Dream Doctor (Dreams #2), by J.J. DiBenedetto
Kyra's star ratings:
Characters: * * * *
Story: * * * *
Writing: * * * *
Suspense: * * * *
Another wonderful installment in the "Dream" series. In "Dream Doctor," Book 2 of the series, Sara and Brian are newlyweds and Sara is beginning medical school, after a long recovery from the trauma of her previous experience of being inside a serial killer's dreams and racing to catch the killer. Now the dreams have come back, and this time Sara realizes that one of her professors is being threatened. The question is, who is trying to kill him? Or rather, who ISN'T interested in seeing him dead?
In the first book, "Dream Student," I was a little confused by the balance between the school, romance, and mystery storylines; I wasn't quite sure which of those the book was mainly supposed to be. In "Dream Doctor," either the balance between school, relationships, and mystery has been adjusted a little, or I was just better prepared for the genre-crossing. In any case, I found myself equally drawn in by all three story lines: Will Sara and her classmates survive their first months of med school? Will Sara and Brian's marriage survive crazy schedules and the new people they're meeting? Will Sara's professor survive the attempt on his life? On all counts, the book comes to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. The writing style is smooth and assured, and the characters and their world are drawn clearly and vividly.
I'm enjoying the "Dream" series very much, and look forward to reading the next installment, "Dream Child."
I mentioned before (on my blog, and in comments on a couple of other blogs) that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I've had it for nearly six years now, and finally, after years of doctors dancing around the subject and not knowing what was wrong with me (I knew; it was obvious; you look up Chronic Fatigue Syndrome on any website dedicated to the subject and I'm a textbook case) I got a diagnosis a year ago. As much as you can get a definitive diagnosis for this: they take a complete history, take down all of your symptoms, do all the tests to rule out anything else that could be causing the fatigue and other symptoms, then if your history and symptoms are consistent with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and they can't find anything else going on, then you most likely have CFS. It's a frustrating condition; there's no definitive medical test, no effective medical treatment, no cure. And a lot of doctors don't really even believe it exists. I've dealt with that way more than I should have to, and before I start ranting, I'll just move on with this post.
The only thing you can really do about CFS is to manage it with lifestyle management techniques. I was going to call this post "Living and Writing with CFS," but I still haven't got the "living" part down yet. I do have a program I'm supposed to be following - Mediterranean diet for its anti-inflammatory properties (I hate fish :( ), carefully managed exercise (with CFS, more exercise does not give you more energy; more exercise leaves you unable to get out of bed for a week), plenty of bed rest, supplements recommended by my doctor, and some other things I want to try. But it's hard to follow a program when you're stumbling around in a fog of exhaustion all the time, so I've got a lot of work to do on that. I'm not the person to be giving other people advice on living with and managing CFS.
What this post IS about is writing with CFS. Someone who saw my comment on CFS and productivity on another blog (Dean Wesley Smith's, I think) wrote to me and asked if I'd written about my difficulties with being productive while having CFS. I hadn't, but I am now. The thing is, I've been pleasantly surprised by how productive I'm able to be considering my condition.
The thing about CFS is it doesn't just cause physical fatigue. It also causes, among myriad other symptoms, mental fatigue, known as "brain fog." Memory problems, confusion, and difficulty concentrating are all part of this. Which, as you can imagine, makes any sort of sustained mental/intellectual work kind of difficult. But for a long time now, I've been able to maintain a writing schedule of about two hours a day nearly every day, which, considering the levels of exhaustion I have, is pretty good. And in recent months, I've seen that time creeping up to three hours a day. Not that I've been feeling better overall - I haven't - but I seem to have fallen into some habits that have helped increase my productivity. When I got that question last week, I started thinking about how I've managed to become more productive in spite of CFS, and came up with some ideas.
1. It really helps to break my writing hours up into smaller chunks of time, maybe 30-45 minutes or so, instead of working for two hours straight. As with physical activity, I've found that working in shorter periods of time and then taking a break actually allows me to be active a greater total number of hours. Also, find the times of day that work best for you, and protect these times as much as possible.
2. Find the writing process that works easiest and most naturally for you. Planner? Not a planner? Some of each? Write straight through or edit as you go? Writing software (another post for another time), Word, pen and paper? Concentrate on one project at a time or have a couple of different things you're working on? Whatever comes most easily to you, whatever makes you not have to burn energy fighting to follow the process, is the way you should write, no matter what way anyone else says is best. And be willing to change your process as you feel you need to, and as your current project demands.
3. Find ways to streamline the writing/editing process. Again, this is personal, but if you're going to produce books on any kind of schedule, you don't want to be taking a year or two to write a novel and another year or two to revise and edit it. Figure out the writing process that will help you get words written on a regular basis, and then if you revise and edit (some people don't; some people do their editing the first time around), find ways to cut down on the number of editing passes you need, which will cut revising/editing time from many months to a lot fewer months. I've recommended this before, and I will again: Holly Lisle's How To Revise Your Novel course is a great approach to adressing the major issues in your manuscript in one go and and getting that book out the door a lot faster. Don't "polish till it gleams" as the saying goes; this takes forever and has the tendency to strip away everything that's interesting and unique and YOU about the book. And don't go twenty rounds with your critique group on it, because then you end up with THEIR book written by committee (bleh) instead of YOUR book. My general philosophy on making shorter work of revising and editing is don't revise the story to death, and don't waste time revising to other people's rules or ideas of what your story should be. Get it good and get it out the door, and get to work on the next one.
4. Know when to call it quits for the day. There comes a time when the brain fog is thickening and most of what's coming out on the page (or the screen) is blathering. You're not doing any good, so even if you still have words or pages or time left to go on your daily quota, pack it in and get some rest. (This is also a REALLY GOOD TIME to get off the Internet, before you embarrass yourself. Which I sometimes have trouble remembering :-P)
5. Take care of yourself in general. Do what you can to follow your management program, if you have one. Get that few minutes of exercise. Get enough bed rest. Sleep is a big problem with CFS. A lot of time you don't sleep well, and even if you do, you wake up feeling like you didn't sleep at all. But being in bed resting is still better than being up, even if you can't sleep. I do best with ten hours a night of bed rest, whether I'm asleep or lying in bed reading. To figure out how much bed rest you need, go to bed at night then don't get up in the morning until you can do so without feeling like you're dragging a mountain out of bed with you. See how many hours that was; if you can do that every night, it does help. I also feel better if I'm eating a high fiber, fresh, fairly light diet and am careful not to overeat. (Another big IF; with so little energy, it's hard to cook like that on a daily basis.)
6. Stress burns a lot of energy, so find ways to manage stress. Meditation, or just letting your mind go blank while you listen to relaxing music; I've heard the yoga and tai chi are good but haven't tried them (mean to, just haven't gotten the spark of energy to try something new and different), eliminate unnecessary stress. Especially, don't spend energy comparing yourself and your productivity levels to other writers, and don't spend energy trying to do things that don't work for you. Find what works best for you, and be grateful you can do anything at all, because there's always someone even worse off.
So, how productive am I, doing (or trying to do) these things? Well, since last November I've written one full-length novel draft, two novellas, two longer short stories, and three short-shorts. I finished editing and released one novel and one short story collection for sale, have another novel coming up for release in June, am working on edits on a novel that will hopefully be ready for release in October or thereabouts, and have also been getting the short stories edited and ready to post and release for sale. So, basically, I've increased my writing inventory by somewhere upwards of 140,000 words in the last six months and will have released 5 works for sale this year (3 novels and 2 short story collections.) So, not bad, not on the level of some really prolific authors, but enough to be able to start making a career of this. If you can do more than this, awesome. If you can't do this much, that's fine too. Do the best you can, and take satisfaction in knowing that you're doing the best you can, which is all any of us can do and a lot more than a lot of people ever do.
In the comments on my last post, Chris Kelworth nominated me for a Liebster award! This is a just-for-fun award, a way to highlight some favorite blogs and bloggers and show them a little love. Here's how it works:
I answer 11 questions from the person who tagged me
I share 11 facts about me
I pass the Liebster on to 11 favorite blogs
I come up with 11 new questions for my nominees to answer.
Here are the questions Chris sent me:
What's your most annoying habit?
Popping my knuckles, or fiddling with my hair. Or leaving the cat food out. Or...
Are you more of a planner, or a spontaneous person?
Planner. I don't do well when unexpected things come up or I don't know what to expect.
Are you organized or messy?
On the spectrum, I'm more on the messy side, but I'm slowly trying to work my way towards the organized side.
Who's the best character you've ever written and why?
All of them :-D I can't pick favorites, it's like picking my favorite of my kids. But lately Professor Roric Rossony has been getting a lot of love from the test readers for The Lost Book of Anggird. He's a very interesting, complicated character, with lots more to him than meets the eye at first - in fact, his reality is very different from the appearance he puts up.
If you had one day left to live, what's one thing you'd want to spend that time on?
I'd split it between writing and spiritual devotions, with my family around me the whole time.
Who is the most important person in your life?
God, and my husband and kids.
Are you working on anything writing-wise at the moment, or taking a post-Camp break?
Always writing - right now I'm working on revisions/edits to two different novels, with a couple of short stories also waiting to be edited.
What catchphrase do you say often in conversation?
Don't know about a specific catchphrase, but I do tend to repeat myself a lot, which annoys me and the people I'm talking to.
Out of your favourite fictional characters, who'd make the best sneaky ninja?
My characters? or other characters that I like? Out of my characters, I'm not sure that sneakiness is a strong point for any of them. Probably Silas Vendine, though if he gets annoyed with the person he's stalking he'd give his cover away by cussing them out. For other characters, I'd have to say Himura Kenshin, from Rurouni Kenshin. He's already a sneaky samurai, which is just one step away from sneaky ninja.
Where are your backup files?
On a portable external hard drive, a couple of thumb drives, and on Sugar Sync, Dropbox, and Google Drive.
Do you believe in true love?
Yes :) I write about it, and I'm fortunate to have that in my marriage.
11 facts about me:
1. I had sour cream green chili chicken enchiladas for lunch.
2. My favorite color is purple.
3. Right now I'm reading three different novels.
4. I have two cats.
5. I'm 5'2" tall.
6. My kids were born seven years minus one day apart.
7. I lived in Germany for a year when I was eight and again when I was sixteen.
8. I have a Master's degree in Music History.
9. When I was little, my favorite babysitter's name was Kathy.
10. I used to play the recorder.
11. I've never watched Oprah.
1. W.H. Cann
2. Jennifer Howard
3. Sharon Stevenson
4. J.J. DiBenedetto
5. Kristen DaRay
6. Aoife Marie Sheridan
7. Robin Leigh Morgan
8. Nadege Richards
9. Maddy Barone
If anyone else wants to jump in and play, feel free to!
My questions for them:
1. What's your favorite book?
2. What's the latest book you've read?
3. What did you have for breakfast?
4. Chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry, or none (or all) of the above?
5. Where would you go on your dream vacation?
6. What was your favorite subject in school?
7. The zombie apocolaypse is here, and you grab the object immediately to your left to use to defend yourself. What is it?
8. Night owl or morning person?
9. Who is your favorite villain (from your own characters or other people's characters)?
10. What do you do when you aren't reading or writing?
11. What's your computer wallpaper?
First off today, I'm very pleased to be spotlighted on J.J. DiBenedetto's blog! J.J. also left a very lovely review for Urdaisunia on Goodreads. Go check it out, and also make sure you check out his paranormal suspense "Dream" series.
This just in: I'm also featured on Robin Leigh Morgan's website and blog! Go take a look, and also check out her YA paranormal romance, I Kissed A Ghost.
Some time ago, I promised a post on why there aren't any elves, fairies, or dragons in my stories. The short answer to this question is, because so far I haven't seen any reason to put any in.
The longer, and hopefully more interesting answer is: When I'm reading a novel and come across a character of a fantasy race (elves, fairies, dwarves, etc.) I almost always find myself asking, "Why isn't this character human? What makes this character something besides a human with heightened senses/love of nature/pointy ears/superior attitude or short/has a beard/likes beer/lives underground?" I find humans fascinating. They come in an endless variety of physical types, temperaments, talents, prejudices, emotions, desires, abilities, habitats, backgrounds, beliefs, and so on. I've found enough to write about just with humans as characters (and, ok, gods here and there, but there's good reasons why gods are gods) without adding the artificial differences of designating them as "elves" or "dwarves" or whatever. If there are going to be different races, for me there has to be a significant reason that matters to the story why those characters cannot be any sort of human.
The best example of this I've ever read is the Danae in the Flesh and Spirit/Breath and Bone duology by Carol Berg. The Danae are an elvish/fae-like race with a superficial resemblance to humans. However, everything from their physiology to their ways of interacting with and affecting their world are completely alien. (Although their biology is close enough to allow them to interbreed with humans.) Their stages of growth are marked by increases in magical abilities, and the appearance of really cool glowing blue tattoo-like markings on their bodies. Their way of getting around their world and ours is not limited by things like physical location and distance but relies more on the resemblances between one place and another. Their magic is based on dance, and their dances have a very real effect on their world and the human world. And the list of fundamental things that make the Danae who they are and not human goes on and on. Their very unhumanness (yes, that's a word, I'm a writer and I used it, that makes it a word) is a pivotal point in the story and has a profound effect on the main character.
Another of my favorite examples of the use of fantasy races is in The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams. I read this a number of years ago and don't remember a whole lot about it, but I do remember that the differences between humans and the various fantasy races in the book went a lot deeper than just name, appearances, and general outlook on life.
If I ever write a story where it's essential to have a character that is non-human on a very deep, fundamental level, that has differences from humans that go beyond the wide variety of characteristics that humans already display, then I'll do that. But so far, just plain old humans have been keeping me plenty busy.
But what about dragons? They're clearly not just humans that are lizard-shaped, scaley, have wings, and breathe fire. But a lot of other people have written about dragons, and written about them far better than I ever could, so I don't really feel like that's something I need to push myself to do. If I ever have a story idea that requires a dragon, I'll use a dragon. But so far I haven't.
My favorite stories with dragons? A Wizard of Earthsea and The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin. Great dragons, not at all pets or just dragony humans, but with their own history and way of looking at life and the world. I also enjoyed Song of the Beast, by Carol Berg. (btw, everything Carol Berg writes is awesome. You should read it.) (also btw, an older edition of A Wizard of Earthsea has one of the worst covers I've ever seen. Go check it out if you dare, but remember, what has been seen cannot be un-seen.)
The second of the three weird short-shorts I wrote in March is now available on the site: Mistress of the Mirror. The story prompt for this one was: a poor woman with a mirror runs afoul of an assassin. It will be available for free here on my site until I have enough stories to do another collection, at which time it'll come down and the collection will go into the Amazon KDP Select program for a while.
I schedule my writing projects by the month, so the beginning of the month is a good time to look back and forward. I successfully completed my April goals, writing the first draft of Book 3 of Daughter of the Wildings and doing the major revision of Chosen of Azara. In May I'll be doing the fine-tuning on Chosen of Azara. Depending on how that goes, I may even be able to get to the final copyediting and proofreading edits, the last stage before formatting the book and releasing it for sale. I'll also be doing the next revision on The Lost Book of Anggird based on the feedback I've gotten from my test readers. Response to that book has been very positive, but my readers have also given me some great suggestions to make it even better.
So, busy busy. I love it when things move right along on schedule. And now that Camp NaNo is over and I won't be reporting on my word count from that, I'll blog about some more interesting things.
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