Is it neurotic if I’m partly right?

I’ve been worrying about my writing not being good enough.

On the one hand, there’s physical proof backing me up on this: I don’t have books on the shelves in a bookstore yet. Not there = not good enough yet. On the other hand, I just started submitting novels this year, so even if I had written a book good enough to win the Pulitzer, Hugo, and Nebula (I haven’t), it still wouldn’t be on the shelves yet. So we’ll discount that and just get back to my worrying.

Specific worry #1: People in my novels are always meeting for coffee, sipping tea, grabbing a bite to eat. Yes, normal people eat and drink, but the generally accepted view is that these scenes do not move a novel. In the Harry Potter books, for example, whenever there was eating, something else was going on — Harry was getting blamed for a floating pudding, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher was being announced, howlers were being sent to students — tension mounted, the plot moved, characters reacted. If, on the other hand, I have my main character and her best friend sitting down to Saturday brunch and talking about their upcoming college reunion, it doesn’t matter how much subtext I’ve layered in that will come to fruition at the climax of the book because no one’s going to read that far.

Response: I have a friend reading the first few chapters to tell me if my urban fantasy is as bad in this regard as I fear. The current plan is to continue the edit pass I’m working through to make sure I’ve added in all the world-building and scene-setting that I left out in my first pass. Then, I need to go back through it again and add more action and tension, deleting (or revising) the ho-hum scenes so that readers will want to keep reading. I even have one idea for something to add. Yes, this means it will take longer to reach a final draft — probably until next year sometime. It’s worth it, if it’s jaw-droppingly good when it lands on an editor’s desk.

Specific worry #2: I’m concerned that my characters, though believable, are not compelling. This worry started when I asked a question on the NaNoWriMo forums (which of your characters would you like to spend a day with?) and realized that most of my characters have rather prosaic lives, interrupted by action or murders to solve. Most of the time, hanging out with them wouldn’t be any different from hanging out with my other friends.

Response: Actually, I’ve been told before that characterization is one of my strong suits. One of my beta readers once applauded a couple of my larger-than-life characters. It’s possible that the only reason I think my characters aren’t compelling is because I live with them in my head. It’s like thinking about somebody dating your brother — what could anyone see in him? (Yes, I’ve asked that of women my brothers have dated. What else are sisters for?) This one may actually be a neurotic worry — I have to worry about something, and this looks like a good choice!

Monday drabble: Priorities

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Action expresses priority.” That was always one of my favorite quotes. If you wanted something enough, you did something about it. I hustled through school, working two jobs in high school to save up money for college — first kid in the family to go, scraped up an internship at Canaveral to get my name known, got a biophysics doctorate, and flew into space.

Now, as bits of shrapnel from the broken space station fall into Earth’s atmosphere, burning on entry, I close my eyes. The only priority left is to not agonize over my approaching death.

Q & A and blog contest

"Hadley Rille 5k"Hadley Rille Books is celebrating 5 years of publishing, and one of the things they’re doing is having a giveaway contest for a Kindle 3G. Clearly, I have a soft spot in my heart for this publisher, since Eric had the good taste to select stories I had written for two of his anthologies (Barren Worlds and Ruins Metropolis). The truth is, though, that they’ve published a lot of good writers, and they’re working on publishing more.

I’ve been looking at Lawrence Schoen’s Buffalito Destiny for a while, and his collection Sweet Potato Pie and Other Surrealities looks good, too. And there’s Push of the Sky by Camille Alexa, and Destination: Future, edited by Z.S. Adani and Eric Reynolds. Or The Best of Abyss & Apex. And I’m keeping my eyes out for Cate Gardner’s book, Theatre of Curious Acts, which isn’t even available for pre-order yet. Lots to choose from!

Which brings us to both the contest and the question for the week. Go look over the catalog of their books, browse, see what grabs you, maybe order something, then come back here and answer the following question: What one book from Hadley Rille would you most like to win?

One winner, to be announced December 6, will receive the book they want (trade paperback). Winner will be decided in a nice, low-tech, random fashion (either rolling of an appropriate polyhedral die or the traditional number drawn from a hat — with your number corresponding to your comment number in the thread for this post). Yes, I will ship anywhere.

This contest is actually staying open for a while — until December 3. (I’m planning to order a couple books for myself as a prize for completing NaNo this year, and it’s easier to order everything at once.)

Any questions, let me know. And please — support a great publisher. Oh, and leave your entry below.

second chances

I know, it’s Thursday, I’m supposed to be posting a review. I thought about posting about No Ordinary Family and its similarities and differences to The Incredibles, and why the tensions and conflicts — internal and external — make it not just watchable, but enjoyable. And it’s true that my husband and I do look forward to watching it, whereas the other new show we tried this season — The Event — left us cold with its false tension created by time cuts. What that’s taught me as a writer is that if I’m going to do jumps in time, I’d better have a darned good story reason for them if I don’t want readers throwing my book across the room. It has also reminded me that tastes vary — I’ve seen other people referring to The Event as good, which makes me boggle.

So, instead of talking about the superhero show that I actually like, I’m jumping off from the let’s-capture-the-Lost-crowd show that I don’t to examine when do I give something a second chance, whether it’s a show or an author or a book I just couldn’t get into. If I’m borderline on a show, but my husband likes it, I’ll generally wind up watching it. If a book is something I have to do for work or is something I’ve already agreed to review, I’ll keep pounding at it (and kvetching to my friends, most likely). Other than that, I think it takes a really phenomenal review or compelling evidence that I’ve misread something about the story itself to make me go back to it.

That’s right — second chances are scarce on the ground here.

I’ve got way too many calls on my time and too many books to read to spend my time on something I’m not enjoying. There was a time I finished everything I started reading. After that, a time when I gave every book 50 to 100 pages to prove itself. Now, not so much. If I’m not hooked by the end of the first chapter, forget it.

Which means, conversely, that I have to expect other readers to feel the same about my writing. No pressure or anything.

Oh, and it’s sort of amusing that I’m posting this today because I was just urging a friend to give an author that I like a second chance.

What about you? Do you give shows or books second chances?

Monday drabble: haunting

I’m experimenting with writing drabbles — short-short stories consisting of exactly 100 words — and I’ll be posting one each Monday, at least as long as I keep the experiment up. Here’s the first.

Stepping into his thirteenth haunted house, Herb felt a frisson. He wasn’t superstitious, or he wouldn’t be in this line of work, debunking supernatural claptrap. His assistant’s continual words about his outings — “Third time’s the charm” and “Lucky seven!” — were driving Herb batty. He had finally told Ian to find a new job.
Inside, Ian stood on the second-floor landing. Herb strode up. “What are you doing here?”
“I don’t want another job. This one’s pretty cushy.” He shoved Herb over the railing. “The beauty is, the house gets the blame — the one time you were wrong.”

fall planting Q & A

Okay, so this has nothing to do with writing. Or maybe it does, if you have characters who worry about their cottage gardens. Bear with me — the weather is cool, it’s been raining, and I got the first of my new fall plants put in this week.

My favorite things to plant in the fall are bulbs and bulb-like plants (corms, rhizomes, and so forth). Toss them into the ground at the appropriate depth, let the falling leaves and the snow cover them, and wait until they spring forth the following year — and the year after that, and the year after that, and so forth. My gardening motto is “You can never have too many daffodils.” I also love crocuses, tulips, and snowdrops. This year, I put in some hardy cyclamen, too, although I don’t expect to see them blooming until next fall.

Perennials also do well planted in the fall. They can establish their roots and overwinter, then start growing anew in the spring. If possible, I even look for plants on clearance; they may look horrible in their containers now, but odds are they’ll be lovely next year. Trees are the same way — fall is the best time to plant them, when they won’t be stressed by extreme heat and a possible lack of water as they get used to their new environs. (Of course, knowing this, nurseries never have trees for sale at low prices in the fall.)

I haven’t actually planted cool-season vegetables, such as broccoli, peas, and cabbage, but I might next year, if we get our raised beds in finally. (Big if. We’ve been talking about it for three years now, I think.)

What doesn’t do well in the fall: tender annuals that need heat to grow, bulbs that are not hardy (gladiolus, dahlia, canna), and long-season vegetables.

Okay, that’s a quick overview. Your turn now: Hit me with your questions — need to know details about planting something? how cold hardy a bulb is? what should be spring planted instead? Or tell me what you like to plant in your garden.

Legacy of Wolves review

This review is a few years late in coming. I bought Legacy of Wolves, by Marsheila Rockwell, when it first came out, and I promised her I’d give it a review. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note I first met her on-line when we were both contestants in Wizard of the Coast’s Maiden of Pain contest, and I have since beta-read another novel for her. I like her, and I like her writing. Do yourself a favor, and check some of it out — short stories or poems, or this book.

I am trying to keep this as free from spoilers as I can.

The back cover copy:

Grisly murders shake the small city of Aruldusk. Both the Church and the Crown send in agents to investigate. But when the body count continues to rise, these rival factions will have to learn to work together to track down the killers — even if it means hunting a killer in the highest reaches of power.

Legacy of Wolves was the third book released in the Inquisitives series, set in the Eberron campaign setting. The title makes it reasonably clear even before reading any of the book that something related to wolves is involved with the murders, and that impression is borne out in the prologue. Indeed, thinking that a werewolf is responsible by that point isn’t that far a stretch.

The story is well plotted, and the characters are clear. The setting is easier to follow if you have some familiarity with Eberron, but if you’re not too worried about specifics like tracking the dates, there’s enough detail in the book itself to keep you oriented.

At heart, this book is a mystery, and my one disappointment with the book was with one of the clues to the murderer’s identity. It felt so obvious to me that I hoped all the way through the book that it was instead a red herring, and in fact one of the characters close to the person indicated would turn out to be guilty. Alas, I was disappointed. However, from a story point of view the clue had to be present; if it had been withheld, readers would have felt justifiably angry at the author for hiding the information. Marsheila chose the right path, I think, and it’s hard to see how it could have been handled otherwise.

When this book came out, I had read every book set in Eberron that had been published so far (including Keith Baker’s, and he’s the one who created the setting). This is my favorite. I highly recommend Legacy of Wolves.

And look for her second book set in Eberron, to be released in 2011!

requisite banned books week post

In honor of Banned Books Week, I present two lists (limited to ten representative books each): banned and challenged books I enjoyed, and banned and challenged books that I found boring — certainly not worth getting worked up over. The point is, I had the choice to read these books and make my own decisions. I don’t think books should be banned, whether or not I like them, dislike them, find them offensive, or don’t care about them. We all should have the chance to decide for ourselves.*

(Both lists are presented alphabetically by author.)

    Banned books I’ve loved:

  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  • Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
  • A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
  • The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  • Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  • Harry Potter (series), by J. K. Rowling
  • In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
  • A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein
  • The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
    Banned books I’ve read but not enjoyed:

  • Flowers in the Attic, by V. C. Andrews
  • Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  • The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  • Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
  • A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
  • The Pigman, by Paul Zindel

Go read a banned book this week. The ALA has some comprehensive lists, based on author, year, decade, and classic status. Start here.

*Okay, yes, parents have the right to make some decisions for their children. I’ve told my son he’s not ready for Stephen King. That’s just common sense — if Goosebumps books give him nightmares, It would surely traumatize him. But we’ve been reading the Ranger’s Apprentice series together, so we’ve talked about drug addiction, which is a major point in one of the books. We’ve talked — because of news, often — about how some people love the opposite sex and some love the same sex. I hope he doesn’t come across more graphic material, but if he does, he knows he can talk to us about it. Age-appropriate learning about what the world is like outside our house, not how we think it should be in some utopia — that’s what we try to give our children.

planning plus blogging equals plogging

First of all, just so you know, I’m experimenting. I’m trying to build a blog that I want to maintain and others want to read. There are as many ways to do that as there are successful blogs. Those of you who visit me now are going to experience my growing pains, but you’re also going to have the opportunity to influence what I do, based on what you react to, what you look at, and how enthusiastic you are. Isn’t that exciting?

  • I may post photos (such as John Scalzi does from time to time, or Jay Lake does with his moments of Zen).
  • I may post polls or contests (though those will probably wait until I’ve got at least a couple dozen people reading regularly and commenting at least sporadically).
  • I may post links.
  • I will post reviews of videos, books, blogs, or anything else that catches my fancy (Thursdays).
  • I will post my Q & A sessions (Fridays).
  • I may post poetry — haiku, sestinas, centos. Or not.
  • I will post snippets when I have something new coming out, so you know what sort of thing to expect.
  • I may post about things going on with my family and my life. (For example, my son has wanted a new cat for a couple of years, and I imagine that’s going to happen pretty soon — and that may lead to pictures.)
  • I will post thoughts about writing process, editing, epiphanies related to how I work, and productivity.
  • I may post other things I haven’t thought of yet.
  • I will not post links to quizzes, political or religious diatribes (any discussion of these will be in relation to a particular work of fiction or history), or my latest score in some Flash-based game.

Any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment!