Monthly Archives: February 2019

Getting back in line

Ever have a week where life just deals you a gut punch, and you can’t do anything but lay around trying to get back on your feet? I did, and that’s why I didn’t have a writing blog post last week. I just hadn’t written. I hadn’t done anything, except binge watch documentaries and wish that I, too, could dramatically narrate nature.

Last week was about getting back up. I wrote several days last week, which is good, even thought it doesn’t quite feel like I got a lot done. It’s progress, so that’s good enough for me.

It’s been tricky, lately, because I’ve gotten out of my neat, linear writing pattern. You may recall that I skipped ahead and wrote a section that was closely reflecting how I was feeling. Well, now I’ve got to connect that to the rest of my story. I’ve sort of been trying to write forward, to meet that part, and also write backwards, adding scenes before. What that’s done is made me unsure what I really want to write, and feeling weird about where I am in my story.

So, I’ve been all over the place, this week. I added some to my outline, working to get a general idea of how to get from the first part of my story to the floating scene. And I wrote some of that in between part. I’m getting closer to connecting them.

I once had someone ask me how I knew that I didn’t like to write piecemeal (my word, not hers) if I’d never tried it. Well, I have now, and even though it’s nice to give voice to the part I really want to write, I think it works better for me to have that as a goal. It helps me get through the middle parts, the parts that are character building or story building.

Plus, I tend to get really attached as soon as I put the words on paper (or screen), so I feel like I’m not quite as open to the changes that might present themselves to me as I go along.

What’s your writing style like? Are you linear or do you write what presents itself and work out the transition scenes later?

Cemetery Road

Since I first read one of his books about a year ago, Greg Iles has stood out as a quality writer of historical fiction sagas. So I jumped at the chance to get an advanced copy of his upcoming book, Cemetery Road.

D.C. reporter Marshall McEwan has spent the last 30 years hiding from various moments in his past, but when he returns to his small Mississippi hometown, everything floats the the surface.

Marshall is fighting to keep hold of his dying father’s newspaper, scheming to save the woman he loves from her unhappy marriage, and looking for answers about his surrogate father’s death. By these goals out him at odds with the Poker Club, a collection of men who run the town, unofficially, and are willing to do anything it takes to achieve their goals.

Going against the Poker Club puts everything in jeopardy, even his life. And suddenly everything starts unraveling for Marshall, and in order to get his life back in order, he has to face the past and finally put it to rest.

In classic Iles style, Cemetery Road has a lot going on, and a lot of it’s traumatic. This book did seem a little more edgy or gritty than the Natchez Burning trilogy (though, it’s also been a year since I read it). It seemed to have more explicit sexual content and cursing than I recall in the trilogy.

That said, it’s still a fast-paced page turner full of twists and turns. The good guys aren’t quite as good as they appear to be, and the story seems to wrestle with the idea of the lesser of two evils.

Iles writes a different kind of political thriller. In small, rural towns, Iles writes about the powerful few who run the town, and the brave others willing to fight and die for the good of the town. Instead of spies and espionage, Iles writes about the kind of political battles that people might fight on a daily basis at home.

While I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as the Natchez Burning trilogy (what can I say, I like series), Cemetery Road was still a quality book and a good read. If you’re looking for a different kind of thriller, look for it when it hits shelves in March.

What Color is Your Parachute?

In the world of job hunting, career changing, or simply looking for some purpose in your life, this book has stood out for decades among the rest as a go-to resource for finding out just what you love to do. I’ve reached a point recently (not that recently, actually, 9+ months isn’t recent anymore…) where I’m ready for some change. So this book was my first stop.

Richard Bolles’ approach is so much more than simply where to look for jobs or how to apply. Bolles first lays out that jobs are, in fact, out there and available, despite the depressing news and reports job hunters might see regularly. But before even thinking about fields or jobs, Bolles walks his readers through a self-inventory, the flower exercise, as he calls it. Each person has seven sides that play important roles in selecting a job that they love and that is meaningful. These sides are: the kinds of people you like to work with, the kind of environment you like to work in, transferable skills/things you can do, your goal/purpose/mission in life, your knowledges/special interests, level of responsibility and salary range, and the place you’d like to work. Through a series of detailed steps, Bolles helps you uncover your individual answers to these questions and map them out. Ultimately, you’ll uncover some ideas about what your dream job looks like.

The rest of the book is filled with information on interviewing–both for the job you want, and informational interviewing, talking with people doing that kind of work so you get a better feel for if it’s the right place for you–tips on resumes and how to increase your online presence so when an employer searches you they see professionalism and excellence.

