Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

reel roy 2I’ve been reading movie reviews since I was a kid. Every Friday, I’d go for the reviews in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s weekend section before I hit the funnies. Even now, I’ve been known to guiltily flip past the front section of the paper to check out the movie reviews before going back to read about more weighty matters.

And Roy Sexton is the first movie reviewer to ever make me laugh out loud.

Not just once either. I made the mistake of bringing his latest book — “Reel Roy Reviews, Vol. 2: Keep ’Em Coming” — as reading material on Philadelphia’s PATCO High Speed Line. Spent the entire trip giggling like a stoner in study hall. I think I scared some people. It would be worth getting the book just for his side-splitting evisceration of “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

Here’s the great thing about Sexton’s humor, though. Even when he’s trashing a film, he’s got a rare knack for being sharply funny without coming across as snide.

You can tell Sexton is one of those guys who just really enjoys the experience of going to the movies. Reading his reviews is like heading to the cineplex with an affable, really-freakin-funny friend. For a sparsely attended afternoon matinee, maybe, where you can put your feet up on the seats and do a “Mystery Science Theater” without feeling like a jerk.

If you and your friend like the movie, great. If not, you can still have a blast ripping on it, and laughing about how bad it was over beers later.

In his second volume of reviews (see my review of the first volume here), Sexton expands the scope a bit. He includes more reviews from concerts and regional community theater productions from his home turf of Michigan. He even has a few pieces about the local theater scene. Even if you don’t have any inherent interest in Michigan community theater, the latter have a pleasant local-newspaper-columnist feel that you don’t see enough of since this whole digital age thing happened. Besides, Sexton is the kind of guy who could write a septic tank installation manual, and still be fun to read.

What I enjoyed most in the book, weirdly enough, were the reviews of movies I wouldn’t have any natural inclination to watch. Not because he artfully lambasted them, but because he made them sound like fun.

His innovative approach as a reviewer is to evaluate the overall experience of watching a movie, rather than judging it as good or bad according to some film scholarly criteria that — let’s be honest — most film viewers don’t particularly care about in the first place.

It brought me back to those pre-Netflix days when I’d sometimes watch movies not because I’d specifically chosen them, but just because they were on.

I don’t do that anymore. When I’m watching a movie now, it’s one I’ve read about and determined will likely be worth the time I’m investing in it. Something critics have praised, or else a less revered but still cinematically significant film watched out of obligation to shore up cracks in my cultural literacy.

Nothing wrong with that. Still, Sexton’s book reminded me of the half-forgotten pleasures of accidental viewing. Discovering a glorious piece of cheese like “Roadhouse.” Or watching Jean Claude Van Damme now being acknowledged as a gifted comic actor, and knowing you picked up on that the first time you saw “Kickboxer.” Or maybe the fifth time. Or maybe … what is this … the 15th viewing? Hell, I don’t even remember. Hey! “Big Trouble in Little China” is on next! BOOyah!

Ah, those were the days.

Sexton is a welcome reminder that movies like “300 — Rise of an Empire” can still be a hell of a lot of fun. Especially if you’ve got a hilarious guide along with you.

Oh yeah. Be sure to check out more of Sexton’s stuff at his Website, Reel Roy Reviews.

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Marie Lamba, authorMarie Lamba is the author of acclaimed young adult novels including “Drawn” and “Over My Head.” Publisher’s Weekly called her humorous YA novel “What I Meant…” “an impressive debut” and Kirkus described it as “realistic and well-paced.” She’s also author of the upcoming picture book “Green, Green,” co-authored with her husband Baldev Lamba and illustrated by Sonia Sanchez.  More than 100 of her articles have been published in regional and national magazines, including “Writer’s Digest.”

She’s also an Associate Literary Agent with the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in New York City. It was in that capacity that I interviewed her for the quarterly newsletter of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, which I edit. The piece was intended primarily for writers. But even if you’re not an aspiring writer, I hope you find it interesting. (And if you’re NOT an aspiring writer, consider becoming one. It’s a blast. And you meet lots of cool people. Like Marie.)

Be sure to check out her very informative blog here.

 

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career as an agent and a writer?

A: I knew I wanted to be a writer from age 10. I never guessed I’d be an agent, too. But my own agent, Jennifer De Chiara, saw I had the skills to be a solid agent, so she offered me the gig a few years ago, and I love repping writers and illustrators!

I bring to the table experience in publishing as an editor and a book promotion manager, I’m an award-winning public relations writer, and I know what it’s like from an author’s point of view to create a manuscript, send it out into the world, see it published, and then promote it. This all informs my actions as an agent selecting manuscripts, working with my clients, and selling manuscripts to publishers. My recent sales as an agent include picture books, middle grade novels, YA novels, and adult fiction. I’m actively building my client list, and you can find my current list of clients and my submission guidelines here: https://marielamba.wordpress.com/about-marie-the-agent/

As for my writing self? I’m the author of the contemporary YA novels “What I Meant …” (Random House) and “Over My Head,” and the time-travel novel “Drawn.” I’ve had essays in anthologies, a short story in Liar Liar” and more than 100 articles in national magazines, including “Garden Design” and “Writer’s Digest.” You can also find my articles in this year’s editions of “The Writer’s Market,” “The Guide to Literary Agents” and “The Children’s Writer’s Market.” Plus my first picture book, which I co-authored with my husband Baldev Lamba, is titled “Green Green” and it’s coming out through Farrar Straus Giroux in the next year.

Q: What are the benefits of having an agent?

A: Access. So many publishers are closed to non-agented writers. As soon as you have an agent, all of those doors are open. If you have an agent with an established firm (even a new agent which such a firm), that person can pick up the phone and call any editor at any level and get their attention. I know, because I have done just that. J

Career development. An agent will be engaged in growing your career. Getting the best deal for you at the best publisher that they can. Helping you direct your writing in a productive way. Giving you realistic market-informed feedback when you need it.

Cheerleading. An agent will be your number one supporter. Speaking up for you to the world.

Creativity. With an agent taking charge of pitching your work, and managing your contracts, etc., you are more free to WRITE.

Contracts. Your agent will negotiate the terms of your contracts, and make sure everything is in order before you sign. They’ll also be there to make sure things are carried out as promised. And to go to the matt for you if needed.

Q: How should a writer go about finding an agent, and what are some things he or she should keep in mind?

A: There are SO many does and don’ts out there. The first thing you MUST do is finish your manuscript and polish it to perfection. Then you simply must do your homework. There are a ton of articles with query submission tips and other insider’s advice posts over at my site http://www.marielamba.com. I do an Agent Monday post nearly every week, so if you subscribe to the site, you won’t miss any. And you must Google the agents you are querying to find their guidelines. Follow those guidelines, or you will most likely be deleted without ever being read. There are great resources out there to help you, including pred-ed.com, querytracker.com, and agentquery.com, plus the annual market books put out by “Writer’s Digest,” etc. And if you are really serious, subscribe to publishersmarketplace.com, even if only for a month, to research agents, who represents who, and what deals are being done in your genre. Great up-to-the-moment info you won’t find anywhere else.

Q: What are some things that would encourage you to represent a particular writer?

A: Professionalism. Someone who has a strong voice. Originality. Someone who is in the business for more than just this one book, and ideally is working on a number of other projects.

Q: What would lead you to reject a writer?

A: Something I’ve seen before. Sloppy or boring writing. Not following guidelines. Obnoxious in the cover letter. Unprofessional online presence — like dissing agents and editors online. Not understanding their readership. Preachy tone.

Q: Are there any current industry trends that you think would be valuable for writers to know about?

