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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Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNoWriMo Madness

Do dogs drool over meaty bones? I'm beginning to think writers drool over NaNoWriMo. 

Went to the monthly Northern Colorado Writer's, and they devoted a fair amount of discussion to the Time-of-Writing-Frenzy. I knew the two independent book stores in town, sponsored writing tables for NaNoWriMo participants. I didn't know our public library was also in the act of encouraging writer to pound out the words. They even ran "classes" for teen and adult writers.

Even if you aren't participating, I recommend you read the blogs that mention NaNoWriMo. There a lot of good advice on the mechanics of producing words. Breaking through writer's block. Setting up your characters. Plus, much more.

Over at Operation Awesome, Lindsay gives her reasons for not doing NaNoWritMo. She's into quality more than quantity. More important, she gives some links to other blogs with great craft tips.

Morgan Bailey takes the opposite stance in her blog asking: Are You Ready for NaNoWriMo? She even hides some writing tips hidden within the text which will help you whether you join the madness or not.

Then, there's me.  I don't expect to come out of the month with 50,000 new words in the computer, but I'm doing it any way. I hoping that pounding out words, without thinking much about them, will help me break my 500 words a day habit. -- I may be planning to shoot myself in the foot. Thanksgiving's at my house, as usual, plus I start my Christmas baking about that time.

Think ... I sort of ... get NaNo ... though. Writing is mostly a solitary activity except for critique groups and writing buddies. In November, writers party and write for the heck of it..

Friday, October 28, 2011

Vampire Weenies Meet Bunnicula: MG Reviews for Halloween

Found a mystery last September, while browsing in a indie bookstore, with an intriguing blurb about a lady sleuth, who could talk to ghosts. Gave me the idea to do reviews of ghost stories for the Halloween month. After all October is the month when the veils between dimensions thin, until they're gone at Samhain.

Then, I started reading the book. Thought the MC was a wimp. Worse, the ghost was a whiner. A complete turn-off. I read about four chapters and found none of the characters engaging. Kept meaning to go back and give the book another try. I read a bunch of other books instead.

At the moment, I have to dig it out of the to-read pile by my chair and put it in the trade pile. [Have been a little busy trying to finish The Somant Troubles, a Half-Elven novella, about my callused character, Mariah, who many won't like because she's not warm. -- Don't think I'll get it done.]

Still, I've been reading some interesting books. How does Attack of the Vampire Weenies sound? Actually, the book is a collection of short stories by David Lubar. Lovely very short tales that twist and up-end all sorts of legends and cliches in scary and unexpected ways.

Lubar really demonstrates the short story framework: introduce the character/situation, throw down the complication, and solve the character's problem with a slight twist so the reader doesn't quite guess the ending. The book is part of a series. If you are working of plot pacing, a suggest you buy a book and study.

Then, practice by joining Write1Sub1.[The basic idea is to write a short story a week and submit it. The idea comes from Ray Bradbury, and Milo Fowler was one of the people getting it going. -- I may do it next year while I revise stuff in my computer -- five/six finished novels.]

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How about a vampire of another sort: Bunnicula, the infamous vegetable destroying bunny? James Howe continues his punny narratives of the Monroe family and their pets. In this episode, Bunnicula goes into a massive depression, and the fellow pets try to save him, even Claude, the cat, who usually tries to off him.

Not only did I read both books. I laughed out loud.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Random Thoughts On Writing

Color my face green for Halloween. Read Maria Zanini's blog on promoting her new book, Chain of Souls. She's running a nice little contest [+], all people have to do is mention it on Facebook and Twitter so it's easy, [+], mentions her first book [+], and feeds her dog at the same time. Seriously, you should take some time to read her past blogs. I like her energetic promotion of her books. 

[I'm the contrast for what not to do. All talk, and very little do.]

Ever wonder why so many "mainstream" writers are e-publishing their backlist? The Passive Guy ran a piece where Nina Bruhns, a romance writer [who I haven't read], discusses why she e-published. Seems her traditionally published print book delivered $42.50 in royalties. Over the same period of time, the same number of e-books sold = $1500. Don't need to think much about why there's an indie revolution.

