YA Book Review: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Okay.

I’m writing another YA book review. I don’t know why I read this one, except that another reviewer that I really respect gave it 4/5 stars. But it’s still YA, so I still expect it to suck. So sue me.

Worse, it’s YA Paranormal Romance. Ugh.

But I read it. And I finished it. Which means it didn’t suck as badly as I thought it would.

Actually Shiver didn’t suck at all. It was a decent, if simple, book. The plot wasn’t so derivative that I knew what Stiefvater was after from page one. Actually, the ending was a bit of a surprise. Pleasant, even. Weird, right?

For the most part, Stiefvater’s language was complicated enough to be interesting without being so purple that I couldn’t get through it. I know there are some reviews that focus on particularly bad lines. But I’m willing to overlook these in the greater scheme of things. “I am a leaking womb” is not the greatest imagery to pass through my ocular filter and make it into my brain. However, surprisingly, it is not the worst either. And that shit doesn’t happen often enough for me to write off the whole novel for the sake of it.

I’m a forgiving person.

Can I just say, now, that I’m not into werewolves. Or vampires, or any other kind of monster you can think of that might make a good love interest for a female teenage protagonist. But Shiver, although it does follow the paranormal romance formula, did not strike me as “just-another-teeneage-werewolf-romance” kind of book. Granted, I haven’t read enough of them to know the difference.

What I do know is that I didn’t hate Grace, the protagonist. And although he was a bit of an emo wimp, I didn’t hate Sam either. In fact, I felt that both of these characters transcended their stereoptypes and became “real.” That’s a big statement coming from a YA hater, such as myself. Both characters grow more than thier Hunger Games contemproraries, and although this world is more similar to ours, I felt like Shiver was saying more that HG was in the first novel of the trilogy.

To be fair, I am partly in love with the fact that the text is colour coordinated with the cover. I.e. it’s blue for Shiver. Green for Linger. Etc.

But I swear, the story was decent too…

…If you can get past the awkward teeneage romance aspect, that is.

Was it really this painful when we were going through it? I don’t remember teenage love being like this at all. Maybe I’m a freak. I’m willing to accept that. But seriously. Who is considering marriage at 17 years old?

These gripes aside, Shiver is actually an interesting novel about two young people attempt to find a place in the world. Stiefvater’s take on family and society is interesting and unforgiving, which I like. I like that she doesn’t pretent the world is a wonderful place and she makes room for weirdness even in the most “normal” of relationships. Grace is a likeable character, even if she’s a little emotionally removed. Stiefvater gives us enough background to explain why this is. Conversely, Sam is an interesting counter-type to Grace and his own backgrouned adds to this rather than complicating things unnecessarily. I liked them both.

I actually liked all fo the characters, and felt that they remained true to their types throughout the novel.

Okay, Sam’s lyrics kind of suck. But he’s an 18 year old guy. I’d be a little suspicious if they didn’t suck, really. And they do get better as the novel progresses. And you’ll like Sam. So you’ll be able to forgive him for being that shaggy haired douche in your English Lit class, I swear.

Just read it, okay?

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Collaborative Writing Opportunity for SF Lovers

Hi, all!

I just discovered a wonderful blog, and I wanted to share. If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, but don’t have the time, or have a ton of great ideas and can’t find a way to bring them all together, you might want to check out The Stone Soup Novelist.

This blog is dedicated to writing a science fiction novel with the collaboration of as many SF readers and writers who are willing to share their ideas. Check out “The Story” page for some background on the backbone idea, and then start brainstorming!

Of course, there is no guarantee that your ideas will be used in the final product. The author is using a voting system to decide which ideas are best. Even if you don’t have an idea to share, you can still vote for your favourites. But don’t be shy! The more ideas are posted, the more conversation will be generated, and the more interesting the end work will be. I think this is a great idea, and I will be contributing. I think the more people who get involved, the better the novel will be (and I’m sure the Stone Soup Novelist would agree).

So if you have a few minutes to spare, jump in and start tossing some ideas around. This is a great opportunity for all of you creative people who are looking for an outlet. Focus that energy!

Resource for SF Writers: Small Press Publishers

Greetings from the cold, wet prairies. No, I’m not happy about it either. It’s almost June, people, make with the sunshine already.

Now.

Today’s post is something that will hopefully be useful to my fellow first-time SF and Fantasy writers. To the unwashed (or is that just me?) and unpublished (perhaps the two are connected) masses of hopeful future novelists, I dedicate the following list. But first, a word from your fearless leader:

I’ve recently been looking into smaller publishers, and submitting my science fiction manuscript The Timekeepers’ War to them as well as to literary agencies. If I’m honest with myself, I really don’t want to publish with a small press. I, like all (commercial) writers, have big dreams of seeing my novel in grocery store checkout lanes, in airports, and every other random outlet for those trashy NYT Bestseller racks. I want to be able to make a living at this writing shtick. I’m not interested in winning some hoity-toity literary awards and only being read by intellectual assholes. I’m in it for the money.

Which makes me an idiot.

Because making decent money at writing is kind of the literary equivalent of winning the lottery. It’s a matter of luck, skill, talent, luck, and more luck. Just ask anyone who’s made it. It really kind of just happens. So I have my fingers crossed. And the “big dream” is one of the reasons I’m choosing to seek agent representation in the first place. I realize that a lot of writers do not go this route. They take on the massive burden of pimping themselves to the little guys, and do really well with it. Someday, that might be me. But hopefully, I can have someone do the dirty work for me, and I can just write. That’s what I want.

But, and there is always a “but”, even an agent can be hard to find. So I decided to start looking into the little guys just in case I don’t have the kind of luck required to land a massive multi-novel book deal. You know, just in case reality catches up with me and I find myself sobbing into my latte while I place my first order on Lulu.

And when I decided to look into small press publishers, I realized something. They’re frackin’ hard to find. There’s a bazillion of them out there, but just try to google that shit. Especially as a writer of genre fiction, it can be hard hours of slogging through website after website to find A) Publishers that accept Sci-Fi and B) Publshiers (even small ones) that are open to unsolicited submissions. Plus, most small presses have the life-expectancy of a fruit fly. So just when you thin you’ve hit the jackpot, and you find a list of small press publishers of science fiction—think again. At least half of those links will be rerouted to “buy this domain” websites, and also, strangely, mattress warehouses.

So, I’m going to give you a list of links I found that are still what they are supposed to be: someone to publish your awesome book. I can’t claim that this list will remain current for any specific period of time, but for those of you suffering through the process with me, it will work. Keep in mind that some submissions may be closed at the moment, but will be open later this year. So get your bookmarking fingers ready. Here it is:

Anarchy Books
Fairwood Press
Changeling Press for erotic fiction with sci-fi or fantasy themes
Mundania Press LLC
Old Earth Books
Arkham House Publishing
Necro Publications
for their SF, see Bedlam Press imprint
ChiZine Publications
Elder Signs Press
Sofawolf Press
accepts anthropomorphic fiction only
Tyrannosaurus Press
Edge/Tesseract Books

This list is by no means complete, but I have narrowed these 12 sites down from a list five times its length on The SF Site. I did the work so you don’t have to! I will like likely continue adding to it as I find more. In the meantime, if you want to continue your search, check out this site. I haven’t gone through all the links yet, but once I do I’ll post the good ones here. If you find, or if you are, a small press publisher that you would like to see on the list please let me know. I have purposely discluded those publishers whose websites state that they will be closed to submissions for longer than one year, as well as those who do not accept unsolicited or unagented manuscripts.

Just a quick note about small press publishing. Most small presses offer a higher percentage of net book sales to their authors, which is great! They also tend to have a higher staff:author ratio, so it can be easier to get more personalized service from them. Another great thing about small presses is that they can afford to take risks that larger publishers can’t, so if your work is new and different, a small press might be the best way to go at first. Larger publishers have a lot more pressure to go with the “tired and true” novel formulas, so keep that in mind. The downsides (potentially) to small presses are that they print in smaller runs, and their exposure may be limited. Also, they have a tendency to start up and disappear due to financial difficulty. But there are lots of resources for writers out there if you want to check out a particular agent or publisher’s track record.

If you have a small press publisher that has offered you a book deal, that’s great! But be sure to check them out on Writer Beware before you sign anything. This is a great resource for new writers who want to avoid being scammed by people trying to take advantage of how awesome you know your book is. And it’s a good place to check if an agent or publisher has a good or bad history with their previous clients.

I hope this was useful. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll keep you posted when I find more publishers to add to this list.

 


The Adventures of Querying Continue

Hello, all.

Thank you for sticking with me these days. I hope you’re enjoying some of my other material while we anxiously await news of my query letters. I’ve got book reviews, short fiction, and haiku to distract me (and you) from the elephant in the room. Is that the right use of that expression?

It doesn’t matter.

Some exciting news this week! I’ve had one other agent request a partial of my manuscript. I had to snail mail it to him, which was expensive, so I hope I don’t have to do that too often. But there was something much more real about stuffing my manuscript into an envelope than there is in emailing them, and I think that was the first moment I really felt like “I’m doing this!”. It was kind of cool.

I’ve also had a request for a full manuscript from a small publishing press! That’s my first request for a full, which I’m totally stoked about. It’s kind of backwards, as I had wanted to score an agent before submitting to publishers. But I have found a few publishers who accept unsolicited and un-agented works from new writers, so I’m going to try my luck with them too.

My hope is that, if a small press offers me a deal, I can use that deal to land an agent. Apparently agents are a little more eager to represent clients who already have an interested party. And why not? At that point it’s essentially free money for them, right? Well, not exactly, I guess. But sometimes finding a publisher is the hardest part of the job for an agent. I’ve heard tales of writers who finally found an agent, only to discover that it sometimes takes years for an agent to land you a book deal.

Zoiks!

