Archive | May, 2014

Negativity #1: Reply Letter to a Hater

13 May

I am here to report on my first blog troll. He wasn’t hiding too well under the bridge and I’m ready to shine the light on him. Well, that is, without telling you his name. Instead of giving this troll the response he expects, I’m going to post his letter here and follow that up with my reply. Please enjoy.

This email came to me last week on a day where the world seemed to be pounding negativity and discouragement into my brain. I got a rejection letter, this email, and then had a really bad writers group experience which I’ll post about later. To deal with that negativity, I’m going to write about it and try to show that negativity is only what I make of it. I”m going to try to make these positive.

Before I get started, you should know that my most popular post on this blog has been my Book Club Reflection for The Light Between Oceans which I posted in January. For reasons unknown to me, a lot of people have looked this up in search engines and I’ll get 10+ hits per day on the post (which for me is usually about 20% of my total views). This email was in reaction to that post.

Because I am a physicist, my wife thought I’d like The Light Between the Oceans. It was horrible. 
Wife went to her book club and picked up an article by you.
As for the cover, the picture is not of the type of light described in the book.  I quote the wikipedia(which you should read)
In recent times, many Fresnel lenses have been replaced by rotating aerobeacons which require less maintenance. 
That’s what you see: the cylindrical body of an aerobeacon,  not the figure of a man. 

Also, you treat the personnae of the book as real people when they and the plot is all made up.
I tolerate writers and English majors to fumble the science in their books, bu t you fumble the English language. 
For one, Janus, was a male god, not a goddess. (Learn some Latin). 
AND
English has a verb “to bear”. 
bear
bore
borne
NOT “bared”.

Short, sweet, and aimed at the heart. I’m not sure what this man (and it is a man, in case of any confusion, based on the name) hoped to accomplish with this letter. Maybe he was trying to be helpful and point out a spelling mistake? Or maybe he hoped to be a troll and discourage me. Either way, I’m not concerned. If I were to reply to him, here’s the letter I would send.

 

Dear Sir,

Thank you for sending me a letter on my blog, Taking on a World of Words. I’m sorry that you did not enjoy the book The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.  I found it to be a very thought-provoking and an enjoyable read and it seems your wife enjoyed it as well. I’m glad she could find a book she enjoyed.

I want to again thank you for letting me know that my post is being distributed at book club meetings. This is probably the most flattering news I’ve yet to receive about my blog. I’m glad that the conversation I had with the ladies and gentlemen of my book group can help inspire discussion in other groups. I’m very touched and so glad to hear this.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

To your point on the cover, I’m still of the opinion that there is a man in the lighthouse. I looked this up on the internet and was unable to find anything conclusive so this is only my opinion. I see what appears to me to be an arm on the right side of the image and it appears that the figure has a hand on its hip because there’s a gap of light coming through the middle. That’s part of the reason I argue that it’s a person and not a lens. I looked up the page you referenced and I don’t think the image looks a lot like the aerobeacon, which is much more cylindrical. If it is lighthouse equipment at all, I think it’s more likely to be the Fresnel lens as this and the cover image share (in my opinion) a much more similar shape.

I think the main reason I treat the characters and plot as if they were real is because I’m a writer. When I write a character, he or she becomes very real to me. I sometimes wonder if I”m passing this person on the street. It’s almost like the film Stranger than FictionIf you haven’t had a chance to see this movie, I believe it’s one of Will Ferrell’s best works. Because I see my characters so vividly, it helps me to see any fictional character as clearly as if they were my neighbors. If they didn’t seem real, then the writer did a poor job of making believable characters. I think the plot could happen and that’s what’s intriguing about the novel. I referenced a real case in the post you read, the Baby Jessica Case, which happened in a town near where I live. This case speaks about who a child’s ‘real’ parents are, much in the same way the book does. If the setting seemed at all unbelievable, that would again reflect poorly on the author. However, I think Ms. Stedman did a wonderful job crafting believable characters and a conceivable plot and that it’s a tribute to her that I can speak  of them as if they were real.

Thank you for pointing out those simple mistakes that I overlooked. I appreciate your attention to detail.

I’ll close this letter the same way I close all my posts as I encourage everyone to find the writer inside themselves.

Until next time, write on.

-Sam A. Stevens

Book Club Reflection: Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

12 May
Me and Chris Bohjalian

Me and Chris Bohjalian

This is the longest it’s ever taken me to write a book club reflection. To the women and man of my group, I apologize for the delay. There have been so many wonderful literary things in my life to blog about that I’ve been putting off this one that will take so much time. I hope you enjoy.

