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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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Short Lessons from Short Stories

Fiction Lessons:
Two collections of short stories landed on my reading pileUnusual Suspects [edited by Dana Stabenow] and Songs of Love and Death [edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozoise].  I sat back in anticipation of reading some of my favorite writers [Neil Gaiman Jim Butcher, Yasmine Galenorn, Charlaine Harris,  Laurie R. King, Simon R. Green among others ... and studying what the truly expert do with their opening paragraphs.

Believe it or not, I actually did learn something from studying the openings.  I've mentioned the class I took from Trai Cartwright, sponsored by the Northern Colorado Writers.  Well, I decided Emma needed a major revision even though I had some wonderful critiques in my files [which had me condensing chapter where  not much happened].

After studying the openings, I threw a new opening paragraph on the first chapter for the class.  Got told by the teach:  I should of started with the incident I told about in the first paragraph and that the original first chapter dripped with globs of back story.  [Oh.  Oh.  Way back to the drawing board.]

Sharon Shinn also provided an illuminating moment.  She has a ghost story in Unusual Suspects, called "The House of Seven Spirits".  By the time, I got to the end I had realized not only had I noted each of the major clues ...  but ... she had still managed to pull a plot twist under my eyes.  If you're wondering how to plant red herrings without a noticible stink, you might go looking for this paperback.

Web Promotions and Other Stuff:
So you want to use Twitter to build your writer's platform?  I read enough about how I'm not doing enough with social media.  I sometimes feel like the web-o-sphere is breathing down my neck ... or it that nagging me to learn more.  My feelings?  Ugh!  Yet, I do it.   One resource I recently added to my study materials was a blog by Tamela Burke at Chiseled Rock.  If you want to get the most out of your Twitter usage, you might take a peek at Catch that Twitter Love. I doubt if I'll ever learn to love it, but I'm trying to use it.  May I like it?

I have a confession to make.  For a while there I developed the bad habit of letting emails accumulate.  I think my computer crash cured that, but I'm still working at cleaning up the back log -- the 1st Turning Point articles I subscribe to.  Tuns of good information to sort through, but I thought I'd mention the things I've failed to do.

How about the basic stuff you should have on your website.  Deborah Schneider wrote did a blog on the basic items you should have on your writer's website:  Back to The Basics.  The one thing people should easily find is publicity stuff for your publications.  Guess what.  I don't do it ... so ... more revision.  

But I have a problem.  I don't quite fit into the parameters.  My site is a "world" site not an "author site" because I thought it best since I write both adult and tween fantasy.  I was saving my "author's website" for the tween stuff.  Only time will tell if I made a serious mistake there.

Fortunately, 1st Turning Point has an answer for this double bind.  Amber Scott did an interview with author Eileen Cook, who writes adult, young adult, and middle grade, and finds she gets a lot of cross-over.  Her basic advice is to set up a marketing budget in both time and money ... and use a number of promotional tools to get the word out when you're published. 

Of course, my Half-Elven stuff isn't published yet.  Also, subsequent books would be a little racy for middle grade readers.  Even Dark Solstice, which I toned down, is beyond MG parameters -- the reason I figured I'd have to do two sites.  Some might say that YA takes on some racy subject matter ... but the next two books skim along the border of unacceptable subject matter.

Since I just printed out the article/blog, I thought I'd add a blog on Twittering I'm also studying:  Shelli Stevens blog on "Make Every Tweet Count".  Again, this comes from 1st Turning Point.  [If I'm ever successful at this writing game, 1st Turning Point is going to be blamed.]

Progress:
Had a thought when writing my Half-Elven focused blog the other day.   Why bother trying to sell what you write?  Heresy, I know.  But, I'm more comfortable growling in my corner than engaging with people.  I can tolerate the disconnect in attitude ... but sometimes, I wonder if I want to bother.  On the other hand, Cartwright said why bother learning craft skills if you don't use them ... or something to that effect.

Heh.  Heh.  Heh.  I think I'm getting a little more organized.  I'm actually making progress on a new Renna's tale, drafting more pages for Maren, and revising Emma Kloken, Reluctant Hero.  Actually, I'm drafting a whole new first chapter for Emma ... but who's going to nit-pick?


Trivia:
The weather is bright with sun and warm enough you only need a sweater.  Sure hope March sends us some snow.  It's so dry around here, the old man had to water the south side garden.
 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gods as Characters

The Read ...
Can you tell I'm thinking a lot about characters and how to depict them?  [ Look at the title of my last blog. ]  

Read Tamora Pierce's Tricker's Queen.  Review:  It's a well-written, suspenseful book which gives the reader a few twists along the way.  More important, she got me thinking about gods (okay, and goddesses) as characters.

A given -- for both believers and non-believers -- is that gods like to meddle in human business.  The "least devout" might say that gods are human excuses for human failures.  The devout might think: if something goes wrong, someone must have something "agin' yah", like as not some persnickety god or the witch down the road.

Pierce makes her meddling gods ... delightfully human.  More.  She has taken bits of the Greek/Roman/pan-European pantheon and added Coyote to create a trickster god.  [At least, it felt that way when I read the book.]  Coyote isn't per se really a god, but he can create havoc with the best of them.  The manipulating god in the Trickster series creates lots of consternation for people ... but all's well in the end since Aly, the main character, grows up as she faces the challenges thrown her way.

