About Me

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A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I saved money!

And  you can, too! Now, using the power of the Internet, you can sample terrible first chapters of promoted new books, and know for a solid fact that you will never willingly spend a dime on them!

I saved $15.99 by reading the first chapter of The Gift, by Brian M. Litfin. It's the second book in the Chiveis Trilogy, which was news to me. Not important news, but news nonetheless.

Foolishly, I had followed the link under this promotional text, which I received in an email, a sponsored email, from Publishers Weekly:

Hundreds of years in the future, war and disease have destroyed civilization as we know it. Much technology has been discarded and history is largely forgotten. Slowly, the few survivors have begun to build new communities, and kingdoms now prosper in a kind of feudal order. But the Word of God has been lost for centuries.
Hokey, right? I mean, the come-on is almost unreadable. I admit that I followed it out of morbid (as in, How bad can this really be?) curiosity.

It's bad, in an almost delectable, look-how-I-did-all-the-bestsellers'-tricks kind of way.

There's longing (the main characters used to be royalty, and now they're refugees!), pathos (a nightmare, a snake, and obeisance to the will of "Deu"), romance (a beautiful princess, a daring prince, and a small tent), adventure (a small tent...that's as far as I got), and lots of unexplained crap, like how life reverts to a Harlequin novel's version of the Middle Ages after the collapse of civilization, and why the men do the manly patrolling with swords and the woman does the cooking and cleaning.

There's also a real disregard for language, both in the specific Riddley Walker kind of way, in which novelist and children's story stalwart Russel Hoban imagines an almost impenetrable post-Apocalyptic patois, and in the generic people-don't-actually-think-or-speak-like-that-you-idiot kind of way.

This cries out for an example. Here's the first paragraph:
Anastasia lay awake under a bearskin cloak, listening to the alien sounds of a land far from home. The stub of a candle hung from the ceiling of her leather tent, providing enough light to chase away the nocturnal spirits, but not the heaviness in Ana’s heart.
Notice the similarity to the start of The Hunger Games. Only, that was good. This has imagery (check), evocative vocabulary (check), and vacuous nonsense.

Why a bearskin cloak? What does that get us in the first sentence?

And what kind of sounds does one expect in "a land far from home?" Also, she just crossed the mountain to get there, so how far is far? Are the birds different? Does the wind moan or cackle? What are the sounds?

How does one hang a candle? Wouldn't it burn the string? Maybe it's the kind that burns upside-down!

And oh! the heaviness in her heart! Why is it there, you ask? "Read on!" says the author. "I'm not telling!"

In other words, we learn nothing useful or particular in this first paragraph, except the limits of Litfin's imagination, or of his patience for rewriting.

I'm being really harsh and sarcastic, I know. And after only suffering through a few pages near the beginning.

By contrast, Suzanne Collins hits us with this scene of the heroine waking up to loss:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
The bad thing about reading this paragraph is that now I want to read the Hunger Games trilogy again.

I should really thank Mr. Litfin. First, he helps show that there is a range of quality in fantasy books published today. I had thought I was slipping, falling so easily under the sway of Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, Dave Barry, and buying from the promo chapter Beth Revis' Across the Universe. I am reassured of my own continued ability to discriminate gold from dross by the bile welling up in my throat.

Second, I keep worrying that my own writing is just a waste of time. Will I ever finish? That's in doubt, but I feel much better about trying now, seeing that my puny, incomplete draft of a chapter is so much more readable and interesting than this.

And third, if book publishing is really about to disappear (right as I get started in writing, and less than a decade after I switched to a career in publishing), I can take comfort that it's not really so bad, because this will be part of what is lost.

Last, does it really matter that, on trying to find the market price for The Gift by searching "litfin chiveis," I discovered that he "was born in Dallas, Texas, and raised in a Christian home as the son of a seminary professor, pastor, and college president," and that the series revolves around the loss and rediscovery of Biblical knowledge?

Nah. It's bad enough in its own right. Thanks, Mr. Litfin. You've done me a favor. I'll use the money to buy several pounds of coffee from Trader Joe's, I think.

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