Tuesday, November 20, 2012

...THANKSGIVING?

Everybody(at least, those in the US) ready for the happy day of thankfulness and eating? Yeah, neither am I. Yesterday was my second daughter's birthday, I had a bit of editing to do for another author, Some of my own edits, and characters for a book that's been simmering on the back burner of my mind started screaming out their story in my head. Any author can tell you that you can't ignore that kind of thing, especially at the delicate beginning of a book, or you risk losing everything. Then my kids had a program to attend at the church last night... Madness. I got nothing done at all.

So. That leaves today for cleaning, last minute shopping, and did I mention that I intended on painting the bathroom? I need a break already! Story peeps are still yakking away, but they wil have to wait.
 The only thing that's been keeping me from a stress-plosion this morning is thinking about this scene from Cocktails & Dreams. The whole episode (well, until the end, anyway) makes me smile. Hope it gives you a smile, too! 


After losing a brief tussle at the bathroom door, Jena stepped in the kitchen to find Sharon standing in the middle of the room with a potato in one hand, a paring knife in the other, and a calculating look on her face. “I’ll bet I can rig something up to make this process faster,” she muttered.
Jena plucked the items from her mother’s hands “It’s called a vegetable peeler, Mom.” She opened the second drawer and dug around for a minute before tossing Sharon an ancient peeler and pointing her toward the sack of potatoes. “You try that and I’ll handle these.”
Sharon raised her eyebrows and chuckled, sitting down on a kitchen stool. “Good morning and happy Thanksgiving to you, too.”
Jena kissed her mother’s forehead before snagging another stool, setting the garbage can between them, and returning her greeting.
“Sleep well?” Sharon asked nonchalantly, smiling as Jena flushed.
“Shut up,” Jena muttered.
Sharon belly laughed and started on her potato. They peeled in companionable silence, tossing the finished potatoes in a bowl on the counter. “So, how long have you and Nicholas been living together?” Sharon finally asked with an air of practicality, shaking her head at Jena’s guilty face. “I may be silly, but I’m not stupid, Jena. There’s a certain…comfortableness that comes with familiarity, and you’ve got it, my girl.”
Jena grimaced. “Sorry. I wanted to tell you in person. Does Dad know? Is he mad?”
“Nicholas’s still alive, right? Dad’s not dumb either. He knows there’s no putting the horse back in the barn once it’s out,” she finished philosophically.
Jena smiled at her mother’s mixed metaphor. “Whatever. As long as Dad isn’t going to kill Nicholas, I’m good. How many are we expecting today?”
“Keep peeling.”
Jena grumbled and grabbed another potato. After a minute, Sharon began again. “What do Nick’s parents think of the move, sweetie? I only ask because he’s here, not there.”
“I wouldn’t have any idea, Mom,” Jena said quietly, pausing and looking at the dots on her pajama pants. “Nicholas doesn’t talk to them much.” She felt tears behind her eyes and willed them back. “They don’t like me for some reason.”
Sharon was quiet for a minute, and Jena heard another potato plop in the bowl. “I wouldn’t say that, Jena…” Her voice was considering. “Laura was a dear when I talked to her, and I just think—”
You called her?” Jena screeched, dropping her potato on the floor.
“Of course I did. I needed to know what to make for Nicholas, didn’t I? If I’m going to cook turken for Leisa and cow balls for Travis, Nick certainly deserves a dish of his own.” She glanced up and giggled at Jena’s open mouth. “For heaven’s sake, Jena, the Internet is your friend. My friend, anyway, since you wouldn’t give me her number.”
“Nicholas thought—”
Sharon looked serious. “Nicholas needs to talk to his parents and stop ‘thinking’, Twinkie. Laura didn’t go into detail, but apparently there’s some kind of major misunderstanding going on between him and his folks.” She hesitated, her normal exuberance dimmed in a very un-Sharon like way. “Jena, this is none of my business, but can I give you some advice?”
Jena nodded.
“Do whatever it takes to get them talking. You’ll never forgive yourself if you think you’ve put a wedge in his family.”
Jena nodded again, taking a minute to think as her mom resumed her energetic peeling. When Sharon’s potato was approximately the size of a large pearl onion, she held up the skinned potato, studied it, and tossed it toward the counter. “Wouldn’t it be faster to just throw the marshmallows in with these while they’re boiling?”
Jena sighed and tossed her own potato toward the counter. “Marshmallows go with the sweet potatoes, Mom, and no, you can’t add them to the water. They’re baked on top.”
Sharon shrugged. “If you want to do it that way. Can we put brown sugar in these?”
“Not if you want anyone to eat them.”
“Chili powder?”
“Fine.” Crossing to the sink, Jena filled a pan with water to boil the potatoes and then started cutting up the first one.
“Are you and Nick using raincoats, or are you on the pill?”
 
  
Happy Thanksgiving, Americans, and happy Tuesday to everyone else :)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

...REVIEWS?

You know, those things many of you read before deciding whether to purchase a book, and which some of you write after being impressed... or bored... or disgusted... or entertained... by your current read?  Yeah, those.

As a writer and a reader, I enjoy a well-written, thoughtful review. It it can help me decide between two books, or can maybe help me decide to avoid or buy both. Sometimes seeing the thoughts of others can help me process what I've read, in order to form my own opinion. Strictly as a writer, a well-written review (whether the reader loved the book or didn't)  is invaluable in letting me see how effective I was in translating my characters and storyline from my head to the paper. Of course most writers would rather see a positive review than a negative review, but both can be useful. Books are written to entertain the reader--we need to know if we're accomplishing what we set out to do, right? And as much as we love unbridled adoration, it takes more than unfocussed praise to do that job. So here are a few tips for writing a useful review from a reader AND a writer (and a reviewer, come to think of it):

1) READ THE BOOK

This might seem self-explanatory, but I can't count the reviews I've read wherein the reader admits that they never read past the first few pages, but then writes a glowing (or scathing, more often) review. Really, guys, this helps no one. Other readers should be forming an opinion based upon the merits or downfalls of the book, not upon the particular hobbyhorse the reviewer is currently riding. Writers get nothing from such reviews either--no idea where they went off-track for that reader. Further, without reading into the book, the writer of the review might have missed the reason for whatever they disliked in the first few pages. What irritated the crap out of you on page ten might have been explained on page 100.

This is assuming a well-written book. There is a very popular book for which you will never see a review written by me, as I could not bring myself to read more than the first couple of chapters. Therefore, my thoughts in a review would be based solely on what little I did read. That would not be fair to the author, nor would it be of much use to the reader. So I keep my trap shut publicly.

2) UNDERSTAND THAT THE MAIN CHARACTER IS NOT THE AUTHOR

I know it can seem like a natural progression: like the characters, love the author (lord knows Stephenie Meyer benefitted from this). Hate the characters, revile the author. This isn't a good idea for any number of reasons, but the most important is because THE AUTHOR IS NOT HIS/HER CHARACTER. We're using imagination to create a world and the souls that inhabit that world, not transcribing our exact thoughts/lives.

I'd be the first to admit that authors use their lives (and those of people they know) as grist for their mill. I use stories and funny things I hear around me all of the time. But I am not my characters. For example, I gave Jena in Cocktails & Dreams some of the funny experiences from my college years, and have stolen real life lines from so many people in my life. She has my comic-book geekiness (lol), but that's about all. At 25 I was married, working full time, going to school, and nowhere NEAR as emo as the people in that book. Nor was or am I so likely to sidle around issues--I'm pretty direct, and always have been. She is a creature of my imagination, frankly, as are most characters that you read. As an author, I love it when you feel like you know the characters so well that they are like friends. That's exactly what I write toward. Just don't assume they are me (or any author).

I was recently disturbed by a snarky review of a friend's book. The reviewer made an assumption that the writer was Mary Sue-ing her way through a book (A Mary Sue is a thinly veiled version of an author) because the main character shared one of the writer's interests. This was patently unfair, to both the writer and to a reader who uses that review to make a buying decision.

3) UNDERSTAND STORY STRUCTURE  OR CHARACTER SOMETIMES DICTATES STYLE

I caught myself on this one just yesterday. Thank God it wasn't in a published review. I contacted a writer friend of mine, concerned about one section of her story in which the letter of a character was missing a few words here and there. I ASSUMED (and you know what happens when we assume, children, right?) that because the book was self-pubbed, it was a technical error with formatting. I imposed my own bias on a section that was very purposely written that way (my writer friend kindly advised me) in order to show the distress and mental state of the character.

DUH. I should have known that, particularly because I'd just corrected the snarky reviewer of another friend's book on her assumption that footnoting in that book was used because the writer was not inventive enough to work the information into the story naturally. I saw the footnoting as a device that fit the character's orderly, yet tending to go off on tangents, mind.  In both of these cases, writing style was dictated by the character, with no reference to the individual writer's abilities.

The point of view of a story can dictate the narrative as well. One thing that I often see in reviews are scathing demolitions of an author's character because the reviewer doesn't like the actions of a character, or presumes sympathy where the author generally has none. First person narrators are often unreliable (no one wants to see themselves as the bad guy, right?), and the author of that character often gets taken to task for thinking it's okay for the character to behave or think the way he or she does. One great example of this is Humbert Humbert in Nabakov's novel, Lolita. He is an awful, terrible man who preys on children. There is no doubt about this. But he justifies himself by various claims: his desire is natural, it was okay in the past, Lolita liked it, too... Many reviews vilify Nabakov as a presumptive pedophile because of Humbert's thoughts, but they are just that--Humbert's thoughts. Not Nabakov's. In this year's Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn sets up a similar situation with the journal of one of her main characters--it is only after we get about 2/3 of the way into the story, distrusting and despising another character, that we discover the truth about her. Some reviewers considered that a cheat; I don't. First person, baby. That character can do/think anything, and we can't trust a word of what we're told. And that is NOT a failing of the author. It is a device to tell a story.

So that's it. Read, please read. and keep those reviews coming. Just make sure they're fair and accurate.

(No pretty pics this time, and no zombies. I'm on the edge of my seat about The Walking Dead, so look out for a zombieblast next week-haha!)


Monday, November 5, 2012

...SCARY CHALLENGES?

So there I was, minding my own business and...

BAM!

I'm hit by a challenge from the wonderful Nicki Elson (if you're and '80s baby or even one who just likes that era, you're missing out if you haven't read her book Three Daves). Here's what she wrote:

Next up, I've been tagged by Jennifer Lane in U Got the Look (tell me you're not  singing THIS in your head right now). This is how it works: take your current manuscript, search for the word “look,” and post the surrounding paragraphs. Lastly, tag 5 blogging authors. This time I'm not going to flake out on the tagging.  I hereby tag the following 5 bloggers with U Got the Look:


And I was one. After my hyperventilation (I've NEVER publicly posted a WIP), I started thinking it might be fun! So without further ado, my sneak preview from the first chapter of the new book:


Craning her neck for a better view, Sarah whistled beneath her breath as he bent to retrieve a dropped spoon. “Doesn’t look much like a baby from where I’m sitting.” She leaned forward and pointed at Abby. “You’re only thirty-six, and he has to be at least twenty-one to be serving drinks, which means -”

“Which means that I was playing tonsil hockey with my first boyfriend when Mr. Sexy Waiter Guy was in diapers.  No.  Thanks.  Abby flipped an ice cube into her mouth and crunched it as Sarah laughed again. “I’m tragically old. And uninteresting. Ask Eric.”

Sarah rubbed her hands together. “Now we’re getting into it. What exactly did he say?”

Abby closed her eyes. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Bullshit. You want to tell Auntie Sarah everything, remember? There’s no way mousy little Eric told you that you’re tragically old. Christ, he’s pushing forty himself. It couldn’t have been that bad.”

Abby took a deep breath and let it out in a rush.  “Sar, the most boring man on the Eastern Seaboard said  It’s not you, it’s me’ to me.” She stared at her friend.

Sarah gasped and gestured wildly for the cute waiter to bring two more drinks. “It’s that bad,” Sarah said, clasping Abby's hand sympathetically.  “I’m sorry he broke your heart.”

Abby rolled her eyes. “Right. Like Eric would be capable of that.”

Sarah tried a shocked face and failed miserably, giving up with a laugh as she dropped her friend’s hand and leaned back in the booth. “I just thought since you’ve been seeing each other for a couple of years…”

“Please.  Eric’s a nice guy, but…” Abby smiled at the waiter as he deposited two more drinks on the table. He grinned back before he walked away.

“’Nice’?  You spent two years on ‘nice’?” Sarah raised an eyebrow and Abby shrugged.  “I’m guessing in bed…?”

“Acceptable.”

“Ouch.  ‘Nice’ and ‘acceptable’. How about ‘clean’?” Sarah snickered into her drink.

