Archive | December, 2013

Novel Girls Holiday Party, NaNoel

24 Dec

Last Thursday my Novel Girls had our first annual Holiday party which KK accurately dubbed NaNoel (in the spirit of NaNovelGirls during NaNo). I really hope we can do this each year because this was hands down my favorite holiday party yet this year. That’s the best out of five so far, in case anyone wants to run an algorithm for this.

What made it so great? A large part was the people. My work Christmas lunch was great and my husbands Christmas dinner were nice, dont’ get me wrong, but the company is less intimate. Our white elephant with some college and work friends our age was an improvement for sure. SG’s Holiday wine and cheese party was great, too, though I didn’t know half the people there until two glasses in. But this party was reminiscent of when my girlfriends in high school would get together around the holidays and get each other gifts; the presents were so tailored to each of us that it was scary. Each one is my favorite Christmas gift so far.

KK was kind enough to host us so I made the trek out to her house after work and like the over-eager beaver I am, got there an hour before Nicole and SG. Once we all arrived there was pizza and laughing and a lot of amusing tweets (if you have the time, check out my Twitter feed, available on my right sidebar). I was just bursting and insisted that they open my present.

I’d gone back through our tweets since August and compiled. I used a picture from SG’s party of the four of us and made the image visible through the letters of the tweets. Make sense? SG posted a picture of it on Twitter so maybe that will help. It seemed so appropriate that our picture would be in words. Jay did the whole thing in Photoshop and I’m eternally grateful to him.

We opened KKs gift next. She’d ordered us each cuff bracelets with quotes from something we love on them. Mine says “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” Could this be more perfect?!?! I’m completely in love with it. SGs said “The world was hers for the reading” from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Nicole’s said “I’ll be the prince and you be the princess” from Taylor Swift’s Love Story. They’re so appropriate that I’m almost sickened.

SG gave us what every book nerd needs more of; books! I collect postcards and SG got me Everything is Connected– a collection of postcards with various instructions on them that the reader is supposed to leave around for others to find. It sounds super fun. KK got Alice in Tumblrland, re-told fairy-tales with a modern twist. This is so perfect for KK that I was surprised SG didn’t write it herself. Nicole, the lone poet among us, got a wonderful book of poetry by SG’s favorite poet. I love when books seem to choose the reader.

Continuing with the literary gifts, Nicole went for books and notebooks. I got a book about doing writers workshops, lotion, and a mug that says “Do not disturb, internal dialogue in progress.” I almost died laughing. We all got lotion that matched the colors in the rest of the gifts (because Nicole is coordinated like that). SG and KK got really nice notebooks, which was especially perfect because KK finished her old notebook in October, squeezing her NaNo outline onto the last page. How symbolic.

I’m still floating from such a great night with my friends. What was your favorite gift this year? Have you given a perfect literary gift? What was it? What’s the best one you received? I’m celebrating Christmas early with my family this year so I’ll (hopefully) be opening more books soon! I’ll keep you all posted.

Have a safe and happy holiday! Enjoy the time with friends and family.

Until next time, Reader, write on.

Book Review: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (4/5)

23 Dec

One of my really good friends from college recommended this to me back in August. During my crunch to finish my book goal, I grabbed it as an audiobook on my phone and listened to it while I made Christmas cookies. Jealous yet?

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is remembered most for the Chronicles of Narnia though he is sometimes called the greatest Christian writer of the modern era. This was my first endeavor into his Christian writings. The book is structured as a series of letters from Screwtape, a senior demon, to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood has been assigned to his first ‘patient’ and acts as a tempter, trying to turn the patient toward an afterlife in Hell. Wormwood falls into many pitfalls along the way and Screwtape has to advise him as to what is most likely to corrupt a Christian man whose friends are all strong Christians and who’s truly in love with woman he’s seeing. I now know that there are an unlimited number of ways to trip up such a man.

The patient lives in England during World War II. As to his identity, we get very small hints to his intellect, social class, and preferences from the suggestions Screwtape offers for undermining the patient’s soul. Wormwood is constantly missing opportunities that Screwtape chastises him for, reminding his nephew that the consequences for not turning the man to ‘their father’ (the Devil) are very severe and painful and that he would do well to apply himself more firmly.

I really enjoyed this book. Lewis was able to point out so many potentially condemning existences that many Christians tend to over-look or make excuses for in everyday life. He would point out the different ways that one can be a glutton or the ways in which intelligence can corrupt a person to believe that they are better or entitled to things.

I think that there are many people who are Christians who believe that because they are, their souls are saved. Lewis is responding to this group of Christians and telling them that despite what they can say about their love of God, there are innumerable ways for the Devil to insert himself into their lives and tempt them into an eternity in hell. To be truly saved, we have to live the lives that God wants for us and listen to his commandments and will. Screwtape describes those who are in God’s hands as ‘untouchable,’ that the tempters are not able to get near them because they are surrounded by the Holy Spirit. This is the state Lewis is advising us all to reach.

It’s easy to imagine that this book doesn’t sit well with some people. I’ve met a lot of people who unfortunately have the life philosophy of ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ These are people who say they’re solid Christians but at the slightest provocation will indulge in one of the seven deadly sins or turn their back on a neighbor in his time of need. This book calls those people out by using a man similar to them as an example. The patient doesn’t realize he is flawed and thinks of himself as virtuous. Screwtape points out the temptations in his life, the ways that he is only millimeters from damnation at every step. He gives Wormwood hundreds of ways to bring the patient to the Devil but, on his own virtue, the patient is saved.

This book made me think of a novel I read way back in high school, The Wish List by Eoin Colfer. The main character dies suddenly and is stuck in purgatory, being neither good enough for Heaven nor bad enough for Hell. She has to go back to Earth and is given a second chance to make up for the wrong she’s done and prove she deserves a spot in Heaven. I feel that Colfer’s book is a juvenile edition of Lewis’s work as the same message is told inside a fictional tale.

Writer’s Takeaway: Similar to my message about The Martian Chronicles, I liked that Lewis was delivering a message without hitting the reader over the head with it. If one chose to turn off the religious lens, this book is still worth the read. He found a way to write about religion without writing a strictly religious text. During my 2-Hit Google search, I found that some people call this book a satire and I’m semi-inclined to agree. It had a similar feeling to A Modest Proposal which was one of my favorites in British Literature.

Inspiring, eye-opening and engaging. 4 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Goodreads Challenge: Complete!

20 Dec

I’ve decided that with my vacation from work, I’m going to take a vacation from blogging as well. I have one more book review to write, but the plan now is that I’ll be back sometime in the first week of January. I encourage you all to take the time off, too!

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Sam has
completed her goal of reading 70 books in 2013!
hide

So as my last planned post of the year (we’ll see if that holds), I wanted to announce that I completed my book goal for the year! I set the bar hight at 70 and passed the finish line on Monday. In celebration, I’m going to share the books below along with my rating. Because I’m a nerd, there are some statistics at the bottom. You can view them all on my Goodreads Reading Challenge page. I’ll include a link to those I reviewed.

  1. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (2)
  2. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (4)
  3. Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield (3)
  4. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Steig Larsson (4)
  5. Room by Emma Donoghue (4)
  6. Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro Kazuo (3)
  7. Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig (3)
  8. History of a Pleasure Seeker (3)
  9. The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton (3)
  10. Bossypants by Tina Fey (4)
  11. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (4)
  12. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (5)
  13. Me Talk pretty One day by David Sedaris (2)
  14. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (3)
  15. The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2)
  16. Excel VBA Programming for Dummies by John Walkenbach (4)
  17. First Darling of the Morning by Thrity Umrigar (4)
  18. What is the What by Dave Eggers (4)
  19. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt (5)
  20. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (4)
  21. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick (4)
  22. The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life from Prohibition Through World War II by Marc McCutcheon (5)
  23. A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard (2)
  24. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl (3)
  25. One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus (3)
  26. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby (4)
  27. A Secret Gift by Ted Gup (2)
  28. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (3)
  29. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (4)
  30. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (4)
  31. Defending Jacob by William Landay (4)
  32. The River of Doubt by Candice Millard (3)
  33. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (4)
  34. Inferno by Dan Brown (3)
  35. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (3)
  36. The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman (1)
  37. Vixen by Jillian Larkin (2)
  38. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (4)
  39. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (3)
  40. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (4)
  41. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (4)
  42. Enders Game by Orson Scott Card (4)
  43. The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton (4)
  44. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (4)
  45. Grand River and Joy by Susan Messer (4)
  46. Airman by Eoin Colfer (4)
  47. The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress by Beryl Bainbridge (3)
  48. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (3)
  49. Blink by Malcom Gladwell (4)
  50. Post Office by Charles Bukowski (2)
  51. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (2)
  52. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (4)
  53. Night by Elie Wiesel (4)
  54. Affinity by Sarah Waters (3) – and Book Club Reflection
  55. Loba by Diane de Prima (1)
  56. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (3)
  57. Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler (4)- and Book Club Reflection
  58. The Absent Lord by Jason Beacon (3)
  59. The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti (4)
  60. The Tilted World by Tom Franklin (3)
  61. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (5)- and Book Club Reflection
  62. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (2)
  63. Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (3)
  64. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (5)
  65. The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin (3)
  66. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (2)
  67. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (4)
  68. Daughter of the God-King by Anne Cleeland (4)
  69. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (4)
  70. Some of Tim’s Stories by S.E. Hinton (4)

