Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten Things About Sierra and 2009

The problem with decades ending and new years beginning is that they don't look any different from the day before. Nevertheless, it's amusing to put on our introspective hats and make lists and resolutions and brim ourselves up with good intentions. In any case, a list is always good fun.

1. I started this blog.
I discovered that while I wanted to slaver about Scottish oatcakes, my followers and random readers seem to enjoy my writing-related posts more. Thank you for reading my posts and putting up with me havering on about things.

2. I'm still not psychic.
As hard as I tried, I did not see this creepy-arsed guy in my dreams. And thank Krakow for THAT, because I would have pissed myself in horror. Also, he looks like Alfred E. Nueman.

3. I reaffirmed that I go against the grain.
It's always good to remind oneself where one's passions lie. In a year of swine flu fear, health care rage, and other trendy subjects, I kept my head down, ignored all that stuff, and did what was important to me. When a colleague laughed long, loudly, and maniacally when he discovered that I am a supporter of the Scottish football team Hibernian FC, I vowed there to severely dislike him forever more. If a 34-year old married mother of a 3 year old whippersnapper can support a traditionally Scottish and male-oriented sport, then I'm doing it. Ya hear that, "Ron"?

4. I designed and launched my web site.
I was really pleased with the result, not the least of why because I was both designer and client. That meant I could be demanding and egotistical and make myself work long, hard hours over inane changes, and I would have to put up with it all and couldn't fire myself.

5. I started Tweeting and discovered my Twitter account was worth a paltry $14.
But I do have more followers than I people I follow, even if those extra followers are people who followed me so I would follow them back (I didn't; I know, this is fantastically cruel, but I will not be treated as a Twitter dog chew toy, no! No!) and build their social network.

6. I made lots of new tinterweb friends, all of whom support me and love me.
This has fed my ego more than a goat with a pile of freshly laundered clothing, and I thank you so much. Really. You also gave me lots of awards, which was kind and thoughtful.

7. I continued editing, rewriting, proofing, and rewriting, and rewriting my novel (set in Santorini).
And I started work on another one. I'm 80% finished with the first draft, even though I won't let myself work on it. Funny how you go ahead and do things anyway, isn't it.

8. I got to see Underworld.Underworld is my most favorite group ever, and I saw them live in August at the lovely Fox Theatre in Oakland, in what turned out to be only one of two US stops they made. And, I turned my 61 year old mother onto them, too. Hollah! (And special bonus, click here to listen to the broadcast of that show! Ooh, I just got the shivers!)

9. I survived.
Phew! And I also have all four limbs. I count that as very lucky. You don't realize this, but life would suck a lot more, wouldn't it, if you didn't have a leg, or any legs. Or any arms. And also I'm glad that my fingers work so that I can type. Also, I'm real glad that this year, no disasters like fire or earthquakes destroyed my neighborhood, causing me to pile my family in the car and hotfoot it up to a secret location (but like, an hour north of Sacramento), where I know of a guy whose garage is chock full of canned goods. Oh, we clocked that little detail, all right. And that's where we'll be going. But anyway I'm glad I didn't have to this year.

10. I remembered silly is good.
One of the reasons I write is because nonsense through words amuses me so very much. I think I lost this--it's easy to lose such a thing when people read your work and provide feedback and force you to look deeply into your soul and story and you don't want to, but you have to if you want to write something readable. But I rediscovered a sense of silly and solemnly vow to include it where possible, always.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Word Up Wednesday: Misanthropy

This week's word, the last of 2009, is misanthropy. This was used in a post by Nathan Bransford yesterday (in which he wrote about how authors can't afford to be misanthropes anymore and get away with it). When I read it, I thought that I would never have used that word, because I wouldn't have been able to pull it out of my arse, even in its current Christmas-chocolate size. And that's what I like about Word Up Wednesday--the opportunity to learn about $10 words and have them at the ready, even if I don't actually use them all the time.

So, a misanthrope is a person who generally dislikes, distrusts, is disgusted by, has contempt for, or hates other people. When I first read this, I was like "Oh CRIPES, I'm a total misanthrope!" But I don't dislike or hate all humans, just the nasty ones. The word originates from the Greek μίσος (misos, "hatred") and άνθρωπος ( anthrōpos, "man, human being"). It's closely related to misogynist, the hatred of women, which is a word I know and like to throw around when I'm being cantankerous. (I'm not sure if my cantankerousness relates to misanthropy, but I'm going to go with no.)

Other forms of misanthropy include misanthrope (to describe a person), misanthropic (to describe a state of being). Wikipedia offers, " presented as the result of thwarted expectations or even excess optimism." I found this graph that represents the level of misanthropy according to whether the person is an idealist or not. It very much follows on Socrates' assertion on the Wiki article that people get all misanthoropic-y after having high expectations that fail. So your lesson for today is to be on the lookout for becoming misanthropic after rejection. It's easy to hate others for your own failure to have a marketable concept, execute it well, and hit all the right plot points--especially if you can't see those mistakes.

My sentence:

If you go around letting the world see what a misanthrope you are, then you probably won't get many offers of pork chops dinners.

Thoughts? Sentences?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Writing and Cities

It's always fun to set a story in a gorgeous city. Major cities are obviously favorite settings: New York, Los Angeles, London, and Chicago. Lots to do and lots of landmarks that make a story great. I set a story in London and Edinburgh. Edinburgh, Scotland (pictured at right), is probably my most favorite city in the world, quite apart from being home to Hibernian FC. It's dark, full of romantic Georgian architecture, small, and has a castle. What more could you want?

My novel that is set in Santorini starts out in San Francisco, which was fun since I wrote about places I knew well. My current work in progress is set in my hometown of Santa Cruz, CA, but also sees a lot of Lake Tahoe.

Where is your story set? What made you want to set it there?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Getting Experience

Matt at Pensive Sarcasm had a post about self-publishing and getting your writing chops. He made an analogy to how he managed to get his airline pilot job by working as a flight instructor so he could rack up flight hours and get some experience, which solved the paradox of needing to have experience to get a job, which would give experience. He said you only need your license to work as a flight instructor. His story was a good example of thinking outside the box in order to get your foot in the door.

He went on to talk about self-publishing as one of the ways to get publishing experience. You can read what he had to say about that, but I'm going to focus on what you need to do to get the experience to write a cracking story in the first place.

This is an easy one. Read a lot. Read widely. And watch how published writers do it. Pay attention to their plot! Pay attention to characterization! Pay attention to dialogue, pacing, scenery!

In my writing group, you're only admitted in after you come to a trial meeting where you show how you both give and take critiques. How you give it is important. You learn so much through reviewing and reading the work of others. Don't get cocky here--if you review someone's writing and it's not at your level, do not dismiss it. Your feedback to them will help you identify when you make those same mistakes.

Be Reviewed
Like learning from what you critique, you will learn so much from what people say about your writing. Take all of it, none of it, or part of it--but carefully examine every bit of feedback you get, and cogitate on it carefully. Don't get defensive. If someone points something out, then it tripped them up as a reader. Remember that. Your writing may be brilliant, but it tripped someone else up as a reader.

Write a lot. Write short stories. Write blog posts. Write a column for your church bulletin. Write whatever you can, but do it a lot. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that your first effort is your best. It isn't. Write more.

This isn't the same as practicing. Toil over your story and manuscript until it's really, really good. If it isn't good, and never going to be, chuck it and start on something else. Few people produce genius literature right out of the gate. Take a few YEARS to work hard on your writing and your story. I know no one wants to hear that, but generally you have to toil, unless you have no day job (and no children to raise), are a celebrity, or brilliant.

Take Baby Steps
Can you write a column for your church bulletin, homeowner's newsletter (I used to write the whole thing), or an editorial? All of these can pay you for what you write. These are small, but that doesn't matter. It's the fact of putting yourself out there and being paid for what you produce. It instills a certain discipline. (Which brings us back to Matt's should read that if you haven't already!)

Do you have any suggestions to add? What are your experiences with these methods?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

What Christmas Means to Me

Our local light rock station, KOIT, turns over to 24/7 Christmas music the weekend before Thanksgiving. I like it; I love the Paul McCartney song Wonderful Christmas Time and I find Christmas music helps me get into the season.

My whippersnapper and I enjoy listening to many songs together. His favorites are the Beach Boys' Little Saint Nick, Alvin and the Chipmunks' Christmas Song, and of course the Grinch song. But the one we enjoy most is Little Drummer Boy. We like to say different things for "ra pum pum pum" to change it up a little. I nearly split my side laughing when he said, "piece of chicken pum ." I mean, piece of chicken!

So this year I bought him a copy of Ezra Jack Keats's exquisitely illustrated Little Drummer Boy. It's a gorgeous book: simple, loving, rich, pure art. I never knew the words to the song until I read the book. But when I came upon the line,

I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
....I thought, OH. Such humility! Then the lines:

I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.


Merry Christmas to all my wonderful friends and followers. May you play your drum, and play your best, for whomever it is you feel deserves the respect of your best talents today, and in 2010.

P.S. My husband and I had quite a good time trying to find a bearable rendition of Little Drummer Boy on You Tube. It turns out that most everyone's tried to sing it, and most of them had to be stopped 10 seconds into the song. Plenty of famous singers couldn't sing it (Jessica Simpson, Grace Jones), and some tried to add stylistic crap to it. Below are the ones I found enjoyable and/or bearable. Note that I am not normally a fan of the performers (certainly not Faith Hill), but I tip my cap to them for doing a heartfelt, talented job on a song that I feel should be sung simply and thoughtfully.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Word Up Wednesday: Perfidy

Sort of following the naughtiness of last week's rapscallion comes perfidy, which means a form of deception, particularly in the context of war, in which one side promises to act in good faith and then breaches his or her word once the enemy has exposed himself; a deliberate breach of faith or trust. The word comes from the Latin prefix per-, which means (destruction) and fides (faith.)

Is perfidy ever a good thing? It's not funny when it's used in reference to war crimes, but I think perfidy can be fine when the person doing it is the hero. Otherwise, it's just a lovely word to mean a rather emotional concept--betrayal and trickery always does our head in because we tend to operate on a social moral code of honoring our word. A powerful and rarely used word, if Google searches have anything to say about it.

My sentence:

The plan to employ perfidy against King Sebastian's army had Sonia aflutter with excitement; she was to be used as the decoy.

What's yours?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cats Do Plot to Kill You

I love cats and have two of them. They can be very annoying but there is no doubt of their worth: their furry warm bodies are better than any space heater in the winter time.

However, I have long said that cats want to kill us. They constantly watch for an opportunity. When you sleep at night, they hold long and intense inner debates over whether you're dead or not. Sometimes they can't help themselves, and begin to eat your toes. A sharp kick usually reminds them that you were just sleeping. (NO I am not advocating kicking cats. This is a self-defense example. They are trying to kill you.)

I know that you're asking, "Why would you want to live with two cats if they're trying to kill you" right now. Well, they're very nice to look at (excepting these). And there's the aforementioned furry feature. Because of the difference in size between them and me, avoiding their evil schemes is pretty easy. Sure, you have to keep an extra vigilant eye out when small children are around. My two cats usually don't go near my small son, because they know I'm watching. But they're watching too, and I never forget it.

Why do cats want to kill you? Huh! Why does the sun shine! Why is Scottish Premier League football not televised more often in the US? I don't know, but I have learned to live with the terror of constant plotting under my roof.

Here is a very intelligent comic that provides a helpful list of signs to watch for in cats. It shows that I am not alone in knowing the truth about housecats.

P.S. What does this have to do with writing? Well, nothing. It's Christmas Lite week.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What Gordon Ramsay Can Teach Us About Writing

You're familiar with Gordon Ramsay, yes? If not, a quick rundown: he's a Scottish chef (with an English accent, but I'm not going to harp on that), famous for his swearing and ability to cut through crap, and host of several TV shows. In the US, these include Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, neither of which hold a candle to his British show, Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. (The US television market clearly thinks audiences require a tear jerkey moment in order to be entertained, whereas the British version knows that he shines through without that malarkey.) I watch the British Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America. You should too.

Gordon (who I sometimes like to refer to as GordHun on account of the fact that he signed to play for Glasgow Rangers in his youth before a knee injury ended his football career; I am not a fan of Rangers, and "hun" is the less than flattering name by which we refer to them) has a real talent for cutting through people's crap and turning their failing restaurants around. I love the show because he identifies very quickly where and why restaurants fail.

So what does Gordhun have to do with writing? Let's have a look:

For people with mediocre cooking talent or no organizational or business skills, ego is a good cover up--until their businesses start to crumble and they have to call Gordhun to please come help them. So much of our ego gets in the way of our writing, starting with delusions about our skills and ending with how we take criticism. When we remove our big fat bloated egos from our work, our writing is so much stronger. When you stop pretending you can cook a lamb shank when all you're doing is heating a vacuum pack of chemical meat in the microwave, or stop pretending your genius crap is going to make you rich in a year from a 16-book publishing deal, then you have removed ego. When you stop pretending that you can do things you can't, and that maybe reading a book on plot might be in order, you have removed ego. Unfortunately, this is the hardest obstacle. Ego is like a tick. It buries its head in and removing it is never painless.

Fresh and simple
Another mainstay on almost every episode of Kitchen Nightmares is Gordhun's chorus of "fresh and simple." He implores people to stop complicating things by adding things they don't need. One of the first things he does at a restuarant, almost without fail, is to pare down bloated, heavy, and impossible menus to a few fresh dishes cooked with local produce. He goes absolutely mental if he finds people using pre-made packaged crap in restaurant kitchens. Of course we should be fresh and simple in our writing, too. Don't load things with flowery words or pre-packaged phrases or adverbs. Don't use big words because you think that's what good writing consists of. Just write simply and honestly, and use language that is true to you and where you're from. The story's strength will follow.

Most failing restaurants lack organization in the kitchen or with the owner. One of the things Gordon does is institute a clear chain of command in the kitchen so that things flow. He asks that the head chef communicate with his staff. He does this in every episode where the head chef is a problem--and usually a problem head chef doesn't communicate with his assistants to tell them what's needed. (This goes back to ego, of course. Everything relates.) You've got to have all your elements connect in a clear, organized fashion, or else you'll have your chicken kiev burnt on the stove while the steak diane goes out undercooked. Get a sense of a plan, know how plot works, and know what your character wants.

I've learned a lot from watching Gordhun, not the least of which is that it is possible for a person to be ex-ranger and still be a decent human being* (I'm not quite ready to add him to my BFF list, although if he called I might allow myself to be talked into it). His no-nonsense, down to basics solutions have a lot of lessons in them. And like the chefs and restaurant owners he helps, it's up to them in the end to listen and apply the lessons.

*never mind reports of adultery or whatnot; he manages to come across on his show as decent enough, and that's really saying something for an ex-hun.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Google Reader Roundup

Here's my Google Reader roundup for the week, which is a list of the best posts I read this week for the blogs I subscribe to in my Reader. It's to die for, that's what Tina Lynn said.

  • INTERN gives us some LOL-ish suggestions on how to cut down printing costs. Delicious. I wish INTERN was my BFF. Me and INTERN and Marian Keyes could sit and have pumpkin spice lattes and eat oatcakes and laugh and laugh and laugh.
  • Bookshelf Muses's 7 deadly sins of novel writing #1: Low Stakes. (She hasn't listed the rest yet. But I eagerly await.)
  • Also, thanks to Roni for the spotlight love in her About Me post--see, that's my posts having an effect! I'm famous now! (Because of the Van Halen thing and also Editorrent thing, and now Roni thing.)
  • Get on with your bad selves (God I'm so street! Hollah!) and check out Meghan Ward's post on stretching your comfort limits. When I first read this I thought sure I have lots of things that are difficult for me to write about, but a day went by and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how we hold ourselves back. What do you hold yourself back about?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Quality of Writing

Last week Jessica Faust had a post that dealt with a writer who felt terrible because his/her editor had caught a ton of mistakes that she/he felt he never should have made. I said in the comments that writing really opens you up to criticism because everyone thinks they're an editor, and it's tough. We writers are often filled with self loathing as a result.

Then INTERN had a post about how her copy editor ripped her a new grammatical arsehole with all the comments. This was surprising because INTERN's posts are pretty good. You can tell INTERN has a way with words, and is very good at what INTERN writes, so INTERN's admission of all the supposed mistakes she made was scary.

At my own work place, I am not seen as a great writer. Colleagues have seen some pretty stinky work from me, and I suspect some of thinking I'm not quite up to snuff. Ouch. It isn't worth arguing this; I would only come out looking like an angry beast, and arguing that kind of thing never changes minds anyway. What I do instead is quietly, but ferociously, edit past material and take a lot more time and care with my stuff--something yes, yes, yes, yes, FINE, I should have done from the get-go. I do this with my fiction now, so it's silly that I didn't do it for the stuff I actually get paid for. Once you stink, it's hard to remove the lingering stench no matter how hard you scrub. All I can do now is put more effort in to what I write, edit carefully, and remember that few people are fantastic writers right out the gate.

I think I have a natural inclination for writing, but it doesn't come easily. I have to work at it--in all aspects: storytelling, style, succinctness. This is common, I think.

Do you think you're a good writer? Do people respect you as a writer?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Word Up Wednesday: Rapscallion

This week's word is rapscallion. A rapscallion is playfully mischievous, a scoundrel, and a rascal. In fact the word derives from "rascallion," which means rascal. I love these words because they all describe an awesome and delicious villain.

Villains are particularly good when they're mischievous and funny. In my novel about Santorini, my villain starts out as a rapscallion but sadly doesn't stay one. (He doesn't turn good, either.) Rapscallions don't always have to be bad, though. How about "occasionally criminal"? Han Solo is assuredly a rapscallion, but not bad. The word gives me an image of what he (because it seems that a rapscallion is always a he, no?) looks like too: on the thin side, wiry build...probably scrappy, and perhaps good with a sword. Foxy, in other words.

It seems pirates are often rapscallions. (Johnny Depp is certainly a rapscallion in the Caribbean movies, and oooooh what a rapscallion he is!) There's a rapscallion font, and it looks like a pirate font. Synonyms include scoundrel, rogue, scamp (scamp is a great word, too). It also carries a sense of old timeyness to it that makes it a delight to use.

Here's my sentence.

He looked into my eyes before turning to leap over the brick wall and make his escape--and for the split second the rapscallion held my gaze, I was his.

What's yours?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Likeable Characters

Last week I posted about dream-BFF Marian Keye's new book, The Brightest Star in the Sky (you know what, I'm going to just go ahead and presume to call Marian my BFF because I feel certain she would agree we were BFFs if she knew), and how when it ended, I was sad and regretted it. And then yesterday I posted about why--partly because of the amazing character portraits she painted.

Today we'll talk about likeable characters. I actually got this idea from a post Jessica Faust at Bookends did about likeable characters in literature. I think most of us will agree that likeable characters have the following traits:
  • Strength
  • Cleverness
  • Dedication
  • Charisma
  • Humor
But those don't always make a character likeable. For me, I want a stand-out character, one who is strong in a way that jumps off the page. Maybe this means the character is slightly outrageous, or strong in his or her convictions. In the story I'm working on now, I have a character who started out as a peripheral friend to my protagonist. He served as the token unattainable, attractive male friend. Then he started saying the most unbelievable things! Even thought I had intended him to be a rapscallion, he was hugely likeable. And I went whoa, this guy is much more central a character than I originally thought. So, I gave him a subplot to work out for himself and I'm really pleased with the results. I knew he had a heart of gold in there somewhere.

And that seems to be what makes a character likeable no matter what the circumstance. If he overcomes a distasteful start-- in other words, overcomes his humanity, then he can really stand out. I want redemption of the sprint!

Some of the likeable characters discussed in Jessica Faust's post included Scarlett O'Hara, was a disgustingly selfish snot, but likeable because she had some really amazing reserves of strength that reminded me of a southern Energizer Bunny.

Someone else mentioned Humbert Humbert from Lolita. Bleeech. He is so repulsive in every way that I couldn't even finish the book. NO THANK YOU. I saw no likeability there unless he overcame himself, and I don't think he did.

Hannibal Lector. I like him. But then, I find cannibalism funny. He's also slightly redeemable--he seems to respect Clarice Starling and lets her go. I like him for that.

And the picture above of Ferris Bueller--the ultimate likeable character, one whose story revolved around being likeable. His own sister had her own subplot just to deal with his likeability. Was it the way he lip synced Danke Shoen on top of the float in downtown Chicago? Was it his ability to get out of anything? His sheer charm? All of the above.

Who are your likable characters and why?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why I Regretted the End

Last week I posted a review of the (not even released in this country!!!) new Marian Keyes novel, The Brightest Star in the Sky. I said that I regretted the book ending. So what was it that captured my attention so well, apart from the usual mysterious elements Marian brings to each of her novels to make them so good?

Unforgettable characters
Some of them weren't even terribly likable, but there were some incredibly strong characters with amazing quirks. So quirky and so funny that I was thoroughly entertained. Chiefly, this consisted of Lydia, a diminutive taxi driver with a difficult family situation. Her manner of speech and her rage is just hilarious. She clear about who she is, and she's confident. Some of my favorites from her included a trademark "Ouuuutttttt!" when she didn't like a passenger, or when people were chatty, she would turn around and ask them if they had accepted Christ Jesus into their lives--with the Christ specifically coming before the Jesus for more impact (I think this is funny; she only did it on the assumption that people would stop talking to her). Or how her Polish roommates referred to her at the "evil pixie," and how she wasn't willing to stand for anything less than what she thought she deserved, or how she would tell people to "Up! Shut!" instead of a mere "shut up!" Lydia is just one example of brightly painted characters, but she was thoroughly engrossing. Loading your characters with strong traits makes them memorable and likable.
(Tomorrow we'll talk more about likable characters.)

Marian (who, as you know, I wish was my BFF) is very funny. She doesn't lay it on thick for the sake of trying to be funny, though. She gives her characters zingers throughout and they're so well-paced that by the end you can pick out some great places where you howled with laughter. I didn't howl all the time, just some of the time. Just enough.

Interesting situations
My BFF Marian always gives her characters high stakes and enough trouble so that you care about them and want to see what else they do by the end. I don't have any specifics on this, but it definitely translates into making sure your characters have a compelling enough story problem. If all your characters want is cooked spinach, mmmm, I mightn't care by the end, then. However if they want to, say, get over the hideous sexual attack they suffered that is totally ruining their marriage, then yes, I believe I might care.

An interesting overall premise
Marian, BFF of Sierra, has always had engrossing and smart premises for her novels. This one is no different--it's the premise that a being has landed in an apartment building and it will affect each of the tenants. It's a fresh way of handling a multiple POV story. Ask yourself: how many times has your premise been done before? In the case of my novel, I know without question that it's been done over and over. But I'm not sure the other accompanying elements have been done. I've hopefully freshened up an old trope.

These are but a few of the winning traits of the book. What are some of the winning traits you see in your favorite novels?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Google Reader Roundup

Here's my Google Reader roundup for the week, which is a list of the best posts I read this week for the blogs I subscribe to in my Reader.

  • Editorrent on event sequences in scenes. This is such an important post. Look at the subtle way she recommends changing the scene if it doesn't end on a cliffhanger note.
  • AND THEN LOOK LOOK LOOKIT!!! Editorrent answered my question the very next day! This means I'm famous! I was already famous, I'll have you know, because Van Halen used to practice next door to my aunt's house in Pasadena (or two or three doors down, whatevs) before they made it big. I am not a Van Halen fan, but this clearly makes me famous. Anyway I'm delighted they answered my question because it follows on the Scene events and I needed to know!!
  • Last but not least, Meghan Ward's very clear post on self-publishing. Please note all the places where she clearly calls crap out for being a scam. And then read the adamant comment left by a self-publisher in her comments. Peeps, listen to me. When you believe passionately about something, and you leave a comment or other editorial piece about it, keep your argument neutral and choose your words carefully. You wouldn't want to come across as insulting to the opposition. No, I know you wouldn't. Because it doesn't, um, sell you any books. Good lesson on what NOT to do in marketing. Knowmsaying?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review of Marian Keyes's The Brightest Star in the Sky

I finished reading Marian Keyes's new book, The Brightest Star in the Sky, and I'm going to give you a wee review of it even though I don't usually do reviews,because I suffer from review-writing intimidation. Even if you would never read Marian Keyes, stick with me here because there is something very important about this book for all writers that I picked up.

For those of you not familiar with Irish author Marian Keyes, she is considered one of the mavens of the chick lit or women's fiction genre. What sets her stories apart is the focus on painful issues (rather than shopping), mixed with really delicious humor. Issues include depression, infertility, drug and alcohol addiction, grief, and physical abuse. This new one is no exception; Keyes takes on rape.

Let me first say that I am delighted to write this review right now because the book is not yet published in the US but I am impatient and could not wait for mid-January, so I paid more and ordered it from This suited me anyway because then I could be sure that editors wouldn't change any language for the US audience. I don't actually know if they do this with Marian Keyes books, but they sure as hollandaise sauce do it for books like Harry Potter. HP books (not to be confused with another British delight, HP sauce) which not only were given different titles in the US, but words were changed in what I believe was an attempt to dumb them down for us stupid Americans who couldn't be trusted to know a British word. Fine, many can't ("can't" in this case is the correct term!), but that's not the issue, it's the assumption. Digression. So anyway my UK copy arrived and it had no jacket! It was jacket-less! Instead, the hardcover was GOLD with STARS on it! (As evidenced by the above pic; the US version will look like this, which is hideously insulting in its difference.) It was delightful. Also it was the first print book I'd gotten my hands on that was overtly printed on recycled paper.

Now, The Brightest Star in the Sky starts off deliciously, with some kind of being popping in on the inhabitants of 66 Star Street in Dublin. We like this because the being observes things in a wonderfully-permissable omniscient point of view. But after that, we don't hear from the being for a while, except in different fonts. I found that a little disconcerting, but that is my only non-positive review.

The book follows several different characters through love, loss, and emotional growth (for some). It's hilarious often, but here's the thing--the part you care about. The book was great, as always--Marian is a veteran and it is expected (and I believe I've said before that I wish we were BFFs...maybe someday she'll read my novel and I can put a quote from her on the cover about how much she liked it and what a boundless talent Sierra Godfrey is...and then she'll blog about it and tell the world how she's discovered this amazing author, and we'll exchange Christmas cards and she'll send me Beleek china and Jo Malone candles, and we'll cite each other in the acknowledgment sections of our books, and we'll send each other our draft manuscripts for early feedback.... Anyway, there were a alot of characters and by the time the book eneded, I cared about all of them, and I regretted that the book had ended.

And that, mes amies (as Marian would say), is what makes a good book.

What do you think you can do to make a reader regret that a book ended?
Next week I'll blog about what it is exactly in The Brightest Star in the Sky that I think made me regret having it end.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Word Up Wednesday: Lavish

This week's word is lavish. I love this word because it's wide and rich, and full of whatever it is. I find that it's best used when writing something extreme or silly, such as:

The man vomited in a lavish display over the curb.
I'm sorry to gross you out but the idea of lavish vomit is so funny (in theory only, please). In this sense, I think lavish adds description of the vomit that would be quite inappropriate to spell out: color, spread, and contents. No need for any of that; lavish takes care of it. I picture geyser-like sprays of sick, and...well, I think we have the picture here.

Lavish, when Googled, produces all kinds of pictures of curvaceous ladies and, inexplicably, candles. Why is this? Because the word implies a certain succulency, a certain idea of luxury, warmth, and extravagance. As you have seen, the use of lavish extends beyond these ideas since I chose to go with puke as my example sentence subject. And that is why I love the word.

What do you think about lavish? Can you use it in a sentence?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


How I Feel About Blog Awards (Prior to Listing Winners)
Blog awards are pretty nice, although some criticize them as being cliquish or some such malarkey. I think they are:

  • A nice way to spread love among your followers
  • A cool way to introduce readers to other bloggers
Lynnette had a good list of the usefulness of blog awards.

And I've been very fortunate to receive many in the writing blog community, none of which I have managed to put on my side bar (but I will! I will). Thank you to Jessica, Roni, Tina Lynn, and Jennifer. Your awards to me made me feel very happy.

My only possible complaint about blog awards are the graphics and the rules. Most blog awards insist that in order to win, you must post the award and then forward the award on and sometimes list a bunch of stuff about you. That sounds suspiciously like a chain e-mail letter to me, so here's my award rules:
  • Accept the award.
That's it! You can do this silently in your mind if you like, or post it, whatever works. Forward the award on to others if you like, which of course is how the award grows (also, e-mail viruses grow that way too, but we have agreed this is entirely different than chain e-mail). If you want to pass it on, announce it to your winners in comments of their blog posts.

I'd further adoed enough, so here are my inaugural winners of.....

The Blogo-rama-dingdong Award!

Presented to:

How I feel About Blog Awards Now (After Listing Winners)

I hate them.

Awarding these five bloggers meant leaving others off the list and that was very, very hard to do. Actually everyone I follow and interact with gets an award but ....argghg, I now see why this blog award business is so tedious. The bloggers listed above all did something sometime somehow for me that was nice. Not that others don't. Arrrgh. See?

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Sky is Falling

…on publishing. Here are my thoughts.

Oh God, our beloved print books are going to go away. All will be ebooks and then what? No deckled edges, no smell of ink on paper, no whipping back and forth from front to back of book, or rubbing pages between the fingers. OH GOD.

Not so fast. EReaders have a long way to go before they edge out prints. Consider: ebook pages don’t turn as fast as the real thing. Screen readability technology has some improving to do (although I believe it is nearly there; eReaders are very readable). Books on our shelves are still a personal statement and we’re not ready to let that go yet. In airports, those who don’t have eReaders still need to grab a paperback before a flight. You can’t browse for ebooks. You wouldn't want to spread multiple eReaders all over your desk when you're studying or researching. We still have a ways to go.

Oh God, there will be no quality in books once we all start self publishing! Literature is dying!

Come on, I’m a reader. I'm not going to buy shite. I'm going to buy books that have been edited and vetted by a publisher. That issue will sort itself out.

Oh God, publishing is collapsing around us like dominos! How will unpublished writers ever make it?

Perseverance and an ability to adapt. Things are changing, but guess what: we have a long way to go before it all shakes down into a new reality, so just keep writing for now.

Oh God, I’m writing about vampires, I love vampires, vampire stories are everything—and they’re passé now!

Write about harpies instead, please. (I beg of you.)

Oh GOD, everything’s changing!

Yes, it is. Were you born in 1899?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Google Reader Roundup

Here's my Google Reader roundup for the week, which is a list of the best posts I read this week for the blogs I subscribe to in my Reader.

  • For all you out there in the dumps because of repeated rejections, please read my friend and writer Meghan Ward's post on Rejection.
  • Advice from Lynnette (two ts, please) on critique groups, in one, two, and three parts.
  • Meghan Ward again on hiring an editor for your crappy novel work of genius that is perfect but could use a spot of editing.
  • And Roni at Fiction groupie on endings in one and two.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The About You Section

Most writers who have a web presence, be it blog or web site or both, have an "About Me" section. Some are long-winded (ahem ahem, moi), some contain too much information. And there are the ones that might as well have never been there.

After reading a comment on an agent blog last week from a writer who spoke about his or her dream and efforts and ideas about getting published, I clicked on his/her profile. It took me to their blog, which serves as his/her site. And the About Me page says (this is cut and pasted):
Well this blog is all about me I suppose, some of it real, some it fiction, some of it my sense of humour.
So stay at while, if you like. [sic]
Well, wow. I have such a much better sense of who this writer is now. Thank you for that. I left immediately, because I had no sense of who they were--not even their gender. And therefore, I didn't want to waste my time. Other people might be more generous than I am, but I'm one of those people who likes the whole package of a person and what they're selling. In other words, I like to know who I'm dealing with.
I really think that for writers, the About Me section of your web site or blog really has to do some work--if you're public about your name and profile, that is. Otherwise, what are you doing?
Now let's look at the purpose of an About me section:
  • To display a professional profile of you as a writer
  • To show a sense of your personality
  • To show your writing experience, if any
  • To show visitors that you are a person and not a lizard
If those points didn't drive home how important it is to be clear in your About Me section, then let's look at who will read it (and don't doubt for a second that everyone who visits your site will look at who you are):
  • Agents who you have queried. Yes. This is a documented fact.
  • Editors you or your agent has queried. Also documented fact.
  • A reader/potential reader who wants to find out more.
  • Your ex boyfriends/girlfriends (so if you want to flaunt that Nobel Peace Prize that you got since you broke up, here's a good place to do it)
If THOSE points didn't drive home how important it is to have a succinct, clear, and professional (i.e. no Las Vegas party snaps) bio, then let's look at what your About Me section should contain (and while this is for writers, but I really think these guidelines can be adapted for anyone):
  • What you write - get at your reading audience by making this clear
  • If you've been published - sell books. duh!
  • If you're agented (not a requirement; some writers do not want to extend this info) - shows you're pro
  • Why you write - this is about connection with your audience
  • What you're doing now - shows that you're busy, working, and active. People will return to your site.
If I still haven't been clear, then let's look at what your About Me section should NOT contain:
  • Statements of your brilliance (that's for me to decide)
  • Pictures of your dog having its puppies
  • Vague promises of "news about me coming soon"
  • Rude remarks about other people
  • Your address
Here are some examples of both published and unpublished About Me pages that are good (and you will pardon my failure to exhaustively research this, please):
What do you think an About Me section should contain?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Word Up Wednesday: Metronome

Yes, welcome to a new feature on the blogo-rama-dingdong, where every Wednesday I pick a word and spout about how wonderful it is, and you agree or disagree in the comments, or put your own word. This is a blog, after all, about writing, although I know at times it might seem as if Japanese Toilets and oatcakes are of greater concern. I sort of swiped Word Up Wednesday from idea-generator extraordinaire Tina Lynn, but I suggest that she give up her Word Wednesday and instead stick with I'm in the Dumps Monday So Please Make Me Laugh, which is far more amusing.

So today's inaugural word will be one I've been kicking about all week: metronome. This is a gorgeous word to say because it has that pleasant "nome" sound at the end that makes you point your lips and draw your face down. But there's something very comforting in the regularity of a metronome. It's a ticking instrument to measure the beat in music. I used it this week in my novel in the following sentence:

[Character] was drawn to [these people] with the regularity of a metronome.

