Rules can be broken

I’m almost to page 400 in John Grisham’s SYCAMORE ROW.  I’d probably have it finished by now if I hadn’t lost time to my troublesome stomach, but I have to admit, I needed a kick in the pants to pick the book up to read every night.  It’s good.  But I’m not used to Grisham’s style of writing, and after all the pages I’ve read, the book still feels like set-up to me.  Everything’s interesting.  The characters are great, but there’s still no crunch time, no ticking clock, and I’m getting the feeling that’s not going to happen.

The truth is, I’m so used to genre writing, his style feels alien to me.  He does a lot of the things that my writers’ group tells people NOT to do, but it works.  For him.

  1.  Show don’t tell.  My group repeats this like a mantra.  Showing pulls a reader into a story, makes him feel part of it.   Grisham sets a scene–like Jake walking into the coffee shop where everyone gathers to learn the latest news and gossip–and TELLS us what’s happening.   I’ve never been bothered by telling as much as some writers.  Author intrusion?  Eh, it works once in a while.  Jenna Bennett uses it here and there, and it adds an intimacy to her stories, like she’s talking just to you, the reader.  It’s efficient, too.  Showing takes space.  You have to let a scene play out to make a point.  Telling…well, you just say what you want the reader to know.  It creates more distance between the reader and the story, but it gives the reader a quick feeling of everything important in fewer words.  Still, all in all, most writers try to avoid it.  We try to show instead of tell.
  2. POV.  My groups’ view is that there’s singular POV or multiple POV, and you don’t mix more than one POV in a scene.  You wait to jump from one person’s head to another’s.  Grisham eliminates that worry by using a sort of omniscient POV and focusing in on one person and then moving to another.  It’s not one bit confusing.  It works.  But again, it creates more distance.  The reader’s not following one person or a few important players from place to place.  We pop from Jake’s thoughts to Lettie’s to someone’s in the coffee shop.  I don’t read enough thrillers to know if this is the norm for the genre, but it very well might be.  That’s the thing about genres.  They don’t all follow the same rules.
  3. Pacing.  My group focuses a lot on keeping the reader turning pages.   We build tension and conflict into every scene we can.  We have pinch points and turning points.  And everything keeps geting worse.  Grisham concentrates on his story and lets it unfold.  It doesn’t feel rushed.  It has more of a literary feel where the characters develop more than the plot.  I’m happy to roll with that, except I have to admit, as a genre junkie, I wish some key plot point was moving a little faster.  But that’s my own hang-up, and I know it.
  4. Would I change my advice to people who come to Scribes?  No.  Because show, don’t tell works for most writers.  So does POV and pacing.  But Grisham is talented enough to pull off his style.  His sales speak for that.  But most mere mortals have better luck following the rules.  It’s hard enough finding an audience, so why push your luck?

Whatever you write, however you write it, good luck.  And happy writing!

My webpage:  https://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

Twitter:  @judypost

 

 

 

 

 

Hooked

I mentioned once before that I’m studying cozy mysteries again.  I read them for years, and then sort of got sidetracked by urban fantasy and then romances.  Now, I combine them all in a big stew of happy reading and watching with an occasional steam punk thrown in.  I’d never watched the Hallmark mysteries, so I’m catching up on those, and it’s fun to see that a romance subplot is thrown into almost every single one of them.

I’ve read some mystery authors who are new to me, too.  And that’s what got me in trouble.  I stumbled onto Jenna Bennett’s Samantha Martin series.  The only time that I’ve been able to read one author, back to back, over and over again, was when I discovered James Fenimore Cooper when I was in middle school.  I admit it.  My young teenage heart fell in love with Natty Bumpo, also known as Hawkeye.  He was so brave with so much honor.  This quote might prove it.   It takes a Mohican only minutes to bury his dead…but many moons to bury his grief. He’ll wander the hills alone until he’s ready to come down.  If anyone could walk in another man’s moccasins, it was Natty Bumppo.

