Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Librarian Explains

At last, I've heard from the Ninja Librarian again.  He sent me this bit, which seems to relate to an incident described by Big Al in her narrative of his first year in Skunk Corners.  Without further ado,
The Librarian Explains. 

The Librarian Explains
Once again, I feel it behooves me to present my own view of events in our town of  Skunk Corners.  Alice does her best to be fair, of course,  but she is not in a position to see all sides of things.  For example, I know that Alice never thought I stood up for her properly in the matter of the fellow who came courting.  I refer, of course, to the man who called himself Nebuchadnezzar Jones, to  whom she was forced to present an exceptionally clear indication of her lack of interest in any form of romantic involvement.
   I might, it is true, have handled that situation in a more helpful manner.  The difficulty, of course, lay in the fact that I know very little about young girls, and still less about the sort of young woman that is Alice.  To be sure, there are unlikely to be any others quite like Alice, so it is wrong to speak of her “sort.”  Alice is, I believe and hope, in many ways unique.
   But I can see Alice giving me that particular look that says she doesn’t believe I am telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  She is still young enough to believe that she should know everything—and, perhaps, that her way of seeing things is the only way.
   I admit to being rather taken aback when Alice presented to me her concern that the young man who had watched her practicing her kicks and blocks down by the watercourse meant to court her.  It struck me as unlikely that such a young man would recognize the value of a young woman as unconventional as our Alice.  Still less did I trust his assertions that she was the most beautiful creature he’d seen.
   Alice is the child of my heart, and is a great deal more good-looking than she allows herself to appear.  But she is not, as he tried to tell her, the loveliest woman ever.
Thus, my suspicions were aroused when Alice reported to me that the gentleman—I use the term to offer the man the benefit of the doubt—had run on about her loveliness.  I would have trusted him farther had he simply said that he admired her strength and thought she would handle life on his homestead well.  I would not have liked him any the better, as I do not believe that a man should evaluate a potential mate as though she were a draft horse, but I should have known then exactly what his intentions might be.
   Because Mr. Jones took us both by surprise with his claims of being rendered nearly senseless by her beautiful presence, neither of us could immediately establish an appropriate response.  Being further uncertain of Alice’s own desires in this matter, I chose to keep my mouth shut.
   Now, I know that Alice will tell you that she made her feelings completely clear to me, and so I should think she did.  But I have known young women in my early life. . . though perhaps the least said of that the soonest mended.  I did choose to separate myself from this event, so that there should be no opportunity of reproach.

   In the event, of course, as Alice has made clear in her own narration of the events, keeping my mouth shut left me open to strong reproach indeed.  I left the young woman to resolve her romantic troubles on her own, and as a result she was forced to fight off an attack from out of the dark.
Though I will point out, as she will not, that Neb Jones never stood a chance.

   And yet. . . as Miss Alice would say, I am dancing around the truth.  If I am to be wholly honest, as was my intent in writing to you, I will say that I had no wish to encounter the young man for reasons of my own.
   Neb Jones was not, in fact, a stranger to me.  I believe that he actually came to Skunk Corners in search of me, with intent to wreak some form of revenge. 
   I met Mr. Jones on the train coming west.  He was, as I came to understand, running a con on what he would doubtless refer to as “suckers,” or “ignert greenhorns.”  That I was, in fact, as green as the hills in spring, I have already confessed to you.  I am not, however, a fool.  Though I was taken in my Mr. Jones’ gambit in the beginning, I soon saw that he was less than honest.  Further, I saw that he had “taken” several poor immigrants for sums that they could surely ill afford. 
   I therefore exposed the man, and assisted him to leave the train rapidly.  In that, I gathered, I had done him something of a favor.  The other victims of his efforts, having recovered their valuables, were in favor of more violent reprisals.
   Mr. Jones, however, seemed to have little appreciation of the manner in which I had saved him from a worse fate, and vowed revenge.  How he found me in Skunk Corners I do not know, but I had little desire to meet him, feeling that I would either be forced to treat him with violence or would become the brunt of his coarse ribaldry for my failure to initially recognize his falsehoods.
   I had not thought that he might cause trouble in town by other means.  I still am not certain if he attached himself to Alice because she was my pupil, or merely out of what she might call cussedness.  He may have thought to humiliate her, or he may have had some idea that she would be easy prey to a man with a tongue he apparently considered golden. 
   Had Alice been a different sort of girl, I would, of course, have intervened at an early date.  Naturally, she never knew that I watched all that he did, albeit discretely.  I had no wish for him to even learn for certain that the man he sought was in Skunk Corners, and in fact he did not.  I beg you to understand that this sprung not from any physical cowardice, but rather from a worse source: a fear that I would lose my hard-won standing in the community.  This I greatly regret.
   Nonetheless, I believe that the outcome of the incident proved better than I deserved.  To wit: Alice learned to make up her own mind about a possible suitor, with no advice from a perhaps too-respected elder. 
   She then learned to discourage him through a series of escalating tactics, from simply declining to associate with him, through the final discouragement by means of the very fighting skills I have been at pains to teach her.  Finally, she learned to speak up—and speak back—to her townspeople.  I do not think that Alice herself has realized it, but from that point forward, the denizens of Skunk Corners have listened to what she says.  Not only those who like her, but also those who dislike or distrust her, or are merely flummoxed—to use her own word—by such a one as our  Alice.

   She does not yet see it, and might not like it if she did, but Alice has become a leader in her community.

Look for it free on Amazon Feb. 7-11: Love Middle Grade, Actually!  Sample The Ninja Librarian and 13 other stories for middle-grade readers, free to your Kindle.  Almost as good (because nothing is better than finding great new stories!): find the secret message and enter to win a Kindle Fire!

For more information, watch the trailer at the top of the sidebar.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Blog Awards

I have, at last, entered the world of blog awards.  At least, I've been nominated for one.  Curious as to how this works with the official-looking widget and all, who's behind it, and who decided that I was worthy of an award, I did a little research.  After all, it seems like most of the bloggers I follow are being nominated for awards every week or two.  There are an awful lot of awards out there, and at some point it seems to me to start losing validity.  So, I started researching the Leibster Award (the one I'm tagged on.

A blog award is a chain letter.  Just like the blog hop self-interview I did late last year, "The Next Big Thing," there is a set of questions to answer, and an obligation to "nominate" other bloggers.  Now, the idea of a blog hop doesn't bother me.  It gives you something to write about and maybe encourages some people (from the blogs before and after you) to look in and maybe they'll like what they see and follow you.

But calling it an award?  I'm not there.  To me, an award is earned and adjudicated.  The Leibster Award only has one criterion: have less than 200 followers.  Since it also obliges you to nominate 11 more people, you can see where this could easily result in nominating darn near everyone you know.  For that reason--and because I'm not really a big fan of chain letters--while I thank Karen's Different Corners for the nomination, I won't be biting on this one.

Unless, of course, I really need a blog topic and want to use that interview.  Because ultimately, we all like to talk about ourselves.  And an official-looking badge is kind of nice.  But I'll wait to win one for something more meaningful than being small, something that says that at least one person thought my blog was special in some meaningful way (and yes, I know I may wait a long time for that).  Even better: the Pulitzer Committee comes for me.  Yeah, I know.  Look, up in the sky!  It's a bird. .  . it's Superman!   No, it's a flying pig!!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pen vs. Keyboard

So here it is, the biggest question faced by every 21st-Century writer: do I write in longhand (or, in my case, a nearly unreadable scrawl developed out of years of note-taking and an utter inability to master cursive*)?  or do I boot up the computer, try to ignore the mind-sucking siren call of the internet, and draft my next book on the keyboard?

Advantages of the pen:
1.  Engages the whole body with the brain and makes me think a little differently.  Slows me down, makes me think before I write.
2.  I can haul my little notebook everywhere, and write in any spare moment.  I actually do this, often better than I do sitting at home during my designated writing time.
3.  Typing it into the computer so I can edit is an editing process in itself and a good way to jumpstart each day's writing.
4.  I'm not sure there is a #4.

Disadvantages of the pen:
1.  I may not be able to read what I wrote.
2.  I can't write for very long before my hand cramps up.
3.  I can't write as fast as I can type, or think (see Advantage #1).
4.  It all has to be typed anyway before I can edit.

Advantages of the keyboard:
1.  I can type really fast, so it encourages me to write lots and get it out when the ideas are flowing.
2.  I can read what I wrote.
3.  It corrects my spelling/typing as I go, or at least tells me it needs correcting.
4.  It's automatically saved and backed up.