I can only hope that won’t be me. Anyways, I’ve also sent off a full to another small press: one that doesn’t take queries, it just takes the MS right off the bat. That’s exciting, but it’s not as cool as having someone read your query and then actually ask to see more. I’m also printing off another hard copy to send to an imprint of Penguin books that—miraculously—accepts unsolicited complete manuscripts. It’s a long shot, but DAW would be a pretty major publisher to land without an agent, so I’m going to bite the bullet and ship my MS to them (another $25 “invested,” at least!).

I feel like I have a better chance with agents and publishers who take full manuscripts instead of partials. When an agent requests a partial, it’s usually only 20-50 pages of your work. I guess I’m a little insecure about the beginning of my novel, but the narrative style is a little unusual and I’m not sure that 50 pages is enough to “get it”.

Those of you who’ve been beta readers for me can feel free to jump in and assuage my fears anytime, now.

But anyways, I’ll keep you posted. If anyone knows of any super-awesome SF small presses, let me know in the comments.

YA Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

   Okay. So I’m probably the last person on the face of the planet to read The Hunger Games. And I’ve only read the first book, so keep that in mind for this review. I don’t really know why I put it off for so long. I did the same thing with Harry Potter, years ago. And I’ve still never read Twilight (and I won’t, so don’t even try). I guess a part of me kind of resents having to read YA Fantasy and SF when there are so many “real” books awaiting my ever-rapacious bookwormy appetites. Or maybe that’s my problem; I have trouble seeing YA as real books. I loved them when I was a kid, of course (though, usually a much younger kid than they were intended for). But I grew out of YA fiction well before I was out of my young adult years. And coming back to them as an adult always leaves me feeling a little cheated.

Which is why I am consistently baffled by book review sites and blogs that are dedicated almost entirely to the YA Fantasy genre. For some reason, there seems to be a kind of cult status around reading YA books amongst  20-35 year old adults (mostly women, apparently). And I have never been able to share in their enthusiasm. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by the first three Harry Potter books. I was intrigued by Brom’s The Child Thief (a modern retelling of Peter Pan with some seriously disturbing imagery). And The Chronicles of Narnia are books one can come back to as an adult and truly appreciate on a new level. So it’s not as if I’ve written the genre off entirely. But for the most part, there seems to be something lacking in many of the most popular YA books out there. I’m torn between a genuine respect for anything that gets young people reading and the sad and disturbing question, “Why aren’t our kids reading smarter books?”

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’m sure you’re all prepped for a scathing review of Collins’ blockbuster The Hunger Games. But I must say, I didn’t hate it. I just read it yesterday, start to finish. (I devour books on a regular basis so don’t get too excited) If I can finish a book in a single sitting, it probably means is was short and/or simple. Maybe too short and simple. And as for The Hunger Games, I think this was a borderline issue for me. It’s definitely and easy read. And by easy, I don’t just mean simple language. I mean there wasn’t much to think about as I read.

The Hunger Games is actually very entertaining, in its own way. The plot is pretty  much non-stop action, which is fun. And Collins’ writes action scenes brilliantly. She really does. There isn’t a moment in the entire book where you feel like the plot is stagnating, and she moves us from crisis to crisis quite seamlessly with just the right amount of recovery time in between. But it’s more like watching a movie than reading a book (and I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I can see how it could be a great screenplay).

One would assume, or at least I did, that for a post-apocalyptic novel set in North America–particularly for one with a dystopic political landscape–that Collins’ would give her readers something to think about. But it seemed to me that the setting is a little bit too spoon-fed to generate real questions. Panem is just the backdrop for Collins’ to revel in the Games themselves, with all characters who question the world they are living in (mainly Gale and Peeta) remaining very much in the peripheral of the story. Katniss plods along a little too willingly to make a very interesting character on a personal level, and it is only in the very end of the novel that we start to see some growth and development in her. And even this is cut short by the ending of the first book.

I understand that this is a part of a trilogy, and that we are only seeing the beginning of Katniss’ growth as a character. But there is something distinctly unsatisfying about a novel that ends before the main character achieves any kind of (substantial) awareness of herself and her world. We are left hanging at the edge of Katniss’ metamorphosis (I hope) with no real evidence that she is on the right track. Even in her own mind, Katniss is only at the beginning of the “questioning” stage of her development, without attempting to answer anything yet. It feels as if Collins had originally written more for this first book, but that it was chopped off prematurely by her editor in order to encourage readers to pick up the next in the series. (I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt here because I do get the sense that Collins is a good writer, maybe even a great writer, time will tell)

Ultimately, Katniss is a stagnant character in The Hunger Games. I found her almost likeable at times, but she never really steps up. Her most endearing moments are when she is unaware of herself: volunteering as tribute, shooting the apple at the Gamekeepers’ dinner, calling out Peeta’s name when the contest rules change, her fit of anger when Peeta doesn’t return their signal call, her panic when the Doctors take Peeta away at the end of the games. But she never owns up to the flashes of her true self. There is some suggestion that she is capable of growth, which is even more frustrating when we don’t get to see it.

