Economics and Writing

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When we were first married, my husband would constantly wonder how in a nanosecond I could change the topic of conversation to something completely unrelated to our discussion. In fact for awhile, I had to explain my train of thought and how it flew from point A to point B. Now he just accepts that there is a logical path in my head even if it doesn’t make sense to him. So if you’ll stay with me until the end of this post you’ll see how this story relates to the rest of the post.

Currently, I’m reading, That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind In The World It Invented And How We Can Come Back by columnist Thomas L. Friedman and foreign policy thinker Michael Mandelbaum. This book invades my thoughts at the most random times, like folding laundry or lying in bed and even sometimes while I’m in the shower. I’d like to pretend that these thoughts are deep and introspective and spur me to action, but instead they quickly lead me to compare it with writing. (Yep this is where the above story fits in.) So, today, I’d like to discuss how this book relates to us as writers.

There is a chapter titled “Ignoring our problems” where the authors write about four core problems. They argue that the future of our nation will be determined by the way we address these issues. While matching the kids socks, I thought about these four areas and (see above story) realized that in my book I’ve ignored several key problems and yes the future of my book does depend on how I choose to resolve them. In fact, they are the areas that I’m now focusing on.

In the first four pages of the book they discuss that people have sort of gotten used to it. They illustrate this with the story of a 2.5 million square foot convention center built in China in eight months, including giant escalators in each corner. Then they discussed the repairs of an escalator in the Washington D.C. Metrorail subway station that had been under repair for nearly six months. They investigated why it was taking so long and were told that “the mechanics need 10-12 weeks to fix each escalator. It was taking the Washington Metro crew twenty-four weeks to repair two tiny escalators of twenty-one steps each.” The authors wondered why nobody was screaming about this since it was causing major pedestrian traffic jams and someone said that they thought people were just use to it. When I thought about this, I’ll spare you the location, I wondered in what ways are my characters apathetic? Should they be reacting? Because of this, I’ve made more notes on places for improved action/reaction.

The last point that came to me while running was that Americans have lost our confidence, we expect China to be better than us, which again can be applied to writing. How many times do we compare ourselves to other authors and then become discouraged? The discouragement for me often leads to me doubting whether I’m just wasting my time writing.  Well, maybe that other author is better than us, but that shouldn’t stop us from being the best possible writer we can become.

Book Review: Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

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I read several books over the break, some for pleasure and some for help with the craft of writing. And I gotta say, that I found Writing the Breakout Novel very helpful. It provides tips for characters, setting, pacing and plots including subplots. However, and this is a big one, don’t read this book until you are done with your first draft and are struggling with editing. I know that sounds unconventional, but this book is supposed to help your book become a “breakout” novel, meaning it takes it to the next level. It teaches you how to make it shine and best of all keep the reader reading. Isn’t that what we really want? To keep them reading until they absolutely have to put it down?

It’s what I want. There are only a handful of books that have kept me so enthralled with the story and characters that I literally read until I can no longer ignore life, or the children, or the husband and then I’m annoyed that I had to put it down. (Lucky for me, I’m a speed reader and can finish most three hundred page books by the end of the day with a few interruptions.) That’s what I want my readers to feel when they read my words, that longing to stay with the characters until the very last word and then wish that the story continued so they could spend more time with them. If that’s what you desire too, then I recommend reading this book.

What do you want your readers to feel when they read your story?

What makes you…you?

Today is New Year’s Eve and I admit I hate resolutions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for improving yourself, but if you know you should change something or you desire to make a change, why  wait until the end of December? Why not do it when you recognize it? I could write pages and pages of why I dislike this tradition, but I’ll spare you the drivel.
Instead, I thought I’d like to share three personal things about me that have nothing to do with my writing. Things that if you don’t know me in person, you might not know.

1. In person, I’m warm and very friendly. People comment on it all the time, but what they don’t realize is that I’m very guarded about certain things in my life. As they say, I keep things close to the vest. You might have picked up on that while reading this blog.

2. I am not tactile. I don’t like people encroaching on my space. In fact, I feel uncomfortable when people pat my arm, hug me, or try to hold my arm. There are a few exceptions, my husband, my children, and my parents. The funny thing is that until five years ago, I’d say I was tactile, but my husband and sister started making fun of my “man hugs”. You know the one, where your butt sticks out, your torso doesn’t touch the other person and you pat them on the back. It took me a week to finally admit that they were right.

3. I am not an adrenaline junkie, but I love to Rollerblade. Somehow I don’t think this is acceptable for women my age. I have yet to see other moms blading, but here’s the thing. I don’t care. It brings me such pleasure to feel the ground moving beneath my feet, the tiny bit of air I get when I jump a curb, or the liberating feeling when I race down the hills. Seriously, if you haven’t tried this, you really should.

Tonight when you are toasting the New Year and probably making your resolutions (ugh), I hope you take a moment to remember and appreciate the things that make you…you.

Have a happy and safe New Years and I hope to hear from you in 2012.

A jolt of curiosity

A couple of nights ago, my six-year-old son unscrewed a lightbulb from the lamp and then proceeded to touch the spot where it went. He received a shock when a jolt of electricity surged through his finger. When my hubbie and I asked him why, he said, “I wanted to see how it worked.” I briefly explained what electricity was and where it came from and why we don’t touch outlets, or lamps or anything that is connected to electricity.

I enjoy that he is my curious dude, the one who loves to read his body book that shows muscles, bones and organs. The one who asks how does that work, or what is that, or why did s/he do that? Now, he’s done a couple of things that make us shake our head, like stuffing a popcorn kernel up his nose because he thought his friends would find it funny…they did not. Thank Goodness. But more importantly he loves the mechanics of things, people, animals…the world. And because of him, I find myself examining the world differently, something that I seem to have lost as I grew older, more cynical. He has literally jolted me awake and this different view has shown me that the world is a fascinating place filled with intriguing people, something that I hope shines through in my writing.

Has anyone made you take notice?

Ethnic boundaries

Recently, a newly published mystery/thriller author received an odd question from a journalist. He asked, “Are you half Asian?” Caught off guard, and unsure what this question had to do with her writing, she responded, “No I’m Asian all the time.”  The interview ended with both of them laughing at his stupid question. However, this story gave me pause.

My husband is Norwegian and Creole (a mixture of French, African, and Spanish-his is Cuban). When he was little, he had a blonde Afro, blue eyes, luscious thick lips and very white skin, think paper white. Growing up, people assumed he was Anglo-Saxon and made very prejudice remarks in his presence.

Fast-forward twenty years, to a more receptive, supposedly open-minded society. I’d argue that in some ways we still don’t accept diversity because we carry stereotypes of how a mixed person should appear. Let me explain with several examples.

My oldest is blonde hair, blue-eyed and fair, but when she was younger, her pediatrician was flabbergasted that she carried the sickle-cell gene. I explained that my husband was black and she whipped her head and stared at my child in disbelief.

My sister-in-law is Asian/Hawaiian and her husband who is Creole too have the same problem. When she is running errands with her son, people, constantly, stop to ask her if she is the nanny to the blue-eyed, curly-haired blondie.

I want to know why does it matter? Who cares??? I go back to the story of the author and wonder what did her ethnicity have to do with her writing. If she wrote a good story, it wasn’t because she was Chinese or Filipino, or Japanese or White. It was because she can write.

Unfortunately, my husband still hears inappropriate remarks and it makes me wonder what the future holds for my children. Hopefully by then, we truly will be more accepting.

What do you think?

Editing

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I am not a published author. I want to be, oh I really want to be. I want my words to sing to someone’s heart, make them laugh, and have them hold their breath in anticipation. Mostly I want someone to love my characters the way I do. But for that to happen, I have to get published.

For over a year, I have trolled blogs, read Writer’s Digest, and perused agents websites. I have followed advice, taken online courses, and read books on writing. However, in all of my research on how to get my manuscript published, I have yet to find a good book, blog, or article on editing…until now.

Writing And Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron is a manuscript saver. And I thought I’d share some of her tips with you.

