Sometimes, no matter how analytical you may be, insight comes in flashes.
For months now I’ve been ignoring a simple, valuable lesson for a beginning author: pay attention to your markets. I’d always considered this a unidirectional instruction. It meant, simply, that it was foolish to submit a piece to a market that wasn’t willing to publish that work.
It’s more than that, and I believe that realization is going to help me immeasurably. As such, I want to share my bit of insight with anyone who might not have encountered it yet. As one would expect from a simple flash of insight, that means this is going to be fairly straightforward.
I used to write a political blog, trying to explore and explain concepts which often get lost in the daily scrum of politics. I specifically attempted to avoid any discussion of hot-button topics. This increased the likelihood people would approach the posts with thought rather than the instinctive defensive or aggressive reactions associated with current events. I moved away from the blog because I wasn’t receiving much feedback, and because I was engaging in similar discussions and debates on a popular message board.
I used to write book reviews for a website that is on indefinite hiatus. My specialty was in older horror books, titles that had gone ignored over time or simply lacked contemporary buzz.
I used to post regularly to the aforementioned popular message board, and another one which attracted a smaller but very friendly subset of the original board’s visitors.
I post very irregularly to Facebook. And whereas I take a lot of pride in being allowed to contribute here, I am often left wondering what happened to the dozens of topical ideas I had when I started. Part of it is approaching the posts late… getting them done on the day of post instead of beforehand, as was my wont. More than that, though, is the tendency to get lost on the way to my point and the feeling of frustration that arises afterward. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone and eradicated dozens of paragraphs of a post, only to start with a new topic. Probably about as many times as I’ve written on Facebook only to eradicate it before sending.
It finally occurred to me why: I’ve been ignoring my markets. Facebook, for me, is problematic. There are many opinions with which I don’t want to spam all of my friends and associates. This is especially apparent when I get spammed. Seeing people I like and respect publicly displaying what I deem incoherence diminishes my respect for them despite my certain knowledge of their intellect. I have no desire to see myself similiarly disparaged in their eyes, particularly when things like potential future sales might be involved. The result is that I rarely go to Facebook. It’s not like a message board, where I can post on a topic and only the people interested in that topic are going to see it.
Similarly, my desire to plug certain older authors, or to vent some of the frustration I feel about sociopolitical issues, is inappropriate for here. But lacking those other sources of expression has caused me to commingle the thoughts there with what I believe would be good posts here, to no good effect.
I’ve always considered the valuable part of being attentive to markets as knowing what places will pay – in coin, in attention or in respect – for your work. Almost as worthwhile is the ability to express yourself in the ways you need so as to prevent discord from seeping into your thoughts and words. Markets aren’t simply external places to garner compensation, they’re also internal places where a person can best direct their efforts.
I’m starting up the blog again, and I’m going to be hunting down a message board in what little spare time I can scrounge. I expect this will help refocus my attentions when I’m here. If this has no positive effect I’m certain I will be apologizing for this post and retracting the sentiment behind it. I sincerely doubt I will be making any apology.
A life is made of moments:
It is stitched together from the things you remember most vividly — the peaks and the valleys, the turning points, the places where you paused, or hurried, or changed direction.
In fiction, these are the things that will linger in a reader’s mind after the story is over. This is one of the times when a visual medium definitely has a certain edge on the written word. A moment in a movie can hinge on a gesture, an expression, an exchange of meaningful glances without a word being spoken. A good actor can take advantage of these moments, and create a character which is memorable for the sheer ability to communicate these unspoken truths – sometimes with a single word, sometimes with absolute silence and only with a steady look, or a raised eyebrow.
In visual terms, it can be the tiniest change of expression. In an episode of the TV show “The Mentalist”, one of the characters was a young man who was shown to the viewers as being ‘slow’, developmentally disabled. It was flawlessly done, and the character presentation was utterly perfect – the open and trusting expression on the boy’s face, the way everyone spoke to him with an edge of pitying kindness and his apparent grateful acceptance of that attitude… right until the moment – yes, the MOMENT – when everything changed. The boy whom we had thought of as simple-minded and disabled was sitting in a chair in one of the interrogation rooms, having his bluff called and something indescribable changed. His eyes hardened and sharpened, somehow, and you realized with an electric jolt that he had been stringing everyone along in an expert con, that this was no simpleton sitting before you but instead a very cold and calculating mind capable of incredible things.
There are any number of such scenes shared between Londo Mollari and G’Kar in the Babylon 5 TV series. At one point, Londo offers to share a drink to a peaceful future between their two worlds… and G’Kar, holding Londo’s eyes and in absolute silence, first lifts the glass that Londo has filled with a fine liquor as if to toast and then slowly, deliberately, pours it back into the bottle untasted. “I see,” Londo says stiffly, his own expression changing in response. And so do we. There can be no forgiveness. What lies between these two is too big a thing to simply sweep under a rug with a toast. We understand all of this, viscerally, through a fragment of a scene which lasts less than a minute of shared screen time. It is a moment, and one to remember.
Sometimes the entire emotional landscape of a character – frustration, hatred, love, triumph, envy, pity, sorrow, exultation, surrender, regret, fury, even a lapse into full and chaotic madness – can be distilled into a single gesture, a single glance. What you can convey in less than thirty seconds of film time… would take you a chapter of words to convey properly in a book.
This is the thing with the written word. It requires more mental engagement. A visual moment is seen, and shared, and immediately understood. A written moment needs more set-up, and develops more slowly in your head; it is probably never quite the same for any two readers of the same given scene because what is built up in each reader’s head is different and it is something that is utterly beyond any writer’s control.
It is not to say that the written moments are the lesser. Not by a long shot. In fact, in a lot of ways they are the more enduring because of the simple fact that you paint them with your own imagination, you set them up with your own mental scenery, you put your own face onto the characters, and your own memory takes over and etches the thing into permanence inside your mind.
But the thing is this – a book needs time, and effort, and attention. You can look at a scene on a screen and you can respond immediately, viscerally, visually, because that is the way you are wired, you are responding to what your senses are handing you, to what you can see and hear. But you have to give a book far more than that. You have to read paragraphs, maybe pages, which will set up the moment which is coming. You need to get deeply enmeshed, involved, you need to reach in and wrap the words around you like so many tangled Christmas lights.
A good book, one with good moments, becomes a lifelong friend and one to which you will return again and again because of that moment that it shared with you. There are dozens of books with “moments” I remember, , where the plot revolves around those moments, where the characters are built and wrapped around those moments. Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Tigana” has a lot of such moments for me (the scene where one of the characters defiantly screams out the forbidden and decreed-by-magic forgotten name of the country which he loves? A hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-my-neck moment, that, and if you haven’t read that book I suggest you hie off and get yourself a copy now). So does, yes, Lord of the Rings – the books, in my case, and not the movies, and we can have THAT discussion another time. There are too many to list here, and most people who have read the book will have their own particular favourite so I won’t show bias here.
But taking the opportunity for a personal note, perhaps – in my own latest novel, “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”, there are a number of these moments. One which has been singled out by readers occurs during the segment to do with John, my young doctor, while he is on rotation in the children’s cancer ward. In the beginning, he copes – by putting up a defense of basic professionalism, and trying to treat the kids as patients, and their syndromes as disease, and himself as The Doctor with all the answers. The ‘moment’ comes when he realizes how utterly beyond his control everything really is – and everything rearranges in his head. The patient becomes a little dying boy; the disease becomes a fire-breathing monster against which he is not the dragon-slaying knight in shining armour but is helpless when it decides to swoop and gather up that which he is sworn to protect and defend. And it breaks him. He is two very different people in the instant before this particular ‘moment’ hits him, and immediately afterwards. And there is no reconciling those two people. In the blink of an eye he has crossed from one world into another and he can’t go back. He simply sees everything in a different light.
