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, December 17, 2010

Discovering a New Author

The Read ...
(A fantasy book review)
Discovering a new author's fun ... from seeing an interesting cover ... to discovering an interesting blurb that promises a new twist on a familiar theme ... to reading the author bio which informs you the writer has won several awards that you've heard of before.  All in a novel that's "First in a new series!".  I sat back, eager to explore the new world of "Golgotham", a hitherto unknown section of Manhattan left over from the 18th century with operational cell phones -- Nancy A. Collins' Right Hand Magic.

What I ended up with was a nicely pedestrian read ... which wasn't quite a shrug off but is definitely heading for the trade pile.  The main characters were attractive, engaging people ... but they were upstaged by Scratch, the witchy love interest's  familiar.  The main character is a mundane human artist (female).  Problem self-centered rich parents who stomp on toes rather than caused anguish.  The punches pulled from the points of danger.  Maybe worse, boy's mommy came to the rescue ... even if her appearance was reasonably explained.

I don't know what I was expecting ... maybe a little more excitement than just a well crafted book that had checked off all the "good writing" points ... without generating much excitement.  I was left in the hallway when the MC moved to her new digs, a house with true creep potential ... only the chills never happened.

Stuff ...
I don't think I've mention any writer's trade pubs in a long time.  Have just mentioned publishing professionals' blogs or given writer's links.  So, I'll list some reasons I benefited from the January 2011 issue of The Writer.  [I also subscribe to Writer's Digest, but I couldn't find a copy in my pile.  Yeah, I  pile magazines, newspapers, and newsletters on the table at my elbow.]  

The big front page article with the big front cover promo headlined -- interviews on  "What's Hot Now", didn't wow me or even give much in the way of insights.  The blurb indicated "strong, distinctive voices", "confident, convincing writing",  "clearly defined audiences, and "works that defy categorization" were some of the interviewed editors favorite things.  While some writer's may have found a market in the interviews, I got lost in the details.  Maybe it's just sour gripes because none of the editors were particularly interested in weird fantasy.

The article I marked up all over the place and ripped out to save was:  "Writing the First-Person Mystery [Step by Step]".  You say you don't write mysteries?  You only write in omniscient viewpoint?  Sorry, you still can benefit from Brendan Dubois' article.  The sound advice pertains to all genres, ie:  if you don't do it, you won't have a publishable novel.  --  The only problem I found with the article is that the information seemed generic enough to appear in more than one writing how-to.  Don't ask me why I saved it.  Maybe because it was good summary of the basics.

What else does the issue offer?  A couple pep talks, tax info, master's degrees, how to generate sales, and a bunch of other stuff that meets the magazine's goal of offering "advice and inspiration for today's writer". 

Progress ...
I'm caught up ... except for all the things left undone ... at the moment.

Trivia ...
I don't care which ends are dangling.  I'm going to take a vacation.  The baking's done, and tomorrow, I wrap the mail-away presents.  The next day, I'll send cards and letters.  Then, I'm going to watch the second season of "Castle" [I got the DVD set for Xmas.], and I'm going to finish two more Odd Thomas books without having to think about book reviews.  

Oh, I'm going to write.  Something.  I don't know what, but I do know it'll be something old ... or maybe, something new ... but it'll be something to please myself.

So, enjoy a very, merry holiday season ... the whole twelve days!
[More power to you if you can celebrate both
the Latin and the Orthodox versions.]    

I'll see you back in the coming year
which
hopefully, will be better than the last one. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Odd Thoughts from the To-Read Pile

The Read ...
Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas books have been sitting on a dust-gathering to-read pile for months.  [I don't think it's years.]  Don't remember how it happened, but while in the first third of reading another book I liked, I picked up Forever Odd, a thriller/mystery fantasy ... or something ... and finish it instead of the first book.

Did Odd Thomas start out with a clash of action or a hooking sentence?  No.  The opening is a rather gentle description of a desert storm with some back story Koontz doesn't particularly explain.  The storm comes back later to complicate the action ... so it wasn't a useless beginning, but you don't know that when flipping through the first pages.

The story picks up speed on the second page when the ghost of a friend's murdered father appears and guides Odd to the crime scene.  The real villain, a doozy of a psychopath, doesn't appear until about a third of the way into the book ... even though Koontz hints at her existence.  Once, all the players are gathered at a ruined casino, the book creates a great cat and mouse game ... with all the pieces foreshadowed as far as I could see.

So, here's another slow-starting book that builds its world and conflicts brick by brick until the climax gets washed away in the storm.  Masterful.  I may have to read Forever Odd again to study it ... or you may just get me commenting on another book in the series.  Seems I've bought several of them after reading Brother Odd.

