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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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Revising's Bouncing My Head Back and Forth

Learning from My Reading:  Out of all the books I bought over the Christmas holiday, I find myself reading Victoria Hanley's Violet Wings.  She uses an interesting structure of quoting a "genie historian" to fill in the back story of how fairy magic works.  Sometimes I kept it straight.  Sometimes I didn't and had to go back and check.  

Found it interesting since I used a similar device for Demons.  Only I gave clues to what the demons were plotting in the form of letters to the demon prince.  Wish I could say great minds travel in the same circles.  My using the structure was just beginner's luck.

Progress:  Started revising Emma.  No longer feel good about it.  Spent almost an hour on chapter 3 going over the same paragraphs until my head felt like a ping pong ball.

Maren.  Plan to start working on the characters tonight.  Nothing is on TV I want to watch so I might even get something done.

Trivia:  Company's gone.  Feels good to be writing again rather than talking.

Hippy, Hippy New Years

Monday, December 28, 2009

Still Celebrating ...

Learning from My Reading:  Spent the last few days reading Moyra Caldecott's young adult The Tall Stones triology set in still ring-worshipping Britain -- maybe Stonehendge though she doesn't name it as such.

Read the books in the late 70s, and my son brought them to light again because he remembered how impressed he was with them.  Boy, has writing changed since she published.  The first book was so bad, but the last two are mostly telling.  Cadecott has some interesting takes on spirit travel (very close to shamanism) but, to me, her characters were drawn in primary colors.  --  I like shades with even my evil comes in shades of gray.

Now, I'm old enough not to mind a fair amount of "telling" in the books I read.  But I'm finding telling slows things down.  Maybe movies and telling a story as if it is appearing on a stage have done us a favor.  Too much "telling" feels more like the outline of the story rather than a complete presentation of your imagining of the happenings in the story.  I know I'll keep "framing" the beginning of my action with a brief description of the scene, who's there, and any needed transition info before push my characters into action.  Still, now I have to go back and look for those "filter" statements (thinks and seems) in my first person narrative as well as where I lay on the back story.

Why is writing such work?

Progress:  Still on vacation.  The revision binder for Emma made it upstairs to my computer, but I haven't opened it yet.  Too busy watching DVDs, talking with visiting son, and looking at bookstores.

 Trivia:  Just got back from Denver where we visited yet more bookstores.  Crowning achievement?  We found two of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series used, and I bought signed copies of Pat Stoltey's mysteries.  That and a great gyro meal at Pete's made for a satisfying day.  Even managed to avoid tight traffic.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Tis the Day Before Christmas

Trivia:  and the bread is doing its first rising.  The pies are baked.  The vacuuming of the spare room is done.  The washing is getting done.  The walks are shoveled after the foot of snow thanks to the old man.  And, we're thinking of driving to Brighton tomorrow???!!???

Mothers are sometimes crazy.

Lessons from My Reading:  Finished Kim Harrison's White Witch, Black Curse.  After my original bitch about her lack of tagging on the first page so I could figure where the people belonged in the story, it turned out to be a good, if slow read.  And, not only because the book is over 500 pages long.

Had another insight as I plowed through learning all the people she threw at us.  [MC's whole circle of friends and family gets involved in the story.]  Every writer should know that your characters have to overcome the obstacle in the way of achieving their want/desire/etc. in a book.  Light-bulb-time revealed that Harrison does this for most of her chapters.  There is always a new challenge for the MC to solve.  If I wrote it, it'd have all sorts of ends dangling from the ceiling.  Fortunately, Harrison isn't me and ties them all fairly neatly -- even the opening question of who killed her lover from the previous book.

Of course, the ending is open ended enough to lead into the next book.  I don't know if I'll be reading it.  My to-read-pile is over 30 books at the moment, and son is bringing more plus DVDs.

Progress:  Emma... Got the pencil revision done.  Now I get to transfer them all to the computer version, but I'm not going to think about it.  I have to get the rolls baked for tomorrow's dinner.

Have a merry, merry holiday.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Coming Up for Air ...

As far as I'm concerned ... 
Christmas is over (except for the easy part --
eating, and talking ... and revising???).  
Now, it's on to Los Reyos and more seasonal excess.
Happy Solstice, by the way.


