Kicking My Own Ass

Motivation is tough in the winter, when the overwhelming urge to drink three cups of rum-spiked hot chocolate and watch umpteen episodes of 30 Rock can really put a damper on your novel writing. Here, in no particular order, are some ways to get motivated during the long, gray days of February:*

  • Wake up early to write before work. Check a few blogs and websites and maybe facebook to see what happened in the last six hours until your eyelids start working normally. Make coffee. Maybe take a shower. Realize that you’ve wasted your morning and manage a paltry 130 words while brushing your teeth and tying your shoes.
  • Get a fancy notebook as a Christmas gift. Write in it once, very productively. Carry it around like a fetish thereafter. When needed, stroke its smooth cover protectively.
  • Win Nanowrimo! Take a month off. Return to writing feeling like every day you didn’t write is hanging over your head like a second moon. Curse the gods.
  • Create a fun rewards system:
    • 100 words = 5 minutes away from computer to feel like a human being again
    • 250 words = 1 cup of coffee to stop the shakes and headaches and voices
    • 500 words = 1 dessert, to be eaten not at dessert-time
    • 1,000 words = $5 in the “buy a new computer” jar
    • 2,000 words = Blast “We are the Champions” and sing like you’re auditioning for The Voice
    • 5,000 words = Convince girlfriend that you’ve “earned it”
    • 10,000 words = Convince self that you’ve “earned it”
    • Finish manuscript = Mists of Pandaria and 1 month gametime
    • Finish manuscript before 32nd birthday = Realization that you are good enough, smart enough and doggone it, people like you
  • Look for inspiration in the world around you!
    • The Groundhog didn’t see his shadow, and you can safely ignore the spectre of failure that looms in the recesses of your mind.
    • The most literary team in the NFL won the Super Bowl! Named after a Poe poem and harboring a murderer, let the Ravens’ gothic flavor seep into your writing.
    • Terrorist attacks abroad and shootings at home indicate that people need escapism! Now is the perfect time to finish your fantasy novel and get it out there. Sure it’s set in 2006 and seems laughably dated to even the least interested reader, but that’s what they you pay editors for.
  • At the end of the day, you can always go back to your 3-years-defunct blog and mock yourself. It’s what the pros do!**

* Note: Not all attempts at motivation succeed. Don’t get discouraged, just try something else.
**Note: I don’t know any pros.

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NaNoWriMo Fail – 2010 Edition

So I’ve never actually completed the annual exercise in hard work/tedium/elation/good writing habits that is National Novel Writing Month. And sometimes I feel bad about it, but not that often. It doesn’t help that I have a bad habit of taking two weeks of vacation every November (and my vacations are rarely of the “sit around on a beach and write novels” type). Anyway, though I didn’t “win” (winning = completing 50,000 words in 30 days), I did have my best NaNoWriMo ever: 16,430 words!

*sound of crickets*

Shut up, I think it’s impressive.

An unexplained disappearance

Sorry for the unannounced hiatus, gentlemen and ladies, but I have had an important development in the ol’ personal life that necessitated a temporary removal from things internet-esque.

I got a new job!

In a new city.

Which means I have to move…

Like soon!

Yikes.

Moving day

So, congrats to me, but also I’ve been organizing and packing and all at a breakneck pace in order to get things where they need to be for my transition.

Long story short, sorry again. And look, it took me almost a month and a half to go back on my promised blog agenda. Sigh.

Anyways, here’s some news you might not have heard about:

As of yesterday, the HBO pilot based on George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, the first novel in the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, was picked up for a series! The first season will be ten episodes long and will cover all of the events of the novel.

If nothing else, this means that Martin has a firm deadline on when A Dance with Dragons must be finished, as they’ll need to start filming it sometime in 2014. Better get typing, George.

Here is the first promotional image for the show.

First promo image...ominous

I won't spoil it...

I’m not sure how well my total geekiness about this series has come across so I’ll just say that without any context, I’m almost positive this is Ser Waymar Royce of the Night’s Watch coming upon the massacred wildling camp in the book’s prologue. There. Don’t ever doubt my geek powers again, everybody.

This news led me down an interesting path. What is the state of fantasy television? Maybe it’s just me, but it feels as though the science fiction* side of the Genres gets all the attention on the small screen.

I took a quick survey of shows currently airing on US television and came up with a surprise (to me, anyway). The numbers are about equal.

On the sci-fi side of things, we have:

  • Chuck (NBC)
  • Flashforward (ABC)
  • Fringe (FOX)
  • Lost (ABC)
  • V (ABC)
  • Caprica (Syfy)
  • Eureka (Syfy)
  • Stargate Universe (Syfy)
  • Warehouse 13 (Syfy)

And on the fantasy side:

  • Ghost Whisperer (CBS)
  • Heroes (NBC)
  • Medium (CBS)
  • Past Life (FOX)
  • True Blood (HBO)
  • Sanctuary (Syfy)
  • Smallville (CW)
  • Supernatural (CW)
  • Vampire Diaries (CW)

Interesting lists, and full of information. For instance, while the two subgenres are tied at the moment, the fantasy list is already in trouble. Both “Heroes” and “Smallville” are finishing up their final seasons, while “True Blood” has a short season (compared to the others) and is only available to customers that pay a premium.

Science fiction, on the other hand, benefits from significantly higher exposure, advertising budgets, and general regard in the eyes of the media and consumers. Sure, none of these 20 shows are exactly ratings powerhouses, but most of them do well. “Chuck” is NBC’s highest-rated scripted hourlong while “Lost” and “Caprica” both have plenty of cachet and devoted fanbases.

Meanwhile, the only fantasy shows to generate buzz or ratings are “True Blood” and it’s distant cousin “The Vampire Diaries” both of which could be accused of simply riding the coattails of the Twilight phenomenon (however untrue that might be). “Ghost Whisperer” and “Medium” play down the supernatural aspects of their premises in favor of melodrama and procedural trappings. “Supernatural” and “Sanctuary” both started out with interesting ideas that have gotten bogged down in their mythology to the point of ridiculousness (a problem with fantasy in any medium, I guess). And that leaves “Past Life” about which the less said, the better.

Hmm. When does “Game of Thrones” start? 2011?

Dammit.

*Note that for me, the working definition of science fiction includes science fantasy–fantasy that makes the impossible seem plausible–and thus includes Lost and Flashforward. You may quibble with my definition. Feel free. Just be nice.

Fantasy in real life

To set the stage, I bike to work all winter long. Here in the frozen northeast, that isn’t always the best idea, especially if, like most office workers, your office isn’t particularly accommodating to bicycle commuting.

Luckily, my bike-savvy employers have an indoor bike storage room that lets me ride in the winter without having to worry about lurking precipitation. Unluckily for the janitorial staff, they put the bike storage in the janitors’ break room.

So there I was, putting my bike away yesterday morning, cursing my frozen fingers and life in general, when I notice that one of the janitorial staff had left their morning coffee on the table next to a dog-eared  and well-loved copy of A Feast for Crows, the fourth novel in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series that began all the way back in 1996 with A Game of Thrones.

Just the sight of this novel in a very unexpected place was enough to both cheer me up in the middle of the seasonal winter gloom and remind me of the frustrating fact that it has been five years since Crows was published.

First, the cheering, then the jeering.

Seeing this book on the desk of a lowly civil servant really cemented for me a trend that I’ve seen talked about for a while: fantasy is cool! (side-revelation: the difference between internet knowledge of a trend and real-world evidence is wide. Like canyon-wide.) Between celebrities playing World of Warcraft (or even Dungeons & Dragons) and vampires taking over the world, fantasy is reaching huge new heights of popularity.

This makes me happy, as nearly every story I have in the pipeline is fantasy, with one major exception (and that one still feels like fantasy even though we’re trying very hard to keep it plausible (yes, ‘we’! I have a coauthor!)).

On top of that, and in spite of how some people will interpret my rant below, I very much love this series. It came out when I was sixteen and quickly souring on fantastic literature of all types, jaded nitwit that I was. And it is no exaggeration to claim that George Martin and his series (A Song of Ice and Fire or ASOIAF to aficionados) helped me stick with the genres for the rest of high school and on into college. I have since managed to stealthily hook a couple of friends by slipping them my copy of Game with a hushed “Read it now, thank me later.”

Now, for the jeering. Sadly, seeing the most recent book in Martin’s epic brought up some unpleasant thoughts about writing and writers.

