31 October 2009
This means I actually have to start this tomorrow.
My goal, hopefully, for day one, is to hit the word count really hard tomorrow and get off on a really strong start. I know there are days coming in November when I'm not going to be able to write the full 1,667 words and so I want to bank some words when I can.
Even with NaNo going, I'm still going to try to blog fairly regularly during the next month. I've got some guest authors lined up, so stay tuned!
30 October 2009
Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Length: ~360 pages
Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Indianapolis Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Katniss Everdeen has grown up in District 12, one of the poorest parts of the new Panem country. She hunts and forages for food to keep her mother and younger sister fed, a Robin Hood-type for her struggling town. But the political powers of the day are again holding the Hunger Games, a reality-TV show-slash-Olympics-slash-execution, in which 24 teenagers from across the country are forced to compete for their very survival. Each year, there can only be one winner.
Banter Points: Hunger Games came recommended to Word Nerd highly from the high school freshmen that she mentors and it was a recommendation worth listening to. Even though Word Nerd knew there was a sequel to this book out already, she found herself worrying whether Kat would be OK throughout the story. The story is a page-turner for sure!
Collins writing is evocative and compelling and violent. She puts her characters through their paces -- so much so at times, it's shocking and uncomfortable. Only the coldest of hearts would be undisturbed by the very premise of the Hunger Games. But like all the really good sci-fi, it's not that hard to imagine our society crumbling into this dystopia.
Bummer Points: Readers beware -- this book is so unputdownable that if you start reading it before bed... watch out! Word Nerd lost sleep over this one... even after she closed the book, she wondered what would happen to Kat. Give yourself the time to read this gem in one sitting or you'll be sorry!Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like dystopian stories and/or heart-pounding reads, Hunger Games is a must. Also, if you know a teenager, get on their coolness radar by reading this one.
29 October 2009
Nope, welcome to Varied Voices, a semi-regular feature of guest posts from a variety of authors and writers. This week, welcome Kas and Effie Valentine. Word Nerd has no idea who the Masked Fedora really is. (All she knows is it's not her...)
Recently, The Masked Fedora had a chance to sit down with writing duo and darlings of the crime fiction set, Kas and Effie Valentine. Many rumors surround these jazz musicians, turned PIs, turned authors––that they are a brother and sister team masquerading as husband and wife (or vice versa), or that they’re just some idle rich folks using hired guns to pen their tales, or that “The Valentines” is a pseudonym for a well-known script-doctor who pays out-of-work actors to “play” the pair at signings.
Determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, Masked Fedora met the pair at their quaint park side apartment for coffee…bringing a half dozen Tim Hortons maple-dip donuts (as instructed).
Masked Fedora: Let’s start with the question on everybody’s mind. Are you two brother and sister or husband and wife?
Effie and Kas Valentine (in unison): Yes.
MF: Can you give our readers any insight into your process?
EV: Writing is the easy part—that is if you don’t count all the dishes thrown. It’s living the writer’s life that’s difficult. Especially adding in the music and the investigation.
MF: Is your work based on your actual cases?
KV: Heaven’s no. Too boring.
EV: Kas did have this actor friend who worked on one of those police shows. We had him over dinner one night, and I joked that he should try a real case. Rayelee Flynn, our crime-solving background actress was born on the spot.
KV: Yes, but that’s fiction. All real PI’s ever work are divorce cases.
EF: That’s how we met, in fact. Mr. Valentine’s services had been retained by a woman who suspected her husband of stepping out. And the husband thought the same, and hired me.
MF: Were they?
EF: You know, I can’t recall. I think––
KV: Are you sure that’s how we met? I could swear it was at the Slippery Noodle.
MF: The Slippery…
EF: Slippery Noodle. It’s a jazz and blues club in Indianapolis.
KV: Yes, I was playing string bass with the Sidney Zweibel trio and this lovely gal hops up on stage and demands that we let her sing “Lullaby of Birdland.” Which, of course, we did…she had the voice of a whiskey soaked angel. Which reminds me… (At this point Mr. Valentine produces a tumbler and a few martini glasses.) Care for a cocktail?
MF: Ummm…it’s nine AM.
KV: It’s okay, these are virgin.
EV: By that he means vodka instead of gin.
MF: So which it?
KV: It’s vodka.
MF: I mean which story. Which is true?
KV: I’m not sure. You pick.
EV: Honestly, darling. You can’t play jazz without being able to improv on the fly.
KV: Or tell if someone’s lying without being a liar yourself.
EV: Or hope to write good fiction unless you yourself are completely made up.
MF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
KV: (after a pause) Yes…I’d like to add a little more ice to this glass.
28 October 2009
I’m still going forth.
I really want to challenge myself with the pace of the writing demanded to complete NaNo. As I explained earlier, the book I thought I would start during NaNo isn’t ready yet in my head. I’m not to the point where putting those words down on paper would be productive. If I were, I’d need to use a machete after it was over to whack out all the useless words and I’m not really a fan of that kind of editing.
So, I’m going to burn an idea on NaNo.
Alright, maybe “burn” is too strong of a descriptor. I hope the whole experiment doesn’t go up in flames – either literal or metaphorical.
I’m resurrecting an old idea and trying again. I wrote another novel a couple years back. I tried to revise it and realized there were huge, monstrous, man-eating plot holes in the middle of the thing. I stuck it in a binder in my file cabinet in a drawer that rarely gets opened. It could stay there a good long while, I figured.
Except parts of it I really like. Parts like the main character. And the bug scene. And the thing with the clock.
I don’t like how it’s all framed and where the story starts and some of the other things the protagonist does.
So for NaNo, I’m pulling that novel back out of the drawer. (Ok, that is a metaphor). The first draft is staying where it is and I’m starting over. I’m not planning on using anything from the first version over again. I’m keeping some of the ideas, but I’m going to new versions of those scenes. I am playing by NaNo rules and not starting to write before Nov. 1 (which I take to mean pulling scenes from the original at any point during the month.)
Do I know quite how the plot’s changing from the original? Nope. Not so much.
But that’s NaNoWriMo for you.
27 October 2009
Author: Brett Battles
Length: 464 pages
Where Word Nerd’s copy came from: Free from Bouchercon Book Bazaar
Plot Basics: Jonathan Quinn can take care of anything. He’s the guy called in to clean up crime scenes, dispose of bodies, make it so that there’s no evidence anything bad ever happened. When he’s called in to investigate a fire that is suspected of being arson, others in the criminal world take exception to his poking around. Quinn ends up in a race for his life, trusting only his apprentice, Nate, and a former colleague, Orlando, who blames Quinn for ruining parts of her life years earlier. The trio globe-hop to try to stay one step ahead of those that would see them dead and piece together the evidence to understand the secrets that could get them killed.
Banter Points: Hands down, this is the best global espionage book Word Nerd has read since she was in high school and first read Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy and she’s glad Battles has two more books about Quinn out already. Quinn is a cool character, ruthless in his efficiency and yet human in his convictions about how people should or shouldn’t be used. Global conspiracy stories are, at least to Word Nerd, hard to make seem realistic, that any one criminal enterprise could really pull off what they are attempting. Battles created a crime that was scarily modern. Drawing on geopolitical events of the last 15 years, it was not hard to see the pieces of a crime like this actually coming to be.
Bummer Points: Sometimes the book felt like a little bit like a bunch of action sequences strung together. Granted, it made for a fantastic page turner, but the pace was so fast, there was hardly time to empathize with the situation that the characters were in. (If one can empathize with getting chase by global criminals…)
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like stories like the Jason Bourne books, you need to become familiar with Quinn.
26 October 2009
They could be hard at work on one book, and thinking about the ideas that they might be using later one. Michael Connelly, the featured author, was clear that he’s thinking ahead for what’s coming up in the life of his main character – Det. Harry Bosch – and is letting that simmer in his brain for a while before putting the ideas on paper.
With the start of NaNoWriMo less than a week away now, I realized I’m not ready to start with the idea I’ve been thinking about. The past few weeks of gearing up for NaNo have been really productive. I know a lot of things about my characters that I didn’t know before. I have new characters and pieces of plot that will be great.
