Writing, Reading, and Smiling . . . It's Contagious.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seanachaí's News

On the last Sunday of each month, I compile "Seanachaí's News," a status report that assesses my work during the current month and also formulates my plans for the upcoming months. It will also give you a peek at my works in progress.

My Work During the Current Month

  1. If you're laying out a book for the first time, be sure to read Stop the Press! before you go any further. It could save you a lot of reworking and reformatting.
  2. "Don't Jump!" alludes to Jack Finney's ledge walker and fictionalizes my own battle in dealing with past writings.
  3. Looking for a new read? Check out my review of Jillian's Gold and the interview with the author, Levi Montgomery.
  4. Show and Tell is a short blog demonstrating the importance of formulating scenes rather than summing them up with one sentence.

My Plans for the Upcoming Months

  1.  As you know, I've been working on the reformatting of Dead Bird in the Weeds. Look for its rerelease in the next month or so.

As always, I love to hear from you. If you’re in the cyber-neighborhood, drop me a line.

In the meantime, keep writing, reading, and smiling.
It’s contagious.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Show and Tell

I could have said “I was riding in an elevator and didnt get off at the first floor,” but I didnt.

Going Down?

Stale cigarette smoke consumes the remaining oxygen while whining Charlie Brown voices from outside vibrate this empty tin can. A tattered sign smaller than a three-by-five card leers at me, its precise black type shouting “I expired eight months ago. Dead. Extinct. That’s what it says. I chew my lip, wondering if Ill be able to escape this teal-floored prison.

The mechanical whir of the silver doors makes me stand a little straighter and brush imaginary lint from my sweater. The doors part like armed guards, allowing another prisoner to join my makeshift world. A surge of aftershave sets my nose on fire, announcing his arrival. A student in his early twenties glances in my direction before grabbing the handrail along the wall. He doesn’t know this, but he has intruded upon my three feet of personal space. If he would allow his gray eyes to wander to the floor he would notice the six-by-six tiles. He is three squares away from me. That’s only one and a half feet. Instead, my fellow inmate shuffles his feet, nearly stepping on the floor-length leather coat enveloping his lanky frame. He shoves his hand into the pocket and twitches the coat as if to sweep away the film of dust that clings to the floor. He grins at me and cocks his head. “You all going down, or what?” 

I don’t answer.

Fingers sink into his flattop and scratch. “Just like the way the elevator makes you feel, huh?”

I laugh and say that I’ll go to the first floor if he does. 

The steel giant opens and a blast of chilled air swirls around my legs. My cellmate moves as if to let me pass. I grasp the handrail firmly. He shrugs and crosses into the world of red and purple shag carpet while I remain in the four-by-nine metal box, its marbled walls and black stripes protecting me. 


As always, I love to hear from you. If you’re in the cyber-neighborhood, drop me a line.

In the meantime, keep writing, reading, and smiling.
It’s contagious.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Review of Jillian's Gold by Levi Montgomery

Is gold where you find it?

Jillian's Gold by Levi Montgomery
Jillian Decker discovered it by “watching the sun melt into the ocean . . . how, in those last few moments, it melts into liquid gold on the waves, and skitters away, circling around behind you for tomorrow’s sunrise” (Montgomery 14).

I recently discovered gold in one of Levi Montgomery’s latest novels entitled Jillian’s Gold. 

Jillian’s Gold is the story of Jillian Decker and Royal Greene, two teenagers on the brink of adulthood struggling to find themselves and each other in this powerful novel of hope, understanding, and self-discovery.

Throughout this journey the reader is emotionally involved in these complex characters’ lives. We witness the subtraction of Jillian’s mother from society’s ranks and experience the anguish Jillian suffers until she meets another wandering soul. This soul, stumbling, sometimes fighting, through life is a young man named Royal. Although troubled himself, he may be the gold Jillian seeks after the evening sun fades in the sanctuary of her beloved sun-room. One problem lies within this theory, however, disrupting Jillian’s newfound happiness. Lurking within her is the suspicion that her savior might be a sociopath and a killer.

Levi Montgomery continues to shock us in this startling, yet honest portrayal of life. Although at times I felt that the onslaught of traumatic events deterred my focus, the author cushioned the assault with the simplicity and beauty of the characters’ words. This work combines narration, notes, journal entries, and thoughts into a working harmony like the collage of glass structuring Jillian’s golden haven. I was dubious of this writing style before beginning the story, but as the first scenes unfolded I was captivated, anticipating the characters’ comments and thoughts (presented in fonts matching their personalities), as much as I did the wave of events to follow. 

