One thing that’s taken some of my time lately has been our pets. Now, I love animals, especially mine, so this isn’t really a problem. I got a new tank for my goldfish a couple weeks ago, and while that took some time to set up, it’s so much easier to clean than the old one–and the goldfish loves it.

Birthday girl is worn out!

Birthday girl is worn out!

Isis had a birthday, too–she’s now officially a terrible two. Well, not really too terrible, as long as we’re throwing the ball to her. For her birthday, a trip to Pet Supplies Plus was in order, where she picked out not one, but three new toys. Now I’m waiting for her to chew the squeaker out of them. After that, we went to the ice cream shop, even though it wasn’t Dogs Nite Out, and got her a doggie cup (and treats for DH and me, too).

But what’s taken more time is one of my gerbils.

It all started back in November, when my dad stopped by after visiting a rental property that was infested with fleas. He didn’t come into the house, but Isis was in the yard, and she brought them in. A trip to Wash Your Dog took care of her, and we thought, the fleas too.

Then I saw fleas in my gerbils’ tanks. I immediately cleaned the tanks, then brought them (and the turtle) to the dining room, and bombed their room. One of the gerbils was fine. But the other one, Spaz continued to scratch like crazy, because hey, freak out and get stressed is what he does, hence his name. A few days later, he’d scratched himself bloody.

So I took him to the vet, who found Spaz had mites (carried by fleas) and mange (carried by mites). He also had an ear infection, and had chewed the toenails off of one foot. Some gerbils do that when they’re stressed, but the problem with Spaz is, even after the mites and mange were cured, he kept going.

This is one ticked-off gerbil

This is one ticked-off gerbil

Now Spaz has no toes on one foot, though a month ago, it looked like he’d finally stopped.

Until I took him to the vet for a follow-up. Right after that, he started back into chewing, and this time, the vet went to what he said was the last resort, short of amputation: an Elizabethan collar.

As pitiful as Spaz was, the vet assistants and I couldn’t help laughing at his antics trying to dislodge the thing. It did its job in that he has not chewed his foot since then, even after he finally got the collar off about ten hours later (by doing somersaults!). Now to see if he continues to leave his foot alone.

What I’ve been reading: This vet is very good–he treats my turtle, too–but the wait times are way too long. Usually it’s an hour. Yesterday was two hours. I actually didn’t mind for once, because I had nowhere else I needed to be, and it was an excuse to read the really good book I’m working on right now. I’m not going to share about it just yet because I’m not finished, but I will next week. I know I’ll finish soon, because this is one of those I can’t wait to get back to–as in, it’s done a great job getting me to the treadmill, but it’s also one I have to fight the temptation to read, rather than do my own writing.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: It took until yesterday, but I finally did get started on my revisions. Still not sure about the new scene I’m writing, but at least I’m having fun again. What I finally figured out: even though revision uses the critical part of the mind, I couldn’t get myself to focus on it at my Internet computer. Only when I went into the critter room and sat at my writing computer did the resistance fade. So I guess that computer is not just for new writing. I didn’t get as much done as I’d have liked, but I did get through one revised scene, plus part of a new one done. For this week, I’m going to shoot for finishing this new scene, and revising the next two.

What about you–what has kept you from reaching your goals lately (or what has tempted you)? Do you ever have to fight the urge to read, rather than write? Do you have pets? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

How I Saved 2 Hours Grocery Shopping

Anything that saves time in chores gives us more time to do the things we want to do, so when I saw that my local Meijer store was offering online ordering and curbside pickup, my husband and I said we definitely wanted to try it some time.

mattersmost_300x300-300x300I’m getting ready to do a big cooking day, so this week was that time.

