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Monday, November 29, 2010

Trimming the Fat

Did you have a good holiday weekend? I did. Did you eat lots of turkey and gravy and stuffing and feel like you'd just swallowed the Titanic? I did. Did you gain three pounds for your efforts and don't regret it a single bit? I did!!!

But hey, this blog is supposed to be about writing, not turkey. Fortunately the connection is readily apparent. If you've been keeping tabs (and if you have you're one devoted friend!) then you'll know that recently I've been adding scenes and dialogue to draw out the character of Nikki's sister. Well, this actually went quite well - I got inspired by the photographs I posted here and I also became inspired just by starting a new WIP. How did that happen, you ask? Well, I came up with this idea for a MG novel and just started writing it one day last week. BUT I felt guilty for cheating on Nik and Sam, so that prompted me to write a bit in Nikki's Wish. I figured, one thousand words in the new, one scene in the old, and so on. And wouldn't you know, it worked! I somehow managed to get all of those revisions done. I even went through and re-read the whole manuscript on Saturday!! I'm feeling the rosy-posy happiness of accomplishment here folks, but now for the sad part. THE MANUSCRIPT IS CURRENTLY AT 100,000 WORDS!!!

Ack! How did that happen? So along with trimming my turkey fat (six flights of stairs three times a day ought to do the trick), I now have to trim some of my writing fat. I've already taken notes on what can go and what should stay. This is big, revision-type trimming folks (think liposuction and you'll get the idea). My goal is to have 5K of it gone by Wednesday, December 1st. If that happens then I'll spend the next two weeks tightening. Let's see, two weeks, 5K words, that's about 360 words each day. That's not so much. And then, it'll be query and synopsis and then I WILL start putting this thing out by early January.

I'm running off now to find a little meter gadget that I can stick on my blog - there must be one somewhere right? Oh, and did I forget to mention that I already have 1K of that 5K done?? I feel like I'm on a role here!! But uh...don't expect me to add an actual poundage scale anywhere.  :)

What about you? Do you have some fat trim? Real or literary, either way, leave a comment and let me know!!

Also - kitty update! My husband agreed to the plan for where to put the litterbox, but now I'm cleaning up the clutter in the house because I feel like adding another being to the domestic sphere demands it. Also, my hubby is going to Malaysia in January and somehow I think it'll be better if I don't have to deal with new kitty stuff until after he gets back (also cat in the christmas tree? I wants to avoid that for now). So, the plan for now is to get the kitten in February.  Thanks everyone for the great suggestions!

Friday, November 19, 2010

I need to have my head examined.

So it happened. Never thought it would, but it happened. The hubby has agreed to get a cat!!

Here was the conversation (via email):

me: Blah, blah, blah (it was about what to get the kids for christmas, we'd initially agreed not to go overboard on presents, but I got to internet window shopping, and you know how that goes).

OR we could get a kitten!!

the hub: I wasn't really planning not to get them anything.. just more well thought out stuff.. quality instead of quantity.

me: Kittens are high quality presents. :)

the hub: I guess we can discuss.  Need to figure out the logistics first...

Later that night:

the hub: so you want to get a cat?

me: eyes wide open, speechless and nodding.

the hub: well, first you have to figure out who's going to take care of it cuz you know how the kids are.

me:  (Instantly) I will.

the hub: okay, where are you going to put the litterbox? Our house is pretty small you know.

me: ????
Five minutes of dead silence follows as Angie tries to figure out where to put the litterbox.

me: Well, I'll figure it out and let you know.

Yep, I've lost my head. I've wanted a cat for soooo long, and with the hub always saying no, I was getting kind of mad, like I'm 36 frickin' years old. If I want a cat, then I'm going to get a cat!! BUT he has a good point. Where would we put the stupid litterbox? Not the kitchen - no space, and ew.. Not the dining room. Same reason. Not the bathroom - our bathroom is so small you can't have two people in there without tripping over each other. Not the kids' closets because although they're full of junk right now, they'll eventually be used for clothes and I don't want Carissa to be upset in 8 years when her clothes closet smells like TidyCat. Not the front hall closet, you can barely open it now. And... not the basement because our basement door is right when you come into the house (about two feet from the back door) and it can't be left open because it's too dangerous. So that leaves what???? Then I look around our house and see the tons and tons and tons of paper strewn across the dining room table and the toys everywhere and the mountains of socks thrown all over the floor (what is it with boys and throwing socks??). And... now I'm starting to see why the hub doesn't want another pet. I'm beginning to wonder if it was just the idea that he wouldn't agree to it that was driving the need because now that he's finally said yes (or maybe), I'm not as excited as I was. What gives?

