Category Archives: recommendations

Girl Genius

If you would have asked me yesterday, I would have sworn I’d already written a blog recommending Phil Foglio’s work. I would have gone so far as to bet money on it. A lot of money.

And, apparently, I would have lost that money. Because today when I went looking for it, I discovered I’d written no such blog.

So, in an attempt to set things right, I’d like to talk to you about Girl Genius.

*Ahem.*

I’m guessing a lot of you already know about Phil and Kaja Foglio.  They attend a lot of the big conventions. And, if you’re an experienced gamer like me (and by ‘experienced’ I mean ‘old’) you probably remember Foglio’s comic from Dragon Magazine: What’s New with Phil and Dixie.

Oh, and they’ve won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story the last two years. In 2009 they beat out Joss Whedon’s Serenity comic. And this year they beat out Neil Gaiman’s Batman story.

Yeah. That’s right. Their graphic novel Girl Genius not only beat out Whedon and Gaiman, it beat Firefly and Batman, too.

If that doesn’t convince you of how awesome their series is, I don’t know what I can say to convince you. How about we just look at the cover for a moment while I think of something sufficiently gushy:

Simply said, Girl Genius has everything I look for in a story. The worldbuilding is clever and internally consistent. The characters are interesting and multi-faceted. The story is complex while still being clear, and surprising while still being satisfying. (Which is really fucking hard, let me tell you.)

Did I mention it’s funny? It is. Consistently, honestly funny. I don’t need to tell you how rare that is.

It has a strong female lead character who’s good with science, which is nice to see. And it’s perfectly appropriate for just about any age group. In fact, I probably should have mentioned it when was putting together my list of YA recommendations a couple weeks ago.

If none of that convinces you, let me say one more thing. Every time a new volume of Girl Genius comes out, I buy it, then I read all the other volumes leading up to the new one before I let myself read the new one. I haven’t done that with a series since I read Dragonriders back in the 6th grade.

Okay. Enough gushing.

Because Phil and Kaja are really cool, you can read their comic for free over on their website. However, I have to say that the story really deserves to be read in book form, rather than sitting hunched over a computer monitor. I’ve read it both ways and it’s so much more satisfying to read it as a book.

In fact, I like this series so much, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.

Here’s my offer. If you buy a copy of the first volume of Girl Genius, and you don’t like it, you can mail it to me and I’ll buy it off you for whatever you paid for it.

I’m that sure you’ll like it.

Here are the conditions:

  • If you mail me Volume 1, it has to arrive more or less intact. It can’t be missing pages, crumpled up, or covered in jam.
  • You need to include the receipt showing me how much you paid for it.
  • You need to include a SASE.

As I type this, part of me worries that this might be one of my ideas that seems brilliant when I’m typing it, but later, when I’m not full of coffee and love, I end up kicking myself.

But you know what? I’m fine with that. What’s the fun of being a published author if I can’t occasionally do something lovely and foolish? In my experience being clever and careful is highly overrated.

Here’s the link to the Girl Genius website. Go on. Order the book. I dare you.

pat

Edit: Rest assured that all nine volumes are in print. I know this because I ordered them myself just a couple weeks ago. If you’re having trouble finding them on the girl genius website, you just need to follow this link.

Also posted in comics, cool things, Firefly, graphic novels, Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman | By Pat58 Responses

Fanmail Q&A: YA Recomendations

Hello, Pat!

Today, my 10-year-old daughter, Becca, came home from school with a book pressed to her nose. This is nothing unexpected; she’s been addicted to books for nearly as long as she’s been able to speak!

But today, I had a little smile when I noted the title that she’d selected from her school’s library: “A Wrinkle In Time.”

I recently read your blog post about your early experience with the book, and it gave me pause to think. I had one of those thoroughly “mom” moments, suddenly picturing my redheaded, freckle-faced, bespectacled, skinny 10 year old as a grown-up with a career!

I hope I don’t sound dreadfully stage-momish when I say that I’ve long guessed she would end up being a writer. She thinks differently from other kids. She’s never been afraid of spiders or robbers, instead, her real-life fears include the concept of infinity and people one day traveling at the speed of light. Many nightmares over the size of the universe. She’s bizarre, but pretty darned cute, so it balances. ;)

(Editor’s note: She is pretty cute.)

Writing all that down probably seals her fate as a future tax accountant!

So, here begins my question to you… She’s read all of the usual suspects for children at her age, including Harry Potter and the Narnia series. She also spent a whole month reading every BabySitter’s Club book she could scrounge up! (She is a little girl, after all!!)

But finding books that really challenge and appeal to her as a voracious reader has been a years-long sprint to stay ahead of her curiosity! She adores fantasy, but a LOT of fantasy novels are just too sexual, or too violent for her, at this age.

I’ve loved your recommendations of books over the years, and I wonder if you could think of a list of books that little budding geeks would adore? …a geekery primer, as it were.

Thank you so much for sharing your time and talent with the world.

-Carrie

Well Carrie, I won’t lie to you. You do sound slightly stage-mom. But at least you’re aware of it. Knowing is half the battle, after all.

I have a lot of control-freak tendencies myself. (I think some of it comes from being an author.) But so far I’ve managed to reign in those elements of my personality when it comes to planning Oot’s future.

Sarah constantly wants to speculate about what he’ll be like when he grows up. What job will he have? Will he be right handed? Will his hair be curly or wavy? Will he be gay or straight? What will his secondary mutation be?

I decided early on that I don’t care about any of that stuff. I only want two things from him when he grows up.

He must:

1. Make the world a better place.

2. Be happy.

That’s all I require of him. He can even do them in whatever order he likes. Concurrently or consecutively. Everything else is meaningless detail as far as I’m concerned. (Though it would be nice if he was a bit of a reader, too.)

But yeah, back to the point of your letter. Let me see if I can think of some good YA reads for you….

The first thing that leaps to mind is:

  • Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books.

I don’t really feel the need to sell these books to you. If you know anything about fantasy, you know who Terry Pratchett is. You know he’s great.

On the off chance that you don’t, I’ll simply say what I’ve said before: There may be authors as good as Terry Pratchett, but there are no authors better. And the Tiffany Aching books are as good as anything he’s ever written. I just pulled one down off the shelf and right now I’m having to actively fight my desire start reading it again.

In order, they are: Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith.

The fourth book in the series, I Shall Wear Midnight, is coming out in less than a month. I plan on reading it the day it’s released.

Side note: I’d probably recommend *any* of Pratchett’s books as a safe YA read. They’re all really good, and by opening that single door, you instantly add more than thirty exceptionally high-quality books to your reading list.

  • Neil Gaiman’s Coraline

Again, I don’t feel like I need to push you very hard about this book. It’s Neil Gaiman. You know how good he is.

Side note: The audiobook version of this is really excellent. I just listened to it for the third time about two weeks ago. Gaiman reads it himself, and does an absolutely brilliant job.

  • Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.

Again. I rave about this book all the time, so I won’t go on and on. I didn’t read it when I was a kid, but I can’t help but feel that it would be a great YA read.

Secondary Recommendation: There’s a movie too.

  • The BFG by Roald Dahl.

I remember reading this one as a kid and loving it. Dahl has the rare gift that I’ve come to think of as The Divine Ridiculous.

You see, anybody can be goofy. Anybody can just make up some silly bullshit. But true inspired ridiculousness can’t be forced. You cannot strive for it, for in striving you fail. It’s like Nirvana. It’s like the eternal Tao.

Some authors manage to touch this odd piece of our Jungian collective consciousness, and when they do, they write things that are genuinely delightful and bizarre. Douglass Adams brushed up against it occasionally, as do the guys over at Penny Arcade.  Dahl kinda lived there. I remember reading his books as a kid and thinking the kid version of, “WTF?”

That’s a good thing for a kid to think, in my opinion.

Secondary recommendation: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is pretty good, too.

  • The Fledgling by Jane Langton.

Honestly. I can’t remember much about this book except that I read it when I was a kid and I loved it. When you asked this question it was one of the first books that sprung to mind, that says a lot, considering it’s probably been 25 years since I’ve read it, and usually I can barely remember to put on pants before I leave the house every day.

  • Zarah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor.

I’ve interviewed Nnedi Okorafor on the website before, and talked about some of her newer books. But this was her first book, which I read years and years ago. I really enjoyed it, and have given away many copies as gifts. Not only does it have some cool non-western worldbuiding in it, but the protagonist is a clever, capable young girl.

I could go on and on. (The Hobbit, The Princess Bride, Podkayne of Mars or other Heinlein juveniles, Peter Pan, The Little Prince…) but I think I’ll stop there.

