Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What I'm Reading: A Journey to Self-Publishing

A Journey to Self-Publishing is another one by a member of the Writers of Chantilly.  The author here is Kalyani Kurup, who gives us a brief (five chapters) but charming memoir of her experiences as a writer and her misadventures in the publishing world in India and the United States.

I can definitely recommend this book to other authors, especially those considering the alternative world of self-publishing.  Writers will find a lot of useful lessons on dealing with publishers and free-lance employers, as well as the occasional pointer on improving one's writing style. Some non-writers may find it to be a lot of shoptalk, but I think others will appreciate how well she laces her story with self-deprecating humor and careful observations of the people she meets.  I especially love her story of a lengthy search for a certain address in Bangalore, accompanied by the world's worst-oriented auto-rickshaw driver.

I might also add that despite her frequent protestations in the text to the contrary, Ms. Kurup's English is impeccable! Her prose style is elegant and tasteful, a little like one of those Bangalore gardens she must have seen that day--perhaps more flowers and ornamentation than are strictly necessary, but all directed towards the end of creating a beautiful, well-tended place for relaxation and edification.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What I'm Reading: Red Flag Warning

A couple years ago somebody got me the book The Big Burn by Timothy Egan, because the person knew "I like history books."  At first this seemed like a terrible choice.  Sure, I like history, but a book about a forest fire in Idaho a century ago, in the early days of the Forest Service and the National Parks System?  Sounded like a snoozer.  But how wrong I was!  The Big Burn was so well-written, so tense and dramatic, that I easily count it among one of the best history books I've ever read.

It was with that in mind that I turned to fellow Writer of Chantilly Melanie Florence.  One of my writing/reading goals for this year is to read something by all the WoC writers with books out, and her recently self-published book, Red Flag Warning, claims on its cover to "showcase the realities of wildfires in our western forests today."  This seemed like it might be a good fictional companion to the Big Burn.  And it is!

There are really three layers of story interest: First, a murder mystery.  Our heroine, Sophia, works on a Forest Service field crew as a botanist.  One of the other women on the field crew, a soil expert named Jackie, is resented among other crew members for her laziness and drinking on the job.  But when she turns up dead from poisoning on one of their work sites, suspicion centers on the crew members--especially Sophia, with whom she had recently clashed.

Two, the story takes place against the backdrop of a series of wide-ranging forest fires in eastern Oregon.  It's mid-summer, and this area of Oregon has suffered seven years of drought.  Huge, acreage-destroying fires flare up with the flick of a cigarette butt or a spark from a metal tool.  Sophia's husband, Gerald, works on a fire crew and puts his life in danger with every new conflagration.  Not surprisingly, as she works in the woods, the threat of fire is ever-present for Sophia herself, as well. The plot points and descriptions here are comparable to the Big Burn.

Finally, the book gives us fascinating descriptions of Sophia's life as a botanist on a field crew for the Forest Service. I had never previously known or really thought about a job like this, but the book gives us a realistic portrayal of what such a position entails, working the details in organically with the rest of the plot.  This actually turned out to be probably my favorite part, as it's always fun to see other people's jobs.

The book could be classified as a "cozy mystery" but it ratchets up the tension and drama effectively by the end.  Melanie knows what she's doing and after a somewhat slow start, Red Flag Warning becomes a page-turner by about halfway through.  If I have one complaint, it's that there were two many characters.  I believe for verisimilitude's sake, she made Sophia's field crew the size of a real field crew.  However, many of these characters blended into one another, especially the guys: Randy, Butch, and Aaron.  I think it would have been more effective if these three had been condensed to one or two more sharply-drawn characters.

All in all, an entertaining book that I think cozy mystery fans would enjoy, and would also interest anyone who likes the Big Burn and wants to learn more about the phenomenon of Western wildfires.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My 2014 Writing Resolutions

Okay, obviously I'm a little bit behind.  Well, I did actually write these on 1 January, I just haven't gotten around to posting them until now.

1) Maintain blog.  Hmm, I seem to have fallen a little bit behind on this.  This post is a good start, though!

2A) Finish reading current novel at the bi-weekly Writers of Chantilly meetings.  I'm on my way, I read a chapter per session and I have four left, I think.  So about two months.

2B) Find a beta reader for current novel.  Not sure if I really need to do this or not, but I do have someone in mind.

2C) Finish all edits on current novel.  This will come a little later in the process

2D) Send to agents, possibly by April 2014.  That's an ambitious target, we'll see.

3) Finish short story for Writers of Chantilly "Unfinished Business" anthology.  COMPLETE!

4) Read (and blog on, and comment on Amazon) a recent book by all other Writers of Chantilly members who have recently published.  I'm reading one now, Red Flag Warning, by Melanie Florence.  Of course I'll review it here when I'm done.  Not sure if I actually can get to everybody this year, but I intend to hit as many as I can.

5) Decide on next long project.  A sequel to my current novel, or something else?