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Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Humor(ist) in Equal Rights

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Erma Bombeck - Novel Conclusions - Christi Gerstle - equal rights act

Aunt Erma’s Cope Book courtesy of Amazon

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'” – Erma Bombeck

I celebrated my 30th birthday this week (eek! A whole new decade!), and I thought this was a good opportunity to recognize a pretty fantastic journalist and author who also has a February birthday, a woman who made a difference for authors everywhere, especially female authors.  This woman is Erma Bombeck.

I I grew up reading Bombeck’s hilarious schtick on family life and life in general.  My mom had a collection of Bombeck’s books, and I remember pulling them off the shelves at a fairly young age and reading them out loud to my mom while she made dinner.  Bombeck had an optimistic and offbeat way of looking at everything and finding humor even in tragic circumstances.  Bombeck was also part of the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women that supported the Equal Rights Act in the 1970s.  As a result of this involvement, many of Bombeck’s books were pulled from shelves of local bookstores.

One of my favorite quotes of hers is the one above.  I hope we can all be reminded that every day is a gift of time to use our talent productively.  I now have a whole new decade to use productively (still can’t believe I’m now a thirty-something!  Egad!).

Have you ever read any of Erma Bombeck’s books?  And do you have any advice for newly minted 30-year-olds?

P.S.  Speaking of using our talent productively, there’s a fantastic/evil app for that, Write or Die.

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DRM or Do I Really Own My E-Books?

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e-books DRM - digital resource management - publishing DRM - Novel Conclusions blog - e-book licensing - censorship

via Google Images

Yes, it’s easy to download e-books lickety-split, and yes, they’re great to read on trains, planes, and big ol’ public transit (although I still get car sick reading anything in the car).  However, do we really own our e-books?  And what are the implications of owning or not owning said e-books?

For some of y’all, this info is old hat.  You already know that when you buy a new book from Amazon (unless it’s in the public domain), that you’re essentially renting the book.  Why is this?  The reason for this is DRM (Digital Rights Management).  It’s certainly more difficult to lend your bestie your whole e-collection of Janet Evanovich or JK Rowling without actually lending her the reading device itself.

The eerie censorship quirks of DRM became a bit more common knowledge with the Orwell debacle in 2009 when Amazon remotely erased from many Kindles copies of Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm (highly ironic that 1984 was erased, don’t you think?).  Back in October, Norwegian IT Consultant Linn Nygaard had her Kindle account randomly deleted by Amazon (with all 30-something books attached to it) for reasons unknown to her.  She tried multiple times to get her account reinstated, and Amazon would not reinstate her account and would not tell her why.

This is not just the case with the Kindle.  Other issues can happen with the Nook and other proprietary e-readers.  Barnes and Noble can withhold access to your e-books if your credit card on file is expired even though you have already paid for your books.

There are also some pretty cool things to come from this Big-Brother-esque e-reader technology, like whether people read a book straight through, how long it takes them, and if they finish it at all.  For example, the WSJ tells us, “It takes the average reader just seven hours” to finish Mockingjay, the third Hunger Games book.  As literati Nathan Bransford put it on his blog back in November, “Your E-Reader is Watching You.”

There are lots of pros and cons here.  What do you all think?  Does DRM make you want to buy hard copy books?  Or is it just one of those things we have to deal with since e-books are so incredibly handy?  Or do you have a different take altogether?

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The Art of Naming Your Characters

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Katniss - Hunger Games - Novel Conclusions - Writing Blog - Christi Gerstle

Katniss via Google Images

What are the most important things to remember when naming your characters?

Recently, io9 talked about character names that should be banned, and and it got me thinking about naming characters in general.  I don’t necessarily agree that you should never use the name Katherine (as the author suggests, among other things), but I do think that there are important things that need to be taken into consideration so as not to distract the reader from the story.  Whenever the reader gets pulled out of the story by something jarring (like an ill-fitting character name), they are more likely to put that book down.  And the reader putting your book down is bad, right?  I thought so, too.

Every writer has their own opinion about naming characters in their stories, but I personally subscribe to the screenwriter method.  This method is pretty clearly outlined in William M. Akers’ Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 ways to make it great (crazy title, awesome book – I highly recommend it for anyone writing any type of fiction).  One of the main tenets of this method is trying your best to not give characters names that start with the same letter or rhyme.  This can be easily accomplished by listing the letters A to Z and not using more than one name for each letter (and if you have more than 26 main characters, that’s a whole different issue).

You can also go a little further and give characters names that mean something, that say something about their character.  Dickens and Shakespeare were big on this.  In more recent years, JK Rowling gave quite a few of her Harry Potter characters Latinate names that hinted something (for example, Dumbledore comes from the Latin word for “bumblebee”), and many of her characters were named after stars/characters from mythology (Sirius, Bellatrix, Regulus, Merope, etc.).  Frequently her nods at mythology related directly to the character, as in the case of Remus Lupin being a werewolf (Remus, in mythology, was one of the twins who founded Rome and was raised by a wolf).  You’ve got to be careful with this, though, or you might fall into accidental parody territory, which would generally be bad times.

One thing that really bugs me is popular names that are spelled in crazy irritating ways, like Kaiyleigh, Ashli, Jaydenn, Jessikah (aaahhh, I can’t even write any more of these horrible names), unless of course your characters actually live in a trailer park.  If you must name your character a popular current name, for goodness sake, please spell it in a way that doesn’t burn your readers’ retinas (Kailey, Ashley, Jaden, Jessica, etc.).

Some science fiction and fantasy books can get away with unusual names, like Game of Thrones or Hunger Games, but even then, it’s helpful to keep the names as pronounceable as possible.  In Game of Thrones, we can all pronounce Cersei, Sansa, and Tyrion even though we’ve never seen those names before.  In Hunger Games, Katniss, Peeta, and Prim are all names that we can pronounce.  Capiche?

What tips and tricks do you use when naming characters?  Or do you just use names that “feel right”?

What Makes Love Triangles So Compelling?

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Love Triangles - Dante's Inferno - Novel Conclusions - writing blog

Gianciotto Discovers Paolo and Francesca (Dante’s Inferno) – via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been pretty absent from the blogosphere recently as I’ve been down for the count with that cold/flu thing that’s been going around.  If you get it, hit that Vitamin C, stat!  Anyhow, in honor of the upcoming Valentine’s Day, we’re going to chat about some famous love triangles in literature.  What makes them so compelling?  And why do they seem to be in every other story?

If you take a little tour through past and current popular fiction, love triangles abound like wizards at Hogwarts.  Before all the tween girls this side of Friday were oohing and aahing over Jacob, Bella, and Edward (Go Team Jacob!  Yes, I confess I did read the books…), some pretty justifiably famous love triangles reigned in literature, with a few things in common.

Who can forget Darcy, Elizabeth, and Wickham?  In Pride and Prejudice, while we’re on Elizabeth’s side the whole time, we watch Darcy and Wickham alternately lose and win her favor.  In Gone with the Wind, we’re pulling for Rhett the whole time as Scarlett pines after a guy named Ashley (Scarlett, honey, you should’ve known he wasn’t the one as soon as you heard his girly name.  Sigh.).  Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence gives us a heart-wrenching love triangle with a much sadder ending.  When Newland falls in love with his fiancée May’s married, scandalous cousin Ellen in the 1870s, bad times ensue.  You can go further back to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and even the Arthurian legends of Guinevere and Lancelot falling in love behind Arthur’s back.

We could go on and on here, but what makes these love triangles work?  These love triangles compel us to turn page after page because the emotions feel real and immediate.  It doesn’t hurt that love triangles naturally create tension, an essential ingredient for plot.  When love triangles are done well, when the author upholds the emotional integrity of the story, we as readers can’t put the book down.

Elizabeth Bennet’s original hatred of Darcy and her infatuation with Wickham were as real to us as later her slowly dawning love for Darcy and her disgust for Wickham feel real.  We live through these events as Elizabeth does because Austen upholds the emotional integrity of the story.  She doesn’t step outside the fourth wall to preach at us or to tell us what Elizabeth or Darcy or any of the characters ought to think.  She lets the characters lead the story, rather than letting the story lead the characters.  And it doesn’t hurt that Darcy is pretty hot and pretty rich…

Which love triangles do you love?  Which love triangles stand out to you in fiction?

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