Red Rising Review

So, I picked up Red Rising because of the recent buzz. If you have your finger on the pulse of the YA market, you might’ve heard it brought up, or seen articles like this, that hail Pierce Brown as YA’s new superstar and Red Rising as the next big thing.

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I’m always suspicious of mass popular things, but in this case Red Rising (mostly) lives up to the hype. I would have been very frustrated not to finish it, and that to me is always the first sign of a good book. It’s being compared to the Hunger Games a lot, and that is a pretty accurate assessment. Almost irritatingly so. The parallels are numerous.

Dystopian society separated into districts (I mean, castes) ruled over by the Capitol (I mean, the Society)?

Check.

Angry, struggling teenager thrust into a competition by dramatic family incident (I won’t give away spoilers)?

Check.

Period where they dress up, truss up, and prime their new competitor?

Yep.

Belligerent, nasty-looking mentor who is secretly wise?

Yeeeess.

A symbol (like the Mockingjay) that not only describes our hero but also becomes the symbol for a movement?

Righto.

Underdog companions who may or may not be killed?

Poor things.

Higher-ups watching from cameras? Giving out spoils to favored students? Our hero knowing that they are the “real enemy” even while the teenagers massacre each other?

Holy crap, yes.

Believable, but poignant romance under the surface?

Oh wait, no. That didn’t happen.

Red Rising is also compared to Ender’s Game, and that’s where it differs from Hunger Game’s ‘survival of one’ mentality. There are armies, groups binding together, and actual leadership skills required. Lots of try-fail cycles. This is semi-formulaic storytelling, but so what? I love those stories. Frankly, I love this story. And bonus—the writing is pretty damn good too. Brown sets up his character to be this insanely skilled, physically prime warrior, but then, everyone is like that, so what he really gets to do is describe epic fighting scenes that would actually be impossible in a normal body. I liked Darrow more than I thought I would. He’s a little bit nasty, got some darkness in him, and a part of me wants to really root for him—in the same way in high school, if you suddenly have an amazing football team, all at once you just want to go and cheer on the slaughter? Evil is the enemy, and finally we have someone vicious (not heart of gold good) to go after it.

But okay. The reason why I’m standing on the ‘this book deserves it’ side of the line. Clever world-building, for one. There is so much going on, but I wasn’t confused—and for me (who yawns majorly at epic fantasies) this is quite the feat. Secondly: Sevro. His character alone might have sold the book for me. I love him. AND THANK YOU Pierce Brown for emphasizing friendship over romance. I mentioned already the romance is nothing to write home about. But that’s okay. Because the bonds of friendship, and the complications of respect, loyalty, and forgiveness, make up for it.

Also, Pierce Brown? He’s like this handsome, 26-year old guy, who is charismatic and funny in his interviews, and who came up with the idea for this book while rock-climbing (like on an actual mountain rock, not in a gym with plastic handholds). Are you kidding me? This seems completely genetically unfair. IS HE A GOLD? IS HE THE MUTATED ELITE OF OUR SOCIETY? I am deeply annoyed, but only out of envy.

The final assessment—do I think it’s going to be the NEXT BIG THING?

Probably not.

Here’s why. For one thing, don’t tag your pegasus, people. You can tell Random House doled out some whoppers to market this book. Tons of ARCS went out, dozens of prestigious interviews, and it’s only been on shelves a week. If you go to the website, there are premade buttons and widgets you can use to promote your fandom. Kind of like buying a Coca-Cola shirt—you’re paying to advertise for them. They are banking on this going big.

Lucky for them, it is a pretty good book. But surrounding it with this much hype will automatically give people permission to read it with a critical eye. They’re wondering, “What’s the big deal?” before they even crack the first page. Note that Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter didn’t get massively dissected until after they were huge hits.

Secondly—and this is not really even an insult—I think the book is too smart. There’s no formula for making a smash success, but one thing they all seem to have in common is major mass appeal. Your mom could read it. Your kid brother. Your little sister. A single accountant. A married athlete. Whatever. And since 80% of readers are female (no lie, there have been studies done), and the romance here is wanting, I’m not sure everyone will like it. Scifi/fantasy fans will love it. People who like to read everything will love it. But the average joe? I don’t know. I wouldn’t recommend this to my mother (who liked the Hunger Games). I think all the military stuff and complicated world-building would bore her. My little sister? No. She’s young, and I think a lot of it would be slight confusing, slightly headache-inducing.

Still, I think it will do really well, regardless, but maybe not rise to the level they’re possibly wanting. But hey, I won’t be mad if I’m wrong.

Art Isn’t Free

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Obviously, this topic is sort of close to me since I’m attempting to make a living doing what I love, and what I love is books, writing them and reading them. Something we like to say, especially within the art communities, is DO WHAT YOU LOVE. We read Steve Job’s Stanford commencement address and we watch videos like this, which ask the question, “What would you do if money were no object?” and of course the assumption is to think that means, what you do if it didn’t matter how much money you earned. But in the comments section, someone posed another aspect: I need money to get trained to do what I love, so now what?

I really, really believe in doing what you love, and that it takes a lot of courage, and a lot of people give up on themselves unnecessarily. However, the other side is expressed in this article. It argues that, “Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable-work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce. For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story.”

“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege. And that’s what I’m getting at. Doing what you love to do is special, not to be taken for granted. Anyone can choose to do it, yes, but not everyone gets the chance. That’s reality. And yet, passionate artists are taken advantage of. That same article says, “Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.”

Especially in fashion, media, and the arts, people are persuaded to do their art for free. There aren’t many attorneys or doctors hanging around the web offering free services–and if they were, we’d be suspicious. But there are hundreds of writers, musicians, and artists putting up their wares online for no price to the viewing masses. Most of them are not complaining about it–and in fact, that’s how they find fans and build a following. Almost always, however, attached to the free thing is a way for you to support that artist by buying something they’ve produced.

Well, what if you’re broke too? If you read a book you loved, SHARE IT. Talk about it! Celebrate the wonderful art that enters your life! The literature community survives because people still love books and still want to share that joy with others.

For some other awesome ways to show your support, check out this article: Be More Than a Reader: How to Support Your Favorite Authors. I will now take one tiny step higher on the soapbox I’m already on, to stand on a mini-soapbox to say: the less we support our artists, the more art is undervalued, AND THE WORLD NEEDS ART. It is (and I’m being serious) as important to our society’s well-being as law and medicine. *stands off soapbox*

So maybe this month you can skimp on one nicety in your life (like no chocolate for a few weeks?) and find a way to make a small contribution to an artist you support instead. (:

Humans

Yesterday, a friend shared a post from Humans of New York on my Facebook wall.

Don’t ask me how, but I’d never heard of this project, and I love stuff like this. I crave it. I have hundreds of portrait photography collections in my library. And I love hearing different people affirm that we are all so similar while simultaneously different. I love movements like PostSecret and 7 Billion Others.

But amazingly, I had not heard of this. I went to the homepage and went through the archives for an hour, totally crying at my laptop at the university library. And because this is a writing blog, and writing is about seeing and empathizing and witness and recording the intricacies of human life, I’m sharing it with all of you.

This is the HONY post my friend put on my wall (ha):

"Facebook is telling me that everyone has a house, a kid, and a dog. So I’m just trying to calm the fuck down."

“Facebook is telling me that everyone has a house, a kid, and a dog. So I’m just trying to calm the fuck down.”

I don’t even want to take away from the wonder of the the sites I’ve laid out for you to explore, so I’ll just end with a few thoughts. The great advantage of being a writer is that you can spy on people. You’re there, listening to every word, but part of you is observing. Everything is useful to a writer – every scrap, even the longest and most boring of conversations. Do stuff. Be curious. Don’t wait for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is the lifeblood of ideas! It connects you with others. It makes you eager, and we need to be eager.

Give Me That Mountain

I’m guessing this next piece of wisdom I’m about to impart is not going to come as a huge surprise to most of you, but just in case, I’m going to say it (*write it) out loud anyway: DOING HARD THINGS IS HARD.

Even though logically most of us know this and can parrot back the axiom “Life is hard!” with little thought, I think there’s still some part of us that expects our passion, our dream, our life goal to be difficult, but less difficult for us than for everyone else, and hard, but also fulfilling and beautiful in the struggle. In writing, as with any dream I suppose, this isn’t exactly true.

There are so many places to plateau, to give in, to let up some of the resistance—before we feel like “our dream” is going to crush us or eat us alive. And here I proceed with caution, because I don’t want anyone to feel badgered into pressing on if they feel like they’re on the brink of insanity. Nothing, even writing, trumps your well-being.

That being said, I now say the reason I’m writing this post: the higher the mountain, the bigger the reward. Don’t give yourself a small hill because it’s easier. I’ve been thinking about this for two reasons. A week or so ago, I went to a local bookstore to buy my friend a novel. That’s how I comfort people—not with cards or flowers or back rubs—but with books. Anyway, while I was there, I also grabbed the yearly “Writer’s Digest Handbook” and when I got up to the counter, the knowledgeable shopkeep (this is why, bookstores, you always, always hire people who actually read, thank you) glanced at the magazine and said, “Is that for you?” I told him yes and he said, “You might like this book I just read,” and wrote it down for me on the back of my receipt.

The book was this:

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It is, first of all, sort of invigorating to think of art as a battle, yes?

Steven Pressfield is basically writing on the premise that everyone who does something creatively, anyone who even wants to change for the better, comes up against something called Resistance; the book teaches writers to recognize and knock down dream-blocking barriers and to silence the naysayers within us. The War of Art identifies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe.

I, for one, was simply glad to have a name for THIS THING which I could not always understand cropping up whenever I wanted to accomplish something worthwhile.

Here are a few nuggets from the book:

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.”

“We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity. We fear that we truly can steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land. We fear this because, if it’s true, then we become estranged from all we know. We pass through a membrane. We become monsters and monstrous.”

“Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is that it means there’s tremendous love there too.”

And then, right after I get done reading this book, my mom sends me a “motivational” video. My mom, as I think I’ve mentioned, is a hardcore fitness buff and the video, I’m pretty sure, was made originally for athletes, not writers. But in that moment, I felt like writing was a physical battle. I felt like a warrior, baby! And this video razzed me up a bit, I confess—as it was directly designed to do. For me, writing is not mystical. I have only very slightly above average talent, but what I do have is sickening work ethic.

So in case it might inspire any of you, I’ll share that too:

In Defense of Fanfiction

. . . and other frowned upon writing mediums.

I know several authors who sneer at the idea of fanfiction—not only the writing of it, but the reading of it. A few years ago in TIME magazine, Lev Grossman defined it by saying:

“Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couch-bound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.”

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When Rainbow Rowell wrote her awesome book Fangirl, it suddenly became okay again for writers—even those functioning within professional spheres—to admit they had at some point or another written or enjoyed reading fanfiction. Of course, in Rowell’s book, the main character Cath (an avid and beloved fanfic writer) learns to find her own voice instead of relying on the Simon Snow (aka Faux-Harry Potter) universe.

I think if an aspiring writer is trying to get published, he or she has to let go of fanfiction in a large way if they want to find truth and heart in their own writing, but that’s not really what I’m talking about in this blog post. I want to bring up the argument that it’s okay to write for no other reason than sheer enjoyment. Professionally speaking, to a would-be author, fanfiction represents nothing more than a big, fat waste of time. Nobody’s going to publish fanfiction and you won’t make any money (or if you do, you’ll probably get sued for it), but . . . but.

Don’t toss it aside if you really like it.

On my desk is one of those WD-40 cans, reminding me (on the advice of George Singleton), that if I don’t write daily, I will get rusty. But writing a good, solid novel is hard work, and sometimes you just want to have fun.

Fanfiction, for me, is fun. So is narrative roleplaying (does anyone have any idea what I’m talking about with this?). Goofy letters to your family, maybe. Dungeons and Dragons! That’s storytelling, for sure.

I think there is a stigma that if you’re a professional, you set aside cheap forms of writing and you set aside cheap forms of literature, and only allow the greats into your life. I’m not saying you should turn your back on fine writing, that you shouldn’t try to absorb via osmosis the great talent and truth that has come to us in novel form, or that you should give up on laboring, sweating, rewriting, and crying with the effort of writing something truly beautiful. Keep doing those things.

But in the meantime, make sure you still like to write and that you still like to read, and that might mean writing fanfiction or roleplaying, and it might mean cruising through a bestselling paperback you’d be otherwise ashamed at enjoying. Do the things that makes stories fun for you, and it will help sustain you when you need to muscle through the difficult parts of this business that maybe aren’t so fun.

2014, Resolutions, and Updates

How about update more regularly on my blog? That would be a nice resolution.

But it’s not. (smile~)

I’m kidding. I mean, I really didn’t make any resolutions concerning my blog, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try and post at semi-regular intervals. In fact, none of my resolutions are writing-centered. Last year I nabbed a coveted full-time internship at a magazine, I spent two months hiking around the UK, and even then I would get distracted, squirreling away time to write or read. Nothing I can think of has, or could, stop me from writing as much as I was able. If anything, I need to make resolutions that force me to take a step back from writing and remember how to be involved with life as a normal human being. (On that note one of my resolutions this year is to try something new each month. January is keeping a “Happiness Jar” and each day my happiest moment almost always involves writing or reading or just this great big bad industry that I love so much.)

Some quick updates before we kick off this grand new year:

I am now an official editor at Jolly Fish Press, and I work contractually. I love being on the other end, hunting for the next great novel instead of writing it (though I love that too).

UNTIL PROVEN is coming out this June (crazy!) and I’m sort of uselessly flailing around, wondering what, exactly, I’m supposed to do to carry my load marketing-wise. (I am a publicity fail.)

A MERRY WAR is in revision and will hopefully find a permanent home sometime this year. I’ve grown very fond of the fun-ness of this manuscript. Every time I sit down to write it, I feel smiley and adventurous. Shakespeare in general is a world I entered in 2013, and I’m still grateful for the professor and England experience that planted my fangirl-ish love.

MORPHEUS: The second book starts updating this month! Hurray! Once the sequel is done and dusted, I have a third book on the horizon, which I’m quite excited about, because IT’S A BIG ‘OL EXPERIMENT (that could totally crash and burn). A more modern “interactive” kind of book.

In the meantime, I’m still working as a ghostwriter and doing freelance editing work (if you know someone in need, send them my way). And in the midst of all these opportunities, I have somehow managed to STILL not have my bachelor’s degree, so I’m taking classes part-time to polish off that last credit I need before graduation. Hally-fricking-looya. That’s all folks, at least for this site. Updates will happen more regularly. Stay tuned for additional news.

Welcome Pit-Madders!

Hey there!

I’m an editor with Jolly Fish Press, and if you’re here because I favorited one of your tweets, please use the following instructions:

Before you submit your manuscript, please make sure it is finished and completely proofread and edited. It should be the most perfect version, and publish-ready. Your submission should include:

  1. A one-page query.
  2. A synopsis not more than five pages.
  3. Your first three chapters.

We only accept email submissions. Include your submission in the body of the email.PLEASE DO NOT SEND YOUR SUBMISSION AS AN ATTACHMENT. WE WILL NOT OPEN IT.

You may send your submissions to: submit@jollyfishpress.com

Thanks so much–feel free to address the e-mail to me, and to include #PitMad either in your subject line or somewhere in your query letter. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.