Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"How to Avoid Writing Your First Novel"--Lynn Rosen's Got it Right

Lynn Rosen wrote a great article today for the Huffington Post online--"How to Avoid Writing Your First Novel." It's a piece about getting published, or rather, about the fears one must overcome in order to get published or even to just write that first draft:

I am sitting in the comfy chair in my home library, a wonderful room with book-lined walls. Next to me on the side table is a cup of tea and before me, on the ottoman, is the book. It arrived in the mail several days ago, and I promptly took it upstairs and hid it in my sock drawer. Once I take it out of the bag, I thought, I must begin. So I stalled, and hid it from my husband, who would have innocently asked "what's in the package?" and "why don't you open it?"

The book I've been avoiding is a new book called Is Life Like This? A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months by John Dufresne. I read a listing for the book recently and was struck by its promise to help me craft a complete first draft of a novel in a mere six months. "Really?" I thought. "In six months? Even me? Can't be possible!" And yet, I was intrigued, for I had to admit, at least to myself (and now to you), that I have always wanted to write a novel.

For more than twenty years, I have worked in the book publishing industry both as an editor and a literary agent. I have helped many authors hone in on their topic and structure and develop their books, and I have held many hands through the stages of publication. As I helped these writers do the creative literary magic trick of making a book out of an idea, often they would ask me: "Why don'tyou write a book?" Over and over, I demurred, saying that I would, someday, when the perfect topic came to me. Perhaps I did harbor a dream of seeing my name in print on a glossy cover in stacks on a bookstore table, and perhaps this is what led me into the book publishing industry in the first place. But for the time being, I was content to edit.


But I am very afraid. I am not sure I am up to the task. No, let me rephrase that -- I am quite sure I am NOT up to the task, that I do not have the requisite talent to compose a work of fiction that deserves to be published and that others will wish to read. I'm totally intimidated by this idea. And that is why I have determined to do it.

As I get older, I'm starting to believe: figure out what frightens you most, and go there. So there I am going. And I am inviting you along on the journey. You, and John Dufresne's book, for somehow this is the writing guide that has captured me with its promise to take me from nothing to a complete first draft in six months.

Read the rest of Lynn's post HERE

I think Lynn has it right here. It's a scary thing to put your inner most thoughts and ideas down on paper, especially if someone else is expected to read it. I know many writers who struggle with the same things, myself included, and I think the "figure out what frightens you most, and go there" motto is a fantastic one.

Can you say new mantra?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Obama Gives a Nice Shout Out to Indie Bookseller

Health care and bookstores don't come up in a single discussion.

But in President Barack Obama's health care speech on Wednesday, March 24, the two went together like peas and carrots.

Publisher's Lunch reports:

Iowa City independent bookstore Prairie Lights was vaulted into the national spotlight yesterday after President Barack Obama's speech about health care singled the bookstore out as an example of a small business that would benefit from tax credits that would help them cover the cost of insurance for their employees.

"This is a small business that's been offering coverage to their full-time employees for the last twenty years," Obama said about the 32-year-old store. "Last year their premiums went up 35%, which made it a lot harder for them to offer the same coverage. Starting now, small business owners like...the folks at Prairie Lights will have the security of knowing that they could qualify for a tax credit that covers up to 35% of their employees' health insurance."

After the speech, President Obama stopped inside the bookstore and, according to the Associated Press, spent $37.44 on three books: The Secret of Zoom (Henry Holt Children's) by Lynne Jonell and Journey to the River Sea (Dutton Children's) by Eva Ibbotson, and a Star Wars pop-up book. He also posed for this rather amusing photo, [posted on the] WaPo Political Bookworm blog.

I can't help but chuckle when I see the photo taken by AP staffer Charles Dharapak. It's plain classic.

The Washington Post also has an interesting article on the "event" following the pic.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Hollywood Ending for Stockett's "The Help"

Another bestselling novel is headed for the silver screen: Kathryn Stockett's The Help.

Hailed by Publishers Weekly as "an optimistic, uplifting debut novel" and made the bold statement that "Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it."

And they were right.

