25 January 2011

New Blog Site!

Here it is, the news you've all been waiting for (or was that just me?)! My blog is moving to a wordpress site. The address is stormynightpublishing.com. There we will be talking more in depth about books, what it takes to be a good author, and my meager attempts to write up to my own standards. All my old posts from this site have been transferred over there, so if there's something that you wanted to look back on, have no fear, you can find it without coming back over here. I hope to see you over there!

22 January 2011

Thoughts on the Short Story

Have you ever read "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway? I read it when I was in college, and I didn't really like it, but it is a story that has since stuck with me. A short story is typically defined as a "snap shot" in time. Just one small moment captured forever in a few words. "Hills Like White Elephants" illustrates that principal perfectly. It takes place over the course of maybe twenty minutes, but you can infer a ton about the characters' lives and their relationship (Wikipedia calls this the "Iceberg Theory"). You even get all this elephant and licorice symbolism. You could talk about it for a week in class and not exhaust all the possibilites. Some short stories aren't really that short at all--like "the Yellow Wallpaper". Really, Charlotte Gilman? It was like fifty pages in my Norton Anthology. " Hills LIke White Elephants" I remember being only two or three pages, yet it encompassed so much more than "the Yellow Wallpaper" ever could.

I've tried to write a short story several times--and failed miserably. Maybe it's because I hold myself to too high of a standard. But Hills Like White Elephants is the only kind of short story that I can really relate to. It's the only kind of short story that I want to write. A snapshot into someone's desperately depressing life, and then back out again. Over a hundred pages' worth of drama packed into two or three. And all that symbolism, too. But I guess none of us can be Ernest Hemingway--at least not on our first try.

20 January 2011

Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire

I did not want to waste another minute without telling you all how I feel about Ruth Downie's debut novel, Medicus. I bought it as a Christmas present for my mom so that I could read it before I gave it to her, but alas, it did not arrive in time for me to get to it before it had to be wrapped. So I had to wait for Mom to finish it and give it back to me. Now for my prognosis: To borrow a phrase from Joshua Unruh (which he used in conjunction with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), "I hearted it so bad." Which, in case you didn't know, is FAR BEYOND love.
I cannot think of a single thing in Medicus that I didn't love.

The characters? Check. Both the main character and the secondary characters were deep and creative. Ruso's attempts at writing the "Concise Guide" might have been my favorite, as I feel it is something all writers can relate to. Valens, Ruso's co-worker and roommate, and his puppies were especially entertaining. Even the minor characters like Chloe and Daphne I felt were well-rounded. Tilla was the only one that didn't have much explained, but I have a feeling that is another mystery for another time.

The plot? Awesome. It's a murder mystery, and yet you're so busy reading trying to solve it that you don't even think about it as a murder mystery. The story opens as Ruso starts his work as a surgeon for a Roman outpost in Britain. A girl from a certain place of bad reputation is found dead in the river, and her body is brought to Ruso, who can't understand why he is the only one interrogating people about her death. And so the mystery begins...

The writing? Spectacular! I literally laughed out loud at the dry humor on nearly every page. Since nothing was wrong with it, I'm not really sure what to say about it other than that it was good.

Okay. I thought of something negative. I didn't like the part where it switched to Tilla's point of view and she was being all melodramatic. That was annoying.

Needless to say, I will be reading the next three books in this series. And...oh, my! Terra Incognita is only 99c on my Kindle!

18 January 2011

Jasper Fforde and the Eyre Affair

I think I'm ready to talk about Jasper Fforde now. Well, not just about him, although I'm sure he's a lovely person, but about his character Thursday Next and her first novel, The Eyre Affair. My first beef with this book is the flap, but since Mr. Fforde had nothing to do with that, I'll go ahead and leave it alone.
Most of you already know how I feel since I've been spouting opinions since I started the book a week ago. Now that I've finished it, I've got more to say.
My overall feeling: the plot was good. It was original, it struck a cord (chord? what is the origin of this phrase?) with all readers who enjoy classic literature, and it ended well. As for character, I loved Thursday. She was the regular tough girl with a gun without feeling like a cliche. She had depth and a good reason to want to shoot things, but at the same time, she didn't want to shoot things.
But I cannot get over how poorly this tale was told. The first line begins, "My father had a face that could stop a clock." Forwith, her father keeps popping in, stopping clocks all over the place. But is her father relevant to the story? No. Does he give her a bit of insight that gives her a clue to the antagonist's whereabouts? No. Does he embody this lovely sub-plot that is a metaphor for everything else that's going on in the story? I don't think so. He's just there, asking random and irrelevant questions.
For the first twenty or so pages, my thought process was on a repeated loop of, "What the heck is going on?" Fforde does a great job of not explaining that he's in this reality. Well, I guess the dodo bird kind of gave it away, but it is not that easy to just jump into an alternate reality like that and figure out what's going on. Then for the next hundred or so pages my loop became, "Oh, this is where the story begins." But it never did. That frustrated me. I would get really into what was going on, and then it turned out it was just a seguey into the real plot. Louis L'Amour says, "Start in the middle of the action." It's even a term, in media res. It doesn't mean start in the middle of one action, then make it turn out that that action isn't really important to the story. The actual point of the book, the "Eyre Affair" as it were, doesn't even really begin until over halfway through the book. Granted, I liked the point of the book, and as aforementioned, I thought it ended really well, but I didn't like taking forever to get there.
The last thing I'm going to comment on, and to me the most irritating, is the mechanics of the book. Mr. Fforde proves that he has a great knowledge of Point of View through his discussion of Jane Eyre and how it is written in the first person. Why, then, does he break these rules in his own book? Maybe he thought it was funny. I did not. There's nothing funny about a first person book suddenly switching to third person and telling us things that the main character couldn't possibly know. Dramatic irony is not an option in first person narrative. (Unless it's like Forrest Gump.)

If you have read this book and agree or disagree with me, feel free to comment. I welcome discussion. I would like to like this book. I really would. Convince me that it's worth it.

10 January 2011

Review: Electric Literature

When I first read that Amazon offered many magazines in digital form straight to your Kindle, I snorted. Kindles are for bibliophiles, and when I think of magazines I think of things like Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times. Those aren’t things that real book readers read, right?
But while those titles are available and are very popular on the Kindle, there are also many literary magazines in digital format. Some of these include The New Yorker, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
What do all these magazines have in common? They all contain short stories. Yes, for as little as $2.99 a month, you can have multiple short stories sent to your Kindle for you to enjoy, in addition to articles and columns to keep you up-to-date on your particular genre, from politics to science fiction.
Ironically enough, none of the magazines I just listed is the one I chose to read for this review. Instead, I picked something less popular and mainstream. This independently-published magazine is called Electric Literature, and while it is a bit more costly than some popular serials ($4.95 on your Kindle for one issue), it is also quite a bit more substantial. Around a hundred and twenty pages thick in physical form, each issue contains five short stories or excerpts from soon-to-be-released novels.
The contents of Electric Literature #2 include Colson Whitehead’s “The Comedian,” Stephen O’Connor’s “Love,” Pasha Malla’s “The Slough,” Marisa Silver’s “Three Sisters,” and Lydia Davis’s “The Cows.” The stories got more interesting as they went along; that is to say, “The Cows” was my favorite, followed closely by “Three Sisters.”
Davis chronicles the life of the three cows that live in the field next to her house. Basically, they eat, they sit, they stand in a line, they eat some more. Pretty boring, right? But her writing is poetic, and she evokes the thought that our own lives can be just as meaningless if we don’t watch out. “They come from behind the barn as though something is going to happen, and then nothing happens,” she says.
Instead of taking this as a sad description of a pastoral scene, I take it as a warning to seize the moment, to take each day and make it something exciting and new. That’s not to mention that I actually enjoyed reading about the three cows, all of them trying to make their day interesting (and failing miserably).
Silver’s story gives insight into three sisters’ lives through the event of a snow day. Connie, the middle sister, trying to be responsible, fixes her siblings breakfast and ensures that they wear their jackets and snow boots to school. The storm gets worse as the day progresses, until finally a family with three daughters is trapped in the snow outside Connie’s house. While the family waits in her living room for the tow truck to arrive, Connie begins to realize just how important sisters are, especially when your parents aren’t as responsible or caring as they should be. She’s glad that these sisters would have had each other if something terrible had happened and they had not been able to get out of their freezing car.
I would recommend short stories like those in Electric Literature if you like content without involving yourself in a novel, or if you want to analyze something with a cryptic ending. If you need something a little more defined and character-based, I think you could probably pass this up.
And if you’re not sure you want to invest your money on a digital magazine, there’s more good news. Electric Literature, like all Kindle books, allows for a free sample, but also, all of the magazines offer a free two weeks’ trial subscription.

