Recommendation Overload: So Many Books and Not Enough Time 

Amazon has 1.8 million books. According to techcrunch.com there is one new book on Amazon every 5 minutes. 


On one level of thinking, many of those books are self-published and didn’t go through the rigorous editing and revision that a book coming from the Big 5. At the same time I have read indie books that were excellent. 


It’s impossible to read *all* the books. An article I read a while back opined that suggesting books and TV shows to others is rude, intrusive, and not helpful. At the same time, when people find out I write then they inevitably tell me who their favorite author is and recommend a book. Sometimes the suggestions seem worthwhile and I note them. Other times they sound awful and I mentally block the book. 


At times I’ve felt like I don’t know my genre as well as I should because I haven’t read all these books. Other times I’ve realized that the suggestions I receive have little to do with the books I enjoy most. No wonder I haven’t read them: I don’t like supernatural romance. I’m not into YA urban dystopianism. In fact, as sacrilegious as it may sound, I don’t enjoy YA fantasy that much. Three of my favorite authors write YA fantasy, but recent YA hasn’t hooked me. I want to read about adults- not children. I want to read about the distant future or a far off world; I want an element of escapism and not a book club type contemporary fantasy with low fantasy. 


How does one find the next book to read? At The Seymour Agency’s Writer’s Winter Escape, it intrigued me that the agents said these sub-genres like the cozy mystery were pretty much invented by bookstores. At the same time it’s easy to see why that’s a practical move. There are three sources that have pushed me to read books beyond just random suggestions. 


The first is finding an agent I like and reading the books that agent represents in my genre that have been recently published. This shows me what sold in the recent past. 

The second source that’s influenced me is looking at the catalogs online of the Big 5 and seeing what they’re putting out and what of that catches my eye. 


Lastly with Amazon there are several ways to explore new books – relevance, average customer reviews, and new releases. In Joanna Penn’s How to Make a Living with Your Writing, she talks about how much of a funnel Amazon is with books. 

People want a book for entertainment, inspiration or information. If you’re not a brand-name author already, your non-fiction book is more likely to be discovered if it answers someone’s question or helps them solve a problem.
So how do people find these books? They search by category on the bookstores and they also use the search bar to try and find something relevant. They type in keywords or keyword phrases into Amazon or Google and see what comes up. Amazon is basically a search engine for people who are actively ready to buy…

With books, like TV show recommendations, if a name keeps popping up then it grabs my attention. Otherwise I take recommendations with a grain of salt. My tastes are probably not the same as yours. My goals for reading may not be the same as yours either. Find what works for you, and don’t let yourself be bogged down in recommendation overload. 

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Not the first time 

We turned on the TV and a pundit on “Real Time with Bill Mather” who claimed that in 230 years of American History the first woman to run for president was Hillary Clinton. 

The first woman to run for president was Victoria Woodhull in 1870. 

Women’s equality has been a long journey and we haven’t reached the destination yet. 

Long Time No Post 

I learned a lot from the Seymour Agency’s 2017 Writer’s Winter Escape. This has made me want to reinvent my blogging experience completely and I haven’t entirely worked that out lately. I’m still doing a lot of reading. 

So very soon you can expect a post on a book I read and loved (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) and board games we’ve bought over the past few months (Back to the Future, Mysterium, and a few others). 

On the topic of board games, my husband and I went to MACE West a few weeks ago and I was exposed to some wonderful board games that I can’t wait to share with you:

– Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure 

– Nevermore

– Defenders of the Realm

– Cave Trolls

– Fury of Dracula
This year has been full of changes but I”ll soon catch my rhythm. 
Best Wishes! 

#amreading the best of this week

1 – 32 Secrets of Confident People

The gem:

Our mind is a very powerful tool, and the impact of our thoughts and words cannot be underestimated. Our thoughts create our emotions. Our emotions create our actions. Our actions create our life. Confident people have greater control over their minds and have tuned their mental station to one of ‘I can.’


This is my word for the year. By the end of the year will I be confident? Will I have transformed from my demure self? Maybe not but I hope to make progress.

2 – Altered Perceptions

The gem:

 It’s also important to realize that it doesn’t necessarily matter OUR perception in the creative process either, because our readers are inevitably going to make what they will of the characters and the plot points. 

I recently read another article about how each person reads a different book because they go into the book expecting different things. We have different human experiences and have read different books so we each bring something different to the table.

3 – Be Fearless and Conquer All That Life Throws at You

The gem:

Instead of praying for sanctuary from fear and doubt, pray for courage and strength to confront fear and doubt.


I think we could all learn from Xena from time to time.

4 – On being free

The gem:

There’s nothing worse in a democratic country than feeling powerless, feeling as if your freedom is being taken away a little bit at a time.

I’ve had a difficult time with the Trump administration and get a feeling of dread each day when I watch the news, but there are other countries also facing difficulties that I don’t hear on the national news.  I don’t know what news sources you watch, so I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it, but Romania is undergoing protests because of corruption being basically legalized.

Yes, our country has problems and some of them have international repercussions.  We cannot ignore the other problems that are going on in the world.


While we had a Women’s March (which I agree with), Russia was taking a step backwards in women’s rights and decriminalized domestic abuse.  Should we ignore that women in the US have unequal pay? Or that birth control is difficult for some women to access? Or that we live in a rape culture? No. We shouldn’t be silent about women across the world, though.

Also in international news, Civillians killed in worsening Ukraine Conflict amid concern Donald Trump’s stance could be emboldening rebels. We owe it to the world to not remain silent when we see injustice.

5 – The Scary Truth about Writing Strong Themes

The gem: 

True things have a way of changing people’s lives. Who knows? Maybe that person will even be you.


Writing about real life experiences is scary. People read them and then give you feedback and it’s like they’re commenting on your history. I talked about this in Writing about What Hurts, I talked about this. When we are real we can finally communicate the truths we want. It’s worth overcoming your fears to be real. 

#amreading: the best of this week

1.  #AUTHORS: GET REAL ON #SOCIALMEDIA AND READERS WILL RESPOND #ASMSG #IARTG

My takeaway:

Use this formula when posting on social media – 20% book marketing, 10% small talk (weather, exercising, cooking, etc.), 30% retweets, 20% personal (I use this to post baking/cooking pics), 20% other interests (sports, hobbies, news, politics, etc.)


I know I have not been following that formula.  I post mainly with word games and retweets. To remedy this I’m going to start posting more small talk and interests.

2. How to Add to Your Plot After You’ve Finished the First Draft

My takeaway:

Next I examine the other characters in my cast. Who could use more fleshing out? Or who has a rich backstory that I’m not utilizing as much as I could? I give myself time to brainstorm ways I could enhance my cast as well.

Rereading Dark Fate there are places I can expound. I want to add content of substance and improve the story.  I know the scenes with the villain felt short and plan on revising them. 

3. Refilling the Well 

My takeaway:

Often a hobby or interest can yield unexpected benefits to our writing.


Sometimes my well runs dry and I have to find a way to refill it. My critique partner, Eric Peterson, has given me good advice to keep my creative mind happy.  Ballet and reading invigorate me.  What makes your creative mind happy?

4. Today’s quick writing reminder: Power of Endurance. #quote

My takeaway:

Not everything in life happens over night, which is most likely one of the biggest blessings that we as humans have been given. We are allowed to grow, and improve. We are blessed with time to shape and mold ourselves into what we are meant to achieve AS WE ARE READY FOR IT.


This article was about going the distance as a writer. Small pieces of progress add up. Being a writer means that one has to actively write. Bestseller Dean Wesley Smith said in Heinlein’s Rules, “My definition of an author is a person who has written.” I don’t want to be someone who has written. I want to be a writer. 

5. How to Question Your Story’s Logic

My takeaway: 

The best way to make sure your story’s logic makes sense is to spend time learning how people work.


I’ve mentioned previously the enneagram article Yep, You’re Talking to Yourself Again but there are other resources as well. Learning about Myers-Briggs or even zodiac signs can help as well. I don’t personally believe in horoscopes but the personality classifications based off astrology are intriguing. I’m definitely an Aries. I’m also working on a book called Syzygy right now that revolves around astrology. I start each chapter with a horoscope so that has been an interesting challenge requiring research and it has broadened my horizons. 

#amreading: the best articles of the week 

As I try to improve my craft as a writer, I read articles about writing. 

Here are the 5 best that I’ve read this week: 

1. Novel writing basics: 10 steps to an unputdownable book

This article broke down ideas on ways to tantalize readers. My favorite takeaway was:

 If the reader doesn’t have a clear sense of where your characters are, they can come across as talking heads floating in hazy darkness. 


Since I have written mostly screenplays, I struggle with too much dialogue at times.  I attribute it to screenplays because sometimes my scenes look like a screenplay: description up front and then dialogue action dialogue. I know I need to work on including more dialogue attributions and interspersing more descriptions. 

2. 3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Character

This article discusses three scenes that are “must-haves” for your MCs. 

My takeaway:

As a writer, ask: How will the readers find themselves in this character? How will they connect with this character and start to believe this character is real? It doesn’t matter if your character is a superhero or a soccer mom – we need that connection.

 

Flaws make a character more real.  In Threads of Fate both of my MCs struggle with their self-esteem in different ways. Petra doesn’t feel confident and when she lacks confidence her enchanted grimoire has blank pages. Angsmar has let the voices of a few people become an internal tape that he plays where he thinks everyone views him as a monster.  One beta reader commented that he was whiny but another said: sometimes the scariest monster that we will ever face is always as far away as the nearest reflective surface. 

3.  How to write from a Guy’s POV

My takeaway:

And guys are complex–we have feelings, emotions, pasts that we bury and don’t talk about. Try opening a guy up, explore him…. And on a final note–please, please, please write a CHARACTER first. Write a human being with goals, desires, secrets, resentment, and happiness. Write a PERSON that the reader can empathize with. 


Maybe I made Angsmar a little emo. I like to think of it as introspective. Especially since he doesn’t voice his thoughts very often. I think he’s no more emo than Kylo Ren.  I firmly believe that people are people and many of the comments in this article are only valid because of social constructs. In fantasy one has the liberty to do away with or embrace those constructs. 

4.On Newt Scamander, Toxic Masculinity, & The Power Of Hufflepuff Heroes

My takeaway: 

…essential in Fantastic Beasts’s changing this narrative of men being weak for showing their emotions are the reactions of the people around Newt in the film. 


In the Threads of Fate universe it’s not easy to be a woman. It’s a patriarchal society and women have few rights.  The mores surrounding a woman’s chastity are almost Victorian.  At the same time I’ve made an effort to avoid toxic masculinity. 

5. 7 Ways to Add Great Subplots to Your Novel

My takeaway:

In fact, the best way to start brainstorming subplots is to brainstorm characters who could populate and propel your plot. Once you’ve done this, you can simply write out your subplots more or less sequentially. 


With Dark Fate I know that it’s too short and  that it needs to be expounded on.  Part of my revision will be to add more descriptions and make sure each scene is as sensory as possible.  I think I need to add a few scenes for the villain as well. 

Have you read any good articles this week? 

Heinlein’s 5 Rules on Writing

Last year one of my critique partners, Richmond Camero, gave me several ebooks.
Two of them were written by the bestseller Dean Wesley Smith.  One of them was on Heinlein’s Rules. 


Heinlein’s Rules, if you’re unfamiliar with them, are:

1 – You must write.
2 – You must finish what you write.
3 – You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial order.
4 – You must put it on the market.
5 – You must keep it on the market.

These rules were penned in the 1940s and are controversial in the writing world because they seem almost impossible to follow despite their simplicity. 


Dean Wesley Smith breaks these down in his book Heinlein’s Rules. Smith swears by these rules and attributes them as a game changer for his career.  

Rule Number 1 makes sense.  Who can argue with “You must write“? 


Rule Number 2 is one that according to Smith trips up most aspiring writers: You must finish what you write.  It makes sense.  I have a ridiculous number of projects that I’ve lost steam on and not finished.  Because of that I’ve picked up an old project and I’m working on it now while I wait to gain some perspective on my last project, Dark Fate. Because I plan on rewriting it.


Rule Number 3 is where I think many of us have a problem: You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial order. It’s easy to get caught in an endless loop of rewriting and rewriting. After all — first drafts usually aren’t the best.  This is when you’re telling yourself the story and have to work the kinks out. I have to admit that Threads of Fate went through five drafts before becoming what it is now.

By rewriting Heinlein does not mean avoiding fixing typos, according to Dean Wesley Smith. The intent was to avoid endless loops of revision. He says, “Everybody in this modern world looks for ways and reasons around this rule”.   Guilty. He later comments, “If you’re rewriting, you are not finishing”. Can’t argue with that. I can only try to do better and one area in particular where I am committing to keep rewriting to a minimum is short stories.

Dean Wesley Smith also reminds us that an agent is not an editor, and a paid editor is not what Heinlein meant either — he meant an editor that will pay you from a publication/publisher. 

It’s easy to take criticism from a professional like an agent, or an amateur like a beta-reader, and immediately want to change your story.  The problem is that you can’t please everyone and that your book will never be perfect.  You have to decide when it’s good enough.


If you’re like me and plan on breaking rule number 3 (at least for my novels), here’s a good article on how to do so with grace and hopefully less rewrites than Threads of Fate: How to Know When You’re Done Revising.


Rule Number 4 should be the ultimate goal of a writer: You must put it on the market. I have to admit with the screenplays I’ve written and the other novel and short stories I wrote that this has been a breaking point for me as well. I have only queried one agent for one piece of fiction that I’ve written. I have had such a fear of rejection that I haven’t queried.  Now querying still frightens me, but I’ve learned that the worst that can happen is that they’ll say no and if you don’t ask the answer is already no.


