Thursday, January 27, 2011

Matthew Quick: Winner, Interview, Giveaway

You guys had some nice responses to the posts the last few days. Thanks. In the only career test I've ever done, my number one career was Director of Religious Activities. After the last few days of preaching, can't you just see it? lol!

Today's winner of one copy of The DUFF by Kody Keplinger is:


Yay! Marsha, mail me at muchlanguage(at)gmail(dot)com and let me know if you want a hard copy or e-book.

Today, we have another special guest on POC’s Talk Back Thursdays. Please help me to welcome Mr. Matthew Quick! (AAAAAA! Crowd goes wild!) Mr. Quick, AKA Q, is the author of THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR and the soon-to-be-released BOY21.

Thank you for joining us, Matthew.

MQ: Thanks for having me.

Tell us a bit about your path to publication.

MQ: Even in my early teen years I knew I was supposed to be a fiction writer, but somehow I became a high school English teacher instead. I woke up one day and I was thirty, which terrified me because my life wasn’t anything like I’d hoped it would be. I had tenure at a great high school. My wife was working for a prestigious college. We were living comfortably, but neither of us was doing the thing we wanted to do most. Long story short, we quit our jobs, sold our house, backpacked around southern Africa, hiked the Grand Canyon, moved in with my in-laws—I wrote in their unfinished basement for three years—and then I published. My wife published her first novel two years later. There’s a lot more to the tale. The important parts were making a real commitment to writing, being willing to take risks and make sacrifices, working hard, working harder, working extremely hard, putting ourselves out there, working even harder than we had before, learning the business, acting professionally, weathering rejection, and supporting each other through creative setbacks and breakdowns. Did I mention working hard?

Your first novel, THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (upcoming movie in 2013!), stars Pat Peoples, a man struggling with mental health issues. What made you want to deal with such a sensitive subject?

MQ: In my early twenties I worked in a neural health lock-down unit, where I met people very much like the protagonist I would create ten years later. That job influenced me a great deal. Additionally, I’ve struggled with depression. Mental health issues affect my family (just like most families). When I was a teacher, I counseled many students struggling with various mental health issues and have recently worked with a local mental health provider to raise awareness. Americans don’t talk openly enough about such things and I hope my work encourages people to dialogue.

How did Pat’s story come to you?

MQ: It’s hard to say how any story comes to a writer. I suppose Pat is an amalgam—so many of my life experiences blended together fictitiously. But that wasn’t really a conscious process. One day I had this voice in my head. It was Pat’s. I wrote down what he said.

One of the most interesting things about SORTA LIKE A ROCKSTAR is Amber’s motley crew of friends. Wheel-chair bound, autistic, the only black kid in the school, old folks, and Koreans, all written in such a way that they’re not just in existence for their ‘difference factor’. What inspired this cast? (And how did you do it so well?

MQ: Thanks for the compliment. I think most fiction writers (most artists) tend to be different. We see the world from a unique point of view, which is why we can create art, but our differences often make us loners. As a straight white relatively healthy male who has lived most of his life in suburban America, I’ve always appeared to be part of the majority, but I’ve never felt that way. When I was a kid I loved hiding in strange places and being alone. I used to write poetry in secret when I was in high school. I’ve always been quirky and kind of weird on the inside, even when I appeared normal on the outside, which has (at times) created an unintentional split personality of sorts. When I was younger I used to be embarrassed of my eccentricities. But I’ve since realized that the people I like best are usually those who are a little off, a bit odd, pixilated. It may be easier at times to be the same as everyone else, but the older I get, the more I realize that being different has its advantages. Heroes are defined by their ability to stand apart when it’s hard to do so. When I first told people I was quitting my job as a teacher to write a novel in my in-laws’ unfinished basement, many made me feel like a complete freak. I felt like a complete freak for three years, until I published. Then I didn’t care what anyone thought anymore, mostly because I realized that being different was exactly what made me an artist.

Another thing I really loved about your books is the focus on hope, even in the face of the whole world collapsing. (And Amber praying to JC is just the best!) Is there a particular point that you hope to drive home to your readers?

MQ: Hope is a powerful force, but hard to maintain. Whenever I teach creative writing I tell my students to write about what they love, not what they hate. Just doing that will separate you from most of your writing peers. We can find despair just about anywhere, but hope is often harder to secure. I often ask myself this question: what is the purpose of storytelling? We like to be entertained. We like to laugh. We like to be thrilled, amused, and even frightened. We definitely like to be surprised. My dad often says he doesn’t like watching depressing movies because his life is already stressful and he can see depressing on the news. And while I admire and enjoy many stories that don’t end so happily, I agree that often times we need fiction to help us believe in a better world. We want to be inspired. We want to be challenged. We want to believe that our friends and family will save us and that given the right set of circumstances, a hero will emerge from the most unlikely place—maybe even from within us. We want to believe that we can be more than we are and I think we can be.

