Saturday, July 24, 2010

Giving Something Back: Beta Reading

When I was going through draft after draft of Lharmell last year I had so many people reading it and giving me feedback. Mostly friends, friends of friends, family, randoms that I'd meet at my favourite club, an author, my YA teacher, classmates. Several of my friends gave it to their fathers quite independently of one another too, telling me they thought their dads would like it, and they did! (Am I writing for the wrong market?!) Two of my friends read it very early on and then told everyone else how much they loved it, and it went almost viral in my circle. My book club even chose it one month. (But I don't recommend that as it's the most nerve-wracking experience having fifteen of your nearest and dearest picking apart your baby all at the same time. One at a time is the way to go!)

Because of the generosity of so many, I've felt like I needed to repay the universe in kind by doing some beta reading for others. Beta reading is common amongst book bloggers. Being a beta means proving feedback on an unfinished project. It's a vital part of the creative process because as anyone who's ever created anything knows, it's possible to be so close to your own work that you can't get any perspective on it. I imagine this is the way for most writers.

But beta reading can be a fraught activity. First, it takes away from your own precious writing time, as well as from all the delicious books in your TBR. Second, there's the actual critiquing. Whether you're close to someone or not, framing a tactful response can be challenging. I had the good fortune to have a lot of my preciousness knocked out of me during a writing course (oh that first week, when someone circled all my adverbs in red and gave it back to me; I nearly died...) and I understand the value of good, honest criticism. I can't stand it when people are blowing smoke up my ass. I want the truth! I'm truthful when I beta read and I've had some wonderful experiences helping other writers. But some others...If you are honestly ready to have someone critique your novel, it's vital to understand that they

a) might say something you don't want to hear, no matter if they're the Tact Queen or not (not that I am, but hey, I try) and

b) You don't have to listen to a goddamn word they say. It's your choice whether you take that feedback on board. And thank them for their efforts. They just read your book.

Probably the best way to be a beta is to approach the person who is doing the writing and offer to read it. I've practically hounded a few fellow bloggers for their novels. "Write and I shall read! I think you'd be amazing! I want to help!" You guys know who you are ;)

And dad, if you're reading this, finish your bloody sci-fi novel. I'm waiting!

Do you beta read? What has been your experience of it?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: The Eternal Ones, Kirsten Miller

I saw this over at The Undercover Book Lover. And it really sounds WoW!

Haven Moore can’t control her visions of a past with a boy called Ethan, and a life in New York that ended in fiery tragedy. In our present, she designs beautiful dresses for her classmates with her best friend Beau. Dressmaking keeps her sane, since she lives with her widowed and heartbroken mother in her tyrannical grandmother’s house in Snope City, a tiny town in Tennessee. Then an impossible group of coincidences conspire to force her to flee to New York, to discover who she is, and who she was.

In New York, Haven meets Iain Morrow and is swept into an epic love affair that feels both deeply fated and terribly dangerous. Iain is suspected of murdering a rock star and Haven wonders, could he have murdered her in a past life? She visits the Ouroboros Society and discovers a murky world of reincarnation that stretches across millennia. Haven must discover the secrets hidden in her past lives, and loves, before all is lost and the cycle begins again.
The Eternal Ones is available from Razorbill on August 10.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Guest Post: Sean McCartney, author of THE TREASURE HUNTERS CLUB on book trailers

Book trailers are one of the most exciting things about publishing these days! I love jumping on YouTube and checking out the trailers for my favourite titles. Today I'm pleased to welcome Sean McCartney, author of THE TREASURE HUNTERS CLUB: SECRETS OF THE MAGICAL MEDALLIONS to talk about this unique method of promotion.


I first want to thank Rhiannon for allowing me to speak with you today.

My name is Sean McCartney and I am the author of the new YA action adventure series entitled THE TREASURE HUNTERS CLUB: SECRETS OF THE MAGICAL MEDALLIONS.

I wanted to talk with you about book trailers.

I love these. I think this is one of the greatest marketing moves writers can make. I read some articles about it and how much money they cost but truthfully you don’t need to spend a lot or any money to produce a well crafted book trailer.

On most computers is a program called imovie. If you don’t have it you can find one on line and download it for free.

Then you play around with it and start to feel your way about how to put together your own book trailer. There is a manual you can read but why do that? It is much more fun to do trial and error because that is how you will learn to do it.

I started with a Mother’s Day movie for my wife. Used pictures of the kids and put some titles in there and poof a movie. It caused tears so it must have worked.

The other nice thing is there are enough free pictures, movie clips and music on the Internet that you can really make some good stuff.

I am planning to have a four part trailer playing on a loop when I do my book signings in early August. I know when I played them for some students at a book talk in New York it made a better impression on them.

If you take your time and have a little patience you can create some wonderful material to use for anything you want to promote.