Writing paranormal? If you can put an interesting twist o the cliches, I think you have a strong market. Picked up a paperback at the grocery store featuring five short stories by J. C. Robb and a bunch of other writers I had never heard of before, including Ruth Ryan Langan. In touch with the season, all had a touch of the paranormal.

My favorite story of the bunch was Langan's "The Unforgiven", a ghost story about a highland lord who wasn't too thrilled about have his castle turned into a bed and breakfast by a impoverished woman, who had just inherited said castle. The story was quite a bit more complicated than that but that's a good enough log line for writing of the fly. [Robb's monster was pretty neat, too, but I can't remember the other stories.]

Then, there's NaNoWriMo. The madness is almost here, and the Duolit team gives writers a strategy for successfully pounding out 50,000 words.  Look at their other suggestions on their blog: 5 Tips For NaNoWriMo Success. My comment: If I have to do an outline, I'm doomed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Random Thoughts on Writing Log Lines

Am finding log lines extremely useful. I've been writing log lines for the story ideas that pop into my head. A technique I learned from Trai Cartwright, who teaches writing at the Northern Colorado Writers and colleges in my area. One, it preserves a story idea, until I can hopefully get to it. Two, it's focused my cutting and pasting of the pieces I'm currently working on. Three, it helped me stay productive almost every day while I was working on my current Mariah novella.

Then Janet Reid, the illustrious agent I'd sign with in a minute if she represented what I wrote and I was good enough, wrote a whole blog on how log lines are anathema.

Then, she gives a great summary of what a query should be:
"... Focus on ACTION not description. Tell us what's at stake and what choices the main characters have to make. Give us a compelling INTERESTING villain." 

Thank you for the tip Ms Reid. I see where I should rewrite my Dark Solstice query from a different, more sympathetic, character's POV. While others have said much the same thing, her version seems to of stuck in my head better.

Does practice make perfect? Maybe, went back and looked at my idea files. My log lines mostly touched the spots Reid mentioned. Does that mean I'm on my way to being published major, big time? 

No. I'm beginning to think I'm not that ambitious. But, I'm wondering how you/others use log lines.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Not So Ghostly Review #3: McCrumb's St. Dale

Not all ghosts are ectoplasmic wonders. Sharon McCrumb's 2005 book St. Dale gives readers a tour of various stock car speedways and racing history. Dale Earnhardt [ senior], a popular stock car racer who hit the wall, literally, appears as a ghost. Adding to the "mystery", the specter is so real he can be confused with an impersonator, who also tours the the speedways where Earnhardt once competed.

Set in the south, where some people consider stock car racing close to religion, Earnhardt is cast as a secular saint who helps some of the characters of St. Dale out of their personal "troughs of despair". McComb uses the  "travel tale" motif, an updating of the Saint Canterbury Tales, if you will, where the characters, take a Memorial tour of the tracks where Earnhardt won races and died.

McCrumb's characterizations, as always, are magnificent. She takes a bus-sized load of characters and manages to create three dimensional images for all of them, except for maybe the bus driver. Granted Chaucer earned his laurels by writing some of the first English non-religious fiction. McCrumb added to her laurels by creating a series set away from her more mysterious Ballad series.

The slim plot in St. Dale sort of bothered me this time around. [I've read the book several times] This may be because I'm struggling with the plotting my next story. I'm stumped on what to do with my characters, the characters I haven't even outlined yet. Oh, I have some vague ideas like "disgraced scholar" but can't figure how the world is going to slap them up the side of the head. All my ideas so far have reeked of cliche.

Did discover a new site to follow which offers a nice crib list for plotting, though. Jon Bard and Laura Backes over at Write 4 Kids highlighted a nice blog by Thomas W. Young [with link] on "You Can't Have a Plot Without Conflict". I hadn't thought of their third suggestion: what messes up your characters life and sends them on a journey.

Anyone for another book on a young adolescent forced to flee his/her home to seek his/her destiny?

In one possible story, an academic scandal sent my character into deep space where she got a job on a corporately owned planet. Only I can't figure out who's the villain of the piece ... except for some vague, ambitious corporate flunky. Obviously, I have to turn that one on it's head and make him/her at least a positive secondary character.

