Costs and Rewards – November Round Robin

After that fateful assignment in the sixth grade that spurred me into the writing life, I confess the road has not been easy. Two years later I started writing a fantasy novel based off Dungeons and Dragons characters. My cousins were involved, as well as my brother, and I allowed my mother to read a bit of my work.

I remember the piece because I was particularly proud of how I’d delved into the mindset of a traumatized woman. My life to that point had not been terribly traumatic so it was a stretch of the imagination to get there.

My mother’s response was that if I wrote things like that, people would think I’d experienced something like it.

I didn’t believe her until a year later. Bored with a spelling assignment, I decided to stretch those imaginative muscles again. The assignment was to use specific words in a sentence and I wove a short narrative to entertain myself. This was of a darker nature, which I blame on my reading pile at the time, and resulted in the teacher sitting down with me and the counselor.

I had to explain that I was just playing with the assignment and hadn’t experienced anything of the sort – I think I had the narrator watch someone fall off a cliff, but can’t quite remember – and that all was well. The teacher and counselor both seemed uneasy but satisfied by my answers, and it was then that I realized how different I was.

Sadly, I was not self-aware at the time, but I have come to understand that the main difference between myself and the majority of the world, is that I don’t just see people for who they are. I see them for their potential, both good and bad. And while that serves me well as a writer, it has often brought about complications in my personal life.

Because while I see the potential for bad, I strive to help them reach the good, often at great cost to myself.

Not so in my writing. There I explore how bad things can get, and willfully cross the threshold with my characters until there is no turning back .

The rewards of writing far outweigh the cost for me. They are much the same as the rewards from reading in that I am able to visit new worlds and cultures, experience jobs I would otherwise never encounter, and touch on that deep vein of humanity that courses through us all. The difference being that as a writer, I am submerged within the storytelling, privy to all the character backstories and world building that is only shallowly represented in the completed work.

This is my happy place, where I exist in tandem with the stories I tell. And if I’m a bit daydreamy to friends and family, I am comforted that they love me in spite of it. Or, in the case of my husband, they love me because of it. In this I count myself the luckiest woman in the world.

See the costs and rewards for my fellow authors in this month’s Round Robin discussion.

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1qD
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

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Book Review – Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

Our family started the Temeraire series on the road trip to New England and we were excited to see where the story went in this third book. Laurence and Temeraire are now staples in our household, to the point that we’ve taken to nicknaming our cats after the dragons.

(Nicknames only, because to me they will always be Pest – for constantly sitting on the back of my chair while I’m typing – and Nuisance – for his equally disruptive behavior while I am writing with pen and paper.)

It is particularly delightful to see my ten-year-old son getting involved in the narrative. He enjoys Temeraire’s confusion with humanity, and more important to this novel, his conversations with Lawrence regarding the treatment of dragons in human society.

There wasn’t as much battle in this one, but the tension is still there. Without spoiling the novel, there was a lot of flying to be done and intrigues that had to be averted as the greater war against Napoleon took a huge step forward.

We’ve already snagged the fourth book and will be starting it soon. If you’re a family that enjoys reading, and particularly reading together, then this is a series I highly recommend. The narrative is beautiful and the characters are memorable.

Plus, dragons.

 

September Round Robin – Reading is Cool!

A couple of years ago my son informed me that he hated reading. Being an author, this made my heart hurt and I set out to fix this viewpoint by writing a story for him. I kept it short because he is young, but I did not spare him in language, plot, or character.

41SPrUMbf+LI even published it myself so that he could have a real book to read in his hands, something he could point to on Amazon. The novelette featured a man cursed into wolf form by an evil witch and it’s titled Torven. You can find it on Amazon if you’re really curious.

But I also had my son involved in the making of it. So he heard the rough draft as it was written, chapter by chapter. I paused frequently so he could ask questions, which often turned into suggestions. It amazed me how much he wanted to be part of the process, as opposed to simply reading it.

I’d written him into one of my novels once already, and that had him at least partially interested. Mostly he wanted to hear the parts of the story that featured his character, but at least he listened as I read it.

When it came to Torven, though, he was really excited to tell me where he thought the story was going and we ended every session with a conversation. He asked how Torven was cursed, and I reminded him that this was part of the story and if he wanted to know then we had to keep reading.

And when we met the witch, he wanted to know if Torven killed her. Again, I told him he had to keep reading to find out. But with this one, he adamantly informed me that Torven HAD to kill the witch or it wouldn’t be a good story.