(You can also read my review at The Consortium's website.)

06 January 2011

Janus at the door: looking behind and ahead

I thought now would be a good time to look back at where I was a year ago in my life. Well, weather-wise, we have seen some definite changes. There was no blizzard on Christmas, and it has hardly gotten below freezing this winter. Global Warming must be true! In more good news, my house is already tree-less. We might have hung on to our Christmas tree longer than recommended last year.
My resolutions for 2010 were as follows (verbatim a blog last January):

finish writing on one novel.
read more books this year than I did last year. (count for 2009: 28)
get my house more organized. a place for everything, and everything in its place.
clean the house more often.
read more Greek!

Did I succeed in these goals?
1. I sort of/not really finished writing one novel. I wrote "the end" on Into the Flames, but I skipped a lot of plot development, and Bracken and John's characters have changed dramatically. This year my resolution is to fill in these gaps, straighten out the boys' roles, and get a good second re-write in.
2. In 2010 I read 37 books, so that I definitely succeeded in. This year my goal is 55.
3. Eh, what is a "place" really? I think my house is more organized than it was a year ago, but there are still a few things looking for homes.
4. I have no idea. I don't really record how often I clean the house. So we'll go with yes.
5. I did not read more Greek in 2010 unless you count the few words that "scholarly" authors tried to teach me while I was reading their books at work. And I knew all those words already. Because I took two years of Greek.

Anyway, here's my goals for 2011, so I can hold myself accountable and what-not.
1. Be an awesome Consortium artist! THis sounds vague, but that's because I'm not quite sure what all I'm going to be required to do as the year progresses. But don't worry, my spreadsheet and I are completely ready to aid and abet Aaron and all his Consortium needs! My January list is already full.
2. As aforementioned, really work hard on finishing Into the Flames.
3. Improve myself as an editor. Not because I'm bad right now, but because we can always find ways to improve ourselves.
4. As aforementioned, read 55 books. I picked this number because that's how many Mara read in 2010, and I can't have her beating me.

And that's all I have for you today. I'm about fifteen pages away from finishing my first novel of 2011; but I'll write more on that later.

30 December 2010

List of Books

Oops, I forgot to add the entire list of books. Here it is.

01. Heat Wave –“Richard Castle” (1-3)
02. About a Boy –Nick Hornby (1-8)
03. Pirate Latitudes –Michael Crichton (1-10)
04. Rebecca—an American Girl (1-15)
05. Pretties –Scott Westerfeld (1-17)
06. Anthem –Ayn Rand (1-25)
07. Rest You Merry –Charlotte MacLeod (1-29)
08. Specials –Scott Westerfeld (2-9)
09. Ice Palace –Edna Ferber (2-15)
10. The Hand of Mary Constable –Paul Gallico (2-20)
11. One for the Money –Janet Evanovich (2-24)
12. The Forgotten Garden –Kate Morton (3-4)
13. The Secret Life of Bees –Sue Monk Kidd (4-25)
14. Beastly –Alex Flinn (5-10)
15. Mistborn –Brandon Sanderson (5-23)
16. Love of Seven Dolls –Paul Gallico (6-27)
17. A Kiss in Time –Alex Flinn (7-17)
18. Wuthering Heights –Emily Bronte (7-28)
19. The 10 p.m. Question –Kate de Goldi (8-8)
20. The Nanny Diaries –McLaughlin and Kraus (8-15)
21. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson 1) –Rick Riordan (8-16)
22. The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson 2) –Rick Riordan (8-24)
23. Electric Literature #2 –et al. (8-25)
24. The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson 3) –Rick Riordan (8-28)
25. The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson 4) –Rick Riordan (8-29)
26. The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson 5) –Rick Riordan (8-30)
27. Jane Eyre –Charlotte Bronte (9-6)
28. The Hunger Games –Suzanne Collins (9-15)
29. The Catcher in the Rye –JD Slinger (9-28)
30. Gods Tomorrow –Aaron Pogue (9-30)
31. Light of Eidon –Karen Hanock (10-6)
32. Portal –Imogen Rose (10-19)
33. The Blue Sword –Robin McKinley (10-30)
34. 100 Cupboards –ND Wilson (11-26)
35. Elantris –Brandon Sanderson (12-8)
36. Code Blue –Richard L. Mabry (12-16)
37. The Lost Hero –Rick Riordan (12-29)