Thursday, October 27, 2011

About Books

     Writers love books and it's one of our favorite topics to talk and write about. Books we love, books we hate, books we don't understand, even books we've never read. Whatever the case may be, we love to share thoughts about books.
     I have a friend who writes horror and blogs about horror writing and horror novels. (theblackichorblog). She often mentions books she's read and recommends (or doesn't) and also writes reviews. Here's an interesting thing: she has trouble writing negative reviews. Even if she hates a book, she says she understands that it's someone's beloved work,she knows how much effort they put into it, and she doesn't want to tear it apart.
     I read several books at a time (well, usually only three or four). Recently I read The Tomb, by an author whose name I don't remember. It was interesting, but was one of those stories that could have been written in half the words and half the pages without losing anything. I also read He Shall Thunder In the Sky, an Amelia Peabody novel by Elizabeth Peters. Her characters and plots are always fun, especially if you have an interest in Egyptology or Archeology.
     I read to my husband during our commute and we recently read the second Kane Chronicles book by Rick Riordan and are now reading The Lost Hero by same. We are looking forward to the (released yesterday!) latest by Tim Dorsey. I recommend his books with reservations because you have to have a twisted sense of humor, like ridiculously unrealistic characters and bizarre but fun plotlines.
     I am reading my way through "The Complete Works Of Mary Roberts Rhinehart." I like most of her stories and novels, but she wrote some essays that are absurd (and boring). Some of her novel plots have scenes that are impossible to accept and some of her characters (have to keep in mind the time period she writes in) are stereotypical and hard to believe, but mostly are interesting.
     My random book of the moment - I usually have at least one book I just came across that is nothing like what I usually read - is an ARC of Wickedly Charming by Kristine Grayson. About a Prince Charming and Evil Stepmother who have left the "Kingdoms" to come to the "Greater World" and fall in love while trying to help each other sort out their lives and overcome the stereotypes associated with them. It's very well written and I recommend it for anyone that likes urban fantasy romance.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Solitaire As A Working Tool

     I hear writers all the time say, either by voice or in writing, that some of their primary distractions are things like facebook, the internet, blogs and solitaire. 
      I always check my facebook, but that's a brief distraction. Once I've seen all the new posts from people whose posts I care to see, what else is there to look at?  Same is true for blogs: I regularly read and comment on those I follow faithfully, then I'm done.  (Blogging myself is considered a work exercise and sometimes it's rather a chore.) I can't think of enough things on the internet to distract me because I don't shop, don't care to see the crap that's on Youtube, and my husband emails me all the cute stuff he finds on Icanhazacheezburger (not sure that's spelled right). I have on occasion been distracted for hours by the site Texts From Last Night, but I'm often frightend by what I find there and don't go back for awhile.
     So my big distraction is solitaire, especially Freecell and Spider Solitaire. Also Sudoku, but not as much. I have found a way to make this into a productive activity. I use a game or puzzle or two to gauge my mental/creative state before I write.  If I win 2 games of Spider Solitaire or whip through a diablolically challenging sudoku puzzle, that tells me I am in top form and ready to take on any writing project I have going.  However, if I can't do well at either of those and downgrade to Freecell and can't even master that, it tells me that taking on difficult revisions or part of a WIP I'm struggling with is not the best idea. In fact, it could be disasterous in the form of making a bigger mess than what I was dealing with originally.
      These games and puzzles are also a great warm-up excercise for both sides of your brain - organizational and creative. So starting out with them can be motivational. However, if I don't have a lot of time, I can easily use it up with my "pre-writing" activities. Which downgrades them right back to "distraction".

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What We Can Learn From Our Idols (Part 4)

     Another author that I admire is Rick Riordan. I am amazed that some writers can create books that appeal to kids and adults. There may be many others that can do this, but I suspect most of them are in the fantasy genre and except for JKR, I don't know many. Outside of fantasy I can only think of Ann Brashears Traveling Pants series; I know many girls and women who have loved them.
     Riordan's books weave a complicated plot and engaging characters with authentic myths as well as facts, history and geography.  As a fan, this is a bonus for me because I love myth, history and geography, but don't like to do research.
     I am not interested in being able to write fiction for the 9-99 age group.  What I would like to do as well as Riordan is write books for more than one series that are so different, you wouldn't guess they had the same author.  The Percy Jackson books are written in the first person. His Heroes of Olympus Series is written in the third person from the perspective of different characters and they all have a distinct voice. His Kane Chronicles are written in the first person from two seperate points of view, again succesfully narrated from two very different personalities. 
     I have two series of books, one written in third person and one in first person.I also have a series of short stories to accompany my books and I write them in either first or third person and from the perspective of diffferent characters. I like to think my main characters are not exactly alike. Or even kind of alike. But I know this is an area of my writing that I can improve and will work toward that.
     Now that I'm thinking about it, Riordan wrote several books in the first person, then a couple of books in the first person narrated by two different characters, then a book or two in the 3rd person from various points of view. This looks like a case of practice and you will improve; with lots of practice you will improve a lot. Well, nothing new there I guess.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Responsibility Of Character Naming

     My older sister got a new car for her birthday. Her old car, Diana Rose, was named after Princess Diana. Her new car is blue and named Saphira Danielle, after the dragon in the book Eragon. It was interesting to learn that my oldest sister had named her blue laptop Saphira after the same dragon.
     My oldest sister has had dogs named Senay and Corlath, both I believe from The Hero and the Crown and (its sequel or prequel) The Blue Sword. Her daughter has two cats named Annabeth and Poseidon, after characters in the Percy Jackson series and they also have a dog named Sirius (Black) from Harry Potter and a cat named Rupert, after the actor who plays Ron in the HP movies.
     Even if my family didn't have more pets than children, we probably wouldn't name children after characters from books, but people do. I think authors should be aware of this and keep it in mind.
     As if chosing great, appropriate names for characters isn't enough, now we have to think there's a small chance that fans are going to choose those names for their two- or four-legged loved ones. I don't think any characters in my books or stories are going to be selected as pet or children's names, but I wonder if that would affect my choices in character names.
      This trend works both ways. Authors and writers often choose names of characters - both hero and villain - from people they have known.  So when people select unique/bizarre names for their children, they should remember that they may be inspiring the monikers for characters in the next generation's literature. Which could impact the names of future children...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Productivity Under Stress

     My writers group (Living Writers Collective) started a facebook group to keep in touch with members about projects and struggles and to share inspiration and encouragement.  One member posted 101 items to blog about. It's for blogging in general, not just for blogs about writing or books, but most can be applied to anything. One of the suggestions was  "How to stay productive when _______________."
     Tonight I'm there. Had an awful event in my family and everyone is reeling and it's one of those things where you can't do anything to help the situation.  Hardly a time to feel creative or productive. I have been cleaning the house and doing laundry like mad just out of my need to do something. I decided to take a break before I physically exhaust myself and to do something else productive - blog.
     I am once again trying to stay on a schedule of posting something twice a week (on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Although I can write my blogs at anytime and have them post on future dates, I still have to write them. I hope having a deadline will help me deal with my lack-of-self-discipline issues.
     Helen, the heroine of my book series, often has situations she doesn't know how to deal with or has to bide her time when acting on something. The most common way she deals with that is to write. Since she's a ficitonal character, she has no trouble totally losing herself in her project and it keeps her mind off her problem and keeps her productive.
     It's possible this might work for writers in the real world. Somewhere in one of my stories, Helen notes the fact that in her ficitonal worlds she creates the problems and therefore usually knows how to solve them. That could make a writer feel like they are productive and at least able to be active in finding solutions, even if not able to in their real life. A good form of therapy anyway, if it works.
     I don't know if I could do that. I've never tried. I tend to automatically think, "I couldn't possibly write now, while I'm panicked/depressed/upset/whatever."  But my current situation makes me want to try it. And since this is not something that's going to go away anytime soon, I will certainly have the chance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day Jobs

     I'm taking a break from writing about my favorite writers and how much I wish I were as good as they are. Because they are amazing, I have something they don't: a day job. I'd like to one day find out how much and how well I could write if I had all my working hours to do it.
      I know from brief interludes of joblessness (or more often, times of having only one full-or part-time job and not two), that I do not make the best use of my available writing time when I have lots of it. I strongly believe that actually earning money from writing would be a huge motivator. I find otherwise I often feel like I am spinning my wheels, wasting my time, when I could be doing something that earns money.
     Having (almost) always had a day job - many, many of them - I have firm opinions about the best kind for a writer to have. Mainly that is  primarily physical, preferably mindless and low-stress. This allows the writer to spend most of their work day "writing" in their heads, which is what most of us do anyway. It also leaves the writer with plenty of mental energy to put that writing down on paper after work.
     Of course, having a mostly menial job means it's likely to be low-paying. This is also an advantage. It means the writer has no extra money to spend on any frivilous activity that might distract them from writing. It's also helps motivate them to be successful in their writing endeavors so they can make money from it.
     I currently do not have a mindless job. I process books for a bookseller and have to concentrate fully on everything I do. However, it is a job I love and therefore not stressful and it is very inspirational to be surrounded by books all the time. The really bad books you see published make you feel like you can write really well, and the really great ones make you want to.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What We Can Learn From Our Idols (part 3)

     Another of my very favorite writers in the world is Charlaine Harris, particularly her Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) series.   What I love most about these books is that no matter how odd the situation or the characters/creatures that the heroine becomes involved with, the story is grounded in the real world.  In some urban fantasies, the supernatural aspects make the reader feel that whatever's happening couldn't really be in our world. There's the feeling that "our" world as it is depicted in the novel is not as we have always percieved it. In the Sookie books, the reader has the sense that events and beings in the story could very well be part of the reality we know.
     My Daylight's End books feature unusual beings and occurances and I feel I accomplish what Charlaine Harris does with her Southern Vampire Novels. I am pleased about that because that is exactly how I want the books and stories to be. However, I did not manage that through writerly skill; more because of lack of it. I'm just not adept enough to create a world significantly different from the reality I know.
     My other series, Trust In Darkness, needs to convey more of a feeling that the world of the characters both is and is not exactly as they have always seen it. That may prove harder to do, but so far I think I'm succeeding.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What We Can Learn From Our Idols (part 2)

     Another of my favorite authors who has a gift I would like to learn is Jim Butcher. I am a huge fan of his Dresden Files books.
     All novelists have heard that to keep a plot moving you have to give your protagonist a problem to solve and then keep adding more trouble and more and more obstacles to overcome. Butcher is a master at this. 
     In almost every book he gives his hero, Harry Dresden, a difficult problem then a complication that makes it impossible to solve. THEN he adds two more issues that create a situation where if Dresden fixes one thing, something terrible happens, but if he prevents that from happening, another catastrophe will occur.
     The real magic is that somehow Butcher keeps all these plotlines going full speed and at the end resolves all issues. That doesn't mean everything works out perfectly - often people die, the hero fails in some way, bad stuff happens - but all aspects of the story are wrapped up in a way that is satisfying to the reader.
     I have discovered that I am not (yet) capable of writing more than one main storyline and a couple of subplots without making a huge mess of a manuscript. But thanks to Jim Butcher, I know it can be done and I like to think I will get there someday.