Greyfriars Bobby by Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson

Greyfriars Bobby (Penguin Popular Classics) Greyfriars Bobby by Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Far more romantic and entertaining than the true story of the little dog that would not leave his master's side, it's no wonder this is the version that people believe. More than a tale of a love that lasted beyond life, this is also a darn good example of a writer writing successfully in dialect. Read it for the "awwww" factor and learn a few knew words of a very beautiful language.

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The Information Officer: A Novel by Mark Mills

The Information Officer: A Novel The Information Officer: A Novel by Mark Mills

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Too many genres can spoil a good story, and this book comes dangerously close to proving that point. Its strength as a historical novel, set in the much under appreciated Malta during WWII, saves it from being a rather weak mystery/thriller. Mills does a decent job of making his setting a character, putting the reader next to the characters as they go about the business of staying alive while the Germans are trying to remove them from the island, if not the face of the earth. It's good that he's able to do that, because getting inside the character's heads, a necessity for a good mystery or thriller, just isn't possible. They're just too darn flat and worse, they're stereotypes straight from old 1940s/50s Hollywood movies made about WWII. Supporting characters get almost no back story, making them hard to identify, let alone impossible to identify with. Any marginally well read mystery fan will figure out who the killer is long before the main character gives up and turns the case over to a late entry professional.

However, once again, as a book read to discover a new place in a very interesting time period, this book is a fast and not-unpleasant read, and it's a historical that I can say I liked this book enough to have taken something away from it.

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The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

The Children's Book The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The second line of this book is the date the story starts. Sneak a peak at the last chapter, and you'll see that the first line there is the date the story ends. When an author bookends their story in such a way, you know that the passage of time is a very, very important part of the narrative. Nineteen years go by in this case, nineteen years of family dramas that match the massive political and cultural revolution England itself was going through during the same time period. With at least a half dozen major characters and at least a dozen more almost major characters, plus the lord-knows-how-many secondary characters, there's a lot going on in this book, and there was a point, about one third of the way through, when I almost decided it wasn't worth remembering who was who's son, cousin, friend, or lover. But the world that Byatt has so meticulously researched and reconstructed is a hard one to leave, and eventually, by repetition and/or solid writing, everyone becomes sorted out. There are places where the action takes an obvious turn towards the writer showing off her research rather than story progression, and even worse, some incredibly academic chapters that have nothing to do with the narrative and are simply rude interruptions to a good read. The book does slip from literature into romance occasionally, but with over six hundred pages covering nineteen years, there's bound to be some incredible happenings in one or two lives.

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The Child In Time by Ian McEwan

The Child in Time The Child in Time by Ian McEwan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Two stars stands for "It was okay" on the Goodreads scale, and for Ian McEwan authored fiction, this book really was only okay. He can do so much better. McEwan's strength, characters tormented in one way or another by their past, are out in full force in this book, but with non-linear story telling that nudges up against sci-fi, why bother? The reader knows all the choices before the situations are revealed, and throwing in a well written but unconnected political plot does nothing but weaken the personal arc of the main character. The sense of place was wonderful, as good as any McEwan story set in contemporary London, and that's all that kept me reading when I long stopped caring about the characters and their drawn out for drama's sake troubles.

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Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, Version 2.0 The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, Version 2.0 by Christopher Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Christopher Moore is the mockery master. His books are genius when he's making fun of the people (small town law officer who has every reason to fear the DEA) and places (tourist town residents that are anything but visitor friendly). Moore proved that he'd hold nothing as sacred in his hilarious book [Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal], so there should be no surprise that when Raziel, the possibly intellectually challenged angel from that book shows up in a small coastal California town a few days before Christmas, things go wrong. A simple directive from God isn't so simple when the local crazy woman goes off her meds, a divorced couple has one argument too many, a short term visitor wants to make long term plans and kids say the darndest things. There are a few more colorful characters with their own subplots, all very entertaining, but with so many people milling about this town, there's not a lot of room for Raziel. Remember him? From the title of the book? He disappears for chunks of the book, and despite the town constable showing passing interest in discovering who he is, he's a fringe character in his own story. Perhaps that is the way of angels. Either way, this is a very funny book when it's looking at what goes on off of Main Street, so-so funny when it's trying to follow its own plot line.

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Lake Overturn by Vestal McIntyre

Lake Overturn: A Novel Lake Overturn: A Novel by Vestal McIntyre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Vestal McIntyre is a master of character driven fiction. I suspected as much when I read his short story collection, [You Are Not The One:], and this novel goes beyond what he accomplished in that book. The residents of Eula, Idaho are as light as they are dark, they are as happy as they are angry. Not one of them is a caricature, they are flesh and blood and the craziness that lives in all of us. Beyond giving us characters that will make you second, third, and fourth guess your opinions on the people you know in your real life, McIntyre's use of setting makes this a story that will have you looking at your own surroundings with a new eye. This is Southern Gothic without the southern but too modern to be simply gothic, and it is one of the best books I've read this year.

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London Boulevard by Ken Bruen

London Boulevard (Bloodlines) London Boulevard by Ken Bruen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A contemporary noir re-telling of Sunset Boulevard with characters that would have been a perfect fit for Guy Ritchie's RocknRolla. The dialog is perfectly sharp, the violence is brutal and over the top, and the setting is perfectly, grimely London. This is derivative fiction in the hands of a very good writer.

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Knowing when it's just not working

I'm abandoning "The Creativity Book" exercise. I'm sure it works very well for some people, but I'm finding the exercises repetitive and in some cases, so obvious that I'm insulted that the author thinks I'm not already using some of the techniques. Perhaps creativity is not my problem. That leaves me with productivity issues. Time to get cracking on those, then.


Vignette: A Writing Exercise

Write Anything had a neat little writing prompt up this morning, one that works for Planners as well as Pantsers. (For the record, I am a Pantser who listens to the whispers of my inner Planner.)
The premise is: to write a scene where two family members who have been estranged, come together for the first time. The scene is built on ten prompts. You should write just one sentence for each prompt. The entire exercise takes between five and ten minutes to complete depending on whether you write or type.
For a list of the ten prompts, go to the link. (It's only fair to drive some traffic their way, no?)

My Response (Handwritten in just in 9 minutes)

1) It was hot. Hot, hot, so very hot.
2) Birds chattered and bickered in the tree above them.
3) In the parking lot, cars coated with dust from the long drive in ticked as their engines started to cool.
4) Some how, the breezeless air carried the sent of something old and metallic to the two women.
5) The handles of her tote bag strained under the load, one already reinforced with a large safety pin.
6) A sudden flurry of wings, and the birds were gone.
7) Another car crunched in, doors slam, friendly greetings are called out.
8) She held the bag out, raised it as high as she could.
9) The tremors in her hands moved up her arms. Soon her whole body shaking.
10) "This, it's all I had. Take it and leave."

What I learned from this exercise:
A) I can't not write an ending first. As soon as I read the last prompt, that line formed the body of the story.
B) I can't follow rules. The first prompt and the last two contain more than one sentence each. Good thing they call it creative writing!


I am speechless, but not wordless

A writer's headway through a work in progress is measured in words. Some of us may talk in terms of scenes completed, chapters finished, heroic steps completed, but on the oh-so-important, oh-so-ugly first draft, it's word count that gives us proof that we are moving forward. We set a daily goal. promise ourselves that we won't let anything get in the way of accomplishing that goal, and then we write. Sometimes the words flow and we fly by the number. More often, for first timers at least, the words aren't so readily at our fingertips, and we check the word count every sentence, even though we know we can't be close. I set my goal, at what I think are an attainable number, but the days I don't make goal are more often than the ones that I do make them. Not making the goals has never made me want to quit writing, however, and so I slog on. That's what this post is about - the cumulative value of slogging on.

This weekend, I added up all the chapters and scenes I've written for my two novels. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement of massive proportions.

Suclimation - 50132 words
Circus Freak - 53519 words

Excuse my repetition from the last post, but I have to say it again - I AM A WRITER.

Neither book has reached the halfway point, but considering how much will be taken out by editing, I have a very good start. Most importantly (this akes me smile, every time I think it), I am too far in to give up. My "babies" deserve to grow up.


#writechat, How do I love thee?

If you're familiar with Twitter, you recognize the # symbol at the beginning of the title of this piece as the start of a "hashtag". If you're not, don't worry, this isn't a love letter to Twitter, and you don't have to be a part of Twitter to appreciate what that "#writechat" has come to mean to me. What you do have to understand is how important group interactions can be to someone who practices a craft as solitary as writing.

First, what is #writechat? It's a very open group discussion every Sunday, 2-5pm CDT, on Twitter. Twitter, with the limiting aspect of 140 words (130 for this discussion, because each post must include the phrase #writechat if you want others taking part to see it) doesn't encourage lengthy discourses. With its free for all membership, a lot of people can take part very quickly, and it's very hard to keep up any discussion going more than a few sentences. Then there's the technology of Twitter, which may slow down, or even prohibit, a participant's responses, effectively taking them out of the chat. So how could something so disorganized, so superficial, so inclusive be of any benefit to an aspiring writer? Wouldn't those three hours be better spent actually writing? No, they wouldn't, at least not for me.

