Sunday, 18 October 2009

In my mailbox (2)

Another week with my mailbox full of books: good times. Hence, time for another episode of In my mailbox! (Cue theme music.) These books are all pretty recent releases, too, which will help me towards completing my Countdown Challenge.

I know very little about Rooftops of Tehran, but it's about "growing up in an Iran headed toward revolution". Really, what else do you need? It sounds fascinating.

I won this book courtesy of a competition at Savvy Verse and Wit

I won The sister, a debut novel by Poppy Adams, in a competition at Need more bookshelves.

The story follows Ginny, a woman living in her childhood home, a sprawling Victorian house, whose life centres around her moths and the "ghosts of her past". But when her sister Vivien returns to their home, "dark, unspoken secrets rise, disrupting Ginny's ordered life and threatening the family's fragile peace....This [is] a disquieting story of two sisters and the ties that bind — sometimes a little too tightly." (Summary adapted from the backcover copy)

I won Comfort food by Kate Jacobs, from Need more bookshelves as well! This is another story about a woman teetering on middle age. Gus, the host of a TV cooking show, is struggling not only with the big "Five-Oh" approaching, but with being forced to work with a beautiful bee-yatch to boost ratings; with two demanding daughters at home; and with, of course, some attractive man. (I'm going to assume Gus is single. But of course, heroines always are. Why aren't there ever any heroines who start and end books in a happy, stable relationship, and who just have other issues in their lives?) (Even in the Shopaholic series, once the heroine gets together with her man, their relationship is threatened in every single book. It gets old fast.)

Pretties is the second book in the Uglies series. Basically, I read Uglies on Sunday, and ordered the next two books in the series on Monday. I got this on Wednesday, and finished it at lunch-time the next day. Review to follow.

I started Specials — the third book in the Uglies series — as soon as I got home from work on Thursday, and finished it before 8pm that night. It's not that skinny a book, so I was slightly surprised at how little time it took me to read it. Again: review to follow. These two books weren't as good as Uglies, though. (But if you read Uglies, you're probably going to have to read the other two anyway, just to find out what happens. Just warnin' ya.)

(Note: comments disallowed due to lots of spam on this blog post. Sorry!)

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The reader's trust

In writing classes, I've been taught about the level of trust between a reader and an author. The author makes a contract of sorts with the reader; that is, the reader trusts that the information the author gives them is true, that the author won't deceive them. Obviously, in a novel, the story told won't be true; but it will be true within the story, if that makes sense.

Take Jodi Picoult. She's an excellent and a talented writer; but she changes the story in the last chapter of every one of her books, turning each story on its head with a surprise "twist" at the end. To me, that feels like she betrayed my trust in her: I stopped reading her books, because what's the point in getting emotionally invested in a story that you know will all change in the last chapter? You can't go the whole way through a book claiming that X is true, and in the last chapter find out that X is all lies (unless it's a mystery/detective/thriller).

I think cliffhangers betray a reader's trust as well. I like books to be standalone books, regardless of whether they're part of a series. I like to be able to read a book in a series, and not need to get the next one to find out how the hero/heroine gets themselves out of the predicament that arose at the end of the book.

Take Juliet Marillier. She's my favourite author, and combines well-researched historical settings with great fantasy details, stirring romances and characters that pull at my heart-strings. I buy every book she's released — I even pre-ordered her most recent release, a first for me.

Juliet Marillier writes a lot of series.

But her books are complete in and of themselves.

When an author ends on a cliffhanger, to me it feels like they're trying to blackmail me into reading the next book. You care about this character now, don't you? Well, look what's happened! Mwaahahahahaa! Now you must read the next book, or you'll never know!

I buy Juliet Marillier's books, not because she blackmails me into feeling I "need" to find out what happens next, but because I love the richness of her writing, her characters, her worlds.

If a book ends on a cliffhanger, I might buy the next one in the series. I might read until the series ends. But I'll have a grudge against that author, and it's less likely I'll buy anything else they've written, because I don't want to be blackmailed again.

Does anyone else ever feel like this?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Another stage to go!

I felt relieved after my interview for the journalism internship. It hadn't gone perfectly, and I'd stuffed up a few questions; but it was over. I could no longer do anything to change the outcome: all I had to do was wait.

Waiting for a call that will come "in a week or so" is much more nerve-wracking than internship test results that will "take five or more weeks".

But I'd passed the application stage; I'd passed the general knowledge test; now all I had to do was hear back from the interview, and I'd know.

Apparently not.

My ideal job would be as a sub-editor, and this came up during the interview. They asked if I'd prefer to do that than be a journalist. I want to be honest, so I said yes.

I know, cringeworthy.

And they rang me on Tuesday: They don't want me as a journalist.

But would I be interested in an internship as a sub-editor?


Why yes, yes I would.

I don't have the internship. Not yet. But now there's another — hopefully final — stage to go through. A "casual" meet-and-greet with my potential boss, this weekend.

I'm nervous, for so many reasons. If I get this, the whole direction of my life could be changed — potentially in both good and bad ways.

But wow I hope I get it.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Review: The curious case of Benjamin Button

This review's short, because the book is.

I was disappointed in The curious case of Benjamin Button. It's extremely short - about 40 pages - and while the premise is interesting, the book's so vague that I couldn't really get into it or care about the characters at all. There are very few actual scenes in the book (conversations, etc); most of it is just the narrator describing a period of Benjamin's life, and all of the characters — Benjamin's father, his son, and Benjamin himself — come off looking pretty callous.

It's still a sad story, though, since it's almost impossible to have any normal relationship with your body (and mind) growing younger and sillier.

But I am disappointed, because the premise (person is born as old man and gets younger with time), I think, really is interesting.

But the book? Not so.

Sorry: due to repeated spam comments, I've disabled commenting on this post.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Author interview with Janice Hardy

I've been pronouncing it Nee-yah. Or is it Nye-yah? I hate when I write a story and all my readers pronounce the names wrong!

As long as you have a pronunciation that’s easy for you, I’m happy. But I wrote it as NIGH-uh. Ny as in dye. Uh as in, well, uh.

What gave you the idea for The Pain Merchants?

It was a long process. I first had the idea of shifting pain about five or six years ago. I wrote up a bunch of notes, realized the story was terrible, and stuffed them in a file. Then two years ago I was at the Surrey International Writers Conference and the presenters were stressing originality. I was pitching my first real novel, a prophecy quest story that was not very original. I came back all fired up and started digging through my old ideas to see if anything would work. I came across those old notes, still thought the story was terrible, but the idea of pain shifting stayed with me. Somewhere the idea of buying and selling pain developed (I honestly can’t say how) and I started world building. I wanted to know how a society that bought and sold pain would work. That led to the Healer’s League and how healing worked and the world came together.

Then one day, I was watching TV and came across a rerun of the TV show Firefly. Part of that show’s backstory is that the heroes were on the losing end of a civil war. I loved that idea and knew right away Geveg had lost a war for independence, and that my hero was an orphan of that war. It all started to fall into place then. After that, it was just your basic, who is my hero? What problem do they face? What’s the worst that can happen? brainstorming to develop the plot.

I read that one of your favourite books as a kid was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I love that book! What were your other favourite books/authors as a middle grader? What are your favourites today?

I was a huge fan of The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. Nancy Drew’s were big. I read every Judy Blume, Paula Danzinger and Lois Duncan I could get my hands on. I also read a lot of the old classic sci fi, like Asimov, Pohl, Niven, etc. My father was a big fan and I borrowed his books a lot. Recent favorites are Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Susan Beth Pfieffer’s Life As We Knew It, Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why, Kathleen Duey’s Resurrection of Magic series. I just started Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice series (on book two now) but I’m loving it. (I think some of those are YA though)

Hemingway reportedly called his six-word story ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn") his best work. What can you tell us about your book in six words? (They don't have to be your best six.)

Eek, six words? Hmmm… “My sister’s in trouble, Gotta run.”

When did you write your first novel?

I was eight. It was a four-book series about dog archaeologists called “Dog City.” (So original.) My first real book (written with the intent to try and sell it) was about ten years or so ago, but I’ve always written.

Apart from your main character, who's your favourite character in your book?

Oooo that’s a toughy. I think Jeatar, because I haven’t figured him out yet. He’s hiding depths and tragedy under that cool exterior and I want to know what they are.

What was your reaction when you found out you'd sold your book?

SQUUEEEEEEE!!!!!!! Over and over. Lots of happy dancing and giggling. And jumping up and down.

You've got heaps of events coming up to promote your new release! Are there any in particular that we online lurkers should keep an eye out for?

Let’s see, on the 6th I’ll be over at John Scalzi’s Whatever talking about the Big Idea for the book. Interviews over at YA Highway next week, The Enchanted Inkpot on the 21st, First Novels Club also on the 6th, and Sierra Godfrey’s blog on the 7th. Guest blogs on Tall Tales and Short Stories later this month with a contest for a signed book. There’s also an interview in the November issue of Writer’s Digest. I think that’s it, though there are a few others still in the works.

If your readers take one thing away from this book, what would you want them to take away?

What a great story. I write to tell tales, so as long as folks enjoy it, I’m happy.

You talk a lot about writing issues and how to overcome them on your storyflip blog! What was a writing issue you had while writing The Pain Merchants?

You might not believe me, but this book was the easiest thing I ever wrote. It just felt out of my head onto the page, and I don’t really remember any of it being tough. Of course, book two is making up for that (which everyone tells me is perfectly normal). I had not written a sequel before this, and it’s been challenging trying to balance telling the second part without rehashing the first. Backstory issues, really. You want the book to stand alone, yet there’s all this stuff that influences or had influenced what happens. Maintaining the “why should I care?” factor has also been rough. It’s easy to just dive in and throw stuff at Nya, but unless she has the same level of personal need and stakes, it falls flat. I can’t just say, “Well, they liked her in book one, so that’ll carry over no matter what I have her doing.” Not true. Readers want just as good a story if not better, and I have to deliver on that. It’s getting there, and I have faith readers will be happy with it in the end, but it’s definitely taking more work than book one.

There's heaps of world-building in this - while you don't describe anything in extreme detail, I always had a very clear sense of what the scene was and what the surroundings were, not to mention the history of the world (which I think is fascinating - it seems a lot more "real" than a lot of other fantasy worlds, with more genuine problems). Did you plan out your world beforehand, or did you make it up as you went along?

Thanks! World building came first. A lot of the problems and issues in a story come from just living in that world, so I like to get a solid foundation under me before I start writing. It makes it a lot easier for me to let the story unfold naturally. There’s always some stuff that comes up as I write, and I add that in so everything ties together, but the basic socio-economic-geographic structure is there before I do anything.

So I can guess who Nya ends up with romantically. Are we going to see any of the other characters getting a bit friendlier with each other? I love it when the sidekicks get some romance as well.

I do have another romance brewing, though that won’t fully develop until book three. No more hints on that though!

I really liked the two other strong girl characters in the book - Tali and Aylin. So often, there's the heroine, and then a whole lotta boys all vying for her attention! So I thought it was great in this that there were two other strong, likeable, brave girl characters. I guess that isn't really a question, but I just wanted to say.

Thanks! I’ve always loved strong female characters, so I just naturally added a bunch. I try to make everyone strong and weak in their own way though, because people are like that.

Yeah, and I think all of the characters definitely do have their weak spots as well as their strong. Will there be more main characters in the next book, or are we sticking with the crew from the first book? Will all of the characters come back in the next book? I want to see more of Jeatar (and Lanelle, but for a different reason). Will we ever meet the Duke?

Yes, all the main characters will be back, and you’ll meet some new ones. Lanelle I can’t promise, since she pops in and out depending on the revision. (there’s a subplot that comes and goes) We haven’t seen the last of her though, so if she doesn’t make it into two, she’ll be back in three. You’ll definitely meet the Duke, but I won’t say when.

If I'm going to be honest, I'll admit that if I ever met Grannyma in person, I'd have to be restrained from throttling her. Are we going to hear many of her wise sayings in Book Two?

Throttling? Oh no! (grin) She’s Nya’s conscience in a way, so yes, more sayings from her.

I love the current opening sequence - it's one of the things that made me decide I had to buy this book, when I read it online. (I noticed when I got the book, that the back cover promised to "have fantasy fans hooked from the first sentence". I thought, cynically: Yeah, right! and turned to the first page, where I read the first sentence: "Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken." Well... I wasn't hooked necessarily, but that's a great opening sentence in a scene which gives a really good insight into Nya.) Did you play with a lot of story openings? What were other scenes you thought of starting with?

Thanks so much! I spend a ton of time on first lines because I feel they set the tone for the novel and need to be just right. I also have trouble going forward until I get the right line, so I play with it in my head for days or weeks before I start writing. For Nya’s opening scene, I knew I wanted to show her in her everyday world, show how hard it was for her to survive, reveal her shifting ability, show she was a good person even if she did bad things, and make people care about her. Her stealing food to survive did that, and by stealing eggs, it showed that she wanted to eat, but not steal someone else’s livelihood or ability to eat. It also showed that even if she did steal, she must not do it often if it was still hard for her. I also tried to get in a sense of who she is so you got to know her right away.

Is good luck generally easy to find in an empty pail?

That line makes me laugh. When I first wrote it, it really fit the tone for the book (it was the very first Grannyma saying), but when you think about it, if the pail is empty, there wouldn’t be anything in it, would there? But it just felt right for Nya to say so I kept it. Metaphorically it works, right? If there was nothing else there, you’d be able to find good luck? We use sayings every day that don’t make sense when you think about them, so why can’t Nya!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Spreading the word: The shifter (Janice Hardy)

Aka The Pain Merchants (UK edition)

This MG/YA fantasy was released yesterday (6 Oct 2009). These paragraphs have been taken (with permission from the author) from her original query letter and back cover copy.

Seventeen Fifteen-year-old Nya couldn’t find good luck in an empty pail. As one of the city’s many orphans, she survives on odd jobs and optimism — finding both in short supply in a city crippled by a failed war for independence. Then a bungled egg theft, a stupid act of compassion and boys unable to keep their mouths shut, expose her secret to the two most powerful groups in Geveg: the pain merchants and the Healer’s League. They discover Nya is a Taker, a healer who can pull pain and injury from others.

But unlike her sister Tali and the other Takers who become Healer’s League apprentices, Nya’s skill is flawed: she can’t push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it from person to person, a dangerous skill that she must keep hidden from forces occupying her city. If discovered, she’d be used as a human weapon against her own people.

Rumours of another war make Nya’s life harder, forcing her to take desperate risks just to find work and food. She pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purpose. At first, Nya refuses, but when Tali and other League Healers mysteriously disappear, she’s faced with some difficult choices. As her father used to say, principles are a bargain at any price, but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?

Sounds interesting? It is! Tomorrow I'll be posting an interview with the author, as well as my review of the book.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

In my mailbox (1)

Wow, I never thought I'd need to do an In my mailbox. Here's hoping I need to do another next week, too! (I've ordered so many books lately.)

I got home on Wednesday this week to find not one, but five parcels waiting for me — all containing beautiful, beautiful books. And then I got another parcel on Friday, too. Whee!

I won an ARC of The pain merchants, a middle-grade book by Janice Hardy, from a contest on the author's blog.

This book's being released next week; so to celebrate, next week I'll be having an author interview from Janice Hardy as well as my review of the book.

I haven't read the book — or seen the movie! But I definitely want to, and was lucky enough to win a copy of this book from Katrina Stonoff's blog.

I haven't yet read this one, but according to Fishpond:

In this tender debut, a less-than-perfect debutante decamps South Carolina for a life in New York City. There, she tries to make sense of city sophistication and to understand the strange and rarefied world she's left behind.

I won this book from the contest at Nise Fun Pages.

This book is my first effort towards New Zealand Book Month. I don't know a lot about the book, but I really want to start reading more New Zealand authors — and even if I'm not sure what it's about, I've heard many times that it's good.

Well... I got this book and pretty much gulped it down. Very good book. I'm only sad it's going to take so long for the companion book to get shipped here! I'll probably review this at some stage in the next couple of weeks. But, seriously. Good book.

I haven't read anything by Scott Westerfeld yet, but I've been wanting to for a while. Apart from his Uglies series, he's also written Leviathan, which looks interesting; but I want to test his authorly waters first with a cheaper book than his new release. Plus, Uglies sounds really interesting.

I actually already own Wildwood dancing, but... OK, you may as well know how obsessive-compulsive I am. It was the wrong size. All my other Juliet Marillier books stand 17cm tall. It looks nice on the bookcase. This one was 20cm tall, so... well, I ordered a new one. So now I have two beautiful new copies of exactly the same book in two different sizes.

I think sometimes I need to learn to just get over it.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Spreading the word: Positively (Courtney Sheinmel)

I'd never heard of Courtney Sheinmel or her newly-released book, Positively, before I saw a post about Positively on Melissa Walker's blog. (Actually, the post was more about the book's cover, as that's what Ms Walker's blog is mainly about — it's really interesting!)

From the website:

Emerson Price cannot remember a time when life was ordinary. She was four years old when she and her mom were diagnosed as HIV-positive, and eight when her parents divorced. Now she is thirteen and her mother is dead. Emmy moves in with her father and stepmother, but she feels completely alone. Even though everyone has always accepted her, no one – not her father, or stepmother, or even her best friend – understands what it’s like to have to take medicine every single day, to be so afraid of getting sick, and to miss her mom more than she ever thought she would.

When Emmy’s dad and stepmother send her to Camp Positive, a camp for HIV-positive girls, Emmy is certain she is going to hate it. But soon she realizes that she is not so alone after all – and that sometimes letting other people in can make all the difference in the world.

I clicked through to the author's site and read a bit more about Positively. Then I read this quote from the book:

"When my mother died, I imagined God was thinking, 'One down, and one to go.'"

And I knew I wanted this book. That tugged so hard at my heart-strings.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


This isn't the post I'd planned on writing for 1 October. But this is much more exciting — at least for me.

I got an interview!

From the time I first applied for the journalism internship, I kept expecting to be politely rejected. I was worried about my application — but they still wanted to see me for Stage 2: the general knowledge test!

I stumbled through the general knowledge test, came home and twittered, despairingly: "I didn't want to get it anyway." (My only consolation lies in linking to everything I possibly could link to.)

I got about 50% in the general knowledge test. I over-analysed the spelling test and I'm pretty sure I corrected things that weren't technically wrong. I bumbled my way through the writing exercises.

And today I got a call from a very nice editor who requested the pleasure of my company at an interview next week.


I told him twice it was fantastic, and spent the rest of the phone call in a daze, unable to think or speak clearly. I may have said "fantastic" again.

I didn't expect not to get through. But I didn't expect to get through, either.

I don't know how many people they're interviewing, and I know there's still a high chance I won't get through. But it's such a confidence boost to get this far. I would be really good at the job, and I would love this opportunity so much. I think it's when you really want an opportunity that you'd do well at, that you can be most afraid of losing it.

I mean, if I don't get it, it isn't the end of the world. I have back-up plans.

But oh, I hope I get through!