Banned Books Week Review: The Handmaid's Tale

Sep 30, 2010

Don't forget to enter the Hundred Awesome Followers Giveaway for your chance at awesome books-- plus free critiques!

So I'm assuming by now pretty much the entire writer blogging world knows that it's Banned Book Week. And I think it's also safe to assume we all think banning books is backwards and horrible. If you don't want to read something (or don't want your children to), fine. Don't read it. But don't prevent me from making the choice for myself!

Tahereh, who's sponsoring a banned book review fest, reviewed The Giver, which was my first choice for a review. Like her, I was shocked to find this book on the banned list. That was the first book that really changed my view on how the world could work. It was my first introduction to dystopian literature, a genre that has captured me completely.

However, I'll be reviewing another dystopia, The Handmaid's Tale by Margret Atwood.

"In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: "of Fred"), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be. "

This book is fascinating, horrifying, and eerily realistic. I was drawn into Offred's world, putting the pieces of it together and seeing how it came about. I loved it and hated it, but I could not forget it.

Now, here's the thing. This book is told from the point of view of a woman who's basically kept as a breeder. So, naturally, there is some sexual content. In fact, a woman's sexual role is in fact a large focus of the book, because it's a large focus of the society. If my child were assigned to read this in junior high or high school, I might not want them to read this. It would depend on their age and their maturity, and of course we would talk about it.

But that's the thing with banned books. I have a right to decide with my own child if this book is right for them at their age. That is my prerogative as the parent. It is not my prerogative to make that decision for every other child at a school. Or for everyone in my town who might not be able to find it at the library if it's banned.

Books should not be banned. Period. Make your own reading choices. Let everyone else make theirs. Three cheers for banning banned books!

Contest Extension!

Sep 29, 2010

Hey folks! I'm going to extend the critique part of the contest until Friday at midnight. Go ahead and keep submitting your stuff if you'd like!

The Hundred Awesome Followers Giveaway!

Sep 27, 2010

Hurray! It's the Hundred Awesome Followers Giveaway! To say thanks to all of you people made of awesome who follow my blog, I've got a two part giveaway-- and the best news? Everybody can win in part two!

Part I

The Prizes:

Two lucky winners will receive one of the following:

#2: an ARC copy of S.A. Bodeen's The Gardener

The rules:

You must be a follower and comment on this post to enter. That's it! The contest ends Friday, Oct. 1st at 11:59 pm EST. Winners will be announced Monday, Oct. 3rd. Open to U.S. and Canada residents only.

Part II

Everybody wins! I'll do a critique of

1) Your query letter OR
2) The first 250 words of your novel/short story/whatever

for EVERYBODY who wants one and is a follower of the blog!

(Um...yes, I might be a little crazy.)

The rules:

You must be a follower.

Simply email your query or 250 words to shallee.mcarthur [at] gmail [dot] com.

It must be IN THE BODY OF THE EMAIL. (No attachments) I'll accept them through TOMORROW, Tuesday Sept. 28th at 11:59 pm EST. (Now extended to Friday, Oct. 1st at 11:59 EST!) I'll send your critique back to you as soon as possible, and no later than the end of October.

Of course, I'm no industry expert, but I can offer the honest eye of a fellow writer.

You don't have to Tweet, Facebook, or blog to get any of this, but if you want to spread the word, I'd be very happy. :)

So get entering and emailing! And THANK YOU for your awesomeness!


Sep 25, 2010

Today, my friends. Today is the day.

The day I finished the first draft of Devolutionaries! Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!

Think of me jumping in crazed wild circles around the house. Even though I'm not 'cause it'll wake Gooser (the baby).

Okay. Breathing. I'm a little excited. Boone (my hubs) even gave me a round of applause.

And really? I totally deserve it! Even though I already know at least twelve places where it sucks, the completion of the first draft is utterly applause-worthy.

P.S. You all rock. Contest of 100 awesome followers begins on Monday, so stay tuned!

Thank You!

Wow, I'm blown away by the responses from yesterday's Great Blogging Experiment!

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone, and welcome to my new followers!

And...I'm only two followers away from 100, which means I'm two followers away from hosting an awesome Giveaway!

And...just a hint...every follower can win something. It's going to be that awesome. Because you're that awesome.

Creating Compelling Characters: The 3-2-5 Rule

Sep 24, 2010

When I took Brandon Sanderson's Awesomest Writing Class Ever, I learned that I sucked at creating characters.

I thought back through my previous books and stories, and saw flat, boring, uncomplicated, and uncompelling characters. I reread my notes from that particular class multiple times, and distilled the character section down to what I'm going to call the 3-2-5 rule of characters. Basically, it's a simple formula for creating forceful, convincing characters that demand investment from a reader.

There are 3 things you need to think about when creating your characters:

Who are they, who are they becoming, and what stands in their way?

This is the vital first step; you can't have a character at all, let alone a compelling one, without it. It can be as simple as a few sentences.

Let's use Harry Potter as an example. Harry is a beaten-down, skinny orphan who will become a powerful, confident wizard-- if Voldemort doesn't kill him first.

There are 2 ways characters should connect with a reader:

1. We are like them. We can identify with this character. We get something about them. I think most people can identify with Harry's unfortunate circumstance of being picked on by somebody bigger than him.
2. We want to be like them. They have some quirk, power, or characteristic we admire and would like to have. Harry's a freakin' wizard. If I'd been younger when the books came out, I'd have sneaked down to my room and concocted fake potions and waved around a twig yelling Expelliarmus!

There are 5 things every character should have:

1. Flaws- A flaw is something that is wrong with the character that is THEIR FAULT that prevents them from reaching their goal. Think of Harry Potter: he doesn't tend to plan ahead very well (Goblet of Fire, anyone?).
2. Handicaps- A handicap is something that ISN'T the character's fault that prevents them from reaching their goal. Harry has a connection to Voldemort because of Voldemort's attempt to kill him that actually helps bring a more powerful Voldemort back to life.
3. Strengths- Basically, things the character rocks at. Harry has an amazing knack for defense against the dark arts (quite a necessary skill for him!) and Quidditch.
4. Quirks- This doesn't mean your character has to be a Looney Lovegood. A quirk is a unique way your character sees the world, or something particularly distinctive about them. Harry's scar is a "quirk"-- something unique to him that stands out.
5. Motivation- Your character has to WANT SOMETHING. They have to be driven to achieve their goal. This motivation makes your character get up and do things instead of just sitting around, getting on with life. Harry wants to avenge his parents-- and prevent Voldemort from killing Harry and his friends.

So, my friends, that is the 3-2-5 Rule of Characters. If you want even more awesome advice on creating compelling characters, go check out all the other entries in the Great Blogging Experiment!

Polygamous Writing

Sep 23, 2010

Normally, I'm a faithful, one-story kinda girl. I get an idea, I develop it, I write it, I revise, then I write the next one. Of course, I usually have a few other ideas percolating while I write, which enables me to jump into the next story when I'm done with the first.

Something's different with the current percolation.

I've been working hard on Devs the last few weeks, trying to finish the first draft. And during those last few weeks, a new little idea has exploded into a big, I-can't-stop-thinking-about-this idea. So occasionally, I've taken some of my writing time and started world-building this new idea.

It's weird for me. I've become a polygamous writer.

Luckily, I'm very much in love with both of my stories, so I'm not ignoring Devs. It still gets the majority of my writing time. And in a way, it's good that I'm getting this new idea ready to go, because I plan on taking time off from Devs for a few weeks before I start in on revisions. I'm glad I'll have something else to work on.

So, my friends, now I'm wondering. Are you a polygamous writer, or a monogamous one? How many stories/ideas do you have going at once?

The Authors that Influenced Me

Sep 20, 2010

There are a lot of books in this world that have influenced me in one way or another-- in my writing, in my perceptions of the world, etc. But there are two particular authors who have influenced my writing, and not just through their books.

And I was lucky enough to go meet them both again at a book signing on Saturday.

Brandon Sanderson is an author I have loved since I read his first book, Elantris. Last Christmas, my husband bought me his most recent book-- and it was signed, which always makes me happy. In addition to the signing, my husband told me Brandon was teaching a class at BYU the next semester, and anyone was invited. Thrilled at the prospect, I went. And it was one of the best thing's I've ever done for my writing.

Not only did I get some of the best writing advice from Brandon, but I learned about the publishing industry. I was motivated to write more than I had in years, and rediscovered my love of it. And I decided I was going to seriously pursue this dream of becoming a published author.

The other writer who influenced me that I saw on Saturday is Dan Wells, author of the amazing I am Not a Serial Killer. Last April, I attended the Storymaker's Conference and signed up for a hardcore early-morning bootcamp critique group. Each group was led by a published author, and Dan was my group leader. Thanks to him (and the great group members like Angie!), I learned a great deal about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It was another pivotal moment in my writing.

To my surprise, Dan remembered me at the signing. Apparently, I asked him the most interesting question he's ever gotten in a critique group-- I asked if a character with red hair was a cliche. Like my MC in the work we were critiquing. We decided that the hair was fine, but if she was "spunky" or if it was just used as her single defining trait, it was definitely cliche.

The things I learned from my experiences with these two authors helped shape my writing. So, friends, what about you? What authors, experiences, or books have shaped you as a writer?

P.S. Many thanks to Madeleine from Scribble and Edit for the Creative Blogger Award!
I'm passing this on to A.L. Sonnichsen, Jenn Hoffine, Taffy, Naomi, and Chersti. Go check out their blogs, they're wonderful.

Spacing Out: Weird Habits of a Writer

Sep 18, 2010

I'm sort of a space case.

Just ask my husband. We'll be in the middle of something normal (dinner, taking a walk, playing with the baby), and suddenly, I'll tune out. My eyes get big, and I stare off into the distance. I don't actually notice when I'm doing this, because inside, I'm thinking the following:

Ooh, wouldn't it be interesting if the real reason Ash and Quinn don't like each other is...


Hey, I know how to fix that scene! Maybe they could...


Wouldn't a cool story be if...

Eventually, I'll come back to the world, and get teased by my husband (who's kind enough to let me space out when I need to without interruption).

