Friday, July 30, 2010

HA! I knew it was just to sell books!

Several years ago, when Anne Rice declared that she'd found God and become a Christian after the death of her husband Stan, I recall crying foul, saying that Rice had made her fortune and her literary mark on the world with books that celebrated every kind of sin and perversion you could think of, from a whole series of S&M books to a lauded series of vampire novels and witch novels that discussed rape and incest as desirable things--there was no vile or disgusting action she wasn't willing to explore for publicity and to sell her books, which were, in later years, often poorly written. This saddened me because Interview With A Vampire was a wonderful gothic novel, full of atmospheric prose and memorable characters. So I knew the woman was capable of great writing, but it became apparent to me that she was running out of ideas and had started to believe a bit too much of her fan mail, and was coasting on her previous reputation.

And I noticed that when she became a Christian, Rice didn't repudiate her former works that celebrated Satan and evil and all that is dark and undead. She still seemed more than willing to cash in on the royalties from her pornographic novels while claiming to be free of evil. This whole conversion smelled of a writer desperate to plumb the Christian right market for her books, since she'd already sucked the left wing new age markets dry. She wrote several books about the life of Christ, and a memoir about her conversion, and, as I suspected, when the market didn't prove to be quite as fertile as the non-believers and new age liberals, she sent out declarations that she is no longer a Christian. How convenient. Here's the scoop from Media Bistro, below.

Anne Rice: 'I Quit Christianity'
By Jason Boog on Jul 29, 2010 04:03 PM

In a dramatic series of Facebook posts, novelist Anne Rice declared that she is no longer a Christian.

Check it out: "I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of ... Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."

Rice wrote Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, a memoir about her own conversion to Christianity--making the post a bit more surprising. UPDATE: Our readers respond to Rice's post.

In another post, Rice also admitted, "I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity." So far, her posts have drawn nearly 2,000 comments and well over 3,000 "likes." (Via Gawker)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bookworm Baby and Most Literate Cities

Here's a link to an adorable photo of a baby dressed up as a bookworm--I wish I had thought of this when Nick was a baby!

Also notice that Iowa City is mentioned in the UN's picks of Cities of Literature...GO IOWA!

Dublin, Ireland, has become the fourth city to be designated "a city of
literature" by the cultural arm of the United Nations, UNESCO. The Irish

reported that Mary Hanafin, Minister for Culture and Tourism, said
Dublin was chosen "because of the rich historical literary past of the
city, the vibrant contemporary literature, the variety of festivals and
attractions available and because it is the birthplace and home of
literary greats." The other three cities of literature are Edinburgh,
Melbourne and Iowa City.

"Literature has the unique power to distinguish us as a culture and as a
people. It helps us understand what it means to be human. In Dublin, the
city has been defined by its writers, and continues to be remade and
discovered through their words," said Arts Council director Mary Cloake.

I maintain that e books and regular books can coexist peacefully, so I am posting the information below, also from Shelf Awareness...and I had the joy of doing what Walter did in her anecdote, of having my son, 10 years ago, fall asleep on my chest while I read...of course, then I would eventually fall asleep, too.

It is the question of our times (or at least our industry): "Are e-books
killing 'real' books?" KXLY-4 asked a writer and a
bookseller in Spokane, Wash.

"You've known it was coming and the technology is catching up with that
pretty quickly," observed author Jess Walter. "The delivery system is
less important than the ideas themselves. I know people who bought
e-readers and read twice as much as they used to, so I don't necessarily
think its an awful thing."

Mary Jo King, general manager at Auntie's Bookstore, which is selling e-books on the shop's
website, said, "It's probably going to pan out to, wisdom is, 10% to 15%
of market penetration for e-books. We couldn't afford to give up another
10% or 15% of our business, so we joined." King added, however, that "we
think it's a certain majority of book readers that will always want to
hold a book in their hand. Try cuddling up with an iPad at night in bed,
you know, it's just not the same effect."

And Walter offered a confirming anecdote: "I remember when my daughter
was a newborn when I was very young and I was reading 100 Years of
Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And, I had just a small break in my
college classes and I would go home and be with my daughter and she
would stretch out on my chest. She was a baby and her arms would only go
to there. I would lie down and read and she would nap on my chest and
that book is as connected to that moment and the feel of the pages and
the look of the cover."


In a recent Web Faceoff poll, Mashable
readers cast a decisive vote in favor of traditional books, with 41.9%
(898 votes) for the printed book and 23.24% (498 votes) for e-books.
"Interesting enough, a lot of you voted that you like both formats for
reading your favorite novel; 34.86% of you (747 votes) said that it was
a tie between the e-book and the print book," Mashable wrote.

I would LOVE to go to this workshop on opening a bookstore...unfortunately, I haven't won the lottery yet so I can start my own business...but a girl can dream, right?
"Opening a Bookstore: The Business Essentials," an intensive workshop
retreat for prospective booksellers conducted by the Bookstore Training
Group of Paz & Associates, is scheduled for September 13-17 on Amelia
Island (near Jacksonville, Fla.). The workshop, which is co-sponsored by
the American Booksellers Association, is facilitated by Mark and Donna
Paz Kaufman and held every spring and fall. For more information, go to or call 800-260-8605.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

I really wanted to like this book. I read several reviews, lengthy interviews with the author in Book Pages, and heard other writers exclaiming over the quality of this hefty tome of post-apocalyptic science fiction. Everyone, it seems, was determined to add to the 'good buzz' of this novel. I ended up thinking it was the worst thing I've read this year, and a complete waste of time.
The author was quoted as saying he wrote it for and with his daughter, because she wanted a book with a young female heroine who would save the world.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but his daughter must have been disappointed, at the very least, because the girl from nowhere doesn't save the world, all she does is whine and cower for most of the book, and then she murmurs about how sad things are for the evil vampires, and oh, gee, she manages to push them back a couple of times, but does she eradicate them and save the world? No, she does not.
And herein lies my first disgruntlement with this book: the ending SUCKS, and not in a good way. There really isn't an ending to speak of, just a page from some report that says there was a massacre at Roswell, not mentioning WHO was massacred, the vampires or the walkers/uninfected people.
Then there's the writing, which I was told, by the enthusiastic blurbers and reviewers, was stellar and not to be missed! Honestly, the prose wasn't at all stellar, it was pedestrian and dull, for the most part, and at times it veered into the dead zone of BORING, slowing the plot to a crawl. The plot had major holes, and crept along in no discernible pattern, leaving the reader confused when he or she wasn't being bored to immobility.
Oh, and then there were the cliches and tropes that are the hallmark of lazy writers everywhere, the "military is evil, military scientists are the apex of evil, and anyone with money is automatically so evil they're bound to die in some horrible fashion that will be described in detail." Inevitably, the government is fully to blame, along with the military, of course, for the downfall of humanity, and religion is only for brain-dead schmucks who can't think for themselves any more than a cow can understand that they're destined to be dinner. Ugh. How ridiculous and stupid to go over these same cliches and not even attempt to break new ground--where is Mr Cronin's imagination, or originality? I can't imagine him telling his students at Rice University that they should always stick to the stereotype of the evil government military industrial complex! And those evil rich people! They're all doomed! Then there is the shine that the author adds to the 'simple' way of life of the folks who haven't been killed by the viral vampires let loose on America by the evil military scientists and the stupid prisoners who were brainwashed by the vamps.
That they have to scrounge for food and shoot their friends and relatives if they get bitten, or that they can barely keep the lights going because they are running out of batteries and energy to keep them on, that is only a small matter compared to the joy of farming and making babies at the earliest opportunity, so that they, too, can 'stand watch' and learn to kill vampires and their closest friends and relatives. But again, that is what most of the women are only good for--making babies and caring for the men in traditional roles, like nursing. The one woman who breaks out of that role only does so when she is given a mutated form of the virus so she can become a super soldier, and then it is made clear that one of the male protagonists thinks this is a horrible waste of a womb that he had designs on. Yes sexism and misogyny live in this book that was supposedly written for a young girl. I feel so sorry for this girl, if her father thinks portraying women in this light is a healthy thing for his daughter to read.
Amy, the immortal psychic girl who is given the virus when she's only 6 years old, seems fairly pathetic most of the time, and when she does do something, it is unclear whether she really gives a rats rump about her human companions at all...she seems too busy destroying the mutated virus (so none of the other humans can become super soldiers, so they don't stand a chance against the viral vampires) and whining about how sad the hideous, destructive vampires are because they can't remember who they were before they were infected. Boo hoo. I am supposed to have sympathy for rapists and murderers who are now killing all of humanity in a gruesome fashion?
Even when Amy actually tells them that they were death row inmates previously, that hardly slows them down, though they eventually destroy one group of vamps lead by a particularly noxious prisoner named Babcock who was sending everyone his 'dream' memory of murdering his abusive mother who is, of course, fat....because we couldn't have a novel without the stereotype of the evil fat woman, now could we? Because we all know that there are no evil thin people, right? Ugh. Again, sloppy, lazy writing, using a stereotype because you don't have the talent to do any better.
I kept waiting for Amy, or even the nun who saved her, (who is also immortal, because the evil scientist married her, turning her into a proper woman and slave so she could, eventually, 'help' Amy deal with those noxious vampires by blowing herself up)to come up with a plan to rid the world of these viral vampires that had killed off 90 percent of humanity and were no longer going to have anyone or anything to feed on because, apparently, their brains become dead when they become undead. But no, the author doesn't seem to think we need to know what happened, or whether humanity has survived, he just lets us down with a thunk at the end of the book. This novel was something like 800 pages long, and at least 300 of those pages could have easily been edited out without hurting the ridiculous story one iota.
As it was, there was a great deal of time wasted on nothing, on characters who didn't go anywhere or blathering on about the tensions of societies that are surrounded by the fear of death everyday. The thing is, Lord of the Flies covered that ground sufficiently a long time ago, and Cronin brings nothing new to the 'social experiment' theme at all, allowing for all the lynch mobs, the freaked out people who hang themselves and the children who lose their parents to cancer or viral vampires, but not really telling us anything new about the people left behind to deal with the aftermath of those horrors.
And speaking of horror, I was lead to believe that this was a science fiction thriller, when in reality, it is a poorly written horror novel. It reeks of doom, despair and depression. There isn't more than one or two bright spots to be had in the entire novel, and those are fleeting. If you aren't depressed by the end of The Passage, you must be on some very strong Prozac.
I can't recommend this novel to anyone, so I will just end by saying that unless you find horror, death, mayhem and bloodbaths fun, don't bother to pick up this overly large book. I just wish I were immortal enough to be able to get the hours I wasted reading it back.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Riling Readers

