What Did You Enjoy Reading In 2011?

So, now that 2011 has been wrapped up neatly and we’ve journeyed a few days into 2012 without any Mayan prognosticated disasters or the foreseeable extinction of the written word, I’d love to know what people read and enjoyed in 2011 (it wouldn’t necessarily have to be published in 2011).

This year, I went back and explored Elmore Leonard’s ‘Pronto‘, which featured the character Raylan Givens, who went on to be the basis for the popular FX show ‘Justified.’ I also enjoyed Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One‘, progressed deeper into the fantasy world Patrick Rothfuss created and cultivated, and admittedly was kind of on the ropes about Lev Grossman’s ‘The Magicians‘ and Jo Nesbo’s ‘The Snowman‘, despite both being well written tales.

Along with ‘Devil in the White City‘, ‘The Graveyard Book‘ and ‘The Book Thief‘, I finally got around to ‘A Storm of Swords‘ in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series and of course was not surprised to find it brutal, but really good. If you thought that George R.R. Martin didn’t mind offing characters in the first two books, this one will put that to shame. Good lord. This is one fantasy world I would not want to live in. It’s like Deadwood minus the cowboys and syphilis.

So, that’s a sample of what I checked out in 2011. There are still a lot of 2011 books that I’d love to get around to this year. Tina Fey’s ‘Bossypants‘, Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84‘ and Karen Russell’s ‘Swamplandia‘ are at the top of my goodreads list and I know there are some others that I am forgetting. Either way, what did people enjoy reading in 2011? What are you looking forward to in 2012? Thoughts?

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

There was a lot of Hobbit news in the past week, spurred on by Comic Con and the break in filming that the crew will be taking for the entire month of August. Along with the included photo of Bilbo’s traveling companions, Peter Jackson posted a production video from the set, interviewing cast and crew about their experiences so far.

I also strongly encourage everyone to check out io9’s post on great character description from science fiction and fantasy books. If you find yourself having trouble with your own characters, this link could be the catalyst you need to get things going. Even if you book isn’t fantasy or sci-fi, there are some great examples of vivid character descriptions, ones that transcend their genre.

– Great Character Descriptions From Science Fiction And Fantasy Books (io9)

– New Hobbit Photo Shows All The Dwarves Togerther For The First Time (thehobbitblog)

– Production Video From The Set Of The Hobbit (thehobbitblog)

– Jennifer Hillier On What She Told Her Family About Publishing (guidetoliteraryagents)

– 7 Reasons Why Joining A Book Club Will Help Your Writing (writetodone)

– AV Club Reviews George R. R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons (avclub)

– One Simple Question All Writers Should Ask Themselves (writersdigest)

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)

Author Profile: Brian Jacques

My moment of concern for today was that my grocery list, at least for twenty minutes, only had three items on it: powdered sugar, light bulbs and chapstick (I know, the cornerstones of every great meal). Anyway, moving away from that tangent, I’m going to be introducing author profiles to the site. I may eventually do some book reviews and critiques on the site, but for now I’d much rather focus on the more positive aspects of writing/reading. Truthfully, I tend to be a bit more forgiving with books and compensate by heaping unnecessarily high amounts of criticism on movies (I swear I’m not a movie snob though, I thoroughly enjoy bad movies).
I suppose someone told me Brian Jacques passed away in February, but I really only processed it in the last couple of weeks when I saw an ad for his final book, The Rogue Crew. For those unfamiliar with him, Jacques was an English author responsible for the Redwall books, a fantasy series for kids that could be best summarized as Lord of the Rings with animals.

As a child, I devoured these books. They inspired me to keep reading and eventually write myself. But I lost touch with his work over the years and honestly, I felt somewhat guilty when I heard that he had passed away as I hadn’t picked up one of his books in many years. So, I went back to revisit his books and in the process, catalyzed a lot of fond memories.

Books we read in our adolescence do not always hold up very well when we revisit them as adults. Sometimes shards of nostalgic memories will usher us through their pages in a sort of dazed state of denial, convincing ourselves that it was just as good as we remember it. But often, we’re disappointed. But I think Jacques’ novels hold up rather well compared to most kids series, because they are laced with an infectious positivity.
For example, I am struck by how often he used exclamation points in his descriptive passages. In my mind, this marks Jacques as a man who truly loved life. His joy for all things can be seen in his lines of his texts, especially when he wrote about food. Reading these books always made me hungry (There is even a Redwall cookbook available) and it was no different when I reread them. See why:

“Magnificent aromas of bilberry scones, hazelnut muffins and oatrose turnovers assailed their nostrils from the top shelves of the four-tiered oven.”

“Dingeye, his face shrouded in whipped strawberry cream, was bolting down candied chestnuts and mintcream wafers at the same time. Thura was dipping a hot vegetable pastie into honeyed plums and woodland trifle, stopping now and then to gulp down great swigs of dandelion and burdock.”

I’m not even sure if half of these food arrangements/combinations exist in real life, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m probably going to stop writing this post and go eat something. Life brims in the pages of his books, seen in his love of food, feast, merriment and adventure. He will be missed. Maybe you yourself have passed the age where you can enjoy his books, but that still doesn’t mean you can’t recommend the series to nieces, nephews, sons, daughters or any sort of stray children that may be wandering around your neighborhood.