Sunday, March 31, 2013

April: NaPoWriMo & Camp NaNoWriMo

Yep, it's another special Sunday post! I'm just popping in to say that NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) and Camp NaNoWriMo's first session both start tomorrow, April 1! (No joke, I promise.)



For NaPoWriMo, you write a poem every day in April. I'll be talking about poetry on Thursdays this month to help you along.



And Camp NaNoWriMo is like regular NaNoWriMo, except (1) it's in April (and another session in June); (2) you can set your own word count goal; and (3) you can be put into a cabin with other writers to help you along and chat about your writing and whatever else!

I'll be participating in both, so if you are too, tell me about it! Comment on the blog, email us at reviewmetwice [at] gmail [dot] com, tweet us @ReviewMeTwice, or tell us about it on Facebook!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

By Their Covers: Epilogue and I See

Since we reviewed two books - our own books! - this week, we have two covers to look at in this post... and I designed them both!



This is the cover to my book, Epilogue. There isn't much to it, probably because I designed it right before I submitted the files to Amazon to publish it. I don't intend for anyone to actually buy it (I honestly only published it to get my five free copies for winning NaNoWriMo) so I just wanted something mildly interesting that would help me identify it on my shelf.

Near the climax of the story, our group comes across a giant brick wall they can't cross. It doesn't even get mentioned until at least halfway through the book (more likely longer than that) so it isn't the best thing to focus on for the cover. Maybe a crumbling brick wall would be better symbolism, since we're talking about the end of the world here (the epilogue of mankind).


Before I read the book (and, to be clear, I had barely the vaguest sense of what the book was about.  Alex and I would discuss our NaNos while writing them, but only when things happened/we were stuck/we needed to talk things out), I figured a wall was going to be a big deal.

And it was!  But, to be fair, the wall came in the middle of the book and is probably not as big of a deal as Alex originally intended.  I think the font is a good choice, and even better to make it stand out with the black bar across the cover.



Because I'm a graphic designer, Cassy asked me to do her cover, too. She sent me the drawing of the eyes (I think her sister did that for her) and I threw something together for her, knowing only the outline of her story.

I think this is more eye-catching than mine; if I saw this on the shelf at the bookstore, I would at least pick it up to see what it's about, if nothing else.

My book is all about the things Cassandra sees, what she doesn't see, even what she THINKS she sees.  The eyes, (which, Alex is right, my sister Kristina drew them) are meant to be Cassandra's.  I think the bright colors really go well.  A. because I like orange, so that makes it awesome.  And B. because... I don't know.  It's eye catching (no pun intended.)

Also, if you want to buy my book and read it, I won't complain.  It would, after all, help fund my wedding. :)  You can buy the Kindle version here.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Review Me Once- Epilogue and I See by your very own bloggers

Welcome to a very special week, here at Review Me Twice!  Ok, so the whole month is super fun, but this week especially.  Since we're reviewing so many NaNo novels (or works by NaNo authors, as the case may be), why not review two NaNo novels of authors that you have come to know and love: your very own blog masters.


Hey!  We know that name!

Before I start this book, I just want to make it clear that Alex wrote it during NaNo and never really edited it.  This is, for all intents and purposes, a rough draft.  No editing, no revisions, nothing.  So while it may SEEM like I'm being harsh, she never really decided to bring it to the final place that she wanted to.

That said, I'm going to start with the things that I like about this book.  I like that it drops you right into the world with very little prelude.  We kind of have to figure out what Crazies, Military and Zealots are.  While the language doesn't differ too much from our own, there are still phrases we're just expected to... figure out. I like that.  It's got a very Scott Westerfeld feel to it (who, we all already know, is awesome).

There are some really strong scenes in the book.  For instance, the opening scene is one that's very catching. The president is asking everyone to remain calm because the world is, essentially coming to an end via plague.  It's very powerful and, well, desperate, but it was such a great way to open!  I like that Chaya is very OCD, but you don't really notice at first.  I like that their Pre-Announcement habits still stick around.  It makes it seem like it is really that close to present day.


And there even manages to be a little bit of a twist ending.  If you think about it, you could inevitably figure out what it is, but there are a lot of elements that went into it, and not all of them are predictable.

The thing that I like best though, is that since I have the privileged of knowing the author, I can see all the little bits of herself in the novel.  Chaya stays in the library and learns all that she can from books.  She's also smart.  The vocab in the book is very Alex and Chaya's ramblings and inner thoughts are very similar to the way that Alex talks.  I've never had this kind of insight when it comes to books before.  I've never personally known the author before.  And honestly, I really LIKE that I know the author.  I think it makes it more fun to read the book.

So, the things that this book could use in terms of improvement.  There is a really bad habit of explaining everything in excruciating detail.  There are times we, as the reader, don't need to be told.  We can infer things but in this book... well, we're never really allowed to infer.  We're told about EVERYTHING, sometimes almost to the point of beating a dead horse.

The books also needs a little more research, but I feel like this is just a product of a NaNo novel.  The environment and geography, how long things would last if they were perishable.  A lot of little, but noticeable things that would probably be easily fixed with a revision.

The book, towards the last third, also was incredibly rushed.  There were a lot of good ideas and good plot points, but she didn't give herself time to get there.  Climaxes and endings should be eased into, and this book really didn't do that.  And the middle really lulled, so it made the end rush all more obvious.
While I DO like that Alex's personality shows up in the book, sometimes, it's a bit much.  Alex has a GREAT vocabulary (seriously.  It's stellar.  It puts mine to shame.), but sometimes, that vocabulary doesn't fit.  One example is, "'What of Angelo?' This heretofore unasked question came from the petite woman across the circle from Karsten."  Heretofore, very good word.  Not so great for that sentence.  That kind of happens a lot in the book.  Good vocabularies are good to have, but not always necessary.

Overall, a good start to a book, but very obviously not meant to be a final product.  With some major revisions, this could turn in to something amazing.  But, as is, it could still use some work.

My Bottom Line 2 out of 5.


That's right, boys and girls: It's available on the Kindle!

While I didn't edit Epilogue at all (in fact, I've never read it all the way through myself), Cassy put a lot of work into I See, and you can tell. It's really, really good.

You may think I'm just saying that because I'm her friend and I know she worked hard on it. But that's definitely not the case. Sometimes, I forgot that this was my friend's NaNoWriMo novel, and felt like I was reading a regular YA book. It's that good.

As Cassy mentioned on Monday, she based this story off the myth of Cassandra, a girl who is blessed/cursed with visions of the future. Except instead of ancient times, this version of Cassandra lives in the modern day and goes to public high school. You don't have to be familiar at all with the original myth to understand the plot, or even the many references to myth and history; they are integrated very well.

I knew to expect a lot of characters (not like Game of Thrones number of characters, but more than a few) but I didn't think there were too many. It felt like a normal-sized group of people than your average high-schooler would interact with on a regular basis. (Even though Cassandra is definitely not your average high-schooler.)

There are still some typos, but 50,000+ words is a lot to sift through by yourself. Other than that, I really didn't find anything wrong with it. The characters are well-developed, the dialogue is natural, the plot progresses logically but not so much so that you see everything coming (you might guess at what happens at the end, but you don't know if you're right until it's all over), and the resolution is rewarding (I think... I know there are those who disagree with me on this plane, but that's a discussion for another day).

Well done, Cassy!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Good Writing Mechanics

I could literally write an entire blog about good writing mechanics. (Oh wait, I do.) So this is just a sampling of good advice regarding how to make sure your reader is reading what you mean to be saying. In other words: how to clarify. (See what I did there?)


Punctuation

I can hear the groans from here. "Punctuation is boring." "Punctuation isn't really that important; people know what I mean." "Punctuation is hard." Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Punctuation party!
I could spend hours teaching you about punctuation, but because we don't want all of our readers to leave the blog, I won't.

Most people use periods, question marks, and exclamation points properly (when they're actually trying). Some people tend to overuse ellipsis marks (the "dot dot dot" or "...") and parentheses (myself sometimes included, like now) but that's usually more of a style issue than a real mechanics problem. The trickier ones are commas, apostrophes, colons and semicolons, and quotation marks.

You can read The Oatmeal's comic on the appropriate use of apostrophes HERE, or semicolons HERE. They're very thorough and he does a great job of explaining them (while being pretty funny).

Quotation marks are easy when you're doing dialogue or actually quoting something. It should look like this:

Alex said, "Punctuation is fun!"
"Quotation marks are easy," she continued.
"They're not so bad," she assured us, "once you get the hang of it."
She told us, "Punctuation is important," before walking away into the sunset.

Those are the three ways you can use quotation marks in dialogue. Put the quote at the end of the sentence, the beginning, both, or in the middle. Just pay attention to where the rest of the punctuation is (and the capitalization).

Commas have a lot of rules, but a lot of them are similar. Whenever I'm not sure, I use THIS PAGE from the OWL (Online Writing Lab) at Purdue (unless I have a Strunk & White or MLA guide on hand). No matter what your K-12 teachers said, it is not correct writing to insert a comma wherever you pause to take a breath in a sentence. Don't do that. It hurts puppies. Cute ones.


This one.
I wrote a post HERE about the raging debate about the use of the serial comma (also known as the Oxford or Harvard comma). It helps with clarification as well, when used in lists.

Spelling

Again with the groaning; stop that. I'm sorry, but I don't have tips and tricks for spelling. I don't recall learning how to spell, I just... spelled.

It does help to know other languages, particularly Greek and Latin, because they you're better with roots and prefixes and suffixes and whatnot.

But unless you feel like investing in Rosetta Stone or Mango for very little payoff, I would just recommend, you know... using a dictionary.

You know, one of these things.
There are several reliable online dictionaries. If you have access to it, I would highly recommend using the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) online, but most people don't. (The college I work for subscribes to it, so I can use it at work.) Otherwise, dictionary.com (and its affiliate, thesaurus.com) works fine. A lot of people also like The Free Dictionary. Whichever one you use, just use one.

The Oatmeal comes to the rescue again with some common spelling errors and how to avoid them, HERE.

Sometimes you might use a word that you're pretty sure is saying what you want it to say, but you could be way off. You could have been using that word incorrectly your entire life. If there's even a shadow of a doubt, look it up. You will probably be very glad you did later on.

Resources

Like I said, this is really just a brief guide about things to remember while writing. Other people have discussed these topics at great length, and more eloquently than I can:

This one is my favorite go-to website for any questions about grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It was published by a professor at Washington State University, and is very thorough.

Grammarly is a grammar checker. Computers aren't perfect (yet) so it won't catch every single grammar or comprehension mistake, but it catches a lot of them.


You've probably seen Eats, Shoots and Leaves in bookstores. It's a great, humorous book about the importance of commas. ("Let's eat, Grandma!" versus "Let's eat Grandma!" Commas really do save lives.)

The blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks is funny, too, sharing instances of incorrectly used quotation marks on signs, menus, and more. (Hint: They are not intended for emphasis, kids.)

Where do you go for grammar/spelling/punctuation help and/or humor?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Our Writing Processes

Instead of a favorite book, this week, we're going to tell you about how we each approach writing.

At Camp NaNoWriMo, there was recently this great post about Planners versus Pantsers. Planners write outlines, make character notes, etc. before they start the novel-in-a-month attempt, and Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants (thus the name). I'm somewhere between the two.



This is approximately what I think the contents of my brain look like when I'm writing. Each of those pieces of paper is an idea related to a story - not necessarily the one I'm working on at the moment - and if the photo were more accurate, they'd be actively throwing themselves at the woman's face.

In an effort to fight back the avalanche of ideas threatening to suffocate me, I usually try to start with an outline. I didn't do this with Epilogue, and it suffered for that. Since then, I've tried using the plot diagram to remind myself what is supposed to be happening at what point in the story.

The plot diagram
I think it will help, but we won't know until the end of April, when I'm finished with round one of Camp NaNoWriMo. Usually the part I get stuck on is the climax. I can think up exposition and rising action like a champ, but the climax, falling action, and resolution are the bane of my writing.


Not this kind of Bane.
Naming characters is one of my favorite things to do. I usually have a pretty good idea of what characters I will be needing, so I try to do this early on. I'm terrible at describing characters (I believe one reader of Epilogue told me I described a person only three times in the entire book) so I tend to avoid it, which is something I'm working on. I name my characters using 20000-names.com (I pick a meaning and a "feeling" I want - Celtic, Arabian, etc. - and find an appropriate name).

I do all of my novel-writing on the computer. I have one graphic novel and one picture book in progress, and they are both in composition notebooks. I find that it's easier to write in those formats when I can sketch in the margins and use arrows and side-notes. When writing novels on the computer, I just open a new Word document and start typing. I tend to keep a separate Word document (with the same name as the draft, with "_notes" at the end) to remind myself why I picked certain characters' names, or details about them. (I've been told that I gave Chaya two different birthdays in Epilogue, which is likely because I stopped using my notes page after about 5,000 words. Also because I did NO EDITING.)


I would store my soul on this thing if I could.

I have a flash drive that I think of as the three Ws: work, writing, and wedding planning. The writing folder is where I keep all of my works in progress.

I also carry a mini sketch pad with me most of the time. It is mostly intended for writing ideas, but sometimes it is subjected to a grocery list or mindless doodle.

So, as you can see, my writing process is "throw things at the wall until they stick" rather than "sit at a tidy desk with some pleasant background music and a cup of tea and type things that completely make sense." But I feel like most authors have a style more like the former than the latter, and I find that comforting. (Besides, I don't like tea.)

If that picture is Alex, then this picture is me:




I am a "sit down and write it" kind of person.  No outline or pre-planning, not really.  To be fair, most of my novels have come to fruition during NaNoWriMo, where I'm just happy to get 50K out.

I am really great at ideas, but sometimes, the execution doesn't always come to me like I think that it should.  Probably one of the best novels I've written is "I See" (the one that Alex is reviewing on Friday), mainly because I like the idea and it's gone through the most revisions.

When I went back to edit "I See", I used a lot more tools.  Through the first revision, I utilized an excel spreadsheet for my characters.  Every time I would describe them, I would throw it on the sheet (IE. Age, hair, sex, eyes, relationship to the protagonist, grade, the class that they taught.  Whatever I thought was relevant.)  It actually helped a LOT.  I would also rewrite sections of my books, out of context.  You need to pull away from a book to really understand where you're messing it up.

This past year, I used my NaNo discount to by Scrivner.  It was honestly one of the best decisions that I ever made.  It keeps my information for my characters all separate and it gives me 20 different ways to view my novel in and a million organization tools.


This is pretty much how my Scrivner looks.  It's an organized chaos.

Not to mention a place to keep all my research.  Which, with the new book that I'm doing, will come in handy.  I'll have more than just my account and stories, so it will be a good place to store it all.

I'm like Alex about descriptions.  TERRIBLE.  To be fair, I've been working hard on trying to fix that.  Also, I have been told my dialogue is exceptionally good (which can be really hard to do.)  And I was told this quite some time ago when I was way worse at writing than I am now.  I've been told it a few times since.  So I feel like even though I'm awful at one thing, at least I'm good at the other thing.

I think a good way to gauge your descriptions is to read someone who is outstandingly good at it.  Margaret Atwood is someone who stands out as an exceptional description writer (it's like reading a dream.)  Tolkien also has amazing description powers.  Read them and you'll realize how terrible your "good" descriptions are. XD

My problem is also making sure that all the facts line up in my story.  After 50K words, things like dates and names and descriptions can get wonky.  I think that my love interest in "I See" started out with a different name in the beginning and I changed it halfway through without realizing it.  Spreadsheets are an awesome way to keep track of these kinds of things, as is an outline, or even index cards posted up on a bulletin board with brief descriptions of characters/places/chapters.

Most of my stuff is kept on my computer (where I type everything.)  I do have a flash drive that I carry around, mainly so I have a backup. 


My super awesome co-blogger Alex bought me this for my birthday!
It's a bracelet that turns into a USB!

  I have found, however, that sometimes it's good to put pen to paper.  The change of scene, atmosphere and even a habit like writing on a computer can make you think of things that you may not have before.  This past NaNo, I went to Starbucks a lot and people watched as I wrote.  Or I went to the library and wrote (that way I didn't have to buy a drink.)

What do you do to get the creative juices going?  Leave us a comment telling us what you like to do best when you write!!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Show: Don't Tell

This week it's all about the writing process.  Mainly about Alex and I's writing process and the things we do, the things we need to improve, and a little advice to help you with your own writing.

Alex and I both have trouble with our powers of description.  Personally, I think it's one of the hardest things to do.  You have to know where the line between just enough and too much information is and sometimes, that can be a hard line to discern.  Here are a few things to try and avoid/do when writing.


Rambling:  Characters can ramble.  Narrators can ramble.  Hell, the excerpt on the back of the book can ramble.  But you, as the writer, have to know when to cut it off and let the reader infer things.  Or, better yet, read that paragraph again and decide if the reader actually NEEDS to know everything you just told them.

For example, you might write a sentence like this:

Jane went to see John, in a blue mid-sized sedan, because John didn't have a car, therefore if Jane wanted to see John, she knew that she would have to drive out to see him.

It's a little ridiculous, no?  Your reader doesn't need to know WHY Jane is seeing John, or even John's circumstances.  This is really all they need to know:

Jane got into her blue Prius and drove out to see John.

You get the same message across, but without so many words.  And the reader doesn't NEED all that other stuff.  It just clutters up your novel.

Inference: Your readers are smart people.  They know how to make connections without you spelling it out for them.  That's part of the point.  If you tell them every last detail and don't let them draw conclusions, well, they're going to get real disinterested, real fast.  Let's go back to our driving example.

Jane went to see John because he didn't have a car and he was miles and miles away from her.  It was really important that she see him right now because in the morning he was going to run away to Mexico and she couldn't let him do that.  After all, she was in love with John.

Here I spelled out every last detail, never letting the reader make any connections themselves.  In reality, a sentence like this would be much better:

Jane drove all the way out to see John.  She couldn't let him leave.  Not now.  Not until she told him.

You still get all that same ideas, but we leave out some of the more important details.  I didn't TELL you that she cared about him, even loved him, but you get the idea without being told.  Even if you don't explicitly make the connection, "Oh, she loves him", you'll still realize that she feels strongly for him. (Also, and I'll talk about this later, the idea is that you would do other things BEFORE this sentence to indicate her feelings.)


Repetition:  Readers remember things better than you think they do.  And I'm not telling you that you shouldn't EVER repeat things, because you should.  There are important things to the story that you should remind your readers of.  But do it in moderation.

Let's go back to Jane and John.  If John is running off to Mexico, we only need to be told the place once.  After that, just remind us that he's leaving.  We're going to remember where he's going: we only need to be reminded THAT he's going.  And you can do it in subtle ways.  For example:

Jane walked in on John and saw his suitcase laying on the bed.

Or

John wondered if going was the right thing to do.  He still didn't know where his brother was, not to mention getting all his affairs in order.  He looked out the window and saw Jane.  And then, of course, there was Jane...

There are lots of ways to tell us John is leaving, without obnoxiously repeating things like, "John was leaving for Mexico in three days."

Show - Don't Tell:  You have to lead a reader like you lead a horse to water.  Lead them up to your climax.  Make sure your events all interconnect to bring it to that one, massive, breaking point.  You're leaving breadcrumbs for the reader, letting them pick up each one, chew on it, digest it, until they're ready to pick up the next crumb.

For instance, if you want to confer that Jane loves John, SHOW that she loves him.  She could look at him longingly, hint at her feelings, do little things for him that indicate it, so that when she finally TELLS him how she feels, it's that much more powerful for the reader.  After all, they've been anticipating it for most of the novel.

Or it could be something very simple.  For Example:

When Jane flicked on the light, all the flaws of the bathroom were exposed.  She saw cockroaches flit across the floor.  She delicately picked up the toliet seat, hand wrapped in toliet paper.

Isn't that so much better than:

Jane entered the bathroom.  It was dirty.

And it's alliterative.  Which, clearly makes it better.

These are the things that I've found are the biggest hurdles in writing, and if you pay attention to them, they'll gradually help other aspects of your writing as well.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Interviews: Cassy and Alex

This week, we're being a little self-indulgent and reading each other's novels from NaNoWriMo! To kick it off, we're interviewing each other today!


Alex Interviews Cassy

Tell us a little bit about your book:

For a long time, I've been interested in the Cassandra myth (because my name is the same, if that's not completely obvious.)  So I took that myth and put it in modern day. Here is this girl, who has this ability to see the future, but she has to do normal things... like go to public school

How did you come up with this idea?

I... kind of just told you.  :)  I mean, this PARTICULAR idea to set it in modern day came around during a writing exercise in my Creative Writing class in college.  I just chose a NaNo to actually formulate it.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?

Oh, jeez, keeping track of everyone probably.  I mean, there are a lot of characters, who all have individual looks and you have to make sure you SHOW that.  And it's really hard not to make them all look exactly alike (especially because most of them are related.)

What was the easiest part?

The dialogue.  It was so easy to create these voices for characters, these back and forths, the inside jokes.  It's always my favorite part.

Who is your favorite character? Why?

That's a toss up.  I really loved writing Cassandra.  She was fun to do.  But, as a character, I probably like Hector the best.  I have a special place in my heart for Hector.  He's just such the quintessential big brother. 

If your book were being turned into a movie, who would you cast for the main characters?

Oh... hrmm... That's such a hard question!  Well, clearly Jennifer Lawrence would play Cassandra, because she's awesome (though, we'd have to dye her hair red.)  I always imagine Clive Owen as Hector, but I think that might mostly because he's already played Hector. 

I think the kid who plays Jacob in Twilight would be a good Archer.  Archer needs to be mean and big and buff. 

Past that... I'm not really sure.

What are you working on next?

I'm (kind of) working on a "Admin Assistant" novel.  I'm collecting stories from my years as an admin/receptionist, and other stories too, and kind of putting them together in a collection.  I'm not anywhere near where I need to be to start writing.

Which, shameless plug, if anyone wants to pop over to my other blog and tell me their crazy customer/clients/boss stories, I would LOVE it.  I would totally credit you in the book, too.  Because I'm awesome like that.


-----


Now it's my turn to ask Alex questions!

Let's start with a typical one: Where did the idea for Epilogue come from?

I started with the title, actually. I was explaining to a student at the library that an epilogue is the "where are they now" at the end of a novel, like the montage that comes right before the credits in a terrible '80s movie, and the way I explained it made me think of a post-apocalypse type of story, like the epilogue of mankind. It sounds horribly cheesy now that I actually say it, but that's definitely what I was thinking.

If you could make one major change on it, right now, what would it be?

I didn't do any editing at all to this book, so... everything. But no, if I had to pick one, I'd work on spacing out the end. It's all really rushed, because I knew I was getting close to my 50,000 words, and I wanted to just finish it and be done.

What was your favorite part of the book?

I honestly don't want anyone else to read this book, so I don't feel bad about giving this away: When Anselm tricks Chaya and Lester into the truck and locks them in. Anselm was one of those characters who (writing-wise) just did whatever he wanted, and I wrote it down. Almost everything he did, I didn't have to think about very hard. I like when characters do that in my head, because then their actions and dialogue seem more natural, like it's what a real person would do.

What do you do in your spare time?

You know perfectly well that I have no spare time! Ha. No, but seriously... I read a lot, for this blog, of course. I watch things on Netflix (I'm currently catching up with the new Doctor Who) and craft things. I'm on a partial crafting swap hiatus, so I can plan my wedding. I also blog like a champ: I have a grammar blog, a personal blog, a wedding blog, and of course, this blog.

I know there must be a million books in your TBR pile.  What book are you just dying to read?

The rest of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin is now on the pile, thanks to last week. I also can't wait for the next book in the Divergent series to come out, and I want to read the rest of the Unwind series, too. There are a lot of Ellen Hopkins books I haven't gotten to, as well.

What project(s) are you working on?

April is NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), as everyone will hear about from me on Thursdays all April here on Review Me Twice. I'll be posting my daily poems on my grammar blog. It's also the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo, where I'll be writing at least 50,000 words of a novel called Comorbidity, about a guy who is the last surviving carrier of a deadly disease that cannot survive outside of a human host, so he is held captive so the disease can be studied. I would also like to explore the possibility of us creating a NaZoWriMo (National Zombie Writing Month) here at RMT.

What's your favorite part of writing?


I love naming my characters. I use 200000-names.com to come up with names that not only sound right, but mean something. For example, Chaya in Epilogue is a female Hebrew name that means "alive," because I intended for her to be this awesome survivor chick. (I lament that she becomes sort of a damsel-in-distress character; that's another thing I would fix in heavy editing.)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Game of Thrones Giveaway Winner!



We have a winner for the Game of Thrones giveaway, and it is...


Necie M.!

Congratulations to Necie M.! Please send us an email (to reviewmetwice [at] gmail [dot] com) with your mailing address so we can get your prize to you!




Thank you to everyone for participating. If Necie M. refuses the prize or fails to give us an address by next Sunday, we will select another winner and post the announcement next Sunday, March 31.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

By Its Cover: Game of Thrones


I find it harder to form a critical opinion of a cover when it's ubiquitous. Even if you haven't watched the show or read the book, you've probably seen this cover.

At first, I found it distracting, because I'm a huge fan of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy, so all I saw was Boromir sitting on a scary-looking chair. When I started reading, I had to verify with someone who had read the book that Sean Bean was Eddard Stark, because otherwise, I was going to spend every page wondering.

That said, I think this image encapsulates the story very well. Much of the book is spent discussing all the reasons Ned Stark should have an expression like this: his family's problems, his new position, difficult decisions, etc.

The titular throne is imposing and dark and kind of terrifying (not to mention uncomfortable, as Robert himself admits - both literally and figuratively) and it's a great symbol of the story.

Before HBO picked it up, the cover of this book looked like this:


Still accurate, but not as effective. This cover says to me, "There are swords in this book, like in most fantasy. Enjoy." There isn't much there.
The first time I read Game of Thrones (and even this time), it was an eBook.  But I saw a lot of the blue cover around and, I have to agree with Alex, that it doesn't tell you much.  In fact, I can't even figure out what sword that's supposed to BE, if it's supposed to be anything.

And I also agree that the "TV Cover" gives us a little more to go on.  All the shit hits the fan for Ned in the first book, and he looks exactly like that in the "TV Cover."

However, and this is probably something that most of you don't care about, I usually hate the "Movie Cover" for books (because, let's face it, it's usually a movie that the book has been made into.)  I like the original covers, especially for a series because none of the other covers in GoT have been changed!  So my books won't match up and, aesthetically, that's just not ok with me.

I really don't have a desire to see the actors on my cover either.  The actors aren't a part of the book, they're a part of the movie/tv show.  And while I can appreciate both, I don't like it when they mix.



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Friday, March 22, 2013

Review Me Twice - Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

We're reviewing Game of Thrones!  Which, everyone should have expected considering we're giving the book away. (You have until 11:59 pm tomorrow to enter!  There's still plenty of time for you to win.)


Hey, aren't we giving that away??

Martin's writing in this book is wonderful.  Mainly, his character development.  Just so you know this before you read, a LOT of people die.  I mean, a lot (though, let's face it, you probably already knew that.)  And what's worse, you care about so many of the characters.  When they die, you're heartbroken.  And if that were enough, you're then deathly afraid to LIKE characters, because there is a relatively good chance they'll end up dead.

The action scenes are great, though not as frequent in this book as in the later books.  However, there is a scene with Arya and her "Dance instructor" that just breaks my heart but I love all the same.  Pretty much I just love Arya and I'm crossing my fingers that she makes it through the series.

You're also torn on who to root for!  Daeneyrs wants to take over and control the Seven Kingdoms, the place where all the rest of our characters live.  In theory, I should hate her.  I should want the Starks to win everything.  But I don't.  There's a part of me that wants her to do it because I love her story!  You do choose a side in this book, but it has nothing to do with Daeneyrs.

Now, I will concede that there are a LOT of point of view changes.  Every chapter is a different person's point of view.  And it can be hard to keep track of the characters and whose eyes it is that you're seeing the world through.  The first time I read this book, I couldn't figure out who "Eddard" was, until half way through the book, I figured out it was Ned Stark's full name.  However, no one calls him that, so when the chapter headers have that name, I get confused.

And, the first time I read it, it was incredibly lost.  Even though the chapters are headed up with the people, you still have the thousands of side characters (some of whom become incredibly important in book two.  Robb Stark becomes incredibly important, and Stannis, the king's brother, doesn't even appear in book one.  But in book two, we see everything about him from one of his men (who has POV chapters, though we've never heard of him.)

Despite all the characters, and the confusion of having them, the story is still seamless, it's interesting, and it's utterly and completely nerve-wracking.

Full disclosure: I didn't finish the book. But that's not because I was like, "Ugh, this is terrible, forget this." It's because this is a really long book and I work seven days a week. I will be finishing it, but I didn't want to rush through it for today, because I wanted to enjoy it.

I usually get really distracted and/or confused with point of view changes, but Martin must have done a very good job, because I liked this one. (It probably helps that it's all still third-person, instead of switching from one character's first-person to another.)

There isn't a character I genuinely dislike. Oh sure, there are bad people that I would dislike if I had to interact with them in any way as humans, but they're all written so well, I enjoy reading about them.

Typically, if I cry at a book, it means I really love it (because I care enough about the characters to have a real emotional reaction when something wonderful or devastating happens to them). Like I said, I haven't finished the book, but I've already cried once. So that's a good sign. (To retain some dignity, I would like to point out that it was a solitary solemn tear, but it was quite real.)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

World Building


World building refers to constructing the context of the setting of your fiction... in other words, building a world for your characters to live in. It usually involves defining the geography, climate, language, religion, economy, demographic, and other major aspects of the world you are writing about.


On the left, you have the "bottom-up" approach, which means starting with small details and working your way up to big ones as needed. This is an easy way to run into inconsistencies, but it also means you don't have to spend as much time and effort on world building, because you can focus only on what is relevant to the story. On the right is the "top-down" approach, starting with the big stuff and working toward the smaller details. You might start with a map of the entire world, then define the countries and their details, then states, cities, families.



Sometimes, all it takes to do your world building is one small change to the world we know and exist within. Often, the only change required is to add an "impossible" character to the world: Captain America, Sherlock Holmes, the Watchmen, pretty much any superhero, Miss Marple... etc. The key to this type of world building is to determine how much this character's existence will affect the world at large. For most superhero stories, this means the world knows about and accepts superheroes as a reality. For more "normal" characters like detectives, the only real change is that these detectives can solve famous mysteries, giving us an answer at last. This style of world building can easily be accomplished with a bottom-up approach (because you only have to change a few details in one small place - a city or just one kid's life like Peter Parker or Steve Rogers - and identify major world changes on an as-needed basis).


Then you have larger changes to our world. Some of these, like Harry Potter, take place in the approximate present. In his case, the world building happens parallel to our world; J K Rowling created an entire world that is presumably hidden in plain sight. Another (easier) way to do this is to set your story in the future. The further in the future your story is set, the more drastic the changes you can make. V for Vendetta and Hunger Games both use this tactic to create a somewhat familiar, but simultaneously totally different, worlds.


Sometimes (more so in science fiction than in fantasy) you can use multiple worlds for your setting. Doctor Who keeps coming back to a somewhat familiar Earth (cell phones and metros and fashion, but major historical events are altered, obviously) but takes us to hundreds of other planets (and times) and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy starts off on the Earth we know and love, but since it is destroyed to allow for construction of a bypass (you've got to build bypasses, after all) Arthur goes off gallivanting around the galaxy.



And finally, you have the brilliant writers who are capable of creating a world from scratch. It almost goes without saying that J R R Tolkien was a genius at world building, to the points that (1) his setting is better than his story, and (2) most fantasy that has come after him is set in places extremely similar to Middle Earth in many respects. (Ever wonder why almost every character in high fantasy is Caucasian and speaks with an English accent? That's Tolkien's influence.) Other great world builders of fantasy include Frank Herbert, with Dune (which I've never read, but I still know of Arrakis, home of the spice) and Terry Pratchett, creator of Discworld (which, unsurprisingly, takes place on Discworld, pictured to the right of Dune, atop the great turtle A'Tuin). These were most likely accomplished with a top-down approach: create the world and its major characteristics, then define smaller pieces as you go.


Which, naturally, brings us to Game of Thrones, this week's review book. The world in which it takes place is not named, but it is full of fantastic creatures, supernatural beings, harsh climates (winter is coming), and knights and kings and horses and swords.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Favorite Fantasy Novels

In light of our review of Game of Thrones this week (and because of our AWESOME GAME OF THRONES GIVEAWAY!), Alex and I are discussing our favorite fantasy novel today.

Now, I've read about a million and one fantasy novels.  I was on a big kick when I was in high school and read more that is reasonable healthy for a human being.  And not all of them stood the test of time.  A lot of them, I went back and read them and I didn't think much of them.

Also, I was going to put The Golden Compass here (because that trilogy is pretty much fantastic), but I've already talked about that one.  So I'm going to pick a different one that is near and dear to my heart.



The Chronicles of Narnia is such a great, fun, wonderful series (Oddly enough, it's the antithesis of His Dark Materials.  Pullman wrote the His Dark Materials series to be in contrast to the more religion over-toned Narnia tales that Lewis wrote.)
Ok, so the book does have a lot of religious overtones.  And in some books they're really noticeable (the first Narnia book is basically Lewis's version of the creationist story) and others are much less obvious (A Horse and His Boy and Caspian, you don't notice the religious tones or lessons nearly as much.)  But Lewis manages to give you characters you love and adore all throughout the seven books.  Now, granted, the Pevensies are our main characters, and they make at least a cameo appearance in all but one book (maybe two.  I can't remember if they're in The Silver Chair.)  But you get so invested in them!  
And despite the wide array of characters, you hold all of them dear to your heart.  You smile with them, laugh with them, cry with them and worry about all of them.  
The final book was my favorite, though easily the saddest, but Lewis's writing is just so... magical.  It's so easy to get pull into and trapped in the worlds that he creates.

And the best part is, it's children's literature!  Lewis meant for this books to be for his goddaughter, though inevitable, by the time the last one came out, she was really too old for them.  He had three little girls come to stay with him during the war, and the tales were inspired by them.

Honestly, you just can't help but fall in love with these books.  So... go read them.  Now.

Honestly, my favorite fantasy is the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman (which appears to cover several of my favorites, doesn't it?) but I'll be discussing another of my favorites, but still by Neil Gaiman: American Gods.


Shadow is released from prison to find that the life he left behind is not the one waiting for him. He meets up with some strange men who turn out to be gods, and they have a bit of an adventure. One of his constant companions is Mr. Wednesday (who is actually Odin the All-Father). Gods (and other supernatural beings) were brought to America with the people who believed in them, and many have been abandoned to die, unbelieved-in. New gods have rolled in, created by those who worship technology, business, media, and drugs. Shadow's task is to help Mr. Wednesday rally the old gods to fight the new.

