Tag Archive: Reading

Chipping Away at Writer’s Block

Writer's BlockI spend a lot of time around writers, and we all share one commonality, we occasionally get stuck. However, why we run face first into the brick wall of writer’s block often differs. I believe there are three main types of writer’s block, they are: Courage Collapse, Story Cave In and Content Vacuum. And I believe you need to know which kind of writer’s block you have if you want to find a cure.

Courage Collapse:
Every writer has bad days. There are negative critiques and bad feedback. These experiences can trigger some self-confidence issues. I’m routinely blindsided by my aggressive internal editor. It gives me an unhealthy relationship with the delete key.

To ease this kind of block try these tips:

  • Walk away from the computer for a few hours.

  • Pamper yourself, take a hot bath, enjoy a glass of wine with friends.

  • Get some fresh air and exercise, maybe take a walk in the woods.

  • Find your writing cheerleaders and load up on positive comments.

  • Laugh so hard you hold your sides and cry!

  • Do anything that helps put you in a great mood. Dealing with your inner demons is easier when you’re in a happy, relaxed emotional state.

I think this one is the hardest type of writer block to cure. Be kind to yourself, but never give in to that little voice.

Story Cave In:
Every writer has had a story start to fall apart. The characters are too much alike and seem dull. There are too many subplots. All the sentences start sounding alike. All of a sudden it hits, you have a block and no flipping clue what comes next in the story.

For a derailed story leaving you blocked, try these tips:

  • Reread old outlines and project notes.

  •  Talk with a friend about the story to try to rekindle the old passion.

  • Back track to the place the story took a left turn and reassess.

  • Decide if you want to go back to the first idea, or if you want to replot your story to include the new material.

  • Switch to a different project for a while. This is my go-to solution, and one of the reasons I always have at least two projects going at once.

  • Freewrite or do some story prompts.

  • Sleep on it. If you go to sleep thinking about your story just before falling asleep, your brain will often supply a solution, or some inspiration.

Content Vacuum:
There will be a day in every writer’s life when it seems like all the ideas are gone. If you can’t start anything new, it’s likely a form of exhaustion block. Watching a blank screen flicker at you for hours on end is not going to help. You must recharge your brain bank to cure this block.

To refuel your creativity try these tips:

  • Read everything you can get your hands on. Read outside your comfort zone.

  • Reread favorites and think about how they could be retold from another perspective.

  • Listen to music, go to concerts, take up an instrument.

  • Watch a movies, TV and go see plays.

  • Visit museums, take trips, enroll in a class.

  • Do things with your hands: cooking, sewing or drawing.

  • Play with your kids, join a board game group, or just play with toys at a store.

Content Vacuum is disheartening, but it’s also normal. Writing is a long and involved evolution, it takes massive amounts of brain power. Hitting a wall once in a while is all part of the process.

When the words are not flowing every writer feels like garbage. Instead of chucking your story and your laptop into the nearest trash bin, consider trying some of these ideas.

What about you? Do you have a great tip for banishing writer’s block?

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/chipping-away-at-writers-block/

Y is for Young Adult Fiction

BLAST_YHeather and I both read and write young adult fiction, so we have a solid understanding of this market and what makes it tick. In the last decade, the popularity of YA has hit the stratosphere. Author megastars rise up from nowhere almost overnight. Big movie franchises and huge book deals are becoming normal events. It has encouraged countless writers to consider jumping into YA. Today I’m sharing my three top tips for aspiring YA writers and trust me, I’m pulling no punches.

3 Tips if You’re Considering Writing YA

Read YA and lots of it! Of course you could write YA without being a fan, but why would you? Read the big books, the ones that break all the sales records. Read the books critics rave about, but don’t get as much media attention. Subscribe to some blogs that review YA fiction. Make sure you find the ones that don’t give every single book an automatic glowing or five-star rating. Write your own reviews and compare them to those of other readers. Do you notice the same things? Or did you notice something others missed? It’s okay to read predominately in the genre you plan to write for, but also read across the spectrum so you get a feel for the market. If someone drops the names Rowell, Bardugo and Levithan, and you have no clue who these writers are, your homework phase is far from over. Go back to the book store and try again.

You want to write for kids because you think it’s easier than writing for adults? Here comes the biggest knock of all. No market in the world is more competitive, harder to stand out in, or filled with more high-quality talent than YA. In fact, all kidlit is impacted so you shouldn’t expect the situation to improve even if you want to write picture, chapter or middle grade books.

Perhaps you think you’re magically on target to write the next must-read book. If so, please snap out of it! Teens don’t even know what they want to read next. Luck and timing play a huge part in all writer success stories, but perhaps the tipping point is even greater in YA. Everything about teen life moves at a rocket’s pace. Trends come and go and everyone connected with this reader demographic either tries to grab the comet’s tail as it goes by or they fight the G-forces to get out into deep space and hope the comet comes their way. If YA success is your long-term goal, try to remove your attention from writing for the latest trend and focus on making your story the best. Nothing else will potentially save your book from plummeting into a teeming asteroid belt of forgotten YA titles.

2 Examples of great YA
Heather and I have written extensively about the YA books we like, love, or wish we’d written. You can look back at our reviews, or better yet, read the books we’ve reviewed and form your own opinions.

Nothing will help you understand the YA reader like reading the books they crave. Of course, any potential YA writer who has not been reading the hottest authors around should start there. If you’re over 25, YA is nothing like you remember from your teen days. Or read this post by Heather, 7 YA Books that Inspire me to Write Better, to get some ideas.

1 Link for more help
One of the best sources for high quality information on the YA reader, is the Young Adult Library Services Association. That’s why their site is always conveniently linked on our sidebar where I can get to it in a hurry. They have already collected the top 24 teen-nominated titles published in 2014. How many have you read?

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/y-is-for-ya/

Top Ten Books I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read Yet

TopTenTuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a blog hop created by the book loving crew at The Broke and The Bookish. Every Tuesday is a different topic and everyone is invited to join in the fun by creating their own top ten list.

I consider myself well-read in science fiction and fantasy. Certainly I’m no stranger to the punk genres. So I’m ashamed to admit a few of the major classics, particularly in the early cyberpunk movement have slipped through the cracks. A few others on my list today are books I’ve avoided due to being a fan of the movie adaptations, something that can spoil reading the original story.

These are all books of significance within the sci-fi/fantasy canon, and someday I will make time to read them.

(all book blurbs are from Goodreads)

doandroidsdream1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner #1)
by Philip K. Dick,
A final, apocalyptic, world war has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending the majority of mankind off-planet. Those who remain venerate all remaining examples of life, and owning an animal of your own is both a symbol of status and a necessity. For those who can’t afford an authentic animal, companies build incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep . . . even humans.

snowcrash2. Snow Crash
by Neal Stephenson
In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous…you’ll recognize it immediately.

3. Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs #1) altered-carbon_US_LtdHb
by Richard K. Morgan
It’s the twenty-fifth century, and advances in technology have redefined life itself. A person’s consciousness can now be stored in the brain and downloaded into a new body [or “sleeve”], making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen. Onetime U.N. Envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before, but his last death was particularly painful. Resleeved into a body in Bay City [formerly San Francisco], Kovacs is thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that treats existence as something that can be bought and sold. For Kovacs, the shell that blew a hole in his chest was only the beginning.

neuromancer_book_cover_014. Neuromancer (Sprawl #1)
by William Gibson
The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace . . .

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employers crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

5. Galápagos Galapagos
by Kurt Vonnegut
Galápagos takes the reader back one million years, to A.D. 1986. A simple vacation cruise suddenly becomes an evolutionary journey. Thanks to an apocalypse, a small group of survivors stranded on the Galápagos Islands are about to become the progenitors of a brave, new, and totally different human race. In this inimitable novel, America’s master satirist looks at our world and shows us all that is sadly, madly awry–and all that is worth saving.

somewhere in time6. Somewhere in Time
by Richard Matheson
Somewhere in Time is the powerful story of a love that transcends time and space, written by one of the Grand Masters of modern fantasy. Matheson’s classic novel tells the moving, romantic story of a modern man whose love for a woman he has never met draws him back in time to a luxury hotel in San Diego in 1896, where he finds his soul mate in the form of a celebrated actress of the previous century. Somewhere in Time won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and the 1979 movie version, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, remains a cult classic whose fans continue to hold yearly conventions to this day.

Jasper Fforde  7. The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1)
by Jasper Fforde
Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

The stars8. The Stars My Destination

by Alfred Bester, and Neil Gaiman (Introduction)
Gully Foyle, has managed to survive for 170 days in the airless purgatory of deep space after the wreck of his ship, and has escaped to Earth carrying a murderous grudge and a secret that could change the course of history.

In this pulse-quickening novel, Alfred Bester imagines a future in which people “jaunte” a thousand miles with a single thought, where the rich barricade themselves in labyrinths and protect themselves with radioactive hit men – and where an inarticulate outcast is the most valuable and dangerous man alive. The novel which in large part inspired both the cyberpunk movement of the 1980s and the science fiction New Wave of the 1960s, THE STARS MY DESTINATION has an unrivaled claim as one of the most influential sci-fi books of all time.

9. Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel #1) The doomsday Book
by Connie Willis
In the year 2054, students research the past by living in it. So when Kivrin Engle, a history student at Oxford, enters Brasenose College’s time machine for transport back to 1320s England, no one anticipates any problems. But her two-week project takes a frightening turn. A mutant virus has been spreading through Oxford, and Kivrin arrives in the past delirious with fever. She is found and taken to a manor house, and when she recovers, she can no longer locate the time machine rendezvous point. Will Kivrin ever find her way back to the future? Or has she become a permanent exile in a deadly time?

