Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Codependent Relationship with Writing

"Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working."
—Stephen DeStaebler

I saw this quote today and was impressed by how easily and succinctly Mr. DeStaebler summed up the gist of so many of my blogs. This is how I feel about writing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

NON's First Guest Blog

Number One Novels' first guest blog is up today at Gelati's Scoop! Thank you to Giovanni Gelati for helping spread the news of all the debut authors out there!

Writing on Faye continues. November felt like one big hitch in the process, with so many scenes written and deleted and written and cut to be mashed into a new form until finally December hit and the book started moving forward again! What a huge relief!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Balloon Popped: The Multiple Purposes of the Editing "Pin"

Faye Progress:
67915 / 90000 words. 75% done!

The cuts continue. Recently I posted that I cut a total of 31 pages from Faye to move the story along. It had gotten off the rails, and I needed to go back to the point where things jumped track and start again. Today, I realized that my derailment happened a lot farther back. To be exact, it happened 66 pages before those 31 pages I cut!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Getting Crafty

Urg. Work has slammed me this week, which means that when I finish the long hours in front of the computer, I haven't had any energy left for blogging. (I've still been writing first thing in the morning, though—keeping that commitment to myself is one of the things in the day that gives me energy...and a great deal of happiness.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Perception Is Everything

I'm repeatedly amazed how very little value facts—hard, cold, scientific truths—have on life and how much more our perceptions of facts (or falsehoods) shapes our realities. Today, while world building and jotting notes on characters, I spent a great deal of time contemplating this question: How would I view life were I to believe that I was inherently evil rather than inherently good?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The World Is My Novel

Faye Progress:
79988 / 90000 words. 89% done!

One of the facets of being an author that has always appealed to me is that every experience I have and every tidbit of information I learn can potentially be useful later in a story. This factoid has saved me from mind-numbing boredom in endless checkout lines (where better to study my fellow humans, pick up odd snippets of conversations, or glean details to make those secondary characters come alive?), it has made long road trips interesting (endless vistas out bug-splattered windshields are great for getting setting ideas, and great just for letting the mind wander and the muse create without pressure, too), and it has encouraged me to try experiences I might otherwise have said no to.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Moving Backward, Making Progress

I wrote myself into a corner a week ago.

It didn't stop me, though. I plowed on, adding to the scene, deepening it, changing and tweaking it. I followed it down a dark, halting path that grew progressively harder to continue. The scene had gained a life of its own, independent of the story.

Friday, November 5, 2010

As NON Is My Guide

Faye Progress
79163 / 90000 words. 88% done!

Not having a book to read is a certain kind of torture, as I've lamented more than once on this blog. Not having a book to read is not the same as not having any books on my shelf that I've not yet read. It's not having a book that I want to read. I have three different TBR piles (categorized by genre), and not a single book out of those 29 appealed to me.

What's a girl to do? Go to the Official Number One Novels Amazon Bookstore, of course.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Getting Away for a Day

I've had my nose to the grindstone, or more accurately, my fingers to the keyboard and my nose to the screen, for several weeks. They've been glorious, productive weeks (11 pages yesterday alone!), but they've left me and my muse a little deflated.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy NaNo WriMo Day!

Faye Progress:
72965 / 90000 words. 81% done!

Congratulations to all the people participating in NaNo WriMo! Today is the first day of your mad-dash adventure to 50,000 words in the month of November and, hopefully, a novel you can polish up and sell afterward.

After three years of being an active participant, I'm not taking part in NaNo this year a reason I feel everyone in the NaNo community would support: I couldn't wait until November to start this next novel.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Divine Misdemeanor = Literary Disappointment

Even the masters make rookie mistakes, as New York Times bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton's Divine Misdemeanors proved.

As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I'm a huge Hamilton fan. Her characters are so very different than any others I read, and I don't mean in the fact that they have more magic and sex per page than most erotica and fantasy novels combined.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Loving Rain, and Other Things that Make Me Weird

Were all Americans to be polled, my general views on what constitutes happiness would place me distinctly in the minority on many issues. Case in point: today was a gorgeous cloudy day, with rain imminent, and I had a much harder time focusing on work than I have had all summer through all those bright and clear sunny days. You all can have your sunny days. I'll take a day with clouds, any type, any day over a crystal-clear blue sky.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Let Me Eat Cake!

I've recently attempted to cut sugar out of my diet, specifically processed sugar (not fruit or anything crazy like that). For the most part, my experiment was going well. I didn't have cravings. I had everything under control. I didn't even whine when Cody continued to eat desserts. Better yet, I didn't even feel the urge to whine. Even I was surprised by that.

Then season two of Cake Boss came out on Netflix.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bridge to Freedom

Faye Progress:
61725 / 90000 words. 69% done!

When I was in high school, I took a few years of drawing classes. I studied with pencil, colored pencil, and ink. I loved it. Drawing taps into that same part of my brain that writing does. It shuts out the rest of the world and brings complete focus into every aspect of the piece, narrowing the world down to a line, a shadow, a shape, a texture. The only problem was that inevitably, at some point in the project, my mind would wander and I would start working by rote.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Second Wind

Faye Progress:
48944 / 90000 words. 54% done!

My last post inspired another few pages and now I'm only 1,056 words from the traditional NaNo goal of 50,000 words in a month! Hooray! I also finished the scene I had to leave off this morning when it was time to get to (paying) work. Tomorrow I start fresh with a very intense scene.

Now to get some food!

One Month and Counting

Faye Progress:
47332 / 90000 words. 53% done!

It's been one month since I started writing Faye, and having typed 47,000 words / 158 pages is a good feeling. Were this during NaNo WriMo, I would have failed the 50,000-word challenge, mainly because I took five days off during the last month. Still, an average of 1,577 words a day isn't bad at all!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Rejection Slump

Faye Progress:
41798 / 90000 words. 46% done!

Normally I'm positive about my writing. I feel I've got it going on, at least well enough to know what needs to be edited and changed and fixed and polished. I truly love my Madison novel. I usually think it's well written. But this unlucky number 13 rejection took the wind from my sails. I've got a lot of doubts circling in my head right now—about my talent as a writer, about my main character, about my novel's opening, about various little factors that agents have commented on.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Stalkees

Faye Progress:

36154 / 90000 words. 40% done!

Some people have actors that they'll watch anything they act in or novelists that they'll read anything they write. I've got a few of those, too, but I also have a few directors/screenwriters/producers that I actively stalk. Their numbers are few at the moment—three, to be exact—but I'm very loyal to all three, and for completely different reasons.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Painting Frenzy

Despite the fact that I have been writing six days a week for a minimum of an hour and a half a day, my creative impulses have not been completely satisfied. I've felt a compulsive desire to paint.

Now, for me, this isn't about a canvas or creating a picture. I want to paint three-dimensional objects. Since I first moved out on my own, I've found a certain meditative pleasure in painting, and very few items in my home are safe.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lessons While Reading

I just finished Gail Carriger's second novel, and I loved it as much as the first. (Carriger was a Number One Novels find last year.) I love how she pokes fun at Victorian society, the humor that weaves through action-filled plots, and the sheer imagery of the setting, but most of all, I love how well werewolves and vampires are integrated into history in her crossover steampunk, fantasy, and regency romances.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Bit of Seriousness

Faye Progress:
26009 / 90000 words. 29% done!

I just watched part of J.K. Rowling's interview on today's Oprah, and I was struck again by how seriously she takes her craft—how much thought goes into each word. She thought she knew the final word of her novel before she even got there. She can remember certain lines that she considered writing into the work and later scratched. Much more than simply putting down the story, she put a great deal of thought into each word of that story.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Website Critique: Kelly Armstrong

Faye Progress:
19734 / 90000 words. 22% done!

Through my recent NON author searches, I've encountered a lot of terrible and several good websites. Also, today I managed (after an hour) to upload a new banner on my website that's has a modicum of appeal. All this website surfing got me thinking about doing another critique.

I selected Kelly Armstrong this time by closing my eyes while standing in front of my bookcases, spinning my arm in the air, and seeing what I stopped on. Very scientific, I know.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Critique Group: Second Thoughts

I've always thought that it would be really beneficial to be part of a writers' group. I envisioned weekly or biweekly meetings where we would critique the selected writer's chapter, rotating through people's turns. As we wrote, we would be helping each other improve and perfect our stories. Optimum efficiency, and all that.

And then I read Stephen King's On Writing, and he brought up a downside to critique groups I'd never considered: Do I really want to have my WIP critiqued as it is written?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On Writing: What Is Ambiguous

While I agreed with nearly everything King wrote about the craft of writing in On Writing, there were a few things he said that contradicted what I've heard other authors say.

For starters, he recommends (commands) all writers read. Constantly. Everywhere. A moment is spent waiting is a moment that could be spent reading. So is a moment spent riding as a passenger in a car, standing in line at the post office, and brushing your teeth. He also advises reading everything, not just novels in your genre.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On Writing: What Works

I've been reading Stephen King's On Writing off and on since June, and in the last few weeks, I finally got past his biography section to his advice on writing. Since then, my interest in the book has definitely increased. Having never read one of King's novels, I have no more than a passing interest in his history. However, on his thoughts on the craft of writing, I'm all ears.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Recycled Novel

Generally, I'm a huge fan of recycling. I have a several stashes specifically for recyclable items—plastic bags, batteries, computer parts—and I live in a neighborhood where trash is sorted by the city for recycling purposes (which I've done some research on, and they actually do it!). In fact, up until last week, I would have said I'm a huge fan of recycling. Period. No caveat.

Then I read Terry Goodkind's The Law of Nines. It's not a novel about the horrors of recycling. In fact, it's a fantasy novel about a man who must use his wits (and a gun) to save his world from destructive villains from another world. The problem, though, is that I've already read this book. I've read it eleven times already, to be specific.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Faye Has Begun!

I had planned on crafting the scene-by-scene notecards of the in depth storyboard of Faye (my new novel now that Madison is done and waiting to be sold) before I began writing. But when I sat down this morning, the scenes didn't want to be divided down into little bites like that. They wanted to be written.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Naming without a Tune

I've been busy working away on writing-related projects, despite the blogger silence of late. I finished yet another round of Madison edits, and now it's going to sit in the sidelines until an agent requests to see it. I don't think that'll be too long. It's ready for the public. Finally. Three years later. It took me three years to write my first novel, and three years to write and polish and query my second. I think I'm getting faster, even if it doesn't look like it from here.

Which means that my attention has turned to the next project. I mapped this one out, and have it ready to go except for two looming obstacles: naming my main female and male characters.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

New Website Text!

I've been attempting to hold out on updating on my website until I could do everything—layout, design, images, and text—all at once. What I realized that meant was that I had a crappy, outdated site just sitting there for years. Not a good plan.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Finding the Right Voice

I'm sure there are millions of people around the world who do not experience a tailspin in their life when they are between books. I'm not one of them. If I don't have a current book to read, people die.

Okay, okay, maybe not die. But Cody suffers. There's only so much of my undivided and disgruntled attention the man can take. When I don't have a book, Cody, who loves nothing more than to come home from work and stay home for the evening, is suddenly happy to escape the house at any hour of the night to obtain me one. The only thing that keeps him home are bookstore hours.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Even-keeled Optimism

The recent contest I entered at Miss Snark's First Victim's blog galvanized me to action once again. After sending out a batch of queries in January (I can't believe it's already been eight months!), and receiving many rejections, a few requests for pages, and a few more rejections, I decided to wait a little before querying more. In that time, I've worked on other projects, but I've also been busy tightening that frustrating beginning of the story and also crafting more engaging query and synopses.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sanity's Slippery Slope

For those of us who spend hours agonizing over creating a perfect one-page synopsis of a 300-page novel or the exact correct phrasing to condense an entire novel down to two paragraphs of compelling text in a query letter, I would like to introduce you to SlushPile Hell.

After hours, days, or weeks of meticulous query crafting, it's refreshing to see these horrible, disastrous queries that agents have received. First, it reminds me that what I'm writing is definitely better than a lot of queries the agents are receiving. Second, it reminds me that despite reworking the same ten sentences for the last week, I still have my sanity.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Critiquing Experience

I've been reading through the entries in Miss Snark's First Victim's contest, offering my critiques and reading what other people have to say. There's definitely a spectrum of critiquing experience out there! Sadly, I'm not counting myself at the top, either. For me, writing, and knowing what writing is good vs. what is either bad or not quite there, is very instinctual. I can't always point out the specifics of what works and what doesn't. Which is a rather large problem for a writer attempting to perfect her craft!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting a Critique

In 2008, Miss Snark's First Victim began hosting contests on her blog for unpublished authors to help each other out. Over the course of the week, the peers who also made it into the contest (only a limited number of people can participate) critique one another's pieces. Even better, one of the anonymous people critiquing is an agent!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Life in Motivation

Two days after my cat, Zenzo, had to go to the vet, I think we're in the clear. The (surprisingly nummy-smelling) pain killers did their magic, along with the antibiotics, and everything seems normal for Zenzo again. She's playing, she's rolling on her back to expose her belly, and she's purring. Truly, my world is set to rights again.

It's shocking to me how profoundly the health of my cats affects my general well-being. When they get sick, it saps my energy. The world grays at the edges, and my focus narrows to what needs to be done to make them better.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Focus

I try to write every day, working after I finish. I'm a creature of routines, very happy in them. In fact, I'm my happiest when I get my allotted amount of writing time and a good work day, followed by a physical workout, then some blog and NON time, and if necessary, more work time, then dinner and some relax time. When the routine works, it works really well. I've had super efficient days that have made two normal days look like I spent the whole time slacking off.

The routine has not been working lately.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Patterns in Names

Before yesterday's post took an odd turn, I had something very simple and a little peculiar on my mind: the pattern of names. Specifically, the number of syllables in the names of protagonists. In the majority of serialized novels I read, there's a very orderly breakdown: if the novel has a female protagonist, her name has four syllables; if the novel has a male protagonist, his name has three syllables.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Pattern Geniuses

I imagine that really intelligent people are really good at putting together subtle patterns from otherwise random events. I'm not talking necessarily about those who score high on the IQ tests or those who are gifted with street smarts, but those who have an intellect that lends itself well to either side of the law enforcement spectrum—con men/women or FBI agents. Seeing the details and how they connect would give you a subtle advantage, enabling you to predict future actions better.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I Am Mobile!

It has finally happened! I have a laptop! Now I have instant mobility and the ability to work and write and blog anywhere in the world (with Internet access for the blogging). I'm super excited by all the possibilities, and simply by the thought of editing my novel somewhere other than at home.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Family First

Every once in a while, something truly new and unexpected happens. When I learned several years ago that most people have something like 80% of the same thoughts each and every day, I started to pay attention to when I have a completely new thought, something I've never thought of or considered before. Something that takes even me by surprise. I don't know if this is a sad comment on me, but I don't notice brand-new thoughts and ideas every day. Not even every week. But a lot of good story ideas come from these kernels of ah-ha!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Open Endings: A Lazy Writer's "Device"

I'm on a roll after yesterday's rant, and I think now's a good time to point out one of my most loathed "plot devices": open endings. There's nothing quite like getting to the end of a story and not having it really end. The author gets to say, "You choose," but what I hear is, "I was too lazy to wrap this story up in a logical way, so I'm hoping you can do that in your spare time," or, just as bad, "This story is an artistic reflection of real life so of course it can't have a definite ending!"

Open-ended stories are the result of lazy writers. I despise them.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Success Does Not Mean You Failed Your Genre

My recent infatuation with short stories led to me to the library and ultimately to The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Fourteenth Annual Collection

I should have skipped straight to the stories, but I started with Terri Windling's summation of the year in fantasy, thinking to learn about books I might enjoy. Instead, I was treated to an insulting and irritating tone of superiority. Windling and I got off on the wrong foot when she states that "...fantasy...has made a solid comeback after too many years when all we saw were those endless Tolkien clones clogging the bestseller lists. ...[N]ow there are some fine alternatives for the serious fantasy reader." (emphasis mine)

Friday, July 16, 2010

What's in an Age?

I mentioned yesterday that I don't yet know the age of my next protagonist. It seems peculiar even to me. I mean, how can I plot a novel without knowing how old my main character is going to be? The thing is, I thought she was going to be in her midtwenties. I planned the novel that way. It works. The journey works with her young but with some life experience under her belt. The only thing is that it works so much better if my character is younger. Like sixteen or seventeen.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Post-plotting Slump

Last week, I finished plotting my next novel. I now know, in a vague, overarcing way, exactly what's going to happen. I have a pretty good idea who my main character is (though not a name, and not an age...but I'll get to that tomorrow). I know who her main friends are, and who her main enemies are, including those who walk the line between being a friend and an enemy. I know the lessons she'll learn. I know her internal conflict and her external one. I know that I would dearly love to see novel on the bookshelves of bookstores everywhere and then to film, as I dream for ever novel before it's even written. Best yet, I know that it is a novel. It's something that will flesh out to be sellable. Always a HUGE plus.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Critiquing Holly Black's Website

I've been thinking more about what I said in the Halfway through the Year post: that White Cat by Holly Black is one of the books most frequently on my mind this year. It was one of those things I typed and then realized how true a sentiment it was. So, in honor of how much Holly Black has had me thinking, I thought she'd be a good author to feature in an author website critique.

Here are my findings on Holly Black's website.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Allure of Short Fiction

I haven't written short fiction since college. I haven't read it since then, either. About the time I finished my creative writing class and graduated, I realized that to pack in the information that I wanted, I needed many more pages. Which led to my first novel being over 1,300 pages. Whew! I got that out of my system, and my next novel was only in the low 300s—much better written and far more marketable.

I didn't think I'd ever look back. For one, I want to make a living as an author, and I think even short-story editors who've manned their post at various short-story magazines for the last twenty-five years would be hard pressed to point out one person who's made a good living on short stories alone.

Monday, July 12, 2010

An Unwelcome Reminder of How Spoiled I Am

Every once in a while, something happens to remind me that I'm a very lucky, very spoiled woman. Lucky in the fact that I was born to a middle-class American family, which immediately put me in a position superior to that of more than half the women currently living on Earth. And by "superior" I mean that I have all my basic needs met, have birth control, access to education, and a strong sense of self-worth and an ability to achieve my dreams. I have a wonderful husband who cherishes me and spoils me on a daily basis, in ways private and public. I have great friends who I love spending time with—so much so that my weekends are booked into August. I have a job that I love, working for myself and from home, two things that suit me very nicely. I love my job so much that when I was without work for two days, I was already missing it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

When a Romance Is Just a Romance

I recently finished two of Debbie Macomber's novellas bundled together in The Manning Grooms. This was my first time reading Macomber, and her writing, both in style and content, took me back to my teens, when I first started reading romances. It's been a long time since I read a story that was just a romance.

Most of my romance reading these days falls into two categories: action romance and paranormal romance, with the occasional mystery romance thrown in.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Siren Call of Harry

I feel so refreshed after this last weekend/vacation. I didn't go anywhere, but I also didn't have a lot of work to do. In fact, I was able to take Monday completely off. No work. No Number One Novels details to take care of. I didn't email. I used my computer for a total of two things (printing out a coupon and settling a debate with Cody), which, combined, took less than five minutes. So little computer time in a day is unheard of for me. I didn't realize how much I needed the break until I got it, either.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Whiteboard Pictures

I'm not sure if these pictures will show the wonder that is my new whiteboard. Cody wasn't around to pose to show the perspective. Here it is, in all it's current glory:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Late Favorite

A while ago I posted about a few of my favorite birthday presents. This one didn't make it on the list only because it came late: Cody got me a roll-out, tape-up, super-thin whiteboard that's six feet long and three and a half feet tall. After some finagling, we managed to get it stuck up along the only wall with a free six feet of length: the hallway.

I've been playing around with how to use the board. The idea is for it to be my new brainstorming space.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Halfway through the Year

We've reached the last day of June, which means we're officially at the halfway point of 2010. So the big question is: how many books have I read so far?

Granted, there are much bigger questions a person might wish to ponder at this point in the year. Questions that would help realign goals with those beginning-of-the-year resolutions. Questions about where you want to be at the end of the year. Both are good things to ponder, but not nearly as much fun as checking over my Excel "Books Read in 2010" spreadsheet.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Killing with Confusion

There's nothing that kills a story—whether it's a novel, a TV show, or a movie—faster than confusing the audience. Stories hinge upon the connection the audience makes with the characters. The moment this connection is broken by a confusing event or action on the part of the characters, or even a poorly transitioned time jump, the audience will start to lose interest.

I've had the opportunity to study this phenomenon up close and personally the last few days, due to some questionable reading and watching choices.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Succulent Success

It's took a few days to gather the supplies, but my birthday succulents are now happily planted in well-draining soil and ensconced in a planter holder outside my office window. Shockingly (to me) this pot is the only of my 15 potted plants that has more than one species of plant in it! I really need to branch out with my planting strategies. Unfortunately, I've run out of surface area near windows on which to set more potted plants, so I'm stuck with the current arrangement for the time being. (Eventually I will live somewhere that has windows on more than one side of the building. And, while I'm wishing, more than one door so the place isn't a total fire trap.)

I think that my arrangement, while simple, turned out rather cute.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Nonstop Research and Loving It

I have dedicated a fair amount of time recently to studying the craft of writing. I haven't been looking at nonfiction novels filled with guidance about how to create the perfect fill-in-the-blank (character, plot, marketing strategy). I haven't been attending any lectures or going to any classes. I haven't even been reading anything on authors' websites to learn the tips straight from the masters.

I've been studying the old-fashioned way: by reading.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things

So despite yesterday's post about how much I was working the last few weeks, I did manage to squeeze in a good deal of fun. I saw my friends several times. I participated in a city-organized treasure hunt (so much fun!). I visited with my mom. And I celebrated my birthday!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Guilt Assuaged

It's been two very busy work weeks for me. My best work days are usually only six or so hours long, leaving time at the beginning and end for the very important tasks of writing and blogging and finding new NON authors and exercising. These last two weeks, I worked every single day but one. I didn't write. I didn't blog. I only did minimal upkeep on NON. On days when I had prior engagements, I squeezed in working around it. On days when I didn't, I worked at least nine hours—longer if I could still see the computer screen and thought I was still able to perform my job with some sense of quality.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Repetitive Motion

Today, for some unknown reason, the TV in my apartment complex workout room had only one channel that worked instead of the usual 73. On that one channel: a fishing show. So instead of watching Ellen, which I normally do while I exercise, I turned off the TV and ran on the elliptical machine in silence.

To distract myself from being annoyed at the new apartment managers, I decided to contemplate a story idea that's been brewing in the back of my mind. I'm so glad I did. I'd honestly forgotten how well repetitive motion helps me think!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hero's Journey: Leap Year

When I posted the Hero's Journey Template, I really wanted to provide a real-life example to explain the whole concept, not just provide the template. However, I drew a complete blank of any story's hero's journey, flipped through The Writer's Journey a dozen or so times, and hit "Publish Post" when my stomach told me I was simply wasting time on lackluster brain cells that obviously needed fuel.

Today, I'd like to finish that post with this one, a true breakdown of a hero's journey, using the movie Leap Year as the example (since that's the most recent movie I've seen). As bonus credit (for me), this little exercise is the first of many to help me study my craft and improve my own work. If anyone wants to submit their own hero's journey breakdown (or link to one), I'd love to see it. I've determined that it's time for me to focus a little more on my own writing education...but that's a different post.

Warning: this post is going to be a huge spoiler if you've not seen Leap Year yet.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Musing on Muses

I didn't used to understand when authors would talk about their muse as if it were a secondary person. About how their muse gave them ideas, presented them with a new character, stepped in and killed off a character unexpectedly, etc. I figure, if you're the person writing the story, you're the one creating the characters and doing the killing. There's no second person there. There's no attractive woman, maybe with a harp and long flowing red curls, who whispers new ideas in your ear when you're thinking of someone else.

As you can see, I had a very Hollywood-version idea of a muse.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Hero's Journey Template

I talk a lot about the hero's journey on my blog and leave Christopher Vogler's very educational The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers on my Shelfari widget because I'm almost constantly referencing or thinking about Vogler's advice. Having just finished my first read through of Madison book 2, the hero's journey has been on my mind a lot as I try to determine whether or not the book has all the necessary elements.

In an attempt to obtain a clear picture of the whole novel, I'm getting ready to sit down with my pages and plot it out, scene by scene in an Excel doc. It sounds like a tedious process, but in doing so, I find a lot of the plot flaws along the way, and when I have a finished scene-tracker Excel doc, it makes a great reference for all future edits.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Critiquing Christy Reece's Website

This three-day weekend (which was a four-day weekend for my hubby and me), I jumped the gun on my website. I know I don't have a lot of information to put up, but I get so excited by looking at all these authors' sites and then I look at my current website, and I feel the compulsion to DO SOMETHING. So Cody and I hashed out a few things—new (tentative) template, new text, new siders and headers and tabs. We almost bought Dreamweaver, but couldn't quite justify the expense. Nothing's up yet. Nothing's close to going up yet, either, but we made a start.

Of course, it inspired me to hop around a bunch of authors' sites while we were looking for further inspiration. I have a list of authors for future critiques, now. Christy Reece isn't on that list. However, last night, when I was unsuccessfully trying to fall asleep after realizing that my birthday is only 14 days away, I had this wonderful thought: What if I sold Madison in a three-book deal, with three books coming out back to back over the span of three months. Then the next year, another three, so that in two years, I could have six books sitting on the shelves of bookstores everywhere!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Purchasing for My Muse

When Borders sends me a 40% off coupon, I find it nearly impossible to resist. Forty percent off is nearly as good as used-book prices, and I can get something brand new. Thus, when Cody and I headed for Borders today with our 40% off coupons in hand, I expected to pick up a new fiction novel. Maybe Lora Leigh's new Lion's Heat or Jim Butcher's third Dresden novel, Grave Peril, or maybe Warriors edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois with short stories by Diana Gabaldon and Carrie Vaughn.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Substance of Hope

For the past six months, I've been plagued with one main question in my writing life: Is my first Madison story, the one I'm shopping around to agents, enough of a story? Is there enough meat, enough action, enough twists in plot, enough arc in character to satisfy a reader? Is it the story I want to launch my career with? Does it have enough energy to make readers crave the next one?

Heavy questions, especially whenever a rejection comes in and the doubts resurface. So for these last six months, while I ponder the depth and breadth of Conventional Demon, I've been thinking of ways to make it better. One of the best plans I've come up with is to weave what I wrote for book 2 into book 1.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Critiquing Janet Evanovich's Website

In continuing with my quest to build a better website, I decided to hop over to Janet Evanovich's site. (Okay, I was actually looking to see when her next Stephanie Plum novel will be released—June 22—but once I was on the site, I thought it'd make a great one to critique.)

If you've been a fan of Evanovich's for a while, you probably went by her site before it got its recent major overhaul. Gone are the eye-flinching teal pages and difficult navigation menus. Now, you'll find a professional site with gradated color, a clear tab system, and an interactive bar above the fold that changes to correspond with each tab. Her site used to be my least favorite author site, and now I think it's one of the best-designed ones I've seen.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Everyone Has a Little Insane in Them

For the most part, I'm a very rational, rather calm person. I don't give in to many forms of paranoia. I don't worry about 2012 (on a daily basis, at least) and I don't worry over the fate of my IRA or think overmuch about crime (despite the fact that I have had my car stolen before). In fact, when I think about it, I don't have any rational phobias that I can think of. I do, however, have several completely obscure and irrational paranoias.

The most bizarre came about slowly, building over the last several years, ever since I saw my first glimpse of Google Earth. There, before my eyes, was proof that there are incredibly powerful telescopic cameras in space that can take pictures of something as small as my toenail. It wasn't movie magic. It wasn't some trick of photoshop.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cookie-cutter Tastes

While on our honeymoon, my husband and I were treated to cable packages that included more than just your basic home-town channels. While I know that many people live their daily lives with upwards of two hundred or three hundred channels from which to pick, we have thirteen, and two of those are Spanish stations (I speak Spanish as well as a toddler, my husband not at all), and one is a college station. It was a novelty to have so many channels at our fingertips.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Number One Novels Starts a Bookstore

There's nothing like a really good vacation to give you energy when you get back—and my honeymoon was fabulous. Sadly, today was the first day in the last ten that I didn't get to spend with my husband. Instead, I was happily envloped by the online world of everything books and book related.

I wasn't looking to make NON better, but I ended up doing it anyway: I created a Number One Novels Amazon bookstore!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It's Honeymoon Time!

I'm leaving tomorrow for my honeymoon! I'm super excited—for a week-long vacation (the first in the ten years Cody and I have been together that we've taken and gone away somewhere, ever), to be spending a week of uninterrupted time with Cody, and to be (finally) on our honeymoon! After ten years of dating, and waiting another month after our wedding, it feels like this honeymoon has been a long time coming.

I hope to have a few fun stories and a refreshed outlook on life (and writing) when I return next week. Farewell!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ira Glass, My Hero

I've discovered Ira Glass and This American Life only this year, and I'm a huge fan of the show. Imagine my surprise when today, on Freakonomics, I found a few web clips of Ira talking to me.

Okay, he's not technically talking to me, Rebecca Chastain, but he could be. He's actually talking to people who want to create podcasts or get into TV or radio. Yet, everything he says could have been written for writers, especially writers just getting into the business or writers yet to be published.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Critiquing Author Websites: Stephanie Laurens Wows Me

I've been thinking about that atrociously long to-do list I posted about yesterday and wondering what more I can do each day to keep plugging away at checking items off. My first idea was to lock myself in my office with nothing but my computer chair and computer for the next year. Fortunately, my rational mind (and stomach and bladder) prevailed. I know that after my writing session and work for the day, I often don't have a lot of creative juice or willpower left to sit in this chair an hour longer working on Word docs. Which left either plotting the future story (a good thing, but something I think that needs my subconscious to ponder a little longer), coming up with a valid, marketable reason to do the edits on Aria (but I've already cried once today, so I'm not sure I'm up for that), or working on the website. Clearly, the website won.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sorting the To-Do List

Entering the contest yesterday with Madison reminded me of the thousand and one things that are on my to-do list for writing. There's enough there to fill every hour of every day for the next five years, and I want to finish it all before December. To give you a peek, here's the current list:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Dear Lucky Agent" Contest

It's been about five months since I've shopped Madison around, and I've made some improvements to the beginning (mainly chopping about ten pages off the front and starting the story where it should start...with the story, not the backstory). I've been hard at work on the next novel, but Chuck Sambuchino at Guide to Literary Agents got me thinking about Madison last night. For the next two weeks, he's hosting a "Dear Lucky Agent" contest on his blog for fantasy and science fiction novels, and I've decided to enter. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Romantic Tastes

I've come to realize that I have very picky tastes when it comes to romance novels. When I first started reading romance novels, I was seventeen and feeling grossly in need of catching up. I read every romance novel I could get my hands on, starting with Jude Deveraux and Judith McNaught, then Amanda Quick and Catherine Coulter. I loved the period romances, especially if they involved dukes and duchesses and the requisite reformed rakes (or rakes in the process of being reformed). Eventually, I tried authors like Elizabeth Lowell and Jayne Anne Krentz, who introduced me to the joys of present-day romances, leading to another splurge of reading. Much more recently I found Katie MacAlister and Jayne Castle, who bridged the gap between my first love

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Mission Statement

The very smart dames over at Deadline Dames have brought up a good point: some of the best-working companies in the world have very well defined mission statements, which they use to guide their business decisions and stay true to the goals of the company. It works very well for companies, simplifies choices, and maintains forward momentum in the right direction. Swap the word "companies" with "people" or "authors" and the statement still works. I've taken up the dame's challenge to write my own short mission statement.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Far Away Settings

I am financially happy with where I am at. I can afford to buy books, to have Netflix, to have a car, and a to rent an apartment (though maybe I need to rethink this priority list). I don't want for anything essential, and I have a few things that are positively extravagant (I'm talking to you, Contessa the Roomba). I don't quite have the funds I would like when it comes to novel research, though. Specifically, I'm talking research for settings.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Bit of Feminism Sneaks Up on Me

I have just finished watching, of all things, Private Benjamin. Yep, the '80s Goldie Hawn movie. It was a Netflix recommends and I had the evening open and nothing else to do, so I figured I'd give it a go.

