Thursday, December 30, 2010

Three stories split into two different times


I found myself chuckling at coincidence. The last three books I’ve read have all been told with the storyline split to flip between two different times – the story present, and another pivotal story in the past. All three stories flipped back and forth between the two times. And, I didn’t plan it that way. Nevertheless, tic, tack, toe!

The first novel, Where the River Ends by Martin, was one I’d been planning on reading and preparing to read for half a year, since reading his When Crickets Cry (still the best novel I’ve read all year). It’s a serious read that requires focus – hence the preparation and planning for a time when I could give that devotion. While Where the River Ends did not trump Crickets, the story brought tears to my eyes. The story is of a couple at two points in their relationship: at the end, as one of them prepares to die of cancer and at the beginning, when they first fell in love. I’m not doing the novel or the writer justice in my description, but this was a marvelous book with action, romance, and lyrical prose. I’d find myself rereading sections for their musical qualities – but the beauty of the writing did not hinder the plot’s momentum.

The second novel, Rescue by Shreve, also split its story between a past first-falling-in-love section and a story-present line. The male protagonist in Rescue is unlucky/clunky in life – but not to the point I couldn’t bond with him as a reader. And the third novel, I’d Know You Anywhere by Lippman, not only splits up the novel’s place in time but also splits up its narrative voice, allowing readers into the minds of multiple characters. Some of those characters I wanted to see punished – and though revenge was not enacted, at least not to the extent of my desire, the end was more than satisfying. Even surprisingly satisfying, perhaps.

Breaking up a story into two different time chunks is tricky, I think (for as much as that’s worth), as a writer. And as a reader, sometimes this device irritates me so much I put the book down. But these three novels were fantastic reads, and I was engrossed in all of them, in all the different times. Compared with telling first one story and then jumping ahead and telling the other story, the back-and-forth created a type of drama, or tension, with the potential for surprise, which only enhanced the novels.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas!

...a few days early. But, with all the friends and family, holiday preparations and activities, and the really good book I'm ripping through (and is due back at the library before the new year), I don't intend to get back on this blog until after the New York strip is devoured and the wrapping paper is recycled.

I hope you have a very merry, joyous, Christ-filled Christmas, and that you get some good reading accomplished over the holiday break, also!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What a difference a year can make

Was it an epiphany? No, but my heart did skip a beat. A few weeks ago when I was blowing out my birthday candle (unlike my in-laws, my folks don’t insist on turning the cake into a delightful inferno by lighting a candle for every single year of age), I realized that this year I needed to make a different wish than the wish I wished for the last dozen or more years of my life.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. A novelist. Though I’ve known it was possible, I’ve also realized saying that is like saying I want to be a rock star or an actor. And finally, this year, I signed a contract for publication of my first novel. While technically I’m waiting for that book to be in my hands before completely exhaling, at that birthday candle I did have to pause and think up another wish, and quick, before the wax dripped!

Currently, Storm Surge is in design, and is to be released in early 2011 by a small, new publisher, Peak City Publishing, which is based out of Apex, NC, of all places. While no national book tour is scheduled (ha), it is a beginning, and I have to keep reminding myself it is real. The book will be available in independent bookstores and on Amazon, and perhaps a few other places as well. If you would like me to email you when the book is released and available for purchase, please let me know at tamara.ward@rocketmail.com.

Merry Christmas, and may your wishes be granted, too.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What do I really want for Christmas?

Besides world peace and a cancer cure? Besides affordable electric cars and pollution solutions? Besides the government controlling its spending? Besides bookstore gift cards with many, many zeroes? Besides the socks and other garment essentials I bought and wrapped and addressed to myself and placed under the tree just so I’d have something to open on Christmas day? (My husband and I this year are buying a car stereo with a CD player that actually works for our gifts to each other.) Yes, and besides having my first novel in my popsicle-cold fingers, and besides having it be successful beyond my wildest imagination? (I’m not asking too much, am I?)

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Really. This itty-bitty book about writing and grammar costs less than $10, is sized appropriately to fit in a stocking, and it’s been on my wish list for more than a decade. (Okay, yes, my list of wishes, and those of other family members, is written down and posted where my husband can find it easily.) The book joins other wishes like a glass cutting board and a mess kit for camping, dish towels and matching bedroom furniture and a ping pong table. Yet somehow, the book gets overlooked.

