Monday, March 29, 2010

In the Past or Present?

There is a fairly new trend happening in YA books today: present tense. Some people have very strong feelings against it, some don’t. Me? I love it. BUT. Yes, there’s a but. :) I only love it if it has been done well, and if it’s necessary to the story. Otherwise, I can't stand it, and this is why.

When we writers sit down to write a first draft, we are discovering the story. Even if it’s been planned out with outlines and whatnot, there is still plenty of discovery happening through the characters, dialog, setting, etc. That adds an element of immediacy, of being in the moment. But the problem is that it’s not coming from the characters; it’s coming from us.

In that first draft, we writers are in a state of complete discovery. We may know some basic facts about the story and the characters, but really we are living from moment to moment, recording the story as we go. In subsequent drafts, though, we are no longer in that moment. We are reflecting back on it, analyzing, perfecting, adding in the details we may have missed the first time around, and trying to show that moment to the reader in the best way possible.

The same is true for our characters. To have a completely effective story told in present tense, the characters must be in the moment, not the author. That means that there should be no reflection or analyzing of what is currently happening. They need to figure things out as they go.

Some good examples of present tense are The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, and The Spectacular Now. In Jenna Fox and Teenage Amnesiac, the main characters have no memory of who they are. They’ve been told some basic facts about themselves, but they are in full discovery mode, trying figure things out. A perfect situation for present tense.

In Jenna Fox, Jenna stays in this self-discovery mode for the entire story because it’s not possible for her to reflect on who she was before her accident. It’s a very powerful story. The reader gets completely sucked into all of her moments and can’t wait for her to discover more, because that means we will discover more. This book is one of the most effective uses of present tense I’ve ever seen.

In Teenage Amnesiac, Naomi is suffering from amnesia due to a nasty bump on the head. So, in the beginning, we are discovering right along with her. It’s just as effective as Jenna Fox, and just as compelling...until Naomi regains her memory, and suddenly knows who she was before she bumped her head. At this moment, Naomi begins to reflect, comparing her old self to her new self. It’s also the moment that the present tense feels awkward. The reader is stuck in discovery mode, i.e. present tense, but Naomi is no longer discovering. She’s reflecting and analyzing.

The Spectacular Now is a different sort of book. Sutter is a party boy alcoholic. He completely lives in the moment, looking for the next fun thing. When that’s over, he’s off looking for the next one, and the next, and so on. His whole life is built upon not reflecting, because that would mean facing the possibility that he has a problem with his drinking. Hence, the title, The Spectacular Now. As Sutter shares his story with us, he presents it as-is, no frills, no I-guess-I-did-that-because rationalizations or reflections. He is completely in the moment, and this book is also one of the most effective uses of present tense I’ve ever seen.

So if you’re writing a story in present tense and you’re not sure if it’s effective, then take a look at both you and your character. Which one is in discovery mode? Which one is completely in the moment? If it’s you, then you might want to rethink using present tense. If it’s your character, then you’re probably on the right track.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

In My Mailbox...

In My Mailbox is an exploration of what books I brought home this week, and is organized by The Story Siren.

I haven't posted one of these in a couple weeks because we've been on vacation, so I haven't brought any books home.  But a couple books for review arrived this week, and here they are.

ARC of Jekel Loves Hyde:
Jill Jekel has always obeyed her parents’ rules—especially the one about never opening the mysterious, old box in her father’s office. But when her dad is murdered, and her college savings disappear, she’s tempted to peek inside, as the contents might be the key to a lucrative chemistry scholarship.

To improve her odds, Jill enlists the help of gorgeous, brooding Tristen Hyde, who has his own dark secrets locked away. As the team of Jekel and Hyde, they recreate experiments based on the classic novel, hoping not only to win a prize, but to save Tristen’s sanity. Maybe his life. But Jill’s accidental taste of a formula unleashes her darkest nature and compels her to risk everything—even Tristen’s love—just for the thrill of being . . . bad.
ARC of White Cat:
Cassel comes from a family of curse workers -- people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail -- he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.
What books did you bring home this week?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Winners of the March Book Giveaway!

