Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review - The Handmaid's Tale

Photo credit: Goodreads

It took me two weeks, but I finally finished THE HANDMAID'S TALE. I have mixed feelings. There were times when I was really enjoying it, but there were also times when I found myself getting distracted and wandering away.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE is set in the future, but not very far. Due to the declining birth rate and the declining morals, a radical group of Christians systematically wrested control from the government, establishing their own laws and order. Women are again the property of men. They are no longer permitted to walk around freely outside, read, or hold jobs. They are sectioned off into one of four positions: Wives, Marthas (who cook, clean, watch the children, and do the general grunt work), Aunts (who are responsible for, among other things, the training and discipline of other women), and Handmaid's, who are given to powerful men with the express purpose of getting pregnant and having their children.

The book follows a Handmaid named Offred, who has been given to a Commander. Offred spends a lot of time sitting and thinking about the past, and I think that's part of what gave the book such a sluggish feel. I understand the necessity, since it paints a great picture of the juxtaposition of her old and new lives, but there are interesting things that happen to her even now. Not a lot, but some, and I didn't feel those, particularly her relationship with the Commander, weren't given enough page space.

I also felt this book represented a pretty wild extreme scenario. Through the flashbacks of Offred's life, she tried to show the natural progression between where we are now and where they wound up, but I just couldn't see it happening. Maybe it's naive of me, or maybe it wasn't explained well, but I still felt like it required a pretty big leap to get back to the total subjugation of women. It was different than when I read Neal Shusterman's UNWIND series, and I could see that with one or two things going wrong, we could actually wind up in that world. I didn't get that feeling with this book.

And then there was the ending. I don't want to give away any spoilers for those who haven't read it yet, but I was not pleased by the ending. Talk about unsatisfying.

There were good points too, of course. It was a very well-written book. I liked her use of run-on sentences and seemingly unconnected paragraphs to give Offred a distinct narrative voice. And I suppose there was realism within the world she'd created. While I'd have liked to see something bigger and more dramatic, the roles of the characters were consistent within the story. It made sense that they all acted the way they did.

This has been on my to-read list for a while, so I'm glad I finally got a chance to. It was a good read, even if it won't earn a place on my list of favorite books of all-time. I'd give it a 3 out of 5.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Grammar Check - The Semicolon

This month's Grammar Check deals with a subject near and dear to my heart: the semicolon. The semicolon is that funny looking little colon-comma that seems to terrify people with its mere presence. In its wake it leaves confusion or sometimes even derision. I had someone once tell me that the only people who use semicolons are snobs.

Well, if that's true, call me Madam Snob because I love the semicolon. It's the perfect punctuation to properly articulate how I think--in run-on sentences with too-brief pauses between thoughts. And that's what a semicolon is made for (shh, ignore the fact that I just ended a sentence with a preposition during a grammar lecture).

To put it more clearly, the semicolon separates two complete clauses with a pause that's shorter than a period.

A clause is another word for a sentence. A complete clause has a subject and a verb. So another way to think of this is that a semicolon can always be replaced by a period. The pause between the sentences would be longer, so they might not sound exactly the same as they do in your head, but you'll be grammatically clear.

The semicolon cannot be replaced by the comma in this instance. Ever.

Here are a few examples:

    Moira ran to the store; she was out of milk.
    Moira ran to the store. She was out of milk.
    Moira ran to the store, she was out of milk.

There is a time when you use the semicolon to replace a comma, but it very specifically relates to lists. Normally, when you have a list of items in the same sentence, you separate them with commas: I'm going to help my mother, my brother, and my uncle. But occasionally you need to use a comma within that list. Instead of creating confusion by throwing extra commas around, some get replaced by semicolons: I'm going to help my mother, Tanya; my brother, Stu; and my uncle, Rodrigo.

When you're deciding whether or not to use a semicolon, think about how you want the sentence to sound. There's music to the written word. Should there be a long pause, a period or ellipsis, to create drama and tension? Should the sentences tumble quickly, tied together with commas and semicolons, to build the pace? Does your character blather on without pausing for rest? Semicolons are there to help you keep your sentences from becoming too muddled and hard to read in those moments.

If there are any topics you want me to cover in this series, leave me a comment or email me at

Friday, February 20, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday - Green-Eyed Monster

Prompt: Why Didn't It Happen To Me?

Green-Eyed Monster

Okay, I'll be honest. I get jealous easily. When something good happens to someone I know--be they friend, family, or foe--I think, "Why couldn't that be me? Why didn't that happen to me?"

So when Beth called me and told me she'd won the grant to do research in Spain for a month, I was thankful she couldn't see how green I turned. Sure, I said all the right words and, to some extent, I honestly meant them. But I also thought petty, angry things, about how I deserved it more and how her research wasn't really worth funding. To some extent, I honestly meant them too, but it was mostly just the jealousy speaking.

I helped her pack and even offered her a ride to the airport, trying to keep my demons from getting the upper hand on my better angels. Mostly I succeeded, even if I did have a few choice words for you, journal, late at night. But I saw Beth off with a smile on my face, the bitterness mostly eradicated.

Four hours later, we saw the news that her plane had gone down somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. There were no survivors.

Jealousy is a fickle beast. On a dime, you can go from, "Why not me?" to, "What if that were me?" But as I sat there at her funeral today, I kept thinking the same thought over and over.

Why didn't that happen to me?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Writing Update

Finally, after months of sitting on a round of comments from my beta readers, I managed to get another draft of Pack Supremacy completely edited. Hooray!

I feel a lot better about this version than I did about the previous few. This draft was a relatively major overhaul of the story. Most of the core bits stayed the same, but I dramatically increased a part of Quinn's narrative in an effort to cut down on the amount of time she spends sitting in an office moping and talking to herself. It also allowed me to cut out several scenes between her and another character that really served no purpose.

That said, I always send a draft to my betas with the same comment: "I have no idea if this is good or complete gibberish." It always seems to me like during the editing process I take everything I wrote, throw it up into the air, and hope it lands in a reasonable order. Scenes that used to be in chapter 4 now don't appear until chapter 23. That revelation that Quinn had at the end of the book is suddenly bumped up to about a third of the way through. Because I've read it so many times and I know what's supposed to be happening, I can never tell if anyone else is going to understand who's who and what's going on.

I like to think of writing like a patchwork quilt. You start out with some fabric that's pretty nice on its own, but then, in the second draft, you find other fabric that's also nice and you sew some together. Then you share it with people, and they offer suggestions as to another pattern that might work, and you add some of that. And again and again, until you have either a beautiful quilt or a clashing, misshapen array of fabric squares.

In case you're wondering, I don't quilt. So that entire paragraph might not make sense.

Anyway, this is intended as an update. What's next for me? While I wait for feedback on this draft, I'm going to do two things. The first, like I talked about a couple weeks ago, is to make a few charts and lists for The Capitoline Hill Chronicles, namely a timeline and a character list so I can stop guessing every time I need to address one of those two things.

And the second is a new project, though one I've talked about before. I'm finally going to begin seriously outlining the currently untitled story about Bex Addison. I've been tossing this plot around for a couple years now, and I'm really excited to get started working on it. I'll post more about it goes along.

Friday, February 13, 2015

TV Review - The Flash

I should begin by saying that I'm relatively apathetic toward superhero fiction. I've seen a few of the movies (The Avengers, Iron Man, X-Men) and I watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I've never read any of the comics, I don't remember watching the cartoons as a kid, and my entire knowledge of the mythos and backstories comes from listening with half an ear as friends talk about it.

And I love The Flash.

For those who are unfamiliar with the premise, it's about a man named Barry Allen who, after being struck by lightning when a particle accelerator explodes nearby, wakes up to find he has superspeed (among other powers). Together with a team of scientists from S.T.A.R. Labs (Harrison Wells, Caitlin Snow, and Cisco Ramon) and a detective/Barry's father figure (Joe West), they save the world from other people with powers, who they call metahumans.

This show hits all the right buttons for me. The episode plots are exciting, and they don't drive away those of us who were mostly unfamiliar with The Flash before this show. They're taking the time to explain the characters' histories and relationships. If there are little nudges and winks to those who already know the series, I don't feel like everyone's getting it but me, and I don't feel like I'm missing out because I don't understand them.

Normally I'm not a huge fan of big series conspiracy arcs (who killed Beckett's mother in Castle, who is Red John in The Mentalist, etc.), but there's really no getting around them with a superhero show. They all have a driving force, and this is no different. When Barry was a little kid, his mother was killed by a superfast man in a yellow suit, and his father went to jail for her murder. But even this has been handled pretty well so far. While it's a huge underlying part of the series and the impetus for most of Barry's actions, the audience hasn't been sledgehammered with it much. And the bits of information we've been given have only served to whet my appetite rather than fill me up.

The characters are fantastic, every one of them. The more reviews I do, the more you'll come to understand just how important that is to me. I'll forgive just about any other sin if I like the characters enough, and The Flash nails it with almost everybody. The only one I could really do without is Iris, Joe's daughter and Barry's love interest. Otherwise, every week I find a different character to be the most interesting person on the show. And the dynamic between them, especially the familial bond between Barry and Joe, is developing beautifully.

For someone who seesawed on whether I was actually going to watch this series, it's really become must-see TV for me each week. In fact, I'm already looking forward to the next episode.

The Flash airs at 8:00 on Tuesdays on the CW.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - 2/10/15

Photo credit: Goodreads

I just checked this out from the library, so technically I haven't even started reading it yet, but I will soon. It's been on my to-read list for a while, and I'm looking forward to finally getting to it.

It is the world of the near future, and Offred is a Handmaid in the home of the Commander and his wife. She is allowed out once a day to the food market, she is not permitted to read, and she is hoping the Commander makes her pregnant, because she is only valued if her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she was an independent woman, had a job of her own, a husband and child. But all of that is gone now...everything has changed.

The rules for Teaser Tuesday are:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
  • Then hit up Should Be Reading to add your link.

And the teaser:

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday - I Didn't Say a Word

Prompt: I Didn't Go There

I Didn't Say a Word

Warning: This flash fiction contains some adult language.

When Jada told me she thought Victor was cute, I didn't say a word.

When she told me they'd gone out for dinner and he'd paid for her meal, I didn't say a word.

When she told me he had a wife, I didn't say a word.

When she told me they'd slept together, I didn't say a word.

When she told me he was going to leave his wife for her, I didn't say a word.

When she called him a bastard for not leaving his wife (and his wife a bitch for "holding him hostage"), I didn't say a word.

When she said she should stop seeing him but went back for more, I didn't say a word.

But when she finally told me Victor had dumped her, that he wanted to fix things his wife, I leaned forward, looked her in the eyes, and said, "That's because he's always loved me more than he ever wanted to fuck you."

And then I walked away.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Every project is a learning experience

I've been putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for as long as I can remember. I have five completed novels (six, if you count Pack Supremacy), a double handful of short stories, a hundred or so flash fictions (including fanfiction), and folders and folders of half-started projects. I've learned something new with every single one. And I still have a lot to learn.

Sometimes I take my writing abilities for granted. I feel like I can sit down at any time and pound out a story that may not be polished and perfect, but will at least be coherent and engaging. And so I don't think about perfecting my craft the way I probably should. Though I have a pile of writing books, I'm lucky to make it through a couple chapters of them. I don't traverse blogs looking for tips and tricks. I go to one writing conference a year, and that's because it's local and I can sleep in my own bed.

I don't even write as often as I should. It's hard to find time everyday, but not as hard as I've made it out to be in my mind. I could sacrifice an hour in front of the TV or a half hour of reading during my lunch break. I could push myself outside my comfort zone to see what it feels like to write contemporary or epic fantasy or literary.

But even with all my bad habits, I'm learning as I go. I'm noticing it acutely as I edit Pack Supremacy. I finished the first draft of Pack Mentality back in late 2012/early 2013. Since they're in the same series, details I included in PM are obviously incredibly important in PS. And I catch myself thinking, "Oh, I wish I'd done THAT in book 1," or, "I really shouldn't have included that bit so early."

I find I've learned a lot about the process of writing too. I really winged it when when I was writing Pack Mentality. I'm not sure I expected to actually finish it, so I have basically no notes. Which means I'm spending a ton of time checking for timeline continuity and making sure my character descriptions don't change from one page to the next. At some point (probably after this draft is done), I'm going to have to sit down and make lists and charts and maybe even maps because it's just getting ridiculous at this point. But it would have been a lot easier if I'd done this from the beginning.

Hopefully these are things I'll take with me as I work on my future books. I don't always learn from my mistakes, but if I can execute a few of these changes, it will give me room to learn new lessons once I get there.