Monday, August 30, 2010

Reading, ranting and religion

It's sunday evening and it's freakin hot. Ninety degrees and counting. I grab a book from my stack of NaNo raffle prize / Barnes & Noble clearance bin purchases, pack up the kids and head to the beach.

The parking lot is packed. The beach is over-crowded. We find a small haven between the three foot trench someone dug earlier in the day and a couple yelling at their kid to stop throwing sand. The water is cool and clear - for once since we haven't had a good rain storm in weeks to stir it up into its usual muddy look. Waves slurp at the shoreline, filled with kids and a sampling of rafts, tubes and floaties. My kids wade out to join the others. I kick back with my book in the desperate hope that it will be far better than the last.

Thank goodness it was, because I don't have the patience to scrape another learning experience from reading something far less than stellar after the last few books.

While I've heard the majority of the advice offered in this book before, it didn't hurt to hear it again. The positive and realistic light shed by the host of successful novelists was refreshing, uplifting and sometimes even downright humorous. Though I haven't yet come across any 'insider secrets', it is filled with lots of helpful tips and advice. I'd recommend this book to anyone who doesn't have access to a critique group with experienced writers.

As I was busy reading the tirade on writing muses and percolating the issue I'm having with the ending on the short story I'm revising, I became aware of multiple feet gathering behind me. The chatter level grew to a volume I could no longer tune out. My reading and pondering oasis was shattered. I turned around.

A hundred-some people stood behind me, all dressed in beach-going attire but milling around and showing no sign of settling down. Mostly teens and thirty-somethings, these folks gathered into a tight cluster and raised their hands. At least they quieted down at this point so I went back to reading. Or trying to.


I jump a little and turn around. Don't tell me...

And then the guitar starts. And the singing.

Yes, a hundred-some folks have decended on the packed public beach, on a ninety degree day, the last weekend before schools starts when everyone is making their last big beach trek, to hold a church service. And not just any church service, oh no.


The crowd breaks and decends on the beach, heedless of the families they have interupted, the children's sandcastles, and the people that are grabbing their lawnchairs, towels and bags and relocating. Half of the church people wade out into the water, sending kids running in all directions as their swimming space is taken up by the crowd. People with cameras wade out further as do several others. An akward hush takes over the entire beach as a baptism takes place - everyone attempting to be respectful of the occasion thrust upon us all.

The teen boy comes up from the water after being dunked and lets out a loud cheer. The church crowd claps and cheers along with him.

Ok, fine. They're done. Everyone can go back to playing in the water, resuming their conversations and I can go back to reading my book. Don't get me wrong, but if I wanted to be included in a church service, I'd have gone to church instead of the beach.

The crowd doesn't disperse. No, no. They go on to perform thirteen other baptisms with thirteen other rounds of cheering and clapping. I attempt to block out the noise. People attempt to play quietly in the water.

At this point I overhear the suggestion that the masses should go among the beach-goes and spread the love of the church. Seriously? As if you haven't impossed on everyone enough already? I'm sure if anyone felt moved by the ceremony and wanted to join you, they'd know which cheering, guitar-toting, we're-taking-over-the-beach gaggle of half soaked people to approach.

An exodus began from those within earshot of the group. We joined them.

Thank you, church group, for making my last time at the beach with my kids this summer less enjoyable than putting up with the annoying kid who was obessed with jabbing an empty plastic bottle with a large stick for half an hour. He had a right to be on the public beach too, but at least his parents eventually yelled at him for being inconsiderate of others.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dude! And then it was like really scary!

I'm still plugging away at How It Feels To Be Attacked By A Shark. I've given up reading it as a source for good sensory information on life changing situations. Instead, its become an excercise in studying why we doze off when people tell what could be a heart-pounding story that makes us hang on every word.

These are true stories of horrible events, getting shot, gettting stuck in a drainage pipe with rain water pouring down on you, choking to death (yes, he did technically die, I finally got through that one), getting trapped in an avalanche, etc. There was also what could have been the inspirational story of how a woman grew to five hundred pounds and then lost the weight, but it just wasn't. As I considered tossing the book against the wall, I couldn't help but wonder how much more compelling these events could be if they were told by a writer instead of the average person who lived through them.