Although Jillian’s Gold is centered around the lives of young adults, do not misunderstand its audience or intent. Levi Montgomery chronicles the rite of passage each of us, young or old, must bear. This is a work that focuses upon the essence of the human condition and analyzes the path to self-actualization. 

Readers will see this modern work as both poignant and riveting, a welcome interruption of the mainstream products flooding their homes and lives. Writers will appreciate it as a bold, successful effort that challenges their notions of writing, theme, and presentation.

As both a writer and reader, I was compelled to ask Levi Montgomery about this interesting work. I contacted him and he took the time to answer my questions. 

1. Jillian’s Gold is a novel centered upon the lives and experiences involving two teenagers. In fact, many of your stories are a snapshot of “coming of age.” Why choose this particular stage in life? 

Levi Mongtomery
John Ciardi once said “A poem’s only meaning is its own performance of itself.” As much as I agree with that, I’d like to paraphrase it: Fiction’s only meaning is its performance of truth. Fiction is about truth, or it’s about nothing. Fiction is about the truth of who we are, and who we think we are, and who others think we are. It’s about the truth that all of those are wrong. And who we are only comes out in times of stress. Stress strips away the paint and the draperies and the wallpaper, and lays us bare before the world, and the one great stress we all go through is that period of realizing that play-time is over, and this thing we’re living is our life. 

2. One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the switching of point of view and its achievement through the epistolary format. What was the inspiration for this choice? 

It was a part of the assignment I set myself, but the reasons why are getting foggy. I don’t much like first-person, as it’s rather limiting, and I am fascinated by the possibilities inherent in switching viewpoints, so it seemed like a good idea. I think the most pivotal book I’ve seen, in terms of impact on my idea of viewpoint, was The Pigman, which I read about a zillion years ago. 

3. Was it difficult for you to “speak” to your readers in the voice of a teenage girl? Did you find this harder or easier than speaking through the sociopath who haunts this novel and its characters? 

Of the five novels and nine novellas I’ve written, four of each deal extensively with teenage girls, and I’ve gotten used to being told that I handle that rather well. I don’t know if that’s true, but I hear it mostly from women and teenage girls, so that must mean something. The sociopath, though, now that was hard. That’s a very icky feeling, although he’s not my only socio/psychopath. 

4. Readers often have different opinions about the main theme of a novel. As a writer, what is the one theme or aspect that you want ALL readers to discover through this work? In other words, what does this novel mean to you? 

Theme. Mm, yeah. Read this: http://www.levimontgomery.com/index.php/about-2/ It’s the fifth question down in the Q&A section. I’m not being snotty, I just don’t know anything about theme, in anybody’s work, much less my own. 

5. Can you tell us something about Jillian’s Gold that we don’t know? 

The first narrative chapter was originally a stand-alone short story, until I realized that I was going to need that character to come into this novel and accomplish some things for me. 

6. Do you have any other new projects that we should be focusing upon? What are your future writing plans?

In the time since I finished JG, I’ve written two short novels, Light Always Changes, which can be read at www.lightalwayschangesnovel.wordpress.com or ordered in print from my website, and A Place to Die, not currently available. If someone wants it, they can email me.

Future writing plans? Yeah: Read. Write. Repeat.


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. We’ll all be looking forward to your next work.

Readers, I’m leaving you with one last thought:

Jillian’s Gold is a rare find and a rare experience.

Gold is where you find it.


As always, I love to hear from you. If you’re in the cyber-neighborhood, drop me a line.

In the meantime, keep writing, reading, and smiling.
It’s contagious.


Images courtesy of Levi Montgomery

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Don't Jump!"

I was on a ledge this week.

Like Jack Finney's ledge walker, I was clinging to reality with my fingertips as I witnessed a scrap of my sanity leap from my desk and bolt through a crack in the window.  At that moment I was prepared to renounce my vocation and rejoin those smart folks rising before the sun to submit their freedom to those of higher rank.  

No.  My fist struck the desk, rattling a cheap plastic container of rarely used writing utensils.  Nononononono.  

I rushed across the room and opened the window.  My teeth snapped together as a blast of arctic air attacked my exposed flesh.  Shuddering, I gripped the windowsill and dared to poke my head into the wintry morning.  The sloping roof, the sunken walk, and the dehydrated phlox in the courtyard were concealed beneath a blinding white blanket.  My squinting eyes combed the snow, sifting through its fluffy layers.  Where was my sanity?  I found it lying four feet below the window in a tangle of dead lavender that had broken through the icy carpet.

I clenched the cold windowsill, held my breath, and lunged.

"Don't jump."

