Writer Wednesday – Robert Sells

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Who am I? Well, first, I’ m a teacher: forty-five years teaching physics in college and then in high school. I have been writing for the past five years. But, I have been telling stories to my kids, my students, and now my grandchildren for fifty years.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
…and a bit about what you’ve written…
… and what you’re working on right now.

I started writing about five years ago. My wife insisted that her Christmas present that year be a written story from me. Of course, she got other presents from me, but I obliged with three furious years of writing. The end result my first novel, a coming-of-age story about a farm boy becoming king. This book was called return of the white deer. My second novel has been with me even longer in story format. I would have my students discuss what would happen if an intelligent computer got control of the internet. How would the computer behave? Then I would tell them, straight-faced, that it already has happened and it was targeting me. As soon as I finished my first book, I started reap the whirlwind. Before finishing my second novel, another idea tickled my brain. What would happen if someone buried a treasure and then contracted Alzheimer’s? Suppose he was hiding the money for the mob? This line of thought ended as my third book, the runner and the robber. It will be published this spring.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Brownie the Mouse. At the advanced age of nine, I finally figured out that books actually offered great stories. Up until that point, reading was simply a necessary task done to please my teachers and parents. The story was not that good, but it caught my interest.

What are your three favorite books?

Tale of Two Cities, Footprint of God (By Greg Illes), and Lord of the Rings.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I’m always reading one book. Now I read to see how other authors write. Presently I’ m reading Fablehaven.
Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
When I curl up with a book, I go to another world. Then, usually to sleep.
How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Depends on who recommends the book and how many different people recommend it. That was how I was pushed into reading hunger games.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely.

What do you look for in a good book?
Interesting mystery and some adventure. Then clear writing and consistent story-line.

Why do you write?
To create a story. Play with characters. Share with others.
If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A composer, though I don’t know how to read music and shower stops working when start singing.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Just thoughts and ‘what ifs’ in my head. For example, suppose God made a broadcast to the world and said he was going to retire (after 14 billion years). Then he says he is going to leave Satan in charge. Where could I go with that idea?

What has writing taught you about yourself?
Not much. It’s not that I am so perfect that I can no longer learn. Rather, it’s that I pretty much knew my shortcomings before I started writing. I have so many, it’s difficult to come up with new ones.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
They assume that I am smart. But, after we chat awhile, that notion is quickly dispelled.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Maybe some of the masters can write without a hundred edits and hours just thinking about a scene, but most of the authors I have met work at getting the words just right.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Starting and finishing. Most are afraid to start, fearing they might not finish. Others start, but don’t finish.
Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Yes, oh yes, and yes again.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I would like to write science articles for western New York. But who would take them? Newspapers are tangled with politics and misery. Maybe blogging?

How do you deal with your fan base?
Respectfully. They are why I write.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
How difficult it is for me to write. My training was not in writing or literature; it was in physics and math. Tad different.

Anything else we should know?
Hmm… I play poker and blackjack (I’m a card counter) and always cash out each year with more money than I put in.

Book Review – a Richard Russo two-fer

Title: The Whore’s Child
Title: Horsemen

Author: Richard Russo
Written: ?  Published: 2012
Format: Paperback

Note:  These stories were (I think) originally published in a greater volume, but have then been published alone, even though they’re really short.  On with the reviews.

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The Whore’s Child

Okay, The Whore’s Child is, um, interesting. First of all, the story, by my estimate, is about 7500 words long, making it the long end of a short story, dancing on the cusp of being a Novellette. I’ll call it a short story. And some how, this has managed to get published as a stand alone book.
The narrator of the story is a college professor who is only professor-ing because he managed to publish a book, even though the book has apparently not sold. And the main other character is a Nun. Capital N, Habit and Robes, Catholic Nun. Who is the cause of the title, herself being the child of a whore.

The story now goes downhill (somewhere around page 10), and starts in on the Nun writing and having her memoir and having it edited in class (it was a fiction writing class). In fact, that was the only conflict in the whole story. A page or two about the guy not knowing what to do about having her in the class without having signed up for it, without having taken the prerequisites, and without having a fiction project. yeah. That could have totally been not in the story and we wouldn’t have cared.

Oh, and the end of the nun’s story?  One simple question from a chick in the class and the question she has is answered and oh, lookie, there we go.  The only thing that gave her courage in her life and it’s all done like that.  (snap fingers here).  Gah.

My problem is that the story is, well, boring. I mean, stuff happens, but it happens mostly in narration/recap. And then that’s it. And while the sentences were technically written well (properly), and I commend his use of words being of the appropriate length, there’s nothing going for it on a ooh, fiction level. Yeah. Onto the next story.