The Help was published in February 2009 as a hardcover by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam and even after more than a year, it's still on the New York Times bestseller list. In fact, this week it's #2 on the list, an amazing feat for a book that's been on the list 50 weeks and counting. At least 1.9 million copies are currently in print.
So, naturally, Hollywood is swooping in to adapt this baby. But this time, it's not a result of a lack of original ideas by the movie biz. This time, it's actually a nice little story of friendship and kept promises.

Yahoo! News shares the dish from the AP wire:
Kathryn Stockett and Tate Taylor have been best friends all their lives. Now they're collaborating on a major motion picture.

DreamWorks Studios recently slated Stockett's firecracker of a first novel, The Help, for production. Taylor will be at the helm of his first major studio film.

Watch out Hollywood.

"Tate is trouble and put it in capital letters," Stockett said. "He is so much fun. We had a ball growing up. We got in so much trouble all the time. I was always getting grounded when Tate was there."


The book tells the story of a group of black domestic maids in 1960s Jackson, Miss., who band together to tell the sometimes sad, sometimes triumphant stories of lives spent toiling for upper class Southern whites. The Help is both uproariously funny and poignant, resonating with readers across the country.

The book seems ready-made for a film and Taylor saw the possibilities early on when Stockett showed him her manuscript. The creator of a well-received short film, "Chicken Party," and 2009's "Pretty Ugly People," he was looking for a larger vehicle to develop, and his best friend had just the material for him.

"She didn't even have a publisher yet and I said, 'You've got to let me option this,'" Taylor said in an interview from New York, where he was having casting interviews. "And she said, 'I'm going to hold you to this. It's going to be so much fun.' And then, of course, she got her agent and I was the last person in the world they wanted."

Taylor had a few things going for him, though, including his relationship withproducer and filmmaker Chris Columbus, who greatly admired "Chicken Party." Columbus, itturns out, is tight with Steven Spielberg, a co-founder of DreamWorks.

Columbus wanted to work with Taylor, but Taylor didn't immediately have a project, he said. Then, "The Help" came along.

Read the entire article HERE
Sweet story, right? :)

I haven't read The Help yet, but it's certainly on my to-read list. Honestly, I originally shied away from it because of the cover--it's boring and feels old--but once it pubbed, all I heard were raves, so I tacked it onto my queue. I've been trying to hold out for the paperback, but at this rate, I might have to cave. The publisher knows it will profit more from hardcover sales so they're keeping the paperback edition on the backburner until January 2011.

As for the movie, I'm already looking forward to it--even without reading the source material. And I immediately cast Jennifer Hudson in my head for the flick--as her role in The Secret Lives of Bees was beyond phenomenal.

Variety also reported talk that Emma Stone of Superbad and Zombieland fame might take on the lead role of Skeeter Phelan. I haven't seen either of those movies so I have no idea of her acting chops but I guess I might just find out.

Tate Taylor is obviously directing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Britain Packages Books in Disturbing New Way

Penguin, HarperPerrenial, and the UK's Waterstone all took a stab at drawing in a new audience for the classics, as you might remember from an earlier post here on RBtL. Now, another British publisher is giving it a try. But this time, the tactic is, well, plain twisted in my opinion.

The Huffington Post recently filled readers in on Tank Books and their new "Cigarette Pack Books":

Smoking has become less and less publicly acceptable in recent years, from the ban in restaurants and bars to the outcry against cigarette advertising, but one British book publisher has used smoking's continued popularity as a new way to package and market books.

Tank Books has released a line of classic literature packaged in cigarette packs. The set of ten includes greats like Heart of Darkness, The Metamorphosis, and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, and the company boasts, "TankBooks are for people on the move, lovers of literature and connoisseurs of design. Try one and you'll be hooked."

Why cigarette packs? Tank Books declares that "The flip-top cigarette pack is one of the most successful pieces of packaging design in history. TankBooks pay homage to this iconic form by employing it in the service of great literature."

See the article HERE

It sounds to me like Tank Books is really reaching to justify themselves on this one. They're using a common vice and milking it for all its worth, and they've got to know it.

Sure it's eye-catching and a "fresh" idea, but let's not encourage a habit that has been proven to kill, shall we?

