Book rec: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

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I’ve been recommending Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles to everyone who ranges within earshot of me for the past week or so. My friend William loaned me Cinder because she thought I might be interested in a book written during Nanowrimo. It was on my ‘to be read’ pile for a month or so before I picked it up–and then was completely unable to put it down. I bought Scarlet for my Kindle before I’d finished Cinder, and then bought Cress the same afternoon.

Cinder is a YA science fiction series that retells the story of Cinderella, where Cinder is a cyborg mechanic living in plague-ridden New Beijing. The fairy tale is really only a framework; the real story is a combination thriller/mystery with a touch of romance. Scarlet and Cress add on to the story arc with retellings of Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel, respectively. Meyer is an extremely competent writer who balances a diverse cast of likeable, well-written characters with an exciting plot. This is the kind of book that feels like a guilty pleasure to read. And yes, all three of the books were written during three separate Nanowrimos.

My only complaint is that I thought the series was a trilogy, and was 90% done with Cress when I realized that there was no way the story was going to end anytime soon. The next book, Winter, comes out in 2015. I’m a little disappointed that I binge read them all before I found that out, though I guess that only means I’ll have to re-read the lot of them next year in preparation. It’s not exactly a hardship.

You can find Cinder on Amazon here.

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Nanowrimo post mortem

Happy December, everyone!


I finished Nanowrimo a couple days early. I was on track to finish on the 30th, but around the 25th I decided to do a push and finish the last 10k in two days to get it done before Thanksgiving. This was mostly so my eternal rival Rob wouldn’t finish ahead of me. (How do you like THEM apples, Rob??)

The novel itself isn’t finished, but it’s hovering around 84k. It’s nearing its conclusion, which means I keep adding and subtracting scenes while I try to figure out what that conclusion actually is. I think the last five thousand words I’ve written need to go in a different direction, but hopefully that will improve it. I’m counting down the days to when I can print this manuscript out on paper and attack it with a red pen. Ink will flow.

The end of Nanowrimo hopefully means I’ll have more time to finish reading Kameron Hurley’s Infidel. I’m still swooning over God’s War. I want to be Kameron Hurley when I grow up. Honestly, Kameron Hurley, Paolo Bacigalupi and China Miéville are my writing heroes.

In other news, I went for a two mile jog today, the first time I’ve gone jogging since September. The Zombies, Run! app is literally the only thing that keeps me running. I would have given up on it ages ago if I didn’t want to know what happens next in the story. Back in February I managed to jog every day for a month. I wonder if I can get back into that? Clearly the tenets of Nanowrimo bleed over into just about every aspect of my life.

Nanowrimo metrics

We’re more than halfway through Nanowrimo by now. This is my 11th Nanowrimo, and I’m sticking with the usual goal of 50k. In the past I’ve done 100k or even, one excruciating year, 150k, but that’s not something I can manage this time.

This time of year is always filled with debate over whether Nanowrimo is a good thing or not. No one denies that Nanowrimo is focused more on quantity rather than quality, but its detractors argue that more bad words aren’t helping anyone, while supporters point out that you can’t perfect a draft if you’ve been too picky to write it in the first place.

I always have considered writing a novel to be a lot like oil painting. I took a class in oil painting a few years ago. One of the other students in the class was very well versed in watercolor, but had never done oil painting before. She was a great artist, but her canvases would end up with a lot of white, unpainted parts and half-finished sections, because she would spend so much time perfecting one particular figure. Since she was used to watercolor, she didn’t really get the idea of building up the paint in layers and working from a general sketch up to a perfect finished product. She felt that it had to be perfect from the start, and that every stroke of paint couldn’t be moved once it had been put down.

The instructor, on the other hand, taught that one of the things you wanted to do first when you started painting was to cover the canvas in a thin wash of paint, and then sketch out a general outline of the painting with more of this thin paint. Then you slowly build up the painting, layer by layer. This way you find the structural issues early on and can fix them before you’ve spent too much time perfecting a section that needs to be smudged out and redone.