There are going to be a lot of posts about this book on my blog and I’m excited to share them. I write this review a few weeks ago and I’ll soon be posting something about meeting Chris Bohjalian. He is a wonderful individual.

My biggest question was about Charlotte’s fault in the whole situation. She’s twelve, how much can she be blamed for shooting a gun that she was (arguably) playing with? She always seemed to blame herself and felt guilty about her father’s injury the whole book. And she never came out to say specifically if she’d done it on purpose. She thought at times about the moment, how she’d felt at the time and what she’d really seen, but she never says she did it on purpose. We thought that she did mean to kill a deer and that was her way of being rebellious. Her relatives would be happy that the deer was gone, but her father would be furious. It would be a way to pay him back for the plastic shoes and vinyl purse she had to carry.

When drugs and alcohol are involved, there’s always a fuzzy line when placing guilt and blame. If someone’s driving drunk, is their crime driving with a high BAC or hitting another car? Can we blame them for hitting the car if we’ve blamed them for turning the key in the first place? It’s a question of when there is a bad decision and when there are consequences of that decision and if we view them differently.

We suspected that the girls were not really very drunk or high. We thought their loopy state was more in their own heads than real. I’ll admit to being someone who feels dizzy after two beers but as far as actually drunk, I’d say there’s a pretty major difference. As for the marijuana, I’d doubt they were suffering much of its effects. It’s pretty well-known around a college campus that you don’t get high the first time you smoke. I personally doubted Charlotte when she said she’d smoked before and it was plainly Willow’s first time. They were probably acting a lot more like their normal selves than they thought: probably not much dinner than them after too much caffeine and sugar.

Nan never felt guilty for not putting the girls to bed that night. She was angry that their parents weren’t taking care of them and walked away, never looking back to think that she could have stopped the accident by caring for her granddaughters. She was frustrated with her own children for not being parents. When her own children were that age, she took very good care of them because her husband was out of the house and left her to do that alone. It was her favorite thing to do and why she likes to take care of her granddaughters for a month each summer. Though it seems that she’d reached her breaking point for being a babysitter that night, hoping her son-in-law would overcome his moodiness. But Spencer wasn’t much of a father at that point in the story. He was so absorbed in FERAL and his work that he didn’t have time to be a father. At least, that is, until his accident.

We were shocked the lengths Spencer was prepared to go to hold on to who he was before the accident. He threw himself into work so strongly that he didn’t even try to stop his wife from leaving him over the lawsuit. He seemed to be clinging to his identity as an obsessive worker and unable to let it go now that he was injured. I think people have to change a lot when they have major accidents that can cripple them. It really makes you re-assess you life. We were just as shocked that Catherine would consider leaving her husband in the state he was in. They had to help him put toothpaste on his toothbrush for God’s sake. How could she leave him to his own devices knowing he couldn’t do the simplest task? I was floored.

I think there was a lot of symbolism in Spencer getting his arm amputated. It seemed like it was him parting with the final piece of his personality from before the accident that he had clung to. He left it behind like the life he led before the injury; he was able to part with his work obsession and blindness to his family’s needs.

A part that seemed strange to one of our members was when John and Catherine would talk on the phone before John and Spencer reconciled. She thought it seemed odd that the siblings would keep a close relationship despite the feud between John and Spencer. I know if my husband’s ever mad with one of his siblings or a friend, I take his side immediately and am equally as mad. I suspect that the rift between Catherine and Spencer helped the siblings stay together because they were both on the short end of Spencer’s affections.

This begs the question of why Spencer was so mad with John. It shocked me that John seemed to be the guilty party so early on in the action. To me, it was clear that Charlotte had committed the crime. If my husband leaves a baseball bat in the foyer and someone breaks in and beats us with it, whose fault is it? My husband’s for keeping a baseball bat? I think not. But maybe it would be different if it were a gun. Then would it be our fault for keeping a gun in the house? (For the record, I’m very anti-gun and our compromise is a katana sword.) I think Spencer blamed John because he couldn’t put blame on his own daughter and was dealing with the fact that John hunted. I don’t think John was to blame.

One point that irked our group was Nan’s death. It seemed very convenient and almost cliché that she died in the end. We decided that she was the family glue that held them together and once she wasn’t needed any more and passed away, the family had made its own glue and could hold itself together without her. Before the reconciliation in the final chapters, they still needed her. But after, they could go on without her.

Some members were also put off by the bird who found the casing shell. We would have been perfectly happy without knowing it was damaged because the story was more about the family than it was about the accident by the end. The family fixed but there was no way to fix Spencer’s arm. There’s no use crying over spilled milk.

We liked that the characters had very conflicting opinions on a lot of topics. I think that’s very representative of modern families. I have opposing political views from my parents and my brother and I fiercely disagree on the merits of Indian food. John liked venison and Charlotte liked soy substitutes. Sara didn’t mind having a gun in the house while Spencer hated the idea of guns. Willow wanted to tell the truth more than anything while Catherine had no problem lying about eating meat.

Sara that “… the problem with Nan – and with John and Catherine and, yes, Spencer when they were all together – was that they could never just… be” (p. 38). We wondered what was meant by this. We pointed out that Nan could never stay still. She always had a towel in her car just in case she could go swimming and had no problem taking impromptu hikes. Catherine and John learned this growing up with their mother and Spencer, who had known Nan since he was a teen, had adapted to this as well. When they’re that busy, they don’t have to think. One of our members pointed out that the Kennedy’s had a very similar life style and would host their own Summer Camp activities. We wondered if they were an inspiration for Nan and her children.

While I loved the characters, some of our members strongly disagreed. They thought they were unbelievable and unlikable. I think being so unlikable was very believable. Is there anyone you know who you like 100% of the time? Because I know I don’t. As I said in my review, I thought the young girls used vocabulary words beyond their years and one of our members added that they were psychologically beyond their years as well. I felt this was the only fault.

Gun control was an obvious theme of the book. It was clear Bohjalian thought not everyone should have a gun. If John doesn’t know how to use it properly, should he have one in his house? The gun experts were portrayed very positively in the book so we didn’t feel that Bohjalian was anti-gun, but that he had opinions on controlling access.

We felt that FERAL was portrayed in a very negative light. They were taking advantage of a situation and we felt that Bohjalian was reflecting them negatively. It was a “Don’t let any tragedy go to waste” kind of feel, which is irksome. Spencer’s extreme dedication surprised most of us. Some members had never heard of veganism and were shocked at all the dietary restrictions imposed by vegans. We wondered if Spencer would have stayed a vegan, knowing that his wife had no intention of remaining one. Would he have continued to force it on his daughter as well? We think he would have remained a vegan but that Charlotte would have had the chance to choose for herself.

I have never read The Secret Garden before and our other members filled me in on how it applied to this book. The Secret Garden is a hidden place like a family’s secrets are hidden. From the outside, you don’t see them but when you pull the ivy aside, there’s something very different on the inside.

The other cultural reference we tied significance to was the title. It’s taken from the poem Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye. There’s a quote before the book begins taken from the poem.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.

You can read the full poem here. Spencer lost his arm, but found his family and humanity. They found kindness in each other and were closer in the end than they were in the beginning. We wondered if they could have reached that level of closeness when Nan was still alive, but we think they would have been too busy playing tennis at the club.

I hope you enjoyed this book club reflection. I’ll be posting in the near future about meeting Bohjalian. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

 

Book Review: The City and The City by China Mieville (3/5). Once you figure out the setting, your head will stop spinning.

9 May

I never would have picked this book up if it weren’t for my book club. I don’t know how much I enjoyed it and would recommend it, but I didn’t hate it. It was different, maybe too different for my tastes. But still ‘good.’ Read on!

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

The City and The City by China Mieville

Inspector Borlu is investigating the murder of Mahalia, a student in neighboring Ul Qoma. The country’s border isn’t as far away as you’d think, maybe only a few feet. That’s because Ul Qoma and Borlu’s city, Beszel, share the same geographic space. Are you confused yet? The two cities belong to different countries, but occupy the same space. Citizens have to ‘unsee’ and ‘unhear’ things happening in the other country. Locals know the boarders and are careful never to breach the border. Borlu suspects that whoever killed Mahalia did so in Ul Qoma and dumped her body in Beszel. An international investigation begins and delves into Mahalia’s research. She’s been investigation Orciny, a suspected third city that exists in all the disputed territory of the other cities. If it’s really there, what is it controlling?

[Spoilers Summary]
Borlu finds out that the murder crossed legally between the two countries and he’s unable to invoke Breach: the inter-city policing force that makes sure citizens stay within their own country. Why? She was legally transported between the two cities, crossing the border that exists beneath the joint city hall. Borlu goes to Ul Qoma to work with Officer Dhatt of their police force. Together they find out that Orciny is involved and must figure out how far. Mahalia’s best friend has gone missing, too, and she fears Orciny is after her life.

I overheard one of the librarians telling a member of our group that the two cities had the same physical space. When I started reading, I thought it might be that they were on different planes of existence that could almost see each other without being able to clearly see but the more I got into it, the more I understood. I liked that the setting was meant to be a place in the known world. There were references to Turkey, Hungary, Israel, and other countries that appear on the map in your third grade classroom but Ul Qoma and Beszel are completely fictional.

