Thursday, June 30, 2011


I finally got those stories down onto paper--well, into the computer. It took a couple of failed attempts to upload them to Lulu, but the formatting's looking pretty good now, the table of contents makes sense, and the fonts are okay. I've even made a cover that seems the match those from the rest of the series. So now I'm proof-reading pdf files on my kindle.

It's strange how much easier it is to spot those mistakes when I can't fix them, but maybe that's the trick; I know I can't fix, so I'm not in writing mode, so I read more carefully? That's my theory anyway--just click the button and highlight the errors (well, all the ones I see). I'll type the changes into Word when I'm done and proof-read the cover. Then I'll re-upload and order my free proof. I wonder how many more errors I'll find when I hold the "real" book in my hand?

Anyway, it's nice to finally get Joshua's Journeys out of my head. Those stories have been burbling round in there for over a year. Time to dream something else...

... or maybe it's time to put those daily dribbles into book form too. Amazing what deadlines can do for you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Myth, Magic and Strange New Worlds

I've been reading again and feeling pleasantly surprised to find my reading list contained four similar books--a fine chance to compare and contrast different authors delving into myth and magic. A fifth book delved into history and faith, beautifully recreating the world of the early Christian church. And a sixth looked at our own world through the eyes of someone who hears numbers in color, which is surely at least a little magical. So, here's my mini-reviews, and, as usual, please click on the links to read the full reviews on gather.

The Dream Crystal, by Mark O’Bannon is a fun teen novel weaving fairytale, faith and myth into a pleasant mixture. The protagonist designs clothes and has an eye for detail that brings some amazing scenes to life. And the story has dark undertones of a three-sided war between human, fae and shadow that might end all dreams and hopes. I'd go for a 2-star bright lively coffee with this one.

Dreams Unleashed, by Linda Hawley is another teen novel, this time set slightly in the future, centering on the adventures of an empty-nester who's had an interesting career. Dreams play an important role in this novel too, revealing strange powers connected with past events. Politics plays a role too, as the protagonist works in secret with defenders of American freedom. You'll probably want a 2-star bright lively coffee with this one too.

End of Mae, by Angela Smith pits a modern journalist against the Jersey Devil and friends, producing some surprises in the mix. It's a short, modern gothic horror story, to be enjoyed with a 1-star crisp sharp coffee over a long lunch-break.

Darwin’s Children, by Natasha Larry (You'll have to look at July's Poetic Monthly Magazine to read my full review of this one) combines the teen angst of Twilight with the superpowers of X-Men, adding a complex and intricately detailed mythology all its own in small-town America. A high-school senior, ostracized at her private school but beloved in her home community, is learning how not to wreck the furniture when hormones send her powers into overdrive. Meanwhile there's a mind-reading father and strange guardians making an appearance; read with a 4-star complex coffee--it's definitely complex.

Apostle, by E.G. Lewis, on the other hand, is set in a very real historical world, telling of the days of the early Christian church through the eyes of a Jewish Christian family in Antioch. Historical and Biblical events take place mostly off-stage, and the author's excellent research is seamlessly threaded into the tale without any hint of preaching. I'd suggest a nice 3-star well-balanced, full-flavored coffee with the well-balanced, richly-imagined tale.

Born on a Blue Day, a memoir by Daniel Tammet gives some fascinating insights into a very different mind. Can you imagine perceiving the color and shape of numbers, or reciting the digits of pi for hours on end? But what about wishing you knew how to find a friend? Drink a 4-star elegant complex coffee while you learn about this author's elegantly complex mind in this memoir.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Seventeen stories done!

Deadlines are such fun. Lulu's doing a brilliant deal--if you want to self-publish, why not go over there and look; or even if you just want that nice thump-factor of a book in your hand to see what it would look like (books in hand are great for proof-reading too). So now I'm frantically working to a deadline, trying to get my Joshua's Journeys stories finished before the deal runs out. I think there'll be about forty when I'm done, and I've just finished number seventeen. Of course, I've been researching them and putting off writing for ages--about a year--so it's about time. Like I said, deadlines are wonderful!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another Week in Books

I'm not sure when I found time to read, in between the weeding and fighting the invasion of grass into flower-beds, but maybe I cheated--a few of these books were really short. Anyway, today, despite the weather forecast's promised sun, it's too wet and miserable to chase more weeds and I'm posting book reviews instead.

