"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Ear or the Eye - What makes for a good Audio book?

I joined Audible.com back in May of 2002 and have 304 audio books in my library to date. I listen to audio books while I drive, while I exercise, and if I'm really hooked, I may make up an excuse like cleaning the house to get some extra book listening time in.

I've been thinking a lot recently about what makes for a good audio book. In my experience of 304 books, not all are good for audio. Maybe not all are good for books, but that's not the point. Sometimes a book may be fantastic on the page, but listening to it on audio will drive a listener to loathe it.

Reading aloud is not kind to books. It makes every whiny statement the main character makes pronounced. It highlights duplications in dialogue and internal thought like a Magnalight. It makes sensory details really stand out and stay with a reader. And in many cases, it makes what might be very subtle clues on the page blatantly obvious such that the listener figures out the mystery well before the author intended.

I'm trying to make a list of rules of what works well for audio (and what does not work so well).

1) First, lets talk series.
The first in a series has the most potential on audio. I've exercised extra minutes on the elliptical many times in order to be able to extend my listening time for these. What doesn't always work so well are second and third in a series. Frankly, most of the time, I get sick of spending so much time with the same character, especially when the character tends toward the weak and whiny side.
I'll use TWILIGHT as an example here. Loved TWILIGHT on audio. I wanted to listen and listen and listen. NEW MOON I started to get annoyed with Bella, and by ECLIPSE I would find myself talking back to her while listening, yelling at her when she would do (yet again) something everyone in the universe knew she shouldn't do. Readers may say this was the case in the books, too, but I only have the audio experience for the TWILIGHT books.

2) Next, let's go with length.
There is the "I want to get my money's worth" mentality, and thus the buyer may try to buy the longest audio book they can. With a subscription, I get two books a month; it doesn't matter the length.
But in audio, longer is not always better. Longer can mean pages and pages of description. Case in point: MOBY DICK. As my husband said, do we really need to know the extended history of whale blubber hunting? Pages and pages and pages and pages of it over and over again?
So my rule has become to avoid the "longer" books on audio. Under 20 hours is normally what I shoot for with around 10 being ideal.

3) Classics?
These are hard. The language is so different. The writing is so filled with descriptions and repetitions and what we would now consider overdone dialogue. My opinion is classics are best left to the page and not the ear. I recently switched to the paper version of UNCLE TOM'S CABIN because I was frustrated with audio book pace.


And now, I'll give my top audio book recommendations:

1) Anything TERRY PRATCHETT. This guy is a genius. The narrators they use for the series are hilarious. I honestly think listening to Terry Pratchett far surpasses reading it on the page.

2) First in series that I loved:
  • UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld

3) THE DAVINCI CODE by Dan Brown. Honestly one of the best audio listens I've ever done. So much that I'll listen to THE LOST SYMBOL rather than reading it.

4) SNOW CRASH and THE DIAMOND AGE by Neal Stephenson. Loved all these.

5) Personal development books like
  • GOALS by Brian Tracy
  • THE SECRET by Rhonda Byrne
  • YOU: THE OWNER'S MANUAL by Michael F. Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D.
6) Learning books like
  • A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME by Stephen Hawking

7) JANET EVANOVICH's Stephanie Plum series. Hilarious. Though I did burn out on these after about book 10.

So what are your thoughts on audio? Love it? Hate it? What makes for a good listen for you?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Five on a Friday

Happy Friday! In case you missed my Wednesday post, comment with your favorite musical for your chance to win three awesome books!

Here are my five for the week:

1) My 8-year-old son asks me the other day, "Why are the parents always dead in the books you're giving me to read?"
I tried to explain the pesky parents thing to him. How we writers have to get rid of the parents so the kids can be the heroes. I'm not sure if he completely understood but it was interesting having to try to explain.

2) Thank you to Reader Rabbit for the awesome review for THE EMERALD TABLET! My favorite line from the review:
"I think PJ Hoover really nailed the voice of a 13-year old boy...This is a story sure to please anyone looking for an adventure."

