Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior

In an attempt to escape her marriage, an unfulfilled wife hurries to a tryst and finds the mountainside outside her home occupied by an entire colony of monarch butterflies. The novel portrays the two situations, often using metaphor to parallel them. The broad conflict between man and nature adds depth to the story. The global warming bandwagon became tedious, maybe because the uneducated townspeople’s resistance to the theory was clichéd. Some of the other details, especially the operation of a sheep farm drug for me. But overall--definitely a substantive, engaging read.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Women’s Fiction later 2012

I read most of several women’s fiction over the last few months and they were all good. I usually skim some of the inner monologue, especially in the beginning of these type novels, if it becomes tedious.

Spring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews was the best--an engaging portrayal of a divorced couple still working in the same company. I enjoyed the fresh mystery plot involving the business and the novelty of a flawed male hero.

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin, an insightful look at the long term path of adoption. The point of views of both the mother and the now 18-year-old child she gave up for adoption rang true to me.

Jennifer Weiner’s The Next Best Thing was a fresh plot and I have to admire the author’s courage in her choice of a paraplegic as the hero. She didn’t shy away from the reality of the situation in the couple’s private life, either.

I stayed engaged in The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani, a historical fiction, despite its length. The details of the Italian countryside, pre-WWI New York—both the grimness of a laborer’s life and the texture of the opera culture, as well as the northern frontier created a nice read.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

New Fiction, Fall 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, Sept 2012 (512p) Little, Brown
An empty space on the village council sets in motion conflict between social classes in a small English village. Some applaud Rowling’s ability to make her characters human, the review consensus seems to be that the citizens would’ve welcomed some magic as they confront dark elements.

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom, Sept 2012 (240p) Hyperion
An adult fairy-tale explores the limits of time on humans through the experiences of an ancient man imprisoned for 6000 years, a terminally ill man, and a distressed teen.

In Sunlight and Shadow by Mark Helprin, Oct 2012 (720p), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt-literary
Set in post-WWII New York, a former paratrooper and singer fall in love, drawing larger forces into their romance.

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore, Oct 2012 (208p) Atlantic Monthly
When a new bride pulls a RAF greatcoat out of a cupboard to stay warm in post WWII England, she finds herself with new memories and the arrival of the former owner.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan, Oct 2012 (304p) Farrar, Straus and Giroux
A mystery set in a bookstore--can't think of how it gets much better. The concept of using cyberspace to crack codes hidden in books with majick thrown in is certainly intriguing.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, Nov 2012 (448p) Harper: HarperCollins-literary
A reluctant, but dutiful, wife in rural Appalachia encounters mysterious forces that address current social issues. She joins forces with a research team and her expanding horizons offer her new choices.

Hope you find some of these appealing! Please comment if you've come across any good fiction!
Melinda

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, begins on Thursday. I am using this time to write a first draft of one novel and do a first edit on another. I have never participated in NaNo, but I think it will be a good tool to use for setting a routine of daily writing.

I will start with Letters to Charlie, which is in the outline stage. I have my concept down on paper and am excited to begin the real work.

Letters to Charlie is the story of young widow Harper Talbot's struggle to come to terms with her husband's sudden death by composing ten years' worth of letters which chronicle their childrens' lives after he is gone.

My second work, Echoes also deals with loss, but of a child instead of a spouse. It is already complete, awaiting its first revision. I wrote the first draft of this novel in longhand on a stack of legal pads during one of my husband's hospitalizations after his cancer diagnosis. It is a testament to the healing powers of channelling grief.

In Echoes, Blake Grimball goes into a four-year tailspin of depression after she loses both her newborn son in an accident and her husband to infidelity in the same day. To fulfill her grandfather's final wishes, she returns to Charleston and must unravel Papa Grimball's legacy of adultery and lies to find the truth about the man she thought she despised. Along the way, she discovers she might have been hasty to judge her husband and, with the help of a mysterious boy who has adopted her South of Broad garden as his playground, she learns to deal with her loss in order to move forward with the life she had put on hold.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Releases and the End of my Hiatus

As many of you saw in Melinda's post, our fellow critique partner, John Carenen's debut novel, Signs of Struggle is out in trade paperback. This novel was the second offering we critiqued for John, and I think one of his best. His dry wit and clever turn of phrase will have you mesmerized from page one. Check it out here on Amazon and on his blog. You won't be disappointed.

I would be remiss in failing to mention our former critique partner, Susan M Boyer, and her debut novel, Lowcountry Boil, which was released back in September. It is nothing short of brilliant, and I recommend it to everyone and their sister. You can get it on Amazon and check it out on her website.

As for the status of my hiatus, from blogging not writing, I am pleased to say, it is over. Under the cloak of NaNoWriMo I will be working on a new novel, Letters to Charlie, which is in the outline stage and a first revision for Echoes. I'll tell you more about these two offerings in my next post. 

Until then, happy writing!

Melissa

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Something to Celebrate!



Our fellow novelist, John Carenen, made the leap into the actual world of Published Author last week. We couldn't be more proud or thrilled for him! We had the privilege of reading Signs of Struggle on Saturday afternoons a while back in our little Novel Group. The experience of seeing the early version of a novel might qualify us for something like godparents, since we critiqued and hashed out the finer points of the manuscript week after week--or maybe we're more like birthing coaches. One thing's for sure--we know how hard John worked on Signs of Struggle, what a truly fine novel it is, and the perseverence required to get it between covers. (I know, that's three things, but a godparent/birthing coach gets a gushing moment. Besides, numbers have never been my strong suit.)

John, in center, talking to Melissa and her husband, Eric (a innocent non-writer who good-naturedly puts up with us), while Sarah listens in at the launch party for Signs of Struggle.

When you go through the critique process--which can be painful at times, week after week, and admittedly, year after year--you might as well be friends. It doesn't have to end up like that, but it's a lot more fun if it does.

So John, your friends say: A BAZILLION KUDOS! WAAAAY TO GO!!

Melissa and I posted reviews on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Signs-Struggle-John-Carenen/dp/0982697163/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1350762416&sr=1-1&keywords=signs+of+struggle
where you can find a synopsis and there are excerpts on John's blog http://curlylarryandme.wordpress.com/.

