Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Update

I've been a bad, bad girl.

Don't get too excited. All I mean is, I didn't get much writing done this week. Holidays are messing with my schedule, and I'm feeling the challenge of making sure the blog is up regularly at holiday times. Anyone else feel that way? It's part of learning what works for me, that's all. I'll get it. But I'm sorry I didn't get something brilliant up for Wednesday, which is what I always shoot for. I'll have to get ahead on that, so there will always be something for you to read!

I do, however, feel like I have the crux of the plot for a simple sci-fi-horror-thriller mashup novel I've been kicking around. So now I can really get down to writing, knowing where I'm going. This is good news.

And I'm working through The Artist's Way, a 12-week plan (in book form) which is supposed to be a good way to unblock our creativity. Check it out if you ever feel creatively blocked. Some of its ideas are really useful. I love the artist's date. It's supposed to connect you to your inner childlike creative self. My inner artist likes ice cream and chocolate sprinkles. My adult self likes to be thin. I'll just have to work out more. Haha!

Anyway, best wishes in your creative endeavors this coming week. See you all on Monday!

~The Chipper Muse~

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Mention: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Realistic characters, a fascinating magical system, compelling conflict, and a fight between two brothers is at the heart of it all…The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

I’m not sure what is happening in the realm of fantasy writing… But whatever is in the water, I hope more authors drink and get pregnant with it. Recently, I reviewed The Warded Man, a fantasy series I can finally get behind. This week I’m reviewing another first book in a fantasy series that I expect to captivate me: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks.

The Black Prism begins strong with action right away. Somehow, Weeks hits the mark right on the head: the character is someone you immediately root for, the setting is immediately believable, and the magic system immediately makes a kind of sense even though it’s different than the magic systems you see in other fantasy novels.

And then Weeks hits you on the head again, by making it clear in the first few pages that this isn’t just another fantasy novel. He acknowledges the trope of a young character who believes his life will become something bigger, and then says: Really? What makes you think you have a right to that, buddy? This puts me on the author’s side right away, because he’s telling me as a reader that he has no intentions of being lazy and selfish. He’s thinking about me as he’s writing this novel, and I appreciate that.

Then Weeks really kicks it into high gear by adding all kinds of political and personal drama that is fascinating, and yet it never overshadows the most important thing in a novel, in my opinion—the people! Man, I love the people in The Black Prism. As I mentioned earlier, the heart of this novel is the conflict between two brothers that, I have to say, I can’t wait to read more about.

And Weeks does something I haven’t seen in a while: he plays with my expectations of who these two brothers are, and then twists it in a way that, although I did see it coming, I was thrilled to see it coming. In other words, as soon as I realized what Weeks was doing, it made me want to read the book even more than ever. Can I just say it? Brent Weeks, you had me at hello. And you’ve kept me. Congratulations!

This is a rare book that I think even non-fantasy fans could enjoy, because it is so easy to get into the flow of the action. Many times, fantasy novels belabor the magic that drives their world. Or they belabor the setting. Not The Black Prism. This book makes everything so accessible, so quickly, that it feels natural to read about it. Being a regular fantasy reader, I know how hard this must be, because I don’t see it that often. Brent Weeks pulls off a hat trick here. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.

In sum:  If you read fantasy at all, you have to pick up a copy of The Black Prism. This is mandatory for you, right up there with The Lord of the Rings. If you write fantasy, or any kind of fiction, you’ll also want to pick up this book to study what Weeks does and how he does it. And if you’re game to read outside your normal genre and want to make a foray into fantasy writing, I think this is a good one to start with. Highly, highly recommended!

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Update

This week, I started The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. This book encompasses a 12-week course in unblocking yourself creatively. It's too early to talk much about it, except to say that one of Cameron's ideas is the artist date. This is where you go and spend some alone time doing something creative, childlike, and fun to nurture the artist playing in the rain, buying yourself ice cream with chocolate sprinkles, or coloring. I love this idea! I always feel invigorated after an artist date.

I've also been working to get ahead on my blog, though that was slow going this week due to work-related writing deadlines. It's a challenge writing full-time for someone else, then coming home to write for myself. Anyone else have that problem? The best thing that works for me is to sit outside and enjoy the weather and the sights. It helps me switch from PR mode to personal mode. And that's why I'm glad it's spring: good weather to sit outside.

Fiction writing has been slow this week too, because of work. But I'm kicking around some plot ideas for a novel and thinking about some good feedback I've received on a short story and a poem that aren't quite working as they need to. Rewrites are around the corner!

