Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Fall Reviews, 2013 Winter Book List and a Link

I recently read a blog post I wanted to discuss today. But I really wanted to do my seasonal book list too.  In an act of supreme indecisiveness, I'm doing both!

Here's the link to the blog post:

Are you careful about things like this as you write? I have one scene--where two of my characters meet. And dangit, that's the way they meet! I can't change it, just because I disapprove. But that doesn't mean I can put it in the book. I try to write books I wouldn't be embarassed to let my children read. I'm still not sure how I'm going to handle that in revisions. Feel free to discuss...

Wow. I've read a lot in the past 4 months. Here are the highlights. To keep things simple, if I liked it, I wrote: "I liked it." If I loved it, I wrote, "I loved it." J If I didn't like it, I'll mention why.

1. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
Unfinished. It wasn't my cup of tea. No likable characters and terrible language is a bad combo for me. 

2. The Grand Tour: Or the Purloined Coronation Regalia 
by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer 
(The sequel to Sorcery and Cecelia) I liked it. It's the story of Kate, Thomas, Cecy and James's shared honeymoon, where they thwart a plot to take over Europe.

3. Legend by Marie Lu
Imagine Hunger Games as a mystery, with a (slightly) faster blooming romance. Yep. It was that good. I loved it.

4. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
I liked it better than Divergent, and I'll keep reading the series.

5. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Sarah finally convinced me to read this one, even though I don't like sad stories. Which is silly, because this isn't really a sad story, although you won't believe me until you've read it yourself.  Loved it.

6. Red Glove by Holly Black 
(sequel to White Cat)--I liked this one. In fact, Black Heart is the next book in my stack.

7. Kill Switch by Chris Lynch
I was extremely disappointed by this book. The characters were amoral and unlikable. I kept reading it because it had such an awesome premise, but it never came through.

8. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson 
(sequel to Girl of Fire and Thorns!!!)--If you haven't read Girl of Fire and Thorns, drop everything and read it. If you've read it, you've got to read The Crown of Embers. I'm in love with these books!

9. The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus book 3) 
by Rick Riordan
I really liked this book. I'm not as crazy about The Heroes of Olympus as I was about the Percy Jackson series, but it's still a lot of fun.

10. Reached by Ally Condie
The final book in the Matched trilogy. It was my favorite book of the series. I liked it.

11. His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
Being a connoisseur of all things Horatio Hornblower, when I heard about this book, I had to give it a try.  It was pretty brilliant, but nonetheless I'm not in a huge hurry to read the next one. Someday.

12. Scarlet! By A.C. Gaugen
I couldn't stand the way she used the word "were" whenever she meant "was" but other than that, I enjoyed this book--it's a Robin Hood story told as though Will Scarlett was actually a girl, and only Little John and Robin Hood know.

***13. The Hero's Guide To Saving Your Kingdom*** 
by Christopher Healy 
This might be my favorite book this year.  It's middle grade heaven. I loved it!

14. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart 
This was a reread. I liked it. If I had liked the ending more, I would have loved it. As it is, I'm saving my opinion until I know if there's a sequel or not.

15. Screwing Up Time by C.M. Keller. 
This is one of my favorite books I've found for my kindle so far. Right now, it's only 99 cents. AND the sequel (Screwing Up Bablylon) just came out. 

16. Blue Eyes and Other Teenage Hazards 
I read this book, and then my daughter read it, and she pointed out something I had missed--this story is set in the world of Logan and Samantha from All's Fair in Love, War and High School! Logan is one of my favorite characters EVER, and even though he doesn't show up in this book, Samantha does--I just didn't recognize her when seen from another character's eyes. As I've mentioned before, I LOVE Janette Rallison.  I liked this one.

17. Masquerade--
Sometimes LOVING books by Janette Rallison can be embarrassing when you're in your forties.  Hurray for Masquerade! It's all that trademark silly romance that I love so much, but the characters in Masquerade are all grown up.  I liked this one too.

My Winter 2013 Reading List
1. Black Heart by Holly Black (Book 3 in the Curse Workers series)  
2. Persuaded by Jenni James
4. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
5. Ruins by Orson Scott Card (Book 2 of Lost Gate series)
6. The Outcasts by John Flanagan (this has been on my list for a while.)
7. Screwing Up Babylon by. C.M. Keller (sequel to Screwing Up Time)
8. Prodigy by Marie Lu (sequel to Legend)
9. Princess of Glass  by Jessica Day George (sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball)
10. An Abundance of Katherines  by John Green
11. Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Would you like to add a book? Please do.
And don't forget to tell me your thoughts on Janette Rallison's post.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Games, Games, Games

My daughter got an Operation game for Christmas. It made me smile remembering the hours I spent as a kid trying so hard to pick out that funny bone and not touch those metal edges. Growing up, one of the things I was blessed with was a family who loved to play games. I've written before about the epic Scrabble battles we used to have. It seemed like there was always some board game spread out somewhere.

I've been blessed a second time with a husband who has the same love of play. So, with Christmas behind us, and the New Year and many months of winter still ahead, I thought I'd share some of our family's favorite games with you. I hope you'll reciprocate with some of your own in the comments - we're always looking for something new to play.

For the Young Set

Chutes and Ladders and Candyland are always perennial favorites. Here are a few more that might tickle your little one's fancy.


Okay, I lie. This game isn't only for the young. It's addictive. With a simple pictoral bingo board and plastic picture chips delivered by an ingeneous dispenser, this is a fast paced game the youngest kids can play and the oldest kids can still enjoy. I can't say enough about how fun this game is.

 Sequence for Kids

This board game, filled with colorful animals, challenges kids to use their cards to get four animals in a row. The luck of the draw is important, but so is strategy to block and outmaneuver opponents. We had a lot of fun when the kids were young playing this one. 

Older, But Not Necessarily Wiser
(Or More Mature) 



Ah, where would our family be without Munchkin? This hilarious tongue-in-cheek card game is based on D&D  with a choice of cleric, thief, mage or warrior. But with monsters to fight such as the Ether Bunny and the Bi-Polar Bear, curses to face (including Chicken on Your Head) and rewards (Bribe the GM - Go Up A Level!), this game will have you chuckling, snorting and guffawing the whole time. There are tons of add on packs, too, to keep the fun going.

 The Farming Game

Yay! The Whole Valley Is Green!
This game was literally created on the seat of a tractor. A farmer from the valleys of Eastern Washington (where my own grandpa was a farmer!) came up with the idea for the Farming Game when he wanted to show us city-slickers what it was like to really work. This is probably the most board-gamey of my suggestions. Players roll dice and move around the board planting and harvesting hay, wheat, cows and fruit (Fruitage! - sorry, we used to have all night tournies in college and they got a little - uh, yeah). Just when you think you're in the clear, Wham! the fruit borer beetle decimates your harvest, or the IRS swoops in and garnishes your wages for the year. But when things go right just that once and you get that $80k payout - wow, what a feeling. Ha ha. Great memories with this game.


This is an all time favorite. On a player's turn they draw a challenge card, which is an action they must perform ('You are a grade school bully. Try to take another player's lunch money.' 'You are in a TV soap opera. Tell another player why you can never marry them.') That's funny enough, but things really get wild when the player then draws a curse card which they can hand out to any other player ('You are a Vulcan. Whenever you laugh, say, "That is not funny." with a straight face.' 'Whenever you speak, use your arms to do some dance moves.'). The curse is in force for the duration of the game and must be performed at all times. Curses can also be compounded with other curses, so people often end up with a combination like this: 'Speak only in a high-pitched falsetto voice,' AND 'You are Mr. T. Whenever you speak, say "I pity the fool," AND 'Whenever you speak, a swarm of invisible mosquitoes surrounds your head. Swat them away.' AND 'Whenever someone makes an animal noise, shout the name of a lunch meat (in a high falsetto voice, first saying, 'I pity the fool,' and swatting yourself).'
Try this one. Seriously.

 Ugg - Tect

My husband just gave this one to us this Christmas, and I think it's shaping up to be another winner. You are part of a team of cavemen. Your task is to listen to your team's Ugg-Tect to create a structure using colorful building blocks before your rivals finish theirs (Only the Ugg-Tect can see the structure plan card). Communication is only allowed with a few gestures, guteral grunts, and a blow-up 'wooden' club (complete with spikes!) Yep, that's our kind of game, all right!

So, now that you've gotten to know my family's tastes probably a little too much, what games do you and yours enjoy?


Monday, December 24, 2012

Boekweg Family Christmas Story Tradition

Merry Christmas, Prosers Everywhere! I hope you are all bundled up with the people you love, drinking eggnog, and ignoring the fat content...just like I am.

books,children,Christmas,families,holidays,kids,mothers,persons,readings,special occasions,stories,storybooks,women

Every year, my kids and I have a tradition. We sit around the computer and make up a story. It's all my kids,  I just gently prod them with questions, and type.

In case you are wondering how to start your own story telling tradition. I'll share the first starter questions and their responses. Hope it inspires you to start your own tradition, because this is my favorite.

Me: If you could tell a Christmas story about anyone who would it be.

Boy Child: The Grinch!
Girl Child: No Santa.

Fighting commences.

Me: Okay stop fighting, how about we tell a story about how the Grinch met Santa.

Children: Yay!

Me: Okay, so where did they meet?

Girl Child: The North Pole.

Me: Great! So how did the Grinch get to the North Pole?

Boy Child: I know, The Grinch lives in California, and he...

Commence Typing.

Granted my children are brilliant and creative. Most kids are.  Why not see how brilliant and creative your children are, they might surprise you.

When the story stalls, I ask questions like, "What does the North Pole look like? What clothes is Santa wearing? What does he say?" When that all fails to spur on the story, I ask my favorite question, "And then what happened?"

All dialog, description, plot twists, and store names are brought to you by my children.

And here, in it's fresh and festive glory, is the Boekweg Family Christmas Story 2012. Enjoy!

The Grinch and Santa
By The Boekweg Kids

The Grinch lives in California, and wanted to go visit his mother in Ohio. So he bought a plane ticket, but there was a mix up. The pilot  accidentally put the wrong destination into the plane, which sent him to the North Pole.

So the Grinch, wearing a blue sweater and pink earmuffs, got off the plane.

“This doesn’t look like Ohio,” said the Grinch.

The North Pole is icy, and close to Greenland, (not Iceland. Weird, right?). The plane left the Grinch with only a few people from Greenland who were waiting for their Christmas trees to be delivered, because there are no trees in Greenland. (again, weird)

The Grinch was feeling very sad. He missed his mom so bad. He went to a store to get some hot chocolate, and there behind the counter at the hot chocolate store was Santa, the big guy himself. Santa was wearing red and white clothes, and black boots. He had a white beard, and there were elves helping Santa add the marshmallows to the hot chocolate, and blow on the hot chocolate, so it wasn’t too hot.

The Grinch took a drink of hot chocolate, “Santa,” he asked between sips, “am I on the naughty list?”

“Yes,” said Santa.

The Grinch frowned. “No, you’re on the naughty list.”

“No,” said Santa, “you’re on the naughty list.”

“No,” said the Grinch, “You’re on the naughty list.”

“Let me have your hot chocolate back,” said Santa

“No,” said the Grinch. “I need it, I’m so sad.”

“Why are you sad,” asked Santa.

“Because I miss my mom. I’m on the table”, said the Grinch, laying on the table.

“Blah,” said Santa

“I slapped myself.” said the Grinch, as he slapped himself and spilled all of his hot chocolate onto his earmuffs.

“Okay?” asked Santa.

“Poop,” said the Grinch as he wrung out the hot chocolate from his earmuffs into a cup, and then dumped the cup on Santa’s hat.

“Mom!” said Santa.

“Toot,” said the Grinch

“I just want to be done,” said Santa, and he walked away and started playing games on

So the Grinch walked away from Santa and the hot chocolate store, and went to a different hot chocolate store, called Home Depot.
beverages,blankets,boys,children,food,hot chocolate,household,people,pillows,wrapped up

So the Grinch was at Home Depot, and bought some more hot chocolate. I have to find my way to Ohio, thought the Grinch.

One of the workers said, “Hey, I have twenty plane tickets you can have. Grab one of these tickets and go back to the airport and go to Ohio.”

That was oddly specific, thought the Grinch as he took a ticket, said nothing, and walked away.

So then he went to the airport at the North Pole, but there were no planes, and the plane ticket wasn’t a 
plane ticket it was a trap. There was a scanner near the airport, and it had this thing on it, and it scanned the fake plane ticket and a cage fell on him. He was trapped.

Luckily, the Grinch was so thin, he escaped through the bars of the cage and said. “I’m out!”

But nobody heard him, because he was all alone.

"I know how I’ll get home," said the Grinch, to no one, because he was all alone.