Lessons from My Reading:  I'm slogging through Kim Harrison's White Witch, Black Curse, as a part of my best seller read-a-thon.  It's as dense as chewing taffy with dentures.  Of course, I'm jumping into book seven in a series, but I get a little annoyed when Harrison mentions a bunch of characters and proceeds with the action without giving me an idea of where she's going.  I started the first chapter at least three times.  I'm now 200 pages into the book.  It's a nice complicated story with several plot threads twining around each other.  --  But I think the editors should be on alert that not all readers of a single book ... have read all the other books in the series.

Guess I should define "dense".  Like on page one, Harrison mentions three characters -- Kisten, Ford, and Edden plus the narrator/MC Rachel Morgan.  You get an idea of who Ford is by the action in the next two pages.  You get an idea of who Rachel is by her first person viewpoint of the events.  Kisten's murder is mentioned, but not who he? or she? was.  Edden is just a name in the middle of a sentence.  Having reached the middle of the book, I now know that all these people were/are important continuing characters.  A simple tag (like what she used to describe "... Ivy, my roomate and business partner," on page 2) would have made following the text much easier.


Compare this to my current gold standard (along with Lee Child), Carol O'Connell.  On page 1 of Bone by Bone, she sets up one character the M/C Oren Hobbs.  On the second page, O'Connell introduces the secondary M/C, Hannah, around which the two related mysteries in the book intertwine.  She also begins defining the structure of the relationship between the two people mentioned.  --  In comparison, Harrison was still confusing me on page 3.

In plain English, I'm complaining about Harrison's handling the back story of the series.

Progress:  Emma.  The revision progresses.  Actually, I've almost finished going through it once.  But ... I'm thinking after I transfer my corrections to the confuser, I need to reprint it and revise again.  I may get a friend to read it to see if its a bunch of  *^#%*^@*.  Only, I don't have friends who read fantasy.  Or, I may see if I can find someone willing to read a full novel at the AW Water Cooler.   First, I have to decide whether I want to read a full novel in exchange.  Decisions.  (Or, is that just more work?)


Critiquing.  Finally got my obligations done.  Must say I like seeing stories getting fleshed out chapter by chapter.

Demons/Gargoyles.  Haven't heard a peep or seen an ejection. 

Trivia:  I'm baking pies for Christmas dinner ... for which we have to drive down to Brighton (CO).  We'll be picking up the NYC son ... so I probably won't be blogging much until the New Year.  Hopefully, I'll soon be able to get this thing whipped into shape.

Have a safe and comfortable Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Written More than I can Chew???

Lessons from My Reading:  I've been reading best sellers lately.  (Wishful thinking?  Nah, I think I'm too much of a realist for that.)  Anyway, I picked up Jude Deveraux's Lavender Morning at the grocery storeThey make it easy to find best sellers.  1-10 are shelved in a row at the head of the book section.  

I'm guessing the book is what is known as "women's fiction" with a slight mystery about the secret of the MC's parentage while she's finding "true love" and "happily ever after".  The mystery isn't solved by the MC, but by the men in her life and delivered like a game carcass  -- something I think is a weak point considering the MC is a fairly strong woman.  Obviously, millions disagree with me.  So, what?  Different people look for different things in the books they read.  I only ask a writer capture my interest and keep it when I want to fall asleep.  The other hurtle?  Drowning out the evening news.

I' m beginning to wonder if writing 500 page books is a qualifier for becoming a best seller.  I'm not complaining about padding here.  Both O'Connell and Deveraux tell their stories in an efficient manner ... like they don't bog down in the verbiage.  -- You'll know when I start feeling paranoid ... when I start complaining that best selling authors are stealing resources from the wanna-bes ... like the delegates at Copenhagen.

Lavender Morning did have an interesting construction.  A major plot twist happened about every 100 pages ... or about every fifth.  So much for the three act structure.  Deveraux hit my soft spot for depictions of small town life with decently drawn characters -- even if I thought them a little cliched.  But I guess that's what goes with the territory.  Like reading the short stories in the women's magazines in the 50-60s.  --  Never thought of the form surviving in books after the magazine fiction had died.  Interesting.

The book made me consider the plot/characters in Mariah (Dark Solstice).  The fantasy has many of the elements of Lavender Morning ... if you take out the elven magic, genetic drift, border conflicts, and political plotting.  Talk about making a manuscript unsellable!  The relationship stuff, not the other.  (I should also add multiple viewpoints showing how different factions view the same events.  Probably, makes it even more unsellable.)


Progress:  I'm slow on the uptake.  Just noticed all I'm trying to do amidst the Christmas mess.

