Lessons from My Reading

M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Another Batch of Cookies Down

Trivia:  Doing single batches of koulourakia is much easier on my hands.  I should have done it last year ... but then, I'm a slow learner.  Slow but sure, though, has filled the canning kettle.  Figure I still have four more batches to go ... plus the baklava.

(I'm avoiding thinking about wrapping presents.)

Lessons From My Reading:  Have started Joanne Harris' Runemarks.  Did I say somewhere that the Brits do fantasy well?  Well, they do.  This one is delicious ... after I slogged through all the explanation the beginning. --  Outcast girl with a forbidden magical rune mark meets up with a supposed-to-have been-exorcised Odin to change/save the world.

On some blog or forum, I read that paranormal and Nordic themes were "in" now.  The book was originally published in Britain in 2007 and here in 2008.  Maybe the book was part of the vanguard for the trend.

The writing styles British writers are allowed differ from the American blog/forum recommendations.  The beginning was larded with telling and about as interesting as an anthropology text even though the MC was chasing a goblin out of the cellar.  It took me several tries before the action/danger picked up speed for me to read it after the news.  By the time the local bully was following her into the hills after she got fired by his mother, I was into the story.  --  The action really picks after she meets Loki, about 80 pages into the book.

Nice to see Nordic mythology featured rather than Celtic, though.

My reaction to the beginning is ironic.  After thinking and comparing the beginnings of Emma and Demons, I'm beginning to wonder if my own fascination with milieu won't keep me from ever being published.  Of course, I think my action moves faster.  Oh, well.


Progress:   Maren:  Got the first chapter drafted -- POV: Faithfull Alice Sweet's journal.  It just bubbled out.  (It was an expansion of the paragraph mention in a previous blog.)  Now, I'll probably chop it.
 
Perhaps, the draft opening is too much like a prologue with too much telling.  Still, Sweet is a crucial antagonist to the human villain and Maren's defender/mentor in modern ways.   Of course its super short, but it names two more characters.  Forde Travers (sheriff) and Faithfull Alice Sweet.  The next chapter is more like ... 3rd person from Maren's POV.  It's not written but part of the 3rd chapter is.

Playing with and getting to know my characters is my favorite part of writing.  How I implement the ideas is another matter entirely.

Emma: is printed/off the computer. --  I've glanced at the first chapters.  They still don't flow evenly so I have a lot of work cut out for me.  I'm sure it'll go downhill once I get to the middle.  --  I'm using a couple of articles I tore from the Writer's Digest as editing crib sheets.

Need to get the Emma query going to help focus the first part of the book.  (I stink at writing fiction queries.)

Blog:   Note I changed the title.  Since I started this in September, I've been trying to focus the blog on some target.  I think I'm getting there.

Demons:  Am still trying to put the agent query together.  Just chopped half a page out of the five page story sample.  (Makes me worried about the rest of the manuscript.)  Maybe between the last of the Christmas shopping .... ?????

Sunday, November 29, 2009

One Batch of Cookies Down

Trivia:  It's the time of year when my world narrows down to baking cookies and making baklava.  This year it'll take longer since I no longer can handle double batches of dough. (Getting old catches up with you.)

Baking and Christmas was the reason I was so panicky about getting an ending on Emma.  At least, my shopping's done except for the peanut brittle.  Now I've got to wrap the stuff.  Ugh.

Lessons from My Reading:  Finished Mary Balogh's A Precious Jewel.  Cousin Oswald didn't appear again -- but a pregnancy did -- so I guessed wrong.  I marvel that Balogh is able to create characters well-rounded enough that you get teary-eyed even if you know what the ending's going to be.

Didn't guess wrong about the beta-male bit.  While flipping through the book during the news (better than sleeping like the old man), I discovered a 'Dear Reader' note at the beginning from Balogh giving the history of the book.  Mostly about breaking conventions by writing about the tribulations of a beta-male finding his HEA and how the book broke new ground back in 1993. 

Now it's time for all wanna-be writers to take a break and feel *something* about such a long career.  I'm impressed.  Balogh's new books are still lean and wry, compared to other authors who seem to expand the verbiage with each book.  Let that be a lesson for us all.

Truth in reading, I have at least 15 books by Balogh on my keeper shelf -- though some of them will be going out to trade if I ever get ambitious enough to prune the bookshelves.


Progress:  Not much.  I'm stuttering over editing the query and sample pages for Demons.  I'm not an efficient writer.  I re-read and re-edit until I stop finding things to dink.  So far, I've got one sentence that won't flow.  It sits there in the middle of the query like a lump of concrete.  -- The sample pages flow quickly and smoothly ... but are probably a trite beginning.  -- Sometimes I wonder why I even bother.  The whole voice thing and pulling the right character bits out of the story mystify me.

