Tag Archives: novels

Moments to Bloom

This year was tough on my garden. Due to the excessive rains and our clay-filled soil, my perennials experienced a lot of root rot, and I had to replace established plants in my flower beds. Then, I came home from up north over the Fourth of July weekend and found my hostas blooming. A peek in the Farmer’s Almanac supports my hostas’ proclamation via a forecasted mid-October snowfall. “Fall is right around the corner.

I hate shortened summers in part because I love flowers so much. My yard is filled with thousands of blooms in varying shades of pink, purple, blue and yellow. I try to mix perennials that bloom at different times and add in a healthy dose of annuals so I always have something flowering from spring through fall. When my iris die off, my lilies take over followed by an end show from my mums. Each plant takes its turn in the spotlight before making way for the next blossoms.

Some bloom longer than others. Some are brighter or more fragrant. Some appeal to niche gardeners while others seem more universal. Every garden, like every book store, has hybrids and purebreds, quick blooms or hardy evergreens.

Books and blooms. These are the things I live for. All of them have a special season. They challenge us, soothe us and keep us hopeful.

As my reading place will migrate from the deck to the fireplace, I wonder what new books will bloom in time for fall reading. I have my eye on a few that are yet to hit bookstores for the first time, as well as some tried and true classics I’d like to revisit.

In the book world, are you more partial to perennials that hang around year after year, or are you enticed by the newness of annuals? Which do you enjoy more, the ones “everybody” is reading or the offbeat gems that are kitche and unique? What’s blooming on your TBR list now?

Curious minds want to know.

P.S. For my writerly friends, I’ve got a post up over at From the Write Angle blog.

The Aroma of Reading

I wish computers had scratch and sniff screens. If they did, I’d let you smell my coffee. Long story short, I used to Hate the bitter, black water. In fact, I didn’t start drinking it until about three years ago. My relationship with coffee began with chai tea in the mornings with Dear Hubby. That is, until shipping it to our little wilderness outpost got to be an expensive pain in the rear.

Yet, the experience of sipping my tea on the deck in the wee hours of the morning before the kids got up for school and Dear Hubby trudged off to work was something I refused to give up. So I started drinking coffee. Or rather, I started drinking a splash of coffee in my creamer.

Today, I actually use more coffee than creamer. In part because Dear Daughter and I have started a love affair with flavored coffee. This morning’s brew: Toasted Pecan Kona Snickerdoo with hazelnut creamer. Yep, three coffees mixed together to create a drink that tastes like liquid Girl Scout Cookies.

Yesterday, we slurped down a pot of Double Caramel Chocolate Brownie. Who knows what delights tomorrow will bring.

Regardless, my house smells yummy, my taste buds are tickled, and you’re probably wondering what the heck coffee has to do with reading. It will come as no surprise when I say that a novel is exactly like a cup of joe.

Seriously, a well-written passage awakens the senses and stimulates the brain. Coffee–and great literature–is calming/exhilarating, and slightly addictive. It is also highly versatile with enough flavors, caffeine combos, and creamer options to keep even the pickiest drinkers happy. No two pots need ever taste the same.

Reading is similarly nuanced. It is personal and intimate, with each reader connecting to characters and plot lines on a different level and for a variety of reasons. Even reading the same story years later can taste as different as the first sip of the morning from the very last swallow of the day. Each drop–each word–in between should be savored for what it means at that moment.

Yeah, a good book is exactly like a mug of specialty java.

What’s brewing in your pot today? What books have you enjoyed recently and why? What’s next on your TBR list? Which books have grown with/on you over the years?

Curious minds want to know. In the meantime, I have a mug of coffee in one hand, The Light Between Oceans in the other and a rocking chair waiting outside.

A to Z: Great Literature

Last year, a tiny handful of my speech team traveled to the Cities for state speech. We stayed in a hotel with the Adrian speechies where we were blessed with a late night reading of a ridiculous picture book on pants.

This pants book has become a running joke between several of our members. Much to their dismay, nobody can remember the name of the book.

Sadly, some of my very favorite books from my childhood have suffered this same fate. In my mind, they were great books. Fabulous. Everything a fantastic story should be.

Being out of print may say otherwise, but that doesn’t change my childhood mind. Those books were great.

So, what makes literature GREAT? In my mind:

  • Character connection. If I don’t click with the character, there’s no point in reading. But clicking doesn’t mean loving. It simply means that I care enough about the character to invest my time in his/her life.
  • Relevance to my life. Can the story cross the time in which it was written and still matter on a gut level? White Fang, for instance…
  • Some sort of social or moral commentary. Will a book change me, or at least get me thinking? That’s a keystone for great literature.

This might not be the list others use to determine the greatness of novels littering bookstores and classrooms across America, but it works for me. If a story doesn’t move me in some way, it cannot make the Great Literature bookshelf in my mind.

What characteristics must a novel have to make your great literature list? Why?

Curious minds want to know.

Oh  yeah, and the pants book: if you have ever read a book about a dude whose wife made him pants and everyone wanted to touch them because they were so awesome, please pass along the title. They would love to find a copy of this pantalicious story.

P.S. Because I somehow missed E and F: E is for EEP, as in shoot, I missed Friday. And for the fact that as a writer for kids, I often make up words. Some people like them, some people hate them. I personally think they can be fun and give a little character flair.

F is for family and all the freakin’ awesome support they give me. They rule my world. Thanks so much for letting me write while the dust bunnies run free.

 

Faith and the novel: how much is too much?

The other day our local pool shut down for a few hours after someone mistakenly used it for a toilet.

Right now, I’m currently involved in a debate between several writers  regarding religion in mainstream fiction: is it okay to mention it, and if yes, to what degree? After all, we don’t want to push our audience out of the pool by filling our stories up with too much…

Well, you get the picture.

But seriously, for writers with faith who are not writing inspirational novels, the question of how much is too much can cause us to question our stories and our characters. Will the very mention of God make readers toss our novels?

I am a Lutheran by choice. I pray for my friends and family, though not all of them believe that prayers matter. I do this because I love them, not because I want to convert them. I don’t back down and hide the fact that I’m a believer, but I try very hard not to shove it down anyone’s throat. I respect that everyone has their own set of core beliefs and values and that we are free to live our lives without being heckled because of them.

Yet sometimes when I write, my characters are believers as well. They live their lives with their faith as a part of who they are. Quite simply, religion is a part of their make-up, be they flute-playing short girls going into the tenth grade or muscle-bound seventeen-year-old boys who play soccer, eat an entire pizza for snack and attend church on Sunday with their families. My references to religion fall within the scope of my MCs’ personalities and experiences. They are most definitely not a sermon.

So my question to you, as readers, is this: how does the mention of God, faith or religion enter into your decision to read a book or keep reading it? Do you read books that challenge your beliefs, or do you try to read only those that align with your core values?

In other words, if my MC says “a quick prayer”, would this be considered too much reference to religion to be mainstream? If it is mentioned that he goes to church, would this change your impression of him–make you like him more or less? Or doesn’t this type of faith reference impact your overall feelings?

Curious minds definitely want to know.

*As a side note: Healthy discussion is encouraged and all beliefs and responses are welcome as long as they remain respectful and contribute something useful to the discussion. Those that attack–either for against religion–may be edited or deleted altogether. Thanks for adhering to this policy.religi

 

Pirates, Dogs and Books, Oh My!

We had a dog.  She was a good dog.  She loved hunting, slept most of the day and was fabulous with the kids.  Then said dog got old.  She no longer hunts, still sleeps most of the day and remains fabulous with the kids.

So, as many of you know, DH bought Dog Number Two.  She hunts, she sleeps (sometimes) and she’s great with kids.  She is a Labrador, after all, and labs are famous for these abilities.  It’s why they have a long history in Dear Hubby’s family.

