Archives, Part 13 Going on Earthquake Survival (July 14, 2009 to September 8, 2009)

Review: The Coma by Alex Garland (July 14, 2009)

This title is available for purchase here.

The Coma (6.5/10)

What a Hell of a way to end a marathon. Coming off of The Beach and The Tesseract, both of which were really enjoyable, I had high hopes for Garland's third book. Unfortunately, almost all of my expectations failed to be met. That's not necessarily to say the story isn't good--it's got some positive aspects, especially the structure, something that, especially with The Tesseract, for which Garland has shown some obvious strength. Yet I can't really say it isn't bad, either.

I suppose what bugged me the most was the length. While The Tesseract wasn't terribly long, I managed to finish The Coma, which is illustrated throughout and condensed into miniature chapters with wide typesetting, in less than two train rides. That's somewhere around an hour and a half. Yet while a bit longer than The Tales of Beedle the Bard, I walked away from The Coma feeling vastly unfulfilled. I felt like the story had no weight to it, no substance, and left me feeling nothing afterwards. Whereas most novels give you something to think about or at least entertain you on the way to the end, this never did that.

I can't possibly recommend this to anyone other than Alex Garland fans. While it's not the worst thing to read, it's not the best, and just manages a passing score in my system. Go read The Beach and enjoy it, then watch the movie and 28 Days Later... they actually deliver. Seriously. Go now. I'm watching.

If you liked this book, you may also like:

The Experiment (film), directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel

Prince of Persia (7.4) by Jordan Mechner, A.B. Sina, LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland

The Poet (8.5) by Michael Connelly

Review: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (July 24, 2009)

This title is available for purchase here.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (8.8)

Honestly, I never meant to buy this book. It was really an impulse purchase after seeing the title grace bestseller lists for so many months of tracking. I just happened to stumble upon a first edition (I'm so neurotic) sitting in Wal-Mart for only $17, so, you know, it just had to happen. Then it sat on my shelf for awhile and I just happened to squeeze it in following my Garland series.

Anywhos, back story aside, I now understand why this book was such a hit. Following the life and times of the titular character, the book is a general retelling of Hamlet, so if you've read that story you know part of what to expect (look here if you don't--then go to your library, for Pete's sake!). The original parts, though, are what really shine, especially the introduction of the Sawtelle dogs. I'm not certain what the author plans for the future, whether or not he'll even tie other novels to this one, but Sawtelle dogs must certainly appear somewhere! Seriously, I want one. How cool would it be for a dog to simply look at you and know EXACTLY what you want? I know some do now... but this, this was something completely different.

Back to the book. While it may drag in a few parts, the writing is overall very well done, though I seem to remember a couple points I believed could've used some tighter editing. Two points in particular: a running plot thread about a stray male seemed to have no actual resolution, and the ending... well, to put it mildly, it pissed me off.

You'll see what I mean.

Final point: read Hamlet first. You'll respect what Wroblewski did a whole lot more.

If you liked this book, you may also be interested in:

The Noticer by Andy Andrews

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Walden Two by B.F. Skinner

Agents and Queries (August 6, 2009)

So a few weeks before my recent vacation (last week, Florida, got engaged [yay!], saw Disney, NASA, Clearwater--good times!), I made a trip to the library--not the local one, but the big one that is the best place ever--and picked up the most recent edition of the Literary Market Place. For those of you who don't know what this is, please read through their Web site. I don't find it, personally, nearly as easy to use as the books, but it is what it is. Anyways, I did this right before lunch with my then-girlfriend's (now fiance, woot! [sorry, still very excited about that]) laptop and looked through for some good agents.

I had a few requirements for choosing an agent (you have to, otherwise there are hundreds to choose from at random): 1) they have a Web site, 2) they don't have any reading fees and 3) they actually have some kind of interest in my particular type of story. Simple enough, right? Well, after sitting in there for some time, writing a list of names and Web sites, I got quite tired and just stopped. Nevertheless, I've gathered a hefty listing of agents that fit those particular criteria, as follows:

A Abacus Group. 760-375-5243.

AAA Books Unlimited.847-444-1220.

The Aaland Agency. 760-384-3910.

AEI. 323-932-0407.

Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency. 845-758-9408.

Anderson Literary Management. 212-645-6045.

Artists & Artisans. 212-924-9619.

Authentic Creations Literary Agency. 770-339-3774.

Loretta Barrett Books. 212-242-3420.

BigScore Productions.

Vicky Bijur Literary Agency. 212-580-4108.

BooksEnds LLC.

Books & Such. 707-538-4184.

Browne & Miller Literary Associates. 312-922-3063.

Sheree Bykofsky Associates Inc.

Cambridge Literary Associates. 978-499-0374.

Jane Chelius Literary Agency. 718-499-0236.

Linda Chester Literary Agency. 212-218-3350.

Wm Clark Associates. 212-675-2784.

Crichton & Associates. 301-495-9663.

Richard Curtis Associates Inc.

De Fiore & Co, Author Services.

Joelle Delbourgo Associates Inc. Literary Management. 973-783-6800.

D4E0 Literary Agency. 203-544-7180.

Dunham Literary Inc.

Dystel & Goderich Literary Managment. 212-627-9100.

The Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. 212-431-4554.

Sheldon Fogelman Agency. 212-532-7250.

The Gislason Agency.

Inkwell Management. 212-922-3500.

What you can't see is just HOW tired I got. About a third of the way through, I stopped writing down phone numbers and about 2/3 through their names seemed to no longer matter. For your benefit, I've gone ahead and filled them in entirely.

