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Category Archives: Culture

How a Book is Born

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Today is the day for a short post.  Galley Cat over at mediabistro.com recently shared this oh-so-fantastic infographic that absolutely deserves more blog love.  You can find the origin of the infographic over at weldonowen.com.

My favorite part of this infographic is that it is never ending; no matter where you are on the chart, you can end up with a book about goat farming (or publish a novel).  What would you add to this chart?  Perhaps a section on self-published books?  Perhaps a section on unicorns?

How a Book is Born infographic - Novel Conclusions - writing blog - literary blog - writing tips

How an Idea Becomes a Book via weldonowen.com

What Do Your Fears Say About You?

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Vincent Thomas Bridge - San Pedro - fear - character motive - Novel Conclusions - writing blog

Vincent Thomas Bridge via Wikimedia Commons

What do your fears say about you?  About your characters?  How do your characters react when they’re afraid?

This past week, I had to go to a restaurant in San Pedro for a work event.  San Pedro is the hub of the Port of LA/Long Beach, the largest port area on the west coast and home to the Vincent Thomas Bridge.  I freaked out a little on the way there when I saw the words “Vincent Thomas Bridge” on the directions.

I’m not normally afraid of heights, but this bridge FREAKS ME OUT because it is so high and so curved.  It feels like you’re looking over the edge of the horizon into nothingness.  It is 185 feet up at its highest point (egads!!!  That’s like 15 stories!).  I avoid it.  Avoiding it is not usually a problem since I rarely go down there, but I couldn’t skip this event.  I told myself I would get in the middle lane and grit my teeth and be done with it.  Fortunately, when I looked at the directions more closely, I realized I was just passing by the bridge.  At the event, my coworker A, who is more afraid of heights than I am, told my boss R and me (only half kidding) that she was going to turn around and not come if she had to drive over that bridge.  R, on the other hand, said he’d been really excited when he thought he might get to go over the bridge (at this point, A and I both gave him looks of horror).

This got me thinking about fear and how we react when we’re afraid.  My coworker A, my boss R, and I all had different reactions to the same event, having to drive over this crazy bridge.  A was planning to turn around and go home; I was going to grit my teeth and push through; and R was going to enjoy it.  How someone reacts to something shows us more about them than if we were just to say, for example, she’s afraid of heights.

In Jurassic Park (spoilers ahead, y’all), Michael Crichton uses fear to reveal traits about nearly every character.  Early on, after T-Rex shows up, the lawyer runs away and leaves the 2 kids all by themselves.  This underlines for us that the lawyer is a cowardly punk, and it also makes it more impressive when Dr. Grant comes to the kids’ rescue.  Crichton used this T-Rex experience to not only show us more about these 2 characters (the lawyer and Dr. Grant) but also to use the lawyer as a foil for Dr. Grant.  Later on, we see how greedy creep Dennis becomes impatient when he’s afraid – talking too much, driving erratically, and eventually bringing on his well-deserved demise.  We also come to find game keeper Muldoon is calm and collected in the face of fear; it becomes even scarier for us as the audience when the raptors have trapped Muldoon, the consummate tracker.

How can we apply this?  We show our characters taking action in the presence of fear.  What actions are they taking?  What does this show us about the character?  How is their objective influencing their actions in the presence of fear?

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Facebook’s Most Read Books of 2012… and the Giveaway Winner!

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I may be a bit behind the curve on this super cool infographic (perhaps you saw this around the new year), but it was so interesting that I just had to share it.  In the past, I shared a list of the most read books in the past 50 years; below, you’ll find something slightly narrower in scope but also fascinating nonetheless, Facebook’s Most Read Books of 2012.

Most Read Books 2012 infographic - Novel Conclusions - literary blog - writing blog - Christi Gerstle

Facebook’s 2012 Most Read Books of the Year via facebookstories.com

I was most surprised by The Great Gatsby’s appearance on the list.  Although the source of this infographic doesn’t philosophize on why some books might be on the list, I wonder if Gatsby made it due to the publicity for the upcoming movie, English teachers hitting it a little more than normal, or just that the book is one of those that sticks.

Giveaway Winner

DRUMROLL…

Random.org gave me the gorgeously round number 575.  This makes Tracy Cembor, with the number 500, the winner of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess!  Congrats Tracy!  You can check out her blog over at tracycembor.com.

Should I Really Read the Classics? AND a Giveaway

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MacBeth apparition - why read classic literature - enjoying the classics - Novel Conclusions - Christi Gerstle - literary blog - writing tips

MacBeth: the Apparition of the Kings by Théodore Chassériau, via Wikimedia Commons

There comes a certain point in your time as a reader, at least for more serious readers, when you decide you should read some classics.  When I was a kid, I wanted to read the classics because it was the smart thing to do (and smart was cool, in my lexicon as a middle schooler – although that lexicon also involved lots of ugly baggy 90s shirts, but whatevs…).  Other people read the classics because they’re curious or because someone recommended a certain book or even just because they have to for school.

