Tuesday, September 30, 2008

EXPERIMENT: The Big H, Report #1

Much is made of opening hook in lectures for aspiring writers eager to learn their craft. "You only get one chance to make a first impression", "Bookstore browsers decide whether to buy based on the first paragraph", etc.

So would a book from a line with less than the average number of full-length novel pages (<300) be more likely to start off with a strong hook, and would it reflect its time period from the get-go?

Gentle Reader - you decide. Try and match each opening the correct epoch :

a. Viking
b. Medieval
c. Tudor
d. Restoration
e. Regency
f. Regency

1. "Leaning one broad shoulder against the wall, H. exchanged an amused glance with E. as they watched the bridegroom pacing in front of the hearth."

2. "Even though it was Witches' Night, the first time the door latch rattled R. was not alarmed."

3. "A. pressed her lips together, trying to keep her head from moving as her maid plaited her hair."

4. "The gale roared like a wild beast. Under its savage attack, the ship creaked and moaned and begged for mercy."

5. "Her quarry was within her sight. M. peered through the tiny peephole, leaning close to the rough wooden wall as she examined the scene below."

6. " 'What's wrong, Father? Is it bad news?' J. asked. Instead of replying, J. continued to stare at the letter in his hand."

Apprentice Writer will confess that she wouldn't be able to place any of these excerpts, except to guess that the quote referring to Witches Night would be from one of the earlier time periods. In terms of hook, she would have to give this round to #4. Fixing hair, leaning on walls, reading letters, house noises and watching others unobserved can't really compete drama-wise with threatening shipwreck and drowning of large numbers of people.

Answers in comments later today.

Monday, September 29, 2008


There are many, many readers whose primary consumption involves the products of that mighty modern empire, Harlequin. Its global expansion, in geography and width of subgenres, is astonishing. Ask a non-romance reader what they think a romance novel is all about and chances are, that person will picture something resembling one of Harlequin's monthly category books, with a specific type of cover and title.

Apprentice Writer has never been drawn to category books, though she hasn't really figured out why. Some time ago, she won a book after enjoyable online chat with the author , and only realized it was a Harlequin title when it arrived in the mail. The story was set in an intersting period, had likable main characters, and for AW's taste was too short on plot developments and too long on introspection, with an ending that felt very quickly resolved for the number of times hero and heroine declared it could never happen. Was this a reflection of that particular author? Or was it a reflection of the tight wordcount and plot requirements set out for this line?

Is it fair to judge an entire line based on one book?

The answer, obviously, is no.

Yesterday was the annual Toronto WORD ON THE STREET celebration of all things literary. Harlequin's tent offered hundreds of titles with all proceeds donated to adult literacy charities. And voila: in between juggling junior apprentice writers #1-3, an experiment was born.

AW scooped up five Harlequin Historical titles, each from a different time period. Her plan is to read them concurrently and see what happens. Will plots follow a pattern? Will heros and heroines seem popped from a template? Will author skill result in uniquely memorable stories?

Tomorrow: Report #1.

Gentle Reader: are you a Harlequin fan? Why or why not?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Non-Book Reviews

Twin Reviews: YOU MEAN THAT'S IT?

Lust, Caution
2007, directed by Ang Lee

Apprentice Writer struggles to find words to express how much she felt frustrated by this film.

Directed by the respected Ang Lee, preceded by megabuzz, set in a fascinating time/place combination about which AW knew nothing and was eager to explore, with the still stunningly beauteous Joan Chen in a secndary role and the highly convincing young actress Tang Wei as heroine - it had all the elements of a fabulous film. And parts of it are. The premise is intriguing: a group of drama students in Japanese occupied China during WWII plan to assassinate a powerful Chinese collaborator via an illicit relationship with a young woman.


After all the pedigree and period costume and much-touted non-chronological sequence is stripped away, though, the overriding messages this viewer was left with were that women in groups like to gossip about shopping, and women individually secretly enjoy being dominated and physically abused, so much so they will sacrifice principles and people if someone flashes impressive enough bling.

Even without the female-negative messages, Apprentice Writer would have been unhappy because of the seeming total lack of movement in the sociopolitical context of the film. By the time end credits roll, the Japanese remain firmly ensconced in Shanghai and Chinese collaborators continue collaborating blithely on, as if the whole drama of the past couple of hours (for the viewer) and years (for the characters) made not the smallest blip. Which may, perhaps, have been the Big Point, but for AW it was all tremendously frustrating.


Having said all this, AW will concede that Tang Wei is an actress she hopes to see again, and that this film raises the silent, meaningful glance to an art form.

No Country for Old Men

2007, directed by Ethan & Joel Coen

Another movie reaping reams of praise and armfuls of Oscars, AW approached it with great anticipation. Ultimately unfulfilled.

A Texan hunter stumbles across the gory scene of what appears to be a drug deal gone wrong: human and canine corpses strewn about, large load of suspicious powder packets in pickup truck, and some distance away another corpse guarding a case containing wads of cash. A psychopathic killer meanwhile has been psychopathically killing, is called in to retrieve the goods, and the chase is on.

With the possible exception of Woody Harrelson's character, the acting was convincing. In Javier Bardem's case, riveting, despite sporting the worst male cinematic haircut since the teenager in "Little Miss Sunshine". The dialogue was convincing, the cinematography and pacing fine.


What left AW scratching her head about the accolades was in part, the feeling that she didn't really get anything out of it. Was the concept that it's risky to butt in on a drug deal gone bloodbathedly wrong news to anyone? Was anybody surprised that Tommy Lee Jones is good at playing crusty old curmudgeons? Is it really not possible to predict that someone described as a 'psychopathic killer' will be a little unpredictable and it might not be best to attract their attention?

And what left AW ultimately frustrated was the open ending, in a bad way, of the whole story. (The contrasting example of open-ended in a good way would be the Tom Hanks' movie "Castaway".) In the final confrontation between villain and innocent bystander when a challenge is issued to stand by choices rather than hiding behind the facade of chance, the viewer cannot be sure what choice was ultimately made. In another type of movie, that could have been a thoughtful and even satisfying cinematic decision. In this case, it nullified even the parts of the movie that AW thought were well done. Or perhaps this is just one of the those movies that you need a Y-chromosome to understand.


So, tell us, Gentle Reader: have you seen either of these films? Agree? Disagree?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Expressions of Strong Emotion

One of the things writers need to decide when creating characters is how they will express strong emotion.

Will it be a surface description?
"Frothmeister beheld the damage, and cursed."

Or will it be explicit?
"Frothmeister beheld the damage, and said (insert phrase of choice)."

If explicit, will it be some oft-heard phrase, or will the author take the delicious opportunity to be creative in a manner that reflects that particular character?
"Frothmeister beheld the damage, and bellowed 'Seeping slough of a half-giraffe, I'll thwortle those gronzites till they float!"

Sci-fi and fantasy writers have greater than usual opportunties for this sort of thing due to alternate world- and races- building that is part of their genre. The trick is for the reader to be able to figure out what is meant by a totally new-to-them word, via clues of context and personaltiy. In Ann Aguirre's GRIMSPACE, the characters eschew the regular version in favour of a different F-word: "Frack." There was a whole lot of fracking going on.

This was fine since it was clear from the first what was meant and why the characters felt it was called for. What threw Apprentice Writer out of the story was the sudden insertion of a conventional f-bomb. Why this change? Was it a typo? Was it an intentional contrast to the previous expression, for some purpose Apprentice Writer couldn't fathom from the text? Whatever the reason, the inconsistency brought the pace of the story to a crashing halt for this reader.

Then there is the opportunity provided by characters who have special interest in language. Daphne, the heroine of Loretta Chase's MR. IMPOSSIBLE, is a brilliant linguist, fluent in living and dead languages. And what is the expression of choice for this vocabulary-gifted character? "Good grief." A surprisingly conventional choice. Perhaps, intended to reflect Daphne's restricted nineteenth century social position.

