Saturday, December 1, 2018

Story Genius

According to the back cover, this book can "help you crack the story code and create a novel, screenplay, or memoir that will keep readers riveted. Using one novelist's evolving story as an example throughout, Story Genius takes you step-by-step from the first glimmer of an idea to an expansive multilayered cause-and-effect blueprint - including fully realized scenes. By plumbing the nitty-gritty details of your raw idea to organically generate your story's internal logic, meaning, and urgency, you'll end up with a first draft that has the authority, richness, and command of a sixth or seventh."

I bought this book because I did exactly what the book says on the back cover: spent months "writing hundreds of pages only to realize the story has no sense of urgency and no internal logic."

Having read this book I now understand why those stories failed and also, how I managed to write some stories to the end. In the latter case I pretty much did what Cron talks about in the book without entirely being aware of it. Having failed in my last 2 attempts to write something worth reading, I decided to do things differently.

Now, I will say that the evolving story that's used in the book isn't the best example, in my opinion. And at times it was hard to translate what Cron suggested to the type of story I was writing. But I persisted and now, having done all the exercises and written 20K plus words, I actually feel like I'm in a much better position to write the story. Instead of plunging forth into the darkness with my lantern and compass like most pantsers, I now have a somewhat detailed map of my destination, character studies, scenes, backstory, and knowledge of the world in which my characters are going to live in for the next 300 or so pages. I don't want to say it's plotted, because that's not what the book is about. It's more like laying the perfect foundation upon which to build and having a blueprint of what you will build. For the pantser (like me) who doesn't want to plot too much but is willing to explore backstory and character motivations, this has proved to be an excellent how-to book. I would also hazard a guess that for the plotter, the book might be equally as helpful.

Final words: If you've ever spent months "writing hundreds of pages only to realize the story has no sense of urgency and no internal logic" then this book is definitely for you. Even if you haven't, I'll bet you'll find something useful.

As for my glimmer of an idea, the only thing I'll share is the picture that sparked the what if...

Meanwhile, it's cold here in Maine. Not horribly right now. And I'm glad the rain came and washed most of the snow away. But it's December. And that means spring is four long months away. Months filled with cold and snow and ice, and I have no vacation to look forward to. But. I do have a story I'm looking forward to writing and that, my friend, is a very good thing.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone who celebrates the day gets to enjoy it with the people they like best. I will be with most of my family here at my house in lovely Warren, Maine where it is freezing cold - currently 7 degrees Fahrenheit - and we've already had snow TWICE!!! It isn't even Winter yet! Needless to say I have no plans to step foot out of doors. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Just One Damn Thing After Another

I thought it was kind of a silly title for a book, until I read this: "History is just one damned thing after another." -Arnold Toynbee. Which makes the title perfect, because that is essentially what happens to the main character of this book and her colleagues, historians who go back to to observe major events and return to tell about it.

One reviewer had this to say: "The title unfortunately describes the way this book is plotted. Things happen, and they are sort of loosely slung-together, with very little sense of time passing (at one point the protagonist notes she's known another character for five years, and I genuinely thought only a single year had passed since their meeting at the beginning of the novel) and with absolutely no character development."

In part I agree, especially as to the time passing more quickly than I realized, and to the character development. No one is especially changed by the end of the book. But. It was FUN!!! So fun I've ordered the second book and plan on enjoying that as well.

Apparently, there are quite a few books in this series so I am not the only one who loved this book. The main character is smart, witty, and brave. Some of her colleagues are awesome. Some are assholes (like any job, right?), and some are worse, as we come to find out.

And then of course there's the history part, which was wicked fun, too. I mean who doesn't like dinosaurs!!!

Final thoughts: If you like history, mad-cap adventures, dinosaurs, time-travel, the library at Alexandria, you'll probably like this book.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sunday Review - The Mermaid's Sister

This week I'm going to tell you about a happier book: The Mermaid's Sister by Carrie Anne Noble.

This was another book I read during my visit to my mom in Florida, and it begins in the mountains where Auntie cares for her two charges, Clara and Maren. According to the tale, both girls arrived almost simultaneously, one via the stork, and the other in a conch shell. They have grown up as sisters and love each and Auntie as much as any family could. Thus, when Maren begins developing scales, it is eventually decided she must be brought back to the sea. Getting there, however, will not be easy. There's a young man in town determined to make Maren his bride, and worse, a traveling curiosity show that would like to make Maren their main attraction.

What I loved about the book: The writing was beautiful. Noble describes in magical prose the otherworldly iridescence of Maren's scales as they take over who she was, and change her into who she will be. I loved the relationship between the two sisters, who though not related by blood, are as devoted to one another as any sisters. And I loved Auntie, who was more than that, and that some things remained a mystery.

What I didn't love: The ending. But I should clarify by saying it wasn't a bad ending, just a predictable one. Parts of the ending I would keep, but I do wonder whether there was something else or something different that could've made this ending perfect.

Final thoughts: I would give this 4 out of 5 stars. Even if the ending is a little predictable, the writing is so beautiful and the story so engaging, plus there's a dragon...did I not mention him before? He isn't full grown yet so not much of a menace but notice I said not much. Anyway. I very much enjoyed this book and if you like fairy tales I think you will, too.

 It's cold and dreary here in Maine today but I am soon off to my brother's to play Minecraft and won't care a bit! Have a fabulous week all!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sunday Review - Just Mercy

While away visiting my mom in sunny Florida, I read FOUR books, and among them was Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson.

 Just Mercy, A Story of Justice and Redemption, written by Brian Stevenson who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, which defends the poor and wrongly convicted.

This book tells the story of Walter McMillian, who was sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. The case is an example of what justice looks like for poor black people too much of the time.

In the 1980s, Walter McMillian had his own pulpwood business, a wife, and three children. He was by no means perfect, and it was well-known that he spent time with other women. Among them was Karen Kelly, a married white woman. Although the Supreme Court had struck down anti-miscegenation statutes in Loving vs Virginia in 1967, Alabama's state constitution still restricted interracial marriage: "The Legislature shall never pass any law to authorise or legalise any marriage between any white person and a Negro or a descendant of a Negro." It wouldn't be until 2000 that the law was struck when 59% of voters chose to eliminate the ban on interracial marriage. Sadly 41% voted to keep it, which offers insight into what happened next.

A few weeks after Walter was called in to court to testify in the divorce proceedings between Karen Kelly and her husband Joe, 18 year old Ronda Morrison was shot dead at the Monroe Cleaners where she worked. A few days after this murder, Tom Tate was elected the new county sheriff, and soon found himself under pressure to solve the case. Meanwhile, Karen Kelly was not doing well and had begun to associate with Ralph Myers, a man with a badly scarred face (he was burned in a fire while in foster care) and a lengthy criminal record. The two became involved in dealing drugs and were implicated in the murder of Vickie Lynn Pittman. Ralph, in an effort to extricate himself from the trouble was in, eventually told investigators that he, Karen Kelly, and Walter McMillian had been involved in the death of Vickie Pittman, and that Walter was responsible for Ronda Morrison's death.

Investigators then set up a meeting between Ralph and Walter, but Walter obviously had no idea who Ralph was. Nevertheless, based on Myers story (which he'd changed multiple times), Sheriff Tate, ABI (Alabama Bureau of Investigation) lead investigator Simon Benson, and DA investigator Larry Ikner arrested Walter McMillian for the murder of Ronda Morrison. Then, when Myers recanted, Sheriff Tate took both him and Walter Holman Correction Facility to be housed on Death Row, something that is almost never done prior to conviction. This was enough for Myers and based on his testimony of Myers and that of Bill Hooks, who identified Walter's car at the cleaners where Ronda was killed on the day in question (after he was promised release from jail and reward money), Walter was convicted and sentenced to death. Never mind that on the day of the murder Walter spent the morning with a friend working on his truck and then had a fish fry at his house where dozens of witnesses attested to his presence, including a police officer who even noted in his log that he stopped to buy food at Walter's house.

It would take six long years for Brian Stevenson to right the wrong committed in convicting Walter McMillian to death and in that time Stevenson deals with many other cases of injustice, all of which fall disproportionately upon people of color. This is a hard book to read. To think that there is still so much prejudice that people in places of authority are willing to convict an innocent person rather than find the real culprit is sickening. Sadder still is that Sheriff Tate is still in office in Monroe County and apparently no more honest than he was when he decided to arrest an innocent man.

Alabama Sheriffs pocket tax payer dollars

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday Pics - Leu Gardens and my new favorite artist

I recently went to Florida to visit my mom and while there we went to Leu Gardens (one of our favorite places), and the Museum of Art in Orlando where I discovered my new favorite artist. But first the gardens. Because, well, flowers.

If you haven't noticed it by now, let me make it clear. I adore flowers and gardens. I could take pictures of them forever, because even a bad picture of a flower can be beautiful. And the colors...oh my! Flowers stun me with their fabulous colors. If only I had a green thumb to go along with my love...

Anyway. Leu Gardens, which was exceedingly hot and humid, but still lovely...

This is a darling little cottage on the property where a black cat was being fed on the front step.

The roses had long since gone by for the most part, but I did manage to find a few that were blooming

Love this cool bird house, though I don't think it's actually a bird house. My boss said butterfly house which makes sense since this was in the 'butterfly garden' but I never knew butterflies needed houses.

