I have a To-Read List. Let me show you it.

Once upon a time, in case you’d forgotten, I shared with you my To-Read Shelf.

Go on. Click through, look at the pic that goes with that post, and then come back here.

Now look at the pic that goes with this post. Please to be noticing the only slight difference.

This is many words.

Some of those books are even still the same ones that were on the shelf last December. *sigh*

And you know what’s worse? The Shelf isn’t the only place where I store books I want to read.

Since September 6, 2011, I’ve also kept a written list of book. And today, Ima share that with you, too.

Do note, my dear inklings, that the To-Read Shelf and the To-Read List contain mostly different titles. The Shelf holds books I’ve acquired to read. The List holds books I have yet to acquire.

Again… *sigh*

Such is the Writing Life: so many books to read / write, and so very little time.

Anyway, without further ado or adon’t, here ya go. The List is heavy on the sci-fi and fantasy (surprise, surprise), but if you look closely, you’ll find some classics and some non-fic tucked away in there, too.

Courtney’s To-Read List

begun September 6, 2011

This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti
My Soul to Keep by Melanie Wells
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card
Sisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert
Sorceror by James Byron Huggins
With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan
The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
The Taker by Alma Katsu
Stealing Faces by Michael Prescott
Terroryaki by Jennifer K. Chung
Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
Beta Test by Eric Griffith
My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
Winterling by Sarah Prineas
Devil’s Lair by David Wiseheart
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith
The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett
Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
Starters by Lissa Price
The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Levy
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Above by Leah Bobet
Indigo Springs by A. M. Dellamonica
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
God Behaving Badly by David Lamb
Silence by Michell Sagara
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Kop Killer by Warren Hammond
For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
The Best of Evil by Eric Wilson
Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson
Skylark by Meagan Spooner
Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines
The Grass King’s Concubine by Kari Sperring
Clockwork Angel by Kevin J. Anderson (story & lyrics by Neil Peart)
Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman
Dracula, The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
World without End by Ken Follett
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card
Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson
Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson
Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks
Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind
Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings
Zombie Notes: A Study Guide to the Best in Undead Literary Classics by Laurie Rozakis
Death: A Life with George Pendle
A Scanner Darkly: A Graphic Novel by Philip K. Dick
Prey by Michael Crichton

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So, there you have it. The list is subject to change from one day to the next — admittedly, change by increase in length. I don’t think I’ve decreased it at all since I started it, mainly because other good reads keep dropping into my lap. Oh, and speaking of good reads Goodreads, you can always visit my page there to see what I’ve read and what I’m currently reading.

Back to The List, though: Which of those books are you interested in? Which ones have you read? Which ones have you already read and found UPDA* and why? Which ones would you warn me away from and why? Let’s talk!

*UPDA = unputdownable

5 Points on How to Write an Effective Book Review

Hile, inklings,

If you pay any attention at all to publishing industry news — specifically e-pub and indie pub — you know that we indie writers have a nearly insatiable craving for online reviews.

There are many reasons for this, but the crux of it is that the more favorable reviews we get, the more books we sell. Our greedy little writer-hearts like to know that the world is reading and enjoying our stories (not to mention the fact that our pocketbooks appreciate sales, too), so seeing favorable reviews and selling more books flips our bangerang switches most verily.

(Translation: We like it a lot.)

A Word on One-Star and Two-Star Reviews

And that word is: “blech.”

(By which I don’t mean “Blech,” which is German for “tin.”)

No, we don’t like low-star reviews. But I would venture to say that most of us accept them (whilst heaving heavy sighs), accept the reality of them, and accept even the necessity of them. A well-written low-star review can actually tell us valuable information about what works for readers and what doesn’t.

(Philosophical sidenote: Though I don’t believe in pandering to the crowd, I do believe in knowing one’s audience. Understanding + respecting reader expectations = okay. Pandering = not writing what writer really wants to write = not okay. Please to be noticing the difference.)

