Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Three "R"s

No, I'm not talking about the school curriculum. This month I thought I would share three "R"s - a Recommendation, a Reservation and a Remarkable.
It's not all about writing, but this is a bit of me as a woman, wife and mother. Oh, and an author.

Recommendation - Get a dog

I had always been a cat lover, and I still love the sleek, independent, furry creatures. When I met my now-husband, my home was shared with a female, feisty, demanding Siamese seal point and a loving, put-up-with-anything ginger tom. The other love of my life shared his home with a four-legged tortie and white, and a three-legged tortie and white. With these two irresistible females in his life, I had to fight for his attention.

Twenty-six years, and a wedding and a son later, I received the nag nag nag for a dog. My response was automatic, having been rehearsed for about three years, during which time everyone in our village got a dog.
“I don’t want a dog. I haven’t got time to walk a dog, I'm a busy writer. I don’t want claws on my wooden floor. I don’t want dog hairs on my clothes…” There were a lot of “I”s, I know.
Then I stopped to think. I had given up work to raise our little boy. My choice to be an author was a by-product of that decision. So why was I saying “no” to our only son.

Needless to say, six months later eight-week-old Pepper came to live with us. For the first few weeks I asked myself, “What the hell have you done?”

In the decision-making progress to have a dog, I evaluated being an author working in the kitchen would fit right in with keeping an eye on a puppy. I was wrong. I could only have eyes for the puppy. The times she slept were not long enough for me to get into the zone for my writing. There was no continuity, which is so important to make scenes work. And I felt quite low at times, as a prisoner of my own house, mostly the kitchen. On top of that my hands were scarred with bite marks from scissor like baby teeth, and sore from being in and out of water to clean up numerous poohs and wees—rubber gloves were not an option and hand cream became my new best friend. Although Pepper was a very good sleeper at night—we have not had one bad night with her—we couldn’t put her to bed until about 10.30 and had to be up with her before 6.30 in the morning. That left me and my husband exhausted.

BUT I absolutely love her. Pepper is ten months old now. She slobbers. She loves mud. She’s happy going out in any weather. She is a leaf and twig magnet, and she adores shredding cardboard and paper.

And guess what one of my favourite things is? Taking our gorgeous, strong (!) Newfoundland for a walk.

All the hard work in those early months has paid off. Now she is well behaved, clean in the house, has a loving temperament, and I can write again. So go on, get a dog.

Reservations – Something referred to as smart

Today we have smart cars, smart phones, smart TV, smart meters…
I don’t want “smart” things taking over the world. Or at least not mine.
Yes, I am all for making  life easier – I wouldn’t want to be without a dishwasher and I value the parking sensors on my car.

But I hate it when the likes of Google, or Facebook, or Amazon make assumptions about me. If I put in a search for something—which as an author I frequently do—I will find the information or product I need and use it for research, buy it or ignore it – my choice. That’s it. Done. Time to move on. I don’t want to be inundated with alternatives, duplicates or, even worse, tenuous substitutes for the next few weeks.
My reservation is that we will stop thinking for ourselves. We won’t look beyond a screen that has been programmed to give us what IT wants. Our views will become narrow, our diversity will become uniform, our creativity cramped. We mustn’t lose our humanity – it’s what makes us.
Gripe over.

Remarkables – Having your story published.

It is every author's dream to have their work in "print," be it electronic or paper. To start with an idea in your head, and then create a world of fictitious people doing made-up things, requires imagination  and hard work. Skills in language, grammar, word count, characterisation and continuity, are all necessary to complete your manuscript. Then there are the cover and the blurb, and at last you have your book. That is remarkable. Of course the next step is selling your story. But as they say, that in itself is another story!

What would your three "R"s be?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Second Time Around

by Linda Thorne

Is writing that second book like the song says? “Lovelier the second time around. Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground.”

My answer is no, nope, nada. None of the above.

With the first book, I felt like Mad Max in Beyond Thunderdome, not knowing what obstacles I’d face until they were there, me fighting to mow them down and keep moving with one major goal, publication. I’d been so forewarned about rejections and criticisms that no matter how many hundreds of them I received, they only fueled me to keep churning toward my most important goal.

I’m no longer scything through underbrush seeking to become a published novelist. I’m already there with a publisher by my side. Yet, this second-time-around experience is more intimidating because others are counting on me to produce a book that is at least as good as my first and hopefully better. This scares me. Almost everyone I talk to about writing and books, asks me the same question: “When is your second book coming out?”   

