Posted in audiobook, books, classic literature, lessons learned, reading, writing

#LessonsLearned: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 In my continuing quest to read more of the classics, we  listened to Fahrenheit 451 on a summer road trip. My kids are 12 and 15, and they really got into the story. It turned out that my son had to read this in school this year, but for some reason I never had to read this in high school. Instead I was slogging through Great Expectations and The Iliad

We listened to this on Audible, and I have to say, Tim Robbins was the perfect narrator for this book. His quirky style and expressive voice fit very well with Guy Montag’s character and the whole feel of the story. Well done.

Now, on to the lessons learned, because part of the reason I embarked on this quest to read more classics was to understand what made them classics and what these writers did to have their stories stick in the minds of so many people for so long.

Lesson #1 – Side Characters Can Make All The Difference

Fahenheit movieLet me start by saying that after we listened to Fahrenheit 451 we watched the HBO movie version, and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. No, it was not the original story. That’s okay. BUT…one of the changes we were all most disappointed by was that Guy’s wife Mildred was completely written out of the story.

Mildred was a bizarre character, but that’s why we loved her. The first time you meet Mildred, she’s overdosed on sleeping pills and Guy has to call some version of 911 to get her help. She’s okay by the next day, and when Guy mentions what had happened, she says that she wouldn’t have done something like that and forgets about it. She initially tries to understand Guy’s anguish over the books he’s stolen, but ultimately can’t handle the threat to her worldview and basically loses it and turns on Montag.

While Montag is the character rebelling against society, Mildred is a prefect example of what this society has done to the people within it. She wraps up multiple ideas and messages and concepts in one nutty package and tells the reader so much more than endless pages of explanation ever could. Bradbury “showed” you his cautionary world through an expertly developed side character.

Lesson #2 – You Don’t Have To Shove Your Message Down Readers’ Throats

Fahrenheit 451 has several important themes: the importance of free speech without censorship, the dangers of mindless conformity, how detrimental pleasure seeking and instant gratification can be, and the importance of not being willingly blind and ignorant. It’s a fascinating piece of social commentary, but readers are shown all these themes through characters’ thoughts and actions rather than Bradbury launching into long discussions about philosophy and social theory.

The fast cars that kill so many young people are casually mentioned in a conversation with Clarisse, highlighting how a fanaticism for entertaining and instant gratification has drastically reduce the value of human life. Mildred’s attempted suicide and the general feeling of malaise and depression of the characters shows how willing ignorance and conformity slowly destroys the spirit. Montag is affected by the woman who is burned with her books, but then we learn he’s been stealing and hiding books for a while, showing deep seated internal problems in an outwardly average and law-obeying citizen. Clarisse is an outcast simply because she likes to take walks and observe the world. She’s a threat to society because she makes others think about their own lives and choices.

It’s a classic example of “show don’t tell”, but I point it out because when writing with a clear purpose and message, “telling” often overpowers the “showing” and pushes readers away. Weaving your message into your characters, setting, and storyline will have more impact and stick in readers minds much longer than shouting at them to agree with you.

Fahrenheit 451 Lessons Learned

Posted in books, writing

In some ways I’m like a zombie

Or at least I have been for the past year.

cross in fog at the cemetarySome of my readers probably think I’ve died, or at least been serious maimed and unable to write. I’m not dead. My hands are a bit messed up, but for the most part, still functional.

Where have I been for the last year?

The short version is that I went back to work full-time. The money was great, the physical and psychological stress was not. I was too exhausted after work to focus on writing. Marketing…yeah right. Cleaning the house…bare minimum, and the kids helped a lot. Dinners…my hubby Ryan was a champ and did a ton! Having a few hours in the evening to spend with the Ryan and the kids was about all I could manage.

Zombies go through the motions, are motivated by basic needs, and aren’t capable of much in the way of creativity.

doomsday

Unless you’re R from “Warm Bodies.” But that’s another story…a really good one. You should go watch it if you haven’t.

I’ve recently left my full-time job behind and am now looking for a new opportunity. I’m not sure what will happen at this point, but while I’m in between life moments, I’m trying to catch up on everything that’s been neglected for the last year. Kids. Hubby. House. Friends. Writing. Marketing. Basically, everything.

