Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review: The Speed of Dark

Finished reading The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Bottom Line: 4 out of 5 stars; recommended. Best suited for high school readers and up.

For a summary, see the Wikipedia entry here.

My review (includes spoilers):

Lou Arrendale, the autistic protagonist of The Speed of Dark, is very adept at noticing patterns. If he were to read this book, he might recognize a pattern that went something like this: extreme brilliance / kind of slow/ extreme brilliance / a bit dull / extreme brilliance / rather boring / extreme brilliance.

My brain doesn't recognize patterns quite as well as Lou's (or my son's, for that matter), but that was the feeling I had while reading TSoD, the 2003 Nebula Award winner for Best Novel. Elizabeth Moon has a son on the autism spectrum, which I'm sure provided her with a lot of source material for Lou's character, but she goes into a level of detail (on a variety of subjects) that just screamed "hundreds of hours of research." It was awe-inspiring, but also provided moments where I was able to exhale and comfortably put the book down for a while to take a break (my most favorite books are always the ones that I have to forcibly tear myself away from.)

Moon does an excellent job at painting a representative picture of how a person on the spectrum may behave and what they may be thinking. There were a lot of similarities between Lou and Joel Suzuki, the protagonist of my book, and whenever I noticed one, I thought, "cool, I was on the right track." At times, I felt like there were a little too many autism-isms, but that's probably because I'm already familiar with a lot of the characteristics that she was trying to illustrate.

Spoilers coming below!

The aforementioned moments of extreme brilliance are emotional and riveting. I looooved the part where Lou calmly disarms Don by noticing and following Don's patterns of movement. Also very gripping were the parts where Lou ponders whether "normal" people are actually any happier than folks on the spectrum.

I have a little quibble with the ending, which, to me, communicated that once Lou was "cured" of autism, he was then able to accomplish this glamorous dream of becoming an astronaut (leaving his mundane office job behind), and that he no longer felt the same attraction to Marjory. I understand that Moon did not want to romanticize autism, but I would have preferred it if Lou had stepped into the unknown of receiving the treatment, and then found out that he was still largely the same person after all.

Overall, the moments of brilliance far outweigh the slower passages, and my criticisms of the book stem mostly from my personal biases. TSoD is a moving, thoughtful, and powerful work that is well-deserving of its Nebula Award.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Writing Process

People often ask me, "How long did it take to write your book?" (They are, of course, referring to Secret of the Songshell, since that's the only book I've written so far. I'm working on the second one in the series now. Really. I am. Seriously.)

The short answer to that question is "four months." That's how long it took me to write the first draft. However, I spent around a year prior to that developing the idea, working on an outline (or two, or three) and writing an initial 40 pages that ended up in the recycle bin. After the first draft was done, I then spent another year+ rewriting, editing, and formatting.

So in all, SotS was more like 2.5 years in the making. That's crazy when I think about it. I'm sure that Book Two won't take that long. I'm sure! I will keep telling myself that!

When writing the first draft of SotS, I set a goal of 400 words a day, no matter what. Even if it was 400 words of incomprehensible garbage. Even if it was just typing "Joel Joel Joel" over and over again until I got to 400. The main thing was to get the words out, and then fix them later on if need be (no wonder I spent over a year rewriting.)

That was the beauty of working from an outline - as long as I had a vague idea of where the story was supposed to go, then I could at least stumble my way from Point A to Point B on the days (or late nights) when I really didn't feel like writing. It was like:

Me (thinking to myself): Okay, the outline says that Joel, Felicity, Marshall and Greenseed are supposed to ride along the Coast of Fang on their way to the Caves of Wrath. All right, here we go. Ummm

Me (typing): "Joel and the others rode along the Coast of Fang, on their way to the Caves of Wrath."

Me (thinking to myself): Woohoo! That's, uh, fifteen...sixteen...seventeen...eighteen words! Just 382 more to go! I will take a short break now to drink a beer and watch Mariners baseball.

(For those of you who haven't bought the book yet, please note: I AM BEING FACETIOUS. Really. I am. Seriously. Did I mention I spent over a year doing rewrites?)

So anyway, that was my writing process for SotS. It worked pretty well for me because I'm one of those kinds of people who, if I don't meet some arbitrary self-imposed goal, I beat myself up and feel like crap for hours afterwards. If you're like that too, and you want to write a book, I would definitely recommend this approach. Start now! Go!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday Confessional

Okay, I have a shocking confession to make. At a Halloween gig at the Hard Rock Cafe a number of years ago, I dressed up in a blonde wig and I...oh, wait, not that confession. Never mind.

No, today's shocking confession is this: I didn't start reading the Harry Potter series until after Deathly Hallows was already out. There. I said it. Whew.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I loooooove the Boy Who Lived and all of his cohorts, to the point where I'll put on a DVD of Half-Blood Prince just to have as wallpaper and background noise while I do chores around the house.

But this wasn't always the case. During the series' entire hysterical rampage through the literary world during the late '90s and early 2000s, I resisted. I refused to get sucked into the hype. I spent my childhood (and, yes, parts of my adulthood as well) inhaling fantasy books of every stripe, from the requisite Tolkein reading to The Elfstones of Shannara to The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to the Deryni novels to holy cow this list could go on and on forever, and when I heard the Potter premise about a young boy who finds out he's a wizard and then goes to a boarding school where he learns magic, I thought: meh. How could this newcomer possibly measure up?

