Thursday, December 31, 2009

A few books I'm reading right now, part something

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson: Finished Mistborn: The Final Empire miffed that I somehow got the version with art I personally find hideous (partly because it does not match the art of the other two in the series, which nicely match each other).  Fantasy full of mystery, terror, sacrifice, and smiling, dang it, because they can't take your happiness away unless you give it to 'em (or they rip your head off).

Ten Steps to a Federal Job by Troutman: Not terribly exciting, but quite fascinating.  Applying for jobs with the government is every bit as grueling as I remember, and it's unlike any other job application process ever.  Best to go into this battle well-armed.

Moyasimon Tales of Agriculture: What I have discovered from this graphic novel so far is that people will eat things that are so gross I could have been completely happy going through my entire life without knowing about their existence.  (I would probably have preferred an actual human corpse to have been dug up because there are some things you unfortunately can't unsee.) The book itself is sort of about two childhood friends who go away to university and get involved with assorted whackjobs and nutjubs on campus.  One of the friends can see bacteria, which leads a professor and grad assistant obsessed with fermentation and fermented food to pursue him while eating horrible things that no one should even talk about.  It's pretty gross and pretty great (and sometimes highly [revoltingly] educational). Also, the bacteria have makeovers and are incredibly cute, leading to me actually getting a couple of cell-phone straps and stickers of them while visiting my sister in Japan.

Friends Like These: My Worldwide Quest to Find My Best Childhood Friends, Knock on Their Doors, and Ask Them to Come Out and Play by Danny Wallace: Yep, that pretty much says it all.  Danny is bored and alone and apparently in possession of quite a bit of discretionary income.  So he does what we'd all like to do and goes to find all those childhood friends he lost track of because they're all over the world, for Pete's sake!

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti: Oooooooh.  I have been looking forward to reading this for a while, and it is sooooo goooooood.  If you liked Kidnapped and Dickens (books or movies), and you love a great adventure, you should be reading this now!

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by ?:  Culture shock is a good descriptor for this book about a Liberal Sinner who goes undercover to study abroad at one of the most conservative and straight-laced church-affiliated colleges in the US.  Learning and hilarity ensue.

What about you?  What are you reading at the moment?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ballet and other book-related obsessions

I just finished with a new volume of a series I love that is set in the world of professional ballet.  I am an armchair ballet fan and have been probably since I was working at the public library as a teenager and found all those biographies about Maria Tallchief (you should go find some yourself because she is completely fascinating, and be sure to watch her on DVD in The Art of Maria Tallchief).

I am not a big fan of modern dance, and the last two volumes of this story have been focused almost exclusively on this kind of dance.  I love the story anyway because I care about the characters, and I can identify with their struggles (especially the main character's inability to fully grasp modern dance).  She seems to be closer to connecting to it, and I am probably better able to appreciate it, but I'm still unlikely to enjoy it.  Not the book's fault.  :)

One of the results of reading this series, published sporadically, is that whenever a new volume comes out, I find myself needing to read Dance Magazine (Yuan Yuan Tan rocks!) and move some ballet DVDs higher up my Netflix queue and maybe see if the library has any more photo books.  One of these days, I'll have to see The Red Shoes and The Turning Point.  I should also see Dancing for Mr B, again.  I kind of want to watch Fame, too . . . 

Are there any books that do this for you?  (Make you passionately want to learn more about a subject or just immerse yourself in a non-fiction world that isn't yours?)  What are the books or what are the topics?

Monday, December 28, 2009

When the past creeps up on the present

I just read Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, and it made me think of Kristen Britain's First Rider's Call from the first page, which is interesting since they're not really similar at all.  I think the reason was the way that someone's diary from the past was used as at the beginning of each chapter to tell a different story that had a bearing on the main story.

I would just like to point out here that you should start from the last entry whenever you get a mysterious diary.  Just saying.

Orson Scott Card used a similar device in Ender's Game, although that was more of a parallel story giving insight outside the point-of-view character's sphere of knowledge.  I really liked that way of getting around the proscriptions of a limited POV.  It keeps the rest of the story more unified than varying the POV for each chapter, another structure I've been considering.

I've been paying attention to this device because I like what it can do, and I'm considering using it in The Napkin Epic somehow.  I thought it was quite effective in FRC, a tad less so in Mistborn.  If I do it, I'd kind of want my attempt to be more like FRC.  Although, for people like my sister who "read ahead" and try to figure out the twists, such a device could ruin the story.  Not so with Sanderson's use of it, which I guess is a strenth and a weakness . . .

So many ways to write a story!  It's quite overwhelming sometimes.

Have you read any other books that use this snatch-of-a-diary-to-head-each-chapter device well (or poorly)?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas presents and other plot devices

As a child, I took Christmas presents very seriously.  We were told that if we touched the wrapped presents under the tree, our parents would know, and we would not get the presents.  Putting aside my willingness to believe that my parents would just somehow know, I wanted to get the presents, so I never touched them.

I was careful not to even get too close to the tree in case I fell over and accidentally touched one and then lost it.  Yep, I've always been a bit of a dork, and I'm proud of it.

I assumed that my sisters were the same way, but my sister has since informed me that she didn't need to touch the wrapped presents because she could always find where my mom hid them before she wrapped them.  I am seized with a sudden desire to look through photo albums to see how obvious it is that she is never surprised.  Maybe she was just a good actress.

Needless to say, this idea was a shock to goody-goody me.  I had honestly never even thought of searching out gifts before they were wrapped.  Such deceptiveness!  About gifts people were giving you!  Why would you want to spoil that moment of discovery for yourself, especially as a child?!  Better to be patient and get the whole reward.

I was talking with some folks lately, and only one person in the group was like me.  She never looked for presents.  The others were varied.  Some always looked and found everything every year; others did it for a while but then decided they wanted the surprise and stopped doing it.

My sister proudly admits to turning to the last page or the last chapter to find out who makes it to the end or whodunit.  I cannot imaging doing such a thing.  Why spoil the end for yourself before you get all the anticipation leading up to the end that makes the ending a real payoff?

When I started getting into Japanese pop culture, their habit of often telling you what was coming up in the next episode or the next volume really threw me off.  I felt like the next bit was spoiled if I knew what was coming.  Eventually, I adjusted because knowing what plot point will happen next does not have to ruin the road to that point and the road from it. You can manage a lot of suspense even if you've already told folks what's coming.  

I've started experimenting with how I might be able to use this device in a story I'm working on. I'm studying works that use it to see what might work for my story.

But I still don't want to know what's behind that wrapping paper or in that closet awaiting wrapping paper.  And I refuse to read ahead.

How about you?  Where did you fall on the gift discovery scale?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

What makes you revisit a work over and over again?

A reader pointed out that maybe I asked too many questions at once in this post, so I decided to break it down and ask one at a time.  Sort of. :)

Do you have a movie or a book you just keep re-reading or re-watching?  What makes you keep coming back to that particular work?

Monday, December 21, 2009


All my thinking yesterday reminded me of a blog post I read last week about the doorways into a work of literature.  That sounds really stuffy, but the article is not. 

Story, character, setting, and language are suggested doorways people take into books.  Some people have one preferred doorway; others probably have favorites from each doorway.

What are the doorways that led you to some of your favorite books?  (And what are those books?)  If you've read them more than once, do you find yourself being grabbed most recently by the same doorway or another one?  If that's too much, maybe just pick one book you've read a lot over a long period of time.  I'd love to hear about it.  :)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What makes something worth revisiting?

I am sobbing right now.  You see, this character died suddenly and with little fanfare, and it's kind of rough.  Even though this is the fifth time I've seen the show.  In fact, this time, I started crying early, in the episode before, because I knew it was coming.

It reminds me of the way I cry earlier in The Warrior's Apprentice the more times I read it.  This is why I think I don't ever want to be involved with any prophecies of the future and stuff.  I'd be (more of) a wreck if I knew it was coming.  (Or maybe I'd get really stubborn about making a different future happen . . . :)

Anyway, all this crying and reflecting got me thinking about the topic of what gives a book good reread value (or a show/movie good re-watch value). 

Some books are harder for me to reread because of the tragedies (Mirror Dance); while the tragedies in other works are the things that make them worth revisiting.  Some comedies are great for one watch and then pointless while other funny works need to be appreciated over and over again (Hogfather).  One friend once said that he reads David Eddings' books just for the chance to hang out with the characters again, and some people reread the same mystery over and over because they love the plotting.

What is it for you?  What makes you revisit a work over and over again?  (How long do you usually wait?)  What works do you regularly revisit (and why)?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

O, the Neighbors Inside Are Frightful

Ah, last night brought back memories.  'Tis the season to be jolly, and some of my neighbors were being extremely jolly last night, though why this should involve so much cigarette smoke that you could see it in the hallway is beyond me . . . 

Anyway, back in college, it used to drive me crazy when the RD would do curfew checks to make sure we were all in our rooms by whenever we were supposed to be.  I always was because I was in bed before 10 most nights because I cannot function well on less than 9 hours of sleep and always seemed to have 8 'o'clock classes.  Unfortunately, I was a light sleeper, so even if she didn't open the door and look in, I would wake up as soon as she touched the doorknob.  This has always been irritatingly true.

I am paranoid since the last roommates I had refused to lock the door and got me robbed in broad daylight while one of them was actually in the apartment.  It's a good thing I am paranoid because if I weren't, I would have had several strange men wandering around in my 385 square feet being jolly.  Probably five or six of them tried my door by mistake, the last one at around 1 am.  (Quiet hours in our building are supposed to start at 10.)  Ho ho ho!

Do you have any amusingly grim holiday neighbor stories you'd like to share?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thanks to my parents for a great and dangerous childhood

In honor of Time Magazine's November 30th cover story about overprotective parenting, I would like to thank my parents for allowing me to do the following (whether they knew about it or not):
  • Climb trees.
  • Ride my bike.
  • Jump off playground equipment.
  • Do what I liked with my free time.
  • Go camping.
  • Help neighbors sell girl scout cookies in distant neighborhoods.
  • Climb trees.
  • Use a bow and arrows.
  • Play dodge ball.
  • Hang out once homework was done.
  • Go to the park and play on the merry-go-round, witch's wheel, monkey bars, and tornado slide.
  • Shoot a Bebe gun.
  • Do community theater.
  • Play football in gym class instead of being forced to do a unit on "jumping rope."
  • Climb trees.
Anything you'd like to thank your parents for letting you do as a child that might be considered dangerous by modern over-protective parents?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why I adore Kristen Britten's First Rider's Call:

  • The imperfect main character just keeps going until she can't go anymore, trying to do the right thing. 
  • The main character respects herself enough not to get entangled in an affair with the guy who likes her (who she likes) who can't marry her.   (Rock on.)  
  • She's decently smart and determined and stubborn. 
  • She's surrounded by other great characters.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Waiting for death

I waited 17 months for this character to die. 

It's not like I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.  I probably forgot about it within a week of reading the last volume back in July of 2008; that's just how my book memory works, but when this volume came, I decided to brush up on how that last volume ended, since I knew it had been quite some times since its release.  Of course, that little catch-up made me want to read the whole series again, but I have job applications to work on, and I do have some self-control.  Sometimes.

I waited for most of the whole volume for him to die.  I was in agony. 

Maybe they'll surprise me, I thought.  Maybe I'm forgetting something; it has been a while.  Maybe I'm misremembering the absence of this character from the book's present in earlier volumes.  I can't keep all these characters straight, especially when they're supposed to look like each other!  I tried so hard to convince myself that he wasn't necessarily going to die. 

As the end of the story arc neared, it looked like I might be right.  They survived the dicey situation, and everyone was planning relatively-happily-ever-afters, sort of, and then it happened.  I knew he would die on the next page.

I wouldn't turn the page.  I didn't want to see.  I didn't want to cry.  I had another book to read next.  I didn't want to be right.  But I couldn't just stay stuck like that.  I couldn't leave the book unread.  I owed it to the character to see his life through to the end even though I didn't want to be right.

But I was.  Sometimes I hate being right.  A lot. 

It didn't make me feel better that this revelation about the past helped the more recent past and the present make a lot more sense, that it explained some mistifying behaviors logically and powerfully and with quite an emotional impact.  I just didn't want him to die, dagnabbit.  I liked him.  I didn't care that the logical conclusion of his beliefs, the acting out of his ideals, the very integrity that made me like him necessitated his demise in the world of this story.  I just didn't want to lose him. 

It's a good thing writers don't always give us what we want.  I would have been disappointed if he had survived after all that set-up.  I would have felt betrayed by the author, would have thought her weak for being unable to follow through this time, would have been irritated at this missed opportunity to tie up some niggling, bothersome loose ends/plot holes.  I hated being right, but the alternative would have been worse.

Can you remember any books like this?  Any times you really wished you had guessed wrong about the fate of a character?  If you were the writer, do you think you would have been able to find a way to save the life and somehow make the story have integrity, too?  (Or is that why you don't want to be a writer? :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sci Fi and Memory

One of the things I love about science fiction is the way it can explore things like human memory from an outsider's perspective.  Heading off to the imaginary future and throwing in some robots or something is still a viable way to make us consider the value and nature of our own humanity in the present.

One series I read lately has androids who only remember the last 22 years of their lives.  Sometimes, there are memories they want to keep, and their torment as that 22 year deadline approaches got me thinking.  As a writer, would I want that kind of clear and detailed memory completely accessible to me for 22 years and then irretrievably gone, or would I rather have my increasingly spotty memories that come and go seemingly as they please, unbound by time?

Another series (recently named one of Publisher's Weekly's top comics of the year) deals with the consequences of creating artificial intelligence in our image, making rules to protect them and us, and then breaking them.  What happens when we try to forcibly remove memories?  Would it be better if we could get rid of the memories that haunt us?  Or is dealing with them part of what makes us human?

Ah, speculative fiction.  The older I get, the more fully I appreciate questions like these as my stock of memories I wish I could retrieve and destroy grows.  :)

How about you?  Any good science fiction that got you thinking about the nature of memory?  Any thoughts on what you wish you could do if you could control your memories?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Is lack of rejection similar to acceptance?

At this point, I haven't heard back from any magazines or journals I've sent work to.  Right now, I'm fine with that.  If they haven't actually sent me a rejection, then it's as if I haven't been rejected.  Even if I sent them a self-addressed, stamped envelope.  Seriously.

What is with this trend of rudeness, I wonder?  I've encountered it a lot as I've been searching for jobs.  They don't even bother to tell you to give up hope.  It's probably because they're too busy sorting through all the applications they're inundated with because of the high unemployment rate, but I still feel like there are standards of common courtesy.

Oh, well.  There's not much I can do about it except keep sending out work and hoping that someone will send some acceptances instead.  :)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why Lois McMaster Bujold Is Awesome

I was having a rough week.  A really rough week.

I came home to find an email from Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my favorite authors for the last seventeen years or so.  She'd been cleaning out her work room and stumbled across something I'd given her at a signing event a couple of years ago, and she went to the trouble to write me a note and to let me know that there is a new book coming out in time for my next birthday.  (!!!!!!!!!!)  She didn't, of course, know that it was in time for my birthday, but I did.  :)

She was funny and self-deprecating and told me about her own experience with chronic pain and about a pain textbook writer who used a Miles quote in a textbook to head up a section about pain management.  Hooray!

She was responding because of an essay I wrote that was basically made possible by Miles.  I had been having trouble with my writing because chronic pain and sleeplessness were taking their toll on my concentration, and I could no longer create the longer form essays I wanted. 

With the help of "Miles Quotes" written by Lois McMaster Bujold in her Vorkosigan series and a wonderful professor who encouraged me to create my own essay form, I was able to create an essay about my helplessness and some of my experiences with pain.  It was held together by quotes about pain, most of them from Miles Vorkosigan, a wonderful con-man with a lot of experience with pain.

I included a note telling her I wasn't looking for comments or criticism; rather, I just wanted to thank her and show her how important her work has been in my life.  That's why I was so surprised to discover a response.

If I ever become an author, I will remember this.  If I can make someone as happy as this favorite author made me, I would like to do so.

Now, you should all go read her books.  They are wonderful.

Do you have a favorite Miles book?  A favorite series?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Quote about poems

"A poem seeks equilibrium, interaction between sense and sound."

from "Tritones"
by George Stein
Salmagundi Spring-Summer 2009
page 51

This fabulous essay features a debate between a musician, a mathematician, and a poet.  If you're any of those three or are interested in such an argument, be sure to check this piece out.  It has a little Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid energy going for it.

Do you agree (with the quote)?  (It's much more striking in context. :)