3) Thank you to Heather Zundel for the awesome copy of THE INFERNO OF DANTE translated by Robert Pinsky. I won a book in a contest she ran a while back, and chose this one. She picked the edition and I love it! It inspired me to organize my bookshelves today!

4) I've hit my goal of reading 50 books this year!

5) Also, thank you for award nominations (which I am admittedly so bad about acknowledging and responding to!). I really do appreciate them!

6) And also, so cool that I won a visit with Critter thanks to Christy at Christy's Creative Space and illustrator Ian Sands. Critter will be coming to visit me in Austin, TX! I hope he likes the heat.

Yes, I know that was six, but it's been that kind of week. Expect more, right?

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Interview and Book Giveaway: CHRISTINE MARCINIAK

I'm so excited to have Christine Marciniak, author of the newly released WHEN MIKE KISSED EMMA, here on my blog today!

Here are three things I love about WHEN MIKE KISSED EMMA:

1) Mike
2) The Kiss
3) Emma

Yeah, you get the idea. The story here is fun, clean, and paced really well. If you're looking for a great gift idea for that special tween in your life, I totally recommend this book.

And on to the interview!

But be sure to check the end for a book giveaway.


PJH: So why THE SOUND OF MUSIC as a backdrop? What are some of your other favorite musicals?

CKM: The Sound of Music was the musical my high school did my freshman year. I wasn’t in it, but it stuck with me as a typical musical for a high school to perform. It also has a good mix of parts, which worked well with the story I was trying to tell.

Other favorite musicals include My Fair Lady, Camelot, Fiddler on the Roof, Into the Woods, Chess, 42nd Street, Follies, 1776… I’m sure I’m forgetting some. I guess it’s fair to say that I love musicals.

When I was thirteen my dad took me to see Annie on Broadway and in eighth grade we had two class trips to see Broadway shows, one was a play: Dracula (and oooh, that guy who played Dracula – who says vampires are a new phenomenon) the other was a musical: They’re Playing Our Song. I was hooked on Broadway shows.

Then when I went to college in London for a semester we discovered Student Stand-by Tickets. You show up at the ticket window a few minutes before curtain, show your student ID and get discounted tickets if they have any unsold seats. We saw 15 shows in 13 weeks.

Unfortunately regular trips to Broadway are a little out of my budget right now, but we’ve discovered some great local theaters.

PJH: Tell us five things you collect.


1) Rubik’s Cubes and similar puzzles. (I know this is a fascination we share)
(PJH: great minds think alike)

2) Refrigerator magnets

3) Delft ware – especially small vases

4) photos of my kids

5) old books – especially old history books.

PJH: How closely do you relate to Emma? Do you secretly want to ride on a motorcycle? Have you secretly ridden on a motorcycle? Did your parents know?

CKM: I actually don’t think I’m very much like Emma at all. There was never any danger of me being given the lead in a school musical. And I’ve never ridden a motorcycle. There was a guy I knew in college who kept trying to convince me to go for a ride on his motorcycle, but I turned him down (that had as much to do with the guy as with the motorcycle). Though, I did go to a prom with a guy named Mike.

PJH: What are three books you are looking forward to the release of in the next year (not including mine)?

CKM: Not including yours? Are there other books coming out this year?

I’m a big Jasper Fforde fan and he has a new book coming out: SHADES OF GREY, so I’m looking forward to that.

MARE'S WAR by Tanita Davis came out about a month ago, I really want to read that, I haven’t ordered it yet, though.

Oh and SHELF DISCOVERY, by Lizzie Skurnick, that looks like a great book. It also just came out, but I haven’t ordered it yet. Looks like it’s time to place a book order!

Two of these are already out, so I didn’t answer your question too precisely, but they are books I want to read, so that counts!

PJH: If an apocalypse came, would you still find a way to write (even if this meant paper and pen)?

CKM: I’d absolutely still write with paper and pen. My kids and I once made ink using walnut shells, and a pen from a goose feather we found by the creek. Believe me, I’d find a way to keep writing.