Emma ... Still in revision -- some chapters more than others.  I think I'm working around chapter 20 or so.  Ten more to go.  I'm beginning to think I might run it up the flag pole at the beginning of the year, ie send it out to a couple agents.  Which means trying to decide to send to not-so-dream-agents or to the ones I'd drool if they wanted to look at even a partial.  --  After working on adult novels, it feels like I'm doing the quick-step.

Demons aka the Gargoyles ... Really not thinking about them while the agents consider their ejections ...  though Britt and Cahal think they should have a sequel set when they are older.

Mariah and her discovery that her granddaughter wasn't the idiot, the child's maternal grandfather claimed...  I still don't quite believe it's a trunk novel.  Rather it's some sort of strange hybrid.  A fantasy family saga about a half-Elf ruling family thriller???  No wonder I can't think of how to market it.  I'm sure a sales department would have a harder time.

And then, there's Maren ... She's getting antsy.


Trivia:  We did our Old Town wander in the semi-cold today.  Four hours of puttering through shops and having lunch downtown.  Used to be we'd spend about $50. on lunch and whatever took our fancy. 

Now there are next to no shops (It's mostly restaurants now.), and we spent over $100. on very little.

The haul?  Cookies, a used book, a couple Putamayo CDs, coffee, and horehound drops.  Oh, forgot the 2 Froodles -- cherry and raspberry.  Looks like The Cupboard won the shopping sweepstakes.  The Stone House Grill came in second.

Monday, December 14, 2009

All Tyros

stand at attention and salute.  For what it's worth, I'm saluting Carol O'Connell's Bone by Bone.

Loved her Mallory series, but I was reading them for pleasure ... not looking for things I should do when I try to write.  Oh, I write ... but how effective I am is open to question.


Lessons from My Reading:  Finished reading Bone by Bone yesterdayI find I was right to read the book in chunks rather than bits-n-pieces.  The last 50 pages +/- tied all the questions together and answered them -- even the origins of the mysterious mother-goddess-counselor character.  What I thought were red herrings/superfluous secrets ended up tied to mystery-B which was related to mystery-A (the missing brother) by the relationships of the people involved.  What a story board O'Connell must have constructed to keep it all straight!

For the record, O'Connell fulfilled P.D. James' comments about detective fiction.  Plot is important but characterization is its equal.  All 20 or so actors came across as people.  Also, the one guy with the motive who sort of disappeared came back as a drunken-cop in the last third of the book.  The ending centered around torturing a confession from him without the main character laying a hand on  him.  Beautiful.

So, my jaw hangs (figuratively) as I wonder if I could have written so masterfully if I had turned serious about writing fiction in the 70s instead of the 00s.  Gives me something to think about as I structure Maren.

Progress:  Emma...  I'm doing whatever I'm doing in the middle of it now.  I no longer feel so comfortable with what I accomplised -- if anything more than an ending.

Demons... Did I say I submitted my revised query to a few agents?  I'm not holding my breath ... even about getting an ejection.

Maren ... She keeps opening the door of the room where I've shoved her, but she's mostly glaring at me.  Maybe telling me to get on with it?  It's kind of strange having this this person with her eyebrow ring and three tear drop tattoos staring at me.  Reminding me she's waiting for me to get my act together?

Trivia:  Christmas is almost done.  Still have to write the dreaded Christmas letter.  Maybe tonight.  We also have to distribute the local goodie bags, but that's mostly part of the fun.  Coffee.  Good conversation.  Etc.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The End of Christmas is in Sight

Trivia:  The packages went out this morning.  Then, we treated ourselves to coffee and a croissant.  Only one more batch of cookies to go (unless I make myself some chocolate chip ones) and a few packages to wrap.

Lessons from My Reading:  Bone by Bone progresses but haven't had any blocks of time to read.  500 pages (I think) and dense characterization needs concentration so you can figure out what's going on.  I'm far enough in that some of the secrets suspects are hiding don't all pertain to the murder of the MC's brother.  Then, there's the extra corpse in the grave.  Ya gotta love it.

To fill in the time -- during commercials and talking heads during the news -- I've been reading P. D. James' Talking about Detective Fiction.  Some where I think I read that it was a fund-raiser for some Oxford library which is good since as a book, it's over-priced.  The piece reminded me of the talks of Sandra Dallas, a Colorado fiction writer of note.  Whatever, James gives a good summary of the development of detective fiction as a sub-category of crime fiction.  She also delivers a good pep talk for the importance of characterization.

