Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Direction

I kicked off last month with gusto and ended it with a thud. As I blogged earlier, I participated in NaNoWriMo. My novel made it to 3,000 words when I decided to scrap it and go a completely new route. The new novel hit 6,000 words before I gave up. But I'm not sad. I'm not beating myself up. Why? Because this experience taught me something very important about my writing: direction.

I have known that I want to an author since third grade when I wrote down a dream I had the night before. I will always remember that moment and the joy I felt seeing my thoughts written down on paper. After that, I was always writing, always thinking, and always thinking about writing.

In high school, my "thing to do" was write stories about my friends. I would think of my closest friends and use their personalities to create a story that involved us doing crazy things -- owning our own island and fending off a masked gunman, for one. My friends always looked forward to reading the next chapter to see "what I did to them". Couples who broke up in real life might be killed in the story (or at least the bad boy who broke my friends heart was anyway). It was crazy stuff, more fit for soap opera than a novel. But I loved it.

My point in mentioning this is that, looking back, I have realized a lot about my desires and writing processes, and some errors I've made along the way. In recent years, when I sat down to write, I would create elaborate outlines, making sure everything fit with everything else. I didn't want to rewrite the first chapter because I went a different way with the tenth chapter. I wanted it perfect. I wanted a strong plot, stunning imagery, and tension levels unsafe for anyone with a heart condition. I wanted a final draft the first time around. Yeah, yeah, I'm not sure what I was thinking there. But instead of excitement, what I got, instead, was bored. So bored, I couldn't finish it.

That's when I started thinking about the past and how I used to write. Those stories about my friends were so carefree, so fun, and I didn't care what anyone thought of them. I wrote from the hip, I guess you could say. Not once did I plan ahead, prepare, plot, or outline. I didn't even know who the gunman was until I wrote his name during the big reveal at the end. I like that, because I want to be surprised too. Think of it this way: I will often read a book and then watch a movie based on it, but I won't read the book after I watched the movie. In both cases, once I've read/watched the first, I already know what is going to happen, so reading/watching the second will contain no surprises. The distinction for me is time. Watching a movie is quick. Reading a book is not. And writing a book takes exponentially much more time. If I'm spending all that time writing the story, I want to get something out of it. I want to be surprised at the end, too!

This all means that I've simply found my method of creating raw material. My first draft will be completely raw, unplanned, and uninhibited. It's the only way to get the story out of me. My subsequent, and necessary, drafts will polish the story until it shines. I like this plan.

The second major thing I realized is that I need interest. Not just for the reader, but for me. I have to be really interested in the story or I can't write it. Makes sense in hindsight, but this wasn't always so clear to me. I've always heard the advice "Write what you know", but I think listening to this gave me more problems than benefits. This left me writing fluff that I'm barely interested in. I'm not a genius. I don't have any interesting hobbies. I don't have a niche of expertise to draw from. I just want to write. The problem is that the two types of books I like most need quite a bit of specialized knowledge: historical romance and mystery. For a while, I tried to research the time period of historical romance that I like the most, but I found that I prefer to read these stories more than write them.

This leaves me with mystery. While mystery encompasses a broad range of novels, somewhere, law is involved and I don't know the law (at least not beyond what you see on CSI). I'm a perfectionist. I don't want to put something in my book thinking it's true, while the cops reading it are laughing at me for being stupid. I'm not sure why, but researching law seems very daunting to me (Surprising, considering I once contemplated going to law school). Regardless, I've decided it is a very necessary thing to do for myself.

I'm feeling very excited about my new direction. I feel like I've found the missing edge pieces preventing me from completing the puzzle. Now, I'm going full force into a mystery novel, that while I have a basic idea of the subject, I have no idea how it will end. This is very exciting!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Free To Bloom by Jill Green

The Book: Free to Bloom or (
The Author: Jill Green
The Publisher: Advocate House

Summary: Free to Bloom is a delightful collection of eleven stories highlighting moments in Danielle's life, from divorce to growing marijuana.

