Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Review: Not Every River by Robbi McCoy

Randi Randall works at the Yuma, Arizona office of the Bureau of Land Management as the resident geologist. She loves Yuma, the people who live there, and the surrounding desert. She has finally gotten her life together and is happily single. Kim Gatlin, an archaeologist from a California university, has received permission the BLM to survey and catalogue the Native American petroglyphs for the first time near Yuma.

Randi is not happy with the petroglyphs being surveyed because she knows that the surveying archaeologist will want to publish her findings. The ensuing publicity about the little-known petroglyphs will endanger them as tourists flock to see them by the droves. Kim is aware of what her surveying will result in, but feels strongly that the survey needs to be taken and she has the right to publish her findings. The fact that her career will be enhanced by the survey will be icing on the cake.

From this initial point of conflict between Randi and Kim, McCoy continues her tale of the two women. As summer approaches with its 100+ degree heat, so, too, does the tension between Kim and Randi heat up. Both women are aware of a growing attraction and both have reasons for wanting to ignore it. How they get beyond the conflict and their own wariness is at the heart of this story.

McCoy seamlessly entwines the geology and anthropology of the Yuma desert into the story. She is sensitive to the significance to both sides of the conundrum: the impact of publicizing the existence of the petroglyphs on the Native American culture or keeping the petroglyphs’ presence away from the public. McCoy is also able to weave some of the history of the Native Americans who occupied the area around Yuma into the story as Kim surveys the field of petroglyphs.

As the desert becomes hotter, McCoy is able to describe it in such a way that the reader may find herself wiping non-existent sweat from her brow or craving a tall cool one. Her description of life in the small Arizona desert town allows you to both understand Randi’s attraction to the place and Kim’s wanting to return to her California home.

McCoy has created two fully realized characters in Randi and Kim. Add to the mix of characters a dog, an old man searching for lost treasure, an old woman who drives around in the desert in a burro-drawn cart, and Randi’s dimunitive best friend, and you’ve got characters to love.

Not Every River was deservedly nominated for a Lambda Literary Foundation Lammy award for best lesbian fiction for 2010. You won’t go amiss by reading this story by Robbi McCoy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom # 12: Surfing in the Car

Now that Tux is nearly the Alpha Dog in the family, he has one Alpha Dog duty to take from Grace, his sister and heretofore Alpha Dog, to complete his coup. Last on his list is the need to become the family’s surfer dog.

Three years ago, Grace started putting her front paws on the console between the front seats of the car. She quickly learned to lean into turns much like a motorcycle rider. She knows to lean back when I applied the brakes. It’s been her spot and her sport. She's a pro at it.

When she injured a front paw, she wasn’t able to surf the streets because it was too painful for her. Tux immediately tried to take over the position, but Grace was having none of that. She’d bump against him, knocking him to the side where he belonged. Even though she couldn’t surf, she wasn’t about to give up her last vestige of Alpha Dog status if she could help it.

I’m not sure what Grace’s strategy was this morning when she let him have the surfer’s spot. He proudly put his front paws on the console. and waited to surf. I’m pretty sure I heard a “nanner, nanner, nanner” escape his lips. Then, I realized there was a method to Grace’s madness. She knew exactly what she was doing. I pulled out of the driveway and as I started to make the turn into the street, Tux fell off not only the console but the back seat as well. He was dumped unceremoniously into the well behind the driver’s seat. At least his fall was cushioned by the stack of cloth grocery sacks I keep there. I pulled to the side of the road, and turned to check that he was okay and came nose to nose with Grace. She was ready to resume her position as car surfer extraordinaire. I swear I heard her whisper “nanner, nanner, nanner.”

Lessons Learned
As writers, we are often anxious to get our publishing career on the road as quickly as possible. We no sooner have our first book written than we start querying agents. We are assuming the role of accomplished writer long before we know what we’re doing very much like Tux assumed that he was ready to be surfer dog.

Like Tux, we need to practice and hone our craft first. We need to edit our manuscripts and then edit them again. We can’t just assume that because we read books and know published authors that we can accomplish what they have by watching them do it.

Tux learned, with a hit to his dignity, that surfing in the car is no easy task. It looks a lot easier than it is. It takes practice to stay in place through all the twists and turns taken from the house to our destination.

Receiving rejections from agents is our equivalent of taking that hit to one’s dignity and ego. It doesn’t mean we should stop writing. It means we should keep writing until our writing is what they want.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: Come Back to Me by Chris Paynter

Angie Cantinnini and Meryl McClain dated in college. Meryl’s rich and powerful father broke them up by telling Meryl that if she continued to see Angie, he would ensure that Angie would lose her scholarship. Meryl complied with her father’s wishes that also included that she marry the man of his choice. Like a dutiful daughter, she married the man of her father’s choice. Her last sight of Angie was as she exited the church on the arm of her new husband. Angie was standing across the street watching, heartbroken.