Time flies by and still no number two. This time I recognize when my writing is bad and this time it’s downright mortifying because I should be better just like everyone else seems to assume, presume, or expect. The second-time-around pressure is tremendous in a different way because there is something very tragic-sounding in the words, a one-book author

I celebrated the first, but I will celebrate big-time when I have number two .

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Refusing to Review

            I’ve been thinking a lot this month about book reviews, a subject near and dear (or maybe not-so-dear) to writers’ hearts. And specifically, I’ve been thinking about reviews for books you don’t like.

            What do you do when you don’t like a book? I think it’s a tough question: as writers, we know the importance of the numbers of reviews we garner for each book. It doesn’t matter if a review is a one-star or a five-star. It counts. We like to support other writers with reviews and we tout the importance of reviews to anyone and everyone who will listen.

            But what do you do when you read a book and you really don’t like it? What if, according to your personal rating scale, it rates two or three stars, or worse? What do you do then?

            My own policy, with one notable exception which I’ll share below, is to leave an online review only if I feel I can give a book four or five stars. On rare occasions, I’ve given books three stars. I struggle with the intellectual honesty of this policy of not reviewing every book I read, but in the end, it’s what I feel comfortable doing.

            Here’s my thinking: I know how much work goes into writing a book. I know how much it hurts to read a review from a person who didn’t like one of my books. I don’t want to be the person who ruins another writer’s day because I didn’t like how he or she told a story.

            When I review a book, I always state what I like about it. When I don’t feel it deserves five stars, I write what I think would make it a better book. That’s what I appreciate from reviewers, so I figure other writers might appreciate it, too.

            But here’s the caveat I noted above. When a book is written by an author of the John Grisham-JK Rowling-Lee Child-Danielle Steel caliber, I don’t mind giving it two or three stars if I really didn’t like it. My reasoning is simple—they have a monumental, worldwide fan base, and one lousy review from me isn’t going to make or break their day.

            I’m curious about other writers’ review practices. Do you review everything you read? Do you review only certain books? Are there circumstances under which you will or will not give a low rating to any book?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Animal Kingdom: For Writers Who Like to Walk on the Wild Side

by Maggie King 

Characters who are so good at being so bad … that’s Animal Kingdom in a nutshell.

On May 29, Season 3 of TNT’s Animal Kingdom premieres. Will I be watching?

I never missed an episode of the first two seasons, based on the 2010 Australian film of the same title.

For the uninitiated, here’s TNT’s blurb for Animal Kingdom:
Animal Kingdom is an adrenaline-charged drama starring Ellen Barkin as the matriarch of a Southern California family whose excessive lifestyle is fueled by their criminal activities, with Scott Speedman as her second in command. Shawn Hatosy, Ben Robson, Jake Weary and Finn Cole also star.
Ellen Barkin is all bottle-blonde magnificence as the controlling and manipulative mom, hell bent on getting her way. She always does. Her sons and grandson are your classic sexy-as-all-get-out bad boys. And they don’t mind shedding their clothes on-camera. Often.
Folks, this ain’t Hallmark fare. No one is nice. It’s even hard to root for the detectives who are trying to bring the family down—they may be on the right side of the law, but just barely. But characters don’t have to be likeable, just compelling.

Writers can benefit from watching Animal Kingdom with its nuanced and layered portrayal of a dysfunctional family. The tone can be ratcheted down, or up, to suit a readership. Glimpses of humanity will surface briefly, only to be quelled. The dark tale contrasts with a sunny Southern California setting, creating a virtual underworld that emphasizes the unsavoriness of the plot and those characters who are so good at being so bad as they walk on the wild side.

A word on the violence: Season 1 of Animal Kingdom started out with a creepy, menacing tone and only a suggestion of violence. By season end, I watched someone get beaten to a bloody pulp, punch by punch, kick by kick. I hesitated to watch Season 2.

But I’ve long been intrigued by scary moms who manipulate their children, especially their sons, and get them to do their evil bidding. It’s a theme that shows up in my writing. Animal Kingdom illustrates this family dynamic to perfection.

And so I watched Season 2. Frankly, I don’t recall much violence. It certainly didn’t approach the level of Season 1.

Circling back to my original question: On May 29, will I be watching the Season 3 premiere of Animal Kingdom?

I wouldn’t miss it.

Cast of Animal Kingdom. Picture courtesy of TNT

More on Animal Kingdom from TNT.  

More on Animal Kingdom from Rolling Stone.

For writers who prefer milder TV fare as writing inspiration, here’s my post from January of this year.