But my husband is not all to blame. When I get a bookstore gift card (usually there’s just the one zero, and I’m plenty grateful), I spend it on other books, fiction books by my favorite authors. And when I’m writing and need ol’ Strunk and White, I visit my local library, where the book is typically waiting for me on the shelf.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Help yourself to The Help


If you’ve not already, read The Help. Not only will you find the novel enjoyable, but you’ll never sample dessert in quite the same way. Seriously, though, I recommend the novel to anyone who wants a good read and who wants to ponder what life was like not long ago when husbands of housewives like me paid hired help to raise their children and take care of their homes. (The wives, in the meantime, enjoyed playing cards and discussing women’s issues – a.k.a. gossiping – leisurely.) 

Recently, I was reporting on a groundbreaking for a hospital and spoke to the only native local at the event. As often happens in the south, we got to talking about the past. I asked him what he thought about the groundbreaking and about the changes our town has undergone during the last decade. (I remember this local once saying he was tired of having to drive to a neighboring town when he needed a screw. Since then, Walmart located to town, alleviating that particular hassle for him.) Anyhow, he remembered when choices of physicians were limited and hospitals were segregated. The remark caught me off guard, perhaps because my early childhood was not in the south where racial issues still simmer. But also because I had difficulty imagining segregated hospitals – yet this was the norm – and not so long ago.

Thinking of the changes this man has witnessed and reading The Help makes me wonder what changes and cultural shifts I’ll see in my lifetime. And, it makes me wonder if my grandchildren will be appalled at anything I’m doing or believe.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

No writing shall be accomplished today, other than this blog post, which doesn't count! Does anyone else find writing difficult on a stuffed tummy? It's an excuse, I know, but today has been quite a full day with delights both gastronomical and personal. :) I've much to be thankful for this year, as always, and as a writer, some of the reasons I'm thankful include: my book contract and the promise of publication early next year, my husband who sometimes watches the kids and gives me time to be creative, the roof above my head and the computer on which I write, my mother who always has encouraged my writing, and most of all my Creator who gives me the thirst and passion and who fulfills His promises always.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No fruitcake from me

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a book signing for Margaret Maron's new book at Quail Ridge in Raleigh. What a fun event! The reading area was crammed full -- not a vacant seat in the house -- with fans of all demographics, men and women, young and old. The reading and signing were followed with coffee and fruitcake prepared by Maron herself... what a treat.

If you don't already know, Maron is a hugely successful local mystery writer whose books are fantastic reads and have won numerous awards. As a new writer, I look up to Maron. But as an awful cook, I know I won't even attempt to bring fruitcake along to my future book signings, Christmas-related or not. Please expect fun, fast-paced books from me, but don't get your hopes up that I'll be bringing tasty, complex, homemade concoctions to book signings (unless my mother-in-law, an accomplished southern cook, prepares it). If I can manage not to bake brownie batter from a box into concrete, or to actually cook the dough from a tube before eating it myself, or to figure out how to stop my biscuits from bouncing when accidentally dropped on the floor, I'll bring some to share, however!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One of my favorite novels

One of my favorite novels is When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin. It's a novel about a lot of things (I desperately hate trying to summarize a book, especially this one, in a few sentences) but centers on a girl with a hole in her heart and a man who might be able to fix it. The storyline unfolds perfectly and Martin seamlessly combines so many wonderful literary and Biblical quotes and elements into the novel. Simply said, the novel is indescribably wonderful.

The book is completely different from John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, another of my favorites, but something about the Martin's Crickets reminds me of Irving's novel. Perhaps it's how close I'm drawn to the characters, some of whom in both works are singularly unique, or how the characters' lives seem epic, or just the beauty of reading a modern masterpiece. 

I've not read a novel in the four months since I finished Crickets that's affected me so much. If you haven't yet, please read it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Character, as related to plot

Henry James is credited with saying, “Character is plot.” I can see truth in this statement, because characters are integral to plots, the actions of the stories. What a character does - his thoughts and reactions, and the results of his actions – this comprises the plot of the story. Plots shouldn’t be unbelievable; the actions of characters should make sense based on who the characters are or are becoming.

If character is plot, dull characters make for dull plots. If readers don’t care about a main character, aren’t interested in what happens to the character or what events are caused by the character, why would they keep reading?

Plot is what drives the story, what keeps the reader turning pages, and sometimes readers can keep reading if the plot is fast-paced, even if the characters aren’t interesting. Personally, I’m typically not drawn to character-driven novels with little action. Sometimes these novels interest me when I’m interested in the characters, but I have to be in the right mood with the right character-based novel to fit that mood! And, if I don’t find myself caring about the character, or if I find myself losing interest in the character, I put down the novel and move on. On the other hand, novels with quick pacing can have, to a certain extent, two-dimensional characters, and I’ll keep reading.

A good tip I heard from one of my professors from my time spent in writing school: if you, the writer, gets bored reading your manuscript, you can be sure the reader will become bored, also.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is it me, or is it my reading selections?

The last four fiction reads I've taken up, I've put down unfinished. Life is too short to read novels that don't keep you hooked.

The last fiction book I finished (and enjoyed) was Lipstick Jungle, which was a read for my neighborhood book club and one I was unsure I'd enjoy. I ended up being grabbed from the get-go, and surprised because I typically don't relish character-driven novels, or novels told by multiple characters (I usually become too attached to one character and bored with another character's storyline). Lipstick Jungle pulled off its narration and incorporated enough suspense (in part due to my attachment with all the main characters) to keep me turning pages. I thought, "Aha! So this is what the hype is about," as I understand the novel to be the precursor to Sex and the City, which I've never seen on television. Thinking the later novel would follow in Lipstick Jungle's footsteps, I picked it up. I had put it down by page 70; I was not interested in reading further!

Then I tried to read a mystery novel about a journalist wrongly accused of murder. (What can I say; the general premise sounded similar to my own, and I wanted to see where another author went with it.) I put this one down due to lack of connection with the main character and even boredom with lack of plot action, but I at least read the last 10 pages.

My last two reads were new YA fantasy releases by authors whose former works I've enjoyed--one so much so that I actually bought my own copy of the book after I read the library's book. (I'm a library book addict.) But, these new releases just didn't captivate me. Again, I either wasn't attached to the characters or the plot didn't move quickly enough, or the fantasy world or dilemma was not explained quickly enough for me and I got frustrated.

Or maybe it's just me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

River house book exchange

My favorite place to find a good read is at a river house in my parent's neighborhood. The small house, which only has one room if you don't count the bathrooms or the screened back porch, is usually deserted. It sits along a river near the Intracoastal Waterway on two sides and a small neighborhood marina at another side. The house is dark with high windows letting in sunbeams and smells wonderfully of wood. You walk in and see a stone fireplace and couch, and both side walls are lined with bookshelves filled with books neighbors have left for others to enjoy and return.

I always make a point to visit the river house when I visit my parents. The book selection is so terrifically eclectic, my heart leaps when I find a book I want to read... and usually I find many more than one. Okay, always I find many more than one. Finding books there is like going on a treasure hunt and always striking gold. Everything from mysteries to romances, thrillers to Southern lit, nonfiction and magazines and sci-fi and fantasy, even religious reads and dog care manuals can be found! Of course, I donate books to the river house, also, and part of the joy of leaving books in that magical room is knowing they will find their ways into the hands and hearts of someone who loves them as much as I do.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My mother, not the mother in my novel

When I think about why I am the way I am, or who I am, or where I am, even why I write, I think of my mother. When I think about who I want to be, much of that person resembles my mother. When I need to gripe and moan, I go to my mother for her common sense. Not only does she commiserate, but she puts me back on track. Between my girlfriends, I can't find another whose relationship with her mother is so close, so open and (sometimes shockingly) frank, so best-friendly. More, my mother is my champion, and she always has been.

That being said, she's perplexed that the mother of the protagonist in my novel is a dead-beat dud, a nonentity. I've explained that my novel is a complete work of fiction; still, my mother tries to line up the characters in the novel my life. Perhaps it's the first-person viewpoint that throws her. Believe me, some moments I wish I was my protagonist, for instance when I'm taking a break from fixing lunch to wipe snot off my 18-month-old's face and my 5-year-old asks for the third time in as many minutes why I can't make cupcakes (now) and everywhere I look is clutter, dirty dishes, work-to-be-done, and not a break in sight. Yes, moments like those, I wish I was Jonie Waters, tracking down killers and news leads, free to jog the streets of Wilmington or go surfing anytime she pleases. Of course, I don't wish I could trade mothers.

