Monthly Archives: December 2013

Holiday Posting

Hello, faithful readers!

The holidays are coming, and with them a whirlwind of visits with family and friends, gifts to wrap, events to attend, and so on.

So I’m taking a blog hiatus for a couple of weeks. I’ll be back early in the new year and ready to take on 2014.

In the meantime, it’s over to you. What’s your favourite thing about this time of year? How are your holiday preparations going? If you’re a writer, do you write more or less than usual over the holidays?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and happy holidays to all of you!

 

Advertisements

A Tradition of Books for Christmas

Christmas with bookIn my family, we have a long tradition of giving each other books as gifts. I can’t remember a single Christmas where no-one has gotten or given a book.

Some years I’ve ended up with a big, delicious stack; other years, one or two volumes, or even none, as I’ve been a giver instead of a receiver of books. They’ve ranged from secondhand paperbacks to quality editions, from literary classics to Star Trek tie-in novels to the latest in whatever SF or fantasy or historical series I was obsessed with that year.

My family first discovered Harry Potter through a holiday catalogue put out by a local bookstore, the dearly departed and sorely missed Greenwoods’ Bookshoppe. That year, I read the description of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone — I’d never heard of it, nobody had back then — and decided to buy it for my brother, who was just the right age. He loved it. I might have loved it even more than he did.

Speaking of Star Trek tie-ins, I discovered Star Trek in 1992, just at the beginning of my teens. At that time Star Trek: The Next Generation was on its first run, so that’s what I watched, and initially what I read, borrowing all the tie-in books from my Trekkie aunt. But she was also an avid fan of the original series (TOS). For Christmas that year she gave me a copy of her favourite TOS novel, Uhura’s Song — getting me hooked on a whole new series.

More recently, my mom started giving my siblings and me books she hoped would serve us well as new adults heading off on our own — books of recipes, books on decorating your first apartment.

My immediate family doesn’t have any young children in it right now, but you can bet that if and when it does, I’ll be buying kids’ books for Christmas, and I’ll do it with glee.

Your turn! Do you buy books as holiday gifts? Have you noticed a theme or themes to your buying over the years?

If you liked this post, you might also like The Best Christmas Stories Ever, featuring my favourite seasonal books, movies, TV specials, and even a radio show.

7 Tips for Mental Health and Lower Stress During the Holidays

Christmas treeThe holidays can be a tough time for many of us. Whether it’s the pressure to be perfect, the tension of navigating family relationships, the weight of memories, or the sheer length of the to-do list, there are many reasons to feel like Scrooge or the Grinch at this time of year.

Here, then, are some tips for retaining your mental health.

7. Don’t try to do everything. Pick your projects and your battles. I don’t bake or send cards, but I do decorate my home and put lots of thought into my gifts. If you’re trying to make Christmas amazing for a small person in your life, for example, pick and choose the things to focus on — the ones they’ll remember. Years later, they won’t remember how many kinds of cookies you made, but they’ll remember a tradition of making gingerbread together. If you’re a writer, maybe December is the time to scale waaaaay back on your goals or writing schedule — the words will still be there in January.

6. Resist the pressure, both internal and external. You’re inundated with messages about using your dollars to make your loved ones happy. You want to find the best gift ever this year. Maybe your in-laws and your step-family both want you with them for Christmas dinner. Resist. You can do this.

5. Do focus on what you love about the season. This is where family traditions can come in handy. A particular holiday music album that you always put on? A visit to Santa? Decorating the tree together? Curling up on the sofa to watch holiday movies? None of those things are expensive or time-consuming or stressful — they’re just fun, or if they’re not, they should be. Linger on them, and enjoy.

4. Make time for you. If you’re an introvert, for example, you’ll still need me-time — that won’t change just because it’s the holidays. Stick to your exercise routine if you can, or your weekly ritual of going out for coffee on Sundays, or whatever else you ordinarily do that you love.

3. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Your tree might not look like it came out of a magazine (unless doing it that way causes you more happiness than stress), but it looks like you trimmed it your way. Your cookie-decorating skills might be lacking, but if they taste good, who cares? I promise your family and friends won’t notice, or if they do, they won’t care.

2. Plan something to look forward to in the new year. One reason the holidays get so much pressure is that after they’re over, there’s a long, dark slog until spring (at least in this part of the world). My significant other and I have started a tradition of a weekend getaway for mid-February, and let me tell you, it makes January go much faster. If a trip isn’t in the cards for you, try a concert, a party, or any special event that you can get excited about.

1. Do what you need to do. Above all, your mental health is the top priority. If that means skipping things, letting other things slide, staying home sometimes…well, so be it, and don’t let anyone (including your own Inner Critic) tell you otherwise. You’re worth taking care of.

Your turn! What are your best tips for staying sane during the holidays?

Christmas Gift Ideas from Turtleduck Press

You knew I was obliged to do one of these, right? *winks* Don’t worry, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled non-promotional content on Wednesday.

Turtleduck Press has been working hard at putting out good stories for the past three years, and we’ve amassed a variety of books designed to appeal to a range of SF&F and romance readers.

(All but one of them are available in your choice of ebook or print. Click on the covers below for more info!)

If you like…

…season-themed SF&F anthologies: you might like Winter’s Night (a variety of winter-themed stories and a poem) or Seasons Eternal (one longish short story for each season, set in a world where the seasons have stopped changing), edited by me and contributed to by all the members of Turtleduck Press.

Winter's Night anthology cover

…urban fantasy, paranormal romance, banter, or modern takes on mythology: then you might like Shards by Kit Campbell.

Shards by Kit Campbell

…science fiction set in space but with a focus on character, banter, or m/m (gay) romance: then you might like Knight Errant, His Faithful Squire, Queen’s Man, or Captain’s Boy by KD Sarge.

Knight Errant by KD Sarge

…science fantasy, genetic tinkering, or paranormal romance: then you might like Fey Touched by Erin Zarro (and watch for the sequel, Grave Touched, coming in April!).

Cover of Fey Touched by Erin Zarro

…poetry about broken love or about living with disability: then you might like Without Wings or Life as a Moving Target by Erin Zarro.

Without Wings by Erin Zarro

…YA novels about stepping through a portal into a magical universe: then you might like Hidden Worlds by Kit Campbell.

Hidden Worlds by Kit Campbell

We also have lots of SF&F short stories available to sample for free on our website, but if you’d like to support the authors and get your own copy (ebook only), we’ve collected our favourites in The Best of Turtleduck Press, Volume 1.

Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol. 1

And finally, if you’re not inclined or not in a position to buy one of these yourself this Christmas, but would like to support Turtleduck Press, you can still help by:

  • spreading the word — the biggest barrier to success in publishing (after quality, of course!) is getting noticed, and word of mouth is super important
  • leaving reviews — again, reviews on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, or LibraryThing, or your own blog if you have one, help authors get noticed
  • letting us know how we’re doing — if you want to see us do more of something in particular, or just want to send encouragement, we’d love to hear from you in the comments
  • buying or recommending another author’s book — Sure, we’re technically competitors, but really, the more people read, the better it is for all authors and the publishing industry as a whole…so go out and buy someone’s — anyone’s — books this Christmas!

Toddlers and Writing: Like Oil and Water – Guest Post by Kit Campbell

Kit Campbell author photoToday I’m thrilled to introduce a special guest blogger. Kit Campbell is the brains behind the business end of Turtleduck Press, and she’s also the author of our newest novel, Shards.

And? She’s doing all that around a small child. Here she is to explain how.

I think most people who are not parents don’t really think about what it’s like to have children. That’s not a dig or anything like that, but why should they? Children are something in the future or something that you occasionally see at holidays and then can return to their respective parental units.

Even parents don’t really think about what it’ll be like in the future. It’s hard, when you have an infant, to picture what he’ll be like as a toddler, a preschooler, a teenager, an adult. So, while I knew when I had children that I would have less time to work on my stories, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was getting into.

I should probably preface this by saying that I’m fairly new to this whole parenting thing; my only child will be a year and half just after the new year. I have, in this last year, managed to partially rewrite and completely edit my debut novel Shards, which was just released this past Sunday.

How did I manage this? Very carefully. And by “very carefully,” I mean by careful use of what little free time I have left. I like to imagine that, as the small, mobile one gets older, I’ll get some free time back, either by him learning to concentrate on things or by eventually sending him off to school. I may be deluding myself, however.

