Archive | June, 2014

Read Along With Me #1: The Maze Runner by James Dashner Chapters 20-29

12 Jun

ReadAlong1MazeI’m having so much fun with this Read-Along! The participating bloggers have been so great and those of you casually reading our blogs (I know you’re out there!) have been very encouraging. If you’re interested in joining, it’s not too late yet. You can still hop aboard. Check out the Read-Along page for some more information and send me an email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com if you’re interested in joining. On with the questions!

Question from Sultana: What level of control do you think the Creators have over the minds of those in the Maze? I ask not only because of the memory wipe on them, but also because of Alby’s incident where he choked himself but felt like somebody else was choking him so as not to reveal information about the Changing.
I had similar thoughts on that section. It seemed like creator-control that Alby was unable to speak about what he remembered. I don’t know how I would describe the control, but there seems to be a high level of it in this world. I’m not sure if I think it’s mind control or some high technology level, but I think there’s something. We could even take this a step further and say that the creators controlled Alby when he shot Ben. Who knows?

Question from Ashlee: Chuck made a comment to Thomas that he needs to quit acting weird so the others will stop taking notice of him. Do you think Thomas has a big target on his back in a good way or a bad way? The Keepers seemed to be split about if he’s there to help them or to destroy them, but what do you think the other boys in the Glade are wanting to do with this new kid who’s breaking the rules and showing everyone up?
I think initially, the target on his back was a bad thing, but I believe that’s starting to change. When weird things started happening after Thomas arrived, I think the others were weary of him and thought he brought bad luck. Now, after he’s proven himself int he maze, I think the target has turned to a good thing. I think the leadership is a bit more accepting of him than the average Glader, but I hope that will soon change

Question from Barb: It bothers me that the author states the characters’ emotions rather than describe how they feel.  Is this typical of Young Adult Fiction?  I haven’t read much Young Adult Fiction in a very long time (besides Harry Potter of course).  I feel like Thomas’s emotions are very sudden because there is no build up to the author’s statements. At the end of Chapter 30, “Thomas stood up to pace around the little room, fuming with an intense desire to keep his promise.”  The page before that he “hated with a passion he didn’t know a human could feel.”  Maybe adolescents just change emotions that quickly so the author has no time to build up to the shift. Does this bother you too?
I’ve noticed this in some Young Adult fiction but I hadn’t seen it yet in this one. I think sudden emotional change is normally characteristic of poor writers more than of YA novelists and I’m not sure how I feel about Dashner’s writing just yet. With my writing friends, we refer to the journey from one emotion to another as ’emotional blocking.’ I don’t think Dashner does emotional blocking particularly well but I’d hesitate to say that that’s characteristic of YA novels and more an author’s trait. It’s important to make your character’s reactions seem believable and it reflects negatively on Dashner that his readers don’t see this.

Question from Nicole: On page 175, Alby tells them to “protect the maps.” Maps of the maze? But I thought that the maze changed every single day?
I wonder if the Runners are looking for a pattern, whether one exists or not, and plot the maze each day. If there are things that change about it consistently, maybe they can plan on certain changes. Maybe the outer bounds of the maze don’t change so they believe the exit doesn’t move, only the path to the exit. I think there’s a lot of reasons they would want to map the maze each day and I hope we get to see those maps soon.

Question from Katherine: It seems pretty clear that weird stuff is going on in the outside world if somebody bothered to create the Glade/Maze, engineer Grievers, ship people and supplies… etc. I mean, people generally don’t do that stuff if everything’s hunky dory. But Thomas’s memories all seem pretty normal (movie theaters, farms, marathons). Are they fake? Implanted? Thomas himself mentions that maybe the memories revealed by the Changing are actually too horrible to think about…
I think I said in an earlier post that I feel like Thomas’s memories are almost too cookie-cutter. They’re very typical and free of emotion, which makes me think they’re implanted. I think there’s something really terrible going on in the outside world that these boys are hoping to find a cure for. I only hope they succeed

Question from Claudia (a new member of our little party): Let’s say, you were given the opportunity to question one character from this story with guaranteed honest answers, what character would you choose and what questions would you ask?
Gally. I feel like his Changing was particularly eventful and he remembers a lot that he’s not saying. Another caveat of the situation would have to be that the Creators can’t stop him from telling me anything!

Question from Lynn: Why can the girl speak to Thomas and nobody else can hear?
I don’t think she’s really unconscious. I think her inability to speak and talk is a result of the Creators putting her in such a state. I feel like mind-to-mind communication must be a thin in the world these boys come from and part of their forgetting is how to use this skill. I think Teresa is in a semi-unconscious state that makes it so she cannot communicate verbally but she’s still in enough control of her body to talk to Thomas in this way.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think about the book so far. Check out the other blogs here and on the hub page to see what others are saying.

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, 11-June-2014

11 Jun

One down! But know I’m working on each of the other books; just not enough to finish any of them. I wish there was more to report for MizB’s WWW .

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: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson came in and I’ve been able to make more progress on it. I don’t think I’ll finish it again before it’s due, but I’ve made a lot of progress. I finished the next section of The Maze Runner by James Dashner and I’m not sure how I picked such a cliffhanger of a stopping point but DANG. I can’t wait to keep going.  On audiobook I’m listening to The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. My carpool buddy is on vacation so I’m plowing through this on my commute. I think I’m a little over half way and I’m loving it. Since carpool buddy is on vacation,  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is on hold this week. My physical book at the moment is an ARC; O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn. I’m only reading it at lunch so I’m making slow progress but I’ll take it on vacation this weekend and see what I can do. Yes, that’s right, I’m going on vacation! We’re taking the bus so I’ll have plenty of time to read.

Recently finished: With the push of having to make this update, I stayed up and finished reading my NaNo last night! Woooo. Nothing to add to my Goodreads challenge, but hey! I did review The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker but that’s all.

Reading Next:  As my book club doesn’t meet until August, I might have time for something in between. I want to concentrate on finishing O, Africa! next, but there could be one more ARC in line. On audio, I have Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser on reserve at the library. Stay tuned!

Let’s see if I can finish my audiobook by next week. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and 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 Club Reflection: The Housekeeper and the Professor

10 Jun

I have to apologize for the huge delay in posting this. There has been so much I wanted to write about that this post got delayed longer than it should have. My apologies to those in my book club who were waiting for this summary. I’ll try to be better about it going forward.

I wrote my book review of The Housekeeper and the Professor about two weeks ago and I’ll reiterate here that I thought it was charming and sweet. It was a good book to read between books and the ladies of my group agreed that it was like a breath of fresh air. While this will be a shorter book club reflection, I feel that’s appropriate with the shorter length book.

One thing that was brought up that had never crossed my mind was a relationship between the Professor and his sister-in-law. I’d never put together that there was anything between them but the other members were able to point out a few hints that were dropped alluding to a relationship (she was in the car with him when the crash happened, the dedication on his award-winning proof). We suspect that the sister-in-law acted the way she did toward the Housekeeper because she was jealous of any relationship the two of them might have. The sister-in-law must have cared for the Professor on the weekends and still had some feelings toward him and we think she didn’t like to see him interact with another woman. She still wanted to preserve the memory she had of being with her lover in her youth and didn’t want to be his full-time housekeeper to keep this appearance up. We felt she walked a delicate line of taking care of him herself and keeping him at arm’s length.

Another thing that made us wonder was the financial situation that the sister-in-law and Professor had worked out. It seemed she was protective of his financial state, but she had the money. He never cashed the checks from his math prizes and didn’t seem to worry about the at all. Was she protecting his money? Or was he really a burden to her financially? We couldn’t really decide on an answer to this one.

A question that shocked me was if we thought the Housekeeper and the Professor had a romantic relationship. Most of us assumed it was chaste, but the sister-in-law seemed very jealous of the night the Housekeeper spent at his home. Perhaps the sister-in-law suspected it of being romantic, but we shared none of these suspicions. We gathered from her background that she’d never had a strong male figure in her life and even though she was older, he was still a father figure to her; someone she respected and cared for. The background of Root’s father and the Housekeeper’s mother led us to believe that not many people had been kind to her before and she was grateful that the Professor treated her with kindness.

By the end, the sister-in-law seemed to understand that their relationship was nothing more than friendly as she was much nicer to the Housekeeper when the Professor had to be moved into a home.

