Writing about Reading: Red Phone Box

April 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” the old saying goes, and for the most part, that’s true—especially when you’re writing a novel-length story. Novels are usually written best by one or two authors; more than that, and it tends to turn into a jumbled mess.

That is precisely why Red Phone Box is so impressive. Edited by Salome Jones, Red Phone Box is a “darkly magical story cycle” written by 29 different authors—and for the most part, it works.

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Writing about Reading: The Goldfinch

March 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Before I’d read a page of Donna Tartt’s newest book, The Goldfinch, I saw several reviewers call the novel “Dickensian,” and so going in was already prejudiced to consider the book in that light. But even if I hadn’t been so influenced, The Goldfinch would have evoked David Copperfield and Oliver Twist almost immediately.

This is not a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Dickens. David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities are two of my favorite books of all time. In fact, I credit the latter has having a particular influence on my moral compass. Dickens’ novels deserve all the praise and continual study given them by literature professors.

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[INFOGRAPHIC] How to Be Productive

March 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

If you’re like me, you never have enough time to do the things you really want to do; i.e., write more. It seems like every time I sit down to write, I think of a dozen things that need doing. So I’m always looking for ways to maximize the too-few hours per week that I can carve out for writing.

I think I’ve seen the infographic below before, but I came across it today and decided to share it here, on my much neglected blog, because I think there’s a lot of good ideas here. And because I want to revisit it every once in a while as a reminder to myself, which is much more likely to happen if I post it here rather than chuck it into the mountain of links in my bookmark folder. Click to embiggen it:

How To Be Productive

by annavital.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

(A tip of the hat to GalleyCat, which is where I found this today.)

As for a real update, I’m still trying to finish the first draft of the book. I passed the 64,000-word mark this week, but I’m finding it difficult to get to the Big Moment. I think I’m going to have just vomit up that scene and accept that it’s (as the infographic says) “better done than perfect.”

I just finished reading Iain Banks’ novel Matter, which I didn’t blog about because I think I’ve learned everything that Banks can teach me about writing. I keep reading his Culture series because they’re very good and I’ve noticed I write more when I’m reading a Culture novel than when I’m not. Anyway, it’s another Banks book that is slow to start, but really good when it takes off. Unfortunately, even when the story is rocketing along, the author stops for long-winded digressions and pages of description. I found myself skimming a lot, just to get back to the story.

So that’s where I’ve been in a nutshell. Hopefully, my next post will be announcing that I’ve finished the first draft. And hopefully, that will be soon.

Writing about Reading: The Cairo Affair

January 19, 2014 § 1 Comment

Okay, I just finished Olen Steinhauer’s brilliant new novel, The Cairo Affair, and I want to tell you about it, but first some good news: I am unstuck! I guess writing that blog post helped me break loose of the muck and get going again, because I’ve been working on the novel since the day after posting it.

And I’ve been reading, which always helps inspire me to write (and helps your brain). I recently finished Kill City Blues, the latest in the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey, and if you’re a fan of that series, you won’t be disappointed. I thought the last couple books in the series sagged a bit, but this one has Stark back in top form. I’m definitely interested to see what happens in the next one.

Halfway through Kill City Blues, I received an advanced review edition of The Cairo Affair in the mail. It was a fantastic surprise; I’d signed up to win it in a Facebook contest staged by the publisher, but thought it had gone to someone else. Opening the padded envelope and pulling out a Steinhauer novel that’s not due out for another two months was Christmas all over again. Seriously, I was giddy.

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Stuck

January 14, 2014 § 7 Comments

I’m back. Well, sort of. I’m not promising a flurry of new blog posts, because — well, because I’m stuck.

Things were rocketing along in November. I was using NaNoWriMo as the kick in the pants to finish the first draft of the book I’m writing, and it was going well. Going into that final week, it looked like I would finish the draft with no problems. No sweat.

And then I got stuck.