In Sherry Thomas' PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, the heroine has a larger-than-life personality and does nothing in half measures. Her expression of choice is "Crumbs!", which amused Apprentice Writer very much as it made perfect sense that the tiny, broken bits of dust leftover from anything would be regarded negatively from her tycoon, big-picture perspective. It made perfect sense for her character.

Then we come to Apprentice Writer's current #1 favorite expression of strong emotion, taken from Joanna Bournes' MY LORD AND SPYMASTER, in which a hardened old spy learns of something surprising and responds,

"God's avenging chickens!"

Apprentice Writer defies any reader not to laugh. This is the second of Ms. Bournes' "Spy" books; the same character made a divine fowl reference in the first one too, but AW was so intent on blazing through the most excellent story that she didn't take the time to write it down. One can only hope that there will be a new and wonderful chicken expression in each of Ms. Bourne's books to come.

Gentle Reader, what unusual expressions have you come across?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Day 5

Today is the last official day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and many a raffle prize has been ruffled, and many a Blogger of Distinction Award distincted. To see how the voting went, and perhaps get some new ideas of where to look for reviews, industry buzz, and like-minded readers, take a look at a preliminary list created by Anna at

OCD, Vampires, and Amusing Rants, Oh My!

Also, there are still many prize draws crossing many genre borders open at BBAW mastermind Amy's blog till Sunday, take a look:

My Friend Amy's Blog


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Day 4

Today, two more bookblogs of note:

The Novel Challenge

Tagline: The Place to Find Your Next Challenge

This is a great place for readers searching for an online reading community. Many is the reader who doesn't know anyone in their real life circles who shares reading tastes. Courtesy of the internet, and this blog founder - voila, problem solved.


And here, a blog with a most creative review style - haiku:

Fyrefly's Book Blog

Tagline: Sparking Your Literary Interest


Creative and fun!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bookblogger Appreciation Week, Day 3

Today's feature: blogs that encourage the Gentle Reader to broaden horizons.


The Book Mine Set

Run by John who is based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (in other words: Arctic, for those who may not be aware), this blog is currently hosting the second annual Canadian Book Challenge. It runs for a year and involves participants committing to read 13 Canadian books (i.e. by or about Canadians/set in Canada), one from each province and territory. John has a handy list broken down by geography for readers who are still seeking something for their 'Saskatchewan' slot, say, or want to round out their 'Newfoundland' one. So far Apprentice Writer has ticks for:

Alberta - (to be filled!)

British Columbia - Wayson Choy, "The Jade Peony"

Manitoba - Carol Shields, "The Stone Diaries"

New Brunswick- (to be filled!)

Newfoundland/Labrador - (to be filled!)

Northwest Territories-(to be filled!)

Nova Scotia - Anne Marie MacDonald, "Fall on Your Knees"

Nunavat-(to be filled!)

Ontario - Margaret Atwood, "The Robber Bride"

Prince Edward Island- Lucy Maud Montgomery, "Anne of Green Gables"

Quebec - Yann Martel, "Life of Pi"

Saskatchewan -(tobe filled!)

Yukon -(to be filled!)

All titles read so far highly recommended.


Next, a blog with similar concept but broader application:

Book Around the World

Bonnie describes the goal: "The world has many countries. Let's "book around the world" and find at least one excellent book for each country in the world. The book should help us learn something ABOUT that country and not just be one written by somebody who lives there."

The sidebar lists a host of countries which link to reviews on books for that country.

Apprentice Writer thinks this is a brilliant way to promote the concepts of global village and world citizenship. So far, her personal literary world collection includes the all continents but Antarctica. But even that is sort ofcovered by making an appearance on her WIP, "Cupid and a Suitcase". Time to collect more individual countries!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Day 2

Today, a few blogs that caught Apprentice Writer's fancy due to most excellent names:

The Tome Traveller

Tagline: Globetrotting with My Nose in a Book


Apprentice Writer likes the clever play on words, and broad range of genres reviewed.

Fashionista Piranha

Tagline: Because a Good Book is the Perfect Accessory


As is to be expected, many books reviewed deal with fashion (has Apprentice Writer mentioned that she adores 'Project Runway'?), but not solely restricted to the world of apparell. And who can resist a blog with 'Piranha' in its name?

A Platypus with a Book Walks Into a Bar...

Tagline: A Literary Journey


A Platypus! This masterstroke of imagination clearly needs no explaining as to how it managed to charm Apprentice Writer.

The Toasted Scimitar

Tagline: Like in a Fantasy Pub, you get lots of Information and Opinions here. No Tavern Brawls, Unfortunately.


An informative fantasy genre review site, with a sense of humor (judging by the site contributors' bios). Always a plus in Apprentice Writer's view.

Gentle Readers, any other sites with excellent names you 'd care to share?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Ladies and Gentemen, welcome to the first day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week!

In the words of Amy, BBAW's mastermind:

"The gloom and doom news tries to tell us that reading is dead, we say look at our addiction. We transform reading books from solitary activities to shared conversations through our blogs. We carve out extra time to share book club tips, interview authors, and learn about the technical aspects of blogging. Our blogs are like a part-time job and the only payment is the pleasure we get when someone takes us up on a recommendation. This week, you will hear from the other side...the people our blogs help promote. And you'll get the chance to enjoy the reality that what we are doing is making a difference. You will have the chance to win books and prizes, the opportunity to speak out and the chance to make a difference in the lives of others. And we'll celebrate the blogs chosen by the book blogging community as the best in their categories. It's going to be so great!"

Find more info, plus a ginormous list of bookblogging participants and a mega-list of raffle prizes here:


Apprentice Writer applauds Amy's appreciation- and community-building initiative. In recognition of the massive co-ordination and thought putting together this week took, Apprentice Writer will not have fun exploring many new-to-her sites, but feature some for the Gentle Reader's pleasure every day this week.

Please get in the spirit and mention others you feel may be undiscovered treasures!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Historical Romance Heroine - A Definitive List

Anna Bowling of Unusual Historicals has penned a tongue-in-cheek list of historical romance heroine characteristics. Very funny.

Go, enjoy:


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Batman a la Jane Austen

Too good not to share -

Cara King, of the Risky Regencies site, has penned (keyboarded?) one of the funniest pieces Apprentice Writer has read in a long time, containing the doubtless soon-to-be-immortal phrase "...unbending suit of petroleum derivatives."

Go, enjoy:


Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Delicate Art of Title Creation

Coming up with the perfect title for one's masterpiece is, as any writer will tell you, not so easy. For authors of some publishing houses, it is not even an option, conferred as their titles are by mysterious editorial/marketing powers-that-be. Some ubiquitous title word inclusions have come to have the power to signify instantaneously what the book's genre or subgenre might be: "savage", "sword", "scoundrel", and "billionaire", to name a few. (Having strung together the previous words, Apprentice Writer is now overwhelmed with the urge to write the first chapter of "The Savage Sword of the Billionaire Scoundrel.")

In some cases, however, one wonders whether the author/publisher took even the briefest moment to consider how the title might sound to browsers who aren't steeped in the subject matter. There are some mighty peculiar but seriously intended titles out there, a phenomenon celebrated by the


Over the years, the finalists and prizewinners have included many a humdinger. Apprentice Writer laughed muchly at such gems as

"Big and Very Big Hole Drilling"

"How to Avoid Huge Ships"

"Proceedings on the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice"

The Diagram Prize (aside: why diagram? Is it meant ironically, considering that there are usually only words and no pictures in a title?) is a British creation, unsurprising in a culture that prides itself on eccentricity. In this vein, one learns that the origin of the competition was as a means to break up boredom plodding down the endless aisles of ginormous (AW can personally attest) annual Frankfurter Buchmesse, or Book Expo, and that the actual title conferrer is not the person to receive a reward, but rather the person spotted and sent in the winning title. It all makes delightfully whimsical sense.

To read an entertaining article on the subject, go to

As the author notes, "...Oddness is in the eye of the beholder." Wise words to ponder.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Laughter Reviews #20


Unbridaled by Eileen Rendahl

There Goes the Bride by Lori Wilde

Bride makes a mad dash out of her wedding and then tries to figure out why as she deals with life and extended family.

Bride arranges for her own kidnapping during her wedding when she can't figure out how to deal with life and extended family.

Clever title. Cartoon-like drawing of a bridal gown in a trash can - good fit between image and content.

Clever title. Partial image of departing woman in gown and veil, wearing a running shoe. Strictly speaking this is more reminiscent of the Julia Roberts movie "Runaway Bride" than the book's content, but it nevertheless underscores the title and gives the gist of the premise.

What Works
Despite her near-ludicrous departure from the ceremony, Chloe is not a ludicrous or impulsive person. She is a thoughtful person doing her best to deal with (to put it mildly) highly complex family dynamics and emotional baggage; her efforts to understand what made her take such uncharacteristic action take the length of the book, and are convincing.

The aspect Apprentice Writer liked best of Delaney's story was the striking cover.

What Doesn't
One of AW's pet peeves is being forced to endure speaking accents for the length of a book. Just tell her when a character is first introduced that he/she speaks with a Scottish brogue or a French throatiness or a German consonant roll. Please don't make her endure endless rounds of "Och!", "Zees!", "Vich vay?", etc. This was made all the worse by the Cajun character not only persisting in his torturous accent, but made to look like an uneducated slob as well, with references to habits of urinating in the heroine's flower garden, not washing hands, leaving garbage strewn about, etc. These details were not only perplexing (they added precisely nothing to the story) but, one would imagine, unwelcome from a Cajun person's point of view given the length of time they have settled in the American South after being hounded out of more northerly parts of the Continent some centuries ago partially due to prejudices against French-speaking Acadian people. Depressing to think these generalized negative views followed them south and still persist so long after. But to be fair, this was a minor irritant; all other elements of the story worked well for AW.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for TGTB. Despite being competently written, the story never came together for this reader in a way that made her engage with a single character or care what happened. The best explanation that AW has is that she read the whole thing as a writer, rather than a reader. She was never able to lose herself in the story, because the sense of recognition of how the component parts were manufactured was so strong. Paranormal element - check, hero and heroine from opposite ends of social ladder and large/small family situations - check, secondary female characters lined up to be heroines in upcoming installments of the series - check, opening hook providing a dramatic moment taken from the final climactic scene - check, first meeting done in a memorable and romantic sparks flying manner - check, many long passages of hero and heroine angsting about why they were attracted to one another but couldn't be together - check. Perhaps the story would work better for readers who don't write themselves. Or like stories with much, much introspection. AW is more of a 'get on with the action' kind of girl.

AW first encountered Eileen Rendehl's name as one of the "Literary Chicks", a now-disbanded grog (group blog) of women's fiction authors. This story was a thougtful, unpredictable, satisfying read about people one might encounter in daily life.

The claim to fame of TGTB was that as a mere concept, it had the power to unleash a bidding war for movie rights. If AW recalls correctly, there were at one point eight parties competing to secure the option before the book was even written. How can a reader resist such a story? So AW purchased the book with mucho anticipation. Though in her view the story did not live up to the clamor, she has nothing but admiration for an author who can inspire such industry reaction, and who has a few dozen printed titles under her belt.

But does it make you laugh? YES / NO

"Unbridaled" is not a laugh-out-loud, mile-a-minute story. It is quiet slice-of-life tale with moments of wry humor, such as when the heroine is called a 'wetback' by some bar patrons and wonders to herself whether she should point out what the correct ethnic slur would be in her case. AW would look forward to reading other books by this author.

"There Goes the Bride" has moments that seem intended to be funny, but didn't work that way for this reader. The way the hero and heroine meet, a wardrobe malfunction at an amusement part, the zany outfit choices of a ghost - all felt too manufactured. Based on her Two Book Rule (reading at least two before deciding to bypass an author permanently) AW would read the second in the Wedding Veil series.

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