Monday, July 30, 2012

日本の本 - Japanese Books

What I'm Reading: Anna Dressed in Blood - Kendare Blake
What I'm Listening to: Nothing. And I love it.

There is more to Japanese literature than just manga. I actually don't read manga at all, which is kind of bizarre because I’m obsessed with Japan. I actually prefer watching the anime (not dubbed though. I despise dubbed and anyone who watches it). Besides traditional Japanese literature, which mostly entails old ghost stories, I've read a few contemporary pieces for my class. My teacher has an . . . interesting taste in novels. She likes edgy books with lots of, uh, weird stuff. I also had her for a Japanese film class. I can’t say I share the same tastes in film either. But she did introduce me to a few novels that I liked.

Six Titles I’d Recommend:

Train Man (電車男) – Hitori Nakano (not an actual author, but a pun that refers to all of the people who were part of the conversation in the book)

The story is a boy meets girl romance. Train Man (username) is a shy otaku (essentially a geek) who confronts an obnoxious drunk on the train who is harassing a young woman. Later, she thanks him by sending a pair of expensive teacups. It would have ended there, but Train Man goes to an online message board seeking help on how to date her. There, he receives advice and encouragement from anonymous netizens.

The story is told as a series of chat room threads and is supposedly based on a true story. It was a huge phenomenon in Japan and it was made not only into the novel, but a movie, a television series, and a manga. I've only watched the movie so far, and I enjoyed it.

Though I was a bit sad that the main character had to change himself  to get the girl, I loved the book. It was funny and cute and totally Japanese. It's also what got me started on using Japanese emoji.

All She Was Worth – Miyuki Miyabe

Stealing it from the back cover:
When a beautiful young woman vanishes in Tokyo, her distraught fiancé enlists the help of his uncle, a police inspector, to find her. The detective quickly realizes that she is not who she claimed to be, and his search for her brings him to a dangerous financial underworld where insurmountable personal debt leads to crimes of desperation. Here, spending frenzies, stolen identities, and unscrupulous creditors can create a lethal mix.

Apparently, there's two drama series based off of it. Also, there's a Korean movie adaptation called Helpless that was released this year. I haven't seen it yet, but now that I've heard about it, I'm looking forward to it.

Overall, it's a fast-paced, suspenseful thriller.

The Woman in the Dunes (砂の女) – Kobo Abe

Entomologist Niki Jumpei is searching for insects that inhabit sand dunes near a remote village. After missing the last bus home, he asks the villagers for a place to stay. They lead him to a sand pit where there is a house at the bottom. Thinking only to stay the night, Jumpei climbs down the rope ladder to the bottom. Only, the villagers pull the rope back up, leaving the entomologist alone with the quiet woman who lives in the house. So begins Jumpei's captivity in the sand pit, where he must shovel every night in order to keep the sand dunes from taking over the village.

There’s also a movie, which follows the book closely. However, it’s a bit boring. There's long moments of silence and lots of scenes where the screen is just completely black. In fact, I did a paper on it regarding cinematic excess.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Voice - Why You No Easy?

What I'm Reading: The Future is Japanese - Haikasoru
What I'm Listening to: Danse Macabre, Op. 40 - Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

Brushing up on my Japanese too.
This is the kanji for "voice." 
Voice has been the main focus in my revisions, so I've been revisiting my How-To-Write books, and I've decided to post what I've learned/reread.

To start with, what is voice? Quite simply, it is the writing style expressed by the character's speech and thoughts.

Authors can assume multiple personalities in their writing. Whether they're a raging hick, a ghetto thug, a schizophrenic adolescent, or a feisty dragon, the voice of the character must be distinct enough for the reader to make a connection. Otherwise, the story feels like it's being narrated with the author's voice, which is undesirable.

Voice tends to be very clear when the story is told in first person. You're right in the character's head, rather than floating above him/her watching their every move. In third person, however, it gets a little more tricky because the author is the narrator, but not entirely in their own voice. I like how Jerome Stern puts it in his book Making Shapely Fiction: "Your reader hears your character's voice through you, and simultaneously hears you through your character."

There's also a thing called psychic distance in third person. John Gardner, author of The Art of Fiction defines it as "the distance the reader feels between himself and the events in the story." His examples:
1. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3. Henry hated snowstorms.
4. God, how he hated these damn snowstorms. 
We feel much closer to number four than we do to number one. So much so that we don't even learn his name. Personally, I like the fourth one the best. It's more engaging and you get a clear sense of voice.

Voice is an easy concept to understand, but it's not always the easiest to actually pull off. A strong voice is one of the things my novel is lacking the most. I have six points of view, therefore six different voices which I need to make unique. I have to pick the right vocabulary, pick the right level of formality, pick the right sentence structure, establish their speech rhythms, and their degree of awareness--are they kind of out of it, or do they pay a ton of attention to detail? I need to describe things how they would describe it with their own eyes, not with my own. One of my main characters is a bad-mouthed tomboy. Out of all my characters, she is the most informal. And yet, when I write her scenes, her thoughts and speech patterns come off as super formal. I have no idea why I do this, so I have to pay closer attention to her scenes than I do with the others.

Voice must be consistent. Otherwise, it's not convincing. Unless, however, the character goes through a change as the book progresses. My characters are thrust into a different world. After a while, their surroundings begin to rub off on them. Here and there I'll slip in a formal sentence. But, for the most part, I try to keep it consistent.

A few basic suggestions:

Create a playlist. I created a playlist for each of my characters who were from Earth. When I listen to it, I think solely of that particular character. How they react to things, how they describe things, what they would be doing while listening to each particular song. I haven't yet, but I plan to go through the book, focusing on one character at at time, and rewrite all of their scenes while listening to the music I picked out for them.

Read books that have voices similar to yours. For my characters who aren't from earth, I usually like to read R.A. Salvatore's books right before I write or revise their scenes. I like his style and I feel like it helps me with their medieval fantasy-like voices.

Read out loud. Where does the voice go flat or lose rhythm? What seems out of character? Ask yourself, would he/she actually say that? If you don't think so, or you think they might say it but aren't sure, then reword it or ditch it entirely. You don't want the reader questioning whether or not the character would actually say such a thing.

Get some distance. Step away from your work for a week or more. Then come back to it. With fresh eyes, you'll notice the inconsistencies. This works the best for me.

Find someone to read your work. I've known my characters from their birth. So everything they do makes sense to me. But not always to other people. Find someone you can trust to give you honest, constructive feedback. Have them get to know your characters and point out when things don't seem right. Most of the flaws in my novels have been brought to my attention by readers. As hard as it is to share my work, I know I can't  catch everything by myself.

How difficult is voice for you? Have you run into any problems with it? Do you have any more tips on how to make voice more vivid? 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Happy First Birthday, Wulfie!

Wulfgar at eight weeks, the day I got him.
This is my puppy Wulfgar. He's a Pomeranian/chihuahua mix named after the barbarian in R.A. Salvatore's Legend of Drizzt series.

This post has nothing to do with writing. But isn't my puppy the cutest?! You know he is. Look how big he's gotten though! He went from 2.2 lbs the day I got him to a whopping 6.1 lbs. They grow up so fast.
Wulfie-chan today. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Series vs. Stand-Alone Rant

What I'm Reading: The Warrior Heir - Cinda Williams Chima
What I'm Listening to: RingDingDong - SHINee Don't ask me why I like it. I just do.

Series are very risky to write and market. Publishers are often hesitant to sign book contracts for them for multiple reasons, the biggest obviously being that they won't sell. This is a great article on the subject, which gets into the positives and negatives of both: Series vs. Stand-Alone - Jeni Mawter

This is one of the biggest things I'm worried about with my story, which is basically one big book chopped into three parts. Book one ends with a cliffhanger. Book two and three start off exactly where the previous ones end. In order for someone to be satisfied with the story, they would have to read all three. Book one doesn't really have a strong conclusion. Yes, there are a few things resolved, but not the main issue. It's very risky doing this, I know, but it's how I started writing it when I was fourteen, and I don't quite know how to fix it.

However, I like novels that do this. Cliffhangers are awesome because they leave me super excited to read the next book. All of my favorite books are part of a series. In my opinion, trilogies are perfect. They're not too short, not too long. You get to really know the characters in trilogies and the overarching plot is usually the same. Some of my favorites are:

The Bartimaeus Trilogy - Jonathan Stroud
The Farsala Trilogy - Hilari Bell
The Oran Trilogy - Midori Snyder
The Night Angel Trilogy - Brent Weeks

Stand-alones are nice when you're already reading a series and don't want to start another. But usually, if it's a really good book, I always want щ(ಠ益ಠщ) MOAR!

