Wednesday, February 29, 2012

YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday #11: Leap Day Edition!


"Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic." Today's question on the YA Highway Road Trip is: 

What was the best book you read in February?

I feel like I'm under a self-inflicted burden to give a really good answer, because Leap Day won't occur on a Wednesday again until 2040! This means the odds are fairly good that I will never answer another Road Trip Wednesday question on Leap Day. (I'm thinking this will be an excellent Question for the Future). Well, I'm going to try not to buckle under the pressure of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

My favorite book of February is one of the two Gillian Flynn novels I read, Dark Places or Sharp Objects. They're similar, but not because they echo the same themes or characters, except perhaps in the broadest way. It's difficult to pick one over the other because they're just both really great. I read each in one sitting, staying up way past my bedtime. 

Both novels deal with female protagonists in their twenties who are coming to terms with horrible events from their childhoods that have bled into the present. They're classified as "adult" mysteries, but they have total crossover appeal for an older YA audience. If you like "tough" heroines like Katniss (who live in the world of the here and now) you'll love Flynn's novels.

Flynn has a new novel, Gone Girl, coming out in June, so I have to wait a while before I get my next Flynn fix. Sad face. As a side note, Flynn will be attending the Horror Writers' Stoker Weekend from June 16-19, which hosted by Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew. Sounds kind of awesome!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Deconstructing Michelle Haimoff's "Five Reasons Not to Get an MFA - Reason #1"

(Source)
Michelle Haimoff has been presenting a series of daily posts on She Writes regarding her five reasons not to get an MFA. Although I am a graduate of an MFA program (University of Florida) I think there are plenty of valid reasons not to get an MFA. That said, I think it's important to make sure the reasons that you think you shouldn't get an MFA are rational.

Reason #1: Privacy

Haimoff states"the problem with enrolling in an MFA program is that it’s a public statement about how you’re spending your time. It invites questions like: “What are you working on?” “What is it about?” and “How far along are you?” Grad school is basically your job and, if you’ve ever been in the outside world, you know that you are always expected to be able to talk about your job." 

I think it's important to make a distinction between being to expected to "talk about your job" within the program and without. Other writers share the fears that Haimoff mentions. The vast majority of your MFA peers are not going to be asking you to describe what you're working on. Of course, you'll have to share your writing in workshop, but the prevalent model in which the writer is silent takes care of the problem of talking about your work in that context.

Being afraid of being on the receiving end of probing questions at the holiday dinner table is never a good reason not to do something. There's a simple, graceful way to respond to the questions Haimoff mentioned:. Tell the curious party that you prefer not to talk about your work in progress. Sharing some of the concerns Haimoff lists, such as "you may not know exactly what your story is about yet or how far along in the process you are" can be a good strategy. However you phrase or explain your refusal will depend on who's asking.  You can be curt, bashful, gracious--whatever the situation requires. Being enrolled in an MFA program does not mean you get a sodium pentothal injection at orientation that forces you to talk about your writing.

If you are still coming to terms with identifying yourself as a writer to the outside world (and let's face it, it's a process with lots of challenges), declaring yourself a writer by enrolling in an MFA program is not the greatest vulnerability you should worry about. A writer shares his or her work with the world, often by attempting to get it published in various outlets. Sending your writing out for consideration by the editors of the world requires acknowledging to yourself that you are a writer. This private statement is far more important than any public statement could ever be.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday #10

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly social blog hop between book bloggers. There are two regular hosts: Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read, and two special guest hosts every week. If you want to join in, click on either of their blogs to get the details. The FF question of the day is:

 Q: Activity!!! Take a picture or describe where you love to read the most... 

 

My favorite place to read is the bath tub. But since I don't have a tub in my current residence, I'll have to go with a location almost as good--my bed.

I'm big into piling several comforters on, while the cat and dog sleep at my feet. Reading has some sort of association with being cozy for me, I guess.

Above is the fantasy bath tub I'd love to be reading in right now. I have such severe tub withdrawal that I created a Pinterest board of lovely bath tubs!

But I'm lucky to be curled up in bed, listening to the breaking waves coming from my sound machine, with an endless stream of ebooks available. 

The silver lining of the no bath tub cloud--you can't read on your Kindle for PC while in the tub. Or at least, you probably shouldn't!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

YA Highway: Road Trip Wednesday #10



"Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic." Today's question on the YA Highway road trip is:

February is Black History Month and it's also the month of Valentine's Day. So let's show some writerly love by answering the following question: Who is your favorite African American author or fictional character?

