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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Friday, April 30, 2010

Changes ...

The current read...  Am savoring Jim Butcher's Changes featuring Harry Dresden.  The family lending library came through with pennants rampant so I could read the book before the mass paperback came out.  

(Sorry.  I refuse to join Cheapskates Anonymous.  I love pinching my pennies and hugging my dollars.)

Opening hook?  How about learning you have a daughter, you never guessed you had, who has been captured by your vampire enemies.  Talk about pushing an orphan's buttons!  Of course, the Wardens supposedly protecting mankind from the supernatural are dysfunctional again.  If they weren't, Dresden couldn't be such a "lone ranger".  Dresden's going to have to solve this contretemps on his own.

Butcher always blows my mind in how much action he puts into his stories.  The chapters are short, and he leaves all sorts of hooks dangling at the end of his chapters.  You never know which characters from the previous books will appear to complicate things.  More often than not, they poke a finger in Dresden eye ... or wreck more violent mayhem.

How does Butcher work his "action arcs", besides masterfully?  Each chapter presents a problem which leaves Dresden deeper in trouble than he was before.  The larger arc moves too.  By page 70 (out of 400+), I think most of the major players are on the stage, each with a scene that complicates the plot.  Then, when Dresden makes the first move to counter the vampires, I looked up and saw I was on about a third of the way through.  --  [Do you think I've discovered a formula for writing fiction?]

Incidentally, I think Butcher foreshadowed the ending by page 36.  Why?  Just the way it stuck out in the prose.

Web Notes...  The Gotham Writer's Workshop sends out emails to people interested in learning how to write or wanting to improve their results.  You can sign up by visiting:  http://www.writingclasses.com/   There is a little box at top where you can drop your email.  Granted they want to sell you classes, but I find the info in the emails useful (even though I tend to ignore the ads.  (I connected with them when I entered one of their contests ... and lost, but won at the same time.)

Are there any literary types lurking around here, here's Gotham's take on the best literary markets.  http://bit.ly/9nf44I   You can sample their info and decide if you want to read more from them.

Efforts ... Still, revising along to see what I wrote for Kaffy Anne and the Voices of Ghost Creek.  Was pleased that the first ghost appeared right where it's supposed to -- the midpoint of the draft, after much foreshadowing.  Still feel rather elephantine in the lack of speed in my progress.

Trivia ... The surgery went well -- just the removal of some scar tissue, but I had to drive to another town to get it done.  I was going to use it as an excuse to take a vacation but was on the computer and critiquing within two hours of getting home.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Answers: The Opening Hook Contest

"Opening hooks" being important may be a given, but I think my contest sort of showed how similar opening hooks are, regardless of genre.  I picked the pieces included because they hooked me.  With my fantasy leanings, that may have created some bias.  However, I don't think the editors for The Atlantic Fiction 2010 shared my bias.  For the record, the other selections came from P. N. Elrod's collection of short stories, Strange Brew.

Sorry if any of you thought the contest was too hard.  I didn't mean for it to be a MFA qualifier.

The Answers:

A ... "This morning, in the dark, my neck sore from sleeping in my son's room ..."  --  Literary --  Ryan Mecklenburg: Hopefulness, Atlantic.  I thought the beginning had the feel of commercial fiction when he mentioned the neighbors and their sons avoiding the street lights.

B ...  "My body hit the wooden floor with a loud thud."  -- Fantasy -- Jenna Maclaine:  Dark Sins, Strange Brew.  The witch had problems controlling more than her magic in this cute story.

C ...  "Hattie met him behind the dye vats, and me, I was forced to come along." -- Literary -- Katie Williams:  Bone Hinge, Atlantic.  The problems of being a conjoined twin when you start dating.

D ...  "Howell was still on the lam." -- Literary  --  Jerome Charyn:  Lorelei, Atlantic.  The piece started off similar to a mystery, but had some interesting table turnings to follow.

E ...  "The pounding began at 2:11 A.M. and continued until I hauled my weary ass out of bed."  --  Fantasy --  The story starts out with students turning their "martial arts/magic" lessons on their teacher and ends with establishing the rules of a relationship after the battles are fought.

What's the difference between commercial and literary fiction?  I'm sure I don't know.  All the pieces were good stories that held my attention.  Of course, if you want to be difficult you could say all the stories were commercial because they sold.  Maybe I'll have to retreat to my "snobbery" distinction.  On the other hand, I don't think I care.  I'll read a good story regardless of genre -- if I fall over it.

Progress ...  I've rewritten about a third (I think) of Kaffy Anne.  How much I have left to do depends on how much of what I had previously written lands in the junk pile.  Was rather please when, after all the foreshadowing, the first ghost appears on cue (at about a third of the way through the book).

Trivia ...  I'm having some minor surgery on Wednesday, and will be taking off a week to write and read stuff I don't have to report on.