This book is chock full of information, broken down into easy-to-read bites to make the whole process seem a little less daunting. It can be challenging to sit down and do the self-inventory exercises, but it is worth it, as Bolles says time and again, to both know what you love to do and what you’re good at, and to be able to call up examples of your skills and traits, thanks to the research you’ve done before any interviews come up.

I’ve only gotten so far as the self-inventory in the exercises, and haven’t finished up with the mapping of fields and positions that might match my skills, much less picking out places near me that would fit the bill, but while the process is still overwhelming to a degree, I feel much more confident having read this book. For anyone looking for a career change, or even looking for direction before choosing a college major, Bolles’ book is definitely a resource worth having.

Written in an easy, friendly manner, it reads less like a textbook or lecture, and more like a conversation with a trusted mentor, humorous at times, blunt at others. For me, an added bonus was finding out Bolles is a Christian, which means his discussions of meaning, purpose, and mission in life fit with my own definitions and align with what I’m looking for in this change.

Choosing why to write

People write for different reasons. I don’t pretend to know them all, but three reasons stand out to me, why people write.

They have a story to tell, they want to express themselves, or they want to offer a creative opinion on something. (Or, maybe these are just the several reasons that combine for my latest project…)

In the past, I’ve written because I have a story to tell. I’m excited, I have an idea, and I can’t wait to get it down on paper. In the last year or so, my writing has dropped off some, and I’ve been writing more because I want to find a way to express how I feel. If I was ever brave enough to show it, I want people to read it and say, “I know what that feels like.” Maybe not everyone will get it, but some will. It’s not often (maybe ever) that I’ve sat down to write a story specifically with a critique in mind. Yet, that seems to be a big part of my latest project. The problem is, I’m not quite sure what it is I’m trying to say.

I’ve got several ideas bouncing around, and the problem with only having partially outlined my story is that I’m still in the dark about some of it. Which leaves me asking myself, what are the important points I’m wanting to make?

When I first had the idea, it was clear, I wanted to write a story that promoted a middle ground with technology. I recognize that many people, and especially kids and teens, are glued too much to technology, social media, etc, and are living almost in a virtual reality because of it. But I’m equally as tired of the people who swing to the opposite end and say all technology is bad and it’s destroying relationships and all that. Some of my best friends I hardly ever see, we communicate through text or messenger apps. And our friendships are just as strong. Technology and social media allows me to be involved in the lives of my nieces and nephews, who I see only a couple times each year. So, there’s obviously good and bad here, just as there is with pretty much anything. The story idea I had was going to have the heroine take the middle ground, to show that mindfulness and moderation are the keys to navigating this changing society.

In the last month or so, as I’ve gotten down to writing, I started seeing another trend popping up in my character. She loves books, and that’s part of what makes her an outcast in her own society. Books are the gateway drug to the virtual reality so many people are living in. And I started to see that my character was using books as an escape (much like I am in real life). She was dissatisfied with her current situation, felt powerless to change it, and lost herself in books instead. I’m still not completely certain how that factors in to the story, if it’s a prominent theme that gets addressed, or just an underlying habit that leads to other things. I guess I’ll find out when I get an answer in real life.

In the last couple weeks I had a couple good ideas for scenes in my book that I jotted down. One I was able to use immediately, but the other I knew was going to be later on in the book, toward the middle, when everything seems to be going wrong. And this scene stepped away from my initial desire to make a statement, and I got a little obsessed with writing this scene because it so closely mirrored my own feelings lately.

I’m usually a chronological writer. If there’s a part of the story I really want to tell, well that’s just motivation for me to write the rest of it to get there. It’s how I keep myself going sometimes. But this week, it was just time to write it.

Aliyah, my main character, has been thrown out of her community. They found out she was becoming friends with a girl from the city and planning a demonstration. So they gave her a beating, burned down her secret library, and left her to die or find another group of people to live with. (Surprise, she finds another group to live with.) Without giving too much away, Aliyah finds herself depressed and burned out. She remembers a childhood where she was encouraged to dream about what and who she wanted to be. But that was all taken away by the time she reached adulthood. She was given a job that her society deemed was appropriate to her skill set and that was the end of it. She wanted more but couldn’t say it. Books were her refuge, but those were taken away too. Now, she’s hopeless. I’ll let this little excerpt speak for itself:

“I don’t dream,” Aliyah said. “Not anymore.”

