Category Archives: Reading

Sunday Snippet

 

I’ve worked long and hard to complete my first novel. Any of you who have done it certainly know the work that goes into it.  For our Sunday Snippet I would like to offer you the opening scenes of the book. So, for your reading pleasure (I hope), here is a sneak peek at my novel, ‘Jenny.’ Please remember that this is not the final draft version of the book, so there may be some errors that will be corrected during the final edits. Also, the copyright lies with me. I hope you enjoy the snippet.

Jenny cover as a painting

                           ONE

George Price lifted his goggles and rubbed his eyes. He had been flying all day and now the sun was turning red; the sky a darker shade of blue. He needed to put the old biplane down before the black sheet fell over the Earth, hiding all of its features and obstacles. He realized that he should have landed miles back, near that little town he had seen, but it was too late. The sun would be down before he would be able to find it. George could see that there was certainly plenty of open space to land, below him, but none of it seemed to be anywhere near civilization. He slowly shook his head.

It’s 1928 and the land down there probably still looks the same as it did when the Mexicans owned it.

He lowered the goggles back down to protect his eyes from the blast of air finding its way around the small windscreen.

His right hand gently eased the throttle back and the sound of the big OX5 engine dropped back to less of a roar. As he peered down onto the earth’s muted colors and ever lengthening shadows, he could see a large field off of his lower right wing with a road running through it. Looks to be as good a place as any, he thought. Maybe if I’m lucky, a car will come along and I can get a ride to the nearest town.

If anyone, down there, even owns a car.

He flew in low over the field, eyes fixed on the ground, trying to spot anything that might interfere with his landing. A gopher hole could ruin his whole day, and he had seen enough ruined days. All looked good as he flew only a few feet above the terrain with his head hanging over the side of the JN-4, the air slapping his face and the motor’s exhaust smoke filling his nostrils. Once satisfied he pushed on the throttle to climb and turned to come back around and land. As he circled the field he spotted two riders on horseback, their upturned faces standing out as white spots against the darkening Earth. He waved. They did not wave back.

George pointed the airplane’s nose at the landing spot and slowly dropped down to meet it. He felt the big biplane’s wheels gently touch the ground, and he cut the power back, the engine now idling quietly and the propeller blades revolving lazily in front of him. The machine bounced along the uneven landscape, the wooden tailskid scratching the hard surface like a hand trying desperately to find something to grab, until it finally rolled to a stop. He switched off the engine and suddenly the only sound was the crackling and popping of cooling metal. The field was endless and empty; the departing red sun just above the horizon. He pulled off his leather helmet and goggles, unstrapped himself from the wicker seat and climbed out of the wood and linen fuselage. His feet had barely touched the hard dry surface when he heard the sound of horse’s hooves pounding the ground. He looked over the faded green tail of the airplane and saw the two riders coming his way, ahead of a widening cloud of dust. As they got closer he could see ten gallon hats, rifles; one rider on a large black mount and the other sitting atop a brown and white Appaloosa. He smiled.

They aren’t cars, but a horse will work, too.

They stopped a few feet from the tail of the Jenny. The smile left George’s face quickly as the rider on the black animal pointed the rifle at his head. The other slid his weapon into a saddle holster and climbed off of his two toned horse. “What’re you doing on my land?” he asked as he slowly walked toward George. He appeared to be about fifty with a tanned, weather beaten, face and a large greying moustache.

“Uh…yes, I’m…lost.” answered George, his eyes on the man with the rifle. “Say, could you not point that thing at me?” George turned back to the older man and watched him warily as he stopped ten feet in front of him. The man quickly glanced at the airplane and then, just as quickly, his attention was back on George.

“I’ll have him stop pointing that there rifle at you, boy, when I hear some answers to my questions!”

George could feel the anger welling up inside of him, but had to remind himself that these were two armed men. He did not know them and that made them unpredictable. He willed himself to calm down. “Well, I’m lost, that’s all. Not trying to do anything but find out where I am.” Price kept looking at the man pointing the Winchester Repeater at him and very much wished that he could grab it and beat him about the head with it.

“Lost?” asked the older man. “Don’t you have a compass or something in these machines?” George watched him walk over to the airplane and peer into the rear cockpit.

“Well, yes, but they don’t tell you where you are. Just the direction you’re going.” George turned his eyes back to the rifle still threatening his head. “Is this the way you greet people around here? Up north we say ‘hello’ and offer a handshake.”

