Monday, April 30, 2012

Scurvy Pirates - Aargh!

The topic today is book pirating. I saw two things in the news/blogosphere this past week that piqued my interest in this topic.

First, I saw a news story that Homeland Security has been raiding flea markets across the country to crack down on counterfeiting. They seized millions of dollars of merchandise and shut down, at least temporarily, some flea markets. They confiscated knock-off handbags, shoes and counterfeited DVDs and CDs. 

While on first blush this looks like a good thing - crack down pirates and those that sell their wares - the reality is that the raids have little to do with helping the companies who created the original item and everything to do with tax evasion. Much of the sale of the counterfeited goods in handled in cash so the businesses can avoid taxes. And lets face it, a person paying $20 for a Gucci handbag knockoff probably can't afford the real deal, so it's not like the Nikes, Gucci's and Louis Vuitton's of the world are losing sales.

I saw this article and I thought, "Where are the crackdowns on digital pirates, huh? Why not go after the pirates themselves?" It's like busting the drug dealers and showing bales of confiscated drugs on network news. It looks like you're doing something when in reality you're going nothing to prevent the illegal activity.

The second item about piracy came from one of my favorite bloggers, Seth Godin. His blog post is titled, "Piracy? You wish." You can read it here. I rarely disagree with Seth but on this one, I shout a "Whoa, hold on there."

Seth, in another post directed to publishers, essentially argues that publishers need to allow open DRM (digital rights management) because there's no piracy problem. Seth says:

"Books are free at the library but there's no line out the door."

I'll disagree with that Seth. There is, often, a virtual line out the door for popular books. I was in the queue to get my hands on The Night Circus for over two months. 

Seth went on to argue that because books take a long time to read and are relatively cheap, "Most of the inputs necessary for a vibrant piracy community are missing."

I will again disagree. Strongly.

I don't know where Seth has been hiding, but book piracy is alive, well and thriving.

I should know. I just found two more sites pirating my book, Emily's House, this week.

Apparently the fact that it's cheap (most of the time you can find it somewhere for no more than 99 cents) hasn't deterred the pirates.

Really people, you can buy it for 99 cents! Why buy a pirated copy?

What's going on here?

I spent some time tripping around the Internet, finding my book on pirated sites, then clicking through. You always end up at a download content site that doesn't actually create the work to be downloaded but just manages the payment and downloads. And what I think is going on (correct me someone if you think I am wrong on this), is that people can pay a small monthly fee and download as much content as they want.

For about $20 a month, they can download bootleg anything. Movies, music, books. Instead of paying that $20 for one hardcover book, they can get an unlimited number of books plus their movies and music.

So yes, Seth, there is a pirating problem.

Seth Godin also seems to conclude that there's no piracy problem based on his own experience: "I've written several free books and even when I want unlimited piracy, it doesn't happen."

I think Seth is missing two points. First, just because it didn't happen to you doesn't mean it's not happening to anyone. I've never been raped either but that hardly means that no one has been raped.

Second, Seth must not be aware of how pirated material is actually being disseminated. If he did, he'd see that offering your book for free on Smashwords or Amazon isn't the same thing as people downloading your work through these sites that offer unlimited downloads of anything. Heck, my book is practically free to buy AND has open DRM (meaning that I have allowed people who buy it to lend it freely as many times as they choose). And, I have offered it for free on Amazon for five days in which I gave away almost 4,000 copies.

None of this prevented piracy.

Personally, I think DRM is bullshit and will do nothing to prevent piracy. DRM only serves the need of the publishers to sell more books and decrease the value of the product purchased by the customer. If publishers could put a lock on the paper copy preventing you from loaning it, they would! It irks me when I buy a digital book and can't loan it to a friend or book club member to read yet if I spent (sometimes less! - go figure that one out) on a paper copy, I could loan it freely - as many times as I wanted.

But knowing someone is out there selling my book without giving me a penny for it - that burns my buns. And you know the worst part? One one site alone, it showed the number of downloads of my book to be over 8,000.

If you add up all the books I've sold AND given away, I'm not even near that number.

