Friday, December 30, 2011

Some "Thank you's" and a Book Review.

As promised, I am back. Christmas was lovely, but I must say that December really got away from me. I am long overdue in thanking people for blog posts and awards, and way late for a book review I meant to write before now. 

First, my gratitude to two kind bloggers:

On December 10th, Richard Hughes (Writing and Living by Richard P. Hughes) posted a nice review of my book, The Fourth Wish,on his blog. You can read it here. So, belated thanks, Richard. And for readers of today's post, Richard has an interesting blog that includes articles about the writing journey, book reviews, and snippets of his own fiction. It's a spot worth visiting often.

Additionally, Ann Best mentioned my book on her December 10th post at her wonderful blog site. Thank you, Ann! Ann's memoir, In the Mirror has earned 24 five-star reviews at Amazon, and she has published two other books. You can learn more about them here:

If that wasn't enough, Richard included me on his December 3rd list of recipients for the Great Comments Award, a very nice award indeed: A condition of the award is to pass it on to the top 20 commenters on my blog. Well, that's very hard to sort out, as so many people do leave great comments, but here are 20 who come to mind:

Rosi Hollinbeck                                            Joanna Marple     
Rachna Chhabria                                           Tanya Reimer
Richard Hughes                                             Lauren Boyd
Carol Riggs               Lydia Kang at The Word Is My Oyster
TGayer                                                         Julie Musil
Ann at Inkpots and Quills                               Kenda Turner at Words and Such
David Powers King                                        Gary Gauthier at Literary Snippets
Ann Best                                                       Robyn Campbell
Jayne at A Novice Novelist                             Theresa Milstein
Kimberly at Meetings with My Muse               Michelle Fayard

I hope you will visit their sites. You are in for a treat at each one.

Next, the Book Review:

This month I had the opportunity to read Andrew Leon's middle grade novel, The House on the Corner, a “haunted-house tale” with a different twist. 

When the Howard family moves from Denver, Colorado to Shreveport, Louisiana -- a military move because the father is in the Air Force -- their new home is a creepy old house with what turns out to be a mysterious garage. And it seems the former inhabitants of the house disappeared years ago with no explanation.
As the three siblings, Tom (12), Sam (10), and Ruth (6), explore the house and neighborhood, they meet some strange neighbors and find a secret cache of odd weapons in a tool shed under the garage apartment. The garage apartment itself soon becomes the “Imagination Room”, due to unusual adventures that occur when the children meet in it. I don’t want to be a spoiler by giving away the kinds of adventures they have. I will say that the adventures kept me turning pages, although the first adventure doesn’t happen until Chapter 15. 
For this reader, the book could have benefited from some strong pruning. The early chapters bogged down in description and ongoing arguments between the kids, slowing the pace and sapping suspense. The children were believable, but they always seemed to be squabbling. Some variety in how they behaved toward each other would have rounded them out more for this reader. The narration was rotating first person point of view, through the eyes of each of the siblings. Then for some reason the last forty-five pages suddenly switched to third person narrative, sometimes close third, sometimes distant, but always from an adult point of view. 
Still, the story line is quite unique. The Imagination Room and the worlds it borders are intriguing, and the book ends with some unresolved issues that will lead into the second book of this author’s series. The book jacket by Rusty Webb is nicely spooky. 
The House on the Corner is available at Barnes and Noble on Nook for $2.99.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Book I Want to Recommend for Writers

If I have not been blogging recently, blame it on Martha Alderson's THE PLOT WHISPERER. This paperback book has broken me out of my writing doldrums and has helped focus and align my re-write of a book that had me stumped for awhile—a more serious book than I've written before, dealing with how a family copes with tragedy.

What is so unique about THE PLOT WHISPERER? 

For one thing, Alderson has a spiritual approach—and by that, I don't mean religious. She asks you to commit to yourself, to define your own goals, even while defining your main character's goals and commitments. She asks you to examine the deeper themes of your own life, so that you can tap into the deeper themes of your characters' lives. 

She also takes the concept of "plot" far beyond the usual focus on story trajectory (rising action, building tension, climax and resolution), tying it into what she calls "The Universal Story", the story that unfolds in each of our own lives and in nature itself. She points out that there are really three plot lines in every great book: the dramatic action plot; the character emotional development plot; and the thematic significance plot. These themes interact with one another and affect each other throughout the entire book, and each has their own resolution.

A word about Alderson's approach to character development: it goes far beyond character description, hobbies, hopes, fears, family constellation, etc. It brings a fresh slant to the question, "What does your character want, and what is keeping him/her from it?" Alderson takes all of this to a deeper dimension; What does the character bring to the point where the story unfolds? What is the history to why your character wants what he or she wants? What is the past "wound" driving the character's goals, giving them such urgency? And how does that affect your MC's reactions to events—reactions that will, in turn, affect the plot?

Alderson counsels you to know those issues about all of your characters, the main ones and the supporting cast. She suggests you must know the themes of their lives as well, their lietmotifs, because—just as in real life—when characters interact, their issues affect each other and the ensuing action. Themes, character and plot interweave and interact throughout the book.

I haven't finished THE PLOT WHISPERER, because Alderson offers thought-provoking exercises that make it a slow and careful read. But, even after reading and applying the first three chapters, disparate parts of my own book are coming together and I can visualize the whole more clearly. I wake up every morning excited to write, completely committed to finishing this draft.

If you feel stuck at any point in your own WIP, I heartily advise getting this book. It's reasonably priced, and you can get it here, and also here (among other sites.) Alderson also has a great blog with tips on plot development. And you can find her You Tube videos in a post by Jill Corcoran. (As a side note, Corcoran posts helpful information about querying and submitting, among other issues that concern writers. Hers is a blog worth visiting regularly.)  

How about you? Do you have a writing book to recommend that has worked wonders for you? If so, please post the title here. And let me know if you get Alderson's book or see her videos. 

Happy writing!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Do You Believe In Magic?

Last June I blogged about a great radio site for listening to interviews with professional magicians, called The Magic Broadcast. (You can read the post here.) The Magic Broadcast is hosted by Steve Johnson, a local (Sacramento area) magician, who owns the fabulous magic shop in Carmichael, Grand Illusions. This shop has everything that would interest a budding magician: Books, tricks, costumes, juggling lessons, puppets. . . . For those of you in the general area, you can read reviews of the shop and get driving directions here.

But I'm personally excited, because on Monday this week, Steve interviewed ME on his magic broadcast station. Normally his interviews are with professional magicians, like Lee Asher. Why me? Because I wrote a book that featured a fictious local magician, and Steve was interested in how tips on fiction writing could translate into the story patter all good magicians use in order to fool audiences with their tricks. 

It was an enjoyable interview for me. I always love talking about writing, but I've never had to think about how writing might pertain to a magician's performance. The more I thought about it, the more parallels I could see. You can listen to the interview here. Just scroll on down to November 28th interview, and click the play button. 

There was an added enjoyment for me when Steve told me that the magician in my book was believable. I'm used to people telling me the kids in the story are believable, but I was especially pleased to hear that about the magician as well.

Which brings me to the book itself. The story takes place over Christmas vacation, so this is a good time for eight-to-twelve-year-olds who like magic to get this for a Christmas present. (Can't resist that little plug!) It's available in paperback (in the U.S.) and on Kindle (in U.S., England, Spain, France, and Germany.) You can check it out and read reviews of it here .        

(By the way, you have to go to the site to look inside, or peek in the widget up in the right hand margin.)

Meanwhile, DO you believe in magic? If so, what kind? Do you like to do magic tricks? What about friends and kids? Do they? And, have you ever wondered about a magician's personal life when they are not performing at parties and theaters and such?