Friday, March 30, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
In Kimberly A. Bettes novel Rage, 13-year-old Brian Boozer's life is horrific. His alcoholic step-dad is a child-beater and molester who sucks down the money Brian's double-shift working mother brings home so efficiently that Brian has little in his life to live on. His situation at school is no better, dealing with small pack of sadistic bullies. Save for one girl who gives him the time of day for reasons not entirely clear, Brian is alone to face the world bereft of any adult or child willing to look past the physical and emotional abuse and scars to give him a hand up. Therein lies the positive and negative aspects of this story.
In an effort to show the terrible nature of bullying, along with the ultimate final betrayal, Rage is relentless in its anti-bullying message by any member of society on another. It is a great instructional tool on how one exists and then drowns in a world in which no child should live. Kudos. The effort to show the negativity of bullying, however, provides no inkling as to the means in which readers could/should curtail such situations in their life. One could argue that Bettes doesn't have the responsibility to provide or hint at answers to the bullying dilemma in telling Brian's story, but the abrupt ending made the story feel incomplete, as though no answers exist, and that the people in this story learned nothing, making it a double tragedy. No one grew; no one changed. He is a victim in the beginning, middle, and end. All are villains in the beginning, middle, and end.
The story is well-written. The spiraling downward trail of events believable. It certainly built my rage, including at times towards Brian, who seems well aware of the events unfolding around him, but still backs off taking the baby steps necessary to curtail his personal hell. It's a solid read about a difficult subject matter that some readers may not finish, but should. It is a well done "4."
Monday, March 26, 2012
A friend lamented about the comments he received regarding the correct length of a paragraph. His were often the length of a scene. He queried: How do you know when to start a new one? When is a paragraph long enough? I tried to help, keeping the guidelines simple, disregarding attempts James Joycian or Faulknerish, or trying to tweak paragraphs to match new means of information dissemination (i.e., ebooks, phones, or mental probes). A new paragraph begins...
1. ...each time there's a new speaker in dialogue.
2. ...each new POV (Point of View).
3. ...each new thought (though many will string related thoughts together).
4. ...when there is a significant shift in action in the narrative.
5. ...at the end of a significant string of related actions.
No firm rule dictates paragraph length. They can be a single word. Extending one beyond half a page would be a good benchmark to consider if you're going overboard with the paragraph. What are your best tips for my friend?
- - - EXAMPLE - - -
ALL'S RIGHT IN THE WORLD
"Wait," barked Lassie.
"What's up, Lassie? What is it, boy?" Timmy asked.
Stupid human, Lassie thought. I'm a girl.
Stupid mutt. Timmy exhaled. Barks at anything.
"There's a rattlesnake behind that tree, you Moron," Lassie barked.
"Want to play fetch. Here, chase this stick. Stick!" Timmy threw the stick.
Lassie dashed after the irresistible piece of oak that a dozen squirrels, two possums, and one raccoon had used to mark their territories. She sniffed the delightful stick then picked it up. She turned around just in time to see Timmy lie down on the snake. The fangs sank into Timmy's arm through the flannel shirt.
Timmy screamed. Lassie barked. The stick fell to the forest floor. The snake slithered away. Lassie ran back to Timmy, bit him on the arm, and sucked out the poison as best she could.
A squirrel in a tree overhead chattered, "Dog!" All the squirrels in the area froze in place.
Timmy died from the snake bite. Dogs can't really suck anything. Lassie was put down, deemed a vicious dog. The squirrel became owl food. The snake ate the baby owlets. A smiling God watched on high from his orthopedic mattress set at 43 for firm comfort.
- - - END - - -
That's all I know about paragraphs. Go forth and write with confidence.
Friday, March 23, 2012
I've spent most of my reading life with historical novels--all periods, everywhere. My earliest memories of childhood reading include novels about boys who travelled with Caesar and Vercingetorix. I can't possibly name more than a few of the best authors--Mary Renault on ancient Greece, Edith Pargeter on Wales, Morgan Llewellen on Ireland, Douglas C. Jones on the U.S. Civil War, Susan Vreeland on the Italian painter Artemesia. There are hundreds of them.
Then there is the mystery set in earlier times. Recently I've been reading Charles Todd's Bess series, dealing with a nurse in WWI, and Charles Finch's books on England around 1865. Both are outstanding.
I'm sure that historical novels shaped my life. I read them from childhood on, and ended up getting a Ph.D. in history from the U. of Chicago. Not only are such novels fascinating in themselves, they are a painless way of learning about the lives of people in other places in other eras. Want to know about Aaron Burr or Abraham Lincoln? Read Gore Vidal's novels about them.
Biographies are one thing—novels are something different. Needless to say, some of the novels are more accurate than others, but the best of them are based on solid research.
Right now I'm in the middle of Katherine Webb's The Legacy, which jumps back and forth between now and 1900. Gotta go now and see how it comes out!
- - -
Carter Jefferson can be found hanging out here.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
And now for something completely different--The Yard Sale (But It Ain't No Bargain). This slender novel is closer to a novella, but I don't believe author Cal Kirby cares. His command of mechanics is fine, but this 2001 first published book (now a 2011 ebook) is far from writing perfection. In fact, it's full of dropped-in factoids, blocks of character description, give-a-way chapter titles, odd asides, and violates many rules or guidelines in the search for conventional writing perfection. But, there is something endearing about this story and Chas Kirkland, a homicide detective, who tries to find a missing friend, Lisa Shoeman, before dastardly deeds can be done to her.
Gather around the kitchen table, Cal is just telling a story. And if he needs to say that Lisa didn't know what was coming her way, even though the reader does, well, that's just the way Cal tells the story. A Cheshire Cat grin stayed on my face while reading Yard Sale despite the serious nature of the story. Why? I turned page after page despite a strong desire to pull out the big red pen and mark the hundreds of ways it could have been made better through some serious editing. The simple story has some really terrible bad guys, a good cop with strong and dependable cop allies, a few twists, a couple of plucky characters, heck of a chase scene, and friends who rally when the chips are down. A good screenplay writer could do a lot with this.
Despite enjoying it for what it was, I doubt that many readers will: it's just not a quality read. Unlike some people who put out crap just to get your $0.99, I believe Cal published an honest, if flawed book. But if you can put down your big red pen, toss a buck this way, and just let your critical nature go, you just might have a nice afternoon beach read. Giving it a 2 for its flaws seems just mean for the pleasure I got out of the story, so I'll raise it up like Atlas to a "3."
Monday, March 19, 2012
A friend asked me to help him out. His publisher had been pressuring him to create a web presence via a web site. He wondered if it was worth it. Well,
I'm no marketing expert, but I agreed with his publisher.
The higher the name recognition, the better the sales. The more times you show
up on a web search, the more likely you won't be like an old can of beans stuck
on a shelf waiting for some granny to get you on discount. You'll be the
"AMAZING NEW ALL-TEMPERATURE WRITER on display in front of the
That written, there is a time drain involved with doing anything other than writing. Blogs and web sites can turn into the nightmare from Cleveland, the thing that wouldn't leave, or that blood-sucking monster under the bed. Don't get pulled into a big trap. Learn to budget your time. And if you're uncomfortable about your ability to build a website or blog, get some help. Sydney has some thoughts to help.
2. Keep the web page simple so that you don't have to update it every five minutes; though, you will be on it a lot in the beginning as you load up pertinent information.
Friday, March 16, 2012
I'm sitting at the kitchen table in front of the bow window. Beyond the glass, the bird feeder is busy this Sunday morning, with chickadees, purple finches, American goldfinches, doves, nuthatches and cardinals the most frequent diners. In front of me sits a mound of paper, my trusty MacBook Pro and James Scott Bell's book entitled Revision and Editing.
I read through the lot after I'd put it aside for a month or so. I tried to come to it with fresh eyes, and didn't edit or revise.
Now I'm on the hunt for the adverbs, the dreaded "ing", the clauses beginning with "as". My weapons are markers, orange and pink.
What to do about "had"? I've come to terms with removing or rewriting phrases such as "congealing on her yellow linen skirt" or "as she watched the birds" or any word ending in "ly".
But what to do about "had"? My English teacher and my Latin teacher were both tough. An event in the remote past called for the pluperfect (past perfect) and nothing less.
The complaint by current writers seems to be that the use of this tense slows down the action. I like the clarity of knowing just when events occurred and in what order. I want to understand the cause and effect, and I need the past perfect for that.
So what happened in the past, stays in the past, held in place by that useful little "had".
- - -
Virginia Winters - The Facepainter Murders, available at Amazon.com and http://www.writewordsinc.com firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.virginiawinters.ca http://ginny200.wordpress.com/
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Sometimes a person (or character) will just rub you the wrong way. So it is with Madison Knight in Ties That Bind by Carolyn Arnold for me. As a detective, Madison hates clichés as much as, well, seemingly most people. She is Kojak with a candy bar substituting for the lollypop but without the charm. Her attempts at empathy are mostly swallowed up as repetitious and muddled internal thoughts. She appears uncomfortable in her own skin, and I never knew if she was going to laugh or punch her partner one more time. (I'd have hit her back a few times!) The book has more than its share of clichés in the form of cardboard characters, a sounding-board partner with belabored personal issues dragged out far too long, and an overused twist regarding the bad guy--though it was nicely handled.
My copy of the story had numerous formatting issues. I can't hold that against the author, but I believe a stronger editor would have tightened the decent story line, cutting some of the lengthier scenes and eviscerating the partner. (Second bananas need to bring something to the table, and he just doesn’t.) Is it really that bad? No. Personal preferences will draw (and have drawn) some readers to Madison's tough-as-nails personality. The investigation proceeds more like real-life: hard work, bad breaks, lucky finds, bad timing, confusion, inexperience, intrusive politics, etc. The twists are well handled, and while the suspense is not as sharp as it could be, it was there. All total though, this is just a slightly better than average read, shy of a four rating. It is a "3."
Monday, March 12, 2012
Guile told me to do this for reasons I'm not sure, but I've been tagged to show, from my current WIP, page 77, beginning with 7 lines from the 7th line.
- - -
"Yes, a screw. He'd been screwed. Move on. Do you have anything more conclusive?"
Norm pushed his glasses up to the bridge of his nose and cleared his throat. "I found a small bat that fits the mark on his head. I bagged the bat. It wasn't near the body and was unlikely to have struck him with sufficient force to kill him when the meteor crashed through the office. He was hit hard. Doc needs to take a liver test, but from my experience, he was dead three to five hours before he had his close encounter."
Jerry's close encounter wasn't close. It was dead on. I popped an aspirin for my growing headache,
- - -
Conclusion: Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes it's confirmed.
If I've read one article about titles, I've read a hundred. While first time novelists going through the traditional publication route don't have a tremendous say-so about their titles, the wave of indie (self-pubbed) writers have total control. Much has been written about the power of titles on readers as they browse the racks at the store or scroll through the endless twitters or online lists for a new read not associated with everyone's favorite word: FREE. Titles can make a break a sale. No magic exists that can derive a perfect title, but for fun the LULU Title Scorer can derive the value of your title.
Also, this article covers some dos and donts for television titles; however, it might be instructive for that new novel of yours. And I don't like your title: Why Jennifer Aniston Barfed on my Date with Her
Friday, March 9, 2012
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Monday, March 5, 2012
As we mature, people tend to surround themselves with mirror images. Career, family, school, our social media trends, and outside activities create a homogenous lifestyle. As a writer that's both instructive and deadly. Instructive, if we keep our senses attuned like John Updike, in understanding at a deeper level what is happening around us, capturing nuances and subtleties that others outside our circle might miss. It is also deadly in that our world gets isolated and the process of like-think begins. People with similar values, beliefs, and actions glued together. For a writer, like-think is deadly. No matter what lifestyle we live in, we are a minority and slowly lose our sense of other lifestyles. Save us Chuck Palahniuk.
I'm too old, settled, and not brave enough to live life on the edge--sleeping under railroad bridges, drinking myself into a stupor, or bitch-slapping some puny guy I picked up in a bar only realize that she's a he and only after the $20 bill in my wallet. That's why I go to Writing School.
I watch Maury Povich, COPS, Judge Judy, and sadly, Jerry Springer, when doing brain-idling chores like folding laundry, cleaning, or cutting caramel wrappers. "Who are these people, Maury?" You may prove whether or not he's the father, but the children of these louts don't stand a chance based on the sad overall behavior they put on for 10 million viewers for a few guest bucks. COPS is instructive for both the idealized cop and the irrationality of the criminal mind. "I don't have no dope," says the guy with a joint tucked behind his ear. Maybe the double negative gave him away. "You’re an idiot," screams Judge Judy to someone who thought that wrecking a car got them out of paying for their loan. And still believes it! And Springer proves that just when you thought life couldn't be more weird, out pops the mom who abandoned you to an alcoholic father, and she's now a transsexual who's there to tell you that your wife is really your sister with whom your mom's been having an affair.
It's Writing School. Exposure to characters I have a hard time dreaming up. But now I know they are real and necessary if my books want to dip a toe into some realities that my like-think readers might not have been exposed to and might feel a bit uncomfortable being around. Where is your personal Writing School.
Friday, March 2, 2012