NaNoWriMo 10% Project: 5,000 words in a month.

NaNoWriMo 10%: 5,000 words in a month.

During the month of November I will refrain from blogging in order to keep myself focused on adding 5,000 words to my work in progress. I have lovingly coined this endeavour the NaNoWriMo 10% Project which you can read about here.

This is my second year at taking on the NaNoWriMo 10% challenge. If 50,000 is too much for you, why not join me in writing 10% of that?

This page will be regularly updated so please drop by from time to time. Your encouragement is always welcome! Just click on the Like button or leave a comment. Cheers!

Please scroll to the bottom of this blog to see the progress bar.

Start Line: 5,076 words
Day 01: 5,417 words (Off to a good start. Hoping to find some time this long weekend.)
Day 02: 5,682 words (Early morning and late night edit. My protag is reunited with her sister!)
Day 03: 5,872 words (Writer’s crush on the two sisters. Writing to Sherlock Holmes soundtracks.)
Day 04: 6,068 words (Developed a scene from yesterday leading up to sisters’ deception.)
Day 05: 6,242 words (Truly struggled today, but achieved word count and edited a niggling scene.)
Day 06: 6,423 words (Gave my heroine chills and a fever. Reason yet determined.)
Day 07: 6,628 words (Expanded on yesterday’s idea, but still no reason/point in sight.)
Day 08: 6,805 words (Received constructive feedback from my critique partner tonight!)
Day 09: 7,000 words (First meeting between the central protagonist and antagonist. Game on!)
Day 10: 7,215 words (Words wouldn’t really flow today. Just glad I got through with so-so prose.)
Day 11: 7,365 words (Linking chapters 1 and 2. Need to catch up on reading some tonight though.)
Day 12: 7,594 words (Very mediocre additions to the story. Just glad to make the word count.)
Day 13: 7,761 words (Peppered my prose with welcome additions: wainscot, ruminate, ensconce.)
Day 14: 7,942 words (A no-fuss day of writing. Added a few new turns of phrase.)
Day 15: 8,109 words (Entering the 8K zone. Worked a bit in the company of some writing buddies.)
Day 16: 8,282 words (Wrote to BBC Sherlock soundtracks. Today was the most demanding yet.)
Day 17: 8,378 words (Almost gave up around 50 words, but pushed ahead to write about 100.)
Day 18: 8,705 words (Completely satisfied with my catch-up today! New addition: paroxysm.)
Day 19: 8,921 words (Got my work done earlier today, so I’m taking a break tonight.)
Day 20: 9,100 words (A bit of a struggle today but broke the 9,000 word mark.)
Day 21: 9,321 words (Edited a problematic scene tonight. Rather satisfied with the new wording.)
Day 22: 9,507 words (Began a new chapter today. Still unsure of where I’m taking it exactly.)
Day 23: 9,704 words (Finding time on the weekend is always a struggle. But I pulled through!)
Day 24: 9,814 words (Bit of a struggle today. Only got 110 words done, but added a new character.)
Day 25: 10,033 words (Hit the 10k mark today! Hooray!)
Day 26: 10,248 words (Trying to combine two chapters into one without jarring the reader.)
Day 27: 10,416 words (Managed to get my writing done at work… couldn’t do anything tonight.)
Day 28: 10,587 words (Spent a bit too much time editing, but managed to tidy up the chapters.)
Day 29: 10,800 words (Started work on a new chapter introducing the character Sarah Walcott.)
Day 30: 11,121 words (Completely satisfied with my final day of the Nanowrimo 10% Project 2013)
Finish line: 10,076 11,121 words! (+6045 [120.9% of goal])

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Shift, by Hugh Howey

Before continuing, please be aware that this review contains plot spoilers of Wool and Shift.

In the second installment, mankind brings about its downfall and forgets it ever happened.

In the second instalment, mankind brings about its downfall and forgets it ever happened.

The second instalment in Hugh Howey’s trilogy recounts the chain of events occurring across multiple silos between the years 2110 and 2345, as well as flashbacks detailing the silos’ construction and mankind’s downfall in the mid-21st century. For those who are yet to be inducted into the world of Wool, you’re in for a disappointment: Shift doesn’t read as a standalone novel. To refresh the minds of everyone else, please feel free to read my previous article.

Shift opens with a man named Troy being woken from a cryogenic sleep chamber in Silo 1. As his memories return we eventually discover that in a previous life (figuratively speaking) he was known as Congressman Donald Keene—the inadvertent architect of the doomsday silos more than half a century prior. Donald quickly learns that he and his colleagues work their “shifts” across many decades and centuries, while generation upon generation of their counterparts live out relatively natural existences in nearby silos, oblivious to their neighbours.

So how can those in Silo 1 live for so long? The answer lies in the nanotechnology that has simultaneously brought about mankind’s downfall and made him near-immortal. In the near future, invisible robots can make medical diagnoses, conduct repairs, and self-propagate, but when they are weaponized by an enemy state, America saves a select group as all life above ground is ended. Combined with a memory-wiping drug developed for trauma sufferers, only a handful of the survivors (including Donald by degrees) can remember “the time before.”

As you might expect, Shift lacks the kind of niggling questions driving the conflict of the first book (Is there only one silo? Why do people clean? What are IT hiding? Etc.), and instead invests time explaining larger themes such as the war’s origins, how the silos and some of the characters came to be (i.e. Solo), and why some silos fall where others don’t. There is, however, plenty of action and thrills to be had—the best of which is seen in the harrowing survival of Jimmy (aka Solo) in Silo 17’s fortress-like server room.

Howey’s strong suit is imagery that encapsulates the five senses, and personally I don’t think I’ll ever forget the crush of corpses behind the door in the cafeteria hall: “He lifted the limp arm and shoved it back inside, the clothes disintegrating at his touch, the flesh beneath whole and spongy.” Visually, and to run the risk of repeating myself from my prior review, the world of Wool is 100% translatable to film. First, there’s no hard science to wrap your head around; and second, it isn’t too hard to imagine a camera panning away from rows and rows of cryopods or pursuing a porter down levels and levels of staircases in scenes reminiscent of the Jason Bourne series.

The novel’s quick pace is sustained by short scenes and chapter cliff-hangers. Combined with the back-and-forth multi-storyline narrative mode, this becomes a double-edged sword in places. I often found myself saying “Get on with it, already!” after reading through dozens of pages only to find more of Donald’s conspiracy ideas and existentialist musing. Perhaps, as a reader of the claustrophobia-inducing original, this was to be expected. After all, to revisit the narrow and noisy Deep Downs would be like a magician repeating his tricks. Trumping this misgiving is Howey’s solid characterization. By revisiting previously unknown or sketchy characters like Donald and Solo, the reader is further immersed in unputdownable protagonist-antagonist conflict. No longer do we need to wonder how a man, isolated for decades on end, could accept and accompany a silo intruder. After learning his background, we already know him.

The novel ends with Wool heroine Juliette threatening Donald across the great divide via radio: “I’m sitting over here in a roomful of truth. I’ve seen the books. I’m going to dig until I get to the heart of what you people have done.” Eagle-eyed readers who didn’t set down the book after this suspenseful epilogue will have no doubt spotted the event “2550: E-Day” marked at the end of Silo 1’s chronology. So what indeed does “E” represent besides emergence, evacuation or exodus? Since an expanse of 200 years precedes this climactic event, one can only guess that all our Wool questions will be answered in the ominously titled third instalment, Dust. Luckily, it’s out next week.

To learn more about Shift, please click here. To view Hugh Howey’s official website, please click here. You can also follow @hughhowey on Twitter.

Book Details

Released: April 25, 2013
Publisher: Century
ISBN: 978- 1780891217
Format: Paperback and Hardback | 576 pages

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Call the Exterminator! Writing Tics Have Infested My Story

it took months for me to discover it.

And yet it took months for me to discover it.

When rereading my work in progress, I skip over countless words and turns of phrases that have infiltrated my story. These so-called “writing tics” elude discovery as easily as my subconscious inserts them. You may have read books from certain authors and noticed particular words or expressions that litter their prose. This, I believe, differs from “voice” because unlike the latter, it exposes the author to the reader. If not ferreted out early, writing tics establish a burrow and grow in number.

Unfortunately there is no anti-tic software at present. You must either reread and repeat or have someone else point them out for you, and even then you might not get them all.

Today I discovered two such writing tics within my opening chapter. I’ll share them with you:

And yet

This convenient phrase glues together sentences. And yet (!), I had used it a staggering six times. I even found them in consecutive paragraphs.

The second example isn’t a writing tic per se, but rather a case of inconsistency. As my story opens at an antiquarian bookstore, there are “logs” containing transaction details. Unfortunately, I referred to them in four different ways:

  • log
  • log book
  • customer log
  • receipt log

To solve my problem, I cut the list from four to two. I used “customer logs” to explain what they were and then simply “logs” thereafter.

Writing tics, once discovered, shout for attention. And no writer wants their readers doubling as exterminators.

Do you have any writing tics? Please share them by leaving a comment.

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The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon

The next Harry Potter? Not exactly.

The next Harry Potter? Not exactly.

Before continuing, please be aware that this review contains some spoilers.

The Bone Season is the first book in a proposed seven-part dystopian fantasy series by the up-and-coming young British writer and recent Oxford graduate, Samantha Shannon. Despite the misguided comparisons, let me begin by pointing out that the novel couldn’t be further from J.K. Rowling’s global hit series; between its pages you’ll find profanity, violence, drugs and sex. The central protagonist is Paige Mahoney, a streetwise and fiery nineteen-year-old who works in the criminal underworld of Scion London in the year 2059. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare type of clairvoyant who can break into and potentially destroy people’s dreamscapes (minds). In the world of Scion, her very existence amounts to treason.

When Paige is hunted down, drugged and kidnapped, she awakens in Oxford—a secret penal colony controlled by a powerful enemy race called Rephaites, or “Rephs”. These human-like creatures arrived in London when a passage between their world and ours was opened 200 years prior. In Oxford, known as Sheol I to its denizens, Paige is enslaved and assigned to Warden, a mysterious and attractive Reph who she must serve and train under. After a series of trials she is promoted to a group of “Red-jackets”—elite clairvoyants of various abilities who fight against a flesh-eating race called Emim or “Buzzers”. Paige, however, has no intention of staying or fighting. But if she is to succeed in her prison break, she must first accept her role and nurture her lethal abilities.

If you’re already confused, bear with me a little longer. Let’s clear things up by decoding the title. The Bone Season is derived from “la Bonne Saison,” French for “the good season.” This refers to the Rephs’ decadal round-up of “voyants” and “amaurotics” (non-voyant, normal humans) for the purpose of enslavement and fighting the Emim, and, as is later revealed, ulterior motives such as feeding on auras and healing their wounds with human blood.

The snappy prose and urban setting, particularly in the opening chapters, read straight from a cyberpunk thriller: Paige evading a “collection unit” across rooftops in the rain, the use of “Flux” tranquilizers in her apprehension, a “Nixie display” in the train, flexipipes and ventilation ducts, security locks, numbered Sections of the city, electronic data pads, and other staples. Having read this in the two sample chapters released prior to publication, I felt rather cheated when the protagonist was thrust into Sheol I and a simmering Reph/Voyant forbidden love story unfolded between pages and pages of flashback. To be fair to the author, much of the “explanations” we are given is standard fare in lengthy series. After all, one cannot embark on a further six novels without knowing what makes the protagonist, antagonist and their dystopian world tick.

Readers will therefore appreciate the inclusion of a map of Sheol I and a glossary of clairvoyant terminology and Victorian-era flash, i.e. slang used by the criminal class. If that isn’t enough, Shannon has even provided readers with a brief summary of “The Seven Orders of Clairvoyants” (Soothsayers, Mediums, Sensors, Augurs, Guardians, Furies, and Jumpers). While these are all fascinating in their own right, I would have much preferred this pronunciation guide prior to reading. It wasn’t until I heard the protagonist’s name pronounced in a radio interview that I discovered Paige Mahoney was actually “Page MAR-nee”. Suffice to say, some of the other Sheol I/Scion inhabitants are hit-and-miss in this regard save the ill-fated Sebastian, such as Danica Panić (Dah-NEET-sah PON-ich) and Nicklas Nygård (NICK-lass Nee-GORD). But don’t be dismayed, the author kindly repeats on her blog and Twitter feed to “pronounce them as you please.”

To bring you up to speed, Shannon gained widespread attention in May 2012 after the British and Australian media dubbed her as the next J.K. Rowling for having signed on with Bloomsbury for a six-figure deal. The comparison has gained momentum surrounding the book’s release, although Shannon herself has downplayed the claims, hoping instead for her book “to be considered in its own right.” Even so, it’s not hard to deny the Harry Potteresque hype that precluded its publication. In October last year, around the same time her official blog The Bone Season -A Book from the Beginning- gained momentum, a Facebook page was established and London-based studio The Imaginarium snapped up the film rights to the series. Enter 2013. Entertainment Weekly held the exclusive rights to the cover reveal in which they included a Q&A session and an extract from the book. Advanced reading copies began circulating, Bone Season artwork appeared and fan sites like Republic of Scion popped up, and to top it all off, America’s TODAY show launched its Book Club series with the novel on the day of its release.

The undeniable question on everyone’s minds was whether or not the book would live up to the global marketing campaign in which Bloomsbury had invested so much. According to this favorable review (contains spoilers) by the Wall Street Journal, the answer is yes. Others have remained skeptical, such as this review in the Guardian which describes the novel as a derivative fantasy debut that “gets very muddled” around its climax. Certainly, The Bone Season leaves us with more confusion than answers, and for this reason alone it cannot be easily reviewed as a stand-alone novel. Many bloggers and critics alike have placed faith in its sequel—a novel which should start with a bang and reveal traitors and twists. The novel continues to gain traction, and even at this early point in time, it’s not hard to imagine eager readers queuing yearly for the sequels.

To learn more about The Bone Season, please visit the official website, blog, or Facebook page. You can also follow @say_shannon on Twitter and view the book trailer on YouTube.

Book Details
Released: August 20, 2013 (1st edition)
Publisher: Bloomsbury (20/08/2013)
ISBN: 978-1408836422
Format: Hardback and eBook | 480 pages

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The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Gileadean social classes are codified, as seen with the row of red Handmaids on the cover.

Gileadean social classes are codified, as seen with the row of red Handmaids on the cover.

Before continuing, please be aware that this review contains some spoilers.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a 1985 dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. It recounts the experiences of a 33-year-old “Handmaid” whose purpose in life is to bear children for the ruling class family to which she is assigned.

While the underlying premise of the novel might conjure up risqué scenes in the minds of wary readers, the protagonist isn’t exactly what we’d consider a sex slave. In fact, she considers the act of breeding as perfunctory and even comical in nature, and rejects notions of “love making” and rape by reminding us: “…nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.” Even so, combined with its underlying thread of suicide and unfavorable stance on religion, it’s not hard to see why The Handmaid’s Tale has been listed in the American Library Association’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books decade on decade.

In the near-future Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian Christian theocracy, Handmaids are state-sanctioned concubines selected and trained for their assumed reproductive capabilities (in the protagonist’s case, having had a daughter in pre-Gilead times defines her fertility). Regulation of human sexuality has led to the ritualization of reproduction and childbirth and any citizen caught engaging in non-marital sexual acts or discovered to be a “Gender Traitor” (i.e. homosexual, etc.) is sentenced accordingly. Dissidents and other enemies of the state are typically rounded up by the secret police to be sent to the colonies or publically executed at “Salvagings” and displayed as examples. Hope exists for the oppressed in an underground resistance movement that sabotages infrastructure and smuggles people across borders.

Gilead is built upon a strict class system in which rumors are rife and inter-class resentment divides society. Fear of speaking out or against the state breeds paranoia and stifles cohesion, and the color-codified class and labor divisions undermine female solidarity and promote envy and competition. In order to comprehend the complex and despised position of the Handmaids, a contextual understanding of the classes is therefore required.

The highest class of women is the “Wives”—those married to officials and other elite. Wives may adopt or naturally acquire “Daughters”, while all others seek the service of Handmaids. Domestic duties of ruling-class households are undertaken by typically older and infertile subservient women known as “Marthas.” Forming the middle-class are “Econowives.” This group of fertile women is married to the non-elite and performs all domestic duties, such as childrearing and cooking. The most autonomous class is the “Aunts”—literate, unmarried and infertile women who train and watch over the Handmaids. The remaining women who cannot integrate into this social order are deemed “Unwomen” in the eyes of the state and banished to the forced labor camps, where the unlucky suffer a slow death cleaning up toxic chemicals.

The tale, as we discover in the final chapter, is thought to be a compilation of tape cassette-recorded diaries of an escaped Handmaid called Offred (i.e. belonging to Fred). This accounts for the stream-of-consciousness first-person narrative style and the interspersed memories of the protagonist’s pre-Gilead life—particularly her ill-fated escape across the Canadian border with husband and young daughter in tow. Fred is the head of the household where Offred is assigned and referred to throughout the novel as “the Commander”—denoting his high-ranking position as a “Commander of the Faithful.”

When the Commander initiates an illicit relationship with Offred, her life is turned upside down. Without any real option of refusing, she visits his room and, to her surprise, is requested to play Scrabble and kiss him “as if you meant it” upon her departure. In return for her company, she is given access to contraband, such as skin cream and magazines. The pair’s nocturnal escapades escalate from reading (Handmaids are not allowed to read or write) to a clandestine trip to a government-run brothel where Offred is briefly reunited with Moira, a prostitute and former Handmaid.

The Commander’s wife, Serena Joy, is clueless to the liaisons going on under her nose. In her own desperation to increase Offred’s chances of conceiving, she organizes a secret rendezvous between Offred and her husband’s chauffer, Nick, for the purpose. Offred submits to the request for news of her daughter and the chance to be saved from becoming an Unwoman, but finds she is unable to resist returning. In the novel’s climax, her relationship with the Commander is exposed to Serena Joy and the secret police are called to the house. Nick informs her that they are members of the “Mayday” resistance, and instead of escaping through suicide, Offred accompanies the men and makes her escape.

With dystopian novels flooding the Young and New Adult markets, how then can a novel fast approaching its 30thanniversary compete? This is where the novel’s trump card comes into play: The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t come across as dated. Perhaps this is due to—and likely unknown to the author at the time of writing—objects at the forefront of the 1980’s zeitgeist such as Scrabble and Vogue having maintained their cultural and symbolic relevance. Though mentioned sporadically, even the idea of widespread PC ownership (“Computalk”) strikes a chord with modern readers; especially in light of the recent PRISM surveillance program whistleblowing scandal. Is anyone—the Commander included—safe from Gileadean monitoring?

With its brief chapters and clever use of flashbacks, The Handmaid’s Tale is a thrilling ride into a world where ultra-conservatism and strict gender divides govern the lives of its inhabitants. Before you jump in for yourself, however, it’s worth noting that some of the scenes, such as the “Salvaging”, might be distressing for some readers. But if you’re a fan of dystopian fiction, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Atwood’s classic.

Book Details
Released: September 12, 2006
Publisher: Vintage Classics (07/10/2010)
ISBN: 978-0099511663
Format: Paperback | 336 pages

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The Time Sink Factor: Why Quitting Facebook is Conducive to Fiction Writing

Procrastinating on social media = Like?

Procrastinating on social media = Like?

Eliminating social media from your daily routine fosters something most of us writers excel at avoiding: getting words written. While this sounds commonsensical enough, it isn’t without its detractors. After all, aren’t writers supposed to actively engage with their peers, readers, bloggers, and industry professionals to boost their online presence?

While the need for writers to promote themselves and their books is common knowledge in the current traditional vs. self-publishing climate, what about those of us who haven’t completed our work in progress (let alone a first draft)? Shouldn’t we be devoting our time to the act of writing, first and foremost?

As someone writing their first novel, reconsidering the time sink factor of my social media accounts and favourite websites has proven conducive to writing. Specifically, the decision to deactivate my long-running Facebook account last week has already redirected my attention back to fiction writing. Why should I flick through photos and quips from people I haven’t seen since high school when my time could be better spent writing?

In my case, Facebook was weighing me down. For others, it might be Twitter. Or Instagram. Or Tumblr. Or Pinterest. Or something else. Whatever it is, understanding that social media-fuelled procrastination might be causing you to languish is a step toward improving your self-discipline as a writer. Once you can understand your time management, you can improve it.

But before you rush off and delete your social media accounts, remember that there is much to be learnt from the musings of others who have gone before us. Facebook, Twitter and the like can provide us with unique insights, timely advice and words of warning. Moderation, as with most everything, is the key.

Do you have a time sink? Please share your experiences by commenting!

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World War Z, by Max Brooks

Where will you be when the end begins?

Where will you be when the end begins?

Before continuing, please be aware that this review contains some spoilers.

Ever since George A. Romero’s 1968 horror film Night of the Living Dead, the idea of a global pandemic of reanimated corpses feeding on the living has intrigued and horrified people across the world. World War Z documents a decade-long “Zombie War” through a diverse range of survival stories set ten years after declaration of “Victory in China Day” (the last major country to be eradicated of the undead plague).

Unlike the film adaptation starring Brad Pitt, there aren’t any heroes who save the world or chance upon a cure. Rather, the novel’s narrator/protagonist is an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission who is recording the “human factor” of the war for future generations, and it is through his interviews that we learn humanity’s victory was underpinned by a worldwide cooperative effort and devastating trial-and-error. Suffice to say, if you approach this book expecting thrills and gore from start to finish, you’ll be howling like a zombie before you’re done.

The mind-boggling amount of research undertaken in writing World War Z is evident in the descriptions and annotations. At first glance it appears that Brooks outsourced a think-tank to devise every possible scenario a country would face during the “Great Panic,” when hordes of undead swarmed and consumed every living creature in sight. Between the factoid-packed lines are the ramifications of each country’s countermeasures to their common plight, including physical and mental health issues, decay of the urban and natural environment and countless others. Some of the information appears a little forced, such as the chapters on Japan that seem to go out of their way to insert researched terms and topics such as hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors), Ainu (an indigenous people native to northern Japan), and onsen (natural hot springs.)

But it is the shifting geo-political landscape that really captures the imagination, and Brooks takes us from the bottom of the sea to the International Space Station to piece together the fate of the major global players. Perhaps worthy of note are changes such as a democratic Cuba becoming the world’s financial center, China’s political shift to a democracy following the nuclear annihilation of its Communist leaders, the mysterious disappearance of the entire North Korean people, and a depopulated Iceland boasting the world’s highest zombie infestation.

A key factor to Brooks’ success in rehashing the zombie genre is the contributions he brings while maintaining old tropes, such as the “Chain Swarm” effect, which explains the ability for zombies to swarm after hearing the instinctive moan of distant zombies that have sighted prey. Perhaps his best creation is the idea of “Quislings”—psychologically broken humans suffering from “Z-Shock” who act as zombies and attack the non-infected. For the genre purists out there, let me point out that Brooks doesn’t stray far from convention. The zombies in World War Z are slow on their feet (if they have any), unlike the Rage virus-infected masses as seen in Twenty Eight Days Later and, to the disappointment of fans, the running and leaping zombies in this book’s film adaptation. Moreover, the zombies cannot be domesticated, cannot think for themselves, and as you may expect, are only dispatched by destruction of the brain.

In one of the climactic scenes of the novel, the U.S. military painfully discover at the “Battle of Yonkers” that modern warfare is counter-effective against an enemy that is completely devoted to the war effort and cannot have its supply lines or chain of command severed. Anti-vehicle and anti-personnel ordnance, gas and other weapons of mass destruction only serve to create more difficulties for the mostly defending armies. As the war effort continues, however, innovations in military technology and strategy allow humanity to gradually reclaim its land. Some of these include the non-jamming Standard Infantry Rifle, and the adoption of static infantry squares, a tactic in which a cohesive military unit baits and kills zombies by accuracy-based shooting marathons—a method that becomes standardized following the U.S. military’s unprecedented victory at the “Battle of Hope.”

In the aftermath of this global counter-attack, humanity is left to rebuild and clean up. Zombies still number in the millions at far-flung areas of the earth; primarily on the ocean floor or thawing in Iceland and other frigid regions. Void of cliché and deus ex machina, it was extremely satisfying to leave World War Z on this plausible denouement.

With the popularity of “zombie walks” around the world, parodies such as Shaun of the Dead, computer games such as Left 4 Dead and the recent television series, The Walking Dead, it cannot be denied that zombies are at the forefront of the zeitgeist. If you’re still feeling ravenous after this book and its film adaptation, you’ll be happy to know that Paramount has announced it is actively moving ahead with a sequel. Just don’t expect the next multi-million dollar production to slow down the mobility of the undead.

Book Details
Released: September 12, 2006
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (first edition)
ISBN: 978-0307346612
Format: Paperback (hardcover, e-book, audio book also available) | 342 pages

Have you read World War Z or seen the film? Please share your thoughts by commenting!

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The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Before continuing, please be aware that this review contains some spoilers.

The Night Circus arrives without warning.

The Night Circus arrives without warning.

Le Cirque des Rêves (the Circus of Dreams) is a travelling circus of contortionists, acrobats, animals, illusions and unworldly imagination. It arrives without warning. Even its most loyal fans, known as “Rêveurs”, cannot predict the exact date and location the mysterious night circus will choose to appear. When it does arrive, however, the deathly silent black and white tents beckon both children and adults alike, who stand entranced at its gates below a warning that trespassers will be “exsanguinated” (drained of blood). The only perceivable sound and movement comes from an elaborate clock ticking away the hours. At long last, night falls and the gates open. Le Cirque des Rêves awakens. Step up, step up, the show is about to begin!

This spellbinding book is the 2011 debut novel of U.S. writer Erin Morgenstern. Set in the late nineteenth century in the years 1873–1903 and spanning over a dozen cities, The Night Circus tells the nonlinear story of Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, two rivals who have been raised to compete by proxy in a battle of magic for Prospero the Enchanter and Mr. A.H., respectively. Their arena is Le Cirque des Rêves. But when the star-crossed illusionists fall desperately in love with one another, the game switches gears. With the balance of the circus in their hands and the stakes set high, who will be left standing?

It would be impossible to review this book without mentioning Morgenstern’s alternating points of view (POV) and use of present tense. The novel begins in the second person POV in present tense (i.e. “You see a man.”). This typically unpopular use of perspective could be regarded as a risky gamble for a debut author, but its sporadic use enables us to experience the magic of Le Cirque des Rêves as a ticket holder. While first person POV could similarly achieve this, by having our actions dictated by the author, we assume an entranced state as though our thoughts are being manipulated by the performers before us. This effectively reflects what performing magicians do to their audiences in the theatre.

If you’re not a fan of second person POV, don’t be alarmed just yet. The central story is told in present tense but from an omniscient POV. This combination allows us to engage the scenes ‘as they happen’ to encourage a sense of immediacy and increase tension, while the omniscient narrator contributes otherwise unknown facts, details and other tidbits. The latter can bog down some scenes with unnecessary description, and a cull of this might have boosted the overall pacing to what is an almost 500-word novel. The cinematic chapters work well to salvage this by allowing us to shift between characters and countries at a heightened pace, and if you’re reading this book on the go, you won’t have any trouble reaching the end of your chapter.

When the figurative curtain fell, however, I left this novel wondering if I was the only reader who failed to recognize what exactly the high-stakes game was or what it was supposed to have entailed other than a building block battle of new tents and attractions. To the reader’s frustration, the protagonists fail to weasel out clear-cut rules from their mentors until it’s too late. With nothing but cryptic answers to go on, to the novel’s detriment, both the protagonists and readers assume an air of indifference. In the ensuing whirlwind of besotted and spurned lovers, murders and a deranged proprietor, the story unravels without sufficient explanation. We spend so much time wondering what the game is while it is played out before our eyes. Another spanner in the works is the final twist that one of the circus performers is, in fact, a former protégé of Mr. A.H. and game survivor.

The anticlimactic plotting and melodramatic romance element only detracts further. Certainly, it takes less than two-thirds of the book to figure out that the central story is on a collision course with the 1902 Massachusetts subplot, which is at times more fascinating than the two protagonists and their love triangle non-dilemma. In this regard, the 10-page chapter entitled “Truth or Dare,” where Bailey accepts his sister’s challenge to break into the slumbering circus, is by far the most captivating scene of the novel. It almost reads as an alternate and more promising version of what The Night Circus could have been.

Nevertheless, Morgenstern’s world building keeps the story afloat, and although I was slightly disappointed Le Cirque des Rêves didn’t fulfill my expectations as a venue to rival Ray Bradbury’s sinister carnival in Something Wicked This Way Comes, her magical circus, rain soaked streets and gaslit coffee houses kept the pages turning. In this regard, The Night Circus is an intricately crafted feat of great imagination. While Morgenstern’s plot appears transparent at times, the story nonetheless beguiles in its illusory and lush description. If you want to escape into a fantasy world for the evening, all you need to do is visit the circus of dreams.

To learn more about The Night Circus, please visit the author’s website to view the official book trailer as well as a special new scene to commemorate the paperback release. You can also follow @erinmorgenstern on Twitter and visit the official Facebook page.

Book Details
Released: May 24, 2012
Publisher: Vintage (a Random House imprint)
ISBN: 978-0099554790
Format: Paperback (hardcover, e-book also available) | 512 pages

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What’s in a Name?

Just how important is your character's name?

Just how important is your character’s name?

Atticus Finch.

Scarlett O’Hara

Ebenezer Scrooge.

Huckleberry Finn.

Everyone knows that aptly named characters live well after their story has been told. While selecting an appropriate name is only part of the characterisation process, how do you know when you’ve found the right one? Will your book be any less publishable because you named your protagonist Silver instead of Simon?

It’s important to remember that unique names aren’t the golden rule to creating successful characters. Common names also play their part. Take, for instance, Harry Potter. Readers can easily identify with him because the story plays to the tried and tested premise of “ordinary boy/girl discovers he/she is actually a <insert special revelation here>”. If his name was unique, the extraordinary idea of a normal boy being whisked off to a school for witches and wizards would lose its charm.

In this endless sea of possibilities, how do you decide? Do you fill your work in progress with NAME, BOB or PROTAG until you’ve found the perfect name? Does it even matter?

When I set out writing, my lead character had the cringeworthy name of Willow (surname pending). In hindsight, I didn’t really give it much thought.

Let me emphasise here that there’s nothing wrong with this choice per se, but when it became clear that this character was to be revealed as a witch in what looked to be the beginnings of a high fantasy novel, the cliché alarm started ringing (Buffy, anyone?).

Two years on, my WiP had shaken off the fantasy genre tag and the heroine in question had survived as many as four name changes. The most recent and—fingers crossed—final one, was on Monday. The name came like an epiphany and I think it’ll stick. Just for the record, my central protagonist’s new given name is Lucié. Yes, that’s an acute accent on the ‘e’ and no, she’s not a vampire-slaying witch.

So why so many name changes?

To begin with, I wanted the name to be pronounceable, feminine, and believable for its setting. I was actually quite content with the previous incarnation until last week, when its unfortunate—and equally cringeworthy—resemblance to someone famous occurred to me. Suffice to say, it had to go.

The names of my characters always carry meaning (metaphorical, personal or otherwise) and it is for this reason alone I would never use an instant/random name generator. As you may guess, Lucié contains a hidden meaning that is non-existent in the simpler ‘Lucy’.

Other factors influencing my name choices include character age and personality. In Lucié’s case, the juvenile sound of the name emphasises her youth and naïve disposition. Incidentally, her younger sister’s name is Isabel. But I won’t go into the background of that today.

While the name Lucié might not tickle every reader’s fancy, it seems the most apt for a character I have spent developing over the past year and a half. If I had to pick its fault, it would be its visual appearance when apostrophised due to the tail end acute accent. E.g. “Lucié’s pocket watch is missing.” Mind you, not every paragraph has her name in possessive form (two examples in my current 2,200 word draft) so I am not too bothered by this inconvenience.

Have you made sudden name changes or had them suggested by your agent/editor? Please share your experience by commenting!

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Wake in Fright, by Kenneth Cook

“New to The Yabba?” marks the protagonist’s downward spiral in this outback horror tale.

“New to The Yabba?” marks the protagonist’s downward spiral in this outback horror tale.

Before continuing, please be aware that this review contains some spoilers.

This 1961 Australian classic recounts the physical and psychological depravities a young school teacher experiences after falling into the alcoholic vortex of coerced “mateship” (companionship) in the fictional town of Bundanyabba. “The Yabba,” as its residents call it, was inspired by Broken Hill, an outback mining town in western New South Wales.

Cook quickly whets our desire for an ice-cold beer with stifling passages on the dry Australian bush before plonking us down on a bar stool alongside hapless protagonist John Grant. What we see, however, is a violent drinking culture marred by a mentality of “you’re either in or you’re out.” If the cover of this 2012 edition isn’t hint enough, let’s just say that more than a few beers flow through the veins of Wake in Fright. The consequences of these binges are sickening enough, and I can guarantee you’ll leave this novel in desperate want of a shower.

The school term is over. John Grant, a young schoolteacher with a fresh pay packet and six weeks of paid holiday leave before him, catches the “Friday Train” from Tiboonda, a rural township comprising a hotel, school and railway siding. Grant’s destination is Sydney. There, he can soak in the sea and meet Robyn, the girl of his dreams. After a six-hour journey, Grant arrives in Bundanyabba to spend the night before resuming his journey. This stopover, however, marks the beginning of his drunken nightmare.

The taxi driver establishes the novel’s small-town tone with the grating stock question, “New to The Yabba?” Grant, in his desperation to escape the banality of the Australian Outback, where “a man felt he had either to drink or blow his brains out,” is loath to sit through local patriotism and quickly adopts a condescending manner. To call The Yabba the “best place in Australia” (and later, “the world”) beggars belief. But as Grant soon discovers, and much to his dismay, the locals cannot accept why anyone would think otherwise.

In typical Australian hospitality, Grant’s hosts, the first of whom is policeman Jock Crawford, “shout” (treat) him round after round of beers, and he soon finds himself unable to refuse. Is there an ulterior motive behind Bundanyabba’s acceptance of strangers? At this point in the novel, Grant appears to be the victim of circumstance, but his eventual demise owes itself to a series of alcohol-fuelled errors in judgment.

Crawford takes the now-intoxicated Grant to buy a steak at the “School”, where the illicit entertainment of Two-up is played—a game in which players double or lose their winnings based on the outcome of coins tossed in the air. Captivated by the simplicity of “the Game”, Grant bets seventeen pounds and ten shillings. With beginner’s luck on his side, he soon scurries back to his hotel with two hundred pounds in his pocket. What follows, however, is his complete and utter downfall. Hungry for more, Grant returns to and loses the lot, including his pay check.

The ensuing chain of events reduces Grant to the very person he formerly despised, leaving the reader gobsmacked at his wretched transformation. We don’t need to look far to understand that alcohol, coupled with peer-pressure, provided the impetus. This, incidentally, is where the novel’s title plays its part. When asked the meaning of “wake in fright” in a 2012 interview, film director Ted Kotcheff said:

“It comes from an Australian folk-saying. ‘May you dream of the devil and wake in fright.’ And it means that there is a dark side in all of us. …the idea is that it is frightening to wake up to the reality of who you are and what you’re capable of.”

As someone who was born and raised in Australia, it doesn’t surprise me that Wake in Fright appears on many secondary school English reading lists nationwide. Cook’s novel, now more than fifty years old, is just as relevant today in its critique of contemporary drinking culture. Cook manages this without preaching teetotalism and casts Australia’s otherwise friendly drinking culture in a shocking albeit thought-provoking light.

In a country where the legal drinking age is eighteen, drive-thru bottle-o’s (alcohol retailers) cater to the masses’ choice of poison and Friday night evenings typically begin at beer o’clock, it’s no wonder this hard-hitting tale, especially its film release, wasn’t received with rave reviews domestically. There’s certainly nothing good to be said of certain pockets of society who can only interact through bouts of excessive drinking. Wake in Fright reveals the extreme ramifications—psychological, sexual and spiritual—of such alcoholism and the kind of society it creates, and is perhaps best summed up by Grant’s own observations:

“Peculiar trait of the western people, thought Grant, that you could sleep with their wives, despoil their daughters, sponge on them, defraud them, do almost anything that would mean at least ostracism in normal society, and they would barely seem to notice it. But refuse to drink with them and you immediately became a mortal enemy. What the hell?”

What the hell indeed.

To learn more about Wake in Fright, please click here to view book details, links to clips from the film, and other information.

Book Details
Released: April 26, 2012 (first published 1961)
Publisher: Text Publishing
ISBN: 978-1921922169
Format: Paperback (e-book also available) | 224 pages

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