The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow: I got this as a Christmas present--how did it take so long to get around to reading it. But once I started I couldn't stop. Great illustrations (in pictures). Great illustrations in words. A fascinating ride through the wonders of modern science. And a book to be read with a 5-star intense cup of coffee.

One Hot January, by J. Conrad Guest: The mix of Bogie, WWII and science fiction is irresistable; definitely an intriguing read, to be enjoyed with a 3-star balanced, full-flavored coffee.

After Lyletown, by K.C. Frederick: Relationships filled with good intentions, secrets and the ominous threat of exposure; 1960s folly intruding on a modern good lawyer's life; definitely a character-driven novel, with the sort of characters who become so real I imagine I've shared a 4-star complex coffee with them.

Bangkok 8, by John Burdett
: Surreal police procedural set in Thailand with lots of corruption, steamy streets, red-light districts, Buddhist musings, drugs and alcohol, all combining to form something really fascinating, very logical and precise, and a great read. Read it with a 5-star bold, dark, intense coffee.

Crossing the Line, by Stephen Jay Schwartz: A short story introducing the author's character, Hayden Glass, a young cop, eager to advance and about to fall into his city's seamy temptation. Drink in the words with a 5-star bold intense (and short) cup of coffee.

More Short stories
Here Comes Charlie, by RW Holmen: A beautifully written, scarily real vignette of young men in the Vietnam War. Drink a short sharp 1-star coffee and enjoy an enthrallingly haunting tale.

The Second Fly-Caster, by Randy Kadish: This story leads to Vietnam too, via a young man's relationship to his Dad, and his Dad's relationship to fly-fishing. Beautifully told--enjoy with a 2-star relaxing coffee.

Women's Fiction.
The Daughter’s Walk, by Jane Kirkpatrick: I always enjoy Jane Kirkpatrick's books. I love the way she can take a real life and turn it into beautifully plotted fiction. I love the way she brings the Pacific Northwest to life. And I love her characters, real women with real problems, real lives, and real lessons to learn. Drink a 3-star well-balanced coffee with this beautifully balanced tale.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Character creep

We had a good talk at our writers' group today, about characters in stories and how we might define them, so we can make them consistent and different from each other. Someone mentioned how characters often seem like extensions of the writer--all so similar they start to sound the same. Someone else mentioned characters that change (or creep) to fit the story or the scene; we agreed some change, some surprise, is good, as long as it's not purely arbitrary. Then there are those characters that start off different but all fade into one during editing--I think the ones in the novel I've been working on are doing that, but luckily it's not the novel I've signed a contract on.

So many things to watch out for--I'll enjoy using those self-analysis quizzes on the internet to sort things out, but not just yet. For now, I'm taking some time off editing and working on writing instead. I've got a great coupon to use on Lulu, so I've challenged myself to finish Joshua's Journeys and get it (self-)published--lots of Biblical people, ready-named if not analyzed, and all the fun of converting scenes into stories with beginning middle and end... and consistent characters. Wish me luck!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Electron Footprints

If I read lots of ebooks, does that save trees? And does it reduce my carbon footprint? I guess I've not looked into how much carbon-generated electricity the computer and my kindle eat, but I know they eat plenty of electrons. And this week I learned my electron footprint's somewhat longer than I'd like.

I bought a book in 2008--well, several I suppose, but this one was from an internet site that I've never been to since. I had to set up an account with the seller--email, name, address, password, the usual stuff. And this week I got an email from them to say their server's been hacked. It was all so long ago I've no idea what password I used, so suddenly all of them are suspect and I've had to change the lot.

Which leaves me wondering how many other forgotten sites still carry my electronic footprints, fossilized in password code.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Competition vs. Play

I read an article today that bemoaned those holiday camps where children's sports aren't "competitive." The author wondered if we're failing to teach our children to cope with life; after all, most people's adult lives will include some measure of failure, so how will they learn?

Coming to the States from England I was amazed how competitive children's lives are here. My sons used to play soccer every Saturday, but only one of them dreamed of being on a team; the others played for fun. Here they were only allowed to join in if they solemnly promised to turn up for every practice and compete in every match! Help.

I guess the question is who's going to measure the failure. Have I failed as a writer if I can't be JK Rowling or JRR Tolkein? Or am I just enjoying myself, doing the best I can and hopefully one day becoming "good enough." Perhaps allowing kids not to compete gives them the chance to judge themselves instead of accepting other peoples' judgement; it gives them permission to be good enough and decide for themselves if they'll ever aspire to be best; and it lets them play.