Maren keeps perculating.

Emma is waiting for my first manuscript comments -- from my alpha readers??  After I get the bills paid, I'll print it out and begin playing with it.


Blog?  It's sitting here with all its warts.

PS:  I'm getting some Christmas presents early.  According to the NY Times, P. D. James has a new book out  -- talking about detective fiction.  

Carol O'Connell also has a mass paperback on the best seller list, a new series it looks like.  Loved her Mallory series.  Maybe I should reread Find Me, the last of the series. (Maybe.)


 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Minor Mystery

Trivia:  Think I've recovered from Thanksgiving.  Too much eating, yes.  (Though I only ate one meal [which lasted several hours]).  The sitting was the worse.  After our family went home, we went to a neighbors for "pie night".

Americans can't be the only ethnic group that practices mass gluttony.  Can they?

Lessons from My Reading:  I keep thinking this should be the title of the blog, but I rather mutter.  I enjoy talking to myself.

The mystery:  Why the h**l am I reading Mary Balogh?   I've stated I don't even care much for romance any more.


I have a very nice YA fantasy filled with runes and Nordic mythology set in an English-ish background by an English author.  Even was getting into the story line after I waded through the backstory and telling.  

(Another side mystery:  Why do the British write such good fantasy?  I've been reading a variety of writers since the 70s ... if you don't include Tolkien who I read in the 60s several times.)

Maybe the question should be:  Why am I reading Mary Balogh's A Precious Jewel, a Regency romance in its pure form (no thriller, mystery, etc. to dilute the relationships).  I hadn't intended on reading it.  I just saw it at the grocery store ... wondering what series she was doing next without looking to learn it was a reprint.  Then, after finishing editing Demons and sending the gargoyles on their way, I picked it up to fill in the time before the 10 PM news.  I was still reading at 11:30 ... when I decided I was tired and didn't want to stay up 'til 2.  (Yes, I considered staying up and finishing the thing.)



Why?  Well, first you have to appreciate the irony of a fallen woman discussing Jane Austin with her madam over tea.


My real answer revolves around characterization.  The people come off the page as possible people, not contrivances.  Also, I discovered one of the few un-hunk heros -- who is struggling through feelings of abandonment.  I think romance writers would put this in a discussion of alpha and beta heros.  Anyway, since it's a romance and HEA (happily ever after) is looming at the end, I assume a nice ordinary, not so good looking Regency guy is going to find happiness.


I'm waiting for the heroine to have the confrontation with the cousins who inherited her fortune by default and forced her "onto the streets".  I'm sure it will be handled with Balogh's usual sense of ironic humor.  Probably tonight.


Progress:  As hinted above, I finished editing There Be Demons from 65,000  words down to 61,000.  I was surprised I didn't get bored with it.  The ending even surprised me, sort of.  So, now I get to market it to agents again.  So, after the holiday market and baking cookies, I get to search through the fantasy agents to find ones that do fantasy and don't mind congenital anger. 

(First, though I'll send it to my 'fantasy agent'.  Rational:  It's sort of a thriller under the YA urban fantasy, and she's said in her blog:  If you have any doubts, send it.  All she can do is say 'it's not for her'.  Also, I've read about another YA agent who says she's their agent.)


Emma's still resting though I have to print her out soon to start major revisions.  I should print out Mariah too since I've changed a huge amount, and my current printout doesn't reflect the book any more.  One reason, I've been ditching prologues.


Maren is still in the research stage.  Have learned that you can do DNA analysis on charred remains (even from the inside of a tooth) as long as it isn't ash.  Thanks to a NCW member for that info.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Impersonal Mentoring

Trivia:  I've decided my life is boring.  I like it that way.

'Tis the Season of the Stuffing -- of the gobblers sitting around the table.

Lessons from My Reading:  Went to the Northern Colorado Writers coffee this morning.  Since they are local, I won't talk about them.  But, I came away with a flaming insight -- I get craft input from more than the books I read.  Online peer group forums are a great way to learn your writing craft and industry scuttlebutt.   My favorite is Absolute Write Water Cooler (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/).  And not just because it's free.

Writers of all skill levels gather at the "cooler".  You can lurk (just read).  You can post.  I do a bit of both.  I think I've posted less than 200 times in the two years I've belonged.  Others have posted thousands.  Whatever, one of their forums is Bewares and Background Checks (or something similar) where there are lots of threads on agents and publishers.  Another name for the forum might be Avoiding Scams 101.


Can't resist talking more about NCW. (http://www.northerncoloradowriters.com/)  It's a great place to talk with writers who understand what you are trying to do -- even if you don't accomplish it.  The director had us bring a writing question we wanted answered.  Mine was 'which paranormal ability would would like to have?'.  

Most responses wanted to control time in some way -- probably useless when trying to appeal to teens.   But then, the participants were at or near retirement age.  Guess I have to go crawling online to get out of my mind-rut.  Why is this pertinent?  I'm doodling with my next book (Maren) and need some abilities for my secondary characters.  Age-specific characteristics.


Progress:  Emma is resting before I start revising.


Blog.  I'm thinking of upgrading this in some way, but will worry about it after the holidays.  After doing it a while, I think I can sustain frequent input here ... even if I'm talking to myself.  

(I do that very well.  I even answer.  Worse, I enjoy the more than talking with some real people.)


Maren.  I'm gathering binder pages and file input (computer file, that is).  All sorts of things are free-associating.  Who knows what will appear in the manuscript.  At the moment, I'm strengthening my villain's organization.


Gargoyles.  Yeah.  It's the manuscript I thought was ready for agent submission.  Got a couple bites for a partial.  No fulls.  --   So, I dumped the prologue full of back story.
  
At the moment, I'm half way through editing it -- eliminating typos, passives, replacing phrases with single verbs, chopping redundencies, etc.  etc.  Then, I'll send it out to agents again.  There're still gobs of them I haven't submitted to.

 

  

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Addenda to Yesterday

Trivia:  Finished one of the short stories mentioned in "Lessons from My Reading".  Discovered the "charm"?  The stories are what I call "soft porn", complete with unbelievable situations.  But, then ... isn't porn unbelievable by definition? 

Progress:  Am revising a manuscript I thought ready to submit.  (THERE BE DEMONS).  Can't believe the typos and redundancies in the much revised manuscript.     

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Still on Vacation

Trivia:  The end-of-draft happy dance for Emma still keeps popping out of the back of my mind.

Got the recycling done.  The junk mailed to the New Yorkie kids.  Coffee where I enjoyed my usual side-show:  the old man trying to put the lid on his coffee cup.  (My bad.)

Lessons from My Reading:  Just finished watching all the Lord of the Rings last night ... actually this morning.  So, haven't been reading much ... except research for Maren.

Bought a couple books at the grocery story since #1 daughter is coming up on Sunday.  (No bookstore browsing this weekend.)  A romance and a paranormal.  The romance was one of those short story compilations by popular authors (I never heard of).  Got half-way through the first story with its trite plot which I think Georgette Heyer used a couple times.

Okay, I used to read romance, especially Regencies since it was the time when "modern" thinking (aka education) reached a significant portion of the population.  Also, women started to noticeably think for themselves ... publicly.  Think Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft.  Maybe the thinness of plots comes from that fact that the number of romances written equaled the number of the "10,000" long ago.  It's like there're probably more fictional British dukes than ever existed in history.

Will skim the short stories to see if any catch my interest.  Doubt it.

Progress:  Outside of "Emma Kloken, Hero" having an ending.  heh, heh, heh.

Emma's resting quietly while I think about baking the first batch of koulourakia ... perhaps.

Maren has a prequel.  I thought it might be a short story, but the plot line is too mundane.  Probably would be too much work to change the telling to showing. -- Not that I'm against telling.  Sometimes, it's the quickest way to get from here to there.  Besides the "#####", that is.

Even have a rough draft of the opening paragraph:

"The accident dominated the news for a week.  Five cars blasted into melted slag on the highway without a hint of a vin number.  The charred body parts of the locals were identified by DNA. (check if possible).


"Police combed the missing persons data banks to identify the one survivor -- a teen-aged girl with amnesia.  The detectives were hopeful.  How many thin, almost six-foot teens with long silver hair could there be?"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hallelujah! I may be a writer.

Got an ending on "Emma Kloken, Hero"!!   
I even rewrote the last two chapters so they didn't sound so crappy. 
(Yeah, I hear all the stuff I write.  Sometimes it gets real noisy between my ears.)

Trivia:  We're going to celebrate by going to the Charcobroiler.  We were going there tonight since the weather is nice, and we do it for the holidays anyway.  This just makes me feel more comfortable spending the money.

Writing:  The above doesn't mean I'm done.  First, I have to go back and write to eliminate all the little red notes at the beginning of chapters about things I need to check.


Then,  I got to print the manuscript and start tearing it apart.

Excuse me while I do a little dance.









 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

$(&^%@_*) Ending

Not doing much.  Still staring at my ending of Emma.  Maybe writing 250 words a day, if I'm lucky.  I'm not writing here until I get an end on the thing.


Unfortunately, Maren keeps intruding.


Addenda.  We did the errands.  Warm tortillas and Greek-made feta.  Yummy.  Yummy.  Is that a symbol for our family?


Reading:  Not.  I've been watching last year's Castle episodes, my Christmas present.  I think my oldest daughter will get it for Christmas viewing.  On loan.  I'll share, but I want it back.


Surprised the TV watching can be useful to writing.  It's all in the hooks ... which I can't seem to find in my own writing.  Anyway, a hook before commercials prevents the viewers Straying.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wrapping It Up

Trivia:  The week's ending -- and I haven't accomplished anything.  Until I look at Emma, that is.  A chapter and a half to go.  Even figured out a way for mortal kid Emma to best a magical spriggen.  Better yet, I've foreshadowed it all along through the manuscript so I don't have to go back and seed info.

Guess, I can treat myself to Red Lobster and shrimp as a reward.  The old man doesn't like shrimp so I've stopped cooking it at home.  Too much trouble juggling portions.

Reading Lessons:  Haven't been reading much either.  Did read Berk Breathed's Flawed Dogs.  A sort of Westminster dog show meets Gaiman's graveyard.  Laughed out loud many times which may have made it worth it.  Still, it left me down.  Wishing for Opus?  Not really.  I don't think I'm really into "dark".

Also, have given up on Phaedra Weldon's Wraith.  Really loved the premise of someone who could travel outside her body and solve crimes (specifically murders).  The secondary characters were promising too.  But the voice.  I'd be sinking into the plot, suspending belief, and then, the character would grate me molars by her observations.  

In short, Zoe Martinique isn't someone who I'd go out of my way to have coffee with.  -- A disturbing thought.  Since it probably is an indication of my chances for getting published.  Not very many people would go out of their way to have coffee with me a second time.  (Think of Ms. Snark in a bad mood.)


So, what have I been doing.  I finished up my unviewed episodes of The Omega Factor and The Dresden files.  Omega is a 70s supernatural show with low-budget, low-tech effects, but scary as all get out.  Since it  was written for a different marketing set I won't mention more.  

But, Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files.  I'm going to be spending part of my week-end studying the pacing of the things.  Something made easy by what I think were commercial breaks.  Just like a chapter should, TV shows leave a dangling hook just before the break.  (Gotta bring the viewers back after they've channeled-surfed the commercials.)


Progress:  Tangled critiques.  Getting good pertinent comments.  Since my critiquers are showing me why things remain "trunk or under- the- bed novels", I'll continue chopping because I'm learning so much from the exercise.   Critiquers telling me where I come up short is a bonus.  More important, the lacks in the characterization/plot has made it difficult (impossible) to write a decent query.  -- I think that gives me a clue for further revision if I get around to it.



Emma.  Am finally feeling good about it.  I'm going to write a new novel this year after all.  Of course, I doctored the board.  Turned it into MG which only needs some 35,000 words.


Maren.  Got the short story prequel drafted except for the fight scene.  Over the Christmas slow down, I'll have to think more coherently about the book for 2010.


I keep my pace of about 500 words plus backtracking (aka revising/editing) ... I could never do NaNo.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I lied...

Trivia:  when I said I was watching old episodes of the Dresden Files instead of reading.  Am in the process of pruning my overgrown bookshelves and took books to be traded.  Then, I discovered the Castle spin-off novel, Heat Wave.  Took a vacation yesterday and read it.  (One of the benefits of having no kids at home and being retired.)


The book, itself, is well written.  Good plot, well-rounded characters, if somewhat superficial.  To me it felt more like a well-done TV episode ... which may be a clue to who ghostwrote the book.  I know there's a discussion at the Absolute Write Water Cooler about who wrote it.  Think I'll be following the thread to see if anyone discovers something.


Oh.  ...  Gave up on the Dresden episode last night.  I just couldn't take the way the characters were being bended to fit into production guidelines.  Re-watched Pride and Prejudice instead.


Progress:  Said I took a vacation.  Still, got my chapters out to my critiquing partners though.  (One had to remind me I hadn't sent it yet.)


Emma:  ?  I'm trying to see if I can get her to hug her grandmother in the final chapter.  Don't think it'll go with the flow.


