Sunday, February 22, 2009

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a great book if you want to get motivated to write that next great American novel. Chris Baty is clever and witty, helping you as the budding author learn not to take yourself too seriously as you travel the bumpy road that is novel writing.

This book is broken down into the before, during, and after process of drafting a novel. In the first section, you learn how to gear up and get prepared for the process of writing a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in 30 days. The next section breaks down the writing challenge into four weeks and what things you should remember and try each of those weeks. The last section focuses on "I wrote a novel. Now what?"

I would recommend this motivating book for anyone who wants to learn how to be more productive with their writing time, even if they have no interest in writing a book in 30 days.

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Chalice by Robin McKinley

Chalice Chalice by Robin McKinley

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mirasol - Robin McKinley's typical strong female character - gets thrown into a new life where suddenly everything she does is important not only to her, but also to everyone else in the demesne of Willowlands.

This was a difficult book to get into; the only thing that kept me going at first was the knowledge that I've liked most of the Robin McKinley books I've already read. After I got about 75 pages into it, the story moved more smoothly. By the time I got to the end of the story, I was ready to read a sequel.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Library or Wastebasket?

Most of us in the modern age have a collection of books. But as I was musing today about all the books I own I asked myself, am I using my personal library as a waste bin? If I am, it sure is a pretty insane thing to do. But, I ask myself, do you ever really read those books again? If you do, do you really read them enough? Or do you use it as a wastebasket: a place to put your books when you're finished with them because throwing them in the garbage just feels wrong somehow?

We live in a world that has survived the book-burning Nazi's, and I think we've all heard the dire warnings of Bradbury's Farenheit 451 and the celebrity-laden public service posters of the libraries of childhood reminding us to treat books with a sacred reverence. Even now, my wife admonishes me, with good reason, to take better care of my books.

For anyone who owns more than a few dozen books and has ever had to move, you know that moving those suckers isn't an easy task. But why do we go to all that trouble?
What's the point of it?
Do we really re-read the books we've bought, committing thereby to schlep them from place to place.

I like to say that I do, though I probably don't read them often enough, particularly the poetry. I've been working on that.
See's Candies has a great slogan referring to their product as "a happy habit." Of course their motive is to get you to buy more chocolate regularly, not just on special occasions, but there's some truth in the sentiment. Charles M. Shulz said "All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and again never hurts either." I agree 100%, but I won't get into the wonders and magical properties of chocolate just now. Suffice it to say that, as I've voluntarily taken up some of my poetry books lately, I've come to see them less as bran muffins (something to be forced down and gulped before you can taste it because "it's good for you," though it's really revolting), and more as little literary chocolates. I'm starting to look at them as a rich, liqueury, expensive-tasting chocolate of the type Mary See and Co. would have us consider a happy habit.

I've rolled the thunderous peals of Whitman around in my mouth (Walt, of course, not the drugstore chocolatier). He often starts with a sudden sting of an almost musical quality that reminds me of Beethoven:

"A California Song!" (Song of the Redwoods, Line 1)

What an opening! And what follows doesn't disappoint, especially not for someone as in love with the people and landscape of California as I have come to be. Check out Leaves of Grass if you'd like to see what I mean. And that's only the beginning of what my old books have been teaching me lately, but that's another blog.

My mother taught me some great things about collecting books. That advice can be summed up in this sentence; more isn't always better. After all, one can only read so many books in one's life.

Indulge me here in a little math. If you're a relatively slow, but avid reader like me, you probably average about a dozen books a year. Of those, how many had you ever read before? Probably few, if any. Which ones did you re-read? One or two? That's about the going rate for me. So, let's say that I'm fortunate enough to live to be, say, 75. Starting from age 18 that's only 57 good years of reading, coming to only about 684 books altogether, a mere drop of invisible water vapor in an ocean of titles. At two re-read books per year that comes to 114 books you justifiably own, assuming you only read those only once more!

So ask yourself, is your library just a waste basket? A place where good books go to die? That hardly seems fair. As for your children, that's another question. Now I ask myself two questions before buying a new book: "will I ever read it again?", and "would I want my kids to read this if I had any?" If the answer to either of these is "no," I just let it lie and buy a good cheeseburger instead. I've only got so much money, cheeseburgers, and reading time in my life. This, in spite of my attempts to trick myself into thinking I have, like the man in the Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough At Last" to read everything I want to read. But we know what happened to him.

Of course you have to stick your head up and live every once in a while. As a writer it's an occupational hazard of mine to just live deep in my books and while away a monk-like existence. But I really do have to go out from time to time if only to find something to write about. But reading is important – "a happy habit" that maybe we could all put a little more thought and effort into for our own good, and for the good of the next generation. Reading, like anything worth doing, is a skill. Consider taking a moment to examine how well you do it, as I've done here for myself.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Writing for the screen

I never had much interest in writing for the screen until this past summer. Tom and I were brainstorming ideas for an episodic short story series about a character named Willow, and I realized how perfect for television the concept was. I've been working on cleaning up the first installment as a short story - okay, it's more like a short novella since it's about 10,000 words - and plan on trying it out as a television script in April during Script Frenzy.

This week Tom and I started work on a movie script about a guy named Josh based on an idea that came to him in a dream a few weeks ago. It's been interesting working in a totally new medium; it's also helped me get back the fire for writing that I thought for a few weeks might be starting to slip away. Now I'm enjoying the ride as Willow and Josh discover what adventures await them in their respective stories.