Good Reads from Good Authors

You’ve heard the phrase. “Good readers make good writers.” Using mathematical properties I’ve long forgotten, I decided to inverse that phrase for today’s blog post. I would have to imagine that, “Good, established, published writers are really good readers.” So I tweeted out a question to some of my favorite and most beloved authors to see what they were reading. I asked, “What is the last book you read and adored?” Here were their responses: ________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sara Megibow- While Sara isn’t an author (as far as I know), she is one of the more responsive and charming literary agents on Twitter. Very responsive to my questions over the years and that proved true of this one as well.

Her response: “ARG! too many to choose from! Best AND most recent non-client book that I’ve loved was A TURN OF LIGHT by Julie Czerneda”

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Robin Hobb –  One of the big names in fantasy literature, Robin Hobb is best known for her The Farseer Trilogy and recently released a new and wonderful book.

Her response: “Don’t tell Sam Sykes, but most recent was The City Stained Red.”

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Django Wexler- Author of The Shadow Campaigns series and The Forbidden Library. Last year, I had the pleasure of Skype-hosting Django for my creative writing class and they loved him.

His response: “Hmm. Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone or Tainted Blood by M.L. Brennan.”

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Pierce Brown-  If you haven’t heard of Red Rising, you’re going to. Darrow will be the next name on the lips of every teenager and lover of dystopian worlds. I read it this summer. Twice.

His response: “The Bone Clocks” by David Mitchell

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Jason Hough- Author of the best selling science fiction series, The Dire Earth Cycle. Read this book last year and it reignited my love for all things science fiction.

His response: “easy! THE EMPEROR’S BLADES by Brian Staveley”

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Michael Martinez – Author of The Daedalus Series, a wonderful mix of science fiction and alternative-almost-steampunkish history. I’ve read through the first book and am loving the second one.

His response: “Honestly, I don’t have one that springs to mind. I think as I keep writing books, I’ve become more critical of what I read!”

A big thanks to all the authors that participated. I may be editing and adding a few names as responses come in. But this should give all readers a few new names, books, and series to dip their metaphorical toes into. Happy reading!

Thoughts from a GREAT Writing Group

I was trying to figure out why my writing group is so successful and why it has made such a valuable impact on my writing and life. These thoughts concluded, as well they should have, on the fact that the people that make up this group are awesome. So I wanted to note what I love about each of these people and how they add to my writing. Maybe this well help you in your search for a similar group. Maybe it will help you in how you critique and view others’ work:

1. B- This person is incredibly insightful and may have one of the most expansive understandings of popular literature and cinema that I’ve encountered. Their ability to relate our works to other pieces, whether to praise what we’ve done or to give us ideas for what we could do, is unparalleled. I also think this person has a great sense of the “bigger picture”. I find myself so honed in on scenes sometimes, and they have an uncanny ability to zoom out and provide feedback on my piece and all its interconnected parts. That’s so valuable.

2. K – This person may be one of the best line by line critics I’ve met. When I’m going back through edits, I typically pull up their critique and make almost all of the line changes that have been noted. Then I go back and use their commentary to guide my connecting changes to the other critiques I’ve received. This person is also one of the most affirming people I’ve met as a writer. They do not hesitate to say, “This will be published” or “You are ready to be a published author”. Encouragement is great.

3. E – This person probably gets excited the most about my work. I genuinely feel like I’m writing a book and a good book when they respond to some of what they’re seeing with giddy joy about what a character is doing or will do or BETTER not do. They also seem to catch everything that everyone else misses.

4. P – This person is writing in the same genre as me and often points out where I’m following too closely to certain tropes, or happily notes where I’ve broken free of them. I often find this person has a fond appreciation of my work because we’re working in similar styles with similar stories and characters. This person also manages to find awkward inconsistencies. That’s an important thing that sometimes will slip by most people.

5. R- This person has a very, very unique writing style and tends to think technically about things. I can always rely on them to pick apart paragraphs and point out when sentence structures are being repeated too often or phrases are too common, etc.