What do YOU think about this new tactic?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Borders Wisely Brings in Book Clubbers

Anyone who's met me knows that I love book clubs.

I run a mostly-YA book club and am a member of a classics book club, and have been part of a smattering of other BCs since I moved to NYC four years ago. So, when I heard that Borders has opened its doors to my fellow book clubbers, I was pretty darn happy.

I first heard about the new trend from none other than my mother (yes, Mom, I'm mentioning you again). Living in a fairly suburban area, it's tough for the momma to meet people and make friends so she poked around her neighborhood Borders and found a book club that meets there on a monthly basis. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that news.

Then, last week, the Chicago Tribune posted an article online about the new Borders book club fad, to use the term loosely:
In the increasingly brutal book wars, Borders Group Inc. is learning what coffeehouses long have known: Encourage shoppers to think of you as a home away from home and they'll spend more, maybe even become regulars.

To spur that feeling, Borders quietly unveiled a program late last month that invites book club groups to convene at its cafe spaces instead of in club members' homes. The step is geared toward helping the money-losing bookstore chain drum up sales and reshape itself into a local gathering place instead of a faceless superstore.

Signs and posters telling shoppers to bring their book group to the store have gone out from corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., to Borders' 507 outposts, including 18 stores in the Chicago area, said Mary Davis, spokesman for the chain. Borders' Chicago flagship on North Michigan Avenue, which is slated to close next year, already has hosted a few private book clubs in its third-floor event space.

"We're encouraging stores to reach out to the public to say, ‘We're here,'" Davis said. "It's a way to drive traffic to the stores."

Last year, the company began book club nights hosted by store employees based on books that Borders selected, starting with Kate Jacobs' "The Friday Night Knitting Club" in April. At that time, the retailer also introduced display tables stacked with Borders' recommendations for book club discussions.

The latest effort focuses on bringing in readers interested in selecting their own books and leading their own discussions.

Read the rest of the article HERE

Personally, I think this is a brilliant idea. Not only will it succeed in building store traffic, but as a direct result, it will hopefully help to fend off the recent series of store closures. According to the Trib, Borders/Walden cut 10 percent of its workforce this past January, in addition to the 200+ store closures that occurred that very same month (Publishers Weekly). The book biz is fading at a quicker rate than many of us in the industry--myself included--expected or wanted to admit. So anything booksellers can do to help slow down the process--whether a big conglomorate like Borders or an independent--is a positive thing.

Plus, book clubs can be incredibly difficult to organize, especially when membership reaches more than, say, eight people. While hosting at members' homes is always a fun time, it's hard to find a place to house that many people comfortably, where everyone can be looking at one another for an engaging discussion. And when you try to meet in a public place--a coffeeshop or restaurant--let me tell you, it is anything but easy!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why Library Fine Caps Are a BAD Idea

Reuters announced some seemingly mundane news from the Dinnington public library in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, today.

One of the library's patrons returned a library book last month. *gasp*

The kicker is...it was 45 years late. And a first edition.

Staff at the Dinnington library are used to people bringing books back late but the package they received last month was in a class of its own.

It contained a paperback first edition copy of Quatermass and the Pit by Nigel Kneale which had been borrowed on September 24, 1965.

"I thought at first it was just a normal return, until I saw the color of the pages: they were very brown around the edges," said Alison Lawrie, the Principal Library Assistant.

"It's true that some people like to take their time with a good book, but 45 years is an incredible amount of time!"

Staff believe the book was borrowed from the old Dinnington Library, in Sheffield, South Yorkshire which opened in 1936 and is close to the current building which opened in 2000. However, the identity of the borrower remains a mystery because records do not go back that far -- and there would have been no danger of a huge accumulated fine because all fines are capped at 6 pounds ($9).

"The person who posted it back to us would not be in any 'trouble' whatsoever," said Lawrie. "If the person who returned the book wants to come forward, we'd love to know the story behind it."

Though it's obviously not a book of great monetary value, like a first edition of Cather in the Rye might be for example, it's an interesting tidbit from our friends across the pond.