When I was at the book signing week before last, I was talking with a couple teenage girls there, and they said they hadn’t really read any classics, that they really preferred girly YA books.  And there’s nothing wrong with girly YA books!  I love me some adventurous, booty-kicking YA heroines.  So why read classics?

For a few reasons:

  1. You can more fully understand the fun books you’ve been reading this whole time.  How is this?  Well, most authors are very well-read and tend to incorporate that into their work.  Take JK Rowling as an example – the Harry Potter series is filled with allusions to works like the Iliad, MacBeth, the Canterbury Tales, and the Bible.  The characters even have a discussion about the meaning of I Corinthians 15:26 (“And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”), among other things, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Other examples of this are the frequent allusions to Tennyson’s poetry and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities in Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices series and Suzanne Collins’s abundance of allusions to the Roman Empire and to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in The Hunger Games trilogy.
  2. It makes you part of a unique group. Not everybody reads classics.  You get to be part of the “in jokes,” so to speak, in the literature and book publishing arena whenever people allude to the books you’ve read (and no worries – no one has ready every classical book out there).
  3. It gives you a broader perspective of the world in general.  When could a broader perspective ever be truly bad?  Broader perspectives lead to things like the abolition of slavery and equal rights for women.
  4. It’s fun.  Some classics are just as fun to read as books written in the current era.  See below for a short list.

Easier Classics
A small sampling:

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – basically a romantic comedy.  Who doesn’t love Elizabeth and Darcy?
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway – love in wartime.  It’s a little sad, though, so advance warning.
  • Candide by Voltaire – a French comedy with adventure, love, pirates, and Turkish chain gangs.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oliver Wilde – a mistaken identity comedy.
  • The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan – a hilariously gossipy comedy, with character names like Lady Sneerwell, Sir Backbite, and Snake.
  • Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare – get the edition that has explanations on every other page, makes all those Shakespearean insults more understandable (and therefore funnier).
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – dystopian fiction from long before The Hunger Games.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY

As promised last week…  If you’d like to be entered into the giveaway for a signed copy of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess, here’s what you do:

  1. You need to already live in the US or Canada (sorry, international folks, postage is expensive for huge hardcovers).
  2. Comment below with a number between 1 and 1000 by next Sunday, April 7, at 9 pm Pacific Time.
  3. In your comment, if you like, answer this question: what’s your favorite classic book and why?  And if you don’t have a favorite classic, what’s one you’d like to read?

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Cassandra Clare’s Book Signing

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Clockwork Princess - Infernal Devices - Cassandra Clare - Novel Conclusions - Christi Gerstle - City of Bones - Lily Collins

Clockwork Princess Cover via CassandraClare.com

Have you ever been to a book signing?  I hadn’t been to a book signing in years, and I heard about Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess book signing at a Barnes & Noble in central LA this past week and thought it would be a fun little literary event.  It was fun but definitely not little.  The crowd and staff treated Cassandra Clare like a rock star.  I would guesstimate that 1200 people waited in line to see Ms. Clare; it was some craziness.

Cassandra Clare is the author behind The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones series, soon to be a movie starring Lily Collins (I also found out that the always hilarious Robert Sheehan of Misfits plays sidekick Simon, making the movie that much more awesome).  Lily Collins and director Howard Zwart were at Barnes and Noble for the question and answer session before the signing, and authors Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan joined Cassandra Clare for the signing.  What stuck out most to me during the Q&A was Ms. Clare’s explanation of how, in City of Bones, she “was going for a confluence of the real and the magical,” the idea that coffee shops and warlocks could co-exist on the same street.

Everyone I met in the crowd and in line at the signing was super friendly and cheerful (we YA readers must be a good bunch!).  One woman had driven down from Visalia (that’s 3 hours without traffic!  On a Thursday!) to see Cassandra Clare.  I also met the bloggers from Sparkles and Lightning and Tackling Tinseltown – check out their fun blogs.

What I Learned:

  1. Either plan to swing by the book shop early in the morning to get a wristband closer to the front of the line, or make friends with some employees.  We didn’t get our books signed until 10:30pm at a 7pm signing.  Yes, that’s a little intense for a school night.
  2. Buy/bring books by the mid-list authors that came with the front list author (in this case, the authors I’m referring to are Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan).  I wish I’d chit chatted with them a bit more about their books and their experiences as YA authors as they were much more available than Ms. Clare, who was busy signing approximately 4 books for each person who came up.  Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan were super friendly, making jokes and chatting up the crowd as we made our way to the front of the line.
  3. Ask more readers in line if they have blogs (I love finding local reading/writing-related blogs!).