I’m hopeful 2019 will be a great year. I’m working on freelancing, tutoring, writing more, maybe  starting graduate school, and possibly starting my own business. Scary, but exciting. I’m really blessed to have a husband who’s supportive and understanding. Making a big change is stressful and downright terrifying at times. He’s carrying a huge portion of the load while I reset and figure things out.

I’m hopeful to have more books out next year for my readers who’ve been hanging in there with me, but if I’m slow getting back into things, I hope you’ll all understand. At the very least, “The Catalyst” reboot (post Kindle Worlds) should be ready soon, and I’m almost done with the next Eliza Carlisle book. Those waiting for The Ghost Host #3, it’s next on the list, I promise. I truly appreciate everyone in my life (family and readers) who support me in so many ways.

Thanks for always being there!

Hands Holding Hearts

Posted in books, creative writing, lessons learned, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Lessons Learned: Life of Pi

I watched the movie first, and really enjoyed it, so I figured I would read the book, since there’s always so much left out of the movie version of any book. This is one of those very rare times where I actually preferred the trimmed down movie version.

life of piFor those who haven’t read or seen Life of Pi, it’s about a young man who survives his ship sinking in the middle of the sea during a journey from India to Canada. He makes it to a life boat, but finds himself in the company of several of the zoo animals his family was transporting…including a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

What I loved about this story was the use of extended metaphor to tell Pi’s story of survival at sea with Richard Parker (I won’t give away what that’s a metaphor for in case you haven’t seen/read it). It’s not a commonly used tactic in modern fiction, and if you’d like an great example of it, read this book. Or watch the movie.

How to write an extended metaphor is not the lesson learned from this book, however.

Not overloading your reader or being condescending to them is the lesson learned.

c4223-robotcartoonInfodumping is often a struggle for writers who do in-depth research for a book. You found out all these awesome things about whatever and now you HAVE TO SHARE THEM ALL! Unless you are writing a non-fiction book about your topic that is meant to give a detailed history of whatever, please, please, please for the love of all things bookish DO NOT vomit up every seemingly fascinating tidbit of research you uncovered while preparing to write your book.

Listening to an audiobook, you can’t really skim, which makes endless amounts of information you’re not particularly interested in even harder to get through. I listened to Life of Pi and simply had to take a break when chapters went on and on about various animals, their habits and traits, mating rituals, etc. I started listening to the book to find out more about Pi’s journey, not to hear a dissertation on animal husbandry.

Focus on what your reader wants out of your story, not just on what you want to tell them.

girl-868784_1920I also struggled to listen at length to the religious discussions, which I usually enjoy quite a bit. I think religion is a fascinating topic and enjoy learning about many different religions. What I didn’t enjoy was, again, too much straight information that took me away from the story, and the sometimes condescending way the information was presented. I don’t hold with any particular religion, but I was still bothered by the sense I got that if a reader didn’t agree with the author’s opinions on eating meat, practicing multiple religions at once, or who or what God or gods might be they were simply wrong or not as smart as the author. I enjoy learning about how others view God, religion, the Universe, etc., but in a way that invites thoughtfulness rather than looking down on others’ beliefs or viewpoints.

Don’t talk down to your reader.

While I enjoyed the story overall, I definitely prefer the movie version, which focused the point of Pi’s journey as a struggle to understand faith and the meaning of life when faced with tragedy. If something you want to put into your book doesn’t add to the story or unnecessarily turns readers off, there’s a good chance it doesn’t need to be there.

Posted in creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Fiction Vs. Reality…And the Author’s Responsibility

I was going through my list of drafts in my blog roll and found this title but no content. I think there was a specific review or article that inspired this debate, but I can’t remember what it was lol!

Either way, it’s an interesting topic.

Typewriter illustrationSeveral years ago on a car ride my family and I started listening to “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I downloaded it from Audible after only a cursory glance at the summary and checking the reviews. So, it wasn’t until several hours into the book that my husband and I both turned to look at each other and asked, “Is this book a true story?”

Why ask that question?

Because it was too unbelievable to be fiction!

Louis Zampirini’s life was quite literally unbelievable in many ways. As history, it’s fascinating and incredible. As fiction, readers would have rolled their eyes at how many dangerous and crazy situations he got into and survived! If you haven’t read the book, please do, you’ll understand so much better what I’m talking about.

So, this question is…where is the line as a fiction author? How do you balance crafting a compelling and engaging story without making it unbelievable? Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years.

