scene or someone's point of view and just spins them, getting deeper and deeper into detail that eventually become all about those details instead of about the story.

I am hoping this will help me move on when I get back to work on Friday.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Little Bit For Mark Twain

This year in Connecticut we are seriously into celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of Mark Twain's demise. Last weekend The Hartford Courant even published excerpts from its original Twain obituary. A little ghoulish, perhaps, but certainly fitting to the occasion.

In honor of this big event, I read The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley with illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham. Kerley wrote The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, which I liked, being fond of nineteenth century paleontologists, anyway. Kerley and Fotheringham wrote and illustrated What To Do About Alice?, which I wasn't as fond of, since I found the subject to be known for her relationships with men rather than for anything she, herself, did.

Ah, but Mark Twain is another matter. Though I don't know how familiar the picture book bio set is with Twain, The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) should still have something to offer them. It could be described pretty much as a book about a book, since it's an account of Twain's elder daughter, Susy's, own writing of a biography of her father when she was thirteen years old. The picture book isn't overwhelmed with text, and illustrations carry part of the narrative, just as they should. Kerley works quotes into her story, and they appear not just with quotation marks but in a larger font, making it very clear to child readers that here is something that needs a little extra attention. She also, bless her heart, uses end notes. Interspersed throughout the book are small faux journals which contain excerpts from Susy's Twain biography.

In additon to the Author's Note on Samuel Clemens and Susy, there is a page with instructions on how child readers can write their own "extraordinary biography."

Seriously, this book could make the center piece of a really neat unit for elementary school students. I hope it does at least as well as Kerley and Fotheringham's last book, What To Do About Alice?, which was a Siebert Honor Book in 2009.

Training Report: Mondays are always difficult because of the break for the weekend. It ends up being a tweaking day while I try to get back up to speed. This past Saturday I managed to reread Friday's work, an attempt to improve that situation. I realized that one character needed some work--he's not a Buddhist, he's a yogi. In shifting things around today and finally deciding how to pick up and progress past Friday's stopping place, not only did I not manage any word count at all, I actually lost some. Hey, but quantity isn't always quality, is it?

Friday, April 23, 2010

They Worked For Someone Else

Jennifer Blanchard wrote at Procrastinating Writers of her experience using morning pages. She was far more successful with them than I was, though I have tweaked the concept quite a bit and have been doing what I call writing meditation for nearly a year. I haven't gotten the kind of results Jennifer did with morning pages, but they make me feel more on task. They make me feel better. Whatever better is.

Training Report: I did 1,678 words. I wasn't as on task as I'd like, either, and still managed what was for me a very good day's work.

Another Day, Another Controversy

I have trouble keeping up with book controversies, but this month-old one involving Amazon (which, I think we can all agree, has its fair share of controversies) is a particularly interesting one. You really have two controversies going at the same time here, one relating to Kindle releases and one relating to Amazon's customer reviews.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What Are You Reading For Earth Day? Saving the Planet & Stuff?

The Teen Reading Club, "developed by librarians for teens interested in reading and connecting with other teen readers across Canada," has placed Saving the Planet & Stuff on its Enviro-Booklist. The Greater Victoria Public Library in British Columbia is the lead library for the Teen Reading Club. To my knowledge, I have no family in BC. The folks there found Saving the Planet totally on their own. No Gauthier or Couture cousins (my Gauthier or Couture cousins, anyway) were involved.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sweet Mary Sue

Oh, dear. The last couple of weeks I've fallen off the wagon and have been doing a bit of netsurfing before work. That led me, though, to Laura Miller's Salon piece, A Reader's Advice to Writers: Beware of Mary Sue. Quotes:

"Even in the most routine series fiction, however, there's a distinction between the kind of character who embodies the fantasies of readers -- Nancy Drew, for example --and a character who's really only working for the author." I would like to see Miller--or anyone--elaborate on this.

"...Mary Sues occur in every kind of book, from historical novels about spunky young women with anachronistically modern values who defy the race, class and gender roles of their time..." This description brought Mary Russell in A Monstrous Regiment of Women to mind. It made me think of Amelia Peabody, too, though she does an incredible balancing act of being both anachronistic and a woman of her period. Plus she balances being a witty, attractive character with being quite impressively unpleasant. Alexia in Soulless might be a Mary Sue, especially since I think the presence of sex raises the chances of a character being a Mary Sue.

I have to say, as a writer I have become extremely self-conscious about Mary Sues.

Training Report: Only around 850 words. I would have preferred 1,000. In case I haven't whined about this before, one of the things I find difficult about the Monday, Wednesday, Friday work schedule is that I find it difficult to stay in anything remotely resembling flow. I lose time each workday bringing myself up to speed again. And since I ended up working on something else on Monday, I hadn't worked on this particular project since last Friday--a gap of four days. Today I spent quite a bit of time tweaking before I got down to any real writing. It was some very fine tweaking, so I'm quite hopeful things will go better on Friday. Then we have another weekend, and then I'm expecting some disruption in regularly scheduled programming next week for some elder work. Ah, but I should not be anxious about the future, should I? I should remain in this week. Yes. That's better.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Locker Room Talk

This morning we had a bigger class than usual at my taekwondo school. The area public schools are on break this week, so we had some kids at what is sometimes known as the Fart Class because morning students tend to be middle aged people who are on flexible work schedules, leaving the evening classes to the younger students who have less control over their lives.

It's good to be old!

Anyway, after class I was in the locker room with one of my favorite teenage black belts. We were talking about her honors English class, and I, of course, asked what she'd been reading for it. Among other things, her class read Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. In doing a little Internet snooping about the book, I found that it was originally published as adult fiction. I had no idea.

This is the second time in a little over twenty-four hours that I've posted about Jane. I hope I'm not becoming obsessed with her again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Nearly Set The House On Fire

I was roasting some tomatoes for tomorrow night's dinner while doing that last blog post. That was a long post. It took a while. Then I went to some news' sites. Then I got up and wandered toward the stairs, where I heard the oven timer going off. I'm guessing it had been beeping away for thirty or forty minutes, anyway. I went tearing upstairs where the kitchen didn't look too bad. A little steam but no real smoke. If I had just turned off the oven and left the carbonized tomatoes there to cool, everything would have been okay.

But I didn't.

I turned off the oven, opened the door, and then we started seeing some real smoke. We had to unlock the back door before I could take the pan outside, the smoke detector went off, as did a fire alarm, we got a call from the security people, and another jelly roll pan may be history. Only time will tell. And now I have to come up with something else for dinner tomorrow night.

Does Metafiction Work For Kids?

I definitely get M.T. Anderson's Pals in Peril novels. They are takeoffs of old-time kids' series books, set in the present with a couple of characters who actually are the protaganists in their own adventure stories. Not the Pals in Period books, but other books. Imagine a Tom Swift-type character and a spunky girl (younger and spunkier than the 1930's era Nancy Drew) who are creatures of their own book worlds having over-the-top adventures in the twenty-first century.

If you can.

The newest book, Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, isn't as good as The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, but it has all kinds of clever things to offer. At least, it has all kinds of clever things to offer adult readers who will understand the satire regarding tourists looking for the ultimate experience and jokes about monks and prep school names. Though, truthfully, this adult wouldn't have understood the Choate joke if she didn't live in Connecticut and thus know what Choate Rosemary Hall is. As I was reading this story of a heroic boy ducking dinosaurs, cannibals, and tentacled monsters as he leads his chums across the jungles and mountains of Delaware to save a monastary full of monks from his archenemy, who appears to have come from outer space and has some kind of rocket launchers instead of feet, I kept wondering if child readers would get the jokes or be able to follow the story if they didn't. Do you have to have read a lot of many kinds of book to understand this riff on old time serials, sports novels, travel guides, and maybe a bit of lite Buddhist philosophy?

Notice, I am not answering that question.

I can imagine a boxed set of the Pals in Peril making great gifts for adults who were serious readers in their childhood.

Hey, and what about the name of the series, Pals in Peril Tales? The series used to be called M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales. Why the switch? It looks as if there was a change in publisher from Harcourt to Simon and Schuster. Did the series' title not make the trip? I will pick up a book just because M.T. Anderson's name is on it, but did someone question whether children would?

Plot Project: Perhaps we could say the plot here is developed around a journey, Jasper and his chums making the journey to save his old friend. A journey, yes, that would be a terrific structure for a plot. I should try to do one of those. So perhaps here we have a goal of creating a journey story and the objectives are all the near disasters the kids face on their journey. This is a great idea.

