Monday, 27 September 2010

REVIEW: Mockingjay By Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay Hype is like a double-edged sword...

No, that’s not right.

Hype is like a woman, pretty face, charming smile, voluptuous body, whose captivating presence we all want to find ourselves in. Everything about her fascinates us, ensnares us, and in the end we are reduced to drooling simpletons.

Then she strips off that skin-tight red dress and we discover she has a penis, and everything changes.

It doesn’t always end like this, but when it does, for most of us our subsequent reaction is ... shock? Extreme disappointment? Disbelief? Denial?

Whatever the outcome may be, it’s not positive, which is why I devised this oh so clever technique of holding off on reading some books, or watching some movies, until the infectious, all-pervasive euphoria attached to them petered out.

Fact: I haven’t seen Inception or Sherlock Holmes.

Fact: I only just finished Mockingjay, and I’m just starting Before I Fall.

You might think I’m punishing myself, but so far my technique has saved me from jumping into a few dodgy bandwagons. You know, the ones brimming with poo.

So, is Mockingjay’s hype more Christian Hendricks than Christina Hendricks?

CHARACTERS

Mockingjay flaunts a myriad of characters ranging from Ok-ish to ho-hum. The cast in this instalment is certainly the largest of any book in the series, though only for the singular purpose of providing readers with recurrent deaths. After all, this is war, and death must be in plentiful supply.

Some characters do excel high enough to carve a niche for themselves, away from the unflattering variety. Finnick Odair and Annie Cresta offer readers the book’s – hell, the series’ only believable romance; Prim undergoes a surprising and well deserved personality growth, taking on a more responsible role that puts her miles ahead of Katniss; and Plutarch embraces the war like a precocious child would an unusual puzzle, seeing it as a great opportunity to flex his creative muscles, just as he did as Head Gamemaker in Catching Fire. As far as he’s concerned, everyone’s a piece on his chessboard, a desirable means to a worthy end – the end being sensationalising the biggest, wildest, and deadliest blood sport in the history of Panem.

Johanna adds a bit of fiery excitement to Mockingjay, a refreshing escape from Katniss’ tiresome self-pitying.

Haymitch starts out great then later reverts to his same old, bland, drunken self. This behaviour was cool and funny back in The Hunger Games. It started to wear thin in Catching Fire. Now, it’s just lame.

Gale’s only reason for being in the book is to complete the needless love-triangle that includes Katniss and Peeta.

Peeta is ... well, Peeta. Neither here nor there. Same way he’s always been since The Hunger Games.

President Snow is still his predictable “mu-ha-ha-ha, I’m eeevil, check out my moustache” self. Collins had a chance to flesh him out in Catching Fire. She didn’t. She had yet another chance to do so in Mockingjay. She didn’t.

Then you have Katniss Everdeen, the star of the show, the Mockingjay herself. As a central character, Katniss does a decent job at carrying the book to its arduous anti-climatic end, tripping and staggering along the way, but never really falling facedown. This is not the Katniss of The Hunger Games, and by that I don’t mean she’s matured.

Yes, she does go through some personality changes, but not for the reasons you think. You see, in today’s YA, female protagonists must all live through a phase where they can’t decide which guy they want to stick with at the end of the story. Why? Well, because girls read more than boys and for girls to truly enjoy YA there must be a team A versus team B, or a team Jacob versus team Edward, or a team Peeta versus team Gale.

For the record, watching Katniss do the ubiquitous girl-caught-in-the-middle-of-two-guys dance is very sad. (And you wonder why most boys don’t like reading YA.)

In all sincerity, these characters make for a nice collection, despite their deplorable flaws. The real issue is that they don’t carry the emotional weight necessary to make me care enough when they die, which is what a lot of them do. They die, and I’m supposed to cry.

Well, my eyes are still very dry.

Score: 5/10

WORLD BUILDING

The first half of Mockingjay takes place in District Thirteen, which is a far cry from District Twelve, and yet not all that an exciting place to read about.

Come to think of it, The Hunger Games series isn’t quite the same when Katniss is outside the arena. The plot wobbles, tottering here and there, like it’s been hit by a truck, and then slows to an unsettling crawl. Nothing feels right. Imagine playing football underwater – that’s The Hunger Games without a hunger game. I think it’s to do with Collins’ prose (more on that to come).

Collins probably agrees, because in the other half of Mockingjay Katniss takes the fight to the capitol, and it so happens that –surprise, surprise – the capitol is one gigantic arena, complete with cameras, outlandish booby-traps and countless unwilling contestants to satiate your thirst for gore and death.

Still, Mockingjay falls short of delivering anything close to what we saw in the series’ debut. I can’t say I’m surprised. Catching Fire was a pretty good indication that Collins had run out of whatever creative juice she’d downed when writing The Hunger Games. It wasn’t a bad book. It was simply a bad case of déjà vu. Been there, done that.

In Mockingjay, war is upon Panem and our intrepid band of heroes, led by Katniss, is on a crusade for freedom, storming the deserted streets of the Capitol, which are not safe places to be at, as they are inundated with all kinds of traps, gadgets, pods, and weapons.

Now, close your eyes for a second and picture the most ridiculous weapon ever, something that makes little sense in logical terms. I’m dead certain you’ll find it in Mockingjay.

There’s a part in the book where a bloke gets caught in a beam of golden light and he stands rigid, mouth open like his screaming though no sound leaves him, and his skin melts like candle wax. Then there’s another part where an entire street folds in like a flap and people fall to their deaths. I literally laughed my ass off reading these scenes, and I had to check, more than once, that I wasn’t reading a novelisation of Road Runner.

It’s amazing how much you have to suspend belief just to enjoy Mockingjay. The violence is so cartoonish, like something straight out of Looney Tunes. No wonder I hardly felt any sympathy for characters that died.

I don’t know why Collins took this route. I understand that Mockingjay is all about war and thus the weapons should be deadlier than any weapon seen in previous Hunger Games books. This is a rational step forward in the creative process of book-sequel writing. However, in this case, the result is catastrophic. We’re talking about a series where in the first book a bunch of kids, some as young as 12, were put into an arena and forced to murder each other in cold blood. That’s disturbing, Ok? That’s psychologically disturbing. If you’re going to take things up a notch, I don’t think cartoon weapons is the right way to go.

Score: 5/10

PROSE

Though Collins isn’t its pioneer she’s one of the few in the industry to have perfected this quick paced wordplay, short sentence structure, prose so many YA authors utilise today. It worked wonders for The Hunger Games – I was practically at the edge of my seat while reading that book. So much action. So much tension.

In Mockingjay Collins flips the script on her prose, allowing for an influx of poetry and metaphors. This is not a tension-laden book, at least not like The Hunger Games. Katniss does a lot of reflecting, retrospective analysing, and character examination, and because so many people presumably die on account of her, she has to properly convey gloom, depression, anger, weariness and a host of other emotions.

Collins’ tweaked prose is a hit and miss affair. When it works, it works really, really well. The ending is beautiful, easily the best part of the book.

When it doesn’t work, it’s like watching your grandmother perform a striptease – awkward and just wrong.

Every now and then Collins over-describes an action, or skirts around what she’s actually saying, and you’re forced to re-read entire paragraphs just to get the gist of what’s going on.

Considering the torrent of major character demises, Mockingjay struggles to be emotive. I think the problem lies with how fast-paced Collins’ prose is, and how awkward it can be sometimes. She’s capable of handling one or two major deaths, as we know from reading Rue’s tear-jerker end in The Hunger Games. Three deaths and above, and she loses her footing.

Mind you, Collins’ prose is still compelling in the end, though sadly not compelling enough to ensure a captivating read.

Score: 8/10

PLOT

From Amazon: “Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’ family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final instalment of Suzanne Collins’ groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

Alas, Mockingjay’s plot is more annoying and facile than powerful and haunting. At the end of the book you have to wonder: what was the war about? Freedom? Freedom from what, exactly? Where’s the freedom when the people who wrest control of Panem from the Capitol are no different from the Capitol itself? It’s like the transference of power from a murdered dictator to his murderer son.

I’m guessing it won’t be long long before Scholastic announces a new Hunger Games book featuring a character well beyond Katniss’ time, forced to rise up against the new government.

Score: 5/10

FINAL THOUGHTS

In the past couple of months there’s been heated discussions in the blogosphere concerning YA books and male and female readers. Hannah Moskowitz (I definitely spelled that right cos I checked Goodreads) wrote that a lot of YA authors aren’t writing believable male characters anymore and it’s affecting how boys pick up YA.

She got ripped apart by like a hundred blogger chicks, cos you know, boys should learn to appreciate girl books since girls have been appreciating boy books for eons.

After reading Mockingjay, I don’t see this ever happening. In fact, I think boys should steer clear of YA and stick to whatever it is they love.

Girls make up YA’s greater market share. These days, when you write a YA book it doesn’t matter who you think you’re writing it for, because as far as publishers are concerned you’re writing it for the people most likely to put money in their pockets – girls. You have the freedom to do whatever you please, but certain things must feature in your book, one of them being a love triangle, or some weird romance between a pseudo-strong female and a thing that talks, walks and acts like a guy but really isn’t. Of course there are YA books that shy away from this narrative, but the ones that are considered the genre’s flagship, the ones the media champions every so often, adhere to these rules.

This explains why there had to be a love triangle in Mockingjay. It wasn’t necessary. We all knew Katniss would end up with Peeta, no matter how bogus and forced their romance was. But the triangle – dragged on throughout the book and put to rest in the worst possible way (Gale does the unthinkable and Katniss can’t look at him the same way, so she picks Peeta) – had to happen, because the market demands it. Boys aren’t too crazy about reading this kind of stuff, and when it pervades a book they’re certainly not encouraged to give the book a try. The book might as well have a “Warning: Not for Boys” label on it.

There’s even a Twilight-esque scene where Katniss is supposed to be asleep, but instead she eavesdrops on Gale and Peeta’s conversation about which one of them she will end up choosing. I’m not making this up.

(To be clear: I am not saying there aren't YA books for boys. That's not what I'm talking about here, because whenever someone brings up this issue people start listing out YA books tailored for boys. I'm talking about male characters in the YA books that hold up the banner for YA. I'm talking about themes that make it difficult for boys to get into YA books for girls, because these books make up a greater part of YA, and because bloggers keep saying, "Well, boys should learn to read books for girls, cos we girls have been reading books for boys too."

Like it or not, young boys of today are born into a pop culture environment where what's popular gets the most attention, and everything else is pretty much shunned by the greater mass [that includes 3/4 the list of YA books written specifically for boys that you're probably typing out at the moment to post as a comment]. The most popular YA books right now are YA books for girls. Period. Boys will go for these books, just as they did with Harry Potter. Difference is, Harry had a universal theme. These recent popular YA books don't, and most boys will turn away, not just from them, but from YA in general, because they can't be bothered to carry out archeological digs in bookstores just to find some obscure book that could appeal to them. You don't have to be rocket scientist to deduce this fact.)

Just as I accepted that YA Paranormal is what it is and will never be what it is not, I’ve come to the same conclusion regarding YA in general. I think the argument about boys reading YA or whether they should bother with it is a moot one. If YA’s current market is happy with the way YA is (and they are, judging from the sales of Twilight, Hush-Hush, Fallen and co) then I see no reason why anyone should try and change things.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

To conclude, Mockingjay can best be described as an uninspired end to a rather average series.

Final Score: 6/10

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

REVIEW: Beautiful Creatures By Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

beautifulcreatures A boy falls in love with a girl at 17, marries her at 21, and at 28 he comes home to find her and his son lying in a vast, slippery pool of their own blood. He stares at their mutilated bodies for minutes, maybe hours. Time has no dominion over him, as does everything else that comes with it. He knows who is responsible for this sickening act – the face of the man is a permanent scar in his mind. And as gradual as the sun raises its head to peek from dawn till day, life becomes meaningless. Nothing else matters now.

So, he does the honourable thing. He picks up his shotgun, ambles to his car, drives to the house of the one whose face taunts him, and murders everyone he encounters – men, women, children, even the pet dog. When he’s done, when he has the man spread-eagled beneath him, broken and torn in every way possible and not quite possible, he allows the vengeance prickling his eyes and mangling his heart to ease off. Febrile convulsions follow.

His hands are numb, so he drops his gun. His arms are heavy, so he lowers them to his sides. His legs are drained, so he sits by the door. The holes in his stomach and chest burn and weep crimson tears. His head sags right. There is a place better than this world, a place where he must go now. Living is inconsequential. Fighting the overpowering exhaustion is futile. He welcomes death like an old friend.

Just as I have now accepted that YA Paranormal is what it is and will never be what it is not. Inevitability has always been the number one rule, and I have fought this war of attrition for too long. It’s time to accept and move on.

That said, how beautiful is Beautiful Creatures?

CHARACTERS

Beautiful Creatures parades a good many characters, but first let’s focus on the stars of the show.

Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes.

Ethan is a sixteen-year-old boy. He loves his iPod. He has an absentee father, just like virtually every YA lead character today. He’s in the basket ball team, but that doesn’t mean much to him. He loves books, the complex, tome-like kind. He has the uncanny ability to describe what a girl is wearing. I don’t mean her underwear. Oh no, Ethan doesn’t think about girls’ underwear. I mean her clothes, the design, the folds, the patterns.

Video games and music that don’t include the lyrics, “Sixteen moons, sixteen years,” are for oddballs, like Link, not our dear Ethan. After all, he has better things to do. And what could be better than sixteen-year-old boy hanging out with his grand aunts. Ethan loves those old women. He enjoys every second with them.

Enter Lena Duchannes.

Misunderstood Lena Duchannes.

Lena is a caster, kind of like a witch. She’s super powerful. She can do super amazing things. She’s very pretty too, but everyone at school hates her because she’s an outsider and, yeah, she’s pretty. Ethan doesn’t care though. He’s willing to allow the basket ball team and the entire school ostracise him for this girl. He’s seen her in his dreams, like really, he has. She’s special. Plus she’s not blonde and she doesn’t have big boobs like Savannah and Emily and the other hot girls at school. Who needs hot, blonde girls? When you’re a sixteen-year-old boy, and you’re in the basket ball team and you could have a hot, blonde girl as a girlfriend, it makes more sense to turn the other way and go for the other ordinary girl.

Throughout the book, Ethan spends time with no other teenager except Lena. No need hanging with his dudes when he’s got her and Sixteen Moons thumping in his iPod. During the times they are together, they hold hands, they kiss. They whisper sweet nothings to each other. They do this mind instant messaging thing: Ethan thinks and Lena hears; Lena thinks back and Ethan hears.

They do a lot of cuddling too, even when they’re in bed. They hold hands in bed. They kiss in bed. Nothing else happens.

You’re thinking it. I’m thinking it too. So, I’ll just say it: Ethan is not queer.

No sir.

I have a theory about Ethan’s real identity. At the end of the series, Ethan’s true self will serve as a huge reveal, like Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker: I am your father. Ethan will tell Lena: Lena, I’m a drag king. I don’t have a penis. That’s why I can’t have an erection around you.

You might think I’m making fun of Beautiful Creatures, but I’m not. I think this would be an awesome twist. YA needs more diverse characters, not just black people, Chinese people, little people, or Eskimos. YA needs gay people too, but not just the politically correct ones – you know, the nice boy who discovers he’s gay and hides his identity, and then falls in love with the boy next door, then realises the only way he can truly be happy is to come out of the closet, and in the end he’s voted as his school’s prom queen. YA also needs the other gays, the ones that dress up too. The ones that change their sex, like that man who got pregnant – he’s a guy but he’s a woman too. Like Ethan.

But that’s just my Ethan theory.

As much as I like twists and mind-blowing reveals, the fact of the matter is Ethan is presented as a guy in Beautiful Creatures, and he makes one hell of a lousy guy. It’s like casting Angelina Jolie as a male stripper, and she successfully fakes the baritone voice, and the walk, but there’s still something feminine about her character ... like the swell on her chest ... or how she doesn’t have an erection.

Lena is a much better character, from afar. I enjoyed seeing her through Ethan’s eyes. You have no idea how glad I was that I didn’t have to spend 500+ pages inside her head. Lena might be strong willed and brave, but she’s not emotionally invincible. The jibes and accusations lobed at her by her classmates burn, and though she stands her ground, there’s a raw vulnerability about her defensive approach. She uses poetry to soothe her anger, writing all over her hands, her bed posts, her walls, and her ceiling. If Beautiful Creatures were written from Lena’s POV it would’ve been 900 pages of super teen angst.

Her invulnerability is only tied to her human side, though. As a caster, Lena is one gigantic Mary Sue. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.

There are other memorable characters in Beautiful Creatures, like Amma, who loves spelling out words whenever she wants to drive a point across. She more than makes up for Ethan’s lame dad who spends all his time in his study instead of manning up and being a father. Your wife died. So? You’ve got a kid. Shut the hell up, stop crying like a bitch, and take some goddamn responsibility over your son. Damn absentee parents. Amma’s verve is refreshing. She’s the matriarch you don’t want to mess with.

Marian sounds like she could’ve offered more, especially being Ethan’s late mother’s best friend, but like Ethan’s dad she doesn’t appear often enough in the book to manipulate my emotions.

Uncle Macon is the Dumbledore of Beautiful Creatures. Always around, but never really around, if you know what I mean; cryptic in his daily dealings. But unlike Dumbledore, Macon’s secrets suck, and he gets rather irritating before the book’s end.

Link, Ethan’s supposed best friend – I say supposed, because in 563 pages Ethan hangs out with him for like 6 times – is sort of stuck between being nobody and somebody. The only time he matters is when he tangles himself with the enigmatic, lollypop-sucking Ridley.

I loved Ethan’s grand aunts. I wouldn’t have spent as much time with them as Ethan did, but they did offer a fun read, especially when they argued, or the comments they made after they found stuff they had lost a long time ago.

If I had to pick one character as my favourite it would be Ridley. Cool, smoking hot, badass, sex appeal oozing Ridley. She wasn’t a pretend teenager like Ethan, and she served as the book’s somewhat tortured character, torn between following her evil instincts and helping her cousin, Lena.

Score: 7/10 (you can thank Ethan for knocking a point off)

WORLD BUILDING

Forget about Ethan and his bizarre sexual asceticism. The real character in Beautiful Creatures is the old southern town, Gatlin. A town filled with bizarre, crippled personalities.

The people of Gatlin are ignorant, annoying, old-fashioned, lame, probably racist, and quite twisted sons of bitches. Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve read southern American depiction of this kind. Either there are lots of people out there who don’t like the south or the south really is this way.

There is a scene where Lena gets really upset and her powers activate and shatters the window near her. Normally, you would expect a reaction like: who broke the window? But in Gatlin, it's: she broke the window. I saw her do it when she walked by.

Someone questions this logic: but she hasn't got blood on her hands.

A sharp, irritated reply: what are you, CSI? She tried to kill us!

From there, the whole town wages a personal vendetta on Lean - parents, teachers, students - everyone. It's ridiculous, but - hey - it's Gatlin.