It's also a nice little tale as to why libraries shouldn't cap their fines! According to mirror.co.uk, at the present late-fee rate of 15 pence per day, the mysterious borrower would owe the library £2,500--equivalent to $3 753.25 in the U.S.

Thanks to my mom (yes, that's right) for putting this one on my radar!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Review: Men and Dogs

I basically jumped for joy when I received an ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) of Men and Dogs by Katie Crouch in the mail.

Crouch's debut novel, Girls in Trucks, was phenomenal and I'd been waiting for her sophomore attempt since the deal was announced (funnily enough, check it out here), though at the time I seem to have had slightly incorrect information. The announcement was apparently for her third novel--to come in 2011 from Poppy--so, I'll take this moment to retract my statement last August that The Magnolia League would be her second novel. But that's neither here nor there.

Set to release next month from Little, Brown, Men and Dogs is an interesting departure for Crouch. She steps away from the debutante world of Charleston, NC to explore the families outside of those circles. Specifically, the less socially accepted Legare family with all their dirty little secrets.

Hannah's father disappearred before her twelfth birthday, and she's been convinced he's alive somewhere ever since, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Escaping to California for college, Hannah never stops searching for her missing dad, trying to fill the hole his supposed abandonment left in her heart. She also never stops messing up her own life. So, it's no surprise to her brother, Palmer--Charleston's gay veterinarian--when Hannah's husband leaves her, she falls off a three-story building after drinking too much, and then she's brought home to North Carolina for some R&R. And, of course, when she gets there, her breakdown just gets worse.

Hannah and Palmer are both extremely troubled characters but in realistic and completely parallelled ways. Though Hannah fits Crouch's M.O. of the somewhat unlikable protagonist, you can feel for her despite her emotional blockages. And Palmer, with his committment-phobe tendencies, is simultaneously a jerk and a sweetheart. I admire Crouch's ability to create such immensely flawed main characters that somehow inspire my love despite kind of hating them. It's a testament to the realism of her novels, something I loved about her writing from page one of Girls in Trucks.

The plot in this one, however, rang a little off key to me. Don't get me wrong, I certainly enjoyed it. It tackled some very difficult topics--faith, grief, abandonment, sexuality, etc.--and got the gears in my head turning, as all good books should. But something felt lackluster about it to me. Maybe I'm just reacting to the lack of real action in the story. Not a lot happens in the present day--it's more about past rememberances and how the characters feel now as a result than it is about action. While this is a valid choice for Crouch to make, the movement of the story felt a bit stagnant to me, so I wasn't as invested in it as I would have liked. Also, the somewhat generic premise of a woman returning home to sort out the way her past affects her messy present is nothing really new.

Crouch's writing, however, is what really drew me in here, just as it did in Girls in Trucks. Her unique and somewhat fractured writing style packs a mean punch and keeps you turning the pages. Filled with with humor, cynicism, and unexpected charm, Men and Dogs is an impressively written novel that makes you laugh, cry, and crinkle your brow again and again.

The Last Word: An intense and thought-provoking study of grief, loss, and reluctant self-discovery that any women's fiction fan should give a try.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Twilight" Fans Beware

It's funny. I used to ignore graphic novels pretty much completely. But now, I'm suddenly being bombarded with them everywhere I look. Kind of like the Twilight phenomenon....and now, they've joined forces.

USA Today announced late last night that the graphic novelization of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight will hit the shelves today:

Ready for the next chapter in the Twilight craze?

If the original Stephenie Meyer teen vampire novels, movies, DVDs, posters and T-shirts aren't enough, now comes Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 1 (Yen Press, $19.99), on sale today.

The 350,000 first printing is believed to be the biggest for any graphic novel in the U.S. market. Because of the original Twilight novel's length, the graphic novel will be published in two volumes. No date has been announced for the second. Nor is there any word on whether the last three books in the series will be adapted to the format.

The hardcover book, illustrated and adapted by South Korean artist Young Kim, was created with author Meyer's oversight.

"When it comes to really seeing Stephenie Meyer's personal vision of the Twilight property, this is as close an opportunity there is to accomplishing that," says Yen's Kurt Hassler. "Stephenie was very specific and has very clear images of what the characters look like in her head."


