Time to get your mojo on for Nano and other cool links

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It’s October and that means  you have a few weeks to prepare for National Novel Writing Month. I’m jumping in. I hope some of you are too. If you are, let’s be writing buddies and keep each other motivated.
Ready, Set, NaNoWriMo! – How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo by Gary McLaren. Good nuts and bolts on what you can do to prepare for NaNo.

How CSI Gets it Wrong. Great post by an expert witness in forensic pathology that dispels rampant myths about crime scenes and forensics. Don’t forget to sign up and get the free download of crime writing tips. Excellent!

New Laser Turntable Plays Your Records Without Even Touching Them 

If you’re a big fan of vinyl but worry about damaging your collection, this may be an interesting solution. Kind of cool when tradition and modern tech come together.

JetBlue Book Vending Machines Dispense Free Kids’ Books in D.C. Neighborhood

Wow, if this isn’t a nod to getting kids to read, I don’t know what is. Kudos to Jet Blue for encouraging kids to read.

Person Asks Online For Advice On How To Deal With Grief. This Reply Is Incredible.

Be prepared to tear up on this one. This post I believe went viral a few weeks ago. But there is a good reason that it did. You rarely see such a heartfelt example of empathy and understanding on the Internet.

Have a great weekend everybody.

Annie

How many pages will you give an author?

There’s a blog that sometimes visit where the author takes the first page from NYT best selling books and analyses them to see if his readers would read past the first page. It’s an interesting exercise and he has a list of criteria that he follows to determine if it’s a page turner or not. And sometimes I agree with him on his analysis and sometimes I don’t.

In fact, this morning I read a post and I knew after the first sentence who the author was – because I read his books. Sadly, he didn’t fair well with most of the other commenters and it got me thinking about the whole concept of quick judgment.

The first page test

I don’t know when it happened but today it seems to be a given that if the first page of a book doesn’t slap you upside the head with a car wreck, dead body or exploding kittens that it is deemed bad – or at least not good. And God forbid that the author should tell you anything at all about the character because her wrestling with a twenty-armed octopus while solving world hunger should show you everything you need to know about our hero, right?

And writers seem to believe this because it seems that just about any book you pick up these days opens with some big confusing mess of action that you have to read twenty pages further to finally understand. Because that puts you in the moment. Or at least it’s supposed to. But does it really? In my case, it just puts me into a painful confusion from which I try desperately to escape.

And it’s not just this particular blog that seems to have this philosophy, you see how-to writing articles all the time about how you’ve got to grab readers from the first second. But that’s what they say about resumes too. And websites and movies. And well, just about everything.

So…what happened? Did we all just reduce our attention span down to that of a gnat? Are we all just over-active, hormone-laden 14-year-old boys who can’t land? Is substance a thing of the past?

The first 50 pages

Many years ago I saw an interview with John Irving, author of  The World According to Garp, among other best sellers. And he was asked how many pages he thought readers should give a writer before they decided to reject it or not. Irving’s answer was 50 pages. He went on to explain why and I honestly can’t remember his reasons but whatever they were they made sense to me.

And I have to say, that became my benchmark and has remained my benchmark for evaluating a book. Of course there are exceptions to that rule:

  • If the book is really badly written
  • If the topic or genre doesn’t interest me at all
  • If the writing is littered with typos, bad grammar

Things that would make anyone put down a book. But aside from that I try to the give the author a fair shake. I know that she sat in a room in front of a computer or notepad and spent hundreds of hours conceptualizing, plotting, writing, editing, rewriting, and doting over the story. So why shouldn’t I give her a mere 50 pages to make her case? That’s maybe an hour or two of reading – not a big commitment is it?

So what do you think? How many pages will you give an author before deciding to stop or keep reading? Why? What’s your criteria? Do you like books that start with so much action it takes your breath away. Or would you rather ease into the story? Feel free to expound in the comments.

Writer Chick

Book Thoughts and What do You Think About Books?

photo courtesy of morguefile.com
photo courtesy of morguefile.com

I think I came out of the womb loving books – I seriously can’t remember any time in my life when I didn’t love them. Let’s face it, life is a fickle mistress but books are always good and the most well-behaved children in the world.

