March 31, 2011

Invincible Summer Coming April 19

Northern California has plunged into summer, and I'm finding it difficult to concentrate long enough to write a complete paragraph. But I'll try to focus to say a few words about a book that's all hot weather and long days, INVINCIBLE SUMMER by Hannah Moskowitz. If you live in a place where winter is making a reappearance, you may want to pre-order this dose of summer.

The novel is narrated by Chase, who's the second-oldest in a large family and has saddled himself with the responsibility of keeping track of his siblings, who rarely stay put. Chase's family spends part of every summer at a house on the beach, where they've grown up alongside another set of siblings in a complicated tangle of almost-family and early romance.

The story takes place across several summers at the beach, and in keeping with the reality of a summer retreat, what happens to the characters during the other eleven months of the year is hardly mentioned. The book wonderfully captures the pace and heat of summer life and the way different things are important than back in the real world.

During the story's first summer, when Chase turns fifteen, the important things are pretty small. I like that. Fiction basically requires that big stuff happens to characters, because it's hard to create an interesting story around nothing much. As you might expect, Chase eventually has to suffer through his share of life-altering events just like anyone unfortunate enough to be a character in a novel. But for a good long chunk at the beginning, the problems Chase faces are small ones, like real people spend most of our lives dealing with. These concerns preoccupy us plenty when they're our own, and it's always nice when an author makes the reader feel the same level of investment in someone else's minor issues.

One issue that's important to Chase and his family throughout the story is that his younger brother is deaf. The little boy communicates using American Sign Language, which the other family members have learned to varying degrees. In the text, everything the characters say in sign language is printed in bold, and the grammar of the sentences reflects the syntax of ASL, which is different than that of English. I studied ASL in college (I've forgotten almost everything I learned, unfortunately), and I loved this aspect of the book.

I guess I should mention that INVINCIBLE SUMMER is a young adult novel, written for teen readers, and that I'm twenty years older than that audience. As with all good YA, I didn't find much to distinguish it from fiction for adults, except for the ages of the characters and the shorter length.

As a countdown to the release date, Hannah is currently writing on her blog about the playlist of songs she listened to while writing this book. I've never matched specific music to stories, but I have at least one writing buddy who swears by this process (hi, Anna!), and it fascinates me.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Gawker discovers an illustrated essay by Sean Michael Robinson and Joy Delyria that imagines HBO's The Wire as a Victorian serial. (Thanks, Pimp My Novel!)

→ Editor Margaret Maloney presents a slideshow of informative doodles that track the life of a book. (Thanks, Louise!)

March 22, 2011


At FOGcon, during one of the panels related to the theme of The City, I was excited about recommending a recent city-focused book that almost nobody in the room had read. AURORARAMA by Jean-Christophe Valtat takes place in New Venice, "the pearl of the Arctic," a city located 450 nautical miles south of the North Pole, and more than anything else, the story is about the city itself.

AURORARAMA is planned as the first book in a series, and that's evident from how much city history and legend is revealed in this book and how much more is only hinted at. At times as I read, I could have done with a bit less world-building and a little more plot and character development, but overall the book presents a strong story. The writing style is dense but satisfying, with a lot of wordplay and many cool words that I had to look up. This is even more impressive knowing that Valtat is French, and this is the first book he wrote in English.

The protagonists of AURORARAMA are middle-aged, upper-class friends Brentford and Gabriel. The narration shifts between the two of them as they get drawn into an unpleasant tangle of political events. Brentford, an idealist who holds a position in the city administration, feels a duty to solve the problems plaguing the city he loves. Gabriel cares more about sex, drugs, and the droning electronica popular in the clubs of the city, but the local police have become interested in his activities, which motivates him to try to uncover their corruption.

The story plays out in a Victorian-era, steampunk-inspired city where the citizens are determined to live elegantly and decadently despite the harsh climate. Some of the plot revolves around disputes with the native Inuit over land allocation and usage. There are also some ghosts and dream prophecies, but these weren't central. I felt the story had so much going on that the magical elements should have been either more important or omitted. I'll be interested to see how magic is developed in future books of the series.

If I hadn't been reading Kim Stanley Robinson's RED MARS at the same time as AURORARAMA, I probably wouldn't have thought to connect these books, but they do have certain elements in common. Both feature human civilizations built in inhospitable environments and the disagreements over how best to govern these new worlds. The books aren't otherwise that similar, but I do love discovering this kind of synchronicity in my reading.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Dan Koise writes in the New York Times about the abandoned novels of successful authors. (Thanks, The Second Pass!)

→ Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading reports on a programming language designed to make programs that look like Shakespearean plays.

March 17, 2011

FOGcon Report

I had a fabulous time at FOGcon this past weekend, and now I'm finally recovered and caught up enough to take the time to write about the experience.

This was the first occurrence of FOGcon, a genre fiction convention modeled on similar events such as WisCon. I'd heard a lot about these similar events, and I'm always intrigued by the notes from fascinating panel discussions, but I never gave much thought to attending because my knowledge of science fiction and fantasy literature is limited. I probably wouldn't have gone to FOGcon either, but I'm friends with one of the committee members, and she talked it up so well that I was eventually drawn in.

I'm so glad I was persuaded to attend, and that I heeded the great advice that participating in panels can result in an excellent first con experience. I wasn't wrong in expecting that other attendees would be a lot more familiar with SF/F than I am, but it didn't matter so much. Nobody made me feel bad for not understanding all the references, and now I have a long list of books and short stories I want to read. I got to listen to thoughtful people dissect fiction, and I'm always happy to do that.

FOGcon was basically a gathering of 250 people who not only like to read, but also like to geek about every aspect of storytelling. I attended a panel that debated happy versus unhappy endings and another that explored the concept of spoilers. Other sessions, in keeping with this year's theme of The City, considered how technology or race and class divisions are portrayed in different fictional cities. Since a fair number of readers who care this deeply about fiction are also writers, there were several writing workshops and some panels aimed at writers.

I was a panelist for one of these writerly sessions, entitled "I Have Written The Greatest Story Ever (No Wait, It Sucks)". Our moderator led us through a discussion of the ups and downs of the writing life by having us talk about the Seven Deadly Sins as they apply to writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, and the audience seemed to have a good time as well. I'm waiting to see if anyone who wasn't on the panel took notes on what we said. Otherwise I'll cobble together a recap from the notes I made.

I also served as co-moderator for "Your Favorite Book No One's Ever Heard Of". Our time slot had a lot of competition, so the audience was pretty small, but everyone who came had a book to talk about, and I was blown away by the variety and uniqueness of the premises. I'll post more about this once the compiled list of suggestions is online.

In addition to attending panels, I had fun conversations and meals with a bunch of friends, sang karaoke, participated in my first live action role-playing game (based on Hamlet!), and enjoyed a delicious literary cocktail, the flaming rum monkey. I didn't make much of an effort to meet new people, but I did have a few good talks with former strangers.

I plan to be at FOGcon next year, attending as a seasoned veteran, and I'm already wondering what I should read to be prepared for next year's tantalizing theme, The Body.

March 9, 2011

Almost Ready for FOGcon!

As I've mentioned a few times, I'll be attending FOGcon, a new genre fiction convention in San Francisco. I've been anticipating this con for months, and finally it's two days away.

I'm excited about spending three days discussing books with thoughtful people. The programming schedule is packed with panels on fascinating topics in speculative literature, especially related to this year's theme, "The City in SF/F".

I'm excited/nervous about participating in two panels. I'm co-moderating a session requesting recommendations of "Your Favorite Book No One’s Ever Heard Of". Since I expect my own background in genre reading is fairly limited compared to most of the con attendees, I'm looking forward to expanding my horizons with all the suggestions.

The other panel is on "how to cope with the emotional rollercoaster of the writing life". I've been experiencing an emotional rollercoaster just imagining speaking to a live audience about this topic, so I think I'll be all set.

I'll tell you all about the con next week!

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Book artist Brian Dettmer dissects books with surgical tools to create astounding sculptures. (Thanks, Seth!)

→ Siri Paulson at Turtleduck Press explains how writing is like knitting, and why that matters.

March 4, 2011

Revising, And It Feels So Good

I start revising last week, like I said I would. After months of planning, it's nice to be writing again. Both tasks are difficult, but actual work on the manuscript is more intense and consuming, and yet I'm able to sink into it and focus for much longer stretches and still emerge feeling great.

This revision is starting out slowly. Very slowly. At this rate, I'll be finished approximately never. I'm optimistic that the pace will pick up as I remember how to do this and get past overhauling the all-important, always difficult first chapter. Not that I'll be skimping on the care I take with the rest of the chapters, mind you! But the first chapter has to accomplish a lot, so it's especially challenging.

My novel has three separate storylines, and the chapters of these stories alternate with each other. For the first two drafts, I wrote in the order the chapters appear in the book, so I switched back and forth between stories. That way I didn't lose track of what the reader had learned so far, and I could build in the parallels and connections that are an important part of the novel.