I'm up for ideas on where to put a litterbox if anyone has them. Or tips on how to keep the house clean because I'm getting rather tired of it. Every weekend is the same thing - clean clean clean. And by Monday evening it's a huge mess again. I don't know how my mother did it. Then again she didn't work and she LOVED cleaning. Me? NOT!!

I promise I'll post on something actually writing related next time. I did have a post going, but I need to think it out some more, and babbling is my specialty. Have a good weekend everyone!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

RTW - something completely crazy

I don't normally participate in RTW - just got too much stuff to do, but for a copy of Kirsten Hubbard's Like Mandarin, I'd do anything, even share my crazy moment. So for those who don't know, RTW (road trip wednesday) is a weekly meme over on YA highway, and this week they're letting those who participate get an extra entry for the Like Mandarin giveaway. This book sounds so good, a bad girl influencing a good girl to do something crazy like run away? I gots to have it.

So here's my crazy moment: When I was a freshman in college, I met a guy online. We talked like crazy for two months and became real good friends, but we both thought it could be something more. So that spring he decided to visit me at my dorm. Spent a whole weekend with me and yeah, became my boyfriend. So that probably wasn't the crazy part. The craziness came when I decided to spend the summer with him in Florida after having met him in person only once. I didn't have much money - heck neither of us did. And I didn't have a job either, but I was planning on going back to MN in the fall to start school. I thought, well it's just a vacation. I did get a job there and we did go on a lot of trips - Disneyland, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa Bay, we even took a 4 day road trip to Washington DC for his friend's wedding. But when fall came around I was too sad to leave. I had fallen for him, big time, and after a failed two weeks of living on my own in Minneapolis, I canceled all my classes and hopped back on the plane for Florida. We got married four months later on January 5th, 1994. And yes, we're still together.

So, that's my moment (or months maybe) of craziness. What about you??

Monday, November 15, 2010

Blog award and snow!!!

Snow! Yes, folks we got hit by a snowstorm here in Saint Paul, so I'm sharing photos of the mess. It's started to melt already and that's caused ice build up everywhere. Although I'm not as upset as my neighbors probably are - they started re-roofing their house on Friday before the storm hit and I'm pretty sure they didn't get it done. In all we got about 7 inches, but other parts of the metro got dumped on and lost power. We did lose our internet connection for most of Saturday night, and I felt a little lost, but it gave me time to read. I finished Twenty Boy Summer and Blue Fire - both really good. As far as writing is concerned, I did manage to read through NW in its entirety and marked up places where I need to add things. And my pictures that I showed on my last blog post did the trick (somewhat) I got a few ideas for scenes that I'll be adding over the next couple weeks.

But on to more fun stuff - blog awards!! I got this one from my blogger/writer friend, Joann. I'm supposed to tell you ten things about myself and given the title of the award, I'm thinking they all have to be true (as Nikki would say, Bugger!). So here we go:

1. I was a big crybaby in elementary school. I cried almost every single day of Kindergarten and all the kids made fun of me. I think that's where my initial shyness came from and it's taken me a long time to get over that. Even now at 36, I still get really cold feet when it comes to some social situations.

2. My sister gave me the nickname Annie Kae when I was little and I hated it!!! Maybe that explains why I scribbled all over her track ribbons. Revenge is so sweet when you're six.

3. I have two sisters who I love dearly and one brother who I haven't seen for nearly ten years. He cut himself off from the family for reasons none of us understand, and I only hear about him when he calls my mom, which he only does once a year.

4. I've had pets all my life, but since our dog died 18 months ago this has been the longest that I've gone without a pet. I'm trying to convince my husband to get a cat, and if it doesn't happen soon...well, I don't know who's going to be more unhappy, him or me.

5. I have three beautiful kids who each have a Chinese name, the first part of which is the same: Jiaji, JiaMei, and JiaXiang. Jia = home. And their grandmother gave them their Chinese names.

