Friday, August 26, 2011

I'm Not a Fan! Understand?


The other day, a friend gave me a book to read. Now I must precede this review with the prologue that I am not a fan of paranormal romance. Even though the Twilight series and the Harry Potter series were two of the highest grossing books and movies in history, I was never a fan. I was more fascinated by the author’s beginnings and their journey to publication than I was in their work.

Dani Harper is the author of the Changeling series, and the book I received was the first, “Changeling Moon” by Kensington Publishing.

OK, I’ll skim it when I have time and try to be polite, was my initial idea.

There is no need. I picked it up a few days after receiving it, and was barely able to put it down. I’m working on my own book, and I actually resented having to put Ms. Harper's novel aside for a few hours to work on my own. In light of this, this review will be from the viewpoint of a writer, as well as a voracious reader.

The dialogue is smooth, natural and easy to follow between all the characters. I felt like I was in the room, overhearing everything going on, a proverbial “fly on the wall”, if you wish. I have fallen hopelessly in love with Connor MacLeod and lust after him like a common strumpet. I’ve always been a fan of men who have a hint of the savage about them. Zoey Tyler is a woman that I have secretly aspired to be and someone you would want as a best friend. I should be jealous of her, but I just can’t be; she is far too likeable and sympathetic a character, not to mention gutsy. The plot is smooth and exciting, a true adventure to satisfy adrenaline junkies like me. I can’t say there’s a boring spot in the story; you know the spot where you skim through? And that’s rare in any story. The fact is, I didn’t skim a single paragraph. I would write more about the plot, but then I’d have to post a spoiler on this review, and why ruin it for anyone who has not yet read it?

I still won’t say I’m a convert, but I will admit (rather reluctantly) that I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the second book in the series, “Changeling Dreams”. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Ms. Harper, of whom I’m a new fan, gets offered a movie deal very soon.

 So, where can I get the next book? But I’m not a fan of paranormal romances, understand?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Taking Time to Write

"Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work." -Rita Mae Brown, "Starting from Scratch"

It’s Sunday, and my son, who is entering the army, called the night before to inform us. He wonders, “if it’s not too much trouble”, if I could host a family dinner so he can say goodbye to everyone before he leaves for training.

Of course I will, I replied, even though I am hopelessly behind in my co-authored manuscript and my fellow author, Carol, has been waiting on my additions for days. I had been busy all week with my other two sons, along with other obligations I had foolishly made. But this was important; even more important than the other important things that had to get done.

So I fired off a quick email Sunday morning early apologizing for the third time to Carol and started my non-stop day. Between making numerous phone calls, shopping for the meal ingredients, running to the Farmer’s Market for farm eggs, rushing to the garden to pick the beans and dig up potatoes for the dinner, throwing laundry in the basement to get it out of the living room, (I still haven’t run it through the washer), putting the ribs and the roast beef on to slow bake so they were ready for the barbeque, wiping up dog pee because I forgot to put the poor thing outside to do her business, and then running my badly overdue books to the library, I doubt I remembered to even breathe.

Finally, I was able to sit down. As I gathered my wits and sipped a coffee, I stared at my neglected laptop mournfully. “I have missed you, my darling,” I murmured as I stroked her shiny lid.

Then I glanced at the clock. I had a spare fifteen minutes. Did I dare? Could I get 300 words typed down before everyone started to show up? Was it worth it to start only to have to stop in so short a time?

Without hesitation, I opened up her lid, fired her up, brought up the manuscript draft and started to type. The words flowed…too well. I couldn’t stop. I was like an addict who was only trying to inject a half a shot of heroin. It can’t be done. It felt so good. It felt like someone was gently rubbing your back when your muscles are tense and sore. (I had another description, but this is a general rated article).

Too soon, I heard the first car pull up. I quickly typed the rest of the sentence, closed the lid reluctantly, and pasted an eager smile on my face.

When did this happen? When did the writing become more enjoyable than seeing my family for an evening? Perhaps that’s unfair. It’s not more enjoyable, just a different type of enjoyment, one I have put off for years and ignored because my family came first, like almost every woman, wife and mother in existence. Now that they are grown, and my last son, who is physically disabled, is finally housed where he is safe and happy, I can realize my dream, my aspiration, and my obsession of writing.

The reunion was wonderful. It is so seldom recently that all the brothers, my sons, were in the same room together, along with their Gramma, my son's common-law wife and the sweetest person you could ever meet, and my other son's girlfriend. My husband held court on the couch, as he usually does, quiet but happy to have his prodigy around him, a silent pride that men feel about a life fulfilled. How I envy him. I too have pride, but it’s a restless pride, a sensation of aspirations still unfulfilled. But that evening, I felt no regret. Looking at those beautiful boys, men now, milling about and talking about motors, cars, and whose vehicles would blow the doors off whose. My son went out to fix the defunct tow gear because his father happened to mention it didn’t work and despite the fact this son was leaving in three days to join the army. I told him to forget it, but he waved my objections aside. Soon his and his father’s heads were together intently working under the dash of the truck. I realized this was their way of bonding and enjoying their time together. I remained silent after that.

When everyone left, I stared at the plates and cutlery piled on the table, the drink glasses and pop cans scattered about the rooms, and for the first time, I smiled and sat down, opened my laptop and just wrote. The glasses stayed where they were, the dishes weren’t disturbed, and I didn’t even fret about the forgotten jacket one of my boys left behind. I was in a haze of contentment, a joy of temporary fulfillment, and I wrote my thoughts down in this article.

If you are a writer, you write. It doesn’t really matter what you write, why you write, or how you write, as long as you write.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I'm a Writer. Please Don't Ask Me to Write


The problem with telling people that you're a writer is that sometimes they ask you to write something.

When I was asked to join the library board years ago, I was flattered and accepted the invitation right away. Less than a minute after the meeting started, though, I was trying to figure out how to back out gracefully when the director of the board told me she thought I would be the perfect person, being a writer, to take the minutes during the monthly board meetings. Here's how I wanted to answer that request:

"Actually, you couldn't be more mistaken, ma’am! As a writer of fiction and satire, I create my own reality so that I and I alone control the characters, their actions, their environment, and their outcomes. You want a stenographer to take your precious minutes, not a creative writer! How dare you assume I would lower myself like this!"

What I actually said was: "I'd be happy to!"

So I went to the first meeting and right away ran into a problem when the roll call was taken. That's because no one had the names that I would have given them if they were my characters. Instead of just a list of everyone who was present, I wrote: “Treasurer-Leanne. But if I were to write her as the busy executive type she so resembled, she would definitely be a no nonsense Ruth or Barbara." Then there was Bob the Vice President and next to his name I noted, “He was too distinguished looking for such a casual name. Obviously should be a Stanford or Vincent." The severe-looking woman wearing a plain sweater and pair of jeans next to him was inexplicably an Adrianna and for her I decided: "Parents had misplaced exotic aspirations at the time of her birth. Clearly needs to be named Sue or Jean."

I was so busy developing my character profiles that I didn't notice roll call was over and it was time to start taking notes on the business at hand. That was when the president cleared her throat and startled me from my writing.

I smiled and started to obediently scribble away during the heated budget discussion that followed. I was very professional and diligent for the first few minutes. Then I got the numbers mixed up and I couldn't help myself from adding some personal observations. Soon the minutes read:

BUDGET PENDING APPROVAL

Tall man with neatly trimmed beard and soft brown eyes who is now speaking about various expenses looks as if could be a kindly family doctor. I can see all his female patients having crushes on him because they feel he "really listens" to them. Has a very soothing voice, must remember the sound of it when writing a grandfather character.

Woman across the table interrupts Possible Doctor to debate point with him. She has dyed too-bright red hair, sheer blouse that doesn't quite hide rough tattoos on her upper arm, reeks of cigarette smoke, and in general comes across very brash, very tough, not the type you would expect on this board. She does not belong in this scene at all! I bet her past involves some time as a troubled young girl, rebelling against authority. This could be interesting story angle, a former teen runaway trying to give back to the community as a middle aged woman to make up for past indiscretions, even though secretly she longs to go back to her wild ways. I dash off a few notes about her and vow to sit next to her at next meeting to get closer look at tattoo to make her character sketch even richer.

Too soon, someone else interrupts my Former Troubled Teen with yet another question. Don't these people understand pacing of dialogue in a story? This guy is buttoned down town councellor who aspires for provincial office, and points his pen officiously at everyone. Wonder if he has secret crush on Brash Woman, as his way to rebel against his lowly “big fish in small pond” existence? He seems to be smiling at her quite a bit, even as he disagrees with her. Yes, definite crush possibility. I plan a chapter where he invents fake budget question for her and calls her at home and they agree to meet for coffee to discuss it and then they fall in love and he has to take her to the office Christmas party where she embarrasses him by…

Oops, wait a minute. I think the budget discussion is over. Was it approved or not approved? I leaned over to ask woman next to me, but instead I am stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of her notebook. She is writing out some sort of to-do list and the first entry is "Call Mother on her birthday." Clearly, there are some long simmering mother-daughter issues there, the use of the more formal "mother" instead of the warmer "mom" and the need to remind herself to call her own mother on her birthday. There is obviously no big family celebration planned and as I look at the woman, I estimate that she was in her late fifties. How many more birthdays does she think her poor elderly neglected mother has left? Jot down note: negligent daughter takes elaborate cake to nursing home for mother, only to find out she died an hour before she got there.