“It’s not the dream that hurts, it’s the let down,” Kia said, ignoring Aliyah’s denial and reaching to the root of the issue. “A dream that doesn’t reach fruition is hard. But we don’t stop dreaming. Even those who live in your settlement, they still dream. But they bury some, never speaking it. Others they can parade as goals, projects, community building. It’s incredible, really, how well we are at ignoring ourselves. We all have dreams, but if we never confess it to ourselves, we can truly say we never knew. And yet, when it comes up, we find we’ve always known. It’s always been there inside of us.”

“You must keep dreaming, Aliyah. The future belongs to those who dream. If you give that up, you’ll simply fade away, like everything else.”

Aliyah found herself tearing up. “Maybe fading away isn’t so bad.”

Kia stood and took the two steps to stand before Aliyah, taking her face in her hands to wipe the tears away.

“It’s no way to live,” she said gently. “I know. The choice lies before you, and only you can make it. You can die a little every day with buried dreams chipping away at your soul, wanting to get out. Or you can open yourself up to them. To all the pain and all the joy.”

“But what if there is no joy?” Aliyah asked quietly, giving voice to the question that seemed like a betrayal somehow. “What if, after everything, there’s only the pain? What if none of your dreams ever come to fruition?”

“Do you really believe that’s possible?” Kia asked incredulously.

Aliyah thought for a moment. “I don’t believe it’s impossible.”

She could tell Kia wasn’t prepared for that. “Well, then you’ve got more wrestling to do than I thought,” she said. “I’ll leave you with this to ponder: think of the people you know who have dreamed. Can you think of one of them you could honestly say lived without a single dream coming to fruition?”

Aliyah frowned and nodded her head to the side, acknowledging that Kia had successfully made her point.

“And if that’s too much work, ask yourself this: you’re miserable now. You’ll be miserable if you gamble and lose. But what if you gamble and win?”

So, there it is. The bit of the story that I’ve been dying to write, because it’s the very essence of everything I’ve been wrestling with for the last year or two. Play it safe and deal with the discontent, or gamble and see if things improve? And, if they don’t, how to deal with that.

As I sat down last week to write this scene, I was secretly expecting some incredible, powerful words come to mind, something that would resonate with people. I’m not sure I got that. This will definitely need some reworking (and I need to revisit the names. Right not it sounds like she’s talking to a car, but it was the name that came to mind, and I’ll spend all day quibbling with myself about names if I don’t simply pick something and move on). But as I read it over again just now, I like it more than when I wrote it. It’s honest. It’s me. My heart and my mind, in conversation (don’t ask me which is which, at this point I don’t know which is afraid of dreaming, my heart or my mind). But it’s also the recognition that no one can provide some all-powerful miracle answer. The only person who can decide if recognizing and chasing a dream is worth it, is me. Only you can make that choice for you. You can seek wisdom and advice, and you can get the two cents from everyone, whether you want it or not. But in the end, only you, only I, can wrestle with it and make a choice about it. Believe me, I know how scary and hard it is.

But what if you gamble and win?

The Child Finder

I’ve seen Rene Denfeld’s book around a lot, but never really looked into it until a coworker loaned me her copy. Let me just say, it’s an intense read and could be very triggering for anyone who has faced sexual abuse or abduction.

The Child Finder is the first in a series about Naomi, a PI who was herself a missing child. She remembers nothing of her life until, at 8 years old, she stumbles into the camp of some migrant workers who take her to a sheriff they trust a half a day’s drive away. Now, Naomi is dedicated to finding other missing children.

She takes on the case of Madison Culver, missing three years. Naomi is the last hope, though after that long, hope is a single thread. Naomi sets herself to the case with single-minded attention, hoping to find something that the local law enforcement and search parties missed. Something that suggests Madison is still alive, but anything that will give the family closure. During the course of her investigation, Naomi finds more than she bargained for, uncovering the hurts of the past, hers and others’.

The story is written in unique style that at first glance seemed like it would be annoying, but quickly resolved itself into a good stylistic choice. The chapters flow from Naomi’s current perspective to flashbacks from her childhood in a foster home, interspersed with narrative from an imaginative child, whom we quickly learn is using her imagination to deal with the trauma of her situation. You might have a chapter that flows through all three narrative styles with little more than a paragraph break to clue you in, but the slightly jagged style fits well with the story.

I’ll confess, I am growing tired of the trend that all thrillers have to have a premise in sexual abuse. This one especially concerned me when I started in, seeing as how it dealt with children. But Denfeld isn’t explicit, instead briefly visiting those moments from an innocent child’s eyes, someone who wouldn’t have words to vividly describe what happened. I would have preferred almost any other premise, though.

My only other quarrel with the book was a red herring trail in the second half of the book, when you know what’s going on and where Naomi needs to go, but, despite the evidence that seems glaring to us, the omniscient readers, Naomi goes in a different direction. This little jaunt of the story added words, sure, but didn’t add much else to the story.