Feel free to post some of your childhood favorites in the comments below. Discuss and disagree. That’s one of the joys of threaded comments.

However, I do expect things to remain civilized. If you you don’t think a book is appropriate for kids, feel free to say so. Feel free to explain why. But don’t be a dick about it. Typical internet asshattery will result in suspension of posting privileges, the scorn of your peers, and my terrible, terrible wrath.

pat

Also posted in Neil Gaiman, Oot, Sarah, Young Adult | By Pat486 Responses

The Way of Kings

I have trouble taking things seriously. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, this probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise to you.

In medieval times, people probably would have referred to me as “Phlegmatic” and attributed this tendency to an imbalance of my humors. These days people just think of me as an an irreverent asshat.

It’s especially bad when I’m asked to write anything remotely promotional. A good example of this is my endless struggle with biography.

It’s also a real problem when I want to write a blurb for someone’s book.

I very rarely give blurbs, and part of the reason for this is when I sit down to write one, I feel like I have to be all professional and formal. I feel like I should use words like, “Luminous” and “Scintillating” and “Perspicacious” “Resplendent.”

But that’s not how I talk. If I really liked a book, I would say to my friend, “This is a really fucking good book. Seriously. Have you read it? No? Go buy it, shitweasel.”

However, that’s not really the sort of thing publishers are looking to print on the cover of a book.

My most recent experience blurbing a book was when Brandon Sanderson sent me an ARC of the Way of Kings a while back.

I read the book and liked it, which irritated me. Brandon writes way faster than I do, and his books are consistently good. This means that I feel like I should really despise him. Either that or hunt him down like an animal so I can devour his liver and thereby gain some of his power.

But even though I’ve tried really hard, I can’t help but like him. Brandon’s a really nice guy.

So I sit down and try to write a professional style blurb for him. Here’s what I come up with:

“Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite new authors, and The Way of Kings continues his tradition of creating vivid, fantastic worlds for us to visit.”

How’s that for awful? That isn’t just some first quick attempt, either. I worked for like twenty minutes to come up with that. It’s one part bland, one part stiff, and two parts fake-sounding. “Continues his tradition”? Who the hell says something like that? Not me.

So I try again:

“Sanderson knows how to tell a good story, and he’s created another vivid and fantastic world in The Way of Kings.”

If anything, this one’s even worse. It’s more boring. And I’m clinging to the word “vivid” like it’s somehow going to keep me from looking like an idiot.

At this point I’m frustrated. So I quit taking the whole process seriously and write,

“Brandon Sanderson’s books are so good that he’s starting to piss me off.”

And you know what? It feels pretty good. That’s something I’d actually say out loud. And in its own way, that blurb is more honest and complementary than the other two.

So I decide to run with it, and write.

“This book is cool, and Brandon Sanderson smells like fresh-baked cookies.”

“Sanderson’s newest Brobdingnagian epic is sure to please. Look it up, bitches.”

“Brandon Sanderson’s new book is printed on delightfully soft-yet durable paper. With more than a thousand pages, The Way of Kings is sure to bring you several weeks of good, solid use, though that may vary according to your diet and personal hygiene.”

“When’s book two coming out? What’s taking so long?”

“Brandon Sanderson is one of the great new writers on the scene today. And he’s not hard on the eyes either. Rawr.”

“The Way of Kings is a tour-de-force. Luminously meretricious, yet with a round oaky underbite, this book offers notes of toffee and broam with just a hint of having someone’s nephew hit you in the groin with a tennis ball. Best served with fish.”

Writing these sorts of blurbs come really naturally to me.

After about an hour of this, I sent a handful of potential blurbs along to Brandon and his agent. I told them the truth, that I suck at giving the classic blurb.

And that was the last I thought of it until I wandered into the bookstore two days ago and saw that The Way of Kings has just hit the shelves.

I picked it up just to check how many long it was. It’s over a thousand pages, so that made me feel better about The Wise Man’s Fear. Especially because I just added a new chapter yesterday.

Then I flipped it over and saw this:

What’s that down there on the bottom?

Just me and Orson Scott Card, hanging out on the back of Brandon Sanderson’s book.

And you know what? I kinda like my blurb. It’s not fancy, but then again, I’m not a fancy person. But sincere? I’ve got sincere in spades.

If you’re looking for something to read, you might want to check it out…

Best,

pat

Also posted in my dumbness, My Iconoclastic Tendencies, the art of blurbing, Things I didn't know about publishing | By Pat130 Responses

Tales of Mere Existence

So a couple days ago a friend sent me a link to a video.

And I thought, “Yeah. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.”

I’m assuming a lot of you already know about Tales of Mere Existence. But if you don’t, well, here you go.

I’ve loved Lev Yilmaz’s stuff for years. In fact, I feel a certain amount of shame that it’s taken me this long to mention him on the blog. However much attention he gets for his work, I can’t help but feel that he deserves more.

That said, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that he also has books and DVD’s and such that you can buy.

I hereby grant you permission to do nothing but watch Lev’s videos all day.

Share and Enjoy,

pat

Also posted in Things I Like, videos | By Pat27 Responses

Who Fears Death?

Since I’ve become a published author, a lot has changed in my life.

Most of these changes have been good things. Money, for example. These days when I go to the grocery store, I don’t have to buy the 33 cent burritos. Now I can buy the 59 cent burritos, which contain, if not food, then at least a texture designed to emulate food.

When I buy ramen, I don’t have to buy the Chicken Maruchen ramen, which you can get for a dime a packet if you buy it in bulk. These days I can buy really fancy ramen. Ramen with three or four little packets of stuff you add to the noodles. These packets contain flecks of material that I suspect are not merely vegetable colored… they might actually *be* vegetables.

True, I usually buy the Chicken Maruchen ramen anyway. But it’s nice to know that if I wanted to, I could splurge a little.

People recognize me in public now. Not just here in Stevens Point (where I live) or in Madison (where I used to live.) Someone recognized me in a train station in Manchester England last year. It was a surreal experience back then, but it’s happened all over the US now, people come up to me on the street or in a coffee shop and say, “Are you…?”

And, usually, I am.

It’s amazing what you can get used to. I never thought I’d get used to seeing my book in bookstores, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. I’m used to fanmail. I’m used to sometimes getting a hundred comments when I post a blog.

But when I was at Wiscon a couple weeks ago, I got another surprise. My friend Nnedi Okorafor was GOH there and I picked up a copy of her newly published book: Who Fears Death.

Some of you might remember Nnedi’s name because of the fun little interview I did with her a couple months ago.

Anyway, when I was standing in line to buy her book, I flipped it over and was surprised at what I saw there.

(Click to Embiggen.)

It was a blurb extolling the virtues the book… from Patrick Rothfuss.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. I had given her the blurb, after all. But still, it’s not something I’m used to yet.

Everything said, my blurb seems kinda weak compared to some of the others. I kinda suck at giving blurbs for a variety of reasons. But that’s a topic for a different post I suppose…

Despite my lack of blurb prowess, if you’re looking for something to read, you should check it out. This is doubly true if you happen to be tired of the same-old done-to-death fantasy crap. You know what I’m talking about: plucky orphans, schools of magic, faeries, dragons, vaguely medieval settings, stew…

Nnedi’s made a different type of world here, and she’s telling a different kind of story. I can honestly say there were scenes in this book that filled me with genuine horror and dread. I mean that as the highest sort of praise. It’s easy to make me laugh, and you don’t have to work too hard to make me cry. But to make me actually terrified on a character’s behalf? That’s rare stuff.

More news soon, stay tuned.

pat

Also posted in the art of blurbing, Things I didn't know about publishing | By Pat66 Responses

The Adventures of Sexton Blake

Let’s get right to the point here….

This, is awesome.

If you like things that are awesome, you should buy it, listen to it, then probably buy it again just to give away to your friends who also like things that are awesome.

Need more reasons? Fine, here you go…

First, it’s BBC. So you know it’s not crap right off the bat.

Moreover, it stars Simon Jones. (Who many of you know as Arthur from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) He absolutely nails the comedic timing of Blake all the way through this.

Secondarily, this is the best the best radio drama I’ve ever come in contact with.

Sixth and lastly: It’s cleverly written, brilliantly acted, and directed with a smooth, fast-paced clarity I’ve never experienced before.

Thirdly, I have bought no less that eight copies and given them all away as gifts.

And, to conclude, I’d like to officially add the director, Dirk Maggs, to the very short list of people I would unreservedly trust to do an alternate-media version of The Name of the Wind.

pat

Edit: I’m removing all “First” posts in order to nip this behavior in the bud. I did it as an ironcial-type joke in the last blog, and didn’t mean to establish a trend.

Also posted in audiobooks, cool things | By Pat56 Responses

On the Road

Dear Pat,

I won’t be able to make any of your readings over the next two weeks, but I was wondering. How do you get ready for something like that? I’ve done a little public speaking in the past, and it terrifies me. I can’t help but think that it must be a million times worse if you’re reading your own stuff to a huge roomful of people.

So that’s my question. What does an author do to get ready for a public reading?

Best of luck on your trip.

Dan

The truth is Dan, I’ve wondered the same thing myself.

I mean, I know how *I* get ready for a reading. But I wonder what other authors go through when they’re getting ready.

A lot of authors I’ve talked to admit to having public speaking jitters. Some of them downright hate it. But that’s not a problem for me. Public speaking is old hat. I’ve done commencement addresses, sermons, lectures, and more panels than you can shake a stick at.

Plus I used to do improv comedy. And let me tell you, after you’ve done improv comedy, no other type of public speaking will ever scare you. It’s like a trial by fire.

In general, I imagine other authors think about regular things before a signing tour. They worry about who’s going to show up, or what they’re going to read. Maybe they dither over what sort of shirt they’re going to wear.

Me, I worry about my hair.

At least that’s what I’ve been doing for the last several days. I’m about to leave on a little signing tour, 8 readings in 9 days. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m looking forward to seeing who shows up.

The problem is, I haven’t had a haircut in about 8 months. It’s something that never occurs to me until I have to make a public appearance. Normally every 3-4 months I’m forced to brush up against the edges of civilization. I go to a convention, or a wedding, or something, and so I get a haircut to clean myself up for that.

But lately I’ve been so busy with revisions and the new baby that I haven’t done any of those things. And that means almost a whole year without a haircut. That means that I look like a cross between a hobo, John the Baptist come out of the desert, and a particularly shaggy Muppet. I look, in fact, like one of those green men statues. Except not green.

Normally I’m fine with this. But when I make public appearances I feel bad showing up looking all wodwo. I feel like if people show up to see me, I should try to groom myself down to the point where I won’t frighten small children.

But here’s the problem. This week when I tried to make an appointment for a haircut with the only person I trust to cut my hair and beard… but she couldn’t fit me in to her schedule. And I can’t trust some random barber. Last time I did that the fucker sheared me like a fucking sheep.

So now, the day before I drive off to do my signings, I’m faced with an awful choice. Show up looking like the crazy guy at the bus station, or risk a haircut that would make a prison barber wince. I still haven’t decided…

The other thing that I think about before I go on a trip like this is what I’m going to listen to in the car. I’ve become a sucker for audiobooks lately, and this trip is going to put me behind the wheel for almost 40 hours.

So I’ve got a return question for some of you out there. Do you have any good audiobooks to recommend? I’ve already listened to everything by David Sedaris, Neil Gaiman, and Garrison Keillor.

Here. I’ll start things out with a recommendation or two of my own.

The BBC dramatization of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

These BBC audio productions of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are really great. What’s even better is that they contain different materials than the original books. That means even if you know your the source material inside and out, you can still be pleasantly surprised.

The later ones weren’t done my Adams himself. But I have to say (and this is something that you will probably never *ever* hear me say again) I liked the ending of the final audiobook better than I like the ending of Adam’s original novel.

I know. Blasphemy.

Anyway. Trust me. These are brilliant. Share and enjoy.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.

I listened to this just recently, and I was absolutely blown away by it.

That said, I don’t know how I’d describe the entirety of it to someone.

It’s funny without being goofy. It’s clever without being pretentious. It’s original without being desperate. And it has an element of what I consider the divine ridiculousness: a delightful, subtle, strangeness that is funny while still touching on some underlying truth.

I feel like I should say more about it, but I can’t think of what else to say. Except, perhaps, that it’s probably the best book I’ve read in a year or so. And Sarah really liked it too, if that sways you at all…

So what about you guys? Do y’all have any good audiobooks that you can recommend? I’m going to need a few more before I’m done with this trip….

P.S. I’m asking for audiobooks, mind you. Don’t recommend a book that you liked and you’re thinking *would* make a good audiobook. The narrator makes a huge difference in these things, so don’t tell me it’s good if you haven’t listened to it yourself.

pat

Also posted in appearances, audiobooks, Fanmail Q + A, my beard | By Pat252 Responses
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