Category Archives: Fiction

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.

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WIP: Unmasked (Working Title)

This is the prologue to one of the two pieces I’m working on at present. Because I’m feeling somewhat nerdish, I thought I would share. I hope you enjoy this snippet as much as I did writing it. 

Celeste

July 1978

            Funerals were always dark and somber occasions filled with useless chatter about how good a person was, all the good things they did and comforting words void of real depth or feeling.  Today Hillsborough’s one hundred and two year old church was again packed with a menagerie of visitors mourning the death of a beloved friend, colleague, and family member.

Sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows and streaked the church with a multihued display of light. A bounty of floral sprays and bouquets lined the orchestra’s small section to the right of the altar. In the center, the dark, oak casket stood closed, draped in daffodils. Too bad the recipient couldn’t see how beautiful they rested against the dark, polished wood.

Brianna observed the proceedings from the front pew. If she moved forward, she could reach out and touch the polished surface of the coffin, but she didn’t. She sat hidden behind a veil of ebony tulle and a broad-brimmed hat. Her hands folded uncomfortably, yet properly, in her lap.  Her blue eyes betrayed nothing. No tears, nor fears, not even remorse.

“It’s a beautiful day for a funeral isn’t it?” A voice broke the silence.

“At least the Lord spared us rain,” said a plump blond woman bumping into a pew behind her. “We didn’t need any more rain. My poor begonias are plum drenched from all that we got last week. And the hail. Couldn’t believe any survived.”

“I know what you mean. Insurance company is probably going to go up on the premiums again. This makes a second new roof and a third windshield in my suburban in the past two years.”

It was enough. She turned and glared at the two women behind her. “Do you mind?” she hissed. “This is hardly the time or place to be carrying on about such matters,” she said in her best grown up voice.

The pair had the good sense to look apologetic. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry ma’am,” said the blonde. “Were you close?

Close? Yes, Brianna thought. Very close. But the women didn’t need to know that. She scarcely nodded and resumed staring at the daffodils. They looked especially jaunty today. Her father would have been pleased. There were forty four laid lengthwise across the casket and another bouquet of forty four in a large copper urn near the podium where people read things from the Book.

Slowly, people rose to their feet as a morose sounding pipe organ bid family members entrance. Great Uncle Douglas, Aunt Cheryl, Aunt Amanda and Mother slid in the pew next to Brianna. She chose not to be in the processional. She didn’t want to face a sea of faces. Turning her back to the pity was how she coped.

“Brianna? Are you okay?” her mother asked, pulling her close.

She nodded stiffly. “Yes ma’am. Just fine.”

But she didn’t feel fine. She felt worse after realizing she just lied to her mother in church. She looked around. Bolts of lightning didn’t thrust through the air at her nor did the ground open up and swallow her. Maybe God wasn’t listening. Maybe God wasn’t even there.

Pick a View – Any View

There is no absolute point of view from which real and ideal can be finally separated and labelled.  

~T. S. Eliot~

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I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is “stuck” with where she’s at on her novel.  She read me what she’s written and it occurred to me the voice may be horribly wrong. Yes, I used a little more tact when I told her that and she took my criticism with aplomb.

When you are settling in to write, what you first put down on the page may be glaringly obvious whose voice the story is in – needs to be in. But then, there are the other times when the voice may change, the story doesn’t work as well the way you have it or the impact you want changes. That’s the time it helps to revisit the point of view. This isn’t a piece I’m currently working on; however, I wanted to show an example of first person POV versus 3rd person.

I started writing this in 3rd person omniscient and thought it was “okay.”  Keep in mind, these are just the scenes from a draft…

            At 6:33 in the morning, the table was set for three with her great-grandmother’s Haviland China and a pair of the Waterford toasting flutes she received for a wedding present ten years earlier. In the third spot, she tenderly positioned a silver child’s cup and flatware for the child she finally carried. The test showed positive last night.

Meredith was ecstatic and she took the stairs two at a time as she went to wake her husband. Her plan was to wake him with kisses and then give him the good news as soon as he came down for breakfast and saw the third place setting in the dining room.

Her husband, Dr. Jason Brooks, was already in the shower when Meredith reached her bedroom. It was unusual for him to wake before the alarm at seven o’clock, but she reasoned that he must have an early consultation or possibly even a surgery scheduled. She picked up his Blackberry to check his calendar. Nothing appeared on the schedule.

As she was about to set the phone down, the phone chirped for an incoming text message.  She read it, put the device back down where she found it and then slipped unnoticed from the room. He had an early morning consultation that wasn’t on the schedule and she didn’t think it had anything to do with plastic surgery either.

She ran her fingers through her hair as she went back downstairs. Meredith silently removed the Haviland and the Waterford and the silver cup she bought for the occasion. She wished she’d never given the maid the day off.

It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t really do anything for me.  I thought it needed a little bit more zip so kicking back at the keyboard, I changed the point of view and as a result, the voice… and with it the tone changed in a way I believe is more powerful.

At 6:33 in the morning, I set the table for three with my great-grandmother’s Haviland China and the pair of the Waterford toasting flutes from our wedding ten years prior.  In the third spot, I had positioned a silver child’s cup and flatware. The test showed positive last night.

Unable to contain my excitement, I took the stairs two at a time as I went to wake Jason.  My plan was to smother him with kisses and then give him the good news as soon as he came down for breakfast and saw the third place setting in the dining room.

He was already in the shower when I reached the master bedroom.  Unusual.  He never gets up before the alarm at seven o’clock.  He must have an early consultation or possibly even a surgery scheduled, I thought. So I did what any wife would do, I picked up his Blackberry to check his calendar. No. Nothing on the schedule. This wasn’t so unusual as Jason could be quite forgetful, but his office secretary wasn’t.

I was about to set the phone down as it chirped for an incoming text message. I read it, put the device back down on the bureau with shaking hands and then slipped unnoticed from the room. He did indeed have an early morning consultation that wasn’t on the schedule.

I trodded slowly downstairs then silently removed the Haviland, the Waterford and the silver cup I bought for the occasion. As I threw them in the trash,  I suddenly wished I hadn’t given the maid the day off.

 

This is only an example of how voice changes a piece. If you are “stuck” on what you are writing, try using a different point of view. Make the trek from first to third or third to first person. It might create a new door where there was once only a wall.

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.

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.