Monday, January 31, 2011

Cafe Etiquette

At this point, so many writers hang out and write at coffee shops that it's practically a cliche. But let's face it: coffee shops are a great place to write. So for those of you who have never worked as a barista, let me give you some tips to make sure that you always enjoy your time at the cafe, and your friendly, neighborhood coffee drones remain happy to see you whenever you walk through the door.

Rule One: Always, without exception, Buy something. If you're going to hang out in their space, especially if it's for more than an hour, it's rude not to "rent" it from them. After all, they're there to run a business, not give you free wifi and water. It doesn't have to be much. If you don't like coffee, get a tea. Don't want something to drink? Get a scone, a muffin, a sandwich. Just spend some money.

Rule Two: Tip well. If you're eating up their table-space with your computer day in and day out, please make sure you tip. I prefer to give a dollar per transaction, but it doesn't have to be THAT high. Fifty cents on a large coffee is still good. Just don't give them a handful of pennies. But these folks don't make coffee because it's a great hobby. They're actually trying to make a living. And they ARE going to talk about you when you're not around. Would you rather be the guy/gal who's fought over because you tip well? Or the guy/gal who makes them cringe whenever you walk through the door?

Rule Three: Control Your Kids! This cannot be emphasized enough. The coffee shop is not, I repeat IS NOT!!! a jungle-gym, daycare center, babysitting facility, etc.. If you want to take your kids, that's great. It's important to spend time with them, but instead of letting them run around, scream, knock things off of the shelf, and wreak havoc, use it as an opportunity to teach them how to behave in public. Inside voices, manners that don't drive the other customers bonkers, how and when to control one's energy: all of these are great lessons to be taught in a coffee shop.

Rule Four: No One Cares About Your Book. I've read this one before, but it bears repeating. Unless the barista asks you specifically, they don't care, and they have more important things to do than listen to you prattle on about your novel. Your beta group is where you need to go to get feedback, advice on what to do next, etc.. The coffee drones are too busy. And if they're not too busy, then they don't want you wasting their free time. Wait until they ask you to tell them more than, "Yeah, I'm working on a book." But even then, they probably won't care until you're published.

Rule Five: They Know More About Coffee Than You Ever Will. That's a fact. Unless you own a plantation, coffee shop (that didn't get run into the ground), or roasting house, they will ALWAYS know more about how coffee should be prepared, how it's prepared at that cafe, and how your inane, snobby, specialty drink got invented in Venice in 1953 to commemorate the return of some painting nobody's seen since that day. As I said before, they're there to make a living, not hear a historical lecture.

Rule Six: They Know How To Do Their Job. Unless they're new, in which case, their coworkers are going to help them. Really, they know what they're doing. And if you've never served coffee, then you don't know better. If one barista is better than another, then it's understandable that you would rather get coffee from them. But don't try to "train" them. They see the spill on the counter, they hear the buzzer going off that tells them to rebrew the coffee, and they know how to make a cappuccino just the way you like it. If it takes a try or two, especially if they're new, show some patience... and tip them for trying. They'll REALLY try in the future.

If you follow those rules and just use common sense manners (please, thank you, etc.), then your neighborhood baristas will love you. And you may even get free drinks every now and then. But make sure you tip for those, too!

Friday, January 28, 2011

(no subject)

It's so great to be writing again! This week I wrote a short story. Okay, I started it last Thursday, but I finished the first draft today! Obviously there's a lot of editing to do, but I put together a 7k word short, and I'm actually pretty happy with it, especially because I feel like I'm better at writing full-length novels.

I intentionally challenged myself with this, though, because I needed to do something other than writing another book. And I'm going to post it here. I'm not going to shop it around, I just want to have a unique piece of my work that I get to share with all of you.

There's going to be a lot more involved than just sharing the story, though. I have some plans for the release of this thing, but I don't want to share those details with you until we get closer to the "publication" of the story.

As soon as I get done with this story, I'm going to start a new novel. If this story is received well, I'll use the setting and characters for that book. I'm still shopping WYRM FIEND, but I need to keep writing.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Man's best friend?

Let me be frank. I never wanted to own a cat. Sure, I used to hate cats (when I was really little), and then I became indifferent. Now that I'm married, though, and I adopted my wife's cat, I actually like the little critter. I don't know if I ever want another one, but Edmund is actually fun to have around... about 90-95% of the time.

