Monthly Archives: September 2016

Wicked

Wicked by Gregory Maguire was, I think, kind of the beginning of the justifying the bad guys stories that have becomes more and more prominent in recent years.

Usually I’m not  into this kind of story, but I’ll admit I didn’t know that was the story of Wicked (though one could guess, I suppose). And, even still, it’s received enough praise and publicity, I was curious to read it.

I think the story is about to stand because Frank L. Baum wrote so little about the Wicked Witch of the West to begin with. She had no history with Dorothy before the house dropping incident. Elphaba’s story was a blank slate.

The story begins, of course, with her birth, and follows her through college and into adulthood. Despite her tendencies at birth, Elphaba isn’t inherently evil, she is, mostly, pulled along by her the causes that become her convictions.

But mostly she is wrestling with herself. Born green, literally, to parents who viewed her mostly as a punishment, Elphaba has issues to work through. But so do all the characters.

The story is largely a discussion of good and evil. Glinda the Good Witch tells Dorothy to seek help from the Wizard, but does that make her good? Nessarose, the Wicked Witch of the East, rules over Munchkinland, which chose to secede from the rest of Oz, and through religious fervor becomes an unwanted dictator–but is she evil?

The story challenges readers to think critically about actions and motives, instead of jumping to an immediate conclusion of good or evil.

What I liked about this book, more than the movies that have tried to make the villains misunderstood, is that Maguire doesn’t quite do that. He presents alternate motives and allows the reader to decide which characters were right and which were wrong. Instead of changing a fairy tale, he turned it into a real-life story, in a way, and that made it very enjoyable to read.

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Love Beyond Time

When I downloaded this ebook for free, I very much had Outlander on my brain. But I quickly realized, this is nothing at all like Outlander, and they are so different they can’t even be compared.

I’m not sure why I thought I might like a Scottish time-travel romance. Sure, Outlander has romance, but it has a lot more, too.

This story is all about physical attraction. The plot seemed secondary to the romance, and the content seemed to be filler, just words trying to make it from love scene to love scene. And I felt he characters were lacking sufficient depth to make it a good romance. Or maybe I just don’t read enough romance to recognize and appreciate what sells.

That said, this book left me quite disappointed, even after I told myself it isn’t an apples to apples comparison to Outlander.

I’ll be the first to say it’s challenging writing short stories and novellas, which many ebooks tend to be. It’s hard to pack in depth and time for development, but this felt a little too adult Disney. Too obvious, too little depth, and a perfect happily ever after.

I know romance is more a genre to make you feel good, but this one was just missin too much.

The pros of planning

I’ve got to be honest, that whole, “I’m going to write for a half an hour each day” plan that I had last week didn’t happen. I don’t think it even happened one day. The only excuse I have is that I had a book to finish before I have to return it in a day or two, and I worked a lot of mid shifts, which leave me feeling like I have no time in my day.

That said, there are other contributing factors at work here. When I sat down to give this story a little more thorough plotting, I decided I didn’t really want to write a chapter-by-chapter outline. I thought having a thorough synopsis would do just as well, but in the moments I snatched this week to do some writing, I found myself in a familiar place. Where do I start? And how quickly should I move the story along?

This has been my constant problem in all my writing projects. I end up with a lot of random, pointless content because it feels too soon to move on to the next milestone.

But what I learned when I scribbled a draft of my children’s book is that having a chapter-by-chapter outline is pretty useful.

So now the question is, do I made an outline when I’m already part way through the project? The answer should probably be yes, it’s not like the chapters I’ve already completed will need to be very detailed, but it will make the rest of the process easier. And when I’m trying to write on a 15-minute break at work, the words will come easier if I know where I need to go.

So here we go again. This project, take one million.

Yesternight

Psychology has always interested me. I think that’s why I love psychological thrillers, I enjoy the mind games, I like trying to think ahead and guess what is going on.

Though I would not describe Cat Winters’ Yesternight as a thriller, per se, as a book featuring a psychologist as he protagonist, it definitely fit the bill for a book of mind games.

Alice Lind is a traveling school psychologist who, in a remote town in coastal Oregon in the 1920s, is faced with a question she’s isn’t sure psychology can answer. A seven-year-old claims she lived a past life as a woman named Violet Sunday and died a tragic death at the age of 19. Though she can offer many facts and details about this Violet Sinday, no one is sure where they are coming from.

Naturally, Alice Lind has her own haunted past, and as she is pressured to explore the idea of reincarnation, the lines begin to blur between what she is doing for Janie, the young girl, and what she is doing for herself.

I’ll give a fair warning, the book packs several punches, some red herrings, and in the end, it’s not a nice and tidy, happily ever after ending. And I love this book for that.

Although the book is looking at Janie, and Alice is trying to reconcile psychology and the idea of reincarnation, it’s almost a given that Janie is telling the truth about her past life. Where the mind games come in to play is in Alice’s life. It’s the guessing game about her own past, what horrors lurk there, and why.

This book also explores what it was like for a woman in a man’s world during the 1920s, while also exploring a theme of head versus heart, science versus supernatural.

