Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Next Big Thing--Blog Hop

Thanks to Gus Sanchez at Out Where the Buses Don't Run for tagging me for this one!  He's answered the questions, and now it's my turn.  Then I'm supposed to tag five more writers to participate--so if you write and read this, brace yourself, as you may be next!

Mention the person who tagged you at the beginning of your post (check).
Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress) and/or new release on your blog (check).
Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.  They're supposed to answer the questions next Wednesday, as I understand it. (See bottom of page).

The Questions:
1. What is the working title of your book?
Not very exciting here, and one of the things I am, um, working on. For now, The Ninja Librarian Returns.

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?
Since this one is a sequel, it would be cheating to just say that the idea came from the first book.  So I'll explain that the original idea for the Ninja Librarian came from a smart-alec comment ("I don't get mugged.  I'm trained to kill") made by a librarian I was working with at the time.  As he was near retirement, it was clear that a Ninja Librarian didn't need to be young--and the idea of a white-haired librarian who could literally kick the rowdies out of the library appealed.  The rest just tumbled out in the form of the first story in The Ninja Librarian, and I had my main characters, setting, etc.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
Juvenile historical humorous fiction.  Though the "juvenile" part is under some dispute.  Probably best to just leave it as pseudo-historical fictional humor?

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I truly can't answer this, as I don't follow movies enough to know any of the actors.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The Ninja Librarian returns to Skunk Corners and further absurdity ensues, with clever solutions to many problems and occasional bouts of Ninja-fighting.

6.  If you plan to publish, will your book be self-published or published traditionally?
I intend to go on as I've begun.  The Ninja Librarian Returns will be self-published, sometime in February.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your MS?
Let's see. . . I started almost immediately on publishing the first volume in Feb. 2012, and sent my revised draft to my editors in mid-October.  I think the draft was done sometime in late September (you didn't really think we kept that close track of stuff like this, did you?).  That would make it (counts on fingers) 6 1/2 or 7 months.  Far and away my fastest, the result of a combination of practice and setting a solid goal for myself.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Hard to do this without sounding totally conceited, but I see flavors of Richard Peck, Mark Twain, and Robert McCloskey's Homer Price.  Though I'm more a pigeon pecking around the feet of the greats than anything like comparable to them.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Well, the general source of the series I describe in question #2.  I was inspired to jump right into a sequel, however, by the very kind reception of the first book.  I have been equally inspired to continue by periodic queries from readers as to when I was coming out with more--nothing like an appreciative audience to make a writer want to write!  I don't even care if my biggest fan is my Mom's best friend.  When she demands more, I want to provide it.  Then there was this.

10.  What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
 Skunk-fu.  Terror in the dentist's chair.    Errors of judgement made by every leading character.

Now to tag the other bloggers:
Dixie Goode
Bookworm Smith
Scott Roche
Will MacMillan Jones
Karen's Different Corners

Tag!  You're it!  Be sure to drop in on these folks in a week and see what they are up to.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys.  YA Historical Fiction.  Audio book, read by Emily Klein.

First things first: this has NOTHING to do with Fifty Shades of Grey (Gray?), and it's almost a shame that the books came out about the same time, because it does Sepetys' book no favors to create confusion with a story of that nature.

Between Shades of Gray is, in fact, an historical novel of the Soviet takeover and depopulation of Lithuania just as WWII was beginning.  In the horror of what Hitler did in so much of Europe, history has lost sight of what Stalin did--and did almost as horribly--in the Baltic states, another forgotten genocide.

The first-person narration by Lina, the teen-aged daughter of a university professor, manages to convey her tensions and fears effectively through a style that seems at first flat.  In fact, I restarted the story three times, distracted by other books (I keep a large selection on my MP3 at all times).  Part of my reluctance was knowing what I was getting into--a story of immense inhumanity and inevitable suffering.

What I forgot--and was brought powerfully back to me as the story progressed--was that all such stories are also stories of immense humanity.  As the political system, and the guards it created, unfolds as completely inhuman, focused on the destruction of a people, those people gradually move out of shock and self-focused fear and become, if anything, a stronger community than ever.

I appreciated that Sepetys did not sugar-coat humanity.  That is, while the political prisoners learned to stick together, and work together, they remain themselves.  The irritable and despairing Bald Man doesn't stop being either irritable or despairing--at least in his words.  But he does what needs to be done, including shutting up when Lina's mother insists.  People do desperate things to keep a family together, or protect a loved one, and Lina must move from condemnation to understanding--and does so, with a fairly convincingly adolescent reluctance.  The title, in fact, is an excellent reflection of the key thing she must learn--to move from the black-and-white world of childhood into a more nuanced understanding that can accept grey areas.

Perhaps my largest criticism is that the story ends rather abruptly, leaving me wondering how they survive the nine more years before being allowed to return to Lithuania.  However, the story ends at the point where, in essence, Lina grows up: when she becomes a leader and a major source of strength in their small band of survivors.  It is Lina's move from childhood to adulthood that makes this a story, not a history book, and not merely a recital of horrific events.

To return to the "flat" narrative style, because it has been criticized by a number of reviewers, I have to say that I found that flatness effective.  When telling of a traumatic event (which seems rather an inadequate description of ten years of penal servitude in Siberia), a person can either maintain an emotional distance, or dissolve into a pool of grief and loss, overwhelmed by what has happened.  Sepetys manages to convey Lina's feelings without overwhelming the reader.  It is a delicate balance which she manages pretty well.

I give Between Shades of Gray a just scant 4 stars, as I did feel a little dissatisfied with the ending.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Get on your backside and write. . . Thanks, Chuck Wendig!

Just read the best rant ever for motivating a writer.  Chuck Wendig writes a blog that is irreverent, and uses language I avoid since I write for kids. . . but he certainly knows how to remind me that the only way to write is to sit my backside down in the chair (or whatever) and do it.  And no excuses, failure is acceptable but quitting isn't.  He's very clear on the difference between the two.

My favorite bit (sorry, Chuck, I had to clean it up in case any of the kiddies find me):

What, you think you’re the first writer who doesn’t think [s]he can do it?
Uh, hello, please to meet every writer ever. We’re all . . .  headcases. We all hit a point in every piece of work where we hate it, hate ourselves, hate publishing, hate the very nature of words . . . We all bang our heads against our own presumed inadequacies and uncertainties. Writing and storytelling isn’t a math problem with a guaranteed solution. It’s threading a needle inside our heart with an invisible string strung with dreams and nightmares.  We are afforded zero guarantees.

I'll be hanging onto that image of an invisible string inside my heart for a long time.  Wish I'd thought of it!

Here's the whole rant.  Warning: Chuck is motivational, sometimes the way the drill sergeant from every movie you ever saw about Boot Camp is motivational.  Enter at your own risk.

And thanks to Gus Sanchez for tipping me off to Chuck in general and this rant in particular.  Gus isn't half bad at the motivational rant himself.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Free Story--The Librarian Speaks of Skunks

The Librarian Speaks of Skunks 

It has come to my attention that Miss Alice is writing another book about events in Skunk Corners since my return.  I think it only right, therefore, to share the following incident, the more so as it may have some bearing on certain events which unfolded in our town. Young Alice knows nothing of this tale, as it took place after my late-night departure from our town.
I acknowledge now, as I should have seen at the time, that my departure was a mistake. That fact was borne in upon me strongly by circumstances as I circled the town to make my quiet exit. For, as shall be seen, certain local residents made clear their dissatisfaction with me in every way. At the time, I took it as confirmation that I should be on my way. In retrospect, I was wrong in that as I have been on so many points. I see no need to explain that to Young Alice, however. 
 On that fateful night, I did leave the library near to midnight. I stopped at the school to slip in and leave my note for Alice. Though she is making excellent progress in learning to fight, she does not have the feather-light sleep of a Ninja, but rather the heavy sleep of the young. It was, perhaps, my strongest realization to date that she is yet little more than a child, and it pained me to leave her so. But at the time I thought that another, higher duty called. 
As I did not dare wait for the midnight train at the depot for fear of being seen and perhaps delayed by a late-roving local, I began a large circle around the town, meaning to pick up the train where it slows to a walking pace before crossing the high trestle over Mud Creek. Alas, my plans, though well-intentioned, were doomed. Perhaps a quarter mile from the town, I found myself confronted with a fearsome beast.

Yes, the black beast with white stripes shining in the moonlight. 

I was in perhaps the stickiest situation of my life. I never had to deal with skunks in my early life in the city. 