6. J – This person doesn’t seem to BS anything. Not that anyone in this group ever seems to do that… But he is pretty blunt… Which is fantastic. I know that the things he sees as confusing were genuinely confusing. I know the things he thought were awesome were genuinely awesome. He also has a knack for writing some pretty hardcore characters and can give me great advice on how to push that envelope in my writing.

Now… does it make sense that this group, reading my work week in and week out, could make me better? Does it make sense that their understanding of literature and culture and life would have a positive impact on how I write? I could flounder about on my own, or I could dive further and deeper into the writer I was meant to be. I choose the second one.

Why We Write

My creative writing class was given a simple prompt today… “I write because…”.

We write because:

I have the privilege of being alive today

I’m a madman, and madness is a good disease to spread.

Poetry hurts in a good way

There are temptations I don’t understand, that I run away from

I can’t speak

Most of the time people think about what they write, but they don’t think before they say something

I know how words can affect people and I want to deliver them.

For some reason, it always puts a smile on my face.

My kids need to know that I was young once, too.

My heart needs an interpreter.

I like looking back at things I wrote years ago.

I want to pass this class

I want everything in the world.

Maybe I can see a portion of myself from the past and observe how I’ve changed

It helps me understand everything.

It’s a way to get my feelings out.

I want to be like Maya Angelou.

It takes me to a different reality or place, and any place is better than this one.

Mockingjay ended horribly.

I want to be like the people who make me smile when I read their work.

Everyone has a story that needs to be told.

My feelings have to go somewhere.

The sun is still out.

Nsync broke up.

Negativity sounds better in poems

I have to get good grades.

I’m alive in the greatest country in the world.

Freedom isn’t free.

Tupac is alive in our hearts.

Writing is who I am and what I strive to do

Its the only thing that I’m actually good at

Some words are worth sharing.

People tell me I’m good at it.

It gives you purpose.

I’m aloud to.

You can make ugly things sound pretty.

I got this new pen.

I have so many ideas that I want to make known.

I love the feeling of hand cramps after writing something good.

I have a lot to say.

The stories in my mind give me a headache if I don’t.

I write because it’s healthier than complaining – Lance Kanaby

I write because my pencil loves the attention. – Lance Kanaby

It lets me express my feelings without saying them.

Its the only way I can express my feelings openly.

I like to see other people appreciate something I do.

I know what words to form to create a story.

It’s just fun.

I like to express my creativity.

I can view things from a different perspective.

WHO ELSE CAN WRITE FOR ME?

This is why we write. Why do you?

Mr. Reintgen’s 2nd period Creative Writing Class (Sponsored by Lance Kanaby)

Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Add Mrs. Stiefvater to the list of authors that need to be known by more people. I guess with 44k followers on Twitter (@mstiefvater) , she IS a household name. But when my librarian asked who she was, I lamented the unfairness that not everyone’s heard of this wonderful author.Artwork by: Cassandra Jean

The Raven Boys falls into a category that I would label as “convergence”. We have a paranormal thriller that features college aged students seeking enigmatic treasures. I say convergence, because the story reminded me a little of Steven Erikson’s epic fantasies. though the scale is not as large, fate and magic and circumstance seem to slowly gather all the characters to a time and a place, creating a convergence.

I don’t want to dive too deeply into the plot. Boiled down to its essence, the book centers on the converging worlds of a psychic family and four boys that attend Aglionby, a school for the rich and famous in Henrietta, Virginia. The boys? They’re on a quest to locate a mystical figure that promises a different reward for each. The women? They’re mostly trying to keep Blue from a first kiss that will doom the recipient.

What I want to talk about is not the plot, but the style and wonder that Stiefvater creates through her prose. I’ve broken down a few things I noticed and loved:

1. Recreating Gatsby- It might just be that the name “Gansey” sounds like it, but Stiefvater manages to recreate a passionate, respected, tortured soul reminiscent of the great Gatsby. In Gansey, we have a focal point, a person for the other characters to orbit. He is alluring at times, proud at others, but always he draws the plot forward and the other characters into more interesting circumstances. The quest for the mystical treasure, at its heart, is his. The way that another character, Adam, reveres and despises this character had me comparing him to Nick Carraway. Although, I find Adam far more likeable than Nick.