#writechat is the discussion group equivalent of speed dating. Like speed dating, you don't go in with too high of expectations, but an open mind to the possibility of something clicking. In speed dating, you might not meet the person of your dreams, but you could learn a bit about yourself through the quickfire conversations. You definitely discover a lot more of the things you aren't looking for in a mate. In #writechat, while looking for the secret that removes every obstacle to a successful writing career you'll find kernels of advice that chip away at those obstacles. You'll also have a few of those private superiority moments, when you realize you have progressed as a writer. And finally, like speed dating, you might "meet" someone who you engages you in a way that you want to carry the conversation further. Twitter's follow feature is only one click away.

What did I gain from this past Sunday's #writechat? The two questions that started the whole thing roiling (and nearly stayed on point the whole three hours!) were posed by this week's guest moderator, @markdavidgerson, "How do you define success as a writer?" and "Are you okay calling yourself a writer if you're not published?". I've always been pretty clear on my answer to the first, but the second question, which so many other writers had no problem answering in the affirmative, has always been one of my inner demons. I know that if I don't call myself a writer, if I have some sort of inner shame or inferiority about my work, it will never be as good as it can be. If I don't respect my work, who will? #writechat, with all its crazy side conversations, occasionally spamming, and pure off topic discourse, taught me one thing yesterday. I AM A WRITER.  Thank you to all who participate in #writechat, and especially to WritingSpirit ,the founder of #writechat.


"....'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

The quote is from Mary Pickford and the sentiment is that although it's been four weeks since I last worked on the exercises laid out in The Creativity Book: A Year's Worth of Inspiration and Guidance" by Eric Maisel, I am not quitting. I am back at Week 6, and it is all about forgiveness. My "enemies list" has been made (and will stay private, for obvious reasons). What I have learned from listing the 24 people that came to mind in 10 minutes is that there are a few people who I harbor ill will against for a variety of reasons, and several who have only done one thing that I haven't gotten past. I've also learned that my dip into the Middle Way has left me unable to only see the negative. As I made the list, I started thinking of ways each of these people had helped me. As the exercise proceeds, I am to forgive each person (mentally, as this is NOT a 12 step program) and become a healthier person. A healthier person is a more creative person, right? My mind boggles at what Van Gogh could have done if this is true.


There's no half glass full - fewer people are reading fiction.

I've seen a quote attributed to Steven Jobs several times over the last week, concerning how few Americans read books. I traced it back to an interview with the NY Times in January of this year. Yes, he did say that “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.". As an aspiring writer, I find that depressing as all hell. Please, let him have his facts wrong. Searching further, I can't find what his source for that number was, but I did find a study published in 2004 with data from 2002 by the National Endowments for the Arts. Maybe Mr. Jobs has slightly more recent numbers, because it turns out that 56% had read a book, but that's only if you include non-fiction. If you're only looking at novels, short stories, plays, or poetry, just 46& had read a book. And that's not a steady figure. It's almost 10% than ten years earlier. The closest thing to any good news for a fiction writer in the NEA study is that the actual number of readers has stayed approximately the same because of population growth.

Oh, and if the hard facts that there are fewer people reading literature isn't a dark enough cloud, there's this little tidbit from the study - more people are writing. Goody. More competition.


Week 3, exercise 6, 3 of 3

I want to describe the sparkle, 
but those eyes are cold and black.
This story will have no happy ending
the demon muse has come back.

In my mind I see day kissed skin,
two bodies entwined as one.
But the story that he would tell
Is from a world with no sun.

My plot would have you call a lover.
But you simply will not obey.
You are every bit the hunter,
a spider that lures its prey

I loathe to write the lines that follow,
when he cowers in your heat.
I've been in this dark space before
No partner deserves such mistreat.


Week 3, Exercise 6, 2 of 3

The Closet

Little boy lost, little boy found
Little boy, in the ground.
Gotta grow up
gotta do you thing.
Little boy lost
Gonna be a big man.

Try to do the right thing
try to act the same.
Gonna marry your sweetheart
do the other on the side
Do the right thing
Gotta be a real man.

Look at all the pretty girls
Don’t you want a turn?
Stop doing what you do
Never should have gone that far 
Little boy gotta learn
The lies they call a man.


Week 3, Exercise 6

I  restarted Eric Maisel's The Creativity Book two weeks ago.  One of the exercises for this week is to "Settle into mystery" and to do that, I am to write a poem a day for three days.  Sure, I could write them and file them away in my laptop.  But that's one of the problems I'm trying to address - the confidence to publish.  Before my inner critic can talk me out of it, I send one raw and first draftish poem out into the everlasting world of the internet.

Negative energy

I don't know enough about physics
or the natural world
to say where this energy comes from.

I only know that I can feel the pull
when you are here
And when you are gone there is none.

You are a mass, a gravitational pull
At worst, a black hole
I’ve tried to balance too long.

When you are gone I move along
I have found the center
of my own universe. It is me.


But what have I read lately???

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A tiny post to keep the bedsores at bay.

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." -Albert Einstein