I think a lot about books. Sometimes the thoughts are logical and cogent but just as often they are random – perhaps fired off by a dysfunctional brain cell screeching during its final death throes. Still… Recently there have been lots of memes about books around the Internet and these have inspired the following thoughts:

Should books be free?

There are arguments pro and con on this idea. Many argue that thanks to libraries they are free. Except that libraries pay for the books they stock and tax dollars pay for libraries, so not really free. See where I’m heading? There are also authors out there offering free books as a promotional tool. On the other hand, some people think that you get what you pay for. And some of these free books as this post points out aren’t even the actual bonafide books. Personally, I believe that if someone went to the trouble and torment (and yes I mean torment) of writing a book you should at least want to see them get paid for it. Because contrary to popular belief writers need money to eat and stuff like that. If Beyonce can be a millionaire, can’t I earn enough to pay my rent? Just saying.

Do you love the smell of books? What do books smell like?

One of the favorite arguments against eBooks is that they don’t smell like ‘real’ books. So that begs the question, what do books smell like? One person I asked said they smell like dust and paper bags, others go for the metaphor and say they smell like knowledge or imagination – personally I think they smell like equal parts of ink, paper, wood, dust and mildew. Now there’s an aftershave I want for my man. Also, if an eBook could smell like a ‘real’ book would you be more likely to buy it?

Are writers who use foul language in their books, hacks?

This is my own version of the question but there have been several blog posts scolding/warning writers not to use poor language because well you know, unprofessional much. I’m down the middle on this issue. On the one hand, I really do get tired of characters dropping the f-word every two seconds, which currently seems very popular with cable TV shows (maybe they just discovered the word?). And I’m not fond of characters who curse every time they open their mouths in a story. However, I also believe that books have to have some connection to reality and the reality is that people swear all the time. Poor people, rich people, highly educated people, high school dropouts, ethnic people, non-ethnic people, kids, adults, teens – we all swear. Sometimes it’s a habit and sometimes it’s to express an extreme response. I write murder mysteries so I don’t think anyone would believe a cop who said something like, “I’m ever so distressed by your rude and inconsiderate behavior.” If I wrote something like that I’d lose my fictional P.I. license. I think it’s impossible to have a hard and fast rule about this and would rather say a write should keep context in mind. If it’s appropriate in the context of the situation and the character than feel free to swear in your books writers.

Should books have trigger warnings?

This was a new one on me. Honestly, I’d never heard of it until I read this well-written and thoughtful post and it inspired me to write a long comment. But for me, the issue is similar to that of swearing. It’s a matter of context. If your subject is very highly emotionally charged, it might not be a bad idea to add a trigger warning somewhere in your book’s page or promotional material. After all 50 Shades of Gray was not a book about interior design, right. However, since apparently just about anything anyone says can act as a trigger, a writer can’t go around trying to figure out what might trigger someone she doesn’t know who might buy and read her book. Much as I sympathize with individuals who have had a truly traumatic experience the tendency in our society today for all people to yearn to somehow be victims causes me dismay. And too, reading reviews about books and what others say about the books should give you a bit of a clue as whether a story will trigger you. So, we’ll try to be more sensitive and you try to be more diligent. Fair?

I’m sure if I really tried I could come up with other recent thoughts about books but those cover it for now.

Do you think about books too? What do you think about books? If I missed anything but sure to let me know and feel free to share. Thinking about books should always be encouraged.

PS: Don’t you love that photo? Is he wearing the book as a hat or is he thinking with the book or is the book thinking for him?

Writer Chick
Copyright 2015

I Wish I Had a Book

I Wish I Had a Book

I wish I had a book today
A book to chase my blues away
A funny book, a silly book
A big fine book
For which I’d pay.

I’d rather read than go to school
I’d rather read than follow fools
I wish I had a book to read
From which my mind could greatly feed

A book of wonder, words and clues
With lots of colors and lovely hues
A book of mystery and romance too
That keeps me guessing
Until I’m through

I want a book to take me home
That frees my mind and lets it roam
That stirs my heart forever more
And makes me want to lock the door

I wish I had a book today
A book to take me far away
A clever book, a tender book
A lovely book
In which to stay

Writer Chick
Copyright 2015

Are reviews the best way for you to select a book?

books reviews to select a book?All writers want reviews, preferably good ones. We ask for honest reviews but we secretly hope for good ones. Really good ones. It makes sense, we want to sell books. We want to feel like that year we spent fiddling with words, plot points and character arcs wasn’t wasted. But above all, we want to know that we spoke to you, the reader. That we resonated. That we connected. That we took you on an adventure. Provided entertainment, relief and escape. Because we don’t write novels for ourselves, we write them for you.

But…are book reviews believable?

Have you been fooled by a book review? I have

A few weeks ago I held my new Kindle in my hands, trembling with excitement and dying to download some books and get reading. I particularly wanted to read some indie authors and hopefully find a few new favorites. So, I popped onto Amazon and was completely overwhelmed by the selection. I suppose I could’ve asked around for recommendations but I wanted books right then.

I decided I could download a few freebies first. If I liked the author, then I’d pony up and buy everything they’d written. I scanned through trying to decide which books to download. I reduced the list by filtering for 4-star and up reviews. Still a daunting list, so I checked the blurbs. I found six books that interested me and I wanted to download and watched my Kindle screen as they magically appeared.

I was in heaven. Six brand new mysteries – total brain junk food and I was hungry. I opened the first book but the prologue was indecipherable and when I made it to the first chapter, the author had totally switched gears and was yammering on about a woman’s red fingernail. Next!

The next four books I couldn’t get past the first two or three pages. For various reasons – mind numbingly boring, passive writing, bad editing – in short, I couldn’t engage.

The fifth book showed promise. The author could write and there were passages that were pure brilliance. But there were so many stupid mistakes that could easily have been solved with research that it was astounding.

It was a crime novel and not do only I write mysteries myself, I’ve been reading them since I was eight years old. I have more than a passing understanding of forensics, investigation and procedure. And it was clear that this writer hadn’t researched any of those things or hadn’t retained any of the research. And the main character was a medical examiner.

I actually read the book to the end because I liked some of her characters and the story was clever. The shame of it was that a good editor could have helped to make it a top notch book. I almost fell off my bed when I saw at the end of the book that this author was touted as ‘best selling’ and had written 10 – 12 other books. I couldn’t imagine how this book had gotten five star reviews up the wazoo. Well, the reviews may have gotten me to read one of this author’s books but I won’t read another. So how helpful were those reviews to her in the long run?

You can buy anything on the Internet

We all love the Internet because we can find anything our little hearts desire in that nether cyber-world. Wonderful things on the Internet, also a lot of crap. The trick is in knowing the difference.

To be sure, if there’s something you want to buy, somebody out there is selling it.

Did you know that you can buy Twitter and Facebook followers? Is it a stretch to think that you could also buy reviews? Not really. I’ve seen ads offering money to write reviews, and they aren’t for the New Yorker. And every second there are thousands of online marketeers coming up with new ways to game the system. Because a lot of these marketeers think that marketing is about creating illusions, they don’t understand that marketing is about helping the consumer find what they’re looking for. You don’t have to trick anyone into buying anything if you’ve got what they need and want, right?

So the phrase, Buyer Beware, may apply doubly on the Internet.

How do you know if you can trust the reviews?

There’s no way to know for sure if a review can be trusted. There is always the matter of personal taste. Some readers may prefer a different style or not care about things that drive you nuts as a reader.

But there are a few things you can do to ascertain the veracity of the reviews:

  • Read a few pages before you buy, many Amazon books allow you to read the first few pages to see if you like before purchasing.
  • Check the author’s blog, website or Facebook page to see if you like their style of writing.
  • Ask friends to recommend authors they like
  • Download a free book from the author (if there is one) and sample their writing. Even if there isn’t a free book from the author, most authors offer a free chapter download or other stories for you to read.

In other words, don’t be like me and rush to download because your brain is hungry.

What’s your experience with book reviews? Helpful? Not helpful? How do you choose a book to read?

