Tuesday, November 30, 2010


For the last three years, I have participated in National Novel Writing Month. I love the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month, which for Americans really isn’t a 30-day month because we have Thanksgiving thrown in there. It is hard, if not impossible to tell your family you can’t spend the four-day holiday with them because you have to write 1667 words (or more if you’ve fallen behind for some other reason) each of those four days. Who but another writer will understand that? Let us not even mention the after-Thanksgiving sales the three days following the day itself. Who wants to miss those?

No Outline, No Preconceived Notions

I don’t spend time outlining the book before NaNo starts, I don’t go back every time I open the document and edit, I don’t do anything but write. I don’t even know what I’m going to write about until November 1st, when NaNo starts, and I open a new document page. The results have surprised me year after year. I write cross-genre books, i.e., a mystery set in the future, etc. One year I wrote about six older friends. Another year I wrote a paranormal romance.

What am I Writing This Year? Who Knows?

As I write this in mid-November, I I don’t even know what genre to call it yet. I don’t know how it will end. One of the things that I love about NaNo is that I give myself permission to write whatever comes to mind. When I sit down to write my daily 1667 words, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. One morning, I killed off the main character’s second best friend. She needed to go - although I’m not sure why yet. I’ve introduced a character that I’m not sure whether she’s a good guy or a bad guy. I’ve got a character who may be the main character’s colleague and love interest, but maybe not. If he doesn’t shape up, she may drop him or I may kill him off.

Go with the Flow

I know several writers who get totally stressed over writing for NaNo. If they don’t write their 1667 words, they feel like they’ve failed. Heaven forbid that they not reach the 50,000 words by month’s end. That’s way too much stress for me. My first year doing NaNo, I don’t think I made 30,000 words. I was fine with that. I was happy knowing I had a heck of an idea for a good book. I finished that book over a year later and had 80,000 words. NaNo isn’t supposed to give you ulcers. Treat it like a month-long lesson in writing. Learn how to turn off that little editor sitting inside your head. Learn to go with the flow.

Agents and NaNo

I’ve seen agents ranting against NaNo on Twitter and in their blogs because they say too many people send their NaNo manuscript to them as is. It is hardly NaNo’s fault that writers do that. And agents rant year-round about people sending unpolished and unedited manuscripts to them. Writers need to heed agents’ advice about edit and edit again before sending your manuscript to an agent. Agents need to stop blaming NaNo for writers’ not listening to them.

Month’s End

Here we are at month’s end. I wrote my 50,000 words and then some. I had fun doing it and like the characters I created this time around. Will it ever be submitted? I don’t know. I only have 55,000 words. Maybe after I add another 20,000 words, I’ll have a novel. Maybe after I spend another four months editing and polishing, I’ll have something I can take to my critique group. Maybe after I make the changes they suggest I’ll have something I can submit to an agent or two.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I’ve been planning this blog post for a couple of months. I’m still not sure what all I want to say.

While I have much to be thankful for: health, loving friends and family, pets who bring me joy, and so much more; I’m aware of the legions who don’t have any of these things. These are hard times for so many of us.

Thanksgiving, like so many other things in our world, seems to have changed over the course of the years. It’s more a gateway into a frenzy of mass consumerism that only ends when the stores close on Christmas Eve. Even in these hard economic times, you can practically feel people salivating over “Black Friday,” the ultimate consumer holiday.

Perhaps if we all took a moment before getting out of bed on Thanksgiving morning and whisper what is good in our lives, all that positive energy will move the world into a different place where everyone one is safe, everyone is loved, everyone has enough, and no one goes to bed hungry, hurt, or humiliated.

Wishful thinking perhaps. Hope does springs eternal.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Book Review: "Water Mark" by J.M. Redmann

This is the sixth in J.M. Redmann’s Micky Knight series. Once again, the author sets the mystery in New Orleans.

Knight has returned to New Orleans two months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city. She is fighting a serious depression brought on by the devastation Katrina wrought on the city and her soul. She had also found her partner of many years in the arms of another woman shortly before Katrina hit.

While she is trying to deal with her partner’s betrayal, she must also deal with the destruction of the city she loved. The city hasn’t begun to recover from Katrina - there are few traffic lights, the gas hasn’t been turned back on in her office, electricity is practically non-existent, and the people who had fled New Orleans are slow to return. The destruction in the neighborhoods is overwhelming - houses are barely standing, the flooding has caused widespread mold and fungus growth even on the floors that weren’t flooded, dead animals, and, in some cases, dead bodies remain inside their ruined homes. The question for Knight seems to be whether she and her city are going to make a comeback.

When Knight is hired by an elderly woman to retrieve a box full of mementos from the attic of the woman’s destroyed house, she knows she has to go into a neighborhood where ghosts roam, if only in her imagination. When she arrives at the woman’s house, a van full of teenagers drives up to a house two doors away. They head into the house, but come tumbling out almost immediately screaming and falling off the damaged porch. They say there’s a dead body in the house. With Knight’s help, the group is split up with most of the kids going in search of an area where there are working phones or at least working cell towers to call for an ambulance. The group’s chaperone has broken his leg and a young man has badly sprained his ankle. The young man’s twin sister remains behind with him. When the ambulance finally arrives, the driver refuses to take the girl with them since she’s not injured. It is left to Knight to deal with her.

When Knight checks the dead woman, she knows that the woman wasn’t killed by Katrina, rather the woman died much more recently and by a human hand. With her curiosity piqued, Knight begins trying to find out who the dead woman was and why she was dumped in the house where she was found.

As the book progresses, Redmann tells an interesting tale as she begins to unravel the clues to the murder. The story, though, is too often lost in her character’s angst over losing her partner and the devastation of Katrina. The story of Knight’s return to New Orleans and her partner’s betrayal would have made a powerful story in and of itself, while the murder of the woman would have made for an interesting mystery. But the combination doesn’t work. Redmann’s telling of the two disparate stories doesn’t do justice to either.

If you are a reader who gets taken out of a story by the overuse of a word or by a SUV that turns into a van and then a truck and back to a SUV within the space of a few pages, or by being told that it is dusk and the sun is setting and then having the character walking into a room with bright sunlight streaming in through the windows, then be prepared to be stopped in your tracks time and time again.

Despite its flaws, this book deserves to be read by everyone who wasn’t directly touched by Katrina. Redmann tells what Katrina did to New Orleans and its people with emotions that are lacking in newscasts and newspaper reports. The reader will feel what it’s like to go back to a once vibrant city to find it so totally destroyed. The reader may begin to understand the heartbreak the people of New Orleans face when they return to their beloved city

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review: Body Language by Kenna White

Joanna Lucas is an art restorer with a prestigious Boston institute. She wins a lucrative grant to assess the damage to mosaics in the basilica in Venice. While she’s not wild about going to Venice, her boss talks her into it, and she asks her best friend, Deena, to go with her. While sitting in a cafe near their hotel, Joanna sees the artist Chandler Cardin sitting across the room staring at her. Chandler is the last person Joanna wants to see. Chandler broke Joanna’s heart two years earlier. Joanna has told herself that she’s moved on, that she’s over Chandler. But is she really? That is the question to be answered in this ninth book by Kenna White.

White evokes the specialness of Venice as Joanna travels around the city in a water taxi, you feel her awe as she sees the architecture and her heartbreak when she sees the damage done by the waters slowly eroding works of art as the tide rises and falls. You’ll even smile when she gets lost and when she finds herself in a canal a la Hepburn in “Summertime.” If you’ve never been to Venice, you’ll get a taste for what it would be like to visit. If you have been to Venice, it will bring back the good memories of a remarkable city.

White, however, does not evoke the emotions of her characters as well as she does the city. We’re told that Joanna is heartbroken, but we never feel it. Joanna is supposedly devastated by Chandler’s having cheated on her, but accepts Chandler’s superficial explanation that she never really cheated on Joanna quickly and easily. More believable, but nevertheless annoying, is Deena’s macho posturing when Chandler is around. You want Joanna to get a spine and tell her best friend to stay out of it, but she doesn’t. Finally, White asserts that there has never been a woman gondolier, but the first woman gondolier appeared in Venice in 2007 albeit in a limited capacity.

If you want to curl up in your favorite chair and read a light romance, pick this book up. It’s worth the read because of the setting

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Old Dog, New Lessons #3

A friend joined me in walking my dog, Tux, in our local park the other day. When she noticed me glancing at him often, she asked, “What are you looking for?”

I had to think a moment because, while I knew I checked on him often, I wasn’t really aware of what, exactly, I was looking for.

I told her that I was looking for a hitch in his gait as he walked, I looked to make sure he wasn’t limping, I wanted to see if he was at the end of his lead or was he walking closer to me (which tells me he’s not feeling well), and I wanted to ensure he didn’t pick up something he shouldn’t. It was on one of our walks, as I checked on him, that I first realized that Tux was losing his hearing. He was no longer responding to a dog barking in a nearby neighborhood or a child screaming in delight as his mother pushed him in a swing.

After we got home, I began thinking about our walks. I noted that what I look for in Tux every morning is the same thing that I look for in my first edit of a completed manuscript. Once I finish writing a manuscript, I get it printed out. The things I’m looking for in that first edit are the same things I look for in Tux.

  • Is there a hitch in my writing? Does my writing flow or are there hitches in it? I think of a hitch in my writing as something that will stop a writer dead in her tracks or anything that will distract the reader.
  • Is my writing limping? If the story isn’t moving along, it is limping. If the reader isn’t turning the pages like her hair is on fire, then the writing is limping.
  • Am I moving along at a leisurely pace and not at the end of my lead? I want my story to feel vigorous and eager. I want the reader to want to know what’s going to happen next.
  • Finally, I want to make sure there that I hadn’t put something into the manuscript that would stick in a reader’s mind as an irritant throughout the story. I want to make sure there are no loose ends. Did one of my characters promise to do something on page 26 and at the end of the book, that promise was still not kept?

Tux is an old dog who prefers to be called “older” rather than old because the word “old” has such negative connotations in this country. Regardless of whether he is old or older, he is still able to teach me new tricks, and he brings joy to my life because he finds joy in his.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Counting Words

Yesterday, I reached a major milestone. I took my millionth step this year. Like most other people who walk for exercise, my goal is 10,000 steps a day. That equates to two miles a day. That also works out to 3,000,000 steps a year. YIKES!

In order to make my 10,000 steps last spring, I went to our local park in the morning with Tux (my 10-year-old dog). then in the afternoon, I’d head to the Botanical Gardens. This summer I was out and in the park by 6:00 am. It was too hot to walk there at any other time of the day which meant it was too hot to walk in the Gardens as well. Now that fall is here, it’s back to the park and the Gardens again.

Of course, in order to make the 3,000,000 step goal, I should have reached the 1,000,000 step mark in April. I am not daunted, however. Hope springs eternal in my world.

I didn’t realize I was close to the million step mark, which made reaching the milestone that more amazing. There was, however, a minor downside. I then had to find out how many words I’ve written this year. Not as easy to come up with a number as it was to figure out the number of steps since I carry a pedometer in my pocket every day. It’s a very small thin pedometer from Omron. I simply record my steps on a spreadsheet every day.

In trying to figure out how many words, I’ve written this year I realized I wasn’t keeping track of all the words I wrote. For many months, I didn’t track the number of words I wrote for my blog, presentations, book reviews, etc. Going back to track those numbers seemed like a daunting task so I didn’t. I’ve written 250,000 words thus far this year, and I’ve started tracking ALL the words I write. Thank goodness for spreadsheet programs.

How about you? Do you track the number of words you write every day. Is there a reason to do it (outside of November and the NaNoWriMo)? Do you use a spreadsheet to track the numbers or some other method?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Review: "Still Life"

Still Life is Louise Penney's first novel featuring Sûreté du Québec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team. It was the runner up for the 2004 CWA Dagger Award for a debut. It also received starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly and Booklist. The accolades were well deserved.

Gamache and his team are called to the small town of Three Pines to investigate the death of the town's former schoolteacher, Jane Neal. At first, her death appears to be a hunting accident, she was killed in the woods by an arrow. It quickly becomes evident that this was no accident. Someone murdered the much loved older woman. Why?

As Gamache questions the townspeople, he becomes more and more convinced that it was a local who killed the victim. He finds that a few residents have motive, but not the means while a few more have the means but not the motive. Gamache painstakingly takes each piece of new information and fits it into the puzzle much like one does with a jigsaw puzzle until the entire puzzle makes a complete picture.

As you read this book, you become impressed with Gamache. He's not embittered, an alcoholic, a bully, nor a sycophant. Rather he is literate, kind, and caring. He listens to each person he interviews, he relies on his team to gather information, and, with his team, he solves the murder. Gamache is not the only unique character in this book. Jane Neal comes alive for the reader as Gamache talks to the townspeople about the deceased. Gamache's second-in-command Jean Guy Beauvoir is nearly the opposite of Gamache by nature, but has learned from his boss and mentor to conduct a thorough investigation. New to the team is Yvette Nichol a young woman who is unable to take responsibility for her actions, unwilling to learn from the ever-patient Gamache, and in the end is sent home in disgrace. The townspeople, too, are complete, fleshed-out characters, including the local bistro's owners, Olivier and Gabri, the local bookstore owner, Myrna, and the town's curmudgeon and poet Ruth Zardo.

The writing is superb. Penny keeps the story moving forward one clue at a time. Toward the end of the book, the reader, like Gamache, has changed her mind about who the murderer must be. In the end, it is the victim herself who solves the crime in a twist that will have the reader saying, "I should have known that, the clues were all there." An added bonus is that while I don't expect to laugh out loud while reading mysteries, I did in this one.

I read Penny's latest entry, "Bury Your Dead," in this series first. I loved that book so much that I immediately went out and bought "Still Life" and the other books in the series. I have three authors who I consider among the best mystery writers writing today. I have put Penny on that list, which includes P.D. James, Charles Todd, and Laurie R. King.

If you like your mysteries intelligent, subtle, well written, and, at the end, wanting the book to go on for a while longer, then this is the book and the series for you.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

One Sentence at a Time

John Keats wrote, "I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else. I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel."

Have you ever noticed that people treat you a little differently when you tell them you’re an author? If the statistic that 80% of Americans want to write a book is true, no wonder they treat you differently. You are doing what they only dream of doing.

You do tell people you’re an author, right? You have finished that first novel, right? What? You haven’t written your first novel yet? What’s keeping you from it? You’ve started it, right? You haven’t?

Okay, you’ve got a great idea, right? Yes! You’ve written it over and over. You just haven’t put it on paper (so to speak) yet. You’ve opened a new document over and over, haven’t you? You’ve stared at that blank page for hours. Maybe it’s time to put your hands on the keyboard now.

If it’s any consolation, nearly every writer has been where you are now. We’ve all wondered if the stories we want to tell will ever be read by anyone. The bottom line is that if you don’t put your stories in writing, it’s guaranteed that no one will read them. Put one sentence on that blank page. Then another. Don’t change either sentence. Concentrate on writing the third sentence and the fourth.

Before you know it, you’ll have a chapter. And then two. It’s only a matter of time before your story is on paper. You’ve written your 80,000 words. You’ve written your book one sentence at a time. You’re an author!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Old Dog, New Lessons

In August, I posted about learning lessons from my ten-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Tux.

I learned another lesson from Tux a couple of weeks ago. We were out walking when a small dog started carrying on from his place of safety behind his chain link fence. Tux was okay with the frenetic activity of the small dog running back and forth trying to provoke Tux. When the other dog stopped and started barking and talking trash, it was more than Tux could stand and he took umbrage.