Stats: My average rating is 3.4 for this year. I read a total of 23,804 pages for an average of 340 pages per book. 36 of my books were audio books and the other 34 physical books. 20 of these books were for my book clubs.

How about you, Reader? Did you meet your reading goal? How close have you come? I’ll do another post about which ones were my favorites and what I recommend. Right now I’m plodding through Harry Potter y la Orden del Fenix (yes, in Spanish) so it will be a while till I finish another book.

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (4/5)

19 Dec

This book is for my edge book club so look forward to a post about our meeting in early January. I think it will be an interesting discussion.

Cover image from Goodreads.com

Cover image from Goodreads.com

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I’ve never been much of one for science fiction, but our facilitator said she’d have me read a science fiction book by the time she was through with me and she succeeded. Well, I listened to it, but I think that counts still. Or, I hope it does.

The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories that Bradbury wrote focusing on the human colonization of Mars. The book starts off with the four successive exploratory missions of human spacemen to Mars to see if the planet is fit to inhabit. Subsequent stories talk about human adjustment to life on the new planet from how they change it to be more like Earth, the relationship with those back on Earth, and interactions with the native Martians. In the end, another World War starts on Earth and everyone goes home, leaving a stranded few on Mars for the forseeable future as rocket technology is wiped out on Earth.

I ended up liking this book a lot more than I thought I would from the description. To me, Martians and aliens had a very 1970s feel and wasn’t something I was interested in. It goes to show how cutting edge Bradbury’s book is because it was published in 1950. (For the record, I’ve typed 1920 when trying to put a year every time. Can you tell what my favorite decade is?) This says to me that Bradbury inspired all the Twilight Zone reruns I watched as a child. Kudos to him.

I liked that the main character was the setting, Mars. It was the one thing that strung the stories together because characters changed in each one with only a few repeated. The long list of characters didn’t bother me because I approached the piece as a collection and not as a novel. This kind of answers a question I posted before about the difference between the two: It’s all about reader’s expectations for a level of consistency. I just finished another short story collection where the characters were consistent, but the setting and time were not. That didn’t bother me because I expected the setting to change.

There are a ton of popular cultures references in the stories that help make them relatable despite the futuristic setting. My favorite was the story “Usher II” which described a house built in the style of the House of Usher from Poe’s story “The Fall of the House of Usher.” There were tons of Poe references in the story and I’m a fan of his work so I was laughing the whole time.

One of the themes that rang oh-so-true today was conservation of the Earth. The people of Earth were coming to Mars to get away from nuclear war and the over-population there. 60 years after it’s publication, humans are still looking for ways to avoid these problems. If, like Bradbury suggests, the atmosphere on Mars was breathable for humans, I think it’s likely we would start to colonize the planet. The ending idea is that humans hold the power to destroy our own civilization and that our advancements in technology also have the ability to cripple our technology and send it backwards in development. Wow. Bradbury was very far ahead of his time.

When he was writing this, the world was going through/recovering from World War II and the threat of nuclear annihiliation. I think Bradbury’s ending depicts the fears that people at the time had of a nuclear war. These fears continued through the Cold War era and I think are still relatable today with the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea.

