Monthly Archives: November 2012

Book review: Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan

Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan

This is a review of the book Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan. You may remember Peter from his three part series on my blog a few months back (part 1, part 2 and part 3), where he talked us through the self-publishing process. Well, I’ve agreed to review his debut novel, and let me say it’s a fine read.

The story centres around Jason Saunders, a fourteen year old boy from small-town Australia. Still smarting from losing the school debate on whether global warming is indeed an issue that needs to be dealt with, Jason goes to his local beach for some me-time, sees a man floundering in the water and swims out to rescue him. The man turns out to be the Australian Prime Minister, who in front of a bunch of media tells Jason he can have anything he wants. The answer? Emission control targets, which is topical not only because of the school debate, but also due to an upcoming global meeting on climate change.

It’s a well-written and engaging story, told not just through Jason’s eyes but also through the prism of Cabinet meetings and, well, let’s call it “secret leaders’ business”. The Government – which by the way could be either of Australia’s major political parties, as it’s not specified which one they are – isn’t necessarily sold on the idea of emission control targets, and wonder if it’s possible to make Jason change his request. After all, with the promise of whatever he wanted caught by the television cameras, they’re in a bit of a hard place politically.

The ups and downs of politics, the personal charm of the leader and the stubbornness – or otherwise – of a fourteen year old boy caught in the middle makes for an engrossing story. Engagingly written, I found myself unwilling to put it down, even when I had to.

That said, of course, I’m not saying that the book is without faults. Early in the book a girl in Jason’s class called Emma makes a few appearances, and it’s implied that Jason has a bit of a thing for her. This would generally make one think that she would have a role later in the story, but past the first few chapters she doesn’t show up again. To me that feels like a loose end – why include her if she’s not going to have a role?

The other thing that bothered me was Jason’s desire for a large, petrol-guzzling SUV. Sure, I can see a fourteen year old eyeing off something like that, and encouraging his father to buy one, but for a boy who staunchly claims over and over that “if it’s bad for the environment I don’t want it”, it does seem an odd preference. Maybe if he planned to convert it to run on used vegetable oil from the local fish and chip shop that would make more sense, but if he did it’s not mentioned in the narrative.

Overall, though, it’s an entertaining story for a young adult audience. Those from outside Australia might find some of the politics confusing, but then again it’s explained pretty well in the text (the PM does have to make sure Jason knows how the system works) so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Sure, if you’re one of the climate change skeptics you might take issue with Jason and his convictions, but then again I wouldn’t expect a climate change skeptic to pick up a book called Who Will Save the Planet? anyway. Assuming, though, that you’re not turned off by a few paragraphs of political explanation and a theme around fighting global warming, I would say it’s well worth a read.

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Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan
200 pages (paperback)
Published by Peter McLennan
Available on Amazon.com as e-book and paperback.

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On disappointment – in retrospect

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I’ve been going through old photographs, trying to put together some photo books of the kids over the years. It’s an interesting process (did they ever look that young?) and I’m enjoying it, even if it is taking away from my writing time. Hey, I’ve got a voucher that has to be used by a certain date, so I’ve prioritised. This is fine with me.

Anyway, as I was going through the files, some pictures emerged of a bike race that we attended a few years back, in which Lance Armstrong was competing. At the time we thought it was a vague point of interest but nothing else – we’re not big cycling fans and only went because it was convenient and we thought our then two-year-old would enjoy it. We were joking that every cyclist we saw on the road at that time was Lance, whether they looked anything like him or not, and it was more comical than anything. And if nothing else, we could say that we had seen Lance Armstrong ride. Something to tick off your bucket list, so to speak.

Looking at it now, though, brings completely different thoughts to mind. Was he on drugs at the time? It’s more than likely. How many other riders were using banned substances? How much of that race was actually a race of clean riders? Sure, it’s a question you could ask with every professional cycling event, but the recent revelations about the Armstrong camp and others have cast a new light on it.

Now, we haven’t talked about it much with our eldest. We want him to continue to think of sport as something that you do because you enjoy it, not because winning is the only acceptable result. The very concept of someone cheating like that is still alien to him, and we see no need to introduce him to it just yet. For him, it’s still the innocence of participating. For us, though, those memories have become somewhat tainted. That race, which we had enjoyed, now wears a more sinister air, and I’m not really comfortable with it.