So, my friends, do you have any odd/interesting/funny habits as a writer? Do share!

How a Minor Character can Make or Break your Plot

Sep 15, 2010

I'm getting so close to completing the first draft of Devs. Like, within 15,000 words-ish. Last week, I was sure I'd have it done by the end of this week. And then, something happened. You know when you're writing a scene you know is crap, but you just don't know what else to write? Yeah, that's what happened.

So I stopped for a few days, trying to figure out what wasn't working in that scene. I realized it actually wasn't that scene that was the problem-- it was one in the previous chapter. One where a minor character suddenly became incredibly important without me even realizing it. His actions would drive a good deal of what happened next, and his actions in that scene were...well...stupid.

After a while, I figured out what the core of the problem was: I had no idea who this character was.

He was a minor character, so I hadn't bothered to do much in the way of characterization. I usually fill out a big long document about my characters before I start writing, so I have an idea of who they are. This guy had no dossier. And while he's a minor character, he's a very important minor character. So I went in, figured out everything about him, and was shocked. He was a heck of a lot cooler than I'd realized!

Then I went in and pack-ratted two whole scenes. Out they went, and that problem scene got rewritten. Because now I knew who this guy was. I knew what he would do. And it causes major problems for my protagonist. Which is awesome, because now I know how the book is going to end!

So, my friends, the question is: have you had situations where a problem with a character created a problem in your plot? How did you fix it? Let's discuss!

Book Review: The Scorch Trials

Sep 13, 2010

Okay, folks, here's my long-promised review of James Dashner's The Scorch Trials! (Here's a link to my review of the first book in this series, The Maze Runner.) Here's the cover copy:

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.

In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety . . . until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim . . . and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?

So. I loved The Maze Runner. It was exciting and fast-paced, and I expected more of the same in The Scorch Trials.

And boy-howdy, did Dashner deliver.

From the first page, the book doesn't slow down. I was riveted the entire book. What made it even more riveting was how much more Thomas, the main character, became real to me. The stakes are so personal to Thomas, yet still give the impression of affecting the world at large. Things build and build and just keep getting worse. Dashner is the king of "what's the worst I could possibly put my character through." I actually teared up at the climax! Poor Thomas...

I loved the new characters that came into this story as well, and I loved the continued characterization of the boys from the Maze. The world, again, was something unique and fascinating, and so well drawn I have a firm picture in my mind of what I think the Scorch looks like.

Overall, this middle book of the series did what few middle books manage to do: it stands on its own. And it does that while still being a perfect continuation of the first book, and leaving you on the edge of your seat for the last book. That's one problem with getting an ARC, I realized-- I have to wait that much longer for The Death Cure to come out!

I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for post-apocalyptic reading, or anyone who is just looking for a highly engaging and fast-paced ride. It's being released October 12.

Contest: Full Manuscript Critique!

Sep 7, 2010

Okay, I'm already ignoring my last post, but hey, the little guy's sleeping.

Anyway, how'd you like to win a FULL MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE (up to 100,000 words) from C.A. Marshall, writer, editor, and agent intern?

Yes. She's that awesome.

Go check it out, my friends!

Life Changes

As of today, I have officially gone from a working mama to a stay-at-home mama. I couldn't be happier! I'm thrilled to be home with my son all day now. While I'm still doing some contract work from home, it will be from home.

And, much as I love the new changes, they're going to take some adjustments. So this week, you can expect not a lot of blogging from me as I wrangle a new schedule into place. I will put up my review for The Scorch Trials, though.

Otherwise, you'll probably find me with my boy at the park. Or the library. Or the front yard. get the idea. :)

Write what you believe

Sep 1, 2010

Karen over at Typing with My Toes brought up an interesting question on her blog today-- how do you give your writing meaning without pushing an agenda? Nobody wants to be preached at, but a lot of people want to find meaning in a book. And as a writer, I want to write a book that has more than entertainment value.

My first creative writing professor in college gave me some of the best writing advice I've ever gotten on this subject. He said that rather than "write what you know," you should "write what you believe." That doesn't mean you have to write about religion or a political angle. People have strong beliefs about all sorts of ideas-- think of the book Feed. It had some very strong points to make about consumerism, but I never felt like I was being beat over the head with a moral.

Writing what you believe can be scary sometimes-- for me, the things I believe strongly are things that I'm afraid to write about. I'm putting out into the world something that means a great deal to me. What if people don't like it? What if they disagree? According to my professor, if you're afraid to write something, that's exactly what you need to write. It will have the most power. And you, as a writer, just have to have the courage to put it out there.

One thing I love about writing through the lens of my beliefs is that I don't tend to push an agenda when I write this way. That seems almost contradictory. The strange thing is, when I begin working on a story I feel strongly about, I don't focus on the beliefs. I'm focused on the story that has a background in those beliefs. Yet, those beliefs still come out-- in a non-pushy way.

So, friends, what's your take on this? How do you write the things you believe while not being didactic? How do you overcome your fears in order to do this?

Shallee McArthur © 2013 | Designed by Bubble Shooter, in collaboration with Reseller Hosting , Forum Jual Beli and Business Solutions