What?  My legs thrashed in the warm void of my office, preventing me from pitching forward. 

"Don't jump."

My stomach sunk into the ledge as I balanced my tottering body on the cold sill.  How long could I waver between the warmth of the room and the cold outdoors where my sanity had fled?


A warm breath expelled from my lips, transforming into a white winter mist as it drifted to the mound where my sanity lay.  The vapor faded into the cool morning and I slid back into the warmth of the office.

This week my sanity has been invested in a work I wrote many years ago.  Although I dread reading the ramblings of the past, I've been reformatting Dead Bird in the Weeds.  As I analyze the words, thoughts, and themes of this book, I see a being who does not write, think, speak, or feel as I do.  I'm not worried.

I'm overjoyed.

I'm not going to "jump" by rewriting or pitching Dead Bird in the Weeds.  I'm going to smile and continue with my reformatting.  Why?  Because past works, like the life of an individual, reflect the path we have journeyed to reach our current state of being.  

When you look back, never be afraid to admit that you have outgrown your old writing.  Embrace the change, learn from your mistakes, and grow.


Next week I'll be blogging about a chunk of gold I found in the midst of my writerly wanderings.  Well, it's not actually my gold.  It's Jillian's Gold, a novel by Levi Montgomery.


As always, I love to hear from you. If you’re in the cyber-neighbourhood, drop me a line.
In the meantime, keep writing, reading, and smiling.
It’s contagious.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Stop the Press!

"Stop the Press!"

Though cliché, I've always wanted to screech this at a hard-working press operator.  Well, folks, I've done it at last.  I'm glad I screeched, but I'm not glad about the reason behind it.

I am speaking to you now from a self-imposed dungeon.  I'm on skimpy rations, and I'm not allowed to have visitors.  While my back is turned on myself, I'm going to talk to you about the reason why I put all of my titles on hold this week.


This can be an ugly word but when done properly, it can be a thing of beauty.  When I typeset my first book, I ran into formatting issues and had no idea that my word processing program had the capability of fixing them.  Before you send your book to press, scrutinize the layout so you won't be forced to reformat your text after your book has been published.

Below are two pages from my first book, Dead Bird in the Weeds.  I'm going to identify four key problems which I'm fixing before this book is reprinted.

  1. The program is set to hyphenate words in order to achieve better spacing when using full justification (no jagged right edges).  
    •  Take a look at the word "Terence." The word is split onto two lines.  
      • The end of line one:  Ter-  
      • The beginning of line two:  ence.  
    • Normally I would let this go; however, "ence." not only begins the line, it ends it as well.  For me, this is unpleasing to the eye.  The word is incomplete and too few characters inhabit this line.
    • Another example:  Do you really want a word separated like this:  "separated" appearing on line one as "separat-" and finishing on line two as "ed."
    • How do I fix this?
      • Turn off the hyphenation for these two lines, or bump up the character count for the hyphenation.
  2.  A new paragraph begins on the last line at the bottom of the page.  This problem is called an "orphan."  I pulled every book from my small bookshelf beneath the printer and found this problem does exist in some books, though infrequently.
    • How do I fix this?
      • End the page with the previous paragraph and push this problem line to the next page.  Keep in mind that facing pages MUST have EXACTLY the same number of lines (if using full pages). 
      • If you trust your program, set the "widow & orphan" control to two lines. 
  3. The last line of the paragraph is the only line at the top of the page.  This problem is called a "widow."  Again, I pulled  every book from the shelf.  I never saw this problem in any of the texts.
    • How do I fix this?
      •  Send this line to the previous page or end the previous page one line early.  Again, facing pages must have the same number of lines (if using full pages).
      • If you trust your program, set the "widow & orphan" control to two lines.
  4. The last line on the right page ends as follows:  Mat-
    • Well, great!  Do you want to force your reader to turn the page in order to find out what the heck the rest of the word is?  I didn't think so.
    • I have seen the last word on the left page hyphenated with the remainder of the word appearing at the top of the right page (though it does not happen often).
    • How do I fix this?
      • Turn off the hyphenation for these two lines, or bump up the character count for the hyphenation. 

Before you begin, make sure you work from left to right.  If you backtrack, you will create new problems in previously edited sections.

Check your titles, and if you fell into the same trap I did, I hope you take the time to go back and fix them.  Your readers will thank you for making their job easier.  After all, you don't want lousy typesetting to destroy the beauty of your words.

OK, I'm done lecturing now. Besides, my jailer is about to turn around.

As always, I love to hear from you. If you’re in the cyber-neighbourhood, drop me a line.

In the meantime, keep writing, reading, and smiling.

It’s contagious.