A: Career-wise, I think the opportunities for writers are growing the farther away we are getting from the not-so-great-recession. This is a very important thing for writers to keep in mind as they move ahead. Are you creating scaled-back future goals based on the crap the recession years handed you? That is probably a mistake. Expect more and dream big.

As for fiction trends? I’m sure your readers know that Horror is no longer a “dirty word” in the industry, and you’ll see more agents and editors including the word “horror” in their guidelines. In general, novels with speculative elements that also appeal to mainstream audiences are being sought more widely.

I personally don’t represent straight genre fiction, and so I’m speaking from the point of view of an agent who deals with the top commercial presses. (Niche presses that specialize in speculative fiction are a different bag of apples.) In general, for the top commercial publishers, dystopian fiction is a hard sell these days, as are zombies and vampires. Agents have seen a LOT of it, and so have editors. I’ve also seen a ton of fae and mermaid and werewolf stories. That doesn’t mean these are completely dead (they never really die, right?), but it DOES mean that you need to be completely unique if you are approaching this market. If you are writing a dystopian, say, and your book features a fractured society with a wall and a wasteland beyond that wall, well, it is going to feel VERY familiar. Strong characterization is key, as is a unique setting and a fresh voice.

In the YA market, thrillers are still hot, and speculative elements (again, with very strong characterization and a unique take), when blended with an authentic YA voice, are doing well. Middle grade novels are always a strong market for fantasy elements, especially when they are rooted in the real world, and for mysteries and the creepy crawly elements of horror done with a lighter touch.

Strong realistic contemporary novels are longed for across all age groups. It’s almost like a palate cleanser after all the complicated and drama-filled stories — ah, to have a simple story told in an elegant and page-turning way… Diversity is huge! Representing the underrepresented voices in fiction in an authentic way is especially sought after right now. But PLEASE don’t force your manuscript into the diverse category by suddenly giving a character an accent, or a disability. I’ve seen a lot of these, and they ring false.

Thanks for having me here! I wish everyone much writing success.

AddisonNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the fifth part of the piece, along with my original introduction.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Linda Addison is the award-winning author of four collections of poetry and prose and the first African-American recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award®. She has published over 290 poems, stories and articles and is a member of Circles in the Hair, Horror Writers Association, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and Science Fiction Poetry Association. See her site: www.lindaaddisonpoet.com, for more information.

My first publication was in 1994. At that time I considered changing my name to L.D. Addison so it wasn’t obvious that I was a woman. I decided not to use an alias. Today there are more women writing speculative fiction than twenty years ago.
I’ve always seen myself as an author first, then any other labels are acceptable: woman writer, African-American writer, African-American woman writer. Through my eyes I see myself writing the stories and poems that come to me. It just so happens my imagination always went outside the realm of reality-based writing. I’m blessed to represent women writing weird stuff, always will be.

samatarphotoNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the fourth part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novel “A Stranger in Olondria,” the Hugo and Nebula nominated short story “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” and other works. She is the winner of the John W. Campbell Award, the Crawford Award, and the British Fantasy Award. Sofia is a co-editor for “Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts,” and teaches literature and writing at California State University Channel Islands.

I don’t know whether things are worse for women in speculative fiction than they are for women in mainstream or literary fiction. What I do know is what everybody knows, if they pay attention: that the publishing industry, in both of these genres, is male dominated. It is also white dominated, and privileges heterosexist and ableist narratives. These inequalities create the atmosphere in which we work. To speak as a woman in speculative fiction specifically, the inequality creates a situation in which you know certain things in advance. Even if you’ve never been harassed at a con, you know it happens, and that knowledge shapes your interactions with other professionals. You know that you’re statistically less likely to rise to prominence than a male writer, to draw attention, to make people listen.

