Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First Draft In a Month

My best friend started the countdown last night – four hours and some minutes.  Unfortunately she was only off by a day.  But now, in a little less than four hours, I’ll start writing the first draft of my next novel as part of the National Novel Writing Month extravaganza. 

NaNoWriMo is a project from the Office of Letters and Light, a San Francisco bay-area nonprofit organization.  The point of NaNoWriMo is to write long fiction at a fast and furious pace.  The goal is to produce 50,000 new words between November 1 and November 30. 

For many struggling novelists, finding time to write is the biggest challenge.  During NaNoWriMo, a writer is encouraged to spew words on the page, always moving forward without editing or censoring.   This actually leads to impressive output as long as one isn’t daunted by the daily goal of 1,667 words.  I find it helps to use resources like A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves to avoid writer's block and unlock creativity in surprising ways.  I sometimes create a fortress of inspiration just to keep failure at bay.  

This will be the sixth year I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo; after sputtering starts in 2005 and 2007, I’ve come up with three straight winner years in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  I pitched a revised version of the novel written in 2009 at this year's Romance Writers of America National Conference and had an editor at a major publishing house request the full manuscript!

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, ‘maybe I should write a book’, I suggest you give this NaNoWriMo a try.  As an added benefit, friends and family who wouldn’t tolerate a loved-one disappearing for months at a time more easily accommodate a single month of writing madness -- as long as the writer promises to pick up chores or childcare again come December 1.  Hope to see you in the Winner’s Circle this year!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tagged ... I'm It

I’m not a person susceptible to peer pressure.  I dress up for Comic-Con no matter which day I attend.  I drive the speed limit, even on the freeways in California and no matter how fast the other traffic is going.  I used public transportation to commute to work daily when I lived in the Central Valley even after another passenger told me that only ex-cons and homeless people rode the bus.  And while it took me ten years to get my undergraduate college degree, I never smoked pot.  Not even once.   

So I would seem unlikely to fall for a facebook-posted challenge from a friend.  Except for the fact that the friend is Gayle Carline and the challenge is writerly.  In an electronic twist to the old-fashioned chain letter, she included me in something called the Lucky 7 Challenge which basically goes like this: 

1. Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript (fiction or non-fiction)
2. Go to line 7
3. Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating
4. Tag 7 other authors to do the same.

In the spirit of the game, here are the seven lines from the romantic suspense novel I entered into this year’s Golden Heart contest from the Romance Writers of America (and currently undergoing revision):

“Thanks.  I want each of you guys writing up your own statements.  Nothing fancy, just how you remember things from the time we got separated from the rest of the task force until the chopper found us.”

“We’ll put our heads together,” Jake said, “and give them an ironclad textbook example of good old-fashioned American firefighter heroism in the heat of battle.”

Danny laughed.  “I’m not looking for a Nobel prize winner for literary fiction.  Both of you grab a pen, a piece of paper, and a separate table.  This isn’t a group project.”

Now let’s see what we get from my seven writer friends:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mad Endeavor Books launches Garbageland today!

Mad Endeavor Books launches Garbageland today!  This debut novel from Todd Wheeler heralds the arrival of a new creative star in the long-fiction universe.  This e-published work of speculative fiction offers readers a delightful full-course banquet from a writer who previously whetted appetites with contest-winning short fiction in Writer's Digest and contributions to several topical anthologies.  Wheeler is an alumnus of the Southern California Writers' Conference in Los Angeles.

Garbageland presents the imaginative story of main character Esteban (Steve) Quiroga in a future America staggering through a "long economic plateau."  As a result of his involuntary civil service assignment to the world's largest waste recovery facility, Steve learns first-hand the consequences of being an indifferent individual detached from larger society.  He also uncovers a stunning confluence of personal greed, corporate malfeasance, and government corruption.

The devolution of a democratic society where government is undermined by nakedly profit-motivated commercial interests would seem less likely to the modern reader if only the impacts of the "too big to fail" world banking crisis were not still echoing.  The frequent mainstream media reports on SuperPac influence in the current presidential campaign might actually be seen as a precursor to Wheeler's dystopia.  Springing organically from a tradition including Orwell, Bradbury, and Vonnegut, Wheeler skillfully deploys satiric humor around the issue of trash versus recycling to critique contemporary consumer consumption culture while still entertaining with a delightfully well-paced story.