Thank you, mom, for all you do and have done for me! Thank you for being who you are!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I'm zapped.

I've not posted recently because I've been working nonstop on edits to my manuscript. Finally, after days and days of hard, intense work, and countless cups of coffee, I've returned the edits to my wonderful editor, who was more gracious and patient and kind than I ever expected.

In the meantime, other work has stacked up, undone. So, I'm still playing catch-up with my freelance writing job, as well as with the insane amount of housework that I pushed aside to complete the manuscript. And I'm not going to mention how many books I have checked out from the library, which are waiting for me, calling my name. And with preschool in full swing and a toddler running and climbing and trying to dig through the trash can and empty the dishwasher... between all that, I'm zapped!

Zapped but happy. And anxious to write more.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pins and needles, and red ink

Since turning in the final draft of my novel to my publisher, I’ve been waiting (and waiting) to hear back from my publisher’s editor. Not that it’s taken the editor an extreme amount of time by any stretch to get back with me – I simply am anxious to hear her feedback and suggestions. Every time I opened my email, I was hoping I’d see an email from her… and, finally, earlier this week, that email came. She says the feedback is coming, and soon. Within the week. (Gulp!)

Now, I’m thinking about the saying, “what goes around comes around,” and how that saying often is dead-on, and how I’ve edited other folks’ work, sometimes to the point the red ink drips off the page. I’m thinking about the big problems I’ve noticed in other folks’ work and wondering if the editor will find big problems I’ll need to fix in my novel. Will I be willing to make her corrections; will I be open to her suggestions? (I hope so, and I think so, but the very sentiment that makes waiting for the edits so painstaking also might make accepting the suggested edits also painful!) If the edits make sense, I don’t think any problems will occur. But then again, who said I ever listened to common sense?

I continue waiting (somewhat patiently) to hear from the editor. Until then, I’ll keep working on the second book in the series!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Eew-ey Gooey Stew-ey: trashed

Because of protests, lengthy grumblings, and a general refusal to eat the dish, I threw out my recipe for eew-ey gooey stew-ey. What is it? Slow-cooked stewed tomatoes and tomato paste with brown sugar and mushrooms, and diced pork. Mmmm! I love it. I've made it a handful of times. But, no matter how many times I make it, or how much I enjoy it, the males at my dinner table refuse to eat it. Hence, the protests and grumblings. Hence, the empty tummies. Hence, the recipe in the trashcan.

Why is this post on the Writing and reading blog, you ask? Because it serves as an analogy. No matter how much I may like something, if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. That something could be a recipe... or it could be a book premise or chapter or character. But if it ain't working, and it ain't working, and no amount of rehashing it is making it work, perhaps I should (finally) stop trying to force it to work and cook another recipe. Despite how much eew-ey gooey stew-ey delights me, personally.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cronin's The Passage

I should have been writing... but I was reading. I could not put down Justin Cronin's The Passage. With an epic scope, humans battle those who have been infected with a virus and basically turned into -- dare I write the word -- vampires. Yes, okay, vampires. For those of you who have problems with science fiction, the premise of this book is not too far-fetched; give it a chance.

The Passage successfully pulls off an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it (yes, I like that song) setting without getting bogged down with descriptions. The plot line zips along, which surprised me as the narrative voice changes -- this usually irritates me. Instead, I found myself caring about multiple narrators and almost unable to put the book down (screaming children did take priority, at times).

It's a lengthy book (the term epic comes to mind, again) but well worth the investment because of the characters and action. What's more, Cronin's vampires haunted my dreams. Admittedly, I'm a marshmallow. Still, as writer Hallie Ephron says, you know you're reading a great novel "when you're up at three in the morning, unable to put it down. When you finally fall asleep, the characters go romping around in your dreams." Such was the case with The Passage. I love a good read.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On your mark, get set...

...read!

As a writer, naturally, I love to read. And, as you are a visitor to my blog, I hope you love to read, also, especially my soon-to-be published murder mystery, Storm Surge. I only just signed the contract, but cannot wait for readers to pick up the published book. Currently, I'm spending more time learning Facebook, setting up this blog, and planning for the release of the book than I am writing and reading. But, I am eager to return to my natural writer's habitat, which involves a stack of books nearby to enjoy when I'm not typing up pages with mesmerizing prose so quickly my fingertips burn. Ah, if it always was so...