Review: Gone Girl

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Gillian Flynn’s book, Gone Girl, is one of those books you can’t put down. In Australia we would call it ‘moreish’. (Not sure if that’s spelled right, but you get what I mean.) It started out as something I would read before going to sleep at night. But then I got sucked in. Finished in a marathon read yesterday, between the coffee shop and later at home.

I have a friend who is a psychologist who had seen the film, but not read the book. Me vice versa. We started discussing the book on Sunday on the way to a Christmas break-up party, me reacting to unreliable narrator Nick (I seem to be getting a lot of those lately), and poor missing wife Amy writing in her diary. Maureen was doing her best not to give away the oft-identified ‘twist’. We left it at that because she couldn’t talk much about it without spilling the beans. I went home after the party and picked up the book again.

OMG! (I wrote in an email to Maureen) — blah blah (spoiler)! Over the next day, I sent her a few more OMG! emails, to which she told me she laughed each time. Then last night, I sent a final email with this: the ending was unsatisfying. And this: “It did keep me reading. It wasn’t putdownable. But is that really enough? I don’t think it is.”

I don’t intend to put anything about the plot here because if you haven’t read it or seen the movie, I don’t want to spoil it for you. But the question I ask myself as a reader and a writer is: if you give the reader a good ride, but you don’t end with something of equal quality, have you done your job?

I like the way this book is written. Amy is introduced through her diary. I’m using diary entries in my current work in progress. Shawna is writing in the journal Max gave her (from On A Life’s Edge). I like diaries. They are (usually) a way to get into the honest, bare, private thoughts of the character. So I liked to see the technique used in Gone Girl. She also uses what I call ‘zebra POV’, changing the POV character at each chapter, both in first person, the story told by both Nick and Amy. I think that keeps things neat and easily followed by the reader and is also a technique I used in OALE. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with the sequel, but I do think it worked in my first book and in GG.

GG’s chapters end with pull-through situations or lines, which is one of the reasons I kept reading, couldn’t put it down. I also love the natural dialog in GG. For those of you who know the characters and the twist, I hope you agree. Probably a bit too literally real for some purists — too many ums, ahs, etc. But I think the characterisation is excellent. There was also just enough narrative description to keep things moving and yet give a sense of place. I guess I’d sum this up by saying the necessary ‘cues’ were all there.

This book moves right along because of all these literary techniques. I think they are done well. I just wish she had come up with a different ending. So in that aspect, she hasn’t done her job well enough for me.

Rating: 3.5 stars. Maybe a good beach read.

Book Review: Illywhacker by Peter Carey

I liked it. As a reader, the story is pure fun. As a writer, it is a lesson in foreshadowing, the unreliable narrator, and using the fantastical to keep a reader guessing what bizarreness will come next. Even the title begs this book to be read, just to find out what an ‘illywhacker’ is. (He does define it and the story is about that.)

Carey published Illywhacker in 1985, an award winner, a book you can get your teeth into, with multiple layers of study of the human condition. It is an illustration of crazy Australiana – regional towns, major cities, country folk, working with what is at hand and things they can make. The characters are wonderfully crafted so that by the end, you will know Leah, George, Mr. Lo, and Emma who lives in a cage. Herbert Badgery tells us, from his point of view, who these people are and were to him, as they changed, as their relationships developed and sometimes withered away, some surviving for his entire life, if we can believe him. He was a car salesman after all.

This story is about cages – metaphorical and actual, the ones we choose, the ones we don’t, and the ones we don’t realise we are in. This book is just as relevant today, to think about, as it was thirty years ago.

Highly recommend.

Success! Winning NaNoWriMo for the second year

It was a relief and deep feeling of happy¬† success to hit the 50k word mark this week. To have the Nano staff give a series of cheers in celebration was fantastic, sure. But I think the best part was realising I have increased my word rate and it didn’t hurt a bit. This needs a bit more explanation. Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

When I first started this writing gig back in the early 2000s seriously, I was writing about 1000 words per session (WPS). That was in around an hour, more or less, depending on how much research I needed to do as well. Since I was writing in a group of four (at first) and we set a per person 1000 WPS quota, we were getting around 4k words per week. Not bad we thought. I’ve since discovered that’s not even close to productive.

In last year’s Wrimo I upped the rate to around 1500+ words per session, a bit over of course to meet the 50k for the month (1670 is the daily amount for doing 50k in the month). That was a real increase for me. I felt good. Guess what — this year I upped that again to an avg of 2000 WPS! That’s a 30% increase year on year. One day I even knocked out 4000 words. And it was quite comfortable. I also feel that 2000 WPS is the minimum level I need to write to make this writing thing work. I need to get to those levels regularly when actually writing (as opposed to revising/editing for final publication) if I intend to keep motivated, and to develop two different series, as well as stand alones. And I’ve found out in this Nano I can actually do this.

I think it’s just psychological. Once you find out you can do something because you’ve actually done it once, it’s not so unbelievable any more — obviously. It’s nice to realise that I can take this 50k milestone base, work for another 2 weeks or so to create the next 30k, and end up with a complete manuscript before Christmas. If you had pointed this out to me last year I wouldn’t have believed you. Now I do. And I thank NanoWrimo for getting me here.

As my online friend Connie says: Good Writing! I’ll add – lots of words!

NaNo 2014 Update – heading toward the finish line

It’s been an interesting three weeks, and lots of words written. As of yesterday, the 20th day, I was homing in on the 39,000 word mark and feeling darn good about it. One day I even cranked out five words short of 4000 words. Amazing! But my average has been around 2000/day, which has put me about five days ahead of the target schedule.

I’ve also learned some new tricks to “keep” in mind.

Keep a Chapter Diary

This has been a big twitter hit, having been retweeted lots of times. It’s saved me trying to find the right place in a rather long manuscript and will also serve to help any restructuring I’ll need to do later. In a separate document called a Chapter Diary, each time I start a new chapter or a new scene, I record the main action in the scene, the characters involved, bits of relevant location, and any questions that arise. Sometimes I’ll bold the words to pop out for my attention when I go back to it later.

Keep a list of characters, places and cars

I’ve pretty much always done this, but in this case, it’s critical. As I’m writing, new people and places associated with them or plot points appear out of nowhere, like the student librarian and ‘geekgirl’ in yesterday’s scene. They may have no place in the story later, but if I’m in search of a possible expansion or need a foil, why not? They get names, if it’s natural for the character to interact with them that way. I have a feeling Nance and Clair will appear again in some fashion.

The places and cars things are useful for when they come up again, too. Nothing worse that Aunt Maude driving a tripped up Corvette in one scene then struggling around in her clapped out Cortina later in the book. If your mind is like mine, this set of notes is invaluable. I refer to this list of people and places a lot, especially for last names, spellings, and appearance. Same with places. I’m trying to keep the street references manageable, but I’m still recording them on the list, as well as the locations like buildings and stores that the characters frequent: workplaces, restaurants, etc.

Keep a list of emerging questions

Since I’m a pantser, writing without a net, the story emerges as the characters experience it. Sometimes their actions pose questions that will need to be answered at some point to satisfy the reader. They can also lead to interesting story twists. In the case of this story, I’m still not sure whose blood was found in the house that I didn’t know that Shawna was going to find on the cat’s paws. So I left it hanging in the story and wrote myself a note in my Chapter Diary (see above) that this needs to be used somehow. The crime scene folks need to tell the detectives who will need to tell the person whose house was vandalised.

Keep a copy of the Manuscript and Chapter Diary somewhere other than your main drive – e.g. Offsite.

Last year I emailed a copy of my work to a friend each time I added to it. This time I’m only saving an extra copy in a cloud storage (and obviously in local backup which I do occasionally). If my computer dies before the end of the month, I’ll be able to retrieve the files and keep going until things are repaired or replaced.

Seriously, “write what you know” means something different than on the surface

I was a bit stuck yesterday, so I incorporated something that I was actually doing at the time – updating my laptop operating system. I could easily put in a real description of the process as if the character was doing the same thing I was, including a bit of frustration. It adds reality to the story and provides something that readers can relate to, making the character more believable.

“Write what you know” is often taken to mean “don’t take chances”. I disagree. I think writing is all about taking chances, but being confident enough to convince your reader that you know what you’re talking about. When in doubt: research. Which is what I did when I needed to know what sort of sedative would be given to a patient going hysterical in a hospital setting. I’ve never been hysterical in a hospital or received a sedative, so I had to go find out the answer. It was necessary for the story. So now I know the answer.

And now, I must get on with the 2000 words for today. The Finish Line beckons!

Nano Update = Week 1

Pacing, it’s all about the pacing.

Day six and I’m feeling pretty good, averaging 2000 words/day, full of surprises of plot twists and turns.

Yes, I had notes and ideas to work from, but even so, right out of the gate on day one, these characters took off on a ride of their own. An attack on Vanessa in the parking lot? Really? What am I supposed to do with that? This book is supposed to be about Shawna.

Besides pacing, it’s also all about the words. Today I crossed the 12,000 mark, which feels pretty good. Yesterday, I thought I wasn’t going to hit the target. Surprise, I did. Today, I had the same sensation, but two hours later, I’d made it. Not sure how good the plot lines are, or if I’m filling in enough of the character background from book 1 without being unnecessarily repetitive, but it’s words on the screen and in the file. Today, I even stayed in one character’s point of view. Usually, I have to shift at least once to get enough juice. Today was all Shawna. Poor thing has had a few shockers already. Today was about Harley and Randy’s baby.

Tomorrow, I’ll shift to Alan, trying to figure out what went wrong – again. Is he really cut out for the dating life? Is he right to pursue a classmate? An older classmate at that?

Question about pacing again: If the writer feels the pacing is right in the creation, does that transfer to the reader? Or are they different things? I don’t have a clue. Feel free to leave a comment. Maybe you have clue.

NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow

Some of you know I’m a pantser (write by the seat of your pants – very little to no planning – ‘free writing’). I’m in a slightly different head space with my Nano project this time.

Last year I decided on October 31 to have a go. No idea what I was going to write. Sat down at the keyboard and let her rip. Ended up with the book, On A Life’s Edge.

This year, I’m writing a sequel. Also I’m itching to get started. Guess what: I’ve sort of done a plan to fill in the time before Saturday. I say ‘sort of’ because I have
- chosen a set of characters from book 1,
- decided who the MC (Shawna), nemesis and hero are,
- jotted a few scenes that I can throw in
- gone back to book 1 to figure out how old the kids are now, what their development stages are, birthdays (important milestones for children)
- thought about what the existing and new locations will be,
- jotted down how the characters from book 1 will change in the sequel, and
- considered which loose ends from book 1 the readers may have questions about that can be answered in this one.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written a sequel and my memory isn’t exactly as sharp as it used to be. For example, I spent time searching book 1 to be sure of hair colours for characters. That’s something I hadn’t recorded when writing book 1. Note to self: keep more character notes when writing any characters/location the first time.

Anyone else finding their writing approach different this time? Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you approach a project differently if it’s a sequel or part of a series?

Discuss.

Book Review: The Gray and Guilty Sea

The Gray and Guilty Sea: An Oregon Coast Mystery (Garrison Gage, #1)The Gray and Guilty Sea: An Oregon Coast Mystery by Scott William Carter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this. Garrison Gage, former NY private investigator, finds himself caught up in a mystery around a dead girl washed up on the beach near his house. The town is full of interesting seedy suspicious characters to choose from. The police chief isn’t sure there has been a murder. Gage is.

This is the first in a series. I look forward to reading the next.

View all my reviews

Recording with a basic Kogan PVR model KGNFSTBVAA

I have a ‘new’ old Kogan PVR from a friend because my Supernet recorder ‘broke’ again. This Kogan one is a model KGNFSTBVAA – which presumably stands for Kogan F? Set-Top Box (VAA??). It requires an external memory device such as a memory stick or external harddrive. It is a single HD tuner, so nothing flash on this inexpensive model.

The manual leaves a lot to be desired. It is available from the some old Manuals websites if you look around.

The reason for this post is that I searched for over an hour on the internet to find out why I couldn’t record using the timer. To save others some grief, I thought I’d put up the solution, which was simple once I realised it was there.

- Timer Service. There is a selection of Channel or Record. Change to record. Otherwise, the system just turns itself on and you can watch the broadcast. The Channel option is handy if you’re watching something to fill in time and just want to switch to a program you really want to watch. NOT so good for recording.

So the steps are:

  1. EPG
  2. Pick the channel where the program will appear
  3. Arrow through until you find the program on the listings
  4. Press the green button to open the timer
  5. choose if this is once or daily with the arrows
  6. **set the timer service to RECORD**
  7. If your stations tend to run over the appointed times, adjust the start/end time for the recording so you don’t miss the ending (happens to me ALL the time)
  8. Save

I am recording my first timed session right now on an 8Gb memory stick. I want to find out how much data space 1 hour of recording takes up before I go buy any more memory.

Hope this does others some good if you get a ‘hand me down’ gadget. Otherwise, it’s pretty straightforward using the manual for set-up. Even the menus are relatively fine without the manual.

New project – On A Life’s …

It’s nearly time for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – November 2014. I’m chomping at the bit to get started, taking notes, thinking about —– Shawna Charity and what happens next to her after On A Life’s Edge.

[Spoiler alert -- if you haven't read the book, you may want to stop now, go get a copy, read it and come back later.]

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