Saturday, August 16, 2014

Patrick Holloway's Bad-Assed Bio (or how I worked a few years and turned the same story from bad to good)

Hello fellow mentors. I figured I should hop on the bio bandwagon and give you some background on myself, Judgment (the novel you’ll be reading) and some things on how I’ll be entertaining in between the bouts of the hard work we’ll be facing.

Who the hell are you?

I’m Patrick O’Neil Holloway.

Yes, I am Irish as hell and yes, I am very proud of my Irish heritage. I drink beer (huge fan of vanilla oatmeal stout that Nikasi makes around here), and I am one of those tough bastards that never really goes to a hospital when they broke a bone cuz it never really hurt. With me, unless the blood is gushing, I never really cared. 

I graduated from the University of Idaho with a double B.A. in English (emphasis on Creative Writing and 18th century lit) and journalism. My goal in life was to make video games for a living...still working on that. I even went to Japan my junior year of high school to learn Japanese because that was “what you did” to get into the industry.

Unfortunately, there was a revolution as I got out of college: Game studios popped up in America and Japan had less of a grip on the industry. Realizing programming wasn’t for me early in my undergrad didn't help either, so I decided to focus solely on writing (not many openings for starting video game writers). I moved to Seattle, WA, where I currently reside and am still trying to get a break into the industry. That’s not to say I’ve had some great opportunities: I’ve written articles for GamesRadar (a big site owned by Future Publishing) and got paid for it (most game journalists never live to see that day). I also got asked to write some storyline conceptions and character biographies for an independent game that never got released.

So what do I do for money? Well, until recently, I worked the same job as college: Dealing blackjack and other table games. Ever seen Casino? Remember when they have the suits running around doing shady stuff? Yeah I did that too. But I never zapped anyone with a cattle-prod so I’m harmless. At the time I wound up really liking to write and figured the less responsibility Casino allowed me to take my three days and write.

Then five years went by.

Currently, I contract with Amazon as a specialist and am sitting around, waiting for my 90 day break to elapse so I can go back to working for them…unless a game studio comes calling.  

Working in a casino though has taken its toll on me in social settings: I’m a very simple, independent person. I usually have more fun being at my apartment reading a book or catching up on video games than going to a bar.

For those of you gamer mentors, I do have an extensive library. At several publications I’ve been known as “The Old-School Guy.” I’m a HUGE Super Nintendo fan and am still finding gems to play on the system. As far as my current favs, games like these should ring a bell:  Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV through X, Zelda OoT (I consider it one of the greatest games ever made), Ninja Gaiden (the NES games, and yes I’ve beat them), and Castlevania (yes, I can beat NES Castlevania…in 30 minutes). That’s just a sampling though. I’ve probably played everything from  the PS2-backwards. When the PS3 hit (along with the 360), I slowly became distanced from video games. I just didn’t find the newer stuff as engaging (similar to music for our parents). I still love video games, and they are a huge part of me, I just know that a career may not happen now. 

Oh and here's proof I'm really good at Ninja Gaiden. That's me playing. No dying, using only the sword and showing bad-ass ninja skills:

So onto the long main event. Why should you pick me?: 

This is more a long story of “How Pat went from mild-mannered 20 year old to 30 year old mental patient.”

Judgment’s inception was when I was 17 (I’m 30 now) I was playing a video game called Xenogears which almost didn’t make it to the United States because of anti-religious overtones. The problem was, it was all metaphor.

“What would happen?” I thought. “If you took all the metaphors out and just did a blunt recreation of God on earth…but make him and all religions the bad guys?”

Judgment was born, but at this point it was known as Genocide (Genocide of the human race…get it?)

I held the idea for years. “I’m gonna write a book,” I said. But I’d get a chapter in and go back to other things. Mostly because in my undergrad I did so much reading and writing I didn’t want to do it in my spare time (I so should have).

When I was 24, I wrote a memoir called “The Gamer” which became ‘Practice Novel.’ The plot was about growing up in an internet-less world with Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy etc. Kinda like what games once were. The good ole days. I called it a Forest Gump about video games.

I got a lot of partial requests, but nothing came from them.

It was understandable. I had no platform and didn’t really have a voice at the time. I was furious like all beginning writers were, but one partial request wound up with me befriending a literary agent (actually drove crazy would be a better choice of words), who continued encouraging me long after her rejection letter. She’ll remain nameless, but nowadays she is VERY well known. Any questions about the industry, herself or her job and she answered them, never telling me to leave her alone. She even read a second draft finally saying “You’re a good writer, you can’t get published with this. You got any straight fiction?”

What followed back was an email longer than War and Peace where I described Judgment’s world. After I sent the email off, I was sure she would wonder when I’d just go away, but the next day, a letter in my inbox read:

“Uh…what the hell are you doing writing this? THAT! DO THAT!”

Thus began a five year journey into the ins and outs of writing and learning how to do this frustrating craft. I wrote the novel in 9 months, a shell of what it would become.