Disadvantages of the keyboard:
1.  I can type really fast, so it encourages me to write lots without stopping to think.
2.  I can't easily haul it around and write wherever I happen to be.
3.  It distracts me from writing by telling me that I can't type/spell.  I can so.  I'm just in a hurry.
4.  I think differently at the keyboard, and once written, it all looks so nice and pretty, it must be good.
5.  (This one is big): My keyboard is connected to my computer which is connected to the Internet.  I'll just read one more article. . . .

So what is my decision?  Back and forth, some of each.  In other words, I can't make up my mind. Anyone else have notebooks with chunks of stories, missing the bits that were drafted at the computer?

*Cursive (n): a style of writing named for the cursing that children do while learning it and teachers do while teaching it.  Writers also curse while trying to read it, especially their own, especially when written while lying half upside down and overdosed on caffeine.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Staying sane as a writer

Sticking (sort of) with my resolution to work every day on revising my novels has made one thing very clear: all revisions all the time makes Rebecca one crazy lady.  Doing it while laid up with a bum foot probably doesn't help, as my usual approach to regaining sanity is to go out for a ride or a run.  Instead, I have to think about what can be done beside start another game of Words With Friends (not that there's anything wrong with that).

The thing is, I notice that all the books and articles on writing talk about needing to sit down and write every day.

None of them seem to address what to do when you've finished a draft, and you need to sit down and revise every day.  Completely different job and different piece of the brain, though utterly essential, (as noted here) and if you can't do this part, no matter how good you are at sitting down and writing every day, you aren't a writer and should get a day job.

So how do I keep sane while doing the hard part?  Here are my two main solutions so far:
1.  Set a modest goal every day.  I'm shooting for 25 pages worked over and annotated for further working over.  That's one to two hours, depending on how awful it is, or how much I've changed my mind about where things are going.  If my head or foot starts to throb before I get there, I cut myself some slack and stop at 20 pages.  Today it took me an hour to do 10 pages.  Since I have a report to finish and some other work, I may stop there.  Maybe I can do more later in the day.  Rules are made to be broken.

2.  What else?  Start a new book.  That short story I posted last week about Halitor the Hero?  Yeah, him.  He's bouncing around in my head asking to get out.  So I'm letting him out.  Finish the revisions for the day, and I get to write a few pages, for an hour or until my hand wears out and I get cramps in my shoulder from writing on the couch with my foot higher than my head (this will improve.  My foot will heal.  My hand will probably never adapt to writing for long periods).

This means I am now working on three projects simultaneously.   Well, I read multiple books at once. Maybe I can also write them that way.

This also means I'm back to struggling with another on-going debate: hand-written vs. drafted on the computer.  That's my next blog post.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Free Samples!

Announcing the release of a collection of sample chapters from Middle Grade fiction, including my own Ninja Librarian.  Not only can you sample 14 great reads, you can find the secret key and enter a drawing for a Kindle Fire!

Check out Love Middle Grade, Actually!  a FREE ebook showcasing 14 new writers.

Here's the scoop on this great way to explore some new authors:

First, the contest.
WIN A KINDLE FIRE (Value of $159)
Download, find the secret phrase, and enter it into the contest link embedded in the ebook.

Then the tantalizing tidbits!
 Treat yourself and your kids with a special gift this Valentine's Day! This is a sample of 14 exciting Middle Grade stories that you will love and the chance to win an e-reader. Competition opens 1 February 2013 and the winner will be announced on 14 February 2013.

Whether you like fantasy, adventure, mystery or humor, "Love Middle Grade Actually" gives you a taste of it all.

This sampler includes:

Sally Harris - Diary of a Penguin-napper (3 weeks, 2 boys, 1 little penguin - what could possibly go wrong? Inspired by the urban myth that it is possible to steal a penguin from the zoo on a school visit using just a backpack!)

SW Lothian - The Golden Scarab (When JJ discovers the secret of time travel at his dad’s museum, he finds himself catapulted back to ancient Egypt with his best friend, smack-bang at the centre of an action-packed race against time and living statues to find the sacred Golden Scarab.)

Nikki Bennett - Four Fiends (Join Jinjing, Pietro, Saburo and Kate as they explore exotic lands, defeat evil demons, and discover the true meaning of friendship.)

Scott Clements - Gasparilla's Treasure (A fast paced adventure novel following Trip Montgomery on his quest through historic St Augustine, Florida to find the treasure of famed pirate Jose Gaspar.)

Paul R. Hewlett – Lionel’s Grand Adventure: Lionel and the Golden Rule (Meet Lionel, a lovable bully-magnet, as he arrives in Larrystown and discovers a magical Three-Toed-Potbellied Walbaun foot.)

