Monday, January 31, 2011


So so so so so SO made up we have signed this guy. Also overpaid a bit for this titan.

More writerly things to come soon probably. Sekrit planz are in motion for the spring at least. (Okay maybe not that sekrit. But they are definitely planz)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Actually reviewing a book instead of Doctor Who

I was asked by Mia to review this when I told her I bought Paper Towns, and because it’s a book she has yet to read but is seriously looking forward to I was also asked to keep it relatively spoiler free so I’ve done my best in that respect.

Still, I feel it’s important to give a brief overview of the story, so limiting to basically what the back cover tells you, here’s the nutshell: Quentin (protag) and his next door neighbour, Margo Roth Spiegelman, are pretty good friends as little ones but jump cut to high school and they don’t really hang out anymore and also he is totally crushing on her. She shows up at his window one night, hijinks and hilarity ensue, and then suddenly she disappears and leaves behind a string of clues for Q to follow.

Ordinarily I hate drawing comparisons between authors, but one thought which popped into my head early on was that John Green is like Terrance Dicks. The more I think about it the more I realise that comparison doesn’t really work particularly well, but it refuses to leave my mind. About the only point I can’t find examples that shatter the comparison would be the fact that both authors have a really, seriously addictive voice, or writing style, or whatever you want to call it. Even if nothing in particular is going on, I found myself wholly engaged and not wanting to put the book down. Even in the very early stages of the book I was hooked, which outside of Terrance Dicks happens very rarely for me. So I think that’s probably where my mind is drawing that comparison from.

I think the weakest point of the book is the prologue. It’s not dull per se, but it somehow lacks the same captivating quality as the rest of the book. I paused once during the prologue and set the book down briefly after reading it to do other things, mostly because transatlantic flights are long and I didn’t want to breeze through it so quickly. When I got to the first chapter proper, I was hooked from the first sentence and no longer cared if I finished the book before my flight was over (I didn’t finish it). I’m not sure why this is. Reading it back again it still strikes as being just...less than the rest of the narrative if that makes sense, but it’s still well written and while not exactly pivotal, is important to the rest of the narrative, so no skipsies.

The mystery is a bit grand and at times one has to wonder just how much time was spent preparing certain steps of it (from an in-universe perspective, I mean), but it still comes across as something which could conceivably be done. It’s easy to see why this book won an Edgar. It’s not a mystery in the sense that as with Agatha Christie or some of Conan Doyle one is veritably invited to attempt to solve the mystery first, but the mystery here is well constructed and if a lot of thought didn’t go into planning it, then someone please make sure John Green never turns to a life of crime, because I am afraid of his mystery-on-the-fly abilities. I doubt this is the case though.

Also to his credit, as noted above, it comes across very naturally; like a high school senior really could pull this off. I read a lot of crime fiction and while I’ve read some mighty good mysteries, often times even the best ones require a lot more suspension of disbelief than this does.

There is a moment which I’m tempted to say is early on but looking at it it’s actually a decent way into the book, but anyway, there is a moment where the narrative briefly switches to present tense. I found it mildly jarring for the first sentence or two, and had it happened earlier in the book I would probably label it as a bit random, but by this point there’s enough book behind us to know that this is done very, incredibly deliberately and certainly very effectively. Not to say that the section cannot be pulled off in past tense, but present gives it just a little extra oomph.

The characters, too, are handled very well. They all feel real and the majority of them are three dimensional. Those that aren’t are properly more flat, because why should the somewhat nerdy kid have an accurate picture of the people who like to make his life hell? Not all of the characters are inherently likable either, which is a wise touch. I don’t read a lot of YA but of what I had read there’s a bit of a trend to make the hero and his/her friends tres likable, and honestly if these characters were real I can think of one of the protag’s friends I would probably want to punch in the face, which is how it can get with friends sometimes.

