Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I Want my Hat Back

A great book for reading with your kids, though it really does tickle the adult funny bone too. I Want My Hat BackI Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The bear has lost its hat. Can any of the other animals help him find it? And when he does what will happen to the hat thief?

We love this book. It's a short children's book perfect for reading aloud with your toddler, though even our older children will gather around for Dad's voices and the big reveal about who stole the hat and what comes next.

I love my hat.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Review of Charming by Elliott James

Charming (Pax Arcana, #1)Charming by Elliott James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let's get this out of the way. I really enjoy urban fantasy, but lately I seem to be stuck in a run of UF books that were good, but not great. I don't know if this is a reflection of the genre right now, my own tastes adjusting or just the books I've picked up. Again, this was a book with a unique and interesting concept but the characters and storytelling just didn't hold up.

I'm not going to get into the specifics of the plot, save to say that the set up is very interesting as far as using the Knights Templar and the Pax itself, but the big antagonist of this book is more of a mcguffin for exploring the relationship drama than an actual threat to anyone. Yeah, she was kinda creepy, but for being a 'smart' vampire she really wasn't that smart, and none of the baddies our heroes faced were actually that tough. It was kinda like watching James Bond. The old ones where he gets the girl and the baddy dies stupidly after not taking a chance to just kill the idiot in the first place. Even the much older vampire is killed in less than a paragraph. John and Sig chew through vampires multiple times rarely taking so much as a black eye and whatever damage they do take is gone by the next scene so it's not like it actually matters. And I know that some of that is an aspect of urban fantasy, but it makes the danger feel less real when the biggest inconvenience of a fight is that you have to change your shirt.

As for the characters there were things that were well done and others not so much. Some of the little supernatural hunting squad were well developed with their own balanced personalities and quirks, but at least the two nephews were cardboard cut outs based on extra firepower. I loved Molly and Choo and I loved aspects of John and Sig, but I got tired of everyone being in love with Sig, even John who's known her for about five minutes and that being the biggest drive for the story. It was interesting that she was the center of the group and the reason they stayed together, but I would have liked to see aspects of real friendship and non sexual love driving some of that group cohesion too.

Also, holy exposition Batman. I know it's hard to introduce the specifics of a different take on the supernatural thing, but every time John would spend several paragraphs explaining things either to another character or as an aside to the reader I wanted to slap the author. This was huge and consistent. Oh, woe, I'm a part wolf and let me explain to you why that's significant and why I'm doing all the things I'm doing and remind you that my old friends the knights are hunting me for this. 14 paragraphs later we arrive at the meeting. Ye gads.

So...all in all the world is interesting enough that I'll likely pick up the other books sooner or later, but I'm not in a rush. Maybe with the big relationship issue mostly out of the way and some of the world building set the other books will give us a better glimpse into who these people really are and what they can be.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

A View from the Hugo Peanut Gallery

I've been pondering whether I should write about the Hugos and the surrounding issues or not. I'm not a World Convention attendee (damn budget and travel), and only an aspiring author, so my stakes in the issue aren't immediate. However, what I am is a long time SFF fan and reader and the fans and readers have just as much stake as anyone in what's happening. So here goes nothing.

For those who haven't heard about the dissonance surrounding the 2015 Hugos it's not hard to find a lot of information out there which will give you a blow by blow and cover the gritty details of both positions. But, the meat of the thing is that starting a few years ago there were some folks (calling themselves Sad Puppies) who grew disillusioned with the Hugo awards, the process for getting awards and the people who were getting and awarding them. They felt like the system was being gamed to award the politics of particular people (whom are often referred to as Social Justice Warriors), regardless of whether the books they wrote were any good. So in response over the last few years, last year rather passively and this year very actively and publicly, the Puppies took advantage of the voting system to put their own nominees on the Hugo voting ballot and prove how very broken the system is. By and large they've proven that the system is, indeed, broken.

The result of all of this is an internet flame war of vasty magnitudes. There is name calling, calls to arms, threats, possible law suits and blog comments filled with vitriol and spite on both sides of the issues. There are sides being taken and a general feeling of demand that all authors/readers and other folks need to decide which "people" you are. (And good luck if you have a household with a Puppy and an SJW...someone is sleeping on the couch.) Again, very little of this has to do with books, content thereof and whether they're any good, but lots to do with particular author/editor/organizational beliefs, politics, practices and egos.

Personally I've boiled it down to five groups. It's not hard to find examples in each, and you can judge for yourself where you fall.

Group one: Far rabid right. These folks are the most inflammatory on the Puppies side of the issue. They aren't holding back any punches and take a lot of joy in just watching the whole thing burn. For them the nuclear options seem to be the only options and they're willing to go to the mat, no matter what, for as long as it takes to make their point.

Group two: Far rabid left. These folks are the most inflammatory on the Social Warrior side of the issue. They aren't holding back any punches and take a lot of joy in just watching the whole thing burn. For them the nuclear options seem to be the only options and they're willing to go to the mat, no matter what, for as long as it takes to make their point.

Group three: Moderate right. These folks come from the Puppies side of the issue, but they are much more moderate. They see a broken system and truly wish to be part of the solution. They want to see fantastic stories of all stripes rewarded without thought to the author's personal leanings or belief. Given the option they could likely sit down with the "other side" and work a lot of this out through spirited debate and eventual compromise.

Group four: Moderate left. These folks come from the "Social Warrior" side of the issue, but they are much more moderate. They see a broken system and truly wish to be part of the solution. They want to see fantastic stories of all stripes rewarded without thought to the author's personal leanings or belief. Given the option they could likely sit down with the "other side" and work a lot of this out through spirited debate and eventual compromise.

Group five: The middle. These folks encompass a vast number of fans and authors who don't want to take sides with anyone. These are people who read authors/editors/publishing houses on both sides of the divide with reckless abandon and simply love SFF. They can see places where both positions are right and places where both positions are ego driven wrong, and really they just want to get back to creating wonderful new stories and consuming them. They want SFF fandom to be that place where everyone belongs and all those who consider themselves outcasts (as so many of us have at one time or another) can find community.

So what's the point in any of this?

A call for civility.

It's very hard to convince people that you're a nice person offline when you're a jerk online. And it's hard to come to understanding when everyone is so busy striking and defending that the underlying issue is getting lost in the shitstorm.

I'm pretty certain that those in the middle and moderate camps out number those at the fringes, even if the fringes are very loud, and if everyone would put down the mud and baseball bats there is understanding to be reached. Most fans, including authors, because you are fans too, want a fandom that is open to all, that focuses on not kicking sand in people's faces at any level and a place where great stories are created and can be enjoyed whether they are cheesy space opera romps or thoughtful views on colonization and exploration. Our genres are fully capable of encapsulating many viewpoints.

When it comes specifically to the Hugos this year, those who can vote should, and maybe one of the biggest positives is getting more people involved in the process. But please be fair to the people on the ballot and to the process as it stands. Maybe it will change in the future, maybe not, but this is what it is this year. If you choose to vote No Award do so because you really feel like there isn't a piece that merits award, not simply because the process is being challenged.

For the future there are going to have to be a lot of discussions and they need to be ones open to a lot of voices. Obviously you can't make 5 million people happy, but what the Hugos represent and who they are for needs to be considered in light of their vast history so that going forward everyone is starting from the same understanding and grounds.

Like many other fans I'm not the one who will ultimately be making these decisions, but how they come about and who is the first to sit down at the table is important. If both sides truly want what is best for the genre, best for the awards and best for the readers, the hostilities have got to cease and someone has to start the process.

You can bet that we're all watching.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What's in Your Wallet?

The other day I spent some time at a local hospital with my sister. While there I made the mistake of leaving my purse behind (this is not the first time I've left it, but that's totally besides the point). Security called me and I arranged for my sister to pick up the purse. When she started talking to the security personnel she was told that based on the contents of my purse I must be a fascinating person with one officer wondering how it was possible that I got so much stuff into one purse. (It's a Mary Poppins thing).

This reminded me of a character exercise I thought I'd share where you define everything that is in a character's wallet, purse, backpack, bat belt, whatever and consider what that says about the character. Is there a condom at the ready? A punch card which has never been filled, or is filled and not used? A picture of a child or an ex lover? How many credit cards do they carry? What's on the cards? What does it say about them?

I've not used this exercise in a while, but having lived a version of it recently I've started applying it again and it's fun to see who someone is as seen through the lens of their wallet. So there's your challenge gentle writer, take your main character and dump their wallet out on the table. Decide what they carry and why and see how this informs the character and how they work in the story. You might be surprised at what secrets can hide in the depths of a purse.

