Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Prologue Conundrum

I've been reading Michelle Fayard's excerpt of her Young Adult novel The Underground Gift (go over to her blog and look at it; it's wonderfully written and engaging) and in one of her posts some of the commentators talked about how much they hated prologues.

Wait, what?

In the defense of the prologue, I must ask, what's so bad about it?  Why do you hate it so?  All the prologue wants is some love.  Yes, it knows that it's a little blurb, not even big enough to call a chapter, and yes, sometimes it just hangs on to the beginning of the book with one little hand, wanting desperately to feel like part of the family, but really?  Really?  You're going to hate on the poor, defenseless prologue?  Look, you've hurt its feelings.  Poor little prologue.

In the novel that I'm working on at the moment, I have a tiny little prologue.  It's a mere little baby.  Are you going to hate on it too?  Hmmm?

I was surprised by how many people said they skipped over prologues.  Granted, as readers, we all skip over things sometimes.  I skip over author's notes and dedications for the most part.  But I've never skipped a prologue.  They can give you some good insight into a book or introduce in a roundabout way a character who will be integral to the story later on.  They can give you a hint to the mystery before you even know the mystery has begun, a clue for you to hold onto as you read.

This is an example of a good prologue.

I suppose that if you're not writing a mystery, a prologue might seem out of place.  You could see it as a cheap way to garner interest in your book by writing a short blip from the middle of the book and then pasting it to the beginning of it in the hopes that someone will read it and stick with the book long enough to figure out why your middle is in your beginning.

That is an example of a bad prologue.

I guess it can go either way.  If your prologue seems more like an excerpt you would use on your back cover to generate conversation, then maybe your prologue should disappear into the night.  If your prologue helps deepen the mystery of your book and provides essential information in a way that becomes clear later on but isn't obvious on the first read, then go for it.  I think it really depends on your genre and what you're trying to do with your book.  Mysteries and thrillers seem to work better with prologues.  Other genres can survive without it, but could benefit from one if you want to challenge your readers and their perceptions of your book.

If you really want to generate interest in your first few pages of your book, then do so with a powerful first sentence and chapter.  A prologue might strike the wrong chord if you're doing it to hook readers.  We can tell when you're doing that.  And we don't like it.  We will retaliate.

Oh yes, we will.  We are a scary folk.

UPDATE: Sharon Bayliss of The Blue Word wrote an awesome post about prologues that contains really helpful links to agents and their opinions on prologues.  Go check it out!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Someting Borrowed, Something Blue

Yesterday I went to relative's wedding.  I'm still not sure exactly how we're related, but I had fun despite the vodka I unknowingly drank and the creepy wedding band.  And as a challenge to myself, I will relate the entire experience in internal and external dialogue, as a way of seeing how well I can convey things through dialogue.

So without further ado, here is the wedding day, from the beginning.

"I am awake.  Why am I awake?  It's too early to be awake.  I don't want to be awake...Crap!  It's twelve, why am I not awake!"

"I don't care what time it is, I am going in the pool because it's hot and I need to cool down.  Oh hi, dog, do you want to come in too?  Look at us, we're floating along, floating along!  Swimming underwater is fun!"

"Need warm shower, need warm shower, need warm shower."

"Did I eat yet?  I didn't eat yet.  I should eat something.  Where is my bagel...the side of the bagel that has the least amount of flavoring is the part I will eat first so I can savor the flavor with the second piece.  This ham tastes funny.  I should probably not eat this."

"Why do so many people post while I'm asleep!  I cannot think of a witty enough response for this post.  I will come back later."

"The bathroom smells like toast.  Why does the bathroom smell like toast?"

"If I had liquid eyeliner, doing this cateye style would be a lot easier.  Ouch.  Need new eye pencil."

"Are pearls too old for me?  Do you think I should just stick with the gold chain?  What do you mean you don't know?  I need help!  Why are you useless?  And not dressed?  Get dressed!"

"I'll bring water in the cooler.  We have room for it, shut up."

"The tolls are too expensive."

"Watch out!  Did you see that car?  Did you see how close she got to you?  This is why I hate driving in Manhattan."

"If I take a quick nap now, maybe no one will notice.  Oh God, my neck, why do these roads have to be so bad?"

"It says to take the Southern or Northern Parkway.  We need to buy a new TomTom."

"How much father until the Southern Parkway?"

"Where is the parkway?"

"Why can't we turn the radio on?"

"The Southern!  Then we need to get on the Loop."

"Hey, isn't this where they found those bodies the serial killer hid?  I would rather not die tonight.  I hope he's not at the wedding.  I really hope he's not at the wedding."

"There's the place!  There's the place!  Turn!  Turn!  Oh God, why are you stopping in the middle of the road!"

"Who are these people?"