That is neither here nor there. I knew I wanted as little as possible to do with mephistis mephistis, and began to retreat slowly away from the threat. Alas, the creature apparently had business with me. Nor was it alone. Subsequent research has shown this communal activity on the part of skunks to be distinctly unusual. At the time, however, I was insufficiently aware of the habits of the animals to recognize the danger I faced. 

So, as I backed away from the initial encounter, I heard a scuffling behind me, and turned to see another white stripe. Rotating slowly, I realized to my horror that I was surrounded. A total of six skunks faced me, and their looks, if I might be forgiven a moment’s anthropomorphism, were not friendly. 

So began the most bizarre battle of my life, and the one of which I can most definitively say that I emerged the worst off. In a way, it is a shame that Alice did not witness the fight. Being, as it were, a central figure in the battle, I lacked the perspective to take in all that transpired.

Further, I believe that Young Alice would bring to it a turn of phrase which would better capture the scene than any I might manage. Alas, however, only I can tell this tale. 

When the first animal turned its back on me and raised its tail, I moved swiftly into action. A toe beneath the creature and a rapid jerk skyward, and the animal’s spray dispersed harmlessly into the night sky. But as I turned to face the others, three at once moved to the attack, and I could only dodge.

A dive and a roll took me out of the range of the three, but was not, alas, well-planned. I rolled to a halt face to--well, not face—with the largest, and least friendly, of the striped animals. How an animal can be so beautiful to look on, for truly the skunk is a beautiful creature, and yet so dreadful in other ways, troubles me yet.  At the time, I was most troubled with an inability to alter my course sufficiently and swiftly enough to avoid my fate. 

I did not catch the train that night nor for many nights thereafter. Though I have never confessed this, and request you not inform Alice, I camped for a week near the stream. Through daily bathing of self and clothing, followed by drying over a smoky fire, I succeeded in reducing my personal aromas to a level that could go unnoticed in a Western train, though not, perhaps where I was headed. 

I would be forced to stop at a point far from Skunk Corners, yet equally far from my destination, and purchase new garments as well as engage in further personal grooming. For this reason, when I arrived whence I had been summoned, I was more than a week late, and bore about me still some faint air of Skunk Corners. Perhaps it was that unshakable sense of the place which encouraged me to throw in my lot with my new-found home, and turn my back on the Ruling Council of the Noble Order of Ninja Librarians. 

A skunk may be a powerful persuader, more so than lions or tigers or bears, still less any human authority.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review: Sky Dragons

Sky Dragons, By Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey

I have been reading Anne McCaffrey's books about Pern since I was in Junior High (egads--that's a long writing career.  Never mind.), and knowing this was her last book, I really wanted to love it.

Alas, while I didn't hate it, I can't say I loved Sky Dragons, either.  Let's start with some clarity about some things: this was a collaboration with Anne McCaffrey's son, Todd McCaffrey, and it felt like his voice more than hers.  Unfortunately, I haven't cared that much for his treatment of Pern--his stories have a grittier edge, which some may like, and are more sexually explicit (there has always been a certain sexual element, brought on by the relationship between dragons and riders, and I need not say more), which isn't really what I go to Pern for. There was less physical drama (flying Thread, etc.) and more interpersonal drama.

It has been a couple of years since I read the preceding book, and the authors depended a little too much, especially in the opening chapters, on readers knowing the set-up.  This left me a bit at sea in the start, which isn't a good way to get buy-in.  I gradually picked up most of what I needed, but still felt like the series (I think it's four or five books set in one time period) needs to be read in a block.

I'm having trouble putting a finger on the problem, but the writing just didn't seem as polished as I'd hoped, the story as coherent (a couple of characters with very similar names didn't help--I kept having to check to see which was which).  I finished the book, and enjoyed it well enough--but it's a long way from the best of the Pern novels.

Two point five stars.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Off to the editor!

The Ninja Librarian Returns (or whatever the title ends up being) is off to my editors, and I'm looking around for something to entertain myself while I wait for their feedback.  Cover design is one thing, but expect some more short stories, and maybe some brainstorming about my next novel.  May be moving away from the NL for a time, but Skunk Corners is in my blood--no fear I'll be abandoning it entirely.

A little housework wouldn't go amiss, but that's no substitute for writing every day!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post-Election euphoria

It's probably dangerous to talk here about politics, and it's not really politics I want to talk about.  Yeah, there are lots of election results I feel good about, but that's not, or not wholly, the source of my euphoria.  I am of course delighted that the local education measure I have been immersed in passed--with flying colors.  Seems like folks are starting to agree that if we want decent schools, we'll have to fund them locally, because the state isn't managing very well (though not as badly as it looked like for a while Tuesday night.  What a scare!  I was ready to pack my bags so we could move to the Yukon and live off the land).

