A Chance For Charity

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003PPCTS8

Book Review:  A Chance for Charity by S.L. Baum

A nice read.  Probably Young Adult or New Adult, but I like those kinds of books, partly because I like ‘clean’ romances that don’t go into endless detail about sexual encounters.

This is the story of a woman who, years earlier, learned she was practically immortal and had powers other people don’t.  A familiar theme in books of this kind.  By the end of the book I thought the author had gone a bit over the top with too many super powers that various characters posses.  There are vampires,shapeshifters,  etc.  But those characters come in at the very end so if you don’t care for a plethora of paranormal characters, don’t worry, there aren’t too many of them, they don’t come into play until almost the end, and they are likable.

The thing that I thought raised this book above others that are similar was Charity’s love interest, a very human male who is mortal and, therefore, has a shorter life span than Charity herself, though the author deals with that problem rather neatly.  I didn’t care for the somewhat contrived connection that brought them together but it didn’t distract from the story so I’m okay with it.  The story moves at a good pace and is readable, things I like when I’m sitting down to enjoy a couple hours visiting the world of fiction.

The book was edited and formatted in a decent manner.  Nothing took me out of the story.  Thank you S. L. Baum for taking the time to do your job right!

And I’ve decided against stars unless the review is going up on Amazon or elsewhere that stars are required and then I’ll only do stars if I can’t avoid them. So no stars for this book from me but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.  I did.

CRITICISM

Sorry, folks.  I wrote this post and it disappeared.  Don’t know where it went.  Don’t know how.  Just that it’s lost somewhere in cyberspace.  So, here it goes again.  Hope this time it stays.  Of course, this won’t be a literal repeat of my first post but it’ll be the gist of it.  It’s about criticism.  (Is that why it disappeared?  Hmmmm.)

One of the nice things about being a ghost writer and writing confession stories is that there is no criticism because they are written anonymously.  No author name, no criticism.  Doesn’t work that way when your name is on the manuscript.  All kinds of people let writers know what they did right.  And wrong.

I once took a commercial story I’d written to a literary writers’ group I belonged to.  They critiqued my manuscript and their criticism would have been very appropriate if I’d wanted my story to be published in a literary journal.  But I didn’t.  I never again took a commercial story to them to be critiqued because I knew that if I followed their suggestions, I’d have a very short career as a writer.

I’ve also had my work critiqued by editors.  Occasionally, when I’d send in a manuscript, it would be returned with scribbed notes in the margins letting me know what subtle things they were looking for that I hadn’t provided.  Believe me, I listened and the next time I sent those editors a manuscript, they got what they wanted because I wanted to be a professional writer.

Next time someone critiques your work, ask yourself some questions.  Who are they?  What’s their background? Why did they say what they did?  Consider whether they are giving criticism that’s valid for your particular work.

Because maybe their criticism was valid.  Maybe not.

Is The Pendulum Swinging Back?

Universe - A Love Story by Florence Witkop
Universe – A Love Story by Florence Witkop

I’m showing this cover for a couple reason.  The first is that I like it.  Thanks NASA, I love looking through pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope and as soon as I saw it I knew this was right for my first on-line short story The Eye of The Universe.  (In case anyone wants to read it, it’s available free from Smashwords.  Amazon charges .99 because they don’t do free unless a reader finds something free somewhere else and tells Amazon about it.  Then they’ll change it to match the lowest price elsewhere.  Hasn’t happened yet.)

The second reason is that there are no people in the picture, even though it’s a romance.  Which is okay because it seems that some people are getting tired of naked and half-naked people on romance novel covers.  When I chose this cover, I didn’t know that.  I just knew I wanted this cover so I added a blurb to tell potential readers that it’s a romance because they couldn’t tell from the picture.

I thought I was going against the tide by choosing a cover without an obviously in-love couple on it.  But I’ve since discovered that, as happens with every trend including romance novels, there is a small mini-trend bucking the huge, mega-trends in romances.  That trend is called ‘clean romances’ and it’s what I write.  Sort of.

‘Sort of’ because as of yet there’s no precise definition of a clean romance beyond that there are no sexually explicit sex scenes.  Some purists feel that there shouldn’t be any profanity either, or any pre-marital sex at all.  None.  My work doesn’t qualify on those counts, I do include premarital sex and profanity where it fits, but I don’t follow my characters into the bedroom and give a blow-by-blow description of what happens next.  No particular reason why not.  I like sex and have  no problem with writers who do erotic stories.  But I find it hard to write while rolling on the floor laughing and that’s what happens when I try to describe the sex act.  Too many body parts.  Too many positions.  Too much work.  Guess I’m lazy.

