Tag Archive | ender’s game

Top Five Books of 2013

And now for my final top five list of 2013. Of course I saved the best for last. I made a real effort to read more in 2013 than I have been reading lately, and lucky for me, I pulled that off! So of those 34 books I managed to read in 2013, here are the five that were my favorite.

stephen-king-on-writing-0011On Writing, by Stephen King – This automatically gets my number one spot (and the rest are in no particular order). In fact, this was the first book that I read in 2013 and the one that inspired and encouraged me to read as much as I did. Ironically, I have never read another book by Stephen King and I’m not sure if I ever will, but he is now totally my hero. The advice he gives about the craft and practice of writing is second only to the amazing story of his life. It’s so heartening to hear that a writer as accomplished as King has gone through all of the stages of doubt and angst, triumph and frustration that I have gone through myself. This is one of those books that I’m going to have to go back and read again and again whenever I feel the writer doubt sneaking up on me.

the governess affairThe Governess Affair, by Courtney Milan – I think this was probably my favorite fiction book that I read for the first time this year. (I re-read the Hunger Games trilogy, but I’m not counting them in this top five because I’d read them before) Courtney Milan writes exactly the kind of novel that I love. Both her hero and heroine were ordinary people, which you don’t usually see in a historical romance. They were not the upper crust, even though they worked with the upper crust. I found that refreshing.

But what really sold me on this book was the sharp, witty exchanges between the hero and heroine. Those letters they sent to each other when she was sitting out on the bench in front of the duke’s house were to die for! The originality of this story was the other major selling point for me. It wasn’t your same old tired historical romance plot. I loved that!

Welcome to TemptationWelcome to Temptation, by Jennifer Cruisie – Oh my gosh, this may be the funniest thing I read all year! I haven’t read all that much contemporary romance, but books like this are the kind of thing that would get me started. The characters were off-the-charts wacky, but they also managed to be believable. I love the way Jennifer Cruisie kept piling on one outlandish twist of circumstance after another until the whole thing had me rolling with laughter. Not only that, the love scenes were totally steamy! You’ve got to love that!

enders-game-novel-coverEnder’s Game, by Orson Scott Card – I can’t believe I waited this long to read Ender’s Game! I mean, I’ve known about the book for years. Oh boy, was it good! Completely absorbing. I have to confess that I kind of love good sci-fi, and I really love good alternative worlds. But what really made this book awesome to me was the fact that I was so absorbed into Ender and his world that I didn’t see some of the plot twists coming. I probably would have seen them if I had more distance and didn’t care about the characters so much, but nope. I wept bitterly when the truth of what was going on came out at the end. You know a book is awesome when you have to blink in order to read it!

the book thiefThe Book Thief, by Markus Zusak – Okay, maybe this one is cheating a wee little bit because I haven’t technically finished yet. I’ll post my complete book report once I do, but I am loving this book! It’s so moving and real, and at the same time the world of this book is so foreign to me. But one of the most incredible aspects of this book to me is the fact that Zusak breaks all the rules in the way he tells the story. You know, all those rules writers are told about plot structure and narrative style and backstory and not telegraphing the ending and oh so many things. Those rules lay in tatters around each brilliant page of this book! I’m in awe. And I think I’ll probably need Kleenex at some point when I near the end too!

So those are the books of 2013. 34 books overall. Eight 5-star books, two 4.5-star, eight 4-star, one 3.5-star, seven 3-star, three 2-star, one 1-star, and five “Did Not Finish”. And no, I don’t post those ratings when I do my book reports for several reasons. But there you have it.

My goal for 2014? At least 40 books. Here’s to hoping they’re all 4 and 5 stars!

What books did you read this year that really stood out?


Writing With “What If?”

So last week I read Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card for the first time and loved it.  As I mentioned in my review on Sunday, it was one of the best character books I’ve ever read.  Card is just so good at creating characters with depth and emotion and breathing life into them.  So yes, it is possible for a Romance writer to learn about the craft of characters through reading Science Fiction.

But there was another aspect to Ender’s Game that proved to be invaluable to my writing craft: the introduction.  I was lucky in that the version of the book that I read had a long introduction by Card that talked about how he came up with the story and characters of Ender’s Game and the response that he has received to the book.

I love reading writers’ stories of how they engage in their craft, be it Stephen King’s On Writing or C.S. Forester’s book that he wrote about his experience of penning the Horatio Hornblower novels.  So of course I devoured Card’s introduction eagerly.  And I recommend that any time a writer includes an introduction with their book, anyone calling themselves a writer on any level should read it and take note.

© Iryna Shpulak | Dreamstime.com

© Iryna Shpulak | Dreamstime.com

What struck me the most about Card’s explanation of how he came up with the idea for Ender’s Game is his use of the question “What if?”.  As Card explains, he was a major fan of Asimov as a youngster and devoured all of his books.  He knew all along he wanted to write, but he grew (and apparently grows) increasingly impatient with authors who are only trying to recycle Asimov or Tolkien, retelling the same story with different characters and settings.  This is not, he says, the point of writing.

Card came to the idea of Ender’s Game by focusing on tiny aspects of Asimov’s work and asking “What if x, y, or z had happened differently?”  This seems so simple, and yet it forms the basis of all really great writing.

We have to start with the assumption that there are no original stories.  At the same time, we can’t be like those writers Card loses patience with who tell the same story over and over.  The key is to take some well-known aspect of a genre or a particular story and riff on the idea of “What if this happened instead?”

I think that the Romance genre is ripe for this kind of riffing.  In Romance we’re working with a known set of parameters.  In order to be defined as Romance the story must be about the development of the relationship between the hero and heroine and the hero and heroine must get together at the end with an emotionally satisfying conclusion.  Anything else and it’s not Romance.

You might think that those parameters preclude any originality of thought, but I definitely don’t believe that.  Romance is criticized because everyone knows going into it that they hero and heroine will end up together in the end.  Yes they will.  But it’s how they get there that truly matters, and there are a thousand different ways to reach an HEA.

I am particularly fond of this idea of “what if?” because that’s what launched my career as a writer.  I’m grateful to Card for talking about it openly, because I’ve received a wee bit of criticism for my what-if-ing.  My first novel, The Loyal Heart, has been compared favorably and unfavorably to the Robin Hood legend.  That was both deliberate and unintentional.

Robin_Hood_Louis_RheadThe Loyal Heart started with two big What If’s.  The first was “What if the Robin Hood story were told with the actual history of the time period instead of the propagandized version that most people think they know?”  The second What If was “What if the heroine fell in love with the bad guy?”  The first question was a direct riff on Robin Hood, the second was a riff on just about every one of the many Romance novels I’ve ever read.

Incidentally, The Faithful Heart started with the What If of “What if the goofy side-kick had to man-up and be a hero?” and The Courageous Heart began with “What if you woke up one day and realized you were an asshole who had ruined everyone’s lives?”

I know of a few people who encourage writers to begin their query letter for a given novel with that What If question.  I’m not actually in favor with that, but I am in favor of beginning the whole novel-writing process by asking “What if?”  When you hit the ground running, when you start the whole thing with a question that you are burning to find out, you’re going to have an easier writing experience.  You’re going to go places that you wouldn’t otherwise have thought to go.  Most importantly, you’re going to have a good time doing it.

Asking questions leads you to answers.  Asking “What if?” leads you to realms of imagination that will keep you busy for weeks asking and answering even more questions.  The beauty of it all is that no two people will come up with the same answers.  Card could start with Asimov and ask “what if?” to take him to someplace entirely new.

I personally think that just because you start with a known story, like Robin Hood, “what if” will quickly take you out of the known and into the unknown, into the original and personal.  I’ve been asking myself “What if Sarah didn’t remember the words to the poem at the end of Labyrinth and lost the bet with the Goblin King?” since I was a pre-teen.  I’ve got a whole fantasy world of spells and tricks that has nothing remotely to do with Labyrinth now.  There are a million ways you can answer a single question about a single story.

So thank you, Orson Scott Card, for helping me to see that daydreaming about someone else’s story is not only okay, it can lead to a whole world.  Anything is possible when you ask “What if?”

What are your favorite “what if?” ideas?  Are there any stories you’ve told or would like to tell that started with “what if?”

2013 Book #4 – Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Wow!  I’m not exactly sure how to talk about this book.  Not gonna lie, it cut right to my soul.  Every once in a while a book comes along where the author nails the characters, their emotions and motivations, so well that you cease to read about them and they become a part of you.  … Then again, that’s what a good book is all about and that’s what we writers strive to write.

But I digress.

enders-game-novel-coverI’ve known about Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card for ages.  I even started reading it once before (but I don’t think I got past the first chapter then for reasons that had nothing to do with the quality of the book).  It’s required reading nowadays at the high school I attended.  I know my brother and all of his friends read it and loved it.  So I figured the time had come for me to crack it open.

What makes Ender’s Game such a fantastic book is the emotional intensity of the story and the strength with which Card conveys the struggles that the characters are going through.  In my mind I think of Science Fiction as being more plot driven, but Ender’s Game is the definition of a character driven story.

If you look at it on paper, not a lot (seems) to be happening.  Our hero, Ender Wiggin, is an exceptionally gifted six-year-old who is sent off to military training because he is the only hope to save the human race.  And the reader goes along for the ride.  In a way the plot sort of reminded me of the hours I would spend watching my brother play video games.  There are plenty of descriptive battle scenes and accounts of what Ender is seeing in the video games he is playing.  The training get harder and Ender rises to the challenge.  That’s the plot.

On the surface.

What you’re really getting throughout Ender’s Game is a tour of duty through the mind of a child who is not a child and the agony of shouldering the weight he knows has been put on him.  Card writes his characters so well that I found myself thinking in Ender’s “voice” once or twice after switching off my Kindle and attempting to go on with my life.  The internal descriptions in this book are as vivid as the external ones, and far more important.  The plot comes second to the question that Ender constantly asks himself, that the reader asks about the world he lives in, and that could very well be asked about our world outside of the book: What are we doing?!

So yeah, ironically enough, as a Romance writer I found this book to be essential in the study of how to craft characters.  That’s what Romance is all about, after all.  Characters.  Their wants and fears and dreams.  That’s what makes up Ender’s Game.  Card doesn’t burden the reader with too many details.  He tells almost no backstory, but manages to show so much of it through the actions of the characters in the present of the book.  He gives the reader a lot of credit for being clever enough to fill in the blanks that he leaves.  The result is depth and richness.

Of course, the other genius of Ender’s Game is that everything builds, piece by piece, block by block to that one moment when the truth comes out.  And even though I had guessed what the truth was, whether because I’m smart or because I remember someone talking about it at some point and recalled that I don’t know, when the big reveal came I still burst into tears.  I felt the full impact, Ender felt the full impact, and neither of us could look at that world the same again.  Bam!  The truth was out and everything that had come before, every detail that had seemed moderately important or extraneous, suddenly made sense.  I love it when a writer weaves their story so carefully that the payoff moves me to tears.

So yeah, as you might have guessed, I freakin’ loved this book!  I also highly appreciated Card’s introduction, in which he talks about craft and what went into writing Ender’s Game.  I’ll save my thoughts about that for another day though.

Up next:  I need to give myself a treat after Ender’s Game.  I think I’ll hop back in bed with Captain Jack Aubrey and read the second book in the Aubrey/Maturin series, Post Captain.