18 July 2014

Life, Books, and a Corollary

I hate to admit it, especially since I love books, but I finally I had to put a book away unfinished. Here's another admission: this was my second time giving up on a book.

The first time this happened to me it was a college-bound reading list book. The story started with a group of old men talking about I can't even remember. What I do remember was the frustration at not knowing who was talking as there were no dialogue tags. None. There was no way the reader could've picked out who was saying based on character biases because we had only just been introduced to these gossiping gentlemen. I tried and tried to read that scene, but I just couldn't figure it out or get past it. (I realized long after I'd donated the book that it might not have been important to know who was saying what, but rather what they were saying. Despite that hindsight, I'm not going attempt to reread that book. Just the thought makes me cringe. Sorry Henry James.)

Just this week, I had to put another book in the donate pile. (The 2nd book in the series is in the pile too - because I'd do that, buy one book, see the next one, and assume that I'd want to read it.)  I'd actually gotten quite far into the story, about a third of the way through, by sheer willpower. The medieval England locations are a places I'd loved learning about (especially after spending two weeks in London this summer). Deceit and treachery laced themselves in and out of the story. It was the characters that just didn't grab me. I couldn't find anything likable about them, nothing to pull me into the story. The two things that kept me reading: the idea that I'd spent good money for the book and that it had to get better. It didn't.

I had to tell myself that life is too short. Life is too short to read books that don't grab me, that don't make me question, that don't make me feel.

That I spent that much time on the book is crazy. I have an entire bookshelf of unread books, I could've read at least two in the time I spent on the one I didn't like. However, I did learned a few things about another author's style, a way that story can be pieced together, and what doesn't work for me. But still.

As this is my place to muse about writing, I discovered a corollary about life and books: Life is too short to write books that don't grab me, that don't make me question, that don't make me feel.

If I'm not moved by the story I wrote, how can I expect my readers to be? I won't be able to touch every reader, but if I start with engaging me, then someone else is bound to be at least intrigued. While I've seen and heard the advice about writing a story that you want to read, I now have a deeper understanding of the tidbit.

09 July 2014

Back At It

It's been a long time since my last blog post. I won't bore you with all the reasons and excuses for my absence. I'll just say that Life has been trying to tell me something. I'm finally starting to listen.

See, it seems the more I plan, the more Life decides that I had the wrong plan and dictates a new one for me. I like knowing what's going on, to know what my day will entail. I like setting my own schedule, even if it is full of to-do items. I don't like ambiguity. You can see how I might have "issues" when Life doesn't go as planned.

But after serveral Life events and changes this summer, I'm trying to learn to take Life's twists and turns as they come with grace and poise. I'm not always successful, I'm human afterall. (That's what I whisper to myself when the dust settles.) But I am learning.

Because of all the shuffling of schedule and activities, my regular writing sessions and my blogging have taken a back seat. Sometimes I've been able to fit in the odd writing session or clean out email, but mostly I've had to focus on the Life's Other Stuff. While I'm not exactly happy about it, I'm learning to be ok with it.

So, even though our summer break is half way over, and I still haven't found a routine or rhythm, I'm sneaking in some writing when I can. Yes, I'm still working on Akeva's story, at a snail's pace, but working just the same. Yes, I'd love to be done with the revision/editing process for this story. And yes, I still have my ever-present-cheerleader quote with me -- "Keep at It. It will Happen when It's Ready to Happen."

And while I'm Back At Keeping At It, I'll see about making a new poster too.

01 May 2014

Because I'm busy ... an excerpt

Busy, lazy, maybe both. Either way, I'm posting an excerpt.

This is from the time-travel/historical fiction/romance story I'm currently revising. The main character has got determination in spades ...


Akeva saw the clod of dirt coming and felt the slap as it hit. Tears squeezed out from under her right lid and streaked down her cheeks. She tried to blink her eye, she'd need the jaws of life to pry it open. With her other eye, she looked up at the sky and asked, “Really?”

A gust of wind pulled at her skirts and blew at her hair, as if the universe was answering her with a “Yes, really.” As if the universe could answer her. She laughed at her own craziness.

She fought the temptation to rub at her eye with her dirt and rust covered hands. The last thing she needed right now was to scratch her cornea. If she hadn’t forgotten to bring water, she could rinse out her eye.

She took a mental inventory and realized the only items she’d brought with her today that were of any use were her work-in-the-fields clothes, rough and dirty. She pushed out a sigh.

Using the hammer as a cane of sorts, she lowered herself to the ground. Akeva rubbed off as much junk from her hands as she could on the outer skirt. She carefully folded the skirt back on itself exposing the shift underneath. It reeked of days of sweat, but looked relatively free of dirt. She used it to wipe away the dirt from her eye. What else would go wrong today?

