Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Welcoming Steve O'Brien to my blog again

I'm delighted to welcome Steve O'Brien, author of Elijah's Coin and Bullet Work, to my blog again today. Steve is answering the question:

How Long Did It Take To Write?

Definitely an interesting question, and I really enjoyed reading his answer. Over to you Steve.

One of my favorite remarks comes from violin virtuoso, Itzhak Perlman. And it was only two words.

Perlman is regarded as the preeminent violinist of the 20th Century--at his craft, a man without peers. Following a performance in Vienna, an adoring fan came up to Itzhak and gushed about how fantastic the performance had been. Then the fan said to Perlman “I would give my whole life to be able to play the violin like you did tonight.”
Perlman smiled and said, “I have.”

The remark is so true. Despite the enormous natural talent he possesses, Perlman practices and rehearses at a frenetic pace. To get to where he is artistically took total dedication and “his entire life.”

I won’t pretend to have near the writing ability on par with Perlman’s musical ability. However, people will ask me how long it took to write Bullet Work. My eyes kind of glaze over and I have to say, “My whole life.”

In my case each book I write is a culmination of what I have learned and, whether I like it or not, each book decides its own timeline.

One of my savvy advance readers noted that the early chapters of the original manuscript of Bullet Work had a different voice and different feel to them. I was a little shocked that he picked that up. I had to tell him, I had written those early chapters nearly fifteen years before.

Sometimes we don’t write the book; so much as the book chooses us. Although Elijah’s Coin was published first, the storyline, characters and basic plot for Bullet Work go back nearly 20 years. Why didn’t I write it then?

Back then, I might have said it was because I was lazy or insecure.

Today I know it was because I wasn’t ready.

I wasn’t ready to tell the story and my writing style had not advanced to a point where I could convey it effectively. Could I have written it back then? Sure. Would it have been any good? Probably not. It isn’t so much about the storyline as it is about me.
Elijah’s Coin was a story that just flowed out of my pen as though I were being pulled by some imaginary force. The book nearly wrote itself and it simply dragged me along as a hostage.

Bullet Work was a polar bear that I had to engage, wrestle and pin to the ground. Without exaggeration, I probably re-wrote the book three times over with very little change to the plot.And I loved every single minute of it. The final manuscript would nearly be unrecognizable in comparison to the earliest version. Still the same story, just a seasoned, more experienced writer.

Bullet Work and Elijah’s Coin are very different stories, even designed for different audiences and written in very different styles. However, without Elijah’s Coin, Bullet Work would never have come to pass. They had to come in their own order.

Unfinished manuscripts or unfinished drafts have extreme value in the effort. They are never a waste of time in the creation. The craft improves, the style advances and the writer evolves. Each book chooses its own time.

How long did it take to write Bullet Work?

My whole life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How long does it take to write a book?

"But how?" "But when?" "But why?" I'd ask my Gran.
She'd answer me, "'Cause y's not zed."
So I'd ask my Grandfather instead, "How big?" "How long?" "How wide?"
He'd throw the questions back and ask, "How long's a piece of string?"

But seriously, how long does it really take to write a book? Is the editing (and re-editing, and re-editing over again) a part of writing? What about querying and waiting for replies? What about that startled jump for joy when someone says yes, followed by, "We'll assign you an editor later. Please continue to work on your manuscript?"

"When's later?" I want to ask. And how long will it take?

I started my first post-childhood novel about six years ago. It's still seeking a home. I took it out last week to polish it and found my dreams were slipping through the holes. Much editing later I'm letting it rest. Suffice it to say, if it ever sees light of day, this masterpiece will find itself somewhat over six years in the making.

I started my second post-childhood novel as soon as I finished the first. Since my first first-draft was written very quickly, that makes it somewhere around five and a half years ago. Many drafts later, one competition and quite a few submissions, it found a home with I've just finished another pass on editing it and almost think I like it, but it's scary how much the thought of its being released to the public eye can terrorize me.

My third post-childhood novel is the start of a fantasy series. I keep hoping they might have found a home, but the home keeps telling me maybe... Maybe I'm suffering a serious case of wishful thinking. But the series still has another book to go, so I've time to wait.

My fourth is a rather odd mystery that definitely needs some editing. Who knows how long that will take.

My fifth I started writing as a child. I've rewritten part one. The rest is still wandering round my mind. Will I have to confess how old I am to admit how long it's taking to write that book?

