Showing posts from May, 2010

How Books Work, part 2: Day 'o' YA

A little while back, INTERN posted about the usefulness of always keeping a question in the reader's mind. This weekend, INTERN grabbed a book off the "New YA" shelf at the library that pulls this off extremely well. Bad Apple by Laura Ruby is about a girl who *might* have had an affair with her highschool art teacher. The entire book is based around this one giant question, but several other, equally salient questions lurk under this question's umbrella. The result is a book that's coldly and mercilessly engineered to make readers' poor helpless hands reach out and turn the pages—because desire to know the answers to juicy questions is, like, scientifically proven to create a state of temporary insanity.

Anyhoo, let's have a look at how Ruby does it.

The book starts off with a narrative hook that establishes two things: people are saying that Girl's Art Teacher is a "predator" and Girl is a "liar."

Reader (aka INTERN's) slightl…

42! dolphins! vogons!

In case any of you fine hoopy froods aren't aware, today (May 25th) is Towel Day, in honour of Douglas Adams. There are Towel Day events happening all over the world—really—find one near you at the Towel Day website.

To make things even more peculiar, the Guardian reports that Terry Pratchett fans wear lilac towels on May 25th in joint support of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett's novel Night Watch, and Alzheimer's research. INTERN, for her part, is rocking an "under the sea" themed towel to demonstrate her support of Douglas Adams, Jacques Cousteau, the Gulf oil spill, the colour blue, and endangered starfish.

why lovers with high blood pressure should not be beta readers...

INTERN has been quietly working away on a novel for the past year, which she is trying very hard to complete before summer. INTERN and Techie Boyfriend are also in the process of paring down their stuff so they become nomads (i.e. shed pesky strictures like "rent" and "utilities" so they can continue to not have normal jobs and also possibly find ultimate reality). These two activities collided yesterday in a way that really gave INTERN some insight into her beloved Techie Boyfriend's mindset.

In the morning, INTERN was throwing giveaway clothes into a bag when Techie Boyfriend showed up and immediately became alarmed (OK, totally freaked out) by her heartless methods:

Techie Boyfriend: Wait, where's that wool sweater? The white one?
INTERN: You mean the nasty yellow one that used to be white with the half-unravelled sleeves? Gone to the Free Pile!
Techie Boyfriend: YOU PUT IT IN THE FREE PILE??? But-but-that's the sweater you wore all the time when …

How Books Work, part 1

As a frequent manuscript critiquer, INTERN is used to reading manuscripts that don't quite work (yet!). This has given her the urge to take apart published novels that do work and look at all the springs and cogs and little metal bits that make them tick.

Some of the most common problems INTERN sees in novel manuscripts are not enough suspense, not enough conflict, dragging pace, too much focus on trivial scenes and not enough on important scenes, and main characters whose problems are too easy and who never get put to a satisfying test (which sounds like a laundry list from any writing-advice book, but it's true, those are the exact problems most novel drafts have!)

So what does a novel with salient suspense, carnivorous conflict, pertinacious problems, etc, etc, look like?

For this first experiment, INTERN is going to take apart a novel that was a quick read and had a very straightforward plot: Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. What follows is INTERN's extremely rough …

in which shock jocks are sort of jerks

INTERN is a very bleary-eyed INTERN this morning because she had to get up for a radio interview at 5:30 AM. Not just any sleepy, genteel radio interview. We're talking "Bruiser and Big Dawg in the Morning" straight out Large Suburban Hellhole, New Jersey.

It was not the worst ten minutes of INTERN's life, but it was maybe fifth or sixth runner up.

Bruiser and Big Dawg took the concept of "bro" to a whole new level. They were rude, obnoxious, sexist, and deliberately insulting. And while INTERN tried her hardest to sass them right back, her pathologically nice Canadian upbringing reared its sunny head and she came off as a total wuss. Observe:

Bruiser: So your book's about, let's see here, senior citizens. OK, so if I'm having sex with a senior lady and she starts having a heart attack, can I [redacted—grotesque].

INTERN's internal monologue: Tell him he's an asshole! Tell him to go fuck himself!

INTERN: Well, sir, for one thing I…

of she-publishing and prisons...

INTERN happened upon the recent Huffpo/Salon/various blog kersnuffle over Why Men Don't Read (or Whether It's Actually True That Men Don't Read, or Whether Publishing Is A Female-Dominated Industry Running Roughshod Over The Literary Needs Of Men, or whatever) rather belatedly.

For those who missed the debate, here's a brief summary:

Pinter: "Men don't read because all the books being published right now are she-books picked by she-editors promoted with she-marketing campaigns that don't make men want to buy them!"

Salon: "This is possibly true! Also, maybe there are more women in publishing than men because more women are willing to put up with the crappy pay!"

Various Blogs (in chorus): "But then why are there more male authors on the NYT best-seller list than female authors?/I'm a man and I read!/But NPR said only 1 in 4 books is bought by a man!/What is this, the 1950's? Do we really need to make such a big distinction betw…

the lewd world of Big 6 anagrams...

INTERN was reading Publishers Weekly this morning and feeling mystical, and she started making anagrams of Big 6 publishers' names (full disclosure: the Internet Anagram Server stepped in to help). Her findings surprised even INTERN.

The Anagrams

Simon & Schuster came off rather fastidious—maybe a little too fastidious, as the third anagram indicates:

Cushiest Norms
Mensch Suitors
Scrotums Shine

Random House was a little more earthy, even barnyard-y.

Around Homes
Moaned Hours
Unheard Moos
Humane Odors

HarperCollins was simply rude:

Phallic Snorer

Penguin Group was muttering in a paranoid manner:

Pup, Ignore Gun!

Macmillan had only one thing to say about the best place to sell books:

Manic Mall

Hachette Book Group revealed its coping strategy for the recession:

Toke A Potherb, Cough

Happy Monday everyone!

Guest Post: The Secret Lives of Bookstore Clerks

Ahoy readers! This morning, INTERN was so groggy she reached into the fridge and accidentally poured Hippie Roommate's chicken broth into her coffee instead of soymilk (the Tetra Paks are the same size...) So she is clearly not at blogging level today and is instead turning things over to Fresh and Delightful Guest Poster Megan Burke.

Working is a bookstore is dying a long, slow, painful death. That's how all us weekend girls described it, anyway. At a sleepy chain bookstore in a shopping centre, we spent most of our time reading the books and dancing up and down the aisles to music.

We had our regular customers: the Italian woman with a surname so long and complicated no one could pronounce or spell it - she read romance. And a lot of it – I’m talking over $60 a week. Then there was the old man who read war history, who no one wanted to serve because he talked, and talked, and talked, and talked—talked so much, in fact, that you never got any work done. There were the two tee…

Amazon—or Shamazon? inside customer reviews

A few days ago, INTERN was pleased to note that customer reviews of her just-released book were starting to appear on Amazon. And not just any customer reviews—reviews from bonafide strangers. Strangers in places like Florida. Strangers who had clearly read INTERN's book (or done a good job of flipping through it) and whose reviews were surprisingly thorough.

Suspiciously thorough.

Reading through them a second time, it struck INTERN as odd that all these disinterested Floridians were posting such voluble reviews so soon after the book had come out.

Then INTERN noticed something.

Two of the reviews came from Amazon Top Reviewers. Two other reviewers were members of something called the Amazon Vine Program. Only one of the customer reviewers was naked of such tags—and, interestingly enough, that review was the shortest and seemed the most genuine.

After some quick research, INTERN came across this article in Slate (titled "The Murky Demimonde of Amazon's Top Reviewers&qu…

do libraries help or hurt book sales?

Not too long ago, INTERN was delighted to receive a good review in a magazine read by many librarians. "Ah!" burbled a voluble INTERN to Techie Boyfriend. "Perhaps this means 99 Funky Getaways For Active Seniors In the Midwest will one day appear in our Locale Librarye. How charming!" A cloud passed over Techie Boyfriend's normally sunny visage. "Let's hope not," he muttered gravely, "or people won't have to buy it anymore."

"Techie Boyfriend," quoth INTERN, "you are but a simple, technically-minded man. What laughable frippery-froppery to suggest that putting a book in Libraries could ever harm its sales."

But the seed of doubt had been planted in INTERN's trusting mind, and she has been fretting over this point all weekend. INTERN is a lover of Libraries, and has been all her life—but now that it's down to a cold, hard handful of change in royalties for every copy sold, should INTERN fear and suspec…