Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hilarious Romance Challenge

I spotted this last night and laughed my ass off. I'm at 58 points and counting for 2009-- how about you?

Oh yes, there WILL be a spreadsheet.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Angels and Demons

Ciara thinks the next big thing in romance is steampunk.

I'm a little less cutting edge than that. My predictive powers are weak at best--witness my manufacturing degree, ca 1988 (should've minored in Chinese), and my MBA, ca 1993 -- talk about trend busters! But I think I may have identified a mini-trend already in progress. I'm clearly way better at that.

So while vampires and shifters have been the big story for the last few years, I'm thinking that demons and angels are the next--OK, current-- big wave in paranormal fiction, whether romance, UF, or horror.

Kim Harrison's Hollows series kicked off in April 2004 with some scary-ass demons. I'm only on book 2 so I can't say if they end up being a love interest/hero but at the moment? not. But it could go that way.

While I was a little lukewarm on Jenna Black's vampire world, I really like her Morgan Kingsley series, kicking off with Devil Inside back in November of 2007. Her demon is both sexy and seriously scary. I think she will somehow end up with him romantically (maybe she already has; I'm not caught up yet even though the latest is waiting in my TBR pile!) So, he's kind of a hero, but like Facebook says, It's Complicated.

So romances, with demons as the hero, I didn't start noticing until more recently. The first one I saw was Christine Warren's The Demon You Know, from May of 2007, and Rule is seriously yummy. But demons are only one of a whole pantheon of paranormals in Warren's world, and not the most prevalent.

Then I found Meljean Brook, whose Guardian series features angels most prominently, and a demon as the series' first heroine. Though Brook is kicking off a new steampunk series shortly, the Guardians are continuing-- hot off the presses is the cover for Demon Forged, tentatively due out in October of this year. We haven't gotten a demon hero yet; they're almost by definition bad/evil, but I have to admit I'm intrigued by the demon who plagues Charlie Newcomb and her sister in Demon Night. Since Charlie's sister opts to keep Sammael around, I have to wonder why... coughcoughnovella!cough maybe?

About the same time, I was burning through Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark, and let me just say that Cade Woede can eat crackers in my bed any ol' time.

Larissa Ione debuted her popular "Demonica" series last June with demon heroes. She has a big following but I have to admit I'm not that into them, so no telling if angels will make an appearance. If they do, you won't hear it here first, but you can keep an eye on Literary Escapism -- Jackie always has the scoop.

But wait, there's more.

Nalini Singh, author of the Psy/Changeling series, launches her new Guild Hunter series on March 3 with Angels' Blood. For a sneak peek, an e-novella called "Angels' Pawn" set in the same world will be available tomorrow (check Nalini's site for the right link). Isn't that a gorgeous cover? I love the platinum-blond hair.

And finally (that I know of), last Halloween, J.R. Ward somewhat unofficially announced (read down in the comments) her new series starting off this October, which she describes thusly:

COVET: A Novel of the Fallen Angels is the first of the books and let’s just say it’s all about angels and Harleys and evil and redemption. The tag line’s Destiny’s a witch and then you die… but love always brings you back.

She goes on: So far as I’m aware, the hero of the whole series is a guy named Jim Crane who’s a carpenter and it’s all about him going up against the devil (who’s a very hot brunette, btw) with the help of his two partners, a scruffy dog and his bad attitude. There are other heros who come in along the way and there is a love story in every book. Things may change as I get into the writing, but the bare bones are set and I can’t wait to get started!

Now, I confess, this description kind of gives me bad flashbacks to studying The Red Badge of Courage in sophomore English class with Mrs. Harris in her fluorescent blue eyeshadow, bludgeoning us all about the heads and shoulders with the allegory: "Notice his initials are Jayyyyyy.... Ceeeeeeee...and he sacrifices himself.... What other important historical figure do we know with the initials Jayyyyyy.... Ceeeeeee... ?"

Later on her forum, Ward says that the name Crane was an error and the name is actually Jim Heron. I don't know if she changed her mind or if "Crane" came out instead of Heron because Stephen Crane's analogies got beaten into her by an English teacher with fluorescent blue eyeshadow too or what... but in any event, "Heron" just strikes me as a little weird. Is it an homage to Stephen Crane? It probably wouldn't bug me if I hadn't seen Crane first, but now it's just going to be "Jim Long-Legged-Bird; Heron/Crane/Flamingo etc" in my mind and will probably distract me every time I see it.