Progress:  Mariah ... Nothing like a 'trunk novel' popping out of the blue.  Or, is that the 'little grey cells'?

While I was dinking with my query for Demons, out popped a new take on Dark Solstice, the first of my Austel's Idiot trilogy.  I've revised the manuscript and have it out on submission to an e-publisher.  Sort of forgot about it after I put Tangled on the shelf.  (The second manuscript in the triology.) -- I still have two months before I'll hear anything.  Yeah, I'm expecting a rejection though other rejections said it had some good writing.

Demons ... I've submitted it to a few agents and already got one rejection  (I really like the simplicity of e-submissions.)  -- I don't think I'll sell this one either since some might think it skirts the edge of blasphemy.  Oh, well, but I like my fuddy gargoyles.  -- The main character is a human female teen with anger issues.

Now if I can stop dinking with the last three sentences ...

Emma ... Have begun revising my print out.  The thing is surprising me.  Either my critiquers took care of most of my problems or I've learned something about writing over the last five years.  I'm finding I have to add stuff rather than delete.  Maybe, I'll end up doing another revision where I delete like mad.  Ugh

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr..... & Bummer

Trivia:  Did errands and treated ourselves to lunch out after staying inside yesterday. Tomorrow we have to go out again.  While prancing through the snow, a lens dropped out of my glasses.   (No, it wasn't in the car.) Gotta get it replaced.

Lessons from My Reading:  Almost through with Carol O'Connell's Bone by Bone.  What a lovely bunch of twisting characters.  (I'm pea soup green with envy.)  I count five main characters, a couple of which could be the perp in the brother's death.  Plus, the several secondary characters are just as finely drawn ... with a couple more possible suspects.  So far, the guy with the strongest motive (getting the sh*t beat out of him by the MC/detective/suspect) hasn't appeared on the stage much.  Have some 100 pages left to go.  Really like the CBI agent -- who I think of as a cross between Miss Marple and and a gamer -- who's kicking the sheriff's butt.

Think of Cold Case on steroids here.  You couldn't possibly fit all the characters into a 45 minute TV show.  (The rest of the hour is eaten up by commercials.  Maybe this is a reason so many book adaptations fall on their face when compared to the books???)

Thinking of all the character development and motivations twisting around the inter-relationships, I can just see the overlapping plot board set up to keep everyone straight.  It must be as complicated as those used in real law enforcement to trace the progress of a case.

Also am eying P. D. James' Talking about Detective Fiction.  It came in today (one of the reasons we were running around).  She agrees with me about Agatha Christie's plastic characters. heh. heh.  I used to be considered sacrilegious because I preferred Dorothy Sayers' mysteries to Agatha's.  Christie was married to an archeologist (Murder in Mesopotamia).  It was an anthropological solidarity thing, I think.

Progress:  Demons.  Should get the last three chapters polished tonight.  So, if the sky falls on my head and an agent does ask for a full, I'll be ready to send it -- once I consolidate it into one attachment.

No.  My characters don't have half the twists that O'Connell's do.  But then, I'm writing about kids and gargoyles.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Baklava

is sitting on the table ... doing whatever it does while the syrup sinks in.  The end of Christmas is in sight.

 Lessons from My Reading:  I'm over 100 pages into O'Connell's Bone by Bone.  (About a fourth in)  She's still putting knots in the yarn.  I'm looking forward to some interesting twists.

Progress:  Who has time to write?

Another Day, Another Half-Foot of Books

Trivia: Had to get greens to make a salad for the neighborhood potluck ... actually, turkey dinner and pinata fest.  Since B&N is only a half-mile away, had to stop by.  The old man thought I might like the Susan Boyle CD ... even though I said the plastic floors were enough.  Susan Boyle stayed in the store, but I got Carol O'Connell's' Bone by Bone plus others.

Can't remember the other titles, but the to-read pile is growing at an alarming rate.  Do I feel a massive reading frenzy coming on?  Just to add to the confusion.  The son sent a box of books with a new fantasy series.  Haven't looked to see which one yet.  I think he returned my Butchers too.  (Oh, my poor groaning bookshelves.)


Lessons from My Reading:  Picked up Yasmine Galenorn's One Hex of a Wedding, the O'Brien wedding book I mentioned not buying before -- from the grocery store on Friday.  (I had to by nightlight bulbs for a friend which sent me right by the books which I try to avoid.)  