I know now what medical condition Timot suffers from. I know what his nickname is. I understand some of what drives Sai. I discovered why Artair is so angry.
These are good things to know. And I could barrel ahead with this plot for NaNo, but I think that’s a bad choice. I’m not ready to tell this story. My subconscious hasn’t had long enough to work on this, to figure out what truly motivates them. It’s the depth of the story that’s missing. I could put my characters through a series of actions during November, but I know that the result would not be what I’m looking for.
I don’t think I can write at the pace that NaNo demands with this plot and these characters. They are too young, too fragile in my head to waste on this frenetic month. It just doesn’t feel right to push 50,000 words with these folks. Not yet.
More to come this week on NaNo and what my plans are.
22 October 2009
20 October 2009
Since wisdom is best when shared, here are some of things that caught Word Nerd's attention.
"Indianapolis is a very effective city to be murdered in." -- Brandt Dodson
"Writing is an act of great confusion and terror." -- Marcus Sakey
"Geography creates character." -- Larry Sweazy
"We have to make up enough stuff so when we can copy stuff, it's faster." -- Ken Isaacson
"Evil people never recognize themselves." -- Sarah Wisseman
"First person is a story about perception - they can be wrong." -- Hank Phillippi Ryan
"If you're an historical author, you have to know when to be vague." -- John Maddox Roberts
"Most writers do care about accuracy of any kind." -- Sharan Newman
"People take exception to being murdered." -- Jeanne M. Dams
"A good character has to do something. This is the fun of writing - letting your head go." -- Harlan Coben
"What you don't know in facts will kill you." -- David Levien
"The only way to write is to write. The only rule I know that works is discipline, consistency." -- Gary Phillips
18 October 2009
Word Nerd wasn't really sure what to expect from a big con like this, but it was great. (And more than one veteran told her this one was really well organized, lending credence to her unschooled opinion.)
There will be more highlights to come. But Word Nerd's real job intrudes tomorrow with two days of fundraising school (Come Tuesday afternoon, she'll have more letters to stick after her name or on a resume... Certificate of Fundraising Management, look out...)
But here's the quick hits list of all the authors that Word Nerd had a chance to actually participate in conversations with. Some were quick hits, some were longer... details to come, along with some of the stuff she learned. (These are in no significant order...)
1. David Morrell
2. Hank Phillippi Ryan
3. Marcus Sakey
4. Sean Chercover
5. CJ West
6. Rachel Brady
7. Brad Parks
8. Simon Wood
9. Jonathan Maberry
10. Austin Camacho
11. Kelli Stanley
12. Jess Lourey
13. Libby Hellman
14. Maris Soule
15. Larry Sweazy
16. Seth Harwood
17. Tony Perona
18. Brandt Dodson
19. Beth Groundwater
20. CJ Box
21. Denise Dietz
There are probably others. If Word Nerd forgot someone, it's not an intentional slight. As with writers, a good number of these conversations happened in bars, late at night.
More to follow. When Word Nerd is awake again. And more educated.
15 October 2009
I (the Word Nerd) am off to Bouchercon. I terribly excited for this.
I am taking my trusty notepad, my digital camera and my copy of Some Buried Caesar which I've decided to use as an autograph book. (instead of carrying around gobs of books for authors to sign, I'm having them all sign the same book...)
There will be reports of the things learned/fun had next week.
If you headed to B-con too, try to say hi. I'll do the same.
12 October 2009
Author: Allison Brennan
Length: ~375 pages
Genre: romantic suspense
Plot Basics: Claire O'Brien's father, Tom, a former cop, has been sitting on death row for years for the murder of her mother and her mother's lover. But he escapes from prison during an earthquake. Since then, he's been helping authorities round-up other fugitives. But Tom has always claimed he's innocent of the crimes and with his freedom, he's determined to prove it. He appeals to Claire for help. pushing her to hear out what a local Innocence Project chapter may have uncovered about her case. Claire finally takes a chance and believes her father. As she investigates, she ends up on a dangerous path trying to expose killers and unaware that one of them in lying in wait for her.
