Monday, February 28, 2011

Boy Book Review - FLIP

FlipFlip by Martyn Bedford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You wake up one morning in the wrong bedroom, in the wrong house, being greated by the wrong family using the wrong name. Add in a stranger staring at you from the mirror and six unaccounted for months and you have the first few pages of FLIP. Fourteen-year-old Alex awakens to find himself inside Philip (Flip) and no way to convince people that he is who he knows he is. Flip is everything Alex is not, healthy (Alex has asthma), athletic, good looking and popular. But Alex is desperate to return to his own life and the book tells his determination to find out what happened to him and to reconnect with his past, a determination that is only fueled by the discovery that his real body is in a persistant vegitative state and doctors are considering turning off life support.

Add in the setting, England, and this became an adventure in learning a new culture for me, as well as being a story about identity and family. It's about how much of us is body and how much soul. It's about what it means to want to live so much that Alex is willing to sacrifice Flip to save himself--or is he?
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Problem with Prologues

The topic comes up a lot among writers. Especially beginning writers. “Agents don’t like prologues.” they lament. “But what if a prologue is right for the story?’ They read published novels with prologues and love them and use that to justify using one in their own writing.

I’m not an agent or editor, but I have to say I've judged a lot of contest entries and seen a lot of prologues. I think it’s not that agents and editors don’t like prologues as a concept. I think they don’t like misused prologues. They have seen so many bad ones that when they look at their slush piles and see a prologue, they begin by thinking it’s unnecessary, didactic, and a sign that poor writing will follow.

Too often beginner writers use prologues for the wrong reason – to dump backstory. They believe the reader needs to know this information right at the beginning. Before they know the hero/heroine or the situation they will find themselves in. They forget or discount the reader’s need to see the so-called “ordinary world” right up front, and then the disaster that takes them out of that ordinary world and starts their hero’s journey. And then, history that can help understand why they do what they do. BTW – as little of that history as possible.

Think of your submission as setting off for a speed-date. Speed-dating is an awful phenomenon, but a great metaphor. You sit in a chair opposite someone and have three minutes to make enough of an impression that they request another meeting. In this case, your manuscript has a few pages in which to capture enough interest that someone decides to read more.

How do you begin that first date? Do you tell your partner the circumstances of your birth, or maybe your family tree? Discuss that first relationship that left you bitter, so they will understand and sympathize? Not if you want a second date. (Now, if you want to tell him you inherited a fortune when your dear cat-loving aunt died and you’ve doubled the money since so you’re quite the catch – that could be the kind of backstory that should be told up front. Ditto if you murdered your first three husbands and he happens to enjoy dangerous liaisons, but I really won’t go there.) If you want that second date you talk about yourself as you are now. How you feel, what you do, your future aspirations. You give out just enough of your goals and motivation, to leave them curious. Save the history lesson for later.

Do the same with your manuscript. A prologue for the sake of spilling history is a waste of your three minutes. Start with a good solid hook and enough mistery to make a reader curious. Everything else can wait.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Boy Book Review - Crossing Lines

Crossing LinesCrossing Lines by Paul Volponi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This story deals with a high school football jock, named Adonis (and getting away with that name), faced with a new cross-dressing student, Alan and his homophobic teammates. Adonis is determined to keep his spot in the high school hierarchy and gain the beautiful girl. When Alan becomes friends with Adonis' sister--President and Vice-President of the school's fashion club--Adonis fears he will be tainted by association with the boy everyone thinks is gay. As the bullying of Alan, now nicknamed Alana by other members of Adonis' team, escalates, Adonis faces a line that could lead him or Alan into disaster.

This is a story with a good message, but the treatment seemed forced. Too many 2-dimensional characters: Alan's career soldier father, Adonis' gruff but well meaning father, the cute girl who expects Adonis to do the right thing. Even Adonis himself is a stereotypical jock to whom image is everything, even if maintaining the image requires that he lie about bagging the girl. I liked how the members of the fashion club banded together with Alan, but even that seemed forced, as in girls are good, it's those boys that are the problem.

My real problem with this book was the ending, it just fell flat. This has a good message on being a reluctant bully and the cost that can have to both the bully and people around him, but the message is too in-your-face. I wanted more into how the events effected Adonis and family members, and even Alan. Instead the book just presents things and then stops cold.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Book Review - The Legacy

The LegacyThe Legacy by Gemma Malley

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First I admit I never read the first two books in the series, but I found it hard to accept the characters as real and as young adults. The premise is good, in a world where people never age there is little or no room for children. And the man who owns the anti-aging formula, Richard Pincent, becomes almost godlike. So when people start dying from a mysterious illness and he blames the resistance for it, even long-time supporters drop away, leaving the resistance movement in trouble. As illegal "surplus" children are being rounded up, and the leadership of the resistance is captured, two young men, half-brothers and Pincet's grandchildren, continue their efforts to free the world from his dominion.

It's a great idea, but the execution of the book is sometimes stodgy and slow, and the wealth of minor characters that appear for a few pages and then disappear were confusing. I also wanted more of the relationship between the two brothers, one of whom was raised in luxury as Pincet's legitimat heir, the other raised as an unwanted Surplus. While I understand that much of their relationshop weas hashed out in earlier books, I still felt something missing here when they met.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Snowmaggedon claims a friend.

Today I received news no one wants to hear. Snowmaggedon claimed a long-time friend of mine. I first met Kent Bergren when I started working at Illinois Bell. He and I were fourth-floor buddies, me in General Applications, he in Payroll. Our careers crisscrossed over the years, we moved to different departments, different buildings, different cities, but always seemed to come together again. I went to his wedding and his eldest son's christening.  We were in the same department when I decided to retire in 2008, and he helped throw the farewell party, complete with a homemade game for me to use to remember all the years with Illinois Bell, Ameritech, Ameritech Applied Technologies, Ameritech (again), SBC and finally AT&T, all without ever having to polish up a resume or head on a job search, through the wonders of divestiture and merger.

He went out to shovel snow. Felt pressure in his chest and died. He was fifty-five.  I hadn't seen him in years, but he was always fun, enthusiastic and friendly, upbeat and ready to work on any problem.

It's hard to think of the world continuing without him.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Book Review - Kindred

KindredKindred by Tammar Stein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Miriam, a college freshman, is given a task by the terrifying archangel Raphael. Thanks to her background-her father is a rabbi and her mother a former nun-she is able to translate the assignment given to her in Hebrew. Unfortunatly she garbles the task. Even worse, she doscovers that her twin brother, Moses (known as Mo) has received a task from the opposite end of the good-evil spectrum, and he passed with flying colors.

That begins this book, where religion and familial love battle in an ordinary small town. The weight of her failure takes its toll on Miriam, and she vows to succeed when she receives a second and more difficult task. She has to, because this time failure could cost her own life. Unfortunatly Mo also has a second assignment, one that puts the siblings on a collision course.

This book is a change from the fallen angel or angel-falls-in-love-with-his-human-charge type of romance I've seen too much of. In fact, Miriam has the definite feeling Raphael does not like her. While Mo becomes enamored with the devil, she falls for the shaved headed owner of the local tattoo parlor. The book is also a study of good and evil; the wrath of God, the Devil's punishment and even blind chance all play roles in this book. Just as there are no easy answers in life, there are no real answers in this book, only questions. I hope there will be a sequel, because I want to know what happens to Miriam and Mo next.

This book is being released Feb 2011.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow Day

Usually I try to put out a piece on the craft of writing for the middle of the week. Sorry folks, two feet of snow took too much out of me. It wasn't just the drive home Tuesday afternoon - I left work at 3:00 PM when the boss said run for it. And not just the stories of drivers stranded for hours on Lake Shore Drive literally fearing for their lives, or people actually complaining that the blizzard was all the city's fault and the wondering why the government didn't do something to fix the problems (I will have to write that into a story someday.)

A day and a half spent shoveling a tunnel so I could exit my house did something fierce to my writing skills. My craft comment for this week lies buried under a mound of white. Come summer when the glacier retreats I'll retrieve it, I promise.

P. S. My appearances at the Chicago Principal's conference has been postponed, the principals have to be at their posts on Friday.  That's actually a good thing for me, because I was double booked Friday and would have spent hours shuffling between the suburbs and Chicago and then back again.  Guess even city closing blizzards can have a silver lining.