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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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Snagging a Reader

'Tis no secret. A thousand-and-one things clamor for people's attention. Don't think retirement will bring you the slow, easy life. I've never been so busy as I am now -- even when I worked, volunteered, and raised kids. Writers must work double time and weigh in with a tuna-hook to grab and keep my attention.

So, how's an author to grab my attention? A cover helps ... in both bookstore and scrolling down the new listings at the e-stores.But, the real hooker is an opening and situation that first grabs me and then keeps my interest. 

That said, I'm reviewing Mike Mullin's Ashfall, which starts out with a teen-aged boy throwing a sullen temper tantrum. I'm no fan of jerky teens, so the questions is: Why did I buy the hardcover, something I hardly ever do? The even bigger question is:  Why did I abandon my read-a-paragraph-here-and-a-couple-paragraphs-there pattern? Yeah, I sat down and mostly read through until I finished the book in one day. -- A terrible waste of money if you want your book to entertain you for a week.

First the opening two sentences: "I was home alone on that Friday evening. Those who survived know exactly which Friday I mean."  

The book then tells the tale of how a sixteen-year-old snot survived the eruption of the Yellowstone [like the park] volcano and became a man in the "... post Friday world of ash, darkness, and hunger."  The action centers around his long journey on foot to follow his family's trip [a few hours by car] to the next state to visit relatives. Along the way, he encounters many survival techniques. Some good, and some not so good, in my opinion.

The cover of Mullin's book caught my eye in a local bookstore. It shows two teens, a boy and a girl, looking into a cracked, dusty mirror. The boy wipes a clean streak across the mirror face, to reveal an eye looking back at them. Dark, grey tones add to the feeling of menace, for maybe "death by ash".

Yes, I bought the book in the early afternoon, gave it a deeper checking out, and read until I had to fix dinner, all without going upstairs to do the social media thing. After coffee and the TV news, I made the choice to read instead of writing, something I sometimes do on Friday nights. In short, I read the book in "one sitting". -- What intrigued me so much? Well, my family has visited Yellowstone Park ofter, over the years, and I always felt uneasy on each visit. My sense of danger always rose there, even when just passing through.

One of the neat things about the book was the way Mullin planted his chapter hooks. He spent three chapters on the events of that Friday, 25 pages which included his house burning down. Here is the ending of Mullin's ending for chapter 3:

"Everything would be better tomorrow. I thought: a new day, a new dawn would have to be better than this.

I was wrong. There was no dawn the next day."

Yet, Alex survived and strengthened during his journey through this distopian world and even picked up a companion who saved his grits a few times. The companion's addition kept the book from sinking into a monotonous, teen-aged-boy, one-person point of view. Must admit the action would probably have kept me reading.

Yeah, I think this is an extraordinary book. If I did such things, I'd give Ashfall five stars.Even though this is a hard bound, it's well worth buying to study how Mullin constructs his pacing, complications, and surprises along the way. No, an e-book won't do -- unless you've a secret way to mark pages and make comments on an e-reader.

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Another take on pounding out 10,000 words-a-day by Zoe Winters at the Weblog of Zoe Winters. I like her steady writing approach. 

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Then, there's the glow I'm basking in. Just got another nice review for Taking Vengeance. Here's the tweet I posted about it. Or, is that share? Who cares about the terminology?

Swift ... clear motivations.Taking Vengeance. 22niel review: Info:

WolfSinger Press has even lowered the price on the ebook to $0.99. So, now's the time to buy it if you already haven't. It's at Amazon [USA and UK], Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble. Just search Theodoratus to find it. 

Remember: you don't have to have an e-reader to download e-publications. 
Just a computer ... and I know you have one. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

E-Publications: Are they Elitist?

While publishing trends are moving fast, I find the fact that parents continue to buy print books for reading to their kids comforting. Yeah, I find the overwhelming push towards e-publications disturbing. It makes reading, more and more, a past-time of the "haves", making those among the "haven'ts" do without -- except at school.

I can't think of anything more discouraging and limiting to a love for reading than to confine the excercise to the walls of the classroom.

Maria Zannini, keeper of the newsletter for the Online Writing Workshop for SF, Fantasy and Horror, set my mind along this track. She recently blogged about trends in publishing: The Apocalypse is Closer than You Think. All about e-readers and print trends -- which sent off this train of thought.

