29 June 2011

Age and the Art (Tactfulness) of Estimating

This last weekend my husband and I went to a family reunion. This was for my paternal grandfather's family. There isn't an overabundance of us and I can recognize some of them on sight, though I still have a hard time with names. I just normally say "I'm so-and-so's daughter" and they reply in kind.

My husband often gets questions as to who he belongs to. I normally answer that he is my husband. One relative looked at him and said "You're married? I thought you were — (Half his age.)" This isn't the first time someone has guessed his age wrong. He was very polite about it and though he laughs, I know it does kind of bother him that he looks a lot younger than he is.

A lot of people tell him to be grateful he looks young, but they are probably thinking it isn't a bad thing for people to guess a couple of years younger. People are wrong about my husband's age by more than a decade. Image it this way, you are thirty and people still don't think you are old enough to vote. This is what it is like for my husband. This much of a difference isn't cool or flattering.

When the situation arises that people ask for me to guess their age I always politely decline. I have been doing this for years. The main reason that I don't want to guess their age is because I am horrible at it. That is the other reason why I don't guess their age. Age is a very touchy subject for a lot of people. When I guess wrong I am either, offending them because I thought they looked older than they actually are, or offending them because they look younger than they actually are. I don't think there is a way to tactfully guess someone's age. But I guess if they ask you to, they should expect a wrong answer.

27 June 2011

Writer's Block

Writer's block, for me, is when I don't want to write on a story anymore. It isn't that I can't write, because there is always something for me to write. This happens for two reasons. It could be that I am just bored with the project or it could be that I have no idea where I want the story to go. Either way, I just find myself easily distracted or not even trying to work on it. I learned that if this happens, to keep writing anyway.

If I am bored with the project it is probably because I'm writing boring information, not action or exciting but more of background information. I just continue to push through until it gets exciting again. Then in the editing process I can get rid of the excess boriness. If I don't know where the story is going, I just continue to write. Normally my original plan was dumb anyway and the result turns out better than I anticipated. While it is frustrating when you sit down and you don't know what you want your characters to accomplish in the next chapter, it will come eventually and you can always go back through and add the appropriate foreshadowing and groundwork.

The whole fact of the matter is that if you feel stuck, the worst thing you can do is to stop writing.

26 June 2011

*Name Game

Intro: Apparently I am on a government control kick at the moment. I thought it would be interesting to have characters where their names meant more than just what their parents fancied at the time of the child's birth. (I have a fairly common first name. When I was younger I didn't like the fact that there was a good chance I was known more by my last name initial than my actual name because there would be two of us with the same first name in a class. Now, as an adult, I can appreciate the fact that no one mispronounces or misspells my name.)

At one time, it was considered acceptable for parents to name their children. I know, weird. Think of all the problems with having children born in the same year with the same name. How confusion would that be? My name is Dennis 69 Gregory. As evident by my name, I was the 47th child born in the year 69. Easy to remember. You should have seen the city when Zelda Xerxes Clement and her older brother, Dennis, moved into town.

When I first met her, I was confused. I mean, it wasn't as if it was only our town who regulated the names. The whole country followed it. I should have been the only Dennis in my class no matter where we moved.

"Hi," Zelda said, holding out her hand. "I'm Zelda Xerxes Clement."

I took it and shook it, quite aware that my fingers were covered with sweat. She didn't even seem to notice. Dennis stood next to her, his hands in his pockets. He gave me a small smile.

I grimaced in return.

"This is my older brother, Dennis. He's in your class."

"I know." I almost felt bad, almost.

Dennis looked at the ground, his ears pink.

"Did you grow up around her?" Zelda asked.

"Yes." I was tired of the conversation. I had better things to do on a Saturday afternoon then spend time talking to a name thief. I walked away, but Zelda followed me, Dennis trailed after her and gave me sympathetic looks.

Zelda continued to talk. I increased my speed. She just talked faster, never missing a step. Her family was from the next city over. They relocated here because their mom got a better job. The conversation never slowed and a mile later, when I reached the park, my ears were exhausted. Instead of going to the playground as I planned, I just sat down on the grass under the shade of a tree. Dennis sat down, a few feet away, half in the shade, half out. Zelda, thank goodness, ran to the swings.

