Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Recommendation: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Not too long ago I saw someone recommend The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Knowing nothing about it, I picked it up... and I'm so so glad I did.

Todd Hewitt lives in a world where all the women are dead, animals talk, and men hear each other's thoughts. In a month he will be 13 and make the transition from boy to man... the last to come of age in the entire settlement of Prentisstown. But when he and his dog find a silent gap in the constant Noise of the world, he is suddenly in danger. He must run for his life, trying to keep ahead of the men who are hunting him and who can hear his every thought.

This book did so many things right. From the beginning the Noise—the constant barrage of thoughts from animals and people alike—is totally believable. It's fascinating too, and it really pulled me in. As a Big Idea, it works! And not only that, but the world that has developed because of the Noise works too.

The moral dilemmas are completely gripping. The book doesn't flinch away from questions about morality and the ability to take a person's life, or about what makes a creature a “person” or what separates a boy from a man. Todd faces some very heavy moral issues over the course of the book, and I felt like I was right there in his shoes in every case.

The plot moves quickly and kept me flipping pages. I don't think I put it down for a second all throughout the second half. Ness leaves a few mysteries until the very end of the book, and by the time I got the answers I was half wild with needing to know the truth.

The characters work well and interact beautifully. I adored Manchee, the dog, and he now has a place of honor at the top of my “favorite fictional animals” list. I can't really say more about the characters without giving too much away, but... they were great.

And Todd's voice is just so real and comfortable. I truly enjoyed spending time listening to him.

Overall: definitely one of my favorite books from the past few months, and probably one of my favorites this year as well. I hope I can get my hands on the next book in the series soon!

On Satire

Yesterday I saw the following link on a friend's Facebook page: In praise of Joanne Rowling's Hermione Granger series

I followed the link and read the article, and as I read I found myself growing more and more upset. When I finished I wrote the follow comment on my friend's link:

This article made me really angry.

Maybe it's that I'm just too close to too many authors who work so so very hard to achieve even a fraction of what Rowling has. Maybe it's that I know that if I ever have the amazing good luck to be published myself, someone could probably say the very same things about me.

Rowling had no idea that her books would become such a phenomenon. She was just trying to write a story she loved in order to make a little more money to keep herself afloat. And suddenly, because she happened to do a really good job of that, she's supposed to be perfect? That's like people complaining about Martin taking so long to write his books. Somewhere along the way, people take something that's good, and decide that because it's so good, it ought to be flawless. Well, flawless isn't possible, even for people who may seem superhuman. Since when do we have the right to make demands of something we haven't created ourselves? Because we paid money? Sorry, but that money went to something already created, not something to be created. It's the author's right to take a story in whatever direction he or she wants.

And yes, there's a place for criticism. Good criticism helps authors individually and the literary community as a whole to grow. It's necessary and it's good. It makes books better. But I don't think there's a place for sarcasm. Sarcasm says, "You really should have known better" to the person who has struggled and cried and fought to tell the best story they know how to tell. Sarcasm says, "I could do better," but without ever really trying.

So ok, write your critiques--they're very welcome. Authors want to learn. Authors want to make readers happy. And good authors will continue to grow. If you put out there that gender equality and racial equality need to be highlighted more, people will listen. Change comes slowly, but it comes, and that's thanks in large part to thoughtful readers.

But the next time you start feeling the urge to make demands or say, "I could do better," just try doing half so well.

First, try telling a story that somebody will love. Try coming up with a plot that doesn't have a single cliche. Try writing any character, male or female, that isn't one-dimensional. It's harder than it looks.

Then try doing all of that in a competitive market where people are saying, "Sorry, but we already have far more female protagonists than male protagonists. Oh, your female protagonist is a spunky, take-charge kind of girl? Well so is every other. But you know what we don't have much of? Male-led romance. How about you give that a try?"

Then try writing from the perspective of a race other than your own. (While the whole time the voice in the back of your head is saying, "But you've never lived in their shoes. What if someone calls you a fraud?") Try having the necessary confidence for writing when you're worried you may unintentionally be doing harm.

And then, if by some miracle, you actually manage to publish a book, try braving all the vicious barbs of reviewers like this one. Try keeping your head up and your heart steady while people gleefully tear apart this thing you've put so much love and effort into.

I can guarantee you won't be sarcastic any more.


Over the course of the day I got quite a few likes on this comment and a couple people even said they strongly agreed. So by the end of the day I was feeling pretty self-righteous about what I'd said.

But now that I've had a day to cool off and think and read some of the comments on the article, I'm starting to wonder why I really reacted the way I did and whether I was right.

Here's the thing: the article was satire. Whether it's good satire or bad satire I don't know as satire isn't a literary form that I have enough experience with. But it's an established literary form that is considered to be of value in our society.

So the question for me, I think, is do I just not like satire? Is my problem with this article only, or with the literary form in general?

On the one hand, I think this article bothered me because it was attacking a book series that I love. While I acknowledge that Harry Potter is by no means perfect, I think that it was an incredible achievement by a remarkable woman. The tone of the article is “These books would have been so much better if...” So my gut reaction every time is going to be, “Well, if you can write a book that's so much better, why haven't you done it already?”

