Archive | June, 2015

Library Writers Group: Don’t be Afraid to Share

30 Jun

Another month, another great meeting of the writers group at my library. I really enjoy this group and the people I’ve met being a part of it. Our topic for the month was giving and receiving constructive criticism.

Many of you probably heard about the latest Goodreads blow-up between an author and a reader. Author Dylan Saccoccio was none too pleased with the 1-star review left on his book and, well, you can read about it here and here if you want. Saccoccio’s account was deleted after it was found out he bribed people for 5-star reviews so the rest of the conversation is still on Goodreads but without the author’s comments. So this becomes a good teaching point. How to we respond to negative criticism?

If you look, the reader’s comments aren’t very bad. She was objective, didn’t attack the author personally and was specific about what she didn’t like. It didn’t work for her, she’s not saying it’s a bad book no one should read. But as a writer, that’s our fear. We’re afraid people will hate our book and tear us apart for what we’ve written, destroying the small kernel of self-esteem we still have. As a result, many of us are afraid to show our work to others. Our one piece of advice on this is to wait a few months after writing something before having it critiqued. It feels less ‘fresh’ that way.

Most people benefit from group critique but having a critique partner is another good way to do this. Some people in the group had found helpful communities online, but most of us had people in our lives who were helpful. I have a few friends I’ve met through other writers groups and other had workshop groups or friends themselves. One thing we advised is that if you walk into a group and continue to talk about how you need someone to read your work, it’s not going to happen. Most people want a critique partner they trust to read their stuff and who won’t burn them by stealing ideas or not reading in return. It’s best to build a relationship before asking someone to read your work. But not too close, because then they won’t say mean things to hurt you.

Our little grammar nugget for this week was the passive voice. There are some good times to use the passive voice! Three we listed were when the subject is unknown (The church was built in 1507), there are several actions (I was arrested, released, and ticketed) or to create suspense (The door was opened). One piece of advice I can give is to turn on your Readability Statistics if you use Microsoft Word. It will run after every spell check and tells you what percent of your sentences are in passive voice. Look online for a target for your genre/reading level.

That’s it for this month! We’ll be back in August with more.

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: On the Okey Dokey Trail by I. Leigh Private

29 Jun Cover image via Goodreads.com

I’ve been so bad at reading ARCs that I stopped requesting them. Most of my book choices are for book clubs. But with a summer break coming up, I found myself with time to read for pleasure and decided it was time to grab one of the ARCs off my shelf. I won On the Okey Dokey Trail from a Goodreads giveaway a few months ago. I’d stopped requesting books, but this one piqued my attention because it sounded like the comedic memoirs I’ve been enjoying lately. So I requested and won. Look at my luck.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

On the Okey Dokey Trail: A Smart-Alec Perspective on the Give and Take of Life by I. Leigh Private

Summary from Goodreads:

On the Okey Dokey Trail is a collection of humorous stories about relationships, work, parenthood, plastic surgery, bad car karma, photography, weed, golf lessons, serendipity, popular culture, plus so much more.

This book WILL NOT help you find or keep a love relationship, grow the perfect rose or child, surmount life’s inexplicable tragedies, reinvent yourself, have a career in Hollywood, or extract the cream filling from a cupcake without it crumbling.

This book WILL make you laugh and offer a perspective on all the above and whatever life serves up.

We are so sure of our ability to entertain you that, in this one-time limited offer, we will guarantee 1-3 LOLs or your money back, no questions asked. Well, we may question if you even have a sense of humor, but it will be rhetorical. We would never post your name anywhere, pinky-swear.

I’m not sure if I got my full three LOLs, but I had one or two. These stories were short and cute. I enjoyed them, but I wish there was more. Some of the stories were three pages. I didn’t feel like I got anything out of them that told me about the ‘give and take.’ The title and synopsis gave me some expectations about the topics and the idea that there would be some kind of moral lesson in these stories. And in the longer ones, I felt there was. But most of these stories were short or moderate in length and it wasn’t enough time for me to get into them. I liked them, I thought they were funny, but I didn’t get anything out of them. I wish the author had gone into them more.

