29 July 2011

The Quiet

There are times when nothing but quiet will do.

And while this particular post was written by a mom, I think that anyone in search of quiet will understand:

And I was like, The Quiet? Who is this band, and why have I not heard of them?

Someone has got to make this happen. Someone has got to put a band together that just stands still on stage, their guitars hanging languidly around their necks, the keyboard and drum set untouched. And in order to buy a ticket you have to be a parent. And you can't bring your kids. And you just sit there in the theater with all these other parents basking in the exhilarating silence of it all.


"What'd you do last night?"

"My husband and I went downtown to see The Quiet."

"Oh yeah? I've heard they're pretty good live."

"You've no idea. The track I downloaded from iTunes doesn't do them justice."


Are you a writer who needs quiet? I am. I cannot listen to music without falling into the lyrics. I'm easily distracted too.

Until I hit my stride. And then I fall into the story, the words, the characters that are swirling in my brain.

Mostly, it's about knowing what you need.

Every so often, it's a band called The Quiet.

via dooce.com

28 July 2011

Collapsing Borders

The news broke last week that Borders is closing for good.

Shuttering 400-odd stores this spring (including several here in the Circle City) wasn't enough to keep them afloat. And with no other buyer willing to step up and take over the book chain, the only course of action for the company at this time to close.

Greater Indianapolis is going to lose at least three more stores, in addition to the three or four closed a few months ago. Just like that, six or seven book stores gone.

I don't want to get all doom-and-gloom about the future of reading, literacy and the printed word. It does make a self-proclaimed bibliophile's heart hurt though. I wrote about my feelings about the closings this spring and the concern I had/have about what this means for literacy.

I don't know what long-term effects closing Borders could have on the book world. I also don't want to decry e-readers or the Internet for the lack of people reading books. I'm thinking Borders probably made some bad business decisions -- opening too many stores (there were four on the general north side of Indy/Carmel). That kind of thing gets any business in trouble, whether they are selling shoes or washing machines or books.

Here's what I do know. Even when we're decrying the loss of bookstores, the permanence of well-written words remains. I had someone tell me the other day that they were really impressed with a letter I wrote. That's right -- in the mail, on paper, with a stamp.

My mentee for Starfish told me she wanted to work on her writing skills and so we're tackling some of that together. Right now, we're working on description. When she said that, I was so excited because she realizes that her writing skills are important. (We'll just let her figure out on her own that that key in description will help with more than just her attempts at fiction...)

If e-books take over and printed books become more and extinct, it's going to be the well-written e-books that rise to the surface. People still gravitate to words that move them or that they find fascinating.

The sad part is that with Borders closing, it might be harder to access them. But the sphere of needing well-honed writing will never disappear be it in books or life.

26 July 2011

Breaking Rules

Are you a rule follower or a rule breaker?

Me, I'm a rule breaker. I know, I know, I really do seem like a rule follower to those who know me. But those who REALLY know me, understand the game.

The Game is to know the rules, then bend, twist and break away. Those that play The Game know that rules are really an arbitrary means of placing structure around life.

Okay, structure keeps us safe. After all, speed limits are supposed to keep us safe from those that aren't good at driving at Nascar-like speeds. Rules about penicillin prevent more super germs from forming.

But when it comes to writing, rule breaking is good. Encouraged even. But in order to effectively break the rules, one must first know the rules.

What is your favorite rule to break? Or, what author or writing device never fails to please when it is broken effectively?

25 July 2011

Book Banter -- The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes

Title: The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes
Author: Marcus Sakey
Genre: mystery/thriller
Length: ~400 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: A man wakes up on a deserted New England beach. He doesn't remember who he is,  but it's clear that he's barely survived a suicide attempt. He tries to piece his life back together, wondering what would have compelled him to such ends. His search takes him cross-country, searching after a woman he sees on TV and straight into running for his life and stumbling into truths that he once knew but now, can't remember.

Banter Points: When I saw the premise of this book, I thought, "Marcus is a brave man" trying the whole amnesia thing. After Robert Ludlum had Jason Bourne getting amnesia and forgetting he was a trained government agent with such success, it felt like one of those plot devices that could never really be wielded by anyone else without coming across as a lame copy.

Leave it to Marcus Sakey to make it work. Daniel's amnesia works to drive the plot but doesn't become just a trite device. The twists never stop coming in another fast-paced thriller from a writer who's carved himself a great niche of putting normal people characters through their nightmares.

Bummer Points: This isn't about the writing, really, but I wish I'd been able to read the book in one sitting. Picking it up and putting it down made the action feel jerky instead of the smooth flow that it really is.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like those of "what if" something happened to a character kind of like me, Sakey's books should definitely be on your shelves.

22 July 2011

Retrieval versus Storage of memories

Here's an interesting concept that I think would be interesting to build into a story.

Computers have two ways of accessing memory. One laser writes the original memory. The other laser reads it. Two separate lasers performing different functions.

When a brain writes memory, it uses the same bits and pieces as it uses when accessing the memory later. Because of this, just by accessing a memory, it changes.

There's quite a lot of science behind this and the implications are extraordinary.

Christopher Priest
wrote a novel called "The Extremes" where something like this occurs, only it is based in virtual reality, not someone's memories.

The concept is fascinating to me. A villian could do some serious damage if he knew how to access the memories of others and modify them. So could a well-intentioned protagonist. Or meddling parent. The possibilities are endless.

19 July 2011

End of an Era - or not?

Harry Potter, the final movie, came out on Friday. Were you one of the masses that stood in line for it? I was not.

For me, Harry Potter ended when the final book came out in 2007. I watched the first two movies and decided that they were not for me. Mainly because they ruined the pictures in my head, which was more thrilling than anything I saw on the big screen.

For many, the movies marked the end of the Potter Era. A Google search turns up all sorts of interesting things like the etymology of some words by WordNik or a seven minute movie to catch you up on the previous movies. (I cheated. Both of those links courtesy of Kottke.org)

I have to wonder if Harry is done for the author, though. Having invested such a large amount of time and effort in the world and characters, is Rowling done? Or, now that Potter is officially over, will she reveal another set of challenges and characters in the same world?

I have no official rumors, other than an early promise she made that Harry would never appear with a mid-life crisis.

I don't think that the Potter world is over. Call it a hunch, but now that the last movie is out, I think we'll be hearing from Rowling. Soon.

18 July 2011


For one of the grant applications I regularly write, the grantors ask a great question about what the marks of success will be halfway through the project.

Since more than half of 2011 is done, I thought now would be a good time to assess where I am with the reading goals I set for myself back in January and check on my current successes.

  • Read a total of 85 books in 2011. Currently, I'm at 44. I feel kind of behind because June was sparse and July may be even more so, but I think I can catch up.
  • Read one book by a Russian master. I will gladly take recommendations. I finished Anna Karenina in May. Phew.
  • Read the remaining 6 of Michael Connelly's back list (and the new one coming out in April) to be totally caught up with everything he's written. So I really can't count because there were seven more to go (not counting the next new one due in November 2011. So, I've read four and have three to go.
  • Re-read either Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. It was a decade ago that I last read them both. If I get through both, I'm awarding myself bonus points. I'm 2/3 done with the Space Trilogy and have to get myself to read That Hideous Strength now. It's my least favorite of the three.
  • Read at least one book a month that comes from my bookshelf instead of the library to get caught up on things I've borrowed or purchased. I have completely fallen off this bandwagon. Here's hoping maybe I can get back on at the end of this month.
  • Read at least 3 books considered to be "important" books that I've never read. Despite taking advanced or AP English through all of high school and two lit classes in college there's an alarming number of really famous books I've never read (for example, Catcher in the Rye.) I think it's high time that I tackle of a few of these classics. Just don't make me read Jane Austen unless it also involves zombies or sea monsters, OK? After slogging through AK this spring, I haven't been real gung-ho to get going on this goal, but it's time for sure. I've got a copy of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried that I think I'm going to tackle soon. It's not exactly a classic, but I think it is important because of the subject matter. Still undecided about the other two. 
For the mid-point of the year, I think I'm doing pretty well. I'm going to have to pick up the pace a little bit which may mean turning off the TV a little more. With all the summer yardwork, when I come in tired, the tube has been preferable over reading because it's so passive. And it's been a lot of Matt Smith as the Doctor, which will be hard because I find his tawdry quirks rather endearing... cough...Gratuitous Dr. Who picture here----->;

Right. I think I'm on track.

15 July 2011

Defining Success

Last weekend, I got into a conversation about how to define success.

It was a tricky area to navigate through because the person on the other side of the conversation defined success by money, while I tend to define success in other ways. To make it worse, the person is consistently measuring up their life and deciding it comes up short while my life is measured as decent, maybe even good.

It was a struggle to get them to see that money didn't need to define success. That if they stopped using money as the definition, their life may not be lacking.

I failed.

But I walked away with a great lesson, for my life and my writing.

The writing lesson: Great convictions lead people to actions that they must follow. Because of a world view, every interaction for this person is view against a measuring stick that will make them view life as miserable. Creating a character like this is critical in order to drive the story. It doesn't have to be just misery either. If a different measuring stick than money had been chosen, life might have taken a very different turn.

The life lesson: Some people are stuck in their ways no matter what. It can be easier to walk away than bang your head against a brick wall.

I realize I left out my own definition of success. That's for another day.

14 July 2011

Book Banter -- Centuries of June

Title: Centuries of June
Author: Keith Donohue
Genre: literary fiction
Length: 342 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: In the middle of the night in June, a man takes a tumble on his way to the bathroom, gashing open a hole in his head. Thus the reader in thrust into his imagination/memory/dreams as he tries to explain what he was dreaming about when he awoke and how he got the hole in his head. He is repeatedly interrupted by women from the past -- all who make an attempt on his life with such murderous implements as frying pans and baseballs -- and then upstage him to tell tall tales of love gone wrong (The Woman Who Married a Bear for example). Each interruption brings him closer to his own present and truth of his injury.

