Thoughts On HALF PAST

Hello, hello!  Welcome to the first monthly installment of book reviews!  A friend recently introduced me to NetGalley, a site through which publishers offer ARCs (advance reader copies) in exchange for honest and unbiased reviews.  While going through their options, I came across Half Past by Victoria Helen Stone, which came out September 19th, 2017, and decided to give it a shot.  First and foremost, I have to thank NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for the ARC.  Here’s my review.

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The cover is nice.

I originally chose to read Half Past because it sounded interesting.  Hannah Smith, the 45-year-old protagonist, has returned home to rural Iowa in order to take care of her ailing mother and recover from a divorce and being let go from her job.  She discovers that she might be adopted and decides to go on a journey of self-discovery in the hopes of finding out about her origins.  The back blurb hints at a dark story, so even though it’s not something I would normally pick up, I tried it.

The whole premise of the novel turned out to be flawed.  Hannah is O- blood type and she discovers that her mother who has dementia is AB+.  The narrator mentions that anyone who took high school biology knows this isn’t possible, and a brief Internet search seemingly supports that, but I happened to have a doctor’s appointment while reading this book and she said it technically was possible.  So, I dug a little deeper (it wasn’t even a difficult search) and discovered articles by a geneticist who teaches at Stanford that explain that while it’s extremely rare, there are a few ways an AB parent can have an O offspring.  And if it was just Hannah assuming she knew everything, I could overlook this, but a doctor tells her she must be adopted instead of telling her she needs to consent to more tests to be positive.  The whole thing tainted my view of the book, but I kept reading.

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Facepalm was an accurate reaction throughout the book.

Then there was Hannah herself.  Honestly, she acted more like a fifteen-year-old than anything.  Everything was a major drama that she couldn’t handle, so she constantly ran away and blamed everyone else.  She complained about never fitting in, but she never made an effort to do anything about it.  And I’m sorry, but at 45 years old, you should know that the woman who raised and loved you (because her childhood was a happy one) is your mom.  You don’t run away from her in her time of need to search for your “mom.”  I had no way to connect to Hannah until the very end when she finally takes a little responsibility for everything, but by that point I already disliked her.  If she were younger and this was a story about her finally becoming an adult, I probably would’ve enjoyed it a lot more.  As it is, she came off as a flaky, annoying, crybaby.

The story itself was a quick, easy read.  It felt a little predictable, but my mind goes to the dark places a lot easier than other people.  I did think it was a little too drawn out.  If I found out I was adopted and the only lead I had was a strange birth certificate, the first thing I would’ve done was look for the witness listed on it.  Maria Diaz ends up being an afterthought when nothing else pans out.  I think Hannah conveniently forgot the name so she could go on a vacation.  That’s what it felt like anyway.

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This was the look that accompanied the facepalm while I was reading.

I will say that I enjoyed the writing style.  It was comfortable and kept me reading despite my issues with the story and with Hannah.  While I wouldn’t put it on my list of favorites by any means, I wouldn’t tell people not to read it.  It simply wasn’t my cup of tea, but other people might enjoy it.

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Ultimately, I’d give it three out of five stars.  I wasn’t a fan and I think some things should’ve been better researched, but beyond that it was well written.

Character Questionnaires: Yes Or No?

Howdy, howdy!  While I was searching for something writerly to blog about, I kept coming across ideas for character questionnaires (getting to know your characters, things to know about your character before you start writing, etc.).  The questions varied from basic stuff about looks and personality to weird things like “what’s in their fridge right now?” (the main character of my novel-in-progress currently has pizza, coffee creamer, and pouches of blood in her mini fridge, in case you were wondering).  And, at first, this seemed like a really neat idea, until I came across a list of 1,000 questions I was supposed to know answers to for my characters.  Yes, three zeroes.  It seemed pretty excessive to me.  I started to wonder when something like that went from a useful tool to being something to procrastinate with.

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Pretty sure this would be the reaction from my novel-in-progress’ main character and her bestie.

I just feel like there are things you should naturally know about your characters before you start writing, even without a questionnaire.  Name/nickname, the basics of how they look, main personality type, any distinguishing features.  For me, these are all things that come naturally with the voices in my head.  I don’t need to write them down, because I know them.  Occasionally, I’ll make a conscious decision to change an eye color or hair color if I have too many blue eyed blondes or whatever, in which case writing it down somewhere is helpful.  But all the questionnaires that start off with these things feel more like a way to procrastinate than anything useful.  On the other hand, if you’re the type of writer who works on multiple projects at once, I can see how you might mix up characters without having some kind of reference sheet.

Then, there’s the group of questions about character motivations which seems a lot more helpful to me.  Knowing why your characters do things helps when you’re writing and trying to decide how they’ll react to different scenarios.  It makes writing believable scenes easier.  Say your main character freaks out when their roommate pulls out a sword in a non-threatening manner.  Why?  Well, if you know they witnessed their sibling getting stabbed, you can hint at that or build around it even if the reader doesn’t know it yet.  Something less severe: why does your main character throw a tantrum every time her boyfriend steals her Oreos even though she’s a grown woman?  Maybe her siblings always ate all the cookies when she was a kid.  If you know their motivation, you can figure out how they’ll handle things realistically.

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A completely acceptable reaction.

Last, they have the really out there questions.  The “what’s in the fridge” and “favorite sex positions” types of things.  These are the ones that I’m almost positive people answer to feel productive, but they’re really just procrastinating.  I don’t think my character’s preference for red Gatorade over blue has any impact on my story, unless there are monsters in the Gatorade, then maybe.  These are the questions that are fun if you’re having trouble writing one day and are hoping answering them will spark something.  Otherwise, you’re just goofing off.  And that’s okay!  I understand the desire to put things off, but don’t lie to yourself about it.

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It’s totally procrastination.  Own it.

Overall, I don’t find character questionnaires that helpful.  They’re fun and something to do if I’m stuck or really don’t feel like writing, but, honestly, I’d rather just write most of the time.  What about you?  Do you fill out character questionnaires wen you create your characters?  What are some questions you find the most useful?  Which ones do you ignore or consider unhelpful?  Feel free to comment here or on my social media pages!

The Tendency To Assign Blame

Hello, hello!  Last week, I had a really good writing week, despite having a day of errands (after which I wrote a book review blog post even though I didn’t want to/have to) and taking a day off because I felt crappy.  I met all my goals and even had time to watch some anime along the way.  But looking back, I realized that I never really took credit for my productivity (not last week or ever, that I can remember).  At least, never for the little every day things.  I have this weird tendency to blame inanimate objects for my success, like taking credit for it will somehow ruin it.  Or maybe because inanimate objects have awesome powers that make me productive.  I don’t know.  I’ve just always done this.

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I do that too.  You’d think they were people.

I’ve seen a lot of people do this.  Instead of saying they rocked that day, they give all the credit to some good luck charm or special t-shirt or whatever.  And I totally understand the compulsion to have something tangible to blame for things that otherwise seem to come from thin air, because it’s easier than acknowledging that it’s all you (especially if you’re terrified of failing and need something to blame for that too, just in case).  But I sometimes think I’m weird because I don’t have just one special item I blame for everything, good or bad.  I use whatever happens to be handy.

For example, last Saturday I was feeling particularly procrastinate-y (I don’t know how else to describe it), and a neighbor brought over a little rubber rat for me as an early Halloween gift, so it sat on my computer watching me while I worked.  At the end of the day, when I gave Facebook my boring little update on what I did that day, instead of saying that I fought off my procrastination and wrote the words, I said that I wrote because my new friend was keeping an eye on me.  I’ve blamed shirts.  I’ve blamed pictures.  I’ve blamed dolls.  The more I think about it, the stranger I think I am.

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My little rat friend.  His name is Yuki Sohma, like from Fruits Basket.

