Tag Archives: Fiction

Wanted: Blocks of Time

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, it occurs to me that part of my problem is how much time I’m actually spending working on the new novel right now. As most of you know, I’m trying to get back to a semi-normal schedule after my bout with cancer. I’m working only about 60% time right now, so you’d think I would have lots of time for the novel. But three things are working against me:

1. I have a lot of new health-related things added to my daily routine, and those aren’t ever going to go away.
2. I’m really behind on household and garden chores, and I’m trying to gradually, oh so slowly, catch up.
3. It’s important that I don’t overdo my work hours for a while.

The upshot of all of this is that I’m working on the new book only about five hours a week. I plan to increase that over the course of the next few months because it’s really a pitiful amount. How can I get inside my characters’ heads when I spend so little time with them?

But it can’t be helped. I’m still in the situation that my health has to come first. It will get better when I can work at the writing at least 10-12 hours a week. I’m just not there yet.

Have you ever gone through a period in which you have so little time for your writing? What do you do to keep your excitement about the project alive?


Filed under Writing

Musing About Conflict

I was going to sit down and write a book review this afternoon, but instead, my thoughts about the YA book in question are prompting a semi-philosophical post about conflict in fiction.

Let me give you a brief scenario. In the novel in question, the heroine doesn’t want the life that is proscribed for girls in her time period. She runs away and basically achieves her goal of an alternate life by masquerading as a boy in the very first chapter. The rest of the story is filled with interesting characters (some of whom have conflicts with the protagonist), exotic locations, and once-in-a lifetime adventures. In spite of all that, the first half of the book felt flat to me because there was no overarching tension, no big goal or conflict driving the story from episode to episode. The protagonist got what she wanted in the first chapter and she keeps telling herself how lucky she is.

Am I being too critical? Do you think it’s necessary to have a big conflict driving the story if there are a plenty of little conflicts and adventures along the way?

I should mention that eventually the overarching narrative does develop a big-picture conflict because the heroine begins to fear that her secret will be discovered—an event that would be doubly disastrous because she has fallen in love with one of her companions and knows he will feel betrayed when he learns that she has deceived him for so long. Once I got to the second half of the book, I was much more invested.

I just wonder if my expectations for the beginning were reasonable. I promised the author I’d write a review on Amazon (and I’ve told her of my concerns), but then I began to wonder if I were being too harsh. I’d love to hear what you all think either as readers or writers or both.



Filed under Writing

Marketing Friday

This morning, I have been marketing. I contacted two blog tour services to see about setting up blog tours for The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. If it works out, I’ll be posting details on the blog as the tours happen.

I have also been cold calling, emailing, and writing to gift shops connected with historic sites that are related to my novel. I’m not sure if there’s really much chance of getting my book placed in those shops, but it never hurts to ask!

Now, having finished that bit of business, I’m going out with my husband to eat lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant and then go see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Happy Friday, all.


Filed under Publishing

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins

beautiful ruins

I made it halfway through The Beautiful Ruins without being sure I liked the book. It tells a very nonlinear story, whose chapters jump back and forth in time and focus on different characters. Normally, that doesn’t bother me, but I was exceptionally tired and distracted when I began reading this novel, and I had been looking for something less demanding. Yet, the story pulled me in anyway.

The many characters in this narrative include Pasquale Tursi, who in 1962 is the twenty-something Italian proprietor of a bare-bones inn in an inconsequential coastal fishing village. He dreams of building creating a beach before his hotel and a tennis court up in the cliff wall to attract American tourists.

Dee Moray is a beautiful American actress who has a bit part in the ill-fated film Cleopatra. She has come to Pasquale’s inn to wait for her lover because she thinks she is dying.

Michael Deane is a producer on that film. We see him again fifty years later at the end of his career, which has degenerated into the production of meaningless reality shows.

His present-day assistant Clare left academia to try a shot at the movie business. She’s made a deal with fate: either she finds one great pitch by the end of the week or she’s leaving to for a more serious job. She’s also trying to decide whether to leave her boyfriend, the gorgeous but vacuous, porn-addicted Daryl.

Another episode of the novel presents a chapter of a work-in-progress (written over the span of decades) by Alvis Bender, who wanted to write a novel about his experiences in Italy during World War II, but who can’t seem to stop drinking long enough to do so.

And then there’s Pat Bender, a punk rock musician with an electrifying stage presence but a talent for hurting himself and the people he loves, and Shane Wheeler, a man who thinks he can redeem his life by pitching a movie based on the doomed Donner Party.

Amazingly, all these disparate stories are connected. They coalesce in the last half of the book in a way that not only makes sense, but is moving and redemptive. I found it a stunning tour de force. Beautiful Ruins was one of the pleasanter reading surprises I’ve had in a long time.

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The Power of Reading

This image is just a little bit of whimsy I created this past fall to express my belief in the power of reading:


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Book Review: Skinner’s Drift

I had not heard of Skinner’s Drift by Lisa Fugard until a friend gave it to me. It’s set in South Africa of the 1990s—after apartheid has ended and while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is looking into old crimes. Eva, the main character, has been living in the United States since shortly after her mother died. Now she has come back to her homeland because her father, a white farmer whose land borders the Limpopo River, is dying. Once there, Eva has to face the past she fled from and its terrible secrets. The book held my attention even though I had to break halfway through to read something else for a deadline. If anyone has an interest in South Africa given the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, this book might be an intriguing place to start.

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Review: A Sunset Finish

I recently finished reading the novella A Sunset Finish by Melinda Moore. The genre is speculative fiction, one I don’t read very often. However, I enjoyed this brief book. I read it in a PDF review copy, but Amazon lists the e-book edition as 65 pages. (I don’t think it’s in print format.)

Violinist Stephanie Minagawa has just arrived in Albuquerque to play with the orchestra there. Stephanie struggles with self-doubt, depression, and a difficult relationship with her mother, and this move is an attempt to start over. Unfortunately for Stephanie, the first time she plays her violin in New Mexico, it explodes because the arid climate has dried it out too much.

Her stand mate with the orchestra refers her to an instrument repair shop, and when Stephanie arrives, that’s when things really start to happen. As soon as she walks inside the shop, Stephanie sees strange colored lights and figures made of smoke, but when she mentions this to the people at the shop, they grow uncomfortable and refuse to answer her questions. Stephanie and Bruce, the young man who will repair her instrument, quickly realize they are strongly attracted to each other, but each carries wounds from the past. And the unresolved conflicts from the past—Stephanie’s depression and dangerous spirits somehow linked to Bruce—eventually threaten Stephanie’s life.

In addition to the intriguing plot, one thing I like about the story was the vivid but not overblown descriptions. Moore also does a good job giving details of the characters’ back story and revealing them when the reader needs to know. I thought the chemistry between Stephanie and Bruce was conveyed well. Moore also works in just enough of Stephanie’s Japanese beliefs and Bruce’s Native American beliefs to help the reader understand the story, without launching into dry explanations. In one especially nice touch, several chapters open with haiku, supposedly written by Stephanie herself.My one quibble with the story is that at times, Moore isn’t precise enough in her scene setting. At least twice, I was surprised to suddenly learn that more people were in a room than I had thought. These moments of confusion pulled me out of the story needlessly. However, that was a minor flaw in an otherwise enjoyable read.


Filed under Book Reviews

Writing Historical Fiction: Relinquishing Control

This week, I am finishing the copy edit review of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte and will soon send it back to my publisher for design and production. I find myself having mixed feelings. I am happy with the book, and I believe that with my editor’s help, I have made it a far better book than it was a few months ago.

Yet, I know that once this pass is over, my ability to make substantial changes to the manuscript will end. During the proof review, I’ll be able to fix any remaining typos and grammatical errors, but it won’t be appropriate to do intensive rewrites. Whatever shape the manuscript is in at the end of this week will be the condition in which it goes out into the world. My baby is moving beyond my control.

This will be the first time I’ve experienced this phenomenon to this extent. I’ve worked in educational publishing for 24 years, and I’ve had short stories, poems, and one non-fiction YA book published before this, but not a novel. Unlike any project that came before, this book has taken two years of my life. Sending it out feels like a deeper level of vulnerability than I have ever experienced. I have waited thirty years for this day to come, but I never really thought about what it would feel like. The important thing to remember is that even with something that means so much to me, I don’t have to be perfect. I only have to do the best I am capable of at the time—and I think I can honestly say that I’ve done that.


Filed under Publishing