Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What a great book

I’ve had The Thorn Birds for a while but I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago and started reading it in my ‘chill out’ times.  I forgot what a great story this is.  I can hardly put the book down at night to go to bed.

Yes, I should be working on my book, but I’ve been gathering things for taxes, trying to work out computer issues, keeping the house spotless so we can show it at any time, and dealing with a couple of personal issues concerning close friends.  All I have time for lately is a little reading before bed.

The Thorn Birds was published in 1977 and probably breaks the rules concerning literature today.  There’s not much dialogue in numerous places and lots of descriptions and back story.  Personally I find all this interesting and it doesn’t put me off the story much.  I do wish it had more dialogue though instead of internal thoughts.  Still, it’s a classic so this author did something right.  You should read this book if you haven’t yet, or if it’s been a long time since you held it in your hands. 

My copy is a hard cover book printed on very old paper, the kind that isn’t even on the outer edges.  This only adds to the charm.  I love to hold a physical book when I read.  Does anyone else own actual books anymore, or is everything you read on kindle these days?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Staying Inspired

Oh yes…that thing we must all do if we’re writers and hope to finish anything we’re working on.  Sometimes this is harder to do than you think, unless you’ve been there yourself.  Any art takes a lot of brain power and imagination.

I find that reading helps if I’m at a loss for where to go next.  Picking up a book in the same genre as my WIP seems to jumpstart my batteries and gets my mind going again.  There are a few things I’ve discovered through my reading, not only in novels but also literary magazines and self-help books that I think will apply to any genre. 

Don’t be Boring.  Keep something happening.  Think about reading the book you’re writing as a reader, not an author.  Is it interesting?  If not, how can you change it?  Maybe the action doesn’t start until the second page.  Can you switch it around and put that part first?  If necessary, read some opening lines of novels you have in your home library.

Grab the reader by the throat.  What kind of action can you devise for your protagonist that would put them in physical or emotional jeopardy?  Never start any novel with a description of the weather or anything else mundane.

Give your protagonist a purpose to get involved in the conflict.  With crime novels, remember a killer never kills because they are mad.  There’s always another reason.  It’s the same with any genre.  There is usually a hidden reason behind the actions of the antagonist that will be discovered throughout the course of the story.  Everyone has an agenda.

Characters shouldn’t be likeable.  They should be real, like people in ordinary life.  How many of us know someone that is perfect?  We all have our flaws, even when we’re basically likeable.  We all know liars and cheaters, scoundrels and bitches, unsure people in our lives, or we’ve crossed paths with such people in the past.  Maybe these people make some bad choices because they’re only trying to fit in.  Go there in your mind and use this knowledge when molding your characters.  The readers will have empathy for your flawed characters because they can be damaged and likeable.

Endings should be a slap in the face and something the reader didn’t see coming.  The whole novel is important, but beginnings and endings are super important.  The reader should feel satisfied with the way the story ended, but at the same time surprised at how it ended.

Experience what life is about so you can use it in your writing.  I’m talking about the things we all face as human beings – accomplishment and disappointment, anger and joy, heartbreak and excitement.  Dig deep into your soul and bring up these feelings so they flood onto the page in the words you type.

Know what your story is about.  This isn’t the elevator pitch you ramble off when someone asks you about your book.  This is deeper than that.  What does your story mean to you?  What does it say about the world as viewed through your eyes?  Something buried in our subconscious drives us to get up early and/or stay up late typing at the keyboard on our WIP.  What is at the heart of our story?  Is it anger or sadness?  What drives the protagonist and antagonist?  Are they seeking justice, revenge, or something else?  If we can find it, we can classify and expand upon it and make our WIP’s killer novels one day. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Dark Beginnings of Valentines Day

Lupercalia by betterPtopaganda

I ran across some interesting pieces about the origin of this holiday.  I thought I’d share this from an NPR article from 2011.

Valentines Day, like so many holidays we celebrate, began as a pagan feast, this particular holiday the Roman feast of Lupercalia.  This celebration was held between the thirteenth and fifteenth of February every year.

