Tag Archives: Writers Resources

Book Review: Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg (4/5)

16 Jan

This will be the first of many posts I add about Annie’s Ghosts. This book was chosen for the Michigan Reads program this year so two of my book clubs are reading it and then I’m going to hear the author speak in May. Maybe I can convince you to read it!

This is my Michigan book for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg

During his mother’s final years, Steve heard from a doctor’s assistant that his mother had said she had a sister. Steve and his siblings were confused because their mother had always made a point to say she was an only child. The family pushed the comment to the back of their minds until after their mother’s death. Then, a letter asking for the maintenance payment on his grandparents graves came and to his surprise there were three graves; his grandparents and his aunt, Annie.

No one in the family knew about Annie, his mother’s sister and Steve’s journalistic tendencies kicked in and he began investigating. Annie had been institutionalized in the 1940s at Eloise, a mental hospital in the Detroit, MI area. She had lived well into Steve’s childhood and he’d never heard mention of her. Through long-lost cousins and old neighbors, Steve starts to piece together his mother’s secret. It’s a trail of old documents, travels to California and back, and even darker secrets into his family that Steve weaves into a wonderful book filled with the real life mysteries of family secrets.

When I read the summary of this book, I thought it was going to bore me to death. About fifty pages in, I started to be intrigued. By halfway, I was completely captured. Luxenberg has a very conversational and natural style of writing which made me forget all the facts and history he was throwing at my face. Luxenberg wrote the book to follow the order in which he discovered the information so the mystery unravels naturally and the reader feels like he is taking the journey with Luxenberg.

There are a few times where Luxenberg runs into legal snags which stop him from getting the data he wants to see. He has to find legal documentation that he is the heir to his mother’s estate, who is the heir to her sister’s estate. Luxenberg is put out that it is so difficult for relatives to find information on their ancestors when they want to. There is a secretary who, early on in the book, comments that she gets several calls a month from people looking for information on long-dead relatives and that she’s seldom able to help them. I was just at a book club meeting where one of the participants said her grandmother died at Eloise but she had no information on her because it was impossible to get access to it. This makes me sad because if the documents exist and the person is a relative, who is being protected by barring the documents? The book implies that it’s to protect doctors but the doctors are probably gone as well. I agree with Luxenberg that it shouldn’t be so difficult for loved ones to get information on their relatives after they pass away.

Luxenberg kept trying to figure out why his mother had lied so frequently about having a sister. By the end of the book, he had concluded that his father had no idea he even had a sister-in-law. Friends of Luxenberg’s mother, Beth, were under the impression that she didn’t want anyone new in her life told about her sister. She thought that she was too old to marry after being a bridesmaid in all of her friends weddings at the beginning of World War II. Beth suspected that having a handicapped sister would further hurt her chances because the men would fear the problem was genetic. After marrying Duke (Luxenberg’s father), Beth might have been ready to reveal her secret, but when Duke himself was institutionalized, Luxenberg things his mother sealed her lips forever, not wanting her husband to doubt their genes. Talk about unfortunate circumstances!

I read another book last year about delving into a family secret, A Secret Gift by Ted Gup, which I did not enjoy as much. I think what intrigued me more about Luxenberg’s book is that he treated his fact-finding like a mystery that the reader was investigating with him instead of retelling a story. I do like that both of these books are based on family histories and the fact-finding of the current generations. It’s cool to hear ‘real’ history about ‘real’ people in the early 1900s (or at least I think it is).

I had to do a family history project when I was in high school about where my grandparents were during World War II. If you’ve never done anything like this, I encourage you to at least ask your older relatives what they were doing in a given decade. I was really fascinated to hear my maternal grandmother was a Candy Striper and my paternal grandparents lived in the Detroit area during the war. I’ll have those memories all my life, even after they’re gone and I won’t have to go memory hunting like Luxenberg did.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think Luxenberg is very engaging as a writer and the way he took the reader through his personal mystery was wonderful because it allowed me to be ready for every twist and turn.