6. I got married on January 5th, 1994, but we didn't have our wedding until December of 1995. And no, it wasn't a shotgun deal, we just didn't have the money. :)

7. When I was about 8 years old I was convinced I was going to go to hell because I hadn't been baptized, and I asked my mother for Christmas if they would please, please baptize me. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

8. I prefer pie to cake. Preferably something tart like mixed berry.

9. I haven't had a tv show that I've been seriously into for about two years now, and honestly I don't miss it at all.

10. Being that this is the last thing on the list, I thought I'd do a run-down of my addictions:

b. Writing
c. daytrading, though I haven't done it for about two years now. I really seriously have an addiction here - I had to put a sticky on my computer that said DO NOT DAYTRADE  in big letters and for those first few weeks it was really hard to resist. And it's kind of like drinking or gambling, once you take that one trade, you feel like you have to keep doing it until you fall over drunk (er...until the market closes).

d. Bengal Spice tea from Celestial Seasonings - I'm out of it right now and I'm having serious withdrawal issues.
e. my flat iron - this addiction started this summer when I finally realized how well it works. I hate my wavy hair. It gets all frizzy and looks horrible, but since the flat iron epiphany I've been hair happy!! I won't even travel without it now.
 f. daydreaming - this has been a long standing addiction. Either making up stories and daydreaming or just thinking about the future, I've always, always been a big daydreamer. I've come to realize it's an addiction, but not one I'm likely to give up now that I've found an outlet for it in writing. :)

KO, Cheyenne, and Marieke - tag, you're it!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Characters - my new obsession

When I started writing Nikki's Wish over a year ago, I wasn't all that interested in characters. I was interested in plot. Something unique was going to happen - a guy jumping off a skyscraper and surviving is kind of unique (or at least I hope it is). Then I went about crafting how I was going to explain that and before long a story was born with a girl, a genie, an evil master and a few other supporting cast members. I wrote the story. I had a few people read it, and in the meantime I was reading a lot more myself. I got comments back, and one of those really stood out to me. It was Nomes who picked apart my characters one at a time and made me realize just how important the characters are to a story, and yes, I've been obsessing about that ever since.

I don't want to write a book that's just about plot. I want my characters to stand out, for people to remember them. I've read a lot this year and I can tell you that the books that have really stood out to me are those that made me cry a little. I have this fantasy now that I can make my readers burst into tears, and by far the best way to do that is through character development. I've spent the past 4 months working on this, but folks, I've gotten stuck!! I fixed Nikki's mother - she's not quite so much the helicopter mom now. I gave Kay some perky new lines and I deleted one character that didn't stand out at all. And yes, I even gave the wicked witch of the Gin some empathy. But now comes the biggie. The sis. Shani. Shani is dead and that makes her character far more challenging than the rest. All of her lines come from imagined conversations between her and Nikki, and some of those don't necessarily showcase Shani's true thoughts or feelings. They're in Nikki's voice, in her head, and given that Nikki's harboring a bit of guilt over her sister's death, she's not going to be entirely reliable. But getting back to this whole "I want to make the reader" cry bit, it's this relationship between Nikki and Shani where I really need to hit my reader in the gut. I need to incorporate sweet remembrances with beautiful writing so when Nikki finally starts to deal with her grief, the reader will feel it. And this friends, is where I'm stuck. I try to imagine these scenes, I try to think of words exchanged with my own siblings to make this relationship come to life, but I'm just not there yet. I can't see it.

Now I'm not saying that what I have so far is bad. It isn't. I just don't think it's tear-worthy and that's the goal I'm striving for. So I've been thinking to myself, maybe if I do some character profiles and flip through some really great photography, then inspiration will hit me. So the character profiles will be forth coming in the next week, but this is a quick flip through some photographs I found.

I love the girls reading together here. 
My older sister used to read to me ALL the time.

 This one just feels fun to me.

Anything with the beach is noteworthy.

This is just too cute.

 I love the offbeat feeling to this. I'm not sure about the girl in the background, 
but I could totally see Nikki knocking around with a guitar.

Secrets! Secrets! Secrets!

I feel like a prince is about to ride through that 
forest any minute now. Sam? Where are you??

I can totally see Nikki and Shani doing this, especially
with the stocking caps. Minnesota = Brrr...

This feels straight out of the book with the lake and all.

