2014 A Year in Books

2014 hasn’t ended as yet, and already I find myself in a reflective mood. Truth be told I haven’t even considered possible new year’s resolutions or cleaning (since I do that routinely), but I’m going through the 70 plus books I’ve read in search of additional insight and tips.

So, how do you know when you’ve found a good book? Usually you end up reading it again, to see if the juicy parts are just as meaningful. Anyway here’s my line up:
1. Essentialism (Greg McKeown)- A great book, that tells us to do most of the things that we know we should do, but often don’t. Like pare down to the essentials. Focus on the work.


2. Fire in Fiction (Donald Maass) –  Does just what the title says. This book shows you how to improve your writing technique, how to learn new skills by reading different authors across various genres.

fire in fiction

3. Pure (Julianna Baggott) – A fantastic novel with well-crafted characters, whose names are interesting: Pressia, El Capitan, Glassings, Partridge and Bradwell. Who knew using the present tense could be so evocative. I enjoyed the characters immensely. The novel reminded me of a great movie with an ensemble cast like Schindler’s List. Or Chicago. (Insert your own movie here).

4. The Devotion of Suspect X (Keigo Higashino) – A while back, when I lived in Japan, I was intrigued by a television series called Galileo, about a University professor who was helping the police. Now seven years later two of the books (that led to the serithe devotion of suspect Xes) have been translated into English. What I love about the books other than the fact that they are detective mysteries, is that sometimes a translation can show you how easy it is to explain things in a novel, if the writer just takes their time. What I’m referring to here is what W.S. Merwin referred to as knowing the limits of your language, his advice for poets. Here though it can also refer to the vocabulary needed to tell your tale. Check it out for yourself. Is there anything you’ve read in another language and then explored in English, or your own language, if English is not your mother tongue?


5. The Maze Runner (James Dashner)- I know it’s been adapted for the screen but I still haven’t seen it as yet. MazerunnerAlthough I’ve watched If I Stay and the Perks of Being a Wallflower. Both of which made me feel totally gutted, in a good way because the stories were adapted well. Anyway, The Maze Runner was intriguing. I liked not knowing the whole story, and having to discover everything along with the characters, be it their environment and personal things about their life. In this respect, it reminded me of False Memory (Dan Krokos), where Miranda North had to figure things out for herself. As your write your story, consider the predicament of your main character. What is he or she trying to figure out? And how are you getting the reader involved?


6. Uguglieslies (Scott Westerfeld) – Tally Youngblood is an intriguing character. What else can I say, I like Pretty Town and the fact that she was trying to chase after some boy, Peris who had been made handsome. Other than that there were diverse character, an intriguing setting and genuine friendships.

7. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Holly Black) – A few people I know didn’t quite get it but the book struck a chord with me. I get howthe coldest girl in coldtown Tana yearned to be reunited with her mother and in the end tried to do what was best for her sister. After all life is full of trade offs. And surprises.


This year I’ve managed to read more books, maybe next year I’ll have read more, somewhere between 100-120. Recommendations anyone? I’m not trying to go for gold, it’s all about pacing.
Whether you’ve read a few books or many, kudos to you! Remember part of being a good writer means we have to be even better readers. So, I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog thus far and will be back next year. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to blog about, possible topic or book suggestions and I’ll see what I can do. Have big dreams, set them down in writing. And ladies and gentlemen, after you’ve indulged a bit and spent some time with your family recommit yourself. Get back to work.

The Story World : Is it all just make believe?

A few months ago, a friend of mine suggested that everything in a good (or great) story comes down to a writer’s ability to create a believable story world. More concerned with creating genuine characters and coming up with an acceptable plot at the time, I was somewhat skeptical,  (because of my belief in Zadie Smith’s 4th rule of writing – Avoid your weaknesses (which for me had to do with setting). [More on that here, Rules for Writing.]

Of course, my problem at the time stemmed from the idea that a story is put together bit by bit, rather than something that is created whole. All in the same moment. Plus, I am a fly at the seat of your pants writer while my friend had a better grasp on undertaking the whole. Either way, in the last two months I have come across several novels that are so well put together that I am beginning to believe that even though having a believable story world matters, getting the reader into the story and keeping them there, starts inevitably through your delightful characters.


The Fire in Fiction
According to Donald Maass in his novel, The Fire in Fiction, you should use your characters (their experiences and opinions) to engage your readers, because that is what helps them to fully experience the piece. Don’t believe me? Try reading Uglies, The Maze Runner and Across the Universe. In each of these novels, the authors transport us to unimaginable worlds, by giving us characters we can root for, characters who are doing something from page, whether they are in the future, a secluded location or out of space. The location, setting is like the filler, the backdrop for the piece, that will help us get a deeper impression. But then every story required either more or less of this to feel whole.

Or maybe this is one reason why outliners seem to have an advantage over plodders, but hopefully, thankfully in the end after we’ve all worked out everything, we will realize that with our own group of merry men and women (our first readers), we get to see where we went wrong or what needs more work. Because after reading all those “how to write a novel” books, the only thing that will tell us if we have succeeded or failed is our readers, and while you cannot please everyone, constructing a tight story will be worth it for the reader(s) who gets our work, and can follow the entire story.


The reader will get into the story not just based on how believable the setting is, but also based on how our characters move around in the story world. They will observe what is happening to them, and if we do our jobs right, they will agree to follow these characters because something about their lives will ring out as true, even if they are faced with insurmountable odds. Because a story is crafted from beginning to end, even if we have to paint it a little at a time. So sustain the reader’s interest. Transport them to a place they haven’t been before and them keep them wanting more. This is the craft of a writer. Now, let’s begin!