(Also, sorry about the penchant for parentheses. It’s a thing today, apparently.)

Me, when I read a low-star review of one of my own works, I indulge in a 24 to 72-hour wallow of self-pity. (I do not write a response to the review.) Then, I re-examine said review to see if there’s anything of value in it. If there is, I file that information away for possible future reference. If there isn’t, I attempt a brain-dump so that the self-pity doesn’t come back.

Sometimes, I have to repeat the brain-dump several times before it takes.

But I digress.

Brief Interlude

NOTE: Yes, I am a writer. Yes, I have strong opinions about the reviews I receive. BUT. I do recognize that reviewers aren’t writing for me. Reviewers are writing for their fellow readers.

Allow me to re-state, because this is a thing of importantness:

A book reviewer writes a review for the benefit of other readers, not for the writer’s benefit.

Basically, the purpose of a book review is to tell other readers why they would or wouldn’t enjoy reading a particular book.

Keeping this in mind, I shall ignore my greedy little writer self for the remainder of this blogpost. You’re welcome. ; )

Onward to what you really came here for.

5 Points on How to Write an Effective Book Review

1. Make it readable.

Use good grammar. If people can’t understand what you’re trying to tell them, then your review will “fall on deaf ears.” Don’t make review readers squint at their computer screens as they try to decipher whether you thought a character didn’t win ( = lose) or whether you thought he was a slut ( = loose).

For the same reason, and for the sake of all that’s good and writerly in this world, check your spelling. Use a spellchecker if need be. The pregnant main character is not a rotary phone: In the third chapter, she’s dilated, not “dialated.”

And if you’re going to write more than 7-10 lines, do please consider the beauty of the paragraph. Giant blocks of text hurt the eyeballs.

2. Be honest.

If you loved the book, say so.

If you feel neutral about the book, say so.

If you hated the book, say so.

If you didn’t finish the book, say so.

Recently, I challenged a reviewer who left a one-star review on a friend’s novel. I didn’t challenge the solitary star. I challenged the fact that the reviewer provided erroneous information in his review: He stated that Character X did not appear in the novel. He also admitted to not having finished the novel.

My challenge: Character X actually does appear in the novel — which the reviewer would have known, had he finished the book.

Now. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate reading all the way through a book you’re not enjoying. I don’t finish books I don’t like. Who has the time for such shenanigans?

But. If you don’t finish the book, be honest about it — and be cautious about making absolute statements concerning the parts that you didn’t read. If you provide erroneous information about a novel, you are not helping fellow readers make informed decisions about their reading choices.

3. Give your fellow readers something they can relate to.

“If you like beach reads, you’ll enjoy this one.”

“Fantasy readers are going to eat this up.”

“This book is for the reader who’s always wondered what would happen if Orson Scott Card collaborated with V.C. Andrews.”

“If you enjoy YA novels, this probably isn’t the book for you.”

“This book reads very differently from the author’s other works, so keep that in mind.”

Whatever genre you’re reviewing, write toward it — because most of the people who read your review are going to be familiar with that genre. Let them know how a book follows expected conventions. Let them now how the book breaks from convention. Let them know whether or not the break from convention works well.

Know the expectations your genre’s readers will bring to the novel you’re reviewing. Tell them whether or not the novel will meet those expectations.

If the writer does something crazy original that amazed you, tell them to expect that, too.

But for the sake of all that’s good and writerly, do heed the following point:

4. Warn fellow readers of spoilers.

Provide details.

But not too many.

You know when you’re reading a review, and you’re trying to figure out based on the review whether or not you want to buy this book that sounds kinda cool but you’re on the fence about it, and you’re reading along and BAM! the reviewer tells you exactly what happens at the story’s climax?

No? You don’t know? Well, maybe it’s just me. But trust me — it stinks.

The words “SPOILER ALERT” are your friends. For the love of Grabthar’s Hammer, use them.

