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.

.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Finding Something to Read

The Read ...
Yeah.  I've been reading ... and putting the book down ... and reading ... and putting the book down.  Did I finish anything.  Well, yeah ... but the book I read puzzled the heck out of me.  What puzzled me more was the books I put down.  

I remember being an avid reader of Patricia Wentworth back in the day.  She had a British spinster sleuth in the Miss Marple vein.  She told a several good tales [it seemed from what I skimmed] about the vices of the gentry, but I couldn't get interested in them.  Maybe it was the amount of telling in the story line.  I'm guessing screen writing has had a greater influence on my reading than I thought.

What did I read?  C. S. Harris' When Gods Die which opens with Prinny [George the IV while his father was still alive] talking to and clutching a corpse.  The characterization was so sharply drawn, Harris drew me into her story of would-be revolutionaries capitalizing on the Napoleanic Wars, the main character/sleuth's discovery that his mother is still alive after he thought she'd died when he was a child, and other subplots that keep the action popping.  Harris really knows her Regency history, unlike a thousand other writers I can't name.  More interestingly, she gets her characters out of the drawing rooms and into the sewers ... literally. 

So why did this surprise me?  Well, I bought three books in the series on the basis of a review ... and put the first one on the to-trade pile without getting more than a couple chapters into the book.  Read the second that had been languishing at the bottom of the to-read pile.  Started to read the third, and it went on the trade pile.  There's a fourth where the MC solves a crime with the daughter of the MC's nemisis.  It looks intriguing, but I doubt if I'll go looking for it.  Stephanie Laurens did something vaguely similar in one of her later Cynster novels.  

Web and Other Stuff ...
A  Twitter link underlined one of the questions rotating in my mind.  What the heck should I blog about to interest people.  You might read Dawn Rae Miller's blog about:  you shouldn't be writing about writing.  Miller has some serious credentials on building platforms, so I think her opinion is worth thinking about.

If you've been pressed for time [like I have been], you might check out Brooke Favero over at The Writing Bug, the blog of the Northern Colorado Writers.  She's gleaned some good posts from the blogosphere from last week.

If you want a second opinion, you might also check out Patti Struble's blog, The Writer's Bump.  Patti offers her on take on the week in her Friday Mash-Up.

One last promotional thing:  N. R. Williams has been doing a blog book tour for her new fantasy book:  The Treasures of Carmelidrium.   You want an example of good promotion?  Go spend some time at Nancy's blog reading her posts and following her links.  She made me tired just twirling my mouse. 

Progress ...
The more I work, the behinder I get.  Or, at least it seems that way even though I finally figured out a framework and did the revision for another Renna's Tale.  Check it out.  It'll take you a lot less time to read it than it took me to figure out how to write it.

Had a 2000 word first chapter for Maren and was all set to jump into chapter two.  Only new ideas kept popping out of my brain.  Of course, I ended up making revisions as I inserted the new ideas into the text.  The chapter is now over 3,000 words long ... and I still have some scribbled notes for additions.
 
Trivia ...
Spent waaaaay too much time in nursing homes ... checking out the facilities.  At least, they let me out again. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Lure of One More Chapter

The Read ...
Loved Rebecca York's Day of the Dragon as it lured me to read one more chapter .. long after I should have gone to bed.  When your life's a time crunch, it's hard to do all you want to ... and that includes reading.  Seems the last two books I read were easy to put down.  Oh, they were interesting enough to pick up again.  But, when it came time to go to bed, I had no problems picking up a bookmark.

So, what was different about Day of the Dragon.  After all, I hadn't bought the previous book in the series even though I think I've read most of the books in the Marshall's [a family of werewolves who are fighting to form more supportive relationships with their women -- and a way to save their children from death when they reach the age to change.] world.  Well, the action begins at the begging with a couple of goons watching the arrival of the love interest/archeologist who might or might not have answers to the were-dragon main character's past.

The action picks up speed when the goons try to kidnap the archeologist, who strikes a magical chord in the "dragon's" soul [not unexpected a romantic suspense paranormal].  From there, the book takes on a cat-chasing-mouse-game with the dragon saving the archeologist from one danger, only to fall in the another deeper pit.  The real plot turn comes when, after the first villain is defeated, another more dangerous villain appears on the scene.  When a writer creates complex characters who are fighting to stay alive, you just gotta read another chapter.

Web and Other Stuff ...
 To pitch or not to pitch.  I'm going to the Northern Colorado Writers conference in March.  They've got my money.  I have no other choice, besides I want to go.  I'll be fun talking to my various friends and meeting new people who are interested in writing and understand how I spend much of my day.  But I'm wondering if I want to bust my behind revising one of my completed manuscripts to pitch.  For those of you who have something ready to pitch at whatever conference, you might look at agent Janet Reid's blog on the difference between a pitch and a query.

Most people do their pitches after they've written the book.  Can you guess I do it backwards?  I tried using the pitch to set the structure of my last WIP, and it worked for Voices of Ghost Creek (Kaffy Anne).  It's too early to see if it helps with Hidden in Plain Sight (Maren).  -- While a pitch is short, it also focuses on the main character's primary problem.  A useful tool in staying on track while letting your creative juices flow.

Once your pitch interests someone, you have to send them a manuscript.  Publishers and agents may want to have submissions look a certain way.  But, do you know the generally formatting criteria?  C. A. Marshall, a freelance editor, gives writers pointers on How to Format Manuscripts.

Haven't been spending much time twittering or on the blogosphere.  I've been spending my time looking for YA/tween publishers, but can't raise much enthusiasm for the process [even though I should be marketing There Be Demons].  Why not query an agent?  --  I'm thinking my main attitude problem is bubbling to the surface.  I don't like to jump through other people's hoops.  Amusing myself creating stories about characters than interest me is another can of worms -- because you never know which way they'll wiggle even if you stay on track.

Progress ...
Have the action outlined for three chapters of Maren ... and came up with two villains I didn't know existed last year when I gave up.  The book that's working is the back story in the previous attempt.  Figure that one out.

Also trying to revise and post another installment of the post-Rebellion Half-Elven stories, a Renna's Tale.  Tentative title:  Pulling the Dragon's Tail.  You'll see how successful I am when I write the Monday Half-Elven blog.


Trivia ...
My growling corner is looking more and more attractive.

In the meantime,  I think I'll be only posting this blog once a week, close to the week-end.  For some reason, my "mind-flow" is changing back to mornings ... and I need that time to create ... rather than diddle my time away on the web.  --  There I said it.  I've tried seriously for a half year, but I just can't get very enthusiastic about social networking.  I've always been the type to have a few close friends rather than a million best friends.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Review: Odd Series Losing Steam?

The Read ...
Read Dean Koontz's Odd Hours after a short break from the series.  This time around, I found Odd's simple soul a little annoying ... even though the character isn't unrealistic in his thoughts on the world.  This time Odd's living on the southern California coast and uses his "magnetism" to stop the delivery of nuclear bombs to be detonated in the USA to create a "new world order".  The book wasn't badly constructed ... even had some interesting characters, but the whole feeling felt like watching a deus ex machina at work. 

The highlight of the book, for me, was the ghost of Frank Sinatra acting out as a poltergeist.  Usually, Odd's observations cause me to chuckle out loud often.  This time.  Just lip twitchings.  As such the book was a disappointment.

Web and Other Stuff ...
Am seriously considering how I might promoted my novelette, Taking Vengeance, when it's published.  One of the things on my list: running a contest (prize undetermined as yet) to have people retweet info about the trailer or some such thing.  Then, my thoughts got punctured if not shot down, by Rowena Cherry's blog on 1st Turning Point about "How to Run a Contest".   Yeah, there are differing state laws that apply to contests and sweepstakes.  Have you heard of any of bloggers falling a foul of such laws?  Or, does the insignificant value of the prize change the rules?  Guess it's another area where lawyers stick their noses in our lives.

More on being careful of contests.  Jane Smith gives us a long blog on how important reading the rules of a writing contest are over at "How Publishing Works".  In this case, the operator of the contest seems to gobble up the rights to all the submissions to the contest.  Others have mentioned not to enter the contest.  If you haven't heard of the First One Publishing contest yet, you might take a click over there. --  Writer's Beware also did a blog.  --- And the AW Water Cooler also has a long thread on its forums discussing the contest.  ----  I'm wondering how long the tempest will last.

Roni Loren came up with another super-useful blog -- on defining how "High Concept" works.   Since publishers and agents want high concept material since it supposedly sells lots, you might want to wander over to her blog. 