It’s hard to say if the characters were well-written. They live in a world so different from my own that I can’t relate to them on any sort of cultural level. On a human level (I assume they are humanoid), I liked Mieville’s characters. They experienced fear and anger in much the same way I do. I think that’s important in Science Fiction because with such a disconnected setting, we need to be able to appeal to the human emotion of the characters.

China Mieville (Image from The Guardian)

Borlu was an awesome character. I loved his small acts of rebellion against the Breach and how he would sometimes ‘see’ what he should have been ‘unseeing.’ I liked that he questioned what he saw in a world where I felt no one else was. They seemed to think the situation was normal despite living in a world where it was anything but.

It was hard to understand how the characters thought. They had been so brainwashed by their government that they could no longer see for themselves. it was hard for me to understand this for a long time and even once I did, I was still lost. I think Mahalia’s parents are the one ones I could relate to because they seemed as lost in these strange countries as I felt.

I was on the edge of my seat when Borlu committed Breach. I’d been waiting for it the entire book and almost jumped off the couch when it happened. I was so glad that he saw the idiocy of what was happening and took action when those around him were unwilling to react. The idea of Breach was so foreign for the first part of the book and I was fascinated by it. I devoured the end of this book because I was so excited to hear about the people and places that could exist between these strange cities. The description of the Breach headquarters fascinated me. How could the people of Beszel and Ul Qoma both unsee such a large building? So mind blown.

The beginning of the book frustrated me. I was so confused as to what was happening that I wanted to throw the book. The murder scene was enough to keep me interested in the book despite this, but I wish Mieville could have used a news release or text-book entry as a prologue to explain the geographic problems of the city. I would have pulled out much less hair.

I think this book was about conformity and the greater good. The people conformed to a society with such ridiculous laws that our society can’t imagine them. Think of looking out your window, waving at your neighbor, and being arrested for crossing an international border. I’m glad Borlu stood up to this system and called it out for the tedious thing that it was. Borlu sacrificed a lot for the greater good of both countries by breaking laws and taking directions he probably should have let lie. I liked that he was a selfless character and that he overcame the adversity he faced to help the people of both cities. He was a very positive character and I’m not lying about how much I liked him.

Writer’s Takeaway: To anyone who ever told me to read outside of my comfort zone, thank you. I have to recognize the genius of Mieville in creating such a wonderful and well crafted story. I think I learned about establishing setting and how that can be important. When I read a book, I always try to figure out where it’s located on a map; find a place to point my finger. With this, I couldn’t and it frustrated me initially. My frustration was compounded by the situation. As I said before, I wish there had been a prologue or other device to warn the reader of the complicated setting. I would have been more intrigued from the beginning.

To average between my initial disappointment and ending raves, I’m setting for 3/5 stars on this one.

I’m not sure this counts, but I’m using the Ukraine as my location for this book on my Where Are You Reading? Challenge. From clues in the book, this seems a likely location for the cities.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Review of China Mieville’s “The City and the City” | disillusioned marxist
Book Review: The City and the City (China Mieville) | Keep Watching the Words
[Column] The Backlog: The City and the City by China Mieville | Orange Monkey Publishing
China Mieville’s The City and the City | Plume of Words
Review: ‘The City & The City’ by China Mieville | LAURIE JANEY

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

8 May

I know what you’re thinking; “Sam’s in too many book clubs!” But really, is there such thing? And to assuage you, I did not join another book club. Not really. A co-worker recommended that I read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and said I could borrow it after another co-worker had finished it. We joking called it a little book club. Well, if we’re going to call it a book club, we better hold a meeting! And of course, we did. We even had it in a conference room. We used some discussion questions from Lit Lovers to guide our discussion. I’ll refer to them as B and V here for clarity.

We started off with some overall feelings about the book. B loved the language of the book, saying it was beautiful and I have to agree. I think Atkinson’s word choice really helped her paint a beautiful picture of an ugly part of world history. The Blitz was so sad. B warned me that she felt that part of the book dragged and I had to agree. There are so many ways a person can die in a bombing attack and I think Atkinson explored most of them. The prologue to the book was wonderful and kept us pulled in throughout the Blitz, waiting for the events in the prologue to take place. Without it, I think B and I would have given up!

It took us some time to understand what was happening to Ursula. When V picked up the book, she thought it was going to be reincarnation in a more traditional sense; where a single soul is reborn into multiple bodies as time progresses. B and I had similar expectations. It took a few lives for us to understand that Ursula was always going to be born on the same night to the same woman and be given the same name.  Once we understood, we really liked it. Some of her lives were such a drastic change that we were surprised. My favorites were moving to Germany the second time and when she dies a natural death.

