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  • I read a lot, and I have a lot of opinions, so I can't believe I haven't made a list like this before. If you are even a little bit like me or you want to get a peek into my psyche (you probs don't), these are the books to read.

Posts Tagged ‘Jeopardy’

The Opposite of Hallelujah

Posted on March 11th, 2011 by annakjarzab

Regular readers of this blog will know that the course of book two never did run smooth…at least for this writer (me). But today came some good news–my editor called and told me that she really liked the book we turned in a few weeks ago and she’s going to publish it! INSERT HUGE SIGH OF RELIEF HERE. It has a tentative pub season of Fall 2012, which might seem really far away, but luckily for me I already live on a publishing schedule (since I work in the industry), so to me Fall 2012 is like right around the corner–we’re launching our Spring 2012 titles next week!

So now I feel a little more comfortable talking about what, exactly, The Opposite of Hallelujah is all about. Caveat: the description below was written by me specifically for this blog post, so it shouldn’t be considered official in any sense whatsoever. But I don’t think the plot is going to change, so I’m going to go ahead and give you an idea of what you can expect from Anna Jarzab Book 2: Tokyo Drift.

Caro Mitchell has a sister, but she hasn’t seen her in several years and rarely thinks about her. Hannah, who is eleven years older, has been a nun in the cloistered order of the Sisters of Grace since Caro was eight-years-old, and per the rules of her order has almost no contact with her family. In the years since Hannah left, Caro has become a teenager and is just starting to carve out a life for herself: she has a boyfriend, great friends, and a real passion and talent for science. Though she was raised Catholic, Caro has no interest in the religion that defines and consumes her sister’s life.

But things start to unravel right as Caro’s junior year in high school begins. Her boyfriend, Derek, comes back from summer camp and summarily dumps her, and her parents drop a huge bomb on her: Hannah is leaving the Sisters of Grace and, after nearly a decade spent locked behind convent walls, coming home to live with her family. Though her parents are overjoyed at their older daughter’s return, Caro struggles to accept and connect with Hannah, with whom things are obviously not at all well, and Caro makes a rash choice that puts all of her relationships in peril–including a budding romance with new boy Pawel.

What follows is a journey towards redemption and understanding, as Caro seeks to regain the trust she has broken with the help of the art of M.C. Escher, single-bubble sonoluminescence, and a scientist priest who challenges her to pursue the answers to the questions that torment her: How do we repair what has been destroyed? How do we make lasting and meaningful connections with the people we love? Can science and religion peacefully coexist?

And, most pressing: What happened to Hannah? Why did she go into the convent eight years ago, and why has she returned now? And can anything be done to save her?

So yeah. That’s it. There’s a lot going on in this book, but in a good way, I hope–complex instead of complicated was the goal. It’s a little long and my editor implied that revisions would mainly involve trimming the manuscript, which makes sense to me. What is important to me about this book is that it serve as an exploration of–well, an exploration of a lot of things, like family (sisterhood in particular), human connection, memory, how we deal with remorse and what guilt and grief do to us (a common theme with me, as that’s a biggie in All Unquiet Things, too), growing up, creation, truth, etc. But I wanted to deal with religion, not preach at anybody. I never want people to write this book off as “religious” or “Christian.” The way Caro (a non-believer, a firm scientific empiricist) grapples with issues of faith is as realistic and open as I could possibly make it, because I didn’t want to write a book about someone who doesn’t believe in God and is then magically converted. That’s one story, but it’s not this story.

Nor did I ever intend it to be a villification of religious people of any denomination, or people who choose a religious vocation. I did a LOT of research on nuns and convents while I was working on this novel, and what I learned is that the women who choose to enter the convent are more widely varied than you can possibly imagine–they do what they do for so many different, good reasons, and it’s a life choice that I really respect for a lot of reasons.