Banter Points: This was pretty typical romantic suspense mind-candy -- girl in distress falls for FBI agent trying to protect her despite the boatload of big lies he's told her in an effort to keep her safe. The subplot about Tom was much more interesting, but it was definitely not the focus of the book.
Bummer Points: This was pretty typical romantic suspense mind-candy. Word Nerd's laying off Allison Brennan again for a while.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Beach read, airplane book, something for when your mind is too full of other stuff to concentrate a lot on a book.
08 October 2009
To Evolve, or Not to Evolve…by Sean Chercover
Bethany asked me to talk about my approach to evolving a series character. I think, if you’re working on a series, you first have to address the question of whether or not your protagonist should evolve.
There are many fine series featuring protags who stubbornly resist change. I’m a huge fan of Jack Reacher and Travis McGee and Lew Archer, none of whom evolved a whole lot over the years. Those characters are more than just characters – they are finely wrought points-of-view. Much of their power comes from their certainty.
Another consistent character, Spenser, began life as an evolving character but stopped after a number of books. Robert B. Parker has made no secret of why he stopped evolving Spenser. Many readers want to re-experience the emotional identification with the hero. The hero is like an old friend, and they want to pick up the next book knowing that the same friend will be there. As a result, static protagonists tend to sell more books than evolving protagonists.
There are exceptions, of course, and writing a non-changing (I hate to say “static”) hero is no guarantee of success. Very few writers are capable of creating a non-changing hero who remains interesting (and believable) over time. It requires a special skill.
For me, the choice to write Ray Dudgeon as an evolving character was easy. I find that I usually cleave more strongly to such characters, so I knew from the start that Ray would be an evolving character.
Ray is a troubled soul. The things in life of which Ray is unsure, far outnumber the things of which he is certain. He’s a good man, but doesn’t always act like the good man that he is. This, of course, gives him a lot of room to grow. But more than that, it demands that he grow.
I think that’s essential, if you’re writing an evolving series character. Not just giving your protagonist a few flaws (She’s a workaholic! He’s got a short temper!) but actually starting with a damaged character. Not just to give him “room to grow” but to make character growth necessary for his survival. Necessary, and difficult. The evolving character is (like all of us) a work-in-progress. If you start with a character who is comfortable in her own skin and in the world, then we really don’t need to follow her progress through life.
Ray is working hard at becoming a better man, one story at a time. Over time, his now-shaky skills as a friend and romantic partner may exceed his considerable skills as a private detective. And if that happens, the series may come to a natural end.
I’m rooting for him. But it’s a long and winding road.
07 October 2009
I found out about NaNoWriMo a few years ago, but it’s never been the right time. As a reporter covering local governmental bodies, there were always these pesky things called elections every November. Trust me, waiting until midnight for returns to come in and then writing front-page worthy copy was not a great way to stay on the 50,000-word bandwagon. The fallout of elections kept me too busy and occupied too much brain space to force that many words of fiction out at the same time. (No jokes about reporters writing fiction anyway… )
Then, two years ago, I’d just moved to Indianapolis and was hammering away at the current WIP that’s the subject of query letters. Why do NaNo when I was already writing?
Last fall, I’d just transitioned from being an impoverished AmeriCorps member to having a real title and real salary and not-scary apartment. I’m not sure NaNo even crossed my mind then.
This year, though, is the perfect time because of several factors.
One -- the fate of the current WIP is rapidly moving out of my hands.
Two – I read a blog post from Paperback Writer that recommended for every writers’ convention you attend, you should write a novel. I’m headed to Bouchercon in two weeks and next year, I’m thinking World Fantasy (since that’s what I write). It seems like good advice: if you only go to cons, and don’t write, you’ll never move out of that “aspiring” category for authors. If I go to World Fantasy, that means I’ve got about eight months or so to crank out most of the next book.
Three – Marcus Sakey, in similar advice to Paperback Writer, recommends writing the next book while working on selling the first one.
So why NaNo? My plan is to use the 50,000 NaNo goal to make a serious dent in the next book. My plan is to write what will hopefully be 50,000 words well on their way to being good words that contain interesting characters and a compelling plot.
That’s why October is becoming critically important. October is all about planning. I’ve erased one of my blackboard panels; the second one is coming clean in a few days. I’m giving myself space and permission to scribble out ideas. I’ve got a list of characters already. I’ve got my 3x5 note cards handy to jot out fuller scene ideas. One of my original ideas for a main character is already being replaced with a much better new character who can help the plot move better and provide more tension.
The plan is the key. And the rest of the dose of crazy I need to do NaNo.
06 October 2009
STRANGER THAN TRUTH by Hank Phillippi Ryan
My mother is so mad at me. She’s in the midst of reading FACE TIME, the second Charlotte McNally Mystery.
I expected Mom to like it. She was delighted when PRIME TIME won the Agatha, and delighted that AIR TIME is already hitting best-seller lists. And she’s my mom, after all. So I didn’t expect criticism. But Mom, after reading the first ten pages or so, told me she was “unhappy.” You have to imagine the "Mom" tone. Perhaps, you've heard it. Maybe you've used it a time or two yourself.
To be sure: Mom is terrific. She’s almost 80, and is absolutely beautiful. An artist, a reader, a wonderful intellect. (She doesn’t have a computer, so she’s not reading this.) I’m her oldest daughter, and any psychologist will tell you that can cause some friction.
So anyway. Why is Mom mad? She thinks I’ve “used her for art.”
It’s true: Charlie McNally’s mother is a bit—persnickety. She’s opinionated. She thinks, for instance, that Charlotte should give up her successful 20-year TV reporting career to marry some tycoon. No matter that Charlie’s happy with her personal life (pretty happy, at least, for a 46-year-old single woman who is married to her job) and with her professional life (pretty happy, at least, especially since she’s going undercover to investigate a truly diabolical scheme).
“Mom” also thinks Charlotte might want to join her at the plastic surgeon for some cosmetic face time.
Now Mrs. McNally is not, I repeat, not, my mother. But in these days of controversy over whether books purported to be memoirs are actually true—I’m fighting to convince her that my book is truly fiction.
It’s ALL MADE UP, I tell her. Yes, Charlie has a Mom, and I have a Mom. But I’m not Charlie and she’s not you. No one will think you had cosmetic surgery.
Silence on the other end of the phone.
“Of course they will, dear,” she finally says. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
And that’s why my Bouchercon panel “You Talking About ME?” (check local listings for time and station!) is going to be such a treat. It’s all about the pitfalls of using real life in your books—and how to balance fact and fiction. You think CJ Lyons MD uses the personas of any doctors she knows? That incredible athlete Twist Phelan just ignores her true-life competitors? Does Ken Isaacson (attorney at law) just pull his fictional lawyers out of thin air? (Molly MacRae will attempt to “moderate” us…good luck with that.)
And hey--if you’re a reader, do you assume fictional characters are real people just put on paper?
And as it turns out—as Mom will find out if she’ll just read the rest of the book—it’s not only a mystery but a love story between mothers and daughters. One reviewer told me she downright cried at the final scene. (Which is odd, you have to admit, in a murder mystery.)
Yes, as authors we take elements of reality. Then we polish, and tweak, and exaggerate, and accessorize. But the fun is making up something completely new. And it’s ALL MADE UP.
Investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is currently on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate, where she's broken big stories for the past 22 years. Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. Her first mysteries, Prime Time (which won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel) and Face Time (Book Sense Notable Book), were best sellers. They were both re-issued this summer from MIRA Books. The newest in the series is Air Time (MIRA Sept. 2009) (Sue Grafton says: "Sassy, fast-paced and appealing. This is first-class entertainment.") Drive Time is scheduled for February 2010 from MIRA. Her website is http://www.hankphillippiryan.com/
05 October 2009
Word Nerd's not really sure why (maybe all the crazy hours she's been working, perhaps?) but the bibliometer reading for last month is kind of low.
77 books by the end of September 2008