It was Christmas Eve, so the Grinch walked to Santa’s workshop and sneaked into the bag of presents. So when Santa flew to Ohio, the Grinch stole a few presents, jumped off of the sleigh, and walked to his mom’s house.

“I missed you so much,” said the Grinch’s mom.

“Poop,” said the Grinch as he handed her the present. It was a one thousand dollar gift card for hot chocolate.

“I don’t know what this is,” said the Grinch’s mom.

“Say thank you,” said the Grinch

“No. You say thank you,” said the Grinch’s mom.

“Ank you! Ank you! Ank you!”


The End.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things

I know I was going to post about romance writing this week, but the fact is, I've been wrapped up in Christmas so entirely that I can't seem to think outside the (gift) box.  So this week I'm talking about one of my favorite Christmas activities: watching movies.

Here's a list of the top five movies I watch every year, and why I love them.

5. Holiday Inn

There is something about Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire fighting over Marjorie Reynolds throughout various holiday parties that makes this movie one of my all-time favorites, never mind that it's in black and white.  Of course, this is also the first movie (out of three!) to feature Bing singing White Christmas, which bumps it up considerably on my list.  Now if only I could whistle like he does...

4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
How can anyone resist the underdog that ends up saving Christmas?  This one was my favorite when I was little, and now that I have little ones of my own, it's climbed back up to the top five.  Although the sheer number of times my kids have watched this movie in the past week should have cured me of my nostalgic affection, I can't help myself.  It keeps my kids quiet for almost an hour, and any movie that can do that is okay in my book.
3. The Muppet Christmas Carol
When I was a teenager, my parents used to take us to the community theater every year to see one of Charles Dickens most enduring tales on stage, and although I wouldn't trade that time with my family for anything, I have to say, The Muppets' production of A Christmas Carol will always be my favorite.  It may have something to do with the fact that, again, it keeps my children glued to their seats, but I suspect that's only half the reason.  Michael Caine is, in my opinion, the most lovable Scrooge to grace the silver screen.  (No offence to my mom and her favorite Scrooge, Reginald Owen!)
2. The Sound of Music
This may not be the first movie that comes to mind when you hear the words "Christmas movie" but it is one of my "can't miss" movies every year.  What else can I say, Julie Andrews is a rock star.  The songs are really what MAKE this movie, but without the fantastic actors, and the writers (can't forget about them) to flesh it out, it would just be a fun soundtrack.
1. White Christmas
I laugh like a kid when Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye hike up their pants and perform "Sisters."  And I cringe every time Emma, played by Mary Wickes, opens her big mouth to Rosemary Clooney's character, gossiping about things she only half heard and DIDN'T understand over the phone.  Still, it all works out in the end.  Best of all, it makes my dad tear up every time the general inspects his troops.  Gotta love a family tear-jerker.
There is one more movie that didn't make the list, not because I don't love it, but because it got attached to the wrong December celebration.  A Christmas Story probably belongs in the number one spot, but it misses because it has become a birthday tradition in my family.  (This isn't a shameless plug, I swear.)  My birthday happens to be Christmas Eve, and until I hit seventh grade, I couldn't image having a more awful birthday (except maybe Christmas.) 
Then I met what soon became my best friend, who shared the same birthday.  She understood about the "two in one" presents and the "Oh, sorry honey, I didn't have birthday wrapping paper" conundrum.  Not to mention the lack of parties.  So we decided to turn our birthday into a movie marathon.  I'm not sure which one of us picked A Christmas Story--I think it just sort of worked out that way.  There's not a lot to choose from come December 24, so we caved to the holiday pressure and embraced a Christmas Eve birthday.  Thus, A Christmas Story birthday marathon was born, and endures to this very day. (Or rather, tomorrow.)
What are your favorite holiday movies, and why do you love them?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Creating Languages

I’m a big podcast listener. One of my favorites, PRI’s TheWorld, is an international news program. One of the subjects they focus on from time to time is the state of languages around the world. Last week, they featured a story about languages created by fantasy authors.

Here's the whole story, if you're interested, and here is a link to the transcript. But you don't need to listen to it to follow the rest of my post.

Their main focus was Tolkien, of course. But they also presented interviews with Ursula LeGuin and China Miéville.

Here is my favorite quote from the interview, where the reporter is talking to China Miéville about a language he created for his novel Embassytown.

It’s a language that mimics language of the garden of Eden, where the word is the thing. In other words, there’s no difference between an apple, and the word for an apple.The Ariekei can’t lie.
“If they want to use figurative speech at all they have to construct a situation which they can then refer to,” says Miéville.“If you wanted say ‘oh I feel like an angry lion today’ you would have to get a lion and make it angry. Otherwise you couldn’t say it because it didn’t exist.”

Now THAT would make for some interesting arguments!

Though I’m fascinated and awed by the idea of creating my own languages, I can’t say the idea holds much appeal to me. It sounds to me like way too much work. I mean, I haven’t even grasped the nuances of pacing and character yet! I've so far failed at even coming up with good curse words or sayings unique to my fantasy worlds.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot lately about stages of writing. When I was a very beginning writer, the idea of research made me nervous. Research, to me, seemed like a hindrance to the process and the flow of the writing I was doing, something to get in the way with the task I love.

The fact that I was in graduate school at the time may have had something to do with that particular view on research.

But since then, I’ve come to think of research differently. It stopped being a hindrance and turned into a joy, a learning opportunity. I stopped regarding it as something I had to do to impress editors, and instead became something I wanted to do in order to delve deeper into these worlds boiling in the back of my mind. Now I have a long list of things I can’t wait to look up and learn about.

It gives me hope. Sometimes I chide myself for not doing everything perfectly the first time. But as I keep arguing, writing is a process, a skill. Perfection doesn’t come right away. It's a cumulative effort: the more I know, the more I want to learn.

So I’ll keep a hold of those links, just in case.

What worldbuilding or other intricate writing skill do you hope to someday achieve?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


This is the last time I’m going to blog before Christmas, and I planned to write a post on Christmas music and how it perfectly captures that essence of Christmas.  But in light of the tragic events on Friday, I don’t really feel the Christmas spirit right now.

I had a hard time dropping my second grader off to school these last two mornings.  I bet a lot of parents did.  That place that has always felt so safe has lost that innocence.  In all of these tragic shootings that have happened over the years, I naively believed that no one would be evil enough to specifically seek out and target young children.  And now that hope that these monsters would have some semblance of humanity is gone.

 Pure evil exists.  There is no doubt about that.

