Are Readers Being OD’d On Angst?

Have you ever read a book that felt like one long spiel of navel-gazing with a bit of plot thrown in?

I have. And I find it irritating. I’d like to read a story.

Readers are human; we all have feelings. We like it when our story characters seem human, too — even display some faults. When characters show their feelings and inner conflicts we can identify with them and sympathize with their trials. We cheer when they find their answer. In my opinion that’s what a story is all about.

Writers need to give their readers credit: we do “get” how the protagonist feels and we understand that attractions, fears and insecurities are going to be ongoing. But light touches now and then are reminder enough. The writer doesn’t have to tell us again and again and again how insecure, worried or resistant to some change the character feels.

Navel-Gazing: Contrived Conflict

Stories do need conflict, but is really effective in the long run to generate “internal conflict” by rehashing the character’s fears, self-doubt, and suspicions every few pages? Wouldn’t the novel be better if those efforts rather went into plot? Into writing in some actual conflict with life circumstances?

I read one novel where the main characters had joined a wagon train headed for a new life in California. They were going through unfamiliar territory, supposedly anticipating the new life they’d be living. But instead of the trials of their journey, scenic description, or speculation on their future home, the writer served readers a steady diet of the female MC examining her feelings for, and trying to generate resistance to, the male MC. And vise versa.

They spend so much time scolding themselves about their feelings, by Chapter 4 you’re thinking, “Get a life, people! There’s a whole world happening around you.”

I rarely read romance books or chick lit and this is mainly why. But I find this style of writing common in other genres nowadays, too, especially cosy mysteries. In one novel the protagonist finds a dead teen in someone’s empty house and, according to the writer, her thoughts are:
Why on earth did I have to find this body?
What will people think of me when they know I’ve found this body?
What will my family think of me when they hear I’ve found this body?
What will people think of my family when they learn I’ve found this body?

That a person died is pretty low in her thinking. Her fears prove overwhelming, so she jumps in her car and leaves the poor guy lying there. As the story unfolds all her angst gets played out with the mystery as a background. In all fairness, the writer did a good job of spinning out the plot, but the protagonist comes across as so self-centered.

Put More STORY in the Story

I know we live in a world that’s focused on navel-gazing. We’re encouraged to analyze our feelings and reactions. This is naturally going to spill over into the books we read. However, if writers were to delete the monotonous rehashes, I’m afraid some books might lose a third of their word counts — unless they filled the pages with actual happenings. And that takes work.

Maybe my problem is that I’ve been reading the old masters. There’s a lot more going on in Pride and Prejudice than how Liz feels about her feelings toward Darcy and how Darcy feels about his feelings for Liz. Jane Austin’s characters had lives to live, places to go and things to do. Her stories were woven around action as well as romance.

Without a lot of navel-gazing Charles Dickens’ characters managed to rouse people’s sympathies to the point of effecting positive changes in society’s attitudes.

For mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, “Who did it?” was the focus of their stories. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey rarely wrestled with self-doubt or anguished over what others thought of them. Yet they were very human — and often very humorous as a bonus.

The popularity of these writers has endured; you can still find their works in any library and most bookstores. That tells us something.

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Book Review: Finding Sky

Book #1 in the Nicki Valentine Mystery Series
by Susan O’Brien
Published by Henery Press

I just finished reading this book and I’ll say it has a satisfying conclusion. This is the first book in a new series so the writer will gain confidence and in turn give her protagonist a little more confidence, in the next books.

I expect mysteries to be fairly fast-paced and suspenseful. This book isn’t. It’s more like chick-lit with a mystery element. Nicki Valentine tells us her story, explains her situation — a widow with two children — talks about her children’s personalities and behaviour, her fears and issues with safety, food, dirt, and germs. If you enjoy following friends’ day-to-day lives on Facebook, you’ll probably enjoy these open-hearted accounts of where they went, what they did, what they ate, games they played.

Nicki tells about her best friend and neighbor, Kenna, whose desire to have a baby adds the mystery angle to this tale. Andy and Kenna plan to adopt, but the eighteen-year-old mom-to-be has disappeared. Pregnant and alone, where did she go? Is she safe? Kidnapped by a teen gang? Kenna asks Nicki to help find this girl and we read of her efforts at interviews, stake-outs, and searches. Her search gets her involved with troubled teens and a gang member, understandably bringing yet more anxieties.

You see, Nicki is taking classes to become a private investigator. This is a huge stretch for her type. At the best of times she struggles with almost neurotic anxieties for herself and her children, has little self-confidence, and is rather a klutz. Her conscience prods her if she tells a lie in the course of investigating. Can she become a successful PI? She’s attracted to her hunky instructor but resists the attraction. Low self esteem kicks in. Why get her hopes up when he’d never be interested in her?

There’s a good story in here if you’re patient. I’m more a fan of classic mysteries where the sleuth is occupied with the whodunit puzzle rather than angst about herself and her abilities. But all this self-analysis is common in modern cozies. I found it easy to scroll through all the angst and day-to-day stuff and read the parts that actually deal with finding the missing girl. (Spoiler alert: Nicki does get her answers in the end.)

In my opinion the book could be cut by at least 30% — and I’d encourage the writer to get to know Miss Marple, who’s kind and clever, not always sure, but never floundering in self-reproach.

Nicki reminds me a lot of Salem Grimes, another new sleuth with a lot of down-to-earth issues and angst. She stars as The Trailer Park Princess, a series written by Kim Hunt Harris

Amee’s Story: Non-Fiction

Last year I encouraged friend and fellow writer, Carol Harrison, to do her paperback book as an e-book. I promised if she’d publish Amee’s Story in e-book format I’d do a review of the book on my blog. She’s done that; it came out in October. So you can buy it in paperback from her or e-book from Kobo. Here’s the link. And here’s my review.

AMEE’S STORY
by Carol Harrison

“What’s happening? Why isn’t she crying?” my husband whispered.

Minutes ticked by as the couple watched the medical team working on their newborn baby girl. Almost seven minutes passed before they heard a tiny sound from the baby. The nurse immediately scooped her up and rushed her out the door.

“What’s wrong? Why won’t they let me hold my baby?” I asked my doctor.

He explained that the baby had inhaled some of the fluid from her sac of wastes (meconium) as she was being born that caused her some breathing difficulties. She needed to be in an incubator. However, days passed and something was still wrong. Baby Amee was barely breathing, had no strength to nurse.

She was transferred by ambulance to a major Saskatoon hospital; there she lie in an incubator in pediatrics intensive care fighting for her life. Tests and more tests were ordered.

In addition to breathing in the meconium, the doctors found that Amee had a stroke as she was being born. Later tests confirmed that the left part of her brain was badly damaged and a small spot in the left frontal lobe was dead. She was constantly having seizures. Finally the doctor told them, “I believe there’s a five percent chance she’ll ever walk…or talk…or leave this hospital.”

Thus began a journey of faith and prayer, a fight for life and strength, hope and understanding. It has culminated in the book Amee’s Story, ©2010 Carol Harrison, printed by Guardian Books, Belleville, ON.

Amee has asked her mother to tell her story for God’s glory. We see in this book His care for His children, His ability to answer prayer far beyond all human prediction. Carol’s book is a must read for all parents and teachers, especially those who are dealing with handicapped children.

Sites For Free E-Books

There’s an old joke from back in the days when service stations all had an outside air pump so you could fill your own tires whenever they got low. Maybe most of them still do? I don’t look after tires anymore. 🙂

The joke goes something like, “The first Scotsman who discovered FREE AIR, trying to get as much for free as he could, blew out all four tires.”

Yeah, I know it’s not politically correct to make ethnic jokes anymore, but I thought of it when an e-mail popped into my In-box this afternoon. It said, “65 FREE e-books, various genres.” With all the free novels being offered by various services, being of Scottish ancestry myself I just might blow out the memory in my e-reader. Thankfully that can’t happen.

