One of the best parts of being a writer is getting feedback from your readers. I've had people smile and say that they enjoyed my book. I've had people say that they don't normally read action novels, but they still enjoyed Where the Clouds Catch Fire and finished it in two days. I've had people say that they couldn't think of any negative feedback to give me.
To be honest, I'll look at you strangely if you say you don't have any negative feedback, because no one's that good of a writer. Heck, I'd give negative feedback to Laura Ingalls Wilder if I could. (She over-describes outfits in my opinion, but that's the only thing wrong with the Little House series.) I'm grateful anyway, but you won't hurt my feelings if you point out that my Irish dialect is off or that my villain doesn't have a strong motivation.
I had a friend text me recently saying that she enjoyed Where the Clouds Catch Fire. She pointed out different things that she liked--how I personified the ocean, how I gave a sense of family--but then she pointed out something that I hadn't thought of before.
The symbolism of spoons.
For those of you who haven't read Where the Clouds Catch Fire (which is available on Amazon and under the "Purchase" tab above), one of the main characters, Lukas, does not eat with spoons. Whenever he eats oatmeal or soup (which are the staples of his diet), he simply drinks it straight out of the bowl. Protagonist Alynn spends most of the book trying to get him to change his ways, and by the end of the book, he's capable of using spoons. He still doesn't enjoy it. But if it makes him seem like a normal person, he'll do it.
I meant for it to be funny, not symbolic.
I've heard similar stories about people finding hidden meaning that wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. A Tumblr post mentioned a student who drew a fictional character without hands. The teacher took it to mean that the character felt helpless, while in reality, the student just couldn't draw hands.
I've mentioned in earlier blog posts that I'll accidentally throw a fact in a book that's historically accurate. Like that one time I put in a throwaway line that mentioned an Irish character making ham, before realizing that Irish people are apparently pretty good at making ham. But being unintentionally symbolic? That's new.
I don't quite know what my friend saw in the spoons. Adapting to new times and/or a new culture? The release of old ways so that the new can be welcomed? The appreciation of small things in life? Come to think of it, there are quite a few things that I could have meant. But I didn't mean any of them.
Don't get me wrong--I'm flattered that someone would think of my writing that way. I'm also comforted that I'm not the only one who goes crazy over little details. (I paused How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World the other day just so I could show everyone the ravens on the chief's chair that symbolized Hugin and Munin from Norse mythology.) Lord willing, when I move on from the Clouds Aflame series and start making other books, people like my friend will notice how they're all connected. I want to have a ruby cross necklace in all the books, and don't worry, Alynn will get her hands on it eventually.
What do you think the spoon symbolizes? Or what's your favorite observation from a book, movie, or TV show? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Best off among the ones who served,
Never left the Army Reserve,
But still you show your flags unfurled.
To Josh and Louis
You wake at night with terrors dark,
For what you've seen has left a mark,
I pray that peace may soon be yours.
Your body may disabled be,
I hope your spirit, though, is free,
(But if it is, I do not know.)
Who traded loving homes for rags,
To bless the ones who burn our flags,
I, for one, will always say
Today is my last day of work for two weeks! It's so enjoyable without the kids there. The grown-ups, or at least most of them, are friendly. There's no one to throw blueberries at the whiteboard, hit another kid, or tell me I should be working at McDonald's instead. Plus I get free food sometimes.
I've been having quite a time with selling books on Amazon. I've taken classes about Amazon ads, I've purchased software, I set up my Amazon author page. But sales have still been a bit slow. I know that my product isn't to blame. I've had several people give me feedback, and every single one of them has said they enjoy my book. I know that my marketing skills are lacking, but the ads should be at least paying for themselves.
And then I realized that my description was probably to blame.
If you meet me in real life, one of the first thing you'll notice about me is that I don't enjoy spending money. If it's free, I'm on it. If I have coupons or a gift card, I'll buy it. Otherwise...unless it's food, I'll usually do without, make it myself, or find it cheaper somewhere else. So that's why I was glad to get a $5 Kindle gift card, and even more glad to find a Kindle book about how to sell books on Amazon for $4.99.
Amazon still says I have a $0.01 credit on my account. They're adorable.
Reading that book has helped me, but I was also able to formulate my own conclusion about writing book descriptions. So if you, dear readers, are writers yourself, or if you just need to suck your children into a bedtime story, here's a bit of advice for you.
Set up what's normal for your character. And then destroy it.
The author of my new Kindle book pointed us to the Amazon description for The Girl on the Train, which was apparently wildly popular. I haven't read this book--I'm still suffering through C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength--but the Amazon description is pretty nifty.
One thing I didn't understand, though, is why the better half of the description focuses on the main character's daily commute to work and everything she sees on it. Why does it matter that she's made up her own names for the elderly couple she sees eating breakfast on their front porch every morning?
I don't know why it matters. But apparently, it works.
I followed the same formula when I rewrote my Amazon book description. I set up what was normal--not quite Alynn's backstory, but what her life is like before the events of the book start--and then I say that everything is going to change.
I only hint at what happens. After all, why read a book when you know what happens? This is why I admire Lemony Snickett and his passing references of bad things in his Series of Unfortunate Events--"If you don't like stories that involve large-fanged fish, prosthetic limbs with minds of their own, or toothpaste that tastes like burnt meatloaf, this book is not for you." (I made that up. But I wouldn't put it past Lemony Snickett to write about such things.)
So, to sum it up: set up what's normal, and then destroy it. Hint at what's to come, don't tell us outright. Heck, that sounds like a good way to outline a novel, too....
What's your favorite book description? Post it in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Look! The opened door,
Like Kirke's wardrobe to a magic world,
Sunlight gold on grass of green
That gives it such a lovely sheen.
Look! The window clear,
The sky is bold and full of cheer,
Pink and myriad shades of blue,
There's some red and purple, too--
The door is shut,
I'm called away.
My prison cell is beckoning.
I'm not sure when freedom will come for me,
But it will be after dark.
Fresh air, at least, never dies.
Hey, guys! Before I get started on today's blog, I want to remind everyone that we've got another book signing coming up this Saturday the (18th) from 10:30 to 3:00 at Kaboodles in Denison. TX. If you're in the area, I hope you can drop by!
Summer is almost here. My college classes, thank God, wrapped up last week, and now I just have a few more days of mayhem tutoring my middle-schoolers before I get a nice two-week break.
And then life goes back to hectic.
I'm teaching summer school.
The good news is, I'm getting paid for it. The bad news is, the kids don't like me and I can't get them to do much of anything. There are a few good moments when everything seems to look up. Like the time I got the kids to clean the entire classroom by bribing them with chips. Or when I got my test results in to see that many of my kids have improved drastically in some areas. Or the time they got upset at another teacher for telling them to stop playing monkey-in-the-middle and had an unexpected outburst of loyalty to me, their teacher.
And then there are the funny moments. I guess you just have to laugh when the kids tape your stapler shut, or when they throw blueberries on the whiteboard, or when one kid says something moderately embarrassing and turns red. One time, one kid distracted me while another stealthily stuck a piece of tape onto my pants. I don't know how long I walked around with a tail, but the kids got a laugh out of it.
There are a few sweet moments, too. When a kid is crying or not feeling well and I offer a hug, they normally refuse, but sometimes they accept. Those moments really make my day.
Unfortunately, the good, the funny, and the sweet are rare. It's mostly chaos.
If they were my own kids, things would be easier. I'd have the authority to swat them if they got out of line. Like the time they had a flat-out roasting session on me. Or even yesterday, when everyone said they were bored and couldn't wait for class to be over and were never coming back.
This is what hurts my heart, because I feel like I'm single-handedly making them hate education. I'm doing my best. I'm eighteen with no formal training, and middle schoolers are apparently the toughest class to teach. Some days, I've gotten in my car after a particularly harrowing day of work and just cried.
Actually, I take that back; I've had a very little bit of formal training. I once went to an A.C.E school, which is set up very differently from a normal school. The students are all in one room at their individual desks. They have little flags that they can raise if they need to leave their desks for any reason, or if they need help with a particular subject. One year, I finished my work two weeks early and decided to be a monitor--a person who goes around, checking on the people with raised flags, seeing what they need. After one day of monitoring, I was wiped out. It was at that moment I realized how much harder it is to teach than it is to learn.
Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. One of the kids from the neighboring class brought cupcakes to celebrate. I'm not sure if no one in my class was aware of it, or if they just decided I wasn't worth thanking. But then again, I've never really celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week either. Not with my mom, who taught me for ten years. Not with the teachers at the A.C.E. school. Not with my homeschool co-op leaders.
Teachers aren't the only ones with thankless jobs. Working in the food industry--or any service industry, for that matter--is tough and not well compensated for. People tend to take you for granted most of the time. You think it's tough dealing with customer service people? They probably have it worse. They're the ones who have to deal with everyone from the People of Walmart website.
This week, try thanking someone you normally wouldn't--a waitress, the clerk who helps you find a relocated item, a teacher, a janitor. It'll make their day, and maybe it'll help make yours a bit better, too. Who can you thank this week? And do you have any teaching tips? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
White, fair, breast of peach,
Coattails long and polished. Each
step of the dance you are performing
brings the beauty of a morning's
sunrise, with clouds of peach.
Wings spread, angel flying.
Your frame, like a phoenix never dying,
sails through sky like flags unfurled
or arrows from their bows. The world
is better through your flying.
For those of you wondering what happened to the snake I mentioned in last week's blog post, I found him the next day. He was much smaller than I anticipated and actually kind of cute. He tied himself in a knot around my finger when I picked him up, and I let him go in the front yard after a lecture. We think he came in through the dryer vent.
Additionally, I'll be having a book signing next Saturday, May 18, at Kaboodles on Main Street in Denison, TX. I'll be there from 10:30 or so until 3. I hope to see you there!
Finals week is wrapping up, and I'm excited to have two weeks off before summer school starts up. I'm not attending summer school, mind you. I'm teaching it. The theme of the six-week program is The Human Body, so I have to find work--math, reading, writing, social studies, and science--all based on the human body. I'm pretty sure we'll just take a few hours a week to play multiplication games. The kids seem to enjoy multiplication games.
One thing that I've struggled with teaching them is, surprisingly, writing. I suppose it comes so naturally to me that I have a hard time toning it down. I'll dance around the whiteboard, telling kids to add -ly adverbs as openers and throw in prepositional phrases and vary their sentence structures, and these poor kids barely know their parts of speech. They're in fifth and sixth grade. They should know. But they don't.
Anything you write--from essays to novels to children's bedtime stories--can improve through your use of these following stylistic tips.
An adverb is a word that tells how (or when, or where) something is done. Most adverbs end in -ly--think quickly, quietly, spitefully, suddenly. Starting a sentence with an -ly opener helps vary the tone of your story a bit. "Friendly" is one exception to this rule--it's an adjective even though it ends in -ly.
Since "friendlily" is a rather unwieldy word, it's helpful to stick it in a prepositional phrase--for example, "in a friendly manner" or "with a friendly smile." A preposition, simply put, says where something is in relationship to something else--note the word "position" in the second half of the word. Staring a sentence with one of these is also a great way to vary the tone of your story. "Into the house she went" sounds so much nicer than "She went into the house," don't you think?
Finally, varying your sentence structure is a great way to not only vary the tone of your story, but also to help set the pacing. Short sentences are great for conveying a fast pace or worry on your character's end. Longer sentences help slow things down a bit.
My laptop is lagging like crazy, so I think it's time for me to end today's blog. I'll see you on Monday with another poem! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
I count myself lucky,
For I only have two finals,
And only one is hard.
But pressure mounts and worlds collide,
And all my stress is multiplied.
"It's dinner time!"
I slam my books,
And my face wears a dead man's look.
"How was your day?"
"And how are you?"
At least for now, but the bounty on my head
Will not rest for long.
Casey Cox and the snake I found in my laundry room this morning have one thing in common: they're hiding from people who want to kill them.
Unlike that snake, though, Casey Cox was framed for murder and is now trying to hide from a rogue police officer and his gang of high-ranking cohorts. In the first book in Terri Blackstock's edge-of-your-seat trilogy, If I Run, Casey is chased not only by the corrupt offices, but also by Dylan Roberts, an ex-military private investigator. But when Dylan hears Casey's side of the story, he's torn. Does he do the job he was hired to do? Or does he help a fugitive escape the clutches of the murderous officers Keegan and Rollins?
For months, I didn't know. I'd gotten the first book for Christmas. I'd gotten the third book at LifeWay, but they didn't have the second book. Typical. I kept coming back until the store went out of business, and I finally found it at Books-a-Million. But once I got the book, I finished it in less than 24 hours. It was riveting.
If I'm Found is basically a rehash of the first book. There's a new setting and a few more characters, but the plot is basically identical. Casey finds a town to hide in, meets the victim of some crime (kidnapping in the first book, child molestation in the second) and vows to help them despite her own troubles. The endings are remarkably similar. Along the way, Casey and Dylan gather evidence about Keegan and Rollins and the growing list of people they're associated with. And, of course, they fall in love.
It might be the same plot, but I don't care. The storytelling is that good, and there's enough change to make it interesting. The dynamic between Casey and Dylan, for example, changes between the first and second books. The evidence they gather grows, and the lengths to which Keegan and Rollins will go to silence their witnesses increase as well. Eventually, the stress of hiding--and all the injuries she amasses along the way--take a toll on Casey. But I'm not here to spoil the entire book for you. I really want you to read it for yourself.
I recommend reading the first book, If I Run, first. It lays out some information that is, I'll admit, reviewed in the second book, but it's still beneficial. Plus, If I Run is a great book in and of itself. But if you can't find If I Run, don't worry--you won't feel lost if you pick up the second book first. That's the way a good sequel should be. I read If I'm Found about a year after finishing If I Run, and I didn't skip a beat.
I have three criteria for rating a good book. First, it must be interesting. Second, it must be well-written. Third, it must be clean (with bonus points if there's a Christian theme involved). If I'm Found meets all three criteria and even gets those bonus points. It talks more about God than the first book, and it's better edited--I didn't find a single typographical error in all 350 pages, whereas the word "Caucasian" was misspelled in the first book. Just once. The rest of it was great. And I've noticed some type-o's in my own books, so I'm definitely not judging.
Now, I'm debating if I should risk eating lunch in my snake-infested house today, or if I should just use those coupons I got for Taco Bueno...
What book have you read recently and enjoyed? And how the heck do you get a snake out of your house? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.