But I think in general I grow weary of satire, even about things that aren't my favorite books. Sometimes it makes me laugh, but quickly that laughter becomes empty. Satire will pretty much always make at least one person really angry, and to me that just doesn't feel effective. If I'm angry, I'm not going to take to the message of the piece, and even if I'm not angry, I think I'd be far more likely to be swayed by a calm, well-reasoned argument than a sarcastic one.

Again, though, maybe that's just me. I'm not going to ask that all satire be abandoned. But I do ask this: if, in the process of reading or writing satire, you start to think, “I could do so much better,” then please stop for a moment and take a reality check. Being able to point out the flaws in something is not the same as being able to do better. Please don't confuse the two.

What do you all think? Do you like satire? Dislike it? What do you think the value of it is?

Monday, July 18, 2011

I'm Back! (Plus Harry Potter and Other Updates)

I'm finally back from (yet more) traveling, and I'm feeling better, so it's really high time for an update.

First, my thoughts on Harry Potter (warning: unrestrained gushing ahead).

Have you seen it yet!? If not, WHY NOT?!?! Forgive my incoherence, but wowowowoweeeeeeeeek!

I love Harry Potter. I love the brilliantly complex plot. I love the larger-than-life characters. I love the actors who play those characters. I love the magical world with all its quirks and delights.

But I think, most of all, I love the fans. Being part of Harry Potter fandom feels very special. I would love the books and the movies even without the other fans, but the real magic is in the community. Without the community the characters exist only on the page, but because we all know them and add tiny pieces of ourselves to them, they become so full of us that they're almost real.

So when I watched the movie on Friday night, every time I thought “Eeeeeeeeee, Neville, Neville, Neville!!!” or “Sob! Snape, Snape, Snape,” I knew that all over the world other people were thinking the exact same thing.

And then there was this: Yeah, that was so me. Ok, so maybe I wasn't crying, but my hand was over my mouth and all I could think was “No, this can't be the last one.”

Second, everything else.

Family reunion. I had wonderful conversations with all my cousins, who are growing up into such fascinating people. Being the oldest and the only girl until I was... eleven? … meant waiting a very long time for all the others to grow up into people I could really interact with. But the people they are now were worth the wait. Also, I connected with a really cool third cousin once removed, plus I got to hear my second cousin Julia sing. (She's the only person I know who is not only trying out for American Idol but may actually have a chance.)

Google+. I am on it, at least for now. You can find me here if you haven't already. I had some initial frustrations with it, mostly because I have more than one gmail account, and each Google+ account can only connect to one gmail account. Now that I've decided how I want to use it and gotten over that hurdle I'm a little happier, but the verdict is still out... mostly because, like with Wave and Buzz, very few people are doing much of anything so far.

Getting rid of phone and cable. My husband and I are making the switch to internet/Xbox television only. And we really don't need our home phone, so that's out too. Has anyone else done this? What is your experience?

Anyway, I need to take back the cable box today, so I should run off and do that. But it's good to be back!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Extended Delay

Hello everyone!

So last week I was away at a family reunion, collecting all sorts of interesting fodder to write about. I had planned to be home Friday and back with a new post, but plans changed. And now I've come down with a post-reunion cold, meaning I'm not going to have anything substantial to say until I'm feeling better. (Perhaps when I'm back up to speed I should think about writing some rainy-day posts in case this sort of thing happens again.) In the meantime, I hope you're all happy and healthy.

Now I'm off to take a nap before I start drooling on my keyboard.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Just Here to Say...

Family's still in town. Lots happening. No time for posting. I'll be back Friday.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th!

Happy 4th of July, my fellow Americans!

Now what are you still doing online? Go enjoy some watermelon and fireworks!

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Blog Design!

Look, look, look, everybody! My blog has a new design! And isn't it lovely?

I've been thinking of doing a redesign for a while, and I knew what I wanted, but at first I didn't know how to get it. I'm not much of an artist myself.

Then I remembered Sen Holiday. I know Sen through her sister, who is one of my critique partners. A year ago I connected with Sen about the video game design group I'm part of (GeeQ Studios), which she joined soon after. I knew she would be perfect for getting my idea into an image.

And I was right! I love it!

About the quill key:

I consider myself to be very lucky to have married into such a beautiful last name as Lockwood. The name combines two things that I consider to be magical: keys (which always make me think of secrets and hidden doors) and trees (which are not only magical themselves, but are also where books come from).

The magic of my last name was the original inspiration for using “writelock” for my blog address. In my head I had this idea of writing opening the locks on the doors of our minds. And that lead to the idea of the quill key.

So I knew exactly how I wanted the image for my new blog design to look, but without Sen it would never have happened. I'm so grateful to her for her help! I love her work and I know other people will too.

If you want to know more about Sen and her art, you can visit her here. Thank you so much, Sen, for making this happen for me! I'm so pleased with the result.