Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Let Me Check My Schedule...

So it is time for desperate measures.

My writing has floundered far too long. I figure HERE with two weeks until our next insecure writer's group meeting...

Hi. I'm Hart.
Hi Hart.
And I am floundering.

*fish slap*

I am going to try a desperate tactic. I've fallen into a series of bad habits... some shows I like, some YouTube channels I follow, so discussion groups I participate in which fall into the “Squee fan girl” category rather than the writer one... I am reading a ton and that is good, but I am NOT exercising the discipline I need otherwise.


WRITE (or edit) 6:30-7:30 (I can shift by half an hour but that is all the flexibility there is)
PLOT: In the bathtub for half an hour before I switch over to reading (this can be edit plotting or original plotting, but a half hour devoted to plot)

I will DO this thing!!!

In Other News

The Boy Project

I think starting in August I am going to begin a “lasts” feature... My son—my baby, otherwise known as Thing 2—and I started our steps for college application this weekend—sent his ACT scores, put deadlines on a spread sheet, signed up for which is how his school submits transcripts... And I realized this is my last year with him really at home. I mean he may come back, but I know him. He is not my kid who will live at home as an adult. (I can see my daughter living with me if her dad weren't there, and she is still finding footing, so mostly lives with us anyway). But my baby will be leaving in just over a year.

But in perfect timing mode I saw a recommendation about documenting “lasts”. So I am going to. It won't probably be weekly, but I think I will be glad later I've done it.

Love This Blog!

And there is something I've been bad about. I share stuff on Facebook, but why NOT share with all of you when I see stuff I really love (which I do all the time), so I am just going to make a point on Fridays or Saturdays of sharing the week's gems, craft, philosophy, humor... possibly occasional politics, but I will try to limit that to the truly “make you think” stuff.

Part of all of this is trying to rejuvenate myself a bit. I used to love blogging because... honestly, I used to be interesting. I'm not sure what the heck has happened. Maybe a person just only gets so much of that. But I feel like most of the last three years I've just complained or tried to get back on track. So I am trying to settle back in and find what works again.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It's About Time!

So HWMNBMOTI and I watched Gone Girl on Saturday night and it got me thinking about something that I actually think about a lot when I read, and think I want to think about MORE when I write.

You guessed it. Time.

Now the thing about time is people seem to have really strong opinions about how time plays out in books. Some people really want time to flow in one direction. Other people (like me) love a story that does some wonky backward/forward stuff, provided it is done well.

James Michener

The first book I remember really noticing this done elegantly is The Source. This was the first of Michener's location novels where he goes through time in one place to give us a sense of history. The clever thing I loved though, was that it traveled backward (archeologists digging down) and forward (from the first civilization built at the water source).

Tom Robbins

Tom does some of the bendiest stuff with time I've ever seen. He slows it and speeds it and makes it a character and it's fantastic, but his novels are all on a sort of surreal plane—the reader knows he's playing. It is just our job to enjoy the trip.


I've seen some mysteries jump between the solving and the happening of the crime—I can like that a lot, done well. Harry Dolan's latest, The Last Dead Girl, does a bit of this and I love it.

Done Wrong

I've seen a lot of books with flashbacks or “finding papers or a journal” that manage to pull up the old story, but I find them clunky a lot of the time. Not always... if done as a mystery I can get along with it—learning with the MC. But I've seen it done badly enough to know to BE CAREFUL!

But What is RIGHT?

This is the trick, right? I know I've seen it done well and done poorly, so how do I make sure I fall on the right side of this?

The reason I'm asking as, after watching Gone Girl, it occurred to me that Medium Wrong, which so centrally heads toward Amanda's mother's story, MIGHT best be told in a bit of parallel... I think... But I want to make sure I am not clunky and awkward about it.

So do you like stories that mess with time?
Not counting specific time travel, what are your favorites?
Any words of wisdom as I think about doing this?

ALSO, if you are near Ann Arbor and write mysteries, Aunt Agatha's is hosting a writer in residence day at the Ann Arbor Bookfest for a few lucky authors to get one on one feedback.  Check here for details.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Mesothelioma and Heather's Story

So I am helping a cancer survivor with an awareness campaign today. She is approaching her 10 year survival marker (YAY!!!) and is celebrating by trying to spread the word about the cancer and its treatment by sharing her story. Since two of my grandparents lost cancer battles, I felt it was a good cause to help spread the word for.

For starters, you probably are wondering what the heck Mesothelioma IS. I know I didn't know until Heather approached me about helping her out.

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of cells lining the body's internal organs, known as the mesothelium. Pleural (or lung) is the most common sort (about 70%) but if can also be in the abdomen (peritonial) or heart (pericardial).

Asbestos exposure increases risk and treatment runs the same gamut as most cancers: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy. If you want to know more about the cancer broadly, this website is helpful.

Most cancers have pretty good survival rate for stage two or lower—even stage three, depending on the cancer, but this one, unless caught in stage one, is typically less than a two year survival prognosis, though cases are different. [For reference, stage one is small and localized, stage 2 is larger and starting to spread, stage three means it has spread to another organ or system and stage four is fully systemic.]

In 2005 Heather Von St. James was given just 15 months for her own diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma—she'd given birth to her daughter just three months earlier and she found the odds unacceptable... but you should probably hear her story from her... Heather's Video.

Take a few minutes to give it a watch and share the story. People with early asbestos exposure should be particularly vigilant.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Lessons from Journalism in the Age of Twitter (Tumblr, Whatever)

So most of you probably have heard about the John Green events last week, but in case you haven't, in a nutshell, this is what happened:

A young woman on Tumblr Posted:

I bet John Green thinks people don't like him because he's a dork or a nerd or whatever, when in reality it's because he's a creep who panders to teenage girls so that he can amass some weird cult-like following. And it's always girls who feel misunderstood, you know, and he goes out of his way to make them feel important and desirable. Which is fucking weird. Also he has a social media presence that is equivalent to that dad of a kid in your friend group who always volunteers to 'supervise' the pool parties and scoots his lawn chair close to all the girls.

Hard to find the guy not smiling. Honestly, he looks nice to me
And then a bunch of internet instigators kept tagging John Green demanding he defend himself (not to mention several very famous authors defending him). Finally he'd had enough, and he DID respond with this:

His entire response, btw, which included a note that he didn't want anyone sending hate to the OP:

"You want me to defend myself against the implication that I sexually abuse children?
Okay. I do not sexually abuse children.
Throwing that kind of accusation around is sick and libelous and most importantly damages the discourse around the actual sexual abuse of children. When you use accusations of pedophilia as a way of insulting people whose work you don’t like, you trivialize abuse.
I’m tired of seeing the language of social justice–important language doing important work–misused as a way to dehumanize others and treat them hatefully.
So we all seek (and seek to share) the jolt that accompanies outrage and anger. As studies have shown, the complicated dopamine rush that comes with righteous indignation is very powerful, and I’m indulging it simply by responding to the outrageous accusation that my work is somehow evidence of sexual abuse.
But the outrage cycle is exhausting, and while there are wonderful examples of outrage fueling long-term, productive responses to injustice–We Need Diverse Books and the UPLIFT both come to mind–too often the Internet moves from jolt to jolt, from hatred to hatred, ever more convinced of our own righteousness and the world’s evil. And getting caught up in that is very painful.
I realize that will seem privileged to many of you (and it is), or like an excuse (maybe it’s that too), or lacking in empathy (maybe so), and I’m sure there is plenty here to deconstruct and reveal my various shortcomings (which are legion).
But this stops being a productive place for me to be in conversations if I’m not allowed to be wrong, if my apologies are not acknowledged alongside my misdeeds, and if I’m not treated like a person.
I think at this point it’s impossible to continue to use tumblr in the way I’ve used it since 2011. My life is different (in ways that are both good and bad); this community is different (in ways that are both good and bad); the world is different (in ways that are both good and bad).
So if this blog begins to look more one-way, with more original content and less reblogging/commenting/answering asks/etc., that’s why.
I want to emphasize that I am ridiculously lucky to work on stuff I love, from Crash Course to The Art Assignment to writing books. And I trust that many nerdfighter communities–whether vlogbrothers or Dear Hank and John or the Wimbly Womblys or the kiva group–will continue to be open and collaborative and constructive. Also, I’m not angry or anything like that. I just need some distance for my well-being.
Thanks for reading. DFTBA.