The Roman men, drunk and naked, would kill a goat or dog and then whip the women with the hides thinking this would increase fertility.  Believe it or not, the women would line up to be whipped by the men.  Hmmm…maybe this was a highlight back in the day.  I imagine regular life was mundane and villagers looked forward to all the festivals.

This feast also included a lottery where young men would draw women’s names out of a jar.  The couples would be matched up for the duration of the festival, or longer if it was a good match.

Later on, in the third century, and in two different years, Emperor Claudius II executed two men on February fourteenth, both named Valentine.  I’m not sure what these men did to lead to this kind of punishment, but the Catholic Church honored these martyrs by celebrating St. Valentine’s Day. 

In the fifth century, things were changed again when Pope Gelasius I combined Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia in order to abolish the pagan celebration.  The festival remained a drunken revelry, only now the Christians wore clothes.  It was still a day of fertility and love.

The holiday grew sweeter as the years went by with writers romancing it in their work.  In the middle ages the first Valentine’s Day cards appeared.  Cards were handmade until the tradition made its way to the New World where factory-made cards were generated in the nineteenth century.

Today this holiday, like most of them we celebrate, is big business with all sorts of things appearing in the stores way before the actual holiday.  In 2012 more than $18 billion was spent on Valentine’s Day purchases.  Today we buy jewelry, flowers, chocolates, stuffed animals and other trinkets for our beloved on this day of love.  Even single people buy themselves gifts.

It makes one wonder if anyone still celebrates as the old Romans did.

What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?  Is it a holiday you celebrate?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Harper Lee to publish second book

Harper lee in 1962

Harper lee in 2007

It’s been fifty-five years since To Kill a Mockingbird was published, earning this first time author a Pulitzer Prize.  Now, at eighty-eight a second book will be published in July of this year.  Go Set a Watchman is a book written before To Kill a Mockingbird, but taking place twenty years later when Scout is grown and goes home to visit her father.

Once home in Maycomb, Scout grapples with personal and political issues as she attempts to understand her father’s attitude toward society.  She also struggles with her own feelings about her childhood and where she was born.  The book will feature many characters from the first book.

To read the entire article click here.

I think this is pretty amazing.  This author now lives in a nursing home and thought this manuscript was lost or destroyed years ago.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Can you really judge a good book by its cover?

I’ve been thinking about book covers lately because I will be in need of one sometime this year for my new mystery book.  First, I have to buckle down and finish the rewrites.  But I have something particular in mind for this book of mine, which lead me to look up, supposedly, the best covers of 2014.

I’m posting some links here so anyone that cares to can look at these covers for themselves.  I don’t mean to be critical because surely the New York Times, Paste Magazine and Print Magazine should know what a good book cover looks like.  But I have to be truthful about my opinion of these covers.  If I saw any of these books on a bookshelf in the bookstore, I probably wouldn’t pick up any of them.

When a book cover is supposed to be important and the first thing a potential buyer sees, how did these slip by?  I couldn’t tell you what any of these books are about when looking at the cover alone.  I hope they did a better job with the blurb on the back.

The next group are covers that won awards for the best e-book designs for 2014.  These are a little more imaginative.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I didn’t see this coming

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is writing a Sherlock Holmes novel with a co-author.  The book will focus on Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft, and is due out in the fall, published by Titan Books.

The New York Times carried this story a couple of weeks ago.  It looks like if one is a celebrity it’s easy to get a book deal.  I hope it will be a good book.  Kareem says he’s been interested in Sherlock Homes since the 1970’s when he encountered a book featuring Sherlock’s older brother.  At that time, he thought the character could be expanded on because he was older, smarter and working in the highest level of the British government.

The story, titled Mycroft Holmes, will be set in England and Trinidad.  Mycroft is a recent university graduate and now working for the British Secretary of State for War.  He learns from a friend that troubling events are occurring in Trinidad – dead children, mysterious disappearances and strange backward-facing footprints in the sand.  He goes to Trinidad to investigate, and to follow his fiancĂ© who was raised there.

I like Sherlock Holmes and this plot sounds interesting.  We’ll see.  Comments welcome.