Friday, November 8, 2013

The Importance of Being Prudent

Parenting is a contact sport. You don't get a second opportunity to shape your children into creative, independent, law-abiding adults. The old idiom you can't unring a bell is especially true with our youth. Once they have been exposed to a word, an image, a situation, they can't un-see it.

I can't begin to estimate the number of  books I've read,  TV shows and movies I've previewed, and  video games I've researched with this in mind. While I've come away from this experience with a healthy appreciation for toilet humor, and YA fiction--Minecraft still baffles me, even though I find it very clever (no hate mail, please)--I have also come to a sobering, albeit not unexpected, conclusion: Not all entertainment geared toward children is actually appropriate for them.

No, I'm not naïve enough to believe everyone shares my standards, especially those responsible for rating books, television, games, and movies for our children. If there is anything wrong with our society, it stems from the absolute lack of outrage over this. I find that most people really don't care, for example, that sexual content is being pushed on today's youth at the pre-teen level (ages 9-12).

I recently read the first three books in a popular YA series-turned-movie-franchise. While the books are clearly geared to the YA market, the movie appeals to a much younger audience, which, as any self-respecting Harry Potter fan knows, generates an interest in the books. Hunger Games is a good example of this. While the movie might be deemed appropriate for a pre-teen (It certainly appeals to my pre-teen), the books are, in my opinion, too violent for a ten-year-old.

The series I just previewed with this in mind, is chock full of sexual innuendo and situations, which are too mature for the children to whom this movie is being marketed, whether intentionally or not. Books and movies are not always interchangeable.

My point is this: parents had better be careful about what their children are absorbing. Violence and blatant sexuality are slippery slopes for pre-teens, which can lead to violent and inappropriate behavior. It is time for parents to go back to being parents and guard their children's hearts and minds while their sphere of influence still surrounds them. I promise they will thank you for it in the end.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Melissa

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Progress, Patience and Productivity

I keep reminding myself it has only been two months and ten days since our big move. Things are supposed to be a little unorganized, right? Wrong! These boxes are slowly driving me insane.

Between writing, carpooling (it's a half hour commute to the school, however you look at it), cleaning (I have never experienced rapid dust accumulation as I have these past two months), and cooking, I make a studied effort to unpack and organize at least one box a day. Now that may not sound like a lot, but when all of your essentials are neatly arranged and put away, the remaining boxes shouldn't really be an issue. Except that they are.

Probably two-thirds of every box I unpack is nothing but junk. Why do we have all this crap? Where the heck do I put it? And why did we not dispose of it during the move? But, undoubtedly, every container yields at least one treasure, one essential item for which I have been searching since the day it was shoved inside.

And so, I labor on. This week, my dad and I (everyone should have a handy, retired dad--mine can build or fix just about anything, the McGyver of the white-collar world) are adding some shelves to a largish, spare closet between my kitchen and my dining room to create a butler's pantry where I can store overflow and duplicate pantry items, along with extra serving items, in a neat, orderly fashion. Of course, the trick is achieving a balance between form and function, but I have faith in my McGyver.

What does this have to do with writing? Absolutely nothing--well, nothing more than the sense of peace and accomplishment gained from moving forward, which will eventually allow my mind to focus solely on writing once again. Until then, I labor on!

Keep writing, and never stop reading!

Melissa

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Read To Me

One of the most valuable tools in a writer's arsenal is your own voice. I don't mean your writing style, commonly referred to as a writer's voice. I'm talking about the sound your written words make when spoken aloud.

I am a firm believer that compelling writing across every genre possesses a musical quality when read aloud. A staccato rhythm can bog down the reader and seem like you're peppering them with short, three-round bursts. It's boring, folks.

For example: I like to write. Writing is a joy. Writing gives me pleasure. I express myself through writing. My readers like my writing. Versus: I like to write. It gives me joy and pleasure to express myself in this way. If my readers gain half as much enjoyment from my writing as I do in creating it, they are well-satisfied indeed.

See the difference? Hear the difference? If you read them both aloud, while both are phenomenally bad, the second selection at least sounds more interesting. I think you get the idea.

Each time I sit down to edit a passage of my own work in progress, I begin by reading it aloud. Something about the spoken word amplifies any awkwardness that the reader might encounter, potentially causing them to stop reading altogether. I can't tell you how many times I've had to re-read a sentence in someone else's work to try to decode the writer's intended meaning. Often it remains a mystery until I read it aloud. Trust me when I say this, words sound different in your head than they do in the air. Emphasis and inflection can drastically alter a sentence's meaning.

Another benefit, you can also avoid what I call the "Sylvester Syndrome" after the Looney Tunes cat who spit his way through every sentence. "Sssssuffering ssssucatasssshhh!" I'm embarrassed to say this has absolutely happened to me and should be avoided whenever possible. Too many esses in a sentence can be a bad, bad thing.

Rhythm is an integral component in good writing. I promise you won't regret reading your work in progress or even applying it to a book you're having difficulty slogging your way through (Shakespeare comes to mind). Let me know if this technique helps you in any way. I think it will.

Keep writing,

Melissa

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pajama Writing Versus Picture Perfect Prose or How Clothing Almost Derailed my Writing Career

Like you don't know what I'm talking about.

But in case you don't, I'm referring to the age old question: "Does it really matter how I look when I march upstairs to my office and work?"

If you're a writer, you've faced this dilemma at one time or another in your career, and the opinions on it are as varied as the shades of tan in a Pottery Barn catalog. On the one hand, I rarely regret turning myself out in a pleasing fashion, especially when the ChemLawn man, or the Latter Day Saints catch me lurking in the house and guilt me into answering the door.

On the other, creativity is fluid and transient, and as such must be harnessed regardless of our attire. It often strikes at a moment's notice, and if you take the time to make yourself more presentable, by the time you get around to committing them to paper, those beautiful words in your head may be nothing but a vague memory.

I have exercised both clothing extremes, along with attire just this side of decent, enough where I don't embarrass myself if I am forced to jog the trash can to the street to catch the garbage truck and meet a neighbor out walking. As far as productivity goes, I think it's a draw. The writing muse will hit you when it hits you no matter what you are wearing.

No doubt in pondering this question, I have wasted precious time which could've been spent writing. I contend that some answers aren't nearly as important as the questions. If I'm asking the question, I'm thinking about writing. In this business, thinking about writing can be translated into percolating words, and that is, folks,  almost as good as getting the words on the page.

Keep writing, my friends,

Melissa


P.S. When reduced to the lowest common denominator, oral hygiene is my bottom line. Can't get any work done with sweaters on my teeth. Just Saying.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vacation Time is Over

Change is not always a bad thing, and I've experienced my share of changes this summer as, most notably, my family moved into a new house.  If any of you have gone through the trauma of relocating your family--even within the same city as we did--you understand what I mean when I say I never want to go through that kind of hell again, even though our new home is nearly perfect and, I would have to say, worth all the months of headache.

It's been a while since I hung out at Well Said. Well Read.  I've missed the daily exercise of sharing my thoughts about reading and writing, as it always serves as a motivator in other areas of my life, especially my writing. As promised in my New Year's post Out with the Old , I intend to be more faithful in the future, including a few additions to my posts.


Maybe it has something to do with being in a new place, or maybe it's just time, but I have the need to amp things up a bit with both my writing and the blog. It is time to get serious with both. In that spirit, I'd like to highlight a few things you will see differently over the next few months.

First,  I will be posting more often. Now, I know I've promised this before, but I mean it this time (or at least I do until something resembling life gets in the way).

Second, ( and I'm very excited about this) scattered among my regular posts about books and writing, a selection from my most recent Mainstream Fiction work-in-progress, Lowcountry Echo, will make a weekly appearance here on Well Said. Well Read, under the heading: I'm Working Hard, Really. Hopefully this small excerpt will give you a taste of the story and whet your appetite for more.

Third, I'm revamping an older manuscript, whose working title is Trading Innocence, which I intend to enter in the RWA Golden Heart Contest for 2014. I contemplated it last year but didn't complete the changes in time to meet the contest deadline. I will be posting some samples of this manuscript under the heading: Romance Revisited. As you might have guessed, this early work is a romance of the contemporary, paranormal variety, so it is very different from my other work. Spice of life and all that.

