Stephen King, Part 1

Through the miracle of the internet, and Twitter, in particular, I recently had the opportunity to get a chance to see Stephen King at a reading in Reno.

Really.  That’s what it was like.  There was an announcement that Stephen King would be at the local Barnes & Noble, and, on a certain date, at a certain time, you had to send an e-mail to get into a drawing to get an invitation to get in line with 200-400 other yahoos.

So I sent off my e-mail and got my invitation (which I had to bring with me to the store).

Now, bear in mind that I’m not a crazy Stephen King fan.  I’m just your run-of-the mill Stephen King fan.  I’ve read, and enjoyed, some of his work.  There’s a whole lot I haven’t read, but “On Writing” I’ve read and re-read multiple times.  It’s in that book that I think his personality comes through most strongly, and as a person, I find him funny and entertaining.

So I decided that though I had gotten the opportunity with fairly half-assed enthusiasm, I would at least follow through like a bigger fan than I was.

I was at Barnes & Noble well before the doors opened at 8:00, lined up with the other fans, rabid and otherwise.  And rabid there was.  There was a woman with her nails done with Stephen King cover art, to include a portrait of the great man.  The woman first in line had gotten there at 3:00 a.m.  People had driven hours to get there, as opposed to my measly 20 minutes.  Everyone around me was from out-of-state, some as far as Utah and Washington.  And I only saw one person I knew, which was strange.  Reno’s not that big.

So there was the first line.  I was 102nd in line.  We got through the door and there was another line, this time to buy the book.  I didn’t actually GET the book – I just bought the opportunity to get an autographed copy.  And then we were free to leave until we had to come back and line up again at 11:00.  For a talk that started at 1:00. 

To be continued…

So Many Books, So Little Time

I’m a reader. A voracious reader. I’ve been tracking my reading for over 15 years and on average, I read 53 books a year. One a week. This is why That Man calls me “Reado the Reado Wife.”

Now, that includes everything — books I re-read, Kindle editions, and Middle Grade and YA (research, don’t you know).

I read to be entertained and educated. But interestingly enough, I don’t read like a writer. At a recent book club meeting, another member, also a writer, mentioned how he had a terrible time enjoying the book because the author head-hopped and as a writer, it drove him crazy.

I didn’t even notice.

I was swept along in the story, the characters, and the intrigue and didn’t even notice the nuts and bolts of writing. Things I work hard on at my desk, I completely missed on the couch.

And this may be why my writing falls short so often. As a reader, I’m easily swept away into the story. As a writer, I’m easily dazzled by my own perceived brilliance. As I read my own work, the world of my own creation comes alive with just a key stroke and my imagination runs amok in a world where the details aren’t quite there, yet. Since it’s my world, I see it, though my reader may not.

The power of suggestion is strong in this one.

Grammar, Thy Name is, Well, Grammar

I have been informed, multiple times, that my use of the comma can be quite horrifying. I readily admit that my grammar education is sadly lacking and I’m not sure how to go about fixing that. I never diagrammed sentences. I never learned an adjective prepositional phrase from a subordinate conjunction. And yet I have an English degree and my Super Secret Day Job involves copious amounts of wordsmithing. My use of the comma tends to be a by-the-seat-of-my-pants thing, with commas thrown in to slow my headlong progress.

In an effort to fix this lack in my education, I’ve been slogging through the following:

And slog really is the word for it. Is there anything more boring in the world than a discussion of punctuation and grammar? Okay, statistics. And watching grass grow.

But I press on. I’m hoping to find an on-line course with music, juggling, and rhymes to help me remember the rules.

Books for Inspiration

Still trying to get the creative motor revved up. Still failing. My new plan is to re-read inspirational writing books. Not “inspirational” as in faith-based, because that’s not how I roll in this shire, but “inspirational” as in “yes, THAT’s what I’m talking about! I must get back to work and write like THIS!”

Below are a couple of books that I find help me to no end. Keep in mind that these are just my preferences. If others work for you, let me know

Evanovich is one of my favorite authors. She’s fun to read and it’s interesting to get inside her writing process. I’ve got a lot of flags in this book and I would be a happy girl indeed if I had even a smidgen of her success. It also doesn’t hurt that Stephanie Plum is quoted with great frequency.

Ah, Chris Baty. One of the brains behind National Novel Writing Month. This book was written with that crazy endeavor in mind and I still read it on an annual basis, just to be reminded about how fun writing SHOULD be. Another heavily flagged book.

The Master of all that he surveys, Stephen King not only writes great books, he’s written a great book about writing. This is also a great memoir, without all the writing stuff. But it’s the writing stuff I want.

Because, well, her books have it all – Characterization, plot, description, suspense. I keep re-reading, hoping something will rub off in my writing.

Mary Stewart’s Books

Mary Stewart died last year at the age of 94. She has long been a favorite of mine, so in her honor, I decided to revisit all of her romantic suspenses.

Over the course of the last year or so, I’ve re-read all of Mary Stewart’s books, in order of publication, but not including the Merlin stuff or her kids books. I even found one I hadn’t read before.  Needless to say, I’m still a fan.

Lady Mary (she never called herself that, but she could have and should have) had an amazing ability to evoke a location. Sights, sounds, smells, she brought it all in. I found myself going to Google Earth and hunting down her locations, though many of them are fictional. But it was so fun to zoom in on a Scottish coastline or try to find that Bavarian castle. Fictional though these places are, Lady Mary made them seem so REAL.

Her characters, too, are wonderfully developed. With a few swift brush strokes, I learned what I needed to know about a character to draw me into a story and then as I read on, layers were added with a sure touch.

Seriously, it’s like watching a master painter at work.

I get much of my love of reading and writing from Mary Stewart. I love her stories and want to write like her. It may not be fashionable to write the kind of books she did and publishers may not want to sell them, but I don’t care. There’s a lushness of setting and character in her work that sweeps me away into a wonderful tale. And isn’t this is all we ask for in a story?

• Madam, Will You Talk? (1954)
• Wildfire at Midnight (1956)
• Thunder on the Right (1957)
• Nine Coaches Waiting (1958)
• My Brother Michael (1959)
• The Ivy Tree (1961)
• The Moon-Spinners (1962)
• This Rough Magic (1964)
• Airs Above the Ground (1965)
• The Gabriel Hounds (1967)
• The Wind Off the Small Isles (1968)
• Touch Not the Cat (1976)
• Thornyhold (1988)
• Stormy Petrel (1991)
• Rose Cottage (1997)

Mary Stewart – 1916-2014

The Reading That’s Stacking Up

My friend Lorie turned me on to Bookbub, the witch.  Now a list of titles for my consideration lands in my in-box EVERY SINGLE DAY.  So I not only have an extensive library of honest-to-gawd paper books, I also have this itty bitty thing I can tuck into my purse that is stuffed with books I haven’t read.  So many books, so little time.

But the Bookbub thing has brought up and interesting question about the value of the written word.  Do I value those free/cheap e-books less than the paper books collecting dust in my office?  The stuff on Bookbub is cheap – $2.99 or less.  And the stuff I usually buy is on the free side.

I admit that my attitude toward e-books is a tad different than my attitude toward a traditional paper book, or even an electronic one I paid for full price for.  And it’s all based on how quickly I read them once they’re on my Kindle.

E-books that I’ve checked out of the library get read quickly because I only have them for a few weeks.  The time-constraint lights a fire under my e-behind.

E-books that I buy, I read fairly quickly because I made a conscious choice to find them.

Free e-books on the other hand, languish, waiting for me to get around to them.  They’re not a priority, but I do feel a sense of anticipation when I think of them there, waiting for me.  Could it be I’m an e-hoarder?

I value good writing, and a good story, be it electronic or paper.  I just wish I had the time to read everything I want to read.  That problem begs a closer look at my priorities.

So Many Books…

I run the Spanish Spring Library Mystery Book Club. I’ve volunteered at the library for nearly nine years now and have kind of become the “Mikey” of the volunteers. As in “Let’s get Mikey!”

When budget cuts came along, I was asked to take over – “Hey let’s get Joan to run it! She’ll do anything!”

I had my reservations. I sometimes read mysteries, but I didn’t really think they were my thing.

Boy, was I wrong!

Turns out, the mystery genre encompasses everything from romantic suspense to science fiction thriller. There are cats, there are dogs, there psychopaths, and there are sweet little old ladies. What started as a lark and felt a little bit like homework, has turned into a rather annoyingly long list of ADDITIONAL books that I must read.

That’s been the beauty of this book club – I’ve been exposed to so many new authors. Newly published or classic legends, we’ve had them all. And we’ve read books from all over the world. Turns out that some really great mysteries are coming out of Scandanavia, Italy, and Australia. Who knew?

We also try to read a true-crime book once a year and that’s been educational and fun. Our reading of “The Monster of Florence” gave us a whole new understanding of the Amanda Knox case. Another year, “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” tied serendipitously with a Nevada Barr book set at the fort in Florida that had held the Lincoln conspirators.

But the biggest problem I’ve got with this book club thing? I now have an even longer list of authors whose books I want to read.

So Many Books

The One About J.K. Rowling

It seems like at least once a week I run across a tidbit on the internet wherein J.K. Rowling feels compelled to reveal something else about the characters in the Harry Potter series.

Enough, already! If it wasn’t important enough to make it into the books and merely served as subcontext, I, as a reader don’t need to know about it now, YEARS after the books were published.

I understand that as writers in this day and age, we’re encouraged to keep our faces out there so our readers can find us and our books. But why on earth does she have to re-hash old stuff? Why not tell us about the charities she’s supporting (ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, Anne Rowling Clinic and Lumos)? How about telling us about the inspiration for this new detective she’s created?

Rehashing old is tiresome.

Did Harper Lee ever come back and tell us that Scout had Daddy issues?

Did Tolkein feel the need to explain the sexual orientation of Gandalf?

No. Just. No.

The Best Wiener Dog Ever – Lyn Hawkins/Earl Shidler

My friends Lyn Hawkins and Earl Shidler have e-published a wonderful picture book about Lyn’s late Dachsund Schatze titled The Best Wiener Dog Ever. It’s a lovely story with amazing illustrations – Earl created them on his iPad.

Weiner Dog

How I Read

Coming back to my previous post about what I’m reading, I got to thinking about how I read.

As a writer, we are encouraged to read widely, both in and out of our chosen genre. We’re supposed to analyze the first 50 pages, diagram sentences, delve into plot development and characterization.

To all that I say “OH PLEASE.” And “Pffft! You’ve GOT to be kidding me.”

Yeah, I’m that writer.

How YOU doin'?

How YOU doin’?

I read for entertainment, to be swept away and taken away from my mundane existence. But I’m consistent — I also go to movies for escape. I avoid thought-provoking and depressing films in favor of hilarious rom-coms. I’ll take a good Hugh Jackman action/adventure over Jews in WWII anytime.

When I read, I’m along for the ride and I don’t want to dig into how the car works.

I do pay a little bit of attention. I know what I enjoy reading and I try to incorporate those same things into my writing. I like strong female characters, a touch of romance and any historical aspects in a story. But I don’t sit down and scribble in margins (sacrilege!), put the plot into a spreadsheet to emulate a formula, or analyze first lines. The closest I ever got to something like that was a prompt I ran across that encouraged me to find a favorite passage in someone else’s work and then re-type it in order to get a hands-on feel for the rhythm and pace. It was kind of fun to “write” a piece of best-selling fiction!

Would I be a better writer if I analyzed everything? Probably. Would I be a happier reader? Definitely not.

Call me shallow, call me immature, just don’t call me in the middle of a chapter.