Anyway, I went to Book Cave Direct and looked over the list. A few might interest me; a lot of the stories aren’t the genres I’d read or recommend. I did see one book that instructs writers on how to format their Word documents for publishing on Kindle. For someone wanting to publish their own e-book, that could be handy. Here’s the link if you want to check out the list yourself.

The second last book on their list, Blue Hydrangeas, is one I have read, really enjoyed and would recommend. This is the story of a senior husband whose wife has Alzheimer’s. He dreads the thought of putting her in a nursing home, so is caring for her at home but he’s finding it an every-minute-all-day job. A poignant and realistic novel. Read my review here.

Two days ago I also got a notice from one of my favorite writers, Dan Walsh, informing his fans that his book, Remembering Dresden, is free on Amazon until tomorrow. I already have this one; it’s on my “To Read Soon” list.

I’ve gotten some really good books from BookBub, too; they send out a new list of free and specially priced books daily or weekly, as you prefer. If you’re interested, you can find them at bookbub.com. There’s also storycartel.com (where you agree to do a review in exchange for a free book), instafreebie.com and half a dozen others.

Do you have a favorite site that offers free e-books? If you’re a writer, have you found these sites really helpful in promoting your book? I understand authors have to pay a small fee to get their books on the lists sent out.

My goal for this winter is to read the books I’ve already downloaded and write reviews for these. The whole idea behind authors giving away their books through these sites is to generate more reviews. Being a writer myself, I want to lend support where I can, so be prepared for a bunch of book review posts in the next couple of months.

Books: Gone To Green

GONE TO GREEN

© 2009, 2016 by Judy Christie

Amazon blurb:

Will a big city journalist find love and happiness in small-town in Louisiana? An ambitious newspaper editor trades her corporate life at a large paper for the ownership of “The Green News-Item” in rural Louisiana — and finds friendship with an unlikely group of people. Ready to fight for right she is unexpectedly drawn into new causes — and attracted to an appealing high-school coach who raises catfish part time.

I found this book interesting right off the bat because it duplicates a scenario in one of my stories. But instead of a lawyer inheriting a farm, this 36-year-old single city editor inherits a small town newspaper from a colleague and friend who suddenly passes just after setting up this new position as his retirement package. Hoping for a promotion in her own sphere, Lois goes down to Green, LA, has a look around, and decides to give it a whirl. For Ed’s sake.

Most of the people she meets are kind, friendly, easy-going folks. But even small towns can have their greedy types and corruption. Her main reporter gets a whiff of something rotten and she encourages him to go after it. She herself gets glimpses of racial prejudice. If they blow the whistle on certain people, the paper’s headed for a hot gumbo.

She is also getting attractive offers both from her home paper: “A great offer coming up. You should grab this opportunity,” as well as a big-business offers to purchase the paper. Decisions, decisions. And there’s this kind high school coach who lives down the road and drops by just to chat. Someone she’d like to get to know better.

I’m usually not all-out generous, but I really enjoyed this book and give it five stars. It’s well written, has an old-fashioned flavor — no immorality — and the story line is great. Makes you want to visit the place, drop in on her and say “Hi.” And this is the first in a series, so we can keep on reading about Lois’s adventures in Green, LA.

Books: 5000 Words Per Hour

5,000 WORDS PER HOUR: Write Faster, Write Smarter
© 2015 by Chris Fox

In preparation for NaNoWriMo I’ve been rereading this short, motivational e-book. The writer gives his system for improving your writing skills to the point you’re whacking out 5000 words per hour. Can you see yourself doing that?

Motivation is a powerful force, he says. And he knows, because he’s motivated himself to lose 100 pounds and write a dozen novels plus half a dozen other books on writing and editing. So he’s not just whistling Dixie. He has developed this system and shares it because it has worked for him.

We start with short writing practices or sprints, typing without pausing to edit in any way, including correcting typos. Here’s where I digress. While I see merit in what he’s saying, I simply must correct my spelling mistakes. (I make one or two for every ten words.) If it slows me down, so be it.

He advocates using the same “sprint” system for editing. Don’t agonize over each word during the first edits. This thought helped me a lot. I tend to want Chapter One perfect before I move on to Chapter Two. I never do get to the last chapter.

Anyway, as you practice every day and chart your progress, he promises you’ll see improvement in both speed and also your ability to plot out your scenes in advance and catch your writing flaws. By the way, this author once a pantser who rarely finished a manuscript, is now a confirmed plotter. You need to be one to crank out this much content without stopping to wonder, “Now what happens next?”

I’d encourage any writer to read his book and see what you think. Some of us older ones are so set in our ways I’m not sure it will make a lot of difference — but they say you can always learn something new.

Even if you don’t get past, say 2000 words an hour, you’re still going to ace NaNoWriMo, where you need to do just over 1670 words a day for a month to get your 50,000 words Winner’s Badge. I did a fifteen-minute sprint and my word count was 650 words, which would give me 1300 words in half an hour — spelled right. 🙂

Practice every day, the author says. That’s the ticket.

Walk Like a Warrior

Personal note:
My 100-word story, The Wrong Suitcase, was posted on The Drabble e-zine yesterday. You can read it here.

And now for the BOOK REVIEW

WALK LIKE A WARRIOR
Inspirational True Stories of God’s Encouragement on the Trail Less-Traveled

Every now and then you read a book and afterward you want to tell all your friends, “You should read this! It’s inspiring, enlightening, and generally terrific.” Reading this book has challenged and strengthened my own faith.

Bruce & Shara Repka have traveled all over the western USA singing and ministering. They endeavor to follow the Lord’s leading and are keenly aware of his appointments. They enjoy the blessing of seeing his hand at work in people’s lives, learning lessons of faith, trust, patience. They’ve worked as trail hands rounding up cattle, ridden their horses over the canyons and badlands. They’ve spent time seeing and learning to love the rough-and-tumble crowds as God sees and loves them.

In Walk Like A Warrior they share a number of experiences, insights, and lessons learned. I really appreciated all the appropriate scripture verses accompanying each section.

I’ll admit I can’t totally identify with every experience these folks have had — but I don’t feel I need to judge anything here. If God chooses to bless them with miracles I haven’t observed personally, that’s up to him. As Shara brings out so well, the Lord leads his children in individual paths where we can fill our role as a light for Him. The couple share a number of answers to prayer that demonstrate God’s ability to meet our needs.

Here are some quotes I found particularly inspiring:

(While waiting patiently for a much-needed answer to prayer)
“Praising the Lord freed me from the begging, defeatist attitude.”

(Praise for an answer to prayer)
“God knows all about us — our innermost thoughts and desires. And He never forgets. He is concerned about the little things in our lives, even the ones we forget about.”

Bruce Repka’s advice re: waiting for God’s timing:
“Don’t let the devil talk you into making foolish decisions and then expect God to cover you and everything will be fine. God can, and will, turn every negative and bad thing around for good, but why go through the heartache and pain during the process of doing things He never told you to do? Wait on God and do what he tells you to do, making the decisions He tells you to make. The rewards are immeasurable.”

From the back page:
Bruce and Shara Repka (a.k.a. Pony Express Ministry) are a Christian country music ministry that travels the highways and backroads of the western United States with their two horses, Rocky and Nocona.

Traversing the countryside in their fourteen-foot, short-wall, three-stall, living quarters horse trailer, they travel and minister wherever God sends them. Their, and others’, inspirational true stories are a testament to how God reveals Himself and encourages us in our everyday lives. They have seen firsthand a real, loving, and powerful God who is always true to His word and who longs to have a personal relationship with us all.

In life’s challenging moments, do you search for testimonies of encouragement that exemplify God’s love, grace, protection, and provision? Find inspiration as you enjoy the many photographs and travel this trail with them, living the adventure! You can find them online at www.ponyexpressministry.com

I was given a free copy so I could write an honest online review.