September 12, 2020

First person present tense

There used to be a time when I would only read stories written in the third person past tense point of view. Most books are written that way, so it wasn't a challenge to indulge my preference. On the occasions when I read a book with a first person point of view, the narration threw me off because I wasn't used to seeing the story take place through the eyes of a single character. It was even stranger to read a story written in present tense because past tense was how I thought stories were "supposed" to be told.

The Hunger Games opened my eyes to the allure of first person present tense. The combination of a gripping story, great writing, and the selected point of view made for, to me, as close to a perfect novel as I've read. It still remains my favorite YA novel of all time. I don't know how effective The Hunger Games would've been if it wasn't written in first person present tense. Suzanne Collins's choice drew me closer to Katniss Everdeen than I had been to any other character I can think of, and telling the story in present tense made the action come alive in a way that I don't believe past tense could have.

Since The Hunger Games, I've read a lot more books that use the first person present tense. I don't know if it's become a more popular choice among authors or if I'm gravitating toward books written that way. I'm embracing writing in first person present tense as well. The short stories in my Driver series were my first published works using that point of view, and they were fun to write. While I've written more stories since then in other points of view (primarily third person past tense and first person past tense), I'm working on a new project that's best suited for first person present tense. After abandoning my last manuscript (written in third person past tense), this one has been more fun to write, and I attribute some of that to the point of view.

Do you have a preferred point of view in the stories that you read or write? Are there any that you dislike?


August 16, 2020

I miss being around physical books


It's been over five months since I've last visited a library or been inside a bookstore. That's more than five months where I haven't been surrounded by physical books, and I miss them. I might go as far as to say that I miss being around physical books the way some people miss being around their friends during this pandemic. That's not strange, right?

Thanks to the Libby app, I've still been able to borrow e-books from the library, but e-books aren't the same as physical books. Also, I can't roam around the Libby app like I can walk between the bookshelves at a library or bookstore and see all the books that I haven't read before. I have my share of physical books at home, but I'm still a long way from owning enough to capture the feeling of a library/bookstore. (But one day...)

Even when libraries and bookstores re-open, the near-term experience will be different from what I'm used to. I'll have to keep a safe distance away from other patrons, and I'll hesitate to pick up books at random because I won't know who has touched them before I did. However, I look forward to the day when I'll be able to be surrounded by physical books again.

July 11, 2020

Admitting defeat

For the past two years, I've been working on a novel. It was going to be my first thriller, a different genre than the YA I normally write. I chose it because thrillers are my second favorite genre to read, and I had an idea that I thought would make for a great story. After chipping away at it for so long, I'm finally setting it aside. Giving up on something is hard for me. I'm the type of person who insists on finishing what he started, even if he doesn't want to. I don't stop projects before they're done. I don't DNF books (except on rare occasions), even if I don't like them.

What finally made me stop working on this WIP was how messy the manuscript was getting. I started out with an outline, which made complete sense to me before I began drafting. As I started writing, however, I spotted holes in the plot. I'd fix one plot hole, and another would pop up. It got to the point where I feared the story was going to be an incoherent mess that no one would enjoy reading it. Now that the story is behind me, I can see that I'm not yet skilled enough to pull off the thriller I had in mind. I hope that I'll be a good enough writer in the future to revisit the manuscript again, but for the time being, I'm admitting defeat.

The good news is that I just started working on a new story. I'm going back to writing YA again, and two weeks in, it's going well. Then again, the first two weeks of writing the thriller were also fun and problem-free. :-)

June 14, 2020

A new reading goal

In April, Goodreads published a list of the 40 most popular mysteries of the past five years. I was surprised to find that I had read almost half the books listed. Many of the others were books that I want to read but haven't had a chance to yet. Given how my NY Times Bestseller reading challenge is going, I decided to add a new reading goal this year: read as many of the 40 most popular mysteries as I can. I won't add any restrictions regarding the authors of the books, and I won't necessarily read them in order but rather based on their availability. Given that this is my second-favorite genre to read (after YA speculative fiction), I'm optimistic that I'll find more books I enjoy on this list than the NY Times Bestseller list.

May 16, 2020

The problem with my NY Times Best Seller Reading Challenge

At the beginning of the year, I posted that I'd be embarking on a new reading challenge to read at least one NY Times Bestseller each month by an author whose books I hadn't read yet. Since these would all be bestsellers, I thought I'd discover some great new authors. Five months and five books into the challenge, the results aren't encouraging. I've liked only one of the five. Wading through the others reminded me of the books I was required to read in high school English classes, i.e., I wanted to get through them as quickly as possible and not ever think about them again.

