Saturday, May 31, 2014

Something for Everyone

It's no secret that I adore kitschy writers: Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, and M. C. Beaton, just to name a few.   My taste in books- when I actually have time to read for pleasure- are the sort that carry me away quickly and plunge me straight into intrigue.  Granted, that's not everyone's fave, and that's okay.  In fact, I was discussing this very thing just this morning with someone whose taste in literature (and in life) is classic.  Take a look at part of our conversation:

I'm partial to naturalistic writing and dialogue. Like Hemingway, who sometimes was meta. Most writers' styles are based on situational fanaticism where they feel each scene has to be played with sharp words, head tilts and secrets. Very cinematic stuff. I say keep the characters as real people with real words.   Granted, the adventure genre is based on exaggerated characters in exaggerated situations all coming together. But even Dos Passos and Cormac McCarthy found ways to humanize stories. I say read "Blood Meridian" or "No Country For Old Men" as examples. I do like what's at stake but don't get ahead too early with big big ideas. Readers will want a huge payoff.   EL Doctorow is another good one. And for nonfiction try Chuck Klosterman, especially "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs." Or David Sedaris, especially "Me Talk Pretty One Day." Both are easy reads and very fluid. Language is observational.

And this, dear readers, has me intrigued.  And I'd love to hear from you!  What are your thoughts on literature styles?   Feel free to tweet me!  @mccaslin_dane  or post your thoughts here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Playing Favorites

As a writer and an English teacher, I'm sure that some folks assume that my favorite authors hail from antiquity: according to them, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Cather, and Poe should be my go-to reads.  I'm hesitant to break the bubble of assumption, but here it goes.

I love Maud Hart Lovelace.  Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Lois Lenski.  Sydney Taylor.  And the list goes on.  Give me a 'feel good' book over a classic any day!  It's what makes me happy, keeps me steady, gives me purpose.

Before you 'poo-poo' the idea of books creating the ultimate in happiness, consider this:  What book- quickly - reminds you of childhood?   Find a copy and read it.  Read it aloud.  To yourself.  To your children.

And relive the magic of becoming one with the story.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What's in a Title?

My friend, the amazing Donis Casey, will be celebrating the release of another Alafair Tucker book next month.  Just the cover art alone is enough to pull even the most reluctant reader into it, but the title  is something else:  'Hell With the Lid Blown Off'.  I don't know about you, but I'm intrigued!

Have you ever wondered how your favorite novels got their names?  I do, and as I've got a fairly decent imagination, I'll give it the ol' college try.

  1. 'Old Man and the Sea': Since Hemingway filled this slim volume with almost nothing except an old man - he with the sea-hardened hands- and a feisty fish, I'd say this was a good title.  In fact, given the vast amount of description, the only thing he should have added were a few adjectives- 'turbulent', 'tenacious', and 'tedious' come to mind.
  2. 'Something Wicked This Way Comes':  Sometimes a writer gets stumped when it comes time to name a book so they look to the classics for help.  Thank goodness for Will Shakespeare!  'Macbeth' lent the title to Ray Bradbury's quirky book, first published in 1962.   Luckily he didn't depend on Ernest Hemingway for inspiration or it might have been called 'Two Boys and Lots of Eerie Stuff'.  Just doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
  3. 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone':  Let's face it.  Sometimes the Olde Worlde is the best, but not when it comes to naming books.  Thank goodness we Americans insisted on something more dramatic when it came time to introduce The Boy Who Lived to this side of the pond.  Yeah- a sorcerer is definitely more exciting than a philosopher.
  4. Finally, 'Legend':  Yes, this blog is a shameless advert for my newest book, available early June.  Why did I choose this title?  You'll have to visit and read the synopsis to find out.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hooked on a Feeling

Dorothea Lange, photographer extraordinaire, once said, "Photography for me is not looking, it's feeling.  If you can't feel what you're looking at, then you're never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures."  Well said, Ms. Lange.  The same sentiment should apply to our writing:  If we truly want our readers to experience the drama and conflict and love that our characters do, we also need to feel and not just write.

I know several authors who assign themselves a certain amount of words per day, regardless of inspiration. I've tried that as well and while it does get me through the dry times - and there are more of those then I'd care to admit - it becomes an exercise in futility.  On those days I'd be better off making lists or writing lesson plans.

As a voracious reader, I've come across books that moved me to tears, to anger, to happiness, and to sadness.  In fact, I have one title that I will never read again because of the extreme reaction I had to the plight of the character; the story was so real and the character was recognizable that I truly connected.  (I did, however, purchase a copy for myself, and it has rested on my bookshelf ever since, unopened and as pristine as the day it came home with me.)  I don't expect my readers to be as extreme in their reactions when they read my books, but I do want with them to connect with the story.  After all, isn't that why we write?

Keep writing!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Just an Observation...

I have no idea what makes us ( that's the 'collective' us) want to watch others' lives spiral out of control.  Ok- maybe not in real life, but there are those of us who crave a good whodunit like a chocoholic needs a sugar fix.

I discovered my own need for this somewhat unsavory past time while still very young; Agatha Christie opened my eyes to the just-below-the-surface evil tendencies  that some folks can't ignore.  What amazed me was how Dame Agatha could dress up the villain (or villainess) in the clothes of normalacy.  That alone would send shivers down my spine; according to the typical Christie plot, these baddies were the least likely folks to be suspected of wrong doing.  It's really remarkable that I trusted anyone at all.  After all, if the vicar's wife could kill off the local snoop and still host a parish tea, anybody was capable of murder, right?

Flash forward a few decades and you'll find me on the other end of the pen, so to speak.  I want to continue the time-honored tradtion of vicariously stepping into the lives of others, watching a mystery unfold, and helping to solve the crime of the century.  I like to think Agatha would be proud.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Don't be so Cliche'!

Sometimes overly-used comments lean toward the hilarious...especially if you've channelled these words before.  Just wait til your dad gets home.  Beds are for sleeping, not for jumping.  Eat your vegetables.  Don't sit so close to the tv.  Your face is going to freeze that way.

In a book, though, a cliche' can be downright irritating.  While imitation may be a symptom of admiration, it can also be a sign of an under- developed plot or character.  Here's a tip:  If you can recognize your story in another's book or dialogue,  take a step back and consider why this might be.  Sometimes it's a case of admiration for another's work, and that's not a bad thing.  But if it's because there is no inspiration on tap, lay down the pen and take a break.

Yes, I said it:  take a break from writing.  Get outdoors and enjoy nature. Gather with friends and get a game of charades going.  Watch your children at play.  Listen to whatever music inspires you.  Soon the inspiration will come again and you'll find that the words will begin to flow.  And they'll be your own words, from your own imagination..

And isn't that why we write?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

When Words Fail...

Books are more than a collection of dialogue between characters; if they consisted of one long-running conversation, it would be called a 'play'.  Just ask Willie Shakespeare if you don't believe me.

I enjoy dialogue, certainly.  I want to be privy to the loves and trials and friendships of the characters as much as the next reader, but I don't need constant talking, you know?  Sometimes I need quiet.  Thank goodness other writers need it as well, and this is where the descriptive word shines.  Through cleverly constructed descriptions, I have walked along the hills of Wales, eaten sumptuous meals with close friends in a Canadian village, and lived on a farm in Oklahoma.  Thanks to writers such as Rhys Bowen (author of the Constable Evans series), Louise Penny (her Inspector Gamache books are beyond amazing), and Donis Casey (you really need to meet her protagonist, Alafair Tucker), I've been all over this wonderful planet of ours.

Balancing dialogue and description can be a trifle tricky.  Although I have always liked Ernest Hemingway, I still would have liked more conversation in "Old Man and the Sea".  And overhearing a conversation or two - or even three -  isn't bad, but I'd prefer a tad more in the 'visual' department.  (Sorry, Ray Bradbury.)

So keep writing.  Eventually it will all come together for you.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Keepin' it Real

There is a series of books that I've enjoyed reading since the first one debuted almost a decade ago. And like most fans, I've noticed a few differences in character descriptions over the ensuing installments. Unless a writer stays on top of things- and has an ace editor- that's to be expected.  I did have to chuckle, though, the first time I noticed that one character in particular had managed to grow almost 10 inches in height, all over the course of three books.  As a woman of, shall we say, small stature, I was certainly jealous!

I love organization, and I've put this to good use in my own writing.  Since I currently have two series  being published and a trilogy on the way, I created a matrix to keep names, ages, physical descriptions, and relationships straight.  This is a great idea for those of you whose writings are peopled with more than one character:  after all, no one - not even fictional folks- like to be forgotten.