 I LOVE this one. I have a feeling it's illegal to put it up here 
(see that little name at the bottom??), or even that it might be from a movie???
But yeah, I can totally see the sisters talking it out in the bathtub.

This one freaked me out when I first saw it. 
The girl on the right looks like a ghost, which is sooo perfect for the story.
 I just keep looking at it, trying to figure out how the photographer did that. Photoshop?
Anyway, it's gorgeous.

That's all for now. Have a good weekend!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review - Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Goodreads review: Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers. 

First, the characters: 

Hannah. Oh my. If there were ever a dislikeable character it's Hannah. I mean she's already dead, her classmates are probably reeling from her suicide, and then she goes and lays the blame on others, thirteen others to be exact. How would you feel if you were one of the "lucky" thirteen? Me? I would have retreated to my bedroom for weeks. And then I would have gotten mad. Who the hell does Hannah think she is to blame other people for her personal problems? I tell you guys, I had a huge knot in my stomach the whole time I was reading Thirteen Reasons Why because in some sense you do get to feel what it's like to be that person. Hannah is not a strong character, folks. She makes us hate her. First for dishing on my man, Clay, but more importantly because she's a quitter. Everyone loves a hero. No one likes a quitter.  Especially not a quitter who blames others for their quitting. Now, if you're a person who has to like your characters in order to like the story itself, this book may not be for you. No, wait, did I say that? My bad. What I meant to say is that this book IS for you. The unlikeable character has popped up in some of the best books I've read - Speak from Laurie Halse Anderson and Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers to name a few. If you're avoiding books like these because of the unlikeable character, then you're missing out. Let's face it, no one is 100% likeable, but everyone has a story to tell (or at least characters in stories do). When we read stories like these we start to think that we can understand people, even those people we don't like, and that is so, so important.  So don't turn your head from this book because of Hannah's character. Read it anyway and see if you don't come to the same conclusion that I did, that this story is amazing

Clay - Clay's character was essential to this book. Because Hannah is so unlikeable and because the subject matter of teen suicide is so depressing, readers will tend to shy away from this story. But the addition of Clay as one of the thirteen was pure brilliance on writer, Jay Asher's, part. There's an immediate set up here where we see a normal guy who thinks he's got no reason to be on that list, and the reader becomes immediately curious, wondering what the heck he did. I kept thinking to myself, no way is anyone that nice. Clay must have done something really bad and he just doesn't want to admit it. And then I'd think, no it was just a mistake. He doesn't really belong on the list. As the misdeeds of the thirteen become more and more deviant, (not sure if that's the right word here) I became more anxious to see where Clay fit in. I won't tell you what he actually did, but take note my fellow writers - this is a brilliant way to hook the reader.

The other twelve - they're sitting around you, gossiping in the lunchroom, bragging at their lockers. Or if you're past that stage, maybe they're the ones sucking up to the boss, making a fuss over a wrong order at Starbucks or just generally reminding you that sometimes people really suck. Think I'm being snarky? Well, I'm not. These characters could be the person sitting next to you, they could be you. Okay, maybe not you, you. All of my readers are very sweet, generous people. :) I'm sure none of you are as bad as #11 or #4 on Hannah's list, but the idea is that even the little things people do can have a huge impact on someone else's life. You never know how something you say or do might affect someone else. It's a little telling that I've forgotten the names of the other twelve accusees because ultimately who they were wasn't all that important. It was who they represented - everyone.

Some may say that Thirteen Reasons Why is kind of preachy, and yes, there is definitely a message there, but it's delivered in an engaging manner. It's also a very important message. I was speaking to a neighbor just the other day and learned that a young girl, just 14 years old, committed suicide in our neighborhood. I didn't know the family, but it made me so sad that someone could be so depressed at that age. My neighbor has daughters of her own and so I recommended this book for her girls. I don't think that it will help them to recognize the signs of severe depression. This isn't exactly that type of book, and there are websites for that (see below). But I think it will help them, and hopefully other readers, to see that just being nice to people can have a huge impact. I think every young adult can handle that reminder. Heck, I think every adult can handle that reminder, and that's why I'm giving Thirteen Reasons Why 5 stars.

Other things to love/hate about the book:

1. The writing is very dry, cut-to-the-chase style writing. There were no real moments where I paused to reflect on the beauty of the prose. Which is fine because it's the story and the message that really carries the book.