Reaction: At 94 pages, this was a super fast and enjoyable read. Each short story exposes the main character's life in short blips of time and covers a wide range of emotions- fear, anger, love, passion - and so many others. Despite being short stories, there is never a lack of action, imagery, or detail.

At times, I did find myself wishing that some of the stories were more connected with back story, if only to keep myself chronologically grounded.

Regardless, this was a wonderful read that left me smiling throughout much of it. Very good read.

Verrdict: 4 Stars

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: The Baker's Wife by Erin Healy

The book: The Baker's Wife
The author: Erin Healy
The publisher: Thomas Nelson

WOW! If I could sum up The Baker's Wife in one word, it would definitely be "wow".  I wasn't sure what to expect with this book as I had never read anything by Erin Healy, but it far surpassed any pre-conceived notions I had based on the descriptions of it. It has a little bit of everything in it: suspense, action, arguments for and against religion, love, spirituality, mystery. You can download the first four chapters for free here.

Summary: After a scandal cost Audrey's husband his pastoral career, they opened a small bakery in town. One foggy morning, Audrey was driving to the bakery when she hits a scooter and finds a puddle of blood in the intersection, but no body. The scooter and the blood both belong to the wife of a local detective, who is missing. The detective is positive Audrey is behind his wife's disappearance.

Unable to locate his wife, the detective takes matters into his own hands, holding Audrey's family hostage in the bakery. It's up to Audrey, an ex-con, and a teen to find his wife before the detective completely loses control. 

Reaction: I just can't say enough good things about The Baker's Wife. I was hooked from the first page right through the last. There was never a dull moment. I never wanted to put the book down. I loved how each character had at least one intricate connection to someone else and I enjoyed how each connection was slowly revealed.

There is significant religious reference, but not in an annoying or over zealous way (which is saying a lot, because I generally avoid religiously centered books). There are characters that portray both pro-religion and anti-religion, which I enjoyed. I like that both sides were represented.

The characters are so lifelike that I almost felt their emotions as they experienced them. I was teary-eyed more than once! The back story for each character felt like it was almost torn from them, raw and emotional. They were exposed detail by detail until the complete web of their lives are before you. The skill with which Healy does this will leave you in awe.

I absolutely will be seeking out Healy's other novels.

Verdict: 5 Stars hands down.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: A Thinking Man's Bully by Michael Adelberg

The book: A Thinking Man's Bully
The author: Michael Adelberg
The publisher: The Permanent Press

I am very conflicted when it comes to A Thinking Man's Bully. There were many aspects of the book that I loved and many that I hated. I was very eager to read this book, so it makes me a bit sad to leave it feeling so unsettled.

Summary: Matt Duffy was a childhood bully who was friends with another child bully who committed suicide. Now, his own son has become a bully. But it's not until his wife urges him to seek a therapist after his son also attempts suicide, is he able to see where he fits into the scheme of things.Through a series of "stories" written to his therapist, Duffy faces his demons for the first time in his life.


What I loved: The premise - I was bullied in school and was very interested to hear stories from the opposite point of view; the writing - Michael Adelberg has a talent for visualization without flowering up the prose. I don't feel like he wasted any of my time with useless words.

And that's about it.

What annoyed me: When I think of A Thinking Man's Bully, it brings back bitter memories of when I read Memoirs of a Geisha. With Memoirs of a Geisha, I actually finished the whole book before I realized that even though the whole book was set up as a memoir, and titled as one, it was a complete work of fiction. I was angry. I felt lied to. And I feel similar frustrations with A Thinking Man's Bully. Now, I realized early on that it was indeed fiction, however, not until after I was a little into the book. Sure, if I had paid more attention to the cover synopsis clearly stating the main character's name, which is drastically different than that of the author, of course I would have connected it. But often, I don't really read the backs of books completely, an since this was a book I won on, it wasn't like I went to the store and selected it based on what it was about.

