Those Books We Loved... but can't remember

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

11 Chiming In
I've been reading some blog posts today about the books we loved as kids. This one in particular, which is part of the YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday, sparked this post.

At the time the post went up, Kathleen, the blogger, mentioned a series she loved as a kid, but couldn't remember the name of. (Thanks to some details provided, someone else gave her the title.) I found myself in a similar spot - knowing the plot, but not the title of a book I'd loved as a kid. I realized half-way through my answer that one of Kathleen's favorites was the title I was missing.

My list of favorite books was similar to hers:
  • The Dollhouse Murders
  • Wait 'Til Helen Comes
  • Christina's Ghost (the forgotten title)
  • The Vampire's Promise novels (though I'm fairly certain they had a different name back in the day)
  • Christopher Pike
  • I also read a lot of Poe, and the "Spooky Stories to Tell in the Dark" short stories.
It's really not all that difficult to see where my proclivity for dark-slanted tales comes from. (The irony of this is, I'm not a fan of gory horror. I much prefer psychological chills to blood and guts.)

All of that was just the lead in for my "real" post:

There's a book I read as a kid that I loved, but I've since forgotten the title. I'm wondering if anyone out there recognizes this set-up:

  • It would have probably been published in the early 90's (though it's possible that it was an 80's hold-over), paperback and not very thick.
  • The story was vampires (I've mentioned my fascination with the bloodsuckers, yeah?)
  • The main character was a teenage boy 15-16 yrs old who lived in a boardwalk town (I'm wanting to call him Jesse.)
  • His best (girl) friend had been taken by the "big bad" vampire, who was living in the shuttered boardwalk amusement park.
  • The "less bad" vampire (because she certainly wasn't good) agreed to help rescue the girl because she wanted to destroy the "big bad" vampire, so she and the teen teamed up.
  • They rescue the girl, and the big bad gets killed, but what made me remember this book was that it wasn't a happy ending. The last scene was in a sort of clubhouse, or treehouse, where the teen had taken his friend (because it was a standing structure with a threshold that couldn't be crossed, IIRC). She was out cold in an easy chair, and the very end had her waking up, him hugging her happily just as the scene faded to black on the light glinting off her new fangs.
Granted, I read a TON of thriller-style books as a kid, so it's entirely possible that my brain has melded two or three into one storyline that never actually existed, but I really want to find out the title of this book if it's out there.

Most kids' books are of the "happily ever after" and "problems solved by dinnertime" variety. Stumbling on one where victory was pulled out of reach at the last second was jarring, and obviously left an impression.

No Question About It.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

4 Chiming In

I have developed a new writing "tic", and I have no idea where it came from. I keep leaving off the friggin' question marks from the ends of questions and replacing them with periods.

I've caught myself doing this over the last few days, and have even found instances of it in my WIP's. Why is my pinkie finger avoiding the ??? key?


There... I feel better now. :-P

Back to work.

Self-Publishing Quandry

Sunday, March 27, 2011

2 Chiming In
Here's a thought for discussion:

We've seen, over and over and over, writers put forth the mantra that it's not the idea, it's the execution that matters. So, putting that together with the idea that self-publishing might be on the upswing (with ebooks), let me ask you this:

What do you think the effect will be on trends?

Assume that the marketplace settles into a happy medium, with commercial publishers operating as they have been, but with another branch of successful "straight to ebook" self-publishers who have their own fans waiting to gobble up books as fast as they can hit upload. (What I think is the likely outcome to this "shift", but that's beside the point.)

Okay, now assume that a debut author nets a major deal (it's rare, but it happens *waves to Teherah*), and Publisher's Marketplace goes on to list the "specifics" --

First time author Newly Published, in a 3-book deal to Major House.
REALLY AWESOME SERIES is a fresh take on ... blah, blah, blah. It was pitched as Twilight meets Glee, but with garden gnomes.

So, all the writers out there who choose to write to trends start penning stories about singing, sparkly garden gnomes. Other publishers are looking for similar material to put out at the same time, yadda, yadda, yadda... 18 months later the shelves are full of pointy-hat-wearing gnomes singing and pining for human girls they want to eat for dinner.

However, two months after the PM announcement, someone with a decent fan following on Kindle, who happens to have very fast fingers uploads their own "Twilight meets Glee, but with garden gnomes" novel.

It's not plagiarism, because it's their book. It's not even unusual, given that writers tend to chase trends, but what impact do you think it'll have at the end of that 18 months, when the hardbound gnome book hits shelves and those who've been chomping through ebooks are tired of gnomes?

Do you think the two systems will have their own trends, independent of each other or what?

** discuss **

Writer Survival Kit

Monday, March 21, 2011

3 Chiming In

I do believe this may be the most concise -acurate - representation of a writer's life I've ever seen. A desk, writing implements, and the means to mainline caffeine, all in one convenient package.

Too bad there weren't any teacups to go with the teapot. :-(

If you can't say something nice...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

13 Chiming In
There's a trend on sites and blogs where crits are handed out as prizes or as a normal part of the site's operation; it's called the "Sandwich Method", and it's garbage.

Basically, the Sandwich Method means that if you have to give a critical opinion, you should "sandwich" it between two positive aspects of the submitted piece. There are several, glaring, problems with this system - especially when it's the normal operating procedure for what are supposed to be real critiques.

  • If someone wants to be a writer, then they need to get used to people having a problem with what they write. I don't care how good it is, someone's going to hate it.
  • Agents and editors don't bother to temper their impressions of a piece. If you figure out what's wrong with something before you submit to editors or agents, then you can spare yourself the head-scratching when the 2-1 ratio of good to bad doesn't hold up on submission.
  • Sometimes things suck. Sometimes they suck a lot. Sometimes there is nothing good about a submission other than the formatting came out clearly.

I can already see the hackles rising on those of you who still think Kindergarten rules apply to real life and that everyone should get to play and receive encouragement for the effort, but this isn't a game, and what most people who employ this soft-touch method of critiquing don't realize is that they're doing damage to the person they're trying to help.

Certain kinds of writers - new ones especially - have three very bad habits when it comes to seeking input on their writing.
  1. They ask expecting compliments because they're certain their words, style, grammar, etc. are perfect and beyond contest.
  2. They come at offered critique and advice as though the people reading their material owe them for the privilege of reading their words.
  3. They will latch onto anything - ANYTHING - positive as an indication that a particular bit, scene, or phrase needs to stay, no matter how many rounds of editing the piece goes through.
The so-called Sandwich Method is like crack to someone with one of those vices, and all you're doing is enabling them to keep their bad habits and sub-par writing, which is going to make them frustrated when that writing doesn't hold up when put next to that of someone who took the time to listen to the hard words and decided what did and didn't make sense for themselves.

  1. The compliment seekers will see the 2-to-1 ratio and, believing that it fits with their assumptions of their own talent and skill level, will ignore anything else - including the nitpicks in the sandwiched passages.
  2. When you crit something, you're investing your time and effort and skill for someone who's not paying you. You owe them nothing, other than your honesty; giving them anything less does them a disservice and wastes your own time.
  3. The last one is the one the Sandwich Method, and similar approaches, does the most damage to. They hang onto those "positives" as tight as they can. It doesn't matter that the rest of the scene changes and now the original material doesn't fit, or that what used to be the strongest element is now the weakest after edits - that was the "good" part of their original story, so it has to stay. They take "complimentary" as an indication of perfection.
Are all writers like this? No. Of course not. And I'm not saying you have to be cruel (though I'm sure any of you that followed me here from the crits I've given elsewhere have seen that word applied liberally). Just be honest. Tell the person what you think - and why <--- that's the key. Give them reasons and help them fix whatever problems you see. They don't have to take your advice, and your advice may not fit in the bigger scheme of their story, but at least you won't have hobbled them with empty praise.

So long as you aren't being intentionally petty, or offering up the "Ths sux!" kinds of remarks without comment on how to improve something, the writer's reaction to your opinion isn't your problem to deal with.

It's better to hear the hard truth while the story is in flux than wait until you've burned through all the agents you wanted to query with a less than shiny manuscript you thought was golden.

Odds Schmodds

Saturday, March 12, 2011

5 Chiming In

Odds mean nothing to one who defies them - for the good or for the bad. Odds are only important to those who never seek to surpass them.

There's not much chance of winning the lottery, but people do it.

There's not much chance of getting hit by a meteorite, but it happens.

If you happen to fall into either of the above groups, all the people to whom they didn't apply mean zilch.

There's not much chance of having the "next big thing" be the thing with your name on it (for that matter, there's not much chance of having a professionally, commercially published book with your name on it, period.)

Who cares? It's going to happen, and odds or no odds, the fact is that you could be the one it happens to. The only certainty in the game is the certainty of inaction.

