Archive | November, 2013

My Favorite Authors Across Genres

27 Nov

Asking a reader who their favorite author is usually feels like picking a favorite child (I’m assuming, I have no children, this is what I’ve been told). So, instead, I’ll tell you about my favorite authors for each genre that I read, long one or two runners-up who are worthy of mention.

This list is a bit short. I realized I’m not much of a repeat-reader as far as reading multiple books from an author. Unless it’s a series, which you’ll see a bit below. I like variety, some say it’s the spice of life.

Action: Steig Larsson

Contemporary Fiction: Khaled Hosseini

General Fiction: John Irving

Historical Fiction: Phillipa Gregory
Honorable Mention: Tracy Chevalier

Non-Fiction: A.J. Jacobs

Young Adult: J.K. Rowling (are you really surprised?)
Honorable Mention: S.E. Hinton

If I have to pick overall, I usually say John Irving. He gets a little repetitive if you read him a lot, but I love his storytelling style.

Who are your favorite writers? What other genres would you have chosen? Anyone I should read? Leave a comment and let me know!

Until next time, write on.

7 Things I Learned About Myself Doing NaNoWriMo

26 Nov

NaNoWriMo is almost over for the rest of the world, but it ended for me a week ago, on the 19th. I hit 52,872 words and declared my first draft ‘finished.’ It was an awesome feeling and now, with a week’s worth of space, I’m ready to reflect on what I learned about myself.

  1. When I want to, I can type a lot. I did a ton of word sprints during NaNo. In 15 minutes, I could pound out 600-1,100 words. On average it hit 900. You can disagree, but I’m going to say that’s kind of a lot. I’m making no claim as to the quality of said words, but they get down on the page.
  2. I have a tendency to skip major holidays. In science fiction this doesn’t matter, but my NaNo was the second instance of me following a calendar and skipping over Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other commonly celebrated holidays. I don’t think of them when outlining and my blinders go up and I skip them. Luckily I’ve realized it and I go back and fill them in. That contributed to my last 5,000 words of NaNo.
  3. I’m very motivated by deadlines. My first WIP ended up being 49,000 words and that took me about seven months. Why? No deadline, no push to finish. The pressure and competitive nature of NaNo pushed me to finish well before the deadline and without it seeming like too much of a chore.
  4. Social writing is highly productive. I think part of what kept me plodding along with my first WIP is that there wasn’t anyone pushing me to finish it. Since that time, I’ve joined writers groups and made friends who share my interest in writing. Having those around me who are writing makes me want to write. We can write together, we can bounce ideas off of each other, we can recommend books. It’s wonderful. Having the community of NaNo was an even greater boost. My fellow Novel Girls are on board and we were able to back each other up the entire time and I thank them for their support and I promise to be waiting at the finish line to see them over the line.
  5. I don’t need an outline as badly as I thought I did. That’s right, highly organized and slightly OCD Sam doesn’t need an outline! Some of what I think are the best parts of my draft were nowhere in my outline. Truthfully, I didn’t reference my outline very often. I knew where the plot needed to go and it just went there. I was familiar enough with my story to keep on track. I need to trust myself more.
  6. I am not looking forward to editing. I have this love/hate relationship with everything I write. I know that a lot of it is terrible and needs a ton of work, but it’s so hard for me to see my work go down the toilet that editing is an emotional experience. As I wrote this story, I was thinking about how much it would need to be edited and how much I’m dreading that process. I’m letting the story sit now and I’m saying it’s because I want the distance, when in truth it’s because I hate it but don’t want to hurt/edit it.
  7. My characters are a lot like me. At least, this first time through they are. Maybe it was the word sprinting but I found that my character, who started based on someone I used to work with, became more like me as her character developed. Her character development was slightly autobiographical, except for the Alaska part and the baby part, but I’d hoped I could separate myself from the writing enough to not see myself in her. When I go through that terrible editing process, I’ll have to make sure that she finds her own unique voice apart from mine.

For those of you who have finished, what did you learn about yourselves? Will you do NaNo again? Let me know, Reader!

Until next time, write on.

Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

25 Nov

Before NaNoWriMo began, Nicole recommended this article to me, knowing that I couldn’t help but blog about it.

Author Susanna Calkins was a historian before she was an author. When she began writing, she quickly realized that 100% historical accuracy was not plausible in her novel set in 17th Century England. She shares some guidelines for other historical fiction writers. I’ll summarize and give my opinions below.

  1. Understand the period and everyday life in it.
    I think this is rule #1 and I discussed in a post about my own research process how I did this. It’s a good background and first step.
  2. Show history through character interaction.
    Calkins relates this to the ‘show don’t tell’ rule. A character marveling over the new electric streetlamps is more ‘showing’ than explaining that electric power is new in some cities and that many were still amazed by the new technology (telling).
  3. Have your characters question their place in society.
    I don’t know if I agree that this is a steadfast rule, but I definitely used this technique in WIP1, my YA Historical Fiction. It’s a good way to talk about societal change that will come and to ‘show’ why the society is the way it is during the given time period.
  4. The Internet can be good
    Agree here. Need to know what the interior of a 1927 Lincoln looks like? Need to see demographic information from the 1939 Census? The Internet is your friend. But be warned, this goes along with our next fact…
  5. The Internet can be bad.
    Want to know if Al Capone had a secret lover? Are you thinking that the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was a conspiracy? These are topics best discussed in books where fact checking is required and hearsay on the Internet isn’t published. Go to the library.
  6. Don’t get caught up in the details.There will be times that the details seem so important that the story gets lost. Don’t let this happen to you! When you feel overwhelmed by details, stop your researching and write! Get that first draft out and then go back and research if Cokes were served in bottles or cups at pharmacies. It’s not essential to your plot.
  7. Admit that you are going to mess up.
    There are trolls out there who like nothing better than to find an error in your well researched book. Did you mention electricity when it’s not likely it would have existed? Do the ages of your characters imply their father came home early from fighting in Europe? Your readers will catch it so don’t worry.  Just say thank you and move on.

Do any of you write Historical Fiction? What have you found are some good tips for writing in another time period? Please share in the comments section.

Until next time, write on.

Page to Screen Discussion: Ender’s Game

22 Nov

As a writer, I always want to say that the book was better than the movie. I can think of several instances off the top of my head where I feel this way: Harry Potter, Silver Linings Playbook, The Cider House Rules, etc. But I can also think of one or two instances where I liked the movie better. The one I always come back to is the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I thought I’d add a segment where my readers can debate me on these topics. As I see movie’s that I’ve previously enjoyed as books, I’ll post one or two points and let the reader take over the discussion in the comments. Let’s see how this works.

My first post is about Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I read the book over the summer and I saw the movie last week. I’ll set my argument up here. Feel free to take any form you want if you choose to disagree or agree with me.

The Book
Pros: Development of Ender through his childhood, ability to take the ending far into the future, subplot of Peter and Val’s political work on Earth.
Cons: Showed Ender as almost superhuman in strength and intelligence at a young age (6), unable to show too much action when Ender was not narrating (limited to the first part of the chapters when Anderson and Graff talk).

 

Image from impawards.com

Image from impawards.com

The Movie
Pros: Amazing depiction of Battle School, concentrated Ender’s journey into a short time so his mental exhaustion was even more plausible.
Cons: Compressed timing took away from Ender’s character development (Thank you The Wanna-Be Writer for this), had to leave out sub-plot of his siblings back on Earth, left out colonies at the end.

So, what’s my end opinion? I liked the movie visually, but the story in the book was much better. In the end, that’s what we’re going for. The book was better.

What did you think? I’d love to hear other opinions. Please leave a comment and let me know what you thought.

Until next time, write on.

Recently Added to my To-Read List (Part 2)

21 Nov

Part two following Monday’s part one. I’ve added so many books to my list since November started and it’s time to share them all. Am I wasting my time with any of these? Should I pick them up as soon as possible? Let me know in a comment, please!

  1. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. This is a side effect of finding an author I like. I instantly want to read everything he’s ever written. I went through this with John Irving in high school. It will fade, but it may take a while.
  2. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. This one has been floating around on my Goodreads “Recommended for You” lists since I joined. The story follows a Chinese-American man whose good friend in the 1940s was Japanese and was swept away into an internment camp at the outset of World War II. I saw this book at a library book sale and I had to grab it.
  3. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. As I explained above, this is a result of loving Middlesex so much. I saw this one at the book sale as well so it was more than necessary to buy it.
  4. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I’ve heard so many opinions and controversy around this book that I feel I have to read it. Also, I saw it at the book sale for only $2 and I can’t fight that price. My book club was going to read it a while ago and then took it off because it’s still unavailable in paperback. We’ll read it eventually.
  5. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. I added this book not knowing what it’s about. John Green tweeted that he loved it and I love John Green so it got added to the list. After reviewing that it’s about North Korea, I’m even more excited to read it.
  6. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. This one is on my Book Club list so I added it prematurely. KK said it was beautifully written which just makes me excited to read it. The Wisconsin setting intrigues me because I don’t think I’ve read any book that takes place there before.
  7. Daughter of the God-King by Anne Cleeland. This is another Goodreads First Reads win. I entered to in because it’s a historical fiction novel and I’ve always been intrigued by ancient Egypt, which is a central theme in this novel. It should be arriving in the mail shortly.

Finally, we’re caught up! That book sale I went to really did me in. My book shelf is pretty full and I’m forcing my husband to move some of his books off of it. What’s worth reading, what can wait? I’m always curious what you think, Reader.

Until next time, write on.

Book Club Reflection: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

20 Nov

Last Monday my book club met to discuss Jeffrey Eugenides’ book Middlesex. If you read my earlier post, then you know that I loved this book and I was so excited to talk about it.

Looking over my notes, it seems we talked a lot about the characters in the book that affected Cal’s life. The first I’ll address here was Dr. Luce, the gender specialist who Callie saw in New York. He seems to be slightly fantastical of a character in his description, but many of the women in my group agreed that he fit very well with the sexual revolution that went on in the 1970s and the emerging field of gender studies seemed to fit in well with the times. One of the questions we had about Luce was Callie’s relationship with him. Was she lying to him because it was easier, she thought it would make her fit in, or because she didn’t trust him? The narration Cal gives during this time made me think that Callie thought it would be easier to lie than it would be to admit she had feelings for women.

Another character that we all liked was Zora, Cal’s roommate in San Francisco. We all thought when we read that Cal had finally called Bob Presto that bad things were going to happen and to an extent, they did. However, what Cal learned from Zora was some of the best advice he got and it really helped him figure out who he was and who he could identify as.

We were all glad to find out at the end of the book why Eugenides continued to refer to Cal’s brother as Chapter 11. I knew as soon as he said Chapter 11 had taken over the family hot dog business that he was going to run it into the ground and file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It was a sort of teaser that Eugenides held that information back until the very end.

One of the names that stuck was the Obscure Object, the girl that Callie falls in love with at the age of 14. The story behind the name is almost more interesting than the character herself. Eugenides and his friend at Brown had a crush on the same girl and would refer to her as the Obscure Object. You can read the full story in this article.

Being that we’re based in the Detroit area, the setting of the book was something we wanted to discuss as well. We were glad that Eugenides chose to write about an area he obviously knows so well. (For the record, the audiobook version I listened to pronounced two words wrong that made it very obvious the reader was not from the Detroit area. You just had to ask someone!) Our group read another book a while back that had to do with the Detroit riots as well. Grand River and Joy focused on a Jewish business owner whose story was located downtown during the riots, much like Milton’s dinner. In contrast to the characters in that other book, Milton was very lucky to have the insurance policies he did. Even with one of them not paying out, he still made a killing from the collections after the riot which allowed him to support his family. Not all business owners were so lucky. Someone also pointed out that they knew were Halibut Street is and it’s no longer in a good area. That shows how much Detroit has changed in recent years.

Relating to the Detroit setting, we were intrigued by the girls school in Grosse Point. For the record, we were not aware of any such school, though if it is based on a real school, we decided it was likely the Grosse Point Academy, which is a co-ed school. What we liked was the hierarchy of girls that were created with the charm bracelet girls at the top. The imagery of that brought back memories of Claire’s Boutique bracelets that all the popular girls had in my school. One of our members attended a local all girls school and she said that being in an environment with all women can make for a very sexually charged experience. All the girls are talking about boys, thinking about boys, and doing things with boys. It’s no wonder that Cal’s own sexuality was on her mind all the time. This would also push her to think about men sexuality and pressure her to suppress her feelings for women. We loved the irony that the two founders were lesbian lovers.

One member posed the question to us, “What, if anything, was unusual about the way Callie discovered her sexuality? When we thought about it, the answer was really that nothing was unusual about it. Some women grow up quickly and can reach their full height at a young age. Callie’s strange height wouldn’t be unheard of. I remember a girl in my class who reached her full height at age ten and then never grew again. She felt awkward in her height bur a number of years until the rest of us caught up. Callie probably suspected that something similar was happening to her. Her desire to explore sex is not unusual either and I think if we all reflect on our early teen years, we can admit to ourselves that we thought about it. Her curiosity is not a male or female characteristic, the Obscure Object shares it with her as does Jerome.

So what is it that finally makes Callie decide to be Cal and make the change from a young girl to a young man? My argument was that he didn’t have a choice. In his mind, he felt like a man and his love for the Obscure Object was not a homosexual love, but a heterosexual love. It reminded me of an interview I saw years ago. It’s the story of Alyn Libman and I recalled the quote on this story where Libman says, “the label ‘lesbian’ felt comfortable, but it didn’t feel quite right.” I suspect Cal felt the same way about his attraction to the Obscure Object.

This reminded us as well of the story of Caster Semenya, a track star from South Africa who was subjected to gender testing following a win in the 2009 World Championships. She was found to have internal testicles, similar to the condition Dr. Luce diagnosed Cal with. Caster feels very strongly feminine and has continued to compete as a woman. It’s an interesting case to mention here due to Caster’s decision and its contact to Cal’s. As a side note, one of our members kept thinking a member of Cal’s family was going to end up having the same condition and they would discover it together. Caster would have made a great addition to the story.

Another big point we talked about was Eugenides decision to use the term hermaphrodite when referring to Cal’s condition and not intersex, a term that is referenced in the book as being more widely used. We thought that it was a more appropriate term to use because the story of Hermaphroditus tells of one man and one woman, a nod to the time Cal spent as a man and as a woman. While someone like Caster Semenya has the characteristics of both and could be call a hermaphrodite, she has only lived as a woman while Cal has seen both sides. It’s also a nod to his Greek heritage. Eugenides discusses this exact issue in an interview on Oprah.com.

Before Cal is born, he uses third person narration to describe the people and events that happened. Our group questioned if these telling were reliable. Because our narrator wasn’t there, who is he getting this information from? One reader suggested that some of the facts had been lost in translation. Desdemona didn’t speak English well and Lefty was always working in vein on translations that never seemed to end. Milton never learned Greek and soon Lefty stopped talking. Somewhere along the way, the stories could have been mixed up.

When I saw the title of this book, it made me think of some old English countryside. In truth, Eugenides has admitted it’s a throwback to Middlemarch. But even more than that, it’s the street he grew up on in Grosse Point (how cool is that?). At the same time it was so appropriate because it brings about Cal’s dilemma. He’s caught between two genders, stuck in the middle. In the house, everything was on display and nothing could be hidden behind all the glass walls. In much the same way, Cal couldn’t hide who he was from anyone.

There was comedy and tragedy in this book and, like Milton’s cuff links, both sparkled in the sun.

Writer’s Takeaways: There were two points we made about Eugenides’ stylistic choices. The first was his use of a combination of first and third person. I listened to an interview with him where he talked about how he tried to write in first person and he tried to write in third person, but first person left out the history of the family and third person required him to impersonalize Cal’s journey. Third person would require a pronoun and Eugenides didn’t want to make the he/she switch with Cal’s character. The point of the book is that he’s a person no matter what his gender.

The second thing I admired was his ability to mix fanaticism into the narration without seeming silly or childish. The scene that struck us all as fantastical was the one toward the end where Milton flies over the city in his car right before his death. He explores his old haunts in Detroit in an out of body experience that seemed to fit perfectly into the context of the story.

We all enjoyed it and those who didn’t finish plan to. Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

19 Nov

I always feel good when I get to do a book review. It means I’m getting closer and closer to my goal of 70 books in 2013. I do advise against a goal this high, however. It means I’m stressing about time to read and not enjoying the books as much. I plan to do 36 next year, averaging three per month.

I added The Remains of the Day to my list after I finished Ishiguro’s other book, Never Let Me Go. I much prefer the latter and if you’re thinking of reading one of Ishiguro’s books, I would say Never Let Me Go is the way to go. More on that later.

Book Cover from Goodreads.com

Book Cover from Goodreads.com

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The story follows Mr. Stevens, the butler to Darlington Hall, on a vacation across England to meet the old housekeeper of the Hall, Miss Kenton. His diary during these six days of travel involves a great deal of reflection on his life serving Lord Darlington and the events he attended to during that time.

Lord Darlington was a great English lord leading up to World War II. He would frequently hold conferences for dignitaries and politicians in his home to help pacify the rough consequences of the Treaty of Versailles.

I’ll admit that I was not a fan of this book. I listened to the audiobook and I was three disks (out of seven) into it before I realized what was going on. Stevens feels he is having a great impact on the course of history through his running the house during Lord Darlington’s meetings. Because they seem to go well and Lord Darlington is usually pleased with the result, Stevens is pleased with his own work. What Stevens doesn’t know is that Lord Darlington is sympathetic to the German Nazis and feels they were given a bad deal with the treaty. He’s trying to find more sympathy for them in England and influence those high in power (including the Prime Minister) to consider renegotiating the treaty. I didn’t realize that Stevens was a biased and slightly unreliable narrator.

While this technique was masterfully executed, I was bored with the book until I figured that out. I felt like I was reading the diary of an old English gentleman (again, it was well done) and that there was no theme or storyline to these ramblings except to tell about his life and the things he had done and seen. It was nothing near captivating for me and I was frankly upset with all the hype around this book.

There are two things I think Ishiguro is trying to say. One is about loyalty and the loyalty that Stevens showed to Lord Darlington is steadfast but perhaps a little overzealous. No matter what his Lord asked of him, Stevens was happy to comply, even when it was firing two chambermaids only because they were Jewish. When Stevens’ father was dying in a room of the house, he was helping with an important dinner. I would say that Stevens had his priorities out-of-order in the worst way. While loyalty is commendable, it should not come at the price of one’s own wellbeing and morals.

The other point that Ishiguro makes is about history and how it frames heroes and villains. At the time of the action, no one knew what the Nazis were doing to Jews in concentration camps. It was pretty obvious that the Treaty of Versailles was causing economic problems in Germany and Lord Darlington took it upon himself to help remedy these issues. At the time, he could be seen as a good Samaritan. However, with the foresight of the Holocaust, no one could call Darlington a hero and humanitarian for what he tried to do for the Germans. History decides who will be remembered.

One of the things that I was reminded of while reading this book was Elie Wiesel’s work to bring the plight of Holocaust victims to light after the atrocities commited by the Nazis were in the dark for so long. I wrote about this in my book review of Night. It was people like Lord Darlington who needed to hear Wiesel’s message.

Writer’s Takeaways: I read in a review and I will agree that this is one of the best examples of first person narration I’ve read in a long time. Some books can feel burdensome when narrated in first person, but Ishiguro’s book read smoothly. I’m blown away at his talent.

I also liked the bias the narrator presented and how this skewed information for the reader. It took a while for me to figure this out, but I enjoyed the way Ishiguro obscured facts through Stevens’ eyes until the end.

Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, Reader, write on.

Recently Added To My To-Read List (Part 1)

18 Nov

If you are a follower of this blog, it will come as no surprise to you that I added a total of 13 books to my to-read list since I last did an update of this type. In order to get my tired self to sleep sooner rather than later, I’m going to do this in two parts. Here are the first six.

  1. Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody. When I was in Northern Michigan visiting family, my cousins took me to the house where Mahmoody lived in Aplena. I was intrigued and decided that I had to read the book of a woman who was stuck in Iran and refused to leave (you guessed it) without her daughter.
  2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I forget who already, but someone told me I have to read this book. It’s a classic so I completely agreed. Funny enough, one of my co-workers told me I needed to read it last week. I guess I really need to.
  3. Empire Falls by Richard Russo. This book was yet another of the book calendar recommendations that are crowding my list. I saw that it’s an option for my library’s book club packs and the story reminded me just enough of the character I wrote during NaNoWriMo, so I thought I could call it research.
  4. Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham. This was recommended to me by Kristen Lamb when I had trouble understanding the elements of a scene. I hope reading it will help my writing. Thanks, Kristen!
  5. When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan. McMullan is a professor at my alma mater and I thought it would be appropriate to check out one of her books.
  6. Abraham by Bruce Feiler. I did a post a few weeks ago about meeting Bruce Feiler. This is the book I had him sign. I’m unsure if I want to let it out of my apartment!

So there you are, my next six books added and waiting for me to commit to them by checking them out from the library. Any winners on the list? Anything that you think might be a dud? Leave a comment and let me know.

Until next time, write on.

NaNoWriMo- Day 16

16 Nov

Daily Word Count: 8,013 (highest ever!)

Total Word Count: 51,908 (YES I WON!!!!!!!!)

How I’m feeling: Let’s just say my back hurts. And my fingers hurt. But my pride is out of this world! I’m so excited. I’ve been at the mid-way madness event that NaNoWriMowtown is putting on and it’s been such a great environment to write in. Everyone here clapped for me when I hit 50K. It was awesome.

What I’ll do with the rest of my day: Well my husband is trying to have a guys night so what I hoped might be celebratory might end up being me reading alone in my apartment. Somewhat anti-climactic. I’m a little irritated, don’t worry.

Anyone out there met their goal? Who’s the closest to 50K? Let me know your count, Reader!

Until next time, write on.

NaNoWriMo- Day 15

15 Nov

Halfway done with November! Fortunately for me, I’m 87% finished!

Daily Word Count: 2,028

Total Word Count: 43,895

How I’m feeling: Eh, okay. I’m starting to get over this cold and it’s making me think that I need to go running on Monday morning which makes me realize I haven’t gone running all week which makes me remember I have a gym membership which in turn makes me think that I need to use it. Is that a run on sentence? I’ve been so lost in literature that I hadn’t noticed.

What I’ll do with the rest of my day: Our Church Group is going to the Detroit Institute of Art to look at religious symbols in the art with our priest. Make fun of me if you like, but I’m super excited.

Have you found your NaNoing self adding some reading fluff around the middle? Please don’t tell me I’m alone, Reader!

Until next time, write on.