Oh, the winner.
Pat Stoltey.
She got all the answers write.  I hope she likes Strange Brew as much as I did.

PS:  The family book exchange sent Changes, the new Harry Dresden just in time to keep me amused.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hooked by an Angel?

There's still time to enter the opening hook contest
as I post this blog.
[ PS: Ended].

The Read...  Picked up an angel novel since they may be the new obsession, like replacing vampires and werewoves.  Thomas E. Sniegoski's  Dancing on the Head of a Pin hooked me in the book store.   After reading the cover content, I couldn't resist the opening:
"It isn't easy being a human.
      "And it was never more obvious to Remy Chandler than it was now, as he stared across the desk at the foul thing pretending to be a man."

This book has a lot going for it.  The writing is lean, mean, and right on.  Consider this example from the book:  "The Seraphim waited patiently just below the surface, as if it had somehow known that its fury would be called upon.  Dropping the mental barriers just a crack Remy allowed a small portion of the power to emerge, feeling the fire of Heaven flow through his body to ignite his hands.
        "I wouldn't do that if I were you," one of his attackers warned."

At one level, the story line is a classic good against evil, which is well set up in the first third, with a twist at the end with a touch of gray.  On another, I couldn't immerse myself in the story line as I prefer to do .

Remy, while an angel fighting to stay on earth, is obsessed with lesser beings, including a human women who he married.  The obsession kept pulling my out of the story in spite of the good writing.  Why?  I kept thinking about bonobos, a being of lesser intellect than humans.  Just as humans are a lesser intellect than Seraphims and the other angels, by definition.  [It's surprisising where orthodoxy appears, even in an iconoclastic brain.]

Sniegoski kept knocking his main character against the prejudices I had left over from growing up.  First, the few dumb guys I dated.  Then, the tragedies of the women married to really dumb men when I was growing up.  Fortunately, both my parents were smart people. -- The book is on the trade pile.  Our experiences influence our reading as well as our writing.

Progress ...  I'm beginning to think my novel hopefuls share a common genetic  flaw.  They start in the wrong place.  At the moment, I don't think I'll search for a cure.  You need an ending before you can edit your book.

Trivia...  I think spring as really sprung.  Can summer be far behind?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

This is What happens when you Ping.

I'm running a "Opening Hooks" Contest at my blog. 

[See Next One Down]
Repetitive, but I decided to leave it.

An Opening Hooks Contest

The Reads ...  I just discovered good literary fiction hooks a reader almost as fast as commercial fantasy fiction.  [I know, I'm a slow learner.]  I don't normally read short fiction but The Atlantic Monthly fiction issue and P. N. Elrod's Strange Brew landed on my reading table at the same time.  Then, my brain started bubbling, and I wondered what a bunch of writers might think.   So, a contest based on these two sources:

First, I won the trade paperback, Strange Brew edited by P. N. Elrod over at the Dark Wyrm Reads.  [ http://darkwyrmreads.blogspot.com]  I've been reading stories between the books normally commented on.  If you like contests, the Dark Wyrm Reads is a quick place to located a lot of them.  Also, you can get a quick heads-up on a variety of new fantasy books. 

Second, The Atlantic Fiction 2010 arrived today.  Now, I've always considered fiction in The Atlantic Monthly as literary fiction lite, by definition more entertaining than stories appearing in college literary magazines.  [I may be right or wrong, but that's my view from what little I've read in the genre.]  Whatever, you can probably find a copy on a magazine rack.

You'd think there'd be a major difference in the openings of the two types of stories.  I glanced through the Atlantic stories so see if any interested me.  Some did, and surprised myself by reading some.  So, I thought I'd do my own contest to see how easy it was for you tell the difference between the two types of openings.  Below are the first three sentences of five stories [hopefully without any typos].  Can you guess which ones are fantasy and which ones are literary?  Rules and prize can be found at the end.

A ...This morning, in the dark, my neck sore from sleeping in my son's bed, I stand at my front window with a cup of coffee, wait for the paper, and look out on the neighborhood.  From up the street the Jensen couple walks with their two teen-age sons.  They're dressed in dark colors and avoid walking under the street lamps.

B...My body hit the wooden floor with a loud thud.  I'm not sure if it was the fall that knocked my breath from my chest, or the naked man who landed on top of me.  Either way, I was left lying on the cold floor, blinking up at the ceiling, and trying to drag some air back into my lungs.

C...Hattie met him behind the dye vats, and me, I was forced to come along.  Why did I agree to it?  All-morning whines, whispers, and pinches to the nape of my neck, that's why.

D...Howell was still on the lam.  He'd been a grifter most of his life, a guy without a permanent address.  He had six Social Security cards, seven driver's licenses, a potpourri of voter-registrations cards, bankbooks under a dozen names.