"Congratulations.  Only three more to go!"

"Why is there a man in a kilt?  Why is he walking towards me?  Tell me I'm not related to him.  I'm related to him.  Yes, I still play the piano.  Why is he in a kilt?  Did they seriously let him wear a kilt?"

"This lemonade is neon blue but taste delicious.  What?  It's vodka?  Crap."

"Yes, it's all very nice, but can we please start the ceremony?  I'm tired of admiring this beautiful white fence."

"I bet we could make off with this patio furniture in the truck.  Help me put it in the back."

"I'm thirsty, but more vodka will lead to table dancing."

"Oh, we're walking!  What?  Oh, he went to get beer.  He'll find us eventually."

"This is a sadistic wedding.  Walking in sand in heels?  Sadistic."

"I can't stop kneading the sand with my feet.  It feels so good."

"Can't stand here, this is where they'll be walking.  I know because there's a shell aisle right there."

"Is he playing a bagpipe?  I can't believe they allowed this."

"Walking uphill in sand in heels is less fun than walking downhill in sand in heels."

"Tacos!  I'm getting in line for a taco."

"Is that a butter angel?  Why is that allowed to exist?  It looks demonic."

"I can have a second taco.  I only ate a bagel today.  A second taco is totally within my right."

"Shouldn't have had the second taco."

"Too much seltzer water!"

"I hope the real dinner isn't too big.  I'm stuffed."

"Oh look, they sat us all together.  Great."

"Yes, I belong at this table, here's my card.  Are you sure that's a seven and not a one?  It's a seven.  I have no idea why we're having this problem."

"Don't drink that yet!  It's for the toasts!"

"Oh wow, those two are totally wasted already."

"I am convinced that the serial killer is part of the wedding band.  Why else would they be wearing mucha lucha masks?  The bassist looks like Michael Meyers with black hair.  It is freaking me out."

"My stomach says no dinner, but my wallet says I better eat it."

"Who is touching me?  I have to dance?  I don't want to dance...I'm dancing.  Why is this happening?"

"Why are we having a napkin fight?  This is why they sat us together.  So we don't embarrass the rest of the extended family.  Who hit me with this?  You are going down!"

"There are nuts in this carrot cake.  I hate nuts."

"You're giving us a paddle boat?  I have no idea what we'll use this for, but thank you anyway."

"Oh no, kilt man is walking this way and he's drunk.  Yes, I will continue to play the piano.  Yes, I will play for you some day again.  You are scaring me."

"So tired, so tired, so tired."

"This tunnel sounds evil."

"No dogs, right now is not the time to be pet."

"Why won't this eyeliner come off?"

"So many posts to comment on!"

"The bedspread is popping off again.  Damn it all."

Then I woke up today to four dogs whining at me at six in the morning to let them out.  They wanted to play.  I went back to sleep.

Also, if anyone knows how to help the victims of the Norway attacks or wants to do something special for them - like writing letters or sending something helpful - please let me know and we'll talk about it.  Thank you.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Heart and Soul

Yesterday, I spent my night listening to an old friend named B sing his heart out to a mostly empty dining room in a fancy restaurant, which is why I'm late in commenting on everybody's blog.  It was an ordeal for mostly everyone involved.  Except maybe for B, who was having the time of his life, and maybe for his wife, who seemed to be enjoying every minute of it.

I didn't go with the highest expectations.  I've heard B perform before, and I've seen him in plays.  He's not awful, but he's not exactly good either.  He's got the passion and the drive, but not the raw talent that's needed to really succeed.  He can sing fairly well, and can hold a tune for the most part, but his concerts are going to be, for the most part, in mostly empty, fancy restaurants populated by a few friends and his wife's dance students.

I'm not writing about this to put B down or to squash his dreams or criticize him.  On the contrary.  He gave me inspiration.  B could go out there and sing his soul out to a few dozen people who clapped for him and smiled and enjoyed him for the most part.  It took courage.  It took guts.  It took a mindset that didn't care about what people said about him, what people thought about him, to go up there and do what he loved.  B didn't see the emptiness of the place.  He didn't hear the slight snickers of the waiters.  He didn't see the overly expensive bad food and general nasty smell of the restaurant.  What he saw was the smiling faces, the couples dancing on the floor, the clapping hands and the shouts of encouragement.  He saw happiness.  He saw joy.  He saw the good.

When we write, I think we have the tendency to focus on the negative.  We worry that we're not making enjoyable characters, likable characters, that our chapters aren't long enough, our words not good enough, our plot old and worn out.  We think that we won't have any queries accepted, that no one will buy our book, that publishers will reject us again and again.  We see the negative, not the positive most of the time.  It's hard to see the positive in this profession, the joy of writing, the exuberance of creating characters, the pride of a well-turned phrase.  We look too far ahead at the sales figures, the book tours, the queries, the prospect of finding an agent/editor.  We need to focus on the moment, on the writing, on the story, on the characters.