It's time once again to announce the winners of this month's book giveaway!

The copy of Clone Codes goes to...

The copy of Possessed goes to...

The copy of The Dark Divine goes to...

Congratulations to all the winners! Drop me an email with your snail address and I'll send them out to you: tabwriter at

Be sure to stop by next saturday to see what I'm giving away next month!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blue Plate Special by Michelle Kwasney

Plot Summary:
Madeline: Big Macs and pop tunes mask the emptiness as Madeline watches her mom drink away their welfare checks. Until the day Tad, a quirky McDonald's counter boy, asks Madeline out for a date, and she gets her first taste of normal. But with a life that s anything but, how long can normal really last?

Desiree: Hanging with Jeremy, avoiding Mam, sticking Do Not Disturb Post-its on her heart, Desiree's mission is simple: party hard, graduate (well, maybe), get out of town. But after Desiree accepts half a meatball grinder, a cold drink, and a ride from her mother's boyfriend one rainy afternoon, nothing is ever simple again.

Ariel: Too many AP classes. Workaholic mom. Dad in prison. Still, Ariel's sultry new boyfriend, Shane, manages to make even the worst days delicious. But when an unexpected phone call forces a trip to visit a sick grandmother she's never met, revealing her family's dark past, Ariel struggles to find the courage to make the right choice for her own future.

As three girls from three different decades lives converge, they discover they are connected ways they could never imagine. Each of them finds strength that brings her closer to healing a painful past, and faith that there is a happier future.

I almost didn’t pick up this book because the title isn’t grabby, and the cover looks a bit non-fiction. But then I read a couple reviews, and decided to pick up a copy. I’m glad I did. This is a quieter book than some of the other YA available, and at first glance, it doesn't differentiate itself from the rest. But if you stick with it, you will be pleasantly surprised.

I love intricate plots, and I get super excited when story elements seem to stand alone, but are really linked somehow. How those links are revealed shows a lot about the level of talent the writer has, and I thought Kwasney did an excellent job. When I started to see how these girls were connected, the geek in me got super excited. The way the story is written gives the reader a ton of insight into their lives – so much more than we get in the usual YA.

The resolution wasn't as strong or thorough as I'd hoped, and endings are important to me so that was a bit of a let-down. But I am still very glad I read it.

If you like quiet books with an interesting twist, then this is definitely the book for you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Good Showing and Bad Showing

A couple weeks ago, I posted about when it’s okay to use telling in your story. Since then, I’ve had a few conversations with people about showing, and it turned into a question of good showing vs. bad showing.

There is a difference, and it’s basically this:
Good showing is when your characters are in a specific action.
Bad showing is when they're in a vague action.

Good showing in a novel is hard to spot, because it’s seamless to the story. It's what sucks you in and helps you to connect with the characters and their situations, and puts you directly into the story so you can experience it for yourself.

James entered the room quietly.
James slunk into the room.

Both sentences have the same meaning, and both are showing the reader how the character is performing the action. But the second paints a more vivid picture of both the circumstance and the character.

Let’s talk about adverbs. Everyone is always saying how adverbs are bad, and I agree, for the most part. In the first sentence, an adverb is used to describe how James enters the room. Technically, that makes it showing. But the action is not specific enough to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. If you need that specific picture in the reader’s mind, then you need to drop the adverb and describe the action in a way that brings out the character, the situation, and the story’s tone.

The best example of showing in a novel (that I've seen so far) is The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp. It shows an alcoholic teen in stark reality. Specifically, it shows how the main character, Sutter, is an alcoholic through his actions, dialog, and interactions with others. Another alcoholic is probably different because he's a different person. That's what good showing is.

All aspects of writing are so connected that it's really hard to separate them. Therefore, some aspects of Show vs. Tell seep into characterization, pacing, structure, and a whole lot of other things. You have to keep these things in the back of your head as you write, and that’s why it’s SO HARD to get everything right. It’s also why you can’t write a really great book in one draft, but that’s a topic for another day. :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork

Plot Summary: Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear--part of the autism-like impairment no doctor has been able to identify--and he's always attended a special school where his differences have been protected. But the summer after his junior year, his father demands that Marcelo work in his law firm's mailroom in order to experience "the real world." There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm. He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it's a picture he finds in a file -- a picture of a girl with half a face -- that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.

