Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sounds good...

As anyone who knows me will testify, I am an avid reader. I have loved to read since my first Hardy Boys mystery and probably even before. There are so many books at home either paperback, hardback, waiting to be read or on the computer waiting to be printed then read. Plus, I have audio books on the computer waiting to be listened to. I usually have a 'bathroom' book (although now it's catching up on Batman comic books), a book I take to work and an audio book in the car that I'll listen to also at work. Right now, I have all of those, plus an audio book on the computer at home I'm halfway through.

Audio books are the best because I don't have to have something tangible in my hands and I can focus one part of my mind on listening and another on something else, usually cleaning or filing.

There are many books out there, even ones by authors I enjoy, I have stopped the CD and started another. I couldn't get into the story. Maybe if I read it, I might be able to concentrate and focus, but normally, if I can't listen to it, I'm not going to seek out the book and try to read it. I've already made up my mind the story just isn't that interesting or I've lost the plot and the characters. Sometimes it's due to the complexity of the story. Nance and Clancy are two authors I've enjoyed, but some of their books are so intricate and there are so many characters, I can't keep everyone straight. Nance's books deal with airplanes and most everyone has heard of Clancy. Many of their books have different scenes happening concurrently around the world and a character may be introduced once and then not seen again for many chapters and you're supposed to remember from chapter 1 to chapter 8 who this guy is. It's tough sometimes, especially on audio.

However, many times it's the narrator who'll determine whether I continue to listen or pop in a new story. There are some fabulous narrators-Guidall, Brick and Naughton are three excellent examples-who can take a story and really show it to you and bring it to life in your mind. I've picked up books by authors I've never seen before and give them a try only because Guidall narrates them. His speaking voice is such that you imagine it's a Saturday night and you're cozied up with a mug of cocoa next to a fire and he's telling a story meant only for you. The man sounds as if he enjoys reading.

There are others though...

I think there should be basic standards for audio books. Number One - no monotoned narrators. I listened to a Clive Cussler audio and every character sounded the same. No voice inflections, no excitement on the action scenes, no emotion. This same author has read some Rex Stout books and I just about had a coniption it was so boring. I love Nero Wolfe and I didn't think anyone could ruin one of his stories, but this narrator just about did. However, when I listened to Gene Engeny read J. A. Jance's novels about the Seattle homicide detective, I hounded the library for more.

Number Two - Break for scene and chapter changes. I've listened to some narrators and if I'm not fully paying attention, I'll miss the chapter ending or scene change and suddenly another character is speaking from Paris when ten seconds ago the action was in Wyoming. Would it really be troublesome to announce a new chapter or at least give a little pause? Some of them move on with hardly any punctuation to let you know something different is now happening.

Number Three - Give a least a token effort of voice inflections. Yes, it's difficult for male narrators to do women's voices and it drives me crazy when the main character is a man and the narrator is a woman. Doesn't make sense. Women doing men's voices are very difficult to follow and believe. As of this writing, I'm listening to a Michael Palmer book read by John Lloyd. He does a fine job of differentiating between characters. Sure, having a different voice for every character may be difficult if you're reading a story about the President and his Cabinet and you've got undersecretaries and aides and assistants involved. But surely a narrator should be able to fake a British accent, or Italian or Russian.

Number Four - Don't read every sentence the same. I'm thinking of three specific narrators. One I enjoy somewhat, but the way he reads, it's as if what he just said was the final line of the book...until he gets to the next line. The second reads every line as if he's broadcasting the news; the stresses in particular sentences are off and its sounds weird. The third one has read a multitude of books including Stephen King and a religious series, the latter of which I finally had to grab the individual novels and read myself because I ended up listening three or four times and still lost the plot. (That and the fact the books came out once a year and I lost track of the current situation from the last book). My mind tended to tune out this narrator because every single sentence he spoke-and I mean every sentence in the entire book-started fine but ended in a dramatic whisper as if that was the most important line in the entire novel. "He exited his house and unlocked his car." Unless that car is about to blow up it's not an important line in the sense I have to get overly emotional about it.

