30 November 2009

Winner winner, chicken dinner

Yep. It's done. All 50,045 words of it.
I think my fingers are going to fall off now.

25 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Word Nerd wishes you all a Happy Thanksgiving and will be back on Monday.

23 November 2009

This is like steak

Lately, Word Nerd's been reading lots of genre fiction.

Not that there's anything wrong with genre fiction, mind you. Some of its super and some of it is a little less filling and some is just plain brain candy.

Realizing that she's been deprived of reading anything in that literary fiction category for a while, Word Nerd launched into Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife this weekend. (Yep, she's a little behind...)

Wow. Comparatively, this book is like steak. Word Nerd doesn't actually want a steady diet of this, but every so often, it's good to sink into a read where the words are chewy and savory.

It's been hard not to devour the whole thing in the weekend. Word Nerd's tried to pace herself and so far is about halfway through.

But wow. Henry DeTamble may be one of her new favorite characters.

20 November 2009

Book Banter -- Echo Burning

Title: Echo Burning (Jack Reacher, bk. 5)
Author: Lee Child
Length: ~370 pages
Genre: mystery
Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Jack Reacher is hitch-hiking his way across Texas when he's picked up by a woman with a plan -- she wants Reacher to kill her abusive husband. As the temperatue in desolate west Texas rises, Reacher finds himself embroiled in her plans, despite his insistence that he wants nothing to do with it.

Banter Points: Like any good storm, this book builds and builds until the pressure boils over and races to a climactic finish.

Bummer Points: The book builds, but Word Nerd found much of it very slow, until the race through the last 100 pages. While Word Nerd likes Reacher (still not sure she'd want to meet him since crazy things happen when he's around), this one just wasn't as good as other ones. It was good solid hit in the Reacher line-up, but no home-run.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Read it if you're a Reacher fan, but this isn't the place to jump into the middle of the series.

19 November 2009

Varied Voices: Susan Arnout Smith

This week's guest blogger is Susan Arnout Smith, whose new book Out at Night just recently hit shelves. In her column today, she talks about the genesis for this new book.

(Un)comforting Food by Susan Arnout Smith

When I was growing up, often eating dinner was an anxious affair.

It’s what we did as a family at the end of a long day being apart. It’s where tempers flared, wars were fought. There were snipings, direct attacks, curve balls. And then we lunged at the butter, scooped extra servings of mashed potatoes and hunkered down for round two.

The food, always, was excellent, (my mother was a home economics teacher), but because of the uncertainty, because safety was never a given, meals were eaten hurriedly, and under stress.

We never knew if this was the meal where everything would be relaxed and cheerful, or the meal where something unexpected and fearful would come for us out of a dark place, galloping toward us with metal hooves and snapping teeth.

I know this wasn’t my parents’ intention. But it was the truth of our lives.

The table is where I learned to lie well for my own protection, to cover my feelings, and yes, to eat, even if I’d stopped long ago tasting the food or feeling hunger. It’s where I learned to hang on until dessert.

Some days I was lucky. Some days I was supremely not.

When I was thinking about writing Out at Night, my second thriller, (after writing The Timer Game, Minotaur, 2008), I thought about food and how this source of comfort and nurturing—much like a family—can be twisted into something dark and anxiety-provoking.

Perfect country for bad things. Perfect metaphor for genetically modified crops. Once an element has been added, it’s impossible to ever take it back. Not completely.

Now hunger is a terrible thing with a terrible human cost and face. It’s true that good has come from genetically modified crops: in the lab, scientists have created seeds that are drought resistant, weed resistant and even some—like Golden Rice genetically modified to carry Vitamin A, (funded by Bill and Melinda Gates)—will significantly improve the lives of children in Third World countries and prevent blindness.

It’s also true that scientists are combining genes from different organisms (translation: taking genes from humans and adding them to plants), to produce crops that will produce vaccines for AIDs and Hep B, or create insulin or help clot blood or inhibit diarrhea.

But what if you don’t want to eat a plant that produces a human gene to help clot blood? What if your blood works just fine, thank you very much, and actually you need a little aspirin every once in awhile to thin things out. What then?

Michael Fernandez, in a PEW initiative on Food and Biotechnology, makes the point that there’s no worldwide uniform standard about what constitutes seed purity. In the US, producers are required only to reveal how much of something not-seed is mixed in with that labeled seed. I take that to mean they’re not required, from the sounds of it, to disclose what that not-seed actually is. In all fairness to the producers, they might not know.

In 2005 in the UK, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs released a study that GM crops contaminate the countryside for up to fifteen years after being harvested. The study examined five locations across England and Scotland, sites not currently growing GM oilseed rape. They found ‘significant amounts’ of GM crops still there, growing willy-nilly mixed in with the new non-GM crops.

And there’s wind drift. When I was signing Out at Night on the island of Kona, I met wonderful organic coffee growers worried about this very thing. The organic papaya crops recently had been contaminated with pollen from GM papaya crops.

And the entire organic papaya crop had to be destroyed. Can you imagine, if that was your family’s harvest, your family’s work and sweat in the sun and dreaming hope of a payday, what that seemingly innocuous GM pollen drift had cost?

Sometimes even hungry countries turn back our non GM food, (we’re the world’s leading producer of GM crops), fearing contamination. That happened in 2002 when Zimbabwe refused an aid shipment of grain from the US. From where I sit, things have to be pretty serious before a starving country turns back food because it fears what it holds.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about what happens when you eat it.

In 2008, the Austrian government released results of a 20-week study. Results that confirmed that GM corn directly affected reproductive health in mice. The results were so startling (things died), that now there’s a serious and vocal push in Austria to immediately ban all GM goods and crops to protect the fertility of women around the world.

The Russians just completed a similar study at the Russian Academy. With similar results. Over half the off-spring of lab rats fed GM crops died within the first three weeks of life. And all the GM off-spring in the preliminary results were sterile.

The UK’s been worried about the cost of GM to health ever since one of their leading scientists, Arpad Puztai, went on British television in 1998 with word that biotech food stunted the growth of rats.

There’s rats. And then there’s us.

Inventive, creative problem solvers, working to eliminate drought and poverty and famine. Hopeful. Anxious.


William Neuman, in The New York Times, writes in an article August 29th about a move in the US to test and label products to identify them as being mostly biotech free. They do this already in the UK and have for some time. In order to get a ‘butterfly checkmark’ of approval, processed foods here will have to contain no more than 0.9 percent genetically modified material.

And so we live with percentages. In our food. In our lives.

The question is and always has been, at every meal, every moment, what dark thing is waiting to come inside?

17 November 2009

Book Banter -- Shadowlight

Title: Shadowlight
Author: Lynn Viehl
Genre: paranormal romance
Length: 311 pages
Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Jessa has a unique ability, to tell the truth about people and see their secrets by touching them. When her ability has brought her in contact with criminals, she's been quietly alerting the authorities. But her ability has caught the attention of not just the government, but a group of genetic researchers who want to use her DNA to replicate the effect and another shadow group who wants to protect her. Gavin Mathias ends up abducting her to keep her safe, Jessa discovers that she's can't read him. Yet a dangerous man threatens them both as he relentlessly pursues Jessa for her talent.
Banter Points: Viehl's books are one of Word Nerd's brain candy reads. Yes, they are romance, but there is a plot -- and a good one -- to back it up. Shadowlight builds on Viehl's Darkyn books and it's neat to see this spinoff series. Having read the Darkyn books is good, but not necessary to get into these. Not to spoil things too much, but it's a great intersection of science and superhero power and (ahem) vampires in her rich alternate world.
Bummer Points: Word Nerd still has an admitted problem with romance books and the whole romantic suspense genre and that's that mid-plot, when the bad guys are closing in, the alpha male and the heroine have an overwhelming desire to rip each others clothes off for a chapter and engage in some horizontal mambo-ing. Viehl makes it work better than some, but it's just difficult for Word Nerd to suspend her disbelief there. Vampires? Genetic alterations? No problem. Sex while on the run from bad guys? Really?
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you're looking for a Pultizer Prize winner, this isn't it. But, if you want something fluffy and fun, this is a good choice. Especially a good choice for people who liked early Anita Blake style books.

16 November 2009

Where I'm at, writing-wise

The word count meter got an update this morning.

I'm hovering just under 30K words and it's telling me I'm 60% done with NaNoWriMo.

60 percent, as all you math whizzes know, is less than 100 percent. The next 20K words feel very daunting. This week is not a good one for writing.

I had a great session yesterday and then this morning it was very Monday. My word count for today so far is just over 1K and my guess is in an edit, a lot of those 1K words will get changed. Or deleted.

Week three feels like this will be the challenge.

13 November 2009

And that's 25K words (or, who let my protagonist drive today?)

I crossed the magical 25K mark for NaNo this morning, two days before the actual halfway point of the month.

I've been pushing the pace, more like 2K words a day and sometimes more than that. I've been trying to bank words, what with holidays and meetings and the chaos of my calendar in the next two weeks.

This morning, something interesting happened.

Maybe subconsciously, I knew characters were heading in a different direction but all of a sudden. BAM! Things are happening and all I could do was keep typing.

I generally hate it when authors talk about characters doing that because it seems so false to me. Really?, I think. They really do that and you end up with this wonderful product. I doubt it. You probably had your hand on the wheel, white-knuckling it the whole time.

White knuckles are right. I was white-knuckled for a little while this morning because I was just trying to hang on and keep some control. My brain is working over time, neurons firing, with oooh, now that I've done this, that can happen in the next chapter instead of later.

Let me put one thing straight: My characters didn't truly hijack things this morning. What they did, was act in an unexpected way, but one that's not outside the realm of their personas. Part of it comes from putting characters in conflict --when someone is stressed they act differently. People ignore the warning signs in their own heads. So while I as the author hadn't thought of what happened this morning, exactly, I had created the set of circumstances that let them act how they did.

Once I got over my initial reaction -- No Way! No Way! No Way! -- and let the scene flow and happen and develop, I decided it was a good thing.

And it helped me get over the 25K hump.

Maybe I need to say "thanks" to my protagonist.

12 November 2009

Varied Voices/Author Answers with Gordon Zuckerman

Returning to an old format, Word Nerd's dishing up a Q&A today with Gordon Zuckerman who'se first novel recently hit shelves.

WN: What is the "Sentinels, Fortunes of War" all about?
ZUCKERMAN: The story line of the book deals with how six, advantaged and talented young people, having learned about the intent of the same German industrialist, who helped bring Hitler to power, to smuggle their Fortunes of War in 1943 out of Germany while there is still time oppose their effort. Concerned that the wealth could be used to fund a future Reich, the Six Sentinels develop and plsan to steal part of the money and use the appropriated funds to insure that the 2 billion dollars can never be used ireesponsibly to create another facist military dictatorship. Told through the evolving lives of each of the six principal characters, the story unfolds over two continents. Their counter-plot discovered, they are forced to evade the threat of the ever present and ruthless private security company, code named Samson.

WN: Where did the idea for the book come from?
ZUCKERMAN: Although, my education and business background have been in unrelated fields, I have remained a lifelong student of history. Having been exposed, by friends of mine in government, to the influence that cantcentrated wealth and power can exercise over our government, I wanted to write about what might have been the stories behind the stories of some of contemporary history's more significant events.

WN: What was the transition from business writing to fictional writing like?
ZUCKERMAN: As a graduate of the Harvard Business School and the founder and chief executive officer of a resort hotel company, I worked hard to develop what I considered to be good business written communication skills. When the time arrived for me to attempt the writing of th early drafts of the Sentinels, Fortunes of War, I was total unprepared for the rigors of what I quickly learned was an entirely new discipline. with the passage of time (7 years), many drafts, writing research, the assistance of several editors, I finally managed to writel my story in a form that passed the minimum threshold standards of publishers' editorial staffs. Having reached that point, I became fascinated in working with the Greenleaf staff to make my story a better book. What was the best advice I received? Early on, I was advised by an experienced editors to describe what I see as if I were telling the story out loud. since that time, I think of myself like a court room stenographer, who is recording what she sees. That's the easy part. Transitioning the early drafts into something that hopefully reads like an entertaining story is the real art form. The discipline and tenacity required to complete the process can really test the dedication and tenacity of a writer.

WN: What is the research process like?
ZUCKERMAN: This part of the writing process may be my favorite. Given my general knowledge of contemporary history, I try to outline at an early stage what I want to write about and develop a general story line.Once that is complete, I begin to search for some of the best historical works that have been written on the same subject. Fortunately, we are blessed with plethora of great historians that have gone to considerable length to brilliantly chronicle what ever subject about which I am interested in writing. Having identified three separate author's works that deal with the same subject, as seen through separate lens, I read each of the books concurrently. In so doing, I am attempting to develop a feel for what may be really happening. Using the power of logical surmise, I am always trying to develop the story by the story, hence the use of the fictional licence. I find the bibliographies of these books a treasure box of other pertinent works and with the aid of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I feel I have access to the world's great library. Newspaper archives, Google, and recommendations of critical acclaimed reports are and will always remain a treasure source of information.

WN: What has been the most influential book you've read and why?
ZUCKERMAN: There is no single author that has impressed me over all others. The works of William Manchester, Herman Wouk, Fredrick Forsythe, Flecther Knebel, Nevil Shute, Leon Uris, Tom Clancy, Ron Chernow, standout in my mind. but it is the obscure, less well distributed book that continues to gush the fresh idea, that important piece of information that can make such an important contribution to the telling of a story.

WN: What are you working on next?
ZUCKERMAN: I have just finished a second book that identifies the desire of seven major oil companies, following the completion of World War II, to control 90% of the world's future oil production. Concerned that their efforts could result in a dangerous concentration of economic and political power, the Sentinels return to oppose this manifestation of unbridled greed in its early stages.

10 November 2009

NaNo Day 10 -- Oh, the terror... the voices...

Today is day 10 of NaNoWriMo 2009. In another 15 or so hours, this insanity will be 1/3 of the way over.

I've written more than 1/3 of my 50,000 words. After this morning's writing session, I'm sitting at 19,000-odd words and plan to do another 1,000 tonight to put me over 20k. (This will also put me two full days ahead which is good because I'm seeing many things on the horizon that could impede my progress.)

The first time I tried my hand at writing a novel, I think it was somewhere around this point when I realized that I was indeed writing a novel. This was quickly followed by sheer terror.

The terror is again building. But for a different reason this time.

NaNoWriMo's lovely organizers send me email about twice a week, reminding me how hard this is. How my enthusiasm is going to peter out this week. That I shouldn't worry about whether my story is good at all. They offer tips about filling up word count with things like minute details about what everyone is wearing until you figure out where the story is going.

They even have authors giving tips. At first, when I saw an email in my inbox from Jasper Fforde, I was elated. I interviewed him a couple years ago... maybe he wanted to get back in touch for a follow-up? Nope. He offered the following:

But the overriding importance is that the 50,000 words don’t have to be good. They don’t even have to be spelled properly, punctuated or even tabulated neatly on the page.


I'm sorry, Jasper. You're wrong. Spelling does count. At least for me. And that comma that I typed outside the quote? I've got to go fix it.

I'm listening to competing voices about NaNo. On one hand, there's the NaNo crown, telling me to just write 50,000 words, no matter their order, or usefulness, or even spelling. Makes sense -- turn that inner editor off. On the other, there is another contingent of writers saying NaNo teaches the wrong things -- that quantity over quality is a bad lesson to learn. Stop and make it good the first time because you won't like the major editing that comes afterward -- and that makes sense too.

There's my own voice, too. It's not talking so much about process. No, it's saying things like, have you noticed how dusty it is in here? Or who's going to wash those dishes; the cat doesn't have thumbs. Or, go make a NaNoWriMo2009 playlist for your iPod.

And then there's the voice that says, "Those last three pages suck. They are boring. If you're bored, a reader will be doubly bored. Why aren't they good like those other three pages back a couple chapters?" Or the one that says, "Are you mental? NaNo is just crazy."

The terror comes because I don't know which voice is right. I think it's quite possible they all are.

I fix my typos. I reread part of what I wrote yesterday to get going again. I've gone back and added little bits of dialogue and description. I'm not describing every last button on someone's clothes and I'm not rewriting whole scenes. Yet I know that everything I've written for the last two days will need serious work during revisions. Serious cutting and rewriting.

Getting words on paper is important, the sheer constancy of creating. My book does have a plot. I am in an upward arc toward the 40-45K mark that will be a big revelation for the whole story.

The terror, quite frankly, is a motivation -- an I'll show them all deal. The book won't completely suck. But I'll follow the rules for the most part. For the next 20 days, I'll listen to all the voices off-and-on, when they make sense.

Even the one about the playlist.

09 November 2009

NaNo Contest Winner!

Thanks to all of you who suggested great character names to get me unstuck in my NaNo.

I liked a lot of the suggestions...though maybe not the one suggestion of "Dave." ;)

Some suggestions just didn't fit, largely because there were a few names that were too similar to some already existing characters.

But, one rose to the top as a clear winner.... Drumroll please....

My NaNo villain is named Sorian Pearce, thanks to Rachel's suggestion. YAY for Rachel!

In recognition of her great suggestion, if interested, Rachel wins a copy of "Mortal Path: Dark Time" from Dakota Banks. If not, the book will be donated to an outlet that needs it, like a local library. (Rachel, drop me an email to let me know what you want to do...)

Thanks for playing. I'm thinking about a possible other contest before the end of November, so stay tuned!

06 November 2009

NaNo quick contest!


It's day six of NaNoWriMo 2009 and I need a name for a character.

And not just any character, my villain!

His last name is Pearce, but he needs a catchy first name. Pearce is a global player, and can be from a family with parents of two different nationalities, so his first name might be something exotic.

Post your suggestions for a first name in the comments by Monday morning (8 am EST). If I pick yours, you'll win my undying gratitude. And possibly a cool prize. Like a free book.

Also, if you want to be NaNo buddies, my NaNo username is bkwarner.

05 November 2009

Varied Voices -- Simon Wood

Word Nerd had the opportunity to get to know Simon Wood during Bouchercon. He's quick-witted, and was one of the best moderators she saw during the convention. He was also gracious (after Word Nerd "lost" his first email in her inbox) to do a guest blog.

Scaredy Cat, by Simon Wood

People ask me what scares me, what my deepest fears are, and what sends me into a panic. Austin Powers says he fears only two things: nuclear weapons and carnies. I’m different. Pretty much everything frightens me. I think people are usually looking for a man-of-steel kind of an answer. But I have to disappoint. I’m scared of my own shadow. Literally. It’s always there, behind me, creeping up on me. There it is. Arrrrhh!!!

I’ll go into a cold sweat at a Starbucks. The choice dazzles me and I can’t make up my mind what I want. Suddenly that long line looks real short. Now the choice isn’t the scary thing, but what happens when the green aproned personage asks for what I want and my answer is er, I need some more time. I know the people behind me are going to start gnashing their teeth and all because I don’t know what fancy coffee I want. Eek!

Everyday things scare me. I lived in an apartment where the shower curtain had a habit of clinging to me when I got within a foot of it. The material had an odd texture that felt like skin when wet, which was a distinctly unpleasant sensation. I got to fear that damn shower curtain and avoided using it (and my wife got to hate that I didn’t shower). But that was enough to spur a story about a haunted shower curtain…

A while back, my Sisters in Crime chapter volunteered to man (or woman) the phones during the local PBS pledge drive. I feared my phone would ring, because I might get someone with a weird name I couldn’t spell. I thought, if I screw up the donation, PBS won’t get their money and Yanni won’t get his funding and he’ll hunt me down like a dog.

So yes, I can make anything scary. It’s a talent. Don’t applaud me all at once. You can’t all be like me.

I made author fears a topic at a World Horror Convention panel. It was a really interesting panel. A number of the authors discussed their darkest fears. Some were parents were frightened by the potential loss of their children. Several had had incidents that led them to write stories.

Fear makes for great storytelling. It’s a fossil fuel with an inexhaustible supply. It drives stories. It forces the reader, the writer and the characters to face what frightens them full on. Stories thrive on conflict and facing your fears is the greatest conflict. No one is fearless, so everyone can relate.

The best scary writing explores our archetypal “core” fears. People fear the unknown, the loss of a loved one, loss of liberty, loss of control, their position in the world. The point is that to write scary stories, you have to be fearful. The adage goes you write what you know and fears are very real and accessible. Horror stories just don’t explore someone’s fear of vampires, werewolves and Freddy Krueger. They explore a power stronger than the individual and that overwhelming power has the ability to rob you of what you hold most dear or thrust you into an environment you desire least. No one fears Freddy Krueger. Everyone fears what someone like that can do to them.

So my myriad of fears are good for my writing. They keep it real (scary). It’s easy to see what I, the writer, you, the reader, and they, the characters have to fear. For me it’s easy to slip into a fictional situation. My second thriller, Paying the Piper, was about child abduction. Now, I’m not a parent, but I can imagine myself in the parent’s position and the terrible state I would be in if my child was snatched from me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m next in line at Starbucks and I don’t know what I want.

Yours cowering under the bedclothes,
Simon Wood

03 November 2009

Book Banter -- The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet

Title: The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet (Capt. Alatriste, bk. 5)

Author: Arturo Perez-Reverte

Genre: historical fiction

Length: 364 pages

Where Word Nerd's copy came from: Indianapolis Marion County Public Library

Plot Basics: Melancholic and broody swordsman Diego Alatriste and his young apprentice, Inigo Balboa are in Madrid. They are unaccustomed to the high social circles there, still fairly fresh from their campaign in Flanders. But Alatriste begins an affair with a great actress, who has also caught the attention of the king.

Banter Points: This book is why Word Nerd loves the Captain Alatriste series. Swordfighting, political intrigue, love affairs, the Spanish Inquisition -- it's got it all. A great read full of fast-paced action and a page-turning political plot.

Bummer Points: Perez-Reverte still infuses his books with some history-slash-commentary about Spain during that time period and quotes lots of poetry. It can slow the read down if you don't like it.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Historical fiction fans, you need to get to know Alatriste.

02 November 2009

October Bibliometer

Another month, another bibliometer reading.

October 2009
7 books
2,698 pages
87 pages/day average

76 books
25447 pages

-6 books (83 read at the end of October 2008)

Originally, Word Nerd sort of wanted to break the 100 books in a year mark this year. Her count had steadily been going up by two each year for 2006, 2007, and 2008. But 2009 isn't likely going to be that year.