Category Archives: Books

Let the Games Begin!

” There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ”  – E. Hemingway –

Photograph: Sarah Reid
Photograph: Sarah Reid

As Mother Nature puts all her babies to rest and the world sees the greens turn to brown and the skies turn gray, writers must learn to pull upon inner resources for creativity and dedication. Today is the beginning of an important period of time – NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo.

For the uninformed, those are acronyms not gibberish. They are National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Post Month. Both are month-long challenges for writers and pretty daunting ones at that.

NaNoWriMo is the mother of them all. 30 Days. 50 thousand words. This averages out to around 1,666 words a day. Putting this into perspective, an average blog post for most people is 400-500 words. Basically triple or quadruple that and make it part of a continuous story – the bones of writing an entire novel in a month.

The novel won’t be pretty. There’s not much time for editing or refinement during November. However it is about getting the novel out of you – projectile vomiting it on the page. The cleanup comes later.

NaBloPoMo is a lesser “evil.” 30 blogs in 30 days. This contest actually makes you dedicate time to writing for a month. It’s far more lenient in its rules and regulations and is a great start for people who want to get into the habit of writing – sitting down at the keyboard (typewriter) and bleeding, but for shorter periods of time.

For the past couple of weeks, I have debated entering one or both contests. Honestly, NaBloPoMo is a pretty easy decision. It’s an automatic “game on.” But the novel… it’s had me up at night thinking about it.

I’m more than a few pages into the piece I have been working on for a while. Do I dare challenge myself to get the 50 thousand words in that would bring that novel closer to completion… in a month? I’ll be honest. The prospect rather terrifies me.  I’m the queen of procrastination and it’s so much easier to not run that guantlet. Can I balance home, a job search (potentially starting a new one) and writing for 30 days? A lot of people can. Can I really do it?

The answer is yes. Yes I can. I can do anything I set my mind to. I just have to do it.

So welcome to November… a month for writers and authors. As I go through this month, I’m sure you will be hearing about what’s happening, but more importantly the amount of Band-Aids needed as my fingers bleed from the constant pounding of the craft.  Let the games begin!

http://www.nanowrimo.org/ 

http://www.blogher.com/blogher-topics/blogging-social-media/nablopomo

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Thoughts on “The Book Thief”

“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.”
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Book Thief

Apologies for the delay in communication. I have spent quite a bit of time as of late with the new grandson. Small. Cute. Easy baby. All in all, I will give him a 10.

It was during my travels to and from my hometown to my new home I encountered “The Book Thief.” I wanted to watch the movie, but I tend to read the books prior to watching a film as films can only grasp a tenuous amount of plot-line  However, I have to say this time I took it a step further and listened to the book narrated by Allan Corduner during the long, straight drives through the plains under blue or starry skies.

I have listened to some other books on tape including “Watership Down” and “Storm Front” (Dresden files by Jim Butcher-awesome), but while both were excellent stories, this one entangled me. Zusak wrote a great novel and Mr. Corduner’s read is delightful, moving and spot-on with the German, which is a necessity in a book of this magnitude.

Set in WWII Germany, we learn about Nazi fanaticism, a Jewish fist-fighter, thievery, friendship and death. They are all intertwined in the story of a girl seeking out an existence. We learn, we laugh and we cry. We learn that death indeed has a heart.

Liesel Meminger is a character I shall not soon forget. Deep. Well-rounded. Flawed and yet still flawless. She inspires me in ways I have not yet fully realized as she is each of us in our own unique ways. How did Zusak do that?

Beyond the well-scripted plot, the word economy and the descriptions of things seen yet unseen, I found Zusak to not be a writer or an author, but a natural story-teller.  And to add to this, Allan Corduner is a BRILLIANT talent who brought to life this poignant story.

Now, there are some who have trouble getting into the book as Zusak’s writing style is unique. It flips and flops until it settles into a rhythm such as a cha-cha or something of that nature. By the end of the first hour of listening, you are well into the story and transformation has indeed begun.

I generally steer clear of writing about books I have read, but “The Book Thief” changed that for me. I hope you will take the time to delve deep into the pages or the audio-book and breathe in a fresh and inspiring look at the beautiful piece of work Zusak shared with us all.

Interviews & Dialogue

I’ve done my fair share of job hunting during my lifetime (and currently at it again.)  I’ve also done my fair share of being a hiring manager and writer. Today I thought I would share four things I have learned about what not to say during interviews that also apply to authors as well.

facepalm-lion-facepalm

1) “You know” or “Ya know.”   This one may be pretty obvious and it tops the list for me. No. I don’t know. That’s why I asked. These are generally filler words and don’t articulate anything in a meaningful way to a hiring manager or a character in a story.

The fix: Simplify. Visualize what you are going to say before you say it and try to cut out unnecessary words that do not best illustrate your point.  As a writer I find word economy is paramount and these are words that are completely unnecessary unless writing a character who speaks like that all the time. Those are rare indeed.

2). Curses. Oh my. Even on the best day with the most laid back HR representative, this is a bad idea.  Here’s the skinny. You don’t ever, ever have to curse in a job interview to get your point across. EVER. If you really think that you need to accentuate and punctuate a point with an expletive, then be creative and utilize those mad skills that would make Walt Disney proud. Yes, G-Rated options are best. There’s no need to drop an F-Bomb in an interview.  If it’s dialogue in a book or other printed piece, my advice is to use curse words sparingly – otherwise the punch is lost in translation.

A prime example of this is in a wonderful book called, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. The classic line, “Eat my shit” wouldn’t have had such impact if Minny or other characters had dropped curse words throughout the book and its subsequent movie.

If your normal vocabulary resembles a pirate’s, take some time BEFORE an interview to practice your responses to questions and figure out how to answer them without dropping one of Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” or other slang that would make a hiring manager cringe.

3) Acronyms. There are a lot of acronyms out there people just may not understand. Don’t just assume people understand industry jargon actually spell it out as it were.

For writers, you may use the acronyms after you have spelled out what it stands for once or twice so the reader understands exactly what it is the abbreviation stands for. However, try to keep the number of acronyms down to a minimum, unless you are a technical writer working on a specific piece.

4) Stereotypes. An interview setting is no place to refer to people of other genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, ethnicities, races, handicaps, religions, or any other diversity by using any slang, negative terms, slurs, or other denigrating language. Ever.

For writers, the piece you are creating and the character must directly relate to the nature of the stereotype, lest you alienate your audience. You must use caution writing stereotypes.

5) Jokes.A good friend pointed out, all jokes aside, there is a time and place for humor. Someone just may not “get” you. Beyond that, the “joke” may actually border on sarcastic, racist, inappropriate on another level or just plain crass. Avoid it if you can and certainly don’t lead your opening line with,” A lady walks into a bar…”

There are many inappropriate responses that may be given during a job interview. However, with a little forethought and practice, you can avoid some of the most common mistakes that will leave a bad taste in the hiring manager’s mouth and you without a job.

For Love, Money or Both (A Question & A Rant)

“Some people don’t like competition because it makes them work harder, better.”

~ Drew Carey~

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I love to write. It’s like the air I breathe. I cannot live without setting in front of the blank page and putting down my thoughts, ideas, conversations and what have you.  I cannot say I’m the best of the best (yet), but I write from the heart and that counts for something on the page.

For the past “little bit,” I’ve been toying with the idea of entering a writer’s competition. There’s one held around here annually and as my piece is coming along, I thought, “Why not rip off a little piece of me and let it be judged.”  Then I looked in the 2014 Writing Contest submission guidelines and I was appalled.  My dismay has carried on for the past week so I thought I would vent / share and see what you thought about the way this is set up. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m not.

  1. The “Book” Category.  This consists of two. Count them TWO subgroups of a) ANY GENRE of full-length novel and b) non-fiction book.

Oh for the love of all that is good, pure and holy in the universe. Excuse me? This is reality speaking. Your door is ajar.  Can someone explain to me how you lump ALL full-length novels into one category?  How does a judge compare a synopsis of no more than 6K words theoretically giving the judge a feel for the story and how the characters impact the plot and final resolution along with a “portion of your novel” with the indication of where it falls in your book.

I know some of these authors. They are powerhouses in their respective genres. One of these delightful women has won numerous awards and has been inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame.

I don’t write romances. I’ve published other things, but never a novel.  How does a “novice” go up against someone like that in a completely different genre? My fantasy against a western, inspirational, horror or (gasp) erotica piece? Interesting jousting match you have created.

For example: If you were to compare James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Steven King, Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury, Nicholas Sparks… (the random list off the top of my head) who wins that competition? The reason I bring this up is how does a small panel of judges or a judge (depending on the number of entries) legitimately choose between genres as to who is a better writer. Is it all based on grammar, punctuation, syntax and the like? Or does the judge actually delve into the creative abilites of the author to make the reader feel something? How does a judge compare a romance to a western to a thriller to a mystery to science fiction to fantasy…?

2. Poetry.  The subcategories are rhymed and free-verse. Yep. That’s it. Nothing more to see there. Move along.

Yes there is rhymed and free-verse poetry, but many people believe categorically speaking some poetry should be placed into lyric, narrative and dramatic subgenres. You can’t lump it all together. Poetry has genres just as books do.

Lyric is poetry that is written in a song-like way, but deals with emotions. These are generally broken down into “odes” and “sonnets”  Think “Ode to a Grecian Urn” or Shakespeare’s “Sonnet Number 18”, arugably the most famous of all the sonnets as seen below:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Narrative poetry falls within the lines of the “epics.” (Think Homer’s “The Odyssey”)  These are VERY long and cover an extended period of time.  Also included in this subgenre are ballads. The “Bridal Ballad” by Edgar Allan Poe.

The ring is on my hand,
And the wreath is on my brow;
Satin and jewels grand
Are all at my command,
And I am happy now.
And my lord he loves me well;
But, when first he breathed his vow,
I felt my bosom swell-
For the words rang as a knell,
And the voice seemed his who fell
In the battle down the dell,
And who is happy now.

But he spoke to re-assure me,
And he kissed my pallid brow,
While a reverie came o’er me,
And to the church-yard bore me,
And I sighed to him before me,
Thinking him dead D’Elormie,
“Oh, I am happy now!”

And thus the words were spoken,
And this the plighted vow,
And, though my faith be broken,
And, though my heart be broken,
Here is a ring, as token
That I am happy now!

Would God I could awaken!
For I dream I know not how!
And my soul is sorely shaken
Lest an evil step be taken,-
Lest the dead who is forsaken
May not be happy now.

A different type of poem is the dramatic verse. These are meant to be read aloud as a general rule. I like to refer to them as the “dramatic monologue.” You will often see this in the middle of a play.  Poe was excellent at this as was Robert Frost.  From Frost’s  “Out-Out”:

Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart
He saw all spoiled. “Don’t let him cut my hand off
The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!”
So. But the hand was gone already.

And if that’s not enough book learnin’ for you, what if someone wanted to enter limericks (ala Edward Lear), Pastorals, Haiku / Senryu (there is a difference), Terza Rima (lines are arranged in tercets)… Oh… I can go on, but need I really? These are not necessarily “rhymed” nor “free verse.”

I suppose what I’m trying to get at is by the organization telling me in the “General Guidelines” all I can submit is rhymed or free verse poetry, someone doesn’t appear to have a clue how poetry is categorized. The differences between each of them is based on the format, rhyme scheme and subject matter – not whether or not they rhyme. Do I want them judging my work if they don’t appear to adequately understand the dynamics of the content they are requesting?  It’s an interesting conundrum.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

Each generation wants new symbols, new people, new names. They want to divorce themselves from their predecessors.
Jim Morrison
 


A rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, but we call it a rose.
We spell it “r-o-s-e.”

This leads me to one of my biggest pet peeves that really shouldn’t be, but is.

Names.

Recently in the news, not that she is newsworthy, but that aside, Kim Kardashian and her spousal unit decided to name their unsuspecting child “North.” Seriously? That poor child is going to grow up with all sorts of complexes as it is and you have just laden it with the mother of them all – a crappy name.

One might think that I would be appalled because Frank Zappa named his kids Moon Unit or Dweezil. Not really. One would expect something like that from the outrageously creative Zappa. Jane or Harry would have been totally out of character for him.  But naming a child “North West” opens the doors to many, many years of childhood jokes that no amount of money can buy your way out of. (Let’s just start with “The Wicked Witch of the North West” and work our way from there…)

But North isn’t the only baby name that I find incredibly bad.  “Cricket” makes my top ten list as well as Rainbow Aurora, Blue Ivy, Kal-El Cage (Superman jokes anyone?), Pilot Inspektor Riesgraf Lee, Moxie Crimefighter Jillette (That’s Penn Jillette’s son. I swear I hope he becomes a cop.) There’s also kids named, Sailor and Seven and Daisy Boo.  One I find strangely cute, Apple – Gwen Paltrow’s daughter, and I hesitate putting it on the list. There are others of course, but North is pretty freakin’ horrible. 

But beyond that phenomena, is the “creative spelling” of names that drives me “Banzai Bat Crap Crazy.” I deal with a lot of people on a daily basis and the older I get, the weirder names and spellings have become. I don’t know why parents have to do this. Is it because they think it’s “cute”, “creative” or “original?” Is it because they want to be different? I don’t rightly know.  Poor “Maddisyn” (actual spelling of a kid’s name I saw in a local yearbook) hasn’t got a prayer of ANYONE ever spelling her name correctly … EVER. And take it from me, I have a fairly “normal” if not quite so common name and few people have a clue how to spell correctly, if at all. 

There is a scene in the book by Billie Letts, “Where the Heart Is” which was also made into a movie. (Excellent by the way…) There is discussion about the main character, Novalee, naming her child. She’s given the advice to name her child a good, sturdy name – a name that means something.  

I stand by that philosophy and I’m sure plenty of people will be ticked when they read this. When you name a child, their name SHOULD stand for something. It should hold it’s ground and be the pillar for that child. A name like “North” doesn’t do that. It’s shaky and opens the child to ridicule which is unnecessary. I’m not saying you have to go all 1950’s names, but really, at the end of the day, why do we want to set our kids up for misery? 

From the Bookshelf…

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” 

– Marcus Tullius Cicero – 

I’m sitting here this afternoon sick as a dog. (Though I wonder what that expression really means.)  I didn’t feel like working on my book today because my concentration is shot to hell and the trips to the bathroom are frequent.  So, I did what any good writer does, I read.  I wanted to take a second though to catch you up on some of my more recent reads.

Because life has been a little stressful lately, comic relief is necessary.  So when I stumbled across “Girl Walks Into A Bar” by Rachel Dratch, I knew I was in for a treat. 


You may have seen her on Saturday Night Live. This former cast member put pen to paper and wrote a fabulously funny midlife memoir about dating and becoming a mother when she was 44 years old. 

She talks about her “high school methods” of birth control and breaking the news to her boyfriend.  I have to say, breaking that news isn’t a fun moment and her recollection of the story is totally relatable. 

I also got an “insiders” look at Hollywood and, just as I suspected, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. 

* * * 


Another great read with characters that spring off the page is “Gone: A Novel” by Cathi Hanauer. 


It’s a pretty quick read.  I got to see inside the minds of both the main characters, Eve and John.  The book is a modern take on marriage and finding one’s self.  I can’t say it’s the “best” book I have read, but it does show some of the trials and tribulations of marriage and family and coping. There were a couple of sagging parts and there were some nutrition / health related subplots that were a little weird for me and I can’t place my finger on “why.” Maybe it was the tone that was used? Maybe that’s just me. My only real concern was the ending appeared a little abrupt, but overall, it’s worth the read. 

* * * 

Finally, I’m reading an old / new favorite – “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling

I came in late on “Pottermania” and didn’t have the opportunity to read the books before seeing the movies. I know, I really should have been shot. 
However, my darling husband bought me the hardback boxed set for my birthday and I devoured them each at least two or three times. However I keep coming back to the last two – “…the Half-Blood Prince” and “Deathly Hallows.” 

It doesn’t matter how many times I read them, I find something new inside.  As a writer, I appreciate her pacing, turn of phrase or visualizations.  Quite remarkable and quite inspiring. 

For those who have NOT read any of the Potter books… for the love of all that is good in the world – do so. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. 
So as I take yet another break to head to the loo, I just wanted to pass on the latest  on the bookshelf / Nook and hope you enjoy the reads as much as I do.   If you’re reading something really good, please share. I want to know… What’s on your shelf? 

Literary Censorship: (Bleep) It All

“There is nothing more frightening than active ignorance.”
-Goethe

  

I was reading a news story earlier today about things that are going to be “banned” in various parts of the United States. These items ranged from hugging (cooties?) to milk (because we all know that will kill you), to bake sales and sweet treats (obviously we can no longer have fundraisers that contribute to the obesity epidemic) and the banning of a certain book for students in an advanced placement English class in California. (California? Land of the Liberal?)

The book in question was “The Bastard out of Carolina” written by Dorothy Allison and adapted into a film in 1996.  I haven’t read it, nor have I seen the film, and cannot say one way or the other if a book about an illegitimate teen pregnancy, abusive relationship(s), rape and dysfuncational families should be read by teenagers in school because I don’t know “how” it was written. (I only read the synopsis.) I can’t say I’m thrilled about the idea of my daughters reading it as “required reading,” but then again, I have to wonder if my parents were keen on me reading books from the non-exclusive once banned book list below.

  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger (one of the all time favorite books of censors)
  • The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  • As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
  • A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
  • All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
  • The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  • A Separate Peace, by John Knowles  

Most of these books I read in junior high or high school and learned much about writing from them. I also learned much about how the authors saw the world and I expanded not only my vocabulary, but my point of view. This is not to say that all of these books should be read by one so young. I didn’t realize that one of my favorite books, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, wasn’t meant to be a young adult book until the other day.

“I wrote ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huck Finn’ for adults exclusively, and it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean.” – Mark Twain –

I do believe that Mr. Twain has a valid point. The things we read and the things we see cannot be unread or unseen. Where is the point of demarcation between censorship and the “protection” our youth? I do not have the answer, nor does anyone else. It’s subjective.

I also cannot say that any of the books I have read as a child warped me beyond measure or maladjusted my thinking, but maybe I am one of the fortunate ones. But in considering this thought, shouldn’t there be books that realign or adjust our thinking?

I want to bring up two cases in point: “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” and “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.

According to the American Library Association, as recently as 2010, a parent requested her daughter not be required to read Anne Frank’s diary aloud. Initially, in a Virginia school district, it was reported that officials decided to stop assigning a version of Anne Frank’s diary, due to the complaint that the book includes sexual material and homosexual themes. “The director of instruction announced the edition published on the fiftieth anniversary of Frank’s death in a concentration camp will not be used in the future despite the fact the school system did not follow its own policy for handling complaints.” As a result, the gates of Hades opened and those remarks set of a rush of criticism online and brought international attention to the 7,600-student school system in Virginia. The ALA reported, “The superintendent said, however, that the book will remain a part of English classes, although it may be taught at a different grade level.”

I don’t really give a rat’s tail if there is sexual material or if there are homosexual themes in Anne Frank’s diary. What I do care about is this diary is an unfiltered view of the horrors of World War 2 and Nazi Germany. As they say, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Who better to learn it from than one who lived through the nightmare?

The ALA also reported Harper Challenged at North County High School in Glen Burnie, Md. in 2010 by a small group of parents who circulated a petition to have “Brave New World” removed from use by county schools over concerns about explicit sexual content. The 1932 novel depicts a dystopian future where science and technology have run amok resulting in a morally bankrupt society. (Tell me this doesn’t sound at all familiar.)  Retained on the list of approved materials that Seattle, Wash. high school teachers may use in their language arts curriculum (2011). A parent had complained that the book has a “high volume of racially offensive derogatory language and misinformation on Native Americans. In addition to the inaccurate imagery, and stereotype views, the text lacks literary value which is relevant to today’s contemporary multicultural society.
I actually found the arguments against “Brave New World” somewhat amusing. This book has been challenged since 1932 when it was banned in Ireland.  Other challenges on this book in the 1980’s led to this book being removed from classrooms in Miller, MO in1980 because it makes promiscuous sex “look like fun.” and  in Oklahoma in 1988 because of “the book’s language and moral content.”  Other complaints were characters showing “contempt for religion, marriage and family” in 2000 and in 2003 another complaint showed parents objected to “adult themes of sexuality,drugs and suicide” that appeared in the novel.

In today’s “politically correct” society, I chuckle because the complaints are NOT about the contempt of family values, but of “racially offensive derogatory language and misinformation on Native Americans, etc…” rounding out with the statemnt that there is no literary value relevant to “today’s contemporary multicultural society.

If they are pissed because of racially offensive language, then we might as well wipe out a LOT of American literature that used the N word (or other words), even though it was “acceptable” once upon a time. In fact, why don’t we just sterilize everything before it goes to print so as to eliminate any possible words that could elicit any kind of response from someone. Today, if someone reads a text that has the word “nigger” in it, it will evoke an emotional response and I think from a historical perspective, that is something that needs to be kept in play.

No literary value?

Who or what determines literary value?

Huxley’s work is genius. If you look at the fact it was written in 1931 and brilliantly depicts a dehumanized life in a futuristic totalitarian state, which is not too unsimilar to today’s times, I can see why someone would want you to think that there is no literary value to this novel.  There are eerie prophetic moments where he describes genetic engineering and biological / technological advancements that take man away from nature. Isn’t that what is going on?  Huxley was a man before his time – much like Jules Verne. Maybe these people are hiding their fear of the prophecy coming to pass behind their politically correct outrage over words written 80 years ago that no one has ever really complained about to the American Library Association.

The one thing of which I am certain: I will never condone the burning or the outright banning of books.  There are many books I will never read for many different reasons; however, to tell an author his point of view has no validity, his muse is mistaken and his writing has no worth is wrong. Sometimes we have to remember that people can be trusted with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values and our children are people too.