Monday, November 25, 2013

On NaNoWriMo and Self-Hatred

The idea of NaNoWriMo (National Novel WritingMonth) appeals to me and everyone knows it. When November rolls around, I always have a few friends asking me if I’ll be participating this year and the answer is always an emphatic, “maybe!”

I join groups and make posts on Facebook, I update my NaNo profile on the official site so that my most glamorous photo is available, I even spent some time this year collaborating with coworkers on our NaNo Game Plans before the end of October. Hell, this year I even had a plot.

So, what did I do come November First? Did I settle down at my desk with a hot cup of coffee and type away well into the night (see doesn’t that sounds appealing)?

No. I completely gave up on day one.

This has been my course of action for the last five years. I have never actually participated in NaNoWriMo despite annually working myself into a frenzy about it at the end of October.

And you know what? I didn’t even feel bad about it until now, the 25th of November. November is almost over and all I have to show for it is a haircut.

Every year around this time of the month, I ask myself, “What is wrong with me?” If the concept appeals to me enough to get me excited and then upset me when it falls through, why don’t I at least try? Writing has always been my only decent creative output and I want this. I want to have written a novel. I want to be completely and utterly absorbed in writing. I want to be creating. I want this novel to be done. I want to share this story. But, I just can’t do NaNo.

For a while, I thought that it was because I exhibit poor self-control. Maybe if I set a more rigid schedule for myself I could at least start a project.

But then, the part of my brain that is desperately attempting to keep me from falling into a depressive abyss says, “Perhaps, my love,  by depriving yourself of something you want so completely, you are exhibiting the most self-control of them all!!!” (see how excitable my inner-monologue is?) And I say to myself, “Yes! You’re right!!! Look at me, washing clothes and writing instructions for software! Please see how clean my apartment is. Please note the perfection of my mascara. Did you know that I watched almost twenty movies this month? Twenty. Isn’t that something?”

Though I try to tell myself that my pursuits are admirable and mean something, I just can’t convince myself that they are more substantial than a novel. A novel, written and edited and “done,” is so emblematic in my mind of so many strange things that I want and need. I know, I know, I know I need this.

So the real reason I can’t and won’t participate in NaNoWriMo is because I’m afraid. I don’t trust myself enough to abandon so many safe, inconsequential things in my life that have become regularities. I don’t like myself enough to believe that anything I write in thirty days is worth not vacuuming as often or walking aimlessly through Target for two hours. This is not an issue of self-control - it is an issue of self-worth.

I am sure this problem manifests itself elsewhere in my life, but NaNoWriMo has become a glaring and clear-cut example. I rarely let myself indulge in things like this, usually under the guise of me saying, “Oh that’s gimmicky,” and moving on, but secretly, I want to see myself as important enough to dedicate a month to my creative process. It’s just so damn hard.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith


Spoiler-free summary: 
Lula Landry, the beautiful and troubled supermodel, has died. While most of the world has accepted the fall from her balcony as suicide, her adoptive brother, John Bristow has some questions. He hires down-on-his-luck detective Cormoran Strike to investigate her death. Expecting it to be just another dead-end case, a result of a shocked and denial-laden family, Strike and his temporary secretary Robin are quickly pulled into Lula’s glamorous, but moody, world to find that perhaps there is indeed more to Lula’s tragic story.

.....



I don’t think I would have ever picked up this book if it hadn’t come out that Robert Galbraith is JK Rowling in disguise. I didn’t think I cared for detective or crime novels, but I enjoyed this book. I don’t think it was enough to convert me to mysteries, but, it was a nice, fun read. It wasn’t really a thinker and there was not much edge-of-my-seat action, but it was pleasant enough.

The writing felt very distinctly Rowling to me. I keep telling myself that I would definitely have drawn the comparison between Galbraith and Rowling if it hadn’t surfaced that they are one and the same, but, I wouldn’t have ever read it otherwise, so who knows. The names of the characters especially felt whimsical and Rowling-esque to me. Cormoran Strike, Lula Landry – these names would not seem out of place in the Wizarding World.

I enjoyed this much more than I enjoyed The Casual Vacancy, Rowling’s only other non-Harry Potter work. They felt very similar, however. As with The Casual Vacancy, The Cuckoo’s Calling explored the themes of wealth vs. poverty. I find it interesting that Rowling continually returns to these ideas: Harry gained and lost wealth and fame over and over, in different forms, The Casual Vacancy centered around less-than-glamorous characters, and this novel was about the price of fame. It’s very interesting. I’d like to make some grand, sweeping conclusion about Rowling and her discontent with the life she’s living, but, I have a headache and don’t care enough, I guess.