Training Report: I learned this morning that I needed to do some unplanned, though not unexpected, eldercare today. Realizing that I had no hope of knocking off one thousand words on the Middle Ridge Road story and that trying to do so would only make me feel a miserable failure, I decided to prepare and make a submission that had been simmering on one of the burners. That way I could actually complete something, which would make me feel satisfied. Submissions are very satisfying, if you are able to stay in the moment and not spend any time thinking about the rejection that is almost certain to come at some point down the line. Instead, you just think of the submission as a good job done. Tah-dah! I also did a tiny bit of market research. Tah-dah, tah-dah!

Short Fiction By Jane Yolen

Hey, check out this short story by Jane Yolen that I just stumbled upon while doing market research.

A Robert Cormier Adaptation Most Of Us Probably Missed

Last week I read a brief announcement about an adaptation of Robert Cormier's book, Tenderness. I considered blogging about it, but then decided that since I'd only read one book by Cormier, and it wasn't Tenderness, I'd pass. However, I just saw Salon's review of the movie and thought that two mentions in one week of a movie I hadn't heard of might mean that someone was trying to tell me something--something like, post about this movie. So I did.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The 2010 48-Hour Book Challenge

This year's 48 Hour Book Challenge will be held on June 4 through 6. Nowadays it would be an act of callous selfishness for me to read for an entire weekend. But that shouldn't stop anyone else! Start training. Plot your strategy.

National Writing Project At Risk

The Book Whisperer did a post recently on proposed funding cuts to Reading is Fundamental and the National Writing Project. I'm guessing the National Writing Project isn't as well known as Reading is Fundamental. At one of my listservs, for instance, there was a lot of concern voiced over RIF losing funding, but no one even mentioned the NWP.

Though my experience with the group has been limited (I served as a workshop leader at a writers' conference a few times and attended a symposium once, which was quite terrific), I would describe the NWP as providing writing training to teachers, working on the theory that teachers who write well will be better able to teach the subject. Keep in mind that the National Writing Project functions through a network of local projects, which makes its programming accessible to many areas of the country. I would also assume--and hope-- that the local connection would make it possible to fine tune offerings to local needs.

Though I can't pretend any great knowledge as to how well the program works, I've always thought the basic concept sounded worthwhile, and I think the site I'm familiar with, The Connecticut Writing Project at UConn, offered opportunities to area teachers and students that they wouldn't otherwise have had. So, yes, I hope we'll be able to find some money to keep this thing going.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I Guess You Would Call This A Writing Nightmare

Last night I dreamed that I had attended a multi-day writers' conference. This is quite odd because my inability to tolerate more than three-hours or so of human contact has been well documented here at O.C.. But this is a dream, remember. So it's the last day of the conference, and I'm headed back to my room to pack up my things. On my way into the building in which I'm staying, I notice that there is a grill in the sidewalk. It's the top of some kind of chamber, and one of the other conference attendees has been locked down there. I can see him through the grill, and he's not happy.

Once I'm inside, I mention what I saw to a small, gray-haired woman who appears to be in some kind of position of authority. She tells me that, I, too, will have to put in some small amount of time in the room under the grill because of some minor infringement, some little error on my part the day before. Don't I remember? (If I did at the time of the dream, I don't now. Wouldn't you love to know? I would. It seems significant.) I infer from what she's saying that I must agree to submit to the punishment. As a member of whatever organization sponsors the conference, I am expected to toe the line.

While I like to think that I'm into discipline and personal practices of various kinds, toeing others' lines is another thing. Even in my dreams. So I tell this woman that I refuse to allow myself to be degraded in such a way. I will not submit to such humiliation.

I get quite torqued up. It's clear that I am making a scene, that my fellow conference participants are not happy with me. The gray-haired woman announces that she is going to write an unflattering essay about me. At the same time, I wonder if I could get someone to publish an essay telling the truth about what goes on at writing conferences. Interesting, isn't it, that we both immediately turn to writing as our weapon of choice?

As a general rule, my dreams are very superficial. Anyone who has watched a couple of episodes of Oprah or Dr. Phil can analyze them. This one is no different.

This dream indicates that I think that I'm doing something wrong as far as professional networking is concerned. It also suggests that I don't give a damn.

The not giving a damn part should serve as comfort for getting the professional networking part wrong.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Holy Moses! Talk About A Voice!