Deciding what to do is difficult. Maybe I should just sign up for NaNoWriMo and write even though I know I won't get close to 50,000 words. At least at NaNoWriMo, they care more for volume than quality ... until you start revising stage.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Squeezing the Most out of Your Twitter Time

I'm always amazed at how Twitter helps me learn about using the world wide web. Some how, this computer klutz grasps many of the details without thinking. More important I find lots of useful information amidst the chatter -- even if I don't study it as I should.

Christine Rose, in her blog, On Marketing, Mochas, and Mayhem, talks about more than the Top Ten Twitter Resources.  My favorite was the top one in 11 Ways to Use Twitter to Held Your Site Go Viral :  be able to tweet about your website (ie: describe it in 140 characters). Here's my draft example for my Far Ilse Half-Elven website:

Visit the Far Isle Half-Elven for a different take on elves: You'll also find a free story set in that world. #fantasy

Now, I have the revise the home page before I do anything with it. [I'm also think of switching to Book Baby's website hosting ... if I can even get out from under the revising, drafting, and the messy desk.

Thanks to Christine, I'll be able to promote Taking Vengeance and and Cavern Between Worlds more effectively, I hope. What's more, I discovered the log line for Taking Vengeance on my website is better than the one on Amazon and Smashwords.  Now, to find the time to change it ...

Almost rolled on the floor laughing: Julie Issac claimed that promoting your book can be fun. Some great ideas there too, but I don't think she more comfortable in her corner, growling, than promoting.  Some people just have a marketing gene. I'm one of the ones who doesn't.

If I was a good little writer, I'd post this ... clear off a place on my "desk" [aka card table] ... and study the above two blogs. But, I won't. My stomach says it's lunch time.

Procrastinators Anonymous, anyone?


 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ghostly Book Review #2 -- School Spirit

Pity the poor pre-teen whose mother is a medium for she'll never be part of the "in-crowd". For Kat, life takes a turn for the worse when she also starts seeing ghosts. 

Elizabeth Cody Kimmel 's Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit explores the relationship of a middle grade girl, her psychic mother, and the problem of fitting in at school, including coping with the dreaded cafeteria. More important, Kay must grow comfortable with her new found power to see and talk to ghosts.

Menace is supposed to lurk in ghost stories. After all, uncanny chills crawling over you skin is the sign of a ghost. Kimmel's book's more of "I gotta fit in" kind of book,though. One positive note. Kat does find a friend in the form of a cello-lugging outcast. The two do help a ghost, trapped in the library of their school, cross over. 

While School Spirit is a nicely crafted story which I enjoyed while reading, the book left me feeling the story was way too benevolent. Guess I felt the book was much too concerned with school relationships and didn't spend enough time menacing the players. The book is written for the 8-&-up crowd, and it's obvious they don't agree with me.  The Suddenly Supernatural series contains four books at the moment.

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Ghosts break into my thoughts a lot now days. I'm almost done with my Mariah [the Half-Elven world] story. I think it's down to three more chapters and the fermentation process before I start revising. In the meantime, I'm thinking about what my next project will be. Key element: What should my next supernatural playground be.

The popularity of paranormal stories has sort of dried up the supernatural possibilities, mostly by over use. So, what's a fantasy writer supposed to do? I can't think of any supernatural that hasn't been used to excess in one form or other ... except perhaps the Windigo of the north-eastern forests. [It's hard to write about a cannibal, except as a villain.]

So, while others write madly for NaNoWriMo, I'll be playing with characters -- mostly villains and secondary characters. Don't really have a setting/world yet, either. Do have my main character and her family, recycled from another story, but I want to put her in another world.  "Small town" is the closest I've gotten so far.

If I had the room, I'd put a dart board up and use it to create my people.  One thing sure. I have to clean off my desk so I can work. I usually use a pencil and much erasing to create my set-ups. What do you find effective when starting a new novel that doesn't burst half-written from your brain?
 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What's Your End Goal for National Novel Writing Month?

National Novel Writing Month: On your marks. Get set. Go to the computer and start punching keys. With luck you end up with a draft of a novel by the end of November. At least, that's the goal. What's remarkable? Lots of people manage to do it. I won't be one of them.

Oh, I think it's an admirable goal ... but my 500 a day pace would get me to about the fifth or sixth chapter. I know. I've been writing a novella since August and have reach chapter 16. I even know what's going to happen it in. I often chuckle as I think of the action. Still, thinking about the reactions of the characters to the action in the story line is different from actually writing it all. How much setting? How much back story? How much description? How to curb a character who wants to run in another direction, entirely? How to??????????

No, this isn't an excuse not to participate. Even if I wanted to participate, I couldn't sit long enough at one time to actually write a whole chapter. [Since my chapters average little more than 2,000 words, that'd be my pace.] Even if the cat didn't yowl to be turned on the other office chair, I'd still have to get up and do yoga exercises so my back didn't freeze up.

I'll just keep writing at my pace ... especially, since I can see the end of the novella in sight ... even if a couple of the planned chapters turn into two. I don't think I have to worry about one of them turning into three chapters. I'm too far along in the process.

Several of my writer friends are frantically organizing so they can devote enough time to writing a new novel this November. I'm sympathetic, but I almost got a cup of coffee thrown at when I asked a friend how he was going to organize the revisions once he had the draft done. He accused me of not appreciating his efforts. ... I do appreciate anyone's efforts who can continually put coherent words into a story until the ending has been reached.

The problems we had? We thought of the results of writing differently. To him, finishing the story was the end-goal. For me. Well, my draft is mostly providing something to revise. No matter how much I back track to make additions and polish words. I find places where I didn't make my characters' actions clear or have assumed some back story info the reader hasn't been told ... or something.

Then, today I took a peek at the National Novel Writing Month Site. There as bold as a school marm was a call to revision. Okay, an acknowledgement that the results of a month of drafting would have to be revised. Basically, now that you have written, now what?

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Just realized that I didn't post a blog last week. Have several partials in my computer on different topics, but they didn't get completed. Sound familiar? Anyway, my excuse is that I've been spending too much time in doctor's offices. [Nothing disasterous. Just the chronic, piddle-die stuff which should soon resolve itself.]
      

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How Many Choices Does Your Story's World Give Your Characters?

Lots of people complain about two-dimensional characters, but I've seldom seen people complain about simplistic societies. Seems to me that you need to weave a variety of conflicting values into your settings -- where your characters can "mix-and-match" the possibilities so they aren't all on the same spot of the statistical curve. Conflict creates more texture by just describing what the characters are thinking. 

Yeah, values create the core conflicts in any world -- real or make-believe. Your main characters must believe in something. Their opposition must believe the opposite -- at least some of the time. Then, if your world is changing for some reason like my Half-Elven tales, you can create conflict without anyone being right or wrong. The choices possible in your character's world add to the story's tension and add depth to your story, and the choices your characters build relationships or destroy them.

One problem with too many books: They only have two dimensions, "either ? or non-?. How many times to you see a situation in a novel with many conflicting distinctions wrapped up in the same situation. An example of a multiple-dimension description from a Christian Science Monitor article on women's status in India started me thinking along these lines. The sentence: "Go beyond a strip of high-end boutiques in Delhi, into any alley past a cow resting beneath a tarp, and climb up the stairs of a nondescript building." Modern and old India bump against each other in the same description.

I'm thinking a lot about such conflicts in societies as I busily edit Dark Solstice, a Far Isle Half-Elven story.  I've often summarized political positions by this formula: one-third of the people are agin' and will never change and one-third of the people support an idea. Any political motion will happen with the middle third where the people haven't quite made up their minds yet.

Seems to me this is also true for moral values too. So, where do your primary and secondary characters line up on the issues that create conflict in your story? Do they support your main characters or do they fall somewhere in between, sometimes for them and sometimes against when the main characters make a different decisions? I think the more they disagree with each other and the better you resolve the issues among them, the greater depth you'll create in your story/novel.

Where am I sitting on the continuum at the moment? I'm afraid my writing is too two-dimensional.
But, I'm trying.

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Sort of, Just for Fun:
Sometimes, I don't feel like I belong in my own country.
Enjoyed this blog ... then, went back to it when I decided it was important enough to retweet and add it here. David Sirota blogs at Salon.com about a few American Icons that Would Shock the Right.

The problem. I consider myself a fair-deal, fiscally-conservative political type. Don't think I have a political party any more.

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Ta-Dah. Above is the cover for the free story I hope to get up on Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. Still have to get the formatting and editing done, but I'm progressing.