Dear YA Authors

Dear YA authors,

I graduated from middle grade fiction a long time ago.  Hardly knowing what was to become of me, I left the world of short, heartwarming stories about orphans and cats behind and invaded the unknown land of death, kissing, and trilogies.  I used to bemoan the absence of books over 300 pages, but now the shelves are chock full of long books.  Not only that, but no author stops at a single book– they always write at least three books per series.  I thought that was great.

At least, until I realized I wanted something else.

Series are great.  It’s always nice to follow the same characters through a few books, watching them as they grow over time.  Trilogies likewise.  Trilogies have a distinct format that makes it enjoyable to see two opponents fight each other for three books in a row.  It’s a great feeling, when you reach the end, to know that the main characters have finally won out against all odds.  They can finally live.  Regardless of the predictability of a trilogy– with its charming first book, its slightly sagging sequel, and its dark and bloody finale– a trilogy makes a nice, tight boxed set that looks great on any bookshelf.

But after a while, trilogies get tiring, don’t you think? (more…)

Mini Reviews— Ghost Edition

I’ve read too many books to ever review alone, so I’ve decided to do another edition of Mini Reviews.  I’ll review three books without spoilers, but with stuff I learned from them that you might find helpful.  Since two out of the three books include ghosts, this is our Ghost Edition.  The three books today are Ghost Knight, by Cornelia Funke; W.A.R.P.: The Reluctant Assassin, by Eoin Colfer; and The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.


Driving School for Stories

Some people like character-driven plots.  These are plots where the story is made by what the character decides.  Unfortunately for most fantasies, these turning points in the story are usually ones where there is no foreseeable outcome where everyone lives– not exactly desirable for a character.  Take, for instance, the Lord of the Rings, book one, the Fellowship of the Ring.  Yes, he was kicked out of his home by Gandalf and a group of nine Grim Reapers, but that’s only the beginning.  He takes the One Ring from his home in Bag End all the way to the elven city of Imladris, or Rivendell.  There, everything begins to come back to normal as he finds Bilbo again and recovers from a life-threatening injury.

Then he realizes that nothing is over yet.  The Ring still must be destroyed, and no one can decide upon someone to do it.  So he stands up and says, incredibly stupidly, “I will take the Ring.”

He knows exactly what this entails.  Boromir has just given his famous speech: “One does not simply walk into Mordor.  There is an evil there that never sleeps…”  He has seen the powers that chased him from Hobbiton to Rivendell– and he had only had the Ring for a few days.  He had tasted the awesome power of the Ring.  The facts are telling him, “This is a job for elves or men– taller people than you.  Leave it to them; go home and wash your feet.” (more…)

To Love Hurting Characters– And Characters that are Hurting

One of the coolest things of being a writer is having a character completely at your control.  You feel amazingly powerful and great when you can just kill someone off if they displease you.  It’s incredibly fun to reduce brilliant characters to gibbering messes, and, by extension, doing the same to your readers.

Unfortunately, a bad thing happening to a character does not necessarily mean that the reader will feel for him.  That is the hard part, where you actually have to make your readers love the character before you make them feel like a pool of Jell-o.  When you’re going along, having loads of fun killing your characters, it can be a real shock that you actually have to make them likable first.  Why make them likable when they’re dying in the next chapter? (more…)

On the Importance of Humor In Writing

Humor in books– especially children and teen books– is crucial.  It is the most important thing you could ever have– barring a plot, literacy, a minimum of one character and possibly a functioning mind.  But you can get by without most of those– you cannot get by without humor.

Kids see things as funny.  They see the world as funny.  They have a knack for pointing out the ridiculous and the silly.  There is no greater comedian than the child.  They don’t understand why something should be structured– so they do whatever, whenever.  They don’t understand what exactly the point of a conversation on one particular topic is– so they spout out whatever pops into their heads.  This is the basis of randomness.