Writer’s Takeaway: I love when authors are able to drive home a political point without hitting you over the head with it. Bradbury does a wonderful job. Many people write with a political agenda, but the most affective pieces are ones where the reader finds out slowly.

Enjoyable read even for someone who’s not in to science fiction. 4 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.

Related Post: Review The Martian Chronicles by Bibliophibian Inc.

My First Rejection Letter

18 Dec

I knew this day would come, but being so close to the holidays, I was hoping to put it off. My first rejection letter came in the mail today. I just had a feeling it was a rejection letter as soon as I looked at it, not even touching it to see how thin it was. My heart seemed to stop when I saw my name in my own handwriting and a return address with a journal title. I imagine many of you reading this have had similar experiences.

Because I felt like I knew what was coming, I made myself ready for it. I had cookies prepared in the kitchen and I put on sweat pants. If that’s not ready for rejection, please tell me what is. When I picked it up to open, I saw how thin the envelope was and my heart sank. Permission to print forms were at least one, if not two, pages and this didn’t even feel like a full page. Wouldn’t an email have been more environmentally friendly?

Unsurprisingly, there as a third-of a page letter inside addressed ‘Dear Writer.’ I won’t print it here, but it was what I can only imagine is standard. “Thanks for your submission… We receive over 2,000 during our reading period… If you’d like to purchase your own copy…” Boiler plate. Cold.

Being the child of the 21st Century that I am, I turned immediately to Facebook (for the record, my husband wasn’t home). Within minutes, support was flooding in. My non-writing friends were sympathetic (“I’m sorry, 😦 ) and also supportive (“At least you had the guts to send something, like JK Rowling”). The best advice came from AP, who insists that I frame it. KK reminded me that everyone gets turned down, even the elites of writing. It’s funny that this happened to me today because I just finished the section of Stephen King’s On Writing where he talks about how consistently he was rejected when he first started writing. So timely. Another fellow writer said she’d gotten a rejection letter herself earlier that day, letting me know I’m not alone. Nicole offered to come reenact the scene from The Proposal where Sandra Bullock dances to “Get Low” with Betty White. I’m keeping that offer in my back pocket.

It’s ironic that this came the same day my “How to Date a Writer” post went up. I’d read the list to my husband when I found it and I guess he listened well because he was very polite about the letter and wouldn’t let it get me down. He offered me caramel popcorn (not chocolate, but still delicious) and reassured me that someone would want to publish my poem. Probably the best thing said to me was when he said “At least your first rejection is a poem and not your novel.” So true, Jay, so incredibly true.

I’m fortunate that a lot of good things happened yesterday that are equaled out by the letter. I got a $50 gift card, Jay got Christmas gifts from his catechism students, I was able to blow my mother-in-laws mind with how much I write (I think) and this morning I got my company Christmas gift. But underneath all of this, there’s a voice saying “Not good enough, not good enough!” I want to punch that little voice, but he’s nagging me.

So where do I go from here? I’ll take another look at the poem, maybe ask one or two more people to read it and tell me what they think. I’ll revise it a bit and then send it out again. I’ve pulled up two magazines already. I’m determined to see it in print, whatever form it ends up taking. I’m going to start a spreadsheet and keep track of where something’s submitted and when I get rejected so I can send it again. I’m going to put myself out there and let the rejections come if they will because I won’t know what I’m lacking until someone tells me.

Reader, I’m not going to ask for your sympathy. I’ll use my mom for that if I need to. What I want to hear from you is how you deal with rejection? Does it motivate you or make you cry in the corner? Did you get a rejection letter on Monday also?

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: The Daughter of the God King by Anne Cleeland (4/5)

17 Dec

I’ve decided to put my rating in the title so you can decide if you want to read on and see if the book is worth your time. Thoughts? Also, I’m only one book away from meeting my goal of 70 books for the year! Hopefully I’ll be done by the end of the week and I can dedicate some time to the 900 page Harry Potter in Spanish I’ve been neglecting

I received this book as a part of the Goodreads First Reads program. This has had no influence over my review of the book.

Image from the blog link in the description.

Image from the blog link in the description.