Right now, I have to do all my work while he’s sleeping. And I do mean all—not only my fiction work, but also my normal, daytime job, which I do from my home office. I also need to do some things around the house or yard while he’s asleep too, usually things that involve dangerous chemicals or sharp implements.

I’ll tell you one thing. I have learned to focus like nobody’s business.

Sometimes I can get some work done while he’s up, usually things that I can be interrupted during and not lose my train of thought. But he’s at this stage where he wants to know what I’m doing at all times and, if at all possible, also do what I’m doing. Or steal what I’m doing and run off with it. (He also wants to eat all my food. Anything I don’t want to share has to be relegated to nap time.)

He can occasionally be distracted by being turned loose in the backyard, though if he notices the laptop within range, he’ll be back. Sometimes he can be distracted if I give him whatever food item he’s been coveting and stay where he can see me. (But hide the laptop behind a plant. Or a stack of dishes.) He is, however, never distracted when I ask his father to watch him and then hole up in the office. He will stick his face up against the glass door and run his tongue along it until I let him in.

I once wrote 50,000 words in a month while working full-time and taking graduate-level engineering classes. Who would have thought that one toddler would prove more time-consuming than that? But it’s probably good for me to have the structure, and despite the decrease in productivity, I wouldn’t go back to the way it was before. Life’s a little more interesting through all the chaos.

About Shards

Shards by Kit CampbellEva Martinez is just trying to finish her religious studies degree before her mom guilts her into coming home, when Michael saves her life. There’s definitely a spark between them, but Eva needs to focus on her studies and upcoming trip. Turns out Michael knows a lot about her major, but there’s a lot he’s not telling her too. Will Eva discover the truth about herself before it’s too late?

Kit Campbell has never met a mythology she hasn’t liked. This sometimes leads to issues, such as the occasional Norse God of Thunder showing up in the Garden of Eden. She adores weaving in the possibilities forgotten magic can bring to a story, and enjoys making up new creatures, such as large, venomous monsters that hunt in packs.

Kit’s stories have been published in half-a-dozen anthologies, and her YA novella, Hidden Worlds, was released by Turtleduck Press in 2010. Shards is her first full-length novel.

Kit lives in Colorado in a house of ever-increasing chaos. She can be found around the internet at kitcampbellbooks.com, @KitCampbell, and on Goodreads.

More Reading

Kit’s doing a blog tour this week — if you’d like to read more about Shards, all the links can be found at Kit’s website here.

And, in totally unrelated news, I’m blogging at Turtleduck Press about being addicted to stress.

 

Catching Fire: Book vs. Movie

Catching Fire movie posterSo who’s seen Catching Fire? If you’ve read the book, how does the movie hold up? How does it compare to The Hunger Games (film and book)? Come on in and let’s talk!

Before I get into the spoilers, here’s a quick movie review: For me, the book dragged, especially in the first half, and the movie has tightened up the plot without dropping anything essential or feeling rushed. As with the first film, the addition of scenes showing President Snow and the new Gamemaker helps to explain some of what Katniss experiences – oddly enough, making the conflict feel even more immediate. Katniss does a bit too much weeping and screaming for my taste, but overall, Jennifer Lawrence does a stellar job again. Fabulous adaptation, wholeheartedly recommended.

(Note: I have not yet read Mockingjay, so I’m reacting to the film without knowing how the trilogy plays out. Please refrain from discussing Mockingjay in the comments, unless you mark your comment clearly as being a spoiler!)

Spoilers below…

What Got Cut

Because books are longer than movies, any film adaptation of a book has to cut something. The trick is deciding what can be cut while still creating a coherent story. Sometimes this results in an almost entirely different story, or else a film that rushes through without dwelling properly to give the audience the emotional journey they crave.

In this case, the film adaptation sticks very close to the plot of the book – even closer than the first film, which shows unrest in the districts even though in the books Katniss doesn’t learn about this until Catching Fire.

One major difference is that several events in the first half of the book are condensed or eliminated – her PTSD-induced nightmares where Peeta comes to comfort her are trimmed down to a single scene (two if you include the flashback while she’s hunting with Gale), her leg injury is skipped altogether, District 13 is barely mentioned, her personal grooming team is gone except for Cinna, and the idea of “talents” is also gone.

