Perigee Moon Available on Amazon!

This past week was spent in the final editing of my third book Perigee Moon, and formatting of both the print version and the Kindle version, which went relatively smoothly. The Kindle Direct Publishing Nice People have now provided us with basic instructions on how to do it, and it is easier than it used to be.

You can get the print version of Perigee Moon here.

I learned that making use of the Styles in Word can make ebook formatting a whole lot easier, so I did that. I fixed my styles and created a Table of Contents and had relatively little trouble getting it published. You can get the ebook version for Kindle here for a mere $2.99.

I can’t decide which I prefer. I still like to read a “real” book once in a while and I go back and forth, between the Kindle and printed books, Amazon and the Public Library.

Once I got the Kindle version published and it looked very good to me, I decided to do the same with my other two books, which had a couple of formatting issues, due to my relative inexperience back then. Well wouldn’t you just know, wouldn’t it figure, that sometimes it works one way and sometimes it works another. I blame Word for this, there is so much crap under the surface of Word, so many options and it seems needlessly complex to me.

I got Whatever Happened to Lily formatted just fine, and is available here in it’s new format, but when I did Second Stories the exact same way, it didn’t quite work. Well, it worked okay, but put an extra space between the paragraphs which I didn’t want. I still haven’t figured it out. It looks okay, but not perfect, so I haven’t uploaded anything for the Kindle for that book yet.

Maddening, that’s what it is.

I check and compare and look at the HTML and can’t find out why it would do that. There are other ways to do it, through other software but the instructions supplied by KDP seemed so straightforward that I had hoped my ebook formatting issues were behind me. Ack! Not so.

Another surprise was in store for me. It takes a few days for a new print book to be listed on the Amazon site so I kept checking each day to see if it had appeared, and guess what I found? Another book called Perigee Moon. This I would have to describe as seriously suckage because I had specifically searched for books with that title when I selected it.

Perigee Moon by Tara Fuller. After a horrific fire claims the life of her mother, seventeen year old Rowan Bliss finds herself in the miniscule town of Ipswich, Massachusetts. It’s here that she meets Alex, a deliciously mysterious boy who holds the key to unlocking her family’s dark secret. As Rowan falls helplessly over the edge for Alex, the secrets that he insists on keeping refuse to be contained. The truth that she uncovers challenges everything she has ever believed. Alex is a witch. And now he’s awakened something within her she never even knew existed. But out of all of this, the one thing Rowan won’t accept is the fact that Alex is destined to die. Rowan must unearth the buried power she harbors within to escape a deadly prophecy, defy the very laws of time, and prevent the hands of fate from taking yet another person she loves.

We’ll call it “The Other Perigee Moon” but I think I will plug it anyway. You can get that book here.

It’s about witches so I guess we won’t be in direct competition but still, it is disappointing.

In other news, next week (Tuesday, May 22) the six finalists for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012 will be announced. I like to read the excerpts from the books chosen and last year I blogged my reviews of each and tried to predict the winner. I wasn’t too successful. Maybe this year will be better.

5 Blogging Insecurities or Will I Ever Be Freshly Pressed?

I started reading an Elizabeth Berg novel yesterday called Once Upon a Time, There Was You. I’m not sure I should have done it and I will now tell you why I say that.

Ms. Berg is one of the very best women’s fiction authors in the country, in the world, in the universe. That’s merely my opinion but I know a lot of people agree with that statement. I was immediately hooked. There was a prologue about a couple who’d planned to marry, from each of their POVs. They each had second thoughts about the other and misgivings, serious misgivings that they might be doing the wrong thing, but went through with the wedding anyway. They were both in their late thirties and felt it was “time to settle down”.

Fast forward twenty years. They have an eighteen-year-old daughter and guess what? They are now divorced. Not surprising, given their reluctance to go through with the marriage in the first place. A few chapters in and I am still hooked, and I really like the main characters. What a lovely book it’s going to be. And what I really want is to be reading it, instead of writing this blog or editing my own novel.

Reading a Berg novel, while it may not educate you in anything other than great food presentation, or perhaps serve as a tool to demonstrate what really good writing looks like, is vastly entertaining.

Uh. All the insecurities rear their ugly heads.

I won’t ever be as good, I can’t compete, I might as well devote my life to chasing after dust bunnies and finger prints. Is it too late to learn how to cook? Maybe bake a pie? Yeah, probably.

My day is divided into thirds while I babysit for my four-month-old grandson. He is remarkably predictable, and has periods of wake, sleep and eat. Three times during my day, he repeats this cycle and while he sleeps and sometimes while he is awake, I can do things other than tend to him. I promised myself, one period of Elizabeth Berg, one period of editing Perigee Moon and one period of blog writing.

This is period three, blog writing. Speaking of blogging, check out my stats from the beginning of time. Not sure I can keep it up but it sure looks good to see the lovely graph of hits go up and up each month.

And even though I see this steady increase, still my blogging insecurities are ever present.

Here are some of the things I worry about, blog-wise:

  1. Have I remembered to answer everyone’s comment? It is not polite to ignore comments and only if one goes viral is it acceptable to lump one response to several comments. A successful blogger should at least attempt to answer each one individually. I think I may have ignored a couple, but wait, crap. There’s one from last week I forgot about. Well, I’ll respond to that one right now.
  2. Does my latest blog post suck? Does it sound like I just wasn’t in the right mood but it was time so I wrote down just anything? Looking back at some of the earlier ones, I think some of them do, in fact, suck. Some more than others. Some are helpful to writers but boring to non-writers, some are superficially entertaining and have no redeeming value to writers but may appeal to non-writers. Some are vents and some are just whatever happened to inspire me that day, like political rallies or food labels or maligning the Kardashians. Do the writing posts suck, or the non-writing ones? Do they all suck?
  3. Why don’t many bloggers “like” my posts? This is a big deal. If I have more readers now, why doesn’t anyone “like” it? Do they hate it? If they do like it, why don’t they tell me, then I can get those cool emails from WordPress telling me Congratulations! Someone liked your post enough to click the Like button!
  4. Why don’t I get many comments? Is it because my posts aren’t interesting enough, or funny enough, or educational enough? Probably all of the above. I love getting comments! Whenever I see emails from comment-reply@wordpress.com I get euphoric with joy. The email has all the information, the name of the comment and the text. It’s so exciting to see these in my inbox!
  5. Will I ever be Freshly Pressed? This may not be familiar to some readers, but other WordPress bloggers know well what this status symbol does for the old stats. This is when the WordPress gurus themselves find a blog that they consider to be original and worthy of a place on the home page. I have started to follow many blogs based upon their Freshly Pressed status. My personal goal is to achieve this someday. What a feather in the old writing cap that would be. I’m not sure how the individual blogs are picked by the WordPress people, but somehow they find them.

So I wonder. I like to post once a week. Is it better to post a so-so article, or a rather dumb article, or a completely lame article, rather than post nothing at all?

I haven’t been feeling all that funny lately, so I hope the readers I have managed to accumulate stick with me.   

Perigee Moon – Beta Reader Results Are In

An abbreviated post this week. I had a wonderful response to Remembering the Pankcake Man. Thanks to all who read and commented. My father was remembered at his memorial service on April 20, 2012. Many people came to honor him, to tell us what he had meant to them, and there were quite a few tears and even some laughs as we remembered the good days. I will always be grateful for everyone who came and shared their memories.

My husband reminded me of something funny that my father had said to him. We asked him, will you be buried here, next to Mom? And he said yes, he would be. And he had purchased additional plots for my brother and me, to be buried there too, but he guessed that probably wouldn’t happen. Those plots wouldn’t be used, so he was considering “turning them into a family room”. That was so typical of his sense of humor.

At my father’s funeral, the pastor read two poems my father had written. I had no idea. He wrote one poem about golf and another about retiring. They were funny, and witty, and everyone enjoyed hearing them. I never knew he wrote poetry.

The reviews are in from my Beta Readers. I got lots of thumbs up of Perigee Moon (between one and twenty per person). Even though these are my good friends from high school, still they all said they thought Perigee Moon is my best work yet. Every single one of them said it, and it is very gratifying to hear it.

They asked me if these characters are based on anyone, and I had to say no, these characters are truly made up. Maybe some of the characters in my first two books were based (loosely) on people I had known. In this case, that isn’t true. I thought a lot about the characters and how they would interact and what they would think and say. They are fictional, yet I suppose there are people who are just like Luke. Kate and Abby.

I will be fixing up the remaing typos and releasing it for publication in early May.

The Flu Yields a Good Book Review

Last week I hinted at the end of my post that I felt like I was getting the flu. Well bring it on! Let’s get this flu thing going and over with, shall we? Not so fast, the evil germ-vermin said. We think we’ll hang around for awhile. And they did, those little buggers, free-loaded for six days before giving up.

Rarely does this happen, that I get anything that lasts more than a day. And some may find the following unbelievable but before I retired, I used to hope for just a teeny spot of flu, maybe enough that I could spend two days groaning and collecting sympathy, without (and this is the caveat) feeling guilty for calling off sick at work. Just a couple of days to watch On Demand movies, or read, while drinking tea.

This time though was a little more than I would have wanted, ever. I was feverish for days, and I’d doze and think I’d slept for hours yet only a few minutes had passed. I hurt and remember thinking how I was going to have to explain to someone (and I had no explanation) how it felt and make them understand the connection between the pain and the fever, and if I couldn’t explain it, then I was never going to get better. Weird fever dreams when you tend to overanalyze everything and focus inwardly to such an extent that the illness becomes your existence, it’s what you are, at least for awhile.

The best I can describe it anyway.

I’d previously downloaded an ebook called January Moon, by Maureen Gill, onto my Kindle, because of the title and a good recommendation, so I read it. I had considered titling my new novel February Moon because I didn’t think anyone would know what Perigee Moon meant, then I decided to go with Perigee. The closeness of the titles was compelling.

Check the cover.  I think it is kick-ass. After I read it, I thought the cover couldn’t have been more perfect.

I thought what a good time to read it but started the book thinking, there are a lot of clichés in this book, which is something to which I have a particular aversion. Some of the characters are clichéd too, the crusty old four-decade police force Lieutenant, ex-marine, chain-smoking, irreverent. Then there’s the handsome thirty-something cop, not someone any bad guy would want to an up-close encounter with, yet oh so sensitive, who is engaged to the beautiful professor who never wanted a relationship with a cop because (of course) her father is an ex-cop and wheelchair-bound after taking a bullet in the spine during an altercation with someone desiring to evade the law. Stuff like that.

But the story kept me interested. It was a page-turner, and I was hooked enough to keep going until I was so committed I could not wait to get back to the book. I found editing errors, and still didn’t care. Nothing could dissuade me from reading it, because it was a damn good story. The author knows so much about the FBI and the Illinois State Police and the Chicago City Police and the Medical Examiner’s Office, that every line about these agencies is credible.

I found there were a plethora of characters and I had just the smallest trouble keeping them straight but not enough that I got horribly confused.

There was action, something happening on every page. Rich surprising characters who do things you would never expect them to, believable dialogue. And an interesting thing about the dialogue, Ms. Gill made use of almost no attributions (he said, she said), which I found interesting. Very well done for the number of characters involved.

And the dog. What a lovely story about him, and he deserves his place on the cover photo.

This is a good example of a plot-driven novel. If you’ve got a great story and characters to care about, you’ve got a winner and that’s what this novel is. I guess we of the character-driven novel have one strike against us, in that if our characters suck, our novel sucks too.

I would recommend this book to anyone. You can find it on Amazon or Smashwords. It is immensely entertaining. I can just see this as a movie, and wouldn’t be surprised to hear it’s been picked up for the Big Screen. Let’s see, Clint for the older cop and maybe Ryan Gosling as the younger?

Kudos to Ms. Gill and this is her debut novel! I am truly impressed and will forgive clichés. Without so many of them though, and the editing errors, I would give this novel 5*****.

In other news, another turn at editing The Infamous Flyer (Savon Spa opening Spring 2012 in Chicago). I hope everything is satisfactory now because my frustration level is way high. Not only do I struggle with software I don’t quite grasp, but my laptop has memory issues, I keep getting a popup – “WARNING!! You are running low on memory! Quick! Save your work to prevent data loss!” (Perhaps not the exact verbiage.) I calmly close the popup but it is annoying. Plus it still has other issues, in that sometimes it can’t “see” my Verizon Hotspot router which sits a mere 24 inches away, or it can’t “see” any networks at all, or it suddenly disconnects for no reason. And it still has the jumping cursor problem too. AND, it has a VISTA operating system which is utter junk.

A new PC is a big investment in time, what with getting everything off the old and onto the new, or re-downloading and re-registering and re-learning and re-configuring.

I’m going to do it – getting a new Samsung. It has an I7 processor (whatever that is only it must be better than the I5) and 8 GB of memory and I forget how much disk space, but it’s enough disk space to, if not “choke a horse” at least cause him to sputter a little.

My new Samsung shall become a beloved member of my electronics family, pampered and lightly touched with my cyber-affection.

The GIMP, CreateSpace and a Great Basketball Euphemism

Yes, last week’s post is really not happening until this week. I could make excuses, and say, but wait, I heard that more people read blogs on Monday than any other day of the week although I’m told they share more on Friday. It makes sense. Monday is a reading day (quiet, introspective, Monday-blues and can’t quite get into the workweek yet), and Friday is happy time. Time to party! Time to be free and share!

Maybe that’s not it, just one mad women’s assessment. I use the word “mad” to mean both crazy AND angry.

Someone I am close to, well, okay it’s my daughter, is opening up a new salon in Chicago. It’s to be the Savon Spa and is on Halsted St. in the heart of beautiful Lakeview. They will offer a variety of services, (things I never do) like spray tans, and facials, and something called micro dermabrasion (doesn’t that sound painful?), nail care, massage, stuff like that.

At one point I must have had a weak moment, or a moment in time when I needed to inflict intentional pain on myself. I can help you! say I. I have some photo editing experience, I’ve designed book covers, and cards, and even tee-shirts. Maybe I can help with your computer-related needs. Okay, says she (and her partner guy). How about helping with business (appointment) cards and a flyer?

Sure, say I. I can do that.

What was needed was a full blown graphic artist (not me) so I quickly learned that my sophomoric little package wasn’t going to work. Not to worry, I’ve also got The GIMP.

GIMP is not for everyone, and probably not for amateurs like me, but it is open source and it does everything except bring your pipe and slippers (two items I do not need anyway). It’s a great package. Here I am again, plugging great software. I can’t believe that The GIMP is available for a free download, it does everything that other sophisticated graphic design tools can do.

What a learning curve. What frustration. What a drag. Here is a picture of the finished flyer.

I have been tweaking and YouTubing and reading documentation and trying things for several days now, so while I like to write funny posts, I don’t feel particularly funny.

More optimistically (see, I could have said “on a lighter note” and that would have been a cliché), I have five copies of Perigee Moon coming, and will mail these out to my Beta reader group. They will arrive in a day or two. I did the final formatting over the weekend, when I wasn’t working on the freaking flyer and trying to figure out why my image couldn’t be moved, or the clone tool wouldn’t work, and trying to understand layers, and alpha channels, and a myriad of other stuff.

This stuff is all in my brain now, but if I don’t use it, it will disappear, as I make room for more subjects that I am required to learn.

Back to the novel, when I did the final preparation of my internal file, I had to go back to a post I wrote, about how to use Word to do your formatting and then create a pdf file, which can be directly uploaded to CreateSpace. So simple, to do, these fine CreateSpace people have made it easy on us poor not-worthy-to-be-published-in-any-traditional-way authors. Yeh! Here’s to CreateSpace.

I couldn’t remember how to do it, and so it’s a good thing I wrote that post, so I could go look at it again. This is the second time I’ve done that, so it’s valuable to me, if to no one else.

So on to my third topic. I heard a great basketball euphemism I thought I’d share.

This was back a couple of weeks ago before we were at Final Four, it might have been Elite Eight, when the interview took place. OU (Ohio University) hadn’t gotten so far in many years, since back in the 70’s and here they were. Finally! We people in Ohio were happy that our Ohio teams had survived.

OU has the dubious distinction of being The Biggest Party School in the Country. If you want to major in binge drinking, go there. A basketball player was asked about a previous win and if he had celebrated and here’s what he said.

“I must apologize that i didn’t contribute more to the elimination of distractions.”

That’s a very nice way of saying he drank himself silly, I guess. Got wasted, gooned, toasted. I thought that was a very nice euphemism. He is certainly a very politically correct young man.

Yeah. I don’t feel funny. Instead I feel like I’m getting the flu.

Three People You Shouldn’t Care About

Two of the three people you shouldn’t care about are named “Kardashian”. It took me a long time to figure out who these people are, and why they are famous, but it was one of those it-just-isn’t-interesting-enough-to-google things and so whenever I’d see the tabloid headlines in the grocery store, I’d wonder, who is that? But then it would be my turn to check out (I still don’t use self check-out if I have produce) and I’d forget about the Kardashians until the next time.

It appears that they might be reality show stars, and that’s the biggest reason I wouldn’t know who they are, because reality shows are as boring to me as watching ESPN at 2:00 AM.

It appears that Mother Kardashian is as twit-like as her daughters (who have names that start with the letter “K”) and has almost as much native intelligence, integrity, sophistication and class as they do. This is according to People We Don’t Give a Shit About Magazine, and I sure wish I could take credit for thinking that up, but it was first said by Andy Borowitz, who is a very funny guy, and if you don’t already, and if you are a leftie, and if you like humorous musings, check out the Borowitz Report and subscribe to it.

Back to the K people. Here is a picture of “Mom”:

Believe it or not, this makes a news story. “Mom” (Kris Kardashian Jenner) does “cringe-worthy antics” and dresses like a bimbo when clearly she’s too old to be a bimbo. She’s also too old to be a cougar. She’s just old. And check out her hot-pink skinny jeans, black leather jacket and the leopard print mules. She looks like she’s all dressed up for a Rick Santorum Rally.

According to the Daily Mail (whatever that is) “She is a garish attention-seeker. She dresses too young for her age.”

And get this. In “honor” of her son’s 25th birthday, she posted a picture of herself on the internet wearing nothing at all when she was pregnant with him. Hoo boy! Bet that’s something you’d like to see on your birthday. The real question: is this normal? I never thought of doing this, but dang, I couldn’t anyway because you know what? I don’t have such a picture because none was taken. Who does “Mom” think she is, Demi Moore?

 On to someone else we’ve read about in People We Can’t Remember Who the F%&k They Are Magazine (again credit goes to A. Borowitz, see above), Kim Kardashian has been flour-bombed! Apparently, at an event for her new fragrance True Repulsion, oh wait, that’s Reflection, a woman strolled casually onto the red carpet with a zip-locked baggie full of the white stuff and dumped it on our favorite Reality (if this is Reality give me Fantasy — please!) Star’s head.

Further investigation revealed that the assailant did this vile deed for the benefit of Kris Humphries, who is Kim’s ex. That would be the marriage which lasted for 72 days. Now, Kim is as committed as the next person, she gave it 72 days to not work out.

Here’s Kim with her Crown of Flour:

And finally, according to People We Can’t Believe We Ever Gave a F%&k About Magazine (this one I’m not sure of but I’m giving the credit to Andy), “Paris Hilton was spotted in Miami on Wednesday sporting a rather interesting-looking ensemble. Her summery dress was peculiar, to say the least! What do you think of Paris’ boho-style cover-up?”

Here’s “boho” Paris Hilton:

We’ve got wars and near-wars, and a housing crisis, and high unemployment, and a recession, and tornadoes, and global warming, and our nation is as divided as it has ever been into two very different mindsets which is causing stagnation in government, and soaring medical costs, and soaring fuel costs, and we are killing our planet but let’s all take a moment and take a long look at Paris Hilton’s peculiar “summery dress”. As if we’d give the tiniest of shits about Paris Hilton or her life or her clothes or her “career” or anything about her.

In other news, A Denver Broncos fan died on Monday, before he had to see his beloved team sign one of his least favorite players.

According to his obituary in the Columbia Daily Tribune, 78-year-old James “Jim” Driver, rather than see Peyton Manning don a Broncos jersey, decided to speed up his exit from this world. He opted out sooner rather than later.

Now this was a guy who is “surius about them Broncos”.

The above examples are the sort of “news” we could use less of.

Two Good Tools for Writers

I had hoped to talk about four writing tools today, but only have time for two. It’s Sunday at 4:00 and I want to get my post out. It’s the dreaded Daylight Savings Time day when we get screwed out of an hour of the weekend although it will be nice to have the hour of light at the end of the day. I wrote a post about DST on the Boomers and Books site, and am reminded of what the American Indian said:

Only the government would believe that you could cut one foot off the top of a blanket, sew it onto the bottom, and have a longer blanket.

But on to the writing tools.

The Cliché Cleaner! I had written a post a few months back about The Cliché Finder which had obvious limitations. It must be a common problem because this post is still being read, and recently, a woman posted a comment which said she was an editor and it was a big part of her day just spotting clichés and she was in the market for something that could cut down on the time spent. I said I hadn’t heard of anything better and she responded that she’d found The Cliché Cleaner. I investigated. What a great tool it is.

I first downloaded the sample and after one try, decided to buy it. It’s only $12.95 which doesn’t “break the bank” (bet that’s a cliché, what do you think?). This tool examines a text file and matches it against more than 16,000 clichés and their variations.

But wait! There’s more. And this is even better, it counts the number of repeating phrases. How many times have you been reading along and you start to think, I’ve read that before? And I’m sure getting tired of reading the same words over and over. Now this problem can be fixed.

The Help File recommends that the files to be examined shouldn’t be too large, and a complete novel should be broken up into four or five chapters per chunk. This seemed like a pretty severe limitation. If it has to be broken up then the results of each file will have to be manually compared to the results of every other file. Didn’t like the sounds of that, so I thought I’d give it a try using the complete file. What could possibly go wrong? I’d run out of memory or some equally horrific computer event and I’d have to reboot. Big deal. It worked fine, took only a few seconds, so I’m not sure why it was suggested that the files be smaller. 

The software opens up a response window once it’s through searching and creates a very nice report, sortable in a number of different ways. I chose to sort on number of instances found, so my list will be ordered in such a way that I can address them from the most to the least problematic.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is there is no way (that I can see) to save the report so it can be accessed later. It can’t even be swiped to copy/paste and this is because of other functionality that it has, which I didn’t care about, that is, being able to click on the instance of the phrase and be redirected to the portion of text where it is found. It’s a TEXT file, not a Word document, so if I made changes to a text file, all my formatting is gone. This isn’t good at all. I don’t want to make changes to that file, I want a nice list of my offenders so I can go back into Word and do the corrections there.

Not possible. Because of a certain issue which I will explain in greater detail, I found myself writing the phrases down. Yes, all of them, and there were quite a few phrases too. I was forced to take pen in hand, and while I was pleasantly surprised to note that I am still able to pick up the pen and put it to a piece of paper and form words and phrases in cursive writing that are legible, still it seems rather like going back to the nineties.

It is a terrible option and I couldn’t figure out a way of bypassing the manual written list because when I tried to examine the report and type directly into another text editor, I had problems. When the cliché report window is clicked on (to move down the list) the window where you are typing disappears. This is a computer thing, having to do with which window has focus and response windows and a few other computer-related anomalies that no one needs to understand, other than it is hellishly annoying.

With the manual labor behind me, it took almost no time to type the phrases in.

The Cliché Cleaner, even with its faults, is better than anything else I’ve found. It is efficient (yet humbling) to see so many problems displayed in a list.  

But now I that I have it, I can go through each one, search for it in my Word document and decide what to do about it.

Four stars (out of five) for The Cliché Cleaner, and if I could print or save or copy/paste the report, it would have been five. But zero stars out of five for Customer Service because when I wrote (twice) and asked questions I have been ignored.  

Wordle! The Wordle website describes this writing tool as a “toy” and it is fun to play with but it provides some valuable insight into repeated words. It creates a “Word Cloud” and the words that appear more frequently are given greater prominence. Once the cloud is created by Wordle, adjusting the font and color will change its appearance.

I have a problem with word repetition and usually have a lot of editing to do to remove extraneous words. Words like but, that, just, so. Meaningless, throw-away words. Using too many of them says “amateur”. Of course, sometimes, these words are necessary. Wordle will point out if certain words appear more often than would be expected.

Then tedious it is, but doing a Find in word on the word in question is the only way to look at each instance of it to determine if it can be removed or not.

Wordle cloud for Perigee Moon:

5 Good Examples of Character-driven Novels

My third novel, Perigee Moon, is done! That is to say, it’s written and mostly edited. I find I edit and edit some more and edit a little more. Then I let it sit around for a while, reread it and edit it once again. I’m at the point where I’ll “edit a little more” then leave it alone. Put it on the backburner for a week or two.

I have the critique of my first reader, my very good friend, who pronounced it “a very good book”. My friend said “I think you’ve got something here.” My friend didn’t like Second Stories but did like Whatever Happened to Lily? and says this is my best work so far.

I like your writing, my friend said, it’s very polished and I like your style. But nothing happens in your books. I keep waiting for the payoff, and it doesn’t come, or if it does come, it comes much later than I would have hoped. And then my friend said that the humor works well and that parts of it are, in fact, pretty funny.

Happy though I was with the news, that the first person likes it enough to say this, I was disconcerted about the “nothing happens” part. My books are more about characters, developing them such that the reader comes to really understand them, which is “character-driven” as opposed to “plot-driven”. This might be the problem. My friend is more of a plot-driven aficionado, who wants action.

In thinking about some of the books I had read in the past and whether they are character-driven or plot-driven, to the last, they are all about the characters, how they evolve, how they think and make decisions and change as time goes on.

In novels that are plot-driven, action takes priority and the characters are there to have things happen to them in order to advance the plot. In a character-driven novel, it’s all about the people, and what they think and how they interact with each other, with the emphasis on emotion and reflection and what happens to them, the action, is there to advance the development of the character.

Occasionally, it’s both. A good plot-driven novel that has characters you care about is likely to be a winner.

Here are five excellent character-driven novels. There are many more but these are a sampling of what I consider to be some of the best:

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler – All of Ms. Tyler’s novels are character-driven. Stuff happens to them but sometimes not much, and the reader gets the impression that the stuff that happens only contributes to how the character will react to it. This is a bit darker than some of her novels, but I thought the characters were diverse and interesting and quirky. Some are not likable at all, in fact most of them have things about them not to like, except for one, a guy who is the solid steady one, who just wants a family and a normal life. He is lovable and kind and you find yourself rooting for him. Unforgettable book, but like I said, dark.

Say When by Elizabeth Berg – I was hooked from the first page. The story of a divorce, and in first person POV as the man, Griffin, who is such a wonderful character it doesn’t matter whether the plot is good or not. In fact, the plot wasn’t not too believable (at least in my opinion), but a great character study of a guy who wants a normal life, a family, and comes to wonder if he is a bit too boring. I like stories about regular people because what we find is that while each one of us might be “regular” we still are all different. Ms. Berg does a really good job of thinking like a guy. She is a consummate women’s fiction author. She doesn’t write romance, or include a lot of sex, but covers topics which are interesting to women, or anyone for that matter. Stories about families, and problems, and breast cancer, and friendship. And in Griffin’s case, how he comes to know himself better because someone he cares about no longer wants him in her life.

Endless Love by Scott Spencer – This dark love story leans towards obsession rather than love. It is deep, emotional and depressing at times. I guess an apt description would be that it is complex. The longest sex scene probably ever written is in this book and it is as explicit as erotica, so be warned about that. It seems a bit superfluous in its detail. The reader gets to feel David’s love and obsession, as well as his eventual loss and wants so much for it to end well. David simply can’t get over Jade. He can’t let go, it wouldn’t be possible and the reader feels his misery. The last lines of this novel are some of the best I’ve ever read. There was a movie made of this book. Don’t bother, it was cheesy. It’s not possible to capture the emotion in film that is in this story, in my opinion, because it is internal to David. It isn’t anything he talks about or can tell anyone, it just is.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen – The consummate character-driven novel. It’s 400+ pages of pure joy of reading, about the funniest dysfunctional family on earth, yet they are all kind of believable somehow. Enid, the semi-crazy, ditzy housewife and Alfred, the stoic, male patriarch who is now in failing health, so the tables appear to be turning as to who is in charge, and neither Alfred nor Enid is completely comfortable with that. Their three grown children Gary, Chip and Denise are all delightfully screwed up in their own ways. My favorite was Gary, who’s wife was a control freak, and it was maybe the best example of “Show – Don’t Tell” I’ve ever read. There is a lot that can be learned by studying Gary and his familial situation. The underlying theme is Enid’s hope there can be one last Christmas in the old homestead with everyone in attendance, and a lot of the action is in the backstories of the characters. It was very funny to me, but a lot of people don’t seem to care for Franzen’s particular style of humor. Probably the best example of character-driven fiction in the www (Whole Wide World).

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry – If you like stories about the Indian culture, this is for you. And if you don’t know whether you’d like stories about the Indian culture, try it. It’s a great character-driven novel and educational as to what life in India is (or was a few decades ago) really like. If you don’t know much about India, you will when you’ve finished this novel because there’s a bit of Indian culture on every page. Be forewarned that some of the back story of two of the characters is quite brutal. It’s the story of a woman, widowed unexpectedly, who strives to make it in a country where women are of little value, and three men whom she employs to work in her home-based dressmaking business. They come to really care about each other in the years they were together (not only did they work together but they lived together too), and develop a lifelong friendship. I guess it could be said that this is also a plot-driven book because there are plenty of things that happen, but the story of these four people and how they came to depend on each other was the main point of the novel.

The above five books have not been read by my friend who read Perigee Moon. My friend is a guy, who only reads non-fiction. So getting him to read this was a bit difficult, probably because he assumed he wouldn’t like it, and I assumed he wouldn’t either. But it seems he did.

The Mystery of Intersecting Events

It’s about time I start to hype my new novel (Perigee Moon) which I hope to have out by Spring, 2012. I have four weeks to work on it, then I’m committed to a babysitting gig until the end of May. I’m thinking I might not have a whole lot of time to devote to it while taking care of an 8-week-old. I’ll probably blog about that experience. It’s been a long time since I’ve changed a diaper.

In the past, people (make that one person) has said that my female characters are “mean”. I was shocked to hear that because I didn’t intend them to be considered mean, just strong women, or women who have put up with less than perfect relationships (through no fault of their own) and take a stand about what their futures will hold.

There is a character in the book, Abby, who couldn’t be called mean by anyone. She is the kind of person many can identify with, not overly sure of herself, second-guessing herself along the way. Many years ago she had a crush on Luke (the main character) and she finds that when their paths cross again, decades later, she still pretty much feels the same as she did back then.

She’s just seen him again and she thinks about how coincidental it is. Is it coincidence or some kind of predetermination which causes events to happen the way they do? She thinks of it as intersecting events where all along the way a different path could have been chosen. But because one path led to another and another, she’s ended up here, and it’s precisely where she wants to be.

Here is an excerpt:

She thought about her Aunt Maude — who’d been dying for the last thirty of her ninety-eight years (or so she’d told anyone who would listen) — and how Aunt Maude had picked this particular time to succumb. But of course, Aunt Maude hadn’t picked the time of her death, it had just happened that way. And what if she, Abby, hadn’t come back here, for the memorial service? She would never have seen Luke Koslov again, and would never have had the chance to talk to him, and here he was asking if they could go together, to the dinner dance, tomorrow night. It made her think that somehow events are planned to coincide and intersect in such a way that it alters the course of a life, or what’s left of a life, as if the person or persons whose life might change because of a chance meeting, might be in the eye of an almighty somewhere and deemed important enough that He has designed it for the sole purpose of having them reconnect.

Interesting thought. She liked to think of it. What if. What if Aunt Maude had died last Tuesday, a week ago, instead of this Tuesday? What if she hadn’t arranged to meet up with her cousin, Anne, for lunch at Applebee’s on Thursday? What if she hadn’t run into her old friend Dorie Wester, whom she hadn’t seen in decades, just as Dorie was pushing her 90-year-old mother in a wheelchair past the table where Abby sat? What if they hadn’t recognized each other? What if Dorie hadn’t mentioned the reunion? What if Dorie hadn’t suggested she come? What if Dorie hadn’t insisted that she come? What if Abby hadn’t said she would come?

And, most important, what if Luke hadn’t been there?

I’ve thought about this, as it equates to my own life. I’m sure others have done the same. What if I’d done it differently. What if I’d done A instead of B? What if I’d gone here instead of there? It’s an interesting thought, and sometimes, unfortunately, tinged with regret. As if it might have been better if I’d gone here instead of there, or done A instead of B.

Nevertheless, we end up where we are because we choose a number of paths along the way. We come to an intersection and choose one way over another. This is what Abby thinks has happened, and for her, it’s the best outcome she could have hoped for. A little like March Madness, you have to choose correctly and keep on choosing correctly and if you do, in the end, you might be a winner.

A Novel Field Trip

Occasionally I like to write about things about which I know not much (or nothing) and when this happens a field trip becomes necessary. In my new novel, Perigee Moon, the main character, Luke, becomes very attached to a place, a park in Columbus, Ohio, called Highbanks. This park is located in the midst of urban sprawl just off US 23 between Worthington and Delaware, Ohio in the midst of suburban housing and some rather forgettable urban development, strip malls, car dealerships and the occasional abandoned home.

Luke is especially enamored of the wetlands area which can be viewed, but to which there is no access. There is a trail to an overlook deck which is built on stilts such that the park goers cannot access the land, but can only view the natural protected area.

I decided if I wanted to write about it I better not just assume it, but should go there and take a look for myself. A field trip. Unfortunately I waited until December to go but needed to get there because the book is nearly completed. I couldn’t afford to wait around for spring.

We had an unnaturally warm December this year, no white Christmas, and days that felt like late March. On December 21, 2011, the high temperature must have hit 60. It had rained earlier but the sun appeared at noon and I thought, this might be the last chance I have to do this. So I went to Highbanks in order to walk the trail to the wetlands overlook deck. I packed up my camera because I figured it might be blog material and I wanted to include some pictures.

The park has two main paths and the wetlands trail veers off from one of them and continues for .4 mile to the deck. I started down the path, got about twenty steps and thought, hmm, this might not be as easy as I had hoped. Because it had been so wet, the trail was covered with wet, soggy leaves with standing water in places.

Since I am a bit of a little old lady when it comes to slippery stuff, I was not a little apprehensive. But I really, really wanted to see it so I trudged on, thinking all the way, this is dumb, what if I fall down here and break something (and around my house we joke about falling down and breaking a hip, but really, that seems as if it could be more of a reality these days), and there I’d be on a trail where sane people are nowhere in sight. I figured I could always call someone as I lay bleeding on the ground but it would be a case of hindsight at that point and a realization that I had just done a really dumb thing.

With every step I thought, I have to do this all again on the way back, but for some reason I kept on with it. At points I had to stop and figure out my strategy for the next step. How do I get over this little stream of water which is surrounded on both sides by roots of trees that are slimy with moss and other miscellaneous park debris? Each step was a new hazard.

Finally I reached my destination. It was worth the trip. Here is what I saw there:

 

The wind kicked up and I thought I really need to get back and not get stuck in a rainstorm which would only add to my precarious situation, so I picked my way back the .4 miles of slime to the main trail. Once safely back to the main (much more civilized) trail, I notched up the pace because the changeable weather was now kicking in to windy, going-to-rain-any-minute mode. I was a little disappointed in how this picture turned out, that it didn’t capture the drama of the day. While overhead the sky was still blue, I could see ominous black clouds at the horizon through the trees.

 

Sure enough, it rained and the wind became very gusty and those trees, so tall because they have been there since the beginning of time and denuded of their leaves, swayed and cracked. I could hear the occasional limb let go in the distance and a new worry surfaced. What if I get clocked with a piece of a tree?

I made it back okay without breaking anything and nothing breaking me, but not in time to avoid the downpour. After I was pretty thoroughly soaked it didn’t seem to matter much any longer. You can only get so wet but a bad hair day for sure.

It might not make a bit of difference, but I feel by being there and seeing what Luke saw I can write about it with a little more confidence.

Here are a couple more nice remembrances of my outing.

Up through the trees:

The wetlands: