It's A Wonderful Life!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Here's hoping you and yours have the finest of days--and that Santa brings everything your heart desires! Merry Christmas!

The Far Side of the Reading List

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I have to admit my reading habits are extremely idiosyncratic--as I'm guessing everyone else's are (does that mean idiosyncratic is the wrong word choice?  Hmmm....).  In my own literary world, I tend to bounce back and forth between reading the newest, hottest thing out there, and returning to old classics, sometimes repeatedly.  I've floated--with great pleasure--through Golding's Lord of the Flies perhaps a half-dozen times since my first introduction to the work in high school, for example.
For me, reading definitely isn't about bragging rights or ego or keeping up with the Joneses.  I find, rather, that picking up a certain book feels more like choosing the right brand of coffee for that week's brews or picking a particular ale to go along with my steak dinner, of an evening.

Still, I think it's a useful exercise to re-examine where I've been once in awhile.  I've seen this list of the BBC Top 100 Books floating around and was curious how many of them I'd read--especially in the last year.  Here's the breakdown, with the ones I've read bolded:

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (this year)
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (benefit of a BA in English)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy.
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (this year)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth.
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt.
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell (on my nightstand presently)
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare 
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

If history is any guide, this little exercise will generate a trip to the used book section of Amazon--although I should hold myself in abeyance at least until Christmas passes.  :)

What about you?  How many of the Top 100 have you read?  What authors do you think are missing from this list?

Getting To Know You

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

As I'm sure you can see from my last post, NaNo was a total blast on all fronts.  I learned so much, not only about myself but about how I approach writing--as well as picking up a few useful techniques along the way.  My plan, which includes a host of other fun and events waiting in the wings (more on that later), is to share a few of these lessons with you in the next few weeks.

One of the biggest things I struggled with in NaNo--and one of the biggest surprises--was getting to the heart of the conflict between my two main characters, Daisy and her father Kodi.  This was a new experience for me.

As you may remember, I tested a new approach for NaNo: I pretended to be a pantser for thirty days, just to see how the other (better?) half lives.  In practical terms, this meant I didn't do many of the preparatory activities usual to my plotter approach, such as character background sheets, bios, and conflict identification (where I strive to identify points of friction between my characters).

It really affected how I wrote, to a degree much greater than I would have ever imagined.  For my 50k words, I wrote nearly forty chapters in total.  Of those, about fifteen are unfinished--and almost all of those were Daisy/Kodi scenes.

Throughout NaNo month, I tried again and again to get Kodi and Daisy to interact in a way that felt right, that possessed some depth and/or purpose, but nothing ever gelled. (I wrote loads of scenes between ancillary characters, some of them pretty key to the main action of the story, and I am happy with those for the most part). Since the Daisy/Kodi tension was the primary conflict of my novel, I was and still am less than pleased with the current disposition of my work.

I have been slow to recognize the central cause of my main character conflict troubles, but I think I've finally hit on it:  If my characters are meeting for the first time on the page in the draft I'm writing at the moment, I'm gonna have a heck of time getting them to act like they've known each other for most of their lives.  Maybe that's obvious or overly simple, but it's a revelation to me.

Though I'd been thinking about Daisy and Kodi for almost a year, I'd not written anything down about them--and that made all the difference in the world.  Bottom line: I'm returning to my plotter ways, and one of the first things on my Daisy to-do list is to develop character profiles for Daisy, Kodi and a few other key players.

What about you?  How do you get to know your characters?  For NaNo participants, how are you going about "picking up the pieces" after November 30th?

NaNo 2010: A Pictorial History

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Howdy gang! 

Whew!  I am so glad to be done with NaNo.  It was a blast, and there were plenty of twists and turns throughout the month, so I'd thought I'd share them with you, picture-style!  Without further adieu:

~~~
NaNo 2010: A Pictorial History

In the early morning hours of November 1st, I was awake and ready to write.  Like many of you, I'd been mentally girding myself for weeks and was truly ready for battle.

It was still dark outside when I sat down in front of my laptop and waited for it to power up.  On your mark.  Get set.  Go! 

And he's off!  Finally, I was typing the first words of my new manuscript!  Within seconds, I was being carried along by a writing fervor.  I was more thrilled and excited than I had been in months.  This was the moment I'd been waiting for.  Writing this novel was my purpose, what I was always meant to do.

OK.  So that lasted twenty minutes or so.


But I was determined to persevere.  Gee whiz!  I had a whole month in front of me.  If I just paced myself, I'd do fine.  I just kept typing and by the end of that first day I'd made progress.


Day Two, I rose early again.  It had rained all night, but I was still a little surprised to find that our living room looking a lot like this:


(And yeah, that's a no-sh*tter.  It really did happen).  Living room flood: One. JP's wordcount: zero. 

I didn't get much done over the next few days as we feuded with our wonderful Italian landlord (What's that I smell? Sarcasm?) and tried to clean things up.  Still I worked at my laptop when I could, and by week's end I at least had something to show for my work.


Nano Week One complete?  CHECK!  Time to have a beer and celebrate!


At the beginning of Week Two, self doubt started to set in.  What's this novel really about again?


I was confused, despondent.  What the hell ever made me think I was capable of writing a novel?  I wasn't a real writer, was I?  Was it possible that I was trying to masquerade as somebody or something I wasn't?


On top of writing and doing my normal shift at work, we also needed to find a new place to live, preferably one that didn't flood when it rained.  We drove all over eastern Sicily looking for a suitable abode.  I liked this one, but my wife thought it was too big.


(Hot boiling oil was included in the rent, BTW).  Eventually two weeks hence we would find something promising, but in the meantime the days passed slowly and our super-busy schedule began to take it's toll.  Though my wordcount continued to rise, I often looked and felt like this guy.


Catatonic.  Lost.  Couch potato.  It was troubling.  My wife's repeated complaints about a host of issues fell on deaf ears.  I was making a huge sacrifice I reasoned, trying to practice my art.  I am, after all, unique.  I can't be expected to trouble over the trifling matters of mere mortals, like personal hygiene.  Right?  


Perhaps all this angst was simply part of my writing process, I thought.  Perhaps the schizophrenia of my life would translate itself into a moving story full of round characters in a beautiful and engaging setting.  Perhaps. 

In the middle of Week Two, since I was pantsing it, I realized I had a problem with my main character's motivation, but I solved that rather quickly.



And I also realized I was well behind on my wordcount.  Some of my CPs (and some of you perhaps) were probably laughing at me (for good reason!), so I knew I needed a swift kick in the hiney, and fast:


Amazingly, I made it to Day Fifteen, otherwise known as the halfway point, just shy of 25,000 words.  Obviously, I was doing something right.  So it was time to have a beer and celebrate!


All I had to do to succeed was keep going.  Sounded simple enough.  **Cue lightning strike, peel of thunder and ominous organ music.**  When I came back to my writing desk the next Monday, something had changed.  It took me a little while to figure out what.

I felt overwhelmed, out of sync.  Again, I found myself asking the question: what the hell was I doing trying to write fiction?  It looked like this--


--only with a laptop instead of a...you get the picture.  For the first time, the specter of failure raised it's ugly, fur-covered head.  Dude, I was gonna bite it hardcore, wasn't I? 


During those first dark days of Week Three, I wanted to write, but struggled.  Really I did.  My Muse locked herself in the bathroom and wouldn't come out.  Something about an unwillingness to be seen in public or some such nonsense.  If I was going to fail, I could do it all by myself, she said.

In fact, after awhile I refused to even look at my laptop.  Sitting around with nothing but time on my hands (read procrastinating) I soon discovered something even more exciting than writing:


During this period, which is hazy and incomplete in my mind, my wife reported seeing a guy wandering around the house who answered to the name "JP" but looked like this:


So she suggested I take a break:


A few friends came to visit.  We had a very nice time, toured the countryside, saw the sites.  It was all very fun in an I'm-ignoring-what's-really-important sorta way.  My mood brightened and writing a novel seemed possible again.  I was reassured. 

Still, by the time Thanksgiving hit, too many days of zero wordcount had taken its toll.  The damage was done and I faced a pretty bleak truth: maybe I wasn't gonna finish this thing.


No seriously.  I. Was. N't. Gon. Na. Fin. Ish. 


Crap.  Only one thing left to do.


Almost all my CPs had crossed the 50k finish line already, and that was seriously cool.  Each one of them (Anna--I can add you too if you aren't worried 'bout anonymity :D) had shared pieces of their novels with me, and I was inspired and envious at the same time.  I was happy for them (of course!) but angry with myself for being the only loser who wasn't gonna finish.

There's always one, isn't there?


So, by the by, I awoke on Saturday, November 27th (DAY 27) looking at the business end of nearly 25,000 unwritten words.  WTF?  In the words of one of my favorite Police songs: "Something somewhere has to break."

I took my pose in front of my keyboard.


I looked around and found my glasses...


...and I just started typing.  Didn't matter too much if the spelling was accurate or the tense was right.  I had one solitary job to do: get words on the page.  By lunchtime, I was on a roll.  I realized, if I stood a chance in hell of finishing, a few things needed to change.


By dinnertime, I was on a mission.


I was in a big hurry, and I wasn't letting anything get in my way.


By the next day, I knew I needed to kick this novel's ass, leave everything out there on the playing field, give it hell, don't take no for an answer, and a whole list of other really great cliches.


Of course, adding a bazooka to a scene was an interesting way to raise the tension level.  Whatever works, right?


With some last minute cheering and moral support from my CPs, and near-total life support at home from my wife, on Day Thirty at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon, the impossible happened.



Wait for it.  Wait for it.  Somewhere, I can hear the Rocky theme playing.  Sing it with me: Na, na na na, na na na, na na na.  Na na, na na na, na na na, na na na na. Na na na na, na na, na na, Na Naaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!


AND. HE. COULD. GO. ALL. THE. WAY!!!!!!   :D  Needless to say, I was surprised and relieved and self-proud (being different from house-proud) and--did I mention I was relieved?  I was one happy cat.


And there's no way I ever would have done it alone.  Mucho thanks to my CPs and to all of you out there who were NaNo-ing too (and everyone else who was playing along at home) for being so inspirational and so supportive.

And Furnace Girl, you're a saint, one in a million.  Please don't forget that.

I learned a ton, and am happy as pie to be done.  Did that rhyme?  Anyhoo, what about you?  Any fun or interesting NaNo stories to share?

Thanks for reading and being a part of this here little thing called my writing life.  We should get back to our regularly scheduled blogging here in short order.  Thanks for stopping by, and don't forget to stay groovy!

Show "The Hating Game" Some Love

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

In my short time here at Where Sky Meets Ground, I've been privileged to watch a number of writers grow, work hard and find success.  Every time it happens, it truly is an event worth celebrating and supporting.

That's why I want to bring your attention to a great event happening today.  Talli Roland's new novel, The Dating Game, has just been released for sale on on Amazon.  In fact, The Hating Game has already reached number 32 on Amazon UK Kindle and number 25 in Fiction!

And Talli needs your support!  Help The Dating Game hit the Kindle bestseller list at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk by spreading the word today. Even a few sales in a short period of time on Amazon helps push the book up the rankings, making it more visible to other readers.  You can do that at one these links below:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/hNBkJk

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/hX2ieD

No Kindle? Download a free app at Amazon for Mac, iPhone, PC, Android and more. Coming soon in paperback. Keep up with the latest at http://www.talliroland.com/.

About THE HATING GAME:
When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £200,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?

Having read some of Talli's work in the past, I have nothing but great things to say--and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy myself.  Don't hesitate!  Go get it today!

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