It’s pretty clear where I’m going with this. Ultimately, when you’re working on a novel, it’s a lot easier to dash out a very rough draft and then kick it into shape, building it up with revisions over time, rather than fiddle around with a perfect first chapter and slowly dole out some hand-chosen words a little at a time before realizing that you’ve made a terrible plot hole in the story and need to delete the stuff you’ve worked so hard at perfecting. The book’s never going to be perfect, so expecting perfection from the start is an insidious form of procrastination.

Nanowrimo is great for me since it’s a deadline imposed by an outside force. I can give myself deadlines all I want, but it’s not that hard to blow them off. Nanowrimo doesn’t really punish you for losing, but I have a ten year winning streak going and I’d hate to break it.

This year I’m adding 50,000 words onto a draft already in progress. The ultimate goal is around 95-100k, and it was roughly 45k to start.

Current wordcount: 66,091/100,000 words

“If you want women writers, go down the hall”

Random House of Canada’s Hazlitt magazine posted an interview today with author David Gilmour. The relevant quote you’ll be seeing all over Twitter and writing blogs is this one:

I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.

Gilmour then gave a vague apology in the National Post, saying that it wasn’t that he thought women writers were bad, just that he wasn’t enthusiastic about them and wouldn’t teach what he couldn’t teach well. He also wrote that normally he wouldn’t apologize for this, but since people seemed offended, he was afraid it might affect the sales of his most recent book.

Maureen Johnson responded (pre-apology) with her post “It is entirely possible to be a good writer and an asshole.”

I realize that I have simply equated someone who says they don’t teach books by women because they simply don’t like enough women writers with being an asshole. I could have said many other things. Like it was ignorant, or strange in its selectivity. I went with asshole, and I feel good about this choice.

I think ‘asshole’ was the correct word choice there, Maureen. This reminds me of Jezebel’s article from last December: Want to Be a Successful Writer? Be a Man. Hey, there’s a good reason why I’m writing this blog under the name Bennett North.

 

A couple book recs

A while back I was asking around for e-book recommendations, and Rob suggested Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (which is the pseudonym of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). It’s hard sf, about the politics of an interstellar war. I enjoy hard sf occasionally, although it runs the risk of being a little dry. As @kennethhite recently tweeted, “”Hilarious” is the failure mode for horror; “nonsense” is the failure mode for conspiracy; “stereo instructions” is the failure mode for SF.” However, Leviathan Wakes neatly sidestepped that pitfall with its excellent set of characters. The dialogue was so natural and effortless that the characters immediately became real. Dialogue is one of the most important parts of telling a good story. Your character might act like a total badass, but if he talks like he’s reading off a teleprompter, the story is going to fail.

When I finished Leviathan Wakes I discovered that  the full text of The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham had been tacked on the end. Free book! It was an odd combination, to stick an epic fantasy novel onto the end of a hard sf one, but I enjoy both genres, so it was fine with me. If the failure mode of sf is “stereo instructions”, I’d say the failure mode of fantasy is “RPG campaign setting”, but The Dragon’s Path was far better than that, and again it came down to the characters. There was a certain honesty to these characters. They reacted like real people, and they acted their ages, and their character arcs were hard-earned.

I heartily recommend them both, both because they’re great books and because James S.A. Corey/Daniel Abraham definitely understands how to do characters right. As a bonus, The Dragon’s Path had a pretty equal gender balance, and the female characters were hanging around being real characters just like anyone else rather than being Shining Examples of the Gender, which was refreshing!

In other news, Nanowrimo is coming around again. This’ll be my 11th year. I haven’t lost yet. By this point, it would be such a break with tradition not to do it that I just can’t turn it down. Still, I’m not sure what I’m going to work on this year. I certainly don’t need to start another new project, so I’m toying with the idea of doing a massive revision of one of my current novels. As long as I write at least 50,000 words of new material, it’ll work out.