Falling in Love with a Character

I ordered this book through the library some time ago. I was pretty far back on the waiting list and by the time my name came up I had forgotten why I wanted to read it. I’m pretty sure I decided to read it based on a review, but I have been disappointed in the past when a book has had a good write-up. Consequently, I was a bit skeptical when I started it. Don Tillman is not your typical rom-com main character. He has issues. In particular he is obviously someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, though he doesn’t realize it, and is cringe-worthy in social situations. I read the first few pages with an Oh, my God! expression on my face. What a horror, I thought. How could someone with his issues find someone to love him? He began to win me over on page 10. He was in the middle of giving a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome (I think his friend set him up with the lecture in hopes he would recognize himself) and became horrified when someone explained to the kids in the audience that Asperger’s was something you were born with. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Don exclaims, “Fault! Asperger’s isn’t a fault. It’s a variant.”  He goes on to explain that it’s potentially a major advantage. He gives an example in which emotional behavior would lead to a disastrous outcome—Imagine you are hiding in the basement with your friends. The enemy is searching for you and you have to keep totally silent, but your baby is crying. You have a gun. The parents in the audience...

Episodic Writing

I remember getting a comment back from an editor on one of my early stories that said my writing was episodic. I didn’t know exactly what was meant by that, but I knew it wasn’t good. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out what episodic meant. It meant there wasn’t enough character arc or story arc, and that the chapters were too neat, self-contained—like an episode. So I tried to correct that. I was more conscious of having arcs, of crafting scenes that built upon one another and of creating characters that pulled you through the story, which is good for a novel. I’ve recently read a novel, though, that is unapologetically episodic. In fact it doesn’t have chapters. It has episodes. The Human Division  was first released as three ebooks, and then several months later the hardback and audiobook were released. At the same time a new ebook came out with the complete book plus a couple of extra codas that the hardback and audiobook book had as extra features. I think the book needed to be episodic because of the way it was first released, which was similar to the way the stories were serialized in the paper. Think of the Sherlock Holmes stories. When I heard about this book I was curious to read it. I’m also a big John Scalzi fan. His book Redshirts is one of my all time favorites. I have to say I think it was very effective. It’s different from his other novels. It’s very much like a TV show, similar to Babylon 5 in structure. And while there aren’t...

Making it Easy for the Villian

I recently read Temple of a Thousand Faces. I really enjoyed the setting of Angkor Wat and the culture. The story takes place about a thousand years ago and is based on historical figures and events. The king of the Khmers narrowly escapes death by the conquering Cham king. The story follows four different sets of characters as the Khmer king rallies his people and plans a counterattack to retake his throne. I liked all the different characters and their stories, I liked learning about their beliefs, but ultimately, what made me lose interest was the fact that about 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the way into the book it started to bug me that things were just too easy for the villains. Everything fell their way and I realized that even though that made the villains a powerful threat to the protagonists, because the breaks all fell their way, it felt manipulative. Not much is known about what really happened all those years ago beyond that fact that the Cham king invaded and the Khmer king ultimately defeated him. Therefore, all the breaks happening for the villains in the novel were author manipulation. The villain needs to struggle a bit, too, not just the hero. Everything can’t go their way. When it does it makes the villain unrealistic. You want a proactive, smart villain, but at the same time, they can’t be a super-villain who wins every round. If they do, they become cardboard—a bwa-ha-ha villain. The Cham king wasn’t quite that bad but he did get all the breaks until the end. Villains needs to be strong, proactive,...

The Next Big Thing

Snake Talker Today I’m hosting the Next Big Thing blog campaign. The Next Big Thing is an international campaign that began in Australia. Authors and illustrators of books for kids and young adults talk about their recently published books and/or those that are due to be released. Each author who has been nominated turns around and nominates a couple of other authors. We all answer the same questions about our work. It’s really just a great big game of “Tag, you’re it.” Today is my turn to answer The Next Big Thing’s standard questions about my book, Snake Talker, and I’m tagging two of my favorite fellow kids’ book authors, Ann Koffsky and Sean McCollum, to go next. What is the working title of your next book? The one I’m currently working on is still in my head and not yet on paper so I’m going to talk about a book that is already out. Snake Talker came out over a year ago. Where did the idea come from for the book? I actually got two ideas for books at the same time. I decided to write this one first because I knew more about the story. I don’t remember exactly where the idea came from. Like so many story ideas they seem to be made up of bits and pieces of things that interest me. They merge in my subconscious and suddenly the idea is there. What genre does your book fall under? YA science fiction. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? You’ve got me on that one....

Reading Enjoyment

I finally had a chance to read Lani Taylor’s Days of Blood & Starlight. I’ve had the book for a couple of months, but I wanted to re-read her first book in the trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, to refresh my memory of what had happened. Plus, I enjoyed the first book so much I wanted to savor the writing again. I’m glad I did that because I had forgotten some subtle clues from the first book that start to bear fruit in the second book. I had finished the first book last week and I was waiting for an opportunity to start the second one. I wanted more than five or ten minutes here or there, divided between bathroom breaks and meal times. I wanted a couple of hours where I could read a chunk. I didn’t want to nibble, I wanted to gorge myself on Lani’s beautiful writing. Mother Nature obliged to give me a snow day and I seized it with the joy of a fourth grader given a day off from school. The second book is haunting me. I know I’m going to be thinking about it for weeks. It’s a lot more grim than the first book. The writing doesn’t have as much of the lyrical beauty as the first book, but then the situation is darker. There are light moments, however, supplied by her friends, Zuzana and Mik. (I’m so glad they’re in book two.) But my heart ached for Karou. Several scenes brought me to tears. The end of the book, though, left me with hope. Hope that the chimaera and the Misbegotten...

Aliens Suck at Music.

I just finished reading “Year Zero,” a humorous science fiction novel. Overall I give it three and a half stars out of five. Parts of it I loved, but a lot of it bordered on too silly. Plus I’m not a fan of long footnotes, especially when the footnote takes up more page space than the story text. The author used them for added humorous asides to the text, but eventually they pulled me out of the story too much and I stopped reading them.  Anyway, two things I did love about this book. First, the opening line: “Aliens suck at music.” That line kept me reading until the end. And there were enough genuinely funny sections to sustain my interest. The other thing that I loved was the ending where it turned out Bill Gates was an alien who was committed to saving mankind by slowing our tech advances. Apparently four out of five species destroy themselves once they reach a certain technological level. Bill Gates has been slowing our progress so that we have time to mature as a society so we can handle the tech power responsibly. His vehicle for doing this is Windows. He said he almost gave the game away with Vista so that he had to make up for it with Windows 8 and 9. But watch out for the next...