Banter Points: I realize that the plot sounds odd, but in Donohue's lyrical and magical voice, the stories all hang together into a compelling narrative. Each of the women's stories is like its own novella, unique in voice and perspective and with moving story arc. The stories feel like stories you know to be almost true, drawn from history and mythology and something close to common experience.

Bummer Points: Given that each of the women's stories is unique, I didn't like them all equally. Also, once the reader figures out what the pattern of each interruption is, the technique gets a little old by stories six through eight.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you haven't read Donohue, I'd suggest starting with his debut novel, The Stolen Child, but Centuries of June is definitely worth picking up.

11 July 2011

Backless Books

No, I'm not talking about stripped books where the covers have been removed.

I'm talking about these books.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm feeling somewhat self-conscious about carrying these two books around, to read say, at work, over lunch. I took Centuries of June home with me for 4th of July weekend and when my mom arched her eyebrow at it, I find myself protesting, "It's not that kind of book!" (All those middle school and high school years of sneaking books past my mom that I knew she would object to me reading is a hard habit to break....) 
"Then why's that on the cover?" Mom asks. 

"It's a metaphor." It's a poor fumble for a reason, but it's something and it sounds literary and important. (On the upside, having finished the book, it was a metaphor of sorts so my flimsy excuse was studier than I imagined.)

As for Naamah's Blessing, which I'm less than 100 pages into, I know from past Jacqueline Carey titles that it is, sort of, that kind of book.

And I think the covers -- though both of women who are naked or mostly that way -- show that difference. Centuries of June (which will likely get it's own Book Banter post) is beautiful and lyrical. The nude on the cover is like art, a statue of a Venus. The woman on Naamah's Blessing gives off a far more sensual aura. Maybe because her face is visible, or all the jewelry, questions immediately come to a potential reader's mind -- is she dancing? For whom? Does she love him? Is it all show? Yes, there will be sex in this book, but there's a whole heck of a lot of political intrigue too. Still, I sort of want to make one of those brown paper bag covers like in grade school.

Has this happened to any of you? Any book covers that have made you embarrassed to be caught reading them?

01 July 2011

Scottish Historical Exam

There's probably one out there for every imaginable genre, but this one makes me laugh. Hugely. Especially as I am re-reading Diana Galbaldon's "Outlander" series (watch out - those June stats are going to be awesome, given the fatness of her books.)

  1. The hero is always depicted as Highland chief (complete with kilt and basket hilt sword usually - and wrongly - called claymore), even if he lives in the Lowlands.
  2. The heroine is always English.
  3. She’s described as feisty; often red haired.
  4. The bad guy is her father/brother/betrothed.
  5. The heroine, in most cases abducted by the hero, first hates him and sees him a savage but soon can’t resist his alpha maleness (her betrothed is a whimp, after all) and falls in lurve. Of course, she goes over to the Scottish side at that point. A bit angsting is ok, but not too much. This is a romance, not a psychological portrait of a woman torn by opposite allegiances.
  6. The hero is in lurve with the English girl since he met her at a ball he attended in disguise to spy on the English.
  7. If the English characters (except the heroine) are keen on getting more money, it’s always greed.
  8. If the Scottish hero is keen on getting money, it’s to help his clansmen to buy cattle, or sometimes to restore his ancient seat which the English destroyed.
  9. The hero says “Ye ken, lassie,” a lot.
  10. If the hero drinks a lot of whisky, it’s alpha male-y, if the English do it, it’s depraved and a sign of inherent weakness.
  11. The Campbells are the only Scottish clan that is bad.
  12. There can be a clan feud, but it has to be ended in order to fight the English. Except if it involves the Campbells because those are bad (see 11).
  13. The Scots win the decisive battle despite the fact that they’re outnumbered five to one and fight with swords against muskets. This is achieved by the famous downhill charge.
  14. There must be at least one scene where the hero shows the heroine the beauty of his country by dragging her along over mountains and stones, though heather and moor, until he finds a river where he can catch some salmon with his bare hands. Romantic dinner ensues.
  15. Never bother about the differences between pre- and post-Culloden Scotland, even if you mention Culloden as example for the badness of the English.
  16. The hero must at some point deliver a speech stuffed with platitudes about the greatness and braveness of the Scots from the times of their mysterious selkie ancestor onwards (and never mention Normans or Vikings in the family trees), and list a number of vile English kings that tried to unjustly suppress the Scots.

    Bonus points if you can manage that speech while the hero stands in chains in front of his English captors. He will of course get insult, and the heroine has a chance to escape with him.

  17. The hero has a trusted sidekick who hates the Sassenach girl until she manages to save his life.
  18. The heroine can ride in a man’s saddle. She also has a favourite horse, preferably some breed that would never be able to find footing on highland mountains if this were not a romance.
  19. The hero is able to swim across any loch in the depth of winter without getting a cold. While escaping several salvos of arrows or bullets.