Monday, December 20, 2010

Putting Patterson's New Historical Novel On Trial

Hello Readers. I was motivated to read Alex Cross’s Trial on two fronts. I’m a Patterson fan, especially of the Woman’s Murder Club series. I’m also attempting to write a historical novel after completing a modern-day thriller. It’s good to see an author of such acclaim has blazed this particular trail.

Trial is set in the early 1900’s. Even though the Civil War is almost forty years in their past, the black characters in Eudora, Mississippi are far from free. An angry word against a white boss overheard by the wrong ears can and does get several such characters hung.

Roosevelt himself sends a young lawyer, Ben Corbett, back to his hometown to investigate the lynchings. Idealistic Ben finds himself the odd man out among his old friends and neighbors when he attempts to defend black people from horrendous acts of racism.

One of the difficulties with writing a historical novel is dialog, so I paid close attention to how Patterson chose his character's words. It’s a delicate balance. Readers expect language has changed over the past 100 years, but no one wants to get bogged down by unfamiliar words and phrases—especially in a thriller. I also noted how Patterson kept reminding the reader of the past with the character’s extreme discomfort in the heat, the problems of delayed communications by post and telegram, travel by horseback, etc.

Like his other books, Trial is an exciting page-turner. While there was nothing wrong with the dialogue or historical setting, both felt like window dressing. Have you ever been reading a book and found yourself recognizing a writing technique? It’s a little like seeing that tiny man working the levers in The Wizard of Oz. I liked the story, but the historical details weren't strong enough for me to suspend my disbelief. With a few adjustments, Trial could have been set in the mid 1900’s.

I don’t know if I’ll have any better luck with my manuscript. In addition to a healthy stack of non-fiction works, I’m reading Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, because it was written about the same time as my novel. I’m guessing it’s much easier for a writer to capture their present that the past. Hopefully, I’ll glean insights to nineteenth century life through works written by authors who lived it themselves. But even that assumption comes with risk. Which popular work of fiction today really captures the early 21st century? Stephen King’s Under the Dome or Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

Have you written a historical novel? What was the hardest part?

(I'll be taking next week off. See you in 2011!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Drifting In The Horse Latitudes

Silhouette of a sailboat in the sea at dusk

After an exciting fall where I spent a heady six weeks making revisions on manuscript #1 for an agent (who passed), my writing life seems adrift. I’m stuck in the Horse Latitudes with only minor breezes pushing me along. It’s warm. No storms are tossing me about, no sharks threaten, but it’s dull.

There’s been a few sparks of accomplishment. Book #2 has been launched. I’m 32 pages in, and while most of it’s raw, there are nuggets of potential. For me, the real writing won’t begin until that first draft is done. I’m an editor; it’s where I live.

The other spark came from a request by my father-in-law, a distinguished professor of mathematics. His long-time friend, colleague, and dissertation professor had passed and he wanted me to look at the eulogy he’d written. To say I was honored would be an understatement. Somehow I put away my awe for both the author and man he was praising, put on my editor hat, and had at it.

After emailing the edited version, I hoped I hadn’t overstepped my bounds or shown any disrespect. Here’s the reply from my father-in-law:

I loved the changes. They are right on target. You have a way of making text come to life. I will have to match the quality with the presentation. However, that is an easier when I have great material.

Wow. After slogging through the query/rejection trenches, his response really gave me a lift. I’m a lucky ducky. I too have a Ph.D. in math and could be earning a significant salary as a math professor. But no one in my family is questioning my choice to pursue my dream. That’s the greatest gift.

However, I get off on hard work and accomplishing things, which makes waiting through the query process tough. Using my writing to help my family is a bonus. Months ago, my husband—another math professor—had me write the introduction to something called a CCLI grant. It was a long shot. Most of these grants were awarded to other areas in science, but he got it. Not only that, his grant was rated number one among all the applicants.

So I told him to let the college’s grant director know I’d be willing to “polish” other professors’ grants. I don’t know if anyone will take me up on it, but it would be nice to help others achieve their dreams.

Have you found other outlets for your writing talent besides fiction? If so, let me know.

Monday, December 6, 2010

You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Or Adventures in Queryland

Illustration of the Planets in Alignment

This is not the blog I wanted to write. I’ll admit it—I got carried away last week with the high hopes that I would be getting The Call. If you’re an aspiring writer, you know what I’m referring to. Here’s the sad story:

Late in September I got a request for a full from Agent 1. Cool beans. The next day, another request for a full (Agent 2). Very cool beans. My query is schmokin’! Except Agent 2 wants to read the ms as an exclusive. Sorry, no can do.

Agent 2 says they’ll read the ms immediately. I get excited. Then two days later, I get an email. Agent 2 stopped at page 100. They can’t offer me representation without some major work, but here’s the catch: They won’t work with me while I’m still in contact with Agent 1. Major nail-biting time.

The potential information from Agent 2 is too good a carrot for this mule, so I bite. I rescind my ms from Agent 1 as gracefully as I can. Agent 1 is understanding and wishes me good luck. I email Agent 2 and get my list of changes.

Six weeks later, the work is done. The manuscript is way, way better and almost 15 K words shorter! I’m stoked as I send the revised ms to Agent 2.

Then the weeks start mounting: one, two, and then just before the third week is over, I crack under the pressure and send a nudger, expecting the worst. Agent 2 sends message back: They’re on page 200, I’ll hear from them in a week or so. !!!!!!!!

After this, my hopes really soar. Page 200! They’ll finish the ms and love it, I’m sure. I get my list of agent questions ready and try to calm down. Each morning I wake up wondering, “Will this be the day that changes my life?” Every time the phone rings, my heart skips.

A week passes. The next day I’m in and out of the house running errands, doctor’s appointment, playdate, the whole suburban mom routine. I don’t get a chance to check my email until after 7 pm. There it is. A message from Agent 2. Not good. I know before I read it. Rejection.

Here’s the take-home message, folks: If an agent loves your ms, part of that love is feeling confident they can place it with an editor who will also love it. And if this editor is with a larger publishing house, there may be a whole hierarchy of people who need to love it too. The planets must align in your favor, or no sale, no soup for you, go back to start, pick your metaphor.

This stings, but it’s not a complete disaster. I sent the new, improved ms back to Agent 1. I still have a strong query and a new list of agents to contact. This is not over.

Would I recommend ‘working’ with an agent who hasn’t signed you? For me, it was worth it. I got a lot of solid information that transformed the manuscript and will make me a better writer. If this opportunity comes your way, take it, but don’t overestimate your status with the agent. Don’t assume they will sign you just because they asked for revisions. Keep querying.

I didn’t get what I wanted from Agent 2, but did I get what I need? Time will tell.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Things To Make You Snort Cranberry Through Your Nose

Turkey chasing pilgrim with musket

Good Evening, Bloggers. The season of thanks is upon us, so let me say I’m thankful for my family, especially when they make me laugh:

Little Bear

1. Best mispronunciation from a three-year-old telling her older sister she may not have any of the towels on the floor: “No! You can’t! I’m shitting on them!”

