29 January 2010

Coffee-Stained Pages: Shades of Grey

Well, I've finished reading Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.  And it was better than I could have expected.

As is the norm with Jasper Fforde, I don't know how to explain the story without giving anything away.  You could read descriptions on Barnes & Noble's website, but it doesn't begin to tell you how fun and quirky and complex the story really is.

Why it's important for writers to read

You probably know that most writers are avid readers.  And that's a very good thing.  Not only because it's fun to read, but because writers should be using their reading selections to help their writing careers.

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28 January 2010

J. D. Salinger dies at 91

The famously reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye died today.  He will be greatly missed, despite having been so possessive of his privacy.

Journalists and bloggers are writing tributes far better than I could, so I'll leave you to them.  The New York Times has quite a bit of interesting pieces on Salinger (as well as Caulfield) here.

AP Photo

27 January 2010

Regional writing

Last week, I wrote an article about using your geographical location as a basis of knowledge for your writing.  I'd like to expand on that a little and talk about your regional writing, specifically in fiction.

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26 January 2010

10 on Tuesday: how to know if your spouse is a writer

[Please note: I use the word spouse in this post because that's my relationship status.  I don't mean to diminish other relationships in any way.]

  1. You spend more in paper, printer ink, and books than rent.
  2. You find your spouse staring at a wall or out the window, thinking. You come by an hour later to find your spouse in the same position, but claiming to have been working hard the whole time.
  3. In conversations, your spouse tells stories about someone you don't know as if they have coffee together regularly, and when you ask about the person, you discover he or she is a character in a story.
  4. You find ink pens in the bathroom.
  5. Your driving schedule for family vacations is determined by bookstore hours.  (Ask Hubby about our trip to a used bookstore in Georgia on a drive home from up north.)
  6. Your spouse scribbles a few notes on a paper napkin while you wait for your dessert at a restaurant.
  7. When your spouse gets the remote, it's BookTV for the evening.
  8. The bedroom light stays on at night until your spouse hits his or her word count.
  9. Your spouse's hands are a neon rainbow from various highlighters.
  10. When you ask your spouse a question during work time, you get a nod thirty seconds later, but not eye contact. No matter what the question was.

25 January 2010

Good grammar feeds the hungry

In this week's newsletter from About.com's Grammar and Composition site is an article about how improving your grammar can help feed the hungry.  FreeRice.com has an English grammar game that challenges your knowledge for a good cause.

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This Week's Task List

I'm testing out a new schedule/routine this week.  Since my darling little java bean is wildly curious, he's decided he doesn't like to nap during the day.  He's afraid he'll miss something.  So he sleeps much longer at night and is awake all day.  That's fine, but it means I have to adjust my time management to be able to get things done.  So we'll see how it goes this week.

That said, I do have things I need to accomplish this week:

  • Tristan's story first draft (coffee house book)
  • Vivi's story first draft (coffee house book)
  • Pondered chapter 1 rewrite (NaNo 2009)
  • convert all Word documents to Google Docs

23 January 2010

Bloomsbury changes 'white-washed' book cover

There was a great deal of controversy this week over the cover art of Jaclyn Dolamore's debut novel, Magic Under Glass.  Bloomsbury USA, the publishing house, decided to depict a Caucasian model on the cover of the book, despite the protagonist being described as having brown skin.  Bloomsbury apologized on Thursday for the decision, and will not be supplying any more copies of the book until the cover has been redesigned.

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22 January 2010

Coffee-Stained Pages: Shades of Grey

I've almost finished Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey.  I'm looking forward to finishing it, even though I know I'll be a little sad when it's over.

The story is weird and fun and mysterious and turns my perceptions upside down, which is what I've come to expect and love from Jasper Fforde.  Once I've finished reading the book, I'll be sharing a bit more with you.  Until then, feel free to click on either of the links above to learn more about Mr. Fforde and his works.

19 January 2010

Writing what you know

Lots of writers, editors, and publishers give new writers the advice of "write what you know."  They know that if you start with a foundation of knowledge, your writing will ring more true for your readers, and you'll be able to establish yourself as an authority in a certain area.  But that doesn't mean you have to have a degree in something to write what you know.  Instead, you can use just about anything to give you authority in writing.

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10 on Tuesday: movies I like (listed alphabetically)

  1. Angela's Ashes
  2. Atonement
  3. Avatar
  4. Finding Neverland
  5. Moulin Rouge!
  6. The Princess Bride
  7. Stardust
  8. Stranger Than Fiction
  9. Sweeney Todd
  10. Sylvia

18 January 2010

This week's task list and my newest writing adventure

I've been sort of getting my feet wet with my NaNo novel (project name: Pondered) again.

I let it sit for about six weeks, and in that time I thought about it quite a bit.  I realized I do want to clean it up (and not just for the free proof copy I'll get thanks to the good folks over at NaNoWriMo), but in order to do that, I basically have to rewrite the whole thing.

