Booking Through Thursday – Series vs. Stand-alone

Series? Or Stand-alone books?

I have to say, I love a good stand-alone book. I really do. I like getting to the end of a book and having that nice feeling that the story is finished and the ending is real. A good, satisfying ending is something that I yearn for a lot of times, something that doesn’t always happen, so when it does it’s extra nice. I yearn for that nice closure, the kind that just doesn’t happen in real life.

Then again, I’m also a big fan of anticipation. Angst, too, but really anticipation. I like the wondering of what is going to happen. I have to admit, too, that I love characters I’m already cozy and familiar with. I like companion books for this reason, too… familiar faces in a group, even if it’s just a few.

But to pick one or the other? I don’t know that I could. I do know that I’m more likely to buy a series. Partially because I just don’t have a lot of cash around to spare at the moment, so if a new book comes out in a series I already know that I love, well, I’ll snatch that before trying a new author. Still… there really is something satisfying about closing a book and knowing that you’ve finished it—and its whole little world—for good.

So I can’t decide between the two. What matters to me is the writing, and the story. I’m a great lover of Story, as I’ve said many a time before. If a story can carry over three or four (or seven! Or ten!) books, then sure, I’d love to read it. If a series is being extended just because it’s a well-selling series… no thanks. I’m not a James Patterson reader, for example. And I never will be. Give me a good YA trilogy any day, though. Any day.

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Review: The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman

The Dark Hills Divide is a middle grade book about a girl named Alexa who lives in a world (city, really) encased by very high walls. All her life, Alexa has looked for ways outside of the walls, and finally she finds one.

I can already tell you that this won’t rank among my favorite reads for 2011. Actually, I’ve been reading this book for a long time. Put it down a lot, lost it a few times, got distracted with getting married last year, etc. Even so, I remained intrigued enough to keep truckin’ through the book.

It was extremely predictable. Now, to be fair, this is a middle-grade book. That said, I felt like all of Alexa’s little discoveries were made a little too conveniently. The one character whose flip was supposed to surprise you didn’t at all, and the one whose was supposed to be galling wasn’t—because we had no emotional tie to him.

Really the biggest problem I have with this book, though, is that I feel as though it may have shot itself in the foot so far as potential goes. There are several more books in the series, and I own three more of them myself, so I’ll keep reading, hoping that the magic that disappears in this book comes back at some point, but the fact that there was no reason for the magic to go away in the first place frustrates me.

The writing was alright, though, and like I said, I’ll keep reading the books. I’m intrigued by this world, and I like Alexa, which is always a plus.

In which I explain my OCD reading habits.

A Real Conversation with my Husband

Me: Sigh. You can only have 15 holds at the library at once.

Him: Heavy sigh.

Me: Can I put 15 holds on your—

Him: NO.

Backstory: According to Goodreads, I’m currently in the middle of eleven books. This includes one book of poetry, four books that are being held captive by the library and holds system, and five that I own. (Was very recently six, plus another library book, but I finished those.)

Anyhow… I was wanting to start Tiger’s Curse, because he bought it for me for Valentine’s Day (along with Sapphique, the sequel to Incarceron, which I loved so much I was tempted to buy Sapphique from the UK Amazon) (Yes, I know I’m lucky.) Then I made the mistake of explaining to him why I fall into the trap of reading more than one book at a time—generally either because one is slow but fascinating, I’ve misplaced the book, or yes, it needs to go back to the library and I haven’t finished it.

I then made the further mistake of explaining to him HOW I read multiple books at one time. Basically, I line whichever books I have up by order of date that I started them (This obviously does not include books taken back to the library unfinished. It does, however, include books that are misplaced.), and then I pick one book as the “A” book, or the Alpha book, I guess. What I mean by this, is that I pick a book that I can read straight through if I wish to, then whenever I want to turn to something else, there’s a set rotation I have to follow. The Alpha book is either a book that I’m particularly hooked to, or a book that I’m bribing myself through, because it’s interesting, but other books are far more interesting. After the Alpha book has been assigned, I read through the books in order, one chapter at a time. If the Alpha book isn’t super great, or great-but-not-insanely-greater-than-the-other-books, my reading pattern is decided for me. With letters assigned to titles for ease of explanation, it reads a bit like a complicated poetry scheme:

ABACADAEABACADAE, etc.