So no, I'll not complain about holiday camps with non-competitive sports. But I'll still regret the son who stopped playing because he knew he couldn't compete (and I couldn't lie to him).

Meanwhile I'll write, and have fun doing it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Character vs. Plot

My husband went to a seminar on writing software specs yesterday. He very kindly brought home his notes to see how they'd apply to fiction-writing. It was kind of fun discussing character and plot as they might appear in computer code.

If you write a list of steps to be taken and instructions to be followed, is that a plot-driven story? It's also well-specified software. But what if you know the beginning and end but you're deep in investigation of what's going wrong--like when you're assigned to fix a bug by writing a new algorithm? My husband pointed out you can't specify the path till you know what's wrong. I suggested maybe that's like a character-driven story--you need to know the characters before you can plan the plot.

In the end, of course, you still write an organized list--a computer program, a story with beginning middle and end. But maybe even software engineers have to work in different ways at different times, and maybe fixing a bug is like working with character-driven code.

Once I've finished the housework I'll go back to fixing bugs in the novel I'm writing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Last Weekend's Books

My son is convinced all I ever do is read. My husband is convinced I shouldn't spend time making my family feel guilty with housework and yardwork at weekends. My husband and son are out at work during the week when I wash, shop, cook, clean, dig, etc... Still, I've got to admit, I do read a lot at weekends. And here are last weekend's books. (As usual, the blue links should take you to my gather reviews.)

Middle-aged female protagonists:
Light Bringer, by Pat Bertram, is an intriguing blend of sci-fi with corporate greed, global disaster, fascinating characters, historical secrets, and the music of rainbows. I'm still a believer in regular science, but the plot is neat and the relationships delightfully musical and strange. Try a 3-star smooth-flavored coffee with this one.

Chasing Amanda, by Melissa Foster, is a haunting contemporary mystery of a missing child, the tension heightened by the protagonist's ability to see what can't be seen. Haunted by her failure to save an earlier abductee, Molly Tanner walks a delicate line between helping and getting arrested. Another smooth 3-star coffee required.

Younger End of Middle-aged:
Life from Scratch, by Melissa Ford, tells the story of a young woman who's finally had enough and leaves her husband. Living alone, struggling financially, finally learning to cook... and writing a blog, Rachel tries to rebuild her life but can't quite let go of the old. The voice is great, the humor perfectly toned, and the characters are all very humanly flawed. Best of all, there's a perfect ending as well, to enjoy with a perfect 2-star, bright and lively cup of coffee.

And finally a coming of age story with a male protagonist:
Tremolo, Cry of the Loon, by Aaron Paul Lazar tells of a young boy one summer in Maine, coming to terms with a changing world that's suddenly not as safe or as innocent as he remembers. The 1960s and the scents and sounds of summer come beautifully to life, and you'll want a 3-star well-balanced, full-flavored coffee to drink with this.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A family review, and a lesson in how to write memoirs

While I was in England my brother gave me a copy of my Granddad's memoirs to read; I learned how a well-edited memoir can make a really fascinating, informative and uplifting book; and I'm hoping to use those lessons to improve a novel I've been working on. So here's my unpublished review of an unpublished memoir--who knows, maybe D will publish it publicly one day and let everyone else read it too:

Look Back in Joy, by TW with DC
I’m really not a great reader of memoirs, but this one grabbed my attention, and not just because the authors are my Granddad and my brother. The format offers an interesting mix of voices, information and research, which really makes for an interesting read.

TW was born, just about, in Victorian times; he describes his childhood in the early 1900s with a very honest eye for interesting detail. Meanwhile DC, born nearly four years before me and well-practiced in researching history, has checked Granddad’s facts and researched the world around them to fill in the gaps. The result is a memoir that’s rounded and real, bringing to life time and place with consistent context, and retaining the honest voice of the elderly man who penned the first words.

D’s comments are written in a different font, emphasizing changes in voice which turn reading into a conversation with the book, questions answered and asked. The organization into chapters by topic, rather than the usual slow telling of a road to growing old, is very nicely done. And the honest writing of my granddad, telling how it was without hiding anything, asking only our trust and never our sympathy, lifts the whole high above more regular memoirs, making it truly a memory of time and people rather than a lesson in survival.

There are lots of things I didn’t know in this book, things forgotten, things maybe never told. There are wars and bombs, air-raid wardens, church societies, boy scouts, soccer teams. And there’s a man whose times were hard, who made the most of everything and ended his life proud and happy in all the things his family achieved.