Thank you again for taking time out to answer a few questions. I am eagerly looking forward to the release of BOY21.

MQ: My pleasure. Hope you will enjoy BOY21. Thanks!

Wow! I especially love his publication journey. And I think this bit bares repeating:

"The important parts were making a real commitment to writing, being willing to take risks and make sacrifices, working hard, working harder, working extremely hard, putting ourselves out there, working even harder than we had before, learning the business, acting professionally, weathering rejection, and supporting each other through creative setbacks and breakdowns. Did I mention working hard?"

I read and loved SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR so much, that I immediately bought and read THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. I've never really had that happen before.

Today, up for grabs: one copy of THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.

Only followers are eligible (but check back next week for a contest-at-large) and this contest is open internationally. To be entered, leave a comment saying what gives you hope.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to Review a Book

I don't profess to be an expert on reviewing- or for that matter, anything to do with the publishing or blogging world, but yesterday's post got me to thinking about reviews and I thought I'd offer up some advice.

Figure out why you're offering reviews. The Bookanistas, a group of writer-bloggers proclaim that they're only reviewing books they love, so you can expect that every review will be a gush. Are you reviewing to spread the love for lesser-known books? Or to offer your readers options in book purchases? Or promote books you believe in?

Depending on what you decide, it may influence how you review.

Also, think about ways to make your reviews unique. There are certain books I see reviewed almost every month. If you're going to review a book, bring something to the table- either something new, or something only you can offer.


If you read a lot, you'll eventually come across a book that either does absolutely nothing for you or that you flat-out hate. As a writer/blogger, you'll have two choices when that happens:

Pretend like you didn't read the book. Mention it to noone. Better yet, pretend the book doesn't exist.

If you choose to say something about the book, be objective about it. First, state that it wasn't your thing. If there are specific things that drove you not to like it, talk about them. And talk about the things you liked, even if you didn't mesh with the book overall. (I love Larissa's comment on yesterday's blog w.r.t negative reviews.)

For example, these snippets are taken from my review of CATCHER IN THE RYE (CITR).

2nd paragraph: "Personally, I didn't like it...Yet I appreciated it. "

4th paragraph: "What I don't like about the book is the lack of movement."

5th paragraph: "What I do like about the novel is its criticism of humanity."

Even though CITR is my literary arch-nemesis, you can still take something from this review. If you value sociological analysis more than you value a forward-moving plot, you might try the book, despite the fact that I don't like it.

(My review of CITR is on my review blog which is not currently public, since I'm still figuring out the art of reviewing. Hopefully one day, I'll have enough confidence to put my opinions out in the world.)

A caveat however: I'm not sure I'd review a book if I thought the writing sucked. I recognise that saying, "Your writing sucks" makes it personal. While something like, "I didn't like the use of the present tense," seems like an objective stylistic assessment. As a future (see what I did there? lol) published writer, I don't want to say anything which leans more towards a personal attack than a literary critique. And I don't want people hating my book because I said something bad about their book (or their client's book, or their friend's book, etc).

At the end of the day, when a review says "I wasn't a fan," you should still be able to respect the book, and the author. And if my review isn't doing that, then I'm failing somewhere.

When you review a book that didn't tickle your fancy, I think it's great to end with a suggestion of who might enjoy it.

"While it wasn't my cup of tea, I think readers who enjoy literature strongly tied to science, would thoroughly enjoy this book."

I don't mean this in a 'bad' way. The grand majority of life is average. The grand majority of the books you read are somewhere between decent and awesome.

This is probably where the biggest problem lies in the reviewer blogosphere. In an effort not to be negative to our colleagues, we've gone to the other extreme. Remember how I totally fangirled ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS? That's because I LOVED it. When I posted that review on December 6th, 4 days after the book had been released, I had already read the book 3 times. Not every book can fall into this category.

Like I said, that's not a bad thing. But there is a way to handle the good book that didn't make me contemplate quitting my job so I could spend the rest of my life reading it.


If you didn't have extreme feelings (love or hate) for the book, then say nothing. The word "average" means that something is as good as most of what surrounds it, better than a few, and worse than few. But "average,"and it's many synonyms have come to have a negative connotation.

So don't say, "This book was average" or "The book was okay" or decent, or so-so, etc.


At the beginning of your review, you can give a main concept.


[Book] offers a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between a child and his step-father.
[Book] shows how a woman can overcome all obstacles in the name of protecting her secret.
[Book]explores what it's like to be the only person of minority origin within a society.


The next step you can take is to present an analysis. This is what was bad. This is what was good. And there was anything that rocked your world, say so.

You can put what you came away from the book thinking or feeling.