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014

Should You Leave the Boring Stuff Out of Your Story?

should you leave out the boring stuff in your story?

I read an interview not long ago (although now I can’t find the link) with James Patterson. Wherein Patterson explains how he sells a bagillion books a year. The ‘secret’ is that he leaves the boring stuff out of his stories. By doing so, his stories are fast reads, the action never slows and presumably the reader never gets bored.

While Patterson has other systems that enable him to churn out multiple best sellers yearly that as a reader I’m not crazy about, I tend to side with him on the boring stuff.

If you read or write, you know what I’m talking about. The passages we all skim or skip over entirely when reading a book.

  • Because we want to get to the juicy stuff.
  • Because the color of curtains or that the fabric came from some middle eastern blip of a country that employs child laborers because their tiny hands are just the right size for the intricate pattern interrupts the action.
  • We want to know where the bad guy is hiding.
  • Or if she’s going to say yes to the good guy or the bad boy.
  • Or how our hero is going to get out of the elevator careening toward the underground parking garage from the penthouse suite.

Curtains – schmurtains – gimme the action.

And Patterson isn’t the only famous author who proscribes to the philosophy of boring free stories:

Ernest Hemingway: “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.”

Elmore Leonard: “I try to leave out the parts readers skip.”

Mark Twain: “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”

Alfred Hitchcock: “Drama is life with the dull parts left out.”

Italo Calvino: “I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”

Truman Capote: “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

 

Is the Narrative necessary or in the way?

As much as I admire (and envy) Pat Conroy’s skills with prose (among others, say, Dean Koontz for example) as a reader I really don’t need to know:

  • The origin of the wallpaper
  • All about our heroine’s first period
  • The play by play on how our hero makes a sandwich.

“But,” you say, “we must have narrative. We must have a sense of space. We must know what the characters look like. We must know the character’s back story. Right?”

Well of course we must have a sense of those things. (Except, back story – very tricky thing, stops the action, takes us off the timeline – a light hand there methinks.) Otherwise our characters are floating free style in space with no anchors or landmarks.

But maybe inference is a better approach than full on assault. Perhaps finding one definitive aspect of a room so the reader’s imagination can fill in the blanks. Could your heroine be a tall, cool, blonde without my having to know how tall, her dress size, her dietary restrictions and the nasty fight she had with her sister when she was five, at the outset?

The whole idea in writing fiction is to show not tell, right? I think that some writers feel they must show the whole room, rather than the really important parts.

I also think that writers have an incessant need to use all their research. I mean, heck, they went to the trouble to research, it seems only fair to let them use it, right? I mean, it is kind of a bitch to spend weeks researching something and maybe only devote a few sentences to it. But then that’s what writing is about. Finding out what you need to know to write the story – it doesn’t necessarily follow that your reader needs to know it too, right?

If you’re not sure you could ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it stop the action?
  • Does it make the story drag or go off in a direction not relevant to moving the story forward?
  • Will it matter to your reader?
  • If it wasn’t there, would your reader miss it?
  • Is it a necessary detail for your reader to know to follow the story?
  • Will it annoy your reader who is up past midnight reading your story to find out what happens next but she can’t find out until she reads the seven pages of description?

Even Best Sellers Might be Surprised

This week I finished a book by one of my favorite writers (who is famous and has written a ton of best sellers). The last hundred pages were riveting. Except for the parts that I had to skim through to get to what the fuck happened and who the hell did it. After I finished the book I actually wondered what he’d think if he knew that I skipped (easily) 50 plus pages of his novel because all that technical crap bores the hell out of me. I also wondered how much time he spent writing those unread, quickly skimmed pages. Maybe he could have finished the book a month early if not for those pages and the edits and the rewrites, etc. And his readers would have been none the wiser. Maybe not. It’s something to think about.

Only you know what your story is. What you want to say. What’s important to your characters. But your readers will decide is it’s important to them. Maybe a little less boring stuff and a little more action is just what they’re looking for.

Writer or reader, what do you think about leaving in or leaving out the boring stuff? I’d be interested in knowing.

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014