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The Killing Game

It sounded like it was going to be so good. The synopsis painted a picture of a psychological thriller where the serial killer chooses a victim, plans the murder and leaves clues to connect it all together. We know who the victim is and I was expecting a book full of twists and turns as the character and police try to figure out who the killer is before he kills again.

What The Killing Game, by Nancy Bush, turned out to be was not quite that.

The story meets Andi Wren following her husband’s tragic death, as she tries to take her place as the majority shareholder in the family company. She is trying to hold her ground while her brother-in-law tries convince her and his sister to do business with a pair of bully brother developers. When Andi finds a creepy note with a play on her last name, she hires ex-cop gone PI Luke Denton to do some investigating for her. Meanwhile, in town, the local police are investigating the discovery of various skeletons found in the basement of a local home. All these threads, though seeming unrelated (kind of, but not really), come together in the end.

My first issue was that by the second chapter or so, it was obvious that Andi Wren and Luke Denton were going to hook up. And it was equally obvious that they were going to wait at least half the book before doing it, even though it was full of the typical, “her thoughts involuntarily flitted to Luke” and “he found himself thinking of her, but after his last relationship, he knew it wasn’t a good idea to get involved.” (Not actual quotes, but, you get the gist of it.) So already in the very early stages of the book, I felt it belonged more in the category of romance, not fiction, regardless of the themes of murder.

Second, I would probably have passed up on reading the book had I known the killer wasn’t nearly as complex as I would have believed. What he really turned out to be was a whiny boy who discovered he got sexual satisfaction from killing (and from sex with dying women. Eww.). So instead of a smart, calculating killer, it was just gross. Sure, the final chapters revealed a plot that was much bigger than the first few chapters suggested, it was not that surprising of a revelation, and, frankly, made the most interesting part, the clues and plays on words, seem like a tacked on after thought to the whole scheme. It was supposed to be a psychological game, but it really was just one guy killing people while waiting for the right moment to go after his true victim.

Overall, I was just really disappointed in the story. I expected so much more out of it. Instead, I was reading wondering why I even bothered to finish it, since it wasn’t anything I truly wanted to read: the protagonist was a weepy female who needed a strong man to save her life and couldn’t feel safe alone, the antagonist was an extremely creepy guy who, had I known about before would have been a deal breaker for starting the book, and the whole point of the book was for Andi and Luke to get together.

I prefer romance to be a secondary theme element, which is why I generally avoid reading romance. And especially when you’ve got so much more potential, this book could have stood more solidly on the grounds of psychological thriller. I’ve gotta say, I would not recommend this book to many people, if any. It’s not trashy or wholesome enough for romance readers (or at least what I imagine to be romance readers), but it falls short on the suspense scale to be worth reading for people who enjoy mystery and mind games.


Natchez Burning

As good as The Bone Tree was, having read Natchez Burning by Greg Iles makes it make a lot more sense.

Natchez Burning is the first book in Iles’ trilogy that tackles race and civil rights issues.

In this first book, Iles sets the stage. Penn Cage, mayor of Natchez, finds everything turned upside down when his father is accused for murder. But what initially seemed like a simple case turns out to be one thread among many that all converge together.

The past gets stirred up by one reporter digging in to cold civil war cases. But as the bodies start to pile up, all the players have to consider how far they are willing to go.

Iles really lays the groundwork for what is continuing to prove to be an epic saga. Each book has twists and turns (and I have to say, I think the twists in this book would have been better had I not read he sequel first, and therefore already knew what to expect). Iles also does an excellent job at revealing information but still keeping enough secrets so as to make it interesting reading.

It’s been a while since I’ve found a series that keeps me so engrossed, with books that I don’t want to put down. Single books, sure, but not often series anymore. Iles’ series is a thrilling work of historical fiction, and I’m excited to get to the final installment.

Writing titles and self-publishing

Onward to module fifteen, and some fairly useful information on writing a title for a book.

A title for a book needs to fit the targeted age range in its word usage, as well as give indication about the topic and the characters. A title needs to be exciting and enticing. We’ve all made judgements on what to read based on a title and cover, despite the probers warning otherwise.

A title, therefore, needs to be crafted. It’s not just something that pops into your head, although sometimes what pops into your head ends up being a good choice.

This, I think, explains why few of my books have a title. I’ve never out the time into crafting one. But, that’s a whole other story.

I am interested in getting a project refined enough to where a title is an important piece.

The course authors suggest writing out key words associated with the story, then writing as many possible titles as you can think of, using the key words as inspiration and guidance.

One thing to watch out for is a title that gives away the climax or ending. A title has to say a lot without saying too much. It really is important.

This module also talked, very beiefly, about self-publishing, mostly just mentioning that it is an option, and is entirely plausible as a beginning step. It’s also a step you can take once you’re published. Self-publishing allows you to get out the stories you want to get out. But, you lose out on some other perks of traditional publishing. Not in the least, you yourself have to build up a fan base and promote your work and sales yourself. But it can be done, in fact, it’s an option I have considered before.

But, for that if have to work a manuscript to as near perfection as I can get, not to mention come up with a title, too.

One year in

In the last few weeks Austin and I celebrated our wedding anniversary, and just a few days ago also marked one year since I moved to California, and it put me in a bit of a reflective mood.

There are a few things in my life that aren’t what I want them to be, but, on the whole, it’s largely what and where I expected it to be.

It’s challenging, however, to know you’re not where you want to be. Expectation doesn’t make you content or make desire or ambition go away, and even after a year, there are days that I have to remind myself that every step I chose to take led me here, and it’s where I wanted to be.

Sure, I could be working as a reporter at some newspaper learning and growing in my field, but in order for that goal to be realized, I would still be unmarried– though probably engaged– still coping with a long-distance relationship. And I didn’t want that.