In February of 2009, Martin posted his first update about the the sequel to CrowsA Dance with Dragons, still unfinished today–on his website in over a year. Somewhat to his surprise, an internet firestorm arose over the idea that maybe he wasn’t writing enough. (I haven’t read every word that was written on the subject, and the internets being the internets, no doubt people were assholes to him in the comments. I know, weird, right? Cue larger discussion to be filed under “Anonymity, Problems with”) This was in addition to the regular questioning on the book he got at every appearance he made. Bloggers attacked and defended and many professional writers weighed in that Martin wasn’t a machine, dammit, he’s a human being and humans can’t write forever because you fans demand it.

I understood what they were saying to be:

1) Even when you love what you’re doing, you can’t do that every minute of every day and retain that level of love and enthusiasm and inspiration. Writers need to step back and reset their brains from time to time.

and

2) Writers cannot and should not let fans dictate what they do and how they spend their time and as a corollary, blogs are a tool for writers to share with their fans, not a method for fans to pester writers

Like I said, I understand these arguments, I agree that in a vacuum they are reasonable and just, and I respect Martin’s choices insofar as how he spends his time and what he puts on his blog. But I have absolutely no sympathy for the man when he’s dealing with his fans.

1) Martin is clearly working every day, judging by the way that he updates his blog (which is, incidentally, the only evidence we fans have) with non-Dragons projects quite frequently. This single book has taken half as long to write as the first three. If something is wrong, he should own up to it. Writers get blocked, sometimes for years, and fans understand. If he’s up front about it, and the fans give him shit, then he’s clearly on the right side of things. However, if he’s not blocked, then we fans are forced to conclude he’s just not working on the book as much as he should.

Which brings me to:

2) Yes, I said ‘should’. As an aspiring writer, I reserve the right to tell annoying or disrespectful fans–should I be lucky enough to get fans someday–to fuck off when they deserve it. That’s pretty basic. I also think authors should be free to blog about whatever the hell they want to blog about (and I enjoy a Scalzi cat picture as much as the next internet nerd). But these fans are people who–right or wrong–have a lot wrapped up in this book and have been, by all accounts, inhumanly patient. Every time Martin writes about the New York Jets or his miniatures or even the very-much-anticipated-by-me Game of Thrones TV series, it’s like a poke in the eye–irritating, mildly painful and rage-provoking.

I agree with Martin’s defenders that he should be free to write on his own schedule. However, when that schedule is nonexistent or irrelevant and the author in question persists in activity that ignores or marginalizes his fanbase, then his behavior comes across as unprofessional eye-pokery and, it’s perfectly natural for said fanbase to get upset. And, in fact, to vent their frustration in Martin’s general direction. You dance with the girl that brung you, Georgie, and when your fame and your leisure and your prominence are subsidized by fans salivating for Dragons, then you should damn well write Dragons.

From a fan’s perspective, am I going to stop waiting for the book? No. Am I going to not read it when it comes out? Again, no. Will I eventually hand Martin some of my hard-earned money? Yes. I probably won’t buy it in hardcover and I probably won’t be very forgiving of the minor issues I gladly overlooked in Crows, but I will almost certainly buy it eventually.

In the link above (way above), John Scalzi asked:

do you want the book now, or do you want the book that GRRM is happy with?

And I think the overwhelming answer to that question is “ooh, the second one, please!!11!!” For this fan, it isn’t about how long it’s actually taken for this book to get written, it’s simply about the total mishandling of the delay by the author. Which largely is the reason for fans’ animosity. Which then led to Martin getting upset. Which no doubt affected his writing for the worse. Ad infinitum.

Scalzi again:

what authors owe their readers is that when their book comes out, it is, in the estimation of the author, as good as the author can make it. Everything else — how much time it takes, what else the author is doing with his time, so on and so forth — is neither here nor there.

He’s right. But it’s in the “everything else” that the relationship between an author and his fans exists. If you go to lengths to cultivate that relationship, then leaving it to wither on the vine while you tend to other things makes you a jerk.

5 Points Book Review: Shutter Island

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

1. One-Sentence Sentence: In 1954, US Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule head to an isolated, creepy-as-hell mental institution secreted among Boston’s Harbor Islands to recapture an escaped patient (who also happens to be a murderer), but are unprepared for recalcitrant staff, mysterious happenings, unexplained disappearances and one hell of a hurricane.

2. Op-Ed: After seeing the preview for the new movie embedded in the Martin Scorsese retrospective at the Golden Globes (I was watching them ironically, honest), I noticed a wayward copy of Shutter Island cluttering up the shelf of the waiting area at my office. Knowing that I had a two-day business trip in my future, I happily “borrowed” it. There’s just something about mystery/thriller/crime novels that seems perfect for “stuck-on-the-tarmac-while-de-icing-the-plane”.

Needless to say, Island fit the bill for business travel. It’s a fast read, tightly paced, cleverly plotted and devilishly intricate without sacrificing characters, atmosphere or dialogue in the process. Color me impressed. It also served as my first taste of Lehane. Rest assured, dear reader, it won’t be my last.

3. Thumbs Up: Atmosphere! Rule #1 for suspense fiction is that it has to be suspenseful! Lehane hits it out of the park. The titular island is creepy, isolated, intimately tied to Marshal Teddy Daniels’ past and present and “more than it seems”.

Also, character! Teddy is damaged goods, that’s clear, but he is never beyond sympathy. He’s just a cop who’s there to do a job.

Dialogue! Right from the beginning, the banter between Teddy and Chuck is pitch-perfect and their two-normal-guys-confronting-really-abnormal-circumstances relationship plays out to the very end. The setting is bleak and claustrophobic without feeling overly manufactured.

On an even broader note, I very much enjoyed both the Boston setting (which is near and dear to my heart) and the amount of research into mid-century psychiatry (which isn’t, but is fascinating nonetheless).

4. Thumbs Down: Not too much, though slight bits  of the plot lose their believability when seen through the post-twist lens at the end (the prologue in particular). At the same time, certain elements that seem contrived and a-little-too-convenient are actually brilliantly explained, so there’s that.

*Spoiler Alert, maybe*

Maybe it’s more of a personal flaw than a critique of the book, but I really liked where things were going pre-twist. And even though the twist is more than satisfactory, the hinted-at world pre-twist was intriguingly dark and sinister.

5. Recommendation:By all means, read it before you see the movie!

-4 Stars-

5 Points Review Scale

1 Star: I would never burn a book, but this really tempted me
2 Stars: Read this book only if you have no other books and reading is the only thing that makes the voices go away
3 Stars: Lousy book with redeeming parts or Good book with obvious flaws
4 Stars: Buy it, read it, loan it out, forget who you loaned it to, buy it, read it, loan it out…
5 Stars: This will be on the syllabus in my upcoming seminar: “The Best Books You’ll Ever Read”

Monday’s Link Assemblage

Links, get it?

Avast, here are some things I found on the internet that you might not have seen yet. Enjoy, link to me, tweet about it–whatever floats your boat.

Jay Lake – The larval stages of the common American speculative fiction author

Writer larvae of the world, unite! As a somewhat proud member of, oh, stage three or so of Jay Lake’s humorous catalog, I can say that I don’t really look forward to my inevitable progression. Someday, hopefully, I’ll be  a butterfly. Or at least a moth.

The Wall Street Journal – The Death of the Slush Pile

The lessons here are: 1)query those agents and 2)there are no shortcuts. Slog it out.

Jo Walton – SF Reading Protocols

This is what happened when I tried to get my girlfriend to read Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, only in reverse. I thought her anthropological training and interest in race issues would make it a breeze for her, but she got completely derailed by the cold open (heh) and the early focus on politics.

Just a sidenote to any authors: the sentence, “Having a world unfold in one’s head is the fundamental SF experience.” makes a damn fine motto/mantra, just bear in mind that Ms. Walton’s definition of “SF” is “the broad genre of science fiction and fantasy.”

5 Points Book Review: The Court of the Air

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

From the back of the book:

When Molly Templar witnesses a brutal murder at the brothel she has just been apprenticed to, her first instinct is to return to the poorhouse where she grew up. But there she finds her fellow orphans butchered, and it slowly dawns on her that she was in fact the real target of the attack. For Molly carries a secret deep in her blood, a secret that marks her out for destruction by enemies of the state. Soon Molly will find herself battling a grave threat to civilization which draws on an ancient power thought to have been quelled millennia ago.

Oliver Brooks has led a sheltered life in the home of his merchant uncle. But when he is framed for his only relative’s murder he is forced to flee for his life. He is accompanied by Harry Stave, an agent of the Court of the Air — a shadowy organization independent of the government that acts as the final judiciary of the land, ensuring that order prevails. Chased across the country, Oliver finds himself in the company of thieves, outlaws and spies, and gradually learns more about the secret that has blighted his life, but which may also offer him the power to avert the coming catastrophe. Their enemies are ruthless and myriad, but Molly and Oliver are joined by indomitable friends in this endlessly inventive tale full of drama, intrigue and adventure.

