Category Archives: Authors

Thoughts on “The Book Thief”

“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.”
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Book Thief

Apologies for the delay in communication. I have spent quite a bit of time as of late with the new grandson. Small. Cute. Easy baby. All in all, I will give him a 10.

It was during my travels to and from my hometown to my new home I encountered “The Book Thief.” I wanted to watch the movie, but I tend to read the books prior to watching a film as films can only grasp a tenuous amount of plot-line  However, I have to say this time I took it a step further and listened to the book narrated by Allan Corduner during the long, straight drives through the plains under blue or starry skies.

I have listened to some other books on tape including “Watership Down” and “Storm Front” (Dresden files by Jim Butcher-awesome), but while both were excellent stories, this one entangled me. Zusak wrote a great novel and Mr. Corduner’s read is delightful, moving and spot-on with the German, which is a necessity in a book of this magnitude.

Set in WWII Germany, we learn about Nazi fanaticism, a Jewish fist-fighter, thievery, friendship and death. They are all intertwined in the story of a girl seeking out an existence. We learn, we laugh and we cry. We learn that death indeed has a heart.

Liesel Meminger is a character I shall not soon forget. Deep. Well-rounded. Flawed and yet still flawless. She inspires me in ways I have not yet fully realized as she is each of us in our own unique ways. How did Zusak do that?

Beyond the well-scripted plot, the word economy and the descriptions of things seen yet unseen, I found Zusak to not be a writer or an author, but a natural story-teller.  And to add to this, Allan Corduner is a BRILLIANT talent who brought to life this poignant story.

Now, there are some who have trouble getting into the book as Zusak’s writing style is unique. It flips and flops until it settles into a rhythm such as a cha-cha or something of that nature. By the end of the first hour of listening, you are well into the story and transformation has indeed begun.

I generally steer clear of writing about books I have read, but “The Book Thief” changed that for me. I hope you will take the time to delve deep into the pages or the audio-book and breathe in a fresh and inspiring look at the beautiful piece of work Zusak shared with us all.

Interviews & Dialogue

I’ve done my fair share of job hunting during my lifetime (and currently at it again.)  I’ve also done my fair share of being a hiring manager and writer. Today I thought I would share four things I have learned about what not to say during interviews that also apply to authors as well.

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1) “You know” or “Ya know.”   This one may be pretty obvious and it tops the list for me. No. I don’t know. That’s why I asked. These are generally filler words and don’t articulate anything in a meaningful way to a hiring manager or a character in a story.

The fix: Simplify. Visualize what you are going to say before you say it and try to cut out unnecessary words that do not best illustrate your point.  As a writer I find word economy is paramount and these are words that are completely unnecessary unless writing a character who speaks like that all the time. Those are rare indeed.

2). Curses. Oh my. Even on the best day with the most laid back HR representative, this is a bad idea.  Here’s the skinny. You don’t ever, ever have to curse in a job interview to get your point across. EVER. If you really think that you need to accentuate and punctuate a point with an expletive, then be creative and utilize those mad skills that would make Walt Disney proud. Yes, G-Rated options are best. There’s no need to drop an F-Bomb in an interview.  If it’s dialogue in a book or other printed piece, my advice is to use curse words sparingly – otherwise the punch is lost in translation.

A prime example of this is in a wonderful book called, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. The classic line, “Eat my shit” wouldn’t have had such impact if Minny or other characters had dropped curse words throughout the book and its subsequent movie.

If your normal vocabulary resembles a pirate’s, take some time BEFORE an interview to practice your responses to questions and figure out how to answer them without dropping one of Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” or other slang that would make a hiring manager cringe.

3) Acronyms. There are a lot of acronyms out there people just may not understand. Don’t just assume people understand industry jargon actually spell it out as it were.

For writers, you may use the acronyms after you have spelled out what it stands for once or twice so the reader understands exactly what it is the abbreviation stands for. However, try to keep the number of acronyms down to a minimum, unless you are a technical writer working on a specific piece.

4) Stereotypes. An interview setting is no place to refer to people of other genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, ethnicities, races, handicaps, religions, or any other diversity by using any slang, negative terms, slurs, or other denigrating language. Ever.

For writers, the piece you are creating and the character must directly relate to the nature of the stereotype, lest you alienate your audience. You must use caution writing stereotypes.