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Horsemen

So, in Horsemen, our FMC, who is a writer (is this a trend with his stuff?  Because I really hate writers writing about writers) and college professor (ahem) has just caught a student cheating.  She also has a poem going through her head.  And we also flash back between grad school and now (some number of years later, although I can’t tell if its 2 or 10 the way its written.  I’m sure somewhere it gave the age of her son, but the timeline is a bit murky).

And as we go back and forth, we get a story of her bad marriage (current) and the day she left a blind guy in the rain to find his white cane under the bumper of her worst professor’s Mustang.  (wtf?)

And she keeps repeating lines from the poem.

So. This one, by my estimate, is at the end of the range for a Novelette (around 15k), and also published like a standalone book.  And, um.  Same thing as before.  The lines are technically right.   Punctuation is where it should be (although I found a mistake, but only one).  But there’s not that much gripping.  I actually put the story down for two days and had to remind myself what it was about because I couldn’t remember.

The end of the story felt rushed, too.  There was a distinct point about four pages from the end where I realized the author was wrapping up, then there were two page long paragraphs, and… a few things needed a bit of logic and review to link together (like the poem she kept reciting).  I think the story would have benefited from another thousand words.  But there was a little more going on than the last one, so it has something going for it there.


End result?
The Whore’s Child – 2 out of 5
Horsemen – 3 out of 5

Writer Wednesday – Jean Stringam

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Tell us (briefly) about you…

Jean Stringam counts her characters among her list of friends and solves plots during breakfast, lunch, and dinner; however, recently she has been impressed with how numbers describe life – and we’re not talking just the bank balance.

The number five currently figures strongly in her life since she has recently published five books, has earned her living in five different careers, has lived in five countries, and has five sisters, five children, and five university degrees.

Perhaps a few lists would be helpful:

    Five different careers – Professor of literature, piano teacher, actor (member of SAG), secretary, choir conductor/opera chorus pianist/church organist
    Five countries – Canada, France, China, England, United States (but she’s only been a citizen of two)
    Five sisters – learned more than she thought possible
    Five children – learned more than she ever wanted to know (about love)
    Five degrees – Ph.D. University of Alberta, B.Ed. University of Calgary, M.A. & B.A. Brigham Young University, ARCT Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
Now that I’m retired, I no longer write academic essays and articles. My fiction for young adult and middle grade readers include the following:
Solstice Magic (A Calgary Stampede Adventure, #1)
The Hoarders (paperback & Nook e-Book)
Balance (paperback & Kindle e-Book)
How Not to Cry in Public: A Novel (paperback & Kindle e-Book)
The Wise Men: A Christmas Adventure (Kindle e-Book only)
Regrets Tree on Fire (for release in summer 2013; projected as paperback & Kindle e-Book)

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m looking for a good illustrator for a Early Reader series, for grades 3 and 4. Have five of the stories written and another ten sketched.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
I have written about this on my website under “About Jean Stringam.” It’s called “The Chicken Story”

What are your three favorite books?
It changes very rapidly depending on what I’m reading. Over time, however, I’ve tended to enjoy O.S. Card.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I’m reading Wool. I like to immerse myself in an author’s world, so I rarely read more than one at a time. I write several of my own books at the same time, though.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
Defy the world to continue turning.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Always re-read what catches my interest

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Certain friends have impeccable taste and I take their suggestions. I listen carefully when anybody gives an opinion about a book because their reasoning patterns, or lack of them, interest me. Doesn’t mean I rush right out and buy the book they’ve told me about.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very. That’s what I’ve spent my professional life doing.

What do you look for in a good book?
An author who is wise, has poetry in his/her heart, and knows that a story has to have a resolution. If the author can’t figure out what the characters learned or how they changed, I wish them well, but please stop writing and find another profession.

Why do you write?
I want my life to have made a difference.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I’ve worn a lot of hats thus far in my life. None of them appeal to me long-term. I will write until I’m dead.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I read copiously, watch people intently, and love unreservedly.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That an individual only sees a small slice of the truth.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
They’re just about over trying to decide who’s who in the characters, which is a relief. They’re beginning to accept that my characters are not stolen from real life (except for the ones that actually are)!

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Tons of stereotypes. The biggest lie is that alcohol and drugs enhance creativity. They don’t. It’s a miracle that any talent leaks out of those people at all.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The money. Always the money. Whether trad published or Indie, it’s the money.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Wrote a whole novel without knowing how to resolve the conflict. Wrote it a second time and still couldn’t figure out the ending. That’s 900 pages of wasted effort! Grr!! Hisss!

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Yes, but until things happen, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to advertise hopes and maybes.

How do you deal with your fan base?
Sometimes I do author visits in schools. Sometimes fans write to me on my website, FaceBook, or GoodReads.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That there really is a learnable technique for not crying in public, that I can do it (usually), and that I am still in the habit of carrying sunglasses with me everywhere just in case I can’t.

Anything else we should know?
I write songs for my books, and for a lot of other occasions, too.

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