2. Best show of empathy from a three-year-old:

Mommy to Little Bear: “You are so charming! It’s alarming how charming you are!”

Daddy to Mommy: “What about me?”

Disgusted Mommy to man who needs way too much attention: “Eh.”

Little Bear running to hug Daddy: “You’re charming too!”

Big Bear

1. First word: “Blog.” (Prophetic?)

2. Best toddler approximation: ‘bobo-lizard’ for bulldozer

3. Best deflection of Tickle Monster:

Daddy as Tickle Monster: “I’m hungry for . . . belly-button!”

Big Bear: “No, no! Get hers (Little Bears)! It’s juicier!”

4. Best drill-sergeant-in-training-line from two-year-old:

Daddy in deep—obviously fake—voice as he enters darkened two-year-old’s bedroom for good night kiss: “Hello there, it’s me, Papa.”

Little Bear: “You’re not Papa, you’re Daddy, now get your butt over here!”

5. Best correction of pronunciation by a three-year-old to Grandma:

Grandma looking a DVD box of Disney’s Lilo and Stitch: “What it this? Lie-low and Stitch?”

Big Bear: “No Grandma, it’s luh-luh, Lee-low and Stitch.”

The Good Husband

1. Best unintentional come-on line by woman who stayed at same hotel as husband—a hotel where using their semi-catered gym came at a price: “Is that your eight dollar banana?”

2. Best unintentional come-on line by female coworker (at a dance) whose grasp of English had not fully matured: “Do you swing?”

3. Best come back by husband in Lowe’s parking lot to attendant running after him with a pair of scissors as husband realizes there is a hell of a long length of twine running from his bundle of lumber across the lot and back into the store: “Glad you caught me before I drove home!”

4. Best Freudian slip by husband-to-be when he inquired about the style of wedding dress I’d chosen: “Is it topless?”

5. Best Freudian slip by his high school English teacher about upcoming paper: “On Monday, bring me a fully-fleshed out virgin. I mean version!”

Happy Thanksgiving! May your holiday come with extra giggles.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writers: Check Out This Book!

Good Afternoon Writers! I have a treat for you today. It’s called Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, a fantastic treasure trove of tips and techniques you might not even know you need. Plus, it’s fun to read. How did I come by this book? An agent recommended it to improve my manuscript. Here’s some things it did for me:

1. Don’t use dialogue for exposition. Here’s an example:

Eddie looked at his friend. “You ever been involved in a kidnapping investigation?”

“No,” said Luke.

Eddie pulled the car into the street. “A lot is going to happen in the next couple of hours. We have to establish that Melody is missing . . .”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I know how it sounds, but that kid could be hiding in the attic for all we know. Tess’s house gets a thorough search. Don’t forget the ‘balloon boy’ case.”

Luke grunted. He could only hope for such an innocuous ending.

“As a first-responder, you’ll be interviewed as well.”

Even though I’ve taken pains to hide it, I’ve got one cop explaining procedure to a second in order to pass this information to the reader. This kind of information belongs in the narrative:

Luke had never worked a kidnapping case, but he knew the basics. First, they had to establish Melody was missing. For all they knew, the little girl could be playing hide-and-seek in the attic. Luke could only hope for such an innocuous ending. Horrendous alternatives were all too possible. The area’s sex offenders would be getting unannounced visits today. As a first responder, Luke would be on the hot seat as well.

2. Handle flashbacks with care.

My first draft was written without a blueprint—an “out of the mist” experience. There’s nothing wrong with this style of writing as long as you have the know-how and stamina to iron out all the wrinkles in the editing phase.

As a byproduct of “out of the mist” writing, my manuscript included two long, detailed flashback sequences. Having them take up pages 50 – 100 didn’t work. It created a convoluted storyline and some bad information dumps. I had to reorder the chapters chronologically and parse out the story. This was no simple cut-and-paste, but in the rewrite I found opportunities to increase the suspense and add depth to the characters.

In the old draft, each chapter began with a newspaper article, TV interview, or email as a way to develop a background story. With over 40 chapters, these introductory bits added another level of complexity and wrecked the flow. They had to go, leaving me with a huge chunk (10K) of stuff to either kiss goodbye or weave into the storyline. A few became flashbacks.

I love Stein’s advice on transitioning into a flashback: lead with an “arresting” sentence. Here's one of mine:

It was an obsessive compulsive’s nightmare come true.

Hopefully that line makes you curious. What nightmare? What would terrify an obsessive compulsive person?

I took a hiatus from blog world for six weeks to address these issues. It was well worth it. Thank you, Agent A.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Staying Abreast of Health Issues

Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Ribbon

At first, she didn’t recognize him. Sitting in the waiting room, he looked different, but when she opened the door, her neighbor turned to his wife. “Look who’s here!”

After she checked in, she sat near the couple and chatted about the weather and the phone calls her first grade daughter had received from a classmate—a boy. They all shook their heads. What was the world coming to?

Then it was her turn. The nurse took her back to a warren of curtained cubicles and instructed her to remove all clothing from the waist up.

She changed quickly and put on the blue apron, opened at the front. Her mother had warned her it would hurt a little. The ’ole squish and squash, she’d said.

After it was over, the nurse said they call tomorrow if they needed more pictures.


When the call came the next day, she kept her voice calm and made another appointment. In the changing room, there was a sign advising her not to panic. People were called back for all sorts of reasons. Interference was common. Her husband said it was probably nothing. Her mother-in-law had gone through the same thing. No big deal.

Still, her heart was thumping away—bam, bam, bam. She tried to look at the magazine sitting on the bench next to her, but it was impossible. Then the nurse came. They only wanted pictures of the left breast this time. The specificity was unnerving. This time she knew how to hold her arms, how to freeze for a good shot. After six different pictures, the nurse sat her on a chair. There was a fountain behind her, one of the little desktop ones, and a bamboo shoot in a glass container. It was supposed to be relaxing, spa-like.

The image on the computer’s widescreen monitor wrecked her chances for serenity. The x-ray of her breast showed three bright white blotches of various sizes. She didn’t know squat about radiology except for one thing. Bright white was bad. She stared at the blistering-white amoeba shapes and wondered why the nurse had let her sit where she could see them. On the way back to her cubicle, she passed three women—Doctors? Nurses?—whose eyes skipped to her face and then to the floor. Was that pity? What did they know?

Now her heart was beating in her ears and she had to face it. She might have cancer. Her brain immediately assumed the worst—death, her two daughters growing up without her. They were still so young—four and six. Then she thought of the three women she knew who had beat it. She could do this. Chemo and vomiting? Not a happy thought, but she’d ralphed daily through her second pregnancy. Loss of hair from radiation? That would suck, but the wigs they made these days looked real.

Another nurse came in. They wanted to do an ultra sound. She didn’t say a word during the procedure. The nurse kept saying she didn’t see anything. She thought about the bright white spots on the mammogram. What did this mean?

They put her back in the cubicle and a doctor came by. The mammogram showed calcifications, he said, but no tumors showed up on the ultrasound. She had two choices: needle biopsy or another mammogram in six months.


She thought the needle would hurt more than it did.

They had her face down on a table with a cut-out at her chest. Her left breast hung down, pinched tight between two metal plates, making the mammogram seemed like a lover’s caress. She was warned not to move for the next thirty minutes.

There was nothing to look at except a set of white blinds and white walls. As the local anesthetic was injected, she stared at the silver bulb of the blind pull and willed her body still. Compared to the hell of breastfeeding, the pain was anticlimactic and then she felt nothing.

The procedure was quick. Once it was done, she couldn’t hold back and let the coughing fit fly. The pull on her anchored breast was agony. The doctor couldn’t get the titanium marker in until the third try. At home that evening, she carried a load of laundry up the stairs and opened the wound. With her daughters scrambling for gauze and Band-aids, she pretended it was no big deal.


Since the biopsy happened on Thursday, there was a good chance the result wouldn’t be in until after the weekend, but she found a message from the doctor Friday afternoon on the machine. The children were decorating the kitchen with Play Doh. She called back with her finger jammed in her left ear.

It was negative for cancer, but they would schedule a six-month mammogram to be safe.


To paraphrase Lennon, I am she and she is me and we are all together . . . Hey ladies, if you or someone you know is turning forty, encourage them to schedule a mammogram. Here's more information on a needle biopsy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Clyde and a Hogshead Halloween

Halloween decoration

Howdy Clyde, what’s shakin’?

Nothin’ much. You?

My kids got their Halloween costumes. Big Bear's going as a leopard, and Little Bear's got a fancy Ariel gown that’s already shed a pound of glitter throughout the house.


What was Halloween like for you?

Usually fun as hell, 'cept for one year. The famous 'hogshead' incident.

My mom had been promoted to principal that fall and she was in charge of the school’s Halloween Bash. The bobbin’ for apples, pumpkin carving contest, and fish-for-treats stand were all winding down by eight, but my mom had to stay an’ supervise the clean-up. She told me and Dil we could go trick-or-treatin’ until nine.

‘Course Dil was all put out. He didn’t want me taggin’ along with his buddies, but he was stuck. He grabbed the bandanna I was wearing around my neck and hissed in my ear, “Follow me and keep up.” Then he tossed my cowboy hat into some bushes and took off.

I caught up to him and his buddies, and we made the rounds with our pillowcases. I couldn’t wait to go home and dig in, especially after Dil and his friends had knocked my hat to the ground for the fiftieth time. Then Jimmy Deysher said there was one more house we had to go visit.

We trekked out maybe six or seven blocks to the Perilli’s, a young couple that didn’t have no kids. Instead of going up to the front door, Jimmy took us 'round back and told us to leave our pillow cases under the cheery tree. He picked up a ladder set along the back wall and almost dropped it on top of Dil. Those woodin’ ones are heavier than shit, an’ this one must’ve been ten feet long. They got it up against the house, right under a window and Jimmy went up first.

After about two minutes he came down grinnin’ from ear to ear askin’ who wanted to go next. I just sat down. I knew what they were doin’—spyin’ on Bianca. There was no way I was going up that ladder. Not that I would’ve minded seeing Mrs. Perilli or her titties, but I knew Dil and them would think nothing of rippin that ladder from under my feet and leaving me hangin’ from the sill, screamin’ my head off.

So Dil went next.

This wasn’t the first time Jimmy an' his buddies been up that ladder. Somehow Carl Perilli found out. Maybe all the footprints in the soft dirt behind his house clued him in. Anyway, he'd made a trip to the butcher’s that afternoon for a special order.

Days later, I heard Dil tell his friends what he saw. Bianca was sittin’ at her vanity in a pretty nightgown, brushin’ her hair out one long stroke after the other. After she was done, she stood up and raised her hands to the top button of her dressing gown.

Dil claims she was half-naked when it happened, but I’m pretty sure that’s bullshit. Carl was somewhere close, out of sight, when Bianca went to turn the lamp off. He had a broom handle in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Balanced on top of this broom handle was the gored-out head of a hog. When he stuck the flashlight up the critter’s ragged neck, the light shone through the open mouth, snout and eye holes, turning the grisly piece of meat into a boogie monster.

From down on the wet grass, my brother’s screech nearly made me piss through my fake leather chaps. I never knew a fella’s voice could turn soprano like that. The ladder tipped back and we scattered in all directions, not givin’ one dingly-damn to Dil’s welfare. Well, the ground was soft, an’ he didn’t break nothin'. Fact, he beat me back to our house by a long shot.


I can see why that's the worst Halloween for Dil, but why you?

‘Cause I left my pillowcase of candy under the Perilli’s cheery tree! As for Dil, he didn’t want no bacon at breakfast for a month.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Love Is In The Air And, Boy, Does It Stink

Hello Bloggers. Get yourself over to Justine Dell’s page for an awesome contest (258 followers). You will want the prizes: books, writing critiques, free copy-editing! Plus she is taking donations for an Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk. Rock on!

Okay, so I have two young adorable daughters, and the eldest just started first grade this month. I was worried about her fitting in after four years of Montessori school where she learned cursive instead of script. Yes, her handwriting is miles better than my chicken scratch. What I wasn’t prepared for, drum roll, was . . . the stalker.

Yes, my beautiful baby has already caught the eye of a young lothario. He started with a gift (sea-shells and sand in a baby food jar). Then came the telephone call. I put that thing on speaker because I don’t like putting a cordless up to my little one’s ears. (Note to parents: there is some discussion in the medical community as to a link between cell phones and cordless phones and brain tumors, so beware!)

Tumors are one thing, a seven year old hitting on my SIX-year-old is another. Oh, it started innocently enough. They talked about pets and Halloween costumes. Then he asked my baby if she could guess who his girlfriend was. She hesitantly asked, “Me?” When he didn’t answer right away, she pulled back and asked, “Or do you mean someone else?” He goes, “It’s you!”

SCREAM! (That’s me screaming, not my daughter.) What is the world coming to? Later I told her she was too young to be anyone’s ‘girl friend’, and she said “Okay.”

When she was a baby, a family friend took one look at her and said we’d need a baseball bat to keep the boys away. I was hoping to put off my bat purchase until puberty. Blog moms, what do I do?

I'll pretty this post up later. I've got to go pick up my darlings from school. Later!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist

For Book Review Wednesday, I'm digging deep folks. This one has a copyright of 1988, the year I graduated high school! Yes, I was twelve--wink, wink. If you have a teenager/twenty-something who is done with Harry Potter and the Twilight Series, this would be a good choice.

Faerie Tale starts with a tried and true premise: couple moves into spooky old house deep in the woods of upstate New York. Their blended family includes twin boys and the dad's teenage daughter, Gabrielle, from an earlier marriage. Legends swirl around their new home; it has a dark history of buried treasure, missing children, and strange encounters in the woods with mythical creatures.

The twins love exploring the Faerie Woods, except for the spooky bridge, where something evil lurks. Gabrielle loves two things: horses and her new boyfriend Jack. Alone in the woods, she meets Wayland Smith, a Paul Bunyon type blacksmith, who replaces her horse's broken shoe. In the stables, she is assaulted by Puck, the creature from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Two researchers into Faerie and Celtic legends witness a faerie "hunt".

William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream First performed c1596. Act 2 Sc 2. Ariel standing on toadstool conducting The Fairies' Song 'You spotted snakes with double tongue?' Chromolithograph c1858.

All these bizarre happenings lead up to the kidnapping of one of the twins by a Faerie creature known as the Fool, who replaces the child with deranged doppelgänger. While the parents whisk the changeling off to the hospital, his twin sets off on a quest to find his real brother.

Does this scream YA to you? I think yes. But even if you're outside that demographic, fans of fantasy, suspense, and horror will enjoy this fast moving tale backed up by tantalizing tidbits of actual German and Celtic mythology.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Window of old-fashioned house, fence with flowers, close-up

My family went to visit friends in Buffalo this past weekend. Their house is not big or new, but a treasure of curved archways, built in bookshelves, a corner sink in one bathroom, and a small cubby door once used for delivering milk in the back, by the kitchen. It is always immaculate, peppered with antiques, yet cozy and unpretentious—my kids’ favorite game there is to toss teddy bears down the stairwell.

My domicile, on the other hand, looks like someone dragged in a monster piñata full of toys, books, sticky popsicle sticks, dirty socks, and used Kleenex, busted that sucker and scattered the loot from hither to yon. I’d clean it, but it would revert to its chaotic state in 24 to 48 hours. I’d rather cover my eyes with my hands and sing La, La, La, cat barf is easier to clean if allowed to dry for a couple days, you know. Here is my dream home:

Cottage house on edge of lake

So in the grand tradition of finding more important things to do than clean, let’s ponder houses in terms of writing. Does a house or other building figure prominently in your ms? It doesn’t in my first book, a thriller. The characters are moving too quickly to detail their surroundings. But my next project will be set on a plantation in the 1850s, so I expect the main house and surrounding buildings to take on a bigger role.

Can you name any books in which the house plays a significant role? I must be tired because the only titles coming to mind are The Amityville Horror and Flowers in the Attic.

NEW YORK - MARCH 31:  Real estate photograph of a house located at 112 Ocean Avenue in the town of Amityville, New York March 31, 2005. The Amityville Horror house rich history and beauty are overshadowed by the story of George and Kathy Lutz, the previous residents of 112 Ocean Avenue, who claimed that shortly after moving into the house they fled in terror driven out by paranormal activity. The best selling novel and popular movie have marked the town as the site of the most famous haunted house in history, yet many are unaware that the true history of this house is much darker than 'The Amityville Horror's' icy drafts and bleeding walls. Six members of the DeFeo family were murdered at 112 Ocean Avenue one year before the Lutz family moved in and their tragedy haunts the citizens of Amityville to this day. (Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images)

On an unrelated note, the show House starts back up tonight. I’m hoping to get the kids to bed earlier enough so I can shovel a path to the couch, clear a spot to sit, and watch it. First, I’ll need to launch a search party for the remote.

A place card marks a seat for actor Hugh Laurie at the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California, August 25, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Book Review Wednesday has been moved to Thursday this week. I'm scrambling to wrestle my ms into tip-top shape, purging all typos, in hopes that a request for a full is in my near future. So blogging has taken a back seat. Stop laughing; it could happen.

Anyhoo, today Chris Cleave's Little Bee is on the hot seat. Why did I buy this book? The teaser on the back got me: "We don't want to tell you what happens in the book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it." Then it gives a three sentence description and ends with "Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds."

Hmmm. As a lover of fiction, I was sold by this marketing strategy. But as a writer, I thought of the websites which counsel: Look at the back of your favorite books to write the pitch for your query. Can you imagine an agent getting this in their inbox! "Dear Superagent, I don't want to tell you what happens in my book. It is truly special and I don't want to spoil it. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell all your agent buddies and all the editors on your rollerdex about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds." Yeah right. The Query Shark is salivating right now.

Seriously though, this is a beautiful example of voice. Chris Cleave tells the story from the point of view of a young black refugee from Nigeria as she escapes from a immigration detention center in England and sets off to find the only British people she knows. The content is not for the faint of heart. Yes, Katie, I'm talking to you. The political and military chaos in Nigeria's recent history that inspired this book (along with Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche) reminds me of Nazi Germany. It's brutal.

I love how Cleave's writing brings the title character to life. Little Bee's thoughts in the opening paragraphs on the British coin and the way she imagines describing England to "the girls back home" are exquisite. The ending is tough. It's hard to travel with a character away from the jaws of doom into the light and have circumstances drag her back. That's all I'll say, because I don't want to ruin the magic for you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Clyde And The Cricket Revenge

Morning, Clyde.


Whatever. I have a question for you.

Just one?

What’s the worst thing your brother ever did to you?

Hmm. Let me think about it. What’d your sister do to you? Short-sheet your bed?

No. That’s your generation. One year my sister got up in the middle of the night before Easter, found all the goodies, and laughed when she ended up with twenty eggs to my two.


So what about Dil?

Okay, I got one. I call this story ‘The Cricket Revenge’.


Every Friday in second grade, we’d have a special snack before recess. Each week a different kid was responsible for bringin’ in something from their momma’s kitchen: cupcakes, chocolate-chip cookies, brownies, what-have-you.

On my Friday, I sat down to eat my Cornflakes before catchin’ the bus. My mom was already gone—teachers had to report by 7:15, I believe. I don’t think my dad was around, maybe he was sleepin’ in or off hunting with Bob McGibbon.

Anyhow, a cookie tin sat on the table—the one with the Currier and Ives print of kids skatin’ on a pond. A note taped to the side was written in my mother’s careful script: Snack for Clyde. I opened it up, hoping for chocolate crinkles. Nope, Oreos. I figured she must have been busy gradin’ her papers and didn’t have time to fix nothin’ from scratch—which was damn strange ’cause I could have sworn I heard the oven door a couple times after I’d gone to bed. The door’s hinge squealed like a pig.

I took the tin to school and Mrs. Benabe drilled us on subtraction before our spelling test. Then she ordered us to clear our desks and called me up to the front. She walked the rows, placing a white napkin on each desk, an’ I would follow, handin’ out the cookies. I stuck my tongue out at Billy Schumaker and Dean Leahey, ‘cause they were my friends. No one could eat ’til all were served.

NEW YORK - JUNE 12:  An Oreo cookies advertisement circa 1924 is seen June 12, 2002 in New York City. Oreo celebrated its 90th birthday at the Chelsea Market where the original Oreo cookie was made. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

At my desk, I sat down and unscrewed the cookie. The crème was the best part; everyone knew that. I took one lick and spit that mess across my desk into Charity Jenkin’s hair.

Late last night, after my mom had packed the tin with chocolate crinkles, Dil snuck down from his bedroom, took the homemade cookies out of the box, and put in the store-bought Oreos. But first he whipped up a mixture of Colgate and salt to substituted for the crème—which he gobbled down, the bastard.

The class went berserk. Kids were cryin’, spittin’, and stuffin' their mouths with napkins. Betty Malone threw up on her new dress. Mrs. Benabe was runnin’ from kid to kid, not knowing what the hell was wrong with us.

Somehow my mom got wind that her son’s second grade class was suffering from some kind of food poisoning and dashed over. She took one of the cookies and sniffed it, then put a tiny bit of the white goo on her tongue. She spit it into a napkin and looked at me. We both said, “Dil!” at the same time.

He went to bed with ten licks of a willow stitch across his hide and no supper. I was pretty satisfied with his punishment until all the kids started callin’ me ‘Oreo’. The mastermind behind the whole business had the nerve to smack me upside the head on the bus and call out, “What’s shakin’, Oreo!” Everyone laugh their asses off, including Yvette Long, who I had a crush on.

That was a mistake. Starting in March, the area schools had a baseball tourney between the fourth and fifth graders and my brother’s team had made it to the finals more on the other teams incompetence than any real talent. But they were excited about winning the trophy. Plus the champions would get special T-shirts and bragging rights for a year.

The week before the big game, I got to work in our back yard and the McGibbon’s field, collecting grasshoppers and crickets. I stored about two hundred of ’em in Bugs travel box. Dad found the box one day an' I told him it was bait.

Boy Examining Large Insect

The night before the game, Dil went to bed around nine or so. Ten minutes later I heard him throw open his door and run downstairs to where my parents were watching Dragnet. By midnight, my parents had given up trying to smash the noisy critters with magazines and newspapers and shut themselves off in their bedroom. They told Dil to keep his door closed and sleep on the couch, but a handful of pissed-off crickets got out and spread throughout the house.

Despite the racket, I slept like a baby. Dil drug his seriously sleep-deprived butt to the breakfast table with twin sets of luggage under his peepers. He was too out of it to suspect fowl play. At the game I sat on the bleachers, jaw aching from trying not to howl with laughter when Dil struck out at bat—twice. The best part was seeing a pop fly to left field hit him on the head as the other team scored two runs.

Little League

After it was over, my dad said I was a good brother, sitting through that shit game to support Dil like that.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back to Ghoul

This is an odd week. Labor Day. Kid’s back to school on Tuesday (Little Bear in preschool) and Thursday (Big Bear enters first grade!). Hopefully I can get back to my normal schedule of posting and visiting blogs next week. Last night I woke up at 2 a.m. in a panic because I couldn’t remember if we had Little Bear’s nap mat or if it was still at her school from last year.

stlf1_0700 - Landscape reflected in a window - Bodie, California.

The nap mat was in the basement. Elementary, my dear Watson. Except when I went to look, the basement door was outside, a three-by-three square for a house I didn’t own. A man stood by, a friend I'd never met, who refused to accompany me. It’s too evil, he said. Fear coated the back of my throat and made my legs feel brittle and light. The dread was excruciating, like the ending of the Blair Witch Project—hurdling through an old, abandoned building toward an unknown death.


I went in anyway. The basement was enormous; the ceilings were low. Several small children scampered around too quickly to be human, their eyes dark hollows. They multiplied. First ten, then twenty, thirty, fifty. Some were playing, others urged me to look at monstrous Halloween projects they’d made—screaming pumpkins, twisted logs. The problem was, I couldn’t keep my eyes on all of them. I couldn’t keep track as some put down their lollypops and picked up hatchets.

close-up of a boy in a halloween costume eating candy

I never found the nap mat in the dream basement. I’m pretty sure it’s still at her school. At least, I hope it is. I don't want to go into my basement today. No telling what could be waiting for me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Title Game

Howdy, hey-dy, ho! How are we today? Got any fabulous Labor Day Weekend plans? I’m getting an early birthday present. My husband’s taking the kids to his parents for two days! I can sleep! I can read! And work my various writing projects!

First I need to enter a cool blog contest over at Falen Formulates Fiction. See the Sept. 1 entry for all the details and a link to enter. The prizes include some gorgeous journals among other things.

Stacks of books

So the game. Have you noticed the number of books with similar titles?

The Bonesetter’s Daughter
The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter
The Senator’s Wife
The Time Traveler’s Wife

Can you think of any others along this vein?

I suppose something comes along in fiction, sells like the dickens, and everyone else wants a piece of the action so they mimic the cover design and/or the title. I’m fully expecting a rash of title’s mimicking “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and its sequels, but is that title a mimic of something else? The Boy Who Cried Wolf? The Man Who Came To Dinner? Hmmm. Maybe someone out there knows.

So here’s the game. Take your wip and mimic one of these formulaic titles. I’ll go first:

The Invalid’s Daughter, bleh. Familial relations don’t really work well with my characters. Maybe The Psychic’s Keeper. Better. The Psychic’s Guardian. Okay, this is harder than I thought.

The Girl With . . . The Girl Who . . . uh, my character doesn’t have any tattoos, dragon or otherwise. Should I give her a natural streak in her hair? Big Bear’s hair is dark brown with a blond streak down one side. But that doesn’t make such a fantastic title. Ah hah! I've got it! The Girl Who Stole Christmas because she kidnaps a kid right before the holiday. There, that's it. What? That title's been taken by a green, misanthropic creature with a scrawny dog and an attitude problem?

381271 02: The Grinch, Played By Jim Carrey, Conspires With His Dog Max To Deprive The Who's Of Their Favorite Holiday In The Live-Action Adaptation Of The Famous Christmas Tale, 'Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas,' Directed By Ron Howard.  (Photo By Getty Images)

Bummer, back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Married . . . With Difficulties: The Books of Sue Miller

Hello, hello, it’s Book Review Wednesday. Today I’d like to bring to your attention the author Sue Miller. In 2008, she published The Senator's Wife, my personal favorite of her ten books. She also wrote Inventing the Abbotts which I believe is a short story and I know became a movie.

