Friday, August 27, 2010

At long last! Wisdom!

Funny, because I haven't read "Wisdom" yet.  But I am just so d*** excited it's finally out.  I've been following Amanda Hocking's ascent since I first picked up "My Blood Approves."  I've read every one of her books.  Amanda's great because her work is 1. good 2. professional and 3. indie and 4. accessible.  She's what I think most indie writers, or any writers, for that matter, aspire to be.  

If only reading didn't detract from my own writing.  I swear it's all I'd do.  

I've got a meeting with my editor in roughly a week.  Wait, no.  A week from tomorrow.  But also a meet-up with some writing friends.  I have this feeling that I'm not ready, Ann's going to hate what I've done, I won't measure up, blah blah.  It's a lot like the feeling I get when I dream about shopping/working/being pulled over by a cop and realizing I'm wearing no clothes.  So it's probably about as realistic.

Anyway.  This isn't supposed to be about me.  It's supposed to be about Amanda.  Oh well.  Lame blog today.  I'd gotten out of the habit, so I guess I just needed to pound keys.  

Resolution:  I will not read "Wisdom" until I've finished editing the middle section of "Worlds Burn" and given it to D.  

We'll see how long I can hold out.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bad Indie Writing

Many of the review sites I've visited lately have nothing but glowing reviews for indie writers that, in my opinion, suck.  Come on, people.  We'll never gain acceptance for Indie writing if we keep peddling crap.  

On a lighter note, for an example of some really bad writing, self-pub, of course, check this out:


Making Writing and Working Work

I was really thrilled to host the band Glossary and one of my fav singer songwriters Duquette Johnson this past weekend.  It was great show, even if the crowds were smaller than hoped for. I'm glad we were able to put them up for the night, and only wish I had more palatial surroundings to offer.

It was great being able to watch the band and run barefoot in the grass, chasing children and puppies under the stars to the backdrop of great music, to hit the BLT bar if I wanted, and generally soak up the restorative creativity that is Standard Deluxe.  (Thanks Scott!)  But what was really awesome was to meet a group of hard-working indie musicians and see just how much effort they put into what they do.  Those guys work HARD.  And not for much money.  They do it because, as creative souls, they have to; and also 'cause they love it.

There are a lot of intersections between the music and book industry these days.  One of my weekend guests described it this way:  "It's a way to find out the difference between the ones in it for the money, and the lifers."  So, yeah.  Hard work, but if it's really in us, we're lifers.  Whether "it" is music, art, or writing, we do it first 'cause we have to, and then 'cause we love to.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Review: Kept by Zoe Winters

Don't judge a book by its cover, because what's inside Winter's debut novella is even better than the sexy cover design and professional layout.  In short, Kept is an entertaining foray into a well-crafted, original universe, and it's worth every penny of its more than modest cover price.

Winter's approach to paranormal romance is refreshing.  She manages to take some of the best elements of the genre and condense them into a compelling quick read.  Her ideas are original without being labored, which is a real boost to a genre that may be hitting its saturation point.  My only real criticism is that Kept is perhaps a bit too short.  I wanted to know more about these characters and the world they live in.  I'm not sure wanting to read more of an author's work really counts as a criticism, but it's all I've got.  As an indie writer, Winter's execution is flawless.  Her writing is top notch, as is the editing.  There are no awkwardly worded sentences to stumble through, no holes in plot or character, and the layout is as good or better than some of the trad publishers I've read lately.  Her website and supporting online material for the series is innovative and accessible.  Check out to see what I mean.

Winter's real gift is characterization.  Greta and Dayne both have distinct personalities and great chemistry, complete with pesky quirks, fantastic dialogue, and believeable physical attraction.  Details make this book: Greta drinks milk straight from the carton, while Dayne is a bit obsessed with his gardening hobby.  Dayne delivers one of the best lines in paranormal fiction ever when he's navigating a sticky moral situation:  "Oh f*** it, I'm the bad guy."  Winters manages to get them involved in a physical relationship without falling back on any of the unrealistic "instant soul mate" formula that's so prevalent in the genre.  Their attraction is genuine and grounded in growing respect, attraction, and mutual need.  Greta struggles to maintain her independence while falling hard for Dayne; Dayne is pulled in two directions by his fear of intimacy and a powerful need to protect this woman who clearly needs it.  Make no mistake: this is a sexy book.  Sex, Winters-style, is realistic, prevalent, and hot, all without feeling like you've taken an anatomy lesson. 