But just because she’s a lab doesn’t mean she’s a replica of our first dog.  In fact, Kallie is a black lab and Bailey is buff.  While she doesn’t work out in the gym, her hair is very different than Kallie’s.  She sheds more in one day than Kallie does in an entire week.  (If I would have known that pre-purchase, I would have mutinied.)

She also drools more, barks more and jumps all the freakin’ time.  Her world is run by her belly, and therefore, so is ours.  Kallie used to leave food in her bowl for days, nibbling a kibble here and there.  Bailey starts whining by 5:15 in the morning.  Yet, she’s a bit endearing in that she plays constantly and will roll a ball back and forth with her humans.  Kallie has never fetched a ball in her life.

They’re the same, but different.  Slight variations of each other.  Each better at some things than the other, and each far more annoying in their own ways.  They have one purpose: fetch pheasants.  They are the same, but different.

And that’s the thing to remember about marketability in the publishing world.  Just because a genre is hot doesn’t mean we should all write Hot Genre Novels and they will sell.  In fact, it could mean the opposite.  By the time the shelves are filled with one genre, it is likely that agents and editors are no longer looking for those types of novels.

To even be considered for purchase, a novel must truly stand out and stand on its own merits.  It must be different enough from what has come to warrant hard-earned marketing dollars by a publishing company.  It must be unique–in tone, in voice, in style, not just in characterization or setting.  Yet, it can be done.

“Dystopian is out.”  Or so I’ve heard–we’ve all heard it.  Then my wonderfully, talented writing friend, Mindy McGinnis, sold her dystop in a majorly good deal.  This tells me that dystopian–as a gravy train genre–may be heading through the tunnel and out of town, but stellar dystopian novels are alive and kickin’.

It also gives me hope, because I have a chapter book manuscript I love dearly.  (My agent loves it, too, so I know I’m not completely biased.)  And while Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean are hogging the seven seas, I believe the pirate ship hasn’t sailed altogether.  I believe that somewhere in the vast ocean of publishing is a home port with room for a tiny vessel carrying my beloved pirate family.  I believe that my tone, style and voice, along with my characters and plot, are truly unique and not just a slight variation of what’s already out there.

I will never give up on this project, but I’m smart enough to know I can’t sail aimlessly in saturated waters.  It’s why I write nearly every day.  It’s why I have nearly a dozen completed manuscripts–some ready for submission and some not quite.  It’s why I keep my eye on the hunt and why I’m not afraid to buy a new dog.

How about you, dear writers, do you chase publishing trends or stay well away from hot markets?  Why or why not?  Do you let the fate of one novel dictate the fate of all your novels?  How and why? 

As a reader, what do you believe is more important in setting a novel apart from the masses already lining the book store shelves: a unique voice, a unique story idea or unique characters?  Do you read exclusively within specific genres?  If so, does this ever get tiresome?  Do the stories run together after a while?  What truly sets one novel apart from another?

Curious minds want to know.

Writing Research: Pain or Pleasure?

I don’t write sci-fi or medical thrillers or historical anything.  Not because I don’t love reading them, but because the research needed to make the finished product accurate and believable is outside my realm of capability.

And yet, I research heavily for almost everything I write.  For an entire year before penning Whispering Minds, my YA psychological thriller, I scoured the annals of psychology and read book after book–both memoirs and hardcore textbooks–to get a broad understanding of my subject matter, as well as a very nuanced view of individual cases.  And I have a psychology background!

Before penning even one word about my Native American MC, I read countless websites, highlighted hundreds of passages in several new books I purchased and conversed with real-live Indians.

Now, I find myself steeped in viewing youtube videos and reading a multitude of new books on a certain delicate subject.  And this is just the start.  Over the course of the next six months, I will continue to ferret out as much information as I can on the matter, although, barring a strange occurence, I don’t plan to start this next novel until November.

I’m an information junkie.  I love reading about any and every topic I can think of.  I love piecing together little things to create something new and exciting.  I love writing fiction.  I love the creative license it gives me to manipulate facts within the realm of acceptable.

But first I must learn the realm before I can push the outer boundaries.  And so I research.  To me, reading about obscure topics is exhilarating.  Research of this kind is so much pleasure that I almost feel guilty.

How about you?  Do you research your novel ideas before ever writing, or do you wing it and confirm facts later?  Or do you simply write within the realm of the “common known” to avoid painful research?  Or, conversely, do you write so far out of the realm of normal that you create a world of unknowns?

Does research give you hives, or do you derive pleasure from tracking down any and all information you can on a topic?  What does research look like for you?

Curious minds want to know.

The Lies We Teach: in literature and in life

An attorney waves away illegal behavior, dismissing college students’ acts of falsifying business records, criminal impersonation and scheming to defraud as not belonging in the criminal justice system.  His reason, according to a Foxnews.com article, “You’re not talking about violent crime.  You’re not talking about drugs.”

So what are we talking about?  Affluent students paying others to cheat on their ACT and SAT tests so they can earn acceptance into college with better scores.

I call it theft.  These kids–the test takers and the ones paying for the good scores–are stealing seats in college classes from hard-working kids.  Potentially, they are stealing another child’s future.  No big deal, right?  I mean, it’s not drugs.

I call it disrespect.  For our justice system, for the very foundation of our equal-opportunity country, for the people who have died for our freedom to be more than.  For those students who bust their butts to overcome obstacles the cheaters never dream exist.  Again, nobody was hurt, right?  At least not physically.

I call it many things, but those words are nothing compared to what I call the adults who try to dismiss this behavior with a wave of their hands.

If a poor,  young black man used a fake ID, what do you think would happen?  I guarantee an attorney would feel compelled to prosecute this very illegal and criminal act.  Because, guess what?  It’s against the law to falsify documents and impersonate other people.

If a quiet young lady dressed in black wearing black lipstick and black fingernail polish with dyed, jet-black hair was busted for scheming to defraud, she’d find no sympathy from a tolerant attorney like the one above.

If my dyslexic son earned the best score on his ACT possible based on his struggle with a severe learning disability, he would still get bumped out of that Ivy League college because his best test score cannot compete with those who cheat.  It doesn’t mean he’s not intelligent.  It just means he can’t take a test as well as the cheaters can.

But, hey, no big deal.  Life isn’t fair and all that jazz.  I get that.

What I don’t get is why we perpetuate so many double standards.  A broken law is a broken law is a broken law.  Crime is crime, no matter if a poor person commits it or if the affluent use it to gain yet another upper hand when they already have so much.

And then I realized that writers utilize a great deal of these double standards.  It’s how we create tension and up the stakes.  We situationally condone our characters’ less than stellar behaviors, and readers buy into it because the end justifies the means.

It’s okay, Harry, you can sneak out of Hogwarts to track down that next clue.

Don’t worry about killing that werewolf, kidnapping that baby, slaying the bad guy, lying to the cops, running from the law, falsifying your passport, stealing that car, drinking your under-age self sick.  You’re in a tough spot and your heart is in the right place.

My question today is two-fold.  A) Is it possible to live in a black and white world where the law is always the law regardless of circumstances?  Where the poor mom shoplifting formula for her starving infant is just as guilty as the rich woman stealing ninety-nine cent fingernail polish for the rush it gives her or the young dude five-finger discounting condoms so he doesn’t get his girl preggers but is too embarrassed to take the package to the counter where his dad’s best friend works?  Yeah, that kind of black and white.

B) Is it possible to write a novel where the MC breaks no rules and his/her morality always remains in tact?  Do you even want to read a book like that?  How do you write/read a novel with elements that directly challenge your own personal beliefs? 

Curious minds want to know.

Author Bios: What do you like to know?

Last night at conferences, Middle Son gave us a beautifully illustrated idea of how he sees his parents.

In his father, he sees a love for his family, his car and hunting.  In Middle’s mind, both his parents like blue skies.  Me, I like gum, my computer and my family, including one of our hunting labs.  (Notice which one is missing?)

Wonder what his teacher thinks of these parent quirks.  Bullets flying, fast cars and computer keys.  We sound a bit…odd.  Especially the gum part.  Which, incidentally, is one of the things I associate most strongly with my own mother.  Cinnamon Trident.

I’m currently working on my author bio for a short story anthology.  As yet, I’m not quite sure what to say.

How about you, dear readers?  What kinds of things do you like to know about the authors you read?  Do you love the professional deets only, or do you prefer a bit of personal quirk in your author blurb?  Have you ever tracked down an author’s blog, website or other published works because of their author bio?  Or, do you skip reading these altogether? 

Do you like knowing how a story came about or what the author is working on next? 

You tell me, because curious minds really need to know.

Get Off Your Soap Box: Literacy

I have a few soap box issues.  Namely child welfare and literacy.  Now, child welfare is a pretty big soap box and can include things like food, shelter and literacy, which means I very likely have stacked my soap boxes on top of each other.  Not a good thing if I ever need to climb down.

Which is exactly what I’m doing this week.  I am finally getting off my soap box and doing something about the things I believe in.

LITERACY

This could be my biggest soap box issue and likely stems from Eldest’s struggles with dyslexia.  It could also be from watching adults settle into a life of poverty and crime because they never reached their potential due to their own struggles with reading.  Or, it’s possible that my desire for a literate world is due to the fact that I’m a writer and firmly believe that everyone deserves the pleasure of escaping into a good book.

Regardless of why, I have a big literacy soap box.

 A Few Horrifying Facts

  • Libraries recycle their books that they unshelve or that don’t sell at book sale fundraisers.  Last year, my local library recycled three pallets of books.  Recycled, not recirculated.  As in trashed.  Never to be read again.  Wasted.
  • Books are expensive.  Yeah, I know.  Even discounted books cost more money than some people have.  In some ways, reading is a luxury.  A rich person’s hobby.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this choice: feed your kids or buy a book?  How about this one: pay rent or buy a book?  Read a book or take a shower?  Jeans or words?
  • Go to the library, you say?  Well, a lot of families living pay check to pay check work when the library is open.  And when they are not working, they are raising children–which includes grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and homework.  Not to mention, not all towns have libraries.  And not all people have reliable transportation.  And public transit costs money.
  • Illiteracy is symptomatic and genetic.  Okay, not 100% true, but if Mom doesn’t read and there are no books in the house, what are the chances that Junior will read?  If Dad is functionally illiterate and can’t read a bedtime story to Junior, there is no positive behavior for Junior to model.  Literacy, or the lack thereof, is a vicious cycle.
  • Poverty and crime are linked to literacy levels.  Pages of statistics support this.  I would like pagest of statistics to celebrate the success of communities sharing literacy, instead.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Because I’m getting off my soap box.  Right now.  I’ve finally put my brains to good use and said, “Self, who has the least access to books?”

To which I answered, “People who can’t afford them.”

And where will I most likely find people who can’t afford to read?  At the food shelf.  If you can’t buy milk, you sure as heck can’t buy a book.

So, how did I get off my soap box?  I spoke with the director of our local food shelf about putting a bookshelf in their building.  I have a gorgeous oak bookcase that has nowhere to reside in my home.  It will look stunning filled with free books.

Additionally, I have boxes of books in my basement that I’ll never read again.  Hardcover and paper back alike.  Romance, mystery, thrillers, poetry, memoirs, westerns, YAs, middle grade, adult…all just sitting there in darkness.  Over the next few months, I will cull them and rebox them to take to the food shelf.  When people come in, they can add some brain food to their bags.

I’ve also talked with our librarian.  After our annual book sale, the remaining, gently-used books will also grace the shelves in the food shelf.  If–if–our food shelf can relocate to a spot big enough to house these books.  But that’s a whole ‘nother soap box and one I’ll be looking into.  If the food shelf fails to be a viable option due to financial/space issues, I have an alternative in mind.

So, dear readers, is literacy a soap box issue for you?  If so, how do you actively address this need?  Share your tips with other like-minded folks.  If you haven’t considered being actively involved until now, what ideas do you have to get off your soap box and make a difference? 

What do you think of the food shelf literacy program?  If you’re willing to contact all the right people and get one started in your area, give us a shout out in the comments.  We’d love to cheer you on!

My challenge for the week: if you are passionate about something, don’t just talk about it.  Get off your soap box and do something.

 

Turn Your Novel into a Literary Destination

Yesterday, I took a few mug shots of my kids.  We’re in the process of getting their passports, and it got me thinking how books are passports to exotic destinations.  They take us on adventures unimaginable, with friends we never knew existed.  They show us horrors we never want to experience and provide us with experiences we are lacking in our every day lives.

As writers, we create these worlds.  We toil away beside characters we love and resolve conflicts in foreign kingdoms with new age technology.  We sweat blood and cry caffeine tears in the hopes that someday, somewhere, somebody will stamp our books into their literary passports.

So, where are these passports that honor our long hours and days and characters and scenes?  Where is the proof that such incredible worlds exist beyond our keyboards and how do we invite others inside our words?

In short, how do our manuscripts become destination spots for eager literary travelers?

Cat’s Passport Guide for Writers

Create a unique destination.  Few people want to visit an uninhabited island devoid of food and water.  As writers, we must build all-inclusive resorts for our readers.  Plot, character, yada, yada, yada.  We have to have it all, or nobody will book a flight.  We also have to provide something unique along with all our other amenities.  If our novels sound, feel, smell and taste exactly like the book it will be shelved next to…?  Seriously, what’s the point of trying out a knock-off resort author?

Customer service, baby.  Few people shell out cold, hard cash to stay at a resort where they wash their own dishes and dodge trash on the walkways.  Get rid of typos, cut down on wordy sentences and dispose of purple prose.  All those things detract from the experience and rarely garner repeat business.  Bad customer service = bad business.

Know thy audience.  A five-star resort with adult only beaches does not attract middle class families with small children.  Likewise, a water park resort with ice cream stands every fifty feet will surely turn the noses of prospective honeymooners.

Books must fit on bookshelves and in book clubs.  Librarians need to know where to place your masterpiece so it receives the best circulation possible.  “But, but, but, I have a crossover, multi-genre, space-opera, noir adventure for middle graders that everyone from age 8-80 will love,” you say.  “With hot cowboys telling fart jokes.”

To which I say,  “It’s doubtful this conglomeration–placed willy nilly within the historical romances–will be picked up by stay at home moms looking for an exotic escape while the kids are at school.”  Sexy cowboys or not.

Very few books have genuine cross-over appeal.  They are the exception, not the rule.  And breaking into the vacation market with an unknown is risky business.

Make connections.  Travel agents are great at directing customers to hot vacation spots.  Advertisements in the right magazines catch readers’ attention.  Discounts and deals make potential travelers feel good about their purchases.  A personal touch, a bit of history, a quiet sense of comfort.  These things effectively draw people to certain resorts.

Whether we self-pub or use travel agents and traditional publishers along the way, the key to booking sales is tasteful visibility–to the right audience (as proven by number 3 above).

Lastly, don’t brag.  Vacationers love to spill when they return from a fabulous island hop.  Their word of mouth often sells others on the same resort, while their pictures frequently entice on-the-fence travelers to pack up their bags.  Not so with the resort owner–who lives in this exotic locale–who can’t shut up about sipping frozen drinks while you literally freeze in sub par temps.  Not so much when her weekly vial of cornmeal beach sand arrives in the mail just as you vacuum your kid’s daily deposit of pea rock from your front rug.

It is unbecoming of writers to oversell themselves.  Let your novel speak for itself.  Then sit back and let your satisfied customers rank your book with five stars, making your story the hottest literary destination around.

Are you a frequent flyer, buying books to support the industry while getting a better handle on what is available?  Do you know your competition and strive to provide unique characters, settings and stories?  Have you ever been surprised to see similarities between your manuscript/idea and pubbed books?  How do you reconcile that within your own writing?   Which similarities can make a novel?  Which ones can break any chance of every getting published?

Curious minds want to know.