Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review Oct. 2010

Book Review by Ted Kozicki

To begin writing reviews of books, one should start somewhere and hope things get better. So I think if I begin with "HELL", things can only go up from there.
"Hell" is written by Robert Olen Butler and published by Grove Press. Copyright 2009.
While it is not necessary to have read Dante's " Inferno", be familiar with "Faust", it may be incumbent for the reader to have a knowledge of recent ( 20th Century ) Americana and satire to enjoy this detailed, funny, yet scary look at what may constitute hell.
Have you seen the movie " Network"? Are you a journalist, novelist, history major, avid reader of novels, husband, wife, lover,
hunter, politician.........then you are a part of this book. I found myself---I am the old person who is forced to learn technology as my never-ending punishment for all eternity while the technology continues to grow faster than I can learn.
The narrative is clear and fluent, descriptions are vivid, believable, and often not just entertaining but outright funny! Reading this right now during this time before the elections, I found it especially interesting.
I will try not to make everything I read a " Highly Recommended" selection......A lot are not, but this is my first in many ways.
Remember: We may very well be creating our own hell every day of our life.....Not reading "HELL" will not add to your hell, but maybe to your heaven-on-earth.

Monday, October 25, 2010

And now for something completely different...

As you all know, I'm in the middle of my Master's program and working on three novels and I've found I've had less, and less time to devote to reading books and watching movies to give you a monthly review. So, my father, Ted Kozicki, has offered to help me out by acting as the book reviewer on this blog once a month for the next couple of months. Without further ado, here's Dad in his own words:

Hello. I'd like to introduce myself. I'm Nancy's father. Being a dutiful person and still interested in what my kids are up to, I read that she does not always have time for her reviews in her Crafts' Blog....So rather than see her drop it, I'm stepping up to help out.
I know what you are thinking.....great, what does he know? What does he read? What makes him a critic? All good questions which I'll try to answer. I am 70....been over the hill for a lot of years! I am a former school teacher.. I've taught English...well, that should have lost half of the readers! I've also taught science, drama, public speaking, history, government, K-12 Special Education, 4th grade math, religion, Latin, Spanish, and a few other things that people have been willing to pay me to teach. That probably lost half of those who were still reading!
So for the 2 or 3 that are still left, I'll continue. I am published.....poems in a local newspaper in Michigan which were later borrowed by several couples to include in their wedding ceremonies----no pay, but at least acknowledged! Wonder if they are still married? Some reports to the Federal Government about the research done with grants while a graduate assistant at Emporia State University....Again no pay, unless you count free tuition, office, and expenses while finishing my MS. A couple of Melodramas-----one performed in several venues around the county and SOLD to a publisher who now continues to offer it for performing. The others have yet to sell. So I am a PAID writer! I'm the one from whom Nancy gets her talent , if you've seen the picture, you can see the looks come from her mother!
What do I read? Just about anything someone is willing to write and someone is willing to print and sell. That being said, I do have things I like more than others. I have favorite authors. I have some that I will not read, or in some cases have not because I have no interest...I even read plays, poetry, history books, Annie Rice, Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall), Wilbur Smith ( EVERY book he has written), Ted Kennedy, Nancy J Parra ( had to put that in!)...You'll find out more as I do some of these.
I love theatre ( that high class theater)... I love Andrew Lloyd Weber...seen "Phantom" 7 times-twice in London ( Bragging)...Evita more than that (Nancy's mother refuses to go with me again)...Music... Country/Western .....early Rock/Roll...Jazz ( New Orleans), Blues ( Memphis), Opera ( No, the music not the woman with the talk show-- but she was great in The Color Purple).......
I'm not impressed with critics.....Heard a lot of definitions of what they are...fill in your own! "Whistle down the Wind" is my favorite A.L.Weber musical, critics hated it. I learned to dislike critics in college when I had to read a book ( which I might like ) and have the professor take it apart explaining what was wrong with it or what it was about.
That in a nutshell is who I am and where I am coming from. I will leave you with one thought that I impressed on my High School English students about Poetry:" There is only 1 person who knows what a poet meant by what he/she wrote, and most of them never told us. We are supposed to find what it means to us." Hope that gives you a reason to read what I write for her blog.

Thanks Dad!
Now that you know a bit about my playwright Dad, I will post his first book review tomorrow.

PS - a special thanks to my sister Mary who passed on the photos included in this blog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to craft a solid ending

We spend a lot of time learning how to craft beginnings of novels. Beginnings are hooks that sell the story and draw the reader in. Next we learn about crafting overall plot and character arc-creating goals, motivation and conflict. We learn about the Hero's Journey, The first act, second act third act, the W plot, the 15 beats necessary in a story. We work hard on word count and getting the draft done. Trust me by page 350 I'm all about getting the darn thing done.
So how much time do we spend crafting the ending? What do we know about endings?
When I first started writing in my teens, there were no endings. Only stories that went on and on. I mean life goes on, right? So did my stories. (Yes, yes, I can hear you pointing out the movie, "The Never Ending Story. " Wasn't there a sequel to that? How can you have a sequel if the first one never ends? I digress.)
I got to the point in my writing -because I write by the seat of my pants-that I had to visualize the beginning and then the ending out of necessity. If I wanted to finish, I had to know the end. Still my editorial director said to me on my third book, "You have trouble with endings, don't you?"
Hmmm. No, I didn't think so. I thought I fixed that. But clearly she thought so-therefore problem was not solved. Then how do you create a solid ending?
The answer is simple. Take as much time to think through the ending as you do the beginning. Here's how:
1) Pull five of your favorite books off the shelf and read the endings. What about them is satisfactory? Do they end with a bang? Do they wrap up all the clues? Do they set up the next book? How can you use the tricks of your favorite novels in your work?
2) Go back to what you know about the Hero's Journey- in the end, the hero must return to the ordinary world with his new found gifts (emotional and/or physical changes) and relate to this world as a changed person. Think about Harry Potter. He returns to his dreaded Aunt's and Uncle's ordinary home, but no longer lives in the cupboard under the stairs.
3) Blake Snyder's beat sheet says endings should be the opposite of the beginning to show that change has occurred. Relate 2 and 3 to how your favorite novels end. Can you see how it was done?
What if the above tips still don't help? Brainstorm with your closest friends and most importantly practice, practice practice. Sometimes a lousy first ending is caused by weak plotting. sometimes you have to go back and strengthen things in the book to get the ending you need. Do it. It's worth it. Readers like closure. They like endings that pull on heart strings, or send creepy feelings down their back. They want to know that you made the end as satisfying as the beginning and worth the hours spent reading the book. Some even read endings before they buy the book. Remember-deadline or not- an ending is a terrible thing to waste. Do the work and readers will keep coming back for more.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Be Prepared for Randomness

The book publishing business is extremely random. I know many writers who plot and plan and are certain they figured out the key to success. Then a flood hits the publisher's warehouse and half their print run never makes it to store shelves. Their books are delivered to a Walmart or Sam's and the pallet containing them sits on the dock or gets left out in the rain. The guy who stocks the shelves gets sick and this week's books are returned as next week's arrive. Your e-book gets lost in the pile of 1,500 other new e-books that came out that month.
But let's say everything works in your favor. You do several signings with good solid turnouts and your books seem to be selling like hotcakes. Surely you made a local best seller list...only to discover the list decided not to report the two weeks during which your book came out for internal staff reasons. Or your debut-which you sold as a hard cover-yes!- comes out the same day as Nora Robert's, James Patterson, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and four other best sellers. Bookstores stock best sellers. Readers buy best sellers first.
Why am I telling you these depressing things? I want you to write because you want to write. I want you to know that you are writing for you first. Yes, study the market place and polish your work and send it out to good agents and try for the best publishers. Yes, do it! (It shows respect for yourself, your talent and your story.) But don't write genre fiction if you're looking for easy cash, *snort* or bestseller fame. Or even respect from critics and the book world. You won't make it very long if these are the things that motivate you because they are the things you cannot control.
In the beginning and in the end, a successful fiction writing career depends on your love of your story, your happiness with your characters, your joy of bringing to life the stories in your head. When that is enough then, whether you publish well or not, you are successful.
My wish for you this week is that you find the joy in your work. cheers~

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing Fresh

When writing a novel the first question anyone asks is, "So, what is your story about?" Some people answer with an elevator pitch--a sentence that gives the particulars. Such as, "A seemingly random murder leads a blogger into an international race to create a mind control device."
Sounds good-now, what kind of story is it? What is your theme? Who has written something like it before? How does this compare? What type of reader would buy this? How are you going to make it "fresh?"

Those are the questions that always stop me in my tracks. But they are the questions you should answer before you begin to write your story. They are the questions that will ensure the book is marketable. For nearly twenty years I've struggle with the question of theme and fresh. I've experimented with saying things like-"think Cinderella with a twist." But this isn't enough. It's weak. It doesn't really answer the questions. It doesn't really explain the story concept or how it fits in the market. It doesn't tell the editor/agent what makes it fresh.
I've recently discovered three steps that help me answer those important questions.
Step one: write down your concept and then take the time to research. Find two or three books that are similar to your concept. Read them. Dissect them. Find out what worked and what didn't work. Write down how you would do things differently.
Step two: determine what type of book you are writing and make sure you have all the elements for that particular kind of story. A good book to help with this is Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat Goes to the Movies." He lists a variety of story types and their essential three or four elements. For example: A "Monster in the House" story needs a monster with supernatural powers; a house or small enclosed setting and a sin--someone who is guilty of bringing the monster into the house. But another element that must be found in a "Monster in the House" story is a "half man." Someone who has survived a similar situation and warns the hero. In "Harry Potter," the boy, Harry, literally is saved by a "half man" in the form of a centaur in the woods who warns him of dangers to come.
I discovered that two books I'm currently plotting are "Dude with a Problem" stories. The elements are an innocent hero/heroine; a sudden event that comes without warning; and a life or death battle. But also found in this type of story is an "eye of the storm" moment where the hero/heroine "finds a partner who is a friendly ally in a sea of trouble." Now I know the type of story and the readers' expectations.
Step three: determine how your theme fits in your story type.
My theme of survival for one story includes a Law Enforcement Problem. The second is a Domestic Problem. This is how the two stories vary and what makes them fresh.
Taking the time to go through these three steps and answering the questions before you begin your story will help you understand how your story can be "fresh" and still be marketable. Remember we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead we are trying to make the wheel more efficient/funny/fresh.