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Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

December 26, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  6 Comments

cutbThis book review is for writers, specifically novelists. For general book reviews on Courtney Summers’ debut novel Cracked Up to Be, seek ye to Google. This review is spoiler free; the actual book jacket says Parker, the main character, made a bad mistake. And yes she did.

Let me warn you right now, this review starts with a tangent.

Here we go!

There is an old maxim in advanced situational training; specifically training for self-defense, firearms, law enforcement training and what have you. This is training that deals with the totality of a situation, where the dynamic flow of multiple inputs meets the processor, your brain:

“If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not learning anything.”

Sounds simple, does it not? Simplicity aside, this is an advanced training concept. Those who push the envelope and place themselves in situations where failure is not only likely but also expected, learn a great deal. This training sharpens the mind and teaches a person how to apply one lesson learned to other things, not just their particular area of study.

It is effective because it works. If you are not making any mistakes, you are not learning anything.

Summers’ book is a keen study in this area. The plot of her book is this: Parker was a perfectionist. She carefully built a world of her choosing. You know the type—wound so tight that they snap under their own drive or reality intrudes on these people and breaks them.

And Parker is so very broken. As the book relentlessly marches along, one comes to realize, even before the revelation of what caused Parker to snap, that the real world did not just come and bite her on the ass, but ripped out chunks of her heart.

I have a minor quibble with Cracked Up to Be, but nothing that deters my glowing recommendation of this book for any teen, adults, writers and certainly novelists going after the young adult audience. As I have stated before, if you want Fair and Balanced, go watch mainstream news. Here, I am going to gush. If I do not feel like gushing, I leave the book off my review list (which, by the way, has ten books in the queue).

I hate to say it, but I would not have picked up this novel at the bookstore. Why? Because it falls into the section of the bookstore that houses a lot of crap written for girls—novels specifically tailored to entice girls to buy them because girls are a great source of book buying dollars. What makes those books crap?

They are so dishonest. They are preachy, pretentious and filled with fake angst that makes me want to puke. Teens who have sex die, get an STD, pregnant or are cast out from society (or all four!). Boys written to be either shining examples of people who do not exist, or are passive-aggressive abusers. Stereotypes and stilted dialog. Someone dies just so the main character can feel what it is like to experience grief. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. All the consequences of every single action are there for the author to preach.

I certainly stopped buying those books, and now secretly wonder where the writers who grew up with Judy Blume went. There are exceptions, but I will assert these exceptions are not exceptional.

Until now. For Cracked Up to Be is awesomesauce.

The fact that Summers’ book is going to be smooshed in that prior mentioned section just pisses me off, but I have been on a Young Adult pissy rant for like ten years now, so that is just part of who I am. Cracked Up to Be is a book so honest its hurts. That is a primary reason I recommend this book for anyone writing for the young adult market. I felt vaguely uncomfortable reading it. Parker’s hidden pain was on the same level with her mistake, and with the first-person point-of-view narration you are sharing that understated pain. Despite the fact that Parker was a total bitch, who either needed to be slapped or fucked silly (I could not decide which), I held a deep sympathy for her because Summers wrote her so raw and honest—it was heartbreaking.

“If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not learning anything.” Does Parker learn from her mistake? Ah such a good question, not to be address here! Go read the book.

More unapologetic gushing follows.

Oh oh, oh, the voicing! Summers writing voice through her minimalist prose is relentlessly good, relentless because that is what Cracked Up to Be is. The unrelenting pacing and tension built bit-by-bit was awesome. The voicing and the pacing alone is worthy of study.

The voicing played well in other areas. Summers took me back to high school. There were no over-done descriptions. She assumed the reader remembered (or, actually was in) high school and just went from there. The lack of over-done and forced setting descriptions was a breath of fresh air. You could say I am in love with her voicing.

Novelists should also take a meta look at Cracked Up to Be. I first heard about the novel via Janet Reid’s blog, which pointed to Courtney’s blog. Her whimsical, playful entries, sometimes even silly, cracked me up. Give me silly over pretentiousness any day! I became a regular reader. When she posted the first two chapters of Cracked Up to Be, man I was hooked. Doomed. I had to have the book. Thus, I arrived at Cracked Up to Be via word of mouth through the great and mighty Interwebs. Fascinating stuff.

That Cracked Up to Be is a debut novel is awe inspiring. Her agent should be doing a little dance right about now. I await her next novel with joyful anticipation. More please!

Finally, Cracked Up to Be is a morality tale, accomplished without preaching, forced circumstances, one-dimensional characters or through a false reality. How did Summers do that? Why, she simply told an entertaining tale with believable circumstances through the eyes of an all-too-real main character. She wrote the world as it is, not what she wished it to be. She told the truth.

Stick that in your Young Adult novel writing pipe and smoke it. Please.

Small writing update

December 24, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: The Craft  0 Comments

Status: Consumed by my work in progress. 700 words here, 1200 there. Almost done with a major battle scene, and then the book goes all YA Fantasy!

And, since no one will indulge my current pixie craving, I’ll just have to do my own. Except these pixies, are, um, purple.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Ramblings on the Bad Man

December 22, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization, Plot, The Craft  2 Comments

In The Baby Dancers, the current work in progress, there is a crucial battle scene where our heroes (Zeke and Josh), do battle with the forces of… what exactly?

To be honest, I do not know. Certainly I know all the motivations, and I have a clear ending for a the book. Indeed, unless I have the last chapter outlined in my head, I do not start working on a novel.  I learned that one the hard way with Unfinished Book.

There are the protagonists, stuck in a bad situation, and all that remains is the journey to the end of the quest.

All in a good, fun story, of course. With no preaching!

There is nothing like a good old story about good vs. evil, but is that interesting in today’s world of complexity? Do young adult fantasy readers want more?

There is a price to be paid for wantonly attacking a group of martial artist who have sequestered themselves in the northern mountains of Idaho. They isolated themselves for a reason. They are the best of the best, and should be left alone. When all is done and the battlefield is covered in blood,  the antagonist is clearly the bad guy. But is he evil?

His actions are evil, from the point of view of the protagonists, just as the Indian’s actions in The Searchers were evil to Ethan Edwards. The novel The Searchers was an extraordinary book, and the film even more so.

I wonder why I can’t remember any teen novels with the complexity of The Searchers. Do publishers feel that the subject matter is too complex? Is it? I do not think so. No, to this day I remember being fascinated by the story that held no clear winner.

The Searchers anchors  around the theme of the family and personal honor, a point often overlooked. This theme runs through The Baby Dancers, but I believe I have found a certain clarity. The protagonist, Zeke, has a moral code and a divine directive. He will suffer no man’s evil. But, Zeke is a thinking young man.

When the antagonist is gray, when evil comes in bits and pieces and not wrapped in bow that is easily identifiable, the stakes are high. Once could say they can go no higher from our protagonist. For, like Ethan, when faced with the quest, the power he wields puts him on the razor’s edge. To fall the wrong way in the quest is to become the bad man.

The sword has but one purpose.

I’m not going to preach to my readers, Lord knows I have several writing friends who will kick my ass if I do.

But I am not going to make it easy. Sometimes the journey is not the the reward. Sometimes, the journey is a long, terrible path, fraught with peril and a stain on the mortal soul.

Death of a Goblin Ninja

December 21, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: The Craft  2 Comments

Ops, thought Klo as he realized the man drew his sword as he stood his full height, towering over him.

As the great sword flashed in its arc, Klo realized it was actually longer than he was tall. The man did not see his exact position, but he did not have to, as his sword’s reach was such that Klo was inside its deadly arc, while Klo could not even reach the man to strike back.

I have made a tactical error, thought Klo right before his head separated from his body, and then he thought no more.

The snow made me think of suck

December 18, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: The Craft  2 Comments

As the snow is accumulating, the mind wanders to

Cartoons.

When I was younger and into cartoons on Saturday morning (now the kids just use the TiVo), my brothers were into the GI Joe cartoon.

I hated it.

Zoom forward many many years. They still have that cartoon, and I still hate it. In fact, I hated any cartoon that had guns, swords, lasers, tanks, spacecraft, robots or any other destructive device where it was pointed in the general direction of the bad guy, activated, and nothing happened except cartoon bullets or rays or whatever traveled and did not harm, or God forbid kill, the bad guy.

Let us not kill the bad guy, even if the bad guy is trying to kill us. For, if protecting ourselves means using lethal force, then perhaps that is not a life worth living.

Or something like that. I never did figure out the message there. Whatever it is, it is bad: no end-to-end thinking. There are no consequences. No stakes. It was never real, so it was always boring. Eventually I figured out that the bad guys could not die, because they could not then sell that action figure.