The other thing about Luxenberg’s story that I loved was how non-linear it was, but I was still able to follow it well. His research took him to California, Chicago, and the Ukraine and he ran the gamut of relatives from all sides of his family to conduct interviews and track down old friends. He might jump from Annie to his father as he researched the relationships that these people had, but I could still follow and what Luxenberg wrote always came back to his family. This book was a great example of getting everything summed up and finished at the end of a book that had more arms than an octopus.

Overall, a solid read and I look forward to all the follow-up I’ll have with this book. Four out of five stars.

Related Blog Posts

Diary of an Eccentric (multiple posts)
“Annie’s Ghosts” and Remembering Cora Davis| Jodee Inscho Research

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King (5/5)

8 Jan

I’m so excited to write this review. King blew me away with this book and I’m completely in love with it. I’ve added it to my list of highly recommended books. I’m so lucky to be adding so many there lately.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

On Writing by Stephan King

I’d heard several people in my writers’ circle tell me, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” When I finally asked who’d said this, I was directed to King’s book. Boy, am I glad they led me there.

King’s book is divided into two parts. The first half of the book is a memoir covering King’s life up until the writing of the book. The second half is his advice on writing and how to be a successful writer. I thought I’d find the first half boring and only be interested in the second half, but I was completely wrong. King’s life has been filled with close calls, disappointments and as much love as one man can find. His advice on writing was basic yet detailed. He says to understand grammar and goes on to explain why its important to point out an adverb and avoid it. He talks about second drafts and how they should bring out theme and be about 10% shorter than the first draft. All of this is wonderful advice for the fledgling writer.

There were many times that I was overly excited by what King said. He argues that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. As many of you may know, I’m quite the avid reader, raking in 71 books last year (this was #71). King also advocated writing with literary abandon for a first draft, much like I found myself doing with NaNoWriMo. I listened carefully to his advise on revising a second draft because I’m in the process of doing the same. He spoke at length about having a few people read the second draft which I’m now more actively pursuing. King says his wife is his ideal reader and has her read everything he writes. Being that I write for 12-17 year old girls, I feel like I’m a creeper trying to find my ideal readers, so I’m settling for an old friend from high school. King would be disappointed.

King argues that almost anyone can be a writer and I think that to an extent that is true. The ability to write and to write well is, I believe, more learned than innate. This is not to say that everyone must learn. I think there are people who are born to be great writers and only need to learn how to use a pen. However, I also think that there are some people who require a good deal of instruction to be a good writer and that they must try a lot harder to get to the status of ‘good.’ I think I’m in this second group. While I could be discouraged, I was lifted up to hear someone like Stephen King say I could be a good writer. He believes in me!

The most touching part to me was at the end of the book when King discussed his near death experience when struck on the side of the road in Maine. My mother had an experience that I was reminded of that left her incapacitated for six months. The emotion that King had when reading this section (he narrated the audiobook) was really moving to me. I can’t imagine the emotion of finishing a book you almost died writing.

Even since finishing this  book, I’ve seen it recommended as a staple of a writer’s library. It’s easy to see why. King’s advice is clear and easy to follow and very very useful.

Writer’s Takeaway: This entire novel is a writers takeaway. If you’re a writer and haven’t read this, I strongly advise you to pick up a copy. The advice is wonderful and good for any genre.

Amazing read, highly highly recommended. Five out of five stars.

Until next time, Reader, write on.

Related Post: On Writing by Stephen King on Kvams Blog

Book Review: The Daughter of the God King by Anne Cleeland (4/5)

17 Dec

I’ve decided to put my rating in the title so you can decide if you want to read on and see if the book is worth your time. Thoughts? Also, I’m only one book away from meeting my goal of 70 books for the year! Hopefully I’ll be done by the end of the week and I can dedicate some time to the 900 page Harry Potter in Spanish I’ve been neglecting

I received this book as a part of the Goodreads First Reads program. This has had no influence over my review of the book.

Image from the blog link in the description.

Image from the blog link in the description.

The Daughter of the God King by Anne Cleeland

I love historical fiction. Even more, I love historical fiction about places and times I know little to nothing about. When I saw a book about Regency period Egypt, I was all over it. Add in a mystery, which is something I’m always excited about, and I was pumped.

Hattie Blackhouse is the daughter of two famous Egyptologists but the fame annoys her more than anything. Hattie’s parents are always gone and once she turns 18, she’s determined to make her how way. Determined to marry her longtime friend, Robbie, she leaves for Paris to find him already engaged. Craving adventure, she sets off for Egypt to try and find her parents, who have gone missing. Hattie realizes her parents were involved in an intricate plot to bring Napoleon back to power and has an even deeper realization that the Blackhouses are not her parents at all, but a couple that was bribed to raise her to conceal her true identity as Napoleon’s bastard child. Along the way to the end, Hattie falls in love, gets married, and parading as the Daughter of the God King, helps cripple Napoleon’s plans.

What I remember most about the book is the character of Berry. He is Hattie’s main love interest and eventual husband. His secret allegiance keeps the reader and Hattie guessing till the end and even beyond. I am still a little bit confused what exactly Berry’s allegiance is to and why so many different characters thought he was aligned with them. My favorite character was Hattie’s escort, Bing. I kept hoping Bing would play a bigger role in the book because I found her so interesting, but she stayed the unwavering support Hattie needed without playing a big role herself.

I’m trying to think what an overlying message of the story would be. I think the best answer is You make your own future. Hattie went from orphan to bastard very quickly and thought her life was over. She’d convinced herself she could be nothing better than a mistress and ended up a countess. She wasn’t held back by who she was by birth and used her personality and position to make herself into who she wanted to be.

Napoleon’s attempt to regain power was a major plot point at the end of the book. One of the questions Hattie asks (which I think is well deserving of an answer) is who would support a despot that was so universally disliked that he was sentenced to a prison sentence on an island? The answer is the right people. I think this says a lot about modern politics as well; if the right people like a person, they can maintain power. This was probably more true when the military was more actively involved in the government, such as Napoleon’s reign over Europe, but can still ring true today.

There were some parts of the book that confused me. I think the small hits the characters were dropping were very obvious to the writer, but didn’t come as strongly across to the reader. I didn’t catch that Hattie was Napoleon’s daughter until I’d read the paragraph three times. I was confused for a long time with concern to the back and forth about Hattie’s parents’ fate. Were they dead or hiding? I wasn’t sure until Hattie went to the graveyard and even then, I still thought they would come out of the woodwork.

Writer’s Takeaways: This book had a very fast moving and engaging plot. There were a lot of layers to it, but each character stood out in his or her own way so that they weren’t confused. I think Cleeland did a good job of pacing her big reveal moments throughout the book. They came toward the end and weren’t too close together. I liked the mixture of mystery, some adventure, and romance (though it felt a little forced at times).

4 out of 5 stars, overall solid read.

How to Date a Writer

16 Dec

Since I started writing and hanging out with writers, I’ve been feeling out the murky parts of my relationship with my husband it pertains to my writing habits. I saw the below image on Rachael Standord’s blog and I thought this defined perfectly what I’d been thinking.

tips on how to date a writerHow wonderfully true! When I tell people I’ve written a book,  I want to punch them in the face when they ask when they’ll see it at Barnes and Nobel. When someone tells me they’ve ever thought of writing a book but don’t have the time, I want to tell them that I don’t have the time either, but I still did it so they need to get their butts in gear. My browser history while wiring my 1920s novel was more about alcohol and Tommy guns than anything else and I am not an alcoholic nor a gun aficionado. If I’m writing and you want to say hi, be careful because I’m likely to go  after you with a pen. Ever time another writer comes over, I clean my bookshelf so they can look at it, because I know they will. I even leave it out at parties and hope that someone will ask to borrow something.

Are these true for you as well? What else would you add to this list?

Until next time, Reader, write on.

Novel Girls: Anticipation, Dialogue, and Short Stories

12 Dec

We had a novel girls meeting last Thursday and I’m just now getting around to talking about it. That should tell you how many book’s I’ve been reading and how busy the holidays have been. I forgot to take notes at the time, but there are a few things that stuck in my head and I remember well.

KK brought the next section of her WIP fantasy novel. I’m in love with her concept and was very excited to read it. Her story flashes between present day and an event that was set in motion exactly 100 years before that affects the present (yes, this is vague but I don’t want to give anything away before it becomes a best-seller). To me, there is a lot of tension to see what happens in the events 100 years before and how quickly (or slowly) they are developing because there is a deadline for something dramatic to happen. The reader starts knowing the date in modern times when the event occurs and counting the days down in the flashback would build anticipation for the dramatic turn of events. KK loved this idea and when she is done writing will be able to go back in and add dates.

This had me thinking about building tension in general. In many stories, there is a looming event; something the characters are preparing for or dreading. Sometimes the characters don’t see it coming but the reader does. In The Hunger Games (first book), it’s the games itself. In the over-arching series it’s the rebellion. For Harry Potter, we have a looming event of the Tri-Wizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire and we also have the series-wide event of the final battle with Voldemort. All of these events must be built toward, either within the book or within the series.

How do you build tension/anticipation in your works? What have you read that kept you waiting on the edge of your seat for a particular event?

We read another excerpt from my YA Historical Fiction novel. KK gave me some feedback that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside; she loved my dialogue. I see so many writers who struggle to write dialogue and it makes me feel great that someone found my writing not only believable, but good. I’ve included a sample of this below. This is a conversation between my protagonist, June, and her best friend, Marty.

“There’s a rumor that after the dance hall, you and Tony went out for drinks and you stumbled home with your arm slung over his shoulder.”

“After the dance hall, my feet hurt and I limped home with him supporting me.” She giggled.

“All right, another story is that you spend your time at the library plotting how you’ll get your revenge on Sarah Hamilton.”

“I spend our time at the library doing homework assignments and plotting with Tony how we can be a convincing couple.”

“Have you ever thought of getting back at Sarah?”

“Not particularly.”

“But don’t you hate her? Don’t you want to get even?”

June considered this for a second. “No. I’ve realized I wasn’t happy with Donny. I don’t think I was ever important to him.”

When I write dialogue, I say it all in my head and try to create it like it’s a film. I picture the characters and the space they’re in and then I have the conversation with myself. So, for the third line, it seemed natural to me that the filler ‘all right’ would be used. Marty would need a second to think about the next rumor he wanted to talk about. When Marty asks June if she hates Sarah, he starts the question with the word ‘but.’ I’m very well aware this is not proper grammar, but I’m going to argue very few of us speak with proper grammar. It’s what I would say. It’s what I picture my best guy-friend saying. It’s natural. Similarly, if I were June, I would take a second to respond to his question so I have June take a second to respond. For characters I don’t want to sound at all like me, I’ll think about what my co-worker or husband or friend might say. I’ve considered having someone read the dialogue aloud with me to see if it sounds the way I want it to.

The piece Nicole brought was a short story with two characters we’d already met in another short story. It made KK and I curious how the stories could connect and if it would be possible to make a complete story out of the character arcs. Since our fellow Novel Girl SG worked on a collection of related short stories for NaNo and I’m currently reading a collection of short stories (The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury), this got me thinking about the difference between a collection and a novel. SGs work and my current book have stories that focus on different characters in each story but have an overall theme or setting. Other sets of short stories, such as Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories and the ones Nicole is working on.

I want your opinion, Reader, on what makes a group of stories a collection? What is the necessary joining factor and how does this differentiate from a novel?

Unfortunately SG was unable to join us, but we did go to her place for a holiday part this past weekend. I mention it because we played a wonderful writers’ game. It’s called Storymatic and I think it would make a wonderful gift for any writer in one’s life. SG’s non-writing friends were not as enthused at first but started to realize how fun it could be by our second game. If anyone’s looking for Christmas present ideas for a fellow writer, check it out.

That’s all I’ve got for today, folks. Until next time, write on.

Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

25 Nov

Before NaNoWriMo began, Nicole recommended this article to me, knowing that I couldn’t help but blog about it.

Author Susanna Calkins was a historian before she was an author. When she began writing, she quickly realized that 100% historical accuracy was not plausible in her novel set in 17th Century England. She shares some guidelines for other historical fiction writers. I’ll summarize and give my opinions below.

  1. Understand the period and everyday life in it.
    I think this is rule #1 and I discussed in a post about my own research process how I did this. It’s a good background and first step.
  2. Show history through character interaction.
    Calkins relates this to the ‘show don’t tell’ rule. A character marveling over the new electric streetlamps is more ‘showing’ than explaining that electric power is new in some cities and that many were still amazed by the new technology (telling).
  3. Have your characters question their place in society.
    I don’t know if I agree that this is a steadfast rule, but I definitely used this technique in WIP1, my YA Historical Fiction. It’s a good way to talk about societal change that will come and to ‘show’ why the society is the way it is during the given time period.
  4. The Internet can be good
    Agree here. Need to know what the interior of a 1927 Lincoln looks like? Need to see demographic information from the 1939 Census? The Internet is your friend. But be warned, this goes along with our next fact…
  5. The Internet can be bad.
    Want to know if Al Capone had a secret lover? Are you thinking that the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was a conspiracy? These are topics best discussed in books where fact checking is required and hearsay on the Internet isn’t published. Go to the library.
  6. Don’t get caught up in the details.There will be times that the details seem so important that the story gets lost. Don’t let this happen to you! When you feel overwhelmed by details, stop your researching and write! Get that first draft out and then go back and research if Cokes were served in bottles or cups at pharmacies. It’s not essential to your plot.
  7. Admit that you are going to mess up.
    There are trolls out there who like nothing better than to find an error in your well researched book. Did you mention electricity when it’s not likely it would have existed? Do the ages of your characters imply their father came home early from fighting in Europe? Your readers will catch it so don’t worry.  Just say thank you and move on.

Do any of you write Historical Fiction? What have you found are some good tips for writing in another time period? Please share in the comments section.

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

29 Oct

My second First Reads book is completed! I was really luck to have a lot of free time to read over the past few days so this is going up quickly. I’m working on one other post that my friend recommended I write, so look for a post on research coming soon. But for now, I leave you with this, a review of Cohen Corsanti’s first novel.

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

Cohen Corasanti’s first book is based strongly on her experiences living in Israel during high school and university. If the adage that everyone has a book in them, this was hers. Though I received a free copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program, that has had no affect on my review of the book.

The Almond Tree follows the character of Ichmad Hamid throughout his life. The book starts with his family living on the orange farm in Palestine where his family has owned for decades. Quickly, we see him pushed off the land by Israeli soldiers and into a one-room house for his family. But even that can’t last and the home is soon destroyed and his father sent to jail. Ichmad and younger brother Abass go work in construction and must abandon their education to the chagrin of their former teacher. Teacher Mohammad teaches Ichmad at night to neuter his talent for math and physics and convinces him to enter a math competition in Jerusalem where he wins a scholarship to the Hebrew University. His mother is unwilling to let him go but his father insists and Ichmad goes to live amongst the enemies of his people, the Jews.

This story is one of loss and perseverance. Ichmad must learn to forgive those who have destroyed his family and work along with the Jews he has been raised to despise. I’ll stop my plot summary here, but know that almost nothing goes right for Ichmad throught the book. It’s almost safe to predict that anything that seems to be going right will fail. From this respect, the book is very lifelike.

I greatly enjoyed the pace at which this book went. The plot went hurtling forward and I finished it much quicker than I thought I would. For that reason, I’ll say this book was a great fictional showing of the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It was educational and entertaining.

Cohen Corasanti is obviously preaching peace and understanding through education. With Ichmad’s schooling, he learns to interact with and make friends with Jews. He sees understanding and acceptance on both sides while studying at school. His nephew has the chance to study at MIT, but cannot get out of Gaza to seize the opportunity. The nephew loses hope with no chance of education and no way of ever leaving Gaza because his father (Ichmad’s brother) is a member of Hamas.

I’m very inclined to agree with these opinions. I feel with education comes the ability to understand without agreement and the ability to find alternative solutions. When someone does not have a proper education, they gather their information from any source they can find and this has the potential to be the opinions of someone with a strong opinion. Not having been taught how to form opinions and seek sources, someone without education could latch on to these ideas. Cohen Corasanti has characters that exist on both sides of this spectrum.

Without sounding political, I’ll say that The Almond Tree goes into the roots of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and how both sides have manipulated and been unfair to the others. Because the main character is Palestinian, the characters opinions are mainly anti-Israeli and focus on the suffering of the Palestinians.

This book was compared to The Kite Runner and I understand the connection but disagree with the comparison. While Hosseini’s book is also set in the Middle East and chronicles a character who moves to America and looks for redemption from what he’s left behind, I was a much bigger fan of Hosseini’s book. That’s not to say that The Almond Tree is at all a bad book (I’m giving it four out of five), but that Hosseini’s is, in my opinion, much better written. He skips lulls in the action and gives great scenes. Cohen Corasanti is so concentrated on giving the history that she is forced to shorten scenes that are very central to the plot. Her narrator didn’t give much emotion in his story, which makes it harder to sympathize with Ichmad.

I’m very glad I read this book because it was able to humanize the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for me. As a student, I learned about the history of the conflict on a national level. We studied the Camp David Accords and the wars for the Sinai Peninsula. We never talked about Palestinians jailed for over a decade for something they didn’t do or the hoops someone would have to jump through to visit family in Gaza. Cohen Corasanti’s book helped me see this problem through the eyes of a citizen caught in the conflict and I’m very glad I read it.

Writer’s Takeaways: As I mentioned, the lack of emotion in Ichmad made him harder to relate to and I think the story suffered from that. I would have liked to see fewer scenes and instead more emotional description and reaction from the characters which would have helped me sympathize with them more. The author’s ability to keep her plot interesting and moving forward is more than commendable. She’s written quite the page-turner which I think all writers hope to produce.

Four out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.

6 Secrets to Pantsing (Article)

21 Oct

This will be a shorter post, but I wanted to address Pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants) again as we’re leading up to NaNo.  Nicole sent me this article that I wanted to share with you all.  It’s called 6 Secrets to Writing a Novel Without an Outline.  It’s well worth the read!

I think that even as an ourliner, there are some good things to learn from this article.

  1. Don’t be formulaic- there doesn’t have to be a standard story-line progression to your plot, keep it interesting.
  2. Make sure the things in your outline that you will introduce/foreshadow deliver upon the expectations you set for them.
  3. Re-Evaluate if you’re going in the right direction.  It was suggested to me that as an outliner, it’s good to stop half-way through and see if the plot is still heading in the right direction based on the first half.  Re-outlining might be in order.

I hope you enjoy the article and that if you are an outliner, you can still learn from it.

Novel Girls: Emotion, Implication, and New Adults

15 Oct

The Novel Girls are at it again! This time around, Nicole came over and we each went through a new chapter. My husband is a little sick and he stayed on the couch, contributing his two cents whenever he could (annoying English majors).

The first thing I want to address is emotion-driven conversations. I have a very critical and emotional conversations between two of my characters in the scene Nicole reviewed today. I concentrated so much on what was said that the first part of the conversation is mainly dialogue. In the second part, I add in some action and reaction. Nicole’s suggestion was to add in some action because the emotion of the dialogue was lost without descriptive reaction. She thought the scene was rushed and needed to be slowed down with some action because it’s very crucial to the plot.

The second thing we talked about is when something is implied in the text.  Some authors will allude to a fact as a part of foreshadowing and some authors will allude to something so that they don’t have to say it outright. This is a very tricky area between being obvious enough and being too obvious. I think the best way to get through this is to have people read your manuscript.  If several people (in your target age range) pick up on what you’re implying, then you’re good to go.  If more than one are left hanging, then you may need to come on stronger.

The last thing we discussed is something dear to our hearts: books. To be specific, books that we as 20-somethings can relate to. Nicole’s WIP is about college-age woman and my NaNo WIP is going to focus on a woman in her mid-twenties. With books like Fangirl getting so much attention, we wondered where books about 20-somethings were before? Part of this is the emerging New Adult genre. When I did my two-hit Google research, I saw a lot of mixed feelings on the genre. Before I read about it, I defined New Adult as books written for (mostly) women in their 20s and 30s who like the simplicity of YA writing but want content more geared toward themselves. This genre sits precariously between YA, contemporary literature, erotica, and romance novels. That’s a lot to balance!

One of my hits was an article from the Huffington Post that went out to defend the New Adult novel. I happen to agree that this is a wonderful genre and that it is very different from the aforementioned genres. I’ll take a second to explain my reasons:

  • YA: While the writing style might be similar, characters will be older in age, probably 19-29 or so, and will be experiencing things teenagers don’t.  The content can be more sexually explicit and contain a lot about coming of age alone in the real world (not finding yourself in high school with your parents around).
  • Contemporary Literature: The themes in a lot of main-stream literature is much more complex than the theme of a New Adult novel would be.  The simplified theme is what makes New Adult stand out and appealing to people who previously read YA.
  • Erotica: The purpose of erotica is purely for what its name implies; erotic.  New Adult does tend to have more sexually explicit scenes, but unlike erotica, they serve to move the plot forward and are not the end-all of the piece.
  • Romance Novels: This genre focuses on the romantic relationships between (normally) a man and woman.  While this is a common theme in New Adult, many New Adult novels are more ‘coming of age’ or ‘finding myself’ novels that may or may not have romantic relationships involved.

I hope this explains what I believe are the biggest differences in the New Adult genre.  It’s a genre I think is going to stay relatively small due to the low number of readers in that age group (many of them being college age or with young children).

Reader, what are your thoughts on the New Adult genre?  Do you like it? Write it? Read it? Was my writing advice helpful this week?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Prompt Group: Vessel of Place, Using Other Senses, and a few Tips

10 Oct

Time for my prompt group yet again!  We did some exercises this time that were not exactly prompts, but were designed to teach us to write better.  The first was one my friend MB did at a writer’s conference.  It was: Imagine a situation with a strong emotion attached to it and pick an object to describe it.  This is called Vessel of Place, a way of saying that an object can have more emotional memory attached to it than the memory of an event.  (I hope that makes sense.)

The second one was a two part exercise.  We first were instructed to describe a place we had recently visited.    The second part was to use other senses.  Specifically, we had to take out all references to sight.  Mine didn’t have that much, so I worked instead to add more senses into the prose.  I’m including only the second here.  Please criticize me if I used too many visual references.

The final prompt was to take an object from the second prompt and do another vessel of place exercise with it.

Please post your exercises as well!  I’d love to see them.  I’m posting my responses below and then will end this post with some brief writing tips we went over.

Prompt 1

The wine glass was half filled so by default it was half emptied.  I stared at it and saw the reflections of the lights from around the dining room glaring back at me and hurting my eyes.  Looking through it, I could see him sitting on the other side of the table, his own glass of wine in his hand.  He swirled it around and around, mixing the sweet wine with a bitter bite to it.  I took a drink myself and what had previously seemed sweet and aromatic now seemed bitter and ashen.  It was funny how a few words could change the taste of a vintage wine.

I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure I lost more than my taste for wine that night.  The glass slowly drained in the same way the life slowly drained out of him.  What was before savory had turned ashen.  Link the life blood draining out of him as he left this world, the red wine into my mouth and disappeared forever.  The reflections in the glass faded as the night ended and the light in his eyes slowly went out over months of illness.

The pattern on the tablecloth that night reflected strangely in the base of my wine glass and looked like a cross.  I now believe it was a plus sign.  It was telling me, “It’s a plus that you’re with him now.  It’s a plus that you get to see this happen to him before it happens to you.”  But it was a plus for HIV positive, which is always a negative.

Prompt 2, Part 2

The ground was soft and muddy.  Most of the sites had ground the consistency of a baby’s diaper and the ones that weren’t were none too common.  When we finally found a place, the rain let up just enough to make us brave enough to venture out of the car.  Only one site had both a grille and a fireplace, both critical things in our opinion that the site director didn’t seem to find important.  A square of flat land had a few sticks that we threw into the woods so that they wouldn’t poke us in the back all night.  We should have considered that we’d want them later for firewood.  My husband opened the trunk and we got out the small tent, only then realizing that I’d forgotten the big tent at home.  This isn’t exactly what you want to realize 3.5 hours from home when you’re on a budget camping trip.

$106 later we were back with the roomiest tent in the site and were happily setting up for our other friends to arrive.  The sun was finally coming through the clouds and the humidity started to dip below 100%.

Prompt 3

The car smelled like a wet dog.  The carpets had mud rubbed into them from the college friends who didn’t bother to wipe their boots after hiking.  I found an entire McDonalds meal under the passenger’s seat.  It seems someone didn’t listen when I asked them to take their trash out when we left the car.

The squished bug on the inside of the back windshield will still be there six months later and the smell of spilt beer will never really leave the trunk.  The back seat still smells like river and the driver’s seat will always feel like shiver exasperation at the follies of men and boys.  I saw the ‘emergency tent’ we bought when I went to put my summer beach bag away for the winter.  It reminded me that even if you forget the shelter, you can remember to bring over 5 gallons of beer, as long as you have your priorities straight.  That’s enough return money to buy another 12 pack, in case you’re interested.


A Few Tips

I won’t be too long winded here, but we discussed a few tips and techniques for writers to utilize.  The first tip was to start with a list of names so that it’s easy to grab a name for a throw-away character while writing and you don’t have to stop and look around for one.  One member of our group suggested BehindtheName.com to look for names based on origin and meaning.  I’ve used this site for a piece I’m working on and it’s very helpful, I highly recommend it as well.

The second is something most writers know already; that every detail about your character and the words they say should give meaning to the character.  For example, I can say that Joe ate breakfast.  All that says is that Joe’s hungry.  If I say Joe ate a cold Poptart, you might think “Joe’s in a hurry and a bachelor.”  If I say that Joe had bacon and eggs you will probably think “Joe’s a family man with a wife who wakes up really early.”  Either way, the detail of what he ate tells you who Joe is.  All details should tell us about the character.

The third trick might sound like my earlier post about strong language, but it’s not to use ‘lazy’ words.  For example, everyone wears shoes.  ‘Shoe’ is a lazy word.  A woman wears stilettos or boots.  A child wears tennis shoes, a grandpa wears Oxfords.  ‘Shoe’ is a lazy word that doesn’t give us much description.  Someone can be ‘nice,’ but it’s better if they’re friendly or pleasant.  Try to stay away from very general words when a stronger noun would do better.

The last is one that I think is critical for good characterization and it’s to use a ‘language bank’ for each character.  We each have a vocabulary that’s uniquely our own and when we speak we say something differently than someone else would say it.  Also, individuals have phrases that they use a lot that another person might never use.  My example of this is Jay Gatsby who always says ‘old sport.’  Once it’s established that Gatsby is the one saying this, Fitzgerald could even leave off dialogue tags because the reader knew that was part of Gatsby’s vernacular.  I plan to do this with my WIP characters.  I want to take any scene in which a character talks and put the dialogue into one document.  It should read almost like a stream of consciousness from that character and individual quirks about how the person talks should be evident in each one.

I hope these tips are useful to you.  Please leave a comment and let me know or leave a comment with your own tip.  Thanks for reading. 🙂