OK, now the fun, fast part. Keep your answers as short as possible! PJH: Fantasy Island or Love Boat?
CKM: Love Boat

PJH: Guilty Pleasure?

CKM: Butterfinger Bars

PJH: Favorite Scooby Doo character?
CKM: Who’s the girl with the glasses? I like her.

(PJH: That would be Velma :) )

PJH: Computer or hand written
CKM: Computer

PJH: First Draft: Revise as you go or just get it down?
CKM: Just get it down.

PJH: Favorite natural wonder?
CKM: Great Barrier Reef in Australia

PJH: Favorite myth?
CKM: Achilles


Now for your chance to win the following THREE books, leave me a comment telling me your favorite musical.

The books are:

DRAGON WISHES by Stacy Nyikos (autographed and hardcover no less)
LIFE IN THE PIT by Kirsten Landon

The contest will be open until midnight Monday, 31 August, 2009!

Happy Wednesday, and thanks again, Christine!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Whose Story is it Anyway?

At a recent writing workshop I attended, the subject of multiple POVs came up. On my newest WIP, if you remember, I'm going with the dual POV, first person. At least thus far. Anything is game in revisions, right? It could be one POV third person by the time I'm done.

Anyway, one of my workshop buddies mentioned no matter how many POVs there are, there can only be one main character. It is one person's story. And he pointed to screen writing as an example. Think LETHAL WEAPON. Whose story is that? It's Mel Gibson's story.

Thinking about this philosophy and my own WIP, I would agree. Though I have two POVs, in my mind my female lead is the main character. The guy lead has his own story and I believe justifies his own POV, but it is her story for the most part. If/when a movie is made from it, she would be the star.

What are your thoughts on this theory? Can you dispute it? Agree with it? What multiple POV stories can you think of where you can pick one of the characters as the main one? If this theory is true, should we continue writing our multiple POV stories? What is the point?

And happy Monday! Look for an author interview and book giveaway with the fabulous Christine Marciniak and her debut novel WHEN MIKE KISSED EMMA later this week.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Black Belt!

Kung Fu rocks!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cheese Winner and The Spectacle

Two quick things:

1) THANK YOU to everyone who entered the book drawing. I'm so hungry for cheese! The winner of

THE BOOK OF NONSENSE by David Slater (Hardcover)


Congrats, T. Anne! Contact me with where you want me to ship the books, and I'll get them out!

2) Deep Space Travel thoughts? Weigh in on my post over at The Spectacle.

And have a great Tuesday!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How Unperfect do you Make a Characters?

Happy Monday!

If you haven't told me your favorite cheese and entered to win these two books:
THE BOOK OF NONSENSE by David Slater (Hardcover)

then head here and comment.

I had the urge to run to the H-E-B and buy a huge hunk of Brie, smother it in Raspberry Chipotle sauce, and eat it with Wheat Thins while drinking red wine. Go figure.


I wonder how imperfect we can make our characters while still making them likeable.
I generally do some form of character worksheet before I start writing, but as I'm going through a draft, I let the characters develop plenty more on their own. Where they come from and what they are doing defines their backstory. How they interact with others and what their dialogue says defines their personality?

One thing I've noticed is the less perfect they are, the more interesting they are. Duh, right?

But the question is, how much can they push the envelop and still be characters we want to reach their goals? How "bad" can their past be while still making them be people we root for.

Is there a particular character that you felt went too far? That you found the "negativities" if you will of the person overtook who they were supposed to be and made you have the wrong reaction?

Let me know what you think!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Five on a Friday

Great motivation comments the other day, everyone! I've learned were Scarlett O'Hara set upon by a vampire, she'd be wondering if turning into a vampire could help her save Tara. And even after all that discussion, I don't have the urge to read GONE WITH THE WIND (again).

1) My kid's summer camp cracks me up. There are horses there, and if a kid says "Ew" or even mentions when they see horse poop, they have to clean it up with a shovel.

2) With today being the last day of summer camp, I'm shifting to the nighttime writing for the next three weeks. My son has a week until school, but my daughter has three. Late nights. Coffee. I'm good.