2. Along with not liking Hannah's character, there was one part of the book that I felt went a little over the top, as if Asher felt he had to add just one more reason why Hannah would do what she did. I thought it was unnecessary for two reasons: 1. the delivery just wasn't there. It didn't make me understand Hannah better and the way the scene was done didn't invoke the right feeling that it should have. 2. Sometimes it's not these big things that lead one down that road. Teens and adults can commit suicide for reasons that appear very minor to the rest of us. Part of the story as a whole was how things built up and up in Hannah's head/world. Losing that final thing wouldn't have made Hannah's ordeal any less significant, at least in my opinion. Sorry if I'm going off on a tangent here, but once you read it I think you'll know what I'm talking about.

3. My edition has an interview with Asher in the back where he talks about how he got the idea for Thirteen Reasons and why he added certain things, like using old-fashioned audio tapes instead of CDs for the actual recording of Hannah's voice. He talks about how when you use outdated objects in a contemporary novel how that negates the concept of "dating". I really liked this idea - although I probably won't turn Sam's Aston Martin into a '69 Cadillac. Just so you know. :)

Jay Asher's website:
National Suicide Hotline 1-800- SUICIDE
Signs of severe depression in teens
Facts about teen suicide and prevention

I haven't read any other books on teen suicide since I've began my foray into YA, but if you have any recommendations, let me know and I'll add a link!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Suspension of disbelief - when it works and when it doesn't.

So I finished up a book last night that really made me want to throw it against the wall, and although I thought of doing a scathing review, I've decided against it. I don't think anyone should waste their time reading the book, but I also don't want to turn into basher. Although, if you're really curious about what book I'm referring to, you could go to my 2010 book list and figure it out. But having read this book, and a few others recently that also had me doing the wagly eyebrow thing, I decided to do a post on suspension of disbelief. More precisely I want to give those writing sci-fi or paranormal books some advice - from a scientist's point of view.

A little about my background: If you don't already know, I have a PHD in cellular, molecular biology and genetics. I currently work with plants, but I did my thesis on a multicellular organism, a nematode. I know the basics of physiology, developmental biology and gene therapy. On the writer's side, I write paranormal young adult. I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, but I do like some dystopian stuff. I loved Jurassic Park, both the book and the movie. Now, given my background, you would probably think I'd be the perfect person to write sci-fi. You'd be wrong.  I have the scientist's hang up of having to make sure that every claim I make is backed up by scientific reason and experimental data. I cringe at the thought of publishing something (scientific) and then being wrong, and I can't get over that hang up when I'm writing fiction. I'd rather write something that is totally unexplainable (like angels) and admit that it is unexplainable as opposed to creating some human-feline hybrid straight from Dr. Moreaus' garden and have every scientist I know shake their heads at the implausibility. It would be embarrassing, and I would feel like I was letting the scientific community down. So this post is not really written from a sci-fi writer's perspective, but more from the perspective of a writer who knows a bit about science.

My thoughts on the combination of science and suspension of disbelief boils down to three guidelines:

1. Do not feel obligated to include a scientific explanation for your paranormal creature just because you think it's cool, the thing to do, or will attract readers. In most cases it won't. Unless you really know what you're talking about and unless you really have a plausible explanation for what your creature is or does, you're just going to sound like a ninny.

Examples: In The Time Traveler's Wife, there's a part where the MC goes to see a geneticist about his time-traveling abilities and the scientist creates a time-traveling transgenic mouse based on what he's discovered. Now on the surface, this sounds neat. A time-traveling mouse? How cool is that? Every researcher I know would love to get their hands on that rodent. Niffenegger even goes into details about the various genes that are altered to produce this mouse, genes that are involved in circadian rhythms and are known in the scientific world as the "clock" genes. Seems like a perfect fit, right? WRONG!!! So, so wrong. Biology (and genetics in particular) cannot explain time travel. Physics can attempt to explain time travel. Anyone who understands basic science could tell you that this is the route to go if you're going to get into the details of it, and it's this that boggles my mind. Why did Niffenegger incorporate biology and genetics into her explanation? It makes no sense. A simple Google search with the words "theories of time travel" would have set Niffenegger on the right path, but obviously she didn't do this. Which makes me think that she just threw this biology/genetics angle in to look cool. Here's a question: Did the addition of this affect the book at all? The TTW is a NYT bestseller and literary in nature. There was no reason to include any scientific explanation at all, and it detracted from the bigger plot which was really good. So, it would have done well without it, and if anything it knocked it down a few degrees, at least for this reader and I think for many others. Even though it was a NYT bestseller, Niffengger had no idea it would be so successful; it was her first novel. So this brings up a bigger question: If you were Niffeneggar and you had no idea how successful your novel was going to be, would you take the risk of making yourself look silly when it's unnecessary? I would hope the answer is no.

