Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Higher Standard?

Hey all,

I apologize for my prolonged absence. Life has literally been beating me over the head the past month or two. I've had a lot of work responsibilities that require putting in a lot of long hours... all to a good result, luckily. A promotion! Whoot. :) That said, with that comes even more pressure to keep putting in the hours. Topped with the holiday season and various odds and ends, there hasn't been much time for ME time... i.e. writing time. But luckily, with the promotion I'm able to reorganize a few things and will have a lot more available time to write in the upcoming months. I'm jonesing for some time with WIS.

I don't have a lot to talk about on the writing front, but thought I'd pose a question I've been wrestling with for... well, a long time. Book reviews. As writers, do you write them--even when you may have some negative things to say? As readers, do you hold writers to a higher standard than you would readers? Would it bother you to see a writer publish a negative review of another author's book?

I have to say, I'm torn on this subject, and probably fall in the minority. I do, generally speaking, think it's okay for authors to review books--even when they may not have altogether pleasant things to say about a particular work. I guess my reasoning is that if I shelled out my hard earned duckets to purchase a book...if I read a book from cover to cover with my limited amount of reading time, I'm sort of entitled to state my opinion of said book. Even when it's not a glowing review. For me, picking up a book is when Jen the author steps aside... and Jen the reader, the girl who wants to be swept away by a story takes over. I'm just as likely to be over the moon over a book...or in some cases, disappointed beyond all measure...as the next person.

Is the "right" philosophy to only say something if I have something nice to say?

Do authors REALLY have more influence over whether someone will pick up a book?

Any thoughts?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dreaming of a Write Christmas

Outside my window the snow is gently falling, the flakes like tiny bits of silver crystal. Silently and steadily it has snowed all day. The trees are gracefully laden with it. The woods are silent, hushed in snowy shades of deep grays and soft whites. I took walk through the woods and down to the mailbox in the late afternoon, making tracks in the powdery landscape. But I wasn’t the first to pass that way. There was evidence of others: footprints of a snowshoe hare and something larger, a fox or coyote. By the time I reached home again, my hat and shoulders were topped with snow and my cheeks rosy with the chill. I love a white Christmas.

This year, what I’d love even more is a write Christmas. It’s been a good long stretch between productive writing stints. There’s no one to blame for that except myself. It’s been a year in the writing wilderness for me, a time of wandering through my work-in-progress and to a greater extent, wandering through my intentions as a writer. What exactly do I want from this?

Then, just the other day, I came upon something in my reading that triggered a response in me, something immediate and solid that I could grab like a life preserver on a wave-tossed sea. The thought stuck with me and later that day, as I sat in a bookstore coffee shop sipping a hot drink, inspiration struck. I dug through my purse for a scrap of paper and wrote down my sudden insight. It’s scribbled on the back of a receipt - three acts, the main plot points, and the full story arc for REQUIEM.

So I may get my wish this Christmas. I’m inspired and eager to write again now that I've found a path out of the wilderness.

My wish for all of you this holiday season is that you also have a very write Christmas. May the words fall gently, may they laden your story like snow on graceful boughs, may you see the tracks of those who accompany you - fellow writers, crit partners, beta readers, and loved ones who support your desire to write.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Putting Yourself in the Story

Hey all,

I've been writing so much lately that I feel like a bit of a hermit. The holiday season has literally snuck up on me. Perhaps it's best that way, however. For when I find myself at a stop, I suddenly have the time to realize that my book will be out in about six weeks. Holy hell.

My book, my baby, is going to be out in full view of the world. Gulp.

I'll be the first to admit that it might be a twee bit petulant to be freaking out about one's book releasing. In the scheme of things this is a writer's dream. It ought to be a very good thing. But it also means that *I* will be out on full view of the world.

Because I am most definitely in that book.

We writers often use the excuse that this business isn't personal. Rejection isn't about us. The person simply didn't like our style, or the story. This is true. But it is also true that as writers we pour our hearts and souls into our work. We are there, lurking between the lines, on every page.

We ought to be anyway. Without putting ourselves, and by ourselves, I mean our passion, into every word. Without it, the reader can always tell that something is missing. If you don't love your story, how will anyone else?

And there is also the fact that I am in my characters. To be precise, my characters are NOT me. However, I cannot write a good character without using my experiences in life to give them depth. This is what they mean by writing what you know -or it ought to be, at any rate!

You may not have experienced the high thrill stakes of that fight scene you're writing, but you know what it is like to be afraid, to feel rage, loneliness, or joy.

For me, I write characters who feel ostracized and alone because I have most definitely felt that way before. And I write about characters falling in love, finding their inner-strength, and finding their joy, because I have felt that too.

So look at your own writing. Do you see yourself in it? You should. Don't be afraid to put your heart, soul, and experience in your story and characters. We write to share something with the world. Our stories might be profound, or they might be light-hearted. But they should all have something to say.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Very Booky Christmas

Eleven days until Christmas.

Usually those words would strike fear into my heart, as I am notorious for leaving my gift buying to the last minute. This year, however, and for reasons I am presently unable to fathom, I was all done with the Christmas shopping over a week ago. In fact, I'm so organsied I've even wrapped all bar a smattering of said gifts. I don't know what's possessed me; but whatever it is, I'm quietly accepting it and hoping it calls again next year.

Books formed a large part of my Christmas shopping list, for my kids in particular. There's something just so wonderful about giving books to children, and making an appearance beneath our tree this Christmas morning will be:

Terry Pratchett's Wee Free Men
Steampunk! anthology edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J Grant
2012 Guiness World Records
Various Horrible Histories - Vicious Vikings, Measly Middle Ages, Groovy Greeks, Rotten Romans - by Terry Deary
Slinky Malinki's Christmas Crackers by Lynley Dodd
Legend by Marie Lu

And a little birdy tells me Santa might just be bringing me The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz. I'm rubbing my hands together in anticipation of that one!

Have you bought any books to give as gifts this Christmas? Which ones did you buy, and who did you buy them for? Do share, because as organised as I am, I'll always make time - and room on the credit card - to buy more books. :-)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sink or Swim

A short post from me today, but that's better than no post, which is what I've been managing lately. Apologies for my general absence!

I tend to find that there are times when I am, as a writer, either sinking or swimming. By that I don't mean the actual writing itself, but rather the ability to think, to focus, to concentrate, to create. To immerse myself in another world and put myself inside somebody else's head. Most of the time, given a little work, I can do that. Even if I'm in a dry spell, or just lacking time, I can get back to it if I put in the effort.

But there are other times, fortunately much more rare, where no amount of extra effort is going to help me. They're the times when life is being too much of a bitch to give me the mental space I need- the times where I'm so focussed on getting through each day that there's no chance of me being able to step outside my own troubles and create more for my fictional characters.

I'm in one of those phases now, caught up in the last few weeks of stress and anxiety before my second baby is due. I'm too busy putting all my energy into that to even contemplate writing. We have high risk monitoring going on, and plenty of other drama to take up our time. And as ever when you already have something to worry about, life seems intent on throwing down extra obstacles and dramas, until the day-to-day becomes something a lot more intense, draining and scary than it otherwise would be.

But more than any other dry spell, these phases always remind me that as writers we can pull purpose from the hard times. We can take a step back and let life carry on as it will, knowing that this too shall pass, and a few months down the line we'll be better able to process it all and spin it into a greater depth of human understanding through our words.

As a result, one day, our work might end up being the thing someone else reads when they're at lowest ebb; the thing that makes them understand something about themselves to help them get by. We might change someone's perspective- in a sense, we might change their life- because (not in spite) of the fact that we as writers have been through the wringer and back.

In a weird way, I think there's benefit in giving up the struggle and letting yourself sink now and then. When you hit the bottom, you can push up, and when you break the surface again, if you've taken the time to observe the journey down and back without simply fighting it all the way, you'll have something of consequence to describe.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nurturing the Young Writer

The Piggyback Ride, by William Bouguereau

All this talk of teen reading habits and the books that have influenced our writing has me thinking back fondly to those early, clumsy attempts at writing fiction.

It has also been on my mind recently as I watch a young friend of mine starting out on this magical journey for herself. Like the rest of us, she’s a reader and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without something to read. Lately, however, the books have been replaced by notebooks filled with her scrawling handwriting.

When she discovered that I wrote fiction it was as if she’d discovered a kindred spirit. And we are, though I’m much farther along the writing journey than she is. We share the common writer’s drive, that indefinable something within that urges us to put words on paper. Maybe she thought she was alone in this feeling, or maybe she thought it was an odd thing to want to do, considering most teenage avocations lean toward fitting in, being one of the crowd, and writers are not typically crowd-seeking. She now knows scribbling in notebooks is a legitimate activity. She’s found a fellow writer and is delighted with her discovery.

When I was her age (about 14) I shared my writing with exactly one other person, a trusted friend who lived across the street. She and I often wove stories together - orally, not written - but as an extension of that, I began to write them down. It never occurred to me to share these with my mom or a teacher or any other person. In fact, I’d have been mortified. (Not that the content was anything but PG.) No, I was just intensely private about my writing. Still am, for the most part, though I’ve learned to share for the value of feedback.

My young friend, though, has absolutely no qualms about sharing her own fiction. Like an eager young pup she nearly leaped around my feet in her joy at finding another writer. Would I read her stories? Would I give her advice? Would I edit something of hers when she was done? Her questions bounded around us, tangled in a string of explanations of just how many notebooks (nine) she has and how many of those are only half-finished stories. (Ah! She’s the kind of writer who has to start a new story just as soon as the idea comes to her…)

Yes, I said, I would read something of hers. Pick ONE for me to look at. This seems to have spurred her into finishing one. She assures me it will be done in a few weeks. Then the ball is in my court and I must think carefully of how to proceed from here, for while I’ve given critiques to fellow writers, I don’t think I’ve been given this much trust by any of them. The responsibility of nurturing a brand new writer, such a young, impressionable one, and of being her mentor, weighs heavily on me.

Over the years I was encouraged enough by teachers (both creative writing ones and just those who read my essays and book reports) to know that I was good at this craft. I believe wholeheartedly that without encouragement and without mentors, this part of me would be left unexplored and I thank God for those wise souls who crossed my path at critical, influential times in my life.

What advice do you give a young writer? How much gentle correction vs unadulterated praise do you give?

Do you remember the advice you received when you started out? What kept you going, who boosted your morale and stoked the writing fires within you? If you’ve got wisdom to share, please help me out as I come full circle in the writer’s life and begin to nurture a young writer.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You Are What You Read

So I've been thinking about Rachel's Cheesemonkey post. In remembering what I read as a child, I can see the birth of what I write as an adult.

As a child, I read a mix of historical novels, murder mysteries, thrillers, crime fiction, and a whole lot of romance and womens fiction. Yes, I know, it was quite the heavy read for a thirteen-year-old. Some might say inappropriate. But I'll never regret it. In fact, I'd like to think it gave me a view of the world that my cosseted peers didn't see. So when it came time to face certain life trials, I wasn't caught completely unaware.

But to digress. :) As an adult, what do I write? Well, I write genre mashups. My stories are a mix of historical, romance, paranormal, thriller and mystery. I love it all, so I write it all.

What I've read absolutely has influenced what I write, and what I love.

So how about you? Do you think what you've read as a child, and what you read now for that matter, helped form the writer you are today?