In the world of Beautiful Creatures there are casters, witches as I explained, and Lena is one of them. Unfortunately, Lena is also, like I explained, a very, super awesome powerful caster, with little to no limits on her powers, which makes me believe Beautiful Creatures has no rigid magic system. Or maybe it does, but I honestly couldn't make heads or tails of it. One minute, Lena is breaking a small window, the next she’s walking through fire, making snow fall, and freezing time.

Then there’s The Book of Moons, an excuse for Admiral Deus Ex Machina to make an impromptu appearance whenever things get too tough for our heroes. Apparently, it is the most powerful caster book in the universe, and now it belongs to the most powerful caster in the universe. Gee. Why do we need a sequel?

But it’s not all bad. The authors were able to take some popular supernatural creatures and tweak them for the better. I was absolutely impressed when I discovered Uncle Macon’s true identity and his fascination with dreams.

The whole claiming-on-your-sixteenth birthday was a nice touch, particularly with the way the book ended.

Score: 8/10

PROSE

The authors, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, make a remarkable writing team. I know they know this. In fact, I know they’re so in love with each other’s writing that neither of them could tell the other to stop rambling and get on with it.

Too much rambling in this book, I tell you. There’s just no way to justify Beautiful Creatures’ length – 563 pages, significantly less than 300 of which make up the main plot, and the others, just rambling upon rambling. Ethan rambles. Christ. Jibber-jabber, jibber-jabber, Jibber-bloody-jabber.

On the bright side, the authors were capable of representing Gatlin in all its glory. Forget all that negative stuff I said about the town; it might be a weird place, but it’s still a well-written weird place. I’m not sure calling Gatlin weird is even a criticism. I think Gatlin was always meant to be weird.

Kami and Margaret might score a B in descriptive writing, but their efforts only garner a D in dialogue. The dialogue writing in Beautiful Creatures is inconsistent at best. Sometimes it’s good. Other times – most times – it’s just laugh out loud.

Though I’ve never been a fan of written accents, I thought the authors conveyed an authentic southern drawl when Amma and Ethan’s grand aunts spoke.

(Do note I am not an American. The closest I’ve ever come to a hearing a southern talk is on TV. I might be wrong about the accuracy of Beautiful Creatures’ southern lingo).

Unfortunately, the authors go on commit the heinous crime we writers call “monologuing”. The villains talk and talk and talk and explain. The heroes listen and listen and listen and reply back.

Beautiful Creatures’ dialogue problem is further exacerbated by most of its characters’ inability to shut up and move on, always repeating themselves, over and over, like a bunch of three-year-olds pestering mummy and daddy for ice cream until mummy and daddy are fed up and lock them up in the basement. To illustrate, here’s how a typical conversation between Ethan and Uncle Macon enfolds:

Ethan: Tell me the truth. Tell me everything I need to know to save Lena.

Uncle Macon: You don’t understand. You wouldn’t understand. Telling you the truth will destroy everything. I’m trying to protect you.

Ethan: We need to save Lena! The only way to do that is if you tell me the truth.

Uncle Macon: I love Lena, but I’m trying to protect her.

Ethan: You just don’t care about Lena.

Uncle Macon: I care more than you know. I’m trying to protect her.

By this time you think the conversation has ended, cos as we can see Uncle Macon has made it quite clear he’s not telling Ethan anything.

But –

Ethan: Still, dude, just tell me the truth. Come on!

Uncle Macon: The truth will set us all free, but I won’t do it. It’s for Lena’s protection.

Dear lord.

The funny thing is the so-called truth Uncle Macon keeps evading isn’t as earth-shattering or life-threatening to Lena as is implied. Certainly not something he couldn’t have told her before the big battle. Hell, if he had told her the truth she would have been more prepared to face her enemy.

I don’t know why too many YA authors employ this plotting technique. The problem with it is it could blow up in your face. When a character goes to great lengths in explaining that he’s keeping a secret to protect another character, that secret better be bigger than the universe when it’s revealed, or it’s going to one anti-climatic mess.

Score: 8/10

PLOT

Ethan dreams about a girl. He meets her at school. Her name is Lena. He finds out she’s a caster. They fall in love, deeply in love. But it turns out their love story might be fleeting, because on Lena’s sixteenth birthday, which is fast approaching, she will be claimed. Getting claimed is a nifty way of saying she will turn good or evil against her will. She’s certain she’s going to turn evil. So she and Ethan search for a way to ensure she remains good.

There’s nothing wrong with this plot. What’s wrong is its execution.

Score: 8/10

FINAL THOUGHT

When I started Beautiful Creatures I loved it. Halfway through, I kept it aside (not out of boredom) and got my hands on Justin Cronin’s The Passage. I think that’s part of what ruined Beautiful Creatures for me. I went on to read Cronin’s masterpiece and came back to Beautiful Creatures, sort of like watching Casino Royale halfway, watching the whole of Inception, and expecting to enjoy the rest of Casino Royale afterwards.

You see, Beautiful Creatures should have been more than this. It had that spark that should’ve lit up the sky, but only flared a bit. Too many pointless scenes got in the way. The plot would flow smoothly for a while then Ethan and Lena would go off at a tangent, doing stuff that had no connection with the main plot. Nothing wrong with that, except the authors wasted too much time deviating from the main plot, to the extent that I didn’t remember some of the earlier major plot clues when I got to the end of the book. So, rather than the reveals and twists exploding before my eyes, they deflated like punctured bicycle tires.

Characters like Ridley, Larkin, and even the big, bad villain, were ruined by the very people who created them. These characters started off great, promised excitement, and delivered less than expected of them, certainly less than they were capable of delivering. Pity. Reminds me of The Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (Video Game); there’s a scene where the prince, having realised the gravity of his error, says “I am the architect of my own destruction.”

I liken Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl to amazing painters, who after producing a masterpiece pick up knives and puncture holes in their art, and then put it out for an exhibition.

Beautiful Creatures, The Forrest of Hands and Teeth and The Demon’s Lexicon all have one thing in common: they feature excellent premises and are written by excellent writers, but in the end they all crumble like shattered, eleven-foot high Lego bricks, in their quest for greatness. (Wait. That's three things.)

Why? How? I have no idea.

I’m done with Forest, but I haven’t given up on Lexicon and Beautiful Creatures.

For those of you looking for a YA book with a real male lead character, look elsewhere. If you’re a girl (or a rather strange boy) looking for Twilight Romance, you know, all the touch, touch, touch, kiss, kiss, kiss, no sex, then Beautiful Creatures is perfect for you.

Final Score: 8/10

Sunday, 8 August 2010

REVIEW: The Passage by Justin Cronin

The passage I am Babcock.

It must be hard being a vampire these days, the top target of a well orchestrated character assassination, reduced to something only half as scary as a floppy-eared beagle. Today’s literature depicts you as a sparkling chandelier, or an overemotional pansy who falls madly in love with a human girl and relinquishes his burning thirst for warm, succulent human blood. You know ... the type that tastes really good.

You used to put the fear of God in people. Now ... now you’re just a whinny, emo bitch. Well, you’re not, but that’s how we humans see you.

If vampires did exist, and they read books and watched movies, I imagine therapists worldwide would see a drastic increase in their vampire clientele, and the number one question they would get from these depressed hunters of the night would be: how can I be myself again?

Those vamps lucky to have Justin Cronin as their therapist would surely thank him after a day’s session. And eat him afterwards.

I am Babcock.

My heartfelt apologies to anyone named Babcock. Discrimination in any form – race, sex, age, height, etc – should not be tolerated or encouraged. However, I’m not so sure I like the name “Babcock” anymore. It frightens me. You can thank Justin Cronin for that.

The Passage is a riveting epic. Justin Cronin has finally put the “V” back in Vampire. You would expect this sort of impressive storytelling from a YA author, considering YA is a genre customarily representative of excellent imagination, but just as England invented the beautiful game of football and Spain perfected it, YA made vampires immensely popular in this generation and now Justin Cronin has schooled the genre and its authors on how to write a real vampire novel.

To be honest, I’m not sure YA authors care that much. The genre has moved on to pastures new: angel paranormal romance. Or is it fairies? I forget.

CHARACTERS

Literary authors understand one concept: character-driven plots. It’s their lifeblood. It’s what they eat, breathe and sleep. Since Justin Cronin is technically one of them (The Passage is his first genre book) he utilises this particular expertise in developing an assemblage of diverse, interesting and invigorating characters that walk right out the pages of The Passage. They’re not classed into simple, cardboard-cutout groups of good and evil, but complex, human clusters of flaws and convictions.

Each character has a story to tell, from Amy, the mysterious and shrewd six-year-old, abandoned by her mother and distrustful of people in general, to Brad Wolgast, an FBI agent, haunted by his failed marriage to the love of his life and scarred by a missed opportunity on fatherhood, an opportunity that resurfaces when he meets Amy.

There’s Sister Lacey Antoinette Kudoto, from Sierra-Leone, who believes she can hear God, but her life is one big twist, and Anthony Carter, a soft spoken, homeless black man who somehow ends up on death row for a crime he did not commit, but willing to take the ultimate punishment – death – all in the name of love.

Clearly, Justin Cronin understands that America is not made up of only white people.

Cronin knows how to withhold information about characters and throw them at readers in tantalising bits. My heart twisted for Anthony Carter when I read the conclusion of his story.

If there is one criticism I have it’s that the characters introduced in Part IV (All Eyes), while well drawn out, are not as appealing as those in the previous parts.

Score: 10/10

WORLD BUILDING

The Passage stretches from somewhere around or before 2008 (Amy’s mother’s story) to more than a hundred years, right into the heart of a dystopian America, shattered, defeated and teeming with ferocious creatures of the night: virals, or vampires.

Justin shows us America we know it today, a Super Power embroiled in a seemingly never-ending war in the Middle East. A country left paranoid by terrorism (in the book Walmart sells Kevlar suits for babies). And then he shows us a new world born out of a devastating vampire apocalypse. A world where children are segregated from the outside, because reality – there are blood thirsty beasts, quick as light, roaming about, seeking to get you – is too traumatising for them.

It’s a dark, dark world. A world nearly bereft of hope.

The science behind the existence of vampires and how the vampire virus works in The Passage is well thought out, plausible and imaginative. It has to do with the thymus, a specialised organ in the immune system, located in the anterior superior mediastinum.

I don’t want to spoil the book by revealing everything.

Score: 10/10

PROSE

Justin Cronin is a remarkable writer, I kid you not. His prose is engaging, touching, and brutal, all at the same time. Descriptions of places can sometimes be a bit too much, dragging on for quite a while, but it doesn’t hurt. And his dialogue writing is wow!

Score: 10/10

PLOT

The United States of America loves policing the world, or at least that’s what a lot of people, other than Americans, say. In 2003, for whatever reason you might think – oil, justice, delusions of grandeur – America attacks a certain country in the Middle East. In 2014, the war is still going strong, and America is losing soldiers by the bucket load.

Desperation sets in. How do we avoid heavy infantry losses? How do we create soldiers who can easily despatch enemies?

Beyond that, how do we permanently defeat ailments like cancer?

A scientist, Dr Lear, thinks the answer is in Bolivia. Thus, Project Noah is born.

The expedition to Bolivia does not end well. Many die. Few return. One of the returnees is classed as Zero, a scientist named Fanning, who was infected by the vampire virus in Bolivia.

For Lear to complete his research and create a solution to America’s military and health problems he needs twelve candidates. The military decides that the twelve will be people who wouldn’t be missed, death row inmates. FBI agent, Brad Wolgast, a man who can pretty much sell water to a well, is tasked with the responsibility of convincing twelve inmates to sign away their lives to the United States government. These twelve inmates are: Babcock, Carter, Morrison, Chavez, Baffes, Turrell, Winston, Sosa, Echols, Lambright, Martinez, and Reinhardt (not listed in the correct order).

Lear then decides he needs a thirteenth candidate, a child. The Army orders Wolgast to apprehend and deliver a six-year-old girl, Amy Harper Bellanfonte.

Wolgast cannot do it.

Long story short, the virals, the Twelve plus Zero, break out of the facility, and in less than a few months, they overpower America.

One hundred years later, the last surviving Americans living in a small, high-walled colony, resolve to embark on a mission to save themselves and their families, because, you see, the batteries powering the lights outside their colony, the lights preventing the vampires from breaching their walls at night, is fading fast, and if they don’t find an alternative means of survival, they’ll all be dead.

Need I say more?

Score: 10/10

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re an aspiring writer, read this book. Trust me, there’s much to learn from Justin Cronin’s tome. If you’re just a reader looking for something thrilling to chew on, The Passage will satiate your appetite and leave you wanting more.

Score: 10/10

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Morality of Characters and Plots

Sisters Red A couple of days ago I read The Booksmugglers’ review for Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red, and it got me thinking about character behaviours, their motivations, flaws and likeable quotient; book plots, their implications – whether subtle or palpable; and the role authors play in the lives of their readers.

The Booksmugglers’ denouncement of Sisters Red and their subsequent refusal to score it stems from the impression (theirs) that Sisters Red (a) belittles beautiful, self-confident girls who love looking pretty and love wearing revealing clothes, and (b) promotes the popular (and misguided) message: blame the rape victim, not the rapist.

Scarlett, a main character in the book, and the review’s major culprit, is scarred, bitter and an unrelenting werewolf hunter. She’s not particularly appreciative of her life as a hunter, but she reckons someone has to do the messy deed of ridding the world of the Fenris (Old Norse word for werewolf). She also resents beautiful girls who wear skimpy clothes at night because she believes they make themselves easy prey for the Fenris. Her resentment borders on jealousy though; she’s not as beautiful as these girls, she doesn’t have the luxury of “enjoying” herself like these girls, and she doesn’t get a gold medal or a presidential award for saving these girls from the big bad wolves.

These quotes are from Scarlett’s POV, and they’re the ones the Booksmugglers take offence to:

[1] They’re adorned in glittery green rhinestones, shimmery turquoise and aquamarine powders streaked across their eyelids. Dragonfly girls. Their hair is all the same, long and streaked, spiralling down their backs to where the tiny strings holding their tops on are knotted tightly. Their skin glows under the neon lights – amber, ebony, cream – like shined metal, flawless and smooth. I press harder against the crumbly brick wall behind me, tugging my crimson cloak closer to my body. The scars on my shoulders show through fabric when I pull the cloak tight. Bumpy red hills in perfectly spaced lines.

The Dragonflies laugh, sweet, and bubbly, and I groan in exasperation. They toss their hair, stretch their legs, sway their hips, bat their eyes at the club’s bouncer, everything about them luring the Fenris. Inviting danger like some baby animal bleating its fool head off. Look at me, see how I dance, did you notice my hair, look again, desire me, I am perfect. Stupid, stupid Dragonflies. Here I am, saving your lives, bitten and scarred and wounded for you, and you don’t even know it. I should let the Fenris have one of you.

No, I didn’t mean that. I sigh and walk to the other side of the brick wall, letting my fingers tangle in the thick ivy. It’s dark on this side, shadowed from the neon lights of the street. I breathe slowly, watching the tree limbs sway, backlit by the lights of skyscrapers. Of course I didn’t mean it. Ignorance is no reason to die. They can’t help what they are, still happily unaware inside a cave of fake shadows. They exist in a world that’s beautiful normal, where people have jobs and dreams that don’t involve a hatcher. My world is parallel universe to their – the same sights, same people, same city, yet the Fenris lurk, the evil creeps, the knowledge undeniably exists. If I hadn’t been thrown into this world, I could just as easily have been a Dragonfly.

[2] His eyes narrow in something between disgust and intrigue, as though he’s not certain if he likes looking at them or not. I want to comment, but I stay quiet. Somehow it feels important to wait for his reaction. Silas finally turns to look at me in the shadows.

“It’s like they’re trying to be eaten, isn’t it?” he asks pointedly.

“Can I tell you how glad I am that and Rosie aren’t like them?”

“No kidding.” I grin, relieved. “Rosie could be if she wanted, though. She’s beautiful like they are.”

“Beauty has nothing to do with it. Rosie could never be one of them. Do you really think they’d dress and act like that if they knew it was drawing wolves toward them?”

Had a character come up to Scarlett and said, “Hey, you shouldn’t be pissed off at beautiful girls just cos they’re beautiful and like looking hot,” or something of that sort, the review might have sung a different tune.

The status quo in commercial literature today is characters that think or do bad things must get their comeuppance: death, or a terrible event, which eventually transforms them into better, likeable people. A racist main character cannot remain a racist at the end of a book. He has to go through some eye-opening journey and change, or suffer and die. A sexist main character has to learn to appreciate women at some point before a book’s conclusion.

Scarlett doesn’t alter her attitude. She saves the world, but she still retains her “unpopular” belief.

Books are open to all kinds of interpretations and opinions. When I read the Sisters Red quotes I didn’t see any allegories of blaming rape victims or demeaning beautiful girls. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy and I “don’t get it”. (But then again the author is a woman. Perhaps we both don’t get it.)

I read the quotes and saw someone who was pissed off at the world, pissed off because she couldn’t have some fun like everyone else, pissed off because no one knew the true nature of the dangers that lay in the shadows like she did, and pissed off because she had to save the day without so much as a “gee, thanks, Scarlett. I owe you one”.

I just saw a pissed off heroine, that’s all.

Does Scarlett have a right to be pissed off? That’s debateable.

Is she right in judging prettier girls the way she did? Probably not.

Is this her major character flaw? Yes.

Does this flaw make her less likeable as a character? Depends on you as a reader.

Does her attitude make Sisters Red a bad book? No. Not in my opinion.

This whole kerfuffle has got me wondering, do characters have to be likeable for a book to be good? What does likeable even mean: less irritating, more forgiving, eager to save the world?

Do authors have a responsibility as morale beacons to their readers? Must they portray their characters as examples of what happens if you make good and bad choices? Must they write plots that ultimately send messages like: stealing is bad; killing is bad; sexism is bad; racism is bad; having sex before marriage is not bad but you can catch nasty diseases ... or, you know what, maybe it’s bad; everyone should love gay people; etc.

What do you think?

Maybe some authors should. I would hate to read a children’s book to my five-year-old daughter (if I had one) about a girl who kills, steals and gets away with it. But as for the YA and Adult genres, I’m not so sure, but that’s just me.

During the early stages of the Iraqi war, a British man travelled to Iraq, despite government warnings, for humanitarian reasons and also to protest the war. He was captured by insurgents and used as a negotiating tool. The insurgents threatened to kill him unless Britain withdrew its troops from Iraq. The British government does not negotiate with terrorists. They declined.

The man was beheaded.

A friend of mine who was in the Territorial Army at the time said that he hated people like the man, and thought that humanitarians enjoy overdoing things, and they should just shut up and stay at home and not involve themselves in situations they don’t understand.

If he was the main character of a book and the thing with the British man happened and MC said those things and in the end he doesn’t change his mind about humanitarians or apologise for maligning them, but saves the world from the big bad evil, would that book automatically qualify as a bad book, to you?

It’s my belief that characters are to some extent representations of real life people. That’s what authors strive for when they write: to create characters who breathe as if they were standing right next to you.

If that’s the case, shouldn’t characters, like people, possess certain flaws that remain unchanged even after a book’s end?

Must a main character be absolutely moral or ethical before a book is considered a good book?

A book’s hero saves the world from the apocalypse, but while he’s tolerant of gay people, he’s not open to the idea of ever being gay. In fact, the thought of it – grabbing another guy’s ass, French-kissing him, going under the sheets – almost makes his skin crawl. Does that book become a bad book?

What do you think?

Saturday, 31 July 2010

REVIEW: Lies by Michael Grant

Warning: mild spoilers.

Lies Welcome back to Perdido Beach, back to the FAYZ. Welcome indeed. Lies has been a long time coming, it truly has.

I finished it about two weeks ago, but my university project prevented me from writing my review. During that time I read Justin Cronin’s behemoth, The Passage, and I’m almost done with Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures.

Michael Grant’s latest offering, Lies, mirrors his previous hits, Gone and Hunger, in every way possible. Grant doesn’t hold back; from page one the action steams out of the station and the plot unravels in so many twists, turns and flips. No time wasting. Like a Ninja Assassin: get in there, stab-slash-slice, get out. Mission accomplished.

The question is: how good an accomplishment is Lies?

CHARACTERS

If you’re a fan of the Gone series, the first thing you’ll notice when reading Lies is the absence of some beloved characters. Computer Jack appears only twice. Quinn becomes more irrelevant than he was in Hunger. Lana sits around, getting high on alcohol and smoking cigarettes, all the time. Brianna, the character I love most, contributes zilch to the plot; she’s sick the entire book, suffering from the flu, thus bedridden. The only time she does anything is towards the end, when she puts Sam on a skateboard and drags him at top speed from the nuclear plant back to Perdido Beach.

Huh.

Why are these top characters sidelined? Well, the only reason I supply is: to make room for newer characters.

Problem is the new characters are either bad imitations of the old, popular characters, or they are just not that interesting.

Nerezza channels Diana’s manipulative, sultry disposition with little success. Zil, who assumes the mantle of resident villain, as Caine is too busy starving to death, is too weak, too stupid, and too WTF-are-you-kidding-me, that the plausibility of Lies’ plot scuttles off a cliff when Zil and his human crew burn down half the town (killing some kids in the process), walk into a hall filled with kids without incurring retribution for starting the fire, and gun down a bunch of kids.

Maybe this is the author’s idea of a badass villain, in which case: fail.

Then there’re Sanjit, Virtue and the other kids who live on an island within the FAYZ. These guys are late to the party. In the first book they would have made for interesting characters. In Lies, they just get in the way. I’m reading an action scene, the chapter ends, and then I have to read Sanjit and Virtue’s boring mission to fly a helicopter. They accomplish this at the end of the book.

Yes, that’s right. It takes the entire book for them to fly a helicopter.

Fortunately, Sam, Astrid, Orc, and Howard breathe a much needed life into Lies.

Sam struggles to accept his relegated hero status, labours with the memory of Drake beating the crap out of him, and questions his relationship with Astrid: has she been using him all along just to protect herself and her brother, Little Pete? Does she love him or is she only interested in power and control?

Astrid misplaces that astute perception of hers, the one that earned her the fitting moniker, “Astrid the genius”, in her quest to maintain peace, order and unity within the FAYZ.

Orc, though playing a much smaller role like Computer Jack, becomes a more honourable individual. Even Howard shows he’s got a streak of humanity in him and that he’s not simply a brainless, smart-mouthed bully. He totally pawns Astrid at her own game. Yeah, he is still a creep, but he’s a far more interesting creep in this book than in the previous ones.

I have to say though that the character over-inflation problem that plagued Hunger is evident in Lies. In fact, most characters are starting to sound alike that it's hard to distinguish them.

What I don't understand is why the author chooses to give characters staring roles when they add nothing to the plot or the series. There are a bunch of chapters that feature Justin. Yeah, you probably don't remember him. Well, that's because he's very irrelevant. But for some reason we have to read chapters of him getting lost on his way home. That's all. What's the point?

Score: 6/10

WORLD BUILDING

Hunger gave readers the chance to see the FAYZ properly with a new pair of binoculars, one of those nifty types that zoom in and out. Lies takes things one giant step further, with a result that is far more impressive.

Score: 8/10

PROSE

Michael Grant’s prose mimics the rapid, staccato bursts of machine guns. When you open Lies, his prose flips out like an impressive cut-throat razor and slices away all distractions that might steal your attention from the book. I didn’t give it a 9 because my ebook version had some weird errors.

Score: 8/10

PLOT

There is a saying that goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I said earlier that Lies mirrors Gone and Hunger in every way possible, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Every series has a plot formula. In Harry Potter, Harry starts off each book at his uncle’s house. Weird things happen. Then he goes to Hogwarts. Weird things happen. Everyone blames him. Weird things happen. He, Hermione and Ron solve some weird riddles. They succeed. Hurray! Harry returns home. That’s pretty much the Potter formula. The reason it works is (a) there’s always something new to discover in Hogwarts; (b) Harry Potter and other characters are very, very well drawn; (c) the plot elements for each book are always fresh, engaging and exciting [book one: philosopher’s stone; book two: the basilisk/sword of Gryffindor; book three: Dementors/time-turner; book four: tri-wizard tournament/voldemort himself; etc].

The Gone series has its own formula. Unfortunately, that formula is starting to show its age.

As usual, Caine concocts a half-arsed plan and manipulates a bunch of people. The heroes are too busy squabbling amongst themselves to open their eyes and see what’s right in front of them. By the time they realise, oh, crap there’s something bad happening, it’s too late – Caine has done his damage.

Lies’ plot does deliver, but honestly, each book release in the Gone series has shown a progressive decline in plot quality. The new characters – heroes and villains alike – are unable to fill the void left by absentee characters. (Seriously, can someone tell me why Zil is still alive?) The author must know this, which is why he decided to bring back an old character that should have stayed dead. It’s like a bad episode of Passions. Said character used to be scary. Now he’s a joke.

Score: 6/10

FINAL THOUGHT

I know Little Pete is an autistic four-year-old, and I sympathise with him. Actually, I used to. Now, he’s just pissing me off. He’s responsible for the FAYZ, or at least he’s somehow connected, but his unresponsiveness, while realistic, is aggravating, especially since his character is pivotal in the series. It takes forever for him to react to anything, and when he does, I’m thinking: oh, wow. That’s it? That’s all you’re going to do after I’ve sat here for hours, reading about you whine and play a dead Game Boy?

Overall, Lies is a decent book. Certainly not my best in the series. Here is to hoping things pick up in Plague.

Final Score: 7/10

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Blue Fire contest

Once upon a time a girl was born. Her name was Janice Hardy.

Long story short, she grew up and started messing around in her meth lab. Weird. She came up with this legal meth called The Pain Merchants. Very addictive stuff, this drug.

The Pain Merchants

Warning: addictive drug. Will make you dream weird and wonderful dreams, and hallucinate on occasions. Even though deemed legal for consumption, approach with absolute caution, but do approach anyway. Contains too much awesomeness.

Now she’s cooked up a sequel, Blue Fire.

Shifter 2

Warning: modified version of substance A, category Z [street name: The Pain Merchant]. Considered far more effective. Deemed Legal, but government will not be held responsible if it blows your mind. Approach? Definitely.

The last time I read The Pain Merchants I was so addicted my folks carted me to rehab. Curse Janice. Well, my therapist told me to stay away from Janice drugs and focus on my life and dreams and girlfriends. I promised her I would.

I lied.

Here’s a link to Janice’s blog, where she’s holding a contest for Blue Fire.

From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry, Mrs Therapist; I’m sorry, Dad; I’m sorry, Mum. But I just can’t help it. I need this book so bad.

Also, please do check out this project: Panverse Publishing. It’s a new sci-fi publisher. Let’s give Panverse our support! You might want to check out Panverse’s latest anthology which features a story by Janice.

Ok, now I’m off to read Karla’s and Karla’s teasers. (I still forget which Karla is which. I should memorise their surnames. All I know is they’re awesome writers.)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Teaser Tuesday

I’ve decided to do teaser Tuesdays once every two weeks, because I’m coming to the end of a chapter and I’m don’t want to reveal anything from the next chapter until I’m done with the fourth one.

So here’s my teaser. Enjoy ;)

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*Snip snap!*

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Wednesday, 7 July 2010

New Synopsis!

I’ve put a new synopsis for my WIP here. And you can see it as my teaser Tuesday, even though I didn’t post it on Tuesday and it’s a synopsis :D

Here’s a bit of it:

I was sitting right next to you in the bus, and then you were gone, along with the whole world. I was in an awful, dark place. I think I died or something. I was so scared. Then I met this terribly wounded man. He told me all this crazy stuff I can’t even remember. The lights went out again. The darkness consumed me, and it hurt so much. I wanted it all to end. Then I woke up, and here we are.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Whitewashing. Who’s to blame?

Something’s happened.

In 2009 HarperCollins imprint, Greenwillow Books, published Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia. The book tells the tale of an Asian girl, Ai Ling, who journeys to retrieve her father from a corrupt, powerful advisor. It’s got gods and other cool stuff in it. Think Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Avatar: The Last Airbender (the cartoon, not M Night Shyamalan’s atrocious, racist depiction).