5. Have fun with it.

Don’t worry too much about what I said in #1. Make your review readable, yes. But nobody’s going to grade you. Your fellow readers just want to know what you liked or didn’t like and whether or not they can relate to your opinion.

I was going to continue this point by saying that you should have fun with your review even if you didn’t have fun with the book. But you know what? That’s probably not very realistic of me, and that might be the writer in me coming out.

If you didn’t have fun with the book, you’re probably not going to have fun with the review (unless you’re feeling gleefully vindictive, I suppose). If you feel dismal about writing the review, then your tone will likely show it. And — although the writer in me mourns this part — that’s probably something your fellow readers need to hear about, too.

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And there you have it, y’all. My thoughts on writing an effective review. So, who are my blog-reading book-reviewers out there? Did I miss anything? Is there anything here you disagree with? Let’s talk about it. I’ve got a lot of opinions, but I’m not in the habit of reviewing everything I read. So I’d love to hear from you! What do you think?

Get Shorty

So, in case you haven’t seen me mention it on Twitter, I’m tickled pink to be involved in The Consortium‘s upcoming short story magazine publication.

In fact, I’ve been so tickled pink about it, I dug out the former prologue to one of my high fantasy novels, intending to use said former prologue as my short story submission. After a fair bit of clean-up, you understand.

But.

After some pondering and some hob-nobbing with fellow writerly types, I’ve come to the conclusion that said former prologue does not best serve my needs at this time.

I.e., as a “short story,” said former prologue sucks.

Dash it all.

So. There was only one solution.

Like Aaron recommended in his blog just last week, I cut the prologue. Again.

Instead of using the former-prologue-now-turned-former-short-story, I’m now writing a real, honest-to-goodness, gen-yoo-wine short story. For the first time ever.

Yeah, I’ve written “short stories” before — but they were more like interesting scenes instead of narratives with definite, short-story-like structure. In my previously penned short fiction, I have never practiced what I’ve preached, namely the principle of Learn The Rules First And Only Then Break Them.

In my short fiction, I’ve never bothered with the rules until now.

So, what rules am I following?

Well, first off, I’m obeying KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. I’m sticking to one genre — high fantasy — instead of writing the kind of horror-fantasy-scifi-thriller-literary-fiction mish-mash for which I have a penchant.

Blast those penchants. They get me every time.

Where was I? Oh. KISS. Right. *mwah*

I’m also leaning heavily on the following structure, gleaned mostly from stuff Aaron recommends and stuff one of his master’s degree profs recommends:

  • Scene (1,500 – 2,000 words): protagonist in direct conflict with antagonist; protagonist sort of gets what s/he wants, but there’s a loose end or two
  • Sequel (500 – 1,000 words): protagonist reflects on emotional impact of what’s happened; this is also a good place for limited info dump; protagonist communicates the stakes to the reader
  • Climax (2,500 words): runs the gamut of protagonist’s Choice, Decision, Action, Dark Moment (in which all seems lost), Reversal (in which most [but not all] is regained), and Reward.

I started the story on Sunday, and I finished it this afternoon. The first draft clocks in at right around 4,300 words. It’s about 1,500 words shorter than I thought it would be when I started — but my hero kind of moved faster than I’d anticipated. Ah well. We’ll see if the next draft brings along more wordage.

This is a very new sort of writing adventure for me — one of which I’ve always been leery. I’ve never delved deep into short fiction because most of the time, my short stories go from cute little hatchlings to massive, epic, flyings beasts in the space of about two days. At least in my head.

So, come to think of it, I don’t need this new story to have a wordage growth spurt. It’s pretty fine and dandy at 4,300 words, thank ye kindly.

Part of this new adventure will be to write *more* short stories over the course of the next month or so. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

*sigh* What have I gotten myself into?

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What about you, dear inklings? Got a short story fetish? Got some short story fears? Let’s hear ’em! I’d love to know I’m not the only one with this weird hang-up. ; )