Hyperion10. Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #1)
by Dan Simmons

On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

Have you missed any Sci-Fi classics. I’d love to hear about your favorites, and if you’ve read and would like to share any thoughts on the ones from my list.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/top-ten-tuesday/top-ten-books-i-cant-believe-i-havent-read-yet/

10 Writer Goals for 2015

2015 Star ImageInspired by Brooke Warner’s post 52 Things for writers to do in 2015, I’m committing my own 2015 hit list to paper. Honestly, I felt like 52 weekly goals was a bit too much for a home-schooling, work-from-home, writer mom to tackle. I’ve created something challenging enough to make me push myself, but not so difficult that I will abandon my goals by midyear.

This year I will:

  1. Up my blog writing game. After over a year of weekly blogging with WriteOnSisters, I’ve learned a lot about my weaknesses as a blogger. For me the hardest part is being personal. That might have something to do with an appalling cyber bullying attack my family survived a few years back. However, I need to work past that experience and engage more. I refuse to let other people’s negativity define my life. I’m here in the blogosphere to stay!
  2. Buy my family and friends books for no reason at all. Books continue to be my favorite gift, and the joyful smiles all those new Christmas books created should be savored year round. If I shop for these goodies at small local books stores I’ll be helping the local economy and supporting independent book sellers at the same time. A win/win scenario for everyone.
  3. Read and review more culturally diverse YA books. I’m lucky I grew up in a home where my cultural identify was guaranteed by two Hispanic parents and a strong ethnically diverse community. But my own kids are only half Hispanic and aren’t exposed to my culture as much as I would like. We Need Diversity is a movement sweeping the book market with good reason. Books need to show all the faces of the world. As a Latina woman, and a writer, I have an obligation to promote good fictional representations of my culture, not just for my kids, but for everyone’s kids.
  4. Attend author readings. I moved in October to a smaller town, and since then I’ve seen several author meet-and-greets posted in the local newspaper. For some reason (general moving madness) I haven’t attended any of these yet. This year I vow to attend at least four author events and show some support for my local community of writers.
  5. Get involved with my local library. Again since moving to a new town, I haven’t resurrected some of my old volunteering commitments. Helping the library is a project I highly recommend. My new library has a rather impressive friends group, so my January commitment is to sign up as a member and see what I can do to help out.
  6. Show more support for my fellow bloggers. I’m so bad about leaving comments or likes on websites. When I read something I like I will tweet about it, or send a personal message to the author, but for some reason posting public blog comments always makes me cringe. This year I will get over myself and just post more likes and comments. Comments make a huge difference in my blogging life, so I need to spread the blog love around.
  7. Improve my writing skills. This year I want to take my skills to a higher level. I’ll be attending at least one writer conference, and taking part in at least one writing class. I’m open to suggestions. If anyone has a great West Coast Writer conference to recommended (preferably for the second half of the year) please send the information to me.
  8. Put my fiction writing out into the world. This year I’m going to enter contests, submit ideas for guest blogging posts, join in flash and micro fiction hops and just generally be more present with my fiction writing. Who knows, I might even publish an ebook of short stories.
  9. Create some rewards for accomplishing my writing goals. Right now if I slip on a self-imposed deadline, no one cares. I shift my Trello notes around to compensate and keep on working. It would be nice if I had something waiting for me at the end of a challenging project cycle. I will establish at least 12 prizes for each of the major writing milestones I plan to tackle this year.
  10. Finish my 2015 writing projects list. I have always have a long list of things I want to do every year, but this year the list is pretty impressive. I plan on shopping a new project to agents. I started a new book over the summer that I want to finish. And I have a new historical book fully researched and plotted, that I would love to start writing before the end of 2015. Will I complete everything on my project list? Perhaps not, but I have to try. Check back with me in a few months. I’ll post some updates on how I’m doing.

The New Year is like a bright beacon of hope, and I want to make the most of that motivational energy. If you’re a hardy soul, your list might be much longer (or more interesting) then mine. If so, please share your blog link in the comments. I’ll be sure to stop by your blog and say hello, and I’ll do it with a real comment and a like. : )
Whatever you’re striving to accomplish this year with your writing, or your life, I wish you well.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/archive/10-new-year-goals/

3 Wishes of an Unsatisfied Reader

cc20jessicahtam

CC 2.0 jessicahtam

Tomorrow Thanksgiving will arrive in the United States and I’m reminded of all the good things the season adds to my life. It brings my family flying in from far-flung corners. It means a pan of fresh hulled walnut meats and crisp apples is bubbling in a cinnamon sugar bath inside my oven. It creates an atmosphere of magic as the kids start the momentous countdown to Christmas. Most of all it means I’ll be snuggling up with a teacup, a blanket and a brand new book.

A great novel is one of life’s perfect experiences; it warms your heart and leaves you invigorated. Fall is when I stock up on all the books I somehow missed the first time round. I consume novels all season in rapid secession. By the end I’m often sad to see the stories over. The wonderful books I’ll slip back on the shelves. These “keepers” will make me wonder how long I must wait before I can read them again and feel that same crazy rush.

Lately, I’ve been in a reading slump. I keep starting books with high hopes and getting them dashed. I don’t want to be an unsatisfied reader, I want to be a pleased reader. The kind of reader who gladly becomes an evangelist of a good author’s work. I want to recommend them to friends, and buy copies for everyone on my Christmas list, but somehow I keep missing out on making a book connection.