It is very cinematic, in essence – and I can pretty clearly see this scene being rendered on screen… but there is a certain power in it, there on the written page, which would just get transmuted by that filmic treatment, not improved by it. Yes, I had to work harder in print to get the epiphany across, and it would probably take far shorter to show on-screen than I took to convey it in-book. But the visual can also overwhelm – and the print makes the same intellectual and emotional impact in a more subtle way.
It would, I think, be the subject of an entire treatise about which is the superior breed of conveying that impact.
The point, however, is that writers have to invest far more into that moment in the written form – because all they have, with which to evoke that visual and sensory response from you, are the words on the page. A writer doesn’t have the luxury of showing a viewer the transformation in a character’s personality just because the viewer is watching that character’s eyes change from “good natured, slightly simple” to “cold calculating potential serial killer” in real time. A writer has to describe this to you, the reader, and then you have to visualize it – there is an extra step in there, and you BOTH have to work harder for it, writer and reader alike. You might call a visual form of a story something that is distilled into a more potent form, and can convey something (via close-up, via hints in the background, via a good actor’s interpretation of the action) in a direct, almost shorthand, way. If you see something visually it is easier to interpret – you are able to ‘translate’ instantly when you see characters look at another with yearning, or disgust, or gratitude, or fear. But when you are reading a sentence that says something like, “He stared at her hungrily” or “His eyes narrowed in fury” – that’s already breaking a writerly rule. It’s a form of SHOWING, not TELLING, and the strength of a written story is that it is supposed to paint a picture with words without actually simply describing what’s there.
You might say the difference between the visual versus the written may lie in speed and clarity (the visual) versus a chance to explore depths that the visual, by the very nature of its speed, cannot help but have to give a far shorter shrift to (written) – but that isn’t really it, either. Both variants are capable of stirring their observers and touching those observers in deep places. They are different, though, in the way they do these things.
As a writer, I am sometimes profoundly envious of the way that a movie scene of less than a minute, can convey a feeling, an attitude, that is an instant gratification – something that it would take me pages and pages to properly present and explore in a book. But also as a writer I am also grateful that the medium of the written word allows me a more enduring connection with a reader’s mind… because what I present in those pages is not so much the destination as a map and then I allow the reader to create their own destination which will color and enrich their own experience of the things that I wrote.
Allow them to create their own moments.
Do you have a favorite moment – book or screen? What do you think is the key to their differences?
This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans.
Teletypes described him as being six feet tall, weighing 175 pounds and having deep-set, “attracting,” blue eyes, dark brown, wavy, wiry hair parted on the right side, a prison-sallow complexion, a slim, medium, wiry, muscular, athletic build, a wrinkled forehead, prominent wrinkles extending downward from his nostrils, and a thin nose. He had just escaped legal custody for the first of two times, this time by jumping from a window. He hurt an ankle when he landed several stories below, but managed to get away anyway. His name was Theodore “Ted” Robert Bundy.
Bundy admitted murdering at least thirty women in seven different states during a five-month period beginning in1973 and claimed he had removed the heads of a dozen or so. He carefully studied his victims and practiced his pick-up skills. He secretly entered some of their residences. He planned his assaults carefully by choosing a disposal site, assembling required implements (such as a ligature) and planning the assault and a get-away. He even planned an alibi. He also removed the passenger seat of his car to provide room for transporting his victims. Bundy reportedly buried some ten victims and disposed of some others in bodies of water. He stated that he revisited the scenes of most of his crimes. He was voyeuristic, and he chose assault sites where he could observe everything. The sites included places that were well moonlit or lit by his car’s headlights.
Bundy manually strangled his first victim, but later preferred to use a ligature. This is consistent with patterns developed by novice serial killers as their modi operandi evolve. Bundy admitted that, when he was in an extremely aggravated state, he bit his victim.
