Review: Arclight by Josin L. McQuein

Jan 12 2014

Arclight by Joslin L. McQuein

I feel like I’m a little late to the party, since this book has been out for about ten month already (in hardcover and Kindle; a paperback edition is coming in March 2014), but this is a book I really like and can recommend: Arclight by Josin L. McQuein.

Yes, it’s another YA future-dystopia book, in which preceding generations have screwed things up for everyone, but hey, can’t we all relate to that just a little bit? Plenty of room for one more, I say — if it’s a good one.

Arclight has an inventive premise: nanotech (nanites in the book) has gotten loose in the world generations ago, creating vast uninhabitable swathes of Dark and infecting humans, turning them into Fade, creatures with superhuman strength and other more mysterious powers, who have an aversion to bright light. Most of the story takes place in what may be humanity’s last refuge, Arclight: a compound surrounded by high-powered lights that keep the darkness — and therefore the Fade — at bay.

Marina, the heroine, has no memory prior to being rescued out in the Gray (kind of a demilitarized zone) by a team from Arclight. The other teens in the compound view her with distrust and some outright hostility. When the Fade attack the compound and several people are infected, the humans realize just how vulnerable they are, and Marina realizes that the grown-ups haven’t told her or anyone the whole story of her rescue or what they know of the Fade. The enemy has sought her out; now she needs to seek them out to learn the truth of her existence and the war between humans and Fade.

The thing I liked best about this book was its moral complexity: there are no purely good or bad guys, as it turns out, and characters’ motivations are many-layered and sometimes conflicting. Everything is a lot more complicated than it appears. There’s a love story and lots of action. Marina is courageous but not invincible; in fact, she is painfully aware of her weaknesses and must learn to work around them to do what needs to be done to protect herself and the people she loves. She is brave despite being broken.

One good thing about waiting until now to read the book: it’s only less than two months until Meridian, the sequel, comes out. Learn more at Josin L. McQuein’s blog.

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the talent code by Daniel Coyle and building your own talent hotbed

Jul 22 2013

Just finished a new book by Daniel Coyle called The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How (Bantam, 2009), and I’d recommend it for anyone trying to organize a writing group or workshop, or develop their own talent. Coyle begins by taking apart the myth of the solitary, original genius and describes how different people in different fields (but especially sports and the arts) have created and thrived in what he calls “talent hotbeds” — places where clusters of amazingly talented people have arisen and gone on to dominate their respective fields.

On the writing front, he uses the Bronte sisters as an example, describing the fantastical worlds they co-created and wrote about as children and how that early writing experience helped shape them into accomplished novelists.

Writers actually get the least amount of ink in the book, but the other examples (soccer stars coming from the favelas of Brazil, international tennis champions from the same tiny Russian training club) provide a fairly clear blueprint for creating your own talent hotbed. Some key elements include:

  • An environment rich in cues that tell participants, Better get busy, such as aspirational models and peers who are all working hard toward a single goal
  • A skilled coach who can offer structure and clear feedback highly tailored to each individual
  • A sense of scarcity and luck to be there in the first place (a limited number of participants, for instance, requiring a lottery or an audition to get in)
  • An “ignition” source that shows participants that they can do this (a champion who came from the same program/group/club works nicely in many cases, but there are other ways to spark motivation)

Writing is an often solitary activity, but if you aren’t up for forming your own workshop or collective, there are still thing you can do to build your own talent. Some major takeaways from the book include:

  • “deep practice” — practice that involves breaking things down to their smallest possible components and working on those until they are near effortless, then putting it all back together — which builds myelin on your neural circuits and increases the speed at which they can fire (up to 3,000 times faster)
  • creating your own better get busy cues. For writers, that means reading, and setting up your own environment to prompt you to write. (Coyle says that spartan is better here — if your surroundings are too luxurious, that may decrease the better get busy
    vibe you are trying to create.)
  • keeping at it — Coyle quotes the 10,000 hours of practice = mastery guideline, and shows the neuroscience that backs it up. It has to be the right kind of practice, though.

There are lots of other tidbits about learning and coaching, too many to list here. Interesting and worth reading.

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Gearing up for Cascade Writers

Jul 16 2013

Next week is the 2013 Cascade Writers Workshop, and I’ll be there. I’m bringing the current novel in progress to workshop, and am excited to be in Nisi Shawl’s critique group — she has a lot of good, interesting, and useful things to say about “writing the other” that I think will be especially relevant to this project. Also hoping to meet more writers from the neighborhood and generally get recharged.

Are you going, too? Drop me a line in the comments below and I’ll see you there! :-)

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writing report: setting editing goals

May 28 2013

The first draft of the novel is finished. The new working title is All the Wild Witches.

Now it’s time to revise.

I’m using Jerry Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” method for working through those revisions, with a nice, achievable goal of revising/editing 1,500 words a day. I’m ten days in, and just getting to some of the places that are less polished and require more work. Still having fun with it, and still giving myself time to inhabit each scene to see what it needs.

Keeping to schedule, it will be a complete, revised manuscript, suitable for showing other human beings, by July 25, the start of the Cascade Writers Workshop. Yay!

In other news, I have a crazy work schedule, still, which gives me ample opportunity to observe the rhythms of hospitals and the habits of their denizens in the late and wee hours of the night, informal research for another project(!).

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Brief review: The Dirty Streets of Heaven

Feb 26 2013

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams (Volume One of the Bobby Dollar series)

I thought I had read enough noirish yet fantastical homages to Raymond Chandler featuring supernatural beings, but this tale of angels and demons scrabbling for souls in the mean streets lured me in for one more go-round.Well-crafted prose, peril on every page, and the most excruciatingly ill-fated love affair ever, put this solidly in the “recommended” category.

Learn more on the author’s book page.

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