Example, from review of BEFORE I DIE:

"But even with all that joy, curiosity, new experiences, expect that you will spend the last 20 pages, sobbing your eyes out. "


You'd think it would be easy to write a review of something you loved. You'd be wrong. If you ask someone what's great about their Mom/Dad/child/significant other, they might say something like, "She/He is just so awesome!" Now, maybe that means something to the people who know said Mom/Dad/child/significant other, but to anyone else? Nothing.

The point of a review is not just to share your opinion. "It was great," is an opinion, or even a cover blurb. It is not a review. Reviews are meant for someone other than the writer of the review (generally someone who hasn't read the book) to be able to create an opinion. For that, you need analysis.

Where you want to avoid judgement statements for other books, the strongest selling point of a review for a book that you want to marry, is the fact that you loved it that much. (That is, unless you claim to love a book every other day. In which case, people may have stopped listening by now.)

Here's my judgement from ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS (AATFK).

"I feel like every cliche possible.

"Like the story is so beautiful that I should never write another word because I can't compete.

"Like any words I use to describe it won't be enough."

It's tempting to grab at a whole bunch of straws, but remember when you grab at too many things, you end up empty-handed.

DON'T just say: The setting was fab! And the characters were awesome! And the love interest! Oh, the love interest! You have to read this! Like, yesterday!

So not helping anyone.

Instead, pick a few specific points. And then give a little snippet on why you liked them.

From my review of AATFK:

"And Étienne: Best flawed love interest. He's got imperfect teeth and bites his nails and is too short. Finally a YA Love Interest that isn't so perfect that you feel like your boyfriend needs to be rock-hard and sparkly. Or have a bazillion ab muscles."

This is useful. When you read this, you either say, "No thanks. I like my Prince Charming's tall, dark and handsome," or, "Thank Zeus! It's about daggone time there was a REAL guy in a book!"

Chances are if you loved a book that much, there may have been something that stood out above all else. It's great to end with this.

From my review of THE COLOR PURPLE:
"And that's just how I felt when I finished the book. Like everything is a part of everything else. And the world is big and immense and I'm such a tiny part. Yet I'm everything."

1. Opening feeling/thought. ( I didn't like/I loved/It was a thought-provoking exhibition of, etc)
2. What you didn't like, WITH SPECIFICS ( I start with the bad, because I like to end on a high.)
3. What you liked, WITH SPECIFICS
4. Final sentiment (It wasn't for me, but ____ might enjoy it/ You might feel this way after reading it/ This author was meant to write this book.)

There you have my (long) thoughts on reviewing. What do you disagree with? What do you agree with? Anything I've left out?

On Subjectivity

I want to thank E.J. for inspiring me to write this, with this wonderful post. And no, it's not wonderful just because he references me.

If you follow any agent blogs- and chances are, if you're following me, that you do- you'll hear them go on about the subjectivity of the business we're trying to make a living in. "It just wasn't for me," is as much of a catchphrase in the publishing realm as "It's not you, it's me" is in the relationship realm.

It's easy to take it personal and get angry. But let's get analytical for a second. There are some classics that everybody swears by. Do you like them all? I make no secret of the fact that I despise CATCHER IN THE RYE. And there are others who swear by it as the quintessential novel of teenagerdom. On the other hand, I love THE COLOR PURPLE. But I'm sure there are those who find the writing simplistic or are disgusted by the story.

And we don't even need to go back to the classics. Ever had a friend recommend a book to you as the greatest thing ever, and you were barely able to struggle through it? (For me, it was THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.) Or recommend a book to someone only to have them dodge you for months to avoid telling you how much they hated it?

It's called subjectivity. And it doesn't make the books I like any better than the books I don't like. I don't dispute the greatness of CATCHER IN THE RYE. It just wasn't for me. And in our societies, that's a right we revere: the right to choose what we like. Without it, we'd be forced to marry the first suitor that came along. But we don't. And it's not that there's neccesarily anything wrong with the suitors we don't choose. But only one can truly be number 1.

This post is really about reviews. E.J. commented on the fact that almost every review you read on the bloggosphere is about the most amazing book since Moses learned to write. And the fact of the matter is this: every book CAN'T be amazing. If every book was amazing, then amazing would become the new average.

No one's going to fault you for saying a book was good, instead of great. And the people you reccomend to, will come to trust your judgement, if what you say about the book actually turns out to be true.

Swing by tomorrow for "How to Review." Same bat time, same bat channel.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What doan kill

In Barbados, we say, "What doan kill, does fatten." It means "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Funnily enough, it's actually true.

Where I come from, fat is a norm.

To the point where, at 200 pounds, I wasn't even considered fat, but 'thick.' Because in the grand scheme of things, 200 pounds in Barbados, is a drop of water in the sea.

And maybe that sounds good to you. Because some places, from the second you're 5 pounds overweight, people are all up in your Koolaid. You're constantly bombarded with pics of just-barely-not-anorexic models in your magazines and newspapers and on your tv screens. Your friends tell you that you're overweight and preface it with, "I'm telling you this because I care."

So a country where noone cares how much you weigh, or even is happy about you being overweight- well, it starts to sound like a good thing.

Until you get to the point where your health starts to get affected, or you realise you are actually obese, maybe even insanely so. Suddenly, you can see a perk to the harassment. Those pictures of skinny people might have motivated you to do something about your situation. Maybe you might have dragged your butt to the gym. Or taken an interest in your diet.

In the end, the pictures and the harsh words, they might hurt. But you would have been better off.

What doan kill, does fatten.

As writers, we're a bit like this, too. We don't want to hear the bad things. We get up in arms about the red ink going through our manuscripts. But imagine that noone critiqued you. And you just got an agent. And then you got an editor. And then you were published.

And your book went off to market half-baked, and you sell 2 1/2 copies.

But if you'd gone through a proper editorial process, you would have had a few rejections and maybe some scathing critiques, but then you would have dusted yourself off, and edited that baby into the best danged book that you are capable of producing. And that may or may not be a NYT best seller or a Printz Award winner, or an Oprah book club selection, but it would still be miles more amazing than if the whole world just left you in your happy delusion.

What doan kill, does fatten.

It's Monday. That's what's on my mind.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Los diez 'best-sellers' del año

I poke around in "El Tiempo" - the Colombian newspaper- a couple times a week. In fact, I get all my news from Yahoo's front page, Twitter, blogs, facebook, and El Tiempo. No, I don't read English newspapers. :(

Anyhow, here's the top 10 fiction bestsellers from Colombia last year:

5. The Valkyries by Paolo Coelho

4. El sueño del celta (The Celt's Dream) by Mario Vargas Llosa

3. Fall of Giants by Ken Follet

2. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which is 'The Man who didn't Love Women' in Spanish) by Stieg Larsson.

Notice anything special?

Remember, this is Colombia...

Yeah, that's right. There's only one Spanish-speaking author on the list, and in case you wondered, he's Peruvian. (Paolo Coelho is Brazilian, which is at least on the same continent.)

After I read this list, it occured to me- not for the first time; I am a liguist- how skewed the world is in favour of us English speakers. How many non-English books make it to our lists? The Alchemist did it, and the Stieg Larsson books as well, but we've never had more books on any best-seller list which orignated in a foreign language than English books.

I doubt we ever will.

And then I realised, again not for the first time, that English speakers miss out on so much of the world for this reason. Our literature, our movies, our music all originates in English. And to make matters worse, we can count the number of countries who even have a role on one hand.

There's nothing wrong with surrounding yourself with your own stories, but it's kind of like only painting with red and blue, and never realising that there's yellow out there. That's not to say you'll end up liking the yellow or anything. But you should at least try it.

I'm going to do my part to broaden our horizons, and I'll be making an effort to include (in the giveaways) books which were originally published in other languages, or by multicultural authors.

(And speaking of giveaways, I have a totally fab one planned. But you'll have to wait until World Literacy Day- so long as I remember, but I should since it's my Dad's birthday as well.)

Don't forget to enter THE DUFF giveaway.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Duff- Review, Giveaway, Winner

Hey guys!

I loved the comments on last week's giveaway. You guys have some amazing things lined up.

BEFORE I DIE winner:


Congrats, Brooke. Email me at muchlanguage(at)gmail(dot)com, and let me know if you prefer hard copy or Kindle, as well as your address if you choose hard copy.


THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger

From Booklist:

Duff stands for “designated ugly fat friend.” And while 17-year-old Bianca isn’t that fat or ugly, that’s what Wesley calls her as he tries to hook up with her more desirable gal pals. But Bianca has a surprise for him when she kisses him in response. Then, as her life gets more complicated (parents divorcing, father back on the bottle), she finds it easy to drown her own sorrows in their hot, no-strings-attached sex. There are subtle strings, however, especially as Bianca and Wesley find they are not quite what the other supposed. Lots of language, plenty of sex (well, instances, if not images), and contemporary references make this feel of the moment. But the underlying worry about one’s place in the sun is eternal.

My one thing:

The one thing I loved above all else is the way the relationship develops between Wesley and Bianca.

I've read a lot of YA. And I'm really tired of relationships where the girl sees the guy and he's hot and it turns out he secretly likes her too.

That's not to say that Bianca's relationship is ideal. Have mindless sex until the pain subsides is not any way to go. But if I wanted advice I'd write Dear Abby. This relationship is real. (This may be a side effect of Kody actually being a teen) Because sometimes it's not love at first sight. Sometimes, an SO is a complete twat in the beginning or someone that you never really noticed.