All of this explains why the past year stands out. This was the year Ann Leckie swept everything — award after award, it was amazing! All the Nebula award winners were women. This is also the year the folks at “Lightspeed Magazine” made ten times their goal amount with the “Women Destroy Science Fiction” Kickstarter, enabling them to do “Women Destroy Fantasy” and “Women Destroy Horror” as well. Now, that whole series started in response to the sexist notion, which some people actually hold, that women are destroying these genres. But the immense interest in the series, and the energy around it, shows that there’s a significant number of people who believe the opposite.

It might just be a coincidence. This could be the year we all look back at like “Hey, remember that year a bunch of women got attention?” But I really don’t think so. I think that transformation comes in waves, each one bigger than the last, and that this is a particularly big one. It will probably recede, but things won’t go back to the way they were. Every woman writing science fiction now is looking at Ann Leckie. Each change makes the next change possible. That’s why, all things considered, this is a pretty great time to be a woman in speculative fiction.

Rena MasonNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the third part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Rena Mason is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of “The Evolutionist” and “East End Girls.” A former O.R. nurse, an avid SCUBA diver, world traveler, and longtime fan of horror, sci-fi, science, history, historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers, she writes to mash up those genres with her experiences in stories that revolve around everyday life. For more information on this author visit her website: renamasonwrites.com

As Robert Heinlein didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a sci-fi author, not all female speculative fiction authors are also writing some form of romance, paranormal or otherwise. With more organizations and companies promoting women, such as Women in Horror Month highlighting women in all aspects of horror, Nightmare Magazine’s “Women Destroy Horror” issue, Eli Roth’s The Crypt app highlighting women in horror, and the Horror Writers Association offering scholarships for women horror writers, along with more women stepping up to support one another in representing the genre rather than using a more popular or more accepted label for their works, women’s roles in the genre can only improve.

Note: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the second part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.
I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

ELLEN DATLOW

Ellen Datlow hard at work in front of her booksEllen Datlow has been editing sf/f/h short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and currently acquires and edits stories for Tor.com. She has edited more than sixty anthologies, including the annual “The Best Horror of the Year,” “Lovecraft’s Monsters,” “Fearful Symmetries,” “Nightmare Carnival,” “The Cutting Room,” and “Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells” (the latter two with Terri Windling).
Forthcoming are “The Doll Collection” and “The Monstrous.”
She’s won multiple World Fantasy Awards, Locus Awards, Hugo Awards, Stoker Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, Shirley Jackson Awards, and the 2012 Il Posto Nero Black Spot Award for Excellence as Best Foreign Editor. Datlow was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre”; has been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career, and the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award for 2014, which is presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field.

 

I’ve been editing short science fiction, fantasy, and horror since 1980. When I was promoted from Associate Fiction Editor to Fiction Editor of OMNI Magazine, there was some blowback against me for not emerging from fandom (which was overwhelmingly male and from which most of the sf editors up to that point came). There was some silly talk by a few male writers who criticized the entry of female sf editors into positions of power. These women — again, most of whom did not come out of fandom — were assumed to have had no experience in the genre, although we were all longtime readers of sf/f and we all worked our way up from the bottom.
I’ve been involved more with fantasy and horror than science fiction for a number of years so I’m not as familiar with who is writing what in science fiction these days. But my perception is that fewer writers are writing science fiction at all. Saying that, there are certainly many excellent female writers of science fiction and if a male editor chooses an entire sf anthology with stories only by men it means they just aren’t looking beyond their old boys network comfort zone.

colour of magicInterrupting my feature on woman speculative fiction writers to acknowledge the passing of Terry Pratchett — one of the great ones.

I was a fan. Not a huge one, I must admit. In general, I don’t go in for obsessive fandom about any writer or cultural phenomenon. There’s just so much good stuff out there, and it’s always struck me as a shame to limit your focus to one book series, TV show, music group, etc. But I’ve read a number of his books over the years, and was always impressed. In fact, I like to think he shaped my sensibilities as a writer.

Here’s the deal.