3) Listening on audio to UNCLE TOM'S CABIN by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

4) My black belt test in Kung Fu is under one week away!!!!!

5) I started SECRETS OF THE CHEESE SYNDICATE by Donna St. Cyr last night. In celebration, I'm doing a giveaway.

For your chance to win the two books below, leave me a comment by midnight on Monday, August 17th. In your comment, how about telling me what your favorite cheese is and why.

The two books are:

THE BOOK OF NONSENSE by David Slater (Hardcover)

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mid-Week Motivation

Can I start by mentioning this awesome review for THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD (available for pre-order, btw) at Becky's Book Reviews?
Okay, I was thrilled with her awesome review for THE EMERALD TABLET, but now I'm doubly thrilled with this one for book 2.
My favorite line from the review:

"I loved the use of mythology. I loved the adventure. I loved the humor. And most of all I loved the time travel."

Sweet! Oh yeah, did I mention THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD has time travel?

Anyway, on to motivation.

So here's my thought for the week.
Sometimes it's hard to decide what a character's motivation is. We have a story and let's just use a generic example for the sake of this blog post.

Evil vampire drops in out of nowhere and starts chasing a girl, trying to turn her into a vampire. She does not want to be turned into a vampire. She runs away and tries to escape from evil vampire.

So what is her motivation?

Is it to escape from the evil vampire? Or not.

This came up at my writing workshop this past weekend, and I heard a really interesting theory on this which was:

The girl's motivation is whatever it was before the vampire came along. The story is about the girl. Who she is. What she wanted in life. Then the vampire came along and kind of changed things a bit, added some conflict, but her motivation is driven from her pre-vampire state.

What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree?

And happy Wednesday!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Whole Lot of AAWWesome!

This year I helped organize and plan the Awesome Austin Writing Workshop (AAWW) along with Debbie Gonzales and Meredith Davis. Though pared down to one day from last year's three, it was made of total awesome.

Awesome included:

The following wonderful authors in attendance:
Brian Anderson
Varsha Bajaj
Chris Barton
Donna Bratton
Gene Brenek
Shana Burg
Meredith Davis
Alison Dellenbaugh
Debbie Gonzales
Helen Hemphill
PJ Hoover (me)
Julie Lake
Greg Leitich Smith
Carmen Oliver
Lyn Seippel
Andy Sherrod
Don Tate
Brian Yansky
Frances Hill Yansky
Jenny Ziegler

A whole lot of in depth critiquing:
We divided into groups (my group was THE WILD THINGS. Others included THE RAMONAS, THE OUTSIDERS, and THE FROGS AND TOADS), read ten pages of each other's work ahead of time, and came prepared to talk for an hour about each piece. If you think an hour is too long, think again. But then again, we are a chatty bunch.

Everyone got a name tag with their group.

Shop Talk at Lunch:
Our catered lunch included conversation topics covering publicity, marketing, Twitter, Facebook, small press, large press, and getting rid of pesky parents.

A First Page Reading (complete with wine):
Chris Barton and I alternated reading first pages of everyone in the group (submitted anonymously). It was a blast trying to guess whose was whose. Some generated laughter that lasted for minutes. Others brought goose bumps to my arms. It's amazing how enjoyable first pages can be, especially when you know the people writing them.

Jenny Ziegler, Chris Barton, and Varsha Bajaj chilling during lunch.

Dinner at the Ski Shores restaurant afterward:
We were joined by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Mark Mitchell afterward along with a scattering of spouses (and even my daughter). She tried to convince various people to dip their feet in the lake with her, but no one was game.

Jenny Ziegler and Brian Anderson by the gorgeous view!

Greg Leitich Smith, Alison Dellenbaugh, Meredith Davis, Donna Bratton, and Shana Burg and her husband wanting the writing talk to go on forever!

Meredith Davis was wonderful enough to allow us to have the event at her amazing home. I could go on and on about the place, but I think the Narnia room sums it up the best.
This innocent wardrobe...

