31 July 2006

Book Banter -- Adverbs

Title: Adverbs
Author: Daniel Handler
Length: 288 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Plot Basics: This book is sort of a collection of short stories and sort of a full novel. Confused yet? So was Word Nerd. Characters with similar names who may or may not be the same people move throughout the collection of pieces titled with "-ly" words describing falling in an out of love.
Banter Points: Handler has quite the way with words. Anybody who's read his debut novel, "The Basic Eight" or the Series of Unfortunate Events that he pens under the name Lemony Snicket knows this.
Bummer Points: For having quite the way the words, he sure was confusing in this book.
Word Nerd recommendation: Read "The Basic Eight" or his books for kids, but take the advice of many English profs and writers: Leave out unnecessary "Adverbs."

28 July 2006

The end of the "July Experiment"

The July experiment, for anyone who just tuned in, was Word Nerd's plan to read only books written by men in July. (Calling it the July Experiment gives it quite the black-ops/secret missions ring, right?)

She is glad that July is almost over -- not because men write bad books (far from it) but because most of the books on her I-have-to-read-this-one-next list are written by women. The wait has been on the edge just before agonizing.

The list of authors to read next includes Sarah Strohmeyer, Janet Evanovich, Anne Frasier and more. The ARC of Anne Frasier's "Pale Immortal" I think has about burned a hole in my floor from waiting to be read and Sarah Strohmeyer's "The Cinderella Pact" continues to perch precariously on my bookshelf (one good jump by the cat... he'd knock it off the shelf with a whisker-brush) since Word Nerd's going to get to it right way. She got both books either just before July began or early on in the month. Waiting patiently has never been one of Word Nerd's virtues.

The month of reading men-only authors has not been bad. Word Nerd challenged herself with Ken Macleod's "The Star Fraction" a hard-core political sci-fi book and discovered why her pater familias (aka Dad) likes Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels so much.

Word Nerd is debating however whether the July Experiment should become an annual tradition. Thoughts? Suggestions? She's willing to listen.

27 July 2006

30K and counting

Word Nerd crossed her July word count goal of 55,000 yesterday with a few days left in the month to try to get a jump on August.

The writing's going well and Word Nerd thinks she in a good place for getting to the end of the story in the next 30K words.

Since she reached the July goal, more chocolate cake is in order. For those of you that missed the explanation in the past, Word Nerd and some fellow writers created the Chocolate Cake Club as a source of inspiration for pushing ourselves to get lots of writing done.

August's goal in 70K. It's a big goal. Word Nerd will keep you posted on the progress.

26 July 2006

Book Banter -- Mortal Stakes

Title: Mortal Stakes
Author: Robert B. Parker
Length: 167 pages
Genre: mystery
Plot Basics: Spenser's third outing takes him to Fenway Park. He's hired by the Boston Red Sox to find out if pitcher Marty Rabb is throwing games. Turns out, the squeeze is on Rabb for his wife's history and Spenser decides he needs to make life safe again for them.
Banter Points: Spenser's character takes a turn at the end that was surprising, but great to see as a reader that his actions have consequences for him.
Bummer Points: These Spenser books are so short! Good thing, since Word Nerd's got 30 years of backlist to get through to get to the new Spenser books
Word Nerd recommendation: On to book #4

24 July 2006

Author Answers with Brendan Halpin

Note: Word Nerd knows it's not Tuesday yet, but her day job requires her to be around airplanes all day tomorrow so she's posting this now.

This week's author is somebody who has nothing to do with airplanes (refreshing, Word Nerd knows for her Oshkosh readers), novelist and memoir-writer Brendan Halpin.

Halpin wrote the memoir, It Takes A Worried Man, about the first six months of treatment for his late wife's breast cancer. He's also the author of the memoir, Losing My Faculties, about teaching high school English. Additionally, he writes things that are made up in the novels Donorboy and Long Way Back.

To visit his website, click here.

Word Nerd: Place you do most of your writing:
Halpin: I do some writing at home, but I do most of my writing at two coffee shops in my neighborhood. I could make coffee at home, but I like to be able to see other humans during my work day.

WN: What’s your writing process like from when you get an idea to when it gets published?
Halpin: I usually have an idea percolating in my brain while I'm working on something else. After the idea cooks for a few months, I'll start to write. I often don't have a clear idea of where I'm going to end up when I start writing. I usually send chapters to friends of mine and get feedback, and once I'm done with a first draft, I'll set it aside for a week or two and then take the feedback I've gotten and write a second draft.

WN: Why did you decide to become a writer? How long did you have to work to get published and what made you keep working at it until your name was on the cover of a book?
Halpin: These two kind of lend themselves to one answer. I wrote a bunch of terrible short stories when I was first out of college, and they all got rejected. When I started teaching, I found that it was taking up most of my creative energy, and eventually I filed writing professionally away under "youthful dreams that are never going to happen." Then, when my late wife, Kirsten, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she suggested that I write about what I was thinking and feeling. I sent these little chapters to friends of mine, largely because it was easier than telling the same story on the phone five times. One of my friends is friends with a literary agent; they showed my first 80 pages to him, and a week later, I had a publishing contract.
I would have felt guilty about how easy it was for me if not for the fact that the whole thing arose out of the worst time of my life up to that point.

WN: You’ve written two memoirs and two novels: what’s different about writing in the two genres? Is one harder or more fun than the other?
Halpin: Well, it was somewhat easier for me to write memoirs, because I never really had to figure out what was going to happen next or where the story was going. Having said that, it's much, much easier to live with the consequences of publishing a novel. I hurt a lot of people's feelings with my memoirs, and with the novels, I'm not writing about real people, so I don't have to worry about what they're going to think of the book. Also, I tend to be more generous and forgiving with my characters than I am with real people. Maybe I should work on that.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
Halpin: Well, I really admire Connie Willis' Doomsday Book for many reasons, but in terms of its impact on my work, she balances light and dark tones in that book with incredible skill, and I usually strive for that same kind of balance. Nick Hornby's High Fidelity was the book that most made me think I could be a writer. There's this passage in that book about people who shop in used record stores, and reading that and identifying with it so closely was the first time I felt like somebody like me could be a writer, that writers weren't necessarily a different kind of person than I am.

WN: If you had to live the life of one of your characters, who would you pick and why?
Halpin: I guess I'd pick Francis from Long Way Back, since he winds up a rock star.

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
Halpin: I don't know where this came from -- possibly Peter Elbow -- but I used to tell my students when I was an English teacher that they had to be fearless about writing junk. It's much easier to tinker with a full page of writing than to fill up an empty page, so if you can just turn off your internal editor and dump words on to the page, you can turn the editor back on and hopefully make something good out of what you've written. But if you've got your internal editor constantly peeking over your shoulder telling you what you're writing is no good, that's when you get stuck.

Book Banter -- God Save the Child

Title: God Save the Child
Author: Robert B. Parker
Length: ~180 pages
Genre: mystery
Plot Basics: Suave PI Spenser is hired by Boston suburbanites to find their son who has run away from home. When a ransom note is delivered, Spenser and the local cops think it should be an easy exchanges -- money for the boy. But when that plan goes awry and a local body builder/muscle-man is Spenser's only lead, his past as a boxer comes in handy (or would that be "fisty" in this case?)
Banter Points: Susan Silverman, the guidance counselor of the missing kid, is a great secondary character in this book. She is a great romantic foil for Spenser.

Bummer Points: The ending... Word Nerd likes Spenser's witty repartee as he investigates so she was disappointed that he solved this story with fisticuffs instead of brains.
Word Nerd recommendation: Onwards to Spenser book #3

21 July 2006

Book Banter -- Creepers

Title: Creepers
Author: David Morrell
Length: ~ 350 pages
Genre: thriller
Plot Basics: Frank Balenger joins up with a group of urban archaeologists to creep through the old Paragon Hotel before it's demolished. Creeping though turns out to have Balenger running for his life.
Banter Points: All those book jacket blurbs about "edge-of-your-seat" and "page-turner" really do apply to this book.
Bummer Points: Since it's a thriller and it's mostly about what happens, some of the characters seem a little flat and could have done with more development. Balenger's character gets some good treatment, but some of the extras aren't as fleshed out.
Word Nerd recommendation: Jerry Bruckheimer, Steven Spielberg, somebody with money to make movies, take note of this one. It could make an awesome action flick. If they don't take the hint, it's worth the weekend it's going to take to read this one. (Note: It's probably good idea if you don't like rats, etc, to not read this book right before going to bed if you're prone to dreaming about that sort of thing.)

19 July 2006

Book Banter -- The Godwulf Manuscript

Title: The Godwulf Manuscript
Author: Robert B. Parker
Length: 187 pages
Genre: mystery
Plot Basics: When a small college outside of Boston has a rare medieval manuscript stolen, they hire Spenser, a private investigator, to get it back. The college thinks a group of campus radicals is responsible. But later, when one of the top suspects calls Spenser because her boyfriend's been murdered, the case becomes more dangerous than just recovering the manuscript.
Banter Points: Parker is set to get a life-time achievement award for writing mysteries from the Bouchercon folks this fall and it's easy to see why. He's been writing Spenser books now for 30+ years (Godwulf was originally released in 1973). The writing is tight, the mystery fast-paced and the characters sharp and well-defined.
Bummer Points: Not necessarily a drawback, but Word Nerd has it on good authority from a major Parker fan that minor characters do come back and the major characters change over time, so it's important to go back and start at the beginning of the series. With 30 years of writing though, that's quite a backlist of titles.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you like mysteries and haven't read Parker, go read him. If you aren't a big mystery reader, Parker is a good guy to start with to see how a good one is put together.

18 July 2006

Author Answers with John Scalzi

This week’s spotlighted author, John Scalzi was nominated for a Hugo Award and is a writer whose first two sci-fi offerings were named as "Sci-Fi Essentials."
He got his start writing for a newspaper (brownie points in Word Nerd’s book) and as he says, was extremely lucky with getting his novel published.

For more about his books and to read his blog, click here.

Word Nerd: What’s your writing process like from when you get an idea to when it gets published?
Scalzi: There's a writing process? Why didn't someone tell me this before?

My writing process is pretty spontaneous -- I don't typically outline my books but instead have one or two scenes in my mind that I know I want to get to in the book and then set off writing in an attempt to get to them. This is fun, in that I usually surprise myself and have fun getting there, but it's also nervewracking, because sometimes I don't know where the heck I'm going and I'm too stubborn to pull over and ask for directions. Eventually it all gets sorted out. Once that's done, it's off to editor, who will come back with some notes, a bit of a fiddle to make the editor happy, and then nothing to do with that book until it comes out. Usually by then I'm faking my way through the next book anyway.

WN: Why did you decide to become a writer?
Scalzi: Because when I was 14 I realized I could write well, and also that for me writing was easy and everything else was kind of hard. I'm lazy so I said, well, I guess I'll do the easy thing. Having decided that, I've worked my butt off writing, so stupid me for ever thinking it was easy. Nowadays I write because I'm supremely unqualified to do anything else with my life; it's either this or greeting people at the local discount retail store. And you know, I'm not that much of a people person, so I doubt I'd be as good at that.

WN: How long did you have to work to get published and what made you keep working at it until your name was on the cover of a book?
Scalzi: Well, I've been a pro writer since I left college -- my first job out of school was as a movie critic at a California newspaper -- so in that sense I was getting published pretty quickly. With books, I was fortunate that both my non-fiction and fiction debuts came easily. In the case of non-fiction, a publisher mentioned to my agent that they had need for a particular kind of book, and my agent, ever-resourceful, said "well, I have just the guy for you" and hooked me up. Not much effort there. With the fiction, I didn't bother to submit my novel to any publisher; I just serialized it on my personal Web site and when I was done, my soon-to-be editor asked if he could buy it, and I said, "well, okay." Before I am stabbed to death by other writers, let me assure all of them I am well aware of how ridiculously lucky I have been; I chalk it up to excellent karma accrued from a past life and I try in all ways to be deserving of the luck, although I suspect I'm not.

WN: Two of your books have been dubbed as “Sci-Fi Essentials” – how did this make you feel to be in the same category as some of the long- standing names in the genre like Ben Bova and Frederick Pohl?
Scalzi: Heh. To be clear, in most critical ways I'm so very *not* in the same category as that pair of legendary SF writers, so any comparisons get filed under "unearned praise," and I work to try to earn out that praise over time. I have been extraordinarily fortunate that so far the novels I have written have been well-received -- Old Man's War was even nominated for the Hugo this year, and that was a gobsmacking moment, let me tell you -- but I'm not under the delusion that I've become a master of my craft simply because people *like* what I've written so far. I know myself well enough to know how far I have yet to go.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
Scalzi: Influential: It was probably "The People's Almanac," which I read when I was six and which contained so much information on so many subjects that my younger self suspected it contained the sum of all human knowledge to that point (I was corrected of that notion when "The People's Almanac #2" came out a few years later). It was influential to me because it suggested just how much there was out there to know, and how much fun you could have learning about it. I'm still having fun learning stuff, so well done, People's Almanac.

WN: If you had to live the life of one of your characters, who would you pick and why?
Scalzi: Well, you know. I already live the life of *all* of my characters, as their lives are defined by my writing of them, so I'm not sure I can settle on just one. And I know I wouldn't want to trade my real life for any of their lives, because not only do I like my life -- I am what I wanted to be when I grew up -- but the fact is that I put most of my characters through hell, purely for the sake of having an interesting plot. Fun to read, not so much to live. I'm pretty sure all my characters hate me.

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
Scalzi: The most useful creative advice: Don't panic. This works in nearly every situation you can think of, writing or otherwise. he most useful practical advice: It's called "Yog's Law": "Money flows toward the writer." This means that if you want to make a career of writing, make sure it's you who is getting paid for your work, not anyone else. Too many people who want to be writers are either unaware of this law, or willing to ignore it. Don't be either of these.

John Scalzi, Freelance Troublemaker

17 July 2006

Book Banter -- The Star Fraction

Title: The Star Fraction
Author: Ken Macleod
Length: 320 pages
Genre: sci-fi
Plot Basics: Mercenary/security man Moh Kohn knows how to defend himself and how to survive in a computer-literate society. He's the son of the man who wrote the most revolutionary computer program ever. But the world is splintered between political factions of all kinds. And when he saves scientist Janis Taine, he's suddenly caught up in the struggle.
Banter Points: This book throws the reader right into a vision of the future and only provides snippets of the backstory along the way. Moh Kohn is a compelling character as well.
Bummer Points: ....um.... Word Nerd is still sketchy on exactly what happened in the plot. She thinks she knows, but she could be very wrong.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you like hard core futuristic sci-fi and don't mind a hefty dose of politics, this book is probably really good. It's the start of series though and Word Nerd's still debating whether she continues on after book 1.

13 July 2006

Why the first sentence matters

Word Nerd has blogged in the past about how the first sentence of a novel is so important for hooking a reader.

To prove this point, some good folks in the English department at San Jose State University have started the "Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest." Bulwer-Lytton is the guy who used "It was a dark and stormy night" to start off a really wretched first sentence about the rain in London.

So in his honor, this contest is after the absolute worst first sentence possible for a novel. Not the whole novel, just that abysmal first sentence.

This year's winner is Jim Guigli from Carmichael, Calif. His winning sentence, as copied from the contest site is: Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.

Congratulations Jim... that's an awfully great sentence.

For this year's other entries (Word Nerd is a fan of the runner-up entry) click here.

For more on past winners, how to enter this contest and Bulwer-Lytton, click here.

12 July 2006

Book Banter -- Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

Title: Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About
Author: Mil Millington
Length: 373 pages
Genre: comedy/literary fiction
Plot Basics: Pel is a low-level manager in a university learning lab in northeastern England, trying to live his life with his girlfriend, Ursula, and their two children. But when Pel's boss suddenly disappears, he's given a rapid series of promotions that launches him into a job he has no idea how to do and ends up involving a Chinese Triad.
Banter Points: There are some spot-on scenes between Pel and his girlfriend as they try to communicate about the simple things in life
Bummer Points: The blurbs on this book say it's really funny. Word Nerd didn't really think so, but she has two theories as to why most of the humor was lost on her: 1). she's not British 2). she's not a man.

Word Nerd recommendation: Maybe other people will find it funnier than Word Nerd did.

11 July 2006

Author Answers with Margaret Weis

For the first day of her new national book tour, Word Nerd is spotlighting Margaret Weis, one of the co-authors of the best-selling Dragonlance Chronicles.

Weis joined TSR (now Wizards of the Coast) in 1983 to be a book editor. There she got involved with the Dragonlance design time and now 20 years later, is on tour for the first new Dragonlance novel in four years. Weis has also written several series on her own without her Dragonlance collaborator Tracy Hickman. Additionally, she is involved in developing role-playing games, most recently working on the Serenity RPG.

For the blog readers in Oshkosh, you can meet Weis today at 1 p.m. at Apple Blossom Books, 513 N. Main Street, for a signing and discussion. Apple Blossom is the kick-off store for the tour.

Word Nerd: How did you end up with Oshkosh for a book signing?
WEIS: The bookstore that I’m doing the signing at – they wrote to me and sent me an email several months ago – if I was anywhere in the area, would I do a signing? I wrote back and said Wizards of the Coast was planning a big tour… see if you can get on the list. Wizards said sure. It’s the kick-off store.

WN: What’s the tour like?
WEIS: It’s kind of all across the US. Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit and San Diego for ComicCon and Seattle, Colorado, Lexington, Charlotte NC. That’s the best part, meeting the fans. That’s just great. The tours are kind of whirlwind… it’s a different city everyday and a different hotel every night.

WN: The new book returns to the original Dragonlance characters, why did you return to them?
WEIS: The first book came out in 1984. At the time, we’d had to cut a lot in that book. Nobody thought the book was going to sell. Then it went out and hit the New York Times list and everybody was astonished, including Tracy [Hickman] and I.
[At a convention] we were autographing and talking in between. I said I wanted go back and rewrite that first book. Tracy said ‘Why don’t we do a series and tell the lost tales?’ All of these are stories that we never got to tell.

WN: When you started that series, did you ever imagine it would be this lasting?
WEIS: We were so focused on getting that first book out. We knew we had something really, really good. TSR was going through a bad financial period. We lost the editor on the game side. It was one of those times where you were scared to answer your phone on Friday because you might get the summons. This might have been the last thing we ever were going to work on. I don’t think we even consciously did it to save the company. We just wanted to do this project.
We were just thrilled. I got the call that it hit the NYT list, I was floored. I was so amazed. I was fixing dinner for my kids – I was making a tuna casserole and I put the cat tuna in the tuna casserole instead of the Starkist tuna. I probably almost poisoned us all.

WN: For the new series, do people need to go back and read the first ones or can they jump right in?
WEIS: People who just jump in know immediately what’s going on. All of the books are self-contained, if you’ve never read any dragonlance books before, you can read this one. Everybody’s back – Raistlin and Tasslehoff, the whole crew.

WN: What authors inspire you? Why?
WEIS: Right now, I’m in the middle of Anthony Trollope’s Pallisers series. I read everything expect fantasy. Dickens, Austin, Chaim Potok, historical fiction. That helps me with research.

WN: Why don’t you read fantasy?
WEIS: I need to hear my own voice in my head. I don’t want to hear George R.R. Martin in my head. As much as I like George, I don’t want to hear him.

WN: What’s your writing process like from start to finish?
WEIS: Tracy and I get together and spend two or three days working out the plot and that’s the hardest part. Then I do the majority of the writing. Tracy does world building and works out any problems with magical spells and stuff.
I do the majority of the writing. If I get into trouble, which I do, then I call Tracy and say “Tasslehoff is going to die unless you come up with a way to save him.” He always does.