I was sure Tux would, at the very least, lunge at the other dog. No. What he did was to stop and look hard at the trash-talking mutt. Then Tux turned his head away and approached his sister who had been watching the interaction between the two males.

In the doggie equivalent of a high five, he walked over to his sister and gently touched noses with her. I’ve only seen him do this once before, and under similar circumstances. It was as if he were saying that he was the bigger dog for walking away and his sister was agreeing with him, and, indeed, was proud of him for doing that.

How many times have we allowed ourselves to be provoked into action by someone else’s words only to rue the reaction to those fighting words? I, myself, allowed myself to get provoked the other day when we were walking in a park that posted that all dogs have to be on leashes. When we rounded a bend in the sidewalk, a man was coming toward us and his dog was off leash. Knowing Tux as I do, I called to the man to please leash his dog. He ignored me. So I called to him again to leash his dog. His response was not to leash his dog, but to continue to advance on us. By this time, Tux, too, was being provoked because he knows it is his duty to protect his sister and his Mom and here was an unleashed dog heading toward us. Finally, in my best school teacher voice, I ordered “Leash your dog.”

Finally, the man tried to do just that. Not that his dog went to him when he was called. The man had to chase down his undisciplined dog, which, of course, amused me no end to see an overweight arrogant man chasing a dog around in circles. He did get his dog on a leash and as we passed one another on the path, with his dog growling and snarling, Tux had had enough and lunged at the other dog. He and I both knew that because I had him on a short leash, nothing would happen. But neither the man nor his dog knew that. The dog was totally intimidated. So, too, was the man.

I couldn’t help but mutter as we passed, “Keep your damned dog on a leash in the park.” His response was a snarled juvenile retort, “You don’t own this park.”

I know better than to allow people to provoke me. Nothing is served by it. While there was momentary satisfaction on my part for having spoken up, the interchange did nothing to change the man’s attitude that he didn’t need to obey the leash laws, that he was special, and the laws weren’t meant for him.

So now, I simply do what I have to do to protect Tux and his sister as well as myself from harm. If it’s turning and going in the opposite direction of the unleashed dog, we will do that.

Luckily, though, I’ve not seen that man and his in my park again.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book Review: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Daisy Whitney’s debut novel is an outstanding YA novel that addresses the issue of date rape.

The story is set at a boarding high school and features Alex, a junior music major whose one goal is to attend Julliard. The morning after she attends a concert with her friends, she wakes up in the bed of Carter, a member of the water polo team, and has no memory of how she got there or of what happened. It soon becomes evident that Carter had sex with her. Mortified that she had sex with a stranger and can’t remember it, Alex confides in her roommates. They put the name of date rape to what happened to her. They also urge her to seek out the Mockingbirds, a student group that metes out punishment to those found guilty of breaking the school’s code of conduct.

Whitney unfolds Alex’s story slowly. The reader is privy to Alex’s thoughts and, her memories as they slowly begin to return, usually at the worst possible times. Alex, at first, just wants to forget what happen that night, but eventually comes to understand that that she can’t forget the events that occurred. To make matters worse, she must deal with the whispers of her fellow students as Carter spreads his lies about her. She must also endure her self doubts about who she is and how this could have happened. As the last bit of her memory returns, she is horrified. An understanding teacher helps her come to grips with what Carter did was wrong because Alex had not consented to what happened. As she and the Mockingbirds move forward to the trial of Carter for date rape, Alex begins to understand that not saying no doesn’t mean yes.

While this story is about Alex and the effects of rape, it is also a story of the Mockingbirds and how they understand the mores of a high school campus. The Mockingbirds mete out justice in ways that the school’s administration wouldn’t even think of doing. How they effect the guilty party’s cooperation is clever and effective.

This is a fast paced book, a real page turner, that is hard to put down even in the wee hours of the morning. Young women will love this book because Whitney doesn’t sugar coat the facts nor does she dance around the issue of date rape. This should be mandatory reading for every young man.