As a bibliophile of 45 years, I've read a lot of books, both good/great and awful.
I've also developed a list of pet peeves that make my blood pressure go up and rouse my ire, as I am certain they do other readers and bibliophiles.
These are in no particular order of irritation, they just all annoy me.

1) Cliches and stereotypes: DO NOT USE THEM--EVER. Yes, I know there is a reason they exist, and that there are often kernels of truth buried within them, but I still think you don't need them if you've got any kind of imagination or talent as a writer. Really, folks, bosoms do not heave, "manliness" doesn't throb, and all fat people don't eat junk food all day and never exercise because they had bad parents or a traumatic incident with a relative. There is no reason why paranormal romance authors, or urban fantasy authors or science fiction/romance hybrid authors can't use the word "penis" or the word "vagina" for that matter. Also, if you're not going to write horrible racist stereotypes, such as all African Americans liking to eat fried chicken, collard greens and watermelon, then why would you need to stereotype the 62 percent of the population that is overweight, particularly the women? There are as many reasons why people are overweight and/or obese as there are people. My situation is different than my friends who are obese, because we have lead different lives, have different diseases and are working on our health in different ways. I exercise 6 days a week, for 7-8 hours a week, and I am still obese, yet I can't really eat junk food, because it usually makes me ill (I have Crohn's Disease). I have friends who are obese who eat fruits and vegetables and whole grains and wouldn't touch sugar or processed foods. And I know a number of women who are overweight who had wonderful childhoods, great parents and are mentally healthy. Authors, don't take the easy route with cliches and stereotypes--be original and realistic in creating your characters.