The only issue I take with the book can be either inconsequential or significant, depending on the person. Winters’ writing did not make the book feel like it was set in the 1920s. I had to constantly remind myself where in time we were. There were hints, references to crank engines and Model T’s, but the characters did not talk as though they were outside the present, and some descriptions painted images of modern scenes, not something nearly a century ago. For some peopl, that might be a deal breaker. But I believe the story can stand without it, the story could be set on present day and be equally as effective.

Keep an eye out for Yesternight by Cat Winters, coming in early October. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Putting your mind to progress

Last week, I posted about rereading an old project and setting my mind to planning it out and completing it.

While I haven’t made a chapter-by-chapter outline, and may not actually do that, I did sit down, immediately after my post (actually, I was already sitting) and jotted down a fairly detailed synopsis of my story, and spent some time patching the holes that I could think of.

While I haven’t done much actual writing (what with work, books, cooking, groceries and the gym), the brainstorming process, which resulted in three pages of story plot, got me excited again about writing, about finishing. And while I still have all those other things to work into my day, my goal for this week will be to put about 30 minutes minimum toward writing.

My story is by no means flawless in its planning. In fact, there is one authenticity flaw I haven’t quite sorted out (I am opposed to a “love at first sight” kind of thing, but a journalist wouldn’t spend much more than a week with a family for a special story on Valentine’s Day, so how does my professional source get more involved with the family? Maybe her source will have to die.). But some of these issues can be resolved during the writing process, finding an answer as I’m going along. Or, I can write around it or make something up and polish it during the editing process. Either way, I’m not going to let it stop me or slow me down.

I know where I’m going, and I know most of the stops along the way. So I’m setting out and, with any luck, I’ll get there pretty soon. Wherever “there” is.

´╗┐Hero of the Empire

When I think of Winston Churchill, I think of the former Prime Minister of England, but what I never knew was his history, and how he got there.

In Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, A Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill, Candace Millard looks in-depth at Churchill’s obsession with making a name for himself and his rise to power.

Born to aristocratic parents who made the family name known, Churchill wanted to get out from the shadow of his parents and make himself known by his own acts. Millard’s descriptions of Churchill’s ┬ádesire to prove himself paint tinge picture of an obsessive man, and quotes Millard uses from primary documents show a picture of an extremely self-confident man, if not a little arrogant.

Yet, as Millard shows, Churchill had a goal in mind and would stop at nothing to reach it– not death, or even capture could get in his way.

I’ll be honest, I was more interested in the Boer War than I was in the story of Churchill himself (having been quite interested in African history for a while, and especially interested since figures from the Boer War are familiar names from the history of blood diamonds). And yet it certainly was interesting to know more about a man whose name is is known in many households, and not just in England.

Millard’s book was well researched and well written, including a bibliography at the end for further reading and an extensive list of notes (though, being an advanced reading copy, none of the notes were numbered in the text, so it did me little good).

I recently heard someone say, if you want a good picture of what a person was like, read what someone who didn’t like the had to say. Though I’m not sure what Millard’s opinions toward Churchill are, I believe she did well in portraying this part of his life factually. Any subjective words or phrases she used were usually followed up quickly with primary sources using the same or similar phrasing.

Keep an eye out for Hero of the Empire, set for release September 20, 2016.

Project One Revisited

A while back (and by that I mean a couple years) I started a story that I was calling “Brave Love.”

The story, as I recall (and confirmed by reading through the 22 pages worth), is about Paige Nelson, a 23-year-old journalist looking for a chance to prove herself. Her opportunity comes when she is assigned to a Valentine’s Day special section in the newspaper, charged with finding a quality love story to write about. As her editor tells her, she needs to take something people have lost interest in, and make them care.

Paige is also single, and when she visits California for her sister’s wedding, is sent on four particularly bad blind dates. (I think they are amusing, but I also made them up, so they may not be as funny as I think they are.)

With only a few weeks to get her story done, Paige is running out of time, but she runs in to her subject on her flight back home to Colorado, finding herself seated next to Gavan Walker, an old man with lots of adventures in his past, and a love that lasted 50+ years.

Gavan shares his story with Paige, starting with his childhood in Australia during World War II, riding broncos in rodeos in America, meeting Ruth, his love, fighting in Korea, and making the brave choice to love and win Ruth back when distance comes between them.

That is about where my story left off, and, naturally, I never wrote down exactly my thoughts for where it was headed, though I do remember some.

Paige gets invited to a birthday party for Gavan, who conveniently lives not too far away. The family wants to meet the woman who captured his life so well in words. So Paige goes, and gets welcomed in to the family. I planned for her to fall in love with one of Gavan’s grandsons, who would be around her age. They’d probably fight and Gavan would give his grandson the same advice he told Paige in closing– if you want to prove your courage, trust someone else with your heart and love her unconditionally.

It all sounds pretty Hallmark, even to me, and if there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s Hallmark. Which means, I get to start planning and working on the second half of this story, because I recall being really excited and interested in it when I began, and I do want to finish it. I just need it to finish and not be utterly cliche and predictable. A little bit is OK, it’s hard to write about love without it, but, I need to be enough different that it is still interesting. And that’s where the challenge lies. So, I have my project for the week (the same project that I was supposed to do this week and blog about, but I didn’t so now I’m going to do two blog posts on this same project).

I probably won’t reveal how everything ends (though, I might, if I choose to post an outline). But I’m interested in finishing this story, looking at the idea that loving someone, committing to someone, is a great act of bravery.