Recommended Reading: City of Thieves

City of Thieves is the story of young Lev Beniov, a boy who tries to survive the siege of Leningrad in WWII. The book was written by David Benioff, a screenwriter by trade, who has also penned the scripts for movies like Troy, 25th hour, The Kite Runner and is currently heading the Game of Thrones tv series for HBO. He also has the incredibly difficult jobs of being married to Amanda Peet and being extremely wealthy (I don’t know how he does it).

The synopsis of City of Thieves as follows:

“Having elected to stay in Leningrad during the siege, 17-year-old Lev Beniov is caught looting a German paratrooper’s corpse. The penalty for this infraction (and many others) is execution. But when Colonel Grechko confronts Lev and Kolya, a Russian army deserter also facing execution, he spares them on the condition that they acquire a dozen eggs for the colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake.

Their mission exposes them to the most ghoulish acts of the starved populace and takes them behind enemy lines to the Russian countryside. There, Lev and Kolya take on an even more daring objective: to kill the commander of the local occupying German forces. A wry and sympathetic observer of the devastation around him, Lev is an engaging and self-deprecating narrator who finds unexpected reserves of courage at the crucial moment and forms an unlikely friendship with Kolya, a flamboyant ladies’ man who is coolly reckless in the face of danger. Benioff blends tense adventure, a bittersweet coming-of-age and an oddly touching buddy narrative to craft a smart crowd-pleaser.”

City of Thieves reminds me a bit of Slaughterhouse-Five. Both books are based off personal accounts of men surviving wars (Vonnegut’s personal experience when Dresden was firebombed and supposedly Benioff’s grandfather’s tales of surviving the siege of Stalingrad, a basis that is often questioned by critics though), but both still exist as works of fiction, using these experiences as a jumping off point for their fictional tales.

I really like this book. I had no expectations for it when I started reading it and was pleasantly surprised to find it to be a well written book with great characters, especially in the main trio of Lev, Kolya and Vika. Benioff is often criticized for writing his books like screenplays, but I think his prose in this book is effective enough to ward off such criticisms. It may not be the most accurate account of the siege of Leningrad, but it’s an entertaining, funny and sometimes poignant dramatization of the events that transpired. It should not be missed.


“We saw two women in their sixties walking very close together, their shoulders touching, eyes on the sidewalk looking for the patch of ice that could kill them. A man with a glorius walrus mustache carried a white bucket filled with black nails. A boy, no more than twelve, tugged a swled with a length of rope. A small body wrapped in blankets lay on the sled, a bloodless bare foot dragging along the hard-packed snow. Dragon’s teeth studded the street, reinforced concrete blocks arrayed in rows to hinder the movement of enemy tanks. A printed sign on the wall read WARNING! THIS SIDE OF THE STREET IS THE MOST DANGEROUS DURING BOMBING.” (42)

“The boy sold what people called library candy, made from tearing the covers off of books, peeling off the binding glue, boiling it down, and reforming it into bars you could wrap in paper. The stuff tasted like wax, but there was protein in the glue, protein kept you alive, and the city’s books were disappearing like the pigeons.” (52)

Publisher: Plume

Release Date: 2008

Similar To: Slaughterhouse-Five.

You will like this if: You like books. Er and also if you are looking for a breezy read with entertaining characters or have enjoyed any of Benioff’s other work.

What Are The Best Workshopping Sites For Writers?

Although they won’t admit it, almost all writers need feedback on their work before it is ready to be released to the world. Even the best of the best have  a writing partner that they rely on to give some notes on their first drafts. Stephen King has his wife, J.R.R. Tolkien had C.S. Lewis and the rest of us have the internet, which of course can vary in the quality of its feedback. The internet may not be the most trustworthy writing partner, but it does allow us to get opinions that we would of previously not had access to and whom have no obligation to be complimentary to our writing.

I know there is a certain apprehension to put your work on the internet for fearing of others pilfering ideas, but the truth is that your work is more protected than you would think. Sure, copyrighting ideas helps when posting your work, but when you put your words on paper, they are in themselves protected. Although posting your work gives people easy access to steal ideas, posting it is in a way proof of your work. On most sites, you will always have a time stamped record of when your work was made public. And while people stealing your ideas is no fun, I forget which 1950s Western director said it, but it was something to the effect of, “If they’re stealing my ideas, I must be doing something right.” So cheer up! If your work is good enough to be stolen, it is an odd form of validation and flattery.

Putting aside these issues, let’s profile a few of the more popular workshopping sites for writers.

Zoetrope: Zoetrope is the workshopping site that I am most familiar with. I’ve used it for many years and have always been happy with the feedback. It has an established community that can occasionally disappear at times during the year, but for the most part stays strong. It’s also a useful site for those who wants to join writing groups that will keep you appraised as to the ebb and flow of what’s happening in the publishing industry. You can workshop everything from scripts to excerpts of novels on zoetrope.

Critters: Critters is a site that really encourages giving feedback to others, because your work will not be looked at until you do. Operating more through email chains than any sort of central hub, this site almost guarantees feedback on your work if you choose to be a participating part of the community. I’d say the biggest criticism (albeit it a minor one) against Critters is their formatting for submitted work is very strict and requires a bit of busy work to set up.

The Next Big Writer: The Next Big Writer is a site that encourages their members through goals, contests and broad motivation in the hope that they will become … the next big writer so to speak. I know people that have used it and gotten published based on their exposure from the site, so there is an added element of opportunity that comes with this site.

Authonomy: Authonomy is a workshopping site started by Harper Collins in an effort to discover writers and publish their work. I know it sounds like a great way to get some feedback while bypassing the slush pile altogether, but reports are that Harper Collins hasn’t plucked as many authors from obscurity as you’d like to think. Still, it seems to be a thriving community. There are minor concerns due to the fact that the user based ratings determine which works Harper Collins considers, unintentionally creating an unnecessarily competitive atmosphere. But other than that, good stuff.

Have you yourself workshopped on any of these sites? How was the experience? Do you have another favorite workshopping site I left out? If so, let me know.

Monday's Writing Links

Sorry about the recent hiatus from posting. I am in the process of working with an editor on my book, workshopping my next book with a friend, trying to keep up with life stuff and staving off being a complete recluse during this stretch. It’s tough. I don’t know how people do it, especially those with families and real responsibilities. My responsibilities are very minor and when I drop the ball with them, the most that happens is that Breaking Bad doesn’t get Tivo’d or our bowling team is short a man. Not that serious.

Today’s highlighted link is for a series called ‘The Kingkiller Chronicles.’ I jumped into this series after about seven or eight people enthusiastically recommended it to me. I am about half way through ‘The Name of the Wind,’ the first book of the series, and I must say it is very good. After reading a lot of ‘Game of Thrones’ in the last year or so, I’ve come to expect most fantasy to be like that, but ‘The Name of the Wind’ is more like some strange fusion of the ‘Wheel of Time’ and ‘Harry Potter’ series. I haven’t finished the first book yet, but it’s good so far and the author Patrick Rothfuss is from Madison (one of the many places I’ve called home), so I thought I’d push it anyways. If the last half is nonsense, then I apologize and I’ll come back and update the post saying so. Until then, I give a firm endorsement to the first half of the book.

– Buy ‘The Name of the Wind’ (amazon)

– Kim Butcher Interviews Patrick Rothfuss (sf-fantasy)

– SF Signal’s Podcast Explores Under explored SF and Fantasy Themes (sfsignal)

– Av Club Reviews Grant Morrison’s ‘Supergods’ (avclub)

– Jane Friedman’s Aug 11th Seminar On Doing Your Ebook Right (guidetoliteraryagents)

– SF Book Cover Smackdown (sfsignal)

– Av Club Interviews Brendan Gleeson About His New Movie ‘The Guard’ (avclub)

Wisconsin Professor Wins Bad Writing Award

This week, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh professor Sue Fondrie received the not so prestigious Bulwer-Lytton Fiction award. The award tasks entrants with creating impossibly bad opening sentences to fake novels. It’s not a malicious award, the contestants enter willingly and ham it up purposely.

While seen as more of an amusing distraction for writers, there is notable value to the contest. If anything, the Bulwer-Lytton award gives you a good idea of what not to do when writing a novel. For example, read Fondrie’s winning sentence:

“Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”

Basil McDonnell was a runner-up for his sentence:

“The victim was a short man, with a face full of contradictions: amalgam, composite, dental porcelain, with both precious and non-precious metals all competing for space in a mouth that was open, bloody, terrifying, gaping, exposing a clean set of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth, but clearly the object of some very comprehensive dental care, thought Dirk Graply, world-famous womanizer, tough guy, detective, and former dentist.”

Along with runner-up Aubrey Johnson:

“Her flaming red hair whipped in the wind like a campfire, stroking the embers of passion hidden within the hearth of my heart and I began to burn with a desire that seared me to my very core — oh the things that I would do if only I weren’t incarcerated for arson!”

Truthfully, I didn’t know this contest existed till today, but I plan on entering it next year for sure. Before heavy editing, revision and a couple of much needed facepalms, my prose can give some of these sentences a run for their money. Read more about the contest at the Bulwer-Lytton site.

Monday's Writing Links

This week’s Monday’s Writing Links addresses subjects such as mentally surviving an edit of your manuscript (something I’m undergoing now), new SFWA qualifying markets, insight into writing your manuscript on an iPad, the happiness that A Dance With Dragons is bringing bookstores and a pair of new sci-fi movie trailers.

The editing process, which is discussed in write to done’s article, is always a tough stretch for the writer. When submitting a manuscript to editors, especially freelance editors, there is always something in the back of the writer’s mind that tells them they will receive their manuscript back with a blue ribbon pinned to the cover and a note that just says, “Everything looks amazing. Go ahead and quit that soul draining telemarketing job, you’ve got a bestseller on your hands. In fact, go ahead and order that solid gold 3D-TV and trampoline set you’ve been wanting.”

But that’s hardly ever the case. Writers who are only looking for confirmation that their manuscript is pristine, great and ready for the reading public are in for a rude awakening. You’d be better off fishing for compliments from your family, coworkers or kindly looking strangers on the subway.

Working with an editor for the first time myself, it is certainly difficult to have even one of my tiresomely constructed sentences altered, but I know it’s a necessary process. It has its painful moments, but so far I recognize that 90% of the changes my editor has suggested are improvements to the prose, character and overall story. You just have to remember, editors aren’t yes men and they’re not supposed to be. You won’t be coddled, but don’t shy away from having your manuscript edited because of that. You’ll be better off if you do.

– Surviving An Edit Of Your Manuscript (writetodone)

– Lightspeed Magazine Is SFWA Newest Qualifying Market (sfwa)

A Dance With Dragons Boasts Great Sales, Singlehandedly Saves America, The Publishing Industry In That Order [this may be an exaggeration, but that’s the article title, I swear] (avclub)

– 5 Tips For Making A Good Youtube Video To Promote Your Book (guidetoliteraryagents)

The Hunger Games Companion (loisgresh)

– Writing A Novel On The iPad (annelyle)

– Trailer For John Carter Of Mars and The Thing Prequel (sfsignal) (aintitcoolnews)

– Diana Cox Endorses My Book, Which Is Very Kind Of Her (novelproofread)

Monday's Writing Links

This week’s links highlight George R. R. Martin’s return to his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series after an extended hiatus. As a result, we’re doing a George R. R. Martin/fantasy heavy set of links to celebrate.

Martin, whose last entry into the series was almost six years ago, finally returns with ‘A Dance With Dragons‘ at the opportune moment with his books back on the bestseller list and interest in his work at an all time high coming off the runaway success of HBO’s adaptation of his please-don’t-read-these-books-to-your-children fantasy series.

In ‘Dragons,’ Martin’s fifth entry into the series, he provides a whole new set of perspectives for the events that occurred in the previous book, ‘A Feast for Crows.’ So far, the word on ‘Dragons’ has been a resoundingly positive one and it seems that the wait was worth it. So, if you’re a fan of the series, make sure to pick it up tomorrow.

– George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Dance With Dragons’ Releases Tuesday (

– Interview With George R. R. Martin’s Editor Anne Groell (sf-fantasy)

– George R. R. Martin: Reading Guide For Beginners (avclub)

– Steve Rogerson Lists The Ten Best Fantasy Novels (suite101)

– Theresa Walsh: Can Editing Be Fun? (writerunboxed)

– Amanda Flower’s 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far (guidetoliteraryagents)

– The Value Of Toxic Feedback (theurbanmuse)

– Baltimore: The Wire, Locations Part One (avclub)

Probable Early 2012 Release For 'The Exiles Of The New World'

I feel pretty bad about doing a string of recent posts about my book, but I’ve been pretty excited about what’s happened with it in the last week since signing a publishing deal for it and I promise to tone it down by next week.

I don’t have a firm release date for the book yet, but it sounds like it’s probably going to be an early 2012 release (hopefully January 2012). This seems far off, but I know working with an editor on the manuscript will only improve the story and create a better narrative.

I know some people worry about long publishing windows making their books irrelevant or outdated by the time they come out, but I believe I preemptively solved this problem by setting the story fifteen years in the future. I guess my biggest worry now is that if we have rocket cars by next year my prognostications of the future will look pretty dumb. So, barring rocket cars or personal jetpacks by next year, I think I’m in the clear.

I’ve also included this illustration that artist Sam Alcarez did for the book. It highlights the other main storyline of ‘The Exiles of the New World‘ that takes place in space. I’m not sure where in this book this illustration will end up in, but for now I’m listing it as an alternative cover, possibly an in-book illustration or at the very least a really cool looking bookmark. Forward progress!

Monday's Writing Links: Tuesday Edition

I hope everyone had a wonderful Holiday weekend filled with good food, controlled explosions and excesses that only our country knows how to indulge in. Today’s Monday Writing Links: Tuesday Edition (sure, I could have just renamed it Tuesday’s Writing Links, but where’s the fun in that? Also, this makes it sound more important) seeks to put you and your manuscript back on the right track with some helpful links. This was a quiet weekend in terms of announcements, but I’m sure news will start to trickle in as we get back into the swing of things. Anyone have any announcements with their books/projects?

– Are Your Readers In Your Writing? (writerunboxed)

– J.K. Rowling Parts Ways With Long Time Agent (bbc)

– 15 Biggest Writing Blunders (writeanything)

– Tor Interview Simon Pegg (tor)

– Orson Scott Card And Red 5 Team Up To Pen Firefall (prweb)

– AV Club Reviews Singer/Songwriter Josh Ritter’s Bright Passage (av club)

– How To Improve Search Engine Results For Your Site (guidetoliteraryagents)

– Five Reasons Your Critique Partner May Be Toxic (writerunboxed)

Monday's Writing Links

This week’s links highlight the 2011 Locust Awards (including Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker), author pitfalls such as not having easily accessible contact info on your site and agent advice from Deidre Knight of the Knight Agency.

It’s strange how many author sites I still find that are hard to navigate and nearly impossible to find any contact info for. I know some writers value their anonymity and other writers have the troublesome situation of being Stephen King and don’t want fans emailing them a thousand short stories about killer kitchen appliances. But for those of us who aren’t Stephen King and are seeking interaction, networking and feedback from our social media outlets, one wonders why you would set up a site if there was no established form of communication.

Also, because I can’t compile a set of links without throwing in a seemingly irrelevant one, I included Marc Maron’s podcast that I’ve started listening to where he interviews comedians (Conan O’Brien, Robin Williams, Louis C.K., Patton Oswalt, Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler, etc) in his garage, creating some genuine and candid moments.

– Winners: 2011 Locus Awards (sfsignal)

– New Cool Bundle: Write Your Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel (guidetoliteraryagents)

– The Bizarre Musical Instruments Behind Classic Sci-fi Movie Sounds (io9)

– A Pet Peeve About Authors With Hard-To-Find Contact Info (atfmb)

– Harlan Ellison To Be Elected Into Hall Of Fame (cnn)

– Agent Advice From Deidre Knight Of The Knight Agency (guidetoliteraryagents)

– AV Club Reviews The Quantum Thief (avclub)

– Robocalypse May Well Be The Summer’s Best Movie – In Book Form (io9)

– Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast Interviewing Comedians (wtfpod)

Help NPR Pick The Greatest Science Fiction Books Of All Time

NPR is asking its readers/listeners to vote on the best science fiction and fantasy books of all time for their new summer poll. Your vote will go toward shaping the top-100 list and it will also give you a chance to peruse other recommendations for your summer SF/F beach/yacht/pool/park bench/planking/treadmill/spelunking (or where ever else you do your summer reading) reading list.

Here are the rules:

1. Limit yourself to five titles per post. Don’t hesitate to nominate a book that someone else has already listed; your entry will count as a vote in favor of that title progressing to the next round.

2. No young-adult or children’s titles, please. We plan to devote a poll to YA next summer. (It’s also no fun if Harry Potter wins every year.)

3. Horror and paranormal romance are also out, which disqualifies most of Stephen King (also a big winner in previous polls), Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer. Once again, we’ll cover horror in a future poll.

4. Feel free to nominate a series — such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Asimov’s Foundation — as a single, collective work rather than listing individual books.

5. That said, there are series and series: To qualify as a collective work, the books in a series must be written consistently by the same originating author or authors. For example, you can’t nominate the whole Star Wars franchise, though you can nominate individual Star Wars novels.

Vote here.