The Daughter of the God King by Anne Cleeland

I love historical fiction. Even more, I love historical fiction about places and times I know little to nothing about. When I saw a book about Regency period Egypt, I was all over it. Add in a mystery, which is something I’m always excited about, and I was pumped.

Hattie Blackhouse is the daughter of two famous Egyptologists but the fame annoys her more than anything. Hattie’s parents are always gone and once she turns 18, she’s determined to make her how way. Determined to marry her longtime friend, Robbie, she leaves for Paris to find him already engaged. Craving adventure, she sets off for Egypt to try and find her parents, who have gone missing. Hattie realizes her parents were involved in an intricate plot to bring Napoleon back to power and has an even deeper realization that the Blackhouses are not her parents at all, but a couple that was bribed to raise her to conceal her true identity as Napoleon’s bastard child. Along the way to the end, Hattie falls in love, gets married, and parading as the Daughter of the God King, helps cripple Napoleon’s plans.

What I remember most about the book is the character of Berry. He is Hattie’s main love interest and eventual husband. His secret allegiance keeps the reader and Hattie guessing till the end and even beyond. I am still a little bit confused what exactly Berry’s allegiance is to and why so many different characters thought he was aligned with them. My favorite character was Hattie’s escort, Bing. I kept hoping Bing would play a bigger role in the book because I found her so interesting, but she stayed the unwavering support Hattie needed without playing a big role herself.

I’m trying to think what an overlying message of the story would be. I think the best answer is You make your own future. Hattie went from orphan to bastard very quickly and thought her life was over. She’d convinced herself she could be nothing better than a mistress and ended up a countess. She wasn’t held back by who she was by birth and used her personality and position to make herself into who she wanted to be.

Napoleon’s attempt to regain power was a major plot point at the end of the book. One of the questions Hattie asks (which I think is well deserving of an answer) is who would support a despot that was so universally disliked that he was sentenced to a prison sentence on an island? The answer is the right people. I think this says a lot about modern politics as well; if the right people like a person, they can maintain power. This was probably more true when the military was more actively involved in the government, such as Napoleon’s reign over Europe, but can still ring true today.

There were some parts of the book that confused me. I think the small hits the characters were dropping were very obvious to the writer, but didn’t come as strongly across to the reader. I didn’t catch that Hattie was Napoleon’s daughter until I’d read the paragraph three times. I was confused for a long time with concern to the back and forth about Hattie’s parents’ fate. Were they dead or hiding? I wasn’t sure until Hattie went to the graveyard and even then, I still thought they would come out of the woodwork.

Writer’s Takeaways: This book had a very fast moving and engaging plot. There were a lot of layers to it, but each character stood out in his or her own way so that they weren’t confused. I think Cleeland did a good job of pacing her big reveal moments throughout the book. They came toward the end and weren’t too close together. I liked the mixture of mystery, some adventure, and romance (though it felt a little forced at times).

4 out of 5 stars, overall solid read.

How to Date a Writer

16 Dec

Since I started writing and hanging out with writers, I’ve been feeling out the murky parts of my relationship with my husband it pertains to my writing habits. I saw the below image on Rachael Standord’s blog and I thought this defined perfectly what I’d been thinking.

tips on how to date a writerHow wonderfully true! When I tell people I’ve written a book,  I want to punch them in the face when they ask when they’ll see it at Barnes and Nobel. When someone tells me they’ve ever thought of writing a book but don’t have the time, I want to tell them that I don’t have the time either, but I still did it so they need to get their butts in gear. My browser history while wiring my 1920s novel was more about alcohol and Tommy guns than anything else and I am not an alcoholic nor a gun aficionado. If I’m writing and you want to say hi, be careful because I’m likely to go  after you with a pen. Ever time another writer comes over, I clean my bookshelf so they can look at it, because I know they will. I even leave it out at parties and hope that someone will ask to borrow something.

Are these true for you as well? What else would you add to this list?

Until next time, Reader, write on.

Published Again!

13 Dec

I can say that for the second time, my work has appeared in print! I’m overly excited to say that my good friend and fellow Novel Girl, Nicole, has had a poem published alongside my story and I encourage you to check out Nicole’s poetry blog here on WordPress. If you’re interested in reading our stuff, it’s available in the Grey Wolfe Publishing Autumn Legends, available on-line.

I haven’t had the chance to read through this edition yet, but I see that it is shorter than the first. Shorter pieces? Fewer submissions? Fewer accepted pieces? I have no idea. I wish the pieces were arranged by some way other than alphabetically by title. Many are the outcomes of a writing prompt but are spread through the collection instead of grouped together.

I consciously decided not to send a piece in for the winter journal. It’s great to see my work in ink, but I want to see it in some other journals as well. I wrote a winter-themed sonnet a while ago and bit the bullet, sending it to my alma mater’s literary journal. I’d be very proud to be published there but I know it’s a long shot. The reading period started at the beginning of the month and I have no idea how long it will be until I hear back. If I hear back.

Reader, where are you trying to get your stuff published? Are you trying to be in a poetry book? Are you trying to publish your own book of poetry? What publication are you most proud of? Please leave a comment and let me know, I love hearing from you.

If you have the time, please head over to my Facebook fan page and give it a Like, I’m two away from being able to see analytics!

Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Anticipation, Dialogue, and Short Stories

12 Dec

We had a novel girls meeting last Thursday and I’m just now getting around to talking about it. That should tell you how many book’s I’ve been reading and how busy the holidays have been. I forgot to take notes at the time, but there are a few things that stuck in my head and I remember well.

KK brought the next section of her WIP fantasy novel. I’m in love with her concept and was very excited to read it. Her story flashes between present day and an event that was set in motion exactly 100 years before that affects the present (yes, this is vague but I don’t want to give anything away before it becomes a best-seller). To me, there is a lot of tension to see what happens in the events 100 years before and how quickly (or slowly) they are developing because there is a deadline for something dramatic to happen. The reader starts knowing the date in modern times when the event occurs and counting the days down in the flashback would build anticipation for the dramatic turn of events. KK loved this idea and when she is done writing will be able to go back in and add dates.

This had me thinking about building tension in general. In many stories, there is a looming event; something the characters are preparing for or dreading. Sometimes the characters don’t see it coming but the reader does. In The Hunger Games (first book), it’s the games itself. In the over-arching series it’s the rebellion. For Harry Potter, we have a looming event of the Tri-Wizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire and we also have the series-wide event of the final battle with Voldemort. All of these events must be built toward, either within the book or within the series.

How do you build tension/anticipation in your works? What have you read that kept you waiting on the edge of your seat for a particular event?

We read another excerpt from my YA Historical Fiction novel. KK gave me some feedback that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside; she loved my dialogue. I see so many writers who struggle to write dialogue and it makes me feel great that someone found my writing not only believable, but good. I’ve included a sample of this below. This is a conversation between my protagonist, June, and her best friend, Marty.

“There’s a rumor that after the dance hall, you and Tony went out for drinks and you stumbled home with your arm slung over his shoulder.”

“After the dance hall, my feet hurt and I limped home with him supporting me.” She giggled.

“All right, another story is that you spend your time at the library plotting how you’ll get your revenge on Sarah Hamilton.”

“I spend our time at the library doing homework assignments and plotting with Tony how we can be a convincing couple.”

“Have you ever thought of getting back at Sarah?”

“Not particularly.”

“But don’t you hate her? Don’t you want to get even?”

June considered this for a second. “No. I’ve realized I wasn’t happy with Donny. I don’t think I was ever important to him.”

When I write dialogue, I say it all in my head and try to create it like it’s a film. I picture the characters and the space they’re in and then I have the conversation with myself. So, for the third line, it seemed natural to me that the filler ‘all right’ would be used. Marty would need a second to think about the next rumor he wanted to talk about. When Marty asks June if she hates Sarah, he starts the question with the word ‘but.’ I’m very well aware this is not proper grammar, but I’m going to argue very few of us speak with proper grammar. It’s what I would say. It’s what I picture my best guy-friend saying. It’s natural. Similarly, if I were June, I would take a second to respond to his question so I have June take a second to respond. For characters I don’t want to sound at all like me, I’ll think about what my co-worker or husband or friend might say. I’ve considered having someone read the dialogue aloud with me to see if it sounds the way I want it to.