What does all that mean for writers staring at a work-in-progress?  Well, you can study the various pantheons and mix-and-match traits to create your own meddling god ... or you can apply the traits to a human character.  Since actual plot lines repeat themselves, you can even retell a god's story within a human setting.

Web Promotion and Other Stuff ...
Have you noticed I'm twisting in the wind here?  Mostly, about what to do about the time social media takes.  Granted I had an enormous learning curve to climb ... but I still feel like I'm talking to myself.  Yeah, I know I have some loyal readers ... and I never expected to have a "popular" blog.  Still.  There are time constraints to blogging.  I'm still posting "Lessons" once a week, but I'm aiming for Wednesdays now.

That preface leads up to a thanks to Patti Struble who pointed me in the direction of Celery Tree, a gathering place for authors.  They have an immensely helpful article on getting the most out of the time you spend social networking.  Reading the Top Ten Rules of Social Media is well worth your time ... even if you're in a hurry.  --  Oh, Patti's worth reading too.  She's been giving useful craft info that every writer should practice.

Okay.  I'm a slow learner.  Just discovered the #marketing listing at Twitter.  You might find some useful info there.  Another free marketing resource can by found at AW Water Cooler.  They have a forum where writer's discuss marketing e-publications.  ...  If I ever get my act together, I plan to actually study some of the info I've just scanned.

Progress ...
The snail needs to get some giddity-up-and-go.  2-300 words a day isn't going to cut it no matter what else I'm cleaning up. Next big project?  

I need to double proof-read my website.  Why?  I going to take my pride in hand and submit it to 1st Turning Point for a critique.  Plan?  To correct what "mistakes" I can before "Taking Vengeance" is published. 

Trivia ...
The cat has been ignoring my lap in favor of watching the birds.  I've been enjoying how the chickadees sneak into the feeder and rush out before the finches realize they are there too.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Visiting Old Friends, aka Characters

The Read ...
Characterization is a key to good writing.  Have you ever heard that before?  Well, today I offer two great examples of drawing in-depth characters.  James D. Doss and Karen Marie Moning.

Okay, the disclaimer.  I admit Daisy Perika, the nemesis and aunt of  James D. Doss' sleuth Charlie Moon, is one of my main ladies.  She's like the cantankerous part of myself that I've learned to rein in.  So, when I discovered an unread Doss novel in my to-read pile -- Shadow Man -- I felt like I won the lottery.

James D. Doss has mastered characterization.  More important, he does humorous characterization.  Both heroes, villains, and secondary characters all have a couple of major traits ... and then, Doss tosses in a couple of minor ones.  These are often snuck in as he makes a humorous or snide comments.  

For my writing, Doss gives me one of the best reasons I should be doing outlines of who my characters are, what they want, what's stopping them from accomplishing their goals ... and most important, how do they personally shoot their efforts in the foot, aka their faults.  The last two aren't necessarily the same.

So, the decision.  Do I outline ... or write by the seat of my pants? ...  I keep telling myself I should outline, but the results are skimpy at best when I try.

Web and Other Stuff ...
The season's over for jumping into ice covered water [since our natural ice skating rink melted.  But, if you care for a plunge into some cold water, take a peek at Brenda Hiatt's blog:  "Show Me the Money."  I dare you to dream about buying a mansion by the shore ... or in the mountains ... after you read it.

Last weekend, Karen Marie Moning blew my mind.  I've been lecturing myself that I need to have a more sharply delineate my characters so I don't do a bunch of backtracking when I get an new idea.  Moning's blog, "Notes on the Fever Series" gives a great outline about what went into creating the three main characters of her Fever series.  I hate it when people show me how/what I should be doing.  It's so much easier to glide through the process.

Then, Writer Beware had a link to The Literary Lab's [Michelle Davidson Argle] blog on lies experts tell wanna-be writers.  I really latched onto the theme bit since I can never figure out what a theme is.

Progress ...
Not much.  Things keep happening that I don't expect.  Like today, I had planned to attend the organizing meeting for a local critique group.  Planned to extend my writing time before I ate a quick lunch and went.  Problem.  My dumb printer wouldn't print.  So I wasted my extra writing time trying to figure out what's going on when the diagnostics couldn't tell me why it didn't print with the green light on.  --  The oracle thinks a new printer is in my future.

Am in the middle of the second chapter of Maren ...  One crisis will fill that chapter ... which means the former second chapter becomes chapter three which means the current chapter three which contains the major life changing point happens in chapters four/five.  At least I have that much outlined ... along with the characters who push the action along .  Yeah.  I have the rest of the book sort of outlined by thirds ... but it doesn't tell me much.

Then, last night I chopped my first chapter in two.  Now I'm aiming for 1500-2000 word chapters which is probably better for tween middle-grade anyway. In spite of all the worm-squirming, I feel like I'm making progress.

One nice thing that warmed the greedy cockles of my heart -- Spectra Magazine sent me money.  Maybe Night for the Gargoyles will be in the next issue?  ---  Now.  I have to apply myself and submit the book that developed from the short story.  [There Be Demons]

Trivia ...
I'm glad our front range winters are rather mild.  I can stand 20 below days ... if I can stay in and putter.  I even dredge up a little sympathy for those who get stuck outside and live further east.