The pirates are doing better at marketing my book than I am! Perhaps that's what steams my muscles more than anything.

If by any chance you, reader, partake in downloads from sites such as I've mentioned, I ask that you consider the fact that you are engaged in theft. It's no different than knowingly purchasing a stolen car. Piracy will end only when people stop supporting the pirates. And if your copy of Emily's House is pirated, at least go to Amazon and give it a 5 star review.

And if you are a pirate who stole my work and have sold more than me, let me know your marketing techniques.

What do you think? If you're a writer, have your books been pirated? And if so, what is your reaction to it? Have  you done anything to try to prevent it?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review Friday: Osric's Wand

I recently had the opportunity to chat with the authors of Osric's Wand. Click here to read the full interview. Today I review this strong debut into realm of fantasy fiction.

The Goodreads blurb for Osric's Wand:

While the world leaders of Archana gather for an unprecedented peace treaty signing, tragedy strikes, and rumors spread of war. Osric; a young, untested leader, is thrust into the chaos and must journey far with his unlikely companions to stop the inevitable world war. Circumstance brought them together, but prophecy has entwined their fates.

Now, the young Vigile Contege, the world’s greatest Wand-Maker, and a beautiful Maiden of the Unicorn must put aside their differences and work together, or watch as their homes are destroyed. Their understanding of magic will be challenged as they discover new methods and uses for their powers, and each day will only uncover more unanswerable questions to torment Osric’s mind.

Why was the signing attacked? What do the unicorns want with him? How do you read a book with no words? What is so special about his wand?

My Review:

Authors Albrecht and Delay created a world full of all of our favorite fantasy creatures and devices. Unicorns? Check. Dragons? They're in there. Swordplay? Got it. Talking animals? Done. Oh, and let us not forget magic.

The story revolves around this wand you see. A very special wand wielded by Osric, the main character. In Osric's Wand, magic is available to everyone, which makes for a somewhat interesting spin on magical stories. Usually magic is for the prized few. What happens when everyone has magic?

From the beginning, I was reminded of the Chronicles of Narnia, but without any religious undertones. The animals talk but they're not always cute. Gus, the wand-making genius, is a diminutive but acerbic prairie dog. And what are those silent unicorns really up to?

I think this story would be a particularly good read for a late elementary school to middle-grade person. While the main character is in his 20's, the book does not contain sex or graphic violence or themes that would be inappropriate. There is a dearth of books for boys that age so I highly recommend this one for boys looking for a fun read.

That's not to say adults won't enjoy it though. If you enjoy fantasy and magic, you will like find this book a worthy read.


Yes. If you enjoy magical stories with lots of fantasy creatures and talking animals, then check out Osric's Wand. If you love Narnia, then this book is right up your alley. And if you are a tween or teen boy looking for a fun read (or are the parent to one), then I highly recommend this book to you.

The authors are putting together the next installment of Osric's tale and I look forward to seeing how the adventure continues.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Writer Chat Wednesday: Jack Albrecht & Ashley Delay

Welcome to this edition of Writer Chat Wednesday. This is a first for Writer Chat - I'm talking today with two authors! Jack Albrecht and Ashley Delay are the co-authors of Osric's Wand (don't you love that cover!) and they were kind enough to stop by today and chat. I hope you enjoy this fun interview as much as I did and come back this Friday when I'll be reviewing Osric's Wand: The Wand-Maker's Debate!

Natalie Wright (NW): Do you have any news to share about your work?

Ashley grinned excitedly and said, “Yes! Osric’s Wand: The Wand-Maker’s Debate hit’s Epic Fantasy bestseller list last month! It is holding its place in the top 10 of the Dragon category as well. We are thrilled to have been received so well by fantasy readers.”  
“We were expecting it to take years to gain best seller status since our advertising budget is limited, but with one well timed promotion we have arrived! We are so grateful to the help we have had from many amazing authors and some very beneficial classes on marketing, social media, and cross promotion from a great organization, the Indie Book Collective,” Jack added as he refilled his iced tea,
“We really do need to give the Indie Book Collective credit here, they know their stuff. We highly recommend them to anyone who is an author. They have many publishers coming to them for classes on how to sell books. We can’t stress how valuable their wisdom in this arena has been. Everyone should check them out!”

