Saturday, September 29, 2007

New Release

Gentle Readers who have followed ramblings on this blog since the beginning will recall that Lani Diane Rich holds a special place in Apprentice Writer's heart. She actually achieved what many a November writer dreams of by getting the novel she began and completed during National Novel Writing Month published. She then went on to write full-time, and took the time to respond to Apprentice Writer's newbie questions on the NaNoWriMo message boards to point her in the direction of what has become her writing group, and was an engaging speaker during one of the group's monthly meetings, talking about 'How to Remain Professional While Working in Your Pyjamas'. Anyone familiar with Lani will be unsurprised to learn that she gave this talk while, yes, wearing her pyjamas. (For people who worry about such things, no need for alarm: a robe and bunny slippers were involved as well.)

But all this and $5 will buy you a latte. The question for readers of this blog is: are her novels funny? Of three novels read from two months to a couple of years back, Apprentice Writer recalls the following:

Time Off For Good Behavior
About a unique single woman with anger management issues who learns to tackle her problems in a way that doesn't involve legal consequences. This novel contained the new word creation 'pencil face', which Apprentice Writer still isn't sure the meaning of but nevertheless loves. The story builds well and is emotionally satisfying. But is it funny? Yes, in a wry, women's fiction sort of way.

Maybe Baby
About a couple who reunite to thwart crime involving an endearlingly odd rare bird. The premise is original, the characters unusual and likable, the story had good tension and was very entertaining. But was it funny? Yes, in a zany caper kind of way.

The Comeback Kiss
About a prodigal son who returns to his hometown to rectify a longago wrong and is drawn into solving arson cases. The main character was a secondary one in Maybe Baby, and it was lovely to get to read his own story. In the 'uh-oh' department, there is a rekindling romance scene which curls toes - unfortunately, with disgust rather than heat. The hero spent the evening in a smoky pool hall, next morning before he has showered or brushed teeth or eaten but not before he has had a cigarette, the heroine turns up and they kiss. Shudder-inducing even now. Still, the mix of characters and pacing keep the pages flying. But is it funny? Yes, based on a lot of the quirky characters' behaviour and manner of speech.

Why is Apprentice Writer taking the Gentle Reader on this trip down memory lane?

On October 1, Lani's latest novel, Crazy in Love will be released. Ever the innovator, she invited her readers to blog about it. Dilemma: blog helter-skelter like a rabid fangirl, regardless of how the actual book turns out? Or maintain integrity and avoid accusations of bias by waiting to form a full opinion?

Apprentice Writer chose the golden mean. Based on a 3 out of 3 rating history in previous books, and an excerpt of the new novel at, it looks like Crazy in Love will be another winner, humor-wise. Lani is especially adept at doing 'quirky', and so far, it looks like Flynn and Freya (sisters introduced in the first chapter) will get a high rating on the Quirk-O-Meter. Also, Apprentice Writer is fascinated by the names chosen; alliteration is always good in her book (helps to remember which characters belong in the same family), and how is it that one is named for the Nordic goddess of something-or-other, while the second is named for the Irish somebody of something-or-other? Maybe they are half sisters.

These questions and more can be answered at your local or virtual bookstore on Monday.

Taming the Time Beast

Apprentice Writer has spent the last few days musing rather than writing. An involuntary choice, dictated by junior apprentice writer #3 deciding to thrust an adorable little finger adorned with adorable little razor sharp fingernail into the maternal eye, gouging out a chunk of cornea and creating an instant three-day spell of blindness (since it turns out that muscle movements of the healthy eye create spasming agony in the injured one, forcing both closed). Emergency room staff and referred ophtamologist weren't impressed, responding with something like 'If I had a dime for every time a baby....oh, wait. I do.'

The results of this enforced period of non-keyboarding include a humbling respect for the competence of seeing-impaired people, many extreme promises to make better use of computer time in future, and reflection on how some people are gifted with the skill to see time as a friend, rather than an enemy. The Gentle Reader surely knows many such people; the mom who has an hour to spare before the kids need to be picked up and bakes a cake rather than frittering it away; the dad who has half an hour between arrival at home and dinner and who waters the garden rather than channelsurfing; the teens featured in newspaper reports every June as top high school mark scorers who all manage to squeeze in regular sports/music/volunteer activities between homework.

Apprentice Writer suspects this type of productivity will never be linked to her name. For her, time is a snarling beast that ferociously resists being tamed, with the taming efforts leading to such exhaustion she needs a relaxing break before getting down to the work of manuscript writing. This, despite writing goddessess such as Nora Roberts stating flat out that everyone can find an hour a day to write (equating to a book a year), or Suzanne Brockmann stating flat out that one year she wrote ten books, by taking the manuscripts with her everywhere and writing in five-minute chunks, or Maya Angelou stating flat out that when an idea or phrase struck her, she would stop to write it down no matter what else was going on so as not to 'lose' it, leading to a memorable situation in which her toddler spilled juice on the paper she was using and she wrote around the spill rather than interrupt her train of thought.

Apprentice Writer cannot argue with the obvious success of these authors' strategies. Yet somehow, she can always find a valid reason why it wouldn't work for her. One uninterrupted hour per day? With a four-month-old who catnaps 20 minutes at a stretch max, impossible. Writing in five-minute chunks? Can't do it, need a long mental warm-up period to get into the writing zone. Ignore small children and household chaos? Whenever Apprentice Writer tried it turned around and bit her, resulting in such joys as a kitchen fire, 911 accidentally called, gobs of vaseline rubbed onto furniture and walls, granola bars stuffed into VCR slots, an entire box of goldfish crackers dumped from balcony onto driveway to 'feed the birds', etc.,etc.,etc.

Because of these (admittedly self-imposed) restrictions, Apprentice Writer is in awe of writers who let nothing stop them. Mega-author Robert Jordan is one astonishing example. His fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, spans thousands of pages, follows multiple main characters in intricately interwoven plotlines, and features many dozens of secondary charaters. It would be impossible to expect such a huge story to be flawless in every writing dimension; but even the fiercest of critics cannot deny the sheer scope of Jordan's imagination. Or, in terms of the topic at hand, his extraordinary ability to put time to good use.

But even this has its dangers; Jordan spoke of additional prequels for the Wheel of Time series once the final volume was done, as well as detailed plans for a whole new series. Readers will never enter that world; Jordan ascended his personal Dragonmount two weeks ago, succumbing to illness at age 58. Amid the relief that he is spared further pain, and profound sympathy for his family, there is sharp disbelief: can it really be after all these years, all those books, all those epic battles, heros, heroines, cultures, and villains - will readers never get to find out how all the loose ends get tied or live out the 'End of the World' showdown building since page 1?

It is to break a fan's heart.

Gentle Reader: fear not. Given her history, Apprentice Writer feels on safe ground solemnly swearing that she is up to no, sorry, that's Harry Potter....that she will never leave her fans dangling without an ending to a 12-part novel series. Having thus neatly turned her lack of writing productivity into a virtue, she will now go bake that cake, water that garden, and supervise homework. And give a final salute to Jordan: may he continue bringing joy by weaving his tales, wherever he may now be.

Monday, September 24, 2007

National Punctuation Day


A day to celebrate all those little squiggles and wiggles that give greater depth and clarity and meaning to written communication!

Go ahead - visit to learn about the true differences between a hyphen and a dash, enjoy some incorrectly punctuated signs in the photo gallery, cook the official meatloaf of punctuation day (seriously), order a t-shirt or coffee mug with excellent slogans to support the educational cause. Apprentice Writer's favorites:

"A semicolon is not a surgical procedure" , and

"An ellipsis is not when the moon moves in front of the sun"

One can't help but admire the zeal of founder Jeff Rubin, a former newspaperman. He not only got National Punctuation Day recognized, but went on to create a superb educational program that tours grade schools; aiming to get kids excited about correct punctuation in a fun way, it features himself as a caped crusader. To paraphrase a film critic of The Full Monty, (who remarked that the willingness of a group of highly average guys to humiliate themselves by going starkers to financially support their families showed true nobility), doesn't a man who is neither vampire nor opera singer yet who dons a cape in a good cause deserve respect and support?

In this spirit, Apprentice Writer will spend the day striving to use all possible punctuation forms. So far, ? ! ( ) , ; : - " " down, [ ] ... -- to go.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Book Marketing 101

How the marketing and publicity process for Apprentice Writer's books will look still remains in the realm of fantasy, rather than reality.