Bottom line, I think you will appreciate my renewed commitment and hope you'll like it enough to pass it along to your friends.

Until next time, don't stop writing, and don't ever stop reading.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reads for Late Summer

The Daughter of Mars by Thomas Keneally Atria: S. & S, Aug 2013, 544p Literary/Historical
In World War I, two Australian sisters serve as nurses. Despite the horrors they witness they both have the chance at love in a French hospital.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker, Viking: Pamela Dorman, Aug 2013, 576p, Fantasy
A graduate student passes through a portal to a fantasy world where she must learn magic skills to survive.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian, Doubleday, Jul 2013, 320p Literary Thriller
In World War II Tuscany, Nazis invade a family’s peace and ten years later, the surviving members of the family are a targeted by a serial killer.

The White Princess (Cousins' War) by Philippa Gregory, Touchstone, July 2013, 544 pages Historical
Royal fiction about Elizabeth of York

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, Viking: Pamela Dorman Books, Aug 2013, 384 p Popular Fiction
Dual love stories of Sophie in WWI France, who risks everything when her portrait—painted by her soldier husband—catches the eye of the local Kommandant and Liv, in 21st century London, who now owns the portrait, a gift from her late husband, and finds she must fight for it at the risk of her new relationship.

Friday, June 14, 2013

June--Girl Book Month!

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt, Algonquin, May 2013, 368p
A divorced Jewish mother and her son move into a 1950s Boston neighborhood and then the son’s fatherless friend disappears. Years later the son reunites with his friend’s sister to uncover the boy’s fate.

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman, Pamela Dorman Books, May 2013, 368 pages
A heartwarming southern novel in which an antique dealer confronts the secrets of her past.

A Hundred Summers Beatriz Williams Putnam Adult, May 2013, 369 pages
The summer of a New York socialite is interrupted by the appearance of her former fiancé with her best friend, now married, and they face the mysterious cause of their break up.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer, Ecco: HarperCollins, Jun 2013, 304p
Electroshock therapy sends a woman to 1918, 1941, and back to the present where she discovers her alter egos.

Ladies Night by Mary Kay Andrews, June 2013, St. Martin's Press, 464 p
The life of a rising media star and lifestyle blogger changes through divorce recovery therapy sessions which morph into weekly nights out with three other women.

Claudia Silver to the Rescue by Kathy Ebel, Houghton Harcourt, Jun 2013, 256p
Humorous debut about a woman whose job loss snowballs into multiple difficulties.

The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett, Viking, Jun 2013, 368p.
A young antiquarian bookseller relocates from the States to the English countryside, to rekindle his love of books, when a Victorian picture of his recently deceased wife leads him on a trail where he finds out truth about his past and solves a literary mystery.

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. Scribner, June 2013, 448 pages
A CIA agent, who made a mistake, and a beautiful young Russian, with special abilities, become partners to find a Russian traitor.

Always Watching by Chevy Stevens, St. Martin’s, June 2013, 352 p
A psychiatrist must confront her past when a patient reveals information about the doctor’s family and her missing daughter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring 2013 Reading

A Little Folly by Jude Morgan, St. Martin’s: Mar 2013 (416p) Historical (Regency) Romance
When their domineering father dies, a brother and sister start a new life in their Devonshire home.

Benediction by Kent Haruf, Knopf: Mar 2013 (272p) Literary
The stories of families and the bonds they form set in Holt, Colorado, by a gifted author.

Z—: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, St. Martin’s: Mar 2013 (384 p) Historical
A reimagining of the life of F. Scott’s wife.

The Burgess Boys: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout, Random House, March, 2013 (336 p) Literary
A trio of middle-aged siblings encounter Somalian immigrants and old tensions surface for the family.

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig, St. Martin’s: Apr 2013 (368 p) Historical (1920s) Fiction
A secret connects a grandmother and granddaughter.

