Writing: Introduction or Novel?

I was organizing my writing folders and re-read a novel I wrote.

It’s unpublished and might well remain unpublished forever. It has pretty huge problems. Mostly because it’s one giant introduction to world & characters. I really struggled with making a plot for it at all.

But it’s all really important stuff that sets up the second novel. I’ve thought about “could I shorten it?” and I’ve thought “Could I deliver it through flashbacks?” (this is probably my favorite option) and I’ve stumbled with “could I add more to make the first book more of an action-y book? Maybe add another character’s perspective?”

You see, the idea is three books. And there IS important stuff in the first book:

  • Protagonist meets the antagonist (doesn’t have a CLUE that the person they meet is evil)
  • Protagonist meets love interest (yes, there is a love story pretty strongly woven throughout)
  • Magic is set up (wrong but it’s set up so I can break it down later mwhahaha) and explored and a LOT of questions get brought up
  • Important places & people are introduced
  • Major secondary plot is established (politics)
  • Not one but THREE side-stories that will come together as “oh, I didn’t realize that was even important” are started & explored

See how many of them are “started” and “hinted at?”  That’s the problem. Unless I write a million-word book (that works well as a trilogy damnit) I start a bunch of stuff KNOWING it’s just filler for the next book.

And it’s important. Like it is REALLY important….

So I have a metric-ton of notes and plots and world-building (hell I drew a MAP) on books 2 & 3 – but I can’t write them yet ’cause maybe it just needs to be one book.  Maybe it could be 2 (a duology?) – but it is a terrible 1st book and I know it. So Books 2 & 3 have been rattling around for like 3 years in my head. Re-reading it last weekend reminded me of the problem – and the issue that I am mad that I can’t read the story I want to read all the way to end.

Manners: Is “if” a bad word?

This occurred to me only recently, but it is too true: If you have to use “if” to qualify something, it’s probably bad. IF gets used to cover up an insult or negative feedback instead of just having the spine to stand up to your own comment. Look at these examples:

  • If this had more salt, it would be delicious! (wait, so it’s not good?)
  • If you got contacts, we could see your pretty face. (wait, so glasses somehow “hide” facial features?)
  • If that shirt was just cut a little differently… (so it looks bad. I get it)
  • If we go to that restaurant, we might miss the movie (so the movie is your priority.)
  • If you want the blue one, get the blue one (why won’t you just tell me which one you recommend? I asked you!)

Even when it is referencing something good “If we buy this house, we can start our family” or “If we go on vacation, we can relax” it has this tinge of “If we don’t…”

I’m not saying people can’t use the word “if” – but I think we all know that the qualifier “if” means that the person speaking is trying to avoid hurting feelings or creating a hard stance. It gives wriggle room for the speaker to have a socially acceptable escape for their opinion.

I’ve been trying to come up with “positive” if statements and they elude me. So far, all I’ve found is “If so, you’re not alone” (you know – like every blog that is “you know that thing? Me too!”).  This has led me to try to watch my own use of if. Am I using in a way that I am setting unspoken conditions? Or am I using it as a rhetorical device (the only option I found that I couldn’t make negative)? The former I think I should reconsider; the latter? Well, rhetorical devices have a purpose but I’m not sure they are always a polite choice either.

Life Memories: My namesake

I was in middle school when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I only vaguely remember the night she called my parents from the Home Depot (about 3-4 miles from HER house) and admitted she was lost. Grandma didn’t know how to get home from there and she needed my parents to come rescue her.

I was just old enough to have begun to get curious about the differences between “me” and “adults” – and my grandmother being my namesake was of particular curiosity. How much was Grandma like me? How were we different?  There was a little while where I was afraid if I knew too much about my grandmother I would turn into her (a little more literally than is actually probably mentally healthy).  I look back and regret that fear… I wish I had taken time to get to know her.

They brought her home and “lost” her car keys. She was stuck with us while my Mom made a round of doctor appointments. I didn’t go, but I heard tidbits of questions about who is the president, what is the date, flashcards like that old memory game… and then a name for what was going on: Alzheimer’s disease.

Over the next several years my grandmother’s mind degraded. It is terrifying to watch. Even young and stupid, I didn’t know how my mom could bear it. But there was a strange (if somewhat terrifying) bright spot: she told a story.

You see, she was incredibly independent. And taking away her driver’s license had been pretty much the most horrible thing (in her mind!) anyone could do to her. There was no convincing her she was a dangerous driver (frankly, she had been for awhile!). And fortunately, she didn’t really blame my mother & uncle for this one: it was all the doctor.

Every few months or so there would be a new permutation of this story:

  • “You remember that doctor? That doctor that took my license away. I read in the paper – I am pretty sure it was in the Sunday edition – I read that he lost his drivers license.”
  • “You remember that doctor? After he took my license away he lost his car keys. I saw it in the paper, it was in the lost-and-found ads. Can you believe that? He lost his keys and had to put an ad in the paper!”
  • “I read about that doctor. He lost his medical license. We should get me tested again ’cause I read in the paper that he was misdiagnosing people.”
  • “I saw an article in the paper about that doctor. He was declared incompetent. He had his car taken away from him.”
  • “That doctor got locked up. I saw it on the news. He got put in a sanitarium.”

God, it was heartbreaking. And it was hilarious.

It was one of those things in life that you either had to laugh or had to cry. It really was hilarious because she believed it. Thoroughly. And you could feel the anger behind these stories. The frustration of everything she had lost and she couldn’t really understand why, but her mind was trying to put it together in ways that made sense.

Fortunately, doctors diagnosed my grandmother and despite her rage (and yes, the level was sometimes rage at her “captivity”) she had the help she needed from professionals who kept her alive and comfortable. Thankfully, my grandmother had the doctors (yes even “that doctor”!) who treated her. Thankfully, my grandmother had children who loved her enough to bear these heartbreaking moments – and still did what was best for her because it was best for her.

Review: Rating System(s)

Netflix relatively recently changed from a 5-star rating skill to “thumbs up” and “thumbs down.”  I hate it.

And yes, I do mean “active dislike and will try to get this changed somehow” level of negative emotion.

I can’t stand polar rating systems.

I know, this is a level of nerd – hating something so inane as a rating system, but let me break it down a little bit.

This is how I rate using 5-stars:

  1. I hated this (probably didn’t even finish it). Never show me anything like this again.
  2. I dragged myself through it, but I will never willingly watch it again.
  3. It was Ok. It probably kept me entertained enough in my current mood – I might watch something like this again, but THIS was probably a one-time-watch.
  4. I enjoyed this. I think other friends of mine with similar taste would also like this.
  5. OMG. Everyone should watch this movie. And watch it again.

I don’t know if everyone else has ever thought this much about their rating systems – but I like getting recommended new things and I know my taste can be a little weird.  A simple “yes” or “no” doesn’t really cut it.

Netflix knows I like comedy specials.  Gabriel Iglesias gets 5 stars. But Jeff Foxworthy has gotten 4 and 1 stars (sometimes I find him funny, sometimes I don’t).  Jim Jeffries got a 3-star response.  It isn’t ALL comedy specials I like. It’s specific types of humor.  There is a swath of specials Netflix recommended that got 1- and 2-star responses. I don’t like humor that is cruel to people (sometimes not even when “punching up”)   It is not as simple as “yes yes yes” and “no no no”

There is a grey area of “hmmm” that this overly simplistic rating system just can’t capture. As the person who will receive suggestions based on these ratings – I want Netflix (or anyone else) to be able to do a good job and they can’t with this stupid system of “yes” or “no.”   I will end up leaving a LOT of things just un-rated because it isn’t enough “no” or enough “yes” – and Netflix will have no idea why.

I’ve wanted a streaming music service that would let me do this.  I have to switch radio stations regularly because i get…. bored is the wrong word. Distracted? I like a very wide variety of music – from A Capella gospel (Rockapella is one of my favorites) to M.I.A. over to …. oh pick.   I do care more about what is actually being sung than a lot of people I know, but that is why I would really like a rating system beyond “up” and “down.”

I can definitely give a thumbs down to their thumbing rating system.

Review: The Selection (series)

Kiera Cass’s Selection Books: The Selection, The Elite, The One was cheesy and fun to read.  I borrowed the audiobooks from the library, so these were my to-and-from-work commute books and they were perfect for that.

The world-building was a little weak in the first book, but she definitely built it up over the course of the trilogy until I felt like I understood the world and how it worked.  I never doubted Cass understood it, but in the first book there were hints of more which only left me a little confused.

America Singer at first seemed like a name from a lazy writer – but I have to give Cass props that in the end I was impressed at how well she made that name WORK for the plot of the book.  It was crafty in ways I don’t expect of a young adult romancy novel. Still a little cheesy, but it’s written for like 15-year-olds. There are worse sins than some cheese.

The plot seems very straight-forward at first. Love triangle. Class struggles. Censorship. Girl thrust into threatening environment she doesn’t really want to be in… I expected to roll my eyes a lot (ok, I probably did – but not as much as I expected to).   I will give it to Cass that I liked how she kept the main character in the “I don’t want to go home” until she decided she REALLY didn’t want to go home.

I also liked some of the lessons she covered: class warfare being addressed in a very non-threatening way. She addressed honesty in relationships and I think she did an excellent job of exploring a fairly feminist view of relationships without sounding preachy or diminishing the men in the novel.

I would have liked to have a bit more success in the Bechdel test side of things, but most of the characters were present to win their husband. So not surprisingly, this is a thing they discuss pretty regularly.  You know, sort of a huge plot point in their lives at the time the book encompasses.

This is definitely a niche novel. It is not the sort of feminist book I think men should read, but women should.  America spends a good bit of all three books worried about what she will do with her life – teach, sing, or be a queen (and how she would want to be as queen). NOT just “do I love him” or something stupid, but she genuinely wants a relationship that compliments her own choice – not defines it.

To anyone who read and enjoyed Twilight after the age of 16 – you should read these books.  I think THIS is young adult romance done well.

Humor: I am not a pizza place

I don’t know how this happens, but it is frequent enough that I know it does. The worst I had was a debt collector who just would not believe I wasn’t “Simon.” Pretty sure my voice is not that deep… Someone dials the wrong number and just does not believe the person answering is NOT their local pizza place.  I might have been reading Not Always Right and everyone who’s worked in customer service should go there.

I have decided how I will handle it. It would go (I expect) something like this:

Me: Hello?

Lost Soul: Hi, I want to order a pizza.

Me: Oh, you must have dialed the wrong number, I’m not a pizza place.

Lost Soul: Yeah, Pepperoni and fried pickles.

Me: I don’t have pizzas.

Lost Soul: Didn’t you hear me?

Me: Yes. You apparently can’t hear me.  *singing* And he/she was a lost soooooul in the wasteland….

Lost Soul: What? Did you put me on hold?

Me: Nope. You ready to listen now?

Lost Soul: No, I just want to order my  pizza!

Me: Then you should probably hang up and call the pizza place.

Lost Soul: I did!

Me: Wow, impressive how you can hang up and call the same wrong number twice.

Lost Soul: If you don’t take my order, I’ll have you fired!

Me: From where?

Lost Soul: [Pizza Place]

Me: Can you get me a job there first?

I would be merciless. And patient. And laugh at them until they admitted their fault and/or hung up. I would try to record it too to put on the internet, but I suspect by the time I figured out they were this level of dumb, I’d have missed the golden opportunity.

Writing: A Character’s Voice

I have a character talking to me in my brain and I can’t replicate his voice on paper. It is the most frustrating thing. I know what he sounds like and looks like and feels like in my head, but somehow when I put my fingers to keys I can’t replicate it.  I feel like a kid on a kayboard every time I try. I am banging at the keys and somehow it isn’t turning out like what I imagine it should.

Robert Jordan gets a a lot of flak for his characters, but I like to give him credit in this. Each of his characters is pretty good at their voice. Overall he has some weird ideas of how men and women see each other, but that aside he keeps their voices true.  I could pick up a Wheel of Time book and within a few sentences (assuming it isn’t just place-descriptions) and figure out who the character is.  He might not be brilliant at it (again, unrealistic beliefs of the other gender(s)) but he is good.

I have tried every day for the past week to write one chapter in this character’s voice and I can’t manage it.  Some of the problem is that is he is very cynical and for all my frustrations with the world, I truly do believe mankind will survive and even thrive. It’s hard to keep all my words in that deeply cynical – sometimes downright depressingly cynical – tone.

He is making me want to take my tent up into the mountains for a weekend so I can get away from responsibilities and connections – just listen to his voice and throw away a LOT of paper exploring what he says.