No idea what this flower is but wow. Is it not fabulously gorgeous?!

My new favorite artist. Jon Muth. I love him.

Dust Devils.

This is not Jon Muth. I recognized it immediately as a Ralph Blakelock because we have one of his paintings at the pawn shop where I work. I love him, too.

There was more, as you can imagine, but the only other artist I'll tell you about is Nick Cave. Some of his 'sound suits' were on display, and there was a video of a person in one of his suits, moving. The image was then doubled, or mirrored, creating a 42 minute film. I couldn't find a link to what I saw, which was mesmerizing, but this short clip gives you an idea and there are a few brief bits showing parts of the video. It's the black and white one, a bit like a Rorschach image.

So. Wow, right? Lot's of cool stuff to digest. I also read FOUR books, which I will be telling you about in future posts, and saw a movie I can't review without giving anything away but must recommend: A Simple Favor. That's all I'll say.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: Blackout & All Clear by Connie Willis

I have long been a fan of Connie Willis. I've read The Doomsday Book, Passages, Lincoln's Dreams, and To Say Nothing About the Dog. The first and last both concern a group Oxford historians who travel into the past as observers, as do Black Out and All Clear.

Black Out begins in a future Oxford where the Director is suddenly moving everyone's assignments around and no one knows why. The main characters are Merope, who goes by Eileen, Mike, and Polly, all traveling separately back to WWII, England. Eileen to observe war orphans, Polly to observe shelters and tubes, and Mike to Dunkirk.  Once they get there, however, they discover that their drops (their way back home) are no longer functioning. This leads them to find one another to try to discover what's gone wrong, because the history they thought they knew is not exactly the one they're experiencing. This causes Polly and Mike in particular to believe that in addition to not being able to get home, somehow they may have changed history.

All Clear is Black Out's sequel.

I'll start with my single criticism. It's one I often have for 'big' authors (Stephen King I'm looking at you). Too many words! Both of these books are fairly long by today's standards, and I feel pretty certain the story could've been condensed, which probably would've upped the tension.

However. I enjoyed every single word. Connie Willis won the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo awards for these novels and there's good reason for that. First, she knows how to write well. Like, really well. Second, I can only imagine the sort of chart she must've employed to keep all the time lines straight but she did a masterful job. Third and last is the research that went into these two stories, which primarily take place during WWII.

Sure, I knew the Brits had a tough time of it during the war, I'd heard of children being sent away to the country side (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe come to mind), and I'd seen some movies depicting the London blitz. But really, I had no clue. Connie Willis immersed me in that time period more than anything I've seen or read. Her attention to all those details that make a place feel real is on full display, and the dialogue is some of the best I've seen. As someone who majored in history, I adored these books, and they gave me a new appreciation of what the Brits went through and how much everyone sacrificed, rich and poor alike.

Finally, I have to mention the orphans, Binnie and Alf, the most awful children you could imagine, who have an interesting part to play. They were horrible and I loved them!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Birds, Skyrim, and Decisions

My son sent me a couple pics he took I thought I'd share. This first is a Western Tanager, very unusual for these parts...

And a hawk who has caught a dove.

Everyone has to eat

Now on to happier things...Namely, Skyrim.

This screen shot is me looking at someone called Astrid.

Previously I was happily at home with Inigo and Lydia, my two faithful companions. I went upstairs to bed, and when I woke I found myself in this abandoned shack. I had a good idea what had happened since I sorta kinda took a job intended for the dark brotherhood. But trust me, that horrible woman running the orphanage in Riften deserved to die. And I don't say that lightly. Still, when the kid started talking about the dark brotherhood I should've walked out then, completely disabusing him of the notion I had anything to do with them. But by taking up the boy's cause (revenge upon the horrible woman who abused him and all the other orphans), I attracted the notice of the dark brotherhood, landing me in the situation I currently find myself.

And in order to get out without harm to myself, Astrid informs me I must kill one of these three people.

I can talk to them first, maybe guess which one deserves killing, and assuage my conscience. Or, I could try to kill Astrid (which won't be easy - I've already tried it once and she kicked my ass) and let them all go.

And therein lies the decision. I know. It's just a game. But I generally don't go around killing and robbing people in Skyrim (unless they're bad guys, Imperials, or Thalmor - hey, I have standards!), and since I don't know these people I don't really want to kill any of them. That's not my job. But...the dark brotherhood path could be interesting...and yet it seems so diametrically opposed to the path of the dragonborn (which I am, btw). What to do?

Of course, the great thing about the game is that I can explore the dark brotherhood path and then if I don't like like it, revert to the earlier game save. Just like I can go back and play having joined the Imperials, rather than the Stormcloaks. Which is why I love Skyrim. So many paths to follow!