Becky Anderson of Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., wonders how fans will react after seeing the movies and envisioning Robert Pattinson as Edward and Kristen Stewart as Bella.

"People are really possessive of this book and how they feel about it," Anderson says. "It will be interesting to see how they accept this new visual image."

Fans and booksellers aren't sure what the response will be to the graphic-novel format or how the book will sell.

Read the rest of the article HERE

I think I'm with Anderson on this one. It's a crap shoot how fans will handle this graphic novel. Though, I must admit. The artist for this one is pretty kick ass:

Atwood Warms Up Her Vocal Chords

It seems that acclaimed author Margaret Atwood is sharing more than her talent for the written word with her fans these days. She's also spreading the love through song as a contributor to the upcoming Canadian film "Score: A Hockey Musical."

Torontolife.com has the scoop:
Margaret Atwood has joined the growing list of Canadian celebrities set to appear in the upcoming movie Score: A Hockey Musical, and thank heavens, yes, she’ll be singing. This isn’t the first time Atwood has gone on film to show her love of the good ol’ hockey game—remember her celebrity tip segment from Rick Mercer’s Monday Report where she dressed up as a goalie? N0? A reminder, at [bottom].

Set for an October release, Score follows a teenage hockey star’s ascent to fame (Olivia Newton-John plays the boy’s sports-averse mom). Directed by Michael McGowan (One Week), the film is the cinematic equivalent of a Canadian tourism commercial or the Olympic closing ceremonies in Vancouver, with appearances by Nelly Furtado, George Stroumboulopoulos, Hawksley Workman, Walter Gretzky, Theo Fleury, Dave Bidini, Alex Tagliani, Eddie Shack and Dan Hill. And by appearances, we assume brief cameos during the finale. Hopefully, this ode to our national sport will fare better than the last attempt to bring the Leafs and Hockey
Night in Canada to international audiences. For one thing, Mike Myers isn’t attached to the film. Yet.

I saw this article and laughed out loud, so I just had to share it...even if it only entertains me and my dear friend Marie ;)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A New Life for Lewis Carroll

With last week's film release of "Alice in Wonderland", directed by Tim Burton and starring none other than Johnny Depp, Lewis Carroll's children's book is getting some renewed sales, according to USA Today's Book Buzz:

"Alice" is a wonder: Alice may have fallen down a rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland, but she's moving up USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list, landing at No. 31. Alice, and Carroll, are being helped along by Tim Burton's blockbuster "Alice in Wonderland, "which took in $116.1 million its opening weekend. The children's tale, with illustrations by John Tenniel, is a Barnes & Noble Classic and one of several editions being republished to coincide with the movie. A pop-up version made it into the top 50 in December 2003. Barnes & Noble and Borders are featuring Alice books and merchandise at the front of their stores, including tea sets at B&N and Cheshire Cat T-shirts at Borders.
The film itself has been getting mixed reviews, though what else can you expect from Tim Burton's dark and twisted talent? I'm simultaneously excited and creeped out to see this one, but will likely drag myself to the theatre in the next couple of weeks anyway.

I'm also hoping to check out the Tim Burton exhibit at the MOMA (collection closes April 26), but I must really get on that one if I'm going to make it--you have to buy tickets days in advance for the special timed exhibit!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hilary Duff Hits the Shelves in 2010

Just when you thought pop-star Hilary Duff had fallen off the radar, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers announces a multi-book deal with the entertainer.

The publisher's press release hit the PR newswire yesterday:

Hilary Duff, film and television star, recording artist, clothing designer, and philanthropist, has signed a world rights deal with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers to publish her first-ever young adult fiction series, it was announced today. The first novel in the multiple-book series, entitled Elixir, publishes in hardcover in October 2010. Also part of the deal are world rights for a nonfiction title to be published in spring 2012 concerning the challenges faced by children of divorce--an issue that has touched Duff's own life.

Duff's Elixir combines the overpowering allure of a dangerous love triangle with thrilling international adventure. Clea Raymond is a talented young photojournalist who has spent her entire life in the spotlight as the daughter of a Washington politician and a renowned surgeon. Haunted by the strange appearance of a mysterious young man in her photographs, Clea travels the globe with her best friends, Rayna and Ben, in a race against time to unravel a centuries-old mystery that could unlock the key to her soulmate's true identity and the secret of her father's disappearance--and ultimately save all their lives.

Says Duff, "I've always loved the escape of a great book, especially one that features a strong, inspiring female character you feel you really understand, someone who could be you, but living a more fascinating life. I'm hoping Elixir will be that kind of book--a novel that will transport readers and open new worlds for them."

Read the complete press release HERE

Following in the footsteps of L.A. Candy author and reality star Lauren Conrad, Duff will now add "author" to her list of accolades. Whether her novels will be as big a success as Conrad's, however, remains to be seen.

And I'll admit it--I'm kind of excited to find out. I like Hilary Duff.

There, I said it.

I'm sure I'll own up to more of my Hilary Duff vice when the book comes out, as I know now, I want to review it. ;-) But for now, that's all you get.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The YA Bandwagon is Getting a Lil Crowded

With the success of books like Harry Potter, Twilight, The Book Thief, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, we all know that the YA market is exploding.

And, of course, crossover potential has multiplied, and now everyone wants in. Susan Carpenter of The LA Times has some interesting things to say about the recent genre developments:

It used to be that the only adults who read young
adult literature were those who had a vested interest -- teachers or librarians or parents who either needed or wanted to keep an eye on developing readers' tastes.

But increasingly, adults are reading YA books with no ulterior motives. Attracted by well-written, fast-paced and engaging stories that span the gamut of genres and
subjects, such readers have mainstreamed a niche long derided as just for kids.

Thanks to huge crossover hits like Stephenie Meyer's bloodsucking "Twilight" saga, Suzanne Collins' fight-to-the-death "The Hunger Games" trilogy, Rick Riordan's "The Lightning Thief" and Markus Zusak's Nazi-era "The Book Thief," YA is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak publishing market. Where adult hardcover sales were down 17.8% for the first half of 2009 versus the same period in 2008, children's/young adult hardcovers wer
e up 30.7%.

"Even as the recession has dipped publishing in general, young adult has held strong," said David Levithan, editorial director and vice president of Scholastic, publisher of "The Hunger Games," as well as of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, the series largely credited with jump-starting this juggernaut of a trend.

"You go on the subway and see 40-year-old stockbrokers reading 'Twilight,' " said Levithan, himself a YA author. "That wouldn't have happened five years ago."

Read the rest of the article HERE

Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm kind of a YA freak. I love it. I could read YA forever and be perfectly content. And while I've been obsessed since it was actually age-appropriate, I must admit I'm fearing the current state of YA a little bit.

It's true that the YA market is one of the strongest markets in the industry right now. It's growing in subject, audience, and style. Yes, it's a fabulous thing. But I feel like so many adult authors are just jumping on the bandwagon. They don't have a YA vision. They take an adult idea--often on that didn't sell for adults--and just adapt it for the kiddies. Everyone wants to write YA because it's what's selling. And frankly, that's just depressing.

What makes YA so wonderful is the power it can give a reader, the comfort, the reminiscence, the life lessons. The books you read as a child and as a young adult shape who you become. Or at least that's what I believe. They teach you how to live and sometimes how not to live. But when everyone and their mother is writing YA, it's so powerful anymore. The more the market is flooded with YA-converted authors, the more sub-par YA there is on the shelves. There's something so special about a good YA novel, and I'l admit that I'm scared that quality is going to start to fade.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Writing Tips from Some of the Best

More than one of my friends sent me a link to an article on Guardian.co.uk this week about the rules to writing fiction. The article includes numerous tips from well-known authors like Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Elmore Leonard.

It's interesting how varied their advice is! I've gotta say, Atwood's is my fave:

Margaret Atwood

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6 Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you're on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.

8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9 Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10 Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

See more tips from other authors HERE

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Attack of the Mash-Ups!

It all started with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Then came Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Now, there are a whole slew of similar paranormal mash-ups coming down the pipeline.