1. One-Sentence Sentence: A socio-political, international-intrigue-laden, faux-victorian, steampunk, manic, magico-techno-sortof-thriller overstuffed with lovecraftian-ripoff gods, too many deposed aristocrats, barely-there secret police, body horror, fairies (in the fay sense), airships, unbelievably (literally) vast conspiracies, the menace of communism (really? in 2007?), artificial intelligence, ancient prophecies, pulp fiction and two convenient orphans, Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air is…complex–confusingly, needlessly, maddeningly complex.

2. Op-Ed: Ok, confession time: I’m a sucker for steampunk. No, actually, that’s probably not good enough. I love a good steampunk story. In fact, if I had the time, money and a cadre of like-minded friends, I would probably be a full on goggles-wearing steampunk cosplayer.

In point of fact, I like any story that manages to avoid the twin gravitational poles of heroic-epic-Tolkien-Jordan-fantasy and magic-in-the-real-world-potter-twilight-urban-fantasy.  Now, there are lots of subgenres and sub-subgenres and intra-genre niches that fit this definition of what appeals to me, but there’s something about steampunk that just appeals to the tinkerer in me.

The tropes that speak to me–the mad scientist, the polymath inventor, the airship captain, the class stratification, the explorer mentality, the labyrinthine cities, the Dickensian underclass–aren’t unique to steampunk by any means but they just seem to work a little better there. I wish I could tell you why clockwork or steam-powered technology intrigues me more than dilithium crystals or whatever, but I honestly don’t know.

(I’m glad that it’s finally out in the open. In 2008, when the Boston Phoenix and the New York Times came out with big “What is this Steampunk craze?” articles (here and here, respectively), I had already been a longtime devotee. If I had to pin down my first exposure/falling-in-love moment, it would probably be sometime around 1995 when in short order I stumbled into The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children and Final Fantasy III. Within a few years, I’d read Paul Di Filippo’s The Steampunk Trilogy, the first of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and well, it was on.)

Long story short, The Court of the Air seems to have been tailored to my tastes, but by the end I was deeply disappointed. In the broad strokes, Hunt’s world is breathtaking. The scope of the story and the scale of the worldbuilding are staggering. But, like pointillism, when you get closer the whole thing dissolves into a meaningless wash of color.

While reading, the book that sprang repeatedly to my mind was China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. This, by itself is definitely not a bad thing. Back in the day, it was Perdido that really opened my eyes to some of the stranger dimensions of fantasy literature. However, when my thoughts kept alternating between “oh, that was done better in Perdido Street Station” and “I wonder where my copy of Perdido Street Station got to?” I knew that the jig was up: fridge logic abounds, and the Oliver storyline hops from cliche to cliche before devolving into a full-on cliche storm after an unexpected (and ridiculous) level in badass.

Yes, I spend way too much time on tvtropes.org. No more links, I promise.

3. Thumbs Up: The Molly Templar storyline generally, and Molly herself, though I could’ve done without the prophecy mumbo-jumbo. As I mentioned up above, the worldbuilding is very well done, specifically in regards to how the various cultures are revealed through the actions and attitudes of characters and not troweled on in paragraphs of description. Additionally, I appreciate that much of the world was left unrevealed, as I assume the countries and cultures not gone into will appear in the sequels.

Among the more intriguing things left unexplored:

  • the bio-magical and gene-tampering Caliphate
  • the Aztec-inspired ancient culture that thrived during the ice age
  • the origins of the Steammen and the deeper workings of their society

The Steammen culture is worth a little extra attention here for being particularly original and well-written. A nation-state and corresponding diaspora of artificial intelligences, they aren’t robots of any sort you’ve seen before and that’s pretty hard to do.

Also, maybe i’m somewhat alone on this one, but I thoroughly enjoyed that nearly everyone Molly met in the first third of the book ended up dead a few pages later. Nothing like bringing senseless mayhem everywhere you go to get a character moving. Plus, Count Vauxtion, though hardly original, made a great unstoppable assassin. I imagined him looking like Malcolm McDowell in “Heroes”.

4. Thumbs Down: The Oliver storyline and Oliver himself. On top of the banality of the cliches I mentioned earlier, the kid is a total cipher with a mysterious past who…blah blah blah, even recapping it is boring. He gets dragged around by a frankly much more interesting character and ends up saving the world, except that Molly actually does all the hard stuff anyway.  And she gets a freakish zombie robot steamman as a sidekick, while Oliver gets…more cliches (a failed knight looking for atonement, a talking weapon so powerful it makes itself sad, a fugitive aristocrat who is also a pirate, and a twisted deformed mutant who is also a nice guy).

And on top of that, around 100 pages from the end, Oliver gets a few more layers of nonsense poured over his storyline thanks to some shoehorned plot about his parents and the pseudo-god-fairy-godmother who may in fact be behind the whole story from the beginning. Except she’s not.  Also, his powers beat everybody else’s powers combined.

Lord, why couldn’t this just be a fun adventure yarn about Molly Templar: scrappy orphan caught up in events beyond her control?

Sorry. Moving on.

Wait, no I’m not. Two storylines, both following orphans inextricably linked to the same country-, generation- and millenia-spanning conflict, and they don’t even meet up until three fourths of the way through? And then, after only a few pages, they separate for the entire rest of the book? Really? Are you serious, Stephen Hunt?

Ok, now I’m moving on. Here is the rest of the stuff i didn’t like, in list form:

  • The Court of the Air, the namesakes of the entire book, are underutilized, underexplained, something of a cliche and completely unnecessary, all at the same time!
  • The various countries and cultures, while all interesting, are somewhat transparent copies of real-world countries and cultures. (Dear fantasy authors, please stop creating fantasy versions of England. There really are enough of them already out there. Thanks.)
  • Communityism in general. As much as the idea of communists voluntarily submitting themselves to be trapped in perfectly equal robot bodies is disturbing, it is also silly. Plus lots more transparent copies of real-world things (communityism = communism, Carl = Marx, Gideon’s Collar = guillotine, ad nauseum).
  • Mcguffins: the super god-fighting machine, the airship fuel, the guns of justice, Oliver’s mystery powers (and Oliver himself, sort of).

Alright, clearly, I could go on. Suffice it to say that very little of this stuff occured to me while I was reading it. The pace is fast, the action good, and Molly at least is an interesting and exciting addition to the ranks of scrappy heroines.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Did I mention the merits of spending an afternoon perusing tvtropes.org?

5. Recommendation: I’m not sure I’ve written enough reviews here for this to be obvious, but the reason I’ve gone on at such length about the flaws in Hunt’s book is because I very much wanted to like it and I felt that there was a great story there (specifically Molly’s story) that got in turn shortchanged and buried by the rest of the narrative.

Read Perdido Street Station, then everything else Mieville has written, then come back and read The Court of the Air.

-3 Stars-

5 Points Review Scale

1 Star: I would never burn a book, but this really tempted me
2 Stars: Read this book only if you have no other books and reading is the only thing that makes the voices go away
3 Stars: Lousy book with redeeming parts or Good book with obvious flaws
4 Stars: Buy it, read it, loan it out, forget who you loaned it to, buy it, read it, loan it out…
5 Stars: This will be on the syllabus in my upcoming seminar: “The Best Books You’ll Ever Read”

Chapter One, Line One

Snoopy typing

One of my favorite authors of 2009, Gail Carriger (Soulless, remember?) has posted a rumination on the opening lines in fantasy/scifi novels. Check it out, won’t you?

(Make sure you scroll on through the comments for more great first lines.)

So, bearing in mind the immortal words of Sam Seaborn (“Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.”) here are some selected opening lines for you, gentle reader.

First, I love these two, from the American Book Review’s 100 Best Opening Lines:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.” – Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Travler

And some personal favorites:

“It was a dark and stormy night.” – Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

“The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed sub-category.” – Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

“The Hegemony Consul sat on the balcony of his ebony spaceship and played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-Sharp Minor on an ancient but well-maintained Steinway while great, green, saurian things surged and bellowed in the swamps below.” – Dan Simmons, Hyperion

Barrabas came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy.” – Isabel Allende, House of the Spirits

“Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” – Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

And for sheer quantity of melodrama-flavored awesomesauce, it doesn’t get any better than this:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” -Stephen King, The Gunslinger

Finally, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to show you the (latest) opening line from my Work-In-Progress:

“Autumn was early to class, something she couldn’t remember ever happening before.”

Do you have a favorite opening line? A least favorite? Comment away!

5 Points Book Review: The Italian Secretary

The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr

1. One-Sentence Sentence: What if an old Arthur Conan Doyle manuscript had turned up in somebody’s attic or basement and Caleb Carr had decided to submit it as an original “Holmes” story?

2. Op-Ed: While perusing the local used bookstore after seeing the new “Sherlock Holmes” movie, I stumbled across The Italian Secretary, which I had seen described as Sherlockian pastiche. Now that I’ve read it, I prefer to think of it alternately as first-rate fan fiction or a sponsored follow-up similar to Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time books. Much like Sanderson’s The Gathering Storm, Mr. Carr was approached by the estate of a famous author with a long-running, much-beloved series. Unlike Sanderson, however, Carr didn’t have voluminous notes and an already mapped out story to work from.

Unfortunately for the sake of my contextualization, the last time I read authentic ACD-penned Holmes was close to two decades ago. Since then, my recollections, opinions and insights on the famous consulting detective have been heavily colored by parodies, various televisual homages and the most recent movie (which I enjoyed the stuffing out of, by the by).

That being said, Carr does an astonishing job at matching style and characterization to Doyle’s versions of both Holmes and Watson. The plot is pretty much boilerplate, in the Hound of the Baskervilles, Adventure of the Sussex Vampire vein (and so is the movie, come to think of it: viz. seemingly supernatural occurrences debunked by deductive logic. Actually inductive logic, but that’s another blog post), but the execution is deft and surefooted to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Carr actually was handed a notebook with Doyle’s notes and outlines.

3. Thumbs Up: The joy of a new Holmes story–complete with marvelously accurate characters, a moody and atmospheric setting and great attention to historical and canon details.

4. Thumbs Down: The plot itself falls on the pedestrian side for Holmes. Though the mystery is interesting for the reader and for dear Dr. Watson, the detective himself comes across as somewhat bored. Plus, it’s not true Sherlock Holmes–no matter how accurate the copy, it’s still a copy.

5. Recommendation: Read it if: you’ve read the four novels and fifty-six short stories that make up the canon, perused the pastiches, watched the movies and played the videogames.

-3 Stars-

5 Points Review Scale

1 Star: I would never burn a book, but this really tempted me
2 Stars: Read this book only if you have no other books and reading is the only thing that makes the voices go away
3 Stars: Lousy book with redeeming parts or Good book with obvious flaws
4 Stars: Buy it, read it, loan it out, forget who you loaned it to, buy it, read it, loan it out…
5 Stars: This will be on the syllabus in my upcoming seminar: “The Best Books You’ll Ever Read”

Monday’s link assemblage

Monday morning afternoon, scourge of the salaried class, has arrived. But this week, it brings the debut of a new feature – a link collection/infodump/lazy-ass post o’ fun.

Basically, here are some things I found on the internet that you might not have seen yet. Enjoy, link to me, tweet about it–whatever floats your boat.

Who’s Blogging What?

Selling a Debut Novel – 2010: A Book Odyssey

It’s somewhat traditional for debut authors of a given year to be grouped as a “class”. A group of YA/MG (Young Adult/Middle Grade) 2010 debuts (or debs) is blogging together at 2010: A Book Odyssey. Jen Nadol, author of The Mark (due out January 19) polled her fellow tenners and wrote up an interesting statistical analysis.

Electric Kool-Aid Conflict Test – The INTERN

The INTERN is the Tyler Durden of the publishing world, only less anarchic destruction and more snarky deconstruction. Nameless and personality-rich, here she gets existential on chapter-ending cliffhangers.

The Curious Case of the Headless Heroine – Gail Carriger

Soulless author (Note: Soulless is a book. To the best of my knowledge, Ms. Carriger does, in fact, have a soul.) Carriger turns her sleuthing skills to the troubling trend of headless heroines on urban fantasy book covers. What could be behind this insidious imagery?

New Sidebar Links:

Wondermark – Perhaps the finest 19th century clipart webcomic in history. No mean feat, that.

Query Shark – Aspiring writers take heed. Serious heed.

Tor – Top-notch publisher, but also a fantastic website for original stories, great commentary, book giveaways, etc.

This Recording – Reliably interesting, urbane, intelligent, amusing commentary on culture. Plus, free mp3s.

Bonus Link

A quiz I created on sporcle, Fictional Countries. Fair warning: folks tell me it’s a hard one.