Friday, December 30, 2011

Brain Fog

I have seasonal allergies and when they hit I get brain fog in the worst way. My energy levels plummet, my initiative is out the door and I think my IQ slips a few points. If I have to run errands, I want the easiest route. That means left turn lanes or it isn't happening.

God forbid anything out of the ordinary is required of me. It takes all my willpower just to drag through a normal day, sneezing, dripping, groaning. Needless to say, I hate it.

Before I realized it was health related, I wondered why, at times, I was such a curmudgeony slug. I used to be spontaneous. There were times that I had so much energy, I had to walk or run to burn it off. There was a time when I had a totally packed schedule - full time job and night classes. So I know I can do it. And most of the time I enjoyed it. So why did my social needs contract like a snail into its shell at times? It was a puzzle.

And my writing crashed. I couldn't think anything through. Usually, I just wanted to curl up with a book, or better yet, stare at the TV. Anything requiring coherent thought was beyond me. It's really hard to think when you're oxygen deprived.

Now I know what it is and I can plan for it. I stock up on tissues, antihistamines and Vitamin C. It still knocks me for a loop, but I don't wonder about my mental state. I medicate and wait it out.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hounded by Kevin Hearne

A very fun read!

First of all - 10 points for the pronunciation guide. Thank you!

Secondly, he introduced the Celtic pantheon painlessly. I didn't feel like I needed to do research to understand the actions of the gods. Love the characters and the pacing was fast. I will definitely read more.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Resolutions

I am making a few resolutions for next year. Some are the usual - drop some pounds, write more, etc. But a few are toward being more efficient with my time. And one of those is that I am not going to read books I don't like.

I can remember the first book I didn't finish. It was Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. I was in high school and it just annoyed the piss out of me. Maybe I should go back and take a look at it now. Not finishing it felt like a wild and sinful act to me. My family is voracious readers. We never put a book aside and not finish it.

These days I have limited fun time. I have a day job. I'm writing in my spare time and spending way too much time trolling blogs and learning about self publishing and marketing. My reading time is precious. Unless I feel like I can really learn something, out of my comfort zone, in a book, I'm not going to spend the little time I have on slogging through it.

OK. I said it. And I mean it. But I still feel guilty.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Awkward Christmas encounter

Way back when, when I was living in Grand Junction and working for a nursery I had the weirdest encounter. I'm short, five foot nothing in my stocking feet. And I like to wear tunics and leggings. They're comfy.

So here it was December and the nursery was selling Christmas trees and all the trimmings. I was in the greenhouse potting up some seedlings when a customer came rushing in, full of the spirit of the season. He gushed over the decorations. Since I had seen them for about four months already, I forced a cheerful smile and gushed back at him.

"It's really great!" he said, eying the ranks of poinsettias behind me.

"Yes, they come in different sizes." Always encouraging the sale.

"And you're dressed like an elf."

"I am?" That startled me, because I was wearing my normal clothes.

"Well, umm..." And he dashed out the door.

Oops.

I was wearing a very colorful, patterned tunic and dark green leggings. Since the primary color in the tunic was orange, I didn't consider it very Christmasy. Guess I was wrong. But I suppose there are worse things to be confused with than an elf.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Alloy of Law - Brandon Sanderson

I didn't know this was book 1! No fair!

Although I enjoyed the Mistborn books, I'm not sure what to make of this one. It's more like a western with trains and gun fights. I do want to read the next one, because this is a cliffhanger. The main character is a bit Clint Eastwood and a bit Sherlock Holmes. All the characters in the book are interesting. Too much time spent on the fight scenes for my taste, but I'm sure that will appeal to others.

The changes and introductions of new plot twists in the last few chapters make the next book look very interesting.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mushrooms

Back in the spring we purchased 2 mushroom logs from a local farmer. One shitake and one oyster. They warned us that the logs might not do anything for awhile. I put them in the yard, in a protected place behind a rhododendron. And there they sat, near the door to the garden shed. I glanced at them nearly every day.

And as they warned . . . nothing happened.

Then bam! One log has fully grown mushrooms on the bottom of it! Whoo hoo!

I pulled them off and popped 'em into a saute the next day!

I know that they were there long enough for a chipmunk or squirrel to take a nibble or two. But somehow I totally missed them as I passed them just about every day as I went in and out of the garden shed.

Now, I will be watching.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Unusual Suspects edited by Dana Stabenow

A very nice collection for sampling authors new to me. It runs the gamut from Noir to High Fantasy. Not everything was to my taste, but that is the upside to short stories - you get through them quicker. I had only read work by 2 of the authors previously - Charlaine Harris and Simon R. Green. I will definitely be looking for additional work by many of the authors.

This review was also posted at Goodreads.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm pretty sure

While proofing the latest version of White Lies, my mystery novel, I discovered that I use "pretty" A LOT..

He was pretty sure.
You hit your head pretty hard
It was pretty bad.

Damn. I didn't even know I was doing it. So, I looked it up in my Thesaurus and realized, oops, it's slang. Pretty means beautiful. What is my definition that it can be used in all the ways I use it? It pops up at least once a chapter. YIKES. But I think it must be one of those invisible words (like said or the) because none of my readers called me on it.

What  adjective can I replace it with? And for those purists who say not to use an adjective, bear with me while I get to my point.

"Pretty" seems to be an anything word for me.

Let's look at the first usage: he was pretty sure. Dropping out the "pretty" changes the meaning. Because he wasn't sure. But saying "He wasn't sure." Doesn't have the same feel. Almost? Fairly? About? Just doesn't work as well.

The second usage is somewhat opposite. You hit your head pretty hard. "Very" isn't right. "Almost" won't do it. "Reasonably hard"? Only a socially-challenged TV nerd would say that.

And the third: It was pretty bad. I suppose "very bad" would do, but it still doesn't have the right feel.

There are way too many "prettys" in there and each one is going to be a puzzle to replace. I need to spend an evening with my dictionary and Thesaurus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Kerfuffle

Dare I add my 2 cents to the War on Christmas? Yeah!

Bashing shoppers over the head to rip a cheap TV out of their arms has nothing to do with any religion I know of.

One upping Santa by buying better gifts than him (WTF?) has nothing to do with religion.

Lighting up your house with a million lights so that you increase your electric bill exponentially is related to pagan rituals of the solstice. Does anyone remember that Christians had to borrow rituals from other religions so they could FLY UNDER THE RADAR?

The very religious Christians in my neck of the woods don't decorate with electric reindeer or giant snowglobes on their lawn. They go to church.

No one is stopping them from going to church.

The people screaming about Christmas don't seem to realize that those of us who don't worship their god want the same respect for our beliefs.

Stop the madness!

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Music in my head

I woke up with music in my head. It happens all the time. But this morning it was from Godspell.

What the heck?

I'm not a fan of show tunes and even if I was, Godspell would be way down there on the list. I haven't seen or heard any music from the show recently. Where did that come from? As my brain trudged up out of the gray fog of sleep:

Ho sanna hey sanna sanna sanna ho sanna hey sanna ho sanna.

I'm constantly amazed at the snippets and scraps that get blown into the corners of my brain and stay there. I remember jungles from my childhood, the phone number of my best friend from grammar school, I can name all the reindeer, but when I walk into the next room I forget what I went in there for.

With all the factoids and infobabble swirling around in my brain, why do I never wake up reciting the Gettysburg Address, or the soliloquy from Hamlet? No, I wake up singing, "Like a good neighbor..."

What the heck?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Today in Writer Unboxed Donald Maas wrote this:

The protagonists in fiction serve a similar purpose. We look to them as models. What we want from them is not just entertaining stories but examples of how we can feel, see the world, conduct ourselves, grow and change. We admire them, learn from them, celebrate them and return to them over and over for inspiration. Click here for the rest of it

Ah ha! That's why I can't get into some stories. I can't relate to the characters. The book I just finished reading had such mean characters. I didn't like how they acted in their world and I wouldn't want to experience it again. The actions they took were small and greedy. They were all fighting for survival, but only for themselves. Or at least that's the way it felt to me. Not one of them took a larger view. It was all for money or political power. Murder, rape, betrayal.

I'm sure there are people who enjoy this book for it's near future scenarios. What I used to call "After-the-bomb-dropped" stories. Only here it's an "After-the-climate-broke story". Which is well thought out. But there are no heroes in this book. No one to turn the corner and bring hope back. Every decision just makes things worse.

Thanks to Donald Maas for helping me figure out why this didn't work for me!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Out of my comfort zone


I am reading a book that don't like, again.

I am beginning to wonder what the criteria is for some awards. Because a lot of the award winning books don't appeal to me.

Maybe I'm just an old stick in the mud. Maybe I don't have enough creativity in me. I want my heroes to be likeable and I want love to be able to weather difficulties and I want the good guys to win. Old fashioned concepts, I know.

The book I am reading right now has very unlikeable characters. Every one of them is greedy or cruel or damaged in some way.  The world building is excellent, but it's a nasty place with no relief. The characters are trapped on multiple levels. I guess I am curious to find out what happens, but I won't be surprised if they all end up dead. Since that's a real possibility for all of them, I can't connect. I don't want to invest myself in characters that are destined to die. And most likely - die badly.

And this book has that corporation-as-super-ruler concept, also. That seems to be a popular theme lately. Or maybe I've just randomly picked books that had that theme. It's an interesting proposition that commerce will rule the future. And I suppose large corporations are cutthroat. Look at the English trading companies and what they did to India and Indonesia and the Caribbean. But with that as our history, would we allow it to happen again?

I will go to an old favorite author to curl up in a beloved world for a bit and rest my brain.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book Comments

Holder of Lightning (The Cloudmages #1) S_L_Farrell

The characters were fairly solid but the names were very difficult. I know he was trying to use the Gaelic, but I would have appreciated a pronunciation guide. As it was, the names were so hard to get a handle on that I lost tract of who was who. Despite that, I will be interested to see where he takes book 2.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Geography


This is what I call it when I can't envision the placement of the scene. I tell the members of my critique group that I need more geography. Where is the bookcase in relation to the door or the stairs? Where is the stream in relation to the path?

So it struck me funny when I got the critique in return.

What makes it even worse is that my geography is on another planet. So, I'm taking a step back from rewriting so I can build my geography. I printed some pictures of Greek cities, because they are old and the terrain is similar to what I envisioned for one place. I'll print some street maps also, to help me see the sprawl of the city.

As I started to lay out the physical structure of one city a slew of ideas surfaced about what might be there - parks, and subways, trams, where the government buildings should be and access. How to people get where they want to be.

World building is hard, but it can be a lot of fun.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Inspired by Sting



I love music.

Sometimes, I think I forget that. During the day I work as a bookkeeper. I need to concentrate on numbers, so I like a quiet work space.

I like to sing along to music. That means I can't concentrate while listening to my favorite songs. It's either classical music on NPR or nothing.

The other night I watched a show with Sting and a Country Western singer whose name I can't remember. And they played some of my favorite Sting songs. And I remembered how much I love those songs. But the thing that stood out, was Sting himself.

"He thrums," my sister said. And that was very true. He exuded energy. He was buzzing with life. Bouncing on his toes as he sang. It didn't feel like he was hyped up on a drug. It felt like he was just bursting with life. Wow.

And a little voice in my brain said, "You need a character like that in the book."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The obligatory gratitude post

Being vegetarians, today will not involve any dead birds for us. But we do plan a big meal and yummy desserts.

I am a cynic when it comes to commercial holidays. I hate being told when to be grateful and when to be compassionate. And Black Friday is an event that makes me embarrassed to be American.

That said, I am grateful for where I am today. I have a lovely little house in a wonderful, older, very quiet neighborhood. My small yard keeps me busy year round with gardening, composting, raking leaves and mowing the lawn. My job gives me time to write. And I work out of the house, so I can garden on my breaks.

I've got a supportive family and a great critique group.

I'm not rich or famous (yet), but I've lived the starving artist lifestyle for so long that I don't know what I'd do with a lot of money. Buy the really expensive chocolate? Get massages more often? Maybe buy a fancier car? Meh. I can live without it.

So, when it comes down to it, I'm grateful every day for the simple life I have.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anne McCaffrey - a major influence

I think one of the reasons I started writing was because my favorite authors didn't produce fast enough and I wanted to play in their worlds. Pern has always been a favorite for me. And some of those characters, all these years later, still resonate with me. The dragons, the fire lizards, Harper Hall, fighting thread...such a completely realized world. I guess that's what makes it so inviting to return.

I didn't know her or much of her life, but her writing deeply touched me. And I am grateful to have visited with the people in her head.

Thanks for everything, Anne. I hope you're on a new and greater adventure now.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

More Thoughts on books

Well, I finished the book on the moon - Ben Bova's Moonrise. I have to say that after the protag is killed, I lost a lot of interest. I finished the book, but the characters seemed stuck. 18 years passes, but no one grows, the technology is the same and the son takes over the personality of the character that was killed.

I found the life on the moon base and  the interaction of the people interesting. I also found the research into nanotechnology interesting. The political backlash and rise of the ultra conservative society felt tacked on. It was something that apparently developed very quickly in the background.

In the final confrontation when the son has to save Moonbase (which he sort of doesn't) a minor character is killed for no apparent reason. That aggravated me. It should have made me sad, right? She was a very sympathetic character, so her death should have touched me. Her death is collateral damage. So I guess that it is supposed to underline the evil of the antagonist. Didn't work for me.

The characters start spouting the same dialog over and over. OK. I got it. They're driven. Now tell me something else. Many reviews of this book say that the second book, Moon War is much better. Not sure if I will read it.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

He killed off the main character!

Half way through the book I am reading, the author killed off the main character. 

I finished the chapter and thought, what now? I was invested in him. I wanted him to beat the odds. The first page started with his challenge, the obstacle he had to overcome. And he didn't. Bummer.

The book became the story of a dynasty, not just a person. Which was sort of interesting. Because the main character's son basically became him. And the time shifts to 18 years later. I'm not sure that it's working for me. The book is science fiction, but it's really about corporate politics - on the moon. But I'm still reading, so something is working. I have to think about this for awhile. When I'm finished I will give it a fuller review.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Did it again...

Here it is, over a week into November and I have hardly written a thing.

Putting Catburglar up on Smashwords seems to have swallowed me whole. I've spent my spare time reading articles on marketing and self-publishing. When I should be working on the SF novel.

I knew this was going to happen. I wrote out a schedule of writing and marketing and taped it to the wall. Then promptly stacked  a bunch of things in front of it. Looks like I'd better go back and take a look at it.

It's so easy to get caught up in the kerfuffle. There are the authors that want you to know self-pub isn't a vanity press, and the ones who have made it and want to share their plan (for a fee) and the ones who think it's all crap and the ones that respond with statistics and forecasts. Sheesh. My head is so full I can't think. So let me go sit in the corner with a nice cup of tea and just breathe for a bit.

Catburglar is still pending approval for the Premium Catalog. It has been available for less than a week. I don't think I need to spend ALL my free time learning about marketing right now. Whew. I needed to say that.

Right. So now on to the fun bits - writing.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Is the formula not working?

I just finished reading the third book of a trilogy and it really didn't work for me. It was standard epic fantasy with the reluctant messiah and the quest sort of thing. But the character that was the reluctant messiah was so full of self doubt - pages and pages of it - that I just wanted to give him a slap.

And the whole back end of the book was a long and boring journey that didn't do anything. But that's the formula, right? Reluctant messiah has to go on a quest with a few chosen travelers to find the magical whatsit to save the world. This story didn't have the mentor/gods/benevolent teacher in it. So the RM just had to figure it out as he went. That didn't bother me. The pages and pages of whining about how unprepared he was to take on such a burden of responsibility was really annoying. I actually skimmed some pages. I felt like the author needed some filler and just repeated what he'd already said.

Some of the peripheral characters were more interesting.

And I could see every twist a mile away. Am I too jaded? I don't mind seeing the twist coming if it develops into something good. But I guessed the betrayers and then doubted it because it was too easy. So that confused me. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and them to be cleared. Nope.

Oh well. There is an new Brandon Sanderson book out this month that I have been waiting for - The Alloy of Law. That's bound to be good.

In other news - I sold 2 copies of Catburglar to friends. Thanks Bob and Michael! And it is still pending the Premium Catalog.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Done!

I did it!

Catburglar is up for sale at Smashwords. I fixed all my errors and it worked. Very exciting. I am still waiting to see if I will be accepted for the Premium catalog. I saw on one blog that it could take up to 2 weeks for that to happen. OK.

Now I guess I need to think about how to get people interested in my little story. I posted it on Facebook. But that's mostly just the cousins. So I can't expect any sales there. Maybe just a congratulatory post or two.

Now comes the other hard part...marketing.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Catburglar on Smashwords

OK, toe in the water.

I tried my first self-pub on Smashwords. It's an illustrated flash. I created the cover in Gimp. And it would not load. Funny, but if you read the directions, it works better.

The cover was too large. So I compressed the file and darned if it didn't load right away.

And I assigned it an ISBN. Wow. I have an official ISBN. Makes it feel more real somehow.

Then I got the message that I had failed the epub format conversion. That means the Apple Store won't carry it. So I followed the directions and plunked it into the Threepress epub validating site to find out what was wrong. I think it's because one of the illustrations was scanned as a PNG instead of a JPG. So I re-scanned, reinserted and reloaded.

I am presently 407 in the queue! I was 473 when it first loaded. Amazing. So many people producing work. Now I just need to be patient. Updates tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What makes a comfortable read?

And I don't mean a sappy, saccharin sort of thing.

I just finished reading The Inheritance by Robin Hobb. It's a collection of short stories. Usually, I don't like short stories because they are too short. I like a tome. A book so large it makes my hands hurt to hold it. (Looking forward to upgrading to an e-reader soon.) But these stories were wonderful. I slipped into each world easily and walked along with each character.

Maybe it's her worldbuilding.

Or her well rounded characters.

Or the fact that I've already been in some of her worlds and know what they're about.

But her books are so comfortable to read. I don't notice the individual words on the page or the time passing or noises in the room...huh? What did you ask me?

How does that happen? I want to do that, too.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Blood Music by Greg Bear

Greg Bear stresses the science in science fiction. To the detriment of his characters, I think.

I have to admit to skimming over the very technical bits, which I'm sure made the book for some people. But the characters were flat. They're just there to be acted upon. I had no feeling for them when they were in danger. And the technical stuff was so far over my head that I really didn't understand where the author was going with the ending.

Definitely outside my entertainment zone.
(This review was originally posted in Goodreads)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Speculative Fiction

There was an old rule of thumb that you could tell science fiction from fantsy by the book cover. One had a rocket ship and one had a tree.

Then someone put forth the definition that science fiction made the improbable possible and fantasy made the impossible probable.

Lately it seems that that line is even fuzzier than before.

Look at Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series. It happens on another planet and deals with telepaths. There's a spaceport, so it could have a rocket ship on the cover. But it is a primitive planet with people who have pretty magical skills, so the tree applies, also.

I am reading Terry Brooks' Armageddon's Children series. It's post apocalyptical and the survivors meet elves. So that might be science fiction/fantasy/horror. The second book has a dragon on the cover. But that might be so that his fantasy fans didn't get scared away.

I think Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness would fall into the same murky category.

I'm seeing the category Speculative Fiction as a genre in a few places. But we need to better identify our subgenres. I read a lot of fantasy and yet I rarely read any Sword and Sorcery stuff. Nor do I read anything that requires massive battles and lots of blood and gore. There are so many types of fantasy and science fiction out there, that I think we need to create new categories for the new breed of ebook buyers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Telling a story

I have a friend who cannot tell a story. I'm not sure if it's her concern for veracity, or if she doesn't fully know the point of her story. For example, let's say she wants to tell me that her coworker Mary told her about a new restaurant.

She'll start out with: "Last Tuesday Mary told me, no wait, Mary doesn't work on Tuesday, maybe it was Monday. No, I wore the pink blouse on Monday, it must have been Wednesday." And we spend 15 minutes figuring out what day of the week Mary told her about the restaurant.

"She went there with her husband and son. No, wait her son is at college. It must have been her daughter, but I thought she was on a class trip." Then we have to spend some time figuring out who was actually there. "It's on Main street just south of the McDonalds, no maybe it's the Burger King." And more time is spent trying to remember the location.

I see this a lot with new writers. They need to tell everyone's story at once. The main character goes to a restaurant and the waitress is crying because her mother/father/boyfriend is sick or has fought with her. and she brings the wrong food or spills a drink. Now this might be information the writer needs, but what has it got to do with the main character's story? Is she/he affected? Does it move the story forward? Does it tie into the plot?

Unfortunately, very often the answer is no. It's just a little tangent story and we never see them again. I've found myself doing it. I get all caught up in the drama of the minute and realize I've built a life for a walk-on role.

Oops.

Well, save that character for her own story and trim it all out. It will make the story cleaner and clearer. Now I need to go check on my own waitresses.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What makes a book not work?

I just finished reading a book that didn't click for me.

Sometimes it's easy to figure out when I don't like a book - too violent, too gory, too bland. But this one is tricky. I think it was a combination of fantasy, alternate history and romance. I found the romance annoying, almost grafted on. Alternate history always makes me strain a little to try to catch what the change/twist is.

The author repeated several times the basic history of the story and I have to say my brain glossed over it. A mention of Romans, Carthage and old battles and my brain goes to jelly.

But I guess what it all comes down to is the main character. I just didn't love her. This is the first book in a series and I will say no to the rest of them because I don't care what happens. Which is a really bad thing in my opinion. She was 20 years old, but acted a lot younger. I'd like to blame it on the age group it was aimed at, but I've read and loved a lot of YA.

I'm not sure what it was that kept me at arm's length.

Maybe it was the combination of hapless heroine with the budding magical skills and secret spy skills underneath. She could sword fight with the best and disappear behind a veil but sputtered and blundered and floundered. Maybe I'm disappointed in her.

A big portion of the book is days of walking in the bitter cold. Maybe that turned me off because I really hate to be cold. And I couldn't tell where this novel was going. I think there was some sort of political intrigue in the background, but the main character doesn't react all that strongly to it. And, again it had words like worker's rights and revolution and my brain skimmed because I wanted to stay with the magical world.

Well, done and gone. On to the next one.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Money - the bane of my existence

I used to say that all the time when I was a freelance scenic artist. You never know how much is coming in. You can't make a financial plan. Arts are always on the cusp of losing funding. One year I worked regularly. Then the state cut arts funding and my regular clients closed down. I had to scramble for work.

Too stressful.

And now I find myself in that position again. My recession-proof job is proving to be not so proof any more. I may have to break down and get a regular job. Working from home has been great. It gives me time to work in the garden and write. But those nasty bills still need to be paid. So, I need to make a plan to increase my income. Which may mean less time for writing. Bummer.

I've read all the self-help books on money. The wish-yourself-rich kind and the live-within-your-means kinds. Not much help.

The wishing hasn't worked.

And for the other kind - I've lived as a starving artist for so long that I couldn't trim my expenses any harder. They always make me laugh when they list the incidental purchases that can eat up your discretionary income. I don't buy newspapers or magazines. I rarely eat out. I buy clothes when the old ones fall apart. I don't spend money without being aware. I count my pennies. I keep the thermostat low and turn out lights when I leave a room.

I'm just not good with earning money. When it comes down to it, I'd rather take a fun, low paying job than a high-stress, high-stakes, high-paying job. And I'm an empathetic dope when it comes to employers telling me they can't afford to pay me more.

I have to admit it. This is my fault. And this is a bad time to be in such a condition. Maybe 2012 will have to be a year of 9-5-ing it for me. It's been awhile. But it's definitely time to put some nuts away for the winter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Learning new skills.

Who knew that one of the skills I would need for writing would be graphic arts?


Sheesh.

Over the past few days I've spent most of my writing time figuring out a new graphics program. It's not something that you can just pick up by poking around. It really stressed me out. I found a couple of tutorials and tried to follow along, but somehow I never came up with the same product. Aggravating.

I finally made some progress and came up with an adequate cover for my illustrated flash.

Book covers are the sort of thing that I would very much like to be in control of. They are unrealistically influential on the buyer. Me included! There's a series that I started reading because the book cover was so luscious. The story was NOT my cup of tea. But every time I am in the bookstore I find myself picking up that series. Then I remember and put it back, but that's how powerful a good cover can be.

And I admit when scanning through the hundreds of e-book titles out there, a professional looking cover makes a big difference as to whether I'll give it a look. That and the blurb. I've seen a few too many poorly written blurbs. Another skill to acquire before I am ready to self-e-pub.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The more you do, the more you can do.

That used to be my philosophy toward exercise. But now I see that it's true for a lot of other things, too.

You start out as a couch potato, no energy and no initiative. But then you start walking or working in the garden and suddenly, you're getting a lot more done. Energy is that magical negative thing - you have to use it up to get more of it. And you realize that the more you do - walking, weeding, writing or anything, the more you can do.

More exercise gives you more energy. More writing gives you new skills and the confidence to tackle new things. It's like sports. The more you practice, the better you get at it.

It took me a long time to get that one. I always avoided sports because I was never good at them. There was the occasional game of softball with coworkers to prove the point. No one ever told me that if I practiced, I'd get better. Sports was always some mystical gift that some people had and others didn't. It wasn't until I learned to ski that I realized anyone can learn a skill adequately. You won't be Olympic material, but you can participate and enjoy it.

The same is true for writing. The more you practice the better you get. My Tai Chi teacher talked about muscle memory. He said that if you keep practicing the basics, eventually your muscles remember the sequence and your mind can disengage. If you practice writing enough, grammar, vocabulary and structure become second nature. Then you can start looking at the flow, character depth, plot twists and all that fun stuff.

The more you do, the more you can do.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Art Starts with Learning the Craft

I'm noticing a lot of similarities between painting and writing.

First of all, you need to know your materials, like watercolors, and supports, like paper, which translate to vocabulary and grammar. Sure, there are the singular geniuses that create brilliant works without a single lesson, but I think those people just know the craft intuitively. Most of us have to learn it through rote until we can feel it that way.

An artist learns that highlight and shadow gives depth and that you can't give everything the same attention or the eye won't move through the image. That was my big mistake in my first novel and I am seeing it in other new writers. You can't write eveybody's story at the same time. If everything is clamoring for the attention of the audience, nothing stands out.

What is the point of the story? And for me, a lot of paintings are stories.

It is important for the writer to know his characters. Even the minor ones. But some of that information needs to stay in the notebook and not go into the story.

When the detective takes a cab to the crime scene we don't need the cab driver's life story unless it contributes to the story. Maybe he was the last one to see the victim alive, maybe he saw the killer. Paint him him in lightly and let the eye wander back from the boldly drawn detective to the driver. Let the audience wonder - what part does he play?

However, if he doesn't play a part and the audience is left wondering about him, the story will be unsatisfactory. Maybe you rendered him so well, that you can't bear to lose him. You know his family, the sick mother and child with a handicap, the aging relatives he visits on the weekend. Either give him a place in the story or let him go. Save all that luscious detail for another story. Because it's dimming the main character's spotlight, (oops, just stumbled into a theatre metaphor, but I think you know what I mean.)

God forbid all your characters are so well drawn. How will the audience know which one to care about?

Being a good artist is all about learning to see in color and shape and negative space. The writer needs to think in plot and pace and overall arcs.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe

I went back and read the first book of the Eddie LaCrosse Series. What a lot of fun!

It's a very fast read. That makes a book even more enjoyable for me. It has a good flow. I don't think I hit any point where the story lagged.

It has nibbles of folklore and anachronistic dialog and coy little pokes at pop culture. But the core of it is a closed room mystery, which he solves quite handily. All the loose ends are neatly tied up at the end. No nasty cliff-hangers here. I like that.

Kudos, Alex!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Critique Partners

When I first started writing, I wasn't ready to share. It took a long time before I was willing to show my first novel to another person. My first readers were family - my sister, brother and a cousin. They each had different view points. And each time they said something about a character I felt a combination of astonishment and violation.

They were talking about the people in my head! Frightening and exhilarating.

Then I discovered online peer review. I was lucky to stumble on to two excellent sites - Critters for my Scifi and American Zoetrope for my screenwriting. I learned a lot from reading other people's materials. There's a mixed bag of writers out there and you get quite a range of reviews. Some helpful and some just slinging words at you to fulfill their review requirements to get their own stuff posted. I dutifully did my reviews and posted nervously.