The good news is that I know exactly how I'm going to rewrite it, I've been working on my new lead character's bio, and I've already got a rough outline for the first part of the book.  I should be able to start rewriting it at the beginning of February.

I know you may think me crazy for writing both the coffee house book and rewriting my NaNo novel at the same time.  You're probably right.  But I'm going to do it anyway.  (Wish me luck!)

So this is what I have going on this week:
  • Finish the character cards for the coffee house book characters
  • Finish Ruth's character biography for Pondered
  • Finish the new outline for Pondered
  • Write at least three character stories for the coffee house book

Kerouac House writers' workshop

Orlando's very own Kerouac House will be the meeting place for a writer's workshop on January 30, 2010 with Alicia Shandra Holmes, a writer in residence with the Jack Kerouac Writer in Residence Project of Orlando.

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14 January 2010

Writing about hot topics

As a writer, it's always great when a local news story or topic spreads to the national level.  The local weather, for example, has been covered by news people all over the nation, and thanks to the Internet, up-to-the-minute information can be provided about any topic, local or national.  It's great for readers who want the latest on a topic or news bit, and for journalists who want their articles to feature updated information.  For freelance writers, though, it can mean your article is one of many topics trending on a particular day.

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Character biographies can be great things!

I've been working on character biographies for two of my characters in the coffee house book, and character cards* for the other characters.  Since Ethan's character is the most important, I did a full character biography for him, using the life interview questions found in Robert Atkinson's The Gift of Stories: Practical and Spiritual Applications of Autobiography, Life Stories, and Personal Mythmaking.†  It's an exhaustive list of questions, but perfect for character development.

In addition to the character biography for Ethan, I did one for Vivi, who is the manager of the coffee house.  I really learned a lot about her, and discovered something.  Vivi is the heroine of my NaNo 2009 novel.  I know NaNo is over, but I'm planning to edit it in March and make it something worth reading.  And as I wrote Vivi's character biography, she really resonated with me as the main character in She Pondered These Things in Her Heart.  So I may change Vivi's name in the coffee house book (then again, I may not), and when it comes time to work with Pondered, I'm going to rework the character into Vivi.

Though most of what goes into a character biography never winds up in the pages of a story, it's important to know a lot of this background stuff so you know your characters.  Your characters' backgrounds are what makes them who they are in your stories.  Here's an example from Vivi's character biography:
Q: Were you ever told anything unusual about your birth?
A: When I was born, Mama said I was very alert and social.  When Mamie [French term for "grandma"] saw me just an hour after I was born, she said I was TrĂ©s vivant!, so my parents named me Vivienne, which means "alive."
That little tidbit won't be in the story, but it helps me know more about who Vivi is, and why she has the personality she does.

I'll admit, sometimes character biographies are tedious and annoying, but they can be a very good thing!  If I hadn't done one for Vivi, I'd never have known that she was dying to be the lead in another book altogether!

Do you create character biographies?  If so, how do you do it?

*character cards: index cards giving the basics of minor characters of the coffee house book, as well as their roles. (Ex. Shawn's card indicates that he is a musician, drinks caramel lattes, and that his story is hiding from his wife at the coffee house.)

This is a good book for writers!  Even if you're not writing autobiographies, life stories, or personal myth, there's some great info here about typical story structure (the hero myth, that is), and I think the book is worth having just for the life interview questions to use for character biographies.  There's a new edition out.  I suggest you pick it up!

12 January 2010

Careers in writing

For many people, writing is a hobby.  Stories and ideas scribbled in journals or notebooks, and something you do for National Novel Writing Month.  But for many people who have a passion for writing, the idea of pursuing writing as a career is something that doesn't seem practical.  Careers in writing do exist, however, and can be a good option for someone with a passion for writing and the ability to put his or her skills to their best use.

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10 on Tuesday: drinks that appear in the coffee house book

  1. espresso macchiato
  2. iced cafe latte
  3. hot green tea
  4. black coffee
  5. "the Jeffrey"
  6. cappuccino
  7. raspberry Italian soda
  8. Americano
  9. hazelnut latte
  10. mineral water

11 January 2010

This Week's Task List

Well, my schedule has pretty well normalized itself after the adventures of Christmas and New Year's, as well as Hubby's grandparents visiting last week.  It's a different schedule than I had before Christmas since Bean is a little older and teething, but it's a schedule nonetheless.

So here's what I have to do in the office this week.

  • Finish writing the first drafts of Tristan and Vivi's stories
  • Finish my character biography cards for the coffee house book
  • Finish the coffee house book outline
  • Start reading through my NaNo novel for editing

08 January 2010

Testing the jump

I've been trying to tweak the jump on my blog.  Let's see if it worked, shall we?

Coffee-Stained Pages: Jasper Fforde

I know that in my introductory post I said I'd be starting the year with The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt.

Well, I'm a huge Fforde Ffan, and the long-awaited Shades of Grey was released at the end of December, so of course I had to pick it up after Christmas!  So when I went shopping with SIL I got it with the full intention of reading the whole thing this week.

That didn't happen.

But I did start it, and I'm already enjoying it immensely.

Here's the synopsis of the book from Barnes & Noble's website:
As long as anyone can remember, society has been ruled by a Colortocracy.  From the underground feedpipes that keep the municipal park green to the healing hues viewed to cure illness to a social hierarchy based upon one's limited color perception, society is dominated by color.  In this world, you are what you can see.
Young Eddie Russett has no ambition to be anything other than a loyal drone of the Collective.  With his better-than-average red perception, he could well marry Constance Oxblood and inherit the string works; he may even have enough red perception to make prefect.
For Eddie, life looks colorful.  Life looks good.
But everything changes when he moves with his father, a respected swatchman, to East Carmine.  There, he falls in love with a Grey named Jane who opens his eyes to the painful truth behind his seemingly perfect, rigidly controlled society.
Curiosity--a dangerous trait to display in a society that demands total conformity--gets the better of Eddie, who begins to wonder:
Why are there not enough spoons to go around?
Why is everything--and everyone--barcoded?
What happened to all the people who never returned from High Saffron?
And why, when you begin to question the world around you, do black-and-white certainties reduce themselves to shades of grey?
Part satire, part romance, part revolutionary thriller, this is the new world from the creative and comic genius of Jasper Fforde.
I haven't even finished the first chapter, and already Shades of Grey is revealing itself to be another fun, quirky, brilliant work of prose by the bestselling author of the Thursday Next series.

Here's a little infomercial to give you an idea of the mindset of the world of Fforde's new book:

What book is starting you out for 2010?

07 January 2010

Using writing exercises to get your words flowing

For some, writing time is precious.  So when you sit down to write and don't know what to say, you might find yourself frustrated.  Time is ticking away, and you have nothing but blank space in front of you.  Maybe you have an idea, but how do you get started?  What can you do to kick-start your writing time?

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05 January 2010

10 on Tuesday: things that will be awesome about this year

  1. Getting a fresh start
  2. Making positive changes in my life
  3. Writing and finishing the coffee house book
  4. Making more time to read for pleasure
  5. Writing projects I have in the wings
  6. Visiting my family for Easter (keeping my fingers crossed that it works out!)
  7. ScriptFrenzy 2010 (I have a fun idea for my script this year)
  8. Celebrating Mother's Day as a mother for the first time
  9. Continuing to watch Bean grow and change
  10. Meeting my goals for this year

04 January 2010

Getting back into the office

After spending time with family and friends, indulging in delicious home-cooked meals, and laughing and sharing stories from your past, the holidays are over.  It's the first Monday in 2010, and it's time to get back to work!

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This Week's Task List

Hooray for a new year!  I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season, and that you're ready to get back to your old routines (or new routines, if you've made changes for this year).  I'll be spending the day getting back into the office, getting myself organized, and starting to tackle my 2010 projects (hooray!).

  • Email client to set deadline for new set of articles
  • Write SEO articles for a client
  • Work on character biographies/outline for the coffee house book
  • Continue brainstorming the funeral book
  • Start reading through NaNo 2009 novel to start editing

01 January 2010

Coffee-Stained Pages: an Introduction

One of my goals this year (I would say resolutions, but that sounds so...intimidating) is to read more.  I used to read two or three books a month, and now I'm lucky if I get any time at all to read even a page.  So that's something I'm working on this year.

To help keep me motivated in my reading endeavors, I'm going to keep you updated on my progress.  Every week, I'll write a post about what I'm reading, how it's going, what I think of the book, etc.

The first book I'll be reading is The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.

Here's Barnes & Noble's synopsis:
A spellbinding novel, at once sweeping and intimate, from the Booker Prize-winning author of Possession, that spans the Victorian era through the World War I years, and centers around a famous children's book author and the passions, betrayals, and secrets that tear apart the people she loves.
When Olive Wellwood's oldest son discovers a runaway named Philip sketching in the basement of the new Victoria and Albert Museum--a talented working-class boy who could be a character out of one of Olive's magical tales--she takes him into the storybook world of her family and friends.
But the joyful bacchanals Olive hosts at her rambling country house--and the separate, private books she writes for each of her seven children--conceal more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined.  As these lives--of adults and children alike--unfold, lies are revealed, hearts are broken, and the damaging truth about the Wellwoods slowly emerges.  But their personal struggles, their hidden desires, will soon be eclipsed by far greater forces, as the tides turn across Europe and a golden era comes to an end.
Taking us from the cliff-lined shores of England to Paris, Munich, and the trenches of the Somme, The Children's Book is a deeply affecting story of a singular family, played out against the great, rippling tides of the day.  It is a masterly literary achievement by one of our most essential writers.
I'm not new to Byatt.  I've read Possession, The Matisse Stories, and The Little Black Book of Stories, all of which I enjoyed very much.  Of course, I've heard good things about this novel, as well.

Hubby actually got me a copy of The Children's Book last fall, but I just haven't started it, so I decided it would be perfect to start out my 2010 reading adventures.