We hope you'll enjoy this novel as much as we have!
Melinda

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Labor of Love


Five years ago, after a catastrophic ankle fracture required six months of recuperation, I began writing a novel. I knew I possessed the raw talent to complete this task without embarrassing myself or my family, but I had no clue how demanding writing could be. That one manuscript has haunted me.
I have a sum total of four finished novels awaiting edit, but I keep coming back to this first effort. Maybe my hatred of unfinished tasks or my tenacious personality won’t allow me to let it go. Or perhaps this manuscript represents a time in my life when I stood at a crossroads and chose my own path.

These past few weeks, I’ve had to make some difficult decisions. Some valuable advice from three different areas—a couple of knowledgeable beta-readers, my incomparable critique group, and a respected agent who would like to represent it IF—led me to a restructuring of this first manuscript.
I cannot stress to you how difficult this was for me. I had been holding on to story lines and characters muddying up the overall story arc and making it difficult to reach a satisfactory denouement. While my family and I vacationed on a non-wifi island (try that with a couple of sixteen-year-olds), I put on my big girl pants and cut, cut, cut.

Having trimmed all those unnecessary elements, I believe I’ve created a better product. In the next few months, I hope to report the representation of this manuscript. Otherwise, it’s time to move on.
Wish me luck.

Happy writing,
Melissa

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Overseas by Beatriz Williams

So many things were so good about this novel that it’s a little hard to know where to start. I am really into otherwordly fiction lately and this was completely enjoyable. I think what made it work so well was that the conflict was executed so skillfully, but subtly, on so many levels. I had to make myself keep it off my nightstand, because I would have read all night. It didn’t have the same poignancy as Time Traveler’s Wife, but I’m okay with a no-tears-type book.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bookaholic's Most Anticipated Summer Read


I've already established that Bookaholics like me read a lot of books. Let's be honest, some of those books can be downright bad.

I possess those bizarre personality quirks of tenacity and loyalty, which means if I start a book, I'm most likely going to finish it. And if I find an author I like, I will read their books regardless of how far they've devolved into the unrecognizable. I just can't stop myself. 

So, when I come across a noteworthy piece of fiction, I want to herald this find with full trumpet fanfare.

Enter Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches.* (Shelfari page here)

I flat-out love this book. It has everything going for it in my opinion--engaging plot, character depth and development, and superior writing.

So why am I just now writing about a book that was released in February of 2011? This brings me to another one of my reading quirks: If  a book is in a series, I always wait until at least 2 books are on the market. Two days ago (July 10, 2012) the second book in the All Souls Trilogy and sequel to Discovery was released.

 Shadow of Night (Shelfari page here) holds the promise of greatness glimpsed in Discovery. And while I can't tell you whether it delivers on this promise as I haven't read it yet (saving it for the beach trip at the end of next week, if I can wait that long), I anticipate the same level of enjoyment from this exciting new offering.


Happy reading,

Melissa

*Those of you who read my blog post about grammar a couple of weeks ago regarding an issue my ccritique group was debating, might find it interesting to know I had to refer back to that article when writing the words  Deborah Harkness'. Stupid Grammar.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Confessions of a Bookaholic

Hello, my name is Melissa, and I am a Bookaholic.

When you think of losing yourself in a book, images of comfortable, oversized chairs, crackling fires, and dark evenings might spring to mind. While winter reigns as the undisputed king of novel reading, Summer just might be its queen. Blistering heat, cool air conditioning, and sandy beaches all make periods of inactivity a requirement for survival. Enter books. Many, many, many books.

It takes me about a day to read a typical paperback book. Something a little meatier might spread out over a few days. I wake up early to read. I go to bed late because I'm reading. I read while my children have horseback riding lessons, swim practice, and tennis lessons. I read on the treadmill. I listen to books on tape while I do other exercise and activities. And when I'm not reading--or playing games with my children--I am writing.

Books are my window to the world. My brain is filled with useless nuggets of information which have little or no connection to any other part of my life, all attributed to books I have read. My family takes turns trying to stump me with obscure facts. They usually walk away with an eye roll and call me "well, actually" (which is patently false, by the way; I do not say that . . . much).

A diverse group of new releases this month are currently pre-ordered and stockpiled in my Kindle for an upcoming beach trip. My husband will be grateful for the absence of the dozen-or-so books that usually accompany me on a vacatation, I assure you. And if you still have any questions about what constitutes a Bookaholic, you can ask him. He pays all the bills.

Are you a Bookaholic too?

Melissa

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fiction July 2012: Big reads are here


Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness Viking, 592p
The sequel to Discovery of Witches takes place in Elizabethan London where reluctant witch Diana is tutored in magic and Matthew confronts his past.

The After Wife by Gigi Levangie Grazer Ballantine, 288p
Light-hearted story about a recent widow and the quirky and otherworldly support group

Some Kind of Fairy Taleby Graham Joyce Doubleday, 352p
Fantasy with mystery thread about a 16 year old girl who disappears from her English village and then reappears, unchanged, twenty years later

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin St. Martin’s, 384p
The ideal life of a thirtysomething man is interrupted when an 18 year-old girls drops into it

The Next Best Thingby Jennifer Weiner Atria: S. & S., 416p
A woman has a sitcom accepted in Hollywood but then all her dreams come crashing down

Creole Belle: A Dave Robicheaux Novelby James Lee Burke S. & S., 480p
An atmospheric southern thriller--Robicheaux hasn’t fully recovered from the injuries he received in his last investigation when a mysterious visitor leads him to the next one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grammar Questions

An interesting dilemma presented itself during our critique group that I felt might merit a few lines here. The novel I've been revising and my friend John's latest work both have characters whose plural surnames end in "s". When making these plural proper names into the possessive, which way is right? Turners's vs Turners' or Harpers's vs Harpers'. The answer is: It depends.

Our confusion over the plural possessive form stems from a lack of continuity in the style books, which contain slight variations . While the style books usually agree about most everything, this is one of those times when it doesn't. (I'm convinced this is for the sole purpose of being vexing.)

My trusty Harbrace College Handbook circa 1988 leans toward Turners' and Harpers'. Chicago Manual of Style prefers s's, as in the Turners's. MLA agrees with my Harbrace (because it is MLA). Fowler's Modern English Usage says both are correct in different situations. In the case of a singular possessive ending in 's', you add the apostrophe s. In the case of a plural possessive ending in 's', you just add the apostrophe. So, using the name Mavis Turner, it would be Mavis's and the Turners'.

Clear as mud, right?

Being a writer in the age of the internet (when I was in school we had to carry our style guide uphill both ways, barefoot, in the snow . . . ) I frequently Google the grammar question or check with the Grammar Girl. Either one can usually tell me what I need to know in a pinch.

But for anyone serious about their craft, I would invest in a good style book. I use the CMS (because it is widely accepted in the writing community) and Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.  Oh, and my good old Harbrace. It has rarely steered me wrong.  The main rule: Pick one guide and be consistent.

What are your favorite style books? Or what do you use to get out of a grammar pickle?


Until next time.

Melissa

Interesting note: Apparently Blogger's spelling and grammar check uses MLA. It didn't care for my use of Turners's  and Harpers's.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Query Time: Journey to Crazy Town

In my last post, I shared some tips on gathering a list of potential agents for your complete, polished manuscript. Now, I'd like to dig deeper into my process finding the agents most compatible with the ms you are pitching. You only get one shot to query your dream agent. Might as well make it count.

While I research, I sort each of the agents according to how good a fit I think they will be. Some I set aside to research further or check on later if they're either closed to queries or lacking a web presence.

I assign each agent a rank from 1 to 5, with 1 being my top choice. As I research further, that number might fluctuate.  Most agents on my list fall in the 2 to 3 category. Only those who I really feel will connect with my work receive a top rank of 1.My ranking system might have taken a wrong turn at crazy town, but the end result has proved satisfactory.

I mentioned in my last post that I like to print hard copies of pertinent information to refer back to (just too many to bookmark). I write query requirements on the front of each packet for easy reference.

I also create a spreadsheet, which is probably a bit of overkill but great for quick reference. My headings are: Agent, Agency, Rank, Date Queried, Query Included, Response Time, Auto Response, Materials Requested, Comments. In the comments column, I include links to blogs or websites, insider information such as who they represent that is similar to me, and personal informaiton or preferences that might influence my query or allow for personalization.

I think personalization is so important. You want them to know you've done your homework and are aware of what they are looking to acquire. You are requesting a business relationship with a professional and need to treat a query as such.
I queryied slowly by sending a few each week.  I started in the middle of the pack. I got immediate feedback, telling me my query letter was up to snuff.

Then comes the hard part--the waiting. That is where I am now. Of course, my husband was  diagnosed with cancer a few weeks into the query process, and I had to suspend submissions for about a year while I concentrated on his treatments. I have learned to wait.
Bottom line, querying is scary, but finding a workable list of potential agents is Gold! Jerry, Gold! (Seinfeld reference, for those who might not share my tv addiction).

Until next time . . . Good Luck and Happy writing!

Melissa

Friday, June 8, 2012

Query Time: Part Deux

So, you've written a manuscript, which you have edited, re-edited, and polished. Someone other than a relative has read it. You also have in hand a professional, polished query letter and synopsis. Now you are ready to query agents. This can be a daunting prospect, considering the number of literary agents out there.

In my last post, I included links to two sites: Query Tracker and Agent Query.  This is where I start. They are free sites. On each of their home pages you can do a simple search for literary agents who represent what you're trying to sell, and out of the magic box will pop a list of potential agents for you to query. Again, this is a great place to start.

I'm going to stop right here and admit I suffer from a little undiagnosed OCD.  My brand of anal-retentiveness has two major benefits, though. First, the more organized you are, the easier it is to prevent a double-query disaster.  Second,  this process is a bit like riding a bike in a hurricane. Pressing that send button, knowing you have no control over what happens to your query from that moment forward, is an uncomfortable feeling. Never underestimate the power of having something tangible to track when there's absolutely nothing you can do otherwise.

So you have your lists.  You're ready to blast all these agents' inboxes with queries and hope for the best, right? No. No. No. No. No. You're just getting started.

Each of these potential agents (PAs) has specific requirements for all queries. Some of these PAs might be more receptive to your work than others. Some might also be closed to queries. No database can keep up with the rapid changes in PAs statuses, so I take each agent, and if there is a link to their website, do a quick check of their query status, their requirements, and what they represent. I like hard copies to refer to later, so I print the agent bios, submission requirements, and anything pertinent. This nets me a fairly sizable list.

At this point, you're ready to dig a little deeper. From this list of PAs the next step I take is really just a precaution. I check them out on Preditors and Editors, a website addressing concerns about agent practices (ie Do they charge you money, which no reputable agent will do). You can search each agent by name.

Next, I practice a little Google-fu. I read every article, website, blog, or interview mentioning each agent and/or agency. I look for any insight into either what they've chosen in the past or what they're hoping to acquire that is similar to my ms. This step will also eliminate some that, while excellent agents, might not be the best agent for you.

My next post will address my next step, and go over the basics of my agent ranking system.  Really, it's just too much information to put in one blog post.

So, until next time . . . happy writing!

Melissa

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Query Time: Part One

If there is one thing an aspiring author fears and dreads, it is querying agents. For a lucky few--like my friend John--who have written the Perfect Storm of books and catch a publisher's attention, this phase is by-passed. But at some point in their career, even they will probably have need of an agent.

So, how do you go about getting one? With that elusive creature, the one-page query letter.

I'm not going to tell you how to write your query letter. That's been done to death, with more knowledge or finesse than I could possibly employ. In fact, I'm in the same boat as many of you--unagented, unpublished and trying to get there.

*Note: at the end of this post I will post links to several very informative websites dealing with these issues, and if you haven't met the Query Shark aka Janet Reed of Fine Print Literary Management, her site is a wealth of information on query letters from the perspective of the other side of the table.

What I do have is knowledge of the process, from selecting those agents you want to query based on the types of books they represent to the formatting of an actual query letter (which, believe me, can be a huge headache. I'm talking to you, Word).

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting a series of articles on querying, addressing some of these issues. By sharing my experiences, I hope I can help some of you, and maybe prevent some of the same fatal mistakes I made from happening again.
 
To begin with, here are those links I promised:

Query Tracker: One of the best comprehensive listings of literary agents by genres they represent
Agent Query: Another good agent database
Writer's Digest: This website has it all--articles, writing prompts, q&a sessions with agents, and many other ways for the writer to connect with their craft and their community.
Nathan Bransford: Former literary agent turned children's book author.  He has written a lot of informative articles about querying from an agent's prospective.
Knight Agency: This is a literary agency which deals primarily in the romance genre. Their submissions page is a wealth of information on query letters, etiquette, other basics. 


There are plenty of other agent blogs out there full of literary advice.  We'll get into those in my next post.

Until then . . . Happy Writing!

Melissa

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lots of good fiction choices: June 2012



The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker Random, 288p
Dystopian fiction with a gradual apocalypse the backdrop for the coming-of-age of an eleven-year-old girl, likely appealing to young adult and adult fans of the Hunger Games.

Porch Lights by Dorothea Benton Frank Morrow, 336p
Low Country popular fiction in the author’s signature style.

Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham Grand Central, 480p
Popular fiction about three friends growing up in small-town Texas. This author is a wonderful story-teller.

The Taken: Celestial Blues: Book One by Vicki Pettersson HarperVoyaguer, 432p
A former P.I. angel bucks his orders and saves a reporter. Mix of paranormal, romance, and mystery/suspense.

Spring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews St. Martin’s, 400p
Southern women’s fiction the author is known for.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty Amy Einhorn Bks: Putnam, 426p
A hypnotherapist wants to help her new boyfriend, who is being stalked by his ex-girlfriend, but the girlfriend is already a patient, incognito, with suspicious motives.

This Bright River by Patrick Somerville Little, Brown, 352p
Literary novel about a woman whose medical career is cut short and an ex-con trying to put their lives back together in a small Wisconsin town.

The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere St. Martin’s, 320p
Gentle southern historical fiction about a spinster and orphan affect each other and their community.

The Yard by Alex Grecian Putnam, 320p
Historical thriller-twelve detectives are brought into to find Jack the Ripper when one of them is killed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ghost Stories: Old and New

In less than a month, recently, I read three novels with a ghostly element.

In Anne Tyler’s A Beginner’s Goodbye , the visits of his wife’s ghost allow a widower to resolve his personal issues and move forward. The exquisite characterization portrays the man and woman and ghost, the nature of their marriage, and how his growth arc is affected by the ghost.
Peter Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place, first published in 1960, is the story of two new ghosts who find each other when they’re buried in the same cemetery and a middle-aged man who has been hiding there for nineteen years to escape his troubled life. The unique interaction of the characters makes a very compelling read.
In The Cove by Ron Rash, the cove setting was believed to be haunted which precipitated many events of the story.
In Tyler and Beagle’s stories, the interaction between the ghost and human’s are somewhat similar, although the wife-ghost is much more in the background than the two new ghosts, who have their own arcs and interaction.
Rash personified the cove so it affected the characters’ lives, as well.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New Fiction: Late April and May 2012

The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani- Harper: HarperCollins, April 2012, 448p
A young couple meets in their home country of Italy but is separated when he is forced to go to America. They meet again, just when he has enlisted to serve in WWI. The story continues over several generations.

Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale by Lynda Rutledge- Amy Einhorn: Putnam, April 2012, 304p
Wealthy Faith Bass emerges from a thirty-year seclusion on the last day of the millennium and starts selling everything she owns. Broad themes deepen the story but the narrative remains light-hearted.

A Land More Kind Than Home: A Novel by Cash Wiley- William Morrow, April 2012, 320p
A literary thriller about two brothers in North Carolina who must confront the reality of evil in their community.

Overseas by Beatriz Williams- Putnam, May 2012, 464p
A Wall Street analyst’s boss is smitten with her and just as suddenly cools off. The reason for the
reversal lies in the people they were in another time and place. Their transcendent relationship is threatened by external events.

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey - Knopf, May, 2012, 288p
A literary novel by an award-winning author about a woman whose boss enables her to work through her grief over her lover’s death by assigning her to a solitary research assignment. She discovers the journals of a 19th century Englishman and becomes immersed in his quest for the production of an automated toy for his invalid son.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Time Flies

A problem I am dealing with of late, is one I believe strikes home with us all, readers and writers alike--time, or in my case, the lack thereof.  My days are flying by with no spare moments in which to write, not that I have the energy or emotional wherewithal to be creative, anyway. To me, there is nothing more frustrating than sitting down at my computer and realizing--usually after five pages of pure crap--my brain is too fried to put together a coherent thought, much less turn a clever phrase.  Equally maddening is reading a chapter, even in a highly anticipated new release, only to reach the end and have no comprehension of what you've just read. Makes me want to tear my hair out.

So, how do we stand up against this problem? How do we persevere? I've been asking myself just that question, and will admit, the answers I've come up with have been a bit surprising in their old school craftiness and the lack of technology they require.

1. Early Bird Gets the Worm:  Sounds simple, right? I'm not going to lie, the first week of waking an hour early (that's 4:00 am, folks) got pretty ugly. But by that second week, I was rocking that keyboard and the coffee pot, hitting a groove by about 5:00.  I can't do this every day--mainly because I have to get in a solid six of snooze time and can't always get in the bed at 10:00--but the days I do are very productive.

2.  Singing in the Shower:  My version of shower singing requires no tune, though I've been known to belt one out when no one else is home. The lather-rinse-repeat repetition is so second nature, I'm able to simultaneously problem solve. For example, I discover one of my characters is coming across as one-dimensional. I use my shower time to list every tiny detail I know about this character, their actions, their motivations, their background. Usually, I find a hole in my characterization large enough in which to park an RV. Then I can begin to plug it. This also works with scenes and plotting issues.

3.   Elementary, My Dear Watson: By now everyone should know about my not-so-closet fascination with school/office supplies.  At the beginning of each school year, I purchase enough pens, pencils, tape and pads to keep my son's  parochial school well-stocked through May.  Or, as my amused friends will point out, I'm armed to the teeth for the coming paper apocalypse.  At any rate, I have quite the stash. When lugging around my laptop became tiring and impractical (Who the heck can write anything on an iPad either?), I started tucking one of those marbled-cover composition books and a mechanical pencil into my purse. There are so many places and times when you can quietly slip out a notebook that a laptop would be impractical.  It's always there. Always ready. I wrote the first draft of my most recent project on half a dozen legal pads while my husband slept in his hospital bed across the room. Why a pencil? I bought a Costco-sized pack back in August and am still working my way through them, of course. Plus they have erasers, which are my friends.

 In writing, I find momentum is often the only thing that keeps me going. If I lose it, I'm sunk. I'm sure I don't hold a monopoly on ways to punish the time bitch, but these three methods seem to be spanking her pretty hard. I hope you  find them helpful as well.

Have I missed something? As always, I'd love to hear from you.

Melissa

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fiction Focus: Engaging slice of history

The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay - St. Martin’s, 2012.

The issue of eminent domain links present culture to 1800s middle class Paris. Rose’s voice was captured well through the letters she writes as she waits in the basement of her house for it to be destroyed. She reflects on her life, providing an overview of her background--which makes her a sympathetic character--along with a strong sense of the setting. She also reviews some letters from others, which gives a feel for the significant people in her life, as well as gives dimension to Rose’s character from the different perspectives. The poignant element was very manageable. The ability to accomplish all this in 288 pages is enviable, to say the least.

One writing note: this good example of a strong narrator was helpful to me.

This is a great selection for historical fiction and character-driven fans alike!
Melinda

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Looking Ahead: Fiction March and April 2012

Please add anything good you’ve run across in the comments.

Gossip by Beth Gutcheon Morrow, March 2012, 384p
Popular fiction about a group of friends and the unsubstantiated effect a rumor can have.

Elegy for Eddie: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear Harper: HarperCollins, March 2012, 352p
A mystery set between the first and second World Wars with historical figures.

Schmidt Steps Back by Louis Begley Knopf, March 2012, 384p
In the literary category--the ongoing saga of a retired, widowed lawyer, his family and personal relationships.

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler Knopf, April 2012, 208p
This is one of my all time favorite authors—if you’re not familiar with her work it’s usually of a commercial literary nature. This story is about a middle-aged man, struggling with the death of his wife, and gradually coming to terms with it through the appearances of her spirtt in various locations.

The Cove by Ron Rash Ecco: HarperCollins, April 2012, 272p
An award winning southern author who writes literary gothic adventures. The dark element varies and in this novel involves a cove where spirits wander and centers on a loner woman and a new, mute man in the last days of a World War.

Temptation by Douglas Kennedy Atria: S. & S., Apr. 2012. 320p
Popular fiction about a suddenly successful screenwriter and the way it affects him and his family.He makes a pact with darkness—and descends to the lower depths of the Hollywood jungle.

The late spring and summer releases look really promising, so stay tuned!
Melinda

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Inspiration and Motivation

"Read, read, read. Read everything--trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window." --William Faulkner

Arguably one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, William Faulkner can also be called the archetypal Southern author. As a child of the 1970s, I was raised during a time when to be Southern was to be inferior. But the first time I read Go Down, Moses, I saw a new South, without apology or explanation. My whole perspective changed, and I had a new world of inspiration from which to draw.

Reading Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird was another watershed moment for me, and I began to search for any novels that portrayed Southern life with both candor and fondness. I saw myself in the works of Kate Chopin, Thomas Wolfe, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers. I discovered my voice reading Flannery O'Connor and Tennessee Williams. And that was only on the literary side.

I devoured Gone With the Wind in about five minutes and set out to read every word written by South Carolina resident Pat Conroy. I credit those two authors with giving me the impetus to write, with inspiring me so much with their words I could no longer silence my own.

But if we're going to talk about inspiration, and truly dissect Faulkner's quote, we have to spotlight genres other than literary and those who skirt the line between literary and popular fiction. Anyone who knows me well, understands that I Hoover my way through at least half a dozen books a week, though it's usually closer to a dozen (I sit in waiting rooms and carpool lines quite a bit more than the average bear), spanning all genres from fantasy and science fiction to young adult and romance. For different reasons, all of these word combinations move me to write more and to write better.

From romance writers such as Madeline Hunter, Meredith Duran, Loretta Chase, and the incomparable Nora Roberts/JD Robb, I channel emotions into more believable interactions between men and women. Through science fiction and fantasy authors Patricia Briggs and Charlaine Harris, I expand the boundaries of my imagination. Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, including everyone's two favorite series Harry Potter and Hunger Games, give my writing a clean, honest edge. Paranormal romances such as those written by JR Ward, Jessica Andersen and Gena Showalter, I read for pure pleasure and am awed by their complex world building as well as the incredible focus their characters show for their love interest. And finally, authors like Joshilyn Jackson, Sue Monk Kidd and my former college professor, Bret Lott, just plain inspire me with their gritty portrayal of Southern life.

My point is this: You can and should draw inspiration from as many different sources as you can. Limiting yourself to one genre makes your writing static and stale.

Good writing combines both engaging plot and the skillful stringing of beautiful words, and, let's face it, a lot of character-driven fiction, while putting together a lovely turn of phrase, can be a little light on plot. Good writing sings to a reader's soul with an almost musical phrasing when spoken aloud. Good writing also keeps the reader glued to the page with a compelling plot.

Of course as always, this is purely my opinion, but I believe the Faulkner quote above illustrates my point-of-view is shared by at least one great mind. In my quest to improve my writing skills and become the best writer I possibly can, I will continue to read my way through all genres of fiction. At least that's what I tell my husband when he gets the bill. . .

How about you? Are you drawing inspiration through genre-bending? What divergent works inspire you?

Melissa

Thursday, March 1, 2012

As a healthcare practitioner, I write and write and write the stories of the people that I care for every day.  I write on paper, on a computer, and on a smart phone. I use short paragraphs and dates and statements that begin with, “Patient presents with…”.  Many times the documentation is read by someone at an insurance company who disagrees with it, ignores its content and requests it multiple times via facsimile machine. 

In healthcare jargon, this is called “documentation.”  It is very dull and it is done in a formal, stilted format called “SOAP.” It’s a way to communicate to other interested parties what happens as a patient progresses through a plan of care.  This documentation is required by law to be stored for a particular number of years, sometimes in an underground climate controlled vault. Then it must be destroyed so thoroughly that no one can ever read it again.  It has to stay around for a few years, though, in case a lawyer wants it for a case.  Then it is pulled out of isolation to be used as proof of WHAT REALLY HAPPENED. This is the writing that I have experienced: dry, objective, and CYA.

It occurred to me a couple of years ago that there could potentially be millions of fictional stories out there that need to be documented.  What a shame if the stories of these entirely undeveloped characters were never shared with a wider audience!  It would be wonderful if there were interested readers following the writing instead of auditors and case managers that work for insurance companies.  The format might be up to me and might deviate from “Subjective Objective Assessment Plan”.  The writing could be public and it wouldn’t have to be destroyed at the end of a retention period.

If I can combine words to tell a real story accurately, can I tell a fictional one as well?


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey, Harper: HarperCollins, Feb. 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed this contemporary Jane Eyre!

What I loved: The modernization hit just the right balance of remaining in the spirit of the original while providing a fresh perspective. Gemma resonated with me, so I was completely engaged the entire length of the book. Very atmospheric which is almost essential for me. There’s hardly a wobble in the entire narrative and the 443 pages went extremely fast.

Although the portrayal of Mr. Sinclair didn’t detract from the book, he wasn’t as captivating a character as Mr. Rochester. I think it’s because the dark elements of Mr. Sinclair aren’t as dark as Mr. Rochester’s. This led me to ponder how dark characters, especially heroes, resonate and it poses some interesting questions—enough for another post. It’d be great if some of you would be thinking about your favorite dark characters.