E...The pounding began at 2:11 A. M. and continued until I hauled my weary ass out of bed.  My hand fumbled awkwardly around the nightstand until it finally closed over my gun.  I was fuzzy from the lack of sleep, but I never left my weapon behind these days.

To start the comments:  I read all the pieces before I selected them randomly and just noticed that most of the selections were first person point-of-view.  Another quaint point:  two of the passages have people waking up, something that's supposed to be part of a cliched opening.   Guess if it works, it sells; if it doesn't work, it's a rejected cliche.

The Prize (Re-prizing forward, really):
P. N. Elrond (editor).  Strange Brew.  New York: St Martin's Griffin, 2009. [used]

The Rules:
1.  I'd appreciate knowing which opening hooked you fastest. 
2. For the contest: write the letters in sequence and tell whether you think the opening is literary (L) or fantasy (F) [ ie:  Z = F ] at the end of your comment.
4.  Contest closes at midnight on Saturday, April 24, 2010, USA MDT, and is limited to the USA so I can send the book media mail.
5.  The winner will be drawn from the people who label the most openings correctly (by my definition).
6.  By Monday, April 26, 2010, I'll announce the identity of the winner. 

To End on a Fun Note:
The Kindle has made the comics.  Crankshaft got a Kindle as a gift.  The comic comes from the studio of Tom Batiuk and Tom Ayers and is one of the comics I read -- even before writing.  The series started 20 April 2010.  Follow the fun: http://tinyurl.com/ysszfn

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dumb Queries

Query Quicksand:  Since I'm stuck in the swamp, you'll just have to listen to me groan and whine about writing queries -- unless you quickly backspace or scroll down.  I thought of calling this "query hell", but I think someone else has already used the term.

In case you're wondering what I'm bitching about.  Here's as far as I've got with Emma's query:  

"Thirteen-year-old EMMA KLOKEN just knows she's the unluckiest girl in the world.  Every time she turns around, her grandmother locks her in the broom closet -- even before she thinks about doing something bad.  Emma wishes she could tell the old bat to jump in a lake, but she's too afraid.

"When her family moves to Hardscrabble in the California Gold Country, Emma's bad luck holds true.  The first girls she meets [NANCY and GLENDA] told a grudge against her because they think Emma's father 'stole' Nancy's mother's promotion.  When Nancy and Glenda take Emma for a picnic in the foothills, they throw her new bike down an abandoned mine and ditch her.  Trying to rescue her bike, Emma slides into the mine where she encounters GRIMM, a hobgoblin, who rescues her.

"When Emma learns Grimm was punished for helping her, she decides to go to Faery to rescue him.  Only problem, Nancy insists on joining her because Glenda has disappeared into Faery too."

If you're stuck on writing queries, I'm finding myself working with several tools a lot:

1)  From the Northern Colorado Writers conference pitch class:  Be able to put the basics of your story into the formula,  MC wants ????????, but can't because  ???????? makes it impossible.  Expand on that, and you have a query.  --  If you can't, you don't have a clear idea about what your story's about.

2)  Kristen Lesko at The Disobediant Writer also has a great blog about  writing pitches, http://disobedientwriter.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/writing-the-pitch/.
I printed it out a while back and have covered it with red underlinings of things I should already be able to do, but seemingly can't.

3)  Then, there's the Guide to Literary Agents.  Chuck Sambuchino features a series on successful queries.  The latest is from Ginger Clark at the Curtis Brown Agency.  http://tinyurl.com/y7k9ypw  In case you didn't know, Sambuchino is an editor at the Writer's Digest.

The Read:  Thought it was time I proved I read middle grade fiction as well as the other stuff.  So,  Ta Dah  --  let's consider Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. Lafevers set before WW 1, another example of the smart kid/stupid parents genre.  You'd expect Lafevers  to fill the book with tons of backstory and explanations on Edwardian England.  Actually she concentrates on the mystery of the Egyptian curses and how Theodosia protects everyone from them.  In the process, she doles out background info on a need-to-know basis.  --  Just so happens I've spent a fair amount of time in the modern British Museum/Charing Cross neighborhoods, and I could almost picture the street layout in my mind as the kids chased around.  Also, loved Lafevers' description of the Seven Dials neighborhood which was physically more visual than given by Anne Perry, the mystery writer.

One thing to note:  While the plot is simpler than in adult/YA novels, it follows the pattern of introducing a major plot change about every third of the way through the book.  This is another book worth studying to see how an accomplished author handles a major problem. 

Progress:  How nice to be writing again -- as opposed to spinning my brain.  The funeral is going nicely, thank you.  I still have to go back to the foreshadowing of Kaffy Anne's abilities to perceive ghosts.

Trivia:  It's raining, it's pouring, and the pollen is drowning.  Hooray!  --  Except, it's Sunday and the sun came back -- so the stuff's polluting the air again.  Yeah, I know the plants don't agree with me.
Oh, I forgot.
This is my 101th post.  Guess I can keep a blog going after all.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Winning the Query Wars

Cough.  Cough.
The Springtime allergies caught up with me.
I've been spending most of my daytime sleeping in the chair with the hot water bottle, 
much to Wiggle's delight.
Thought a lot about my query though without coming up with a new pitch angle.  Darn.


The Read (modified):  Wouldn't it be wonderful if we didn't have to do queries.  Everyone would just love to open a bidding war for our immortal words.  Oh, it's time to wake up.  Hey, I can dream I could write like Charlaine Harris, can't I? 

Finished the True Blood DVDs.  My opinion:  While well done, they're just another example of how of how screen adaptations oversimplify novels.  Though Dead and Gone offered a belated explanation why women were so ready to jump into bed with Jason.  He unconsciously casts a sexual glamour, thanks to his fae heritage.  Of course, it took Harris a few books to reveal that bit of info.  --  Just another way in which the Sookie Stackhouse novels have grown.

A few words on Dead and Gone.  Harris has closed down the fae element, except for faes who decided to remain in the mundane world.  In the process, she gave the reader a rip-roaring conclusion that was only hinted at in the beginning.

[Why do I use the word fae?  The term fairy is usually used for a narrowly defined being.   Example:  Fritha, a spriggen who serves as a villain in Emma is a fae, but definitely not a fairy by any definition except a supernatural being -- and we all know how many of those there are.]

 Web Notes:  You did catch the information that Twitter is going to be archived as a culturally significant phenomena?  To the tune of tetragigabites [or some such word].  The number is bigger that the US national debt.  My computer works in the 100 gigabite realm, and with all the novel manuscripts and research material I have stored on it, it's less than 80% full.

Queries:  Am giving this it's own section.  Because I've got to push myself off the can and market the manuscripts I've "finished".  Problem?  I'm thinking I need to have them Beta Read which to me is different than critiquing.  Betaing includes reading the whole stew from beginning to end.

Will say one thing, writing a query is like going into battle ... just like selling anything is.  I think one of the biggest misconceptions about writing is that we're dealing with "art".  Even if you write literary, you still have to sell it if you want to have readers.  You have to sell your book even if you self-publish ... unless your someone like Florence Foster Jenkins.
 
Progress:  Shifting the words of Emma's query has become a obsession.  In stead of piles of printouts of research info, the papers on my desk are about what to include in your query and examples of successful ones.  It's an important campaign since selling your query to an agent or publisher crosses the bridge from being a writer to becoming an author.  --  I'll be writing more about queries in the near future.

Kaffy Anne Beaugarrd.  It's the manuscript I rescued from My Documents.  Threw Maren in there, and pulled out Voices of Ghost Creek, which was more than 2/3s written.  Not bad.  But, needs some major revisions which I have started to do.  All the excitement Maren extinguished has come bubbling up again.

Trivia:  Just eating lunch, having coffee, running errands, and, maybe, getting rid of the to-trade pile which is two columns tall.  I actually got some authors off the bookshelves, even including Candace Camp's weres.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Plot Points

The Read:  Plot points, big and little, need to be embedded a story -- fiction or narrative non-fiction.  I think plots work as a compass to keep us on track to where we need to end up.  Think of a hook dragging the writer through the story.  If we're lucky, the happenings will hook readers into our tale and keep them there.  Woe be to the writer who can't stay interested in the book they are trying to write.  They will gnash their teeth mightily. 

Now that I've played Cassandra, all gloom and doom, I'll move on to admire Charlaine Harris's nimble exercises in keeping the action in Dead and Gone moving.  No secret that Harris is one of my favorite authors.  I started the book sometime over the week-end (Sunday?) and expected it to take as long to read as Pure Blood.  Only, I was more than half-way through it as of Tuesday, making me wonder why the novels I like the most finish the quickest.  

Dead and Gone is the ninth in the Sookie Stackhouse series [in mass paperback, at least].  I picked it from the pile to comment on because I'm watching the True Blood DVDs.  Only the two don't compare too well.  So, I'll gnaw on the plot points.  By the first fifth of the book [some 60 pages],  Sookie contends with the weres of America coming out, finds herself married to Eric [the New Orleans vampire], and having her sister-in-law [Jason's wife and a werepanther] crucified with silver nails.  A third of the way into the book, Sookie discovers her life's in danger because her great-grandfather (a faery prince) is in the middle of a fae war.  Also, somewhere in that mix, the FBI has shown up to determine whether Sookie's powers are real enough to recruit her.  Yeah, Harris ties it all up in a smoothly flowing story.  --  My mouth hangs open in admiration.  I'll try not to drool in front of you.

In the middle of all this, I went out and bought Dead Until Dark, the first in the series after spending a half hour last night looking for my Charlaine Harris pile.  (I was certain they were behind the Laurell K. Hamiltons, but they weren't.)  It'll be a couple days before I finish the DVDs, and then, I might have something to say about the differences between the two formats.  [Actually, I stayed up late last night and finished them.]

Web Notes:  Technically, I'm commenting on printed material, but since the editor is Chuck Sambuchino of Guide to Literary Agents  [ http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/ ] , I'm going to mention the Writer's Digest Get an Agent.  Haven't looked at too much of it yet, except for the 21 agents panting for new clients.  --  Just my luck.  Very few of them were interested in MG/YA or fantasy.

The publication offers lots of tips to digest, if not implement.  Revising your manuscript.  How not to start your book.  [Probably the next thing I read after failing to get Maren out of the blocks.]  Successful Queries.  Lots, lots more.  Much of the information can be gathered free by reading agent blogs, but I think it's nice to have it contained in one publication.

This blog.  I'm always amazed at the number of non-Americans taking a look at what I write.

Progress:  Gave up on Maren and consigned her to My Documents ... maybe after some fermentation, she'll reappear in another form.  At least, a different story.  I still like her and the new villains.

Emma.  Still, thrashing over a query.  Or, is that twisting in the wind? 

Kaffy Anne.  Pulled her from limbo where she's been languishing for a couple years.  From the looks of it, it's 2/3s drafted with lots of notes for the subsequent chapters.  Got a couple chapters read yesterday, and it wasn't too distressing to read even though it was written before Britt and the gargoyles.

Trivia:  After laying in a stock of sheep sh*t bags ... we went looking for the kind of parsley the old man likes.  The flat leaf kind since he thinks it's best, but that may be a Greek prejudice.  --   I like it too since it has more flavor.  Gives more snap to my mom's German noodle dishes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hooking Your Readers

The Read:  Well, growl-ly Luna and Caitlin Kittredge finally hooked me for the final third of Pure Blood.   But, the need to see how Kittredge tied all the loose ends together kept me going -- not any particular involvement with the characters.  They remained too simply drawn to tie up my interest against all the other distractions in my life.

Kittredge had all the major secondary characters sunk up to their necks in danger, including Luna.  She did end up with the love interest she preferred,  discovered the supposed "partner" was planted to build a case for firing her, and managed to destroy the nasty magical talisman that was causing all the trouble in an interesting fashion.  More important, as a foreshadowing for the sequels, Kittredge suggests that Luna isn't the magical null Luna and her family of witches thinks she is.  --  However, I won't go looking for the next book in the series.  [The plot's more complicated so this paragraph isn't quite the spoiler you might think.]

The True Blood DVDs still absorb my after-the-news reading time -- until midnight.  I can get two episodes in if I don't do anything else.  Am thinking of getting one of the later books in the series and comparing the two.  While the acting in the TV series is good over all, I think some of the actors for the secondary characters -- like Jason and Tara -- often go over the top and make caricatures of their characters.

Web Notes:  The momentus things one learns on Twitter:  Colleen Lindsay (agent at Fine Print) was out of coffee beans.  Yasmine Galenorn ( the creator of the D'Artigo sisters though I prefer Emerald O'Brien) needs coffee to write sex scenes. 

Galenorn also recommends that you never play on the web drunk.  What you say might come back and bite you.

Maybe, this is an example of why I spend so much time on the web?  No, I seldom visit Twitter.  As for Facebook, I mostly check for family and personal friends.

So much for building a platform ... though I still think you need an audience in mind before you can do it.

Progress:   None.  Struggling.  Can't even get a query draft for Emma done.

Trivia:  The Dark Wyrm [book review site, http://darkwyrmreads.blogspot.com ]  sabotaged my to-read pile.  She held a contest with Strange Brew, a collection of short stories by the likes of Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, and would you believe, Caitlin Kittredge.  Something strange happened; I won.  Do you think I can't keep my hands off it? 

Since I can't write short  fiction, I won't be commenting on any of the stories.  Though liked the twist on who was messing with Harry Dresden's favorite beer.
 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Keeping a Reader Hooked

The Read:   Once a writer gets a reader to buy the book, they have to keep them hooked long enough to keep reading.  Right?  Well, Caitlin Kittredge has pulled me pass the middle of PURE BLOOD.  Hey, I'm squirming here, but still reading.  [Duty is a harsh mistress.]

The writing isn't that bad.  The structure is twisting tighter with a bomb blast starting the change in the dynamics of the MC's partnership with the Barbie detective.   I'm at the last third of the book, and Kittredge is finally concentrating on the war between the two witch clans.  Must admit I'm hooked enough to want to see how she semi-resolves the issues with MC's personal and professional life.   But ...