Meanwhile, I've also been enjoying American Horror Story, Season 2 Asylum (which I found very satisfying), and Sharp Objects on HBO. Next up will be the latest season of Supernatural. Gotta love those Winchester boys.

As for books, I finished Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, and I think I'll tell you about them next time. Currently reading Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Pawn Shop & History

This flag came into our shop recently and my question is, does anyone know why a 39 star flag might be valuable?

I'll tell you why a 39 star is valuable, but first I'm going to show you some other fun stuff we have at the shop, like this shelf. My favorites are the clocks and the two paperweights next to them.

Then there's the new antique tool room, which even if tools aren't your thing is still very cool.

We also have this old Stone shield depicting...possibly some manifestation of Shiva....?

And these very cool fish decoys...

my fave

Now, why is a 39 star flag valuable? The obvious answer is that it's rare, which is correct. But why is it rare, you might ask? The reason is because back in 1889, flag manufacturers tried to to get a jump on sales in anticipation of a new state being admitted. But instead of one state, we got two: North and South Dakota. So, there never was an 'official' 39 star US flag.

Meanwhile, I'm working on chapter 21 of THE EXECUTIONER, reading Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, and very much enjoying Les Revenants, which the American series The Returned was based on.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Jonah Hatch June 3, 2007 - June 21, 2018

I am still bereft.

But I will be back at the end of the month with walks I went on, books I read, and whatever else comes to mind.

Stay well.

Monday, July 9, 2018

First Impressions - Hotel Room

Well, it's been a while since Dianne and I have done this, but out of the blue someone emailed me wanting their first page critiqued and who am I to refuse a fellow writer in need? So, without further ado, I present Selena's first page from her work in progress.


She woke up with a splitting headache and a muddled mind. Without opening her eyes or trying to form a coherent thought, she pushed her head deeper into the soft pillow and sent a silent prayer to the heavens for the pain to go away and let her sleep a little longer. Unfortunately, it took only seconds for a nagging feeling to appear in her stomach, telling her something was wrong. Peeling her eyelids open, she took in her surroundings. The city lights coming through the large floor-to-ceiling window were enough for the sleek lines of the furniture around her to form a disturbing picture in her head. A hotel room. She was in a hotel room. An expensive one at that, if the leather armchairs positioned by the coffee table and plush curtains framing the window were anything to go by. At the same time, she noticed the silky feel of the sheets covering her body and realized she was naked. Panic made her lift her head up with the jerk, and she immediately regretted the move since blindingly sharp needles of pain pierced her brain. Firmly shutting her eyes, she let her head fall back down and waited for the onslaught of nausea to pass. She really was in a hotel with possibly the worst hangover of her life. The good news was that the room was still dark which meant the morning didn’t come yet. Nobody was in bed with her or even in the room, so she didn’t have to get up right this second. Her brain will would probably offer some information about the last night events at some point, so there was no need to panic. She allowed herself to relax just a little bit and sunk sank into the softness of the bed trying to decide on the a course of action that will would get her out of this room and home. Preferably as soon as possible. A headache wasn’t going anywhere, and she didn’t have any painkillers so the shower should probably be the first stop of her escape route. That will clear her head enough to find her stuff, leave the hotel and find a cab that will drive her home. Well, it appears that forging the plan wasn’t so hard after all.

My thoughts: First off, I would give her a name. It's hard to connect with someone who doesn't have a name and the goal of the first page is to pull the reader in and get her to connect with the character. Like so: 
Sasha woke up with a splitting headache and a muddled mind Without opening her eyes or trying to form a coherent thought, she pushed her head deeper into the soft pillow and sent a silent prayer to the heavens for the pain to go away and let her sleep a little longer.
It's much easier to feel sorry for Sasha than some unnamed person. 
The second thing I noticed was that our narrator isn't too alarmed at finding herself in a high end motel room, naked no less, and has access to painkillers, although she doesn't have any on her. This leads me to make certain assumptions about her. Is she a call girl? Does she often drink too much and end up in strange people's beds? 
Last but not least, a first page needs to do something to make the reader want to turn the page and read more. The question of how this character got where she is isn't enough, in my opinion, but mostly because the character is so nonchalant about it. She's not worried so why should the reader be? 
With that said, if there's a reason our character had so much to drink, I suggest that information be conveyed sooner to give the reader more impetus to turn the page. I would also suggest that she feel some regret. Not necessarily for ending up in a hotel room for a one night stand, but for having drank so much that she can't recall. That's not a good thing, and even an alcoholic would be remorseful - and want to get the heck out of there as fast as possible. 

Selena, thank you for submitting your first page, and I hope my thoughts have helped. Readers, if you have anything helpful to add please do, and don't forget that Dianne is critiquing this page as well so head over to her place to see what she had to say.