It pains me to admit that the reason I’m reading one Samantha Martin mystery after another is because I’m crushing on her romantic interest–Rafe Collier.  Rafe is brave, too, with honor, but it’s buried under many layers of sexy bad boy.  And what a combination that makes!  If Rafe Collier quirked his brow at me and drawled the word “darlin’,” my knees might melt.  Now bad boys, in general, don’t interest me, but GOOD bad boys, who are heroes under all the naughty things they do….well, they’re pretty darn hard to resist. At least, on paper.  And it’s so easy for an author to get them into trouble.  Talk about tension waiting to happen.

I’ve never written a bad boy.  I don’t think I’m frisky enough to pull one off.  My protagonists are always pretty squeaky clean and above board.  They win the heroine because they’re so dependable and good–like Natty.  So it’s fun for me to read someone whose character is used to people assuming the worst of him, and who’s fairly happy to reinforce that opinion.  In fact, Rafe has a natural gift for it.  If you have a thing for bad boys, here’s a link for Jenna Bennett’s:  jenna bennett savannah martin series.

I’m about ready to do rewrites for my first mystery, and as usual, my protagonist falls for a good guy.  I got comments back from my critique partners, so I’ll finish it way ahead of my Oct. 2nd deadline.  And Ansel Herstad, the tall, blonde Norwegian who’s Jazzi’s love interest, got good reviews.  I like him–a lot.  Will he make female readers swoon like Rafe does? Probably not.  But like I said, I don’t think I can write a bad boy and pull it off.  So I’m happy with Ansel.

Do you write mostly “good” characters?  Do you have a favorite love interest who makes you keep buying books?  Did you ever write a “bad” boy/girl for one of your stories?

It’s hotter than blazes in Indiana.  If you’re sweating, too, hope you get to hibernate–like I have–and write.  Happy Writing!  Judy

 

Webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel 

Twitter:  @judypost

Kyra Jacobs!

Hi, all!  I’m so happy to spread the news that Kyra Jacobs’s third and last book in the Checkerberry Inn contemporary romance series will be out on July 17th, and it’s available for pre-order now.  I love Kyra’s writing–both her romances and her dragon series–so I asked her to do a question and answer for us and to tell us a little about her new book.  Here goes:

Questions for Karen:

  1. This is the third and final book in your Checkerberry Inn series. How did you enjoy writing a series?  Did it have any challenges?

I love series writing, and being able to draw on the supporting cast from prior books to help drive new stories. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to plan ahead. I’ve got to be careful not to make a future hero/heroine act contrary to what you want them behaving like in their upcoming books.

  1. You tend to write about feisty heroines. Freudian, maybe?  A little bit of you sneaking into your fiction?

Hah! I’m pleading the fifth, here. Pleading. The. Fifth.

  1. Besides writing romances, you skip off to write PNR novels, too. How did that happen?

Honestly, I don’t know. The dragons struck me out of the blue (re-releases coming 7/31!) , as did my latest fantasy/PNR novel (work in progress). But I’ve found that keeping a foot in each genre tends to help balance me out, crazy as that may sound. With my contemporary stories, I have certain plot rules for romance to follow, as well as making the story/setting/characters believable. With fantasy, I get to break all the “normal” rules while I create new ones that shape my alternate worlds.

  1. Your third book features a female chef. Do you love to cook?  Are you a secret cookbook hoarder?

Ha! No, not a cookbook hoarder. Though, I’m certainly a cookbook/recipe user. If I don’t have directions to follow, I’m lost. Maddie, the chef in my story—she’s a wiz in the kitchen. Me? Not so much. I do love to bake (again, all about following the recipe) and have been trying my hand at grilling this summer. So far, so good!

  1. What about the hero, Cole? He’s a musician, isn’t he?  Can you tell us a little about him?  You’re a little addicted to music, aren’t you?  Do you listen to it while you write?

