Monday, April 30, 2012

Trimming the Fat

Years and years (and years) ago, the very first time I sat down to write a story, I couldn’t wait to tell the reader everything. I love complicated plots, and I wanted to show my reader everything that my main character didn’t know: events behind the scenes, the thought process of other characters and the bad guy(s), an overview of events happening in the present, how certain things worked, etc. Literally, everything that happened in the story, as well as a fair bit of research, was included. You can imagine the big mess I ended up with. :)

Eventually, I learned the importance of streamlining a story. In other words, if it’s going to be in the story, it has to drive it forward. If my characters go on a tangent that doesn’t impact the story, my reader is going to wonder why-are-we-here-and-can-we-get-on-with-it-already. So, after you’ve got your first draft down, it’s good to go through everything and streamline as best you can. Anything that doesn’t move the story forward is padding—a.k.a. story fat. You don’t need it, and it can actually work against you.

Here are some common areas that are often story fat:

This is often information that the author needs in order to mentally round out the story, but the reader doesn’t always need it. Often, the spirit of the flashback can be conveyed in the storytelling itself. I think a necessary flashback is extremely uncommon, so if you’ve got one then you might want to take a good, hard look as to whether or not it’s necessary.

Multiple POV.
This can manifest in many ways. Sometimes it’s a handful of characters, sometimes it’s akin to omniscience, sometimes it’s just a quick perspective from another character who’s not a main character. This can work, but it’s often not necessary. And, it’s really, really easy to go overboard with it. Use with care.

Certain aspects of the main character.
If my main character broke her toe in middle school but it doesn’t affect anything in her current story, then the reader doesn’t need to know. In fact, he doesn’t want to know. The only thing we, as readers, need to know is what affects her right here, right now. If that broken toe kept her from running to push her best friend out of the way of a speeding car, then we’ll need to know. Otherwise, keep it in your list of ‘fun facts.’

Certain events around the main character.
We don’t care if the main character was the last kid to lose his first tooth in grade school. Unless, of course, it led to a ridiculous nickname, which he hates. Then we might want to know…maybe. We also don’t care if he was born in Cincinnati but grew up in San Diego. Unless something happened to him or his family in Cincinnati that is still affecting them in San Diego, it doesn’t matter. The only things that matter are what’s affecting him here and now.

I think many writers, in their excitement to tell their story, end up telling too much of it. In this case, less is often more—but it takes time, practice, and a healthy serving of objectivity to see it. A good critique partner (or group) can speed this up some. :) Disclaimer: don’t worry about trimming any fat in the first draft. Your first draft is basically a brain dump of your story, and you don’t need to worry about what’s important and what’s not. That’s what revision is for. :)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Winner of the April Book Giveaway!

April is practically over, and it's already time to announce the winner if this month's giveaway!

Prize Pack #1:

Prize Pack #2:

So, the winner of Prize Pack #1 is...

Jaye Robin Brown!!

And, the winner of Prize Pack #2 is...

Kelly Hashway!!

Congratulations!! I'll get your books out to you as soon as I can. As for everyone else, come back next saturday to see what I'm giving away!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man--a bioengineered war beast named Tool--who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.

Wow. Few authors can blow me away like Bacigalupi can. After I finished this book, I had to just sort of sit there catching my breath (I felt the same way after finishing Ship Breaker). Bacigalupi can *go there* like no other YA author I’ve read.

This book is brutal and no punches are pulled, but not in a gratuitous way. The violence is real and believable and absolutely necessary to the story. Actually, it is the story.

This is a companion novel to Ship Breaker: America is no longer, and the east-central region is rife with civil war. There are several factions fighting for control, each calling themselves true patriots, but are really just warlords seeking power. Everything about it reminds me of certain areas of Africa, which made it real and extremely uncomfortable, and yet I couldn’t stop reading.