I recently discovered Short Story Reader, probably through Blog of a Bookslut, but I can't be sure, and just started dipping into it today. I read the Reader's post on The Movement of Horses by Adam Cushman as well as the short story itself at Fawlt Magazine. Now, my followers, this is a short story published as adult fiction, and there is adult language and content. I am not trying to mislead anyone. But the main character is a teenager with quite an impressive voice, and I thought adults interested in kidlit might find this fine story interesting for that reason.

As I've said before, while voice can be the be all and end all in YA, I'm not aware of a lot of talk about it in adult fiction. So when I notice it, I tend to get a bit excited.

Plot Project: Hmmm. If this story's plot was developed around a character wanting something, what was it? Did he get it? Hey, and does the character change, or does our perception of him change? Deep stuff.

Training Report:1600 words, many of them revised, but some newly minted work, too. A good day for me, though I didn't get any research done on Project 2. I did do some research for a submission, though.

I received a rejection yesterday and this week learned of three people leaving a publishing company, one of whom I'd had some contact with over the years. Two of these people appear to have been laid off. No word on the third one, though knowing what happened to the other two, it doesn't look good. Bad times, bad times.

For Chrestomanci Fans

Unshelved does The Magicians of Caprona, one of the Chrestomanci books by Diana Wynne Jones.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ah, Earth Day

I was once totally into Earth Day. I used to plan Sunday school lessons around it. I used to take children to Audubon Center programs related to it. Ah, those were the days.

Things have deteriorated so here at Chez Gauthier that I didn't even realize it was coming up until I received a press release regarding children's author Seymour Simon who will be appearing this Saturday as part of the national Earth Day organization’s "Days of Service and Performing Arts," which will take place throughout the weekend of April 17-18th on the National Mall in Washington DC. Simon will be speaking and reading from his latest book, Global Warming.

Here I am, so out of the loop, though once I wrote an enviromentalish book. Hey, folks, this could happen to you.

Earth Day is actually April 22, which is next Thursday. Thursday is an elder care day here. Perhaps the elder will agree to observing the event in some way. At the very least, I can take her returnable cans back to the store.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Interesting Read, But...

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is another book I picked up simply because I like the author. Geraldine McCaughrean wrote Peter Pan in Scarlet, which I liked a great deal, and I was impressed by Not the End of the World. The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is a rewarding read for a McCaughrean fan. It has a fascinating premise and is beautifully written. I just don't know how kids will feel about it.

Pepper Roux is the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who has been brought up believing that he is going to die on his fourteenth birthday. (There was a Sleeping Beauty aspect to the story, I thought.) He's a good child and has accepted his fate--until the last minute when he tries to escape the notice of the angels and Saint Constance, who he believes are out to get him. The book might be described as picaresque except that Pepper is innocent rather than roguish. He moves from one improbable situation to another where his basic goodness always comes out. The escapades are not over-the-top enough to be funny, but too over-the-top to be believable. For instance, one character is a crossing-dressing ship's steward. I loved the guy, but it's hard to believe he could have existed in the time and place in which he's been dropped down.

Speaking of time and place, the time setting is vague, which could confuse young readers. It might be the 1950s, since there's a chapter about the French Foreign Legion recruiting soldiers to send to Africa, which I think would have been happening post- World War II. (This indicates that I find the time setting confusing, at least.) It's set in France and is quite...French...with the significance of Pepper's name hanging on the similarities in pronunciation of pauvre and poivre. It's also quite Catholic, with bored priests hearing confessions and nuns' habits being stolen. Hey, a French, Catholic book is just fine with me, and I like to think those aspects of Pepper Roux make it a unique read. But, once again, I don't know how kids will feel about it.

So what we're talking about here is an intriguing, unusual book that may be for more sophisticated child readers.

Plot Project: Now some people might say that this book is about a child who wants to live and that the writer just put in obstacles to his living. I don't think so. I think this book is all about the situation--the child who believes he is doomed but isn't. I think this is obvious to the reader, especially since in many of the episodes Pepper could be said to be in trouble of some sort, but not in danger of losing his life. The plot isn't really causal, by the way. One episode doesn't lead to another, though there are plenty of recurring threads that get picked up along the way.

