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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Save the Cat

I never quite understood the relationship between screenwriting and novel writing.Then fellow blogger Karin Gillespie over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find recommended, actually raved about, Save the Cat. So I did what anybody trying to figure out the whole structure thing would do, I bought the book. Karin's right. Not only is is easy to read and tremendously helpful, it's written in a way that even the thickest-headed writer-by-the- seats-of-your-pants can understand.

I'll never write a screenplay, or anything other than what I'm doing right now, but the ideas in that book are worth thinking on.

A recent post by the Story Fix Guy echoed why this approach works. Screenwriting to novel writing, that is. Here's a bit of what he says. Click here to read the rest:

Some writers, especially organic writers, fear that the application of principles, rules, criteria and structural guidelines somehow suppresses the creative process and compromises the end product. That particular fear will kill your publishing dream. To publish, you need to believe the exact opposite. To publish, your story must be wildly original, creative, compelling and fresh in a way that it reinvents whatever genre you are writing in. But… you need to do all that within a box. Within the constraints of, and in disciplined accordance with, the principles of storytelling. If you don’t have complete command of those principles, you won’t publish. Because your story, however wild and compelling and fresh, won’t fly without them.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reliable Narrators

What do you do when someone, your critique group, a professional, your sister or best friend, says to be careful that your main character is likable? How do you create a character readers will actually want to read about because s/he's funny, intriguing, smart-assed, whatever it takes, yet also appealing?

Enter the Reliable Narrator. A character kids want to know. She may not be lovable but she should be interesting in some way. Oddball, quirky (that much disparaged word), spunky, full of life.

One of my favorite books to read and hardest to get my head around and write about was this year's much-discussed novel for middle graders, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. So I liked this Story Sleuth posting about the narrator, Miranda, being a character kids really wanted to get to know. Here's a bit of the post. Click here to read more:

I’ve been thinking about what grips me about this story, why I’m so engaged. I think it’s largely because the narrator, Miranda, is so appealing. She feels like a real kid. Stead set the story in pre-cell phone, pre-email 1979. Miranda is a 12 year old 6th grader living on the Upper West Side of New York City with her single mom, who works in a law office. Miranda navigates her school as an office monitor, and her street as a “latchkey child.” (p. 3) Her best friend from day care grows away from her, and she seeks new friendships in her class, friendships that are strained, broken, and ultimately healed. What draws me into this story, in addition to the underlying mystery, is Miranda’s reliability as a narrator. I trust her, because she admits to feeling sad, and mad, and lonely, even mean and jealous. When her friend, Annemarie, hopes that a rose left on the doormat might have been left by Colin, the boy Miranda also likes, Miranda suggests to Annemarie that the rose might have been left by her dad. “Your dad is so nice. It has to be him.” (p. 112) Then the narrator Miranda describes her own feelings: “I was miserable, sitting on the edge of her bed in that puddle of meanness. But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want Annemarie’s rose to be from Colin.”

Related post: Book Reviewing

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My List

Inspired by the St. Petersburg Times Book Editor, Colette Bancroft's list, I'm making my own. Hers is a list of books that made a deep impression on her during the decade.

I thought about a list of my favorites, a short Best Books of the Year list. But rather than mere Best Books, how about my most impressive, most unforgettable, most re-considered Books of 2009 list?

New (to me) Series I'm Most Looking Forward to Continuing to Enjoy:
Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels

Easiest Novel to Recommend to Young Readers: The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis

Book I Can't Wait to Share with my Youngest Reader Friends and Family: Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales

Book I Read in Two Days and am Still Mulling Over: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

Young Adult Book I Never Expected to Be So Taken With: Hunger Games
(OK, I know it was published in 2008, but it took me a while to get to it.)
I just never dreamed I'd actually love a book set in the future, a game of kill or be killed, a world so outside my reality that I couldn't stop reading it. Now I'm reading the 2009 sequel, Catching Fire.)

Now you know looking back at books that stick with you is more fun than reconsidering all those resolutions you never quite got to, right?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Ho Ho Ho

Merry Christmas to all!
Time to snuggle up with those books you found under your tree.

So, what great books were waiting in your Christmas stockings?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Books into Movies

Just read over at the Christian Science Monitor's book blog that The Help is being fast-tracked to moviedom. No surprises, but can't wait to hear more. Lots of weeks on the best seller list, the novel has movie written all over it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Soup's On

This is my last post about snow and cold weather, promise. Well, I'll try.

Today, in honor of my friends and family Up North shoveling snow, I made soup. Not just any soup but Alice's Vegetable Soup. This is comfort food to the max. Alice Moore cooked for my family, raised my brother, sister and me, sang to us, read Nancy Drew books with me, was an all-around good person. Not to mention the most fabulous baker of pies and homemade bread ever to wield a flour sifter. Fried chicken, fried okra, fried tomatoes, cornbread sizzling in a black iron cornbread stick pan (which I own but rarely use, a pound of butter not being at the top of my food groups)- she cooked them all.

But her soup is very healthy, very comforting, very warm. And you can pretty much throw the kitchen sink at it, vegetable-wise, and it always works. Alice used potatoes, but rice will also do. Even brown rice, though she's turning over in her grave as I type that B Word in front of rice.

For some reason, I came away with more of Alice's secret ingredients than my siblings did, but I'm always happy to share. So here's the secret ingredient in her Homemade Vegetable Soup. Remember, this was before the days of canned stock. She made her own beef stock with a soup bone and lots of onions and celery. I sometimes add canned stock, a short cut worth taking.

But Alice's final flavoring, maybe with a dash of Tabasco, was V-8 Juice. Great soup base for a cold rainy day when you need soup in a hurry.

And again, I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Eudora Welty's EYE OF THE STORY.
To make a friend’s fine recipe is to celebrate her once more.

Related posts: Popeye's Biscuits
Stirring the Pot

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Not sure why I'm feeling so nostalgic for December snow.

Those December storms were the best, making everything feel like Christmas. But when friends and family "up north" (that's what people in Florida call everything above Georgia, I've decided- Ha. What would my Mississippi grandmother say about that? Come to think of it, she thought North Carolina was Up North, so maybe nothing.), send their pictures, I actually miss all that snow.

Well, I miss looking out the window at it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Remembering Snow in New Jersey

This is where I'm not today. And glad of it, truly. Though I do miss looking out the window, seeing my neighbor with the snowblower or the birds on the feeder. The kids sledding. Sigh.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thought for the Day

Tossing out last year's Quaker Motto Calendar and realizing there are some thoughts that need remembering, especially this busy, holiday time of year-

Many people will walk in and out of your life.
But only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Related post: Quaker Motto Calendar

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Good Thing for the Holidays

If you've sent your cards, decorated your tree, lit your candles, inflated the fat snowmen and reindeer, shopped till you dropped and enjoyed a drop of eggnog, here's one last thing some of my friends and I have done.

Click here to send a card to a veteran, compliments of Xerox. Simple to do. Takes 10 seconds. Worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More Books for Giving

Lisa Von Drasek, Super Librarian, has penned this terrific list of kids' books, with commentary. Lots of great suggestions, including YUMMY and THE LITTLE DUMP TRUCK, which are already wrapped and under my tree waiting for my youngest family readers. I wish I had a teen to buy Libba Bray's Going Bovine for. Instead, I'll just read it myself.

Here's what Lisa has to say about what seems to be one of the most talked about Young Adult books of the year:

The most atypical young adult novel is Going Bovine by Libba Bray. Part Tom Robbins, part Fast Times at Ridgemont High and part Wizard of Oz. One would not expect a book about a slacker sixteen-year-old who is diagnosed with a fatal illness to be laugh-aloud funny. Go figure. At times surrealistic, other moments more real than real, this is one of the best of the year.

So what are you waiting for? Get thee to a bookstore!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Christmas Carol

When my brother, sister and I were quite young, our grandmother started a Christmas tradition. Thinking about it now, I'm astounded at the number of years we continued this, not to mention how quietly we sat and listened. But each December, she read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol aloud to us.

When I discovered that you can actually see the manuscript online, each page in Dickens' own handwriting or the typed version, I clicked right over. All 66 pages are right here for your viewing.

I've seen the actual manuscript at the Morgan Library in New York. To be more precise, I've seen one page. The Library puts just one page each year on public display. Of course, seeing the online version isn't quite the same as seeing the book, but still well worth the view if you love the story as I do.

All those ghosts, all those frightening people, appropriate for young children? But a grandmother reading a story with a happy ending? A perfect Christmas tradition!

"It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour." - A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Monday, December 14, 2009

Last Minute Shopping? Give Books!

Recently I wrote about book-related gifts but admonished you all to check in at your local bookstore for the Real Deal (books, not teeshirts). Now here are my own personal favorites, with a link or two to what fellow bloggers and writers are recommending for gift-giving this season.
(Note: If some are less well-known than the average Best Seller variety, all the better.)

For my New York city kids and those who love a good story, with twists and turns, backwards and forward in time:
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

A really funny book, for that often hard to buy for older middle grader:
Al Capone Shines My Shoes

For the youngest lovers of fairy and folk tales (not for the faint of heart? But what true folk tale is!):
Yummy by Lucy Cousins

For you aunts and uncles who want a delightful story with a real Southern flavor, a gift in many ways to your younger friends, ages 8 and up, especially if you offer to read it together:
The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O'Connor

A grownup book even the most avid reader may not have heard of (and it's a trilogy!) Start with Case Histories and go in order to enjoy all of Kate Atkinson's mysteries.

Remember that Action Figure Librarian from my blog post the other day? She's a real, retired librarian and here are some of her choices.

And then there's the link to the New York Times Bests of the Year, fiction and non-fiction.
And if at all possible, shop at your local independent bookstore.

So what books are you gifting this holiday season?

Related post: Independent Bookstores

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Collecting Data

Ever wonder where truly great writers get their ideas? Click here and then on the button on the left of the NPR site to listen to one of my favorite authors, Kate DiCamillo, talk about her notebooks. And her jottings from a visit to the National Gallery in Washington.

Yesterday I spent some time at an absolutely breathtaking, mind-expanding exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown St. Petersburg, viewing the huge Lesley Dill installation and collecting painting titles. All inspirational. Dill's art leaves at the end of December so if you're in the Tampa Bay area, rush right over, quick.

(But the museum and the painting titles and the art are always there!)

Here's a virtual tour of the exhibit, for those of you too far away to see the real thing.

Related posts: The Magician's Elephant
And from my group blog:
Watching for Birds

Thursday, December 10, 2009

For Your Holiday Shopping Pleasure...

For the readers and writers on your list:

Book Related Athletic T-shirts (click and look at the pictures carefully to really get it)

Though personally, I'm rather fond of this one:

A thank-you note styled after the library cards we all knew and loved (which have mostly gone the way of library catalog cards...replaced by higher technology)-

The Book Lovers Calendar

All sorts of things from the Library of Congress bookstore, including the ever popular Librarian Action Figure. (Hmm. Note to friends and family. Don't get me this.)

And of course, all the best books, from your favorite bookstore.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Going Home Again

If you can just figure out exactly where Home is, you can definitely go home, despite what Thomas Wolfe famously said. And one of my favorite places to call home is the city of Baltimore. Baltimore seems to me a kind of Norm's Cheers Bar, where everybody knows your name. That is, everybody who ever knew it in the first place. An Old Friends kind of place. So I got to go back to my home turf recently to visit Bryn Mawr School, one of the most exciting, energizing, fun libraries and schools I've worked in (and there have been a few, let me tell you). The building was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1972, before I arrived. As you might expect, it was a wide open, sunny place, free of walls. But all that open space, though difficult to teach quietly in, had the end result of everybody getting along pretty well. A truly challenging and exciting place for a librarian. I loved it. Now the space has been rethought, in a very good way. And I got to go "home" again to see the school and the many old friends who reconvened there.

While in Baltimore, I also ate numerous Berger Cookies, one of my favorite foods.

If I ever were to write about that Charm City, this church in Hampden would for sure be a player...See that sign? Church times listed with a greeting: Peace be with you, Hon.

Photos courtesy of K.S. Marino

A fun trip down memory lane, with old friends. And lots of ideas percolating.
Thanks, Hons!

Monday, December 7, 2009

New (to me) Word Today

Not only do I get a French word-a-day (thanks, Julie), I still get Anu Garg's A.Word.A.Day emails. Today's word is ROPALIC, and there's even a contest! Oh, you don't use ropalic on a daily basis? Click on over there and find out about the contest- a poetry writing challenge. But hurry, the contest ends this Friday.

And if you're wondering? Ropalic=Having each successive word longer by a letter or syllable.

Here's an example from the New York Times:
"Soapy fired off a rhopalic sentence, that is, one in which each word is one letter longer than the word that precedes it: I am the only dummy player, perhaps, planning maneuvers calculated brilliantly, nevertheless outstandingly pachydermatous, notwithstanding unconstitutional unprofessionalism.'"
Alan Truscott; Talking About Behavior; The New York Times; Oct 26, 1986.

Related posts: Word a Day

Words Each Day

Friday, December 4, 2009

Get Me Re-Write!

Did anybody out there take part in NaNoWriMo- National Novel Writing Month? So, now what? After spending the month of November frantically writing a truly bad draft (AKA Zero Draft), you must figure out if it's worth spending/wasting time fiddling with.

If you've been struggling with rewriting, maybe you're focusing too much on line editing and not enough on STRUCTURE, the big picture. At least that's the advice in this great posting by Justine Larbalestier. You may know her from her newest YA novel, Liar, the one with the controversy surrounding the cover. I know her from her funny, helpful, interesting blog. I'm planning to read the book as soon as my reserve comes up at the library (popular book!). But during NaNoWriMo, she and Scott Westerfeld shared writing tips aimed at anybody foolish enough to think they could actually write a novel in a month. So if you've at least made headway and written that truly bad draft, check out her revision techniques on the link above.

Or put it in a drawer for a rainy day.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What is it about The Moon?

So this is a story I heard told by the piano player at Chez Josephine Tuesday night. May or may not be urban legend. He swears it's true. But he was telling it to a diner sitting a few tables away so I only heard snatches, not the entire story.

In the 1930s, Rodgers and Hart were writing the music for a movie. When they presented a song to the studio heads, they were told they needed to write a more romantic tune. The studio guy then threw out the words he thought were best for love songs. Rodgers and Hart, almost in defiant jest (according to the young piano player at our restaurant), took every one of the clich├ęd words and threw them together to make the lyrics and thus was born Blue Moon, that song we all learned to play by ear on the piano and knew every single word to sing along.

Still can:
Blue Moon, You Saw Me Standing Alone, Without a Dream in my Heart, Without a Love of My Own...

Yep. Every single word, made to rhyme, sappy as can be. Doncha just love it though?

I thought it was appropriate that as we walked from 42nd to 44th streets, there was a moon over Manhattan... (that's that completely round ball hanging in the sky. And it's not a streetlight.)

Related posts: Waterfalls and Food

A Day in the City: the Highline