This new trend has been in existence long enough that there are groups on Goodreads (where I first ran across the term) and elsewhere and there are a growing number of reviewers who specifically mention that they will review clean romances.  And there’s an e-publisher dedicated to publishing just clean romances.  Astraea Publishing is very clear about what they will and won’t accept.

Which is good news to writers because not every romance writer wants to include specific sex in their stories.  And maybe I’ll be able to use more covers from NASA.  I really, really love those pictures.

Coming of Age as a Writer

When I first started writing professionally, I couldn’t imagine what I’d write about.  Where I’d find inspiration.  Who my characters would be and what would happen to them.  As time passed and I discovered that a steady living as a writer could be had by writing confession stories, everything came clear.  I’d write about myself and anyone and everyone I knew because no one, including me, would ever be embarrassed by what I wrote.  Because confession stories are written anonymously.

I soon learned there was another advantage to writing for the confession market.  By writing about past problems large and small, I could get rid of a lot of emotional baggage that I’d been carrying for a long time.  It worked in much the same way painting or writing or any other creative endeavor works in an institutional setting.  Like when mental patients paint pictures of their demons.  Or write about their nightmares.  It worked and, by the time I’d gone though every negative experience I’d ever had or anyone I knew  had ever had, I was well on my way to being a fairly good writer.  My catharsis was complete.  I started writing happier things and I’ve never stopped since.

Some time later, when I joined a writers’ group, because I had some experience in the writing field, new writers sometimes came to me for advice and to critique their work.  Guess what?  I saw a lot of writers doing the exact same thing I’d done, using their writing as a way of getting things out of their system.  It was such a common phenomenon that I  privately began to call it the ‘cathartic phase’ of becoming a writer.  I suspect we all go through it in one way or another.

I mention this today because, if that’s where you are now, in your own personal cathartic phase, go for it.  Get it out.  Get rid of the angst.  And when the day comes that you realize you don’t have any more negative things to write about, be thankful and find other topics.

Don’t worry that your readers will think you are no longer the same writer as before.  You are that same writer, just without the baggage.  And that’s a good thing.  It means you have come of age as a writer.

WORKING WRITER TIP… THE EASY WAY TO ORGANIZE

Autumn has arrived in the north country.  It’s not the peak of the colors, that’ll come in three weeks or so.  But there’s enough color in the landscape to know summer is ending.  And the nights are sometimes downright cold, even freezing. 

You’d think all this praise for autumn would mean it’s my favorite season.  Nope.  Not true.  That’s reserved for winter.  Yes, winter, that white time of year when the temperature can and does drop below zero by thirty, even forty degrees.  Even more surprising, it’s my favorite season in spite of the fact that I’m allergic to cold.  (Yes, really, I break out in hives.)

Why so much praise for autumn, and why is my favorite season the only one in which I spend much of my time inside? It’s my favorite because I spend so much time inside.  Because life slows down then.  Because there are fewer social obligations. 

It’s my favorite because I can write in the winter.  And write.  And write.  And write some more.

So the question becomes… what to write during all those wonderful, quiet winter hours?  That’s where autumn comes in.  Because it’s the time of year when all things come to fruition, thus clearing the way for whatever comes next. 

Every autumn I take stock of the accomplishments of the past year and plan ahead to the next one.  It’s when I make course corrections or change course entirely.  When I decide what about my writing is working and what isn’t.  So that when winter and all those hours of useful silence arrive, I’ll be ready.

This is something every writer should do once a year.  Not necessarily in the autumn but sometime.  Most people instinctively know this.  The problem is, many simply don’t do it.

Do it.  Make the time.  Because it’s the easiest way I know to organize your mind, your work and your writing.  Once a year go wherever you go or do whatever you do when you need to think.   Don’t bring any pieces of paper, or lists because there should be nothing between you and your thoughts.  You’ll be amazed how things will fall into place and your career path will become clear. 

Then put the seat of your pants on the seat of your chair and see how much you can achieve.

Working Writer Tip: About Beginnings

I made baskets yesterday, demonstrating the coiled basket technique as my part of advertising a farmers’ market we belong to.  When I do this I’m always surprised at the interest people show in simple grass baskets.  And they all want to know what it will look like when it’s finished. 

 I tell them they can imagine what the finished basket will look like by examining the beginning, that tiny circle of tightly-wrapped grass in the center of the bottom of the basket that is the beginning of the coils that circle around and around that small middle before gently curving upwards to form sides until enough height is achieved and a basket is made.  Whenever I tell them this, they carefully examine the center of the basket bottom and nod their heads.  Yes, they say, they can see the finished product in that small beginning.

 Same with fiction. 

 When you write a story, you make a contract with your reader.  The beginning of the story contains the terms of the contract.. The first sentence.  The first paragraph.  At least the first page.  The end of the story should be an emotional sense of the fulfillment of that contract.

 When you write a story, make a promise to your reader.  An  honest contract.  Whatever method you use to lay out your story, make sure you connect the end to the beginning.  It doesn’t have to be obvious to the reader (and shouldn’t be for some stories) but it should be as easy for you, the writer, to see the connection as it is for any casual visitor to the farmers’ market to follow the end of the coil back to that first tightly wound knot that was the beginning of a basket.

 If it isn’t, then try harder.  Redo your beginning.  Change it completely.  Do something.  Your story will be better for it, and your readers will hopefully read your next story because they will know they can trust you to make a contract with them in the beginning that will be  fulfilled in the end.

Guess What, I’m A Confession Writer

 No working writer tip today.  Instead, I’m answering a question  related to last week’s tip on how to easily get into a main character’s head and write that deep, deep POV story.

How, I was asked, did I learn that writing in first person is the easy way to a character’s heart, especially since first person POV is frowned upon in many kinds of stories and by many print publishers?  What conference did I attend that gave me this helpful tip?  Or was it an article I read?  Or, perhaps, did another writer whisper for me to try it as we passed in the hallway at a writers’ retreat?   Well…. um…. actually….none of those ways.

I learned by doing because I wanted to make a living as a writer and I believed the best place to start was with short fiction.  So, when I was given a dog-eared, out-of-date copy of the writers’ bible, the Writer’s Guide, I studied it more thoroughly than I’d ever studied for any final and any class I can remember. 

I learned that, while the payment for confession fiction didn’t equal that of major magazines, confession magazines don’t print the author’s name.  That little fact means that they don’t care how famous or infamous the author is.  And they don’t care how many times an author’s work is printed in their magazines.  So any writer, even a newbie like me, could sell and sell and sell stories to confession magazines.  As many other confession writers, I’ve had as many as three stories published in the same magazine. 

As an aside, you’d be surprised how many major romance novelist names you’d recognize if writer’s names were printed beneath the story title in any confession magazine.  It’s a great way to pick up a couple hundred bucks between novels while experiencing a slightly different kind of writing.

This pertains to first person, deep POV how, you ask?  Simple.  The one requirement of confession writing is that it be in first person.  Period.  Can be male or female, old or young, main or minor character.  Anything goes as long as it’s in first person.  So I learned to write in first person. 

In doing so, I gradually came to realize that by going deep into my character’s mind and emotions, I was naturally writing in that deep, deep POV that is a goal for many kinds of fiction.  Naturally.  Easily.  Without charts or diagrams with lines going from one character to another and back in order to correctly guage one character’s reaction to whatever or writing pages of background describing each character so I’d know how to portray them.  Nothing of the kind.  I just put myself into the mindset of my main character and let him/her tell the story in any way he/she chose.

 I still do it.  It works every time.

Working Writer Tip: Going For The Jugular

In an online writers’ group, I joined a recent thread about writing in first person.  The majority of responses were reasons not to write in the first person or reasons why some people don’t read novels written in the first person.  Then there was me.  I replied that over time I’ve segued into almost always using first person.  And there’s a reason.

If you want to get really deep into the main character’s head, emotions, fears and life in general… and I do…  there’s no better way to do so than to tell the story exactly as the main character experiences it.  I don’t ever tell the reader what the future holds or what other characters are doing or thinking unless the main character already knows.    

 Any horror movie can illustrate.  Consider the shower scene that seems to be a requirement in such movies.  You know the one, where the heroine is lathering her hair with not a care in the world while the villain creeps up on her with a hatchet and nasty intentions.  There are two ways this scene can be played. 

 In one method, which is similar to third person POV, the audience is jumping up and down in their seats and yelling at the heroine to leave quickly because they already know there’s a villain with a hatchet coming after her.  In the second method, similar to first person POV, the audience doesn’t learn of the villain’s existence until he strikes. The shock that hits the audience as they realize what’s happening at the same instant the heroine learns it, is stunning in a very, very visceral way.

 I like visceral. 

Not all writers do and not all stories should be told this way.  Family sagas, multi-faceted stories, novels set in known historical times to name a few.  But if, like me, you want tell the full and deeply emotional story of one character’s journey towards whatever goal you’ve set for her/him, you can’t go wrong using first person POV.   It’s an easy way to go for the jugular, which is a good way to make your readers feel what the main character is feeling, to sit up and take notice…  and it works every time.

Working Writer Tip: The Worst Book You Ever Read

It’s been the week from hell. Two ER visits complete with follow-up doctor visits, medication, etc, the car needed semi-major repairs, we purchased a dehumidifier because the air conditioners aren’t keeping up, and the list goes on… and on.

Which got me to thinking about other less than wonderful situations. One that must be included in any such list is putting out a hefty sum for a book with a great blurb and cover art and finding out that it’s the worst book ever published and is good only for throwing against the wall in a fit of pique or propping up a table leg.

Except maybe that book shouldn’t be included after all. Because there is one very special use for the worst book ever published. It can become a morale booster for all of us writers who struggle to be published in what can be a difficult world.

Because if that book got published, then by golly ours can too!

Let me illustrate. I have two daughters. They were still living at home when I first started writing and they became my best and most brutal critics. Then they grew up and moved away.

A few years later, as a veteran fiction writer, I was asked by an aspiring author to critique a story she’d written. I agreed. I read the story and it was pretty bad. Not as bad as the worst book I’d ever purchased, but bad. My youngest daughter happened to be visiting at the time and, since she was an experienced critic, I asked her opinion. She read the story and agreed with me. It was bad.

I didn’t want to hurt the writer’s feelings but I had to tell her something. So I asked my daughter if she had any advice. She looked me up and down in that way she has. “Tell her whatever you want. What’s the big deal? You wrote a lot of really bad stuff and it got published. Maybe hers will too.”

I’ll remember those words for the rest of my life.

The moral of this story is: put that worst book ever published near your writing space where you can see it easily. Look at it occasionally and smile. It’ll inspire you because you’ll know you’re a better writer than the author of that horrific book. Then write what you want. Maybe it’ll be great literature, maybe not. Either way, it just might end up being published.

Working Writer Tip: Tagging Plus

Last week’s post got me thinking about other tips for writers.

I wish I could give you the name of the author or the book that changed the way I wrote but it was so long ago that I can’t recall either. What I do remember is that I was reading an interesting book and, as usual, I didn’t have enough time to do it justice. Housework, kids, students’ homework and so on. So I decided to do what I often did when I was in a hurry and unwilling to stop reading. Forget the descriptions and zero in on the dialogue because that’s what moves the story along. You know how it works. You skip the long paragraphs that are most likely descriptions and zero in on the short, choppy partial lines that indicate dialogue.

I could not read that particular book that way because there were no long paragraphs and few short, choppy sentences. So I read the whole book. Every word. Then I read it again to find out how he wrote a story that couldn’t be skimmed through.

It was soon apparent. He used dialogue tags, those things most writers use as a way of avoiding using the word ‘said.’ But he used them in a way that changed how the story was written. And read.

He used dialogue tags to integrate into dialogue those descriptive passages that would normally be separate paragraphs and he did it so well that they could not be separated.

That made me sit up and take notice. I mainly write short stories and am always on the lookout for ways to squeeze more information into fewer sentences without distracting from the scene. Well….. I’d just read a book that did it wonderfully well and as soon as I figured out what he did, I started doing the same thing.

Consider the following three ways to say the same thing:

First, just using the word ‘said’:
She said, “You’d better put the horses in the barn. It looks like rain.”
He said, “I already did, and in their stalls.”
She said, “Good, they’ll feel safe.”

Second, using dialogue tags as they are often used:
She gazed at the sky. “You’d better put the horses in the barn. It looks like rain.”
He nodded briefly. “I already did, and in their stalls.”
She sighed in relief. “Good, they’ll feel safe.”

Third, using dialogue tags to move the story along, not just to tag the speaker:
She gazed at the sky, grimacing as a thunderbolt rent air thick with the storm that had been building for days. Weeks. Since they’d moved in. “You’d better put the horses in the barn. It looks like rain.” She rubbed her hands along her jeans.
He grinned, cocky, wrapping an arm around her waist until she unconsciously leaned into him and moved her hands from her jeans to his chest. “I already did, and in their stalls.”
A second, more horrific clap of thunder brought them closer until they were one body, one person. “Good, now they’ll feel safe.”

The third way seems longer, but remember that whole paragraphs of description have been eliminated by integrating the content of those paragraphs into a few dialogue tags and the resulting reading is not cumbersome.

Not all writers choose this way of putting a story together. Not all writers should choose it because writing is a very personal art. But for those of us who do, especially short story writers or any writer trying to reduce the number of words in a manuscript, it can put the whole range of storytelling tactics together into one manageable chunk. And that’s gold in the writer’s world.