He's funny, he attacks my arm, and he meows at me to turn on the faucet so he can have water to drink. After all, the bowl of still, flat water that we leave out to him is just to gauche for his refined feline tastes.

I find myself talking to him at times, just to make the silence in my apartment go away. When I'm writing, and he's sleeping in my room, there are times when I'll drag him out onto the couch so he'll sit on my lap while I type. As long as he doesn't sit on my keyboard or bite me, I like having him around.

Sure, he's not a dog, but he can take care of himself (as long as there's food and running water around).

Pets are nice to have.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Motivation

There are times in a writer's life when they'll seriously doubt whether or not they should be writing. It happens to all of us, and it's usually around the time you realize just how long and hard you've been working on your craft without getting any closer to that elusive publishing deal. There isn't a set time or place for this doubt to creep in. It may happen after the third or fourth revision of a query letter, perhaps after giving up on one book and starting a completely new one, or it may just happen a month or two after your agent sent your manuscript out to the publishing companies.

So what do you do when you doubt yourself? Personally, I take a long look at why I wanted to be a writer in the first place: to entertain. I don't want to get published for the notoriety or fame (of which there will probably be little until I put together a couple bestsellers). I definitely don't want to get rich (a very difficult goal to reach as a writer, anyway). I want to give people something fun to look forward to when they have a long, difficult day. I can still remember some of the books I read as a young boy. I remember how much I enjoyed going off into the land of Narnia, Middle Earth, outer space, the mid 1800s, and on and on the list goes. I remember reading those books and getting inspiration for my own stories. I wanted to sit down and write, to create a world as interesting and unique as the world I read on the page.

Life can be hard and depressing. I always wanted to write stories that gave people a distraction. Maybe it would teach them some kind of moral lesson in the process, but I don't intentionally put lessons in any of my books. If the reader gains some sort of wisdom from my story, it should only happen because something I wrote highlights a lesson they learned some time in the past, but shows it to them in a new light. Or perhaps my characters deal with a difficult situation in a way that some people might not normally consider. Regardless, at the end of the day, I want my books to bring peace to the reader. A temporary escape.

This is my passion, and this is why I get up (almost) every morning to sit down and write. Even when I don't feel like sending out another query letter.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Character Study: The Perfect Man

One of the common themes of my posts has been the inherent flaws in a person that make a fictional character appear real to the reader. Let me give you a character study to use as a resource when creating a character for you next writing project.

A common theme in romance novels is the man that always puts the woman first in a relationship. He sacrifices everything he could ever want, going out with the fellas only after he's made sure that his lady-love has everything she could possibly want or need. He's not spineless, he doesn't beg her for permission, he simply puts her needs first in a loving and selfless manner.

Of course this man also works to provide for his love. He gives up his weekends to take care of the children. When her mother turns ill, he springs for the most expensive retirement community money can afford (because their physical passions could NEVER be satisfied with her mother living with them... and that's her decision... he WANTS the mother-in-law to live with family). This man can sew, repair every item in the house that could possibly break. He's a humanitarian who donates generously to charity. And, of course, he's handsome. Gorgeous.

He's attracted to her personality, not her looks. He insists that the stretch marks from her pregnancy turn him on. No other woman matches the beauty he sees inside of her, and his eyes never wander while they're out to eat, watching a movie, or passing billboards on the highway.

Sound boring, right? Well I'm here to tell you that there are men who have SOME of those traits. For example (and I'm not bragging), I try to put my wife's needs before my own as often as possible. When she's sick, has a headache, or when she has a bad day, I do whatever I can to make her feel better. When I had my wisdom teeth pulled, she got a migraine. Since the medicine the dentist gave me worked wonderfully, I felt find and started to insist on taking care of my ill wife. She snapped at me, made me sit back down, and then got something for her own headache. But still, I felt great and I wanted to take care of her.

Now what's the difference between me and the romance novel guy? Well, there are plenty. For one, I'm not a successful businessman, I can't repair much of anything, and I don't have a model's face or body (nor do I want one). There are times when my loving attention actually annoys my wife, like I'm suffocating her. I'm learning how to discern those times, but it's still not a fairytale when the positive attention you're receiving is only an annoyance. In the novels, the woman wants her man to know instinctively when he needs to be nearby to coddle her and when he should just leave her alone. I don't always know that, and sometimes it drives my wife nuts.

Let's see... oh yes. Like every man in the world, I fart. I burp. I have to blow my nose (especially when I get sick), I tell stupid jokes, and I play video games for hours at a time. Do those actions mean that I love my wife less? Of course not. When Emily needs me, I'm there. If my gaming looks like it's going to get in the way of our relationship, I turn off the system.

I cook for her, too. Most of the time. After all, she works long hours and I don't want to force her to cook for me when I usually get home from work an hour before she does. I get her flowers on occasion, a bottle of wine, I let her watch TV shows that are COMPLETELY boring (but not as often as I should... I'm trying to work on that with myself).

Anyway, do you see my point? The man in the story might be great fluff, but it's not real. The "Perfect Man" doesn't exist, and therefor he's not convincing in print. The man who tries to love his woman selflessly still fails in his attempt often enough for it to be noticed. But that doesn't mean he doesn't exist. It just means he's human, he makes mistakes, and he's going to keep trying to love her better.

I plan on writing more character studies in the future. But for now, enjoy your weekend, I'll see you on Monday.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: Blameless by Gail Carriger

Alright, ladies and gentlemen. This is by far one of my favorite posts. I love great books, and I like telling people about them, and I just finished a FANTASTIC book. I've already told you all about Soulless and Changeless by Gail Carriger, now we must discuss Blameless, the most recent book!

Now, Blameless came out several months ago, but because of the other books that I'd already started, I couldn't get to this book until just after Christmas. I can tell you that I really wish I'd ignored every other book on my shelf to jump into this one. As with the last two reviews, I won't spell out the plot for you and ruin the story.

I must tell you that, as well-written as the first two books are, Carriger really came into her own with this novel. Though books one and two had a few quirks that are to be expected in a debut and sophomore novel, Carriger grew noticeably as a writer while she crafted book three. In fact, not a single "quirk" showed up in this book. With Blameless, Carriger has cemented her place as a veteran writer who is most definitely here to stay.

A few changes to the world became apparent early on. Characters known for flamboyance or silliness proved to be serious people, capable of wisdom, cunning, and even dogged determination to help the protagonists achieve their goals. These secondary characters became more important to the story. Their personalities broadened to make them more realistic. And while they all served a purpose in previous novels, their contributions in volume three are critical to the protagonists' success.

Ms. Carriger branched out quite a bit in some of her scene descriptions, too. While the setting has always been quite vivid in her narration, several of the characters venture beyond England's borders to "the continent." Personally, I've never been to France or Italy, but Carriger's illustration of those lands paint a vivid picture in my mind that do nothing but entice me to buy a plane ticket to Europe as soon as possible. Not only are her descriptions vivid, but often enough they're clever, witty, and delivered in the voice of the character that is experiencing whatever is being described on the page.

As with the previous novels, this book is filled with laugh-out-loud humor that's delivered in the matter-of-fact, dry tone that would be acceptable to a "woman of breeding" such as the protagonist, Alexia Maccon.

What else can I tell you? The plot is solid and hole-free. The descriptions are vivid and full of life, as are the characters. The voice is still unique. It's very funny. And most importantly, the author is constantly improving in her craft. (Nothing is worse than reading several novels by the same person and discovering that they have no room for improvement; they have reached the pinnacle of their ability as a writer.)

So, as I've said many times before, go buy this book (and all of Carriger's other books), read them and laugh.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Late update

Well yesterday I finished this draft of my query, and then work got so busy that I forgot to write a post on my lunch break. However, there is only one critique up for my query right now, so I can't really make any revisions to it this morning. Besides, I should wait a little while before I go back to edit it so that I have a chance to gain new perspective on the letter.

Today I have decided to start writing a food review once a month. I will either cook a meal/special dish, or I'll review a restaurant (the home-cooking will be the most consistent since I'm trying not to eat out too often), and then I'll post about it. I'm thinking the third Monday of every month, but I need to make sure that my schedule will permit me to take the time to cook something worth reviewing.

Also, if I make a dish, I'll tally up the cost of ingredients that I use. I know writers tend to be short on cash, and it's always nice to have ideas for tasty meals on a small budget. Of course, when I use someone else's recipe, I'll give full credit where credit is due.

Anyway, just that update today, I'll see you again tomorrow!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow and Work

The thing that's difficult about my job is that, even if most of the schools in my area are close, I still have to work in the snow. Now, as far as I can tell the roads aren't bad, so it's not a big deal, but I have one of those jobs that requires me to be there (by necessity more than policy), and if I can't make it in my car, I pretty much need to get a ride.

That's not a big deal at all, though, because I need the work, and I'm grateful for the paycheck :D. It's just that, today I want to work on writing all day, and I'm going to have a very busy week. Followed by another busy week next week. Ah well, let's see what I can get done today.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Movie Review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

On my anniversary, my wife and I went to see the new Narnia movie. There isn't much of a review to make because the movie was great. However, they did something that bothered me a bit.

Overall, they kept the spirit of the story intact, but they changed some key facts of the plot. SPOILERS: in the book, the protagonists journey across the sea in search of seven lords who were banished from Narnia by Caspian's uncle. They find the first lord living in an estate on one of the Lonely Isles (the farthest east land charted up to that point in the world's history). Since the journey was to find all of the lords and see what lay beyond the edge of the map, when a slavery issue was settled on the isles, the characters move on. Various trials await them, and they overcome each one in a spectacular and engaging manner.

In the movie, the lord on the Lonely Isles did not own a manor, he was a slave, and the islands were tormented by an evil fog that consumed boat-fulls of sacrificial people. Apparently, the other lords attempted to stop this fog by taking some magic swords off into east to lay at Aslan's Table so that the fog would disappear. Many of the trials from the book show up, and the same lessons are learned by the characters in the same engaging manner.

My point here is that the "main" plot of the movie (the quest for the swords) is pretty much unnecessary because the tension in the book ebbs and flows just as consistently as the tension in the movie. What the screenwriters did, however, was turn this rather unique quest for knowledge and enlightenment into every single role-playing game on the market.

I did enjoy this film, and I do intend to purchase it when the blu-ray is released, but I really think the filmmakers did a disservice to this story by making such drastic changes to the underlying purpose of the Dawn Treader's journey east.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Book Review: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

I've talked about Kiersten White a few times, and ever since I stumbled on her blog, I've been pretty excited for her book, Paranormalcy. Of course I picked it up the week it came out, but I didn't have time to read it until the beginning of December.

The protagonist, Evie, has a talent for seeing through supernatural glamours. She uses that ability to hunt and tag vampires, hags, werewolves, and any other supernatural creature that needs to be kept away from normal people. Only a few chapters into the book, supernaturals start turning up dead, which is shocking to Evie and her bosses who only want to keep the world safe from the vamps, weres, etc.. The actual plot, while a little difficult to grasp at times, is very engaging. It's filled with three different conflicts, each of which is satisfactorily wrapped up by the end of the book.

Personally, I was caught off-guard by the simplicity of the narrative, but as soon as I remembered that this novel is written for young adults, I realized that, yes, this is a great book for teens. All in all, I think this is a great debut from Kiersten White, and I look forward to more books from her. The story is solid, the voice is unique, and the book, from beginning to end, is entertaining. The characters aren't angsty or whiny, though at times they come off as a little flat: much like the characters in the first five episodes of a TV show.

I gave this four out of five stars on Goodreads, and the only reason it didn't get five is because of my one "complaint." It's not even a complaint, really, just something that I noticed. This novel is written from Evie's point of view, and the character comes off as an energetic, sometimes hyper teen. This is reflected in the pacing of the narrative which never seems to slow down. When Evie is interacting with other characters, it's easy to notice how time passes and how the characters move through the world, but when the scene jumps forward by an hour or more, the only clue the reader gets is that the narrator says X amount of time passed.

All in all, I strongly recommend this book for any young adult who likes paranormal stories, and I'd also recommend it to adults who enjoy this genre. I'm looking forward to the sequel, and I expect to see great things from the author in the future. So, if you haven't read this book yet, go pick it up and read it!

Monday, January 03, 2011

New Year

And I'm back from vacation. I didn't go anywhere, but my wife and I spent a wonderful week together just doing fun stuff around the house. I have some big plans this week. In fact, on Wednesday, I'm going to post a review of Paranormalcy by Kiersten White. Then, on Friday, I'm going to post another review on the new Narnia movie.

So Happy New Year (a bit late), go have a great week, but check back on Wednesday and Friday!