I love discovering undiscovered stories. I was fortunate enough to be given a copy of J. C. Allen's Novel Ideas recently to review. I have to say, this novel was totally unique in its concept and delivery. And I absolutely loved it! I read the story in two sittings. (I would have finished it in one, but sleep intervened.)
The story takes place in the year 2040. The United States has become a socialistic government in which conformity is legislated and virtually every form of creativity is outlawed. The story opens with a news announcement that Forrest Reed, considered by many in the world to be the last truly original author, has just released his last book. Ever. Reed, an American Ex-patriot, has decided it's time to retire.
Reed lives his life in peaceful seclusion on a man-made island in the middle of the South Pacific. His only live human contact is with the people who bring him his supplies. And he's perfectly content to live like that. His self-imposed seclusion, however, is interrupted by a twelve-year-old girl who literally sails up to his island claiming to be his long-lost granddaughter. Or is she?
Novel Ideas is a story about political unrest in a world where compliance is mandated, virtual reality is preferred to actual human interaction, and originality is persecuted. It's a world where a twelve year old girl can be charged with treason for questioning authority. But the real heart of the story is bridging generational gaps and the power of love. The developing relationship Forrest has with his would-be granddaughter is well-developed and kept me on the edge of my seat. It's also a story about family, lost opportunities, and living without regret. There's even a scene on the pitfalls of under aged drinking that's handled with delicacy and a smidge of humor.
As an aside and completely off the subject of the story - this book made me hungry - literally. Allen's description of Forrest's cooking is to die for. If you can read this book without craving fresh home-cooked vegetables then you've never experienced really good home-cooking.
I highly recommend this book for anyone twelve and up.
I'd like to interrupt this blog to ask you to vote for the Finding My Escape cover in this week's Story Finds cover competition. That is all. You may return to your regularly scheduled reading!
Click here to vote!
I've always been fascinated by the idea of dreams - especially those dreams that seem so vivid and real that when you wake up you're completely disoriented, and for a few brief moments, the lines between dream and reality are blurred. I've had dreams so achingly sweet that I've found myself almost sobbing when I woke up, desperately trying to go back to sleep and find that place and feeling once again. Then there are the dreams that are so terrifying I wake up screaming, sitting there in the dark with the covers pulled up around my ears.
As I understand it, we dream every night, but we don't always remember them. In fact, I can't tell you the last time I had a dream I remembered. It may be that I'm a light sleeper or maybe I'm watching too much television, but I miss waking up with that "mmm" feeling I get after an awesome dream.
When I was a kid, I dreamed a lot. In fact, for a period of time, most of my dreams were nightmares. I remember one recurring nightmare that I had up until I was seven or eight years old. My parents, my sister and I were driving and stopped along a country road in rural Maryland. My mother and father got out of the car and walked ahead to look at some flowers. My father picked a flower for my mother and as he's handing it to her, they both just disappeared. Just like that, my parents were gone. There's more to the nightmare, but even now, it's too confusing and terrifying to try to put to paper. Even for a writer.
But not all my dreams were terrifying. Some were simply mundane. And repetitive. So much so, that as a child, I wondered if the dreams were my real life and my real life was the dream.
Think about that for a moment. What if that wild and wonderful crazy dream world were your real life? Or what if the dream world was just…real? What if it existed on another plane and the time you spent there were just as vital to you as the time you spent awake?
Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part. I certainly don't want the scary stuff to be real. Still, there have been some dreams that have been, well, too good not to wish they were true.
So what about you? Do you ever wish dreams came true?
I know there were times, especially as a teen or young adult when the very idea of Valentine's Day made me cringe because I didn't have anyone "special" in my life. I'd look at all the happy couples around me and think how unfair it was they had someone in their life when I didn't. Trying to navigate the whole boy/girl thing can be very frustrating. When you get a little older, it's easier to put a little bit of perspective on those things, but at the time it's happening it just plain sucks.
I love the idea in the movie VALENTINE'S DAY where Jessica Biel's character has an "I hate Valentine's Day" party for all of her single gal and guy pals. The piñata was an especially nice touch. Nothing like whacking a giant heart with a bat to help you get past the Valentine Blues. All the chocolate inside doesn't hurt either.
