Monday, April 30, 2012

MMWUC: Humor in the Morning

Passed on to me from Shagra from some where on the web. So true. So true. 

There are over 150 million blogs out there from which to chose. Thanks for coming by and listen to me blather on about writing, or reviewing some book, or a guest blogger, spouting off about an area of expertise or interest.

Time to get back to the writing in a serious way this week. Sales of my two novels are tailing off. Such is the life of even two 5-star rated novels that the public is always looking for the "new" book even when there are millions of good books out there begging for readers.

The Type A flu is waning, finally, the garden is planted, the weather will be reaching for the intolerable zone this week. Can you says 90s? Prime writing time for me. Look out adverbs, I have you in my sites.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Guest Blog: "Invisible Voice?" by Maria Forest

Invisible Writing by William Tapply chronicled his discovery that good writing is not about fancy vocabulary words, which only call attention to the author; but conveys information clearly and concisely (with or without adverbs). The punch-line of the article is: The author's father had written thousands of articles for an outdoor magazine and "People thought of [his] father as an expert outdoorsman … nobody seemed to consider him an expert writer.
When I read it in the 1994 Writer's Digest, I thought "Well, cool. Now I have a name for how I like to write." (I didn't know what style was back then, or the fact I even had one.) Up to that point I had taken great pains to make sure my characters had distinct voices, that the exposition (or narrator's voice) was the POV character's voice, and authorial intrusion was eradicated.
And then the plot twisted. The word went out: Agents and editors were looking for authors with a "strong voice". After years of searching, a friend finally gave me an explanation I could wrap my head around: "It's the author putting him/herself on the page so that it's like the author is reading aloud to the reader."
Well, that's not invisible writing.
Indeed it was not. I met a woman in a local writing organization who, after years of writing lots and doing everything an aspiring author needs to, finally got an agent and sold to a couple publishing houses. Yes, a couple pub houses: multi-book, multi-series contracts. She's a talented lady. But I can't read her books. I tried, but just couldn't. Don't get me wrong. The story premise was interesting, and the woman herself is very nice. But I didn't want her voice and quirks and mannerisms in my head while I'm reading. She had a strong voice, which kept me from escaping into the story.
As the epub phenomenon loosens the grip that agents and editors have on writers and authors, I'm once again free to indulge my invisible voice. But I do have to find my own audience....
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Maria Forest lives happily in North Carolina with her husband and two kids (who sometimes pretend to have or be cats, dogs, or birds). She writes urban fantasy, sci-fi, and Christian fiction. Visit her blog.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book Review: "Skeleton Key" by Jeff LaFerney

I'm not sure how I ended up with Skeleton Key by Jeff LaFerney on my Kindle, but there it was. So I read the faith-based, paranormal mystery story that is doing well in the "sports" sub-sub-sub-sub genre on Amazon. My protag runs. Perhaps, I too, can get into this category somehow. Bottom line: the weird paring of genres works. I'm not much for paranormal involvement in the solving of a crime, and it took a small dose of butt-glue to keep me interested in this aspect of the story, but LaFerney handles it well.

Aside from the paranormal "mind powers" possessed by the protagonist (Clay Thomas) and his son (Tanner), there is a strong dose of faith and positivism injected into a story by the love interest (Erika Payne) that brushes up against, but never crosses the line of feeling pushy. Unusual characters, both past and present, fill the story: a midget with incredible dexterity, a squirrel who gets what he deserves, a pain-in-the-ass ghost, and a deputy straight from the-gang-that-couldn't-shoot straight. The story was well-constructed, peeling back the layers of a seven-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance and murder of Erika's ne'er do well husband, Adrian, to reach the climax. What was missing? Well, the tension in the story never reached a sharp edge despite many opportunities to bring this to the "OMG, I can't go to sleep now" level. Only one scene really caught me by total surprise - midget breaking window. I think this is where the paranormal aspect (mind control, ability to snatch images from the future, clarifications from the ghost) hurt the story, allowing us to be prepared for some eventualities. If everyday humans solved this mystery, this might have been a "5". I wonder if Tanner saw the solid "4" coming from me?

Monday, April 23, 2012

MMWUC: The Writing World Needs Changing

Ann Pachette's response to this year's lack of a winner of a Fiction Pulitzer Prize got me thinking about changes needed in the writing world that might make writing, writers, and writerly activities get as much press as the latest Kim Kardashian fingernail chip or Lindsay Lohan denial about running someone over. Some might be more doable than others, but we've got to keep the pressure on, especially for the indie (self-pub) writers emerging from the slush piles of the world.

1. Stephen King should lock "the committee" in a room sans bathroom and not allow them out without a selection in all categories. With 50-80K new books a year, it is a crime not to select one.

2. The writing power brokers (Amazon, B&N, Big 7 Publishing Houses) need to demand that an Oscar is given to the Best-Adapted Screenplay to the screenplay writer AND the original author, without whom there would have been nothing to adapt.

3. If the writing power brokers  want to save the writing/reading/publishing business, demand several categories on the People's Choice Awards. Hell, "Best TV Obsession"!? WTF? Surely we can have a category for best novel of the year, and, maybe best mystery of the year. This is an entertainment award.

4. Though I imagine a scene similar to the one from Finding Nemo with all the seagulls yelling, "Me, me, me, me, me, me," but we need to resurrect the Needle Award for the best of the best self-published books of each year.

5. Demand your representative re-institute the National Day of Writing. It was October 20th for 2009, 2010, and 2011. What happened to 2012? Well, we could WRITE our representatives or give the National Council on Teaching Education a firmer push. Hey! It's every year people. Don't drop this pencil

6. I need to resurrect my treatment for a writing reality show where 30 writers must go through grueling critique sessions from a panel of experts (PEOPLE THAT ARE KNOWN) based on continuingly longer pieces of fiction (flash fiction - under 100 words; flash fiction - under 500 words; short-short - under 1,000; short story - 1,001 to 3,000 words long) being eliminated over the 5-week period. Need a hot, ditzy blonde who writes incredible as a ringer, some criminal element. The prize: $1M advance for a novel.

7. Yo! Screenwriters. Write more movies starring hot muse babes who get into wet t-shirt fights deciding who gets to inspire Brad Pitt, George Clooney, or Hugh Jackman to write the next great movie staring another hot babe who rejects Justin Bieber ("Baby, baby, baby, ooh) for a bowling alley pin boy who writes lyrical poetry like Shakespeare.

8. We have a National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame , but no Hall of Fame for Writers! There are some in several states, but not all, but you'd think we'd want to recognize certain writers eternally. Yeah, writers can do it up write, er, right, in the Lincoln-Kennedy Center and be on Public TV getting their overdue accolades.

9. Create a merit badge for the Boy/Girl Scouts. "Write a short story of no less than 1,000 words on why you need to help writers cross the street." Hook 'em young, my wife says, and they'll follow forever.

Okay tell me what else (#10) we need to do to give writers their do like we do other segments of our society.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Guest Blog: Beth Camp is "Up Against the Wall, Baby!"

No matter the reason, every once in a while, writers will hit the wall, the story will stall, and words will stop for even the most accomplished wordsmith.

When this happened to me last summer, I tried a combination of techniques: journaling, writing flash fiction inspired by the Internet Writers Workshop, reading research, and pushing myself back into my story. I tried brainstorming (my brain suffered), and outlining (I hate outlining). I do write chapter summaries as I work (and lists of major and minor characters), but I couldn’t see the whole story easily and I couldn’t decide what to write about next.

Nothing really worked until I went to the wall.

So if you are stuck, try this: Get a nice big wall-sized cork board, a bunch of stick pins, and a collection of 3x5 cards. If you’ve got a partial draft down, summarize each chapter in a few key words on a 3x5 card. Some writers might use different colors of cards; I tend to grab whatever color is handy.

Post the cards on the board in roughly the order of your story. Beginning, middle, and end. Since I write historical fiction, my story divides neatly into sections by time and location. I label section headings and put these across the top of board. Now, rearrange your 3x5 cards until the sequence of your plot makes sense.

Study the board. What’s missing? 

Prepare more cards. Consider major scenes, supporting characters, change in the seasons, historical events. Post maps and photos. Let’s not worry about any mess. Trust where you are in the writing process. If you have questions about your story, jot them on a 3x5 card and get them up on the board. Use anything that will help you understand your characters, conflicts, key scenes, and settings.

Now when I’m working on the plot, I’m finding it easier to see what happens next and themes affect the entire story. I can quickly spot plot holes, work out the rising action of the plot, and see where and how character arcs influence each other. I can also find minor characters and develop them more fully over the life of the story. As I work, I’m deepening my understanding of each character and can manipulate major plots shifts (macro) and individual scenes (micro) to match their emotional journey.

Staring at the wall can bring inspiration. May your writing go well!

Beth Camp lives happily in eastern Washington with her husband, Allen, no cats, no birds, no dogs, and no fish. She writes historical fiction. Visit her blog at 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Review: "Take No More" by Seb Kirby

Take No More by Seb Kirby has the international intrigue, settings, and plot twists to make broad comparisons to a Dan Brown novel. But unfortunately that's where the likeness starts to fade. Set in London, England and Florence, Italy, James Blake returns home to find his wife Julia dead in their apartment. It is catchy opening, but his emotional trauma is bumped aside by some leap of logic that "they" (Why they?) killed her and only he can crack the case by going to Florence because of a mysterious message "Help me" left on his cell phone and a link to Michelangelo's Leda and the Swan. What follows is complex set of twists and turns that pits everyman, James Blake, at odds against a corrupt Italian family from Florence. His dedication to his wife is admirable, but why this fly on wall isn't bumped off thirty-times over befuddles me. Brits must get a crash course in being James Bond in finishing school.

For me, the bigger disappointment was with the craft itself. This is a slim book for such a meaty plot, it felt more dashed off than carefully crafted, and the frequency of errors grew as we approached the somewhat predictable and non-confrontational ending. The author "told" me many things, but he didn't allow me to experience them through the character. Considering the locales, the descriptions should be rich tapestries and not another, "it was beautiful, wonderful" description. Also, authorial intrusions occurred where the protagonist thinks about the past of places he's not been to - the Italian police station comes to mind - or people he doesn't know. Controlled head-hopping is an art form not done well here. Some typos I can forgive, and we should be past the American/English word choices complaining, but there were several confusing tense changes and way too many awkward sentences that a good editor would not have allowed to pass on to the unsuspecting reader.

The missed opportunity to extend the mystery of the painting until the climax. So much more could have been done here. Tamping down my heightened expectations, I can give this novel a take it or leave it "3".

Monday, April 16, 2012

MMWUC: The muse in the mud is worth getting the taxes done

Rick sits and ponders. The taxes are done for 2011, but it took a monumental Sunday of scrounging around for  pieces of paper. When did I get so disorganized? I used to have everything ready: files ordered, charitable contributions yellow-highlighted in the checkbook and on VISA bill statements, out with the stack of old bills, files readied for 2012. I've lost myself to the muse and creativity. The "what if" has become "it's done."

Making sure the first hummingbirds have their sugary water is more important. pulling poison ivy (my fingers still ache) is a priority. Encouraging orchids, hostas, glads, a jasmine bush, roses, mock oranges, tulips, daffodils, johnny jump ups, and over a hundred other variety of flowers to bloom has intoxicated my muse. She spends more time smelling the forsythia and baby's breath than inspiring me to finish my current WIP. I pushed her into a mud puddle. She threw a garden gnome at me. His pointy head hit my pointy head, but the writing started up again.

God, my muse is hot when she's mad. And the writing's going well into the night. No taxes to tax me.

So, what mind-numbing chore saps you from writing, and how do you get around it? Or, are you just more mature than I?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Guest Blog: "Your Brain on Technology" By ryandake

So there you are, writing your historical novel, and in your book it’s 1735, and your hero has to take a poo, and you stop: have they invented the toilet yet? So you leave the poor bastard grimacing while you get out Nell Du Vall’s Domestic Technology, and you read:

The toilet, or water closet at the English call it, had several false starts. [...] Sir John Harrington, a man ahead of his time, installed a toilet of his own design in his country house at Kelston [...] in 1586. Harrington, who bathed every day, was considered a bit eccentric and his invention did not become popular.

And before you know it, your allotted writing time has gone down the crapper, because Nell’s book is so fascinating. But you know a lot more about the technology of your chosen time.

If you’re writing only about your own current time, no sweat--you’re swimming in the technological sea your writing is about. But you step out of now at the peril of your work’s verisimilitude. If your brain is as erratic as mine, you probably don’t even know your own technological past as well as you think. Quick: when did Walkmans become ubiquitous? Hell if I know, and I had one for years. Did the iPod come before or after the iTunes store?*

Fortunately we have Nell’s book (1988), and Wikipedia (2001). Facts can be ferreted out. And speaking of Wikipedia...

Think about what a change it’s made. Before Wikipedia, you had to find your car keys or bus pass, go to the library, bug the librarian, find the correct reference work, and hunt through it until you found (or gave up on) your targeted fact... now you just have to “go” to Wikipedia. If you know what you’re talking about, you can even add facts to Wikipedia. We have infinitely more facts at our disposal than even those poor slobs half a generation ago. Are you, you monad, any different? And how has that technology changed society?

Technology shapes us just as much as we shape technology.

And Facebook! Oh, admit it, you’re a FB junkie. You now have access to intimate details about the lives of perfect (six degrees of separation) strangers, sometimes whether you want to or not. Has it changed you? What interactions has it brought to your life that were unthinkable before 2004?

And Nutrasweet! Viscose (the fabric formerly known as rayon)! The cotton gin! MRIs! GPS! Aibo! Man, the list goes on forever. Every one a death knell to Natural Man. But if you’re writing, you’d best know when they showed up, and what they did to that innocent creature and society.

Unless you’re worldbuilding sf. Then you have to make them up, and they have to be convincing.

*2001 and 2003, respectively. The Walkman, for the terminally curious, launched July 1979.

ryandake is currently plotting the downfall of the United States of America, and how Northern and Southern California will split the sheets, via her sf novel Tulare Lake, to be published sometime before we all get our brains uploaded to AwesomeMommy, the giant AI in the sky.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Review: "Gnome on the Range" by Jennifer Zane

I don't remember why I picked up "Gnome on the Range" by Jennifer Zane, but I did. It's a quick, simple read. If you have a three hour plane trip, it mixes enough humor, romance, and mystery to keep you from worrying about rabid airline stewards, upset pilots, or drunken passengers. The protagonist, Jane West, is a likable widow working in her mother-in-law's sex shop. Her two kids are kids, mixing things up as they should. However, the plot line gets a bit thin in places. About 53% through the e-book, the mystery is not that hard to figure out, and I was somewhat disappointed that she throws herself back into danger at the end of the story like a clueless, love struck, horny mom. From a mystery aspect, she figures out next-to-nothing, which is a bit disappointing. I had hoped at some point, she'd turn on her analytical brain and connect a few dots or become an amateur sleuth to pinpoint the villain, who has to connect all the dots for her.

The humor is the best part of the story for me, the juxtaposition of some situations, some of her wry observations, and, of course, GG. Her mother-in-law saves the day inadvertently on several occasions and keeps the romance moving forward until it shamelessly triggers the final climax. No real pun intended. This is a hard book to rate. As a mystery, it is a run-of-the-mill "3." Some of the things the villain does in the story don't even make good villainy sense but are more or less there to move the plot forward with one more risky situation for our heroine. However, the humor and romance raises it up a notch, even though I'm not entirely sure what the single, hunky firefighter sees in her other than "big tits." But, I have a soft spot for garden gnomes, enough to raise this to a low "4".

Monday, April 9, 2012

MMWUC: Don't Make Me Angry At Your Book

It's all my fault. After stuffing myself with so much chocolate that I could hardly move, I went to the Red Box for a movie. Watching a movie seemed like a good idea, but I chose badly. Fifteen minutes into the movie, my wife said, "Is this the type of movie that is like the stories you get annoyed with and start ranting about in your office?" Yep. 2012: Ice Age is unwatchable unless you're high on mild drugs. If it were a book, it'd be unreadable. It'd be a "1" on Amazon. I'd be writing a story critique that I'd have to put in my desk and not send. Now, I just want my $1.25 back.

"Dad. What can make clouds like that?" "Glaciers, fast moving glaciers." Are you kidding me? Yes, these self-propelled glaciers moved from Iceland (or Greenland) 1,000 miles to Maine in two hours supposedly ejected from their moorings by volcanic activity without slowing down. Never mind that the scientists calculated the speed at 200 mph. And the protagonists are trying to beat the angry glacier to New York City (389 miles) in a succession of cars in six hours. That timeline makes no sense. The dialogue is inane, The characterizations moronic. The special affects (details) laughable. And I had no idea there were palm trees in Maine that need trimming by 100 foot long ice crystals pooped from the glacier. (I know some Mainers read my blog...please confirm about the palm trees.)

Yes, this Monday morning wake-up call has little to do with the craft of writing...or maybe it does. And yes, the picture of author Peter Bernhardt, The Stasi File, is as arbitrary as the alpine village with 13,000 foot peaks in Newfoundland being swallowed up by the 200 foot tall glacier.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Guest Blog: "When Research Becomes Procrastination" by Rebeca Schiller

Hi, my name is Rebeca. I am a research addict. Rick's note: The first sign to recovery--knowing who and what you are.

There I said it. Now you all know my dirty secret. I am cursed with this nagging fear that whatever I write that deals with history, politics, the arts, science needs to be backed by excessive research that would shame a doctoral candidate. So what’s the big deal? That’s a sign of being thorough, you might comment.

Well, yeah, but sometimes spending too much time surfing the interwebs, sifting through archives, collecting and reading too many books, and conducting endless interviews spells out one thing … PROCRASTINATION.

I’m going out on a limb here, but I believe that writers are the masters of procrastination. We come up with writing prompts to motivate us; write our daily pages so that writing becomes an ingrained habit; blog to share our wisdom with other writers; and obsessively shower (or vacuum, or take our dogs out on mile walks), claiming that’s where we get our best ideas. But when it all comes down to that opus that you’re supposedly outlining, pantsing, revising, or starting from scratch (take your pick), the truth is that you’re not getting very far in becoming a published writer because you’re not writing.

I won’t venture into the whole magillah on the psychology of procrastination (I’d have to research that first), but I will share my research neurosis.

Years ago, before I attempted to write fiction, I read a novel that centered on the Spanish Civil War. The author had written something in Spanish, which was grammatically incorrect. As a fluent Castilian speaker that put me off immediately and then I discovered that his history was also off. This wasn’t artistic license it was plain wrong. I vowed that if I decided to tackle fiction and if it had any sort of historical context to it, I would make sure that what I wrote was accurate.

Julius was born almost six years ago during NANOWRIMO. I finished the first draft in those 30 days. I was proud that I pulled this feat off and that I had it in me to write daily. My arrogant ego said if I could write a novel in 30 days then I could turn a perfectly polished manuscript in 12 months and start querying agents. And now I can comfortably say this in hindsight: Ha!

My first draft was bare bones in the research department and I knew that I had to layer it more. After all, I was writing about a woman’s preoccupation with the Spanish Civil War, The Rosenbergs, Alvah Bessie, the Blacklist mixed in with contemporary politics.

Those 12 months that I had given myself to write, polish and find an agent became the year that my mania for research went out of control. I had no free surface space in my apartment. Stacks of books were next to the couch, the bed, piled high on all tables, every space on bookshelves was crowded with either books or files. My narrow home office was turned into a storage room filled with boxes of books, and even the two large dog wire crates became book receptacles.