Living in the moment is hard, but in the long run, it's easier than living with doubts and fears.  After all, writing's all about the creation, not the gain afterward.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reaction to When One Night Isn't Enough

Remember when I won a free UK copy of Wendy S. Marcus' When One Night Isn't Enough?  Well, it came in yesterday, and I finished sometime last night.  I thought I might do a review of it, but then I realized I would be strutting into Between the Lines' territory, and I didn't want to start a turf war that could disrupt the very fabric of space and time.  So instead of writing a review, I've decided to write a reaction to it.

My initial reaction: I liked it very much.  It's not a long book at all; Chapter 1 begins on page 8 and the story ends at page 202, and I was able to finished it in about ten or so hours.  Wendy's writing style is enjoyable; you never feel like you're slogging through useless information.  Her style is fast-paced and dialogue-filled, but it never feels rushed or slapped together.  Everything fits.  The scenes progress in a logical order.  The characters mature and come together in a way that's believable.  Best of all, you're never lost.  You always know who's talking, who's doing what, and what's going on.  Even when the scenes get technical - there's a few scenes where characters will yell out some hospital lingo - you don't feel abandoned.  It happens, you sort of understand it, you move on.  It doesn't trap you in a whirlpool of Stat, IV, and fallopian tubes.

The sex happens in Chapter 2 and keeps happening occasionally, which is a nice touch in a romance novel.  Sometimes the sex happens and then never happens again, and it's like biting into a jelly doughnut only to find some jelly and a whole bunch of nothing.  This is so not the case with Wendy.  The sex is there, it keeps coming back, and it's some of the best sex you will ever have.

But really, for me, what kept me reading was Allison and Jared.  There were times when I wanted to take both of them by the shoulders and shake them and yell at them and tell them to leave their pasts behind them and just get together already!  I wanted to tell Allison that it didn't matter what she did when she was teenager, that here was a perfectly good man for her and just go for him and let go of her expectations.  I wanted to tell Jared that he was being a bit of a jerk sometimes and that he needed to stop thinking all women were the same and that Allison was amazing and perfect for him.  It got frustrating sometimes to watch them fall apart over their pasts and pick at one another and ruin each others' efforts at creating a relationship, but I think that's a good sign that I was reacting like that.  Wendy's characters are so strong and likable that you want to reach into the book universe pull the strings yourself.  That, my friends, is good storytelling, and I bow down to Wendy's superb skill.

Allison and Jared's relationship/follies actually resonated quite strongly with me, and made me take a step back and reevaluate my own relationship and how I was self-defeating myself in the same way Allison did to herself.  There was one scene near the end that I refuse to ruin because it's beautiful and you should all read it, where Allison just completely nay-says everything Jared tries to tell her, tries to convince her of.  I almost started crying because I realized that's what I've been doing for so long without realizing how it hurts the other person involved so much.  It really made me wonder what I've been doing all this time, holding on to a dead and decomposed relationship because I couldn't admit it failed, while still trying to move forward with someone much better and more supportive of me.  It made me think about what I was doing, not only to myself, but to my other.  It wasn't fair of me to do that.

If I had to give When One Night Isn't Enough a rating, I would give it four and a half jelly donuts out of five.  I take half off because I was hungry and because I wanted more to read!  But no really, it's an excellent book and I would definitely recommend it to everyone who likes romance and character-driven plots.

Buy at: Nook and Kindle.  More links are available at Wendy's website here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Short Chapters

So I've learned something new and useful.  Everyone who commented on the previous post said they preferred shorter chapters as opposed to longer ones, which leads me to believe that shorter chapters are in fact better.  The reason why this is useful is because I'm working on a new novel while I cry over Kitty Malone, and I've been writing shorter chapters than I normally do.  Chapter 1, including the Prologue, is about nine pages, and the second chapter so far is around ten or so pages.  Ten pages is probably a little too small for a good chapter length, so I'll probably add some more to it.  It's mostly just an introduction chapter.

This is opposed to Kitty Malone, which runs about 25 pages are so per short story.  If put together as a novel, which it could and I might, the three stories would make about 85 pages.

We'll see how the new novel progresses.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Long Chapters vs. Short Chapters

I have this fight with myself all the time.  Should I strive for writing long, thirty page plus chapters, or should I let my chapters be short and sweet?  They're both legitimate stylistic choices.  It really depends on what you feel will work for your novel and what will appeal to your market.