Peeta also disappoints. He never wavers from his “good guy” stereotype. Peeta is just a love-sick idiot who’s willing to die for a girl who barely registers his existence. Katniss’ suspicion of Peeta is too contrived to be believable, so the entire time she’s questioning his motives she just appears clueless. Even during the games, Peeta doesn’t make a convincing bad guy. And it’s as frustrating to see his idolization of her as it is to see Katniss’ obliviousness to it.

Both characters are nearly the same people at the end of the book as they are at the beginning. Perhaps that will not be true for the series, but when looking at the first book on its own merit, that is how I feel. The most interesting, or potentially interesting, characters are kept on the sidelines; Gale, Cinna, and Haymitch are the only truly subversive characters in this book. Katniss stands to grow a lot through their mentorship, and I hope to see them (and her) come into their own in the next two novels.

Now, these sound like major drawbacks. And they are, or they would be if this was a stand-alone novel. But because it is the first in a trilogy, I’m not going to hold it against Collins just yet. Like I said, most of these peeves smack of editorial interference. I am expecting to see most of my issues addressed in the next two books. And Collins does seem to know what she’s doing. There are moments of real emotional honesty in this work, for all that our heroine is a bit emotionally retarded. Collins’ portrayal of Katniss’ relationship with Prim is quite heartfelt. I think The Hunger Games marks the first time that a novel has been able to choke me up in the first 20 pages. That says something huge about the author’s ability.

I’m afraid The Hunger Games hasn’t broken the chain of unfulfilling YA reads for me, but I’m willing to give Collins her fair shot. I look forward to reading the next two instalments and I’ll post my thoughts here. I’m sure there is a horde of rabid fans just waiting to call me out over this review, so please rant freely in the comments section. Perhaps there is more going on in the book than I picked up on, and I’m more than willing to consider the error of my ways if only someone will point out where I’ve gone astray. But until then, I’m afraid The Hunger Games will remain a 2 out of 5 for me.

Publishing Update (or not)

Well, I realize I haven’t said much in the last couple of weeks about my adventures in publishing. And it’s not that I don’t like you anymore, it’s just that literally nothing has changed. Which is probably a good thing, since I no longer have the urge to scour my inbox for rejection letters every 30 seconds; I can get on with my life.

It’s funny (funny strange, not funny haha, unless you’re cruel and unusual) how I saw so many responses within the first couple of weeks and now nothing. Then again, except for one agent and one writer friend, those responses were all form rejections. And Granted, they all warned me that they could take the obligatory 6-8 weeks to get back to me. But I didn’t actually believe that I would have to wait. That warning is for all of the bad novelists, right? Definitely not for me.

Forget about the rejections. They mean nothing.

So in the meantime, I’m going to write some book reviews and I’ll try to post a bit of my short-fiction stuff here as well. I’ve also started a little offshoot blog called Hai-choo! where I’ll be posting photos and poetry, and little bits of images and imagery that catch my fancy. So check that out too, if you get a moment. I often write longer posts than I intend to, so for those of you who don’t have time to read one of my rants–we can hang out on your coffee break at Hai-choo!.

Thank you all for your continued support and interest. And don’t be afraid to comment!

Non-Fiction Book Review: The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

ImageIf you haven’t heard of Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality yet, then you can send me a nice thank you note for this post. Maybe some wheat-free brownies, if you’ve never heard of Dawkins’ or The Magic of Reality. Because you owe me, now.

The Magic of Reality is a book that I wish had been written in 1995, so that it could have fed my science-hungry little brain when it still accepted real-life instead of retreating into itself in an ostrichy homage to make-believe. It might have changed my life, literally. Although, if it had been I might, right now, be a exobiologist (it’s a thing!) instead of a struggling sci-fi writer with an unhealthy penchant for books. I’ll let you decide how great a loss that would be.

Hint: It would be earth-shattering.

Now, if you’re not already a massive Dawkins fan–well, I won’t tell you how to live your life. But we can’t be friends anymore. However, even if you don’t support his call for militant atheism you may still be able to appreciate The Magic of Reality. Because it’s not about atheism per-say. It’s about reality. Specifically, it is about how we know what’s really true–the book’s subtitle–and what is myth, legend, or just plain lies.

And what’s best about this book is that it’s for kids! The Magic of Reality is Dawkins’ attempt to make science and reality interesting for kids. Even kids who aren’t otherwise that into science, kids who like the ideas but not necessarily the equations, hypotheses, and lab-experiments that don’t involve things that go boom. Kids like me!

And, if you’re like me, you probably had a moment–possibly after you just fell asleep on your desk and drooled on your assignment sheet–where the question dawned upon you: When did Science get so boring? Like me, you probably have fond memories of your elementary school years where you learned about volcanoes and dinosaurs and outer-space. You know, back when science was fun!

Unfortunately, there comes a time in most school curricula when the fun seems to get siphoned out and replaced with pedantic memorization of terminology, formulas, and diagrams. For most of us, Science class becomes just another thing you have to force yourself through in order to pass onto the next grade.