The writer portrayed herself in a very believable way. I liked that she made fun of herself and her flaws because it made me respect her for being able to see her own faults. Sometimes that’s hard to do. I didn’t like that when she talked about her husband and children, they didn’t seem real or were the straight man against her crazy antics. When I’m acting crazy, not everyone around me is on board, but they’re not stoic either. There’s a balance.

Besides the narrator, we only get to know one other character; her brother, Mike. She made him very easy to like. He was fun, social, nice, helpful, everything. No matter how true this is, I want to believe it and I want it to be true. I like that her title comes from the epitaph on his tombstone.

Everyone does something stupid every once in a while and I think that’s why these stories are very relatable. I may not have melted plaster or had the man I was going to interview parallel park my car, but I’ve done equally stupid foot-in-mouth things. Ms. Private was very open about her experiences from behind her pen name and I appreciated that in her story.

I liked the Lamaze story about picking up her daughter from camp. I thought it showed how quirky she was and how much she loved her children while being both funny and heartfelt. It was the perfect balance that I felt the whole book was aiming for. To me, it was the best-balanced story.

‘Up Close’ was my least favorite story where the author talked about photography and lenses. I disliked it only because it’s not something I know about, I’m not interested in it, and the story was so short that I didn’t get much of anything out of it. There was no depth or relatability.

Private gives her own theme: the give and take of life. Obviously her big ‘take’ was her brother and to a lesser degree her mother. She mentions leaving her career behind for a while to be a mother and the rewarding experience it was for her while others disagreed. She focuses intently on the loss of her brother which was obviously a traumatic experience for her. I’m not going to say her humor is a way to cover up grief; she’s very open with her grief and seems to have accepted the loss over time. But, as the title implies, there is also give. She has two wonderful children, has met some great and inspiring people and has been able to be a part of projects that she’s cared about. We have to take the bad with the good and balance it out. Nothing will ever be perfect.

Writer’s Takeaway: I like the short personal essay style. I think it makes a good memoir for someone who wants to share their life and not just a portion of it. The book had childhood memories and very recent experiences. I liked the wide time span. However, as I’ve said, the stories needed more depth. Each needed to relate to either the ‘give’ or ‘take’ the author mentions and I felt a few fell short of that.

Enjoyable and a quick read. Three out of Five Stars.

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: La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

25 Jun

For anyone who follows my WWW Wednesday posts, you know how long I’ve been reading La Sombra del Viento. It’s been a journey through this epic Spanish story and I’m glad to have read it in the original language. Yes, at the expense of it taking six months. The read graph from Goodreads is really incredible (included below). But now it’s over. And truthfully, I’m not sure how good of a review I can give. So I got a beer and we’ll see how it goes.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Summary from Goodreads:

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

I hope I’m remembering the middle of the book well. The beginning, Daniel’s story with Clara, and the ending when we find out the truth are very memorable. However, there was a lot in the middle that didn’t affect the overall plot very much and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten a lot of it. I loved the last 150 pages of this book, which unsurprisingly I flew through. I loved the mystery that had been building around me and how wonderfully everything I thought I knew crashed down. I loved the romance, revenge, murder, all of it. More than anything, I loved how Daniel’s life mirrored Carax’s youth and how the two reacted to this; how they wanted things to be different yet the same between them. It was a really beautiful story, thought it could have gone without some of the fluff in the middle.

Whenever there is a group of friends in a book, it’s important to make them all stand out and create unique characters. (Side note, this is part of what I loved so much about The Round House.) Carax, Fumero, Ramos, Moliner, and Aldaya were a great group to tell the story. And the parallels between Carax/Aldaya and Daniel/Tomas were awesome. I believed each boy as a separate character and understood his motivations and reasons for feeling a certain way about Carax/Daniel. Fermin was a bit much for me, but I can get over that. And Clara was a bit hard to buy into, but again the characters surrounding them were so strong that I can forget about my few misgivings and focus on the great characterization of the main storytellers.

Reading chart via Goodreads

Reading chart via Goodreads

Nuria was my favorite character. Her letter is what drew me into the book completely. She suffered so much for a man who didn’t even love her and she did it all without complaining. I felt bad for her and I idolized her at the same time. She was a strong and weak person at the same time. And she was the only one who knew all the secrets everyone was keeping. She was the lynchpin in a story she never wanted to be a part of. I thought she was a great person to tell Carax’s story and I really enjoyed how she told it.

I most related to Daniel. Like him, I love stories and books and his whole adventure was because of an author he liked. He let books take him on the ultimate adventure. He also loved with his whole heart, which I think is an admirable quality. He loved Clara until she shattered his heart, and then he gave everything to Bea. I would want to be in love with someone who would do so much for me and I would like to think I’m like that person as well.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon Image via the BBC

Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Image via the BBC

As I’ve said, I liked Nuria’s storytelling. It brought the book full circle for me and got me staying up late and waking up early to finish the book. I felt like I was reading a confession thought it wasn’t her story to tell. She took everything I thought I knew and flipped it all on its head. I loved it.

I felt the middle dragged. Now that I’ve finished the novel, there were things in the middle I don’t feel helped lead Daniel to the ending or could have been skipped and we would have still arrived at the same ending. Now that I think about it, there were things at the beginning that could have been shortened as well. But overall, the book had such a wonderful impression on me that maybe none of it should be cut. All of it should be there because it was great the way it was.

Oh the ways our grudges can consume us. Aldaya died for his. Carax should have many times. And the blood on selfish hands is more than a single person can count. There were very epic themes in this book. The grudges Fumero and Carax held for years and years consumed their thoughts and actions so much that they were unable to live a full life. And Carax was so selfish that he let others suffer for what he thought would make him happy. As much as Carax is our hero, he’s also the greatest villain. I loved that about him.

Writer’s Takeaway: I liked the format Ruiz Zafon used. There was time when Daniel was young, when he was a teenager, the letter from Nuria, and later in life. These were very distinctly separated with chapters within each. It made starting a new section a little intimidating, but I still enjoyed diving in knowing that I was in the section for a long time. I hope that makes sense.

Really enjoyable with a great twist to the plot at the end. I wish I’d read it continuously. Four out of Five stars.

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 Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: Book Review | ThesePaperWords
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon | John Adcox

WWW Wednesday, 24-June-2015

24 Jun

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

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


BitesCurrently reading:  No progress on Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It was starting to get good and I lost my hold on the ebook. I’ll get it back soon, though!
My only audiobook now is Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli so I’m making some decent progress. It’s a long one, though, so it could be a while. I’m loving the re-living of my Potterhead heydays.
I grabbed a random book off my shelves. A few years ago, my husband was at a book exchange and decided he needed to grab me a copy of Wuthering Bites by Sarah Gray. I hated Wuthering Heights when I read it in high school but husband insisted it’s because I was too young and it would be better with vampires. So far, he’s right.
I also started another ebook while I wait for Cloud Atlas to come back (because I’m impatient). I choose I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I know it’s been out for a while, but I’m really excited to read this.

PenumbraRecently finished: So many finished! I got through On the Okey Dokey Trail by I. Leigh Private after posting this last week. It was okay: enjoyable for sure.
I also finished up A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin on Thursday. I really liked it and put the sequel on my TBR right away.
ALSO! We went on a road trip over the weekend and got through the entire audiobook of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. It was awesome. I can’t wait to write the review for this great book. The audiobook is highly recommended.

HotelReading Next: The John Irving book may still be on, but not immediately. I still plan to go after Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford next. This will likely go with me on vacation in a week. It looks like a good one to read by the campfire.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

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!

Insurgent Movie- Please just make one more.

23 Jun
Poster image via IMDb.com

Poster image via IMDb.com

I will be honest here and say I avoided seeing this movie. I know it came out three months ago, but I was disappointed with the previews and knew from those how far from the book the screenwriters had deviated. So I didn’t want to see it. But then last week I wanted to see a movie and this was the only thing that looked remotely interesting and it was only $3 at the second-run theater. So I saw it. And while I was disappointed with how much changed, I still enjoyed it. But yet again, the ending. I’ll get to it.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Set design. Yes, the sweeping shots of post-apocalyptic Chicago were awesome, but the amount of detail the set designers paid to Amity and the Factionless was incredible. Especially the Factionless and the inside of Evelyn’s apartment. It gave them the appearance of being organized which helped the moviegoer reorganize his thoughts about the group.

Jerk Factionless guy. He gave the group a voice without it seeming disjointed and I thought he was a really good add. Plus the train fight scene was pretty intense.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

The box. The previews made me want to hate whatever was in the box, but in the end, I think it was a good way to simplify the plot and give a good reason for Jeanine.

Downplaying Marcus. In the book, Marcus was right out annoying and any issue he had with Four was well downplayed. I thought Four had enough to deal with when his mother showed up and he didn’t need his pestering father around as well.

Tris’s fear of guns. In the book, she was so squeamish around guns because of what she’d done to Will. It was almost annoying. I understood her reaction, but I felt the nightmares she had in the movie were a better manifestation and were more in line with her character because she should still do anything necessary to survive.

 

Things That Were Taken Out and I’m Still Wondering Why

Tris’s execution. In the book, it was very deliberate and very public. Her death was Jeanine’s way of showing she had won. Tris’s death in the movie was very small and private and Jeanine didn’t seem to think too much of it at all. It didn’t have the right feel to it.

Knowing Tris was second generation. I loved that we never found out how Jeanine knew this. It made me like Jeanine. But in the movie, we don’t know what this means and we don’t hear it at all. What gives?

The amount of Divergent in Factionless. It makes sense that so many of the Factionless are Divergent. They don’t fit in at any one place, so they’re Factionless. It made them stronger to me, but this small fact seems to have been left out.

Things That Changed Too Much

The Ending. I walked out mad because of this. Instead of eight or so people knowing what’s going on and leaving the wall, we’ve got five thousand on our hands. What are the experiment leaders going to do with this amount of people in the next movie? How can the plot even be remotely similar? I’m really confused at the enormity of this change and what the writers were thinking. It was way too much.

Casting for Evelyn. She looked 32 and Four looks 27. There’s too much of an age discrepancy here and it was weird.

Reader, I’m dying to know what you think. What did you think of the Insurgent movie? Did it change the book too much for you to enjoy? Do you think Allegiant will be made into two films? Was there anything else you would add to my lists?

Until next time, write on.

Book Club Reflection: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

22 Jun Cover Image via Goodreads.com

For someone who’s such a big Harry Potter fan, I’m coming to realize I’m not a big into fantasy. While I enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I wasn’t blown away and it didn’t make me want to read every word he’s ever written. That being said, I’m glad there are people who loved this book and I’m glad a few of them were at my book club meeting because I think I appreciate the book more now with the fantasy fan perspective.

For those of us that didn’t enjoy it, many of gave the reason of feeling like this was a children’s novel. Gaiman has made it very clear that he sees this as a book for adults. He’s quoted as saying,

“I thought — it’s really not a kids’ story — and one of the biggest reasons it’s not a kids’ story is, I feel that good kids’ stories are all about hope. In the case of Ocean at the End of the Lane, it’s a book about helplessness. It’s a book about family, it’s a book about being 7 in a world of people who are bigger than you, and more dangerous, and stepping into territory that you don’t entirely understand.” (NPR Interview)

Despite this, it still read like a children’s novel at times and those of us who hadn’t read Gaiman before felt it wasn’t the best introduction to him as an author.

Regardless of the above complaints, the book was a fast read and we were all sucked into it for that. Many of the things that happened to our narrator happened to Gaiman. He grew up in the 1960s and he had a neighbor commit suicide in a car near his home. We wondered if this is a story he made up for himself at the time to cope with something traumatic happening to him. I remember doing this as a child to make bad situations less stressful. Maybe his dad did have an affair with his nanny and imagining her as a magical creature made it easier to cope with.

If we think about it, Gaiman is likely the narrator. No one in the family is ever named even though all the secondary characters had names. We never know whose funeral he is coming back for though we know the sister is involved. (We think it’s the father.) So can we assume that the birthday party no one came to was real? From what our Gaiman loves knew about him, he was the bookish child described in the story. He is the type who would want a book on his birthday cake. Having no one show up to your birthday party is a little odd only because his parents were not aware that something like this would happen. Why wouldn’t they know the boy’s friends’ parents? If there’s a reason the friends’ parents didn’t want their children to attend the party, are the boy’s parents at fault? I don’t know too much about Gaiman’s family life, but I wonder if this is the case.

The boy was a very fearful person. It’s not weird for children to be afraid of the dark, but the extreme measure to which the boy went made a few of us question how it would affect him later in life. We see that as a middle-aged man he’s afraid that his life isn’t good enough. Lettie died for him to live and he’s scared that his life isn’t good enough or worthy of that sacrifice. But isn’t every life worth a sacrifice?

One of our discussion questions asked us why he was chosen for the adventures in this book. We had two schools of thought. The first was that he was special because of his bookish tendencies and imagination. The Hempstock’s needed someone who could believe in unbelievable things and there was no way an adult could do that. The second idea is that he made them up to cope with something traumatic in his life and if you make up magical creatures, they’re going to like you. No one would make up magical creatures that don’t like you. It was part of a game he was playing with himself.

Ursula was a great villain for this book. She kept us reading when a few of us were starting to doubt the book. She, like most villains, didn’t see herself as evil; she gave people what they wanted. The mother wanted meaning and work, she got it. The father might have wanted passion, which she also provided. Maybe he wanted a son who was more athletic and less passive so drowning him in the bathtub was something he wanted. Ursula was just trying to help.

We were all fascinated at the idea of Ursula being a work in his foot. Though we were a bit surprised he didn’t go to his parents about it. You would think a medical concern like that would warrant parental attention. The stereotype of British parents as standoffish and removed was only reinforced here.

Ignoring Gaiman’s earlier quote, we asked ourselves if the ending was positive or negative. We had one vote for positive, which was that the boy seemed to have some closure with his father, even if it’s after (what we think was) his death. The rest of the votes were for negative and very antichildren’s story. Lettie is checking up on him and will never forget the price she paid for him to live. And he never seems to live up to that potential and will continue to forget the sacrifice she paid for him. Talk about a downer.

I asked the group why the Hempstocks were all women. Why weren’t the men powerful? It goes back to mythology, I’m told, to a trope of the maid, the mother, and the crone. In Greek mythology, it was Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate. The three are indicative of a woman’s lifespan and represent all women. Plus, women are more caring for the poor boy and they talk more, which helps move a plot.

So what was this book about? We think a quote from page 112 says it well. Appropriately, these words come from Lettie’s mouth.

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not a one in the whole wide world.”

Adults are no different from children. They have no more knowledge or confidence than our young narrator has. All that’s different is that they’ve lost the ability to look at the world with an open mind. This book was to help us remember when we saw the magic in this world and how wonderful it was.

Our book club is taking the summer off and will come back in September. So here’s to a summer of me-chosen books to read next to the pool.

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!

Be a Friend

18 Jun

No matter where you live, I’m guessing you have a home library. Libraries take many forms across the world, but I’m lucky enough to live in an area with a traditional library system. I love that my library offers more than books. We have movies, audiobooks, games, computer access, classes, lectures and any kind of event you can imagine. In reality, not all of these activities aren’t paid for by city funds. Some of its paid for through grants, but a lot of the money comes from the Friends of the Library.

I joined the Friends of the Library in May of last year. My husband thought it was odd that I would want to join because most members are retired and have money to spend while we were 24 and just beginning to save money for our future. But it was only $20 and there’s little you can do to argue with $20.

I’m serious when I saw it was only $20. I think many people feel that it would be a big donation to join the Friends of the Library, but in my area it’s a very low amount. I’m not sure what it is where you live, but I bet it’s less than you think. I hope you look into it. I sit on the Friends Board of Directors now and I know how many good things can be done with the money the Friends collect. We help create after-school opportunities for children, encourage participation in the summer reading program, and get middle schoolers excited about reading.

Last week we had our annual gala for members and I counted on one hand the number of people who were younger than me in the room and had room left over for those ten years older than me. I hope that being a Friend of the library can be more than an ‘old person’s game’ because, as a future mother, I hold the most stake in the future of our libraries. Libraries educate the community and I can only see that continuing and expanding in the future.

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, 17-June-2015

17 Jun

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

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


TrailCurrently reading:  I’m almost done with A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I was able to find a chapter by chapter summary online to figure out where I am. This should be finished in the week.
Not much movement with Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Part II is a bit more interesting, but there are still other things I’d rather read. Oh well.
Moderate progress on Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli on my phone. This is an interesting balance of history and personal story and I like it, but I’m not crazy for it.
I started a new book! It’s a Goodreads First Reads book I received a long time ago and I’m overdue for a review. It’s On the Okey Dokey Trail by I. Leigh Private. Yes, I do like the pun in the name.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Recently finished: I finally finished La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafon! This is my one book a year in Spanish and I liked the ending a lot. I’m not sure how good of a review I can write because I don’t remember the beginning well, but we shall see. Stay tuned for that one.

And two book reviews! Look at me. I wrote one for The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine last week. I hope I can convince a few more people to read it. I finished one for The Bohemians by Ben Tarnoff earlier this week. It’s OK to skip that one.

HotelReading Next: Change of plans. Though I’d been planning on a John Irving book with my work book club, that’s not going to happen. I took a new job! I’ll be sad to leave those ladies and I’ll miss what they had to say about the books we read, but I’m going to put that book back on the shelf for a while. It would be a bit painful to read it now if I’m being honest. I think instead I’ll focus on Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford which is a selection for my book club. I recommended this historical fiction selection and I’m excited to read it.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

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!

One Day Writers’ Retreat

16 Jun

I have amazing writers friends. I really do and I feel so blessed to have a small community of writers in Ann Arbor, Michigan who are very supportive and who I know will always have my back.

One of the members was recently granted the opportunity to move to California for a few months while he husband worked out there and take time off from her job to work on her novel. I think this sounds amazing. While she was there, she joined critique groups and conferences where she learned a lot and upon returning decided to share some of what she learned with our group. So a few weeks ago, I drove out to her house along with eight other writers to spend the time brainstorming, writing, and growing as writers.

The first exercise we did was about first lines. First lines are your best opportunity to make a good impression. We looked at a list of  first lines from novels and short stories and talked about ones we liked and ones we didn’t. It was pretty universal that any first line about the weather was boring and any that alluded to the ending of the book intrigued us.

To practice the impression of our first lines, we all read the first line from one or two stories we were working on. Then everyone else chose a first line to begin a scene. It was interesting to see if the writer would take the first line in a similar way to the original author. While no one choose to work with my first lines (sad puppy face) I had a lot of fun writing with other authors words.

We did some critiquing which I utilized and really enjoyed. It reiterated for me that so may of those I was sitting with are truly gifted writers and I’m lucky to count myself amongst them. We critiqued the first four pages of a piece I’m in the middle of revising before sending out for lit mag publication.

In the middle of the day, we took a break for one hour to write. We worked on anything we wanted and I was able to make some progress on the new ending to one of my novels as well as change the ending of the story I shared based on some feedback.

We came back together for some more critique before breaking up for the day. We all really enjoyed the day and the woman who organized it is thinking of making this a monthly or bi-monthly occurrence. I would be a huge fan of that because I got so much out of it. No need for $100 writers conferences yet, I just need the feedback of those near me and their encouragement.

I hope you have a great group of writers around you and supporting you whether it be in a physical place or over the internet. There’s no replacement for it.

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 Bohemians by Ben Tarnoff (2/5)

15 Jun

My book club tries to read non-fiction twice a year. I’m not sure where this rule came from and to be honest, I might advocate bucking the trend. Don’t get me wrong, I like non-fiction. I don’t tend to read it as often as this club does and I don’t think it makes for a good discussion. We’ll see how this talk goes, but I think this book is one that will generate little conversation.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff

Summary from Goodreads:

The Bohemians begins in 1860s San Francisco. The Gold Rush has ended; the Civil War threatens to tear apart the country. Far from the front lines, the city at the western edge roars. A global seaport, home to immigrants from five continents, San Francisco has become a complex urban society virtually overnight. The bards of the moment are the Bohemians: a young Mark Twain, fleeing the draft and seeking adventure; literary golden boy Bret Harte; struggling gay poet Charles Warren Stoddard; and beautiful, haunted Ina Coolbrith, poet and protectorate of the group. Ben Tarnoff’s elegant, atmospheric history reveals how these four pioneering western writers would together create a new American literature, unfettered by the heavy European influence that dominated the East.

Twain arrives by stagecoach in San Francisco in 1863 and is fast drunk on champagne, oysters, and the city’s intoxicating energy. He finds that the war has only made California richer: the economy booms, newspapers and magazines thrive, and the dream of transcontinental train travel promises to soon become a reality. Twain and the Bohemians find inspiration in their surroundings: the dark ironies of frontier humor, the extravagant tales told around the campfires, and the youthful irreverence of the new world being formed in the west. The star of the moment is Bret Harte, a rising figure on the national scene and mentor to both Stoddard and Coolbrith. Young and ambitious, Twain and Harte form the Bohemian core. But as Harte’s star ascends—drawing attention from eastern taste makers such as the Atlantic Monthly—Twain flounders, questioning whether he should be a writer at all.

The Bohemian moment would continue in Boston, New York, and London, and would achieve immortality in the writings of Mark Twain. San Francisco gave him his education as a writer and helped inspire the astonishing innovations that radically reimagined American literature. At once an intimate portrait of an eclectic, unforgettable group of writers and a history of a cultural revolution in America, The Bohemians reveals how a brief moment on the western frontier changed our country forever.

Well, that’s quite lengthy. Though truthfully, the book was quite lengthy as well. I found it a bit repetitive and hard to follow. The characterization of the characters, especially Harte, were a bit redundant. I found it hard to follow as the narrative would tend to follow one person for a while until he or she interacted with another character and then jump back in time to talk about the next character. I couldn’t follow the timeline. My overall rating is mostly due to my disinterest in the subject. This isn’t a book I would pick up unless it was a topic I wanted to know more about and unfortunately, I didn’t really want to hear about Mark Twain’s literary awakening.

The four Bohemians were well described and I, being a woman, felt Ida Coolbrith was the most human. She had real problems I could see people having. Stoddard was a flake, Hart was passive aggressive and cocky and Twain was too aggressive. All very human traits but not ones of people I know well or want to know well. I understand why they flocked to each other, but I would have flocked in a different direction.

Ida was my favorite character and I was so sad when she didn’t have a happy ending. Though if she had, she’d be as famous as Twain. She was very grounded and I feel I am the same way. I’ll likely never be a poet laureate, but I work hard each day to keep my small family (aka my husband) running. Coolbrith was never looking for accolades though she very much deserved some.

I liked the parts about Twain because I found him to be the most interesting character. His life was exciting and seemed to have the adventure he lectured and wrote about. The other characters seemed dull in comparison which, while realistic, doesn’t make for engaging reading. A bit of a yawn there.

I hated the jumping timeline. It really frustrated me to read about Stoddard’s wanderlust and adventures around the Pacific and Europe which ended in meeting Twain in London. Then we jump back to Twain in New England before he goes to London and the plot goes on until they meet. I was so frustrated. I understand it’s easier to follow one character for a while and then switch to another, but the plot didn’t do this most of the time. We would follow more than one character and then would spin-off as someone did something interesting. You’re probably finding reading this explanation confusing and that’s because what I’m describing is confusing. I didn’t like it.

There’s no set formula for what will make a writer successful. Ina was talented but went nowhere. Hart was talented and enjoyed moderate success but his selfishness was his downfall. Stoddard was incredibly giving but didn’t have the talent to make it. And Twain had talent, but he needed others to edit his stuff for him and help him forward at every step. So why was he successful? There’s a phrase among writers that you have to write every day. And Twain was able to do that. Ina was busy with family life, Stoddard didn’t have the drive, and Hart seemed to give this up. So Twain was successful. Will it work every time? No. But it worked for him. Though I suspect talent still had something to do with it.

Writer’s Takeaway: This one is a bit hard for me because I don’t see myself writing nonfiction. I think a more interesting subject would be best. You can write a great book on the lives of sloths but unless I love sloths (like Kristen Bell), I won’t read it. There’s been some nonfiction I really enjoyed but this didn’t do anything for me.

A bit dull, a bit slow, and a bit confusing. Two out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1800s time period for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

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:
REVIEW: The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff | The Literary Flaneur
Freshly Baked Books: A Review of The Bohemians by Ben Tarnoff | Readers Unbound
“The Bohemians” by Ben Tarnoff | Look at Books