Choosing one favorite African American author is a challenge. As you can see from this post in which I link to the Pinterest board I created in honor of Black History Month, there are so many African American writers whose work I love. Incidentally, I've heard that Pinterest may have a wait list, so if anyone would like an invite, let me know in the comments. I'm not positive, but I think getting invited can expedite the process.

Okay, now that I've fully digressed, I'm going to split hairs and choose a favorite poet and a favorite prose writer.

Prose: Zadie Smith. Her "answer" to Howard's End, On Beauty, is a perfect novel. It's the kind of book that if she were to only have written one in her life, that book would secure her place in history. But she's a relentless machine of perfection, having also written White Teeth, The Autograph Man, and a number of short stories.

Poetry: Lucille Clifton. Though I love every poem of hers that I've read, this is one of my favorites:

wishes for sons

i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
i wish them no 7-11.

(Read the rest of the poem here at the Poetry Foundation.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: Goddess Interrupted



Author: Aimee Carter

Subtitle: The Goddess Test Series: Book II

Publisher: Harlequin

Imprint: HarlequinTEEN

Pub Date: March 27, 2012

ISBN: 9780373210459


As I started Goddess Interrupted, a nagging question kept distracting me. It wasn't the question you might expect, like OMG, what will happen between Kate and Henry or, what will it be like for Kate to be queen of the underworld? Although I'll admit, those questions were important. But the most important question was, will it suffer from second book syndrome? You see, I've eagerly anticipated so many second books in recent series, having been blown away by the first. But almost universally, they've failed to live up to my expectations.

I had my fingers crossed that Goddess Interrupted wouldn’t be another second novel that ultimately felt like a place holder, a way of bridging the gap between the first novel and the third that doesn’t hold as much magic as either. Fellow readers, feel free to get excited. Goddess Interrupted is the rare second novel that forges a new story which flows organically from where The Goddess Test left off.

The novel opens with Kate returning to the Underworld after six months spent traveling the world with James (Hermes) as her companion. The fact she spent so much time with him will prove a sore spot for Henry, but it’s clear that Kate is only interested in her husband. That’s a good thing, because their relationship is constantly tested throughout the novel, by expected and unexpected challenges.

Persephone and Calliope (Hera) each threaten the relationship in their own way.  Kate responds in believable confusion, vacillating between hope and fear that she and Henry will have a happy ending. As if it weren’t enough that she has to deal with the fact that her husband has lingering feelings for his ex-wife, who’s also her sister, Calliope is back and bent on revenge.  Worst of all, the slumbering Titans have been awakened. The fight that ensues between the gods and their father is full of tension, and incorporates Carter’s new take on the creation myth of the Titans and the gods.

While the war is interesting, my real interest is in Kate and Henry’s relationship. Luckily, the war interweaves with their evolving relationship, as opposed to functioning as a separate plot. Though at times I was exasperated at Kate’s desire to save Henry at all costs, while he doesn’t show her the same devotion, I was okay with knowing that Henry’s issues prevent both the reader and Kate from fully seeing his feelings about her.

There are slight missteps in the novel, but they are overshadowed by the high stakes plot and the appeal of our main character. At times Kate seems unevenly characterized in her understanding of Henry, at one moment sounding much wiser and more experienced than she is, then soon after reverting to relying on Ava (Aphrodite) for advice. But any inconsistency can also be explained by the incredibly challenging nature of Kate’s relationship with Henry.

 I also would have liked to get more of a visual sense of the Underworld. While I understand that in the world of the novel, every individual gets her own Underworld, we really only see the afterlives of Persephone and Ingrid (one of the girls who died being tested). Though apparently there are many rocky caverns in the Underworld, I still had trouble visually linking the afterlife spaces with the barren spaces. Without this visualization, it’s difficult for me as a reader to fully grasp what Kate’s life will be like when she starts functioning as Queen.  Will she be interacting with the dead, or just staying in the palace and avoiding the endless rocky caves? Lastly, I was confused by the distance between Kate and her mother Diane (Demeter) in this novel.  The Goddess Test alluded to the fact that their relationship would change somewhat now that Kate knows her mother is a goddess, but their relationship was appealing. While they still interact in this book, the closeness that bound them in the first book seems diminished.