Ah, Cole. He’s such a sweetheart but so misunderstood. I was glad to bring him a much-needed HEA. And yes, I do love music. If I’m in the car, I’m singing along. Working in the yard or on a walk, headphones are likely in (but I spare the neighbors from hearing me sing). During writing time, though, the music stays off. I need quiet for the stories in my head to make it onto my keyboard.

  1. Okay, tell us a little about you. If you were gifted a perfect day, what would it be?

Oh, wow. There are so many “perfect day” scenarios to choose from! I’m thinking one that has a little of all my favorite things in there—time with my boys, time in my flower gardens, time writing, maybe even a bit of yoga thrown in the mix. And something tells me, music will be included as well. 😉 

Thanks for visiting my blog!  Can you share your new book’s cover, a blurb, and excerpt with us?

Thank you so much for having me here today, Judy!

herunexpectedhero-900px

Blurb:

Maddie Frye, the Checkerberry Inn’s snarky, introverted chef, just wants to be left alone. But with the inn’s upcoming gala, Maddie’s boss has matchmaking on the brain. So when the gorgeous new guy in town helps her out for a night, she comes up with the perfect solution to her problem…

Cole Granville is looking for a fresh start. When a part-time job opens in the Checkerberry’s kitchen, he takes it without a second thought. The only catch? He’s got to help his sexy new coworker snag a date for an upcoming dance. But as he coaches Maddie on attracting her crush, Cole realizes he’s the one falling for the curvy brunette. 

 

Excerpt:

“Hey! You!”

Cole froze, his heart racing. The last time he’d heard those words, they were followed by “Stop! Police!” Resisting the urge to run, he turned toward the voice and stared. The Checkerberry’s spitfire of a chef was running toward them, apron flapping in the wind.

“Uh-oh,” said Brent. “What’d you do to make Maddie leave the kitchen at this hour?”

“No idea, I haven’t seen her since church on Sunday. Maybe she’s yelling at you?”

Brent chuckled. “Looks like we’re about to find out.”

She came to a stop a few feet back, her peaches and cream complexion flushed from exertion. “Hey, hi. Cole, right?”

The men exchanged a glance. Brent offered him a victorious smirk.

“Yes, ma’am. What can I do you for?”

“Ma’am? Good grief, I’m not ninety. Even if I do feel that way sometimes. It’s Maddie. Just Maddie.”

She put a hand to her chest. Cole’s gaze followed the movement but he did his best not to let it linger there. He’d admired her curves from a distance many times, but never this up close. Today, her top was unbuttoned farther than it usually was on Sundays…

She cleared her throat and brought the hand down to plant on her hip. “You still looking for work?”

Cole stared at her, momentarily dumbstruck.

“Work.” She waved a hand in front of his face. “Are you still looking for work?”

He blinked, trying to clear the fog of surprise from his mind. “Yes, ma’am—I mean, Maddie. Did you need help moving something? Or lifting?”

“No. More like washing dishes. You got two working hands and arms?”

“Yes, ’um.”

“Then you’ll do. Please tell me this was your last run of the day.”

“It is.” More like his only run of the day. Probably wasn’t even necessary, but Old Tom hated to see him sit around bored on the days he filled in at Granville’s Hardware. Not that he’d ever complain—those days were what graciously supplied the roof over his head until Cole got on his feet financially.

“Perfect. You finish with Brent, I’ll call your grandfather.” She hurried back toward the inn, leaving the men to themselves once more.

“Come on,” said Brent with a grin. “I’ll help you unload so you can get to our queen bee.”

Cole smirked. “Thanks.”

“I hope you didn’t have any plans tonight. Big gathering up there, lots of old biddies. They stay longer than you’d expect.”

“Nah, no plans.” Cole looked back toward the inn, seeing it for the first time as a possible ticket to success. Who knew? If washing dishes paid a decent wage, maybe he’d find a way to stay longer than expected. And a cash advance.

In fact, his dream studio was counting on it…

 

 

 

Mysteries

Writers can end up talking about and researching strange things.  When I write mysteries, though, I always hope no one tracks the history of the sites I visit.  For instance, my character dug a hole near a septic tank–so no one would get suspicious why he was digging a hole in the first place, and then dumped a body in it.  Six months later, the house has sold and the toilets aren’t draining right, so another person digs near the septic tank and finds the body.  Question is:  what will it look?  Answer:  not at all like the body my protagonists found stashed in the attic–which was above ground and protected. Hence the working title:  The Body in the Attic.  But when I read the first chapter to my writers’ group, they all had different ideas of what dear Lynda’s remains would exactly be. Would the clothes still be intact?  The hair?  Would her skin and flesh have dissolved or mummified?  Would the pillow under her head be stained from when her flesh liquefied?

How I love my writer friends!  They didn’t blink an eye while they discussed how bodies decompose or dessicate–as Lisa Black explains in her book THAT DARKNESS.  A fellow writer in my group is working on a much more grisly mystery than mine and needed to know how long a body can hang in woods before the neckbone gives out and the head and body drop and roll in different directions.  Oh, the possibilities!

I bought Lisa Black’s book THAT DARKNESS, because she’s a forensic scientist and I thought she’d HAVE to make me start thinking about stuff I usually try to avoid.  And I was right.  It reminded me of when I went to a big mystery conference in Chicago and a coroner gave an hour and a half workshop on finding clues when studying dead bodies.  He brought slides of entry wounds and exit wounds.  A bullet goes in small, but exits big.  Unless it’s a .22, and then it might just bounce around inside the skull.  (Black used that in her book, but the coroner had already warned us about it).

Black’s book concentrates on crimes and forensics, so it was fun to read–unless you’re squeamish.  I want my book to concentrate more on characters but with realistic clues to the murders.  Black’s book has lifetime criminals and cops and forensic scientists.  Her characters work with crime day after day.  Professional criminals do WAY worse things than the killer in my book.  He’s an amateur with amateur detectives finding clues they don’t want to.  My book will have a totally different feel than hers.  On purpose.  But I’m so glad I read hers.  Details make a difference.  And she’s a professional, so her details drive the story.  When she has to cut off a dessicated finger to soak it long enough that she can get prints, you believe her.  And that’s awesome!

 

It’s not all about the writing

If you’ve read my blog much, you know that I’m a sucker for writers who can mesmerize me  with their use of language.  I’ve said it before, but Theodore Sturgeon’s The Silken-Swift (a short story in his anthology E Pluribus Unicorn) still stuns me with its lyrical beauty.  I reread it off and on just to remember how beautiful words can be–  (available here: http://www.baen.com/Chapters/9781625791177/9781625791177___2.htm).  Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen feel poetic to me when I read them because of their what-feels-simple-but-isn’t, visual, almost magical quality.  Elizabeth George’s mysteries…well, what can I say?  I idolize her writing.  It makes me work, it has so much depth, so many layers.  She’s NEVER a fast read for me.  I savor her.

All that said, to my shame, I’ve discovered that I can be had with almost any magic and abandon, even if the writing’s just passable.  Sometimes, I just want something FUN.  If word repetition and misplaced commas are only occasional, I go with the characters and the story.  I’m reading The Crystal by Sandra Cox right now and absolutely enjoying it.  Yes, once in a while, commas are in the wrong place.  Do I care?  For about half a second.  I’m too busy trying to keep up with all of the characters’ shenanigans.  And there’s MAGIC.  Kathy Palm would be proud of me.  Her book series, which someday I’ll gladly announce and promote because she belongs to my writers’ club and she’s read us chapters that are AWESOME, is a fantasy series.  She loves magic, but I might love it just as much.  My magic taste runs to fun and games, though, like When Demons Walk by Patricia Briggs and Firelight by Kristen Callihan.  And Sandra Cox delivers plenty of fun.  There’s a crystal ball–that was bespelled–by a fairy.  Gabby Bell buys it before Christopher Saint can steal it, and the mayhem begins.  (I found this book on Mae Clair’s blog:  https://maeclair.net/blog/).   I’d read three romances in a row–all good–but I was ready for something fun and frivolous.  And so far, this book is really delivering.  The writing is solid–(no, it’s not up to Elizabeth George, but neither am I).  The star of the book is the STORY.

Every once in a while, I get so absorbed in word choice, plot, and pacing that I forget to just have fun with my characters.  Yes, every book needs a BIG question that drives the story. It needs tension and pacing.  But some books, every once in a while, have a SPARK.  And that spark can make me stay up past midnight and risk turning into a pumpkin to see what happens next.  It’s just plain FUN.  And inbetween serious books, romances with angst, and characters buried under problems, a little fun is sometimes welcome.  Can’t wait to finish this book!

The Crystal, by Sandra Cox:  https://www.amazon.com/Sandra-Cox/e/B002BM3AKC/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1483562143&sr=1-2-ent

By the way, I put up chapter 3 of VERDANTA on my webpage if you like nymphs, sprites, and mortals.  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

Twitter:  @judypost

An Ode to Food, and Back to Routine

Happy New Year!  I don’t know about other people, but I’m ready for a fresh start and a new year.  2016 was a full, busy year with more “events” than usual.  Our grandson Tyler graduated from IU in May, then he traveled for a while before starting a new job in Indianapolis in June.  Our Friday night friends moved to Carolina in June, and now I picture them playing in sunshine.  I broke my leg on June 17th and that pretty much blew my plans for the summer.  My life revolved around physical therapy and lots and lots of TLC from friends–I’m one lucky person. Then our grandson Nate joined the marines, stayed with us to do Thursday night training sessions in town, and then shipped out for boot camp in early December.  He couldn’t wait to go.  I wasn’t quite so gung-ho to lose him right before Christmas, but he was ready to prove himself.  I get that.  And inbetween all of it, I wrote.  That’s what I love about writing.  It’s “my” space, my place to go when routines crash and fall around me.  Writing can be flexible, so I met all of my deadlines.   It was nice to end 2016 on high notes, but I’m still ready for 2017!

The high notes?  My daughter and grandson came to stay with us from Friday, December 23, to late afternoon on Tuesday, December 26, and all I concentrated on was lots of good food and lots of time to visit.  No work.  No “office hours.”  With my cane and the butcher block in the center of our small kitchen, I can cook like a crazy woman, as long as I remember to stop and ice my leg in the middle of the day.  And I love cooking, especially with my daughters (except Robyn and Scott couldn’t make it this year)!

Now, my romances mention lots of food, because cooking is such a passion of mine.  And for me, the holidays revolve around food, so this next part of my blog is a blatant tribute to wonderful recipes.  Holly and Tyler both love Thai food, so I made my version of Nigella Lawson’s Thai yellow pumpkin and seafood curry to put over rice for their first supper at home.  My hubs has always insisted on a “fancy” supper, with all of us together, on Christmas Eve, so Holly and I made desserts for Christmas dinner early on Saturday to get them done ahead of time, and then I made The Pioneer Woman’s Steak Oscar for supper.  (Holly loves to try new recipes as much as I do.  Steak Oscar was a HUGE hit, and if you want to impress, this does it!)  For Christmas, I made “the big-ass ham” (20 pounds) that John won at the Legion, and I glazed it with The Pioneer Woman’s red raspberry/dijon mustard glaze.  I took an extra mason jar of the glaze to my sisters’ house, and they wouldn’t let me bring it home, so I know it was a hit.  And I highly recommend Marcela’s slab apple pie (from foodtv’s The Kitchen): http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/marcela-valladolid/apple-slab-pie.html.

Aside from food, we watched a movie every night Holly and Ty were here–something unusual for us, but boy, did we enjoy it.  We were all in the mood for low-key this year.  I picked first: The Magnificent Seven.  I mean, it’s a Western, and it has Chris Pratt in it. How bad can that be?  Holly picked The Secret Life of Pets–just silly fun.  And Ty picked the new Jason Bourne movie with lots of action.  Then it was time for Holly and Ty to drive back to Indy and jobs and the real world.  I finished reading The Help, and John and I rented that movie and loved it.

I got a smidgeon of work done until New Year’s Eve, but nothing to brag about.  And tomorrow, it’s time for me to hit the real world again, too.  Time to get up and write again.  And I’m ready.  It’s fun to play, but it’s great to get back to routine again.  I’m ready to hit 2017 running…Okay, limping, but with purpose.  Hope your holidays were wonderful, and have a great, new, fresh year!

 

Charlotte’s Web

charlottes-web

Books can stick with you.  A long time ago, when I taught fourth grade, I read a chapter from a book to the kids every day after the last recess.  One of their favorites was Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I chose that particular one because it would appeal to the boys in the class as much as the girls, and it showed what life and one-room school houses were like in an earlier time period.  When I finished reading that book to them, my mom sewed a sunbonnet for every girl in the class, and my dad made each boy a wooden slingshot for paperwads–outdoors.

Their other favorite book was Charlotte’s Web.  They got so into that story that when I reached the chapter where Charlotte dies, I had to take them outside for one more recess, because so many of them were crying, including the boys.  (At ten, they can still shed a tear or two without teasing.)

Charlotte’s Web affected me, too.  Maybe five or so years ago, we had a bigger, reddish spider build a web near the roof of our side porch.  It was big enough that if it fell on me, or I walked through its web, I’d scream and panic.  But I can’t make myself kill it.  Ever since I read about Charlotte, I can’t kill a spider when it’s outside, where a spider belongs.  In the house, it’s another matter.  I can’t make myself live with arachnids.  But outside?  I get a broom with a LONG handle, dip it into the web close enough to get the spider, too, and relocate it to the back of the garage where there’s TALL grass that’s almost as high as the garage roof.  A good place for a spider to build a new home.

I do this every fall, and the next year, another red spider returns to our porch.  They like the porch because the porch lights attact bugs, which is sort of like ordering in supper.  And every year, I relocate them.  This year, for the first time, the red spider got smart.  He built his web a little away from the hummingbird feeder that hangs close to our kitchen windows.  The nectar attracts bugs, too, but I don’t have to worry about anyone walking through the spider’s web, so I’m leaving it alone.  The only drawback is that, occasionally, while I’m eating lunch, I watch him trapping his lunch, too.  Slightly unappetizing, but those who know me well, know that it’s hard to make me turn away from good food.

Other books have added to my life since then in different ways.  Sometimes, they simply make me look at the world in a new light.  I hope you’ve read some book/s that stay with you, too.  Feel free to share them.  And happy reading and happy writing!

 

My webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

On twitter:  @judypost

On Kensington Books:  http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/author.aspx/31751

The Last Pages

I’ve been reading more than usual lately–my new goal.  I can’t begin to keep up with reviewers or Goodreads or my friend Les Edgerton (who writes a great blog and flies through books), but I’ve set a more realistic goal for myself.  Sort of like exercising and dieting.  For me, moderation means I might actually stick to it.  I’m trying to read one book every week (unless it’s really long, and then I’m in trouble.  I’m a slow reader.  And unless I have house guests.  Then I’d rather visit than read.  And we’ve had a lot of house guests lately).  But things are calming down again, and I have a new book to start.  Happiness:)

I’ve been reading a little bit of everything–a few fun mysteries, an Elizabeth George literary style mystery, a paranormal romance, and a mystery/suspense romance.  These days, I’m too old and too grumpy to finish novels I don’t like.  If the characters are cardboard and the plot sags and waffles, I’m over it.  On top of that, I can’t turn off the editor in my head, so I think I’m pickier than I used to be.  Too many grammar mistakes, verb tenses that change every other paragraph, and I pitch the book.  That means, when I finish a novel, it had to have the basics right and be interesting enough to make me want to spend time with it.  If it’s five-star instead of four-star, all the better.

