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Archive for the category “Inspiration”

One Sentence Book Reviews

I’ve been doing a lot of editing, which isn’t conducive to my usual posts about writing… except to say that I really dislike editing.  It makes me question myself, my intention with my story, and whether or not I’m beating all the life out of it. Capn-with-Hunted-5

That said, I really love reading/listening to other books to help my own writing and just for the joy of it.  I have an Audible subscription and a Kindle, so I end up reading a lot. On top of that I’ve been working on query letters for my book Hunting Annabelle. Part of that process is trying to squish my book down into a really short description – which is something I’m not great at.  I thought I’d do some quick, one-line reviews of the best books I’ve read/listened to in the last few months to give me a little perspective.  Here’s the result (note that these aren’t a summary of the book or anything, just what I have to say to recommend them):

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson: A haunting horror story that has a slow build and a spookily unsatisfactory ending.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote: Masterfully written story about the love/hate reality of friendship – will make you cry.

Closure, Limited and other Zombie Tales by Max Brooks: If you loved World War Z (the book – not the movie), you will love this book.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King: Ever wondered what happened to the kid from The Shining?  Ever wondered what would happen if Joe Hill’s worlds and Stephen King’s mad skillz came together? This is that book.

(Sorry – that was longer than one sentence.)

Dreadnought by Cherie Priest: A Rebel girl travels through the Civil War to Seattle – with steampunk and zombies.

Dry by Augusten Burroughs: The true (and SUPER messed-up) story of one man’s attempt to get/stay sober in New York City.

I am not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells: John Cleaver is a young sociopath trying to get along in the world, but as murders follow his every step he begins to wonder if he’s really a psychopathic serial killer.

Ironskin by Tina Connolly: Basically Jayne Eyre with magic, faeries, and plastic surgery that corrodes one’s very soul.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner: A kid finds himself in a strange world with no memory, trying to get along with other kids and a noticeable lack of adults.

Rip Off! by a variety of authors: A bunch of short stories which start with the first line of different of classic tales. My fave was the noir version of Moby Dick.

The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty: A New Yorker looking for a job in the tooth and claw publishing industry finds herself in the underworld of zombies, vampires, demons, sprites, and other so-called “coterie” living in NYC.

Under the Skin by Michel Faber: (SPOILERS) An alien modified to look like a human picks off hitchhikers for a menacing corporation which sells human meat to upper class aliens as a delicacy.  CREEPY AS HELL.

Wool by Hugh Howey: A well-written FREE series about a group of people living in a silo. As time passes the confined world becomes more and more mysterious – to the reader and to the characters.

The End is Nigh edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey: An amazing collection of stories which all run on the same theme: what is the world like right before an apocalypse?

So… how did I do?  If you’ve read any of the above, give me your take.  Just try to keep it between one and three sentences.

 

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A Little Help From My Friends

I am a podcast junkie, and I am already extraordinarily jealous of people who get published on audio magazines like The Drabblecast, Pseudopod, Escape Pod, and the Dunesteef.  I’ve been published on The Way of the Buffalo, but honestly I haven’t made a consistent foray into the short fiction world.  In fact, pretty much every time I start to work on something short, I end up working on something long.  My current book – working title “Hunting Annabelle” – came from a short story I wrote, then rewrote, then rewrote again.

The reason I bring this up is because I have several friends who are self publishing right now.  They get that instant gratification, they get the money, and I start to wonder what I’m doing trying to get traditionally published.  But then, I have only recently got up enough courage to think that what I’m writing might be interesting to more people than just my mom.  Then I started working on one of my original novels (yes, I’ve written more than one – and I hope none of my old ones ever see the light of day).  Once I realized that I was overwhelmed with the project to which I had set myself – it was epic fantasy – I went to short stories.  Then I decided the story I’d rewritten a bunch should actually be a novel.  Now I’m starting again.

Now that I’m about a third of my way through the story (it’s at 22,479 words as of today), I am feeling some impostor syndrome.  I always feel like this shouldn’t happen – and it always does.  I mean, I write nonfiction articles for a living!! So, why do I feel so impostor-y when I write fiction?  One way I deal with inner turmoil as a writer is by seeking inspiration.  My usual sources are the wonderful (and now Campbell Award Winning!!!) Mur Lafferty and those inspirational people at Writing Excuses.  I also have a dear friend who I wish lived closer that is a traditionally published author.  Heck, my mom is an author for goodness sakes!!

I think what’s really happened is I set a target for myself and now I’m freaking out.  I decided I have to finish my novel by the end of NanoWriMo.  There’s no way on earth that I think I could write an entire novel in one month, but I figure I can at least finish my novel by then.  That gives me about 2 months.  Which means I have to write about 1000 words every day.  That isn’t that much, but I am, by nature, a procrastinator and an over-estimator.  I always start out going “Oh, yeah, that’ll be easy.  So easy that I can put it off until tomorrow.”  So, I’m fighting against myself.

In an effort to get this project done, I’m going to try and post my word count on a semi-daily basis until the first draft is done.  Then I’ll have to figure out another way to get some help from my friends. 🙂

I leave you now with a Macklemore song I like to use to pump myself up (note that it’s explicit):

Why are there so many love songs?

I once dated a bassist who proclaimed that he hated love songs because there were so many of them.  He didn’t understand why people still listened to them.  That question always nagged at me – and I think about it often.  Today I was driving a car without my phone – which means I had to *gasp* listen to the radio on my drive home.  And it wasn’t even Pandora!!  While flipping through channels (I don’t know the good stations in Portland because I never listen to the radio and I didn’t grow up here) I listened to all sorts of music, from Dubstep to Sublime to the Eagles and I thought about what makes music – or a book – or a movie – popular.  This is a question that niggles in the back of my mind and has done for years now.

My theory is that any popular piece, whether well done or a complete steaming pile of crap, impinges on us in a very basic level.

For example, remember when the Backstreet Boys were popular?  No?  Well, I do, and so do these guys:

While their songs are completely terrible (sorry husband o’ mine, but they are) they have one thing in common – they are about basic human emotion.  The top Backstreet Boys song (according to a website I pulled out of Google’s butt) is Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely. Which, while I’ve never been able to stand that song, is all about love and death, two very very basic human experiences.  Not only is the subject matter basic, the music itself is incredibly simple. It’s a brand – because every goddamn Backstreet Boys song I’ve ever heard has this beat – but it’s also crazy simple and easy to follow along.  The Chinese guys could do it – and so can literally everyone else in the world.

98 degrees

I think this is what people mean by “catchy“.  When the subject matter is simple and the music itself is super simple. I specifically picked Backstreet Boys because they’ve always been an enigma I didn’t understand.  I don’t get why they were so popular – but then again, I LOVED the Spice Girls, so I guess I shouldn’t hate on the Backstreet Boys too badly.


The same principles can be applied to books.  I searched the top ten best selling books of all time – and for some reason found the top 21 best selling books of all time.  Since I don’t want to get into religion, and since I haven’t actually read several of the books on this list (though I’m super happy Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None got on that list – it’s one of my favorite books), I’m going to just bring up one series that a lot of people have probably read.

Number four on the list is the Lord of the Rings.  While this is clearly a complex story with epic battles and Ents – which I wish were real – the basic story is, for the love of family and friends and a keen desire for adventure, a young hobbit goes into the greater world to destroy a plague of evil.  This is super basic.  It, like many fantastic stories, boils down to love/hate and good/evil.

Look at this guy. Don't you wish he were alive and kicking today? How can you say no to that face?

Look at this guy. Don’t you wish he were alive and kicking today? How can you say no to that face?

I will digress to make a point – the Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham is for children and seems nonsensical, but it too boils down to love/hate.  One guy is trying to make the other guy try green eggs and ham, while the other says “gross – I hate those”.  The first guy is like “No way, dude, you’re gonna love it!  Just try it.”

Jeez Sam-I-Am, what's IN those green eggs and ham any way...

Jeez Sam-I-Am, what’s IN those green eggs and ham any way…

This is a recurring theme in life.  How many trite “you never know until you try” or “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” sayings are there?  How many times have you said something like “I LOVE my job” or “I HATE my ex”?  Too many to count.  We quantify our lives in love/hate and good/evil.

And that’s why there are so many love songs.

The end.

I’m kind of kidding – but I think my point is made.  The reason there are so many love songs, so many books, movies, tv shows, and plays all about love/hate and good/evil is because that’s how we quantify life.  And we love black and white “that guy’s a good guy – he gets the girl” but get offended when the bad guy some how wins.  I think this is because it offends our sensibilities about real life.  In real life, the bad guy may win, but we assume that he died suffering mentally or physically somehow.  When a young person who seems like a nice, polite young man dies tragically from a drug overdose we get upset.  If it were a book, we’d somehow be able to revenge ourselves on the evil drug dealer or something.  But in real life, we can’t.  And that’s why fiction is so awesome.  We can wish fulfill and make all the things that offend our sensibilities in the real world make sense.  That’s a reason I think fiction, music, and any kind of art is so important, good or bad, happy or sad.  It may help a person make sense of the world around them – and that’s important.

And now for something completely different…. (*warning – the story linked to there will make you cry at the end. I cried in the parking lot of Office Depot. But it was worth it.)

What I learned from Star Trek

I am currently on Season 3 of the original Star Trek.  This means I’ve watched the previous two seasons already, and am on the third Season.   I’ve seen many an episode in my childhood during summer reruns, but from what I remember, they mainly consisted of Captain Kirk fighting with a poorly costumed swamp/desert monster, or Captain Picard being awesome.  So, I decided to be more fair to Captain Kirk and watch the old episodes from the beginning.  What I have to say about Star Trek isn’t particularly complimentary, and it probably repeats what other people have said in the past about Star Trek.  Be assured that while I am making fun of this show, I am in love with the Space Opera and pulpy goodness it presents.

There is a fantastic book that points all this stuff out and more and actually creates a thought-provoking and emotionally moving story all around it.  (I cried at the end.  It was that good) This story is called Redshirts
and is by John Scalzi.  If you haven’t read it and you love Star Trek, go get it now.  I’ll wait.

Back?  Okay.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

In the future they have flip phones, and no defibrillators

I have to say I was weirded out when I saw that they didn’t just press the little Star Trek logo on their suits to talk to the ship.  They have clunky – oft stolen flip phones instead.  I can see why they upgraded.

Also, I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “He’s dead, Jim” from Dr. McCoy.  This is coming from a man who can come up with the antidote for a plague from which he himself is suffering in like 24 hours.  He’s a goddamn miracle worker. C’mon Bones, don’t tell me “he’s dead” when you haven’t even tried basic CPR.

As a note, CPR in the old episodes is only used when convenient – meaning in one episode where Kirk loses his memory and thinks he’s a god because he can do CPR.

Bluetooths suck, even when you are trying to listen to “sub-space” waves

Poor Uhura is always holding the metal object in her ear like it’s hard as hell to hear through it, or it’s about to fall out.  I get sympathy pains in my ear just watching her.

I'm picking up something, Captain - which is a miracle with this shitty bluetooth

I’m picking up something, Captain – which is a miracle with this shitty bluetooth

“Environmental Readings” are just a fancy way of saying “Can we breath down there?”

You would think that if you were going into an alien atmosphere, you’d want to know if there are pathogens in the air that could kill you, or if there’s some kind of terrible plague that will infect you.  Just saying.

No one gives a shit about security on that ship

The Bridge has been attacked I don’t even know how many times from insane/ill/malicious people they let on board and they still only have ONE security guard outside of the elevator that goes up there, and he stands with his BACK facing the elevator.  This “security guard” is standing with his back to the only entry into the place where you control the entire ship.

An additional note to this: WHY WOULD YOU LET CRAZY/ILL/MALICIOUS PEOPLE ONTO YOUR SHIP??????!!!!!!!

The Captain is a sexy beast

There are only a few pity episodes for McCoy, Spock, and Scotty in which they get a girl.  In any other episode in which a girl is there to be gotten, the Captain gets her.  And, I’m sorry, but if someone tried to kiss me like he does, I’d slap his face.

At least they are done with the Femme Fatale being a plot device in EVERY SINGLE EPISODE like they had at the beginning.  I was starting to think the writers hate all women except Uhura, who is a rad singer, by the way.

Have you run out of monsters?  Just insert a chihuahua with a unicorn lion suit on.

No joke.

Who's a vicious beast? You are, that's who.  You little, teensy monster.

Who’s a vicious beast? You are, that’s who. You little, teensy monster.

My favorite character is Spock

I know, I’m sure I should be in love with Kirk.  I  think it’s because Spock is so unassuming.  He never wants command, he just wants to be Jim’s friend.  Also, he’s not drama.  The Captain has sooooo much drama.  There’s no “Dammit man, there IS no try!” from Spock.  His only reaction to something is likely to be a cocked eyebrow and “fascinating”.

Dr. McCoy: "The men died of a plague that melted their skin from their bones! We've got to do something!" Spock: "Fascinating"

Dr. McCoy: “The men died of a plague that melted their skin from their bones! We’ve got to do something!”
Spock: “Fascinating”

Although, while in one sentence I say how dramatic the Captain is, I love Scotty’s “I don’t think I can hold her much longer, Captain”.  Maybe it’s his Scottish brogue.  Or, maybe it’s my childhood crush on Geordi transferring to Scotty.

