Monday, November 28, 2011

Vote for Me!

I need a favor.

I entered a picture book into a contest. The winner of the contest gets a publishing contract. I realize my chances are slim. I'm just one out of 398, but there is a way that you can help.

You can vote for me.

All the manuscripts in the contest are posted on the website (link to come at the end), and the winners are determined by who gets the most "likes".

Yes, I also realize that this is more of a popularity contest than a talent thing. The good part about that is that the staff who runs the contest are also going to pick their favorites to go on to the final round. But I digress.

I really do hope to get a lot of votes by having my story stand on its own merits, but it can't do that if no one knows it's there. So spread the word, my friends! Share this link. Read it. Like it (if indeed you do like it.)

I haven't read them all. There are quite a lot. But the ones I have read, so far, are not very quality. Misspellings, never-ending sentences, premises that don't even make sense. This gives me hope. But it's not enough. Because even the bad writers have loyal friends and family.

So, as strange a request as this may sound, please shout my praises to all the world.

Thank you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chariots of Fire

While you watch this, think about a question: How did he do it?

There are a lot of things that are important in making your dreams come true.





Work Ethic.

But there's something that a lot of people undervalue: Determination.

Why did Liddell win that race? Yes, he was fast, but not particularly faster than any of the others. He certainly wasn't lucky. He had worked hard, but so had all the others.

Fifty yards lost is a death sentence in a 400. But still he won. What did he have that those other guys didn't?

He wanted to win. He wanted it way more than any of those other guys.

In the words from the Horse and His Boy:

"And certainly both horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could; which is not quite the same thing. [Lion attacks] And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going fast- not quite as fast- as he could. Shasta felt the change at once. Now they were really going all out."

You don't know how much you can do until you are absolutely pressed to the limits. And it is always, repeat always, much more than you think it is.

Liddell won that race because he was going to win that race. So he did.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Movies are all fine and dandy. But things don't always happen like that in real life.

Ah, but don't they? Maybe I won't win the olympics just from wanting it more than anyone else. But on a smaller level, I think that things like this happen every single day. But only to people who are not afraid to try for it.

It's happened for me.

In school, most people have those physical fitness tests at the end of the year. You know, the mile run, and the v-sit, and sit-ups, etc. etc. To pass, you have to get a certain score. On the mile, maybe it's finishing in under 15 minutes (which is super slow. I can walk a mile in 15. But it's not meant to pass only future olympians.)

If you get a certain level (the just above average level) you got the national award. They'd give you a little red badge at the end-of-the-school-year awards ceremonies. The elite level was called presidential. You got a blue badge for those. It was by no means unattainable, but certainly much harder.

I got the national award every year. Partly because I was one of the few girls in my class who actually ran the mile instead of walking it. And you know what? I was tired of it. National every year was just not good enough.

And so, in 8th grade, when physical fitness test time came around, I solemnly determined that I would have that presidential award.

There was just one problem. There was only one of the areas (situps, I think) in which I'd ever gotten presidential level scores. And it's not like I had any time to train. The tests were happening in like 3 days. But I didn't realize that until later. I didn't even think of it. All I knew is that I would have that award.

And you know what? I did it.

When the v-sit came, I just stretched farther than I had ever stretched before.

On the shuttle run, I had to re-do it. My first time wasn't enough. But my second time absolutely was.

On the mile, I ran a 7:57. To this day, it's still my fastest ever mile time. (Sadly, I got slower in my later high school years. A result of no longer being a stick figure.)

And the pull-ups. Oh, the pull-ups. You couldn't do the flexed arm hang for presidential. It had to be at least one full out pull-up. I had never before (nor have I ever again since) done a full pull up. But I got up there and I did one. Maybe two. I don't remember. And I'm still trying to figure out how.

Moral of the story? I had the presidential potential in me all along. I just couldn't access it until I wanted to badly enough.

And that's what makes all the difference.

If you want it enough, you can do miracles.

So be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'shea, You're off to great places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.

Life, the Universe, and Everything


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Non-Spoiler Inheritance Review

Christopher Paolini is SO on my blacklist right now.

Summarized reason: For being good enough to make me NEED to finish the series, but being terrible enough that it was sometimes a real chore.

Details of this reason:

Writing a series is a real task. I understand and very much respect that. Especially when some of the books are over 800 pages long. (That's well over 200,000 words. Think about that number.) There's a lot of time and work involved in that.

But writing a series also binds you to a number of responsibilities. To your audience, to your career, to your work, and to yourself.

I don't think Paolini held up his end of most of these responsibilities.

A) Time: 

It's been 13 years since he started writing the Eragon series. He was 15 when he started. He's turning 28 this month (the month of the Inheritance release). That's straight up too long for a "trilogy".

This is a chart of the series:  

#TitlePagesChaptersAudioEarliest Release
1.Eragon5286016h 21mJune 2002
2.Eldest7047323h 30mAugust 2005
3.Brisingr7855929h 39mSeptember 2008
4.Inheritance8807831h 22mNovember 2011

As you can see, there was over 3 years in between each book. I suppose there's something to be said for consistency, but it's not good enough. It was so long that people forgot what had happened in the last one.

When you write a series, there is an unspoken agreement that the writer will give the readers what they need. They pay for it. Just like a business agrees to give its customers what they need (and pay for). Leaving them out in the cold, waiting for ages and ages, and then giving them mediocre work is a breach of this contract.

(Rowling published all 7 HP books in 12 years. It took her a few more before that to get book one off the ground, but then again, she had 8 publisher rejections. Paolini got his contract handed to him on a silver platter.)

B) Effort:

Obviously I can't speak with facts for his efforts. But the timeline seems to speak for itself. 
Respectable authors of mega-popular series just don't dawdle their way through things. They can't. It's rude. It's obnoxious. It's selfish.

  **Later update: Actually, it turns out some do. I'M LOOKING AT YOU PATRICK ROTHFUSS. 

But a)  The delivered Kingkiller books were subsequently very carefully crafted and edited. Not perfect, because dude, I have some questions about some choices you made. But clearly written, and conscientiously crafted. b) Rothfuss consistently works at things. It just takes him a while. Unlike Paolini. Now back to our regularly scheduled rant.

It doesn't help that the kid was 15 when he started. His mom and dad saw that he'd written a book, oogled over it, and self-published without a second thought. He never had to go through the pain of rejections. He never had to work to make ends meet, and write in his spare time. He never even had to work at all. He was home schooled, got his GED at 15, and basically had a soft life.

I watched an interview with him where he admitted to playing too many video games when he should have been writing.

I don't know about you, but me and all the people I know were pretty lame at age 15. But the reason we've improved now is because we've had to do things like live on our own, earn money, study in college, etc.

If he'd ever had to have a real job in his life (even flipping burgers at Wendy's) he might have a shred of work ethic that would have solved half of these problems.

C) Quality

Inheritance was not quality.

Getting rejected hurts. No one likes to realize that they aren't as good at something as they used to think they were. It's painful soul-deep, especially when it comes to your life dream.

But it happens because it has to. 

Rejections weed out the ones who aren't really into it.

Rejections make you evaluate yourself, and make yourself better.

Rejections make you work harder.

Rejections make you learn more about your field.

Without rejection letters and quality beta readers, no author would be able or be motivated to improve. Paolini never had to get rejected. There was never anyone there to tell him to do better or try harder.

And thus, we get landed with hundreds of pages of extensive prose. So many badly used adjectives!
Prose has its place. Sometimes it's nice. But rambling on and on and on and on about the color of the sun as it touched the terminating line of the earth is NOT okay. No one has an attention span like that anymore. It gets boring FAST. And Inheritance had so much of this nonsense. So. Much.

Literally, I could have chopped 300 pages from the book and the story would still have been 100% intact. (See above chart for the sheer massive lengths of these books).

But I had to wade through all this bad writing, because the characters and the plot were just good enough that I had to find out what happened. It was hard. Like reading a textbook. I just endured until finally I reached the good stuff.

I actually tried to strangle the book a few times. Good thing they don't need an air supply.

D) Happy Endings:

This is, by far, the most important one to me. See, if all had gone well -if he had placated me with a good solid ending- I would have forgiven the prose. I did for all the other three books.

And he almost did. But then there were 100 pages left, and I was like what?

Yes, the conclusion was 100 pages long. And it didn't even get to ANY of the stuff I needed. No matter who your writing advisor is, this is bad form all around. Once the big bad is gone, and everything is dead and/or happy again, you've got a limited amount of space to wrap things all up. Any longer than that, and things need to start happening again (which probably means that you didn't actually know what story you were trying to tell, and you finished off the wrong big bad.)

Even Tolkien, who is unnecessarily verbose, and who has (as some boo hoo) like five different endings to Lord of the Rings, never once drones on for an entire 100 pages wherein nothing happens.

But that is what Paolini does. Big bad goes down (by means of a really unsatisfying Deus ex Machina, btw), stuff kinda starts to wrap up, and then... it meanders forever. Not to mention it meanders depressingly. I was sad when it was done, and not because the series had ended. I was sad because it was just... Jeez, why? Such a disappointment.

Proper endings are part of that author/reader contract. When you're publishing a popular series, you're not just "writing for you". You're writing for the audience. You have contractually promised to deliver certain things, and if you don't give the things you set your books up to promise, then you've broken your contract.
Now, sad or depressing or horrible endings are allowed, but they have to have a reason, and make sense within the narrative. The ending can be tragic if it teaches a lesson. Or fulfills a purpose of some kind. Or has someone die in order to save someone else, and thus affect the triumph of the protagonist over the antagonist.

But if none of these things are the case, you've lied to us, and we have every right to be upset at being lied to. If there isn't a good reason for however it ends, it is only disappointing for everyone involved.


I am so disappointed in this whole experience.

The characters were good. Ish. To a point. Like they weren't super well crafted, but most of them were interesting enough to be getting on with.

When important stuff was happening, the plot was fun and cool. There were a couple places where I gasped out loud and freaked out for a few seconds. Unfortunately, only for a few seconds. None of the stakes ever got particularly worrisome. 

All in all, I can't decide if it was worth it. All of the waiting, all of the trudging through useless prose, the depressing ending, the sheer number of hours that I took from my life to participate in this... was it really worth it?

And since the answer isn't an obvious yes, a giant No is looming over that 'terminating line of the earth'.