My conclusion, however, isn't that all bestsellers are ill-suited for me. The problem is my stipulation that the books in the reading challenge be from authors who are new to me. During the first five months of this year, I also read two bestsellers written by authors I've read before, and they were both very enjoyable. It makes sense. Most of the books that topped the bestseller lists were by authors whose books I've read before. The reason I avoided the ones written by authors new to me were because I didn't think I'd enjoy them. It turns out I was right

What does this mean for the reading challenge? I'm still going to stick to the rules I laid out for myself at the beginning of the year. Who knows, maybe I'll still find a gem or two? However, my expectations won't be as high just because the books are bestsellers.

April 12, 2020

How the pandemic is changing my life


For those like me who live in Northern California, it's been a month since we started sheltering in place. It was rough at first, even though I'm a boring person who didn't go out much even before COVID-19. However, I still went to the office for work, exercised at the gym, visited the library, and dined in restaurants. I've done none of those things for the past month. While I'm becoming more used to the shelter-in-place routine, things are still different than they were before.

I believe that, like every crisis we've faced throughout history, we will get through this one too. Weeks or months from now, we will be able to return to the life that we had before. However, as with all major events, COVID-19 will change how we live our lives. Personally, I'm already noticing a few different ways that I view things.

  • Social distancing - I've become so used to keeping six feet away from everyone that when I watch a movie on TV now, I cringe when the characters are close together. Why are you talking in each other's faces? Why can't you have that exchange while standing six feet apart? If social distancing is so ingrained in me now, it'll take me a while to feel comfortable being physically near strangers again. I shudder to think of the day I have to ride the train to go to the office again.
  • Delivery services - I rarely used delivery services before the pandemic. I bought everything in person at the stores, and I preferred eating at restaurants or ordering take-out from the counter instead of having my meals delivered. With sheltering in place, I've been ordering something to be delivered almost everyday. A new world of options has opened up to me, and I have a feeling that after it's safe to go out in public again, I'll use more delivery services than I have in the past.
  • Virtual meetings - Before the pandemic, I'd have virtual meetings with co-workers who were located in different cities. Now, every meeting is virtual. My wife has been holding virtual meetings with co-workers for the first time. It's a trend that already started before COVID-19, but virtual meetings will become more and more commonplace for us.
  • Entertainment at home - In my last blog post, I mentioned that one of the benefits of this pandemic is that I should have more time to read, and indeed, I have. I've also discovered some good movies and TV shows that are available from the comforts of the living room. Does this mean I'll always stay home for entertainment? Probably not, but now I know it's possible to keep myself entertained without leaving the house.

How has the pandemic changed the way you view how you live your life?

March 14, 2020

Benefits of a pandemic

We live in scary times. The coronavirus has dominated the headlines the past few weeks. People are dying around the world. Sports events, conferences, concerts, and other gatherings are getting canceled. The stock market plunged. Disneyland closed. While there's certainly a lot of negative impact from this current pandemic, I wanted to take a look at some of the silver linings.
  1. Public places are less crowded - I do hope that businesses that are currently suffering from the pandemic see a rebound soon. That said, I'm enjoying the fact that public places I normally go to (gym, library, restaurants) are less crowded than normal. The anti-social introvert in me can get used to not being around too many people. :-)
  2. Working from home - The company I work for recently recommended that we work from home. While there are pros and cons to working from home, on the whole, I'm liking it so far. The biggest benefit for me is not having to take the commute train anymore. Not only does that save two hours of my time each day, but the train was a health hazard even before the coronavirus!
  3. More focus on cleanliness - Yes, we should've been washing our hands all along, but it's nice to see that everyone is now more concerned about cleanliness. Restaurants, hotels, and airlines I've patronized have also sent me emails assuring me of their cleaning policies (although the fact that so many businesses have my email address is cause for a different kind of concern). If there's one thing that I hope the pandemic leaves us with, it's a renewed emphasis on cleanliness.
  4. More time to read (and write) - Going out less? Don't have to commute to work anymore? All of that adds up to more time at home, and what better way to spend that time than reading! It's too soon for me to notice yet, but I do plan to take advantage of this period of "social distancing" to read more and to catch up on writing.
What has it been like for you during the coronavirus situation? How are you coping?
Stay safe, everyone!