5) Jokes.A good friend pointed out, all jokes aside, there is a time and place for humor. Someone just may not “get” you. Beyond that, the “joke” may actually border on sarcastic, racist, inappropriate on another level or just plain crass. Avoid it if you can and certainly don’t lead your opening line with,” A lady walks into a bar…”

There are many inappropriate responses that may be given during a job interview. However, with a little forethought and practice, you can avoid some of the most common mistakes that will leave a bad taste in the hiring manager’s mouth and you without a job.

6 Degrees of Seperation?

Nine million terrorists in the world and I gotta kill one with feet smaller than my sister.”

~John McClane~

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My most humble and sincere apologies to everyone.  It’s been hard (literally and figuratively) to sit my butt at the keyboard and converse with you about one of my true loves… writing. I have been ill for a little bit and with the fairly frequent weekend visits to Dallas, TX, I’ve just been pretty wiped out.  The upside to this is I have been watching movie after movie after movie because laying in bed, there’s not much else to do. In the past couple of weeks, I have seen over thirty on DVD. I thought I would take a moment to share a couple of finer moments with you.

Becoming Jane must be seen with Pride and Prejudice – back to back and in that order.  I have also decided to add Jane Austen’s residence to my bucket list of places to visit.

Speaking of The Bucket List, I don’t know if I recommend watching it while sick in bed. It’s a tremendous movie. I love Jack Nicholson’s movies overall and realistically I should have paired the Bucket with another of his I enjoy, As Good as It Gets with Helen Hunt. Of course, this reminds me, if you haven’t seen Prizzi’s Honor co-starring Kathleen Turner, do so. You will thank me later. (It’s much snappier and crisper than the more modern / similar Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

There was also the “tear-fest” that ensued when watching Fried Green Tomatoes, Beaches, The Time Traveller’s Wife, and The Lake House in a marathon session one afternoon. Gads. I’m such a girl sometimes. Fried Green Tomatoes is one of my favorite performances by Kathy Bates. I got a first taste of her acting abilities in Stephen King’s Misery and in it’s own 6-Degrees of Separation, she also starred with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt. But Bates’ diversity of characterization is amazing. If you haven’t seen her in The Blind Side, it’s a total turn-around from Misery and her role as Mama in The Water Boy still has me rolling after all these years.

Ah… the Water Boy. Adam Sandler. I did take in a double-feature one night when I couldn’t sleep. I had to watch Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, a hero story all in its own. I’ll admit it. I’m not a huge Sandler fan. But there is no denying the comedic timing and talent he possesses.

But the heroism didn’t end there. O.M.G. Fantastic 4, The Green Hornet, X-Men, Daredevil and Elektra came into play. I know. I know. A lot of people weren’t at all impressed with the last two, but I have a thing for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner (remember Alias???) And because I’m a huge fan of action movies… those led into a Lethal Weapon marathon that just makes me smile. I mean, forget the weirdness of Mel Gibson as he’s aged and the divorce settlement with his ex. At the end of the day, the man is a hell of an Oscar-winning actor, producer and director. Plus, he has those blue, blue eyes.

Another actor with some pretty blue eyes (and also a fellow Texan) is Matthew McConaughey. Yeah. I did it. I watched four of his movies as well. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch and Fool’s Gold. I haven’t had a chance to see his fairy-dust, chest-beating performance yet in The Wolf of Wall Street, but I’m sure that’s coming soon.

A couple of other movies that bear seeing for too many reasons to list here are The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Water for Elephants and Eat, Pray, Love.  Each of these is based on an amazing book and the screenwriters did a fabulous job of transferring the critical elements of each story to the screen. (And yes, I finally watched EPL because of the number of references to it “Raj” makes in the hit TV show “The Big Bang Theory.”

So tonight… I shall sit and devour yet another movie. I’m torn as my choices are becoming fewer and further between. Most of my DVD collection is in Dallas so I’m making due with what’s left here in town for now. On another trip down there, I will have to pick up another 50 or so.

I shall leave you to your own devices while I snuggle up in bed with Bruce Willis. It’s a Die Hard kind of night. Yippie-ki-yay, mother…….

For Love, Money or Both (A Question & A Rant)

“Some people don’t like competition because it makes them work harder, better.”

