11 Apr 2019: A Writer’s Lessons from Reading: Lesson Three

Yesterday I finished reading Catch a Fallen Star by Amy Vastine. A very … nice book. Here’s the back of book blurb:

Hitting rock bottom has landed country star Boone Williams in the middle of his worst nightmare: a recording studio on a horse therapy farm hours away from Nashville. He has no interest in dealing with his problems or writing a new album. And he’s definitely not interested in the gorgeous, feisty mom of one of Helping Hooves’s young clients. She doesn’t even know who he is! But his record label is one tabloid story from cutting him loose, and Boone can’t seem to turn around without bumping into Ruby and her daughter, Violet. Clearly, Boone’s not going to get what he wants. Could Ruby be just what he needs? 

I enjoyed this book.

It was nice.

Nice characters.

Nice plot.

Nicely written.

Now, by nice I mean … nice. Not great, not terrible. Easy to read, nothing complicated about it. Nothing deep, no subtext. Was this what the author intended? I’d have to guess yes. It’s simple straight forward and enjoyable, but don’t expect any deep thinking to come from it. I came across no words I hadn’t hear of before. I read no sentences that were so enjoyable I went back to read them again. It’s vanilla. Now, vanilla is a fine ice cream flavor, but I guess I strive for something more in my books, that almost intangible quality that compels you to read all night long, to savor the words on the page like honey and to shed a symbolic tear when you get to the last page because there is no more to read. I strive for mint chocolate chip or rocky road (my personal favorites!)

I suppose the lesson in this book is that there are many kinds of good books. I really liked this book, but it didn’t challenge me in any way. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes I read these really heavy books and a light hearted romp such as this is just the thing. But on the other hand, I don’t want my books to be so fluffy they lack substance. I would say this is the difference between literature and just a good story. There should be some art to your story telling, at least in my opinion.

I’m currently editing my latest novel. It’s good, but there’s a bit more fluff than I’m liking at the moment. In my editing process I try to think of my book as a block of marble and, like Michelangelo, I’m chipping away at it trying to free the literary masterpiece that lies inside said block of marble. (Sorry, my art history major past rears its ugly head.)

My lesson today is to strive for a bit more than fluff. I write mostly romance so you can see where this might be an issue. Fluff is an occupational hazard. Substance is the key, crafting literature out of the depths of your story. One must always strive for what might be just out of reach. It’s in the grasping that we find our literary muse.

Chicken or the egg???

With this book I couldn’t help but wonder which came first, the title or the story. What with the title being just a little too appropriate I honestly would be very surprised if the author didn’t decide to write the story to fit that title. Again, no complaints. Turned out to be a really good story, but it does make me wonder.

-Jennifer

8 April 2019: A Writer’s Lessons from Reading: Lesson Two

Yesterday I finished The Man of my Dreams by Stephanie Aviles.

Here’s the back of book blurb:

Elena Garcia has earned her spurs—she’s given a decade of her life to the Air Force, and now she’s ready for a change. Settling down in the quaint seaside town of Gig Harbor, Washington, she prepares to finally pursue her dream: writing the romances and love stories she wishes she could find for herself.
The last person she expects to run into is Captain Daniel Grant, the cocky pilot personally responsible for Elena’s hellish tour in Kuwait all those years ago. She’s not forgotten what she endured out there and, as the memories rise again, she vows to make Daniel suffer for his crimes.
Daniel can’t blame Elena for her anger—what he did to her was wrong, and he lives with that guilt every day—but she’ll never know the terrible circumstances that pushed him into making that choice. Now, still unable to forget the sexy Latina staff sergeant, he decides to bide his time and rolls with the punches. But with Elena determined to end his career, can he stay in the ring?
The Man of My Dreams is the latest novel from Stephanie Aviles, and is a moving, dramatic, and steamy account of the eternal battle between the head and the heart

Overall, I really enjoyed this read. Actually, I read it in record time. I generally judge a book by how inclined I am to whipl it out and read at stop lights on my commute to/from work. Let’s just say I did a lot of red light reading with this book.

The lesson I learned from this book is that you have to decide what kind of image you want to present to the world. Do you want to present a book that looks like a big name publisher snapped it up to publish … or do you want to look like an indi author out there doing it on her own?

Now, yes, I am an indi author out there doing it on my own, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t strive to present a product that looks like one of the big publishers with mega bucks backing them up produced my novel for public consumption.

The Man of my Dreams has a GREAT story with WONDERFUL characters but fell a little flat on the professional side. I was on page 2 when I decided to see what publisher/editor let this book hit the stands minus the usual polishing one expects.  I was not surprised that, upon closer inspection, it was a self published book. The first clue was the sentence (top of page 2) “Do you have granny panties inside there too?”  

Every author has to make a choice about how they want to style their novel. Pretty much most novels are going to have the above quote written out as “Do you have granny panties inside there, too?” Note the comma before too. Is it a hard and fast rule about said comma before too? I’ve since becoming a writer discovered that the hard and fast rules of my grade school English teacher are a bit more fast and loose than Mrs. Emminheizer let on in 10th grade English class.

This is where you have to decide, do I want to write a book the way I want to write a book? I’m the master of my own writing fate and, damn it, if I don’t like the comma before too, I’m darn well not going to use it. Thankfully, this is America and we’re free to comma where we want to comma and not comma as the mood strikes us. (Funny enough, WordPress spellcheck is trying to change comma to coma.)

However …. Do I want to present my book with the most professional presentation possible? Do I want people to think a cast of thousands tirelessly spent hour after sleepless hour toiling away in some Random House sweat shop crafting my book into a literary masterpiece?

I opt for the latter. Do I sometimes feel as if I’m being strangled by the Chicago Manual of Style? Perhaps, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make in order for my books to be the best version of me they can be.

The Man of my Dreams has quite a few other idiosyncrasies that give it away as being self published, but I still give it a solid 4 stars for story alone.  I also give the author high marks for her cover, though I think she should have put a bit more self promotion on the back cover and inside matter. No author bio, no social media listings, no website. Don’t make be work so hard to find your next book. After all, you’re an awesome writer! Toot your own horn. If you’re in the market for a fun romance check it out.

Because I somehow feel the need to defend this book, I’ll also point out that I found no spelling or other obvious errors beyond a few ones like the ,too one.  Heck, I read Fifty Shades of Gray and found three grammar & spelling errors in it and that book has seen so many editors eyes it’s ridiculous.

-Jennifer

4 Apr 2019: Lesson 1 in A Writer’s Lessons from Reading

I’ve often said that I feel like every book I read is like a lesson in writing. With that in mind I decided to share some of my lessons. Today I finished reading Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden. Not a bad read all things considered.  I’d probably recommend it to someone looking to read a book in this genre.

Love the cover!

Here’s the book blurb:

Tess Devlin runs into her ex-husband, Nick, on a Boston sidewalk, and is furious when he pretends not to know her. Afterwards, Tess calls his cell to have it out with him…only to discover that he’s in New Hampshire with his current girlfriend. But if Nick’s not in Boston, who was the man she encountered on the street? Then there’s Frank Lindbergh, who left his grim past behind and never looked back. But now that both of his parents are dead and he’s back in his childhood home, he’s assaulted by an intruder in his living room―a man who could be his brutal, violent twin…if it weren’t for the fact that Frank is an only child.

The big picture:

This book, in my opinion, has no plot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I mean, look at the sitcom Seinfeld.  It didn’t really have a plot either. This book is a ‘situation’ our characters find themselves in. There’s very little back story, so it’s really WHAM! and away we go into how they deal with the situation. Because I create detailed outlines of my novels, plot is very important to me, the evolution of my characters, their journey and how they change along the way. I really hadn’t conceived of writing a novel with no plot and wonder how one outlines such a novel. Certainly you’d have to do it differently than I do. Do I need so much plot? Something to ponder.

My favorite turns of phrase:

Here are some of my favorite passages.

“All but once. That one time, Frank Sr. had made his boy a mug of hot chocolate and told him, in a rare moment of introspection, that people made their own monsters … that half the time, they were their own monsters.” (page 7)

“But there had been that moment when they’d first locked eyes, that instant recognition that said, hey, you don’t know me, but I see something in you, like some invisible thread connected them.” (page 19)

“When the starry-eyed belief in a lover’s perfection passed and the ravenous lust of a relationship’s early days began to abate, it was adoration that people really wanted. When just being together was enough to make two people happy, that was the real deal.” (page 134)

“Her itchy eyes burned with tears and her lungs with that held breath, her unvoiced scream.” (page 143)

“The past hung between them, an unwelcome companion whose presence would not allow them to speak freely.” (page 154-155)

“Down in the subway, she always felt far too cut off from the world, the air clammy and insinuating.” (page 170)

“Fear had spread through her like a low-grade fever, lingering and threatening to settle in more deeply, and she didn’t like being afraid.” (page 171)

Words I wasn’t quite up to snuff on:

Either I wasn’t familiar with the word or was confused by its usage. I love increasing my vocabulary and will try to find ways to use these words.

Wan (page 5) (of a person’s complexion or appearance) pale and giving the impression of illness or exhaustion. “She was looking wan and bleary-eyed”

Moue (page 12) A pouting expression used to convey annoyance or distaste.

Verisimilitude (page 18) the appearance of being true or real. “The detail gives the novel some verisimilitude”

Pattered (page 49) Verb. Past tense: Pattered. To make a repeated light tapping sound. “A flurry of rain pattered against the window.” I guess the expression pitter patter of little feet makes more sense now.

Psychomanteum (Page 67) This word has no real definition. I honestly don’t know if it’s real or the author just made it up. In the book it’s some sort of mirrored object, large in size, that was used in a ritual to raise a demon.

Muzzy (page 147) unable to think clearly; confused. “She was shivering and her head felt muzzy from sleep.” I like this word.  I’d call it an onomatopoeia ( A word that sounds like what it is.)

Intuit (page 175) Verb. Past tense: intuited; present participle: intuiting. To understand or work out by instinct. “I intuited his real identity.” I kind of figured this one out, seeing as it sounded like intuition, but don’t recall seeing it before.

Baleful (page 194) Adjective. Threatening harm; menacing. “Bill shot a baleful glance in her direction.”  I have to admit I dislike this word. To me, it’s the antithesis of an onomatopoeia  Baleful sounds like it should mean mournful or sad, not menacing. What’s up with that?

Susurrus (page 223) Noun. Whispering, murmuring, or rustling. “the susurrus of the stream.”

Unmoor (page 259) To release the moorings of (a vessel). “The ship was ready to be unmoored” To cause to feel insecure, confused, or disconnected. “The loss of his wife has unmoored him.” I I’d heard this word before but never in an un-nautical context. In the novel the sentence is “Destroy the construct, unmoor the spirit.”

Subsumed (page 291) Sumsume (Verb) Past tense: Subsumed. To include or absorb (something) in something else. “Most of these phenomena can be subsumed under two broad categories.” Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m a little muzzy on the difference between consume and subsume.

Ending?

The ending was pretty good but I’m left wondering what happened in the following days, especially after the bombshell on the last page. I mean, really, is no one going to notice the changes in Lili? Tess, the main character, didn’t really have an arc. She’s the same person on page one as she is on the last page. Just a chapter more to give me an idea if the events of the book changed her would have been appreciated.  I think I’d preferred the book if Kyrie (her ex-husband’s girlfriend) had actually died. I was a little disappointed when she lived. (Sorry, Kyrie. C’est la vie.)

Seems like there’s room for a sequel, especially given the last page bombshell. When something that dramatic happens, I think most of the story is in the aftermath and how it impacts the participants.  There’s meat there to be explored.

-Jennifer

21 Feb 2019: Challenging Your Vocabulary

So I just finished The Next by Stephanie Gangi. I really enjoyed it. It’s one of those books I’d highly recommend to anyone who loves language or who wants to learn to write better. I love to read the way she strings words together to conjure an image in my mind. Even though the plot was a little thin, I’m still keeping this book and giving a place on my shelf.  This is high praise from me.

As is my habit, I like to write down the words I’m not familiar with on the back page of any book I’m reading along with the page number where said word is found. This book had quite a list. Sometimes it was jut the context of the word that stumped me. (See Stamp below)

Here, learn with me:

Bleat: the wavering cry made by a sheep, goat, or calf. “the distant bleat of sheep in the field”

Euphonious: of sound, especially speech, pleasing to the ear. “this successful candidate delivers a stream of fine, euphonious phrases”

Susurrus: whispering, murmuring, or rustling. “the susurrus of the stream”

Saudade: a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament. “her songs are based on love poems and evoke a melancholy known to the Portuguese as saudade”

Galvanic: sudden and dramatic.”hurry with awkward galvanic strides”

Parse: examine or analyze minutely. “he has always been quick to parse his own problems in public”

Chemtrails: a visible trail left in the sky by an aircraft and believed by some to consist of chemical or biological agents released as part of a covert operation. “conspiracy theorists have been going wild with speculation over the nature and purpose of chemtrails”

Supine: lying face upward. “She smiled at supine Ned.”

Splanch:  A splanch is not a ranch, and it is not a split level. Rather, it is a three-level house inside of a two-level skin.

Nattering: talk casually, especially about unimportant matters; chatter. “they nattered away for hours”

Aerie: a large nest of a bird of prey, especially an eagle, typically built high in a tree or on a cliff. “in their Meatpacking District aerie, surrounded by swag, their well-furnished heaven on earth, waiting for their little angel to arrive.”

Nascent:  just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential. “the nascent space industry”

Bier: a movable frame on which a coffin or a corpse is placed before burial or cremation or on which it is carried to the grave.

Lope: run or move with a long bounding stride. “the dog was loping along by his side”  “he loped off down the corridor”

Ovoid: an ovoid body or surface.

Harridan: a strict, bossy, or belligerent old woman. “a bullying old harridan”

Aphorisms: a pithy observation that contains a general truth, such as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”.

Stamp: walk with heavy, forceful steps. “John stamped off, muttering” OK, I’d heard of the word stamp but would have used the word stomp.  In the book the sentence is ” She watched a runner stamp through the dark, undaunted by the slick streets.”

Contrail: a trail of condensed water from an aircraft or rocket at high altitude, seen as a white streak against the sky. (In the book it’s used differently “Ned say an apparition’s contrail leading out of” the bar. I have to say this seems to be the same as chemtrails above.

Kinesthetic: relating to a person’s awareness of the position and movement of the parts of the body by means of sensory organs in the muscles and joints. “kinesthetic learning through a physical activity”

Limerence: the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.

Whew!

-Jennifer

PS: I was reading an advanced reader copy so I’m really hoping that by the time the book went to press they fixed the typos on pages 114, 222, 272, 292 and 293. Got some laughs out of those, but only because I’ve made such mistakes myself.  Kind of nice to know Macmillan Library/St. Martin’s Press is as fallible as myself.

4 Sept 2018: The Best Worst Book I Ever Read

And the award for the Best Worst Book I Ever Read goes to ….. (insert drum roll here)

Rhode Island Blues by Fay Weldon

After I finished reading this book I came to the somewhat strange realization that it was the best worst book I’d ever read. An odd realization to come to for sure. The book had no real plot to speak of. Having no development, the characters are all pretty much the same at the end of the book as they were in the beginning. Could this have been the point? I honestly can’t say. But there is an addictiveness in the words the author uses that kept me coming back for another fix until I finally found myself at the last page.  (Note: Spellcheck is saying addictiveness isn’t a word, but I disagree.) The author has a dry sense of humor which I can appreciate and so do many other readers from the reviews this book received on Goodreads.

Plot: Grandma Felicity sells her house and moves into a retirement home. Grandma then meets a guy and ends up moving in with him. That’s it in a nutshell. Characters come and go but nothing else happens.

Grandma Felicity and granddaughter Sophia are the two central characters, and quite frankly neither are very likable. I’m not sure if one of the other qualifies as the main character except that the chapters that dealt with the daughter were in first person narrative and the chapters about grandma were in third person. This was bizarre and took a lot of getting used to.

So why did I read this book all the way until the last page?

A couple of reasons. First was because the book partly takes place in my old stomping grounds of the Rhode Island and Connecticut border area. I know this area well as I vacation there quite a bit. The author is English and I suspect as not been to this part of America. Her geography is a bit off, but this intrigued me to see just how wrong she could get it. She also never quite gets the hang of the local lingo. Here’s a for instance. Grandma finds out about the retirement home she moves to from a brochure she gets in her mailbox. However … the director of the home says something like “You got our pamphlet in your letterbox.” Yeah. This is a very UK thing to say. We get brochures in the mail here in the good old US of A. Which, by the way, made no sense to the story anyway seeing as they were SUPER cheap at this establishment and had a REALLY long waiting list and were UBER picky about who they took. No way would they spend money on a mailing to Joe Schmo old person.

Anyway … I digress.

So, yes, this book kind of sucked. But it was the language that kept me addicted. I think I might even become a better writer because of just reading it and purposefully studying the way in which the author chose her words and their imagery.

Here’s an example:

Preface: Felicity is the grandmother.  The Golden Bowl is the retirement home she moves to. Angel was the mother (died long ago) Nurse Dawn is the slightly less sadistic Nurse Ratched of the book. Sophia, who is the one doing the narrative here is a film editor, hence her use of technical jargon.

“I quite liked being described by Felicty as a relative. It made me feel warmed and safe, and not so unlike other people after all. But I also quite liked the thought of this grandmother of mine feeling obliged to do what Nurse Dawn told her. Perhaps at the Golden Bowl I would find allies; people who would understand what it was like to have Angel for a mother and Felicity for a grandmother. Then I felt disloyal, and weak for wanting to belong, and sorry for Felicity, because her life was drawing to an end, and there was nothing she could do about it, not even a rewind button to press, no way of cutting the footage together differently; the picture was locked. No way of editing out the boring bits. These had to be lived through in real time, with a body that was inexorably running down, and not all the efforts of the Golden Bowl could help her.” (Page 81)

The author used a few words I had to look up to make sure of what it really meant. I’ve taken to jotting words down I’m not quite sure of on the last page of the book so I can look them up when I’m done. In this case some of the words were: patois, fitments, perforce, aural, derisory, atavistic and susurrus. With this novel, I felt the need to write out a family tree as well. I was getting very lost when new family members were mentioned.I don’t think I’d recommend this book to any of my friends to read, but I would recommend it to fellow writers looking to expand their writing styles.  So, yes, this was the best worst book I’ve ever read.  Enjoy it … or not.

-Jennifer

 

15 Oct 2017: Vampires on Vacation

Where does the writer of vampire novels (and a genealogist) go on her vacation? To visit the vampire grave of Rhode Island, of course!

Pilgrimage complete!

While researching odd and interesting places to visit in Rhode Island and Connecticut on roadsideamerica.com, I came across the vampire grave of Simon Whipple in Union Cemetery in North Smithfield, RI.

In memory of Simon Whipple, youngest son of Col. Dexter Aldrich & Margery his wife, who died on May 6, 1841, aged 27 years.  Altho’ consumption’s vampire grasp had seized thy mortal frame, ……. mind …..

We’ll never know exactly how the epitaph ends at some point in the past, his stone was set in concrete?  Why?  Was it because the stone had been knocked over and had to be set again?  Or was it perhaps because to keep something in the ground from getting out?  We’ll never know …

Simon and his siblings … all died aged 27 years …. odd …

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

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23 Aug 2017: My guilty pleasure …..

It’s a guilty pleasure, one I know is somehow wrong.  I shouldn’t take perverse pleasure is seeing something incorrect, but I do.  Just to know that the big publishing houses are as fallible as I am … well, sometimes it’s what gets me through.

Now mind you, I cut indi authors some slack here. I’m never going to point these kind of errors out in a fellow indi’s book, but Nora Roberts?  Love ya, gal, but with all the professional eyes on your book? Seriously, maybe you should hire me or at least take me on as a beta reader.

Here is my latest discovery.  Two, count em’, two typos in Face the Fire, by Nora Roberts

Chapter 4, page 65

Her rude little gargoyle who stuck his tongue out of a grinning mouth at passerby.

– I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be passerbys (with an s at the end.)

Chapter 18, Page 313

She studied the dining room, with its flowers and candles already in place. The window were open wide to summer.

– I believe they forgot the s at the end of windows making it plural.  Either that or were should have been a was.

So, what typos have you spotted in novels by big name authors? Let’s keep the dream alive for those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to have an army of editors behind us.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  Click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind. You have no idea how much you’ll brighten my day by leaving me a comment!

20 July 2017: Great Summer Read and it’s FREE!

Hello friends and fans.

Just an alert that Falling for Death is free on Amazon until Sunday.  If you haven’t already, now it the time to get your copy of a great summer read and the first novel in the Falling Series. It’s a full length, stand alone novel as well as the first in the series.  Check it out!

-Jennifer

11 July 2017: Ain’t nobody perfect … not even Debbie Macomber

It’s an unfortunate fact of life. No, I’m not talking about the birds or the bees or even Tootie and Natalie. This unfortunate fact of life is that no matter how much your pour your heart and soul into your novel, no matter how many pairs of eyes edit and correct the living daylights out of it, the first comments you will always get about this literary baby you gave birth to will always be about some mistake it contains.

It’s just plain depressing really.

“I loved it!  It’s fabulous!  By the way, did you know there’s a typo on page 195?”

It is true I’m always thankful for those who point things like this out to me.  I immediately fix the offending error and it’s gone for good.  (Unless it’s the word towards …. see my last post.  🙂

Me? I’m what you would call small time.  I’m fortunate enough that I’m a pretty good editor as well as writer and after seven novels know myself well. But I’m still human and make mistakes.  I think that’s why I’m so gleeful when I find mistakes in books put out by big publishing houses.  I know, it’s quite horrid of me to admit this, but there it is. I may be small time, but I’m right up there with the big boys and girls too when it comes to making mistakes.

So it was with a little surprise and a lot of glee that I turned the page and discovered an error in a Debbie Macomber book this week.  The offending novel was Midnight Sons Volume 3.  Here’s the sentence. Can you spot the error?

“The next morning the newlyweds would leave for California to board a ship for a two-week Caribbean cruise.”

Hummm …. do I have you stumped?  This is where my years in the cruise industry come in handy. I double checked to see if anything had changed and it hadn’t.  Still trying to figure it out?  Okay, there are no Caribbean cruises that leave from California.  From California, you go on cruises to Mexico or Hawaii, maybe Costa Rica. From California, it would almost take a week to get to the Caribbean.  You’d have to go through the Panama Canal first! To go on a two-week Caribbean cruise, they should have flown down to Florida, Texas or even Louisiana.

Sorry, Debbie.  This one slipped past you and your editors.

Yes, I have a pretty good eye for details like this.  I spot them in movies all the time.  I think my favorite move faux pas is in Independence Day.  In the beginning of the movie you see the President coming down a hallway in the White House.  The gal is sitting in a chair and the camera has a shot on the back of the USA Today she’s reading as he walks towards her.  Look at the paper and remember it’s supposed to be July.  The USA Today weather map should be all red, orange and yellow because of the summer heat.  Strangely it’s all blue, green and yellow.  They obviously filmed in the winter months and didn’t bother to get a summer USA Today weather map!  Don’t believe me?  Here it is.

Some cold front we’re getting, Mr. President.

It’s always good to remember …. Ain’t none of us perfect!  So when someone points out a type to me, I’ll just think of Debbie Macomber and Independence Day and know I’m in good company.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  Click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind. You have no idea how much you’ll brighten my day by leaving me a comment!