But pure love exists too, and in reading about what transpired, I am in awe of the courage and strength of the teachers and workers at the school.  Who shielded children from the gunman, risked their lives to pull children to safety, and made sure every door was locked, who had the presence of mind to tell the students how much they loved them fearing that might be the last words they ever heard.  My heart goes out to the brave the first responders who rushed to the scene and the emergency room workers who prepared for victims that never came. 

So many people in that community proved that they would do anything to protect and save and shield those sweet innocent children from the horror, and I wish that love was enough to save them all, but I know those courageous adults did everything they could.

They were heroes, every one of them. 

And to the families that lost loved ones, I know my grief isn’t as deep as yours because I cannot fathom how deep your pain must be, but I want you to know that I am grieving with you.  I think the whole nation is.  And in a way, your children are our children, and your loss is our loss.

 My thoughts and prayers and love go out to all of you that has suffered from this heinous crime.  May you find peace.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Guest Proser Suzanne Vincent on Flash Fiction

I'm excited to introduce my guest proser this week. Her name is Suzanne Vincent, and she is the editor-in-chief of FFO, which you'll learn all sorts of cool things about momentarily. That's all she wanted me to say about her originally, but I sweet talked her into divulging a few more fun facts:
  • I recently took the leap from crochet to knitting.  Knitting is WAY harder.
  • I have three children and a fabulous hubby.  
  • I homeschool--two high school graduates getting on with their lives and one still plugging away.
  • At one time we had pets  in each of the five classes of vertebrates (all at once, mind you)--snakes,
     rogs, birds, fish, and various mammals.  Thankfully we're down to just birds and mammals now.
  • We have more instruments than people in the house--4 times as many, actually.  I play in a little traditional Celtic music band with my two oldest kids and a few friends.  I play Bodhran, Mandolin, and vocals.
Thank you, Suzanne, for being my guest blogger this week! ~Melanie
I found this cute picture while searching
for a picture of knitting.  Plus, alpacas are
mammals. This photo is relevant in SO many ways.
Considering what I do, I thought it most appropriate to make an attempt at waxing philosophic about flash fiction.

Ten years ago who had heard of this thing called flash fiction?  No one.  Certainly not Robert Jordan of The Wheel of Time fame. But it’s been around as long as people have been writing things down.  Think ‘Aesop.’  Think ‘fables.’  Think ‘fairy tales’ and ‘legends.’

And from those beginnings we have a new and exciting prose form that many dabble in but few understand.  Why is that?  For starters, no one has established any hard and fast do’s and don’t’s for the form.  You can’t go to a book or website and have a neatly bulleted list of flash rules.

A flash...
Haiku?  Easy.  5-7-5.  (No, I don’t want to hear any poetry buffs rebuff that statement, because, yes, I know that Haiku has many different forms, 5-7-5 simply being the most commonly taught in public schools.)

Flash?  Not so easy.

Definitions of the form vary widely.  Stories with fewer than 1500 words, 1000 words, 500, 300, 100.  Stories of exactly so-and-so many words.  It might be called instant fiction, sudden fiction, immediate fiction, 5-minute fiction, short-short fiction, micro-fiction, all of which are correct, or not.


You should be.

But it’s not as bad as it once was.  After 4 years editing flash fiction, I’ve noticed a gradual settling of exactly what the form is, and I suspect Flash Fiction Online has had a role in that. 

For Flash Fiction Online’s purposes, flash fiction is a complete story of at least 500 words, but no more than 1000.  Why?  It’s all about money really.  Isn’t everything?  We pay $50 per story.  In order to qualify as a Science Fiction Writers of America pro-pay market, we have to pay a minimum of 5 cents per word, meaning a maximum of 1000 words.  But we also don’t want to overpay.  So we have this little narrow window that pays as little as 5c per word, but as much as 10c per word, depending on the length of the story.

In general, however, the form is most frequently defined as stories of 1000 words or fewer, with several popular sub-forms.  Microfiction, for example, is most frequently used for stories of 100 words or fewer, or stories of exactly 50 words.  Even exactly 69 words.  (Don’t ask me where that sub-form came from.  I don’t know, and I suspect it’s better that way.)

And the structure of flash fiction?  That depends on who you talk to as well.

But, for most, flash fiction is a complete story in short-short form, differentiating it from the vignette, which is something like a story in that there are usually/but not always characters/narrators doing/talking about something, but generally without plot development.  Naval-gazing we fondly call it. 

In terms of genre, flash fiction has no limits.  I’ve seen it all. Well, almost.  I have yet to read a flash Western.  The rest?  Done it.  Even, much to my chagrin, erotica and gore, and WAY too many romantic vampire stories, usually within weeks of the release of each Twilight book/movie.  One more reason to detest Stephanie Meyer.

So why is flash fiction relevant?  Good question! 

First, flash is growing in popularity due to an ever more frantic world.  I have one young friend—a student, writer, and avid reader—who rarely reads novels anymore.  She doesn’t have the time to allow herself that kind of immersion.  But she can read a flash story in five minutes while waiting for her bus.  Others read it because they simply lack the attention span for longer stories.  Flash readers are young and busy and the literature of the 21st century will inevitably evolve—is evolving—to reflect that.

Second, flash is rightfully touted as a writing lesson in 1000 words.  Longtime flash fiction fan, supporter, and founder of Liberty Hall Writers flash fiction challenge, Mike Munsil, began the challenge for two reasons: first, to motivate writers to craft a submission-ready story in a short period of time; second, to give writers a venue to learn better writing technique from this unique form.

Flash fiction, above all else, teaches economy in writing.  It teaches the writer to use every single word wisely.  That’s a lesson that’s useful not just to short story writers, but to novelists as well.  Managing the length of a story has more to do with manipulating the number and complexity of characters, settings, conflicts, etc., rather than filling space with words.  Being aware of every word used to write a story, no matter the length, is, in my humble opinion, the highest form of literary skill.  In flash there is no time for lengthy descriptions, just effective ones.

Third, as mentioned above, flash gives writers the opportunity to have stories out there in the market with a minimum of work.  We always want our stories circulating the slushpiles—and the more the better.  A stable full of stories wandering from one venue to another, seeking a home, adding publishing credits to our resumes, establishing name recognition and respect and a network of fellow writers.  A flash story can be written—from idea to finished, edited story—in a few hours.  Mike Munsil’s flash challenge gives members 90 minutes to get the story on the page.  Editing comes later.  Through Mike’s site, thousands of stories have been written, hundreds published, many more developed into longer stories.