There's really not a difference between them.  Any long chapter can be broken up into smaller chapters, and smaller chapters can be compressed into longer chapters with a bit of editing and tweaking.  I think longer chapters have a bit more literary bias towards them.  Remember college?  Remember British Literature or American Literature?  Or when you were assigned to read chapters 1-5 of such and such book only to find that chapters 1-5 were half the damn book?  Long chapters are associated with highbrow literature.  Jane Austen did not believe in short chapters.  She took you on a ride, and you were going to stay on that ride until she was good and ready to stop.

If you have a lot of time to spare, long chapters are fun.  You can lie down or sit in your favorite chair (mine is my blue papasan) and just read and read and read and not stop.  Or, if you're someone who doesn't mind stopping in the middle of a chapter to go do something else like cook dinner or take care of your dogs/cats/children, long chapters are also not much of a problem.  You can just put the book down - dog eared, bookmarked, or my personal favorite, the spine-breaker - and come back to it later.  No harm, no foul.

However, if you didn't like reading chapters 1-5 in college and found your attention wandering to other things - parties, food, the fifteen hundred other pages of text you needed to read for tomorrow's classes - or if you don't like leaving off in the middle of a chapter, then shorter chapters might be your thing.  Far from breaking up the flow of the writing, shorter chapters allow for breathing room and for you to follow at your own pace.  You aren't required to carve out a few hours to read one chapter; you can read for about half an hour or so and still get through a sizable chunk of story.

As a writer, shorter chapter can also allow you to get haste across to your readers.  Short, quick, chapters that change point of view can give a physical representation to the emotions of your story.  You don't want to confuse your readers with your word choice, but you can let them know that these particular scenes right here are hectic and confusing to the characters by pushing the pace and switching your characters around, as long as you make it obvious who's speaking or doing the actions.

All in all, it's really your decision, but just keep in mind your audience.  If you are looking to be like John Grisham, you might want to use shorter chapters.  If you are looking to be the next Jane Austen, then longer chapters are for you.  If you're unsure, talk to friends, beta readers, or if you're lucky, your editor.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Movie Day

I saw the last Harry Potter movie and it was EPIC.  Though the one scene that I was looking forward to seeing didn't impress me as much as I wanted it to, it was still AMAZING.  I loved the soundtrack too and the sympathetic landscapes/weather.  There were some awesome shots of Hogwarts shrouded in fog, all gray, with skeletal Dementors wafting through the air in ribbon-like robes.  Breathtaking.

I won't say too much more in case I spoil it for people.  Don't want to be that guy.

The epilogue I could do without though.  I didn't like it in the book and I didn't like it in the movie, though it was a bit better watching it instead of reading it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Winning

I just found out that I won Wendy S. Marcus' new medical romance novel When One Night Isn't Enough!  Awesome sauce!

I just read the reviews here, and I have to admit, I'm definitely looking forward to reading it.  So expect a lot of gushing about it once I start reading it.  This is my first medical romance so I'm glad that I get to start off with this great novel.

Everybody go give Wendy S. Marcus some love at her website.  And follow it!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Reading List

Or also known as what I'm buying with my giftcard.

Wings of the Falcon - Barbara Michaels
Black Rainbow - Barbara Michaels
The Prairie Grass Murders - Patricia Stoltey

I wish my friends would remember to give me 25 dollar giftcards so I could avoid the 12 dollars worth of shipping and handling that suck out all the money from the card and make it impossible for me to buy every book that I want.

But once the two Barbara Michaels books come in, I will have finally completed my quest to own all of the mystery/horror books she's written under that pen name.  Stalkerish much?  I like to call it being a good fan.

This quest has taken about five years and numerous trips to used bookstores to complete, and in honor of doing so, I will eventually post a photo of my collection here so you can gaze upon its beauty and wonder what's wrong with me.  Her books take up an entire bottom shelf of my bookcase, and I've read them all.  I could write odes to how much I love her writing.

As for Patricia Stoltey's book, well, I wanted to read it for myself after hearing about it so much on her blog.  There are a few other books/memoirs that I've read about on other blogs that I'm planning on buying, so no one feel left out!  I will support all of you!  Eventually!  When I get another giftcard!  Pester my friends and family so that they will send more and more money!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

On Back Matter

Rebecca E. from Living a Life of Writing mentioned back matter in a comment on one of my previous posts, and so I decided to write about it in a real post instead of babbling about it in a comment.  Also, go visit her blog because she is smarter than I am and knows what she's doing.

At first glance, back matter sounds like something a three year old would come up with when trying to say black matter.  And before you go off thinking that three year olds have no idea what black matter is and would therefore never try to say it, let me say that three year olds will repeat anything you say if they think it'll make you happy.  I used to be able to rattle off the parts of an atom when I was three.  Don't ask me to do it now.

(I had to go rattle off the parts of an atom just now to make sure I still knew it so that I could feel better abut myself.  This is a sad existence.)

Anyway, back matter might also evoke images of serious doctors coming into a hospital room with a clipboard and telling you in a very serious tone of voice: "Well, it's a serious matter of the back."  You'll have no idea what's wrong with you except that it's a matter of your back and it's probably not treatable.  Grey's Anatomy could do a whole season finale on it and you'd have to keep a box of tissues next to you the entire episode.

Unfortunately, back matter is not so glamorous as McDreamy wants you to think.  Back matter is that stuff on the back cover of your book where you have a synopsis of your novel and/or praise for your novel.  Or, if you're Stephen King, you have this:

He can see right into your darkest fears.
While it may seem like a good idea to terrify your readers with a picture of your face staring out at them as if to let them know you know exactly where they sleep at night and what they're wearing, it's really not a good idea to do that.  Unless you're Stephen King.  Then you can do whatever you want because you are Stephen King and you just don't give a damn. But chances are, you are not Stephen King, and you need more than a picture to grace the back cover your book.

Back matter is really important to your novel, even though you might not even be thinking about it as you write.  Back matter, after your cover, is what sells your book, and that is generally why writers aren't allowed to write their own back matter.  As a writer, you want to make sure you're getting the point of your book across.  You may want to alert your readers to the intense social grievances that have inspired your book and that you have so subtly and artfully hidden in a plot line of a teenage girl struggling to make it as a single mother of two while still trying to attain her dream of being a chorus girl in the French opera and not be stalked by the Phantom.  You may want your readers to know that they should pay careful attention the word selection you've spent fifteen long years agonizing over, and that your use of a semi-colon instead of a period is in fact very important to grand scheme of things and is a major signifier of foreshadowing.

This, ladies and gentlemen, will not sell your book and is why there's a whole major dedicated to the art of selling your work.  This is also why a marketing team takes over this aspect of your novel and why you will fight with them tooth and nail over everything.  Feelings will be hurt.  The novel that has been your baby for as long as you can remember will suddenly grow up into an angry teenager you don't recognize and will sneak out of your house at all times of night just to see you get upset.  You will be glad when it finally leaves the house.

However, some of us might have to write our own back matter because we're self-publishers and we don't get the added benefits of marketing teams unless we majored in that, and chances are, we probably didn't.  So how can we compete?

Well for one, pretend that your back cover is like your resume for that job position you want.  You need to learn to toot your own horn, which I will be the first to admit is a difficult thing to do if you are one of those people who are really modest about everything and feel uncomfortable talking about your successes.  You need to get over that quick!  Be proud!  Be narcissistic!  Act as if your book is the best book in the whole world and that everyone is going to want to read it.  You can't hold back when you write back matter.  You need to be confident like an eagle.  When was the last time an eagle was ever modest?  That's right.  Never.  Be an eagle.  Be proud.

Better yet, be Stephen King.

You also want to summarize your book as concisely as possible without giving too much away.  I know that sounds like trying to walk on a tightrope with no harness and stilettos on while spectators throw tomatoes at you, but I promise it's doable.  It might take a lot of practice, but it's doable.  Write a few rough drafts, send it out to your friends and make them read it over, ask them their opinions, abuse your blog privileges and make your readers vote on the one they like best or something.  After a while, it'll get easier for you to pump one out and then you will feel like the king of the world.  And you won't even need to stand on a ship prow to feel that way.

So what exactly should be in your back matter?  You want to generate interest in your book.  You want your reader to pick up the book, read the back, and then immediately want to run home and read your book front to back in a spree of frenzied necessity.  Paying for the book is optional though I assume you would like to receive your royalties.  Your back matter shouldn't give away major plot twists however - saying Bruce Willis is dead at the end is not a good way to make friends or fans.  What you want to do is give your readers a quick introduction to your characters before you give them the real meat and bones of the story, to let your readers know what they're about to get into.  You want to save the big surprises for the read, but you can still foreshadow events to create suspense.

If you're one of the lucky writers who have reviews to bolster your spirits, you can quote a few of them on your back matter along with your quick synopsis.  Don't quote the whole review, but take what you feel is the best snippet and stick it in there.  It lends credence to your book.  People feel better about buying things when there's a guarantee.

Think of it like this.  A book without reviews or some sort of guarantee is like that infomercial you watch at three in the morning when you wonder what went wrong in your life.  The product looks like it'll make your life so much easier and better because you'll never have to chop vegetables again, but you wonder about buying it because you don't want to waste twenty dollars in shipping and handling to buy a piece of junk that's going to stop working after you use it once.  A book with reviews and one of those 'from NY Times Bestselling author...' lines is like buying Martha Stewart bath towels.  Those towels are going to suck up water for life.  If that infomercial had Martha Stewart's seal of approval, then you know you'd totally buy that chopper, even if you have a set of ceramic knives purchased from Japan for a thousand dollars that cut vegetables beautifully.

Don't be discouraged if you don't have any reviews for your books.  I don't, and I still manage to make sales occasionally.  Reviews are good, but not a strict necessity.  You can survive without them, and you can be successful without them too.  Reviews will come with time, just like success.  Just be patient.

I grabbed some books off my shelf so that I could give you a few examples of back matter.  Here's one from CJ Cherryh's Hammerfall.
A prince and a warrior, Marak had dedicated his life to overthrowing the Ila, the mysterious eternal dictator of his desert planet.  But a twist of fate will entrust him with protecting her life - and those of her subjects - from the wrath of a powerful foe beyond their world.  But to do so, Marak must lead them in an impossible caravan across burning sand plains.  Yet one among them is determined to destroy Marak.  And with his death will come the end of life itself.
This synopsis introduces you to two important characters - Marak and the Ila.  It also gives you the basic plot - Marak must protect the people of his planet and there is a plot to make sure that Marak doesn't do just that.  It tells, but it also conceals.  This is good.

Here's one from Michael Crichton's Sphere:
In the middle of the South Pacific, a thousand feet below the surface of the water, a huge vessel is discovered resting on the ocean floor.  It is a spaceship of phenomenal dimensions, apparently undamaged by its fall from the sky.  And, most startlingly, it appears to be at least three hundred years old.

But even more fantastic - and frightening - is what waits inside...
Again, you have an outline of the basic plot and even an answer to the first part of the mystery - there's a ship in the middle of the ocean that's three hundred years old - but there's still more mystery to read about.  You have to keep playing this game of hot and cold, of give and take.  Give your readers a bit, but take a few giant steps backwards at the same time.  Difficult, but it'll be easier with time.

These of course are all for fiction books, and we can't ignore our nonfiction brethren.  So here's one for Keith Devlin's The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution:
In 1202, a 32-year old Italian finished one of the most influential books of all time, which introduced modern arithmetic to Western Europe. Devised in India in the 7th and 8th centuries and brought to North Africa by Muslim traders, the Hindu-Arabic system helped transform the West into the dominant force in science, technology, and commerce, leaving behind Muslim cultures which had long known it but had failed to see its potential.
The young Italian, Leonardo of Pisa (better known today as Fibonacci), had learned the Hindu number system when he traveled to North Africa with his father, a customs agent. The book he created was Liber abbaci, the "Book of Calculation," and the revolution that followed its publication was enormous. Arithmetic made it possible for ordinary people to buy and sell goods, convert currencies, and keep accurate records of possessions more readily than ever before. Liber abbaci's publication led directly to large-scale international commerce and the scientific revolution of the Renaissance.
Yet despite the ubiquity of his discoveries, Leonardo of Pisa remains an enigma. His name is best known today in association with an exercise in Liber abbaci whose solution gives rise to a sequence of numbers--the Fibonacci sequence--used by some to predict the rise and fall of financial markets, and evident in myriad biological structures.
One of the great math popularizers of our time, Keith Devlin recreates the life and enduring legacy of an overlooked genius, and in the process makes clear how central numbers and mathematics are to our daily lives.
I apologize if that was tough to get through.  But it gives you a good history overview of Fibonacci and nice little introduction of Keith Devlin.  I don't really have much else to say about it.  Nonfiction, especially about math, makes my head spin.

And, as an added bonus so you can laugh at me, I'll show you one of my back matters, this one for Bobbing for Boyfriends:  (UK link)
In this third installment of The Adventures of Kitty Malone, Katharine "Kitty" Anne Malone dreams back to the time of prohibition and flappers with the help of her psychic friend Heather. Between the bobbed haircuts, spangled dresses, and illicit alcohol, will Kitty be able to find out the identity of the sexy and handsome stranger plaguing her dreams? And if she does, will she be able to survive the encounter?
See, this is why it's difficult to do this on your own.  My back matter isn't exactly great, or even good for that matter.  I tried to get that plot across, and to introduce a bit of suspense, but I think overall I'm going to need to call some friends and guilt them into helping me.  Or bribe them.  Or something.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On Writing Groups

As a writer, you might might think that this profession gives you an excuse to be a hermit, cooped up in your room all day, writing your heart and soul out on a typewriter or something and then magically, you'll be done one day and have a best-seller on your hands.  This is an erroneous assumption.

Yes, you will spend some days cooped up in your room being a hermit, but you will also have to go out and do grocery shopping and on those days you might wonder why you've willingly sequestered yourself away from society.  Then you will see People magazine and have your answer.