Part of me thinks it’s because I’ve always been easily annoyed by people who brag too much, so I don’t want to become one of them.  Ooo, I wrote words and did all the other stuff I needed to do… big deal.  Right?  But at the same time, I like seeing my friends celebrate all their accomplishments, no matter how small.  So, why shouldn’t I celebrate mine?  Probably because it’s a super thin line between celebrating and bragging and I don’t want to cross it.  I guess blaming inanimate objects makes it feel less like bragging and more like praising whatever inspired my productivity that particular day.

But screw all that!  Some days, you need to own your accomplishments, even the tiny ones.  Especially when people act like you aren’t doing anything.  Stop blaming inanimate objects for your successes.  You did it.  You rock.  And it’s okay to pat yourself on the back once in a while.

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We could all be a little more like Barney.  Just a little, though.

What about you?  Do you blame your successes (or failures) on inanimate objects?  Do you have a lucky item that lends you its powers from time to time?  Or do you take all the credit for yourself?  Feel free to comment here or on my social media pages!

Three Golden Rules For Writing That I Never Follow

Howdy, howdy!  I recently talked to a friend from my critique group about some comments I sent her on a story, and she mentioned the notion of writing rules.  These are the things that get constantly reiterated in writing programs (like our MFA program).  We’re told all of the things we can and can’t do.  Meanwhile, authors who are getting published are breaking all the rules and no one else seems to care.  Does that mean the rules are really suggestions?  No, not necessarily.  It simply means people are choosing to break the rules that don’t work for them or their stories.  Some of them do this more successfully than others, in my opinion.  But I’m glad I learned the rules because breaking them deliberately tends to work better than breaking them because you don’t know any better.

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Sure they are.

But here are three of the rules of writerhood that I never follow:

1. Write EVERY day, even on holidays and when you’re sick.  Because everyone knows you’re not really a writer unless you write a bunch of words every single day and never take a break.  Except, that’s complete bullshit and anyone who tells you otherwise is a Liar McLiarson.  Yes, it’s good in the beginning and helps train your brain to take writing seriously, but beyond that, it’s just not possible and you shouldn’t feel obligated to work that way if it doesn’t help you.  Personally, I need a weekend, even though I mostly just sit around and play mindless games.  Self care is important and you deserve it.  Plus, who wants to write after they’ve been up all night projectile vomiting (just an example)?  It’s okay to take breaks.

2. ALWAYS read your work aloud.  This is great advice if you’re practicing for a reading or if something doesn’t feel right and you can’t figure out what it is, but I don’t like reading things out loud.  For one, I feel stupid doing it.  But mostly, I don’t want to read my novels out loud because I’m lazy.  It would take forever at the pace I speak.  Plus, the voices in my head make reading silently more interesting for me and I can hear when things sound abnormal in their voices, whereas if I’m reading aloud, I might find out where I stumble over phrasing, but I’ll miss things that feel natural to me even though my character wouldn’t actually say it.  So, reading everything out loud isn’t for me.

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Stephen King said it, so it must be true!

3. Adverbs are BAD.  This is one of those rules that I ignore when I’m writing, but follow when I’m revising.  Yes, there’s usually a better way to say things than using adverbs, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t awesome in a first draft (which is the writing part of writing for me).  It’s difficult to think of the perfect phrasing when your goal is to get words down on a page.  That’s where adverbs come in handy.  Sure, there are better, more evocative ways of saying “she walked slowly upstairs,” but it’s a perfectly acceptable phrase for a first draft.  You can decide in your edits whether she trudged, or hobbled, or snuck (sneaked?), or whatever.  But adverbs are great placeholders until that point.

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Such a rebel.

So yeah, those are a few of the golden rules of writerhood that I break.  What about you?  Are there any rules of your craft that you don’t follow?  Anything that seems like it was created by an overzealous person who didn’t understand that not everyone works the way they do?  Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, etc. here or on my social media pages!