Meeting Your Heroes

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It’s not everyday you get to meet one of your heroes. I got one of those rare opportunities Monday night. Mary Doria Russell visited Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC to talk about her new novel Epitaph. I was glad to be one of a crowd of people who came out to hear her speak.

If you are unfamiliar with Mary Doria Russell, she is awesome. Her first novel, The Sparrow (and its sequel, Children of Men) captured many people’s imaginations. It is the story of a group of Jesuits and scientists who follow a song into space in search of other inhabited planets. It is science fiction with a punch. I loved those books when I first read them in the early 90’s and still reread them today. Mary went on to write about Jews in WWII Italy, the middle east after WWI, and now has released her second book set in Texas at the end of the 19th century. I never thought I would love books about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, but I do. Doc was great and I’m sure Epitaph will be too.

Anyway, what I wanted to discuss here was Mary’s slightly unconventional author event style. I’ve been to many, many author events and have a handful of them myself now, and they usually go the same way – the author talks about themselves a little, they read from their latest book a little, and they talk about the inspiration for the book, then take a few questions. Mary didn’t do any of the usual self-deprecating, aww-shucks kind of things. She spoke for twenty minutes or so about the people she writes about and the historical research she did. She didn’t read from the book at all. She spoke with authority and humor in a way that made the audience feel a personal connection to her, yet also made it very plain that she knows her stuff backwards and forwards and upside down. This sense of authority really came out during the question and answer portion of the event. Some one in the audience asked a question about how she did the research for her two books set on another planet. Mary then spoke about how she used her training in anthropology and biology to imagine sentient beings that did not evolve from an ape-like creature. It was fascinating to hear her talk about how she arrived at the beings in The Sparrow from her research. It was also refreshing to see her not laugh off the question with a self-deprecating comment like ‘I just made them up.’

I enjoyed the author event because I am a complete book nerd and love to meet the authors of the books I read, but I was also inspired. A large chunk of an author’s life is taken up by the minutia of editing and marketing. We don’t get to talk about the big ideas behind our words very often. It’s easy to doubt the importance and weight of what we do all day.  It was inspiring to listen to someone so obviously confident in what they are doing and not apologizing for being good at it.

That is why it’s good to have real life heroes and try to meet them whenever possible.

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5 Favorite Apps

Today is favorite app day on the Wordcount Blogathon. These are my five favorite apps. I’m looking forward to reading about your favorite electronic helpers.

Scrivener – I can’t praise this program enough. It has features you didn’t know you needed until you started using program. I rarely use WORD for anything anymore. At the beginning of a project, the outline view and notecards view help me get the structure of a story down. Once I start writing, each scene gets its own text file, then the scenes can be grouped into chapters. As the writing process proceeds, I can move scenes around and rearrange the chapters simply by dragging them up and down the left side of the screen. Editing is easy with the snapshot feature. And finally, Scrivener makes formatting the text as an ebook or print manuscript was relatively easy. It’s great.
Evernote – Evernote is a powerful application with myriad uses across platforms. You set up general topic notebooks, then organize your notes, photos, websites, and voice memos by notebook. The cloud feature is what I find most valuable. I have Evernote on my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad so I can file things to my notebooks wherever I come across them. As a writer, I use it to keep track of research and ideas. It has replaced my old habit of scribbling on the backs of receipts and envelopes.

Dropbox -Every writer needs Dropbox (or something like it) because you must back-up your work. Dropbox is a cloud based storage service. They will give you 2 GB of storage with a free account, and you can get more by referring people or paying for a larger account. With a Dropbox account,  if your computer blows up or your office floods, you won’t lose the manuscript you’ve been working on. You can also use your account to port files between your devices and share things like pictures with your friends and family.


Documents – I try to be paperless when I go to critique group. Printing out 100 pages every other week uses far too much toner and paper. That is where the free Documents app comes in. I can add my comments to a WORD file, save it to Dropbox, then view it on my iPad using Documents. The app allows you to view Office files, photos, and PDF’s. You can also annotate and highlight PDF’s. It’s a great way to take your comments with you.

Tiki-Toki – I recently discovered this timeline app. Scrivener has an excellent outline feature that was more than adequate for my first two books. The book I am conceiving now has five main character, each with their own story arc. I needed something more powerful. Tiki-Toki allows me to color code each character’s timeline, have overlapping story arcs, and  see all the separate timelines on one timeline. I’m still learning how to use this site to its fullest but I think it will be useful.

Secondary Characters Blog Hop

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Theresa PaoloKelley LynnJessica SalyerJenny Morris and Suzi Retzlaff
are cohosting a fun bloghop about secondary characters to celebrate the release of their book  of Secondary Characters on May 28th.

 When I sat down to think about secondary characters, my mind immediately went to Charles Dickens.  I read everything Dickens wrote in one fell swoop the summer of 1983. I don’t remember many details about the main characters in those books, but some of the secondary characters remain vivid in my mind.

harry-furniss-miss-havisham-illustration-from-great-expectations_i-G-40-4009-PCIWF00Z Miss Havisham in Great Expectations is the personification of embitterment. She was left at the alter as a young woman, so she stopped all the clocks and lived the rest of her miserable life in her wedding gown.  Rather than moving on with her life, she adopts a young girl and molds her into a hard, spiteful woman who can’t be touched by love.

Uriah Heep in David Copperfield – When I think about

55445_oa hypocrite, I think about Uriah Heep. He is a creepy young guy with long legs and spidery fingers that is always going on about how humble he is and faking appreciation of his employer. All while stabbing people in the back.  Even though David Copperfield was written in the 1850’s, Uriah Heep is a  character you could encounter today. He’s that waiter you don’t want touching your food or that greasy-haired check-out guy whose line you avoid.

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Smike in Nicholas Nickleby  still breaks my heart.  He is a young mentally and physically disabled man that was abused his entire life. All we wanted in life was love and connection. As soon as he found love, he died. I still tear up when I think about him. I don’t remember what Nicholas Nickleby was about, but I certainly remember Smike.

I wonder if Charles Dickens enjoyed creating his secondary characters as I did when I was writing Overlook. My favorite is the main character’s hard drinking little sister, Rose McSweeney. She can be a bit larger-than-life because she doesn’t need to carry the whole plot.