That said, I’ve been surprised at how many books I’ve joyfully flipped through lately and then grumbled when I reached the last pages.  A great cover and an interesting blurb can lure me to buy a book.  How the author ends that book is what tempts me to buy her next one.  I’m not talking about cliffhangers here.  They annoy me.   I’m talking about satisfying endings.  My agent would attest that I wasn’t too good at them when I sent her my first books.  I was forever having to add a few more scenes or building up the big, black moment, because I rushed the last pages of my books.  It took me a while to figure out that I’d spent the first three-fourths of the story, cranking up to a big showdown for a win/lose situation, and that showdown had better deliver.

Endings are important.  But in three of the mysteries I read, the author forced the finale. Protagonists whom I followed because they were smart and clever did the unthinkable (for me) and walked into stupid situations to prove that the villain was the villain.  It felt like the moment in horror movies when you shout at the TV, “Don’t go in the basement!”  Because a murderer is loose.  People are dying.  And you hear a noise in the basement.  So…you go down there to investigate??  Really???  Why would anyone do that?  I felt the same way about the last pages of those mysteries.  A smart person occasionally does stupid things, but not just to force the showdown between the good guy and the villain.

Info dumps should never happen in a novel–anywhere.  The information should be sprinkled here and there, in one scene and then another, until the reader knows whatever he needs to know before he needs to know it.  But when the info dump comes at the end of the novel, to explain everything that’s happened, it really stands out and slows the reader down.  Whatever tension is happening–like when the killer is holding a gun on the amateur sleuth–fizzles when they start talking about why the villain killed the guy we tripped over at the beginning of the book.  When I watched the movie Kingsman: the Secret Service, I had to laugh when Samuel Jackson holds a gun on Colin Firth and says something like, “In a movie, this is where I’d explain everything I’ve done and why to you, but this ain’t that kind of movie, bro.”  And shoots him.  Dead.  Long explanations are sort of like long, extended death scenes where the dying man talks on and on.  It’s hard to suspend disbelief.

An author should do the work ahead of time so that everything’s in place for the good guy and the bad guy to clash for the final showdown.  And that showdown should be powerful enough to justify all the suffering the protagonist’s done leading up to it.  And the last scenes, after the showdown, should leave the reader satisfied that the protagonist got his happy ending (if you want a happy ending) or awful enough (if you’re going for not-so-happy endings).  I know that there are endings that leave readers hanging, to decide the outcome for themselves, but I’m not a fan of those.  They feel like a cop-out.  But to each, his own.  We all like different things.

 

I should never read Elizabeth George

Okay, everyone knows that writers need to read.  We learn.  We grow.  We re-energize.  We learn markets.  We internalize rhythms, techniques.  But there are some authors I should just stay away from.  And Elizabeth George is one of them.  I asked for a banquet of consequences for Christmas.  My sister bought it for me, but I was so swamped with manuscripts, I couldn’t get to it.  My good writing friend, Paula, read it and loved it.  We both appreciate Elizabeth George’s depth and language, her layers and nuances.  This last week, I finally got to start the book.  Poor me.

Elizabeth George makes me feel like I should sit in a corner and suck my thumb with a dunce hat on.  She makes me feel juvenile and inadequate, and I love her for it!  Every time I read her, she makes me want to strive harder, to show, not tell, to use small scenes to create big emotions.  She has a way of developing fully realized characters with strokes of dialogue, small gestures, telling details.  Sigh.  It’s a good thing she takes a long time between books, or else my ego might not survive.  She writes mysteries, but I consider her more of a literary writer.  The story’s characters outweigh the clues.  To be honest, I loved her early books, studied A Great Deliverance because I thought it was near-perfect, then had a rocky time for a few of her last books, but with this one, I’m back in reading Nirvana.

I feel the same way when I read a Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson novel.  Briggs writes urban fantasy–and who knew a writer could make that almost literary?  But for me, she pulls it off.  Yes, there are battles, struggles, and plenty of mythology.  But once again, Briggs’s use of language and her emphasis on characterization lift urban fantasy into literary status.  Everyone has their own likes/dislikes.  And I usually avoid literary with a vengeance, but when an author can combine the two–boy, am I impressed!

I hope your favorite authors never disappoint and always inspire you!  Happy Reading!  And as always, happy writing!

 

Writing: giving myself permission to fail

The Old Poop (my nickname for my adorable hubby) and I are driving to Bloomington tomorrow to pick up our grandson. He moved to a new apartment with his friends for their senior year at IU. He drove a U-Haul of furniture down there on Friday, and we’re bringing him back to his car in our driveway. He’ll eat a fast supper here and then hit the road for Detroit and his summer internship. It’s going to be a full day for everyone, so I thought I’d better get my blog up while I still had energy:) That’s the way summers are, though, right? You write around life, day trips, friends and family, and yard work.

It’s been a bit of a challenge to put up a new part of Ophelia’s story every Friday for five weeks, and I’m not sure that was my most brilliant idea, but it’s been worth it. I’ve had so much fun with this writing experiment that I want to try it again–with different goals–sometime soon. Anyway, Part 4 is on my webpage now. For this challenge, I wanted to write a story in five parts where the protagonist made a bad choice at the end of each section except the last. The thing is, I like smart protagonists, so I needed a reason WHY she’d make poor decisions, time and time again, without making her stupid or fickle. That took me a minute, but I’m happy with how the story played out. I wanted her to be fighting grief, but I didn’t want her to be pathetic. I’m not too into weak characters either. Not that grief is weak, but I didn’t want someone who just folded up and quit. Sometime, somehow, my protagonist had to pick up the pieces and move on. That takes time passing, and it’s hard. It took me a minute to get used to writing in first person, present tense, too. But I’m glad I did. I learned that I like writing in first person. It’s so in the character’s head that it pushed me to really “hear” Ophelia.

Just curious. Do any of you prefer first person stories? Third? Why?

At the same time I was playing with my story, I bought Chuck Wendig’s book, The Kick-Ass Writer, and I’m reading that, too. His blog’s just as awesome, and you can find it here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/ A couple of times a year, I get the urge to up my game as a writer. I read a “how to” book that I haven’t tried before. And I stretch my muscles by trying something I haven’t done before. Okay, I don’t experiment with LONG fiction. That’s too much of an investment. I test out new techniques on short stories or short-shorts. That way, if I miserably fail, (and that’s happened), I haven’t invested tons of time. The trick for me, though, is to give myself permission to fail. If I try to write a short story with an unreliable narrator, and I can’t make it gel, I can stick it in a digital cloud and come back to it some other time, when I might think of a way to make it work. If I want to try an unlikeable protagonist, same thing. I did try writing a character who built a wall around herself and came off as cold in one of my novels–and that got mixed reviews. Something I can try to do better some other time. But in a short story, if I want to experiment with language, why not? I might lose a few days of work, but usually I’ve learned something.

When I was younger, I tried writing horror. I can do dark fantasy, but I couldn’t get dark enough for horror. Now that I’m older, and life’s batted me around a bit, I might give it another try in a short story, but it would still be a stretch for me. I was a school teacher. I can hardly stand the thought that someone can’t be fixed, helped, or saved. I wrote mysteries when I started out, and justice always prevailed:) Not so much in horror. Bad things happen to good people. Ich.

Anyway, once in a while I like to push myself in my writing. What do you do to keep your writing fresh? Or are you so buried in stories, you don’t have to think about it? Or do you strive for consistency? Because let’s face it, when a reader picks up one of your stories, he/she comes with certain expectations and doesn’t want to be disappointed.

P.S. Here’s the link for Part 4 of Ophelia’s story, if you’re interested–http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/ophelias-story–part-4.html

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