Jul 19

Now I AM Depressed ;)

Based on PBW’s recommendation, I bought a copy of Marjorie M. Liu’s Iron Hunt a couple of weeks ago. I started reading it last night and … and … damn!

This is writing that transcends the mere words. The beauty and rhythm and imagery turns plain prose into song. It is as rich and creamy as fine cheesecake, as wild and fierce as the Arctic wind. It’s not a book I can read in large chunks. I’m having to ration it, savor it.

This is writing that I dream about. When I read something like this, I despair of ever being so good. It’s really hard to keep going when the bar is this high. I know that practice makes perfect, but damn! Just damn!

Even if you don’t like dark fantasy, you should at least stop into your local book store and read the first chapter. The power and beauty of Liu’s poetic writing will knock your boots clean off. This is definitely one for my keeper shelf.

Jan 01

The Right to Write

Though I am not being paid to write this review, I do stand to profit financially (by however miniscule an amount) if a reader buys a product mentioned in this review through the links provided. That being as it may, I steadfastly refuse to endorse any product I have not personally used to my own benefit.

Cameron, Julia. The Right to Write: an Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. New York: Tarcher, 1999. ISBN: 1585420093. ISBN-13: 978-1585420094.

With The Artist’s Way and The Vein of Gold, Julia Cameron established herself as a champion of the universality of creativity. She contends that everyone can be creative, and she has devoted a substantial portion of her career to teaching that theory, both through her writing and in her face-to-face courses.

In The Right to Write, Cameron tackles writing in particular. Through a series of essays, she sets out her theory that every person has the innate right to write. Cameron uses her own personal experience, as well as those of her family, friends, and students, to illustrate her points.

In a fairly small book–236 pages–Cameron covers a lot of territory. Forty-three essays cover topics as diverse as how to begin, listening, keeping the drama on the page, ESP, writing badly, and commitment, among many others.

Cameron has the ability to illuminate her topics clearly and concisely. Most of her essays cover only two or three pages and can be read sequentially or individually as needed. Her writing style is personal and lively, as if she were speaking directly to her individual readers across a small cafe table.

Each essay–called “Invitations”–also comes with an “Initiation”: an exercise closely related to the essay that aims to open the reader’s mind to new possibilities. Some of the exercises are intense and can be emotionally challenging. Most of all, though, the “Initiations” are just that: introductions to new ways of thinking, new opportunities, and permission to put pen to paper and exercise your right to write.

Possibly the most useful exercise is the Morning Pages. Cameron strongly recommends using pen and paper and sitting quietly for fifteen to twenty minutes each morning writing longhand and using stream of consciousness to open the right, or creative, side of the brain and to silence the inner critic. I can testify that this technique is extraordinarily effective.

The Right to Write is an essential part of the writer’s book collection for the occasional pick-me-up and reminder that we do, indeed, have an intrinsic right to write.

Nov 20

Beat Writer’s Block is Now Available

Disclaimer: If you buy any of these products from these links, I will make a few bucks. On the other hand, I am an independent-minded SOB, and I refuse to endorse a product that I am not completely satisfied with. I don’t usually flog products on this blog, but I believe in these products. They work for me, and I believe they will work for you.

Most writers suffer from writer’s block at one time or another. The others are scared to death that they will. I’m not the King of Writer’s Block, but I am certainly a high-ranking prince. I have been blocked off and on for years.

No More.

Holly Lisle’s How to Beat Writer’s Block (and Have FUN Writing From Now On) downloadable audio course is my ticket out of writer’s block. Forever.

In just one hour (1 hour!), How to Beat Writer’s Block guided me out of the forest and into the light of day. Using a ‘tough love’ attitude and a variety of techniques, Holly can kickstart your writing again, too.

Sixty bucks for one hour’s work? Isn’t that pretty steep? The thing is: I can pull this course out again any time I feel a block coming on. I never have to be afraid again. The $59.95 price is for a limited time. Even after the special price runs out, it’s still worth it.

Also on special right now is 21 Ways to Get Yourself Writing When Your Life Has Just Exploded for $9.95.

I can’t vouch for these techniques personally, as I haven’t tried them yet, but they worked for Holly, and they are certainly some straightforward, common-sense ways to get your writing life back, even when your real life has spiralled down the tubes.

Finally, a very special deal for a limited time only.

The How to Beat Writer’s Block audio course and ALL 4 of the highly-acclaimed Plot Clinics for $79.90. That’s a savings of nearly $20. The Plot Clinics I CAN vouch for personally. These are wonderfully practical guides to building compelling characters and plots and believable languages and cultures. All I can say is: if you don’t have ’em, get ’em

Holly Lisle’s How Beat Writer’s Block (And Have FUN Writing From Now On)

Aug 06

Better Late

I’m back. My usual medication upheavals and depression in-betweens. I get so damned weary during those times that posting to a blog just seems impossibly hard and not worth the trouble.

But I’m feeling much better now. A little better, anyway, since yesterday. Oh, by the way, I re-designed my main Web site in the meantime to better fit the theme of the blog. HTML is something I don’t really have to think about to do. Just look in the book and type. A no-brainer for times of no brains.

Back to yesterday, though. I’ve been reading Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon From the Cave, Too Far From the Stars (I’ve mentioned PaperbackSwap.com — it’s not just for paperbacks). Ray Bradbury is a writer I have to take in small doses. Very rich, very intense. Very inspirational. I wanna write like Ray.

His enthusiasm is infectious, and yesterday I broke out into a fever and dashed off a 1500-word first draft of a short story using the prompt from The First Line. Working title: The Cost of Doing Business, thought I’m considering changing it to Dying Fires and the Scent of Spring. Or something more apropos to the story as it worked itself out. I loved this writing. Very intense, very fresh, very surprising what my mind threw onto the page. That really helped pull me up a little.

I blame it all on Ray Bradbury. If not for him, I never would have run through the wall of technical proficiency, vaulted the slime-pit of “doing it right”, and dived straight into the old-time gospel fervor and passion that brought me here in the first place. Thanks, Ray.

Jun 25

Workin’ For The Man Every Night and Day*

Holly Lisle’s Create A Plot Clinic has been an absolute God-send for my work on Washed in the Blood.  The 5 Questions exercise (“Tool 1: Question” — pp. 40-44 in my version) has opened up new vistas for me.  At last, I understand my villain — who he is, how he got to be what he is, and why he is doing these horrible things.  I have discovered new characters, eliminated one, and discovered a secret that makes Maggie a lot more human and another, previously minor, character a vital piece of the story.

If you need help with plotting, as I sure as Hell do, this book will blast your mind open, wake up your Muse and shake her by the shoulders, and get your ass moving.

In my previous post on this subject, I mentioned that I would explore using Liquid Story Binder software to help with organizing the novel.  Developments on that end have led me away from that idea.  After trying out some other software, I can see that the old-fashioned way still suits me best.

OpenOffice does everything I need to do.  Combined with paper, notebooks, sticky notes, and index cards, I think I am set for now.  The line-for-scene is going well, as is concurrent writing (I have to get at least a skeleton of some of these scenes down while they’re hot).

Nearly 22,500 words so far.  It doesn’t sound likemuch, but it looks like the first draft will come in at around 35-40K.  Way short (right now, I’m averaging 567 word per scene.  Ugh.), but I can already see (and am making note of) a lot of room for expansion.  Maybe this thing can fly after all.

*If you can’t identify the source of the title of this post, you need to review your cultural education.  🙂

Jan 29

Way of the Cheetah

Way of the Cheetah: How to Boost Your Productivity by Lynn Viehl. 2006.

So you call yourself a writer, or would like to, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough time. Maybe the distractions of your busy life get in your way. Maybe you start strong but have trouble finishing anything. Don’t lose heart; the cavalry is here.

Lynn Viehl, well known arounf the blogoverse as Paperback Writer, offers her views on what it takes to be a successful writer in Way of the Cheetah: How to Boost Your Productivity. Her practical, no-nonsense approach to the writing life is refreshing and inspirational. These are the “secrets” that have enabled her to sell 32 novels in six years, 9 in 2005 alone. As a member of the elite Million-Words-a-Year Club, Viehl knows how to produce, and now she is sharing her methods with the rest of us.

Cheetahs have to produce in order to survive. They don’t spend time worrying about what the other cheetahs think, or if they’re “doing it right”. They hunt, or they starve. Just like the cheetah, writers have to produce to be successful. They have to write. Butt in chair, words on paper. That work ethic is the biggest price of success, and the hardest habit to develop. Way of the Cheetah shows you how.

Viehl offers her proven tactics for overcoming distractions, organizing your work space, breaking out of the dreaded cyle of the Eternal Edit, and getting past all the other traps that await the unwary. Above all, she emphasizes the necessity to take your writing seriously. If you want a hobby, consider stamp collecting. Writing is hard work. You can’t avoid that work, so you have to be serious about it.