This is an amazing story about life, love, and learning. Marcelo has a high- functioning disorder in the autism/Asperger’s spectrum. He’s been sheltered from the real world his entire life, even though his doctors say he would handle it just fine. So his father sets out to show it to him.

The way Marcelo processes information is so different from the average person, and Stork has captured it amazingly well. It takes Marcelo a bit longer for certain things to make sense, and he doesn’t always think of the obvious things that pop into your head or mine without any effort. This different way of thinking is fascinating, and made the book impossible to put down.

As Marcelo learns more about the world, and that people close to him have ‘secrets,’ another layer of depth is added to the story. When Marcelo finds the picture of the girl with half a face, we get another layer.

With each layer added to the story, another layer is added to Marcelo. The world is affecting him in ways he could never have anticipated, and it changes him in both surprising and positive ways. In the end, he’s learned far more than his father could have anticipated, and has made choices that completely changed his whole world. It’s mesmerizing.

If you liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, you will love this story (and vice versa). Definitely recommended.

Monday, March 15, 2010

500 Word Critique: MG fantasy

Last month, I made the offer to critique any 500 words that you cared to share. Well, someone has sent me the first 500 words of a MG fantasy. And I want to send that person a hearty thanks for being the first to step up and get the ball rolling. :)

As promised, I have kept the author anonymous, and given my reactions to the story. The blue text in parentheses are my comments.

The rear door of the servant quarters burst open. (this is an active opening, but I think it's also a common way to start a story, so it might be beneficial to begin with something that will set your story apart) Jayin came running out with a screaming baby in his arms (this might be the element that sets your story apart). He turned to look at the castle to see if anyone was after him yet, but he was alone. He ran toward the stables as fast as he could, holding the baby close to his chest.
(a bit wordy; 'came running' can be rephrased to 'ran,' 'as fast as he could' is implied so it's not necessary. Tightening up these sentences will make a much stronger opening)
He threw open the door to the stables and went inside, looking frantically around the room. The stacked bails of hay on the far wall caught his eye, and he rushed over to them. Carefully, he laid the baby on one of the softer bails and covered her with a nearby blanket.
(there is a lot of telling here; we need to know how Jayin lays the baby down, and what's going through his head as he does it, but we don't really need to know that he's looking frantically around the room. The 'frantic' is implied in the tone and tension of the story, plus, if he's familiar with the stables, he'd already know where the hay bales were and wouldn't need to look for them. Showing us more of what is in Jayin's head will create a connection to him, and help us feel his urgency)
(also, in the first paragraph the baby is screaming, but in the second he's putting her down; is she still crying?)
He grabbed the bridle hanging from a nail on the wall, and then opened the door of the nearest stall. A tall chestnut horse looked up at him, and then looked at the bridle in Jayin’s hands. Jayin tried to force the bit into the horse’s mouth, but the horse wouldn’t have it. He tried again and the horse tossed his head back, eyeing Jayin with irritation. (some of the detail with the horse slows things down, and we lose the tension built in the previous paragraphs)
“Come on, big fella. I know I’m not your master, but he can’t come here anymore.” (interesting, and makes me wonder why he can't come anymore)
The horse moved to the far side of the stall and refused to cooperate. Jayin grabbed a handful of oats from the manger and put the bit in the center. Confused by the scent of food, the horse opened his mouth. Jayin saw his chance, and quickly placed the bit into the horse’s mouth. He fastened the straps over the horse’s head, and then led him out of the stall.
(the word 'horse' is used a lot here, and is not always necessary)
The baby was still crying as Jayin walked over her. (I think you mean 'walked over to her') :)
(I actually had to read this again before I realized the baby is a girl, because this is the only reference; perhaps make this more obvious?)
“Shhh,” he said as he picked her up, “it’s alright. Everything will be alright.” (how is he feeling here? What happened to make him take a horse that doesn't belong to him? If you can't provide the details of the incident, that's okay, but give us some insight into the character's feelings so we can connect with him)
He tied her blanket around his neck in a makeshift sling, placed her inside, and tightened the knot so she was close against his chest. He pulled down the cloak that was hanging next to the door and threw it over his shoulders. He closed the front to conceal the baby, and then leaped onto the horse’s bare back. (lots of details, and I kind of feel bogged down; do we need to know exactly how he made the sling? Or how he put on the cloak? I think telling instead of showing would be more effective here)
“Come on,” Jayin said as he kicked the horse into motion.
(the 'said' tag isn't needed here; showing us Jayin's actions is enough for us to know who is speaking: 'Jayin kicked the horse into motion.')
They galloped across the grounds toward the castle gates (he's leaving a castle! interesting...). The gates were still open with very few guards, which puzzled Jayin. He thought the gates would be closed by now, but perhaps he had caused more confusion than he thought (this is both interesting and confusing. I think we need a bit more of what's driving Jayin. It seems like something terrible has happened, and that's intriguing, but how has it affected Jayin? Why isn't he thinking about it? Withholding both his feelings and the information here is, well, it's not quite contrived, but it's on the borderline. An impatient reader may not read further). He slowed the horse to a trot, glad that the baby had quieted down. (when did she quiet down? seems like he would notice this right away and feel something - relief?)
“Good afternoon,” he said smiling at the guards.
“Afternoon, Master Jayin. Going home to your missus?”
“As a matter of fact, I am.”
“Give her my best.”
“Will do.”
(if Jayin is leaving a castle, then wouldn't the guards recognize the horse he's riding and know it's not Jayin's? If they know Jayin, they'd know whether or not he usually rode a horse, and what that horse looked like)
Jayin passed through the gates with a nod to the guards and decended the steps leading into the city. He kept the horse at a trot until he was well away from the gates, and then nudged him into a gallop. There were several people walking down the city streets, and Jayin had trouble getting through the intermittent crowds. (a bit wordy again; perhaps trim it down?)
I don’t have time for this.
“Out of the way!” he yelled, waving his hands in the air. “Get out of the way!”
People scrambled to get off the streets, and then cursed his rude behavior after he had passed.
(I'm not sure this adds much to the story. Jayin was so careful not to draw attention to himself when he left the castle, so why would he draw attention to himself now? If something terrible has happened in a castle, and if he had anything to do with it, he would know that his only chance for survival would be to remain invisible. So he seems out of character here)

Overall, I think you've done a good job. You show the characters actions in a clear and vivid way (sometimes a bit too much, but that's a good problem to have), and there is plenty of tension. The pacing could be a bit quicker, and that can be fixed by giving the reader more information up front.

I'm curious as to what could have happened for Jayin to steal a horse and hide a baby in his cloak. I think you've set up the situtation well, and what the story needs now is more insight into Jayin's character. How old is he? Probably an adult since the guards asked about his 'missus,' but we don't know if he's young, middle-aged, or old. What is his role within the castle? The guards know him and like him, but that doesn't tell us much. We also need to know the importance of this baby. Is she royalty? Knowing these details will heighten the tension, and also create a stronger connection to both the story and the characters.

Thank you again for stepping up and sending in your work!!

As for all of you reading, what did you think? Do you agree with me? Disagree? Did I miss anything? Please weigh in with your comments!

If you would like your work posted here for critique, then send me 500 words from anywhere in your story. Or, feel free to send a query for critique.
tabwriter at

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Plot Summary: All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure—if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.

Disclaimer: If I read a book I don’t like, I never let that one story put me off an author. After all, you have no idea how versatile that author can be if you stop at one book. But if I don’t like two stories, well, chances are high that I’m not a fan of that author’s style.

I read Libba Bray’s Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy, and didn’t particularly like it. But, keeping the above info in mind, I picked up Going Bovine with an open mind and a hopeful heart...and I still didn’t like it. So, I think Bray’s style just isn’t my cup of tea, and you should keep that in mind as you read this review.