So if you can take some advice from someone a little older and wiser, instead of looking around at all the couples on Valentine's Day (and trust me, they're not all as happy as they seem), why don't you plan your own Anti-Valentine's Day bash. Make a list of your single friends, have everyone bring something. Make it fun by thinking up interesting names for your food and games. Here's some ideas for yummy goodies:
Mini Red Velvet Milkshakes
1 cup Vanilla Ice Cream
· 3 tablespoons Red Velvet Cake Mix
· 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
· 1/2 cup milk
· Whipped cream
Blend all the ingredients together, making sure to get it smooth. You can add more ice cream if you want a thicker shake or a little more milk if you like it thinner. You can also experiment with the amount of red velvet cake mix. Don't forget to top with whipped cream!
OMG, who doesn't love Krispy Kreme? Well apparently between now and February 14 you can get these yummy pastries shaped like hearts!
My Krispy Kreme Story
Everyone who's ever lived in an area where there's a Krispy Kreme store knows about the light in the window that lets people know they just finished making the donuts, and they're hot and ready to melt in your mouth. Well when I was working for NationsBank (now Bank of America) in Nashville, I was riding in a car with one of my associates when he saw the light on. Unfortunately, we'd already passed the store.
Now mind you, we were on West End Avenue, one of Nashville's most difficult to navigate streets because of the high traffic and the fact that several other streets that merge into it. So there went my crazy co-worker making a U-TURN just to get those delectable donuts, barely missing another car, but thankfully not causing a 5 car pileup.
I can just hear what his explanation would have been to the police officer if he HAD caused an accident, "But officer...the light was on."
What's YOUR Krispy Kreme story?
Aunt Laura and I rode home in an awkward, tense silence. I guess she knew me well enough by now to know when I wasn’t in a ‘talking’ mood. I spent the drive fuming over Blondie’s ‘I get you, Hannah’ attitude.
Aunt Laura’s green eyes were bright with worry when we got back to her house. She pulled into the driveway, turned off the engine, and turned to look at me.
“Hannah,” she began, reaching for my hand.
I didn’t give her a chance to go on. I snatched my hand back and jumped out of the car.
“I’m going for a run,” I said before slamming the car door.
I took one glance over my shoulder as I headed toward the path. Aunt Laura was still sitting in the car, head on the steering wheel. I tried not to think about the pain I must have caused her as I headed down the path.
I really couldn’t understand why everyone was so bent on me ‘remembering’ and ‘talking’ about what happened. I wished I could go back to the first days after. Before I remembered anything.
As I ran, feet pounding the familiar cadence, thump, thump, thump, my mind involuntarily drifted back to when I first woke up in the hospital. Aunt Laura was the first person I’d seen which confused me. Where were my parents? I’d never so much as cut my finger without one or both of them taking care of me.
I was still in shock from her explanation when a detective came to my room to ask me questions about what I remembered. He explained that it was important to get any information, any detail, about what I might have seen while it was still fresh in my mind. The thing is, at the time, there was nothing in my mind. At least not about the day my parents died.
It wasn’t until the nightmares started that I began to remember the rest...
When I opened the door the streetlight outside gave just enough light for me to see the foyer table. There was a bank envelope thick with cash. My mind didn't register the significance of that until much later...when I began to question the 'home invasion' theory of the police.
Every room in the house was dark. Now that was weird because we always left a light on over the sink in the kitchen. Always. That’s when the feeling hit me. It started as a gnawing in the pit of my stomach and raced around inside of me until I thought I would throw up. My heart started racing, and I could barely breathe.
And I was afraid.
I sat my backpack on the end of the table very quietly instead of just tossing it on the couch like usual. My eyes began to adjust to the dark, and I remember my senses being heightened. I saw that a picture had been knocked over. I knew without picking it up that it was a studio picture of me with Mom and Dad.
I gradually became aware of a strange, nauseatingly sweet odor. As I moved from the foyer to the living room, I tripped over something. My hand fell into something warm and sticky, and the meaning of the odor began to slowly make its way into my awareness.
I heard the sounds of a struggle.
My heart was pounding so hard I thought it might rip out of my chest.
“Mom?” I gasped.
“Don’t come in here honey. RUN!” Her voice. Strangled. Panicked.
The bile rose in my throat. I wanted to run, I tried to scream, but I could not move.
I heard the sound of my mother’s voice being muffled…and then the sound of a body falling to the floor.