USA Today posted an article earlier this morning to their website about the recent phenomenon:

It has been a year since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses.

Rather than running for their lives, readers ran to bookstores, making the quirky collaboration between Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith a huge hit, with more than 1 million copies in print.

With the surprising success of that first literary mashup from Quirk Books, there has been no stanching the flow of bloody titles featuring classic literary icons doing battle with B-movie demons.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters followed Zombies last year. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, a prequel by Steve Hockensmith, will walk among us starting March 24.

In Sherri Browning Erwin's Jane Slayre (Gallery Books), hitting stores April 13, Charlotte Brontë's plain Jane Eyre is an indomitable zombie killer.

We've seen gimmicky titles like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim (Coscom Entertainment) and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter (Eos) jump on the bandwagon.

But is the trend threatening to jump the shark, as well?

"There are so many classics to explore and so many ways people are approaching mashups. I think it has a long way to go before it exhausts itself," says Slayre author Erwin.

Zombies has had the best showing on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list, rising to No. 24. Sea Monsters, with a very respectable 375,000 copies in print, peaked at No. 100. But Queen Victoria and Zombie Jim failed to make the list's top 400.

"We're having discussions on how far we can push this formula," Quirk publisher Jason Rekulak says. "What I don't want to do is something like The Scarlet Letter and Dinosaurs, where you just take a classic because it's a classic and add an element because it's an element."

Read the rest of the article HERE
It's tough to argue though that they aren't already doing just what Rekulak fears. I haven't read any of these mash-ups yet myself, but the concept seems clear enough to me. An author takes a classic novel, adds a pBlockquotearanormal element, and spins the story so that it works on a brand new level.

While creative and certainly entertaining, I think that "[taking] a classic because it's a classic and [adding] an element because it's an element" is exactly what these books do. It's the whole point, isn't it? They're taking something old and making it new again.

I won't deny that the idea is a clever and exciting one. When Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hit the shelves, I was horrified, but also strangely compelled. It was such a unique take on classic literature that I couldn't help but admire the person who came up with the idea. But now, the market is being flooded with similar mash-ups. They come up at editorial meetings all over New York every week, but don't really have a leg to stand on most of the time.

So, how long can a trend like this last? Zombies was such a hit because it was such a new and different concept. Now, the novelty has worn off. Or it will by the end of the year with all the upcoming publications scheduled.

What then? While, yes, there are more classics out there and more ways to "zombie them up," it's going to get old real quick. Readers are going to get sick of books that take someone else's idea and change it, rather than come up with something totally fresh.

Do you read mash-ups? Tell us what you think!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"The Lightning Thief" is no "Harry Potter"

This weekend I dragged my sick butt (I had an upper respiratory infection, hence my lack of posting) to the movie theatre. My friend and I had both agreed to read Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and then go to see the movie together. So that's exactly what we did.

I hadn't heard great things about the film so my expectations weren't very high. I also didn't love the book as much as many people I know did, so I wasn't as invested in the film as I would've been if it were a Harry Potter flick. I liked the book quite a bit, don't get me wrong. It was a fun, quick read with a great premise and a lot of fun characters. I just didn't feel that the writing or character development was up to snuff with the Harry Potter series, which anyone whose read them both will inevitably compare to Percy Jackson.

The film, however, was amusing at best. I was laughing out loud at moments that were not intended to be funny (though there were some genuinely humorous parts!), the graphics were a little ridiculous, and the characters were flat.

The plot was also massively altered. I'm not usually super bothered by that kind of thing when a movie is intended as a standalone rather than a serie. I'm a firm believer in an adaptation being just that, a person's vision of someone else's original idea. Besides, it's not as important to maintain all the elements that come into play later in the series if you aren't planning to make a movie out of those later books. This seemed to be the case to me with Percy Jackson's film debut. While I'm sure the producers of "The Lightning Thief" would love to have a hit on their hands, I think deep down they knew that this wasn't going to be the Harry Potter of the new decade.