2. Internal Dialogue at it’s finest- Stiefvater’s greatest accomplishment, in my eyes, were the authentic character observations. The characters have an understanding of one another. They make remarks, and observations, that are accurate and telling. Between the four boys (Adam, Ronan, Gansey, and Noah) there is a unique friendship that takes on all the many facets of a beautiful diamond. I was really quite astonished by her ability to make these seem so genuine. Here are two observations that Blue makes about Gansey in the book:

 “When Gansey was polite, it made him powerful. When Adam was polite, he was giving power away.”
“He strode over to the ruined church. This, Blue had discovered, was how Gansey got places – striding. Walking was for ordinary people.”
Those seem like simple observations to me. Yet, internal monologue can be so hard to get down. I chalk it up to Stiefvater’s excellent understanding of voice.
3. Covering Her Bases- The wider you cast the net, the more people you seem to catch. Every character in this book has peculiar and unique strengths. If you’re a hothead, you’re going to love Ronan. If you are someone who can sweep a room off of it’s feet, you’ll love Gansey. If you like characters that think carefully and react calmly, Adam’s your meal ticket. If you like someone that questions, challenges, and stands strong, Blue will be irresistible! Good characters can be mirrors for us. We will hold them up and see certain things we like, or don’t like, about ourselves. We can read their stories and learn, read their stories and change.
4. Shades of Magic- I say shades because the characters and the interactions seemed central. Paranormal activities were a fine addition that touched every character in some form or fashion. This, to me, is one of the most proper ways to do it. If the magical system or idea is the main thing, don’t we get bored? She had some wonderful bits of magic, and I thought they stayed consistent throughout.
So what did I NOT like:
1. Promise of Premise: I could end up wrong on this one. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say I’m wrong. But promise of premise is important. Here’s what I mean: when your book sets up something to happen, we want to see it happen. Promise of the premise can be seen easily in The Truman Show. At the start of the movie, we’re told that Truman is inside of a world that is run by actors and is completely fake and he doesn’t know it! The premise we’re promised is that this unaware man will have to somehow come into contact with the lie he is living and begin to understand it, challenge it, or hate it. If the movie doesn’t explore this premise that it’s promised at the beginning? We’ll hate it!
So… The Raven Boys features a delayed promise of premise. We are given information at the beginning that will come to fruition, but not until book 2 or 3 or whenever. That ISN’T always a bad thing, but I think in this case it made the climax of the story a little less of a payoff for me. I was given powerful questions to chew on at the start of the story, and they’re sitting on my lap into book 2. Which seems like a necessary thing for ANY series. But it’s also the slightest of frustrations with an otherwise flawless book.
My advice? Go. To your library or local bookstore or amazon…. Go and buy this book. It delivers in so many ways. I think it may be one of the better studies of character building that I’ve read in a long, long time. Really powerful stuff and I’m already moving on to her second book in the series, The Dream Thieves.
Happy reading!

 

Comparing: The Darwin Elevator and Boneshaker

Immunes, and steampunk, and sci-fi… oh my!

I lucked out on my honeymoon reads and picked some amazing books. If you’re looking for new hard-hitting science fiction OR glorious steampunk to read… look no further. 