As always, please chime in on the comments, if you have any thoughts about this book or comments on anything you’ve read and would like to tell us about!

Melinda

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Supervillain.

It happened gradually as I wrote.  My heroine's best buddy started acting a little funny. He began making some choices that were harmful to her. I watched in horror as he deliberately sabotaged something that she was doing.  I stepped back to read what I had written.

How did he know to do that? How could he be such an evil jerk after everything that they had been through together?  Slowly it dawned on me that the very evil I had written into him had come from inside my head.  Once I observed this happening in my own writing, I revisited some familiar passages with a new eye.

If Robin Cook wanted a character in Shock to die from a hemorrhage during an egg extraction, then he had to convincingly portray the behavior of a doctor who would allow a patient bleed to death while a lucrative surgery proceeded.  The author didn't have to experience this himself as a physician.  He could take some ideas and feelings from his practice as a doctor and let his imagination extrapolate them into something new and criminal.

As I am learning to write fiction, I get flashes of insight and potential behavioral choices that come from the supervillain inside my own head. I don't intend to act on these impulses or ideas.  But my imagination is capable of writing about these criminal choices.  This is both scary and intriguing to me.  It signifies a deep understanding of evil that comes from my imagination, not my experience.

When writers tell stories, they relive and rehash and even suggest horribly unpleasant incidents.  Some of them choose to leave readers there in the negative. Some are neutral and pragmatic. Some of them pull readers back out to a triumphant good over evil ending.

So far in my own writing, my subconscious pushes for my protagonist to always leave my supervillain soundly defeated. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why We Read or Just Read!

In my experience, most folks read fiction for the entertainment value of experiencing a story. Of course, there are as many different tastes as there are people. Some like the unfolding of events of plot-driven fiction and others enjoy the drama as characters react to events in character-driven stories. Some want to experience completely different worlds and stretch their imagination in fantasy or a historical period. Another variable is how much a person wants this form of entertainment.

But then there are those who don’t like to read. One of my daughters reads more sci/fi in a week than I could process in a life-time, and she does that most every week. Her twin sister sees little value in books at all. (Her texting skills, however, may be approaching legendary proportions.) Since I encourage her to read a little for the benefit of her developing brain, she chooses stories that focus on people.

My twin girls have taught me so much about how different people are. My regard for them certainly isn’t dependant on what or how much they read, just like their differing taste for food isn’t significant to me.

No one should ever feel intimidated because their sister reads more than they do. Or because their neighbor reads literary books and they enjoy popular fiction or romance. I’m convinced if people will read what appeals to them, they may grow to enjoy different material at some point. There’s no reason for anyone to force themselves to read anything for pleasure that they don’t like. I enjoy genres now that I turned my nose up at when I was younger. Reading tastes may change or expand, like clothes and décor, in the same age group, as well. But if my reader-twin never enjoys anything but sci/fi, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Reading, for the writer, also has another element. I think of it as similar to how children assimilate their parents’ speech patterns and mannerism and incorporate them into the fabric of their individuality. Writers may also analyze things like craft or structural issues in their reading material for learning purposes.

We would love to have some of our visitors comment on whatever they are reading. Your opinion of a book is as valuable as ours! We really enjoy hearing different perspectives.

So, please, don’t be shy!

Melinda

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tastes Like Chicken

Resistance was futile, though I’ll be the first to admit I offered little. With only the slightest nudge disguised as opportunity, I was assimilated into the happy ranks of e-readers.

 It all started with one Christmas gift, an afterthought, really. I expected to adore the diamond earrings and new iPhone, but when I unwrapped my Kindle, I was shocked, a little awestruck, and secretly relieved I didn’t have to abandon my principles and buy one for myself.  You see, until very recently, I was at best wary of e-books and at worst, their vocal opponent .

My reticence stemmed from fear. Plain and Simple. E-books struck panic in my writer’s heart. Even though I heard them billed as the future of publishing, I didn’t care to listen. E-books were EVIL. They were single-handedly destroying the big-box book stores, and with their vile little readers, were diminishing my opportunities for publication.  

In my ignorance, I thought e-books were a writer’s enemy. How could an author be properly compensated by a percentage of $3.99 per unit when the list price on the paperback version is set somewhere around $7.99? Imagine my surprise when I went to the Kindle store and purchased my first e-book for—you guessed it—$7.99. While I wasn’t looking, e-book pricing had become more competitive with traditional books. After the most cursory of investigations, my erroneous theory is busted.

My next big hurdle was losing the sensory experience of reading a book. The tactile sensation of paper sliding through your fingers, the sound of pages turning, and the smell of a freshly bound book contributed heavily to my enjoyment. But you must also weigh that against the finger calluses from too much page turning, and the sheer weight of a print book. Let’s face it.  If you read as much as I do, you’re looking at blisters and carpal tunnel after a single rainy weekend. In weight alone, the Kindle wins, hands down (pun intended).

My final big concern (believe me, there were plenty of small ones, too. I can pick nits with the best of them) was convenience. The majority of my last year was spent in doctor’s offices and hospitals while my husband underwent treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia. When you spend anywhere from six to twelve hours in close quarters, and I do mean close, trying to be helpful when needed and invisible when not, I cannot overstress the value of quiet entertainment. But carrying multiple books can be cumbersome and heavy. With an e-reader you have access to the entire book store without having to lug it around.

Despite minor downsides, such as typos in scanned and reformatted backlist books— point non plus appeared in a recent read as point rum plus—I have grown to love my e-reader. As the new publishing model unfolds, I have no doubt their popularity will only rise.

So now I’m stuck chewing a mouthful of loud, impassioned words, and I must say they’re not all that bad. In fact, most of them taste like chicken.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Favorite Reads Early 2011

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown Putnam/Amy Einhorn, 2011
An exceptional women’s fiction follows the personal journey of siblings. The alternating stories kept the female angst at a pleasant level. Unfortunately, the Shakespeare snippets were beyond me—but didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book.

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen Bantam, 2011
Mystery with a fantasy element--deep enough to keep me totally engaged for a completely pleasant reading experience. Nice out-of-the-ordinary romances and a family mystery to be solved. What a treat!

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett Harper, 2011
Women's fiction with sci/fi element. Well-crafted, fresh plot and atmosphere. Characters believable and well drawn. Thoughtful themes really deepened the narrative.