First she’d endured Meriel’s lecture about Akeva being part of the Faradoch den Beithe Cearcall family, how Akeva needed to help her family with the harvest, how she owed it to Meriel to stay away from the stones. Twinges of guilt still tried to poke through Akeva’s determination, but she ignored them now just as she did this morning.

Then she’d wandered around lost for who knew how long before she found the path to the hill. When she finally arrived at the stone circle, she could’ve killed Jean. The woman had to have known there was no way for the horse to make it up the rocky hill. Anger and determination had propelled Akeva up and down the craggy hillside with the rods and tools, until that last trip when she’d slipped down the hillside and twisted her ankle.

She’d tried to finish as much as she could before lunch, but the hobbling, digging, and hammering had left her with quite an appetite. So when she finally stopped for a bite to eat, with half the rods in the ground, Akeva could’ve kicked herself when she realized she’d forgotten to pack food and water in her haste to get to the circle. With nothing to do but get back to work, she hammered and wished for just one break.

Akeva hadn’t thought it had been too much to ask for. As she wiped the dirt and tears away from her eye, she wondered if it had.

Without a mirror, she couldn’t be sure she’d wiped all the dirt off her face, but figured it didn’t matter. It was the dirt left on the surface of her eye that was the problem. So much so that several minutes passed before she could open her eye. At least she only had one more rod to stake in the ground.

Off to the East, she noticed clouds. Nice, thick, dark ones, the kind that storms were made of. Were they really moving towards her? Akeva held her breath as she watched the clouds. Could her luck have changed?

She saw a light in the clouds, not a big one, but a flash none the less. “Perfect.”

The lightning kindled hope in her chest, a tiny spark right in that empty hole in her heart. Finally. The break she’d asked for.

How long until the storm hovered over the stone circle? Akeva had no way of knowing if it would be an hour or the rest of the day. At least the rods were in place to attract the lightning.

Rods. “Crap.” She still had one more to stake.

She pushed herself up and limped to the last rod, determined that a sprained ankle and a little bit of dirt weren’t getting the best of her. Several blows to the rod and it still hadn’t slipped into the ground like the others.

She’d planned to place the metal stakes in a small circle inside the standing stones. Akeva didn’t expect anyone to come looking at the circle, especially the way they all seemed to avoid even talking about them. But if they passed by, they wouldn’t see the spikes hiding in the inner shadow of the stones. However, her rod circle had to be big enough so she could stand in the center.

The ground in this area, closest to the hillside, consisted of that same rocky terrain she’d slipped on earlier. Not even the pick was going to help. At this point, it was better to have the thing in the ground than not: the more metal, the better. Still trying to keep the rods as evenly spaced as possible, she found a spot that looked softer. With the pick, she dug a hole deep enough that it should hold the rod.

Akeva didn’t know if it was it because this was the last rod, or if it was the one that didn’t fit her plan, but she knew she’d remember each lift of the pick, each eruption of dirt, the cold rod in her hand, the clang of each hammer blow, and the satisfaction of watching the rod inch down into the ground. Before she knew it, the rod stood on its own. With a few sweeps and pats of the pick to move the displaced dirt around the rod, she finished. Almost home.

She took a step back to inspect her work. So what if the rods stood at different heights and odd angles? “Not great, but good enough.” They didn’t need to be perfect to attract the lightning into the circle.

All she needed now was that storm. And she’d only be a lightning strike away.

A part of her worried she’d imagined the clouds or that they had disappeared. She glanced at the sky again and relief trickled over her skin. The approaching storm was still there. In fact, it had come closer. The lightning might arrive sooner than she’d hoped.

What a crazy thought: purposefully putting herself in the middle of a lightning storm. Goosebumps erupted on her skin, and not entirely from fear. If this worked…she didn’t even want to think about it in case she jinxed herself.

With nothing else to do until the storm arrived, she moved the hammer and pick to the side before she settled down in the center of her pseudo-circle.

To think, that on her way to the standing stones, she’d started to doubt her plan. Now with the storm approaching, if she’d given up, she would’ve missed this opportunity. Maybe the universe was talking to her.

Now that she’d sat down to wait, the clouds had stopped their advance towards her. Akeva figured it was because now she had nothing else to occupy her mind but to count the seconds until she felt that first raindrop, the first tingle that foreshadowed that something was about to send her home.

Minutes passed and boredom set in, but determination kept her inside the two circles. She studied the sparse grass, the rusty rods, the stone circle rocks, her filthy dress, her swollen ankle, her chipped fingernails, and of course, the oncoming clouds until she couldn’t study them any more. She wished she’d brought something to read, some food and drink, and a pillow. The ground, while soft enough to place the rods, was still hard, especially while waiting for who knew how long.

With nothing else to occupy it, her mind filled with questions. What if today’s attempt didn’t work? How many storms would she race to the stone circle so she wouldn’t miss her chance to get back home? Was there a way to forecast the storms? If her computer still worked, could she have created a forecasting model? Why was the storm taking so long?

In all her planning, she’d ignored an important fact which now smacked her in the face. Mother Nature, no matter the place or era, would take her own time. The most important aspect of her plan to get back home was completely and utterly out of her control.

She hadn’t let Meriel or Ennis stop her. Getting lost hadn’t been a detriment, nor a sprained ankle or a nearly scratched cornea. Mother Nature could take her time. Akeva would keep coming back if need be, she was getting back home and to her family.


09 April 2014

Style, Anything But Simple

A few weeks ago, a fellow dance-mom/writer/photographer and friend sent me a link about Writing Style. (Sara is like that, thinking of others.) As I'm a self-taught writer, I'll read anything that might help me get a handle on the process.

The link, found on BrainPicking.org, focused on philosopher Arthur Schopenhaur's take on Writing Style. In a sentence: Keep your Style Simple, and Be True to Yourself.

When I read the 19th century words, with the long sentences with complex clauses and the message repeated in multiple ways, I couldn't help think of the irony: for all his suggestions of brevity and naiveté, his words give the exact opposite effect.

Once I got past that, I'll be honest, I questioned my understanding of style, and more specifically, my own style. (Or lack of one.) What is my style? Do my words convey the picture I want the reader to imagine? Are my readers going to enjoy my writing, my style, my stories?

For a writer still trying to develop a voice, a style, and stories, those are big questions with no easy answers. Like everything else in this writing gig: Style is anything but clear cut or simple.

The writing they teach in primary, middle, and high school is full of adjectives, adverbs, speaking tags other than said and asked, prepositional phrases and clauses abound. However, once it's no longer for a grade but for a royalty check and a best-selling book list, the rules change: Show, Don't tell; No adverbs; No adjectives; Shorten Your Sentences.

To me, it seems that Style is a function of author, story, characters, setting, and plot. There may be signature phrasing and attitudes that link a particular writer's stories, but Style will evolve with a writer. Like one can always tell a Van Halen song from one by Linkin Park or Metallica, or older songs from newer songs. Not only will Style be different every story, it could change based on the feedback from alpha and beta readers, editors, and publishers.

Maybe, I'm getting Style mixed up with Voice, but shouldn't they be linked?

So how does one develop a Style that is Simple and True to Yourself? I don't know. I'll just keep working & writing and trust that it will emerge on its own.

Thanks to Sara P. for the blog fodder and thought provoking link.

19 March 2014

Another Tool in My Writer's Toolbox: IFTTT

I know bloggers and other social media savvy folks say one shouldn't cross post among the different media sites.

But here's the deal... I'm a busy mom and wife, if I'm not driving my daughters to dance related events or my son to kung fu, I'm prepping meals to eat in the car as we drive back and forth, volunteering at the school, editing pictures, helping with homework, guest-teaching, developing my writing career, or managing the household. Then there's the social sites to keep up with family, friends, and writing acquaintances. I gotta cut corners sometimes.

So going against the pros advice, I cross post my blog to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I've used a few services to different effects - the native sharing options within Facebook and Twitter, Twitterfeed, Networked Blogs, and Friends Plus MeThe latest service I've tried is IFTTT, (If This Then That) and so far I like it best.

The service works with recipes to get things done. A brief explanation of the service can be found here. (Their description is easy to understand. You really should go read it.) When creating a recipe, the service walks the user through creating a recipe and turning it on. Like anything these days, there is a social component: users can share their recipes with others. So there are lots of recipes to try out and lots of channels (cloud services, social networking sites) with which to experiment. It can even do some home automation actions.

I've created two flavors of recipes. I have two blogs on Blogger, but IFTTT can only connect to one at a time. So one type of recipe watches my blog directly, and when a new post is published, IFTTT pushes it to my Facebook timeline and to my Twitter feed. For the other blog, IFTTT monitors the blog's RSS feed for a new post, then pushes it to my Facebook and Twitter. Two blogs to two social networking sites means four recipes.

I like the service because I haven't had to go back in and renew the recipe or blog like I have for a few other services. (If I have to fiddle with a service every time I publish a blog post, it doesn't work for me.)

When I catch a moment, I might look at the other recipes available. If there is something out there to make my life easier, I'm game.

IFTTT is free. (So far.) So, take a look and see if you can put it to work for you. ##

## No compensation was received, nor expected, for this mini-review.