Often the voice got in the way, both in word choice and clearly conveying the situation. Yes, people really do talk like they do in these retellings, but when I can't tell who or what they are talking about, or in what order events transpired, the voice is like totally in the way, man. And the telling... If you were ever unsure of what 'telling' is and why you keep getting told not to do it, pick this book up for a thorough example.
The situations themselves should have been full of emotion and sensory input. I expected that they would. (After all, that's what were told, as writers, to put into our scenes.) But I've come to realize that the average story is just a list of events of what happens to a person. Without the emotion or sensory information to pull is in, we smile and nod, and if we are fortunate to be on the phone, fold our laundry, clean off our kitchen counters and try not to doze off while listening. There's no heart pounding, no "OMG, how will they make it through this?" and no warm glow at seeing someone beat the odds at the end.
After having these examples of what doesn't work put in front of my face, I'm going to be doubly diligent. And for those I critique, be warned, I'm going to be watching you too.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Plot Bunny Attack

So I'm running errands yesterday, minding my own business as I drive along when I'm blindsided by a story idea. I wish I'd had my camera because it would make a great visual prompt. Well, and I wish I wasn't driving so I could have snapped a quick picture as I went by without crashing or pulling into a driveway, getting out and looking suspicious to other passersby.

Along a flat stretch of sidewalk lined with tall pines and elderly oaks lies a child's bike on its side. The nearby houses and yards are devoid of obvious signs of the bike's owner. The sidewalk is far enough off the road and its not near a driveway so I'm not concerned that its been hit by a car. But where is the child and what happened to make him or her leave their bike in the middle of the sidewalk? Hmmmmmmmm

Monday, August 23, 2010

The return from the great green north

I'd intended to do a couple blog posts while on vacation, but it seems that the ISP in Michigan's Upper Penninsula doesn't play nice with Windows Vista. Now that laundry/mail and all that other fun stuff upon coming home after a week away is taken care of, I'm back to posting.

Since no one did my work for me during my time away, I'm rather overwhelmed. As such, I leave you today with a quick look at where I was during my blog silence. Next post, I'll get to the pile of books on writing that arrived while I was gone.

Day one: Stayed on shore of Lake Michigan.
Weather: Cold, windy, drizzly. Weather at home: Hot and sunny.

Day Two: Cruised through Soo Locks.
Weather: Cold, windy, drizzly. Weather at home: Hot and sunny.

Day Three: Walked around the Upper Taquamenon Falls.
Weather: Cold, windy, random moments of sunshine. Weather at home: Hot and sunny.

Day Four: Went to see bears and fed them apples.
Weather: Overcast and pouring rain. Weather at home: Hot and sunny.

Day Five: Took a hike and cruise along Pictured Rocks Lakeshore
Weather: Cold and windy. Weather at home: Hot and sunny.

Day Six: Went to Kitchitikipi Spring. We could see all the way to the bottom in the crystal clear water.
Weather: Cold and it rained so hard on the way home that the entire highway full of traffic came to a stop because no one could see. Weather at home: Hot and sunny.

Yet, we managed to have a good time. And now I'm going to go wring out my beach towels to water the lawn.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bottoms up!

Well folks, I'll be on vacation next week. I'm SO looking forward to it. Going to do a lot of enjoying nature, shell and rock hunting on beaches and hopefully basking in good weather with my family.

When I get back, it will be time to buckle down and write. Sahmara has been quite put out with all the time I've spent looking up hotels and area attractions instead of working on her story.

For your own relaxation, I leave you with the E-book article drinking game. If you need fodder, it seems my post from last week should get you relatively sloshed. Just make sure you read the great comments at the end while you can still understand them and maybe purchase some e-books from the posters to enjoy while your lying on the couch with a hangover (or wicked sugar crash for those of you who are alcohol free) tomorrow.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Writing is a lonely thing

And as such, I thought I'd share this lovely poem that I nabbed from Stella on facebook.

Always remember to love being you and enjoy yourself. Being alone and doing things alone is just fine.

Sit back and relax and enjoy: How to be alone

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Warming up the creative juices

Not in writing so much as getting ready for NaNo. I've been busy working on the posters I'd started last December while I was coming off my NaNo high. I use these posters, stickers and t-shirts as raffle prizes to help gather donations from our regional participants for the Office of Letters and Light (OLL) who puts on this entertaining event every year.

This past weekend, my project was a Plot Bunny poster.

My favorites ended up being the doctor and the sword carrying bunny. Next on the poster agenda, Guilt Monkey Auditions.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Shark attack!

Excuse me, I know you're being attacked by a shark, but could you please tell us how it feels? This novel covers it all, struck by lightning, drug addicted, suicidal, choking to death on a cheeseburger...

My first thought when picking up this book: Is this a book by those who have submitted to Query Shark?

Why I'm reading this: I was out NaNoWriMo shopping yesterday, buying raffle prizes with those little bits of credit left on random gift cards in my purse. One of them happened to be for Barnes and Noble. After my last post of hitting the bargain table, I had to go. A deal was calling my name, I could feel it!

This little gem of a book leapt into my hands. My original thought was that it would make a great guide to adding sensory details to writing for situations that the writer had not personally been in. My second thought was to read it myself first. Then I remembered to breathe, all that thinking was making me lightheaded.

Is it good? It's amusing. Each situation is told by the person who survived it. The entries are short, a few pages at most, so it makes for quick reading, or the perfect book to bring to the dog park--where I also do a good deal of my reading--because I can frequently break away from the story to keep an eye on my dog.

Almost better than the description of how it feels in each situation, is the voice of each individual person. In some cases it's driving me nuts, such as the entry where everyone, including the kids, is referred to as a 'guy'. There are these guys and this little guy and I'm a big guy. I can't help but assign a Brooklyn accent to this... guy. So its not only giving me some sensory input, but its an interesting study in voice. With the entries as short as they are, it makes the different phrasings and word choices easy to spot and compare.

And now you'll have to excuse me, I'm dying to know what it feels like to choke to death on a cheeseburger. But wait, that would mean the guy died. How does he tell us how it feels? Guess I'll have to read to find out, huh?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The ebook debate hits home

Sad news, one of our two local indie bookstores is going out of business as of this week. And so the debate heard everywhere these days has come home to me.

We have three bookstores in town:

A small, corner store that's been around longer than me, has a horrible little website, doesn't have much selection but has aquired lots of regulars over the years. They seem to be doing fine. This place supplied my weekly book fix throughout childhood. I spent a lot of my allowance here.

Barnes & Nobel moved in a few years ago. They have a Starbucks, a writers group, children's reading time, and of course, a huge selection. They are always busy. I hold my NaNoWriMo meetings here. I love their bargain book section - I'm much more likely to try a new author if I find their novel on sale. If I really like it, I will come back and buy more books at full price.

The sadly closing bookstore that's only been open for seven years. They have an awesome children's area with live animals (No, not dead ones... I mean as opposed to stuffed animals... and no, I don't mean taxidermy. Sheesh.) and toys and books. They have a good selection for a small store. They had summer reading programs for kids. They get authors in for book signings. I met Jacqueline Carey here. But... I never bought a book here, the other two stores are more convienently located for me.

The owner cited the growing market for ebooks as one of the main reasons for declining sales. Is it truly that or is it the economy? I like a book in my hands. I don't have an ereader (yet). When I have the time to sit down and crack open a new book, it's places where I probably wouldn't bring an ereader anyway: the beach and the tub. I love to read. But I'm not buying near as many books as I used to, because I don't have the cash to spend like I used to. Not to mention, the subconscious urging everywhere to 'go green'.

There are a select few authors whose releases will make me scrape up the money to go buy a hardcover because I can't wait for paperback. Otherwise, horrible to admit, I know, I am inclined to shop at my local used book store. Reusing. See, I'm being green. And the books are more affordable for beach and tub reading where they are likely to get wet and sandy.

Ebooks are pretty darn afforable too, and like the bargain book section and B & N, I am more inclined to try new authors. I've read a few on my laptop and that works fine for me. Not to mention, this is also a green option so I feel I'm doing a good thing.

When I bring up ebooks to those who have not had any contact with them, all they know is what the newspaper tells them: ebooks are closing bookstores. Is that the case? I don't think so. People who have the money, like the feel of a book on their hand or to display on their shelves and/or aren't comfortable shopping online will be at the bookstore. There is still a need for them, and hell, I need an inspirational place to hold my NaNo meetings. The part of me who looks at the checkbook balance, has the desire to eat books for breakfast and seeks to quiet that little green voice in her head, likes ebooks.

How about you?