One of our favorite things about the book was the characters that surrounded Ursula. So many of the men in Ursula’s life were terrible people, especially the men she was romantically involved with. We suspected that her relationship with them was influenced by her life where she was raped. Even in subsequent lives, she still had a memory of that time and it kept her from becoming close with men. Another theory was that her flippant attitude was influenced by her aunt, who had a similarly care-free attitude toward men. These gentlemen didn’t want an attachment, only a fleeting affair, and Ursula did, too. She saw life as more fleeting because she died so many times and seemed to be more okay with having fun than settling down. In this sense, she was a lot more like her aunt Izzy than her mom.

Pam was a favorite among the three of us. She was such a stable character who loved and supported Ursula in all of her lives. We liked that she had a stable relationship and could give Ursula advice about the terrible men she dated. Pam seemed to be Izzy’s foil, leading Ursula to a bath of matronly bliss instead of delightfully good times.

We talked about the Lit Lovers question, “Though there is an array of possibilities that form Ursula’s alternate histories, do you think any and all futures are possible in Ursula’s world, or are there certain parameters within which each life is lived?” We decided there were definitely things she couldn’t change. World War I was the first example. But on a more broad level, she couldn’t change her family’s personalities. Maurice, Pam, Hugh, and the cook all had the same personalities throughout the book no matter the life. Ursula was only able to learn how to deal with these people. What seemed odd to me is that at the end of the book, Izzy’s child is not given away to a German couple and grows up with the girls instead. How could Ursula have changed that when she wasn’t even born? We wondered if all of the characters were re-living their lives over and over but only Ursula was aware of it. Sylvie talked a lot about repetition which made us wonder why.

I asked if anyone thought Izzy’s child reappeared in Ursula’s lives in Germany. Had she met him and never known it? Or was the idea of the character enough? For a second, I wondered if the man she’d married in Germany was her cousin. V and B didn’t think so, but it did make us wonder about parents who give their child up for adoption. That child will never know if they are one-day meeting relatives of theirs. That’s such a weird thing to think about.

We used the second Lit Lovers question, “As time goes on, Ursula learns more about her ability to restart her life—and she often changes course accordingly, but she doesn’t always correct things. Why not? Do you think Ursula ever becomes completely conscious of her ability to relive and redo her lives? If so, at what point in the story do you think that happens? And what purpose do you think she sets for herself once she figures it out?” We felt that she didn’t always change everything because she couldn’t. Like I said before, there were some things she couldn’t change. She couldn’t stop Pam from getting sick unless she stopped the maid from going to London. She couldn’t stop the maid from going to London, so she changed her reaction to the boyfriend she traveled with. We felt Ursula became fully aware of her ability the second time she went to Germany. She set her purpose to try to eliminate Hitler before Teddy would die. The first time she was in Germany, she didn’t have as many déjà vu triggers and couldn’t react to what was happening around her to stop the war. She was just afraid of it. The second time, she knew she could do something.

Moving on to question four from Lit Lovers, “Do you think Ursula’s ability to relive her life over and over is a gift or a curse? How do you think Ursula looks at it?” We felt it was a curse because of her inability to change so many of the parameters. It would feel torturous to know something bad was going to happen and be at a loss for how to change it. We don’t think Ursula knew how to look at it. It was a blessing because she could try to protect her family, but at the same time she knew all the serious things that were going to happen to her in the coming months.

Question eight is, “How does Atkinson’s humor pepper the story? In what ways is she able to bring a bit of comedy to her characters and their stories as relief from the serious and dark subject matter?” B saw this in the turn of phrase and word choice that Atkinson used. She had a dry sense of humor that made the Blitz scenes a bit easier to read. Ursula had a resilient attitude toward death because she wasn’t afraid of it which allowed her to look at things more objectively and gave her a humorous quirk. Izzy was welcome comic relief through the book that helped brighten a dark tone. We felt that the book was much more lighthearted and funny until the rape scene. After that, things got a lot more serious.

The final question we talked about was number eleven, “On page 379, Ursula faces a bleak end in Germany with her daughter, Frieda. She chooses death over life for the first time, saying, “Something had cracked and broken and the order of things had changed.” What do you think she means by that? Is this a significant turning point to Ursula’s story? Do you think the end of this life affects her decisions in other lives that follow?” I loved this scene in the book. I almost thought that she wasn’t going to wake up again and that her death was going to be true, but I still had about 100 pages left so that left my mind immediately. We wondered what force was reluctant to let her start again. Possibly it was the Universe, saying that it was not yet her time to go. But if killing Hitler wasn’t her time to go, what was? Maybe Ursula hoped to end the cycle of being reborn, but in that life she had a lot less cognizance of her situation because her déjà vu was so minimal.

