Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Top Ten Tuesday

I'm sure I will have missed one or two on this list, so feel free to comment and make additions. Remember, these are in alphabetical order by last name, not ranked, and that contemporary means the author must still be alive and writing the series:
Top Ten Contemporary Series Characters

Monday, June 29, 2009

Must-See Monday

Not that many book signings this week, but there are plenty of readings to check out. Here are a few of my favorites, all in the same week!

Monday, June 29th at 7:30pm Twilight Tales hosts it's monthly reading series at Bourgeois Pig Cafe (738 W. Fullerton).

RUI: Reading Under The Influence welcomes Jonathan Messinger and Patrick Somerville on Wednesday, July 1st at 7:00pm. Sheffield's (3258 N. Sheffield) hosts, providing great beer to compliment the reading and trivia games.

The last reading series worth checking out this week is at Uncommon Ground (3800 N. Clark). Story Club features improv, readings, oral storytellings and sketch comedy. Friday, July 5th at 8:30pm.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Weekend Reading

This weekend, I'll be diving into THE END OF BASEBALL by Peter Schilling. This debut novel chronicles the baseball season of 1944 and features historical characters such as President Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover.

I just finished James Rollins's latest, THE DOOMSDAY KEY. It's a great mixture of thriller and historical. Very reminiscent of DA VINCI CODE...except with character development...and accurate research...

A few weeks ago I met J. Adams Oaks, author of WHY I FIGHT. He's local, he went to Columbia, and he's super nice so definitely check out his book.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Writer's Block: Writing Boost

Do you ever feel like your writing looses it's life? That the setting fades away and the dialogue falls flat? Here are a few tricks to breathe new life into your writing and create fresh, memorable scenes:

Form Shift: This is an exercise I learned in college. Most books are written in standard prose, but shifting forms is a great way to give your readers something different. Write a few scenes as letters, as lists, as a how-to. If you're writing crime fiction, try writing a police report or newspaper piece. Write a portion of your romance novel in the form of a love letter. Shifting to a different form will give you the freedom to try something different and tell the story in a new way.

Dialogue Only: This is especially useful if you're trying to move the scene along or nail down a character's voice. For a scene or chapter, write entirely in dialogue, no stage directions or exposition. You may be surprised at how quickly you can move a scene and what you may discover about a character's voice.

Exposition Only: This is the opposite of the previous exercise, where you write no dialogue, only exposition. Use this to explore the setting, maybe sneak in some back story, and overall hone your prose.

Point of View Shift: Often, we start writing in a certain point of view and question our decision later. If you're writing in first person, try shifting to third and vice versa. You may like it better. You can also try writing from a different character's point of view. It's always informative to see the story from another character's perspective.

These are all exercises and you may not use any of the writing in your final manuscript. But more often then not, you'll produce something that surprises you, something that's new and fresh, something that revives your manuscript.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Must-See Monday - Pride Edition

It's Pride this week, so there are plenty of GLBT events to attend. So before you hit the parade, check out a few of these queer literary happenings:

Stop by Gerber Hart library (1127 W. Granville) tonight at 7:00pm to discuss STONEWALL by Martin Duberman.

Check out the Solo Performance series June 22, 23, and 24 at 7:30pm at the Straw Dog Theater Company (3829 N. Broadway). Performances by local GLBTQ writers, including Cookie Crumbles, Deb Lewis, and Byron Flitsch, sponsored by the New Town Writers.

The annual Pride Reading and Open Mike will be held at Women and Children First (5233 N. Clark) on Tuesday, June 23 at 7:00pm. Hear local queer authors, including Robert Rodi and Jennifer Harris.

Head back to Women and Children First on Thursday, June 25 at 7:00pm for the GLBTQ Double Header with readings by E. Patrick Johnson and Larry La-Fountain Strokes.

For a non-pride related event, Janet Evanovich signs copies of her latest Stephanie Plum novel, FINGER LICKIN' FIFTEEN at the Magnificent Mile Borders (830 N. Michigan) on Friday, June 26th at 6:00pm.

Also, for a must-hear event, tune in to Blog Talk Radio's Top Shelf on Tuesday, June 23 at 4:30pm EST for interviews with Jamie Freveletti and Lawrence Block. Lawrence's new memoir, STEP BY STEP, about his experiences race walking, very different than the other 60 books he's published. Since Jamie is a runner who's married to a race walker, she and Lawrence are a perfect match.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Weekend Reading

Looks like it's finally going to be a warm, sunny weekend here in Chicago. So, in honor of the rain's disappearance, here are a few good beach reads to check out while you soak up the sun:

WELCOME TO TEMPTATION and FAKING IT by Jennifer Cruise are the perfect beach reads. Both have hilarious, over the top characters, witty and raunchy dialogue, and clever story lines. Don't be embarrassed by the pink and pastel yellow covers, ten pages in you'll forget all about them.

For a different kind of humor, try ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY by Dave Sedaris. This autobiographical series of vignettes and short stories had me laughing out loud, especially the section about his experience in art school.

If you'd rather catch some action while you catch some rays, pick up GONE FOR GOOD or TELL NO ONE by Harlan Coben. He does a brilliant job of putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and is a master at suspense.

Short story collections are perfect when you're reading time is limited. Check out CHICAGO BLUES, THESE GUNS FOR HIRE, and EXPLETIVE DELETED, all published by the talented folks at Bleakhouse Books.

Planning on taking your Kindle to the beach? Want more recommendations? Good news! Crimespree Magazine is now available on Kindle. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Writer's Block: Social Networking for You

It seems these days, everyone has a Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace account. Most are on LinkedIn, writers are on Goodreads and Shelfari, and crime writers are on Crimespace. With all of the buzz surrounding social networking sites, it's easy to get wrapped up in the trend. But the benefits of these websites varies depending on who you are. Your goals will determine which sites are best for you.

You Are: An unpublished, aspiring novelist
You Need: None of the above
Finishing your book and getting published is your #1 goal. These social networking sites will only serve as a distraction. An agent is not going to notice you because you follow them on Twitter and no editor will accept submissions via Facebook. Spend your energy finishing your book, querying agents, and getting your book published.

You Are: A freelance writer
You Need: LinkedIn and Twitter
As a career freelancer, two things are imperative: knowledge and contacts. Following pertinent Twitterers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or even President Obama, will keep you up to date on what is going on in the world. LinkedIn helps you make contacts in the industry, includes job postings, and allows you to showcase your body of work.

You Are: A blogger
You Need: Twitter, Facebook and Myspace
Depending on the type of blog, you could hit hundreds of social networking sites, but these three are the most important. If you're goal is to drive people to your website, the more links out there, the better. In order for people to find your blog, they have to find you, and these three sites will help them do that. In addition to mentioning your blog in your profile, link you your latest blog entries on your Twitter and Facebook updates.

You Are: A published novelist
You Need: All of the above
Okay, you don't really need all of the above, but the more places mentioning your book, the better. It only takes a few minutes to set up GoodReads or Crimespace, and once it's up, it's not so important to maintain. Twitter and Facebook are higher maintenance: they require constant updating. The others are more for search engine purposes; the more your book is mentioned the more it will pop up. I've updated my Crimespace page once in two years, but it still pops up if you type my name into Google. If you're time is limited, stick with either Facebook or Twitter.

Though these sites are all the rage, not everyone needs them. Figure out your goals and evaluate what these sites are doing to accomplish those goals. These are social networking tools, but if you're using them for your career, the emphasis should be on "networking" not "social".

Monday, June 15, 2009

Must-See Monday

The weekend may be over, but the literary fun has only begun! Check out these must-sees:

Twilight Tales goes gay for pride month Monday, June 15th at 7:30pm. The reading series has temporarily relocated to the Bourgeois Pig (738 W. Fullerton)

The Book Cellar hosts local author night on Wednesday, June 17th at 7:00pm. Billy Lombardo, author of HOW TO HOLD A WOMAN, is a very talented writer and definitely worth hearing.

