Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Promises, Promises

In an article titled “6 Secrets to Creating and Sustaining Suspense” by Steven James, in the most recent Writer’s Digest, Mr. James maintains that suspense occurs in the still moments of a story, between the promise of something happening and when it actually happens. He writes:

“If readers complain that ‘nothing’ is happening’ in a story, they don’t typically mean that no action is occurring, but rather that no promises are being made.”

Interesting. Suspense could be born of a promise or promises of a happening or happenings to come, couldn’t it? It makes sense that “nothing” happening in a story could be attributed to a lack of promises. When I think about the novels I’ve most enjoyed reading, they have indeed made pledges. As I read, I anticipated what was coming based on how my expectations had been primed or set up. Make me big promises in a story, and I’ll be flipping pages to find out what happens and if the commitments are fulfilled. Isn’t this page flipping and inability to put a book down what readers crave and what writers strive for?

Which means, promises need to be kept. How frustrating to be expecting resolutions and get squat.

Are you aware of the promises being made to you when you are reading?

If you are a writer, are you aware of the promises you make in your writing? Do you keep your promises?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


It’s blog day, but it’s also the day before Thanksgiving. This explains why I am typing with greasy fingers, sporting a soggy dishtowel that smells vaguely of celery over my shoulder, and brushing baking powder out of my hair. So, forgive me if I keep this short. I’m sure Martha Steward would agree that cranberry sauce on a keyboard would not be a good thing. And besides, I am well on my way to freaking out over a large turkey that

refuses to thaw. This may mean a game of bob the bird in a very large bucket of water. This is never pretty. Believe me, I know.

Anyway, as I thaw, freak out, bake, stir, and chop (trying to keep my fingertips out of the stuffing), many thankful thoughts mingle inside my head. I love Thanksgiving (yes, I know, you probably thought otherwise based on the first paragraph). Not only is the day a great excuse to pig out with friends and family, it is delicious to focus on being grateful. At the risk of becoming more gooey than the pecan pie I just pulled out of the oven, I am thankful for all of you, my blogging buddies. Not only do I appreciate your follows, but I have learned, laughed, and loved your comments as well as your wonderful posts. What a great community.

So, tomorrow (oh heck, who am I kidding—today, too) I will raise my glass in gratitude for my passion for writing, all the amazing and wonderful books out in the world, and all of you amazing readers and writers who generously share your experiences, thoughts, and love of books and writing.

Wishing you a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving full of gratitude, even if you have already celebrated it or it is not a traditional holiday where you live.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Movie or Book?

The release of The Hunger Games movie trailer got me thinking about great novels and their movie counterparts. When you’ve read a great novel and it becomes a movie, which do you end up enjoying more? It seems logical that a writer would answer “book,” right? Well, not always.

I saw the movie The Outsiders long before I read S.E. Hinton’s amazing novel. This is sort of odd since the novel was published in 1967 and Francis Ford Coppola released his movie in 1982. Nonetheless, I loved that movie. I really cared about the characters. When I read the novel, years later, I still had Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez and the rest of the cast in my head. I think this enhanced the reading experience for me. In the end, though, I preferred the movie.

On the other hand, I didn’t love the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird. You might be gasping at this (the way you might have gawked at my liking The Outsiders movie a wee bit more than the book). I know, I know—everyone loves Gregory Peck as Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird. But because I adore the novel, I had Scout, Jem, and Atticus etched in my head before I popped the movie into the DVD player. Even the great Gregory Peck couldn’t mess with my preconceived notions. Sorry, Mr. Peck. *shrugs*

Generally, I am disappointed by the movie version of a novel I love. Not so for the Harry Potter movies. I was mad about Harry and the Potter books, and thrilled with the movies. I do, however, try to put a chunk of time between reading a novel and seeing the movie version. I still haven’t seen The Help, a novel I adored (ADORED).

How about you? Does your love of a novel influence your opinion of the movie version, for better or for worse? Any thoughts on why?

For those of you who have read The Hunger Games: Are you anxious to see the movie or a bit leery? In case you're not sure, here’s the movie trailer: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/lions_gate/thehungergames/


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How Far is Too Far?

According to Mark Twain: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because

Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”

This quote starts to make my brain hurt. I understand the satire, but still, it makes me ponder. If a story is obliged to stick to possibilities, how far is too far when it comes to these story possibilities? Part of me believes that a really talented author can make me believe anything. Yet, anyone who reads narrative fiction has probably had the unfortunate experience of having his or her sense of suspended belief sour into disbelief. This is never pretty. Is this because fiction didn’t stick to possibilities, as the great Mark Twain told us?

I think about all the times someone has said to me, usually after some real-life scene when at least one person has behaved really badly or in an absurd or embarrassing way: “Oh, you should write about that.” Almost as often, I reply: “Readers would never buy it. Seeing is believing.” Truth can be stranger than fiction.

What do you think about Mark Twain’s quote? Is anything possible in fiction? If not, how far is too far when dealing with the possibilities? Can you think of an example?

P.S. Does your brain hurt yet?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Advice and Ex-President Zombies

Doling out advice can be a lot like handing out Halloween candy. I came to this conclusion this past weekend, at a killer Halloween party. There, an ex-president zombie discovered that I was not just a black cat, but also an author of middle-grade novels. He asked me how he could best transform his ideas for children’s stories into best-selling books. Good question, right? Still, that zombie sort of caught me off guard. Maybe

because I was having tail issues (it’s not easy impersonating a cat), or maybe because I didn’t expect the undead to be into kid lit. Foolish.

As I wrestled with my wayward tail, I offered advice the way I hand out Halloween Candy. I suggested that Mr. Zombie President check out The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, I pointed out that going to conferences is an excellent way to break into the business of writing books for children, and I recommended Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic as well as Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, by Deborah Halverson. Since my zombie friend gobbled these suggestions (What else would a zombie do?), I rambled on about novels and picture books he might read. By the time he ambled off, he seemed grateful (as grateful as a zombie and ex-president can be).

The next morning, while downing a couple mini Milky Way bars with candy corn chasers for breakfast (which do not fall under the dairy and veggie sections of the food pyramid... please don't judge), I wondered if I gave out the best advice.

What do you think? What would you have said or suggested to our ex-president zombie friend?

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?