Web and Other Stuff ...
Writer Beware linked to a blog by Emily Steel about Marketeers Testing Ads on/in e-books.  Just another example that 1) you lease an e-book and 2) you can't escape corporate cajoling ... enticing ...  luring ... ??? 

On a happier note:  Here's a Holiday present.  Mia Theodoratus playing pieces of her wedding album on TuneCore.  Scroll down for the link if this doesn't take you directly to her.  Yes, I'm the proud mommy.  [If you don't do Facebook, you can Goggle her name and still listen to excepts of her music.]

Wondering about characterization?  Jaime Reed in her blog "Write or Die" has some pointed comments about the place of Bad Boys in our characters' lives.

Progress ...
Have my critiques caught up.  Just have to reread them to get rid of the typos.  I think I wash my hands too much and can't type a thing with them.

Have book-length revisions [Emma and Voices of Ghost Creek] to play with, but I'm dinking around with a short story which "everyone" seems to think is the start of something longer.  Darn it, I'm trying to squeeze it into a short story format ... and I have the words left to do it since additions have increased the length to 2500 words.  Someday, I might even decided on which title to use.  At the moment, I leaning towards:  "The Noticing One", a soft horror story.  Can't wait until my critique group puts me on the hot seat.

Next on my list:  revise a Renna tale.  Hope to have it up before Christmas.

Trivia ...
Everything is slowing down as I slide to the end of the year.
Am happy to retain our middle class status for another year, but see doom down the road.
 
PS...
Must mention Igor Glushkin's artwork on my website.  Why don't you follow the link and flip a few pages.  I like the dark edge he gives my Half-Elven.   

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fast Start, Slow Start.

The Read ...
 Fast or slow, the start of your novel and its speed off the blocks are always a problem.  A breaking point for agent, publisher, and reader.  My latest read has me puzzling this question ... because the start of next year's "novel" is breathing down my neck.   

I bought Cricket McRae's mystery, Lye in Wait, at a local author's reading.  She read such a vivid characterization of an interfering mother getting her way within the context of a brother's mysterious suicide that I thought she was worth buying a trade paperback for ... the first in the series.  Then, I read the first chapter and wondered if I'd lost my mind.

Oh, the book started great.  Opening sentence:  "That Thursday morning had been going so well until I found the local handyman dead on my workroom floor."  

A wonderfully simple opening line that'd warm the cockles of any critics heart.  But, the character turned out to be something of a dip.  In the first chapter, she committed two stupidities the likes of which'd get any teen in a horror movie killed ... or at least, lose a finger when she put it in an unknown substance by a dead body.

Since McRae didn't strike out with a third goof-up ... and then, used the protagonist's bad decisions as a point of humor in the book ... I kept reading and was rewarded with a neat, intricate plot that illustrated that having a family can be dangerous to your health.

Web and Other Stuff ...
Tamela Burhke at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's asks a question I often ask myself:  basically Why blog?One of the first things she mentions is what a time-sink it is.  Many of her comments seem to apply to non-fiction writers more than fiction ones.  Still, you should make note of her comments.  Oh, I've followed the blog too so I can read the next installment in the discussion.

Overwhelmed by all the tweets on Twitter?  Roni Lauren over at *Fiction Groupie* has a simple way to organize your Twitter "follows"?  -- "Authors on Twitter".  You might go over and take a look.

Did you catch the Thursday (12/9) front page article on e-books in the New York Times?  Romance readers seem to be buying the most e-books.  (Link courtesy of the AW Water Cooler.)   Seems like they don't have the courage to show the semi-salacious print covers in public.  ...  Don't quite understand it, but then, I've always thought Favio something of a turn-off.  Maybe shy away for displaying erotica?

One more media networking thing.  David Wisehart is doing a promotion experiment on Twitter -- #Sample Sunday.  Visit his blog, Kindle Author, to get the details.  Published, work-in-progress, short stories -- the categories are open.  This is listed as an experiment on AW Water Cooler.

Progress ...
If cleaning is progress, I'm making it.  So far, it's only manuscripts ... but I have loads of paper piling up again that needs to be sorted and filed and recycled in the printer.  Now ... if only some of the places where I have long standing submissions would start cleaning up their files.

Guess, I just as soon have a rejection after three months as let a submission continue to hang in the nether regions.

Trivia ...
The rest of the house needs sorting and dumping and cleaning too.  Part of it gets done today and tomorrow.  A friend who's allergic to cats is coming to visit.
 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Let the Series Begin ... and the Fun

The Read ...
Series hooks can be difficult.  Picked up the Eqyptian Rick Riordan, but it didn't hook me ... even after giving the book a couple tries.  The first book of his "The Heros of Olympus" series, The Lost Hero, did ... in spite of all the personal complictions draining my time.  So, what was the difference?  Same best selling author.  Same nimble writing.  What?