Meanwhile, Steve O'Brien, author of Elijah's Coin and Bullet Work, will visit my blog tomorrow to answer the question put to him--"How long did it take to write?" Hope to see you there/here, tomorrow!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book reviews while the rain falls

It's not raining, much. Drizzling. Mizzling. Something like that. It's amazing the number of different words for rain in a rainy place. But it raining books, and the number of "red" lines in my Excel file keeps growing--they're the ones I've labeled overdue. Still, I did read quite a few books last week, and there's one that I read a long while ago and would happily re-read--I just posted the review on Amazon, having failed to post it before, so it's worth adding here:

If you click on the links, you can read my reviews on gather (or elsewhere). And if you click here you'll be reminded what the coffee cups mean.

Mazurka, by Aaron Lazar: I was trying to describe Aaron Lazar's books to a friend recently. Definitely mysteries. Not cozy, but not dark and violent. Somewhere in between perhaps. Then I heard someone else's mysteries described as "soft-boiled" so perhaps that's it. They have wonderful characters, there's music in the title and the tale, there's danger and dangers overcome, and there's great relationships... Well, maybe that describes them, and I'm hoping to read more soon. (This is the long-delayed review; I'm really looking forward to reading more.) Balanced, smooth, full-flavored, this one gets 3 coffee-cups.

Bullet Work, by Steve O'Brien: I used to enjoy Dick Francis' novels, and Bullet Work evokes the same feeling of mystery and horses. I fell in love with Aly Dancer while reading this, and there are human characters that stick in the mind as well. An interesting mystery with well-told and fascinating background, this one's worth this one gets 3 coffee-cups too.

The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson
: I really enjoyed the first one of this series. Now I'm looking forward to the third. Again, I watched the movie before reading the book, and again, I liked the book better. It moved along faster than the first one, and Lisbeth is a fascinating character. 4 coffee cups for rich, elegant and complex

In the Shadow of Swords, by Val Gunn: An Arabian nights mystery/fantasy with lots of atmosphere and confusion, complex plot and intriguing magic and characters--I think it qualifies as mystery as there are lots of unknowns gradually coming to light. This one gets 5 coffee cups for bold, dark, intense.

Literary fiction:
Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout: A novel told in short stories is certainly an intriguing prospect and the author pulls it off beautifully, each story complete and satisfying on its own, and the whole, if possible, greater than the sum of its parts. Highly recommended if you like literary fiction. 4 coffee cups--this one's rich, elegant and complex, a very fine brew.

The Witch and the Vampire, by Tricia Schneider: My review of this should appear in Nights and Weekends on March 31st. It's really quite an intriguing lunch-time read, written with a nice sense of place and timing, with characters whose emotions and motivations go more than skin-deep. 1 coffee cup for a mild, light, crisp flavor.

Hard Rain and Thunderstorms, by Jamie Collins: My review of this poetry collection will appear in the next Poetic Monthly. The more poetry collections I read, the more I realize how hard they are to create--shall I include this, or that, and have I already said the other? This one has some memorable images and lines, but felt overly long to me--which maybe just means I'm not a great reader of poetry. Another 1-coffee-cup brew.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What a lovely surprise

Have you visited Summit Book Reviews? It's a really nice-looking book review site, and over the weekend my Easter book was reviewed by Gail Lewis there. We're still only in the first week of Lent, so, as Gail says, "there's still time to participate in this thought provoking daily devotional." I hope you'll give it a look, and there's lots more interesting books to read about on the same page. Hope to see you there!

Friday, March 11, 2011

More Book Reviews

As promised, here's some more book reviews, and I'll see if I can remember to rate them by coffee. Don't forget to click the links for reviews on Gather.

Twilight's Ashes, by Auler Ivis: This one has a really interesting premise, but it's a long slow read--instant coffee brewed a little strong? The futuristic world post-global warming is really well-imagined, and there's a rich mixture of ancient and modern belief, symbolism, etc.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: This has to one of the longest titles ever, but it's perfectly chosen. The book's written in the form of letters between strangers and friends, and it's truly delightful--a family drama, a post-WWII mystery, love, romance, the kindness of strangers, the strangeness of friends... It's just a really good read--and for coffee, I'll try balanced, smooth, full-flavored.

Changes, by Jim Butcher: Okay, I'm hooked on the series. Pretty soon I'll be so hooked I won't be able to wait till the paperback comes out. But I did wait this time, and Changes was well worth the wait--lots of revelations, coming together of ideas, building together of concepts from previous novels... Oh, and lots of Ick--not for the squeamish! Definitely a bold, dark, intense coffee here.

The Little Known, by Janice Daugharty: I got this book free in a deal, but I'd happily have paid for it; it's a really good coming-of-age story in the segregating south of the 1960s. A fascinating young man struggles to find an identity for himself, with the aid of a sackful of money and intelligent dreams. This one leaves a rich, elegant, complex coffee taste.

The Deviant, by Orren Merton: This one's a really interesting twist on the vampire theme, plus there's a dog:) The characters are interesting, the California music has a good strong beat, and the bad guys don't all wear black. I'll go for bold, dark, intense coffee here again.