My muscles shaking, I tried to stand up. My eyes adjusted to the dark, and I realized that I’d tripped over the body of my dad. The warm, sticky substance on my hand was his blood. My stomach heaved. I became dizzy then everything went black...
I forced my mind back to the present...the forest...running. I'd had enough remembering. It was then I realized I still had the notebook set Dr. Henderson had given me in my hands. I sat down and wrote:
Remembering what happened to my parents makes me feel like h---.
I was asked by my friend, Andrea Buginsky to participate in a series of blog posts about my writing process (here's the link to her wonderful article), which actually sounded kind of fun. Then it got me to thinking - what is my writing process, anyway?
You may be wondering why I don't have an instant answer to that question. The reason for that is, I, like many other writers, don't necessarily have a one-size-fits-all formula for our writing. I can just tell you that mine almost always involves the consumption of chocolate followed by pacing - to take off the calories added by the chocolate.
All kidding aside (well, I was kind of kidding about the chocolate), when I wrote my first novel, FINDING MY ESCAPE, I dove right in without much thought as to the plot and character. I began with an idea I've always found interesting about dreams, wrote the first chapter about fifty times until I came up with the idea about the murder scene, then proceeded from there, flying by the seat of my pants as I went. (For those of you not familiar, the term for this form of writing is called "pantsing" and those who primarily engage in it are referred to as "pantsers".)
This worked pretty well for my first book, which I actually drafted up in about a month. Before you go "whoa, that's amazing", I should tell you that at the time, I was dealing with the death of my father, so writing was my therapy. Writing - especially the grief portions - helped me work through my own grief. The problem with my pantser methodology was I'd get to a point in the story where I'd written myself into a dead end or write a character that really didn't fit which caused me a lot of grief when it came to editing . (The editing phase of my writing BTW, took almost a year.) And then there was the fact that when I came to the end of the story, I realized it was really a trilogy.
On to Book 2. When I started writing FINDING MY WAY BACK, I started out with the same seat-of-my-pants methodology, got 30,000 words in, and decided I hated the story because it was basically a regurgitation of Book 1. Discouraged, I ruthlessly abandoned almost all 30,000 words and went back to square one. About that time my cousin (shout out to Russell Elledge) had just turned me on to Rachel Aaron's 2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love. This book was amazing and completely changed my seat-of-the-pants process to one of careful plotting and planning.
A pantser to the core, I was tempted to reject Aaron's suggestions. Plot my entire story from start to finish? Go beyond just mere outlining to figure out all of the details from beginning to end? I had to try something, though, and with my 30,000 word manuscript now sitting in my laptop's trash bin and fans of the first book clamoring for the sequel, I decided to give planning a try.
I sat down with my sister (forced her to sit down with me, to be more accurate) and began throwing out ideas for the second book which she dutifully recorded on a white board. When I got ideas for setting, I searched the internet for pictures and printed them for inspiration. I then photographed the white board and saved it to my Evernote (an app I highly recommend for keeping your ideas sorted and with you at all times), and proceeded on to the outline.
The result was a book that, again, only took about a month or so to write. The difference is, I spent much less time editing, and I already had a myriad of ideas for the third book. Once I got the ideas down, the writing flowed much more smoothly because I had a good handle on where the book needed to go.
Now I'm starting Book 3 (FINDING MY WAY HOME), and I'm at the most painful part of the process - the outlining and plotting, which is probably why I stopped to take the time to write this blog post. I'm rummaging my cabinets for chocolate, and the I'm wearing a hole in my floor with my pacing. But the ideas are starting to flow, too. This is my dream stage, where I can let my story take flight. It can be disorganized and messy at this point, but I know in a few weeks, I'll have a strong basis on which to build my world.
Which way is the best way - pantser or outliner? That's up to you. Some writers, like Melissa Foster, can write 10,000-20,000 words a day making it up as they go along while others need to know the direction the story is going in a more concrete way. The point is to write what you love and others will love it, too.
Next week, you'll have the opportunity to hear from three of my writer friends:
Raymond Bolton launched his debut novel, Awakening, an epic fantasy, on January 1st of this year.
Pamela Foreman is the author of the Nebraska Holds series.
Brian Bigelo is the author of many tales of mystery and horror, including RIP TIDE and AN ILL WIND COMETH.
That's me. Wife, mom, former teen, and writer.
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