NW: What books have you written so far?

“The Wand-Maker’s Debate is actually our first novel, but we are hard at work on the second book in the Osric’s Wand series." Jack looked over at Ashley with a grin. "You know, I have been promising on twitter to tell our fans the name of the next book in this interview."

"I know. It has been so hard to keep it a secret since the title inserted itself into my mind. Go ahead and tell them," Ashley responded excitedly.
"Well you named it, so I thought you should be the one to 'cut the ribbon,' if you will."
"If you insist," she grinned. "I am pleased to announce to all of our current and future fans, the second book in the Osric's Wand series is . . . The High Wizard's Hunt!"
Jack gave Ashely a high five and shouted, "Now, that's how you do a reveal!"
Ashley laughed at his excited antics. "It's moments like this when I can see where Pebble gets his charm."

NW: What was the inspiration for your book?

“I get asked this a lot.  It sort of evolved from reading other novels that I love,” Jack said, “I am somewhat of a fantasy nut, and I soak them up like a dry sponge.  But I have a personality that notices things, not just in books, but in our world.  In our world, magic (sorry folks, I believe this so just follow me if you don’t agree) doesn’t exist.  That fact is a universal constant, no creature of any kind wields it.  So, what would a world where magic exists look like?”  He paused for emphasis, and Ashley couldn’t help but interrupt.
“I personally feel Jack doesn’t notice much at all if he thinks magic doesn’t exist in our world,” she said with a teasing smile.  Jack continued, unperturbed by her sarcasm.  
“For us, our magic is science. In the world I imagined, I would think their science would be magic. I would also imagine that if magic was wielded by some, it would be able to be used by all.  Not to the same level of course. I mean, a butterfly uses science everyday to fly, but it doesn’t have a big screen TV in it’s living room!”  Jack gestured excitedly with his hands as he spoke, “And of course, I fell in love with the wolf dream from WOT, and talking animals from numerous other fantasy novels. That made me think, Hey, why wouldn’t some animals talk?  Not all of them, but in a world with magic, I am sure that MANY would,” he realized he was rambling a bit and continued in a nonchalant manner, “So that’s what started the whole process. Thousands and thousands of hours of reading, and thinking.”

NW: What is your favorite scene from your book and why?

Jack’s boyish grin returned as he thought back to his favorite scene, “Chapter 2, when Gus lives through a bad “hunt” and then ends up being so nice to a woman later in the chapter. I think it shows a great deal of how life is on Archana, and even more about his personality. I did not start out wanting him to be like this.  I wanted him to be a wise old man, er prairie-dog, sort of like Dumbledore from Harry Potter, but he refused to be written that way. He was just as stubborn to write as he appears in the book!”
“I have a hard time choosing a favorite, but I would have to say it is a scene close to the end where Osric finally gets a glimpse of his own power. If I told you any more it would spoil the ending. If you have read the book, my favorite part begins when Osric punches Thom,” Ashley added with a knowing smile.

NW: What works in progress do you have?  

Ashley responded, “We are about half way through The High Wizard’s Hunt, the sequel to The Wand-Maker’s Debate. Since we have completed the first half of the book in about 3 months, we feel a fall release is going to be fairly certain.  The Osric’s Wand series is well on its way!”

NW: Which character from your books do you like most / are most like?

Jack rubbed his chin as he pondered his answer, "It is really difficult for me to choose a favorite, knowing the characters like I do. But if I was pushed to choose, I think I would have to go with Gus, or Pebble. They have distinctly different personalities, but I can identify with them both. Gus has this grumpy, knowing way about him, and Pebble is just adorable!" He grinned, thinking of the prairie dog pup's childish antics. "As for who I am most like . . . I have no idea. I tend to think of myself as Osric, but that is because I write more of him than I do the others, and I have to really think in order to get him correct. I have a hard time writing about myself too, that is why I think I am most like him. I know his thoughts, and his motivation, but putting it on paper is a struggle because there is so much involved with each choice he makes."