I liked the scene where Ursula died a natural death. I thought it was peaceful. The other two disagreed. It seemed weak that she didn’t die in service to England and that she didn’t fight for her life and lose it. Was this how she was supposed to die? Or was she fated to die in the Blitz and this life seemed wrong. I loved hearing the other opinions on my favorite ending.

Before we broke up to get back to work, we contemplated what we would change. B and I couldn’t think of anything and felt that in a time of war, our decisions take on a much stronger significance. We can’t really know what we’d do in a time period like the late 1940s. V thought she might try staying in her home country if she could start her life over. She came to the States  when she was younger and said she’s always wondered what her life would be like if she’d stayed.

I hope we get to do this again, it was really fun.

Reader, if you could change one life decision, what would it be? Why?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 7-May-2014

7 May

I feel more in control of my reading now. I hope it’s not a false sense of security. I’m glad MizB’s WWW forces me to deal with my obsession. www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m going to pick up The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker today and get started on that again. I was really enjoying it so we’ll see where this goes. On my phone I’m reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. I’m slowly getting more and more into this one. Slowly. I’ve also started The Maze Runner by James Dashner. You can expect to see this on my list for a few months because it’s my first Read-Along selection. If you’re interested in joining, let me know soon before we get too far along! We’ll have read Chapters 1-9 by May 10th. I’ve finished the selection and now I’m working on writing some good questions to ask my fellow readers. On audiobook I just started I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak. The narrator is amazing and I’m really getting into it. I just joined a carpool so my audiobook usage is going to go down significantly but I’ll keep working on this one.

Recently finished: I finished Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk. I posted my review of it yesterday. I still owe you all a few more reviews. I’m working on them, I promise! Work has been a bit hectic but I’ll have catch-up time this weekend. Last night I finished  The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. It was a really quick and fun read. I’m looking forward to the book club discussion.

Reading Next:  I still want to read my NaNo book, so that’s the plan! I’ve got to get that re-written this year.

You can see the numbers really are going down. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk (4/5). Reminder that being a grown-up is awesome.

6 May

As a kid, I went to sleep-away camp a few times. Northern Michigan is filled with wonderful week-long camps for sports, music, whatever you want to explore. I remember orchestra camp in particular. Probably because I had to lug a cello around the woods for a week. That’s pretty darn memorable. My book calendar from 2013 suggested this title and I was excited to reminisce.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cabin Pressure: One Man’s Desperate Attempt to Recapture his Youth as a Camp Counselor by Josh Wolk

On the brink of turning thirty-four and almost on the eve of his wedding, Josh Wolk decides that there’s no better way to say goodbye to his bachelor status than to spend a summer as a counselor at his old boys camp in Maine, Camp Eastwinds. Leaving his fiance to work through wedding details, Josh ventures into the woods to teach swimming and life lessons to 14-year-olds who sleep five feet from him. What Josh learns from a summer of adolescent humor, faked enthusiasm, and genuine human connection is that he’s ready for a change but he’ll always be the same person he was when he first started at Camp Eastwinds

This book was a much-needed breath of fresh air for me. I read a lot of heavy and blah books around this one and I needed to remember that books can be funny. My break from writing reviews and summaries was to put my headphones on, turn on Cabin Pressure, and take a walk to the park. I split it up over a long time and the relaxed feeling I got from picturing this Maine camp filled with hyper campers and sarcastic counselors kept me smiling throughout.

Because the book is a memoir, I assume the characters are based on real people. I liked how distinct each of the counselors was, especially Mitch, Charlie, and Helen. I can’t recall the name of the Australian who shared a lunch table with Josh, but he was one of my favorites. Each of the campers had a wonderfully descriptive nickname, which helped me remember them. I remembered that Mensa liked to read and that Windup wouldn’t stop talking. I did think the kids seemed a bit younger than 14 from Josh’s description. I’m not claiming to have spent time with a large group of 14-year-olds, but the portrayal struck me as more like 11 than 14.

Josh’s fiancée, Christine, was my favorite character. Having gotten married less than a year ago, I know how stressful planning a wedding can be. As my husband graduated from college two weeks before our wedding, I had to do a lot of detail planning by myself as well. I think she faced the whole endeavor with a lot more grace and strength than I mustered. I loved her wit and the loving way Josh portrayed her let me know she is an amazing person. I loved the detail he gave about her gift-giving habits. I have a similar quirk about making things personal.

