Friday, February 24, 2012

German Castles--just a few

Germany, like the Czech Republic and many other European countries, is bursting with castles.  Last time I was in Europe, I visited my friend near Cologne, then took a few days along the Upper Middle Rhine.  Here is just a sampling of the castles and chateaux I saw.

St. Goar
I blame fairy tales and fantasy novels, but I'm still such a sucker for a good castle, especially a fortified, defend-against-your-enemies type, such as you find every few miles along the Rhine.  

There are points near St. Goar where you can see three castles from one spot.  On my three hour river cruise, I counted at least 18 castles, ruins, castle-like toll stations, and chateaux.  It's not called the Romantic Rhine for nothing. 



One of the many castles on the Rhine

Castles and vineyards:  the Romantic Rhine

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hilari Bell's Publication Stats

One of my favorite fantasy series is the Farsala trilogy by Hilari Bell.  The world building's fantastic.  The characters are conflicted.  The struggle's epic.  The plot's full of clever plans, often gone awry.  I love it to pieces.

Hilari Bell's other work hasn't impressed me quite as much, with the exception of The Prophecy.  However, I've enjoyed everything I've read by her, including her fabulous writing tips on her website.

I was just over there, reading, however, and came across some sobering statistics.  Who knows if they're true.  Hopefully they're not, but I have a sneaking suspicion they're true.

-Most authors get published between novel 5 and 7, Bell claims.  Not the fifth agent they contact.  The fifth NOVEL they WRITE.

-It takes 20-50 queries to pick up an agent. And this, I assume, is if your query's decent and your writing's good.  Or, perhaps more likely, your query's fantastic and your writing's decent.

-Hilari Bell was working on her 13th novel before she sold one.  It was the 5th one she'd written.  She'd been seriously trying to get published for 17 years.

Yet, in a post she entitled "The Irrational Optimism of Writers," Hilari Bell quotes a speech she once heard:  "The ones who have been published are the ones who didn't quit."

Friday, February 10, 2012

"The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins

Typical "action" in movies and books tends to bore me.  I once watched one of the new Star Wars movies and fast-forwarded through all the action scenes.  What I consider the actual story lasted about 12 minutes.  I was disgusted.  I generally prefer tense conversations, power struggles, and inter-personal conflict of the more subtle kind.  However, the sword fighting scene atop the Cliffs of Insanity in the Princess Bride is one of my favorite movie scenes ever.  That action's sprinkled with witty dialogue, spoofery and quotable lines ("I'm not left handed either!")  I held my breath through most of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), where quick, heated debates, fights for control, and personal sacrifice spiced up the man vs. nature action.  So, when it's well done, action can be phenomenal.

That's what The Hunger Games is:  phenomenal.  Breath-taking.  Sleep-stealing.  Spectacular.    

I'd heard it was good, but when I checked it out of the library, I sat down and didn't lift my eyes from the pages for 45 minutes, until I was almost late for my bridge club.  If I hadn't had a partner waiting, I would have ditched my friends.  I read as I walked to the car.  I read until they began shuffling the first hand.  Afterwards, I read at the stop lights on the way home (NOT recommended, I know).  That night, I climbed in bed at 10:00 and read until 3:00 am.  It's been a long time since a book held me that tight. 

I hate novels written in present tense.  I didn't even notice this was present tense until page 48.  It's the only book I know where it really works.  I have a pet peeve about comma splices (two complete sentences linked only with a comma).  The Hunger Games contains a shocking and gratuitous number of comma splices.  I didn't care.   

I don't want to tell you much about the story, because discovering it for yourself will be far more satisfying.  Some people say the plot's recycled (what plot isn't?), but it was absolutely unique in my reading experience.  A page-turner, but with great characterization for something so plot-centered.     

Brutal and violent and shockingly cruel in parts, it manages a morbid beauty despite all that.  Perhaps not appropriate for young kids, it does rather romanticize the violence, even though most of the main characters abhor it and try to show how barbaric it is.     

I teach GED, and told my class about the book.  The next time we met, five days later, one of my students walked in with a book up in her face, feeling her way into the classroom with her feet.  It wasn't The Hunger Games.  It was Catching Fire, the second book in the series.  She'd already devoured the first. 

A few months later, I was talking with another student from a different class about ways to improve spelling.  I suggested reading more—reading for fun.  She then told me all about this great book she'd just read:  The Hunger Games.  She'd finished it in a week.  Then she admitted that it was the first novel she'd ever read completely through.  The first

Suzanne Collins, you amaze me.  

My rating:  5

Check out her website, buy the book, or see the movie trailer (I'm so excited, though it probably won't be as good as the book).