Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Series Review: Anita Blake Vampire Hunter Series

Whaddya know?  Another vampire/werewolf love triangle series!  Okay, by the tenth book it's more like a love hexagon with aspirations of becoming a dodecahedron, but you get my point.
Written by Laurell K. Hamilton (, the series is dark and twisted.
Series Overview:  The series begins as a cross between a murder mystery and supernatural fiction.  I'm not a huge mystery fan, but the supernatural element gave it that extra zing.
Anita is a self proclaimed tough cookie and I'm not going to argue. She kicks a lot of supernatural ass.  Living in St Louis in an alternate reality where vampires and shapeshifters not only exist, but are publicly acknowledged, Anita is an official "Vampire Hunter" commissioned by the government for those times when you just have to deal with those pesky vampires.  Was your daughter bitten and murdered by vampires?  Want to make sure she doesn't rise as one of the living dead?  Who do you call?  Ghostbus…er…Anita Blake!  She'll come and stake your little princess and send her back to the afterlife.  Minimal fees are involved.
But that's just her day job.  At night she is an animator.  Dad forget to let anyone know the combination to the family safe before he died?  No problem.  Anita to the rescue!  For a nominal charge, she'll animate your father's corpse and let you ask him any question your little heart desires.  Sending him back to his grave is included in the fee.  What a bargain!
As if being a vampire hunter and animator weren't enough, she also freelances for the local supernatural police task force.  Because of her experience in the supernatural, she is often called in on a consultant basis for some of the goriest crime scenes you'll ever read about.  She can easily discern whether a body was disemboweled by a vampire, ghoul or shapeshifter with a glance.
The combination of all of her professions makes for a very interesting murder mystery.  
Ever prepared, Anita goes nowhere without packing heat and carrying an assortment of knives.  She even sleeps with a special gun holster on her headboard so she isn't found helpless in her bed.  A girl has to be careful ya know.  Guns don't kill supernatural creatures, but her theory is that it'll slow them down enough to either kill them using some other method or to run away.
This series is still continuing, with two more on the way in 2010 alone.  Due to the large number of books in this series, I won't get into them individually, but will list them in order at the bottom.  (There are also a number of short stories and graphic novels/comics.  For the purposes of this review, I'm focusing on the novels.)
1. Guilty Pleasures – 1993
2. The Laughing Corpse – 1994
3. Circus of the Damned – 1995
4. The Lunatic Café – 1996
5. Bloody Bones – 1996
6. The Killing Dance – 1997
7. Burnt Offerings – 1998
8. Blue Moon – 1998
9. Obsidian Butterfly – 2000
10. Narcissus in Chains – 2001
11. Cerulean Sins – 2003
12. Incubus Dreams – 2004
13. Michah – 2006
14. Danse Macabre – 2006
15. The Harlequin – 2007
16. Blood Noir – 2008
17. Skin Trade – 2009
18. Flirt – February 2010
19. Bullet – June 2010

In my opinion, the first 4 books are the best in the series.  Books 4 through 6 start to build romantic/sexual tension with a continuing love triangle plot line.  Until book 6 there are no sex scenes at all.  Until book 10, the sex scenes are detailed, but rare; focus still being on the mystery at hand.  Book 10 and all the ones after are highly sexual and let's just say that the author is creative.
In the first books, the author tried to outdo herself with gory descriptions of horrific crime scenes.  Each book had even more blood and body parts than the previous.  After book 10, the author tries to outdo herself with graphic sex scenes that involve multiple partners, magic and the occasional bestiality.
Needless to say, this series is not for anyone with a weak stomach.
Book #13 is really a novella, even though they charge the same price (which really burns me up just on principle alone).  It doesn't even move the overall plot ahead.  If you are interested in the Michah character, it's a little bit more about his background.  If you don't care, feel free to skip it.  You won't be missing anything.
During the last few books there are some quite heavy and serious ongoing plots.  However, several of them end suddenly and anti-climactically.  I was so surprised that I had to re-read the passages a couple times to make sure what I thought happened, really did happen.  It was very disappointing.
Other Thoughts:  I think that sometimes, the old love triangle element does more harm than good.  It's exciting and intriguing in the beginning, but by the end, it's stale and emotionally draining.  Which is what I feel like after reading the later books, stale and emotionally drained.
I often feel like screaming, "Just have sex or break up already!"  I keep reading the new books in hopes that some of those plots will be resolved, but they just keep dragging on and on.
I think this is a series that started out very good, but it needs to be put out of its misery.  As of now, it's dying a slow and painful death..
Conclusion:  I highly recommend the first 5 to 6 books.  After that, you're on your own.  I got hooked on the world and my OCD kicked in until I read every book.  I can't say that I enjoyed the later ones, because after I finished each book, I felt like I needed to take a break.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Let me count the ways...Word Counts

I was still writing, which was a good thing. Plot ideas flowed through my mind and on to the page. Now that I had written several pages, I really started to get a handle on what it was like to sit down and concentrate on writing. I was starting to get a feel for how many pages the scenes in my head would equate to once I wrote them out.

That got me thinking about word counts. One issue I ran into during my youth was that all my stories were extremely short. Always wanting to write a book, I made a few attempts, but always finished within a few thousand words.

I was one of those geeky, analytical kids. Heck, I'm a geeky, analytical adult. What that means for my writing, if I'm not careful, is that I have a tendency to get straight to the point. Just the facts. Get it over with.

This time, I'm writing a book. My plot has to be rich and full, with possible sub-plots running concurrently. I should add descriptions and character developing scenes. But, even doing that, would I have enough to fill a book? Not knowing how many words were actually in a book, I really didn't know the answer to that question.

Activate researcher mode!

After a bit of research, I learned that if I followed the guidelines I outlined in my previous post about formatting (double spaced, 1" margins, monospaced font) then I would run about 250 words per page.

After a bit more research, I learned:
  • Short Story - Under 7,500 words
  • Novelette - 7,500 to 17,500 words
  • Novella - 17,500 to 40,000 words
  • Novels - Over 40,000 words
What's typical in the industry today for a novel? Over 40,000 is pretty darned vague. As it turns out, that depends on the genre. Whereas, the mainstream novel is about 50,000 to 70,000 words in length, some genres differ.

Some examples:
  • Romances - 50,000
  • Fantasy/Sci-Fi - 60,000 to 80,000 (or more, with many fantasy novels being 125,000)
  • Young Adult - 20,000 to 40,000
Of course this is all subjective and we all can find examples that don't fit into the above figures. Those numbers are just estimates based on what's "typical".  I've seen all sorts of numbers listed for all sorts of genres.

So now I had a goal. I knew I wanted to get to the 70,000 to 80,000 word mark. I have been writing a fantasy novel and those tend to be larger than the standard mainstream novels.

On to the next part. How do I find my word count? Most word processors out there today will give you a word count. This isn't always the same word count that publishers are looking for, sometimes it is. So how do you find a word count that publishers and agents will use?  You look on their websites.  Some have switched to the count word processors give and some stick to the old methods.

Here's the old method:
  • Count the number of letters on a line. Include spaces. (And I'm assuming you're still using a monospaced font--a font where all the letters are the same size. Courier is a popular one.)
  • Divide that number by six. The averge length of a typical word is six letters.
  • Count the number of lines on the page. Again, include spaces/blank lines.
  • Multiply the number you got when you divided by six and the number of lines on a page.
  • Multiply that number by how many pages you have in your manuscript. (Round up to the nearest hundred.)
I know, I know. What's all this math stuff? We're authors, not mathmaticians! Well, I managed to use the above equation and found that Microsoft Word was pretty spot on with what I'd written of my manuscript.

The discrepencies happen between the above math equation and word processor counts when there's a lot of spaces or blank lines--word processors don't count blank lines, whereas publishers do. I don't have many blank lines yet, so it wasn't really a big deal.