It is most appropriate that this work be released exclusively in digital format today.  When a major story question is just how much waste materials can be captured and repurposed on a planet daily carrying more inhabitants, a reader can feel a certain justifiable ecologic smugness in toting an entire novel that didn't destroy a single tree in making the electronic journey from virtual bookstore to e-reader.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I readily acknowledge that the writer of this novel and I have been friends since high school!  On my honor, my unreserved recommendation of Garbageland is based on the compelling characters and excellent story-delivered by a true craftsman.  Please buy this book today, it is available now for the bargain price of $1.99.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Black and White by Wes Albers

Black and White, the debut novel by Wes Albers officially released today by ZOVA Books, is such a gripping story that I wanted to put on a uniform and ride patrol with John Hatch.  In this story, veteran San Diego cop Hatch struggles with breaking in both a wonder-boy new supervisor and a freshly minted rookie partner while keeping a lid on crime in the rough Mid-City area of America's Finest City. Albers leavens his story setting with authentic details drawn from more than two decades in law enforcement.

In John Hatch, Albers presents a complex protagonist with whom the reader heartily identifies.  In a grim story world short on positive role models, Hatch is one of the good guys.  His motives are noble even when his methods are questioned.

When Hatch and partner Stevie are the first arriving officers at the scene of a homicide, Hatch can't shake the feeling there's more to the crime than meets the eye.  Unwilling to settle for the easy answer to the question of whodunit, his investigating on patrol takes his partner and the reader deeper into the case.  Albers uses the followup after the crime to weave in true-to-life elements about street-level policing and challenges facing the thinning blue line of San Diego's finest in a way that deepens story tension.

The reader who signs up to ride along with Hatch gets a fascinating companion on an intense journey of suspense and action.  This novel rewards the reader looking for a thinking person's adrenaline rush.  Albers, who also serves as Director of the Southern California Writers' Conference, is a gifted story teller.  Without giving away the ending to the book, I can honestly say that when I go to sleep in San Diego tonight, I hope there's a cop like John Hatch keeping watch over my neighborhood.

This must-read work of contemporary fiction is now available in print and eBook format.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Look who I saw at SCWC*SD26

I Am So Busted.  The number one rule in every book, every online article, every podcast I've saved to my smartphone playlist, and every Romance Writers of America National Conference workshop I've ever listened to on the topic of blogging is the same:  content is king.  Posts to a blog need to be timely and frequent.  Two or three posts a week is the minimum for new material - if the goal is to attract and keep readers.  

Which is exactly why I didn't need to take a hiatus of more than a week.  But I did.  But before you  stop reading, drop me from your email feed, or cancel your follow, allow me to plead guilty with an explanation.  

I still haven't recovered from the awesome Southern California Writers' Conference in San Diego this past weekend.  I urge you to check out the highlights and award winners, and make plans to join us next year (or this September in Newport Beach!) Thank you, MSG, Wes, Chrissie, Cricket, Jeremy, Janis, Linda, Jean, Laura, Drusilla, Mark, Matt, Andrew and all the workshop leaders for making this a very special time!

I plan to go into more detail about SCWC in the coming weeks and months, but for now I want to share one major highlight:  

This was Saturday evening just after introducing agent Paul Fedorko and best-selling author T. Jefferson Parker prior to the banquet.  I'd be hard-pressed to name two finer gentlemen in the world of contemporary publishing.  It was my pleasure to spend a few quality minutes with both of them during the weekend.  

I hope I didn't freak them out too much, gushing my appreciation of the works they've brought to me as a reader over the years.  But how else could I react?  This SCWC felt like the literary equivalent of the World Series and these two men are on the all-time All Star team!  Thank you guys for your kindness and understanding. 

I'll give you a hint of which book I bought at the conference that I've already started reading. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Christmas Story Perfect for Valentine’s Day

Before anyone asks, I’ll answer the question first – yes, I know Suzanne Brockmann’s book All Through the Night is made up.  Just being make believe doesn’t diminish the powerful emotional honesty of this romance.  In some ways, the fact that this story of love is a work of fiction makes it more compelling.  And even though the plot centers on a Christmas-time wedding, I suggest this book is the perfect read for Valentine’s Day. 

One reason this book resonates so strongly is that the issue of marriage equality and same sex weddings is in the news again, courtesy of the recent Appeals Court decision upholding an earlier federal court ruling finding California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional.  That decision would no doubt hearten Jules Cassidy and Robin Chadwick, the male protagonists of Brockmann’s book, because it should allow other couples just like them to have their passionate and caring relationships publicly affirmed by the state.  

An important strength of Brockmann’s work is that these two characters are so well developed, a reader easily identifies with their desire for legal acceptance.  Brockmann presents on the page two men with strengths and flaws as compelling as any encountered in fiction.  And yet the love they have, the sense of mutual sharing, trust, and respect they strive for with each other, inspired me to be a better man in my own relationship before I’d even finished the book. 

This, I think, is a great representation of one of most powerful tools of fiction in our society – we can begin to create a better world if we only imagine we can.  I sincerely hope you’ll read All Through the Night.  And then, I hope it inspires you to promote positive changes in our law and culture so we all have the chance to celebrate more couples like Jules and Robin experiencing happily ever after. 

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Intimate Strangers - A Sensual Delight

Intimate Strangers, by acclaimed romance and mystery writer Laura Taylor, is a sensual delight for the appreciative reader.  With beautifully rendered prose, Taylor takes the reader inside body, mind and heart of her main characters as they at first resist, and then ultimately succumb, to the intense attraction each feels for the other.  In passages sizzling with heat, the reader is happily swept up in the passion connecting protagonist Hannah Cassidy to her apparent antagonist and reluctant admirer Nicholas Benteen.  In this short novel, Taylor demonstrates her mastery of the most satisfying elements of romantic fiction. 

This story’s great strength is the concentrated focus on the relationship between Hannah and Nicholas.  From the moment Hannah appears on Nicholas’s remote Nevada property, it is clear that she is woman not easily prevented from achieving her goals.  What she doesn’t understand is that her success on this particular mission threatens the fragile sanctuary Nicholas has created, not just for himself, but for wounded comrades-in-arms he shelters on his property.    

Taylor puts her considerable talent on display as the interaction between Hannah and Nicholas reveals ever more compelling layers of character.  The initial antagonism between the two warms into grudging respect, followed by unacknowledged attraction, before finally erupting into fully-heated passion.   Taylor employs her writing skill so the reader experiences all of the sensory stimulation of the main characters, whether that is Hannah surrendering herself to Nicholas despite her inexperience and modesty, or Nicholas struggling to restrain his surging desire for her.  The richly rendered love scenes serve the overall story by demonstrating in vibrant language the true nature of Hannah, Nicholas and the love that bonds them. 

A compelling theme of contemporary romance is that love conquers all.  Taylor tests this thesis in her story by weaving the plot around the question as to how two very different and very strong-willed characters can both get what they most want.    The uplifting conclusion delivers on the implicit romance reader-writer bargain as Taylor ends her book with a wonderful scene of intimacy entirely consistent with the characters she has created and shared.     

Intimate Strangers is available as a free downloadable eBook for Kindle . A free pdf can be found on Taylor's websiteThe nook version is available for purchase here.

Laura Taylor will be at the Southern California Writers Conference beginning next Friday in San Diego.  She is an Advance Submission reader, will be leading workshops during the conference, and serving as facilitator of a Friday evening rogue read and critique.   

Monday, February 6, 2012

Writing Classes and Reader Events

With a blog called Joy of Reading it won’t surprise anyone that I like to read.  As a novelist and writer of creative nonfiction, it makes sense that I like to write.  What may be a secret, now-revealed, is that I love to read more than I like to write.  In fact, one of the rewards I give myself for diligent writing is undisturbed reading time.    

Because I’m both a voracious reader and an extroverted writer, I get invited to participate in more cool events than my schedule allows.  Now that I’ve got this forum, I can do something more than offer reluctant regrets when a fun reader event is scheduled or when my inability to break free of a prior commitment gets in the way of a useful writing class.  With your indulgence, I’ll occasionally pass along tips about events I wish I was attending.

First on the calendar is I Love You Silly:  Crafting the Perfect Romance taught by Zoe Archer at the Los Angeles-based Writing Pad on Sunday, February 12.  When I last checked, there were still two spots available in the class.   Zoe is a RITA award-nominated romance author, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a fellow member of LARA.  When you see her, be sure to tell her that Rick said "hi".

There’s still time to register for this year’s Southern California Writers’ Conference in San Diego AND get an early-bard discount.  While I will be at the conference, I'll be working most of the time and so won't be able to attend many workshops.  If you check the schedule of workshops you can see what a hardship that is.  If you're a writer looking to improve your manuscript and connect with other writers, I urge you to attend SCWC.  

Finally later this month, the inaugural Passion and Prose will be held in Long Beach. This "daylong conference specially designed for romance readers and  the writers who love them" will be held Saturday, February 25th.  Bestselling authors Meg Cabot, Christina Dodd, and Gail Carriger headline a group of 50 writers representing the width and breadth of the romance genre.  

Even if you can’t make all of these events, I hope you’ll spread the word to book lovers or writers you know.  Thank you for your time and attention.  And thank you for visiting Joy of Reading.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When My Tribe Gathers

The most common representation of the writer in popular culture is a solitary and miserable misanthrope locked in an airless upper room, facing a concrete wall, pounding on a keyboard in frustrated anguish.  That image probably has some grounding in fact, but it doesn’t bear much resemblance to any of the writers I know.   Especially not when I consider the writers who visit San Diego in February when my tribe gathers during the Southern California Writers’ Conference.   

The SCWC is first and foremost a joyous celebration of writers.  Whether the conferees arrive from nearby cities in California, winter-weary regions of the United States, or other continents around the globe, there is no doubt that when they step up to the registration desk at the Crowne Plaza San Diego they’ve entered a special world.  At this particular professional conference, words matter and imagination is prized.  For those of us who occasionally feel adrift in a Jersey Shore/American Idol-dominated pop culture, the long-weekend immersion into an enthusiastically biblio-centered community is heady stuff. 

And while there are agents, editors, and representatives of publishing to pitch to throughout the conference, the most personally enjoyable aspect to me is connecting with other working writers.  Hearing a young unpublished writer eagerly talk about a work-in-progress in a workshop or having a New York Times bestselling novelist (thank you, Gene Riehl)  invite me to lunch so I can talk with him about the motivation of one of my characters is not just priceless, but also part of the foundational DNA of the SCWC. 

This year’s Southern California Writers’ Conference takes place over the Presidents’ Day Weekend, February 17 – 20.  If you’re thinking about writing, if you’ve written something you’d like to publish, but aren’t sure what to do next, or if you’re looking for a chance to improve your craft and refine your manuscript, I urge you to consider this conference.  And if you join us this year, I look forward to offering a personal welcome.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Snow Day in San Diego

My best friend and I took a snow day in San Diego.  Not that there was any actual snow; in fact the weather for this late January day would have been perfect in July or August.  But since our weekend calendars are full of important tasks and necessary chores for the next six or seven weeks, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather to be outside and do nothing.  Except read.

On the sundeck of the Hotel Del Coronado, I reached the halfway point of And So It Goes, the biography of Kurt Vonnegut by Charles J. Shields.  The book is well written and thoroughly engaging.  As a Vonnegut fan since the early 1980s it was a treat to get a life at home context for the writing and publication of his novels.  Shields gave new insight into the Vonnegut reaction to critics and fans as each new work was published.  

Even though I've read Slaughterhouse-Five more than a dozen times and Cat's Cradle at least a half-dozen, Shields presented new material around the creation and publication of these masterworks.  He also deepened my understanding of the import of Player Piano and Mother Night to both Vonnegut's career and American fiction of the 20th Century.  

As the anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden in February 1945 approaches, the diligent research Shields put into his book helps readers grasp the role of that event in shaping Vonnegut as a writer and as a man.  I would recommend this biography to anyone interested in reading about Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., or curious about the role of science fiction in critiquing culture.