I started reading this book knowing nothing about it, with only a cursory glance at the summary on the back. In the first few chapters, I went from confusion to frustration to figuring out how the book was going to end. That left about 400 pages left to go through in order to see if I was right. And I was. That made it nearly impossible to get into the story, and I was pretty disappointed. There’s not much else I can say without revealing spoilers, so here’s the warning.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

I love surreal books. Love them. Can’t get enough. I also love books that question reality, and also surmise that reality is what we make it. It makes the writer geek in me get all giddy. Going Bovine is definitely a surreal book that questions reality, so it should have been love at first sight. But it wasn’t, and this is why.

1) When I first pick up a surreal book, the actual reality parts MUST be real for me. The characters must behave appropriately, events must unfold naturally, and nothing should pull me out of the story.
2) When the surreal elements are introduced, they need to start out feeling real. If I don’t believe them in the beginning, I’m certainly not going to believe them toward the end. So they need to suck me in and make me swallow that hook, and then I will likely believe the most outrageous things by the end.

Going Bovine started out surreal, even in the real world. That level of surrealism stayed constant instead of building throughout the story, so not once did I believe in anything that was happening. It kept me from connecting with the characters, so, by the time we got to the questioning of reality, I didn’t really care because I’d already been questioning it.

What I wanted was to believe in Cameron’s real world, then believe in the early stages of Cameron’s alternate reality, and then get caught up in the whirlwind of Cameron’s mind as things get crazier and crazier. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way.

I think this is part of Libba Bray’s style, though, because A Great and Terrible Beauty has similar elements. So if you like her style, or if you like wacky stories that get wackier by the minute, then this is the book for you. For me, it’s just not my cup of tea.

Monday, March 08, 2010

When to Show, When to Tell

“Show, don’t tell.”
This is one of the most common topics I see in the writing community. Mostly, it’s because this term was introduced without a definition to go along with it. So, after much research, practice, and hard work, I discovered the definition for myself.

Basically, the difference between showing and telling is this: Showing is action-oriented. Telling is not. When you show, you are showing the reader your characters in action. That's it.

This knowledge was extremely useful for me, and helped me to understand how to bring my characters out of my head and onto the paper, making them more realistic.

I’m starting to see other topics surface in writing communities. Like, whether or not it’s okay to sometimes tell instead of show. And, if so, how do you know whether you need to show or tell? That’s a tough question, and I didn’t know the answer. So I went searching, and this was the most common answer I found: Whether you show or tell depends on what your story requires.

Well... Technically, that’s true. But it’s also not very helpful. I thought there had to be a better definition, so I went searching. And this is what I eventually figured out.

If the character’s actions need to be interpreted in a specific way, then you need to show. If that interpretation isn’t important, then you can tell. Here’s why.

Telling is very ambiguous because the action is open to various interpretations. Showing leaves the action open to one interpretation, because you are giving the reader one specific action.
He left the room. (telling)
He stomped out the door, slamming it behind him. (showing)

If that specific action isn't important, then you should tell your reader instead of show. Take the first example. If the reader only needs to know that your character is leaving the room, then using a sentence that tells instead of shows is fine. If it is important for the reader to know how he leaves the room, requiring the reader's mind to go in a specific direction (like the anger in the second example), then you need to show.

All writing must contain a balance of showing and telling - so, yes, there are times when telling is necessary. And that's not a bad thing, as long as it's in balance with the rest of the story. Telling is often used as a transition, or a way to get your characters from place to place. It's the most useful and practical way to use telling.

Some places you should not use telling:
Telling is commonly used in a summary of events, because that’s the most natural way for it to come out. But that also means it can sound dry and boring. Summaries can still contain action-oriented statements, which will liven it up and turn it into showing.

Telling is also commonly used in description, because we want to tell the reader what things look like. But you don't have to use telling when describing things. Sentences with active verbs will convey a clear image, and keep the description from sounding like a laundry list.

Basically, if you’re unsure as to whether you need to show or tell in a specific area of your novel, ask yourself this:
Does the reader need to know how my character does something? If yes, then you need to show. Or does the reader need to know that he does something, but how he does it is irrelevant? If yes, then you need to tell.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

In My Mailbox...