Ashley sat in contemplation for a moment before responding. "I would have to say my favorite character is Machai, because he is so much fun to write. As for who I am most like, that is much harder to say. The obvious choice might be Bridgett, as she is the main female character. But she and I only have a few similarities." Ashely thought about how each character may develop in later books and added, "Perhaps she will turn out to be more like me than I know, since I write most of Bridgett's parts in the books. Jack has a hard time writing in a female character without make them sound like shallow, giggling girls." Jack feigned like he was going to throw something at her, but nodded in agreement instead.

Ashley Delay
NW: Who is your favorite author and why?

Jack nearly jumped out of his seat, “Hands down, Brandon Sanderson! No other author that I have read gives a payoff like his books! You invest all this time and energy into a book, or series of books. When you finally reach the end, you want something that makes you go “WOW, time well spent!”, and pisses you off that the ride is over. I think Brandon Sanderson does that like no-one else. For my dollar, he is the best fantasy author on the planet right now.”

“I, however, find it impossible to choose a favorite,” Ashley stated. “I have read so many wonderful books by talented authors, I could never narrow it down.  Although, I can say, books by Anne McCaffrey, Terry Goodkind, and Elizabeth Moon are on the top of my list.”

NW: How long have you been a writer?

“I started writing Osric’s Wand in December of 2010, so that puts me at a year and five months. However, I have to say if I had known that it was this fun, I would have started years ago! Ashley came on board quickly. I can honestly say, this book would have been very different from what it is today without her. She is an amazing writer who writes an almost flawless first draft. I, on the other hand, need every step along the way to refine what I put on the page!” Jack responded avidly.

Ashley smiled at the flattery and rolled her eyes, “I have been writing since I was very young. I tend to vent my emotions on paper, and my poetry, lyrics, and stories could tell my life story if anyone could interpret them. However, I never thought of myself as a writer until we published The Wand-Maker’s Debate and it started to outsell my greatest expectations.”

NW: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Ashley replied, “As much as I love the constant banter and debate with my co-author, I think my favorite part is finding out what happens next. We plan out what we think will happen and brainstorm together, but once we start writing it evolves and tells its own story, regardless of our intentions. I love the anticipation and surprise that comes with each chapter we write.” Jack’s jaw hung open in exaggerated surprise, and he pointed over at her discreetly.
“If you had any idea what a control freak she is, you would be as surprised as I am to hear that’s her favorite part,” he winked and added, “Honestly, I love every bit of it, but my favorite part is watching it come together as we write.  We have several people who come around to watch us as we write, and seeing their reactions to the evolution of the books is so much fun!  It is an experience every writer should have. There is nothing like a fan flipping out, excited about words you just put on the page,” Jack said.

Jack Albrecht
NW: What is your favorite movie – the one you can watch over and over again?

Jack responded quickly, “In my eyes, there is nothing better than The Princess Bride. Swordfights, magic, pirates, giants, true love, revenge, miracles and humor... That movie has been in my house since kindergarten! I have worn out 5 VCR tapes, and 3 DVDs!  I could watch it every day and not get tired of it.”
Ashley shook her head in disbelief at how easy it is for Jack to choose a favorite, “Again, impossible to narrow down to just one. Right now, I would say anything with Sean Connery or Nicolas Cage.”

Where to buy:
Amazon Kindle $0.99

Paperbacks can be purchased anywhere, or at Amazon for $8.99

Monday, April 23, 2012

Manic Monday: Imprisoned by Poison

toxic skull 3 green pictures, backgrounds and images

poi-son /'poizen/ n. 1. a substance that causes death or injury to a person or animal that swallows or absorbs it. 2. harmful influence

SYNONYMS: toxin, venom

Are you imprisoned by a poison?

Poisonous things take many forms. Sometimes we find ourselves in toxic relationships. I've been a divorce attorney and mediator for almost eighteen years. I've seen lots of people live years - decades even - in relationships that are poison to them. Why do they do it? Why can't they just leave?