Interestingly enough, he also went into how the witch became a witch. As an author, I like to twist things around and see how wicked people were good once and got corrupted, but in my son’s view, there was never any good there.  If I recall correctly, he said the witch was born from a bog.

That never made it into the book but I remember praising him for such a creative backstory. The image of murky, stagnant water boiling and swirling until the deadly witch rose from its depths has always stuck with me and I may ask him for permission to use that one day.

As for other people in my life who claim they either don’t have the time or don’t like to read, there isn’t much I can do. It seems to be popular to hate reading these days, people shrugging the task off and saying they’ll watch the movie when/if it comes out. I’m sure all writers find this attitude disheartening, but that doesn’t stop us from creating novels.

Happily, I married a man who enjoys reading, and my son is warming to the written word. In the grand scheme of things, I think I’ve done all I can to remind my family that reading is cool and creativity shouldn’t be underestimated.

Check out what my fellow authors do to help encourage reading in this month’s Round Robin:

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ly

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/

A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)

Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com

Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

 

Dead Weight Completion And Beta’s

On August 3rd, three days after I’d hoped to have it done, I wrote “The End” on Dead Weight.

Breaking the deadline by three days isn’t so terrible, so I’m counting this as a win-win all around. The book will need at least two more rounds of revision, but I won’t be touching it for the rest of the year.

Normally at this point, I would track down my wonderful Beta Readers and beg them for their time to read and give feedback on the draft. Some of them require a pint of blood for this transaction, but I’m happy to pay the price if it means I’ll get solid critiques to work with.

However, this year I’ve been studying my craft a bit more and I’ve come to the conclusion that I send the drafts out too soon.

This would be the difference between the Alpha Reader and the Beta Reader. I do have one Alpha Reader who gets my work almost as soon as it’s done. He gets me excited for my work even when I’m frustrated and can’t figure out what’s broken in the manuscript, which is invaluable for a writer.

If you’re a writer and you don’t have an Alpha Reader who happily (or sometimes just politely) listens to your ideas, and then constantly asks if you’ve written that day, I encourage you to find one.

A Beta Reader, on the other hand, is supposed to see a more completed draft. They aren’t — or shouldn’t be — hunting for any huge problems in the plot structure. They look for the motivations of the characters, and the places where the description gets so scrambled they can’t quite picture what’s going on.

Some people can give a second draft to their Beta’s, but I have learned that I cannot.

Why?

Well, because with certain novels my second draft has a completely new ending to it.

Okay, so many of my novels end up that way. I get to the last five chapters of the book and then I have to step back. I go work on something else for a while.

And by “a while” I mean a couple of months.

Then, when I’ve been separated from the novel for long enough, I can sit down and do a “revision” of everything already written. This helps me see the promises and sub plots and themes that may have worked themselves into the manuscript so that I can create a more satisfying ending.

But that ending is still a first draft ending.

So … My wonderful Beta Readers, who I love so much, and who – hopefully – understand this plight, will not be receiving a request for feedback until after the next revision.

Which won’t be happening until January.

What I Write vs. What I Read – July Round Robin

I haven’t always loved to read. As a writer that seems like a scandalous admission but honestly, there had been too much going on inside my head for me to fully appreciate the work of other writers.

In my defense, this was sometime between grammar school and high school, so when I say “younger” I mean pigtails and Barbie dolls. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy writing back then because I did. And in fact, I have a cousin who used to swear I made Barbie dolls more interesting than anyone else. Instead of just going to work and coming home, Barbie (who was given a different name because honestly, who wants to be called Barbie?) we would go on adventures through time or try to avoid dying in some major natural disaster.

I don’t mean that to sound pretentious. At the time I had no idea that the way I played with my toys was any different from other girls.

But all of these stories and “play” in my imagination where I created the rules made reading about someone else’s rules and worlds a little more difficult. And then … Wait Til Helen Comes traumatized me in the 6th grade. I read the whole thing in a day, hiding it under my desk during school because I absolutely had to know what happened.

I’m pretty sure the teacher knew and didn’t say anything.

After that, it was like reading exploded into my life. My Aunt Debi has always been a big reader and every now and then I’d get one of her books. That’s how I found Jurassic Park. And The Hobbit. And this one novel whose title I can’t remember but it was about a big octopus/squid thing that ate people.

Genre’s didn’t matter, and they still don’t. I will read anything and everything, which is probably why I write in various genre’s as well. I broke into this business with Fantasy novels, moved to science fiction, then historical fiction, and I have a horror novel waiting to be edited in October.

The one thing I haven’t been able to write, but I will certainly try it again at some point, has been the murder mystery. I’m not sure why, since I love Sherlock Holmes and intelligent mysteries of that ilk, but those books tend to linger in a dark place. You have to understand your murderer, after all, and I find that unsettling.