Progress ...
Actually, I felt like I was stuck up the to axles in mud.  Yeah.  I did get two ten page stories rewritten and submitted.  But.  And it's a big but.  I spent more time on writing less than 100 words for a trailer script for the Half-Elven story: Taking Vengeance.  Visit my Half-Elven blog if you'd like to see what I came up with.  --  At the moment, I'm feeling building a writer's platform is more work than writing/revising the blasted book.

Now, I have more productive things to concentrate on, like maybe Maren?  Then, I really should write a new free Half-Elven story or edit the mess I wrote last month.

Trivia ...
The grey cat has come up with another cutsie habit.  He wants to be twirled in an office chair.  This is in addition in taking rides on the Cardio Glider that lives in the basement.  Never thought I'd get exercise by amusing the cat.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Golden Oldies: The Wool-Pack

The Read ...
My reading enabler son has an oldie fetish, especially paper back cover art.  In one of his haunts of used book stores, he discovered the British, Carnegie Medal winning writer, Cynthia Harnett.  One of the unexpected Christmas presents he left was The Wool-Pack from the 1950s, billed as "deception and intrigue in the fifteenth century." 

How styles have changed.  Would your first sentence be:  "Nicholas Fetterlock lay on his back on the hillside, gazing up into the young leaves of an oak tree."?  If you did, would an agent and/or publisher be likely to take it if the subsequent two paragraphs were mainly description of the bucolic surroundings?  The first hint of a problem comes on the second page when we learn that Nicholas is playing truant, aka hookie.

Historical fiction, beyond bodice rippers, seem to be in disfavor, the Tudors not withstanding.  At least, I don't see many reviews for them, especially for juvenile fiction.  Part of this is fad.  Part of this may also be lack of scholarship.  How many writers understand post-War of the Roses Europe enough to be able to incorporate how the Lombard banking system, the English wool trade, early betrothals, obedience to superiors, the rising mercantile system, and other social changes following a peace after years of civil war can impact the life of a well intentioned boy who solves the mystery of why his father's wool packs are being contaminated in time to save him from the dungeons.

The Wool-Pack does all this in under 250 pages complete with many line drawings depicting 15th century British life.  No.  The book was not a heavy slog even though the paragraphs and sentences were rather longer while presenting lots of historical detail.

Web and Other Stuff ...

Travel Alert:  Granted not all people are as amused by bed bugs as my old man ... but you might be interested in this Bed Bug Alert site.  Not that I think you can do anything about them.  Does anyone know if borax works on them?

Writer Beware included a link on Facebook to the Shelf Awareness blog that discussed e-pub vs print sales.  I thought it interesting even though they don't mention my reason for preferring print.  After looking a screen for much of the day, I rather not look at a screen when I relax.

Want an example on how publishing has consolidated after the couple decades? And, the ways they still need to change?  Eric at Pimp My Novel has an interesting discussion of branding and the publishing: "A Lesson in Brand Management".  Writers are urged to build their platform.  Seems publishers are facing the same chore.

Back to general living.  Have gas prices been rising in your area?  I recently found a site that lets you find the lowest gas prices in your area.  

Progress ...
After nibbling my fingernails over Spectra Magazine's hiatus ... I got another email from them.  Once they get their ap problems settled, they do plan to publish since they have the next issue laid out. ....  No one seems to know how long the delay will be.

Got two more short stories rewritten [ a great achievement since I seem to go through each one at least 20 times after I first think it's finished ] and sent out.  I won't hold my breath as I wait for the rejections.  

At the same time, my notes for Maren are growing.  I'll be interested in seeing how many of the ideas I use when I put my fingers to the keyboard.


Trivia ...
After a week of cold, snow, and ice, I'm going to enjoy the week of 40 degree weather until the next storm comes blasting through.  One good thing.  Since it's the middle of January, the time between storms will get longer and longer ...  until we get one last arctic blast in April ... or May ... or June ... or even July.  It has snowed on the Fourth of July in our town in the past.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ironic Little Plot Twists

The Read ...
Thought I was tired of Tamora Pierce's coming of age plots until I stumbled over her Trickster's Choice.  [ I was guilted into buying a book when son dragged us around to all the independent local bookstores.]  When it came to the top of the to-read pile, I was glad I bought it.  As you might expect from an expert craftsman, or is that person?, she pulled the rug out from under my expectations.

First, the "trickster theme" took a direction from the launching pad she built in the first pages.  The trickster didn't turn out to be what I first thought, and Pierce turned the twist into a double pronged device to inject semi-unexpected plot developments ...  by that, I mean not the most obvious possibility from the foreshadowing.

More towards the core of the story was the play on parent's telling their almost grown kids:  "Do what I say, not what I do.".  Then, when the kid does what they say, the results are totally unexpected to them and the kid who changes her priorities at the end.

All in all, an engaging tween book of intrigue.  Not exactly a thriller, but filled with plenty of action.  Now the sequel is nagging at the back of my mind.  Only, the copy I saw was a trade back ... and the to-read pile tripled over the holidays.

Web and Other Stuff ...
Roni Loren at *Fiction Groupie* has a blog on backstory and other story congealers: "How to Dish Out Backstory in Digestible Bites".  Since many of my own writing sins fall in this arena, I thought I'd point others in her direction.  If you're revising, she gives you a concise check list of things you should avoid ... plus some possible corrections.

I'm not reading so much on the web at the moment.  My back log of revision is too large, and I've made writing my priority.  [Have you heard that one before?  Bet you've made the same decision yourself.  How long did it take you before you started dawdling on the web again?] 

Progress ...
Yeah, I'm seriously trying to do two things at once:  draft a new WIP [Maren or Hidden in Plain Sight] and revising some of the leftovers from last year.  I got some good editorial input that I should put into revision.  I might actually have some saleable stuff stuck in my computer files.

I'm compiling a list of small and/or e-publishers ... only the focus is on YA/tween.  The Gotham contest where I submitted There Be Demons should be announcing their choices by the end of the month.  [No, I'm not expecting to win any of the critiques or whatever the prize was.]  Then, I'll be submitting the book directly to publishers since I seem to have better luck with them rather than agents.  Agents say, "Not for me.".  Yeah, I've had some acceptances, but I also get personal feedback from publishers.  And yeah, there are some major drawbacks in the pieces they have rejected, but I'm hoping they are repairable drawbacks.

Oh, just wanted to say compiling a list of publishers [and agents] isn't as easy as it sounds.  All aspects of publishing are in a state of flux.  Before I send something out, I always check with AW Water Cooler, Agent Query, and the entity's website.  It's surprising how many times perfectly good publishers end up on the questionable list for contract changes, late payments, or something else.  Personal case in point:  Spectra Magazine which bought my "Night for the Gargoyles" went on hiatus before they published the story.

Trivia ...
Baby it's cold outside, and I have errands I can't put off today.  I'll feel sorry for myself because I can't sit in front of the computer and revise away.  I want another story out on submission.  

Friday, January 7, 2011

Adding Texture with Sub-Plots

The Read ...
Sank into Julia Spencer-Fleming's cozy mystery I Shall Not Want, and discovered a number of sub-plots involving various characters, in addition to the "forbidden" romance complication between an Episcopalian minister and the local chief of police.  I love sub-plots involving the secondary characters in a cozy mystery.  ...  They add texture and depth to the puzzle of solving the mystery beyond just unraveling the complications tying the plot in knots. 

I had read several previous books in the series and discussed them with a friend ... and she sent to book to me for Christmas.  The book was a satisfying read ... when I wasn't watching Castle episodes.  Surprisingly, the book and TV show both use secondary character subplots to create texture beyond the mere solving of a crime.

Fleming has a mildly snarky tone I enjoy.  One example from the minister's observations of one of the plot complications flirting with a male member of the vestry:  "They had discovered they shared similar tastes in buildings (historic), liturgy (formal), and literature (nothing written before 1890).  Clare wasn't sure if Elizabeth [a subordinate priest] knew she and Summer also shared the same tastes in men."

Web and Other Stuff ...
E-Readers are the big thing at the moment, but I think the technology is a long ways from finding a set pattern.  Writer Beware posted a link of a blog by TeleRead about the various types of tablets (aka e-readers) that turned up at a trade show.  80.  You might want to read the article and follow the links and comments. 

I think this shows just how far the e-reader technology has to go.  Maybe there are that many different models of televisions.  But, they all receive the same signal. ... Even if you still have an analog television set, the converter box or cable takes care of the signal for you.

Progress ...
Yeah, I've started working on Maren, now called "Hidden in Plain Sight" for the moment.  The opening sentence features overheard curses, and then, launches into the chronic unwanted suitor cliche.

