Monthly Archives: May 2017

A new beginning (editing is going to take a while…)

The most important part of a story is the beginning. If the first sentence or paragraph doesn’t grad a reader’s attention, they will put it down and move on to the next book. For me, beginning is always one of the hardest parts. Whether it’s writing an essay, journalism article or a story, I can always feel the pressure to start well. Throughout college it served me pretty well to just write something and get the words flowing. If I wrote a good beginning, great. If not, usually by the time I finished whatever I was writing, the beginning was easier to write because I had the whole picture now.

With this story, it’s been more difficult. I’ve decided to work my way slowly through my story so that I can dedicate significant time an energy to problem areas. I probably should leave the beginning for the end, but I focused on it this week, and I feel like I’ve already made some improvements.

I’ve been challenging myself to think about the way other stories begin, both books I’m reading and even from my own writings. I’ve started a little journal, where I write how it begins, and then what kind of story that technique is good for. For example, some stories have one major event and the author weaves narrative strands around it, such as A Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Steadman. Though I’ve just started the book, I know how the writing is going to go. The story begins with the couple finding the baby (not a spoiler, you find out that much just from reading the back cover), and the rest of the book is telling the story. It’s jumped back in time and is telling the events leading up to finding the baby. And once we reach that point, it’ll shift gears and tell about life after the baby. Plenty of stories have this kind of plot set up, and the technique of giving the action scene, or a hint of it, then giving the background before dealing with the aftermath makes the story flow easily. But my book is not like that. Mason (I’ve finally named my character, hooray!) doesn’t encounter any one particularly pivotal moment that I can use as a teaser introduction.

Other beginning techniques include writing a prologue to set up a world or town, giving the history that explains what you need to know about where the character is. This, I think, is the one I use most often. I’m a fan of prologues. But, while I could do that for this story, the challenge with the prologue is that you need some kind of action to engage readers. You still need that pivotal event that sets the character up. And the history of my story is more broad than that. What I’ve decided to go with for the time being is a description of a scene that encompasses a major theme of the story; in this case, a description and encounter between Mason and his father that shows readers life in Vale is all about science, and a person’s value is inherently linked with how well they fit the expectations of society. As an example, I’ll show below the initial beginning I wrote for this story, and the new beginning I’ve been working on this week.

Dying didn’t seem nearly as dramatic as everyone made it out to be.

He had just turned 25, and the pressure he faced was unbelievable. He wasn’t just a late bloomer, his family had given up on him—no one believed he would prove to be an asset to society.

It was unbelievable either way—that other towns could exist, that Vale could be the only town. The town’s leaders were very strict, no one was allowed to explore beyond the town limits, curiosity and questions were no tolerated. Everyone clung to a religion of science. It was science that made them great, science was all that mattered. And science was his downfall.

Mason had never had an affinity for numbers, formulas, and the other complexities that went into the science, technology and engineering fields. He was much better at drawing—landscapes, people, animals, anything. But that wasn’t the kind of thing Vale valued. His drawings wouldn’t save or improve lives, they said, so by their very nature, they were worthless. Mason didn’t agree, but, dissent wasn’t valued either, so he did his best to swallow their context.

Life in Vale was all about society’s good…

Even I look at that and think I probably wouldn’t keep reading. The whole entire first chapter didn’t have any action or dialogue. Too much scene setting, explaining how the society functioned. It’s something I need to show, and maybe not all right off the bat. Here’s a bit of the new one in progress:

All his life, Mason knew science would be his downfall.

Every person in his hometown of Vale clung to a religion of science—it was science that made them great, science was all that mattered. Each child was raised from birth to believe scholastic achievement and worth were inherently connected.

But from a young age, Mason—and everyone else—knew he would never measure up to anything scientifically great. He was smart enough, but he couldn’t compete or compare with the waves of peers surrounding him that, in another place, would be hailed as geniuses and prodigies. Compared to them, Mason was worthless. And how he compared was all that mattered.

When he was about 13, he sketched his house and his sister Mel playing in the yard. He spent all day working on it, trying to get it just right.

“What have you been doing all day?” his father demanded when he returned from his day at work.

Mason proudly held up his drawing. “It’s our house, and Mel out front,” he said.