I think it, for me, it was the material.  The Greek/Roman gods are so human ... and, with so many of them, they present all sorts of complications.  In this series, Riordan is going to explore the conflicts inherent in the Greek and Roman interpretations of basically the same spiritual world ... and the conflict within the good guys ... and the bad guys are beautifully set up with high stakes for the new major heros.  [The previous heros/demigods make cameo appearances which help the plot along.] 

I love conflicted characters.  Don't you?  ...  Now if only I could write them.

Web and Other Stuff, Mostly Complications ...
I'm getting back on track.  My friend's still in the hospital, my back still hurts from the baking, and I manged to delete all the work I did on my website last week.  Still, I think I've taken a couple steps forward.  I'll probably never go back and read the blogs I missed.  Sorry, but I've got to cut my losses somewhere.  [Except last night ... my writing time got cannibalized ... my friend had an over-reaction to her medication and time-consuming hell flared all over my evening.  Even was late in getting to Castle.]

To all who display their Christmas trees and decorations on their blogs.  Thanks.  I like looking at colored lights ... but we put balls and decades-old candy canes on the rosemary bush ... and call it Christmas.  I did buy my Christmas presents:  a big box of See's chocolates which reminds me of my mom every time I take one and five CDs, which I normally don't buy because they cost too much.  The old man got his presents too -- two art prints and frames.

Sorry, didn't really get to gather web links.  When in a time crunch, that's the first thing I drop.  What do you do when your plate overflows?

Progress ...
Revised a short story from my files for my critique group.  Only sent it out to two places and figured it needed expansion after I got a some personal comments.  So, it sat.  

Gave it an additional 400 words and threw it to the wolves.  Next week, I'll learn what they think.

Then, there's the )&*^$&) website.  Spent all of last week adding and polishing and started feeling real pleased with myself ... to the point I was thinking I might even be learning something about the website building thing.  

Then, I decided to reformat the Renna's Tales linking page since I had the new artwork.  --  Ta Dah.  I lost it all ... including the proper navigation links and meta tags. But, I have learned something about GoDaddy's Website builder.  I got most of it, except for the navigation links, up last night. 

Hey, I didn't want to write anyway ... did I?  Don't think I could have with all the calls about my friend's critical condition.  [Imagine trying to answer the phone with cookie dough all over your hands!]

Trivia ...
The cookie part of the Christmas operation is done ... unless I'm nice and make extras for the kids.
 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why Write?

Missed my Friday blog deadline because my life
-- and the stupid website -- 
kept getting in the way of my writing.  

I'm reading a good book, but only at two or three chapters a sit.  I gave up on the baking a couple days because  my hands and hip hurt.  I'm behind on my critiques.  I'm a good three days behind in my blog reading.  Who knows when I'll get my next critique submission revised.  The whole mess's enough to make me wonder why I even try to write.   

Then, last week, E. J. Wesley asked:   
How do you measure success?
The question has stuck with me since I read it ... maybe because I've finally sold a couple things.

I'll ask:  Why bother writing ... especially, if you collect nothing but rejections "letters"?

What makes the time writing worth while to you?

For me, there's a certain amount of arrogance in thinking I can keep a bunch of characters on the straight and narrow of the plot line -- when I can't even start my "whine" in the right blog. 

I know why I write.  The precedent started with an imaginary playmate who appeared before I was three years old.  By the time I was four, I can remember going on adventures with Jerome [swinging like Tarzan from the neighbor's weeping willow branches] ... but not the adventures.  

In sixth grade, my teacher revealed the secret that stories were written ... and didn't appear miraculously in bound paper.  I picked up the bad habit of writing stories in junior high and haven't stopped since.  It's an itch that needs to be scratched.

No writing ... and I spend too much time day dreaming about what would happen if maybe that "strident lady" marching down the aisle of the store met up with a demon in the parking lot.  Somewhere along the line I learned how to function at the mundane level while jumping into flights of fancy --  though I suspect doing so might prove dangerous.

Why did I keep writing fiction for some six years without any positive feedback except for a few requests for partials which ended up "not being for me"?  Again, writing is a bad habit accompanied by an itch that needs to be scratched.

More important, my stories interest me.  I care about my characters.  They surprise me.  They sometimes make me laugh ... event though I don't write humor any more. 

Why do I write?  The results amuse me more than frustrate me.

[Maybe next week, I'll have time to write a more normal blog ...
before I go on Christmas vacation.]