ravens

Ravens. We’re not winning the brain race, folks.

Ravens and macaques are just the beginning.

I’ve always felt there was something a bit presumptuous in assuming we humans are smarter than animals. Not to mention, self serving. Turns out, according to a recent study, ravens are giving us significant competition.

In an article, Scientific American reports a raven’s ability to postpone gratification is at a four year old human’s level. Which is something we should all worry about. Because I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am personally acquainted with grown up humans who don’t have this capacity.

The implication of this finding is ravens can plan ahead further than we suspected. Ravens don’t have watches. Or calendars. Or multi-page tabbed planners with a zipper ring binder made out of leather. Reasonable, since those binders are pretty inconvenient to fly around with and take up way too much room in the nest.

But just think what they could do if they had those things.

Better yet, maybe instead of banding ravens for scientific study, we should be fitting them with little electronic planners. According to the article, a raven only expects to find a carcass occasionally, so there are a lot of empty hours a raven might choose to fill more productively.

Ravens aren’t the only animals who might benefit from electronic devices. As I write this entry, there is a lawsuit about who owns the rights to selfies taken by a female macaque in Indonesia. The photographer who set up his camera with a remote trigger, says he expected the macaques in the area to find it and play with it.

Personally, I think the question of rights over the selfies is missing the point. The real issue is, shouldn’t all animals have their own electronic devices? If E.T. arrived on earth now, surely he would carry his own cell phone along with him. And if aliens have cell phones, why should our animal citizens do without?

Charging devices in the wild might be a problem, but I hear fireflies and electric eels are considering a merger to create the first Animal Power Company. So maybe not.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Book Review

Book Review: Meg Cabot’s The Boy Is Back

Book review Wednesday strikes on Thursday. Shaking it up, here.

I haven’t read a lot of graphic novels, but I like the freshness of them. The Boy is BackMeg Cabot’s latest foray into adult romance isn’t exactly a graphic novel, but the format is so much fun it made me laugh out loud.

One of the challenges of writing romances is finding the balance between the way people communicate in books and the way they communicate in real life.

Which is, of course, the point.

Alfred Hitchcock famously said, “What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out?”

Fiction writers are encouraged to focus on the extraordinary moments of otherwise ordinary lives. But sometimes it’s a relief to read a book which describes the prosaic with the level of joy and appreciation which The Boy is Back exhibits. There is a pivotal love story but the ordinary life around the couple is almost a third character.

And a very special thank you to Cabot for the family tree at the very beginning of the book. There is a special place on the aggravating book shelf for the other kind.

You know.  The ones in which you struggle through three hundred plus pages trying to remember just how Henry is related to the main character. You only learn he is her long lost step uncle when you stumble on an appendix on page 327.

There must be some readers out there who leaf through a book ahead of time marking appendices and footnotes with unseemly relish. I’m not one of them.

Which makes me wonder about who those people are and what else they do with their time. Dust moldings daily? Fold their dirty laundry before heading to the Laundromat? Use partitioned plates for meals so the green beans don’t touch the mashed potatoes?

I like a sense of organization, but I am well aware it is a losing battle. And I like books which reflect that. Hence this book review.

Cabot cleverly mimics the pace of online communication. It’s not a gimmick – it’s a device. And it’s a believable device. Most of us do communicate this way now, although perhaps not all as intensely as the family in this story does.

And while what she describes in those communications is ordinary life, she does so with such vigor and particularity, it is anything but dull.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Synopsis

Synopsis Writing: Hate it or Love it?

Why is writing a synopsis so hard? We all grew up doing book reports, summaries of coursework. We all had to study for exams by skimming our class notes. In sifting between the significant items we accumulated from our teachers, we identified the critical information.

So why should it be so difficult to do so with material we wrote ourselves?

I have friends who form their synopses early in the writing process. It’s a great idea. But I find as I write, the initial outline changes form. And soon the manuscript resembles something else entirely.

My initial synopsis always ends up being a terrific description of a romance novel I didn’t write.

But the process of condensing an intricate tale into one page after the manuscript is finished is hard too. Primarily, I think because it feels almost demeaning to the story. We writers work so hard to only use the right words, no more and no less than what the story requires. So reducing our manuscript to the bare bones feels counter intuitive.

But lovely well chosen words are not enough.

Jane Friedman, in her excellent blog article on the intricacies and pitfalls of synopsis writing, points out a synopsis is not intended to be simply a list of plot events. Instead, it should focus on the emotions of the characters as they react to the events and the decisions which grow out of those emotions.

I like this idea, because if I have written my manuscript properly, these things should be self evident to me. Or, to put it another way, maybe if I’m having this much difficulty defining the most important aspects of the manuscript, a reader will too.

Not good.

It’s a mistake to think of the synopsis as an irritating pointless tag on to our creative work.

Delicious use of language is only one part of a manuscript éclair, maybe the layered pastry shell. But character growth and conflict, are the custard filling and the chocolate glaze.

The process of writing a good synopsis allows the author a chance to check if all the ingredients are present. Which is important. Because no one wants an empty éclair.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Alterations

Alterations Men Women Children. Really?

It’s a Sign. Of something.

Every week on my way home from the supermarket I drive by an unpretentious dry cleaning establishment. It offers same day service. On the side of the building there is a startling banner which proclaims: Alterations Men Women Children.

It’s not so much the punctuation issue, although that probably is an issue. You know – the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma,” and “Let’s eat Grandma.”

It’s the idea one could alter oneself overnight which fascinates me. How convenient.

In one day you could have better eyesight and shinier teeth. You could be taller, shorter, wider, narrower. And the changes would be temporary too, since you could go back the next day and reverse them.

I would like to try out being tall, for instance, although I might like to return to my original height once I had bumped my head too many times.

It might be fun to have wings. Or to be able to jump like a kangaroo. Or to have a tail to hold that extra bag of groceries or to swing from one library stack to another. Clothes might be a problem but the dry cleaner probably offers alterations on clothing too.

But why stop at physical alterations?

I’d love to be better at accounting, for instance. I’m not good at drawing either, but the tailor could alter that. I’d love to speak the world’s languages fluently, to be able to dance like a professional, to throw a baseball one hundred miles an hour. Or to be able to swim like a seal and catch fish in my mouth. Well, maybe not the fish part.

And then there are less positive attributes, like laziness or unwarranted melancholy. I could use an alteration in my mood some days and in my self-discipline on others. Some days, both at once.

But truthfully, even if the drycleaner’s sign was accurate, I wouldn’t take advantage of it. It’s not that I don’t want to change and grow. I do.

But I want to be the agent of that change myself. Being the alterations mistress of me is a lot more fun than having someone else do it. Even if that means I can’t have wings or a tail.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Book Review

Book Review: Joanna Shupe’s Magnate

Every book review should incorporate a fun word like Knickerbocker.

A book review a day later than expected is always tastier than one which shows up at the usual time. Well, that’s my rationale, anyway. And what’s on the menu today? Joanna Shupe’s Magnate, one of the four books in her Knickerbocker Club series.

I generally avoid books which focus on the tribulations of being vastly wealthy. I mean, please.

But I am intrigued by that time period in American history. 1870-1900 was an incredibly exciting time to witness. Industrial growth, extremes of financial fortune, and women’s rights are fascinating themes for an author to explore and to weave in and around the central story arc.

Shupe incorporates all three of these aspects of life in the late 1800’s without missing a beat.

That’s significant because I often find novels set in far-away places or times contrived.

Sometimes it feels as though the author needs to justify her cruise down the Danube to a beleaguered IRS employee. “See here,” she can say, pointing vigorously at chapter 19, “That’s an exact description of the meal I ate in a tiny café near Schonbrunn Palace.”

Or, if it’s a historical, she has probably spent hours and hours in dusty archives. All that curling over ancient documents practically requires a professional masseur. “See the fifteen pages delineating the growth of shirtwaist production?” The IRS agent nods sadly and makes a notation. “That was a four hour massage, right there.”

But to my delight, Shupe respects her readers.

The setting and time frame are so intrinsic to the plot, I was never once distracted by a protracted lecture on, say, the history of the Rossini Club. That sort of information was organic to the flow.

As a reader this matters to me. As a writer, it matters more.

Like any good teacher, Shupe holds back a little. She tells the reader exactly what the reader needs to know. Which makes me curious. And a curious reader is exactly what an author wants.

Now I’m hooked.

And I also have a better sense of how to hook my own readers.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

group

Group Dynamics Redeem Themselves

Turns out joining a group can be fun!

I never had much experience with the benefits of group membership as a child. The groups I was acquainted with were the unpleasant sort. The kind which incorporated mean kids and ruled the playground with an iron fist.

But as an adult, I have slowly come to understand how helpful a group can be both as a social bridge and a professional aid. Which is why I have become such a fan of the writing community and the groups which it forms.

At Rhode Island Romance Writers monthly meetings, I’ve received advice on writing, branding and marketing skills. Just as important, I’ve been able to meet a group of actual writers who, it turns out, are amazingly friendly.

As part of attending the Boston area romance writers conference, I joined New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America (NECRWA). At the conference I had the chance to meet several of the members. They too have been uniformly welcoming and helpful.

The NECRWA conference itself was an extraordinary experience. On a professional level, I was exposed to in depth information on the business of writing and selling books I wouldn’t normally have had access to. But the social aspect, again, took me by surprise.

I made friends.

I don’t know if this is a function of the groups I am meeting, but I’ve been blown away by a universal camaraderie. Experienced authors share information and advised rank beginners with a notable and laudable spirit of generosity. Fellow beginners share their knowledge, secure in the sense that this experience is not about competition but about lifting each other up.

Someday, I will attend the big one – the Romance Writers of America conference. I don’t know whether I will find the same level of welcoming friendliness there, but I think it’s possible.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about writers since I started meeting them, it’s that we all have the same hill to climb and we have to climb it again every day.

This takes a lot of the hierarchy out of writers’ groups.

Because even a million dollar writer starts out every morning the way she did when she first began – staring at a blank sheet and hoping the words will come easy today.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

fortune

Fortune Cookies and the Optimism of Destiny

Fortune cookies are cheerful by nature. Consider their crunch, their smooth surface, their mild sweetness. Note the way they can be snapped into neat halves in one smooth motion.

More importantly, check out the incredibly upbeat messages inside.

For years, every time I had a fortune cookie, I saved the little slips of paper. Now I have a collection of flattering if sometimes conflicting descriptions of myself.

Who doesn’t want to know she is charming, sweet tempered and destined to succeed at whatever she puts her mind to? But none of the fortunes, no matter how varied are negative.

Maybe the people who write the maxims on fortune cookie slips are incurably optimistic. Or maybe they are simply wishful about humanity. A few of them may believe they are changing the world one fortune cookie insert at a time.

And they might be right.

Still, I sometimes wonder what sorts of descriptions and predictions might arrive in my cookies if the writer was having a bad day. You are temperamental and have a tendency toward procrastination, one slip might say. Avoid Gluttony – Start by not eating this cookie, might be another one.

Or how about: The path before you is difficult. Go back to bed.

I’m not quite sure why I keep those little slips. The messages are neither deep nor personally insightful. But somehow I can’t make myself throw them out.

They’re a bit like a smile from a baby in a passing stroller. The smile isn’t personal. The baby doesn’t know you. But still, a baby’s smile has a kind of intrinsic value regardless of what the baby was thinking at the time.

The fortune cookie strips I keep are like this – impersonal but still bearing an odd significance.

Among the pile of paper strips, the one I love most is the one I understand the least.

He is kissing her triding keepsake.

I still wonder what the writer meant by that.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

organization

Organization: The Science of Optimism

I love organization books and tips.

When my children were babies and I was dogpaddling in a sea of dirty laundry, I happened on an organization book by Pam Young and Peggy Jones called Sidetracked Home Executives. The sister authors recommended an index card system of chore scheduling and you know how much I love index cards.

But eventually, I grew into other organization books. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was my bible for a while. His focus is on determining the relative importance of each task in the greater scheme of your life. If your life’s dream to juggle porcupines you will prioritize for practicing that skill over, say, washing the bugs out of your kitchen light fixture.

Then I stumbled on Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Allen’s philosophy of listing every single thing you want and need to do in your life is another way to decipher what is important to you. It’s a good way to de-clutter your brain. A bit like Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Although you don’t end up with a satisfying collection of eleven bulging boxes of goods to unload at your local Goodwill at the end of the session.

So I was delighted to happen on Anna Carrasco Bowling’s June 28th blog entry.

In it Bowling describes how she organizes her daily goals. She color codes the items in large groups. Essentials and big ongoing projects like editing or drafting different manuscripts each have their own color.

But what I love most is the category Bowling calls Problem Solving. She defines it as “anything I need to do before I could get down to business, or could affect my ability to write that day.” What is so brilliant about this, is the idea of scheduling time to think.

We all schedule our time, but what gets written on our lists are physical activities. There is a time for cooking, for cleaning, for writing, for bill paying, even for play.

Rarely do we block out time on our calendars for thought.

We should. Because thinking is the hardest part of our work. And the easiest to avoid.

So next time I write a to do list, I’m pulling out my colored pens and focusing on what’s most important in my day. Problem Solving.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Public Opinion

Public Opinion and Cookie Recipes

Public opinion can be devastating.

Remember the first time you realized someone didn’t like you? A classmate, or perhaps one of those playmates you had to get along with because your mother was friends with her mother. Maybe it was the neighbor boy across the street who always called you names while you waited for the bus.

As we grow up, we stop expecting to be liked by everyone. But then, we have children. And we relive that difficult realization all over again. It’s worse watching your child process social rejection than experiencing it yourself.

One of the hard parts of writing novels is how much you hope other people will like them. I’m not accustomed to worrying about whether people like me anymore. And I’m beginning to think that might be a reasonable approach to writing novels as well.

Of course, if you want readers, you must supply a product a reader can enjoy and want more of. There is no point in whipping up a batch of olive-cauliflower-limburger cheese cookies if no one can get past the smell long enough to take a bite. You certainly won’t be selling a boxed set of them.

So I’m not saying public opinion doesn’t matter.

But I do think, as authors, we have to remember our novels are not our children. Well, obviously. Children bear a disturbing resemblance to deciduous trees, but no novel will leave a chicken wing behind his bedroom door for a week. No novel will climb into your bed at five in the morning with a soaking wet diaper and ask for a cuddle.

Novels are not our progeny, they are our products. If someone didn’t like your product, you wouldn’t run into your room to lick your wounds. Instead, you would ask how it might be improved. Then you might take that information and turn your olive-cauliflower-limburger cheese cookies into chocolate mousse tartlets and make a fortune.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Friday

Friday is One Day We Can’t Do Without

Don’t Cancel Friday!

Recently I drove by a local church which hosts an annual fair for the weekend. But this year the sign listed the times the fair was open with the following caveat: Friday has been cancelled.

Really? Was my first thought. And then: is this a temporary cancellation or a permanent one? I mean I can see cancelling Friday occasionally, the ones with papers due, final exams or a bathtub which needs scrubbing. But if this is a permanent situation, I am concerned.

Cancelling Friday leaves us with six days a week. The immediate issue is, of course, the iconic Beatles’ song, Eight Days a Week. When there are seven days per week, the chorus sounds like a cheerful exaggeration. But if we lose Fridays and establish a six day week, the lyrics lose their punch.

I don’t have to tell you how catastrophic that would be.

For Muslims, Friday is the Sabbath,  for Jews it is Sabbath Eve. In either case, cancelling Friday would lead to general crabbiness among the many folks who depend on that day to rest and rejuvenate. It would be the  religious equivalent of cancelling nap time.

Never a good idea.

All of these reasons are important, but the most significant impact of going Friday-less from my perspective is the library book issue. First, I go to the library most Fridays so I don’t have to be book starved on the weekend.

More importantly, at present the books are due two weeks, fourteen days after I take them out. If we cancel each Friday, I will have only twelve days to finish my reading. This means something in my calendar will have to give. Because it certainly isn’t going to be my reading schedule.

So I’m not complaining, because cancelling Friday might just be my best excuse ever for not scrubbing the bathtub.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.