EDIT: To be clear, sending hate to people who say this stuff is counter-productive and only continues the outrage cycle, so please don’t abuse anyone. Thanks."

And then he started getting a bad time about being insensitive to the poor girl and yelled at not to victimize her again...

Erm yeah...

So here is my assessment of all that (because I'm wise and all that):

A young woman perceives what she perceives and has a right to that. But there are things you say about people that fall into hurtful territory at least and slanderous at worst. So the girl DID deserve to have the effect of her words explained.

But see John is a video guy... he is used to his four minute platform, a chance to build up his audience and educate us. I think that training failed poor John here. See, his response WAS thoughtful and educational. By the third paragraph. He GOT to the kind lesson. But he was offended first and in the age of the tweet, THAT was what people responded to.

So here are some things that could have saved the pain:

REMEMBER we are in a 140 Character Age! That doesn't mean he couldn't post his whole response, but it makes the order critical. In fact ideally he gets in a full summary in the first sentence and THEN expands:

“I'm sorry your experiences make you feel people who care about young adults are creepy, but your hurtful words suggest something untrue.” (135 characters—took a little work)

There is only the room there is...
REMEMBER the Journalism Rules!

One of my first degrees is journalism and unlike ALL other forms of writing, journalism rules require you to start with the MOST important details and trickle from there. The reason was that made the guy formatting the paper's job easier—if he needed an extra inch, he could just chop the last inch of any article. But the reason it applies HERE is we've all developed such short attention spans. You never KNOW when a person is going to quit reading, but you better bet it is before the end. Front load the main message.

REMEMBER the Image You Want to Present!

Do you want to be the guy on the defensive? Or do you want to be the patient teacher? Are you the ranting loon or the author who rose above it all? A statement of compassion right up front buys a lot of good will.

So there you go. Now you're smarter. Or something... Anybody else have advice to add or cases where a fiasco might have been saved with a bit more thought?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

When We Mirror Our Characters: An Insecure Post

Welcome friends to first Wednesday and the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

So I failed my WriMo in June. There's that... but on a more positive note, I started a serious edit of Also Appearing... where Leah Clarence feels like an extra in her own life. She has friends and family but always feels like she is in the background—like life is happening around her.

And then she falls in love... not real love necessarily, but that first teenage wallflower infatuation approximation of love... And he likes her back. And she feels special. And real. And like she is finally in a starring role in her life. And then suddenly it's over, but for just that brief moment she felt ALIVE. Living her life, not it living her... and she becomes desperate to get that feeling back without having any clue where it came from in the first place.

That is me.

I had a hole and my life went on around me. And then I got to writing and fell in love and dived in and was intoxicated with the magic of it. And at the moment I feel like I've been doing drugs and sleeping with strangers to try to get back something I must never have understood in the first place... Well not literally... But the Everly Brothers keep singing You've Lost that Loving Feeling...

So I am hoping this editing process, where Leah finally learns to live life on her terms, will help me with the process of getting my writing life back on my terms.

That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

If you are feeling kind, you should go check out the OTHER writers in the Insecure Writer Support Group.

And I totally forgot I was sharing VR Barkowski's arc winner today!  Lee Jackson from Tossing it Out--VR will be in touch!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Half Year Reading Assessment

So last week I didn't even manage a blog. I suck. I want to be interesting and I got nothin... but as tomorrow marks the end of the first half of the year and I had a couple reading goals/projects, I thought I'd share a bit about what I've read and what I recommend YOU read.

The Read Your Friends Project  (aka Blog Buddy Book Review)

Nasty by Bret Wright (Mystery/Thriller)

Nate Jessup is a PI in the Pacific Northwest and as the story begins, Nate is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is held up by a desperate man who really just wants help getting away from the beach where they encounter each other, or more specifically, the MEN on the beach who are trying to kill him. Nate ends up with his car exploded and some people after him who think he has something that he doesn't.

The tone of this has a lot in common with the hard boiled detective stories of old, but I felt like it had a lot more heart. Nate isn't a caricature—he has some demons, sure, but he is also balanced—a good person who has just been through some stuff. I also loved the Pacific Northwest setting, though that may be because I have roots there myself.

Overall I loved the tension, story and the nice sprinkling of humor to keep this balanced. And excellent debut.

Dragon of the Stars by Alex Cavanaugh (Sci Fi—Space Opera)

I enjoyed this space jaunt. The characters were well thought out with complete arcs and Pendar had some very tough choices to make. I particularly loved Tamlin—his weapons leftenent (though I may have that title wrong)--she is his hard working and talented wingman with a gift for sincerity that makes her both a bit awkward and very endearing. I liked the moral dilemma at the core of this story and the character growth shown by Pendar, who is initially so focused on his career that he fails to quite comprehend that there are people around him with worries and lives. It isn't normally my genre, but there was plenty of character stuff to keep me happy.

A Twist of Hate by VR Barkowski (Mystery/Thriller)

This was a fantastic debut. I counted five separate mysteries, beautifully twined together. This story is set in current day, among the elite art community in the San Francisco area, but ties in an escape from Nazi occupied France and the newly contested ownership and theft of an important painting. The characters were compelling, slightly flawed or damaged, their interactions sometimes tense, and the plotting was masterful. I definitely recommend this.

The City of Refuge by Diana Wilder (Historical Fiction/Mystery)

As historical fiction I thought this was fantastic. As a mystery, I had just a few quibbles. I think the characters, backdrop, setting and details were very well done. The perfect level of description to really put me there. I feel though, the author might have made a slightly stronger story had there been something up front that suggested WHY they group was going to the dead city--I mean an official reason was given, but a "why then" would have hinted at the suspected looting--a motive for the second prophet. I mean I get that it is tied to the mystery, so important not to give too much away, and he isn't the PoV, but it would have increased the readers drive forward. As it was, I was about a quarter of the way in before I really grasped what the story was about. It all came through in the end and things fell together well, but it was a little hard to get into because of that.

The Prospect of My Arrival by Dwight Okita (Speculative Fiction)

I loved the premise of this story. An experiment to see if people who have a chance to PREVIEW life before they actually commit are then happier because it was their choice. And Prospect was a wonderful character—his combination of innocence and pre-coded facts made him engaging and much of this tale was very thought provoking and entertaining. I had a few later frustrations that would be too spoilery to share, but that is probably because I was too invested and had a certain way I would have liked it to go. And it's probably good I don't have the power to write my own endings, or I'd never be surprised. I was surprised here.

Strings (In progress--not yet ready for review) by Allison Dickson (Horror)

Pending. But already scary.

So I am starting the 6th rather than finishing, but that isn't so far off. Plenty of time to do my 12.

The Other Books I've read, According to Goodreads and by Genre

Young Adult (because I want to master writing these)

Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (5 Stars)

I really enjoyed this twist on a myth tale. The world felt very real in most ways, pulling me farther into it so the fantastical bit (these "sea horses" if you will) feel real, too. The author really made me care about the characters and it had a perfect mix of darkness, tension, and triumph and hope.

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (4 Stars)

Very interesting book. Stylistically it had bits that reminded me of Fahrenheit 451 and bits like The Book Thief, though I liked it much better than the former and it didn't quite catch the magic of the latter. It was an interesting dystopian sort of world and an interesting set of characters. Overall worth the read.

Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith (5 Stars)

I sometimes feel guilty about how stingy I am with five-star reviews. I give them, but a story really needs to be fairly flawless AND suck me in—so both well executed AND my thing… But once in a while a book like this will come along that makes me feel like I need to go back and downgrade 90% of my fives because it is just head and shoulders above sublime.

This book is not for the faint hearted. There is swearing, a bit of sexual violence and a lot of teen deviance. But harder than that, this is very dark emotionally so it is probably not the thing for some people. But for others, it is EXACTLY the thing.

The story set-up reminded me a lot of The Talisman, one of my favorites from two of my favorite scary authors—Stephen King and Peter Straub. In both books there are parallel worlds in which people can exist in both and the MC is pushed into a position of going back and forth, but I felt while The Talisman is a brilliant show to watch externally, The Marbury Lens actually pulls us inside so we feel it. And the REAL world in Marbury Lens is more real and the OTHER world is darker… I just really feel like Smith upped the ante on the type of tale.

Passenger by Andrew Smith (4 Stars)

(Sequel to Marbury Lens) I LIKED this, but I didn't love it quite to the same degree. The premise is good—same parallel world setup as Marbury Lens, but this is a world where the changes you make have ripple effects and everyone else changes, too. My trouble with it was it felt less coherent, like the author was pantsing it more. I suppose the chaos is part of the point—the MC doesn't really know what is going on either, but I sometimes felt like neither did the author. (I have several friends who liked this one even BETTER, so I think this is a totally subjective assessment)

Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (5 Stars)

Blue lives in a house with her mother, a couple relatives and several of her mother's friends. ALL of them are psychic... except Blue. Blue however, has a sort of amplification effect, so she makes all these women more powerful. It begins with attending St. Mark's with her aunt where the people who will die in the following year march in a parade along the lay line... this allows her family to “give notice” to the doomed who might have affairs to set in order (they seem to have a no harm approach—no need to tell anyone if there is no significant benefit). But in watching there is a boy Blue can see, Gansy. Her aunt says she can see him because either she is his true love, or she is going to kill him. (maybe both). Blue becomes acquainted with Gansey and a few friends, these Raven Boys. And they are on a quest—to wake a long dead king and get their wish... and so it begins. I love this series and this first book is an excellent introduction. This cast of boys is each unique, with his own strengths and flaws. And Blue's setup, in that house with that cast of quirky people, is brilliant, both for plot and for a heavy dose of humor in an otherwise sort of grim tale. This series is one I am strongly recommending to people and this is where to start.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (5+  I'd rank it higher if I could)

I loved The Raven Boys, but I've been trained that the second in a series is typically a bit weaker. Not so with this one. This one is Ronan's story. Ronan is arguably the darkest Raven Boy, and we finally get to understand why and follow his demons and he wrestles with them, often quite literally. The over all story of the lay line and the quest for Glendower continues, but it becomes clearer why Ronan is such an integral part of this story. I really loved this.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (4 Stars)

The third in the Raven Cycle series and maybe weaker than the other two, but still excellent. I feel like any plot would be spoiler for the other two. What I will say is I am VERY eagerly awaiting the fourth.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (4 Stars)

This was such a unique story and telling. It tells a story from two ends--two narrators, two points in time. Amber is in a young women's detention facility. Violet is a ballerina headed to Julliard three years later. And both are telling the story of the character who connects them. To say much more risks giving it away, but it is one of the more unique books I've read stylistically and it mostly works. If I have a complaint it is that the ending strained my suspension of disbelief a bit. Overall though, it was very enjoyable.

Legend by Marie Lu

I loved this one. I just finished Friday, so need some thought, but basically, it is a dystopian future of a split US where part of it decides full futures based on a test we take at 10. The top get good training, the middle get manual jobs, and the bottom get experimented on... The MCs are a girl who scored perfectly and is a prodigy headed to government work and a boy who failed and somehow managed to escape and become a bit of a (legendary) criminal fighting for the little guy. Good stuff.


Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman (5 Stars)

A tale of two cities. This story is about twin towns, one benefiting from a huge agricultural research firm, the other experiencing a cancer cluster among kids that they blame on that same firm. Tempers are high and violence is escalating, and then the daughter of the CEO winds up dead. The MC is called to town because he is a lawyer and his daughter has been blamed for the death. I found the tensions true to life and the interactions realistic, and I loved the way an outsider with such a huge vested interest inside could dig down to figure out what was going on. I really thought this was an excellent mystery.

Historical Fiction

The White Princess by Phillippa Gregory (3 Stars)

I read this because I watched The White Queen on Starz and loved it and I wanted to see what came next. First person present was a problem for me (it always is except in the very most engaging stories) but for historical fiction it also felt particularly off. And then unlike The White Queen, where stuff HAPPENS, this felt like a lot of “well maybe this is happening” but nothing really ever did. I get that you don't want to change history, but I feel a little like this slice of it might have been more interesting from somebody else's point of view.

So that is 16 books read in 26 weeks... I'd love to be a super fast reader, but I just really am not. A book every two weeks though, is not a pace I am too embarrassed about. And making a point of highly rated YA for a lot of it I think has been a good investment. I am now going to turn to revisions on a couple of my YA drafts, so having a good feel for what works and what doesn't will be critical.

As for BuNoWriMo... I'm not going to win. It is the first time other than one I knew I'd be traveling so I made an alternative goal... I just petered out on plot. But I will get back to it. I need to do some revision and get a feel for how I do this thing first.

And on WEDNESDAY, when we are all here being insecure, I will announce the winner of VR Barkowski's ARC. You still have time to go enter if you want...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

BLOGIVERSARY! Or... A Tart Faces Her Blog

I'm not sure why I am feeling so accusatory toward it at the moment, but it seems to be taunting me. Oh wait... I've got it... I just passed my anniversary and I forgot to throw a party. So why not today? I have a winner to announce for VR's book giveaway. It is summer (if stormy) and I have a four-day weekend on the horizon. So let's have a party!!!

So What Are We Celebrating?

SIX YEARS!!! That is a pretty long time, ne? I've grown in a lot of ways. This blog really helped me find my voice. I think writing as yourself is a different sort of exercise from writing as narrator—you learn what you sound like without the story filter and I think it makes the story voice truer, too.

So CHEERS to perseverance and voice!

I've made a TON of fabulous friends. This is a wonderfully supportive community and surely would have gone insane somewhere between then and now without you. Many many of you have become real friends, not just blog friends, and I will always be grateful.

Time for a group hug...

This blog has also sometimes given me reality checks I totally didn't want but probably needed. I can't really give a toast to that because I really can't endorse reality, but I do comprehend its necessity at times.

And this blog supported me through going from being a writer with a single first draft to my name, to a published author. I've written... I think 18 books now (20 if I count the Shot in the Light as a trilogy) and have traditionally published three and self published the trilogy. I have a lot of work to go here. I'm not convinced I know how to really make a book shine. I want to write hard back best sellers and I'm not there yet. But if any support system can get me there, this one can.

Have a truffle... good for good times and bad...
So CHEERS to author careers! May I yet have one!

So all that said, I am still in my slump... Thought I was coming out of it, but I am struggling like crazy. The fact that I've delayed my first blog of the week until Thursday is never a good sign. Not only could I not get out story words, I couldn't eve seem to get out blog words.

Part of this is the GAP. It was so long that I really didn't write. Inertia is real.

Part of it is my ridiculous Game of Thrones obsession, so what I WANT to write is all my theories about what it going to happen and why. I have been through this with Harry Potter and I am totallya junkie for this stuff—looking at what is written and writing what comes next. If you both watch and read, I posted my Jon season 6 predictions yesterday. I will do all the major characters (Dany next)

I have managed about 21K words on the WiP. I also got EXCELLENT feedback on Also Appearing from Johanna Garth (THANK YOU) that I actually think I know how to address, so that will be my July project.

It is all still just my shaken confidence. But I think that place where we know we need to improve, while painful, is critical to doing the work to grow. When we get confident, and for a while there I think I sort of was, we can stagnate. Let's just hope this doesn't make me physically grow. Writing has already been bad enough where that is concerned...