She adds just enough detail to make not just her characters, but her entire world, believable.  Her magical system seems solidly grounded and contemporary.  No brooding ancient wizards and vampires or self-tortured shapeshifters here.  Her supernaturals are comfortable in their own skin(s) and matter-of-fact about their natures and needs.  One of several bumper stickers this book made me want to slap on my fender would read:  "Real Wizards Use the Internet."  Another?  "This Cat Always Lands on Her Back." Hee hee.  Bad of me, I know, but Kept just invites that kind of thing because it is, at its core, a FUN book set in an intriguing supernatural world I can't wait to read more about.  I will definitely read the next two.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Arcade Fire at Madison Square

D dragged me out of my hobbitt hole tonight to watch a live stream of Arcade Fire at Madison Square.  All  I can say is w.o.w.  We've had the new album for two weeks now-really good.  D has garnered some serious music connections, and he's always popping up with these albums weeks before they're out.  But anyway- if you haven't heard of them, or don't know them, the Madison Square concert is a great place to start.

They were once Indie musicians.  A tiny little band nobody knew.  But they had a great product and kept pushing, doing the footwork, and now, Madison Square Gardens.  You don't get much bigger than that.  It's like the Pulitzer, but for musicians.

Not sure why Indie writers haven't gotten the kind of support/ encouragement/ enthusiasm other Indie artists have.  I like using the music scene as a model because I think they're facing some of the same paradigm shifts that the publishing industry is, except those artisits have figured out a way to make it work. We're still feeling our way over here in book land, but we've come a long way.  See this article on "Bringing Sexy Back" to self publishing by Johnathon Fields over at Huffington Post.

So move over trad writers and publishers.  The Indie tribe is here and taking over.  Trad v. Indie.  It does sound sexier to be Indie than Trad.

But back to Arcade Fire.  Enjoying their encore now.  They're all covered with sweat and giving it all they've got.  Nothing beats seeing really gifted, talented people singing/writing/playing their heart(s) out.  This whole live concert is getting a playlist all its own when I get back to my novel, which I will do soon.  First thing in the a.m.  I swear.  No more ice cream until I finish that chapter.

Indie Book Review: Portal, by Imogen Rose

I had high hopes for this one, as there seemed to be a buzz about it, and generally favorable reviews.  The premise was interesting, and I see potential, but overall I have to say this book was a disappointment.

Portal switches back and forth from three character points of view- Arizona Darley/Stevens, her mother Olivia, and a third character not introduced until the very last chapter.  In fact, I think it's the epilogue, which really reads more like a preview for the sequel, Equilibrium.  The novel would have been stronger, in fact, if the epilogue had been rewritten a preview.  Introducing a new character at the end only made the whole thing more confusing.

If I could describe the book in one word, it would be: muddled.  Rose not only switches perspective, but also voice, jumping from a fairly compelling first person narrative to third person without warning or much transition.  The third person character, Olivia, seems flat.  I was left floundering as to whether she was a good or bad person.  The novel tries to set her up as bad, but her selfish, morally questionable actions have no negative consequences whatsoever. 

In fact, the whole novel is based on the idea of one life being switched for another, without the main character's consent.  Arizona supposedly hates her mother and wants to get back to her old life as a hockey playing tomboy with serious anger management issues, but instead she wakes up as a Barbie doll with a perfect life.  Instead of fighting to get to the bottom of things, she settles quite nicely into her new life, tweaking just a few things here and there to make herself more tomboy than Barbie.  Overall, Arizona seems quite happy in the new life she's supposed to hate. 

Her new life in the alternate dimension is so perfect it's disgusting.  Rich, beautiful, a perfect family, cheerleader, a solid member of the 'in-crowd," she has so few enemies and problems you can count them on one hand.  This is yet another muddled point: Rose veers into an entirely different genre.  I felt like I had gone from time travel drama to an episode of Gosssip Girl, then back again.  The entire book's fatal flaw is lack of conflict. 

On the other hand, Arizona is well-written, and deserves center stage.  She has a compelling individualism that shines through the novel's flaws.  Rose does well when she sticks to this first-person character.  Arizona's relationship with Kellan is one of the more intriguing aspects of the novel.  He alone seems to get it that Arizona Darley is actually Arizona Stevens, and he is both confused and attracted to the change.  The idea of falling in love with the fantastic girl who's been right under your nose your whole life is great, and kept my interest throughout the novel.  Their relationship seemed genuine and sweet.  Kellan himself is a strong romantic lead: sensitive, understanding, kind, loves family, and he's smart enough to figure out something's up even before the novel's double Ph.D. does.

Overall, I have to say that Portal is a decent debut, but it needs work.  I really think Imogen Rose has potential, and can only continue to improve as a writer.  I will read her sequel, Equilibrium.  I'm fairly certain it will outshine her debut.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: My Blood Approves #1 by Amanda Hocking

The first in what may be a five book series, My Blood Approves is a remarkable debut for an indie author.  Teen vampire romance fans will love this one.  Hocking manages to sidestep many of the mistakes associated with first-time self-publishing.  She solidly grounds her novel in a popular, well-defined subgenre of the exploding YA/teen market.  This allows her strenghts, namely characterization, setting, and dialogue, to shine, since readers will already have a rough template for plot.

Her crowning achievement is, by far, vampire Jack.  Alice Bonham's love interest is FUN.  He's like the opposite-sex best friend, perfect in every way, except getting involved with him doesn't ruin the friendship.  Not the dark and brooding type, Jack has great taste in music and fashion.  He manages to stay plugged into popular culture while staying solidly grounded in his own era: the eighties.

This yet another strength of Hocking's.  She manages to evoke two different time periods and weave them seamlessly into a well crafted setting: modern urban Minnesota, with echoes of an eighties pop scene.  The romantic tension between the main characters is complicated by a love triangle, also a conventional device.  Here her characterization stumbles; Alice and Peter's attraction, supposedly fated, lacks depth and passion.  However, the triangle presents a thought-provoking choice for Alice.  Should she fight for a relationship grounded in friendship, mutual attraction, respect, and, most importantly, choice, or succumb to a love-hate relationship forced on her by fate?  It's a real breakthrough for a genre that all too often depicts 'true love' as a relationship in which the characters are doomed to suffer.

 On the downside, the novel suffers from the same issues that plague indie writing in general:  a slow start, problems with pacing, and mediocre editing.  It takes Alice much longer to catch on than it should.  Given that the audience knows Jack's "secret" before they start reading, it makes it all too easy to feel contempt for the main character.  Readers may find themselves wondering about her I.Q., or fighting the desire to reach into the pages and shake her.  Hocking suffers less in the editing department than do other indie writers, but there are still places where a more experienced editor or proofreader would have caught mistakes or tightened sentences.  Sending the manuscript through two or three more critical self-revisions would have sufficed as well.

Besides Hocking's considerable strengths as a writer, she shines in perhaps the most important aspect of indie writing: self-presentation.  Hocking's website stomps those of more established, major press authors.  Stephanie Meyer, Melissa Marr, and others could take a lesson on web design and layout from her. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Blond Trouble, Hair and Cars, but not in that order

I had car trouble yesterday.

I also dyed my hair blond.

The hair dye came first. I ran away to the beach this summer. Jobless, thigh-deep in novel writing, and determined to give myself skin cancer in the summer sun, running away seemed like a good idea. Funny thing, it's the blond hair that's my true summer fling. I run away all the time, sometimes as far away as other continents and hemispheres. No one who knows me finds this shocking. But blond??? Jesus-christo.

I ran away without much money and a car that cranked dubiously, at best. Seemed like perfect timing to me. So when my car battery finally died yesterday, I was not surprised. Getting stranded, usually with no money and sometimes in the midst of a revolution where I barely speak the language, is all part of the fun. So when my car finally refused to crank, I wasn't surprised. Merely disappointed there was no revolution to go along with it. Oh well. I'm having to settle for a natural disaster instead. Thanks, BP.

But the most shocking thing happened as soon as I popped my hood, standing in a SuperCenter parking lot, soaked to the bone. Did I mention it was raining? I was inundated with attempts at help. Notice I did not get *offers* of help. Oh no. No less than half a dozen guys, ranging in age from late teens to late middle age, strolled right up and buried themselves, wrist-deep, in the guts of my car without invitation or even a "Can I help you, ma'am?" They subtly fought each other for the chance to touch my battery posts, eyeing each other with thinly veiled suspicion and dislike. This did not happen when I had dark hair. With dark hair, it was always a request. A polite, respectful *offer* of which I often gratefully availed myself. But dark-haired, no one just grabbed for my mechanical innards like they did with my blond hair.

This phenomenon has been as unsettling as the car trouble, which is still not over. (Not a battery issue- either starter or fuel system. Fun, fun.) My IQ did not drop with the hair dye. But it did, somehow, morph me and my car from dark-haired active participant to light-haired bystander without choice.

Perhaps I sound ungrateful. This would be true, since my car is still sitting on the side of the road. But that is not why I am ungrateful. The car is my deal and I will fix it. And I am grateful for all those guys who stood in the rain and tried to crank my car, just as I am grateful for any and all guys who have ever helped me in the past, no matter what the hair color. I thanked each and every one of them profusely.

I learned that hair color makes a difference. How stupid. How nauseatingly ridiculous. How unexpected and depressing.

But what if it wasn't hair color?

What if it was skin color? Or gender? Or sexual orientation? How much help would I get, no matter how badly I needed it, if I was a young black male or older Hispanic woman?

If you don't know the answer, then get off my blog.

How depressing. After months of absence, it makes me long for the fortified walls of my armed artist's compound where I can write about ghosts, magic, and sex in relative peace and blissful ignorance. It makes me want to learn basic car repairs, not just for my own sake, but so that I, a female of questionable hair color, can competantly and cheerfully help beings of all races and genders in similarly distressed automotive circumstances.

It's coffee time for me again. Back to writing.