Even if you do want to hermit yourself away to work on your masterpiece, the hard truth is that you can't do it by yourself.  There will be times when you don't think you can go on, when you hit writer's block so bad you want to take a bat to your typewriter or computer or hand and kill the object of your dissatisfaction.  There will be days when you want human company, even if you can't stand human beings.  There are days when you need an editor who is not the inner voice hanging out in the leftmost corner of your brain who alternates between saying that your work is amazing and beautiful and saying that your work is terrible and that you should go immolate yourself in a fire for thinking you could be a writer.

On these days, it is best to have a support system.  Friends and family might help, but do they really understand?  Or do they look at you as if you've sprouted three extra heads and ask you why you can't get a regular job and be a functional part of society?  Even if they still consider you to be a sane, normal person, do they really get that you're going through?  Or are you left with that lingering finger of doubt that whispers they don't really know what they're talking about?

What you need, my friend, is a writer's group.

You might think to yourself that you don't need a writer's group, that a writer's group is scary and full of people better than you, who will look down their noses at your work and set it on fire.  This might happen.  In that case, leave the writer's group and find a different one.  Look for ones that cater to your needs.  If you write crime drama, don't join a writer's group that's full of people who write non-fiction or fantasy.  Surround yourself with like-minded people.  Go to a couple of meetings and tell the person in charge that you are shopping around for a good fit, that you are testing the waters.  You are not beholden to them to continue going if you don't like the people or you feel that they are not helping you to become a better writer.  And if they do make you feel beholden it is because they are needy and/or need you to be a living sacrifice to Ba'al or something so that they will be successful.  If this is case, leave the group immediately and inform the local authorities.

Writer's groups are a helpful ecosystem to be a part of.  Chances are, there will be someone there who is a grammar aficionado and will go through your work with a red pen and fix all the little typos you didn't know you made.  One will be a literary genius who knows all the techniques to make you better.  One will be comic relief.  Another will always have something nice to say about your work even as (s)he shreds it to pieces in an effort to make it a masterpiece.  If you are uncomfortable with any of this, you need to join a writer's group and shed these fears.  They can only hold you back.

You might think a writer's group is all work and no play, but this is a mistake.  Writer's groups can be the basis of life-long friendships spawned over circling sixteen reused words in a single paragraph and pointing out verb-subject disagreements or using writing prompts as exercises and staring at a blank sheet of paper while everyone else scribbles away and guards his or her work.  Chances are, you will not be alone in your confusion.

I was part of a writer's group in college, over which I was the vice president somehow.  I'm not sure how that even happened, to be honest.  I was not fit for leadership, but neither was our perpetually stoned/drunk president.  He tried though.  He tried.  And he had dreams.

Our writer's group was not pretentious, or even professional for that matter.  We sat around and discussed each other's work and then we went out for drinks, which translated to the current over 21-year old going out and buying cheap beer and then bringing it back to my place where I wouldn't drink so that at least one person could keep order and keep "Bill" (name has been changed so as to protect his identity) from doing something stupid.  One time, after the 'we went official as a club' party, Bill and I had a very enlightening conversation about the existentialism of capital punishment on my couch.  He was drunk out of his mind on gin and tonic.  Bill, needless to say, did not remember this conversation the next day.  And I had a whopping mess to clean up.

This might not be an example of the greatest writer's group, but we were useful.  We worked on each other's writings and learned from one another and tried to get our magazine up and running.  We would enter into contests and hold one another when we lost.  Not really, but I want this to a romantic memory.  We had a lot of fun, even in the dark times when we couldn't write anything and lost hope in ever becoming famously rich and fabulous novelists.

We were friends, which is the important part.  Your writer's group should be friendly, even if you don't hang out outside of the group.  It's not like it's write or die at the hands of Ba'al while the other members chant in Aztec and light seven black candles while you're strung up on an altar with a copy of Asimov glued to your forehead.

I remember one meeting we had where we needed to figure out the name of our magazine.  We had too many suggestions, so we came up with the brilliant idea of writing down all the names on a white board and then chucking a bottle cap at it, the idea being that the words the bottle cap hit would be arranged somehow to make an awesome title.  Needless to say, chaos ruled for about forty minutes.

What we came up with was "The Ponce of Pangea."  It was unanimously vetoed and the meeting adjourned in favor of drinking and thinking up ways to fund raise money.

See?  This is what you're missing if you're not part of a writer's group.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Guess What?

Happy Fourth of July everyone!  And to all my non-American readers, Happy Innocuous Fourth of July That's Not A Holiday But A Totally Normal Day!

I'll try to take some pictures of the fireworks tonight if I can make my camera work properly.  Then I can use them as cover pages when I run out of public domain pictures to steal.

I wanted to write a beautifully inspiring post about independence and what it means, but I'm not serious enough for that and the dogs are bothering me anyway for pets, and that makes it difficult to concentrate.

