Friday Reads: Dream Boy, Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

Anybody else feel like their to-read list is about to topple over? I’ve got two books I started and haven’t had time to finish that I’m hoping to get to today: Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley and The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone. We’re not even going to talk about the other dozen books waiting for their turn.

This is a weird spot for me to be in, and my mom is probably laughing as she reads this. I read fast. Like seriously, freakishly fast. As in, the paper had me live-blog reading the last Harry Potter. I’d read two or three chapters, then pause and write a few grafs for the blog. (Paragraphs, in newsroom jargon.) Any guesses as to how long that took? Just over four hours. Four hours and 10 minutes, I think. Yeah, really freakishly fast. It’s not speed-reading either. (High school English teacher taught us how to speed-read when we tackled Jane Austen’s Emma senior year. Rest of the class had lots of comments about the idea of me reading any faster.) So for me to be backlogged on books is pretty much unheard of. Usually my problem is I don’t have anything new to read.

And yet, in the past two years as I’ve really spent a lot of my time each week writing, on top of a full-time job and a part-time job, I find myself picking up fewer books. I still read a lot, mostly online. I think I’m still going through a lot of words each week. But by the time I get through everything I need to each day, it’s 9:30 and I’m about to turn into a pumpkin.

So my Friday reads list ends up being the same books each week as I try and find the time to sit down and read. It’s a peculiar situation, and one I still haven’t figured out how to wrap my brain around. This week, I have a gym training all day Saturday and Sunday, fortunately at my gym instead of on the road. I’m hoping the required soak in the bath each night to ease aching muscles will give me time to finish both books. Fortunately, both happen to be paperbacks, not ebooks. We’ll see…

 

 

E-books and The Writer’s Minimum Viable Product

Joel Friedlander has a great blog post looking at the concept of the Minimum Viable Product for writers, and how e-books have affected that. In journalism terms, we always call it the minimum story, a necessity for any potentially time-consuming project. In both cases, it’s the lowest level you need to publish. In investigative reporting, it’s a story you know you’ll get, even if you’re hoping for a bigger scoop. In e-books and indie publishing, it can be a short story, or section of a novel. Or, as I did, a collection of short stories.

The stories in Thrown Out weren’t the goal when I started writing my Exeter stories. The book wasn’t the goal when I started the Story Cubes Challenge. But as I got into them, people started reading them on my LiveJournal and here and asking when I would have something published. So Kyrie and I decided a short-story collection would be a great way to introduce the Exeter characters and let me tell some stories that are important to individual characters, but don’t necessarily fit into one of the full-length books I’m working on.

In comments on Friedlander’s blog, it seems I’m not the only one taking this approach. Linda Sands has several short stories out as e-books, and Darby Harn is considering a short-story collection as a next project. Have you thought about e-publishing short stories or other sub-novel-length projects? What were your biggest challenges? (Mine’s been marketing and finding reviewers willing to look at a short-story collection.)

Crossing the line between promotion and spam

Now that I’ve jumped into the indie author world, book promotion is something I’ve been working on. I love social media, so that’s been a focus. But I find myself in a dilemma and want to know what you think, both readers and writers, about the line between good promotion and spam.

A few times in recent weeks, I’ve found people talking up the social media promotional prowess of authors who I followed briefly before dropping because all they did was clog up my feed with promo tweets. I’m not going to name names of either the authors or the people touting them as good examples because I think that runs too great a risk of derailing the conversation. To me, social media is a way to interact with people and connect to them. That might then make them more likely to try the book, but without that connection, it’s just another ad in their stream. I promote my book, but I’d say actual promo tweets are only about 10 percent of my total. I’m sure it could be higher without getting near the spam line.

What’s your take on the line between promotion and spam from writers? As a reader, what’s the point where you get frustrated enough to stop following/friending/circling a writer because it’s too much promotion?

 

Lightbulb moments for characters

Two-hour break from work, check. Coffee and bagel, check. Favorite table at the coffeeshop, check. iPad,… Oops. No iPad. OK, notebook, check. Pen,… No pen either. Great.

That’s basically how yesterday’s writing session started out, following a frustrating morning at work. Fortunately, being a regular at the coffeeshop means they were willing to let me borrow a pen for a couple of hours. So I settled down with my notebook and what was supposed to be a novella outline.

Originally, I planned to finishing drafting the third chapter, but my handwriting is atrocious. So rather than scribble out a couple of pages that I’d need to transcribe later, I started making character notes, pulling plot threads together for the book. After half a page, I started working on the HWYS moment, which is my North Star for every story. I had a rough idea for one, but it felt like it could be better. Some pulling here and poking there… After about 15 minutes, the pieces clicked and I could see the scene start to unfold in my head. It just felt right, and there was a stupid grin on my face as I started running the entire story through the filter of building to that one moment.

It changes some things, definitely. It might even turn this into a true novel rather than a novella. But the threads throughout are more tightly woven, and the story suddenly goes from just a story about two boys who stumble on a mob burial ground in their small town to something much deeper, more complex. And it totally hoses my my plan to have the book out on Halloween, but I’m OK with that. It’s going to be a good book, maybe even a great book.

I drafted the HWYS moment last night, just roughly. It’s going to need a rewrite when I catch back up to it, but it helps having it there. Seeing the characters interact at the key moment, knowing how they got there and what needs to happen earlier for that scene to work the way it’s supposed to — that drives my storytelling.

The iPad’s going with me today, and I’m putting more pens in my backpack. But the notebook’s coming out again this weekend as I dig more deeply into the story. These characters won’t ever be the same after this…

Genre vs. literary — and the gaping space between

E-Reads had a great post yesterday from Richard Curtis: “What Serious Writers Can Learn From Genre Comrades in Arms.” It was a great piece, originally written in 1990, and one that spoke particularly to me because I always wonder what’s in between those two camps.

I love genre fiction. Mysteries and Nora Roberts make up 90 percent of my fiction collection. I collect vintage kids’ mystery series. I’ll occasionally dip into fantasy or sci-fi. My stories, however, don’t really fall into a genre — they don’t have that distinctive element that each genre has, whether it’s a mystery or a romance…

But every time I run into writers who write literary fiction, I don’t feel like I fit there either. I don’t consider my stories shallow or commercial, but they’re just that — stories. I’m not trying to send a message. I’m not thinking about symbolism or metaphor or anything that’s a hallmark of “serious literature.” I want to tell a good story that engages readers. Exeter stories aren’t a beach read in the traditional sense. They’re not women’s fiction — I’ve got too many guys in main roles. I’ve never been able to categorize them.

Sometimes I think we do a disservice as both readers and writers by parceling the world into these two camps — genre and literary — and not leaving room for stories that are fiction without being a genre — fiction without being literature.

 

 

Story Cubes Challenge – Round 8

Finally, this round is done! This one might get developed into a longer piece for another short story collection, but to finish it before the week ended, I opted to keep it simple. If you used the cubes I posted for this round to spark your own story, please leave a link in comments – I love reading other Story Cubes Challenge stories! As always, not edited so it’s rough.

Prompts: Pyramid, (pad)lock, house, cane, sad face, compass rose/arrows in many directions, bug/beetle, magic wand, skyscraper

Summer Getaway

“Aunt Becca!” Ellie ran out of the modest Cape and down the walk paved in broken clamshells. “You’re here.”

Becca held her arms out, and Ellie only hesitated a second before hugging. As she wrapped her arms around her niece, Becca looked over Ellie’s shoulder to where Frances stood in the front doorway. Becca swallowed at the air of fragility she’d not seen before in her sister.

“Come on, let’s go see your mom.” Becca released Ellie and followed her toward the house.

Frances smiled as Ellie went running through the doorway. Becca reached out to hug her, trying not to frown at her sister’s hesitation. Her shoulder blades were sharp, and Becca was cautious of squeezing too tightly.

“How are you?”

Frances pulled back. “I’m fine. Just… fine.”

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Writing Through The Story Cubes Maze

Another week, another set of Story Cubes. And another obstacle course through which I need to thread my words. I mentioned last week that some sets work better than others, and this week is definitely one of the more challenging ones.

Prompts: Pyramid, padlock, house, cane, sad face, compass rose/arrows in many directions, bug/beetle, magic wand, skyscraper

The pyramid, skyscraper and magic wand were the three I pulled out to start with, since they were the most challenging to work into an Exeter story. (No skyscrapers in a small town.) I finally decided this was a good time to write something I had planned to put in Intricate Dance before I narrowed its scope to a year. By the end of the week, you guys should get a chance to see Ellie as a child visiting Exeter… and a few other characters as well, including Becca.

While I’m working on my story, I figured I’d throw the prompts out there for anybody else looking to try this type of Story Cubes Challenge. If you do, please leave a link in comments – I’d love to see what else people are writing with the Cubes. And if you’re not sure where to start, I posted a tip sheet last week.

 

Story Cubes Challenge – Week 7

If you read the piece I did the other day about how I write with Rory’s Story Cubes, this is the story I was working on as I wrote it. As always, these challenge entries are basically rough drafts — my editor makes sure stories go through many, many revisions before they make it into a book. 😉
Prompts: Scales (of justice), magnifying glass, thought bubble, bridge, fire, parachute, tree, key, smiley face

Mysteries Past

Ellie returned to the living room, coffee pot in hand. After she refilled mugs, she stopped to feed another log into the fireplace. When she came back and sank into the worn, overstuffed armchair, the room was quiet.

“Don’t tell me Riordan finally ran out of stories to tell.” She looked over at her aunt’s… Well, whatever they were. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

“What would you like to hear?” Riordan sipped his Irish Breakfast tea, one arm around Aunt Becca’s shoulders.

Ellie tucked her legs up under her, mirroring her aunt’s posture. “What was Exeter like during World War II?” She hesitated. “Or do you not remember back that far.”

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