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?

Four Day Plan Results & Scanning a Life of Memories

Last week I made a public goal and called it A Four Day Plan. In other words, I gave myself four days to complete the items on the list. The plan included 1) finding a suitable publisher for Amulet of Kemet and then submitting the story, and, 2) to rewrite the ending of a short story called Guard’s Mustering.

Amulet of Kemet was submitted to a publisher on Friday.

Guard’s Mustering took more time. I spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening on the rewrite. Considering the small amount of writing I actually did, that turned out to be a long time, but I feel readers will be satisfied with the outcome; much more so than the previous ending anyway.

In other news, New South Wales has been experiencing a lot of rain in the past week or two. Being a drought region, we really need this rain and I’ve been told that the local dam has gone from 32% to around 45% full. This is great news. However, our waterways and drainage systems are not built to withstand large quantities of water all at once. The Central Coast found itself under water last week (I’ve seen photos where people are wading waist deep through the deluge) resulting in millions of dollars worth of damage to homes and property. Some people lost everything! It must have been devastating for them. About half of those people had no insurance, so I can only imagine what they are going through.

The rain subsided and the water receded. However, the drizzle has continued on and off every since. This afternoon/evening it is warned that fierce storms will be returning. Whilst the dams are filling and we need the water for that, we no longer want the water in torrents as we know there will be more damage and loss.

I live inland and most of the damage is on the coast, but that doesn’t mean we are safe. We have experienced flooding. The last time was just over a year ago. It is because of that experience (we lost a lot of personal belongings at the time) and the recent flooding on the Central Coast that I’ve decided to undertake a major task. I am going to dedicate July to scanning all my photos and all my parent’s photos. I’m talking about 70 years worth of photos and that’s a lot of work. This is going to be a huge job, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time. I will also be doing this task because of my interest in my family tree. I feel it’s important to preserve these priceless items for future generations. It’s true, they may not care about what’s happening now, but maybe one person in the future will have the same interests I do and I’m going to do this for that person.

Submission: Amulet of Kemet

As the saying goes, “better late than never”, and that’s how I view this submission. I should have done it within days of the rejection, but I was waist deep in website coding at the time and have only gotten around to doing the necessary research today.

This afternoon, I submitted Amulet of Kemet to Fantasy Magazine. It’s a paying market, which accepts electronic submissions. As the cost of sending manuscripts overseas is expensive, I’ve decided to only find and submit to markets that will accept submissions electronically for the time being. Besides, International Postage Coupons cost an arm and a leg so I really want to avoid that stress if I can. Personally, although I understand editor’s hatred of reading manuscripts on-screen (I’m the exact same), I think it’s a bit stupid insisting on return postage when a simple email costs nothing and is instant (and few people reuse the old manuscript to send out again; I certainly never do, so why not just recycle it).

With this submission out of the way, I can safely report that one of the goals in my four day plan is now complete.

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.

How to Plot Your Novel

I’ve been plotting novels and short stories for some years now, but that doesn’t mean I think I know everything that needs to be known on the subject. Because of this, I continually borrow books from the library, or purchase them if they are being sold at the right price, to ensure I’m not doing things the hard way, or I’m not forgetting to do something altogether.

I recently borrowed a book called How to Plot Your Novel by Jean Saunders. It’s a relatively old book, but in this case the content is still viable. I didn’t read the entire book (and rarely do with this type of book as I usually pick out the sections of interest to me), but I wanted to share – in point form – the main items I got from the book.

  • Find a theme you are passionate about.
  • Know the kind of book you want to write.
  • Keep the proposed length within publishing bounds and plot your novel to appeal to the widest audience.
  • Create good characters, who you know well, and who have real motivation and goals.
  • Learn how to ask yourself questions such as “What if…?”
  • Scenes and chapters should be linked together.
  • Throw the reader a curve now and then, without relying on coincidences.
  • Don’t allow your story to sag in the middle by sustaining pace and keeping control of your characters.
  • Dramatic scenes need their calming counterparts.
  • End your story without leaving loose ends, and leaving the reader feeling satisfied.

I believe the points outlined above are common sense, but should be reiterated often because it seems that many books being published these days are not paying attention to these important details. Hence, the quality of reading is lowered and the chance of the author becoming a best seller slim.

If you’re a writer and you can place a tick beside each of the above, then you’re off to a great start. Naturally, there are other items that could be put on the list too, but these are the essential ones, in my opinion.