Other times we find that the very food we eat has become toxic to our bodies. What for you may be a benign food may, for someone else, be a bona fide toxic substance.

For me, dairy products are poison to my system. Yet for years I have denied the extent of the problem. Oh, I use Lactaid milk and avoid ice cream (mostly). But then I slather cheese onto everything.

And I LOVE cheese. In fact, I've never met a cheese I couldn't love. Even the fluorescent stuff that squirts out of a can.

But it's poison to me. It will cause me pain. It will make me glued to my house so I can be near a bathroom (sorry for the TMI!). It will cause me joint pain and make me feel nauseus and bloated. It will often cause me to feel lethargic and tired, even in the morning.

Why in God's name do I eat this substance that is poison to me?

I suspect that the reason I eat cheddar cheese (and Gouda and brie and Havarti - you get the point), is the same reason people stay in those toxic relationships. The good part, even though it may be enjoyed a very small amount of time, is so freakin' good that we put up with the pain for the hit of the substance.

But there comes a point when the enjoyment no longer exists. Even a small bite of the substance causes extreme discomfort and you come to the conclusion that it's not worth it.

As it goes for cheese so it goes for relationships. Sometimes enough is enough.

Then it's time to clean house.

Cleaning house can feel good, especially when it's long overdue. An incremental change can make a difference. A whole-house mega cleanse can be life altering.

I've been holding onto cheese. And it has been holding onto me. But the love affair has turned sour (*rimshot*).

I'm cleaning house. From top to bottom and inside out, I'm ridding myself of poisons in my life. I'm starting with dairy.

I've started down this path before but honestly, I never gave it my best shot. I'd avoid cheese and stop eating ice cream, but I'd still use butter and didn't scan food ingredient lists.

That's a half-ass approach and it had half-ass results. The same can hold true for relationships. If you pull back a little, it can feel okay. But if you're still imbibing the poisonous substance, it will maintain its hold over you. Best to go cold turkey and cut the toxin out of your world completely.

How do you do it? How do you take that step and excise the poison from your life?

For me, it starts with proper motiviation. I quite simply want nothing more than to spend the majority of my day writing. And when the poison has such a hold that I can no longer do that, a change has to come. I have so many stories to write, I can't afford to have to take a day off - or a week off - because I hurt.

A proper vision of the thing you know you can achieve without the poisons in your life - that is the motivation that helps you clean house.

What about you? Are there toxic relationships in your life? What about poisonous substances that you still hold onto? And if you are holding onto a poisonous substance, what is the toxin preventing you from becoming? What dream is it killing?

Or maybe you have ridded yourself of a toxin? If you did, how did you do it? And how did you feel afterward?

I'd love to hear from you - especially if you know of dairy substitutes that don't taste like poo!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Writer Chat Wednesday: Welcome Krystal Wade!

Krystal Wade
It's Wednesday and that means it's time for Writer Chat. Today, please welcome my guest Krystal Wade. Her first novel, Wilde's Fire, was recently released. Pull up a chair and eavesdrop on my chat with Krystal.

Natalie Wright (NW)Your new release Wilde’s Fire just hit the shelves and I am loving it! You went with an Indie publishing house, Noble Young Adult, to publish Wilde’s Fire. Can you tell us a little about your path to publication?

Krystal Wade (KW): My path was short. Horror stories circulate about how people wait months, years—decades even—before their novel sees the light of day. I'm impatient—very, very impatient—so, I decided not to query an agent to reach a NY house. I researched medium-sized publishers and found one I thought was "the one", subbed to them, and never heard back. Not a word. Not, 'we've received your query and it will be x amount of days' . . . nothing. So, I kept reworking my novel, changing it up, gathering beta data, and researching more publishers. A friend of mine mentioned Noble Romance opened a YA arm. I sent them the first three chapters of Wilde's Fire, and three days later, they wanted the rest. There you have it.

NW: Wow! Three days? That's almost unheard of! But the quick response I think relates to the strength of your story. And what about your experience with Noble Young Adult – what has that been like for you?