How's your creative life going? I hope your inner artist is having a blast!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Meet Cute. Or Not. The Tulsa Edition.

Wishing for realistic, down-to-earth advice on where to meet men in the Midwest Bible Belt region? Here’s the real dope.

If you’ve read one “Where to Meet Men” article, you’ve read them all. Until today. I’m about to give you the real deal on where find men in Tulsa, or parts like it.

But before I do, let me show you where some of the ladies’ magazines miss it. You see, Cosmo and the other gal guides suggest places that just don’t work in this part of the country. Here’s a quick rundown why:

  • The bar. Sharp inhale! How dare you go to a bar when you could be in church? I mean, really, who raised you? Satan?
  • The bookstore. Weird stare. You actually read? Even now that you’re out of school? Wow. ‘Cause I don’t.
  • Church. Yes. You’d think this one would work, wouldn’t you? Except that it doesn’t, because everyone in church is too busy volunteering in church to notice the opposite sex.
  • The gym. If only the people here went to the gym. Oklahoma is among the fattest states in the nation. Trust me, they’re not hitting the weight room like they should.
  • College coffee shop. Actually, this is true. Except that since I’m old enough to be their mother, I’m not keen on this one. Being a cougar is overrated.

Now, let me explain to you where you can get hit on around here. (All these are true. Or at least mostly true.)

  • A stoplight. This has happened to me twice. Once, it was a toothless old guy leering at me, because he thought he was hot. The other time, it was two teens with a plug-in PA system, broadcasting that I should “look over here.” Thanks, but no.
  • Walmart. This works great for my friend while she’s grocery shopping. Unfortunately, the guys who hit on her are married and standing next to their wives. Sorry, but my friend can do better. In fact, everyone can do better than that.
  • QuikTrip. Not just any gas station. And not just anywhere in the QuikTrip. You have to be at the soda fountain, putting a cap on your drink while some guy eyes you. He’s thinking about taking you to dinner at the taquito/hotdog warmer, but only if you’re lucky.
  • Sunday school. If you are unfortunate enough to attend an adult Sunday school class, you’ll be getting checked out, all right, by all the guys who are 50 and unmarried and looking for new meat. It’s worse than the bar, and not just because you’re sober.

Needless to say, I haven’t found just the right guy yet. (Surprise, surprise.) One day I will. But I suspect it won’t be in Tulsa. Unless I hit my head really, really hard.

Really hard.

Copyright © 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Mention: The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

Finally, a writer who makes me want to pick up a fantasy series again… Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man

If you like your fantasy gritty yet hopeful, you’ll like The Warded Man, the first in a series by Peter V. Brett. Humans live in fear of the night, when the demon-like corelings rise up from the ground and wreak terror and death until the sun’s rays banish them back to where they came from. The only thing standing between humans and the corelings is magic etched in fragile wards that keep the demons back. It’s a hard life, and it seems the corelings are winning. Until three young people rise up to teach others to do more than live by day and hide by night…

The central characters are forced out of their routines into a hard world at a young age. Each has special strengths necessary to defeating their foe. Arlen can etch wards better than almost anyone, and he’s determined to find new ways to fight the corelings that killed his mother. Leesha is greatly skilled as a healer and a chemist, and she knows secrets that can be used as weapons against the demons. And Rojer can charm the corelings or drive them back with the music he makes on his fiddle.

In many ways, The Warded Man is a classic fantasy tale…with gifted characters fighting fearsome odds, fascinating cultures and settings, fast-moving action scenes, dramatic plot twists, fearsome creatures, and impressive magic. But this particular author stands out in many ways.

I love the ease with which Brett pulled me into his story. His writing is detailed yet economical… In other words, there’s no unnecessary description or action to slow the pace. Yet he also knows how to use just the right details to make the world seem real and tangible. His characters are both lovable and troubled, determined and conflicted. Best of all, they don’t quit. And that makes me want to keep reading and keep rooting for them.

In addition to the typical fantasy action, Brett takes a look at how we live when we are under duress. Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer all take different paths, but they arrive at the same conclusion—a life lived in fear and hiding is not worth living. Better to fight. Better to find ways to win, not just fight. And best to do it together.

But Brett also looks at our human desire to be led. Arlen doesn’t want everyone looking to him as Deliverer. He wants to empower everyone to fight as equals. But the man who rises up as his apparent rival has no compunctions about being set on a pedestal, the leader who is “more equal” than his peers. So I look forward to a clash between two cultural and political outlooks (two societies) as much as I look forward to seeing what happens to Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer as individuals.

I had given up on fantasy series a while back, thinking they are too long, too labored, too much of the same (no matter how well written) to compel me to invest my time in reading them start to finish. Brett’s The Warded Man has made me change my mind, at least about his work. For that, I’m delighted!

In sum: Peter V. Brett’s writing is excellent, and The Warded Man is definitely worth your time. The next book in the series (The Desert Spear) is already out, and I’m looking forward to reading it. This is one fantasy series that I have no trouble recommending.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Update

For those who like to know what is new with my writing...

First off... I've been getting ahead on blog entries, with the goal that whenever you stop by on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, there will be something new for you to read. No more failures to update due to the day job's deadlines. That's the goal. Already I have entries lined up for next week. Yay! Be sure to stop by. I've got some good stuff coming.

Second... I just started back up with my writers critique group, and got some feedback on a story that I know needs work. Man, it's hard to hear the harsh truth, isn't it? But it was all true. I realized I am too easy on my characters. I need to let them suffer sometimes. An easy ending that lets a character off the hook doesn't satisfy the reader. And it's all about the reader. If they don't like what you wrote, your writing isn't working.

I'm also working on plot and character motivation for two stories. One I started during Nanowrimo and never finished. The other is a new idea I had that I find appealing. I'm tackling both with the question: What things can keep this character from getting what they want? Plot is all about thing after another that impedes the protagonist. How many things can I put in their path to make their life harder? Looking at it this way, plotting is more necessary than I usually give it credit for.

Writing isn't easy. It's hard work. Takes skills, crafted skills, that require time to develop. I'm plugging at it. Are you plugging at your work, your art, your hobbies? I hope so. We can always grow!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Insanely Beautiful

Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6: 26)

I like to get up early on Saturday mornings when the weather is nice, make a cup of coffee or tea, and sit outside to contemplate the beauty of nature. Sometimes I read my Bible or a devotional. Sometimes I pray for my family and friends. Sometimes I think about my plans for the day. But mostly I just sit and enjoy the peacefulness of a quiet, lovely morning.

This past Saturday, I watched two groups of birds. Some were ravens. They made a feast of the leftover French fries and a bit of burger that someone had scattered on the asphalt the night before.

Then a smaller sparrow came. He watched the ravens, but kept his polite distance until they were through. When the ravens left, the sparrow brought his friends. They made their feast of some nut casings and birdfeed my neighbors threw out to them.

It occurred to me that the old saying is true—She eats like a bird—because most of the fries and birdfeed still remained after the ravens and sparrows finished their meal and moved on. I thought then that the ants would eventually come by and cart some of the food home to their anthills.

And that’s when I realized something: God doesn’t let anything go to waste. Everything in nature has its use.

I have a friend, Andrell, who says something along these lines when she encourages people. She says that God knows exactly what He is doing, so if you’re feeling like you need a Plan B, God not only has you covered, but it will be great. He makes all things beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

God designed this world so that everything in it—everything He made—has a purpose. The squirrels eat the nuts, and the birds eat the nut casings. When they have eaten, the ants and other bugs come and feast. Even the rotting leftovers don’t sit for long before ravens and other carrions feed on them.

Even rotten stuff has a purpose.

Isn’t that insanely beautiful? What a reassurance! Nothing in your life, good or bad, is going to go to waste, especially when you allow God to make something beautiful from it in His time. He is entirely capable of doing this, as a morning watching birds and ants can show you.

So let go of the worries about your life. Don’t be concerned about the messes. Simply trust that God will clean things up with the laws and universe He has already set in motion and designed to do exactly that for you. He’ll make your life beautiful in His time.

Copyright © 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Mention: The Heir by Paul Robertson

A Christian murder mystery that is more philosophy on how to live than anything else… Book review of The Heir by Paul Robertson

I came across The Heir as a free e-book download promotion, so I checked it out, even though it’s not the type of book I normally read.

This Christian tale centers on Jason Boyer, a rich man who comes into a huge inheritance—money, business, political power, and fame—after the untimely death of his father. When the examination of his father’s accident turns into a murder investigation, Jason becomes the prime suspect. As he fights for his innocence, he struggles to define who he really is and why he has been put here on his earth.

The Heir seems designed first and foremost to look at (and ultimately knock over) the many different philosophies that people take toward life. Through Jason’s eyes, we consider how we should live and why. Some characters live (and die) for the moment, for pleasure, for wealth. Others give all for power and fame. Some simply don’t want to give up what they have, even if those things aren’t necessarily worth fighting for anymore. Jason himself is a confused man, but in facing that confusion, he has the chance to come to the knowledge of the truth.

