Category Archives: Writing Skill

Other Writers

A fan asked me the other day why I post entries/articles about other books, shows, and movies I like and doesn't it make people buy books and things that I don't write?

The answer is simple. I hope so.

I think that, as a whole, everyone benefits when people are involved in good writing. If someone reads my blog and hasn't read one of my books, that's fine with me. If they then take a recommendation I make or read a book I mention and like it, I'm thrilled. On a selfish note, that person may think "Hey, if I liked the book that he liked, maybe I'd enjoy the stuff that Robert wrote as well."

In addition, there is only so much I can write about my own works or it becomes self congratulating and boring. On the other hand and as I've said before to be a good writer you have to be a good reader and I like reading. It so happens I also like talking about the books I've read and doing it through this website is easier than bothering people at the book store or Starbucks.

Right now I'm reading the second book in Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy aka sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, called The Girl Who Played with Fire

Just as in the first book, Larsson has drawn me into his world despite unfamiliar names and places and really made me care about what happens to his extremely unique characters.

Writers should be particularly attentive when reading these books since this is clearly a master at work. The books are unpredictable and keep you involved while not struggling to do so.

Stieg Larsson was a master and I hate that I found his books only after he passed away.

Kudos for Good Writing

Of course I love to read, but I'm a fan of good writing for the movies, television, or anywhere else it applies (like advertisements). 

Just last night I was struck by the fact that some of the best writing being done now is on the series done for HBO and Showtime.

I was burnt by a short lived series called John From Cincinnati that was on HBO. It was a series about God, aliens, family, and most importantly, surfing. However, it was cancelled after the first season leaving a zillion unanswered questions. I can see why it was cancelled since it was very much out of the mold of mind numbing pablum that the general public demands. It required a lot of thought and didn't serve up any easy answers. Nonetheless, it was a phenomenal show and I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind putting in a wee bit of effort to try and understand the ideas behind it. Plus, you may spot something i didn't and be able to share your insights with me.

I've told you before of my fondness of True Blood. Unlike the books, the series just seems to get better as it goes on and doesn't bounce around as much. The books appear disjointed and at times the author completely disregards the timelines she has created,which can cause a but of confusion. This is one of the times when a screen adaptation actually surpasses, or at least enhances, the books since you can now envision the characters she discusses. I think the writers of the small screen versions have done a great job of taking the basic idea behind a single book and turning it into a season long series.

Boardwalk Empire is one that I waited until the second season to start watching, primarily because I wasn't sure that it would make it to Season 2 and I didn't want to get disgusted again. I watched Season 2, and then bought Season 1 on DVD so that I could catch the back stories. It is absolutely phenomenal. Steve Buscemi is a great actor, he always has been in everything he has played, but they have finally managed to find a role that is big enough to allow him to be a non-typical leading man. However, it isn't his acting that makes the show it is definitely the writing. The characters are complex and deep, the story lines fold and unfold, and history is interwoven with fiction. I did hate the turn that Season 2 took at the end, with the loss of a great character, but we'll see how the show develops next season.

That's enough for today, other than to urge you to read my books. I'm still hard at work on the second book in both the Junebug and the Noah Chance series as well as working on another novel and occasionally piddling with my zombie screenplay.

The books should be available in printed form soon but in the meantime you can find them all at my author's page on Amazon.com and on BarnesAndNoble.com for the Nook reader at here, here and here.

Heroes and Villains

My wife convinced me to read the YA trilogy, The Hunger Games and I must say I'm pretty impressed. Being YA books they are a very fast read but the author does a great job of creating a complete world even though the books are unraveling at a breakneck speed.

The villain in the story is both the system and a character named President Snow (who I invariably picture as Newt Gingrich), but it raised interesting questions in my mind as to how books develop.

It is generally accepted that novels have to have a protagonist (hero) and an antagonist (villain) although sometimes the real villain is a system or way of life although that can also be embodied in a specific person. 

This was done wonderfully in the Hunger Games books just as J.K. Rowling managed to do in the Harry Potter series. Both President Snow and Voldemort are absolutely evil with no redeeming features, as opposed to a more sophisticated embodiment of evil such as Hannibal Lecter.

In my own books, I have one character in No' Chance, Silas, who is evil and I made no attempts to develop a reason for his evil or gave the reader any sympathy toward him. In Junebug and the Body, there is a villain (I won't give away who it is) that, while they're not evil, they are definitely the bad guy.

In The Bottle Tree, my personal favorite to write, I used a character to embody the racial atmosphere that existed in the Deep South as a way of life at that time. 

One of the new books I am working on, in addition to the second book in the Junebug and the second book in the Noah Chance series, is about methamphetamine use and the villain in that book is really the drug and poor choices in life.

What are your thoughts? Is one kind of villain preferable over the others?

I know many of my readers are also writers. If that is you, which type of villain do you prefer reading about and which do you prefer to write about?

Death of Joe Paterno and Writing

I really am not a college football fan but I'm also not completely out of touch with the world, which you would have to be to not know at least a little of the story surrounding the last few months of ex Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

The facts aren't really clear yet, and I know enough about the criminal justice system to know that what you hear in the initial reports is often leaked by the police or the DAs office to taint the public perception ahead of time, but obviously something untoward was going on.

This drama will play out over the next years, but if in fact Joe Paterno is not as culpable as it sounds, it is a shame that the last few months of a man's life were spent having to undergo this humiliation and tainting the time he had with his family.

As writers we can take this to heart, and use it as a time and an exercise to try and mentally step into the shoes of everyone involved in this tragedy.

In my book, Junebug and the Body I had to regress and get inside the minds of two twelve year old boys (something my wife said wan't really a regression) with a summer ahead of them when a mystery suddenly pops up to turn a slow summer into an exciting one. In No' Chance the challenge is to not only get inside the head of a young man, but also a female and then, in the main character, a boy with Downs Syndrome. In The Bottle Tree I not only chose new characters, but placed them into a time that I had no personal knowledge of, the early 1900s.

As writers we can use this whole Penn State mess as a way to teach ourselves to look at things from a variety of viewpoints, some of them extremely uncomfortable.

I wish the best for Paterno's family.

To Kill a Character

One of my pet peeves is when an author/writer spends a lot of time building up a character just to kill them off. Sometimes it is necessary to the story and I understand that but some authors, Stephen King for instance, does it in every book. I'm not sure if it is a belief he has, a predilection to mayhem, or if he just gets sick of characters after spending so much time writing and kills them due to some perverse need (as his main character did in Misery) . It could also be that he relieves homicidal instincts that way but since I don't know Mr. King I won't hazard a guess as to that.

However, I think with many writers it isn't a conscious action. In my case, for instance, as much as I hate it happening I have started books knowing that a character won't make it to the end. In fact, in one of my projects, it was the death of a character in my head that started me to writing the book in the first place. I won't mention which book it was, because that might act as a spoiler.

In another book, I intended from the beginning that one of my characters would die because it was going to set up the next book in the series. However, when I got to that part I was surprised to learn that it didn't happen. I tried to kill them off but darn it, they refused to die and instead another much more minor character died instead. 

To anyone that is not a writer that may seem strange or contrived, but I think most writers who do not work from a carefully plotted outline will understand.

When I am writing, I usually have a general direction that the book will go in, usually because it take a little "push" to get started. I can't sit down and have the words just start spilling out, it takes a while for me to warm up. However, once I get going the story and characters take on a life of their own and often go in directions that i hadn't imagined. Occasionally that results in a problem.

For instance, when I was writing Junebug and the Body the book twisted on me toward the end and I couldn't figure out how to make it work or a way to tie two different story lines together. For weeks/months the book just sat there, 90% completed and STUCK!!!

One day my family and I were travelling back from visiting my mother in Louisiana, my wife driving while I napped in the passenger seat. Suddenly and without any warning BOOM! the problem was resolved. An idea on how to wrap up burst into my mind and the first draft of the book was finished a day or so later. I'm not sure what prompted the revelation since I was dozing and not even consciously thinking about the book but sometimes that's the way it happens. The story wrote itself. I had to go back and make a few small changes to tie the new idea in but once I did it was over. Except for the editing of course.

I said all that to say this, try not to be too hard on us writers when a favorite of yours gets knocked off.

Sometimes we didn't do it.

They killed themselves.

Updated Book Review – Stephen King’s 11/22/63

 

I'm putting this on here since, as I've said before, if you want to write you have to read.

While some critics rag on Stephen King, I have always enjoyed his work. Like many fans, I think his best work was done years ago but even the least of his books are still head and shoulders above most others as far as the writing skill.

What is unusual about this review is that I'm doing it when I am just halfway through the book. There's a reason for that.

Like books by John Grisham, King's tomes often have endings that I just don't like. Up to the last part of the book I love them, then the book falls apart (as far as what I like). I don't see any need to always kill off a hero and this seems to be a consistent thread in King's books. Grisham's endings are different. I'e always gotten the impression that by the time he gets to the end he is just tired of it and writes something just to get it over with. 

However, while I am critical of that aspect I also know that not everybody agrees with me and, to be honest, if it bothered me that much I wouldn't buy every single one of their books and read and reread them. Which I do.

I wanted to do this review of 11/22/63 while I was still in the midst of reading it because one of the things King does so well is put you into his world. He uses little things, like the taste of root beer, a description of a street, or someone's personality quirks to make the characters and setting in the book live and breathe.

As you probably know, the book is about someone going back in time to try and prevent the Kennedy assassination. Kind does a masterful job of transporting us from the present day, back to the days of bobby soxers and high school dances. While that was before my time, I have no doubt that he nails it on the head and you quickly find yourself pondering how different things were back then and empathizing with the main character as he feels his way around a time that was over before he was born.

So far, the book is great. I'm not sure if it is up to The Stand, but it is definitely a great read and a long book, which I appreciate both because I like the writing so much and because it is another of those Kindle books that are priced high.

If you're a writer or a voracious reader I'd highly recommend you pick it up, and I'm putting an Amazon link at the bottom of this page to the book. As long as your'e at it, you might want to try one of mine as well. If you like the nostalgic feel, then look at Junebug and the Body (a comedy and mystery). If the supernatural is more your thing, then No' Chance is the way to go.

UPDATE: Just finished the book. While I wouldn't classify it as a horror story, it is probably the best King book in the last ten years. He does an amazing job of describing characters that we all know from real life as well as Texas and Dallas in the 60s. A great job of writing and one every writer should read for enjoyment and then pick apart for the way a master uses words.