But instead of pride, excitement, or even interest, his father scoffed. “You’re well past the age of foolish past times, Mason. It’s time you put your mind to something worthwhile or you’ll never amount to anything.”

I’m not going to say it’s golden, but I think it’s far more likely to entice someone to commit to reading a few more chapters, so it’s a start. As always, the key to remember is show, not tell. After this bit that I’ve just shown, I fall back into the telling, telling how life in Vale works. I’ve still got a way to go on this, but, for the sake of anyone reading these blog posts, I’ll move on from the beginning this coming week so that you don’t have to read another post saying all this same stuff again.

Onward into the rest of the story!

The Forgotten Girls

With a title like that, how can you not be intrigued?

Though I’d never even heard of Sara Blaedel, apparently Denmark’s queen of crime,  the synopsis on the back of the book was enough to convince me to bring it home.

The story is about Louise Rick, head of a new police unit for missing persons. Her first case is kind of a reverse– a woman was found dead in the woods, and no one has identified the body, despite telltale scarring on the woman’s face.

When her identity is finally uncovered, it leads Louise down a new path in search of the dead woman’s twin sister and answers as to why both women were issued death certificates 30 years earlier.

Everything leads back to the small town area where Louise grew up, dredging up her past and bringing up even more unresolved questions.

Though the book deals with potentially touchy topics– both the missing girls and other characters have mental disabilities– the book takes a look at how far people are willing to go for their families, and the choices some people make in the name of the greater good. Like Louise, I found myself feelingboth disgusted and just a little sympathetic to characters.

Blaedel does an excellent job with the story, weaving narrative from Louise’s life and past into narrative of the case, and all the characters are lifelike. As you begin to understand motives, you can imagine a situation in which bad choices are better than worse choices, even if neither choice is great.

Finally, Blaedel wraps the story up in a prefect but incomplete way, making readers anxious to follow Louise’s life and understand her past.

I’ll admit, I did guess the ending of this book, but I was probably about two thirds in, and the pieces were starting to fall into place. I would imagine that was exactly how Blaedel intended the book to be read.

Baby steps in editing

I have made good on my determination to begin editing.

Over the course of the last week, I read through my project from April (yes, the one that has no title, and wherein the main character still has no name…). I’ve made some notes of inconsistencies and some issues to address.

But the hardest part of editing, as I’ve come to experience, is that too often I can’t see the crappiness in my writing. As I read through it, noting stood out as bad. While I’m tempted to be excited by this, I know  it’s not quite true. Perhaps it has potential, but it’s not perfect, not yet.

So as I begin going through it again (good thing it’s short), the question I must keep in the forefront of my kind is, “is this engaging enough to read?” “Will this capture a reader’s attention and hold it?” And when I move in to allowing others to read and give feedback, I need to remember to be open to it. Sometimes, I tend to get protective. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into my work. But, my family and friends are going to care more about it than an editor who doesn’t even know my name, so the feedback I get before I even think about publishing is so incredibly valuable.

The other thing I need to be watchful for is logic. There are one or two spots already wheeler I wrote myself a little note, asking if the way I’ve set things up even makes sense. Why would a crucial character be in a crucial spot? If it’s just because I need him to be, that’s not good enough. And why would there be 100-year-old records for something that needs to be kept a secret? Does their existence make sense, or do I need to revisit that as well? This will be the place where my journalism schooling helps, looking critically to find if unanswered questions are hidden within my story.

So, I’ve done a preliminary reading–the first I’ve done in probably five years. My story isn’t awful, I don’t think. It needs work. It probably needs more to it. But I think it is something to be proud of, and I think it’s something that could go somewhere. And that hope is exactly the encouragement I need right now.

The Great Zoo of China

Every now and then, you just have to choose a random book that sounds so outrageous it piques your interest.

Such was the case with The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly.

CJ Cameron, veterinarian and renown reptile expert is one of a small group of Americans invited to visit the Great Zoo of China. When she and the others arrive, they discover that China has been nursing dragons in secret for years, preparing to unveil their dragon zoo– the one thing that will put them on the map and reinstall them as a major world power.

Naturally, when they arrive at the zoo, things quickly begin to fall apart.

Now, I’ve never read Jurassic Park, but I’ve seen the movies, and this book was reminiscent of the films, but different enough to be engaging.

