Category Archives: reading

Twisted

The relaunch of the Detroit Next series.

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I have a “new” book out! It’s a re-issue of a book my co-author and I wrote a few years ago called The Caline Conspiracy. Now it’s called Twisted, which is a way better title. It’s also got a better cover and we’re both listed as the author instead of relying on a shared pen name.

Twisted introduces PI Aidra Scott, who is investigating whether a genetically engineered dog killed its owner. The widow of the victim doesn’t think her pet is a killer and hires Aidra to clear her name. Aidra doesn’t want anything to do with dogs, genetically engineered or not. But the more she investigates, the more she’s convinced an innocent animal is being framed. And murder is just the beginning of the conspiracy.

About that cover… If the book is about a genetically engineered dog, why isn’t there a dog on the cover?

Because when readers are shopping for fiction, genre is their first consideration. It’s more important than plot and it’s way more important than the byline, unless the author is well known. This is an uncomfortable truth that was hard to accept. Most authors want some sort of illustration on the cover, a scene from the book. But that’s not what will catch a reader’s eye. Readers know what they’re looking for, and first and foremost, they’re looking for their genre.

Harry and I write cyberpunk. You can call our books near-future thrillers if you’re feeling fancy. We abide by the tropes of our genre, giving readers exactly what they want. The new cover tells readers that yes, this is the kind of book they are looking for. It’s up to the blurb and the first few pages to ultimately sell the book, but if our novel’s cover doesn’t scream “cyberpunk!” then the reader won’t even get that far.

Plus, the new cover just looks really, really cool. That glowy effect? It’s not just in the backlit ebook. The paperback has it too. See?

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For now, Twisted is available exclusively here at Amazon.com. We’ll list it at the other retailers soon. Book two in the “Detroit Next” series is coming December 15.

Happy reading!

Alex K.

All Is Not Lost

The darkest part of every story is also the most essential.

There comes a time in every story, about 75% of the way through, where the heroine gives up. She feels utterly defeated because try as she might, she can’t find a way to achieve her goal. She’s beaten and knows she’s beaten.

This is called the all-is-lost moment.

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It’s the moment in ET: The Extra-terrestrial when the little alien dies. It’s the moment in Inside Out when Joy is lost in the memory dump. It’s the moment in Mad Max Fury Road when Furiosa discovers the Green Place is gone.

It’s in every novel, every movie, every short story. Even children’s books include it. Three-quarters of the way through Where the Wild Things Are, Max discovers that being with the monsters doesn’t make him happy, and he longs to be where someone loves him most of all.

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This is a necessary part of every story. It’s the dark before the dawn. There is an important reason the heroine needs to be brought to this low, low point. She has tried, and failed (so far) in her quest because she hasn’t changed. She’s still trying to solve her problems using old methods, and they aren’t working anymore. She can’t achieve victory until she learns the lessons the plot is trying to teach her. Heroes don’t want to change. All-is-lost moments force them to change.

Can you imagine a novel or movie without the all-is-lost moment? It would be terrible. The heroine would either achieve her goal without any self-reflection or internal change, which would be trite, or she’d keep using the same old methods and never get anywhere, which would be pointless. In fact, the entire story would be pointless without that crucial moment of character change.

And of course, right after this dark night of the soul, a plot twist happens, the heroine finds a new way of dealing with the problem, and faces it head-on. The more horrible the all-is-lost moment feels, the better the climax of the book. Overcoming that failure is huge. It means the victory wasn’t handed to the heroine. She earned it.

I’ve been experiencing an all-is-lost moment myself lately. Here we are 75% of the way through the year, so it’s arrived right on schedule. I made an ambitious goal for myself this year: I would write 2017 pages in the year 2017 (which is 504,250 words). And for the first and second quarters, I was right on track. And then I tried to shoehorn a bunch of big projects into my already-full life. I took on several freelance editing jobs at once, ramped up hours at my volunteer job, tried to edit a couple of my own manuscripts, all while doing home improvement and social activism and working around my kids’ strange summer schedules and staying glued to the 24/7 news cycle.

And, like any plucky fictional heroine, I decided I could do that without making any changes to my life. In addition to writing, I would edit, teach, volunteer, and parent. I would also still have coffee with my friends and socialize on the internet and read the newspaper and ride my unicycle. I’m not exactly sure where I thought the extra hours would come from. Something had to give, and I stole time from the two places that could least afford to lose it: writing and sleep.

I got cranky, and my daily word counts got smaller and smaller. I slid further from my writing goals with every passing day. My editing jobs went really well and I’m proud of the other work I did but the cost was high because I gave up the wrong things in order to achieve it. I should have cut down on house cleaning and Twitter, not on writing and sleep.

I’m staring my quarterly word count total in the face and I don’t like what I see. I only wrote 458 pages this quarter, which is 46 pages short. 458 pages is a ton of writing, and I know I should be proud (I am!) but I also know I could have made my goal if I’d spent my time wisely.

Things aren’t hopeless. I still have three months to make up the difference. But I’m seeing what a blessing the all-is-lost moment can be. It’s forcing me to change. The next time a big project comes in, I’ll have to make better choices, because the world keeps turning and we all have 24 hours in a day. How I use those hours is up to me.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She is learning how to prioritize writing and sleep.

[Photo credits: Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow pictures and Harper & Row]

Why Am I Reading This?

 

The world has changed, and so have my reading habits.

Until recently, the books I read looked like this.

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I was a heavy science fiction reader. I think what I liked most about it was the challenge. Not that the books themselves were hard to read, but that the plots and themes always challenged my worldview. After all, the best science fiction shines a spotlight on today’s world. They’re either metaphors for current events, or asking a very specific question. And that question is always: “How would life be different if this one little thing was changed?”

I absolutely required this of my science fiction books. I wouldn’t finish a book that simply reinforced my preconceived notions. How the book made me feel was less important than how it made me think.

Now? Not so much.

In the last few months, we’ve all been bombarded with bad news upon bad news, and it’s getting worse. I’m worried about the future all the time. Books that once seemed like harmless thought experiments now read more like predictors of doom. Even light, funny science fiction has an edge I can’t deal with right now.

What I’m looking for in books these days is an intensity of feelings and a guaranteed happy ending. I think my mind wants to experience emotions in a safe way. I want to feel deeply without getting my heart broken.

So I wandered the library shelves, flipping through memoirs, reading the jackets of mysteries, looking at the covers of literary fiction, and avoiding the horror shelf completely, until I finally found what I was looking for.

A romance novel.

It isn’t just that I crave escape, because all novels offer that. Even my big idea science fiction novels are full of heroes and adventure and other worlds. But romance offers the specific kind of escape my heart needs right now. Romance novels are full of love and sacrifice and doing the right thing for the sake of another person. Every hero and heroine ends up a better person than when they started, and love really does trump hate. Every. Single. Time.

So now the books I read look like this.

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The world is still crappy. I’m still fighting against the bad. But I’ve found a safe place for my emotions to go. Thanks to some wonderful authors who write about love, books have once again become my happy place.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. Her TBR pile is overflowing with love.

 

 

Feeling Inspired

What’s the purpose of a memoir?

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I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately. These books occupy an odd space between fiction and nonfiction. They’re true stories, but they’re marketed like novels and the audience is mostly the same. I used to think of them as simply novels-plus. All the drama and entertainment of a made-up story, with the added emotional thrill of knowing that this really happened.

But why do people write them? Is it all just narcissism? Cheaper than therapy? And why do readers love memoirs so much?

Then it hit me. We read fiction to be entertained and we read nonfiction to be informed, but we read memoirs to be inspired. The unspoken subtitle for every single memoir is “the inspiring true story of…”

Wild by Cheryl Strayed is a memoir about loneliness. Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest trail by herself, while dealing with a divorce and the death of her mother and also kicking a drug habit. Reading about the way she dealt with her loneliness made me feel like I could also cope with feeling alone.

Heather Sellers has face blindness. She can’t recognize faces, not even of the people she loves, and the condition has no cure. Reading You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know was heartbreaking, but watching Sellers handle one deeply awkward situation after another made me see my own social blunders as no big deal.

Chris Gardner went from homelessness to running a successful brokerage firm, never losing sight of his dream, no matter how bleak things got. He never felt sorry for himself, nor did he let others feel sorry for him. Reading The Pursuit of Happyness showed me how to be strong, no matter what life throws at me.

My own life has been full of ups and downs. I’ve lived in interesting places, met a wacky bunch of characters, and dealt with some tough challenges. But I never had the urge to put my own life on paper. Memoir writing is not my thing. But I will continue to read memoirs, because finding that rush of inspiration between the covers of a book is like no other feeling in the world.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and science fiction thrillers under the pen name MH Mead. She finds other people fascinating.