Not that I overthink things or anything.

But Ward has me by the short little fan-girl hairs so I will certainly read the first one, and assuming it's better than Phury's book, probably the second one as well. As always, you can keep an eye on my sidebar for the countdown to the next JR Ward book.

Did I miss any good angel/devil series? Chime in!
angel/devil image used with permission, courtesy of Mark Stivers.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

If You Can Make It There...

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a writer that I've "known" for more than 10 years. I've never met her, but I know a lot about her, her kids, her career, the things that are important to her. She's the moderator for a forum that I've participated in since 1998. She's taken a fair amount of abuse from members over the years when policies and formats change, and weathered it all with admirable stoicism. She's still there.

So while we have lived as virtual neighbors for a long, long time, her meatspace home is in New York City. And while I've lived in Chicago (suburbs) and Seattle (suburbs), my midwest-small-town roots never show quite as much as when people start talking about living in NYC. I don't get it, I can't grasp it. I've been there once or twice and my overwhelming impression is that I never want to go back unless I win the lottery, and not a measly 1 mill pot, either. 50 million might do it. It seems like a really wonderful place to live if you make a lot-- and I mean A LOT-- of money. It doesn't even seem, to me, like a good place to visit on any kind of a budget. Frankly, it intimidates the CRAP out of me.

Mary Elizabeth's first book is due out March 3, called Gimme Shelter. It's about looking for a place to live in NYC. Getting great reviews. I believe it must have a happy ending, because her blog is loosely focused on how much she loves her neighborhood. It's kind of not my thing, and it's not Alpha Heroes' thing, but if you enjoy memoirs, adventures in real estate, and/or books about living in New York City, I encourage you to check it out. Doesn't she look happy?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 9

Recently a friend of mine posted on my Facebook wall, "I like your blog, Nicola, but what exactly IS an Alpha Hero?" So, never one to settle for a concise or simple answer, since it's Thursday (or will be shortly), I give you:


It’s funny, but if you’re researching the topic, the search engine hits tend to turn up items in three categories: 1) Romance heroes; 2) Dog training/animal study; and 3) How to get laid (for guys). Let me save you a little work and provide some of the more interesting links:

In the romance category

1. An excellent article from a romance writer’s perspective.

2. A classic. One of my favorite articles on the subject.

3. Ooo. Look at this little gem. Adding to my blogroll...

4. Nalini Singh on alpha aeroes: (Googling on “alpha heroes” is how I discovered Nalini in the first place)

On dogs, wolves, and pack behavior in general

5. Wikipedia on the role of the alpha male in pack animals.

6. Alpha male body language, with parallels to the animal world. Possibly over-simplified, but not bad for a quick read.

7. An interesting take on the old saw about how men aren’t cut out for monogamy.

Looking for new techniques to score with the lay-deez?

8. This one cracks me up with the depth of its wrongness (cue the bowm-chicka bow-wowm). Don’t miss the comparison between feminine men and masculine (alpha) men. Try not to sprain an eyeball.

9. Here is a blog that sort of leaves me speechless. Intelligent misogyny always does things to my blood pressure – it should be a contradiction in terms, but unfortunately isn’t. His deconstruction of alpha behavior though is spot-on. Check out the posts on movie scenes.

A little more seriously

10. Alphas in business and government.

11. I like this one. The author treats the subject with the complexity it deserves, and I especially like this comment: Power is granted to you by the group. You don't have power unless other people give it to you. Here's the catch, the group gives you power on the condition that you look out for their needs. That's the deal. You get extra power to serve them. This is actually a link hub and the sidebar of other stuff looks great, too.

Finally, I have a couple of excerpts from recent reading:

12. From Kelley Armstrong's Bitten:
"When I call, you call me back," he said, his voice deceptively soft. "I wouldn't call you if it wasn't important. If I do call, you answer. That was the arrangement."
"Correct, that was the arrangement. Past tense. Our arrangement ended when I left the Pack."
"When you left the Pack? And when did this happen? Forgive me if I missed something, but I don't recall any such conversation, Elena."
"I thought it was understood."
Clay walked in the room carrying a tray of cold cuts and cheese. He laid it on the desk and looked from me to Jeremy.
Jeremy continued. "So you're no longer part of the Pack now?"
"Then you're one of them -- a mutt?"
"Of course not, Jer," Clay said, thumping down beside me on the couch. I moved to the fireplace.
"Well, which is it?" Jeremy asked, his gaze skewering mine. "Pack or not?"
I failed to mention in my review of this book earlier this week what an amazing job that Armstrong does of weaving Pack and Alpha behavior, mentality, and norms through the whole book. Jeremy is a quiet sort of Alpha, but WOW. His interactions with-- well, with EVERYONE else in the book leave NO question that he is The Top Dog. It was a little bit hard to find a good quote because it's an effect that builds up through the whole book, and the dialog is particularly powerful.

13. And finally, from The Alpha Factor, a business book by Wes Ball:
True pack behavior is not (as it is all too often described) a jungle-type model, with the strongest and most intimidating always winning. Actually, a pack that operates like that cannot survive for long, and any Alpha that tries to lead using these techniques alone seldom lives very long, so the pack suffers. The Alpha's primary jobs are to help the pack find food and to manage the relationships within the pack....the Alpha is surprisingly compassionate and nurturing in how he accomplishes that task.

It's when this compassionate, service-oriented piece of the alpha behavior is missing that a would-be Alpha trips over the line into Asshole territory.

Visit the Thursday Thirteen site here.
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others' comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong – Review

This book kind of blew me away. Buried inside a tightly-plotted, fast-paced paranormal action-adventure-mystery is this labyrinthine relationship that gives “baggage” new depths of meaning. It could be termed a romance, IMO, because that relationship is the central axis that the rest of the story revolves around, but it turns the typical genre romance formula on its head: the “black moment” takes place in the past-- we don’t actually find out about it until somewhere in the middle of the story. Mild spoiler in white font: The happily-ever-after is more of a possibly-ever-after. It’s possible that Armstrong breaks too many of the genre romance norms to be well received from purist fans; overall I think it probably works in her favor to be shelved in horror or fantasy.

I think that one of the fascinations of transformative “monster” stories like werewolves, vampires, Frankenstein, etc, is that it gives readers and writers the chance to explore the question of what it means to be human, and what it means to be “monster,” or even just “animal.” What really separates us from the animals? (I hope it’s more than accessories, because that puts me really far down on the evolutionary scale).

In Bitten, Clay is not your typical hero. His animal/monster side is far more prevalent and less principled than your typical hero and it scares the crap out of Elena, with good reason. Exactly what Clay is capable of, turns out to be the question that Elena has to answer with her heart – and it's really not one for a delicate flower of a woman. Good thing Elena has more substance to her than that.

At the opening of the book, Elena is working very hard to live what she perceives to be a normal life, in a normal apartment with a normal job and a normal guy. Fake it ‘til you make it. She’s almost there… but the gap is killing her.

As he sits on the edge of the bed, watching me, I know we’re doomed. My only hope is to make this relationship so otherwise perfect that Philip might come to overlook our one insurmountable problem. To do that, my first step should be to go to him, crawl in bed, kiss him and tell him I love him. But I can’t. Not tonight. Tonight I’m something else, something he doesn’t know and couldn’t understand. I don’t want to go to him like this.

“I’m not tired,” I say. “I might as well stay up. Do you want breakfast?”

He looks at me. Something in his expression falters and I know I’ve failed-- again. But he doesn’t say anything. He pulls his smile back in place. “Let’s go out. Someplace in this city has got to be open this early. We’ll drive around until we find it. Drink five cups of coffee and watch the sun come up. Okay?”

I nod, not trusting myself to speak.

“Shower first?” he says. “Or flip for it?”

“You go ahead.”

He kisses my cheek as he passes. I wait until I hear the shower running, then head for the kitchen.

Sometimes I get so hungry.”

You don’t have to be a werewolf to understand Elena’s feelings here. This passage packs an emotional wallop, and located as it is, just at the end of a short prologue, sets the stage in an electrifying way.

The mystery about who’s killing who and why and how is nicely done but I’ll admit that I got a little bored with it about 3/4s through, because that’s when things between Elena and Clay started to heat up, and that was the stuff I was really interested in. If it were a movie, it would be a great date movie: there’s something here for everyone – action, mystery, violence, sex, tension of all kinds, and a kick-ass romance, and a few themes to get you talking over dinner or drinks afterwards while the love scenes are still fresh in your mind. ;)

I'd like to talk more about Clay and Elena here, but I think we'd all be better served if you just go out and read it. You won't regret it!

Elsewhere on the web:

  • Phil agrees that the romance is a strong element, but calls that a disadvantage, heh.
  • A shortie by Gina (and I'm intrigued by her blog, I'm headed back to poke around in there).
  • Bella is a huge fan, but you'll have to brace yourself for the puns ("a howling good read").
  • Check out Armstrong's own site for lots of eExtras and good information. Definitely one of the better author sites out there.
  • Buy it!


*If you have reviewed Bitten on your blog, feel free to leave a link in comments!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Here's A Quickie

...with Patricia Briggs.

Does that sound dirty? OK, I sort of meant it to, but it's just a tease. I did see Patricia Briggs, but nothing untoward happened, heh. Although the reading she did had its moments. I wanted to brag post that I got to see the author of all those fantastic Mercy Thompson books live in person last week. I have proof:

I picked up my very own copy of Bone Crossed, but I haven't started it yet. (I really MUST do something about this ridiculous TBR pile.)

You won't be surprised to hear from me that Ms. Briggs was a very charming storyteller -- likely you already knew that. Most authors are, but public speaking is a different kind of storytelling than hammering out text on a screen or notepad.

I haven't been hanging around on Brigg's message board (though I might check it out, it sounds fun) but apparently there's quite the saga about whether or not silver bullets can be cast. Verdict: yes, but it's a huge PITA, per Briggs and her husband (I wanted to ask what purity/ alloy they were using but I thought that might be a little obnoxious). Anyway, she had one of their hand-cast bullets on a necklace which she passed around -- it was gorgeous. And so appropriate for a teller of werewolf tales!

One of the audience asked if the convenience stores nicknamed "Stop & Rob" referred to the outrageous prices of things at convenience stores, or their propensity for getting robbed -- Briggs said the latter, and then told a wonderful story about a friend of hers and how chain mail really does work.

There was a little lull in the Q&A, so I asked which of her secondary characters she'd most like to have a beer with -- with no hesitation, she responded "Warren," and talked a little bit about her inspiration for the Warren and Kyle couple. Wouldn't it be cool to get a novella about those guys?

If you get a chance to see her in person, I strongly recommend it. And go early, it's such a hoot to chat with other fans (there were celebrity appearances by other local authors, making trouble in the back row, including Mark Henry and Christine Warren. Don't you wish you were me?!)

So you can definitely look for a review from me before too long-- I promise!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 8

When it comes to romance novels, I'm a love 'em and leave 'em kind of gal.

I read them and I pass them along, either giving them to friends or building up ridiculous amounts of credit at the local used bookstore (I'm too lazy to sell them).

I've referenced my memory problems more than once on this blog. I read fast, I read a lot, and I don't manage to retain a lot of detail about most books, even those I really, really like.

Lately though, I've come across a few heroines that have really impressed me with their originality and fabulous characterization. Trying to think of a Thursday Thirteen for the week I was inspired by Carrie Lofty's Meg, and I came up with: Thirteen Unforgettable Heroines.

Now, I had to put some parameters on it. These are books that are marketed as genre ROMANCE novels, not fantasy, not UF, not YA, not horror, not even General Fiction.

(Um, except for that first one. Hey, it's my blog, I make the rules and I'll break 'em if I want to.)

These are also not necessarily the most unforgettable books. There are a lot of books I adore because of the hero, or the interaction between the two characters, or a handful of other important things. These are specifically heroines that I love, not just the heroines of books I love. If that makes sense.