What do you think, about Word Up Wednesday, and about metronome? Can you use it in a sentence?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Can't vs. Won't

I hate it when I hear people tell they can't. I hear this at work a lot.

"Sorry, can't do it without the proper form."
"Oh, we can't do it that way."

And I hear it from people in customer service all the time.

Me: "Can you please make sure my three-day service package arrives at its destination in the three days I requested?"
Them: "Oooh, sorry. We can't."

The word "can't" necessarily applies to some situations: I can't go to the moon tomorrow. (That's really the only example I could think of.)

What "can't" really means is: you won't.

That's probably why it's so irritating to hear "can't." I'm sorry to go all self-helpy on you here, but how many times have you said "I can't" or "I won't"? It's okay to say you won't, but don't pass it off as can't.

You can't be a published writer? Or you won't put the time into it to make it happen?
You can't get an agent? Or you won't take a look at what's wrong with your plot, query, letter?
You can't finish your book? Or you won't find the time to?
You can't find the motivation? Or you won't give up watching American Idol in order to?
You can't be a better writer? Or you won't put the time into learning how to write?

It's up to you to do what you will and won't, but personally, I try very hard not to say can't anymore.What I am really saying is I won't-- and I try not to say this, either.

Listen to the next time you hear someone say they can't do something for you. See what they're really saying.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Nerve to Submit

A while back, Tina Lynn asked for a post on getting up the nerve to submit your query to agents or editors. I think the request was a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s a good topic. I’ll deal with two thoughts on the matter: 1] how do you know when it’s time to submit, and 2] having the confidence to do so.

Knowing when it’s time
There are many different answers to this. Some say you’re finished when the edits you make no longer make any difference in the readability. Some say you’re finished when you are sick of the thing. I say you need to be carefully attuned to your instincts on this one. Can you honestly say that there isn’t a single area of the manuscript that couldn’t need more work? Does everything click for you? If it doesn’t, but you can’t put your finger on it, then you probably need to either step away from the manuscript for a time and work on something else, or have new people read it for fresh feedback.

Some people say writers are never really finished—Nathan Bransford did a post with a lot of feedback in the comments on this.

I think that if you have any doubts whatsoever about your manuscript, it is not time to submit. And of course, you must have a solid query and synopsis at the ready before you start submitting. And a list of well-researched agents. It’s hard work, isn’t it?

Having the confidence to submit
This is a toughie and again there’s no real right answer to this. You’re going to face a LOT of rejection in the submittal process and a large portion is going to hurt. It’s like willingly walking into an angry hornet’s nest and twirling around so they get even more pissed off and sting you en masse. Some won’t sting you, but most will. One or two might land on your shoulder and sit a time with you, but in the end you’re going to come out it with hideous red welts that leave scars and sometimes, in the case of the particularly angry wasps, a lasting ache. The key is developing a plan ahead of time and making sure you’re prepared. Like, did you bring Novocaine or shots of morphine to numb the pain? The correlation of that for writers is to have alcohol or chocolate or a good support system or whatever on hand, and work on other things while submitting. All of those take the intensity out of the stings.

But the single most important thing to know about having the confidence to submit is that if you don’t submit, you’ll never get anywhere.

Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions of items to take away the pain?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Google Reader Roundup

Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving. I stuffed myself so full that I could barely walk, and my small son ran screaming in circles at two hours past his bedtime, fueled by delight in his cousins and a fair amount of sugar. It was a great time.

So here's my Google Reader roundup for the week, which is a list of the best posts I read this week for the blogs I subscribe to in my Reader.

  • Tips for revising by James Scott Bell. I actually have one of his books and I love him. This is a valuable link.
  • To keep up to date on the whole Harlequin bruhaha, you should probably read Kristin Nelson's post, which lists some other important posts and follow ups.
  • Jennifer Lawler writes about writers and kindness and realizing that your communication goes so far--after all, that's what we're here to do, right? Spread our words?
  • And last but not least is Roni at Fiction groupie -- it's actually a repost but this list of essential things she's learned is one of those great lists of editing, really. As usual, very useful and makes you think. I don't know WHERE she comes up with these nuggets of wisdom. Probably sold her soul to the devil. (Devil: "I'll give you everlasting awesome and clever blog posts, in exchange for your soul." Roni: "Done.")

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

See? I Am Not Crazy

Those of you who poo-pooed (yes! pun!) my post on how awesome Japanese toilets are surely must be kicking yourselves now (I know you are), because here is proof that they really are the most wondrous inventions: The Telegraph says so.

Thanks to JP for the link. J, if you're wondering, stands for John, and P stands for Padme. Or something.)

That is all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I love this topic because the visual of trolls is funny. Of course I'm referring to Internet Trolls, aka Comment Trolls. These are the people who post soapboxy-style comments that are controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant, or off-topic. (from Wiki).

Of course, I never get trolls. This annoys me greatly.

Probably a good sign of blog success is the appearance of trolls. Of course they can be annoying, but of the tools available to you as a blogger is comment deletion. Yes, of course this is difficult when you get Nathan Bransford-style traffic, with comments numbering in the hundreds--daily--although he definitely manages to delete troll comments.

A few weeks ago, Kristin Nelson had a troll in her comments and then she turned on comment moderation. Then Jessica Faust at Bookends had several all posting under the Anonymous name. Kristin Nelson's troll didn't actually hide from anyone; his web site was in full view and he kind of shot himself in the foot when he wrote (this is cut and pasted), "I disagree that I need critiquing, since I'm not inclined to write the way other people would write. Unfortunately, I'm the type who has to reinvent the wheel to understand it."

Deary, deary me.

I'm still outraged that I don't have any comment trolls. Comment trolls stir up interest by riling emotions of normal, sane people. By and large, they suck, but still I kind of want one. For the bloggers out there, what are your thoughts on them? (And I am totally still laughing at the picture and the name. I love picturing that guy up there bent over his keyboard all ragey.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Recommended Reading

We all have go-to reading lists for writing and learning, and there have been a ton of blog posts done about this subject already. I don’t spend a lot of time reading books on the craft, but the ones I have read have been really good. So this is my list of the books I found particularly helpful in my writing. I learned a lot from each.

I resisted reading books on writing until it became clear that reading a few would greatly improve my understanding of structure. I don’t have an MFA and never studied writing in school. To be honest, I had to teach myself how to start using proper grammar after I got my first tech writing job. It continues to amaze me how I got away with not knowing the difference between "its"and "it’s" for so long.

  • Hooked by Les Edgerton. This is a fabulous book and it really touches on a few points of novel structure that other books might not. I liked the terminology Edgerton uses for the story problem external problem (other terms I’ve seen include internal and external). It’s short, very readable, and highly useful. The last few chapters are full of advice from agents on what they like to see (and hate) in the first few pages.
  • The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life by Amy Tan. This is part memoir, part writing instruction a la Stephen King’s On Writing (which I haven’t read, but broke down and ordered it just recently). The memoir part is fascinating and of course ties into her writing advice. Tan has lived an astounding life. The only thing I wished she’d done is go into how she got to the point of acceptance for her first novel (The Joy Luck Club) because I know she belongs to a writing group. I would have liked to hear how that process helped her.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Anne is funny in anything she writes (I read Operating Instructions while nursing my newborn son and it was so perfect), and this is no exception. It has great advice on the process but you do need to remember that it comes just from her experience so not everyone will write the way she describes (she’s a real seat-of-the-pants writer). I didn’t get what she meant by taking things bird by bird until years after reading it.
  • Story by Robert McKee. Again I haven’t read the whole thing but this is the tome on structure, they say. I use it more as reference.
  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I LOVE this book. Well, I love plot, so this isn’t a stretch. But it’s well written and I think it should be required reading for every writer trying to write a novel.

What are yours?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Google Reader Roundup

Here's my roundup of my favorite posts this week from the blogs I subscribe to in Google Reader.
  • Did you hear the announcement last week about the inauguration of Agent Inbox? It's a new service that acts as a query clearing house of sorts, where you sign up and they send the query to appropriate agents and editors and of course offer editorial help if needed. So far it's free for authors. Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware has a good post about this including this gem: Creative Byline, which has been in business for more than a year and a half, continues to have difficulty expanding its publisher list (currently, only six publishers are signed up), and has reported no sales as a result of writers' use of the service.
  • Editorrent's awesome follow up post to the three-act plot concentrates on The Reversal....that point in a novel where something changes.
  • Again with the awesomeness: Editorrent continues in the series on plot: the Dark Moment. God I love this.
  • 7 things I've learned so far by writer Mike Chen. Now, here's one thing that I'VE learned. Often you can tell a good writer by their blog, and Mike Chen is clear, succinct, and funny. You'd have to be to write novels, marketing copy, and hockey columns for Fox Sports. Read him. Do it now.
Next week, don't think I'm slowing down because of Thanksgiving. Here Monday through Wednesday. Be here or be square. (I love that saying. "Be square." Like that's such an insult. Can you imagine back when it was? OMG, I'm a square, can't stand it! Love it.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quick Edits

Oh, dear. I have to work hard at tightening my writing. I always worry that writing succinctly comes easily for everyone else in the world, but I know it doesn't, or else there wouldn't be so many books and tips out there.

The fact is, no one is perfect. It takes years to be great, and even then it's hard to catch everything. Can you imagine what it must have been like for people who wrote on typewriters, or before that, long hand? Ugh! Painstaking! I read recently in Writer's Digest that an author whose debut book had just been released chose to write on a typewriter, and that when he made a mistake or had to rewrite a line, he would type the whole page over again because it forced him to....I don't know what. I don't get it. Thank God for word processing software and especially for the Find function.

Which brings me to what I do Finds for (Control + F for those who like shortcuts):
  • about (especially "about it"--found TONS of these)
  • actually
  • almost
  • like
  • appears
  • approximately
  • basically
  • being
  • even
  • eventually
  • exactly --astonishing amount of these. Ack!!
  • finally - one of the most disgusting ones since it's often a sign of redundancy
  • just
  • just then
  • kind of
  • nearly
  • only
  • practically
  • really
  • seems
  • simply
  • slightly
  • somehow
  • somewhat
  • sort of
  • strictly
  • suddenly
  • truly (it was just gross how many I found)
  • utterly
  • was (and was there, was it)
  • were
I deleted about 700 words by doing this (!!!), and I know the text was tightened as a result. Fair dos: I didn't make this list up. I found it, and I'm sorry but I can't remember who posted it but I suspect maybe Rachelle Gardner. Anyway, it's a superb list and you'd be amazed at how quickly and instantly text can be cleaned up by searching for these. Enjoy.

Do you guys have any easy tricks for cleaning up your writing?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quick—What’s your plot?

We had a fun a few weeks ago with the six word plot game, but while we were coming up with our six word plots, cold spears of fear shot through us (you know it did) because we know that our plots really should–and will--be condensed down to a sentence, sometimes called a logline.
The real use of a logline will come when someone asks you what your novel is about. And if it’s an agent whose asking, you’d better know the answer. Picture yourself at a party and you start talking to someone and they ask what your book is about. You’ll say “Oh, it’s about _______.” And then the person turns out to be an agent, and promptly offers to represent you, manuscript unseen. Or something.

So, how do you describe your plot?

I learned from Nathan Bransford’s seminal post on finding the plot. Once I learned, I totally got it. If you didn’t know how, it’s probably not the end of the world. But think of its use in terms of hooking readers/agents/editors. Consider the following that I saw in a recent Publisher’s Marketplace Lunch weekly email:

Anne Stuart's RAZIEL, the first in a series, about fallen angels turned vampires who are sentenced to shepherd the dead to the afterlife after archangel Uriel wins a power struggle against Lucifer, causing him to be cast out of Heaven; when Raziel, one of the Fallen, decides to rescue his newest ward en-route to hell, his actions, and his undeniable attraction to her, set off a chain of events that lead to a wholesale rebellion by the Fallen against Uriel and his minions, as they seek to rescue Lucifer and restore the balance of power among the forces of good and evil, to Abby Zidle at Pocket, in a two-book deal, by Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (NA).
That did my head in! I’m sure that RAZIEL is a lovely book, but this “logline” was way, way, way too much. If that’s all I had to go on, I wouldn’t buy the book. Too many names, too many actions, too much description of events that happen. Oh, the plots buried in there somewhere, but I had to work to find it! Not good!

Consider this one in contrast, again from the same Lunch Weekly email:
Therese Stenzel's HIDDEN HEARTS, part of the Christmas Mail-Order Bride Novella Collection - in which a reluctant bride, determined to keep her past from her success-driven new husband, attempts to build a new life but finds it difficult when he's apparently keeping secrets of his own, to JoAnne Simmons at Barbour, in a nice deal, for publication in fall 2010, by Sandra Bishop at MacGregor Literary.
Okay. Now, this one actually describes the plot. A reluctant bride is determined to keep her past a secret—that’s the premise. The husband has secrets of his own, which probably clashes (I’m guessing) with the wife’s attempts at building her life. That’s the complication.

Premise + complication = plot. Done.

In the one for RAZIEL, perhaps it could have said “Fallen angels turned vampires are sentenced to shepherd the dead to the afterlife [premise], but when Raziel, one of the Fallen, struggles with unexpected love for his newest ward en-route to hell, he sets off a chain of events that leads to a rebellion against Lucifer by the Fallen [complication].”

Now that sounds like something I might read. A fallen angel/vampire who falls in love with someone who’s already on their way to hell? Which tips off a revolution against the devil? I’m in! (Although I think it’s overkill that the fallen angel is also a vampire—isn’t it enough for the poor lad that he’s fallen that he has to be a vampire too? But I’m sure it was handled well in this novel.)

It is my opinion that you MUST be clear on these things. Until I read Nathan Bransford’s post on this, I wasn’t clear -- and I definitely couldn’t sum my novel up in a sentence. But you must.
Here’s mine—and notice I didn’t give anything away with specifics (although I would to an agent or in a query):
A woman is dumped by her boyfriend after she tries to embarrass him into marrying her so she moves to a Greek island to recover [premise], where she meets a fellow expat who pushes her in ways she's not sure she wants to go.
This wasn’t easy. I struggled with that for a long time, and it's still not great--it sounds like a crappy romance novel, or a slightly sinister mystery. I didn’t include specifics here, but it would be easier if I did because then I could say “but Greece is overrun with fallen angels-turned-vampires who are absolutely RAGING that they have to be vampires too, and they seriously interfere with her self-realization.” Or something. But at least I could say what the expat actually does.

What’s yours?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Santorini: An Occasional Series

It’s been a while since I did a post on Santorini, the Greek island where most of my novel is set. I was fortunate enough to live on the island for almost three years as a kid.

While the last posts I did talked about the music I remember during my time there, and how the island kind of was, this post will discuss something you'll relate to: the need for research.

My memories of the island are shaky because I haven’t been there in twenty years. That being said, there are parts of the island that are ingrained in my mind--the pistachio orchard that was my playground or the dusty, hot hill we lived on and which I have my main character living on at the end of the novel (that's me with my dog over there on said dusty, hot hill - age 11).

I thought when I started writing my novel that I would have no trouble at all remembering the island—indeed, my memories would pour out and voila. In point of fact, this was very much not the case. Much has changed in the last twenty years, like technology. When I lived on the island, few people had phones and if someone had a VCR in their house it was considered an extravagant luxury (and fat good they did because there weren't any video stores). During the 1980s, the old ways of the island were starting to clash with the modern world. There was a central telephone office (OTE) and of course Al Gore hadn’t invented the tinterwebs yet. Now I am given to understand that there are wifi hot spots around the island and the hotels are quite modern and luxurious.

Rediscovering the island through research was one of my favorite things about writing the novel. Google maps and Google Earth were my friends, as were the official web site for the island, numerous travel blogs done by people, random image searches, and of course the live web cam through which I watch the sun set and rise. There were numerous people who run web sites about Greece and the Cycladic islands who were helpful and willing to tell me things I needed to know, and I mined my mother’s memories for details. Still being able to read a little bit of Greek was enormously helpful for those sites in Greek--including a forum I found where guys on the island had posted football (soccer) games they were trying to organize in the small village football pitch that I remembered well. That really blew my mind that the islanders would post requests for games on an internet forum. I also visited bookstores and checked out the guidebooks on Greek islands; almost none were helpful except the Thomas Cook series--the one for Greek islands is extremely well-written and researched. I bought a few guide books and consulted two books on the island that I still have.

Despite all this, the fact remains that I haven’t been back in twenty years. The question arises: can you write accurately about a place you haven’t been to for such a long period of time, or ever? Can you set a novel in a city you’ve never set foot in? I actually think you can; visits to places leave vague impressions at best unless you’re there scouring the streets for research purposes. I fear criticism for not getting the details right if the novel is published, but I did research the heck out of the place. I've put in details like the pebbled mosaic pathways, donkey poop everywhere, and how almost every wall is whitewashed with blue trim, but I constantly questioned whether I conveyed the right image of the island. The only thing left to do is actually go there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Google Reader Roundup

Here's my Google Reader roundup for the week, which is a list of the best posts I read this week for the blogs I subscribe to in my Reader.

  • Good God, the Rejectionist's Form Rejection Contest Winner is stunning. Guaranteed to instantly and effortlessly make you feel devoid of all intelligence and writing talent, it's so good.
  • Lots of posts this week from agents about not sweating queries--clearly, a movement is underfoot. Nathan Bransford, Michael Bourret at Dystel and Goderich, and Holly Root at Waxman (think this was mentioned last week's Roundup).
Have a great weekend all. I'm back raging on Monday with a full week of posts.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blog Names

One of the things I love about blogs is the unique names. Obviously, mine doesn't have one--by design. (Fine. Fine. I couldn't think of a cool enough one, but my own name does serve the purpose of saying who I am.)

Blogs don't have to have a cool name in order to be successful--indeed, it can sometimes detract from the marketing of your blog or web site if people are confused by it. The example that comes to mind is literary agent Kate Schafer Testerman, who runs KT Literary. She has a blog--a good one--called "Ask Daphne." It always confuses me slightly because I don't know who Daphne is or how Daphne relates to Kate, who clearly writes the blog. But all is well because it's certainly memorable.

I love blog names that are plays on words, too. Here's a list of some pretty cool blog names. Feel free to add in the comments if you know of a good one. (And PLEASE NOTE that by excluding any blogs, I'm NOT saying they're not cool.....this list is just of ones that stood out to me, completely independent of their content, by the way. Oh and they're mostly all publishing/writer blogs. Am biased.)

  • The Swivet by Colleen Lindsay. Do you know what a swivet means? Extreme distress or discomposure. What’s not to love!
  • Sadly, no! - not sure what this blog is about but I like the name.
  • The Other Side of the Story - This is nice because it’s a play on the word story. It’s a blog about writing by a published author who maintains another blog about her published work.
  • Bent on Books - Agent Jenny Bent’s blog is a nice play on her name.
  • Market my Words - another good play on words; this is a blog about marketing for writers
  • And finally, who can’t love Bookslut? Makes me cringe every time.
Here's some reading on how to create a catchy blog name.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Endings, Part 2: The End Method

Yesterday I wrote about the specifics of last lines of books. Today let's talk about endings in general.

I personally like endings that tie up the story, resolve all outstanding issues, and leave me satisfied, like I’ve just eaten a large meal with mashed potatoes and cheese. Delicious. My husband likes endings that are unconventional. He always cites The Last American Virgin, a movie I admit I've never seen. He says it's about some guys who try to lose their virginity, but one guy doesn't make it happen. He ends up not ever losing it. My husband thinks this is a good ending because you never expect it. I think it's stupid because what kind of story is that? Nothing has changed! What was the lesson learned? (Again, I might have more perspective if I'd actually seen it, but you get my point.)

Some people hate cliff-hanger endings, or endings where the end isn't quite explained, but left there for you to put together. The Crimson Petal and the White, an amazing and beautiful novel by Michel Faber, ends abruptly. You never know what happens to the characters, although you can imagine. (This obviously annoyed other readers, because Faber just released The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories, a sequel of sorts. One of the reader reviews on Amazon says "For those annoyed by the abrupt ending of Michel Faber's Crimson Petal and the White, this will hopefully be somewhat soothing. While not a linear sequel, there are glimpses of the later lives of Agnes, William, Sugar and Sophie."


So what kind of ending is a good ending to you? What do you hate? Are there any examples of endings done particularly well? How do you feel about epilogues? (I like them for books I love and don't want to end, but there's no question they feel "extra.")