For starters, it clocked in at a whopping 160,000 words (it’s been cut to 93k). Purple prose, passive writing, 28 POVs, and pages of crap until the inciting incident flowed through the book’s beginning. I even thought it was an Adult novel (uh, no). And the end, oh man, the end made absolutely no sense (Something to do with cutting energy off and the crucifixion and satellites  and…Jesus even I can’t explain it). I trimmed the novel down to 150k and harassed agent lady (who told me to submit to her immediately once I finished). She was nice enough to edit 10 pages before she said “You just aren’t ready.”

Slowly our communication dissolved, but she’s doing really well and we still trade one-liners once in awhile on Twitter. But she was right—I wasn’t ready.

Stuck with an MS with no idea what to do, I had a friend read it, and actually finish (Not a close friend, an acquaintance, which is a huge compliment). She said there were issues “but something there.”

This was around 2009, and a huge Seattle contest, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary contest was around the corner. Hearing it was prestigious, I entered my ‘adult’ manuscript into the fantasy category along with about 1,500 other entries. Even if I didn’t win, I should get honorable mention for my unique idea.  

Uh no.

My scores (out of a possible 100): 55 and a 38. 

The two critiques I received were awful. Saying things like, “Look at your characters, make them more unique. Right now they are all one-dimensional.” Or, “The plot is beyond contrived, it’s just nonsense.”  Even better was, “The writer can get better by actually reading.”
The worst part was the final words of one of the judges: “I’m tempted to say, put this one in a drawer and start over, however I thought the plot had some merit, or at least what I assumed is the plot to be had merit.” The judge went on to say, “I notice great sentences. Your work with Trad Jenisis at the beginning had the elements of first class prose. Develop your unique voice.”

So I did what any self-respecting writer would do after someone thrashes their  baby: I got piss-ass drunk for about a week.

“They just didn’t get it! But someone else will,” I said.

The rejection letters I compiled said otherwise.

I didn’t know what was wrong with my work. Furthermore, I didn’t know how to fix it. What’s wrong with this picture? It can’t be that bad (yes, it can).

The following year solidified a usual routine: Work at the casino, come home and lift weights. Either do a pro wrestling match or write (the pro wrestling didn’t last long thanks to me performing a body slam wrong). Do Genocide editing over the weekend. A year went by and I again re-entered the PNWA contest with my manuscript in hand. The difference this time: It was 112k rather than 150 and I’d enter it in the YA category. I felt good. A year of revisions, reading a bit, I couldn’t lose this time.

Yeah, I can. And I again got blasted.

My scores (out of a possible 100) 54 and a 59 

This time though…something odd happened:

“The most trainable things in writing; mechanics, structure, pace, this writer lacks. HOWEVER (yes, in caps), what isn’t trainable is an imagination, and I find this story salvageable. The writer demonstrates strong potential with their story and this storyline and I urge them to continue revising and reworking this novel.“

The other judge:

“You have something plausible and original and I encourage you to not give up. Not just on writing, but on this book. You might have something here.”

About now, my life would be easier if I just got told to go do something else and take up knitting. The worst thing than being told to give up something you have worked on tirelessly and want to do for a career is being told you’re talented, but “not there yet.”  Because then you get to continue working in uncertainty while everyone else, well does their thing.

The fact they like your manuscript idea, but not your writing hurts too.  

Shortly after getting bombed again in the PNWA, someone mentioned how my book really had nothing at all to do with Genocide. Thus came a very easy decision: Name the book after the deity responsible for putting us on this earth in order to absorb us and take on the jinn. I named it after the last person Trad fights: It was now Judgment. 

In the meantime, I started work on another novel, a vampire cyber-punk called Phoenix. People were digging the samples and I thought maybe this could be the way to go.  I would look at Judgment’s icon on my desktop and stare for minutes saying “No…not you. You’re evil. You’re cursed.” and open up Phoenix. Of course then at a bar someone told someone else about the crazy plot of Judgment.

The conversation went like this:

Mutual Friend: “This is Pat, he’s a writer.”

Me: “Uh, I dunno about that. I don’t really get paid to do that. But I’m trying.”

Friend: “His book is about killing God. But it’s also got evil Jesus clones, road pirates, huge fights and lots of demons, but they are demons from mythology that—“

Girl: “—Can one book have all that?”

Friend: “Yeah and it’s fucking awesome.”

Girl: “Shit. Killing God? I wanna read this!”

And she was cute.

Me: “Yeah, sure.”

I went home and got everything together. When I checked the file, I found myself revising some things and saying “Wait, this would be cooler if I did this.”

I emailed her the file and never heard from her again. I did find myself once again tinkering away and rewriting things.

Goddamnit, I was doing it again.

Phoenix was stashed away, and lost when my hard drive went on the fritz. In the meantime, I made some changes to Judgment, moved some characters around, sucked it up and eliminated POVs. Tried to make the damn thing readable.

And another year went by. My best friend finally read a hard copy where it was clocked at 107,000 words. Said he loved it, but it had a few problems in it. Others were starting to finish it, even if I had to nag them for it. The odd thing was though--people were actually finishing.

And the yearly PNWA contest was rolling in.

Once again I submitted. I thought this time, this revision, maybe I’d go somewhere. “I’m done,” I said to my writer friends. “If this doesn’t win the bloody thing, I’m going to delete the manuscript from my hard drive. God’s pissed I killed him in a book and the manuscript is cursed.”

I got my critiques back and took them to Greenlake (a neighborhood in Northern Seattle) and read them on a park bench hoping being in the outdoors on the lake would change my fate, kinda like the movie Rudy:

My scores (out of a possible 100): a 74 and a 77. 

I shrugged my shoulders. “That’s it. I’m done. I’m going to write something else, go back to Phoenix.” I flipped through my scores and saw something on one of the judges.

“Teenagers are definitely going to be drawn to the diverse cast in Judgment as well as the rebellious nature of its original plot and will no doubt finish it. Probably more than once. Keep working on this one--it's different. ”

 I shook my head. “Son of a bitch.”

By now, I wondered why I had to keep being tortured with this crap. “Oh it’s so good, but so many things need done to it.”

For whatever the reason, I started analyzing everything. Really rewriting key scenes. Taking on more beta readers and crit partners than my sanity allowed. I’d focus on the first page, the POVs, the crazy ending. And another year of routine flew by. I became obsessed with Judgment. Girlfriends would read it and then ask me what happens after Trad kills Judgment and flies off into the moonlight, and I’d be giving them the spiel on the other six books in the series. Something was happening.

One year later, I again entered the PNWA contest in a rushed entry. I changed the opening of the novel on a computer at Fed-ex office (or whatever they call Kinko’s nowadays) and sent it off just to see how the overall plot went over.

I was starting to wonder what the hell I was doing with myself. I started another novel in the meantime, The Last Year. A book about a 29 year old casino dealer who had a degree in biochemistry but never found a job because of the recession. Feedback was awesome. I was slowly just giving up on Judgment (again). I was sick of the pain, the torture. No one wanting to say “This story really sucks” bullshit.

I’d sit in my recliner at night, straight up, staring at a powered off TV wondering what I did with my life. All this encouragement and I was stuck under a glass ceiling. And the worse part was, literally, no one. Wanted. To. Help Me.

About four months later on Memorial Day, I drove home from Starbucks with a latte and my phone went off. The caller I.D. said unknown number. I grabbed my phone, a bit confused and answered it.

“Hello?” I said sounding suspicious.

“Hi, can I speak with Patrick Holloway?”

Fuck, bill collectors.

“Yeah…that’s me.”

“Hi, this is the PNWA. Calling to let you know your novel, Judgment has made it into the top 8 of the our 2013 literary contest….”


“I’m sorry, Patrick, are you still there?”

I blinked a few times trying to process what I just heard. “Are you shitting me?”

“Uh, no…I’m not.”

Ok, a dumb contest with a few thousand entries. Honestly, I really shouldn’t have been so emotional…but I was. They must have gotten sick of reading Judgment every year and just gave me a pass. I’m sure the novel was going to get blasted in the critiques I’d get back.

“There will be an awards banquette that you are welcome to attend to.” She said as I parked. “You can bring one guest.”

Shit! That sounded good. I had to pay for the food, but the price wasn’t too shabby.

I hung up the phone and walked inside, promptly calling everyone to tell them I actually was a finalist in something. I had a list of things to do: get them a photo of me, buy a dress shirt since I didn’t have one that fit me anymore, get a haircut (FINALLY) etc.

My critiques arrived in the mail a few weeks later. I figured I must be in last place and this year’s entries did really bad by comparison.

My scores (out of 50): 48 and a 49. 

“What the hell?” I asked. I saw them at first and thought they were out of 100, but saw they changed the scoring.

There wasn’t a single bad thing written in either critique. I got dinged on using weird mechanics (I think they were generous given my bad grammar), for having Kelita’s last name spelled differently in my synopsis and manuscript, and for “making us guess Trad’s background.”  Later they said. “Not many authors can do a slow start to establish character, but you do it so beautifully that I didn’t even realize that you opened with dialogue and a guy getting rejected by a hot girl.”

The nicest thing: “There are parts of the prose that could be taken as telling, but it’s so entertaining, and full of life I can’t help but enjoy it as part of the story.” 

It’s amazing what five years of work does to your writing ability.

I went to the awards ceremony and lost. To a book about fairies no doubt. Apparently, Jesus clones, killing God, and demons just can’t stand up to the power of fairies. On the flip side though, she wrote a damn good novel that I flipped through afterwards. There was no way my limited vocabulary could crack her, and she had a flawless prose. Also, she was a very nice person, so I was nothing but happy for her. The good part was I was asked to read the first few pages  of my stuff to everyone the next day.

