May 25, 2013

Book review: Epic by Conor Kostick

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Welcome to a society governed through computer games!

On New Earth, society is governed and conflicts are resolved in the arena of a fantasy computer game, Epic. If you win, you have the chance to fulfill your dreams; if you lose, your life both in and out of the game is worth nothing. When teenage Erik dares to subvert the rules of Epic, he and his friends must face the Committee. If Erik and his friends win, they may have the key to destroying the Committee’s tyranny. But if they lose . . .

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

I thought I would like Epic more than I did. Roughly half of the story takes place inside the video game called Epic and the other half takes place in the real world. The chapters within Epic are better, but I found the chapters that take place outside the game to be boring.

The game of Epic itself is not unlike some of the MMORPGs we have today. Players take on characters like warriors, thieves, or wizards to engage in combat or go on missions in order to earn money, which they can use to improve their players. I found the events that took place within the game to be interesting, if somewhat disjointed because of the jumps in and out of the game. The game narrative builds up to an entertaining climax at the end.

On the other hand, the scenes that took place in the real world were boring. Because dying in Epic doesn't mean you die in the real world, there wasn't much tension involving the real world characters. Given how unfair Epic is, the author could have raised the stakes a lot more by building on the conflict between the common people and Central Allocations in the real world, but instead, the people in the real world are strangely content to let their lives be run by the outcomes inside the game.

I wished more of the book took place inside the game or that the real world situations contained more tension. If you're into MMORPGs, maybe you'll like the book for that aspect. Otherwise, it was just an OK read.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Legend by Marie Lu.

May 18, 2013

What I envy about other authors

Envy is a part of being human. I'm certainly guilty of feeling envy at times. What I don't understand, as it relates to being an author, is how some authors can become so envious of another's success that they try to sabotage that success. For example, I've heard stories of authors leaving bad reviews for other books in the same genre, books they haven't even read, just to bring down the ratings of other authors' books.

When I hear about another indie author's success, I'm happy for them. Success stories like Amanda Hocking are what inspired me to publish my books. When I heard about Hugh Howey's big publishing deal, I congratulated him on it. (It's great how the Internet lets you do that!)

That's not to say that I don't envy other authors. There are two things about some authors that I absolutely envy: productivity and great writing.

Dean Wesley Smith is an author that I've learned a lot from. One thing he's preached over and over is for an author to spend time writing, not marketing. Recently, he even posted a daily log showing how he wrote a novel in ten days! Another author who is unbelievably productive is Elle Casey, who has written 18 books in 15 months! She recently wrote a post describing how she does it. It's quite an eye opener. It typically takes me about ten months to write a book. I would love to be able to write faster because I've got a lot more story ideas than the bandwidth to write them.

I also get envious when I read a book that's so well written that I immediately fall in love with the writing. I start wishing that I could write as well as the author, and oftentimes, I refer back to their works when I'm writing. For example, it's no secret that I love The Hunger Games. When I was working on Beyond New Eden, I re-read The Hunger Games and kept going back to it because Beyond New Eden was the first book I wrote from the first person POV, and The Hunger Games is the best first person novel I've ever read. A couple of other writers I discovered this year who fall into that category are Susan Ee, author of Angelfall, and Katie French, author of The Breeders and a guest poster on this blog earlier this week.

For the authors I envy, I wish them all the success in the world because I believe they deserve it. I can only hope to learn from them and become a better writer myself.

May 13, 2013

Guest post: Why I Write Dystopian by Katie French

Earlier this year, I read The Breeders, a YA post-apocalyptic novel from author Katie French. I loved the book, and in the process, Katie French became one of my favorite indie authors. In February, she published Nessa, a companion story to The Breeders, and just last week, the first book in her new YA trilogy, Eyes Ever to the Sky, was released. For fans of YA and dystopian, I highly recommend picking up one of her books.

Not only is she a fantastic writer, but Katie also agreed to a guest post on my blog today! So without further ado, here she is with a post about why she writes dystopian novels.

A few days ago, as I was watching the critically acclaimed show, The Walking Dead, I had a thought. Just as Andrea was about to stab a screwdriver into a zombie's eye socket, I wondered what exactly was wrong with me. Just an hour before I was listening to Justin Cronin's The Twelve, an equally brutal look at possible human annihilation by vampires. Prior to that I was on the treadmill reading Fuse, Julianna Baggot's masterpiece about survivors of an atomic blast that left them fused to the objects, animals or people they were touching when it detonated. Looking back on my day, I realized there might be something really psychologically wrong with me. Why would I spend copious amounts of time amerced in human destruction? Why would I be draw to stories that start with the basis that everything we love and value has been destroyed? Conclusion: I need a good therapist.

Yet, I am not alone. I know that if you have picked up The Breeders and liked it, you might be a little sick in the head like me. The third season finale of The Walking Dead pulled in a whopping 12.8 million viewers. Hunger Games books were on the New York Times Best Seller list for over 100 consecutive weeks. That's a lot of us crazies walking around out there. So, humanity is fascinated with its own demise. But why? Folks, I have a theory.