Eleven years later, Angie is a successful author writing under a male pseudonym and living in Key West. Meryl is the book critic for a large New York City newspaper. She writes a not-so-flattering review of Angie’s latest book, one that Angie agrees with. Angie recognizes Meryl’s name on the review, but Meryl has no idea that Zach England is Angie. Angie makes no move to contact Meryl. While they haven’t spoken in the ensuing years, neither has forgotten their first love.

When Meryl travels to Key West in search of the evasive Zach England, whom she now thinks is a woman, she runs into Angie. They rekindle their love affair. But Meryl catches Angie in a lie and storms out of Angie’s life again. Angie tries to explain, but Meryl doesn’t want to hear her excuses. Meryl doesn’t return Angie’s many calls.

Paynter’s second book is well written, with an interesting setting, and characters any reader can care for. Her pacing keeps the story flowing. Even though the reader may know what’s coming, there are enough twists and turns to keep the reader in the story until the end of the book.

There are some annoying things in this book. Paynter jumps between the past and the present throughout the first part of the book, which may take the reader out of the story. There are also several instances where the use of pronouns instead of names will have the reader stopping to figure out who is speaking.

Paynter has one previous book in a proposed series. Come Back to Me is, however, a stand alone romance so the reader doesn’t need to read the author’s first book to enjoy this one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom #11 - Opportunities

Tux can hear a dog bark a block away outside the park we walk in. He immediately goes into his intrepid hunter’s 3-point stance. All the while that’s going on, there’s a Robin not three feet away calmly watching, and, if I’m not mistaken, laughing.

Opportunities Passed By

While Tux seldom passes up an opportunity to eat, he often passes on other opportunities. These days, he’s not so much into chasing after things he knows he can’t catch - like Robins or rabbits. However, he hasn’t yet figured out that he can’t catch a squirrel even though he’s been chasing them for 11 years. He’s particularly interested in those squirrels who run along the top of the fence, a fence, I might add, that is nearly six feet fall. It hasn’t occurred to him that of all the things he no longer chases, the fence squirrels should be at the top of his list, but aren’t.

Passing Up Opportunities

Humans are very much like that, too. We pass up opportunities to engage with other people, perhaps become life-long friends, because the other person is too old, too heavy, so not with it, etc., etc., ad nauseum. We will never know how much the rejected person might have enriched our lives had we simply paused and looked beyond the outer shell.

Writers often pass up opportunities, too. How many times have you declined to enter a contest because you say to yourself, “I can’t possibly win that contest?” Or, have you ever not discussed your book(s) because you think no one is really interested? Both of these scenarios are great opportunities for you as a writer. Or, easier perhaps than tooting your own horn, how many times have you decided not to set up a Twitter account because it is too this or too that? It’s simple and easy to set the account up just as it is simple and easy to start following people, like agents and editors and publishers. You don’t have to post a hundred times a day, in fact, you don’t want to post that often. But now is the time to start working on your name recognition. Don’t pass up this opportunity to do at least that.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: Mad Madame Lalaurie

I picked this book up at a local Indie store, and was extremely pleased that I did. The authors, Victoria Cosner Love and Lorelei Shannon, tell the story that took place in 1834 New Orleans. They tell the tale of Delphine and Louis Lalaurie a prominent New Orleans couple. When firefighters broke through a locked door in the couple's home they allegedly found chained and mutilated slaves in the room. From that time on, rumors and allegations became a legend in which the Lalauries were charged with murder and torturing of their slaves. The couple fled New Orleans in the dead of night.

The authors did a thorough job of researching this book from sources found in libraries from New Orleans to St. Louis. They dug deep and came up with a compelling tale.

Not only did they come up with an interesting tale of intrigue, but the authors' story is fascinating as well. The authors have been friends since they were 14. How cool is it that childhood friends have collaborated on a book with a subject that has long fascinated them both.

If you love obscure history, New Orleans, and the macabre, you will love this story.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom #10 - Half Full Kind of Guy

Half-Full Kind of a Guy

Tux, my 11-year-old Cocker Spaniel, is a glass-half-full kind of guy. He does everything with enthusiasm. He even sleeps with enthusiasm. You can tell because he sleeps hard and often. There have been times when I’ve had to wake him up in the morning, especially during the coldest part of winter when he’s curled into a tight ball. Once awake, however, he’s ready to go. No hanging back for him.

The Back Yard/Front Yard Conundrum

Tux hasn’t quite figured out when it’s raining or snowing in his back yard, it has to be raining or snowing in his front yard. He firmly believes that while it may be raining buckets in the back, the sun has to be shining in the front and therefore, we can go for a walk. He also knows that while a mere sprinkle won’t prevent us from walking, a deluge will, hence his belief that the weather is different in the back yard. Hope springs eternal with him.

Tux and the Botanical Gardens

He wants me to petition the Botanical Gardens to allow him to go with me when I walk there. He says since I pick up after him, we should be allowed to walk there together. It breaks his heart when I tell him the Gardens hasn’t changed its mind about letting him in. I made the mistake of telling a friend, in front of Tux, about rounding a corner in the Gardens and coming face to face with a fox. After my friend left the room, Tux asked what a fox was. After hearing the description, he said it sounded like a fox was pretty much like a dog. Without thinking, I said yes, it could be described as dog-like. Aha, says he. If they let foxes into the Gardens, they have to let him in - otherwise its discrimination. I’m still dealing with that one.

Lessons Learned

No matter what we do, we should do it with enthusiasm. Why do anything half way? If you’re going to write a novel, write the best novel you can. Don’t be a glass-half-empty kind of writer. Be the writer you know you are.

Go after what you want. Like Tux and wanting to be allowed into the Botanical Gardens, figure out what you want and then figure out a way to get it. I haven’t told Tux there’s little hope of his ever being allowed into the Gardens because I don’t want to shatter his dream. Don’t tell yourself, after the first set back, that you’ll never be a writer. Getting published is an endurance trial If you get a rejection, as Tux has in his efforts to be allowed in the Gardens, send out more queries. Some very famous writers have received dozens of rejections. Some agents tell you that queries need to be broadcasted for best results. Learn to let hope spring eternal.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Book Review: From This Moment On by P, J. Trebelhorn

Devon Conway lost her lover and their unborn child to a drunk driver running a red light. After their funeral, Devon left town and wandered the roads on her Harley. She eased her loneliness with a string of one-night-stands. After three years, she finally returned home, moved in with Sheila, her godmother and the woman who raised her, and bought a garage where she can once-again work as a mechanic. She rents an apartment over the garage of a local homeowner. When Devon goes to the local lesbian bar to hook up with yet another one-night-stand, a woman named Kat, she’s surprised to be turned down.

Katharine Hunter, lost her lover of many years, to cancer five years before the book opens. Unlike Devon, she, however, has remained celibate as she tries to move on with her life. She is a veterinarian and enjoys helping her friends, who own an art gallery, hang the paintings for each new show. When she goes to the gallery to hang the latest show’s offerings, she comes face to face with Devon.

In a series of coincidences, like the two women showing up at the art gallery at the same time and Devon renting an apartment without finding out her landlady’s name, Kat and Devon come together. The book ends with another series of coincidences that while not implausible, do seem contrived.

Trebelhorn’s first book needed a strong editorial hand to rid it of over-used cliches and other writing gaffes like the above-mentioned coincidences. Unfortunately for the reader, she didn’t get that help. Thus, the book is riddled with phrases that have been over-used in the genre for years. If, as a reader, such things don’t bother you, you will enjoy following Dev and Kat on their journey to finding love and the beginning of putting their ghosts to rest.

If you are looking for a fast read about two women coming together only to be driven apart and then coming back together to live happily ever after, From This Moment On is the book for you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Older Dog Wisdom #9 - Memoirs

As Tux and I made our way around our favorite park, I was struck by the number of words he knew. In addition to the usual words like “no,” “good boy,” and “walk,” he also knows “this way,” “okay,” and “go around.” The latter are not words that most dogs know and respond to.

These thoughts led me next to thinking about the people who advise writers to dumb down their writing. Surely, if my 11-year-old dog knows simple words and phrase, the reading public should be a step above Tux and know more complicated words and phrases. If that’s true, why, then, are writers being told to dumb down?

Are the people telling us to dumb down simply insulting the reading public or are they, themselves, unable to understand so-called 50-cent words and so want writers to write down to their level? Readers and writers alike love the richness of the language. I’ve read a few books lately whose authors have taken the writing advisors to heart and dumbed down their writing. What a waste it was for the writer and the reader both to do that. We both wasted out time on this nonsense. I am loathed to believe that the authors of those books were not capable of using 50-cent words.

I’m pretty sure that Tux would have been happy to read those books, so full of 2-cent words, bland images, and trite dialogue. He would have reveled in the books because he could understand the words. They were directed right at him.

If people want to read books with only simplistic plots and 2-cent words, there are probably hundreds of children’s picture books they will enjoy. In the meantime, let the adults read intelligent, complicated plot- and character-driven books strewn with a plethora of 50-cent words, rich descriptions of place and time, and scintillating dialogue.

Tux is thinking about writing his own book now that he understands that he doesn’t have to use the English language to it’s full potential. He says he’s got a plot in mind. He says its about two dogs, one a girl and one a male. They’re brother and sister and they’ve roam around the world with their humans.

I asked him if his book was going to be a memoir. He looked at me funnily. “What’s a memoir?” he asked.