*Sigh* He's still a hotty

*Sigh* He’s still a hotty

Star Trek is still awesome

Why? Is it because I love pulp and space opera?  Probably.  I also have recently rewatched episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Twilight Zone, and The X Files – so what does that say about me?

In all seriousness, I think the genius of this TV show is that, even though they kill some poor red shirt every single episode, they develop main characters with whom you fall in love over and over again.  I don’t care that the actor who plays Spock has a real-life name.  I just want him to make good with his father.  I don’t want Lieutenant Uhura to die because she is awesome and is the voice of reason (besides Spock and Sulu).  I do care that Sulu is George Takei because he’s an awesome Facebook friend.

The point is, it’s not about the terribly plotted stories, but the characters.  I think any writer can take inspiration from that (not too much though – plotting is important too).

What I Learned from Listening to Rap

Let me start this out by saying: a) there will probably be swearing in this post and b) I originally came from a family that mostly felt rap = crap – except Lauren Hill and Missy Elliot.

I grew up listening to whatever was on KROQ.  This included Blink 182, Eminem, Limp Bizkit (don’t tell me you didn’t listen to him, you did), Reel Big Fish, whatever.  Later on, my tastes were sculpted a bit by a short-lived musician boyfriend who made a lasting impression on my life with his musical preferences.  He got me into Death Cab for Cutie and the Decemberists.  He introduced me to a plethora of great artists who I still love today.  Right now I’m into Lindsey Stirling, Mumford and Sons, and more.  I’ve always been in love with the Beatles.  John and Paul can serenade me eight days a week.

Enter my husband.  A man who listens to TI, Andre Nickatina, Kanye West, Jay Z, Mac Dre, and more.  A man who has fond childhood memories of “The Thizzle Dance” and listening to 2Pac and Dr. Dre.  This is the man I love.

So, in the spirit of understanding what this fascination was all about, I decided to listen to some of his music.   The only caveat was that I would avoid songs about exploiting women or encouraging drug usage.  This will make me sound like a stuffy, middle aged woman, but I didn’t understand half the slang, so I found out later that some of what I listened to actually was about sex, drugs, and other unpleasantness.

When my husband and I were first going out, I had to make a couple of road trips to California.  The first was actually the day after we officially decided to go out.  He must have loved me then, because he let me borrow his ipod (known as the “Rypod”) for my two week trip to Los Angeles.  In this illustrious device were many a song I had never heard of and never want to hear again.  Some of which are songs he loves, so I won’t mention them by name.  BUT, while driving to San Francisco (I was stopping the night there) on my way to LA, I listened to a lot of rap.  I listened to rap all the way to LA, and I listened to rap on my way back to Portland. And there was one thing I learned.

Oh, the sights I have seen. This was in a gas station bathroom on my way to LA.

Oh, the sights I have seen. This was in a gas station bathroom on my way to LA.

What was this lesson?  Well, it came from a conglomeration of rap songs, but mainly from one that I actually encourage anyone to listen to.  It may not be as inspirational to all as it was to me, but I hope at least some take something good from it.  It’s the song by Aesop Rock called “No Regrets”.

This song epitomizes the attitude that all rappers portray.  That is an attitude of extreme self confidence.  I realized, while driving over Mount Shasta, windows down and music blaring (I was actually listening to Girl Talk at the time – a fantastic remixer), that rappers, like the honey badger, don’t give a shit.  Or at least they want us to believe that.  Not only that, they respect a girl with ‘tude.  If you have self confidence in anything, you are part way to making it.

On my way to Mt Shasta

On my way to Mt Shasta

This was an epiphany for me.  I had been an uncertain writer, hating some of my work, unwilling to share it, and almost pathologically unable to submit it, or to finish anything significant.  Since then, while I still have insecurities about my writing, I am at least willing to put myself out there, get rejected, and then put myself out there again.  In fact, there is really only one piece of imagery in my first published story that I like, and that’s the one I stole from reality.  However, it’s not the image my editor said he liked.  Go figure.

So, what can we take away from rappers?  They can at least put up a front of self confidence.  You may think they are the worst thing since moldy bread.  But they could give a shit what you think.  Or at least they act that way.  Or, as my grandfather once told my mom: “If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullshit”.  He was on to something, and so are rappers.

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