I  love jokes. The sharp one-liner. The meandering anecdote filled with hilarious asides. The witty off-hand remark. Even groan-inducing puns and standard-issue “a guy walks into a bar” fare when presented in a certain context. I greatly enjoy exchanges among funny people, where the jokes are flying left and right.

Yet for all that, I find few things more tedious than one of these “joke-off” (phonetic similarity intended) situations. That’s when somebody brings the conversation to a thudding halt by abruptly saying something along the lines of: “Alright, a giraffe walks into a proctologist’s office …”

Everyone else is obliged to sit there silently until the joke-teller brings it in for a landing, probably via a punchline you saw coming a mile away. You do the fake laugh thing out of politeness. Ha. Funny. Can we get back to the conversation now?

Nope. Somebody else says: “I got one! This guy’s on golf course. And a leprechaun comes up and says ‘I’ll give you three wishes.'”

And so it goes. On and on. Labored set-up. Obvious punchline. No organic connection to anything else going on. Just an inherent demand for exclusive attention to some verbal entertainment that isn’t particularly entertaining. And all the while, I’m silently pleading that we can put an end to this and get on with our lives.

I have a similar reaction to humor that’s nothing but a series of disconnected jokes strung together. The “Scary Movie” series is a prime example. Or — sorry, fans — much of “Family Guy.” To me, the jokes have to be in service of something. A solid narrative, like “The Simpsons” at its best. A character arc, like “Community” or “This is Spinal Tap.” Social commentary, like “South Park.” Even well-done absurdism, like “The Kids in the Hall” or “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

Terry Pratchett was a master at that.

In good humorous stories, the jokes have a solid narrative foundation to back them up and give them structure. Even without the humor, the story would ideally be able to stand on its own. Pratchett took it beyond that. In the best of his work, the humor, characterization and narrative were all inextricably intertwined. Each an essential component.

I first encountered Pratchett when I was a geeky and fantasy-fiction-obsessed teenager. “The Colour of Magic” from 1983, the first book of his Discworld series, was available as a selection from the Science Fiction Book Club. The concept sounded like a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” for high fantasy, and I was intrigued.

I ordered it and found it … good. Full of funny lines and situations. Well-drawn characters. Plenty of in-jokes and riffs on fantasy tropes for fans like myself. And a decent adventure story to back it all up.

I didn’t read any more Pratchett for the next couple of decades. My interest in fantasy fiction waned when I hit college age, and I felt no particular inclination to check out his stuff.

I was in my mid-thirties when I was at my local library, searching for a book on CD to listen to during a car trip. I saw one of his books, and was a little surprised to discover that Pratchett was still writing about Discworld. I’d thought of “The Colour of Magic” as an amusing novelty that might merit a sequel or two, but no more.

I checked it out of the library, expecting a diverting if lightweight read for the car trip.

Wow!

I was astonished at how far he’d come as a writer. It was one of the books dealing with the Ankh-Morpork City Watch — essentially an urban police thriller set in a fantasy universe with dwarves, werewolves, orcs and centaurs. And it worked beautifully. It wasn’t just some exercise in winking, arch humor based on police thriller cliches enacted by elves and trolls. It was a genuinely good story with a complex, gripping narrative, engaging characters, and something substantive to say about the nature of racial tolerance. For all that, it was still really freakin funny.

I picked up a number of his books after that, and was impressed each time. One of the elements I most admired was his propensity for taking fantasy creatures such as vampires and golems, and making them actual characters. Not abstract representations of evil, or enigmatically magical beings. Just regular folks trying to get through the day (or night) and make a living. (Or … you know.)

In doing so, Pratchett gave his works a warm-hearted humanism that (for the most part) didn’t descend into preachiness or cloying sentimentality. Maybe that neighbor who seems so mysterious, threatening and different from you isn’t such a bad guy after all. At least give him a chance.

And he managed to thoroughly entertain his readers in the course of delivering that message.

As far as literary legacies go, you could do a lot worse.