They did, however, make some interesting plot changes, though I'll admit it was much more interesting as Riordan wrote it. I still love the premise though--Greek mythology come to life in a modern world. Mythology has always intrigued me, so I just adore the idea. For that reason, I was able to somewhat enjoy the movie, though on a very pure entertainment level. I think I would've liked it better had I not read the book, though.
While my feelings for the film were lukewarm, my friend T.S. over at Must Love Books had a much stronger reaction. He's written a very interesting piece (that does contain spoilers, so be forewarned!) about why he didn't like the adaptation:

Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I am a huge fan of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I’ve often proclaimed that my love for this series is up there with my love for Harry Potter. So needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the movie adaptation of The Lightning Thief, especially since it was directed by the man behind the first two Harry Potter movies, Chris Columbus. I was also nervous---movies adapted from books rarely live up to their source material and barring most (but not all) of the Harry Potter movies, a few Neil Gaiman movies and Spiderwick, I’ve felt let down by recent book-movies. So I went in with a cautious but open heart and found myself completely let down. Here’s a list of reasons why (Caution: this list contains SPOILERS for both the movie and the book series):

*No Ares (the Cabin or the God) – one of the fun parts of the Percy books is that he encounters each and every Olympian god throughout the series and they’re “modernized.” The scenes with Percy and Ares were intense and exciting and it’s one of the first times Percy encounters one of the gods (aside from Mr. D). His absence was greatly noted and replacing him with Persephone (more to come on her) did nothing to improve the story. I was also annoyed that there was no Clarisse or Ares Cabin. While I get that the producers probably thought they were too reminiscent of Draco/Slytherin and wanted to steer clear of HP similarities, if they had thought ahead to the rest of the series, Clarisse and Ares Cabin play an important role later on, and Clarisse’s pride and stubbornness set up one of the most emotional moments (for me) in the final book. I was also annoyed that Annabeth became the stand-in for Clarisse (see my next point).

*Annabeth was all wrong - I know this is a superficial detail, but my first complaint is that Annabeth is BLONDE. It bothers me that (Buffy aside) we rarely get to see the blonde girl kicking ass and taking names. They’re always the pretty ones while the brunettes are the tough ones. That aside, I also didn’t like the changes her character was given. Book-Annabeth would NOT attack Percy that violently (in the name of training) and almost kill him. Setting her up as the violent warrior woman and then having her flip-flop to become his ally for her own selfish purposes did not make me like her as either a romantic foil OR a Hermione-esque “smart, female friend” for Percy. Again, they may have been trying to avoid HP similarities but they went a bit too far. Part of the fun of The Lightning Thief is that it has the HP skeleton (which JK Rowling didn’t invent, by the way) with its own unique and interesting story, mythology, and character development.

*The way race was handled – I had a BIG problem with Rosario Dawson playing Persephone. Not only was I annoyed that her character (a MAJOR deus ex machine) had replaced Ares, but she was clearly supposed to be the exotic, spicy goddess/wife and they didn’t even try to make her seem Greek. At one point my friend Zoraida, a Latina woman, leans over to me and says, “Why is Persephone Puerto Rican?” I have no idea. She’s supposed to be a GREEK goddess. If they wanted to have diversity in the cast, they had a great opportunity with the demi-god camp-dwellers (since they’re half Greek god and half-any race known to the human species). But they missed that opportunity by only focusing on the main demi-gods (another thing that took away from the greatness of the books – I loved all of the briefly mentioned side characters, just as I did in HP). I was actually really glad they cast a black actor to play Grover, since, ya know, he’s a satyr and they’re nature spirits. He could be any race. But I was extremely disappointed that they then went and changed Grover’s character to make him a stereotype of a black teen. Grover is a nervous, awkward, odd little goat-man and instead they turned him into a “playa” who was often distracted by hotties and speaks like he grew up in “the hood.” There was even one scene where the camera watches Percy and Grover walk up some stairs and you can clearly see Percy’s pants at a normal level and Grover’s are sagging, which doesn’t even make sense since Grover’s pants are supposed to conceal his GOAT LEGS! It just made me sad that they felt they had to completely change the character into a black stereotype rather than keeping the integrity of the character and casting him black. I found it insulting to people of all ethnicities.

Read the rest of T.S.'s fantastic and thorough review HERE