1. Characters lose more often than they win.

Depressed woman portrait

Sure, most days in reality are pretty routine, and we all have those days where everything just goes right. Is that interesting to read about? NO. In real life, maybe the boring days and good days are the norm, but the days and weeks we struggle and fail and do stupid things and hurt the people we love are the ones that push us to grow and do better, or maybe to give up and throw our hands in the air. Readers are pulled in by the struggle. They can connect and empathize with lousy days and bruised emotions.

2. There are only so many times you can win or escape.

galaxy questBe mean to your characters all you want. Kill your darlings, right? However, if the end to every situation is a predictable close call or last second escape, readers will not only be annoyed they’ll lose interest. Have you ever watched Tim Allen in “Galaxy Quest”? They parodied this concept beautifully when the alien ship built to model the TV series spaceship is designed to stop its self-destruct sequence at 1 second because “that’s what always happened on the show.” It’s funny because we all now how irritating that “last second” save becomes after a while. While there are rare stories, like Zamperini’s, where people really do beat all the odds and survive the worst situations, most people fail and miss chances and get hurt.

3. Going through traumatic experiences have lasting effects.

unbrokenLouis Zamperini survived an incredible amount of danger and horribleness in his life, BUT there were deep scars left behind because of what he suffered. The last third of the book that deals with the aftermath of being tortured in a Japanese prison camp is very, very hard to listen to because the lasting damage is so real. I’ve read to many novels (especially YA) where the main character has some tragic past or experiences something truly awful…and bounces back like it was nothing. This is not one of those areas where reality needs to be downplayed. Let your characters be as broken as they need to be. Emotional scars are something we all understand. Characters need that element of reality to ring true with readers.

4. Romance has more leeway, use it.

Most people are fairly rational, even when it comes to relationships. Love can conquer all in movies and romance novels, but real people often give up on difficult relationships and choose not to take risks. Now, I’m not saying all romantic stories have to be 100% HEA, “Enchanted” style storylines. What I am saying is that in romance readers  expect a little more of a break from reality. Let your characters make rash decisions or fall too hard too fast. It’s okay if their choices wouldn’t be completely rational or logical in real life. A lot of romance readers want the escapism, the fantasy. Don’t go overboard, but bend reality a little when it enhances the love story.

Enchanted

Balancing fiction and reality is tough, because the line between captivating and irritating a reader can be thin. Stretch reality when it enhances the story, not when you want an easy way out of a situation.

Posted in books, writing, writing thoughts

Writing a Book is like Running a (half) Marathon

Last weekend, my husband and I just ran our second half marathon. I intended to write this post after we ran it last year, but that’s how on top of things I’ve been lately!

So, how is writing a book like running a half marathon?

R and S running the course

The first few miles of a half marathon are awesome. Your adrenaline is pumping, you’re excited to get the race going, and 13 miles doesn’t sound that bad now that you’ve actually got your sneakers on the course. You’ll definitely beat your personal best, by at least half an hour.

When you first start writing a new idea, it’s exciting and you think feel like you’ll be able to write straight to the end because it’s that amazing! You can sit for hours on end scribbling down witty dialogue and captivating scenes. 300 pages? That’s nothing, right?

The fun and adrenaline starts to taper off somewhere around mile 6 or page 50.

When it comes to running, your adrenaline is pushing you to churn out a faster pace than you’ve ever run before. You’re pretty sure you can try out for the Olympics in a few years. Everything feels amazing. Until it doesn’t.

iStock_000024086772Large

World and character building has been a rush, and setting up all those clever little hints has convinced you that there won’t be a single reader in the world who will guess the ending. It’s the best opening of a book you’ve ever written or read. Until your creativity takes a nose dive.

That’s when you hit a wall…creatively or physically.

The physical wall you hit halfway through your half marathon is aggravating and painful. Your knees start to ache. Your hip feels like it has no cartilage left. Every step is torture and you’re regretting ever signing up for this stupid race. There’s no way you can finish. Every time a car passes by you hope they’ll stop and give you a ride to the finish line. But no one stops, so you Just Keep Running.

