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!

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.


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.

 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.