Rule Number 5 is another breaking point for me: You must keep it on the market. With that in mind one of my goals for this year is to start writing short stories, but not so many that they interfere with my other writing. I would like to start putting the short stories on the market. If that’s a goal for you as well, here’s Where to Submit Short Stories: 23 Website and Magazines that Want Your Work. Since joining the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is also a goal of mine, I’m going to focus on this list.


So all in all, Heinlein’s Rules seem simple yet difficult to follow.

Which of these rules is a challenge for you?

Writing about what hurts

Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts”.


Why? Writing is hard enough. It’s hard not to have a fear of judgement when writing in general, why open oneself up and share one’s darkest moments? Isn’t it good enough to just craft a good story, follow a decent outline of some sort, and just write?

One of my favorite words is chiaroscuro.  It means simply the contrast between dark and light.  It in particular applies to oil paintings, but I like to think it has anagogical applications. In honor of the season I’ll include a picture that has excellent chiaroscuro:

chiaroscuro-1
The Adoration of the Child —
Including painful moments or negative emotions gives depth and character to your work — just as the painting would not be the same without the dark.

In Threads of Fate I included dark moments from my life fictionalized. It was hard to write about my life at first.  I’m a private, introverted person and I don’t share my innermost thoughts usually.  Why should I fictionalize them?  I suggested recently that one of my friends start a blog and he said that sharing his life on Facebook (which he does) was the most he felt comfortable doing. Was writing Threads of Fate cathartic?  Not exactly. It caused me some anxiety due to the personal nature of a few of the scenes when I sent out the rewrites and started receiving feedback from beta readers, especially since I actually do know some of my beta readers and interact with them on occasion socially. Then I got over it for the most part.

Why Else?  Some of you don’t write fiction.  You don’t want to twist fictions to fit any worlds floating through your heads. I challenge you that it can be as cathartic as you want it to be, and you also don’t have to share it with anyone. Sometimes writing a page and then shredding it can be relieving.

If your writing is only for yourself, then it can still be helpful.  I know someone who is going through a rough time right now and writing is helping them — letter writing.  This isn’t quite Collateral Beauty level letter writing, but the letters are a safe release of what’s filling the writer’s heart.

It can be cleansing. Once I had a recurring nightmare that I would be strangled in bed — someone was standing over me in my sleep and I would wake up with an unknown attacker.  I fictionalized this into a short story about a young woman who is attacked by a random stranger in her car.  I stopped having the dream after writing the story.
How? The adage if it bleeds it leads is probably familiar to most of us. As is curiosity killed the cat.  We can’t look away from the darkness.  It’s an affirmation of life. I would suggest focusing on a negative event or emotion in your life and exploring it for all it’s worth. How would this event happen in your characters’ lives?  This negative event or emotion does not have to be the central conflict of the story, it can rather be an internal conflict that moves the story along.

Also an emotion can have repercussions that last — in the TV show Benched Nina has to deal with the aftermath of having a very angry moment seemingly ruin her career.

Take what has happened in your life and condense it down to the basics.  Once you have limited it to the simplest facts, you can then transport those facts into the confines of your universe.

These are excerpts from The Writer’s Survival Guide from Chapter Four: Your Psychohistory:

A writer’s personal psychological history is a hidden treasure, because the creative imagination can take any experience and develop it into a unique story… Any emotional state that you have uncovered can be woven into your work with a twofold consequence–you’ll be purged of unresolved feelings and you’ll create an original piece of writing.

I don’t believe that we can truly be original, but at the very least we can be authentic.  I’ll explain my stance on originality in a future post.

Tara Brach wrote in her recent article, “Facing My White Privilege“:

We need to be able to name where the hurts are; to be able to name our sorrows and fears; to not be afraid of anger. So often in Buddhist communities, anger is considered bad, but anger is a part of the weather systems that move through our psyches. We have to make room for these emotions, and there are wise ways to do that.

Tara’s article has nothing to do with writing, but as soon as I read those words I wanted to share them with my readers. I felt that they had practical implications. I hope you find wise ways to balance the weather system that is your psyche.

Revisions: the returns of the writing world

 

“Christmas is saying thanks for some gift you’ll return” Francesca Battistelli belts out. We all know that December 26th is a big day for gift returns and that gift giving is one of the most stressful parts of Christmas.