The Professor’s relationship with Root was really interesting to many of us. He had a great impact on Root who had never had a father figure before. We suspect Root would never have been a math teacher without the Professor’s influence and guidance. We debated why the Professor was so nice to Root. I suspected that he’d had a child or love-child (maybe with his sister-in-law) who he always wanted to care for but never could. Root acted as a surrogate he could care for instead. The rest of my group disagreed and thought Root reminded the Professor of himself in  his youth.

The questions in the back of the book were really good at making us think. The second question reads, “Imagine you are a writer, developing a character with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. How would you manage the very specific terms of that character- for example, his job, his friendships, how he takes c are of himself? Discuss some of the creative ways in which Yoko Ogawa imagines her memory-impaired Professor, from the notes pinned to his suit to the sadness he feels every morning.” We thought she’s found very practical ways to deal with the Professor’s disability. The sadness he felt every morning was heart wrenching, but we wondered if he remembered it 81 minutes later. Did he have small travesties every day? it seemed that his memory was not completely impaired because he seemed to develop emotional memory of the Housekeeper and Root. The parts of our brains that remember facts and feelings are different so this is a likely scenario. Overall, I loved how she was able to take what should have been a very static character due to his illness and turn him into a much my dynamic character by revealing things about him more slowly and changing his circumstances but not his personality. It was very well crafted.

One of the elements of the story we had to talk about was the math. Was it too much? Some found it tedious and overwhelming but I loved it. None of us are really ‘math people’ but we were still able to understand what happened, which I think is a testament to Ogawa’s writing and ability to explain. The one complaint was from our vision-impaired members who said the math was very difficult to understand on the audiobook. I can see that being really challenging because a lot of the math explanations were understandable because of how the problems looked; either stacked or spaced out in patterns. That would be a lot more challenging with no visual.

We liked that math became important to the Housekeeper. She’d never really thought of herself as a smart woman, but she was able to solve problems by herself and the Professor was proud of her when she did. Sh doesn’t want to re-live what happened to her mother and we think she felt that being able to problem solve was something her mother wouldn’t have been able to do. By using a character with no math background, the book invited the reader to learn math while reading. I think that’s a really great concept.

We all felt that the style of the book was very different from what we’re used to reading. We didn’t know if it was a Japanese style of writing or a result of the subject. The book felt quiet, slow, and gentle. This could have been due to mathematics and the way the Housekeeper treated the Professor, or the writer’s style; none of us are familiar with her other work. I would add honest to a list of adjectives to describe the book because nothing felt like a device to connect the plot or say something.

We felt that the story was so well written it could take place anywhere at any time. It didn’t have to be Japan in 1993; it could have been Mexico in 1856. We felt the message was all about living in the moment.

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!

Saturday Writer’s Group: Revising, Critiquing, and Noobs.

9 Jun

I’ve come to really enjoy my Saturday Writing group. The critiques are really good and the writing quality is already high, which makes it fun to give some really good critiques.

Before we got started, I told everyone I was about to embark on the U.S.S Editing and asked for some advice for a safe voyage. I got some great advice!

  • Cut it into sections and re-arrange them on the floor. (For a novel length piece, write the plot points on note cards and rearrange them on the floor to see what works best.
  • Read it aloud
  • Write the plot as you remember it after reading
  • Think about how it relates to your original goal and adjust plot or goal as necessary
  • Think about the main conflict and how it relates to each scene

Thanks to my group for grounding me in this advice!

There were a few points that came up from reading other member’s critiques. One man shared a piece that was writing like a personal essay, but was not about a personal experience. Before he told us this, I thought the piece was a reflection of something that had happened to him and wrote my critique with this thought. When he told us that the plot was fictionalized, I had the desire to re-critique it. I felt that I would have different suggestions if I went into the piece knowing it was fiction. Do you critique differently when something is a memoir or personal essay? What kind of things would you avoid saying? Off the top of my head, I would avoid suggestions for additions or changes to characterization or dialogue. If those things really happened, how truthful is it to change them? I might also leave out some personal opinions about the characters that I might normally give. If they’re real people, I wouldn’t want to offend their personalities!

There was one thing slightly off about our group at this meeting. We had a new member. This group has been really good about new members before so we didn’t think this would be an issue at first. However, it soon became obvious that this member did not understand what our group was about, how we worked, and hadn’t read the pieces we would be discussing. He continually tried to push his (outlined) novel and couldn’t provide a lot of feedback because he was unfamiliar with our pieces. After he left, we considered adding more security to the group website. Our moderator requires that someone submit a sample before joining and this person had not. We were wondering how he was able to see our meeting location.

For those of you in writing groups, how do you handle new members? Do you require writing samples? What do you do with unwelcome new members or people who don’t follow the group rules? I’ll be running the next meeting and he’s promised to return with a friend! I need to be strong and stern looking, and that’s not normally my specialty.

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!

Book Review: The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker (3/5). Advice on how to deal with Alzheimers from 1,000 miles away.

6 Jun

I’ m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to read this book. I received it as part of a Goodreads giveaway at the end of last year and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since. One of the main characters of my NaNo has Alzheimer’s, which is the focus of Walker’s memoir, so I thought this would be a great way to inspire me to keep writing my NaNo. I think it’s worked because I’ve been able to point out some flaws in my book based on hearing about Jeanne’s mom’s disease.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker

Jeanne never anticipated the day she’d have to take care of her mother. Wasn’t it a parent’s job to take care of their children, not the other way around? When Jeanne’s mother started showing signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, she and her sister took action. It was a long process to get their mother the treatment and care she needed. Their mother herself resisted along the way, insisting at times that she could take care of herself and didn’t need to help of her daughters. Jeanne lived in far away Pennsylvania and felt at times helpless to assist her sister with their mother’s care in Texas. Jeanne ended up fighting not only her mother’s illness, but with her inner demons of obligation and duty.

I’m really glad I read this book for my research. I could see the stead slip that Walker’s mother took into the disease and the ways it affected her communication. She does a wonderful job of comparing the stages of the disease and lets the reader know how sever the degradation is. As I read my NaNoWriMo draft about a grandmother with Alzheimer’s, I’m struck at how quick and jerky my character’s progression is and how I’ve inaccurately portrayed the important steps in Alzheimer’s progression. As research is discouraged during NaNo, I’m not surprised and I’m glad I have Walker’s story to provide some guidance.

I think Walker wrote about her mother in a very loving way. When someone around you is going through a trying medical condition, it can be easy to become angry; misplacing fear and frustration with the disease on the person him or herself. Maybe hindsight is 20-20 but Walker was very kind with her mother and her patience is commendable.

I liked the portrayal of Walker’s sister, Julie, who served as a primary caregiver due to her proximity to where their mother lived. I enjoyed reading about the struggle the sisters faced in their mother’s illness and how they were able to use it to strengthen their relationship. I admired Julie’s courage and strength to care for her mother and maintain her family obligations and job. She is a very strong woman.

I related to the character’s struggle a bit. When I was in middle school, my mom was in a bicycle accident and my brother and I had to help out a lot more than a 12- and 10-year-old would normally be expected to. I understood Walker’s initial confusion and disorientation about needing to care for the person who’s always cared for you. So far, I’ve been lucky enough to have both my parents with me and it looks like they’ll be around for a long time. I hope not to go through what she experienced for a long time.

Jeanne Murray Walker

Jeanne Murray Walker

Walker peppered the books with small flashbacks to her childhood that helped illustrate the stark differences between her mother of years before and the deteriorating woman she saw daily. These helped me see the change more strongly and I think helped her convey the change without hitting the reader over the head with it.

Reading about Walker’s mother moving was very difficult. It was obvious that part of what kept her centered was being in a place she recognized, but that was becoming impossible with her care needs. It was really hard to read about the emotional turmoil she went through to see her things in another space. I felt like her condition worsened more quickly at this point and it made me sad to read.

I felt a lot of hope in Walker’s book. She gave a message that even when we’re losing someone, there’s still a way to hold on to the person he or she used to be. I live far away from my grandparents and it’s hard to hear about their declining health (they’re in their 90s!). I know that even as they get older, their younger selves are still inside and will continue to thrive long past when they’re gone.

Writer’s Takeaway: Walker is a poet if one can believe the cover flap, and her prose had a lot of that poetic feel. I liked the emotional feel of this novel and I think that as a non-poet, it helped me feel more confident to use poetic license in prose. If something as factual as a memoir can be poetic, why can’t my Historical Fiction Young Adult novel?

I really enjoyed this book, but it didn’t grip me. I found the beginning a bit slow and kept finding myself reading something else. The ending was tight and well constructed and kept my attention. Three out of five stars.

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

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!

Related Posts:
the geography of memory | Melissa Reeser Poulin
Bearing witness to hope when memory fails | Adele Gallogly

Meeting Author Chris Bohjalian

5 Jun
Me and Chris Bohjalian

Me and Chris Bohjalian

I’ve been meaning to write this for a month and I’m overwhelmed because I took SO MANY NOTES when Chris was speaking. Instead of summing up by saying, “What an incredible man!” I do want to go through what he said. Hold you nose and dive in, this will be a long one.

My first impression of Chris was him walking to the podium with a Red Bull in his hand and telling a story about wearing another man’s underwear while on a book tour. Is there a better way to meet someone? I don’t think so. After that story, he started at the beginning, telling us about the 250 rejection slips he got for short stories before he finally sold his first one. And where, Reader, do you think he sold his first story? Cosmopolitan magazine. Yep. But the positive turn was that after he sold it, agents started to approach him. They asked him if he was working on a novel. So of course, he started working on a novel. And like I’ve heard from many writers, he hated it. The only way to learn to write better is to keep writing. So naturally a first book, looking back, is not reflective of an author’s best work. On the bright side, it taught him to learn how to deal with bad reviews.

Chris made some general comments about literacy that I appreciated and want to share. Did you know there are more libraries than McDonald’s in the US? Yeah, fact checked that one. And this makes me incredibly happy because of how much I love my library and how much I enjoy participating in its programs. An opinion he had that made me really happy is that the physical book will not disappear. That seems to be a fear of publishers nowadays, but Chris thinks it’s an overreaction. Modern society has a 4000 year history with books. They hold our past and we have a cultural connection with them. Recorded music has not been around for near as long; only since vinyl popularized it. Our society wasn’t as connected to vinyl so moving from that to tapes to CDs to computer files didn’t force us to lose any part of a shared culture. Books are here to stay. Yay!

Chris’s presentation (and yes, I believe we’re on a first name basis because he follows me on Instagram) was focused mainly on the book that our library read, Before You Know Kindness. You can read my review and book club discussion to dive into the conversations I’ve had about the book. Chris said he is often classified as an ‘issues oriented’ author and it’s easy to think that Before You Know Kindness is one such book but in his mind, it’s not. Many of his books were written to address an issue, but this one was written to reconnect with his own family. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Bohjalian was thinking about his own family, especially his wife who had previously worked in those towers. He thought back to a conversation he’d overheard in his family about crows and ravens and shiny dimes; a conversation that appears in the opening pages of this book. He based Spencer on himself. Both are vegetarians for the same reasons, having realized the pain of animals after spending a summer slaughtering lobsters for hungry tourists so much that Chris says of himself, “I am the Hannibal Lector of crustaceans.” When his mother-in-law read the piece, she responded with a quote from Zelda Fitzgerald, “[Mr. Fitzgerald, I believe that is how he spells his name,] seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.”

The audience asked amazing questions. Why was FERAL portrayed as so evil in the book if the author himself believes in their goal? In short, it makes for a better story. It adds conflict and allows for human transformation. Spencer needed to change in the book; he needed to show the reader his ‘before and after’ from the horrible accident. At the beginning, he and Charlotte are both very unlikable. Their heads are in the clouds and Charlotte is behaving like a 21st century Mary Lennox, the character she’s cast as in The Secret Garden.  By the end, they are quite different.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

What does the cover image mean? Chris did not pick the picture himself. He thinks it’s supposed to represent an idyllic summer. Maybe the girl is Charlotte, hosing her self off to stay cool. Maybe it’s Katherine as a girl. He says that covers don’t have to be literal because we can create whatever we want them to be in our minds, the same way that we create the characters and setting of a story.

Why did Nan have to die? This was a question our book club covered and one of our members was brave enough to ask. We were more or less spot on. Chris says that the grown-ups needed to lose their matriarch so they could be grown-ups themselves. With her around, they could still act like kids and focus on themselves. After she was gone, they had to stop reliving adolescents.

Do you consciously write in such complex sentences? One of the audience members thought he used too many semicolons and long sentences and this was my one complaint of the book. Chris said that his books tend to be of two types; those in first person which have shorter sentences, reflecting the thought process of the narrator and those with longer sentences where he is able to weave humor, horror, and all other emotions into his sentences.

How did you learn so much about guns? The same way the lawyers in the book did: research and interviews. He never wanted to wake his reader from their fictional dream with something inauthentic.

Why weren’t you harder on gun control? When he wrote the first draft of Before You Know Kindness, it was 185,000 words long. The final is about 135,000 words. In edits, he took out about 90,000 and added 40,000. In trimming it down, he decided it was easier to deal with one issue (animal rights) and leave out any others (gun control) to focus the story. Yay for editing.

There were some questions about Chris’s other books which I haven’t read. The first was about what inspired him to write Trans-Sister Radio. The main premise of the story was based on something that happened to a friend of his. Her boyfriend decided to have a sex change and wanted to stay together. This friend kept hoping her boyfriend would change his mind but he didn’t and went through with the surgery. Afterword, they broke up but she confessed to Chris that he (now she) had been the love of her life but her mental attachments to gender wouldn’t allow her to stick with that person. Chris was inspired to write about if love could survive a sex change.

Nicole and Chris Bohjalian

Nicole and Chris Bohjalian

He was asked about his book The Buffalo Soldier. In this book, he wanted to explore grief. Many times a marriage crumbles when a child dies and in this story, the main couple tries to fill that hole with a foster child. He has members of his family who adopted Asian children  and are themselves white. Chris noticed in his home state of Vermont that his children were in all-White schools. What if the foster child adopted to fill the shoes of a lost child was a different race from the parents and the only non-White in a small community? Boom- instant story.

I was convinced to add The Sandcastle Girls to my reading list based on the discussion about it. Chris was asked if it was his Armenian heritage that inspired him to write the book and he answered with a resounding ‘yes.’ He said that his identity as an Armenian has become very important to him in his adult life. It made me think of my relative Tom Mooradian who I’ve posted about before. I asked Tom later if he knew Chris (because how big can the Armenian writers’ community be?) and he said yes (answer- small). He was asked about the title of the book, because it doesn’t seem to carry the weight of the Armenian Genocide, a focus of the book. Bohjalian explained that he chose the title because he was told that the book would be released in July and in his words, “July is where literary fiction goes to die.” It’s beach reads season and a story about the massacre of the Armenians might not count as ‘light and fun.’ He’d also seen that a lot of successful titles are three words long and begin with ‘The’ so it seemed a good place to start. The line ‘the sandcastle girls’ does appear in the book, so there is still a thin reference to text in the title.

Someone asked him if he ever thought about what happened to his characters after the book ended and he said that had only happened to him once. It was the book Skeletons at the Feast and it was the only time he’s ever considered a sequel. He compared the feeling to postpartum depression and said he missed his characters immensely. I can understand being very protective of your characters!

I was really excited that Chris spoke extensively about his writing process. He said that he writes one book at a time, only moving on to the next when he’s finished the final draft of the previous book. Before something is ‘done,’ he goes through tons of revisions and feels like he “publishes to stop re-writing.” Sometimes his characters will shock him in what they do and where the story around them goes. Chris self-identifies as a pantser: a writer who begins with no plan and writes by the ‘seat of his pants.’ (My term, not his.) Every fifty pages or so, he’ll print out his writing and edit it by hand with a fountain pen so that he’s forced to write slowly and think about the changes he’s making. Then he goes on to the next 50 pages, etc.

Mt. Abraham

Mt. Abraham

I loved what he said about his writing routine. He wakes up and starts writing by 6 AM in his living room, facing Mt. Abraham. He writes for six hours, ending at noon with 750-1000 words (a bit slower than NaNo speeds). After lunch, he goes on a bike ride. If you follow him on Instagram, you can see some of the beautiful sites he sees. Once he gets back, it’s research time until dinner, after which he updates his social media presence. I think it would be great to have a routine like this. But that requires a couple best sellers, so it’s still in the works.

As I always do, I asked Chris what advice he would give to me as a fledgling writer and he gave me three great pieces of advice.

  1. When you start writing for the day, re-write the last 100 words you had before. This gives you a good way to ramp into what you’re going to say. (He thinks he got this from Hemingway, so thank you Papa!)
  2. Leave a little gas in the tank. Don’t write until you’re exhausted and can barely keep your eyes open. Save some for the next day.
  3. Embrace synonyms. Find big words and use them (correctly). I’ll add that as in his writing, Chris has a great vocabulary when he speaks and it’s very obvious how much he loves words.

I encourage you to find him on Goodreads and see what he reads. He’s a very active member. I’ll say again how great of a person he is, giving Nicole and I more time than we deserved to talk to us about writing. I was very humbled and enjoyed talking to him.

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, 4-June-2014

4 Jun

SO MUCH PROGRESS!!! It feels good to participate in MizB’s WWW and be able to brag about it.

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 making more steady progress on my NaNo. I’m about 3/4 of the way done with it and I’ve realized there’s a lot of filler I need to cut out. It will be an interesting revision process. I’m still on hold for The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson but I am next on the list. I’ll start on The Maze Runner by James Dashner again this weekend. I bet I’m done with the next section by the time I report back.. On audiobook I’m listening to The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. It was the first book on my long list that the library had in non-CD-but-still-audio form. Go figure. My carpool buddy and I are still working on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I’m not sure how I feel about it still and we go long times without listening to it so I’m not sure how long this will take! My physical book at the moment is an ARC; O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn. I’m still trying to figure out the voice of the narrator and it’s making it hard for me to get into, but I’m excited about something rooted in the 1920s!

Recently finished: Two! I finished two books! The first is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is for my informal work book club and I was the first to read it so I could pass it on. We’ll meet to discuss when the third woman has finished it. I also finished  Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan on audio. This was for one of my book clubs as well and I liked it a lot. The writing was a good mix of scientific fact and memoir. Look for reviews soon.

I’ve posted a review for I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak yesterday. Enjoy!

Reading Next:  It’s going to be A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers for my ‘edgy’ book club. This book sounds really cool so I’m excited to get started on it!

My goal is to finish reading my NaNo in the next week. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and 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: I Am The Messegener by Markus Zusak (4/5). I still don’t know how this ended.

3 Jun

I won’t lie: I read this book because I loved The Book Thief. I don’t think that’s really a bad thing, but these titles were so different that it’s hard to compare them at all. I liked it, but not in the same way I liked The Book Thief. It was a different premise. Unusual. Enjoyable.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Ed is no one special. He lives in a run-down shack with his dog and drives a taxi even though he’s too young to do so. He’s got his friends: Marv and Richie and the beautiful yet untouchable Audrey. So why is Ed receiving messages? Who decided that Ed should be the messenger? They come written on aces and Ed suspects it’s his friends whom he plays cards with. No such luck. The aces guide him to people who need his help. Sometimes it’s something little like an ice cream cone. Sometimes it’s something big, like letting himself be beaten up. Whatever it is, Ed has to deliver his message until there are no more names on his lists.

I liked the originality of this story; it came as something very fresh and new. It’s nice to read a book about people helping each other instead of tearing each other down. I have to say, the ending was really confusing for me. I had to search Google to find out what had happened (and so you know, I am going to discuss it. You have been warned). I like that Zusak inserted himself into the story to an extent. But I was also hoping that he would have found an awesome way to bring everything full circle and felt a little cheated that he didn’t. The ending confused me so much at first that I walked away from it upset instead of inspired. I wish he’d done something more with it.

The characters came alive for me in the last section in particular. The people Ed had to help along the way weren’t very well-developed and didn’t need to be, but I was curious to see what would happen with Ed’s close friends. I loved Marv’s story and thought it explained his character very well. Zusak did a wonderful job at dropping hints to Marv’s secret during the whole story and tying them together at the end. I wasn’t as big of a fan of Audrey’s story, but I loved her character. I see girls like her far too often and I wish they could find the respect for themselves that they deserve.

The Doorman was my favorite character because of the way Zusak wrote him. I liked that he was personified in the way pet-owners come to think of their pets. I’m convince of my turtle’s personality and I can only imagine what dog owners imagine for their dogs. I listened to the audio version of this book and the vocal performer did a great job with the Doorman’s voice.

Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak

I could relate to Ed’s search for a purpose in life and I think many readers can. Being recently out of college, newly married, and an aspiring writer, there’s a lot in my life that’s up to chance and waiting to see what comes next at this point. It was refreshing to see a character who felt the same way and was contented to wait for life to come to him instead of the other way around.

When I decided to switch industries, I felt a lot like Ed did in the story. I had people around me that were supportive, but I felt like I was on my own to find something that would change me into a happier person. Ed’s journey to deliver the messages reminded me of this time of my life.

I loved the part of the book when Ed and his friends helped Father O’Riley bring people into his church. I’m Catholic myself and have been to shrinking parishes and they always make me sad. Frequently, it has nothing to do with the priest, as was the case in this vignette. It seems to me that many Americans (and evidently Australians s well) have lost their desire to have a faith-based community. There were a few details about Catholic mass and culture that I think Zusak missed, but it was overall a very realistic depiction of the current problems the Catholic church is facing. I loved that Ed was able to help.

The ending has to be my least favorite part. As I said before, it felt cheap to me and like Zusak didn’t have a good way to wrap up the awesome story he wove together. I get that he wanted to talk about existentialism, but it was kind of a let down as the reader to know the whole thing is the author’s manipulation of a character’s feelings. If we’re all players in some big author’s game, when do we get the message that our ability to control our own futures is out of our hands? Will God show up on my doorstep the way Zusak showed up on Ed’s? Probably not, so why is Ed so lucky?

Because I don’t want to get into existentialism, I’m going to talk about the theme of love. The most difficult relationship for me to process was the one between Ed and his mother. It struck too close to home with a good friend and his mother. My friend’s mother never seems to be happy with him, no matter what he does, much like Mrs. Kennedy. I know that my friend’s mom loves him, but it’s really hard to see. I wish my friend’s mom would say to him what Mrs. Kennedy said to Ed, “It takes a lot of love to hate you like this.”

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m not sure about this one. Zusak tries to do something different with the narrator, much like he does with The Book Thief, but I’m not sure how well it paid off this time. Inserting himself into the story is very original and was quite the plot twist, but it wasn’t the same as using Death as a narrator. It didn’t have the same umph. I think as writers we do need to test the boundaries of conventional writing and Zusak is a great example of this. This book is wonderful, but a good note that you won’t always hit a home-run with all of your readers.

Overall, very enjoyable and original, though I wasn’t a fan of the ending. Four out of five stars.

This book fulfills Foreign Country: Australia for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

Like this review? Let me know on Goodreads.

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!

Related Posts:
Book Review: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak | midnight coffee monster
Book Review: “I Am the Messenger” by Markus Zusak | The Scriptorium
I Am the Messenger, Markus Zusak | Baltimore Reads
Book Review – I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak | realizinggrace

Challenge Update, May

2 Jun

Summer is finally here and May is over! I just spent some time at the pool and it was wonderful. I can’t wait for more pool-side reading! So let me update you on those pesky challenges which I’m not too great at fulfilling. You can check out my reading challenges any time on my challenge page.

Books read in May:

Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker

When Are You Reading? Challenge

6/13
This is my challenge to read a book from 13 different time periods. You can read about it here. My timeline tracks when my books take place and you can see that it’s a bit contemporary heavy. This is kind of unlike me so I’m surprised. I love historical fiction, but I haven’t been reading a lot of it. The book I hope to tackle next will be set in the 1920s so I have the potential for one more but the books I’m reading now won’t help much. No progress this month.

Where Are You Reading? Challenge

10/50 (+7)
Hosted by Sheila. In the challenge to read a book from every state, I took a little hop from 8 (+5). My map shows that I strangely read books set in New York and California disproportionately. I am happy to report that I added two new states and two new countries this month and I’m having a lot more success than I thought I would with this challenge. So I’ll check off Texas and Maine as well as Afghanistan and Japan. Woo!

Goodreads Challenge

24/35
I’m 10 ahead of schedule! I thought I’d start on some long audiobooks, but they’re all checked out from the library when I want to start them and I don’t plan well enough to place holds. I’ve got a few more short books lined up next so this may continue to be well ahead of pace. Is it about time to push out my goal? I’m thinking it might be!

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!