Barry Cunningham, editor for Cornelia Funke, Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, former editor of JK Rowling, and founder of the Chicken House publishing company, put it the best way in an interview:

“I think humour is so important in children’s books and you find children laughing when they are scared and crying when they are happy. And I cannot think that there is anything in life which is not essentially humorous. Life and death and everything else. That is the central portion of the child in me. I absolutely believe everything comes as part of something else. Like everything serious is funny as well, everything sad is funny as well, everything scary is funny as well.”

“Humor is so important in children’s books…”  So why are there so many dry, boring children’s books?  The reason I like Rick Riordan, Obert Skye, Matt Myklusch, Brandon Mull and John Flanagan so much is because of their humor levels.  Chris D’Lacey, Cornelia Funke, Christopher Paolini, and Gordon and Williams all attempt humor– but don’t always make it quite there.  I still like them because of their creativity, but they aren’t naturally funny writers. (more…)

What’s With the Dysfunctional Families?

This is an enormous trend in all of literature: horrible families, environments, etc.  The protagonist grows up in a terrible environment as the setup, then goes on to do lots of cool things through the rest of the book.

Why is this so popular?

You see it in so many books.  Oliver Twist (Dickens).  Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo (Obert Skye).  The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan).  The Thief Lord (Cornelia Funke).  The Accidental Hero– also called Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation (Matt Myklusch).  Ranger’s Apprentice: Ruins of Gorlan (John Flanagan).  Harry Potter (JK Rowling).  Tunnels (Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams).  Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket).  All these people…  Oliver, Leven, Percy, Prosper and Bo, Jack, Will, Harry, another Will; Violet, Klaus and Sunny…  They all come from these harsh environments where the parents (if any) are dictators, the neighbors exploit and bully, and the school ignores and tramples.  (It’s amazing how many of the books above utilize standardized tests as the way to show the schools’ indifference, but that’s beside the point.)

This could be called a cliche in a certain light.  So why do writers keep doing this?

First reason: because it’s worked for others.  The root of all cliches.

Second reason: because it’s extremely hard to write a character living a spectacular life and doing fantastic things and having fantastic adventures when they have a loving family sitting at home bawling their eyes out.  I know, because I’ve tried.  Phoenix took a six-month hiatus from her family, and at every turn was trying to get back home.  It was so hard to get her to do anything while keeping her in character.  She had a nice family, too– I made sure of it. (more…)

Joint Book Review: Airman and Airborn

It’s bucketloads of fun to find two books that are so alike, you think they ought to have been written by the same author into the same series.

Two such books are Airman, by Eoin Colfer, and Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel.  Both have remarkable parallels.  It’s rather obvious that these two books are alike by just looking at the titles.  Here I will offer a spoiler-free review for both books in turn.  But first, a word about both.

I’ve always been fascinated by the air, just as with the sea.  Both are seemingly untamed and vast.  Travel in either is always a fun topic for me to think about.  Space travel, of course, is fun for all.  But I digress.  Let me just say that for me, both of these are terribly appealing to read about.  There’s just something cool about falling to your possible death through thousands of feet of atmosphere, and the best thing is that you’re still stuck firmly to the ground, since you’re only reading about it.  Just like there’s something cool about fighting your way around Cape Horn against the roaring forties, though you’re still in that relatively airless cubicle you call your room.  Extreme sports are so much fun when the only person who could possibly die is fictional.  On with the double review, shall we?

Airman, Eoin Colfer:  This book is my favorite of all Colfer’s works.  It is set mostly on two fictional islands: the Saltees, sometime prior to the invention of the first airplane.  Conor Broekhart is the son of the security official for the King of the Saltees.  Conor was born in a hot-air balloon, so he’s obviously destined for aerial greatness.  After being framed for the death of his tutor and King, Conor is incarcerated by his own father.  He eventually escapes and uses his ideas to become the mysterious Airman.

This is, as I have said, a great book.  The plot is excellent, the humor is superb and the characters are expertly handled.  Plot twists appear from nowhere like ants just after I’ve dropped my baklava.  Good rule of thumb for books like this is this: whatever you think, you’re wrong.