In the next novel, I’m hoping love will finally blossom between Henry and Kate, without the obstacles of Persephone, tests or secrets. I’m also hoping that the Titan War will have a twist, so that we don’t see the gods and gods once again fighting the impossible fight throughout the next novel. But since Carter clearly knows how to navigate her fictional universe and create a new experience in each novel, I have faith that the third book will be as unpredictable and exciting as Goddess Interrupted. Until then, I’ll be awaiting The Goddess Hunt, the novella about Kate’s time in Greece being released on March 1st.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from netgalley.com

Saturday, February 18, 2012

In Celebration of Black History Month

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., 1963

Among its many uses, Pinterest allowed me to create a visual representation of the authors and literature Black History Month calls to mind. What do you think of when you think of Black History Month?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #9

 

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly social blog hop between book bloggers. There are two hosts: Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read. If you want to join in, click on either of their blogs to get the details. The FF question of the day is:

Q:  I like unique names for characters and am looking forward to coming up with some when I start writing. What’s the most unique character name you’ve come across?

The most unique names are oddly enough the most difficult to remember. They're from hard sci fi; the kind of names with apostrophes in the middle. But if we're discussing unique as in appealing, memorable and rare, I'd have to say Delores Haze, aka Lolita, because of the way her various nicknames play into her characterization. 

Four, from Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT, is another unique name (albeit a nickname) that comes to mind. But a lot of unique yet forgettable names run rampant in fiction. On a different note, there's the unique name convention that prevails in romance novels, in which a hero named Chance Strongfront or some such thing is accepted as having a totally unremarkable name.

Ultimately, I don't think it's as important that your character's name be unique, as it is that it fit the character. Nadine Cross from THE STAND struck me as such a good fit for the character that it took on unpleasant qualities as a name in and of itself. There's nothing wrong, per se, with the name Nadine, but just as it happens with a bully in elementary school or a horrible ex, the name became linked for me with the sliminess of the character and her subplot.

Shameless Self Promotion: Guest Blog Edition




Today, I'm guest blogging for the lovely and talented Ali of Ali's Bookshelf about what's on my book shelf, and how it connects to my work in progress. Thanks Ali! 

Here are some other posts on Ali's blog that you should check out:



Interview with Stephen Zimmer

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Cranky Divorcee Celebrates Valentine's Day


The First Annual Valentine’s Day Tournament of Desired Uncoupling 

It has come to my attention that some readers expect Valentine’s Day to melt the hardened exterior of the Cranky Divorcee, exposing a gooey romantic core. Oh, you sweet na├»ve things. It’s not April Fool’s, darlings, and this hardened but handsome shell conceals a blackened interior—from heart to lungs, it’s all coated in ash.
No, what the Cranky Divorcee relishes most on the holiday of the winged cherub, with its distinctive aroma of chocolate and disappointment, is to imagine her least favorite fictional couples imploding.
The one sure law of the universe is that everything ends. Competing for the prize of most desired smash-up in this tournament are the fictional sweethearts everyone loves to love. Everyone, of course, but the Cranky Divorcee. And now, drum roll please--the winners:

 
Jim Halpert & Pam Beseley

(Source)

If this couple were a piece of furniture, they would be a beige couch accented with depressingly “daring” throw pillows in a color that was trendy two years ago. The only thing interesting about them was the anticipation of them becoming a couple. Once that dissipated, they embarked on the fast train to mind-blowing dullness.

 I long for the day when they each become dissatisfied and realize that even within the suffocatingly narrow sitcom world they inhabit, there’s more to life than each other. I want to see Pam have a fling with Ryan, and Jim have a fling with Angela. Or perhaps Pam should have a fling with the charmingly “special” receptionist. Let’s face it—it’s not as though either of them will ever expand their horizons beyond the workplace. But at least if they separate, their lives will gain a little texture and excitement before they die.

   
  
(Source)











Jane Eyre & Mr. Rochester
                               

Ah yes, the ultimate romance. The unconventional governess gets to play nurse for the rest of her life to a bigamist who imprisoned his wife in the attic. That’s the stuff of true love. Together, they’re but one of a million couples who illustrate the little understood concept that being alone is not the worst fate that can befall a person.



(Source)







Odysseus & Penelope;

 Let’s face it: Odysseus didn’t exactly mind that it took him decades to return home to his wife. And a woman who can trick a pack of men by unraveling her weaving every night could surely come up with a more permanent solution to dispose of her unwanted suitors. I’d love to see Odysseus continue to roam, and Penelope reign over her island alone. Perhaps she’ll find some fine young thing one day; perhaps not. But anything would be better than waiting forever.
 





Honorable Mentions

Henry Higgins & Eliza Doolittle
Jo & Professor Bhaer
Harry & Ginny
Wesley & Buttercup
Amy Pond & Rory Williams

Nominations for next year's tournament are now being haughtily accepted.