If you're in the burbs, Jamie Freveletti will be signing copies of RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL at the Warren Newport Public Library in Gurnee Saturday, June 20th 2:00-3:30pm.

Check out the monthly literary and variety showcase, Sappho's Salon, at Women and Children First on Saturday, June 20th at 7:30pm. Tonight is their anniversary performance and the $10 includes food and wine.

I just learned that one of my favorite restaurants, Uncommon Ground, has a bi-monthly open mike called Story Club, so stop by the Wrigleyville Location on Sunday, June 21. The show features 8-10 minute readings, oral storytelling, improv and stand-up comedy. Sign up begins at 8:00pm, show starts at 8:30pm.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Weekend Reading (and viewing)

The cold and the wind continue here in Chicago, perfect weather for renting movies. So here are a few books to check out before viewing their film counterparts:

One of my favorite books is Mystic River by Dennis Lehane and Clint Eastwood did a great job adapting the book for screen. Both are beautifully told and portray haunted, gripping characters.

For more great characters, check out Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis. In this case, I actually enjoyed the film more than the book, but both are told in very interesting ways.

Another great book/film is Jarhead by Anthony Swofford, a memoir about one Marine's experience in the gulf war. The film is a bit different than the book, but both are wonderfully told.

Lastly, I have to mention both Chuck Palahniuk books that have been made into films: Fight Club and Choke. Both books are great, I liked Choke the book a little better, but Fight Club is by far, the better adaptation.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Writer's Block: The Memorable Protagonist

It is difficult to love a book without loving the character. I'd go out on a limb to say it's impossible. When we fall in love with stories, we fall in love with the characters. If you don't care about the person, you won't care what happens to them.

So as writers, how do we create protagonists that readers care about? Here are a few suggestions:

Multi-Faceted. One of my biggest pet peeves is when the protagonist is a cliche, cardboard cutout: the tired/alcoholic cop, the sociopath with a traumatic upbringing, etc. Readers like characters with more than one dimension, especially when that dimension is one that you wouldn't expect: A killer who's very religious and goes to confession after every murder or a cop who dreams of becoming a folk singer and plays at cafes and local open mikes. Readers want characters who are more than just their job title.

Baggage. There's nothing I love more than a protagonist with a past. We all are who we are and are doing what we're doing because of past experiences. Let your character carry some baggage and show readers how it affects their actions in the story.

Goals. All of the characters in your book should have goals, but your protagonist's are the most important. Clearly illustrate what their goals, don't let them achieve them too easily, and make them driven and passionate about reaching those goals.

Conflict. A character without problems is a character without a story. A book cannot simply illustrate a character on a journey to achieve their goals. There must be conflict, problems, obstacles.

Flawed. Perfect characters are boring and not believable. Characters with weaknesses and flaws are more interesting and realistic. Giving your character a weakness will not only make them more believable and sympathetic, the weakness will also serve as an obstacle to overcome.

What should you avoid?

Cliche. Both in dialogue and the characters themselves.

Gimmicks. Sometimes they're funny, but more often then not, they're cheesy. Unless you're Monk or Elmore Leonard.

Forcing a protagonist. Finding your storyteller should be organic; you shouldn't force the story on a character just because their convenient. Before you begin to write, brainstorm and look closely to find the true storyteller in your book.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Top Ten Tuesday

This is just my opinion, one I've formed from personal experiences. Again, the list is in alphabetical order, not ranked. Disagree? Feel free to comment!

Top Ten Places to Meet Other Writers in Chicago

  1. 624 S. Michigan Ave. (Columbia College)

  2. Billy Goat Tavern in Streeterville

  3. Bourgeois Pig in Lincoln Park

  4. The Coffee Studio in Andersonville

  5. Danny's Tavern in Bucktown

  6. The Hideout in Wicker Park

  7. Hopleaf in Andersonville

  8. Sheffield's in Lakeview

  9. Uptown Writer's Space in Uptown

  10. Wilde in Lakeview

Monday, June 08, 2009

Must-See Monday

This is a light week for all things literary, but here are a few events you'll want to check out:

Tuesday, June 9th at 7:30 PM check out Quickies at the Innertown Pub (1935 W. Thomas). This reading series features short stories of 5 minutes or less. The rowdy crowd will cheer, whistle, boo and heckle, which can be just as entertaining as the readings themselves.

If you care to venture out to the burbs, Laura Caldwell will be discussing and signing copies of her latest book, RED HOT LIES at the Wacounda Public Library on Thursday, June 11th at 7:30pm. Laura is a great writer with a wonderful personality and she's definitely worth the drive.

Another suburban event worth checking out is writing duo Michael Stanley. They will be discussing and signing copies of their latest book, THE SECOND DEATH OF GOOD LUCK TINUBU on Friday, June 12th at 7:00pm at Centuries and Sleuths (7419 W. Madison) in Forest Park. Stanley is the author of the Dective Kubu series set in Botswana.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Weekend Reading - Printer's Row edition

In honor of Printer's Row, I'm recommending authors who will be at the book fair this weekend. Be sure to attend their panels or stop by their booths to get signed copies!

RED HOT LIES by Laura Caldwell released this week. Laura is a Chicago author whose books are a good mix of thriller and chick-lit. This book is the first installment of a summer trilogy; the subsequent books will be released in July and August.

Also in attendance will be Chicago authors Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover. These two aren't just great writer's, they're a lot of fun too. Don't just buy their books (GOOD PEOPLE and TRIGGER CITY), take them out for a beer too!

Tickets to Elmore Leonard, one of my favorite authors, are already sold out, but that doesn't mean you won't be able to get a book signed. If you haven't read him, I'd recommend starting with GET SHORTY and BE COOL. I think BE COOL is the better book, but you can't appreciate it without reading GET SHORTY first. His latest book, ROAD DOGS, is supposed to be great, but I haven't gotten a chance to pick it up yet.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Writer's Block: Konrath's e-book experiment

Though I've already written about my take on the Kindle and e-books, author J.A. Konrath has had some interesting posts on the subject the last couple of weeks. So today, instead of giving my opinion, I'm pointing you to someone else's:

E-Books Part 1
E-Books Part 2

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

New Top Ten Tuesdays

Thought I'd try something new for a few weeks. Every Tuesday I'll put out my top ten list of various themes. The listings will be in alphabetical order, not rank, and if you feel I've missed something, feel free to comment!

Top Ten Chicagoland Independent Bookstores
  1. 57th Street Books in Hyde Park
  2. Barbara's Bookstore UIC location
  3. Book Cellar in Lincoln Square
  4. Book Stall in Winnetka
  5. Centuries and Slueths in Forest Park
  6. Myopic Bookstore in Wicker Park
  7. Quimby's in Bucktown
  8. Sandmeyers Bookstore in the South Loop
  9. Women and Children First in Andersonville

Monday, June 01, 2009

Must-See Monday

Featured Event (just because I'm the one reading!)
Tuesday, June 2nd at 7:30pm at Big Chicks (5024 N. Sheridan) I'll be reading at Homolatte. Joining me is singer/songwriter Samantha Cathcart. It will be a great night of music and prose, a definite must-see.

Authors Jamie Freveletti, Billy Lombardo, and poet Robert McDonald read at RUI: Reading Under the Influence Wednesday, June 3rd 7-10pm at Sheffields (3258 N. Sheffield). If you haven't been to this unique and lively reading series, it's definitely worth checking out. Answer the trivia correctly, you'll come out with a free drink and a free book!

National Book Award nominee Jean Thompson launches a new short story collection, DO NOT DENY ME, MY BROTHER, Friday, June 5th at 7:30pm at Book Cellar (4736 N. Lincoln). Authors J. Adams Oaks and Lindsay Hunter will be joining him and the event is sponsored by Jonathan Messinger of Featherproof Books.

June 6th and June 7th, make sure to check out the Printer's Row Bookfair. There are too many events to post, so click here to check out the full schedule. Some authors of note include Marcus Sakey, Sean Chercover, Jamie Freveletti, Laura Caldwell, Tasha Alexander, Andrew Grant, Dave Eggers, Elmore Leonard, and others.