It’s not a mind-blowing book, but it’s fun. The pace is fast, with action sequences coming one after the other. And, it’s not a mental workout to read, like some books. (Don’t get me wrong, I love those too, but sometimes it’s nice to read and not think.)

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, fun book, The Great Zoo of China is for you.

“I’ll get around to it tomorrow…”

Ah, remember that feeling when you accomplish something, that high, when you dream of other things you’re going to accomplish? Like when I said I was going to take a few days off and then dive into revising my April novel…

Yeah, I’ll give you three guesses as to what I haven’t been doing for the last two weeks.

You guessed it, I’m writing yet another blog post about not writing. I feel like I do that a lot… but no longer. Due to a foolish use of vacation days (instead of just asking for my usual days off), I’ve ended up with what feels like a bunch of time off. Two days with my husband, which are much needed, followed by another two days off while he works 12s both days, so, I’ve got some time.

And starting something late is better than never, right?

I’ve found myself thinking a lot the last few days about something I wrote a while back, about wanting to put my effort into accomplishing a dream, since so many of my goals and aspirations seem to be on indefinite hold. And after a few days/nights of anxiety, depression, tears and staring into the void known as the future, I’m trying to reel myself back in.

No more Scarlett O’Hera for me. I’m going to start thinking about it, and start doing it. For myself, because I need something to remind me that there is more to life than working until I’m dead. Even if I’m not where I want to be, I can still do things I want to do. No more looking st other people’s lives and being jealous. I don’t have their life, I have mine. So what am I doing with it?

The answer, lately, has been not a whole lot, excluding the thankless tasks I have to do. I throw myself into reading and blogging book reviews because it lets me forget, and while maybe a handful of people like reading my stuff, I doubt it’s really putting me ahead, and I’m not going to hold it up as a shining example of self-motivated progress and success. I guess I’ve written enough “I didn’t write” blogs that I’m not so proud of my blogging anymore. We’ll work on it.

So for the zillionth time, I’ll try to make a commitment to doing something for myself, to finishing a project because it’s something I have to do. And this time I will actually do it. It’s not like I have anything else worthwhile to do.

Just Try to Stop Me

This week I returned to thriller author Gregg Olsen, and I was no disappointed by the twists and turns.

This story returns to sheriff’s detective Kendall Stark and forensic pathologist Birdy Waterman as they hunt the escaped serial killer Brenda Nevins, first introduced in The Girl In the Woods.

Nevins finds a man she can manipulate, and with his help, kidnaps four cheerleaders as part of her plan for revenge. With the body count already climbing, Stark and Waterman are racing the clock to find Nevins’s hideout before it’s too late.

Woven into the story are elements of real life–snap shots into the lives of Stark and Waterman that really make the characters come alive.

Olsen did a great job giving readers enough information that they feel in control of the story, only to sweep in with an unexpected but completely logical twist at the end that changes everything, one of those twists where you look back and see the clues there the whole time.

The one challenge about this book, for me, was the sex. Not really my thing to read, yet it was part of who Brenda Nevins is, and part of the way she manipulated and controlled people and situations. It could be that, if I were the writer, I would have toned it down, left more to imagination, but each writer makes that choice, and each reader decides if they want to keep reading.

Overall, however, Olsen is still, in my book, and excellent thriller writer, and one I would turn to when I need a quick read that will keep me engaged and guessing, right up until the end.

Last Hope Island

I’ve always been a fan of history, and World War II history in particular. So Lynn Olson’s Last Hope Island was a natural pick for me.

I’ll confess straight off though, I want quite as impressed as I’d expected to be. I was expecting a little more action, more description of battles or escapes.

That said, I still enjoyed the book. It was a close look at Britain and its relationship with several occupied countries via the governments in exile that took up residence in Britain.

It was also a close look at how those nations played key roles in the Allied win.  From spies and resistance fighters to exiled troops and politicians, countries including the Netherlands, Poland, and France, though occupied, made significant contributions that turned the tide of the war.

What I really enjoyed were the few snapshots into the lives of unsung heros, people like Andree De Jongh and Jeannie Rousseau, and other women and men who risked their lives for the cause. I found, as I read, several people that I’m now very interested in researching. Their lives and stories, in addition to just being fascinating, could also fuel some really interesting historical fiction.

Some parts of the book, though, are hard to read. It’s hard to understand the justifications for some actions, and without living it, I’d say impossible to pass any kind of judgment. But you can learn a lot about empathy from reading it.

This book is definitely a must read for history buffs, and I would say an easy enough read for anyone wanting to dip their toes in. It’s not a one-week read, for many people, I think, but it’s certainly worth the read.

The gaping, empty hole

I finished! When you read that title I bet you were expecting something much more… not happy. Like, I failed and I feel miserable and I’m falling into a black hole of sadness or something.

But, that’s not the case. I finished my story. I wrote a little more than the 35,000 words I wanted to. And I even wrapped up the story, so it’s finished and everything. That almost never happens. Usually it takes like another year before I come back and truly finish, but not this time. This time, I’m really done with the first draft.

It’s exciting to be done, and I’m currently reveling in the joy of being done, and the excitement for the editing process (haha. I’ll tell you why that’s funny later). And, of course, I’m looking forward thinking, “now what am I going to do?”

When I’m writing, and earnestly writing, it becomes pretty consuming. I’ve been working on my current read for like two weeks. That’s not really normal, even for a historical non-fiction book. And one night, when I didn’t want to write or read, I started watching Broadchurch on Netflix, so I’m excited to get back to that too. So on the one hand, you’ll read this and think, right there I just said two things that I can be doing. And I will, and it will be wonderful, but I think most writers can agree with me, it’s bitter sweet to come to the end (or at least an end) of a project. You’ve written it. You’ve said what you want to say. Sure, you can polish and fine tune, rewrite some stuff, probably add in new stuff as you read it through and think, ” wouldn’t it be cool if….” But it’s still true that a certain part of the project is over. The fervor of writing is over. As a general rule, you’re not going to discover something mind blowing during the editing process (though let’s be real, how would I know, I’ve never done it. This is all based on my experience editing college papers, and at least during undergrad work, I think we can all agree we really hope we don’t discover something mind blowing during the editing process of those).  There is just something special about having the idea in your head, before you’ve put your ideas down in writing. There is something special about having an idea so full of potential, and knowing that even if you’ve planned for it, surprises will still abound.

And then you’ve written it, and it’s wonderful, and you have this kind of completed thing to be so proud of (but no, you can’t read it, it’s not done yet). And maybe you’re excited because it was everything you dreamed of. Or maybe you’re disappointed, because you wanted so much more from your idea. But either way, it’s done, and you know that is something to be proud of.

But everyone tells you “wow, are you going to publish it?” as though word vomit is gold right out of your brain. But then when you sit down and think about editing, it is a little overwhelming. You’ve already written it. You have nothing else really to add. Or maybe you do, and that’s great. But you’re attached to your story. You’re attached to the dumb joke you wrote in at 3 am that made you laugh like a lunatic, and you know the publisher is going to have that as number one on the list of things to go, but you just can’t bear it.

I think, for me, the editing process is hard because I’m so proud of my creativity, and I’m just not ready to start looking at it critically and asking myself, is my creativity worth sharing? When you’re writing, you’re encouraged to just get it out, get it down on paper. But then when you edit, you have to sort through the garbage and mistakes. And sometimes it’s easy, other times it’s really hard (OK, I’ve tried editing like once or twice, now that I think about it).

In part, it’s scary, because editing makes you look at your work and ask yourself, honestly, if you’re writing is worth sharing. Are you good enough that anyone would want to read it? (I say read and not publish because I’ve seen some of the garbage that gets published, and in my opinion, no one wants to read that.)

But with the completion of this project, I have…. seven projects that have a completed draft, eight if we want to count my collection of stories from volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium. I think it’s time I tackle those scary questions. If my writing isn’t good enough to share, that’s OK. I write first and foremost for myself. But if it is good enough to share, I’ve got some more work to do, and it’s time to start.

So, I’m going to take a day or two off, then dive into some editing, because by then I should have a coupon code for software that I’ve heard makes the editing process easier. And I’ll fill that gaping, empty hole with a new process. Instead of feeling sad that the story is over, I’m going to stick with it until the story is completed, and then I guess I’ll get to see what that feels like.