And for the curious my purse held: flower shaped buttons, a headband, some random electronic cords (no idea what those go to, but I might need them some day), two thumb drives, a coupon book, 3 writing notebooks, a variety of pens, chapstick, an iPad with a cracked screen, a half crocheted baby dress and extra yarn, scissors, bandaids, emergency feminine supplies, a book of checks, M&Ms in a ziploc baggie and some random receipts. Mostly I think that says the owner is a geeky writer who likes M&Ms and craft projects, but take from it what you will.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Benefits of PitMad, Even When You're Not Participating

For the uninitiated #PitMad is a Twitter event which happens four times a year. It has also spawned a lot of other similar hash tag events such as #sffpit and #carinapitch, but the idea being this is a 12 hour period for folks to boil their new book down to less than 140 characters and put it out on Twitter. During this 12 hours and usually a day or two thereafter, agents, publishers, editors and other such folks look through the pitches and if they have interest they give the pitch a 'favorite' and instructions for how to submit the book. The whole event is chaotic and crazy and lots of fun even if you aren't participating.

Yep, you heard that last line right. #PitMad is worth popping in and seeing even if you aren't ready to pitch. And a note to that, if your manuscript is not completed, polished, edited, polished some more and as good as you can make it you're not ready. Now, if you're not ready there are good reasons to attend anyway, which I'll get to, but there is also a really good reason NOT to attend. If you can't resist the siren lure of joining in and tossing out a pitch when you're not ready then stay far away. Because you want to pitch when you're ready, not when you could end up sending out a manuscript that isn't ready because someone thought it sounded interesting and now they see a manuscript that they don't want because it was hastily completed instead of one they would have wanted in two months when it was actually done.

Provided you can resist this, here are reasons to at least check the tag out.

1: You can get a feel as to which agents are there and sometimes what they're looking for. They'll list submission guidelines and you can follow the agents on Twitter to learn more.

2: You can get a good feel as to what is popular right now. What are other people writing and how does your manuscript fit into that?

3: You can meet a lot of people and build your network of authors which can lead to beta readers, reviews, critique partners and general awesomeness. This event is all about writers and agents coming together, but there's no reason writers can't come together too.

Is the event perfect? Nope. It's very spammy and you can really get sucked in all day if you let yourself. I expect we'll continue to see streamlining as it goes forward and some agents would really rather you just query them directly, always do your research and follow guidelines! However I still believe #PitMad is worth a visit and can be really exciting and inspirational to your writing.

The next one will be in June. I hope to see you there. You can find me on Twitter @janastocks.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Pinterest versus Toddler...

As we were making dinner this weekend my husband paused, looking down at a glass vase full of soapy water and half a banana. The banana was blissfully floating on top of the bubbly water and after a minute he made a face. "Is this a Pinterest thing? Does the banana help get the water spots off or something?"

Now, this really isn't that odd of a question. We've tried some weird Pinterest stuff before, some of which was brilliant and some of which was...well...ineffective. However, this time it was a case of the rabid toddler. She wanted a banana, then once she got one she didn't want it anymore and was about to throw it on the floor. I scolded her that we don't throw food, so she plopped it into the vase (which was soaking to get the spots off).

The next morning I tossed everything down the sink and gave the vase a good rinse. To be honest the spots from the flowers and hard water lifted right off. I don't know if it was the banana or not, but hey.... Maybe I should Pin the suggestion.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Writer Snacks - Tater Treats

One thing I have noticed that for many writers, we do our best work when our stomachs are full. I remember reading once that Janet Evanovich ate cheesy poofs while writing and had to constantly replace her keyboards and I'm certain she's not the only one. I try not to, really, but there's just something about chocolate and creativity that go hand in hand. But chocolate aside these sweet potato treats are one of my very favorite writing snacks and they're pretty good for you too!

Tater Treats

1 large garnet sweet potato/yam
olive oil
shredded cheese
cooked, crumbled bacon
green onion

Preheat oven to 425. Prepare a cookie sheet by covering with foil then putting a cooling rack on top. This way the air can get to the bottom of the taters and crisp them up. Wash and peel the sweet potato and slice into 1/8 inch rounds. Hubby and I use a mandolin for this and it's the thick slice setting. Coat very lightly with oil and lay out on the rack, touching but not overlapping. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 35 minutes. Pull from the oven and sprinkle with cheese, bacon, onion and a little fresh ground pepper and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Once everything is melty and luscious remove from oven. Allow to cool just enough that the cheese doesn't resemble edible napalm and munch. Great source of fiber, vitamins and goodness and low carb to boot. You can go for lower fat by using turkey bacon and a low fat cheese, but if you're gonna splurge go for the good stuff!

So what treat fuels your creativity?