Consider yourself properly motivated -- NOW GO WRITE OR I SEND THE POLAR BEAR TO YOUR FRONT DOOR!

/ reluctant-writer PSA

I Know Whereof I Warn

Thursday, March 10, 2011

3 Chiming In
Sadly, this is me more often than not.


When you look up and realize you've got twistie ties and colored pencils in your hair, it's time to take a walk. (But please, do us all a favor and put on some real pants.)

Scam Emails! (Or how to craft better fiction...)

Monday, March 7, 2011

2 Chiming In

Some obscure mil/billionaire in a foreign nation that may or may not exist has died/been sent to prison/exiled and you have been named his/her/their heir.

To claim your prize/inheritance/rainbow generator, all you have to do is tell me information I have no need to know, possibly break the laws of your own country as well as a few others, and not know world currencies!

Isn't it great?

If you ever needed proof that the ability to write something that isn't true doesn't equate skill at writing believable fiction, just pick out one of the oft-circulated scam emails at random and take a peek (without opening any attachments... please...)

However, that's not to say that you can't learn a thing or two from dissecting "bad" fiction. Let's take a look --


Every writer of fiction (or fictional writer, for that matter) should know how far they can push their reader's BS-meter before they trip the book throwing response. This is where world-building comes in. You make the rules for your universe, and then you're obligated to operate within them.
  • random gagillionaire (possibly royal) dude(tte) kicks off, and they're so destitute for friends/family that they pick someone at random to hand their millions to... wasn't that an Adam Sandler movie?
  • You only get ONE of those OMG "what are the odds" moments per tale, so get it out of the way up front and don't push it. (Inheriting an airline shipping company, being the heir to King Whosamawhatchit VII, and winning the Spanish Irish sweepstakes in ONE DAY, is pushing it.)
  • I don't care what country the person comes from. If they're in a contemporary, Earth-bound setting, even if they don't have friends, relatives, dogs, or charities of choice to whom they leave their indescribable fortunes, they will have a government under which they lived (or over which they presided). If no one else gets the cash, the governing body will lock it down.
Ignore any of these points, and that book-shaped dent in my wall is your fault.

  • The Irish sweepstakes is not held in Spain. It is not run by Spain. If you tell me you represent the Spanish government on behalf of the Irish sweepstakes, your book becomes a projectile, possibly breaking my window and killing the perfectly innocent birds in my tree. YOU HEARTLESS BIRD MURDERER!
  • If a company has a famous owner, then spell their name correctly. When you tell me to contact "Bill Gate" at Microsoft, I am confused. Which gate is Bill's gate? Does he have his own that no one else uses? (most likely, and it wouldn't be one I had access to) Google is free and easy to use -- this isn't rocket science. CHECK YOUR FACTS BEFORE YOU WRITE THEM DOWN.
  • If the steps required to accomplish a certain goal have real-world consequences, then you should mention those consequences at some point. (Chekhov's Gun - Google it - seriously) This means that if there are legal ramifications to wiring money out of the country to a total stranger, in return for a life-changing, under-the-table windfall, and the star of your tale chooses to do this, then at some point in your story, there'd better be (at the least) the threat of prosecution for doing this illegal thing.
  • If the country you claim to represent has switched to the Euro, this is something you should know. (Not only does Spain =/= Ireland, but it's not the UK, either. Spain does not use GBP as their national currency. Goo-gle. One word, two syllables. Not difficult.)
  • If someone famous has been dead longer than I've been out of high school, it's highly unlikely that they are sending me an email. If they are, then I intend to interview them and get my own show called "Emailing the Other-Side" wherein I use Yahoo to converse with audience members' deceased family members. Maybe they'll send pictures.
  • When you write fiction for an American audience, it's important to know that audience. Most Americans have a comfort zone firmly ensconced between things they're familiar with. Most Americans don't go to Japan and look for great sushi, they go to Japan and look for McDonald's. They also get this weird glazed look when too many unfamiliar names flash in front of their eyes.
  • This doesn't mean you can't diversify... in fact you should. When I see fourteen messages from six different "Kipkalyas", all with names starting with S or J, I get them confused. I can't tell them apart, so I don't care about them. If you want to reach your audience, then you must make them care about your characters.
  • Regional dialogue is like spice. A little for flavor works, but too much and you'll turn your guests stomachs. When you fill your fiction with phrases that your average reader doesn't recognize, it pulls them straight out of your story and makes them hate you. Then they remember you killed the birds in their tree in the last list and hate you even more. (This is where an editor comes in handy - they can point out which words work in any region and which ones, while benign on this side of the pond, reference embarrassing body parts in a derogatory manner on the other.)
And finally:


  • You may not know Yog, but he is both wise and benevolent, and his law is simple -- Money flows TOWARD the writer. This means you never pay to be published; publishers pay you.
  • If you are offering to do something for me, but expect me to send you my name, address, phone number, social security number, bank account, and work details, in order to get it... you are an idiot. I don't waste my time with idiots.
  • If you offer to publish my book, but expect me to send you my name, address, phone number, social security number, credit card number, bank account and addresses for my friends so you can spam both me and them with "deals" on purchasing a book I wrote myself and can read at my leisure from the file on my hard drive for free... you are an idiot. I don't waste my time with idiots.
(*caveat* if you choose to self-publish, then you go looking for a reputable self-publishing company. I am referring to idiots who pretend to be commercial publishers when they are, in fact, pay-to-play vanity presses.)

Flash fiction -- Irregular Creatures

Friday, March 4, 2011

9 Chiming In

Another prompt from over here.

Glynnis McCreary was an irregular creature, and she had the measurements to prove it.

Contrary to what she'd been taught in high school, the space between her eyes was not perfectly equal to the width of one, nor did the corners of her mouth line up straight with the center of her pupils. People said she was beautiful, but she was sure they were just being polite.

Once or twice, Glynnis had even thought about plastic surgery... not the vain sort, mind you, just a bit of correction to make up for Nature's mistakes. To get things back in line -- but that would mean trusting that whichever doctor whose office she ventured into was adept as his craft, and she wasn't willing to do that.

Doctors were notoriously shoddy when it came to the cleanliness of their clinics - plastic surgeons... er, reconstructive surgeons... especially. She was certain she'd seen or heard or read that somewhere, and it was best not to take the risk. It wasn't like she went out often enough for people to notice the difference anyway.

Germs lived outside. Bad people lived outside. Kooks and monsters and all sorts of undesirable things lurked just beyond her door. Glynnis wasn't certain where she stood on whether or not there were aliens flying about overhead, but if there were, they'd be outside, too. That was another reason to keep her irregularity in tact. You see, if aliens were out there - and she wasn't saying they were, mind you - they'd want the regular people first. They'd want the ones that fit their assumptions of what a human person was supposed to look like.

So Glynnis didn't mind being a bit off-center. Not really.

She was perfectly happy to lock her door.... unlock it... lock it... unlock... lock... each night and keep them out. If they existed... which she didn't say they did.

Three times to lock was key, you understand. There's power in three; it's a special number.

She'd lock and unlock, then pat the door seam from top to bottom, to make sure the lock had caught properly, then wedge her chair beneath the handle, in case it failed. Then Glynnis would check her lights- on, off... on, off.. on, off... then lay her hand against the stove plates to make sure they were completely cool before she went to bed... jiggle the dial to make sure they were as turned off as they said they were.

Then she'd go to her room, turn on the TV, and marvel at just how perfect everyone else in the world was. They had to be, she could see them with her own eyes.

Just like she could see the aliens on channel twelve between the snow... but she never said anything about them. They hated to be noticed.

Writing Quirks

Thursday, March 3, 2011

6 Chiming In
We all have them, and I'm not just talking about things like procrastination (*shakes fist at Mindjolt and Bejeweled*). What I'm talking about are those things that we *know* aren't right, or could at least be misunderstood, but by habit or preference do them anyway.

A few of mine:

"eventhough" <--- one word, not two. Surprisingly, I don't have issues with remembering to split "a lot"

"more than a little..." <--- nothing wrong with it on its own, but considering I find upwards of a dozen instances of this phrase in any given WIP, it's my kryptonite

"grey" <--- again, it's debatable if there's something wrong with it, but I can't make myself spell the color with an "a". I don't care what it says on the crayon; it looks wrong to me. (Besides, if it was good enough for Gandalf...)

"leapt" <---- (This is an all purpose quirk for any past participle that ends in "-t" rather than "-ed") Apparently, at some point, my Texas English lessons made me spell things the UK way. "Leaped" doesn't look right to me, and I know I hear people say "leapt" with a "t" on the end, but spell check, and American editors, say it's supposed to be "leaped".

Are there any little oddities in your own habits that irk you?