Away I go.

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 17, 2010 -- 6:43 a.m.

Tomorrow I'll be in sweet, sweet Maui. I DRINK YOUR TEARS OF JEALOUSY!

But maybe The Onion's parody of publishers and vampires will cheer you up.

My favorite line: "[On] the same date three rival publishers will release novels featuring a bad-boy mummy, a bad-boy cyclops, and a bad-boy Mayan vision serpent."

I'd read the one about the Mayan vision serpent.

Books Reviews: The Lies of Locke Lamora and Paper Mage

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 15, 2010 -- 1:31 a.m.
It's amazing how a little thing like an argument can completely throw off your mojo for an entire day. It destroys time you don't have, and leaves you frustrated because there's no way to resolve a conflict. Most of the time, you have to forgive, forget and move on, even though you crave the satisfaction of the other person admitting that you're right.

But enough of that. Anyway, here's the promised book reviews:

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

For writers, there are two types of books in the world--The books that make you think, "I wish I had had that idea because I could have done it so much better." And the books that make you think, "I'm so glad I didn't write that book, because otherwise I couldn't have gone along for the ride."

The Lies of Locke Lamora is definitely the latter. But what else would you expect from a Campbell award winner that the master George R.R. Martin himself graces with a blurb? (Speaking of which, a Game of Thrones preview is up on HBOs web site. If you're a fan, go check it out.)

Locke Lamora is a thief who steals too much. In a city of glass and canals, where gladiators battle sharks and thieves are ruled by hidden gods, Lamora is a conman who plays both sides against the middle. He's ostentatiously working for a man who is the fantasy version of the Godfather, yet at the same time he's stealing from the upper class nobles that the Godfather has declared off-limits. He's kind of a Robin Hood...except that he keeps the money.

Lamora is on track for pulling off his largest heist ever, until a mage in the service of a mysterious vigilante decides to blackmail Lamora into helping his revenge scheme against the Godfather figure and the nobles both.

Who doesn't love the fictional antics of a conman? This was a guilty pleasure for me. Yes, I got my credit card number stolen once and it sure as hell wasn't funny then, but that doesn't stop me from loving Lamora as he goes on his merry, rampaging way. It's always easier to sell me on righteous thieves than righteous assassins, even though the assassin character was very popular in fantasy for awhile. It's one thing to rob rich people of their money, it's quite another to kill them, and I thought that of lot of assasin books, much like the "pimp" phenemonon that inexplicably gripped pop culture, glorified a lifestyle that, in actual reality, was very sordid and exploitative. However, because I enjoyed Lies so much, and he only ruins people instead of murdering them, I guess I have to set my principles aside. It helps that the class conflict in the book is so demarked. It's also amusing that, though Locke Lamora steals, he doesn't really know what to do with the money afterward.

This book crackles with tension and suspense. Granted, not every twist and turn was unpredictable, but it's rare for a book to startle me so frequently and to such good effect. Lynch has mastered "the surprising-yet-inevitable" art of the twist. I found my jaw dropping in the middle of the novel, and I was cursing by the time I had to set it down and go to bed.

Like the Da Vinci Code, most chapters ended with a hook to drag the reader forward. Except in this book, for me, they always succeeded. What made this feat even more impressive is that the book utilizes an unusual structure, spacing chapters about Lamora and the other character's pasts in between chapters that propelled the main narrative forward. In other words, Scott Lynch could keep me wanting more even when I knew that the stakes were low--no character deaths, just a lot of info-dumping. Yet I loved every page.

Besides being a master of colorful characterization, Lynch also has a deft hand with description. Few of the details of his world struck me as stock fantasy set dressing leftover from the LOTR movies.

Lamora is also notable for not having much of a romantic subplot. This is strictly a buddy comedy. Well, in some parts, a buddy tragedy. There is a love plot in the sequel--a book which might even be superior to the first--but (SPOILER ALERT...Scroll over the text to see it) it's pretty obvious from the beginning that's it's going to be a case of women in refrigerator syndrome--a term propagated by comic book readers and applied to the love interests of superheroes who are fated to die for the sake of the plot.

