Archive for July, 2012

SNOW IN SUMMER

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

SNOW, a picture book by Uri Shulevitz, is so good you can enjoy it year ’round. It’s a Caldecott Honor Book and my guess is this choice was a no-brainer decision by the Caldecott committee if there ever was one. The illustrations are gorgeous, a whimsical take on the days of Charles Dickens, you think-until radio and tv playfully twist with the visual feast.

The story is simple-the best always are, seems like. A boy and his dog see the first signs of snow with promise and optimism but everyone they encounter poo-poo it away. The joke’s on them and the story shows us all, be us 3 or 103, the power of positive thinking.

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To review or not to review

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Lately I’ve been trying to broaden the pool of authors I read.   In part it’s because I tend to read voraciously through the series of an author I like and inevitably end up bereft and drifting yet again when done, but in part, I consider trying new authors good karma:  if I try out them, somebodysomeday will give me a chance too.

So, Kindle app in hand, I follow the winding trail of searches and suggestions to try to find new people to read.  More karma-inducing reasoning ensues:   I justify spending anywhere from $.99 to $13.99 per book to “research” the authors that float to the top since soon I hope to be one of those.    (And yes, for this particular post  I’m focusing on Amazon and Kindle, though there’s a reference to mysterybooklovers.com also.)  I have now learned from a series of frustrations to always, always check out the sample chapters and lately, I always, always check out the two star reviews.

Why the two star reviews?  Because that’s where I know I’ll find the comments on the quality of the writing and grammar that a persnickety reader like me should take into account.  It’s these reviews that influence me to go on to either the higher or lower ratings.

Recently I ignored my own advice.  I googled “If you like Joan Hess”, and mysterybooklovers.com obliged with a recommendation.  I glanced at the ratings for the first book by this author which were heavily skewed to four stars and above.  The plot involved a premise I knew I’d love (history professor solves old and new crimes via digging into the past).  It won the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Award.  It was about midnight and I wanted something to read me to sleep.  I bought it.

I wanted to like this book.  I really, really wanted to, even though it was absolutely nothing like Joan Hess except it was set in the south.  Overall, the plot itself was okay.   It was the writing which became so irritating I just began skipping to the end to see if I guessed whodunit right (I had).

Jennifer, our old writing teacher, used to dun into us one of the prime rules of writing:  Show, don’t tell.  That can be a hard lesson:  Why can’t I drone on for five pages about the history of my fictional town starting on page 2?  Why can’t I use an adverb in every other sentence?   The writing issues didn’t stop there, though this was the worst problem.  Point of view changes were abrupt and disorienting.  I enjoy tagless dialogue as much as the next person, but often there were no paragraph breaks between quotes from different speakers.   Tense and subject-verb agreement problems kept cropping up.  The prose was often stilted, the phrasing awkward.  At the end of the book, it was as though the writer just decided she’d stop typing.  I ended up frustrated, even more when I skimmed the plot descriptions of her other books, which I thought sounded great, but I knew I couldn’t make it through another book with this author’s way of writing.

In the Kindle Store, there was only one each of the one and two star reviews.  I still should have read them (one frankly wondered how this book had won the prize it did).  So now, the question arises:  should I add to them?  The idea of karma immediately returns to haunt me, which is the very nature of karma, of course.  Do I weigh in at two stars and say exactly what I think?  Or was my grandmother right when she said that if I didn’t have anything good to say I shouldn’t say anything at all?

Will I hurt this author’s feelings?  Am I just trying to make a deal with the universe that if I don’t hurt her feelings with a bad review it will keep the bad reviews from my book?  After all, I’ve dragged my feet forever about getting my work out there, and she actually had a book published (and seven others too).   Do I have any right to criticize her?  I mean, what if I’m being blind about my own work?

I invite you to chime in on my existential angst on this topic.

 

 

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Prompt: Firsts

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012
Firsts

Firsts

Claude Convers*, French teacher extraordinaire, recently asked her students (of which I am one) to share memories of their first day on the job.

As each story unfolded I was struck by how intense that day is for us all and by how we remembered the smallest, yet telling, details such as subtle changes in applause by college students or the snarky facial expression of one grade schooler, foreshadowing the havoc she would wreak the entire year.

This inspired last Friday’s prompt: riff off the idea of ‘firsts’. First anythings can be rife with emotion; first date, first day married, first day living without the loved one who died,…the possibilities are endless. They can be as simple as the first time a character ties his shoe or complex like the first time you or your character realized a treasured friendship comes with a price.

There was a secondary prompt: find this week’s horoscope in the newspaper and see if any telling tidbits get the creative juices going. We used Robert Brezny’s* from the Santa Fe reporter. Check him out online…talk about creative!

*frenchonthenet.com (Claude teaches long-distance as well as locally)

*freewillastrology.com (like popping a soul vitamin)

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A prompt in homage to Mr. Bradbury

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Ray Bradbury died on Wednesday at the age of 91.

“His influence is astonishing. Why? Because Ray Bradbury wrote like Monet painted. He strung words into melodies worthy of Bach. He envisioned the future better than Nostradamus ever did. Ray Bradbury was a writer who wrote from the heart, stories drenched in compassion. Stories that were often melancholy and celebratory all at once. He had the ability to give voice to the human soul.”
–Sam Weller, biographer, The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury

(Also, see the great eulogy at http://www.sundancechannel.com/sunfiltered/2012/06/the-internet-remembers-ray-bradbury/, which also is the source of the picture to the left)

If Ursula LeGuinn was my writing-mother, Ray Bradbury was my writing-father. He wrote my favorite beginning of any-book-ever, which is appended to this page as part of my personal tribute to him. About himself he said that “By staying true to my own sense of the poetic… the influence of Shakespeare on my life and the influence of the Bible which I raised on, by staying true to my love of poetry and my love of metaphor, which you learn from the Old Testament and the New Testament and you learn from Shakespeare — to speak in tongues which are so vivid that people remember the metaphor.”

The other part of my tribute is to use something he said in a 1988 interview with Terri Gross as our prompt today:

“It’s the lack of something that gives us inspiration.”

He explained that we don’t stop in the middle of being with a beloved, for instance, and write a poem about it:

“We don’t write love poetry in the middle of the affair. We write love poetry when we are away from our loved one, or when we anticipate a loved one.”

Here’s the rest of the above quote:

“It’s not fullness…Occasionally fullness can do that…Not ever having driven, I can write better about automobiles than the people who drive them. I have a distance here. … Space travel is another good example. I’m never going to go to Mars but I’ve helped inspire, thank goodness, the people who built the rockets and sent our photographic equipment off to Mars. So it’s always a lack that causes you to write that type of story.”

So…lack as inspiration. This is interesting, because I think the natural tendency is to think our writing must be full of action and/or things to say. But he’s right. Stories are driven by need, absence, deficiency, dearth, decrease, default, defects, deficits, deprivation, distress, destitution and other such words that don’t begin with d.

What does your character think is lacking? Maybe your whole book is about some obvious lack of something, but is there a hidden lack of something that would deepen your story? (i.e., Malky Joe needs a more stable situation in terms of food, but is he really on a quest to remember/reconnect with his lost father? Prudy is bored with her life pre-Iptweet, which is another form of “lack.”

This whole idea of lacking has so much possibilities – how much are we (in the form of our characters) driven solely by what we perceive as a lack of something? Is the lack real or merely perceived? How much narcissism does this involve? Or – how bone-deep does the feeling of lack go? Is this the true root of severe depression?

Or can lack even be joyous, as in missing someone we love so much our hearts burst into poetry? Is happiness the state of being, for a time, not lacking anything? A core tenet of Buddhism is to be without desire, a state which they believe results in permanent contentment and happiness.

But if we’d all been good Buddhists forever, would we, for example, have central heating?

Anyway, on and on…

So, use the idea of lack to emphasize something you may already have put into your work, to bring an idea into sharper focus, or use it to deepen an aspect of your story or your character him or herself.

 

 

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Interviews in Progress

Monday, July 16th, 2012

We have just sent off our first batch of author interview questions to our very own Lizzie K. Foley, author of REMARKABLE…..as soon as they come back from Ms.Lizzie, we will post her riveting answers.

Remarkable, by Lizzie Foley

Remarkable, by Lizzie Foley

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