Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Month of Letters

This is an idea I first saw talked about on Google+ by Mary Robinette Kowal. Basically, you write a letter and mail a letter a day during the month of February. It doesn't have to be a full-fledged letter- a postcard or other mail counts. If someone writes to you, and you write back, that counts, as well. Here's the website: A Month of Letters

Why? To reconnect with the idea of sitting down and hand writing as a form of communication. We've all gotten so wrapped up in Facebook, Twitter, email, texts, and all the other forms of electronic communication, that some of the pleasure of that communication gets lost, I think. I used to write to a pen pal (does anyone even use that term anymore?) a number of years ago, before email was something everyone had, and I remember truly enjoying opening the mail box and finding a new letter. Now, everyone complains that all they get is bills and junk mail. Well, here's a way to maybe make the trip to the mail a little more pleasurable, at least for a while.

Am I giving up on email, etc.? No, of course not. For many things, the ability to have a message delivered instantaneously is a good thing. But I also think that taking the time to sit and think about what I want to say to someone is a good thing, also.

So, want to try this? Let me know. Send me your address, in a comment here or via email if you prefer. (irishmak(at)thirtytwopaws(dot)com) I'll write you a letter or note at some point in February. I have a few set for the beginning of the month, but I'll get to you. Send me one, if you want:

Mary Alice Kropp
4 Rebecca Drive
Londonderry, NH 03053

And if I already have your address, don't be surprised to get a note or card from me this month!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Critique Readers

I've almost started this post several times, and walked away each time. It's a scary thing, but also a necessary part of the whole writing process. So.... (deep breath)

As I posted last week, I finished my first edit revisions to the novel-in-progress (working title: Demon Stone).  I printed it out:

And then took a few days off to serve as scorekeeper for an International Chii Society chili cook off in CT to benefit a U.S. Marine who was injured in Afghanistan and is currently undergoing rehab. But now it's back to work. I will be reading through the printed version and making notes on things that still need work, but I know I will never catch it all. Some things you just overlook because you know what you meant to type, and others are just things that make perfect sense to you, as the writer of the story because you have it all in your head anyway, but those same things may leave a reader confused or unsatisfied. With all that in mind, I am asking for some help.

I would like a few people to read through the story for me, and let me know what's wrong: spelling, grammar, plot holes, stuff that doesn't make sense, stuff that doesn't work, anything that could help make it a better story. There are some guidelines:

1) It is a bit over 72,000 words at this point. That works out to just under 300 pages at the fairly standard 250 words per page rate. It's a lot to read, and I really would like the feedback to be relatively timely. Now, I understand that 300 pages is not going to be done overnight, especially if one is trying to crit read. So if you can't, you can't. It's ok.

2) I really do want criticism, but I'm going to ask that it be constructive, please. I mean, if you really don't like it, that's fine, and you can say so. I can take it (I think). Please tell me if something doesn't work, just feels wrong, or is out of whack with the story as a whole. I need to know where things don't work. If you find something, and can explain what you see as wrong, I will take your suggestions seriously.

3) I would have to categorize this as an occult fantasy. It has demons, and some ritual magic as major elements of the story. It's in a contemporary setting, not a high fantasy, pseudo-medieval realm. No elves or ogres or trolls, either. It is not sword and sorcery. Just so you know.

If you think you might want to help me out, please let me know. Depending on response, I may not choose everyone. If I don't ask you to read, please don't be upset with me!

For those who are asked to read, please let me know if an .rtf file will work for you. I do my writing with yWriter, and export to .rtf to clean up the formatting a bit. If plain .txt works for you, I can do that. I'm sure we can work something out, whatever your reading choice is.

If you would like to give Demon Stone a read through for me, you can leave a comment here letting me know how to contact you (email is good), or email me at makropp(at)gmail(dot)com

Thanks for your help!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dogland by Will Shetterly

DoglandDogland by Will Shetterly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't sure what to think about this book. It's another that is a bit outside my usual fare, and there were times in the early going that I wasn't even sure about finishing it. I'm glad I did. It was a fascinating read, with very subtle undercurrents that take time to sink in.

The story is about the Nix family who move to to rural Florida in the late 1950's. Luke Nix has a dream to open Dogland, a sort of canine zoo and tourist attraction, with a diner and gift shop. The story is told through the eyes of four-year-old Christopher, who tells the story from a perspective of hindsight. The family also includes mother Susan, three-year-old sister, Little Bit, and two-year-old brother, Digger. The family moves into a run-down property and begins to renovate it and bring in the many dogs who will be the focus of Dogland. They are befriended by their Seminole neighbor, a woman who owns the Fountain of Youth Inn (and may or may not really own the actual Fountain of Youth), and Ethorne Hawkins, a black man, hired to help out and later as cook in the restaurant. Luke also hires the rest of Ethorne's family to work Dogland and the diner. As racial tensions rise and Luke begins to write to the editorial section of the newspaper in support of desegregation and the banning of prayer in schools, he begins to attract the attention of others in the community, not the least of which is the Ku Klux Klan. In the pivotal confrontation, young Chris literally lets the dogs out.

The shining stars of this story are the characters. All are well drawn and belivable, with nuance and shading that make them truly dimensional. Shetterly captures the tone and layers of rural Florida nicely. There are hints of the magical and mystical in the story, although they are very subtle and may not be obvious to some readers. Readers of Neil Gaiman's American Gods may well recognize a few of these.

The story stays firmly centered on the Nix family, through Chris' eyes, and although race and religion play a large part in the plot, there is no preaching here. Events are confined to the local populace and individual struggles with a changing society.

The book is well written, the prose flows like a lazy Florida stream on a summer day. It is poignant, realistic, and strong. Chris' voice is often as carefree as his age should be, and at other times he seems far wiser than his years, although that probably comes from the fact that he is telling the story as an older man remembering what his younger self lived.

This is a book that will stick with you and make you think. I recommend it.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Writing, Writing, Writing- and Progress

I've been getting a lot of writing done during the past few weeks. I've been working on editing what started out as my 2008 National Writing Month project. Yes, I know, that's a long time ago. But it sat for a few years because I just couldn't face it for a long time. I'd pick at it a bit here and there, but never seemed to be able to really dig into it and get any real work done. Earlier this year, I printed the whole thing out and read through it. I realized at that point that I still like the story. And I decided to really put some effort into it. It was slow going for a while, but then I seemed to find a rhythm. It's been coming together pretty decently now.

What is it? If I had to put a category on it, I guess I'd call it occult fantasy. It's set in the mountains here in NH, at a fictional archeological dig. There's a demon about to be awakened, and some bits of ritual type magic. The working title is Demon Stone. The basic idea of it came a number of years ago when I saw an article about some pottery shards that were dug up in another country that had paintings of a wolf-headed god-figure on them. The images sort of sat in the back of my mind for a few years until I started thinking about NaNoWriMo in 2008.

I'm not at all thinking it's "almost done" or anything like that. What I had written up to the point of starting to work in earnest on it again was messy and incomplete. There were sections that were out of place, plot holes that needed fixing, and just a lot of filling in to do. Not to mention, the ending needed writing, since what I had was pretty much a case of "and then we get to the big confrontation and stuff happens." Not exactly complete or wrapped up.

I should get the first draft revisions done this week. I have to fill in some detail in the beginning, and there are a handful of scenes that need looking at. It's almost there, and I feel better about it overall. Then what? I will print and read again, and begin looking for a couple of people to give it a good critique reading, since I know there will be things I have missed. And I start on the second round of revisions, which (in theory) should go somewhat more quickly. It will still be a while before I can call it finished, and I'm not really thinking about what happens at that point. Not yet. There is still a lot of work ahead.

For now, I'm happy with the progress I've made, and I still like the story. And that alone is a good thing.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Not a Review- Lisey's Story by Stephen King

I'm not going to call this a review, and I'm not going to give the book a rating, because I gave up reading it. I hate to do that, and I don't do it often. I actually had given up reading King's novels years ago because they just started to seem too much the same. I think the last one I started was The Stand, and I didn't finish that, either. But this was recommended and loaned to me, so I decided to give it another shot.

And not much has changed. Except the names and broad strokes of the story. Otherwise, it's King's (admittedly very successful) usual formula. And, yes, I know, you could walk into my house, look at my bookshelves and say: "You complain about King using the same plots over and over. What about that guy? And those? And that set over there?" And you would be right. I think it's more that some authors resonate with some readers, and others don't. We are willing to forgive some of that with the ones we enjoy, and tend to get frustrated with the ones we don't. Stephen King just does not resonate with me.

That said, I am willing to admit the guy can write. His characters, while all just a little bit odd (some more so than others), are dimensional and seem like real people. He certainly has a good handle on small town Maine life. And his creepy stalker characters are really creepy.

I just couldn't get around the "been there, read that" feeling, so I stopped about halfway through. If you like King's stories, that's great. I have no problem with anyone who does. They just are not for me.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Reading in 2012

I have no lack of books to read. Trust me on this. I have a shelf with, oh, somewhere around 55 or so books, waiting to be read. I also have 30 or so on my Kindle. So why am I going to change the way I read them in 2012? Because most of them are old. Not ancient, or anything, but certainly not current. There are some that are 10 or so years old, by date of publication. Things that fill in blanks in the works by favorite authors. First books in series that are in their fourth or fifth (or even later) books. Stuff I picked up at used book stores or on the swap site. The problem with this? Well, nothing, really.

Except that I rarely get to read anything as it is current. Oh, sure, I have a list- a long list- of books recently published that I want to read. But as things go now, by the time I get to those, they will be old. So I decided to change my reading goal for this year. I am shooting for two books a month (at least) with one being from my older group and one a newer release. Maybe not this year, but within the last few. So at least I will be somewhat current and able to talk about "that book." (As in: "Have you read That Book yet?") Yes, it means I will be buying more books, but is that a bad thing? (I can pretty much guarantee that the authors of those books I will be buying will not object!) I decided on two a month because I am not a super fast reader and those big thick ol' books take me time to read.

I plan to start in February, partly because January is half over now, and I have already started a book off the shelf. So that puts me at 22 books for the year, which should be doable, since I managed to get through 30 last year. And that started book? It's a big, fat 600-pager, so I guess I better start reading!

Do you have a reading goal for the year? And do you read newer books, older books or a mix? Also, if you have read something recent that you thought was really good, let me know. Just remember, I'm pretty much a fantasy/scj-fi girl, but I'll read other stuff if I think it sounds interesting enough.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Big Russ and Me: Father and Son--Lessons of LifeBig Russ and Me: Father and Son--Lessons of Life by Tim Russert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book for a few reasons. One is that I have always admired Tim Russert as a journalist. He was a direct, uncompromising interviewer, and always spoke with intelligence and fairness on all the subjects he touched. And the second is that the book was recommended by my own father a few years ago. I'm glad I listened.

The book is part memoir, part biography. It is a tribute to Russert's father, known as Big Russ, and a man the younger Russert truly admired and looked up to his whole life. Big Russ was an Army veteran who served in WWII where he was seriously injured. He came home and settled in Buffalo, NY, where he worked as a sanitation worked by day and drove a newspaper delivery truck at night to support his wife and four children. He believed in hard work, discipline, faith and family values, and passed those on to his children.

Tim Russert had a fairly typical life as he grew up in a largely Irish Catholic neighborhood. He went to Catholic schools throughout his education. He worked to earn money for college. Through it all, he looked up to his father for the example the elder Russert showed, and for wisdom and advice that Tim relied on during his whole life.

There are a lot of anecdotes and memories, both from Big Russ' life, and Tim's own. The book is written in a companionable, easy to read style and only falls into what some might consider preaching on a few occasions. Mostly, it is a loving, down to earth, and honest account of growing up in middle class America in the 1950's and 1960's, and a tribute to a truly special relationship between father and son, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Not Really A Resolution

I have made it a practice to not make resolutions. I think it's just setting yourself up for failure. I will do this. I will do that. I will not do the other thing. It starts out so very promising and exciting. But then the enthusiasm flags and the resolutions get pushed farther and farther back in the day to day workings of life. So I just don't do it. Oh, I think about things I'd like to do or change, but I don't make promises. Yet, I'm left with the nagging feeling that I should do something more concrete. Something to hang on to for the year. And then, I read this:


What a brilliant idea! No lists of things to do or not do. No broken promises to myself. No real failure, as such. One word. One word to direct or nudge, rather than push and shove. But what word? There are so many that coud apply. Big, grand words like Ambition or Discipline. Small, private words like Dream and Strength. But nothing felt right. Until this blog post:


And there it was. My word for the year:

Why Mistakes? Because I've been guilty of allowing fear of making mistakes stop me from doing things I wanted to do. A lot. And I don't just mean mistakes as in errors, but mistakes as in not being "good enough" or "talented enough." I've shied away from doing things because I might make a mistake. But aren't we always told that we learn more from our mistakes than from our triumphs? If we never let ourselves make a mistake, we'll never have the chance to experience somethng new, something different, something that may be magical. So, watch out, World, there are gonna be a lot of mistakes this year. And that is perfectly all right with me.

So, thank you, Ms. Bowman and Mr. Gaiman. You've inspired me to find a Not A Resolution this year.