...opens up into the actual world of Narnia inside.

(complete with Varsha Bajaj and Frances Hill Yansky hiding inside.

So for all you at SCBWI Nationals, we Austinites had a blast (and a ton of productivity) back here in town.


AAWW 2009

Friday, August 07, 2009

Five on a Friday

Hope everyone's had a great week!

1) First off, huge congratulations to Varian Johnson and Jennifer Taylor for graduating from the Vermont MFA program! I went to an awesome happy hour last night to celebrate and didn't manage to take a single picture. But trust me when I say it was a blast!

2) I've determined the perfect recipe for writing is heading to the library to write while your house and deck are being power-washed and painted. Avoid the noise. Be doubly productive.
*Note - this would not be possible without the summer camp my kids are in this week and next. :)

3) Books my 8-year-old son has recently read and loved:

Samantha Hansen Has Rocks In Her Head by Nancy Viau
Third-Grade Baby by Jenny Meyerhoff
Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom by Tim Byrd

These are all great for that reader who doesn't quite want to pick up Harry Potter yet and read it (which speaking of, I have yet to see the movie).

4) Writing workshop tomorrow! Details to follow next week. Love getting together with writers for an entire day, especially way cool ones.

5) And speaking of writing conferences, if you live in the area or just want to travel, here are two amazing events you may want to consider attending:

First, there's the conference led by acclaimed authors Kathi Appelt and Sharon Darrow on October 2nd and 3rd hosted by the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Day. This is going to be amazing!

And then, January 30th, 2010, there's our Austin SCBWI conference (where, yes, I am going to be a featured author along with a bunch of way cool people including authors, editors, and agents). You can find all the details on the Austin SCBWI website, and registration opens September 1st.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

How do your critiques vary?

It seems an ongoing theme of my summer is critiques. I'm giving them, getting them, thinking more and more about them, trying to improve at them. Each situation needs to be weighed and critiqued based on what the author is looking for and what is given.

For example, the first ten pages critique.
Wow. This is one of the funnest ones for me. It's the first ten pages of the novel for Pete's sake. I want to be hooked. I want it to just grab me. I want to be able to see some action, some character development. I want to be left hanging and asking for more.
  • Read your first ten pages. Do they do this?

As a subset of the first ten pages, we have the first page.
This is my favorite. I love reading first pages. I don't want to be confused. I don't want too many characters. And I really don't want to see too many adjectives or adverbs. I want to see conflict. I want the voice to make me want to keep reading.
  • Read your first page aloud to someone, and ask what they think. Then listen to what they say and be willing to change.
  • Read random first pages in the bookstore, especially of new releases, to see what is being published. This about what works and what doesn't.

The ongoing twenty pages.
This is what my formal critique group does. We submit twenty pages once a month. In twenty pages, no matter where in the novel, stuff should be going on. I want the story to move forward. One of the biggest things here (and I'm sure I'm guilty of this too) is the twenty pages somewhere around page 170 where nothing's going on. This is a problem. However, I also find the twenty random pages critique the most difficult to do. It requires remembering where the story left off a month ago, being able to fall back into the story and characters after a month.
  • Read a random twenty pages of your novel. Just open it and start somewhere. Does it still draw you in? Is the writing as nice on page 140 as on page 2?

The full manuscript critique.
Generally for this type, I read much more quickly. I don't stop to give minute details unless something really stands out or confuses me. The beauty of the full manuscript critique is the entire story can be viewed. I can think about when my attention gets hooked. What is the real grab of the story? When do I keep turning the pages faster and faster? What happens to the plot?
  • Offer to read someone's full manuscript and give it some serious thought. What value can you add? Did you lose interest at some point?
  • And for this one, beyond all else, read in your genre. And then read some more in your genre.

Hmmm...apparently, somewhere this turned into a post on critiques.

On a completely random note, I'm reading SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater, and in church on Sunday, the girl two rows ahead of me had a shirt on that totally looked like the book cover. Weird. I see YA everywhere. I almost took a picture, but opted against it.

Have a great week!