There is one thing I find annoying about series though. Authors take too long to write and publishers take too long to publish! I don't like having to wait a year to read the next book. Oftentimes I will wait until the series is published from beginning to end before I even begin reading them. Also, I have a bad memory, so I always end up forgetting what happens in the previous book. For example, I just got the last book in the Artemis Fowl series. Before I read it, I have to reread all the others, just so I can have the full experience without trying to hurt my brain remembering what happened before.

Basically, I've had people like the ending of my book, and I've had people dislike it. One person said it was fitting, another said that they were anxious to read the next book, and yet another said they felt teased and tricked. I guess it all just comes down to taste and how much commitment you want to put into reading a story.

Do you have a preference when it comes to stand-alones and series? Which would you rather read/write?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review - The Prince of Mist - Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Prince of Mist is about thirteen-year-old Max and his family who move from their home in the city to a beach house near a small town. No one except the father is happy about the move. Especially when they find out the previous owners' son drowned in the sea nearby. After a few strange and scary occurrences, they learn the house is haunted by a diabolic villain--the Prince of Mist. He's a wicked magician who has come back to collect on a debt from the past. Max, his sister Alicia, and their new friend Roland must solve the mystery surrounding the boy's death if they hope to stop the Prince of Mist.

The writing style has an old-school vibe to it, which works perfectly because it is set during World War II. Though, at times, it felt like the story was intended for a younger audience, such as middle grade. For the most part, the book has a limited point of view, but there are times when the author slips into the other characters' heads, so I guess you'd classify it as omniscient.

The descriptions were amazing. I could picture everything quite vividly. But, unless I missed it, there was never really a clear description of Max and Alicia, which bothered me. I like to know exactly what the characters look like. Also, I don't think the author ever says exactly where the story takes place. I know it's in Europe, but I wanted to know what country they were in. I assumed Spain, since that's where the author is from, but it didn't really feel like Spain. More like it was based in England. The story was originally published in Spanish. It's interesting to read stories from other languages, but I oftentimes am under the impression that quite a bit is lost in translation.

It is a horror story, so it is very chilling at times. I only read stories like this during the day when people are around. I'm kind of a chicken when it comes to horror, even with it being as tame as this book. But if you are looking for a quick read, I would recommend this. I read the majority of it in only a few hours.

As I was reading it, I was planning on giving it four stars because I really liked it. Until I got to the end. Freaking pissed me off. I don't want to give anything away, but I was severely disappointed. So I have to demote it to a 3.5.

Have you read it?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Halo: The Fall of Reach - Eric Nylund

I'm going to start out by saying I haven't played the game before. I've caught glimpses of it, people have told me about it, but my knowledge of it is limited. I would have played the game sooner, but I tend to get super pissed off every time I die in video games, so it's best for me not to. Especially if I want my television to stay intact.

I'm not even going to attempt to summarize the book, so I'll use what it says on the back cover:

Humanity has expanded beyond the Sol System. There are hundreds of planets we now call "home."

The united Nations Space Command now struggles to control this vast empire. After exhausting all strategies to keep seething insurrections from exploding into interplanetary civil war, the UNSC has one last hope.

At the office of Naval Intelligence, Dr. Catherine Halsey has been hard at work on a top secret program that could bring an end to all this conflict . . . and it starts with seventy-five children, among them a six-year-old boy named John.

Halsey never guessed that this little boy would become humanity's final hope against a vast alien force hell-bent on wiping us out.

This is the story of John, Spartan 117 . . . the Master Chief, and of the battles that brought humanity face-to-face with its possible extinction.

The writing style was simple, yet descriptive. Although, at times, I had difficulty picturing the spaceships and weaponry. I think they could have been fleshed out a little more.

The plot was excellent. However, it felt like the actual battle to protect the planet Reach was way off. There was definitely a build up to it, but you would think that it would be the main premise of the book given the title. It seems like it's just an add-on at the end. I've read other reviews of the book and I noticed that was a major reason why people didn't like it. They wanted a more in-depth battle concerning Reach.

The pacing was pretty fast, but I feel like the author tried to squish too much stuff into one book. The story jumps through time pretty quickly. The main character starts off as a six-year-old and, by the end, is thirty something. I don't really like it when authors do this.

