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.

NaNoWriMo Behind Us; Christmas Ahead

Hello Everyone,

I’m almost done my time-consuming writing projects, namely my NaNoWriMo novel followed by my Christmas greetings to special friends and family. I’ve only a few letters to write, then work at formatting Silver Morning Song as a print book. I have a lot of older friends that never read e-books and there are lots of folks in general who prefer a print copy, so I’ll work through CreateSpace and do a print-in-demand edition.

So I’m ready to start blogging again and share something of my experience writing my novel in November. Usually I don’t sit down to write anything until I have the article, story, or book outlined and scenes gone over in my mind. With this project I had only a vague idea of the story I wanted to tell and a few particular scenes in mind. So my experience turned out much like this quote:

Driving--Writing quote

I’m so thankful for the way different scenes came to mind as I worked at the story, events that would fit into a summer “working holiday” for Joy, almost twelve, and her 15 year-old brother Gerry. I still have lots of smooth out and some more to write after Christmas, but I know where I’m going now.

I get the feeling that the greatest benefit of joining NaNoWriMo and committing yourself to write this novel is that by the end of the month you’ve learned to know and care enough about these people to keep on and finish their story!

My two siblings spend the summer with their widowed Aunt Patty, age 33, and her two small children. They’ve been sent to help her as she starts a market garden near a small Ontario town; they also help fix up her house which is old and sadly in need of repair. So they get to meet new — and some quite odd — people and do the things kids did before the electronic age. I’ve even included a writer of Wild West novels for teens. 🙂

There’s a family in this town — every town had at least one when I was young — where money is scarce and troubles abound. This particular dad, scarred by the battlefield conflict in WWII, drinks too much and domestic violence impacts the children’s lives. The oldest boy becomes a bully and gives newcomer Gerry — “that rich city kid” — a hard time. Joy becomes friends with Darlene, a girl from this family, and gets an idea of what life on the wrong side of the tracks feels like.

I barely knew my characters when I started, but now I’m enthused about them. I didn’t give them any major conflicts while I was writing because the conflicts only presented themselves to me as I got towards the end of the summer. I had no outline to start, but soon needed to make a two-month calendar to keep track of the day-to-day happenings.

 

Teddy Bear quote 3

I committed myself to updating my story EVERY single DAY. I’d drag my feet sometimes until late in the evening, unwilling to start. But then I’d tell myself, “You must — even if you only add another paragraph.” Which led to writing another scene, maybe a thousand words. So I’ve learned more about the value of commitment.

But I never left sloppy copy behind. I will need to delete some lines where I changed my mind and restated some thought or dialogue, but I corrected all typos and fixed my story as I went. I could have gotten done a lot sooner if I’d left all the changes, but I’d never have courage to face the task of editing now. To each his own. For me the important thing is to have a story when you’re done —not a 50,000-word mess to clean up.

I haven’t been very energetic this year, since my chemo-therapy treatments I’ve been tired a lot. However, I had a checkup at the Cancer Clinic Nov 23rd and the oncologist was very pleased with the effectiveness of the treatment. She tells me all is well with my blood counts. I told her I’m SO forgetful and she says that’s normal, things should improve, so here’s hoping.

I had a bad few days in November because of gout in my right foot. I guess it’s handy that I was planning on sitting anyway. 🙂 I was home-bound almost a week not able to put on shoes — which is nothing to really complain about. Since then arthritis has moved into my left knee.

But now November has sped by and we’re facing the Christmas season with all its glitter and glow, carols and gatherings. Texas has gotten the snow while we have a balmy 5 C! If this keeps up there’ll be no white Christmas for us. Nevertheless I wish every one of you, wherever you live, all the joys of the season.

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.