Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Reviews...and How They Help My Writing

I review books on my Author Exchange Blog and, aside from being treated to some excellent stories, the process has helped my writing.

I have always read books by both men and women. In fact, my favorite writer of all time is the late Ed McBain/Evan Hunter. I must admit, however, that most of the books sitting on my bookshelves were written by women. Where am I going with this? In this direction: men and women write differently while, at the same time, writing precisely the same. Clear as mud, eh?

The first handful of books I reviewed were written by men. In two of them, the gender of the protagonist became immediately clear. Not because of their names but because their actions, vocabulary, and insights were indisputably male. I loved re-reading sections involving their inner thought processes because they highlighted excellent examples of superior characterization. Men and women often think and behave differently. I recall one particular male character who was emotionally involved with a woman in the story. While he cared deeply for her and angsted over their relationship (something we women do), he did so in a purely male fashion. I've since re-read a number of scenes and chapters of those books to research the way a male mind works. I could, of course, simply ask my husband. But I suspect it's better all the way around not to delve too deeply into his mind...

I also noticed that these prolific, award-winning, and often bestseller list-authors all excel in a particular area: plotting, characterization, dialogue, or wringing emotion from the reader. Most also had a subtle area of weakness. (A couple did not!) This realization made me look at my writing from an objective standpoint. I am now able to capitalize on my strengths, while simultaneously keeping a lid on my weaknesses.

The most important benefit I've received from these book reviews involves the concept of approval. One of the authors--famous, prolific, and a bestseller--was unable to wring a drop of emotion from me during my read of his book other than irritation. He is educated, intelligent, a terrific plotter, and tends toward philosophical soliloquies and, in my opinion, pomposity. A bazillion people love him and his books or they wouldn't have hit the bestseller list. Which just goes to show that no matter how famous you are, or how excellent a writer you are, someone is always going to think you stink. (I didn't think he stinks, but you get my point, right?)

Stepping outside the parameters of what you normally read, and treating yourself to books by unknown (to you) authors, serves two purposes. 1) You treat yourself to enjoyment you'd never have known otherwise, and 2) You gain insight to methods of improving your own writing.

To visit my book reviews, visit the Author Exchange Blog and slide down the right sidebar until you find the list.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lou Allin: Marketing Tips for Writers

I'm a big proponent of marketing and write a column about it on

Lou Allin, a writer I'll be interviewing on my Author Exchange Blog in November, has some marketing ideas for writers that I think you'll enjoy - they're terrific.

Thanks for sharing, Lou!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Writing is Murder--Even When You're Not Writing Mysteries

I just finished writing a 346-page insurance licensing workbook, after developing and outlining the material. Boy, am I glad THAT project is over!

Here is my take on the pros and cons of writing 150,000 words of text versus fiction:
  1. Writing text requires more outlining and less plotting; with fiction it's the other way around. In a mystery novel I get to choose who lives and dies; in an insurance workbook, if I kill someone off, I have to worry about negligence, legal liability, and getting sued.
  2. Writing text requires a whole lot less imagination than writing fiction does. In fact, making things up when you're writing an insurance text is actually NOT a good thing. The readers want the facts; if I make something up, they'll flunk the exam--which is contrary to the purpose of writing the text in the first place. On the other hand, if I dream up a creative way of poisoning an ex-husband in my mystery novel, readers will gobble it up. (Yes, the pun was intended.)
  3. Writing text requires less rewrites--so long as your outline is good. I haven't figured out the rhyme or reason behind the number, and type, of rewrites in fiction...
  4. Writing text requires just as much line-editing and copy-editing as fiction, but it's WAY more tedious. I don't mind reading the same murder or sex scene 2 or 10 times. But reading the same paragraph about workers' compensation insurance law 2 or 10 times? Ouch!
  5. Writing text does not elicit the same level of emotion that writing a mystery or romance novel does. I've never heard someone gush, Ooh! I just LOVED that part where you defined the theory of indemnity! But when someone confided, I LOVED that Jack Kendall--he's a hottie, my heart went pitty-pat.

Yes, I'll probably make more money from my 346-page insurance workbook than I will from my first mystery novel. And yes, a [hopefully] large number of people will advance their insurance careers because of the non-fiction text and it's unlikely that reading my mystery novel will provide any more actual benefit than a couple hours' of escape and enjoyment. But nothing will ever compare to the Jack Kendall-hottie comments I received from the members of the Red Hat Reader's Book Club or the feeling of seeing actual "fans" in the bookstore at my very first book signing/reading.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"I Rescued a Human Today"

Reprinted from the July 2009 issue of Vanity Fur, Animeals' newsletter, Volume 3 Issue 3:

Her eyes met mine as she walked down the corridor peering apprehensively into the kennels. I felt her need instantly and knew I had to help her. I wagged my tail, not too exuberantly, so she wouldn't be afraid. As she stopped at my kennel, I blocked her view from the little accident I had in the back of the cage. I didn't want her to know that I hadn't been walked today. Sometimes the shelter keepers get too busy and I didn't want her to think poorly of them.

As she read my kennel card, I hoped she wouldn't feel sad about my past. I only have the future to look forward to and want to make a difference in someone's life. She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds at me. I shoved my shoulder and the side of my head up against the bars to comfort her. Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship. A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well.

Soon, my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms. I would promise to keep her safe. I would promise to be always by her side. I would promise to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes. I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor. So many more out there who haven't walked the corridors. So man more to be saved. At least I could save this one.

I rescued a human today.

Written by Janine Allen CPDT, Rescue Me Dog's professional dog trainer. Janine's passion is working with people and their dogs. She provides demonstrations for those who have adopted shelter dogs, lends email support to adopted dog owners that need information beyond our Training Support Pages, and aids shelter staff and volunteers in understanding dog behavior to increase their adoptability. Copyright 2009 Rescue Me Dog;

If you know a human who needs rescuing, send him/her to Animeals, 1700 Rankin St., Missoula. Telephone 406-721-4710. Website: