28 February 2006

Good Writing -- the Second Link

Word Nerd was very impressed by the "MyTurn" column in the March 6 issue of Newsweek.

Here it is "An Agent, A Publisher and a Polygraph Test?"

February Bibliometer

Here's the bibliometer for February... yes, there are 15 hours and some odd minutes before it's really the end of the month, but there's no way Word Nerd can read enough pages to finish a book and do her day job in that time.

6 books
Heat Stroke, Rachel Caine
Whiskey Sour, JA Konrath
Purity of Blood, Arturo Perez-Reverte
Hard Eight, Janet Evanovich
Life, the Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams
Good Behavior, Donald E. Westlake

Total pages = 1669, avg. 60 pages/day

27 February 2006

Read Across America

This week is the National Education Association's "Read Acoss America" week, which includes the birthday of the venerable Dr. Seuss on Thursday.

The whole idea of the week is to boost kids' enthusiasm for reading by making books fun.

As a kid, Word Nerd didn't need much encouragement to think reading was fun. Word Nerd was the kind of kid who would save up her money to order books from those Scholastic book order forms (remember those 4-page newsprint type flyers?).

This whole idea of reading to kids got Word Nerd to thinking about what were some of her favorite books as a kid. Many of these got read and reread, so if you're looking for some good kiddie-lit that came out before the world heard of Harry Potter, here are a few titles.
  • The Castle in the Attic, by Elizabeth Winthrop
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg
  • The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin
  • Trapped in Time, by Ruth Chew (out of print...this could be tougher to find)
  • The Prydain Chronicles (The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King), bu Lloyd Alexander

24 February 2006

Book Banter -- Good Behavior

Title: Good Behavior
Author: Donald E. Westlake
Length: 244 pages
Genre: crime/comedy
Plot Basics: When thing go awry during a caper (like normal), burglar John Dortmunder falls into other employment. Dortmunder is hired by a group of nuns to rescue one of their own who has been kidnapped by her father who is disgruntled with her choice to be a nun.

Banter Points: Westlake again has crafted a book full of comedy and wry humor. He has a talent (read gift) for humorous understatement and crafting sets of unlikely circumstances that hang together with more than a modicum of plausibility. Westlake also ties in little snippets of new information about old plots to keep long-time reader on their toes.
Bummer Points: Dortmunder's partner in many of his capers, Andy Kelp, was around in this book, but his character was toned way down... Disappointingly. There's also no cover image available for this post because the book is out of print since it was first published in 1985.

Word Nerd recommendation: It helps to go back and read from the beginning of the series, but it's not imperative.

23 February 2006

It's red pen time

Or green. Or purple.
Word Nerd doesn't edit in red pen too often... too many memories of bleeding papers from graduate school. *shudder*
But after a two-week push to crank out the next section of the work-in-progress, the real work now begins: The self-editing.
Why put yourself through this, you ask? Why not let the critique group do this work?
Simply because Word Nerd knows this section is not as good as she can make it yet. There are places that need more description, places where adverbs need to be cut, places where transitions are abrupt and choppy. There are the places in the manuscript with "MORE HERE" that well, need more there to make the scene exciting.
By the time it gets to the crit group, the section needs to be the best 20,000 words that Word Nerd can muster. The job of the crit group is to find the places where Word Nerd thought things were OK but aren't.
The self-edit is time-consuming and very critical. Word choice, descriptions, placement, character development -- everything is subject to change.
Good thing Word Nerd just got a new package of green pens.

22 February 2006

'T ain't what you do... it's why you do it

JA Konrath, author of Whiskey Sour, posted some great questions about why writers write on his blog.

Among them: A need for self-expression? Money? Fame? Because you just can't help it/stop it?

Writers, as a lot, (or at least the ones Word Nerd has met) tend to be a reflective people. It's likely because they are imbued with curiousity that constantly makes them ask questions about the world and "how would characters react in this situation" and "what happens next?"

Perhaps less often does a writer reflect on why he or she is writing.

There are lots of wannabee writers who are convinced that they are walking around with the story in their heads that will make them the next J.K. Rowling, or Dan Brown, or whomever.

But what is it that turns that person with the idea into the person who sits at the computer and bangs out word after word after word and then revises and revises and revises until the story is done?


Word Nerd knows two things about why she does it: It ain't the money and it ain't the fame.

21 February 2006

Cold Progress

Word Nerd said last week that she was going to spend the bitter cold weekend inside writing. The expectation was for pages to get done.

The update is this -- roughly 6 pages done. With spacing set on 1.5 lines (that's a little smaller than double-space) that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 words. Word Nerd got through one scene that was planned, one that wasn't but was a wonderful surprise to create and into the second scene that was planned.

A little trick that continues to serve Word Nerd well in writing: Never get up from writing when you are stuck. Always stop when you know what happens next. That way, it's easier to get started again.

20 February 2006

Book Banter -- Life, the Universe and Everything

Title: Life, the Universe and Everything
Author: Douglas Adams
Length: 232 pages
Genre: sci-fi
Plot Basics: Arthur Dent -- who only narrowly missed being blown up with the rest of Earth in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy -- is now one of a handful of people who can save Life, the Universe and Everything from annihilation by the robots of the planet Krikkit.
Banter Points: Dent Arthur Dent returns for the third installment of the five-book Hitchhikers Guide trilogy. If the idea of a five-book trilogy bends your mind a little bit, welcome to this whole series. Adams again sprinkles the book with bits of galactic wisdom, for example, "It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems with just potatoes," and leaves his readers laughing aloud at the antics of his characters.
Bummer Points: It's just not Hitchhikers... and for a reader in the part of the world where cricket is not played, some parts a tad confusing.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you like sci-fi but have never read these classics you should. If you like comedy, go back and read the first two. If you want the easy way out, go rent the movie which is a pretty good rendition but don't come whining to the Word Nerd when the "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" song runs through your head.

17 February 2006

Good Writing -- the First Link

Word Nerd has always intended on this blog to post links to things that are well-written.

So far, that intention hasn't turned into action. But that stops now.

The Word Nerd isn't really a sports fan, but Olympics are kind of cool and they do produce all kinds of stories. Word Nerd also like stories about science and this one combines both.

Legends of the Fall: Athletes understand the gravity of the sliding sports, by Libby Copeland, Washington Post.

Word Nerd likes this piece because it has voice. Writing a story about gravity and bobsleding is probably one of those pieces that writers dread because it would be so difficult to make it not sound like science textbook or so athletically technical that a non-bobsledder would never read it. This has some nice description to it and actually gives a non-bobsledder, or luge-er or skeleton-er some useful analogies for what that sport is actually like.

When the weather outside is frightful

For those readers outside of WI, in case you didn't know, there was a blizzard here yesterday and now we head into a weekend of sub-arctic temperatures. (Word Nerd has decided that sub-arctic can indeed be a word and a useful one at that for describing the predicted -35 windchill forecasted for tonight.)

So. Since the weather is going to be beastly (that's of the yeti or abominable snowman variety of beasts) there is only one this to do this weekend: Write.

There should be no excuse for not cranking out pages this weekend. And when Word Nerd says pages, she means pages. In the work-in-progress, Word Nerd's got two scenes for sure she knows are coming up in the plot and ideas on how to tie those scenes neatly to what has happened and what's coming next. Meaning there's no excuse for not writing this weekend, particularly when it's going to be cold enough to freeze fingers off if Word Nerd would venture outside. Frozen off fingers would definitely complicated this whole writing thing.

If writing all weekend sounds like a plan to you, but you don't know where to start, here are a couple story starters to get the imagination going.
  • first line: "Honestly, ma'am, we just can't insure you for that kind of trip."
  • topic: On the road again
  • prompt: Tell a story about the images on a roll of film in 12, 24, or 36 paragraphs.
  • word: shenanigans

Word Nerd would like to thank "Writers Digest," "The Writer's Block" and that other writing book of prompt whose title she can't remember for these prompts.

16 February 2006

Book Banter -- Hard Eight

Title: Hard Eight
Author: Janet Evanovich
Length: ~330 pages (Word Nerd can't remember the exact number. It must be the weight of the snow.)
Genre: mystery/chick lit
Plot Basics: Hapless bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is back. As a favor to her parents' next door neighbor, Stephanie agrees to look for a missing woman and her child. But as with most of her cases, she ends up in over her head and with the deadly Eddie Abruzzi and his mask-wearing henchmen on her heels.
Banter Points: Evanovich still has the hook. Word Nerd plowed through this book pretty quickly, even though it's not the best in the series. There were a couple almost laugh-out-loud moments also.
Bummer Points: It had to happen sometime in a series with this many books. Hard Eight is a hard fall from the standards that Evanovich set with the first seven. The book is not terrible by any means, it just felt, well, formulaic at this point. Stephanie has trouble with the case; Stephanie has trouble with the men in her life, cop Joe Morelli and the ever-enigmatic Ranger; there's a romantic interlude; and the case gets solved.
Word Nerd recommendation: If a reader is this far into the series, stick with it. Word Nerd hears that they get better again.

15 February 2006

So Many Books...

Word Nerd finished a book today and *gasp* was without something to read, hoping that the hold on a book at the library would have come in already. There's nothing like a seamless transition from bounty hunters to King Arthur. Honest.

But... the book wasn't there and the Word Nerd had to hit the stacks.
And came home with 4 more novels. And now -- where to put priorities? The criminal antics of John Dortmunder and Co. in "Good Behavior?" The sci-fi nonsense of Arthur Dent in "Life the Universe and Everything? An earlier novel of Joanne Harris or Arturo Perez-Reverte?

Watch the hold come tomorrow.

14 February 2006

Too Marvelous for Words

Today is a day when some people get all poetical.
Many will choose to leave the word-smithing to Hallmark to explain feelings, but the brave will pick up their pens to put words to on paper.

So, fellow Word Nerds, the quest today is to help humanity with a repository of appropriate Valentine's Day words, should they feel the need to pen some amourous verses.

To begin: (with a nod to Johnny Mercer and Michael Feinstein for the "Too Marvelous for Words" song)

Ok. Word Nerd is nauseous from trying to think of more mushy words. Please post what you think of to help grow the list. The key here is appropriate -- in this case, appropriate means, "probably not appearing in a paperback romance novel."

13 February 2006

Book Banter -- Purity of Blood

Title: Purity of Blood (Captain Alatriste, bk. 2)
Author: Arturo Perez-Reverte
Length: 262 pages
Genre: historical fiction/adventure
Plot Basics: Captain Diego Alatriste, war veteran and now sword-for-hire, is employed by Don Vicente de la Cruz to rescue his daughter from a convent. The rescue does not go as planned and Alatriste and his squire Inigo Balboa find themselves caught in up politics and religious pursuits that are tangled with the deadly Spanish Inquisition.
Banter Points: Captain Alatriste is like the Batman of 17th-century Spain -- dark, silent, brooding and living with his own code of honor making him a complicated character. As with the first Alatriste book, Perez-Reverte weaves Spanish history and poetry liberally through the book to give an honesty to his period novels.
An astute reader will notice that the POV switches from Inigo the narrator to a third-person account during part of the book, something Word Nerd has harped on in previous posts. However, in this book it works. Why -- because the whole story is told to "Your Mercies" by Inigo years later and it's logical that Alatriste would have filled him in on what happened so he could recount that part of the story as well.
Bummer Points: Those of us reading Alatriste in English have to wait until 2007 for the next installment of his adventures and through 2009 to get the whole five-book series in English. Word Nerd wishes she had studied Spanish so the wait could be shorter.
Word Nerd recommendation: Fans of The Three Musketeers and The Scarlet Pimpernel will like the Captain Alatriste books. It's a little tough sometimes to hang with Inigo's opining on the state of affairs and culture in 17th-century Spain, but it's worth it. Sometimes Perez-Reverte's gems of sentences are hidden in these passages.

10 February 2006

The Man Quiz -- Now with Answers, Also comes in mint

If you didn't yet play the quiz, click here for the posting without answers, then come back for the answers.

1. Edmond Dantes The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.
2. John Watson The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doctor isn't Watson's first name.
3. the Whiskey Priest, The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene
4. Ford Prefect, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, books 1-5, by Douglas Adams
5. Mitch McDeere, A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
6. Arthur Dimsdale, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
7. Jonathan Harker, Dracula, by Bram Stoker
8. Nick Bottom, Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare
9. Percy Blakeney, The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
10. Sam Clay, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon

1-3 right: Time to hit the books
4-7 right: So maybe sci-fi isn't your thing. Or classics. Or whatever. A respectable recognition of literature, either way.
8-10 right: You're a regular Word Nerd!

The Man Quiz

Brush off some literary cobwebs today and play Word Nerd's quiz. Sorry to disappoint if the title made you think today's post was going to be like a fashion magazine quiz.

What author created the following male characters? Stay tuned for the answers and a later quiz of female characters. Bonus points for naming the book(s) these men are found in.

1. Edmond Dantes
2. John Watson
3. the Whiskey Priest
4. Ford Prefect
5. Mitch McDeere
6. Arthur Dimsdale
7. Jonathan Harker
8. Nick Bottom
9. Percy Blakeney
10. Sam Clay

09 February 2006

Book Banter -- Whiskey Sour

Title: Whiskey Sour
Author: Joe Konrath
Length: 270 pages
Genre: mystery
Plot Basics: Chicago police lieutenant Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels is on the case of a creepy killer who calls himself the Gingerbread Man, all while trying to pick up her personal life after her long-time live-in boyfriend moves out.
Banter Points: Konrath writes a great blog on publishing genre fiction and how to be aggressive with marketing as a writer. What does this have to do with the novel, you ask? Everything. Konrath obviously knows what he's talking about on the blog because his book(s) got published when Jack Daniels is a rather run-of-the-mill female sleuth. One the plus side, the writing is solid and well done. The clues in the crime line up and the city of Chicago is saved. (As if you were really worried...)
Bummer Points: At least for Word Nerd, this Whiskey Sour has too much sour in the mix. Konrath employs POV switching from first-person of Jack Daniels to a limited third of the Gingerbread Man. Second, the title. Save for a scene where Jack drinks a whiskey sour, Word Nerd finds little connections between the plot and the title. Since the next books are "Bloody Mary" and "Rusty Nail," Word Nerd suspects that the title are supposed to be more clever than connected. (Then again, this works for Evanovich and the numbered Stephanie Plum books, so maybe it's not a big deal.) Three, Jack Daniels. Very clever name. Very ordinary detective. In the world of female sleuths, there's just not enough to make her stand out over Plum, Scarpetta and the rest.
Word Nerd recommendation: Airplane book or beach read.

08 February 2006

When we last left our heroes

Word Nerd is trying to be patient.
This is harder than it sounds.
A quick scan at amazon.com yesterday turned up two forthcoming books by authors that Word Nerd really enjoys.
First -- Everfree, the third book and likely conclusion to Nick Sagan's debut series. Everfree was originally tagged to come out in Oct. 2005, but the date was pushed back for undisclosed reasons to May 2006. For more on Nick Sagan, go to www.nicksagan.com. In case you were wondering, yes, Nick is the son of Carl Sagan, the author of Contact and the "billions and billions of stars" guy.

Second -- Dzur, the 10th volume in the Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust. Vlad, the crimelord-witch-assassin is back. In August. There's more info available about Brust at his website, www.dreamcafe.com.

Anybody have a time machine?

07 February 2006

250 Words a Day

This fall (or was that late summer?) Word Nerd was on a streak. Writing every day. Every day.

It was reminiscent of grad school, when the Word Nerd would get home from writing thrilling journalism and then have to turn quickly to her creative fiction homework. Because of the due dates for stories in that class, there was no time for writer's block.

Last night, Word Nerd decided it was high time she picked up the writing every day habit again. Time because she's got to have a piece ready for the red pens of fellow Oshkosh Area Writers Club members by mid-March. It's never going to get done if the writing only happens "when there's time."

So. 250 words a day. That's about one page of double-spaced type in a normal font, for those of you who don't think in word counts. If there's more time, the writing can go longer than that, but no less. One page is also easily crammed in between other activities.

And do the math: 250 word * 7 days a week = 1,750 words/week. If a writer kept that habit every day for a whole year, that's more than 90K words, which easily the length of a novel.

250 words adds up to a good habit.

06 February 2006

Book Banter -- Heat Stroke

Title: Heat Stroke (Weather Warden Bk. 2)
Author: Rachel Caine
Length: 335 pages
Genre: urban fantasy/chick lit
Plot Basics: After getting chased across the country by the storm of the century, weather warden Joanne Baldwin died and got turned into a djinn. Now, she has to learn how to control all that power -- including conjuring herself up great shoes -- all while trying to avoid getting claimed and stuffed in a bottle which makes it difficult to save the world, which is up to her. Again.
Banter Points: The difference between Jo the human and Jo the djinn was great to see. Caine subtly changed Jo's voice and perspective on the world. As a djinn, she was a lot tougher. It made sense as a reader to see her change that way since the author had given a reason for why.
Bummer Points: This book didn't neatly wrap up the plot, but set the stage for book 3.

Word Nerd recommendation: This series isn't going to win any Pulitzer for fiction, but it is entertaining. These are great beach reads/airplane books/waiting while the mechanic changes the oil in the car literature because the story is engaging and the pages turn very quickly.

03 February 2006

Acceptance Speech

The Word Nerd gets to take a lovely little road trip today to Stevens Point for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association awards lunch.

In her day job, the Word Nerd and her colleague Jim Collar, who deals up poker tips in the OshVegas Poker Room, won a reporting award from the the Wisconsin State Bar Association and so we have to go pick it up.

This comes with a small amount of trepidation. Do we have to stand up? Make a speech? Is this like the Oscars???

In preparation for the unlikely event that this is like the Oscars and an acceptance speech is required, Word Nerd decided she'd run her remarks here.

Word Nerd: enthusiastically holding a trophy/award/whatever. I just have to say, thanks, wow. I never thought I'd be here.
This is really, really swell. maybe wiping away a tear of excitement. I can't really take credit for this all by myself.
There are so many other people I have to thank -- my editor, Karl, who really made me get out of the office to make this story what is was. The copy desk for putting it on the page, the guys who run the printers, the great sources who talked so candidly for the story.
Oh, and I couldn't have done this without Mrs. Bersaglini, my first-grade teacher, who taught me how to write sentences and stories. I wouldn't be here without you and all those assignments we did to learn how to spell and record events in our journals. Thanks also to Dave and Charlie and Julia and Holly, my journalism profs and editors in college who helped me hone my craft.
And my parents -- thanks Mom and Dad. Getting the evil eye from the producers that it's time for a commerical break.
Thanks, thanks, thanks. I know I've forgotten people, but you know who you are and ... whisked off stage.

Er... on second thought, I doubt there will be a need for such a speech. I hope.

02 February 2006

January Bibliometer*

Here's the bibliometer* report for January 2006.

6 books:
Finding Serenity, ed. Jane Espenson
Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb
Mister Monday, by Garth Nix
Ill Wind, by Rachel Caine
Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey
Gentlemen and Players, by Joanne Harris

The grand total on pages was 2,233 which works out to about 72 pages a day.

*Bibliometer: noun 1. a device used to record and calculate the avidity of a reader. 2. a catchy name for a blog post. [from the Greek, biblio + Middle English, meten. Common usage is credited to the Word Nerd]

01 February 2006

Word of the Day

Word Nerd has a word-of-the-day calendar.
Because she likes words. Because vocabulary lessons were fun and she always did well.
The word for Jan 31 was:
Scabrous: adj. 1. Having or covered with scales or small projections and rough to the touch. 2. Difficult to handle; knotty: a scabrous situation. 3. Dealing with scandalous or salacious material: a scabrous novel. (this definition comes fromthe American Heritage Dictionary Word-a-Day calendar.)
This one was new. Many of the words are vaguely familiar, or just too odd to really be valuable. But Word Nerd got to wondering just how this word would be used effectively in a sentence.

And then, enter Arturo Perez-Reverte. On the bottom of page 43 of Purity of Blood, there it was.
Even I, in my hiding place, understood, though I didn't yet comprehend exactly what role don Franciso was playing in such a scabrous affair.
No other word would have fit there quite as well. And Word Nerd (and now you) know what it means.