Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Just seen on a Bumper Sticker...

Your grandmother never says NO COMMENT.

(Somehow, this seems appropriate for the holiday season. Here's hoping your Thanksgiving was filled with stories, great food, and lots of grandmother comments.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

ROOM by Emma Donoghue

I don't often read a book that has 291 Amazon reader reviews. I checked just now because I thought I'd get a glimmer of comfort knowing somebody else had such a strong negative reaction to this novel. I didn't have the heart to plow through all those reader reviews, however. Especially since the ones Amazon chooses to put near the top are, of course, pretty much selected to get us to buy the book, right?

Like a lot of the books I read for pleasure, this one came to me via a very positive review. Then the book was short-listed for a Booker Prize. And it got not one, but two fairly glowing New York Times reviews. (Actually Janet Maslin's was not that glowing, really.)

This week NPR came out with its list of the top five most talked about books of the year, and ROOM was right there. OK, I'll give them that. It's sure being talked/ blogged/ read about.

And just now, another award.

For whatever reasons, a few weeks ago I reserved the book through my county library system. I think I started out somewhere around #58. And moved slowly up the list. Frustratingly slow. I was really looking forward to this reading experience. And come on, reading people, the book isn't that long. Why was it taking forever?

Then I got the book. I opened it right up. Couldn't wait.
And I hated it.

I think it's the voice of the young boy that bugged me. Maybe it was the pace of the writing. The general ick factor? I don't know. Everyone's taste in books is different, starting with the youngest readers. I know that from many years of librarianship. But I usually find some redeeming quality in a book so well reviewed.

(I have one theory. What do you think about this? Reviewers are raving about the"voice"- that elusive quality that everybody loves but no one can truly define. Yes, narrator Jack is a 5-year-old boy with a distinctive voice. But I read a LOT of YA and Middle-grade fiction with kid narrators whose voices are equally distinctive. For example, last night I opened Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird, the National Book Award winner in the 2010 Young People's Literature category. That narrator-- a young girl with Asperger's-- is an amazing voice. And another nominee? One Crazy Summer? I can still hear those kids!)

But I forced myself to keep reading ROOM. By the middle I was skimming. The story picked up a bit as the boy and his mother's story moved out of its cramped quarters. I did finally finish, sort of.

"Truly memorable" one reviewer claims. I'm just not buying it. For me, not memorable at all.

Related post: Quitting Before Finishing

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Digging Deeper: Still Revising...

It's a scary thing to be told you need to dig deeper. Especially when you thought that's what you'd already done, writing-wise. And while I truly despise those character study things that ask what your main character ate for breakfast and what's lurking in his dresser drawer (It's not that I don't know this and every other mundane detail about my characters by now, I just hate filling out the little Character Profile sheets that appear in so many places purporting to teach writing craft.), sometimes thinking about a character opens up a plot twist you may not have considered.

Today I found a new way to consider my character's innermost thoughts and dreams, and how I can thwart them. You know, raise the stakes and up the ante? That good stuff?

This from Cheryl Klein set me to thinking about my main character, which made me dream up ways to create more trouble, and that, I hope, will help the Big Revision Picture to develop.

So I'll share her writing tip and hope it works for all of us-- revisioners and planners alike!

Here's what Cheryl has to say about character studies:

If I were making up a character worksheet, I’d try this:
o       LOVES
o       HATES
o       NEEDS
o       WANTS
o       FEARS
o       And then under each of those categories—WHY?
·        What these things add up to is your character’s morality—her ethical philosophy, her worldview
o       What she wants most in life
o       What she will or won’t do to get it
§        (or what can tempt or scare her into doing something)
o       And how she developed that philosophy, those loves, hates, needs, wants, etc.
·        And that’s a plot right there:  motivation; action, and backstory.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Revision Time

Trudging up revision mountain, I discovered a quote which bears remembering:

"No matter how good the writing, if it does not further the intention or progression of the work, it must be cut..."

(The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Quote of the Weekend...

"Forever is composed of nows."        
                                               Emily Dickinson

(thanks to writer friend Kerry Madden for this one)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bats at the Ballgame

A little boy in my life loves baseball. This month is his birthday. I'm all about giving books for any occasion, and this is what I chose for him.

I don't mind bats a bit. In fact, I'm fond of them in storybooks and for the good they do eating all those mosquitoes in real life. (Not crazy about them in the house, but that's another story...)
Brian Lies has a way with bats, both kinds.

In this newest Bat Saga, it's of course nighttime. The pictures and the rhyming story will just delight kids, I know this. The bat grounds crew "roll the foul lines, rake the mound, shape the field, and smooth the ground"-- all with a DINNER FORK!

And the flying vendors sell the most delicious snacks: Mothdogs! Cricket Jacks!

What red-blooded, all-American, baseball-toting young kid won't love Bats at the Ballgame? I hope mine does.

With all the uproar over whether picture books are being bought by parents and read to children (click that link for the recent, controversy started by the New York Times), I'd like to say I certainly hope so. From what I hear from the library community, they are being checked out by the armload. 

Brian Lies' bats stole my heart with Bats at the Beach. Oh, and of course, Bats at the Library.
Check them out if you have a young reader on your shopping list.

Related post: Bats at the Library

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Yesterday, the announcement came from the Global Language Monitor that a few new words slipped into usage. This doesn't actually make them official words, from what I understand. Just frequently-used, even if not always correctly.

None of my friends and family in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area will be surprised at two portmanteau words: Snowpocalypse and Snowmageddon.

(And while I'm writing- how about that fabulous word portmanteau?  Examples= smog, motel, brunch! I always loved that the original meaning was a large traveling case with two compartments.)

But back to Snowmageddon...

Here's hoping this winter brings minimal snow and lots of sunshine to my Mid-Atlantic family and former neighbors.

No more Snowpocalpses!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Secret Life of Bees

I've been uncovering all sorts of good writing advice this weekend, right under my nose. Literally. Computer files stuffed in folders. Paper files falling out of notebooks with names like "Character" and "Title picking" and "Revision."

Ha. Revision. As if that fits neatly into a computer folder. (Though it's beginning to fit much more neatly now that I've discovered/ almost mastered Scrivener!)

 Today I've been thinking about Secret Life of Bees, a book I loved. I recently re-watched the movie and, though I don't often say this about movies made from books, that movie wasn't half bad.

Now, I'm going to pay attention to some excellent writing advice I found tucked into one of those aforementioned computer folders, hiding on my desktop. This advice from Kidd has been on her website for a while, and perhaps you've read it. But I think it bears remembering. All 10 of them.

I'll share two of Sue Monk Kidd's Ten Most Helpful Things About Writing here, but you need to click on over to that link for the rest. I promise, it will be worth it.

7. Err on the side of audacity.

One day it occurred to me that most writers, myself included, erred on the side of being too careful in their writing. I made a pact with myself that I would quit playing it safe when what the story really wanted... what my heart really wanted, was to take a big chance. The best writing requires some daring-- a little literary skydiving. Look at your idea and ask yourself: how can I make this larger? The novelist E. M. Forster once said that a novel should deliver a series of small astonishments. After I finish each chapter, I read it with an eye toward figuring out where I’ve played it safe, where I backed off, where the small astonishment was lost.

8.Trust yourself, but listen to others (Certain Others)

As a beginning writer, I had to learn to trust my own creative instincts, but at the same time, gather a handful of trusted readers who would tell me the unmitigated truth. I had to learn how to detach enough from my work to listen genuinely to their advice and criticism, to see my work through their eyes. It is a difficult thing to sort out, but with practice I figured out how to stand by my best, most authentic impulses and words, while letting go of or revising the parts of my work that really were wrong, extraneous, unaffecting and plain mediocre. I eventually became ruthless about cutting my work. Sometimes it’s like pruning a tree-- the best work grows from the severed place.

Related posts: Writing About the 60s

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quote of the Day: Veterans Day, 2010

From my November Quaker Motto Calendar, this one, from Native American culture, somehow seems appropriate for today--

"The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Glorious sunshine bouncing off tall buildings as we motor along the river. The enormity of the buildings, the stories told by our fabulous docent, the company of an old friend-- What a great place to spend a fall day or two.

I love the flatness of the city, the decent public transportation, the museums, the city gardens, the amazing food. Oh, and it helps to have a college roommate who's lived there forever in charge of two very busy days. Thanks, Patty!

Chicago has become quite a foodie destination. Dinner at a neighborhood restaurant rivaled any meal I've eaten, anywhere. Southern comfort food at a place named Kith and Kin. Shrimp and Grits! Ah, life is good.

If you go with an interest in architecture, don't miss the tours sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. 

Words are still swirling in my head from the docent's lecture: Echo Deco, "Less is more unless it's ego" (re: Mies van der Rohe), Contextual Conversation.

Devil in the White City, a book that really grabbed me, came alive as our tour guide regaled us with our 90-minute lesson in architectural history. If you don't mind a bit of graphic violence in your fiction, this book is a must-read. Rumor has it there's a movie deal underway, possibly starring Leonardo DiCaprio?

Also finishing Loving Frank, and although it's bugging me on many levels, I find Frank Lloyd Wright to be a fascinating character.

And Chicago to be an amazing city.

 Quote for the Day:
Space is the breath of art.
Frank Lloyd Wright

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Help, the movie

Check out these photos. Stills from the movie. Release date is next summer.
The little girl pictured is, according to my very interesting evening with the author in Baltimore recently, Kathryn Stockett's real daughter.

Related posts: Kathryn Stockett Appearance
The Help, the Movie 
The Book, All You Needed to Know

Friday, November 5, 2010

Now This is a Scene...

My mind seems to be focusing on scenes this week, but not necessarily this kind.

Breakfast at our local greasy spoon. Heck, can't even call it "local" as we'd never been there and just happened to be driving by. The original Skyway Jack's, so named because it's close to my favorite bridge, opens at 5 AM for the fishermen. By the time we arrived, it was past 8, so the $2.29 breakfast special had ended.

I won't even tell you what we ate. But there was discussion about bringing our Philadelphia and South Jersey friends for the scrapple when they visit this winter.

(That's scrapple, pictured. Don't ask. It's an acquired taste, so I hear...)

I might be tempted to return on Tuesday for the special:
Chicken 'n Dumplins

Although I adore Chicken and Dumplings, whether the ones at Skyway Jack's would live up to my expectations, not so sure.

This was a Scene because

1. Parking lot full. Lots of trucks. People milling around smoking outside.
2. Waitresses with potentially offensive teeshirts featuring graphic of fried eggs.
3. Uncleanliness
4. Picture hanging on the wall, obviously color-copied from a favorite kids' book: If You Give a Pig a Pancake 
(lots of pigs in residence- statues, logos, etc.)
5. Lunch counter full of overeaters
6. The publication, Creative Loafing, available for free on a rack just inside the door.

As you can see, many elements that would potentially jump off a page of fiction.
The seeming inconsistencies! The five senses! The dialogue!

And lastly, the bumper stickers for sale ($1.25 each), for example:

Give a man an inch and he thinks he's a ruler.
Hang up and drive.
Work is for people who don't know how to fish.
Grow your own dope. Plant a man.
When I die, bury me at Walmart so my wife will visit me.

What a way to start the weekend. Hope yours is filled with delectable dining experiences.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shrinking a Manuscript

I've been intrigued with this technique since hearing about it at an SCBWI workshop a couple of summers ago. The Incredible Shrinking Manuscript just has a certain curiosity about it. I used it while trying to get the Big Picture on my recently-purchased (yay!) historical novel. Printed it out and examined the entire thing squeezed onto 30 pages.

Here's what you need to know: an article by Darcy Pattison in Women on Writing. 
Or you could buy Darcy's book, for even more details.

I'm following her blog and Facebook postings this November. She's helping writers understand more about writing in SCENES. Today there's even a helpful template.

If I can't meet a wordcount every single morning, I might as well try something new, writing in scenes.

Now if I can just figure out how to shrink my new manuscript on Scrivener and see it all at once...

Related post: Over Revising!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Quaker Motto Calendar

It's not too late to order.

(I peeked ahead as I tore off October. On the December calendar:)

"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."
                                                    Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Denmark

Related post: Quaker Motto Calendar Order Form

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Writing Every Day

Re: November's writing whirlwind.
This morning my email from Gotham Writers' Workshop kind of says it all about NaNoWriMo:
a month of sharing the joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel :

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

OK, I'll move on, even though it's not quite Day Three. Gave up very soon on the BlahBlahBlahing!
I like writing every day, but maybe I should have done more advance planning.
I need to work a little more on the scene writing thing with Darcy Pettison. Or the revision thing. Or the thinking thing.

Not taking anything away from NaNoWriMo, mind you. Just not for me, not this year.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Writing in Scenes

Kids' novels have a lot in common with scripts. I learned that from a very reliable source, many years and many false starts ago. So instead of just plowing ahead and writing a lot of blah blah blah on my middle-grade novel this NaNoWriMo (which I enjoyed doing very much last year during November, the blah blah blah), this year I think I'll learn more about writing in scenes.
 Good advice from Darcy Pattison. 

"If you’re used to writing scripts, scenes in a novel work a little bit different. For scripts, scenes are mandatory and a new scene starts any time the location changes: for example, if a character is outside a house and walks inside. Scenes in scripts tend to be short. For a novel, a scene can extend longer and cover several minor changes of setting. So, if you’re used to writing scripts, instead think of scene sequences, or a series of scenes that cover a distinct goal of a character."

She's helping writers move along with their manuscripts this month: 30 days to a better manuscript. Sounds like a plan. Give it a try!

Beginnings, middles and ends -- that's what scene-writing is all about.
In a nutshell.

In a Nutshell...