The main character, John--the Master Chief--kind of irritated me at times too. Though I'll admit he's a bit of a badass, he has a certain military mentality I don't care for. He's quick to follow orders and doesn't question authority. I guess I like characters who can form their own thoughts. He doesn't even care he was ripped away from his home and used as an experiment. I wanted him to be bitter about that rather than think it's something great. I didn't want him to die or anything, but I didn't make much of a connection with him. He felt kind of robotic, and I couldn't really get into his head. I admire his bravery and junk, but I like characters with a bit more depth.

Overall, I give it a rating of 3.5 (which means I like it quite a bit, but I didn't really, really like it). Perhaps the book would have had more meaning if I'd played the game first, which I plan on doing when I can find the time. I'll also be reading the next book in the series: Halo: The Flood by William C. Dietz.

Have you read the book?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Inappropriateness" in YA Rant

What I'm Reading: Halo: The Fall of Reach - Eric Nylund
What I'm Listening to: The 99 Darkest Pieces of Classical Music - Various Artists

Gatekeepers piss me off. I find it insane that there are parents out there who monitor what their kids read. I mean, elementary and middle school, okay. They should be sheltered from certain things. But high school age? They are considered young adults. They should be allowed to choose which books they want to read. My parents have never tried to limit what I read. I think they were just so happy I liked reading that they would buy me any book I wanted. They might ask me what the book is about--and look slightly disturbed when I tell them--but they've never tried to take it away from me. Maybe they were just afraid they would end up with bloody stumps for hands if they did. *grins maliciously*

What bugs me the most is when people ban books. I mean, really? That's sinful in itself. If you don't like a book, don't read it. Don't try to suppress other people's rights to read it. Here is the link to the the list of challenged classical books by the American Library Association. You can also look up recent books that are controversial, such as The Hunger Games. The one about The Lord of the Rings being satanic made me giggle. But the rest just freaking angered me. Common reasons for challenges: offensive language, sexually explicit, drugs, violence, nudity, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, racism, sexism, anti-ethnic, anti-family, unsuited to age group. 

Let's see. What does my book have . . .
Offensive language? Hell yes. Lots of it. 
Sexually explicit? Well, there's make-out scenes, glimpses of harems, sexual innuendos, but I don't think anything is explicit. 
Rape? Not an actual instance of it, but references and attempts.
Drugs? Nah. But they do drink.
Violence? In every chapter. I promise you. Ψ(`▽´)Ψ
Nudity? Not really. Though maybe I should add some . . . 
Homosexuality? Yes. Bisexuality too. Why is this one freaking even on the list? 
Religious viewpoint? I'm sorry, this is the most ridiculous to me. So if the book doesn't fall along the lines of Christian ideals, then it shouldn't be read? Eff that noise. My characters grow up in Christian settings, but they wouldn't consider themselves religious. Quite the opposite in fact. Especially Mark. He's definitely an atheist. But anyway . . . 
Racism? Hmm. Unintentional if there is. That's another thing that bothers me. Banning a book because it has the n-word in it? Why? It's stupid. Yes, slavery was an unfortunate part of history, but it happened all the same. Accept it, learn from it, and move on. 
Sexism? Females aren't allowed to do a lot of stuff, but that's just the society I created. And Jordan is quick to prove chauvinists wrong. 
Anti-ethnic? Uhhhh, most everybody is white?
Anti-family? Mark hates his dad. Does that count? But it's because his dad's an abusive drunk. 
Unsuited to age group? Haha. Probably. 

Each of these things are issues nearly every teen has to deal with. Why shelter them from it? Okay, so a full on orgy in YA might be a bit too much. But teens have sex. It's never going to change. People need to accept it and get over it. Though they so dearly want to, parents are never going to be able to control their children entirely. If you don't expose them to things, then they become curious about it and do stupid stuff. If you forbid it, they automatically want it. Usually. 

Honestly, the biggest issue with my book is probably going to be all the graphic violence. There's a lot of blood, lot of brains, lot of killing innocent villagers (peasant villagers can't catch a break in any book, can they?). I swear a lot too, but I don't use the f-word. It's not the tone I want for the book. However, I have another book I've started with a seventeen-year-old who's friends drink and do drugs. There's quite a few f-words flying around in it. It's a gritty, realistic book. I want the tone to be a little darker, a little more serious.

I'm not afraid to include controversial issues in my work. If you don't like it, then feel free to set the book down. I don't think I really want narrow-minded persons reading my stuff anyway. Hmph! 

The First Amendment, people. It's there for a reason. 

What are your thoughts? Where should the line be drawn?