Mahlia and Mouse have grown up in the Drowned Cities, which is the Washington D.C. area. They knew a short time of Peace when China intervenes in an attempt to end the fighting (and this reminds me of the Middle East). In the end, though, China pulls out and the fighting resumes as though it had never stopped. Ten years isn’t long enough to erase animosity and hatred, real or imagined. Any semblance of peace is shattered, and soldiers go where they please, take whatever they want in the name of patriotism, and leave a path of destruction behind them. Mahlia and Mouse learned how to stay out of the soldiers’ paths, but then Tool enters their lives.

Tool is the only character from Ship Breaker—half man, half animal hybrid of dog, hyena, tiger, and a few other predators. He was built with one purpose in mind, to fight in a war. Mahlia and Tool find an unlikely alliance, and the story delves into themes of loyalty, friendship, family, and being forced into all of the above—like kidnapped children in Africa being forced to fight in a warlord’s army. This is explored in full detail, along with the horrors of war, and my heart broke for Mahlia and Mouse.

At the same time, I cheered for Tool. In Ship Breaker, he discovers himself as an individual, which goes against his breeding and genetic engineering. In Drowned Cities, Tool discovers that he can have a purpose. He has an amazing revelation: “I have never been defeated, but have I ever won anything?” That really illustrates the difference between avoiding what you don’t want and going after what you do want. Tool is such a fantastic character, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next. I am wondering if absolute power will corrupt absolutely.

If violence isn’t your thing, then you won’t enjoy Drowned Cities. But if you like stories with vast amounts of depth and emotion, then it’s definitely for you. To get the full effect of Tool as a character, you should read Ship Breaker first. However, this book can be read on its own. Definitely recommended.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fiction Fun: Devil's Lake Part 3

The past two weeks, I shared the beginning and middle of a short story I wrote ten years ago. Here's the conclusion. Enjoy!


That night, as soon as I was sure Mrs. Nelson was asleep, I crept down the stairs. I left her a note on the kitchen table, put my jacket on over my pajamas, took a deep breath, and locked the door behind me.

My house was completely dark, almost forbidding. It seemed to know I wasn’t supposed to be there yet. But I had locked myself out of Mrs. Nelson’s house, so there was no other place to go. I hurried across the street and let myself in.

The silence was so complete it pressed against my ears. The only sound was the living room clock ticking. I didn’t even know that clock ticked! It was so loud—how could I have not noticed? I locked the front door and crept up to my room, the stairs creaking under my weight. It was like an amplifier had been placed under the treads. This was too weird. I ran the rest of the way up the stairs, threw down my bag, and dove into my bed. I shivered—only because the bed was cold, not because I was scared. Because I wasn’t.

I pulled the covers to my chin and buried my head in the pillow.

The phone woke me up the next morning. Mrs. Nelson said she found my note and wanted to make sure I was okay. She sounded a little hurt that I would leave in the middle of the night, which made me feel bad. She’s probably the closest thing I have to a grandmother, and I didn’t mean to upset her. I told her everything was fine, and said I was sorry for making her worry.

I got up to get some breakfast, and the house seemed different. Not like last night, though. Cheerier. Bigger. At peace. Well, until Dad got home. He would stop at Mrs. Nelson’s house first, expecting me to be there, and then he would come home knowing full well what I had done. I was toast.
I spent the day straightening up our neat little house, and even started supper. That might soften the blow a little.
Or not.

Dad glowered at me. “You’re grounded for a month.”
“What’s the difference? You never let me do anything anyway.
“Now, that’s not true. And you are going to call Mrs. Nelson and apologize to her for leaving.”
“I already did. And I’m not staying at her house anymore.”
“So you think you’re making the rules now?”
“No, I just don’t want to stay there anymore. And if you make me, I’ll keep coming home in the middle of the night.”
Dad flinched, like I’d just slapped him in the face. He opened his mouth, closed it, then folded his arms across his chest. “You’re grounded for a month.” He strode out of the room.

A month had come and gone when Dad’s next business trip arrived. I expected to fight over Mrs. Nelson’s house again, but something very different happened.

“Alex, I have a question for you.” Dad he sat down next to me on the couch, turning off the TV. “It might not be all that fun because you’d have to go follow along to some pretty boring places, but would you like to come to Chicago with me?”
My mouth dropped open. “Really? You mean it? I can come with you?”
“Yes. I thought we could stay an extra day and go to the top of the Sears Tower or something.”
“That sounds really great, Dad. Really great.”
“Well then.” Dad nodded toward the stairs. “Go get packed.”

It turns out Chicago felt an awful lot like Devil’s Lake, even though they are nothing alike. Except, when we left, I didn’t feel like I was leaving it behind. I was bringing it home.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Celebrating 100,000 Hits!

Last month, my blog hit the official 100,000 mark for the number of hits received from readers like you. More than 100,000!! Wow. I'm feeling a bit like this guy:

I never imagined people would actually read what I have to say least, not without having a book contract first. I mean, who am I? Just another writer in the ocean, sharing her experiences, without even having a book to back it up. So, thank you.

I am going to celebrate today, in honor of you. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn

Based on an actual crime in 1955, this YA novel is at once a mystery and a coming-of-age story. The brutal murder of two teenage girls on the last day of Nora Cunningham's junior year in high school throws Nora into turmoil. Her certainties, friendships, religion, her prudence, her resolve to find a boyfriend taller than she is - are shaken or cast off altogether.
Most people in Elmgrove, Maryland, share the comforting conviction that Buddy Novak, who had every reason to want his ex-girlfriend dead, is responsible for the killings. Nora agrees at first, then begins to doubt Buddy's guilt, and finally comes to believe him innocent - the lone dissenting voice in Elmgrove.

The title makes this story sound a bit like an adventure/mystery, but it’s on the quieter side. It’s a character-driven novel about a lost girl trying to find her way through life.

Nora is like most teens, not a leader and not a social pariah. In fact, everything about her is average, including her outlook on life. But then the deaths of two friends turn her world upside down, and she begins to doubt everything. All security she once had is stripped away: her faith in God, her unwavering friendships, any connection with her family, etc. Her views on Buddy Novak further separate her from the community and she feels lost, adrift, lonely.

These emotions are fantastically conveyed. Nora doesn’t know what to do, so she goes from one thing to another, one person to another, looking for something, anything, to anchor her down in the whirlwind of life. I think many teens will be able to relate to this. I remember feeling that lost during high school, and did exactly what Nora did in order to feel a part of something. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

The story has a few other narratives: Mister Death (the killer), Buddy, Charlie, Ellie, and diary entries from Cheryl and Bobby Jo. Some might find all these perspectives a bit chaotic, but I enjoyed them. I got enough insight into each so that I better understood them, but not so much as to consider them main characters. Mostly, each perspective illustrated how the murders affected them on a personal level: the image each person portrays, and then what they feel inside. I enjoyed getting to see this.

To some, the end might feel anti-climactic, but I enjoyed it. This isn’t a story about justice and seeing wrong-doers punished. It’s about getting on the path to discovering yourself. At the end, Ellie doesn’t have a sudden epiphany and then all is well. Instead, she takes one step onto that path. I think it’s a very realistic portrayal of life.

If you’re looking for a formulaic mystery novel where the bad guy gets what’s coming to him, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re interested in seeing how a horrific event affects a community, one girl in particular, you might like it. Actually, if you liked The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, you’ll probably like Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls.

For a chance to win an ARC, go here and fill out the form. Good luck!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fiction Fun: Devil's Lake, Part 2

Last week, I shared the first part of a short story I wrote ten years ago. Here's the next installment. Enjoy!


