Saturday, September 27, 2008

One Denver, One Book

I finished reading "Pride and Prejudice," which I'm surprised I really enjoyed. It's far out from my normal tastes and took some extra work on my part to understand the 19th century prose, but the story was fantastic.

But, as I have closed that book, I was in need of another. I remembered the One Book, One Denver program had this year picked "The Thin Man" by Dashiell Hammett, and I decided to give it a try. I have never read a mystery. Ever. (But until "Pride and Prejudice" I had never read a Jane Austen, either.) So this will be another way of branching out in my reading material. I've gotten through the first chapter (I just bought the book a couple of hours ago) and I do like Hammett's style. I also like that the chapters average about five pages each, which makes for easy cutoff points when kids interrupt my reading. That happens quite often.

You know what I've never read? A mystery fantasy. Hmm. There's a story idea.

On a side note, Paul Newman died last night. Very sad. He was one of the great actors. I tried to tell my 12-year-old who he was, but the only thing I could think of that Kodey has seen that had Paul Newman in it was "Cars." He was the voice of Doc. I have to get him to watch "The Sting" with me some night.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More on characters

As I said in my previous post, I've always been a plot kind of gal when it comes to my writing. When it comes to my reading, though, I love great characters. They're the reason I keep turning the pages. I need to find out how they cope with and triumph over the challenges and conflicts that are set before them.

Here are some of my favorites:

-- Ender Wiggin. He's great in "Ender's Game" but even better in "Speaker for the Dead." My favorite scene in that latter book by Orson Scott Card has nothing to do with the Piggies. It's when Ender first meets the Ribeira children and he tames the youngest one, Grego, and gains the trust of the others. They so desperately need a father figure, and Ender needs a family, too. It's a beautiful scene.

-- Lawrence and Temeraire, starting with "His Majesty's Dragon." Lawrence is a Naval officer and Temeraire is the dragon he accidentally "impresses" (to borrow a term from Anne McCaffrey). I love watching their friendship bloom and how they become a fantastic, inseparable team.

-- Harry Potter. The best part for me is watching him grow from a boy to a young man. But as far as characters go, he's not my favorite. I love Snape. He hates Harry as an extension of Harry's father but he works for the good guys. Or does he? That slippery fellow keeps us guessing to the end.

-- In a nod to TV, I love Sydney Bristow of "Alias." My favorite part: her on-again-off-again relationship with Vaughn. I was never so happy as when I saw at the end that they had ended up together.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Building a character

I'm finding the hardest part of writing for me is character building. It was recently pointed out to me in a helpful critique of the first story I wrote that my main character had the substance of a soap bubble. It's a long, hard journey from bubble to a strong, deep character.

I think my problem starts with my writing background. For the past ten years, I've been writing fanfiction. That's a great medium to build general writing skills, but the characters and the world are already established. I don't have to bother with giving much depth to, say, Buffy Summers because my readers already know her inside and out.

For the story I'm flirting with right now, I'm trying something new. Before I even wrote one word, I sketched out some details of the lives of both of my main characters. Some of it is important to the story, such as their professions and religious leanings. Some isn't -- one character has a few trophies from fishing tournaments on his bookshelf. I'm viewing this story as an exercise in character building more than anything else, and I hope it's turns out to be valuable in my development as a writer.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

When Heinlein kicked my ass

Here are, in abbreviated form, Robert Heinlein’s rules of writing:
1. Write.
2. Finish what you start.
3. Rewrite, but not excessively
4. Submit
5. Resubmit

The first time I gave this whole writing thing a try was about ten years ago. I wrote a short story, which was really more of a cathartic way of dealing with a tragedy in my extended family. I researched markets and settled on the one magazine that I was going to give the honor of printing my masterpiece. (Note: sarcasm.) I got the rejection letter a few weeks later, and rightfully so as the story was pretty awful.

So, I had made it all the way to No. 4 on Mr. Heinlein’s list -- and then I got no farther. I wasn’t heartbroken or insulted. My reaction was more to say, “Huh,” and throw the rejection letter in the trash. But I didn’t resubmit. I didn’t write any other stories. That was the end of my writing career.

Now here I am a decade later, trying again. I’m a better writer, but I’m not suffering from any delusions of grandeur. I know I’m not as good as I can be or as good as I need to be. So here are Jennifer’s rules of writing:

1. Write.
2. Finish what I start.
3. Accept critiques and criticism without discouragement.
4. Rewrite until it’s as good as I can make it.
5. Don’t give up.
6. Become a better writer.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

First submission!

OK, this is the third time I've started typing this post only to have the entire text vanish from the screen. It better not happen again.

A few days ago, I sent off my first ever story submission: "Unrequited" to Strange Horizons. I should be getting my very first rejection letter back in about a month or two. My husband tells me to think positively, but I figure I'm thinking realistically so that I'm not totally crushed when my story isn't accepted. My dad, whose judgment I trust and respect, told me the story is "brilliant." That's the word he used. Boy did that put me on cloud nine. Now, if only the editors at Strange Horizons think the same way ...

I also finished another story yesterday: "Cowboys and Moon Men." I had the first sentence in mind and wrote it, and then started writing more, and ended up with about 3,300 words. I think the story is a lot of fun. The first graph:

Like any good Western showdown, this one starts with a cowboy, a six-shooter and a girl. The cowboy, that’s me. The gun is mine, too, a real pretty one with a pearl handle that I picked up in Kansas City. As for the girl, well, let’s not rush things. You’ll get to meet her in a bit.