Saturday, July 16, 2011

Corpses and Cockfights: Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass

Where can you find a world class research institute, decaying bodies, Skoal spitting rednecks, underground caves and steamy romance all within a mile of each other?  Carved in Bone, of course!

Author Jefferson Bass is himself a fascinating character.  Too bad he doesn't exist.

Bass is a hybrid between writer Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass - the forensic anthropologist who founded the notorious "body farm", a three acre breeding ground for rotting corpses in backwoods Tennessee.  In fact, the area is a research laboratory for the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Department, but its morbid methodology and Deliverance-esque locale only add to its intrigue and general creepiness.  In short, it is a perfect setting for a mystery/thriller. 

Carved in Bone is a fun, fast-paced read full of suspense, intrigue, intellect and fascinating characters.  I picked up the novel in an airport, and two thousand miles later I had become a full blown Jefferson Bass addict.  As you can probably imagine, the story revolves around a body - the body of a young woman dead for thirty years and strikingly preserved.  The quest of Dr. Bill Brockton starts out strange and only gets stranger as he races to unlock her secrets.  He stabs dead people.  He faints head first into a barrel of dead roosters.  He vomits onto a massive bear of a good ol' boy named Waylon.  The next time you think your job is rough, pick up a Jefferson Bass novel and try being a doctor of rot rates.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Virtual Critique Group – I finally get it

I just learned something HUGE about being a writer.  I learned this by finally, finally joining a critique group.  I hope that the ladies of the She Writes Virtual Writers’ Critique Group will forgive me, as I’m about to expose the universal secret handshake of the entire group critiquing world.  I’ve been a member of this society for only a couple of weeks, and yet here I am, publicly divulging the code.  Here it is:
It’s not all about me.  But it really is all about me.
I know what you’re thinking.  That epiphany was about as illuminating as the fuzzy, buzzing, flickering light bulb that appears over the heads of Beevis and Butthead when one of them has just been cursed with an idea.  But please, hear me out.
The rule of this group is that you have to read and critique three stories for every one you submit.  While this is obviously more than fair, rules like this are exactly the reason why I had never joined a group like this before.  Who has time?  Isn’t it a distraction away from my own writing, forcing myself to read other people’s works, many of which are not even within my genre?  Some of these ladies are well published and skilled editors; others have just penned their very first short story or the beginning nugget of a novel.  What do I possibly know about critiquing them?
Nonetheless, it was a step I felt compelled to take at this stage of the game.  So I sucked it up, gave myself a little pep talk, took a deep breath, and submitted the first chapter of The Vesuvius Isotope.  And…suddenly… 
Woohoo!  I had three reviewers!
Oh, crap!  I had three reviewers!
Three writers agreed to read and comment on my first chapter.  These ladies don’t know me from Adam, or for that matter, from Beevis or Butthead.  They had never heard of my story and had no idea what to expect.  Their only introduction to me or to my story was a short “introductory post” I penned myself (sort of like a mini query letter, only without the compulsory ass kissing.) 
In other words, my chapter was just read by three real reviewers.  Whoa.
Except that they were all completely supportive and helpful, and I don't think any of them had the goal of making me give up writing completely and thus quit wasting their time.  So I guess they were more like reviewers with training wheels.  Which is exactly what I need.
But what about those three stories I had to read in order to fulfill my half of the deal?  Well, OK.  I sifted through a small pile of their works, selected one that struck me, downloaded it, and offered my honest opinions.  I sifted back through the pile, selected another, and repeated the process.  And…holy crap.  Did you see that?  Did you see what just happened?
I became a reviewer.  Not the kind of weekend reviewer that I previously was, the kind that reads something when I feel like it, to do my buddies a favor, but the kind of reviewer that actually must read other people’s work in order to achieve my own goals. 
Now look at my feet.  I just donned the shoes of that very editor who has to sift through a pile of stories with mine somewhere in the middle, pick the story that strikes her fancy, and review it.  Or force herself to read the whole pile, with mine in the middle, and review them all while becoming increasingly angry and perhaps increasingly drunk. 
And thus, I am now learning her world.  I am learning what can happen if she has a bad day just before getting to the story I have poured my heart into (and I apologize in advance to any writer at the other end of this…)  I am learning that her opinion might differ wildly from that of another person.  I am learning that her opinion might change tomorrow, when she has had a much better day.  And I’m learning that it is up to the writer (me) to sort through all of these things.  You see?  It is all about me, after all.  Even the reviewing of other people’s works.  And oh yeah, by the way, it is also incredibly fun.
I just joined the editors’ club.  I learned the secret handshake.  Three cheers for the ladies of She Writes.