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Thursday, May 26, 2011

White Water Rafting or Tubing: Which Reader Experience Do You Prefer?

I just finished Veronica Roth’s stellar debut, Divergent, about a young girl who shocks her family and herself when she becomes part of a societal faction that emphasizes bravery and action above all other traits. The plot is a breakneck succession of twists, turns, thrills, reversals, and near misses. You don’t linger in this book; you plow through it breathlessly trying to reach the end. That’s not to say it doesn’t have an emotional arc or that it doesn’t have something serious to say about society—it absolutely has both. But reading it is kind of like white water rafting—you don’t experience it so much as crash wildly through it. You are constantly on your guard, pulse pounding as you wait for the next life-or-death decision, the next training sequence, the next dangerous person hovering around the corner. Like a rafting excursion, it’s exhilarating, unpredictable, and oh so entertaining. And when it’s over, you can’t quite remember how you reached the end, only that it was an amazing ride.

Then there are the slow meandering stories, full of languorous scenes that don’t seem to know where they’re going but move along so very prettily. This reading experience is more like tubing—you lean back and let your face feel the sun, dip your feet and hands in the water which feels like silk, study the river bank to see what kinds of trees are growing there, and look ahead for the little tumbles of water that will somehow manage to thrill. Sometimes it seems as though you’re not moving forward at all or that nothing’s really happening, and yet the whole experience is so pleasurable you don’t really care. Think Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells or Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever. These books lull and seduce us to the end, whispering, we’ll get there when we get there; just enjoy the ride.
As a reader, I thoroughly enjoy both kinds of books, bouncing back and forth between the two as my mood and schedule dictate. The first kind of book lasts only a night. A wild, passionate one-night stand. The second kind I like to make last, spreading it out over a week or more so I can linger in its world. A long, beautiful picnic of a date that ends with moonlit kisses and secrets divulged under the stars. As a writer, I’m constantly trying to figure out what kind of books I want to write. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be an either-or; perhaps I can write the same way I read, seeking out adventure and danger in scenes as brisk and intoxicating as the river rapids, then retreating to the comfort of passages as slow and sultry as a summer afternoon.

In your book choices, are you a thrill-seeker or a basker? Any great reading suggestions for either?

Sunday, May 22, 2011


A few reasons to be in a good mood on this fine Sunday morning in May:

1.     The apocalypse was averted. We are all still here.
2.     The end of the school year is in sight. Nineteen days left…
3.     My husband is very close to finishing his master’s thesis, and I am very close to finishing round 1 of edits for A Breath of Eyre.
4.     We went to my niece’s ninth birthday party last night, and her favorite thing in the world is peace signs. I think this is a good omen.
5.     Last weekend, we went to my brother-in-law’s wedding in South Carolina, and it was one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever seen. The couple completely reaffirmed my belief in true love (not that it ever truly wavered as I’m a lucky practitioner, but it’s good to see that love is alive and well).
Incidentally, my husband and I had an artist friend of ours do a contemporary portrait of the happy couple, and the painting turned out so magnificent, I couldn’t believe it. I can’t post the portrait here for privacy’s sake, but the paintings on this post are all by our friend Emmy Dudley. Her art captures the beauty and whimsy of life. Please check out her website and see if you don’t fall in love. http://www.emmyart.com/
And even though it’s overcast today, here’s a song that conveys my optimistic mood. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cover Lust (and Longing...)

I’m going to use today’s post as an excuse to:
1.     talk about the importance of book covers; and
2.     reveal the gorgeous cover for fellow Apocalypsie Leanna Renee Hieber's DARKER STILL, which releases 11/11 from Sourcebooks Fire

Book covers have been on my mind lately, particularly as it’s about a year before my book releases, right around the time when the art department should be sitting down to discuss possible concepts and design ideas. And these days, it seems so important to have a knock-out cover, particularly in the genre of young adult fiction. Why? you ask.

To be honest, I’m not sure. In this world of electronic everything, with e-books on the rise and Kindles and Nooks ending up in the hands of even former Luddites, the aspects of a physical book seem like they should matter less and less. And yet, covers still seem to possess a cult-like power over readers. There’s even a category on GoodReads called “Waiting-on-Cover,” almost as if to say, if the cover doesn’t excite, the consumer might not buy the book. For authors, cover reveals can be moments of true celebration or profound disappointment. Even in this age of abstraction, covers still seem to matter.

Having not yet crossed over the digital book divide myself, I still adore holding a real book in my hands, feeling the glossy cover and embossed title, studying the typeset, reading the synopsis and blurbs on the back. As I read the book, I like knowing that the cover is always there as a reference point, contributing to the overall mood of the novel. I know a cover shouldn’t have that much sway, but for me it does. And sometimes that’s a bad thing.

There have been books where I’ve longed to get sucked into the story and create my own versions of the characters and settings, but because of a heavy-handed design or a too-literal interpretation of story elements, the cover leaves nothing to my imagination. Try as might, I’m unable to get the cover image out of my head, and it almost spoils the experience, kind of like seeing a movie before reading the book (Horrors!). It’s awful when you can’t imagine the characters as anyone other than the actors who play them on the big screen.

Then there are just bad covers, full of poor color choices or strange and off-putting images, or the covers that are just bland, fading into a background of blah. I’m thankful that YA covers have stepped it up in recent years because when I was a pre-teen digging into my first YA titles, the predominant covers were cheesy and cartoonish. Take the cover for one of my all-time favorite YA books, Lois Duncan’s Stranger with My Face.
The book is so creepy and atmospheric and unique, and yet the cover is just so… ugh. Thankfully, the book got a makeover sometime during the 90’s.

Better, for sure, but  it got revamped once again in 2011 with a far more stylized design.

Today’s YA covers tend to be sophisticated, going for an audience beyond tweens and teens, hoping for the elusive crossover success of the Twilight and Hunger Games books. The best covers, in my opinion, are ones that don’t necessarily have much to do with the plot itself but are evocative, giving a sense of the type of reading experience this is going to be without giving away specific details. Here are some recent covers that have made me swoon:
So what do you think? What do you like in a cover? How important are covers to your book choices? Is it more important when you’re in an actual bookstore than online? Tell us, do you judge a book by its cover?