Thirteen Unforgettable Heroines

1. Scarlett O'Hara (Margaret Mitchell)
2. Sirena (Fern Michaels)
3. Skye O'Malley (Bertice Small)
4. Rosamond (Virginia Henley)
5. Claire (Diana Gabaldon)
6. Esme Brentmore (Loretta Chase)
7. Sugar Beth Carey (Susan Elizabeth Phillips)
8. Francesca Bridgerton (Julia Quinn)
9. Fiona (Christine Warren)
10. Lilith (Meljean Brook)
11. Annique (Joanne Bourne)
12. Verity (Anna Campbell)
13. Meg (Carrie Lofty)

I'm not going to inflict my rationale about each one on you. They're women I remember, and books I love (there are a few that are memorable for being so incredibly bad, but that's not where I'm going with this....)

I'm feeling so lazy tonight I'm not even going to do the links. Maybe I'll put them up tomorrow.

In the meantime, tell me who you think is the most unforgettable romance heroine. Who has stayed with you in your mind's eye even as you burned through new books? What makes them memorable?

The New Thursday Thirteen Site

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others' comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

What A Scoundrel Wants – Review

This is a TKO of debut novel – it will take your breath away. I was up until 2:00 am the other night finishing it. Hell, Phury only kept me up ‘til 1:30.

Why am I using boxing metaphors? I hate boxing, I don’t even know anything about it. But phrases like “sucker punch” keep coming to mind as I try to find a way to describe the book.

I have never ever met a heroine like Meg. She’s a blind, slightly pyromaniacal alchemist with a sensual streak, making a living from fertilizer and fake emeralds. Her relationships are a mess of love and hate, pride and pity, dependence and defiance. She walks a fine line, using her potions to intimidate those around her just enough to leave her alone, but always risking the label of witch. Inevitably, she’ll remind you a little bit of Joanne Bourne’s Annique, both being blind ass-kicking women, but their personalities are just completely different. Annique is quiet, stealthy, a chameleon, while Meg is completely in-your-face; Meg navigates pretty well and takes occasional advantage of her facility in the dark, but she’s not nearly so ninja-like as Annique.

She might also make you think of Meriel, from Mary Jo Putney’s Wild Child, in that her disability threatens to condemn her as mad, with all the forboding consequences that implies. But Meriel is gentry, and for all her eccentric habits, lives a protected life at least from a material standpoint. Combined with the differences between Regency and Medieval eras, there’s no confusion there either.

Mad Meg really is a little bit crazy. Not especially noble or pure. But as she takes blow after blow in this story and comes back from each one, a little more battered but still screaming “Bring it ON!” to fate and her enemies, you can’t help but fall in love with her. Plus, I’m kind of a sucker for a non-virgin historical heroine; I love women who really know what they want.

Then there’s Will Scarlett. The book opens with a moment of clarity on Will’s part: he’s fighting for the bad guys; they've set him up, specifically, for a fall; and he’s about to be hung out to dry-- more or less literally. (Kinda puts the Monday office blahs in perspective, eh?)

A good part of the book is an extended medieval chase scene, with narrow escapes, bloody battles, and double-crosses. Possibly triple-crosses, I think I lost track a couple of times. In terms of an action/adventure story, I could easily see this book adapted for the big screen and it has a modern feel to fight scenes: gritty and realistic. Poor Will really takes a beating, sacrificing his body over and over to protect Meg. Offhand I can’t think of another story where the hero is so physically wounded and just. keeps. coming. (Maybe that part in the first Die Hard where the terrorist dude is hanging from the chains but isn’t really dead? Except of course you WANT him to be dead. Erm. But I digress. Sorry. Although I suspect that John McClane and Will Scarlett would SO be drinking buddies. Sorry again.)

The one thing I disliked about the story is that the author does that keeping-a-secret-from-the-reader thing that you all know I hate. Something not-so-good is up between Robin and Will and we don’t know what it is. For a long time. Set several years after the return of Good King Richard puts an end to the merry band of outlaws and their forest-dwelling adventures, I couldn’t tell if the author was presuming a cultural knowledge of Will Scarlett’s role or not. Now, I’m certainly no expert, but I have read more than a couple versions of the Robin Hood legend:

(those are just the ones I've kept...) and I couldn’t put my finger on anything that could be considered “general knowledge.” Eventually, all is revealed and it’s just one of those plot devices, or maybe “tension devices” would be a better term, that I particularly don’t like. Lofty’s research notes at the end reinforce what I thought: the Will Scarlett character plays many different roles depending on which telling of the tale is underway.

But this secret definitely keeps you wondering about Will and what he might do next. Is he really a good guy? Well, you can make certain assumptions, because it IS a genre romance. But you’ll definitely see some surprising twists and turns as his character develops.

They’re an odd couple, to be sure. Occasionally I doubted the chemistry between them. By the end though, I was convinced. Each brings out the best AND the worst of the other-- they force each other to grow, to confront the fears that hold them back. Each of them has good reason to be stingy with their trust, both in general and specifically with each other, but bit by bit, as they are forced into one extreme situation after another with no one to rely on but each other, trust grows, maturity grows, and love grows.

It's a great adventure and a great romance. Read it.

Some other reviews:

Jackie's Review
Christine's Review (with additional links)
Carrie Lofty Does DIK

Did you review WaSW? Feel free to leave a link in comments!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sweet Trouble, by Susan Mallery -- Rant

Let me start by saying that I really like Susan Mallery’s full-length books (she has a ton of categories that I know nothing about, so no comment on them). I liked the Marcellis, I liked the Buchanans, and I started off liking the recent “Sweet” trilogy. The first one was good.

The second one was… OK.

The last one though, I have a number of problems with. The biggest one is not an uncommon thing – the hero crosses the line from Alpha to Asshole and IMO doesn’t manage to come back. Seriously, I don’t like Matt and when we get to the “black moment” and Jesse tells him that she can’t forgive him, I should’ve just stopped reading right then. I’d’ve been happier.

But what I’m going to indulge my inner bitch on today is not just Matt’s unloveability. It’s his whole character arc.

We see Jesse and Matt’s first meeting in a flashback:

He was tall and he could have been kind of cute, but everything about him was off. The haircut was a disaster, his thick glasses screamed computer nerd. His short-sleeved plaid shirt was too big and—she nearly choked on her coffee—he had an honest-to-God pocket protector. Worse, his jeans were too short and he was wearing geeky tennis shoes with white socks.
Jesse decides that she can give this guy a makeover, purely from the goodness of her heart. After all, if there’s hope for Matt, there’s hope for her.

Later, we also find out that Matt made his first “couple million a year” from a game that he rewrote: "I broke into their system, accessed the code and rewrote it. Then I took the new version to them. They licensed it from me.”

This is wrong on so many levels I hardly know where to start. First off, this is a recycled character. The Seattle computer nerd getting a makeover from his best platonic girlfriend has been done. I would’ve sworn it was an earlier Susan Mallery title, but I can’t find it. Maybe Jayne Ann Krentz?

Secondly, the nerd in question here is circa NASA 1966. You know how lawyers can’t serve on a jury? I believe the official reason is that they presumably know too much about law be susceptible to the usual courtroom bullshit. Technically. The thing is, I’m kind of like a lawyer trying to sit on a jury—I know way more about gamer nerds than the average romance reader. In fact, if there’s one thing I can claim some knowledge of, it’s the phylum and genus of nerd, and gamer nerds specifically. My credentials: engineering degree, 1988. Microsoft employment, 2002-2004 including a run with the XBox hardware team. Husband: video game artist since 1989. Video game artist AT MICROSOFT for over 5 years. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.

“Matt” would’ve gotten beaten up by real nerds. He would be wearing ratty cargo shorts and a vendor t-shirt with a stupid slogan on it. He would be either tattooed or pierced or both, somewhere vaguely disturbing. I could give you dorky tennis shoes, but more likely would be Teva knockoffs with gnarly toenails. Possibly with socks. Bad haircut, sure. If you want to be really out there, it would be white-guy dreadlocks or maybe a shaved head. There’s really no difference between a nerdy gamer and a cool gamer. Here’s a sample Microsoft game team. (I may or may not actually know a couple of those guys.)

Matt never once talks about playing games or liking games. He never plays a video game of any kind in the book. This really quite simply proves that he is NOT a game geek. Five years ago (when the flashback takes place) I can GUARANTEE you this guy would have tried to tell you how awesome Everquest is and what level his character was on. Even if you tried really hard to stop him. Even if you said right to his face, “I so totally don’t care about MMORPGs.” He would’ve kept talking. He would’ve said things like, “I have to meet my clan at 7:30 for a raid. I’m wielding the emerald-level enhanced magi-staff of enlightenment, so I HAVE to be there!” If he were a REAL gamer geek, anyway.

Then the thing about rewriting the game? Ahahahahahahahaha….. OK, when I quit laughing… I’ll try to break it down. First off, very few games retain much popularity for more than a couple years. Gamers are fickle, and manufacturers like it that way – they churn out new versions every 2 years or so for the really huge games. Not to mention the fact that if you do the math, the computers that would’ve been running the 15-year-old Matt’s hacked program are pre-Pentiums. Pre-Windows. We’re talking DOS, or maybe a Mac SE. Do you remember your computer in 1993? Neither does today’s software. So the likelihood of making millions for 10 years? Slim to… well, none really. Not slim, just none. Secondly, let’s just say he could “break into their system.” Whatever that means. He hacked the code on his PC? Well, OK, maybe. Not that hard, even, in 1993. Rewrote the code? Oh, so very unlikely. Million-dollar games are not simple and without a test platform, it’s unlikely that you could just “make it better” without fucking something else up. But let’s just say he did. Maybe it was some simple little puzzle game (these do not make millions per year, but whatever). Corporate America does not fall on its knees and hand over million-dollar licensing deals to people WHO HACK THEIR CODE. They SUE those people.

I realize that most readers won’t care too much about these tiny distinctions. But what gets me is that it’s just lazy. Mallery lives here in the Seattle area. Twenty minutes of internet research would have gotten her 80% of what I just told you, and dozens of contacts happy to talk about the gaming industry (gamers LOVE internet forums). And for all that gaming itself played into the book (ie, not at all), Mallery could have given us a way more realistic character – the Microserf who made a couple million in options and was smart enough to get out before the ’01 bust. Gamers don’t really make good hard-assed corporate moguls, which is what Matt turned into. Gamers are proud of their dorkiness and would have been far more likely to completely ignore Jesse as a shallow bitch with her Cosmo and Car & Driver –based personality makeover.

Damn. I hate doing negative reviews. Ms. Mallery, I hope I haven’t hurt your feelings if you’re reading this. It’s just that you got it so, so wrong, and these are some people that are actually pretty close to my heart.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I, Scrapper

This week, the Weekly Geeks ask, What are you passionate about besides reading and blogging?

Before I became slightly obsessed with blogging, I was a little obsessed with scrapbooking. I started with Creative Memories in 2002. My daughter was two at the time, I had scads of photos, and everywhere I went, I saw scrapbooking stores and supplies. I found a CM consultant through a friend of a friend, and what I expect to be a lifelong “hobby” was born.

I use quotation marks because I do think it’s a little more than a hobby. We live in a media rich age, so it’s unlikely that someday my albums will be found and considered some kind of archeological treasure. But I hope that my girls will appreciate the effort and that my love for them will come through the pages. I feel like that sometimes gets lost in the day-to-day effort of keeping up with household chores, and teaching the kids the lessons they need to get by in life. Sometimes I can be kind of a negative person, and scrapping helps me focus on the positive. I think that their kids and maybe their grandkids will enjoy the peek into their lives, too.

A couple of years ago, I started doing digital scrapbooks, too. It’s hard to express how much I love these. I live far from my extended family, so I do one “yearbook” per year (I’m in catch-up mode right now, so I’m doing two: the current year, and an older one—I’ve got 2004-2008 covered), and then I print out multiple copies of the same book. It's a fair investment of time for the first one, but then with a press of a button, everyone who wants one can have one. (This is nice for class gifts, scout troops, sports teams, etc, too). There are a number of places where you can get these books made, but I use Creative Memories. Their photo organizing software has some nice hooks into their digi scrapbooking software, and from there it’s very easy to import templates and have books printed. Lots of people use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to digi-scrap, but my one encounter with P-shop some years back left me very askeered.

As handy as the digital scrapping is, I don’t think I’ll ever give up my paper and pens and adhesive. As most “crafty” people will tell you, the process is as important as the product. It’s a tactile experience, and it balances my professional life which is extremely abstract. I like playing with colors and proportions, and telling a story and, in direct contradiction to why I love digital scrapping, I love paper/traditional scrapbooks precisely because they are handmade and one-of-a-kind.

My dad is an amateur photographer, and I have a lot of bitter-sweet memories of waiting, waiting, waiting for him to get the focus exactly right, and squinting into the sun because he didn’t want shadows on our faces. And film and processing were expensive, so I was taught to be thoughtful about the composition, try to get it right the first time, take few photos, and treat the prints very, very carefully. I have every print I took between 1978 and 1990 or so labeled, numbered, cross-referenced to the negative strip, and placed in sticky-page albums in chronological order.

So when I first started scrapping, I was ALL ABOUT the photos. Showcasing them, arranging them, choosing complimentary colors, etc. Then I came across a couple of photos of me blowing zerberts on Yvette’s tummy. Objectively, they’re pretty bad photos. Cluttered background, dark boring colors, my face is buried in one of the photos. But Yvette’s smile just lights up the world in one of them. This is the result I ended up with (sorry about the glare!):

And that’s when I had the epiphany: it’s about the MEMORIES. The photos, the journaling, the accents – these are the tools I use to try to keep vivid the joys of the moment. I think after that, my pages improved a lot.

I still have trouble keeping organized, now that I’m freed from the tyranny of physical film, but I’m getting better. Nadia’s books are closer to up to date, and Yvette is starting to journal some of her own pages – which is so cool.

For more of my favorite pages, you can check out my Flickr Scrapbook Set here.

And, say the Weekly Geeks, Get Us Involved.

Geeks, if you’re blogging this week about a collection you have, consider photographing your favorites (or the whole collection) and assembling a small scrapbook. For each item, write a few words – how and when did you acquire it, and what makes this one special? Find some themed paper or stickers and it will go together in a snap. If your items are valuable, include the receipt or pricing info, and you’ll have a valuable record for insurance purposes, too.

Knitters – I know you’re out there – a fun scrapbook project would be a scrapbook with a page per project – you could include a snip of the yarn, a photo or scan of the pattern, a photo of the project in progress and then complete, and journal about why you chose it, who it was for, how long it took, what problems you ran into. Or, do a scrapbook for one big project, taking photos along the way and show how it evolves. The yummy colors and textures of the yarn are just begging for some great photos.

Scrapping can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be. Choose materials that are acid and lignin free, to keep them from crumbling or yellowing in the future. Don’t use those sticky-page albums I mentioned – they’re terrible for your photos. All you need to start with is a good album, adhesive, pen(s), and photos. Extras like patterned paper, stickers, die-cuts, and doo-dads are fun and I’d never do without them entirely, but which ones you choose and to what extent you use them is a stylistic choice.

A good place to start is with the Creating Keepsakes website-- there are tons of links, articles & blogs. I confess that I don't actually do much online with my scrapbooking hobby, so I don't really follow any scrapbook blogs except for my friend and upline, Erin (find regular updates in my sidebar!). A local Creative Memories consultant can give you one-on-one advice, encouragement, and will often hold “crops” where you can get together with other scrappers, away from the kids and the pets and the household chores and really focus on working on pages.

If you’re like me and you like to just dive in to a huge project with a lot of faith and not much of a plan, this is a hobby for you – all scrapbooks grow one page at a time, and there's no wrong way to do it. If you’d rather start small, choose a themed scrapbook, like a vacation. There are lots of “collection” type products on the market that are pre-coordinated so your book will have a cohesive, polished look from start to finish. (Personally, I like to tailor each page to the photos so you never know what kind of style jump you might get when you turn the page, LOL).

Last October, after 6 years of thinking about it, I went ahead and signed on as a consultant with Creative Memories. So folks, I am a PRO now (ha ha) and if you seriously want some one-on-one help, just shoot me an email.

Watch This Space

I’ll add in some links over the week here to other scrappers and Geek passions that would lend themselves to scrapbooking. ;-)


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