I used to watch Criminal Minds but stopped because it was leaving me with that unsettled, distrustful sense too.

Anyway, I’m not sure what attracts people to read any one particular genre. I’ve never been able to restrain myself to just one, so I find it a trifle bizarre anyone could say; “Oh, I only read Urban Fantasies.” Or, in the most snobbish voice I’ve ever heard; “Fantasy and Science Fiction aren’t real fiction. You should read literary fiction. Or at least the classics. Anything else is just drivel.”

… No, really. I’ve heard that.

My response to that was to avoid the literary fiction section of the bookstore for a couple of years. Which I suppose wasn’t fair to literary fiction authors.

See what my fellow authors have to say in this month’s Round Robin …

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea/view/542

(YOU ARE HERE) A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/

Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/

Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/

Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/

Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/rhobins-round-robin/

Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Kay Sisk http://www.kaysisk.com/blog

Book Review – On Writing by Stephen King

Let me start this review off by saying that I do not often read Stephen King. I started The Stand a long time ago but my son was all of three years old at the time and the dead children disturbed me so much I couldn’t move forward with the book.

I’m sure I could read it now, but at the time I wasn’t ready for that sort of reality. I needed to keep my happy bubble of pretend-safety around my little boy. (C’mon, now, as safe as we try to keep our kids we all know there’s only so much we can do.)

While I haven’t read much of his work, I know who Mr. King is and have great respect for him. I’m not sure why it took me so long to pick this book up – it looks like it was written during my senior year of high school – but I’m pleased that I finally did.

This book is freeing.

Yes, he reminds us about some of the mechanics of writing such as the dreaded adverb or adverbial clause, but he only touches on these for a moment. But for the most part, Mr. King’s “memoir of the craft” feels like a commiseration.

He proves that reading and writing are magic. And he invites authors to embrace that magic, reminding us why we enjoy this craft in the first place. I recommend this book to any and all writers out there who haven’t already picked it up. It’s a worthy read.

 

Video Games vs Reading

Among the many hats that I wear, I am the proud parent of an extremely creative little boy. Some time ago I got him a Wii for Christmas, but the motor wore out so he was game-less for quite a while – unless he went to his friend’s house.

After observing my son in both states – gaming vs. not-gaming – I have come to accept this as part of the culture we live in now. For his birthday he was given a handheld game system so that he could play while waiting for me to get done with certain necessities (like work).

And then his father got him a PS3 and, to be honest, my son uses it more for Netflix than anything else. I would balk at this but he chooses British shows far more often than I expected (thank you Doctor Who and the like) so I feel like I’m not having to regulate everything he’s doing.

However … Netflix is not a good book. And games are not good books.

Plainly – visual media is not a good book that really allows you to grow by digging into to the mindset of another person and walking in their shoes for a while. It’s a proven fact that people who read are far more empathetic to the world around them than people who don’t.

Reading fiction is, to be frank, not just about learning character tropes and getting a larger vocabulary. You’ll get those things, of course, but the larger and more profound effect reading has on us is a deep connection to humanity.

Yes, the characters are made up.

But the reactions – if they’ve been done right – are utterly true. Sometimes the settings are fake, but the human nature on the page is not. And reading about them helps us to understand both ourselves and the world around us.

How then do we find the balancing point between allowing our kids to enjoy the visual media prominent in our culture and the clearly necessary act of reading?

My son recently grumped about having to shut the game off and sit for his designated reading time and, as any writer-parent should be, I was quite alarmed. But I couldn’t take away his game system and make reading a punishment, that would be counter-productive.

My solution was a trifle unorthodox, I’m sure. And anyone who is a parent but not also a writer would find it difficult to do, but I’ll share it anyway.

I began to write a classic fairy-tale story for my son. And I told him about it.

This, of course, has meant quite a lot of work on my part because it means I need to have written every single day. Because every day, at the end of his reading hour (or sometimes at the beginning) we read the progress of the story together.

Sometimes he reads it from the beginning, out loud, to me. Other times he just wants me to read it (I apparently make a good wolf-voice.) And at the end he is always speculating about what he thinks is going to happen in this tale. He engages and asks questions about the main character and is, as far as I can tell, deeply interested.

When it’s finished I’ll likely publish it as a stand-alone novella, though I admit that is mostly so that he can hold it in his hands as an actual book instead of a spiral notepad.

Will this make a life-long reader out of my son?

No. Not just one book. It can never be just one book that does it. But it’s a start.