I want to thank you all again for your time and if you get a chance go and buy a copy of THE TREASURE HUNTERS CLUB: SECRETS OF THE MAGICAL MEDALLIONS at my web site, Barnes and Noble, Amazon or my publisher’s web site, Mountain Publishing. In fact buy several copies and share them with friends and loved ones.


Thank you Sean!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Throat, R. A. Nelson

One of my favourite reads last year was Teach Me by R. A. Nelson. He has a paranormal offering, Days of Little Texas, featuring a ghost which has been in my TBR for too long. I was thrilled to discover that his next novel is paranormal too and features vampires, the aptly named Throat.

From Goodreads:
R. A. Nelson takes us on a supernatural thrill ride, a modern-day vampire story set on a NASA base and filled with space-and-science intrigue. Seventeen-year-old Emma feels cursed by her epilepsy—until the lost night. She's shocked to wake up in the hospital one morning, weak from blood loss. When her memories begin to return, she pieces together that it was a man—a monster—who attacked her: a vampire named Wirtz. And it was her very condition that saved her: a grand mal seizure interrupted Wirtz and left Emma with all the amazing powers of a vampire—heightened senses, rapid speed—but no need to drink blood. Is Emma now a half-vampire girl? One thing soon becomes clear: the vampire Wirtz is fierce and merciless, feared even by his own kind, and won't leave a job undone.
A vampire novel set on a NASA base with space and science! This isn't going to be your typical vampire novel, methinks. Being a psych major I'm also intrigued about how the seizures are going to feature. Throat is available in the US January 25, 2011.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A little bit of awesome

Last week I posted some fluff about our new prime minister, Julia Gillard and how excited I was that Australia finally had a female PM. *Shakes purple and green pom poms*

My words got picked up and quoted on Global Voices, a very cool but new-to-me website, in a post entitled Australia: Dramatic Fall of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

You're after incisive political commentary? LOOK NO FURTHER.


And now we return to our original programming.

Dystopia Challenge Review #3: Zombie: An Anthology of the Undead, edited by Christopher Golden

I love zombies. I have little affection/patience for short stories. Reading this book was therefore going to be an interesting experience.

I love this anthology. Adore it. Wish it was twice as long because 90% of the stories within are brilliant, entertaining, thrilling and gorey. I was skeptical as to just how much originality they would have but fear not! They are some rehashes of favourite scenarios as well as these whacked out, off-the-wall stories.

I love my monsters to be monstrous, not kissable. I'm also a bit of a sook, despite loving horror. There were only two stories that I had to skip because the violence got too much for me, and interestingly enough it was violence perpetrated by humans, not zombies. Human cruelty really gets to me. Zombies having a good old chomp, on the other hand, is awesome.

Can you see how often I'm starting paragraphs with "I love"?

Standout stories were "What Masie Knew" by David Liss, "Life Sentence" by Kelley Armstrong, "In the Dust" by Tim Lebbon, "Family Business" by Jonathan Maberry and "Second Wind" by Mike Carey. Armstrong and Maberry's stories made this anthology for me. Top-notch nomming.

Standout disappointments were "Copper" by Stephen R. Bisette, a thoroughly self-conscious "literary" piece with far too much obtuse literary jargon; "Closure, Limited" by Max Brooks; and "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead" by Joe Hill, which demonstrates that a story composed entirely in tweets can be entirely annoying. (Did sort of like the end though. I'll give it that.) Max Brooks's story was the most disappointing because I love his World War Z. (Brooks also demonstrates in that novel that military jargon need not be obtuse. Take note, Bisette.) I mean, LOVE. I really hope the film adaptation gets made.

Zombie: An Anthology of the Undead is great zombie fiction and may even have endeared me to the short story. Sheer miracle.

This book is also called The New Dead elsewhere in the world.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dystopia Challenge Review #2: Genesis, Bernard Beckett

I was so blown away, so upended and shaken about by this novel, that I can't compose my own blurb. Here's the Goodreads summary:

Set on a remote island in a post-apocalyptic, plague-ridden world, this electrifying novel is destined to become a modern classic.

Anax thinks she knows her history. She’d better. She’s now facing three Examiners, and her grueling all-day Examination has just begun. If she passes, she’ll be admitted into the Academy—the elite governing institution of her utopian society.

But Anax is about to discover that for all her learning, the history she’s been taught isn’t the whole story. And that the Academy isn’t what she believes it to be.

In this brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity, Anax’s examination leads us into a future where we are confronted with unresolved questions raised by science and philosophy. Centuries old, these questions have gained new urgency in the face of rapidly developing technology. What is consciousness? What makes us human? If artificial intelligence were developed to a high enough capability, what special status could humanity still claim?

Outstanding and original, Beckett’s dramatic narrative comes to a stunning close. This perfect combination of thrilling page-turner and provocative novel of ideas demands to be read again and again.

