Thursday, October 30, 2008

Book Promotion: Good Ideas

Paranormal author Meljean Brook has a book coming out on the same day as the vote for American President. In the brain of the average person, this would release a response along the lines of : "What an amusing co-incidence." In the abnormally fertile brain of Ms. Brook, it released a response of: "What a great opportunity to have some fun with my readers, praise the work of established and cutting-edge authors I admire, and extend an invitation to travel a little deeper into the Guardian universe!"

Helping others flex their voting muscles in preparation for the big day, Ms. Brook calls it.

Brilliant buzz idea, Apprentice Writer calls it.

Readers can vote on pairs of old skool/ new style books at her site, and get a chance to win those books as well as titles from her own backlist. All leading up to the newest story: Demon Bound.

Gentle Reader, if you have not encountered this universe - take a look, then if you're so inclined please let AW know what you think!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

National Novel Writing Month - Halos!

The terror, it is almost upon us.

No, not Halloween - though that is without question a terror to be reckoned with. The pumpkins that must be obtained and artistically carved! The slimy, stringy pumpkin guts that involves! The rock and a hard place pressure of treats that are dentistically approved and those that your juniors want you to buy! The parental desire to outfit juniors in fantastic costumes vs. the reality of having sewing/crafting skills only equal to scribbling some kitten whiskers or pirate stubble on their dewy skin with an old eyeliner pencil and slapping a hat on their heads!

The terror of which Apprentice Writer speaks is Nanowrimo, scheduled to spring out of the starting gate for the 10th year next Saturday, November 1st. Thirty days of literary abandon, as the site ( proclaims. Thousands upon thousands of novelists around the globe racing the clock to produce 50,000 fresh words despite the obstacles placed in their paths by real life, fatigued fingers and brains, and worst of all, nefarious inner editors.

It's not easy to throw an annual literary online party for such a large crowd. To manage the site, fund the Young Writers Program (which brings the Nanowrimo movement into schools, nurturing a whole new generation of novelists), and create and supply libraries in remote East Asian villages (done in past years; not sure if will happen this year), the site founders appeal to participants each year to consider making a donation (however modest). Those that do see a halo appear next to their online name on the message boards.

Wrimo Jamie Grove, who blogs at HOW NOT TO WRITE: If you're reading this, you're not writing. Obvious but True, had a brilliant idea.

He not only donated himself, but after encouraging others to do likewise and receiving messages about willing hearts but cash-poor wallets, decided to give away some halos.

At, he describes what wrimos need to do if they'd like a halo but can't quite swing it this year.

He also posts about all kinds of topics of interest to aspiring wrimos. Go take a look.

Gentle Readers: Planning to participate in the madness this year?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Experiment: THE BIG H, Report #3

As someone with no Harlequin/category experience, Apprentice Writer decided to read six titles from the 'Harlequin Historical' line (which publishes 4 titles per month) concurrently to see if patterns develop.

Chapter One

5/6: End by page 22 (which is actually page 15, since text always starts on page 7)
The only one that didn't was first published in UK, where format may be different than North American guidelines

5/6: Hero & Heroine meet by page 5
The prize for speed of bringing the parties together goes to the Tudor title (A SINFUL ALLIANCE, Amanda McCabe) where the very first line reads,

"Her quarry was within her sight."

In the only book where the main characters didn't physcially meet by page 5, the heroine thought of the last time she saw the hero. So: in 6/6 titles, there is some connection between the love interests from Chapter 1 on.

5/6: Leap into action/main conflict of the story
Slow buildup doesn't seem a common theme, with a clear preference for heading into the drama without delay. Bells peal in warning of Viking attack by page 3, a kidnapper appears before the heroine by page 2, the heroine gears up to carry out an assasination from paragraph 1.

4/6: Detailed description of physical appearnce of heroine and/or hero within first 3 pages
Apparently, it is important for devotees of this line to know early on and thoroughly what the main characters look like - and not just in terms of historical costume. Half the titles made a point of mentioning large stature/broad shoulders of the hero, with the prize going to the Regency title (A MOST UNCONVENTIONAL MATCH, Julia Justiss) by working it in at word #3. A third of titles made use of the 'looking in the mirror' ploy to describe the heroine. For two of the titles, it is worth mentioning that there was a good reason for describing physical appearance in such rapid detail; in the Restoration title (THE ABDUCTED HEIRESS, Claire Thornton) the heroine's facial scars play an important role, and in the Tudor title the heroine is in disguise.

6/6: England as main or secondary setting
AW chose the titles for her experiment via a super-quick sift through a literacy street-festival pile, simply searching for different time periods. So the 100% British result is a surprise, especially given that a number of the main characters are of other backgrounds (Danish, French, Norwegian (?), Russian). If AW ever decided to run Experiment II, she would make a point of checking whether other geographies are available, and how hard it is to find them relative to the English juggernaut.

If publishers offer what sells, then does that mean people of non-English descent are not interested in love among their ancestors?

Things that stood out:
One of the risks a reader takes when developing a fondness for a particular genre is coming across repeating themes so often they become irritating or even stereotypical. It's great when authors not only recognize this danger, but have fun with it. From the Regency title (THE VANISHING VICOUNTESS, Diane Gaston):

"She and Eliza had devised all manner of ways they might meet (Lord Tannerton), none of which they'd dared to carry out. Too bad they had not thought of being caught in a gale on a ship that broke apart and tossed them in the sea."

Sometimes, redundancy lies not in the similarity of theme from author to author, but repetition of words too soon or pointlessly doubling up on meaning. From the Viking title (TAKEN BY THE VIKING, Michelle Styles) scene where a man is cut down:
"...staining the golden sands deep red." Three paragraphs later: "...the golden sands would be stained red.." A few pages later: "...his blood spilt on the golden sand."
Gee, I wonder what color the sand is?

There follows a battle scene, wherein one group "advances forward"(as opposed to advancing backward?) and a warrior's "tongue licked his lips" (in case anyone thought he might lick with a different part of anatomy).

AW is very fond of authors who manage to build up a certain expectation and then take the reader somewhere else. From the Tudor title, in a scene where the heroine is impersonating an employee in a brothel to approach a patron:

"...the sounds of laughter and moaning, the whistle of a whip for those with more exotic tastes. Marguerite hoped that was not a Russian vice. Baring her backside for the lash would surely reveal her dagger."

AW loved how indicative it is of the heroine's character that she doesn't fear the pain or object to the nudity; it's the target realizing she's an agent that worries her.

Gentle Reader - any thoughts on the math or interpretation? Any readers of Harlequin Historicals who can shed some light?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Laughter Reviews #21


Orphaned preschool teacher is reunited with her Harley-riding grandmother on the eve fo her 30th birthday and learns she must save a biker coven with her unsuspected demon-battling powers.

Eye-catching and attractive in color and graphics. Gives a pretty good idea of what to expect from content.

What Works
There were many original elements to this story. Apprentice Writer can honestly say she has never encountered a griffin shapeshifter hero, a septugenarian biker coven,or a talking dog (child-oriented movies excepted) before. There is a lot going on in terms of how many types of characters are packed in a short space of time, ensuring fast pace and low chance of reader becoming bored.
Those are good things. Yet AW couldn't help but wish that these new-to-her topics could have been explored a little more. The mythical beast shapeshifter hero was intriguing, but there no exploration of how his dual nature impacted on the relationship, with the heroine interacting with (and annoyed by) him solely in his human form and almost no use made of the fact that he could fly. The concept of a Harley-riding coven relying heavily on roadkill and drawn to a casino river-boat was unique, but there was no backstory on how it developed nor the almost exclusive female focus, with but a single male coven member and no mention of or curiosity about, for example, the heroine's grandfather (as might be a logical question with the sudden appearance in one's life of a never-before-met grandmother). There was no plot opportunity to find if the heroine could hear other animals speak, or whether other people heard her dog too.
Much of this was no doubt for the sake of maintaining fast pace. Maybe curiosity will be satisfied in future stories.

What Doesn't
Over and over, the characters act and react in puzzling ways that threw this reader off. This is most pronounced with the heroine, who tolerates being ripped from her life and tossed into extreme situations by a grandmother who gives her very little information to work with and never explains why she's been absent all these decades. Perhaps Lizzie's acquiesence, to her grandmother and the belligerent and at times outright physcially abusive behaviour of her biker friends, can be explained by the psychology of a person with abandonment issues who suddenly finds a family member. But her pattern of accepting poor treatment from the grandmother and then indulging in negative overreaction to the hero's supposed faults (as though giving him the dose her grandmother deserves as well as his own) grew tedious. It reached martyr complex level in a scene where she chastises herself for failing her grandmother who "...had shown her nothing but honesty and respect." No, actually. She showed neither, and Lizzie's inability/refusal to recognize this made the story clunky.

To be fair, matters improve a little towards the end of the book. For this reader's taste, it took too long to get there.

This debut author writes with verve and imagination. It will be interesting to see what she comes upwith next, especially in the publicity department. Who could resist finding out their own personal biker name at the author's website? Certainly not AW, who wears her moniker Spaghetti Neck Stella Wheeliegig with pride.

But does it make you laugh? YES (with qualifiers)
Much of the humor seems to center on roadkill and the hygiene/fashion-challenged nature of the coven. A little of that goes a long way. Due to the mismatch between expected character reactions and how they really react, some of the humor may also not have struck as intensely as might otherwise have be the case. But the parts that worked well were very enjoyable, mostly from the 'fish out of water' angle of a straight-laced, slightly obsessive-compulsive preschool teacher forced to deal with mile-a-minute new paranormal challenges to her concept of reality. At one point she wonders, not even sarcastically,

Did he know of another hideoutnearby? If werewolves ran Shoney's,

perhaps a dragon BBQjoint would be just the spot, or maybe a

Denny's run by leprechauns.I'd even be open to a mermaid water

park. "Where in the world of weird creatures are youtaking me?"

"Motel 6."

The hight point of the story may have been the depiction of hell. The scenes of final confrontation with the fifth-level demon, while rescuring someone from the second level of hell (AW kept waiting for an elevator joke) were highly creative, and the demon, a sort of world-weary mad scientist, gets the best line.

Did Apprentice Writer laugh as much as promised by cover blurbs? No, but she will read this author again to enjoy the sheer richness of imagination.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Triple Tag

It is Banned Books Week, during which the American Library Association draws attention to the issues of literary freedom and censorship by publishing their annual list of the ten books that drew most complaints during the past year, and the hundred books that drew the most complaints ever. Complaints of American origin, ApprenticeWriter presumes; it would be interesting to know if the Canadian Library Association maintains such a list, and whether it has different books on it (note to self: find out).

Apprentice Writer has been tagged by cyberfriends Ciara (of 'Ciara Stewart', and Thea (of 'The Book Smugglers',

Books Apprentice Writer has read in red:

1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz

2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite

3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling (enjoyed very much)

8. Forever by Judy Blume

9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman

12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (didn't care for it)

14. The Giver by Lois Lowry

15. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris

16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine

17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck

18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

19. Sex by Madonna

20. Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel (liked the 1st, not the 2nd, stopped there)

21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (excellent)

23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak (charming picture book; why in the world is it banned???)

26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard

27. The Witches by Roald Dahl

28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein

29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry

30. The Goats by Brock Cole

31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

32. Blubber by Judy Blume

33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan

34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam

35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier

36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry

37. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (sobering, intelligent dystopia)

38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (recommended with age qualification)

39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

40. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras

41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

42. Beloved by Toni Morrison

43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel

45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard

46. Deenie by Judy Blume

47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden

49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar

50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz

51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (depressing dystopia)

53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)

54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole

55. Cujo by Stephen King

56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell

58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy

59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest

60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras

62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (recommended)

63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly

64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher

65. Fade by Robert Cormier

66. Guess What? by Mem Fox

67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney

69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

71. Native Son by Richard Wright

72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday

73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen

74. Jack by A.M. Homes

75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya

76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle

77. Carrie by Stephen King

78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge

81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein

82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole

83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King

84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (complex, fascinating)

86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez

87. Private Parts by Howard Stern

88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford (delightful time waster; why in the world banned??)

89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman

91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher

93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis

94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene

95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy

96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts

98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney

100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

And way back in September, cyberfriend Julia (of 'A Piece of My Mind', tagged AW for a husband meme. Gentle Reader, all you ever wanted to know about Mr. Apprentice Writer:

1. Who said "I love you!" first?
AW is embarrassed to say she can't remember. Somebody must have said it to someone because we celebrated our 2oth anniversary this February.

2.Who does the dishes?
AW does the lion's share due to being in strategic range of where dishes are dirtied more, but in the evening it's whoever isn't the person putting the juniors in the tub.

3. Who pays the bills?
Mr. AW. AW is hopeless with numbers and money. Sigh.

4. Who sleeps on the right side of the bed?
Right now, that would be junior apprencite writer #3. Whenever a junior came along, Mr. AW departed due to his worry that he might accidentally roll on the baby in the night

5. Who cooks dinner?
AW cooks more often (again, by virtue of spending more time in fridge- and stovetop vicinity) but Mr. AW cooks with more passion. One of his fantasies is to attend one of those month-long cooking classes in the middle of an olive grove in Tuscany. AW on the other hand cooks because she lives with hungry men, but by nature she is more of a baker.

6. Who drives when you're both in the car?
Both, unless it's at night. AW has terrible night vision.

7. Who proposed?
Mr. AW, by presenting AW with a self-created abstract painting rather than a ring. AW was wildly impressed with this evidence of artistic talent and sensitivity. The fact that it was false advertising is gradually dawning on her as he has produced zero paintings since.

8. Who has more siblings?
AW is the eldest of two. Mr. AW is the second of four boys. So, at 3 juniors, we are exactly in between what we grew up with.

9. Who wears the pants?
We both think we do!

Whoever wants to play along - Tag, you're it!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

EXPERIMENT: The Big H, Report #2

Time periods and opening hooks, united again:


"The gale roared like a wild beast."
Diane Gaston, 'The Vanishing Vicountess'

"Leaning one broad shoulder against the wall, Hal Waterman exchanged an amused glance..."
Julia Justiss, 'A Most Unconventional Match'


"What's wrong, Father? Is it bad news?"
Claire Thornton, 'City of Flames: The Abducted Heiress'


"Even thoug it was Witches' Night, the first time the door latched rattled..."
Carol Townend, 'An Honourable Rogue'


"Her quarry was within her sight."
Amanda McCabe, 'A Sinful Alliance'


"Annis pressed her lips together."
Michelle Styles, 'Taken by the Viking'

Julia and Wylie, you intrepid historic mix- and matchers, you both win a prize for playing along. Let Apprentice Writer know which of these six titles strikes your fancy, and she will send them to you after her experiment is done.