Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tagged! The bookcase meme

I've been tagged by Miri for a meme involving books! And we all know I love books! It involves counting books. We all know that lawyers only become lawyers cause they suck at math so please know that all numbers in this post may or may not be correct. I may just give up and fear Miri (and Patrick's) ire!

Miri gives an awesome breakdown of the books she owns (131 including manga) and very rightly states that you can learn a lot about a person by looking at their bookcase. I can't agree more - the first thing I do when I go to someone's house (apartment, etc) for the first time is sneak glances at their bookcases. Unfortunately for me, in a fit of "uncluttering my life" I packed up all the books that were my "core" and stored them before going to law school and I still haven't dragged them out of storage. Though I wonder if they would be my core books today...

Anyway, the meme she proposes is: give us a general breakdown of your bookshelf, by number of authors, genre, series, anything you want. That's a lot of counting. And if I do all that counting I'll never get this post up.

So, since we just found our digital camera, I'll cheat and answer the meme via illustrations!!

To begin, more than half are in boxes at my parent's houses and others are at various family member houses since we pass books around. Recently I cleaned off the floor on my side of the bed and came up with 20+ books!

Without further ado, here are photos of all the books in our house (well, a good majority of them):*

This is a small book-case in our guest room. Basically I use it as a place to store magazines, a carton for important papers, photo albums, etc. As we can all see, this poor little guy needs a bit of work!

Then there's our other little bookcase in the living room. This one is a depository for The Boy's F&SFs, some paperbacks, and cookbooks. Lots and lots of cookbooks. The Boy loves to cook and I am the happy happy recipient! Astute gazers will note the dog bone, the boxes for memorabilia, and the picture frame that the dog knocked over and broke. And the cat hair roller. And the random piece of decorative ribbon. We tend to have those about as cat toys.

Then there are our two big bookcases.
This one on the left The Boy and I share. It stays pretty static (and there's generally a chair in front of it but it broke and we need to get a new one. The one on the right tends to get used as a place to put dog stuff since it's right in front of the dog cage. As y'all can see, this one still has some space left to fill, but not much (and there's only space cause I just sent a load of books to my mom and sisters). You may also note Daphne's e-collars decorating the top!

And then of course, are the books that are scattered throughout the house (and throughout this post) On a random table. On the dining room table. On the bedside table. On the floor next to my side of the bed. In a suitcase. Holding the bed up. On my dresser (yes, I have to put laundry away.) I live my life surrounded by books. And thanks to my Amazone Prime membership I keep adding to the collection at break-neck speeds! I know, I know, libraries are our friends... I just love to own books! I tag Diana, Patrick, and Erica - tell us about your books either in as much detail as Miri or as much laziness as me :)

* no comments on my inability to keep a clean house. I have 2 ruptured disks and can't bend over right now... house gets dirty when you can't bend over. And we all know it would be spotless were I healthy...

Sunday, February 18, 2007


For Valentine's Day, The Boy and I took our annual romantic getaway to Williamsburg, VA. As usual, we had an awesome time and came back with 6 cases of wine - always one of the highlights of the trip. This year we even had dinner with George Washington which sounds hokey but was fascinating.

Anyways, that's not the point of this post.

The point is, on our way there, when we were near Richmond, VA, The Boy pointed out all the seagulls flying around a parking lot. And it hit me: seagulls!

See, my current WIP has something to do with the ocean. There may be scenes involving the ocean at some point, but I don't know yet.* On the drive down I was thinking about what it would be like for my protagonist to approach the ocean. What she would notice: the heaviness of the air, that smell of salt, sounds.

But it had never occurred to me about the seagulls. How well before she even got close to the ocean or anything having to do with the ocean that there would be seagulls flying around. That the seagulls would arrive on scene well before anything else: sounds, smells, etc. They would be a huge clue that the ocean was somewhere nearby (and I use the term nearby very loosely!) I just couldn't believe I'd forgotten about the seagulls!

The experience made me wonder what else I'm forgetting - what other details would complete the scenes I've already written?