There's a mix of dread and glee when you start posting for the first time. What if they hate it? What if they love it? Should I tell them I'm a newbie? Will they be mean?

Then the critiques come in. It's hard to tell, at first, who knows what they're doing and who's making it up as they go. But eventually you get a feel for a good critique. And that teaches you how to be better at yours. At Critters, I shied away from the novel excerpts. It was too much of a commitment. And what if I committed to reading the whole thing and it was a bomb? What if the people committed to read mine were a smidge below me in skill level?

Eventually, the online stuff just wasn't enough for me. I started checking around and found a critique group in the area. I have to say, at this point in my journey, that face to face is the best. We debate, we brainstorm, we gossip. I have a deadline to get work out to them. And best of all, I have a support group of aspiring writers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Electricity

The power went out while I was in the shower this morning. No problem, the bathroom window let in enough light to find the shampoo and the hot water is gas.

But then I had a Hitchcock moment. What if someone cut the power to the house and was breaking in? There I was all wet and soapy and starting to freak out. Then logic kicked in. First of all, it's daylight. What advantage is there to cutting the power? Secondly, it's still warm enough that all the windows are wide open. If someone really wanted to break in - they'd only have to cut the screen.

To do what? Take my 3 year old computer? Surely not the 10 year old laptop that my sister plays games on. Not much in the way of burglar-bait in this house.

So that leaves my imagination (and shows like Criminal Minds) to get me all nervous again. I suds up and rinse in record time, wrap up in a towel and peek into the hallway. Nothing out of the ordinary. Whew.

Power outages are fairly common in my neighborhood. They rarely last long. This one went for 3 hours.
 
No electricity meant brushing my teeth in the near dark, expecting the power to return any second. Luckily, I have a gas stove. I cooked up some oatmeal, made a big cup of tea and was forced to have a leisurely breakfast in the sun room.

It's a bluesky Carolina day. The sun is shining after days of drizzle. The maples are touched with red and the dogwoods with burgundy. As I watched, a few leaves sailed away through the branches. I had a moment of great gratitude for my snug little house in its quiet neighborhood tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, for my job that gives me free time to write, for just plain being alive on a beautiful day. Thanks power outage.

Comments fixed!

Apologies to anyone trying to post a comment. I have changed the settings and anyone should be able to comment now. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A plan

An article I read on marketing said to prepare a 12 month plan. Plans are good. I don't have anything to market as yet, but it seemed like a good thing to do. Although 12 months was a bit too much for me. Just 6 months of forecasting works better in my world.

I made a table - the month, due when, task. Very organized.

Sometimes I get totally overwhelmed with what I think I should be doing. In one very hectic job, in addition to putting any and every task on the calendar, I also marked on the calendar when it was time to worry about something. Then it was out of my head and I could concentrate on other things. Hopefully this would keep me on track and progressing without too many wild tangents. Without a plan I find myself spending way too much time researching things I suddenly think I need.

I filled up my table with everything I wanted to do in a month for my writing-work. It was surprising how fast the months filled up. And even more surprising was the goals that popped up. I wrote down that the re-write of the first book should be done in 3 months. Wow. Now I know some people say they can write from scratch in that time, so I should be able to finish my re-write. Right?

Then right there on the page was looking for an agent, writing the synopsis and query... I guess some part of me believes this is all going to happen! Exciting and daunting at the same time. Of course this means I need to buckle down and actually write. But now I have a plan and that's the first step to making it all happen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Child of Fire by Harry Connolly

The fact that he has a quote from Jim Butcher would have sold me on this book. I found it browsing through Goodreads. And a wonderful find it is.

The description made it sound a lot like Jim Butcher's books, so I was curious how Connolly's world would compare. Very different. There are similarities, in the same way that any urban fantasy must have - real-world people unused to magic, practitioners of magic that go dark and a ruling body that says who gets to use magic.

The plot is fast paced and the minor characters have adequate depth. I like the main character, Ray Lilly. He changes, almost against his will over the course of the book. It's a matter of regaining a moral compass. He doesn't necessarily want to be a better person, but he knows he has to. I will definitely read the rest of the series.

So Harry, write faster!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Art as business

I am an artist. My largest body of work is watercolor landscapes. I stopped marketing my art years ago because it was just too hard. This was before the Internet, which meant poring through art magazines and shipping slides off to juries for shows, fairs and galleries. While I was working as a freelance scenic artist, I concentrated on trying to get income from my paintings. I was a little successful. And I learned a lot about art as a business.

It's hard.

Art is subjective. There is no way to predict an audience. A painting that I might be especially proud of can be interpreted in any number of ways. Once I did a bold, loose painting of a sunset over the Kansas plains. It was a bit abstract in that it was just blocks of color. My sister said it made her think of car accidents. I did a pastel of a mother peeking into a room on a sleeping child and many people see it as the moment before a murder. Who'd want to put that on their wall?

Very subjective.

Writing is the same way. There is a ton of Urban Fantasy out there right now. And I'd probably tell you I never read it, but I love the Dresden Files.

Totally subjective.

So now I am back to learning the business of art, in this case writing. I have all the financial stuff down - I come from a family of accountants. Not that it is an issue, since I have no income from art right now. It's the marketing and prep for sales that will be the biggest learning curve. Here I had hoped I was getting into an industry where I could just be creative. Ha.

There's a lot of information out there on how to be successful, but it's a slow slog thru that stuff. A lot of it won't make sense until I get there. I'm more of a hands-on kind of person. Don't give me the details until I can put them to use or they just clutter my brain and confuse me.

I'm building in time for research every day, but some days it just overwhelms me and I end up not writing. Which is a bad thing. Got to go one step at a time. Finish the book, then worry about how to sell it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

An experiment

I am eager to try out Smashwords and yet don't have anything ready to publish. Sooo...after reading David Farlands articles about enhanced e-books I decided to try an experiment.

An illustrated flash.

Because, really, who will pay good money for just a flash, and that's all I've got that is ready to go to "print" right now. I'm pretty excited about it. I started the illustrations yesterday. I think there will be 6 or 7 of them. That's one drawing every 100 words. And it has occurred to me that I could also sell the illustrations...

But, it is a totally unknown market for me. I have no idea if it will sell at all. Aside from maybe a few pity-buys by relatives and friends. I told my sister it is like doing a craft fair. Who knows what will sell.

I consider this a dry run for the mystery - White Lies. It's out to family readers right now. Then it will go to the group, to be read as a whole. Then, gulp, it might be ready to go to Smashwords. So this will put me through the process - formatting, bookcover, isbn, the whole 9 yards! Whew.

And at the same time, I am trying to sort through my bible for the Scifi story. It's been awhile since I was in that world. I am so glad that I was ridiculously meticulous in making my star charts and planet notes. Although, I am noticing some sizable gaps that may need to be addressed right away.

Busy, busy, busy! I just wish some of it was earning me a little money.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Publishers as gatekeepers

I read an article today that said publishers were the gatekeepers to what we got to read. That started me thinking. Way back when, when I decided to write my own story because I couldn't find any "good" books, I was hostage to a whole line of gatekeepers. First line was the publisher, second line was the bookstore or library book buyers.

There might have been plenty of books to satisfy my taste, but they weren't accessible at the time. Now with the internet and self-publishing, there's more out there than I can handle.

I have to admit, I still look on the self-pubs a bit dubiously. They haven't been given the imprimatur of a publishing house. All the while, I am researching how to do it myself.

A bit hypocritical, I know. It's a confusing time.

If I have to do as much work with a traditional publisher as with self-pub, and the royalties are drastically different, why go the traditional route? The more I read, the more it seems that publishing as an industry is in dire straits.

Luckily, the question is moot at the moment. I don't have a manuscript ready to go. But soon, and I hope things haven't completely change again by the time I'm ready.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

This is not the type of book I usually read. It's dense and meandering, political and religious. I was certain that I would put it aside, and yet, something made me finish it.

The description is overladen and reminds me of books I've read set in India. Too many people, smells, sounds, wants. It works. The city, Istanbul, has so many layers, it needs a lot of modifiers. It is a character in itself. The texture and flavor of the city leans heavily on any action of the characters.

The narrative wanders into flashbacks so suddenly that I would have scolded him, if he was in my writing group. And yet, for this story of many nationalities, many religions, many languages, it works.

And anchoring all the feverish activity of the city are the repetitious mundane tasks of the day - the men drink tea, the young people look for work, a child plays with his toys. I think that repetition was helpful in giving me something to hold on to under the barrage of numbers and plots and odd foreign words.

None of the foreign words are explained, yet I soon picked up bey as perhaps sir and cadessi is probably street. The names are difficult, but the characters are well enough drawn that I could sort them out.

This reads like it takes place on another planet for me. The country, the city, the people with their traditions, superstitions and religions are so wonderfully exotic. And drawn so vividly.

A wonderful book. Read it and let it take you out of your American self.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Read widely

Nearly every book on writing says you need to read. Of course, I do. But I think I've become a lazy reader. I want worlds I can fall into easily. I want the kind of story that ends satisfactorily. Unfortunately, I think that has narrowed my vision.

Right now I am reading a book that is outside my comfort zone. I was tempted to give it up, but something drew me on. It's dense and rich and I have to concentrate to get through it. But it has given me incredible insight into things my WIP world-building lacks.

I'm about 90% of the way through and I'm still not sure how it'll end. I've grown to care about the all characters, even the unsympathetic ones. But the world! The world building in this is luscious, and it's placed here, in the real world. I expect to finish this tonight and will have a review for tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What was I thinking?

I've stressed myself out with things that don't have to be done!

For Pete's sake. Short story submissions seemed like a real possibility, until I tried to work it into my schedule. I'd already shoved in researching marketing and markets for the mystery. Which ate up some of my writing time, so my final (hopefully) revisions got stalled. And of course there's those other things like grocery shopping, cooking, weeding... I don't know why I do this to myself.

I need to finish the mystery and lay it to rest so I can tackle the tome without distraction. I thought I had already laid it to rest, but the group wanted a better ending. Part of me says to just shelve it and another part of me can't bear to not finish it in the best possible way. But to what point?

Self satisfaction is one point, I guess. I want to feel proud of it, regardless of where it goes. Even into the closet. I also want to know that I have finished a polished and publishable manuscript. That's a giddy feeling. And I feel a bit pompous saying it. But if I think it's ready to be submitted to an agent, or editor, then it should be polished and publishable.

Just finishing a project I have set myself is important, too. I have a lot of manuscripts lying around. They could all be something, if I sat down and worked at it. But they aren't. They are just gathering dust on the shelf.

Maybe that's what drove me into thinking about submissions again. It would be really nice to have a few more sales. A bit more proof that I have the chops. It's going to be months before the tome is edited down into book one and ready to go out the door. And sometimes you just need a little more carrot and a little less stick.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Marketing 2 genres

OK, I get it. Now that I have dipped a toe into researching marketing, I can see why doing more than one genre is a bad idea. If I have a limited amount of time in which to get it done (and still manage to sleep, eat and weed the garden), then creating and sustaining 2 marketing plans - one for each genre - means both will suffer.

Unless I throw the mystery out there, with no marketing and...well, watch it fail, I guess.

So, competitions or anthologies might still be a possibility. But in reality, I know I don't have enough hours in the day to do the running around it seems I'm expected to. Bummer.

I did find some suggestions on what is expected from authors. And it is daunting. But there are a few things I can start on now.


Blog - check!

Forums. The suggestion was to find/create a network of like minded writers, published and unpublished. I had gotten to know a number of people on a couple of peer-review sites awhile back. I decided most of them were too diverse. And I was ready for some face-to-face so I graduated to a local writers' group. Looks like I need to find the next level in forums, now.  

Sign up for Giveaways. It was recommended to start checking them out on other writers' sites to see what sort of thing you might want to do in the future. And when you receive a free book do a review on it. Goodreads seems like an excellent place to start. They have pages and pages of giveaways you can compete for.

 OK. Toe in the water now butt in the chair.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

You want my marketing plan?

Yikes. I thought only nonfiction needed that sort of thing.

I was looking at submission guidelines for some e-publishers and got quite a shock. One said they wanted marketing ideas and another said they wanted my marketing plan. Wow. As if I wasn't intimidated about approaching publishers before . . .

Um . . . tell all my friends and relatives? I have a lot of cousins, really!

So what constitutes a realistic marketing plan? I can handle Facebook, blogging and searching out that sort of thing. But really, what are they looking for? Do they want me to tour on my own dime? Call NPR? This is a whole new arena to research. And that is just more time taken away from writing.

That means I have to squeeze into my day time for pay-the-bills work, writing, research on/for writing, blogging and now research on marketing. And that doesn't include eating, sleeping or weeding the garden. Sheesh.

How are other authors doing it? Does someone have a handbook for this sort of thing? I get David Farland's excellent, if occasionally terrifying, newsletter. He has lots of what should be done. Guess I need to go back and read all those newsletters I stashed away for later. Cause later is almost here.

I just started following Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog. She seems like she knows what she's doing. But, oh no, her blog today just said that no one knows what they're doing (to sell books) because the industry is changing so fast.

Arrgh!

OK. I need to make a plan. And I guess the first thing on the list is finish polishing the manuscript. Whew. That's good. I'll just put my head down and write for now. Maybe it will have all changed by the time I'm ready to send it out the door.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Too Dark - Thoughts on evil in fantasy

I just finished reading a book that, in my opinion, had way too much of the bad guys in it. I read some glowing reviews on Goodreads that basically said the madness of the evil god was expressed so well. OK. I get that you want a full understanding of the depth of your villain, but I'm growing weary of these insurmountable societies of depravity. I don't want to read pages of torture, dead babies and dissected pets. Or even worse, the pages of battles where everyone is killed or maimed in excruciating detail. I guess there is a market for it. Just look at the Saw franchise. But it isn't for me.

My complaint with this book in particular was that the bad guys got boring. I wanted to stay with the hero and various sidekicks. It was more interesting to follow them on their journey than to churn through the blood and guts of the bad guys torturing yet another innocent. There was a truncated inner journey of the protagonist that could have been extended. It had great possibilities, but barely advanced a step. Maybe that was some of the disappointment. I think readers expect a stronger inner journey these days. Or maybe it's just me. I wanted to skim the torture/evil bits, but I was afraid I'd miss some important plot point. Toward the end, I did skim those parts.

I'm going to assume that there will be another book because there were too many loose ends left hanging. That left me a bit flat, too. It seemed like a stand alone. It is the author's second book, written in the same world, with only two characters overlapping from the first book.  I read the first book and I think I enjoyed it more.

I will probably read more from this author. I like the protagonist and parts of the world. Hopefully the next one won't have so many icky bits.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Which one is he?

I have given and received the critique that characters are confusing.

Sometimes their names are too similar. Sometimes they don't have their own feel. In one of my stories, I thought the character names were quite distinct. They looked very different on the page, but said aloud they sounded similar. After much internal struggle, I changed them.

In another story of mine two characters only shared the first letter, but people confused them. One was a very minor character and one was an important character who showed up every few chapters. How could they confuse them? Sheesh. One was a cop and one was a doctor. Isn't that enough?

Obviously not. There wasn't enough to hold an image or a feel or a lingering impression. I put in a description the first time the character arrived and left it at that. But describing his suit and the color of his eyes isn't enough to give the reader a feel for him. I need to think about characters that stay with me.

Jim Butcher's characters work for me. In the Dresden books his protagonist's sidekick is a petite blonde woman, with blue eyes and a button nose, who has multiple black belts and is a sharpshooter. I have a very clear picture of her. Dresden's reactions to her very often involve her looks. He thinks she's cute and knows she'll trounce him six ways to Sunday if he ever said so. But he thinks about it. And that reinforces the reader's image.

J.K. Rowling repeatedly mentions Snape's greasy hair. Robert Jordan has a character that pulls on her long braid when she's angry. Physical reminders of who is acting or speaking. I can see how it is done well. I just need to figure out how to do it myself.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My new favorite author - Alex Bledsoe

This time, grabbing blindly off the shelf worked well. I read Dark Jenny, the third novel in the Eddie LaCrosse series. When I picked it up, I didn't realize it was the third, and luckily it reads very well as a stand alone.

People have said he is a cross between the hard-boiled detective and classic fantasy, but I'd like to add a dollop of Terry Pratchett in there. Yes, he solves a complicated mystery. Yes, there are sword fights, magic and lots of mugs of ale. But there is also the guy who gets stoned on 'giggle weed' and strums a little ditty on his lute that just happens to fit a certain tune by the Grateful Dead...

There was plenty of anachronistic language (Hey, man). But it really didn't bother me. I liked the character. He's in the Han Solo mold, pirate with a heart of gold, or in this case, mercenary. It's a quick read, nicely written. I am going to go back and read the first two of the series.

Yay! Another wonderful author to add to my list!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The End . . no? . . Drat!

Dang my writing group!

They told me I wasn't done. And then they gave me excellent advice on what was missing, curse them. And I thought I had tied up all those loose ends.  They all agreed the resolution came much too fast.

Hmm. I have read that there needs to be a try/fail cycle repeated at least 3 times for the reader to feel satisfied. Guess that's true, because my protagonist got it on the first try and no one was satisfied.

Another point was the culmination of the internal struggle. I dealt with the overt struggle - addiction. But I forgot about the underlying struggle of him getting himself back. A reintegration of self seems to be needed. Now that's a great insight. (thanks Pat!)

So it looks like the tome may need to wait a bit while I rewrite the end of the mystery. It's important to me that it is complete and well done. Now if I could just clone myself and work on them simultaneously.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bounty from the compost

Every year I get a present from the compost pile. One year it was potatoes, another marigolds and nasturtiums. This year it's squash. And a lovely big vine it is. I tried to corral it so I could still get to the pile. My composting area is between two large rhododendrons. But it climbed up the wire fencing and into the rhody!
 And it is charting new territory!
Wonderful!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Comments on The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N K Jemisin

This book was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award and is a debut novel. Two things that made me want to read it.

I liked it. The characters are interesting. The setting is small and fairly simple for such a large book. But I didn't get bored with being in the same environs the whole time. It flowed well and I read it quickly.

The first chapter promise is totally fulfilled.

However, the characters' names threw me off. The protagonist is Yeine. Which in my head was yeen, not a strong name (like Harry!). Another character was Sieh, which I pronounced sigh, but I felt that wasn't right and dithered over it a couple of times. The other one that threw me was Scimina. In my head it was sky-mean-a. Again, I felt like that didn't seem right. There is a glossary at the back. I wish it came with pronunciation of the names.

I've gotten that critique myself, about names--too similar, too hard to pronounce. It's a fine line when you take someone into another world. Names can be bizarre, but I think you have to give them simpler handles for the reader to hang on to. At the very least a pronunciation guide. I am going to pay close attention to the names in my stories and make sure they aren't distracting.

All in all it's a good read and I look forward to the 2nd book in the trilogy.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ready to start the rounds again

When I started writing for real I followed the old school recommendations of publishing a few short stories before trying to publish a novel. I submitted to Writers for The Future every quarter and made the rounds of Asimov's, Science Fiction and Fantasy and a few online magazines. It was hard work. I don't like short stories, they're too short. I made a few Honorable Mentions and a Quarter Finalist at Writer's for the Future, which felt pretty good. Every Day Fiction took 2 of my flash stories. (see links)

Then I had to admit that I really should be spending more time on the tome. That was. . .yikes. . .years sgo. I have rewritten the tome twice and turned 2 screenplays into novels and rewritten them several times.

Novel writing is so time consuming!

Don't get me wrong, I love it. But with short stories you can finish them, polish them and send them out pretty quickly. This last rewrite on my mystery novel took me a year to finish, polish and get through my critique group.

Not sure why, but the submitting bug has hit me again. I went back into Duotrope (best database ever!) and printed out some magazines to research. It's been awhile since I looked at some of those rejected stories. Maybe my new skills will help with additional polishing.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Diving in

With the whole "First chapter is a promise to the reader" concept in mind I started writing a new first chapter. I took an incident that had happened before the first version started (and is mentioned later in the story) and fleshed it out..

I know, I know, I've also read that you should start the story as close to the end as possible. But this really worked. That incident had the potential to have a few foreshadowings built in and when I did that it also fell right in with the themes in the story. I love it when things dovetail like that. Now it feels like a really good promise to my reader. One that is true to the book.

Now what to do with my previous first chapter? It still has some important information in it, but it doesn't have the same tone as the new piece. It makes an OK chapter 2. I'm ignoring it for right now. It needs to be re-written, but I'm not sure, yet, what it needs. I'll let it sit for a few days, then read it aloud.

I remembered a few scenes from the first version that I jettisoned in the 2nd version and wanted to go back and find them. Then I nearly had a heart attack because I thought the only copy I had was on an old set of floppy disks. Luckily, I had transferred them over to CDs at some point. Whew! This story has been around a long time.

And I have learned the hard way to save my revisions as new docs instead of constantly writing over the same one. Sometimes it's good to go back and see how a scene was originally written. The last tweak I did dropped out a lot of subplots that I now may want to use.

Now - off to write!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reshaping the tome

The tome is now a trilogy.

Whew.

I segregated the story lines out into the three books and it makes a lot of sense. It also contains the individual arcs of the three stories and allows each to act as a stand alone with only a minor plot line or two unraveled. This leaves me with a good portion of both book 1 and 2 written (and in need of vigorous tweaking), and book 3 a jumble of leftovers with a new unifying plot. YAY!

I finished the cut and paste of the sections I want to be in the first book. Now that I know the POV and throughline I can't wait to work on it. I have to admit to being a bit sluggish lately in the writing department. Not sure if it's because I was working on the umpteenth rewrite of the mystery, or because I knew the mystery didn't have an immediate future. It's such a relief to be back to the fantasy genre.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Analysis - The Ordinary by Jim Grimsley

I'm calling this an analysis because it isn't a review. It's another book that didn't appeal to me, but got lots of good reviews on Goodreads. So what didn't work for me?

It starts as a first contact sort of thing - a high tech world investigating a seemingly primitive society. That got my attention. The main character, Jedda, is in the right place with the right skills to be selected for the team. I liked her. Halfway through the book we have a shift. It might seem like a primitive society, but they have powerful magic. OK, that's cool. But the spotlight moves away from Jedda and I lost interest. The book ends with Jedda being the savior of the magic world, I guess. Either I skimmed a really important part, or just didn't get it, because I couldn't figure out why her? Or, and this is even worse, I couldn't figure out what she did to save that world, although everyone was very pleased with her.

Some of the other characters are immortal and the summary of their lives to bring the reader up to date wasn't very interesting. I wanted to get back to Jedda and her compatriots.

I've read in a number of places the the first chapter is a promise to the reader about what the book will be. I think that might be part of my disappointment with this book. We went from first contact to the internal conflicts of the magic land's magic wielding royalty. I think I wanted to see more of how the tech world was reacting.

So how do I use this information? I guess I need to take a look at my WIP and make sure the through-line of the story doesn't change its focus. Easy to see in other's work, not so easy to pick up in my own.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Anonymous Guest Post

I submitted this for a topic of advice on when you get stuck. I didn't realize it would be anonymous. But I think you will recognize the mention of the TOME.

http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/2011/06/greyhaus-guest-blogger-daunting-re.html

 I love this blog, even though I don't write romance. (Once again hanging with the wrong people!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I love Goodreads!

I have to admit it - I'm a bit of a database nerd. And I read voraciously. That made me fall in love with Goodreads immediately.

Sometimes I will remember a character, or a world and shuffle around in my mental filing cabinets for the title and author of the book. Who was that guy that grew wings? Where was that world with the snarky unicorn? Which one had the guy who turned himself into a brick? Now I can skim back through my books and find them.

Lovely.

And there are lots of reviews so I can look at them to see who else hated/loved the book I just read. And the new release newsletter lets me fill up my "To Read" list. Do I sound like a commercial?

I like to organize things. Just finished a database of aliens for the rewrite I'm working on now. So I have a place to stash any important snippets that pop up as I'm writing. The 3-ring binder I was using was getting pretty worn. Now it's all in there, neat, tidy and searchable.

Ah, the wonders of computers.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My 2 Harrys

Potter and Dresden, that is.

Earlier this year I decided to tackle both series. I was alternating between the two, with a couple of others thrown in as palate cleansers. They are both wizards, but very different, like salmon mousse and chocolate mousse. One is salty and smoky and the other is sweet and rich. You can't compare them. They are just yummy in their own special place.

Dresden is like the A-Team all rolled into one - charming, nutty, cunning and strong. Potter is the embodiment of childhood angst, except he wins.

I love my Harrys. I dove into the pile of books gleefully. Hours and days of reading in wonderful worlds. But then comes the end. I finished the Potter series and caught up with Mr. Butcher. I am almost hesitant to read the most recent Dresden book because I don't know when the next book will come out.

Bummer. I wish my favorite authors could be more prolific. (And I know that's asking something. I don't think Brandon Sanderson sleeps.) Guess I have to go find some new favorites.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ready in the wrong genre

Well, I've done it again. I've cozied up to the wrong people. When I was trying to get into art school, I was hanging out with the potters. They are wonderful people to hang out with. But I'm a painter. I wasn't schmoozing the right department. (Not that I'm much of a schmoozer.)

And now here I am with a finished, polished and pretty damn good mystery novel and all I read is Fantasy/SciFi.

Sigh.

It started because I needed help. I wrote THE BOOK. It was a meandering tome with way too many characters in it that told everyone's story simultaneously. Ugh. It needed a lot of help. So, I started joining online critique groups. Then I discovered American Zoetrope and decided that writing a screenplay couldn't be that hard. They're only about 100 pages and most of that is white space! Double ugh.

Screenplays are bizarre little boxes that require very precise beats. And then you hand your baby over to producers, directors and actors to make what they will of it. Whoa nellie - I'm not that kind of team player. And right up front they warn people that SciFi is too expensive. So, while I was floundering around learning about format and storytelling I worked on a couple of mysteries. Until I finally admitted that I should stick to novels.

I rewrote the tome. Still not working. So, I decided to turn one of the screenplays (I actually made it to a Quarter Final in the Fade In contest, so it had some redeeming qualities) into a novel. It was fewer POVs, I knew the story really well and it would give me a new round of practice. Three rewrites later I'm thinking it might actually be finished.

But publishing is a business. They want writers that have a whole career of books in them. And I do, but they are not mysteries. So, it will have to go back in the closet.

I have a world that I can play in for a long time. I just need to rewrite that tome with all the new skills and insights I've gained. And this time, I will try to schmooze the right people!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pearl Buck in space

One of the agent blogs I follow said recently something to the effect of - Don't tell me you started writing because there are no good authors out there.




 Oops.

Well, maybe I should rephrase. I started writing because I couldn't find the right stories for me.

I remember it clearly. I had read everything that my current favorite authors had produced. I started pulling authors at random out of the library and not one of them suited me. But I don't think my response was, "I can do better." I wanted a different playground.

Back in college I blew through all the Pearl Buck books. I love the way she can immerse you in a culture. That's the kind of fantasy I want. Sherri Tepper, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson, all my favorites now. And of course when I was young, all things Pern.

I don't want to read about space battles or reluctant messiahs saving the corrupt world from legions of evil. Been there done that, not my cup of tea anymore. And that is just my subjective taste. I'm not saying they can't be someone else's favorite. Like my Uncle John used to say - that's what makes horse racing.

So now I am writing. And I hope I can achieve Pearl Buck in space.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The origin of ALL THERE IS . . .

Way back when, in the dark ages before email, my sister and I started writing a book.

Started.

It was a Star Wars/Star Trek crossover that might have even had a smidge of Dr. Who thrown in. I was living in Boston and she was in Connecticut. We each went our merry way writing chapters, inventing characters and running off in a dozen directions.

When I went for a visit I would gather up all the handwritten pages to type back at home. Somehow the typed assemblage became known as ALL THERE IS. Then one day we discovered THE REST OF IT.

We didn't worry about copyrights or marketing, we were just having fun. It was a bonding experience when we were both a bit adrift. But I learned a lot from that foray into other people's worlds.

First and foremost you can't have 2 heroes.  No matter how we tried, Captain Kirk and Han Solo just don't play well together. And most surprisingly, I realized that my take on other people's characters changed them. They became a springboard from which all sorts of new characters tumbled.

And so we diligently worked on ALL THERE IS . . . AND THE REST OF IT until one day we didn't. It was therapy and catharsis, and in that, served its purpose. I will probably never revisit it, but that dusty old binder will always have a warm spot in my heart.