Category Archives: writing

[ Book Review ] Death, with feeling

I tried, Canaries. I really tried.

I pushed my way through so much boring action, so many quaint appearances by Niccolo Machiavelli, and so much freaking talking, but I have reached my wit’s end with Michael Scott’s The Magician.

Going off my experience with the first book, I should have never tried to read the second. But in this case, my literary death came down to one singular moment, one monumental sentence: Continue reading


Pitch Slap: Authors, sometimes, there’s no excuse.

With some of these, there’s almost no faster way of sinking your book’s chances of being read. Don’t be that author.


[Small Chirp] This is why characters should talk less

I’m about 75% of the way through The Magician by Michael Scott. Some of you might remember the review for the first book in this series, The Alchemyst, in which I was so flustered by the content of the book that I broke down into bullet points.  And for reasons that I still don’t completely understand, almost a year later, I find myself reading the sequel to what was arguably the most blah book I have ever read.

While reading last night, I found myself skimming the text. I rarely do that; I’m a slow reader because I take in each and every word. After I made several frustrated attempts to stop myself from skipping whole paragraphs, I realized the book was actually forcing me to be a bad reader.

“Just stop talking and do something already!” I finally yelled at the text.

And that gave me pause. The outburst had finally let me put a finger on what had been driving me crazy about this series from page one: The characters talk way too much. Continue reading


Small Chirp: Dear Paranormal Fiction

Dear Paranormal Fiction (and you too, Urban Fantasy),

There is a place and time for your heroine to volley smart-ass remarks. There is a place and time for your hero to be an insufferable bastard. Everywhere else, please make your characters act like human beings (even if they aren’t).

Gratefully,

Canaries

___

View our other grumbles here.


[ Pitch Slaps ] Weekend Picks

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

Blurbs can make or break the a book’s sales, especially if the reader hasn’t heard about the author before. A strong blurb is a must for query letters and getting the book read.

For this latest installment of Pitch Slaps, we’re going to do something different. We’ve talked about a lot of things that go wrong when an author writes a blurb. So instead, here is the cream of the blurbing crop from indie books recently submitted for review.

SECTOR C by Phoenix Sullivan

“Cloning Ice Age mammoths and saber-tooth cats for canned hunts seems like a good business venture — until it reintroduces the species-jumping pandemic that wiped out the megabeasts 10,000 years ago. Now history is about to repeat itself, with humans the next target for extinction.”

What works: In two sentences, the book blurb sets up the world (ours, futurist), genre (science fiction, speculative, medical thriller) and the conflict (extinction! corporation-style). It’s clear, concise, and clever.

What doesn’t: The truth of it is, I cut the rest of the blurb (not shown here), going from four paragraphs to the one (shown here).


The Phoenix and the Dream King’s Heart by James Monaghan

“The Phoenix is a cursed ship.

Exiled to the Darkland Expanse, on the fringes of the known galaxy, its captain and crew have spent the last decade struggling just to stay alive. In a galaxy full of cruel gods, terrifying monsters and treacherous allies, though, survival is far from an easy task.

When the King of Dreams offers them a bargain – retrieve his stolen heart in return for a key that may just get them home – Captain Asher Lee and his crew agree to launch a desperate mission across dimensions. When faced with an insane goddess and her army of quantum spiders, though, do they really have a chance?”

What works: This is an example of a blurb that does it all–dramatic tension, a hint at the plot, and a glimpse of the world. It adds an extra lure by promising to combine science fiction (space, dimensions…) with fantasy (gods, monsters…). And of course, who doesn’t like a story that has some treacherous frenemies?

Torn by Dean Murray

“Shape shifter Alec Graves has spent nearly a decade trying to keep his family from being drawn into open warfare with a larger pack. The new girl at school shouldn’t matter, but the more he gets to know her, the more mysterious she becomes. Worse, she seems to know things she shouldn’t about his shadowy world.

Is she an unfortunate victim or bait designed to draw him into a fatal misstep? If she’s a victim, then he’s running out of time to save her. If she’s bait, then his attraction to her will pull him into a fight that’ll cost him everything.”

What works: This blurb takes a different approach. It woos the reader with the very fact that it presents the traditional star-cross-lovers plotline with a dash of paranormal intrigue. There will be romance and there may be betrayal, it says, and in the YA PNR genre, what more can you ask for?

What doesn’t: As a reader, I would love to see what sets this book apart. There is safety in being generic in this genre, but give me a hint of something concrete.

___

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar?  Email it our way with the subject “Pitch Article Submission” at canarypost@gmail.com. 

Read more slapped pitches here.

[ Small Chirp ] New York Times Top 100 Books of 2011

The obvious thing to say about the New York Times list of the  100 noteable books of 2011 is that every book appears on the list is superbly crafted. That gets a resounding ‘duh.’ But mixed among this year’s best selling lit fit, poetry and nonfiction, there are some interesting genre titles that The Canary readers may delight in.

THE LAST WEREWOLF by Glen Duncan. Jake Marlowe, a 200-year-old werewolf, is the last of his kind. But while on the run from both a hunting agency and a horde of vampires, he discovers that perhaps he is not as unique as he once believed. What makes this book particularly noteworthy is the eloquence of the prose. Most reviews go so far as to call the narrative downright poetic, even when describing a werewolf transformation and the kills that follow. I find the concept a nice break from so much of the supernatural lit we’ve gotten as late. This time, the story is not told from the mind of the monster hunter, but rather from the monster himself.

THE LEFTOVERS by Tom Perrotta.  This is by far my favorite title of the year. “The Leftovers” focuses on just that: those unlucky souls who missed the Rapture. Specifically, it focuses on Kevin Garvey who, three years after the “Sudden Departure,” finds himself with a wife who has joined a cult, a son following a character known as the Holy Guru, and a daughter who fallen in with stoners.  The ramifications of the event—which was decidedly nonconformist as it took not only Christians but those across all faiths—echo through the story that is chockfull of satire with a heaping plate of strong characters on the side.  The New York Times summed it up the best: “The Leftovers” is, simply put, the best “Twilight Zone” episode you never saw.”

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.  On a recent pop into Barnes and Noble, my mother picked up this dictionary-sized book and said, “That better be an awesome story for that many pages.” And from what I’ve heard, awesome doesn’t begin to cover it. Murakami has always been a master storyteller, but never more so than when tackling dystopian lit. Set in 1984 (of course), the story is a combination love-psychological-political-thriller tale, and, in general, defies condensed description of plot. Suffice it to say, it’s crazy—and crazy good.

You can check out the rest of the list here.

What about you, Canaries? What is your favorite book of 2011?


[ Small Chirps ] Can you publish your NaNoWriMo novel?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo, for short) is in full swing, and hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers worldwide are hitting Week 2 of their attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. This is my third year doing NaNo, and so far it’s going well: I’m over 2,000 words ahead, giving me a nice cushion in case I have an off day later in the month, and I’ve got a list of writing prompts to help ease me through the notorious second-week slump (for those new to NaNoWriMo, the second week is when the novelty of the story wears off, but the end is still nowhere in sight. It’s a dark time).

I do NaNoWriMo because I become a part of a great community, join a solid writing boot camp to kick productivity into high gear, and the pressure often results in my creative energy leaping off into directions far different from where it goes for most of the year. I do NaNo, in fact, primarily for the excitement of doing NaNo, but there’s always that voice that crops up, from a friend or family member, fellow writer or even that nagging voice in the back of my own mind.

What many of us really want to know at the end of the day is: Will this month of frenzied writing leave us with something we can publish?

Yes and no. Continue reading


[ Small Chirp ] The Elements of Horror

Years before I became one of those Neil Gaiman fans, I picked up Coraline at the Vancouver airport to wait out a layover. I read the book in its entirety before the plane even boarded, and handed it off to my travel partner, throughly happy to get the novella out of my hands and out of my mind. It had, more than anything I’d ever read, given me the absolute creeps.

Had I been as well-versed in Gaiman then as I am now, I would have been better prepared for his particular approach horror. He presents everything in a straightforward manner, as though the fantasical is an everyday occurrence. He weaves horror into the normal, letting it creep into the parts of the brain that positively tingle at the sight of something out of place. And then we realize that the eyes have been replaced by shining black buttons as happens in Coraline.

I tend to not read books that are billed as horror. I have a weak constitution for terror. But that has made me remarkably unprepared for it when it sneaks up in books. I don’t see the warning signs; I just suddenly find myself holding my breath and listening to my own rapid pulse in my ears. And what amazes me the most is the many different ways horror can rear its head out of the blue.

These are my favorite elements of horror:

1. The Sideways World. Perhaps my favorite element of horror is the character/situation that is ever-so-slightly off kilter–not enough to send up red flags of doom, but…perhaps enough to set off little internal alarm bells. Gaiman is a master of this, especially in his short stories and YA books. Coraline and the Newberry-award-winning The Graveyard Book both establish worlds that are just slightly offset from our own to such a degree that when the weird things begin to happen, the reader’s so off center that the mind cannot cope.

2. The Tilt from Normal. In the titular novel of Michael Grant’s Gone series, a character is holed up in a run-down shack in the middle of nowhere. And out of the pitch black night, someone is calling for her to leave the safety of shelter. Grant describes the voice in terrifying detail, the gravelly quality, as though the person has not spoken in days. How it almost sounds as though it isn’t a person speaking at all, as though it is something else, something otherworldly. Something…distinctly not human. Grant plays out the moment, so that that mind connects the dots and takes the first step off the cliff into the terrifying unknown.

3. The Relentless Rush.  Unlike my other picks, which are subtle and often slow-paced, sometimes there is nothing better for a scare than the never-ending situation from Hell. I read one most recently in Mira Grant’s Feed. It was a zombie battle that went on for pages before dying down into a lull of safety.

But the safety is a brief interlude before another wave hits. Then another. And every time the characters seem safe, something new is thrown at them until I am on the edge of my seat, gripped with paranoia, just waiting for the next scare to emerge.

How about you Canaries? What is your favorite element of horror?

Tell us about your favorite creepy scene from a book.

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[ Small Chirps ] Books, Internet, and getting out there.

Author of No More Dead Dogs and three 39 Clues books tells aspiring writer: “Post stuff on the internet.”

Just a few years ago, the mantra for anyone planning to go legit with their writing was to say no to the world wide web. Internet meant copyright headaches, dodging book theft, and the terrifying prospect of a publisher having googling skills–they’d track your novel down, and then brush you off as one of those. (Heaven forbid they find your fanfiction.net account.) Continue reading


[ Pitch Slapped ] The Importance of Genre

Long before a potential reader lifts your book to read the blurb, before they even spy your cover, they have to navigate the maze of bookshelves to find where your book is nestled. So before you even start to doodle cover art, you need to answer a fundamental question about your book: What genre is it?

Sometimes you start out writing with a specific genre (“I’m going to write a Victorian era romance”) or trend in mind (“I’m going to write a book like the Hunger Games“).

But other times, you’re crafting your story first, and it just happens to have magic or murder or robots.

Genre-fication:

When Robin Dempsey commissioned us to peck at her blurb, the first thing we zoomed in on wasn’t the story, but her description of it.  Who is the audience? we asked. Continue reading


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