After I read, a number of people would approach me in the halls saying how I had them by the first sentence and asked where they could find ‘that’ book (apparently, they didn’t know this was for unpublished manuscripts). Agents who weren’t even at the reading would see me with my finalist badge and handed me business cards based on me becoming a finalist alone, I didn’t even have to tell them what the book was about.  

And I was promptly form rejected two weeks later.

The funny thing is now, anyone who reads Judgment winds up finishing in a few days. You guys once went through a version of this with your own glass ceiling.  You know that when people finish your unpublished novel, it’s a huge compliment (unless you have REALLY good friends it takes a year for someone to finish a poorly written novel). About two weeks after we met, my girlfriend read the whole thing from her small archaic phone (and got written up at work because she didn’t want to stop after a plot twist). She said she was worried “I worked on a shitty novel for five years…but it was actually one of the better ones I read this year."

That’s not to say I didn’t have problems. People have still been kind enough to point out my knack for doing crazy sentence structure, ignoring my usages of the comma and flat out not knowing how to use a single grammar principle. I’m probably someone that NEEDS to buy an editor.  

If I handed this to someone who reads, chances are they finish it in a week. You don’t do that if you aren’t doing something special.

So I guess that brings us to here.

You’re still reading? So you’re wondering why I told you this story of Judgment going from absolute crap to mediocre?

Because in the four years of entering the same contest, dealing with rejections, beta readers, feedback and those who abandon your manuscript after page 3…you build something: it’s called character. You either give up or keep going. I just don't like being told I suck and Judgment wasn’t there yet. I wanted to say “yes it is goddamnit.” Anyone else would have started over on another novel, unfortunately, every bit of feedback told me the opposite: Keep going.  I hate the word “no” and each time I hear it I only work even harder.  Two months is nothing compared to the years I’ve put into make Trad Jenisis accessible to the world.
Not once have I been told this was a bad book or I should shelf it, and believe me, I would have. I did try to move on several times, but no one would put me out of my misery. I probably should have invested more time to my other WIPs, but I always came back to this. People never remembered characters from my other novels. Long after they read Judgment they say “he looks like Trad,” or “man the fight with Hunter was fucking awesome!”

I don’t get that with my other books. Granted, none of them have had the work or heart Judgment has, but still, they lack something in them.

I went from awful scores to beating hundreds of people in a contest. That’s not a fluke, that’s called taking feedback and implementing it, and working your ass off.  Obviously, something is working because I continue to improve where other less fortunate books have plateaued and been abandoned.  
That’s what you’re getting with me. Someone who is going to work their ass off FOR YOU. What? Something doesn’t work? I’m not going to argue, I’ll tell my reasoning to why I did what I did and then make it better. Most of what I have done has been done by trial and error and on my own instinct anyways. I had to take those small pieces of feedback, annoying critiques, and everything else to improve myself.  I wasn’t smart enough to go do something else. So I just work my ass off.

I can’t tell you I’m a great writer, or that my book has more potential than another person you’re considering. I can tell you that no one else has the drama or concept that I have and whatever faults I have WILL be improved. I will listen to your suggestions. I can tell you that nothing is a darling (well besides some characters) even with bad critiques I’ve found something to implement, a terrible reader says something and I can still find merit to it.  

I selected my four hopeful mentors not because of their interests, but because of how much work they wanted to do. How much work they were going to do to me, and how much better they could make my book so I could *finally* put an end to this. Because I felt we could make something special.

I’ve accepted that it has become a part of my life whether I want it to or not. So while I may publish The Last Year in a few years, I’m sure I’ll be back to Judgment grinding that axe regardless if you want it or not. It’s not going anywhere and neither am I. Too late for me to stop now. Not when I’m this close to finishing the fight.

So finally, why should you take me ?: Because after five years I still love what I’ve done, learned so much, and can’t help but be optimistic about the future.

And for all you writers reading this saying, “What a self-centered asshole.” You’re right. And I hope that if you have done your own version of my story that you  are at the same point--a boiling pot ready to explode. Because if it's anything I've learned with all the work I've done. It's only a matter of time for us.

Good luck to you entering. Oh and Mentors! Pick me! 


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What about this writing thing?

So I wrote this post about the 49ers and Nintendo games. Granted, it's a fanpost, but it wound up on the front page, so that means something. I have given lots of thought to looking into being a 49ers beat writer, but I simply don't know enough about the game of football to really be effective. It's not like video games where I can arrogantly claim I know more than the developers. I like football, I like the 49ers, I just don't know enough to where I can talk about stats/rankings/whatever.

So combining video games with football was about as close as I'd get to writing a football related post for a blog. Plus I haven't written much at all in the last year so it was nice to get back into the swing of things. Do I miss my quest for something full-time?

Not really.

So many deadlines and tedious work. No thanks, I think I like working in corporate America much more. Sure I'd like to do the fiction writing thing full time, but we all know that's not happening.

Speaking of which, Judgment is now done, well at least the fat and lame plot lines are out. Yes, the book may be a bit of a shadow of its former self, but all that was cut  is going to be put into the sequels and elaborated on. This is the first time I've said "This is good" rather than "It's good enough."

Not good enough for the publishing industry though. We've already collected our first rejection letter -- and this agent was actually recommended to me. A nice form letter saying "Forgive us for sending a form letter"

Translation: "Thanks, but screw you."

Oh well, such is the business. Onward we march!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Console War that Couldn't

Sony fired off a shot on Fort Microsoft showing a console with graphics and obviously Microsoft knew what artillery Sony was using. A new console with graphics. Boring, thanks for showing up before E3.

But rather than use that opening to counter attack and talk about what the Xbox One should be doing and get the hype going, Microsoft basically told us all we sucked and went with this D.R.M. And it was a sound strategy. Developers were hamstringing you to do it, you could make some good cheddar in licensing fees on the side, Sony had to be doing the same thing right? I mean, so far they have updated graphics so it’s business as usual right?


While this current console war came down to Blu-Ray and overpriced PS3 systems at launch, next console war will all be decided by those three letters etched into gamers’ minds: D.R.M. Scratch that, it’s already been decided with D.R.M.

Now there’s plenty of blame to go around for that little detail, we can start with the developers not happy with their billions of dollars they already get. Continue with Microsoft doing what they do best by trying to suck as much money out of the public as possible. The question we all have to ask is what crazy consultants at such a respected company like Microsoft would not intervene and say something. You know, like, “Hey, Sony may not do this, we don’t want to give people a reason to go with the competition.”

Like I said with the PlayStation 3, brand loyalty is just a made up word that gets replaced with, “Most bang for the buck.” Nobody was going to buy an overpriced PS3 when the 360 had nearly as good graphics, well, as good as cross platforming gaming could allow. The most bang for the buck this year goes to Sony, which sells consoles for a bill less than Microsoft.

That alone means people will go with Sony. And why not? As long as developers continue their cross platform campaigns, there’s no reason to own two different next-gen consoles (unless you want to own a Wii-U also). And sorry, Killer Instinct is five years too late to sell me on an archaic fighting engine that should have happened years ago. Good luck with that, Rare.

The change is as sudden as it is with the announcement tonight:  Sony once again ‘Get’s It’, Microsoft got cocky like Sony did last time and thought they could do whatever they wanted. Sony has every right to declare victory before their console has even been released.

And before all of you email me to tell me I’m crazy and don’t know what I’m talking about. Just remember, I predicted Sony to have the same problems they did with their last console and that the Xbox 360 would be on top for most of that console wars. Pretty sure I was right about that. This isn’t something that Microsoft will magically change too. They are a company that decides what we will like. Have you ever heard of Windows?  

Forget D.R.M, if I were Microsoft there’s a few other letters I’d be more worried about come launch day: D.O.A.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


-This romance sucks, but I like it-

I don't like romances.

Im not huge fan of chick books or cheesy sex novels you find on the racks of your local Safeway either. I'm a dude, it's pretty much well accepted those with male genitalia are not going to like books marketed towards women.

Well, most of the time.

The problem with chick-media (Books, movies, etc.) is that they go over the top to make it girly and fail to do the other half of the work-make something appealing to men. It's either because of those stupid defined gender roles (Barbie) or it's because the male sex is supposed to be some perfect specimen and the developer of said media could care less about what the other gender is about (Twilight).

I've said it before-had Edward been vulnerable, had he been given flaws (besides the vampire gimmick) Meyer would have a potential wide-spread novel. I say potential because, well, this is Stephenie Meyer we're talking about.

Yes I read Twilight, the review will come soon, when the time is right.

It was my duty, no it was my new search to have my point proven. That point is-Men CAN enjoy a chick book, a chick flick, or anything. Sure it's not something we're going to scavenge for, weeks on end, BUT if done right, and we're in a bind, we could read a girls novel, enjoy it for what it was, and put it back on the rack none the wiser for it.

I'll go back to Twilight-That is not good. Why? because the one fundamental is lost: We don't have a compelling male character. The whole point of view/narrator storytelling thing is a work of bullshit. We don't need to be in Edward's shoes, we just need him to have problems like us. Men HAVE PROBLEMS. We are just as vulnerable as girls. We just hide it better, well sometimes.

This brings us to The DUFF. It's almost the polar opposite to what Twilight was trying to do. In fact, I'd encourage Kody Keplinger to grab Meyer's manuscript, scribble on it with a red pen, and publish HER treatment of it. At least she could get it half right. It's hard to really place this. The book was compared to A Clockwork Orange during some festival which I would think the author, her agent, and her editors would be immensely proud for the nod (I even sent letters of congrats to them), though it is nowhere near Clockwork's story or moral. It's just different times. The main storyline written through The DUFF is available a dime a dozen these days, and I can't say I found it unpredictable.

This of course is one of those rare occasions where the ending doesn't matter. In fact this is one of those rare occasions where no one should give a hoot on the storyline.

But for those who are curious: The DUFF stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend. A cliche and member of the girl's cliques we all are familiar with. You know; you got the drill team-then the fat slob that is friends with the drill team. Typically, in my experience, she's the one who they hand off to you when they are sick of you hitting on them. Or in this book's case-The cheer squad, then the fat girl who watch's cheer squad practice. Two things are different in this book than from real life: 1: The cheer squad girls consist of only one, and main character Bianca never really associates with the rest of those girls and 2: Reading the book you'd find out that Bianca, the books title character probably isn't as hideous as she leads you on to believe.

The trouble all starts when Bianca is told of this great acronym by the male lead and promptly pours a glass of Cherry Coke into the poor sap's face. From there we have normal teenage girl storytelling: Divorce, sexual conquest, alienation from friends, and feeling you're just not right.

We've seen all this before, but thanks to Keplinger actually not being boring, and not having a dependency on adverbs-it's fresh and entertaining for a dude. Let's do this.

Bianca Piper:

A senior at Hamilton High who seems to have the most pessimistic behavior of anyone I've met...well besides myself. Bianca, being the narrator, spends the book complaining about every...single...thing. That is until this dude named Wesley shows up, and she simply starts complaining about him, to his face, then has sex with him.

Bianca is a poster child for teenage angst. She really doesn't understand why life dealt her the hand she has, and she has no way of dealing with it. Her friends are more friendly, more sexy, more everything she isn't (allegedly). Her dad has relapsed into alcholism hallway into the book and her mom decided to live the life of a rockstar and run away to Tennesee of all places.

This leaves Bianca stuck depending on her friends and going to a teen club called The Nest every Friday to listen to screaming techno while bitching to the bartender about how her life sucks.

Of course when it's all said and done, Bianca ends up meeting someone who acts just like her-Mr. Wesley Rush, which as you can imagine-drives her absolutely bonkers through the rest of the book. By the end, Bianca does what any self respecting teen does and says "fuck it" and takes the guy for what he is.

Woman Reaction: Oh I always feel fat. I feel like the fattest girl in my circle of friends. I can identify.

Pat's Reaction: Oh for fucks sake put a sock in it! Bianca's bitching only kept my attention for so long before I called for a third person perspective which could hopefully give me less of her complaints. It never came and I was left to listen to her bitch, that was until she started bumping uglies with Wesley and went into Bella mode talking about his "Muscular arms" and his perfect body. I made a 180 and called for her to get notoriously bitchy before I set the book down. Thankfully, she did.

In Six Words: Being bitchy pushes guys away, idiot.

Wesley Rush:

A lonely senior who gets to live the life of James Bond. Wesley lives in a huge-ass mansion with absolutely no one around. Combine this with good looks and you have a guy who somehow is able to take advantage of the sluttiest high school in America. God, I remember we had those getting laid, but when I was in highschool the majority were too afraid to lose their virginity let alone do it at 14 (Bianca's age for losing her virginity).

Being the ladies man he is, Wesley runs into Bianca one night and calls her the book's title. This prompts the feisty anti-social girl into dumping her drink on him and storming off. From there things get more violent, she slaps him-he fucks her. She tells him he's an arrogant asshole...and he fucks her again.

The first half of the book, Wesley is made to be a total dick-around for a simple point of being something Bianca can sleep with to get her mind off everything else. But since Keplinger knows what a storyline is, we learn the guy has a sister living with a grandmother (a grandmother who hates him), a pair of parents who would rather go on Carnival Cruises than be parents and a mansion all to himself.

On second thought, that sounds like the life every teenage boy wants to have, hell I'm 27 and I want it.

Woman Reaction: He's such a dick, why does he sleep with her. Awwww he sent her roses and is chasing her now!

Pat's Reaction: Ladies and Gentleman, THIS is how you make a male romance character. Wesley is a DICK to the definition, BUT he is also vulnerable and he also has some serious problems. Throughout the book, while Bianca is learning she's falling for the poor sap, Wesley slowly begins to show there's more to him than regular STD testing and Trojan Magnums. It comes to a point where Bianca's father, in drunken rage strikes her-and Wesley doesn't waste a second to deck the douche in response. From there Wesley grabs her and takes Bianca back to his castle away from her broken home.

This is from a guy that through the book never has shown any care towards his fuck-buddy, proudly proclaims girls chase HIM, and even calls the girl he's sleeping with fat, multiple times. He's got issues, and it's issues men have-he's just as insecure as Bianca is. See? I cared about this guy, because I have BEEN in this guys shoes.

Well I didn't have the luxury of sleeping with dozens of hot seniors, but I pretty much had his loneliness quality. Not only that, but Bianca makes the reader hate the guy and get as clueless as she is about doing him. It isn't until halfway we realise he's the one right for her, and (thankfully) when she dumps him for the perfect guy, the way he gets her back is NEVER too cheesy.

Which brings me to one more point: In his moment of vulnerability he lets it all out, and he doesn't do it in some irritating "I LOVE YOU BIANCA" scene.

BTW, has anyone else noticed Bianca's name is taken from Bianca from Taming of the Shrew? Just a fun fact.

In six words: HPV is very common. Get tested.

Bianca's best friend. Casey is on the cheer squad and always has an upbeat attitude. Her optimism is a polar opposite of Bianca's skepticism, and makes them lock horns on more than one occasion. As legend goes, Bianca got made fun of when she was a wee tyke and Casey jumped into the fray. The two have been friends since.

Casey has her own insecurities to deal with, namely being 6'1 in a school of guys that are 4'6. She's right-guys hate girls taller than them. Aside from that moot point, Casey seems to be the most non-cheerleader I've ever seen. She hangs with Bianca and Jessica, but really no one else (though I've had the impression people sit at their table). She's got the hookup to parties, but never really has the massive circle of friends you'd expect. Her interests involve shaking her booty at The Nest and bumming rides off Bianca, the only person who has a car.

Casey though, seems to get on Bianca's nerves at times. It takes the length of the book for her to find out about Bianca's parental divorce problem as well as the fact she's screwing Wesley. Those two facts explain why Bianca is so distant from them. Regardless, Casey is probably one of the most normal friends I've seen in fiction, and a refreshing change from the ones that either A: Get on your nerves or B: Stab you in the back.

Woman Reaction: Oh a tall cheerleader? I feel for her. She's so sweet to put up with Bianca!

Pat's reaction: A tall cheerleader? She's exactly my height? Hey Casey, when you turn 18, here's my number.

In six words: Bianca hates The Nest. Don't go.

Bianca's other friend. The circumstances surrounding their friendship are a bit more depressing. Before Wesley's penis was the thought of Bianca's, she bumped uglies with Jessica's brother-a high school student when she was 14. Now this already tells me he's a loser, but I guess he had a girlfriend also. Well when the girlfriend got wind of it, Bianca got cornered and threatened. Shortly afterwords, Casey saw Jessica getting made fun of by bitchy prep girls. Despite her history with Jessica's brother, Bianca became friends with her, though she kept the relationship secret.

Jessica is apparently super hot also-another indication that this duff business is in Bianca's head (and that she may be an unreliable narrator). We don't really learn much of Jessica in the book, as she more serves as a liaison during the "Casey mad at Bianca/Bianca avoid Casey" story arc. Other than that, Jessica is just 'there.' Casey does most of the friendly stuff and Jessica chimes in when appropriate or provides an alternative to a night of boredom or grounding.

Woman Reaction: Such a sweet friend. Wait, who is she again?

Pat's Reaction: Well, we can't have a hottie like Casey hanging with a Duff like Bianca and call it good. We need a third friend. Too bad she doesn't do anything.

In six words: Get a storyline, french kiss Casey.

Bianca's Dad:
A recovering alcoholic, Bianca makes it known that her father's last drink was sometime before she was born. It's implied that he does angry drunk things, which is hard to believe because he's pretty gentle for the first half.

But then comes the divorce, and at the sight of the papers, her dad begins to live the life of every college freshman who ever lived. Well, kinda. He buys booze and parties it up until the wee hours of the morning and leaves Bianca with the task of cleaning the place up. While she's complacent in the whole ordeal, it's pretty well known it's obviously bothering her. She keeps it from Casey and hopes it will go away while harboring hatred towards her mom for doing this.

During her dad's binge, Casey has always shown up AFTER he's passed out, hearing him snore and seeing the effects of liquid courage the next day while cleaning. It isn't until Wesley comes over that he finally reveals he's not a happy drunk and backhands his daughter. Wesley decks the guy and leaves with Bianca afterwords.

While this helped Wesley's character what's even more amazing is how her father admits his wrong doing the next day and even says there was no hard feelings towards Wesley for throwing his haymaker. That says a lot about a man, especially a man who just saw his daughter run off with some dude and calling her a whore for it.

Woman Reaction: Poor guy, he was so sweet. How can he do this to himself? Please, Bianca, save your father.

Pat's Reaction: Once Bianca went Bella, I was more concerned about the divorce subplot than anything else-and it was written very well. I was half expecting her dad to commit suicide which would be how we'd find Wesley's feelings for her then, but Wesley knocking his ass out did more than enough to illustrate his feelings towards her. There's some cheesiness in it, like pouring the booze out together (dear lord).

In Six words: Is that scotch? I want some.

Bianca's Mom:
A submissive bitch who leaves Bianca's dad to put him on a downward spiral. Bianca's mom wrote a book about self esteem...which then lead to her traveling everywhere and growing distant from Bianca and her dad. Bianca holds nothing back about her hatred towards her mom, though it's said in no uncertain terms she's beautiful (even confused as Bianca's sister). It all comes crashing down when she serves divorce papers and leaves again. While I give her credit for trying to be a mom later, I still can't forgive just how shitty of a parent she is.

Woman Reaction: What a bitch! How can she leave Bianca like that and make her sweet father go into a alchohol binge?

Pat's Reaction: Man, what a milf.

In six words: Hi, I'm Pat, wanna get coffee?

Of course in any romance we need to break them up and have them see other people, only to realise those other people are loony and they need their original soul mate.

That's the purpose Toby serves, however it's not without merit-he has some depth. Turns out Bianca had a crush for quite some time and was heartbroken to learn at the beginning he had a woman.

Of course, when he breaks up with her, all bets are off with Wesley (or are going to be) and the two go out. Bianca finds the guy perfect, but that's the problem, she's not wanting perfect anymore-she wants the degenerate Wesley. While the two go out for some time, it's quickly apparent she's going to get back with Wesley after all his advances. At the end, after he admits he's not over his ex, Bianca says "happy trails" and joins Wesley in an embrace. I can only think a possible epilogue went like this:

Wesley Rush and Bianca Piper:

Married: 2015
Divorced: 2022

Woman Reaction: What a dork.

Pat's reaction: What a dork.

In Six Words: lose the glasses, nerd. Get laid.

Designatedly Ugly:
The Duff actually weaves a lot of stuff in and out through the prose flawlessly. For a first time novel, I'd say Keplinger has the whole thing down pretty well. Part of this is because I can only assume, especially by the quote under her author photo on the back of the book-that some of this is a true story. I can only assume Bianca is Keplinger and Wesley is some sort of life experience she had. The good part is whether it's true or not-I don't care-it's still good.

See, Bianca is a bitch, and Wesley is a total douchebag, but there's no fantasy here and no love desire that Keplinger wrote down to make herself better. The romance is a part of the story-not THE story. It's part of the reason I like this book so much. Yes, Bianca and Wesley's fucked up relationship makes about 3/4 of the book but they at least keep things fresh with other things in Bianca's life it never gets lovey dovey.

The problem with romances as I've said is-they focus on the romance too much. Here it's something that happens, it's not driving the book, it just happens along with Bianca's other dealings with friends and life. The same is in a Jane Austen novel since she tries to keep her characters fresh and doing something while romances are always brewing. This is why a guy can get into this. Don't like this romance? Well at least there's other stuff going on so she can't bore me.

Part of this is made easier by the fact that Keplinger gave Bianca a great voice. That girl comes off the page. It almost felt like I was sitting in a bar talking with her about this crazy boyfriend she had years back. Granted, like any girl she starts going into things that happened during sex, which I would have turned my ears off of (or in reading's case-skimmed through till it was over), but she just does a good job with Bianca. There are many books where doing the voice Keplinger does is not a good idea-this is a great idea, it's what made a great book and what can keep a dude reading it.

If any of you are looking for a way to write a romance, a good one, you'd be pretty well done to look at this.

Beyond that, Duff has it's problems. Keplinger has a tendency to over describe everything. IN the first chapter it flowed well when she did this, but by chapter 2 it grew ridiculous and when she wasn't describing something it went to Bianca's whining about why she hates everything. Simple trimming, but it's really more a nitpick than something that destroyed the story. the book clocks in at 277 pages. A short novel that tells its story, then ends. No padding, no fluff, just gets the job done. I commend her for that, I hate books where the conflict is resolved and we're stuck with 20 pages of loose ends getting tied up. Keplinger starts the book where she should and she ends it where she should. As far as trying to prove a point, I'm glad it was this. Will I read this again? no. Will I read another Keplinger novel? Probably not. She's gotta blow some shit up or have some government conspiracy before I can indulge in her writing again. But if I was stuck with this book and nothing to do, I wouldn't be bitching, it'd be a nice time waster and I wouldn't shut it till I was done.


It's tough to place The DUFF. For one thing I'm not the target audience. The romance gets Twilighty at times, the subplots are neatly tied up and everything goes back to normal with no risk of sacrifice from the characters (well besides Bianca dumping that tool). That can get on my nerves. Double the fact that Bianca gets on your nerves with her hesitant whining about being fat. Overall though, it's entertaining. It's not a cheesy sex novel written towards only women with men left in the dust. Yes, it's marketed towards the opposite sex, but the fact men like me could pick it up by accident and enjoy it should say wonders about Kepplinger's writing. While I may never read another book from her, she already is better than say, Danielle Steel.

Well in My opinion.



Up next: Not sure. I still want vampires. Or maybe a guest reviewer can make fun of my shit. Who knows.