Apprentice Writer pictures a book signing in a prominent location of a flagship store, with flattering lighting , a complimentary Montblanc fountain pen, a private back room to mentally prepare (aided by chilled Perrier and grilled panini) and recuperate (aided by a pot of Darjeeling and fresh biscotti), and eager readers clutching their freshly purchased copies lined up around the block, waiting for their turn to heap praise upon her and gasp in admiration at the witty and unique dedications she will inscribe in their tomes before being whisked off in a limosine to a boutique hotel suite. (This fantasy can go on indefinitely, but the Gentle Reader gets the point.)

Imagine Apprentice Writer's dismay when she recently came across a notice about the upcoming local appearance of mega-author Diana Gabaldon. For the uninitiated, Ms. Gabaldon completed her Ph.D. on seabirds or some such before penning the wildly successful time-travel novel Outlander "....just for fun." This evolved into a lengthy, ongoing series and was then joined by an ongoing historical crime series, both with publication numbers to drive other writers insane with lust.

One might ask what kind of book promotion extravaganza would be fitting for such a publishing sensation. And the answer is:

A weekend appearance at the Ajax branch of Costco..

No doubt Ajax has its charms. Never having been to this suburb east of Toronto, Apprentice Writer only knows of its proximity to Lake Ontario and a nuclear reactor. But Costco? Really? This is the best pre-published writers can hope for? It just doesn't seem right.

Apprentice Writer cannot imagine the hordes of actors who recently descended upon downtown Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival tolerating an appearance venue where they are crowded into a corner between barrels of mustard and stacks of tampons, bathed in neon light, drowned out by elevator music, interrupted by public address system requests for aisle cleanup, and given a toothpick-speared fragment of sausage for refreshment. Even B-and C-list actors insist upon a red carpet, designer clothing, visits to the haute-goody-bag tent, and time spent at chic restaurants and stores in exchange for promoting their films.

Why can't writing superstars get such treatment? Are authors as a group too modest and self-effacing? Have repeated rejections on the road to publication scarred them for life? But then - don't actors experience equally fierce rejections at casting calls?

It is a mystery. What does seem clear is that Ms. Gabaldon will meet her public with her trademark grace, regardless of her surroundings. By means of strategically dangled bribes for the junior apprentice writers, Apprentice Writer hopes to attend and learn a little something of real professional conduct.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Page 1

A remarkable first line, leading the reader to look at something familiar in a slightly different light forever after.

"Christmas crept into Pine Cove like a creeping Christmas thing: dragging garland, ribbon, and sleigh bells, oozing eggnog, reeking of pine, and threatening festive doom like a cold sore under the mistletoe."

Christopher Moore, 'The Stupidest Angel'

Monday, September 17, 2007

Notable Quotes

From the business world:

"It was a crime of passion. Not a disgruntled employee. Everyone here is extremely gruntled."

Steve Carell as Michael Scott, in 'The Office'

Sunday, September 16, 2007

On Ghostwriting

It seems the debate on whether or not Shakespeare truly was the nimble wordsmith history believed has gained another layer. Today's edition of The Toronto Star reports that a coalition of well-regarded people who make their living in the movie/theatre/writing industry have added their names and clout to the 'We're sure he was a perfectly decent fellow but not the real brain behind all those famous plays' camp.

As an aspiring author, Apprentice Writer can certainly empathize with the injustice of toiling away and having someone else snatch the critical glory and cold hard dollars (or pence, as the case may be). But the controversy took place in the middle of the last millenium. Apprentice Writer has not quite grasped why the veracity of Shakespeare's authordom has become such a burning question (apart from the nice-to-have-history-written-accurately aspect). Nor has she any clue about this period of English history. Is it possible that someone in the Shakespeare family is still earning royalties, and these are now being contested by the 'real' author's descendents? Is there really convincing evidence that some other creative genius was cheated of his (her?) centuries in the sun? And if so: how would this affect casting for Shakespeare in Love, Part Deux?

Perhaps some Gentle Readers are more knowledgable and can provide insight. In the meantime, Monty Python's interpretation (also from today's issue of The Toronto Star, via

GAME SHOW HOST: Good evening and welcome to Stake Your Claim. First this evening we have Mr. Norman Voles of Gravesend, who claims he wrote all Shakespeare's works. Mr. Voles, I understand you claim that you wrote all those plays normally attributed to Shakespeare.

VOLES: That is correct. I wrote all his plays and my wife and I wrote his sonnets.

GSH: Mr. Voles, these plays are known to have been performed in the early 17th century. How old are you, Mr. Voles?

V: 43.

GSH: Well, how is it possible for you to have written plays performed over 300 years before you were born?

V: Ah, well. This is where my claim falls to the ground.

GSH: Ah!

V: There's no possible way of answering that argument, I'm afraid. I was only hoping you wouldn't make that particular point, but I can see you're more than a match for me!

GSH: Next we have Mr. Bill Wymiss, who claims to have built the Taj Mahal.

Wymiss: No.

GSH: I'm sorry?

W: No. No.

GSH: I thought you cl...

W: Well I did, but I can see I won't last a minute with you.

GSH: Next...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Laughter Reviews, #7

Here another review with the focus: funny or not, and why?


Careerwoman approaching forty takes a hard look at artificial rejuvenation from a personal and business point of view.

What works
The oneliners. Witty quips come so fast and (often literally) furious from beginning to end that the top of Apprentice Writers copy was splayed to double the width of the bottom from all the corners turned down to mark especially good ones.

Heroine introducing herself: 'This morning (I) got my antihistamine and spermicide sprays confused. I now have a vagina that can breathe more freely and nostrils I can safely have sex in for at least six hours.'

On husband changing from idealist to conservative businessman: 'When did I first notice he was turning into the sort of bloke who wore pinstriped condoms?'

Model sister on Forty: 'A terrible age. Too old to lambada, too young to die.' and: 'Turning forty is the major cause of old age.' and: 'Whoever says money can't buy happiness doesn't know where to shop.'

On preparation to surprise spouse with new lingerie, etc. (summarized): 'Due to breastfeeding, my boobs were like day-old party balloons with all the air leaked out. A pelt of pubic growth sprouted from each leg hole (so) I took to my pubes with a pair of kids' project scissors (until) my spiky rear resembled a sea creature disturbed in a rock pool, preparing to attack. My thighs were spilling over (the) stocking tops like lava from a flesh volcano. I tore off the nylons (exposing) acres of of white flesh. While the kids yapped around me, demanding to know why their fingers and nostrils had to be kept apart when they so obviously fitted and whether sneezes were really your soul trying to escape, I slapped (on some old tanning lotion). Forty minutes or so later...I looked as if I was wearing a tangerine wet suit...I took to my body with a pot improvement. By the time I gave up on my attempt (to insert ben-wa balls) I was so depleted with exhaustion that I had to eat the banana-flavored erecto gel. With the sound of my husband's key grating in the lock, I leapt onto the bed to lie sensuously among pillows that I now noticed were splattered with squashed chicken nuggets...I seemed to have hirsute toenails. Oh, God! My pube trimmings had fallen into the wet nail polish and dried there...Dry of mouth, I licked my lips - only to discover I was still wearing mustache bleach. Dry-retching from the poisonous taste...I gawked into the bedside mirror to see the bleach...had turned my top lip albino. It neoned out at me from my reflection...Bloody hell! I also had a stress pimple erupting on my nose. Now there's a good look - wrinkles and pimples...'

It is a rare page that doesn't contain a wry assessment from one character or another's perspective.

What doesn't
The oneliners. The author's outstanding talent with incisive, stinging remarks comes at a price; in this case, character development, dialogue, and plausibility all seemed to suffer the more the story unfolded. The way the characters spoke with one another and sometimes acted , the sitations in which they were placed, the time frame in which characters were supposed to achieve and revert from certain mindsets - all these elements seemed occasionally fake (pun intended and appropriate). The children often seemed curiously absent from the action and from the characters' thoughts, to the point that Apprentice Writer is undecided about whether the novel is more accurately described as momlit or chicklit.

So long as she thrives in her job as news correspondent and feels secure in her marriage to reconstructive surgeon Hugo, Lizzie is certain that her model sister Victoria's ferocious pursuit of youthful beauty is misguided. But when she is fired to make way for someone more eye-appealling, and suspicions that her spouse is having an affair with a starlet known for the size of her chest instead of IQ mount, Lizzie's conviction wavers.

In an age when cosmetic surgery and chemical procedures are rampant, this book asks some tough questions. Where does the pressure to look young no matter the physical, emotional and financial cost come from? Why do so many more women than men feel compelled to drastically 'improve' themselves? And what happens when a woman who is confident that intelligence and wit outshine youth and big breasts is put to the test?

There are no simple answers. The story of how Lizzie, Victoria, and Hugo arrive at different conclusions has rough spots, but it is without a doubt thought-provoking.