In general many of us read for entertainment and escape, but those of us who read dystopian also read for a third purpose, to prepare. Do we all think we'll die soon by a North Korean missile and build bomb shelters in our basements? No. But, many of us might wonder, late at night, how we would act if society suddenly came to a halt. Would we be those that took up arms, marched to the aid of others and rallied those left to a new America? Or would we be zombie food? We read to ponder the multitude of ways it could go down. We read to quantify those qualities it takes to overcome. And when and if that bomb drops, we'll be the first to roll out our super secret Zombie survival plan. (Mine includes a visit to my local Outdoor World.)

There's one more reason I believe people read dystopian. There's something so magical about basic human survival. When all this commercial garbage is stripped bare, the human soul and its capacity to overcome is astounding. We know that about our race, that we never go down without a fight. There's a scene in episode two of season two of The Walking Dead where Hershel, the veterinarian turned surgeon, is speaking to Rick. Rick is destraught, wondering what's the point? Why go on in such a broken world? Hershel turns to him and says (I'm paraphrasing here, so don't get mad at me Walking Dead fans). "This is just a bump in the road. It's just nature's way of resetting itself. That's the beauty of humanity, we always overcome." Well said Hershel.

So, my lovely dystopian readers, if you need some recommendations here are some of my recent favorites. Happy reading.

Fuse and Pure by Julianna Baggot
Wool by Hugh Howey
A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Scourge by A.G. Henley
Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
The World of Shell and Bone by Adriana Ryan

May 11, 2013

Book review: Placebo by Steven James

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While covertly investigating a controversial neurological research program, exposé filmmaker Jevin Banks is drawn into a far-reaching conspiracy involving one of the world's largest pharmaceutical firms. After giving up his career as an escape artist and illusionist in the wake of his wife and sons' tragic death, Jevin is seeking not only answers about the questionable mind-to-mind communication program, but also answers to why his family suffered as they did.

Rooted in ground-breaking science and inspired by actual research, Placebo explores the far reaches of science, consciousness, and faith. Readers will love this taut, intelligent, and emotionally gripping new thriller from master storyteller Steven James.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Last year, I read the first two books of Steven James's Bowers Files series, The Pawn and The Rook, and liked them both, so when I saw that he had a new book out that wasn't part of the series, I wanted to check it out. Placebo is the first book in the Jevin Banks series. Jevin Banks is a magician who is tormented by the death of his wife and twin sons. He gave up his career as a successful stage magician to produce a TV show debunking psychics and other seemingly paranormal phenomenon.

This book starts with Banks looking into a claim of human connectivity arising from quantum entanglement. As part of his team's investigation, they stumble upon a larger, more sinister plot. I found the premise interesting, hoping that the author would delve more into the physics of the communication between people who are separated by distance. As a thriller, Placebo starts off well, but once the plot unfolds, the story becomes less realistic and less interesting. I was somewhat disappointed with what the ultimate conspiracy involved. If I was in the bad guys' shoes, I'd look for a much simpler means of achieving my goals than the one they chose in the book.

I should also note that the book is written in two different points of view. When a scene focuses on Jevin Banks, the story is told in first person POV by Banks. However, when the action shifts to other characters, the author changes to a third person point of view. I found the POV changes to be jarring at times, distracting from the flow. However, when there was a long stretch from Banks's POV, I found the story to be engaging. The novel would've worked better if it stayed in first person throughout.

Overall, this book is worth 3.5 or 4 stars. It was good, but not as good as the Bowers Files novels I've read.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Epic by Conor Kostick.

May 4, 2013

Do or do not. There is no try.

In case you didn't know, the title of the post comes from a quote in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke Skywalker doubts his abilities and wants to give up. Luke says he'll try, and Yoda tells him, "Do or do not. There is no try." You either see a task to completion or don't bother attempting it. Don't say you'll do something but then give half of your effort.

What does that have to do with me? Other than being a big fan of the Star Wars movies (well, episodes 4 through 6 anyway), the quote reminds me of when I tell someone that I've published a novel. Many times, right after "Congratulations" or "Good for you", I hear about how they've always wanted to write a novel too. Maybe they've even started one at some point but never finished. There are a lot of people whose bucket list includes "Write a novel." However, I bet that less than 1% of people who consider writing a novel actually finish one.

If you're among the 99%+, I'm here to tell you that it's not as hard as it seems if you put your mind to it. Before I wrote my first novel, George and the Galactic Games, the idea for it bounced around in my head for years. I already had scenes imagined long before I put them on paper. The difference between it continuing to live just in my imagination and the book being published for the world to read was that I decided in the beginning of 2011 that I was going to write it that year, come hell  or high water. I made time for it. Whenever I had some free time that I would have otherwise devoted to TV, for example, I'd work on George and the Galactic Games. It took many months to complete a novel that was barely more than 50,000 words long, but I had finally done it.

With one book under my belt, I then knew I had it in me to write a novel. My second novel, In the Hands of Children, was easier to write, and Beyond New Eden was easier still. Now writing is part of my weekly routine. My family is used to seeing me carrying a notebook around and scribbling furiously in it whenever I have a free moment.

As with many things in life, if you want to accomplish something like writing a novel, it takes more than just saying you'll try. If you want to do it, then do it.Yoda was right.