I got home later and began searching through their Web sites to get a better feel for who I would be submitting to, and almost immediately began to cross agents off the list for a number of reasons. I won't say which now, or which I eventually decided on, but I will say that my Word listing of these agents has many, many X's, strikeouts, "meh"s and other such nonsense. It's quite lovely, actually.

After selecting one, its time to submit. Each agency has its own guidelines, so be sure to check them, but the basic premise is to submit a query letter with a brief synopsis and short biography and/or a proposal, with the latter generally asked for following a successful query. This brief FAQ, from
BookEnds, LLC (one of the agencies above) details what is needed much better than I could and was the most detailed of any site:

What is a proposal?

A proposal can mean many things to many people. Fiction writers asked to submit a proposal to BookEnds should include the first three chapters of the book (no more than 50 pages), a synopsis (whatever you already have on hand is fine), an author bio highlighting significant writing experience, organization membership, or anything else that might be pertinent to your work, a detailed query/cover letter reminding us of what you're submitting, and of course a SASE.

Nonfiction writers have a great deal more work to do when submitting a proposal. Since nonfiction can be sold primarily on proposal, nonfiction writers need to include the following:

  • Overview—this should include a one-paragraph or half-page summary of your book and what makes it different from everything else out there. Your overview should also include a detailed chapter summary if you aren't planning on submitting the entire book.
  • Author bio—since nonfiction is almost entirely about who the author is, it's imperative that you give detailed information on what makes you an expert in the field you're writing in as well as any media exposure you've had relating to the subject.
  • Competition/Marketing—how do you intend to market this book for the publisher? Only give information that is actually attainable to you. If you've already written articles for Entrepreneur magazine then mention this; don't mention Oprah unless you can guarantee it! Also include information on how your book differs from other similar books already on the market.
  • Writing Sample (the first 1–3 chapters of your book)
  • And of course don't forget the detailed query/cover letter and a SASE.
Please note that narrative nonfiction should be submitted as if it were fiction.

What length synopsis do you need/prefer?

BookEnds has no specific synopsis guidelines. Instead we always say, whatever you have on hand is fine. However, if that's not enough of an explanation, we think a synopsis should usually run about one to three single-spaced pages and include all pertinent information about the book, including the ending.

What do you look for in a query letter?

Any materials sent to BookEnds, even if it's been requested, should include a query or cover letter. Whether you are submitting a proposal or simply e-mailing a letter, be sure to include the following information:

  • Your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and any other pertinent contact information.
  • The book's title, the genre it best fits into, and the length or word count.
  • A very brief synopsis of your book. This is the most important piece of the letter since this is the one thing that's going to hook the agent. We don't need to know every detail of your secondary characters, but we do need to know what those key things are about your book that makes it different or special. To use one of our own books as an example:
"Featuring amateur sleuth and wine expert Nikki Sands, Murder Uncorked is the first in a proposed series set in California's wine country. When Nikki stumbles upon a body in Napa Valley, it isn't long before her nosiness gets the best of her. Now she's knee-deep in trouble and must find the killer before he finds her. In addition to a terrific cozy mystery, I've incorporated wine-pairing suggestions with delicious wine country recipes."
  • · A bio that highlights any significant writing experience you have had.
Please note, even if material has been requested you should always include a cover letter reminding us that we've requested it, the title of your book, and what it's about.

Using this as a general guide, as well as the submission guidelines from the agency you've picked, will greatly help in the submission. I sent mine on July 31st, just before my vacation, with some form of reply generally received within 3-4 weeks. Here's hoping, yeah?

Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (August 8, 2009)

This title is available for purchase here.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (6.0/10.0)

Did any of you ever hear of this novel when it was originally released? I didn't, though it was 2004 and I was a bit busy with getting into college and whatnot, but considering I found a first edition hardcover of this book in Marshall's for only $2.99, I suspect it wasn't the huge bestseller critics likely expected it to be amid the Harry Potter phenomenon. Yes, this book concerns magicians. No, it is nothing like Harry Potter.

Yet while that may be cause for concern for readers desperately craving more of the same (I wasn't), its not the book's only problem. If you pick this book up and quickly flip through, you'll notice it comes in at a hefty 782 pages. Now, I'm not one to scoff at a long book (The Brothers Karamazov is one of my absolute favorites, coming in at 824 pages... as is Battlefield Earth [1,004 pages], though I'm sure many wouldn't agree with me on that one) but there were long sections of this novel that seemed... pointless, for a word. The first few hundred pages, namely, as very little happens and I nearly fell asleep reading (quite rare for me) several times. Plot threads are introduced and never resolved, footnotes pad the story (but offered some of the best highlights), and boring page after boring page nearly made me throw the book back on my shelf or in our Free Book Box at work.

However, once past that, to a specific point where one of the main characters goes off on his own for some time, the story improves dramatically and actually features (*gasp*) magic! Yes, there are only a few instances of magic in the first two-three hundred pages. Of course, it's not all about magic, as the writing will immediately tell you: written in Victorian prose a la Pride and Prejudice, this isn't like most novels written today. It feels like a hefty non-fiction title your grandfather would be more interested in... and honestly reads like it, too.

If you liked this book, you may also be interested in:

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (7.6-9.4)

The Stand by Stephen King (9.6)

1453 by Roger Crowley (8.5)

Woah. (September 8, 2009)

I was fully expecting to write an entry today, but realized when I logged in that has quickly, quiety and completely changed their look and interface. I'm currently playing around with it, trying to figure out the look I want for the blog (there are very few to pick from at the moment and hardly any customization) and will be writing soon.

I'm just sad I lost my book widget.