Bite marks played an important role in the murder conviction that put Bundy in an electric chair. Bite marks on a body are usually photographed in various light settings and at right and other angles from the body. Rulers or other items of known size, such as coins, are placed near the marks to indicate their sizes. Photographs are taken without the items to prove that no evidence was hidden beneath them. Various types of film and filters are sometimes used. Photographs provide a permanent record and can be enhanced using computer technology. They can be compared to impressions of a suspect’s teeth. If a bite left a sufficient skin indentation, an impression can be lifted.
Of course, the area surrounding a bite mark is swabbed to obtain any DNA present. A control sample is also taken from another area for comparison with the DNA taken from the bite mark area. A dental history of a suspect is charted in case s/he has changed his or her bite profile since the victim was bitten.
The record of bite-marks as evidence is not one of total success. Bite-mark analysis is a subjective process and is thus subject to attending human weaknesses. There have been false convictions based upon bite-mark evidence and convictions where exonerating bite-mark evidence was ignored. As promising as bite-mark evidence might appear to be, at this stage of its development, without corroborating evidence, one would not want to bet his or her life on it.
Bundy sometimes wore a fake cast and sling and lured women into helping him move something. In the Thomas Harris book, Red Dragon, upon which the film, The Silence of the Lambs, was based, Harris incorporated a fake cast when he created the character, Jame Gumb, aka Buffalo Bill. Like the character, Hannibal Lecter, who developed a cooperative relationship with an FBI trainee to help her catch Buffalo Bill. Bundy had developed a relationship with a homicide detective who had helped track him down. He did so by offering to help the detective develop a profile to help him catch the Green River Killer. Bundy wasn’t of much help in that case, but the detective got him to confess to several unsolved murders.
Although Harris was silent on the matter, the Hannibal Lecter character in the film was apparently a composite of a number of killers. In addition to Bundy, Harris apparently used two additional killers in creating his Buffalo Bill character. Gary Michael Heidnik was one of them. In the film, Buffalo Bill kept a woman captive in a pit in his basement. Between November 25, 1986 and January 18, 1987, Heidnik had kidnapped and held five women in his basement. He forced two to fill a pit in the basement with water and the other three, bound in chains, to get into the water. While there, they were tortured with electric currents applied to their chains. One of the women was electrocuted. On March 23, 1987, a sixth woman was kidnapped. The next day, she somehow convinced Heidnik to let her go temporarily to visit her family. She called the police, and Heidnik and an accomplice were arrested.
At his arraignment, Heidnik denied having kidnapped the women. He claimed they were in the house when he moved in. At his trial, his defense attorney tried to prove that Heidnik was legally insane. His financial advisor testified that he was an astute investor who knew exactly what he was doing. There being $550,000 in Heidnik’s bank and brokerage accounts that was amassed without financial advice made that rather obvious. The insanity plea did not carry. Heidnik was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and was executed by lethal injection.
The third person to have apparently been a model for the Buffalo Bill character was a Wisconsin farmer named Edward “Ed” Theodore Gein. He was devoted to his fanatically religious mother, who taught him that, except for her, all women were instruments of the devil. This probably led to his never dating women. After his parents and brother died, he began unearthing fresh, local graves of women, removing body parts as trophies and practicing human taxidermy. He decided to have a sex change and hoped to construct a wearable “woman suit” of human skin Items found on Gein’s property included nine masks made of human skin, a lampshade made of human facial skin, bowls made of human skulls, ten female heads, chairs covered with human skin, and other, even more grizzly body parts.
Gein admitted that he had killed two women. Having “officially” killed fewer than three persons, Gein did not actually meet the standard definition of a serial killer. He was initially found unfit to stand trial, but was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment, which he spent in various criminal psychiatric institutions. He eventually died at age 77 of respiratory and heart failure. In addition to contributing to the creation of the character, Buffalo Bill, he also inspired those of Norman Bates in the film Psycho and Leatherface in the film The Texas Chainsaw aw Massacre.