No, I'm euphoric because the elections are over!  No more campaign calls to make or receive!  No more trees slaughtered for mailings I dump in the recycle bin without even scanning.  Maybe soon something on the radio besides elections (right now it's still all post-election analysis, but this too shall pass).  I'll be out tomorrow collecting lawn signs from any supporters who haven't already gotten rid of them, so we don't have to look at that stuff.

Then we can all get back to what's important: reading and writing books.

And cooking good food, planning fun with friends and family, clearing months of clutter out of my house (anyone got a snow shovel I could borrow?), and maybe even getting a good night's sleep.

Here's to a return to real life!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Revisions proceeding according to plan. Mostly.

Pretty much what the title says.  My first-round revisions are done, but still need that final typing.  I'll do that tomorrow morning before I go do a little more precinct walking.  My writing has taken a back seat to trying to get a bond passed for our local schools.  It's a shame an economy the size of CA is so poorly run we can't seem to fund our schools. . . Tuesday will be really pivotal and I'm pretty stressed.

I'm working on the new book cover, too.  When the second book comes out, I'll reissue the original Ninja Librarian with a new and hopefully more catchy cover.  Something the kids will like as well as the adults do.  Though I'm not losing sight of the fact that this is an adult book masquerading as a kid's book.  Nothing in it that isn't fine for the kids (at least, upper elementary).  But grown-ups are seeing more in it than the kids do.

Meanwhile, since revisions aren't much fun and typing in the corrections is even less so, I've started a new story.  Watch this space--the Librarian himself will soon be heard from again.

P.S.  Just to prove that my brain is full, and then some. . . I went to work a half hour early today.  Just had a brain burp and was convinced my shift started at 12:30.  Sigh.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Random Absurd Theories

Revisions are on track!  I've finished the first rewrite, aside from some typing.  Bouncing between that and my activities aimed at getting a bond measure passed for our suffering local schools has me exhausted but feeling like I'm at least doing something.

So, for amusement, I'll offer some of the random thoughts that occupy my brain at off moments.  Sometimes, just for fun, I like to invent absurd theories to explain things.  Here we find a few:

Pay the Gravity Bill  There's an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which Calvin discovers his Dad didn't pay the gravity bill, and he floats away.  Well, it turns out that after a certain age, if you forget to pay the gravity bill. . . they turn UP the gravity.  Way up.  This explains those days when working out is just torture.  You didn't pay the bill, you get to suffer.

Too Many Athletes in Colorado  The reason there isn't enough oxygen for a good run in Colorado is that there are too many athletes and they have sucked all the oxygen out of the air.

Kids' energy supplies  We figured this one out well over a decade back.  Kids have separate stores of energy for different things.  For hiking, one source, and not a very big one.  For playing: some other, nearly infinite, source.  You arrive in camp after a three-mile hike with your 8-year-old so exhausted he can't even set his pack down, has to drop it with a crash in the dirt.  Two minutes later he's running up a mountain in pursuit of whatever it is that kids run up mountains to pursue, and doesn't stop until you force him to.
Corollary:  Kids get their energy by sapping it directly from their parents.  Ask any mother of toddlers.

Today you're a dophin, tomorrow a sea slug  Okay, this one isn't a theory.  More of an observation.  It's based on my swimming workouts, but the same thing is true for any kind of workout.  When a swim goes really well, I say I'm a dolphin--swimming smoothly and easily and could go on forever (or at least for a mile).  But other days, I'm lucky if I'm a sea cow, ponderous but not ungraceful.  I'm just as apt to end up a developmentally-disabled sea slug, whose limbs (do sea slugs have limbs?  Never mind) pay no attention to commands from the brain (I don't think sea slugs have brains, either. This may be the problem).  Anyway, it's generally true that if on Wednesday I'm a dolphin, on Friday I'm nearly certain to be. . . something less desirable. 

For biking, I guess you could say that if on one ride I feel like the winner of the Tour (ha!), the next ride I could be ridden into the ground by an Edwardian spinster on a one-speed with a wicker basket and a giant hat.

All of this may, of course, be related to theory #1, about not paying the Gravity bill.