So how can an author turn me and every other unsatisfied reader back into happy readers? Simple: they can grant us 3 wishes.

  1. I wish for a protagonist who feels real:
    When I read a great book I physically need to finish if for no other reason than to prove my fictional friends are okay. I’m not greedy, I only require one character (okay maybe two) that I’m excited about. If the writer can’t give me a single great character, I’ll get annoyed and set the book down. I also need the characters to act in a way that makes me believe in them. Characters that are flip-flopping and doing things that make no sense will start to feel fake. I never want to feel like I’m reading dialogue or actions the author forced on the character. That’s a huge turn off for me. And I’m not alone. The most common complaint in book reviews is that the reader couldn’t relate to the characters or they found them unlikable. Creating reader kinship isn’t easy, nor will the same elements work for every reader. The best any writer can do is build a consistent, yet complicated character. Give them a mix of good and bad traits, but also make sure the good outweighs the bad. I have no other hard and fast preferences. It can be male or female, young or old. I don’t even need them to be human, give me a robot or alien, just make sure I care about them and I’m hooked.

    Wishwell_cc3paulwalker

    CC 3.0 Paul Walker

  2. I wish for conflict, conflict and more conflict:
    There are few things I find more unsatisfying as a reader then the absence of any real conflict. I define real conflict as something that can’t be cleared up by a two-word apology. I think any writer taking 50 to a 100 pages to sort out a simple misunderstanding is disrespecting me as a reader. Conflict needs to run throughout the story. It needs to weave in and out of the corridors, block the character’s progress and challenge the character’s expectations about themselves and their worldview. If it’s not making the characters think, talk and then act toward resolving the conflict, I’m not going to worry about them resolving their problems. Also many readers (including me) enjoy a healthy dose of external conflict. Inner conflict is fine, but real life never happens in a perfect vacuum, so neither should fictional life.
  3. For my last wish I beg for story stakes worth battling for:
    I like my book stakes on the higher side of the spectrum, but not necessarily global in scope. I’m actually getting a bit bored with end of the world stakes. For me big stakes worth fighting for are often about the moral questions. I like the main struggle to relate to those issues and problems that define and challenge humanity. I want a book that aims to defeat evil, and restore justice regardless of the scope of that fight. I love a story when the stakes prove more significant than the lead characters first expected. Sometimes in series books I find it frustrating when the story arc has only one main problem that runs through all the books. In my ideal satisfied reader situation, each book would have a huge problem that resolves at the end of book one and yet spawns a second problem of equal or greater size for book two to deal with.
CC 3.0 AlicePopkorn

CC 3.0 AlicePopkorn

 

In the afternoon I’ll be sitting down to a huge Thanksgiving meal with my family, and after the dishes are cleared and the bones are picked clean, nightfall will find me tucked into a corner with a new book. I’m hoping somewhere the book genie has heard my plea and I will settle down with a tale that refreshes my brain as successfully as the turkey pleased my tummy. If this new author fulfilled my three wishes, the odds are favorable.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/3-wishes/

Write What You Know? Bah.

th

We all have ideas rambling around about writing projects that never get written. We pick things up from time to time and file them away for future recall as something strikes us and the need to get it out is overwhelming. This happened to me yesterday as I was reading one of my writing magazines. I read an interview that raised my eyebrows over my steaming cup o’ joe. The debut author, a science fiction writer, admitted she didn’t read science fiction – in fact she wasn’t particularly drawn to it. Hunh? It sure puts the kibosh on the phrase “write what you know.”

“Writers must read,” it is said. In order to become familiar with our genre, to get new ideas, to see how the masters did (do) it, one must read more than one writes. A turn of phrase, a new word, a beautifully, nay artfully, described scene must be absorbed and studied; it’s invigorating, by golly, and will get your synapses racing.

Makes sense. Get a feel for how it’s done. That is to say, how others get it done.

I love to read, but my spare time is spent writing first, then reading. I can’t seem to stop the voices in my head and they need to be put to bed before I am, the little darlings. I have read enough in my lifetime to get the gist of it.

But it got me to thinking. We’ve had discussions here at WOS about critique groups and the impact of others on our work. I found critique groups somewhat useful when I started, but the amount of time spent getting the pages ready, critiquing others and evaluating the comments is a bad investment for me. When I didn’t have a full-time job, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon with fellow writers, but at the end of the day I went down my own path.

Which appears to be what this young lady is doing. She struck out on her own, with no road map, no precedent set before her, no rules, and no guidance, apparently. She listened to the beat of her own story, didn’t compare herself to others, and just told the tale that needed to be told. I don’t know if she had input from others (probably so), but if she did, I imagine she just shrugged it off.