As I said in my intro, I did do a few summer camps as a kid. A lot of them were Girl Scout camps that I attended with my troop and our leaders, one of whom was my mother. Though I did do orchestra camp and I arrived only knowing my best friend, who had accompanied me. When I left, I had made some great friends, learned a lot about playing cello, and had brought myself out of my shell. I related to the boys’ experiences at camp and how it helped them grow as people. I wish I’d been able to go to the same camp for a few years in a row to know the sense of belonging that Josh felt.

My favorite parts of the book were the times Josh spent in the cabin with the boys, moderating their word games and finding their lost clothes. These felt the most real to me and so wonderfully commonplace that only the most connected could find the beauty in them. I think Wolk described them with enough detail that I was drawn in and could still enjoy the scene.

The counselor drama was my least favorite part of the book. When I was a camper, I didn’t want to know that the counselors didn’t like each other or resented each other. I wanted to think they were a big happy family when we weren’t around. It was a bit shattering to see the drama that exists behind the scenes. As if the kids didn’t have their own drama! Mitch added a lot of this and he was the closest thing Josh had to a nemesis in the book. However, he still seemed like an okay guy, just very different from Wolk in every way. He was more of a foil than a villain.

Wolk was able to explore the meaning of youth in this book. His co-counselor, Charlie was retired from the working world and still loved every minute of camp. Josh went through bouts of feeling old, but in the end had enough energy and pep to keep up with a pack of pubescent boys. It’s good to know that getting married isn’t the end of youth that Josh feared it might be. I guess I have some years left in my after all.

Writer’s Takeaways: The humor Wolk used kept me engaged. I don’t think all memoirs should be funny, but Wolk gives a good example of how to pepper it in without being cheesy or overwhelming. His similes were great and never failed to make me laugh. They were well placed to keep the tone light and playful.

A wonderful and needed lighthearted read. Four out of five stars and recommended for those who like a humorous memoir.

This book fulfilled ‘Maine’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Under Pressure | Martin’s Musings
Review: CABIN PRESSURE by Josh Wolk | Michelle I. Mason

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Library Writers Group: An Introduction

5 May

Because I’m not in enough writers’ groups, I’ve joined one more. And I’ll be going back to my Wednesday group soon, so you’ll all get a lot more of my writers’ group knowledge in the coming months.

This group is sponsored by my library and run by a librarian who also runs one of my book clubs. She told me about it a few months ago so my anticipation was pretty high. I know, I’m easily excitable. Nicole joined me for dinner and we headed over to see what all the fuss was about.

There were ten of us present, including the two librarians running the group. Besides Nicole and myself, there was a woman who writs poetry, another pair of crit partners who focus on YA and New Adult (how perfect!), a young woman who came in late and I’m not sure what she writes, a gentleman who writs historical biographies and a woman who has published 4 non-fiction books and one fiction book. I really like that we’re going to have some variety in those participating.

A lot of what we discussed was what we wanted to get out of the group. Our leader’s idea was to have two parts to each meeting: discussion and critique. She has some ideas for the discussion part for the next few months and we wrote down suggestions for other topics. Next month we’re going to talk about ‘giving and receiving constructive criticism’ which I think I struggle with. I’m very judgmental when I read something and I have to review it a second time to find things I liked about a piece. They are two different states of mind for me and I have to do them separately. I’m getting excited for this conversation. An idea for another topic was ‘Who is a book’s target audience?’ This reminds me of Stephen King’s advice about an ideal reader and I’m curious to see what others will say.

The second part will be the critique section which will run much like it does in my other critique groups. Word limit is 3,000 words and pieces will be distributed a week ahead of time. One idea I liked is that with your piece, you include a few questions for the other members. This will help get feedback more targeted to what you want. If you’re worried about how your antagonist is developed, you can get that instead of advice on a better way to describe your side character’s shoes.

Our discussion for this meeting was on an article that we read by Chuck Palahnuik where he challenges writers to stop using ‘thought verbs.’ You can read the article here and I really recommend it. His ideas will really drive home ‘show don’t tell’ and give some good ways to practice it.

In essence, he’s saying that using words like though, knew, remembered, liked and wanted are cheating. It’s telling the reader how a character feels or is thinking about. It’s not describing why the character has these feelings. They can sometimes feel like ‘thesis statements’ when you start a paragraph with ‘John knew Sarah was mad’ and then go on to explain why he knew. Why are you giving away to the reader what you’re about to describe? Strike the thesis statement. A few other nuggets that I loved were to have a character alone as little as possible to maximize action and to allow the reader to do the ‘thinking’ and ‘knowing.’

We did a few exercises and I’ll share two of mine here. I hope this illustrates what the goal was.

  1. There is nothing I hate more than waiting. Shelly bounced her foot nervously. Being chronically early to a doctor who was incurably late was a bad diagnosis. She sighed, checking her phone to see if she was still seven minutes behind or if it was yet eight.
  2. I thought she was the nicest person I’d ever met. She oozed smiles like a teenage boy oozes apathy. Her reassuring touches could calm the hulk and in a sentence I’m sure she could pacify Hitler. Every baby shower and birthday party in a ten-mile radius had her touch on it. I never heard her speak ill of anyone and the only thing she ever complained about was the weather.

Does that help? I hope so. I’m really excited for us to meet in May! It will be a great talk. I’m still deciding if I should bring something. Maybe a poem, I’ve been trying to write poetry.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Small Writers Group: Readings, Poetry, and When to Workshop

2 May

I went to my second meeting of my small writers groups, previously called A Small Group of Strangers Workshop. I’m changing my name of it because these people are starting to feel less like strangers. I really enjoyed this meeting of six and we covered three pieces.

Before we started, our moderator passed around some fliers for prose and poetry reads in downtown Detroit. It was the weekend of Easter (yes, it’s taking me a long time to write this) so I couldn’t attend, but it got me thinking. There are so many different types of readings. I’ve been to a Poetry Slam, a ‘Story Slam,’ and author signings, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been to something that could be strictly classified as a reading. But really, what makes something a reading and why is that better than just hearing the author speak?

You can have readings for poetry, prose, essay, anything really. And it can be combined with Q&A or just author speaking, or only the reading and they can be held just about anywhere (though I feel an independent coffee shop is the stereotype). What kinds of readings have you been to? What kind do you most enjoy?

Our moderator brought a poem for us to critique. Besides helping Nicole with a poem once, I’ve never critiqued poetry before and I wasn’t really sure how to do it. Simply because of that I’m thinking of taking a poem to the group to see what kind of feedback I can get. Our biggest critique was about a line break and how the poem flowed with stanza breaks. Besides that, I wasn’t able to contribute much other than my interpretation of what the poem meant. How do you critique poetry? What kind of feedback is helpful when you submit a poem to be workshopped?

One of the men in our group brought the first chapter of his novel.  As I’m still planning on re-writing my NaNo, this is something I’ve considered doing with this group as well and he asked a question that I didn’t have a good answer to. How much of a book should you write before bringing the first chapter to a workshop? When I started going through my first manuscript with the Novel Girls, I was about 2/3 of the way done with it. With the speed I’ll be re-writing my NaNo, I might bring it in sooner, or maybe wait a little longer, I haven’t decided yet. Is there a good point to bring it in and see if it’s interesting before you commit too much? Or is it best to get through the whole thing first so you don’t realize that something you already had workshopped needs to be critiqued? Does anyone know the right balance?

I hope you’re all enjoying my writerly musings. I love hearing from you.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Challenge Update, April

1 May

March is behind us so it’s time to update you on how my challenges are going! You can check out my reading challenges any time on my challenge page.

When Are You Reading? Challenge

6/13
This is my own challenge to read a book from 13 different time periods. You can read about it here. My timeline is starting to fill in nicely but it’s a bit contemporary heavy. I didn’t add a single time period during April; not one!. I’m well ahead of pace for this one so I’m not too worried about finish it, but I’ll have to make some more pointed book choices to finish it on time. Of the books I’m reading now, I don’t think any will fill in a new time period. They’re all contemporary or future. I’ll have to see how my next round of books goes.

Where Are You Reading? Challenge

8/50 (+5)
Hosted by Sheila. In the challenge to read a book from every state, I took a little hop from 7 (+3). My map is looking pretty cool, though! I added New Hampshire for states and my new foreign countries were Afghanistan and wherever The City and the City takes place. I’m guessing that The City and City takes place in the Ukraine or somewhere else around there geographically. The language seemed to be influenced by German and Russian and the other countries they referred to were in that geographic region. It’s my best guess.

Goodreads Challenge

20/35
I’m 9 ahead of schedule! I’m excited about being so far along. I’m going to tackle Pillars of the Earth soon and I might start a carpool so my audiobook pace has the potential to slow way down. But for now, I’m staying strong and plowing ahead! I don’t think I’ll adjust my goal until I know how this carpool situation will affect my listening time.

How are your challenges going? I hope you’re not too far off pace just yet! If you want any more information about the challenges I’m doing or you’d like to join me, leave a comment and check out the links. There’s also information in my Challenges tab.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!