The DVD set of True Blood arrived.  [Have you notice fantasy has gotten decidedly bloody in the last couple years?  Oh, for simple marauding orcs!]  The HBO series is based on Charlaine Harris'  Dead Until Dark.  Like the casting of the Bill Compton character, but I don't think Sookie Stackhouse  is portrayed with enough dippiness.  Grew up with kids like her [without the ability to hear thoughts], once removed (by parents moving to California), and don't think Paquin quite catches it.  Still, I look forward to the news ending so I can fire up the next episode.

The reading of Pure Blood is going to take a long time.  Too much competition for my free time.

Web Notes:  Got my horizons broadened by a blog again yesterday.  Nugget of wisdom:  You shouldn't limit your visits to classrooms to promote your book -- if you're lucky enough to be published.  Jewel Allen did a guest blog on Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents with a wonderful suggestion to find out what kind of stories children like.  Visit their classrooms with a partially written story ... and have the kids put the ending on it.  Visit http://tinyurl.com/yge42uk  to read all her excellent suggestions.
 
Blogging:  I'm thinking more and more that the web/social media are a huge time vampire.  Maybe that's why so many people are writing about the undead, you think?  They're trying to use the research they did when trying to discover ways to escape from vampires?  --  I now follow so many blogs, you have to hook me into clicking as I rush through my allotted web time.

Progress: I'm staggering on with Maren's metamorphosis.

Trivia:  On a more positive note.  Had tempura for lunch.  Love unhealthy vegies.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hooking a Reader's Interest

The Read:  My opinion: the second book's the key to hooking the reader's interest in a series -- the charm that launches a series ... or a reader turn-off.  

Started Caitlin Kittredge's Pure Blood. second in the Nocturne City series (trilogy?).  The opening starts off much the same as the first -- with a dead body.  Problem?  Well, in the first book, the body immediately hooked you into the possibilities of something nefariously supernatural happening.  The second book?  The body looks like a routine overdose while the MC and reader stand around getting cold feet -- even though the medical examiner does mention the eyes aren't consistent with the OD assumption -- The book then drifts away to departmental politics before the hook is set. 

A slo-o-o-w start with one-note characters.  Got a tenth of the way into the book before I reached the first spark of interest -- the MC gets saddled with an unwanted partner who just happened to be from a prominent good witch family, but without a hint of magic and looks like a Barbie-clone.  I was ready to throw the book on the trade pile, but by page 40 the storyline snagged me enough to continue reading.  Why?  I thought it'd furnish a good exercise for the blog. -- Duty above all.  [Please don't gag.]

The simplicity of the characterization bothers me -- [actually, my thoughts are more profane].  Don't want or need huge amounts of back story at the beginning of the second book, but your secondary characters need to come across as humans, not cardboard space holders.  [That's the tertiary characters' role.]  

Examples:  Partner - the poor little rich girl.  The New Love Interest - a self-centered adolescent that feels like he's being set up to be dumped.  The New Boss --  an intolerant autocrat.  Main Character -- caught up in her anger to the point of unreason and self-destruction.  (Might work for literary, but commercial?)

So, why do I continue reading? The MC and partner got stuck in a S&M bondage situation while investigating the death of a blood witch about a 1/3 of the way into the book.  (Blood witches in this world are bad guys.)  Finally, I got hooked even though I was yawning enough to go to bed. 

Web Notes:  I sometimes wonder if my blog is wasted effort -- even though I'm comfortable talking to myself.  Then, something strange happens.  I checked the statistics for my blog and clicked the who's reading my blog button ... and there was somebody reading at the same time as me.  Well, I thought it was interesting even if you don't.

When I first started writing a blog, I really didn't think about readers.  I worried about thinking up enough words to say.  --  I should have had more confidence in my "big mouth".

All the above raises the question:  So, you got your blog.  What are you going to do with it?

Justine Musk recently wrote a blog on how to organize your social media platform in three parts.  http://tribalwriter.com/2010/04/06/author-platform-framework/    I assume the end result would help increase readership for a published writer.

That means my blog is probably useless.  *shrug*  Not really, I've learned a lot from it.  As for following Musk's suggestions, I need to sell something so I know what audience/readership I'm talking to.  --  Another bit of information to tuck between my ears.

Progress:  Maren is metamorphosing.  Maybe I should give up and write something else.  [I have several possible ideas sitting in my idea file.]  Have consigned the opening chapter to the odd bit file.  *sniff*  All that lovely back story gone ... and maybe one character.  Now I've got to figure what the characters are going to do since my tentative outline is in the trash.

Trivia:   Snow dusted us last night.  No shoveling for the old man since the sidewalks are clear, but we're still on Apricot Watch.  Usually, we get a massive freeze as soon as the apricot blooms, and we get nothing by leaves from the tree.  This year, we just might get a few apricots --  not that I really like them that much.  I prefer peaches -- which tree is showing no signs of blossoming yet.  (Yeah.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Finders, Keepers?

