Saturday, November 7, 2009

Funny video of a talking photo booth

Posted by Simcha 6:33 PM, under | No comments

A really funny video of a talking photo booth at Universal Studios.
A talking photo booth can be considered fantasy, right?

Favorite Book Endings at Grasping for The Wind

Posted by Simcha 3:41 PM, under | 2 comments

Grasping for The Wind has an interesting blog post where they asked various scifi and fantasy blogs about their favorite book ending and then posted the answers here.

Many of the books that were referred to were ones I've never read, so I now have a whole bunch of new books added to my To Be Read pile. It's particularly enticing to pick up a book knowing that someone thinks that the ending is really good. Reading all the different answers also made me think about what it is that I like about an ending and which books that I have read lately that I have really loved. And the truth is that I really couldn't come up with anything.

I like endings that provide a resolutions to the story and tie up any mysteries or loose ends and I particularly like when the resolution is a surprising one. Brandon Sanderson is really great at providing these kind of endings with the various mysterious and character revelations being resolved in a surprising way. What I dislike are books that end with a cliffhanger, leaving the rest of the story be told in the sequel, which you usually have to wait at least a year for.

And while there are a number of books that I have read lately and really enjoyed, I wouldn't say that any of them had a particularly remarkable ending. In Grasping for Wind's blog post, a few people mentioned I am Legend, by Richard Matheson, as having a really great ending. I think I'll have to try that book next. It's certainly a different approach for me of choosing a book; to look for a book with a good ending rather then an interesting sounding plot.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Currently Reading: Lord Foul's Bane and Fire

Posted by Simcha 5:54 PM, under | 4 comments

Unfortunately I haven't had time to get much reading, or anything else, done lately since my 1 1/2 year old has progressed into the "Terrible Twos" early (I always did say he was advanced). As soon as my attention is focused elsewhere, the little guy will begin emptying out kitchen drawers, throwing books off the shelves and sweeping everything off the table tops so that he can stamp around on top of them. And if the laptop is not being used, he enjoys trying to pry all the keys off the keyboard. If the laptop is being used, he likes to slam it down on top of my fingers. It's a good thing for all of us that he is so darn cute!

I'm not just writing this to complain (though complaining does feel good) but to explain why my blog posting has slowed down recently. Who can get any reading done with the Tasmanian devil causing mischief and havoc everywhere?

With that being said, I am currently in the middle of a couple of books;
Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson and Fire by Kristin Cashore.

Lord Foul's Bane, the first book of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for years but has remained on the bottom of my book pile under all the newer books with shinier covers. But when I had misplace the book that I had intended to read, this past weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to finally get started on Lord Foul's Bane.

The beginning of the book drew me in immediately with it's introduction to Thomas Covenant, one-time a best-selling author with a loving wife and beautiful baby, but now a leper shunned by all of his neighbors and former friends. After Thomas's leprosy was diagnosed, his wife fled with the baby, leaving him completely alone. For Thomas, every day is a struggle as he attempts to adjust to a nightmarish life with leprosy and when he discovers that someone has begun paying his bills to prevent him from coming to town to pay them himself, Thomas is furious. In an act of defiance, Thomas staggers to town in order to pay his bill himself, but after a strange interaction with a panhandler, Thomas gets hit by a car. When he awakens he finds himself in a strange world where the people believe Thomas to be the reincarnation of a hero from long-ago, sent to fight against the evil that has returned to their world.

As I mentioned, the beginning was interesting and the reading went smoothly, but after Thomas's journey in the new world begins, I had a hard time keeping at it. Thomas Covenant is an early example of an anti hero in modern fantasy, a characterization which made things interesting at first but it quickly becomes hard not to despise him. So far, he has absolutely no redeeming qualities. I have read about a third of the book so far and each time I put the book
down I have to make a concerted effort to pick it up again and continue reading. Not a good sign. I'm hoping things pick up soon otherwise I won't be finishing this book.

On the other hand, Kristin Cashore's Fire is a book I am thoroughly enjoying. All the book blogs are talking about it, and for good reason. My problem is that I only have an ebook copy of it and which I can only read on my laptop; something I can't find the time to do lately. I think I'm going to have to order an actual printed copy of Fire so I can read this book in my preferred method, curled up a comfy chair.

Jasper Fforde NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

Posted by Simcha 5:43 PM, under | 5 comments

Speaking of Jasper Fforde, I just received a Pep Talk email that he sent through the NaNoWriMo mailing list to encouraging fledgling writers. Definitely worth reading for any aspiring author.

Dear Writer,

I once wrote a novel in 22 days. 31 chapters, 62,000 words. I didn’t do much else—bit of sleeping, eating, bath or two—I just had three weeks to myself and a lot of ideas, an urge to write, a 486 DOS laptop and a quiet room. The book was terrible. 62,000 words and only twenty-seven in the right order. It was ultimately junked but here’s the important thing: It was one of the best 22 days I ever spent. A colossal waste of ink it was, a waste of time it was not.

Because here’s the thing: Writing is not something you can do or you can’t. It’s not something that ‘other people do’ or ‘for smart people only’ or even ‘for people who finished school and went to University’. Nonsense. Anyone can do it. But no-one can do it straight off the bat. Like plastering, brain surgery or assembling truck engines, you have to do a bit of training—get your hands dirty—and make some mistakes. Those 22 days of mine were the start, and only the start, of my training. The next four weeks and 50,000 words will be the start of your training, too.

There’s a lot to learn, and you won’t have figured it all in 50,000 words, but it’ll be enough for you to know that you don’t know it all, and that it will come, given time. You’ll have written enough to see an improvement, and to start to have an idea over what works and what doesn’t. Writing is a subtle art that is reached mostly by self-discovery and experimentation. A manual on knitting can tell you what to do, but you won’t be able to make anything until you get your hands on some wool and some needles and put in some finger time. Writing needs to be practiced; there is a limit to how much can be gleaned from a teacher or a manual. The true essence of writing is out there, in the world, and inside, within yourself. To write, you have to give.

What do you give? Everything. Your reader is human, like you, and human experience in all its richness is something that we all share. Readers are interested in the way a writer sees things; the unique world-view that makes you the person you are, and makes your novel interesting. Ever met an odd person? Sure. Ever had a weird job? Of course. Ever been to a strange place? Definitely. Ever been frightened, sad, happy, or frustrated? You betcha. These are your nuts and bolts, the constructor set of your novel. All you need to learn is how to put it all together. How to wield the spanners.

And this is why 30 days and 50,000 words is so important. Don’t look at this early stage for every sentence to be perfect—that will come. Don’t expect every description to be spot-on. That will come too. This is an opportunity to experiment. It’s your giant blotter. An empty slate, ready to be filled. It’s an opportunity to try out dialogue, to create situations, to describe a summer’s evening. You’ll read it back to yourself and you’ll see what works, you’ll see what doesn’t. But this is a building site, and it’s not meant to be pretty, tidy, or even safe. Building sites rarely are. But every great building began as one.

So where do you start? Again, it doesn’t matter. You might like to sketch a few ideas down on the back of an envelope, spend a week organizing a master-plan or even dive in head first and see where it takes you. All can work, and none is better than any other. The trick about writing is that you do it the way that’s best for you. And during the next 50,000 words, you may start to discover that, too.

But the overriding importance is that the 50,000 words don’t have to be good. They don’t even have to be spelled properly, punctuated or even tabulated neatly on the page. It’s not important. Practice is what’s important here, because, like your granny once told you, practice does indeed make perfect. Concert violinists aren’t born that way, and the Beatles didn’t get to be good by a quirk of fate. They all put in their time. And so will you. And a concerted effort to get words on paper is one of the best ways to do it. The lessons learned over the next thirty days will be lessons that you can’t get from a teacher, or a manual, or attending lectures. The only way to write is to write. Writers write. And when they’ve written, they write some more. And the words get better, and sentences form easier, and dialogue starts to snap. It’s a great feeling when it happens. And it will. Go to it.

-Jasper Fforde

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Non-Genre Book Reviews

Posted by Simcha 6:21 PM, under | No comments

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Free Fall by Anna Levine
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson
Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg
Something Missing by Matthew Dicks
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

Help me Interview Jasper Fforde and win a Fforde Book

Posted by Simcha 1:12 PM, under | 15 comments

One of the great things about having a book blog is that it gives me an excuse to get in touch with authors whose books I enjoy. So after recently completing another wonderfully fun and quirky Thursday Next novel, I contacted the author, Jasper Fforde, for an interview.

Mr. Fforde responded (yes, I'm interacting with the man himself!) that he would be happy to answer some questions for me, if they are not ones that he has already answered. The email included a link to a list of 500 + questions and answers, from Jasper Fforde's website.

I visited the link provided and began perusing the questions. Ten minutes later I was feeling rather disheartened. It appears that any question I could think of asking Jasper Fforde, has already been asked. From how he chose the literary characters to include in his books to information about his affinity for Volkswagens (OK, I didn't know about that one).

I was very discouraged at my inability to come up with something new and creative to ask and was tempted to just throw in the gauntlet and give up on this interview. But then I thought that maybe some of you out there could help me out, perhaps some of you can help me save the interview! (cue swelling of music)

So here is what I am going to do. I am going to ask you to come up with some good interview questions that I can ask Fforde and which are not already answered at his web site. I need questions that are unique and intelligent; unmatched in their individuality and ingeniously inventive. Though questions do need to be related to the author or his books (so although he probably has not been asked if he prefers Eric or Bill, I'm not going to ask him that either).

The winner of the contest will receive one Jasper Fforde book of their choice. The contest is open internationally and will run until November 17th.

To enter, you must first be a follower of this blog and then you just send me your question in the comment box below. You will receive one entry for each question, though each question should be sent in a separate comment box. Also make sure to include your email address with at least one of your comments so that I wont' have any trouble contacting the winner.

For more information about Jasper Fforde and his books, visit his website.

You can also read the reviews I wrote about The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book, the first two books in his Thursday Next series.


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