What’s so delectable about The Senator’s Wife? The writing, the writing, the writing. And the characters. I connected with Meri right off the bat. She’s newly married, pregnant, and more than a little resentful of her husband, Nathan. She’s facing the temporary loss of a job she loves, distraught over the changes in her body, the exhaustion, and the morning sickness when she overhears him telling someone at a party that the timing of the pregnancy is a ‘disaster’ with his (non-fiction) book due a few months after the birth. Men!

Then there’s Delia Naughton, the title character. She’s already gone through motherhood and her kids are out of the house. After having an affair with one of her daughter’s college friends, so is her husband. Yet she doesn’t divorce him. Through letters found by Meri and flash backs from Delia’s point of view, the reader gets Delia’s side of things through the years.

The ending is a bit of a shocker, but I won’t be spoiling anything today. My second favorite book of Miller’s is While I Was Gone. It’s also a delicious look into the complexities of marriage between a pastor and a veterinarian, but in this case, the wife is distraught over the long-ago murder of a good friend and contemplating having an affair. In the end, the murderer is revealed, giving the book a suspense/thriller feel.

Miller has a new book out this year, The Lake Shore Limited, which is going on my 'must have now' list.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Republicans Vs. Democrats: It Could Be Worse

Good morning, Clyde. Guess what? I finished another tome for my research on all things 1850s called Why The Civil War Came, edited by Gabor S. Boritt.

Sounds like a real page-turner.

No, this isn’t beach-reading material, but my next novel takes place just before the Civil War breaks out, so I need to paint a picture of the political atmosphere of the times. Clyde? Stop snoring and pay attention.

What? You lost me after after “No.”

Come on, this is good stuff. Hey, here’s something I bet you didn’t know . . .

Abraham Lincoln was an alien?

Ha, ha. Seriously, though. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican—the first candidate to win the presidency for a sectional party.

Neato. What’dya mean by ‘sectional’ party?

Before the Republicans, the political party opposing the Democrats was called the Whigs. Both the Whigs and the Democrats were national parties, but the Republicans, who first ran a candidate for the presidency in 1856, weren't national, but strictly northern.

Okay, Republicans in the north, Democrats all over. Dandy. Why’s that so fascinating?

The Republican Party was coming to power incredibly fast while the Democrats were falling apart. In many respects, the Civil War was a perfect storm. For decades before the first shot was fired, a small number of extremists on both sides of the slavery issue kept raising the public's awareness until moderate politicians were forced to choose on side or the other.

Do what now?

It's like this. Take two kids in a crowded cafeteria and start a food fight. Other kids will take notice; it's impossible not to. Eventually the whole room will take sides and join in. You can destroy the entire room based on one tossed spaghetti noodle.

Okay, but a perfect storm? You telling me they didn’t see the war coming?

Not exactly, but Lincoln and the Republicans weren't expecting four years of bloodshed and over a half-million casualties. For years, the southern minority slaveholders used secession as a threat whenever things weren't going their way in Congress. The Republicans were tired of the ploy. I love this 1856 quote from Ben Wade, a republican from Ohio: “We have had the Union saved five or six different times within my day, and is the only thing I ever knew to suffer by salvation.”

Hmmm, slightly witty, I guess. I still don't see why you're all fired up about this stuff. Where do politics fit into your book?

I’m thinking of the plantation owner and his son. I see the father as a politician, someone who loves a good debate and has trained his son since childhood the art of verbal jousting. I’m seeing the son as new generation: raised in the south, but schooled in the north. The son's adventurous, looking at the west, ready for travel and excitement. His father wants someone to take over the old family plantation. Their fights are going to be political, personal, and delicious to write.

Good luck with that.

Thanks, Clyde. I’ll need it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Query Woes and a Checklist: Before You Hit Send

Hello all you aspiring writers out there. I have an important question: Where is my brain? I'd like it back, now, please.

Detective looking through magnifying glass

Yesterday I was agonizing over my latest query letter. With virtually no information on my intended audience, I decided a one paragraph description of the book was too risky--better to go with two. But that second paragraph took me hours to polish. And since our ambassador of goodwill to aspiring writers, aka Nathan Bransford, says it's okay to attach the first five pages, I went ahead and did that too. A set of newly edited, hopefully richer and more enticing first five pages.

Fast forward ahead to 3 pm, the TV's blaring Barbie's latest adventure, my four-year-old is snoring blissfully on the couch and my six-year-old is yelling for her chocolate milk. I swear, I should give that kid a silver bell and be done with it.

Big Bear: Bartender, BARTENDER! Send in that mug of Intense Chocolate Moo Juice and make it a double!

Me: Yes, master, right away, just let me hit send and get this hopeless letter off.

I come back to the computer and my stomach falls through the floor. Oh no. No, no, no. I didn't. I couldn't. Crapola-manola, I didn't spell check the sample pages. Here's the damage:

Frawely instead of Frawley
bigtime instead of big time
tweny instead of twenty

and, the worst, the one that really makes me cringe: quadrapaligic for quadraplegic

Ironically, I was reading a submissions checklist for a small publishing company yesterday that said you'd be surprised how many people don't spell check their work. I chuckled, thinking, "Boy, you'd have to be a real idiot to forget that! Hyuck, hyuck!"

Man hammering brain

Okay, enough whining, here's a checklist to consider BEFORE you hit send.

While still in Word:

1. Start on the right foot. Look at the Dear ____. Do you have the correct name? I know you cut and pasted from the last letter, so LOOK. Is it spelled correctly? Do you have Mr. when you should have Ms. or vice versa?

2. Now peruse your contact information. Make sure it's typed correctly.

3. Stare hard at words like their, they're, and there. And it's (only for "it is" not for possessives) and its. And too, to and two.

4. Spell Check the whole letter including sample pages and synopsis if those are included. Even though Word will put red lines under most names, don't ignore them. Make sure each one is spelled the way you intended.

Now go to your email and paste it in.

1. Send a copy to yourself. Check the formatting. Read it out loud. Fix any problems. If you make any changes, send the new version to yourself and repeat this step as many times as necessary.

2. Once your letter looks perfect, you could send it off to the agent, but don't. A better idea is to leave it overnight, come back the next day and read it over one more time. I'm not always able to follow this advise, but I have bolted up in bed with the realization that a letter I'd sent that day had an error.

Okay, I'm banning myself to the basement for the rest of the morning. Our 23-year-old air conditioner is facing retirement on Monday and I have a storeroom to clean out before the crew from "Hoarding Nightmares" shows up. Who knows? Maybe I'll find my brain.

Have a great weekend, y'all.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Most Wanted by Jacquelyn Mitchard

I'm going into the vault today. Mitchard's The Most Wanted is her second book published in 1999 after The Deep End Of The Ocean, which was made into a film starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Ocean was very good, but I read it once. The Most Wanted is something I could read year after year and not get tired of it.

This novel centers on Texans Annie Singer and Arley Mowbray--two extremely different women brought together under unusual circumstances. Arley wants a conjugal visit with her convict husband and Annie is her lawyer. The catch? Arley is fourteen. Yep, you read that right, fourteen. Now this brings up an immediate stereotype. Arley must be poor white trash, right? Not so. She's poor and white, but also an honor student on the track team.