I have to say I wasn’t expecting John Green to be this good. I didn’t expect him to be bad by any means, and while I’m not in love with his writing to the point that I feel compelled to run out and buy everything he’s ever written threefold I did enjoy it immensely. Would I feel the same had Looking for Alaska or An Abundance of Katherines been the one closest to me as I walked through the YA section to get to the cash register and pay for the two books I had actually intended to buy? Hard to say. Certainly I think I would still be really engrossed in the books because his writing is seriously that addictive, but I think maybe the fact that this one was a mystery also added a bit of fuel to my gunning through it like a steam engine that’s been injected with cocaine, if that bizarre simile were somehow actually possible.

Definitely worth picking it up if you haven’t already.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Writing Places

I know a lot of people have specific places they either deliberately set aside to do their writing or just tend to end up doing a lot of their writing in, but today I've been thinking about my own writing places and why these seem to be linked to my stories.

Over winter break I churned out a lot of work on my current WIP (largely thanks to some incredibly simple advice from a wonderful friend), and one thing I'd never really noticed was that when I was doing all of this churning I was writing in my room, sitting on the floor. When I wrote downstairs or in my living room, I could still write but I found myself writing significantly less and liking little to none of it. Thus far today I've only done some 283 words, but 219 of those came fast and very naturally. Those 219 words were written while I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom. I've done the remaining words since moving to the living room, and they feel forced and in need of swift deletion.

And this, specifically, is what set me thinking about my past writings. I started writing the Ian Goodenough stories here on this sofa, but I didn't hit the form I liked until I was in the library of my high school, last autumn. Every Goodenough story I've written since I graduated feels wrong. Not awful and in need of deletion, just not quite right either.

I started out writing the Jack Walker story at my typewriter, but found no matter how I approached it I hated it. I moved to the other end of the living room and suddenly, though, I managed to write 183 pages of story in the span of three months.

I have no idea why these relationships exist. I have no idea why my mind seems to think I can only write a certain story in a certain place. But now I'm wondering if I'm just crazy, or if other people get like this as well. Not that they set aside a separate room for writing, but that they absolutely cannot write outside of that room, no matter how hard they may try.

Am I nuts?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Link

Originally, I was planning on writing a post about platitudes that tend to come up a lot when discussing writing and why they annoy me. My brain today is like FZZZZT, though, and incapable of expressing why they annoy me beyond "they just do" so this idea will go on hold.

Then Mia pointed me in the direction of something interesting and I considered doing a post with my thoughts about this, but I feel like in my current FZZT state of mind and with some people already having their panties in a bunch, it would not end well. So perhaps another time, when my brain is more rested.

Then, I'm not sure how, I stumbled upon this. It may not be anything particularly new or revolutionary, but I like it nonetheless.

So enjoy, readers, while my brain recharges.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Left Field is the Best Field

It's one of those rare days in Scotland where the weather is not totally unpleasant. As I've been in transit to places today, when not busy talking to friends or geeking out over the fact that Ian Rankin has a twitter, I've been giving thought to conflicts in stories, partially because of real life and partially because I feel like I have basically just been piling things randomly onto my protagonist in my current story.

In fact, that's something which has been driving me crazy for a while. I know what the main conflict is, I've been sowing the seeds, but you can't just hop right to it in the first few pages. So to compensate, I've been throwing up different troubles. None of them really random, per se, and all of them are still connected to the nature of the universe. Most are even tied to the main conflict (there is one subplot in there), but I still can't escape the feeling that they're random because, well, they are. I'll be sitting typing and just decide "Let's have X suddenly happen".

Today, however, has given me a new perspective on this issue, and although I can't say I still approve of my "let's have X suddenly happen" strategy, I am much more accepting of it.

I'll avoid specifics because you neither need nor deserve to hear me whinge about my life, but this trip has had one big undercurrent of conflict, and all of it has come out of left field. Today's came especially out of left field. And if you think about it, that's the way it always seems to work. Not to say that some issues in life don't grow naturally, but it's not hard to imagine someone at a typewriter saying "let's have X suddenly happen" and lo it does.

So thanks, world, for helping me feel better about my writing strategies. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a train to catch.

Monday, January 10, 2011

In which an idea with regards to titles made a U-turn

Samuel Clemens once said "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

This is just as true of titles as it is of the narrative, and in some cases the right title may be even be more important.

The trouble is, coming up with the right words for a title can be hard. Really hard. Rarely is it like the prose, where the perfect words seem to just tumble out of the aether and onto the page.

I think part of the problem is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to titles beyond "it has to fit the narrative". You wouldn't call a book about a zombie uprising Buttercups & Kumquats unless that sheer randomness somehow worked with the narrative.

I realize, of course, the title you have now may not be the one it ends up with by the time you've gone through everything, but that doesn't make it any less important right now.

So what makes for a good title?

As noted above, a good title generally shares a theme with the story. The last Hercule Poirot novel was titled Curtain and the last Rebus novel was titled Exit Music, both fitting the "end of a series" thing rather nicely.

But sometimes the fit isn't quite so blatant. Think about the Twilight series for a moment. Now think about each of those titles in relation to their content. Each title still fits the narrative seamlessly, even if you wouldn't be able to guess it just by looking at the titles (okay, Breaking Dawn may or may not be an odd duckling).

Sometimes, though, a title doesn't match the narrative like that. Not really. Pick and choose a Harry Potter title. It's telling us what the story, or at least a key element of it, is rather blatantly. Plenty of books are named simply for characters, e.g. Eragon or Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

When I first brought this idea up in December, I was planning on doing a series of posts about titles. The more I think about it, though, the more I realise a series would just be unnecessary padding.

I can go on all day about any titles you want and find threads that link them all in some sort of pattern.

The truth is there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to titles.

Except one.

A title is your narrative. Snappy, long-winded, thematic, eponymous, they all fit their contents just as perfectly as any of the words inside fits the story perfectly. Finding the right word can be difficult. It can be difficult in the narrative and it can be super extra difficult for the title.

Now, your prose isn't perfect. If it were, we wouldn't need editors. But trust in whatever part of your mind gave you that prose, and you'll have the perfect title. The title is just can extension of your prose. An extra word or eleven at the beginning of your story.

Choosing the right word is the difference between the lightning and a lightning bug.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sometimes you've just got to throw caution to the wind

We all get stuck every once in a while. It’s bound to happen in any walk of life, but especially in endeavours that require a bit more thought. Usually a little bit of downtime and a nice cup of tea sorts things out, but sometimes we just can’t dislodge ourselves so easily.

You can do what I usually do. You can sit down and have a think and let your stuck-ness depress you until kick a kitten* or two** and you feel better.

Or you can fold your arms behind your back and jump over the precipice.

Writing can be tricky business at the best of times, and we all have our own different styles. Some people like to outline every last little thing and then expand their bullets into prose. Some people are such über pantsers you can’t help but wonder just how they do anything. And some of us try to find some sort of middle ground between the two.

Sometimes, though, when you’re stuck, sticking to your usual routines will just exacerbate the situation. Sometimes you’ve just got to throw caution into the wind and hope you come through mostly unharmed.

This can mean piling into the back of an Austin Maestro with a group of your friends and going on a road trip until there just isn’t any more road to follow.

It could mean forgetting about your outline for a minute and just typing the first words that pop into your mind, no matter how bad or disjointed they may seem compared to the rest of the narrative.

Or it could mean setting aside your current project for a little while and trying something new.

Sometimes, your mind does not know what is best for you. Sometimes you’ve got to learn to ignore that little voice and trust your stomach, or the Fates, or whatever else.

It’s important to not turn off the voice, however. There’s a reason it exists, and sometimes when it tells you not to turn up at your friend’s at two in the morning to let them know you love them, it has a very good point. You just have to learn to distinguish between when the voice needs ignoring, and when it may be worth heeding.

Ultimately, a story is not yours. It is its own being. Trust it and it will deliver you to the appropriate end, no matter what your best judgments may say.

*Don’t actually kick a kitten. That’s mean.
**Don’t kick two kittens either. That’s just doubly mean.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I can't believe I got talked into this

But I did. So, here's my entry for the No Kiss Blogfest thingamajig.


