Monday, March 8, 2010

Progress Report: 3/8/2010

Think I'll take a little time off work this week and try to get more writing in. Last week was kind of poor for productivity.

More agent submissions in, more irons in the fire. A tip for aspiring writers: Some agents don't ever write back. They all claim they will on their website, which is nice of them, but I wouldn't take it to heart. Right now about 25%-30% of the agents I submitted to never responded. I'll take that as a "no."

Let's see, in terms of books I've been reading, I have good news and bad news.

The good news is Free: The Future of Radical Price by Chris Anderson is an excellent read. This is the editor for Wired who also wrote the essential book, The Long Tail. In Free, he lays out a very thorough overview of how the digital age economy got to where it is today, and perhaps where we are going with it. The book offers some solutions as to how one can make money by giving away things for free, which is the core conundrum of the web. Some folks have made a killing doing it right, like Google. And some folks, like YouTube and Facebook, are immensely popular but haven't actually made a dime (unless you count being bought).

The best part is that if you go to Audible, you can get the download of his book for free. So he puts his money where his mouth is on this.

(I always appreciate a good non-fiction writer, because so many of them are full of interesting information but can't seem to deliver it in an engaging way. Science writing suffers from this problem worse than any non-fiction field. Good science writers, like Carl Sagan and Robert Bakker, are a treasure.)

Okay, now the bad news.

Since I've got a book to sell in the Young Adult market, I like to check out some of the successful authors in this genre. I already know enough about Twilight not to touch it, so the next big book-turned-movie story was Percy Jackson. I started up The Lightning Thief and chugged along for a while. It wasn't exactly wowing me—definitely a Harry Potter knockoff, featuring a downtrodden hero with a secret birthright, hints at some kind of big destiny, and a summer camp that was clearly a bargain-bin Hogwarts ("Camp Half-Blood?" The Greek gods create a sanctuary for their offspring and the best they can come up with is "Camp Half-Blood?" Ooookay...). I also thought it was a mistake to choose 1st-person narrative for this story.

It was going along tolerably up to a point, and then WHAM. I'm out of the book.

(Let me see if I can explain this without spoilers. I'll call this a Spoiler Warning, though, so reader beware if you're planning to check out the book.)

Fairly early in the story, something terrible happens to Percy. He loses someone important. This should be a moment of defining tragedy for him. For maybe two paragraphs, he's thinking about this tragedy.

And then he gets a magic milkshake, and it's all better!

Seriously. His friend gives him some kind of energy drink that tastes to him like cookies, and he's all fine again. He's ready for his next adventure. No more tragedy for little Percy. He wanders off into Camp Half-Blood, meets a bunch of people, and even his favorite teacher-friend doesn't even bother to console him on his loss. Why should he? Magic milkshake solved the problem, after all.

Pop! I'm out of the book, just like that. I can't even think of Percy as a person anymore—I can't even dislike him. The story has been ripped away, and all I can see is the author, Rick Riordan, banging along on his keyboard and making a colossal mistake. I put it down and went on to the next thing.

I suppose there's a chance that someone out there has read this thing from start to finish, or has seen the movie, so perhaps you can tell me if Riordan provides any excuse later on as to why the Magic Milkshake basically cored Percy of his human soul and turned him into a Stepford Boy-God. Perhaps Riordan redeems this scene later on in some way, and I was simply too put off by the whole thing to wait around for the payoff. Or perhaps not.

Anyway, if this is the sort of thing that qualifies as a big success story in the Young Adult Fantasy market, it shouldn't be that hard to break in.


Anonymous said...

Oh goodness, that's terrible. I guess it would be really interesting if they got into how terrible that is - a drink that ends mourning would actually be pretty interesting if handled right. Judging by your reaction, they clearly didn't. :(

Which is depressing, because I remember for a long time refusing to read adult fantasy because it always seemed to do weird things with women that didn't interest me, even though my age and reading level probably meant I should have been moving on. (I now realize that there exists adult fantasy where women don't get ignored, raped for drama's sake, or generally treated annoyingly, I just couldn't find it at the time.)

Unfortunately that means everything I could recommend is really out of date, but I still stand by anything written by Diana Wynne Jones, particularly The Homeward Bounders and anything in the Derkholm Series or Dalemark Quartet. And then there is the really famous stuff, Howl's Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci Series, both of which are excellent. Umm, the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner was really good. I really liked Diane Duane's Young Wizardry Series... Also I absolutely loved everything written by Tamora Pierce, but looking back they're still completely awesome, but perhaps not be quite as awesome for someone who isn't a preteen girl, hahaha. (Don't let the blatant Mary Sues put you off, particularly in the first series?)

I really doubt this is any help at all - for instance a lot of these books are pre Harry Potter, and I know that has changed the rules in terms of what lengths are acceptable, stuff like that. But I don't want you to think badly of the genre, you can find crap anywhere but I actually found decidedly less crap here. And this is all stuff I still enjoy reading today, for reasons other than simply nostalgia, so you could just try it for a quick read. (Particularly Diana Wynne Jones, there was definitely a lot by her I just didn't get as a kid. If you want your mind blown try Hexwood. She could probably be criticized for being overly confusing sometimes, but it's still excellent.)

Anonymous said...

I think that the magic milkshake is a form of trauma (relief) pill. I am happy to hear that the magical world is following the technological advancements.

You also may be too hard on him. People gave him the milkshake knowing he doesn't have time to mourn, because difficult things are ahead, and the world is at stake!
Actually, there is a possibility that this story was purposely written like that so people will raise eyebrows, but later we will find that Percy will have an unfinished business with those who gave him this milkshake: "How could you give me this? Such a disaster! I should have mourned! You can't take me the right to mourn!"


Sohum said...

That's pretty horribad.

I've just finished The Name of the Wind, which seems so far (i.e., book 1 of 3) to be miles better than most of the Young Adult Fantasy on the market. Kvothe is unreasonably competent, but it's surprising that that didn't bother me as much as I thought it would.

Of course, ASoIaF is currently the classic example of how to do good fantasy, if not of how to finish good fantasy :P

Grayson Towler said...

Coincidentally, The Name of the Wind is the book I just started as well after abandoning Percy. And it rocks. I'm enjoying it a lot. The only quibble I have is that the author occasionally dangles a participle, but that's really nit-picky stuff. Only the Inner Editor really cares about that.

@Pomme: I'm grateful for the recs. I've read some of those, Tamora Pierce especially, and thought they were very good. My nostalgic favorite from when I was growing up in the YA market was Anne McCaffery, though I am a bit afraid to look back and see if they hold up (and when I tried to read some of the newer stuff, I thought it was mostly recycling old ideas. There's a downtrodden girl who has the gift to speak with dragons? Really? Someone has to stop a plague from spreading? No kidding, huh?)

@Harmelin: After consulting a friend who made her way through the whole story, I think you're actually not too far off the mark with your first guess. My friend also said that at some level Percy knew the person in question wasn't really dead and that he would be able to pull an Orpheus or something to spring said person. Or some deal along those lines.

I dunno, if it had been a brilliant story up to that point, I'd be more willing to forgive. I felt it was barely scraping along, so I'm not so keen to go back.

(Also recognizing, of course, that the whole situation is more discordant for me because I lost my mother at a young age. And for a variety of reasons, our family short-circuited what I would consider the normal grieving process. So I have a bit of personal history here, and Riordan tripped over it with his approach to writing Percy's story.)