TW chose the title and looked back in joy, in spite of all the obstacles he'd faced. There’s something profoundly joyful in being able to share his perspective as I now look forward. Thank you D—you’ve done a brilliant job!

Disclosure: This one’s an unpublished draft, and it’s great!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Reading while the Son hangs out on the computer

The sun shone today. I weeded another three feet of the flower beds in another three hours, then dug sprouting dandelions out of the grass. I'm still not sure why the weeds grow so much better when sheltered by thorns, but my fingers wish they didn't.

Anyway, before the sun came out, and while the son was still visiting, I did spend the odd spare moment buried in books. So here's my latest crop of book reviews. (Do book reviews grow better when sheltered by thorns I wonder?)

As usual, click on the links to read the full reviews on gather. And look underneath my profile to read a translation of coffee ratings.

The inheritance of beauty, by Nicole Seitz, is a beautiful depiction of aging, as well as a fascinating mystery, as elderly George comes to terms with events of his South Carolina childhood. The wonderful Alice, who cares for Maggie, seems surer that George that his wheel-chair-bound wife is "still there." And the result, as the author views past and present through her characters' eyes, is just spell-binding. I'd suggest a 4-star, rich, elegant and complex coffee to drink with this.

Firesong, by Aaron Paul Lazar, starts in the shimmering heat of a New York State summer, just before a tornado arrives. How's that for accidentally topical. The story's a fascinating mystery centered around very real people--a cast of characters that quickly draw the reader in. Read this one with a 3-star, balanced, full-flavored coffee.

The Arrivals, by Meg Mitchell Moore, tells of many unexpected arrivals in the one-time empty nest of Ginny and William. Welcoming children and grandchildren, chaos, worry and joy, together with all the baggage of childhood and marriage, makes for a tale full of humor, surprises, and sweet insights into human frailty and forgiveness. Balance a 3-star full-flavored coffee next to your book as you read this.

Wonder Mom and Party Girl, by Marc Schuster is a roller-coaster ride with pathos, humor, laugh-out-loud dialog, harassed mother, and a "just say no" message that becomes achingly real. Sip a 5-star bold dark intense coffee with this one, carefully.

The Double Life of Alfred Buber, by David Schmahmann, travels from Rhodesia to America to Bangkok to London and deeply into the truths and imaginations of staid Alfred Buber whose dreams are more than just a desire to fit in. Alfred's memoir promises secrets and an exotic love affair, but the truth is deeper than it seems, couched in comedy, tragedy, and profound observations. Another one for that 5-star intense cup of coffee.

And finally,
The Immortality Virus, by Christine Amsden is a surprisingly evocative sci-fi novel set in a future world where all the trials and tribulations of old age have been "cured" by "the Change." Unfortunately everyone living longer has led to a few complications. Reminiscent of Blade Runner in its depth of dystopian world-building and casual insertion of detail, this one is really a treat. Drink a 3-star well-balanced coffee while reading it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

So, what did you do for the long weekend?

Help!!! It's Thursday, which means it's a whole week since I did the housework or the washing, shopped for everyday food, pulled weeds or cut the grass; a whole week since I applied for any jobs... It's been a week since I wrote anything worth writing too, not that the guys are too worried about that, but my head aches with stories untold. So what did I do for the week-long weekend?

On Friday our youngest son came home--great delight all round, joyful greeting from older brother, and much use of computers ensuing for computer games. Some minor culinary complications of course--one meat-eater, one bread-eater, one vegetarian and one celiac all needing to be fed--so on Saturday we bought meat and bread, plus some tee-shirts and sandals in case the warmer weather ever appears.

On Sunday we bought a flat-screen TV--long-awaited, much-debated, and finally necessitated by its predecessor's ceasing to work. On Monday we connected cables and made lists of new cables required. The TV's too new for those ever-present composite video connections so we cannibalized composite wires as component and the DVD picture went pink. Tuesday we bought new wires; still pink; new DVD player required... We also played board games, built railways all round England and Wales, and went out to dinner where Mexican food satisfied most of our requirements most enjoyably.

Wednesday; more computer games for the younger guys; more board-games for all of us; and a drive to the airport where youngest son flew from the nest once again, which brings me to today... twenty-three job emails, fifty-four blog ones, one hundred and ten social networking notifications, and those stories still dripping their aching words in the back of my aching brain. But there's bathrooms to clean, boring food to be bought, and grass growing high as my knees... Back to real life I guess.

I had a really wonderful long weekend. Hope you did too.