I could dedicate a lot of time to my personal writing projects and work just part-time, but I would have to sacrifice the full-time job that, with any luck, will help Austin and I achieve other goals of independence.

Instead, I chose the option to get married and move to California (I’m only cranky when it’s hot… Mostly…) and work full-time at a job I still enjoy. It’s not my dream job or my career goal, but I don’t come home every day ranting and angry, which is more than a lot of people can say.

I’ll confess, for a long time, I clmplained to myself how it wasn’t fair. My choice wasn’t a simple, do you want to move or not? There was so much else hanging in balance. And sometimes I get caught up in thinking of the dreams and goals and even just options that have been taken off the table. And I wonder how the choices I made will affect my ability, or rather, hire-ability, once I’m able to actually pursue a career. At the end of the day, I can only remind myself that, if given a do-over, I’d do it all the same. Life isn’t fair, but I think, in some ways, we’d miss out if it was.

Halfway there (nearly)

I’m almost two weeks in to my April writing adventure. I got off to a slow start, and by that I mean it was day four before I even put any words on paper. But now I’m less than 400 words off target (pennies, in the grand scheme of things).

I’ve been using a few tricks I’ve picked up from my online writing class, even though I’ve neglected it for a few weeks. Mostly, I’ve been reaping the benefits of taking the time to plan and outline my story.

Maybe it’s that it is less pressure than the 50k in November, but it sure seems way easier to write when I’ve planned it out and know where to go next. I don’t spend as much time trying to decide what makes sense next, or trying to think of how to get from here to there. It’s all planned out for me.

On the flip side, however, there isn’t quite as much room for my characters to surprise me, or for the story to take an unexpected turn. But, this may be because it’s a story for kids, therefore, it’s a little more simplistic. I want them to be able to follow the progress logically. It’s not exactly my goal to blow their minds at any point in the story. It also may be that my character is a twelve-year-old, and this isn’t my first rodeo. I can anticipate how Molly thinks. I’ve been there before. I’ve babysat kids of that age many times. There isn’t a whole lot I can’t anticipate, and I’m sure that is a contributing factor as well.

Overall, I think I’ll have to get more planning attempts under my belt to know if it’s the planning that takes away that element of surprise (or ignorance). And from there I’ll have to decide which I want more: the ease of the plan or the added adventure of not knowing quite where we are going.

The first chapter

With the beginning of April came a (slow) new beginning for a my newest writing project.

I can honestly say writing for children is different in several obvious ways, but ways that I didn’t really give a second thought to until I began.

First, vocabulary is a big focus. Would 12-year-old Molly even think to herself that something is primitive? Would Molly even know what that meant? It would depend on what kind of 12-year-old Molly is, but, I’m going to go with no. But some words are so ingrained in our adult minds that we have a hard time replacing them. Or, if you are me, you have a hard time replacing it with something more understandable. I don’t want to say something is “simple” or “basic,” when when you’re writing for kids, these are the kinds of words to use, because they are easy to understand. They promote readability.

The next thing I noticed while writing the first chapter of my still-untitled book, is that some of the jokes or sarcastic comments I want to make, I can’t. They would not be understood by my audience, regardless of how funny. And it would be wasted. And the only thing worse, or at least on par with, a misunderstood joke or misunderstood sarcasm is when it is wasted.

I’ve also found that my word count for each chapter, though more of a rough guideline (who am I kidding, I don’t think I could write under my word count for a chapter), can also be a hindrance. One of the most important things in writing, and especially for children, is to keep the story moving. No one likes to read the long asides that Dickens, Hugo and other classic writers always made. And today, you don’t have to write even in the same league as those asides to lose your reader or make them skip a few sentences or paragraphs ahead–or even to the end of the book. My goal for each chapter is 1,000 words. Pretty light, about a page and a half single spaced. But if I can’t keep the story moving, if I’m padding to reach that 1,000 words, it’s too much. I’ll bet that will be my struggle throughout this whole project, because it’s something I’ve done in every other draft I’ve written. I’ve always preferred to chop words out than scramble to put more in.

All in all, though, I enjoyed writing the first chapter. I got to channel my inner child–the sassy, melodramatic me that the years polished into a less melodramatic, more sarcastic and mildly sassy me. It’s fun to write and know exactly what I would have said or done in a situation, and it helps me know what Molly would do, because in a lot of ways, Molly is me.

Life: Where I am vs where my college degree suggests I should be

I’ve had a fair bit of pressure lately to get a full-time job. Both from others and from myself, there is an expectation that, since I’ve got a degree, I ought to use it instead of working what some people might consider a dead-end job.

And when I see my peers, the people I graduated with all getting jobs and starting their careers, it’s all too easy to fall into a cycle of beating myself up for being behind.

I have to constantly remind myself that I made a decision to live a life quite different than many of my peers.

Many of them are taking jobs and moving to new places. I did it a little differently. I took a husband, and moved to a new place. And while it gets discouraging sometimes, feeling like I committed career suicide in moving to Modesto, I have to remind myself that this is what I wanted. All I wanted.

The pressure to get a job in my field, to have a career, is pressure to pursue a goal that has always been secondary. Yes, I’m one of those women who wants to be a wife first, mother second, and employee third.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want a career, or that I am telling myself to settle for a career that isn’t what I really want, what it means is that my life is mine, not any one else’s, and I can’t determine my success based on how I compare to others.

We all have various goals and they are all ranked differently. The choices we make determine where we end up, and the only one who can definitively say a choice is good or bad is ourselves. If I’m happy with the job I’ve got now, happy with my husband and the life I have, no one can (or should) convince me otherwise.

Life is a constant learning opportunity. And I’ve always been one to learn by doing. And right now, that means being confident in where I have chosen to be, not putting myself down because my life looks different than others around me.