I have siderules, also. Of course. Because I’m just that crazy.

#1) Once a book is in Alpha position, it must stay there until it is completed. (For exceptions, see Rule #5)

#2) If there is no Alpha position, chapters read ABCDEABCDE, etc. (Yes, I know there’s still an A there, but now it’s just another letter.)

#3) In most cases* a book cannot be added unless another book is finished.

#4) No book can be moved to the Alpha position on its first round.  This means if I’m in the middle of a round when I start a new book, I must finish that round and read through another full round before the new book can be given the Alpha position. Except:

#5) Library books are automatically given Alpha position. This means that any book that was acting as Alpha now goes back into line. This is the only time an Alpha book can be taken away from its Alpha position without being finished. When the library book is finished, assuming the other book is not, it moves back into Alpha position.

#6) (This is a new one) These rules apply only to physical copies of books.

#6a) I am allowed to have ONE of each: 1) an audio book for when I’m doing stuff with my hands but my mind is free 2) a book on my phone to read when I have no other books available to me, and 3) an ebook on my computer.

#6b) I can use the same book for all three devices if I choose, but cannot read a secondary book on any of the devices, even if all three are the same.

*This rule excludes library books and long-time favorite authors’ new books.

Understandably, my husband demanded that I put a stop to the insanity. He withheld Tiger’s Curse from me until I at least get down to 3 books (physical… he agrees with me on the techie side of things, yay!) but I think I’ll let myself get down to two, and read two at once… that’s usually my goal, one Alpha, and one to string along… I don’t know.

Anybody else out there read in completely obsessive-compulsive ways?

Writing bumps (and successes!)

Sometimes writing feels like walking in the dark down a bumpy road. I’ve had a lot of bumps in my writing the past few months, mostly in the form of minor freak-outs that I just can’t cut it. I’ve been lucky, though, that I always have someone waiting to listen to me as I worry, and miraculously a lot of my worries have been followed immediately by a light clicking on, and my being able to see that much further of my path.

What do I mean? Well, I’ll tell you.

Firstly, I had a BIG block on Jethro… I’m talking about a month and a half’s worth of block. I knew who my bad guy was, I could see him, I just didn’t know how to get him to find out about my characters… and how can he hunt them down, if he can’t find out about them?

I avoided this block for a long time. I basically didn’t even open my manuscript because until I knew how to connect point A to point B (or more like point Q to point R, in relation to the story) I was sure I couldn’t get anywhere else. I was in California living with my sister at the time, and she basically called an intervention, worried that I wasn’t doing any writing, which I was specifically there to do. I flipped out on her pretty much, spilling all over to her about my seemingly impossible situation. Then after talking through the complexities of it to her and virtually draining myself of anything I could even think on the subject, the answer popped into my head a few days later. And it was the simplest thing in the world. So obvious, in fact, that I was really tempted to knock my head against a wall like they do in movies sometimes. (Movies? TV shows? Does anyone ever do this anymore?) (Maybe I should say, I literally wanted to headdesk.)

I had a similar freak-out on my Secret Project. I was worried that the middle wasn’t exciting enough, and there was a lot of middle. A part of me thought that this was going to have to be the story I shelved for years and years until I was “good enough” to write it. I talked to Isabelle Santiago about this one, and she assured me that what I had was good, that I already knew what I needed, just like I had before, and that this was a story that needs to be out in the public. (It’s so nice to have a friend who fangirls your WIP unabashedly.)

Starting in January I joined a critique group through Authors Incognito, a group of LDS writers (that’s writers who are LDS, not necessarily writers who write LDS books)(and yes, I’m LDS too). I’ve been having the chapters of Jethro critiqued—so far just the first chapters of Jethro, the ones which flowed like water onto the screen that I’d thought were so good. I’ve gotten them back torn up and abused, with red ink all over them… and then I had another freak-out, this time needing both my husband and Isabelle’s assurance that firstly, Jethro was good, and secondly, this is a first draft… all the little things get fixed in the editing, which is way more fun than writing. (Would you have ever believed that back when you were in school? I sure wouldn’t have.)