As writers I know that we all struggle to incorporate all of the senses in our writing and that we all have our own "sense" weakness. I tend to forget to put in smells.** I have to constantly remind myself to deepen descriptions beyond just appearance with sounds, tastes, smells (I think I do ok with touch but I'm sure I could do better). Of course there's always a balance - no one wants a rundown of every sense with every new description; instead, we as writers have to pick and choose what is most important.

What do y'all have to remind yourself to describe? As readers, what stands out to you the most? Has anyone else forgotten something like the "seagulls"? How do you remember these sorts of details?
*Yet another example of my seat-of-the-pants writing style. Seriously, when I re-read that sentence I have to laugh: I may have a scene with the ocean but don't know yet? Sigh...
**Sometimes one sense can be very important to a story. When I think of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy, I remember smells because it is a key plot aspect.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

For Valentine's Day

I remember the first time The Boy fell asleep on my couch. We were in law school and it was exam time and I had a real fire going in the fireplace. I sat in front of the fire in my crazy-creek chair with my Trust & Estates outline (canned) on my knees. Obstensively The Boy was also studying. He'd started out with a large red-brown law book held in one hand in the air (I was always so impressed he could hold those books with one hand while lying down, and that he didn't have to take notes or highlight or underline but could just...absorb... the information). But the book was elsewhere now.

His arms were crossed over his chest. I think he was wearing a white button down shirt with some sort of pattern, the cuffs of the arms rolled up to show his forearms dusted with blond hair. He wore flat front khakis and his feet were bare - his shoes and socks tossed somewhere on the floor.

He slept with his mouth open a little, his lips looked so soft. The Boy is a big guy - 6'3", tall and broad shouldered. He filled my couch. And I remember thinking, "there is a man on my couch." Not a boy, not a kid, but a man. Even though he is younger than I am. I remember the feeling of awe that this beautiful creature could just fall asleep in my presense. That he felt so at ease, so comfortable. So gentle.

I couldn't help but sneak glances at him as I studied. Sometimes just pausing to stare at him. To watch his chest rist and fall. I think a part of me fell in awe with him then. Maybe not love just yet because it was early. But I can still remember that moment so brightly, as if it was a turning point rather than just a guy taking a nap.

Right now, 3+ years later, The Boy is asleep on the couch in our living room. Tonight he's wearing a teal fleece we got on a trip to the San Juan Islands, the sleeves pushed over his elbows. He has on blue windpants with a few patches of dirt from playing with the dog. He lies on his side tonight, not his back, and his mouth is closed.

But still... it reminds me of that first nap. That first time I ever saw him asleep. Of the trust he placed in me that I would take care of the world while he rested and that I would be there when he woke up.

And I will.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Get 'er done!

Ok, I hope Miri doesn't mind that I'm totally quoting from her blog, but this really stuck with me. She talks about having a conversation with her mother where they were joking about writing and blogging and her mother ended up commenting that:

"People who don't finish books don't sell books."

You can't get much truer than that! You cannot, in fact, sell a book without finishing it.*

This is something that I was discussing on one of my loops this past week. I belong to a group that checks in weekly with writing goals and accomplishments. Last week, someone checked in having written nothing, but spent a lot of time plotting, filling out note cards, etc. Thus began a discussion on what "counts" as writing, which was really fantastic.

On the one hand, what matters in the end is that you have to finish a book to sell the book (or send it to print, you get what I mean). On the other hand, there's often critical planning and thinking that goes into writing that book. So I think the big question is, at what point are you spending too much time in the planning stage and need to jump into the writing stage?

As we all know, I'm prone towards procrastinating (hence the title of this blog). And I think the easiest way to procrastinate is to read craft articles and "think" about my WIP because then I feel like I'm accomplishing something. But I'm not writing. I'm not adding to pages that I can one day sent to an agent.

So where to draw the line between thinking and writing? Between planning and procrastinating?

First, I think everyone's line is in a different place. That disclaimer aside, here's how I approach it: like a lawyer (how sad is that?). If I'd bill a client for the work, then it counts. So drafting, editing, outlining - all that counts (and would get billed). The grey area is in the thinking and pondering. If I'm actively thinking of words, phrasing, plot points, writing out an arranging note cards - that counts in my book as well (and I'd bill it). But if I'm just idly daydreaming, waking up at 3am stressing about it, or just have it on the back-burner, then I don't count it (and wouldn't bill for it).

Because at the end of the day my client (ie: agent or editor) wants something tangible in their hands. They need pages. So while I may count drafting and thinking and plotting, all that matters is the final product. After all, that's what I really get paid for (or hope to get paid for) be it as an attorney or a writer.

I think the bottom line is that we all have to give ourselves credit for the non-writing stuff that we put into our WIPs. We should be proud of that work. But we also need to be careful that we don't use that work as a crutch and that we are very aware that in the end, as Miri's mother said, "People who don't finish books don't sell books."

To that end, daydream away! But make sure that you have some pages to back those daydreams up. What do y'all think of the balance between writing and thinking? What do you count as a productive day?
* sure, you can contract a book with a proposal but still, in the end, you gotta have the whole book to complete the sale.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hot Reads!

I'm very excited to be hosting two great authors: Gena Showalter and Jill Monroe. Gena's book (one of tons) The Nymph King has hit #32 on the NYT List - big Congrats! And I just read the first chapter of Hitting the Mark and let me tell you - hot hot and must buy!!

This is the first time I've ever hosted other authors and I think I'd like to start a little tradition... if Jill and Gena (and anyone else out there) don't mind, I'd like to pose a question. This blog is sort of a procrastination tool and I know that tons of writers procrastinate. So the question is, as an author, do you procrastinate? If not, how do you not procrastinate? If so, what's your favorite way to procrastinate!

Without further interruption, let me present:

Two great friends - Two February books!

This is the first time Gena Showalter and Jill Monroe
have books out at the same time!

Nymph King Hitting The Mark

For your paranormal taste, we have Valerian. Females young and old, beautiful and plain crave Valerian's touch. None can resist his blatant sensuality and potent allure…until he steals Shaye Holling from a Florida beach and holds her prisoner in his underwater kingdom.

And when you're ready to read something contemporary, there is Hitting The Mark. Danni's a woman with a little revenge on her mind. Romantic Times says Hitting The Mark is, "impossible to put down."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Putting books down

Growing up I refused to never finish a book. If I started the book, I finished the book no matter how much I liked the book along the way. Perhaps part of that was ritual ingrained from school - when you have to read a book for class, you don't have an option of putting it down. Regardless of where the habit came from, it was deeply ingrained.

In fact, it wasn't until recently that I allowed myself to start putting books down and not finishing them if they didn't hold my interest. At first I would merely set a book aside and start a new one, promising to come back to the old. But rarely, if ever, have I gone back to the old. Sometimes it isn't even that the old book didn't hold my interest but that something bigger caught my eye or I was just in the mood for something else.

Part of the problem I have with going back to those books is that I have a terrible memory and I've lost the thread by now. I'm always afraid that I'll never enjoy a book well enough if I don't read it straight through (there are some books I would pick back up and I didn't even know the characters' names anymore!). I hate the idea of missing something - a plot point, a joke, a reference - because I can't remember the first part of the book I read so long ago (and for me long ago can even be a couple of weeks!).

This year it seems I'm putting more and more down. Maybe it's because I'm a prime member of Amazon and so I buy books on a whim. No more making lists or browsing at bookstores where I feel way too indulgent and gluttonous standing in line with armloads of books. But with Amazon it's easy - two books here, three there, another one or two for good measure - and suddenly my side of the bed is awash in a to be read pile (when I cleaned a few weeks ago I pulled 21 books off the floor next to my bed).

It makes me sad to have these un-finished books laying around. Sad for me because I am always sure I'm missing a great read (even if I know I didn't enjoy reading the part I did get to). Sad for the author because they put so much of themselves into each book and I set it aside so casually (though, at least I bought it!).

Recently I've tried to be more conscious of what I'm putting down and why. One NYT bestseller (that my entire family devoured) I put down because I just hated the attitude of one of the characters and felt it was totally unrealistic. Plus, it had tons of those "you know Bob, remember when we plotted world domination? Let's go over that plot again..." or whatever you call it when characters have totally unrealistic conversations so the reader can catch up. Another I put down because the opening dragged on. Cute first scene but I wanted to say "enough already! So you walked in on something icky! Get over it... you're 10 pages into the story so get to the story already!" That one was a real killer cause I love this author and think the book has such a cute premise and I've really been anticipating the book. I might try again with it though since I didn't get that far in....

Another had a sagging middle and wasn't developing the way I'd anticipated (not that this is a bad thing, but I don't like it when I see all these awesome possibilities with a premise the author goes the booooring route). Another was highly recommended and if I'd given it more time I'm sure I would have adored it, but it was too slow opening. Another (NYT bestselling author) had truly terrible telling writing. Appalled I was! I almost put down a suspense book with 10 pages left to go. The whole book had been great and pounding and then the characters ended up in a cabin in the woods hanging out and I was like "huh? where's the pacing? Um, you're still in danger, guys." Turns out the pacing was there, once I got through a couple of slower pages. But I almost didn't bother (which astounds me - I'm usually never THAT bad!)

So, while I've found it hard and sad to set these books aside, at the very least I've been trying to learn from them. To figure out the why's of it so that I can try not to make those same mistakes in my own writing. And I feel like I've learned some great tips:
  • Once you've made a point, move on. Don't belabor, don't get mired down in dialoge that doesn't move the story forward. Especially in the beginning.
  • When you've got a hook and when you sell the book to the reader based on that hook, get to the hook early. Don't make us sit around and wait; that can make the reader antsy.
  • Corollary to above: if the reader knows the hook is coming don't make like it's some big surprise to the reader. And don't make that the only thing we're reading for either. If we know the book is about the woman getting dumped by her boyfriend and so she has to go out and figure out her life (or whatever) don't drag out the first two chapters when she's all nervous cause she thinks he's going to propose to her at the special dinner he planned when we all know she's about to be dumped cause that's what the book is about. Sure, make it a cute scene, but don't spend too long.* We already know what happens (this is my personal back cover blurb rule: if the reader will know something by reading the back cover blurb, don't drag it out in the book - or at least don't make that be the only reason the reader is turning pages cause there will be no payoff).
  • Be creative with the middle of the book (so much easier said than done, eh?) Don't necessarily go with the first idea that strikes you. I can't remember who said to brainstorm 20 options for each big plot point because you never know what kind of crazy, yet appropriate, stuff you'll come up with. I guess I'm trying to say that sometimes the obvious is good, but sometimes it's boring. I think this is more important for plot based books: I like less obvious for plot based books. If it's character based I don't mind so much if the plot is obvious because I care more about the characters and how the plot is a reflection of them.
  • Make every scene count. Don't give the reader the option of putting the book down. So much easier said than done, eh?
So, like I said, easier said than done. These are just my thoughts as I look at the table in our living room laden down with all the books pulled out from beside my bed, so many of them never finished. And let me say it if I haven't already, rarely is it that I don't like the book or see the promise and potential. Mostly it's that it doesn't strike me at the time I'm reading it. I've definately pushed through muddy middles, through slow pacing, through all of those things I talked about above. But I've found that as my TBR pile grows, my patience with what I'm reading wanes.

There are just too many great books out there, more and more of them written by my friends that I feel compelled to support and read.

How do y'all feel about putting books down? Do you feel like you learn anything in doing so?

* I think a perfect example of this is Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl. The whole book is about the main character getting tapped into the elite, previously all male secret society. We know this from the blurb. Of course Diana can't just have that be the very first page (actually, I'm sure she could have, but she chose not to). Instead, the character thinks she's being tapped for another society. If this was all the first few chapters were about I would have been chomping at the bit. I'd have wanted to hit Amy over the head and say "yo, figure it out!" Instead Diana made these scenes pull double and triple duty - introducing us to Amy: her world, her goals, her reality - really letting us get to know Amy so that we understand what it means when she finally figures out what's up. So those first chapters aren't just us wondering what society Amy's been tapped into, it's about Amy's life as a whole. In the same way the book isn't only about the society, but choices that Amy has to make about her life. As readers, we weren't just sitting around waiting for Amy to figure out what we already knew.