Sure, there are a few who are intrigued by the more practical applications of these courses. Fortunately there are enough that we still have people who go on to become chemists, physicists, and biologists. But for most of us, school ruins science. Forever.

The Magic of Reality makes Science fun and interesting again. No, really. It does. Dawkins’ begins each chapter with a question about the world, or the universe, and how it works. He then discusses ways in which human beings have tried to explain these things–like rainbows, earthquakes, and miracles–without the aid of science. He tells colourful myths from all across the globe which, along with the rest of the text, are illustrated by the brilliant artist Dave McKean (you may recognize his work with Neil Gaiman on Coraline).

Image

After poking a little fun at ourselves for all of the silly things we have believed about the world in the past, Dawkins goes on to tell us the truth about the world. And he tells us how we know that it’s the truth through science. Although The Magic of Reality is a kids’ book it never comes off as dumbed down or patronizing. Dawkins gives his readers an admirable amount of credit which, for the 13 year old reader, will likely add a lot of credence to what he has to say. He’s also not shy about pointing out where his knowledge is limited and never tries to explain things vaguely when he doesn’t have the necessary know-how.

As an adult who, as I’m sure is true of many of you, hasn’t though much about the nitty gritty of Science–elements, atoms, sound waves, natural selection, etc.–The Magic of Reality is a wonderful refresher course. Even topics that I’m a littler more well versed in were worth a read, simply for the unique perspective that Dawkins takes. And to be honest, there’s a lot of “basic” stuff in here that I haven’t fully grasped until reading this book. Impressive, sir, impressive.

McKean’s illustrations are beautiful, often full-page, works of art. The entire text is wonderfully supported and enhanced by these images, and the effect is quite stunning. In case that isn’t enough, Dawkins includes website addresses for video demonstrations, and virtual experimentation tools to supplement the work itself. If The Magic of Reality doesn’t reach out to an internet savvy multi-tasking pre-teen brain, I’m not sure there is a print media capable of the task.

Oh. In case you’re not interested in print media version–check out the iPad app.

Really, the only beef I have with this book is Dawkins’ handling of the myths. I love that he included them, and I love that he included Judeo-Christian myths as well. I think this is important to give a little perspective on why we believe the things we believe (but I won’t go into that too much, here. I’ll either be preaching to the choir or causing a ruckus)

I think The Magic of Realitya great way to teach kids how to evaluate the information that they receive on a daily basis from all kinds of sources–church, school, parents, television, books–about what makes a fact a fact, and how to decide what is true.

What I don’t love about the inclusion of the myths is that they seem to be used merely as a tool to demonstrate our past ignorance and celebrate our intellectual development in the last couple of centuries. Since this is a book about truth and knowledge, it would have been nice if Dawkins gave a little props to his fellows in the Social Sciences and Arts who study myths and what they can teach us about the cultures from which they originate. Dawkins treats myths as silly stories, kind of fun to talk about, but ultimately discrediting them as “not true”. This is an unfortunate and potentially damaging position for Dawkins to take, and to encourage children to take, when so many cultures are losing their traditions and beliefs to modernization.

Folklore and Mythology, although not strictly “true”, still have much to teach us. We can derive cultural information from oral-histories and traditions that are not implicit in the mere study of artifacts and burial sites. Mythology helps to supplement what little information we have about many ancient religious practices, ritual objects, and cosmologies. Not to mention what it can tell us about social structures, gender roles, cultural taboos, etc. Myths should be treated as living history, and I feel Dawkins should have given them their due.

That being said, The Magic of Reality is definitely a book that I would recommend to any and everyone. Even those people who think science is boring. Because there is nothing boring about life, and that’s essentially what The Magic of Reality is all about. Dawkins does a fantastic job of showing just how spectacular the world around us is, even without magic and miracles.

SF Book Review: Grass by Sheri S. Tepper

ImageI’ve been meaning to start writing reviews for some of the many, many books that I read. I want to do this in part to generate interest and conversation around some of my favourite (or least favourite) novels, and in part to keep me thinking while I read. Perhaps I’ll inspire some of you to pick up a novel you otherwise would have passed over, or to pass over one you might have wasted precious reading hours on!

Sheri S. Tepper’s novel  Grass is definitely one that all lovers of science fiction and speculative fiction should give a shot. If you’re not into SF, you might also be interested in this book if you like any or all of the following: strong female characters, philosophy, theology, horses.

I know you can just search it on nobleindigoamazonians.com or whatever other source you use to creep new reads, but I’m going to give you a summary anyways. For my benefit. Otherwise I might miss something important.

Grass is a novel set in a distant future, when the human species has disseminated throughout the galaxy (perhaps further, it’s not really specified) and colonized innumerable other planets in the name of Sanctity—a bizarre extrapolation of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition—and Terra—our home planet. Unfortunately for us, a plague is threatening the continuity of the human species, and no planet seems to be safe from its blistering, boiling, puss-ing reach. No planet, except for Grass, that is.

Sanctity is busy trying to pretend that the plague doesn’t exist—for fear of a group of apocalyptic death-worshipers who may be trying to assist the spread of the virus in order to hasten mankind’s spiritual ascent—while desperately trying to convince the people of Grass to allow the Sanctified Scientists to  come have a boo at why they’re apparently immune. Grass which, of all of the colonized planets, is the only one to have avoided a Sanctified presence is understandably wary of allowing the religious nuts to come poking around.

Grass, named for the hundreds of thousands of varieties that grow on its surface, is almost exclusively a prairie planet, with some small copses of trees and an inhospitable swampland as the only other landscapes. The planet’s aristocracy has evolved into a parody of its own purported ancestry. The Grassian nobles, or bons, do their best to imitate continental manor lords, complete with a ritual “fox” hunt.

And it is because of the Hunt that Rigo Yrarier and his wife Marjorie are chosen to represent Terra as Ambassadors on Grass. They are chosen by Sanctity, although they are not Sanctified themselves, because of their skilled horsemanship—both having competed in various equestrian sports at an Olympic level—and it is hoped that they may be accepted into the private world of the bons through their love of riding. While the bons will not accept scientists, they do agree to an Ambassador, mainly to keep Sanctity off their backs.

So it is that Marjorie and her family end up on Grass and, very shortly thereafter, realize that Sanctity has been sadly mistaken about the nature of the bon’s Hunt. The Yrarier’s horses do nothing to endear the bons to them and, if anything, only serve to increase the aristocrat’s contempt of Terra and Sanctity.

Grass is an engrossing science fiction novel, one which does not rely so heavily on the science as to lose its characters. Marjorie Yrarier is a compelling protagonist as she battles her relationships with her family—two teenage children, a controlling and volatile husband, his vapid mistress, and the family’s Old Catholic priests—her Faith, and her own motivations for coming to Grass. When her husband becomes more interested in gaining the respect of the bons than finding out the secret of their immunity, Marjorie takes their mission into her own hands.

Grass is what I think of as “Big Idea” SpecFic. Tepper is exploring some very interesting ideas about humanity, spirituality, religion, and sin that could easily have overshadowed the story she was trying to tell. Indeed, there are many reviews out there who complain of one-dimensional characters and lack of emotional depth. I, however, did not find this to be the case. I would say that Grass is largely a plot driven, rather than character driven, novel. But I felt that Marjorie’s character was well drawn enough for her to be a sympathetic figure, and she grows and changes in ways that are satisfying to read.

If the rest of the characters lack depth, I would argue that it is because the human characters are not really what Grass is about. Tepper is telling the story of Grass’s original species, the Hippae and Foxen, as well as an extinct species, the Arbai, which are the only other species known to have travelled in space and colonized other planets, many centuries before humans got around to it. The relationship between the Hippae and Foxen, and the Foxen and Arbai, act as a cautionary tale for Humanity. Whether or not Marjorie will see the warning before it is too late is really the crux of Grass and, in light of this, her relationship with other Humans is shallow by necessity. If Tepper is as brilliant as I think she is, this is an intentional lack of depth; it forces the reader to focus on what is really important to the story—Humanity’s relationship other intelligent species, and with God.

If you don’t feel like thinking about the book you’re reading, perhaps leave this one for a time when you do. If you’re not interested in “Big Idea” SF at all, then you might never pick it up. I get that. I’ve picked this book up a couple of times and then decided that I wasn’t in the mood for it. That being said, I do believe there is sufficient action and character development to keep most readers satisfied once you get into it. If you’re in the right mood, like I was this time, it will likely only take the first 30 pages or so. If you’re not deterred by having to flex your grey matter, I definitely recommend it.

Besides, how can you not love a book in which humans are analogously compared to the virus they are trying to stop, and in which God refers to us as simply “very small beings” which He (for lack of a better pronoun) cannot discern on an individual level. Grass is about God and Humanity, Faith and guilt, evolution and survival, and not in any of the ways you might expect. Go on… read it.

The Life of a Novel

…my novel, that is.

I thought that, perhaps, I should tell you a little about my novel. Just in case you don’t know me IRL and I haven’t talked your ear off about it already. If I don’t know you IRL, then feel free to tear my ideas apart with no fear of physical retaliation. If you do know me, though, tread carefully…

Just kidding!

I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can accept criticism of my writing and ideas without bursting into tears and/or plotting the demise of my critics. But I would ask that any criticism be done constructively, otherwise I’ll probably just ignore you. Because I’m still a writer. And I will think I’m right unless you prove to me that I’m wrong. So don’t just say “Your story is cheesy goat balls,” because I’ll probably assume that you are the kind of person who enjoys cheesy goat balls–to each his own–and that you just have an odd way of telling me I’m brilliant. But that I definitely am brilliant.

In any case, I let me know what you think. I’m going to include a book-jacket style blurb, and a little theme description. And you can let me know if it sounds like cliched drivel or if maybe I have something here…

Hint: I have something here.

The Timekeepers’ War is gold, people. Science Fiction gold. You ain’t seen nuttin’ writ like dis…

So, without further ado, I give you The Timekeepers’ War by Cat Phillips

Ghost is known throughout the City for her ability to find anyone, for the right price—anyone except her sister, Lyca, that is; but when she is approached, by the most notorious man in the City, to recruit for a war against the Elysian Empire Ghost realizes that her stake in the conflict might be more personal than professional…

Things are looking bleak as Ghost chases shadows throughout the City, until the day she returns to find a mysterious stranger making himself at home in her flat. Lynch, a terrorist—and one of the most feared figures in the City—needs Ghost’s help. In exchange Lynch offers her a chance to make history and, more importantly, a clue to the disappearance of her sister ten years ago. With the help of Lynch, and an enigmatic group of scholars called The Timekeepers, the City is about to be reborn.

But Lynch means war. If she agrees, Ghost must delve deep into the City to discover truths about her world—and about herself—that will change everything she thought she knew. How far will her search for Lyca take her? And will she be able to live with who she has become once she finds her?

The Timekeepers’ War is a character-driven commercial science fiction novel about one young woman’s attempt to reconcile her past with her present in the midst of a post-apocalyptic civil war. Her struggle to find some identity in an increasingly anonymous culture, her fear of intimacy–with Lynch and the ever-intriguing Mirielle, and her guilt over the “loss” of her younger sister make Ghost a character with diverse personal appeal. The Timekeepers War addresses questions about gender and sexuality, humanity, social responsibility, and the importance of history.

I don’t know about you, but I’d read it.

Seriously, though. Let me know if that imaginary blurb makes sense, or if I need to clarify anything. It can be tough to write a summary for something that you already know backward and forward, because you forget that you know “behind the scenes” stuff. And remember that I’m trying to lure and trap and agent, so I need to know if this sounds like something people will pick up and pay for. Because if you don’t think so, they probably don’t either.

Now. That’s The Timekeepers’ War in a nutshell. So let me tell you a little bit about how it came to be:

Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away. There was a young university dropout who had too much time on her hands before her shift at The (Dreaded) Technology Retail Store started, so she entertained herself by drinking way too much coffee at her local cafe (ya, okay, fine. It was a Starbucks. but damn they make a nice dark roast) and writing down whatever came into her silly little head. Somehow, she managed to mold these ideas into a kind of landscape, a world that was real to her if not (yet) anyone else. She lived in that little world for an hour or two before every shift, and even began to imagine the people who lived there.

A part of her became a person who lived there.

One day, she decided that she had to show someone else the little world she had created. So she held her breath and gave the key to the City to her boyfriend, Philip. Although that little world and its people were only 60 pages long, Phil found he loved it too. And for the first time, he realized that maybe his girlfriend wasn’t crazy, and she could be a writer after all (I’m just assuming, here. Don’t you always think “ya, ya, sure you will” when someone you know says they’re going to be a writer? I did. And I won’t hold it against him if he did too, at first)

Once, she even showed a copy to her cousin, Matt, who also liked it. He wrote a spin-off chapter that opened her eyes to the possibilities of the world she had created, and (eventually) inspired the character named Rook–though, in the end, only the name survived.

But the girl had hit a wall, and didn’t know where to go with her little world and its people. She started working longer hours, and decided to go back to school. One day, embarrassed at her attempt to be a “real author,” she destroyed the City and its people, and that little part of herself. She deleted the file, and forgot about it almost completely.

But Phil did not forget. Every day that she spent working at that Dreaded Store, he saw as a day she could have spent writing. And he believed that, one day, she could write full time and they would be able to live the life they had always dreamed of (the life of bush hermits, in case you were wondering). So he kept the copy of the file she had sent to him all those years ago. And, after they had both graduated from university, after they had both realized that the “real world” sucks and that $50,000 piece of paper they had each bought were virtually valueless currency there, he decided that there was only one thing to do.

Eight years after he rescued it, he gave her back the file she had thought long-dead and gone. And he told her that she needed to quit her job and finish what she started. Because he believed in her, and he didn’t want either of them to spend the rest of their lives wondering “what-if?”

So she did. She quit her job (which was literally the most terrifying thing she had done in her whole life, including learning to ride a motorbike) and started writing. She had no idea what she was doing, and she learned a lot along the way. But 9 months later (coincidence?),The Timekeepers’ War had been born.

True story, bro(s).

So, the TLDR is: I have an amazing hubby who rescued my very first novel from the virtual trashcan, forced me to take a year off of work to finish it, and now continues to support me through the process of submitting it for publication. If every writer out there had someone like Phil by their side, there would be a lot more amazing books out there, I think.

But I’m not telling that story just to brag (although I do think I have it pretty good). I thought I should tell that story for everyone who has a creative person in their lives. I thought I should tell you all just how important your support might be to the people you love, who love to create; it doesn’t matter if they are writers or painters or movie directors or designers or mechanics. You could, very well, make the difference between their living their dreams and their working at the Dreaded Retail Store. And that’s a difference that matters.

So, here’s my novel and the tale of how it came to be. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you think of the idea, or if you have any amazing people in your life who deserve recognition. I think next week, I might publish one of my short stories here. So stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

PS I lost Matt’s brilliant spin-off when I deleted my own writing, or possibly when I recycled my old Compaq desktop (with a whopping 64MB of RAM). Either way, I’m a terrible person. He’s an amazing storyteller and his interest in my story gave me confidence in 21 y/o self, and I hope some day he is able to share his own brilliance with the world. Although, he’s just had twin girls, so it might take a while to get back in the game.

Connections, Connections, Connections!

I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to read the latest update in my journey to published-writerdom, or as I like to think of it: “The Diary of False Hope and Broken Dreams”, but sadly I, too, am playing the waiting game.

Now that you all (hopefully) have a better understanding of what the process looks like (if not, please refer to my earlier posts), perhaps you can sympathize with the soul-consuming anticipation and lingering dread of this so-called “game”. I have sent out almost 20 queries to agents in Canada and the US. I have received only three responses. Two rejections, and one request for a partial manuscript. While the rejections kind of suck, I’m heartened that I haven’t seen more of them, really. I’m still obsessively checking my email (even though my iPhone supposedly alerts me of incoming messages). And I have mentally paced a rut between the blind optimism and harsh realism centres of my brain.

But I made a conscious decision to take the weekend off from worry. There is no harm in that, I think, since as far as I can tell the publishing industry pretty much ceases to exist outside of the Monday-Friday 9-5 bracket. Ther’s no point in stressing about responses that won’t materialize until Monday anyways. I think this will become my weekend rule, as long as I’m still playing the waiting game.

But now it’s Tuesday, and I’m back at it in full force!

The worst part is, I haven’t heard back from the NYC agent who requested a partial MS. Or maybe it’s the best part. I don’t know. She was so quick to respond to my query, I have to assume she’s on the ball with her emails. So I could convince myself that, since she didn’t reject my partial with equal readiness, that perhaps she’s actually considering it. Or, it’s just been relegated to the virtual slush pile and her assistant hasn’t gotten around to sending out last weeks rejection letters yet. I like the sound of the former, though. Let’s go with that.

Maintaining the positive-thinking vibe, I also have another agent who is willing to look at my work. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t represent science fiction, but she’s willing to look at it anyways because I have connections. Well, one connection, really. But in this industry, that one connection could very well be my wheat-free bread and butter. Let me explain:

Back in my uni days, I worked on the Canada Council for the Arts Writer’s Series as a part of a research assistant gig. I was responsible for picking up visiting writers at the airport, showing them around campus, promoting their readings, and just generally schmoozing. I actually got paid to schmooze writers. And at the time, I didn’t think anything of it. It was a job. And I foolishly thought that my “education” was going to be my meal ticket. There were a dozen potential connections to be made, and I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity! I was too busy trying to write clever Critical Theory papers to worry about networking, that shit was for business students. Right? (Eeeediot…)

Now, I wish I could hop into the old DeLorean and go back to smack some sense into myself. But that’s besides the point.

The point is, without knowing I was doing it, I did manage to forge one valuable relationship during the Visiting Writer’s Series, with our Writer in Residence. It took me a little while to realize that, although it’s been almost 5 years, he might still be interested in helping to develop new Canadian authors. So, I nervously considered my options. I could stumble around blindly, and rely solely on online writer’s forums for my info into the biz. Or I could reach out and ask for help.

Asking the help of a professional writer that you knew for one semester 5 years ago, who is not being paid by the university to help you anymore, is kind of intimidating. But this is important to me. So I gave myself that little “how far are you willing to go?” pep talk. You know the one. And, after about half an hour of hulk-flexes and yelling at my reflection in the mirror, I magically grew a pair.

I got back in touch with him and, to my amazement, he was excited to hear from me. He offered to help me with my query, take a look at the MS, and to show it to his agent. Seriously. Right now, he’s looking at my synopsis before he sends it and my sample chapters to her. It’s terrifying. Wonderfully terrifying. And I’m incredibly grateful that I did reach out.

If I can give one piece of advice to aspiring writers it’s to get out there and meet people in the publishing industry. Join your local writers’ guild (I just did that, too), take a workshop, visit the Writer in Residence at your nearest college or university (even if you’re not a student, they’re usually open to the public), and get involved! You never know who you’ll meet who might be able to give you a leg up once you’re ready to take the next step. And from what I’ve read, one good connection can be worth hundreds of hours of querying.

So while I’m sweating out the wait for a reply from Ms. NYC Agent, I have Ms. Canadian Agent’s response to look forward to. Even if she’s not interested in it, I think my “connection” will warrant some feedback.

Real live agent feedback. My Precioussss.

So get yourself out there, my would-be-writers. If I could go back and do it again, that’s what I’d do. But, in the absence of a DeLorean, I’ll have to suck it up and start now. It’s never too late, right?