Part of me wanted to run into a corner and hide, and bury my poor little manuscript under a shroud of anonymity so that it would never be critiqued again. But most of me was starting to realize, yeah, these are things I need to address in my writing. I have good, gripping prose in me, I know I do… but maybe I don’t have it in my first drafts, and that’s okay, so long as it’s in there by the end.

My latest flip-out experience was also Jethro, and it was just the other night. I’d been reading a bunch of blog posts about writing the book from the right character, and even though Jethro is really an ensemble piece, suddenly I was terrified that the character I’d chosen as the “main” was wrong. And I’m talking about thinking  this nineteen and a half chapters into writing it. One of my secondary characters just sparkles so much more, and I know she has some serious demons that’ll be in her path very, very soon, and I thought maybe the character I’d picked just couldn’t hack it, couldn’t carry a full-length novel that would keep teens and adults reading.

This was maybe my biggest heart-attack yet. How could I have so misjudged? How could I have gotten it all so mixed up?

But then logic kicked in… the character I’d chosen had to be right. Considering who she was, what her personal history was, there was no way she was wrong. She was the one. The only one who could tell the story as a hero. Well, maybe one of two… but that’s a bit of a secret.

Still, this presented me with a problem. Luckily, this problem also turned out to be a solution. You see, I knew the answer to this question, too. The question being, “How to make my main character be more exciting,” or more to the point, “How to torture my main character just a bit more?” I knew because it was already in an earlier version of this story, but it was something I’d thrown out because I’d wanted to involve another character in that story arc, a character that it was vital to the plot that she be involved.

So again, I panicked a little bit. I had 1+1+1, and I needed it to equal 2, because in this case, 3 just wouldn’t cut it. 3 would be preposterous.

I ranted at my husband about this problem for a few minutes, but he was working on other things and I was talking too fast to really understand probably, anyhow. In this instance, I pulled out my trusty notepad and just started scribbling. I basically did a web-diagram, in the messiest, fastest cursive that I can claim.

And you know what? My problem worked itself out. In a way that not only was simple and logical, but that actually solved another little problem I’d had with my plot, and had me feeling like standing up and cheering for my characters, because they’d just proved to me how awesome they really could be. I jumped from that to writing almost a full scene, only stopping because it was late and I was bone-tired.

The one other bump I’ve had recently had nothing to do with writer’s block, but more with my laptop charger, which died on me unexpectedly about a week ago. Without a charger, my laptop turned into a big ole’ paperweight for a few days, and stealing time on my husband’s desktop wasn’t fully cutting it. I got my new shiny charger in the mail from Amazon the day before yesterday, though, and while I was out pretty much most of the day yesterday, I got on today to find that Jethro had actually crossed 40K while I wasn’t looking. I’m excited! Secret Project has over 55K, but not in a solid, chronological block like Jethro. I can’t say this is the longest thing I’ve ever written (I was a fanficcer, once upon a time… ssh… it’s a secret!) but it’s the longest I’ve had of a wholly original story.

Success suddenly seems a lot closer in hand than it ever has before.

(And hey, while I’m here, check out my contribution to The Hollow Tree today. We post free reads there every Friday, don’t forget!)

Reflecting about the earthquake in Japan.

Japan, Japan.

Five things to know going into this:

1) I am half Japanese.

2) My dad (the Japanese half) ran a business placing Japanese exchange students all while I was growing up, so from approximately 3-17, we always had a Japanese student (or two) staying with us.

3) I took Japanese in college. Just for a year, but enough to love the language.

4) I’ve been to Japan twice, once in high school, and again in college. My favorite thing about it was the unexpected juxtaposition of the ancient and the impossibly modern.

5) Up until about two and a half weeks ago, I was trying to get a job teaching English in Japan. I thought it would be a great experience for me and my husband, and maybe our only opportunity before kids, etc. I just couldn’t find a job, despite the qualifications above (which one company wrote back to me and remarked upon as being quite impressive, though they didn’t have a position for me).

So, Friday night I was flipping through the channels and decided to stop in at Anderson Cooper 360°. The show wasn’t on, of course, instead there was CNN breaking news, with footage running in the upper corner of the devastation going on. I read the ticker-tape line to the husband immediately—Japan had suffered a 8.9 earthquake, and the tsunami waves were already rolling in. We both watched, feeling a mixture of sick and relieved.