Many of the settings are real-life places in America, the weird, obscure tourist traps that make America what it is. One of these is the House on the Rock - a true marvel of architecture and weirdness - which is a real place where Gaiman now has Halloween parties because of how many fans associate it with this book.

It's well-researched, well-written, and quite funny at the appropriate times. All of the characters, no matter how brief their stay in the narrative, are deep and complex. It has a companion book (kind of like a sequel or a prequel but you don't have to read them "in order" or even read both of them) called Anansi Boys, which I am also extremely fond of. (My favorite character is the lime.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Worst Fantasy Novels

Before I start this review, I want to make something clear.  This post is ENTIRELY subjective.  Yes, I've listed books that are "terrible" here, but this is mostly mine and LiveJournal's opinions (I put up a couple of posts in book blogs over there to get some outside perspective.)

If you like the books on this list, that's fine!  In fact, leave me a comment telling me why!  Just please be respectful.  We enjoy differences of opinions here, but not malice.

That being said, here's a list of truly terrible fantasy books and the reasons that they're really not worth the read.


Modelland by Tyra Banks

The premise: Superhuman girls get chosen to live in a city in the clouds and are taught how to be SUPER Models there, superpowers and all.

The Problems: It's written by Tyra Banks.  Ok, so maybe that's not a problem PER SE, but it's quite obvious that Tyra is no writer.  The dialogue is ridiculous, the premise more so and let's not forget all of the model metaphores ("You begin your mornings staring at the fog, longing for the fateful evening when it will turn a golden yellow and then, finally, like a push-up brassiere, lift.")  And the names in this book get more ridiculous by the second.  Our main character is Tookie, who makes it to Modelland and meets Evanjelia and Creamy.  If nothing else, you should read this book for the LOL factor.

 

Eragon (and pretty much the whole Inheritence series) by Christopher Paolini

The Premise: Boy (Eragon) finds dragon, saves the kingdom.

The Problems: The biggest flaw of this book is that it's entirely unremarkable.  It's trying to be like a lot of other novels (Tolkien, mostly), but Paolini doesn't have the talent that Tolkien does.  There's very little world building and more than a little rambling.  Which seems to get progressively worse with each novel.


Twlight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

The Premise: Girl falls in love with vampire, vampire falls in love with her.  And so does a werewolf... and a normal kid... and half the student body.  Bella is constantantly in danger, requiring her to be saved by all of the aforementioned.

The Problems: Ok, we all knew that this one was going to be on here.  The whole series has multiple flaws: for instance the controlling relationship Bella is in.  The love triangle in the book gets ridiculous (and then creepy), the ending was a total cop out and let's not even get me started on Bella's hallcinations in book two.


The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice (post Queen of the Damned)

The Plot: Lestat turns Louie, they form a love/hate relationship until, eventually, the Queen of Vampires wakes up to torment them all.  Plot is over by book three, so cue back story of every character ever mentioned in the first three books.

The Problems: Let's face it.  Rice started out with a great plot in the first three novels.  It was interesting and intense and you cared about the characters.  But Queen of the Damned (book 3) seemed like it should have ended the series.  And maybe it should of.  Because for the rest of the series we get almost entirely back story, only to end with a book of characters that are nothing like the originals and a rant from the author.


LOTR by J.R.R. Tolkien (including The Hobbit)

The Plot: Bilbo acquires the Ring of Power (read: super bad ass ring that will destroy the world if it reaches the bad guy.)  Should take on the quest himself, but hands it off to his kin, Frodo Baggins.  Who proceeds to spend three books getting the ring to Mordor so he can destroy it.

The Problems: Now, before you murder me, hear me out.  Personally, I like the LOTR books.  However, I just think they're decent books.  I'm not in love with them, and a lot of people aren't.  Can Tolkien write?  Yes, very well.  But the problem is that Tolkien doesn't know when to STOP.  He goes on and on and while, yes, he is amazing at world building, there are just things I, the reader, don't need to know.  (And the worst part is, he didn't even tell us everything in these books.)

Also, everything after Helm's Deep in The Two Towers makes me want to gouge my eyes out.  If I had to read about Sam and Frodo walking anymore, I might have walked myself off a cliff.

 

Wicked by Gregory McGuire

The Plot: Follows the life of the Wicked Witch of the West and how she interacts with all the other characters in Oz, before the famous story we all know and (might) love.

The Problem: McGuire has a bad habit of being, well, dry.  His writing (in my experiance) is either really great or really terrible, and it usually falls into the latter category.  Also, there's less about the Wicked Witch in this book than we all would like.  We wanted to know HER backstory, not her mother's, not her sister's, and certainly not about the ridiculous politics of Oz (of which we barely understand as it is.)  By the time we got to Dorothy, the whole story was just ruined.

Honorable Mentions:
Thraxas, by Martin Scott (which, ironically, won a Fantasy Award.)
Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
If I Pay Thee Not in Gold by Piers Anthony and Mercedes Lackey  (Sexism is a fantasy book?!  Nooooo, that could NEVER happen.)

These are just a small sampling of some of the worst fantasy books.  What are your least favorites?  Why?