Thing One asked if I liked the GI Joe cartoon and I said no. I told him, clearly, that in a war, when American soldiers pointed their weapons at people and pulled the trigger, people died. Sometimes in great numbers.

For the sake of self-censorship, we have created that which we wanted to avoid. We have created the expectation of violence without consequences. Instead of resolution and empathy, we have quick judgments and apathy.

I’ve seen books like this. The authors interpreted the world through their internal biases and wishful thinking. Why use colorful prose to describe a grey saturated world? Since they cannot show what life is like, they try to tell what they wish it to be.

Inadvertently, those books suck.

Looking back, looking forward

December 17, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: The Craft  10 Comments

I started writing January 20, 2008 after a 23-year absence from fiction writing.

Or so I used to think.

Essentially, I am a new novelist focusing on speculative fiction. If I consider my crap that I wrote as a teen as  self-serving exercises, what I really am becomes clear. Thinking about that, I am going to quit saying I had writer’s block for so long. You cannot have writer’s block if you were not a writer!

I am a new writer after several abortive attempts. That is the only way to describe it.

Hello, my name is Anthony and I am a new writer!

Hi Anthony!

Anyway, since the end of January, I have written two books (one science fiction, one near-future science fiction) and am one-third through the third (Young Adult Fantasy).

Can I actually write three books in a year?

I believe I can. In fact, since I refuse to let book three go over 80,000 words, January 20, 2009 looks very doable.

What is book four? Well, if I gather any nibbles on Bunny Trouble, I will start on Bunny Theory. If not, I will work on an idea that has been brewing in my mind. A crime solver set off in the future. She is a pragmatic investigator—using her wits and intuition to avenge the dead and hurt—while attempting to keep her four husbands in line.

Written in first person point of view, oh my, that sounds deliciously fun.

Nom!

Critiques, Posts and other Random Stuffies

December 15, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: The Craft  2 Comments

The Boston terrier woke me up at 3:00 AM to be let out.

I want to be grumpy but have you seen a Boston’s face? It is irresistible. Irresistible, I tell you! Plus, it was 17 degrees F outside. I am sure he needed to go.

Anyway, made some revisions on Bunny Trouble (story of my life) making a portion of the novel that was Tell into Show (here I thought those were all gone). It was a net loss of about 100 words, so that makes me happy. The conversation I added seems a tad stilted, so it will take more polishing.

Added about 2500 words in The Baby Dancers. I was going to dive strait into the action but decided to go into action of a different sort (mouhahahaha!). The result was upping the stakes. The stakes are high for my protagonists, and the manuscript is about to burst with tension. The stage is now set for the big action scene. And what an action scene it will be.

Why? Oh I am so glad you asked. Because I have GOBLIN NINJAS, that’s why!

Ahem. I also critiqued ten chapters of a fantasy manuscript. I had pointed suggestions, but all-in-all, good stuff. I feel the writer has a new idea to an old myth, and that’s just yummy to read. I cannot wait to read more.

Finally, I am working on a big post explaining not guns, but the “gun” culture for writers. It is a slow slog. I wanted to post it yesterday, but decided to let it slide a bit, the work in progress is consuming me (because, of course, there are GOBLIN NINJAS).  I have picked up a couple of additional readers. Having looked at their blogs, I am tailoring my post so it is effective for them.

Nom!

Interesting

December 13, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Not Exactly Random, The Craft  3 Comments

If I do not keep up my reading, my writing suffers. It is like a creative battery charged by words.

Time to charge my batteries! So many choices, I feel the need for some sci-fi, yes I do.

And the progress is…

December 10, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: The Craft  1 Comment

On Bunny Trouble, waiting for the last of the Beta Reader holdouts. In the meantime, I am editing the novel based on the marked-up manuscripts I received already. I have already made my major changes (cuts).

Bunny Trouble, I feel, will be ready for agent submission at the start of the new year. How exciting!

The Baby Dancers is where all my energy is at. Only 750 words today, but much technical research in a area those words talk about. I may be a hack, but I am also a researcher (literally). Everything that that is similar to reality must have a firm background, or it is dog chow.

Oh, and it case you missed it: GOBLIN NINJAS! I HAZ DEM!

Oh yes,

December 09, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: The Craft  0 Comments

Goblin Ninjas: I haz dem!

goblin-ninjas