Training Report: 1,350 words, which is damn fine when you consider that over my last three work days (last Wednesday, Friday, and Monday) I might have just broken 1,000 altogether. I finally was able to do a very small amount of research for another book, and I have a submission ready to go out tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Book-like Product"

I'm not one to get my knickers in a twist over so-called celebrity writers, so I liked The Vocabulary: "Book-like Product" at the Upstart Crow Literary blog. I found it calming. Of course, I wasn't distressed to begin with, so an argument could be made that it didn't take much to calm me.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

You Never Know What Will Turn Up On A Bookshelf

A visiting family member and I culled my cookbooks this afternoon, and what did I find but The Peter Rabbit and Friends Cook Book. I was very fond of P. Rabbit in days of old, and I suspect someone gave me this as I gift. I had no recollection of it, though.

My mind is a little more twisted these days than it used to be, so now I wonder if a book called "The Peter Rabbit and Friends Cook Book" shouldn't be about cooking Peter Rabbit and his friends.

Since the cookbook shelves have been tidied, I'm moving this to a children's book shelf. That seems efficient.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Avoiding Bullies

How appropriate that I stumbled upon Mitali Perkins' post about bullying just now. Today I had to do some major revisions on a character because I didn't want her to appear to be a bully. It was never my intention that she should be a bully. She was an unpleasant girl who lashed out at people. Is that necessarily a bully? The events of the last few weeks were on my mind, and I started to worry that that was how she would appear. Once readers felt that way about her, it wouldn't really matter what her function was supposed to be in the story. She would be a bully.

Back in the late '90s, early '00s, before bullying was quite as big a topic as it is now, I had an interesting experience with A Year with Butch and Spike. I'd be in schools and on more than one occasion kids referred to Butch and Spike as bullies. I was surprised, because they were never meant to be bullies. I saw them as loud, argumentative, misfits. But some kids saw something different.

Training Report: Not much progress in terms of word count because of the character revision. That character needed some work, anyway. She was holding the story back.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

I Was Doing Something Else

I used up this evening's blogging time going over the wish lists and deciding what I was going to buy for the Guys Lit Wire & Operation Teen Book Drop Event for Navajo & Apache Teens. There are still plenty of books on the wish lists, in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Let Me Know When The Apocalypse Is Over

I don't care for apocalyptic fiction. You know how Garrison Keillor said that the best pumpkin pie you ever had wasn't that much better than the worst? Yeah, same thing with apocalyptic books.

However, if I did like apocalyptic fiction, I'd be interested in spending some time at, where it is Old-School Apocalypse Month.

That link comes from Wands and Worlds, which has a snazzy new layout.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

M. T. Anderson Finally Has A Website

M.T. Anderson's website is rather big news for those of us who have wanted to link to info about him while blogging about his books. My life has just become easier.

Note that he classifies the Octavian Nothing titles as Books for Teens and Adults.

Again, you can thank Cynsations for this.

How Punk Rock Got Its Cover

readergirlz has a post up on how So Punk Rock got its cover. A cover I like, by the way.

Found the link at Cynsations.

Training Report: Some revision that required 78 new words! Huzzah! I'm not just being pathetically positive. Today is an elders/life chore day. I usually don't do any work at all on elders/life chore days.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Easter Dinner Table Talk

"Hey, you remember that book Tomorrow, When the War Began?" one brother asked the other. "It's going to be a movie."

Voila, a trailer.

These books were quite popular at Chez Gauthier for a while. If I go rooting around in a bedroom, I might find at least the original one.

Training Report: Nearly 1,500 words, which is quite satisfactory for me. I also worked on preparing a submission. The job was quite time consuming and isn't finished.

So How Should We Handle These Kinds Of Situations?

Slate has one of its slideshows up, this on how biographies of sports figures differ when written for children rather than adults. I don't know when any of these books were published, which seems as if it might be significant.

If I knew more about writing biographies I might comment on this situation. Since I don't, I will remain silent.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

We're Not Feeling Very Confident Here At Chez Gauthier

Blogger has asked us to migrate somewhere, and we don't have a lot of confidence that we have arrived where we were supposed to go. So here's a little test.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

The Garmann Sequel

The Excelsior File reviews Garmann's Street, the further adventures of the wild and wacky kid from Garmann's Summer.

Guess Who Just Had The Best Workday This Year?

Last week I began revising the 365 Story Project (again), this time into a traditional novel using only one of the story lines from the original material. This week I set up a spreadsheet to keep track of various parts of the job. I used a spreadsheet while I was working on my last book, and while that still hasn't sold, I do think a spreadsheet gives me more control of the on-going work. And it allows me to keep track of word count, which is nice in terms of daily goal setting.

