11/28/09

The Maze Runner - Review


I recently finished reading The Maze Runner, by James Dashner and I've put a version of this very review up on goodreads, but figured I'd throw it up here as well.

Let me say this up front. I liked the plot and will probably read the second book in the series. The relationships seemed a bit forced at times, and the extremely slow manner in which information is revealed to the main character and the reader is a bit annoying.

On to the details.

The Maze Runner is a book that starts with the main character, Thomas, having lost his memory and not knowing where he is or who any of the kids around him are. He's in a community of self ruled kids, called Gladers, who live in, you guessed it, the Glade. The glade is this place with a house/homestead, the slammer, cemetery, etc, and is surrounded on all sides by the maze. Each Glader also has a job to do - quite sensible.

Thomas is generally irritated because it seems like everything is a great big secret. I shared that feeling with him and quickly became annoyed that he and I were in the dark. Once he learns some of the simple truths, I began to wonder, why was revealing that information so painful?

In any case, stuff happens, secrets are revealed, and bits of memory come back. The characters are definitely colorful and often fun to read. I sort of cared about them - sort of. Thomas develops a relationship with Chuck - the younger kid who shows him around and befriends him. I won't ruin it, but there is a development with Chuck that presumes we believe that Thomas is emotionally invested in the younger boy. I didn't buy it. Thomas is only in the Glade for a number of days, so it was hard for me to believe.

Alright, I've complained enough. The plot itself is quite engaging and I never once considered abandoning the book. The end was a series of twists and turns that still left me wanting a bit more. So despite my earlier misgivings, the book succeeded for me.

Now for the CYA - I wasn't paid for this lame review nor was I encouraged to write it. I grabbed the book (the unabridged CD's actually) on my own account because it had some buzz. My fourteen-year-old son now has the actual book and is about to read it, too.

11/25/09

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

It's almost Thanksgiving. Glee is about to go on, so time's running out. Therefore, in honor of tomorrow's L-tryptophan overload and anything else we might partake in that'll make us sleepy and comfy, Happy Turkey Lurkey Day!

(Sorry about the commercial, but we have to be all legal and on the up and up.)

11/24/09

Wizard Swears

This is for my kids. Voldemort's Nipples!!!!!

11/19/09

My brain is addled today

Random thoughts for the day.

Why do I keep watching Speed Racer on HBO? It must be the pretty colors.

What does appendicitis feel like? I could have sworn it was that, but I'm relieved it's not. Not a fan of scalpels.

Why does the pug keep flopping onto her back and across my laptop demanding attention? It's rude, right? No, it's not cute. Get off the dang laptop, Tink! You're collar is tttttttttyping.

Is Christina Ricci's hair a wig in Speed Racer? It has to be, right? Oh, and she's from New Jersey. Speaking of which, Rutgers is ranked again.Go, Scarlet Knights!

I thought that Michael Jackson naming one of his kids "Blanket" was a joke on that South Park Episode. Then I saw the name in a magazine at the doctor's office. Now I feel bad.

I've just finished writing the blog entry for Frankie (it's scheduled to post Friday morning) on the mechanics of writing. Don't follow the link until at least Friday. Maybe I'll come back here tomorrow and update the link to point directly to the post. It's a good post, I think. Maybe I ought to post writing/publishing tips here as well. Eh. We'll see.

Rachel (the ten year old) plays guitar really well, and she only started this summer. She's written a song to perform during Thanksgiving and it's really really good. I mean, really. Her guitar teacher came by this week and couldn't believe it, and he's been educated on songwriting. He's also the elementary school music teacher AND he told my wife he knows people in the publishing business and wants to talk to me. Perhaps I will work from home during her next lesson.

The Maze Runner is pretty cool so far.

Do I really want to read that new Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy book by Eoin Colfer?

Glee is good and Fringe is weird. And neither is mutually exclusive. Case in point. I am good and weird.

11/16/09

Birth of a Novel - Part 6

This is the twelfth entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy.

Before writing this chapter (tentatively chapter eight), I grabbed my trusty green sasquatch composition notebook and sketched out the rest of the book, starting from now. And the more I scribbled, the more sparks that began to shoot from my head. Backstory appeared in a few brain cells - well a lot of brain cells. Plot points zoomed into focus. More character traits flopped around like a fish wanting to jump back in the ocean.

My goal? Make Zydeco's life utter misery, while amping up the story. While the story arc reaches its inevitable climax, he has to face losing everything. And I mean everything. He has to be utterly alone. And then when he has the slightest chance of not being alone, he has to make a decision that, if things go poorly, will guarantee total and complete despair. If things go well, he still won't have everything he wants. This is one of those moments. Your protagonist desperate wants/needs two things. Now make it impossible for him to have both.
Oh, the anguish. In the end, it boils down to how courageous I am as a writer. I know that in the end, he will not have everything he wants, but how much do I want to give him? Can I, for example, do to Zydeco & Tameina what Philip Pullman does to Lyra and Will?

Only time will tell.

As for this chapter, Zydeco and Blaine witness something ... horrible. It involves our nasty pal Hunter and his evil boss, the deputy mayor, Phineas Malice. Dang, I love that name. What do they see? Let's just say it does not bode well for the future of the Mythos. And it kind of starts the Wicked Witch of the West's hourglass on Dorothy's life, if you get my drift.



Two black creatures appeared low in the sky, large as bulls, with horns to match. They plunged through the air on deformed and bent wings and fell on the sheep-wolf. The carnage was over in seconds, the two flying demons bulleting back into the sky, each carrying half the prey's bloody carcass with it.



I also had a little fun with setting here, imagining an abandoned drive-in type theater inside a big old city park. Whereas most of the bits of city setting come from one or more actual city landmarks, this does not. I liked the idea and went with it. Writer's privilege, you see.

Hummm, what else? There is a small aftermath of what they've seen. Blaine is actually spooked, and concerned for his future. I worked a bit on his relationship with Zydeco, here. They've been best buddies (and big toe, Sergeant Hulka) forever, even when Zydeco was a griffin and Blaine a little gnome. Zydeco really would do anything for his friend, and I try to show that.

But of course, they are also just a pretty funny pair, so...



"Dude," I said, leading the way back down the road. "That was just … was that what I thought it was?"

Hands in his pockets, Blaine tried to kick a pine cone, but missed. He grunted. "What? Bloody evil incarnate?"



And so, we keep writing. The next chapter's theme is, living your life despite the undercurrent of fear. This should be fun. It's right there in my head and in the sasquatch notebook. :-)


Thanks for reading and stay tuned! Now, on to the next chapter!!!!

To read about the last chapter, slide on back to the previous entry.

11/9/09

Honest Scrap Award


Well, it sure took me long enough to make mention that my most awesome pal down in Loooosiana, Mireyah Wolfe, gave me an Honest Scrap Award something like two weeks ago!!!! Man, am I lousy and a serious procrastinator. But, it's really a privilege to know Mireyah -- check out her cool blog -- and all you wonderful writers out there, and I will be forever in your debt, especially you folks at the YA forum on WDC. (You know who you are.)


So, let me pass this swell award on to some other great blogs.

1. Chasing Dreams
2. Medeia Sharif
3. Jennifer Murgia
4. The Spectacle
5. Jo Treggiari/Feltus Ovalton

11/4/09

Birth of a Novel - Part 5

This is the eleventh entry in my Birth of a Novel series of posts, where I talk about the development of my new YA urban fantasy.

I had just completed chapter seven of Mythos, when as I read Scott G.F. Bailey's excellent piece, Some Thoughts on Middles, it struck me that this is exactly what I'm up against. A middle. Act II. Act I of Mythos is really about setting up the conflict (plot), whereas Act III resolve the conflict (plot climax and denouement). Act II is the bridge that should do two things. First, the plot has to evolve--the chess pieces have to move--until the characters are ready for the climax. Second, the characters have to develop further-- Zydeco, Blaine, Tameina and everyone else.

Certainly Zydeco changes as a result of the events of the book. That's got to be a given. Scott makes a fantastic argument, though, for treating Act II to its own beginning, middle and end.  What does it mean? It means that Zydeco should change as a result of the events of Act II. He needs to show up in Act III different than he was in Act I. How he reacts during the penultimate scene may vary from how he would have had the same thing occurred in Act I.

I've gone off and rambled myself silly, haven't I?  Jay! What about chapter seven? All you've done is talked about what happened after you wrote the thing? I mean, really!

Okay, okay. So, chapter seven. It's back to Zydeco and Blaine, and carries over from the slight cliffhanger of the prior chapter. I really do love these characters, and there are really two relationships I get a kick out of exploring. Zydeco and Tameina - it's fantastic to develop those two as a couple, especially because they're friends first, and because each of them is ever so slightly damaged in their own peculiar ways. Zydeco and Blaine - total best friends, and they're like a well oiled machine. It's like they riff on one another. One could finish the other's sentence. They're funny.

We get to see Blaine's bedroom, which I found fun to describe. In chapter two, I showed one of Zydeco's mythological skills. As a former griffin, he has enormous strength. It is my conjecture that a being, part lion, part eagle would be, well, strong. So there. I've decided. It's fantasy. My book, my rules. In chapter seven, I got to write about his acute hearing. I alluded to it in a prior chapter, but came right out and demonstrated it here.


I held a hand up and leaned across the desk. “Need to concentrate.” Pressing my ear close to the screen, and my eyes shut, I let all thought drain away, focusing on the noise three stories below. I imagined myself as I had been, seeking out prey. The irony wasn’t lost on me that Hunter was now the hunted, but I let it go. I listened. And after a few moments, I heard.

“How many?” said Hunter, his high-pitched voice carrying over the light Sunday traffic.

A pause.

“When?” Another beat. “Right. Okay. And the cockatrice?”

I opened my eyes. This confirmed it. They knew what Octavio was. But, how?


The boys set out in search of Hunter and his crew--there's bad tidings afoot in the park. I get to take them out of their apartments and school, and into the big city park. I get them moving. I get them snooping.

I'm very careful not to set Mythos in a specific city. At least in first draft, the fictional city does not have a name. I may name it later, if I think it's worthwhile. But in my head (and on paper), there are pieces of New York City (my home base), Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco. The outside of the library in one of the earlier chapters is very much a re-imagined NYC Public Library. This park is a combination of Philadelphia's Fairmount Park and New York's Central Park. I even threw in a seemingly bizarre landmark - an ancient obelisk -- that does really exist in Central Park. Interesting history behind it, I must say.


Within minutes, however, Malice and company were gone, and Blaine and I were alone on what looked like a road cut through an underground forest. Birds chirped, likely from the overhead canopy that blocked out the sun. A family of squirrels chattered and chased each other around the base of a tree along the edge of the road.

We slowed to a jog and then a casual walk.

“Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh, my,” said Blaine.

“A Griffin, a gnome and some squirrels, you mean.”

“Ruin all my fun, why don’t you.”



Chapter seven, we hardly knew ye. Before I move on to chapter eight, which continues the events of seven, I need to go off and sketch out Act II as a beginning, middle and end. The three acts of Act II, if you will. By doing so, I think the rest of the "middle" of Mythos will just FLY by.

By the way, I'd love feedback from anyone who's been following this thread.  As you write, do you face the same questions? Do you have the same fits and starts? Does what I'm writing sound remotely interest?

Thanks for reading and stay tuned! Now, on to the next chapter!!!!

To read about the last chapter, shimmy and shake on back to the previous entry.

11/2/09

Catching Fire - the mini-review


I finished Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins today, and as promised, I'm back to comment on it. I will, of course, try like heck to avoid spoilers. However, since the die-hards have already read it before I did, there's little chance of spoiling much.

For me, the book can safely be divided into two halves - Before the Quarter Quell, and everything else. Like I said last time, the first half moves a little slower as we're taken deeper inside Katniss Everdeen's head. She's living/suffering the fame of a Hunger Games victor. She wants for little now, except emotional stability. She and all the victors are striving to avoid daytime boredom and bad dreams at night.

The capital still expects her and Peeta to be an item and more. She's quite unsure of where her heart lies. Is it Gale, who, up until the games was her closest friend, who she teamed up with to feed their families over the years? Or is it Peeta, who in many ways saved her life after her father died, who truly loves her, and who lived and nearly died by her side in the games?

On this point, I have my opinions and preferences. I'm hoping for Peeta, simply because I'm selfish. I've seen them together. I've seen all they've been through and I've seen his devotion to her. Most of what transpired between Katniss and Gale occurred off the page, before the Hunger Games began.  The only thing I'll add to this is that this love triangle is NOT resolved in Catching Fire.

As a looming backdrop to all this, we have President Snow and the capital's oppression threatening to come down on the districts, from which the hint of rebellion emanates. And of course, it's all Katniss' fault.

And then there is the quarter quell, a once-every-25-year event, where the book picks up some serious steam. There are more characters, many of them with interesting back stories and strong personalities. But the second half is all about moving the plot along, and getting it ready for book three. Whereas the first book dwelled for a good long time on the games and the players' strategy, the incidents and challenges here are more gimmicky, but no less thrilling.

And yes, there's a cliffhanger ending. A good one too.  And now, we have to wait until next year for book three???? Blast!!!

Oh and, I wasn't paid, coerced, asked, begged or anything untoward to write this lame review, I got hold of the book all by myself.