The elimination of Katniss’s supposed talent in design is no great loss, but cutting Peeta’s talent with art leads to a moment of confusion. When Katniss enters the training arena to show off her skills, it’s not clear that Peeta did the painting of Rue. That bit couldn’t be cut because it’s what incites Katniss to make the dummy of Seneca Crane, but if you hadn’t read the books, you’d be lost.

Other than that, trimming the first half works well – the montage of the Victory Tour hits all the highlights from the book and is still very effective. In fact, it is even clearer in the film that Katniss and Peeta’s attempts to stick to the Capitol-approved script only incited more discontent from their audience.

I didn’t notice much, if anything, missing from the film version once the Games started…did you?

What Got Added

As with The Hunger Games, the film version of Catching Fire adds the point of view of President Snow, letting us see more about his motivation and his interactions with the Gamemaker. (Though, critically, we are not privy to the motivations of Plutarch Heavensbee until the end.) This fills in some of the pieces that, to me, were missing in the book.

Catching Fire book coverFor example, when I read the book, I had a hard time buying that Katniss’s love life was really so important to President Snow. But with the movie, seeing Snow and Heavensbee talk about Katniss in her absence, Snow’s thought process is clearer.

She really has become a symbol of resistance, and if he kills her outright she’ll be a martyr, but he has to bring her in line somehow. The increased Peacekeeper presence, for example, is a direct reaction to the threat she poses. It’s meant to cow and deter, not only District 12 as a whole, but also Katniss specifically.

It’s also chilling to watch Snow and Heavensbee plot Katniss’s downfall. Everything she tries is met with a counter-move. It reminds me of that XKCD comic about the definition of success. First of all, she contemplates running away. Then she realizes she can’t run, but she only has to get through the Victory Tour and pretend to be madly in love with Peeta until the tour is over. Then Haymitch explains that that’s not enough, they’ll have to pretend for the rest of their lives. And then Snow drops the bombshell: she’s going back into the Games.

Now that’s good plotting. All of Snow’s counter-moves are in the book, of course, but they’re explicitly shown in the film, and that change makes the tug-of-war between Katniss and Snow more gripping.

The Characters

Jennifer Lawrence did a brilliant job as Katniss in the first movie, and if anything, she’s even better here. Everything from her PTSD to her grief for Rue feels real, and the final close-up on her face would not have been nearly as effective with a lesser actress.

My only quibble is that she’s continually bursting into tears. Fewer tears would have made the remaining ones more effective. If I were directing, I would have had her cry when she learns she’s going back into the Games, when she and Finnick are trapped with the jabberjays, and maybe one other time, but that’s all.

As before, the acting for the secondary characters is fabulous. Most of them, particularly the adults, are a little flat, but at the same time they’re distinctive. Look at any line Effie or Haymitch delivers, and there’s no way that line could belong to anyone else. I even caught myself muttering “Oh, Effie” in fond exasperation at some points.

The new additions are also strong, and come across very much as they’re portrayed in the book. The other tributes are broken people, and it shows. I particularly liked Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee, who presents as a complete opposite to his predecessor, the foppish Seneca Crane.

A Few Notes on the Story

I also want to mention a few things about Catching Fire that aren’t specifically about book vs. movie.

My movie-going companion maintains that Katniss is weaker in Catching Fire than in The Hunger Games because she spends a lot of time dwelling on the love triangle. By contrast, I feel – especially with the book – that it’s Peeta and Gale who are dwelling and pining away, while Katniss stands aloof from both of them. What’s your take?

(Speaking of “weak”, here is a great point about Peeta and his masculinity.)

I mentioned earlier that I had trouble suspending my disbelief when President Snow takes such a close interest in Katniss’s love life. The other major plot point I had trouble buying was that so many of the other tributes would join in on the plan to keep Katniss alive, when it’s at the expense of their own lives. Of course, maybe I’m still underestimating the extent to which she’s become a symbol for everyone outside the Capitol, or maybe this is explained further in Mockingjay.

Your turn! What did you think of Catching Fire?