Monday, January 28, 2013

The Writing Process and Book Two Update

Conversation between me and Felicity Smith (the lead female character in The Spectraland Saga):

Me: Remember when I was writing the first book? Secret of the Songshell?

Felicity: Yeah, so what?

Me: Well, since that was my first book, all I had to focus on was writing it. Now, I'm trying to promote that book while I write the next one at the same time.

Felicity (rolls eyes): Is there a point to all of this?

Me: It's making the second book come along a bit slower.

Felicity: A bit.

Me: Okay, yeah, a lot slower.

Felicity: Wow, so you found out that doing two things at once is harder than doing just one thing. That's groundbreaking. Well, listen, I gotta go.

Me: Don't you want to hear more about the second book? You're in it, you know.

Felicity (sighs): Fine.

Me: So with the first book, I had, like, a detailed outline - full chapter summaries and everything. That made it pretty easy to write the first draft, which I finished in about four months. This time around, I thought, "Man, I'm really busy, but I need to get going on Book Two. I have a rough idea of how I want the story to go . . . hey, why don't I try winging it?"

Felicity (looks at watch):

Me: After a few months, I was able to get about 17,000 words down - you know, close to 70 pages. Then last week, I sat down and re-read them. I mean, really re-read them. And you know what?


Me: I didn't really like them. I thought, wow, you know, this isn't turning out quite the way I wanted. There were parts I loved, sure, but overall, I just didn't care for the direction it was going in. I think I can salvage chunks of it, but I . . . I'm going to start from scratch.

Felicity: You have any diet soda here?

Me: In the fridge. But yeah, I found out that the whole winging-it thing just isn't for me. So I'm working on detailed chapter summaries now, and I'm really excited about how they're turning out. I think that even though it feels like I've lost time, I really haven't, because I wrote, I got some great ideas down, and I learned a good lesson about how to approach writing the rest of the series. I think that once this outline is done, the book will almost write itself, and the whole thing will end up going a lot faster in the long run as a result. And, of course, I'll have a much better book. Isn't that cool?

Felicity (takes gulp of soda): Hey, as long as everything turns out good for me - and Joel, too, I guess - then great, whatever.

Me: Um, yeah . . . turns out good . . . sure . . .

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: The Kitchen Daughter

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

Bottom Line: 4 out of 5 stars; recommended. Probably best suited for adult readers, but also appropriate for mature high schoolers. Sort of PG-13ish with some profanity and mature themes about love, loss and interpersonal relationships.
I picked up this book after hearing about it from Kate, the writer of this very cool blog. Here's the book's official summary from its Amazon page:

"After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them."

The cooking theme and overall tone of this book reminded me of the movie Julia & Julia (yes, I watch and read things other than boy-centric science fiction and fantasy action adventures). The first third of the novel was on the slow side, and my eyes glazed over a bit during the passages where Ginny goes over recipes in great detail in her head (although I understand and appreciate the Aspie angle there).

Once I got past the 33% mark on my Kindle, however, I really started to get engrossed in the story. There were even several occasions where I audibly said to myself, "wow, this is amazing." Granted, some of those occasions occurred because I was impressed with McHenry's accurate portrayal of certain Aspie traits and tendencies, but others were simply due to powerful moments of drama and emotion.

It's definitely nice to see another book with a strong, empowering character on the spectrum that couches its portrait of Asperger's within the boundaries of a good, moving story that anyone can appreciate.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Blog Tour

My first-ever blog tour wrapped up today. There were no bus rides or backstage antics involved, but it was a fun experience nonetheless.
Just wanted to send a quick mahalo out to my tour organizer, Bewitching Blog Tours (who I recommend to my fellow authors out there), and to all the blogs that hosted my stops along the way. You guys rock.


1/7 - Mom With a Kindle
1/8 - Fang-tastic Books
1/9 - Roxanne's Realm
1/10 - Coffee Addicted Writer
1/11 - The Creatively Green Write at Home Mom
1/12 - Marked by Books
1/12 - Books Books the Magical Fruit
1/13 - Monique Morgan
1/14 - Moosubi Reviews!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

On Originality

When it comes to creating an original work of art, it's hard to know where to draw the line. You can go chasing after uniqueness to the point where you're just being original for originality's sake. I believe that there should be a point in the middle where you make an effort to differentiate yourself while remaining true to your vision. In other words, create something that makes YOU happy, and then add your own personal touches to it.