Since I got two copies of Clockwork Princess signed, DRUMROLL… there will be a giveaway coming up this week!  Keep an eye out on the blog this upcoming week for a giveaway of a signed copy of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess.

Have you ever been to a book signing?  What was it like?  Do you have advice for signings?

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Pixar’s 22 Rules for Phenomenal Storytelling

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It can be very hard to determine what makes a story “good.”  What makes one story good and one story bad and one story just mediocre?  Pixar thinks they may have it figured out.

What is it that makes UpFinding Nemo, and WALL-E (among others) pretty amazing?  Pixar has a few rules for phenomenal storytelling.  I stumbled across this infographic over at pbjpublishing.com, and I just had to share.

My favorite might be #14.  Which rule is your favorite?  Do you have any rules that you might add?

Storytelling infographic - pixar - novel conclusions - Christi Gerstle - good writing - writing tips

Pixar’s 22 Rules for Phenomenal Storytelling via pbjpublishing.com

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The Humor(ist) in Equal Rights

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Erma Bombeck - Novel Conclusions - Christi Gerstle - equal rights act

Aunt Erma’s Cope Book courtesy of Amazon

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'” – Erma Bombeck

I celebrated my 30th birthday this week (eek! A whole new decade!), and I thought this was a good opportunity to recognize a pretty fantastic journalist and author who also has a February birthday, a woman who made a difference for authors everywhere, especially female authors.  This woman is Erma Bombeck.

I I grew up reading Bombeck’s hilarious schtick on family life and life in general.  My mom had a collection of Bombeck’s books, and I remember pulling them off the shelves at a fairly young age and reading them out loud to my mom while she made dinner.  Bombeck had an optimistic and offbeat way of looking at everything and finding humor even in tragic circumstances.  Bombeck was also part of the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women that supported the Equal Rights Act in the 1970s.  As a result of this involvement, many of Bombeck’s books were pulled from shelves of local bookstores.

One of my favorite quotes of hers is the one above.  I hope we can all be reminded that every day is a gift of time to use our talent productively.  I now have a whole new decade to use productively (still can’t believe I’m now a thirty-something!  Egad!).

Have you ever read any of Erma Bombeck’s books?  And do you have any advice for newly minted 30-year-olds?

P.S.  Speaking of using our talent productively, there’s a fantastic/evil app for that, Write or Die.

DRM or Do I Really Own My E-Books?

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via Google Images

Yes, it’s easy to download e-books lickety-split, and yes, they’re great to read on trains, planes, and big ol’ public transit (although I still get car sick reading anything in the car).  However, do we really own our e-books?  And what are the implications of owning or not owning said e-books?

For some of y’all, this info is old hat.  You already know that when you buy a new book from Amazon (unless it’s in the public domain), that you’re essentially renting the book.  Why is this?  The reason for this is DRM (Digital Rights Management).  It’s certainly more difficult to lend your bestie your whole e-collection of Janet Evanovich or JK Rowling without actually lending her the reading device itself.

The eerie censorship quirks of DRM became a bit more common knowledge with the Orwell debacle in 2009 when Amazon remotely erased from many Kindles copies of Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm (highly ironic that 1984 was erased, don’t you think?).  Back in October, Norwegian IT Consultant Linn Nygaard had her Kindle account randomly deleted by Amazon (with all 30-something books attached to it) for reasons unknown to her.  She tried multiple times to get her account reinstated, and Amazon would not reinstate her account and would not tell her why.

This is not just the case with the Kindle.  Other issues can happen with the Nook and other proprietary e-readers.  Barnes and Noble can withhold access to your e-books if your credit card on file is expired even though you have already paid for your books.

There are also some pretty cool things to come from this Big-Brother-esque e-reader technology, like whether people read a book straight through, how long it takes them, and if they finish it at all.  For example, the WSJ tells us, “It takes the average reader just seven hours” to finish Mockingjay, the third Hunger Games book.  As literati Nathan Bransford put it on his blog back in November, “Your E-Reader is Watching You.”

There are lots of pros and cons here.  What do you all think?  Does DRM make you want to buy hard copy books?  Or is it just one of those things we have to deal with since e-books are so incredibly handy?  Or do you have a different take altogether?

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What Makes Love Triangles So Compelling?

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Love Triangles - Dante's Inferno - Novel Conclusions - writing blog

Gianciotto Discovers Paolo and Francesca (Dante’s Inferno) – via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been pretty absent from the blogosphere recently as I’ve been down for the count with that cold/flu thing that’s been going around.  If you get it, hit that Vitamin C, stat!  Anyhow, in honor of the upcoming Valentine’s Day, we’re going to chat about some famous love triangles in literature.  What makes them so compelling?  And why do they seem to be in every other story?