Be warned, for those of you who aren't a fan of adult language, Lamora has it's fair share of it. It's not meant as a book for children. Also be warned that the second book ends on a cliff-hanger, and Lynch's blog suggests he's been having problems that may delay the third book for some time.

But if Hunger Games was the best book I read last year, I suspect The Lies of Locke Lamora will be my favorite of 2010. I read it back in February and haven't found another book that even comes close to toppling it. Lamora was fresh and exciting in a genre that so often embraces clones. I can't wait to read the sequel, and depending on how the rest of the series goes, "the Gentlemen Bastards Sequence" might even be up there with the works of George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan.


Paper Mage, by Leah Cutter

I don't know if there's ever going to be another book where the magic system is centered entirely around origami.

Xiao Zen is a female paper mage struggling in a fantasy world reminiscent of Imperial China. She folds paper creatures to bring them to life. Her family is disgusted by her profession because they believe it will harm Zen's chances of marriage, but her manipulative aunt sees it as a way to guarentee herself immortality. Zen herself isn't sure what she wants and struggles throughout the book to come to terms with her talent, her feminity, and her duties to her family.

I'm putting this book next to the Lies of Locke Lamora because they both use a similar narrative system--one chapter on background, one chapter on the present, alternating throughout the book. While structurally similar, the purposes are quite different. Lamora, though populated with a large number of memorable characters, is a plot-driven book, and even the background pages give you a dallop of mystery. Paper Mage, on the other hand, is a character driven book, where the suspense comes more from the character's decisions than from anything about the plot. Because I'm not as much a fan of character-driven fiction as I am of plot-driven fiction, this didn't necessarily always work for me as well as Lynch's book did. For example, Xiao defeats the big bad evil warlord in the middle of her book, not the end, which honestly left me scratching my head a little.

Cutter is excellent at capturing a culture not her own. I'm not used to being in character's heads who are so alien from me. I think a lot of fantasy readers are so used to female characters who embrace the modern tennants of feminism, so it's surprising when we see a woman so firmly torn between career and family. And one who often believes that she is made less by the soft squishiness between her legs. Her attitude frustrated me to death sometimes, but also helped me see into a world that is admittedly very far from my own.

The setting itself is interesting. I loved the tidbits like part-rat/part-dragon monster, and how Zen has to find creative ways to defeat things with paper.

Paper Mage is an impressive study in characterization and cultural exploration. Writers can learn a lot about using foreign cultures and different ideas in this book. But if you're expecting a lot of suspense, swordfights and flashy fireballs, this is definitely not a book for you.

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 12, 2010 -- 2:46 p.m.
Ugh, I meant to write that book review today, I really did, but I've been sick all day.

I passed my Scuba certification with flying colors. Whether it was the dramamine, the decongestant, the ginger, divine intervention, or bloody-headed stubbornness, I didn't struggle with vertigo or sea-sickness.

However, now I have water stuck in my inner ear with the result that I am very dizzy and can't take three steps without falling on my face. It's weird because I feel like the water is so deep, it's trying to leak out of my sinuses. I don't know if it actually is or not, but it feels like its gushing around the inside of my face. Not pleasant.

In the meantime, I'll probably write a book review on Monday instead of a writing prompt. Because I really do want to point out two interesting books.

But that'll probably be my last post for awhile, because I'm off to Maui in six days.


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 9, 2010 -- 11:19 p.m.

I'm tired. I've had a discouraging couple of days.

Mostly, I'm disappointed because scuba diving, which I really enjoyed, may not actually be a hobby I'm capable of. We had our first open dive yesterday, and I had to sit out half of it because I got so sick. I came very close to vomiting all over the water, and the waves were very small.

I was fine until I got to an underwater platform at 20 feet or so. Then, I tried to swim off it to a neighboring platform and suddenly I was just sick and dizzy and I couldn't see anything. I wasn't scared, because I knew I could just bob up to surface and be fine. But I did feel very sick. I tried to figure out how I would throw up with my breathing apparatus in my mouth, because I was worried that I would breathe in my own vomit and choke. And I wondered where everyone had gone. I could see how easy it would be to get lost underwater.

