Thursday, September 27, 2007

It's a Mystery

Two people have asked me recently if I'm interested in writing a mystery.

I like to read mysteries. But I'm not sure I'm able to write one. I admire the way a good mystery writer builds suspene, strewing false clues along the way. I enjoy the twists and turns.

How is a mystery written? How does it all come together in the author's mind?

That's something I'd really like to know.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Delicate Balance

I don't have a book review for today. I need to catch up on my reading first.

Today I have spent most of my time revising, once again. (Was that an oxymoron, or just a really close call?) I'm still working on Silence. And I'm looking for the delicate balance.

Because this is the last book in the Echoes Series, I want to go out with a bang. But I want to keep the mood positive. But I want to shake up the world of my characters. But I don't want to be sadistic.

My first revision was a simple read-through. Now I have to get down to business. I'm in the process of moving whole paragraphs and trying to decide where to relocate them. I'm adding some narrations and getting rid of others. I was too heavy-handed in my early drafts, creating a world of simple black and white. But nothing is ever that simple. Now I must add in the shading.

I know where the story is going, but I'm not completely satisfied with the way I got there. I need to soften the roads a bit--not too much--and intensify the journey.

A very delicate balance indeed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

I have wanted to read this book for months. I bought it soon after it came out, but I waited. I wanted to find just the right time so I could savor the story.

I read A Thousand Splendid Suns over a two or three day period last week. It was hard to put down, but I had to sleep and do a few other essential tasks. And when I finished reading this book I wished I hadn't.

Mariam is the star. A humble woman with a lowly upbringing, she suffers terribly throughout her life. And yet she perseveres. I understand what the author did with Mariam in the end. But that doesn't mean I like it. I wanted so much more for her.

Then there was Laila. I had mixed feelings about this character. I felt for her, but she never measured up to Mariam in strength and purity. While I read Laila's story, especially in the beginning, I kept wondering, What about Mariam?

Khaled Hosseini did a wonderful job once again of weaving Afghanistan's history into the lives of his characters. In that respect, I think he wrote a much stronger book than The Kite Runner.

This was a different story. More subdued. Sadder. And still excellent. I highly recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns. But I also think you should make sure you have two or three days to truly savor this book.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Review: A Boy from Makkah

I read two Islamic novels last week. This week I will review them, beginning with A Boy from Makkah.

I bought this book years ago, hoping it would inspire my sons. Unfortunately, being the teenagers they were, they didn't want to read anything I had recommended. So this book sat on the shelf, except when I packed it up to move with us from Kansas City to Worcester to Milwaukee to Lexington. After this last move, I decided to read the book even if no one else would.

As a writer I was a little disappointed. Many scenes were rushed, told with sweeping overviews and only minimal conversation or description. Years passed on a single page. I wanted more detail. But as a writer I'm overly critical.

As a reader I enjoyed this book. It told the story of a young man, brought to Makkah by his father because the family needed him to work, and his life as a servant. I became involved in the young man's story because the characters were portrayed well. I was able to envision the Makkah scenes, though I've never been there. The story had the feel of a real story, though it was fiction.

The author wrote this book after 9/11 to help people know more about Islam and have more positive feelings about Muslims. Through his narration of the journey of this boy as he grew into manhood, I think the author, Dr. Muhammad Abdu Yamani, succeeded.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Keeping it Simple

I filled out an interesting application today in which I was presented with in-depth questions. The instructions stated that I needed to keep each answer to 500 characters or less.

Not 500 words. 500 characters. I didn't do an exact count, but I'm sure each answer was within the allocated limits. It wasn't easy though.

Writing is about managing words. Sometimes the writer uses broad strokes to describe a summger day or an abandoned house. Other times the writer must be concise, economizing words without flourish.

Being a writer means knowing how to use the tools well.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Revisions: Caught Up in the Cycle

I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my writing. I'm also pretty sloppy with my rough drafts. That means I must commit myself to months of revisions.

I finished reading through Silence today. Sometime tonight, or maybe tomorrow, I'll begin reading through Silence again. And again. As long as it takes until it's in shape.

I have other projects I could be working on. I need to seriously write my next non-Echoes Series novel. I started. It was a rough draft. I was dissatisfied. I left it.

Silence is too rough, anyway. It needs many more revisions. Each time I read, I find a new way of looking at the story. I haven't looked closely enough yet.

My revisions don't continue in an endless cycle. I take breaks. In November I plan to write a another NaNoWriMo novel. I don't know yet what it will be about or what I'll do with it after November. Right now it's enough to have a general plan.

And I have other things I need to work on. But I'm concerned about Silence. It has the makings of a good story, but it is so far away from where it needs to be.

I once went to a writers' critique group and shared a few pages of a rough draft I'd recently written. I've never done that before, and I don't intend to do it again. I don't care if you find clutter in my house when you drop by, but you will not be allowed to see the clutter in my story. I'm not finished cleaning. Come by later.

Sometimes it feels like it will never end. But it does. And sooner or later I have a nearly (but never quite) perfect and nicely bound manuscript in my hands. Otherwise known as a book. One I wrote. What a feeling.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Writing to Make a Difference

The United States prides itself on its freedoms, as promised in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: the right to worship, the right to free speech, the right of the press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the government. It has been said that these five rights distinguish the USA from other countries.

In some places, at some times, writers have been imprisoned or even executed for voicing unpopular opinions. It happened in the USSR. It happened in colonial America. The question is, could it ever happen here again? Or has it happened and we just don't recognize it?

Public debate and humiliation are the usual modern-day punishments. A book will be panned. A columnist will become the butt of jokes, and may even lose his job. But has anyone ever been imprisoned or died, here in modern-day America, for the right of written expression and the right of free speech?

Not that I know. But some are concerned. The Patriot Act looms, threatening harsher punishments. Executive orders have been signed. The threat is real.

I believe we still live in a free country, more or less. And I believe it is our right, in this country and everywhere else free expression is allowed, to write for a difference. Not just for entertainment and to make a buck. Write to leave something valuable behind and change society a little bit for the better.

That's just my opinion, of course.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Writing Silence

I've written the first draft. I actually wrote five first drafts. I've finally written one which feels comfortable enough. Now I'm working on the second draft.

How do you write a book that is, in some ways, a compilation of a series? My greatest challenge right now is the characters. There have been so many, and the majority are still alive and active in the final volume. Not only that, but I've introduced a few new characters. The spouses and the children. Brad, Chris, and Joshua grew old and their children grew up. Most of them are married and have children of their own. Some of these grandchildren--Umar is a great grandfather--make their own impacts on the family. And some of the children have grown to take their father's places.

That's one of my challenges. There are too many characters, but this is the last book and I can't eliminate anyone who hasn't already died. There are deaths in Silence, but death is never trivial, is it? Characters who sprung from my mind must be disposed of properly and with dignity. Or at least with feeling.

I hope to have the last book ready for publication in 2009. It seems far away, but I know how quickly time passes when a manuscript is due. If I delay, I'll be staying up nights in 2008 and exasperating my publisher with my procrastination.

The end. I think it works. Or it's beginning to. There are still miles to go. . .

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Very Friendly Distraction

I have three writing tasks on my to-do list, along with various other chores and pastimes. But I didn't do any writing today.

It started when my 12 year old woke up coughing, wiping his stuffy nose. He didn't fast today and he didn't go to school. We spent the day together.

Out of all my sons, my youngest is the most compassionate. I hope that won't change after he hits puberty. Sometimes I was tempted to follow my usual daily routine, but he kept me connected most of the day. And that was a good thing.

He has a great idea for a new story he's writing. He's reading an interesting novel, too, but he can't read it at night because it's too scary. Right now he's lying on the floor near me, waiting for me to finish my blogs so we can talk some more.

I didn't do a single bit of writing today. I had someone important to share my day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Time to Get Serious

Ramadan has begun, at least in much of the world. There's a mood change in the air. Trivial matters seem too trivial to pursue. Matters of faith have gained extra significance.

In our household, the TV will be turned off this month. Okay, to be completely honest, I will watch one show during the day when the kids are in school. It's a soap opera (horrors!) and unfortunately I'm a little hooked, especially since Marcie found out that. . .forget it.

Other than that one little hour every weekday, the TV will be turned off. I will concentrate on listening to nasheed rather than other types of music. And even though I will do some reading simply for entertainment--at least the book I checked out yesterday and thought I might be able to finish by now--I will more conscientiously seek out more worthwhile books also. And, of course, I'll read the Qur'an every day.

My writing won't stop. I'm sure it will slow. But I think Ramadan may be the perfect time to work on this last Echoes Series book. This volume is weightier than the rest, and it needs an air of restraint to bring it to maturity. Ramadan may be a very good time to work on this.

The air has changed. Do you feel it? Everything else should change too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Writing 9/11

9/11 was the catalyst to move me out of the classroom and push me toward pursuing my dream of becoming a novelist. Of course, the first novel I wrote had to be about 9/11.

Innocent People was my most difficult novel, not only because it was my first, but because it was laden with so many minefields.

When I wrote the first chapter, telling about the 9/11 attacks, I cried. It was more than a year later and I felt the emotions all over again. After that first chapter, though, I was careful not to let my emotions get in the way of the story.

I didn't want to present evidence for or against the 19 alleged hijackers. I didn't want to condemn anyone, except those who had done the act--but I didn't say precisely who they were. As I wrote, I strove to portray many innocent people--the dead and wounded in the attacks and their families, Muslims who were wrongfully accused, and the American people who lived in fear. Also the Afghanis whose country was bombed in an attempt to wreak justice.

This book was a balancing act. I wanted to portray American Muslims sympathetically, but not at the expense of other Americans. I used many real life examples, from my experiences and from the headlines. I wanted to convey a lesson out of this mess.

Innocent People isn't my best-written book. It was my first, and it's rough in some places. It was, however, the book I had to write. And Innocent People presents an earth-shattering time in history to young people who can't remember 9/11.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Time to Read

On Saturday I finished the Ripples manuscript--the fourth book in the Echoes Series. Now all I have to do is wait for the editor to give her feedback.

I can't begin another book project right away. I need to take a few days to relax. I have two projects in mind, but I can do only one at a time and it will have to wait until the end of the week.

Now I get to indulge in first favorite literary activity: reading. As it turned out, I picked up a virus somewhere and spent the last two days not doing much of anything. A perfect time to tackle my newest library books.

I won't discuss any of the books here. They all fit in the genre of chick lit, though one has a more serious subject--presented in an offhand manner--and another is very serious. I don't think they'll expand my universe too far, but they're enjoyable. Great for these days when I need to relax and get past this virus.

I've read two books within the last week. I have one more to go, and I started that this afternoon. By the time I finish this last book, I think I'll be ready to get serious about writing again.

One-fourth of American adults haven't finished a single book in the last year. Amazing. I know people have busy schedules, but reading is great activity--and free if you go to the library. (Though, as an author, I do recommend that you buy at least a few books for your shelves. Preferably mine, of course.)

Not read? Impossible.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Any Suggestions?

Yesterday I talked about marketing. This really is a weak spot for me. No matter how much I like a product, and believe everyone should have one, I have trouble selling it. That holds true whether it's my own books or Pampered Chef (I was once a consultant).

I know some people seem to be born with a knack for connecting with other people. My husband has it. So do some of our sons. Others are like me--cautiously poking their heads out of their shells and unable to do more than that.

So if you're not born with it, how do you learn it? What do you need to do to strengthen your selling skills?

Unfortunately, that's a reality for writers these days. It's not enough just to hide in a corner somewhere and write.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Marketing. How?

I love to write. I could do it all day, every day.

I dislike trying to sell my book. I'm naturally shy and most of the many marketing tips I've read don't seem to suit my personality.

But I want people to read my books. I hope they'll actually benefit from my stories, just as I've benefited from most of the thousands of books I've read.

So what's the solution?

How do you go about marketing your books?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Different Voice

The Echoes Series is coming along well. The first three books--Echoes, Rebounding, and Turbulence--have been published. The fourth book, Ripples, is finished and nearly ready to go through the final process. Silence, the final book, has been written though it still needs work.

I'm ready for something else. Last November I wrote a novel for the NaNoWriMo challenge. A few weeks ago I opened the file and took it out of storage. I read it all the way through--congratulating myself on some parts and cringing at others.

Off Balance, my newest novel, is still in the very early stages. I've begun writing the beginning--after realizing that my NaNo novel was really just the middle of the story. I know where I want to go but it will take me a long time to get there.

When I ran the plot by my son, after he heard me read the first few pages in a critique group, he said it didn't sound anything like me. But it's nice to try something different sometimes, isn't it?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Writing the Future

In my Echoes Series only the first book, Echoes, takes place in our time. The others go progressively further into the future. The last book is set in either 2040 or 2044--I need to study my timeline and decide between these two years.

In each of the books, I attempt to predict the future. The last book, Silence, is more futuristic than the others. I try to imagine the social life, the inventions, and the shapes of our cities in distant years.

Tonight I finally watched "Children of Men," a futuristic drama. Except for the unnecessary cursing and the overdone violence, I liked the movie. And after it was over I remembered how many stories predict a gray future, one devoid--or nearly devoid--of hope.

Nineteenth century writers imagined a wonderful future, full of flying machines and explorations. When and why did writers become so morose?