That "remote island" mentioned in the blurb is actually New Zealand! I don't know what Kiwis would think about that epitaph. Not a lot, I'm sure. Dystopian novels that feature places in Australia or New Zealand as "last refuges" always amuse me, like John Wyndham's The Chrysalids and On the Beach by Nevil Shute.

You would be served well, before reading this novel, to have read Isaac Asimov's I, Robot or (I shudder to encourage you) see the woeful film adaptation. I can't resist telling you how unutterably awful this film is again so here's an excerpt from my review:

I, Robot I had a similar reaction to: good beginning, bland middle, totally disappointing ending. Robots stage a coup on the human race. Why? Because this big, head robot thing, Viki, has calculated that the human race is annihalating itself through war, violence and a thorough trashing of the planet. Therefore she's going to take charge and see that we're all "safe", ie. chained to the walls or something. Will Smith saves the day, overthrows big, bad Viki and we're all FREE! Free to live without our robot overlords! Free to wage wars and be violent and continue to trash the planet! HURRAH! The end.

What a ridiculous message.

On second thoughts, don't see the film, just read this:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

What, you ask, does a novel about a refuge in a plague-ridden world have to do Asimov's Laws of Robotics? Anaximander is retelling the story of Adam to a panel of examiners, a man a the very beginning, the genesis, of robotic interactions with humans. It is through these discussions that Beckett examines what it means to be human and the dangers and advantages of robotic intelligence. To really do this book justice I would have to sit down and read it again, and someday I will. But I'm already so far behind with reviews that I will simply tell you to read it for yourself and then have a good long think about it. You will need to. Genesis also has one of the most interesting twists I have come across.

Genesis references dystopian classics such as I, Robot, but also the utopian Republic by Plato, "a Socratic dialogue about the nature of justice and the order and character of the just City-State and the just individual" (Wikipedia) written in 380 BC. Anyone who's read much dystopian fiction will hear alarm bells going off when an individual sets about trying to establish a just order of things. Pet utopias have a tendency to go horribly wrong.

Genesis is truly a modern classic.

Thank you Velvet for sending me this book!

Dystopia Challenge Review #1: Inside Out, Maria V. Snyder

Trella is a scrub on the lower levels of Inside. She's known as Queen of the Pipes, an epitaph that describes both her knowledge of the air ventilation system that supports Inside and her aloofness form her fellow scrubs. A prophet appears on the lower levels asking for her by name. Trella doesn't trust prophets; they spread propaganda for the Pop Cops and build false hope about the existence of Gateway, the way Outside.

I approached Inside Out with some trepidation. I adore Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study, but my last experience reading a Harlequin Teen book was utterly dismal. I was also nervous about a dystopian book being published under a romance imprint. Would it be stripped of all its misery, angst and pain in favour of a fluffy, happily-ever-after ending? I wasn't concerned about Snyder's ability to write a book in this genre as Poison Study has strong communistic/oppressive overtones.

Inside Out was sanitised in some repects--which I'll discuss below--but is a book that mostly lives up to its hype. The strengths lie in the world Snyder has constructed--the mystery of what Inside is, what it is for and its mechanics; the social levels and classes; and the authoritarian Pop Cops. I found the engineering the most interesting of all. Why, for instance, the very outer wall of Inside is ice cold. Snyder has put a lot of thought into how a structure like Inside could work and the details are fascinating. When it comes to setting, this book shines.

I was disappointed that Inside Out seemed to shy away from the fear, loss and pain that characters would undoubtedly feel when faced with their own and their friends' persecution, execution and torture. Some very extreme things happen in Inside Out and some truncated emotional responses jarred. Snyder is no stranger to describing pain, torture and incarceration more than adequately, and I wonder if Harlequin Teen required her toned things down.

There's always a romance in a Harlequin book and Inside Out is no exception. **Spoilers here but not really, we all know what's going to happen and the sexual tension is about zilch** I felt genuine affection for Riley. The "realisation" scene fell a little flat for me. I thought it would come with a few more bells and whistles, but no. Sigh. Is it just me who craves long, drawn out sexual tension these days? Make me wait until book two. Hell, make me wait until book SEVEN.

Inside Out is a surprising offering from Harlequin Teen--a pleasant surprise. This book will be enjoyed by newbie dystopian lovers and seasoned ones alike. I'm very curious as to how the series will progress as there's a massive barrier to what would in most scenarios be the climax of the series, and this fascinates me. Outside In is available March 2011.

Invisible discussion for those of you who've read the book: Maybe I'm incredibly stupid, but that teaser on the last page, "What's behind the door?!" was an editorial mistake, right? I mean, Trella opened the door and there were other levels there. Serious blooper.

This massive barrier to the climax that I mentioned is that they wont get to their destination until week one million, but that's about 800,000 weeks away and Trella etc will all be dead. They can't turn around either because they're too far into space. Where do you think this is going to go?