I'm still cleaning up loose ends.  Did put up a free Half-Elven Renna tale on Wattpad to test the promotional waters.  This is a display site, and I know the consensus is that they are somewhat useless.  Still, I'm trying to find a simple, non-time-slurping way to use social media  [ aka re-inventing the wheel ].

Have read several of the posted stories on Wattpad.  My opinion?  The stories, while showing some interesting ideas, needed both critiquing and editing.

The level of my own writing?  Well, here's from an editor at Samhain who rejected Dark Solstice ( the Half-Elven book I'm marketing):  "While I did think the writing was very good, unfortunately the romantic elements aren't strong enough for our particular readership."  The letter went on to say they don't give personal criticisms.  I gather from what I've read elsewhere that personal comments have exploded in the editor's faces too many times.  --  Oh well, someday I'll find an editor who likes the stuff I write.  I'll be continuing the quest after I finish this blog.

Trivia ...
My evil twin is wondering whether the old man really needs implants to anchor his lower partial ... when she wants to go to the worldcon in Reno.  I could go, complete with a trip over the divide to visit my brother, for a whole lot less money than the implants.  ...  Then, there's the matter of a laptop.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Welcome Back to My World

The Read ...
Read a lot over Christmass, but Simon R. Green's new book, The Good, The Bad, and The Uncanny has managed to stick in my mind the longest.  Yeah, John Taylor is up to his usual shenanigans trying to keep the Nightside semi-human.  In one sense, the book is filled with the same old, same old, a problem for ongoing series.  But, oh what fun!

Wish I could come up with gems like these example sentences.  "One guy had even taken advantage of the crowd [ gathered to watch a fight ] to set up a fast-food stall, selling wriggling things on sticks."  Or.  "At another table, two vaguely humanoid robots from some future time-line were sucking on batteries and farting static."

Green even references another of his series.  "I'd say that about the only people I don't talk to are the Droods.  They're banned from the Nightside by long agreement.  They don't play nice."

Don't think Uncanny is simplistic even though it travels through familiar territory.  Green sets up the quest for the next volume in the series while dealing with the temptation to replace Walker while seeking a missing friend who disappeared in a previous book.  The book moves at a fast clip while delivering a satisfying number of chuckles.


Not bloging didn't mean I wasn't writing ...
or at least, thinking about writing.
Other bloggers were blogging, and I thought these were worth mentioning,
since I thought them important/interesting.

Web and Other Stuff ...
While amusing myself ... drenching myself in last year's Castle episodes ... reality slapped me in the face.  Agent Suzie Townsend blogged about her last year's acceptance statistics in "The Truth about My Time..."  If you've been wondering why it's so hard to get an agent, consider that she accepted 10 news clients out of over 5,000 queries.

Then there's the whole question of blogging -- which I debate in my head about frequently --  Justine Musk writes about how blogs fit into the evolving publishing world in Tribal Writer.  Seems like change is the name of the game.

Writing Progress ...
Got beaten about the head and shoulders by crit partners and an editor [a rejection for Cavern Between Worlds, one of my short story attempts] all saying the same thing --  "Not So Many Details.  They get confusing."  [ Though some critters did want more back story in the non-Half-Elven short story I submitted to them last month. ]  So, I'll slink back to the drawing board and try to simplify the introductions to my worlds.  Somehow, I think that's easier said than done.

I think the Half-Elven website is done, except for one more picture and a continuous supply of Renna tales.  Gluskin, the artist, is excused because he's busy with his new baby girl born over the holidays.  Hopefully, he'll get back to work in a couple months.  Still, I have enough pictures on the site to make it respectable.  Now, I only have to market it.  [You can read about my problems of web promotion at the Half-Elven blog. ]  Me?  Reread the last paragraph.

Have I decided on what to write?  Well, sort of.  I drafted a bunch of new ideas for Maren and organized previously written stuff.  Even have a decent pitch sentence to chew on.  But, Caverns Between Worlds  is now nagging at me.  Maybe, I can do both?  And blog? And read?  And read blogs?  Study my craft?  36 hour days, anyone?

Granted no one ever said writing is easy, but ... you can always wish for an instant best-sellers, can't you?  What have you decided to write during the first of 2011?

Trivia ...
Word of caution.  When adding dried milk to the cooking ... mix it with water first.  Made curry for the first time in ages since I'm experimenting with cooking in smaller batches.  When it came time to thicken the broth, I just spooned in the dried milk.  Result:  a gooey, cheesey mess which eventually melted, thank the cooking goddess.