Writing is kind of like gift giving.  It’s hoping that the reader will like this story that you’ve toiled over in quiet for many long hours.  With writing it’s many people in different stages of their lives that are going to be hopefully enjoying your work. Each person reads your book differently because they have different expectations leading into the experience. One workshop I attended harped on audience and said that audience was so important that this fiction writer would put a sticky note on her computer that read, “Subject. Audience. Goal.” One teacher I had in college harped on every word in the story leading towards the mood and tone of the story down to alliteration insofar as emotional words having more vowels and intellectual words having more consonants.


On the other hand, another school of thought says to write what you love and that there is an audience for everything. With seven billion people on the planet you’re bound to find someone who will like what you write.

One of my critique partners, Eric Peterson, wrote:

Don’t worry about what the reader thinks about the story.  There were choices I had to make that the reader may not have wanted but they had to happen for the sake of the story… At the end of the day you have to ask yourself what is good for the story.

In Stages of a Fiction Writer Dean Wesley Smith says, “Words now are still important but only in the service of the story and nothing more.  Words can be tossed away at will, just as cards are tossed away in poker.”

I read this and know exactly what stage of fiction writing I’m in because I collect words like poker cards (not a good sign). I actually have a note in my phone of words I like.  I read it before I write and try to use them (and fail to incorporate them usually). I was delighted when I actually was able to use caparisoned legit.


How does one mitigate the stress of writing between these two schools of thought? In the words of the bard – to thine own self be true.  If you’re a pantser, someone who writes by the seat of your pants, then stick to what works for you. If you’re a planner, then stick to the plan.


Revisions are the returns of the writer’s world. They are performed silently and no one need ever know how many times you work on a particular scene before you get it right. Waiting a few weeks to gain perspective and then picking up a piece again can be extremely beneficial. I let a piece rest for a few months – I was working on it during Camp NaNoWriMo over the summer and then put it down, but now I’ve picked it up again, and I’m excited to be working on it. That time was what I needed to gain perspective and new appreciation for the piece.
Now if you work with beta readers, you do have an audience that witnesses those painful first drafts, so you have to decide when the timing is right to send those drafts.


There is no limit to how rough a first draft can be.  With that in mind, most first drafts aren’t perfect.  Heinlein’s Rules say not to rewrite except to editorial request, but who can live by those rules? That will be a different post. I didn’t give myself permission to let the first draft of Dark Fate suck and I struggled writing it in parts because I wanted it to be perfect. I re-read it and noted all the inconsistencies and things that I would like to fix and expound upon and all the pieces that I would like to change in the next draft. Then after sitting on it for a while I’m going to fix those things and re-read it. Once I’ve expounded it to the second draft, then I may open it up to beta readers.

Diversity in Writing 

In my writing I try to include characters that aren’t white Anglo Saxon Protestant men. I try to write about people of color and with different backgrounds.


Right now I’m researching writing gay characters because I don’t feel confident about the four characters I’ve written so far that have been homosexual. This is an unfamiliar territory for me to be honest.


These are the best articles I’ve read so far:

It’s given me ideas about rewriting the male character I’ve most recently written.   I think I can more confidently write Rupert. I wasn’t sure about his character but now I think I understand him better.   This character in particular I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around. It’s hard enough to write the opposite gender, but writing Rupert was an even larger challenge for me. Writing lesbian characters was naturally easier, and the last male character that I wrote was much easier for me to write for some reason.

Why have I chosen to write LGBTQ characters? Because realistically they make up part of our society and will add an element of realism to the society that I’m creating.  Because they’re an underrepresented group of people and that’s something that should be remedied.

I know that women are underrepresented in media, so I wonder how much more so for LGBTQ people.  I’ve had a hard time finding statistical data regarding this, which leads me to believe that it hasn’t been amply studied.  Or I’m just not looking in the right places.

Will I get it “right” in my books? Probably not. I probably won’t make every reader happy. I’m not perfect and the characters I’m writing about aren’t perfect either. What’s important is that I’m making an effort for diversity in my books.

We need diverse books because people come in all shapes and sizes.  Books should be written about people who fit all shapes and sizes too, but they’re not. Books are written about what sells and what sells fits a formula.  Booksellers have an idea of what is salable and that’s what is released onto bookshelves when there is a great mass of books — good or ill — that never makes the cut. We need diverse books because books are an evocative salve to the reader, cathartic to the soul filling a void. I believe that different genres fill different needs for readers.  We seek romance or mystery, fantasy or horror and so fill our hearts with these books. We need diverse books because the vastness of humanity has many voices that all need to be heard.

I end with these words:

“We are a gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives…
We are gay and straight together and we are singing, singing for our lives…
We are a gentle, loving people, and we are singing, singing for our lives.”
We Are a Gentle, Angry People, Holly Near, 1979