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Writers on Wednesday: Valerie Noble

An interview I did with the author Jen McConnel.

Jen McConnel

Today, Valerie Noble dropped by to talk about her writing process and her upcoming debut, THE ENERGY CRUSADES. Enjoy!

1. When did you start writing?

While we were growing up together, one of my best friends used to always say “Valerie, you live in a dream world”.  She was right. I constantly make up stories in my head, but when actually putting pen to paper, it’s far more difficult to write a beginning, middle, and end. I have several notebooks full of unfinished stories, and it wasn’t until the idea for The Energy Crusades blossomed in my mind that I was able to complete my first novel.
profile pic2. Are you a pantser or a planner?

Overall, I am a panster. I carry the whole story in my head but it doesn’t always go exactly the way I thought it would. The Energy Crusades ended completely differently than how I…

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Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple

whered-you-go-bernadette_original

I am part of a very small book club (there are only 3 of us) and I’d never heard of this book until it was picked as our next selection. It always feels like an adventure picking up a book without knowing anything about it, and once I started this one, I couldn’t put it down. Here is a description, courtesy of amazon.com:

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

 

What I liked about the book:

Almost everything. I loved the way it was written. I loved reading the emails, FBI reports, notes from the school, all of those items helped tell the story in a unique way. It’s amazing how much character development comes through in emails and Bernadette’s neighbor, Audrey Griffin, is a fantastic example of this. I think everyone has an Audrey in their lives, and the best part about this annoying, know-it-all neighbor, is that while she is the character you love to hate, she ultimately becomes the character you love. I couldn’t wait to read this every day, it made me laugh, and in the end, I had tears in my eyes. That’s sounds sappy, but I can’t help it.

What I disliked:

I didn’t like Bernadette. I didn’t like Bernadette’s husband, Elgin. I found them both selfish and unlikable. Their living conditions were appalling and that is something I find personally distasteful, particularly because 1. They were wealthy and 2. They had a daughter with health problems. The fact that they continued to live in such conditions for 15 years is hard to fathom. It bothered me throughout the story because I find nothing redeeming about living in squalor when you have a choice in the matter.

Another small criticism, I thought the ending was a little too hurried. It wrapped up quickly and I wanted more. Perhaps that’s because I liked the book so much and didn’t want it to end, but there were a few loose ends I would have liked to have seen tied up a bit more.

Final Thoughts:

I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars, or I really liked it. It was fun, laugh out loud funny, and extremely engaging. I am full of admiration for this talented writer and how cleverly she weaved her tale.

Book Review: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall

I finally finished Wolf Hall, a historical fiction novel set during the reign of Henry VIII in 16th century England. I’ve read other historical fiction novels from the same time period, The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory for example, but Wolf Hall was entirely different. Here is a description of the book, courtesy of amazon.com:

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

What I liked about the book:

The story is told from the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell, who I found likable and interesting. His rise from poverty to his position beside a king was fascinating. While he was often reminded of his low birth, Cromwell overcame the disdain of his peers and succeeded in becoming Henry VIII’s most trusted advisor. It was Thomas Cromwell who paved the way for Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and he stepped on many toes to accomplish that goal. I found the book easy to read even if not entirely engaging.

What I disliked:

The book was long. Turning the pages was easy because it was well written, but it felt more like homework than a story to sink into at the end of the day. The reader really doesn’t get an intimate view of the characters and it was difficult at times to keep track of them all. The author must have anticipated this because she includes a Cast of Characters at the beginning of the novel. I referred to it often at first, but after a while, I didn’t bother. I never became emotionally attached to any of the characters and part of that was due to the style in which the book was written. Present tense should feel immediate and intimate, but this felt awkward and confusing. I’ve seen other reviewers complain about this, particularly due to constant use of unattributed pronouns. Who is speaking? Trust me, it was often hard to distinguish, further complicated by the fact that it was hard to care.

Final Thoughts:

I rate this book as a 3 out of 5 stars, or it was okay. I generally like historical fiction so I found Wolf Hall interesting, but not engaging. Read it for a fresh look into the mind of Thomas Cromwell and a piece of history from his point of view.

Perseverance: Tips and Advice on Querying Literary Agents

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So, you’ve written a novel, now what? I had no idea the answer to this question when I finished The Energy Crusades. I didn’t write it with the end in mind; I wrote it wondering if I could actually complete it. I had an idea, but writing a beginning, middle and end is much harder than it seems. It took a long time. But I did it. I’ve talked about that process already so I won’t go into it again.

Let’s assume you’ve written a novel, sent it to readers, revised, edited, and hopefully attended a writers conference or two (something I HIGHLY recommend), and now you are ready to query agents. I follow a lot of them on Twitter and they often post invaluable advice on querying. I wasn’t on Twitter when I first started querying, but so much of their advice seems like basic common sense, I’m often baffled that they have to voice it at all.

Here are some tips that helped me catch the attention of my agent (and some others as well):

  • Write a query letter. This seems obvious, but I had no idea how to do this when I started the querying process. In fact, when I attended a writers’ conference, I brought my query letter for my group to critique and it was one of the smartest things I ever did during the whole process. The notes I took away from that (I’ve saved all of them), especially the ones given to me by Kelly Garrett made all difference in my query letter.
  • Research the agent/s before you query them. This means reading their wish lists and submission guidelines.
  • FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Agents put their submission guidelines up for a reason and it’s silly not to follow them. Often, it means an immediate pass before your query or sample pages are even read. Just follow the guidelines!
  • Query one agent at a time. DO NOT send a generic query letter to a bunch of agents. Make each query letter personal and address the agent by name. Spell it correctly.
  • Be polite. Remember, agents do not owe you anything and you are asking for their time and attention. Treat it like a job interview—yes, you want to like the agent, but you also want the agent to like you.
  • Expect rejection. We would all like to believe that our book is so wonderful that any agent we send it to will surely notice. No. This is unlikely. Think about your own reading preferences. Do you always like every book you read? Do you always like what’s popular or trendy? Probably not. Does that mean you hate the author? No. It just means the story wasn’t for you, and YOUR story won’t be for everybody either. When faced with rejection, persevere! Take any and all advice you can get and keep honing your querying skills.
  • Know your genre. Know it, and state it in your query. If you aren’t sure, think about where your book would be shelved in a bookstore and what books would be next to it.
  • For more tips and advice, you can read what my agent, Stacey Donaghy has to say on the subject. little birds

Food Scars

kraft singles

My darling friend Mariel suggested we write a guest blog for each other. She provided me with a topic: cheese. How random is that? Cheese? I tried to think about cheese and how it relates to my writing because my blog is generally about my writing career (or lack thereof).

When I was a kid, the only kind of cheese I wanted was Kraft Singles. The yellow squares of deliciousness were what I thought of as the perfect food. They were neatly wrapped, edible on their own, and marvelous in a grilled cheese sandwich. Why oh why couldn’t I just have Kraft Singles? You see, the only kind of cheese that existed at our house was what my mom and stepdad called ‘real’ cheese. It was horrible. It came in a block that they had sliced at the deli and inevitably the slices were uneven. You had to peel them off one another. They didn’t look like Kraft Singles, nor did they taste like them. It was just another hardship my sister, brother and I had to endure.

Our parents were ‘hippies’. They were also ‘foodies’, a term we didn’t use back then. We didn’t have soda in our house (water or milk only), we never had white bread, and we certainly weren’t allowed any sugared cereals. And, horror upon horrors, we had to eat natural peanut butter. This was beyond imagination. What could be worse than natural peanut butter when there was Skippy? I don’t think my mom ever bought Twinkies, Ding Dongs, or anything of that nature. Needless to say, there was never anyone who wanted to trade lunches with me. I felt extremely unlucky.

At the time, we thought we had it rough. My stepdad would cook elaborate meals, but all I wanted was Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I used to spit my food into my napkin and flush it down the toilet.

Well, guess what? Now I have a daughter of my own. She eats wheat bread, real cheese, natural peanut butter, and no sugared cereals. I grew up to be a food scientist and now know how to decipher a food label. I have a greater appreciation for the values my parents instilled in me, particularly in regards to eating ‘real’ food, and respecting the world around me.

How does this relate to The Energy Crusades? Well, the Crusaders in my book must understand the nutritional value of food. They eat based on what their body needs for optimal performance. I wish I was as good about doing the same.

Guest Post: Eyelash Meltdown

My friend M.R. Jordan wrote a blog post for me. I gave her the topic: Eyelashes. I thought it was so easy. Here is what she wrote:long-eyelashes

 

So, author Luke Everest asked me to exchange blog posts. That is I write one for him and he writes one for me. And then I had a thought. Why am I not doing this with Valerie? I like her a lot more than Luke… sorry Luke, but us gals stick together. Okay, that is a pretty sexist justification. The truth of the matter is, you just like some people more than you like others. For example, when I suggested we exchange blog posts and also commanded Valerie to write about cheese, I liked her a lot. I liked her a little less when she commanded me to write about eyelashes. This is a reenactment of the thought processes I’ve been going through ever since:

 

Indignant headvoice: Eyelashes? What the !@#$ am I going to write about that?

 

Whiny headvoice: Cheese is easy. This is totally unfair.

 

Clint Eastwood headvoice: Would you like some cheese with your whine? Stop being a pansy author and write about eyelashes!

 

Time wasting headvoice: Let’s look it up on Wikipedia. I love reading stuff.

 

Clint Eastwood headvoice: Stop being a pansy author and man up.

 

Me: I’m not a man

 

Clint Eastwood headvoice: Good point. Woman up.

 

Me: I am woman hear me roar… about eyelashes.

 

At this point I threw myself onto the floor. If you read my blog, you know why. If you don’t read my blog than this probably requires some explanation. Unfortunately I can’t explain it. However, someone happens by. On this day I happened to be in Wal-mart in the eyelash aisle. Have you ever tried to get to that place? Me too. It’s pretty much impossible.

 

So there I was on the floor, racks of fake eyelashes and glue, thinking about what happens if you used super glue and accidently glued your eyes shut, when along comes a manager on a forklift. He sees me sitting on the floor. He looked down at me. I looked up at him. He set the pallet down at the end of the aisle, the forklift going down slowly, slowly, slowly. And without a word he drove away.

 

Not much later, some cashiers showed up to restock the eyelash shelves. Without a word, they stepped over me to hang more fake eyelashes. And glue. Lots and lots of glue. As I watched them restock the shelves I decided to buy my first set of fake eyelashes.

 

Okay, so all, part, or none of this really happened. But I finally did write something about eyelashes. Tada!

 

 

 

~

 

M.R. JORDAN 

 

 

It’s been a year since my cousin went into the hospital, changing her life forever. Thankfully, she’s still with us. Don’t know what I’d do without her.

What would you write?

About a year ago, I entered a small writing contest that I stumbled upon by accident through this blog: http://www.mr-jordan.net/ . I can’t even remember how it was I came across the contest, and generally I am way too lazy to even enter contests. But this one was cool. It was something like: write a story using 250 words or less and incorporate these words/ phrases into it– kimchi, beer, contest, Hurry up and wait!, and hullabaloo. Here is what I came up with:

Mr. Choi was crying again. I could hear him through the paper thin walls of my apartment, lamenting about how his wife had left him. He spent his days drinking beer and eating kimchi, until the reek of it was embedded in his very being. I could smell him from a mile away.

            “You know Mr. Choi, it’s not a contest,” I yelled through the walls, meanly. “Nobody cares how much kimchi you can eat.”

            “Hurry up and wait!” he yelled back at me in his heavy Korean accent. I laughed and banged on the wall. He didn’t know how to insult me properly in English.

            “Hullabaloo!” I shouted, knowing he’d be more confused than ever. Was that even a word? He wouldn’t know, but he would sit and wonder if I was insulting him. Before I left, I shoved a five dollar bill under his door.   

At the time that I wrote that story, I had just started sending out queries for The Energy Crusades. I didn’t even have a website. The contest inspired me to get one, and I’m very grateful to the writer who hosted it. I won the contest (yay! check it out) and have since kept in touch with the fellow writer– I credit her for giving me one of my first little boosts along the way.

So, what would you write? If you’d like to write a story using the same guidelines (250 words or less, incorporate these words/ phrases: kimchi, beer, contest, Hurry up and wait!, and hullabaloo), I’ d love to read it. Post your story in the comments section and I’ll pick a favorite and also give the winner a $25 Amazon gift card. You have until March 15th, I’ll announce the winner on the 16th. Happy writing!

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Futuristic Materials

Have you ever heard of The Lifeboat Foundation? This is what they are all about:

Mission Statement

The Lifeboat Foundation is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements while helping humanity survive existential risks and possible misuse of increasingly powerful technologies, including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI, as we move towards theSingularity.

Lifeboat Foundation is pursuing a variety of options, including helping to accelerate the development of technologies to defend humanity, including newmethods to combat viruses (such as RNA interference and new vaccine methods), effective nanotechnological defensive strategies, and even self-sustaining space colonies in case the other defensive strategies fail.

We believe that, in some situations, it might be feasible to relinquish technological capacity in the public interest (for example, we are against the U.S. governmentposting the recipe for the 1918 flu virus on the Internet). We have some of the best minds on the planet working on programs to enable our survival. We invite you to join our cause!

While doing research on The Energy Crusades, I came across this article from them: 10 Futuristic Materials

aerogel.crayons

That’s a picture of Aerogel, sometimes called “frozen smoke”. There is also an invisibility cloak, metal foam, and transparent alumina, which is three times stronger than steel and transparent. And, if you check out the article, notice the last item, E-textiles. Perhaps in the future we all really will be wearing energy suits.

Living Roofs

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve kept notebooks on different things I researched for The Energy Crusades. I’m starting to pull out that research so I can share it here. It’s fun going back into all of my notes and drawings, pictures from magazines, pictures of various technical gadgets, and just whatever else I used to fuel my imagination.

The first thing I came across was living roofs. Almost all of the structures in my novel have them, and I wish I had one too. This is what a typical house would look like in the future, as I imagined it:

kaia's house

(image taken from: http://solarious.wordpress.com/)

I also came across an article (back in 2009) on the California Science Academy in San Francisco. Please check out their website if you have time. The building is amazing and what I imagine the University buildings look like in The Energy Crusades. Look at this living roof:

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I think it’s beautiful. I’m intrigued by sustainable architecture and the building uses recycled denim as insulation:

building_denim

How cool is that? I bet we’ve all thrown out a pair of jeans or two, and now we can use it to insulate our buildings.

I’ll share more stuff soon.