A car pulled into the driveway across the street—Mrs. Nelson’s house. She patted her gray curls in the rear view mirror, then got out of her car and came to our front door.
“Hello, Alex!” Her face crinkled into a smile. “I’m so sorry I’m late. A friend of mine’s father had a stroke, and I was at the hospital. Where is your father?”
“He left for the airport. He said he’d call when he got to the hotel.”
“Very good, dear. I’ll just have a seat while you get your things.”
“Okay. Uh, do you want anything to drink?”
“Perhaps some water. It’s very important to stay hydrated, you know. My grandson got severely dehydrated once while they was abroad, and it worried my daughter to death. You just never know what medical care will be like in another country.” She sat down on the couch, still going on about her grandson and daughter and lots of other people I don’t know. I don’t understand why she tells me so much about people I’ve never met.

I handed her the glass of water, then edged toward the hallway. Maybe I could escape to my room under the guise of getting my stuff.
“Did you hear me? I said you really are lucky that you two have each other.”
“Oh.” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“You and your father, I mean. Have you heard anything I’ve said?”
Oops. “Um…I’m sorry, I guess I’m a little tired.”
“Well, I was telling you about my friend’s father in the hospital. The doctor’s don’t think he’ll make a full recovery, and he’ll need lots of help...” She went on to describe hospital smells and food and the incompetence of doctors, but my mind was stuck on one thing: lucky to have each other.

Yes, I suppose we are. My mother died just after I was born, and I never knew my grandparents. It was just Dad and me.

The phone rang. It was Dad.
“Hey, Dad,” I said. “Mrs. Nelson just got here.”
“Good. Listen to her, and I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
I took a deep breath for one final plea. “Can’t I stay home tonight? Please?”
“You know you can’t.”
“That’s not fair! Jesse gets to stay home by himself, and we’re the same age.”

Dad sighed. “Alex, life isn’t fair, and I’m responsible for keeping you safe.”
“But I am safe.”
“Yes, because I work very hard at keeping it that way.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Look,” said Dad. “People’s lives are different, and some need to make more sacrifices than others.”
Was he serious? “My whole life is a sacrifice!” I slammed the phone down.
“Alex, dear,” said Mrs. Nelson. “That was not nice.”
“I don’t care! He never lets me do anything.”

The phone rang again, but it was Dad so I didn’t pick it up. Mrs. Nelson did, though, and she began apologizing for my behavior. I don’t know why she would apologize since I’m the one who hung up on him, but whatever. 
When she finished talking to Dad, she placed her delicate, wrinkled fingers on my arm. “Come on. Let’s go and have some supper.”
“Fine. I’ll get my stuff.”

I went up to my room and grabbed my duffle. Once Dad got home, I was surely going to be in for it for hanging up on him, so a little bit more couldn’t hurt. I tossed in a jacket and the spare house keys, then went with Mrs. Nelson to her house.

...conclusion to come next week...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Independent Book Blogger Awards

Goodreads is running an award for the best independent book blogger, and my blog is nominated!

So, if you like my giveaways, articles, reviews, etc, please take a moment to vote for my blog. :) You can follow the link here, or click the button in the upper right-hand corner. The contest ends on April 23rd, so be sure to vote before then!


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Flyaway by Helen Landalf

Stevie Calhoun knows how to take care of herself. It’s not like her mom hasn’t disappeared before. So why is Aunt Mindy making such a big deal of it now? It’s not like Mom’s really doing meth. Stevie makes sure of that. Whatever. She’ll go home with Aunt Mindy if it will keep her from calling Child Protective Services—but it doesn’t mean she’ll stay. Mom will come back. Mom always comes back. And Stevie will be there when she does. But when Stevie meets Alan—frustrating and fascinating and so-different-from-everyone-she-knows Alan—and she starts helping out at the bird rehab center, things begin to look different. Even the tutoring and the ridiculous outfits Aunt Mindy’s forcing her into might not be so bad. Not that Stevie would say it out loud. She can’t. Because how can anything be good if it doesn’t include Mom?

It’s easy for someone on the outside of a bad relationship to see that it’s bad. But when you’re in the thick of it, especially when it’s between a parent and child, it’s almost impossible.

This story brilliantly shows the perspective of a teenage girl in a less than ideal home life with her mother. Actually, it’s the same perspective as one who is in some kind of abusive relationship: there are the good moments, which can be amazingly wonderful, and then there are the bad moments, which can be absolutely horrid. Stevie experiences both on some level, so it’s so clear to see why she takes her mother’s side even though the truth is staring her in the face. So well done.

Stevie is a great character. She feels like a real teen trying to muddle her way through life. She chooses a more optimistic outlook in order to make her life feel better, even when the bad parts are up front and center. I really identified with that.

I actually wish this story had been a bit longer because Stevie seems to ‘see the light,’ so to speak, a little too easily. I liked the metaphors with the birds, a lot, but the path from metaphor to understanding was a little too quick for my taste.

Still, this story does a great job of exploring what it feels like to be in an unhealthy relationship and why people stay in them. Definitely recommended.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Fiction Fun: Devil's Lake, Part 1

Here's part of a short story I wrote about ten years ago. After writing this, I did several exercises with the same main character...which I might share with you at some point. :) Anyway, enjoy!


Devil's Lake National Park, my favorite place in the world. When I’m there, I feel free to do what I please, think what I like, and go where the wind takes me.

But it never seems to last long enough. Almost as soon as we get there, we’re packing up to go home. Back to the hum-drum life of washing dishes and cleaning the bathroom. And homework. But it was summer now, so I wouldn’t have to worry about homework for a while.

"Alex?” Dad absently flipped through the stack of today’s mail. “Are you daydreaming again?"
"Then you can empty the dishwasher."

That’s my dad, the cleanest and most efficient person in the world. Didn’t he ever make mud pies when he was a kid? Probably not.

I opened the dishwasher and began to put the clean dishes away.

Dad stacked the opened mail into a neat pile, then gathered up the empty envelopes. “Have you packed yet?”
“For what?”
“Alex, how could you forget? I’m leaving for Chicago this afternoon. You’re staying with Mrs. Nelson until I get back tomorrow.”
I groaned. No, I hadn’t forgotten. I just didn’t want to go. “Can’t I stay home by myself? It’s only one day. And I’m fourteen! Practically an adult.
Dad flicked a glance at me. “When you’re older.”

Does “older” ever really get here? Or is that just something parents say to silence their kids?

I trudged up the stairs to my room and threw some clothes and my toothbrush into a bag. I probably should have spent the rest of the day with Dad, but I didn’t. I shut my door and shoved earbuds into my ears until Dad let himself in. Apparently, I’m not old enough to have any privacy, either.

“Mrs. Nelson is at the hospital with a friend of hers, but she’ll pick you up in an hour or so. I have to leave now, though, or I’m going to miss my plane. Stay here and wait for Mrs. Nelson.”
“Sure.” Like I had a choice.
“I’ll call you when I get to the hotel.”

Dad loaded his suitcase into the trunk of the car and then backed out of the driveway. I watched until the taillights weren’t visible any more, and closed the drapes.

I flopped into the big armchair, turning on the television, and a rerun episode of That 70’s Show flickered across the screen. Were the 70’s really like that? Those kids seemed to have more freedom than I’d ever have. I wish I’d grown up with them. be continued next week...

Saturday, April 07, 2012

April Book Giveaway!

This month, I've got two prize packs to give away, for a total of three ARCs and one signed hardback, plus swag!

Prize Pack #1:

Signed copy of Try Not To Breathe by Jennifer Hubbard, plus bookmarks
Learning to live is more than just choosing not to die, as sixteen-year-old Ryan discovers in the year following his suicide attempt. Despite his mother’s anxious hovering and the rumors at school, he’s trying to forget the darkness from which he has escaped. But it doesn’t help that he’s still hiding guilty secrets, or that he longs for a girl who may not return his feelings. Then he befriends Nicki, who is using psychics to seek contact with her dead father. This unlikely friendship thaws Ryan to the point where he can face the worst in himself. He and Nicki confide in one another the things they never thought they’d tell anyone—but their confessions are trickier than they seem, and the fallout tests the bounds of friendship and forgiveness.