I have read some reviews online in which people mention that perhaps this book is a little long; I’d have to agree with that sentiment. The first half of the novel drags a bit and spends more time describing the relationship between Strike and his temporary solution, Robin. But, the end picks up considerably. However, all of this relationship-building between Strike and Robin felt odd to me, given the way this novel ends. I was expecting a bit more to come out of their bond, if you know what I mean. We are repeatedly beat over the head with the idea that Robin is unhappy with her engagement, but nothing significant comes from it. Is this a setup for a sequel, or did someone tell Rowling that not every story is a love story and the plot was tweaked, but not enough? So, as you can see, I was torn between thinking: “this book is too long” and “there’s not enough here,” which is an interesting place to be.   

There were some interesting digs at the national debt and politics in general buried in this book, which I found kind of out of place. I couldn’t figure out if they were from Rowling’s point of view or Strike’s. Also, there was one odd sentence mentioning a cat’s anus that really just threw me.  

Overall, I found the plot kind of shocking for the sake of being shocking, but the writing was fun and I enjoyed meeting the characters.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

To Train Up a Child - Should it Be Removed from Amazon?

It’s all over Facebook – another child has been killed as an apparent result of her parents clinging to the methods found within To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl.

Hana Williams, the adopted daughter of Larry and Carri Williams (their names rhyme, please note), was found naked in her backyard. She died from hypothermia and starvation with marks on her body indicating that she had been beaten with plastic tubing the day of her death. Whipping a child with plastic tubing is, apparently, a method of punishment endorsed by the Pearls in their book.

Having not actually read the book, I’m not going to further elaborate on what is or isn’t endorsed by the Pearls. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, there are a billion websites out there where you can find quotes from the book and read about other instances of child abuse that may be related to their advice. I am more interested in the controversy surrounding the book staying available for purchase on Amazon.com

Over 30,000 people have signed this petition online begging Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, to take down the listing for To Train Up a Child, along with listings for Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Trip and Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman – none of which I’ve read and cannot comment on. The petition claims that the content found within these books is “offensive” and “contrary to [Amazon’s] Content Guidelines.”

Though I do not agree with its religious teachings, abusive or not, and wish that this book would disappear from the face of the earth, I think that removing this book from Amazon will open a can of worms – a scary one. It is published by No Greater Joy Ministries, owned by the Pearls themselves. So, this is technically an independent book listed on Amazon by the Pearls. You, as an independent author, also have the ability to self-publish your books on Amazon. What do we do if a self-published novel mentions that maybe the main character doesn’t believe in God, and that offends Christians? It’s offensive to someone, right? So do we remove it thanks to the Content Guidelines? I don’t know. Most books, fiction included, will contain something that’s offensive to someone somewhere. Do we really want to give Jeff Bezos that much power?

The only real way to get people to stop reading this book and taking its message to heart is not to get it torn down from online retailers, but through education. The problem does not lie in the book itself – it lies in the reasoning abilities of the people who take messages spewed from the likes of the Pearls seriously. If people were better educated in science and health issues, mental and physical, we wouldn’t have people blindly following the words of the Pearls or abusing their children verbally and physically in “the name of the Lord.” I think the time and energy spent focusing on removing the book from shelves could be better spent in educating the masses in more constructive, scientific ways.

All of this negative publicity about this book is, after all, publicity.
See the below graph of interest in the search term “To Train Up a Child” as reported by Google Trends:

I’m sure some of those Google searches resulted in purchases, and, therefore, funding for the Pearls.

It will be interesting to see how Amazon responds to these requests, if at all.
My prediction is that, to avoid scandal, they will quietly remove it.

But what does that solve?
The No Greater Joy website offers To Train Up a Child on its own for $7.95, or in a “four book special” for $25. They also offer the book in Spanish, on audiobook, and as an eBook. 
Most disturbingly, you can buy the book by the case for $438.84.
I doubt they’ll be removing it any time soon.

Monday, November 18, 2013

eRheatah - Is it Worth it?

Note: eReatah has been rebranded as Entitle

Finally, it seems that publishers are loosening up and are venturing into the world of online book subscription services. Some services, such as Oyster and Scribd, are taking a more Netflix-like approach to the business. For a low monthly rate (Oyster is $9.95 a month while Scribd is $8.99), you can download and read as many books as you want as many times as you want. Some, however, are mixing up the game. This is where eRheatah comes in.



eRheatah, despite whatever its weird and slightly embarrassing name might suggest, is an interesting concept. Instead of offering unlimited access, eRhetah presents users with tiered packages with the following monthly rates:
Package 1 – Cub Plan: $14.99 (Select 2 books a month)
Package 2 – Cheetah Plan: $22.50 ( Select 3 books a month)
Package 3 – King Cheetah Plan: $29.99 (Select 4 books a month)

Every book you select is yours to keep for as long as you keep the eReatah app, even if you cancel your subscription. The app is available on Android devices (Kindle Fire included) and iOS.

eRheatah currently offers a $5 account credit for every friend you refer to the service, which is a neat incentive. I imagine, in these early days of book subscription, it would be pretty easy to rack up some credit this way.

