Thoughts from Left Field

In Praise of Book Reviews: Reviewing for the 48 Hour Book Contest (for which I read a whopping 2,004 pages, so I don’t feel quite so bad anymore that it was only 7 books) made me uncomfortably aware of the hyperbole of critique. I always feel just a bit leery when I read jacket blurbs that say that something is “laugh out loud hilarious,” “edgy,” (I am actually to the point of getting a rash when I read the ‘e-word,’) or “brilliant,” or “luminous.” I almost never feel the same way, and it makes me feel like a right idiot to be the one person on Planet Earth who just thinks a novel is simply ‘pretty funny’ or ‘cute’ or “has quirky, lovable characters.” Especially when I read The Book Thief, I realized that all the adjectives in praise of the novel had been taken by writers before me (except for the word ‘humbling,’ which is what I felt about the whole huge scope of the novel and my talent next to the talent of Mr. Zusak). It makes me wonder what blurb writers do when they really don’t like what they’ve been asked to read and review. Are all the adjectives an elaborate cover-up for what they really mean? I smile whenever I read blurbs put out by friends of authors, and I solemnly promise not to make ANY of you write ANYTHING like that on books of mine, when I am rich and famou$, and I’ll do the same for you. If I like it, I’ll say so. If not… well, then look out for adjective overload and clouds of purple prose!

Dickens,The Movie: Last week (years late) I “discovered” graphic novels. Okay, I’d read some before, but they were comic books – which are old school, right? So, now that I’m hip with the new name, I’m keeping an eye out for more graphic literature that appeals to my reluctant reader little brother and sister but doesn’t insult them (like the horrible comic of the New Testament that someone gave me as a child. Pah!). I discovered a BBC site on Victorianism and Dickens. They’ve animated Bleak House, of all things, and it’s worth a quick visit.

The Light Fantastic: I read with interest last Sunday’s Washington Post interview with Shannon Hale, author of The Goose Girl and other novels. The nicest thing her readers have told her, Hale says, is that they didn’t realize they were reading fantasy when they started reading Goose Girl, which is actually a retelling of one of Grimm’s famous tales. They just opened up the book, and fell headlong into a good story. What a nice thought.

I remember hearing Bruce Coville speak at a Conference once on what he calls the “cool things per page” ratio in fantasy novels. The Goose Girl is full of things that aren’t part of the ‘now’ world, so the reader is drawn in quickly and propelled along, and then – hey! Magic! It’s always really neat to see the stuff we writers know about in theory work so well. I look forward to getting back into the mythical worlds and peopling them with such memorable characters that the fantasy element is the last thing on a reader’s mind… At least that’s the plan! (And I was really pleased to see an editor interview at Cynsations of Mirrorstone Books, a new imprint at Wizards of the Coast, which still is interested in unagented stuff from new writers, so there’s still hope for people who’ve never published in the genre before!)
Ah well, back to work.

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