Turns out I was averaging about 230 words per page. Again, that's pretty typical. I had about 20,000 words at that point and still had quite a bit of plot to delve into. My fears of not having enough to write about were quelled for the moment.

The benefit of having a word count to aim for gave me a goal. Now I knew where I had to add to my story or substract. I could put more thought into the plot lines and not just guess that it would be in the ballpark.

I got my answers, so I deactivated research mode. With peace of mind, I was able to sit down and write. My concentration was again on the story and not those pesky random thoughts that tend to pop up at inopportune times.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Review: The Twilight Series

So why not start out with a blockbuster.  The Twilight Series.  This series holds a special place in my heart.  I had taken a long hiatus from both reading and writing.  This is the series that brought me back to both.  I casually mentioned to my husband that I would like to read "that Twilight Series" some day.  The next night he brought home the first book as a surprise.
But you guys aren't here to listen to how I got to the point of reading the series, you want to know if it was any good or not.  So, here we go!
Overview of the Series:  It has its strengths.  It has its weaknesses.  No, it's not great literature, but that didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying it.  I did have to put aside some of my common sense in order to completely get swept away in the Twilight world.
Seriously.  If you think about it, the story revolves around Edward and Bella (from Bella's point of view).  She's 17 and in high school and he's a 100 year old vampire.  And people talk about Hugh Heffner dating them young.  Technically, Edward is a murdering, bambi killing, pedophile and stalker.
"But he looooooves her!" you cry out.  Yes, and that's the whole crux of the story.  It's one big epic love story.  Stephanie Meyer could have written in a band of mermaids that like to do the can-can with their fins and the result might have been the same. 
It's all because of the love story.  Every girl, young and old, wants to be loved deeply and unconditionally.  Edward brings that to the table in spades.  In his eyes, Bella can do no wrong, even when she acts her age and becomes a whiney little cry-baby.
Bella brings a few things to the table too.  Even though she plays both Jacob and Edward like a finely tuned fiddle, ending up with a co-dependent, clingy relationship, she is also strong and independent.  She knows what she wants and she'll do anything to get it.  She is also extremely caring and self-sacrificing.  She will go to hell and back to protect those she cares about.
Finally, the last thing that made this series so popular, if unconditional love and self-sacrifice wasn't enough, was the Cullens.  Let's face it.  Who didn't wish they were adopted at one point in time during their childhood?  We've all done it, usually while serving some sort of grounding sentence while "the party of the year" was raging down the street, you being stuck in your room.
The Cullens are the perfect family.  Okay, yes, they are vampires, but other than that they are the perfect family.  I mean, it's not like they are "bad" vampires.  They live off the blood of animals instead.  If that doesn't scream Leave it To Beaver, then I don't know what does…
You've got the compassionate father figure (Carlisle), the loving mother figure (Esme), the quirky sister (Alice), the protective older brother (Emmet) and a bitchy older sister who's just jealous of you (Rosalee).  Oh, and a creepy brother who keeps fighting the urge to kill you (Jasper).  See, all normal.
The part that drew me into their family dynamic was that they all truly love each other.  They really are a family, even if they aren't related by blood (no pun intended…okay, maybe a little intended).  They would die for one another.  Yes, even Rosalee.
So, Bella, the self-sacrificer, gets unconditional love and a new family where 5 out of 7 welcome her with open arms.  The 6th family member would welcome her if he didn't want to kill her and drink her sweet, sweet blood.
New love, new family, new life.  What's not to love about this series?  Okay, so the plot is slightly unbelievable and we get all revved up for a good fight only to have it diffused and one side always ends up running home to their mommies. 
Here are the novels in order:

Twilight - It starts out very slow. Edward is the typical guy, quiet, hard to read, ignores her, makes jokes at her expense, etc. Then he saves her life and the cogs start turning in that brain inside Bella's head. She can't leave well enough alone and needs to find out what's going on.
This book showed how smart and resourceful Bella really is.  She's a sneaky little one.
New Moon - Bella's not the only one into self-sacrifice.  And while Edward is away the will play.  This is where the werewolves come into their own.  Their culture is fleshed out and we get a glimpse of their world.
Of course the love triangle is started here as well.
Note that everything in New Moon is hinted about in Twilight.  Nothing is really a surprise.  This was the hardest one to get through because through the majority of it, you're dealing with someone with a broken heart.  Where was that happy ending I was promised?
Eclipse - Okay, this take the love triangle element and puts it on steroids.  There's werewolves and there's vampires and none of them are happy campers. (There's a joke in there but you have to read the book to get it.)
We get more insight into the pack and the Cullens.  Most of the continuing plot lines are resolved.
Breaking Dawn - Maybe better called breaking Edward or rip out the werewolve's heart why don'tcha?  Okay, that's a bit of a long title.  Everything is resolved in this book.  It's technically the end of the series even though there's a draft of a 5th novel floating around out there.
The vampire world is reviewed in depth.  There's more vampires than you can shake a at.  Everyone gets superpowers and Bella finally completes her journey.
This is probably my favorite of the series, but, then again, I'm a big X-Men fan.  I kept comparing them all to mutants.  "Hmm, let's see.  Bella is Jean Grey.  Emmett is Collasses.  Edward is Professor X..."  Yeah, I gave them ALL names.  You should try it.  It's fun.
Midnight Sun - This is the first book, Twilight, rewritten from Edward's perspective.  If you are really into Twilight and you just HAVE to know what Edward is thinking, it's worth reading.  It does offer a bit of insight into the Cullen's and some of the surrounding vampires.
However, this is only a partial book.  The author was working on this particular book while they were filming Twilight the Movie.  She shared her partial manuscript and someone posted it on the internet.  She was so hurt and felt so violated that she stopped working on the project.  She did, however, post the draft on her website for those that just HAD to read it so they didn't have to pirate it.
Other Thoughts:  What drew me into this book was the author's laid back writing style.  It was easy to read and made me feel warm and fuzzy.  Even though absolutely nothing happens in the beginning, I still continued to read because of her style.  It was the characters that cinched it for me as a favorite series.  I felt like I knew them by the time I was done with the series and I can't say that many books/series.
The story isn't THAT bad.  There is actually some action and conflict, at least enough to make it interesting.  It's not just a brooding vampire in love with another high school girl.  Okay, it's a lot about that, but there are other things going on as well.
And now…here's where I declare my loyalties.  I'm totally Team Edward.  Yes, Jacob would be better for her.  He's all buff and sweet and is exactly what she needs.  But, Bella and Edward are fated to be together.  Who am I to mess with the fate of others?
In conclusion, I suggest reading the series.  It's good for all ages.  It's young adult, so there's no sex scenes and the violence is kept to a minimum (mostly referred to after the fact).  Yet, there's enough of a plot to hold grown up interests.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Series Review

I love book series.  When I find a writer and style I like, I want to immerse myself in their world.  I'll obsess over reading each book in order, back-to-back until I'm done with the series.

So, I'm going to review book series on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.  I'd do more, but we are talking series (several books at a time) here and if I did a review more frequently I'd quickly run out of series and would have to quit my job so I could read the next series to be reviewed.

Whereas, I would love to do that, the bank that holds my mortgage (and my husband) wouldn't like the lack of monthly payments coming their way.

Therefore, in an effort to not become homeless, I'll restrict my reviews to twice a month.

The first review will be this Wednesday, February 3 at 8 PM EST.

This will serve two purposes:

1 – It gives me one more deadline to inspire some semblance of routine in my writing world.

2 – It will be slightly more interesting than hearing my ramblings about what was going on in my head while I was writing.

Something for you and something for me.  It's a win/win situation!

Umm, I have an even better idea...

So, I'm merrily writing along.  I've got about 40,000 words now.  Half way done.  Yes!  I just finished my masterpiece of a scene, the one I've been thinking about and wanting to get just right.  It's a really dark scene involving torture, interrogations, starvation, and other cheerful subjects.  I go back and reread it.  It gives me chills.  Yeah…I'm good.

It's still horrible stuff really, but I'm writing and getting my thoughts out.  I can always go back and edit later.  Everyone has to start somewhere ,right?  This is my first "real" attempt at writing anything longer than a few paragraphs in years.

Even though I am applauding my bravery, I reflect back and realize how naïve I was.  At the time, I thought my writing was artistic and interesting.  In reality, it was boring.  Nothing happens until page 70 for crying out loud!  And I hadn't even gotten to do the alternate universe world building part yet.  This was all about the MC's boring existence in the plain old ordinary world. 

What kind of fantasy novel drones on about the MC's personal life, or lack thereof, for pages and pages *cough* Twilight *cough*.  Yeah, Bestseller's list here I come!  (Please note that I really am a huge Twilight fan, but you have to admit that nothing really happens in the beginning.)

However, at that point, I was all proud of myself.  Life was still good.  I was still writing the next masterpiece, sure it was going to be a trilogy at least, picturing them next to Tolkien and Meyers in the book stores.

That's when a little, annoying thought started niggling in the back of my head.

I was still reading vampire stories, because heaven knows there's enough of them out there.  I had resolved myself to the fact that vampire plots have been beaten to death with a baseball bat and then the bat broken up into splinters, stomped on and burned to ash.  Coming up with a new idea or unique twist was nearly impossible for a newbie like me.

I guess when I said I had resolved myself against coming up with a new idea, I really meant, I took it as a challenge.  I couldn't let it go.  Even though I was knee deep in my other "work of art", there was a small compartment in my brain that kept chugging along searching for a new twist on the old vampire theme.

An idea flitted across the conscious part of my brain.  What if…

That's all it took.  I was off and running on a new idea.  It was all still in my head.  Vampires, werewolves, witches, pixies, they'd all been done before.  But making them all misfits, throwing them together to fight off the "real" bad guys, well, that had been done before too.

Who is the MC?  Ah, that would be Kat.  She's a misfit too, but because she's an average girl who grew up in a house of witches.  She meets this other group of misfits and "accidentally" becomes their leader.  Her insight is snarky and sarcastic (something I'm well versed in).

My head is busting with ideas at this point.  There's so many ways to go, so many paths.  The words start writing themselves in my head and it's all I can do to find a piece of paper or a computer to write them down.

I get the first chapter done in a matter of a couple hours.  I reread the lines and realize, this is a much better idea than the other novel I have half written.

Printing the pages, I thrust them in front of my wary husband.  He'd been ducking my pleas to critique my work for weeks now.  Realizing he had no escape, he took a deep breath and actually read the first page.

He laughed in all the right places.  He asked WTF in all the right spots.  For someone who had also read/seen a lot of vampire stories, I'd shocked him with my take on the theme. 

He read through the pages, 10 in all.  Setting them down he looked over at me and asked when the next chapter would be done.  I'm sure I blinked at him in disbelief.  This was the same guy that I couldn't get to read one page of my first novel.  I hooked him.  I actually hooked him to the story.

A little shocked at my own ability, I went to work on the next chapter.

So what's the point of this post?  Sometimes when an idea strikes, you just have to go with it.  The second novel is leaps and bounds better.  The idea is better.  The plot is better.  More importantly, the writing is better.

I still have that first half novel sitting in a file on my computer.  It was extremely helpful because it taught me that I can write and I do have a story to tell, enough to fill a book.  I also learned how to play with words and sentences.  I learned that I could box myself in with my own plot lines and other such interesting things.

I fully intend on pulling out that poor forgotten novel and working on it again.  However, out of the 40,000 words, I will probably only keep 10,000 and rewrite the rest.

For now, I'm going where the story takes me.