KWA whirlwind. I've learned so much about publication (both sides: author and publisher). I've learned as impatient as I am, I am also a control freak. J

NW: One thing I’ve noticed is that your book is very well edited – both for content and for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. What was the editing process like?

KW: Thank you. That means the world to me. One thing I'm afraid of is that some reviewer will say "Hey! You goofed, you idiot!" Luckily, that hasn't happened yet. I work with a team of writers. Sarah Ballance and Dawna Raver are my critique partners, and they ruthlessly read and edited my chapters before I sent to beta readers. I also use a service called Grammarly. This is all before my editor got her hands on Wilde's Fire. She taught me about impossible simultaneous actions and about Noble's house style for commas. But other than that, there wasn't much for her to correct. My team is awesome!

NW: In Wilde’s Fire, your main character, Kate, accidentally ends up in another world – world full of danger. What was your inspiration for this other world?

KW: Really good question. I had no inspiration for her other world. Years ago, when I first tried to write her story, all I had was an image of her reaching out to touch something shimmering in the forest. The rest of the story was blank, dark, non-existent. So, I guess it's kind of ironic I sent her into a world without light.

NW: Do you have any news to share about your work?

KW: Wilde's Fire has claimed the #1 Best Selling spot on Noble YA's website for two weeks in a row. That's amazing. I'm next to some great talent. One of these days, maybe I'll see #1 on Amazon. What do you think?

NW: That's great Krystal! Shoot for the stars. What books have you written so far?

KW: Wilde's Army, Darkness Falls Book Two, is complete and in my editor's red-penning hands. The third book in the trilogy is near completion, but my muse told me to finish an urban fantasy (currently untitled) I started last year. So, I'm obeying. That one is coming along quickly and I already have a publisher lined up! Keeping the details mum though.

NW: Urban fantasy - I'm in! When you are ready to share the deets, come back and chat about it! 
What is your favorite scene from Wilde's Fire and why?

KWI have so many scenes I'm in love with, but I think what I love the most, is when Kate is utterly deflated. Arland asks her to draw out what happened as a way to make her feel better. She draws a stick figure in the dirt then stabs it through the heart. His advice didn't help. And I love her attitude.

NWWhat genre do you write in?

KW: I write mostly fantasy, but a few times I've dabbled in suspense. My urban fantasy might be described as a thriller/suspense/fantasy. LOL. Say that ten times fast.

NW: Which character from your books do you like most / are most like?

KW: Flanna. She says everything I'm afraid to.

NW: If you walked through a portal to dimension without books, what three books do you want to take with you?

KWThe Hunger Games . . . all three.

NW: I'd pick the Hunger Games too but when asked this question, I "cheat" and count the series as one book, LOL! Who is your favorite author and why?

KWMy favorite author is, coincidentally, not my favorite writer. Does this make sense? I love Maggie Stiefvater. Her books are good, but it's her personality I'm drawn to. Her vlogs, her blogs. She's unique, and her voice carries into everything she writes. She's quite amazing, but I wasn't happy with the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy.

NW: I totally agree with what you just said. I think that for authors trying to build their "brand," they should study Maggie Stiefvater - not to copy her, but to see how she so successfully puts the "real Maggie" out there in everything she does and it is compelling.

NWDescribe your perfect Saturday.

KW: Waking up to the sound of birds singing, not kids screaming. A cup of coffee brought to me by my loving husband, breakfast in bed, someone propping pillows under my feet and feeding me grapes—Oh, wait, you didn't want reality, did you?

Thank you Krystal for stopping by my blog today and chatting. I HIGHLY recommend you check out Krystal's book and get to know her on Facebook, etc.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Please God Help Him - He's Married to a Writer

marriage proposal cartoon
My hubby of twenty-four years is away on business this week. The evening time alone, unfettered by the obligation to socialize with the person I share my life and house with should be a good thing. When he's away, I can put my daughter to bed and then write into the wee hours without feeling guilty that I'm ignoring my hubby. Instead I find myself watching banal television while eating Cheez-its, unmoored by his absence.

