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Month: April 2014

Show me Your Weakness

We all like strong characters. Yet we don’t. You know what I mean. Well, maybe you won’t, but you will soon. I’ve actually posted about believability before, but this is a little different. Here are some examples.

Rocky Balboa. Determination. Drive. The incredible ability to take a punch, and with a cut below the eye, make a comeback. Determination puts him in the ring, often where he shouldn’t be. His weakness is his love of fighting. But that same love, and the desire to win, grants hi victory over bigger, faster, and better fighters.

John McClane. Die Hard. Die Harder. Die Hard with a Vengeance. You remember this guy? His weakness is his tragic relationships with his (ex) wife, daughter, and nearly everyone around him. He has one passion: getting the bad guy, even if he has to bend the law to do it. His strength is his determination. In every story, he gets his ass kicked, over and over. His relationships are stretched, always near the breaking point.

Every one he comes up against is strong too. He does not come up against weak men and easily overcome them. Instead he is victorious through iron will. We all want to identify with that and believe that if push came to shove, we would do the same. We identify with both his strengths and weaknesses.

Katniss Everdeen. Hunger Games? Don’t groan. Just hear me out. Her weakness is loyalty, from the very beginning. In the end, her loyalty also allows her to achieve final victory, but it costs her, and several times along the way (book and movie) we wonder if it will be her undoing. But it is also her strength (along with some sick archery skills).

All of these very different heroes have one common trait. They are not afraid to show us their weaknesses. They overcome those at least as strong as they are, most often stronger. Their weakness is also often a part of their strength. Even though they triumph, it is not without hardship.

So stop being afraid. Show us your flaws. In the end, they may be the very things that save you.

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Reading Between the Lines

A few of us had an interesting discussion at a writer’s group this weekend, and we really did not come to any hard conclusions, except we know some things about the fiction market, as it appears from data. So I thought I would ask you, the readers, what you think. Ready for the question:

How much description is too much?

Before you leave a comment below, let me outline what we do know as authors, what we are taught in classes and workshops. Then fire away with your opinions.

Show don’t tell. This is a nebulous, editorial term bandied about, and it is a lie, of sorts. Modern readers seem to prefer being shown, through action, rather than told how a character feels. And new writers tend to over tell, and not show the story enough, so when we are ‘told’ to show and not tell, we end up with about the right amount of telling (most of the time).

So what do you prefer? To live the story through the senses of the character (be shown the story), or do you want a narrator to tell you what is happening?

Leave out the part the readers usually skip. This is another famous rule, one of Elmore Leonard’s top ten. These rules are often hotly debated, something readers usually don’t hear (or care) about. But what we are told, that you, dear reader, do skip the long, descriptive sections when they are too detailed and lengthy. However, I have talked to readers who said they want more description than certain authors offer. One told me Stephen King was not descriptive enough, while I often find him verbose.

So are those the parts you usually skip? If not, what are they?

Don’t underestimate the reader’s imagination. As both a reader and an author, I like to use my imagination. A lot. Thus my choice of profession suits me. But what about you, as a reader? How much to do I need to describe a scene, a character, before I set an image in your mind? Do you want the author to describe it in detail, creating a thorough image for you, or would you rather read fewer details, and fill in the blanks yourself?

Here’s my opinion. Writers are different. Readers are different. So depending on the genre you read, and the authors you like, your answers to these questions will also be different. Still, the questions are interesting, aren’t they? They certainly made me think about how I write, and what I like to read.

Go ahead. Share what you think. After all, you are the reason writer’s write. Thanks in advance for sharing.

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Here, Taste This

What Scotch Night can teach us about Books and Reading

2014-04-04 20.39.19There were perhaps a dozen of us, although I never got a definite head count. And there were at least a dozen bottles of Scotch on the bar. Plus a Japanese whiskey. It was a tasting party, so no, we did not plan to drink a bottle each. However, we did all get quite buzzed, even sampling several varieties. Like nearly everything else, all that tasting made me think about books, reading and writing. There are some clear parallels.

Some people like, and relate to different regions. Scotch is created in different regions, or settings if you will, and the taste of the scotch takes on the character of that setting. From peaty lowlands to the woodsy highlands, even the smooth, almost sweet 20+ year olds, everyone likes a different region. Some are even more popular than others.

Books are set in different regions as well, most often the region the author is from or familiar with. That region has a character of its own, and some readers like certain regions better than others. From settings in the Northeast and along the East Coast by Allan Leverone, to tales of the deep South by Heath Lowrance, to my own works set in the Northwest, there are a variety to choose from. Each story inevitably takes on regional characteristics, just as scotch aged certain places takes on the characteristics of the surrounding environment. So if you do, or even don’t like a book, the setting may have as much to do with your “taste” as anything else.

2014-04-04 19.32.28Aging makes a difference. Young writers create fiction not as polished as that of more mature authors. This is not to deny that some first novels are break out pieces. Nor is it to deny that some writers get worse with age, are not edited as well because of their name or status. Also, in most cases more mature writers (and by that I mean authors who are physically older) have experienced more, and tend to have more experiences to draw from.

Note I said aging makes a difference, not that different is better or worse. The stories just take on unique characteristics depending on age of the author, age of the reader, and the age of the story. Scotch is similar. There seem to be certain ages that appeal to specific drinkers more than others. Whether 12, 14, 16, or 21 years old, each scotch has characteristics defined by age. No certain age is “bad” but liking that age is a matter of taste.

Blending changes the taste. Some of the best stuff I have read, or written, has been a result of collaboration. The novel Satanarium, written by me and Poppet, a brilliant and prolific author, is a unique work because it contains two distinct voices. Some people like it (it is dark and sinister) and some don’t, but it’s a good book either way. It is not like my other books, and in some ways is not like Poppet’s other books. It’s a blend, and when done well blends work.

Scotch is often blended as well. While all blends are not created equal, sometimes the combination created has an appeal all its own. Some lower end blends are designed with affordability in mind, while others are designed to create unique flavor. Either way, some people like the blends better than each original, while others would never drink a blend. It’s a matter of personal preference.

2014-04-04 19.34.40Finally, Price does not always indicate quality. Is the most expensive Scotch the best? Not always. The most expensive, over 20 year old scotches do not appeal to some aficionados, but they are more expensive simply because of the time involved in creating them. Just because something costs more does not mean it is better. Those scotches have their appeal, and their following, but not everyone likes them.

Books, especially e-books follow a similar pattern. I’ve read some great work I paid 99 cents for, like the recent offering of the Deadly Dozen. I’ve also read some great e-books that cost me nearly $10. Traditionally published books have a higher price point, but they are often no better edited or created than a small press or self-published book. In fact, they are often lower in quality, but that is another discussion for another time.

The point is that while price, blending, aging and region all go into both Scotch and books, sometimes the differences are just a matter of taste, not an indication of quality. So as a reader, don’t be afraid to taste something new. You might find something you really like.

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Fear

coppedSo often, fear rules our lives. But it does not rule as much as hinder. Fear is often fed by society. We are told to make a living before we pursue our dreams, because we fear poverty, even homelessness, so we must save for a rainy day, plan for retirement, because when something goes wrong, not if, we must be prepared, right?

My experience is if you prepare for the worst, you will receive the worst. After all, it is what you expect. I freely admit, I have trust issues with people I do not know, or even those I know a little. They seem okay, but there is that part of nagging suspicion at the back of my head. What is their motive? Why are they being nice?

Where does that come from? Fear.

When the new Blue October album came out, I fell in love with the song “Fear.” One of my favorite lines is: “I used to fall, now I get back up.” So last night, at their concert here in Boise, I bought two things: Justin Furstenfeld’s book, Crazy Making, and a t-shirt that says “Fear” on the front, and has my favorite line on the back.

The concert was a great set: hits old and new, not a few with real meaning for my wife and me. “She’s My Ride Home” was our anthem when we got back together after we separated for a short time, because no one believed in us but us. “Congratulations” touches me every time.

When Justin announced the song “Fear” by telling us it was his favorite on the new album Sway, I fell onto my stool. Tears welled in my eyes as he sang. Then later in the evening, my wife and I shared a tender moment as they played the song “Broken.” Because we’re not broken any more, either one of us.

We are at a good place in our marriage and our lives. It has not been easy to get here. Fear, often induced by others and taken on by us, has created challenges in our lives. We’ve overcome some huge ones. Everyone has them, but you can overcome yours too, by conquering and putting aside Fear.

I used to fall, and now I get back up. And I’m not Broken Any More. Thanks Blue October, and countless other musicians, for being there for us, creating music we can relate to, and changing our lives.

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