Friday, August 30, 2019

Celebrate the Small Things 30-8-19

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!  And I have the whole house to myself!

Yes, my partner is away on tour with a band, my elder son is at a snow-craft course with the tramping club and the younger son is going to a sleepover birthday party that sounds like it's going to take up most of the weekend.  So I'm going to have the whole house to myself for one entire day!

I don't think I've had that happen to me in years.  I can't even decide what I'm going to do with the luxury.  After I've cleaned the house of course...  Because if it's just me here, it will actually stay clean for more than five minutes.

I finished the first part of a big project at work this week, so I'm pleased about that.  There will be a lot more work to do on it, but the biggest part is done.

I also finished my read-through of the book that's never worked in any of the POVs I've tried, and I feel like it might work now.  If anyone wants to read it for me and let me know for sure, I'd love to hear from you.  It's YA this time, and much more like my other books.

What are you celebrating this weekend?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Books I've Read: Becoming Beatriz

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The subject matter is important and it's a glimpse into a world I haven't seen often in a book.

Beatriz is fifteen. It's 1984 and she loves the TV show Fame and dancing. Then one day, her brother is killed in front of her, a victim of gang violence that plagues the New Jersey neighborhood where she lives.

Now Beatriz has more to worry about than dancing. Her mother is largely catatonic with grief and Beatriz is expected to pick up the reins in terms of leading the gang in its next move against their Haitian rivals and keeping its lucrative drug dealing business running. Things become even more complicated when she meets Nasser, the nerdy new student at school who encourages her to take dance classes with him and tutors her in math so she might pass her classes for once this year.

I didn't realize until after I finished this book that it was a sequel or companion book to another, but it doesn't matter. The story stands alone.

Beatriz is an interesting character. In many ways she's terribly naive, but in others she seems older than her age. Which, given the life she's living, is appropriate. Her voice is authentic, a mixture of street-smart English and her native Spanish sprinkled through it. Her love of dancing is clear, and the parts of the book where she dances are the ones where the book really springs to life.

Other parts of the story don't work so well. Beatriz never feels real when she's with the gang. She never gives any real sense of the loyalty required to not just be in a gang, but to lead it. She doesn't seem to really like her gang-member friends, or behave in a way that would inspire them to follow her.

Her relationship with Nasser also doesn't ring entirely true. He's one of those too-good-to-be-true guys who doesn't give up pursuing and loving her even when she rebuffs him time and time again. She never shares anything of herself with him and their relationship seems very unequal. I don't believe a smart, strong person like Nasser would continue chasing after Beatriz after she'd shot him down that many times. Teenage boys don't have that kind of self-confidence, and Beatriz really doesn't seem like she's a real catch anyway.

That said, this is an interesting look at a culture and a world and a time that is very different to the one I grew up in.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this in advance.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Beatriz dreams of a life spent dancing--until tragedy on the day of her quinceaƱera changes everything.

Up until her fifteenth birthday, the most important thing in the world to Beatriz Mendez had been her dream of becoming a professional dancer and getting herself and her family far from the gang life that defined their days--that and meeting her dance idol Debbie Allen on the set of her favorite TV show, Fame. But after the latest battle in a constant turf war leaves her gang leader brother, Junito, dead and her mother grieving, Beatriz has a new set of priorities. How is she supposed to feel the rhythm when her gang needs running, when her mami can't brush her own teeth, and when the last thing she can remember of her old self is dancing with her brother, followed by running and gunshots? When the class brainiac reminds Beatriz of her love of the dance floor, her banished dreams sneak back in. Now the only question is: will the gang let her go?

Set in New Jersey in 1984, Beatriz's story is a timeless one of a teenager's navigation of romance, gang culture, and her own family's hard past. A companion novel to the much-lauded Like Vanessa.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Weekly Goals 26-8-19

This week I want to finish the read-through of Shook I've been doing.  I'm about two-thirds through, and I feel like maybe changing to a third person POV might have fixed at least some of the problems I think the book had.

Once I'm finished, I'll need a couple of readers.  This one is YA, so if anyone is interested, just holler in the comments.

And then I might be ready to a) finish Standing Too Close or b) start the adult book that's stirring in my brain.  I just need to settle on which POV I'm going to write it from.  I think there are three or four choices, and my brain keeps leaning toward the one that's going to be the most difficult to pull off.  Stupid brain!

And that's about it for this week.  Except for eating more burgers in the last week of the burger festival.  And planning my diet for after it's over so I can lose all that burger weight...

What are your goals this week?

Friday, August 23, 2019

Celebrate the Small Things 23-8-19

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?


It's been a long week at work and I'm looking forward to a couple of days off.  Especially since the burger festival continues and I have a date with my other son to try a different one.  Last week's wasn't fabulous, so fingers crossed this one is better.

One of my colleagues is DJ-ing at a local cafe/bar tomorrow afternoon, so I'm going to meet up with some friends for that, and then I'm going to see Justin Townes Earl play.

So a busy weekend planned!

I had an idea for a new book this week.  Well, actually, it isn't an entirely new idea.  I initially conceived of this idea more than 10 years ago, but when I started working through it, I got stuck on why these two characters had the relationship they have and I ended up writing an entire novel about that.  A YA novel.  Now I feel like I'm ready to write the story I initially planned to write which is about those characters about 15 years later.  My first novel for grown ups!  Not sure how I feel about that, but the story is itching to be told.  I'm just not entirely sure who my POV character is going to be...  I'm sure it will become clear to me over the next little while though.  I won't start writing until I find the voice I need.

What are you celebrating this week?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Weekly Goals 19-8-19

I finished the book I've been working on.  The one I'm not sure quite what is yet.  And I've sent it off to a couple of readers, so I'll have to wait for some feedback before I go back to it.

I started working on that story because I couldn't figure out how to finish Standing Too Close. Unfortunately, I'm still not sure how to finish that.  So while I wait for feedback on the one I just finished, I'm going to go back to another older MS and re-read it to see if it works now.  This is a story that was originally two first person POVs, then re-written as one first person POV and earlier this year I re-wrote again as third person.  I haven't looked over it since then, so it's probably time to go back and see if this third POV shift actually fixed it.

Hopefully after that I might have some idea how to finish the other book.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Celebrate the Small Things 16-8-19

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

After one of those really long weeks, I'm looking forward to the weekend.  Especially since this week I have absolutely nothing planned except dinner with the extended family on Sunday.

The annual burger festival which is part of a month-long celebration of restaurants and food starts tomorrow, and I promised my kids I would take each of them to the burger of their choice.  So I will probably take one kid tomorrow, and one kid next weekend.  I may have to up my gym sessions to counter the burger-fuel because we have a few work lunches planned to try the ones in close proximity to the office too.

My final read-through of the book is gong well, and I haven't made any really big changes.  I will wait to do the final pass for overused words and descriptions etc until after I've had some people read it.  I like to know the story and characters work before I get into those micro-edits.  Hoping to finish the read-through over the weekend so I can get the MS off to readers next week.  If anyone here would like to read for me, I'd appreciate it.  Just be aware this is something quite different to my usual stuff...

What are you celebrating this week?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Books I've Read: Postcards for a Songbird

This is a beautifully written book full of unusual descriptions.  It's also one of those quiet books that takes some time to get into, but is well worth it once you do.

It's summer and Wren is trying to figure out how to live without her vibrant older sister who has just disappeared,  Having been abandoned by their mother as young children, Lizzie and Wren have always been close.  Their father is a cop who, after his wife left, disappeared into night shifts and safe routines.

Lizzie, as described by Wren, is vibrant and full of life, the kind of person who fills a room just by stepping into it.  Wren has never needed to figure out her own personality because Lizzie's was big enough for both of them.  But with Lizzie gone, Wren has to figure things out for herself and find her own way to live her life.

This novel follows Wren as she does just that, helped by the mysteriously shadowy boy next door, her sister's best friend who is also trying to find herself, a vehement whole-foods advocate and the boy with a skateboard who just might be the key to changing everything.

The characters in this book are interesting.  The language is so beautiful, it's easy to imagine one or more characters are just figments of Wren's imagination - I think one is, but even now I'm not entirely sure, but I like that.  It makes Wren that little bit more interesting and powerful.  And as she begins to piece together the things that are important to her, the story slides into focus and brings us to a very satisfying conclusion.

I liked this one very much.

Thank you NetGalley for letting me read it in advance.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Everyone eventually leaves Wren Plumley. First it was her mother, then her best friend, and then her sister. Now living with only her cop father and her upended dreams, Wren feels stranded, like a songbird falling in a storm.

When Wilder, a sickly housebound teen, moves in next door, Wren finally finds what she’s always wanted—a person who can’t leave. But a chance meeting with Luca, the talkative, crush-worthy boy in her driver’s ed class, has Wren wondering if maybe she’s too quick to push people away. Soon, Wren finds herself caught between the safety of a friendship and a love worth fighting for.

Wren starts to dream again. But when postcards begin arriving from her sister, Wren must ultimately confront why her mother left fourteen years before and why her sister followed in her footsteps. For her new life to take flight, Wren will have to reconcile the heartbreaking beauty of lost dreams and the beautiful heartbreak of her new reality.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Weekly Goals 12-8-19

The film festival is officially over (although there are a handful of extra screenings of popular films this week) so it's back to work for me.

I finished the revision I've been doing and just want to do one more pass through to make sure all the changes I made actually work.  Then it's off to some beta readers to see if they think it's okay.

So my main goal this week is to get through that final pass without finding a million more things to change.

And now, to wrap up the last films I saw over the weekend.

Come to Daddy:  This was great fun.  Directed by an old friend of mine, it's a thriller about a young guy reconnecting with his father for the first time in many years.  Things don't go well, and murder and mayhem ensue...

One Child Nation: A doco about China's one child policy which was really well done, but didn't really tell me anything about the policy and its issues I didn't already know.  But it was interesting to hear Chinese people criticizing it, because when I lived in China you never would have.

Beanpole:  A Russian film about two friends in Leningrad just after the war.  I found this one a little too slow moving for my tastes, and there was very little plot.  The main character was also really hard to get a handle on so I didn't really understand her motivations most of the time.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Celebrate the Small Things 9-8-19

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

It has been one of those really long weeks at work and I'm looking forward to a couple of days off.  And my house really needs a good clean!  The kids have done the housework the last few weeks and they're okay, but this weekend I need to get it done myself to make sure it gets done right.

I have a few more films to see over the weekend, which I'm looking forward to.  But then it's over for another year.  Back to reality I guess.  I'm almost finished this pass through the book I'm working on, so I'm hoping to be able to get it to readers in another week or so.  If you are interested in beta reading a sort of romance, sort of western, I'd love your eyes over it...

I've seen a couple more films in the festival which I enjoyed.

The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash - a doco about Johnny Cash.  I enjoyed it because I love Johnny Cash, but the film was actually a little too long and repetitive and I didn't learn anything I didn't already know about Johnny Cash.  Some nice footage though, even if the timeline was a little weird.

Port Authority - I loved this one.  Again it was about people creating their own families, this time within the trans/drag community in New York City.  A young white guy arrives in New York and winds up on the streets.  A young guy takes him in and gets him a place in a homeless shelter and gives him work as a repo man.  At the shelter, his curiosity is piqued by a guy in the bunk above who dances.  Following the dancer, he discovers a community he knows nothing about and falls in love.  The dancers were incredible in this film; it was like they had no bones they moved so fluidly.  And it was a really touching, beautiful story too.

What are you celebrating this week?

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

IWSG - August 2019

It's the first Wednesday in August, so it's time for the IWSG post!  This month's question is an interesting one:

Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you'd forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

My writing constantly surprises me, both in the process of writing, and once it's finished.

During the writing process, my characters are constantly surprising me with their choices and the things they insist on doing despite my brain really wanting them to do something entirely different.  I'm not an outliner - a couple of pages of rough notes is about as much as I ever do - so I let the characters lead the way.  And their way is often really different from my way.  But I find that if I let them do what they want, the story always ends up better.

After it's finished, I've been surprised a few times with responses to submissions that are over a year old.  With An Unstill Life, I got a response to a request for a full almost two years after the book was published and on sale!  It was a 'no' thankfully.  Not quite sure what I would have done if it had been a yes...  But then, their guidelines did say that if you didn't hear back within six months, it was a no.  I guess I should be flattered that they bothered to respond at all.

The other thing that often surprises me about writing is how ideas for stories come together in my head.  It's like I have a whole cast of characters up there, just waiting for me to figure out where to put them and suddenly a couple of different situations come together in my head, and the people who would be the most interesting to explore within that story just kind of fall into it.  And bam!  There's the basics of the book.

Or else I'll write something short - flash fiction or a short story - and the characters whisper to me that I'm not done with them, that there's more to their story than this tiny moment in time I've captured.  So I have to explore that further.  The thing I'm working on now was like that - a short story I wrote as part of a challenge with my writing group - that's now become a novel.

What surprises you about your writing?

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Weekly Goals 5-8-19

The film festival still has another week to run, so my goals for this week are much the same as last week: keep working on the book as much as I can between movies and work.  I got a little bit done last week, and hope to get a little more done this week.

On another note, I got an idea for a book last night, from one of the films I saw.  Not sure it will come to anything, but it's certainly an interesting premise.  I will keep mulling on it for a while and see if it comes to anything.

And now, let me tell you about the films I've seen since Friday.

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael: A doco about film critic extraordinaire, Pauline Kael.  It was really interesting, but could very easily have been a television doco, despite being about the cinema,  But I enjoyed it anyway.  That woman could eviscerate a film if she didn't like it!

The Amazing Johnathan Documentary: This was one of my favorite kind of docos, one where what the film started out being about was not at all what the film ended up being about.  In this one, a filmmaker making a documentary about a dying magician known as The Amazing Johnathan ends up making a film about making a film after The Amazing Johnathan hires another doco crew to document his life at the same time.  I still can't figure out how much of this story is real and how much is fake, but it was a fascinating story anyway.

Leftover Women: This documentary is about unmarried Chinese women over the age of about 26.  In a society where men outnumber women by 30 million, any woman who is not married before she's 30 is considered a 'leftover woman'.  This film follows three such women as they try to find a match, satisfy their parents' expectations and find happiness.  It was really sad, and I didn't feel like it was very conclusive.  None of the three women seemed truly happy with the choices they made over the course of the film.

Jawline: This was another documentary, this time about the internet phenomena which allows very pretty, non-threatening young boys to become superstars because insecure young girls can watch and engage with them online.  It follows a guy from the middle of nowhere Tennessee as he builds his following, gets picked up by a manager and goes on tour where he appears at meet and greet sessions with these girls.   I totally don't understand this whole thing, but I found the film totally fascinating because it's a world I know nothing about.  It's also a little terrifying...

Will catch you up on the next ones on Friday.  What are your goals this week?

Friday, August 2, 2019

Celebrate the Small Things 2-8-19

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

Actually managing to get some work done on the book even while going to a lot of films. Although I have a feeling this weekend is not going to be productive at all in that area because I have two films to see each day and I still need to clean the house and cook and all those other things...

But first, a little recap of the films I've seen since Monday.

Non-Fiction: a French film about a bunch of people working in the publishing industry having affairs with each other.  This was very French, but not actually all that interesting.

Vivarium: An Irish film that was part satire about the housing crisis and some of the failed solutions Ireland tried, and part nature documentary.  I know it sounds weird, and the film is weird.  But it's also really good.  Really clever use of sound to keep the atmosphere just that little bit off.

In Fabric: Another peculiar film, this time about a haunted dress and the very odd department store that sells it.  I guess this was kind of a horror, but it was also very funny as well as being rather unsettling.  Kind of like The Red Shoes, but with a dress....

Mid90s: Jonah Hill's first film as writer-director is set in the mid-90s and follows a group of teenage skateboarders as they create their own messy little family to make up for their own families who failed them. I enjoyed this one, particularly the soundtrack.

I'll catch you up on Monday on the weekend's offerings.

What are you celebrating this week?