The real trick to writing flash fiction, though, is not being fooled into believing that writing a shorter story is easier than writing a longer one.  Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”  There is much wisdom in that. 

What does that say about Robert Jordan? 

What does it say about me? 

Maybe I should take a writing vacation and restart that epic fantasy trilogy…

And, by the way, this blog post?  1000 words.  Exactly.


I just can’t get away from it.

P.S. This is Melanie again. Liberty Hall is a members only writing group. If you are interested in joining, you can find membership request information here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

When (Not) to Query an Agent

First off, happy 12 - 12 - 12!

(and Happy Birthday to my son, who, on 12 - 12 - 12 is ... 13! Almost made it there, buddy.)

So, on to the topic at hand.
Coming to the end of my novel (and maybe the end of my sanity, too) I began to wonder if there was a best time to query an agent. Of course, the best answer is to query when your novel is ready. Beyond that, though, the all-knowing www is sort of nebulous. But, there is definitely a wrong (or less right) time to query. And that time is Now.

Let me reiterate: most sources say, do not query now unless you absolutely have to.

A few things happen to agents this time of year:

  1. Agents get hit with the NaNoWriMo tsunami. No matter how much the NaNo site tries to tell you there's more to be done with your novel, many, many people flush with a 50k victory will pack up their next Twilight or War and Peace and email it off to a bunch of agents. Wading through that is probably enough to make any agent into a rubber-stamping rejection Grinch. Don't get caught like so much flotsam and jetsam in the NaNo deluge.
  2. It's the Holidays! Believe it or not, agents are real people, too. They have lives, loved ones, and people they'd like to spend time with. As much as you might think it's a great idea to curl up with a good book over winter vacation, an agent might not like curling up with yours. Sorry, but that's her (or his) job, and when she's reading your manuscript, it's not for pleasure. Let agents have some breathing room to enjoy the bright lights, tinsel, and company of friends and family, too.
  3. Oh, and don't think about querying January 1st, either. It's a New Year. You've set a goal to get published this year. How many other people have the same idea? How many others are sending out their stories January 1st so they can check that puppy off their New Year's resolution list? A lot. So, how do you start the year out right? By not querying. Just like NaNo, let the flood subside before you submit.
So, if it's not right to query now, when is it right? Just about any other time of the year. Late winter to early spring seems to be particularly promising from what I've read. Summer can be hit or miss. Some agents love to have something to do during those dog days. Others are busy with vacations and activities. Fall, like Spring tends to be another universally good time to query.

One other thing to be aware of when querying is the agent's schedule. If you know an agent is going to be attending something big, sitting on panels, hearing pitches, etc., it's probably reasonable to expect her inbox to get a little overstuffed. Wait to query until she's a little more free.

There you go. You now have permission to breathe a sigh of querying relief, put down the keyboard, close the email, and go enjoy the holidays.

What good querying tips have you found?


Monday, December 10, 2012


I haven't written a full story in almost a year. I don't know if it's blogging, or trying to sell the house, or if it's just I don't know how to be a mom of three and a writer yet, (Or maybe it's just I watch too much Netflix.), but whatever it is, I haven't really written a new story for a while.

I don't know I can really even call myself a "Writer" anymore, or if I'm more of a "Have Written". I have four novels under my belt... so that should count shouldn't it?

If you too are suffering from a case of the "past tense writer" syndrome, I've come up with a few tips to try to get your writer on.

1. Write as a way of rebelling.

 You know how delicious food is bad for you, but you don't care because you're a rebel? Or is that just me. Imagine if that naughty Nutella had less calories than a carrot stick. Wouldn't that be awesome? If you're like me, you'd be in heaven for a few delicious weeks. Delicious Nutella covered weeks.  But then, slowly the taste of Nutella would get old, too familiar, and that secret thrill you get from sneaking a spoonful here or there would be gone. When there's no reason to feel guilty, then all that's left is the flavor. And every flavor, even Nutella, could get old if you eat it with every meal.

My husband didn't always get the whole I want to be a writer thing, and so for a while there, I wouldn't tell him I was writing.  Instead I tried to sneak it in between not doing laundry, and ignoring my children. But then one day he read one of my stories, and decided I wasn't wasting my time by trying to be a writer. For a while it was like Nutella was good for me. I was in writer heaven. While I wrote everyday, my husband praised me and did the laundry.  Hot, right? Slowly, however, writing drifted from a fun, and rebellious, past time, to a part time job/ task on my "to do list."

So, in effort to get my writing mojo back, I've decided to put a little rebel back into my writing. I'll start by breaking the rules I believe in. I'll swear. I'll start by having a character wake up. I might even write an entire story within a white box. The point is to have fun. The point is to ogly boogly snark rattle just because I can.

( Rebel.)

 2. Write as a way of telling the truth. 

And not just a truth, your truth.  If you can't come up with fictional stories to tell, then write true stories.

For example, growing up I lived next to two girls very close to my age. I'll call these girls Kate and Megan, because that's their names. :) It was kind of idyllic for a while, living next to my best friends, but then, when I was about seven, we started to battle. Kate would be my best friend one day. The next, Megan would be my best friend, and we'd hate Kate.  But the worst days were the ones were Kate and Megan would be best friends and they'd hate me.

 I remember one day in particular. I was over at Megan's house while my mom was getting errands done. Kate and Megan were already playing in the basement, and they had decided that today would be a "I hate Sheena day". They mocked my clothes, asked if  my mom bought them at the DI, ( a thrift store for those who don't know) I remember I said something like "No, my mom bought them from Kmart."
"Oh, I get my clothes from target." Megan said.
"Yeah, me too." Kate said.
Megan probably smiled at Kate and then spoke again, "Well, at least I look good in my clothes. But you don't because you're fat."
"Yeah, you're fat." Kate said.
I sucked in my stomach. " I am not."
 "Yeah huh, " Megan said as she lifted up her shirt to show off her belly button.  She was sucking her gut in too. "See, I'm smaller than you."  Megan hit Kate's shoulder and whispered, "Suck in your stomach."
 We stood there, three seven year-old girls, sucking our stomachs in until we ran out of air. I started to cry and they called me a cry baby, so I ran upstairs.
"I want to go home," I told Megan's mom, but my mom wasn't back yet from her errands, so Megan's mom sent me back downstairs. But I couldn't go back down there, so I sat there on the steps, about six steps from the bottom, and six steps from the top. I was stuck, and worse,  I really had to go to the bathroom.