Room by Emma Donahue Little, Brown and Company, 2010
Despite my reservations about this author, this really was masterful. I couldn’t imagine getting through a novel with a 5 year-old narrator, but it speaks to the skill of the author. The tension of the mother and child's situation was almost unbearable at times, but remained manageable and due to the juvenile narrator spared the reader some of the raw elements.The themes of mother-child relationship and complexity vs. simplicity of our culture were nearly flawlessly carried out. Book club loved it too!

Thanks for stopping by!
Melinda

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why I Write

Recently, a friend of mine asked me why I write. "It's what I do," I said and laughed.

Truth: I didn't know what to say. I'd never really asked myself the question. So why do I write? The easy answer is I don't really have a choice. The words pop into my head and pile up like rush hour traffic. I can't not put them to paper.

I wonder if anyone ever asked Van Gogh why he painted, or Gershwin why he composed, or Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev why they danced. Of course, I would never compare myself to artists of their caliber, but you get the point.

To me, writing is a musical endeavor, of sorts. Prose should sing. It should never be choppy or roll off the tongue in the literary equivalent of three-round bursts. In George Orwell's famous essay, "Why I Write", he says, "When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words".   I think it is this constant quest for beautiful words which inspires me and feeds my search for a well-written turn of phrase.

But is that all there is to writing? To reading? Is a lovely compilation of words the chief aim of all  my literary endeavors? Let's hope not. Channelling Simon Cowell, if that were the case, all books would be nothing but a self-indulgent pile of rubbish. (Though let's face it, there are plenty of books out there which qualify.) We can't overlook the storytelling aspect of writing.

Another friend of mine recently reminded me of the importance of being swept along the tide of an engaging story. This has led to some rather heated discussions regarding plot-driven versus character-driven fiction. Right or wrong, my conclusion (according to my personal writing/reading style and tastes) determines that a book must have both to hook me. The characters must be engaging, but I must also be pulled into the plot for the book to be a success.

How does this translate into writing? Well, either it does or it doesn't. There is no magic formula for creating this marriage of strong characterization and interesting plot. I begin with a spark of an idea, dissect each character from the protagonist down to the most minor secondary character, mix them up with a bucket of beautiful words, and voila! there's your book. Does it always work? Well, you'll have to be the judge of that . . .



Melissa

Friday, January 27, 2012

Favorite Reads Fall and Summer 2011

I had a great reading year and I just have to share some of the highlights!

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

What I loved: The plot builds so slowly that I might not have finished this book if I hadn’t known the premise from reviews. The central characters' magic skills are pitted against each other in a dark contest for survival and the story question of who will win and how their relationship will play out kept me turning pages. Many devices, including ongoing color symbolism, add dimension to the conflict. The outcome is skillfully and creatively spun and the entire arc was completely satisfying.

Not so much: Distracting all-over-the-place time jumps from chapter to chapter.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

What I loved: The masterful weaving of a complex mystery centering on an assassin who's motivated by justice and a writer who reluctantly ghost writes a contest entry, inadvertantly disturbing the "Little People". This woman and man met years earlier when they formed a permanent bond but lost contact, and now the events surrounding the mystery cause them to search for one another. The accessible fantasy element provides overarching questions in the alternate 1984 setting. Even the 925 page length was enjoyable due to the great pacing. It does have it's share of raw material, but most of it's easy to navigate around, if it proves bothersome.
I'm tickled sequels are written & assume they'll be available in English at some point.

Not so much: An event that exceeds anything built into the story world and, then, a too-easy intuitiveness regarding the event is the only plot movement in the last quarter.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

What I loved: I didn’t expect to like this book, but it was the most riveting character-based fiction I’ve read in awhile. Reminiscent of Gatsby in tone (although this book is captivating), focuses on a society guy and a working girl in pre-WWII NYC. The deeper themes gave a lot of resonance. The atmosphere, characterization, pacing, conflict, were about flawless.

Not so much: The title—didn’t do this book justice.

The Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

What I loved: The texture--multiple rich settings (it opens in a library, for goodness sake), first-person-history (even of wine!), ancient manuscripts to name a few--the great conflict between otherworldly creatures, and the evolving relationship between a 1500 year-old vampire and a witch reluctant to use her powers due to her parents' violent death. I wasn't sure if the fantasy element would be too dark for my taste, so I listened to the audio, masterfully narrated by Jennifer Ikeda, and the execution of the French accents, especially, added another dimension. This is a narrative to savor! I can't wait for the sequel in July 2012 and I'm really hoping the movie that's in the works will happen.

Not so much: Beats me!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Quit Writing

        So, when does one quit writing?
      
        Steven King says something like, when you have 600 rejections for any one piece, maybe you should think about another line of work, like wastewater treatment certification. I disagree. If you are a writer, you write. Period.

        You never quit.

        Consider the case of Helen Hooven Santmyer. Heard of her? I didn’t think so. She wrote a big, thick novel quite a few years ago that was published when she was 88. It took her 50 years to write. It was a hit, a best-seller, a Book of the Month Club Main Selection. She died three years later, but she worked on that book for five decades, FIVE DECADES, before it was published. It was called “. . . And Ladies of the Club.” Santmyer had written three books before, all published but didn’t sell, all immediately forgotten and committed to the “So what?” corner of history’s literary dustbin.

        Peter S. Beagle wrote A Fine and Private Place and it was published and became a best seller and is still selling copies today. I know that for sure because I’m teaching it in one of my college classes. Oh, and Beagle was 19 when he wrote that novel. He is now 70 years old with many best-sellers in the fantasy genre. Still writing, too.

        So, if you are a writer, you write. You don’t quit. You can take a break, you can back away for a while, you can try another genre if you want to.

        What do you do when you pick up another stack of rejections at the mailbox and feel like eating as much junk food and gin as you can?

        You write some more. Maybe you’re better with a bloated belly and a headache.

        There’s a cartoon I’ll never forget, even if I no longer have it. A scruffy man in a wifebeater undershirt is sitting at a table with a typewriter on it. He’s on the back porch and there are about fifteen dogs all over the place, all kinds. He has a blank look on his face. A woman, also scruffy, is standing nearby and she’s saying, “Write about dogs.”



--John

Monday, January 23, 2012

Critical Thinking

If reading is a collective action, writing is a solitary art. There is no one with which an author can share responsibility or blame for the words they put to paper. Just as it is only their soul laid bare to anyone who might potentially pick up their novel and read it. The pain and the pleasure of creation begins and ends with them.