I made an account on, and started ordering. It was so much easier to just type what I wanted into the search bar, and then choose from all the choices, than to hunt for the item in the store! I also tried drilling down through the categories, as in Grocery –> Produce –> Vegetables, and that was also easy. Everything was pictured, so I knew what I was getting. It took me about an hour and a half to put together the massive shopping list that my cooking day required, over 80 different items. It takes me about half that long just to put together the shopping list for my husband, because it needs to be Very Specific. Then when he goes to the store, that takes 3-4 hours, plus a stop at Starbucks. That alone was a trade-off for the $4.95 pickup fee, plus my husband had one less super-sugary drink he didn’t need. 🙂

At the end of placing my order, I was able to select the exact pickup time my husband wanted, and it was ready when he drove up to the pickup area. We ordered two days ahead, but orders can be placed as little as three hours in advance, or one hour for 12 items or less. Store staff does all the loading–my husband didn’t even need to get out of his truck.

Overall, it was fantastic, and we will definitely do this again. My only complaint was regarding pre-packaged meats. Oh–as for quality, Meijer says they pick out the best meats and produce for curbside customers. I have no complaints there, but rather about the quantity. My cooking day required 11-1/8 lbs. of chicken breast, so I ordered two family packs that were supposed to be approx. 5 lbs. each, plus a single pack of approx. 1-1/8 lbs. I realize meat weights vary, so I noted in the comments box that I would rather have more than that, than less. But I got two 4-lb. family packs, plus a .8 lb. single. This is a new service, so I expect there to be some bugs to be worked out. They emailed me a survey link, so I put there that I’d like to be able to order meat by the pound, as I was able to do with produce, rather than by package. Luckily, I had some frozen at home, so I had enough for my cooking day without having to go back to the store.

snowdayWhat I’ve Been Reading: “Once Upon a Snow Day” by Kait Nolan. This short story is part of her “Meet-Cute” series, which aptly describes it. Not my usual fare, but I like something light and fun like this every now and then, and it fit the bill. Recommended!

gimmeshelterI also read Gimme Shelter by TS Hottle. This science fiction novella is set in the same universe as his prior release, The First One’s Free, which I read a few months ago. These books are the opposite of the one I almost put down in that he does a great job pulling the reader down into the characters, and making us interested in what happens to them, even those with less than charitable intentions. Like Free, this book is laced with evidence of his prior crime fiction work, full of characters with shifting and questionable loyalties and alliances in a complex, diverse, and well-developed universe. Definitely recommended!

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: I got a little done on my blurbs and cover, but they’re far from finished. Still, with all else I have going on, that’s a win. I did get the print book and cover for Mythical Press done, except for a few minor text tweaks from the author. I met with my writing group yesterday, which was fun as always. They are both among my first readers for my current WIP, and the one who got it back to me already had lots of changes to suggest. I agreed with most of them, but wasn’t sure how to implement them–actually, I was a bit overwhelmed–so she met with me to go over them. That helped tons, and now I have a plan for my revision. So this week’s plan is to write the two new scenes we identified.

How about you–what other strategies do you have to save time at the grocery store? Have you read any good books lately? And how are you doing on your goals, whatever they may be, writing or not? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Depth in Fiction: Why I (almost) Put the Book Down

This was one of those weeks where I didn’t do a whole lot besides the usual go to work, write, and of course, read. I finished last week’s book early in the week, so picked up another. This book was a type of story I love, so I expected to really enjoy it.

Despite its interesting story and premise, I kept finding myself distracted by all kind of other thoughts, and frequently putting the book down to think about something I’m working on instead. I couldn’t figure out why–it didn’t have any of the typical things that make me put books down, like excessive background information, repetition, or just nothing happening. Then I remembered the online writing workshop I recently completed.

Depth-Workshop-Cover2-e1402637242834Like Stacy commented on last week’s postsometimes we learn the most from the books we don’t enjoy. When I put a book down–or am tempted to, I always try to figure out why. The workshop I took last month was Dean Wesley Smith’s Depth in Writing (highly recommended if you’re a writer, btw). In it, he discussed how the bestsellers–and all good fiction–pull readers down deep into the story, quickly. This is something vital to keep readers reading, and to make them want the next book.

One part of accomplishing this is to draw the reader into the setting through vivid details, using all five senses–yep, even taste. (I’m not giving away any of the workshop either–he’s mentioned this on his blog before.) I skimmed the openings of the book’s prior chapters, and sure enough, this was what was missing. I couldn’t find any descriptions of smells or tastes, which are strongly connected to emotion, and only in a couple places could I find sounds or touch/temperature.

Now, I have never been overly fond of a lot of description in my reading, and it’s something I have had to work on in my own writing. But done right, it’s not a big chunk of bore, and won’t even be noticeable to the reader. This book was a perfect example of how important that is.

Sometimes, lack of depth can be compensated for with good storytelling, and that’s why I haven’t put the book down yet. It’s an engaging and interesting plot, and I want to find out what happens next just enough to keep on.

smithsmonthly15What I’ve been reading: I definitely enjoyed the book I finished early last week. That was Smith’s Monthly #15, by Dean Wesley Smith. The full novel therein was Cold Call, a really twisted murder mystery featuring retired cops who get together to play poker and solve cold cases.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: last week, my goal was to complete my first draft revision, and get the novella off to the beta readers. That is DONE. I contacted my publisher, and they already have my final editor lined up, and expect to have the book out by mid-March, barring anything unforeseen. Since I do cover design for Mythical Press, I also design my own covers, so that’s what’s up for this week–the cover design, and a short blurb suitable for back cover copy, something else the publisher needs. As a bonus goal, I need to collect all the front- and back-matter for the book, which I’ll need to supply to them as well.

What about you—have you put down a book lately, or considered doing so? Do you know why? How do you feel about description in fiction, whether you’re a writer or from a reader’s perspective? And how are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share in the comments—I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Just Do It

No, this is not an athletic shoes commercial. This is what I had to tell myself yesterday to get the job done, the “job” being the scene that’s hung over me for the past three weeks.

Sometimes the hardest part of getting the writing done is just getting started, going to the computer, and overcoming inertia. But lately, my main problem has been staying focused once I’m there. I did some more experimenting with, having decided that was not working well enough to be worth spending $6.99 for a one-month subscription.

My conclusion? Sometimes/it depends. Which soundscape I chose definitely made a difference; some were too bland to aid in focus, as they were mostly intended to be noise-masking. Others sounded great, but made me sleepy (one use for these sounds is in hypnotherapy practice). I might try listening as I’m reading before bed to help me go to sleep. But that’s not what I want to do at the writing computer. I really like the Ice World sound, but this is one of those. However, My Noise lets you combine sounds, and combining it with Ethereal Choir is great, and did seem to help with focus.

I met with three of my writer friends yesterday, and one of them was having focus trouble, too. We talked about what we do when we come to a scene we don’t want to write yet, whether because of mood or something else. “Toss it out” wasn’t discussed, although that’s a perfectly viable option when the scene isn’t really needed for the book. We were talking about those that were definitely needed.

I just skip the scene and move on to the next, as I mentioned in last week’s ROW80 update. One of my friends writes out of order, so that’s a no-brainer for her. It’s easy enough for me to do, as my sketch/outline tells me what happens in the next scene. But one of my other friends does the same thing, and she uses absolutely no outline. She and I both write our scenes in order otherwise. But my third friend said he absolutely can’t write out of order. Lucky for him, he doesn’t come upon this situation very often.

Yesterday, I still had not finished either of the two scenes I’d wanted to for today’s ROW80 update. But meeting with my writing friends is always fun and energizing (at least creatively), and I came home ready to tackle those scenes. I hit the later one first, and finished it without a problem. Then I played computer games for about an hour, procrastinating on that scene I didn’t want to write, until I finally realized I was not going to hit that goal for the third week in a row if I didn’t Just Do It.

So I went back to the writing room, fed the critters, and fired up with a combo of Ice World, Ethereal Choir, and Coastline. I don’t know whether it was the music/sounds, or my determination to just get it written, but it worked. Took about three hours, and 2500 words, but it’s done! 🙂

GodsSwindlersWhat I’ve been reading: I finished Gods and Swindlers by Laura Kirwan last Sunday or Monday. I love, love, love this series, about a fifty-something, non-magical lawyer who lives in a magical town and is the only thing standing between it and magical baddies. This one was a little slow at first, but still kept my interest, and only got better and better as it went (much like the previous two books in the series). I hope the next one is out soon, though I’m willing to wait.

One thing I’ve noticed as a reader is that I can’t tell if something was written fast or slow, in order or not, outlined or written into the dark. Nor can I tell whether the author revised and fixed as s/he went, or did a big revision (or multiple) afterward. A lot of people have strong opinions on these, particularly the speed and revisions, but IMO none of them matter. What’s important is that we do what works for us for that book, at that point in our knowledge of craft. And it can change. (FWIW, I am a nominal outliner, I mostly write in order, my speed varies greatly even within one book, and I am working toward fixing more as I write, and revising less because I don’t enjoy it.)

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: As noted above, I made my goal to finish both the scenes I was working on (barely)! So this week’s goal is to write the last scene (yes!), and then go back and fix the things I know are missing. As a bonus, I’d like to do the read-through and proofread, to get it ready for the beta readers.

What about you–when you read, can you tell anything about how the book was written? What do you do to get yourself to Just Do It when “it” is something you keep stalling on? If you’re a writer, do you ever write out of order, and how do you handle scenes you don’t feel like writing? How are you doing on whatever goals you may have, whether or not you’re a writer? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.


Moving Forward

Skipped blogging last week, because when I went to post, found that an update had hosed my newsletter signup. So I spent the time I’d set for blogging, fixing that instead.

I did make progress on the WIP, however. It helped that not much else has been going on. And yesterday,  I met with my writers group–actually, there were just two of us–but that’s always fun and invigorating for the writing. I came home and finished a scene and fixed some inconsistencies in another. More on that in a few.

What happened to My Town Monday? On another note, Karen McFarland, one of my online writing friends, left a comment on my last blog asking about My Town Monday, a feature I used to do where I shared cool bits of Dayton history. She said she always enjoyed these posts (thank you, Karen!) and was I going to do any more?

The main reason haven’t done one in a long time is they take a lot of time and energy I no longer have. Time to research, find photos I can legally use, and a lot more time to write. Also, they were part of a blog hop, where several writers blogged about something cool–whether historical or contemporary–about their hometown. It was fun to go visit other participating bloggers, but that died out a couple years ago. I still love local history, so who knows, I may post another some time. Just no specific plans right now.

crushedWhat I read last week: Crushed, by Laura Kirwan. Normally, I space series books out more, partly because I like variety, and partly because I want to draw out the enjoyment when it’s one I really like. I read the first book of this series, City of Eldrich, a few weeks ago, and it was awesome. I couldn’t wait that long to dig into this one, and it lived up to the first! The bad thing now is that I have to wait for the third, and she doesn’t have a newsletter, nor does her blog have an RSS feed or email signup. So I followed her on Amazon, hoping they’ll send me an update when she releases the next book. Can’t wait!

Smiths-Monthly-Cover-12-webThis past week, I read the short stories and serial episodes in Smith’s Monthly #12, by Dean Wesley Smith. There is sometimes one short in these that just isn’t my thing, and yes, there was one I skipped here, but the rest were entertaining as always.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: As noted above, I’m finally moving forward on my novella. But it took some more analysis, and last week I found the real problem: there wasn’t enough conflict. Oh, the process I was trying didn’t help either, but this was the main issue. The couple were both into each other, and there wasn’t enough keeping them apart, which made for a boring book. And if it’s boring me, it’ll certainly bore my readers. So I started over, with some conflicts hinted at in one of the related novels, that I’d pretty much glossed over in my initial version of this one. A couple scenes from the original were still applicable with minor changes, so I kept those, and wrote three new scenes. Moving along much better now! My goal for this week is to keep up that level of progress.

What about you–have you ever thought one thing was stopping you from moving ahead on a project, only to find it was really something else? Have you read any good books lately? And whether or not you’re participating in ROW80, how are you doing on whatever goals you may have? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Why I Need Routines

Some people can live life spontaneously, sticking to a schedule only when it’s absolutely required: a job with regular hours, or kids who need to go to school.

I am not one of those people.

I’m one who needs a plan. (And yes, when I write, I’m a plotter.) That doesn’t mean the plan is inflexible; just that it exists and is mostly workable. But too much deviance in routine typically means I get nothing done. Case in point: no blog last week.

It is tough being the traveling dog!

It is tough being the traveling dog!

The main reason there is that Sunday is my blog writing day, and my past two Sundays have been spent at DD’s house near her university. Two weeks ago, we moved her in. Last week, her roommates were all there, so we went back. DH wanted to do a brief teaching session on “house stuff,” i.e., breakers, water shutoffs, furnace filters, etc. Then there were a number of little things to fix–things that were our responsibility, since we’re the landlords. Isis went along too–her job was to keep the seat warm in the truck on the way to and from, and to look cute while there.

All things worthwhile to do, just meant that my writing has taken a back seat.

My other challenge in the writing is dividing time between creating new material, and marketing what’s already out there. Until this summer, I’ve pretty much given no attention to the latter, and since then, it’s been almost all marketing (mostly learning), making me grumpy because I haven’t written.

Both are necessary, but I have trouble shifting from one to the other. So this week, I decided it’s time to put into practice a good idea I’d read a while back: spend one day a week on the marketing, the rest on writing new fiction. Today is the beginning of that, so we’ll see how that goes.

demonicdoraWhat I read last week: Demonic Dora by Claire Chilton. This YA fantasy is categorized under “dark comedy,” and that’s a very appropriate description. The main character, Dora, is constantly annoyed by her religious fanatic parents and finally succeeds in summoning a demon–a bumbling, and very cute teen boy demon. She ends up going to stay with him and his even nuttier family in hell, and it’s one absurd situation after another (and I mean absurd in the very best way). As the stakes got higher, I turned the pages faster, and will definitely pick up the next in the series. As a side note, my favorite character was Dora’s fuzzy, brown pet demon named Pooey. The prequel is free on all the major retailers, and you can get Demonic Dora for free by signing up for the author’s reader’s group newsletter (I actually bought my copy before that offer was available, and it was totally worth it).

What I read this week: Short stories!

oncecoffeeOnce Upon a Coffee” by Kait Nolan is a cute, contemporary romance. I generally prefer some suspense or speculative elements in my romance, but once in a while, this sort of light, fun read is just what I’m in the mood for. Next time I’m in that mood, I’ll definitely consider buying another in this series.

unintendedguardianUnintended Guardian” by Jami Gold is a paranormal romance series starter. It’s a shapeshifter book, but the worldbuilding and limitations on the character were very well done, as was the characterization. I really enjoyed it, and plan on buying the next one.

alien-brideAlien Mail Order Bride: Allyssa” by Meg Cooper was also a light, fun read. The sci-fi worldbuilding was on the sparse side, but that’s appropriate for this short a story. Also, the alien guy was pretty human–just taller (and hunkier) than most Earth men. The other side of that is this story came across to me more as a contemporary romance in sci-fi clothing, but it was still enjoyable.

All of these are free, so if they sound like something you’d enjoy, click the cover or title to get them on Amazon. “Coffee” and “Guardian” are also available at other retailers, for those who prefer to shop elsewhere.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: Two weeks ago, my goal was to go over my front and back matter for my upcoming Saturn Society novel. I actually did get that done, but not much else since then. I did, however, start writing my next book, a novella tie-in to the upcoming novel. And I made a list of all the marketing tasks I have yet to do. So this week, the goal is to get through three to five things on the list (they are relatively small things), and write 5,000 words on the novella.

What about you–are you a spontaneous person, or do you do better with a plan? Have you had any disruptions to routine recently? And have you read any good books lately? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Reporting Late for Round 3

Once again, I’m a day late and… never mind. Let’s just say last weekend was a busy one with the holiday and all, and I didn’t realize until almost midnight that I hadn’t yet put up my blog. And it was the start of Row80 Round 3! But now that the round has begun, I should be good with my usual routine.

I took the week before off, since there was no ROW80 to report to, and also because there wasn’t much to report.

It is exhausting to be so beautiful!

It is exhausting to be so beautiful!

But the following week–at least the weekend–plenty was going on. For starters, Isis got another Goddess Treatment on Wednesday. When I got home from work, she was crashed on the couch! Such an ordeal, LOL!

We went to some friends’ house for a party on Friday night. These friends really go all out, with fantastic, catered food and major fireworks. We took Isis last year, and the fireworks didn’t bother her, so we figured she’d be fine this year, too.

WRONG. Of course, the fireworks started while DH was off talking to someone on the other side of the house, and Isis freaked! And of course, I was holding her leash, trying to keep her from running.

That wasn’t happening, and I ended up playing George Jetson until one of our friends joined me, right as Isis dragged me through a flowerbed.

I felt like Isis in the photo above by the time my husband got there to calm her and take over.

But otherwise, the party was fun.

We went to my brother’s on the actual holiday, where we had our typical (with him) very late cookout, then more fireworks. This time, we left Isis in the house. When we went to look for her, she was on my brother’s bed, in the farthest corner from where we were setting off fireworks! DH brought her outside, and she actually started to get acclimated to them by the time we left. Then again, our fireworks were nowhere near as big or loud as our friends’ the night before.

The main thing I’ve been working on lately is to get my newsletter signup system in place. Yes, I have one! A few of you may have even signed up for it, eons ago, and have yet to receive a newsletter. That will soon change. If you’re not already on the list, sign up and get a free ebook of “Time’s Holiday,” my Saturn Society short story prequel. If you’re already on the list and haven’t read “Holiday,” just let me know and I’ll be glad to send it to you.

Son Of the Moonless NightWhat I read this week: Son of the Moonless Night by C.D. Hersh. This is the third book in their Turning Stone series, which  features a very different take on shapeshifters. Also an excellent follow-up to the first two, as well as a great lead-in for a fourth book, which I am looking very forward to!

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: It’s time to set goals for Round 3! Most of mine are stuff that didn’t get done last round. But even so, I still accomplished a decent bit. So let’s hope for more of that here. This is what I plan to do:

  • Work with my publisher to get Time’s Enemy made free for promotional purposes.
  • Make changes suggested by my beta readers that I agree with on my upcoming release, and submit it to my publisher (it’s already contracted, so no worries about acceptance).
  • Make changes suggested by my editor, and approve for publication!
  • Dig back in to my next Saturn Society novel that’s about half finished, revise the outline, and complete the first draft.
  • Send out newsletter once a month (maybe twice if I have major news).

Not ambitious at all, huh? 🙂  Actually, this stuff should be quite doable if I don’t get sick, have a family member injured, or anything like that.

This week, I am helping my publisher get my existing Saturn Society books reformatted (so they’re prettier and work better on a variety of devices), and re-published at the various retailers. I also want to review my beta readers’ comments on my upcoming work, and start revisions on that.

What about you–if you’re in the U.S., did you have a fun Fourth of July (Or July First, if you’re in Canada)? If you’re participating in ROW80, what are some of your goals for this round? And even if you don’t do ROW80, how are you doing on whatever goals you might have, writing or otherwise? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Does School Kill the Love of Reading?

I had an interesting conversation with a couple coworkers the other day. One woman is about my age, and has a daughter in college, and one in high school. The younger daughter is supposed to read Catcher in the Rye over the summer, and is struggling to get into it, to the point she’s just about decided to just read the Spark notes. My coworker says this is unusual; her daughter is an honors student and usually doesn’t have trouble with assignments, but just doesn’t enjoy reading any more. She wonders if the material they read in school is part of the reason.

Our other coworker is 26, so remembers her own experiences pretty clearly. “So much of it just isn’t relevant,” she concluded. “We had to read a Jane Austen book–I can’t remember which one, not Sense and Sensibility, the one with Mr. Darcy…”

Pride and Prejudice?” I asked.

“That’s it!” She went on. “I mean, it’s all stuff no one can relate to today. Arranged marriages… and the language.”

Now, I need to point out that this coworker is a highly intelligent woman, with a master’s degree, and one who isn’t afraid of doing hard work. My other coworker and I agreed that the archaic-sounding English also put up a barrier to relating to the story and characters.

So we went on discussing books we had to read in school and didn’t like–Moby Dick, Old Man and the Sea, anything else by Hemingway. One of them didn’t care for Shakespeare, either. (Interestingly enough, my college-student daughter loooooooves Shakespeare, but somehow does not enjoy reading a lot of fiction). Yet both of my coworkers like to read. The one just couldn’t figure out where her daughter, who used to like it when younger, lost that joy. My daughter also used to enjoy more fiction when she was in elementary and middle school, but has moved on more toward nonfiction.

However, one thing that somehow never gets old in my family is bodily functions jokes. Yesterday, my dad emailed me a link to this video. Only the Brits could’ve come up with the fart noise heard across the English channel!

Smiths-Monthly-5-testWhat I read this week: I started Smith’s Monthly #5. I’ve  followed Dean Wesley Smith‘s blog for a long time, and especially enjoyed his “Writing in Public” blog series that he started almost a year ago. It was fun reading about a long-time pro’s writing process in putting together his own magazine, and the stories sounded good, so I subscribed. It’s been especially neat to see the end product after reading about his creation of the works. Dean writes in the tradition of the old pulps from the mid-20th century, so this isn’t deep, thought-provoking literature, but they are fun, entertaining stories. I’m about 1/4 of the way through the novel in this one–a science-fiction romance. The hero in it is totally yummy, not creepy-looking like the guy on the cover! (And has only two arms. :))

Sorry, no puppy picture today. I didn’t take any new ones this week. Puppy pics will be back, though!

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: I finished the scene I wanted to finish last week, and started sketching out this week’s scene. That went okay, until a character tossed a plot bunny (aka, new scene) at me. So I will be working on that this week, with the goal, once again, to complete a scene, whichever one it may be. My accountability buddy returned home from vacation, but did not lash me with a wet noddle because she didn’t get her scene done, either (vacation + kids = I could’ve predicted that). So back to work for both of us this week.

What do you think–does reading too many books we don’t enjoy in school kill the joy of reading? Which books did you have to read in school that you didn’t like–or what are some you did? Is the video something your family would laugh at? If you’re a writer, do you follow Dean Wesley Smith’s blog? (If not, you should! Great info there, both on the writing and publishing business). Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

What is the best book you read all last year?

I haven’t seen any new releases from my writer friends this week–yes, that’s unusual! So I thought I’d talk about another favorite of mine – actually two.

Many years, I’d be hard-pressed to answer the question, “What’s the best book you’ve read all year?” Sometimes, there are too many good ones to make a choice. Other years, nothing has stood out. 2012 was one of those where I read tons of good stuff, but one book–actually, two– stood out: Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood by Holly Lisle, and its sequel, Warpaint.

HTCB-Ebook-387x600How can I sum up what made these books so great? All I can think of is, they were just more… everything. In one of her blogs, writing workshops, or maybe her email newsletter, Holly stated that one of her goals with this series was to create scarier vampires. And boy did she! Yes, these are vampire books, but not your typical horror fare. Oh yes, they’re that too, but they’re also science fiction – in fact, that’s the primary genre they’re shelved under. But they’re also mystery, thriller, suspense, and there’s even a little romance in Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood, the first of what’s planned to be a ten-book series, I believe.

They are about a kick-ass, independent starship captain, Cadence Drake. And if you think she looks rather comic book-ish with her curvy figure and exotic features, well, there’s a reason for that – she’s genetically engineered to look that way, and she uses it to advantage (and not in the way you’d expect). She has a special talent for locating missing things, and when she’s hired to find a missing starship, how hard could that be? Especially when said starship is one of only 27 made of a new model that would be very conspicuous in any spaceport?

Of course, it turns out not to be so easy, and on the way, Cady and her friend Badger run into all sorts of nasties, as well as unexpected allies. Which is where the more horrific vampires come in. If you want vampires that are sparkly, hot romantic leads then this is not the book for you – they’re definitely the bad guys here.

WARPAINT-FLAT-387x600But again, there’s more. More worlds to explore, each with unique cultures derived from recognizable, Earth subcultures. (I totally want to live on the planet called Up Yours!). And yes, there’s a bit of humor – just enough! And while these books are classified as space opera, they’re not buried in tech, and what’s there is believable and understandable. We see it through Cady’s eyes and learn more about her in the process. There were some epic space battles, again, just enough to satisfy the expectations of space opera while not boring other readers along for the ride.

And these aren’t mere entertainment either, although they can certainly be read and enjoyed solely on that level. There’s plenty of thought, theme, and ideas that make the reader think, and this is, I think, what makes these books so special. They are not pedantic or a soap box for the author, although for those of us who’ve taken writing workshops from Holly, they’re probably more visible.

So it’s probably all these things combined that made Hunting and Warpaint a couple of those books that you read until the e-reader conks you on the head because you’ve fallen asleep, and then you think about it the whole next day while at work, and can’t wait to get on the treadmill so you can read again (or maybe that last part is just me LOL). According to her blog, Holly plans to release the third installment in the series later this year, and I for one can’t wait.

This is the bar I reach for in writing my own books. I’m getting closer, but I’ve still a long way to go.

Both of these books are available on Amazon, Barnes &, Apple’s iTunes, and on Holly’s site, along with a bunch of other good stuff.

ROW80Logo175Quick ROW80 update: I’ve pretty much finished the print formatting for Hangar 18: Legacy, which is the form I do my final proofread in. I’m also about 1/3 of the way through on the proofread, so on track so far this week! I have also done 2 workouts, so that is also on track.

What about you – what was the best book you read all last year? (Or books, if you can’t narrow it down to one?) Or maybe you’d like to share one you read years ago, that still sticks with you? If you’re doing ROW80, how is your week going so far? Please share – I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Misfit Monday: Why I Stopped Reading

As an author, every time I put a book down, I try to learn from the experience. By analyzing why didn’t that book work for me, I can hopefully pick up some tips on what not to do in my own books in the future.

It’s also something fun to discuss with readers (again, to learn) and useful to discuss with authors. Not the author who wrote the book in question, although that’s exactly what ended up happening last time I wrote a post like this. No, it’s honestly just for my own learning. I don’t want to call anyone out – last time, the author recognized her book, and she was a top-notch, class act, but the next one might not be. So with that in mind, I’m going to leave out the details, and focus on the problems.

I’d run across this book a few times and it looked like something I might enjoy, so I downloaded the sample. And boy am I glad I just got the sample, because I couldn’t even get through that. Actually, I caught myself starting to skim by page 2.

I can’t dig a book with too much dumping – of background information and baggage, that is

It wasn’t badly written. The author has a firm command of language, and I didn’t notice any problems with grammar, spelling, typos, or bad formatting (and note that some of the worst formatting problems come from the big publishers). S/he also had a good grasp on point-of-view, and evoking sympathy for the characters. But it just wasn’t enough to draw me in. It took a couple chapters for me to figure out why, but once I did, it was face-palmingly obvious: those two chapters were full of backstory dumps, repetition, and cliche situations.

Quite a bit of information was repeated, sometimes twice, as if the author wasn’t confident enough in the reader and had to give us a nudge, nudge, get it? There were also repeated words and phrases to the point that I once saw the echo phrase three times on one page – and that’s on my Android phone. It was so bad it got a song stuck in my head. It had some other problems too, but the repetition and infodumps were the main reason I stopped reading.

Who knows, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just pickier, being a writer myself, and one who’s been at this thing for years (I’ve been writing seriously since 1999, and messing around with writing since I was a kid). Romance novels are especially prone to backstory dumps – big, long explanations or flashbacks into a character’s past – given that the main conflict in a romance novel is between the female and male lead, and it’s often this kind of emotional baggage that keeps the characters apart for most of the book. And since it’s such a common issue, it’s one that many romance-specific craft workshops and articles touch on. So maybe I’m more sensitive to it because of this.

In the author’s defense, my early efforts had these problems too, so maybe it’s just early work (it may or may not be – OTOH, some people never learn). Either way, eliminating repetition and the other issues are all skills that can be developed.

What do you think? Have you put any books down recently? Have you ever put a book down because it was too cliched, repetitious, or had too much backstory or worldbuilding infodumps that stop the forward action? If you’re a writer, did your early work have these problems?

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.