This story line really captured my interest and my pen was racing until I heard the president say "Sher, you'll e-mail everyone the minutes?" I nodded and closed my notebook quickly so that no one could see that I hadn't actually taken any minutes in the past half an hour.

After several days of trying to figure out what to do, I finally hashed together a version of minutes that can be read in mere seconds. Basically, I listed a topic (thank God I discovered the pre-meeting agenda stuck in my notebook!) and then inserted "Discussion by Various Board Members Followed" after almost every entry.

Found out later that the budget did pass and I think I may have seen the Buttoned Down Aspiring Politician and Former Troubled Teen leaving the local coffeeshop together last week, so I wasn't so off track there. Maybe I can write non-fiction after all!

My first book will be entitled “Meeting Called : Discussion Followed”.

Oops!

Recently, my computer broke down, so I'm currently posting this on my son's laptop. Now, Chris has FOP (fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva; more about that another day) and his own independant fiances, so of course at eighteen he had to buy the fanciest laptop that exists. I have to admit, I'm a mechanical and technological moron, so this is proving rather daunting.

In fact, all my boys still have to work the DVD player for me. I have never lived down the day my son caught me trying to rewind a DVD. That amused him for days. So it's no wonder I screwed up royally when I decided to clean up the files on my own computer.

Normally Im a fairly intelligent person and leave things to an expert, especially anything with spark plugs, heating elements or program files. But for some insane reason I decided to finally have the confidence to do something on my own. Blame menopause, mid-life crisis, or lack of chocolate sprinkles on my almond cookies. My rather flawed reasoning was, "What could go wrong?"

My Word processing program was slow and lagging. I had heard that it's because of inactive programs and files and tons of graphics that causes any computer to become irritable. So foolishly, I left my half finished dissertation on the joys of teenagers intended for a publication, minimized it and proceeded to apply my delete button with careless abandon in my document files. There was no problem and I was about to defrag when my eyes alighted on my program files. I saw a whole bunch of gobbly-gook and oddly named files that looked like evildoers that had to be evicted before they corrupted my innocent machine.

Imagine my horror to find that when I brought up my article, it was a mess of numbers and odd symbols not even close to resembling letters that I could recognize. When I tried to close it and reboot, (of course losing everything I had composed since I also hadn't saved it), not only would it not do anything but I couldn't even shut it down! I was ready to go over the brink of sanity after two hours. I cried, I cajoled, I even hugged my monitor as I pleaded that it at least burp to show me it was still alive. But there it sat, its monitor eyes staring blankly back at me in the fog of impending death.

I raised tearful eyes as Chris came into the house in his wheelchair. My distress didn't seem to touch him at all, heartless little whelp that he is. He peered at my comatose contrivance, my best friend for many years, with curiosity common to a man-child who pokes roadkill with a stick.

"Wow, Mom. You killed it," he quipped, wheeling by my legs and bruising them on his leg rest without a thought, settling with the TV remote.

"I didn't kill it," I snapped back. "It's merely wounded." How optimistic can one person be? "It's all that crap you downloaded on here. It overwhelmed the poor ol' girl. I fully expect to see plumes of smoke and the smell of burning wires to greet me in a minute."

"Fire extinguisher is in the hall closet," he murmured as he searched for Family Guy, switching channels frantically.

"Thanks," I hissed through gritted teeth. "I make my living from this thing, you know. This means I can't get my work done until it's fixed or I get a new one. Oh, what am I going to do?"

OK, so I whined a bit at the end there.

"Make pizza." His eyes were wide with hope and wonder. His stomach-ruled reasoning was, you can't eat a computer, and since it wasn't working anymore, I would finally, actually cook him something. His lack of sympathy failed to endear him to me.

Now, in case you're thinking writers have higher than normal intelligence and should know what they are doing with a device that they make their living with, let me remind you in my defence that I tried to rewind a DVD the other day...again! My loving son had a lot to say when he witnessed me doing this, yet again, and wore the oddest smirk on his face that made him very unattractive. If he worked on his schoolwork as hard as he does his sarcasm, he would have graduated high school two years ago a genius.

In hindsight, take it from me; don't attempt anything like this at home, especially when you have witnesses. You'll never live it down.


Let me know if you have ever done something that you knew you shouldn't have taken on, but ignored your instincts and did it anyway. Looking forward to your stories!