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The Christmas Book Haul

So, what do a bunch of writers want for Christmas? Books, of course. But a survey of the Thursday Night Writers suggests that Santa’s gift-giving expertise is decidedly wobbly. Either that, or certain persons indulged in some lump-of-coal-type behavior in 2018.

I made out pretty well myself, but not because Santa (or his elves who happen to be related to me) got it right on their own. Brazen beggar that I am, I keep a public wish list on the Amazon web site. During the year, I use it to store the long, long list of books I’ve seen reviewed that I really, really want to read, if only I manage to live to be 175. Come the first snowflakes, I nip in and start moving titles around, shoving to the top the ones I’d like to see under the Christmas tree.

So my haul this year included Wish List #1, Tana French’s The Witch Elm. French is one of the only authors I buy in hard cover. (I’ve been mind-boggled by a recent thread on the DorothyL listserv, in which mystery fans explain why they can’t read her books. Their explanations convince me that they are reading the books of some other Tana French. A sobering thought for us writers who think that our readers read exactly what we hear in our heads when we write.)

Wish List #2 turned up, too: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Natural Causes. The subtitle is An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer. Maybe it’s because I turned 70 last year, but I find myself getting crankier and crankier about Upbeatness on the subject of old age. It stinks. End of discussion.

Two of my granddaughters gave me Hiro Arikawa’s The Travelling Cat Chronicles. I am holding it in reserve until a current flurry of life demands calms down. Cats must be contemplated in calm and with dignity. And judging from my Japanese acquaintances, a Japanese cat will be Cat Squared.

Santa clearly approves of another TNWer, a fantasy/mystery author who received Agents and Spies, Thrilling Tales, a Gothic Fantasy anthology from Flame Tree Press. Flame Tree is a new publisher specializing in “excellent writing in horror and the supernatural, crime and mystery thrillers, and science fiction and fantasy.” The anthology combines classic stories with original ones from new authors. Imagine being paired in an anthology with Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle or Rudyard Kipling!

Another TNWer, one-half of a pair of love birds married, lo, these many decades, received from his spouse a book of essays on the meaning of it all by one of their favorite columnists. He, in turn, had bought her a compilation of articles on the life of their favorite evangelist. No prior consultations. It’s like O. Henry’s “The Gifts of the Magi”, without the bitter overtone.

Alas, two of us received no books. One, our most prolific writer, is the duck in the hen house: the reading passion is the thing she doesn’t have in common with her family. The other non-recipient is a lesson to us all. Our most voracious reader, she roars through piles of books weekly – on her Kindle. Knowing that her first, second, third, etc. choices are already streaming to her at the speed of light, her family rebel at the thought of offering #17, and give her sweaters. When Amazon offers all the books there are by One-Click, and Google digitizes the world library and Project Gutenberg actually gives books away free… can we possibly have lost something?

Here’s hoping you all found just what you wanted under the tree, books or no books.

A good book makes you think

I know I’m taking a chance when I download “bargain” books from BookBub, Choosy Bookworm, and Amazon, or pick up used books at my favorite Arizona bookstore, Changing Hands. I may end up with a book that doesn’t appeal to me, to put it nicely. Looking on the bright side, it can be motivating to realize that if that book can get published, surely I will have no problem getting my novel into print.

That was not the case with the used book on writing I recently bought, “The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing” by David Morrell. I am only 36 pages into the book and I have already gotten my $8.50 worth. (The other used book on writing included in that same purchase, for just $6.50 and to remain unnamed, was barely worth that amount. Even so I read the entire book.)

On page four of “The Successful Novelist,” Morrell states that the correct, and only, answer to his question, “Why do you want to be a writer?” is “Because you need to be.” “Writers write.” A real writer would squeeze writing into any time available, even if it’s just fifteen minutes a day.

The sign of a good book is that it makes you think. (I made that up. I think.) Reflecting back over my younger writing years, this is what I think my writing life should have been. When I was young and energetic, busy with my family, work, and volunteer activities, I should have found a way to say “no” to just one thing. And then locked myself in the closet. (That’s correct. When I wrote in 1987 my very first draft of the book, “Anne,” from which my other books have spawned, I put a desk in my clothes closet. In our open concept house, this was the only place I could escape from the activity and noise. The bathroom was my second choice.)  If I’d been smart enough to lock the closet door and write for fifteen minutes each day, by now I actually might have a book completed and, dare I say, published. Thirty years later.

As I ruminated over how quickly those thirty years have passed with so little writing to show for them, the accountant in me picked up my phone, clicked on the calculator app, and started punching in numbers. If I had spent just a half-hour every day writing, 365 days a year, for thirty years, I would have racked up 5,475 hours writing.

I tried to relate that number to something tangible, such as how many books 5,475 hours of writing equates to. Due to the fact that I don’t have any completed, full-length novels to my credit, I can only draw a parallel to my NaNoWriMo experiences. In the month of November I can write 50,000+ words, without writing every day. I estimate that I spend three hours a day on average writing like crazy during the month, which totals ninety hours. For a first draft of 100,000 words, I quadrupled those hours, 360 hours total. In half-hour increments, that equals 720 writing sessions of a half hour each, or pretty darn close to two full years.

Back to the 5,475 hours that I could have spent writing in the past thirty years. If I divide those hours by the 360 hours to produce a rough draft, I could have easily whipped out fifteen rough drafts. Instead of the four unfinished drafts I have, I could have fifteen. Unfinished. Rough. Drafts. Sounds about right.

P.S. Please go back and read Heidi Wilson’s latest blog post. She issued a challenge. Read the comment section for a hilarious response from Judy.

 

 

Catch Me If You Can, Google!