You may say, well you enjoyed it at the time, so why would that change? And to a degree, that’s right. The day itself was great. There is, though, that sense of disappointment that pervades any thought about it now, kind of like thinking about the great dates with a guy (or girl) who you later learned was cheating on you. It soils the good of the memory. Which brings me to this blog.

Have you  ever had an experience which, while good enough at the time, has since become tainted due to something you found out later? How did that affect your thoughts about it at the time? And, to put a writing bent on it, have you ever done that to your characters?

I’d love to hear about it.

 

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The Friday blog-hop!

BLOG IDEAS

BLOG IDEAS (Photo credit: owenwbrown)

Yes, something different today – rather than feature a single author in my Friday post, I’m going to feature a number of them as a way of giving some love back to my favourite bloggers. I may have mentioned some (or indeed most) of these people before, but these are some of the the blogs I just don’t want to miss each time. Now, I’m not going to say this is a conclusive list, because it’s not – first of all, I couldn’t possibly fit all my favourite bloggers in one post and do them all justice. Secondly, I’m bound to forget someone. And thirdly, I want to leave this open so I can do it again! :)

Okay, here goes, in no particular order:

  • Confessions of a Stuffed Olive, by Holly Kench. You may remember Holly as one of my first guest bloggers, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned her on other occasions, but Holly’s blog is one that I read every single time – and I can’t say that about everyone, I’m afraid. (Mostly that’s due to time pressures rather than a lack of interest, but it is still the unfortunate truth.) Maybe it’s her sense of humour, maybe it’s that I like the way she thinks, maybe it’s the incredibly amusing illustrations she does – or maybe it’s a combination of all of those. Regardless, Holly’s blog is one that you really should check out, if you haven’t already.
  • The Monster’s Ink, by Alyson Miers. Often political, Alyson’s blog is one that always makes me think – and one that I usually agree with, despite the fact that we live in different countries and therefore different political climates. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with Alyson’s thoughts. Sure, she can be provocative (and if you’re American and voted Republican in the recent election you would probably not share her views) but if you need something to read that’s going to stay with you for a while, I recommend checking her out.
  • Dy Loveday’s blog. I featured Dy a couple of weeks back to celebrate the release of her first novel, Illusion. Well, now she’s offering to give away a kindle to someone who can answer three questions on  the book. Sound enticing? I thought so. Even if you haven’t read Illusion, it’s worth checking out Dy’s site just to see the progress of someone who has recently joined the ranks of the published novelists. From idea to completion and beyond, it makes fascinating reading. And did I mention the kindle giveaway? :)
  • The Third Sunday Blog Carnival. Not an individual blogger but instead a collection of really interesting posts, which comes out (you guessed it) on the third Sunday of each month. It’s a really good place to find new blogs to read, or if you so choose somewhere to display your own wares. Looking for something to read? Check it out. Want to expand your audience? Submit to them. Every month there is something new to whet your appetite and make you think.
  • Poeta Officium, by Virginia. A blog by a fellow first-time novelist who is trying to make her way in this strange world of writing, I find myself relating to practically everything she writes about. She’s much more ambitious than me in the blogging sphere in that she tries to post almost every day (I have no idea how she finds the time!), but that doesn’t mean she runs out of things to write about. Essentially, hers is an engaging blog that most people who try to find time to write on top of their everyday life would be able to relate to.

So, that’s it for this week. I will try to do some more blog-hops every now and then in the new year (and if I missed you this time, you could well see your own blog listed in the coming months). In the meantime, do yourself a favour and go look at some of these blogs. You might find one that really appeals to you. :)

 

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Looking for guest bloggers!

Blog Machine

Blog Machine (Photo credit: digitalrob70)

I don’t normally do straight-up call outs like this, at least not actually on my blog (Twitter is another thing entirely, haha), but I thought I’d give it a go today. Why? Because my Friday slots between now and the end of the year are looking very sad and empty.

Therefore, I’m now actively looking for guest bloggers – people who want to write guest posts, novel excerpts or author interviews. I post one of these (or a book review – which reminds me, I have spots open for those too if you have a book you’d like me to review) every Friday my time, which is probably Thursday in much of the rest of the world. Full information can be found here, but essentially my rules are, try to keep it family friendly and to 1000 words or less. If you manage to do that, then chances are I’ll be happy to post it.

Therefore, if you have a book coming out or just want to get the word out about one that’s been out for a while, then maybe we can help each other. I’ll post an excerpt or do an interview or something, or you can write your own post about it, which helps you in your publicity campaign, and helps me in filling my Friday spots.

I’ll add here that I’m specifically looking for authors to blog, rather than freelance bloggers, not because I have anything against freelancers but because they often want to link to sites that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with what they were blogging about. If you’re a freelancer and have a writing-related site, then by all means contact me. If you’re wanting to promote something completely unrelated, though, then I’m likely to turn you down. It’s nothing personal, it’s just what I see as being relevant. Besides, from a marketing perspective you’re much more likely to get business from readers of a writing blog if what you’re marketing has something to do with writing. :)

So, are you interested? Can you see yourself on this blog as a guest contributor? If so, please drop me an email at emily[dot]wheeler02[at]yahoo[dot]com and we’ll get something organised. Thanks!

 

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Book review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender

This is a review of the book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. The first thing that strikes you about this novel is, understandably enough, the title. It’s evocative yet teasing – you get an impression from it but you’re not really sure what it’s about. After all, how can lemon cake be sad?

The second thing that strikes you when you start reading is the way Bender treats dialogue, which is without quote marks /inverted commas / whatever you want to call them. Third paragraph in you get the first taste of this, which I admit takes some getting used to, viz:

How about a practice round? she said, leaning past the door frame.

At that point I found myself flicking through the book, wondering if this was how dialogue was done the whole way through. The answer is yes. It’s clearly a stylistic choice, but it does mean that the way some of it is written is stilted, as you have to have a he said/she said type of tag for every item of speech. Otherwise, it would be seen as internal musing from the narrator. Perhaps if it wasn’t written in the first person it might have felt cleaner, I’m not sure, but as I said it did take a little while to get the hang of it.

Once you get past that, it’s quite a haunting book. I was happy to suspend disbelief for the main premise of the plot, which was that a young girl suddenly acquires the ability to absorb people’s emotions from the food they make. It starts on her birthday when her cheerful, loving mother makes her a lemon cake, and at the first bite all she can taste is sadness and desperation. Hence, the title. It’s a difficult ability to live with, as it permeates every part of her life – she can identify which farms grew produce, which factories put things together, what the mood of the person who was stirring it was.

While I was perfectly happy to accept this ability, though, I was less open to the world of her brother. A gifted yet socially isolated boy, he has moments where he just disappears, and no one can find him until he just as suddenly re-appears, seemingly no worse for wear. When the reason for that was revealed late in the book, I found my suspension of disbelief suddenly voided. Rose, the narrator, had a story I could go along with. Joseph, the brother, though – his story I had much more trouble with.

This, of course, is likely to be something that just bothered me, and there are bound to be thousands of other people who have read this book who have no difficulty with it at all. However, for me it meant that my enjoyment of the book diminished towards the end. While I found the writing style and Rose’s story haunting, evocative and invading my dreams at night, I found Joseph’s story vague, bizarre and obtuse. Sure, the fact that it was told from Rose’s point of view meant that of course the narrative would give more information about her own condition, but I still found it unsatisfying, like it was something the author hadn’t planned and needed to find a resolution to. I’m probably wrong, but that was how it felt to me.

Beside that, I did enjoy this book. The writing is excellent and the plot, particularly as it concerns Rose, is original and thought-provoking. The title got my attention and the story drew me in quickly. I’m only sorry that the ending wasn’t more to my tastes.

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender
292 pages (paperback)
Published by Windmill Books (UK)
Available on Amazon.com as ebook, hardcover and paperback

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Working with distractions

distractions and arguments

distractions and arguments (Photo credit: Will Lion)

Who, me? Distracted? Never! Oh, look, a bird ….

We’ve all been there, surrounded by distractions when we’re trying to work. It doesn’t even matter what the work is, it’s just impossible to concentrate on it. Well, that’s me at the moment.

Of course, it’s largely self-inflicted, which I suspect is the same for a lot of people. For me, it’s the start of the international cricket season in the southern hemisphere. I have a real weakness for sport, which I alluded to when the Olympic Games were on, and it’s impossible for me to sit in a room with a television or a radio without keeping an ear on the score. Heck, even if there is no television or radio, that’s what the internet is for, right? I’m far more likely to be distracted by a sporting event than I am by Facebook or Twitter, and while the white noise that is the commentary doesn’t necessarily take too much of my attention, if something happens in the game then I’m going to turn around and watch it. During the winter it’s not such an issue, as a football match is over in a couple of hours, but Test cricket goes for five days. Hence, the distractions.

Of course, that’s not the only thing that’s keeping my mind from my work. The kids are getting excited about Christmas and much of our spare time is taken up making sure that all the shopping has been done. (Thank goodness for internet shopping, let me tell you. I’ve never bought so much at 9 o’clock at night.) Plus of course there are the usual school commitments, weekend sporting commitments and the like, and of course the sanity-saving gatherings with friends. Writing time? What writing time? It’s a good thing I’ve only committed to 500 words a day.

The good news, for me at least, is that I’m keeping to my schedule. 500 words a day hasn’t proven too onerous, even with everything else going on. I may be distracted but I’m managing to stay on target, so with any luck this manuscript will be done before I know it. I started reading it from the start the other day and didn’t want to stop, so I figure that’s a good thing. Now I just need these final bits to be done – fingers crossed by the end of the month – and that all-important first hurdle will have been overcome.

So tell me, is it just me, or is this just a generally distracting time of year? I’m trying to work out how I did the last two NaNos in November and won both, with all that’s going on. Of course, not everyone will have the same distractions as I do, but I’m sure that everyone has something that keeps them from being more productive, no matter what they’re trying to achieve. Sure, it comes down to priorities, but that’s something we all have to juggle all the time. It just seems, to me at least, that at the moment there are more competing priorities than usual.

No? Just me then? Oh well. I shall just keep juggling them like I always do and plod away with my 500 words. And to everyone else out there who is struggling to find time for everything, don’t worry. It’s just that time of year, and you’re not alone. :)

 

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Guest post: On writing Illusion, by Dy Loveday

This blog entry was first posted on Beth Cato’s blog Catch a Star as it Falls. Beth is Dy Loveday‘s critique partner, and she  (and Dy) have very kindly given permission for me to re-blog it. Dy’s first novel, Illusions, was released last week by Liquid Silver Books and is available from there and Amazon as an ebook.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will state here that I work with Dy’s partner, so I’m doing my best to give her and her book as much publicity as possible. I’ve started reading it and it’s incredible so far, so please give it a try.

Anyway, take it away Dy!

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Illusion, by Dy Loveday

I remember sending my first 50 pages of the novel to a crit buddy I’d met on the Online Writers Workshop (OWW-SFF). She gently told me I’d made some of the same mistakes she’d made when first starting out, and proceeded to show me exactly what needed to change to get the manuscript into shape.

Writing Illusion wasn’t easy. It took me around 6 months to get the first draft down and another 18 months of hard slog to revise structural problems. Writers often focus on the line edits or nits, misspelled words or agonize for hours over paragraphs of text. But the real problem usually lies in the harder to fix structural issues: boring main characters, superfluous secondary characters, a clichéd or obvious plot line, and my particular bugbear, the wrong point of view. I recently wrote a short story and it just didn’t work. Until I realized I’d been telling it from the daughter’s point of view when it was really the father’s story. Thankfully, it was only a short story, but still …. *bangs keys extra hard for emphasis*

Major revisions can also be enjoyable. During the revision of Illusion, I found myself fleshing out characters, giving them stronger goals and motivations, cutting entire scenes and adding new ones. Maya became less sarcastic and more vulnerable, more specific in her reactions as events in the scene moved her further away, or closer to her goal. I wanted the climax to be exciting, so I spent extra time foreshadowing events, creating decent causal links and giving Molokh a clear agenda. By the end of the book I hoped that even if the reader didn’t like Maya, they’d understand why she did the things she did, and find her interesting and believable.