Airborn, Kenneth Oppel:  I just finished the third book in this trilogy two days ago, so I’ll review them all equally, though only naming the first.  These three books– Airborn, Skybreaker and Starclimber– are on par with Airman.  The books immerse you completely in the character’s many plights with a sense of suspense not found in many books I’ve been reading recently.  The humor level is perfect.  The characters are remarkably vivid, and such that you fall in love with the meanest of them.  The scenes are literally breathtaking.  (I don’t know why, but there are parts of this trilogy that I found myself holding my breath.)  The feels are real as if the reader was one of the characters.  The writing, in short, is brilliant.  Though Airman is good for young and old alike, Airborn is more for young adult.  I won’t go into details for that would render my blog unfit for younger readers.

But a summary is called for (the first book only).  In a world in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, where airships– not airplanes– rule the skies, Matt Cruse is a cabin boy aboard the Aurora, the airship his father worked on until his untimely death.  Matt also felt led to the skies because of his singular birth; he was born halfway over the Atlanticus (equivalent of the Atlantic) in an airship.  (Here you first see the parallels between these books.)  After a rather inadvisable bump with air pirates (literally), the Aurora crash-lands on an uncharted island in the Pacificus (equivalent of the– oh, you get it).  Pulled along by a young heiress who thinks the island houses an unidentified species of flying cat, Cruse finds more than he bargained for.

Wow, I didn’t know I could write reviews with that much suspense stuffed in them.  Think I did all right?  I probably won’t do it again.

Anyway, I’m glad I read both of these books.  They were arrived at through different methods (Airman was found when I followed Colfer’s works, but Airborn was found when I was looking for a slightly interesting book anywhere I could find it) and at different times, but I enjoyed both equally.  For those who haven’t read either, go read them.  For those who have read other things of Oppel’s, tell me if I should read them.  For those who have read both but not more, I don’t want to talk to you.

Top Ten Books I’d Quickly Save…

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. I thought I’d join because, well, it seems interesting. And I sometimes run out of things to write, as you can see in the post “When Boredom Strikes”.

So. This Tuesday’s topic is: Top Ten Books I’d Quickly Save If My House Was Going To Be Destroyed By Aliens.

Oooh! This promises to be fun. The following are not in order that I like them.

  1. Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini. I spent more money on this book than on any other book I’ve bought before, so I’m keeping it.
  2. Airman, by Eoin Colfer. This is one of the best books I’ve read by this author. Scratch that, it is the best book I’ve read by this author. So I’d like to keep it.
  3. All the Rick Riordan books I have. Okay, this might be cheating, sticking something like seven books together in one, but who cares? It’s Rick Riordan!
  4. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas. Just because it’s my favorite book ever.
  5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and the Hobbit), by JRR Tolkien. Again, cheating, but it’s Tolkien!
  6. The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis, if we could find our copies. Somehow they were lost in one of our moves between states. And it’s cheating again, but it’s CS Lewis!
  7. Erak’s Ransom, by John Flanagan. If I had the Lost Stories I would take that instead, but I’ll just have to go with the second best book in that series.
  8. Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo, by Obert Skye. I’ve changed my mind about how much I like this series, but this is the first book and it’s pretty good regardless.
  9. Taggerung, by Brian Jacques. I know I don’t talk about the Redwall series much, but I have all but two of the books, my favorite being the one I just mentioned.
  10. Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke. I believe Funke is one of the best writers I know of. Inkheart is definitely coming along.

What more shall I say? I’ve run out of lines in which to put more books by great authors, so I’ll leave it at that.

All of you readers who don’t know who Isaac Phael is are dismissed. Regular readers, I’d like you to read this fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm: Frederick and Catherine. Comment and tell me what you think about Catherine’s character.

And just for fun, I’d like you to read this fairy tale, by the same authors: The Valiant Little Tailor. When I read this, I thought it was hilarious.

Been fun, but I’ve got to go now. Ta-ta!

How not to put on a Christmas Pageant

Look at this video from one of Eoin Colfer’s talks on his blog. I’m sorry, but I can’t embed the video into the post, because I’m too cheap to get the video upgrade. Just a heads-up: Eoin’s grown a beard. Not that I would care, really, but I didn’t recognize him at first.