The woman's hero's journey sure has come a long way! I often forget the work of the women who came before me, the women who brought equality in the workplace (almost) and who changed the way the country thought about women, who changed a woman's role from being something tied to someone else (a wife, a mother, a daughter) to just being a person in their own right.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Number One Novels Debut Authors of January 2009 Update

At the start of the year, finding new debut authors for NON was difficult. Partially it was because of the downturn in the debut releases around Christmas and the beginning of the year: the publishers try to get the debut authors out to the shelves in time for holiday buying, but by late December and early January, mostly only big-name authors are releasing novels. It makes business sense, even if it made it hard for me.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Writing as I Like

I've gotten back into the swing of writing after my wedding. Today makes the fourth day this week, and I did four days last week. That's a total of 19.5 pages of progress! Man, that feels good! I'm back to working an hour a day, and whatever I produce in an hour is what I'm happy with. Some days that's 2 pages, some days it's close to 4.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Making My Life Better, One Book at a Time

Have you ever had an author or an author's world affect your daily life? Have you ever read something and had it put you in a different frame of mind for the duration of the novel? I've had this work both ways. I've had books that are so intense, it feels like the rest of my life is dull by comparison and not worthy of my time. I've had books that get me so tense that it takes me a while to relax outside of them. And now, I've found an author that makes me feel more peaceful just from reading her books.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's All About Harry

Netflix recently recommended The Dresden Files for me, and the name of the series tugged at my memory. After reading the synopsis, I immediately added the show to our queue. The Dresden Files is based on Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels, of which I'd read a total of one when we started watching the TV show. I liked the first a lot, but for some reason, I'd never gotten back to reading the next in the series. I took a look at my novel-tracking spreadsheet, and I was shocked to see that I read the first in the series in 2007, and apparently there have been 162 other novels that needed reading more than Fool Moon (book 2).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Familiar People Who Don't Exist

The other day Cody and I were having a conversation about a serial killer Cody likes, and I wondered aloud if an ex-spy we both know rather well would get along with him. We determined that they wouldn't get along at all, but the ex-spy would probably be best friends with a CIA operative we're both fond of who's currently on a long-term babysitting mission.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Hidden Hazard of Cerebral Cooking

After ten years of living together and grocery shopping together, it wasn't until this weekend that I realized that Cody and I have drastically different grocery shopping styles. His style is very fast and to the point, which is the way we usually grocery shop. We have a list, we have a handheld basket (because Cody gets road rage the moment he places his hands on the handlebar of a shopping cart, though he protests each time that he won't),

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It Worked!

After sitting at 180 followers on Number One Novels for eight weeks, I've finally reached the goal of 200! Much silly dancing

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Guerrilla Marketing

I love hosting Number One Novels. I love getting the word out to lots of enthusiastic readers about new authors and their exciting new books (often new series) that are debuting. I'm thrilled that the followership has reached the 180 mark, too. When NON first capped 100 back in August 2009, I was ecstatic. It seemed incredible that 100 unique people go to my blog every week to read new author interviews.

I'm still a bit awed by the fact that 180 or so people follow my blog and on average 140 to 200 unique people visit the blog a week.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cake Withdrawls

One week ago, I was getting ready to eat my third (and fourth) helping of wedding cake for the third day in a row of wedding celebrations. I was high on multiple parties and on getting married (I'm still floating in a cloud of bliss at the slightest thought of being married). Then the parties ended. A few days later, the cake was gone.

I'm craving cake now.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Writing by the Book

Ilona Andrews' Magic Bites has been sitting on my to-be-read fantasy shelf for at least six months, if not longer. Every time I went to pick it up, I wasn't in the mood for as violent a book as it sounded. Even when it made it to the first-sentence test phase (a way I help sort out which book will be my next read by which has the best-sounding first line), it never stood up to the test.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Book I Wasn't Going to Read

I typically don't read young adult novels, which is why I had no intention of reading a second YA novel this year, but when Holly Black's White Cat showed up as a free advanced reader's copy, I decided to give it a shot.

Black's writing style immediately hooked me, and the way she built the world and main character in the opening pages was a testament to how she became a New York Times bestselling author, but by the twentieth page, I was ready to stop reading.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Return to the Regularly Scheduled Life

It feels bizarre to be here again, in normal, non-wedding-planning, non-wedding-partying life. All of our wedding plans (one wedding day, three parties) were spectacular. I've had trouble staying focused today and I've had trouble falling asleep the last few nights because I've been replaying all the great things that happened. I'm married! I'm a wife! It's going to be a while before either of those statements ceases to cause a thrill of joy to burst through my entire body.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bells Will Be Ringing

Looking back through the last few weeks, I can see I've been neglecting this blog. My goal is usually to post at least five entries a week: you folks are nice enough to visit my blog and comment on my thoughts, and I feel the least I can do is be consistent in my posts.

My goal, however, did not take into account the very exciting event coming up in my life: I'm getting married!

Between dancing around the house to my own internal celebratory orchestra and admiring my lovely wedding band, I've been wading through the plethora of details involved in a wedding—even a wedding as simple and small as ours! Most of these details are fun and exciting in their own way (like cake tasting and dress shopping and shoe shopping and color selections get the picture), but they've taken over my life for the time being.

My regular posting routine should resume in the middle of April. Until then, thank you for checking back every once in a while to see if I've surfaced for a breather from the wedding vortex.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Hidden Costs of a Couch

That lovely big couch and love seat that we recently purchased might end up costing us a lot more than we originally paid. There are hidden costs in this new furniture that we just found out tonight when we finally got around to moving them from where they've sat askew in the front room into a proper arrangement.

We moved the 36" box TV (which weighs as much as I do, I think), and the stereo, sub woofer, and speakers, got everything into place along a new wall and realized we needed about two more inches of room. That's it, just two more inches and we'd be able to fit the love seat along an adjacent wall. Those two inches were being taken up by the jack to the cable, which juts out from the wall.

So we sat back and rethought the arrangement. We tried the sofa on a different angle, then a different wall. Neither worked. Then we looked around for other options. The problem is, there are just too many bookcases. They're taking up the "extra" space in the living room, dining room, and the office. Even if we moved them around, at best we'd fit a love seat in the dining room with the table, leaving the occupants of the love seat about one foot of leg space. Not good.

So Cody is currently running to Fry's to see if they sell something that can flatten the cable closer to the wall so the love seat can be squeezed in next to the TV. He also has a new 36" TV on his list, a flat screen because that would give us more space. And if we buy the flat screen, we'll need to buy a TV stand, and of course, with couches, we need an ottoman... And I'll need more books to read on the couch and a new reading lamp and a table to put it on... Maybe another bookcase... Basically, by purchasing this couch and love seat, we realized we need to buy a larger house!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Year of New Authors

I finished Janet Evanovich's Twelve Sharp yesterday and entered it into my Excel sheet that tracks the books I read each year. Twelve Sharp was number seventeen on my reading list this year, but it was only the fifth book I've read of an author I've read before. More clearly, that means that twelve of the books I've read this year have been by new-to-me authors.

Which means that seventy percent of the authors on my list are new, which is double last year's average of new authors. I was surprised when I noticed and I've been thinking about it since.

I've been incredibly restless this year, at least when it comes to reading. Not listed in those seventeen books are the half dozen I've started but haven't had the desire to finish. That means that I've purchased at least six books that at one time looked really good to me, but have now become castoffs in my used-book donation pile. That in itself is odd.

Furthermore, of all those new authors, I'd only read about three again: Gail Carriger, C.J. Barry, and Sara Bongiorni. Not good odds.

But what does it all mean? The best answer I have is that my tastes are changing. That genres that before were sure things now only partially hold my interest, and only if written exceptionally well. It'll be interesting (to me, at least) to see what my totals look like at the end of June and to see if the trend of new authors continues.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Views on No China

I finished Sara Bongiorni's A Year Without "Made in China" in record time. It was a well-written book, if a vaguely unsatisfying one. While her tale explores the hassles of living without Chinese products for a year—all the things they gave up, the compromises they made with their children, the conflicts that arose in their marriage, the things that they lived without, if only for the year—the conclusion is a letdown.

Bongiorni doesn't come to a solid conclusion, not one that I wanted. I suppose it was unfair of me to want a concrete answer or directive, just as I wanted her entire book to have more specific, factual data about where to buy things not made in China. I was unrealistically looking to her and this one book and her year of experiment as a guideline, hoping to find a relatively easy way to live without China mapped out for me.

Instead, I got an interesting story, with a limp conclusion. Bongiorni ends the book saying that the year showed her the general global independence on China, raised her awareness of where the items she purchased came from, and prevented her from buying a lot of crap (because most useless, cheap stuff is manufactured in China). She notes that she was lucky: their TV did not die in that year, their computer did not need to be replaced, and she was able to live without a few electronic things like a blender and a new vacuum for the year. Lucky, because China has the monopoly on these items. Lucky, because she didn't have to test her resolution to her boycott by living without these items.

But did she go back to buying Chinese items? Yes. Was I let down by this? Yes. Was that unrealistic of me? Yes.

Since I finished the novel, I've done random hunts for where products are made. In the vet's office during a recent trip, I discovered they had a poster and a soap dispenser made in Canada, a calendar made in Singapore, but the plastic models of hearts and cat reproductive organs were made in China. I happened to be wearing a shirt made in Guatemala and a coat made in Canada (I decided not to drop my drawers to see where the pants were from). I'm sure the cat carrier was made in China, but I didn't traumatize my cat more by flipping over her cage while she was in it.

Thanks to TikiBird's comments to my "China, China Everywhere" post, I have a lot of places that sell USA products to research for future items. And TikiBird's response also prompted a set of new, unanswered questions: Has it gotten easier to live without China since Bongiorni's book was published in 2005? Has a greater emphasis been placed on locally made items? Have advances in the Internet and online businesses made it easier to buy non-Chinese products from smaller dealers?

But I think the question that is weighing the heaviest on me is the obvious one: Do I want to attempt my own boycott of China? The answer is as unsatisfying as Bongiorni's conclusion: I don't know.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Belated First

My body is sore. My back, my arms, my hands when I close them. My hip. There are two very good reasons for this. Okay, there's one good reason and one peculiar reason.

My left hip is sore because of the Olympics. Yes, they ended a week ago, but just as I was late to start watching them, I was also late in making my attempt to emulate them. Specifically the ice skaters.

For unknown reasons yesterday while I was chatting on the phone with my father, I felt compelled to try this ice skating move.

(Picture a phone in her right hand, and you've got me.)

Every ice skater out there makes this look amazingly easy, and I was in my socks on carpet, so my distracted mind (remember, I'm on the phone with my dad) decides I've leveled the playing field, so to speak, and should be able to pull this move off.

The move works great on the right leg. Perfect balance, a nice stretch. All is good. Then I try the left. Not good. My hip and every muscle surrounding it attempted to seize into this remarkably uncomfortable position.

I collapsed, slowly, to the floor and gently stretched my hip back into a normal position, massaging the charlie horse away with my fist. I also managed to maintain a normal conversation, being too embarrassed to mention to my dad what I'd just done, especially not while he was being so kind and offering me the use of his truck.

Which brings me to the less embarrassing and more exciting reason why the rest of my body is sore: Yesterday Cody and I purchased our first-ever sofa and loveseat! I made it to thirty years of age before owning a sofa!

We hauled these two monsters up two flights of stairs last night (with a little last-minute help from some neighbors, thankfully). We're still trying to figure out how an inanimate object can grow while riding in the back of a pickup, going from normal looking in the floor room to gigantic in our apartment, which also means we're still trying to figure out how to squeeze these delightful pieces of furniture into our tiny front room. I have no fear that we can do it...after my body gets some much deserved down time.

(Zenzo claimed her spot already.)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cover Magic

I don't know why I'm almost always surprised when I see something artistic that looks perfect and I find out that it wasn't exactly that way on the first attempt. When I read a well-crafted novel, I have visions in my head still that the novel wrote itself, each word perfect as the author sat typed, no changes necessary once the first draft is completed. (It's a ridiculously high expectation to have sitting in the back of your head, too!) When I see a piece of art, I imagine every brushstroke was perfect the first time, without having to sketch it out or redo any sections.

When it comes to book covers, I fell prey to my usual thinking: The covers simply come out perfect with little effort on the artist's part since they look so right. I mean, maybe a few things with fonts need to be tweaked later, but on the whole, it's just a good look from start to finish. I also never thought about the fact that covers can be PhotoShop creations and collages of images as often as they can be paintings or photographs.

Today, Pub Rants has a great post on the creation of the newest cover in NON-interviewed author Gail Carriger's latest novel. I've linked to the creative ad for the upcoming third book in this series here for your ease, or you can slip over to Pub Rants to see it there. It's cover magic in action, and there's a lot more than one take of cut and paste and, ta-da, perfection.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

China, China, Everywhere

About four years ago, I learned of Sara Bongiorni's book A Year Without "Made in China" completely by accident, while sitting at my desk attempting to work, overhearing my boss and my boss's boss chat on their extended lunch break, loudly, on the other side of my cubicle wall. It was impossible to block out the sounds of my boss's boss's harsh voice as she bellowed her opinions about Bongiorni's decision to boycott Chinese products for a year as an experiment to see if it was possible.

At the time, I was more annoyed by the rude intrusion upon my concentration and my work environment than I was interested in the book. But the idea of boycotting products made in China took root in my subconscious and has festered there for the last four years.

About six months ago, when I learned of China's horrific propensity to manipulate the weather, my subconscious split open around the memory of this book. I began to notice "Made in China" tags everywhere in my household. On my towels, my plates, my knives, and the majority of the clothes hanging in my closet. I began to look at the tags of items in stores. All the holiday decorations for Thanksgiving and Christmas were made in China. All the calendars but two in Borders in December where made in China. I can't find a dress that isn't made in China, or shoes. There doesn't seem to be a single plastic item left in the world not produced in China.

I subtly began to shift my buying: If there were two similar items that I liked, I would buy the one not made in China. I began to feel guilty when I did purchase something made in China. I wasn't making a conscious decision to boycott China, but it was there in the back of my head, idealized. I thought, I've managed to boycott Walmart for the last five or more years, how hard could it be to boycott China?

The answer: ridiculously difficult. In registering for our upcoming wedding, I noticed that nearly every kitchen item I wanted was made in China. The one time I had the choice between made in China and not was when selecting a colander. The one made in the United States was a Martha Stewart colander. I chose it. How sad is it that the better choice (in my mind) between China and Martha Stewart was to support the ex-con multimillionaire!

As I scanned the colander to add it to my registry, I decided that I needed to finally read Bongiorni's book. I needed to see for myself what she went through to live without China for a year. I also need to do more research on China. If I'm going to boycott an entire nation, I'm going to boycott it for a more platform-worthy reason than Bongiorni's.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mistborn Bliss

I finished Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn an hour or so ago. I sat down here to dissect my feelings about the novel as a whole now that I finished it, and I'm rather disappointed with the conclusion: I've nothing really to say. I loved it. I loved the characters, the setting, the magic, the amazing world he created, the ending—everything. I can't think of a single controversial comment, a flaw to point out, or a disappointment to bring up.

It's not a bad thing to love a book, but it doesn't make for an interesting discussion. I guess the most I can say is this: If you like fantasy, try out Mistborn. I've already purchased the second in the series and plan a back-to-back reading (and it's a rarity for me to read the same author two books in a row, but I can't wait to find out more about the characters!).

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sextuplets or Nothing

I've been making up stories in my head for as long as I can remember. They make good company, and they're a lot better than a lot of other things I could be thinking about. I don't think I can pinpoint the first story I made up, at least not the first one I contemplated writing. I can remember key phases, though.

At first there were dragons in every story. Specifically, Pern-type dragons. Ones who could talk telepathically. Then there were large cats with similar telepathic skills. And then there was this bizarre time, when I was no older than twelve, if that, when every story I thought of had six children in it—and they were always sextuplets.

Sometimes it was the main character who was the mother of six children. Now, this is particularly odd for me. I don't want children and never have, and at twelve or younger, I couldn't fathom why anyone would want children, so having a character have six was peculiar. Something about the nonstop struggles of a parent with six children was vastly appealing to my preteen mind. Then there's the fact that I have only one sibling. Which meant when I imagined writing the story from one of the children's point of view, it would be about the camaraderie and sibling rivalry of a big family. Again, vastly appealing to my preteen mind. There was even the moment when I envisioned the series, each story showcasing a different child's adventures.

Since that phase, I've not thought of a single character or story where the main character has a sibling. At best, Aria has a half-sister and an pseudo-brother. It simply didn't occur to me to provide Madison—or any of the dozens of characters I've written about in the last two decades—with a sibling.

That realization was enough to stop me in my imaginative tracks. I've been limiting my characters without even realizing it. I was so focused on them and their journey that I missed out on some key secondary characters.

I'm not going to change Madison, but some of my secondary characters in Aria are getting larger families. And it's given me something to keep in mind for future novels I write.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Inspiration

I was in Borders today, researching a non-book, non-writing related project, but that didn't stop me from checking out the writing section. At first, I skimmed the titles, my eyes naturally drawn to the books I recognized from my own shelves. I thumbed through the latest edition of The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, I eyed the massive hardback Story by Robert McKee, I noted that Nancy Kress has a new book out (or was it a new cover on Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction?).

Then I got serious about my examination of the selection. I pulled out books with interesting titles and thumbed through their table of contents. I read back flaps and front bursts. I found a book on how to write memoirs (and though I've searched Borders' site and Amazon, cannot find the book's title now). It was filled with writing suggestions to prompt memory: write ten minutes about your happiest memory; write ten minutes about ice cream; write ten minutes about an unexpected trip or a trip you never took.

I immediately wanted a pen and paper or my computer. I was inspired to write. Now!

I don't know if it was the memoir book or simply being in that section, reading through all the books that promised to teach how to be a better writer, but I was ready to write. If I thought it was the result of the memoir book, I would have purchased it right then, but I wasn't completely sure. A source of inspiration is not something to idly pass up.

It's always satisfying to find a new source of inspiration. Just knowing that the writing section is there at Borders (or the memoir book) to prompt me into literary action is soothing. If ever I run out of ideas or gumption, there it is, ready to goad me forward again.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Importance of Dialog

Last night Cody and I watched Radioland Murders for the first time. The movie is incredibly fast-paced, filled with action, suspense, and humor, and truly enjoyable. It was like 30 Rock on speed. What I found myself admiring again and again throughout the film was the dialog. Every line, every delivery was well formed and executed, almost all of it at top speed, too.

Perhaps Radioland Murders isn't as exceptional as it seemed last night. Perhaps it is only by comparsion to today's films that it shines as a well-written script. Much of recent cinema has dulled my expectations when it comes to good dialog. A lot of movies lately seem to rely on explosive action, stunning visual effects, and audience expectation more than they do a well-written screenplay.

All of the exceptions I can think of are older films: L.A. Story, The Princess Bride, even Caddyshack (to throw out one of Cody's favorites). Perhaps the most recent truly well-written movie I've seen is Stardust. Maybe I'd include Up, though I suspect if I read the script I wouldn't have loved the movie as much as I did while watching the visuals. None of the summer blockbusters spring to mind. Not Avatar for sure. In fact, I find myself struggling to remember any other of last year's "big" movies now.

Tons of money, huge special effects, action packed in around the gills, and these films lack that essential appeal that satisfies: they lack good dialog, the meat and bones of a film.

I suppose if you're in it for the opening-day sales, then you're not in it for the dialog; but if you're in it for the story, for the fans, for the audience, even for the sequel, you've got to have good dialog.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I Don't Read Like I Used To

I told Cody a bit about Mistborn (by Brandon Sanderson) today, explaining the ideas of how the magic works and why I like it so much. It's unique; it's magic in a way I've never seen before and instantly wished I could be a character in this novel just so I could use this form of magic.

But then I started telling Cody about my broader opinions on the novel. Sanderson has the typical oddly matched band of heroes-with-flaws who are seeking to overthrow the evil tyrant. Like David Eddings often does, he has the people sit down in a room together near the beginning of the book and thoroughly discuss their plan of attack, literally making a list of the obstacles they're up against and their plans to overcome them.

What should be a rather boring meeting of talking heads more designed for the author to get to know what needs to happen in the story than necessary for the reader to know in advance of the action becomes an interesting development of characters and an introduction to the rules that govern this world. It's a plot ploy that requires a certain level of skill, one where the author can clearly see the difference between self-indulgence/self-exploration of the world and actual crucial elements to the story.

Which was about as far as I got in my discussion with Cody before I startled myself into silence with a thought: I don't read like I used to. I don't sit down and read a novel and just get lost in a world. I'm analyzing it as I go, watching technique and character development, paying attention to the tricky (for me) third act.

I said as much to Cody, and he laughed and agreed. I no longer talk of authors with the same rapture of a world that fully captures me and takes me away from this one. There's always a part of me that is reading a book as a writer, watching and looking and learning and critiquing.

Is this a bad thing? The me ten years ago or even five would probably say yes. That books should be enjoyed for the stories themselves. Not everything has to be a learning tool. But the me now disagrees. Watching authors' skills with the craft doesn't take away my enjoyment of a story. In fact, it does the opposite. Now I enjoy more than the story: I savor the layers of advice and examples of what to do and what not to do, appreciating the intricacies of the myriad techniques used even as I take delight in the tale.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Funnel of Creativity

I've never had a problem coming up with ideas for stories. Normally I amuse myself during car rides and before falling asleep with fanciful images that often spark entire story lines. If I don't want to get too caught up in developing a new story before falling asleep, I'll pick somewhere along the thread of a current story I'm working on and just walk around the space in my head—climb the trees at the temple, play tag with the cats, explore the streets around Aria's home.

But this last week, I haven't been able to allow my mind to wander. Each time I purposely engaged my imagination, thumbing through ideas for short stories or longer ones, it was like coming up against a brick wall. Nothing. It was like all my creativity had been washed away. Frankly, it was unnerving.

I didn't panic. Barely. I've got a lot of non-writing things going on in my life right now, and I decided that was what was blocking the flow of ideas. I wasn't actively working on Aria, so it wasn't crucial that I be in her world and I also didn't need to think of new story ideas because I have enough on my plate.

None of which mattered. There was still that little voice in the back of my head questioning me, asking, Are you sure you have more than these two stories in you? Are you sure you're creative enough to be a writer?

Last night, I lay awake, listening to my cat purr herself to sleep beside me, and I decided to see if I could force creativity. I can't. But what I discovered was that an idea for a book that I've been purposely ignoring wouldn't leave me be. Hours came and went with just me, the darkness, and thoughts of this book. It was like having a hangnail—I didn't want to fuss with it, but every time I thought I'd turned my mind to something else, there I was, picking at this idea again.

Eventually I got up and wrote down some notes. Five handwritten pages (front and back) and a hand cramp later, I was able to return to bed. The idea was out there. Every angle and every nuance that insisted on being thought was down on paper.

The moment I laid my head down on my pillow, images began to flow again. I fixed a plot problem in a story that's not even in the queue to be written yet. I had a vivid picture of a scene for another book. Aria's world was right there for me to explore again. It was like that one book idea, the one that I didn't want and didn't completely want to care about, needed to be gotten out first. It was the gum in the funnel, blocking all other ideas from coming through. Once it was removed, the regular, steady flow of creativity was released again. What a relief!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympic Fever

I've caught the fever a little late, but I've caught it for sure. I stayed up way past my bedtime last night, lured along by each clip of an Olympic event and the promise of others just a few minutes away. I dearly wish in moments like that that I owned a DVR. I do own a VCR and tapes, but I'm too lazy to set those up. It'd be really nice to have all the Olympics recorded for my easy viewing pleasure at much earlier hours than the network airs it.