So, as I do often, I did a character study of her, this woman who so intrepidly went forward with a story she had no background or interest in. I have the beginning of a short story:

Her name is Sally. No, Sarah. She’s young, not married yet, no children, a college graduate, probably a business major, slogging away in a corporate job that drains her of all her humanity. Her boyfriend reads a lot of science fiction, and she rolls her eyes and sticks with him because he’s cute. She’s an Austin/Forrester/Galsworthy/Wharton kind of gal. So she sits and listens to the music and the dialog of the movies he watches or the video games he plays and starts to make things up, if only to drown out the nonsense she’s exposed to.

She keeps her writing a secret. She sneaks in a paragraph or two at work (probably pages, but I won’t tell), dreams about the story, and gets up in the middle of the night because the aliens or the monsters or the drones (whatever science fiction has, I have no idea) are percolating in her pure, young, virginal science fiction brain. She is open to come up with new concepts, new characters, and new ideas without the influence of the weird science that came before.

Influences come from all directions – as with Sarah, the background sounds of the science fiction movie or her boyfriend’s description of the book he was reading got attached to some part of her brain and she just started working it. This is where we get our ideas, no? Reading, watching, discussing, observing human nature sparks ideas and puts a new spin on things.

She didn’t ask anyone “what happens to…” “what do you think if…” “what would Zolna do…”. She asked herself. No. Scratch that. She didn’t have to. She just did it. It came out in a torrent, and it was perfect. (Hey, it’s my story and I can have Cinderella aspects if I want.)

Sarah was just as surprised as her friends and family when her book was accepted and published and when an article written about her appeared in a writers’ magazine. No one suspected she was a writer, and definitely didn’t project a science fiction genre for her.

So how does her story end? Her boyfriend proposes, the book is a bestseller, they buy a house, settle down, have a family, and she quits that corporate job. Her days are spent writing. And, oh yeah, she has a housekeeper who cooks. Sigh.

In about two minutes I had the entire story plotted out, and the magazine was still in my hands. Sarah’s success is effortless, there’s no conflict, and she’s an instant success. It has an HEA ending, she gets to write without interruption and no responsibilities. Where do you suppose that came from?

Sarah, if she existed, used the influences bombarding her on a daily basis and produced something in a genre she knew nothing about. I know people who deliberately go to Starbucks and eavesdrop for story ideas, and some who rip off other stories (Hollywood has been doing this for years). I sit in restaurants and watch other people and make up stories about them.

Where do your ideas come from, and when do they strike?

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/archive/reading-writing/

7 Books That Make Me Be Thankful

This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada, so I thought I’d blog about things I’m thankful for, you know, because that’s what this holiday is about. But instead I feel like curling up in a corner and crying. Not because my life is so awful, but because I’m not where I want to be with my writing career. It’s coming along, but success is not here right now! And sometimes that puts me in a foul mood. At moments like this, counting my blessings does nothing to make me feel better, because all the things I have don’t fill the hole of the one big thing I really want.

So how do I get out of this funk? I turn to books, but not cheerful ones. I need to live vicariously through characters in horrific situations, whose lives are so much worse than mine that I can’t help but feel like a prick for wallowing over my safe existence.

7 Books That Make Me Be Thankful

BookCover-HungerGames

 

Hunger Games – After the first book, it’s easy to say, “I’d love to be Katniss! Sure, those Games were scary, but she won!” But wow, after finishing the trilogy I really felt how war, even though the good guys won and changed the world for the better, seriously messed up Katniss. And I’m thankful I don’t live in a country that’s currently at war, and my heart goes out to those that do.

 

BookCover-Crank

 

Crank – This story of a perfectly normal middle-class teenager’s introduction and subsequent addiction to meth is all the more painful because it’s based on the true story of the author’s daughter – who just so happens to be my exact age. I’m thankful meth hadn’t yet come to my small town when I was in high school. Though it’s there now, and I worry for the next generation.

 

BookCover-StripedPJs

 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – This is a beautiful, heartbreaking story that always leaves me in tears. Reading it is a vital reminder of the horrors humans have lived through as well as the horrors they haven’t survived, and how lucky I am not to be in a concentration camp, starving and praying for the mercy of death.

 

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars

 

The Fault In Our Stars – Another book that makes me bawl. Cancer is a freaking awful disease. And right now, I don’t have cancer. So quit wallowing, Jackson!

 

 

BookCover-SisterWife

 

Sister Wife – I was not born in a polygamous community and thus was not married off shortly after puberty to an old man. Shudder. I am so thankful for that.

 

 

BookCover-LullabiesForLittleCriminals

 

Lullabies For Little Criminals – I am not the child of a heroin addict and did not grow up on the streets and fall into prostitution to survive. And the protagonist of this novel does all of that without losing hope! Seriously, she makes me look like such a whiny brat. I swear never to bemoan my life again!

 

BookCover-Twilight

 

Twilight – Unlike Bella, my self-worth and reason for living does not revolve around a boyfriend. This book used to make me furious (what an unhealthy portrayal of a so-called love), but now it just makes me sad (someone really needed to get Bella into therapy). So, on a lighter note, I’m thankful I’m not Bella.

 

Whew! Book therapy at its finest! Now that I’m in a better headspace, I’m going to do some writing before getting ready for Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

How do you get out of a funk? What makes you thankful?

 

Next Up From HeatherFreelancing (aka “Pantsing” Your Livelihood)

For more posts by Heather, click here.

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So Many Books, So Little Time

 

libraryI love books. The covers, the flypapers, the feel of the paper, the enticement on the book jacket. I can get captured inside of thirty seconds.

I used to spend my life in Borders surrounded by books and magazines and literary types in the café that had the world’s best coffee and pastries. I’d sit with friends or sit alone with a silly grin, eavesdropping at people sitting at neighboring tables. I was in heaven.

Then they closed.

It’s not that I bought tons of books, but I have to admit just being in the bookstore made me whip out my credit card faster than Quick Draw McGraw.

Being a realist, I understood that Amazon had pushed Borders out of business, and, if you believe the rumors, they are very close to decimating Barnes and Noble as well. Now I use Amazon all the time, and not just for books. It’s easy, convenient, and you get it fairly quickly. And I hate shopping, except, of course, for bookstores. If there were a kitchen in the back and a cot I’d live in one.

So when Amazon announced they were starting a lending library for ten bucks a month, I had a confusing split personality reaction. Yay because now I can keep reading really good stuff without leaving my chair. Boo because I won’t leave my chair and therefore will not get any exercise. Yay because I can hole up with the cat and leave the world, and boo because, well, I’ll miss the rest of my world.

But here’s a question – what happens to the libraries now? I would hate to see them go away. I’m sure they won’t, I believe books are here to stay, but as a city or county resource, their hours may be impacted if they are not getting as much traffic as expected. (It happened during the recession.) But my library, attempting to keep up with the times, has six Sony e-readers to loan out to patrons. Too late: the Sony e-reader is gone; their website closed last month. Bureaucratic entities that they are, they remain two steps behind.

It may depend on your library district – I understand some are keeping up and ordering books in hard and soft editions in equal measure. Yes, libraries offer ebooks you can download straight from your computer, easy. Your membership entitles you to that and I use it often. But a lot of the newer books aren’t on my library list now in ebook format, and if they are you are person number 371 on their “hold” list because they only bought three ebooks of that title.  Plus, while the library’s ebook category is growing, for now, choices are slim.

And then there’s that pesky question: which formula to use/convert: epub, Kindle, ibooks, etc. to be able to read the pages on your particular reader? Amazon has the free Kindle Reader – et voila – problem solved.

My tablet is full of ebooks I haven’t gotten to yet, books that have been suggested to me, books that came from bookbub, ibooks, kobo and kindle that intrigued me at the time, but at this point I think I have ninety one books lined up. They can be surprisingly cheap, as well, through some email notices like BookBub (not a paid advertiser), and easy to transport.

I still go to the library to get the real thing. I love turning the page, but, sadly, not the library experience any more.

Aren’t libraries supposed to be quiet zones? Plus, I’m personally offended when I see that someone has written in library books. I don’t want to read someone’s interpretation of a passage or an exclamation mark or a section higlighted in a library book. That’s just heresy. But on the tablet they can mark things up as much as they want and when it’s returned, all that disappears.

So Amazon is, once again, at the forefront of books and book lending. They will have whatever you want in unlimited quantity without the wait that the most popular books will have in your library. Again, easy, convenient, and, frankly, the ten bucks they are charging won’t break the bank (although I might have to forego a Starbucks or two).

But the libraries. Quickly becoming the stepchildren of the literary world, they exist now as old-fashioned relics with noisy children and ringing cell phones. It used to be a place to go and study in peace and quiet with others in the same pursuit.

In my research on the opinion of the future of libraries, I was struck by a quote from Jimmy Thomas, Executive Director of Colorado’s Marmot Library Network, who stated:

“I’m enough of a realist to assume that consumers will gravitate to the cheapest, most convenient source of content … Amazon continues to set a high standard of convenience libraries should attend to. And every time this huge corporation does something on a massive scale, libraries should be reminded to approach services differently. Competing with Amazon on its own terms is not a good direction for libraries. But thinking about how to complement Amazon is worthwhile.”

I began this diatribe by bemoaning the fact that Amazon is taking over. But it occurs to me that that may not be such a bad thing after all. Libraries can complement Amazon by going back to what libraries were originally intended for – serious study, research, and resources. A quiet place where one can find others of a similar ilk and nod their hellos in a civilized manner. Leave the cell phones at home, pull out a book or two, make your notes, and become immersed in the quiet peace of a library.

Having a separate wing for children’s books, a reading room, and a computer room with closed doors would just add to the perfection – the perfection of what a library should be.

Just a thought.

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Could Your Book Make the 10% Mark?

 

Love it or hate it, the new Amazon Kindle Unlimited just made it easier for avid readers to sample a huge number of books while paying a fraction of the total cover price. The new program will give subscribers access to over 600,000 titles, many of them Indies, but also some big name authors. This is an all you can read buffet program, with no unit cap, a marked change from the Prime lending program. All this access will cost readers $9.99 a month in the US.

Some writers are thrilled; you can already find them using the URL in their marketing campaigns, others not so much.

The thing I noted about this new program is authors only get paid if the reader gets past the 10% mark of the book. That’s right, downloading the book is no longer the defining act; it’s reading that counts toward achieving a royalty payment. This is another big change from the Prime program where the loan of a book always resulted in a small author payment, usually about $2.00 in US dollars per each loan. This means how a novel opens and if it manages to hold the reader’s interest just got even more important.

Novel beginnings aren’t a new topic for this blog, from prologues to opening sentences the Sisters have a lot to say about literary first impressions. And we’re not shy about the books we don’t like or why in our reviews.

However, this time I’m doing something different.

I decided to give a group of authors I’ve never read before a test drive. I wanted to see how many of the books I picked at random would stand a chance of getting me over the 10% threshold for their share of the money pie. I’ve selected some Indies, and some traditionally published books from a few different genres. After reading the first 9% or so, I tried to honestly evaluate why I would or would not want to read beyond that point. I selected only books that appealed to me from their descriptions. I did not read the samples, or any reviews before selecting these books. I had no preconceived notions about this group of authors; and I gave each one of them a fair chance at converting me into a fan or critic. I’m not revealing the names of the books because I have no desire to cause these authors problems just because I wouldn’t finish their books.

Here are the five books I would gladly put down before the 10% mark and why I feel the author failed me as a reader. Please note, I read more than these five books, however I’m focusing on these as the best examples.

Book 1: I was so excited by the blurb on this adventure book, and I couldn’t wait to read it. However the book starts with a 53 word sentence so convoluted I needed to read it twice. It followed that with a second sentence of 41 words. The two massive run-ons created the first paragraph and managed to insult women, as well as the English language. I am not a short sentence snob. I do read a lot of classics, so I know (and love) long sentences. However, 53 words is a tad long even for me. To make sure this wasn’t a fluke I kept reading, although I found the protagonist’s disrespect for the women characters distasteful. I couldn’t stop myself from counting the longer ones as I read. In the back of my mind I kept wondering if I would find a sentence that broke 60 words. Sadly I did, a 65 word mess showed up. When I read back-to-back overly long sentences I start feeling like I’m reading a text book. I can’t enjoy myself when I need to reread for clarity after every few lines.

Book 2: The concept on this mystery blew me away, and I went into it with high hopes. It started with “Once upon a time” and I wanted to stop reading right there! I made myself press on for the sake of literary science, but honestly even if the author meant this as quirky and ironic, the line left me cold. I love it when a writer knocks me down with a great original first sentence, however it’s not usually a deal breaker for me if they don’t. After this unpromising first line, the book’s prologue consisted of a rather long info dump. For newer writers, an info dump is when books use pages and pages of exposition to fill the reader in on backstory details before a single bit of action takes place. It’s a bit like trying to cram an elephant into a shoe box; the pages are densely packed with facts the reader has no context for or any reason to care about. Without regrets I moved on.

Book 3: This time I picked something from the historical fiction group. This book was set in an era and location I love to read about. Unfortunately the author started using modern terms almost immediately. The writer coupled this stylistic decision, with some faulty historical research (wrong century), and this bad fact played a small but consistent role in the main plot. I write historical fiction too, so I know it’s easy to make a mistake. However, I do expect most writers to keep it together and try to stay in the target historical era. At least for the first few chapters. For me the best part of any historical novel is it immerses me in another time and place, if I’m constantly being jerked out of the fantasy by the writer’s modernism’s or research mistakes, I move on.

Book 4: Of all the books I picked up for this post I wanted to love this one the most. The idea of this book, a paranormal thriller, seemed interesting and original, something that’s not easy to do in paranormal. However, it opened with one of the big cliché opening no-nos. It started with a battle, the protagonist is cornered, things look bleak and it fizzled. The protagonist wakes up. That’s right, it’s all a dream folks. Ugh! This is more common than it should be, there are tons of advice posts out there warning people to avoid a fake opening hook, so why oh why are we still having this problem? Of the five this is the one I might still finish, that is if I can forgive the overused, unoriginal opening that promised something it didn’t deliver: action!

Book 5: I picked up a contemporary romance for this last one. I don’t tend to read romance, but I’m trying to read more of them. The story felt predictable, a Romeo and Juliet vibe, but the couple seemed okay, ordinary but likeable. I read to the 10% mark mostly waiting for something more to happen. In the end what really got to me was that about 75% of the sentences started with the pronoun I. Of course in first person point of view you do see a lot of these, but I found myself bored by the lack of sentence variation. I don’t expect every book to read like a literary masterwork, but this one is too predictable and simplistic for my taste.

And there you have it, five book openings that couldn’t hold my attention as a reader.
How about you? Would you read past 10% or would you move on knowing another 599,999 books awaited you?

 

Read more posts by Robin here.