In My Mailbox is an exploration of what books I brought home this week, and is organized by The Story Siren. It was a slower week as far as books go, and that's fine because I've been up to my eyeballs in writing and revising.

This week, the following books arrived in my mailbox for review:

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien:
Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants every month. But when Gaia’s mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty.

The Clearing by Heather Davis:
Amy is drawn to the misty, mysterious clearing behind her Aunt Mae’s place because it looks like the perfect place to hide from life. A place to block out the pain of her last relationship, to avoid the kids in her new town, to stop dwelling on what her future holds after high school.

Then, she meets a boy lurking in the mist—Henry. Henry is different from any other guy Amy has ever known. And after several meetings in the clearing, she’s starting to fall for him. But Amy is stunned when she finds out just how different Henry really is. Because on his side of the clearing, it’s still 1944. By some miracle, Henry and his family are stuck in the past, staving off the tragedy that will strike them in the future. Amy’s crossing over to Henry’s side brings him more happiness than he’s ever known—but her presence also threatens to destroy his safe existence.

And I brought home one book from the library.

The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth:
Emilia Finch and her cousin Luka are gypsies. They live a strongly traditional life, rich with story, music, dance, and magic, governed by the laws of the clan and the ways of the road. To the repressive Puritanical government of 17th century England, however, the gypsies are thieving, fortune-telling vagrants who are most likely allies of the devil.

Soon, a series of terrible events lands the family in jail, charged with murder. Emilia and Luka manage to escape, promising to bring back help and free them. But how? Emilia believes in the legend of the charms: it is said that the luck of the Rom soured after a long-ago gypsy matriarch broke her chain of charms, giving one charm to each of her five children. If they can gather the charms from the families, Emilia thinks, the strong magic of the Rom will somehow bring her family freedom. Luka, on the other hand, is more practical – he wants to enlist the help of the other clans to help the Finches escape.

Emilia and Luka must race through the countryside, navigating a hornets' nest of Rom-hating Puritans, Royalist spies, and traitors, if they are to complete their quest before the magistrate delivers a death sentence…

What books arrived at your house this week?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

March Book Giveaway!

It's that time again! I can't believe I've been doing this giveaway thing for a whole year. And I've still got LOTS of books to give away. Quite amazing.

Anyway, this month I'm giving away three books:

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain

Possessed by Kate Cann (ARC)

Clone Codes by Patricia McKissack (ARC)

Just fill out the form below, and then come back to this blog on March 27th to see if you've won. Good luck!!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Plot Summary: When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls. Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift. Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

I love hearing about books on the grapevine. Mostly, it’s because I love hearing about people enjoying books (because I love them, too). But it also means that I’m hearing about more books that I get to read. And what could be better than that? :) Sure, some of the books aren’t my cup of tea, but some of them are truly enjoyable, that I wouldn’t have known about if it hadn’t been for the grapevine.

THE MAZE RUNNER is one of those books. I saw it pop up before it was released, and I even had the opportunity to read an ARC. But when I read the summary, it didn’t pique my interest, so I passed. Fast forward to present day... This book is popping up all over the place, and people are really enjoying it. So I checked out a copy from my library to see what the buzz was all about.

This is a fun book. There is lots of action and adventure, savage monsters, a puzzling mystery, and it’s filled with great entertainment. The pacing is quick, the maze absolutely pulls the reader in, and Dashner is excellent at giving the reader just enough information to satisfy some curiosity, but also to keep us reading.

Some of the characters could have had a bit more depth to them, such as Gally and Teresa. Gally was too one-dimensional-evil, and Teresa didn’t feel complete. And I never got a full picture of Alby, either. But other characters, like Chuck and Minho, were fully fleshed out. I felt like I knew them well.

I would have liked clearer descriptions, too. I couldn’t quite see what the Grievers (monsters in the maze) looked like. I could hear them, but not see them. And the maze itself wasn’t clear. The book’s cover did a good job of filling in those blanks, but I would have preferred to get the image from the text.