Julie Anne Grasso - Escape from the Forbidden Planet (Caramel Cinnamon thought the worst day of her life was the day her grandparents, the King and Queen of the Elves of Cardamom went missing. She was wrong!)

Natalie Bahm - The Secret Underground (Anxious to forget the bank robbery she witnessed, twelve-year-old Ally joins her brother and the rest of the neighborhood boys (including the cutest boy in her class) in digging a secret tunnel to an abandoned steel mill.)

Jeff Bilman – Super Ninja Alien Robot Monsters (Ninja fighting, half-robot, half-monster aliens from Alpha Centauri have come to destroy the Earth. Are two bickering brothers the world's only hope?)

Jemima Pett - The Princelings and the Pirates (A simple mission to solve a problem with the winery turns into a nightmare as our guinea pig heroes, Princelings Fred and George, are captured by pirates, rescue a damsel in distress, and get more than they bargained for in the battle of Dimerie)

Rebecca M Douglass – The Ninja Librarian (Skunk Corners is a dusty, tough, unfriendly town until the Ninja Librarian—a mild-mannered librarian who offers his wisdom with a little extra when folks don’t listen—gets off the train and moves into the library).

Adam C. Veile - The Dreamcatcher Adventures: Greedy Jack Wallace (When the ghost of his rowdy Wild West ancestor appears, seventh-grader Blake Monroe joins him in the search for a hidden treasure, but they soon discover a deadly outlaw is in pursuit and they’ll be lucky to escape with their lives!)

Krista Michelle Breen - Knockout: The Hermit's Escape (When Phillip Brooks’ new horse leaves him face down in the mud, he soon discovers something very strange is going on inside the old hermit Bert Massey’s house.)

Stanley & Katrina - The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets (Cat and Dog. It is a love/hate relationship. Enter the inner psyche of these creatures as they try to peacefully coexist within the same house. Cleverly written. Hilarious antics.)

Anna Olswanger - Greenhorn (Greenhorn is a powerful story that gives human dimension to the Holocaust. It poignantly underscores our flawed humanity and speaks to the healing value of friendship. )

Find it at Amazon
Urge them to pricematch the Smashwords edition, because this ebook is meant to be absolutely free!  
 (Or just head on over to Smashwords, where you can download any format you need, and give Amazon one in the eye).

This is my first real effort at promotion, and I want to thank Sally Harris for making it possible (and doing all the hard parts).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cue the trumpet fanfare

Announcement time: I have (finally) settled on the title for the second Ninja Librarian book.

Fanfare, please.

After months of calling it "The Ninja Librarian Returns," I have decided to focus not on who is returning, but what he's returning to.  This is largely because "The Ninja Librarian Returns" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.  Nor does it make me jump with excitement.  It just sort of sits there.  So. . .
The winning title:

Return to Skunk Corners (A Ninja Librarian Book)

I'm hoping lots of people will feel like one of the ones who responded when I asked which title, that they wanted to read it just to see why the heck anyone would want to return to a place called Skunk Corners.  Since that's part of the point of the book, it seems perfect.

Now, I need help.  On the cover, I intend to just have it look something like this:


A Ninja Librarian Book

Also: feel free to chime in, especially about the choice of "book" in the sub-heading.  I might use "story," but one commenter suggested (and I kind of agree) that "story" suggests kids' book (which it is, but isn't), "novel" suggests adults, and "book" is neutral (also doesn't say anything about type of book, and while this is more of a novel than the first book, it is still a novel in short stories).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Halitor the Hero (short story)

Note: this is the product of a challenge on Chuck Wendig's blog.  (Caveat: blog not suitable for children, but many of the stories linked in the comments are great fun for adults).  Using a random number generator and only cheating a little, I ended up with the prompt to write a comic fantasy in which someone is mad or going mad, and someone gets poisoned.  Limit 1000 words (I clock in at 999).

Here it is:

Halitor the Hero

Halitor the Hero was going mad. 

Who wouldn’t, when every day he had to do again what he’d accomplished, at great personal risk, the day before? 

Halitor should have known better than to accept a quest from an unknown client in a hooded robe that hid his face.  But the Hero business had been slow lately, and a guy had to eat, and feed his horse.  The uniform didn’t come cheap, either.  You’d think a few hunks of leather and fur and a pile of weapons wouldn’t run you much,  aside from the initial outlay for the sword and axe.  But the stitching on the leather kept coming undone, and moths had gotten into the fur fringe on his cloak, so he’d had to have the whole thing redone.  And sword polish cost money.