Today I reworked (sometimes generating new material) one thousand, two hundred and forty-seven words! Yes, I know there are writers who wouldn't fire up their word processors for that, but I am not one of them. In addition, I made a submission, which involved doing a little market research. And I continued with some research for another project I want to get started on soon. This means, I'm sort of working on two projects at once, which is a new experience for me. I'm rather liking it.

Now that I've got the spread sheet going and am working a big three days a week, I can go back to giving you training reports, which I had to give up last August. Excited, aren't you? My computer guy found the training reports mind-numbing, which I will remember the next time he gets going on the kind of mind-numbing thing only a computer guy can go on about.

What's the point of doing training reports here? It allows me to use the blog as a sort of writer work buddy. Some writers report to their writer buddies each day, which makes them work harder so they'll have something to report. Why training report instead of work report? I like the whole idea of training. Working, not so much.

If You Have A Lot Of Time... might want to decipher the ISBN on the book you're reading. Or you might want to work on a cure for cancer instead.

Sort of related--I was just reading today that evidence from mummy autopsies suggests that cancer was pretty much unknown among ancient Egyptians. Their secret may be that they didn't live long enough to develop it.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

But I Did Like It

I used the above title because I can recall years ago reading long, long reviews that went on for a column and a half before the reviewer began to say anything about the book. Ah, those were the good old days, when newsprint was cheap and a reviewer could drone on and on, showing the world how clever she was.

Anyway, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld--To cut to the chase, it's set in an alternative, steampunk just barely pre-WWI world in which the German-type folks, or Clankers, are into machines like no machines the German-type folks of that real era ever knew,and the British-type folks, known as Darwinists, are into "fabricated animals" that do all kinds of things for them, including serving as dirigibles. (Fabricating animals to function as machines seems like a great deal of work to me, but then science was never my strong suit. I am, in fact, still waiting to find my strong suit.)

The New York Times, where I used to read a lot of those long-winded reviews I was talking about earlier, carried a review for Leviathan in which the reviewer said there was "something a little mechanical (or bioengineered?)" about the two main characters. I would go further and say there was something a little mechanical about the whole book. You've got one storyline about Alek, the classic royal refugee on the run with loyal retainers. You've got Deryn the classic girl disguised as a boy so she can follow her bliss in a line of work not open to women in the Victorian era. Deryn's bliss is flying on those fabricated beasties the Darwinists use to get around on, much as Matt in Airborn (another steampunk novel) is into gadding about on dirigibles. You've got a character here, Dr. Barlow, who reminded me of Europe in Monster Blood Tattoo. In fact, you have illustrations in this book that reminded me of those in Monster Blood Tattoo.

The book seemed to be manufactured of parts that would be recognizable to someone who had done much reading. It's well done, nonetheless. And less experienced readers won't have read a lot of books about girls going undercover as boys and royalty having to run for their lives. Leviathan won't sound as familiar to them. And I did like it--until I got twenty or thirty pages from the end, when I realized that this story wasn't going to be wrapped up in this volume and that I was reading a hardcore serial. Then I began to feel a little testy.

Scott Westerfeld has redone his website with a Leviathan theme. I thought the Leviathan trailer looked as if it was made by the same folks who did the trailer for Monster Blood Tattoo. Leviathan's had a neat ending, though. "Do you oil your war machines or do you feed them?"

And since steampunk deals with technology, this seems like a good time to refer you to Science Fiction and the Frame of Technology by Paul Woodlin, which I found a while back through Cynsations.

Plot Project: I almost forgot about the plotting project, in which I'm supposed to determine whether or not a plot was generated by a character wanting something and the author creating obstacles to the character getting it. Well, one thing I'm learning from thinking about the plots of the books I read is that you can't read authors' minds. You can only guess how a plot came about. I'm also becoming less and less entranced with the "find out what your character wants and then keep her from getting it" plot plan. If you go to Holly Lisle's Create Your Professional Plot Outline (thank you Procrastinating Writers), you'll see that she says you can develop a plot starting from a number of points, including world building. My guess is that even if a book like Leviathan began with its two traditional characters who can take off from traditional jumping off points--prince escaping, girl disguising herself as boy in order to gain entry into a male world--because it is steampunk, the world building would be crucial to plot development. It seems as if a lot of world building would have to come before the writer could do much with the plot. But that's just speculation.