One of the reasons I'm making this point is that I see this all the time in novels, on the SYW boards, and in query letters. People throw up words like genes and mutants thinking it will make their novel look sexier, but it's not scientific terms that sell your story. The thing that sells your story is a good plot with high stakes and memorable characters. You don't need big scientific explanations, unless you're writing sci-fi and if you are, then you'd better do your best to align your creative genius with scientific fact. Which brings me to guideline number 2....

2. Less is more. If you don't completely understand how something works, then don't try to incorporate every aspect of that science into your novel and explain it. Keep it simple. Accurate, but simple. Think small stretches of the imagination.

Example: Jurassic Park. Classic movie, wonderful book. Plausible? No. But with a simple stretch of the imagination we could maybe, possibly, sometime in the far far future, see something like it. Crighton kept things simple. He based his thriller on concepts that nearly every high schooler had learned in biology class. Mosquitoes drink blood, they were around in the time of the dinosaurs, therefore they could have had dino blood in their tummies and could possibly have been caught in honey or tree sap and gotten stuck there for future generations to find as amber and then extract the dinosaur DNA.  A person who had taken 8th grade biology would buy this and of course, most of the world did. Now for the record, even Crighton's simple explanation had flaws. Red blood cells actually do not contain DNA (they don't have nuclei) and the quantities of white blood cells in blood is fairly low, not enough to extract significant amounts of DNA from. Furthermore, the blood would have begun to degrade as soon as it hit that mosquito's stomach so it's unlikely that a good deal of intact cells would have been extracted in any case. Finally, you can't simply mix DNA from a dinosaur with that of another creature (they used frogs in the book) and expect to get an intact creature out of it. Not going to happen. There are a whole list of other things that Jurassic Park got wrong, and if you're interested I encourage you to check out the book The Science of Jurassic Park by David Lindley. It's a fascinating book that I read about 10 years ago that goes through nearly every step in the process of making a dinosaur, and while I admit I haven't researched to see if advancements have been made in the past 10 years, my guess would be that it's still pretty accurate.

The point here is that Crichton simplified things as best as he could, enough to make sense to the layman, but not so much that everyone noticed what he got wrong. Of course, some people did say that it was impossible, but there was enough there to get people (even scientists) thinking about it, enough to write books about it and begin to look into other possibilities. Mammoth DNA has been extracted, sequenced, and mammoth hemoglobin made in E. coli cells. This is far cry from resurrecting an entire species, but could it set us on the path? Maybe.

To look at an example where adding too much detail kills the concept: Okay, I'm going to talk a little about the book I read last night without giving away the title. Sorry guys, can't help myself. In this book, the MC finds out she's a fairy and that she is in fact a plant. Okay, that's kind of hard to buy, given that she looked human for most of her life, but let's assume that the reader was willing to accept that. If the author had stopped there, heck maybe I would have even let my suspension of disbelief suspend a little longer, but the author didn't stop there. She had to get technical and try to explain it in scientific terms - she had the MC's friend look at her cells under a microscope and whoa - her cells were shaped like plant cells and they had cell walls (note in the book it also says that animal cells have cell walls, only thinner. Okay, whatever.) Then the author delves even further into disgrace when she has the MC bleed a colorless sap (for the first time in her life at age 15) and she has her realize that she doesn't have a heartbeat or a heart (again for the first time in her life????). There's more, but I'll stop there because you get the point. By trying to delve into the science of it, it just came out as silly and unbelievable. Point is, with less information the author could have saved herself the trouble of looking like an idiot and then the reader at least could have stopped paying attention to her ridiculous theories and just enjoyed the story. And this brings me to my final point...

3. Story is and always will be the key. If the story is good and the writing top-notch, then readers will forgive you for being a little too creative with your science. It happens time and again. It happened for me recently with The Hunger Games. I loved, loved, Collin's explanation about the mockingjays and how they were bred and how they mated with the common bluejay(?) to become the mockingjays in the story. That was superb scientific thinking  - and accurate. The trackerjackers were also neat. But then...then she got to the mutts. As soon as I read about the monsters attacking that looked like the other contestants, I was sighing because let's face it, you can't breed a half-human half-dog "thing" within the one (two?) weeks in which the hunger games occurred. There's a little thing called development that an animal has to go through and this is a time-consuming process (along with the molecular biology which generally takes awhile) so at that point my thoughts about the science in THG changed. BUT, and this is the point here, the story was good enough that I was willing to overlook this and keep reading. In fact, the story was good enough for me to ignore other things (see thread here) that were less than plausible and even buy book 2 and 3. It's much the same concept as plot holes. As readers, if the story is good and the characters engaging, then we'll overlook areas where the plot doesn't make sense. But having that good story and good writing is the key. With that fairy example I gave, the writing was not very good. The characters were dull, the dialogue was boring and the book moved painfully slow (nothing happens for the first 4 chapters), so when she started sprouting her theories about people being plants, I just wasn't in the mood to buy it. And I didn't.

The question comes down to this: how do you know just how successful your story will be? How do you know that your writing is more superb than a dozen others? How do you know that you've written a bestseller and your reader will overlook your mistakes? You don't. It's that simple. Unless you've already beta tested it with 100+ readers, or unless you're already an established author with a huge following, you can't possibly know how forgiving your reader is going to be. So my advice is to be cautious. Focus on writing a good story with compelling characters, not on adding sexy scientific words or theories that will just have your readers shaking their heads. And if you must add a lot of scientific explanation, make sure that you really know what you're talking about or pass it by someone who does first. I love discussing book ideas and I'm open for questions if you want some professional (scientific) input.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Review - Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Goodreads summary:
Weird as it is working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, Evie's always thought of herself as normal. Sure, her best friend is a mermaid, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals' glamours, but still. Normal.

Only now paranormals are dying, and Evie's dreams are filled with haunting voices and mysterious prophecies. She soon realizes that there may be a link between her abilities and the sudden rash of deaths. Not only that, but she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures. 

Warning: Mild Spoilers. After reading several reviews on Kiersten White's debut novel, I expected great things. A girl who arrests vampires with a pink and rhinestone studded taser named Tasey? Sounds awesome. But the delivery wasn't all there, for me at least. With that description, I was expecting a girl with Buffy-like attitude and moves, and while the attitude was killer, the moves definitely weren't. What does Evie do the minute she encounters 20 vamps at once? She calls for a fairy to save her - the same fairy who's been giving her nightmares and wants to "fill" her. Yeah, not too smart. Not that I expected Evie to win every encounter, but there are really only one or two scenes in the whole book where she shows her battle side. The rest of the time she's fainting over her TV crush, shopping and mooning over how much she wants to be normal. Now I'm not saying that I disliked Evie's character completely. I was glad she resisted the fairy who was trying to control her and I was proud of Kiersten White for not going the route of MC crushing over hunky stalker guy. But, I guess that I just expected more after all the hype. 

The other thing that got to me was the way that the tension fell flat in the middle of the story.  Instead of working to keep the tension really high, White deflates it by having Evie do what? Go to high school. I get that a big part of the book was about Evie's quest to be normal, but it just seemed a little strange that while there's this killer on the loose and she's connected to it somehow that she would be out shopping and hanging with her new friends.

Things that I really liked about the story:

1. Lend's character was awesome and definitely crush-worthy. He was mysterious at first, and then just plain cute. I liked the way White emphasized the uniqueness of his shapeshifter abilities and Evies' reaction every time he changed. That was very insightful and well done. 
2. The voice is also well done and carries much of the story. There were some great lines there.
3. Every paranormal author invents their own interpretations about paranormal creatures such as vampires and werewolves, and I really liked the way White saw them and how she explains things.

Overall the writing was effective and the plot was inventive. The MC was just not exactly what I expected given all the hype. Finally, for those who are expecting sexy scenes or even a bit of edginess, beware, this book is very PG. Not a bad thing, just saying. Final score: 3 stars. 



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