Even though it won’t happen for a while, I’m excited for people to eventually read this. I have a supersoft spot in my heart for The Opposite of Hallelujah (fun fact: its original title, back when I conceived of it back WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE OMG, was Do Geese See God?, which is still the name of the folder it lives in on my computer, and also apparently the name of a movie starring Blair Underwood that I’ve never seen, and a recent Jeopardy! question; it’s also my third favorite palindrome after (of course) my name, and “A man, a plan, a canal–Panama”) and I hope people love it as much as I do.

But that’s later! Right now I’m just rocking out to Avril Lavigne and watching the pilot of Fringe (WTF IS GOING ON?!?! ZOMBIES ON A PLANE!), reading manuscripts for launch and Ken Jennings’ book Braniac* and working on my new manuscript, which is crazy and sloppy and fun to write. Check you later!

*Ken Jennings might be the world’s best human. Just a hunch. I’m really resisting the urge to turn this into a Ken Jennings appreciation blog, but you should read his blog and Twitter feed (HOW DOES HE NOT HAVE MORE FOLLOWERS?) and his AMA on Reddit. Oh, and Braniac. Which is great.


Posted on February 23rd, 2011 by annakjarzab

So as regular readers may know, my comments tool is trashed for some reason and every comment that’s left here needs to be approved, but I don’t get approval notices, it just pretends that it’s spam. So I often don’t see comments until way after the fact, but anyway Shannel said on my final Watson post:

I love that Jeopardy follows up Watson with Teen Jeopardy… I’m sure this was intentional to make us all feel a little more accomplished… GLEE category for example!

Which, first off: yes. I really think that’s why they did it, or at least that’s how I feel watching Teen Jeopardy! after the smackdown that was the MAN VS. MACHINE!!! tournament–can you call it a tournament when it’s only two games? Anyway. But here’s a question for all you Jeopardy! lovers out there: why does Teen Jeopardy! look like it was shot in the late nineties?


Alex Bracken suggests that it’s because part of the test for getting on Teen Jeopardy! is having to build a time machine to take you back to the nineties in order to compete. Which is as good an explanation as any, I guess. Also: teens love lower case sans serif bubble fonts in pink and green, I guess?!

I’m actually behind on Jeopardy! so those are my only current thoughts. The Teen tournament is probably over or almost over by now, and I need to catch up. Although, no, I actually have another thought, re: the first episode of Teen Jeopardy! In the Double Jeopardy round there was a category called What Kids Are Reading These Days or something, and while it was illuminating as to what the Jeopardy! writers think kids are reading these days, it also was weird how the contestants completely avoided that category until ALL the other questions were gone and they didn’t have a choice. Why is that? First of all, the questions were softballs, and second of all, do these kids not read? They’re on Jeopardy! They MUST read, at least the girl contestant (sorry to stereotype, but women buy like 80% of books or something, so it’s really just facts). I thought that was weird.

Anyway, some other things happening in my life: Hallelujah is going to my editor, I think, so that’s good. I’m super, super nervous about it because we all know what happened the last time I turned in a book to my editor, but whatever! Can’t think about that!

Also, I started a new book. On January 31, 2011. I know this because I date all of my drafts from the first day I create the document. I currently have 200 pages. That is RIDICULOUSLY fast for me. I’ve never written so much so fast, probably ever in my life. I’m having the best time writing this book, for a few reasons. First of all, it’s not promised to anyone, nor do I need it to fill a slot in an already signed contract, so I can just write it. For myself. It’s really bad right now, too, so I wouldn’t show it to anyone. There’s this piece of advice writers give each other that goes something like “Give yourself permission to be bad.” I don’t ever say that to people nor do I like it as a piece of advice, although I don’t have a coherent answer for why that is, but in this case I’m just chugging along with the ms no matter how bad I know it is. And it is bad in places. It’s riddled with inconsistencies and logical errors, the world is underdeveloped and contradictory, and one character is foiling me entirely, but I’m continuing to write him even though I know it’s not right (I’m close, and I understand him, but it’s not finding its way to the page), and I’m going forward in the ms even though I know about the inconsistencies and the logical errors and the underdeveloped world. I’m just too excited to stop and fix anything. I want to find out what happens and put it away. Maybe I’ll never pull it out again, or maybe it’ll be my third book. I like the fact that I can just enjoy the process of discovering it without all the pressure of what it’s going to become or who’s going to like it. It’s so far outside my normal ken it’s possible I’ll never show it to anyone at all. It’s pretty cool to just enjoy writing again.