And now, maybe I'll grind some beans and drink some of that coffee to go with my reviews.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Blogging with Style?

I just got a Stylish Blogger Award from Jean Henry Mead (mysterious writer and murderous muse)! I'm not sure what I did to deserve it, but I must admit, it's a very stylish award, received with thanks. Apparently I have to list seven things about myself on my blog, then pass the award on to a friend... So, seven things???

  1. I recently released a book of poetry called Mongrel Christian Mathematician. The title does kind of describe me, and author Mary Russel reviewed it on her blog recently.
  2. Lulu's offering downloads of my Easter ebook at 75% off the regular price, just for Lent (oh, and Lent starts today). I guess that tells you I ought to be doing something for Lent. This year, I'm trying to give up snacking to stay awake and take up walking instead (a much more prayer-inspiring, though frequently wet, way of not falling asleep).
  3. I just finished my first-pass through editing my first real novel--assuming you think being accepted for publication makes a novel "real." Many thanks to StoneGarden for accepting it... But why does getting accepted leave me suddenly convinced it can't be good enough?
  4. I've just started posting notes (on my refracted muse) for a "Faith and Mythology" class that I'm supposed to teach in a couple of weeks. Help! I love mythology (and faith), but I'm naturally disorganized and getting my thoughts onto (virtual) paper is driving me up the wall.
  5. I've booked a trip to England to see my Mum (which tells you I'm English as well as American).
  6. I've also just booked a trip to Texas to see my son (which tells I have at least one son--in fact I have three, all grown-up--ah, those graying hairs...)
  7. I have gray hair!
Having mentioned Mary Russel's review of my book above, perhaps I should pass the award on to Mary now for her stylish blog. Just go over there and see the pictures in the header and down the side. Mary also has a talent for writing children's books and clever mysteries, and for creating a blog that's full of new information every time you visit it.

Thank you again Jean for the lovely award.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Coffee--bold, dark and intense

I had coffee in Borders last week with a friend and we noticed the "star" levels for different sorts of coffee. It was kind of neat--
  1. Mild, light, crisp
  2. Bright, lively, easy drinking
  3. Balanced, smooth, full-flavored
  4. Rich, elegant, complex, and
  5. Bold, dark, intense.
I wonder if we could use a similar system in rating books, except everyone would think 5 stars meant best and 1 star meant worst. I suppose we could use the sun or moon...
  1. Short and sharp. A quick read.
  2. Easy reading, relaxed.
  3. Nice mix of show and tell. Interesting plot.
  4. Complex characters and plot.
  5. Bold, dark, intense.
I dunno. How would you split up the levels? How would you define your most recent reads? I'll post reviews of Jim Butcher's Changes (5), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (3), and The Little Known (4) soon, and they'll all get plenty of stars to go with those suns--it's been a good weekend for reading. But first I'll need some more bold, dark, intense coffee, with just a dash of milk...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I've been reading some more...

More books, and as usual, you can follow the links to the full reviews on Gather.

The best two books I've read this week:

The Ringer, by Jenny Shank
: You can tell there's baseball in this story from the cover, and I don't even like baseball. But there's police, race relations, loss on both sides of the line, and some truly memorable, flawed and human characters who try to pick up the pieces when their worlds fall apart. And there's hope. Like a baseball well-thrown, this book definitely hits its target.

The Pig's Slaughter, by Florin Grancea: How long does it take to kill a pig, or topple a dictator? How long will it take to forget how to make sausages or watch Christmas cakes rise? How easily will hungry people be deceived by the promise of freedom on TV? And what was it like to be fourteen years old in Romania, those five days in December?

On a lighter note, two scary books for a cold dark evening while the wind howls all around:

Hide'n Go Coffin, and Monster in the Mirror, by M.J.A. Ware. Both books contain delightfully scary short stories for teens and pre-teens (and assorted hangers on), and introduce a really neat writer. You can go to his website to learn about his novel, coming soon.

Of course, the dreams you get after reading scary stories might not be the ones this book is written about:

What Every Dream Means, by Scott M Shafer
: The author's about to start a virtual book tour, so you'll probably be reading more about this book soon. It's an interesting Christian take on dream interpretation, with intriguing Bible references, and fascinating ideas.

And then there's "romance," perhaps:

Hot Commodity, by Linda Kage, is a definitely hot and sexy grown-up fairy-tale, and really rather fun. And...

Threads West, by Reid Lance Rosenthal, is the start of a series. Set in 1855, a group of strangers from all around the world are heading for the American West. Romantic entanglements and mysteries are promised and provided, together with poetic descriptions and lots of historical detail, but the tale's really only just begun.