Monday, February 26, 2007

Reading Report

The Santorini Bride by Anne McAllister (Harlequin Presents) American style actually the hero and heroine are both of Greek descent and the opening of the story is on a sun drenched Greek island, but much of the story takes place in Montana - which definitely added a new flavor to my favorite indulgence. There's even a dog.

Sticking to my new disciplined reading plan, a historical was up next and I selected a new to me author, Christina Dodd. Now a new author comes with the added bonus of no expectations. My Favorite Bride was a bit like Oliver Twist meets the Sound of Music. The heroine is a reformed cut purse, the first of her ilk I've encountered, always a good thing. Her background had the benefit of providing a believable conflict.

Next came a romantic comedy, Nerd Gone Wild by Ms. Thompson, the hero is only pretending to be a nerd, which I found disappointing. I had anticipated a nerd hero. I should have read the cover copy more carefully,

Craft book of the week was Story by Robert McKee - aimed at script writers, it is nevertheless full of helpful advice for the aspiring novelist. Many helpful examples. And new explanations for things you may already know but for me refreshers are a good thing.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Writing life

Submitted the re-envisioned story and as soon as I get caught up with the dust bunnies and laundry I'm sure I'll be pacing about thinking about what next.

With me, it is never a shortage of ideas, but always a shortage of time.

I love Presents - is this a case of admiring what I'm not good at? Quite possibly. Never the less I'd love to write another one. I adore tropical island fantasies. Especially in the winter time.:) Doesn't a private island with Mr. Wonderful in residence sound delightful?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Reading Report - A Little Secret Between Friends

Last week I eyed the TBR shelves and decided it was time to get organized. A plan for new disciplined reading, regardless of mood was drafted. We'll see how long this lasts.;)

First up was a volume from the slightly dusty stack of Superromances. A Little Secret Between Friends is my first C.J. Carmichael story. One of the things I really like about this particular line is the wide variety of voices and story lines it encompasses. Ms. Carmichael penned a classic secret baby story with warmth and charm. The moral dilemma of a heroine who strives to make the right choices and winds up in the wrong was believable and poignant.

In general, my highly subjective opinion of a story's merit rests on the character connection which happens, or fails to happen, for me as a reader. The fact that the plot is not unique does not hamper my enjoyment of an engaging story.

One of my most respected friends swears she reads for plot and that characterization is substantially less important to her reading pleasure. How about the rest of my faithful readers - what attracts you to story? What makes a tale a favorite?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Writing Life

At first glance, writing seems like a good career choice for the shy and retiring. Easy to hide behind stories. But stories are at their heart full of emotional truth and the only well of emotional truth that the poor writer has to draw upon is the murky depths of her own soul.

At least mine are murky.

No doubt some of you have clear running streams, or babbling brooks, or refreshing mountain springs at your center.

Too bad for you.

Nice and normal is great for living. But it makes a dull story. Readers want drama. The way you get drama is conflict. Conflict isn't nice, it isn't safe, and sure as hell isn't pretty.

It's not the suffering, terror or pain that rivets readers. It's hope. But if all is well in the story world then there's nothing to hope for and nothing to much to say.

Despite my murky center, actually getting conflict written compellingly is formidable challenge.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Random Quirks

The other bloggers are a bad influence. ;)Now that I've neatly shifted the blame, here are ten things you didn't know about me.

1) I had an imaginary friend her name was Zellie, my mother insists she was not real - I'm not still not sure. Perhaps she was like Big Bird's Mr. Snuffleupagus ...

2) I read for every mood, for every purpose.

3) I have prosopagnosia - the inability to recognize faces - people really do all look alike to me - this is an embarrassing condition. I do not recognize my neighbors when I meet them away from their houses. I can tell houses apart. . . which leads to them thinking that I'm unfriendly. When people wave and say Hi I feel bad that I have no notion of who they are. Plus, it leads to very stilted conversations.

4) I do not recognize voices any better than I recognize faces - this makes me a cranky phone conversationalist . . . yes this includes voices I should recognize like my husband's . . . my kids say things like Hi Mom, this makes it easier to figure out who they are.

5) My Chinese astrological sign is Fire Dog - it fits me well

6) I was born bald - my mother scotch taped a ribbon to my head for the early years. When I finally grew hair she was disappointed that it was not like hers.

7) I grew up without a television in the house

8) My hands know things my head has no awareness of, typing is one of those things

9) Office supply stores are right up there with bookstores and nurseries as places I should never visit due to very poor sales resistance

10) I don't know my right from my left, but I do know compass points. . .

Friday, February 16, 2007

Writing Life

Do you read what you write?

It's standard advice to write what you like to read. That doesn't work for me - since I admire what I'm not good at.:) However, since I read everything,invariably I do read some of the genre I'm writing. The drawback, for me - is that I compare my unedited work to another writer's polished story. Very discouraging. :( If I read too many titles in a category I'm writing then I become despondent.

Sadly, I'm more critical of categories of fiction that I am writing. This fussy attitude takes much of the fun out of reading. To enjoy the fictional world requires a certain suspension of belief.

Do I read what I write? Yes. I've found a system that works for me. If I'm writing a Presents story I'm allowed to read Blazes. If I'm writing a Blaze, then I get to read Presents. Romantic suspense sits on the shelf a great deal of the time - and it's one of my favorites. But I frequently include suspense elements, so I have to watch reading suspense. Historicals are always safe.:) Thank goodness.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wrting Craft

Still obsessing about character and something I've heard/read more than once. Plot exists only to reveal character. This is a concept that I struggle with. Perhaps because story is more important to me than even character.

Yes, I want three dimensional complex and fully functional characters. But I want them because they have been chosen and crafted to tell the story. This is a bit of chicken and egg problem. And I ask myself does it matter? The answer I've tentatively arrived at is no. Not in the overall scheme of things, but for the individual writer I think it matters significantly. To understand ones processes, to have a clear notion of strengths and weakness is to be a better writer.

Characters make stories memorable. As a reader it is because of character that I read. Brilliant characterization will keep me reading, but ideally I like the story people to have something to say. Beyond plot, beyond personal growth, I want to learn something about life from a good book.

That means the author (one hopes intentionally) crafted her story to illustrate something she wanted to say.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Reading Report - The Thirteeth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale, Ms. Setterfield's debut novel has met with stunning success and positive reviews. The story is a modern day Gothic mystery and a book within a book.

For the first third of the story I read along indifferently, then the author captured my interest and I read eagerly to the final pages. Where once again I became unenchanted, perhaps by the writer's design.

The repressed heroine of The Thirteenth Tale is not to my taste, but this is nothing other than personal preference, and should not put anyone off a well-written book.

This story made me long to re-read Jane Eyre and Rebecca to see if the magic of those long ago tales still remains true and potent.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wrtiing Life

Stuck in revisions, sounds a little bit like the start of ballad. There's nothing romantic about writing. From the outside writing looks like a dream job. There are moments, when the writing flow that it does feel great. But the more I learn the less I have the illusion that the first draft of anything I write is golden.

Revision sharpens my awareness of flaws. There are nice bits - parts I still like. But I've learning not to get attached, some of my favorites have already fallen by the wayside. I'd mourn, but the story is better for the changes.

Judging by those who are further down the road than me, at least the hurdles change shape and color.

For reasons I do not understand I need hardcopy to revise. I have to print the story make corrects with colored pens and post-its, then and only then can I catch a reasonable number of errors. Reading aloud catches even more.

Once the story has been examined all the problems need actual solutions and to be input into the computer version. It is possible for me to mess up a previous okay section during this process. It is also possible to make new errors when improving previously written sections. :(

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Writing Life

So I have this nasty miserable head cold. The kind where your nose gets sore and if you aren't honking into a kleenex then you're sneezing. I'm working anyway. Why? Ah, I think being sick and all, my head feeling pretty much stuffed with something bland and fuzzy the swamp monster is probably in charge. Nurse Ratched being out of commission for the moment, we just might get some good stuff.

Mostly I'm adding the villain bits and it is oddly cathartic.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Writing craft

Over at eharlequin Anne McAllister and several other lovely presents authors are discussing the nuts and bolts of world building and keeping the time line straight through continuities in one of those instructive Q&A sessions.

A few minutes of reading and my head is too full to take in more information. An excellent illustration of "easy reading is damn hard writing." These women are all so very clever,scholarly, and have admirable work habits.

My mood regarding the Presents submission has swung away from giddy optimism to what-was-I-thinking-to send off that story, with just a sliver of hope that the lovely editor will say something kind.

In the meantime I'm frantically trying to fix the previous manuscript which I've promised to have ready for line by line edit on the twenty fourth. At this point I'm not even sure what the story is about. Have I mentioned I have cold and really need to lie down for nice long nap? Not being one of my heroines, a good self-pity session seems long overdue.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Reading Report

Let's see, I told you about Bird By Bird. To recap: buy it - great book full of wisdom and laughs. I read a book I didn't like. Is it cowardly to not give a negative review? Possibly, but after all fiction is subjective. Someone (several someones actually, who know more about books than I do - agent, editor, publisher, critics)loved it. There's nothing constructive about criticizing a published book, so I'm giving it a miss.

That sums up the weeks reading. Perhaps I'll do better next week.:)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Writing Life

Sheesh no wonder I have such a hard time writing. When my muse is swamp monster and my internal editor is Nurse Ratched I consider that I'm doing well just to get through the day. The swamp monster is no fool, she waits until Nurse Ratched has started a light steady snore before rearing her ugly head and demanding attention.

Hissing and spitting, the swamp monster dictates her latest version of the story unfettered by the obstreperous nurse. Of course the seriously cranky nurse gets up pre-dawn and screeches over the swamp mess dribbled on her tidy story. And so it goes.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Writing Craft

I've been reading a book I don't like. No I'm not going to discuss which book or include a link. It would not be helpful or kind. Besides what I like is entirely subjective. I do read books I don't enjoy for a number of reasons. The most important is that I hope to learn something from them.

What turns me off a book? First and foremost, characters I don't care about. Second, story choices. The writer can be technically brilliant and still have trouble engaging me if he's telling me a story about fishing. I'm not anti-fishing mind you. But getting me to read a whole book about it is definitely rowing up stream. Just the kind of pointless activity fishing enthusiasts engage in - but I digress.

Characters can be both attractive and sympathetic, but if they do not ring true to my ear the story fails to engage me. Walking the line between characters I believe in and characters who are sufficiently heroic to succeed as romantic protagonists is a big struggle for me.

When I read an engaging story written by someone else it flows effortlessly. Examining the underpinnings, trying to master those same feats leaves me flat on my back staring at the ceiling and wondering how they make it look so easy.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Writing Life

Characterization is IMHO what is most lacking in my stories.

So naturally, I read everything I can get my hands on about characterization. Brilliant fictional people seem to be products of communing with one's muse. Anne Lamott talks about the child in the cellar who slips notes under the door, which she gloms onto as being the truth about her characters. Jennifer Crusie talks about waiting for the the girls in the basement to send something up. I strongly suspect my muse is some sort of swamp monster. I keep a safe distance. I do like the idea of positioning myself on a nearby grassy knoll with field glasses, but I suppose if I want communication I should venture a little closer.

The other consistent internal voice in the internal editor. I don't have a nice one of those either.

However, the swamp creature keeps her in check.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Writing Craft

Really it's another reading report. But I like variety. :) And since it is a craft book, sort of. The label is fair.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott is one of those books I've seen recommendations for several times but it never seemed the most urgent thing for me to study. It's still not, but I decided to skim and see why it's perpetually recommended.

Last night I opened the cover fully intending to browse the first few pages and set it aside in favor of The Thirteenth Tale. The first chapter was so entertaining it led to another and another. Why did no one ever tell me how funny and poignant and true this book is?

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