WN: Where do you do most of your writing?
WEIS: I write every morning. I have a nice leather Lazy boy chair… down on the first level of the barn and have all the dogs and one of the cats with me and birdfeeders outside. All my research material is down here. I write from about 8-11 a.m. Afternoon is shopping, walk the dogs. Afternoons are mostly think time. I also think about what I’m going to write the next day so I’m ready to do.

WN: For the Dragonlance books, you’ve collaborated with Tracy Hickman… how is that writing process different that when you write alone?
WEIS: The main problem is if I paint myself in a corner, I have to get myself out. It is fun to do a book just on my own. I get to do just what I want to. In a partnership, it is a lot of compromise. It is fun to have somebody to talk to about the plot who knows what’s going on.

WN: If you had to live the life of one of your characters, who would you pick and why?
WEIS: I’d be a kender. They are just so much fun. I’m not like a kender, I think the kinder are the wise-people of Krynn.

WN: What’s your favorite book?

WEIS: The Star of the Guardians series. Those were really the first novels that I ever wrote. They were never published in the form I originally wrote them. After the Dragonlance books became such a hit… I brought the first book out and it was just awful. I had to rewrite it completely. I worked ten years from start to finish.

10 July 2006


Maybe you heard -- there's a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie out in theatres and it made a ton of money over the weekend.

Pirates are apparently, the new thing, and there's no lack of them in books either. Word Nerd has tried her hand at writing pirates into one of her stories. Just a note, it took a lot of research on her part to understand the pieces-parts of a tall ship that would be appropriate for pirate ships. Naming the ships was the best part (how about it... the Jacinthe and the Wylde Wynne.)

USAToday has a quick list here of other titles involving those swarthy ne'er-do-wells.

They of course, left some out. Here are some others books that you can curl up with while drinking your favorite grog.

-- Captain Blood, The Red Flag, Sea Hawk: Rafael Sabatini
-- Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
-- Peter and the Starcatchers, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
-- Piratica, Tanith Lee

06 July 2006

Book Banter -- Sandman: Fables and Reflections

Title: Sandman Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections
Author: Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, et. al.
Length: 259 pages
Genre: graphic novel
Plot Basics: The Sandman (aka, Dream, the King of Dream, etc.) pops up throughout history in this omnibus. He interacts with French revolutionaries, ancient Greeks, and middle eastern kings in this one.
Banter Points: For being a graphic, there's a healthy dose of real history and mythology in this book. Real historic characters like Norton I, emperor of America and Robespierre, from the Committee for Public Safety in France make appearances.
Bummer Points: The Sandman's own story isn't really told much in this volume. It's cool to see him throughout history, looking dark and foreboding as always, but his own story is buried a bit.
Word Nerd recommendation: If you like Neil Gaiman from his other work (Good Omens, Stardust, Neverwhere, MirrorMask) check out the Sandman graphic novels.

05 July 2006

Watching a comic book

Word Nerd does trade in her books for DVDs sometimes and this holiday weekend, she found herself watching MirrorMask.

This was an interesting movie experience because it felt like watching a comic book/graphic novel. The storyline moved by almost in frames or panels, many of which had the color muted out around the edges.

The movie is the brain-child of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (out of who's brains also came such things as the Sandman comics, "The Day I Swapped my Dad for 2 Goldfish" and "Neverwhere.") The storyline for the movie is quite imaginative.

Graphic novels and the Japanese manga books are getting quite a lot of attention from teens and other readers. Some people seem to think that they really aren't books, but Word Nerd disagrees. If teens are reading anything voluntarily, that's a great thing in her opinion. And why do we have this attitude that only books for kids can have pictures?

Word Nerd's reading one of the Sandman collections right now and it's as good and as striking as a novel. But without the pictures, it wouldn't be what it is... those images are needed to help tell the story. A novelist does all the description with words, but actually having the pictures there doesn't cheapen the level of story-telling somehow.

Same with MirrorMask. Gaiman and McKean probably could have told the story without doing it as a movie, without the help of the Jim Henson creature shop folks. But Word Nerd doubts it would have been as good.

04 July 2006

Author Answers with Anne McAllister

Romance writer Anne McAllister is this week's featured author. She's written more than 50 books. Her most recent novel, "The Antonides Marriage Deal," was released in April by Harlequin Presents.

For more about her, check out her website or her blog.

WN: Place you do most of your writing:
MCALLISTER: In my office if I'm behaving properly -- but on my bed with my laptop if I'm in for the long haul. It's easier on my back, but the desktop is easier on the eyes.
WN: What's your writing process like from when you get an idea to when it gets published?
MCALLISTER: Usually I mull over the initial starting point and see who the people are, get a feel for them and think about them at odd moments while I'm finishing another book. They are always much more appealing than whatever I'm working on now. And then it's their turn. And as soon as it is, they clam up. They take vows of silence. Getting words out of them is almost always a challenge. But at some point one of them says something that resonates and I get a second wind, or I know them better or something. I usually call it the 'grope method' of plotting because it's rarely straight-forward. No two books ever seem to behave the same way, so I have learned to just let them be themselves and not try to force them into a particular shape. When it's written I send it in and start on the next one, which has, I hope, been germinating and the process begins again -- though always with variations.
WN: Why did you decide to become a writer?
MCALLISTER: I wrote from the time I was a kid. I like words. I like people. I like relationships. Putting the people in stories and using words to tell about their relationships was always fun. And I like being my own boss and setting my own hours, so it has worked out well.
WN: How long did you have to work to get published and what made you keep working at it until your name was on the cover of a book?
MCALLISTER: I wrote my first book while my youngest son was napping. It took me a year. I sent it off to the publisher I had in mind and immediately started another one. I had finished three total and they were all at the same publisher when the publisher must have decided I wasn't going to go away -- so they bought first the second book for a particular romance line, then the other two for different lines.
WN: You've been writing romance novels for more than 20 years, how has the genre changed in that time?
MCALLISTER: The genre is constantly evolving and growing in a variety of ways. It's a genre that is both author led and at times reader led. But always the relationship is the focus. It doesn't matter how many other facets change.
WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
MCALLISTER: It's hard to pick just one book. There have been so many. Of the series romance books that made me want to do that -- I would say an early Jane Donnelly book called Behind A Closed Door was immensely appealing. I like almost everything Jane Donnelly ever wrote. In more general fiction, Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice were influential. So was a children's book called The 13th Is Magic and one for young adults called Pennington's Last Term. So was John Irving's The Water-Method Man. As far as books about writing go, Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey revealed to me a lot of what I didn't know I was doing. It made "the process" more understandable, and while it didn't make it easier, it make me more aware.
WN: If you had to live the life of one of your characters, who would you pick and why?
MCALLISTER: Oh, it's hard to say. I think maybe Felicity who married Taggart Jones at the end of The Cowboy And the Kid. I could identify with her. She was a teacher and she fell in love with an ex-rodeo cowboy turned bull-riding instructor, and I had so much fun researching the book -- and going to bull-riding school! -- that I have always thought it would be fun to be Felicity.
WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
MCALLISTER: It's your book so write the story you want to tell. Don't change things to make your mother, your husband, or your critique group happy -- unless you are sure it's what you are comfortable with and believe is right for your characters and their story.

03 July 2006

The July Reading List

Word Nerd has realized lately that most (not quite all, but most) of the books she has been reading have been written by women. This is quite logical given her shifting reading tastes that now include more chick lit or spin-offs of that (mysteries, paranormals, etc.)

Word Nerd isn't trying to be a single-gender reader, but she realized that she needed to be deliberate about getting the books by boys home from the library and actually reading them.

For the month of July, Word Nerd is going to read only books written by men. This has already started with the Sandman Collection vol. 6 (graphic novels count) and the Mil Millington novel, both of which are engaging.

July has only just begun, so if there's a book by a man that Word Nerd just has to read, drop some recommendations in the comments and she'll take them under advisement.