Perhaps it is because we have been together for so long. Perhaps it is because he is, above all else, my best friend. Or maybe it's because he's a rock of a person and without him around, I float off into space, untethered without his solid presence.

I was fortunate enough to meet my hubby when I was still in high school. It turns out that when I was seventeen I fell in love with  one of the kindest people I've ever met and one that  loves me for who I am. And that is no small thing.

It turns out that I'm not always all that loveable. I know, I know. You're saying, "No way, you're very lovable Natalie. I've never met you but you look nice enough from your picture and you don't spout negativity and vitriol (not that often anyway). Of course you're lovable!"

But the truth is, my husband is married to an emotional, sensitive, passionate, opinionated and slightly eccentric writer. Oh, and did I mention that I was born stocked with a larger than required amount of that wonderful hormone estrogen? If you are a woman, I need say no more. You understand. 

My kind, even-keeled rock of a husband stays put - a monolith of a man - despite the fact that he never knows from day to day which wife he'll be living with that day. One morning he wakes to a mellow woman, moving quietly and calmly through her day. Receptive and open is that woman. When he wakes to that wife, he can expect convivial conversation full of give and take, likely a lovely dinner into which she has poured her passion for good food, a lovely evening in which she listens to him talk about his day with interest and attention.

He must really love those days!

The next day though, he may wake to a tearful woman seemingly in mourning for the loss of her greatest friend. "What's the matter?" he'll ask. He will usually hear her reply something like, "I dreamed that you left me. How could you?" 
"So I'm getting in trouble and you're sad over something that I did in a dream?" The wife that greets him that day merely nods her head yes and tears continue to pour from her eyes and onto his shoulder as he draws her head to his chest, patiently comforting her as she cries out tears for the horrible thing that occurred in a dream fueled by fear.

Another day he may wake to a woman whose eyes are filled with the fire of an anger that knows no bounds. The fury could be over an injustice done to a person or persons many thousands of miles away, or could be fanned by the flames of concern from a news story she heard over the cruelty done to a dog by its owner. The inferno of her anger may have been lit by the latest political drama trending or a memo about the bullying policy that she received from the school.

It doesn't matter what has her ire up that day. There is no abating the thirsty flames of her passion over the issue. He listens patiently and most of the time says little. He has learned that arguing the other side of the issue will only lead to the fiery read head turning her anger on him. His motto: "At all costs, avoid the Wrath of Nat."

The next day he awakes to a woman that is withdrawn into herself, her eyes glassy with the look of someone far away. A simple question such as "Are you busy today" while she's combing her hair will likely get him the death stare and a curt reponse. He should know by now that that vacant, far off look means that she is far away - in her fantasy world with the real people that live only in her head, living a life in true places that exist only in the mind. Dialogue is being spoken. Dreams are being hatched. Betrayals are learned. Tragedies strike. 

That day he is living with his writer wife engaged in story building. He knows better by now than to expect a hot dinner that night (she is passionate about cooking but even her passion for food will be laid waste by the passion for the story). She'll be "gone" all day and likely a surly bear if anyone interrupts the story that is taking place in her head.

That night he know that once the kiddo is in bed, she'll rush to her office and close the door. He'll hear her music playing and maybe smell the pungeant but sweet smell of the incense smoke snaking out under the door. He won't see her again that night and knows better than to interrupt her when her fingers are flying across the keys.

He's a patient man. He'll wait. Who knows, tomorrow may be that day he gets to wake to the woman whose hormones are in check, whose passion for the story was spent the night before, and who is restocking her emotional supplies while the inner fire stokes, ready to ignite again.

Pray for him. He is married to a writer.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Book Review: Where Things Come Back & My Recommendation for How to Win the Printz Award

I recently finished reading Where Things Come Back, a young adult literary fiction novel recommended to me by a writer friend.

Here is the summary from Goodreads:

Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . . 

In the summer before Cullen's senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone's eating "Lazarus burgers." But as absurd as the town's carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared. 

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax. 

Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It's about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances.