My point in mentioning this is that without noticing the difference in names, the fact that this is NOT non-fiction is not made apparent AT ALL. First, it is set up with a table of contents which are typically not found in fiction books. Second, the story is told as "memory stories" to the narrator's therapist, where the narrator makes a point to highlight in separate sections his discussions with the therapist. Third, there are numerous mentions of the narrator "writing this book". In non-fiction you are keenly aware that you are reading a book, and that is okay. With fiction however, I absolutely do not want to be reminded on a continual basis that I'm reading a book. It shocks the mind out of the story and the whole "feel" of the story is gone. It completely ruined the book for me.

Other small annoyances:
*The cover is unflattering at best. Thankfully a crappy cover isn't going to stop me from reading a great book, but a great cover will definitely GET me to read a crappy book. Just sayin'.

* The title - I realize the title was suppose to sum up all the bullies into a cozy one-liner, but the inaccuracy of the title bugs me. The title refers to self-chosen nickname for a specific character in the book, and one who I believe doesn't have a remotely large enough part in the book, as implied in the synopsis.

*The chats with the therapist - Like a previous reviewer noted, the stories are great. The therapist chats? Not so much. I felt they were boring and too easy. The narrator is a tough man, not prone to talking about his feelings. Yet, just a couple visits into the tale and he's spouting off psychoanalysis jargon like he is the shrink and not the patient. Sure, eventually the patient will get the idea of how the therapist wants them to retrain their thinking... but it was too soon, too easy. I would expect him to fight against the therapist's demands much harder than he did.

In all, this was a good book by a wonderful storyteller, but the plot setup, cover, and some character interactions left the book feeling flat and, at times, unbelievable.

Verdict: 2 Stars

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Suburbanistas by Pamela redmond Satran

The book: Suburbanistas
The Author: Pamela Redmond Satran
The Publisher: Downtown Press

Suburbanistas is a light, easy read. If given the free time, I probably could have blown through this book in a day, maybe two, despite the fact that it has 335 pages. While I love series books, and Suburbanistas is the fourth in a series located in the fictional town of Homewood, I don't find myself eager to look up the rest of them. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the book. I'm just not over-the-top in love with it.

Summary: This is a story of two best friends; Stella, a famous movie star with a career heading south and Mary Jean, a mom of four married to her childhood love, who just happens to be Stella's ex. After two decades, the two of them reunite. Can they become friends again? Or are they just too different now?

Reaction: The characters are well developed and the plot is mostly believable. The story flows easily, with a few surprise twists, but nothing too shocking.

I chose this book looking for a fun read, and that's exactly what I got. Beyond the horrible cover art, is a charming tale of small town suburban life. Above all, it's a story of friendship.

Verdict: 3 stars

Sunday, October 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo and Writing Workshops

This year I will be participating in NaNoWriMo. For those who haven't heard of this totally awesome organization, head over here to check it out. Essentially, participants agree to dedicate the month of November to writing a novel: 50,000 words. It doesn't have to be good, you just have to get the words out. It is intended to inspire creativity. I signed up last year, but I didn't participate. Last year, I was just too busy, but this year, I don't have any excuses.

Anyone else doing it? I'd love to hear from you.

Another thing I've been interested in lately is doing a writing workshop. I've always wanted to go to one, but I've never had the time. Now, I have plenty of time, but can't afford to go. Ah, the life of not being rich. I heard about one at Miami Dade College, and I would LOVE to go, but I will have to wait until next year... maybe. It would be awesome.

I'm still reading Suburbanistas. So far it's pretty good, but I'm not craving it yet. It's pretty easy to put down. It's still early in the book, so hopefully it will speed up soon.

What are you reading right now?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Endangerd (A Summer Westin Mystery) by Pamela Beason

The Book: Endangered
The Author: Pamela Beason
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime Mystery

My thoughts on Endangered in one word: wow.

I won this book through a giveaway on and was very much looking forward to reading it. I have always been a big animal lover so the premise of the book hooked me in before I ever read a single word.

Summary: Wildlife biologist/Journalist/Photographer Summer Westin returns to Heritage National Monument to check the progress of a cougar she helped to rehabilitate the year before. Instead of the simple assignment she expected, a toddler goes missing and the media is quick to blame the Cougars for the child's disappearance. Summer soon finds herself in a race to find the child and save the Cougars before it's too late.