Okay, but what about the writing? I wrote—well, I revised and after each revision I had another question that needed more research and suddenly it’s three years later and I’m nowhere near to typing “The End.”

Now almost six years after the fact, Ihave admitted that I have a problem, but there is one benefit to my excessive enthusiasm for research—I have all the necessary information to finish the story. Like my attempt at quitting sugar cold turkey it’s time to quit researching, use all that knowledge and finish the damn book, but first let me clear my writing space. 

Rebeca Schiller is the online editor of HAND/EYE Magazine. She does write daily whether it’s for the magazine, her blog or her daily pages, but what she really needs to do is finish writing Julius.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review: "Bigfoot Hunters" by Rick Gualtieri

Don't take this book on a camping trip. Take it to the beach. You'll thank me later. In the beginning of Bigfoot Hunters by Rick Gualtieri, I was thinking 'another typical Tuesday night made-for-TV movie (book).' Which kids get whacked by doing something stupid? But the action and stakes kept rising until it is outright carnage and full-scale war between Bigfoot and man. I was in it for the full ride. Though I think Rick gave away too much with continual 'what he/she/it didn't know' lines, it was done well. Hopefully for his next book, he'll let the action rip and scare us even further with turn-of-events that haven't had their horror broadcasted moments earlier.

Still, he stayed away from cliché situations and cardboard characters for the most part, giving the main characters more balance then typical horror fare. And there were a lot of characters and a boatload of POVs (Point-of-Views). Though not a fan of stories with a cast of hundreds, I never felt lost flopping from one situation to the other when the action heated up and you needed to catch up with the latest victim and occasional survivor. Some of his twists caught me and the angry Bigfoots by surprise. And there's one girl I want on my side in any situation. I've camped in the Wolf Creek Pass area years ago, and if Bigfoot is around, this is certainly territory worthy of their homestead. Bigfoot Hunters is a solid "4." Wait, what was that horrible shrill call from the woods?

Monday, April 2, 2012

MMWUC: A Musing Tit Bit

Some day my muse is with me, sitting naked on my lap, feeding me sweet nectar from an IV tube tied to the well of free-flowing dreams dreamt and remembered. Other days, my muse takes a break and heads out to I-40, sticks out a well-sculptured leg that would make Angelina Jolie drool with envy. My muse heads to Spivey's Corners and inspires some awe-inspiring whistling. Then, she gets lost. Can't find her way home, distracted by all manner of people in need of direction, inspiration, and idleness-made-incredible. The last four days she's been recovering from a trip, slowly feeding me from the deep well. Today, pay dirt; "Next Spring," she says, "the final product will blow readers away." Keep tuned. I may be whistling for joy.
- - -
Aaron Anderson returned. After seven years, thirty-two days, and some odd hours, the dead man wandered through the back door of the house he had once owned into the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee, and sat down on a chair he milled years ago at the small, round wooden table he'd created with his own hands in the shed outback. Jenny, his daughter, didn't go into hysterics, faint, or approach him. Without looking away from his worn face covered with stubble, she picked up her cell phone and dialed 911. "Aaron Anderson is in my kitchen. Please come." She stayed on the line with the cops as instructed. His lean and long fingers embraced the steaming cup. Without a coat, she figured he must be cold, coming inside from the morning's nip. Aaron Anderson carried the stench of death. His shirt was many sizes too large. His pants hung low, barely on. He parted his lips as if to speak to give life to this apparition. Seconds like minutes; minutes like hours, she waited. Her jumble of emotions couldn't settle. She beat back any pretense that she was glad to see him, but here he was. His steady gaze dropped from her to the cup. After a sip, his eyes shifted in the direction of an approaching siren.

He looked her in the eye once more then slid a key across the table to her, "I'm sorry." He folded his arms on the table and lay his head in them. Aaron Anderson died once more.
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So what's your muse up to lately?