The beginning is a bit too slow, and parts of it felt contrived as Thomas keeps asking questions and the others refuse to answer. There was no established motivation for them to not provide answers, so that was disappointing. I also had difficulty with everyone being so down on Thomas, making him the cause of everything going wrong, when it’s obvious they should have been directing that frustration and animosity at Teresa.

And, I’m torn about the twist at the end. I saw it coming, and I haven’t decided whether or not I like it. I think I don’t have enough information to decide, and I’m guessing that information is coming in future books. But I did feel like the book had a satisfying conclusion, and wrapped up the conflict of this book. The conflict of the next book was hinted at, and is intriguing. So I’ll definitely read it.

Overall, even with these shortcomings, this was still a fun and entertaining book to read. I can see teen boys devouring these pages and asking for more. Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Truth and the Lie

It's tuesday, and I promised to announce who won the copy of Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. And I will. But first...

Last tuesday, I gave you all ten little stories about myself. Nine of them were true, and one was a lie. So, now I'm going to reveal which one was the lie. After that, I'll let you know who gets the book. :)

1) I have visited ten countries in the last ten years.
TRUE. I had never been outside of the US until the year 2000, which was the year after I met my husband. We traveled all over the world until we had kids, and then we stayed closer to home for a bit. But now that the kids are older and travel better, we are starting our wanderings once again. Both within the US and outside of it.

2) Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Timetraveler's Wife, knows me personally.
TRUE. My good friend and writing partner has been good friends with Audrey for at least twenty years, and she talks about the both of us often. So I do feel like I know Audrey even though I've only met her the one time, and she said she feels like she knows me, even though she's only met me once. When she's finished touring for her latest book, we all plan to go have lunch or coffee together.

3) My first paying job was detasseling corn.
TRUE. I have no idea why I would willingly torture myself that way, but I did. It was what I knew, I suppose. Many newcomers to field work only lasted a day or two (it was really hard, hot, exhausting work), so my boss appreciated those of us who could stick around longer. The pay was good, and I was in desperate need of a new bed, so that's where my first paycheck went.

4) I can crochet with my eyes closed.
TRUE. When I am crocheting regularly, which is every winter, I can crank through a baby blanket in a day or two. And I rarely, if ever, need to look at my hands while I'm working. I once tested myself to see if I really could make a baby blanket without looking at my hands, and I did it. It took four days instead of two, because I had to focus more on how it felt instead of giving it a quick glance.

5) I have never been to Vegas.
TRUE. My friends tease me about this all the time. I've been to so many other countries, as well as many other places within the US, and yet I've never been to Vegas. I haven't been to Mexico or Canada, either, and they tease me about that, too. :)

6) I couldn't ride a bike until I was ten years old.
TRUE. I don't know if it was me or the bike, but I just couldn't figure out how to pedal and steer at the same time. I finally got it when I was around ten years old or so, and once it clicked I rode my bike everywhere. I couldn't get enough of it. I even learned how to ride (and steer) no-handed.

7) I used to race motorcycles.
TRUE. I learned how to ride a motorcycle in 1997, and I did buy a race bike two months later. My family was less than happy about this, but I didn't care because I couldn't wait to get on the track. In case you need evidence, here's a picture of me in my first year of racing. I'm the one in front. :) Bish, you're absolutely right that it takes experience to do well on bikes. Most of the time, it takes years to gain that experience...unless you're not afraid to crash. Crashing teaches you where your limits are, as well as the limits of your bike. So I got probably ten years worth of experience in two years, because I crashed six times. I walked away from four of them, and broke bones in the other two.

8) I broke my toe by tripping over the vacuum cleaner.
FALSE. I didn't do this, but my mom did. And she couldn't even yell at me or my brother about it because she had left the vacuum cleaner out. :) She hopped around the room screaming in pain, and then called the hospital.