To contrast Arley and her convicted husband's bizarre relationship is the more conventional one between Annie and her long-time, live-in beau, Stuart. He wants to get married, Annie's in no rush. She's thinking about kids, but he's consumed with his work as a lawyer fighting to keep death-row inmates alive and has no interest in starting a family.

Against her own judgement, Annie gets the conjugal visit approved. Worst night of Arley's young life? Guess again. And that's what makes this story so compelling. The stereotypes are broken. What's expected doesn't happen, yet the characters and plot never lose their believability.

1999 was a long time ago. I've should go see what else Ms. Mitchard has written since then.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fishing with Clyde

Man fishing

So Clyde, why do you like fishing so much?

My dad taught me how to bait a hook when I was four or five. We’d go out to Lake Hartwell on Saturdays before Momma got up. She was still teachin’ in those days and that was her only day to sleep in.

What about Dill?

Dill was four years older’n me an’ he would sleep in too, then go find Bill and Dutch for baseball or petty, uh, not larceny but screwin’ up other people’s property . . .


Yeah, or some such foolishness, so it was just me and my pops, on this beat up metal boat that’d sink in a hard rain, polin’ for catfish or sometimes trout.

So it was a bonding thing.

Yeah, but there was more to it than that.

Father with son (10-11) in small boat fishing


My seventh birthday fell on the school year’s first Friday, and when I got home from school, the house was empty. I ate a Ring Ding with some Nehi grape soda, ’an went out into the back yard to mess around. Dixie, our mutt, was outside the back fence whinin’ and scratchin’, pushing her snout between the links.

I almost let her in, before I noticed a chicken-wire pen sitting by the back porch in the shade. At first I thought there was a squirrel stuck in there—Dixie’d go mad chasin’ ’em up every fool tree in the yard, so that’d explain it. But this critter didn’t have a fluffy tail. When I got closer, I saw why—it was a rabbit. Looked young—the fur was smoothed down pretty, brown on top, white underneath and the ears were perfect—not a nick in ’em.

Eastern cottontail Rabbit

Since the pen was kinda hidden, I got all exited, thinkin’ it was a surprise birthday present. One of my school mates had a pet rabbit—a long-eared thing she’d drag in to school from time to time for show ’an tell. Katie Bucane—what a snot she was.

Anyway, I stuck my fingers through the wire and to pet it and it didn’t move, so I decided it must like me too. I knew I’d get ’in trouble, but I didn’t like the way Dixie was so fired up over my new friend, so I carried the pen up to my room.

I grabbed a plastic bowl from my mom’s Tupperware stash and a roll of Scotch tape and some paper and made my rabbit it’s own personalized water dish. I named it Bugs, cause that was the only named rabbit I could think of. Katie called hers Fluffy or some other girly name.

Couple hours later, I had taught the thing to hide in the closet every time I whistled. The rest of the family had trickled into the house, unnoticed by me until my dad started hollerin’, “Clyde, you up there? Get down here, right now!”

Boy he sounded pissed. I knew a spankin’ was coming, but I didn’t care, so I went down to face the music.

“Clyde, what’d you do with that pen by the porch? I gotta get that rabbit skinned ’fore your mother gets home to fix supper.”

My mouth dropped open, but nothing came out. Then I burst into tears and ran back up the stairs. Dill was comin’ out, holdin’ the cage and grinnin’. “Hey Daddy, look what I found.”

I didn’t dare turn around. Instead, I ran into my room and whistled. Bugs knew the drill ’an shot from under the bed into my closet. I jumped in with ’em and closed the door.

Momma showed up about two minutes later and knocked. “Clyde, open the door, honey.”

I didn’t move a muscle, but there wasn’t no lock on the door, so she opened ’er up to find me sitting cross-legged on the floor with her supper in my lap, cryin’ with snot runnin’ down my nose.

Boy (8-11) embracing mouse outdoors, side view (B&W)

She had somethin’ behind her back, and I knew what it was—the willow switch. But I was wrong. It was my real present, a bran’ new fishin’ pole. She gave me twenty minutes to run down to the pond behind the McGibbons barn and catch supper—or else.

Silhouette of boy on dock fishing

I brought back two bullheads ’an she doused ’em in parsley, fried ’em in butter, and served ’em with red taters and cornbread. Daddy took one bite and spat it into his napkin. Dill snuck his to Dixie under the table. I choked down every nasty bite even though it tasted like butter-flavored mud. I knew eatin’ that mess was much better punishment than a whippin’.

Mom ate hers without flinchin’, which I guess was her punishment for lettin’ me keep Bugs. And Dixie? She ran into the living room and barfed that shit all over Gramma’s oriental rose rug. Guess who got the switch that night?

So that’s why you love fishing?

Damn straight.

Friday, August 20, 2010

There's Gold in Them There Rejections

Hello Writers!

Small bottle of gold flakes panned from gravel in Northern British Columbia, Canada. Placer gold means gold that is in the form of loose individual grains which has eroded out of the host rock in mountains and hills freeing it so they can be recovered without further crushing of the host rock. This includes things such as gold flakes and nuggets. This is the type of gold which is of the greatest interest to individual prospectors.

Nobody likes rejection, but like mosquitos on hot summer evenings, they're unavoidable. Agents rarely have the time to offer constructive criticism, so even though it stings, these nuggets can be valuable.

For example, one agent told me they liked the idea in the query (high five!), but the prologue didn't grab them (bummer). After pouting for a few moments, I took action. The prologue features a kidnapping and I made it too easy on the kidnapper. Oops. Stealing a child should be difficult. Readers, do NOT try this at home (or anywhere else.)

Before criticism:

Without protest, Melody let the stranger carry her out of her bedroom and down the stairs. A middle stair fired off a loud CRACK and the stranger froze. Upstairs the child’s mother stirred uneasily in her sleep, registering the sound. A minute passed. By all rights, the child should have complained, or at least fussed a bit. Then the mother fell back into a deeper sleep and the stranger continued. They descended the last few stairs in silence.

After criticism:

Melody let the stranger carry her out of the bedroom. Before they reached the stairs, a floorboard fired off a loud CRACK.

Behind the stranger’s back, the master bedroom door lay open. Bedsprings creaked and squealed as Melody’s mother sat up. The stranger remained still as the woman pushed her legs over the end of her bed. If Melody’s mother turned even slightly to her right, she would see them.

Seconds passed. The stranger fought the impulse to turn around, the silence far worse than bedsprings. The child grew heavy and hot in the fleece blanket. She began to struggle.

A whimper arose beneath the black folds just as the mother hoisted her body off the bed and walked into the master bathroom. When the mother turned on the bathroom light, it clicked.

Gripping Melody tighter, the stranger hurried down the stairs.

What golden nuggets have agents left you?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

At a book-signing of Ms. Atwood's I grabbed two books: The Blind Assassin and The Year of the Flood. I started Assassin first which is a complex story in a story in a story. About half way through, I gave up--something that almost never happens. I liked the fantasy story buried in the middle, but the past and present of the central character, although written beautifully, just didn't move. Please note, Assassin won the Booker Prize.

Reluctant to start The Year of the Flood, I let it sit around until last Saturday. I finished it yesterday (Tuesday). It was fantastic! If you like Stephenie Meyer's The Host and Stephen King's The Stand, you will enjoy this book. It centers around a green religious sect in the (not-so-distant?) future before and after a plague--the waterless flood--wipes the planet free of man.

This book is rich in two ways: setting and plot. There's plenty of suspense: will Ren escape her isolation chamber before she runs out of food? What horrible thing happened to kill all humans pretty-much instantaneously? But my favorite part is the setting. Things in Atwood's future poke fun of what we have and what we've done in the here and now. Bimplants for woman. Secret-burgers made of stray pets and possibly assassinated humans. Happicupachino. The greenies or Gardeners eschew cell phones, grow mushrooms in the basements of abandoned buildings, and sing hymns about "Saint" Dian Fossey. There's a delicious moment when we discover (slight spoiler here) that the leaders, known as Adams and Eves, secretly use laptops in a hidden chamber, bringing to mind Animal Farm.

The only part I question, as a writer, is how so many of the main characters survive a plague when 99.9 percent of humanity is (melted) toast. However, you don't pull on Superman's cape and you shouldn't nit-pick with a writing legend. Now I've got to get my hands on Oryx and Crake--it features some of the same characters--glee!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meet Clyde Beauregard

Man Fishing On Pier At Sunset

Hey Clyde, since you and your beer are featured at the top of the blog, I think our readers should know more about my imaginary friend.

Imagine this.

Now come on, Clyde. Don't be like that. Say! How would you like to be in one of my books?

No thanks. You'd probably get me drunk an' drown me in my beer cooler.

I would not. That would be way to obvious. How about I let you inhale one of those fancy fishing doo-hickeys on the intake of a surprise sneeze and you aspirate with the hook through the back of your tongue?

Fly fishing fly with hook

Ha! Shows what you know. I only use my teeth to bite through the line, not ta bait the damn thing.

Good point. So let's start with the basics. Where you from?

Besides your medulla stupida?

That's right prefrontal , smartman, among other areas.

Have you donated to Wikipedia yet?

Don't change the subject.

Fine, I'm from Honea Path, SC, my dad was in the armed services, my mom was the principal of Whitehall Elementary, and my older brother, Dylan, we call 'em Dill, regularly beat the piss out of me until I outgrew the sonofa--

Thanks, Clyde. We got it.

Well you asked.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson

I've seen this book everywhere. In bookstores, grocery stores, pet stores, and it's probably sold in tattoo parlors. Why not? I had no burning desire to read it myself until it was highly recommended by a friend. She warned me the beginning was slow.

Stuck on a plane to Calgary, having already read the inflight magazine and flipped through Sky Mall, I had no choice but to slog through it. Laborious. But my friend said she couldn't put it down. So I started looking at the page number, waiting for that magic moment of "Oooh, this is getting good now." 250. Yep, it took that long for it to pick up for me. And yes, I put it down several times to gaze at the tiny fields and clouds and wonder if the line for the bathroom would ever disappear. It made me wonder how in the world this story got through the publication process. Swedish editors must be far more patient with story development compared to their American counterparts.

The beginning deals with financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist's trial for commiting libel against a corrupt businessman. I got bored with all the details--finance ain't my cup of tea. I did wake up whenever the story switched to the titular character, Lizbeth Salander. With her dubious background, young age, and unlikely position as an investigator for a security company, this character jumped off the page.

The middle of the book is the best. Blomkvist is charged with discovering what really happened to the missing-presumed-murdered young girl from a prominent family chock full of nuts--including a Nazi sympathizer. It's a who-done-it with a large cast of suspects, plot twists, and a shocking ending. Good stuff.

Reasonable place to end things, right? Nope, we go for another 140 pages for Blomkvist and Salander to expose the corrupt businessman from the beginning. In case you're wondering, the paperback version I'm holding is nearly 650 pages. I like long books, but would have been sorely tempted as an editor to cut way back on the beginning and ending. Is this a good book? Yes, it is, but it takes a while to get going.

As a sad footnote, Larsson passed away before the books in his wildly successful trilogy were published.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Language Lessons in Banff

Last week my husband and I went to Banff in Alberta, Canada. The lake was blue green, the streams clear, spruce trees were everywhere, and the temperature was a perfect high 60s, low 70s. Even the chipmunks were extra cute and ready to jump on your lap for a power bar crumb or two. No, I was a good girl, and didn’t feed the wildlife. All in all, a hiker’s paradise as long as you don’t mind going up.

One thing about this destination—it attracts people from all over the world. So, for example, when I was clinging to a mountain side temporarily halted by my troublesome vertigo and the urge to scream, “I’m gonna die!” I heard, “What an idiot!” in several different languages. At least, that what I think they said.

On the second morning, we went for a canoe ride across Lake Louise. It cost about 40 bucks for an hour and they promised to charge us for a second hour if we were late. So off we went, with the rising sun at our backs and soon discovered that rowing straight requires some cooperation. Me: “Honey, you’re steering us into the rocks. They said stay ten feet from the shore. Honey!” Husband: “Wait, let me take this picture.” On the way back, the lake was full of red canoes and I realized the sun shining off the water was very, very bright, sparkling like a disco ball from migraine Hades. I pulled my hat over my eyes and squeezed them shut, rowing to beat the clock. We came close enough to the other canoes for me to hear “Anata wa baka” and “Du bist bekloppt”.

That afternoon we went to see Takakkaw Falls. It was gorgeous and quite cold at the bottom. All that pounding, flowing water had a predictable effect on my bladder, but alas, there were no port-a-potties around. “T'es un imbécile!”

French is such a pretty language, isn’t it? I can’t wait to go back.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Brrr-eak Time

Princess Frostine

Ah Friday. The day that used to mean: here comes two days of freedom! Now it means: what in the world am I going to do with my children so we don't end up in a hair-pulling free-for-all over who got the Princess Frostine card while playing Candyland?

ldsc363_0607 - A grizzly bear cub looks for breakfast near Bow Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

This weekend will be a little different as the kids are headed to their grandparents while the husband and I are off to Banff for a couple days of hiking. Schweet! This little break couldn't have come at a better time. After several weeks of rewriting, I'm having trouble looking at my manuscript without wanting to hurl chunks. Sorry pal, it's not you, it's me.

So I'll be on a blogging/commenting hiatus until next Friday. Hope everyone has a great weekend.