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Book Club Reflection: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

19 Apr

My book club met last week to talk about a book I really enjoyed, History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. The consensus was that we liked the book but it wasn’t what we expected. The title and the first few chapters gave us a different sense of what we would read than the rest of the book delivered. The young protagonist gave the sense at times that this might be a YA novel, but the themes and writing were clearly not YA. Fridlund has said in an interview that she likes writing the YA perspective but that it didn’t mean her books were YA novels.

The structure of the book was somewhat unusual. We know from the first few pages that Paul will die. The story is like a mystery because we’re trying to figure out why and who. Knowing that he’s going to die gave the whole book a sense of foreboding that kept us on our toes. We kept waiting for it to happen and we didn’t know if he’d be attacked in the woods or fall into the water on a canoe trip. It also made Linda seem sinister. She always seemed a little off and while I personally doubted she would hurt Paul, it made me feel like she’d be complicit somehow. In a way, she was. A bit.

The book was split into two sections, Science and Health. The titles seem to come for the Christian Science text, the book of Science and Health. The book also had two plot lines which some of us struggled with (see my review for my personal grievances). We talked about how they were intertwined. The biggest was grappling with action versus inaction. In both cases, there was someone who felt guilty for doing nothing. Linda struggled with feeling that she should have done more to help Paul. Mr. Grierson struggled with convictions for something he didn’t do but thought of doing. They both felt guilty. When Linda is angry after the trail, she wants to lash out at Patra but she can’t. Instead, she thinks of lashing out at Lilly. The two plots also played with the idea of the predator being prey. While Leo seems like an alpha male predator, he also suffers the death of his son. While Lilly is the teenage girl who ends up ‘in trouble,’ she also ruins Mr. Grierson’s reputation and gets him sent off to jail. The punishment in the two plot lines contrasts as well. Both the Gardner’s and Mr. Grierson did nothing wrong. However, Mr. Grierson’s other crimes were dragged up and he ended in jail. The Gardner’s inaction resulted in their son’s death and they didn’t serve any criminal charges. Christian Science convictions of negligence have varied by state, per one of our group members. In another state, it might have ended differently.

Linda’s home life did not prepare her well for the life she experienced with the Gardners. She finally felt loved in their home and she felt like Patra needed her. She was afraid to act against Patra because she didn’t want to be rejected from the first place she felt loved. Linda was an outcast at school and since Tamika left, she hadn’t had a female friend. She was so desperate to be Patra’s friend that at some points, we wondered if there was anything sexual between them, but ultimately decided there must have been just Linda’s lack of understanding. Linda’s relationship with her mother seemed strained as well. After the trial, the emotional turmoil Linda had to go through, her mother wouldn’t comfort her. We debated if they were really related (we don’t understand the beliefs of their commune very well) and if her mother was mentally stable. The anecdote of her living in the shed for a winter doesn’t emphasize sound judgment.

For anyone interested, I do encourage you to look up a bit about Christian Science. There was some confusion in our group about the differences between Christian Science and Scientology. They are quite different!

We’ll meet once more in May before taking a break for the summer. I always miss these fine folks during my summer adventures!

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!

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Off Topic Thursday: Swimming

29 Mar

Welcome to yet another Off Topic Thursday! I’ve enjoyed using the last Thursday of the month to delve into things (besides reading, writing, and books) that I enjoy. I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.

This month, I wanted to concentrate on something that’s been a part of my life since I was 9: swimming! I swam competitively from age 9 to age 18. I decided not to swim in college but I picked it up again when I started doing triathlons in 2014. Though, wetsuit open water swimming is a bit different from what I was used to.

My secret identity: triathlon girl!

A post shared by Sam Ann Elizabeth (@samannelizabeth) on

I love swimming in a triathlon. It’s the one part of the race where I’m confident. I don’t do dry land well. When I did my first triathlon, all the beginner advice I found was to go on the outside for the swim or hang back. Clearly, this advice was not written for someone who used to be a competitive swimmer! I jumped out in front and I continue to post swim splits among the top in my races. However, I fall apart on the rest of it. We’ll get to that in the next few months.

I’ve tried different kinds of swimming, too. Last summer, I tried a 5K swim, something equivalent to a swimming half marathon. It was exhausting and terrible and I hated it and I signed up for another one this year. It was the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to show myself how much I’ve grown and do it again. Besides, I got to meet Rowdy Gains last time! If this means nothing to you, he’s a gold medalist from the 1984 Olympics. He is currently a commentator for the sport. If you’ve watched NBC swimming coverage, you’ve heard his voice.

Just this year, I’ve gotten back to my swimming roots and started Masters swimming. Masters swimming is more like the format many are used to in the Olympics. All four strokes and individual medley races are available at various distances. At some meets, there are team relays. Masters swimming is for anyone over 18 and I swam against a woman in her 60s in my last race. I’ve loved Masters swimming so far. I’ve only had one meet but it went well and I was happy with my times. There were very few other women in my age group so I ended up with some ribbons! I’m signed up for State Meet next month and we’ll see if that goes as well!

I don’t think I’ll ever stop swimming. I plan to do triathlons for a while and when/if that ends, I’ll fall back on just swimming. It’s been a love of mine for a long time and I’m glad to be racing again. It doesn’t hurt that any given Saturday if I do one length butterfly at the gym, someone asks me if I’ve been to the Olympics. Talk about a confidence booster!

Any other swimmers out there? Anyone else in Masters? Until next time, swim 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!

Library Writers’ Group: Rules for Writing

26 Mar

Our writers’ group has seen a lot of people come and go in the time we’ve been together. Because of that, we revisited an old topic in our last meeting that I won’t re-blog about. However, we have a new idea.

Our group is a bit different from others I’ve been a part of in that we do not do critiques. Well, we do, some, but it’s nowhere near the focus of the group. Each month, a different member will present on some topic related to writing. I’ve talked about blogging in the past as well as lit mag publication. Next month, I’ll be talking about cultures in writing. One member had the idea to start a list of ‘rules’ we discover as we go through our material that will help those who are new or miss our meetings.

Here are the first four rules we came up with.

  1. Never use a phrase or clause when a single word will suffice.
  2. Be concise all the time, be precise when necessary.
  3. “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” -Stephen King
  4. Beware of colloquialisms and when used, try to contain them to dialogue.

What do you think of these rules? The third is a quote, but I think it serves well as a rule as well. We’ll end up sorting our list by category, but here’s where we start. What else should we consider adding?

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!

Too Many Books?

22 Mar

I rarely feel this way, but I’m starting to feel like I’m reading too many books.

I usually keep it to three books, one print, one audio, and one digital. Recently, I’ve tried to do two audiobooks with one in my car on CD because there are audiobooks I can’t find digitally. Honestly, it’s not my favorite and I’m going to try to get through books only available on CD quickly so I can return to doing them on my phone as much as possible. There’s an extra audiobook in my life right now for that reason.

Every year, I try to read a book in Spanish. I try to start it as close to January 1 as possible and finish as soon as I’m able to. Because they take me a long time to read, I often have to take a break from them before I finish to read a book club selection before the meeting date. While I’m getting close to finishing my Spanish read for the year, I have to put it aside for a book club right now. That gave me an extra print book in my life.

The digital book I’m trying to read is really long and I’ve lost the library hold on it before. Because I didn’t want to be caught with no book to read, I started another. However, when the long book became available again, I got back to it and put the second book aside. I’m about to lose the hold on the long one again so it will be back to the second book. There’s the final extra book in my life right now.

So there are three extra books, doubling my ideal number of three all the way to six. The issue is also that I’ve got a lot of similar genres going on. Both ebooks, one print, and one audio are contemporary fiction and the remaining two are fantasy. I usually have at least one historical fiction book going on which gives me more variety of settings, but no such luck now.

It’s frustrating because I feel like I’m not making progress on any of them. I haven’t finished a book since February 22nd, a month ago. I’m three books behind schedule for my Goodreads challenge! I know I’ll go through a week of finishing a ton of books, but it’s hard to see when that date will come.

Does anyone else read like me? Has anyone else felt this discouragement?

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 Club Reflection: X by Ilyasha Shabazz

20 Mar

Here is the first of my two book club discussions that focused on Ilyasah Shabazz’s novel X about her father, Malcolm X. I think it’s worth noting that my two book clubs are a bit different in focus. This club tends to focus a bit more on ‘strange’ books, ones that make you think and take a very different point of view. The other is a much more traditional book club. I think it will be interesting to see how the two different groups perceive the book.

Our leader told us that people in other discussion groups had a hard time with reading a fictionalized account of an actual person. Like the last book our group read, The Paris Wife, this book had to take great liberties as to exact dialogue and fill-in action to account for what’s not known. No one in our group had specific complaints about this, but some in different discussion groups believed that without accurate details, the whole thing was too fictionalized to be taken as fact. I can see that, but I feel that it’s the overall truth, where and who and when, that tells the story, not the specific words that tell the story. The book is aimed at a YA audience and children of this age may be slightly more inclined to believe that every word was true. We thought to call out that the book is a novel on the cover may have been aimed at that age cohort.

I mentioned my opinion that the end of the book seemed rushed and another reader felt that it was more like a teaser for learning about the rest of Malcolm’s life. A few recommended his biography to continue learning about him. The conversion he experienced in prison is true, but we felt the men who pushed him on that path were a bit too convenient, saying things exactly when he was ready to hear them. It was a return to his roots and probably a more gradual process than the book had time for.

Louise Little’s institutionalization was a catalyst in Malcolm’s life. We questioned if she really should have been institutionalized but it’s hard to tell from this novel. She could have been an activist who was deemed a threat to public stability. Or, if she really did need to be institutionalized, she could have suffered from post-partem depression or even PTSD. Given the time period of the depression, it’s easy to see how taking care of eight children would be hard. We questioned the fine line between being too proud to accept public handouts and having hungry children at home. We did notice the comments about the vegetable garden and chicken coop having fallen apart since their father died so maybe she really was neglectful.

There were so many times that Malcolm made the wrong decision when you felt things were finally going to turn around for him. Like many young people, he thought he was invincible. He would never be the one to be lynched or go to jail. That happened to other people, but not him.

The comment Malcolm’s teacher made to him destroyed him and set him on a poor path into the future. He had a very high opinion of that teacher and until that moment he hadn’t experienced much racism in the classroom. He felt like what his father and mother had preached was true, that he could raise himself up on merit. When his teacher said that to him, he internalized it as his father lying to him, not as the teacher pushing him down. When he saw the pride Ella had, he felt like she wasn’t being truthful either and that being pushed down in the dirt was where he was going to end up. It’s so disheartening to see how the comments of one man could steer a boy’s life onto such a destructive path. It really makes you think about what you say and how you can hurt another person.

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!

Writers’ Group: Engaging First Chapters

6 Mar

One of our members mentioned an article she’d read at our January meeting that we decided to focus on at the February meeting. The article came from Anne R. Allen’s blog (link here) and it focused on the LOOK INSIDE preview section of an Amazon eBook but we expanded the discussion a bit to talk about writing in general.

The second of Allen’s suggestions is immediate conflict. We talked about using the conflict as a hook to get the reader to read more. The conflict should leave something unresolved in the first chapter so that the reader will want to move forward. Even if this isn’t the main conflict of the book, it will keep the pacing moving forward. I mentioned an old mantra I’ve heard of “Conflict on every page” and one of our members didn’t like that. We talked about how conflict doesn’t have to always be high intensity but that there has to be something unresolved so that the characters are working toward something. If there’s nothing unresolved, then the story should be over. It can be interpersonal conflict, personal conflict, environmental conflict, etc., as long as something is being worked toward or worked on.

When an author starts writing, they’re often inventing characters in their head. While this process is exciting, it’s important to keep the number of characters introduced in the first few pages to about 5. This doesn’t have to be five named characters. It could include the garbage man a boy watches out his window. More characters than that can be confusing and end up being a turn-off for readers who think Billy is watching George empty the trash when George is Billy’s uncle who’s waiting for the trash truck to move so his girlfriend Anna and he can pull into his sister’s Felicia’s driveway. See?

Allen talks about ‘unburrying’ dialogue and helping it stand out on a page. Even simpler than that, it’s good to break paragraphs up even without dialogue. Long paragraphs give people flashbacks to textbooks and you don’t want your fiction associated with assigned academic reading, do you? A page should look a bit un-uniform. Paragraph length should vary somewhat and be more irregular when there is dialogue.

Another suggestion from Allen is breaking the story into short chapters with hooky endings. One caution we brought up was switching POV too often in schort chapters. This can be a real problem if there are multiple POVs. You run the risk of switching away from a character that a reader likes best and if you don’t get back to him or her soon, the reader might lose interest.

The final piece of advice from Allen is sketch in details instead of painting a detailed image. We felt that an exception to this would be SciFi, fantasy, or horror when the details describe something the reader isn’t familiar with or when the details are the essence of what is scary (the focus). Some things in fantasy and SciFi are fun to imagine, but completely new ideas probably need a bit more flushing out.

I had to run out before we decided what to discuss next month. I guess I’ll be surprised.

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!

On Vacation

22 Feb

I’m taking a few days off to enjoy my vacation!

My family is traveling to California to wish my Grandpa a happy 100th birthday! His official birthday is Monday and I’m leaving today and returning Tuesday. I’ll be back for next WWW Wednesday but until then I’ll be enjoying time with my wonderful family and doing a bit of running in the warmer weather.

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!

Off Topic Thursday (on a Tuesday): Knitting

20 Feb

I realized I’m not going to be posting on the last Thursday of this month due to a planned vacation so I’m here to do my monthly Off Topic Thursday a bit early. I want to talk about one of my favorite non-reading pastimes: knitting!

These three are a fair representation of the knitting I do. The first one, and a project many of you may know about from my monthly updates, is my obsessive baby blanket knitting! I have trouble sitting still and watching TV. If my hands aren’t busy, I’ll get fidgety which usually results in me eating something. So, to stop eating so much, I do crafts. While I latchhook and cross stitch, knitting is my biggest guilty pleasure. I decided to take those long hours spent watching Game of Thrones (the first and second times through) and put them to good use! I knit a baby blanket for every couple that invites me to their wedding for each child. I keep a stock pile of two ‘girl’ colors, two ‘boy’ colors, and two neutral colors. I send them off as soon as the couple announces the gender or I find out they’re not going to find out. My friends have given me really positive feedback and I have pictures of these babies coming home from the hospital in the blankets or wrapped in them at very young ages. It’s been really rewarding and I love doing it.

The second picture is a project I started last year and fell in love with. It’s called a weather blanket. Ideally, (unless you skip a row like me) the blanket has 365 or 366 rows, one representing each day of the year. The color of each row corresponds to the high temperatures of the day. In the one pictured, purple is cold and red is hot. I’m doing one for 2018 as well. The whole thing is shades of purple from dark to light. I don’t have any pictures of it yet (I’m a few weeks behind!) but I’m sure I’ll post to Instagram through the year so keep an eye peeled there.

The last one is my ugly project. It’s a remnant blanket, using remnants from yarn not completely used in other projects. I get remnants from friends so not all of the yarn is even mine. It’s taken on a life of its own and the blanket is no longer square and has inconsistent textures and weighted yarn. I love it. It’s been so fun to work on and I smile every time I see it. I think it’s one of those ‘only a mother could love’ situations.

I’ve knitted other things, too, but I stick mostly to blankets. I had too many scarves so I had to branch out. I’ve done winter headbands and mug coozies and I’d love to try socks or a sweater some day. I try to push myself to try a new stitch or technique each time I pick a blanket pattern so I’m always learning.

Are any of you knitters? What kind of things are you knitting? 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 Club Reflection: The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

19 Feb

Author Paul McClain is coming to my local area to speak next month so my book club decided to read The Paris Wife in anticipating of hearing her speak. I read this book a number of years ago and I heard McClain speak a while back as well. I didn’t re-read the book and I’m not able to go to the presentation so I went to my book club more to listen than anything. I remembered not liking the book and re-read my review before going. I’m not sure if I came away with anything different from what I thought after my initial reading, but it’s always great to hear what these women and men have to say.

McClain was born in 1965 and her background is in education. She taught English and, obviously, taught Hemingway to her students. She said it was when she was revisiting A Moveable Feast that she got the idea for this novel.

There were some readers in the group who were shocked to hear Hemingway lived in Michigan! He’s so often associated with Florida and Paris that Michigan, especially rural Michigan, seems like a stretch. Horton Bay, MI is located close to Boyne and Charlevoix for anyone who knows their Michigan geography. For those who only know a Michigander’s annoying habit of pointing out locations on their hand, it’s the fingernail of the ring finger.

With so many books written about Pound, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, it was refreshing to have something written from a female perspective (Stein excluded). This group was ‘lovingly’ dubbed the Lost Generation. The survivors of World War I, even those who didn’t see battle, were a bit lost and directionless. Many lost friends and family and there was a feeling of no future and no reason to plan for it. It created a sense of carefree living that bordered on recklessness and these writers were defining the lifestyle.

Some readers, like me, felt Hadley was a little flat and a lot of things happened around her without her taking part in them. She tried to fit in with Hemingway, this wonderful younger man, and his friends by drinking and partying. She came off as a saint because she dealt with Ernest’s antics. This plays into my personal frustration with the ‘Famous Wives’ phenomenon we saw a while back (Under the Wide and Starry Sky, The Aviator’s Wife). These women are defined by the men they married. The books do not develop them enough to make the woman herself vivid and interesting to read about. To be fair, I’ve enjoyed books about Zelda Fitzgerald (Z, Call Me Zelda) because she’s her own woman and not defined by Scott. Anyway, I’ll step off this soapbox now…

Someone asked if anyone thought Hadley got pregnant on purpose. A few had suspicions and it seems somewhat plausible. She didn’t want to be alone and wanted to solidify her marriage to Ernest. Some of us were bothered by her not being involved in Bumby’s upbringing, but that was likely a product of the times. We wondered as well if their hands-off parenting was a reaction to their domineering mothers. Instead of being overly involved in their son’s life, they wanted to give him space. We also noted on how that hands-off/hands-on parenting can swing back and forth through time and after a hands-off time with Hippy culture in the 70s, we’ve moved to a very hands-on helicopter parent culture. Hm.

The same reader asked if we thought Hadley lost Ernest’s work on purpose. Her logic was thinking Hadley was jealous of Ernest and the time he spent writing and that if he didn’t have his work, he’d stay home and be near her. It was later admitted that losing his worth started the irrevocable change to their relationship. There wasn’t anyone else in our group who suspected this might have been on purpose.

Many suspected that Ernest suffered from PTSD and that others in the group may have as well. He was very sure of himself and cocky but there were moments when he was weak, crying uncontrollably and an emotional wreck. We also wondered if he had depression. With the number of suicides in his family, it’s likely it could have been a genetic condition.

The affair rubbed many of us the wrong way. There were so many affairs in their circle of friends that Ernest saw it as normal while Hadley hadn’t changed her perspective enough to see it this way. Sections of the book written in Ernest’s voice rationalized it, saying how his friends were able to do it so he should have no problem having an affair as well. What bothered a lot of us was that they were living off Hadley’s money and she should have just cut him off!

I’ve already heard McClain speak and it didn’t sway my opinion of her book much. I wonder if others in the group will have their impressions changed at all by hearing her.

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 Club Reflection: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

6 Feb

I feel like it’s been forever since I went to a book club meeting but I realize it really hasn’t been that long. The holidays always make things seem longer than they are. Our last meeting was to talk about Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin.

We had some background information on the book and author from our discussion leader. This is Shin’s first novel. She started writing short stories and published her first novella at age 22. Her husband is a poet, literary critic, and professor. Shin is the fourth child and oldest daughter of six children. She, much like Chi-hon, moved to Seoul at age 16 to live with her eldest brother.

Shin obviously had a very strong understanding of human relationships and interactions. The characters all had distinct and different reactions to their mom’s disappearance and the way they dealt with one another was well written. The style she chose, writing in 2nd person, was very off-putting when we started reading. Some readers said they got used to it quickly, others over some time. Many of us got so used to it that we didn’t realize the father’s section was written in 2nd person after acclimating to it in Chi-hon’s section.

Some of us saw Mom as a saint while others viewed her as a martyr. She was a good mother, but at a cost to herself that seemed almost unhealthy. We wondered if her headaches were because of a brain tumor if it’s not the commonly speculated Alzheimer’s. We thought it was interesting that she was most like her youngest daughter, the stay-at-home mother. There was a beautiful moment when the daughter is describing for her mother how the food in the kitchen is prepared for the kids, very reminiscent of mom in the kitchen for much of her life.

Food kept appearing in the book at many critical moments. It was a family gathering point, especially for a family that didn’t have much. Food was important to the family when they were growing up poor, not always having the food they needed to eat. It had a bigger meaning in their lives than it has in mine or my fellow readers.

I had the unpopular opinion of not liking the section mom narrated. She kept appearing as a bird, which I found odd. The daughter’s children eventually buried the bird, but it didn’t seem to give mom closure. We continued to learn more about her life, things no one would ever learn about her, as she watched and commented on the world after she disappeared.

We questioned if the children ever accepted their mother’s death. It seemed that Hyung-chol had, and Chi-hon criticized him for going golfing, for doing something with his time other than looking for her. It seems like Chi-hon accepted her death at the end of the book, asking the Virgin to look after her mother the way she looks after her son in death in the Pieta statue.

The next selection is one I’ve read already so I’m going to be picking my own books for a while now. Honestly, it’s a bit of a relief! I get to work on bringing down Mt. TBR!

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!