Posts Tagged With: reading

That Book

 

My rather large collection of books could politely be called “eclectic.” Impolitely, you might accuse their owner (me) of suffering from a multiple-personality disorder, because there’s no way that some of those suckers should exist in the same universe, let alone the same bookshelf. Fact is, I sample giddily from many different genres and a wide variety of authors. In my library you’ll find everything from high-brow literary tomes to … well, paperbacks that feature words like “heaving” and “throbbing.”

I’m not proud of that.

Though I sometimes try to organize my collection, several of the books have apparently become migratory over the years. For the life of me, I can’t explain how Jeffry Eugenides’ Middlesex ended up next to Retired Racing Greyhounds For Dummies. And just the other day, I found my lost copy of The Hunger Games hiding beneath Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

Among the stacks and shelves there are some books that I seem to gravitate back to again and again and again. Sometimes I do that because they’re brilliant, although many of them certainly are not. Sometimes, it’s because of a neat plot twist or marvelous dialogue. Sometimes, I have to admit, it’s because a book crosses my mind and I can’t believe just how awful it was … so I go back and read it again to verify that YES, it really was that awful. It’s like a perpetual state of denial. (I regularly go back to certain restaurants for the same reason.)

The point is that every so often I get a craving for that book. That specific book. And heaven help me if I can’t find it, because I will tear the place apart until I do. They’re like my comfort food for the brain. They’re like popcorn. Only made out of paper. And you don’t eat them. Okay, so it was a bad metaphor.

Anyway, I thought that it might be interesting to occasionally share a few selections from my That Book list,  along with a very brief explanation or at least a mea culpa. Mind you, the criterion for these books is that they are still in my reading rotation after at least five years. Some of them I’ve had for over twenty years.

I hope you’ll tell me about your version of the That Book list too! Seriously, don’t leave me hanging out here all alone with only my embarrassment for company! Please?

In no particular order:

One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

In Soviet Russia, book writes author! Seriously, Solzhenitsyn spent years incarcerated in a Soviet prison camp, and it shines through in this stark ‘day in the life’ account.  I must have read it a hundred times and I still feel a sense of suspense as to whether Ivan will somehow manage to get on the sick list.

Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett

Granny Weatherwax is possibly the greatest character in the history of characters, and Nanny Ogg can be Robin to my Batman any old day. The Time Of The Thing With The Bulls is side-splittingly funny. Honestly, pretty much all of Pratchett’s Discworld novels (those published prior to 2009) are destined to remain on my That Book list.

Debt Of Honor Tom Clancy

In my experience, books written by Tom Clancy must breed with each other. Seems like you can’t hit a garage sale or thrift shop without finding several Clancy books lurking on the shelves and looking furtive. I also have to say that Clancy’s series around character Jack Ryan used to be pretty good, until he ran out of ideas or started using a ghostwriter or something. Then they sucked.Out of all of them, I give this one the nod because it has a good balance with a fairly credible story and a nice ensemble cast of characters.

All Quiet On The Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

A tale of young German soldiers in the trenches of World War I, this book is even less uplifting than Ivan Denisovich, which just should not be possible. But it’s an insightful and unflinching masterpiece of writing. If it didn’t hit a required reading list for you in High School, and even if it did, I do sincerely recommend it.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

As a rule, I don’t like anything hinting of Chick-Lit. I just can’t relate to the genre at all. But I like Bridget Jones a lot! I love the self-deprecation of the writing and the great dialogue. (Although sometimes I get lost in the British-ness of it all.) Bridget’s meticulously kept daily log of lost/gained weight, cigarettes smoked, and alcohol units consumed just cracks me up.

A Good Day to Die (Star Trek: I.K.S. Gorkon, Book 1) – Keith R.A. Decandido

Yes, this is one I ought to be ashamed of.

It’s a Star Trek book.

Actually, it’s a book about Klingons.

Klingons with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Captain Klag throws his head back and laughs heartily. Doctor B’Oraq tugs on her braid which happens to be adorned with a pin of her family crest. Commander Kurak grasps her right wrist with her left hand when she’s irritated … which is always. Lieutenant Leskit’s Cardassian neck-bone necklace rattles when he moves. These things happen EVERY SINGLE TIME one of these characters appears in any scene in any book of the I.K.S. Gorkon series. It’s a wonder there’s room for a plot. But doggone it, I do love that Klingon perspective and for some reason, I just … keep re-reading this series.

How about you? What’s on your That Book list?

Categories: Book Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

Top Twenty? Holy Cow!!!

It’s been a pretty cool day here, and while it isn’t in my nature to pat myself on the back … I’m doing it anyway.

The screen shot is a capture of today’s Product Details for my eBook  SERVANT TO THE WOLF. Click on the picture if you can’t read it, but it basically says that at this moment, the book is ranked #20 in Kindle’s Children’s Historical Fiction-Ancient Civilizations section.

For added entertainment value, there’s a little artistic license on my part with a smiley face. And…okay, now you know that I keep a Firefly theme on my Firefox browser. That just makes me extra cool, right? Can’t go wrong with Nathan Fillion!

Anyway, it isn’t every day in the life of an author that you see one of your books on any sort of top twenty list at Amazon, (unless you’re J.K. Rowling) so I’m putting it here for posterity’s sake.  Also because I think it’s frickin’ awesome. (Although being 61,710 seller overall seems like a pretty sad number, it’s not so bad when you think about just how many hundreds of thousands of books are there.)

If you haven’t read SERVANT TO THE WOLF, I sure hope you give it a try! There are lots of links to download sites on its page. And if you have read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Post Script: I just went back and looked again. Dropped to #22. Fame is so fleeting!

Categories: My Books | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Possession is 9/10th’s Of My Protagonist

The Author At Work

Last night, as I was dawdling along and trying for the zillionth time to tie up or trim off a pesky dangling plot thread, one of my characters popped up and engaged my brain in a very interesting debate about heaven, hell, life, death, love, loyalty, need, want and morality. By the time I came up for air, my Paranormal-Lite story had arguably reached a point where the Lite might not apply anymore. And I suddenly had five pages of pretty amazing dialogue that–even if it doesn’t make it past the final edit–is going to change my perception of this character forever. Fortunately in a good way. It doesn’t always work out like that.

The thing is, this particular character has always been a fairly sharp individual – very pragmatic and common-sensical – but in the three or four years I’ve known her, she never once gave me an indication of this sort of uber-deep thinking capacity. And now she, like several other characters in my authorial stable, has proven that she’s a heck of a lot smarter than I am.

I’ve always had an inferiority complex, mind you, but it’s a little ridiculous when even the people I make up in my head, can run intellectual circles around me.

Please tell me that I’m not the only one this has ever happened to.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about characters who are more talented than I am. That’s easy. If I want talent, well, let my protagonist sit down to play relevant bits of Mozart’s Concerto No. 10 in E-flat major for Two Pianos, K. 365. And lo, there is talent. I don’t have to play it. (I never got past “Ponies At Play” when I took lessons with Mrs. Stolis when I was like, seven.) It’s sufficient that you know it was played and played well. Want a different kind of talent? Just slide a Super Bowl championship ring on Mr. Protagonist’s finger. Or wealth? Give Ms. Protag a Limo and driver named Raoul. No problemo! How about something a little less measurable like courage? Badabing, a few seconds at the keyboard and my protag just took one for the President and double-tapped the bad guy to boot.

I’m not necessarily talking about planned intellect either. I mean, when it comes to really smart characters, the writer can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk all over the page. The evil mastermind has to be a mastermind in more than just job description. But you can plan for that. You can research other evil masterminds, and do up outlines or storyboards or 3×5 cards, and have Roget’s Thesaurus and My Big Book O’ Thermonuclear Dynamics on standby for on the fly research.

Nope, I’m talking about the ambush. I’m talking about the character who’s puttering along in a nicely crafted little story arc and suddenly stops, turns around slowly and says in a slightly menacing (or at least condescending) tone, “You think you know who I am. You don’t know Jack.” Or Jill. Whoever. And they jump the tracks, kick over the house of cards, and take you on the mental metaphor of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with stuff that you could not in a million years have come up with on your own.

Except that you did.

Somehow.

It’s like getting kicked in the head and becoming a temporary savant. Or like crashing a Mensa cocktail party. Again, it’s all in a good way, but it’s a little bizarre when your brain gets hijacked and your only apparent value is being able to take dictation. It’s slightly … creepifying.

I’m going to throw this out there for all the writers who meander in, and I’d really love to hear about your experiences. Heaven forbid I find out I’m on my own, because I really can’t afford a Pshrink on my salary.

Has this ever happened to you? Do your characters ever give you more than you ever asked for? Are they brighter than you? Do they let you know it? Do they make you wonder where the heck they came from?

Do we need to start a support group?

Categories: Writing Life | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Good Character: Perfection – AKA: The Big Yawn

Anyone who’s played around in the world of fan-fiction knows who Mary Sue is. Mary Sue is perfect. She’s beautiful…most likely with at least one physical feature that either lends itself to poetic cliché (hair that shimmers like a raven’s wing) or is honestly a physiological impossibility for Homo-sapiens.  (Violet or gold eyes anyone? How about one of each?) She probably comes from some sort of dreadful background–maybe an orphan, much abused, raised in poverty–yet overcomes it all without breaking a nail or suffering from PTSD, and saves the world without breaking a sweat. Men want her. Women want to be her. Children and small animals adore her. Unicorns flock to her and roll over at her feet for tummy rubs even if they’re breaking into the pages from an entirely different genre. She’ll probably have a flowing name of many-vowels like Aulienniayaia. She will not be named Gert.

When I was immersed in Pern Fic, I knew of one Mary Sue who had rose petals strewn in her path. Actual rose petals. By peasants. With much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And why? Because she was moving across town. (And she rode a dragon that wasn’t so much a gold color as… apricot. I don’t personally believe that anyone who rides an apricot dragon is rose-petal strewing material, but I digress.)

Yuck.

But the point is the perfection. The noble, handsome guy who wears artfully torn shirts out of habit just so his chiseled physique has a chance to gleam, and who will face down his foes unflinching. The ethereally beautiful woman who can balance the entire universe with a single word uttered from glistening ruby red lips. You know who I mean. You can probably name a few. You might even have written a few. I know I have.

These are not the sort of people I would willingly hang out with. I have enough of an inferiority complex already, thank you very much. I can’t relate to them. And I would submit to you, gentle authors, that if your readers cannot relate to your main characters, you’re missing out on something important. You’re missing out on the connection that makes your character real. Likable. Someone who isn’t just going to get cheers because she/he is the heroine/hero but because the audience has invested a feeling of…well, of empathy. Maybe even of friendship.

Many years ago, when I wrote the aforementioned Pern fanfiction, I was asked to come up with a Weyrleader (a head honcho for the uninitiated) and, like the newbie I was, I created B’yard. You can probably guess. B’yard (we’ll call him Bay) was stereotypical hero-material: tall, handsome, black hair, (yeah, yeah, raven‘s wing, shut up) built to centerfold specifications, ice-blue eyes, noble out the wazoo, great in a knife-fight and oh yeah, he could dance. And scars. He had an impressive array of scars. (I know, right? I’m so ashamed.)

It didn’t take me long to realize that as a main character, Bay was not going to be a success. You can’t write much about a guy who does everything right, who gets to be leader by being the best, and who leads his people with wisdom and fairness. He’s not a hero anymore. He’s a freakin’ hall monitor.

So I started to mess him up. By the time Bay’s character arc had ended, we learned that he had the political astuteness of an eight-week old Labrador puppy. He was so locked into “doing the right thing” that he was the most easily manipulated character I’ve ever written. His career ambitions totally wrecked his love life. He was clueless when dealing with anyone under the age of 7, including his own son. His habit of dramatically showing off his scars became something of a joke with the dragonriders-in-training. And his penmanship was frankly crap. He had to hire a secretary for all his correspondence. I could have written about him forever. I definitely learned a lot from him.

These days, when a new character starts tapping at the door of my subconscious and I invite him in for a chat over tea and crumpets, I immediately start looking to see what makes him tick. What are his good points? What are his flaws? What makes him stupid? What makes him smart? What makes him human? What redeeming qualities does he have? Does he have enough baggage to complete a journey? Are we going to have to pick some up on the way?

In my Young Adult historical novel I have two main characters who seem to have nothing in common. Marcus is young, highly-educated, something of an intellectual and a complete snob. He can recite poetry. Lupus is older, slow-spoken, intensely private and content to lead a simple life as a blacksmith. He might know a dirty limerick or two, I never asked him.  Problem: Marcus is a slave and Lupus is his new owner.

Honestly, once those two characters introduced themselves to me, it would have been pretty impossible not to write about them. Not because they’re perfect or stereotypical hero material, but because they aren’t. And that makes them interesting.  At least I sure hope it does!

So, for the writers out there, what are your experiences with character perfection or character flaws?  I’d love to hear your input!

Categories: Writing Life | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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