Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Blessings to all of our soldiers, all those who have fought, and all the families who have supported them. Memorial Day, of course, is a day to remember all service men and women who have died for our country.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. While not necessarily a "Memorial Day" novel, it is about soldiers at war.

The Things They Carried

They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.

"They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice.... Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to."

I first read The Things They Carried in high school. It's one of those books that leaves a mark that lasts forever. I fell in love with it for so many reasons. It was unequivocally honest and beautifully written that I would read and re-read sections over and over again. The novel creates a snapshot not just of men or war or men at war but of our social cues, of the human spirit, of our vulnerabilities, fears, and the way war washes away any trace of naivete.

I think, perhaps, what struck me most about this novel when I first pulled back it's pages was the idea of knowing a person based on their things. After all, what we collect, what we choose to surround ourselves with is very telling about who we are, what we like, what we dream of. For these men, however, what they carry must be sufficient enough in the practicalities of war and significant enough to add bulk to their pack. With so few things to bring on a journey, what personal items would I take? Would they feel burdensome as I quite literally carry them on my back or would they offer relief, reprieve from the everyday world of war? These are the questions I ask myself each time I read this book.

And it's not just one soldier's story that we hear but many. O'Brien paints the picture of them so beautifully and convincingly that it's impossible to put down. Take this lead paragraph for example. It's a wonderful exercise in writing to see just how much we've learned about this person, how we feel for them in just a few sentences, and how there are so many pieces that make up a life:

First lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day’s march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending.

What's your favorite war-time novel and why?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Moment of Zen

This picture was taken by photographer Dave Johnston in Inishowen, Ireland and featured last week as a National Geographic "Photo of the Day". I fell in love with Ireland when I traveled there a couple years ago and thus fell in love with this photograph instantly. Everything really is lush and green and beautiful over there though none of my pictures could capture it in the way this one does. So hopefully it helps bring you to your zen place, inspires your writing, or refreshes you after a long work week:

And if that doesn't get you relaxed for the weekend then maybe this will:

If my Gaelic serves me right it boils down to, Drink up it's Friday :-)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Something Borrowed

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin Something Borrowed tells the story of Rachel, a young attorney living and working in Manhattan. Rachel has always been the consummate good girl---until her thirtieth birthday, when her best friend, Darcy, throws her a party. That night, after too many drinks, Rachel ends up in bed with Darcy's fiancé.

Although she wakes up determined to put the one-night fling behind her, Rachel is horrified to discover that she has genuine feelings for the one guy she should run from. As the September wedding date nears, Rachel knows she has to make a choice. In doing so, she discovers that the lines between right and wrong can be blurry, endings aren't always neat, and sometimes you have to risk all to win true happiness.

I had seen Something Borrowed and the associated Something Blue books by Giffin as they seem to be in every airport bookstore I've ever been in. I had contemplated buying them only I rarely buy books at the airport. I've usually packed far too many to read to begin with.

But the movie release pushed my hand and reminded me of the book--one I had mentally filed in my "to be read" list only to subsequently forget about. Now there was no forgetting. I marched to my local Borders and immediately picked up the book and as soon as I did, I couldn't put it down.

I'm amazed I hadn't read Giffin's work before. None of my friends had recommended her books to me, we never read one in my book club, and yet here was something fabulous. Clearly I'm not the only one to think so as Giffin is a New York Times bestselling author.

What I love about this book and Giffin's writing style was that I immediately felt the voice of the main character. Sometimes novels begin a little stale, you need to invest some time in getting to know their back story and only then does the voice really seem to feel authentic. Not so here, in Something Borrowed. We hear Rachel so vividly and Darcy too, that we know these girls. We know them in our life, maybe on some days we're bits and pieces of them too.

Giffin's also has an amazing cast of supporting characters including friends Ethan and Hillary whom I loved. Dex, as Rachel's love interest and Darcy's fiance, plays a central role in the story but for much of it I couldn't determine how I felt about him. There was always a part of me that was on edge as the wedding date approached and I feared how he might hurt our heroine.

In the end, however, it's really Darcy and Rachel who steal the show. And Giffin's never takes a short cut with their development. She creates characters we love and hate, we disagree with but sympathize with too, who are complicated and messy, who disagree and yet complement one another in a million little different ways--sometimes simply because they have shared history and other times because despite their differences Darcy and Rachel "get" one another. This, of course, is also why the stakes are so high, why as readers we're so torn who to cheer for or what to hope for for our characters. Do we want Rachel to really be with Dex? Is he really her soul mate or simply confused? Is he leading her on and will pick Darcy in the end? Does Darcy knowingly use Rachel? Why won't Rachel speak up and demand what she wants in love--and friendship?

I didn't know how I'd react to the affair that drives the storyline or whether Rachel's see-sawing about how she feels would get old quickly. As readers, however, Giffin's really allows us into Rachel's thoughts, her memories, creates so many layers to Rachel's friendship--and rivalry--with Darcy that somehow each internal dialogue, the churning turmoil that Rachel deals with feels real and not recycled in the least. To write characters who are all so clearly imperfect and who never quite fall into total villain or hero slots is difficult but makes the book seem all the more real.

In short, Giffin's writes a great chick lit book that takes no shortcuts in character development or storyline. Her characters are memorable and this book is too. Pick it up!

As for me, I'm off to see it at the movies. How can I not? Kate Hudson is the perfect Darcy and I just absolutely adore both Ginnifer Goodwin and John Krasinski. Here's a sneak peak at the trailer if you haven't already seen it:

If you've seen the film or read the book, what did you think?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Deserted Island Reads

I keep thinking about what books I would need to have with me if I was stranded on a deserted island. This thinking is likely ignited by the fact I'm packing for my upcoming trip to the Bahamas (*squee*).

Also when I look up deserted island, pictures like this come up and don't look altogether bad.

Then again, I've seen Cast Away and a few episodes of Lost. So certainly I'd need some sage survival books perhaps something with outdoor extraordinaire Bear Grylls (aka the youngest Briton to ever climb Everest, star of the Discovery Channel show Man vs. Wild, and all-around bad a*s).

Case in point and WTF moment of the week:

But what books would I need to pack and which I might never tire and what books would I need to ensure I purchase for fear I might never have a chance to read them if I don't?

This is where I need your help. If I pack two books, what should they be?

-One book: all-time fav of yours and can't live without, would be the go-to read during all those days wondering if you'll be rescued off the island


-Another book: Most anticipated book that just came out or is about to come out and which you'll NEED to pick up before said stranding happens?

Advice please!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Katniss in The Hunger Games

I was a little concerned whether actress Jennifer Lawrence could "look" the part of Katniss Everdeen in Suzanne Collins' wildly successful YA dystopian novel The Hunger Games.

As you know I listed The Hunger Games as one of my absolute fav books that I read in 2010 and I had listened to author Collins discuss the work and its inspiration at this past year's National Book Festival.

While I am well aware that Hollywood can work its magic and morph appearances I, like many fans, was protective of Katniss and who was cast to bring her to life on the screen. I also felt Lawrence looked too old and too tall to play Katniss, perhaps even a little too beautiful.

I told myself, however, that with Collins helping steer the casting selections we would get someone good and there was no denying Lawrence can act. She was nominated for an Oscar this past year in The Winter's Bone. In that film her character, much like Katniss, has to deal with hardship, physical pain, and the outdoors.

Still, I had my doubts. Here was the Lawrence I had seen over and over again:

Now, the first glimpse of her as a brunette and in character as our favorite heroine:

What did you think when you first heard Jennifer Lawrence was going to play Katniss? Has your opinion changed now that you see the EW cover? Have the hair and makeup team transformed her to how you envisioned Katniss?

I have to say, I am definitely much more on board now that I've had a first look. The full translation of the book to the big screen, however, remains to be seen.

To read more about Jennifer Lawrence and how she prepared for the role of a lifetime, see here. To learn more about Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson who were cast as Peeta and Gale, read here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Word Choice

I was writing a video script for my day job and it got me thinking a lot about word choice. I'd have the added benefit of visuals which books do not (unless we're talking picture books). Still, the visuals would be dictated by my words and the client decided to forgo a narrator. That meant my words were all the more important, not only in what they said and what story they painted but also which synonym I chose.

The sound of the words in succession needed to create a certain flow, a rhythm as they were read. I couldn't lean on a narrator's voice to provide that for me.

In short, every word had to have a purpose. It had to move the story forward and it had to be the perfect word. And because in these things time really is money, I had to consider whether three words could do the job of six and so on.

It's like creating an army of words. You don't just want word counts for the sake of words count or to take your reader down the detour path; you want to take the most direct route, use your Navy Seals Black Ops words in your arsenal to drive the action.

It's kind of like what I learned in my communications master's about signifiers. Every object and every word has associated meaning for the reader/viewer. Some are loaded down with reference, some may have similar connotations for many people, or some may just have special meaning for you.

When we write, we need to take all of this into consideration. It's not enough especially in today's crowded publishing world to have a good story idea that's fairly well told. It has to be expertly executed. You have to ask yourself if something is really necessary in getting your character closer to where they need to be in the plot line. If it's not then decreasing--rather than increasing--the words in your WIP may be the best action. And when it comes to line editing time you need to consider not only what word is the most poignant but also realistic for your character. This is particularly true for first person narratives.

My current WIP is told in a male POV and there are times I'll write a passage and think, "Hey that's pretty good." It may be well written BUT does it really work for my character or am I being inconsistent with voice? The answer varies. Sometimes I'll create a paragraph or even just a sentence and while there's nothing grammatically incorrect, it doesn't feel authentic to who is telling the story. The WHO we have to remember is just as much a driving force in your word choice as anything else.

Consequently there are times where I'll be on a writing roll and from first glance may think, "That's full of slang" and assume, perhaps, that it's not as well written, however, for my character it may be perfect. It may be exactly the word or phrase he would be thinking at that precise moment in the story.

When we're working on first drafts of our WIP we often just want to get the story out...on paper, in the world, out of our heads. When it comes time to edit, however, we really need to comb through the piece and always ask ourselves,

-Can I say it better?
-Can these words better serve my purpose?
-Is this consistent with my other word choices?
-How does this affect my flow?

When we consciously consider these questions in revisions, we'll be so much more effective in self editing and that much closer to having a truly polished piece.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Swagger Song

This is a little different than some of the other swagger songs I've posted previously. It's the Beastie Boys new song "Make Some Noise." It's a throwback to classic Beastie songs and begins with a trio resembling the younger Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock.

I love it because it brings me back to high school, a time when I would regularly listen to the Beastie Boys, first because I was trying to be cool like my brothers who would blare "Fight for Your Right to Party" out of their beat-up Nissan Sentra and later because they had genuinely grown on me.

I also adore a good cameo and this video is chock full of them. If you blink you'll miss another celebrity. Enjoy!

What were your high school swagger songs?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bloom Like an Artist

Artistic, creative types have heard more than a time or two how difficult it is to make it in the arts, how competitive it is, how "impractical." Maybe you've heard you shouldn't send out that WIP because, well, have you seen the odds. Or maybe you've said it to yourself on those long nights in front of the computer and wondered, "What am I doing here? Do I really have a shot? Is it really all worth it?"

If you've ever felt this way, read this. The fabulous literary agent Janet Reid posted it on her blog and I'm helping spread the love. Embrace your inner artist. Be creative. Be you!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Here's what it's about: As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.

It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

Water for Elephants is a #1 New York Times bestseller. Gruen began the novel as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) an "event" that encourages writers to develop a 50k word novel in the short span of a month.

Similar to her earlier works in Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, Gruen's love of animals and their special bond with humans is an underlying current.

The novel is a book club favorite and there's not a person I've met who hasn't enjoyed it. There is drama, suspense, love, and a certain fantastical element.

The book was, of course, also recently adapted into a film.

While some elements from the book weren't translated in full into the movie, all the major tenants were. It's an incredibly beautiful film both in its cinemotography and in the way Robert Pattinson and Reece Witherspoon are able to portray Jacob and Marlena. They breath life into the characters, have wonderful chemistry, and bring an added flare to the romance and storyline. You believe their struggle, your heart aches for them as they endanger themselves by trying to help Rosie the elephant and, of course, in trying to help themselves to a better life--one with each other.

August's mental illness leaves the audience on the edge of their seat at all times as there's no telling when he'll snap. We see snippets of his madness when he throws men off trains to their death all because of weighty issues like debt or minor issues such as annoyance. August is portrayed so believably by Christoph Waltz that I most thoroughly despise him. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Waltz is nominated for his role here.

But Waltz's isn't the only fabulous acting in this film. While I admit I eat up the Twilight movies it wasn't until I saw Water for Elephants that I was convinced Pattinson had any range as an actor. There had also been grumbling at the onset of filming whether Witherspoon was old to be playing Marlena but she pulls it off wonderfully adding layers and layers of depth to her character and and making Gruen fans proud. Marlena is broken but strong, mesmerizingly beautiful, and always a woman weighing her choices in life.

It's a film worth watching just as the book's worth reading. You won't be disappointed.

This is author Gruen with the film's elephant. LOVE this pic!

How did you like the book and film or are you hoping to catch them both?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Title Love

Over the course of this week I've randomly stumbled upon a number of hilarious titles that I just adore and had to share. Tell me what you think and what titles you're loving this week.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

This is a title love but clearly since Rob is on the cover it qualifies as cover love too. Here's what it's about: A teen idol at fifteen, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at twenty, and one of Hollywood's top stars to this day, Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-seventies Malibu, where he embarked on his unrelenting pursuit of a career in Hollywood.

The Outsiders placed Lowe at the birth of the modern youth movement in the entertainment industry. During his time on The West Wing, he witnessed the surreal nexus of show business and politics both on the set and in the actual White House. And in between are deft and humorous stories of the wild excesses that marked the eighties, leading to his quest for family and sobriety.

Never mean-spirited or salacious, Lowe delivers unexpected glimpses into his successes, disappointments, relationships, and one-of-a-kind encounters with people who shaped our world over the last twenty-five years. These stories are as entertaining as they are unforgettable.

Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee

Here's what it's about: Ace Jones needs a vacation, but she's not going to get it. What she gets is a dose of scandalous small town politics that takes her on a quest for truth and redemption. In the meantime, the love of her life shows up 3 years after a bad breakup. Diary of a Mad Fat Girl is as adventurous as it is entertaining as Ace and her friends delve into illegal surveillance, stalking, and covert ops.

A Bitch Called Karma by WM Boham

Here's what it's about: Rock legend Brant Torn has hit bottom. After enjoying the spoils of a successful career of wine, women and song, he finds the industry he helped to create has moved on without him. When nothing goes according to plan, he decides the best thing to do would be to retire and enjoy the freedom he’s always dreamed of and disappear. 6 years has passed and he’s ready to make a comeback. Unfortunately, he has to convince both his band and the world why he still relevant. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy the second time around. Mikki Reese was once the darling of the music publication and literary world. She is best known for her golden touch of launching new careers, as well as her charming ways of getting even the most untrusting of celebrity to spill their secrets; in and out of bed. Lost in the grips of a drug and alcohol addiction, Mikki goes too far and finds she’s been ostracized from the industry she once ruled. After cleaning up in rehab, she has to begin all over again. In a dream world where high fashion, public adoration, media gossip, substance abuse, and sycophantic overindulgence can kill, this is a story about a good girl who is deep in recovery from the downfall of successful career needing stability and love. Brant Torn is seen as a broken man offering anything but these qualities. Together however, they find that two wrongs seem to make things quite right. Karma can be seen as a negative payback; however, it can also mean a chain of positive events that can act as a rescue if one is lucky enough to recognize those events. Together these two find the hardest job in the world is allowing fate to take over and accept that happiness that Bitch called Karma offers.

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage
by comedian Sarah Silverman

Rather than include the brief summary of the book here's the letter to readers from the author:
Dear Reader:

My name is Sarah Silverman. I was once primarily known for saying the word "poop" and getting paid above market rates for it. But those days are over, because I am now going to be known for having written a book. Why did I write a book, you might wonder? Because it just seemed like the right time to be getting into the publishing industry.

I'm kidding. Publishing is rotting like an abandoned possum carcass on the shoulder of I-95. I know that for a fact, because shortly after my book deal was announced, I kept hearing people lament the imminent demise of literature. These days there is only one reason to write a book: to be taken seriously. And that is exactly what is about to happen to me. I'm an author now! Like Ernest Hemingway and Fyodor Dostoevsky!

When I was asked to provide text for an author page, I decided to approach it in a scholarly manner, because that's what authors do. I looked to other author pages for inspiration, and I learned so much. For example, while Hemingway and Dostoevsky do not have their own author pages on, Paris Hilton does. And so does former teenage porn star and multi-tasking fellatrix, Traci Lords. Hemingway and Dostoevsky might be wondering, quite literally, "Whom do I have to blow to get my own author page?" If someone had a cruel sense of humor, they might respond to Hemingway, "How about your head off? Oh wait – you already DID that!" But such a remark would be in bad taste, and as a serious author, I'm above all that.

I also learned that Paris' dog, Tinkerbell Hilton, has her own book too. I read a few pages and found the prose to be overwrought, but you can imagine that, being a dog, she'd be coming from a place of needing to prove something. By the way, here's a quote from a review of Paris' book that I found on her author page:

"Heiress, socialite, model, actress, singer and media darling Hilton loves her life, knows how to get what she wants and matter-of-factly explains how anyone can be a glamorous, fun-loving, tiara-wearing heiress just like her… [Paris’] advice to 'channel your own inner heiress, create your own image, and project an extreme sense of confidence' is an empowering message for young women."

This was profoundly inspiring to me. It made me realize: if young women can read Hilton's book and become heiresses, they can likewise read my book and become anxiety-ridden bedwetters. And amidst this generation of disposability that favors the digital over the physical, shopping online rather than in stores (oops, this is awkward!), and reading from LCD screens rather than from print on paper, it's nice to know that I will have left a permanent stain by which future generations shall know of my existence. So read The Bedwetter, if not for me, then for the children.

What funny titles have you seen lately?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

We Have a Winner!

The winner of the Start to Summer book giveaway is *drum roll* Denise Jimenez. Congratulations! Please be sure to email me which book from the contest you'd like to receive.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated!