All posts by leanna649

Links for Readers, v1.0 May 2017

When you’re not reading a book, sometimes the next best thing is reading about books and authors and such. So from time to time I’ll post links to sites and other resources for you to check out. This week I’ll present three: Goodreads, Bookforum, and Fantastic Fiction.

Goodreads

Goodreads is like a sprawling megacomplex, offering book reviews, author interviews, Kindle Store eBook deals, and so much more. But what sets it apart from other readers’ sites is the community where you can let people know what you’re reading and what you think about it, and see what Facebook-like friends are reading. In addition, you can join a special interest group that engages in discussion about books, book themes, and much more.

Bookforum

Not only can you read about books, authors, and publishing industry news at Bookforum., you can also watch videos of readings and interviews with authors. Here’s one called “Conversations: Louise Erdrich, Author of The Round House,” which, by the way, is a novel I highly recommend. Set on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, it’s the story of a thirteen-year-old boy’s search for justice following a white on Indian crime.

Fantastic Fiction

When I asked my friendly neighborhood librarian about her favorite reading blog or website, she recommended Fantastic Fiction. I was a little wary–sounded to me like its focus was limited to fantasy. Not so. This site offers information on more than 40,000 authors and 500,000 books. Say you’re a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series and looking for book #10, The Hard Way.  At Fantastic Fiction, you can see the books listed in order of publication and see thumbnails of book covers, something I’d find helpful because I usually forget the title of the last book I’ve read in a series. You’d also learn that a Jack Reacher book is coming out this month and another in October.

When you click on a book title, your screen will display the cover in a large format that I really like. Want the book? You can order from listings for used copies or jump to Amazon.

Quotable

I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Readers Crave Intimacy

As a writer grounded in journalistic style for way too many years, I struggle to create the sense of intimacy that readers of fiction crave. My instinct is to report what’s happening, and it’s only after multiple revisions that I’m able to let the reader experience what’s happening.

Writers, readers, allow me to introduce you to Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively, by Rebecca McClanahan. I expect you’ll find it mentioned here often as it ranks as one of the essential references in my library. Besides, I can get lost reading it for sheer enjoyment.

One problem that holds readers at a distance is “filters.” McClanahan quotes John Gardner, who in The Art of Fiction cites the use of “needless filtering of the image through some observing consciousness.” Often this means the writer uses “she felt,” “he saw,” “she heard,” etc., when it’s already apparent that the passage is perceived by the character. McLanahan provides this example:

The boy eyed the contents of his grandmother’s room, noticing the tiny figurines arranged in tiers on the mahogany shelf. He saw the bouquet of miniature irises, the ceramic Cinderella slipper, the glass horse with the painted blue eyes. He felt a sadness sweep through him like an autumn breeze.

Then she removes the filters to create a more intimate version of the passage:

The boy eyed the contents of his grandmother’s room, noticing the tiny figurines arranged in tiers on the mahogany shelf–the bouquet of miniature irises, the ceramic Cinderella slipper,. the glass horse with the painted blue eyes. Sadness swept through him like an autumn breeze.

Feel the difference? Leave a comment.

Quotable

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

–Jack London

Links for Writers v1.0 May 2017

Faced with so many blogs and web sites for writers and readers, how do you choose? I’ll try to help. From time to time I’ll give y’all links to sites and specific posts.

Sharon Scarborough introduced me to the blog Writer Unboxed where Donald Maass, one of my favorite writing gurus, is one of many regular contributors. Here’s Maass with a different look at pacing in “Getting Ahead of Yourself . . . and Your Reader.” 

Until very recently, I was stuck in terms of the role of a secondary character in my work-in-progress. What got me un-stuck was a post on the Self Publishing Advice blog of ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors). The post is titled “Writing: How to Plot Better by Concentrating on Character,” by Olaf Bryan Welk. If you’re not familiar with ALLi, check it out.  I subscribed to the ALLi blog and lurked around for quite a while enjoying all the free content, but I ultimately joined because it’s arguably the best advocate for indie authors around.

Indie authors know the value of reader reviews. It’s not negative reviews that doom a book so much as a lack of reviews. How should you go about getting reviews? Here’s a comprehensive post on the subject, “How to Create a Review Campaign for Your Book Launch,” on the blog Book Marketing Tools. 

Quotable

Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.

–Neil Gaiman

Grief in Fiction

Writing about grief challenges the novelist, but when it’s done well it provides a rewarding experience for the reader. As human beings, we don’t get a manual on how to grieve, but culture sets up expectations about how we should grieve. In reality, individuals respond to loss in their own way, and reading about how someone else reacts can help us come to grips with our own responses.

Nuff said about that. In the following excerpt, Cork O’Connor, at age twelve or thirteen, has stifled his feelings since his father was killed. As he helps Sam Winter Moon put plywood over the windows of Sam’s Place, the burger stand they’re closing down for the winter, Sam talks about Cork’s father.

Excerpt from Vermillion Drift, by William Kent Krueger:

“You know,” Sam said around a nail gripped in his teeth, “that man could outfart a draft horse. Hold your side up a little higher, Cork” He took the nail from between his teeth and positioned it.

Cork thought it a little unseemly, speaking of his father that way, but he held his tongue.

“We were canoeing once up on Angle Lake. Came around a point headed for the next portage. There not five feet away was a bull moose, munching on lakeweed. We startled him as much as he startled us. That animal lowered his head and was about to do real damage to our canoe and probably to us in the bargain. Your father, he farts and it’s likie cannon fire. Echoes off the trees. Sends a tidal wave across the lake. Scares the crap out of that bull moose. The critter turns and hightails it.” Sam was laughing hard enough that he couldn’t hammer. He leaned against the Quonset hut for support and finished, breathless. “And then your father, he says, ‘I just hope we don’t run into a bear, Sam. I’m clean outta ammo’.”

Cork stood holding up his side of the plywood, watching Sam Winter Moon laugh heartily.

“It’s okay, Cork,” Sam said. “It’s okay to laugh. It was something your father loved to do.”

And Cork did laugh. He laughed so hard tears began to squeeze from his eyes, and before he knew it, he was crying. Sam Winter Moon laid his hammer down and took Cork’s hands from the plywood, wrapped his big arms around the weeping boy, and held him.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Quotable

Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.

–Joyce Carol Oates

Writer Uses Child To Echo Parents

I like the way Flannery O’Connor makes use of a child in this passage from her short story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,”  in Major American Short Stories

The grandmother who lives with her son’s family is trying to persuade them to visit east Tennessee instead of Florida and tells them The Misfit escaped from federal prison in Florida.

Excerpt: . . .the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a stocky child with glasses, said, “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?” He and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.
“She wouldn’t stay home to be queen for a day,” said June Star without raising her yellow head.
“Yes, and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?” the grandmother asked.
“I’d smack his face,” John Wesley said.
“She wouldn’t stay home for a million bucks,” June Star said. “Afraid she’d miss something. She has to go everywhere we go.”

My Take-away: What a great slice of family dynamics. While John Wesley gives typical “boy” responses,” it’s apparent that June Star is echoing what one or both parents say about her grandmother. (It’s never clear to me which parent.) A lesser writer wouldn’t trust the reader to get the subtext but would have indicated that June Star was parroting Mom or Dad. Also, I like the way June Star sticks to her subject rather than answering grandmother’s question.

O’Connor’s technique can be used effectively with other relationships as well: an employee who echoes a boss, a student who echoes a professor, etc.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

 

Quotable

Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

–Groucho Marx

Writers, Heed the Name Sheriff

As self-appointed Name Sheriff In my writing critique group, Novel in Progress Austin, I recently cited Robbie Shapard for giving a key character in his very fine submission a name whose pronunciation was ambiguous. The name was “Strachan.” Every time my eye encountered the name, my ear balked: is it “STRAY-chan” or “STRAY-can?” Turned out to be neither. Robbie said it’s a Scottish name pronounced “Strawn.” Hmm. Don’t know if this ambiguity is a problem for other readers, but it seems to me the way to clear up confusion is to let the reader know the name rhymes with “drawn.” It could be handled seamlessly the first time Strachan corrects someone who mispronounces his name.

Robbie’s infraction was minor compared to one I encountered several years ago.  In a submission to the group, a writer whose story was set in Viet Nam had named his main character Phuc. Given my unsophisticated ear, this name stopped me every time I saw it. Turned out it’s pronounced “Fook,” I cited the author for choosing a name that would be a major speed bump for many readers.

Ambiguous pronunciation is just one way names can cause problems. Here are several others:

Names that sound too similar: Writers fixate on a single beginning letter. This is most problematical with first names for characters of the same gender, such as Joyce and Joan, and the confusion is compounded because both are one-syllable names.

Too many names for one character: I make a distinction here between major and minor characters. People generally have two names; some have nicknames. I would almost rule arbitrarily that minor characters be referred to throughout the novel by one name.  I say “almost,” because you can get away with more in a novel that has only a few characters.

All characters given Anglo-Saxon names: John Brown, Mary Crawford, Bill O’Brian, etc. Today’s novelists tend to me more sensitive to diversity. Unless your novel is set in Great Britain, there’s no excuse for not throwing in a Marta Letovsky or Zhang Wei.

Picky-picky: I’m not crazy about unixex names like Pat or Chris. I will most certainly arrest an author who fails to make the character’s gender clear upon first reference. I hate to have to adjust my perception of a character later on.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

 

Writing That Keeps It Real

Human beings are rational creatures, right? Well, to a point. So what’s wrong with the following description:

“When Tonya stood before her boss’ cluttered desk and heard him say, ‘You’re fired,’ she thought about what she would do and said, ‘I’m entitled to three months’ compensation, and I have sick leave and vacation coming.’ Feeling her blood pressure skyrocket, she swept her hand across his desk, sending papers and coffee mugs flying.”

OK, there’s a lot wrong with it, but here’s what I’m getting at. The way Tonya is wired as a human being is such that her first response would be her rising blood pressure, followed by her impassioned reflex, and then rational thought and dialogue. Sometimes these reactions happen so fast that they seem simultaneous, but when a writer presents them out of sequence, the reader senses that something is “off.”

I’m borrowing today’s post topic from “Writing the Perfect Scene,” by Randy Ingermanson, who borrowed it from Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. I recommend both. They call the structure I’ve described “Motivation-Reaction Units” or “MRUs.” Ingermanson presents this example:

Motivation: The tiger dropped out of the tree and sprang toward Jack.

Reaction:

  1. Feeling: A bolt of raw adrenaline shot through Jack’s veins.
  2. Reflex: He jerked the rifle to his shoulder.
  3. Rational Action and Speech: He sighted on the tiger’s heart and squeezed the trigger. “Die, you bastard.”

Ingermanson says the Motivation is always external and objective, something any observer could see, hear, or feel if they were there, but I can imagine a scenario in which a character might be motivated by something like a heart attack or a dream.

He makes the point that not every Reaction will include all the above components of feeling, reflex, rational action and speech. But remember that the emotional/physical response must always precede rational action and speech.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Quotable

The author and the reader “know” each other; they meet on the bridge of words.

–Madeleine L’Engle

Reading Like a Writer

You can take a course or read a book purporting to teach you to “read like a writer.” I’m not sure why you’d want to unless you’re a writer.

I say this because sometimes I let my critical leanings get in the way of enjoyment. I might even stop reading and rewrite a passage. (I even do this with the newspaper on occasion.)

Here’s a passage from Summerlost, a novel for fifth to eighth grade readers, by Ally Condie. Cedar is a girl whose grief resurfaces long after her little brother’s death.

Excerpt: (My grandparents) knew that Ben’s favorite kind of ice cream wasn’t ice cream at all, it was rainbow sherbet, and he always ate the green first, and so when I saw it in my grandma’s freezer once and I started crying they didn’t even ask why and I think I saw my uncle Nick, my mom’s brother, crying too.

My Take-away: I applaud the author for creating a scene that evokes an experience of grief the reader can feel. Seeing the sherbet is an excellent trigger for this poignant moment. If I were to rewrite this passage, I think it could engage the reader more intimately if it hadn’t required so much explanation. Let the reader know long before that Ben loved sherbet and ate the green first. Then all Cedar (and the reader) has to do is see the sherbet still sitting in the freezer long after Ben’s death to have an emotional response. And don’t say again that it was Ben’s favorite ice cream as that would suggest the reader doesn’t have an intimate relationship with the story. I’d also lose “My grandparents knew . . .” as over-explaining. Finally, the reader should know before this that uncle Nick is her mother’s brother.

Celebrating Chuck Berry’s Words

When Voyager went into space in 1977, its cargo included a gold 33 1/3 record with 27 songs. Curated by a committee under Carl Sagan, the representative music included Mozart, Stravinsky, a Navajo chant, and “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. At the time, Saturday Night Live and Steve Martin played with the idea of aliens’ response to this musical treasury.

Chuck Berry, who died March 18th at the age of 90, lived long enough to see his music leave our solar system and enter interstellar space, a fact NASA confirmed in 2014. Wow.

To bring this blog post back to earth and somewhat consistent with the mission of NovelWords Cafe, I’d like to look at Berry’s lyrics. He’s been called the Poet Laureate of Rock and Roll. For example, here are the last lines of “Memphis”:

Last time I saw Marie she’s waving me good-bye
With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
Marie is only six years old, information please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis Tennessee

There are several YouTube videos of “Memphis,” the most unusual being one featuring Berry and John Lennon.

Berry also wrote and recorded poetry. You can listen to “My Dream,” recorded in 1971.

Contests for Indie Authors

Is it worth your effort and/or money to enter your novel in a contest or submit it for an award?

Among the many departments of ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors (I’m a member) is its Watchdog Desk, which monitors the self-publishing industry. Check out its Award and Contest Ratings.

You’ll find ratings (Recommended, Mixed, Caution) for a whole host of awards and contests. Hint: not many earn “Recommended” ratings.

Any experience with awards or contests? Leave a comment.