From the Kitchen of Half Truths by Maria Goodin, Sourcebooks: Apr 2013 (352 p) Commercial
A daughter tries to pry the truth about her background out of her fanciful mother.

The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel by Helene Wecker: Harper, Apr 2013 (496 p) Commercial
A blend of fantasy and historical fiction in which the lives of two creatures intersect and interact with the humans around them.

A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon: Random, Ballantine Books: May 2013, (496 p) Commercial
The lives of two college guys separate and intersect around a woman.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Comfort Books

I re-read Overseas a couple of weeks ago and loved every single line. On the first read, the tension was so incredible, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, but this time I was able to savor every wonderful word. Of course, one reason is…

I’m a southern girl through and through, and life’s a little less enjoyable when it’s too cold or nasty to be outside. But the upside is there are books to be read, and they do not have a minimum-tolerable-temperature requirement as gardening does. And on the coldest, gloomiest days, comfort books are the perfect companion. But to be truthful, anytime life gets troublesome, books are a quite fabulous remedy.

I really cannot confess in a public forum how many times I’ve read the first three books of the Twilight Saga, which were my most recent comfort books. Nor will I disclose how long into my adult years I read the Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon series. The Shell Seekers has been on my mind lately, and the urge to pull it off my shelf is, once again growing almost irresistible. And Rosamund Pilcher’s short novels have also been frequent go-tos. Other books that I’ve read again and again are the first three installments of Jan Karon’s Mitford series. Currently, I’m slowly rationing out chapters of The Discovery of Witches for the second go-round, not to mention listening to the audio of Shadow of Night after reading the hard copy last year. Jennifer Ikeda’s narration of both those books is just fabulous.

Never fear, I’m not opposed to some therapeutic chocolate or doses of warm, creamy carbs when the need arises. But familiar books are like visiting my good friends and enjoying their stories--again.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier, Dutton, 2013

I do believe, after reading this novel, that any subject in the hands of a skilled writer, can be crafted into an engaging story. Part of the skill is the author’s obvious research and immersion in the subject matter. None of the story elements interested me at all, but I was completely drawn in from the first sentence. Many levels of conflict made a somewhat quiet story a page turner.

Monday, January 21, 2013

“The right book exactly, at the right time.”

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012

This book revolved around all things literary, a light-hearted mystery where the clues are books and in books. The underlying theme of the traditional literary world versus (and meets!) the cyber literary world as well as the concepts of legacy and immortality added substance. Even the cover made a statement when I turned off the light and put it on the nightstand. Obviously, ebooks are a significant part of the literary world now, but they don’t have covers that add to the reading experience.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Out With the Old

Well, friends, it is that time again. Resolutions, aspirations, and predictions are demanded of us every where we turn. I must admit, though, I'm fresh out of any of the above. I still haven't fulfilled most of my resolutions from 2012, so what is there to make me believe 2013 will be any different?

I've been puzzling over that question for the better part of two weeks. As the new year approached, I wanted to stand up and shout, "Wait! Stop! I'm not finished with 2012 just yet!" If only, I'd had one more week, one more day even, those well-intentioned resolutions would've been more than a faint memory or, worse, a regret.

So my goal for 2013 is to, above all, be realistic. I might not sign a contract on my latest work-in-progress, but I can certainly finish and polish it. I can't change the fact I missed the deadline for the RWA's Golden Heart Awards for 2012 because my hubby was sick, but I can certainly put that romance in the drawer and pull it out again when they open for entries in November. I might not find my daughter enough scholarship money to send her to the out-of-state college she wants to attend, make my spindly nine-year-old son more suitable for POP-Warner football, or cure my husband's cancer in 2013, but I can absolutely support, protect, and create a healthy living environment for them all.

These simple objectives are more attainable than the grand ideas I  had in mind for 2012. They are comprised of simple things I can control, things that deal with my behavior instead of others'. And that is where I believe success lies.

So, in 2013 we can all put away the self-doubt, the guilt, and the anxiety which accompanies our usual resolutions, and return to a simpler way of doing things. I for one vow, above all, to enjoy each day given to me and my family, and if I just happen to achieve something greater, I'll look upon it as a gift.

Happy New Year!

Melissa