Information provided by Bundy that has been independently verified by investigators associates him with twenty murder cases.
Letters from then-Washington-governor, Daniel Evans, and several professors had helped Bundy gain admittance to the Utah Law School in 1973; but he dropped out a year later. He attended a number of other universities, but never earned a degree.
Bundy once worked as a volunteer in the Seattle office of Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential campaign and attended a Republican National Convention as a Rockefeller delegate. His employment record lists a variety of mostly low-paying jobs.
The first time bite marks were used in a court to identify a suspect was in 1967 in Scotland.
A detective who had been doggedly working a murder case for several years showed autopsy photographs of the murder victim to an expert on computer enhancement of photographs. The expert pointed out that some of the bruises shown were actually bite marks. The marks in the photographs were not good enough to match to a suspect, so the victim’s body was exhumed. After four years, the body’s skin was still sufficiently intact to obtain bite-mark impressions. These were compared to impressions of a suspect and two other persons. The suspect’s impressions matched those of the victim’s, and he was arrested and ultimately convicted of murder.
Two days ago, it was announced that Dan Brown’s next novel will be coming out in May. Immediately the wailing and the gnashing of teeth started. Is there another author, besides perhaps Stephanie Meyer, whose mere name incites such vitriol?
I’m going to stick my neck out here: I’ll buy Inferno, and I’ll read it. I might even enjoy it. I thought the uproar over The Da Vinci Code (hereafter: DVC) was unwarranted, even though I think Angels & Demons is a better book. DVC sold a gajillion copies, mostly on the strength of the controversy surrounding the plot. Brown might not have seen it coming, but if he did, kudos to him for finding a way to put his name on the map. DVC was his fourth book, not his first. He didn’t burst onto the scene with it. As they say, he paid his dues.
Dan Brown will never win a literary prize for his writing. However, he isn’t a horrible writer. He managed to sell his first few novels based on their individual strengths, and the first two are nothing like his Langdon novels. I enjoy his books in the same way that I like those by Clive Cussler, Michael Crichton, Stieg Larsson and John Grisham. None of these authors have what you might call literary chops. Their skill at characterization is limited, and their phrasing can be clunky. However, they write entertaining, thrilling books. I always came away from a Michael Crichton book feeling like I’d learned something, both about the subject matter and about the craft of telling a suspenseful story. Cussler’s books are pulp adventures with stock characters who never change from one novel to the next and totally unbelievable scenarios, but they were fun.
No one, I believe, sets out to write poorly. Some writers are more adept than others, and some have strengths in certain areas and weaknesses in others. I think that if DVC had been a blip in the pan, if it had hit the top ten list for a week or two and then faded away, people wouldn’t get so up in arms when Brown’s next book was announced. The fact that it was a bestseller for many months and earned the guy a king’s ransom in royalties is unpalatable to some, mostly because of his obvious shortcomings as a writer. But, good God, Fifty Shades of whatever blocked off the top of the bestseller list for weeks, simply because the books contain tawdry and titillating scenes in novels that come from a major publisher. Brown’s books take readers to places they might never otherwise experience (Paris, Zurich, Rome) and shine a light on the work of artists (Bernini, Dante, Da Vinci), even if some liberties are taken. More importantly, they make readers want to know what happens next.
As writers, we’re all doing the best that we can. Many are getting better as the years go by. To be sure, there are writers who end up “phoning it in” later in their careers, either metaphorically (Robert B. Parker’s last few novels feel somewhat perfunctory) or literally (Hey, buddy, I have an idea for a new book — how about you write it and I put my name on the cover?), but I think that Dan Brown sits down at his word processor and does his level best to come up with a compelling and gripping plot each time. He may be mining similar ground in his Langdon novels, and perhaps even hoping to stir up similar kinds of controversy, but I don’t remember too many people getting up in arms about his book based on a far-reaching conspiracy within the Vatican. It was an entertaining thriller in a genre that has been around for a long time, and I expect Inferno will be much the same. Nothing wrong with that.
Let’s talk anime for a few minutes.
In 2003, the US anime market peaked, pulling in just short of 4.5 billion dollars. Ten years later, the take is roughly half of that.
The most obvious of reasons would be the economy. But it is also incorrect. The industry, growing until 2003, took a steady dive in the three years following… years where the US economy was growing steadily, employment was near record lows, and personal disposable income and personal credit were near all time highs. If it were a problem with the economy, the failure of the market would shadow the declining economy.
No, there are reasons, strong but less obvious ones.
First, piracy. Anime is a subgenre of film, specifically animated film from Japan. As it has become faster to copy and easier to store files, piracy has become simpler. Simultaneously, with the promulgation of the “free information” movement, a reasonably large contingent of fans has developed the attitude that all artwork should be free, with the art consumer paying only for worthwhile work. The problem with this is that it has led to many people taking the work for free and rationalizing their lack of contribution. Other people are paying for it. I’m low on money and need every dime. I only give money to the work that greatly impresses me. All convenient rationalizations, all of which leaves the creator underfunded.
Second, distribution. With the diminished money in the field, anime distributors have been folding up shop. Most of the 2003 companies translating anime have either closed entirely or ended new production. As fewer publishers are producing new product, prospective buyers have a smaller list of available titles to choose from. As the genre has within it many subgenres, many of those subgenres are underserved. This produces few options for interested viewers.
Third, competition. When Anime was first getting a foothold in the US market, there were very few animated features being made for teens, much less adults. As animation has become cheaper and has demonstrated success, it has developed institutional fan bases. The Simpsons and South Park are now established brands, as are Family Guy and Adult Swim. All the work is fighting for the limited dollars of similar demographics. This holds true also for video games, many of which have graduated over the years into becoming little more than interactive animated movies.
Fourth, quality. It is inarguable that the actual animation quality has increased over the years. Cheap computer animation has resulted in a fluidity of motion that must often be adjusted down to make it more palatable to the viewer’s eye. But by making the work cheaper to produce, the door has been opened for a bevy of inferior products. Poor plotting, trite dialogue, incomprehensible motivation, rehashed ideas from older successful works - it’s all there for the world to see. And that leads right into…
Fifth, turnover. New fans aren’t being generated at the same rate that old fans are getting out of the fandom. While some burnout is expected in fandom, especially at times when inferior work floods the market, new fans typically step in. But in order for that to happen, there has to be an access point. There simply is no longer an effort to get shows like Kimba, Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, Sailor Moon, Pokemon and Carcaptor Sakura onto the television market, especially with the death of Saturday Morning Cartoons at the hands of Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Boomerang. Simultaneously, the distinctive aspects of anime in terms of eyes, hair color and more have influenced modern US character designers, with the result of shows like Teen Titans and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic having a feel of “American made, Japanese inspired”. Part of what made the look of the shows distinctive is gone, and the original series aren’t easily accessible to kids. Without a simple, palatable introduction to the format, new viewers are unlikely to spend time investigating the genre’s works.
The US anime market has been doing all it can to stem the losses and regain their forward impetus. They seem to be doing a fairly good job at staunching the bleed of dollars, by shifting their marketing. The publishers have been aggressive in marketing to new platforms, have strived to develop positive relationships with prominent online review sites, and have made it easier for fans to purchase entire series vice the old single-disc format that trickled series out across months, three to five episodes at a time. Unfortunately, giving a lot more product for the same amount of money has resulted in even lower product quality and forcing companies out of business as their profit vs. overhead ratio dipped too low.
There are things that can be done to fix this. Better works which are marketed to children is one, even if it means bringing back to television famous older shows like Sailor Moon or Star Blazers. Currently, the only truly effective efforts in this regard are being made by Miyazaki, who has formed his own cottage industry. Better works for adults is another, especially as the current crop of publishers and creators need to recognize the quantity of works - old and new - available to the potential viewer. Most important by far, though, is a personal connection between creator and fans. Only by convincing the fans to pay money to support the creators will the industry bounce back, much less flourish.
This is a short discussion about Anime. Unfortunately, with only slight modifications, it’s also a short discussion about horror fiction, or comics. These are all industries which have public interest far lower than during their heyday, and they are all industries that can correct that fact, if they want to.
When you read as much as I do, books start to flow together and it’s sometimes hard to remember the particulars. Whenever a story sticks with me, I ask myself why? What makes it special? As a writer, I am forever trying to learn what it is that makes a book stand out. The following is a list (in no particular order) of ten books that have managed to stay in my pea brain long after the last page came to be turned. I’d love to hear about the special books you read last year, if you’d care to share.
In the meantime, here’s my list:
Blue Asylum –
For me, Kathy Hepinstall was my read-everything-written-by-this author-in-rapid-succession author for 2012. I found all four of her books to be lovely, mysterious, and incredibly fetching. Blue Asylum introduces us to a woman convicted of madness by her husband during the Civil War and sentenced to an institution on an island in Florida.
What makes it special?
Hepinstall has a gift for creating suspense and joy and sorrow and heart around utterly unusual subjects. Her characters and settings are always a break from the ordinary. Blue Asylum explores a part of history that I knew absolutely nothing about.
The House of Gentle Men – Set in rural Louisiana during WWII, the House of Gentle Men is a sanctuary where damaged women are administered to by haunted men wishing to atone for their past crimes. Another dark beauty by Kathy Hepinstall.
What makes it special?
Atmosphere combined with a unique concept makes The House of Gentle Men a mystery like no other.
The Forever Girl – A modern witch story that casts a dark, delightful spell through its use of magical language and rich, inventive lore. This is the first book in an exciting new series by Rebecca Hamilton and well-worth the current buzz.
What makes it special?
The best fantasy/paranormal stories excel at world-building and The Forever Girl does this in spades. The cherry on top is Hamilton’s heroine who is flawed and real and lends heart and soul to the dark and challenging world in which she is thrust.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Told in a unique voice that nonetheless feels like bits and pieces of your own memories, this coming-of-age story by Stephen Chbosky takes readers back to 1991 and those exhilarating and confusing first days of high school.
What makes it special?
Chbosky’s protagonist, Charlie. Memorable and weird as Holden Caulfield, Owen Meany, and Gene Forrester, Charlie’s voice is both disquietingly strange and comfortably familiar, making him one of those great literary characters that stick in your craw and forever stand out, and that’s no easy task.
The Book Thief – One of my new favorite books of all time, author Markus Zusak tells the story of a young German girl who steals books and lives a harrowing and incredible life under Nazi rule. Startling, heartbreaking, and narrated by Death, no less, this book should not be missed.
What makes it special?
Zusak takes you into the lives of a town of people oppressed by the Nazi regime and the surprise here is that few of these poor souls are Jewish. The book tackles difficult subjects and does not hesitate to kill off major characters. The story is arresting and multi-layered, and incredibly powerful.
Dust of Eden – The wonderfully warped tale of a bitter woman who mixes the ashes of her dead father with paint and stumbles upon the power to alter people’s lives. A gothic nail biter by Storyteller’s Unplugged’s own Thomas Sullivan and one of the scariest, most heart-rending, and fabulously original things I read last year.
What makes it special?
Thomas Sullivan’s flair for amping up the suspense though the use of quirky characters, creepy creatures, and vile, dark places that feel all the more unsettling in that they are discovered amid the ordinary.
Boy A – The shocking story of a boy convicted of murder as a child and released from prison into an unforgiving world as an adult, told with unflinching precision by Jonathan Trigell.
What makes it special?