I was most captivated by the Alpine skiing event where the women raced four at a time down the mountain. It looked like so much fun! And of course, they made it look so easy. I've been skiing all of once in my life when I was 13 or so. It wasn't pretty. I spent most of the day with my legs cramped in a V, trying to slow my downward decent. (I'm no better at snowboarding.) I had to keep reminding myself as I watched the Olympics last night that the women I was watching were the best in the world, so of course they made it look easy. And even they made mistakes and crashed.

Still, there's that small part of my brain that thinks, It doesn't look that hard. I'm sure if I just got on the skis at the top of the mountain, I'd figure it out.

The rest of me is wondering how to partition and exterminate this suicidal part of my brain.

It's not only skiing that that small part of me feels I could do. That same small margin of complete arrogance imagines bobsledding with ease, shooting targets dead center every time, and even ski jumping with grace. I've been ice skating often enough to know that I don't have what it takes to do a jump on blades. I don't think I'd even make a 180 turn and be able to skate backward without falling.

But watching these amazing athletes, I get, for that moment, to put myself in their shoes and imagine that I can do all these incredible activities. It's a heady experience.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Forever Editing

I'm back to editing Madison. I took a mini break to work on some Aria and appease my creativity, but then I was starting to lose my place (in my head) with Madison edits, so I had to switch back.

I'm close to done with reshaping the beginning for the fifth or so time. I like the way it turned out. It feels truer to my writing. The leftover beginning bits from the first draft are gone. The final piece is streamlined and, I hope, more interesting.

It has occurred to me, though, that I need a better saying in my profile box here on the blog. I'm not currently querying (waiting on responses) and I'm never really done editing. Once I finish Madison, I'm going to move on to editing and rewriting Aria. But I'm afraid to jinx myself by putting something down like "forever editing," even if it feels that way.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Entranced by Blokes

I have, in the last month or so, become enamored with the now off-the-air McLeod's Daughters. This Australian ranch drama was recommended to me by Netflix, and I suspiciously watched the first episode. It was slow. The pacing was off, and the director had decided to do some literal slow-mo shots on random events, like a character turning around (not during a dramatic moment, but just when she was walking by) or horses running.

It was the horses that drew me back to watch episode 2. I love horses. I love them enough that Cody sings half-mocking songs to me about my love of "ponies" when we pass one by the road and I stare at it longingly (and usually shout, "Look, a horse!"). If there's a horse on TV or in a movie, I'm usually watching it rather than the action of the people. I grew up with horses, and I miss them.

I don't miss the daily care of them, nor could I afford it, since I'd have to board a horse because one surely wouldn't make it up the two flights of stairs to my apartment, let alone fit on my balcony. But I miss the camaraderie with a horse, and I miss riding them. I miss the horses I had. And there's always going to be part of me that's a horsewoman at heart.

But I was talking about McLeod's Daughters. The second episode was the same. Slow. Sllloooowwww. I thought I'd delete the show from my queue and carry on without it. But something stopped me.

I watched one more episode, and I was hooked. Without noticing it, I'd gotten to like the characters (and the accents!). Now I'm almost done with the first season (which, gasp, has 23 episodes, not the paltry 12 or so that a lot of programs seem to have lately). When I found myself thinking of Cody and his friends as blokes, I knew that I was addicted to the show.

If you like a more British-paced show (I've no other Australian show in my repertoire to compare it to) and you like strong female leads, give McLeod's Daughters a try, and hang in there for a few episodes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Soothed by Names

I've been reading Baby Names Made Easy: The Complete Reverse-Dictionary of Baby Names by Amanda Elizabeth Barden off an on for the last month or two since I purchased it. At first, I thumbed through with specific goals. I looked up the names of people I know—for instance, my name means "knotted cord" or "God's servant"; Cody's name means "cushion" or "helpful person." Then I looked up names of my favorite characters in novels and TV shows.

Then I looked up names by category, getting serious about it, looking for names for characters in my novels. I found some, but more often than not, I'd end up thumbing through the book as one name would spark an idea for another, one category would lead me to another.

Lately, as nothing else (especially not novels) seems to be able to hold my attention for long, I've found myself reading Baby Names Made Easy as I would any nonfiction novel: in snippets while eating breakfast, brushing my teeth, or while idly watching Cody play a video game. And, oddly, it's a very soothing thing to read. It captures the attention of my creative mind without demanding my full attention. I can bounce around from page to page without "loosing my place" and I can set it down without marking my page. It's been just what I've needed to satisfy the part of me that needs to have a book to read.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hollow Reading

I recently finished Sunny's Mona Lisa Awakening. As I read, I debated over and over again if I would write my opinion in a post when I was finished. I teetered on the edge of no right up until the point in which the main character orgasms from a tongue thrust in her neck wound. As I realized that Sunny had pushed me past my comfort zone (forcing me to skip several pages to catch my breath and distance myself from that scene) I also realized I wasn't stopping. I didn't set aside this book. And it wasn't because the rest was so good I could overlook the character's delight in wound-play during sex (I'm sure there's a more technical term, and I'm not sure I want to know it). The reason I didn't stop reading was because it was so bad.

Sunny (who did not get on my good side from the get-go with a one-word name that screams overinflated ego) has a dedication in the beginning of the novel that thanks Laurell K. Hamilton and Anne Bishop "whose wonderful stories inspired my...series." The acknowledgments intrigued me. I've read both those authors and liked both their works. Their mention had a lot of promise. The reality fell short.

The world Sunny created was a mixed fan fiction of Hamilton and Bishop's worlds, mashed together by their most primary elements, filled in with knock-off cast members from both novels and a main character, Mona Lisa, who reads like a flat character sluiced off the leftovers of the larger-than-life heroines of Hamilton and Bishop's novels.

Mona Lisa is where everything fell apart to me. I might have forgiven the plagiarism/homage of the world Sunny created if her main character had the meat to uphold her own tale. She didn't. A dozen bizarre and dangerous situations happen around her, and she accepts them all with aplomb. She falls in love in less than twenty-four hours, almost all of it off-page and unbelievable. She accepts her remarkable heritage—which comes complete with the magical ability to feed from the moon, shift to other creatures, manipulate humans' minds, and heal with an orgasm—with grace and dignity, always perfectly genteel to the good guys, merciless with the bad guys. She focuses only on the current situation, her thoughts rarely farther than the man in front of her, with nary a thought to the very large problems lurking in their future, including danger to the people she loves.

Above all these problems was a major flaw in the overriding theme: Sunny sets up a world corrupted by people who've held power too long, learned to kill off those with more power and enjoy torturing the rest (usually with rape). A world without love, without compassion, where all the men are broken, longing for a woman they can respect but finding none. And along comes little Mona Lisa, who shows unprovoked, bottomless compassion and intense love with little prompting, and who merely has to be in the same room with a broken male for him to fall madly in love with her (unless he's already insane, in which case, he wants to use her for his own gain).

Now, with my beloved Evanovich novels, I don't expect a lot of character depth, and I don't need a lot of time spent on the main character's motives or reactions—they're action novels meant to be guided by the plot. Sunny's novel was developed around a character, and for me to believe that this character can inspire such devotion and flourish so easily in her new, bizarre world, I need to understand her motives and her reactions and they way she thinks and the leaps in logic she makes. Sunny left me dangling. The novel leapt from action to action, Sunny's attention as tunnel-focused as her main character's. I was struck halfway through the novel with the thought that the book felt like a world Sunny knew so well, had built so clearly in her head, that when she saw it on paper, she was filling in pieces in her head that she never bothered to type. The thought remained true to the last page.

In the end, the novel felt hollow. I'd traveled through a miraculous week with Mona Lisa, and I never grew to care about what happened to her, because I always knew she'd come out unscathed, and if she did get a scratch, she'd just have to have sex with the nearest man to heal. The world felt like snapshots of scenes from Hamilton and Bishop's novels, as if Mona Lisa's tale had been lived out in the backgrounds of these more well-written novels, and a publisher had picked it up simply because it came with the rest of the territory.

Of course, Sunny is a nationally bestselling author, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.