Tuesday, November 24, 2009

OT - The Year of Seconds

My mom died on April 5, 2008.

That first year hurt. I sobbed more than I thought possible for a person to do. My snotty nose and swollen eyes reflected loss.

The big days (Mother's Day, July 4th, the opening day of football (she loved the Broncos), Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Year's Day, birthdays) melted away with less pain than I had imagined they'd bring. I'd girded myself to the point of numbness maybe. But they never were as bad as I anticipated.

The surprise pain came often at 4 o'clock when I picked up the phone to make my daily call to her. The gut wrenching tears came out of the blue just because my heart caught on hers and I felt alone and without. Those moments of selfish loss.

I'd gotten a little bit used to not seeing her regularly because she'd moved to Tucson. Before her move, I saw her at least once a week. We'd spend hours together with my sister. Having lunch, playing cards, running errands.

She was a soft place to land when my dog died. I could count on her to love me unconditionally. Even if I was wrong, she would try to find a way to take my side. She was always, always there.

She was my mom.

When she moved to Tucson, I had to get nourishment from her voice over the phone. To soak up the love in every little present or card she sent. I tried to see her a few times a year, but it wasn't always easy to get to the place where I could feel her arms around me again. As hard as it was to not have her Near, she was at least There.

Many of the days following her death were rote. One foot in front of the other. But that's how she would have expected me to live. Keep going. Be strong. Miss her, but don't let missing her hold me down.

It was a hard year.

But the biggest sock of reality in my gut came when I started in on the Year of Seconds. There was no longer any filter explaining her absence. It wasn't that she'd moved. It wasn't that she was out of town. The finality punched in to my consciousness.

My mom was no longer even a phone call away.

The Year of Seconds marks the reality of the separation between this world and the next. I'll sense her—even feel her—but she'll never crochet another afghan for me. Or buy me another sweatshirt that says "Feed the Birds." Forget her rum cake, or silly little gifts like the frog that croaks when someone passes by.

I'm holding on to the tangible things she left, hoping that as they fade and crumble she'll somehow fill me up from the inside with her love, making everything else just so much dust. I'm holding on to my sister, who is more like me biologically than any other human being on this earth. Who has at least the same hole in her life that I do.

So, this Second Thanksgiving, I'm wanting to find thanks rather than selfishness. In light of that, I'm thankful for the strength Mom passed on to me. For the stubbornness of the Hovaten clan (but not so much their bad knees). For the sureness that something better lies ahead. I want to make her proud. Not only of my accomplishments (getting published will be huge) but of the woman I've become. Of how I age and the choices I make even at this stage of my life. Please God, let my aging and my choices be based in grace.

Look at those close to you this Thanksgiving. Make sure they know how much they mean to you. There's a good chance that one day, either you or them, will be going through a Year of Seconds.

Be thankful this Thanksgiving. I know I am.

CR: Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Killer Gene

My good friend and critique partner, author Kelly Irvin, is questioning whether she has what it takes to kill off a character she hadn't planned on killing.

Do you?

Kelly's first published novel, A Deadly Wilderness will be released in January through Five Star Gale. You can find out more about Kelly and her novel by reading a previous post here, or visiting her website.

Kelly is my guest today as she explores her own inner killer.

The killer gene

As a romantic suspense writer, I often contemplate the problem of the soggy middle in my work—and the work of others. The recommendation frequently tossed about for this ailment is to kill someone off. It works quite nicely if you can find a reason for the knife in the back or the bullet to the head that propels your plot forward. In my case, the victims are generally secondary or even tertiary characters in whom I’m not really invested or the reader hasn’t had time to really get to know so it’s not going to break their hearts or mine. A book I read recently made me ponder if I’ve been cheating readers out of a truly mind-blogging emotional, visceral experience by not allowing myself to consider the death of a major character.

I’ve written lots of murder scenes, but I wonder, do I lack the killer gene? I rarely read outside my chosen genre, but anytime Allison Pittman has a new book out, I rush to buy my fellow San Antonio novelist’s work. Her latest novel, Stealing Home, broke my heart—in a good way. I won’t say much because I refuse to be a spoiler, but suffice it to say, a tragedy occurs that I didn’t see coming until it hit me between the eyes. I found myself grieving over it even after I finished the book. As an author and writer, I was astounded by Allison’s fortitude in writing it. She says she agonized over the necessity of the death. She looked for ways to avoid doing it. But she realized it was necessary to allow the other characters to reach their destinies.

I searched my memory banks, but I could recall only a few other novels where the death of a character affected me so deeply. Karen Ball’s novel, Shattered Justice, comes to mind. Dan Justice suffers a tragedy that is unbearable for me to think about even years after having read the book. But it caused me to ask myself what I would do in Dan’s situation. Would I forsake the God I believe in? Would I seek revenge? Would I lay down and die from the sheer agony? In Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series, the death of a major character is from natural causes and not unexpected, but still devastating. Again, it forced me to consider whether I can continue to believe in God even if He doesn’t answer my prayers in the way that I think He should.

I wonder if I could kill off a character I love in order to allow a story to ring true and stands up for what it believes. It may be time to find out.

CR: I'm planning on starting a new Lisa Unger tonight.

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Shout-Out for URGENT CARE by CJ Lyons

CJ Lyons is the real deal, and Urgent Care delivers the goods. (Some times cliches are a good thing.)

I'm tired of the "old format" book reviews, so indulge me over a cup of coffee, or glass of wine, while we talk about Urgent Care

This is CJ's third medical suspense and her background (pediatric emergency medicine, crisis counseling, victim advocate, flight physician, etc.) brings just the right touch of realism to the telling of a great tale.

(This is the part where anything resembling a book review turns more into a chat.) 

I wish I'd had a dramatic career before turning to writing. Mortgage banking is easy to demonize but kind of hard to make exciting. And selling Mary Kay? Uh-huh, yeah. A lot of story fodder there. (Where is that sarcasm font when I need it?)

CJ has developed four different, strong women in Urgent Care. I'd be proud to be a friend to any one of them. In each character, there's a trait that if I can't identify personally with, I can find sympathy for. 

And get this. One of her critique partners is Margie Lawson. Zowie. No wonder this was such a good read! 

My guess is that Dr. Lyons won't be available in mass market format much longer. She'll make the jump to trade and than hard cover and continue to build her readership. Oh . . . and Urgent Care is also available on Kindle. Wahoo!

(OT: Can any of you Blogger folks tell me where the spell checker for this new version can be found?)

CR: Jugglers at the Border by Robert Fate

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Open for Criticism

I just read where occasionally (and recently) a publisher will post an author's unedited manuscript online for a limited time and ask for reader's input. The one that occurred recently was further developed and ultimately published.

Years ago, Lisa Scottoline's publisher posted her first chapter online and asked for feedback. Apparently the writing was so bad it was difficult to figure out the plot. By the time the book was released, it was wonderful. ***read comments to learn what REALLY happened. ***

My first thought was wonder at the courage of the author, then curiosity as to the scope and quality of feedback. Finally, my wonder centered (and continues to center) around the question of how in the world those lousy manuscripts made it as far as they did.

Doesn't seem fair, does it?

CR: Urgent Care by CJ Lyons.

It's all better with friends. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writing Software

Stop the presses!!!!!!!

My favorite (to date) software program for writers is Scrivener. I acquired a Mac because I wanted Scriv. I've never regretted it and am now a solid Mac convert.

Scrivener is now actually contemplating coming up with a program for PCs. So, if you don't have a Mac, but have a high desire for Scrivener, let them know you support their effort.

Today, I bought something else. To be honest, I haven't cracked it open yet beyond making sure it loaded. But I can sense potential. And anything from Randy Ingermanson (the Snowflake Guy) is gonna be backed by integrity and value.

This software program will be for sale at a $100 price point. And I think Randy will get that price. But between now and Friday, he's selling it for $20. Yep, that's right. An 80% discount. Randy is a marketing guru, so I'm thinking he's betting on word of mouth from people who give it a try.

By the way, it will work on either Mac or PC. 

Disclosure: I don't get squat if you buy this. But if it ends up being of value to you? I get a warm fuzzy. I collect those.

CR: Urgent Care by CJ Lyons.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pad Shrug Clench

Who knew a simple question would unleash such passion? Followed by fear? Followed by downright silliness?

Here are some comments people (mostly writers) made when I asked the DorothyL group:

As a reader, do you find repetitious words and phrases in books drive you up a wall?

And as a writer, have you discovered you've fallen victim to using something that worked great one time over and over?

Here are some of the responses:

  • padded barefoot
  • shrugged shoulders (what other body part can be shrugged?) Well, darn it, I have some ideas. . . .
  • eyes following and bouncing around
  • body parts doing independent things . . . feet carried him, moved him, or otherwise shifted his position
  • frisson of fear, or frisson of delight
  • repetitive use of "gaze"
  • getting peeved over this literary device. It's called metonymy and it's meant to be used. I admit I kind of like this position . . .
  • shrugging in and out of garments
  • tossing of garments and footwear
  • clenched jaws, teeth and fists

The concept of floating body parts took on a life of its own.

So, I'm thinking that one of the things we want our early readers to watch for is overuse of our own pet words and phrases, and blatant, morbid positioning of body parts. Although I don't have a huge problem with some of these ("eyes cutting to the door", for example), I wouldn't want to use that description more than once in a manuscript.

CR: Urgent Care by CJ Lyons.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Review: GREEN by Ted Dekker

Green is the fourth book, or the first, depending on how you look at Ted Dekker's Circle series. Actually, it says "Book Zero" on the jacket, but since I'd already read Black, Red, and White, to me it's the fourth.

Confused? Don't be. Because of the way they're written, you can start with either Green or Black and be right on target. They do indeed, form an intriguing circle. My preference however, is just the order I read them. B-R-W and ending with Green.

The science fiction/fantasy/allegory series revolves (pun intended) around a man by the name of Thomas Hunter who finds himself living in two worlds. One in present time, and one more than two thousand years in the future. Both worlds are in serious jeopardy of collapsing.

I read the first three novels immediately upon their back-to-back-to-back publication (a feat in and of itself) in 2004. Dekker has done such a masterful job in creating these characters and storyworlds that everything from the previous three books came back easily.

Action, suspense, intrigue and fantasy mark this series as underscores for man's desire to find something to believe in. For our need to find a power that lifts us and sustains us. To become better than who we are.

Dekker weaves theology into deft storytelling, creating a familiar landscape for people who believe in God, as well as a thrill ride of adventure for anyone who might pick them up and read with absolutely no background in Christianity at all.

To see a well-developed trailer, visit Ted's website, or go directly to it here.

Highly recommended.

CR: Urgent Care by CJ Lyons.

It's all better with friends.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How Much is Too Much?

Like most writers, I can get stuck on a word or a phrase and use it multiple times without recognizing what I'm doing.

I'm not talking about "ick" words: that, just, only, it, as, was, had, been . . . you know which ones.

"Fisted" is a cool word that is unusual enough that one use in a book is brilliant. Use it twice and I begin to take a closer look at the author's ability to evolve.

"Sigh" I'm not so sure about. It's almost a word I glance over without it registering. One of my writing partners suggested I do a search and find out how many times I use it. True, I'd used it twice in the two chapters I'd just submitted for critique, but I'd only used it five times in the entire manuscript.

A friend of mine discovered, after her book was on the shelves, that she'd used the phrase "bear of a man" way too often.

How much is too much?

As a writer, have you caught yourself (or more likely been caught) using a word or phrase more than you should?

As a reader, are there words that make you cringe?

CR: I'll be cracking the cover of Urgent Care by CJ Lyons tonight.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Men of Mystery

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The image of this undeniably great-looking rooster came up on Morgue File when I entered the word "handsome" in the search box. I'm a writer. I can figure out why this belongs. Right?

On one of the writer/reader loops I enjoy (DorothyL), we've been having a fun discussion on who people think the best looking male writers are.

A friend on that loop (Jenny Milchman) and I diverted with stunning ease to fictional characters. We're both in agreement that Lee Child's Jack Reacher is quite the hunk (she describes him as looking a bit like his creator, except bigger and broader with rougher, less refined features).

I'm kind of angling toward Frank Quinn, John Lutz's detective in his novels. I see Quinn as broad shouldered, hair a bit unruly, on the quiet side. He's uncomfortable in a tux, but looks like they were made with him in mind. I think, to me, he's more attractive because he's looking for one woman to share his life. Whether he knows it or not.

Do you have a fictional man of mystery that gives you a bit of a thrill?

Pray tell!

CR: Green by Ted Dekker.

It's all better with friends.