Reaction: Let me tell you, it didn't disappoint. Pamela Beason weaves a tale so intense and pulse pounding, you feel like you're on the best roller coaster ever built. Her skill at creating tension is right up there with (if not better than) some of the big name mystery writers. On several occasions, I literally wished I could read faster, because my heart was pounding so fast anticipating what would happen next!

The plot was amazing as well. Anyone who reads mystery books has probably read at least one about a missing child/person. But how many have also thrown cougars into the mix? Not any that I've read. The added story line of the cougars, gave an extra dimension to the story that makes it top notch in my opinion.

Verdict: 5 Stars. I can't wait to read the next Summer Westin mystery. Pamela Beason is definitely an author I will be keeping an eye on.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Haul From the Library Book Sale!

Twice a year, my local library hosts a MASSIVE book sale, which almost makes me salivate with delight (I'm not kidding!) I've only been to it two times, both of which were this year, but I am definitely making plans to hit this event as many times as possible in the future. Each time, they are open for several days, the last day being my most favorite day of them all - 10 cent day! My pulse races at the thought of it! All those books... only a dime a piece?! Come to mama!

Today, I went with my sister and my fiance. We arrived right at opening time, and there was a huge line of people waiting for the doors to open. By the time we were able to park (several blocks away) and walk back (maybe 15 minutes?), the line had already vanished as the book hungry mob attacked the stacks like a pack of hyenas on a carcass. But who can blame them really? Ten cents is a steal!

My Haul - Not the greatest photo lol
By the time we made it to the door, people were already checking out with their treasures, some with CARTS full of books, boxes and boxes of books. Oh how I would love to do that. However, due to lack of space to actually put the books once home, I refrained from going completely overboard (though my fiance may disagree with that statement). I filled up my bag and once it was full, headed to checkout. Final tally? 19 books for only $1.90!

A couple weeks ago I set myself a steep goal of reading 25 books before the end of the year. I'm on number 4. Now that I have plenty of reading material, all I have to do is read them! I can't wait!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: The Me Years by Ellen Finnigan

The Book: The Me Years
The Author: Ellen Finnigan

Summary: "The Me Years" is a spiritual autobiography by Ellen Finnigan. In the book, Ellen details life in her twenties, romance, jobs, and how it all ties in to God and love. This book is about how she reacted to her experiences, examining herself and figuring out who she is. 

I won "The Me Years" as a First Reads giveaway, I will say that I wasn't sure if I would like the book - I'm not religious, but I am interested in spiritual journeys (so funny, that she touches on this subject in the book). I just hoped that it wouldn't be too "preachy".

Reaction: While there were some sections that can only be described as preachy, overall, I really enjoyed the book. As I am currently in my own "me years", there were many points that Ellen Finnigan made that "spoke" to me.

Ms Finnigan is a wonderful storyteller. Reading, I felt as if I were actually witnessing the tale unfold. I could see the changes taking place, the learning, the growing. I kept turning the page because I wanted to know what happened next. It was a good story.

I still have mixed emotions about "The Me Years", however. While, I did indeed love her story, and definitely the way she told it, I found myself completely bored by her summary at the end, which I believe is the whole point of the book: taking her experiences and relating what she learned about them.

Like I said before, I love spiritual journeys and I love reading about them. I like to see what people actually take from their past with them to their future. While reading the book, I noted that, largely, there wasn't a LOT of mention of God and religion, but the last couple chapters were filled with it, smothered with it. I also found that these same chapters had a tendency to talk in circles, with Ellen repeating herself. I could skip paragraphs of text, and she would still be talking about the same thing. I reminds me of a soap opera: you can miss a month of shows, and still be caught up because nothing has changed. But again, this is just the last couple chapters.

Verdict: 3 Stars. I feel the storytelling alone deserves a rating of 4 stars. And mid-book, I was prepared to write a 4 star review. I can't however, get past having to force myself to stumble to the finish line. If the summary wasn't so compressed and slow, I definitely would have given this 4 stars, and it would have if the end had flowed a little bit more smoothly.

Overall, great book, and I will look forward to more work from this talented writer.