ARC of Slide by Jill Hathaway
Vee Bell is certain of one irrefutable truth—her sister’s friend Sophie didn’t kill herself. She was murdered.
Vee knows this because she was there. Everyone believes Vee is narcoleptic, but she doesn’t actually fall asleep during these episodes: When she passes out, she slides into somebody else’s mind and experiences the world through that person’s eyes. She’s slid into her sister as she cheated on a math test, into a teacher sneaking a drink before class. She learned the worst about a supposed “friend” when she slid into her during a school dance. But nothing could have prepared Vee for what happens one October night when she slides into the mind of someone holding a bloody knife, standing over Sophie’s slashed body.
Vee desperately wishes she could share her secret, but who would believe her? It sounds so crazy that she can’t bring herself to tell her best friend, Rollins, let alone the police. Even if she could confide in Rollins, he has been acting off lately, more distant, especially now that she’s been spending more time with Zane.
Enmeshed in a terrifying web of secrets, lies, and danger and with no one to turn to, Vee must find a way to unmask the killer before he or she strikes again.

Prize Pack #2:

ARC of The Night She Disappeared by April Henry
Gabie drives a Mini Cooper. She also works part time as a delivery girl at Pete's Pizza. One night, Kayla—another delivery girl—goes missing. To her horror, Gabie learns that the supposed kidnapper had asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper was working that night. Gabie can't move beyond the fact that Kayla's fate was really meant for her, and she becomes obsessed with finding Kayla. She teams up with Drew, who also works at Pete's. Together, they set out to prove that Kayla isn't dead—and to find her before she is.

ARC of Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn
Based on an actual crime in 1955, this YA novel is at once a mystery and a coming-of-age story. The brutal murder of two teenage girls on the last day of Nora Cunningham's junior year in high school throws Nora into turmoil. Her certainties, friendships, religion, her prudence, her resolve to find a boyfriend taller than she is - are shaken or cast off altogether.
Most people in Elmgrove, Maryland, share the comforting conviction that Buddy Novak, who had every reason to want his ex-girlfriend dead, is responsible for the killings. Nora agrees at first, then begins to doubt Buddy's guilt, and finally comes to believe him innocent - the lone dissenting voice in Elmgrove.

To enter, fill out the form below then come back on Saturday, April 28th to see if you've won. Good luck!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

After the Snow by S.D. Crockett

Fifteen-year-old Willo was out hunting when the trucks came and took his family away. Left alone in the snow, Willo becomes determined to find and rescue his family, and he knows just who to talk with to learn where they are. He plans to head across the mountains and make Farmer Geraint tell him where his family has gone.
But on the way across the mountain, he finds Mary, a refugee from the city, whose father is lost and who is starving to death. The smart thing to do would be to leave her alone -- he doesn't have enough supplies for two or the time to take care of a girl -- but Willo just can't do it. However, with the world trapped in an ice age, the odds of them surviving on their own are not good. And even if he does manage to keep Mary safe, what about finding his family?

In After The Snow, the environment has changed drastically: the polar caps have melted and, as a result, there are no more warm ocean currents maintaining the climate. The world has fallen into something of an ice age, and I was looking forward to seeing how people have managed to survive.

The beginning of this story starts out very strange. Willo is talking to a dead dog, and the dog *talks back*. That took a lot of getting used to. Plus, the vocabulary and sentence structure made it sound like rural Midwest, parts of the south, or Appalachia, yet the names of the places in the story didn't match any of those locations. It took me *forever* to figure out that the story takes place in the UK. Even knowing that, though, the hick-like accent was stuck in my head. Maybe it’s just me, but I found it a bit jarring.

It also took me a long time to figure out what was going on. Willo wasn't very sympathetic in the beginning because he knows his family has been taken away in a truck, he knows how to track, and he even hears his step-mother scream. But he doesn't go after them because the dog in his head is telling him not to. I didn’t understand why he should listen to this dog, so it made it extremely hard to connect with him. He does grow throughout the story, though, and he learns from his mistakes, so he's much more likable in the end.