I live the Portland, OR area, so let's use a famous local institution as an example: Voodoo Doughnuts. Their base product is a doughnut. They haven't created some revolutionary new form of dessert that combines recycled rubber mulch with fried pine cones and used motor oil. No, it's a flippin' doughnut. Everyone makes and sells doughnuts. Have been for many, many years. The difference is in what the folks at Voodoo do WITH that doughnut, from the unique toppings (grape dust?) to their public image.

Mmm donut
To use another example, I love stories - in both novel and movie form - that follow the "Hero's Journey" pattern. Basically, the hero starts off in an ordinary situation, goes off on an adventure, and then returns, usually as a person that has changed for the better. I've been a huge fan of these kinds of stories ever since I saw Star Wars, and read The Hobbit, as a kid. So with Secret of the Songshell, I wanted to follow that same pattern, to create a tale that I would myself enjoy; but at the same time, I incorporated elements from my own life to give my story personal relevance as well as its own unique flavor.

Like the doughnut, there's nothing new about the Hero's Journey archetype. But the reason why they both endure is that they work. Even variations on the doughnut follow the same basic recipe. A snack made out of recycled rubber mulch probably wouldn't be very enjoyable. So if you love three-chord punk-pop music or cheesy romance novels, don't worry that they've both been done before. If that's what inspires you, follow your gut, and then sprinkle your own grape dust on top of it. (You can always make fried pine cones with your side project.)

Monday, January 7, 2013

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Every so often, I get asked "what are your favorite books?" or "who are your favorite bands?" I find these questions rather difficult to answer. There are favorites of the moment, favorites of my childhood, favorites that lasted for a good number of years but then aren't really all that favorite anymore. How do you compare them? And what constitutes a "favorite" book or band, anyway? Something you'll read or listen to over and over again? That seems reasonable. But what if you've read it or listened to it so much that now you're tired of it? Does that make it any less favorite?

In the interest of over-thinking, I'm going to introduce a concept called "Favorite Points." Using a completely arbitrary system, a band or a book will get points based on things like: if it was ever an artistic influence on me; if I can still read it or listen to it after all this time; if I'm proud to say that I'm a fan of it; etc.

So here we go, with a few of my favorite books/bands:

Band: Iron Maiden
Favorite Points: 100
Detail: This band was responsible for getting me into metal music, which led to my learning how to play the guitar. I'd say that deserves a fair amount of FP. I was initially drawn to them by their album artwork, which, to me, demonstrates the importance of cover illustrations (news flash: I'm currently having a new cover design made for Secret of the Songshell.) I basically stopped buying their albums after No Prayer for the Dying, but when the Flight 666 rockumentary was on TV recently, I was glued to the set. Every so often, I'll still put on one of the old records and it sounds awesome. My friend sings in a Maiden tribute band and they're always a blast to watch.

Book: East of Eden
Favorite Points: 82
Detail: I've always maintained that my favorite books were the ones that caused me to postpone real life while I read just one more chapter. This was actually not one of those books. This one was a bit of a slog, honestly. But what a glorious slog it was. I was reading it during the time I was writing Songshell, and it definitely had a direct influence, especially on my more descriptive paragraphs.

Band: The Dambuilders
Favorite Points: 94
Detail: See this blog post.

Book: The Hunger Games
Favorite Points: 79
Detail: I first heard about this book from my son, who was reading it for school. He completely loved it. So I figured I'd give it a try. (Tip for authors: get your book into schools, and then let word of mouth take over from there.) At first, I was very skeptical. The premise sounded unoriginal, and the first few pages yielded characters that weren't very likeable. But then I had to keep reading it. And reading it some more. I ended up finishing it in a couple of days, which is remarkable given my crazy schedule. Unlike the Potter series, it didn't influence my own writing all that much, but still, any book that has that can't-put-it-down effect gets big points in my, um, book.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ian Engelsman, Budding Rock Star

Here is an awesome story (from the front page of The Columbian, my local paper) about an autistic 12-year-old boy who plays the drums. Check it out.

You rock dude!!

My favorite line from this article: "Now people are taking notice of Ian, not for his disability but his ability."

I don't think I need to say much more.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Second Player Score

With a new year comes a new blog . . . one of my bands, Second Player Score, will be writing about our scandalous rock 'n' roll exploits here. Try to guess which one of us has written a particular post!
Soon to be seen on T-shirts and buttons everywhere
This blog, of course, will continue to deliver the latest updates about The Spectraland Saga and all of my other miscellaneous thoughts and experiences. Here's to an awesome 2013!