If you take a little tour through past and current popular fiction, love triangles abound like wizards at Hogwarts.  Before all the tween girls this side of Friday were oohing and aahing over Jacob, Bella, and Edward (Go Team Jacob!  Yes, I confess I did read the books…), some pretty justifiably famous love triangles reigned in literature, with a few things in common.

Who can forget Darcy, Elizabeth, and Wickham?  In Pride and Prejudice, while we’re on Elizabeth’s side the whole time, we watch Darcy and Wickham alternately lose and win her favor.  In Gone with the Wind, we’re pulling for Rhett the whole time as Scarlett pines after a guy named Ashley (Scarlett, honey, you should’ve known he wasn’t the one as soon as you heard his girly name.  Sigh.).  Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence gives us a heart-wrenching love triangle with a much sadder ending.  When Newland falls in love with his fiancée May’s married, scandalous cousin Ellen in the 1870s, bad times ensue.  You can go further back to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and even the Arthurian legends of Guinevere and Lancelot falling in love behind Arthur’s back.

We could go on and on here, but what makes these love triangles work?  These love triangles compel us to turn page after page because the emotions feel real and immediate.  It doesn’t hurt that love triangles naturally create tension, an essential ingredient for plot.  When love triangles are done well, when the author upholds the emotional integrity of the story, we as readers can’t put the book down.

Elizabeth Bennet’s original hatred of Darcy and her infatuation with Wickham were as real to us as later her slowly dawning love for Darcy and her disgust for Wickham feel real.  We live through these events as Elizabeth does because Austen upholds the emotional integrity of the story.  She doesn’t step outside the fourth wall to preach at us or to tell us what Elizabeth or Darcy or any of the characters ought to think.  She lets the characters lead the story, rather than letting the story lead the characters.  And it doesn’t hurt that Darcy is pretty hot and pretty rich…

Which love triangles do you love?  Which love triangles stand out to you in fiction?

The Booker Award & the Versatile Blogger Award

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the-booker-award novel conclusions writing blogHey y’all, it’s award time!

The lyrically lovely writer Asha Seth over at Amidst Books presented me with the Booker Award last month.  Asha has a beautiful writing style; definitely stop by her site and say hello.  I am so honored that she thought my blog worthy of this award!  I have been putting off accepting the Booker Award on this blog because it asks me to choose my top 5 favorite books, which is excruciatingly like choosing a favorite child.  But I decided to bite the bullet and do it.  The rules for the Booker Award:

The Booker Award is for book and literary blogs that are at least 50% about books, reading, etc.  On being awarded with the Booker Award, you must share:

  • Your top five favorite books.  Mine are:
  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  2. The whole Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Your most favorite author (and why).  My favorite author is JK Rowling.  Her tight plotting is masterfully done, and I love her amazing characterization and world-building ability.
  • Your favorite genres.  I read everything, but lately I’ve been reading lots of YA fiction (it’s like market research for my writing…).
  • Give this award to 5 or more bloggers (see below) and let them know with a comment.
  • Show this award off on your site and link back to whoever gave it to you.

I’m awarding the Booker Award to these fantastic literary blogs  (should they choose to accept) :

versatile_blogger novel conclusions writing blogThe amazingly warm and friendly writer Pish Nguyen over at Blog of Loveliness has awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award.  Yay!!!  Definitely drop by Pish’s awesome blog and say hello.  The rules for the Versatile Blogger Award are as follows:

  • Display the award certificate on your website
  • Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers
  • Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself (see below)

I’m awarding the Versatile Blogger Award to these deserving blogs below (should they choose to accept).  I’m breaking the rules and only choosing 6:

I am ending with 7 things about me for the Versatile Blogger Award:

  1. My favorite color is burgundy, but I don’t like the color red.
  2. I have a twin brother.  It still amazes me how often people will ask, “Are you identical?”  Well, I’m a girl, and he’s a boy; what do you think?  Goodness.
  3. When I was little, I had a Southern accent (I was born in the South, after all).  There are home videos to prove this.  Sometime after we moved to Florida when I was a kid, the accent ran away, but I can still pull it out of my back pocket whenever I want.
  4. I worked at an overnight Girl Scout camp every summer for 10 summers starting when I was a teenager, including a few summers as assistant director, plus a week here and there for a couple summers beyond that.  Leaving teaching put a dent in my ability to work at camp.
  5. As hinted at in #4, I am a HUGE advocate of technology-free summer overnight camps.  Not only are they cheaper than camps that have air conditioning, they teach your child independence.  No matter what a kid grows up to be, she will need confidence and people skills, two things camp builds in abundance.
  6. I love Bananagrams.  So fun.
  7. Linguistics fascinate me.  I have hinted to my man that an OED might be a good gift someday.  This is perhaps a holdover from my days as an English teacher/copy editor/Creative Writing major.

Happy Friday, all!

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