This examination of the why of our existence is interesting at times, which helps to offset some of the novel’s weaker elements…including some thin characterization and an ending that is believable (barely) but very underdeveloped. The action of the story—a murder mystery—takes a backseat to the philosophical wanderings of Jason, and I believe that in some ways, the drama of the story suffers for it. Obviously, the author’s goal is to write a book that leads readers to examine why they are here on earth and what they value most. And that’s good. But I think stronger storytelling would add to the book’s effectiveness and reach in the long run.

Point blank: It's impossible to recommend The Heir without reservations. What makes The Heir stand out is that it was different than the usual Christian fare I’ve come across. That said, I don't read much Christian fiction, even though I'm a Christian, precisely because the writing is so often weak or heavy-handed with the need to push religion. And The Heir is, unfortunately, a victim of that syndrome. It's not the worst thing I've ever read. But I'm glad I got it for free. Enough said?

For Amazon's reviews (which are quite mixed):

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Great Songwriting's In the Ear of the Listener

So, I'm listening to the local radio station as they advertise a Lyle Lovett concert that's coming to town. Full disclosure here: I am not a Lyle Lovett fan. I am not a country music fan. But even so, I'm willing to listen to any song at least once to give it a chance.

Especially when an ad claims that the songwriter is "one of the greatest songwriters of all time." And I'm willing to give Lovett the chance to prove it to me.

If only the ad didn't choose this song to prove the man's "great songwriting skills." And I quote:

If I had a boat
I'd go out on the ocean
And if I had a pony
I'd ride him on my boat
And we could all together
Go out on the ocean
Me upon my pony on my boat

Now, I've never taught elementary school. But I'm pretty sure that if I had, and if I gave a poetry writing assignment, I might get these lyrics. Or something very similar. Perhaps Lovett's musical arrangements are amazing. But his lyrics, which count as part of the song-writing, are pretty lousy. This song makes me what to do anything but go to this concert now. (And yes, that includes going to see Sucker Punch.)

I'll stay true to myself. I'll give Lyle Lovett another chance and another listen sometime. Just not with that particular song. Ever.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 1, 2011

When It Comes to GoDaddy's Bob Parsons, Elephants and PETA Outweigh Misogyny

What do GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons, PR guru Peter Shankman, actress Cloris Leachman, PETA Executive VP Tracy Reiman, NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, the Super Bowl censors, and hundreds of Twitter folks all have in common?

They all think elephants are more important than women.

Yes, I said it. And I stand by my statement, no matter how outrageous it seems to you, because for years, GoDaddy has been putting out the most misogynistic, perverted, and frankly insulting-to-my-intelligence Super Bowl ads I have ever seen. (When the ads manage to get past the censors, that is. Some of them are so dirty, even the Super Bowl apparently draws the line at times. Or so they claim.)

The bottom line is, GoDaddy ads are consistently insulting to women. They demean women. They dehumanize women. They treat us as objects, as meat, and that whole attitude only adds to the disrespect in this country that encourages travesties like date rape, sexual abuse, molestation, and domestic violence against women.

And yet no one seems to have a problem with this, because no one is jumping ship from GoDaddy over the way it treats the women who could be your mom, your sister, or your wife. And you think that's okay?

Look, I am as kind to animals as the next person. And while I don't go as far as a PETA fur coat painting party, I agree we should treat healthy and harmless animals well. I see kind treatment of animals as a general respect for life, and there is nothing wrong with it. I'm sorry an elephant was killed.

But I also think that people trump animals. Period. What happens to people means more than what happens to animals, because people have souls...a spark of God Almighty in them...while animals don't. And that means the way we treat other people is more significant than the other things we do in life.

I know others don't feel this way. I know because Danica Patrick allowed herself to be demeaned in GoDaddy ads instead of saying no. I know because Peter Shankman tweeted yesterday (March 31, 2011) that he was moving 400 domains off GoDaddy because of the he kept with GoDaddy while they were just a bunch of misogynists. I know because PETA thinks Bob Parsons deserves "Scummiest CEO of the Year" for killing an elephant instead of for treating women like non-humans.

Sorry, I'm not buying this. I'm not buying GoDaddy domain names. But I'm not buying the hypocritical outrage from the rest of the world either. From now on, keep your phony self-congratulations to yourselves, because if you can't value the treatment of women as much as you value the treatment of an elephant, you haven't earned the right to be condescending. No matter how much you claim that right in your articles and tweets. Your behavior betrays you and reveals the truth. You're just as bad as Bob Parsons is. And that's the truth.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.