Part of it was that my partner did not stay with me like he should have, and I was looking around for him and I couldn't find him. So I got dizzy and turned around because I was trying to find him and he'd already swum ahead about thirty feet or so away when I was expecting him to be right beside me. Part of it was, even though I felt like I was fine boyancy-wise, someone told me I should put more air in my BCD so I did and I bobbed up like a cork, too fast. I didn't have enough weights on me, which didn't help.

That's the worse thing about having people look after you. Sometimes, they don't respect you enough to think you know what you're doing. They make things worse by distracting you and trying to protect you--and they yanked me by the shoulders and told me to do their way. Yanking me around does not help my stomach.

I can dope myself on anti-nausea drugs and maybe pass the open water dive--the instructor says its very common for people to suffer from intense vertigo the first time--but the point is, out in the sea, there will be more waves. And I will be sick. I thought that being under the water would make it better, but it doesn't.

I mean, I threw up in a yacht on Utah Lake, for christsakes. I throw up when I'm nervous. I throw up when I dance. I throw up riding in the car. Some days, I throw up for absolutely no reason at all. I live on a steady diet of Tums. I don't know if it's ulcers or what, but I've always had a weak stomach, and it interferes with so many things in my life. I've never bothered to go to the doctor because I don't think they could make it better, but maybe I should.

It's so frustrating to try so hard, to want something so badly, and then to fail because of something that is so completely out of your control.

Tomorrow, I try again. I will try to eat more mild foods and take more pills. Hopefully, it will be better.

Prompt: Puzzled

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 7, 2010 -- 4:19 p.m.

I enjoyed my trip to the sand dunes with my family. I wish we could do something as fun every week. I think I'll be picking sand out of my shoes for the next decade.

So I just finished Da Vinci Code, which I had never read before. I read it so I could see what the fuss was all about. Spoilers abound in the post because, you know, it's like...old news.

I wasn't a fan. I'm glad the book brought more people to the bookstore than who normally would come, but I didn't like it. It was a little slow for a thriller. Give me the short, soft stylings of Lee Child any day of the week. That man can do more with the phrase "he said nothing" than any other author can do with a paragraph of emotive description (including myself.)

However, I'm not going to criticize it, because writers living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and you can't really argue with success.

Other authors have used "the right blood" concept, even if I haven't seen it linked with the holy grail except in fringe literature. It seems odd that the "importance of blood" fantasy trope occasionally migrates over to popular literature. Another book I read that involved blood had a quest to find a descendant of Hitler. Then they found his little granddaughter, who was about 8 or so, and the heroine shot her on sight because she had Hitler's charisma. And the hero was absolutely okay with murdering a child because she had the same blood as her father. I may be wrong about the age, but even if she was a young adult, she still hadn't done anything yet. I think she was in the middle of saying how evil her grandfather was when the heroine shot her, too.

My attempts to figure out what that book's name was led me to all sorts of interesting information, including a web site that says Angela Merkel is Hitler's daughter via artificial insemination. The evidence: A doctor of Hilter's was allegedly carrying around a vial of his sperm around Eastern Germany about the time Angela Merkel was conceived. Also, they share the same birthday.

Wow, who knew I was Jesse Jackson's illegitimate daughter? After all, we were both born on Oct. 8.

I wonder sometimes why people demonize politicians with really ridiculous arguments when ordinary arguments will do. I remember receiving all sorts of crack email during the last presidential election telling me Obama was the anti-Christ signalling the end of days. Well, I'm still waiting for that apocalypse.

Did I ever tell you I saw a PBS special on the 2012 Aztec calendar thing, and one professor talked about email he had received from a mother asking if she should poison her children in 2011 so they wouldn't have to suffer it? WHY ARE PEOPLE SO INSANE!

But back to the Da Vinci Code: I was amused that, when the book won a plagerism settlement, the judge added codes to his opinion. I'm not sure an American judge would have gotten away with being that flippant. Unless they're Scalia. His dissents are so fun to read, even if I rarely agree with them.