There also seems to be some buzz concerning eReatah’s book discovery platform: Recommendation Station (again with the embarrassing names… This service also appears to be called “Picks of the Month” elsewhere on the site. I’m confused). Based on the Netflix algorithm for movie recommendations, the Recommendation Station promises to find titles that you will enjoy based on your past preferences. It is crucial with eReatah that you do not waste your book selections per month, so Recommendation Station is, apparently, there to help. What if, on the Cub Plan, I pick two books and it turns out I absolutely hate them? Assuming I have nothing unread from previous months’ selections, I have to wait a whole thirty days (that comes out to $.50 of regret a day) until I can pick two more books. This is enough to turn me off of the service completely, but I’m sure there are people out there who are more in-tune with what they would like to read than I.

Though the service is currently in beta testing mode, there are 90,000 titles available for selection from big name publishers such as Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. With the higher price tag and monthly selection limitations, it is no surprise that more of the “big name” publishers are comfortable with eRheatah. It is important to note that Oyster and Scribd both offer books from HarperCollins, though the general consensus has been that these books are “a few months old.” With that in mind, it is not difficult to find two older eBooks on Amazon for less than $15 – the starting price for an eRheatah plan.

It seems that eRheatah would be most advantageous for someone who is more interested in expensive (read: new) bestselling novels. So, if staying on top of the bestselling lists is important to you, eRheatah might be your service.

To request a beta account, visit https://www.ereatah.com

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh



Spoiler-free Summary:
Lucy Dane has lived her entire live in Henbane, an isolated little town nestled deep within the Ozark Mountains. Her mother, however, was an outsider – an orphan from the faraway land of Iowa. Seemingly brought there to work at the Dane family farm and store, Lila was exotic and captivating – traits that quickly got her labeled as a witch. She disappeared without a trace shortly after Lucy was born, and her memory haunts the people of Henbane. Lucy desperately wants to know what became of her mother and why she left, but she must first solve another, more recent mystery: Who murdered her friend Cheri, and where did she spend the last year of her life before her remains were found in the middle of town? Lucy’s search uproots her town and the families within. We find ourselves frantically sifting through the intricate and interlaced history of Henbane to find that even the tightest-knit towns can harbor horrific secrets.

.....



The Weight of Blood is the debut novel from Laura McHugh. The writing is simple, but beautiful. McHugh’s descriptions of Henbane are full of lore and mysticism – and this magical quality permeates the characters. Lila, the mother, is powerful and magical, but not because she is a witch. The evil characters (who will not be named) seem to cast a strange trance on the town, assuring that their control is absolute. It feels, at times, that there is more at work here than small town gossip, taboos, and conventions.

I think I have a soft spot for novels set in the Ozarks. I loved the way she recalled the unforgiving wilderness and ungainly citizens with sentimental sweetness. I think this is really the only way one can describe rough-around-the-edge towns without coming off as demeaning.

Though, at times, the plot verges on stereotype. This novel contains guns, booze, incest, and, in a way, slaves - all the pinnacles of a good old fashioned “hillbilly” novel. McHugh’s tremendous writing skill saves this story from rolling eyes. Additionally, the back of the book tells us that Laura McHugh was from Iowa and moved to Missouri, much like our main character’s mystical mother. I appreciate that McHugh drew upon her own experiences as an outsider in the South, which I guess is another reason we can’t be angry at McHugh for generalizing.

I also had trouble with the shifting points of view in this novel. Every chapter is from a character’s point of view and I found this somewhat disorienting. The first half of the novel alternates between Lila and Lucy. I didn’t realize that Lila was the same Lila as Lucy’s mother until I was a quarter of the way in. I’m not sure if that’s because I don’t pay attention or if it was meant to feel that way. Lila’s story is told from the past, but in present tense, and she is about Lucy’s age. Lucy’s story is also told from the present, so I think I assumed that everything was happening concurrently and that this Lila we were reading about was the weird illegitimate sister of Lucy, returned to Missouri to tell Lucy what became of their mother. I had a hard time keeping the Dane brothers straight at first, which really screwed me up. The second half of the novel is from a whole bunch of characters' points of view, some in first person and some in third, which felt jolting and odd. I see why McHugh structured the novel in this way, but I can’t help but wonder if there was a way to make it less confusing.

Overall, I found this story gripping and scary. I knew where the plot was heading, but the little side stories and pitfalls along the way kept me interested. McHugh is a wonderful writer and I can’t wait to see what else she has to offer.

Buy The Weight of Blood in hardcover or eBook format March 11, 2014 from Random House, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble



P.S: While researching the author, I found this story from the Columbia Daily Tribune.
It has some interesting background information on McHugh. It states that she based The Weight of Blood off of a human trafficking case that occurred in Lebanon, Missouri in 2010. I think that this is the case in question. Reading more about it, I faintly remember hearing about it on the news. The resemblances between the victim in this report and Cheri in the novel are uncanny.
In the Tribune article, McHugh also offers some interesting insight into the world of publishing and writing, including the importance of a good query letter.

Monday, November 11, 2013

And Then Run by Eric Hublot

Spoiler-Free Summary:
Our main character, Jerome Esterson is an idealistic and wealthy young man who, to put it simply, wants things that are not "conventional." I put it in quotes because honestly, the things he wants are what a lot of people want, or think they want, or would want if there were no rules: threesomes, underage babes, violence without consequence. Eric is a force, brimming with raw and primal urges. He rallies against domesticity and monogamy - any mention of suburban life makes him sick. He uses his natural talents in persuasion and public speaking to spread his controversial message. He builds up a reputation, aids some companies with his PR prowess, and meets some tempting women (and some tempting technology), in the process. All throughout, Jerome is honing his body into a killing machine, but to what end? Jerome pushes all those around him to their social limits while he pushes himself toward madness. 

.....

And then Run was not my favorite book. 
However, this was a deviance from the typical genres I read, so that may be playing a part in my inability to grasp the motives and meaning of this novel.  

I think the easiest, kindest way to write this review would be to split it into some well-defined sections: Things I Appreciated, and Things I Didn't. 

Things I Appreciated
  • I enjoyed the skepticism of Jerome. His assessments of social norms were often witty. 
  • I liked the honesty he provided us concerning the world of business, marketing, Hollywood, and crime. For example, he continually referred to mainstream movies and romance novels as "Monogamy Commercials," which made me smile.
  • Jerome lived in the modern world. He played video games I've heard of, watched movies I've watched, and read books I've read. This inclusion added some context to the story and made it scarier/more thought-provoking. I could relate to Jerome, despite him being a psychopath and all.
  • The erotic bits got better as the book went on, which ties into....

Things I Didn't
  • The erotic portions of this novel were not very erotic to me. Perhaps I am jaded. However, the last few sexual encounters in the book contain a fair bit more detail, which, I think helped out a bit. I never really found any of them realistic or interesting, though. Then again, I don't read erotica.
  • The first 90% of this novel literally just felt like dialog. Jerome seems to spend most of his time engaged in long discourses with his cocky friends, fights with his unbelievably horrible girlfriend(s) (see the below bullet point...), or, get this, giving speeches. It felt like Jerome was only giving speeches in order to tell us more about his boring, "edgy" views. It felt like characters like Madison existed only to give him an excuse to rant. These all came off like cheap tricks. At times, I got the impression that Hublot was unsure how to show us how characters other than Jerome felt or acted without giving it to us in straight dialog. Some might enjoy this and interpret it as a stylistic choice, but, I found it boring and slow. I guess I would have liked this novel a bit better, if, instead of just giving us giant scripts of the characters' interactions, we got to see more of their physical reactions and nuances, and Jerome's reactions to these more subtle displays.
  • As I said above, certain characters, especially female characters, seemed only to exist to give Jerome an excuse to rant and be angry about things. Madison was so one-dimensional and horrible that I doubted she existed from the start. I thought, surely, that she was some weird Fight Club-ian projection of Jerome's psyche. But, unfortunately, I don't think she was. Every time Jerome would speak, Madison would start screaming and crying. This was frustrating because 1) Jerome is funny. He has plenty of witty observations. Why does a smart, scholarly girl like Madison have absolutely no sense of humor? 2) We are meant to believe that Madison and Jerome have wanted each other for a long time, yet they act like this? Have they really hid their true selves from each other for this long? 3) If Madison hated him so much, why didn't she just leave? She's not very empowered or strong-willed, despite being educated. She knows that her opinion matters and that what Jerome is doing is wrong, but refuses to do anything but bitch. This applies to all of Jerome's girlfriends. They are all just varying shades of bitchy.
I read elsewhere (but I forget where...) that this book came off as American Psycho meets Fight Club meets The Great Gatsby. A combination such as this has potential, but, it just wasn't executed in a way I could appreciate.


That being said, I have no doubt that there are people out there who will adore this novel and find it disturbing and thought-provoking. 

Buy And Then Run now at Amazon, in Kindle E-book format or in paperback.