Thursday, March 17, 2011

Late but Great

Ever heard of killing your darlings? If you write, and you intend for your writing to entertain, provoke, or teach any sort of public audience, then you ought to get acquainted with that phrase. "Killing your darlings" refers to the deletion of select word acrobatics. All those tasty landscape descriptions, poetic statements, even that awesome line where you liken the protagonist's mother's sweater to two harp seals in heat--some of them have to go. Not all of them. But some. Because no matter how awesome they are, or how meaningful they are to you, some of them will get in the readers way. They will stand up like big, fat, jarring (but so beautiful!) speed bumps in your narrative. 

Evelyn Lafont of Keyboard Hussy says it well in this blog post:
"When you like what you write, you run the risk of writing too much . . . I can think of about 50 ways to describe the tree outside my window, and each of the descriptions is so good it makes my nipples hard, but that doesn’t mean I need to shove all of them in."

My method? Don't think about it as you are writing. Make your magic, then go back and hack it up later. Just don't get too attached to your darlings on the way, because some of them must end up on the killing floor later on. 

Oh well. 

In other news this week: I finished Lamb by Christopher Moore. Since it took me two and a half months to read it, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I know that it has some hilarious zingers about Buddhism, sex, angels, and bacon, and I know that I'd recommend it to others. I also know that I should have brushed up on some New Testament before taking it on. Those unfamiliar with the Bible in general probably won't have much fun with Lamb. I myself wondered: "Why is Moore adding so many seemingly pointless characters and seaward journeys all of a sudden?" And then I remembered: "Oh, duh, he has to, because Jesus had like 12 apostles and he went sailing a lot." Anyway, if you've got a Christian background like me, and you're sick of how most Christians seem to miss our Lord's main point entirely ("Be nice to everyone, even creeps"), then you're likely to enjoy it.

Next up: Freedomland by Anne Bean, The Unnamed (Joshua Ferris, hubba, hubba), and The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffeneggar)--my first attempt at enjoying an audiobook! Hey, if NPR loses its funding, I have to have something to listen to on my lunch break, right? Right?!



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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

HUNGA GAMES. A review.

It's 8:36pm. We haven't seen our waitress in over 40 minutes. What is she trying to tell us? We've displeased her somehow, and the wait is our punishment. I look across the table at my girlfriends, Steph and Addison. None of us is going to last much longer, so I take the risk. I dart to the next table, and even with a bad case of "Kindle thumb", am able to latch my chopsticks onto two strips of sesame chicken that the departed party left behind. I hurry it back and fling it onto a napkin. It's mostly gristle. And cold. But it'll sustain us. "Want some?" I ask, but my girlfriends just stare. It's just as well that we're not amiable. We know what this will come to, we're all thinking it. Even now, waiting for a meal we will all share, I'm thinking of just how I might do it. Steph will be easy enough. She's close to the bannister, and already so fatigued. I could flip her over, just like that. Easy. It's Addison who will be trouble. She's small, but precise. I've seen her play bocce ball. But I'm good with a chopstick. So long as she's in range, I'm positive I can jab it at just the right angle and . . . oh god! What kind of monster has this game made of me? Hana Sushi, what has your cruel reign done to us all?

Okay, first of all: I loved The Hunger Games. I give it four stars. I pulled the sample up on my brand spankin' new Kindle, got to the end, and was totally sold. Couldn't put it down. Protagonist Katniss Everdeen is fantastically developed and her intent on survival is real stuff. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the Games was fun (thought I found the need for stylists a little odd), as well as the denizens of District 12 and their black market methods of community sustainability. Surprises! Twists and turns! Feigned alliances! I loved the story and I will read the rest of them and love them, too, I'm sure. That said, I hit some major, teeth-grinding peeves that I must share. Here they are. Please validate me.

Peeta, the male lead, is flatter than Michael Phelps's abs (damn, son!). I couldn't get a feel for his personality at all, if there happened to be one. Maybe because his name is Peeta, and every time he is mentioned, all I could think of was Lois from Family Guy saying "Peeetaaaaaaaah." And pitas. And peat moss. All at once.

Sleep Talk. The footage of Peeta uttering Katniss's name in his fevered sleep. Overdone. Makes me want to die. Made me want to die when Ron Weasley did it. This shit never happens in real life. The last thing I said in my sleep to a lover was so weird and embarrassing that my face caught fire. It was not his name.

Clover taunting Katniss with a knife. Honey, this is the Hunger Games. Just stab the bitch.

Special abilities! This is a character crutch that drives me crazy. Stephanie Meyers did this to death. (Edward can read minds! Alice can see the future! Zafrina can make you hallucinate that you're in a jungle but only if she's within 30 feet of you and there are no werewolves around to block her senses!) Ahem. Peeta is a baker's son. He's iced a ton of cakes, so obviously, he must be very good at painting himself with camouflage. I don't call that a special ability. I call that a big fucking stretch. Luckily, none of the other Tributes had such singular skills. Except for the cunning Foxface, who was alright. Foxface, you should have won. Or escaped. I want to see you again.

Surprise! Mutant dog pack! Mrs. Collins! What the hell was that?

Romance trumps Rebellion: I know this series bends toward revolution, but I see none of that in this book. We know that Katniss blames the Capitol for her poverty, that she fears what the Capitol can do to her and her family. But we never get to see her resentment go any further. She doesn't ponder what a rebellion would be like, or dream of what life could be like after. The closest thing we see to defiance is the Peeta/Katniss double suicide threat, and (apparently?) the decoration of Rue's body, which I just didn't get. Placing flowers on a poor dead child hardly feels all that defiant to me. Instead of defiance, we get to see Katniss preoccupy herself with pretending a romance with Peeta in order to get more sponsors. This felt predictable, boring, and beside the point. Why is Katniss lending so much thought to a boy who's about as interesting as the mud he hides under when she should be stewing with serious revolutionary rage?

Courtesy of INKNOSE at deviantart.


So there you have it. My biggest criticism of The Hunger Games, I suppose, is actually a compliment: I wish there was more of it. I like a fast read, but I feel like this story has the potential to be three times longer, piled with cultural detail and political savagery, a real sci-fi classic. But then I remember that it's YA, and I need not be so hard on it. I may want it to be a generation-defining novel, but what I really wanted when I bought it was a good story. And The Hunger Games delivered!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

28 Days Later: A Highly Successful February

It is March 1st, and I am proud to report that during Vessel's first month of publication, it passed the 100 copies mark. And it was February of all months--the shortest month of the year! It's like my kid won the spelling bee or something. It feels great.

I want to sit still for a second and savor the present, but I can't. I can't even wrap my head around it. A hundred people. Out there. Reading this thing. If you are one of those people: THANK YOU. I hope you are having a great time with the story and characters that I have so enjoyed constructing. And if you've taken the time to carry us forward---by suggesting Vessel to someone, or writing a quick Amazon or GoodReads review, by Tweeting or blogging or getting an extra copy for a friend, by recommending it to your local bookstore---then know that you have produced real results. I am doing this marketing thing on my own, but I am not doing it alone. One hundred copies doesn't happen because of one person. Thank you. Let's keep this thing rolling. Let's dance.


Love,
Tom
Happy 100!