The clue arc, where we learn the mystery of the book isn't focused on O'Brien comes right on schedule in the middle of the book.  That doesn't mean that O'Brien isn't the focus of another side mystery that turns her life topsie-turvie just before her wedding.  A nice read which demonstrates books in a series don't have to become repetitive. -- Of course, she hasn't written twenty books with this character yet.  

(Funny how I tend to like the characters written before a writer's most popular series.  In this case, the D'Artigo sisters.  On the other hand, the popular series means the publisher releases the older ones.  I find these more creative than the "break out" series.)

Runesmark is sitting on the pile with bookmark in place.  A problem.  I have O'Connell tempting me.  The new book doesn't feature Mallory, but a new character.  Still, the premise looks interesting with bits of who might be MC's long lost brother, starting to turn up on the front porch.

Progress:  Demons.  The polishing has reached chapter 20 with me removing typos, putting the correct quotes and spacings in, and other manuscript faults.  I don't know what to think now that I'm almost ready to submit it to a few agents.  Do I see the faults in the thing or not?  At least it's not boring me.

Emma.  Keep making notes to myself at the chapter headings of things that pop into my head.  It's a toss-up of who pesters me most when I "lap" the cat -- Emma or Maren.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cookies Winding Down

Trivia:  Finally.  I've broken some cookies scraping them off the sheets.  The old man gets to munch to his heart's content.  Now, he's only complaining I haven't burnt any of them yet.  He ignores me when I say I only the burn the last batch for him.

Me?  I sample continually from each batch.  Have to make sure they turned out right, don't I?

Lessons from My Reading:  For some reason, I haven't been reading much.  Only a couple chapters of Runesmark.  Really enjoying it now.  (And, envious at Harris' inventiveness.)

Have to chuckle at myself.  At the Northern Colorado Writers ( ) blog, the director placed a challenge to read a book a week in December.  I bragged I read a book or two a week.  (Yes, usually, I really do.  Now, ain't that a nice writerly sentence?)  I think I've been on Runemark for over a week now.

Granted, it's a 500+ page book.

Granted, I've been baking 50 dozen cookies. (Only a slight exaggeration.)


Progress:  Working on queries.  *$#(&^$ things.  Emma and Demons.

Demons:  Most of my efforts are concentrated on reading through it and making minor (thankfully) editings.

Maren:  Keeps jumping out of my mind.  I swat her back.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Puttering, Muttering, and Baking

Trivia:  Welcome to December -- the busiest time of year and the worst for writing.

The baking of the koulourakia is coming to an end -- or at least, the end is in sight.  Still have at least three more batches.  

(Don't think Christmas is over for us when the baking's done.  There're the pesky cards/once-a-year-letters [even with email] and the wrapping of the presents [shudder].  We have decided that the plastic floors are my Christmas present, and I don't have to wrap them.  *smile*)


Lessons from My Reading:  Am about 2/5ths through Runesmark.  The story has really picked up with a smidgen of multiple viewpoints so we know what the bad guys are thinking.  Not very much telling going on anymore so it'd read much faster if I had time to read.

The books reminded me of a couple things.  1) I hadn't thought of the word cantrip in ages.  Spells, flaming sigils, etc., yes.  But cantrip, no.  Harris uses it regularly, but unfortunately she tends to mention the word with around three synonyms together.  Makes me want to get out my red pencil as I read.

(Mostly because it's too similar to my worst habit:  Showing something -- putting a comma -- then telling what the action was supposed to convey.  Redundancies, anyone?  I can give you plenty, but I usually just delete them.)

2) Using the word "colors" (or is that colours?) for auras.  I'm using auras in Maren.  It's the one "paranormal ability" that was hers.  Since auras are indeed tell-tale colors to those that can see them, I think I'll use the word "colors".


 Progress:  Emma is resting.  Waiting.  Fermenting.  Generally being ignored, except the local critique group met today.  Generally, they think the middle chapters submitted are okay except for some minutia that need to be tinkered with.  Discussed it, but won't put my notes into action any time soon.

Have to love this comment:  "Nancy is a complete bitch, almost unbelievably so. I think you may need to tone her down just a smidge."  Sorry, she's strong willed and has a grudge which she bitched about in her first appearance.

Demons is being edited again.  First, I edit the first chapter.  Then, I edit a subsequent chapter.  Currently, I'm on Chapter 5.  When I get half way through, I'll query a couple agents.  

I don't know if I have the nerve to query my favorite agent.  (Before you think I'm crazy, the book is only peripherial to her interests, even if it was written well enough.  No, I have never been an optimist. )