They showed images of Tokyo and talked about the trains being down—the main transportation system, something that has brought the city to its knees. Tokyo was exactly where I was focusing my job search, as my  husband doesn’t know Japanese, and it’s easier to get around a large city if you don’t. We had our heart pretty much set on Japan, and it was only by a few twists of fate (and probably some nudging from above) that kept us from ending up there, so you can imagine how the news hit us that night.

Still, even knowing that I’ve been kept from being a part of that disaster… it kills me to hear the death rolls rise, and to think of all that’s been destroyed (and still has the potential of being destroyed) in all of this. It’s not just the major cities, either. It occurred to me the other night how much of Japan is still fishing villages, and how it takes fish years to return to an environment that’s been as rent as Japan’s has—if any of those people can still find and use their fishing boats.

Really my thoughts are so jumbled that I probably have no business blogging about this right now, but I can’t help it. This has been weighing heavily on my mind. I’ve been impressed by how many organizations—big and small alike, have been running sales where 100% of profits go to Japan Relief. I’m donating 15% in my Etsy shop, and I desperately wish I could afford more, but I just can’t afford to right now.

Just know this is a nation I love, a land I love, a people I love. My heart is breaking for them.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld created a rich and lush steampunk alternate WWI history in Leviathan, which was one of my favorite reads of last year. The sequel, Behemoth, did not disappoint in the slightest.

I cannot express enough how complete the world-building is in this series. Westerfeld clearly knows just how history played out and just how he wanted to diverge for the sake of story.

Besides that, he is a master at putting his characters in just the right place to move the story forward, something that speaks to his experience as an author. I’ve never read any of Westerfeld’s other books, but I really look forward to the experience.

The story ranges between two main characters, Alek, who may well be the heir to the Austrian throne, and a girl named Deryn, who is disguised as the boy “Dylan” in order to serve in the British Air Service. Alek is a “Clanker” while Deryn is a “Darwinist,” in a world-wide fission between machinery and fabricated animals.

Circumstances have thrown the two together constantly, and they’ve come to trust each other with all of each others’ secrets—well, except for the fact that one of them is secretly a girl. Obviously that would only complicate things. The characters are dynamic and true-to-life, and it was a lot of fun to meet some new faces in the story, along with keeping tabs on the ones we already knew and liked. It’s fun to watch the bigger story unfold, too—the worldwide one.

Probably my favorite part of this particular book was Bovril, a fabricated beastie known as a perspicacious loris, which was quite the charmer over all. I wasn’t really a big fan of one newspapery character in the book, but I had a feeling he was fun to write… and that we might see more of him. I’m really excited because the next book is headed to Japan, and I’m insanely curious what all is going to go on there.

And then the question can’t help but tug at me… is there going to be a WWII series as well?

All My Friends are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John

Book #4 for the year is All My Friends are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John.

I ran across this strange little book in the Comedy aisle at Barnes and Noble. This isn’t an aisle that I peruse frequently, but I was with my husband and wandering the store, and the cover caught my eye. We proceeded to stand in the aisle and flip through the entire book, reading the whole thing. Not that this was much of a feat—most pages only had five or six words on them to begin with.

This is a funny book. Funny, sad, poignant, true. It conveys a lot of honesty and as the back of the book puts it, “existential crisis” of a lot of things, and of course by things, it reflects people. I really enjoyed this little book, even in its sadness and harsh realities about some things (like a guy sitting in front of a computer, saying that he has 3,284 friends, but never met any of them face to face). It made me laugh out loud, even while it mock-horrified me.

Somebody made a graphic showing examples of some of the pages in the book, and I thought I’d share that with you:

See? A little sad, a little harsh. A lot funny. Probably keep this away from tender-hearted kids who might think it’s a fun cartoon story, but I’d definitely picking it up and giving it a read, maybe using it as a conversation piece. It’s worth the read. 🙂

In other news, my keyboard doesn’t like the letter “J” all of a sudden. I have to hit the button in just the right spot for the letter to appear. It’s a hassle, let me tell you.