Friday, March 28, 2008

Funny or Die? Funny.

This post has nothing at all to do with writing and frankly, what I'm about to post is not-safe-for-work and can be crass. So if you're offended by R-rated themes, don't click!

BUT. I like to give props to good people who have good things happen to them, and to that end, two friends of mine from college just got named to EW's must list (that's Entertainment Weekly for those of you who aren't as obsessed with pop culture as I am) for their short film, Matumbo Goldberg, which is currently running on Will Ferrell's website,

Check it out and then vote "funny!"

(Again, I don't want to offend anyone, so if you're pure of heart, feel free to ignore this!) :)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Are You a GoodReader?

(Hey Suzanne, I owe you that Jodi Picoult interview link: here ya go.)

Have you guys checked out the site, I'd think that anyone who is an avid reader would enjoy it. Basically, it's sort of like a Facebook for readers: people post objective reviews and comments on books and share those thoughts with their "friends." For some reason, I find the reviews there more objective than on Amazon, and I find the navigation a lot easier too - it's cool to see all the books someone has reviewed and their baseline for what they deem good vs. crappy, as well as what sorts of genre books he/she enjoys.

I only post about books I like, though plenty of people offer middling reviews. But as an author, I have no interest in eviscerating another author publicly, especially because I know that one person's trash is another person's treasure. I also suspect that it's a good tool for an author to reach readers, but I haven't quite figured out what tool that is yet. :) For now, I'm just enjoying the community.

Anyway, check it out. I'm curious what you guys think: is this just another time waster (for sure!) or a cool resource for readers who are always looking for recommendations? (Or my vote: both!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How Backstory Makes the Book

All of this talk about backstory has me thinking about my next next book. I’ve given myself a May 1st deadline to come up with the concept because for whatever reason, I tend to write best over the spring and summer (random, I know!, but I also write best when I’m in my running routine, and I’m a fair weather runner – you won’t catch me out there in long underwear and gloves), so I know that I need to get crackin’.

For me, a book begins with a character and her backstory. Whether or not I fully integrate this backstory into the actual plot is one thing, but I’ve found that it’s easiest for me to hit the ground running (I guess both figuratively and literally!) when I have a full understanding of my protagonist - who she is, where she is in her life and where she’d like to go. A lot of the plot pieces fall into place as I write – I’m not the type of writer who lays everything out from the get-go – but as long as I have a full-bodied concept of my character’s backstory, I’m set.

For example, here’s how
Time of My Life came about. I was chatting with one of my closest friends, who happened to be on vacation in a city where an ex-boyfriend currently lives. She and I were having one of those conversations that you can only have with your dearest confidantes, one in which she said, “I’m here and I’m so weirded out. I mean, what if I run into him? And I can’t stop thinking about what would have happened if we hadn’t broken up.” I concurred about the weirdness, having just visited a city of one of my ex-boyfriends, and we proceeded to talk about our various life decisions and how different - for better or worse - things could have been if these decisions had been tweaked. Then, eventually, we hung up, and I went for a run. As I circled the reservoir in Central Park, our words lingered in my head, and I was instantly struck with my character, Jillian. She came to me immediately, and I had a complete understanding of where she was in her life, why she was so discontent, and how she was haunted by her “what ifs.” (I've always been fascinated by this concept: how small changes can change the entire outcome of your life - if, say, I hadn't joined the gym at which I met my husband.) So I came home and wrote what are now the first 15 pages, sent them to my agent, and voila, a book was born. My vision of Jillian never wavered from that first moment because I understood her so completely. (I should note: I didn’t understand her because I share her sentiments, only that I could understand how she had gotten to where she'd gotten.) The rest of the book was up in the air – I had a general idea of what I wanted to do but the details fell into place as I went. But my character’s backstory held steady, and for me, that is what made this book.

For more backstories, check out Maybe you’ll find some inspiration. But in the meantime, keep your ears open: you never know what will spark you next story idea.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Backed Up With Backstory

Question of the week: I'm currently working on my second manuscript in the mystery/suspense genre, but I'm having difficulty with the back story. How important or relevant is the back story? I find that the back story really slows down the first 50 pages of my manuscript, then it takes off after the murder takes place. What can I do for this?

Ugh. Backstory. The downfall of so many writers.

I've told this story on here right? The story of how the very first draft of The Department had an additional 99 pages (yes, 99) that my agent read and said, "Why do you need this? Everything in these pages can be cut, and you can open the book on page 100." And she was right: I was able to open with a diary entry that gave readers everything they needed to know about where my character was in her life and where she was headed.

That, to me, pretty much sums up how I feel about backstory and how it can really, really bog down a book. Plots need to be in perpetual motion - they always need to be moving the reader forward (especially, I should note, if this is the second in a series - some readers will already be in the know and will quickly find themselves bored with regurgitation of the facts). When you spend 50 (or in my case, 99) pages catching the reader up to the present, you've wasted precious space - and reader attention - when you should be able to start your book immediately in the present.

Another example (and I'm not trying to pimp this, I just think it's a good example of what I'm talking about): read the first chapter of Time of My Life. I learned my lesson with The Department, and I wasn't about to axe 99 pages again. (Oh, the agony!) In this one chapter, the reader learns everything she needs to know about the protagonist to move ahead. You learn, very succinctly, that she's in a tepid marriage, that she longs for days gone by, that she misses her job, that she's insecure about motherhood, that she's insecure about just about everything...well, you get the point. Sure, I could have spent the first five chapters citing various scenarios and crafting scenes to convey all of the above, but a better way is to hit the ground running: find a way to fill the reader in on all of this info in as short a span and as few pages as possible. Don't forget that you can always do quick flashbacks via your character (which I do in TOML) as the book progresses. But it would be, in my opinion, a big mistake to get bogged down in this from the get-go. A classic mistake, but a mistake nevertheless.

But what say you, readers? Have you ever gotten bogged down in backstory and if so, how did you fix it? Or how do you avoid this trap in the first place?