I'm finding the trend more than a little disturbing. See, I was one of the poor kids who got hooked into reading by cheap used paperbacks. The fantastic depiction on the cover [A. L. Merritt] attracted my attention at the army surplus store, back when the teachers still had me convinced I didn't know how to read. While my dad searched for the tool he needed, I spent my dime on the book. I still have the poor, battered copy as well as three other Merritt novels. I reread them regularly until when I decided I didn't like the way he portrayed girls. [Now, I re-read one or the other every other year.]

[A side note, the second novel I wrote was a counter to Merritt's need to rescue his beautiful female characters. My female character kept saving the male adventurer protagonist, and, I think, had a scar from getting too close to a knife. Too bad I lost the manuscript over time, but I do remember she had titian hair and green eyes. Wonder, if that was a cliche back then.]

I still have a hard time buying hardcover books, mostly because they don't fit into the chaos of my bookshelves. One hardback I recently bought: Mike Mullin's Ashfall -- about the consequences on a family after the volcano under Yellowstone Park blew its top.

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'Tis the season. I'm making Cavern Between Worlds available for free at Smashwords --
until the end of the season or someone tells me I can't offer it for free.
You don't have to have an e-reader to read it [or any other epub],
you can download it onto your computer ...
and I know you got one of those.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Encouragement for NaNoWriMo Failures

Do you consider yourself a NaNo failure because you haven't churned out 50,000 words? I didn't, and I don't. My goal was to pick up my writing speed ... and I did it. I'm thinking I doubled it from 500-words-a-day to a thousand, sometimes more, depending on what the priority task is for the day.

Thanks to The Colorado Writer's Daily by Tamela Buhrke, I found Rachel Aaron's blog on how she increased her writing speed to 10,000 words a day.  --  The screaming you hear are my thumbs. If they could run, they'd be heading for the hills at such a thought. --  Aaron gives both some great macro- and micro-tips on increasing your word flow.  Give her a read. You may find something useful.

My favorite insight was one I sort of fell over while doing NaNoWriMo. -- I realized I didn't have to outline to increase my word flow. I just needed to know what direction I was going. I set up docs for my chapters: 1, 2, 3, etc. Then, started writing notes to myself at the top of each chapter in red. As a thought occurred to me, I'd jot it down on a sticky note ... and then, add it to an appropriate chapter. If the idea didn't get used when the chapter was done, I transferred it down the line ... until it was thrown away in the "bits and pieces" file.

Point: Even if you don't suceed in writing 50,000 words in one month, you may still have set a continuing pattern or habit that'll help you be more productive. Oh, yes. I realize NaNoWriMo isn't done as I write this, but I'm done. I quit trying before my thumbs gave out. Like, I'll be able to write tomorrow.

While not writing for Thanksgiving, I wrote a new opening chapter for The Somant Troubles ... which hooks readers with an unusual situation [I hope] that shows the MC's [Mariah] openness to the "99%" of the Marches. Then, the chapter introduces the continued bickering between Mariah and Linden plus how she maintains her friends at the Half-Elven military Camp even though Linden has banished her. 

Now, I still have to write the ending, ie. give more detail and action to the summary for chapters 20/21 or combine them into one. -- Who knows what'll happen tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

SomeThings I'm Thankful For

I should be finishing the book review of Ashfall by Mike Mullen, but my head's mush. I wrote all morning ... and still have loose ends to tie up. So, I thought I'd share some of the things I'm thankful for, things that let me continue writing.

1) That I'm sitting at the computer and able to think clearly, mostly, except for when I don't.

2) That I had sense enough to quit NaNoWriMo while my thumbs still functioned. They kinda hurt, but they aren't screaming. My hip's whining too, but I'm going to ignore it.

3) That the old man has recovered from the lousy cataract surgery and is threatening to cut the suckers out of the 40-foot apricot tree. I'm telling him he can do it as long he can guarantee me he'll be 100% for our 50th anniversary next year.

4) That I can still come up with new ideas ... different from what I've done before. My NaNo start sounds interesting, and I'll continue writing next week. Need to clean up all the stuff I let lie the first two weeks of November.

5) That my kids still talk to me ... though sometimes they border on telling me what to do. I listen to them like they listened to me.

6) That I can always use the mute button when stupidities ooze out of Washington, DC too deep.

7) That my Facebook fan page for the Far Isles Half-Elven has some friends ... even if I don't know who they are.

8) That I have at least one kid living in the area so we have family to celebrate holidays with.

9) Important ... I think .
Rebeka Harrington posted my guest blog on where ideas come from.

From 'Idea' to 'Taking Vengeance' – Writing For The Love Of It. Who knows where ideas come from? I've gone through four/five different writing “careers”, and I ...
 
10) There are other things, but I'll just sum them up:
I'm thankful that my life is more comfortable than the life I grew up with.
 
May your refrigerator hold food until your next pay day.
Enjoy.
 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

After NaNoWriMo

The revising. The reviving. The bells of doom are ringing, and I haven't even finished. Of course, I don't expect to finish 50,000 words in one month. I do expect to finish the novel and revise. So, revising is on my mind.

If you're still writing your NaNoWriMo effort, Terry O'Dell at The Blood Red Pencil has a suggestion for adding painless words in her guest blog on "The Rule of Three". Have your character do three things in one sentence. -- The principle has been proven in regards to military training. People remember in threes better. Also, it may explain the popularity of trilogies.

Ania Ahlborn at "Suspense Novelist" blogged about Elizabeth Georges' writing process since she loved George's craft book, Write Away, so much. Now, George is one of my favorite mystery writers. Felt warm inside when I learned that George revises on hard-copy. I do that too. Maybe I'm learning something. [Though, I'd never set a book in Britain, even if I lived in Wales a wonderful year.]

Again, what to do with your NaNoWriMo. Dean Wesley Smith, one of the self-publishing gurus, gives an interesting take on the self-publishing vs traditional publishing brouhaha. Do both

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I'm no longer NaNoWriMo-ing. My thumbs went on strike. I'm limiting myself to two half-hour computer sessions a day. In the meantime, I can r e a d.



Friday, November 18, 2011

Getting Noticed, the Bug-a-Boo of Promotion

Okay, I'm still hitting my head against the big marketing wall and have the bruises to prove it. Little traffic and sales.

Yeah, "I'm promoting". An example. Just noticed that I've done over a 1,000 Tweets and over 200 followers [most of them pertinent to writing]. The first few months I visited there, my tweets and followers were in the single digits.

Surprising, how promoting your stuff adds up. I'm mentioning all three of my pubs on Twitter. I include the Independent Authors Network' hash-tag and url. They even retweet me ... for what that's worth.

Does Twitter work for book promotion? I think maybe. I know that I get more traffic when I mention my books on Smashwords. Whether or not, someone buys depends on your blurb and other marketing skills. I think writers can chalk one up for the traditional publishers here. At least, I have this dream that they have a set of guidelines to help their writers do the promotion bit.

Back to the bug-a-boo of promotion: getting people to notice your book. A book by the IBC  [the Indie Book Collective] people does just that according to Jeff Bennington at The Writing Time Bomb. Why, oh why, do I keep finding such stuff when I don't have the time to absorb it. How to Sell More Ebooks gives some great ideas on getting noticed on Amazon where probably more USA books are sold than any where else. 

I'm thinking the book may be a buy ... but how to you study on Kindle? Can you underline and write notes to yourself as you read?

Yet again the ladies at Duolit have come up with some great suggestions for getting your NaNoWriMo project getting noticed by other writers: 5 Ways to Build Hype Before NaNoWriMo.  The good thing? Many of the ideas will apply to promoting all your writing.

So, happy writing ... and happier promoting if you sell something. If you are on Facebook, Twitter, etc you can promote even your short story sales. I'm sure editors appreciate all positive mentions of their publications ... just like authors do.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Do Your Characters Live on the Edge?

Why should readers read your stories? Because you're a nice person? I'm sure you are, but I'm not so sure about my myself. Still, I'd like people to read my stories. Thinking about this, I've hit my head against a basic idea: Will your characters survive their trials and tribulations. 

[This is a little difficult with my Half-Elven, but I need to address the principle in some way. Maybe asking: how much skin do your characters stand to lose in your story, might help?] 

Last Friday, I finished Karen Marie Moning's Shadowfever, the last of her Fever series. The almost 700-word-book spent too much time in the head of Mackayla, the main character, for my taste. But still, the book managed to move instead of spin. The Rainbow girl, oozing with Georgia sunshine, is no more ... and has turned into something darker ... and has to cope with that transformation ... and survive, if not live happily ever after. The series is a paranormal romance, after all.

Actually, the Fever series is longer than the five books listed. Moning included characters and situations from her Highlander series. Hints appeared here and there in previous books, but Shadowfever had the Keltar clan playing a major secondary role. Found it kind of amusing that the hyper-virile Keltars had to play second fiddle to Mackayla. Still, they got to snap and snarl at Barrons and his crew.

All in all, she managed to create a great twist on the Fae. Not the cutsie fairies. But the terrible inhuman Fae of serious legend. I thought her ability to give strange creatures understandable motives one of Moning's more striking achievements. 

Moning managed to tie up the loose ends, as far as I can remember, while throwing in some twists which I didn't see coming. I had suspicions that some of the characters weren't exactly what they seemed, but the "reality" Moning presented wasn't exactly like I thought. Moning has two series on my keeper bookshelves.

An Aside:
A good share of my time on Sunday mornings is spent reading the book reviews in the New York Times. Yesterday, they did their children's book insert. Elizabeth Bird's review gave me the most to think about. Consider this beginning:

"Imagine the difficulty of creating an active crime-fighting protagonist in the age of helicopter parents." 

One writer solution would be to put your characters into a historical time, which is what Greg Ruth (City of Orphans) and Chris Moriarty (The Inquisitor's Apprentice) do. Baker's take:

"And for today's readers, finding themselves caught beneath the omnipresent, not to say suffocating, love and attention of their hovering parents, reading about children free to go anywhere and to solve crimes, not to say their own problems, may offer them the escape they understandably crave." 

[Please excuse the typos. NaNoWriMo is really eating into my time.]

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

So. What do Agents Feels About Queries?

Several blogs back, I mentioned Janet Reid's formula for a good query ... ie. one that might give her a positive attitude when she reads your sample ... provided your query lures her on. A query that's low on description and high on action.

I was trying to use her formula for my new query for "Dark Solstice", using Linden as the focus rather than Mariah. So, I had been thinking about queries a lot before NaNoWriMo, trying to get away from describing feelings to show action. Still, I've talked to several people who think writing queries is a waste of time, too hard, or ????? Since self-publishing is so easy, they say, I should just go that route.

Jessica Faust gives an agents viewpoint on why a query is important in her Bookends Blog: The Archaic Query. She considers it just another craft skill which writers have to master. The upside? It allows agents, and probably publishers, to work through their submissions faster.

While we're thinking about queries, agent Rachelle Gardner wrote a blog on interpreting "agent euphenisms": Decoding Query Rejections. What I found interesting: she linked to Janet Reid's Query Shark as a place where writer's can get a specific reaction to their query -- if their query is lucky enough to be chosen. Though I should warn you Janet Reid isn't as nice as Rachelle Gardner.

Then, there's the other end of the process, getting some publicity for your book -- whether traditionally or self-published. The Passive Guy gives some good tips on using Good Reads to reach a targeted market of readers. He makes such a good argument that I may have to go back and visit the site regularly in addition to Facebook and Twitter. After NaNoWriMo, of course.

How am I doing with NaNoWritMo?
I'm behind, of course, but not by much. Sunday threw me off my count when I went to Denver, and I was short yesterday too. Still, I've discovered a completely undreamed of character who is central to the mid-story conflict that launches my main character into deep doo-doo, only I don't know what she's going to do to get out of the mess her contentious attitude gets her into.

PS: Got a good laugh when I discovered all my typos after I published an except of "Combine Mythos" yesterday.  Oh, I'm also thinking of calling the story "Combine Blues".

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Excerpt from My NaNoing


I've amazed myself as I NaNoing along. One weeks gone by and I'm on Chapter 7. Should be on chapter 8, but I'll take what I got since it's about 8000 words more than I usually produce in a week. Got my 500 words in this morning even though I got up late because I read until 2 AM. Whatever, I decided I really liked how Judi Anne Lucca wakes after being hijacked onto a space trip.
 
Waking Up
7

The cold sent her shivering until her hands could barely clutch the ax, but Judi Anne kept splitting wood. Crack. Snap. Scream. She wasn’t alone. The wood chunk she slammed the ax into jumped off the chopping block. Judi bent over to pick up the pieces and groaned. Every fiber in her body cursed with pain. Her mother would wash her mouth out with home-made lye  soap. The burning flowed down or up into her throat. Judi had no reference points in the darkness. Her eyes refused to focus.
The smell of puke invaded her nostrils. “Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.” A voice near her yelled. “Have mercy on me. I’m dying. I’m dying.”
Screams. Shouts. Shrieks. Moans. All assaulted Judi’s ears, but she kept chopping kindling even as her own muscles pulsed with pain. Raise the ax high. Slam it down. Each whack jarring her body until her shoulders rose off the bed.
Bed? Am I dreaming?
The smell and noise surrounding her cut too deeply to be a dream. She tried to raise her arm, only to bump it against some wall. Judi brushed her hand down. She moved her leg to the same side. The smooth wall seemed to surround her.

