Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I meant to do that…

One of my favorite lines of Pee Wee Herman’s is “I meant to do that.” Usually said after falling on his face.

What was funny about it (and it still makes me laugh) is the implication that every mistake is somehow a failure and that we must hide our mistakes behind protestations that we did whatever foolish thing we did on purpose, making it not so foolish, but rather wise and well-thought-out.

But making mistakes is part of being human, and if you want to be a great writer (raising my hand tentatively), you have to own all parts of being human to help prevent hardening of the creative mind and keep your characters from becoming cardboard cutouts who either have no flaws, or are so evil they’re cartoons. Sooooo…

If you’re noticing the blog posts I removed, I made a boo-boo and I’m going to admit it to you now. Here goes: me being a fallible human being. I can do this, really I can.

What happened is this: I kept hearing that I had to have a “platform” as a writer. I read some books about how to build one. I tried to figure out what kind of “platform” I was going to build.

Options for novelists wanting to build an oh-so-essential platform:
  1. Write a blog about writing.  Why not? Well there are TONS of blogs about writing. So many, another will just be static, another screaming voice in the melee. Also, I’m a fairly new writer. I’m still learning. Personally, I don’t believe that novices should teach. I’ve written tons of short stories, some of them published, plus two novels (one a trunk novel that will never see the light of day and one that will be published this year), but I wouldn’t call myself a pro just yet. Someday, maybe after I have at least five published novels I may start to give advice. Not now.
  2. Write a blog about my subject matter. Uh…what subject matter? I’m a fiction writer and will write about lots of subjects. My latest book is about mothers and daughters set on a remote island in the Great South Bay of Long Island. My current book as nothing to do with that. My idea for the book after that is also very different.
  3. Write a blog about books. I love books and read tons of novels annually. It’s not a stretch to believe I could write excellent reviews on books. Bunch of problems though:
  • I can’t do it. Write a scathing review, that is. Why? Because I know exactly how hard it is to write a novel. I’ve written two so far, and they were both like giving birth. Now I’m working on a third and the labor is agonizing. I just can’t rip apart someone else’s pride and joy. And hey, guess what? Just because I hated a novel doesn’t mean thousands of others won’t love it. Many beloved books have been on the receiving end of a tear-em-apart book review or ten.
  • There are TONS of book bloggers and review sites. It’s not like there aren’t enough of them.
  • I don’t want people asking me to review their book. Being a softie means that if it’s a book I don’t like, I might feel bad for the person and give their book a more flattering review than it merits. Right now, if someone wants me to read their book or just has a book recommendation, I can read it (assuming I find the time – my to-be-read pile towers high) and like it or not. No one gets hurt.

So, I started writing a book recommendation blog, a blog where all I wrote was about books I loved. But even that was stressing me out, because, you see, I already get up every day at 4:00 am in order to have time to write as I also have a full-time day job. In order to properly research the book, make notes on it, and read enough books to blog regularly on them (wow, book bloggers, have I  mentioned how much I admire you? Seriously!), I would have to cut deeply into my writing time. You know, stop me from achieving my ultimate goal: to be a professional novelist, preferably full-time. That is pure craziness.

When I realized exactly how little time I was spending on the actual writing of my next book, I stopped, looked around, and said, “What the hell am I doing???” I just deleted all the old posts except for the first one because I loved it too much to hit delete.

Here’s what I will be blogging about: my book releases, any special deals for readers, and anything I think my readers would actually be interested in. BTW, that means there will not be posts about the tuna fish sandwich I ate for lunch or other ramblings. I will post when there’s something worth posting about, something that I would want to see if my favorite author wrote a blog.

I hereby dedicate this blog to my readers. It’s all you guys!

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Blogger's Got to Start Somewhere – or Top 10 Reasons to Read Fiction

Welcome to my blog, a fiction lover’s paradise where all good books come to live forever and eat warm cookies!

Okay, that was a little over the top, but what the hey.

I am a voracious reader. If there is anything that is more meaningful to me as an art form/mode of entertainment than fiction, I don’t know what it is. Great books can change your life. So without further ado, let’s get down to the top ten reasons why reading fiction ROCKS and why it should be your top choice when it comes to entertainment:

Number One – Fiction is an Escape Hatch from Life
Reading fiction transports you to another place, another time, sometimes, even another planet. Really. It’s happened to me and all of my friends and family who read. It’s probably happened to you and your family and friends. In fact, I will guarantee it – assuming you read fiction. Non-fiction doesn’t work at all. You’re still here, reading about gardening. But pick up a novel about Africa and you can hear the lions roar, feel the heat beating down, and watch the sunset turn the sky orange over the Kalahari. This can be incredibly beneficial if your life is stressful, providing a mini-vacation from your life. Sorry, no other form of entertainment transports you that much – not even movies.

Number Two – Lifelong Friendships with Your Favorite Characters
I remember meeting Willy Wonka. He is SO cool! Do you know him? If you read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl as a tyke, the answer is yes. Characters speak to you when you read (when you watch a movie you just watch it, you don’t live it the way you live a book). They tell you secrets, sometimes things that no one else knows. They include you in everything they do. They welcome you back again and again and everything is as it was the first time you read the book, unlike when you try to return to a fondly remembered place that, since you saw it last, has often morphed into something lurid or derelict or just overcrowded.

Number Three – Portable and Quiet
Yes, Game Boys are portable. They are also annoying. Beep! Explosion, beep! Laptops can be fun for watching movies or playing a game, but unless the laptop is very small, they can be heavy and awkward, plus you worry that someone might steal it when you aren’t looking. When’s the last time someone stole your book? Uh…never??? Now, with the advent of eReaders, there’s a little more of a concern, but with prices coming down like rain in Ireland, most people probably won’t bother stealing your Kindle.

Number Four – The Ultimate in Voyeurism
While the characters speak to you and include you in their lives, unlike in life, you don’t have to participate. You won’t make mistakes or say the wrong thing. No one asks you questions or demands that you explain what you’re doing there. You’re just like a fly on the wall: watching people fight, make up, have sex, kiss, and so on. It’s like being a Peeping Tom without the criminal record.

Number Five – Yawn-free Education
One of my favorite books is The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I knew it was about the plague in a remote village during the 17th century, but whoa! Did I learn a lot! Yet, not for one moment can I say that I felt like I was reading a history book or being taught a history lesson by a dry old professor. Instead, history came alive so much that I didn’t really notice the spoonfuls of education I was getting along the way. The same can be said of novels set in submarines or in the Pentagon. You learn as you read and never know it’s happening until you look up and say, “Hey! I’m practically an expert about detective work on a homicide scene!”

Number Six – Truly Interactive Entertainment
There’s a lot of talk about interactive entertainment out there and role-playing games like World of Warcraft are hugely popular, but in any of them do you really get to feel the pain the character feels or cry the character’s tears or truly fall in love with another character? Well, in fiction you do. With a great book, you find yourself often stepping away from the fly-on-the-wall role and right into the protagonist’s shoes. You become them. Top that, video games!

Number Seven – Imagination vs. the Movies
Every time I see a movie based on a book I’ve read and loved, I’m disappointed. There are so few exceptions to this that they prove the rule rather than disprove it. My imagination is just so much…better. And so is yours. And so is everyone else’s. No movie will ever do the story, the one that that played in full-color 3D with stereo-surround-sound and the other three of the five senses magically working in your head, justice.

Number Eight – Bad Guys You Love to Hate
No matter how big a jerk a real-life person is, they’re always also somehow vulnerable and there is a little guilt from hating them full-on. Not so with villains in books! You can hate them with a vengeance, openly root for their demise, and it’s just plain fun to do it. I remember relishing my hatred for Hatsumomo, the wicked scheming geisha in Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Oh, she had to get hers! What a horrible horrible woman! Kill! Kill! Could you ever imagine openly hating someone like that and cruelly wishing for their destruction in real life? I can’t.

Number Nine – New Perspectives
Not only do you get to step into the protagonist’s shoes in good books, sometimes those shoes are very unlikely. Like the autistic main character in the brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – who knew metro stations could be so scary? Or my recent favorite: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, with its dog protagonist. I could feel myself getting furrier, my voice growlier (okay, that last is not a real word, but I wish it was).

Number Ten – Answers and Insights
When I read a great book, I’m often hit with insights about my own life. One True Thing by Anna Quindlen comes to mind, a novel about a beloved college professor’s family that has been dominated for years by the charismatic father. The truth is that the family and their seemingly rock-like father was quietly held together by the retiring homemaker mother, Kate, a fact found out by the daughter (who never respected her mother) when Kate is diagnosed with cancer and the daughter is called home to help. There’s a scene in the book when her mother just wants to talk and be heard and it breaks my heart every time - because a lot of what she tells her daughter someone probably should have told me. But the book told me. And that was a beautiful thing, and maybe a better thing; my one true thing that I was able to hear in a novel when a familiar voice may have gone unheeded.

So that’s it – top ten reasons reading fiction blows away the competition in the world of entertainment in my oh-so-humble opinion. What do you think? Why do you read fiction?