The Read:  One of the delicious things about used book stores is finding new authors.  The books are cheap enough for this cheapskate to be willing to take a chance on buying -- even if it ends up on the trade pile before it's read.  The question:  "Will the book be a trader or a keeper?" adds a little excitement to the read.  --  I get the added the added value of a possible discovery.

So, the find: Caitlin Kittredge,  Night Life ... set in an imaginary place called Nocturne City where a war between weres, witches, and humans left a huge "non-functional" hole in the middle of a uber-planned community.  The MC is an isolated were who's a detective on the police force who has problems with her boss and colleagues.   So, what's new?  These are the minor nuisances.  Her real problem is a blood witch who's trying to raise a demon and has a were minion to do the serial killings needed for the offering. 

Kittredge has a nice lean style -- with the back story well contained by the action.  1) By the end of the first third of the book, we know she's "unpacked" were with family problems which don't all come from her being a were and why.  We also know she has problems on the job with both the power structure and colleagues.  2)  The middle third, laces murders with clues of who's doing what and reveals the bad guy as being more powerful, socially and occultly, than first thought.  [Personally, I thought he should be shown in action more than being referred too, but that's a quibble.]  3) The ending starts within the last 20% of the book and not only wraps the loose ends, but leaves lots going for the sequel ... including a developing love interest.

I suspect that this may have been one of those super-long drafts chopped into three novels.  Yeah, I'll probably read the sequel in spite of the YA novels waiting on the table and Beka, Terrier on order.

Web Notes:  Didn't really do much web browsing over the week-end.  Easter dinner was at my house so my back/hip creaked along between rests until I managed to get dinner on the table.  Way too much food, but the F2 units have their vegies all clean and ready to stuff in their lunch bags.  --  Doubt that, but I have my lunch vegies in a container waiting.

A couple New York Times articles did raise an interesting question that all writers need to answer.  Is writing fun?  Especially, liked the article about David Remnick, the editor of the The New Yorker, who wrote a book about Obama in his spare time.  Was he worried that editing a major magazine would get in the way of his book writing?  No.  (Coffee took care of that.)  

The guy worried about whether his curiosity would last long enough for him to get the info out of his head.  I guess he liked it enough to finish.  The article mentioned a book called "The Bridge".  [5 April 2010, the business section]

Progress:  Maren's still twisting in the breeze.  Oh, I've shifted words here and deleted words there and added words every where.  But, to what purpose?  Who knows?  Nothin's jelling yet. 

Got a rejection of a short story I'd written last year when I was tried on the "dictum" [that it helps to have sold short pieces to catch an agent's eye] would lead me.  I know I can't write short fiction -- though I've gotten some nice comments on rejected submissions, even for a couple flash fiction pieces.  Whatever, this rejector thought I had "great potential as a writer and shouldn't give up" but that I hadn't developed my villain's character enough.  Guess what?  She was right.  [At least, I think it was a she from the handwriting.]

One problem with writing Maren: I've been wallowing with my search for a villain to carry the story.  I've got my minor nuisances.  I've got my heros.  I've got my side-kicks.  Now I think I've found my friend-enemy villain sitting in a short story.  At least, I'm going to run with it and see where it takes me.

Trivia:  Easter happened with all sorts of jokes about lamb intestine soup.  [A Greek Easter delicacy.]   The hamburgers were great.  Something nice about getting the grill going in April.  My question: why do grill hamburgers taste so much better than pan burgers?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Wrapping Up the Ending


The Read: [2 April 10] Gone Tomorrow, Lee Child's Jack Reacher is sprinting towards its ending.  Taking Friday night to just finish it.  My book isn't going anywhere ... and I hear there's a holiday on, a big enough one to make the stock market shut up.

Saturday Update:  Finished Gone Tomorrow.  As always, when I finish a Child novel, I feel like burying my head in the sand.  Reading him is like watching a master magician.  You have some idea about how he creates his impressions, but you haven't an idea about copying his expertise.  --  Hey, I can admire without emotionally putting myself down.  I should hope he'd have learned something after over ten novels hitting it big time.

Half way through and it's time for the potential villains to reveal themselves through their actions and lies.  I started the read with about 40% of the book to go with all the plot elements twisting and turning.  Child begins to line his cast of characters where they belong in scenes complete with chases by foot and subway around the middle part of Manhattan.  Best yet, Child has three categories:  good guys, bad guys, and general bureaucratic pains-in-the-arse, giving them all many opportunities to change sides in the equation of good vs evil.  [My opinion.  Human dignity should make evisceration while still alive a crime against humanity -- among other possibilities.  Too bad so many people get away with committing them.]   

Now to talk about the ending without lobbing a spoiler -- because the ending is masterful.  Page 517 [of a 543 page book], the miscalculation in Reacher's reasoning pops out of the bathroom, armed and with Reacher down to his last bullet.  Reacher uses his last bullet to off the henchman -- leaving him to the mercies of two knife-wielding fans of evisceration.  

There, I don't think I told the ending.  Of course, Reacher survives for the next book.  It's already published, I think, but you'll have to read the book to see how Child ends it.

Note:  The New York Times today had a set of lovely maps of Manhatten showing the various districts of the island with a big blanks spot where Central Park is.  The maps were made to show where it's easy or difficult to find cabs during different parts of the day.  Hey, I pick up research tools wherever I find useful ones.

I wish I had it when reading the book.  Though I have visited the town since I have two New Yorkie kids, there were some districts on the maps I had never heard of.  --  [Hey, what do you expect from someone who had never got east of Pine Ridge, South Dakota until 1973, and that was only because we hopped planes on our way to Britain.]


Web Notes:  Nancy Drew on steroids!  Innovators create things that sometimes make your jaws drop, but aren't necessarily for you ... or me.  James Patterson, the writing machine, is a case in point.  The New York Times did a Sunday magazine article on him a couple weeks back.  Jim Thomsen, of  the 1st Turning Point blog, published a great summary and some comments on Patterson's significance. [  http://1stturningpoint.com/?p=3638 ]

Work for hire arrangements -- where writer's give up all rights to what they write and are paid a fee instead -- have always existed in writing and the business world.  I've done it.  Millions have done it ... over time, at least.  The question is whether you want put your fingers/head on the block.

Does the idea of being a writing machine appeal to you, ie: producing 3-4 books a year?  Here's a telling quote with a brief map:
The Times piece says that Patterson “avoids description, back story and scene setting whenever possible, preferring to hurl readers into the action and establish his characters with a minimum of telegraphic details. … They are light on atmospherics and heavy on action, conveyed by simple, colloquial sentences.”

Personally, I think I'll plod along with one draft a year.  Think of it as resisting temptation -- like not trying to be a real estate millionaire when the bubble's ready to pop.

Progress:  Maren is creaking along -- something I find annoying after the way she kept intruding in my thoughts when I was trying to wrap-up Emma.

Trivia:  The silly apricot's blooming.  Now, I'm waiting for a freeze to knock its blossoms off.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stuffing Action in Your Story

The Read:  Lee Child keeps winding up the action to his plot for Gone Tommorow ...  or maybe his plots move fast because Jack Reacher is a synonym for action.  Example:  Setting up the suicide that starts the book moving takes twenty seven pages and six chapters.  Reacher must then connect the pieces after some freelance goons give Reacher two names that connect the suicide to a senate candidate and a Ukraine reporter.

It all feels like tumbling rocks:  all those bits and pieces of plot moving from one scene to another, changing color and nuance as they go.  I'm now in the middle of the book, and the puzzle pieces are tumbling at a greater place.  Big surprise: our governmental agents (people connected to the US Defense Department and down the chain of command of the presidency)  sudden turn into the goons Reacher and allies must escape from because they want Reacher to stop poking the hornets raised by the suicide.  The goons try to swat him, but he escapes and we know Reacher will come back and annoy them ... and the senate candidate whose aide was on the train when the suicide occurred.  (Reacher recognized the aide in the publicity photos when he visited the candidates office.)

Oh, the minor goons, who gave Reacher the senate candidate's name, who got a medal for service in a secret operation, and the ex-Soviet piece, who claimed to be a friend of the suicide and who claims she wants and explanation from the senate candidate for offenses committed, have been offed with possible identifiers removed rather messily.  At least, some of the possible villains have been removed.  But, Reacher is still in action over his head.

(If you think the above sentence was complicated, that was a simplified version of what is happening in the book.  Like I said, action uber alles.) 

Web Notes:  An example of why social media are important.  I'd have never learned about 1st Turning Point without the silly computer and one of the blogs I read. 

To the point:  Lillian Cauldwell has a much needed blog on writer business cards and what to put on them:
You haven't published anything, you say?  Well, put your pitch on the back, she says ... along with a lot of other good advice. 

[ My cards now have my blog info on the front and blank backs.  When I replace them, they'll have pitches for whatever books I have ready at the time. ]

Another Note:  You should subscribe to Kristen Nelsen's newsletter?  You don't?  You should.  Sara Megibow gives three items all good queries should have in their March issue.  Go the the blog and get on the list.  A link is in my Useful Places. 

Progress:  Maren is finally coming to the fore ... and learning English.  Fortunately, she's smart and was gifted with magic.  According to the critiquer #1, the chapters move too slow.  Just what I was worrying about.  So I'll be combining chapters ... when I get around to it ... someday.

Trivia:  The sun is shining before the storm ... probably rain this time around.  At this point, it's raining a lot of pennies on Susan Weschler.  The cheapskate here decided to commission one of her mosaics after I found some bare wall space.  

Mentioned that a rose was the center piece, and the kid thought I was commemorating their Tata.