2) Plagiarizing other authors/"updating" classic works or themes in literature.
Ray Bradbury wrote a wonderful short story about a group of vampires who had banded together as a family and who lived out in the wilderness of a part of the US that didn't get much sun. A "teenage" vampire in this family falls for a mortal girl, and problems ensue. Sound familiar, Twilight fans? It should, as I believe Stephanie Meyer took Bradbury's short fiction and added her own horrible prose and vile protagonist (the whining, idiotic and personality-free Bella) and created a syrupy romance phenomenon. Now there are a whole slew of Young Adult fiction authors who are writing vampire romance novels because they want to hop on the Twilight bandwagon and make money, shudder. How terribly trite and boring and what a waste of ink and paper! Unless you have some extremely unique and imaginative take on Bram Stoker's Vlad Tepes/Dracula story, don't bother. Granted, there are some authors who, previous to Meyer's drivel, actually did just that, and created vampire characters that we can read with fascination. Robin McKinley springs to mind, or Jim Butchers vampires in the Dresden File books. Ann Rice brought back Gothic fiction from the grave with her "Interview with a Vampire" series. Even Chelsea Quinn Yarboro's St Germain series has a unique take on the vampire legend.
But did we really need vampires that are "pretty" and don't go out in the sun because they "sparkle"? The short answer is HELL NO.
Hollywood has been especially pathetic in 'updating' classic novels and films lately, as if the dearth of creativity and original ideas has become a void. Sadly, most of the "updates" stink, and there are young people watching them who probably haven't seen the originals, and don't realize that this was once a great tale well told.

3)Complex technical jargon/languages other than English that remain untranslated. Seriously, if it doesn't move the plot along or illuminate something important about our hero or heroine, leave it out, please. I don't care about the fictional math equation needed to get the hovercraft or alien airplane off the ground, or make if maneuver around the planets, or fold space, or whatever other gee-whiz things it can do. All that tech stuff is BORING to regular readers, who make up the bulk of people purchasing/reading your novels. It doesn't make you appear smarter as an author, it just makes you seem like more of a snobbish geek who is unwilling to allow the rest of us to read and enjoy your work of fiction, which is supposed to be entertaining. If I wanted to learn quantum physics, I'd go back to college. Don't torture your readers.
I don't think I will ever forgive Umberto Eco for putting an entire page of Latin in "The Name of The Rose" that remained untranslated. How rude at best, and cruel at worst. There just are not that many people who had Latin classes in high school or college anymore, and a majority of readers had no way to translate that page. Don't make me want to smack you when I meet you at a book signing. Leave off the technical stuff and translate any language but English, please.

4)Introducing characters that disappear without a trace
I just finished another Richard Russo novel (for my library book group) and once again, I was astonished that the man continues to be published and lionized as a man who creates great 'literature.' His 'comedy' novel "Straight Man" wasn't even slightly amusing, his novel "Empire Falls" needed a good editor, and "Bridge of Sighs" was full of characters I despised, including one gal, Nan Beverly, who is given short shrift in the book as the 'prettiest girl' in the local high school who gets busy with the local Lothario and then we never hear what happened to her. She just disappears amidst a cloud of speculation on whether or not she was pregnant and shipped off to Europe. There have been numerous novels coming out in the past 10 years, written by authors who seem to think that it's just fine to do this, create a character and then make them disappear when they're no longer needed. This will only hack off your readers, trust me.

5) Long narrations that do nothing but stall the plot/details that don't enlighten or inform
I reviewed a paranormal romance awhile back that had a whole page devoted to a scene in which the male protagonist drank a soda and then meticulously searched for a place to throw the can or bottle away, because he didn't want to litter, he likes to recycle his soda cans/bottles. Whoo-hoo...wake me when it's over, will you? Why the author chose to bore the reader with these details that have no reason for existing, I don't know. There was no reference to this character recycling, or his love of soda, or anything else later in the novel. It was just 'padding,' I suspect, to make sure the novel was the appropriate length for publication, and the author didn't have the creative mojo to do any better. I've also read an SF novel recently that had long-winded narrations about political situations and academics that were so boring, they were great antidotes to insomnia. I think authors forget that "show, don't tell" admonition, and they also forget that action is preferable to narration. Keep that plot moving and those characters flowing along, please, lest your readers give up on your novel and use it as a doorstop.

6) Bad endings or none at all
Modern fiction, I've discovered, is rife with authors who haven't a clue how to end a novel. So they don't, they just leave the reader hanging, filled with that unsatisfied feeling of having had your plate removed from the table before you were finished with your dinner. Though I am a fan of HEA, or Happily Ever After endings, I don't insist on them because I know that genre writers who create long series of novels often don't have the luxury of having a complete HEA, unless they've decided to kill off their main character and move on to another series. But if you are not writing a series, please, I beg you, tie up the loose ends, tell you readers what happened to old Aunt Maude, or at least kill her off so we have some closure. I'm still a tad miffed that I have to wait a year to find out if Harry Dresden, Chicago's finest wizard, is dead, because Jim Butcher chose to have Harry get shot at the end of the last novel and fall into the water. Nice cliffhanger, Jim...not.

7) Mistaken genres
I read a lot of authors who are crossing genres, and while that's fine, it's annoying that publishing companies don't have more of a handle on the main genre or category to place them in so the readers can find their works. Linnea Sinclair's novels, for example, are SF/Romance hybrids, but are not always shelved in the Science Fiction section of the bookstore or library. Often, she's relegated to the 'pink ghetto' of Romance fiction or even 'chick lit,' which is certainly far afield from what she's writing about.

8) Novels without humor/wit
There are way too many authors who assume that funny equates with making fun of people in a cruel way, or using stereotypes in an ugly fashion. That's not funny, and having witty dialog between characters seems a thing of the past. A novel without humor, or at least an amusing insight or two, is like a fish left too long in the sun, it stinks.
Master of Comedy Stephen Fry could remedy this situation by creating classes on wit and how to use it. He could literally save the publishing industry single-handed.

9) Vile, evil and stupid characters
I realize every novel needs a black hat to compete with the white hat of the hero, and I'm fine with that. But why oh why so many authors feel the need to fill their novels with stupid, evil, vile characters with no redeemable qualities, I do not know. I think I speak for the vast majority of readers when I say that we need someone to root for, someone we can identify with and understand enough to want to take the journey through the novel with them. Most readers don't see themselves as vile and evil people, and want to see themselves, or parts of themselves, reflected in the characters of the novel. If all you have are people not worth writing about, doing awful things and not paying the price for those transgressions, why bother writing a novel at all? You will only bore and disgust your readers. I don't care about people who are a waste of oxygen, I care about characters who learn, grow, do great things or try to do great things and who care about morals, values, character. I read to be enlightened, entertained, informed, uplifted by good storytelling, not depressed by sordid characters doing unspeakable things to each other.

10) Novels that are in dire need of an editor and a proofreader.
This would include at least half of the novels I've read in the past 10 years. Even the wonderful JK Rowling and her delightful Harry Potter series got seriously bogged down in the last book, so much so that I was with a group of bibliovores one day and every one of us complained about the same part of book 7, "The Deathly Hallows" because we all felt like the scenes with Harry hiding in the woods were too long and could have been cut without harming the book at all--in fact, taking 200 pages out of the book would have made it a better work of fiction.
I know that I'm not the only person to notice that in the last 25 years, as publishers go out of business, newspapers and magazines fail, that the quality of prose being produced has taken a significant nose dive. There are now typos and grammatical errors in almost every book you read. Some of these errors are so blatant, I find it hard to believe that the author didn't catch them. Still, it is the publisher who needs to hire more proofreaders/copy editors and set them to the task of cleaning up manuscripts that are riddled with errors. Don't make your more literate readers want to gouge their eyes out by the end of the novel, please.
One last thing, there is no real need to use curse words or filthy language in every paragraph of a novel. My late friend Rosemarie Larson used to say that only ignorant people with no imagination swore and cursed, because they couldn't think of better words to use. Will Smith said his grandmother raised him to believe that as well. Be clean, be creative in your use of the English language.