Category Archives: Nick James

Goodbye, Lovely Readers

Goodbye Graphic #21You might not be aware that when this blog was created, the original group of posters agreed to keep it going for 843 days exactly. We had done some pretty complicated calculations on the shelf-life of a blog about speculative fiction for teens and pre-teens, with some assistance from several persons (and a robot) who arrived from the future to warn us about impending utopian conditions.

So here we are at Day 843, feeling compelled to say goodbye so that we can enjoy the sudden utopia we have been informed is about to be created on Earth. (We’ve been told there will be free iced coffee and several Harry Potter sequels for everyone.) We’d like to thank you, blog readers, for following us for so long (two and a half years! over 500 posts!). We’ve appreciated your comments and silent visits alike. We feel this has been a great opportunity to explore our thoughts on various topics important to us science fiction- and fantasy-lovers, and to chat with people we otherwise would never had known existed.

We hope that you will continue to visit us on other places on the web so that we can chat about books and hear your recommendations for what we should be reading and share thoughts about writing and publishing. You can find links to our websites here. Thanks, lovely blog readers, and Happy Reading!

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An I AM NUMBER FOUR Review (Of Sorts)

This I AM NUMBER FOUR thing is a very interesting story — perhaps for all the wrong reasons, but interesting nonetheless. The book was sold in May of 2009 for a September 2010 release. Written by Pittacus Lore (a pen name for the team of controversial author James Frey and much younger co-writer Jobie Hughes), the book had a cool — and easily marketable — premise: teen aliens living on Earth hunted by the bad guys. It’s been done before, but it works. I could understand, especially given the author, why it was such a big deal. However, what I found especially interesting at the time was that in addition to buying the manuscript, they were going to adapt it into a movie scheduled for release only a few months after it landed in readers’ hands.


Because of the premise, and the curiosity factor, I picked up the book last September to give it a whirl. I only made it about halfway through (the writing wasn’t my cup of tea) and struggled to understand what the big deal was. Judging by other reader reviews, I wasn’t exactly alone. Still, being the movie nerd that I am, I went to the theater this week to see the adaptation. Yes, I gave it another chance to wow me. Sometimes these things take time, right?

Like with the book, I was under-whelmed… to say the least. It opened and closed with a whiz-bang intro and climax, but the middle was a long slog through Twilight-esque teenage romance, much like the book. I know, I know. I was a little foolish to expect something different.

This is my genre. I’m the guy they’re pitching this series towards, so why has it left me cold? And what did they see in this manuscript back in 2009? Was it nothing more than name recognition? Marketability? Plenty of huge books come out each year without attached movie deals (Michael Bay movie deals, to boot). What convinced the head honchos to put so much behind an unproven series, by a known (but not in this genre) author, when there are so many other long-standing YA sci-fi series begging for this kind of movie deal? I mean, ARTEMIS FOWL, MAXIMUM RIDE. I get those. This I AM NUMBER FOUR thing is just a head scratcher. And to cap off its story, the movie version under-performed at the box office. What does this all mean folks? (I ask in all honesty because typing up this post has made me even more confused!)

Nick, who wants to be Number 500. Nice, clean, and minimal chance of dying by evil alien hands.

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Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars

Alright, this will be the most shameless post I’ve written, and I promise not to make a habit out of it, but it’s not every day you get to reveal the cover for your book… especially your debut. So I wanted to share with you my awesome, hot-off-the-presses cover for the first book in my Skyship Academy series. It will be released in September of this year, and I’m very excited!

I’ve set up a facebook fan page to keep readers in the loop. I’ve got lots of fun stuff planned, so make sure to “like” it!
There’s also more information about the book on my newly launched website.

Finally, I want to link back to my Spectacle debut, an interview I did with Joni last March.

As a closing note, I’ve got to say that working with my publisher, Flux, on this cover was an absolute joy. I was allowed input from the start and they updated throughout the process, from the initial comp (a sort of rough draft idea of the concept) to the final version.

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The Scariest of Qualities

I debated about this post since there have been quite a few others on this blog that are pretty similar, but this is a question that I’ve been thinking about in my own writing of late and I think it’s worth revisiting from a writer’s (and reader’s) perspective with a slightly different bent. I’d imagine the answer’s more than a little subjective, dependent on individual fears.

So, my question:

What makes a character (in particular, a villain) truly scary? What traits–physical or emotional–give you chills?

As a jumping off point, here are the top ten scariest children’s book villains as voted on by 600 adult readers (surveyed by Penguin Books around this time last year). I wonder, do they have anything in common?

1. White Witch (The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis – 1950)
2. Captain Hook (Peter Pan by J M Barrie – 1904)
3. The Grand High Witch (The Witches by Roald Dahl – 1983)
4. Wicked Stepmother (Snow White by Brothers Grimm – 1810)
5. Cruella de Vil (The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith – 1956)
6. Voldemort (Harry Potter books by J K Rowling – 1997)
7. The Child Catcher (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming though in the1968 film not book)
8. Miss Trunchbull (Matilda by Roald Dahl – 1988)
9. The Wolf (Red Riding Hood by Brothers Grimm – 1810)
10. Long John Silver (Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – 1883)
(Link)

Nick, who always enjoys a good scare.

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From the Archives: Book-to-Movie Round-up

In the years following the blockbuster success of the Harry Potter movie franchise, Hollywood’s been churning out film after film based on kid’s fantasy books. Interestingly, the only sci-fi adaptations I can think of are City of Ember and Jumper, (changed significantly from the YA book). Yet there seemed to be a million middle grade fantasy adaptations. I’ve seen almost all of them (I love seeing how they adapt things) and thought I’d offer my thoughts in a big round-up. Let me know if I’ve missed any, or if you agree/disagree with my grades!

The Golden Compass: One of my favorite books of all time, so I was bound to be disappointed. The effects were great, and it was generally well cast/acted, but the pacing and writing were way off. Plus, they cut out the ending (one of the best endings ever!). Still, it was a thrill to see my favorite characters up on the screen. B-

The Spiderwick Chronicles: A strong cast (Freddie Highmore, Mary Louise-Parker), some cheesy effects and a good sense of fun. I think I liked it about as much as the books. B-

Eragon: I’ve gotta admit, I’ve never read the series. Not really my thing. The film version did little to tempt me. It boils down to a standard quest with character after character we’ve seen before. C-

Lemony Snicket – A Series of Unfortunate Events: One of the few adaptations that I liked better than the books. It’s all about the visuals here, which were more Burton-esque than most recent Burton films. Squeezing the first three books together was a good choice. Snappy pacing. A-

The Thief Lord: My favorite Funke book, and (I’d imagine) the easiest to adapt. It’s a low-budget straight-to-DVD, sure, but it has its charms. The Thief Lord costume is pretty ridiculous, but it was cast well. B+

Percy Jackson: Or, the cliff-notes version… if those cliff-notes featured huge deviations from the book. As a film in its own right, I enjoyed it a lot, though I can understand how fans of the book would be quite annoyed. And although the cast represented significant changes from the book, I thought they had nice chemistry. B

City of Ember: I devoured this book in an afternoon, absolutely glued to it. The movie version gets the mood right and the cast was great, but for some reason it all felt too anticlimactic. Was it because I already knew the ending, or was it a pacing problem? C+

As long as he’s on the topic of movie adaptations, Nick wonders where his Artemis Fowl (MG) and Feed (YA) films are!

Originally posted 6/24/10

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On Promotion…

As I begin to amp up for my debut to be released later next year, thoughts have definitely turned to promotion. That’s why I was delighted to run across this interview with Kevin Smokler, co-founder and CEO of BookTour.com.

It’s a lengthy interview, and will probably appeal more to authors than readers, but it’s well worth sitting down and having a listen. To borrow an over-used phrase from Oprah, there’s a veritable parade of “ah-ha” moments here.

I think the word “promotion” sends a shiver down many people’s backs. At its worst, it connotes a situation where an author is more or less trying to shove a product down readers’ throats. Very few people want to feel like salesmen. And not everybody is skilled in that area. That’s why Kevin’s definition struck me so strongly.

Promotion, he says, is primarily “an opportunity to meet people who are interested in your book and thank them for their interest.” Or, more succinctly, it’s “an expression of gratitude and graciousness.”

Kind of turns the whole thing on its head, right? Having this philosophy as a framework for promotion is the way to go, I think. Not only does it feel better for the promoter, but it’s gotta feel better for possible readers, too.

What do you guys think? Is this your promotion philosophy or do you see it differently?

– Nick James

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Generosity Based Publishing

I recently stumbled upon this article and thought it was too interesting not to share. People are always talking about new publishing models when it comes to the book business. And while this one probably won’t revolutionize the industry, it deserves a mention just because it’s so cool.

To summarize, the article focuses on Concord Free Press, a new publishing house recently launched in the US. It acts like any other publishing house, except its books are free. Readers can head to the publisher’s website and order a book of their choice.

But here’s where the generosity part comes into play. Readers who order a book also commit to donating to a charity of their choice. It’s all honor system, dependent on the kindness of their readers. And it’s pretty awesome.

What surprised me the most is that this isn’t some little company run out of a garage somewhere. This is the real deal. It’s overseen by an advisory of writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Megan Abbott and Gregory Maguire, and goes through all the steps any other book at a big publishing house would. And these aren’t ebooks, either. These are physical, hold-in-your-hand books.

What do you guys think?

Read more about it here.

Nick thinks this this model is just perfect for the holiday season.

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The Big Bads

I have a fascination with character names, and nowhere else do you get such interesting (and potentially awkward) names than in sci-fi and fantasy. For every Voldemort there’s a Peeta (yeah, yeah… I love Collins’ books, but I’ve never been able to get past that name).

I posted a few months ago about how difficult it is to create believable, yet exotic, names for characters set in another world/time. I think this is especially true for villains. You want the name to sound ominous and powerful without being cliché or (even worse) silly. True, a great villain’s determined by their actions, but an intimidating name certainly doesn’t hurt.

So in honor of Halloween and all things villainous, here’s my question…

What are some of your favorite all-time spec-fic villain names? And what about some that just didn’t work for you?

If it helps, Nick loves the name Gale. Totally makes up for “Peeta.”

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Give us “Goosebumps”

The looming presence of Halloween has me reminiscing about the very first series of books that gripped me as a child. I’ll be showing my youth here, but in 3rd-6th grade there was nothing better than R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books. They were quick to finish and filled with cliffhangers — perfect for a somewhat reluctant reader such as myself.

They’re still popular today, though they’ve apparently gone through several iterations since that initial copy of Welcome to Dead House found its way into my hands back in 1992. Whenever I work in libraries, kids are constantly asking for “scary stories,” and although some of these books are approaching their 20th anniversary, Goosebumps remains the go-to series for elementary school students looking for a safe scare.

This got me thinking: is there a current series like this — a fantasy/horror mix for the mid-grade set — that’s even comparable in popularity? I’m not sure there is. There are many for younger readers (minus the horror element). The Magic Tree House and Secrets of Droon books seem to be especially popular. But what we’re missing right now is a solid mid-grade fantasy/sci-fi/horror series. Trends come in cycles, for sure, and it seems like these types of books had their last big heyday in the 90’s (the Animorphs series also comes to mind), before the age of the weighty Harry Potter-esque tomes took over. But it seems to me that there’s a hole in the market. Maybe it’s time for a Goosebumps-style comeback.

Nick fondly remembers the first chapter book he “read in a day.” Goosebumps. Why I’m Afraid of Bees, to be exact.

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E-books & Sci-fi, a perfect match?

I stumbled upon this statistic a few days ago and found it to be interesting, especially given the ongoing “are e-books destroying/saving traditional publishing” debate.

According to a recent analysis, both science fiction and romance are “overperforming” when it comes to e-books. Science Fiction/Fantasy, in fact, has a 10% share in the medium, more than triple its share in traditional print (though trad. print sales in the genre seem to be declining). (source article)

It seems that the explanation lies more with the types of readers (and their reading habits) that these genres attract than the genre itself. Though personally, when I think of the type of book that I’d most want to own a physical copy of, it would be works in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Cool covers, collectible series/trilogies… there are tons of reasons I prefer traditional print. But then again, I’ve never actually read an e-book so I might be a little biased and/or out-of-the-loop!

Nick wonders which side of the e-book debate aliens would fall on. Of course, they’ve probably got something WAY fancier by now…

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