The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough (who you can follow on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/JasonMHough )

Flash-forward to the 23rd century. The last city on Earth? Darwin, Australia (my money was on Cary, NC, but whatever). An alien plague has decimated the population, transforming the afflicted into zombies, referred to in the story as “subs”. However, the same aliens that delivered the plague also delivered refuge in the form of a space elevator that emits an aura to keep the disease at bay. The main character, Skyler Luiken, happens to carry a rare immunity to the disease. He and his crew are scavengers that conduct missions out beyond the aura’s edge, collecting resources for the ragged heap of humanity back in Darwin.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (who you can follow on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/cmpriest)

Flash-backward to the 1800’s. An Alaskan gold-rush brings wealth to the Pacific Northwest, but it also delivers calamity. Leviticus Blue creates the Boneshaker, a digging machine that creates chaos in downtown Seattle, releasing a horrible Blight that transforms the affected into walking “rotters”. The story takes place more than a decade later, as the widow of Levitics Blue and her son try to live life under the curse of their past. Ezekiel’s frustration with his father’s legacy eventually leads him into the Blight-ruined city, forcing Briar to follow after him. Inside the city? The walking dead, dangerous overlords, and a host of deeper, more hidden dangers await.

So, how do they compare?

1. First, in the use of the undead. Both authors have a great sense of what they want their undead creatures to be. In Boneshaker, Priest tends to use her rotters as an element of sheer terror. She does a wonderful job of building the horror of any scene through consistent descriptions and, I noticed, the noise the “rotters” make. It’s terrifying. In The Darwin Elevator, Hough definitely provides suspense and fear through his zombies, but there is the added mystery of the “SUBS” disease. Why did the aliens deliver this plague? And why is the Aura suddenly not protecting against it?

2. Steampunk vs. Science Fiction- I’ve always enjoyed science fiction, but am not a “hard” science fiction reader. Some of the mechanical descriptions of how a space station works… they sound… mechanical to me. Hough does a good job of enlivening his plot through some pretty cool futuristic devices, but I have to admit that STEAMPUNK took the cake for me. I’m not sure how far I’ve dipped my toes into the genre, but Priest really caught my intention with some clever inventions. And who can complain about zepplins crashing into Blight-infested streets?! 

3. Plot development is so crucial. So… the other book I read this week was a little book called Divergent. It may or may not be super popular right now, and I may or may not have watched the movie last night. Here’s the thing: Divergent does not really have a great plot. We have a front loaded book that spends about 300 pages on “initiation” (remember, the Hunger Games wrapped that section of the book up in about 30 or 40 pages) and then a gauntlet chase over the last 100 pages that, at points, doesn’t even allow us the proper time to mourn or celebrate or digest. The only reason I noticed this about Divergent? Because I read Boneshaker and The Darwin Elevator right before it. BOTH of these books do a wonderful job of leading us through suspense-filled action. Both books raise the stakes. Both books provide a certain building to a certain climax to a certain resolution. What I felt the Divergent lacked, both Priest and Hough pull off in a fantastic fashion.

So… what didn’t I like?

1. In The Darwin Elevator, I did notice that some of the important moments took place “off-stage” as it were. This may be a Hollywood, cinematic syndrome on my part… but some of the most impacting moments the narrator experiences are more of a “collateral damage” feel. He’s reacting to the damage report, and not always present in the moment of loss or pain.

2. RUSSELL BLACKFIELD – Which made him the perfect antagonist. Man, that guy is SUCH a tool.

3. In Boneshaker, I actually had a hard time connecting with Zeke. Priest does a wonderful job of making his character somewhat petulant. He complains quickly, he’s sort of the “annoying brother” at times… While it made sense for his character, and is sometimes a likeable thing to see faults in our protagonists, I found him hard to fully identify with. I LOVED Briar Wilkes though. She’s tough as nails, consistent, and really easy to get behind as a sympathetic character.

 

I strongly urge you to go out an pick up BOTH of these books. If you’re a TEACHER, I’d say that either of these could be added to your classroom library. Boneshaker might be a little more appropriate for the 9th-10th grade audience. I’d say that The Darwin Elevator includes a few scenes and words that may be a little too provocative, but I think the work as a whole covers up any possible complaint there. In matters of “appropriateness”, I tend to look at the protagonist as a model. Is Skyler Luiken someone that I’d want my students to act like? And there are several scenes, between him and authority figures, between him and women, that really make him distinctly worthy of that kind of role. Having a character like that should make it easy for students to dismiss the inappropriate thoughts of Russell Blackfield as… inappropriate.

Either way, happy reading!