Archive for June 2014

False Labor and Practicing

I’m currently into my 54th hour of false labor. For those who don’t know–it hurts just as bad as real labor but does nothing to bring birth any closer.

So I’m stuck going it alone, at home, with no good drugs to take the edge off.

And since my blog has been full of pregnancy/book writing comparisons, I figured I would mention the False Labor of the writing world: the practice novel. The one you slave over for years, editing and polishing, before deciding to query. If you decide to query it at all. If you do, queries are sent out, maybe partials are requested, but you never get that offer of rep.

It isn’t fair. Some people sell the first novel they write. Why should others have to go through the whole thing thinking it’s for real but it turns out to be just practice? I don’t know. All I know is that those who have written, queried, and shelved a book don’t regret that work when they sell whatever does become their debut.

Just like every mother I’ve talked to says the whole laboring process is immediately forgotten the moment they are holding their child.

So if you’re on the verge of shelving something, take courage! Your practice is not in vain.

My Review for “A Death-Struck Year”

Note: I received this ARC for free in exchange for an honest review.

Addendum to note: I didn’t get it in the mail until the day after its official release date, which stole some of my urgency in reading it. The rest of my urgency in starting it was stolen by the onset of late-pregnancy fatigue.

Addendum to addendum: Once I started reading, I could hardly put it down.

A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier

First of all, I was so excited when this ARC came in the mail for me. I’m not usually a reader of historical fiction, but this book is set in Portland. Of the Oregon variety. As in… my city. How could I not be excited?

And Lucier did not disappoint. The sense of place in A Death-Struck Year is fantastic. Maybe it’s just because I live here, but everywhere Cleo went, I went in my head. And I’m not usually one who can picture settings well. She captured the sense of Portland a hundred-odd years ago so wonderfully, with details that make it recognizable today, as well as the quaintness that comes from being, well, a hundred years ago.

Another thing I loved: the romance with Edmund. I’ve read reviews that say it was too quiet, too much “budding” and not enough “romance,” but I think it was perfect. For one thing, I think historical books are constrained by the time period in a way that contemporaries aren’t. While there is a reference to two characters who would likely be a good fit in a NA novel, I think anything more explicit than the few chaste kisses Cleo and Edmund share would feel out of place and bring me out of the story.

I liked the way Cleo and Edmund’s back stories tied in to why they were so invested in the Red Cross and helping those with the flu, even if I wish we knew a little bit more about Edmund (a sequel wouldn’t hurt. Just sayin’).

All of the main characters seemed real and well-rounded to me. I fell in love with Hannah, and loved Cleo’s adventures with Kate. The only issue I had with the characters is one that can’t be helped: in a book called “A Death-Struck Year”, with a setting like when the Spanish influenza reached my hometown, I found myself remaining emotionally distant. Any time a character was introduced, I wouldn’t let myself fall in love with them, because I knew that absolutely everyone could be part of the death toll.

Because of that, the deaths that did happen (spoiler? idk. It’s kind of in the title.) didn’t touch me like they would have if the same characters had died in a different setting. I also wish there was a little bit more about her brother and sister-in-law, although their absence makes perfect sense in context.

In the back, she includes an appendix of facts from the Flu Epidemic, which I found as fascinating as I’m sure Lucier did in researching them. I think knowing that these things actually happened, in the timeline that she prescribes, makes the book seem even more awesome.

So my overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars. But I’m not sure what Lucier could have done to earn that 5th star from me, expect perhaps make me forget that there was death and help me fall in love with the characters a little more.

I recommend it for anyone interested in the Flu Epidemic, Portland, strong characters, mild romance, and just a really good read.

When Everyone’s Named Aiden

A few months ago, I saw Divergent in theaters.

This shouldn’t be surprising. I love dystopian novels; I thought Divergent was well written; I wanted to be there.

What was surprising: I spent the whole time whispering to a friend of mine, asking her who certain characters were. Have a picture:

White brunettes cast as secondary characters in Divergent

I couldn’t, for the life of me, keep those actors straight in my mind. It didn’t help that I pictured Edward as blonde, Will as Asian, and Al as Black. And I know I struggle with keeping faces straight. But it was constantly pulling me out of the story.

In the books, Will has a budding relationship with Tris’s (the main character) best friend Christina. Al has a crush on Tris. Edward is one of the antagonists. I should be able to keep them straight. But because 2-hour movies don’t do 450-page tomes justice, their back stories weren’t developed, and I didn’t know how to react to them.

Unfortunately, the same thing is happening in preschool classrooms around the U.S. Well… sort of. For that connection, you’ll have to journey with me back to the year 2010.

Okay, so it was only 4 years ago. It was the year that Divergent sold to publishers. It was also the year that Aiden, Cayden, Braedon, Jayden, and Hayden were all in the top 50 boys’ names for the year. (Hayden also hovered just outside the top 50 for girls.)

Which means, in preschool classes everywhere, Ms. Smiths are telling Jaydens to partner with Brayden for a project, and the confused student is replying, innocently confused “Brayden C. or Brayden M.?”

The rise of Rhyming Name Syndrome (source)

In both the Divergent movie and in preschool classes everywhere, there is a case of Unnecessary Confusion. Unnecessary Confusion is just as terrible in novels as in movies and in real life.

I studied writing for eight years. I spent plenty of them perusing baby name websites and looking at lists and facepalming over Rhyming Name Syndrome. I knew what to avoid, and I knew exactly why I needed to avoid it.

Which is why, when I went to review the names of the characters in my book, I managed to shock myself.

In a single page of my manuscript–ONE PAGE–I mentioned Aba, Abel, Alice, and Amelia.

Other name mishaps I found after yet another read-through (and after changing Alice’s name):

  • Of 23 characters, 11 of them had names ending in an “a” sound. THAT’S NEARLY HALF.
  • I had more than three characters whose names started with the same letter… for FOUR different letters. THAT’S MORE THAN HALF.
  • In my original draft (a few have been through several name changes since then), I had nine characters whose names were Biblical.

I’ve since changed the names of seven of them, cutting out the worst culprits, since a lot both started with the same letter AND ended with an “a” sound. Others are minor characters I’m less worried about.

It’s strange the things that can slip through several drafts of your own, and the things those slip-ups reveal. (For instance, I like names that begin with A, J, K, and S…)

What names or name patterns do you see popping up a lot? Do you change them?