[Pitch Slapped] A look at 600 recent review requests

600 Book Review Requests

I’ve been checking the canary review request inbox periodically, browsing around for jewels to catch the eye, but last week, I decided to get serious about it.

The Unread pile had grown to a little over 600 emails since February, and I wanted to do something about it. Over the next hour or so, I cut the pile down to a more manageable 100 review requests that had piqued my interest, then down again to some 50 books to check out and try.

I thought I’d share some general observations about my process and what worked and didn’t work to intrigue me as I powered through the requests. Here are some things that immediately struck emails from consideration:

1. Not the right genre. Poetry anthologies, political thrillers, historical literature. Gone.

2. Couldn’t find the blurb. If I couldn’t immediately see what the book was about, or if it asked me to open an attachment to read the blurb, or if I had to click a link, I moved on. Continue reading

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Girls reading books about boys

I remember towing my kid brother around the library in a doomed attempt to inspire a love of reading.

“This one sounds cool,” I said, handing a book to my brother. It was an adventure story with a shiny gold spine. “It’s about a kid genius who tries to kidnap a fairy and ends up with high tech fairy operatives chasing him.”

My brother wasn’t impressed. He inspected the cover with a kind of resigned patience usually reserved for trips to the shoe store. With a furtive glance at me, he slid the book back into its slot on the shelf.

“What’s wrong with that one?”

“Dunno,” he mumbled. “It sounded boring.”

“Okay then, how about this one? It has a quest and dragons.” I said, pulling another book down. He was shaking his head before it cleared the shelf.

“No,” he said, looking relieved to finally have a good reason to veto my pick. “It has a girl on the cover.” Continue reading

Writing the impossible: Thoughts on immortal characters in fiction

Deities, vampires, demons, elves, artificial intelligences, cyborgs, genetically enhanced humans, sentient ships, aliens.

I love reading about inhuman aliens, about immortal characters, about the other that is, in some deep way, truly other. And so I am always more than deeply disappointed when the alien is merely a human with purple skin and the 400-year-old vampire prince has all the personality of a petulant teenager with pointy teeth. I am looking at you, urban fantasy. You, space opera. You, paranormal romance.

Immortality, like any story decision, deserves to be more than a cursory afterthought. What happens when immortality is granted to someone who would otherwise be human?

The questions are endless: What is it like to still be healthy and alive after a hundred years? In two hundred, how much has society changed and what is your role in it? In two thousand, how do you see time and the people around you? Does your perception of time continue speeding up, or do the days drag by? How has your religion changed, if it’s even still around? Is the passage of time oppressive or inspiring? Does living forever mean disengagement and bitterness, or compassion and patience? Do people still understand you when you talk? Which languages do you choose to learn and how often? What up with science? Have you upgraded your rotary phone yet?

Ever try talking to an older uncle about things you care about? Image your uncle grew up in ancient Mesopotamia. Or was a nomadic shepherd on the Asian continent. Or a British sailor on a whaling ship. Now he asks you what you’ve been up to. Probably in ancient Chinese.

Damn.

Immortals in romantic subplots

Is that a 475-year age gap I see? Is that a teen dating an octogenarian?

Immortal love interests are ubiquitous in the romance genres. They often come with troubled pasts – history is no cakewalk, after all. They demonstrate the weight of history through outbursts of anger, their iron-clad control, their impassive countenance, their pushy, alpha-male tendencies.

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Where are all the ancient alpha males who grew up in more egalitarian societies or encountered the hard, no-nonsense women running households and businesses?

I always feel vaguely cheated. Is that it? Is that all? You’ve lived for hundreds of years, and all I get is a foot-stamping romance-novel trope, muttering “mine” uneasily under its breath? Or else you are my immortal heroine acting with all the self-possession of a teen high on red bull and sugar. Continue reading

Defining Dystopia. Hint: It’s not about love triangles.

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I’m about halfway through reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale with Tash from The Bookie Monster, and it has dawned with me that over the last few years, I’ve slowly lost sight of what the dystopian genre is all about.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes North Korean oppression, mixes in the gender-driven segregation of fundamental Islam, and frames it all in the language of Christianity. In no place in the text can you take a step back and scoff, this can never happen. It might. The story makes you believe it might.

This is the chilling power of the genre – it says, This could be the world. Our world. Tomorrow. The dystopian genre is a cautionary tale. It’s a warning. It’s the uneasiness of premonition. It is the Greek seer Cassandra, blessed by the gods to see the future and cursed to never be believed.

Reading The Handmaid’s Tale, it occurred to me that the mushrooming teen dystopian genre has been selling oppression lite. To win itself a shiny “dystopian” label, the ubiquitous YA book checks the box  marked “oppressive society” and perform a token wave to its character’s rejection of the status quo. These worlds don’t need to be realistic or thoughtful or threatening (and perhaps that’s why Divergent’s world pissed me offSeveral times.) They just need to involve oppression. The weirder the better. Continue reading

[Pitch Slap] Writing that agent query.

Now, I’m gonna say that I’m not a literary agent. I read books. A lot of books. And websites and stuff. So when Jodie emailed us and submitted an agent query for a pitch slap, I was briefly confuzzled, then nervous, and then I dove in. Here’s my canary stab at talking about agent queries!

For this pitch slap, I’m going to press pause on the blurb itself and instead talk about the stuff around it.

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The Pitch Slap is Back!

Chirp! We are going to start the new year off with some brand new pitch slapping and fit tossing. In our Pitch Slapped series, we take a book blurb or a book pitch, and then proceed to pull it apart and stick it back together – all the while answering those pesky questions like: What works? What doesn’t work? What could be done differently? Why?

Here are a few of my favorite from last year:

A pitch slap! In tiny, tiny text.

 

I have a few pitch slap requests lined up, but I am always looking for more.

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Or do you know an author who does?

Email it our way  to canarypost@gmail.com with “Pitch Article Submission” in the subject.

[Small Chirp] Weight of the Golden Fleece, or math in fantasy concepts

I’m the kind of reader who can get caught up on the details. One of the delightful and delicious things about fantasy and science fiction is the freedom authors have to craft crazy worlds and play with speculative concepts. But I also expect these worlds to have internal integrity – in other words, I want it all to make sense. So when an author tells me salt is a luxury and people live on the very basics in a medieval village far from any trading routes, I find myself wondering why the village windows are made of glass. Devil in the details.

A couple days ago, author @ilona_andrews posted a tweet about something most writers encounter at least half-a-dozen times when writing a book: “What would this cool idea really mean for my fantasy world?”

In this case, the question was about the weight of a pelt of gold: Continue reading