Working with my OWW crit partners helped a lot. I think every writer needs to surround themselves with a good writing community, because let’s face it writing is a lonely existence. Writers spend so much time in their head it’s easy to forget there are others out there, trying to do the same thing. The virtual support community was essential for me and helped me to develop the skills of the craft. I say ‘develop’ because despite various workshops and writing degrees, I’m still learning. That’s the great thing about writing. It’s such a complex art, you can only get better.

I revised Illusion with the reader in mind and focused on four questions:

1. What contract with the reader did I establish on the first page?

2. What anticipation is this scene creating?

3. Is this causally related?

4. And most important of all, did I fulfill the contract with the reader? Did I deliver what I promised to deliver?

Thank you Beth for hosting me on your site and for helping me with Illusion. Your unique blend of encouragement, humour, gifted writing and ability to find the answer to plot holes was immeasurably helpful, from those first 50 pages to the final product :-)

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Thanks Dy, and thanks also to Beth for allowing me to re-host this. I hope that you all check out the book, and importantly leave a review! :) As a first time author, Dy needs all the support she can get so please do your best and share the love a little. I promise, I’ll do the same for you.

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Looking for motivation

English: Motivational Saying

English: Motivational Saying (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Okay, first things first. I know I didn’t do a post last Friday, so my deepest apologies. The lack of activity was due to a combination of things – a late cancellation combined with a generally crappy day meant that things just got away from me and I wasn’t able to put something together. Fear not, though, I have things lined up for this Friday so it’s only a minor blip. :)

Aside from my general lack of blogging, though, today I was going to talk about motivation. I’ve been sick lately so finding the motivation to get out there and write has been more difficult than usual. Sure, the ideas are there, but the thought of actually opening that Word document and writing just hasn’t appealed.

My way of getting past this is, oddly enough, NaNo. Yes, I know that last week I said loud and clear that I wasn’t going to do NaNo this year as I wanted to get my WIP out of the way first. However, what I’ve decided to do is my own mini NaNo, in that rather than aiming for 50,000 words during November, I’m heading for 15,000. That’s 500 words a day, and if I get that done then I’ll be, if not finished, then very close to. I’m doing okay, too – today (in my part of the world) is the 5th of November, so that means I need to have 2500 words done by the end of today. Well, I’m not there yet, but it’s not yet midday so I’ve got time, and I’m over 2000 to start with. That means less than 500 words and I’m on track.

I know that personal NaNos don’t work for everyone, though, so I’ve come up with a few other methods that might help with motivation.

1. Carrots, as in carrot-and-stick methods. In this case, reward yourself. I’ve promised that I’ll get myself a manicure when the manuscript is finally done – or, at least, the first draft is. This isn’t necessarily because I’m huge fan of getting my nails done, but it feels like a good reward for my fingers, which are what has been doing the bulk of the work in typing this story out. In other words, set up a reward system for significant milestones, like some personal pampering, or a night out with friends, or a fancy lunch, or whatever. Not a huge reward (I don’t condone celebrating every chapter finish with a weekend away, for example), but something that fits the task at hand.

2. Sticks. This is punishing yourself if you don’t meet certain milestones. This doesn’t work nearly so well as people respond so much better to positive than negative rewards, but sometimes it just works to do it this way. This has worked for me in the past when I denied myself chocolate until I’d written 1000 words in a day. (This was especially effective when I had the chocolate just sitting there, looking at me, and I was forcing myself not to have it.) Stick methods are probably better for short term goals than long term ones, or at least they are for me.

3. Competition/social deadlines. This is where something like NaNo comes in, though it’s not necessary; it could be an agreement with a friend or something at your writers’ group. It’s where you agree to have a chapter finished by X date, or try to write more than someone else in  a given time. The widgets on the NaNo website are great because you can track your progress against that of a friend or even a region (averaged out), but really any sort of arrangement will work. The idea is that you will write, even if it’s rubbish, because someone else is relying on you to do it. There’s nothing like a bit of social guilt to make you get stuck into it.

You will notice that I’m employing a combination of (1) and (3) this month – the promise of a manicure to reward my fingers when the draft is finished, along with the pressure to meet a NaNoWriMo-like deadline. Only time will tell if I’m disciplined enough to do it, but if I don’t try I’ll never know.

So, what works best for you when you’re not feeling motivated? How do you make yourself write? Or do you just take a break and wait for the inspiration to come back again? I’d love to hear about it. :)

 

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