And the more notoriety the series gained, the more I stayed away. Now, I myself realize how ridiculous it is to shun something just because it's popular (especially if you haven't tried it yourself), but hey, that's the space I was in at the time.

Then a friend told me: just try it. Give it a chance. I'll even lend you my copies, she said. So I sighed and said, all right.

At that moment, my life literally changed.

Sometimes things are massively popular because they actually deserve to be. What a concept, right? I fell in love with these books (although Goblet of Fire was still a bit of a slog), and they were a huge source of inspiration when I was writing my first novel. By the time I got to Deathly Hallows, I couldn't put the thing down. And that, to me, is the sign of a great book: something that makes you postpone real life - eating; sleeping; caring for dependents - while you read just one more chapter. And one more. And one more.

So, thanks, Ms. Rowling, for creating this wonderfully entertaining and inspiring series. And yes, I bought my own copies.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Randomness

Still jazzed about Wednesday's perfect game by Felix Hernandez. I've always been a fan of dominant performances, whether in sports, music, or whatever. It's fun and inspiring to see a master of their craft at their finest. I'll have more to say about this subject later.

Just finished reading Into the Wild, the first book in the Warriors series. Very fun story, and now I have a clue about why my former cat, Mindy, used to vanish for days at a time. Recommended for readers around 8-11 years old and people like me who also enjoy that kind of stuff.

Started playing Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. I'm doing these totally out of order; I finished Twilight Princess first, then Skyward Sword. I tend to be late to the party a lot (I'm halfway through The Help only now). These Zelda games are simply awesome. Although I assume you already knew that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Favorite Quote Of The Day

From the website:

There’s an old saying in publishing: “If you need an answer right now, the answer is no.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rock For Autism

Had a great time this past Saturday at Rock For Autism, a benefit concert/silent auction for the Children's Occupational Therapy Charitable Trust. One of my bands (*shameless self-promotion alert*), Second Player Score, hit the stage around 12:30, and my guitar hit the stage, literally, around 1pm. I've just got to get that strap lock fixed once and for all. Anyway, after years of constant abuse, my poor Les Paul finally decided that it had had enough and chose not to stay in tune after that. Fortunately, we had only one more song to go, our wonderfully punkish cover of The Police's Synchronicity II, made even punkier by the fact that I played the entire thing in some sort of strange F-A#-C#-A-C-D tuning.

So many people to thank: Lisa from PDX Pediatrics; the other acts that shared the stage with us (Ramble On; Butterfly Breakdown; The Lucy Hammond Band; Ethan - awesome voice, dude; and the great solo singer/guitarist whose name I missed because I was running around like crazy); all the people that bought my book and/or bid on it at the silent auction; my booth neighbors Duncan Saffir from Goddesses At Play and Courtney Freitag from Spectrums Magazine; and, of course, everyone that came out to see us play and support a great cause at the same time. You guys rock.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Reasons Why The Dambuilders Rock:

10. The bass player is the lead singer. Seems like all of the bands that have lead singer/bassists are cool (The Police, Rush, Motorhead, Primus, Slayer, local Portland band The Crash Engine, etc.)

9. Joan Wasser. Great violin lines, and the male/female vocal thing is super hot

8. The costumes for the Against the Stars album

7. A band name that is original yet simple

6. 50 songs for 50 states

5. Any band with song titles like "Slo-Mo Kikaida" and "Kill Haole Day" is automatically awesome

4. Dave and Eric are from Hawaii

3. Catchy-as-hell songs that are accessible yet still interesting

2. Face-melting live shows

1. This video

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Weekend

Just got done with the three-day Willamette Writers conference. Like always, it was a great experience - seeing old friends, making new ones, and absorbing tons of information. I highly recommend it for all authors and screenwriters. You can pitch your project to agents, attend great workshops, and network with fellow creatives. And you just might run into a celebrity or two.

It still amazes me how many people I come across whose lives are touched by the austism spectrum in some way. Either they're related to or know someone on the spectrum, they teach classes for special needs kids, or they're on the spectrum themselves. And the conference was no exception, both this year and last.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Indie Review Thursday - Wicked Scarlet

DISCLAIMER: I know these folks personally. In fact, I know them so personally that I wouldn't be afraid to post a negative review if it was warranted.

Wicked Scarlet - Frankly, My Dear (CD)

Unlike a lot of what passes for “rock” these days, this album actually does rock, in a straightforward, throwback manner that is just plain fun to listen to. Passionate dual female lead vocals (and harmonies by the other members on top of that), virtuoso guitar work, strong and solid rhythm section…Heart meets Van Halen, perhaps? Or for a different generation, maybe some Veruca Salt sprinkled over a plate of Foo Fighters…either way, Frankly, My Dear makes for ideal listening when cranked up in your car stereo as you’re cruising down the freeway, or maybe engaged in more, ahem, intimate activities. My favorite tracks include Can’t Take It, Without You, Light of Lonely (totally lighter-worthy), and Basket Boy #9. Buy this album. Now.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

2012 is 7/12s Over. Commence Panicking

It's August already. How in the world did that happen?

Have you ever thought to yourself "ten years ago, I was doing (this), and the world was like (that)." It's a fun little exercise to reflect on what has changed and what hasn't. Sometimes, even short time frames provide a sense of "wow, did that really happen?" (Four months ago, I had no idea that I would be self-publishing my novel.)

If you told me three years ago that in August 2012, Matt Hasselbeck would be a Titan, Brandon Roy would be a Timberwolf, and Ichiro would be a Yankee, I would have laughed.