Like I said, I like this ... so I'm wondering if it'll turn out to be one of the darlings I eventually kill with a red pencil ... I do know it'll get edited because, for one thing, I haven't described the setting from her childhood farm. And, yes, it's important. Judi's anachronistic skills are going to save her when she and her class get captured by terrorists.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

To Write or To Read, That's the Question ...

So, you're a writer who wants to succeed. What do you do? The simple answer is to write a book that doesn't bore you and market it until you find a buyer(s). As with all simple things, the devil's in the details. [Sorry, I couldn't avoid the puns. A friend has declared Mondays Pun Day.]

For the Indie Author who's wondering how to succeed, Emlyn Chand at Novel Publicity has an interesting blog: Indie Authors can Succeed. Chand  takes the general principles of promoting your novel and combines it with the techniques Terri Guiliano Long used to make her novel Leah's Wake a best seller. This is the link to part one. 

Unfortunately, for me, I'm so busy with NaNoWriMo ... struggling to write 1700 words a day and not succeeding ... that publicizing my e-things is getting ignored. Oh, I post on Twitter, but I can't see where it's doing much good. People are downloading the free one [dumping Gorsfeld, though, but no reviews yet.

While I puzzle not writing, Roni Loren discusses another crucial part of a writer's life -- not reading. A recent blog discusses: The Dangerous Side Effect of Becoming a Writer. Her basic position is you're shooting yourself in the foot [pun] if you don't read other writers' work. Others would add "in your genre ... and outside it".

Loren mourns the decrease in her reading since she started writing. I'm stuck in the same boat. I used to read two, three books a week -- unless I had an 800-page monstrosity in my hands like Game of Thrones [G. R. R. Martin] and Shadowfever [Karen Marie Moning]. Now, I barely get a book a week read and the to-read pile keeps building again.

Well, back to NaNoWriMo and the insurrection of new hires on the bus.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Series Writing: Will Sookie Out-live Her Welcome

When does a series and/or character outlive the readers' welcome? Charlaine Harris hasn't outlived her welcome at my house. Just reread Dead in the Family where Sookie Stackhouse tries to reconnect with the remnants of her fae family when she allows her snotty fae half-cousin move in with her. Of course, the vampire and shape-shifter politics is going strong as well. All the elements mixed together is what makes the series endure, I think.

Sookie has grown too. She's no longer the tentative waif she was at the beginning. She has survived all that vampire politics has thrown at her so far, becoming more and more proactive along the way. More important, the secondary characters have grown from book to book, though their importance changes. Perhaps, the most difficult part of the character development, Sookie has retained her good heart. Her grandmother raised her well.

I have friends who criticize the Stackhouse series as not well-written. Yeah, I find nit-picks too, but they never get in the way of the story development. Harris is close to raising another storm. The series has three more books to go, and I predict she'll have fans screaming in protest like she still does for the Lucy Shakespeare series. [She's already announced to her fans that the series will end in a couple of books ... depending upon where you're reading the series.

I'll sit back and wait to see what happens in her Harper Connolly series or whatever new series she develops. You don't knock a master who knows how to tell a good story, wrap up loose ends enough, but not too much not to lead you into the next book in the series. There's a key somewhere in there, but I'm sinking in the NaNoWriMo mess, so I won't dig for it.

Deadlocked is at the publishers, can the mass paperback of Dead Reckoning be far behind?

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Only four days in [10:30 AM], and I'm 3000 words behind in my NaNo-ing. Granted I was interpolating a future world as well as manufacturing characters, both secondary and tertiary. Hopefully, I get this blog edited before I have to go grocery shopping. 

Yeah, I know. Life's details keep screaming as loud as my internal editor. Just don't want to have the old man screaming because the fridge is empty.

PS:
Enjoy the typos and mistakes. I don't have time to re-read this umpteen times to find them.

PPS:
My free e-story is up on Smashwords: The Foiling of Gorsfeld. I don't know how you could miss the cover. If anyone of you folks would like to read it and take the time to review it ... I'd appreciate it muchly. I'll even mention the review on Twitter, even if it's one star.

PPPS:
Rebecca Harrington mentions Taking Vengeance on her blog.