Friday, July 18, 2008

Dream Team; Hooks and Starts

Dream Team:
Sports fans fantasize about putting their favorite players on a dream team and watching them work.

My dream team would be a a team of writers. What would result from bringing together my favorite science fiction authors? S.L. Viehl, Sandra McDonald, C.J. Cherryh, Elizabeth Moon, Karen Traviss writing in collaboration on a new SF series - it would either be a nuclear meltdown or a #1 NYT best seller.

Hooks and Starts:
Marina, writing at Pecked by Ducks, ponders writing starts and hooks. How to start a novel, what to write in that first sentence, first paragraph, that will ensorcell the casual browser and hook them into reading the rest of the book? I offer the following starts that hooked me into books I enjoyed:

"I didn't realize he was a werewolf at first. My nose isn't at its best when surrounded by axle grease and burnt oil - and it's not like there were a lot of stray werewolves running around."
From Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (paranormal, romance).

"Recycling won't save the earth, and neither will prayer. The Eqbas are coming."
From Matriarch by Karen Traviss, (science fiction).

"There were no hints of what was to come on that perfect summer morning, no sign that in a few hours, her life would be forever changed. But then, Iseabal was later to realize, momentous events are often heralded not by a thunderclap, but by a sigh."
From When the Laird Returns by Karen Ranney, (historical romance).

"The combination of a horse galloping far too fast, a muddy lane with a curve, and a lady pedestrian is never a good one."
From The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt, (sensual historical romance with humor)

So many books, so little time. Of course, not all books I've come to treasure have had strong hooks in the first line, or even in the first paragraph. I read them because I had learned to value the author, and was confident of good things to come. One such writer is Jo Beverley, whose historical romance novels are peppered with witty observations of the human condition - a sort of modern Jane Austin, if you will.

"I think the reason that we don't give women guns is that they are dangerous enough without them." From Something Wicked.

"We are what we are because of what we've been." From Lady Beware.

"But Diana's mind wouldn't stop at curious exploration. In the mind, it never did." From Devilish.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Favorite authors and their Backlists

One of the best things about discovering a new favorite author is tracking down their previous novels to savor. As a bonus, since I read them all at once, I get a picture of how the writer develops her craft.

I'm encouraged to discover the ways prose improves, characterizations deepen, settings come into sharper focus and plots twist unexpectedly as I read their earliest works and progress through to the most recent. Here is a short list (in no particular order) with genres, of some authors whose backlist has proved rewarding reading for me. I have added a few hints of their style of writing so you may select your personal favorites.

Holly Lisle - fantasy (intense and with a dark flavor)
S.L. Viehl - science fiction, romance (original, action-filled with unique and lovable characters)
Gaelen Foley - historical romance (I've only read her backlist from The Duke to Her Only Desire, not her latest or earliest books; her research and prose improved markedly in 2004)
Karen Traviss - science fiction, military science fiction (the most alien aliens ever, and blow-you-away plots by a former journalist, also formerly in the military)
Elizabeth Moon - science fiction (deep characters, unusual plots, military sf from a former member of the military - genuine)
Linnea Sinclair - science fiction (original heroine, fun reading, light and smooth)
Madeline Hunter - historical romance (sensual and well-done)
C. J. Cherryh - science fiction (my personal favorite sf writer; incredibly creative stories)
Lisa Kleypas - historical romance (unforgettable characters)
Mary Balogh - historical romance (sweet and light with exceptional settings and characters)
David Brin - science fiction (brilliant professor of science writes heavy but fascinating sf)

I hope you may enjoy exploring these links and find many happy hours of reading from among them. Many of my books are in ebook, that is, digital, format. One of the advantages is being able to add comments in the form of 'bookmarks', without defacing a book. It gives me the opportunity to note my observations on exceptionally good (or occasionally, bad) examples of the writer's craft.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Alarming Adverbs and other writerly errors - a rant

In Writing 101, we learned words may be strong, weak, weaselly, working, lazy, etc. and that adverbs are best used sparingly if at all.

What is an adverb? "A word used to modify a verb, adjective or another adverb, expressing time, place, manner, degree, etc." (page 10 of Webster's New World Dictionary)

Learning a few of the basic rules and tools of writing has caused me to know some reasons why I like a novel - or not. Previously, I might have felt disinterested and distant from a book I read, but now I see some of the reasons I favor certain writers over others.

I like plots that surprise me and remain believable, and novels full of action but with evocative descriptions of place, time, manner and degree. I like writers who convey ideas with some subtlety. Repetition is allowed, but I don't want things spelled out for me, nor to be virtually hit over the head with a concept, and no shortcuts, please: no generic descriptions, no stereotypical characters, no lazy writing.

My favorite genres are science fiction and historical romance, and right now I'm on romance jag, reading at least three a week, many of them downloaded in digital format from Powell's Books. I'm irritated enough with my current reading selection to wake up this morning with a rant on my mind.

First, when describing the warm, moist condition of an aroused woman's most womanly parts, please do not use use the word "teeming" (which includes the meaning "swarming") - unless the intent is to convey a problem with an STD.

If it has been well established in the story that the MC is a virgin, please do not beat me over the head with it again and stick the adjective "virginal" in front of "womanhood". That is just aggravating redundancy.

"Diabolically" is a useful adjective, but when ambiance is nicely established with horned shadows on the wall and other items, adding "diabolically" to "carved"creates more ambiguity than clarity. Now I must interrupt my reading to wonder, "Did the devil carve the chair? If not, was the carver truly diabolical? Perhaps it means the carving itself is diabolical. But wait - that is already established, and it is only the passing perception of evening shadows, because earlier descriptions of the manse included simple, Georgian era furnishings, so was the chair carved with little horned devils on it? There is no other description of this particular chair, so I assume not.... Aarghh!"

Last but most certainly not least - the miserable adverb "wonderingly". Here is my advice to published writers, nearly published writers, wanna-be writers and anyone else who may scribe: throw out "wonderingly". Throw it out. Permanently. Irrevocably. Lastingly. Foreverly! Yikes - do not let it back into your grab bag of shortcuts. If it tries to come back in creepily or sneakingly, hit it strengthily with your hammerly hand and kill it most definitely.

If you must express wonder, use the tried and true big round eyes, little 'o' of a mouth, or any other common description you like. Better yet, grab for the gold ring and characterize wonder with some original prose. Build it up, forecast it with the setting, include it in the colors, let it linger in the response - but whatever else you do, do not write "wonderingly".

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Twilight Fall by Lynn Viehl - a review

My oh my oh my oh my! Please, somebody hand me a fan! I mean to say, Lynn writes romance hot, hotter and hottest, and her latest novel falls into the latter group. I was very happy to see the attractive but lonely Valentin Jaus find love at last. The plot in Twilight Fall twists and turns in Viehl's unpredictable but believable style. In this one case, I ended up wanting to take a bite out of someone at the ending, because, well - the suspense was resolved, but then the end was such a shocking teaser! (groan) Now I'll have to wait for the next book in the Darkyn series for the answers. It isn't necessary to read the five previous Darkyn novels in order to enjoy Twilight Fall, but it added to my enjoyment to recognize characters from other books. If you are looking for a new, supernatural, romantic and highly sensual novel, look no farther: Twilight Fall is in bookstores now.