9) I was on the Diving team in high school.
TRUE. I didn't try out for the diving team until I was a senior in high school, and I wish I had done it sooner. I loved my team mates, the diving, the meets, the practicing, basically everything about it. And I guess it's in my blood to not fear injury in the pursuit of learning something new, because I went through plenty of pain that year. You know how your skin turns red when you belly flop into a pool? Yeah, that was me. All the freakin' time. :) Sometimes the welts were so bad they turned purple. But it was so worth it when I finally got that dive right.

10) The Salvation Army once brought us a Christmas dinner and a tree when I was a kid.
TRUE. I was probably six years old when this happened. My mom was both grateful and embarrassed when they showed up. They brought in loads of stuff, but I don't remember it all because I was focused on the tree. I will never forget what the Salvation Army did for my family that Christmas, and whenever I see them on the corner with their bells, I always dig through my pockets and give them whatever I have. And I always will.

So, now, who won the copy of Hush, Hush? Well, if you can believe it, NO ONE guessed which story was the lie. I have no idea if that's a good thing or a bad thing. :) And, I guess this means all of you are entered in the drawing...

Okay, just choose a number for me, and it's official! The winner is...


Congratulations!! :) Send your snail address to tabitha at tabithaolson dot com and I'll get it out to you.

And don't forget to come back on saturday, because I'm giving away more great books!! :)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Changing The Cover of YA Books For Boys

I've been having lots of great conversations about writing lately. And these conversations have been turning into blog posts, like last week’s post about Q&A’s in novels.

I had a different post scheduled for today (which was also inspired by a conversation), but I'm bumping it to next week because of yet another great discussion. Author Andrew Smith has a series of posts on his blog about boys reading YA books. Specifically, how boys don't read as much as girls and why that might be. His posts are fantastically insightful, and author Michael Grant has been weighing in with both his experiences and opinions. Go read. You'll be glad you did. :)

Anyway, Andrew's posts got me thinking. From what I gather, the general consensus is that teen boys don't read (with a few exceptions). Is that really true? Because, if it is, that depresses me. I have two boys that can't get enough of books, and I just can't see them flipping some magic switch so that they'll stop reading when they become teenagers.

So, my question is this: do teen boys really lose interest in reading? Or do teen boys not read because no one is paying attention to them?

I hear boys talk about books now and then, and they seem to love these:
Little Brother, Unwind, Hunger Games, Feed, the Bartimaeus trilogy, Break, The Maze Runner, Leviathan, Maximum Ride books, Ender's Game, Half-Moon Investigations, etc.

Of all these books, not one of them has a picture of a person's face on the cover. Instead, they are more abstract, or they portray scenes or settings from the story. Girl books, however, are all about people. The more realistic, the better. Does that mean boys gravitate to the more abstract while girls connect with the more personal? Maybe. It would explain why don't I hear boys raving about books like Paper Towns, 13 Reasons Why, or I Know It's Over. These are all fabulous books, and the main characters are teen boys.

They also have photographs of girls on the cover.

No teenage boy I know would be caught dead carrying around a book with a picture of a girl on the cover.

There has been recent controversy about 'whitewashing' on book covers. Take Liar by Justine Larbalestier, for instance. I think it's great that Bloomsbury heard what readers were saying, and changed the cover to reflect the ethnicity of the main character. It's a show of respect. And the whole situation demonstrates the power of a book's cover.
I think there is another group out there that would benefit from cover changes: boys. I think Liar has many story elements that boys would enjoy, but I don't hear boys talking about it. Why? I think much of it has to do with the cover being a picture of a girl.

There are lots of books out there with female MC's that boys would enjoy. Hunger Games and Catching Fire, Uglies trilogy, Shiver, Dust of 100 Dogs, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Graceling, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Wicked Lovely, The Book Thief, and I'm sure there are many more.

Some of these covers have pictures of girls, and some don't. And I don't think it's a coincidence that I hear boys talking about the ones without girls on the cover, but not about the books with girls on the cover. So, either they are reading them and not talking about it, or they are avoiding them. Either way, the situation is not ideal.
But what can be done about it? Honestly, I don't know. All I know is that I will do what I can in my little corner of the world. When my 'girl books with boy appeal' eventually hit the shelves, I will fight for a cover that won't turn away boys, especially if I know the story has boy appeal.