The world-building wasn't as thorough as I wanted. Much of the populace has a book—we get a few snippets of its contents, but I would have liked more—and there’s an underground movement surrounding this book, but I wasn’t clear as to what was going on. People want to leave because they’re starving and they want a new beginning. Kind of like colonists who settled remote parts of the world hundreds of years ago. Except, in this case, they have to leave secretly and I didn’t understand why. If the government doesn’t have enough food to feed its people, why wouldn’t they support this colonization?

Instead, these book-owners are labeled trouble makers, but it’s not clear what kinds of trouble they cause. I didn't understand the government's motivation to stamp out everyone who believed in this book. If we had seen the propaganda surrounding this (there is *always* propaganda with controlling governments), I think it would have helped a lot. Willo might not have heard the propaganda while living on the mountain, but he lived in the city for 5 months. He'd have been barraged with it for sure, and we’d have had a wonderful opportunity to see both sides of the fence. It’s a shame we didn’t get that.

The ending is odd. I understand the concepts that Willo finally comes to believe in, but I didn't see how it tied into his mountain or his choices. He says he made his choice so the bad guys won’t ‘win,’ but it seems to me that this choice makes them win because he’s giving them what they want. I think that if I’d understood the world better, then I’d have understood Willo’s choices. As it is, I was left scratching my head as to the point of this book.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Whoa, Back Up There…

We’ve all been there at some point or another. We work hard on something on our computer, then some random anomaly happens and *poof*, it’s gone. And then we want to scream and cry and stomp our feet. Right? Right.

I am paranoid about backing up my work. I used to test all kinds of software for a living, did it for almost ten years, so I know exactly how glitchy it can be. I don’t exactly have the greatest confidence in the tool that I use every single day: my computer. Most of the time, the code behind the software works the way it’s supposed to, but sometimes it goes off and does really weird things. Even really solid, high quality code can go all ADHD every now and then. Software programmers know this better than anyone, and I know one who backs up his personal computer every single week. It’s practically a professional setup, with a huge storage device that can hold an image of his entire hard drive. Needless to say, if something happens to his computer, he’s set.

The rest of us? Not so much. We don’t have the time, money, or knowhow to set up something like that. It’s too much hassle. But, there are things we can do to safeguard the really important things, like our manuscripts.

The best thing you can do is keep at least three copies of your files, all in different places—the key here is to choose the right place. If you keep a copy on your computer and then two different thumb drives, they’re all still in the same location, so to speak: your home. If your computer gets a virus, all three documents could still get infected. Also, if there’s a fire, or if someone breaks into your home and steals your electronics, you’ll still lose everything.

I actually have copies in four different places. Two in my home—one on my computer, and one on a thumb drive—and two offsite. There are some excellent offsite storage options available today. Google Documents is one place. It’s easy to use and you have a good amount of storage available for free. This also allows you to work on various computers without the need to carry around a thumb drive, and no worrying about losing it. You can also share your documents with specific people, in case you’re collaborating with someone or want him to read your work for feedback.

Another place is Dropbox. You do need to install it on whatever computer(s) you’re using, but once you do then you have access to Dropbox’s offsite storage. They also have a handy ‘version’ feature, where they will store the various versions of your documents for up to a month. If something goes wrong with the version you’re using, you can retrieve the previous one and not lose all of your work. Also, if you find you need more storage space, you can buy more for not too much money.

Yahoo Groups is another option. This is meant for multiple people to use together, and you can even create a group email that will send messages to all members. A couple of trusted writer friends and I use this to store our work, and when we’re ready we’ll ask the others to read and give us feedback. Yahoo Groups has a huge amount of storage so multiple people should be able to use this space easily.

These are just three offsite storage options, but there are probably more. Do you know of any? If so, please share!