"Sorry. I know it's got to be hard. I can always go by my middle name."

"Middle name?"

"Yeah," Dennis sounded rather reluctant and I risked a glance over at him. He was picking the grass at his legs. I could already see his skin was pink from being in the sun. I hate sunburns. I shifted over and gestured with my head. He inched completely into the shade.

"My middle name is Aragorn."

"Aragorn?" Not a number? Weird. It had been the same with Zelda.


"I've never heard of that name before."

"Really?" Dennis's face brightened a bit. "He's a character in a book my parents like."

"A book? Your name came from a book? But shouldn't you be Dennis 69?"

Dennis shrugged. "My parents said they didn't want the government deciding the names of their children. I guess technically I am suppose to be Kevin since I was the 22nd boy born. There isn't a Kevin 69. I just never thought I would meet the real Dennis. My name is Dennis Aragorn Clement."

"Aragorn." I rolled the name around my tongue. "So what kind of person is he?"

As Dennis told the story, I leaned back on the grass and stared up at the trees. I could hear Zelda laughing as she swung but the majority of my attention was fixed on Dennis.

"And Aragorn becomes king at the end."

"Does he get to marry his girlfriend?"


"Aragorn is awesome. Could you imagine living with elves and dwarves."

Dennis laughed. "I guess so. But I mean it is so odd. I've seen how people treat Zelda. I liked the idea of having a normal name. One that no one would mispronounce or misspell. No one treated me any differently. I seem normal. Well, until we moved here."

I looked over at him and he gave a shrug.

"But if it makes it easier for you, I'll go by Aragorn," he said.

I opened my mouth, glad he understood how I felt, and then shut it again. I knew exactly how he would be treated if he went by Aragorn, I mean it was how I had treated him earlier. How everyone in school had treated him. That wasn't really fair. I leaned back and stared back up at the trees.

"Dennis," Zelda called. "I think we need to head home."

"I'll see you at school," Dennis said and stood up.

I gave a half wave but remained where I was. What would it be like? Having a name because your parents liked someone, not because of your birth order? The sun set and I ran home, late for dinner. As I approached the house I heard my mother.

"Dennis! Dennis 69! You'd better get home this instant! You are in so much trouble!"

At that moment, I decided any name would be better than my own. Maybe I would change my name to Gimli.

24 June 2011

John Cleaver Books

by Dan Wells

I Am Not A Serial Killer
I convinced my husband that I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER would be a great anniversary present when it came out. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect all I knew was that I enjoyed listening to Dan Wells on the podcast Writing Excuses. I don't necessarily think that this book is appropriate for a young adult audience, though for me the most graphic scene was when they described how a body is prepared for burial.

The story follows a young many by the name John Wayne Cleaver. His mother and aunt are the town's morticians. He helps them prepare the bodies when they are brought in and has a fascination with bodies and death. He knows that he exhibits all of the signs of a serial killer and does his best not to become a serial killer himself. He has rules that help keep him almost normal, except for the fact that he is lacking in empathetic emotions. When a real serial killer shows up in his town he has to decide whether to break his own rules or let more people die.

Though John doesn't have the same emotions that most people feel, I was always surprised at the emotions I felt. Not only did I like John, I wanted to support him, which is kind of creepy. This book kept me guessing and what was going to happen up until the end and though I don't normally read horror, I thoroughly enjoyed reading I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER.

(I actually have a pin that says "I am not a serial killer" on it and no one seemed to even notice it for the first six months I owned it, and now it seems like every other day someone mentions it. I always smile and say "Don't you feel reassured?")

Mr. Monster
MR. MONSTER is the second book in the trilogy by Dan Wells. This one is the most gruesome of the three. As the title suggests in this book John Cleaver, the young protagonist, is not only fighting with a demon but his own internal monster as well. There comes a point in the book where there is a shift in his character and when I read it, I just wanted to cry. I really like John, which says a lot for Dan Wells if I can relate to a potential serial killer with violent desires.
With the initial serial killer dead John is feeling pretty good about his situation in life. The only problem is that by letting his barriers down to kill the monster, he is letting out his own monster. He doesn't have the same control over his desires that he did before. If that isn't enough, another killer comes to town and John is thrown into the middle of everything. He is forced to choose between his own humanity and the lives of those around him.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is definitely the one that creeped me out the most. Though most of the violence isn't shown, my imagination works wonders and just the vague descriptions were enough for me to get the idea. The problem with sequels is the author rehashing the same story line, but that is not the case with MR. MONSTER. This story was well written and I couldn't put it down.

I Don’t Want To Kill You
I was really nervous about reading I DON'T WANT TO KILL YOU. I really enjoyed reading the first two and I knew this was going to be the last one. (Although I probably wouldn't complain if we got one more, though I am happy with the trilogy.) I was worried that it was going to end in such a manner that the main character John, didn't have any hope for the future. Despite knowing the dark side of this character, I still wanted him to have his own happy ending.

This story starts off close to where the last one left. John is trying to determine if the new demon, Nobody, has accepted his challenge. Strange murders start happening and there are also a few suicides mixed in. His family life is still rough but there is a little more of an understanding between them all. That is when everything goes horribly right, and then understandably wrong. I didn't even know if John was going to succeed in this book and since I have heard Dan Wells speak on several occasions and I wouldn't put it past him to end it in a way I didn't like.

This one is my favorite, by leaps and bounds. Not only do we still see the dark side, although not nearly as much as in MR MONSTER, we see another side of John that is a nice blend of his two halves. Dan Wells does a perfect job of keeping me guessing what is going to happen up until the very end. I had no idea which twist and turn the book was going to take. And while I bawled, yes, bawled through the last portion, it was perfect and I couldn't argue with anything that happened.

22 June 2011

Stuck in the Middle

My husband and I are in the middle of a relocation. The only problem is we don't know how long this middle is going to last. The reason behind this is my husband got a new job, it was unexpected but wanted. The problem is that from our current location he would have a 2.5 hour commute, one way. This is just not feasible. I am just glad he had relatives that would let him sleep at their house for a week while we organize things. While we sell our house, we are going to be living at a half-way apartment. Once the house sells, we will start looking for a new permanent residence.

The most exciting part of this move is the fact that the contest I am over ended last week. At least with the majority of the furniture out of the house I have space to organize all of the entries. Not really that much of a plus, I know. I will be glad when we have a new place to live that I can actually call my own and decorate the way I want.

20 June 2011

Police Sketches

A physical description of characters is important, and as authors we only get a few chances to reminder the readers how they look. What you don't want to do is give a police sketch of your characters. While that gets all of the important information out, it is rather dry and not memorable. Instead try including the description within the flow of the story. Give the description through another character and not as an omniscient narrator. Each character will see the world differently and, therefore, the other characters differently. Using this technique will give you the opportunity to give multiple, fresh, and memorable descriptions.

For the example I am going to use one of my characters named Samson.

Police Sketch: Samson was six-foot-one with light brown hair that he kept short. He sported a well trimmed goatee. He was quite muscular with calloused, scarred hands.

Yvette's Perspective: Yvette liked to feel tall, so she often sported high heels. But, standing next to Samson she saw she was still an inch shorter even though she wore the shoes that made her an even six feet. He wore a stocking cap, which covered all of his hair, but if his goatee was any judge it would be a light brown color. Grease stains covered his clothes and his calloused hands reminded her that he was a mechanic. She nodded to him and continued walking without comment.

William's Perspective: William leaned against the bulkhead and watched as Samson worked. It amazed him that someone of Samson's build could fit in the available space next to the generator. Tools littered the ground. William nudged one over to a waiting, calloused hand and Samson murmured his thanks. Samson pulled himself up wiping his hands on his trousers and scratching his jaw. When William last saw Samson he hadn't sported a goatee but it was one more thing that suited them both. William ran his hands through his own shaggy hair, wishing to cut it short but then it would be too much like Samson's.

These are probably really cheesy examples but hopefully it shows the difference. By presenting the information through a character and not just as a narration you can learn about both characters and have multiple views.

19 June 2011

*Winning Ticket

Intro: I just finished a science fiction book where the government restricts the population growth. I wrote this story as an idea of how a government could decide on who gets to be a parent or not. Though I hope it gets through that it isn't exactly as straightforward as it appears to be.

Camille counted the women still standing in front of her in the line. Thirty-two. Even though she had skipped her lunch break and hurried here right after works, it was still going to be close. Only fifty tickets were given out each month and even then, only five would win the lottery. If it was a good month. She'd already been standing in line for an hour.

The line crawled forward and Camille, as well as every other woman in line, kept an eye on the tickets behind the counter. She watched the woman at the front of the line press her finger against the pad for the mandatory blood test. Not everyone who made it to the front of the line would even get a ticket. The blood test was a big factor.

Camille and Peter, her husband, spent the last month compiling all the necessary information. They had tried for the past three years. When last month was another fail they hoped by adding more detailed information their chances would increase. It wasn't ever a reported fact that thorough blood tests increased the chance, but it wasn't an undeniable correlation.

Camille shuffled forward and watched a woman leave, no ticket in hand. She felt elated and then guilt overwhelmed her. Anyone winning the lottery should be cause for everyone to rejoice. But this time Camille was tired of giving congratulations. She only had a year left before Peter would be too old and they would lose the chance of ever winning.

The line moved forward.

The woman in front of her count the number of people. Thirteen.

The woman stepped out of the line, her shoulders sagging. Camille's glance flashed up to the counter. The stack of tickets looked small. Maybe half a dozen. The woman behind Camille sighed, and she too walked away. More people drifted away from the line. Camille moved one foot out of the line, her heart sinking. But, the thought of facing Peter after the weeks of long nights held her in place. The least she could do was wait it out.

The thickets diminished and the line with it. With two tickets left, Camille was still five people back. Everyone behind her walked out. One ticket left and the person before her left.

When the next woman tested her blood and the machine flashed green, the line dissolved. The woman clutched the last ticket and walked out. The door shut with a quiet click.

Camille knew she should leave but instead she walked up to the machine. The lottery personnel watcher her as she pressed her finger against the pad. The prick of her finger was nothing compared to the empty feeling in her heart. The machine took her genetic code as the map to find the information she and Peter had compiled. A green light on the machine flashed and she stared at it dully for a moment.

"I guess I'm ready for next time. If I come in extra early I should be here with plenty of time."

She nodded her thanks to the man behind the counter and walked towards the door.

"Aren't you forgetting something?" the man called.

Camille turned around and looked at the ticket the man held up between two fingers. She couldn't seem to get her feet to move.

"Don't you want it?"

"Yes." It wasn't so much a word as it was a sob. She staggered up to the counter and took the ticket, caressing the paper with her fingers. A tear leaked from the corner of her eye.

"I wish you the best of luck. You have an hour before the results are announced. It is nice to see someone who doesn't just do this for the thrill of it. Some of these people have no right to win." He gave her a smile and leaned against the counter. "But you're different. I hope you win."

Camille didn't put the ticket in her pocket, afraid it would get lost as she hurried home. Reciting the numbers as she walked.

"21 01 42 06 15 22 09 00"

Peter had dinner waiting and they ate in the living room so they could watch the results. At promptly seven o'clock the news switched to the lottery. Camille set the paper on the coffee table so they could both see the numbers.

The first thirty-two number, four sets of eight, were bust. As the fifth set was read off, Camille squirmed in her seat, biting her hand in anticipation. As the announcer said "forty-two," Peter let out a whoop and grabbed Camille, swinger her around.

"We got it. We won!"

Camille barely listened to the announcer as he said, "For those of you who haven't won yet, there's always next month. You too, could be win the lottery for the right to have children."

17 June 2011

Robert Munsch

Robert Munsch is a Canadian children's book author. Though he is probably best known for the book LOVE YOU FOREVER, I have a few other books of his I love which maybe aren't as well known. I highly recommend going to his website (http://robertmunsch.com) because he explains the inspiration behind each of his books which are just as interesting as the stories themselves.

The Paper Bag Princess
This is one of the all time best books to read to anyone, but especially little girls. THE PAPER BAG PRINCESS is a children's story that not only has a endearing plotline but fun illustrations as well. The story is fairly straightforward. A dragon attacks a castle and kidnaps the Princess Elizabeth's fiancé. Everything was destroyed in the fire, save for a single paper bag. Elizabeth dresses in the paper bag and heads off to rescue the prince from the evil dragon. Not only does this book take stereotypes and flip them on their heads, but it just leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling when you finish reading it. Children will love the witty and intelligent princess as she tries to rescue the man of her dreams.

Stephanie's Ponytail
This story is a cute one about being original and dealing with taunted. STEPHANIE'S PONYTAIL follows the story of Stephanie who decides to go to school with a ponytail. Everyone makes fun of her but she doesn't let it bother her. The next day, all of the girls have ponytails. Stephanie is irked by this but decides to do something about it. As the story goes on the situation gets more extreme but Stephanie remains calm and copes well. The illustrations just add to the quirky story and make it a fun read.

15 June 2011


A couple of months ago I accepted a leadership position with the admonishment of "Don't screw this up or they will never trust us again." I have volunteered for various positions before but never one that has been so important in that I have to keep track of documents, money, and sound educated at the same time. I am a fairly organized person and this was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up.

This last week I realized I had been making a consistent mistake from the beginning of it all. A kind of mistake that isn't earth shattering but enough that if I played my cards wrong I could fall into the "Don't trust again" category. My first response was panic (which is how I respond to a lot of things). I had several plans running through my mind, all of them bad. I called a friend and presented my problem. He explained that it wasn't really a mistake and that all I needed to do was ask people for the needed information.

Still feeling foolish and panicked, I emailed people asking for the information I should have noticed was missing. All of the emails I have received in reply have been people saying thank you for giving them a chance to give me the information and not disqualifying them for one reason or another.

Not only have I gained an appreciate for the people in charge, but I have a better understanding of how to be a better participant and follower. I will never ever complain about rules again, at least not in the presence of those who set the rules and I will not be afraid to ask questions.

13 June 2011

Writing Action

This is one of the few times where I would specify sentence length. Even when we are reading silently we notice punctuation in the way we breathe. Having sentences that are short will get the reader to breath more rapidly. This can simulate an accelerated heart-rate and give your actions sequences more of a punch.

Knowing that you need to write short sentences is not the only thing to keep in mind when writing action. The other trouble with writing action is making it sound realistic, and not that it is a play-by-play of a video game arena battle. It is really easy to focus on the people involved in the fight and the technical details of the attacks which turns into:

Jerry attacked with a right hook. John dodged out of the way and did a roundhouse kick. Jerry rolled to the right. He kicked with his right foot, connecting with John's knee. John fell to the floor gasping in pain.

Instead you can focus on character's emotions, or even objects to help smooth out the fight. (I don't normally write one on one fight scenes.)

Jerry lifted his hands, watching John closely. He knew it would be difficult to win. His first punch went wide. John attacked. Jerry rolled to the right. Sweat broke out on his forehead. He wanted to wipe it away but instead kicked. He wasn't a fighter. But, he needed to keep the other man away. It connected with John's knee. The man fell to the floor. Jerry looked down at the figure gasping in pain. He didn't want it to end this way.

12 June 2011


Intro: I started this story with the intention of writing a different take on Goldilocks and the three bears. It ended up being something different and I think it turned out okay.

Heidi ran the brush through her hair one final time before running out of the house. Her bag bounced on her shoulder as she dodged through the morning crowd. A few people grumbled in her wake but most moved out of the way, almost as if they didn't really see her. Heidi still wasn't use to living in a city where people could ignore the crowds. She ran down the stairs and watched the train pull away from the station as she scrambled for her metro card.


The people flowed around her as she continued to stare at the empty platform. When someone bumped her shoulder, she stumbled forward. The man continued without a word and Heidi sighed.

The next train to the east part of the town would make her late for the performance and taking a cab this time of night was insanity. She had missed her only chance. As she walked back up the stairs she glanced up but the light from the signs blocked out any chance of seeing stars.

Moving from the country to this city wasn't her first choice, but her career as a designer meant more options in cities and there was nothing really in the country holding her there. Her plan was to work in the city and build up a clientele then move back to the country and work remotely. The problems arose when she realized how rarely her plans panned out as — planned.

She started the seven block walk back to her apartment.

A delectable smell wafted by. Heidi stopped amazed that through the grime of the city she could smell something as wonderful as apple pie. She looked around and finally spotted a small store nestled between two sky scrapers. It looked as if the store had forced its way up from the ground taking a small piece from both buildings. A man wearing a white apron stood out front sweeping the concrete and nodding to those that walked past. None of them nodded in return. He glanced her direction and smiled. Heidi couldn't help but smile in return.

It took a minute for the cars to break long enough for her to dash across. Her first time jaywalking and it didn't bother her as much as she thought it would.

"Good evening," the man said. Up closer she could see his dark hair was streaked with white. Though his hair showed traces of age, the rest of him could have passed for someone closer to her in age.

"Hello," Heidi replied. She took a nervous breath and caught scent of the pie again, stronger this time. She glanced around the entry way but could see no sign or name.

"Would you like something to eat?" He stood to the side and gestured. "Please, come on in."

As soon as Heidi walked in the air softened. She could no longer hear the noise of the street. The room held five tables and the smell of the apple pie grew even stronger.

"Please, have a seat. Would you like something to drink?"

Heidi slid into one of the chairs, her back facing the door. "Water."

"Of course. I'll bring that right out." He slid a menu on the table, though she wasn't sure where he'd picked it up. And headed to a door at the back of the room. When the door opened more tantalizing smells escaped. Pot roast, mashed potatoes, and corn if she was any judge.

She glanced at the menu and the plain script caught her attention.

"Reminiscence." She murmured and flipped it open. Though the smell of the pot roast competed with the apple pie to fill her senses, she still struggled with indecision as she looked at the menu items.

The man placed a tall glass of water in front of her.

"What would you like?"

"It all sounds so good," she confessed. She looked up and met his gaze. "What would you recommend?"

"My personal favorite is the apple pie."

"For dinner?"

"Why not? If you really must have a dessert I would recommend the banana cream pie."

Heidi let out a little laugh, reminded of café back home. She had dated the proprietor's son which had ended in a disaster and her moving here, kind of running away but also trying to move on with her life.

The man ran his hands through his hair and the white shifted and some of it drifted down.

"Blast," he murmured as he looked at his hand. "I shouldn't do that."

He wiped his hands on his apron which on closer inspection wasn't as white as it had looked. Flour continued to drift to the floor and Heidi let out another little laugh.

"Sorry about that. I thought I'd cleaned up all the flour after I finished making the crusts."

"So you made the pies?"

"Well, I make everything here. I don't really have the income to pay for help," he replied with a shrug. "But I can't give this place up; it has been in the family for years."

"You could probably make a lot of money if you sold the place."

"Now you are sounding like a city chick. I pegged you for a country gal."

Heidi fingered the glass on the table. "I would like some apple pie. It's really why I came in here." She fought her emotions down. "I could smell it."

"One piece coming up." He says and walks back to the kitchen.

"Bring two," she calls and the man turns, his eyebrow raised. "I wouldn't mind some company."

"Guess I was right after all. You are country."

As the man brought the two steaming pieces of apple pie, complete with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, Heidi felt her body relax. In the six months she'd been in the city, she had finally found a place she could see the stars if only in her memory. If she could smell apple pie, she could see the stars. This was enough for now.

10 June 2011

I am Number Four

by Pittacus Lore

I had no idea that I AM NUMBER FOUR actually existed as a book until my work got tickets for the opening night of the movie. I wasn't able to go but I looked up the trailer and along the way learned that the movie was actually based on a novel. Since I am a firm believer of "Don't judge a book by its movie" I requested it at the library. While my friends didn't have raving reports on the trailer, I was pleased with the book.

The plot line of the book is actually intriguing. Nine children are sent away from a dying world. They are to be the legacy of the planet and hopefully someday will stop the Mogadorians. The children are given numbers (1-9) and they are protected by a ward that they can only be killed in order of their number. It doesn't sound like much protection but it is something. Four and his "Father" move around the United States trying to stay ahead of the Mogadorians and then Four meets a girl named Sarah.

With so many new books being around a dystopic society or a paranormal horror I was pleased that I AM NUMBER FOUR falls into the science fiction category and deals with aliens. There seems to be a shortage of science fiction in YA and this one is a great way to break a new generation into a world with aliens and space travel. This book was a fun read. I like the idea behind the characters and I am curious to see where this will go in the sequel, which comes out in August.

08 June 2011

Dark YA Literature

Recently the Wall Street Journal had an article about contemporary young adult literature. I read through the article and found myself torn on some of the aspects but what I really took from the article is the fact that this particular author didn't mention all of the other great pieces of young adult literature coming out. They just mentioned the ones that really push the boundaries. Just like every other aspect of media there is a light side and a dark side. While I wouldn't read or recommend some of the books mentioned in the article, I have a long list of recent young adult books (not to mention some classics) I would love to give anyone who wants something for their teen to read that doesn't have all of the darkness. As with everything else in this world, there is something for everyone. (Just don't always expect to find it on the shelf. Most book stores nowadays only carry what is trending and if you want something other than that you will have better luck looking online then in a brick and mortar store.)

06 June 2011

Sentence Length

I have heard a myriad of reasons for using long sentences and short sentences. My belief is that there should be a good mixture in your regular prose. For more technical pieces of information, such as world building, magic or technology, it is best to use short sentences, especially if there are multiple new words. This is from my experience as a technical writer. You can always show off your amazing writing skill later in the story, but if your reader doesn't understand the important facts from the beginning, the likelihood of them finishing the story is small.

At a conference I went to recently, one of the panels talked about reading levels. The longer the sentence is, the higher the reading level. The same goes with syllables in a word. Generally speaking, if a word has multiple syllables, it is on a higher reading level. Most of the time when we think of writing books for an older audience, we think of making sure we have a higher reading level. This means longer sentences and more complex words.

While having a higher reading level can be scholarly, that doesn't necessarily mean that is what the readers want. Most people read books to escape and if they have to look up every one in ten words, they could get discouraged. Ernest Hemingway is known for his short succinct sentences. While we don't have to be quite as succinct as he was, maybe we can learn from the fact that his story Old Man and the Sea is technically at a 4.3 grade level. There is nothing wrong with having short sentences so long as it fits with the story and flows well.

05 June 2011

*City Bound

Intro: I have a paper chain hanging at my desk at work. I like the idea of writing about someone being chained but not a strong chain, more of a reminder of something.

Neil pulled on the chain binding his body to town's obelisk. The black flecked stone stood in the middle of the town courtyard. No one knew where it came from but everyone knew to avoid it, everyone smart anyway and Neil did not often fall into the smart, or even the mildly intelligent category. He wasn't the only one who was bound to the obelisk but he wasn't the cream of the crap. That title belonged to Manse.

Manse had graduated from college at the age of eighteen; Neil hadn't even set foot in a school building since he dropped out his junior year of high school. Manse, now twenty-two, worked in a prestigious office as a chief financial officer; Neil, thirty-two, worked as a pizza delivery man. Manse had the looks, the girls, the money, the future, and the confidence. Neil, he had the stubbornness.

As Neil turned the corner down Elm Street he could feel the chain tighten, he was like a puppet on a string. However much like the wooden toy he felt, he refused to act like one. He pulled his arm again as if he were testing the strength of the chain. The chain kept those who were bonded to the city. It was the obelisks way of making sure the city was always occupied.

He parked his pickup, which was the same height as a lot of sedans, and scooped up the bag of pizzas. His car smelled like pizza. All he could smell was pizza. And the fact that people wondered why he didn't eat pizza made him shake his head. The night had a bite to it and Neil pulled the collar of his coat up a little more trying to block out the sting. Small lights lined the paved path up to the house and for a moment Neil thought he could see the ethereal white links of the chain stretching into the darkness. He tugged on the chain and continued walking. He'd tried to get out of the delivery earlier, but that was impossible since he was the only deliverer who actually knew how to get to the house.

The mansion loomed above him and he pressed the doorbell. For good measure he pressed the doorbell every second for a second until the door was answered. This normally meant he wasn't ignored. Tonight it only took half a minute.

"Hello, Neil," Manse said opening the door.

Neil handed over the pizza and held out his hand. Manse tried to shut the door but Neil's foot was in the way.

"Pay up," Neil said. "And don't forget the tip."

Manse scowled but pulled out his wallet. Neil noticed that the younger man moved with a jerkiness.

"You alright?" Neil asked as he counted the money Manse gave him.

"Your job here is done, get out."

That was when Neil could smell it, stronger than the ever present pizza smell.

"You're drunk."

"Get out," Manse said, this time his voice was slurred. The smell was so strong Neil wondered how he could not have smelled it. Manse didn't drink. Everyone knew manse never took a drink.

"What is wrong with you?"

Manse stepped away and pulled him arm in a way that made Neil think of someone being caught. Neil had touched the obelisk because someone bet a thousand dollars. He didn't know why Manse had touched the obelisk but in the darkened hallway he thought for a moment that he could see the chain. Only Manse's chain wasn't the white almost gravity-defying chain Neil saw around himself. This chain was black, and dragged along the ground. It was something out of A Christmas Carol.

"Get out!"

Manse picked up a bottle and threw it at Neil who stepped out of the way. The bottle crashed into the door, the amber liquid running down the wood and pooling on the floor. In the years that Neil had known Manse, never once had the man lost his temper. That was one of the reasons why Neil couldn't really bring himself to hate him.

"You're nothing compared to me," Neil said.

"Hey, now. Wait a minute."

"You're nothing but a pathetic looser who has no future."

"That isn't true."

"Than what have you done?"

Neil paused.

"See, nothing. You are stuck here just like the rest of use and you will never amount to anything."

Neil headed for the door but another bottle smashed into the door. In that moment, Neil lost his temper.

He moved towards Manse, the chain tightening as he did. The obelisk did not like its bonders fighting. With a quick tug the chain snapped. The two ends, visible for a few seconds, fluttered to the ground like confetti. Manse only had time to wheeze out a call for help before Neil slammed the man against the wall.

"You may own the rest of the city, but I will not put up with this. You are better than the rest of us."

"You don't understand what it is like, to be weighed down."

Neil merely shook his head. "You aren't the only one who is bonded."

Manse scoffed and Neil finally released his hold.

"I guess we see who is the one who is really bonded."

Neil turned on his heel and walked out. The paper chain reformed around him as he moved but he didn't mind it. He never had any intention of leaving the city. He liked what he'd accomplished in his life. He was alive and making an income was more than the rest of his friends. As he climbed into his car he tested the strength of the chain thinking of the links that to him looked like a paper Christmas decoration. Life could be a lot worse.

03 June 2011

Blind Justice

by Bruce Alexander

It wasn't until I was in college that I really came to enjoy reading mysteries. It's not that I didn't like mysteries but that I had read one too many that weren't written as well as they could be. BLIND JUSTICE is in a class of its own. Bruce Alexander presents all of the information to the reader and doesn't hold back any crucial piece of evidence. Part of the reason that I enjoyed it so much was because of the characters, especially Sir John Fielding.

BLIND JUSTICE is told from the perspective of a boy named Jeremy Proctor in 18th century London. Jeremy works as an assistant for Sir John Fielding, who is a blind magistrate. Between the two of them, they investigate the apparent suicide of Lord Goodhope. During this time, magistrates worked as detective and judge in the court system. This novel covers both the detective work and the proceeding court case.

Sir John Fielding was a real blind magistrate who made a name for himself. Not only did he help his brother to form the first professional police force, but he was said to be able to recognize roughly three thousand criminals by their voices. BLIND JUSTICE, and the other books in the series, aren't completely historically accurate but they are filled with interesting information. If you are looking for a new mystery series to start, this one is fascinating and entertaining. All of the books are good and I would recommend reading them in the order they were published because the characters grow, age, and change as the series progresses.

01 June 2011

Continual Excitement

Last week my husband and I were in New York City. This was probably evident by the lousy posts. We had never been to NYC before and I had wanted to go since I was in high school. We purchased the airplane tickets back in February and found an inexpensive sublet and methodically planned what we wanted to see while we were there. We both have lived in relatively small towns for the majority of our lives and while we have both visited large cities, none were quite as impressive as NYC.

We ran around NYC taking in all of the sites and in general feeling overwhelmed with the people, noise, smell, and activities. Going from a city where the majority of the restaurants close at 10 we were stunned by Times Square. We walked around the city amazed that it never stopped. Granted where we were staying grew quieter but still at one a clock in the morning we could hear the sirens and noises of the city. We went to the museums, saw performances, toured the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, ate exotic food, and in a week only rode in an automobile to and from the airport.

After eight days, we were more than happy to return to our mountains and green valley. I will be happy to have evenings when ten things aren't going on at once so I will have an opportunity to read my book. I don't need the continual excitement from the city but I am glad that we went. It was definitely a trip of a lifetime for us.