The piece Nicole brought was a short story with two characters we’d already met in another short story. It made KK and I curious how the stories could connect and if it would be possible to make a complete story out of the character arcs. Since our fellow Novel Girl SG worked on a collection of related short stories for NaNo and I’m currently reading a collection of short stories (The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury), this got me thinking about the difference between a collection and a novel. SGs work and my current book have stories that focus on different characters in each story but have an overall theme or setting. Other sets of short stories, such as Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories and the ones Nicole is working on.

I want your opinion, Reader, on what makes a group of stories a collection? What is the necessary joining factor and how does this differentiate from a novel?

Unfortunately SG was unable to join us, but we did go to her place for a holiday part this past weekend. I mention it because we played a wonderful writers’ game. It’s called Storymatic and I think it would make a wonderful gift for any writer in one’s life. SG’s non-writing friends were not as enthused at first but started to realize how fun it could be by our second game. If anyone’s looking for Christmas present ideas for a fellow writer, check it out.

That’s all I’ve got for today, folks. Until next time, write on.

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

11 Dec

I’d taken a break from audiobooks on my phone, but I’ve been in a push to finish more books than normal with the end of the year coming and being behind pace to meet my goal of 70 for the year. And so I’ve started doing these again, the perfect thing to do while baking Christmas cookies. I had read Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” when I was in high school but have never touched her other work before.

 

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

One of the women in my prompt group loves ghost stories and said that this is her all-time favorite ghost story. I’ve never been big on ghost stories before but I was intrigued and added it. This was almost my book club selection for October as well and might rear its head for next Halloween. Either way, I wanted to get the book in and what better time than Christmas!

Hill House has been haunted for years with residents dying and leaving out of fear for years. Dr. Montague studies the supernatural and gathers around him a team of people willing to spend the summer in Hill House to document the activity. Eleanor, a naive young girl who lives with her family, steals her sister’s car and drives out to Hill House where she meets Luke (relative to the owner), the doctor, and Theodora, a strong willed woman determined not to be scared. Their stay in the house is marred by strange writings on the walls and voices at night. Eleanor starts to lose control of herself and feels drawn to the house to a point where she is physically unable to leave.

There were parts of this book that gave me chills and did genuinely scare me. The scene where Eleanor is awakened in the middle of the night to no light and the voices of a man and child coming from Theodora’s room particularly scared me. I got a shiver when Eleanor awoke to find Theodora too far away to have held her hand. Unfortunately my husband chose that moment to slink quietly toward me and touch my shoulder. I screamed so loud I must have woke the whole building.

A friend of mine said this book had a good character arc in it and I agree that Eleanor’s change is well done, but I didn’t find the other characters anywhere near as intriguing and I felt the house was less of a character than it could have been.

The one character I found most memorable was Mrs. Montague, the doctor’s wife. She arrived late in the story and was very interested in using popular ghost hunting tools to explore the house, criticizing the others for their ignorance toward ‘proper’ ways of experiencing the supernatural. Comically, Mrs. Montague struggles to interact with the ghostly spirits that have been tormenting the other residents for a week. She uses a sort of Ouija board with some success, but is not troubled at night. I think Jackson was making a point about focusing less on trying to find an experience and just letting it happen. One can research the best ways to relax on vacation and bring all of the right tools along, but if one is concentrating too much on the proper amount of time to spend sunbathing, one is not going to enjoy the time on the beach. Trying too hard is a way of failing.

Are hauntings real? There are many accounts of unexplainable happenings and I’m sure there will be for years to come. Television shows are devoted to the very things Dr. Montague was exploring in this text (Paranormal State, Ghost Hunters International, etc.). But are they real? It all depends on what you want to believe. I think that if you believe, you’re more likely to experience something, but you can decide for yourself if that’s because you’re more willing to accept what’s happening or the spirits are more willing to communicate with you.

Writer’s Takeaway: Jackson’s topic makes defining fear necessary throughout the book. She did a wonderful job of varying the ways she described this emotion, but kept it prevalent throughout the book. Her description is commendable. I’m also of the impression that there are many times in a book where we as writers want to convey suspense or something truly frightening and a story such as this teaches that ordinary things such as a house can be terrifying. The door’s close on their own when one isn’t looking and a map is necessary to find the breakfast room? Creepy. I’m glad I read outside of my usual genre so I could see a great example of this.

Overall I wasn’t that impressed. Two out of five stars.

Until next time, Reader, write on.