Richard hated moments like these. Those times when you nearly walked into someone, apologized, and moved to the right, only for them to do the same. Only this time was worse. This time he wasn’t trying to walk around someone, he was trying to hug them, and instead of pulling in the same direction, they both ducked off to total opposite sides so that if they had brought their arms up, they only would have been met with air. Trying to walk around someone was awkward enough, but this was just embarrassing. Hugging was a simple thing, and yet here they were on trial number four, and still had not found one another. Technically Catherine was just as much at fault for the current predicament as he was, in a way, but that wasn’t registering right now. Right now ninety percent of his brain was contemplating how stupid he was, and the other ten percent was busy mulling over just how he could be so stupid.

She started for attempt number five and he hesitated, planning to watch which way she moved so this time it would come off, only for a fellow student to breeze right through the middle of them. Trying to hug in the middle of a hallway, not the best of plans. Trying to hug smack bang in front of the only doorway in and out of the classroom, that was so far beyond worthy of a dunce cap Richard didn’t have words to describe it. He let out a sort of awkward half-laugh, half-gibberish sound as he stepped just slightly forward, closer to her and freeing up enough space for people to get in and out of the room without interrupting their little two man awkward festival. She flashed a faint smile as she moved forward once again, and this time Richard forgot about waiting or, really, taking the smarter option and just hold still until she hugged him. Instead, he moved forward to hug her at precisely the same instant.

And before he fully realised it, his face was right there, not even millimetres away from hers. Forget about clichés like stopping time or time suddenly moving more slowly. It was still ticking away. The trouble was, his usually shoddy internal clock had been mended; perhaps a little too well, for he was now aware of every single second that ticked by, although he never bothered to count them. His mind was too busy focusing on what was in front of him. There, not even a moment away from his own, were her lips. He had noticed them a million times before, had noticed some of the more basic features, but his mind had never contemplated them like this before. They were thick, yes, but the right kind of thick. Not really plump, but certainly full-bodied. A rich sort of pinkish hue that almost could have been mistaken for lipstick, although she was in fact wearing none. They were lips whose sole purpose seemed to be that of kissing.

Suddenly Richard was no longer aware of his heart. It was as though a black hole had opened up behind him, sucking half his vital organs straight out and leaving his chest to cave in on itself slowly. A part of his mind winced at having just made such a probably overdone analogy, but at least at the moment, he couldn’t think of anything better. But, hang on, was he really going to? He brought eyes back up to lock with her own. It was impossible to read whatever was going on behind them, and from so close any picture painted by the face was invisible. He had liked her for a while now, almost as soon as they had met in fact, but was this really the best way to introduce those feelings? “Oh, hello Catherine, you were just trying to hug me and I totally just planted one on you because I think you’re amazing.” Real smooth there kiddo. There it was though, just right there. He could’ve had his mouth on hers before anyone even noticed him move. But would he really? It had to be getting close to time for class to begin, and what happened if the teacher came out and saw him trying to kiss her? He was already late to his own class just by walking her here. The added fun of trying to explain an attempted kiss was not needed.

He was about to pull away and just hug her when his mind froze. It certainly hadn’t been eons or even minutes since they had found themselves in this position, but it hadn’t been a split second either. Okay, okay, there was the initial freezing because holy crap this is awkward, but there was time past that. Enough time for her to back away and try to break the tension. Was her mind running through the same problems? He wanted to punch himself. What the hell was wrong with him? First he delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed on telling Catherine how he felt about her, and now here he was with the perfect opportunity to let her know in the most perfect (albeit maybe also a bit creepy) way possible, and he was just standing here. Well, no matter. He would remedy that problem in a moment. Richard tilted his neck ever-so-slightly more to the right and drew in a deep breath through his nose.

‘Frau Sellers, are you planning on joining us today?’

God. Frakking. Dammit. Catherine wrapped her arms around him quickly and then peeled away, picking up her backpack as she darted into the classroom. The old lady raised her eyebrows almost wryly as she pulled the door shut behind her, no doubt entirely aware of what she had just interrupted.