Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Book Promotion: Good Idea

It can be a vast, scary world out there for authors launching new books, desperately hoping their babies will receive a warm and tender welcome rather than falling unnoticed into the deep, dark void.

Apprentice Writer imagines that carrying the promotion ball (as authors apparently are increasingly expected to do) has caused untold numbers of tension headaches and ulcer flareups. But it has also unleashed some creative ideas.

Ann Aguire is an author Apprentice Writer knows, so far, only from the occasional blog post at various mutually visited sites. For the 26 February launch of her latest book, Grimspace, she came up with an attention grabber:

A fun quiz, and some seriously not-to-be-sneezed-at prizes.

As Apprentice Writer has a half-dozen tasks urgently requiring her attention during the 45 or so minutes junior apprentice writer #3 naps, she of course decided the best use of her time would be to take the quiz.

"Your Result: Jumper
Grimspace navigator? Dude, you're like interstellar royalty. You're charismatic and possess a forceful personality. You're used to having power and you don't hesitate to use it. You also love to take risks. If it has danger attached, you're first in line, and no, you're not wearing a safety helmet. You live for the thrills, don't care about life expectancy, and expect to go out with a bang."

Is this an accurate assessment? Who knows. The point is, it cleverly gets the reader empathizing with that character and wondering what will happen to him/her even before the book is opened. Didn't hurt that the quiz was funny, either.

So, all in all, well played, Ms. Aguirre. Though Apprentice Writer has little sci-fi background, the creativity of this approach plus the promise of some humour in the story will definitely make her look for this book come launch day.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Page 1

One of the most unique and memory-sticking openers Apprentice Writer has ever come across:

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining board...I can't say that I am really comfortable (but) I have found that sitting in a place where you have never sat before can be inspiring - I wrote my very best poem while sitting on the hen-house."

from "I Capture the Castle" by Dodie Smith

Book review to follow.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Non-Book Reviews

After all the important things like his children, his charming wife, good health, and steps on the way to world peace, the things that make Mr. Apprentice Writer most happy are new gadgets. In his most secret of hearts he lusts for any new development on the technology horizon. Sadly for him, the collections of the junior apprentice writers almost always take precendence over new additions for his own.

But once in a while, a new techie addition is made. Oh happy day for Mr. Apprentice Writer - he finally has a high definition flatscreen TV hanging over his fireplace. We can now examine every pore of every actor whose face flashes in startling close-up across the screen.

Does the high-definition format elevate the quality of an otherwise mediocre movie? Or does it weaken what would otherwise be considered decent cinema by shining a spotlight on every flaw? Purely for research purposes, Apprentice Writer has been watching a lot of movies. One that stood out:


Alex (Alan Rickman) is released from an English prison after serving a sentence for manslaughter. He decides to visit a friend in Canada, and starts driving through the winter landscape. At a northern Ontario truckstop, he grudgingly gives a lift to Vivian (Emily Hampshire), an extroverted teen travelling home to visit her mother. Despite his morose nature, Vivian's simple joie de vivre gets under Alex' skin ,when they are hit by a truck and she is killed. Devastated, Alex pays a visit to Vivian's mother Linda (Sigourney Weaver), and is perplexed by her lack of emotional reaction.

It turns out Linda is a highly-functioning autistic woman. She lives in her own house and holds a part-time job stocking shelves at the local supermarket, but has numerous unusual mannerisms and cannot bear any changes in routine. She is obsessively clean and verbalizes her thoughts and wishes very well,, yet has childlike fascinations with trampolines, snowflakes, and sparkling objects. She wants Alex to agree to take the trash to the curb in a few days time because she can't (a chore Vivian used to complete). He agrees - which at this point is perplexing but becomes clear later - and over the next few days he acts as shield against intrusions from neighbors whose sympathy Linda finds irritating. Slowly, they develop something approaching friendship.

Alex observes how some people react to Linda's 'difference' with affection and tolerance (Linda's parents), how some react with disapproval and feeling threatened (some neighbors), how even though Linda is 'flat' emotionally she is still capable of feelings at a certain level and in her own way (through memories of her interactions with Vivian, and in some of her poetic descriptions). Alex also goes through an emotional journey, and it is the moments when his control slips that are the most powerful, cementing (as if this were necessary) Rickman's superior acting skills. Carrie-Anne Moss as the neighbor determined to be supportive despite
Linda's rejections, and Callum Keith Rennie as the guilt-stricken truck driver, are also quietly convincing. The weak link in the film is Sigourney Weaver; though she achieves moments of believability, there are many others that are stilted or telegraph 'tryig too hard'.

Even so, this thoughtful, lowkey film effectively gets its message across, all without the benefit of big budget, computer effects, or glitz. Two things gave Apprentice Writer a special kick; first, it was filmed in the tiny northern Ontario town of Wawa (Yay Wawa! Land of the Big Goose [who makes a cameo appearance] and home of one of Apprentice Writer's university roommates!), and second, though it was not a humorous movie, there was one priceless funny moment -

Alex (exasperated with the monkey wrenches Linda throws into funeral plans) : 'You're being unreasonable!'
Linda (outraged he isn't cutting her some slack becaue of her special needs): 'I'm autistic!'
Alex: 'Same thing.'
Linda (speechless and flabbergasted)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Laughter Reviews, #13

Another book review with the focus: is it funny?


Underestimated police detective investigates suspicious death of celebrity egg.

What Works
The sheer creativity of presenting traditional nursery rhyme characters in a “What if they lived in modern times?” crime drama deserves standing applause. Detective Inspector Jack Spratt heads the Nursery Crime Division, a tiny, underfunded, widely derided branch of the police department in an English town where officers are evaluated according to how much tabloid media coverage their cases get rather than accuracy of actual police work. Jack’s cases have a low rate of conviction (the most recent being failure to find the three little pigs guilty of attempted murder following the scalding of the big bad wolf – possibly because the jury was stacked with other pigs), so he is regularly outshone during press conferences by his rival and celebrity crime solver Friedland Chymes, who tweaks his cases according to media-catching features.

When Humperdinck Jehoshaphat Aloysius Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III (a.k.a. Humpty Dumpty) is found dead, apparently from injuries sustained falling from a wall, Jack and newly assigned assistant Mary Mary soon learn that the case is much more complex. Humpty was a ladies man, political opportunist, and financial genius working on a massive takeover project involving the two greatest footcare businesses in the world (which happen to be headquartered side by side). There is no lack of suspects who may have wanted the egg out of the way.

The plot winds its utterly unpredicatable way around twists, turns, obstacles, and mucho nursery rhyme characters, which become great fun to recognize and 'collect'. But fascinating plot is just the beginning. The author gleefully challenges reader perspective on multiple levels - from the statement that ‘all the Jack Sprat books have been designated as Character Exchange Programme Safe Havens and all characters are protected by the Council of Genres Directive’ which is placed right after the regular ‘any similarity to authentic persons is entirely coincidental’ message,
to an ad from the Talking Animals Relocation Authority encouraging bears ‘of an anthropomorphized disposition to settle on officially sanctioned plots of land to live idyllic quasi-human lives - application forms in local library',
to the nursery rhyme storyform giving a nod to the classic storyform of myth by incorporating a titan with political asylum problems,
to the epigraphs fronting each chapter that spoof classic crime novels (e.g. a report on the farewell banquet held for the Locked Room Mystery, which is then found murdered - in a locked room, or the report on the banning of the Identical Twin Plot device as well as anything to do with anagrams as part of the 'tough new measures to stave off stagnation in professional detecting').

What Doesn’t
The only quibble Apprentice Writer had was a lack of understanding of the tremendously built-up character of the Jellyman, whose visit to the town becomes entwined with the big climax. Perhaps this character appears in the author’s backlist; Apprentice Writer will now seek this out, pronto.

Mad scientist, murder, industrial espionage, jealousy, eccentric architecture, St. Cerebellum’s insane asylum, retired acting bombshell, a couple of dozen strains of salmonella – this novel has it all. Should the Gentle Reader feel that his or her reading material has become same old/same old, this utterly original story will be a breath of fresh air. Or, perhaps, a tasty omelette. Either way, refreshment and food for thought.

But is it funny? YES, YES, YES!
An extremely entertaining and whimsical read, this novel earns its place on Apprentice Writer's Keeper shelf for unbounded creativity.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Notable Quotes

The beginning of January, when many people in the Western world turn their thoughts towards the success of last year's resolutions, and forming new ones for the fresh year.

A pair of quotes for both these occassion from people known for thinking - and taking action.

"When your dreams turn to dust, vacuum."
Desmond Tutu

"You don't have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step."
Martin Luther King