I guess I'll just say that as a writer, I value the independence of self-publishing and that we shouldn't knock it or think any of less of writers who use it.  I know it's easy to look at self-publishing as a selfish thing, as a thing for writers who are too greedy to find an agent and an editor or who aren't good enough to interest a publishing company, but it's really not that.  Publishing is notoriously difficult to get into if you know no one in the business and you have no prior experience being published, and so self-publishing is really a good gateway into the business.  It can get you noticed, get your voice out there, and it's a great feeling when you see your work out there being read.  It really helps.

So don't lose hope if you think that publishing companies won't be interested in your work.  There's always self-publishing, and in the long run, it might work out better for you.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Animal Adventures

This post has nothing to do about writing.  I'm taking a break from my seventeen-day writing spree because my brain hurts and because I have absolutely nothing to write about.  This post is about my adventure last night with my neighbor's cat.

Let me say now that I'm a dog person.  I grew up with dogs, I live with dogs, I love dogs.  But I have a thing for cats.  I don't know if it's because I never had a cat growing up or if it's because I spend all my free time looking up cute cat videos online and somehow, that translated into cats are amazing creatures and it would be really fun to have one.  So when my neighbor's cat last night invaded my personal space, I thought it was cute.

That cat is really nice.  When I saw it walking outside, I mewed at it because I'm a strange human being and I think I can communicate with animals.  I'm also one of those horribly impulsive people when it comes to animals.  I revert to a five year old mindset and think that because I love animals, animals will love me.  This has only been reinforced by the fact that the dogs tend to think I'm some sort of petting machine and will tend to sit on me when I'm around because they think they own me.  It's cute until a Siberian Husky does it to you.  Then it's painful.

So when I mewed at the cat and the cat mewed back and came over, I was inexplicably giddy.  Like I said, it's a really nice cat.  It came over and rubbed around my legs and wanted me to pet it, and I did, and then I played with it because cats are amazing and think grass is some sort of new prey, and it was a really cute cat.  And I felt bad because I know my neighbors are asleep and aren't going to let the cat in any time soon.  So I stayed out with it and kept it company.

This might have been a mistake.

When I got up to go back inside and possibly go to bed, it nipped at my calf.  I was wearing shorts.  The nip didn't hurt badly, so I assumed it just wanted me to come back and play with it.  I sat down on the landing and it came up and demanded more pets, kind of like how my dog is doing right now only the cat was a lot more graceful and elegant about it and less snaggle-toothed and bug-eyed.

Then it decided it wanted to come inside.

Let me clarify a few things.  I have four dogs.  I cannot have a cat inside the house with four dogs, even if said dogs are in the crate.  The dogs will freak out and wake up the entire household.  I am also deathly allergic to cats.  That is not an exaggeration.  I break out in hives when I so much as touch a cat, never mind have one all over me like this one.  I was already getting itchy with just the ten minutes of petting it.  I love cats, but I can't have one inside the house.

I tried explaining this to the cat, but the cat was having none of it.  The cat wanted in.  It kept staring at the nice warm living room.  It would look at me.  Then it would mew.  Then it would purr and rub up against me.  Then it would look in again.  Repeat.

I would have taken in the cat, hives or not.  But it belongs to the neighbors and I'm not sure how they would take me hijacking their cat for a night.  So I stood up and started walking down the landing so I could get it to follow me to the neighbors' place.  I'd hoped that we could find a secret entrance for the cat so that I could get it in and feel like I'd done some good for the cat.  It had obviously gotten out somehow.

The cat had other plans.

I got down to the first landing, and all of a sudden, the cat was on my leg.  It did not want me on that landing.  It wanted me in the living room, with it on my lap, stroking it.

Now, I've been bit before.  But only by dogs.  You may not think it, but dogs have fairly blunt teeth when compared to a cat.  Cats have needle teeth.  Cats are like very delicate torturers.  They leave the axes and the swords for the silly, clumsy dogs to use.  Dog bites might hurt, but they stop after a few hours.  Cat bites sting and itch for the entire night and into the next day.

That cat got me good.  My leg and foot are covered in a fine map of scratches that itched and burned most of the night long.  Even after I washed them all out, making sure that the cat was safely locked outside of the door because that cat is not coming nowhere near me again, and put Neosporin and Band-aids on them all, they itched and burned like a rash from hell.  I don't know if that's what cat bites do in general or if it's because I'm deathly allergic to them and am going to die in a few hours.  But I'm pretty sure cats are venomous regardless.

What makes this all even worse is the fact that the cat watched me for another fifteen minutes.  I checked the windows.  It sat outside and waited for me to come back out and apologize for trying to walk down the landing. 

Well cat, this means war.