Books and Things

There was me thinking my books from Amazon were bobbing across the ocean to me, when in actual fact they were jet setting across instead. Yesterday, I heard a thumping on the front door. Honestly, I thought the end of the world was upon us and everyone was being asked to evacuate, the thumping was that loud and urgent, but it was only the delivery man with my bundle of books. I say bundle because it sounds good, but there were only two – No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty and Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1) by Jim Butcher. They took a little over a week to reach me and I look forward to reading them both.

On Tuesday, we went to an Op Shop and I picked up a book called Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days (Left Behind #1) by Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B Hawkins. It was the tag line that got me interested – A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days – as I’ve always been interested in this topic. When we got home, G told me it was a Christian book. Hmm, that is fine as long as it’s not preachy. I can’t stand preachy! If so, I’ll throw it in a corner. However, I simply hope to enjoy a story that might have religious undertones. I’ll be fine with that.

I’ve been on holiday for a week (it will be 10 days to be exact) and it’s rained just about the entire time. Although I’m about ready to say I’ll be glad to see the sun again, I feel selfish for thinking this as we need every drop of rain we can get. Our dam has gone from 32% to 51% in three weeks. That’s terrific news. The farmers are smiling for the first time in a long time and they are looking forward to a great supply of crops this spring.

The sun did come out today. As overcast and especially rainy days depress my mum I told her the bright sunlight was a special birthday present especially for her. That made her laugh. She seemed pleased and said she was happy just to know the sun still existed. Then we laughed and thought about the countries where winter means dismal grey skies for many long months. We forget how lucky we really are.

During the bleak weather I’ve spent many hours scanning my photos. As I mentioned in a comment, I’ve finally got a system happening where I’m speeding through the pages. Well, using the word “speeding” seems wrong, but I am going much faster now. This morning, I picked up all my parent’s photos. *sigh* There are so many of them. I think I’ll be scanning photos for the rest of my life…longer, maybe. 😀

Now, it’s back to the scanner…

Book Review: Illusion

illusionFifteen years ago, approximately, I read Illusion by Paula Volsky and loved it. This month I read it again and can see why I loved it so much. The book is 700 pages long, and for me that means a lot of time and effort and any book which requires these things better be worth it and Illusion is. I’m astonished that I managed this number of pages in just 26 days. That’s amazing.

Based on the French Revolution, the story is set in a fantasy world, but more specifically in a city called Sherreen. Eliste, a toffee nosed Exalted, travels to the city to be presented at court and become “maid” to the queen. We see exactly who Eliste is and how she thinks. We live inside her head for a number of months. It all makes perfect sense and we could almost believe things are just how they should be. Almost.

Then…things change and Eliste’s life is thrown into turmoil. We travel with her as she goes from a wealthy miss to living on the street – cold, hungry and scared. There are more twists in this book than you think possible. Each time something is overcome, something worse is thrown at her. We witness the change in her personality and in the way that she thinks, and that change corresponds with the way the book is written.

Whilst Eliste is wealthy and a somebody, the wording used in the book can become quite tedious. The long words and phrases are confusing at times, but they suit the mind set of the main character and her situation. Everything is centred on class and intelligence and that shows in the word usage. Although I loved the way this was done, I did find it exhausting and this would be the one complaint I have about the book as a whole. However, the characters and plot pulled me over this flaw. Then, when I just started to get used to it, Eliste’s life changes and with it so did the word usage. No longer were education important to her as survival, especially where her next meal would come from, consumed her mind. Gone were the large words and simplicity took over. Well maybe “simplicity” isn’t the right word, but I can guarantee the reading becomes easier nonetheless.

The outcome is brilliant.

The story is filled with suspense, romance, gore, politics, and much more. The characters are whole and convincing. The setting is solid and real. The emotions pull at you, even when you put the book down and try to do something else. I found myself thinking about Eliste’s circumstances and wondering how I would cope if I found myself in the same situation. The scenes filled my mind when I was trying to fall asleep at night. I couldn’t wait to return to Sherreen and read more of Eliste’s plight (remember, I have read the book before and knew what was going to happen and still the book had a hold on me).

Yes, this is still my number one book. Highly recommended.

Purchasing Books Online

It’s something I’ve never done…purchase books online…until now. I always buy them when I see them, and that is usually when I see them in op shops, not book stores. However, I’ve wanted to get my hands on two books that I’ve never seen in Australia (admittedly, I never got around to asking about them at the counter so it doesn’t mean they are unavailable here).

A few days ago, I stumbled across Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1) by Jim Butcher on Amazon and decided to splurge out and buy myself a present. I don’t do it often. Then I thought, “why not look for the other book I want and save on shipping” (whether or not I did I don’t actually know, but the reasoning sounded good at the time). Within thirty seconds I found the other book – No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty – and within a few more minutes I had made the purchase and the books have now been shipped to me.

When I say shipped, I probably mean exactly that, which means the books will bounce slowly across the ocean for about…let me see, two months! Never mind, I’ve got a lot of other things to keep me busy in that time, so I don’t mind. Now G is pestering me to get a copy of Wounded Male by Steven Farmer. I guess he deserves a present for no reason too, so that will be my second experience of buying books online.

Have you purchased books – or anything else – online? What have been your experiences? What are your favourite sites?

All Consuming

During a recent visit to the past (reading the archives of this blog) I came to realise that a post makes no sense at all to visitors if the writer says “the other day I mentioned a book” but never repeats the name of that book in the current post (and the visitor can’t find the post in question unless it has been linked to). It is for this reason that I must apologise for repeating myself today, but I’m reading Illusion by Paula Volsky at the moment and I wanted to make an observation.

Being a writer, I frequent a few places where a number of other writers gather to “talk shop”. I’ve been a member of these places for some years now and have met many people in this time. Over the years I’ve heard people’s thoughts on how a chapter should or should not finish and this is what I’d like to talk about today.

Quite recently a couple of members of one of those haunts said they didn’t necessarily like chapters finishing with a cliff hanger. There were varied reasons for this. One of them being that a writer shouldn’t have to depend on this type of trick to hold the reader’s attention. I totally disagree with this statement, but that’s my opinion and it’s OK to have a different opinion to others. I love chapters ending with a cliff hanger and as a writer I use this tool often. Not only are you encouraging the reader to turn the page and keep reading, you are allowing yourself (as the writer) to keep the inspiration going when you are writing, because most writers tend to want to take a break when they reach the end of a chapter. It’s much easier to pick up the story at a cliff hanger than it is when all is quiet and sombre.

As a reader, I also love cliff hangers. It might be a bit annoying when you’ve pushed through to the end of the chapter and found a cliff hanger, but you have no choice but to put the book down. However, that’s no big deal and when the book is picked up again, the cliff hanger rarely spoils the effect of the story was having on you unless the next chapter does not continue on from where the previous one left off. Now that would be nasty! If the writer goes off to follow another character of the story, then I would understand the frustration. I rarely do that in my own writing.

Paula Volsky uses the cliff hanger tool in her writing and this morning, having sat in bed reading for much longer than I had time for, I reached the end of the chapter and had to put Illusion down…right in the middle of the action. That was six hours ago and I haven’t been able to get the scene out of my mind since. The dark alley, the wintry conditions, the knowledge of close friends being shot moments beforehand and the main character’s flee for safety and knowing she has nowhere to go has interrupted every movement and every thought I’ve had. The silly thing is, I’ve read this book before and know exactly what is going to happen next. You would think that would take some of the expectations away, but it hasn’t. In my case, it has added to them. I want to put on the main character’s shoes again and experience her adventure. I’m so eager to return to that freezing, fearful night. I can’t wait to emerge myself into that world again.

But I shouldn’t do it. I have a four day plan that I must put into action. I cannot escape this world yet. I must be responsible and do what needs to be done here first. Oh, the torture!

To me, the reaction I’ve had to the book proves the characters and the setting are woven together brilliantly. It’s the kind of reaction I would be proud to give to readers of my books. Never mind if the readers like cliff hangers or not, if the story grips them so completely they cannot shift their thoughts to anything else whilst not reading the story, then the writer has done their job and deserves a pat on the back. This is what all writers should be aiming for…leaving the reader gasping for more.

A Four Day Plan

I went under the hood of Now Reading and worked out how to get rid of that solid disc beside the image. I also fixed the spacing and highlighted heading so that the page is easier, and more pleasant, to look at. The image in the sidebar is now centred so that looks better also. Making these changes was simple…once I worked out which documents to mess with. Of course, I did make copies first, just in case I ruined everything. 😉

What else have I been doing? I’m so glad you asked.

Actually, the only things I’ve been doing in the past week or so is coding for this website and reading Illusion by Paula Volsky (I do love that story). However, I think it’s time for me to do something more. I have a week and a half left of part time work before I have a week of holidays. And then…I go back to work full time. (Karen tries to think positive thoughts to keep from getting depressed.)

My goals for the immediate future – let us say the next four days – is to get back into writing. Since the two recent submissions, I’ve fallen into a slump, but that has to end now (well, make that tomorrow).

Guards’ Mustering needs a new ending. I have edited the rest of the story and added a couple of extra scenes, but the end isn’t right. I’ve known the end was weak for some time, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about it and now I have to put those thoughts into words. This weekend will see that happen.

I also, and I’m ashamed to admit this, need to submit Amulet of Kemet to another market. I promised myself that I’d do this within a few days of the rejection, but to date, I’ve done nothing about that. The story needs no work; it’s just a matter of finding the right market. I will put that on my “to do” list for this Friday.

That means I’ve made two public goals for the next four days:

1. Write a new ending for Guards’ Mustering.
2. Submit Amulet of Kemet to an appropriate market.

I feel better already. There’s nothing like public goals to get the inspiration going.

Book Review: For One More Day

Last weekend I was in the library and a book jumped off the shelf and slapped me in the face. The cover of For One More Day by Mitch Albom is as plain as they come. In fact, if the book had been named anything else I think I would have thrown the book back onto the shelf and kept walking. But the title of the book grabbed my attention immediately.

For One More Day

for one more dayBeing a bereaved mother, the title spoke to me in volumes. Without reading anything more than those four words, I knew I wanted to read the book. And I didn’t read the blurb or the inside cover, I just borrowed the book and brought it home with me. And my gut instinct was right.

During the week, I picked up the book again and this time I read the blurb on the back:

“If you had the chance, just one chance, to go back and fix what you did wrong in life, would you take it? And if you did, would you be big enough to stand it? Mitch Albom, in this new book once again demonstrates why he is one of my favourite writers: a fearless explorer of the wishful and magical, he is also a devout believer in the power of love. For One More Day will make you smile. It will make you wistful. It will make you blink back tears of nostalgia. But most of all, it will make you believe in the eternal power of a mother’s love.”

James McBride, author of The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother

As children, we often think our parents are wrong. We don’t understand why they refuse to let us do the things we want to do. We often are embarrassed by them, shy away from them and say things that hurt them. As children, we just don’t get what it’s like to be a parent.

As adults, we fight to become our own person. We still don’t understand why everything is such an effort. And why our parents insist on trying to run our lives by telling us what is best for us. As adults, we still don’t understand what it’s like to be a parent.

Then we become parents ourselves and suddenly everything falls into place. We finally see the sacrifices our parents made. We finally see the mistakes they made and have been trying to warn us against. Without realising what we are doing, we take on the role our parents had and start doing the same things they did. As parents, we finally understand the love our parents had for us and appreciate the need they had to protect us.

If you are a parent now, can you imagine what it would be like to be given the chance to go back and right a wrong with our mother…especially if that mother is dead?

For One More Day gives a son that opportunity. Charley’s life is in ruins and he wants to end his life, but he gets to spend one more day with his (dead) mother. He learns things about his family he never cared about when he was a child. He learns things about his mother that would have embarrassed him as a teenager. He learns things about himself from a mother who never stopped loving him and whose wisdom guides him to pick up the pieces of his tragic life.

This story is written is a way where the words seem to be written especially for you. It felt so private and so close to reality that it had me in tears. If I knew then (when I was growing up) what I know now, life would have been so much easier. I could have saved myself a lot of heartache if I had listened to my parents, but as life is not meant to be easy, we stumble through the years making mistakes. These mistakes make us the people we are today, but what if…

Every family has its secrets. Some children never learn the reason for important decisions made, such as divorce. If we had the chance to go back and spend a day with a lost relative, what would we learn from that time? What would we say?

This book affected me because it was written about a mother and son. The fact that the son wanted to kill himself added to my desire to read the book (although it isn’t in any way a main focus of the story). It gives clear reasons why someone with everything can lose focus to such an extent that it can ultimately lead to the lack of will to live. On the other hand, it shows why a family can become dysfunctional and how easily wrong ideas are formulated because people are not told the truth.

I highly recommend For One More Day to anyone with a heart. You will not regret the time spent within this world, reading the words and sharing the insights this story has to offer.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) about three or four weeks ago. However, due to a heavy editing schedule I had at the time I was unable to write a review of the book…until now.

With over 600 pages, the book is much longer than those I usually read. Having a short attention span, and because I read frustratingly slow, I prefer to stick with thinner books because I feel as if I’m accomplishing something when I finish reading them. So, I get that happy feeling more often with thin books. I never used to be like that. In my younger, more aware days I would only buy extra thick books because I felt I was getting my moneys worth. How things change. 😀

Anyway, back to Harry Potter 6, I have to say that the story kept me intrigued from the beginning. I was carried from chapter to chapter with ease and, of course, the well known characters and well defined plot had a lot to do with this.

If you haven’t read this series, then do yourself a favour and buy the Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-6) right now. You won’t be sorry.

Right, if you haven’t read the book, then I strongly advise you to stop reading this post right NOW!!

Read moreBook Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Grab Your Reader With Conflict

by Lea Schizas

No, not conflict of interest…not conflict within your being…but conflict found in a story.

What exactly is conflict in a story? Simple…a problem/obstacle your main character needs to overcome by the end of the story. Think of it as your engine that drives your car forward. Without one your car remains idle, collecting dust in the driveway. Give your car a super booster engine and you’ll be coasting the streets with no worries. Well, until the police stop you.

In a story conflict moves your character through various situations he must overcome. This intrigues and pulls your reader deeper into the story, connecting with your character’s predicament. A character needs to have a hurdle tossed at them, makes for an intriguing situation to find out the outcome. Without an outcome, there is no magnetic charge with your reader.

Before writing your story and making up your character profile, ask yourself these questions:

1- What will be the main goal my character will face and need to overcome?

2- Who will be my target audience?

The second question is important because it will help to focus your words and subject matter to suit the appropriate audience. For stories aimed at children, your focus will need to adapt to a child’s view of the world around them. Most of the time the story is told through the character’s point of view aged a few years older than the intended audience. For example, if you aim your story for the 8 – 10 age group then setting a story for a twelve year old character would be best since kids always like to read and associate with kids a bit older than them.

What subject matter can you write about for this age group? Middle grade readers love mysteries, soft spooky tales ( no knife-wielding maniacs, head chopping, blood and core etc, more suspenseful and ‘goose-bumping tales like in the “Goosebumps” books), magical tales (Harry Potter), even teeny bopper stories like Baby Sitters Club or Sweet Valley High. These latter ones are suitable for the Young Adult market, too.

TYPES OF CONFLICTS:

Here are some examples of conflicts in some books:

– the almighty tried and successful ‘good against evil’ Think Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs…yes, these fairy tales were using the ‘good against evil’ method if you sit down and think about it. The wolves in both fairy tales were intent on overcoming their ‘so-they-thought’ weaker counterparts.

In the above examples, something stood in the protagonist’s way:

Harry tries to defeat Voldemort but problems and other antagonists along the way makes this quest difficult for him.

The Lord of the Rings finds Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring but evil and dark forces stand in his way, too.

Luke Skywalker in Star Wars needs to defeat the new order of evil, and he, too, faces many obstacles and characters along the way.

In each of these examples, these obstacles (new smaller conflicts against the bigger goal they are after) causes a reader to continue reading to find out if he’ll be successful, how he will outsmart them, and what change will this cause in the main character. Along with these obstacles, throwing in some inner conflicts alongside the outer emotions helps to cast them more as three-dimensional beings, for example:

Luke Skywalker deals with the knowledge he has a sister somewhere out there. His inner being and emotions help to make him more sympathetic, which eventually bonds the reader to him. The same with Frodo; his world has been thrown for a loop when he takes on the quest of the Ring…along the way he begins to doubt if he, indeed, is the best man for this job. Also, he questions his will power to avoid succumbing to the dark forces once he has tasted the Ring’s power.

Another example to show you what ‘inner conflict’ means:

Let’s assume your book is based on a police officer who mistakenly shoots a young child while pursuing a suspect. It’s dark in the building and the kid jumped out of nowhere with a toy gun. The police officer is suspended while the case is being investigated.

INNER EMOTIONS:

How he deals and is dealt by his immediate peers His struggle to remove the visions of the killing The emotional turmoil as he waits for the investigation to conclude. His dealings with the parents of the child he accidentally killed.

Throughout all of these emotions the one factor that will bind your reader to continue will be: How will he fare at the end of this book. The way you first portray this particular character in the beginning will be totally different by the end because of the various upsets he’s had to deal with. Show him as upbeat, nonchalant, no change at the end and you will lose your reader’s interest in the book and in you as an author.

Think of real life: if you had to go through a trauma as the officer in the example above, how would it change you? A writer needs to wear his character’s shoes and get inside his head to fully understand him. Write a story with a stick person and you get stale material. Write a story with powerful emotions and you have one interesting read.

THE ALMIGHTY ENDING

By the end of your book all inner and outer conflicts need to have reached a conclusion. Whether your character overcame or failed is not as important as making sure he tried to meet them head on. You cannot place a conflict (or foreshadow) without making sure by the end of the story some sort of a resolution was made. This is cheating a reader and they WILL notice, especially if one of those conflicts was the one he’s been hoping to see the outcome to.

About the Author of this post:
Lea Schizas is an award-winning author/editor and founder of 2 Writer’s Digest top writing sites since 2004. She is the author of the YA fantasy “The Rock of Realm” and the paranormal suspense/thriller “Doorman’s Creek”. http://leaschizaseditor.com