I couldn't move. Megan's mom was really stern. She was cleaning up for some big party, and was very short tempered with me, and I couldn't go downstairs and be mocked again. And so, a few minutes later, that's were I sat while ashamed, broken, worthless Sheena peed her pants and watched the river of urine flow down the six carpeted stairs like a slinky of shame.

Now, that story is embarrassing, but it also took up enough space in my head that over twenty years later I can still picture the wet stairs, and still hear Megan whisper to Kate to suck in her stomach.

I think, sometimes, you need to get the stories out of your head so you can make room for new ones. New, less embarrassing ones. Telling your stories as you remember it can be therapeutic  Just reading this story now, with my grown up experiences and understanding, and I can see how big and how small that day was. I can see how Kate's parent's were getting divorced about that time, and how she wanted to just belong somewhere. I can see the kind of pressure, and environment that would cause a seven year old girl to have to prove that she was skinnier than all of her friends. I can smile when I realize that perfection seeking mother had to clean up my urine.  But most of all, I can see how that moment doesn't define me anymore. By telling that story, it becomes silent in my head now, and from that silence, new stories can erupt.

Tip number three. Just friggen start. 

Not every sentence needs to be gold. Not every character needs to make sense. Not every story needs to be the one that will give you your big break. Embarrass yourself. Waste your own dang time.

Because it's your time, your stories, and your opportunity to rebel, fail, succeed, or shine.

So shine.

* Please don't judge these girls for their seven year-old selves. Also don't judge me by my seven year-old self. I said meaner things back to them, and just because they were mean one day, doesn't mean they are mean now. Both of these girls grew up to be amazing women.

Also I don't pee my pants now...except when I sneeze.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Romance Story

You walk into a book store, eager to find a new story to consume.  You might head to the Young Adult section and pile your basket full with Becca Fitzpatrick, James Dashner, or Veronica Roth books.  You might linger in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi section, hunting for Octavia Butler or digging up the newest Writers of the Future volume.  Maybe you're looking for a great mystery, western, or you can't wait to read the newest Jodi Picoult.  Then you turn the corner and your heart races.  You realize, somehow, you've made a wrong turn, and you're now standing smack dab in the middle of the Romance section.

If you beat a hasty retreat and never look back, you might be missing out on something.  According to the Romance Writer's Association, the Romance genre generated 1.368 billion dollars in sales in 2011, and made up the largest share of the U.S. consumer market, at 14.3%.  That is nearly double the sales of the second-highest selling genre for that year.  In a world of ever-tightening budgets, Romance continues to grow, while publishers are forced to either cut down on, or at best, maintain the number of newly published books within each genre every year.

So if your mystery section lost a shelf, it might have been taken over by that section you try to avoid.  What is it about romance stories that sell so well?  Believe it or not, it's not sex.  In fact, one of my favorite authors in the genre, Carla Kelly, avoids pushing her characters into the physical aspect of their relationships.  (Any LDS readers out there should really check out her books Borrowed Light, followed by Enduring Light.  You have to read them both to get the full Romance-genre effect, and you have to read them in that order.  Don't switch them up.)  There are hundreds of books like this, that fall into the Romance category, but aren't based on the physical side of things.  It's about the emotion, the relationship, and most importantly, the characters.

How does this differ from a romance plot in, for example, a fantasy novel?  Well, for starters, Fantasy is usually about characters embarking on some kind of adventure in a strange new world.  And while you may find a Romance with Fantasy elements, it's vastly different than Fantasy with Romance elements.  Here's how:

  • In a Romance novel, the plot centers around the character's relationship with one another.  No other element in the book matters more.  If the story finds the world hanging in the balance, and that takes prescience over the relationship, it's probably Fantasy first, Romance second.
  • The struggle takes place inside the character's head.  Her family doesn't approve of her choice in husband, or he has never wanted to be tied down to a wife, and they spend the majority of the book trying to overcome these obstacles.  She'd have to come to grips with the fact that in marrying for love, she might very well lose her family.  He would have to realize that the pros of being married outweigh the cons of losing the woman he loves.  (These are just examples I'm making up, by the way, and very basic examples at that.)  The obstacles are occasionally more substantial: she ends up in jail, at which point he probably rides to her rescue.  Or vice versa.  Maybe the world really is working against them.  But 9 times out of 10, the conflict takes place inside their heads.
  • The biggest rule of Romance: there is always a happy ending.  No matter how hard the characters fight their feelings, or what the world throws at them, they always get a happy ending.  When you look through other genres (such as Fantasy) you start to see how big a difference this really is.  Characters die, good guys lose, sometimes things end well, but the boy doesn't get the girl.  Not so in Romance.  The happy ending is King.

And that's pretty much it.  I can see why Romance is the highest selling genre.  When you pick up a Fantasy, you might be able to count on the world being put right by the end of the story, but your characters won't always get a parade in their honor.  They won't necessarily end up with the person they loved, and they will most likely lose a few of their friends along the way.  They achieved their overall goal, without finding what makes them happy.  It's a scary prospect, especially if the series happens to be upwards of three volumes long.  (Or--gasp!--twelve or thirteen books the size of a cinder block.  I'm talking about you, Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind.)

Romance is a safe bet.  You get struggle, with the promise of resolution.  You watch the characters evolve, grow, and become the people they were meant to be.  And at the end of they day, you close the book with a smile, satisfied that the author--and the genre--delivered what they promised.

Next post, I'll talk about what every genre can glean from Romance, and how you can apply those elements to your own stories.  Until then, I encourage you to check out Marian's Christmas Wish, a holiday favorite of mine that is about as mild as Romance comes. 

Have a great couple of weeks everyone!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

... But Maybe Not Too Much

Two weeks ago, MaryAnn wrote an excellent post about suffering in POV characters. She said,
"I think making the characters suffer ups the stakes, it makes you feel that they have a lot to lose and that success isn’t a given, in fact, it is almost impossible, and that ratchets of the tension while making the hero feel vulnerable, more relatable."
I absolutely agree. However, over the summer, I read a couple of books with characters who go through extreme suffering, and instead of making me care more about the characters, it frustrated me. So what's the deal - did the authors take it to far, or am I expecting too much of my favorite characters?

The two books were The Queen of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner, and Fire, by Kristin Cashore.. Without revealing any spoilers, I can tell you that both Gen and Fire suffer crushing losses throughout the course of the story. I should also note that I think both these tragedies needed to happen to these characters; it's not the losses, it's how they're portrayed that somehow bothered me.

Grief isn't a pretty thing. It's a swirling, tar-like mass of sorrow and rage and regret. It takes a long, long time to heal from such a thing, to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I know that personally. So why didn't I have more empathy for Gen and Fire?

To be honest, I'm still not entirely sure (this is why even though I'd read the books in summer, I hadn't gotten around to writing the post yet). Is it because I expect more from characters, especially those otherwise portrayed as heroes? Well, maybe a teeny bit. I mean, I would like to think I have a more nuanced appreciation of character growth than that, but maybe I spent too many years watching Disney movies.

Maybe it's because Fire and Gen's grieving comes at bad times for their kingdoms. Both have to be scolded by friends or relatives to leave their grief and pay attention to the troubles around them. It's probably unfair for me to be irritated by that, too. I mean, in the times that I've grieved, there hasn't been an invasion of monsters to California or anything, so it's not like I can empathize on that level.

Or maybe it's because of something else. During the original run of Star Trek: The Next Generation, you may remember that Gene Rodenberry died, and Rick Berman took over as executive producer. My uncle, the biggest Trekkie I've ever me, complained that after Berman had taken the helm, the show had devolved into the bridge crew squabbling throughout every episode. "I don't tune in to watch that sort of thing," he told me. "I started watching Star Trek because it presents a hopeful view of the future, where we can actually work together to achieve results."

And maybe that's a big part of why I read traditional fantasy. I want to see characters overcome impossible situations, to handle every challenge with grace. To act in the ways I wish I could.

I'm not advocating perfection. Perfection is boring. But I do wonder now how to hold that balance, to make characters realistic, to portray suffering without becoming maudlin.

If you've read those books, did those moments frustrate you too, or not? To you as a writer, do you want to try to achieve a balance of those two elements, or do you find one more important than the other? And have you come across any well-done portrayals of suffering in POV characters?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What Exactly is Good Writing?

From Stock.xchng
Whenever agents talk about books they're looking for, most of the time, they specify one that is well-written, and I’ve always wondered what that actually was.  According to readers on goodreads, Twilight was poorly written and The Da Vinci Code and even, dare I say it, Harry Potter.  I’ve always wondered if this was just something associated with writing styles because I have my own personal preferences when it comes to writing styles, but I don’t think that makes other styles wrong.

 So is being well-written subjective, or is it being confused with style and/or voice?  Maybe style, voice, and how the book is written are just so intricately connect that they can’t be separated.  Maybe, but maybe not.

 I recently came across this post by ex-agent now author Nathan Bransford.   He wrote this post in response to his blog readers questioning his claim that Fifty Shades of Grey is “not that badly written.”  He talks in the blog post about how he defines good and bad writing. 

When I talk about "good" writing and "bad" writing, I mean the prose. Is it readable on a sentence-to-sentence level? Is there a flow? Is there a voice? Do I get tripped up by a lack of specificity in description or are the details evocative? Is the hand of the author too apparent or am I able to lose myself in the world of the book?”

I think this is the perfect definition of good writing.  It really gets to the heart of what is important in writing, and it separates, as much as it can be separated, the very subjective style and voice from the writing itself.  And I’m not entirely sure if my interpretation is correct, but this is my take on the points he makes and how they relate to good writing.  

“Is it readable on a sentence-to-sentence level?” 

 I think clarity is the key here.  The sentences need to be free of grammar mistakes, and they can’t be too convoluted or poorly constructed.  The reader shouldn’t have to struggle to understand the sentences.

“Is there flow?”

It isn’t enough to have clearly written sentences, those sentences need to connect to each other.  The ideas need to logically flow from one sentence to another, and then from paragraph to paragraph.  In good writing everything is connected to what came before with smooth seamless transitions from idea to idea as the story progresses.

“Is there voice?”

Voice is kind of this nebulous thing that agents and editors seem to want but no one really understands.  I know that voice is far more complex then I'm going to get into here (and Melanie gives a great definition of voice here), but I think an important aspect of voice is consistency.  There needs to be a consistent style throughout the entire story that holds the writing together.  It doesn't have to be a specific style.  It just has to be consistent.  

“Do I get tripped up in lack of specificity in description or are the detail provocative?”

I think this has to do with confident writing.  Vivid details help the story and the world feel real, but I think there is more to it than that.  I think there is a confidence that comes from writing that is very specific, and that confidence in the prose makes us readers more willing to trust that the writer knows what he/she is doing.

“Is the hand of the author too apparent, or am I able to lose myself in the world of the book.”

I think this is the most important aspects of good writing.  Good writing shouldn’t get in the way of the story.  It shouldn’t be awkward or repetitive in structure, ideas, or words, but it also shouldn’t stand out and steal the spotlight from the story.  It should paint a scene, evoke emotion, and put images and ideas into the readers mind, but the words themselves should be invisible.

I think these things, clarity, flow, consistency, confidence, and invisibility is what makes up good writing.  Honestly, I’ve never read a traditionally published book that I didn’t think was well-written on some level, even Twilight, The Da Vinci Code, and Harry Potter.   

So what are your thoughts?  What is good writing to you?


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gone Girl and the Pitfalls of the Big Twist

The last book I read was a nail-biter, the kind of book that kept me up all night desperate to know how it ends. The answer was true to Amazon reviews: disappointingly. But don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending, because that would ruin the whole thing.

So I'll only spoil the middle.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, is a psychological suspense novel about a missing wife and a marriage that has gone horribly wrong. If you haven’t read it yet, don’t read the reviews that spoil the ending. Go out and buy it - I’m still 40th on our library waiting list- then read 219 pages and get back to me. (If you can’t tear yourself away from this post, then I assure you the spoilage will change how you read this book but not ruin it. It might even make you like it better. Or it might not. No money-back guarantees in the blogging business, my friends.)

Go on. I'll just hang out here and wait.
By Leyo (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-2.5-ch]via Wikimedia Commons

I'm betting you didn't stop at 219. Couldn't put it down, right? I assume it’s Tuesday and you’re checking back in. 

So you’ve started Part 2. For the first half of the book, the narrative has alternated between Nick’s POV in the present day and Amy’s diary entries beginning years earlier. On the day Nick's story began, Amy disappeared from the house, leaving traces of blood and signs of a struggle. Nick has been muddling through the police investigation while Amy's diary has reflected increasing strain between them.

Now we’ve gotten to know both Nick and Amy a bit, and we know something isn’t adding up. Their marriage is clearly troubled, and he is lying to the cops and might even be lying to us, the readers, because there’s something sketchy about Nick. And Amy seems oblivious sometimes, even as she seems to understand their dynamic so well.

If you’re like me, you’ve seen a little more of yourself in Amy than you’d like to admit. The way she tries so hard to be an easy wife, to not let his little guy habits get to her. The way she compares them with other couples while pretending not to. The way she seems to be trying to create a picture of happiness while not being entirely sure if she’s actually feeling it.

If you’re like me, you might have put the book down few chapters in, when you were starting to see how Amy might drive Nick insane, and said to your husband, “So, ah, promise not to murder me, okay?” And he might have frowned and said, “I already promised not to push you down the stairs after you watched that Lifetime movie and I am not making any more promises because I really. Shouldn’t. Have to.” And then you might have pouted for a minute before sinking back into your book, pushing aside the feeling that the author knew you too well.

This was in the beginning, before things got weird. You just suspected Nick was angrier than he seemed and Amy was more desperate than she seemed, and it all was a little too keen, as though the author had taken a shadow and managed to give it form, then sharpened that form to a blade and sliced open every marriage ever.

Or maybe you were just engrossed in the story. To each her own.

You got sucked in deeper, stayed up later, and found yourself on page 219. The midpoint reveal. You knew there had to be one, because nothing added up so far. You may have even floated this in your head, or maybe you positively saw it coming all along. I worried the story might go off the rails, but never anticipated the degree to which Flynn carries her twist through. Whether or not you guessed the twist, if you are like me, even a little bit, you were not happy with this turn of events.

Because if you are like me, you love reading about characters who betray each other but you are less enthusiastic about characters who betray you, the reader.

Okay. This is your final chance to catch up. I'm not going anywhere. Spoilers come after the manatee.

By Chris Muenzer (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ah, you’re back.

Page 219: Not only did Amy fake her own death, she faked all those diary entries. That character who hit a little close to home, whose vulnerabilities were so perfectly blended into an everywoman that I could understand and envy and pity all at the same time? Yeah, she was fake. The real Amy made her up. The real Amy played a joke on everyone, including the reader. And since the real Amy is not real, but made up by the real author, I had some less than kind thoughts for Ms. Flynn on page 219.

I knew there had to be a twist in order for the story to make sense, but I still groaned out loud when this was it. It took me another fifty pages to get over the resentment and get into the new story - the one featuring a sociopath instead of a victim.

Elements of the TWIST FAIL:

Not everyone will be as bothered by this plot twist as I was, and you can’t please everyone all the time, but if you want to please this cranky blogger I recommend avoiding two pitfalls of a big twist:

1. Abusing the Reader’s Trust

Unreliable narrators can be tricky, but they can also work. If you’ve made it this far, you know that Nick is having an affair, and he didn’t tell the reader upfront. Instead, when his girlfriend forces her way onstage, he makes a reluctant confession to the reader:
I have a mistress. Now is the part where I have to tell you I have a mistress and you stop liking me. If you liked me to begin with. I have a pretty, young, very young mistress, and her name is Andie.
I know. It’s bad.
Nick has committed some lies of omission in his narrative, making him an unreliable narrator. But Andie doesn’t contradict the picture of Nick. She fills out another piece of the puzzle, and it fits with everything that came before.

As I reader, I don't feel like I bit into my next Goober and got a Raisinet instead.

Amy's twist, on the other hand, is like having your delicious chocolate covered peanut snack replaced by chocolate covered raisins in the middle of the movie. And I have always thought that fruit and chocolate is something a person needs time to get used to.

I was invested in Amy's character. I knew she was holding back, but I thought I related to her. Finding out those diary entries were all supposed to be a lie was kind of like spending 200 pages of my life with a someone I think might be a friend and instead turns out to be doing market research. A lot like that, actually. Maybe I should spend more time with real people. But that's for another post.

2. Forgetting the Limits of Your Authorly Control

Books are at a disadvantage compared to movies. A movie always has one ultimate viewpoint: the camera’s. You can stick with one character, or have voiceovers, but basically what the camera sees is what the audience sees. In The Sixth Sense (a.k.a. best twist ever), we could go back and see all the bits that the camera caught that we had missed, all the ways to look at a scene differently once we understood that there was another angle.

A movie never relinquishes control to the viewer. We might puzzle over things or even miss them entirely, but we don’t generally fill in any details with our imaginations. In a movie, you get what you get.

Authors don't have that kind of control. We readers have to form our own images, and we use our imaginations on every single page to make the world of the story richer. Characters and settings become uniquely three-dimensional in our minds. I kept picturing Nick and Amy in a house just like one I’d seen when my husband and I were house hunting several years ago. If I read a detail that contradicted my image, I’d adjust. But the image was there already, based on only a few details from the author and the pictures my brain had in storage. I’ve never been to Missouri, so the suburbs I pictured were more like Michigan, because that’s what my mind filled in. Gillian Flynn couldn’t have stopped me. The author can't control every detail, or decide how invested a reader becomes in his or her imagination.

This means that changing critical things late in the game is dangerous.

If you give a few telling details about a woman - a hunched back, a shuffling gait, gray hair - and for 200 pages, I picture an old lady, it won't work to say on page 201 that she’s actually a young woman. No matter how many details you tell me, it would take some mind-blowing writerly chops to make me to picture something that could be either an old lady or a young woman without giving away your surprise.

As I read, I create images based on my interpretation of the story. In a movie, I have no choice but to interpret the image you show me. In that case, painting a picture that can be seen two ways is easy peasy lemon squeezy:

Maybe I wasn't supposed to relate to Amy as much as I did. Maybe I was supposed to smell that she was off from the outset, or maybe I wasn't supposed to be rooting for her. Maybe I wasn't supposed to picture the diary entries as vividly as I did, or get so attached to them. But Ms. Flynn couldn't have controlled that without giving away the surprise.

A book might be born in one person's creative mind, but the experience of reading it is always collaborative, a meeting of the author's words and the reader's imagination. So before you introduce a twist, ask yourself if you’ve anchored the reader in the right images, and if the promises you made along the way are the ones you meant to make. Some people love surprises and some people hate them, but no one likes a broken promise.

For a great analysis of what makes a twist really work, see MaryAnn's brilliant post: Pulling off The Big Twist.  

I'm off to order Gillian Flynn's other novels. Story critiques aside (we haven't even talked about the ENDING!), Gone Girl was a heckuva fun read and I can't wait to do it again.