Here are a few random bits of potpourri about this current book, again just for fun:

  • It sparked a long and ongoing conversation with my Ho-fficial Historian, Alex Bracken, about the Revolutionary War, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and geography of the United States
  • I spent a lot of time last night brushing up on my chess using this Wikipedia article
  • I’m writing the book using the Normal View in Microsoft Word. I don’t know why–I’m normally a strict adherent of Page View–but Page View, to me, represents restrictions and boundaries and pressure, where as Normal View, because it’s ugly and weird and everything is so bizarrely left-justified even though there’s SO! MUCH! ROOM! on the other side of the page, makes me feel like I’m just goofing off and having fun
  • The Man in the Iron Mask

And that’s what’s happening over here.

I for one welcome our new computer overlords

Posted on February 17th, 2011 by annakjarzab

I stole that subject line from Ken Jennings because it turns out Ken Jennings is funny? Who knew? He was DYING on Jeopardy! Man Vs. Machine today. He played great, way better than he played in the last game, but it wasn’t enough to beat Watson, who actually got the Final Jeopardy question right this time (Bram Stoker), and every time Watson buzzed in before him he looked like he wanted to jump out of his skin. I’ve never seen a Jeopardy! contestant so visibly annoyed before.

Anyway, this was an interesting experiment (I loved how Alex Trebeck made sure to remind everyone that Watson was created by some really talented people at the end of the show so that we didn’t all take to Facebook going, “THE RISE OF THE MACHINES APPROACHES”, even though I did that anyway), but I’m looking forward to the upcoming teen Jeopardy! rounds. It’ll be a nice distraction from the fact that our computers are now smarter than we are, and possibly I will get more answers right, although probably not because the teens are in school and learning stuff and I’m just watching Jeopardy! all the time.

Watson fail explained

Posted on February 17th, 2011 by annakjarzab

So we have this new internal social networking tool at work that will probably become a nightmare time suck for me (I spent 15 minutes trying to figure out what my avatar should be, and then I changed it–I could get way into this because it’s smart people talking about how to do our jobs better!), and on it I found this link to an article about why Watson flubbed the Final Jeopardy question on last night’s second installment of Jeopardy! Man Vs. Machine!!!

From IBM’s Smarter Planet blog:

David Ferrucci, the manager of the Watson project at IBM Research, explained during a viewing of the show on Monday morning that several of things probably confused Watson. First, the category names on Jeopardy! are tricky. The answers often do not exactly fit the category. Watson, in his training phase, learned that categories only weakly suggest the kind of answer that is expected, and, therefore, the machine downgrades their significance. The way the language was parsed provided an advantage for the humans and a disadvantage for Watson, as well. “What US city” wasn’t in the question. If it had been, Watson would have given US cities much more weight as it searched for the answer. Adding to the confusion for Watson, there are cities named Toronto in the United States and the Toronto in Canada has an American League baseball team. It probably picked up those facts from the written material it has digested. Also, the machine didn’t find much evidence to connect either city’s airport to World War II. (Chicago was a very close second on Watson’s list of possible answers.) So this is just one of those situations that’s a snap for a reasonably knowledgeable human but a true brain teaser for the machine.

Well, first of all, the question would never be phrased “What US city” because that’s not how Jeopardy! questions are ever phrased–because they’re phrased as answers, as we all know, not questions. And it does make me wonder, not for the first time, where Watson gets his info from in the first place. I mean, they said at the beginning of the first episode that he’s not connected to the Internet–sure, obviously, that would be cheating. BUT, is he loaded up with an amount of information that an educated person of middle age (i.e. the people who are normally on Jeopardy!) would know, or way more than such a person would know? How much base data does he have access to in the first place? Because if it would take a normal human 100 years to amass the amount of information that Watson has stored in him, then that is actually cheating, or at the very least it’s a much different game. Instead of showing that Watson can think like a human, it’s showing that computers can now think in the same way humans can BUT BETTER because they don’t have to learn anything, they just have to have information uploaded.

But otherwise, basically he’s saying what I said in my last blog–that some questions are easy for humans but hard for the machine, probably because of all the information it has to parse through. Sometimes knowing less is knowing more.

MAN VS. MACHINE!!! part two

Posted on February 16th, 2011 by annakjarzab

So last night Brad, Ken and Watson finished their first game of Jeopardy! amidst what was basically a glorified commercial for IBM. Fine. I guess they did spend about 8 glockjillion dollars building Watson so that we could all enjoy be horrified by two lousy games of Jeopardy!, so they deserve the air time. Because yeah, Watson won. BY A LOT. Like, A LOT. I was actually wrong when I said that it was beating the humans after the Jeopardy round, because it wasn’t–it was tied with Brad Rutter. But during Double Jeopardy things got, um, real. Watson pwned the crap out of Brad and especially Ken, who was not having a great game. The thing about competing against Watson is that it has no emotions, so there’s nothing to slow down the way it processes data. It can’t psyche itself out or doubt itself, not in the same way a human can. So that’s got to be frustrating, although Brad and Ken are doing a good job at hiding it. I was not. I kept yelling at the screen. I was even having a hard time answering the questions in the face of Watson; usually I get about 65% of the answers on a normal all-human game of Jeopardy!, but in this game I get like maybe 20%. It’s demoralizing. I’m getting psyched out and I’m not even competing!

So Watson ended the game with over $20,000–possibly over $30,000, I can’t remember. But here’s the kicker: it got the Final Jeopardy question wrong. I think the question was too sophisticated for Watson. The category was US CITIES, and the answer was “Its largest airport is named after a World War II hero, and it’s second largest after a World War II battle.” Once you give it a think, the answer is pretty obvious: Chicago. O’Hare International was originally called Orchard (which is why its airport code is ORD), but was renamed for Butch O’Hare, a naval aviator who was the first flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient in World War II. And Midway is Chicago’s second largest airport, originally named Chicago Municipal Airport until 1949 when the name was changed to Midway after the World War II Battle of Midway.

The question seems pretty straightforward, especially if you grew up in or lived in Chicago like I did, but it actually involves some pretty sophisticated thinking to figure it out if you don’t already know the answer. Of course you know that it’s a US city because that’s the category, but then you have to think of all the cities that have more than one airport. If you take for granted that “city” in this case does NOT mean metro area (ruling out cities like San Francisco, where the other airports are in surrounding cities), that leaves you with:

  • Los Angeles (LAX and Long Beach, which I didn’t think was within the LA city limits but apparently is, and Bob Hope–which, who knew that existed?)
  • New York City (JFK and LaGuardia)
  • Seattle (SeaTac and Boeing Field)
  • Baltimore (Dulles and Reagan)
  • Chicago (O’Hare and Midway)
  • Dallas (Love Field and Dallas-Ft. Worth)
  • Houston (George Bush and Hobby)

Seven choices. Immediately Houston, New York, and Baltimore are ruled out because their largest airports are named after US presidents, and not ones that fought in World War II. Dallas, Los Angeles and SeaTac are out because their biggest airports are named after the cities they are in. So you’re left with Chicago. It’s really just process of elimination, and a human would probably not even think of Houston, Seattle, or Dallas because their “second largest airports” are not really large airports at all, which cuts down on the thinking that’s necessary. Ken and Brad both got the question right, but neither wagered much money so it didn’t make a big difference in the score.

Guess what Watson answered?


(Those question marks were actually part of Watson’s answer, which, according to Trebeck, meant that Watson was “very unsure” about it. Duh.)

And if you’ve been paying attention, THAT ANSWER DOESN’T EVEN FIT THE CATEGORY because Toronto is NOT A US CITY.

Watson ultimately wagered very little money, so the scores were pretty much the same at the end of Final Jeopardy as they were at the end of Double Jeopardy. Wednesday is game 2 and the scores will be combined to determine the ultimate winner (who gets $1 million, by the way, although what is a computer going to do with $1 million? See what I meant about wanting things?). I can’t wait!

Play therapy

Posted on February 14th, 2011 by annakjarzab

So as you know, I finished my most recent draft of The Opposite of Hallelujah a week ago and sent it to my agent. It’s at this point, when you’re a writer, that you end up sitting in your pajamas on a Saturday morning wondering, “What do I do NOW?” That’s if, like, you’re single and childless–I’m sure authors who are also parents have plenty to do with the time they usually spend writing. Anyway, I don’t have children and I’m all caught up on my TV, so I did two things this weekend: I read, and I wrote.

First I finally finished Brother/Sister, which is this CRAZY mystery told from alternating perspectives. Is it really a mystery? I’m not too sure about what to call it. It’s certainly a thriller, perhaps a psychological thriller? Anyway, it has these two narrators who are both unreliable in their own ways, the writing is really great and the suspense is really well done and subtle. And then–AND THEN–the end of the book turns everything that you think you know about what happened completely on its head! I was out singing karaoke on Saturday for my friend Monica’s birthday and I didn’t get home until 4 AM, but if you don’t think I stayed up even later to finish Brother/Sister then you don’t know me very well. I also read a really great manuscript for a book we’re publishing in Fall 2011 and it was ALSO awesome and totally scary. I’m shocked I didn’t have nightmares last night.

I also started working on a book that I’ve been thinking about writing for a while. It’s basically a sci-fi thriller and I am LOVING writing it. The best part about writing it is that I don’t have to ever show it to a single person (except maybe Alex, who might kill me if I don’t let her read it after all the talking we’ve been doing about it). It’s mine. I don’t owe to anyone, and I don’t have to worry about other people liking it. Of course at some point I probably will worry about those things, and I’m not saying that every time I see a deal on PM or PW I don’t jump out of my skin a little, but that’s only natural. In those moments I just keep reminding myself, this is your book. You’re writing it for you, not for anyone else. Enjoy it.

And I am enjoying it. I don’t think I’ve had so much fun writing a book in years; it’s a nice change of pace from what the last year or so has been like, writing-wise, for me, which is extraordinarily difficult and not nearly as rewarding as it once was. But this book is cool. Alex once said to me that she tries to write books that her brother would read, and for once I’m trying to do that, too. I’ve only got 60 pages of this book (let’s call it Book 3 for tagging purposes) and so far there has been a 2-on-3 physical fight and a car chase, and I plan for there to be escapes and imprisonments and espionage and betrayal and love and heartbreak and double-crossing and science! All in one book! One hopefully not 800 pages long book (I don’t think it will be that long, but Hallelujah is, inexplicably, like 400 manuscript pages, which is almost 100 pages longer than AUT and I do not know how that happened).

ALSO: Jeopardy! Man vs. Machine* starts tonight! I may or may not have made this clear in my last blog post, but I DVR Jeopardy! every night. Sometimes I watch them nightly, but most of the time I let them build up and watch them all in a row on the weekends. Right now I’m a little behind, but I’m going to be sure to watch tonight’s IMMEDIATELY. I love Jeopardy! I even violated my own very strict “no paying for iPhone apps” rule to download the $4.99 Jeopardy! app.

So that’s my life right now. Reading (I also plucked a copy of Diana Mosely: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler’s Angel from my shelf; I’ve had it for a while, bought it for $5 at the Strand, because as you may or may not know I love anything having to do with the Mitfords and hope someday to read everything there is by or about them, but Diana is not my fave so I hadn’t actually ever started this biography of her), writing, and Jeopardy! You would think that would give me plenty of time to update this blog, but apparently that’s not true, although you might be interested to know that I do update my Tumblr way more often and recently I posted a bunch of songs over there that reminded me of The Opposite of Hallelujah, so you might want to head over there and have a listen.

*I don’t think that the Jeopardy! people are calling it this, that’s just what I’m calling it.