 

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What We’re Reading: Women’s Fiction

Women’s fiction is our category this month. Just what is women’s fiction? Literature with women protagonists appear along a continuum of literary fiction to erotica. Quite a spread! Women’s fiction is closer to the literary fiction end but without the self-consciousness and pretension of literary fiction. By the same token, while there may be a love interest in women’s fiction, it differs from chicklit in the amount and focus of the love interest. Women’s fiction is between those two points.

Additionally, women’s fiction keeps focus on the heroine’s character arc as she seeks to learn more about herself and her role in life. In women’s fiction, she takes full responsibility for that development without needing the intervention of a male to define her. Women’s fiction confronts broader issues of societal value and not just the personal issues of the heroine.

 

Kathy’s Pick: THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tratt

Goldfinch webThere are some books you just want to crawl into and live in for a bit. This started out that way, and I was pleased the book was so long (771 pages) so that I could enjoy this for a while. I settled in for the ride. Theo is a young man who is with his beloved mother in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City when a terrorist bomb goes off. Tratt’s prose is excellent, so beautiful describing the love, the horror, and the destruction of the moment when to bomb goes off. He loses his mother, but gains a portrait of a Goldfinch he hides for the rest of his life. The relationship he forms with his best friend’s family in their posh upper Manhattan penthouse apartment is complicated and fun to be with for a while. Then his father comes and takes him away to Las Vegas. That’s where the book lost all of its charm for me. The tough, hard-drinking dad, the evil stepmom and the scary loan sharks hanging around were a bit too clichéd for me. You could almost sense the story before you read it, no surprises. The only friend he made in Las Vegas was Boris, a druggie who entices Theo to join him in illegal adventures and a life less structured, smoking joints, popping pills, and ditching school. I ached for Theo and this turn of his life. He was so much better than that. But that’s okay, I thought, I’ll wait for the redemption. But it never came. His drug use escalated and he lost his way. The last third of the book was a major disappointment, and I was left completely unsatisfied. Tratt fast-forwarded his life after picking it apart almost day by day, only to find no resolution to his relationship with his then-fiancee (for whom I had absolutely no sympathy). He lied and stole money from the shop he ran with his mentor, who, inexplicably, was not angry his entire life savings, his shop, and his reputation was on the line. The man threatening him with exposure, who knew of Theo’s subterfuge, disappeared into thin air. Several threads were left loose. But what offended me most were the last thirty pages when Tratt began to prostheletize about life – the meaning of, the lessons for, and the reasons being – of life. She became very philosophical and preachy. I found myself skipping over most of the last third of the book just to find out what happened to the characters and find the wrap-up. There was none to speak of. A bit disappointing; it started out so well and then flopped.

 

Sharon’s Pick: ON THE ISLAND: A NOVEL, by Tracy Garvis Graves

on-the-island-penguin-cover

On the Island: A Novel is one of those books that keeps popping into your head at odd moments. Perhaps the book is haunting because of the taboo subject matter. Perhaps I keep thinking about it because the characters and the situation were so authentic despite the desert island circumstances. Perhaps it’s just because it is so well-written. On the Island: A Novel isn’t pure women’s fiction, however, because chapters are told in the point of view of the two main characters, rather than only from the woman’s perspective.

High School teacher Anna Emerson agrees to a summer tutoring gig that is unusual and glamorous. T.J., 16 years old, fought and won a long battle with a disease that resulted in missed school and a young man very behind in his studies. His parents offer Anna a tutoring job on an Indonesian island for the summer. Due to a series of circumstances, she and T.J. have to fly separately from the parents who go ahead to their posh island home.

It is no spoiler, since the plane crash happens within the first few pages and from the title, to say that Anna and T.J. wash up on a desert island and have to figure out a way to survive. Anna, knowing that T.J.’s health could still be fragile, worries about a recurrence almost as much as the struggle for daily survival.

Graves also does settings really well. Her island descriptions put you right there along with T.J. and Anna. You felt the ever-present grit and smelled the sea.

Neither Anna nor T.J. has outdoorsy skill sets. Life is very tough as they discover, often the hard way, what it means to provide shelter, food, and protection. As each day of non-rescue passes, Anna and T.J. learn to accept the inevitability of this new life. That they fall in love is no surprise either. Years alone together create a mutual respect that deepens into love despite the considerable age difference.

The surprise is what happens after they leave the island. Should they, could they, must they conceal their relationship? Society certainly would disapprove. And maybe the bond they forged wasn’t really love, but a relationship of circumstance and necessity. Once back to normalcy, how can they maintain a taboo lifestyle.

I enjoyed the first part of the book on the island more than the second when they were back in civilization. While the hard questions of what their relationship meant were dealt with, I felt the ramifications could have been explored more deeply. Still, the issues were compelling and the emotions raw.

As a former educator, I should have been shocked and appalled at the story line of On the Island: A Novel. But it is a testament to Graves’ writing chops that when the 30-something teacher and her teen pupil fall in love, one is not repelled. It appears to be the natural consequence of their isolation and fate.

Both sympathy and empathy are invoked in this unusual and provocative love story. I highly suggest it as a great summer read, memories of which you will carry into the fall.

 

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