My fellow oldsters talk a lot these days about how scary Google is. Sometimes the scary thing is called “The Cloud” or just “They”. What’s worrying my buddies is the idea that somebody out there, Mr. Google for choice, is amassing information on them from their computers, secret stuff, that will be used to sell them things, and soon after that, to mess directly with their minds. These conversations usually end with firm resolutions, if not oaths, that they never have and never will purchase anything except on the most rational principles of usefulness.

I got a little antsy about Mr. Google myself, before my grandson put an ad blocker on my computer. I’d been looking online for a dress to wear to a family graduation. Didn’t find one. But for weeks afterward, every dress I’d clicked on kept popping up on every site I went to.

Featured! Sale! Today Only! It wasn’t that I minded having Them know that I’d considered that dress. I minded having Them think I’d buy anything if they waved it under my nose enough times.

The ad blocker solved that problem. Lately, though, I’ve been taking note of what my digital friends try to make me buy on their own sites. I thought Mr. Amazon liked me, because I buy so many books from him. So many, in fact, that I never even glanced at his recommendations – I didn’t have space on my shelves for what I was buying anyway. Then one day I just happened to look down….

Reading Level: Ages 5-102

Reading Level: Ages 5-102

Do I sound to you like a person for whom the ideal book would be Horton Hears A Who?

That was Mr. Amazon’s #1 pick for me. Besides, I’ve already read it. Many times. Out loud. To myself.

All right, all right, that doesn’t make my case, does it? Then consider the #2 choice: the Bible. Could be a compliment, could be an insult. I opted for the second interpretation when I noticed that the #5 recommendation was also the Bible.

I do buy cozy mysteries. I like Miss Marple a lot, anything by Ngaio Marsh even better and Dorothy L. Sayers best. Amazon entered my purchases into its complex algorithms, turned the crank and out popped John Grisham’s A Time to Kill.

My favorite Tana French

My favorite Tana French

That was the only mystery suggested, except for The Likeness by Tana French, which I had already bought from Amazon.

After that came The Scarlet Letter. So I was right about why they put in the Bible.

YouTube must be using the same algorithms. Long ago, I worked for investment management firms as an economist, and I still keep up on the subject. Mr. Google knows that I have a bookmark to a site that gives stock market quotations. He must have told Mr. YouTube. I’ve been known to buy books on the subject online, too. Mr. Amazon is in the loop. So what is my first recommended video on YouTube?

BREXIT 2016: ILLLUMINATI-FREEMASON Struggles

At this point, I began to form algorithms of my own. Take two or three books on the economy, add two or three or four dozen on fantasy worlds, elves and so forth, divide by The Companion to The Name of the Rose, and you get irrefutable proof that the Illuminati were behind one side of the Brexit vote and the Freemasons behind the other. I didn’t watch the video just because I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. But it does worry me. Not that YouTube has my number, but that there’s somebody out there who made that video.

In fact, I have occasionally searched for clips on YouTube, so Mr. YouTube was able to take his own notes. For instance, I’m working on a book that has pet ferrets in it. I clicked on videos of ferret owners showing off their weasly little companions. I admit that I even clicked on one that had “cute” in the title. Naturally, YouTube now always recommends ferret videos. In the last lot, they saw fit to include:

See How Easily a Rat Can Wriggle Up Your Toilet

You don't have to believe this.

You don’t have to believe this.

You can see the connection to ferrets, can’t you?

“Cute” earned me a flood of links to animals claiming that distinction. It also got me:

EXCLUSIVE: Male Polar Bear Chases and Eats Cub

I didn’t watch that one, either.

So you tell me: have the Illuminati of the Internet got my number yet? I figure I’ll be long dead before the Exalted Grand Masters can sell me so much as a peanut.

Readers: what are the computer geniuses flogging to you these days?

Do what you love

I’m still hard at work on the short story (“The Intruder”) that takes place in my daughter’s house in Virginia. I reduced the word count and simplified the convoluted plot line and am now ready to smooth the rough edges, increase the word count, and add complexity to the plot line. I plan to have a draft to submit to my writing group “soon” after we arrive in Arizona. Warning to my group: do not expect it the week we arrive (next week).

Recently I read on a writing blog (not certain which one) that a writer (obviously) keeps a journal for each writing project that she works on. I promptly went to Barnes and Noble, purchased one of their ubiquitous,

IMG_0563

Journal for short story, “The Intruder

always “reduced price,” journals, and started recording my experience revising my short story. I have two entries.

This is the year (I hope) that we get FaceTime functioning so that I can participate in our Thursday night writing group from Arizona. Even if we are only able to communicate via the phone, I will be satisfied. Without the structure of my group to motivate me, I spend my time there basking in the sunshine, resting, and exploring. Add being a spectator at the numerous sports and activities that our three active grandchildren participate in and you can see why I haven’t gotten much writing done these past two winters.

Something that has limited my writing in Virginia is that, as a Christmas present to myself, I renewed my subscription to Ancestry.com. My daughter and I have been researching rabidly various branches of my husband’s family. She’s traced his paternal grandfather’s ancestors back to hanging out with William Bradford, a Pilgrim governor of Massachusetts. (I thought I had done well to determine my fifth great-grandfather was a Minuteman!) It’s an addictive–and at times frustrating–hobby.

Last year in Arizona I participated in an online support group for writers, “Creative Monsters Club,” with other members from around the world. Our mentor, Marcy Mason McKay, has published (among other writings) an award-winning novel, “Pennies from Burger Heaven.” She soon plans to start work on the second book in the Burger Heaven series. I am going to post a review of her book on Goodreads and Amazon, which I have never done before. The quality and detail of the reviews I have read prior to deciding to purchase a book have deterred me from contributing my own paltry review. But I’m going to take the plunge and submit a brief review of this book. Please read her book–my review is optional!

 

 

 

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