The mustachioed face continued to examine the machine’s interior. “Flying up in the air in one o’ these damn things seems like an awful stupid thing for a man to be wasting his time with.” Then he turned around and said, “Tommy, put the rifle down.” He turned back towards George.

“I don’t really care how you Yankees do things. I don’t trust strangers who pop out of nowhere and wind up on my property.”

As the rifle was lowered, George took a good look at the other man. He appeared to be in his twenties, and although it tried, his scowl could not hide his baby-face.

“That there’s my son, Tommy. My name is Earl. Earl Baker.” George was preparing to see him extend his hand, but he never did. “I own this land.”

George scanned the darkening terrain all around him and slowly shook his head. “All of it?”

Earl Baker nodded. “Bout as much as you’ can see from here,” he said; but not, it seemed to George, in a bragging way. The tone sounded matter of fact. Like he was simply telling you the way it was. George was almost ready to forgive the rudeness and even the fact that a rifle had been pointed at his head. Maybe if I owned land I wouldn’t be too happy about some dumb pilot landing on it, either, he thought to himself. I’d better just find out where I am so that I can get out of here first thing in the morning.

“Speaking of ‘here’…where is ‘here’?” he asked. “I don’t know how I got so lost. I passed a town back that way. I should have landed.”

“Yep, that was probably Corsicana. It’s about the nearest thing to a big town around these parts. You want bigger; you’ll have to go to Waco, about thirty miles southwest of here. And we’ve got Dallas about the same distance north.”

George looked out toward the darkened horizon. Thirty miles seemed as far away as thirty-thousand miles. He turned back to Earl Baker and shook his head. “Yeah, I don’t know…I just…”

“Pa, it’s getting dark,” interrupted the baby- face. “We’d better be getting home.”

Earl looked up at the sky and nodded in agreement. “Yeah, we better.” He walked back over to his horse and lifted himself up onto the dark brown saddle. “I’ll come back in the morning and check up on ya. Good night.”

“You’re going to leave me here?”

“Hell, son, it ain’t my fault you landed here,” said Earl. “And I don’t ride two people on ole’ Sandy.” He patted the horse’s long white neck and then turned to his son. The baby face shook his head, quickly, back and forth.

“Don’t look at me, Pa, I don’t want him riding with me!”

Earl shrugged his shoulders. “Well, there you have it. Guess you’re sleeping in your machine, tonight.”

The two men wheeled their horses and rode off, disappearing quickly in the dust and darkness, the younger one laughing. Like two ghost riders they vanished as if they had never been. He pulled himself out of his horsehide flying jacket and angrily threw it onto the lower left wing of the airplane. So much for southern hospitality, he thought. Yeah, guess I am sleeping in my machine tonight.

 

The haze and smoke almost obscured the earth but Lieutenant George Price knew that only a few thousand feet below him there were men who were dying, ugly, mud covered deaths. He gazed down over the side of his airplane at the dark brown, pockmarked landscape of no-man’s land that separated the antagonists and thought that it was as close to a vision of hell as he ever hoped to see. His DH-4’s motor drowned out the sound of the thousands of, seemingly endless, exploding artillery shells that blasted away at an already featureless landscape. Suddenly there was the sound of an engine even louder than his own and the tak, tak, tak, of a machine gun. Above all of the deafening noise he could hear the sound of a voice, screaming, “I’m hit, I’m hit!” and the bullets making a drumming sound as they pierced the doped canvas sides of the big DE Havilland observation plane; and finally, the stabbing, burning, pain…

 

“What…?” George opened his eyes and was startled to see a dark haired woman, looking at him and beating on the side of the airplane.

“Lord…finally. I was starting the think you might’ve have died!” she said; her voice sweet and calming. Sleep left his eyes and they began to focus. He could now clearly see the small, delicate features in front of him.

“C’mon, now. You climb on outta’ there. C’mon back to the house.” As he came awake his eyes panned the field all around him with the night, hot, and coal black. He gazed into her face and her pale skin made it seem as though someone had turned a light on in the darkness.

“What are you doing out here?” he finally asked her.

“I heard Earl telling how he’d met a pilot who landed his airplane out on his precious land. I couldn’t believe that he and my husband left you!”

Ah yes, Earl, one of my visitors from earlier this evening.

She frowned and let out a deep sigh. “I’m afraid they aren’t too likeable at times.”

“Yeah, I think I met them during one of those times.” George shook his head. “No, I think I’ll stay right here. I don’t think they’d be too happy with me showing up at their house.”

“Oh, I know how to handle the Baker men. I’m not afraid of them.”

George let out a nervous laugh. He remembered the rifle pointed at his face. “Yeah, well I am.”

She folded her arms tightly and a determined look came over her face. “I’m not leaving without you! C’mon out of this thing.” Looking around at the airplane, she added, “It, for sure, can’t be comfortable in there.”

George smiled as he adjusted himself in the seat. “No,” he said. “It, for sure, isn’t.”

“Well, then, what are you waiting for?” She stepped back away from the plane.

George sighed deeply. You must be getting old, Price, he thought to himself. There was a time you would never have turned down a beautiful women’s invitation to go back to her house. And this one is sure hard to say no to.

Oh, what the Hell.

He shook himself awake and began to lift himself up and out of the airplane. He attempted to make as graceful an exit as possible but his foot caught on the edge of the cockpit and he tumbled out head first. Before he knew what had happened he was on his back, in a cloud of dirt and dust, staring up at the young lady’s horrified face. She quickly knelt down beside him. “Are you hurt?” she asked.

George took a deep breath and shook his head. “Only my pride.”

Her horrified expression suddenly changed as she covered her mouth with her hands and began to laugh. He started laughing, too, and held out his hand. “I’m George Price.”

She moved her hands from her face and was smiling. “Well, I hope you fly this machine a lot better than you climb out of it, George Price.” She shook his hand. “Jenny Baker.”

George sat up, pushed against the side of the airplane for balance and was back up on his feet. As he dusted the dry Texas soil off of his trousers, he said, “Jenny. That’s funny.”

Her smiling face suddenly frowned. “My name is funny?”

“No, no…it’s just that this airplane… it’s a Curtiss JN-4 but everybody calls it a, ‘Jenny.’”

The smile returned. “I knew there was something I liked about it as soon as I saw it.”

George stepped up unto the lower left wing of the JN-4 and reached inside the front cockpit. He pulled out a small leather bag.

“Is that all you got?” she asked.

George stepped down off of the wing. “These things don’t carry too much,” he said as he patted the airplane’s fabric side. It made the sound of a bass drum as the vibration bounced around inside the box-like fuselage. He grabbed his jacket and draped it over his arm. “If it’s not absolutely necessary, I don’t take it with me.”

She led George back to a Studebaker pick- up truck with a red body and black fenders. It was hard to see for sure, in the dark, but it looked new. Jenny slid into the driver’s seat and George climbed into the seat next to her, his jacket and traveling bag on his lap. They both slammed their doors shut and the sounds bounced off into the darkness. He watched her as she stepped down on the floor mounted starter button and threw the truck into gear; the motor rattling through the, no longer quiet, evening. They lurched forward and made a bumpy U-turn with the truck’s headlights valiantly trying to light up the darkness. But it was a weak attempt and it seemed as though they had left the earth behind. With no city lights to interfere the stars ruled the night sky and George thought that he could plainly see every constellation that he knew of. Ahead of them, rabbits were caught in the cones of light and disappeared. A coyote, its eyes glowing an eerie red, flashed by quickly across the dirt road. She took her eyes off of the path for a brief moment to look at George. “You can see that I need to go real slow, so it’ll take a while to get to the Baker house.” She locked her eyes back onto the dark road, again.

“I’m in no rush,” George told her. “I’m enjoying the company.” She looked at him and smiled that smile again. In spite of himself, George felt a flow of warmth through his entire body.

Remember, George. She’s married and her husband likes to carry a rifle.

“How did you find me out there?” he asked her.

“Oh, that was easy, really. Earl said that you had landed near the road. This road runs through the entire property.” She made a sweeping motion with her hand as if demonstrating the hugeness of it all. “I thought I’d just keep driving ‘til I saw an airplane. Figured an airplane would be hard to miss.”

George scanned the, ink-like, blackness. “Seems to me that an ocean liner could be sitting out there and I’d miss it.”

She covered her mouth with her hand and giggled. “Well, now, that’s the second time you made me laugh, tonight, Mister Price!”

“Mister Price?” George rolled his eyes. “Oh my God. Please, call me George. My dad is Mister Price.”

She hesitated, but finally said, “Well, okay…George.” Then her expression suddenly changed. She was serious now. “It feels good to laugh. We don’t laugh, much, in the Baker house.”

The drive was quiet after that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s time to read

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~ Stephen King

One of the most common writing tips out there is to read. A lot.

I learned to read early on, around the ages of 3-4. My great-grandmother spent her days dressing me up and teaching me the written word. Though I remember none of this, I will forever be grateful for my family’s hand in my love of books.

So, to write, you have to read.

Currently I am reading The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler, and The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr..

What are you reading? Let me know in the comments section, even if you aren’t a writer, I’d still love to hear what you are reading. (I am always looking for a good book to read…) 🙂

 

Till next time,

~AJP

10 Random but Awesome Gifts for the Bibliophile

My son just celebrated his tenth birthday today (and hubby and I are having a glass of wine celebrating a whole decade of being parents – woot woot). For his party, parents of friends attending inevitably ask what the birthday boy is into right now for possible gift ideas. It got me started thinking of gift ideas for myself, because, hey, I can’t help myself sometimes, and I do have a landmark birthday coming up before long (cough cough The Big 4-0 cough cough). For me, and for many bookish people, you can NEVER go wrong with anything book related. Thus, this random list of awesome gifts for your favorite bibliophile.

1) Maurauder’s Map Blanket (Amazon) Oh I solemnly swear I would be up to no good if someone decided to gift me with this!  What Harry Potter fan wouldn’t love to snuggle up under this blanket?

2) Where the Wild Things Are Coffee Mug (CaféPress) Let the Wild Rumpus Start! I don’t care how old you are, Max’s line from Where the Wild Things Are is still one of the coolest ever for most any occasion. 😉

3) Law office of Atticus Finch tshirt (Amazon) Some serious bibliophiles might say (not necessarily me, but some might 😉 ) : If your friends don’t get it, then they aren’t really your friends.

4) I’d Rather Be Reading Tote Bag (Barnes and Noble) The tote bag that says what we are all thinking, which can also conveniently carry our inevitable collection of way too many new books to possibly read (which nevertheless demand to be purchased).

5) Magnetic Poetry Kit Book Lover Edition (GoneReading.com) Magnetic Poetry kits are always a win with most bookish types, but then add in a nod to our passion for all things books – yes, we have a winner. I think many a bibliophile would need this in their life. I am certainly thinking I may need one. 🙂

6) We’re All A Little Mad Here Alice in Wonderland book locket (Amazon) Alice in Wonderland has many quotable quotes but this one is very popular and seems an especially apt description for quite a few of us book lovers. I know it applies to me!

7) The Strand Classic Tshirt (StrandBooks.com) What book lover doesn’t love exploring and supporting the unique bookshops? Grab a tee from a cool shop in NY as a gift and your bibliophile friend will love you. By the way, I’d like to do a tour of cool US bookshops (for starters, I’m willing to go international at some point too!) – so who’s with me?

8) Banned Book Coffee Mug (ShopPBS.org) Quick way to make a book lover’s blood boil? Talk about banning books! But since we know no one who loves us would do such a thing, why not show your love and get us a coffee mug decorated with a whole bunch of famous banned books? Bonus if you buy from the PBS website. 🙂

9) And Though She Be But Little She Is Fierce necklace (Amazon.com) Many Shakespeare related gifts will do but Shakespeare plus jewelry seems a good way to go, don’t you think?

10) Keep Mr. Grey, I’ll Stick With Mr. Darcy tote bag (Zazzle.com) Any day of the week and twice on Sunday would most true book lovers take Darcy over Grey. No contest.

So these 10 items just barely scratch the surface of the many, many, many wonderful bookish gifts one could possibly give or receive, but they were some that caught my fancy. Which of these do you like/need for your life to be complete? What about your favorite bibliophile gift ideas? Have you any suggestions for gifts for the book-lover type? Please share in the comments. Have a great week! ~CJS

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words?

Is a picture worth more than 1000 words?  Do words carry more impact than a picture? Perhaps it depends on the words, and the picture, but the question is an intriguing one.

I recently watched a movie called Words&Pictures with Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche that brought this question up in an interesting way, as both Owen and Binoche play teachers at a private high school where a “war” arises between the Honors English students (lead by Owen’s English teacher and struggling author) and the Honors Art students (championed by Binoche’s artist and art teacher). There are installations of both words and of pictures set up by each side making a case for each. There is also ultimately a challenge where the artist presents one painting that the author will then meet with a thousand words in challenge. Which wins? Sadly the movie is really just average and has a rather lame rom-com type scenario where the two verbally spar and then fall in love, then there is a conflict. Blah blah blah as Binoche’s character says at one point, but the concept of  a war between words and pictures was a good one.

Since my majors in college were English and Speech Communication, you can imagine my tendency to rule in favor of words being the most powerful. However, I can concede the overwhelming power of a photograph, a drawing or a painting. We writers frequently use pictures as jumping off points for our writing and we certainly can come up with at least 1000 words, good and probably not so good, or more stemming from our reaction to that inspiration. Many artists, too, find inspiration in the great works of literature or other powerful words. While I liked the idea of a challenge pitting words against pictures, it would be impossible to rule in favor of one over the other. All art has power to affect and inspire, in ways we seldom ever could realize.

Having recently fallen for the art of poetry, I think it a lovely combination of both words and pictures. Plutarch said:

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.

How perfect is his description? I find poems often evoke a stronger more immediate response, like seeing a painting in a museum might, than a longer work such as a novel might. I, of course, love a novel, but the elegance and power of a poem seem most like viewing a picture. Both seem to let the reader/viewer fill in what is left to imagine. What do they make you feel? It’s a beautiful thing.

What about you? Do you think a picture is worth a thousand words? Is that preposterous, words obviously win that war? Or does it just depend? What words and pictures do you think of that make you lean one way or the other?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂

Have a great week!

~CJS

It’s Elementary, and Only the Beginning

showing

Good morning. As we make it through Friday, a time when us weekend warrior writers look forward to letting loose and exercising our alleged talents – we know who we are – I want to follow up on Jesi’s posting from Monday about “showing” descriptions in our stories, as opposed to “telling.”

In writing fiction, in particular, the basic concept is rather elementary, yet I have found lately that a significant segment of emerging writers do not understand what it means or how it works. Of four writers I specifically have in mind, as I sit down to write this, three of are more mature – well into their 60s and 70s.

I was lucky, I suppose, having picked up the notion of “show, don’t tell” in high school English. Although, I do have to admit, it took a while before I understood even the basics. At first, I was frustrated because I could not get how writing, alone, could lead to creating some picture or visual setting.

But, when I finally caught on to what my teacher was talking about, it all seemed so magical. I felt like a new world had been opened and that I had been bestowed with a fantastic new power of insight. It truly became a new dimension of writing for me.

Jesi’s example of taking a few sentences of a description about a tree that reads more like “stage directions,” really hits the problem. You can see her example in her posting, as she shows the modified three sentences of dry description and, using the vehicle of a third-person perspective, brings it alive for the reader’s imagination. It makes all the difference between falling asleep out of boredom and having the curiosity and motivation to read on.

To me, using a rough description from one of my own stories, it is the difference between listing the attributes of a mountain valley with its green trees, small creek and tall mountains, as opposed to having the reader step into the picture to discover a creek with its overflowing winter’s runoff, meandering through the lush greenery of its aspens where a family of sparrows is playing. The birds get scared off by an approaching wolf and takeoff toward the heights of the sky-reaching snow-covered peaks.  Again, it is just a rough draft version, but hopefully it helps illustrate the point.

Sorry Jesi if I’m riding the coattails of your topic this week, but I think you have hit on a critical point of writing that I think is worth repeating, because some people are just a bit challenged, as I was, as they attempt to grasp the concept.

From there of course, the goal is to strive to perfect “show, don’t tell,” which is the lifetime challenge of the art. Personally, I’m always looking at fresh variations to try to experiment with, as I strive to draw the reader through the story. I know some writers have come close to perfecting the art, but so far, I have a long way from being one of them.

 

Can You Have Too Many Books?

LOTSA BOOKS

Some people say that you can never be too rich or too thin. Some people who like to read (and maybe write, too) say that you can never have too many books.

Well, I’ve heard of people who are too rich. Take the Kardashians. Or how about Paris Hilton? They’ve got so much money they don’t know what the hell to do with themselves! “I’m bored. Let’s release another video of ourselves having sex.” Yeah, they have too much money.

And, c’mon! Of course you can be too thin. I know people who are really proud of the weight they just dropped, but I don’t want to tell them that they may have overdone it. I feel like force-feeding them some cheeseburgers.

And I know that you can have too many books. I found that out because I’m packing to move. We’re heading to Florida. Sun, beaches and Mickey Mouse.

Now, I already knew that I had a large amount of books. But I found that I had a staggering amount of books. As they were coming off of the shelves and being boxed, I suddenly realized that I could not take all of these books with me! I had twenty, thirty, and then forty boxes of books. I was like some insane book hoarder. Some were already in boxes, piled up in a large closet because I didn’t have enough book shelves for them. I had books that I’d had since 1967! It was time to admit some of them had to go.

Wow! Now the big decision. Which ones? I started to go through them and saw a few, right away, that I realized I could part with. I’m an airplane nut so a lot of my library is about aviation. But, even the most avid airplane nut doesn’t need ten books about the P-51 Mustang. So I started thinning the herd by cutting down on some of the redundancy. There was a lot of it. That helped a little bit, but it was only a dent. I had to start getting really serious. Cold blooded. None of that, “Oh but I always liked that book. I can’t part with it.” I already read it. Will I read it again? Probably not. It goes.

But, goes where? My wife was having a garage sale, so I started there. I sold a few, but not enough. And so I hauled four boxes of books into my SUV and headed down to Half Price Books.

I heard, “Joe to the counter! We have your offer.” I went, hopefully and naively toward the call. Eleven dollars and fifty cents! Four boxes of books? Eleven dollars and fifty cents? That was barely going to pay for lunch. Oh what the hell. I thought about carrying those heavy cardboard boxes back to the car. I took the money and walked off grumbling.

A few days later my wife had a doctor’s appointment in downtown Fort Worth. We decided to take some books to the big Half Price Books down there. Man, that place is big. Maybe I’d get a better deal there.

Three boxes of books. Seven dollars and thirty cents. Grumbling once again, I took the cash.

So, even with the garage sale, the theiv…I mean, Half Price Books and giving a few away, I’m still hauling a lot of literature to the Sunshine State. I don’t know…maybe I’ll put some on E-Bay once I’m down there. My wife wants to sit out back one night, at our new home, and have a big bonfire. She wants to roast marshmallows to the sound of flames crackling over burning paper. I think she’s kidding. I think.

So, in answer to my question…can you have too many books? Hell yeah!

 

To read or not to read

That is a question many authors, especially new authors, ask themselves. Should they be reading anything while writing a book? Should they read the genre they write? How about other genres? Or, if they write fiction, maybe they ought to read only non-fiction.

This question has always amazed and confounded me. That was especially true when I read a comment by a new author who proudly said she never reads in the genre she writes because she doesn’t want her wonderfully original idea to be diluted by what she reads. Yes, you read that right. Not only did she honestly feel she had a truly original plot but that it would be “tainted” by what she might read in the genre.

There are two basic problems with that statement. The first is the belief that she had a truly original plot. Sorry, but there are only so many basic plots out there. Originality comes with how you handle that plot. The important thing is to remember that. Your story may be one of exploration — nothing new — or a coming of age story. Again, nothing new. But how you handle that story, what you put your character through and how your character handles what life throws at him, that is what you make your own.

The second issue is with believing your plot can be tainted by something you are reading. Now, if you are afraid you will wind up lifting elements of the plot from the book you are reading, well, the problem lies with you. You either don’t have a plot already set in your head or you are so uncomfortable or so unsure about what you are writing that you unconsciously know you are in trouble.

But that doesn’t answer the question of whether you should read the genre you write.

My answer is a resounding “yes”. You have to read your genre to know what is selling, to know what the readers want. I don’t mean to just read what comes out of the major publishers either. You need to look at the best sellers list on Amazon to see what indie books are selling well and read some of them. This is important because indies can and do, on the whole, publish more often than traditionally published authors. So you can read multiple books in a series in short order.

You also need to read outside your genre because, whether you realize it or not, my guess is your current work in progress encompasses more than one genre. You may be writing a mystery but if there is a romance as a subplot, you need to read some romantic suspense books to get the feel for what sort of cues you need to put in. It’s the same if your mystery has a ghost story interwoven through it — read some horror.

Last week, as I prepared to write Nocturnal Challenge, an urban fantasy/police procedural, I read several books in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. I also read the last couple of Eve Dallas books by J. D. Robb. Now that I am working on Challenge, and knowing that the next book I will be writing is Honor from Ashes, I’m reading David Weber and Peter Grant. Once I start Ashes, which is science fiction, I’ll go back to reading fantasy in preparation for writing Dagger of Elanna, the second book in my fantasy series.

So, while I don’t read in my genre while writing it, I do read it before and after. I will also throw in a healthy dose of non-fiction and other fiction genres like mystery/suspense and, heaven help me, even some romance because several of my series have romantic sub-plots.

But there is another reason why authors should read. We learn by reading. we learn the pitfalls of the craft we want to avoid and we learn how the better authors plot or develop characters or worldbuild. But, if you are like me, you also read for entertainment. I have loved getting lost in a book for as long as I can remember. My imagination is much more powerful than the images on a movie screen or on TV. I can — and have — read something and had nightmares afterwards because it set my imagination flying.

But what about you? Do you think a writer should read the genre they write? What’s the last great book you read? (Yes, I’m looking at padding my “to be read” stack)

 

So Many Ideas…So Little Time

story ideas

Where do you guys get your story ideas from? There’s gonna be a lot of different answers, I know.

It could be a movie you saw, a book you read, a video game you played or even a dream you had. Or, of course, something that you experienced. There’s no right or wrong way. Whatever works! A lot of my stories come from history. Some, just pop out of my head. They’re swimming around in there, all the time. Just got to reach in there and grab one of the little buggers.

I got an idea for a story, once, by seeing a street sign. Out by me there are two roads that cross one another. One is Anita and the other is called Bourland. I saw the signs hanging over the street;  Anita Avenue and Bourland Road. Hmmm…Anita Bourland. What a great name for a character. I started running the idea around in my mind. Who could that be? It sounds like an old film star. Maybe she’s in an old age home. Yeah…she’s being taken care of by a young girl who works there who doesn’t believe all of the stories that Anita is telling her about the great old movie stars of the past. Now, I’m driving and I’m thinking about all of this. Such is the messed up brain of a writer. I got home and started writing it. It’s one of the many stories out on the back burner.

That’s the way it happens for me, sometimes. There are so many story ideas all around us that I can’t understand some of the things I see people asking in the writers sections of Facebook. “What should my character do for a living?” somebody asks. “I’m trying to think of a good idea for a story that I want to have take place in my home town. Any suggestions?” says another one. My favorite was one who wants to do a non-fiction, self- help, book. She says, “I’m writing a book called, ‘How to make a Million Dollars on E-Bay in 14 Days.’ Does anyone have any ideas on what I should put in it?”

I had to answer that one.

I said, “If you are writing a book called ‘How to make a Million Dollars on E-Bay in 14 days,’ and are asking US what to put in the book, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing a book called ‘How to make a Million Dollars on E-Bay in 14 Days.’ Because you obviously don’t KNOW how to make a million dollars on e-bay in 14 days.”

I did start the post with the words, “No offence, but…” I’m not all that bad a guy. But really, was that a bit too harsh? I don’t think so. How can anyone who calls themselves a writer be asking other people what she should write?

It’s got to come from you. Having ideas is actually a lot more important than knowing how to write. That part you can learn. Nobody can teach you how to have an imagination, however. I see two people arguing in a car and I see a story. A text message just came over their cell phone. The wife is angry because it’s a woman asking her husband about getting together. Uh…oh, busted. “Are you cheating on me?” she’s screaming as he’s trying to navigate through the traffic. I was sitting outside with my laptop one morning and sipping my coffee when I heard a motorcycle roaring by. I was annoyed at the racket at that time in the day and began typing a little snippet about a ‘bike rider who is screeching through a quiet neighborhood one morning and runs a stop sign. A car is coming and, well…you know. Yeah, I killed him. Felt good.

Sometimes I worry myself. My wife is from Chile and we spent a week down there on vacation. We were at a beautiful beach and I saw a girl walking into the water. My brain went into story mode. I imagined my character sitting on the beach watching the same scene. All of a sudden some men run up and try to grab her. He saves her and winds up getting tangled up in a story involving drug dealers and the white slave trade. I thought all of that just by watching a girl walk into the water. Is that even normal?

But that’s the way my mind works. It’s not always a good thing. It means that I have what OUR LEADER calls “popcorn kittens.” Ideas all over the place that aren’t complete. But boy, if I ever get to them all and finish them, I’ll have quite a body of work out there!

So much is going on around us all the time that a story idea should be easy. And if you can’t think of any fictional ideas than maybe non-fiction is for you. But if you need to ask others what you should put into your book about becoming a millionaire on e-bay, then maybe that’s not for you either. Maybe, just maybe…(Dare I say it?) you aren’t a writer. And that’s okay. It’s not necessarily a good thing to be someone who drives around talking to himself about a story idea he got after reading a street sign.

Writing History, Right

 

Noah

I’m a history nut. Historical non-fiction and historical fiction is what I enjoy reading most. When I read that stuff I expect the writer to know what he or she is talking about. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, is it?

I’m also an aviation enthusiast. My wife would replace the word, “enthusiast,” with the word, “fanatic.” I prefer the former. So being a fana…um, enthusiast, it’s another area where I expect an author to do their homework. Information is too easily accessible, today, to accept lazy writing. There is no excuse for having your characters going out to the airport and boarding a Boeing 707 when your story takes place in 1949. There were no 707’s in 1949. A quick Google search would have told you that.

Recently, I read a crime thriller. Something I don’t normally read. The bad guy works for the U.S. Government. The Government, as in many recent books and movies, were all bad guys. He enters the story flying an F-14 Tomcat. Now, okay, it’s a novel so I’ll forgive the fact that the Navy gave a civilian an F-14. My problem is when he lands. The writer says that he “engaged the reverse thrusters.” Reverse thrusters? On an F14? It’s a jet fighter not an airliner. Sorry, no reverse thrust on an F14. Am I being too much of a geek to expect that to be correct? I don’t think so. But he got away with it because 99.9% of the population doesn’t know an F14 from a Piper Cub. But okay, I’m just enough of a geek that it bugged me.

Now, like most writers, I tend to write what I like to read. My novel, ‘Jenny,’ is an historical piece that takes place in 1928 Texas. Obviously things were different then. It’s up to the writer to know, or at least find out, just how different. We’ve already established the fact that it’s no longer hard to do. I actually find the research enjoyable. I have a Model T Ford that plays a prominent part in the story and I did a lot of reading and Google searches on Model T’s. I like finding out things like the fact that the car’s gas tank was under the front seat. I love passing information like that on to the reader. I even watched a video by a guy who owns one. He showed how to start it. I got a kick out of that and worked it into the story.

And the history itself has to be right, too, of course. Not just the little details. If it’s 1928 you have to be careful that you don’t have your characters talking about something that happened in 1932. Make sure you don’t have them heading out to see ‘Gone With The Wind.’ That wasn’t until 1939. You have to do the research. I’m sure this scares a lot of people away from doing period pieces. It’s time consuming, that’s for sure. But, again, I like it.

But a writer can also have fun with history. Embellishment often works when doing historical novels. Putting your own slant to an historical event. In a great novel about the old west called, ‘Little Big Man,’ Thomas Berger decided to make George Armstrong Custer slightly insane. There’s no way to know if he was, or not, so he could do that sort of thing. He shoots down a bunch of other western myths, too. Terrific book. But even there, his history was on the mark. He just made use of a little artistic license, that’s all. (Which reminds me, mine is up for renewal, soon).

However, I don’t think you should mess with the facts as much as Noah’s biographer did (see cartoon). Then you’re leaving the historical fiction genre and moving into fantasy. If I pick up a book about ancient Rome and it starts with Nero pulling up in a limousine, I can be pretty sure that the writer didn’t do his research. Or that this is gonna be a really good story!

 

 

 

Fear Of Blogging

BLOGGERS

I resisted blogging. Didn’t want to do it. Amanda, the leader of our demented little bunch kept telling me I needed to blog. My wife kept telling me to start a blog. If I told someone I was writing they’d ask, “Do you have a blog I can go to, to see your stuff?”

No, I didn’t. And I didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, either. And I didn’t want one! But it did seem that everybody and their brother had a blog. What was so great about having a blog, anyway? And where the hell did that stupid word come from? Blog. It sounds like the name of an alien in one of those cheesy 1950’s science fiction movies.

I don’t know, maybe it was the fear of commitment. I didn’t want to worry about having to come up with something to write about every day. What if I didn’t feel like doing it, sometimes? My God! It sounded like being married! (It’s okay. My wife doesn’t read the blog.).

But then some trouble maker came up with the idea of us all, in the writer’s group, starting a blog. Everybody agreed that it was a terrific idea. “Uh…yeah, yeah…” I stuttered. “It’s a, um…great idea.” Oh no, what would I write? What if I couldn’t come up with anything? It was only once a week, though. We each had a day assigned to us. Mine was Thursday. Surely, I could come up with an idea once a week, I realized. I stopped hyperventilating. Yes, I could do this.

And here I am! Look Ma, I’m blogging! And I’m actually enjoying this.  Yeah, I’m having fun. All that fear was unjustified. I still wouldn’t want to do it every day, however. Don’t know how people do it.

But now I can see the importance of blogging if you are a writer. Getting your name out there. Showing your stuff. Building up a fan base. And I’ve even broken down and started a Facebook account. I belong to two writer’s groups over there and I’ve joined the throngs of people checking their Facebook pages to see if anyone liked their comments. I don’t know why, but a part of me feels so dirty.

So, okay. I humbly admit I was wrong. Blogging was a good idea.

But now I’m worrying  whether or not people like my posts. Why aren’t they leaving comments? Maybe it was a bad one. I’ll have to try harder next week. One week they seem to like me and the next week they don’t… It is just like being married.