At 71 pages, Way of the Cheetah is by no means a hefty tome, but each of those pages contains golden nuggets and sparkling jewels just waiting for you. Each of the 8 steps along the Way gives hard, practical advice for increasing your productivity, followed by exercises designed to guide you through putting that advice to work in your own writing life. Some of it will work for you, some will not, but every writer will find something here to benefit their career. I know I sure have.

I highly recommend Way of the Cheetah to all writers looking for the path to success. My feet are beginning to tread the Way, come join me.

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Jan 25

Create a Character Clinic

Create a Character Clinic by Holly Lisle. First OneMoreWord Edition, (c)2006.

Bringing characters to life for the reader seems like an impossible dream for many writers. We give them distinguishing characteristics, maybe even distinct ways of speaking, but still they lie there on the page, bored and boring. Many writing books are full of What and Why; Holly Lisle’s Create a Character Clinic is all about How.

CCC walks us through the process of creating vivid characters, then goes a step further — it shows us how to go about bringing that character alive on the page. Part 1 of CCC is full of essential flow charts to help the writer find out about a character’s conflicts, dreams, needs, relationships, history, and other important information. These charts provide a road map through a process that, until now, has appeared esoteric and difficult. CCC Shows us how to ask the right questions, and gives pointers about when to stop asking to leave room for the characters to grow and surprise us as we write. The exercise at the end of each chapter provide practice in putting the principles to use in our own characters. CCC shows us how to use Abraham Maslow‘s Hierarchy of Needs to find out what drives a character at the deepest levels.

Part 2 delves into the actual how-to of putting words on paper to create believable characters using exposition, dialogue, and action. Again using well-designed flow charts, we can explore the furthest reaches of the character’s sub-conscious. Then, we can use the Exercises to actually begin putting that character into a story and letting him develop into a three-dimensional person.

Part 3 is called “The Sins of Characterization, and How to Commit Them Right”. I found this section to be worth the price of the book (US $9.95) by itself. Lisle takes many of the most common mistakes writers make with characterization, and shows us how to use those mistakes to our advantage. The secret is in knowing when and how to use these methods to advance the story. Learning when and how to break the rules is essential to development as a writer.

Lisle’s writing and instructional style is clear and easy to follow. She is able to draw the reader in and make them feel a part of the process — a collaborator rather than a student. Create a Character Clinic takes pride of place on my desk as an essential, practical guide through one of the most difficult parts of writing, for me, at least. I strongly recommend Create a Character Clinic as a necessary part of a writer’s library.

P.S. While you are at HollyShop buying CCC, take a look at Lynn Viehl’s Way of the Cheetah, as well. Review here. If you would like to participate in promoting these terrific books and make a little money on the side, consider joining the affiliate program.

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Nov 15

How To Ruin a Novel

Very seldom will I invest enough time and energy to get halfway through a novel and then put it down and walk away. I have too many books in my TBR stack to put a whole lot of effort into a book that doesn’t helod my interest. In the present case, though, I’m going to have to abandon my attempts to plow through my current reading. It’s not bad writing or a boring or trite story or bad characters that is driving me away from this one. There is a much more obvious problem with this book: copyediting.

The novel is Every Which Way But Dead by Kim Harris. She has written a good, fast-paced story populated with interesting characters. The main character, Rachel Mariana Morgan, is a witch. She is also a most painfully human character full of self-doubt, often confused by life, as are we all, and prone to the same misjudgements and misunderstandings that plague every person alive. She is funny, aggravating, bull-headed, sensitive, and very vulnerable. I really like her, and I would really like to be able to finish her story, but the quality of the editing is so poor that I cannot.

Someone has done Ms. Harris a serious disservice. The book is riddled with dropped words, doubled words, and several sentences in which the edited text is inter-mixed with the text that it was supposed to have replaced. The net result is a very rough read in which I am constantly tripping over weird sentences and having to go back to puzzle out their sense. The constant interruptions have kept me from falling into the story and, as a result, Every Which Way But Dead will fall by the wayside.

This is a most unfortunate situation for Ms. Harris, or for any writer. While she is certainly not to blame for this foul-up, she has to carry the responsibility. It is her name that will be forever associated in readers’ minds with poorly-edited books. She is the one who has to take the hit on future sales. It’s her reputation that is being slimed. Hell, no, it’s not fair. Hell, no, it’s not right. Unfortunately, it’s the way the writer’s world works.

One thing every writer has to face sooner or later is the fact that the game is rigged. The deck is stacked, the cards are marked, and the other players have aces up their sleeves. Writers are harried by deadlines and stressed by finances. The work is often hard, sometimes painful, and always demanding. Writing the book is only the first part. The writer also has to shepherd her work through the entire publication process. A hands-on approach is the only way that will work. As I said above, it’s the writer’s name on the book, it’s the writer’s reputation on the line. Attention to detail is mandatory.

I certainly hope that Ms. Harris has already raised Holy Hell about this. If not, now’s the time to start. Taking this kind of hit because of someone else’s sloppiness is unacceptable, and the consequences can be dire.

Sep 26

Damn the Torpedoes!

No more retreating, launghing a new offensive. I know, I know, as if I weren’t offensive enough already. Keep your snide comments to yourselves. 🙂

Wound up having no Internet the entire weekend. Oh well. It’s probably for the best. It’ll just take a few days to catch up.

I took the opportunity to read through everything I have on Washed in the Blood. Damn, it’s good. It has problems, sure, what first draft doesn’t? Especially the first draft of a first novel. If I start listening to that voice again that tells me it’s shit, y’all kick my ass until I wake up, please. Got nearly 5000 new words over the weekend, and over 1000 so far today. The thrill is back, the story progresses.

I also finished another review for GMR (I also have a new review up of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s To Charles Fort, With Love). This one is less than glowing. Horror writers need to wake up and realize that just because it’s horror is no excuse for poor craft. In this case, the characterization is absolutely abominable. It’s basically a bunch of paperdoll morons running around getting eaten. A major author, too. Another bridge burnt, I guess. Oh well. I calls ’em as I sees ’em.

Y’all keep ’em straight up there.

Sep 20

Threads of Malice

Threads of Malice by Tamara Siler Jones
Bantam Book, due out October 25, 2005, 498 pages, $6.99.

Dubric Byerly sees dead people. More specifically, he sees the ghosts of those who have been murdered in Faldorrah. As Castellan, Dubric is responsible for bringing their killers to justice so their spirits can peacefully depart. The sight of murdered people and the headaches they bring are prime motivation for Dubric to solve their murders and quickly. Unfortunately, in a world with barely medieval technology, forensic investigations are difficult at best. Dubric, his squire Dien, and his two pages, Lars and Otlee, are learning the art of forensic investigation as best they can, but sometimes, that is just not enough. When Dubric learns that young boys have been disappearing in the Reach, a remote area of the kingdom, he leakds his team squarely into a mob of ghosts and an evil so profound that Dubric doubts his ability to defeat it.

Threads of Malice is Tamara Siler Jones‘s second published novel and a semi-sequel to her first, Ghosts in the Snow. It is a sequel in that it is set in the same world with many of the same characters, it is only semi- in that it does not continue the story in Ghosts. Threads is a stand-alone story, complete unto itself, though reading Ghosts first will give you some deeper insight into the characters and the world they inhabit.

Those who enjoyed Ghosts as much as I did should be warned that Threads of Malice is a much darker and more dangerous story. While Ghosts often showed a delight in its wickedness and even turned whimsical at times, Threads is a serious look at some deeply-rooted soul-rot. It looks at some subjects that are extremely distasteful and does it unflinchlingly. Readers will encounter pedophilia, torture, murder, and putrid corpses, among other things. Threads of Malice is a book of mud and blood, a book of storms, where the sun seldom shines for long, a book of unending pain and cruel death. Be warned.

Tambo Jones is one of a rare breed of writers who are willing to put their characters in real danger. With most novels, you can erad with the assumption that everything will turn out all right in the end. The hero or heroine will save the day in the nick of time through heroic efforts and purity of heart. At some point in Threads, and it may be a different point for you than for me, you will come to a horrible realization: the danger is real. People are grievously hurt, both physically and psychically, people suffer, people die. People you have to care for suffer. Some of them die. Bring no assumptions to this book.

Among the many themes that weave their way throughout Threads of Malice is the theme of good versus evil. I guess it’s safe to say that most novels explore this theme to some extent, but maybe not as closely as tambo does. In her world, evil is absolute, black, utterly ruthless, uncaring, pure. Good, on the other hand, is murky, flawed, and faltering. Human. Her heroes have feet of clay and are standing in a torrent that is quickly eroding them. Each of the characters carries his or her own burden of fear and guilt. Sometimes the burden becomes too heavy. Heroic acts are hard to come by, and safety does not exist.

With Ghosts in the Snow, tambo Jones staked out her place in dark fantasy, inventing the subgenre of forensic fantasy, and unveiled herself as a rising star in the field. With Threads of Malice, tambo secures her place as a serious writer with a voice that will be heard. The depth and intensity of Threads of Malice make this a must=read. The questions raised, the answers given or not given, are rich food for thinking readers. Though the price of reading this book may be high, the gains are worth it and more.

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