(I'm trying a new review style. I realise that there are a lot of reviews out there. And that's why I never posted any, because I felt like you didn't need reviews which essentially say the same thing coming at you from a million sides. So I'm trying a new approach, MY ONE THING, where I pick one thing I really liked about the book and give it a little depth. )

As per Thursdays, you can win a copy of the book. Just leave a comment answering this question:

What kind of literary relationships do you like to read?

Open internationally and to followers only. (First Thursday of the month for non-followers.)
Contest ends Wednesday 11.59pm EST.

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Conference

Hey guys!

I'm psyched. I just discovered that UWI St. Augustine has an MFA (although I may have known before and forgotten- I'm weird like that.) St. A is the Trinidad campus of the university I went to. And since it's Trinidad who's dollar is 3 to 1 of ours, everything is cheap. (I'm sorry it's not Jamaica- 30 to 1!). So doing my MFA in Trinidad will cost about $13,000 USD per year - for tuition, accomodation, food, books, groceries, and 2 flights home! And that's less than tuition for any Masters' program in Barbados or the UK, and all but one in the US. :)

But the fact that I don't know what to do with my life is not the focus of today's post.

E.J. asked a little while ago about the conference I'm going to. It's called the Festival of Writing.

What I like:
It's in the UK. You know I've gone back and forth on where to set my novel: Barbados, the US, Japan. And whether or not to publish in the US or the UK. So I decided to investigate the industry on the other side of the pond. BUT it seems that the UK industry is a bit like New York in the '90's. If an agency doesn't have a website in America, you'd probably cross that agency off your list. About half my UK list doesn't have a website. You have to be on the ground.

The centralisation.The US industry is based in NYC, and you think it's really centralised. BUT there's conferences all over the country all year long. Not so in England. It seems the Festival of Writing is pretty much where it's at. Every agency of consequence sends representatives. There really is nothing comparable for the US.

One on ones.The Festival of Writing offers each attendee one face-to-face with an agent and one with a book doctor.

The informality.The publishing professionals will be staying in the same facilities, eating in the same facilities, showering in the same facilities... There'll be lots of opportunities for interaction.

Time.This is actually how I found the conference. As a teacher, you're pretty limited on when you can just wonder off. I'd love to be at the Writer's Digest conference this weekend, but it's mid-January, i.e. not going to happen. So, this one being in late March, just wins and wins.

Location Dude, it's York, England. And we're going to the hometown of the Bronte sisters!

Hope I'll have lots to report. And I'm keeping my passport well-guarded this time. lol.

PS. Don't forget to enter to win a copy of Before I Die before 11.59 pm Eastern. Tomorrow a new giveaway will be up.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blessid Union of Souls- TTT

Blessid Union of Souls came on the scene in 1995 with 'I Believe' their most succesful single to date. (Warning, there's an 'N' word in it.)

In 1998, they gave us "Light in your eyes," which is one of my favourite songs ever.

The next year it was "Hey Leonardo (She likes me for me)."

That's the Girl I've been telling you about. 2000.

Would you be the star in my "Storybook Life?" Awesome pickup line. lol. 2001

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sux to be Smart

I'm brilliant.

This is not me blowing my own horn. Well maybe it is. But that doesn't change the fact that I am. That I went to the top school on an island with one of the toughest education systems in the world. And the hardest college to gain admission to in the US. (Coast Guard Academy, in case you wondered, edges out Princetown because it accepts so few students.)

Now, you'd think being this smart would be a perk. Sometimes. More often than not, it's a cage.

When I was 16, I tried studying with my neighbour for the CXC's we had in common. (CXC's='O' Levels like Harry Potter's OWLs without the magic, done after 5 years of secondary school education.) My neighbour was already repeating his 5th year, and option they give you if you don't do that well. But he didn't make any effort to be available to study, and even though his sexiness had influenced my decision more than his brain, I eventually got mad.

Me: You're not going to do very well if you don't do any work.
Neighbour: So what?
Me: Everybody's going to be disappointed in you.
Neighbour: No. Everybody's going to be disappointed in YOU if you don't do well. Noone expects anything of me. Whatever I eek out, they'll be happy with.

That was the first time I realised it. Being smart might be a curse.

Earlier this week, my mother and I had an argument. Nothing abnormal there- this is why I write YA, lol! The program that brought me to Japan has a 5 year max. I'm a 3rd year. So I'm going over my options. And I kind of miss the military. The Police Force is out due to my age; the Army/Coast Guard is out for the fact that I already quit once. lol. So I thought of the Fire Service.

My mother was up in arms. I'd be taking a job from someone else who doesn't have a degree and 5 languages and experience in 5 fields and yadda yadda- all true. But I think her problem is more this: I'm smart enough to do anything. If I was interested in accounts, I could be an accountant; if I gave half an udder about equations and reactions, I could be a nuclear physicist. Or I could be a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or a CEO.

You think being smart is freedom. It's not. You get your little box just like everyone else. Sure, maybe your box is prettier than the compartments the rest of the population is stuck in, but it's still a box. And it doesn't matter how pretty your location, if it's somewhere you don't want to be.


I thought of two ways to bring this back to writing.

1. Does your character fit in the box that society/their family/their friends think that character should be in?

If he or she does, does it cause any friction with anyone else? If they don't, how do they feel about it? How do they react? Do they try to suck it up and do what others want? Or do they push against the walls as hard as they can?

2. Sometimes you have to make people care about your particular problem.

I assure you that if I were to walk into a bar sobbing, "I'm too smart!" I'd get no sympathy at all. Meanwhile, if someone were to say, "My girl just dumped me," people would be buying that guy drinks.

There are certain things that we all empathise with: break-ups, grief, insecurity. Others not so much. But if your MC has a problem, you have to make others care. First an agent. Then an editor. And finally readers. Even if it's a problem they'd never considered before.

It's Monday. That's what's on my mind.

Friday, January 14, 2011

To S or not to S, that is the question

One of my favourite places in Japan is Khaoson Annex. It's one of a chain of hostels in Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka and Beppu. I love the atmosphere. I love the people. I love love LOVE the price.

But on my last trip down it occured to me that hostels aren't for everyone. So here's a quick guide on whether or not you should go to the hoStel or if you should stick to strictly hotels.

Pick a hostel if:

1. You love meeting random people. You love hearing 7 different languages while you make breakfast. You're open to spending 3 days at a mega-concert with a dude you just met who sleeps across the room from you.

2. You're not an absolute stickler for hygiene. Don't get me wrong, Khaosan is clean. But I figure there's about 100 beds in the Annex. And there are 6 showers. Whereas in a hotel, it's just you and the other inhabitants of your room- and I figure if you know them well enough to share a room, you are probably a lot less worried about catching their toe fungi.

3. You don't mind a lack of privacy. In the annex, you can actually get a 2 person room. In fact, the biggest rooms are 10 beds. Some hostels have full floors of beds. Either way, walking around your room naked is a no-no. And you probably wouldn't feel comfy doing your morning yoga when someone might climb out of their bunk and put their nose in your Downward Facing Dog.

4. You don't mind the bustle. There are signs up in Khaosan about keeping quiet at 10 o clock. But even in the best of times, there will be noise. Coming in at 3 am, and trying not to disturb the others in the room invariably means you will trip and fall into your suitcase and a whole bunch of clanging will ensue. When we climbed Mount Fuji, my friend was miserable because the other people we were sharing a room with kept whispering or moving or coming and going. She's definitely not a hostel type.

5. You understand and accept the possibility of your stuff going missing. I've never lost anything at Khaosan. And I've never stayed in a hostel other than in Japan (which is one of the safest countries in the world, although I don't know why that should affect the tourists). But still the possibility exists that you'll leave your bag and come back to find it tussled through. There are lockers at Khaosan, and you can rent a cabin bed- which is an enclosed wooden structure you can lock. Still, it's nowhere as safe as it could be.

Those are a few of the considerations that I can come up with for staying in hostels. Do you guys prefer to spend the $20 and put up with the disadvantages? Do you love the noise and the camaraderie? Or you a Ritz-er all the way?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Before I Die- Review and Giveaway

Hey guys!

It's Thursday. You know what that means: giveaway!

But first, last week's winner:


Congratulations Natalie! Please email me (muchlanguage at gmail dot com) and let me know if you'd like a hard copy, or if you prefer a Kindle edition.

Today, I'll be giving away a copy of Before I Die by Jenny Downham

From Amazon:
Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It’s her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is Sex. Released from the constraints of ‘normal’ life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.

I might never have picked this book up if I didn't live in Japan. The English sections of bookstores here have a collection of literature from all over the world. And I might never have seen this book in Barbados because we (surprisingly) don't have a lot of British literature.

There's something about a book where you know the outcome. Especially when that outcome is the death of a teenager. (Doubt me- check out Jay Asher's Thirsteen Reasons Why.) As you get closer to the character, you wait for the miracle you know won't come.

Tessa refuses to just lay down and die. She makes herself a list, frivolous at first, and then more serious as she begins to discover what's really important. It's filled with hope, and not romanticised. Tessa's boyfriend is not perfect. Her best friend has her own set of issues. But they go through the list together.

But even with all that joy, curiosity, new experiences, expect that you will spend the last 20 pages, sobbing your eyes out.

To enter for a copy of BEFORE I DIE, leave a comment with something(s) you'd like ot do before you die.

Today's contest is open to followers only. (Non-followers can check back on the first Thursday of the month.)
Entries close on Wednesday at 11.59 EST.

Good luck.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

There's a plot in my pants

When I was little I wanted to be a scientist.

At some point, reality kicked in and I realised that I hate details and would probably discover the cure for cancer, only to find I hadn't taken note of any of the ingredients.

I did not always want to be a writer. I guess I would have to say that writing kind of followed me around and hit me upside the head until I took notice of it. I mean I was always a reader. I read so much that my primary school teachers would send me on errands to watch me walk and read. And then I started writing poetry when I was bored in classes, which was 97.498% of the time. And then I was introduced to nanowrimo. And lo and behold, the aspiring novelist was born.

Nano introduced me to the online writing community- all of you fabulous semi-imaginary friends- without whom I probably would still be writing "Roses are red" rhymes. And nano also introduced me to the concept of pantsing versus plotting.

That was back in 2008. 2 years and 2 months ago. And while that doesn't seem like that long a time, I feel like I've accrued a lot of knowledge since then. And I can't help but feel a bit misled by the plot vs pants dichotomy. Like its a mysnomer. Or a myth. Or a flat out prevarication. (That's a big word for lie. I was reading Socrates today. In Spanish. lol.)

Because the term 'pants' implies that you know nothing about the novel until pen hits paper (or fingers hit keyboard). And the term 'plot' implies that every twist and turn has been sketched out.

And I kind of wonder if those writers exist.

See, I'm a pantser. I never really have a clue where exactly my plot is going.


There are things I know beforehand. I always know my characters really well. And even though I may not know the end of the story, certain scenes are as vivid as if I lived them myself. And with each novel (I just finished my 3rd first draft) I find that I know more before I start to write.

I've heard the same thing happens to plotters too. Somewhere along the line, a character reveals something that shocks the socks off the author. Or the plot twists in an unforeseen way. Or the arch-nemesis refuses to lay down and die quietly. And most times, it seeems, the book is a better book for it.

I say all that to say this:

Don't feel like you have to belong to one camp or the other. It's not like pregnancy or death. (I mean have you ever met someone who was a little pregnant or a little dead?) You can be mostly pantser and still lay out your characters. Or brainstorm your plot points. Or make a scene list. And if you're mostly plotter, you don't have to follow the Yellow Brick Road all the way home, if suddenly a Scarecrow appears in the field. It's okay to take a detour. Or 6.

Don't forget you've got until 11.59 EST to enter to win Beth Revis' ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.

Across the Universe with Beth and a Penguin

It's release day for Across the Universe (1.11.11 or 11.1.11 depending on where you're from).

I'm participating in a Blogsplash that Penguin is putting on to welcome ATU into the world. (I love this; I don't want to be published by Penguin, I want to marry them! lol.)

So, let's set off. To boldly go where no cryogenic teen has gone before!

First an interview with author, Beth Revis, where she talks about the feeling she hopes to encapsulate in the book. And gives an overview of the ship.

Here's the ATU trailer. Haunting!

You can find Beth all over the web, at her blog and on Twitter.

Or you can stop by Facebook and like the ATU page.

Or you can stop by the ATU website.

Show Penguin some love on their Facebook or Twitter.

And you haven't seen the best part yet! From 11:11 AM to 11:11 PM (EST) io9 will be hosting a 111 page excerpt from ATU!!!

And, of course, you can win your own copy of ATU, if you comment on my interview with Beth before 11.59 tomorrow night.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A new start (Monday on my Mind)

Don't forget to enter to win a copy of Beth Revis' debut novel, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, in the first of my weekly giveaways.


On Christmas morning, I went to Church. Doesn't sound all that random? Well, I can't remember the last time I've been to church (in English) but I strongly suspect it was some time around 6 years ago. I don't make that much of an effort to go here because the service is in Japanese and the church my neighbours is a a $18 return, 20 minute train-ride away.

Anyways I went to church. I picked an empty pew and sat in it- I was by myself because my Dad's a Eucharistic Minister, so he's always up front with the priest. And my former neighbour, N, sat down next to me. I haven't seen him in about 10 years. We used to talk back in the day. ("Talk" is the Bajan equivalent of dating. In American culture, a guy (or girl) asks their love interest out and if things work out for a few dates, they start a relationship. That's not the format we have in Bim. I guess it's more like old time wooing. You talk for a while, and then you decide to get together. And then they start going to places together.)

N and I, we mumble all through the service. It turns out he hasn't been in church in 12 years. And the 'dangerous' priest (in Bajan, being dangerous is akin to the words 'snitch' or 'rat out') preaches about people who haven't been to church all year. It's kind of laughable, considering how long the two of us haven't been. And me and N promise one another that we'll be back the next day for the regular Sunday service.

And we both come.

And we're both there the next week, too.

For the last 12 and 6 years respectively, there's been nothing stopping either of us from going to church, but we didn't. And it's not just about church. You stop going to the gym, due to illness or because you're swamped at work or for whatever legitimate reason, and you never start back up.

Or you stop studying.

Or hockey practice.

Or you never even start singing in the choir.

Or going to the dance class you're interested in.

The thing is that if you'd started immediately, you'd have been fine. But then the excuses start piling up. And even the time you haven't been doing the activity becomes an excuse.

"How can I start back now after 12 years?"
"Why should I bother to start? I'm doing fine without it!"

And you get to a stage where you no longer need an excuse for not doing the thing you're not doing. You'd need an excuse to do it.

That's what New Year's Resolutions are all about. Using the changing of the year and all that inspiration to start all the things that you could have started eons ago but needed an excuse to get to. It's an excuse to get closer to bein the person you want to be.

There are some people who go on about what a waste of time NYRs are. Most people don't keep them anyhow. And then they'll just get depressed about how much they haven't done this year. January 1 is just another day.

And as pessimistic as it is, they're right. You could start any day. You don't need a new year, or even a new month to begin. Your studies. Your workouts. Your writing.

You don't need a reason.

You don't need an excuse.

You don't need a resolution.

You just need to start.

It's Monday. That's what's on my mind.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Beth Revis- TBT

Hey guys, today we've got Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe, stopping by the PoC.


Welcome to Points of Claire-ification, Beth. Tell us a little bit about your book.

It's a murder mystery set in space! ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is told from two points of view--one from Amy, a girl from Earth who was cryogenically frozen in order to travel to a new planet, and the other is Elder, a boy born as part of the crew of the ship, destined to be the next leader. When Amy wakes early, she and Elder have to figure out who's unplugging and killing the other frozens before the murderer gets to Amy's parents.

Okay. Let’s see if I got this right. Sci-fi with elements of mystery, dystopian and romance. Wowsers! Where did the idea come from?

Oh, I can't tell you! The entire novel came from one plot twist--one sentence, really. I had the idea for that sentence, and everything else--the setting, the characters, the plot, the tone, everything--came from that one idea.

What are you favourite things about the book?

That my name is on the cover! I've dreamt about publishing a book for so long that seeing that is really and truly a dream come true. As for the physical book, I *LOVE* that the dust jacket is reversible, and that the ship's logo is embossed on the hardback cover.

How did the writing process go? Pantser or plotter?

I am 100% a pantser. I don't know how the book will end until I get there. Beyond the one plot twist, I didn't know anything else until I actually wrote it.

Merrilee Heifetz at the prestigious Writer’s House! How did you find your agent? Why did you choose her?

I got my agent the old-fashioned way--straight out of the slush pile. It was just a regular query sent along with all the rest. As for why I chose could I not? She's my dream agent!

Across the Universe is not your first manuscript. What pearls of inspiration do you have for as-yet unpublished (or unagented or un-havingofanovelofpublishablequality –that’s me!) writers? Any general advice?

Write the next book. I have a few writer friends who've spent a decade or more on a book that hasn't sold. It took me a decade--and ten books--to write a book that would sell. I never spent more than a year on a book. Why spend more than a year on something that doesn't work? And besides, my attitude has always been--you can't expect an artist to sell his first painting. It's just as rare for a first book to be a masterpiece.

And finally, Star Wars or Star Trek?

Old school Star Wars, new school Star Trek.

COP OUT! lol!

Thank you for joining us, Beth.

Thanks for interviewing me!


You can win a copy of Beth Revis' Across the Universe by commenting on this post by next Wednesday at 11.59 EST. Don't worry if you don't win. The book is out on January 11- 11.1.11 or 1.11.11 depending on where you're from.

This contest is open internationally. You don't need ot be a follower to enter.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Year of Living Write

Happy New Year!

I'm in Miami! Tomorrow I fly to LA, then Tokyo. Had conversations in French, Spanish and Italian tonight. And being home was fantastic. I'm a happy camper.


The Year of Living Write

You may remember last month, for Le Rejectionist's uncontest I posted some resolutions. There were originally 9, but I've axed two.

A quick recap
1. Save money.
2. Advance my WIP every month.
3. Take a novel through the full pre-query process.
4. Read one book a week.
5. Vary my reading
6. Review every book I read.
7. Give away a book every week.

After re-reading my resolutions, and considering that I'm finally going ot be attending my first paid conference in March (knock on wood) I've decided not only to make resolutions, but to dedicate this year to taking my writing as far forward as possible and setting goals to that effect.

I haven't figured out the exact goals yet. But I know that I'm going to spend my entire year making my writing "boldly go where no [writing] has gone before." Yeah, I dream big :)

How's about you guys? Any big plans for 2k11?

PS. Don't forget to stop by tomorrow for an interview and the first giveaway of the year. And don't forget there will be a giveaway EVERY WEEK here.