~ Drew Carey~

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I love to write. It’s like the air I breathe. I cannot live without setting in front of the blank page and putting down my thoughts, ideas, conversations and what have you.  I cannot say I’m the best of the best (yet), but I write from the heart and that counts for something on the page.

For the past “little bit,” I’ve been toying with the idea of entering a writer’s competition. There’s one held around here annually and as my piece is coming along, I thought, “Why not rip off a little piece of me and let it be judged.”  Then I looked in the 2014 Writing Contest submission guidelines and I was appalled.  My dismay has carried on for the past week so I thought I would vent / share and see what you thought about the way this is set up. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m not.

  1. The “Book” Category.  This consists of two. Count them TWO subgroups of a) ANY GENRE of full-length novel and b) non-fiction book.

Oh for the love of all that is good, pure and holy in the universe. Excuse me? This is reality speaking. Your door is ajar.  Can someone explain to me how you lump ALL full-length novels into one category?  How does a judge compare a synopsis of no more than 6K words theoretically giving the judge a feel for the story and how the characters impact the plot and final resolution along with a “portion of your novel” with the indication of where it falls in your book.

I know some of these authors. They are powerhouses in their respective genres. One of these delightful women has won numerous awards and has been inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame.

I don’t write romances. I’ve published other things, but never a novel.  How does a “novice” go up against someone like that in a completely different genre? My fantasy against a western, inspirational, horror or (gasp) erotica piece? Interesting jousting match you have created.

For example: If you were to compare James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Steven King, Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury, Nicholas Sparks… (the random list off the top of my head) who wins that competition? The reason I bring this up is how does a small panel of judges or a judge (depending on the number of entries) legitimately choose between genres as to who is a better writer. Is it all based on grammar, punctuation, syntax and the like? Or does the judge actually delve into the creative abilites of the author to make the reader feel something? How does a judge compare a romance to a western to a thriller to a mystery to science fiction to fantasy…?

2. Poetry.  The subcategories are rhymed and free-verse. Yep. That’s it. Nothing more to see there. Move along.

Yes there is rhymed and free-verse poetry, but many people believe categorically speaking some poetry should be placed into lyric, narrative and dramatic subgenres. You can’t lump it all together. Poetry has genres just as books do.

Lyric is poetry that is written in a song-like way, but deals with emotions. These are generally broken down into “odes” and “sonnets”  Think “Ode to a Grecian Urn” or Shakespeare’s “Sonnet Number 18”, arugably the most famous of all the sonnets as seen below:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Narrative poetry falls within the lines of the “epics.” (Think Homer’s “The Odyssey”)  These are VERY long and cover an extended period of time.  Also included in this subgenre are ballads. The “Bridal Ballad” by Edgar Allan Poe.

The ring is on my hand,
And the wreath is on my brow;
Satin and jewels grand
Are all at my command,
And I am happy now.
And my lord he loves me well;
But, when first he breathed his vow,
I felt my bosom swell-
For the words rang as a knell,
And the voice seemed his who fell
In the battle down the dell,
And who is happy now.

But he spoke to re-assure me,
And he kissed my pallid brow,
While a reverie came o’er me,
And to the church-yard bore me,
And I sighed to him before me,
Thinking him dead D’Elormie,
“Oh, I am happy now!”

And thus the words were spoken,
And this the plighted vow,
And, though my faith be broken,
And, though my heart be broken,
Here is a ring, as token
That I am happy now!

Would God I could awaken!
For I dream I know not how!
And my soul is sorely shaken
Lest an evil step be taken,-
Lest the dead who is forsaken
May not be happy now.

A different type of poem is the dramatic verse. These are meant to be read aloud as a general rule. I like to refer to them as the “dramatic monologue.” You will often see this in the middle of a play.  Poe was excellent at this as was Robert Frost.  From Frost’s  “Out-Out”:

Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart
He saw all spoiled. “Don’t let him cut my hand off
The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!”
So. But the hand was gone already.

And if that’s not enough book learnin’ for you, what if someone wanted to enter limericks (ala Edward Lear), Pastorals, Haiku / Senryu (there is a difference), Terza Rima (lines are arranged in tercets)… Oh… I can go on, but need I really? These are not necessarily “rhymed” nor “free verse.”

I suppose what I’m trying to get at is by the organization telling me in the “General Guidelines” all I can submit is rhymed or free verse poetry, someone doesn’t appear to have a clue how poetry is categorized. The differences between each of them is based on the format, rhyme scheme and subject matter – not whether or not they rhyme. Do I want them judging my work if they don’t appear to adequately understand the dynamics of the content they are requesting?  It’s an interesting conundrum.

Give Them the Axe?

“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
~E.E. Cummings~

I was chatting with my friend, TD, about one of the characters in the novel I am working on.  We were discussing the killing off of said character and at this time, I have no plans to annihilate this being. I’m quite fond of him and he’s essential to the well-being of another major individual in the book. This leads me to a couple of other conversations I would like to share with you.

My oldest daughter is trying her wings at writing. She had a character who, for all practical purposes, was a red shirt and she didn’t know what to do with her.  When it comes to characters, one of the most vital things you have to ask yourself is, “What purpose do they serve?” I asked her that to help her figure out how to “get rid of her.”

If they are just there to take up space and don’t help to push the story along, they are a red shirt. If they have have a bearing on another character, provide insight into a situation, but don’t have a major contribution to the plot/story, then they are a minor charactor. These individuals need to have some depth to them, but you don’t have to know everything about them. Your major characters are central to the story and need to be fully flushed out. You need to know them and know them well. You need to know what makes them tick, what makes their hearts go bump in the middle of the night and why they do the things they do. My daughter was trying to make her red shirt into a minor character, who didn’t really serve a purpose other than die. Seriously. By rewriting the scene and leaving this individual as a red shirt, the emotional response by the main character rang authentic. Boom! That’s how it’s done.

Another friend of mine is a fabulous writer. She has the art of paring down characters to an art form. She’s on her second novel and I sometimes howl in delight with the way she is able to craft things. After she got rid of a lot of the unessential cast. As a result, her writing is much tighter and many scenes are either 1) much funnier or 2) more poignant. Isn’t that what we all strive for?

There are many, many works where characters are killed off – whether on the page, the stage or screen. I think Shakespeare actually ENJOYED killing off his characters – it seemed as though someone always died in his plays.  Television has had it’s own share of characters who have bitten the big one, moves that have stunned audiences around the globe. (Thinking back now to who shot JR…)  These deaths can sometimes feel forced and contrived so care must be taken when eradicating a beloved character – especially a major character.

<SPOILER> One of my favorite characters who was obilterated was Professor Snape in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Love him or hate him, his demise was masterfully crafted.  Unlike a redshirt, he was a major player and without him, Harry Potter wouldn’t have achieved what he did or become who he did.  (And also using Rowling’s Potter Series… she did her own fair share of killing off of characters, but over seven books, I think she was allowed.)

Before cancelling your character’s life-check, ask yourself what purpose he/she serves – Major, minor or red shirt? Once you have that figured out, the rest should be a little easier to write.

Tools of the Trade

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
― Stephen King

Stephen King is a prolific writer and gifted storyteller. I have to admit I’m partial to his earlier works. I find when talking about the tools of the trade, Stephen’s quote is essential.

The Thesaurus. Most writers will use one at some point in time in their writing life. I freely admit I will use one as the moon turns blue, but it’s not to search for the “right word.” I use it to break up word echoes within my writing. In writing fantasy, I have a sword – a blade. But within a page how many times do I want to write those two words? I may throw in weapon. I may change it to the type of sword (katana, broadsword, foil, rapier, scimitar…) or I may use the word “brand.

The thesaurus is sometimes used by writers who are not avid readers. I’ve found if you are an avid reader, you absorb the words you read and bolster your vocabulary.

The Dictionary. There is never a reason to use the wrong word. When I am reading a story and find someone has misued a word it dulls the experience and makes me call into question their experience and ability.

This goes beyond the “they’re”-“their”-“there” issue (which should never be an issue with someone who is looking to be a professional.) I am talking about someone who misuses words such as “irregardless.” It’s NOT a word people. You may mean irrespective or regardless. But irregardless is irresponsible. Use a dictionary. Look it up.

Books on Writing. There are good ones. There are bad ones. And I’m not going to give you recommendations (though I have read MANY) because what my needs from one of these types of books are may not be what your needs are.

These are books I do recommend for several reasons:
1) Subject Matter. If you have problems with plot, dialogue, characterization or world-building, there are books to address each of these issues. Advice in these areas aren’t gospel, but helpful if you are trying to figure out how to solve the problem you have.
2) Naming. Books regarding names are essential. Names have meanings and that subtle impact of the “right” name – including surnames makes all the difference in the world.
3) Story Starters. Don’t go nutso with these. However, one or two of these books are most excellent for breaking writer’s block, clearing the mind and finding new ideas.

There are some other considerations for writers – tools that can be helpful.

Every writer needs tools in his/her tool box.
Every writer needs tools in his/her tool box.

A small blank notebook. You never know when ideas / inspiration will strike. It’s helpful to be able to jot it down on a moment’s notice. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You just don’t want to have to look for receipts in a purse or use napkins or dollar bills to scribble your ideas on.

A voice recorder works equally as well for many people. Some smart phones these days have this feature. But if you don’t have either available, call yourself and leave a voice message. Don’t lose a good idea because you can’t write it down.

Writing Implement. For all that is good and pure and holy in the universe. I LOVE pens. I’m rather a pen kleptomaniac and have had to learn not to just snag someone’s writing utensil. With that said, a good pen or pencil is vital to any writer. It also corresponds nicely with the aforementioned notebook.

Computer / Software. I prefer to write on a computer using a standard word processing program. I also utilize a writing program for my novel needs. It rather depends on what I’m doing at that moment. There are many different types of software designed for writers and I have several I have used in the past. I’m currently trying out Scrivener. I’m not sure yet if I like it or not. We’ll see.

The publishing world has stepped into the digital age and truly, even if it’s an older computer. I believe that some sort of computer with a word processing program is a tool that cannot be overlooked.

I know much of this sounds like common sense, but sometimes we, the writers, lose our common sense when crafting our work and also forget to eat… which reminds me. I forgot breakfast again.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

Each generation wants new symbols, new people, new names. They want to divorce themselves from their predecessors.
Jim Morrison
 


A rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, but we call it a rose.
We spell it “r-o-s-e.”

This leads me to one of my biggest pet peeves that really shouldn’t be, but is.

Names.

Recently in the news, not that she is newsworthy, but that aside, Kim Kardashian and her spousal unit decided to name their unsuspecting child “North.” Seriously? That poor child is going to grow up with all sorts of complexes as it is and you have just laden it with the mother of them all – a crappy name.

One might think that I would be appalled because Frank Zappa named his kids Moon Unit or Dweezil. Not really. One would expect something like that from the outrageously creative Zappa. Jane or Harry would have been totally out of character for him.  But naming a child “North West” opens the doors to many, many years of childhood jokes that no amount of money can buy your way out of. (Let’s just start with “The Wicked Witch of the North West” and work our way from there…)

But North isn’t the only baby name that I find incredibly bad.  “Cricket” makes my top ten list as well as Rainbow Aurora, Blue Ivy, Kal-El Cage (Superman jokes anyone?), Pilot Inspektor Riesgraf Lee, Moxie Crimefighter Jillette (That’s Penn Jillette’s son. I swear I hope he becomes a cop.) There’s also kids named, Sailor and Seven and Daisy Boo.  One I find strangely cute, Apple – Gwen Paltrow’s daughter, and I hesitate putting it on the list. There are others of course, but North is pretty freakin’ horrible. 

But beyond that phenomena, is the “creative spelling” of names that drives me “Banzai Bat Crap Crazy.” I deal with a lot of people on a daily basis and the older I get, the weirder names and spellings have become. I don’t know why parents have to do this. Is it because they think it’s “cute”, “creative” or “original?” Is it because they want to be different? I don’t rightly know.  Poor “Maddisyn” (actual spelling of a kid’s name I saw in a local yearbook) hasn’t got a prayer of ANYONE ever spelling her name correctly … EVER. And take it from me, I have a fairly “normal” if not quite so common name and few people have a clue how to spell correctly, if at all. 

There is a scene in the book by Billie Letts, “Where the Heart Is” which was also made into a movie. (Excellent by the way…) There is discussion about the main character, Novalee, naming her child. She’s given the advice to name her child a good, sturdy name – a name that means something.  

I stand by that philosophy and I’m sure plenty of people will be ticked when they read this. When you name a child, their name SHOULD stand for something. It should hold it’s ground and be the pillar for that child. A name like “North” doesn’t do that. It’s shaky and opens the child to ridicule which is unnecessary. I’m not saying you have to go all 1950’s names, but really, at the end of the day, why do we want to set our kids up for misery?