Archive for Writing Excuses

Behind the Curtain

Posted in Events, New release, Recommendations with tags , , , , , , , on July 30, 2014 by jaclemens

Howard and Mary blindside Dan with an award while Brandon looks on at Westercon.

My FantasyCon experience began in the same way as FanX: with a booksigning by Dan Wells! In this case it was not at Wellers, but at Westercon (Wellers was onsite). My press pass allowed me to enter the FantasyCon floor early, get the lay of the land, then cross the street for the launch party of Shadows Beneath: A Writing Excuses Anthology. All four authors from Writing Excuses were guests at Westercon, so I was able to meet Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler for the first time.

The anthology collects the transcripts of the podcasts (both brainstorming and critiquing), the first drafts, and all the edits that went into the final version of each story. Sanderson also included his own analysis of the process, as well as notes from his own writing group. This is the entire process, warts and all. Four seasoned authors go beyond giving advice: they reveal the challenges each faced, and the exact tools of the trade they used to surmount said challenges. The final versions of the stories alone are worth the price, but the glimpse behind the curtain is priceless. (Incidentally, Dan managed to wear a cloak through multiple international airports without anyone asking for a glimpse of what he had under it!)

In Person

Posted in Events, New release, Young Adult with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2014 by jaclemens

Rob (with therapy dog) and Dan (wearing Bavarian hat)

I recently watched the first season of Battlestar Galactica at my older brother’s insistence. He thought I would like it, and he was right! It’s an excellent series, and – although I came late to it – the timing was perfect for me.

At the end of March I went to see Dan and Robison Wells at Weller Book Works. Dan was back in the U.S. touring for Ruins, the finale of the Partials sequence, so I passed on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s appearance at the University of Utah the same night to meet the brothers Wells.

Partials was inspired in part by Battlestar Galactica, and Ruins examines many of the same ramifications: what if the Partials not only look human, but are programmed to think they are human? What would happen to the offspring of a Partial and a human mating pair? War between the two sides has decimated the human population, and a faction of humans consider using the nuclear option against the Partials, condemning their own kind in the process. Humans created the Partials and bio-engineered them with certain fail safes to make them dependent on humans, so all sentient life on the planet will be eradicated  if the two sides can’t work together.

Wells was aware of the disappointing conclusion to BSG (I haven’t gotten that far yet myself, but I’ve heard the reactions) and promised to deliver a more-satisfying ending to his series. There is a payoff to the conflict, but the resolution left more to be desired. If the two peoples are to be interdependent, why do the romantic pairings split neatly down the human/Partial divide? It is a YA series, so it has the requisite love triangles. It does not have a fitting demise to the villain of the first two books, however. Her arc gives way to other monstrosities with which Kira must reckon. Ultimately only one of the geneticists who had a hand in creating the Partials survives, and that too seems unbalanced.

EJOI have finished reading the Partials sequence, but I haven’t finished watching BSG. Some of the big reveals have already been spoiled for me, but my brother isn’t to blame. He tried to warn me, but it was unavoidable. I had to go see Edward James Olmos (Admiral Adama) when he came to the Salt Lake Comic Con’s Fan Xperience in April! If you’re going to get spoilers, you might as well get them from the show’s star! His panel was stellar, and I was able to shake his hand the next day at his table. My brother wanted me to ask him if Deckard was a replicant, and Olmos said “Of course he was a replicant! I was the only red-blooded American in the movie [Bladerunner]!”

After I told Olmos I admired him I realized I was wearing a silly Kermit hat!

I told EJO I admired him while wearing a silly Kermit hat!

Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol) was also a guest at FanX, but I missed his panel due to a scheduling conflict. Douglas didn’t miss Karl Urban watching BSG on their flight to Salt Lake City, however! Urban (Bones) claimed to be just like us as a fan, but I found that statement suspect. Urban has most recently appeared in the tv show Almost Human, in which he played a human detective with an android partner, after all.

SpinerAnd then there was Brent Spiner, who played Data, the greatest android of them all! He was pretty great at playing the crowd as well! Given the heavy emphasis on Star Trek actors at FanX, I wanted to go in a Khan costume from Star Trek Into Darkness.

Ultimately I had to settle for reading the graphic novel Star Trek: Khan, by Mike Johnson. It details how Khan came to be bio-engineered (twice) in addition to memory tampering. It reminded me of  Isolation, the point-five story in the Partials sequence. Both show how the genetically-modified warriors were trained and manipulated by their creators; both stories result in biological warfare that destroys the ecosystem and the population.

My FanX read was Infinity Blade: Redemption by Brandon Sanderson. He was a FanX guest, as was ChAIR Entertainment, the developer of the Infinity Blade games. An oversight scheduled their panels concurrently, so I only got to see Sanderson. This installment of the Infinity Blade lore tells of how the God King (Raidriar) and Siris (Ausar) came to be Deathless through – you guessed it! – the wonders of bio- engineering! I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t the secret to Sanderson’s prolific writing!

The epilogue to my Fan Xperience took me back to the prologue; it was a final panel featuring Rob Wells, Brad R. Torgersen, and other local authors of dystopian literature. I read Blackout before FanX (and before Ruins, in fact). It explores what happens when a virus interacts with the developing brain of teenagers. Some of the teens (and only teens are susceptible) who have the virus manifest superhuman abilities. It’s the X-Men minus the mutated x gene! Most of the teens are unaware of their unique powers, and go about being typical teenagers. Others have been identified early and trained – as terrorists. All the typical teens are rounded up and screened for the virus, as the Army intends to fight virus-fueled fire with virus-fueled fire. It’s an interesting premise for X-Fans, and it features a fine diabolical mastermind. Establishing the story takes some of the energy out of the equation, leaving it incomplete. There will be a sequel, Dead Zone, coming this fall, and, like the Partials sequence, it has a point-five story called Going Dark. I’ve already ordered Dead Zone (war with Russia!), and may go on to download Going Dark for the additional world building. Come to our store to meet Robison Wells in person and get his new book signed when it comes out!


Posted in Fiction, Reading List, Young Adult with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2013 by jaclemens

Appointment in SamarraBacklog may be the more accurate term, as I failed to blog the past two months, but I have been brushing up on my backlist. The Marriott Library had a sale in April, and I managed to pick up paperback copies of two books already on my list: A Separate Peace by John Knowles and How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. The first is a book I should have read ages ago. My grandfather also went straight from high school into the war. It was the only option. Now I have a better grasp of what that would have been like for him and his older brother. As for the second, the best I can say is the cameo appearance was brilliant!

While I wasn’t blogging about those books I was playing the game Infinity Blade, so I downloaded the story Infinity Blade: Awakening by Brandon Sanderson. I don’t read many adaptation stories, but I’ll read just about anything by Sanderson. I also dipped into Partials, the first book of a series by Dan Wells, one of Sanderson’s cohorts on the Writing Excuses podcast. I’ll be starting Fragments, the second book, this weekend. I’m also working my way through A Blaze of Glory by Jeff Shaara in preparation for the next one, A Chain of Thunder.

But the pinnacle of my backlist reading has to be Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara. I received one of the new Penguin Deluxe Classic Editions of O’Hara’s quintessential first novel, which went on sale at the end of April. I read the majority of it in an appropriately opulent location, a salon outside the Grand Ballroom of the Grand America Hotel. I was there to sell books for the Congress for the New Urbanism, and one of the Congress members commented on the rarity of seeing anyone reading this classic work in the current day. O’Hara’s style of writing feels anachronistic, but the man wrote one hell of a backstory! One might think my blog has had an Appointment in Samarra (a phrase that has likewise fallen from our vernacular), but I have a great many new releases to review this summer!

Stamp of Approval

Posted in Events, Fiction, New release with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2012 by jaclemens

I got to the polls right when they opened on Election Day so I could spend the evening at a Brandon Sanderson reading and signing. The event was held at Weller Book Works, and it was my first visit to the new Trolley Square location. I got there early so I could browse and get a feel for the new layout. I’m glad I did, as it is a great set up and because Sanderson volunteered to field some questions before the event officially began.

The appearance was to promote his latest release, The Emperor’s Soul, but he took questions on all of his books. He declined to answer some questions about the Wheel of Time finale, and one woman asked a question on grooming habits that he honestly couldn’t answer. Aside from that he was affable and generous with his time, taking more questions after the reading and soliciting questions from fans as he signed all of the many books put before him (I had him sign my hardcover copy of The Alloy of Law, as it has been awhile since I’ve been able to attend one of his signings). Sanderson is not only a popular author, he’s also a personable author.

Completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series has been a tremendous opportunity for him, but doing so has taken a great deal of his writing time. He was concerned that 2012 would mark the first time he wouldn’t have an original work released since 2005, so he conceived The Emperor’s Soul on a trip back from appearing in Taiwan. He worked on it in the interim while A Memory of Light was in the final stages of editing, and it was released this month in a trade paperback from Tachyon Publications. When I learned of the book’s impending release I contacted Charlene Brusso at Tachyon to request an advance copy, which she sent along with Epic: Legends of Fantasy, an anthology that includes an excerpt from The Way of Kings, and Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip. I got it signed by the author, and he numbered it #45.

Although he was promoting The Emperor’s Soul, he did not read from it. Instead he read from the first draft of the second book in The Stormlight Archive! Now that AMOL is finished he has resumed work on his own mega-series, and we got to hear a section with a new viewpoint character! That was an exciting extra feature for attending the event; Sanderson really goes out of his way to support the brick-and-mortar stores in return for promoting his work. Customers who bought print copies of the book were invited to e-mail proof to Sanderson’s website to receive a free copy of the e-book; he isn’t shying away from digital editions, but he sees the two forms as complementary.

Leading up to the event I listened to the audiobook version of Legion, a novella Sanderson published with Subterranean Press in August. Because is a sponsor of the Writing Excuses podcasts that Sanderson produces with three other writers, the site is currently offering free downloads of Legion. I took advantage of the offer, and I enjoyed Oliver Wyman’s narration of the story. Legion is about a character with multiple personalities with whom he interacts, and Wyman performs all the voices distinctly without it being obtrusive. The story itself is brief, which is uncommon for Sanderson’s writing. He explained that he originally pitched the idea to Dan Wells, another member of the Writing Excuses team, before deciding to write it himself. It’s written as a pitch for a tv series, so it should be read not as a finished tale, but as a pilot episode. In that vein it succeeds, and I look forward to the series being created.

I finished listening to Legion while waiting in line to have my books signed, so I switched over to an episode of Writing Excuses. It was slightly surreal to listen to a recording of Sanderson giving advice while waiting in line to speak with him, but I couldn’t get enough! When that was over I began reading The Emperor’s Soul (not much in advance, admittedly). That made it difficult to concentrate on writing while waiting for the train, but, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I compensated. I was able to keep my word count creeping up and still find the odd moment to read, somewhat in the manner that the book was written. Inspired by a visit to a national museum in Taiwan, Sanderson created a system of magic that employs stamps that can rewrite the history of an object. What would happen to a person if their history was rewritten? And what if that person was the Emperor? Shai is a Forger facing execution for her crimes, but an assassination attempt on the Emperor grants her a stay of execution for 90 days while she replicates the Emperor’s soul. Sanderson’s magic systems always impress, but this shorter form forced him to leave out some of his own hallmarks, such as a prologue that showed a conversation between Shai and Hoid, an inimitable character who finds his way into most of Sanderson’s novels. He loved the scene, but it did not fit the story so it had to be cut. At the other end the story has no twist ending, which was hard for me to accept. Only when I listened to his explanation on Writing Excuses did I come to terms with the straightforward ending that satisfies the characters’ arcs.

I rounded out my reading of his short fiction with the e-book Firstborn. Originally released as a Kindle edition in 2008, it was later re-released by Tor in a DRM-free format. I purchased it on my nook color and read it on an iPad. I’m not accustomed to reading on digital devices yet, but it was the simplest way of acquiring this particular story. Firstborn is a different venture for Sanderson as well, as it is short form science fiction. It’s a story about a second son who lives in the shadow of his older brother’s burnished star. The firstborn is a military genius with an unblemished record, while the younger brother has nothing but blemishes and blunders on his record. That won’t cut it for the son of a High Duke; greatness is thrust upon him, only to slip out of his hands and shatter on the floor. He tries to live up to the expectations, but he knows his own limitations. Is it possible he might know the limitations of his unbeatable brother, too? This story does have the twist ending I’ve come to expect from Brandon Sanderson, and he never disappoints.

Glass-Shattering Revelation

Posted in Children's, New release with tags , , , on January 26, 2011 by jaclemens

Book One of the Stormlight Archive has the Shattered Plains, while Book Four of the Alcatraz series has the Shattered Lens. Were the Towers of Midnight shattered in Wheel of Time #13/A Memory of Light #2? Brandon Sanderson had all three books released in 2010, with Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens being the last (and least talked about) of the three. It’s also the last book of the series to be published by Scholastic, although it is not the final Alcatraz book (how could it be after the glass-shattering revelation it contains?).

Shattered jests aside, this book actually has more in common with the Writing Excuses podcast Sanderson co-hosts with Dan Wells and Howard Tayler. The “teddy bear on the mantle”, dialog without tags (but with pirates), and dialog cribbed from Hamlet all point to Brandon’s brand of helpful and humorous advice for new writers. I wonder if he could get Alcatraz Smedry as a guest on the podcast?

Reading Deprived

Posted in Reading List with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by jaclemens

In an earlier post (Reading vs. Writing 9/16/09) I wrote that I was scaling back on reading in order to write more. I have yet to complete the chapter of Grandpa Art I’ve been working on over the past few months, so I banned myself from reading altogether.  It wasn’t a matter of time distribution so much as it was high time I reclaimed my imagination  for my own story. The self-imposed hiatus went into effect three weeks ago, and the results have been mixed.

I succeeded in rerouting my imagination and now have the scene almost fully realized, but it still hasn’t translated into words. The description has come haltingly, without flow. The language has dried up. My mind feels dessicated, parched from a lack of literature. This became keenly evident while I was reading an exceptional short story in The New Yorker (the singular source allowable).

Fjord of Killary” by Kevin Barry is about an Irish poet who buys an old hotel on the west coast of Ireland in his search for inspiration. He finds only a deeper melancholy, out of place amid the locals, until a tremendous storm causes the waves to overflow the sea wall and flood the hotel. The proprietor and his colourful clientele seek refuge on the second floor, and as the water rushes in so too does the poetic inspiration. I felt the flood of Barry’s words seep into my thirsty mind, filling the basement and lower levels. I soaked up his story like a spent sponge.

Yet even after that experience I continued to deny myself the pleasure of reading, as if I had given it up for Lent (despite the fact that I’m not Catholic, as I cracked on my twitter account @JACrobat). My friend Phoebe Gaston, a book rep for Algonquin, went out of her way to provide me with an advance reader copy of The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern which sounds fantastic, but I forced myself to leave it on the shelf until I finish this chapter. It’s been three weeks and my resolve, like the ice encasing the rabbi, is starting to melt.

I have deprived myself long enough. Based on the theory that what you get out of an activity is proportionate to what you put in, I’m going to start putting words back into my mind. My narrator is from Richmond, so I’m going to pick up Richmond Noir, a recommendation from Kelly Justice at the Fountain Bookstore. The Frozen Rabbi will have to remain in suspended animation for a little longer!

Side note: not reading on the train every day has afforded me the chance to catch up on some Writing Excuses podcasts, which are most beneficial!