Book Review: Beware the Wild

5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

This book pulled me and didn’t let me go, much like mud in the swamp at the heart of the story. Sterling Saucier (pronounced SO-shur) was a great character. I felt her worries, her sense of urgency, her confusion as she tried to hold on to the memory of her brother and deal with a whole new set of memories, of a sister, which shouldn’t have been in her mind. She struggles against feelings for this sister, all while knowing that she shouldn’t have these memories of her.

Sterling’s mission seems clear – get her brother back from the swamp, set things right again. Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. All magic comes with a price, and the magic of the Shine is no exception. Sterling has to find a way to get Phin back without losing herself, or anyone else, to the Shine. She has to deal with a town that denies the existence of the Shine, that fears the swamp and fences it away without ever daring to talk about or even think about why. There’s power in memory, power in fear, and power in where things (and people) are from. Sterling has to figure out how to work with all of that in her efforts to save her brother, and the one thing she can’t evade is the cost of the Shine.

Sterling has a cast of other great characters around her. There’s Candy, her best friend and the undeniable leader of the group; there’s Heath, who understands what she’s dealing with; and though he isn’t there, her memories of Phin make feel her attachment to him. Even Lenora May turns out to be more complicated than she seems at first. The only character who really falls flat is Abigail. We’re told she’s black and Lesbian, but we don’t get any real sense of her a person. It feels like she’s there to check some box and that’s it.

All in all this was a great read and I look forward to meeting the author at Midwest Writers Workshop later this year!

Book Review: The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

The faculty list for Midwest Writer’s Workshop came out a few weeks ago so I am trying to read something from each of the faculty (if I haven’t already).  First up, Amy Reichert’s The Coincidence of Coconut Cake.  I gave this one 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

First, let me warn you. Reading this book will make you hungry! Food is an extremely important part of the story, and both Lou and Al are foodies so there are descriptions galore of some amazing-sounding foods. Consider yourself warned.

This reads like a rom-com movie, which means there are more than a few cliches. However, that’s not meant as a criticism. There are certain cliches which are fairly inevitable for the rom-com genre and they are not only expected, but welcomed. We have the woman-pulled-off-balance-into-the-man moment, a dance in the rain, misunderstandings which threaten to ruin everything, and a wise older couple to help guide our love-lorn characters. These are all enjoyable moments (well, the misunderstandings are painful, but that’s because you can see how this is going to hurt the characters and you like them). I especially love the older couple. They are sweet without being cloying. Reichert’s voice was enjoyable, and I loved Lou, Al, Sue, Harley, and John.

If I have one criticism, it is of the way Lou’s ex is handled. When we first meet Devlin, I assume he is a well-meaning but clueless guy. The real issue between them seems to be that they want different things from their lives and aren’t communicating well. Devlin sees working in restaurants as a thankless, difficult job. His mother did it to support him and help him pursue his education. He doesn’t understand that for Lou is this a labor of love, not just a job. Lou doesn’t do much to dissuade him of that notion. That alone is reason enough for them to not get back together. There was no need for Devlin to be made into a full-on villain. Lou could have found her strength and confidence without that, and the rest of the story would have worked as well. That was one cliche too many for me.

All in all this was an enjoyable read and definitely left me hungry, for good food and for more from this author.

Hello November!

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I updated this blog.  Wow.  I did not intend for October to get away from me like that!

The Midwest Writer’s Workshop Manuscript Makeover session was wonderful!  Terry Faherty is an outstanding teacher.  He made many helpful suggestions for everyone in the session, and found a way to make us all feel encouraged about our writing.  It was a terrific session and we wound up going longer than scheduled because he was willing to keep going and none of us were eager to leave!  I came out of the session feeling good about the possibilities in my manuscript and ready to work on it.

My 5k was slow, but I had a lot of fun anyway.  I got to run with a co-worker, who was doing her first 5k.  We got lots of high-fives from Charlie Cardinal (races with mascots > races without mascots).  My co-worker’s daughter ran the 1 mile race with a friend and we had a lot of fun cheering them on to the finish line!  There we all are after our races, hanging out with Charlie.

Chase Charlie after race

The culminating event for October was attending the 21st Magna Cum Murder conference!  Magna is a mystery writers/readers/fans conference.  It’s organized by Kathryn Kennison, the director of the EB and Bertha C Ball Center at Ball State University.  The conference started out as a small event, meant to help connect the community to the university (Cum Murder is a play on Cum Laude).  The conference rapidly grew and these days we have guests from all across the country as well as internationally.  There are several people who have attended every single Magna, and it’s terrific to be part of something which inspires that sort of loyalty.  There are always new people each year as well, and it doesn’t take long for them to recognize how special this conference is.  No matter if we’re meeting for the first time or we’ve seen each other many years, it always feels like you’re getting to talk with old friends at Magna.  I had an amazing time at the conference but, as I’ve been asked to do the wrap-up write-up for the official newsletter, Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence (how we do love our plays on words), I’ll limit myself here for the moment.

Technically Saturday was the last day of October, but we had one more October-ish event which didn’t take place until today.  My husband and I went to the EB and Bertha C. Ball Center this morning to give a talk on Haunted East Central Indiana.  We shared stories we’ve collected over the years, as well as evidence we’ve caught on investigations, with an attentive audience of about fifty people!  We had a grand time sharing our stories and hearing a few from our audience as well.

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Now that the October fun is over, it’s time to buckle down for November!  I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (you can see my word count in the right hand column).  All the lingering October excitement has put me a bit behind, but I hope to catch up soon and be able to finish my 50k by November 30th!  I’ll also be taking my first knitting lesson tomorrow morning.  There’s another 5k coming up as well, plus Thanksgiving!  All in all, November is looking to be as busy as October!  I hope it will be just as much fun!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I love the month of October.  It means fall – changing leaves, bonfires, football games, Halloween, and Magna Cum Murder!  I am happy we’re here, though I am wondering where the heck the month of September went.

I had a lot of hats to wear in September.  There was the runner hat, as I prepared for and ran my first half-marathon.  There was my historian hat as I gave a talk on Muncie in the Civil War at a local senior center.  And there was my writer hat as I registered for the Midwest Writers Workshop manuscript makeover session on October 10th (and needed to decide on, or create, 10 pages of a manuscript for making over).  It was a busy month, but I’m happy to say I survived it all!  The half was quite the experience, especially since it rained for almost the entire time I was running.  The talk would have been more fun with a larger audience (note to people running/volunteering at senior centers – don’t schedule a talk at the same time as euchre club if you want anyone to attend it), but it was fun to go back through all the research I’d done in preparation.

The worst part of the month was agonizing over the manuscript makeover.  I had a great idea to work with when I registered for the session, but nothing on the page, and I didn’t like any of my other manuscripts.  After weeks of staring at a blank screen and going um as all the words disappeared from my brain I finally managed to get a good start to the manuscript and thus the 10 pages needed for the makeover.  Part of the torture was that I didn’t want to tell my husband anything about the story up front.  He has always been the person I spit-balled ideas with, who helped me to figure out what I was struggling with, but that means he always knows what I’m trying to say before he starts to read.  I wanted to know if I was setting a good hook with my start and if he already knew where the story was going, he couldn’t evaluate that.  I had to keep quiet and fight on my own when all I wanted to do was talk to someone about my idea!  But I persisted and, when he did read my pages, he reacted exactly the way I wanted!  Success!

My October will be busy too, but more fun!  In addition to attending the Manuscript Makeover session on October 10th, I plan on going to a couple Ball State home football games, I’ll be running a 5k, attending a Halloween party, and then – the best comes last – attending Magna Cum Murder October 30th-November 1st!  Somewhere in all of that I’ll keep working on the current manuscript, hopefully armed with some helpful advice from the makeover session.

Voices in My Head

I left Midwest Writers Workshop feeling, as always, eager and excited to write write write.  And then… I didn’t.  I got back to my running and biking (and even did some strength-training – owie).  But the writing thing didn’t happen for that whole week after.  In fact, it wasn’t until yesterday that I even opened my manuscript.  I wanted to write, but I cringed at the thought of opening the manuscript file.  There were so many things running through my head from MWW15 – changes to make, revision ideas, thoughts on theme and characters.  It was overwhelming.  Then I remembered one of the great panels from MWW15.  Julie Hyzy talked to us about the voices in our heads.

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As writers, part of our job is to listen to the voices.  However, that doesn’t mean we want to listen to every voice.  We don’t, for instance, need to listen to the nagging voice of the inner critic when we’re working on that first draft (and this goes double if, like mine, your inner critic sounds like your mother).  We don’t need to hear the voice of our critique partner, because as much as that person might intend to help, she doesn’t necessarily share the vision for your story that you have (Julie recommended not sharing your work with a CP until that first draft is finished).  We don’t need to listen to our inner procrastinator, nagging us to wash the dishes or mop the floors or do the laundry.

not listening

We do need to listen to our characters.  We’ve got to let them talk to us, tell us what it is that they want to do and, sometimes more importantly, what they won’t do.  We need to hear them and if we can’t, it could be a sign that we’re trying to force them into something that doesn’t fit them.

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The point here (yes, I do have one) is this.  I heard a lot of advice at MWW15.  It was great.  It gave me a lot to think about.  It also gave me a lot of voices in my head.  I mean, A LOT.  All those voices were drowning out my characters.  They were drowning out my voice.

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I heard a lot of tips and tricks at the conference.  Julie Hyzy talked about locking yourself away from everyone with a timer and giving yourself 30 minutes to just write.  Finding that 30 minutes wasn’t working for me this time.  What did work was letting those voices shout themselves out.  I didn’t fuss about not writing (much).  I went on my runs and my bike rides.  I started reading a new book.  I gave myself some space and finally I am back to a place where I can listen to my characters and move forward again.  And this is, I think, the ultimate lesson of Midwest Writers Workshop.  You can (and will) hear a lot of writing advice but in the end, you have to do what works for you.  If you don’t know where to start then yes, by all means, give someone else’s method a try and see if it works for you.  But don’t be surprised or upset if it doesn’t.  We’re all wired differently and there’s no one-size-fits-all writing process.

It’s Almost Time!

MidWest Writers Workshop begins on Thursday, July 23rd.  To say I’m excited would be an understatement.  Writers from all over the country will be arriving in my hometown for 3 days of workshops, networking, pitching, chatting, and shenanigans!  I feel very fortunate to have this event all here, in my home, because 1) it makes it affordable for me (hotels are pricey) and 2) I’m not much of a traveler.  I get to sleep in the comfort of my own bed and also meet all these fun people. How lucky am I?!

MidWest has a pretty full schedule, but if you’re attending the conference (or visiting Muncie for any other reason), here are a few places I recommend.

Concannon’s Bakery & Coffee Shop:  Concannon’s is a Muncie staple.  It’s where you go if you want donuts, danishes, cakes – pastries of all sorts!  They expanded a few years ago and now, in addition to the original location downtown, there’s a location on the west side of town (conveniently close to the hotels where conference-attendees will be staying).  It’s on Baker Lane.  🙂  They added a cafe, with great soups, salads, and sandwiches, as well as a coffee bar.  Plus, there are the donuts.  Freshly-made daily.  And cakes.  And pies.  And cookies.  And even candies.  If you are having a serious sugar-craving, this is where to go.

Amazing Joe’s Grill:  If you’re like me, you like a good steak, and if you want the best steak in Muncie, you go to Amazing Joe’s.  Located on Wheeling, not far from the BSU campus, Amazing Joe’s motto is “The Answer is Yes.”  In addition to the steak, they also serve the world’s BEST pickle chips.  I love pickle chips and these are the best I’ve ever had.  So go, get yourself an order of pickle chips (and spring for both the ranch and the horseradish dipping sauces), a tasty rib-eye steak, and enjoy one of Joe’s flavored margaritas with it.

Scotty’s Brewhouse:  If you’re from Indiana, you may well have heard of Scotty’s already, or at least Three Wise Men brewing.  Well, Scotty’s in Muncie is where it all started.  You want a huge variety of beers to choose from?  Scotty’s is the place to go.

Heorot Pub & Drafthouse:  Maybe you want a beer, but you want a bit more atmosphere with it.  Then the Heorot is for you.  The place was fashioned after a mead hall (think Beowulf folks).  There’s a good variety of beers here too, plus the fun atmosphere.  And if you go, come find me at MWW because I will have a couple questions for you.  😉  Just be aware, the Heorot is downtown so it will mean negotiating one-way streets.  You may want to consult a map or a local before you go, just so you know which streets go which way.

The Caffeinery:  This is a locally-owned coffee bar which has won a lot of awards, including fourth place in the America’s Best Coffeehouse competition (where they were the youngest and smallest coffeehouse competing).  I confess – I haven’t been here myself yet (there’s a pesky Starbucks within walking distance of my office) but I’ve heard nothing but good things from those who have.  If you like supporting local businesses and you like quality coffee, this is the place for you.  Again, be aware of the one-way streets downtown before you go.

Those are just a few places worth checking out while you’re in town, be it for MidWest Writers Workshop or another event.  I hope you’ll enjoy all of them and all of your time in my hometown!

Writing: It’s Not a Race

Registration for Midwest Writers Workshop opened last week (register here).  I knew I wanted to do the Intensive session on Thursday and that those fill fast, so I wasted no time heading over to register.  After debating with myself about which session to take, I made my choice and click-click-click, I was signing up.  It was exciting.  It was thrilling.  It was… a bit disappointing.

You see, at last year’s MWW I talked to so many people who were making pitches to agents, getting asked for pages, who had completed manuscripts which they were ready to send out into the world.  I wasn’t there but I wanted to be.  I was going to be.  This year was going to be the year that I pitched.  I was all fired up!

Alas, I’m not there.  I don’t have a manuscript that’s ready yet.  I’m disappointed by that.  I was beating myself up about it pretty thoroughly too.  Fortunately, I had an epiphany.  I’m just not at the same place that those other writers were, and that’s ok.  This is not a race.  Even if it was, I’d still need to go at my own pace.  This is about me doing my best, not me comparing myself with someone else.  In that sense, it is just like my running –  my goal has to be to do my personal best and not worry about where I place.  This year isn’t my year for pitching.  Maybe, if I can put in the work this year, next year will be.  And that will be awesome.

MidWest Writers Workshop & Writer’s Village University

The workshop was incredible!  The intensive session I attended on Thursday alone was worth the price of the whole event, and there were sessions after that and two more days of activities as well!

The intensive session was led by Kent Krueger.  It was “Writing the Novel:  The Essentials.”  We worked on writing a blurb to use as a guide for our story, then moved on to talk about the importance of first lines.  We drafted first lines and many people (me included) were bold enough to share.  There were so many terrific lines!

From blurbs and first lines, we went on to drafting opening paragraphs.  Again, there were a lot of great ones to share.  I wound up with a whole new first line and first paragraph for my manuscript, and confirmed my thought that I should switch to first-person.

We played around with redrafting famous first lines to change the tone.  We talked about narration and plot and the importance of having a writing routine.  It was an amazing workshop.

And then the rest of the conference went on.  We heard from agents about writing good queries.  We learned a lot about the publishing industry from Jane Friedman (subscribe to her blog if you are thinking of trying to publish – she has great information).  Brave people (not me) made pitches to agents.  Some folks (me included) submitted 5 pages of a manuscript for evaluation by an author.  Kent Krueger was gracious and kind and supportive and gave me good feedback on my five pages.  I’ve already worked with my new opening line and paragraph, along with his suggestions, and have a much stronger first chapter of the manuscript.

Along with all the great advice from Krueger, the thing I took away from this conference was the feeling.  The atmosphere was wonderfully creative and supportive and exciting!  I loved that feeling.  I found myself missing it and anticipating returning next year (and being brave enough to make a pitch).

That craving led me back to F2K at Writer’s Village University.  I hope to find a creative atmosphere online while learning more and practicing my craft more.  I’ve done F2K once before and enjoyed it (though I wasn’t able to complete the final assignment).  I hope to finish all the assignments this time around, and then I hope to look into some other courses on the site.  I need a writers fix!

Lighting a Fire Under Myself

I registered for Midwest Writers Workshop this weekend.  Plunked down $400-some to attend 2 1/2 days of workshops and to have a manuscript sample evaluated by a published author.  I wimped out and didn’t sign up for an agent pitch because I have nothing I’m ready to pitch yet (at least, not sales-wise – there’s lots to pitch in the sense of chucking it in the bin).

I have fixed the typos on the manuscript but haven’t done much more than that.  I’m having a debate with myself about how to proceed – I think I need to write some new stuff, and there are probably chunks of the original which I want to keep and I’m letting the issue of sorting out the logistics of it all serve as a procrastination excuse instead of just diving in.  I’m being reminded through this that I’m really good at rationalizing procrastination.

My hope is the fact that I have until July 1st to submit a portion of the manuscript for evaluation will serve as the fire I need to get me motivated to move past the procrastination and into the actual work which needs done on this manuscript.  After all, it won’t be every year that I have $400 some to spend on attending this conference and I need to make the most of the opportunity I have before me.