But does it make you laugh? ABSOLUTELY.
Every writer has strengths and weaknesses. If one accepts this, and concentrates on what he/she does well rather than throwing the baby out with the weak dialogue/ one-note characters/ implausible situations bathwater, it makes one's reading life much more enjoyable.

This author's skill at distilling large-scale observations down to smart, amusing, bite-sized chunks is extraordinary. Apprentice Writer will seek out Lette's backlist without delay.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Word Dares

Today's word is one of those creations so obvious in hindsight that multitudes of readers will ask themseves why they didn't think of it before. Apprentice Writer predicts it will sweep the net.

BLOGATUS (noun) : blog + hiatus

Wordsmith: Wylie Kinson Source: Wylie's Words,

Go ahead, give it a spin. Apprentice Writer's: "Still being a new and relatively undiscovered blogger, Ella worried that if she took a blogatus her trickle of semi-regular readers would dry up - never to return."

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Laughter Reviews, #6


Two former Londoners develop a friendship and work partnership in response to personal problems and boredom with village life.

What Works
Faced with the sudden, extreme realization that the economic and emotional stability of their families rests on their shoulders, some people might be tempted to retreat into chronic depression or substance abuse. Izzy and Maddy have no time for such luxuries; when it becomes clear that they don't know their husbands as well as they thought and like it or not must become chief providers, they roll up their sleeves and get on with it. The co-operation, creativity, and sheer grit with which they climb a steeper than usual learning curve is convincing and has the reader cheering for them to succeed.

What Doesn't
There is a disconcerting vein of casual contempt that marks the attitude of various groups towards one another, with little or no attempts to investigate whether an individual actually fits the preconceived label he/she has been slapped with. Izzy and Maddy haven't a shadow of a doubt that they are superior to the village populace based solely on their status as ex-Londoners. At their first meeting, Izzy is desperate to disassociate herself from the village women so as not to be '.....dismissed as one of them' by the newly arrived Maddy. For the village women, it is likewise self-understood that Izzy is beneath them due to her lack of wealth, and that they must ingratiate themselves with Maddy due to her apparent possession of it. Maddy seems to accept the fawning as her due, and when her circumstances change, is certain that the former fawners will no longer consider her worth their time.

Although there are some glimmers of openness to change in this behaviour on the part of the heroines by the end of the story, such pervasive class-based preconceptions seem outdated and thoughtlessly self-involved.

Apprentice writer is a closet Anglophile. Television series 'Coupling' and the original 'The Office', various home improvement shows copied by American broadcasters, 'Snatch', Rupert Everett, Alan Rickman, Ali G, the Scottish designers - these are a few of the wildly entertaining things that make her want to spend summer holidays in a thatched period cottage, drinking tea, wearing hats like in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' and extending her vocabulary (so far she has managed to figure out that 'snog' means kiss, 'bog' means toilet, 'gobsmacked' means surprised and 'twee' is not a compliment).

This is all to say that she views a new-to-her Brit author and/or story set in Britain with happy anticipation, and will forgive weaknesses (up to a certain point) so long as stories do a good job of transporting her to another world. This one tells a convincing tale of sisters doing it for themselves, for the sake of their children.

But does it make you laugh? NO - but not its fault
Even though Apprentice Writer didn't laugh a single time, she does not blame the authors (Annie Ashworth + Meg Sanders = Annie Sanders) because it seems evident that they never intended this as a lighthearted romp. It is women's fiction, deceptively packaged as comedy. From the quote describing it as 'hilarious', to the three synonymous-with-luxury brand names mentioned, to the cartoons depicting the eponymous high-heeled shoes on one side and a cafe scene with rubber boots on the other (until the advent of crocs, there was surely no form of footwear less stylish or more susceptible to humor than the lowly rubber boot), and even to the choice of font for titles - everything about the book's cover seems calculated to make the casual browser think the story is funny chicklit. It is not - and the resulting non-fulfilment of expectations could well cause some readers to unfairly hold this against what is otherwise a reasonably well-written and entertaining story. As it is, in future Apprentice Writer will view books published by Orion with some suspicion.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Page 1

This week's notable first line:

"Will Scarlet hated trees."

Carrie Lofty, 'Redeeming Will Scarlet'

This first line has a number of things going for it: brief, unequivocal, and deceptively unremarkable until one makes the connection between the the subject and the place he spent much of his time (Sherwood Forest).

Altogether, a brilliant first line.