Abby moaned and covered her eyes. “Oh, fuck it.  He was a date on major holidays and for the company picnic. Satisfied?” Sarah started laughing loudly, and people turned to look. “My point is, I should have been the one to end it, right? I managed to bore the most boring man on earth.  I never thought he was the perfect man, but… where is he and why haven’t I tracked him down and bagged him?”

“Ab, you know there’s only one perfect Man,” Sarah said piously. After long years of parochial school training, their Signs of the Cross were automatic and simultaneous. “I don’t think He’s taking girlfriend requests. And besides, are we talking about a man or a wildebeest?”

“Is there a difference? They’re both rare and elusive.” 


I'm hereby tagging THESE authors:

Ann Bracken
Carol Hedges
Sandra Wright

Give them a few days and then go see if they answered the challenge!






Thursday, November 1, 2012

...NaNo, and Voting, and Blog Hops. OH MY!

THIS BLOGPOST WILL BE ZOMBIE FREE!

Here's a picture anyway. Because he's pretty.
(mainly because Walking Dead was sort of boring last week. A Rick-free episode? PFFT! Why bother?)  
A lot is going on in my head, so let's take them one by one:
FIRST:
Housekeeping issue. Thank you to all the wonderful people who participated in the blog hop last week. It was a lot of fun!  The winner of my silver sand dollar necklace is KATE S. CONGRATULATIONS! As soon as I get your addy, the necklace will be in the mail. :)

Oh, and I asked about favorite scary movies/books, but forgot to add mine (I'm a bit slow-lol)

SCARIEST MOVIE EVER: The Strangers. Scared the CRAP out of me. Almost strangled my dog in fear. Don't know if I can ever watch it again. 


SCARIEST BOOK: Based on nightmare quotient, IT (King) is the clear winner. I've had nightmares on three separate occasions about that one. King also has my scariest short story: his novella A Good Marriage, also gave me a nightmare. 

Only books or movies to do that to me, and I've read/seen a lot of horrorstuff (I'm a junkie). 
 
SECOND:


Voting. Is anyone else sick to death of this campaign season? I'm getting to the point that I hate both candidates. I won't bore you with my choice, and I will vote, but ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

THIRD: 
 Disney bought LucasFilms. Y'all know how I feel about Star Wars (lol), so I'm cautious here. Still they did a good job with letting Marvel alone to make decent superhero movies, so maybe it will be okay. If they have any sense, they'll option R.A. Salvatore's book Vector Prime as one of the proposed movies. Fabulous book! Hell, Lucas probably already owns the rights. There's a scene where Chewie is howling at a descending sun that still sticks in my mind, years after I first read the book. 
My two favorite SW characters. Kill everyone else, I don't care.
 (Hey, I said this would be a Zombie free post, not Geek free post :D)

 LAST:
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, to the uninitiated). 


You'll probably read or hear a lot about this, especially if you follow newbie or prospective authors' blogs... but not here (well, except now). The goal of this movement is to get people to write a novel in a month, starting Nov 1 and ending Nov 30.

Respect to those who try this, and I mean that seriously. Writing is a joy (for those who do it), but it can also be damned hard work. It seems to me that there will be an awful lot of terrible novels written this month (lol), but probably the seeds of some fine books as well. I think it might be more productive for those who are of the 'strictly outline and arc every scene/chapter/section and follow to the letter' persuasion of writers. Not being a member of  that tribe, I don't waste my time.  

That doesn't mean that I don't have a GENERAL outline when I start; I do, along with a polished beginning, ending, and a list of critical scenes in my head. I don't write a single thing until I know every word of the first scenes. EVERY WORD. Keeping my general outline and the ultimate ending in mind, I start writing, and every damned time the characters take over. I write until it feels like I'm not taking transcription any more. And then I stop. And I do that again and again until my characters say they're finished and the story arc is complete. Every time I've tried to FORCE that frission, I've come up with stilted scenes and worse dialogue, and sometimes that's what it takes to get the brain working. The characters look at what's written on the page, aghast, and usually start yelling about where the story went wrong. Rewrite, toss the crap, and move on.

But with only a month... no time for that.

So. I'll keep toddling along on edits of the new book, falling into the hole in the page every day and basking in the sun with yummy men and good friends.

Andy Lincoln surfs. It's destiny that he be my male protag ideal. And he's yummy. YAY, ME!


And that's okay.