Turns out Phoenix didn’t do so well commercially, and Greenwillow opted to repackage it in time for its sequel’s release. Now, from what I understand, Borders refused to carry Phoenix, and only a select few B&N stores stocked limited quantities of it. The author said readers did not embrace Phoenix as much as she and her publisher would have liked, and thus, Phoenix was given a makeover ... Ai Ling was transformed from an Asian girl to a generic white chick.

Silver Phoenix Silver Phoenix2

Old cover

New cover

These days, a lot of readers don’t take kindly to whitewashing, and publishers have found themselves staring down the serrated ends of pitchforks when they pulled that stunt.

Furore over Silver Phoenix’s unfortunate cover alteration is growing, and you best believe bullets will be flying Greenwillow’s way pretty soon.

Me, I’m taking a different stance on this issue, and I’ll explain why.

Phoenix’s situation is much different from Liar’s or Magic Under Glass’. When Phoenix was published in 2009 it wasn’t whitewashed. It featured a beautiful Asian girl on its cover. The publisher chose to whitewash it after poor sales figures. That they even bothered to do so, AND publish a sequel, shows how much faith they have in Cindy Pon’s story and her ability as a writer. (Don’t publishers usually dump authors at this point?)

Greenwillow believes Phoenix is epic and deserves better attention from the public than it got. I agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending whitewashing. I think it’s disgusting. However, this time I’m not going to point my sniper at the publisher. This time I’m going to say what I’ve always wanted to say for a long while – the truth.

And the truth is booksellers are the racists. Most of them, at least.

Listen, the math is very straightforward: booksellers are the ones who pick books out of publisher catalogues, stock them and sell them.

A lot of people say that publishers whitewash books because they believe only white people read, and that white readers won’t buy books depicting people of other races on their covers.

You know what I think? I think most publishers whitewash books because they believe most booksellers believe white people are the only readers out there, and that white people are squeamish about picking up books with non-white people covers.

And that’s exactly what happened with Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix. Borders didn’t like it and skipped it. B&N barely stocked it. The publisher repackaged it with a white girl on its cover.

Why would a publisher repackage a book and publish its sequel despite poor sales, in this present economy? Makes no sense at all.

Oh, but wait, average reader reviews for Phoenix was positive; average critic reviews was positive; the original cover was aesthetic and cool.

Why the poor sales then?

Answer: the booksellers didn’t like Phoenix, thus Phoenix was hardly available in their bookstores, and thus a plethora of readers couldn’t find Phoenix to buy.

The guys at Greenwillow must have thought “Why didn’t booksellers like Phoenix then?” and went on to consult these booksellers, which eventually led to their decision to change Phoenix’s cover.

I guarantee you, when Phoenix is published with this new cover Borders and co will pick it. I promise you.

So, I’m not going to blame Greenwillow. In my opinion, they tried. They did everything they could. In the end, this is a business, and unfortunately if racist booksellers refuse to stock up your books then you have no choice but to give into their outrageous demand: whitewash your books.

The situation, I’m afraid, is out of the publisher’s hand. Greenwillow is not the villain here. The booksellers are.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Ah, my favourite day of the week, when I get to share a little bit of me to the world ... to you guys. Enjoy :D

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*Snip*

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Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Teaser Tuesday

I had a supervisor's meeting today, so my teaser's a little late.

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*Gone with the wind*

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Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Yeah, teaser Tuesday time, eh? Yup!

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*Snip!*

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The Peter Petrelli Effect

Last week's teaser we found out a bit more about Giaan, that he has a rather strange ability. Someone said she always thought my WIP was "realistic fiction" and nothing to do with powers or stuff like that, and was quite shocked at the reveal (which pretty much mirrored what everyone else was thinking, judging by their: "Woah, I didn't know he had a power!"). Lol it is realistic fiction, in a way, and I'm happy about her reaction, cos it means I'm on the right track. I didn't have to result to any "my character has this weird power and he's confused and he doesn't want to use his powers but he has to, blah, blah, blah" to generate tension and make her feel for Giaan.

Giaan's biggest problem is not power-related. He's in a bad place right now and he can't come out of it through magic or doing something freaky. And you know what, that's cool.

I believe a character's power shouldn't define them. Who they are – not what they can do – is what should count the most. Giaan's pain, his "normal" struggles, his personality, his choices in "normal" situations, etc, are the very essence of his humanity, and that's the part of him I want readers to empathise with.

I guess this is me revolting against the norm. There are too many YA books out there today where the biggest problem a protag faces is one she has to solve by utilising her paranormal gift, and said problem is the only problem capable of striking true fear in her heart. All other problems, though strong enough to trigger some minor distress, border on the mundane, and only exist to expand the book's pages: protag has a crush on a boy and worries whether he likes her back and if he'll ask her out; protag has to deal with bullies or mean girls; etc.

Romance and encounter with mean girls are not sufficient ingredients in creating believable, three-dimensional teenagers, especially when we know by the book's conclusion the protag will most likely end up dating her boy-crush and defeating the mean girls. If your character's only normal problems are boys/girls and bullies and homework, and their only biggest problem is defeating the mystical beast with magic or paranormal powers, then you risk your character falling victim to the Peter Petrelli effect.

Peter Petrelli is this dude from Heroes, a TV show, who had a lot of cool powers, and everyone wanted to be like him at some point in the show's first season. When he lost his powers he became the most boring ass dude in television history. Why, cos without his powers he had no purpose. He had no vision. He had nothing. I started to ask myself, who the hell is this guy? He became worse than one-dimensional. There was nothing interesting about his life, because he had no life to begin with. The only time he seemed to breathe was when he could shoot something from his hands or read minds or do some shit like that.

Separate your characters from their powers or abilities; render them "normal" and see how interesting they are without the ubiquitous, clichéd young adult problems: "I like a boy but I don't know if he likes me?", "Those girls at school are always picking on me", etc. Doing so could help you and your characters circumvent the Peter Petrelli effect.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Teaser Tuesday

It's that favourite day of the week again. Here's my teaser. God, that seems to be all I post on my blog these days. Well, you can blame "Beautiful Creatures". Still reading it and loving it very much. Hope the book stays that way until the end. I really don't want any screw ups!

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*Snip*

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Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Here's my teaser. Tell me what you think!

Background info: Giaan's been handed a bag by his uncle and told to board a bus.

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*Snip*

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PS: Lost ... oh dear. I'm still crying! :(

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Considering my last teaser was really long, I've made today's very short.

Background info: Uncle Yashpal gave Giaan a bag and a phone and instructions to board bus 245.

Let me know what you think! Cheers ;)

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*Snip!*

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Friday, 14 May 2010

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Review

hundred thousand kingdoms

The Story of my good friend Hype [Note: you can skip this and scroll below to the Review Proper]

Let me tell you something about this guy I know. His name is Hype. He's a funny bloke. He's also very special. I'm not being obsequious, because he knows he's special too. In fact he flaunts it at my face most of the time, the idiot.

How's he special, you may ask? Well, he has this amazing ability to sway people into picking up anything – books, weird mind-pornography, movies, music, TV, even African American dudes. Isn't that extraordinary? I wish I could do that. I really, really wish I could do that.

Yesterday, after lunch, I asked him to let me in on his secret. What's the source of your power, I said. He looked at me, smiled and told me his power didn't work the way I thought it did. I figured the only reason he said that was he didn't want me learning how to use his power to get that chick we met at the club last Wednesday. Lord in heaven. That white girl was fire on the dance floor.

Anyway, Hype elucidated that his power had a maddening drawback: free will. You see, his special ability is of a persuasive kind. He gets people to give products a long, second look, and if he spins his magic wheels right, sprinkles the right amount of fairy dust, he can blind a person's common sense and get them to buy anything out of inexplicable devotion and misguided trust.

The infuriating quandary that is free will tries to reinstate the common sense of Hype's victims by presenting a series of stupid questions, such as: "Doesn't this Justin Bieber guy suck?" "Am I listening to his music cos I want to or cos everyone's doing it, and if I don't my friends and family will call me a giant bag of Justin douche?" "Am I giving this book a good review cos, you know, if I don't the author will hate me, and I don't want that, cos I'm a closeted lesbian and I love her very much, and I have a secret crush on all her blogger friends?" "Did I just waste my money on this piece of horse sh*t?"

Hype said that after free will posits these annoying questions it urges "hyped" victims to choose an answer – yes or no. Their answers will decide whether they sink further into Hype's seductive warmth or break out of the trance he has bestowed on them. Overcoming his influence is very bad, Hype claimed. Those who do it take to the internet and spread their dissatisfaction, pain and sheer idiocy, which can contaminate other prospective victims. It's a lot worse if those who trounce Hype's control are bloggers. Bloggers are evil beings. They're demons from hell, Hype told me. They're soulless bitches. But when they give in to him they're filled with unparalleled awesomeness.

Now why the hell did I bother writing all this? How does it relate to N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms? Well, turns out my good friend, Hype, sprinkled his gay fairy dust on me and made me buy this book. There I was in my bedroom, writing my book, and Hype appeared. He told me to visit the book smugglers. I was surprised. Hype hates the smugglers. They're the worst of all bloggers, he said. They always tend to shake off his influence and badmouth his hard work. Last night I overheard him praying that after Ana and Thea have lived their lives to the fullest and died, God should stick them in purgatory forever. Purgatory is worse than hell. It has women-eating unicorns, serenading imps, and babies that never stop crying. Plus, Rush Limbaugh is going there pretty soon.

(Satan doesn't want Rush anywhere near hell. He's worried Rush might oust him and become the new Prince of Darkness. God, who is responsible for all of creation, good and bad, maintains he has no idea who or what created Rush Limbaugh, and so cannot allow him into heaven. Xenu has only one free room in his spaceship and hasn't decided who he loves best: Rush Limbaugh, Tom Cruise or Philip Pullman).

I went to the smugglers' site and I read this about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: "It says a lot about me, as a reader, that I read those first few lines and am immediately hooked". The second I finished that sentence I was filled with a baffling desire to buy N.K. Jemisin's debut. I knew Hype was responsible, and I hated him for it. Yet, what could I do? He made me read Hush, Hush and my eyes bled (I use glasses now). He made me read The Forest of Hands and Teeth and now I can't stop thinking of the ocean. I have this insane urge to just run to any ocean and stay there, probably drown in it. He made me read Breaking Dawn and I never want to have babies. Ever.

He did all those things to me and I couldn't resist him. How could I now when smuggler Ana said she was hooked after reading the first few lines of Kingdoms?

I bought the book. Common sense commenced protocol 1039: "Are you sure you want to read this book? Are you sure you're not reading it cos Ana said it's really good?"

I read the book.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Review Proper

In The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Yeine is a barbarian from the kingdom, Darr. She has been summoned by her grandfather to Sky, a magnificent floating mass of a palace and home to the almighty Arameri. Yeine's grandfather, Dekarta, is the head of the Arameri clan and thus uncrowned emperor of all one hundred thousand kingdoms in existence. The power bestowed on this old man to command and conquer as he pleases comes directly from Bright Itempas, the last remaining of the original three gods. Grandfather Dekarta chooses Yeine as an heir to his throne, along with her cousins, Scimina and Relad. All three candidates must battle to become the next head of the family and ruler of the world, and we accompany Yeine as she struggles through political machinations, unfolds secrets pertaining to her mother's mysterious death, befriends gods and goddesses, unravels hidden agendas, and wrestles with overwhelming feelings for the enigma, the blackest of darkness, the Nightlord himself – Nahadoth.

And what a ride it is.

Yeine is more passive than proactive. And you know what? It's OK. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone wants to use her to accomplish something. The only viable way for Yeine to understand what's really going on, to differentiate friend from foe, is to give into the wishes of others, to an extent, of course. You can't blame her. She's been yanked from her home and thrust into an alien world of madmen, madwomen and vengeful gods, and has no idea who or what to trust.

What N.K. Jemisin has crafted here is a world teeming with cultures at odds, clashing principles, and flawed, multidimensional characters. The Arameri family is the quintessence of absolute power corrupts absolutely. Their morals are imperfect: they hold the world to ransom, forcing their philosophy and religion on everyone. It's the only way global stability and prosperity can be achieved, they feel. Can you blame them? After all, eons ago there were three mighty gods: Itempas, Enefa and Nahadoth; many religions; and barbaric customs. The gods and their god children (godlings) fought, the world almost died, and in the end one god emerged victorious – Itempas, the god of the Arameri. Itempas granted the Arameri the power to reshape the world, and so they did, crushing anyone who stood in their way. Order must prevail, they believed. No more unnecessary conflicts. No more religions that promote chaos. No more customs that invoke barbarism and hinder human evolution.

A one world order.

The problem is in trying to accomplish such a momentous feat they lost their humanity along the way. This is most evident in Yeine's cousin, Scimina. Scimina is the prime example of what a person must become to rule over all. She's manipulative, intelligent, ruthless, and unlikable.

I've heard people accuse Scimina of being two-dimensional, arguing that her masochism has no reason attached to it. I honestly don't know where you lot got the crazy idea that three-dimensionality in a villainous character is only achievable when that character can explain away their actions: "I'm bad, cos Mummy didn't read me bedtime stories. Boohoo."

Really?

I disagree. Consider the scale of things. Scimina is royalty, the product of an environment that encourages callousness and shuns weakness and compassion. One day she might lord over a hundred thousand kingdoms. One hundred thousand kingdoms. That's billions of people, a hundred million (or more) of which would seize the slightest opportunity to kill her. She needs to be intelligent. She needs to be ruthless. She needs to be manipulative. And why the bloody hell should she care if anyone likes her? This isn't American Idol. This isn't democracy. Her approval ratings are so down they're in the negative. This is a dictatorship. She only cares about one thing: unyielding submission from others.

I enjoyed Scimina. She was competitive, she understood what needed to be done and how to do it, even though she had lost her mind, and she loved kinky sex – another criticism of her character.

Yeine isn't without her issues as well. She berates the Arameri for being dehumanised when her mother, an Arameri, was the same. She considers the Arameri culture as strange when funny enough, in her culture teenage girls have to be raped as part of a festival celebrating their coming of age. She hates her cousins and despises the gods for their scheming nature, yet she's just as scheming. She fails to see that had she grown up in Sky she might have been no different from Scimina.

These aren't annoying traits. Yeine is not an infuriating character. Her voice is a blessing – beautiful, engaging and poetic. It reels you in, takes hold of you, and charms you until the very last page.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has a lot of exposition. It's not tedious. The characters are so larger than life, their agendas so shrouded in mystery, that you want to know more. You want to know what started the gods' war, why Dekarta brought Yeine to Sky when it's obvious she lacks the fortitude and time to conspire her way to the throne, why the gods and godlings have a special interest in Yeine, what Yeine's mother was like, who killed her and for what purpose.

So much to unravel in this book – my God, it's amazing! It's fantasy soap opera. It's beautiful fiction. It's the kind of book I want YA authors to write, not love-triangle drivel!

The Hundred Thousand Kingdom is simply thus: a book with a graceful plot, a concrete mythology, a cadre of supreme characters, and a remarkable romance that doesn't get in the way. Get it. Go to your local bookstore, online, wherever, and buy this book now. I'd give you a hundred thousand reasons why you should, but I'd be revealing way too much.

REVIEW SCORE:

Characters: 10/10

World Building: 10/10

Prose: 10/10

Plot: 9/10

Final Score: 10/10

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Today's teaser is a little longer than I wanted. My apologies.

Last week, Aletea left Giaan alone with Uncle Yashpal, cos he claimed to have some work for Giaan to do. Today, you get an idea of what that work is.

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*Snip*

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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Been busy filling job applications and getting my final year project proposal sorted, so I nearly forgot it was Tuesday.

Here's my teaser. It continues from last week's.

A little background: Giaan and his girlfriend, Aletea, are back from shopping at Oxford Street in London. They encounter Giaan's uncle, Uncle Yashpal, at Giaan's house.

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*Snip*

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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Wings Review

Wings Laurel has an abundance of problems idiosyncrasies. She doesn't like meat. At all. She craves outdoors and sunlight more than is necessary; she never gets cold; she has never been ill (as far as she can remember); she has never hurt herself (as far as she can remember); and she doesn't menstruate (as far as ... hey!).

She also has hippie parents who abhor doctors and shun orthodox medicine for herbal concoction. The federal government has embedded strange devices in every single tablet, and once ingested your DNA is copied and recorded in a government database. Should the United States government choose to body-snatch you ... Oh, sorry, that's not part of the plot.

Laurel and her parents move to a new home, and in a surprising twist her parents kick their home-schooling tradition to the curb and enrol Laurel in a public school. Public school means sitting indoors, thus Laurel isn't pleased with this turn of events. Remember, she loves outdoors and sunlight.

Her irritation at everything public school soon dampens when she meets David, a cute, charming, understanding boy armed with a dashing smile that can evaporate the ozone layer. (God forbid he gets pissed at the world).

As the months go by, David and Laurel grow closer, a character journey that is both refreshing and engaging. The romance isn't forced. It flows and ebbs with effortless fluidity.

One morning Laurel wakes up to the discovery of bumps on her shoulder blades. She dismisses them as zits. But the bumps keep swelling, and after days of panicking and fussing, they disappear. In their stead are wings ... or petals ... or wings that look like petals. Beautiful wings. Laurel is both amazed and distraught.

With David's help, a visit to the forest at her old house, and Google searches, Laurel discovers she's a fairy. With a twist. I won't tell you what that twist is, but I will say it's a rather good twist.

Wings is not a complicated read and Aprilynne Pike is not a complicated writer. The plot is simple and flows from A to Z with hardly any hitch. Pike's prose does wobble a bit in some areas, and her tendency to over-rely on adverbs will grate on some readers. However, as many will tell you, Aprilynne Pike's mission is to provide entertainment, not literary tediousness, and she accomplishes that.

REVIEW SCORE:

Characters: 6/10

A statement of fact: Laurel is the only almost-three-dimensional character in Wings. She's smart, vulnerable, confident, brave, reckless, understanding and a lot of things. These traits don't just burst out at once. As the book progresses, one misadventure after another, she picks up a new self-attribute, embraces it, and flaunts it.

David starts out great. He is tailor-made for the role as Laurel's love interest, hence his glorified characteristics. But in spite of his tendency to be perfect most of the time (devoted, sympathetic to Laurel's plight, always says the right thing at the right time), Laurel does not allow herself to be ruled by her emotions. She takes things one step at a time, and in the end theirs is a relationship that is very, very real and cute.

For a while.

Enter Tamani, super hot Edward lookalike fairy boy, and Wings tumbles into mediocre terrain, along with my respect and love for it. It takes Laurel more than half the entire book to fall for David. It takes her two paragraphs to fall head-over-heels for Tamani.

Tamani's role is to serve as the third side of a ridiculous love triangle Wings could have done without. It's the same cheap plot device we've seen female YA authors use time and again. Laurel is kissing David today. Tomorrow she's eating Tamani's face. And the weird thing: David doesn't mind. He doesn't react. Tamani touches Laurel in front of him and he does nothing. His devotion to Laurel never wavers. It's so sad, because in the end David looks less like a teenage boy and more like Laurel's obedient poodle.

World building: 7/10

Until Wings I had never read a book about fairies. I have to say I found Aprilynne's mythology unique and very interesting.

Prose: 7/10

A very easy read. The adverbs in the dialogue tags, however, were a constant annoyance for me.

Plot: 7/10

Wings' plot is linear, very easy to follow. But it's not perfect. There's something like this:

MASTER: Your phone will ring at 3pm every day. You must make sure your mum never answers it.

HERO: Why?

MASTER: Dude, do as you're told.

[Hero screws up at some point and Mum answers phone]

HERO: Master, I ... I failed.

MASTER: Your mum answered the phone?

HERO: Yes.

MASTER: Dude! For fuck's sake. Now the world is going to end.

HERO: Well, you could have told me that in the first place and I'd have done something more drastic, like, I don't know – unplugging the phone.

Then there's the main villain, who we know is the main villain the instant he makes an appearance, but Laurel doesn't know until the very end. Tut. Poor.

Final Score: 7/10

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Teasers are good for your health. The UK's Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, and the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius (awesome last name for a villain. I'm totally using it for one of my characters. Thanks Kathleen), said so. I kid you not :D

Just a little background info for those who haven't read my previous teasers: Giaan is Pakistani, hence his unusual name. (I don't find it unusual, as I have lots of friends from the international community, but some people do. So, no - in case you're thinking it, Giaan is not an alien name. It's not a traditional American or British name, but that doesn't mean it's a name from Mars.) Aletea is half-Indian-half-white British (again, Aletea is an Indian name). Aletea is Giaan's girlfriend and Mr Diggavi is Aletea's father.

In this scene Aletea and Giaan are on their way to Giaan's house after shopping in London.

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*Snip snip*

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Sadly Giaan's fun time has come to an end. From here on, it's going to be tough for him.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Today's teaser continues from last week's. Enjoy!

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*Snip snip*

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Thursday, 15 April 2010

The curious case of bullying

Something happened yesterday involving an agent, a disgruntled writer, a bunch of people and twitter. The issue reached boiling point and people started taking sides, writing blog posts, pointing fingers, and demanding apologies.

At the earlier moments of its inception, I chose not to comment on it. But now that the whole thing seems to have died down a bit, I feel I should give my perspective on the affair.

Bullying is wrong.

Make no mistake; whatever you think, bullying does more harm than good.

However, as the wise Hogwarts motto goes, "Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus," or in English, "Never tickle a sleeping dragon;" if you decide to take up arms against someone you assume to be considerably weaker than you, and that person takes you down, you have only yourself to blame.

Here's a simple story that represents what happened between the agent and the disgruntled writer.

A wolf trots to a dark cave and spots a rabbit at the entrance. In a show of politeness, the wolf asks the rabbit for a piece of wood, to which the rabbit replies, "I'm sorry, Mr Wolf, but I can't give you my wood. It's the last one I have and I'm saving it for someone else. But please, do understand that there are many woods lying about the forest, and while I cannot help you, I'm sure someone out there will."

The wolf considers the rabbit's rejection, and after concluding that it has a bigger set of teeth, bigger paws and greater strength, the wolf devises a new tactic. It snarls at the rabbit.

Riled and unafraid, the rabbit accepts the wolf's challenge and steps out of the cave.

The wolf is surprised. Turns out, what it presumed to be a rabbit was in fact the nose of a giant bear.

The bear swipes the wolf, and yelping, the wolf retreats, defeated.

An agent received a query from a writer. She rejected the writer on professional grounds, though with fantastic words of encouragement. The writer didn't take it well. But rather than retaliate with the usual, "Screw you," the writer decided to put down the agent by employing gender prejudice (as well as attacking the authors she represents, among other things). The agent snapped and posted the writer's unbecoming replies and his name. People saw it, commented about it, and some took to twitter and began sullying the man's name.

Some other people saw this happening, grew disgusted, bristled in silence, got more pissed off, and finally – unable to cope with the itching – blogged about it. They pointed at the agent and accused her of bullying.

The short sequel to my awesome story goes thus:

A group of tourists are walking by. They stop when they see a wolf whimpering and seeking cover. Hot on its tail, a plethora of animals – snails, dogs, rabbits, kangaroos, et cetera – toss junk at the wolf, screaming abuses. The tourists are horrified.

Who's to blame? The wolf, the bear, or the animals who decided to attack the wolf?

What surprises me is how most people have taken this issue and made it entirely black and white, or victim and abuser – the victim being the man (or the wolf) and the abuser being the agent (or the bear). The agent has absolute power, they say, and as such is responsible for the campaign on twitter to destroy the poor writer's name.

Lol

The agent did NOT lead a campaign against the writer. She simply posted his replies along with his name on her blog. She was hurt and angry, and in the heat of the moment she decided to counter-attack the guy in public. Everybody does it. I've perused hundreds of writer, agent and editor blogs, and sometimes I see posts like, "Can you believe what this person did to me?"

The only contentious aspect in the agent's exploit is exposing the writer's name. Some believe she shouldn't have done that. Some believe she should have.

What do I believe?

I can only imagine what I would do if I were in her shoes. I'm not a woman. I don't know what it's like to be a woman. I know women take a lot of crap just for being women. It's almost like race. Now if I were an agent, and I rejected some guy, and he sent a reply demeaning me because I'm black, I'd be really pissed. I'd be so pissed I'd probably print his name and email replies on my blog.

Will I be justified in doing so? Hell yeah. It's my bloody blog. If I'm allowed to rant about mere books why shouldn't I be allowed to rant about something as serious as racial prejudice?

Does that make my doing so right? No. But still, I will neither judge the woman nor will I begrudge her, her right to defend herself on her blog if she chooses to.

What I've observed since I started using twitter and visiting a lot of agent/editor blogs is this odd opportunistic hypocrisy displayed by some writers (aspiring and published), a sort of weird insincerity. Please understand that this is not directed at any particular group, both those in support of the agent's conduct and those against it. This is general observation.

A bunch of people commented on the agent's blog post. Some of them went on twitter to attack the guy, because they chose to. She didn't send a mass email asking them to do what they did, but she didn't tell them to stop either. They did it anyway. Why? I don't know.

Maybe they felt disgusted and needed to air out their grievances. Maybe they felt a public show of annoyance would somehow gain the agent's attention and subsequent support when they send her queries. All I know is they, on their own, attacked the guy because he attacked a seemly popular agent.

Opportunistic hypocrisy.

Whenever an agent says something, people just ... agree with them without actually thinking, "Hey, you know what, maybe this dude is wrong."

Then there's the other group – those who disagreed with the whole thing. Most of them kept their mouths shut. They kept quiet and just watched. It took three or so agented/soon-to-be-published authors to come out and say, "Hey, this is bullshit," before they all came out of their nests, chests puffed out: "Yeah man, screw that agent. Who does she think she is? I applaud you. I'm proud of you. You're so brave. You're like Obama!"

Hannah Moskowitz said on her blog that as far as the industry goes everyone is equal; published/agented writers, agents or editors are in no way greater than aspiring writers, and vice versa.

That would have been true if this was an ideal world.

In this world we live in, the words of those who have at least one foot in the publishing industry carries more effectual power than those who don't, which explains why it took blog posts by agented writers to draw out the voices of dissent.

Even then, these so-called opponents fell short of accomplishing what I had hoped they would. All they did was repeat the same format – one agent says something; everyone jumps on her back without serious deliberation. One author says something else; everyone jumps on her back without serious deliberation. Let's all play Russian roulette – pull out our guns and fire, because she said it was that woman's fault. Or let's arm ourselves with snipers and shot that guy cos he hurt that agent.

First: they ignored the blatant sexism in the writer's emails (those who didn't ignore it failed to see the seriousness of it).

Second: they refused to comprehend that some people when confronted with something as upsetting as discrimination, be it on the basis of race or gender, almost always react the way the agent reacted, which was to blog about it. And they have a right to, damn it.

Third: they utilised the same let's-blame-it-all-on-this-guy bullying tactic by refusing to point out that though the agent may have published a blog post about the insulting writer, separate individuals attacked the writer of their own accord. Some of these individuals were agents, published authors and editors. I'm on twitter too. I saw them. I know their names. I followed the whole drama from start to finish. Yet – surprise, surprise! – None of the authors who blogged their disagreement aimed their crosshairs at the other guilty parties. They all made it look like it was a case of one mad woman grabbing a machete and rallying up supporters with the sole aim of destroying one poor, poor boy.

Call a spade a spade. If you want to take the moral high ground on this issue, grab the bull by its horns. Don't play double-standards. Point at everyone involved, not one woman.

As for me, this is simply a case of a bully who tried to bully someone else but got bullied instead. I have no sympathy for the guy. I don't give a fuck whether he needs an agent so badly to help him get published so he can pay his mortgage or hospital bills, or that he's mentally ill (and I'll bet my life he's not. Most people who behave this way aren't mentally handicapped), or whatever naive reason anyone can concoct; in my world, there is absolutely no excuse for sexism, racism or any form of gross discrimination. No excuse at all. I have zero tolerance for that kind of shit.

And while I agree that the agent should have left his name out, I understand why she didn't, and quite frankly, part of me applauds her for putting his name out there.

However, it's my hope that in the future the agent will exercise discretion when dealing with similar issues.

An eye for an eye makes the world go blind, but if history has taught us anything, it's that sometimes in order to get what we truly deserve we have to be prepared to fight in complete darkness.