Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Unlikely Inspiration, by Christine Locke

While signing up for a promotion package on Arkansas Authors, I quickly reviewed my author interview.  When asked what I'd like to do differently in my career, I expressed contentment with how things were going (they caught me on a good day!), but said I'd like to get back into teaching writing.

Something's licking my face: it's the four-year-old on my lap.  She's pretending to be a puppy while watching "Johnny Test" on my iPad.  Who am I kidding?  It's her iPad.

What I really meant was that I'd like to teach creative writing, although going back to teaching some kind of basic composition course would have been OK, too, I think.  But it doesn't matter, because guess what I got to do last November?  I got to teach NaNoWriMo's YWP program to a group of kids writing their first novels!  It was a great experience, not to mention fantastic motivation to write a ms of my own in 2014, which was a year full of all kinds of life interupptions that got in the way of my daily writing.

So now I'm teaching an advanced reading course based on the Book Riot Reading Challenge for 2015, and that's got my year off to a good start.  Who knew homeschooling would be the thing in my life that kept me writing in a year when I felt sure I'd have to give up?  Teaching these co-op classes has reminded me to read, read, read and write, write, write--now maybe I should teach one on social media and marketing!

Just kidding.

The Haunting of Hill House
by Shirley Jackson
Introduction by Guillermo del Toro

I read the introductory material for this edition of The Haunting, and I found it both enjoyable and helpful.  Del Toro's description of the reasons for including the book and others in this series was instructive and entertaining. I liked learning about his childhood reading preferences--it's always fascinating to hear what an artist chose as a child, what influenced him or her. And then the article about Jackson and her work contains some fascinating biographical information I'd never heard before, as well as suggested reading lists. 
As for the story itself, other than the introductory material, I came to this book NOT having read about it elsewhere.  I've seen both movie versions, that's about it. 
The story only makes sense for me if Eleanor is having a psychotic break.  She's so imaginative.  On the drive to the mansion, she stops and imagines herself in several locations.  In the last half of the story, when Eleanor starts to hear people talking when they are not, or when she thinks she can hear the sounds the birds make on the roof, I started to think she had imagined herself going to Hill House, imagined all these other characters (who really do seem to me like the repressed aspects of her own personality), and finally lost herself in the fantasy instead of coming back out of it.
This is probably a theory that already exists, but that's what I got out of it.  The last third or so of the novel was not what I expected.  Somehow I did not have the sense that it was the house, or a spirit within the house, imposing these things on Eleanor.  If the other characters are projections of her own mind, then the fact that they (usually) hear and see odd things as well adds no credibility to the haunting.
I wanted something a little more definite from the story line, especially at its conclusion.  It felt uncertain to me, and I didn't find myself enjoying the uncertainty.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Riot's #ReadHarder Challenge: My List by Christine Locke

When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid EarthquakesThis week, I'm putting together my personal list for the Book Riot 2015 Reading Challenge.  Guess What?  I'm also lucky enough to teach a class in critical reading, and my students will be using this list to creative their own--we're calling it a "Reading Scavenger Hunt."  It's not unlike a class I took as a high school senior, in which we designed a reading list and presented papers and projects related to it.

Here are my selections for the #ReadHarder Challenge.

A microhistory

What's a microhistory?
When The Mississippi Ran Backwards
When my husband mentioned this in conversation, I did not believe him.  A google search revealed that the river did indeed run backwards and, in fact, here's a book about it.

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children
A YA novel
Hollow City
The first novel in the series struck me with its originality, and the first few pages of this one are poetry.  I think someday we'll look back with confusion at the genre "young adult."  Just because some books can be read by young people does not mean they are only for young people.  I've been saying this for years, but no matter.  Beautiful writing always needs new ways to get published and promoted, so the popularity of the genre is ultimately a good thing any way you look at it.

A sci-fi novel
Forever Odd by Dean Koontz
I saw the movie and want to find out where the story goes from there.  Also, I read another Koontz novel last year and liked it.

A romance novel
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade
Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.)
Death Comes to Pemberly, by P.D. James
She was one of my grandfather's favorite authors.  He thought it was clever that she used the pen name "P.D." so no one would know she was a woman (this conversation took place decades ago, long before "J.K.").  

An audiobook
The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal
We're listening to this one in my Life Skills class at the home school co-op.

A collection of poetry
Hmmm...I'll get back to you.

A book that someone else has recommended to you
Niceville by Carson Stroud

A book that was originally published in another language
If you need help with this challenge, here's a great little article.
Suite Francaise by Irene N√©mirovsky

A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind (Hi, have you met Panels?)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Retreat
Because I've been meaning to finish this series forEVER.  

A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over)
Sanctum by Madeleine Roux

A book published before 1850
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

A book published this year
Going to get back to you on this one, too.  Might be the conclusion to the Carson Stroud trilogy or the King novel expected this summer.

A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”)
Healing Fiction by James Hillman
I've been toying with the idea of a PhD in adult education having something to do with the healing/creative effect of telling our stories in fictional form.

A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25
Asylum by Madeleine Roux
Ok, I'm bending the rules here.  I think this book was published when the author was 27, so I'm going to guess she was writing it around 25.  It's my list.  I get to do that.

A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65
Revival by Stephen King
Because now I read everything this author is writing.  This was not always true.

A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people)
H.P. Lovecraft Great Tales of Horror
Because I've never read this author and people keep telling me I should.

A book published by an indie press
Echo Lake by Letitia Trent
A woman moves back to the family house to confront secrets--I'll read/watch anything with that set-up.

A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBT
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
Because I once heard this is the most-often-not-finished book on goodreads, so by golly I'm going to finish it.

A book by a person whose gender is different from your own
Bag of Bones by Stephen King
I wonder if this is the novel when something changed?  There's an interesting little essay at the back.  Also, I really liked the movie--except the ending, which I found ambiguous, but those things seem popular now.  I wonder if the book will end in a similar way.

A book that takes place in Asia
The Strange Library by  Haruki Murakami

A book by an author from Africa
Devil's Peak by Deon Meyer

A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.)
Growing Up Dead in Texas, Stephen Graham Jones

and see the original post on Book Riot introducing the challenge here: 

Friday, August 29, 2014

#FridayReads: Summer Book Reviews by Christine Locke

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I had such a strange relationship with this book.  If you've read much of what I write or tweet or facebook share about writing, you know that my favorite writing book is Stephen King's On Writing, mostly because I found it to be so no-nonsense, practical and not touchy-feely in its approach to the craft.
I'd had many people recommend Lamott's book, and although something gave me the nagging feeling that it was going to be more the touchy-feely kind, I decided to finally give it a shot.  The title, in fact, comes from advice Lamott's father gave her brother when the boy procrastinated on an essay about birds and the dad advised him to just start writing and take it "bird by bird."  Pretty practical  stuff: I like that.
Yet the author does go on and on sometimes about things like lunch menus.  I get what she's doing here: write about something, anything, and in there you meet a character or see a scene and a story gets going, maybe one you were not expecting.  It's not a bad idea; it's probably a  great one.  It's just not my thing.
And yet there are moments  in this book when a line takes me so unawares and transports me right off the page and back into my own thoughts, reflecting a creative  process with such startling clarity that I think, "There! That's it!" and I'm honestly not sure that I ever would have been able to phrase it quite so well on my own.  For that reason, I have to recommend Bird by Bird even though it's not my ideal book on writing.  It somehow comes eerily close.

The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

Ah, the incomparable Anne.  I write gothic fiction, and I'm currently finishing that series I'm writing about a living house.  So when Rice began her story with the description of an old, rich, architecturally wondrous home full of historical treasure and human mystery and sets up her main character to fall in love as much with the house as with the woman living inside it...well, what can I say?  I was hooked.
I've written before that the house is often a/the central character in a gothic novel, and Wolves is  very much a  traditionally gothic  tale in this sense.  I loved that about it, too.  Houses from Rice's novels have stayed with me for years and years: the Mayfair house and the Talamasca haven are the first to come to mind.  But this one is special, and I hope there are many books in this series because I want to get to know this house, just as our hero does.  I hope some day I write a gothic mansion this well.

Under the Dome by Stephen King

I'm not sure why my copy of this book is actually two books, but I'm picturing the books I picked up at Walmart.  There seems to be a one-volume edition of the same story available in paperback, so I'm linking to that above.  Maybe the story was just too long for a mass-market paperback form, so it was two of them.

I read these books because we are watching the TV show.  The show is good, but I wondered where they were going with the characters, particularly the Rennies.  But then I read that King decided the book and the show would tell slightly different stories, and I suspect that the father and son pair at the heart of the evil destroying the town in the novel will not necessarily play the same role on the screen.  At any rate, the nature of evil is given more complexity in the screenplay.

The novels weave a complex story and the characters are so well drawn that I almost find them more recognizable than their small-screen counterparts.  There are some differences in age and background that I prefer in the novel.  But the characters, as much as I love them, are pretty much either good or bad.  Maybe there's something true to life there, but the truth is they are a bit one-dimensional.  But for what the story does, for what its purpose seems to be, the characters work.

If you're frustrated by the differences between the book(s) and the series, I recommend being patient.  We like our TV characters complex; it's true.  Any popular show right now has the baddies doing good things and the white-hats getting their hands dirty.  I'm not passing judgement, I'm just pointing out that that seems to be the trend.  I'm guessing that by the time the series wraps, a great story will have been told, just not the same one I read in these books.

Happy reading, happy writing: they'll both make you happier while living!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dry Spells: Downtime and the Creative Life by Christine Locke

It's a gorgeous summer, one that I planned to spend writing.  And I am writing, but not like I did last year or even the year before that.  In an unusually rainy southern summer, I'm in the middle of a dry spell.

I'm not the first to point out that creative people need downtime.  In fact, I've just read a couple of books in my "Creative Life" project that assert this as part of the book's premise.  It's fine when I plan the downtime.  But what about the writing nights that get co-opted by sickness or home repair?  What about when those things happen when I was REALLY planning to work that night?

I didn't finish my Camp NaNo project (that would be for March).  That's a first.  I wrote about this in my book review post.  What happened?  Life.  For someone who committed in January 2012 to take this writing thing seriously, and for the most part I've been successful, this was disastrous.

But, then, you can't really write when your water heater is spraying a waterfall into your back yard.  Ditto when your "other" (rental because we couldn't sell it) house needs thousands of dollars  worth of repair and the only way to reign it in is to do some of that yourself.  Add household bouts of conjunctivitis and a raging summer cold into the mix, and, yeah.  My writing took some down time while my life went double time.

There have been some pretty serious jolts in the last few months, most of them I don't really want to think about now that they're over and I'm safely back in my office during my appointed hour to "sit butt in chair and place hands on keyboard."  I don't want to review how I got to this state, but I'm sitll here.  It's so bad, I'm not sure I even remember where I was going with that project, despite the plot charts I made.  So, what to do?

I'm going back to the advice a friend once gave me, in 2012, when I decided to try self-publishing and was wondering which project to throw out there.  "I don't know," my friend said.  "Whichever one is closest to being finished?"


Over the next few weeks as I ease back in, I'm picking up where I left off on a couple of revision projects. One thing I had ALMOST finished was the latest (I've stopped saying last) revision of the third and probably final novel in The Legacy Series. It's long overdue.

Then, I might just get back to that story chart.  Maybe.

Update: I have finished Out of Place and sent it to a professional editor.  More on that soon...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What to Do/What Not To Do: The Bookblog Query, by Christine Locke

My beloved grandfather used to make a joke after his retirement.  He used to say that, having done it all now, he would be writing two books for the betterment of future generations:
What To Do
What Not To Do.
He was a funny guy, and the French accent he never lost added to the delivery.  I miss my grandfather. He was only kidding, but sometimes I wish he really had written those books.  So, in the spirit of Pepere's generosity,  I'm sharing my approach to querying book bloggers.


What To Do/What Not To Do: The Bookblog Query

What To Do:

Use a list of bookbloggers.
I'm amazed at how many writers--especially indie-published writers--don't know about bookblogger lists.  Here's the one I use, The Indie View.  Here you have, on one handy site, a list of bloggers looking for books, what kind of books they want, their preferred submission guidelines, and how to get in touch.  And here is an excellent post on by Kimberly Grabas on how to get reviews for your book; it contains links to EIGHT blogger lists, including The Indie View.  If you want reviews, you need to know about these lists and you need to familiarize yourself with them.

Query blogs reviewing what you write.
This seems like a no-brainer, but, hey, I understand the temptation.  I state on my blog header that I read mostly gothic and magic realism, but I get asked to review books from other genres all the time.  Serious book bloggers often have a very specific market in mind, although some just want to share the love for books and review everything--they might even have more than one reviewer posting to the blog.  So READ the genres the blog reviews.  The lists I've posted, above, clearly state the interests of the bloggers.  Be sure you only query the bloggers who review what you write.  And that leads me to....

Know what you write.
I know, I know.  Your story poured out of you, you wrote it during NaNoWriMo, it's edited, formatted, and so brilliant it does not fit neatly into any known category.  We've all felt this way, even those of us who don't want to admit it.  Then, if you're smart (and you've written a book, revised and proofread it, designed your own cover, etc, so you ARE), you'll make a decision about where your book fits BEST.  If you write fiction, here's some great advice on how to do this from Rock Your Fiction.  Rachelle Gardner also gives a few neat tricks for determining your genre here.

Have a form letter ready--and tailor it.
It's not wrong to use a form letter.  If you have experience querying agents, you may have already figured this out.  For the bookblog query, you're not going to send the exact same thing to every blogger.  The idea is to have a basic letter you can edit to fulfill each blogger's requirements.

Offer to guest post/donate for a giveaway/answer interview questions.
Bloggers need good content, so you can offer to help by writing a guest post (if you do this, give them original content).   Here's my post about guest-blogging.
It's SO easy to donate kindle copies of your book for a blogger's giveaway.  After the giveaway, the blogger will send you emails of winners.  You go to amazon and buy gift copies of your books to be sent to those email addresses.  Easy!  And a great investment, too.  I suspect I've gotten reviews from blog giveaway copies.
Some bloggers have a list of set questions for the authors they feature.  Offer to answer those, and do it on time.
These folks who blog about books have readers you want to reach.  If they put your book on their blog, readers will see it.  Offer them anything they need from you as long as it's legal and ethical--and do it politely.

Read the blog.
Self-explanatory, I hope.  But I will say this: what if you only see the blog on the blog list, go to the submission page and follow the requirements, and you don't read some of the reviews?  Well, it might not matter...then again, you might end up with your book on a blog you'd rather not publicize (insert your own political/moral/aesthetic reason here).  Read the blog.  Just do it.

Use every linky the blogger provides.
Follow this person everywhere they'd like to be followed.  Start by subscribing to the blog.  Don't you dare query a bookblogger and fail to follow her/his blog.  Don't.  Just don't.
And, once you've followed, you can give the blog some shouts.  For example, you might develop a twitter list of bookbloggers.  Your twitter friends who are also writers will appreciate this.

A few final suggestions:
On the blog,you will find submission instructions.  FOLLOW THEM.  To the last letter.
Have a polite response ready for rejections.  You can still make a professional connection out of a bookblogger who does not want to review your book.  Thank  them for considering and suggest you connect through social media anyway--after all, you share a love of literature!  You might just strike up a friendship this way, which, after all, was what this social media thing was supposed to be all about, right?
If your book is reviewed, PROMOTE the post.  Remember,  you promised to do this.  As long as the blogger lets you know about the post, you gotta follow through.  You don't even have to do this in a self-serving fashion.  You can take the opportunity to promote the book blog itself--or the blogger--instead of mentioning your own book by name.

Remember bloggers are people, and they often do this for free or for little more than free books.  Like your writing, the blog may be a labor of love, so remember that you have a lot in common and always be polite.

What Not to Do:

I do review books, though only what I would read anyway and pretty much on a whim.  Yet, the fact that I write reviews causes some folks to track me down and "query" me, to put it, um, politely.  So, yes, I DO have some idea of what NOT to do.  These items are self-explanatory, right?  Right?

Tweet at them with a link to your book.
DM them on twitter with a link to your book, or a free chapter of your book or a collection of short stories or....  Don't DM links.  Period.
Message them on goodreads with a link to your book.
Message them on goodreads with a query.
Query to their bookblog's facebook page.
Post your book on their facebook page.  (Really?  That does NOT make me want to read your book!)
Message their bookblog's facebook page with a demand that they like your writer page.
Insult them, as in "You liked that awful TFIOS and mine is WAY better!"
Ask them to review your book and then pretend not to know them when/if they respond.  Yes, it actually happened to me on one of the few occasions  I asked a querier for a review copy.  "Are you with a publisher?" she asked.  WTH?  Did you not check out my profile when you queried me?  I don't even publish my own books through a publisher!

If you blog about books at all, I bet you have a few tips you could add.  Feel free to share them in the comments....
As always, happy writing and happy reading!  They'll both make you happier while living.

Friday, June 13, 2014

#FridayReads: May/June Book Reviews, Part 1 by Christine Locke

Yes, I AM alive!  I know.  It's been three months.  I don't really want to talk about it, except to say: water heater leaking, rental house damage, water heater spraying, severe storms in my home state, rental house repair...enough said.  I'm back on my reading game and ready to share.  Here's some of what I've read while I was gone.

(A note on these book entries: I use pictures from the Barnes and Noble site because they are large and not gunked up with "look inside!" arrows.  You all know I'm an amazon fan.  There are lots of links to amazon on my blog, but the book covers are prettier at B&N.  Because I use their covers, I link to them in my reviews.)

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
I read this book in two days.  The pacing is awesome.  Read it when you have time to devote to a book, because you'll be mad if you have to get this story in small pieces.  I enjoyed the realistic character development for "Det.-Ret." Bill Hodges.  There's a particularly apt portrayal of OCD in a couple of characters, and Hodges evolves in his ability to spot the problem and respond with compassion.  I liked Hodges' young friend, Jerome, but he's a bit static in his perfection.  We hear a lot about his "identity issues," and I would have liked to see Jerome get to work that through a little more.  But I did love Jerome's interactions with OCD-plagued Holly late in the story.
Yet the most interesting--and disturbing--character in this story is our baddie, Mr. Mercedes himself.  In him, King constructs a complex monster, a killer who does not follow a profile.  While Hodges is left outside trying to figure him out--and making mistakes the reader will easily spot--King draws the reader in much closer, closer than you may want to be.  At the story rushes toward an ending, you will not be sure which of these dueling wits--Hodges or Mr. M.--will come out on top, or which characters get away alive.  The answers will surprise you!

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

It has been years since I've read an Amy Tan book, but I looked forward to her latest offering.  It was one of the books I asked for as a birthday present.  After a slow start, the story is full of challenges for our main character, Violet, but I was so devastated for her--and her mother--that for a little while it was hard to keep reading.  If this happens to you while reading this novel, I urge you to keep on.
At the end of the novel, I wanted more.  Even after the slow start, I felt that Violet's daughter does not get enough of a voice and has to summarize her childhood's events far more succinctly than an 18-year-old actually would.  I wanted to see some of her life, the way I had seen Violet's.  Tan does find a way within the plot to show you some of the child's life through the eyes of other characters, and that plotting technique worked for me.  However, I wish there had been more of that kind of revelation before Violet's daughter has to speak for herself.
I was especially touched by the depictions of reunion and forgiveness in this book.  Tan does this so well, reminding us that young adult conflicts seldom define the parent-child relationship for life.  There is much more richness in that bond revealing itself as children mature and parents age.  Tan's books remind us that, as long as you're still living, it's never too late to repair, replace or return to our vital but lost relationships.  You just have to be willing to re-imagine that bond in light of your increased experience--and let your loved one do the same.
The Valley is a good book.  I wish it had been lighter in the beginning and heavier in the end.  However, the poignant and real mother/daughter relationships that Tan excels in portraying made me glad I read this novel.

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

My son just finished second grade, and we were reading this book series together and discussing it.  He has stopped off  after book two for now, however, and I think I understand why.  My older children grew up reading Harry Potter novels that were published one by one as they grew.  My son is the first child interested in reading the series who has ALL the books available to him right NOW.  I'm understanding that part of the magic of this series is that the story grows up as  Harry does and as my older children did during this story's  seven-part publication.
The Sorcerer's Stone may have been appropriate for an 8 year old, but this one is not.  This is a book about love and betrayal, about innocence and guilt--and the lack of clear definition for these things at times.
The  introduction of Lupin and Sirius is wonderful.  For me, the best thing about reading this book was getting to know Hermione's  character.  I loved watching her manage the crazy schedule with less grace than was portrayed by the movie.  She's so human here, especially when standing up to Harry and Ron.  There's  a lot more tension in that trio than comes across in the silver screen account.  As Hermione struggles alone over Hagrid's problem with the hippogryff or her crisis of conscience over the broom Harry receives as a mysterious gift, the reader gains sympathy for her even while Ron and Harry seem incapable of it.  I relate to Hermione much better as a written character, and I have to say that the strain between Ron and Hermione does seem to point to future romance, even here.
In a year or two, I am sure my son will love this book about maturing  and developing an ability to perceive the pain in complex human relationships, the agony at being misunderstood, and the delight in standing by your friends only to find that they were right and true all along.

The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling

What if the epic story of Voldemort's failed return had been narrated by the Malfoys and the Dursleys--and what if they had to leave themselves out of it?  Would Harry and Dumbledore and all the crew have come off as well?  If anyone by the name of Dursley or Malfoy could not talk about themselves, would ANY character emerge as likeable?
Take a moment to think about that.  For my part, I doubt it.  I think that a more jaded point of view, whatever the reason for that perspective (jealousy, sour grapes, arrogance), would demand that all the players in the story show at least as many failings as virtues.  As the tale progressed, I imagine we'd grow quite weary of Dumbledore's arrogance (however justified) and Harry's bumbling (however brave or lucky).  In the end, although we might not particularly like Voldemort, we might not be happy about who's left standing, either--that is, if the Dursleys and the Malfoys could even tell a tale together to begin with, which I doubt.  Kinda fun trying to picture it though, huh?
And that's where I am having finally read The Casual Vacancy.  A community that is hopelessly at odds and full of unlikely connections must endure an election to resolve touchy questions regarding its own future.  No character in this story is perfect--except maybe for the dead man.  And when other characters die and we watch the post-death glamour applied to their defects, we fully understand that the dead city councilor must have had his failings, too.
With every character in this story, you see the warts first.  I think that's why it is difficult to get past the first fifty pages or so.  I know that as I read this book, I was searching for the hero.  Don't make my mistake: don't look for Harry.  Or, you know what?  Look for him, but look for him in every character, and remember that you're seeing with Mr. Dursley's eyes--or Draco's.  Your challenge is to hold on to your compassion and look beyond the prejudice or physical ugliness or the shabby trappings of your subject, and hold out for their actions to reveal complexity and goodness and a capacity for change.  Even the most despicable personalities entangled in this novel's struggle will show you something fine at some point, but you have to look for it.  You have to search for "God shining through every soul," even when you think you are dealing with a hopeless case.
Having said that, at the end of the book, I continue to be awed by Rowling's extraordinary ability to draw consistent characters, and the intricate plotting of this novel had me in tears by its end.  I didn't love how I felt reading it--I often wanted to walk away from these people and never come back.  But sticking with them had its rewards; for one thing, it gave me hope.  You don't have to know a Harry Potter for goodness to shine in the world.  Sometimes, God finds us through the most unlikely of messengers.