While definitely an interesting story, and well written, this is definitely a book I have to be careful with recommending. It’s a sensitive subject and definitely is not a book that appeals to all readers.

Opening up about writing

Is it just me, or is the writing process so boring for anyone who’s not actually doing it?

Sure, it’s great to get little sneak peeks at what the author is working on, and cool to find out facts the author recently learned, but as far as the actual process goes, does anyone other than the author really care?

I’ll be honest, keeping up the weekly blog is difficult. I often realize that I have a post to make, and try to cram some writing in a day or two before sitting down to write the post, as though that will somehow give me something interesting to write about. But it doesn’t.

Fun fact: I actually hate talking about my own writing projects. Blogging is easier, but I really hate it when people ask me what I’m writing about, how it’s going, or if I’ve solved problem X yet. Writing, for all that I want to blog about it, is very personal. I’m very protective of my characters and my projects because, to some degree, each character is me, and each story is my story. While it may not be easy to see, it’s my outlet, it’s how I deal with the challenges of life. I recast them in another setting. Maybe it’s completely unrecognizable to anyone but me. But it’s there. A psychologist could probably analyze it tell you all about me.

But back to people caring about the process.

I keep telling myself that I’ll post an excerpt or something, a little bit that I’m really proud of, or a moment of honesty in my book that’s scary but real. And yet I never do. Mostly because I drag my feet about writing and never have those gems at the ready.

So my posts are largely me making stuff up, and trying to relate it to the writing process (I’m doing it now. Look at me go!). But how do I make a weekly post when I’m 1. lazy and don’t write at all regularly; 2. Very private and I don’t want to go into detail, so I’ll just tell you, I wrote 1,000 words, I’m establishing characters, it’s slow and boring work that will be rewritten if I ever get to editing; and 3. Afraid that if I post something raw or honest, I might get brutal feedback that makes me want to quit writing for the rest of eternity?

I can’t decide if letting other people in to my writing would be good or not. The few people who have been inducted are the kind of people you always assume will read with rose colored glasses. Not that they would lie, but they would always seek the encouraging way to give feedback, and probably only critique something if it was truly awful (which is important critique, to be sure). But sometimes you need someone to say, “I didn’t like this part.” And then you have a conversation to find out why. Is it out of keeping with the established character? Is it poorly written? Is it boring? Is it necessary?

But then what if you find someone to read it, and they tell you, “it’s all awful, cease writing immediately and do the world a favor!”

I don’t write for anyone but me, at the moment. And that’s ok. Right now I think that’s all the writing I need to do. But, somewhere in the back of my mind, in the dusty box that still remembers what it’s like to dream, the idea of publication lurks. And if that dream is ever going to go anywhere, I need to get used to critique, rejection, and most of all, perhaps, vulnerability.

My characters are me. My writing is me. But I am not them. I am more than that. And some day soon, I’ll have to embrace that, and start being a little more open about my projects.

I don’t have to like talking about them, but I should be capable of doing it. And I should be capable of losing myself in the excitement of it all, that I forget that I don’t like talking about it.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden

The name Lizzie Borden is one that rings a bell for probably just about everyone, but for some of us, including me, I couldn’t call up any details, just that she was connected to a murder.

When I saw an advanced copy of Cara Robertson’s upcoming book called The Trial of Lizzie Borden, I snagged it as a chance to learn a little bit more.

Robertson’s book began as a thesis paper and evolved eventually to become the book. The book begins on a quiet morning in 1892 that quickly went south when two brutal murders were discovered in a quiet home on Second Street.

Robertson walks her readers through the police interviews and the inquest, then spends most of the book going day by day through the trial, presenting the case for and against Lizzie Borden. Though written in what I’d consider classic history/research paper style, the book still provides readers with a good deal of courtroom drama.

The prosecution endeavored to prove that Lizzie Borden was the only person who could conceivably have killed her father and stepmother, but her defense team poked holes through the prosecution’s case, and the jury returned a not guilty verdict (no, thats’s not really a spoiler unless you know absolutely nothing about the name Lizzie Borden. Also, the book will kind of give that away before you even start it.).

Though Lizzie was acquitted, there were never any other leads or suspects, begging the question, was she actually guilty?

The book presents the information to readers plainly, for the perspective of the two sides of the courtroom. The reader then gets to decide what weight to put on the evidence, like a jury member would. As I read, I found myself at times agreeing with both sides.

Well written, if a bit textbookish, Robertson’s book will be a must-read for true crime and history buffs when it hits the shelves in March.