So Halitor took the job.  It had sounded simple enough.  Just kill this fellow Thoriston.  Had to be an easy mark, with a name like that, right?  Mind, Halitor was a hero, not an assassin.  But he had it on good authority—that of the mysterious hooded stranger—that Thoriston was a tyrant from whose bloody rule all Polyopolis waited to be freed.  There would be cheers and feasting, as well as a bag of gold, just as soon as he’d done the job.

And that was the problem.  The job wouldn’t stay done long enough to collect.

Halitor used his sword the first time.  He leapt in front of Thoriston on the street, claimed offense for something or other, and beheaded him on the spot.  Then he’d faded into the crowd and waited for the cheering to begin.  The silence was deafening.

He hadn’t expected the beheaded tyrant to reach around for his head, stand up, and twist it into place.  Halitor was halfway to the border before he remembered that he was a Hero, and Heroes don’t give up.  Also, he needed that bag of gold.

Next day he used his war axe.  It took Thoriston a little longer to assemble the pieces, but he’d still finished before Halitor could find the stranger and get paid. 

He’d used his longbow, crossbow, dagger (that had nearly been fatal to Halitor, as Thoriston now had guards whenever he went out), throwing knives, pike, and a team of runaway horses.  All Halitor wanted was for the fellow to stay dead long enough for the mysterious stranger to pay up. He wouldn't.

By now, Halitor knew that Thoriston was an alias.  This was a god, and the obvious god was Thor.  And trying to kill Thor was plain crazy. 

And so Halitor knew he was mad, because he didn’t give up.  You couldn’t kill a god.  That was written in the rulebook.  Gods can’t be killed.  Not for more than a few minutes.  To try was insane.

Halitor lurked now in the shadows of Thor’s home.  Palace, really.  Crouched behind the arras in the dining hall, he gripped a glass vial with the tenderness he usually reserved for cash payments.  This was the one that would work.  A poison so strong that it could even kill a god. It could only kill him for a few minutes, but it was a long-lasting poison.  Each time he brought himself back to life, it would kill him again.  Halitor liked it.

The table was set for two.  The only challenge was to guess which place belong to Thor, and which to the unknown guest, for a Hero couldn’t randomly kill the wrong person.  He was mad, but not without honor. 

Halitor studied the table.  A plate of gilded china sat before an imposing chair, crossed battle-axes at it’s back.  The other was a mere wooden trencher, sitting before stool.  Thor was out to demonstrate to someone their relative positions of might.

Halitor considered what he had learned of the god in a week of killing him.  He made his decision, and crept into the empty hall.  It took only a moment to drip the poison into the already-filled goblet and turn to leave.

“You are punctual.  You will join me, Halitor the Assassin.”

Halitor nearly peed his fur-lined loincloth.  Where the kraken had Thor come from?  And had he seen what Halitor’d done?  Halitor thought of escape, but Thor had brought his bodyguards, giant men from some other world, big as boulders and bright blue.  They cut off all exits, so he had to bluff it out.  Thor waved  toward the table, and Halitor turned toward the lowly stool.

“No, my friend.  An assassin as persistent as you should not take the humble seat.”  Thor gestured to the throne-like chair.  “Please.  That one.” 

Halitor again searched wildly for an escape, and still found none.  He took offense instead.  “I am Halitor the Hero.  I am no assassin.”

“No?  Seven times you have killed me this week.  Odin certainly found a persistent tool this time.”

Odin.  Halitor could have kicked himself.  No wonder the chap who’d hired him had hidden his face.  Even Halitor would recognize Odin.  He was drinking in nearly every tavern you entered.  Halitor was pretty sure Odin could be in at least ten taverns at once.  Maybe more. 

Nothing to do  but play the game to the finish.  Seven times doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  But maybe he wasn’t mad.  This time the end would be different, and someone would finally be dead.

Halitor sat where he was told, but didn’t take up the goblet when Thor offered a toast.  “I never drink on the job.” 

Thor nodded and took a drink from his own pewter mug.  Then he looked at Halitor, appalled. 

“Odin!  You--”  Thor never finished the sentence.  Halitor stood and smiled. 

His gamble had paid off.  He hitched his sword into place, brushed off the giant blue guards, and turned to the door.  He had one task left, and little time to do it.

He had to collect his fee from Odin before the poison wore off. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I've been interviewed--Re-post

Gus Sanchez has just posted an interview with me on his fantastic blog, Out Where the Buses Don't Run.  Thanks, Gus, for the shout-out!  Swing on over and take a look. . . and subscribe to his musings on life and great reflections on writing.

Getting To Know You, Fellow Writers: Rebecca Douglass (aka “The Ninja Librarian”)

For my first entry in my planned ongoing series in which I interview fellow writers and bloggers, I got the chance to interview Rebecca Douglass, aka “The Ninja Librarian.” I first met Rebecca through Goodreads, via the “Running With Scissors” group.  more

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Ginnie Dare: Crimson Sands

Middle Grade science fiction by Scott Roche.

I received a review copy of Ginnie Dare last week, and being in need of a good middle grade read, jumped right in.  Mr. Roche has written an engaging work of science fiction for the middle grade reader, and I will be reading the sequel.

Despite advance notice in the form of some comments in the book's information, it took me a while to figure out why the name "Ginnie (Virginia) Dare" seemed familiar.  Mr. Roche has taken inspiration from the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, VA, and named his main character after a girl from that colony (I think "inspiration" is the best way to put it--this is far from a retelling of the story).

Ginnie is the 13-year-old (?) communications officer on her father's interplanetary merchant ship, and is definitely smart and able beyond her years.  This may require a certain willing suspension of disbelief, but I consider that pretty normal for young heroes, and Roche carries it off convincingly.  Ginnie is by turns over-confident and painfully aware of and/or annoyed by her own youth and inexperience.

When the Dare Company ship Helena arrives at the planet Eshu, they can't find the colonists.  What they do about it and how Ginnie manages to negotiate between the natives, the military, and a crew of pirates drives the story.

The story caught me up pretty well by about the mid-point, but I did feel it was a little slow to start.  In part, I was put off by a font that didn't work well on my Nook, resulting in text that was jammed together and a little hard to read.  That is minor and Mr. Roche is working on it.  But the story doesn't really take off in any case until the military shows up and there is some conflict to offset the original mystery.  The mystery presenting itself without anything concrete to be done resulted in too much thinking and not enough action (though of course in life more thinking and less action is often a better choice, I find this is not really true in the first chapters of a book). 

If I were just rating Ginnie Dare on the second half, I would give it four stars. The slow beginning, however, led me to knock it down to three and a half stars.  An impatient 11-year-old might put it down before getting to the heart of the adventure, but continued reading will be rewarded.  The last few chapters definitely had me racing to the end.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pep talk for a lazy writer

Time to give myself a pep talk, because January is evaporating under me, and frankly, I haven't done squat.  There's always an excuse, isn't there?  I could list them all: family visits, foot surgery, waiting for my editors to send me something to work on . . . but the truth is that there is ALWAYS something an author can be working on, and ALWAYS something to prevent us doing it.  So time to give myself a pep talk, which may be full of threats, if that's what it takes.  These are meant for me.  If they work for you, take them and run with it.

1.  If you are a writer, then you'd better prove it.  Or get a real job.  Writers write.  Even when they are trying to keep a foot higher than their heart, or need to clean the shower, or any other awkward conditions prevail.

2.  Editing is work.  You have to do it anyway.  An hour a day will get the book done, eventually, and that's better than looking at the huge MS and thinking it's too much to do today, so I won't even start.  If you can't sit down and edit for an hour, you aren't a writer and should get a real job.

3.  Reward yourself.  Editing is work, so reward yourself with play.  That play should take the form of some actual writing--the fun stuff.  Use writing prompts to generate short stories, even if they are awful.

4.  Finish things.  Even if the short stories prompted by the random universe are awful, finish them before consigning them to oblivion.  It's good discipline.  I'm not actually sure about this--maybe it's a waste of time to keep going on something bad.  But I think that it's better to work it through, because a habit of giving up when things look like going wrong is not one I want to cultivate.  Fall into that trap and you'll need a real job with a real boss.

5.  Learn to write (and edit) with people watching.  I wrote about this last week--how my oldest son sat around during the holidays, surrounded by relatives talking, tapping away at his computer, writing an ever-growing story.  I get all bashful or something when there are witnesses, and I need to get over it.  Writing is what I do, so I need to do it (or else, yeah, get a real job).  Not that I'm saying I should have ignored the relatives the way the kid did.  But if my husband is in the living room reading a book, that really ought not stop me from working.  Christmas dinner is a valid excuse.  "Someone else is in the house" is not. (Oddly enough, I have no trouble working in a crowded coffee shop.  I think it's because I don't care what those people think).

Having written this. . . I'm going to take a shot at an hour's editing and a writing prompt.  I'll come back tomorrow and say if it worked.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Review: Knight's Fee

Knight's Fee, by Rosemary Sutcliff. First published 1960

Here I am again, reviewing a book written before I was born. This book was another of my finds via 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up. [NB: I continue to assume that I am not yet grown up, let alone old, despite evidence suggesting otherwise].  I find that I have read many of the more recent books suggested there, at least ones of the sort that interest me, because I have been working at the library for over ten years, and tend to read books as  they come in to the library.  Many others I read in my childhood. But the local library was small when I was a kid, and options were limited. Knight's Fee is another of those that I never saw when I was young.

Knight's Fee is set a scant generation after the Norman Conquest of England (1066, for any of you who haven't reached that point in your history classes yet). Randal, the protagonist, is the orphaned child of a Breton soldier and Saxon (i.e local) woman. He has no family nor is he of anything like noble blood. But by a series of chances, at age 10 he is taken from his job as dog boy and becomes the companion of Bevis d'Aguillon, Norman heir of a small English manor.

Randal's rise from lowest of the low to varlet (I think I would have said "page") and then Squire would be unbelievable, except that Sutcliff somehow makes it both inevitable and yet clearly a matter of great chance, a bit of luck the boy never forgets. Nor does Sufcliff hold back on the foreshadowing. From his first arrival at the holding of Dean (the d'Aguillon home), his sense of coming home is coupled with a sense of inevitable loss.  We know this isn't going to end well for everyone.

Nor is Randal very old before a chance over-hearing leads him to make an enemy whose prediction--that he "one day will weep blood for this"--is kept close to the reader's mind as events unfold. Randal grows and becomes a squire; Bevis becomes a knight, as Randal, being poor and landless, cannot.

The conclusion is no surprise, but it is not disappointing. How Randal rises to meet each challenge, how he faces loss and gain, is really what makes the book. He could continue to always be a kennel-slave who happened to get away from it. But instead he truly becomes the knight and the lord when it is thrust upon him.

The style of the book is, as expected from something written more than 50 years ago, a bit dated. It won't read to a modern kid like they are used to (though I have trouble putting my finger on the difference--something of tone and style), and you don't end up as far inside Randal's head as we are accustomed to do with characters today. But for all that, the story is very satisfying, and presents a period of history, its people and politics, in a well-researched manner without ever seeming to be anything but a good story.  Writing and editing are top-notch, and vocabulary does not talk  down to the young reader.

Five Stars.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Housekeeping; The Next Big Thing

Just taking care of business here a little. 

First, remember that "The Next Big Thing" tag I did way back last month?  Another of my taggees (yes, I just made that word up) has checked in with his post.  So hop on over and check out what Scott Roche is working on for the kids. Looks like a fun read, as does the preceding book he's already got out.

For myself, I've not been very productive, but I have an excuse.  I wrote this a couple of days ago:

On enforced idleness and writing.
Or not writing. I learned a lesson long ago in graduate school: don't do anything that really matters while taking pain meds. So I'm stuck on the couch, which should be perfect for doing the writing and editing I need to do.

Except, I'm stuck on the couch because I let the MD dig around in my big toe, remove some bits and rearrange others, in hopes of getting a more functional foot (and one that hurts less). A side effect of this is that for now it hurts a lot more. So I take pain meds, even through I hate them (and what kind of writer dislikes mind-altering substances, anyway? I never could do anything the usual way!). And when I take pain meds, my brain gets fuzzy (exactly why I hate them). Fuzzy brains don't do well at much of anything, as noted above.

My first experience of this came when I was in the first year of my PhD and had to have my wisdom teeth removed in the middle of the semester. After, I sat around happily popping pills and diligently doing all my reading and class prep. Only thing was, when I got to class I couldn't remember any of it. Zip.

So I'm waiting a few days before I try to take advantage of this great opportunity for captive writing. I wouldn't want the Ninja Librarian to do anything TOO strange!

I'm happy to report that I'm now pretty much off the meds, and just having to figure out how to type while keeping my foot higher than my heart (which is still easier than doing it with my head higher than a kite).    There's a book review coming tomorrow, and I'm ready to get back to editing my books, and maybe working a bit on a story from the Librarian himself.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A primer on editing

So notes are starting to come in from my editors, and even just glancing at a few of the comments, I realize that I have tended to lose the voice of my narrator, mixing a bit too much of the Ninja Librarian into Big Al's narrative voice (for those of you who have read the books and might wonder).  This set me to thinking about why, no matter how good we are at grammar and syntax and even writing nice sentences (and I am at least decent at all of those, though I have to work harder at the latter), we need someone else to edit our works.

I commented a couple of weeks ago on revisions and how they make me feel (not so happy), but now I want to talk about how important feedback and editorial input is on all levels.  As I see it, there are two or three, or maybe more, "levels" of editing.  I'm going to discuss them in reverse order of application.

1.  Proofreading.  This is the last thing you do before you print the book, the polish that puts a shine on it.  And while the author needs to do it a few times, ultimately someone else should, because you will NEVER see every error you made (nor will someone else, but two heads are better than one).  This is the search for every little typo, a word that got left behind from an edit, or a bit of punctuation misplaced.

2.   Line Edits.  This covers spelling and grammar, but goes deeper, and comes after the story is complete and revised.  Line edits look for style and usage and tone (what my editor is catching me on right now).  By the time you get to line edits, your story should be solid, just in need of polish.  Again, you can't do this alone.

3.  Revision.  Actually, revisions, in the plural, because you'll need to do this repeatedly.  This is the big stuff.  Getting the plot straight, figuring out scenes that work and don't work, spotting dialog that doesn't ring true (to the characters or to any human beings), and so on.  This one you do first yourself, then pass off to someone else, as a general rule.  That's why I said it's plural.  I speak from my own experience here, and maybe some authors get there faster than I do (almost certainly.  As I've mentioned before, I embrace Anne Lamott's doctrine of crappy first drafts), but in general I write a draft, re-read it and create an outline, rearrange scenes and replace the ones that don't work, then do it again.  THEN I can pass it to someone else to read to tell me if it hangs together, if the plot elements are convincing, and so on.  At this stage, your reader may tell you if in some places your writing is rough and spelling took a vacation, but that's not the primary concern, because you are still messing things up there.

In my view, these are the three big stages, and while the author has to do each one herself, each stage also needs an outsider.  For the independent author, this can present a problem, although every author is on her own for #3, at the least--you shouldn't be showing an agent a MS until you are well past the revision stage, and probably through a first round of line edits.  I'd do a major proofing, too, even though you know you will have to do that again after making changes suggested by your agent or editor, should you be so lucky.

But what can the independent author do?  Buying these services costs money, and most of us don't have a lot of that to spare--especially not if we want to get our book out of the red and into the black sometime in the next decade.  So here's what I do.

#3.  I start with friends who just like to read my stories.  They don't have to be great at critiques, but must be willing to tell me if something doesn't work for them.  I've heard these referred to as Beta Readers, but if so it's Microsoft-style: let the users figure out the problems with the rough draft.  I also find that putting a MS away for a few week, months or years allows me to read it with a fresh eye and see most of the issues myself, before I inflict it on anyone else.  This works better, of course, if you are not in a hurry.  I think it's best if a writer is not in a hurry.  If you aren't working under a deadline, be willing to wait if you need to.  If you are working under a deadline. . . well, I haven't been there, but I think I'd rather miss the deadline than publish anything less than my best.

#2.  Take a good look at your friends.  Do any of them write?  Are you part of a writers' group?  Agree to exchange editing services.  I have a couple of friends with whom I've been doing this for years.  It may mean you have to be patient.  If you aren't paying, it's not nice to be pushy about schedules.  Make sure the people you pick (I like two, in part because one may flake at any time) are good writers and can spot the stuff that needs work.

#1.  Sometimes I send my MS back to my line editors.  But this level of proofing can also be done by someone who isn't a writer but has a sharp eye and an excellent grasp of grammar and structure (so not exactly a non-writer, either).  If a friend agrees to do this, you owe that friend a lot of cookies.  Of course, when your MS comes back from this, and you are making the fixes suggested, a) be very careful you don't introduce new errors, and b) give it another going-over yourself before you say you are done.

Give all these people much credit and oodles of thanks on the Acknowledgments page.  

And when you are done, and your book is as perfect as perfect. . . someone will find an error on page 37.  Give a sickly grin, correct it in your file, and--if you are using a POD service--upload the corrected MS so that from here out, it will be correct.

Then get back to work on the new project.