For this third major draft, I'm doing one storyline at a time. My hope is to get fully immersed in each narrator, make sure the voice remains consistent throughout that story, and keep hold of all the threads that may have been dropped due to jumping around. I've made a detailed enough outline that I know most of the connections that need to be made between stories, so it will probably all work out. I have a good feeling about it.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ On The Marketplace of Ideas, Colin Marshall conducts fascinating interviews with people whose thoughts I want to hear. At Conversational Reading, Scott Esposito introduces me to books I might otherwise never learn about. I enjoyed listening to a conversation between the two of them on a recent Marketplace of Ideas episode.

→ Livia Blackburne looks at a study that concludes Men Prefer Reading About Men, and So Do Women.

→ On a related note, Sonya Chung at The Millions considers authors who write across the gender divide.

March 2, 2011

March Reading Plan

My reading list for March includes three in-progress books that I talked about in yesterday's post:

RED MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson

INVINCIBLE SUMMER by Hannah Moskowitz

THREE BAGS FULL by Leonie Swann

Joining these are two more:

THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY by David Levithan - This is a novel in the form of dictionary entries. When I first heard the concept, it sounded like too artificial a gimmick even for gimmick-loving me. But after listening to Levithan discuss the book and read excerpts on Bookworm, I changed my mind. He's made this gimmick work. The words and their definitions are unexpected. The entries appear in alphabetical order, but not chronological order, so by reading the dictionary, the reader gradually assembles the complete story of a troubled relationship. I heard a longer excerpt on The Writer's Block, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

THE REPORT by Jessica Francis Kane - I read an interview at Beyond the Margins and was intrigued. Kane's novel speculates on the story behind a real incident during World War II that resulted in 173 civilian deaths but was never explained. Rereading the interview, I notice another element of interest that I'd forgotten: the novel has storylines set thirty years apart, just like mine.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Jason Black concludes an insightful three-part series on establishing characters

→ GalleyCat discovers a WAITING FOR GODOT video game.

March 1, 2011

February Reading Recap

This was my second month of choosing a list of books to read at the beginning of the month. I continued to make time for reading just about every day, though I've been more busy with writing, which leaves less time for everything else. I continued with my new habit of reading multiple books at once. And I continued to remind myself that the idea behind these book lists is to keep myself reading, not to feel pressured to cross everything off each month.

The February list worked out like this:

RED MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson - Still working on it. The Kindle application tells me I'm at 67%. As I mentioned last month, I've been getting a bit fed up with reading this book digitally, and I just bought a paperback. I've neglected RED MARS for the past week or two in favor of other things, but I'm eager to return to it and finish.

AURORARAMA by Jean-Christophe Valtat - Finished. The Arctic city of New Venice comes to life with an impressive amount of world-building, but it took a while for the story to get going, so I was reading slowly until things started snowballing (ahem) about halfway through.

THE CITY, NOT LONG AFTER by Pat Murphy - Finished. The story takes place in San Francisco 16 years after a plague has wiped out most of the world. The city's remaining inhabitants have created a new society focused on art. The artists are living quite happily together, along with the occasional ghost produced by the city itself, when they learn that they may have to defend against war-minded attackers.

Murphy will be one of the honored guests at FOGcon in a couple of weeks, and I'm looking forward to hearing her talk about this book, among other topics.

INVINCIBLE SUMMER by Hannah Moskowitz - Just started reading the e-galley, and I'm excited to see the book take physical form when it's released in April. It's a young adult novel about a big family who spends the summers at a beach house, where they've grown up together with the family across the street. Hannah's blog has an illustrated version of the first chapter that got me hooked on the book. The writing and characters appeal to some specific reading appetite of mine that I'm so far unable to articulate.

THREE BAGS FULL by Leonie Swann - About a third of the way in. A flock of sheep attempt to solve the mystery of their shepherd's murder. Some of the sheep are fairly smart, but they're still sheep, with a limited understanding of the human world, so they often misunderstand the clues they gather, which means the reader gets to stay ahead in solving the mystery. It's very clever and entertaining.

I'll post about some of these books in more detail over the course of this month. I read one more book that wasn't on the list:

ACTUAL AIR by David Berman - The wonderful Bookrageous podcast did an episode on poetry. The podcasters read poetry collections in an effort to broaden their reading horizons. I decided I'd do the same, and I picked this book as the one that sounded most likely to match my tastes. The results were mixed: I liked some of the poems in the collection very much, while others seemed kind of meaningless to me. I'll definitely write more about my poetry reading experience soon.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Kelly Coyle at The Millions struggles with how to write a sentence to begin a review of a book about how to write a sentence.

→ Sean Ohlenkamp and Lisa Blonder Ohlenkamp present a beautiful stop-motion video of their book reorganization. (Thanks, Steph!)