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Stepping Back and Moving Forward

As we all know, the last couple weeks I’ve taken a hiatus from my project because I felt maybe I’d reached the point of needing a critic, and I haven’t found anyone to do the job/haven’t emailed it to the family member(s) I feel would be objective about it. But this week, I decided to give it another read through, after having allowed it to be on the back burner, just to see if anything new jumped out at me. And boy did it.

I think taking a break from a project while editing is a good thing. It allows you to put some distance between you as the writer and you as the editor. It allows some of the unwritten details to fade from your mind a little, which means when you come back to it, you’re more in tune to areas that may need more explaining or developing. I ran into that while rereading the portion where Mason meets with the people claiming to be his parents.

From the moment he meets them, everything happens so fast (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending). The psychological turmoil I want him to experience seems a little far fetched. It hasn’t been nearly long enough for him to start questioning what’s real and what isn’t. So I realized that I need to allow the timeline to stretch out just a little.

But in stretching the timeline, I now need to ask myself, does everything else make sense. The reporter who is looking into his story, does her behavior make sense? What would she be doing, or what would she be reporting? If everything happens within two or three days, maybe it’s OK, but if I spread it over a week, something would obviously have to be different. I’ve also come back around to those stupid medical records that seemed to crucial in the beginning, but now seem to be nothing but plot holes and problems. So I have to ask myself, what are the ramifications of getting rid of them all together? Do I lose anything, other than a couple thousand words?

Finally, when I revisited this whole section of the story and started correcting inconsistencies (it may make sense for people who believe someone is their child to pass up on a DNA test, but if the now-grown child is uncertain, wouldn’t he ask for one, or wouldn’t they decide to do one to put his mind at ease?), I realized I needed someone on the inside, which showed me a little more depth to a supporting character. His loyalties aren’t what we’d assumed them to be.

So, now that I’ve looked through it again, I see several areas I can start working on, again. And more than that, I see pretty clearly where things need to go, which can be half the battle when editing. It’s easy to make something that doesn’t feel right, but harder to know what you need to do to make it work. Some distance can give you a fresh perspective.

So now I’ve been challenging myself to write just one scene a day, plodding along at making the necessary changes that make this story, or at least its characters, believable.

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Odd Child Out

For a while, I’ve known Gilly Macmillan was an author I wanted to check out. In searching for thriller recommendations for a customer, her name popped up, and I’ve been biding my time ever since. When the advanced copy of her upcoming book, Odd Child Out, was up for grabs, I didn’t waste a minute snagging it.

Odd Child Out is the story of two teenage boys, Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad, best friends, at least until Noah is found unconscious in the canal and Abdi, the only one who knows what happened, isn’t speaking. His silence and Noah’s condition makes for the perfect sensational story for an unethical cop turned crime reporter, who paints the situation as an inverted racial crime perpetrated by Abdi, a Somali refugee, and Noah, born and bred Brit.

Detective Jim Clemo, just back from mandatory leave prompted by another case involving minors and tragedy, is dedicated to finding the truth, even though it tries his new-found patience, and requires limited interaction with his ex, the unethical reporter.

While the tragedy at the canal is the catalyst for the story, within the lives of Abdi and his family, so much more is going on. And as everyone chases the truth about what happened at the canal, Abdi is caught up in his own pursuit, chasing the truth about his own life.

Macmillan’s book was an enjoyable read. Not quite as suspenseful as I would have liked, as I guessed at most of the ending, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable to read. And for many, the twists will still come as surprises, there wasn’t much information, just a lucky guess on my part, I guess.

Macmillan writes in present tense, from everyone’s perspective, which makes for a little bit of a different style of read, but I think it worked for her, allowing the reader to feel different emotions in “real time,” as it were.

The book also touches on, and handles very well, several different sensitive subjects, including suicide, immigration, stereotyping, and backgrounds. As Macmillan writes about these different things, it’s clear she’s done her research to know how her characters would react, given their history and background, and she finds the right ways to articulate the emotions–sorrow, anger, and fear.

Conclusion: Gilly Macmillan is still on my list of authors to read more of– especially since this seemed like a second novel about Detective Inspector Clemo. I can also recommend her in full confidence, having read something of hers myself. If you enjoy suspense thrillers and investigation books, look for Odd Child Out, coming in October.

Manhattan Beach

I’ve always found something inherently intriguing about the Great Depression and World War II era. So Jennifer Egan’s book immediately caught my attention.

Manhattan Beach begins by showing Anna Kerrigan’s childhood in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. She accompanies her father on a trip to visit a business associate.

Years later the memory is stuck in her mind. Her father has disappeared and the world is in the midst of war. Anna, working in the Brooklyn Naval Yard and dreaming of being a diver, provides for her mother and her severely disabled sister. But when she starts to step out from her normal routine, Anna finds herself once more introduced to Dexter Styles, her father’s business associate from so many years ago. Anna thinks Dexter must know what happened to her father, and Anna finds herself drawn toward a different kind of lifestyle that promises excitement and ruin.

While the book was engaging and well written, I definitely expected a little more intrigue from this story. It was certainly more about Anna learning to make her own choices and deal with the consequences, as well as a story of achieving a dream through hard work and dedication. But with her father mysteriously disappearing, I thought perhaps this would be more of a plot anchor, a piece that drives the story forward. Instead, more than anything, Anna stumbles onto pieces of information related to her father’s history. Finding the truth isn’t something that really drives Anna, but it felt like it could have.

I wanted more of the “noir thriller” promised in the synopsis. While I enjoyed reading it, the book was still a disappointment, in terms of what I thought I was getting. For historical fiction, it was excellent. For intrigue, it was lacking. Even still, when this book comes out in October, it’s worth the read if you’re into historical fiction.

A recap and a flash forward

In the beginning of September, I challenged myself to try to write at least something every day. And while I didn’t get to every day (some days were just too busy, other days I just didn’t feel up to it), I feel like I made some real progress in training myself to be more consistent. Consistency is the only way I’ll ever end up with a finished product.

I’ve made some progress in my editing–which has been challenging, because in recent weeks I’ve made it quite the task for myself with a massive rewrite of the second half of the story. But even as I’ve been working through it, slowly, it’s been very fun to uncover still more hidden pieces and hidden sides of my characters.

And while it’s felt like a massive undertaking, I do believe there is an end in sight. One or two more good days, dedicated time, I might even be ready to take it from the top once more. And that’s a pretty exciting thought.

Looking ahead to the rest of the month of October (crazy, isn’t it?!) I’ve got two things to accomplish. First, of course, is completing this rewrite. Second is prepping for NaNoWriMo in November. I’ve already got the seed of the story, if you will. So this month needs to be all about cultivating it.

The basic principle is an old building/castle directly beneath a wormhole or something that will transport a person to a different time (perhaps alternate universe?). The main character is searching for someone, a childhood best friend or crush and ends up somewhere unexpected.

Obviously I’ve got a lot of work to do, story line to develop. If you really want to know, the basis of this came from a dream I had (and that a while ago). What I remember most clearly was the longing for the person missing, and the frantic searching. So, those are the themes I’m focusing on. I’ve got a month to work out everything else. And, as I’m learning in this editing stage, I’m not likely to get it all right the first time, and that’s OK. Things will develop in the editing. As long as I’ve go the bare bones to work with, I’ll be all right.

So, here’s to October, a new month and new beginnings. I’ve got two objectives, and I think I’ve got the motivation to see them through.

The Martian

The Martian has been on my reading list for quite a while, especially after having seen the movie. All I can say is, the book was even better.

The Martian is the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who ends up stranded alone on Mars when the rest of the crew is forced to do an emergency mission abort. Believing him dead, the crew is forced to leave him behind.

Naturally, Watney turns out to be not dead, and thus ensues his story of survival. Watney has to fight against the elements of Mars, as well as make modifications to everything he has in order to make it last until help arrives. Back on Earth, when NASA quickly discovers Watney survived, everyone is pulling together to try to bring him home.

Before I knew a whole lot about the book, aside the premise, I was a little uncertain how interesting it could be. It’s the story of one guy all by himself. But author Andy Weir uses a log entry format to tell Watney’s story in first person, without making it boring or seem like he’s talking to himself.

I also loved that, despite being stranded, Watney is still pretty snarky. I relate to that on a very deep level.

While the movie was slow in parts, the book flies by. Weir does an excellent job of knowing when to give details, and when to allow “I drove 90 kilometers today” to cut it.

The Martian is an excellent book for when you want something sci-fi, but you want it to feel realistic. For some people, Mars is still the space goal, and this book could turn out to be historical fiction ahead of its time.

Either way, it’s still just a good read. The only thing missing was my favorite quote from the movie, which, despite not being canon, was utterly in keeping with Mark Watney’s character. He would totally have said, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

Exploring dialogue again

Over the last few weeks, one of the writing exercises that has been the most fun for me was one related to dialogue, specifically expanding it.

It was a simple exercise; take a line of dialogue and rewrite it five times, each time changing the amount of details in it, the wording, ect., while keeping the meaning or theme. The dialogue provided for the prompt was, “I’ve never let you down.” Then, after the fifth rewrite, add a line of dialogue from another character.

It was really interesting to see how changing one line of dialogue exposed so much more to the story (or has the capability to, since I didn’t have a story to go with the dialogue for the exercise). But this simple technique can very easily be applied, even mentally, to sentences that feel awkward in the story, or even just parts I don’t like. By rewriting, it can open the door for additional developments, new pieces in the storyline, and just plain better dialogue. And it’s an easier route to start with than going line by line through a story asking, “how does this move the story along? Did they say this on purpose?” I’ll be honest, when I try to do that, I burn out quick. And by burn out I mean, I forget to keep doing it after a page or two. Whereas, this way, I can just read. I’ll obviously notice anything I don’t really like or that doesn’t feel right, and then I can work from there.

I’m still trying to rewrite the second half of my story. It’s messy. Part of me wants to just erase it and start completely from scratch. Part of me is horribly paranoid that I’ll erase it and then want it back immediately. So, I’m struggling through, trying to fill in what I need, and then go through to see what I don’t need and what specifically I need to adapt to new developments. It’s a little tedious, for me, and it’s been challenging to push myself to do it. This week has not been my best for self-motivation. But I’m trying, and that has to count for something.

A Conjuring of Light

The final piece of V.E. Schwab’s series, A Conjuring of Light was almost everything I wanted it to be.

In this final book, White London is awakening, but not as innocently as it seems. Kell, taken captive in the end of the second book, is quickly rescued by Lila, but they are catapulted into chaos as Osaron, the sentient, rogue magic from Black London, attempts to take over Red London.

Kell and Lila find themselves paired with unlikely allies as they set off to find the once thing that they hope can contain Osaron and save all the Londons.

This book has a lot more deaths, and meaningful, painful ones at that. But, it also has the long-awaited romance too. I’m not sure if I love or hate books and authors who leave two characters locked in romantic tension until the end. I think it must be both, because there’s something fun about crying in exasperation, “just kiss already!”

This action-packed finale wrapped up all the loose ends, except one. Kell decides he doesn’t want to know his past, even though he has a spell to find out– and is told that the memory-repressing mark on his arm is held in place largely by his unconscious desire not to know. It’s great and all, but some of us are curious and want to know, even if he doesn’t.

The series, as a whole, was excellent. The characters had depth and grew throughout the story. They felt like real people, and wrestled with real emotions, even in the midst of everything else. The writing moved the story along, and I didn’t feel like it got bogged down by fluff or filler. Even when Schwab was using the second book to develop characters and set the stage for the finale, it moved at a good pace and the development was interesting to see.

It’s a fantasy series readers will want to return to again and again. I know I will.

To keep on keeping on

I’m more than halfway through the month, and my resolve to write every day is being sorely tested. There have been days that I’m tired and don’t want to do even the littlest bit more work. There have been days that feel like cop outs, where I’ve done the tiniest bit I can. But I’ve stuck with it so far. And I can see where my project is going.

After realizing last week how much additional stuff I could work in, and after writing a couple scenes, I realized the whole second half of my book was going to need some rearranging. So, I took one day (ok, I took a 15-minute break at work) and I plotted out barebones how the second half of the story needs to look. And in so doing, learned some new details about a problem character (turns out he’s a lawyer. It’s good, I didn’t really know what he was before, but it makes sense now). And learning these details allowed me to, perhaps, finally solve the most problematic thread in my story, while at the same time possibly rendering that it completely moot anyway.

I’m not working on this project every day. And sometimes it feels like I’ve barely made progress, despite the brainstorming. But I’m letting the details mingle in my mind, getting a feel for this new timeline. And in my time off next week, I’m really going to sit down and make some solid progress, instead of keeping my nose stuck in a book (I’ve got book reviews written through the month of October, I think I can take a couple days off…)

In the mean time, I’ll count any step forward as a victory.