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My Fears of Even Authoring a Book

February 2, 2014 Leave a comment

I like to write.

So do, I don’t know, hundred of thousands of other people. One of my many struggles with keeping up with my own writing is my doubt. I doubt I am any better than the next “writer”.

Another fear I have is this: promoting myself. So, when I read a post by Kameron Hurley (a good science fiction author who I have tried my best to support by buying her books and following her blog), I was struck by the fact that I am not the only one who worries about this aspect of writing.

Here’s the link: “Surprise! I Have No Idea Your Book is Coming Out”

Kameron admits something I relate to entirely: she is an introvert.

I tend to feel like a lonely introvert in this world because I know very few people who are introverted. It almost appears that I have surrounded myself with extremely extroverted individuals. So, when one of the authors I look up to admitted that she, too, was an introvert, I looked at her words of wisdom just a little closer than normal.

If I am ever good enough to get published, I am going to have to promote myself, no matter how painful a task it is. It comes with the territory.

This got me to thinking about my last post: a book review on Hugh Howey’s Wool.

When I did some preliminary research on Hugh Howey before reading his novel, I found out that he wrote Wool in installments before it became a full novel. People actually read his story and wanted him to write more. They convinced him to put money and time into what he had created.

I wonder, did Hugh Howey in any way promote himself or was he one of the lucky ones Kameron Hurley mentions in her post? I would have to research it further, I am sure, or try to ask Hugh Howey himself.

Here is what I am now wondering: Can I bring myself to play the extroverted game one day and promote myself? How necessary is self-promotion in our every day lives now? Do we live in a world so centered around social media and gossip that we need people following us at every turn to succeed?

I want to here what others think.

 

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Wool: A Review

January 25, 2014 Leave a comment

As this is my first review, I decided I would outline how I am going to “grade” what I read. I am sure this method will be tweaked with each review until it is perfected, but one always needs a starting point, right?

There will be a couple grading categories: the prose, the characters, the plot, the setting, the originality, and, the most subjective of all, how great a book it was to read. I will rank each from 1 to 5: 1 being low and 5 being high. Additionally, I will write a small blurb about each to justify my rankings. At the end, I will average all the rankings and give the book an “overall” score.

Quickly, the prose will refer to how well-written the book is. Simple writing will garner a lower score; sophisticated writing will garner a higher score. The characters will refer to how believable the novel’s characters were (again, a 5 indicating very believable and a 1 indicating less-than-believable characters). The plot will refer to the overall story arc (well-crafted plots will score higher and poorly thought out plots will score lower). The setting, of course, will refer to the setting…this will matter more when I review science fiction novels as they tend to have worlds which require, to an extent, well-thought out settings. The originality will refer to how original I find the novel to be: I know everything has been thought of before and there are likely books that could be compared to any of what I choose to read, but I will rank it on what I have read before. I am always willing to hear from other readers why or why not something is “original.” And, finally, how great a read the book is: I will rank this solely on how much I enjoyed reading the book. All categories are fairly subjective and, again, I am excited to hear other opinions. I will try my best to include examples from the novel to justify any of my categories.

So, let’s get to it.

Wool by Hugh Howey

From Hugh Howey's web site

From Hugh Howey’s web site

Background: I read this book for a reading group I will be attending soon. It was the first book on our list of “end of the world” novels, so I was looking forward to a strong start.

The Prose: 3 of 5
I almost feel bad ranking any part of this book lower than a 4 because I enjoyed it so much, but, if I am honest with myself, the writing was not exactly “sophisticated” by any means. However, I would not go so far as to say it was “simple.” Especially when I am going to rank this book higher in other areas. The author’s writing is the vessel for the characters, plot, and setting. If I follow this logic, then if the writing were “poor,” the other areas could not be held in high esteem.

The writing was not sophisticated, but it was not too simple either. I would consider it pretty average in terms of how well it flowed. It was not poetic, but it worked well enough to convey the characters and the story. The more important piece of the book, truly, is the characters.

The Characters: I liked most of the characters in the book. They were believable people. I don’t want to give much away, but the “primary” characters in each part were human. They had flaws, they had histories, they had life. Juliette grew on me (as I was a little unhappy with the shift in characters near the beginning of the book. Again, I don’t want to give anything away). There were a couple secondary characters that were slightly bland, in my eyes. Especially a character named Shirly. She sort of became important near the end of the novel and I was actually a little bored by her. She lacked some depth the other characters did. She had a recent history that the reader witnesses, but for some reason this history does not translate into any sort of empathy/sympathy from the reader. What saved these parts of the novel were other characters like Walker. He was also a secondary character who could have used some more depth, but he was interesting enough for me to wish I had more information about him. Even Solo, a character from other silo (explained below) made me want more, but when all is said and done, Hugh Howey did a great job crafting characters I cared to follow through an unfamiliar world.

The Plot: 4 of 5
Hugh Howey does a good job of crafting a believable story. In considering the plot, I am considering the crafting of the plot. How does Hugh Howey move the story along? Both effortlessly and frighteningly. At one point in the novel, I actually became afraid that I would not get to follow a certain set of characters for any length of time. But, somehow, Hugh Howey made me forget this fear almost effortlessly by introducing new, engaging characters as well as new layers of the story each time. I gave the plot a 4 because I felt the story moved along well. I was never bored. The story was always evolving in some way: the reader learned something new every chapter or so. When a writer can keep a story interesting at each turn of the plot, that writer should get a kudos.

The Setting: 4 of 5
I gave the setting a 4 as well because of the author’s story crafting. Any time a reader begins a new science fiction novel, the reader has to become acclimated to the new setting. A setting has to be immediately somewhat believable or it is harder to invest the time and attention to the story. Hugh Howey introduces his readers to the silo immediately by showing Holston, a main character, ascending the spiraling stairs inside the silo. In Wool, a silo is a large, underground city of people. There are numerous levels, each with housing and hydroponic farms. At the bottom of the silo, the mechanics work to keep the city running: power. At the top of the silo, the mayor works to keep the silo working in a different way. At the top of the silo is the door to the outside. Hugh Howey slowly introduces parts of the setting at each chapter and part, slowly fleshing out his unique world….

The Originality: 4 of 5
…Which leads me to originality. I gave the book a 4 once more because the setting is so good. I kept telling my dad while I read the book that it was so interesting. Hugh Howey truly conceives an “end of the world” scenario (which is revealed slowly) that is completely believable. As long as you can suspend your disbelief at the beginning that an underground silo can exist as a city, you can enjoy an incredibly engaging world. The silo is simply a large bunker.

Good Read: 5 of 5
You have probably already guessed that I enjoyed the book. It was one of the better science fiction books I have read in a while. I read it quickly. I found excuses to read it. I found extra time to read it. I wanted to read it all the time. I had minor issues with certain characters and certain shifts (near the beginning), but I found myself devouring the book (something that I find happening less and less the more I read).

Overall:

Although the writing was pretty average, the story was engaging. The setting was especially believable and entertaining (very important for any science fiction novel). The silos and the inner workings of the silos were well explained and conceived. The characters were believable and properly enraged/confused/unaware of their past (oh, they were very unaware of how humans got to be in silos).

I especially enjoyed the title of the book, Wool, which relates to the wool that “cleaners” use when they leave the silo and wash the camera lenses. This is pretty important: those who wish to leave the silo are taken out to clean. At the top of the silo is the entrance to the silo from outside. There are cameras looking out across a grey landscape. It is these cameras that need a nice cleaning every now and then. And those who choose to see the outside never come back. They go out to clean with wool…effectively pulling wool over the eyes of those inside (and, in turn, the wool is pulled over the cleaner’s eyes as it turns out).

Anyway, try the book out if you like end of the world stories. I welcome opinions.

Back Again

January 19, 2014 1 comment

It has been far too long since I blogged. I would like to give excuses (which would mostly include work), but it comes down to me not motivating myself. I have myself to blame. But, I am back.

I graduated almost two years ago, so it is time to move away from the musings of a recent English undergrad and toward musings on my favorite things: books, writing, and learning.

In the past year, I have read many books (Russian literature and science fiction alike). I have written a good amount of a potential novel. I have also began to teach myself Russian (a whole new adventure that I am enjoying as much as reading new novels).

This year, I want to share my writing experiences (the frustrations, the questions, the (hopefully) successes), my reading experiences (which means trying my hand at writing reviews), and my learning experiences (the difficulties of learning a language on my own). I hope anyone who still reads my blog and the new people who begin to read, find the above to be entertaining and interesting.

My first post (after this one) will be a review on Hugh Howley’s Wool, which I read for a reading group I will attend later in the month. Let me preface that post by saying that it was one of the more interesting science fiction novels I have read in the past year.

Tablet Writing vs Laptop Writing

December 30, 2012 4 comments

For Christmas, my boyfriend bought me a tablet. He found a tablet that had a word processor compatible with Microsoft Office and knew that it was the tablet for me.

At first, I was not entirely sure how much use a tablet would get. After all, I have a laptop and a desk top, plus plenty of notebooks and loose leaf paper. I could read on a tablet, true, but I also have bookshelves of literature and a nook with plenty of books on it, too. Really, I have a little bit of every electronic device one could want (without even trying to collect them all!) So, I tried it out.

The first discovery I made was at how nice a tablet is for watching movies. It has a perfect sized screen for laying in bed and I can hold it wherever I need it to lay comfortably.

More importantly, however, I discovered how nice it is to write on.

For the longest time, I adamantly stuck to hand writing everything first. However, when I started to consider the amount of time it took me to hand write something and THEN type it all out, I considered what I needed to do to make my writing process quicker.

I moved on to writing on my desk top or laptop and found it way too easy to move my mouse over to mozilla firefox and check facebook or my bank account or what books I wanted to get next.

Sure, this tablet has a browser, but what is nice about a new device is that you have not done anything on it yet.

Let me explain:

My boyfriend was nice enough to buy a tablet that has a detachable keyboard. I COULD check facebook easily. I COULD browse the web for books. BUT, I have not done either on my tablet. Why? Because I have not made it a habit. This tablet is a new device and if I make it habit to never do any of those things on this device, then it can become my writing device.

I wrote my last blog post on here. I’m writing this blog post on here. I listen to Pandora, watch Netflix occasionally, play chess, but I do not check Facebook and I don’t do everything else that normally distracts me from writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I still get distracted, but I am much less distracted since I have drawn parameters around what I will and will not access when I am on my tablet. Now, I just have to keep my will power up and keep writing daily as I have been since I was given this perfect gift.

Let’s keep these little writing discoveries coming!

Writing in Scenes

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

The past couple months, I have tried different writing techniques that I have never used before. I never used them because I was hopelessly stuck on doing the same thing. I’m a Taurus and I am as stubborn as they come, but I do know when to put the bull horns away. And after years of failed attempts at writing stories and novels, I wanted to do something different. How much worse could it really be?

So, as you all know, I graduated. Maybe it was something about graduating that opened me up  to trying something else. Or maybe it was the fact that I finally had time to write again and I did not want to screw it up. Either way, I changed some of my approaches to writing.

I started by thinking more about the elements of my story. Characters, relationships, plot points and their relationships, etc. But, I did not stop there. No, I moved forward and tried just writing a story instead of focusing so much on what the outcome would be.

Before this summer, I worried too much about the ultimate outcome of my story. I would become so set on an ending and I would not diverge from that ending. Obviously, this can cause some creative issues for anyone writing a story. In fiction writing classes, I would scoff at any idea that would create serious issues with how I wanted the story to end. But, because of that, I missed out on some good suggestions.

So, after just writing my story down, I was supremely happy to find that the method succeeded for me. After having my brother and a friend read my story, and hearing their suggestions to lengthen, and not shorten, the story, I became more than a little stumped. Would just writing the way I had add anything to my story? Or would I need a new method?

I thought about it long and hard. My story sat for a good while before I touched it again. But, an idea came to mind. I have the bones and just writing like I had might not get the job done. What I decided for myself was to write in scenes.

I looked at my story and wrote down what I believed needed expansion. Now, I have been writing in mini scenes. I write little parts of the story that I know can easily integrate into the body that I already have. Is this what revision feels like? I’m not sure because I have never truly revised anything. I’m a write it and hand it in type of person.

That has never worked for my fiction writing, and I cannot believe it has taken me this long to get that figured out (and hopefully straightened out).

Where Are All the Book Clubs?

December 12, 2012 2 comments

I miss talking about literature in class, with my friends, and with my professors. I expressed this to my boyfriend and he suggested joining a book club.

At first, I scoffed. Book clubs are for housewives who want to gossip and read poorly written and poorly thought out novels. This, of course, is an unfair judgement to make.

So, I looked for some book clubs in my area and (not surprisingly) there are not that many. Really, we barely have any book stores around here, so people reading books is stretching it at best. And certainly few are reading books that I want to talk about: sci fi classics, Russian classics, modern sci fi, German classics, short stories, etc.

I looked around the web, briefly, hoping for something to stick out to me.

Nothing.

So, where are all the book clubs? Do they exist? And would they help give me some of the intellectual contact I want?

What Brought You to Where You Are?

December 4, 2012 1 comment

I graduated with an English degree and, really, when I tell people about myself, most of the things I focus on explaining are my love for literature, my love for writing, and the fact that I recently graduated with a degree in English and two minors in writing.

I got to thinking the other day: How did I get here? Three years ago, I certainly would not have identified myself as a lover of literature, and I probably wouldn’t have told you I was considering getting an English degree (because I wasn’t). Ask me half my lifetime ago (11 years approximately) where I saw myself at 22, and I probably would have said “Becoming a doctor!” (Which is what I thought I wanted when I was little).

So, I want to go back… back back back to when I was 9 and getting ready to move with my family from California to Maine.

What did I think back then? I don’t quite remember, but I do recall being sad about leaving behind friends and worrying about my pet hamster, who was riding in her cage at my feet in the car.

One important detail: I was NOT hauling a box of books with me from California to Maine and I wasn’t reading books in the car to pass time–I colored, I stared out the window, I thought, but I was not going to read.

Fifth grade: the year that I believe changed the course of my life and placed me on the trail that I am on today.

English had always been entertaining for me (mostly because I liked to write and spell), but I didn’t much care for the reading part. When I started my fifth grade in Maine, I was not enthused about reading any books.

Somehow, the teacher I had that year made me want to read. I complained about it loudly whenever she announced a new book, but inside, I began to like reading. I vividly remember hiding under a desk during one free period. I had Hatchet and I eagerly sped through each chapter. When my teacher found me, she had a knowing smile and asked if I was enjoying the book. I said no.

It was this grade, this teacher, and the books she fed me that made me devour books. I started taking books out of the school library (a tiny little room lined with several shelves). I had never stepped foot inside a library until that year and I didn’t spend my free time reading until that year. Sure, maybe the crazy forcefulness with which I was thrown from one extreme environment (California) to another (Maine) may have pushed me to find something that allowed me to escape, that allowed me to put energy into something.

I continued to leave when I had to move to another town after that year. I spent so much time reading the fantasy novels I found on my father’s shelf. English continued to be my favorite class (I remember little else from sixth grade). It was also in sixth grade that I learned about Harry Potter. By this point, four of the seven had been released and I had read none of them. Why? Because even back then I was weary of anything so popular. Could it really be that good? It turns out it was. A friend dragged me to the midnight release of the first movie and the rest is history. One of my fondest memories is of sitting in a blue recliner reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire during the summer. It was warm and there was a nice breeze filtering through the windows. I just curled up in the seat of the chair, gripping the book because I didn’t want to let go.

It was the first book that really made me cry. I loved it. I loved that a book could make me feel that way. Sure, it made me sad, but it made me feel, and that, I thought, was magic.

We moved to another town, finally settling in. At this point, I was reading large fantasy novels (by Robert Jordan) that I had found on my dad’s bookshelf. I read them and I loved them. So much fantasy inspired me to write. I remember drawing out maps and making long outlines about what I wanted my book to do. But, just as now, I had trouble sticking to any one story. I had too many ideas (and most of them were not very good). However, the exercise of making characters and writing little scenes likely made me a better writer.

All of this reading and writing made me enthusiastic about my English classes most of the time.

Except eighth grade.

I had a teacher who really brought me to the brink. Looking back, if I had let her win, I probably would not have a blog, or two book shelves full of books, or an English degree. In eighth grade, a child can be impressionable. I was always adored by my English teachers because they could see that I enjoyed the writing (even when I didn’t enjoy the reading). They could see that I cared about the subject, that it tickled some portion of my brain in such a way that I could not release my interest on it.

This teacher shook my faith in English. Every book we read, we would discuss, and the interpretations I had were always the wrong ones, according to her. Each paper I wrote (though well written, she would say) had some fatal flaw that made it average. That year, we had to write a short story, and I chose to write a fantasy story. There was no genre we couldn’t touch. Some students did mystery, some did horror. I did fantasy because it was what I knew.

I wrote a story that was double the length required because I needed that much time to tell my story. She ripped it apart and told me that my plot was faulty, my themes were shallow, etc. Maybe she forgot that I was thirteen. What did she expect? Something award winning. This crushed me. The whole English class experience crushed me. I hated English. I feared going every day. I preferred math, a class in which I was praised.

That year, our English teacher would make a suggestion to the high school about what level English we should be in. I don’t know how much it influenced the ultimate decision, but I do know that I was placed in the average English class for ninth grade.

In ninth grade, my faith in English was renewed when my teacher made me enthusiastic again. She could not understand why I was in her class when she thought I was meant to be in honors. I pretended I did not understand it either. My ninth grade teacher likely helped fix most of what my eighth grade teacher broke down (except my faith in my fictional writing, which I still believe is not good).

The rest, really, is history. When I moved from Maine to New York, I used reading as a way to deal with the loss of good friends at such a tender age. I was lucky to get two of the best English teachers I ever had during my K-12 years: both helped foster my creative writing and encouraged me to read more and more. Both allowed me to take control of my own essays instead of following the essay prompts perfectly. They let me interpret what was asked of me, and that is what made them great teachers: they gave broad essay topics that were broad enough to support those who did not like English class, but also broad enough to make them interpretable by the students who really loved and thrived on English.

Although I still struggled with whether or not English was the right path for me, it may have been inevitable with all the supportive English teachers I had leading up to college (and in college as well). When I think of people I look up to, I think of English teachers and professors, not math teachers or science teachers. I always look to an English mentor and that is what brought me here to where I am.