November 26 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

PSA (Public Service Announcement) before I get to today’s birthdays, etc. I read three books this week. The plots were good plots in that they kept my attention, and the characters and settings were decent, but… the editing was atrocious. There were so many editorial mistakes in these books that I continued reading only because I wanted to know the outcome of the stories. I should have just skipped to the ends. There were tense issues (past/present) so mixed up I didn’t know if I was now or then. And continuity errors that had me shaking my head. And these were not ARCs. They were published books. And books that were receiving good reviews. Obviously by people who knew nothing about the technical side of writing. And yes, being an editor for thirty years might make me a little pickier than most, but still… In one story, the two main characters were going up a mountain to a tree farm. She was driving her SUV because she knew the road and his Jeep was too small. After picking up the tree, they were coming down the mountain. He was driving his Jeep. Or another story where “She took the tray and placed it on the table.” Two sentences later: “He took the tray and placed it on the table.” Same tray. Same table. Same scene. Another story – the main character’s name changed twice on the same page. These are just three examples out of many, many more. All three books looked more like first drafts than finished books.

So, as a reader and reviewer, I am begging you – please spend the money and get a competent editor. And by competent, I don’t mean your neighbor who has read a lot of books and maybe teaches English. I mean someone who can look for not only grammar issues, but understands the difference between past and present tense, who will look for continuity issues, who knows the difference between “bring and take” (a pet peeve). Yes, this costs money. But had these authors used a competent editor, I would have recommended their books to others. As it stands, I will not. Nor will I ever buy another book written by them. Fortunately, these were freebies sent to me in hopes of a review. They got the reviews, but I know they will not be happy with them. I hate giving poor reviews, but I will not compromise my standards. Good editing is as important as a good plot. Maybe even more so.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program:

Birthdays: Eugene Ionesco (1909), Frederik Pohl (1919), Charles Schulz (1922), Marilynne Robinson (1943), David Poyer (1949), Jonathan Weiner (1953), Vicki Petterson (1971), James Dashner (1972)

Frederik Pohl is best known for his science fiction novels. He won four Hugo and three Nebula Awards.

Charles Schulz is best known for his “Peanuts” cartoons

Marilynne Robinson won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for “Gilead”

Jonathan Weinger won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction for “The Beak of the Finch”

Quote: “If you grit your teeth and show real determination, you’ll always have a chance.” – Charles Schultz

“A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” – Eugene Ionesco

Tip: Surprise the reader. If you find yourself bogged down in a scene, figure out something that would not only surprise (and upset) your character, but your reader as well.

Jumpstart: “I really care about you and when you care about someone, you can’t lie…”

November 25 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Leonard Woolf (1880), Joseph Wood Krutch (1893), Helen H. Santmeyer (1895), Ba Jin (1904), P.D. Eastman (1909), Poul Anderson (1926), William McIlvanney (1936), Shelagh Delaney (1938), Marc Brown (1945), Charlaine Harris (1951), Arturo Perez-Reverte (1951), Cresent Dragonwagon (1952), Mark Frost (1953), Jandy Nelson (1965)

Joseph Krutch won the 1955 National Book Award for Nonfiction for “The Measure of Man”

Poul Anderson won seven Hugo and three Nebula Awards for his science fiction.

Marc Brown is best known for his series “Arthur”

Quote: “Here’s to books, the cheapest vacation you can buy.” – Charlaine Harris

Tip: Do you have special abilities or interests (beyond writing)? Use those in a story. Your expertise will give your characters and setting more depth.

Jumpstart: I sat in the audience, totally amazed… (describe what you’re seeing, hearing, the audience, the auditorium, everything)

November 24 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

To all my American friends, have a happy Thanksgiving.

Birthdays: Laurence Sterne (1713), Carlo Collodi (1826), Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849), Dale Carnegie (1888), William F. Buckley Jr. (1925), Mordicai Gerstein (1935), Spider Robinson (1948), Ruth Sanderson (1951), Arundhati Roy (1961), Marlon James (1970), Thomas Kohnstamm (1975)

Frances H. Burnett is best known for her story “The Secret Garden”

Mordecai Gerstein won the 2004 Caldecott Medal for “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers”

Arundhati Roy is best known for her 1997 book “The God of Small Things”

Spider Robinson has won the Hugo and Nebula awards for his science fiction novels.

Quote: “Librarians are the secret masters of the world. They control information. Don’t ever piss one off.” – Spider Robinson

“I think, for me, there’s The Book I Should Write and The Book I Wanted to Write – and they weren’t the same book. The Book I Should Write should be realistic, since I studied English Lit. It should be cultural. It should reflect where I am today. The Book I Wanted to Write would probably include flying women, magic, and all of that.” – Marlon James

Tip: A good novel has to have conflict, but there are many types of conflict. Some are: betrayal, obsession, envy, revenge, guilt, loss, greed, duty, disgrace, cowardice, hatred. Can you come up with more? Use conflict as a way to motivate your characters. It gives them goals and reasons for what they do.

Jumpstart: We sat down at the empty table, our stomachs grumbling…

Review: Witch Way to Murder and Mayhem

WITCH WAY TO MURDER & MAYHEM by Jane Hinchey

Fiction, Cozy Paranormal Mystery

4****

Blurb: To call Gran eccentric is somewhat of an understatement. She has questionable fashion sense, cough, can anyone say bedazzled Ugg boots and a tutu? But my Gran? She is awesome. So when she suggested I buy The Dusty Attic Bookstore I was all in, after all, what could go wrong? Try finding my high school nemesis dead on the floor of my newly acquired store for starters. Now I’m on the suspect list! Okay, so I just need to find the killer, clear my name, and pass my witches exam. Oh, didn’t I mention that? Yeah, seems the stunt I pulled on my cheating ex-fiancee cost me not only my job but my magic. My name is Harper Jones and this is not how I expected my return to my magical hometown of Whitefall Cove to go.

Thoughts: There are a lot of nonhumans in this book – witches, shapeshifters, fey, etc. This little town is populated with all sorts of beings – including a murderer. Harper returned to her hometown in disgrace. She’d lost her tempter after finding her fiancé with another woman, lost her witch’s license, and her job. Now she’s living with her grandmother, who is beyond eccentric. And has a orange cat familiar. 

And a murder to help solve. One that happened in her newly-acquired bookshop.

This was a fun book to read. Gran was a hoot and a half. Harper was a good character – this is a good start to the series. But… there were quite a few strings left dangling that bothered me – the issue with the female cop, the license, and a couple others – I know it’s a series, but I was left unsettled by some of the threads. 

But the ending was funny! I can’t wait to read more in this series.

Recommended.

Review: Rebel Without a Claus

REBEL WITHOUT A CLAUS by Abigail Drake

Fiction, Holiday, Cozy Mystery, Romance, 330 pages

5*****

Blurb: Christmas elf Tinklebelle Holly is a screwup. Demoted to a job in the reindeer division after one infraction too many, she hates her job, hates her life, and despises the North Pole. But when a surprise visitor arrives from Elven High Council, and Tink is assigned to show him around, everything changes. Jax Grayson is a dark elf, and unlike anyone she’s ever met. Looking past his obvious hotness, Tink knows he has a secret, and the audit he’s supposedly performing doesn’t feel legit.After an unexpected tragedy occurs, Tink’s life is thrown into even greater turmoil, and it seems like Jax might be the only one Tink can truly trust. Can she help him figure out what’s happening on the North Pole, or will Jax be her worst mistake of all?

Thoughts: This was a rollicking bit of fun. I laughed, then I groaned, then I laughed some more. The world building is amazing. And the characters are wonderful. Tink is the perfect foil for the tight-laced Jax. And she for him. The story takes place in the North Pole and everything Christmas, which Jax doesn’t understand since he’s a “dark” elf and they don’t do things like Christmas elves. All is definitely not well at the North Pole as Tink’s good friend is murdered, and someone tries to kill her as well. Jax and Tink investigate the problems and uncover some things that have been hidden way too long. Not everything is candy canes and hot chocolate good at the North Pole. There were a couple threads left dangling so we know (hope?) we’ll be seeing more of this pair.

This story was a bright spot in my day (and maybe I needed this laugh more than I knew). It was fun, imaginative, and had a satisfying ending. 

Definitely recommended.

Disclaimer: Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing this ARC. I received a final and/or advanced reader copy of this book with the hope that I will leave my unbiased opinion. I was not required to leave a review, positive or otherwise, and my opinions are just that… My Opinions. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

Review: Shortbread Cookie Princess

SHORTBREAD COOKIE PRINCESS by Zelda Benjamin

Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, 257 pages

3***

Blurb: Sophia MacLennan Porter grew up in an environment of wicked duplicity with a stepmother who was nice to dad and mean to his daughter. A series of events brings her to the upstate New York town of Highland Falls and her late aunt’s bakeshop. Highland Falls is a town of Scottish descendants, well-kept secrets, and the best shortbread cookies for miles. No one in this town is immune from the secrets of their ancestors or greedy developers. When Ian Campbell, a handsome Scottish research professor appears in her life, she struggles with the chance to put romance on the menu. Sophia is more concerned with the future of her bakeshop than the lives of her dead ancestors. Reluctantly, she finds herself drawn into his investigation of the history of her family’s clan.

Thoughts: I thought this was a sweet romance. I mean, who doesn’t like a hot Scot in kilts? Ian was a wonderful character and his relationship with his sister was nice. He’s a forensic specialist who is working on research into Highland Falls Scottish descendants. He is charming, intelligent, handsome… everything you want in a romantic hero. Sophia, on the other hand, did not appeal to me. She fought Ian on everything about her past. Yes, she had a nasty stepmother (I really don’t like that stereotype), but I would think she’d want to know more about her past. And what was with the granny? Yes, there are family secrets, but after a while, all of them became a little silly. Plus, it felt like there were a few strings left hanging so I’m wondering if this is going to be part of a series.

I liked the story overall, I just didn’t care for the female main character. But there was a satisfying HEA that left me with a smile. 

Recommended with reservations. 

Disclaimer: Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this book. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone or anything.

November 20 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Selma Lagerlof (1858), Bray Hammond (1886), Alistair Cooke (1908), Nadine Gordimer (1923), John Gardner (1926), Don DeLillo (1936), Rhys Isaac (1937) Deborah Eisenberg (1945), Orlando Figes (1959), Jaime Lowe (?),

Selma Lagerlof was the first female to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. She won in 1909 in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination, and spiritual perception of her writing.”

Bray Hammond won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for History for “Banks and Politics in America”

Nadine Gordimer won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature.

John Gardner is best known for continuing the James Bond series of novels.

Don DeLillo was a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Rhys Isaac won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for History for “The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790”

Quote: “A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.” – Alistair Cooke

Tip: Beware of the “Just because…doesn’t mean…” construction. (Just because I did this doesn’t mean you have to.) – it adds unnecessary words. Better: I did this, but you don’t have to.

Jumpstart: When we first moved into the new house, it was so exciting. But now…

November 19 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Joanne Kyger (1863), Allen Tate (1899), Jack Schaefer (1907), Sharon Olds (1942), Tony Hoagland (1953),  Annette Gordon-Reed (1958), Charlie Kaufman (1958), Ruta Sepetys (1967)

Jack Schaefer is best known for his western “Shane”

Sharon Olds is the 2013 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Annette Gordon-Reed won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for History (as well as 15 other awards) for her work on the Hemings family at Monticello

Charlie Kaufman has been nominated for four Academy Awards and three of his scripts appear in the Writers Guild of America’s list of the 101 greatest movie screenplays ever written. They include “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

Quote: “The mission for the day is to encourage students to think beyond traditional career opportunities, prepare for future careers and entrance into the workplace.” – Allen Tate

“I don’t have large blocks of time to sit and write. I snatch bits and pieces when I can, which often means in traffic, on planes, or very early in the morning. I always carry paper and pen with me. I often write dialogue longhand. I’ll see a scene (as if I’m watching a movie) and the characters will just start talking. I recently wrote several chapters of my latest book while sitting on the edge of the bathtub.” – Ruta Septeys

Tip: There are a lot of writing groups on Facebook and Pinterest. Take a look around and see what interests you.

Jumpstart: I hadn’t been down to the basement in years, but I had to, because….

November 17 Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts

Birthdays: Shelby Foote (1916), Auberon Waugh (1939), Marina Carr (1964), Rebecca Walker (1969), Christopher Paolini (1983)

Christopher Paolini is best known for his “Eragon” series.

Quote: “The real torture with Eragon came in the editing. I discovered that editing is really another word for someone ruthlessly tearing apart your work with a big smile, all the while telling you that it will make the book so much better. And it did, though it felt like splinters of hot bamboo being driven into my tender eyeballs.” – Christopher Paolini

Tip: You’ve just gotten your first edits back from your first editor…and it looks like she marked up everything! Take a deep breath. Look at them, and go through them one at a time. I’ll bet you find most of them are simply grammar things like missing commas, wrong words, etc. You can do this.

Jumpstart: He burst into the room… (finish using: wing tips, disguise, crash)