Stuff happened. Life always intervenes. Or, in this case, death. My dear friend Sherry Spurlock passed away, and I had a hard time with it. Sherry was instrumental in getting my writing going again after far too many years of not writing. She more or less introduced me to NaNoWriMo. She was one of those rare, wonderful, kind, funny, smart, beautiful people that you’re lucky to meet in life. So yeah, her death hit me pretty hard.

And then there were the holidays, and things started getting busy — parties on the weekends, friends in town for the holidays, etc. I thought I would take a break, and get a fresh start on January 2. So that’s what I did, and I enjoyed my time with family and friends, and January 1 I sat down to get a jump start on the starting over. And I fiddled with it and stared at the words I’d written back in November, and nothing came.

“No problem,” I thought, saving the file and shutting the computer off. “I said I’d start again January 2, so I’ll hit it tomorrow.”

The same thing happened the next day. And the next. And suddenly it’s the middle of January, and still nothing’s coming.

It’s not writers block; I know exactly what happens next. It’s that when I sit down at the keyboard, I just stall out. I can’t get going.

I thought maybe I needed to read through what I had written so far to get back into the flow. I started fiddling with scenes, adding a character I’d planned to add in the rewrite. But even that wasn’t flowing too well.

Now I feel like a car in mud, spinning my wheels and trying to get out, but going nowhere. Just making a mess.

But I’m not going to stop spinning those wheels. I’m going to keep making a mess until I get out of here and get moving again. And once that happens, I’m not stopping again, not for anything. When the first draft is done, I’m jumping right into Draft 2. And then Draft 3, and Draft 4, and every draft it takes after that until the book is ready to go out the door to publishers and agents.

Sorry for the noise and the mess, but if anyone can give me a push, I’d appreciate it.

Creating Character Names

November 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

for-your-inspirationNaming characters has never been easy for me — especially those “walk on” characters that surprise me by turning up in a scene unplanned. That’s why I am sharing a link to this article: How to Invent Names for Your Genre Novel. It’s partly for those of you who also have this trouble, but mostly for me, so I can find it again when I need it. (Yes, I can and did bookmark it in my browser, but … well, I have a bookmark problem. I’m a bookmark hoarder. There, I said it.)

Going handily with that link is another article I stumbled across this morning about the naming of the characters in the Hunger Games series. (There are several articles about the Hunger Games names, by the way; that’s just the one I happened to read this morning.)

Do you have any tips for coming up with character names? Share them in the comments! I need all the help I can get.

Failure is your Best Friend

November 21, 2013 § 2 Comments

Rosie-the-RiveterHi, writers! If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, we’re in the home stretch — just a little over a week to go!

I’m finishing up the first draft of my book, which currently weighs in at 200 manuscript pages and almost 55,000 words. I’m loving it so far, and can’t wait to start the rewrite. It’s going to need a lot of polish, but I think the end result will be worth it.

I haven’t always thought this.

There have been moments when I thought the book was either A) too derivative, B) too boring, C) too thin, D) too unoriginal, and E) all of the above. But I’ve kept on, because I really enjoy being with these characters and I know that if there are flaws, they will be glaring and I can easily find and (possibly less easily) fix them in Draft 2.

But there are a few first drafts of other novels that are reposing on my hard drive, un-rewritten, because I let fear of failure get the best of me. I was afraid they weren’t good enough, I wasn’t smart enough, and doggone it, people were going to like me or my books.

So that’s why I’m taking valuable writing time to share something I found this morning, thanks to my friends Jesse and Genny. It’s called Be Friends with Failure, and it’s a short comic strip (although that doesn’t feel like the right term) about why you should embrace failure, not fear it. My favorite quote from it is this:

“You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”

In the corporate world, there’s a buzz phrase: “Fail forward.” It’s shorthand for just what Be Friends with Failure is talking about — not fearing failure, but learning from it to improve your process, your product, your company, etc. Move forward by failing. Fail forward.

So don’t despair! Keep pounding away at that first draft. Keep kicking your book forward, even if you think it’s crap. Finish it, and fix it in the rewrite. And if you can’t fix it in the rewrite, take what you learned and write a new book.

Keep writing.

Be friends with failure.

Fail forward.

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