But at some point, an artist must declare their brainchild finished and prepare to disseminate it to the wider world. To do so, they must first rely upon the opinions of their peers to give them an accurate, although subjective, view of their manuscript. The author must let go and open up to criticism.


For many years, I wrote solo. Every word groaned under the weight of its own self importance. I revised. I edited until my soul bled. Then, finally, I typed the words THE END, and broke out in a cold sweat. If I was truly serious about publishing my novel, it was time to find someone to critique my work.


Three years ago this month, I joined the Novelists critique group (out of which this blog was born), and my writing was transformed. Sure, my novel became a marketable piece of fiction--that was my goal, after all--but I count the changes to my style, voice, and level of confidence as the most valuable gifts this group of talented writers imparted.


Today, when I compose a scene, I hear their voices reminding me to stay tight in my character's point of view, to watch wordy dialogue beats, and to slash every unnecessary word. I am reminded of how lucky I am to have found this group and just how amazing they are.

Every writer is different, of course. There are plenty of successful novelists out there who choose to forgo the critical route. I imagine there are also critique groups who have steered potential writers away from a marketable manuscript. As for me, I count my group as a bit of serendipity. Now it is my turn to pay it forward.


How about you?


I strongly encourage all writers to find a critique partner or group. This can be done locally, through a professional group or organization such as your local chapter of Romance Writers of America, Daughters In Crime, or Mystery Writers of America, or via the Internet (there are many online critique groups out there that might fit your needs). Prepare to put your self out there. You won't regret it.

Good Luck and Happy Writing,
Melissa

Friday, January 20, 2012

Looking Ahead: Fiction Early 2012

I am drawn to fiction with a strong character arc, but I've tried to include a variety of genres. There's lots of sources for full summaries, so there's no need for me to reinvent that wheel here.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey Harper: HarperCollins, Jan 2012-464p
A homage to Jane Erye set in Scotland & Iceland in the 1950s & 1960s.

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson Grand Central, Jan 2012-288p
This author has an authentic southern voice. A popular/commercial mystery, bound to have a character thread, judging from the author's other work.

Dead Low Tide by Bret Lott Random, Jan 2012-256p
Southern mystery by a commercial literary author.

A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore Holt, Feb 2012-400p paperback
An English upscale mystery similar to Kate Morton. (My bookclub loved this kind of fiction.)

The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay St. Martin’s, Feb 2012-288p
A historical set in 1860s Paris about a woman taking a stand against reconstruction. Main theme is family history, so it looks to be a lighter read than Sarah's Key.

Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston Norton, Feb 2012-320p
Popular/Commercial Fiction about a woman dumpming her metaphorical baggage and finding a comfort zone in air travel.

I'll be posting on a book in about a month, so it'd be great if some of you would chime in on your book choices.

Happy reading!
Melinda

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"I want."

From the time I left my driveway this morning until I was nearly at work, I wanted.  I wanted a different song on the radio.  I wanted more coffee and I wanted more bagel.  I wanted a particular client to call me back when I got to the office.  As I slowly became aware of the pattern of my thoughts, I realized that it was a constant stream of motivations driven by the words, "I want..."

How does a good author portray to the reader what it is that a character wants?  There are the major motivations, for sure.  A reader wants to see the character's need for acceptance, the desire to be successful, or even the carnal want for food or sex.  But does the writer also need to portray the subtle stream of motivations that can occupy a character's thoughts?  How does an author build the character so that the reader can connect the dots without reading verbatim the stream of consciousness related to these minor motivations?

Read a favorite passage again.  Can you fill in the character's mental tracks using the information that the author gave you?  This is a writing skill that makes one character more engaging or believable than another.



Sunday, January 15, 2012

Open-minded Reading

To say that my reading tastes are eclectic might be the understatement of 2012. My week began with  Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry (creepy good book, by the way), took a turn through Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants (for the 900th time), and ended up in a Regency-era vampire romance by Colleen Gleason. For completely different reasons, I enjoyed them all. I was challenged and entertained.

And that brings up an interesting subject: literary snobbery. You know what I'm talking about. There are those who wouldn't dream of stooping low enough to read commercial fiction, much less romance, or fantasy, or sci fi, or young adult, or fill in the blank. The truth as I see it, is good, solid writing can be found in any genre of fiction, just as the opposite is also true.

That is my first criteria for what constitutes a good book. It must be well written. Sure the plot doesn't hurt. It certainly makes it more entertaining. But if the dialogue is wooden and unnatural, the text riddled with cliche, or it contains pages of background information when we'd rather follow the breadcrumbs, then, at least in my mind, it can't be classified as a good book. It tells me the writer was rushed or maybe even a little lazy. So maybe I'm a bit of a book snob, too. How about you?

Are you a book snob? Have you fallen victim to literary snobbery? Has your writing?

I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Great Openings

The spicy-sweet fragrance of a florist's doorway, the first poignant notes of John Lennon's Imagine, and the timeless lines beginning a Dickens novel invite us to engage fully in an experience. Hopefully, this blog will pull you into our corner of the literary world.

All the aspiring authors here have written and revised the first sentences and paragraphs of our projects more than once. Openings are one of the greatest challenges to writers everywhere, especially in this day and age of sound bites and tweets. Months or years of work on a project can be rejected in the skim of a paragraph by readers, literary agents, and editors alike.

The engaging opening of Charles Frazier's Nightwoods comes to mind. Before turning the first page the reader knows the care of two troubled children has been thrust on a woman living in an old Lodge. The dilemna the woman faces is apparent by the descriptions of the children's abnormal behavior, immediately posing numerous story questions. The urgency of finding answers to the questions causes the reader to turn the next page and more complications induce the reader to continue reading--or not.

We would love to engage our cyber-audience in conversations. So let us know of books that immediately pulled you in to the story.
Melinda

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year and Welcome!

Each new year brings with it a sense of renewed committment and a resurgence of hope. For writers, it is often all the motivation we need to dust off that old manuscript we couldn't quite perfect, or open up a new file and follow through with the ideas circling our brains. For me personally, the new year means my children are heading back to school which will finally give me time to write again.

As readers, the new year signals a bit of down time after the rush of holiday releases. It means working a little harder to find something to read, taking the time to explore new authors and different genres we wouldn't normally choose.

2012 marks a milestone for our group of aspiring authors with the creation of this new blog. Well said. Well read. is committed to bringing writers and readers together by sharing both sides of the coin. We hope you will check in with us over the coming months and watch how we bloom. 

Melissa