Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gems Among the Junk (aka, a list of awesome teen books in a sea of same-old-same-old)

I've made a point of not posting book reviews on my blog for a while. Why? Because honestly, I've been rather disappointed with a lot of books lately. I'm in the Amazon Vine program (don't ask me how to join, it's invitation only and I have no idea why I got invited!) and far too many of the books I've gotten through them have been 2-stars.

Frankly, it's really frustrating. I'm getting tired of reading teen books that sound the same. Did I just say that? Yes, I did. No, it's not because I'm old! It's because too many of them are copy-cats. Or because the author voices have no originality. Actually, the last teen book I read (didn't finish, rather) had two POV characters, one female and one male, but their voices were identical. Sigh.

I'm also tired to death of love triangles. And parents being portrayed as idiots. And unrealistic character reactions, especially characters who either accept things far too easily or don't accept/understand what is right in their flippin' faces.

Oh, the list could go on. If you want to check out some of my reviews and see other things I've not been happy with, you can go to my Goodreads page. But that's not what I'm here for today--

Instead, I'd like to highlight some of the gems I've found among the junk:

This is by one of my favorite authors ever. Even more favorite now that I've actually met him in person!

He wrote The Monstrumologist series, which if you like horror AT ALL is the best, most beautifully written horror series in the world.

PS--this is science fiction, not dystopian! Aliens, people. Tired of people classifying this wrong!

This one IS dystopian, and actually impressed me with some original ideas. It's also one of the very few books I've read that starts with an action scene and it worked for me. I'm SO tired of books that start where someone I don't know (read: don't care about yet) is in dangerdangerdanger. No. But this one gets right into the character and situation, starts the action, and makes you care. There is a little stereotypical dystopian stuff in this, but it gets turned on its head, trust me!

Why did I wait so long to read this???? Why???

That's all I have to say. LOVED IT.

Middle grade fiction seems to be getting squeezed out. REAL middle grade fiction, that is. Most of what's being called MG these days is really juvenile level (for kids between ages 8 and 11) and then everyone skips right to YA.

This however, is what MG should be. Magic and adventure and a complex enough story to keep you turning pages all the way through. So impressed with this book and the characters. And the cover!

I had never read anything by Brandon Sanderson. So glad I started with this.

Most of the time I hate when authors from the adult market switch to YA, but not here. I  loved this book for so many reasons. It's got kind of a MG feel to it--nice and clean, pure adventure--but I'd still call it YA. And it's so smart. I kept thinking this is the kind of YA Patrick Rothfuss would write. Awesomeness.

(Another AWESOME YA written by an adult-market author is The Paladin Prophecy.)

If you loved Cinder, you will love Scarlet. It's a great sequel, full of action. I love that Cinder is still a big part of the story.

Grabbed this one at the Scholastic warehouse sale. How do you pass up something with a dragon on the cover and 'thirteenth" in the title? BTW, the cover on my copy is purple. I like this one so much better.

Anyway, again, another nice, clean read with cool magic. It's an alternate history story, written as if the first American colonists had magic. Cool, eh?

Anyway, these are the books that make MG and YA my favorites to read! Hope you found something intriguing in the list and will get out there and add them to your TBR pile :).

Happy reading!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Giveaway of Finding Angel

Clicky-clicky if you want a chance to win a copy of Finding Angel in the Goodreads Giveaway I'm running! 

Notice the end date on the giveaway: That's Angel's birthday. Cool, eh?

And please, share with your friends, on Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, wherever. The more the merrier!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Finding Angel by Kat Heckenbach

Finding Angel

by Kat Heckenbach

Giveaway ends June 27, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Social Media for Writers is Like House Flipping

Does this book actually exist?
Sure seems everyone here had a copy at one time!
Several years ago the housing market in Florida crashed. Well, it's kinda crashed everywhere, but I think we were hit particularly hard. I heard at one point the foreclosure rate was 70% in parts of the state here. I blame several things, including banks who are willing to loan people more money than they can pay back and financial advisers who tell people their mortgage payment "should" be like 25% of their income (or 30%, or 50%, or whatever), when everyone's budget is different and the cost of living and the need for saving simply doesn't allow it.

But that's not all I blame. I also blame the house-flipping fad. I saw it coming--I swear to you, I did. I predicted it to so many people and no one listened to me. I supposed that's because I'm essentially a nobody, but it seems like common sense. House prices start rising, people en masse start thinking they can make money off their homes. Then they think, "With the way those prices are going up, I can sell my house, buy another house, then turn around and sell that house and make even more money." And so on, and so forth. That's called house-flipping: buying a house and either fixing it up or leaving it as is and just raising the price to turn around and sell it for profit.

Here's the problem: If everyone is out to flip their houses, who are they going to sell to?

The Floridians not interested in flipping stayed where they were and weren't interested in buying new homes, or they sold their house to a potential house-flipper and got the bleep out of Dodge, moving to places like North Carolina where the house prices hadn't started rising. (Granted, they did eventually start rising in NC--we saw that first-hand a couple of years after the FL market crashed because we were considering moving there, and the market was well on its way to falling up there, too. Fortunately, we didn't move. Although, I still want out of FL. And for the record, since we stayed in the house we were in before the market upheaval here, we're almost paid off rather than upside-down in our mortgage like everyone else.)

 So what does this have to do with writing, and social media specifically?

Social media is a place writers go to promote their work. They want word spread so readers will read it. Just like house-flippers, they need potential buyers.

And just like the housing market here, which became overloaded with house-flippers, the social media arena has become overloaded with writers.

I have read so many blog articles about how easy it is to use Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Pinterest to attract potential readers. The articles include so many dos and don'ts. They seem so well thought-out, so informative. They make so much sense.

Until I try to implement them. And what I get, instead of readers interested in reading my book are a slurry of authors trying to sell me theirs. Or, like real estate agents who were flourishing during the housing market rise, I get groups who want to "help market" my books. For money, of course.

But readers, just like honest-to-goodness potential homebuyers back during the peak of the crash, are hard to reach. They're hunkered down with their familiar ways of finding books, like Amazon and Goodreads newsletters or suggestions from friends, the way we were hunkered down and refused to go house-hunting when the housing prices were rising. Or, they've already cashed in and gotten involved in places like NetGalley, where they're getting a nice little supply of free review copies direct from publishers who can afford to pay the steep fees to list their books there. But social media?

The fact is, in my own personal experience, social media is the meeting place of writers with other writers, not writers with readers. Some of the tips I've followed include searching keywords for specific genres....and I get tons of writers. Or following everyone who follows you...and I get tons of writers. Or searching out specific authors or books and follow their followers (that's my latest)....and guess who's finding me and following because of that? More writers.

I don't really understand. Yes, I love the fellowship of other writers--I do! I really, really do. But I know that most of these writers aren't hoping for my Twitter follow so we can fellowship. They are wanting to sell books. And so am I. We are at an impasse. And the readers are off in their overpriced houses reading the books they love and completely oblivious to the struggling writers out there trying to reach them.

The difference is, I don't think social media is going to crash. Just like there actually were some people who made money during the Florida housing fiasco a few years ago, and some people actually did buy new homes and didn't end up in foreclosure, writers do, now and then, hit the mark while using social media. And that little bit of traction seems to be all we need to keep going.

Anyway, I'm not really writing this to resolve anything or offer any answers. I don't have any answers. Just the observance that social media for writers shares some commonality with the house-flipping fad. Pointless maybe for me to say so, but then again so was me telling everyone I thought the housing market would crash and it didn't stop me from saying that back then :P.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Are Consequences Unrealistic in Fiction?

I recently finished a book that started off with the main character getting stoned. I thought, at first, maybe the book would end up showing this as a poor choice. Well, she did slide into mental illness, but that was from her inability to deal with her sister's murder. There was really nothing in the book that sent the message that this girl's choices had negative consequences.

For example, she gets a suspicious phone call and goes off to a bad section of town to meet a guy who claims to have some of her sister's stuff. He's a drunk and a junkie, but she still follows him into his apartment. Ah, but he's a nice guy. And she blows a bike tire--late at night--and big tattooed guy offers to fix it for her. She follows him to his back yard, where his big spooky van is parked. He turns out to be a complete teddy bear who really does fix her bike. Oh, and within a couple weeks they are sleeping together. Overall, she's out doing all this stuff, never gets busted, never gets hurt, and even meets the guy of her dreams....

OK, so kids do get lucky. I know I got very lucky during my wild-child days. But if I were talking to teens, I wouldn't tell them just those parts. I wouldn't write out just the cool stuff because, even though I think teens are awesome...I think teens are awesome. In other words, I'm not looking to just connect with teens, I'd want them to learn from my stupidity, so they don't go out and screw up their lives because I care about their lives, which means going past the party days into what the consequences are.

In fiction, that can be hard to do--I get it. But since we authors do have the ability to manipulate the story, don't you think we ought to compact some of it down to show these things, no matter how "real" we want to make our fiction?

Oh, yeah. I used that word: "real." Yep, writers talk a lot about making their stories real. But the truth is, we make them real-ish. Events in books are generally things that would never happen. People are so much more eloquent--even the master of natural sounding dialog doesn't write exactly what people say in real life, or we'd have lots of books filled with rabbit trails and "um..." and repetitiveness. And remember, a book is usually only a slice of someone's life, but readers want resolution. That is what makes a story as story: a beginning, a middle, AND an end.

So tweaking details is necessary, such as having consequences come a little sooner than they might in real life (we know cancer doesn't happen after the first cigarette, but if all you do is show the first smoke, you'll never understand the danger).

On the other hand, you don't want your writing to be "preachy." How gag-worthy is it when the good characters are so perfect and the bad ones are so bad? Only the bad guys ever cuss and drink. Only the sleazy girls are hooking up with guys. Miss Prim-and-Proper studies all day and wins Mr. Popular from her sheer goodness  and has a perfect life while the sinners are off dealing with teen pregnancy and broken hearts, or sitting in jail because they shoplifted a DVD.

No, life isn't like that. Good people make mistakes. Sometimes they get caught, sometimes not. Sometimes they learn from it, sometimes not. Bad guys have a history, usually of something painful that makes them that way. And just like good people, bad guys sometimes get away with things and sometimes don't. When you take it to the point of absolute black and white, with characters that have no shades of gray, it starts feeling more like a lesson than a story partly because it just so totally doesn't ring true to real life.

But how do we find balance? How far is too far when it comes to showing reality? Do we owe it to our readers to include consequences?