At the outset let me say that I give this book 3.5 Hawks and recommend it for the quality of the writing. If you enjoy literary fiction for young adults, then this is up your alley. The author, John Corey Whaley, is a gifted writer and I would read his next book solely based on the strength of his writing. But if you weren't a fan of The Catcher in the Rye and/or Looking for Alaska, then you may want to pass on this book.

There are several things keeping this book from getting a higher rating and if you read through some reviews on Goodreads, other reviewers point out things I agree with (cheesy naming of characters; annoyance with the protagonist breaking into 3rd person reveries that slow down the plot (a lot); the chapters about the religious fanatics told in 3rd person; and the stupid woodpecker that I frankly just never thought fit with this story no matter how much the author wanted to use the story of that damned bird).

Despite its faults, Where Things Come Back was a quick read and its ending was satisfying. It even got an emotional response out of me at the end.

But my biggest beef with Where Things Come Back is its stylistic and overt  reference to The Catcher in the Rye. I'll put my cards on the table and state emphatically and without any hesitation that I did not enjoy The Catcher in the Rye and wish wholeheartedly that people who want to write books for young adults would stop being taught J.D. Salinger's single opus magnum so that writers (especially young males trying to write hip books for other young males) would stop emulating Mr. Salinger. It is the 21st century. Can we please find a new paradigm for award-winning young adult novels other than the cynical, trying to be hip, sardonic, swearing-every-other-word, protagonist-so-annoying-that-you- want-to-hand-them-a-gun-so-they'll-do-themselves-in-already style of The Catcher in the Rye

It was in fact both the overt reference and stylistic reference to Catcher that had me dogging John Green's Printz Award winning novel, Looking for Alaska. When I hear a character in a novel written in the 21st century refer to  The Catcher in the Rye as their favorite book, it makes my eye twitch. In the 2000's, with the proliferation of so many amazing books available now to young adults, it seems like a writer with any imagination at all could think of a fresher read for a person aged 14-18 to carry around with them as their favorite.

If I read one more award-winning book that references Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Ryeor emulates the writing style of J.S. Salinger, I will likely throw it - hard - across the room and cause a ripple in the force with my scream of anger.

If you are a writer and you love The Catcher in the Ryeso much you have an orgasm just thinking about it and want nothing more than to emulate the "hip" writing style of J.D. Salinger, then I say go for it. Write that story. Then kindly hide it in some lost-somewhere-hidden file on your hard drive. Forget about it and go write a book in your own style that doesn't include a Holden Caulfield character.

printz awardThat is, of course, unless you want to win the Printz award. If you aspire to write books that make the Printz award committee gush and give you the gold sticker, then by all means write a novel that is Salinger-esque. Make sure you find a curse word to repeat over and over again, such as goddamn (Catcher) or ass-hat (Where Things Come Back). Fill your main character with existential angst. And make doubly certain your protagonist is an annoying son-of-a-bitch that a majority of readers will wish would die already rather than speak one more sentence. Then shoot your Salinger-esque manuscript off to an agent. Make sure your promotional materials make you sound Salinger-esque

Thankfully John Green didn't talk himself into believing that winning that Printz award early on for Looking for Alaska was an endorsement of the Salinger-esque style and stay forever in that mode. Fortunately for us, Green matured as an artist and this year brought us The Fault in Our Stars. TFIOS is a novel all about existential questions. It is full of teen angst. But not once when I read it was I reminded of Catcher. There is no reference to Salinger. TFIOS is the masterpiece it is because it is all Green. Not John Green trying to write like J.D. Salinger (or anyone else). TFIOS is John Green writing like John Green.

So you see it really is unfair of me to dog poor John Corey Whaley for doing the same thing that John Green did back when he was writing his first novel: emulating J.D. Salinger. But I do hope that Mr. Whaley is able to grow beyond it - to stretch and try out his own voice. He is a gifted writer and the fact that I give his book 4 stars even though I hated with a passion how it hearkened back to Catcher is a testament to his skill.

Perhaps the next legion of young writers will find a new icon to emulate. Fifty years from now a book blogger may be bitching about how all the award-winning books sound like John Green.

3.5 Hawks for Where Things Come Back

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