 

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The End's in Sight

Trivia:  Spent part of my coffee drinking time watching a flicker try to get birdseed out of our feeder.  The feeder is designed for small song birds and squirrel proof.  The flicker kept hopping around the trellis and on the feeder trying to break into the food.  It finally gave up.  

Now, all we have to do is wait for the finches etc. to find the feeder.  The cats want their TV.

Lessons from my Reading -- rather, Watching:  I'm flitting from book to book at the moment, much like the flicker.  None of them have caught my attention, so I went back to an old favorite -- Jim Butcher's Dresden Files.  The TV series which my son and daughter sent me after they had watched them.

I'm enjoying them, but ...  I think I'm getting an object lesson in the "dumbing down of America".  The books are rich in plot, subplot, and character.  The TV series views like hi-lo reader.  One simple plotline with Dresden often standing around looking like a doofus for about 40 minutes.  (Guess commercials are eating up more and more of the story time.)

Comments:  The lycanthrope episode did feature FBI agents but not the scarry group who used belts to change.  Billy and his pack were no where in sight either. --  I did like the expanded role of the slightly monastic Bob, but a Jeep instead of the Blue Beetle?  I missed the image of a six-foot-plus guy squeezing into a bug.

The simplicity of the stories makes me wonder how much input Butcher had in the series.  (Maybe I should have looked at the production credits instead of turning the player off.  My bad.)  Still, TV/movie adaptations often disappoint which is why I tend to read the books without seeing the movie.  At the moment, I can only think of two movies that did the books justice:  The Lord of the Rings cycle, Smoke Signals, and a couple of the Harry Potters.   (Which Potters, I can't remember.) 

(Disclaimer:  The above is all based on memory.  The books in the series are on loan to the same kids above.)


Progress:  Critiquing.  I forgot to send out my chapters to both of the groups I work with.  Oh, well, got to get on the stick.

Tangled.  Lanquishes.

Emma.  The end's in sight!  Maybe two-and-a-half chapters to go, unless some complication I don't know about shows up.  I was despairing of ever getting an ending on the draft.  A nice feeling to know that I'll have drafted another book this year (with another lurking in the wings).

Now I've got to do some serious rewriting.   And, maybe, try some marketing?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Busy Day ( for me that is )

Trivia:  Going to the chiropractor so I can continue sitting in front of the computer.  Had to change the standing appointment, though.  We're taking a friend to a birthday party at an "independent" living center for another friend -- in worse physical shape.  Oh, the joys of being old!

Lessons from My Reading:  Am searching for a book to read.  So far, I've taken down about five from my to-read pile.  (I'm saving Doss's new Snake book and Daisy for a real emergency.)  It's really bad when I can't find a book.  A new series with Zoe somebody fizzled and after one more try will land in the trade pile.  (Two new books.  Ouch.  But, a 25+/- woman sounding like the kids in the food court?  Give me relief.)
  
Almost bought another author with cover art that was vaguely iconic.  Had a real interesting scene with the MC confronting at old lady with a globe hanging over her head and a savage dog -- as the promo page.  Then, read the first paragraphs of the book and she's cooking too much food for her father?  Sorry.  I must confess I mis-shelved the book on my way out the door.  (My son would shoot me since he once worked at B&N.)

So, what am I reading?  An anthology called, Winter Moon.  Not really reading it.  More like skimming during the news.  Got through Mercedes Lackey and Tanith Lee, since I do occasionally try to write short fiction.  C. E. Murphy hooked me with a cop with reluctant psychic abilities.  The story?  Banshee Cries, which is set in between two novels.  I think I'm going to have to look them up.  I know I've passed over this author before.  Guess I'm going to have to take another look.

Lesson:  Write good characters with baggage that're doing something besides obsessing.  (Leave that to those literary folk.)

Progress:   Critiquing.  Really savaged them this time around.  Mostly for being too wordy and/or not presenting their characters with a clear danger.  There was other stuff, but that sums up the larger faults I found.  Typos excluded.  I mention them -- only because it's so hard to find them yourself when you read your own manuscript.


Tangled.  Sending another chapter to my out-of-town critiquers.  I'm going to have to start chopping some new stuff soon.  Still, they both are showing me where I've left dead wood.


Emma:  I'm writing new stuff, at about 500 words a sitting.  Progress!  Turns out I was closer to the end than I thought.  The ending of this chapter has my adventurers escaping from a dungeon.  Then, maybe three more chapters.  Encountering the elves.  Rescuing the Hobgoblin.  Confronting her grandmother. 

Thought of a wonderful ending, but didn't write it down.  (Stupid.  I know.) Hopefully, something similar will pop out of my brain.