Fly High-Reread from start to finish. Here is where you take a hard look at your characters and your plot. While you are reading, keep a notebook handy for writing notes and suggestions. Here is what you pay special attention to: The main plot, point of view, the main character, and the villain. She also suggests checking the chronology of your book-Is it snowing in the summer or light at night during the winter. Have you packed twenty hours worth of events between sunrise and sunset? Another valuable tip is to open a document for scenes/chapters that you delete, in case you need some of the sentences or information later.

Flying Low-This means you check spelling, grammar and punctuation. In this category, she also mentions checking your physical reactions. Do your characters always: smile, nod their head, sigh, or frown. According to her, an occassional nod or smile is okay, but that can’t always be their reaction. This edit also includes weeding out the adverbs, pumping up the dialogue, and replacing bland verbs with ones that more accurately depict the scene. Not sure what a bland verb is? Here are a few: is, get, have, look, make, move, put, see, take, watch, and go. You might want to add your own to it.

And of course do you have a strong start and a strong finish. Does your book open and end with a strong line? Is your first time introduction to a setting, interior/exterior brought to life? How about your first and final character interaction?

These are only a few of her recommendations that I found helpful. I only wish I’d read this sooner.

What is your favorite editing tip?

Forensic precision

About a year ago, I was speaking to my baby sis about a forensic conference she attended and she said that the speaker could usually tell if an author really knew forensics or not, by their word choices. His example was “blood splatter”, which is commonly used on television and in novels. However, the correct term is “blood spatter”.

At the time of my sister’s revelation I had written splatter in my manuscript. I had no idea that I was flashing the world my ignorance and since then I have tried to be more accurate. Here are several solutions that I have found helpful.

1. Use your city’s resources. I recently had the opportunity to tour a metro crime lab and it’s very different from what is portrayed on television.

2. Attend a college forensic’s course.

3. Read credible forensic blogs. One of my favorites is fiction4writers, written by a retired senior criminalist especially for authors.

4. Purchase or checkout forensics textbooks that are used in college courses.

5. Use the indexes in the textbooks for additional information. They will have a list of additional books or websites.

6. Subscribe to forensic magazines. There are online ones, such as Forensicmag.com

What do you use to stay current?

Book Review: Kill Me If You Can

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I read a blog article that stated, if you are writing a novel, you should read, read, and read. (I can’t remember who wrote this sage advice.) And it appears that the author isn’t alone in his/her thoughts. Lots of agents and editors say the same thing. So, I thought I’d add a Book Review category to the blog.

The book, I chose is, KILL ME IF YOU CAN, authored by James Patterson and Marshall Karp. I loved the premise of this story. It’s about a poor art student who finds a bag of diamonds, decides to keep them and now has to deal with the consequences which includes several assassins, dirty cops, and the Russian mob. The plot provides a thrilling ride (hence the Thriller genre), that makes you feel as if you are free-falling from a plane until the very last page where you finally find you can breathe again. I’d give the book four stars, except the sex is gratuitous and in some cases disturbing.

RD rating:  

Word respect.

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    A couple of months ago, I registered for a half marathon and while registering I saw that the course was listed as “difficult and challenging”. Words that should have caused me to pause, as I was a half marathon virgin, but I brushed past them and hit enter without giving them another thought. I continued to prepare for the race by running on paved routes that had a variation of hills. And a month before the race, I even ran thirteen miles, without any problems. I felt ready and while I stood at the start, I was excited because I knew I had prepared. However, while on mile four of the race, when I was discouraged and not sure if I could run the whole thirteen miles, I realized that I didn’t give the appropriate respect to the words “difficult” and “challenging”. The race course was mostly a mixture of uphill hiking trails, it also had ice, snow and mud patches. Not to mention that Colorado had high wind warnings, of 45 to 75 mph that day. The words difficult and challenging were apropos.

Since then, I’ve thought about the lessons I’ve learned from this experience and applied them to writing.

First, my words carry weight. Do I use the right words when describing my scenery, characters, or action?

Second, do my characters act and react appropriately to the situation? Or are they behaving in a manner that is contrary with their characteristics? Or are they not reacting when they should?

Third, does my story follow a logical path from beginning to end. Meaning did I fulfill my promise to the reader by solving the crime with plausible clues and trick them with possible red herrings?

These are some of things I look for while I am editing. As for the half marathon, I finished and I plan on running another one for beginners in the spring.