Category: All Blog Posts

Happy as a….

Review by Patrick Stuart

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February. Possibly the worst month for anyone in a northern clime. No major holidays. Cold, gray weather. Whiny kids stuck in the house with nothing to do. And too distant from spring to anticipate the warmer, sunnier benefits of the seasonal change. Such as the wearing of flip flops. Tank tops. Or bikinis.

Hey, it’s my yard . . . if I want to mow the yard in a bikini, I’ll do it. Shut up.

Anyway, February is another metaphor for that long inexorable slide into ‘finis,’ a.k.a., ‘The End.’ In other words, sometimes this part of the year can be a tad, well, depressing. And writing doesn’t always help. Shoot, sometimes writing just makes it worse. How many times have each of us fallen into a morass of our own doing? Trouble with starting a story or even coming up with an idea. Characters just flailing about on the page. Dialogue that once sounded witty and urbane now sounds plain silly. You can’t . . . stop . . . revising. Or you come up with a fantastic ending to your current story, one that’ll launch your career, make you the toast of publishing, and in all your excitement you tell your best friend who says “Oh, that sounds just like (insert title) where (insert famous author) did the same thing! Ten years ago!”

Not that I’m trying to make anyone depressed or nuthin’. But let’s face it; this is a thankless hobby we’ve chosen. Especially when you add up the time and figure out all the other stuff you could’ve been doing. Learning to play the guitar. Finishing all those home improvement projects. Taking Swahili lessons, scuba diving, or a cooking class. Talk about a Greek tragedy. A Sisyphean task. You instead chose to do something that’s one-part masochism, one-part isolationism, and nine-parts head-banging frustration, interspersed with a helping spoonful of knowledge that a zillion other people are doing the SAME DAMN THING. Yes. Unlike playing the guitar, which requires, well, that you know how to play a guitar, everybody knows how to write. Theoretically, you’re competing against every single person who’s ever picked up a crayon. So what makes you so freaking special?

I’ll tell you what: when you do it, you do it better. And each successive time, you get even better than before. And when you drive to work, or run errands, or take a shower, or go jogging, or sit in a waiting room, or whatevuh, you’re always thinking about it. You have a head full of characters and plots and scenes and you spend an ungodly amount of time trying to figure out how to share them with others. Simply because it makes you happy.

In the end, this is what it boils down to. As our February speaker John Kachuba said in his presentation, “one day our carbon atoms will turn into daisies.” So until that time comes, when each of us settles in for a long, luxurious, dream-filled dirt nap, do what makes you happy. Write, revise, repeat. Write, revise, repeat. And make your own spring, every day.

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“X” Marks a Good Book

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Review by Carolyn Melvin

Sue Grafton is another author I admire. I’ve read every one of her alphabet books and was very much looking forward to reading the newest, X.

In this latest installment, private investigator, Kinsy Millhone, has several cases that are demanding her attention.  She is approached by a wealthy woman named Hallie Battencourt to find her son, Christian Satterfield, who has just been released from prison. It was supposed to be an easy job, but Kinsey discovers that Hallie was lying, and Kinsey gets involved in a domestic dispute. At the same time, Ruth, the widow of Pete Wolinsky, a private eye with whom Kinsey once worked, hires Kinsey to sort through her late husband’s files, since the IRS is threatening an audit. Kinsey soon discovers new information that opens up a series of events from the past. The third case involves Kinsey’s landlord Henry Pitts’ new retired, elderly neighbors, Joseph and Edna. While Henry takes them at face value, Kinsey finds them supremely annoying and becomes suspicious of their motives as she looks further into their background.

Beautifully constructed and well written, X is a satisfying, if somewhat slow, read. Sue Grafton still delivers, and I anxiously await the last two novels in the series.

 

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Avoiding Quicksand

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Wasn’t that the truth?

If you recall much of anything from 1970s / 1980s TV, how often did quicksand threaten our favorite characters? Somebody was sinking at least once a week.

Although I can’t say what most endangers today’s characters (since I don’t watch much episodic TV), this image made me think of writing. Back in the day, ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ when ‘the Butler did it’. I’m not how those phrases originated and became cliché, but any writer sticking to old-time devices, such as opening with the weather, a wedding, or a funeral, should beware! Agents and/or edits might toss that manuscript into the Reject pile, publishing’s version of quicksand. Other no-no’s include an overuse of adjectives and adverbs, too much description (when it’s not vital to moving the plot/characters forward), and subplots that don’t contribute to the character arc or main plot. At a recent monthly meeting, we SiCCOs also learned storylines to currently avoid are sex trafficking and drug lords/mob wars. Some might argue that the vampire, whether sparkling or simply blood sucking, has had his day, along with chick-lit tales.

That’s not to say you should burn your story if it involves anything mentioned above. All you have to do is strong-arm your manuscript, Steve Austin-style pretty please, out of that quicksand and give it new life. Sure, you might have to hose it down after, give it a day or two to let the trauma subside, but clean that baby up and go for it!

Post written by Mercedes King

#amwriting #amediting #musings #writerlife #writerproblems

Meme shared from Weird Hollywood (FB), originally created by John Mulaney

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Mark Your Calendars: Ohioana Book Festival is April 23rd!

The Ohioana Book Festival is celebrating its tenth birthday, and you’re invited! Join us at the Sheraton Columunnamedbus at Capitol Square on Saturday, April 23, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for a fun-filled day with more than 120 Ohio writers (including ten featured authors), panel discussions, special activities for children and teens, a book fair, and more! The book festival offers something for every reader of every age—and it’s FREE!

For the complete list of 2016 festival authors, see our February Newsletter here.

(Author lineup is subject to change without notice.)

More than 100 Ohio writers will be there, and we are delighted to announce the first ten, our 2016 featured authors: poet and novelist Jill Bialosky, historian Douglas Brinkley, children’s author and illustrator David Catrow, journalist and nonfiction writer Mark Dawidziak, cozy mystery writer Amanda Flower, young adult novelist Mindy McGinnis, science fiction author John Scalzi, chef and cookbook author Del Sroufe, literary novelist Leah Stewart, and children’s poet and author Jacqueline Woodson.
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The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley (by Jeremy Massey)

book cover (last four days)Book Review by Patrick Stuart, SiCCO President

I was tipped to this debut novel by our very own SICCO member, Connie Berry, because I suspect she knows I like weird storylines and funky plots. And The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley definitely fits that description.

The novel centers on the protagonist Patrick (a.k.a., Paddy) Buckley, a middle-aged funeral director in Dublin, Ireland, who lost his pregnant wife and has since dealt with it via insomnia and work. Despite his professionalism and careful manner, learned from his casket-making father until his death from a car crash, Paddy is quite literally an accident waiting to happen. And true enough, in a blinding rainstorm he runs over a pedestrian crossing the road. The unintended victim is Donal Cullen, younger brother of Vincent Cullen, the most feared mobster in Dublin. And once Paddy recognizes what’s happened he speeds away in his damaged car, but not without one witness getting a partial view of his profile.

You can pretty much figure out what happens next. As a top employee at the most prestigious funeral home in Dublin, Paddy is soon tasked with Donal’s funeral. He has to meet with Vincent Cullen to arrange the details, and his guilt almost gives him away. Vincent is ‘the alpha male of alpha males’ . . . a character both intensely charming and strangely beautiful, but nonetheless brutal and vicious, wearing his barely tamped aggression like a second skin. Much of the allure of the novel is undoubtedly Vincent, who makes an art form of intimidating people. In the hands of a lesser novelist he might have been ham-fisted and stock, but the author paints him like an artist, something between Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt. Eventually Vincent finds the truth of his brother’s death, and the reader finds out the real malevolence of the Irish mob. Mobsters of the United Kingdom are in a different class than our own home-grown variety, and the Cullen crew is a great example. Which makes the story unique, intense and terrifying as the plot progresses.

Lest anyone be turned off by the fact that everything takes place around a funeral home, keep in mind that the Irish grieve like nobody else. These are drawn-out, sonorous, serious affairs, which doesn’t mean that the occasional slapstick mistakes occur. Such as the wrong person being cremated by a London colleague . . . no doubt intended as an Irish tweak at British expense. And author Jeremy Massey, also the son of an Irish funeral director, provides plenty of detail that gives the story additional spice. At times the plot goes off in unnecessary directions with elements of magical realism, hokey love interests, occasional plot holes and a somewhat disappointing ending, but the excellent writing and unique premise carries this novel. Jeremy Massey is a natural storyteller and an author to watch: read this and you’ll never look at a funeral quite the same way again.

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Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plumb Series

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Review written by by Kristin Crump, SiCCO Secretary

I love to read. I really love to read. I have since I was a little girl. Back then my bookcases were filled with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries. My tastes have changed but now, as then, I get hooked on a good series. I enjoy seeing characters I’ve come to regard as friends come back time after time, getting into new predicaments and finding danger around every turn, only to be rescued (either by their own ingenuity or someone else’s) at the last possible moment.

Last November I decided to give Janet Evanovich a try. Even though I knew she was immensely popular, I’d never picked up one of her books. I was addicted as soon as I started reading book 1, One For The Money. The entire series revolves around the life/train wreck of the main character, Stephanie Plum, a New Jersey girl turned bounty hunter. She works for her cousin Vincent Plum, who she isn’t proud to admit is a branch on her family tree and who she had to blackmail into giving her a job by threatening to reveal his amorous relationship with a duck.

Stephanie will be the first to admit she isn’t great at her job. Most of the time she isn’t even good but she perseveres none the less. Aided by her cohort Lula, an ex-ho, who has a size 4 body image in a size 16 reality, and her Grandma Mazzur, who carries a .45 in her purse, they are always getting Stephanie into more trouble than she was in to begin with.

Other main characters in the books include Stephanie’s on-again-off-again boyfriend Joe Morelli, a Trenton cop. Ranger, the other man in her life, who is a cross between Batman and GI Joe. Her mother, who drinks to get through dinner and irons when she’s stressed, her father who tries to ignore everyone around him, especially his mother-in-law, and Connie, the receptionist at the bail bonds office. In addition to the main characters you’ll also see a whole host of secondary characters who make appearances throughout the series. Most of the books are set in Trenton, New Jersey, specifically “The Burg”, a Trenton suburb. Stephanie and her friends do take trips to Atlantic City and the “Shore” though in search of their targets…and a little fun.

Each book in the series has a number in the title, One For The Money, Two For The Dough, Three To Get Deadly…you get the picture. The latest in the series is Tricky Twenty-Two. Each and every book will have you laughing out loud at the hijinks of Stephanie and Lula and their friends as they set about trying to solve mysteries and apprehend criminals who have skipped out on their court dates and their bail.

If you haven’t read any of the Stephanie Plum novels, I highly recommend them. I also recommend not reading them at night, unless of course you want to wake up your spouse with your laughter. If so, then by all means, carry-on!

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Book Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Review written by David Ploskonka

Looking foScreen Shot 2016-02-07 at 2.30.21 PMr a book you can truly sink your teeth into? A book practically designed for the winter months when you’re trapped inside?

The Luminaries is exactly what you need.

Think HBO’s Deadwood set in New Zealand during the 1860s gold rush. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of a book with a dozen interlocking mysteries; a cast of characters so compelling you will change whom you’re rooting for every time you turn the page; and a plot chock-full of dead bodies, adultery, opium addiction, con artists, gold prospecting, prostitutes, and séances. Yes, séances.

We follow Walter Moody who has come to make his fortune during New Zealand’s gold rush, but finds much more than he was looking for. We are pulled into the town’s story as well, following the lives of over twenty key characters as they struggle for wealth, love, power and, sometimes, for life itself.

The Luminaries is not a beach read. But, worry not, for Catton manages to make every page compelling with her gorgeous writing, sumptuous world building, and unyielding eye into the mysteries of what makes us all human. (And, yes, it even won the Man Booker Prize.)

I defy you to examine even a single piece of this jigsaw, and not play until the entire puzzle has been revealed.

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Book Review: Incarnations by Susan Barker

Review written by Patrick Stuart, SiCCO President

0You know, everyone has a different genre they prefer. Some like books that are comfortable, tried and true . . . like snuggling under an old comforter, with an equally old dog across your feet, on a cold winter’s day when the house is empty and it’s just you and that cozy or whodunnit that’s been tempting you for yea so many weeks. Ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that.

And then there are books that bitch-slap you repeatedly across the face, then drag you semi-conscious into a dirty bus station restroom to do even worse. The Incarnations belongs in that category.

The story takes place in current China (Beijing) with the protagonist Wang Yu, a man in his early thirties, and his young wife and daughter. Wang is estranged from his father, an upper-level party official used to nights of binge-drinking and wanton decadence, now brought down by a stroke and trapped in a wheelchair piloted by his spiteful and much younger mistress. Wang’s mother is just a memory, having suffered a bad marriage and dying under mysterious circumstances, now only briefly appearing in her son’s thoughts. As the story unfolds, Wang also appears to have suffered in his youth, paying for his acts with various forms of abuse and imprisonment.

Wang throws away his vaunted education to become a taxi driver, and eventually starts receiving notes on his cab from an anonymous soul-mate who claims they’ve been together for centuries, reincarnated in different bodies, sexes and nationalities. The notes describe their different pairings in detail, without offering a clue as to the author. Wang first thinks it’s a joke, then slowly descends into a cycle of schizophrenia as he tries to determine the source. The growing swirl of events and physical acts culminates in an ending like a broken mirror, shattering the reflected lives of everyone involved.

The modern parts of the story are timely and strong, but the real interest is the interweaving with the historic passages of past lives. All involve acts of depravity and violence, both fascinating and disturbing in their detail. As someone with part-British, part-Chinese backgrounds, Susan Barker combines ancient and modern China with fantastical British story-telling, and I often found myself comparing this to one of several books by David Mitchell (e.g., The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet or Cloud Atlas). It’s a blend of Chinese history with a unique sense of magical realism, resulting in a story that’s, quite simply, difficult to put down. The Incarnations may not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for something that’s equal parts inventive and engrossing . . . step into that bus station restroom.

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An Afternoon with John Kachuba, Teacher, Writer, Ghosthunter

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John Kachuba is the author of GHOSTHUNTING OHIO and other books relating to the paranormal. He teaches Creative Writing at Ohio University and at Antioch University. John is also known for his humor writing and for teaching through the Gotham Writers Workshop.

Some of John’s other works include:

“Dark Entry”
“Ghost Stories”
“Women of the Way”
“There Comes a Season: Stories of War and Peace – Volume 1”
“There Comes a Season: Stories of War and Peace – Volume 2”
“SHANTOK: A Murder Mystery”

Meet up with us at the Upper Arlington Library, 1945 Lane Road, on February 20th from 12:30 – 2:30 as he shares stories of his various experiences and teaches us a thing or two about writing.

 

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Natalie Richards: How to Write More Compelling Fiction

We will be kicking off 2016 with our first speaker, Natalie D. Richards, on January 30th. She will talk about her writing and discuss how to make your writing more compelling. To get the ball rolling, we reached out to Natalie with a few, fun interview questions. See you all Saturday!


Natal672426ie D. Richards won her first writing competition in the second grade with her short story about Barbara Frances Bizzlefishes (who wouldn’t dare do the dishes.) Now she writes about awesome girls, broody boys, and all things dark and creepy. When she’s not writing or shopping her manuscripts, you can probably find her wading through the towers of dog-eared paperbacks that have taken over her bedroom. Natalie lives in Ohio (Go Bucks!) with her techno-wiz husband, three amazing kids, and a seventy pound dust-mop who swears he’s the family dog.


In my life movie who would play you and who would co-star:

I always have such a hard time with these questions because I can’t fathom anyone wanting to make a movie of my life.  Far too many hours spent at a laptop, living in my imaginary world! I guess Zooey Deschanel might be a decent person to play me, because I am prone to bursting into song for no real reason–but she’d have to go a little darker with her quirky!  😉 As for a co-star? Lord, I couldn’t even dream of where to start.

For you, what is most challenging about being a writer and what do you find is your strength:

By far, far, far the most challenging thing is keeping my confidence up enough that I don’t stall out on a project.  I tend to pick myself apart, so I can let the self-doubt completely railroad me if I’m not careful.  As for the easy part, probably coming up with ideas and dialogue. I know dialogue can be super tricky, but it’s one of the few things that comes easy to me.

What super-power do you wish you possessed and why?

I wish I had the power to remove all types of cancer from the planet in one fell swoop forever.  I lost both of my parents to cancer and I can’t think of anything I’d wish “special powers” for that would trump destroying that awful cluster of disease and suffering.  Cancer sucks.

If you had a time machine, where would you go, what would you do?

Well, aside from obviously going back to hang out with my parents more, uh….is there a pause button?  Hm.  This is a hypothetical time machine, so I’m saying yes, yes there is a pause button and that’s where I would go.  Right here and now, but I’d hit pause occasionally so I could curl up and read like twenty bazillion books without failing to mother my children or meet my deadlines or what not.  You know, a time out for funsies. 🙂

Best Writing Advice I’ve ever received:

Kill your darlings.  I didn’t receive it specifically but it’s a guiding force through my editing process and I think it’s the key between a book that BANGS and a book that meanders along getting lost in very pretty, but cobwebby, word corners.


Find out more about Natalie on her website at http://www.nataliedrichards.com/

 

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