Trigell does an amazing job of allowing the reader to decide their own feelings for themselves, never pushing for sympathy or condemnation. His even-handed rendering left me feeling some of both and a whole lot of other things, making this one of the most complicated books I read last year.
The Dovekeepers – Alice Hoffman’s beautiful and tragic tale follows the lives of four women working as dovekeepers during of the last days of Masada. Hoffman’s greatest work to date.
What makes it special?
Meticulous Research + Characters Thrown Into an Impossible Situation + The Poetic Language of an Alice Hoffman Novel = A Masterpiece
Changes – Randall Lee, an American acupuncturist and Tai Chi master, kicks butt and solves crime in this thrill-packed mystery by Charles Colyott. Very cool reading.
What makes it special?
Have you ever read a good story about an American acupuncturist and Tai Chi Master before? Me either! And Randall Lee is a well-drawn character with strengths and weaknesses that make him a hero you can root for, fear for, and cozy up to. Not your ordinary crime-fighter!
Picking the Bones – Publishers Weekly calls this newest collection of dark fiction from the wily mind of Brian Hodge, “Eloquent, intensely intimate, and infused with existential angst, each of the 17 stories packs a powerful thematic punch …”
What make it special?
Seventeen wonderfully written and tremendously sinister stories all under one roof! That’s hard to come by and a blessing when you find it.
So what books rocked your boat in 2012?
Carole Lanham is the author of The Whisper Jar and the soon to be released novel The Reading Lessons. Visit her and share your thoughts at:
…and I have run out of time to produce something pity, fmavorful, poignant, reminiscent, or otherwise year-end-y for the conclusion of 2012. So I shall cheat, and re-run something I’ve blogged about before, in the hope that somebody might be moved to start a discussion going while we’re waiting for the next year to show up from around the corner.
It’s about strong women characters in fiction. (It’s ALWAYS about that, for me…)
So. Here.Have my list. What would be YOUR candidates?
<a href=”http://flavorwire.com/265847/10-of-the-most-powerful-female-characters-in-literature?all=1″><b>HERE</b></a> is the list that they suggest.
Amazing how many of these wimminfolk…er… have MOVIE REPRESENTATIONS of them on the site (I think the Wife of Bath escapes only due to the antiquity – and obviously somebody failed to notice the Demi Moore movie of “The Scarlet Letter” or I’m perfectly certain that SHE would have been there, too. Literature is something you read, but apparently it takes the big screen to make you a truly POWERFUL female character. But, okay, let’s assume “literature” means both bookish and visual forms.
I won’t pile on with my own ten. But I WILL, with your permission, offer you five.
1) Scheherezade. Not only is she IN literature, she single-handedly PROVIDED a substantial chunk of stories we know today – one thousand and one of them to be precise – and survived by dint of mastery of words alone to become Sultana. Beat THAT, Lisbeth Salander.
2)She WHo Must Be Obeyed – you want power? In a woman? HOW ABOUT IT BEING ENSHRINED IN HER *NAME*?
3)The Queen Bitch of them all, Ripley of Alien – I didn’t see any of her male companions taking on the triple-jawed momma monster and living to tell the tale…
4)Delenn of Babylon 5 – a quiet but towering presence of power in the shadows, willing to make whatever sacrifices she needed to in order to make sure the universe was on the right path.
5)Fantine, from “les Miserables”. If you only know her from the musical, that’s powerful enough. But read the damned book. Just read it. She is tragic, and she is unforgettable. Being a “powerful” character in a piece of fiction doesn’t mean that said character is simply good at kicking ass.It means the ability to worm her way into the hearts and minds of those who meet her in that context and to remain there long after the work of fiction is ended.
Oh, and please permit me one small indulgence, because I think she deserves to be here – one of my own, Xaforn from “Secrets of Jin Shei”. I love that girl with all of my heart. She was special, special, special.
Who would be on YOUR list if you chose to make one similar to the one above…?