What can writers learn from Da Vinci Code's popularity:

• I did admire Dan Brown's penchant for research, even if not all of it was accurate. The way he planted enough facts that sounded plausible in the beginning of the book made the later leaps of logic feel more solid.

• He placed strategic hooks to draw readers on. He had a mystery pulling at the reader in every chapter, and he added another layer on it every time. If I wasn't always absolutely enthralled, I could at least see that it was meant to be enthralling. Red herrings also abounded. I was absolutely sure the French inspector dude was "the teacher."

• Any press is good press. The controversy surrounding it probably spiked interest in the book. I was amused when I read the Catholic web site debunking the Da Vinci Code because it says, "Its publisher, Doubleday, released it with much fanfare in March 2003 and heavily promoted it. As a result, it debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and has remained on it since..." Which implies readers had nothing to do with its popularity. I bet publishers wish they had the power to create a Da Vinci Code level seller with every book. But the publicity surrounding it, both at its launch and later, did, undoubtedly, help.

• Sometimes an unusual theme or wacky theory can be really powerful, if it makes good watercooler chat. I often think that it's very difficult to create a completely original work because at least one person has done anything you ever tried to do already. Well, I have never seen a thriller based around the descendents of Christ, holy grail and goddess-worship symbology before. I would never have expected to see those elements in a best-selling book. I'm not sure picking a loony, delicious gossip-worthy theory and structuring a book around it could actually work again, but who knows?

But the bottom line is this: people like puzzles. The same people who do the cryptograms, crosswords and sudokus in the newspaper read a lot of books. If your book doesn't have a good element of mystery in it, you're missing out on a chance to entrance the reader. Every time you can add a puzzle--even if it's something small, like the evil character's motivation--you make it that much harder to put your book down.

Title: Puzzled
Genre: None
Type: Whatever

Pick an element: character, setting, world-building detail, plot, etc. and add a puzzle. It can be anything--a puzzle about a character's true identity. A word anagram that will give away the final location of that magical McGuffin. A cryptic sentence left in a mad scientist's diary. The bad guy's motivation. See if you can withhold something until the end, and drop enough clues to leave the reader guessing and hungry for more.

What makes an interesting puzzle to you? Do you like word games? Number mazes? Whatever you do like, see if you can combine it with some other element in your book to make a good mystery. Little or big, both can be useful.


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 4, 2010 -- 2:48 a.m.
I'm probably not going to post today after all because I'm taking my cousins camping this weekend and I didn't have time to do it today. review next week, eh?

WHAT I'M READING NOW: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

CONduit Report

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 3, 2010 -- 12:16 a.m.

Well, it's Weds. somewhere, right? I got caught up in some expected yardwork today when the sprinkler system went down, so this post's a little late. But here it is...

Ah, CONduit. The Salt Lake City Con where you can attend a writing panel on How to Get published, stay for a belly-dancing performance and learn the basics of detecting paranormal activity...all in a single night. This year's theme was space pirates. There's such an ecletic mix of gamers, artists, anime fans and writers, if you go to CONduit and don't come home with at least one new's probably your deoderant.

Of course not everyone's friends are as cool as the Dread Pirate Roberts. But hey, you can't all be as awesome as me. Relax. Don't strain yourself. We wouldn't want to be setting the bar too high now, would we?

Anyway, I had a lot of fun. I even introduced myself to some new authors who's advice I have been listening to for a couple years now, and found out that Larry Corriea and John Brown are every bit as nice as they seem to be. And Provo Library doesn't carry a copy of Larry Correia's book, FOR SHAME! Some regular faces were absent (I missed Howard Taylor's jokes) and some of the local authors didn't stay long, but I still went home with a belly-full of advice and a bucket-full of motivation. I chucked out about 40 pages of text on Skin Farm yesterday (and by chucked out, I mean typed out. How much is decent enough to merit staying in the book, we'll see). Brad Torguson recognized my face from previous conventions and came to talk to me and introduce himself without prompting. I also managed to avoid all Lost spoilers, miracle of miracles. I'm still a season behind, grumble.

My question of the con was: How do you deal with form rejection? And boy, these authors had experienced a lot of it. I didn't quite ask every author there, but the ones I missed I'm sure would have had the same advice. Keep your chin up. Work hard. Throw stuff at the wall. Something's bound to stick eventually.

In some ways, there were a lot of depressing moments at the con, because some of the authors haven't had much upward career movement since last year. Barbara Hambly, our guest speaker, has had a whole ton of success over the years--our library has a shelf almost dedicated to her exclusive use. But after she'd "made it", quit her day job, worked full time as an author for decades, she ended up getting chucked out by her publishers (and this time, I do mean thrown out) and forced to find a job at the time in her life when many people start contemplating retirement. can make it, and still not be safe from the terrors of the 9-to-5.

The funny thing is, the community college she's teaching at wouldn't let her teach creative writing, because she didn't have a masters in English. Ha!

Anyway, a lot of advice we got was the kind of thing you've heard, don't send your query letter on perfumed paper, or dark paper...(part of me groans at people's ignorance)...but there was some new stuff too, like that sometimes the "no submissions" policy at publishers is just a shield and if you send a manuscript to someone anyway, you might get a bite with comments. Not something I'll try unless I have a few Writer's of the Future awards under my belt, but interesting nonetheless.

Barbara Hambly--who is a really interesting woman, she talked about her ghost sightings and her student's reactions to her numorous tattoos--advised me to start with character when writing a historical novel and then work outward, since I'm finding the whole historical setting bigger than I can chew. She also told me her WoW server (not mine, alas) and that she plays on Thursdays.

Another thing: One of the distinctions between M.G. and Y.A. involves spheres of influence. In a M.G. book, the biggest influence on a main character tends to be family. Often kids saving their parents or having to make due without their parents or fighting their foster parents or wishing they had parents, etc. In Y.A., that influence has shifted over to friends. It's less about family and more about that cute boy with the locker three feet left of the girl's bathroom. Friends in trouble that need rescuing instead of parents. Anyway, I'd never thought of it that way before.

I also learned there's a new subgenre called "New Adult" which is for college-aged folks. Not quite adult, not quite young adult. I'm not sure how you'd go about marketing such a thing and whether its a viable sub-genre since college kids are pretty much adults, but it'll be interesting to see if it develops. I can see how there are some unique "college" issues that would make for great reading. I haven't seen a shelf for it in bookstores, but it's been awhile since I went walkabout in a Barnes and Noble.

James Daschner also told me not to worry that I've missed the bandwagon with post-apocalyptic. They're still hot, which is good because I hope to get queries out on Skin Farm by Christmas.

Anyway, I went to readings, a Wheel of Time panel, and other events, and saw pirates and armed knights carrying signs "WILL FIGHT DRAGONS FOR FOOD." James Daschner gave me a copy of the first few chapters of the sequel to Maze Runner (signed) which made me squeal a little. I squealed a lot when Brandon Sanderson told me the first Wheel of Time signing for Towers of Midnight will be at BYU again this year. I'm picking out my sleeping bag already, you losers. That #1 signed copy is MINE!!!

But more importantly, I came home with so many story ideas, I'm not sure what to do with them all. I'm beginning to wonder if I might not actually be a secret Y.A. author in disguise. I think of myself as gritty, but Y.A.'s gotten pretty gritty of late, and most of the characters that spring into my mind are young, if not high school aged. Probably because I am trapped into a perpetual state of immaturity. There would be some advantages--Y.A. authors are less penalized for genre-romping, so I could write historical fantasy and dystopian science fiction under the same pen-name--as well as a wider audience and bigger paychecks. Sounds good to me.

Next year's COnduit will be superhero themed. The guest is Tamora Pierce. They've already got the website up for next year. I've never read anything by her, but I like some of her book titles. I find myself scratching my head and wondering where to start. Usually I study an author's career in chronilogical order but reading 26 books by the same author is a little dauting.

UP FRIDAY: Double book review! The Lies of Locke Lamora and Paper Mage.