I won't be sexist and just pick on the male narrators. The women sometimes drive me crazy. I enjoy the reader of the J.D Robb Eve Dallas series because I can picture each character in my head by the voices she uses. Same with the current narrator of the Evanovitch Stephanie Plum novels, although I enjoyed the others who read her early stories. Another female narrator is fine on some books, but in one series, the character gets so uptight at times and the narrator starts squeaking in a high pitched voice, it's like hearing a metal fork scratching a glass plate.

Narrators can make or break a book, even if you know the author and are ready for a good story. I usually check to see who is reading and sometimes - although I may give him/her a chance, especially if I'm really interested in the story-I may choose another because I've run into bad listening experiences with that particular narrator.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Memories, Part 1

Isn't memory just a little trickster? I think it's amazing that sometimes we can't remember where we just placed the car keys, but we can remember a little snippet from a particluar day in junior high.

I thought this week I'd cull through my memories and put down little bits and pieces. Nothing that was earth shockingly memorable, just clips from here and there that, for some reason, stuck around and will never be forgotten. Some are good, some cherished, some I regret. Sure, they may not mean a lot to the reader, but, maybe you can take a little memory time and making a writing exercise out of it, or take one of mine. I'd love to know what you come up with.

An early scene with my brand new baby sister. We were at the photographer's having a family photo taken. The picture shows me with a frown because I wasn't allowed to hold Roberta.

Screaming at my dad to leave my room one particular time when I was exceptionally bad.

Telling a girl I danced with at prom her hair was tickling my cheek. It really didn't bother me.

Seeing my girlfriend in college walking along the sidewalk and changing my plans for the afternoon to spend some time with her.

Digging snow forts during winter in the deep ditch near our house.

Trying to ride my bicycle through the flooded deep ditch of the neighbor's. I didn't make it.

Thinking I was a daredevil by jumping my five speed over a small pile of gravel near the school.

Getting caught by the cops dragging a hose out onto the high school track.

Getting caught by the cop while going home after work. I had circled the icy school parking lot getting the car warm.

Finding my dog one February morning not moving in the doghouse.

Playing with the new dog on the front lawn and thinking he knew his name when he was just excited to be playing with kids.

Having Roberta's bird walk along my glasses earpiece.

Catching my sister kissing her boyfriend. (Sorry, sis)

My sister in her prom dress.

Running out of gas on vacation and watching dad struggle with no power steering.

Having a flat tire out on the interstate in South Dakota.

Reaching the summit of Harney Peak and needing water.

Laughing when I saw this guy in the water while white water rafting...then realizing it was dad.

Watching the tv news with some of the guys in college after the Challenger exploded.

The family taking a wrong subway exit in Washington DC. McPherson Square. We ended up on the block where all of the stripper bars were located.

Crying at a school dance because the girl I wanted the last dance with was asked by someone else before I could get up the nerve.

Last year's reunion - Too many memories to count.

Wrestling in the hall with some friends in college and really ticking one off.

The snow drift higher than our front window. The drift ended up cracking the window frame with too much pressure.

The time where our neighbor kid shot the glass deck door and watching the spiderweb cracking. then the next week the window cracked again when a bird flew into it.

Telling a dirty joke in junior high too quickly and nobody getting it.

Being stuffed head first in a trash can by two seniors when I was a freshman.

Skipping one class (and one class only) in college to hang out with some friends after lunch.

Realizing the romance was dead with my first girlfriend after two weeks, but staying with her for another month.

Telling my 'girlfriend' in elementary that I didn't like her anymore after only one day together. She told me the same thing.

Losing my lunch seat because I had to stay in line to get milk instead of going after it later.

Well, that's enough for now. I'll dredge up some more memories later.

Hope this helps your writing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A friend of mine told me about a time she was having difficulty with her writing. She and one her friends were at the book store. He had her buy a book, then told her to tear it up. She didn't understand, so he took the book and ripped it in half down the spine. She couldn't believe it (neither could some of the other patrons in the store). Anway, he told her to start writing, from page one, the book she had bought and he had just torn. Start writing every word. By doing so, she was able to understand a little more about putting sentences together, how paragraphs were structured and a general sense of scene flow.

No, she didn't end up writing the entire book but she benefited by what she had written. I think it is an interesting idea. I haven't yet torn a book in half and started writing it, but my current project is giving me a new view on writing. I'm editing a short story and finding it a unique experience. I won't go into the quality of the work I'm reading, but I will say, even though I've had no classroom training, I think my years of writing, critiquing, taking and offering suggestions has given me a little insight into correcting the mistakes I've thus far found. Reading this piece of material, I've seen what errors I've made in the past and my future writings will be better.

If you are constantly reading your own work, you get blinded and defensive. You need to read other authors and other writers who are trying to get published. Critique and writers' groups are great for this purpose. Sure, you may not be interested in a particular story-it just may not be what you would normally read-however, visualize the writing style, listen to the rythym and flow of the story. Would you change anything to make certain passages clearer, or more exciting? Are there problems with Point of View, run-on sentences, passive voice, etc.

If may cite an example. I'm not a romance fan but I do like Nora Roberts as J.D. Robb and her Eve Dallas series. Sure, after thirty or so novels, they've become almost formulaic, but pick one up and you will see the action and the tension never bottoms out. Of course, there are scenes when she's not taking down a bad guy or discovering a vital clue; usually, they're the humorous moments when she's getting her hair done or tolerating her partner's quirky whims. Even those scenes and the obligatory sexual rounds with her husband are enough to keep up the interest. I've never put down one of her books because I'm bored. I never feel as if I slogging through the book just to get to the end so I can read something better. That's what you're wanting in your own story.

Sure, Robb has some errors and I've discussed some of them with other writers. We can see problems even with the successful authors. Recognizing these can help those who are not as succesful. We can strive to avoid the errors others make.

Am I worrying about my editor's corrections and suggestions for my stories? Of course, I am. However, since Echelon accepted my stories for e-publication, they must have seen potential and the fact that I am able to write something of quality. And...when the changes do come back, I'll still learn something.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A little hard work

We all remember the saying, "A little hard work never hurt anybody." I guess that depends on your definition of hurt. As I type this, the base of my right thumb feels like I've cracked the knuckle about fifty times in the last two minutes; my neck is stiff; my knees protest on the stairs; and my back won't allow me to tie my shoes without some uttered groaning. However, similar to last week after two days of black belt camp (kicks and punches and situps and countless push ups and a 6:30 am workout) I'm not complaining. Well, not about how it does a body good to get physical once in awhile. I've a been a little irregular recently. I mean as regards my routine workouts in the weight room. Last week, for example, eight hours sleep was a dream what with all the interruptions from neighbors and the landlord.

Anyway, once again, I thoroughly enjoyed the annual black belt camp and the sore muscles and the great ideas for class I received. This weekend was no different. While a friend sawed concrete, I played water boy keeping the blade and the saw cool. Then I hefted a jackhammer and made little pieces out of big pieces. Like a lot of things, you don't notice the effect of a jackhammer upon your body until after you've been at it awhile, stop, then do it again. By the end of eight hours of sawing and jacking and lifting and pounding, those machines were, for some reason, weighing a little heavier than at the beginning of the day. Then I was back at it Sunday morning for a few hours.

So what if the muscles are sore and I ache in several places; I could have told the guy to go take a flying leap. (Course he might have charged me extra for recent computer repair) Anyway, I had fun. I did something I've never done before. Jackhammering is actually kind of fun. Not that I'm apply to a construction crew first thing Monday morning-I didn't like it that much; it's sweaty work and the jouncing it does to your innards can't be healthy. But it was fun. All in all about twelve hours good work, although what we did doesn't seem like much.

The same could be said about writing. Is writing hard work? Stupid question to those who are serious writers. Of course it's hard work. Sure, your muscles don't suffer (although since I write long hand my left hand sometimes aches, but that's because I'm in the groove, baby) and a lot of times what you've written doesn't look like much in the bigger scheme of things. But as long as something is down on paper or saved in a file, and it's something that can be worked with later, then I think you can consider it a good session and you can enjoy what you've accomplished. Plus, the mental benefits are great.

...and with the cable on the fritz, what else is there to do.