One moment you’re writing like a crazy person…then all the words dry up. Each one feels like you have to drag it to the surface by force. You’re pretty sure you now have carpal tunnel from the frantic writing. Where has it left you? You’ve set up fabulous characters and a storyline no reader will be able to put down, but keeping up the same momentum seems impossible when you move from doling out exciting tidbits to carrying on a consistently engaging story where you don’t lapse into pointless dialogue or never ending description of a walk through the park sounds impossible. But you Just Have To Keep Writing even though you’re now  positive the whole book sucks and you never should have started writing it.

Then something changes again.

7c9bd-runningfeet

When you see mile marker 11 come into view and you realize you’re almost done, the tears aren’t easy to hold back. Pain, joy, madness…it’s hard to tell. You’re too dehydrated to cry, though, so you hobble onward with renewed energy. As much pain as you’re in, you’re almost there! You can make it.

With writing, the middle section that felt like torture to write and wanted to throw across the room while crying about how terrible it was…everything suddenly comes together. That chapter where your characters endlessly walked through the park went from being a Tolkienesque history of the trees to a pivotal conversation that helped them solve the mystery for fix their relationship. You know how the story ends now!

Sheree Finish Line

Crossing the finish line, writing the end, both feel incredible…but neither one is really the end because you know you’re going to be sore for a week or have a long list of rewrites to work on, BUT it’s a huge milestone to hit and it was totally worth it regardless of the messy shape your body or manuscript is in.

After our race, we got a breakfast burrito and a beer, which I’ll be honest, sounded like a horrible idea at ten in the morning after running 13 miles (the race was hosted by a brewery), but both were actually much appreciated because I was starving and in pain and food and alcohol proved to be exactly what I needed.

Finishing a manuscript is also something to be proud of regardless of the fact that it might have choppy scenes and stilted dialogue and a handful of hints you forgot to ever bring back into the plot. You started a book. You finished it. How many people have wanted to write a book and gave up after a few chapters? A lot.

20170206_074136After running a half marathon, I take a good couple weeks (or maybe a month) off from running. It’s time for yoga, core work, maybe a little biking. My body needs to recover, and honestly so does my motivation.

As soon as you type out THE END, take a good long break from your manuscript, too. Don’t even look at it. Think about it, if you want, consider those problem areas and forgotten clues, but leave the book alone for as long as you can stand it. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting to write sometimes. Give yourself a break so you can come back for the editing round with fresh eyes and some excitement.

Whether you’re running or writing, don’t give up when it gets painful or hard. You’ll learn a lot from your mistakes and be better for it in the end. It took me ten years to publish my first book and a year and a half or running 5 days a week to survive a half marathon. The journey to do something awesome sometimes sucks, a lot, but it’s worth it in the end.

Cheers!

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Posted in books, classic literature, lessons learned, reading, writing, writing advice

Lessons Learned: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I’ve been on a quest to read some of the classics I should have read by now. Actually, I listen to them on audiobook while I run, but same difference. I wanted to read classics not just so I know what people are talking about when these books come up, but because reading is one of the best ways to improve your writing, so why not learn from the masters?

As Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I’ve got the writing a lot part down, but I’ve neglected reading lately, particularly classic literature.

stephen-king-read-a-lot-quoteIn 2017 I’ll continue my quest, and share you all what I’m learning along the way.

So, on to Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”

2017-01-03-03-58-11This was a different type of book than I’d normally pick up, but my friend Denise recommended it so I thought I’d give it a try. This is a coming of age story, but it doesn’t really have a focused plot. The reader simply follows the characters’ lives for a certain period of time. I have to admit, it wasn’t one of my favorite books for that reason. I like a clear-cut storyline I can follow.

However, I found the book absolutely fascinating from a historical perspective. If you want to know what early 20th century life in Brooklyn was like, read this book! I don’t write historical fiction because it is way too much work. I’m not willing to put in the research, time, and effort to do it justice, so I leave it to those more capable. If I were ever going to write historical fiction, though, I’d use this book as a guide.

Aside from the careful attention to detail in this book that made it so fascinating, one of the most poignant lessons I learned from this book was the importance of writing realistic characters, and I mean realistic to the point of almost being painful. Because this is a historical fiction novel meant to capture the great difficulty most poor Brooklynites faced in the first few decades of the 1900s, it truly delves into the awful situations of the time.

***Spoilers head***

There were times the family has so little food, they would play a game pretending they were explores at the North Pole waiting for supplies to arrive-slowly starving in the mean time. Sometimes the rescue didn’t come quickly.

The mother, Katie, admits not only that she loves her son more than her daughter because he is an easier child and different enough from her that she can understand him, but also that her marriage choice has left her facing a bleak future of staying with her drunkard husband and carrying the family largely on her own.

Francie, the main character, is often told by others that she’s barely pretty enough to be considered passable. It breaks your heart when she falls for the first guy willing to dote on her and ends up bitterly heartbroken when she realizes how cruel people can be.

The handsome, charming Johnny, a young man teen girls dream of being swept off their feet by doesn’t turn out to be Prince Charming at all. He’s a drunk who folds under pressure, never wanted the children he has, and despite loving his family is incapable of being the father or husband his family needs and deserves, and dies young and penniless.

The early 1900s in Brooklyn were a harsh time period. Betty Smith doesn’t sugarcoat it to give readers a nice, feel-good story. She highlights the unfair struggles real people face, the crushing mistakes they make, the regret they face over unrealistic or selfish choices, and the often bleak hope they hold onto that things will get better.

Lesson learned: If you’re goal is to tell a realistic story, develop characters who are deeply flawed, make choices they regret, face unfair situations, and are sometimes unlikable. In other words, write real realistic characters.

Posted in books, writing

Who’s ready for 2017?

2017-fireworks

It seems like everyone is happy to say goodbye to 2016. It was a weird year, to be sure. I know for myself, going back to college made things a little crazy, as did a few too many writing deadlines.

A hectic year has pushed me to reevaluate a few things, get organized, and set more realistic goals and deadlines.

So…you’ll see a few changes this year, and yes I’ll explain why.

1This first big change is that I’ll no longer be offering free ebooks on retailer sites like Amazon and iBooks. I’m already in the process of changing free, first-in-the-series books back to their normal prices. Amazon will be the slowest to change, so if you want free books, go get them now.

Why no more freebies? Basically, because it no longer works as a marketing tactic. There are too many free books to have good discoverability any more. It will be more effective for me to offer short term deals on books than to keep them perma-free, so that’s what I’ll be experimenting with this year.

If you want free books once all the price changes go into effect, the only way to do that will be through my newsletter. The plan is that each monthly newsletter I send out will have a coupon code for a free book. If you’re not already signed up, sign up now. All you need is an email address.

Sign up here: http://eepurl.com/C35Q5

2The next big change is that I will be pulling my books from the Kindle Unlimited program. I’m doing this for 2 reasons.

  1. I’ve struggled to ever find success with KU in the various times I’ve tried it out. I just can’t figure out how to really market for KU well, and I have a strong enough reader base on other platforms that it makes more sense to distribute my books wide.
  2. From the beginning, I’ve had my doubts about the fairness of the KU program in how it rewards and pays authors. Recent changes have only increased my dislike of the ethics of the program. While it’s a great deal for readers, it devalues books, and authors often get paid less than half the listed price for a book that is read 100%. I’m just not doing it anymore.

So, most of my books will be out of KU by early spring. The Oblivious Girl’s Handbook will stay in a bit longer because of contractual obligations with a box set it’s part of, but after that I’m out of KU for good.

3The last major change is that I’m scaling back. What does that mean? I can’t say exactly, except that means I’m going to stop overloading myself by saying yes to too many things and setting unrealistic goals. I need to be able to focus on school this year so I can finish my degree in December and start looking for a new day job, while still having time for family and occasionally cleaning my house.

For sure, I’m done with box sets for the time being. The two I’m currently in and the one I’ve committed to for 2017 will be it. They’re a great way to cross-market, but they take a ton of time and effort. As do comic cons, teaching, author events, school visits, etc. As much as I love doing all that stuff, I just don’t have the time right now.

As far as my writing plans, I really can’t say. I tend to write when I’m stressed out, so I may keep on as usual, lol. What I won’t do is push myself into corners where I’m struggling to meet pre-order dates or publishing deadlines. I’ll be writing on my terms and my deadlines. That may mean fewer books or no pre-orders or longer spans between books. I don’t know. I just ask that readers are patient as I finish my last year of undergrad classes. Encouragement is always appreciated, but if you’re waiting longer than usual for a new book just remember that even authors have day jobs, families, laundry, dishes, homework, and those other day-to-day things going on.

I hope everyone’s 2017 is starting off well, and I hope you all have a great year of reading ahead of you 🙂