Saturday, November 30, 2013

Book Recommendation: "The Orphan Master's Son"

Before I say anything else, let me just put this out front: go read this book. I mean it. Now. Put it next on your reading list, save some time to read it over the holidays, whatever you have to do. It's worth it, period.

I don't usually check out a book just because it's won a lot of prizes. The last Pulitzer Prize winning book I read greatly disappointed me. So I almost didn't read this book Because of it's Prize winning status. I picked it up at the book store because there was a buy-two-get-one-free sale. Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son was my free book. I read it last out of three. And it changed me.

I know that's saying a lot. And I don't mean that suddenly I wanted to quit my job and become a humanitarian and try to alter the world. I don't mean that I started living my life differently or found religion or my true inner self. But I did change. Even if for just the time I was immersed in its pages, I felt that I was in the presence of something profound and unalterably sad and unflinchingly honest. And to feel that accompanying sweeping emotion is to feel like a piece of you will never be quite the same.

I'm quite aware that this review will not do the novel justice. It's so much more than a chronicle of life in North Korea, however, so much more than a love story or even the depiction of a mesmerizing odyssey. The characters were so far from anything I've known before, and yet I could not untangle myself from them. I felt lost when I had finished the book. Not unsatisfied by any means, but I had that unique emptiness a reader experiences when an epic comes to an end. I wanted to erase my memory of having read it, so I could go back and read it again.

The Orphan Master's Son is not a heart-warming tale. It will shock you, appall you and strike you deep in the viscera. And it will make you appreciate moments of beauty and moments of kindness in a way that you never have before. Every word will be worth it.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gratitude and Writing

I just finished reading this year's Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Orphan Master's Son and aside from being one of the most incredible books I've ever read (book review coming next), it has really opened my eyes to just how lucky most of us are. That's not to discount all of the trials that everyone I know and you know and we all know encounter, but reading a book about life in North Korea definitely made me check myself for a moment. Every light switch we flip on, every Starbucks coffee we order through a drive-thru window, every clean pair of jeans we pull from the dryer is something to be thankful for. This is by no means a pretentious sentiment or call to action: I'm still going to get annoyed every time the internet goes down or the interstate on-ramp is backed up or my neighbors decide to start pressure washing their house during the exact time I've allocated for writing. We're human; it's in our nature to take for granted what we are fortunate enough to have. That being said, and in the sprit of Thanksgiving, I'd like to nod to a few things, both large and small, serious and trifle, that I am grateful for:

-My amazing husband, my mom and my brother
-My incredibly yappy and non-listening pack of dogs
-Gluten-free products available in the grocery store (yay Bisquick!)
-A job that I love
-Florida weather
-Books, movies and television shows that take excite me or take my breath away
-My friends, both close and afar
-Free time and the inspiration to write, keep writing and write some more

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: "The Maltese Falcon"

Considering the genre I write in, I'm sort of ashamed to admit that I've just now read Dashiell Hammett's signature crime novel The Maltese Falcon. It's one of those books that I've always had on the shelf, always Meant to read, and somehow never got around to doing so. I was vaguely aware that it was a classic, but I wasn't exactly sure why. Now I know.....

Sure, the storyline isn't anything spectacular and the writing isn't beautiful or brilliant, but here's why I really, really appreciate The Maltese Falcon:

-The characters are biting and shocking
-The descriptions (though very repetitive) are ingenious
-Hammett knows how to say more by writing less and I Love that quality in a writer
-Reading this novel is like witnessing the birth of a genre; you can see the twentieth century crime/detective/noir style being created as the story progresses

If you haven't read The Maltese Falcon yet, it's worth taking the time just to read a little part of literary history. It's taken me forever to do so myself, but I'm thankful now that I have.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pressure and Writing

Did you know that November is National Model Railroad Month? It's also Peanut Butter Lover's Month, National Sleep Comfort Month, International Drum Month, National Epilepsy Month and Aviation History Month.

Within November we also have Deviled Eggs Day, Gunpowder Day, Marooned Without a Compass Day, Operating Room Nurse Day, Clean Your Refrigerator Day (yeah, that's never gonna happen...) Have a Party with Your Bear Day (really not sure about that one either.....), Occult Day, Sandwich Day, Red Planet Day, Square Dance Day, Look for Circles Day and Chaos Never Dies Day.

Add those your more popular November Celebrations- Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Guy Fawkes Day, and All Saint's Day- and you've got some idea of how the month of November is shaping up. I remember back in elementary school when it was simple: November was when  you traced your hand on a brown piece of paper and drew a turkey's head on the outline of your thumb. Easy.

Now, we've got to deal with No-Shave November.

The reason I bring all this up is not because I have anything against the deluge of seemingly pointless (although probably important to some folks) random holidays, but because November now has a designation that applies to me personally. For those of you who don't know, November is also National Novel Writing Month.

Yeah, I didn't know until a few weeks ago either. And I'm a novelist.

In case you're wondering, I am not participating in NaNoWrMo (as I have come to learn this event is fondly called). I'm not boycotting  it in any sense, but rather I am staying true to the novel writing schedule I've already established and reassuring myself that slow and steady wins the race.

And then I log on to Twitter and see my friends and fellow authors tweeting nightly word counts. *gulp* And when I check Facebook, I read posts with snippets from NaNoWrMo drafts and accounts of fiendish all-night writing forays. *sweating* And I start to ask myself the dreaded question that I am sure lurks somewhere, either deep or bubbling just below the surface, in the minds of all writers: am I writing enough?

At first, a glimpse of the seemingly friendly "#amwriting" seemed encouraging. So-and-so's focused on writing so I need to get to it too! I'm certainly guilty of dropping the writing hashtag bomb. Usually to make myself feel validated for why I just spent my entire weekend holed up away from people and arguing with myself about acceptable diction and syntax. When writers post updates about their own writing progress it has always seemed motivating. Helpful. Uniting us together in the cause.

But now?

Have daily word counts become the new status symbol? Has NaNoWrMo created a healthy sense of competition or a swirling vortex of trendiness and anxiety?

Am I just being paranoid?

Either way, I'll be glad when the event is over. I hope that those participating are writing well and producing drafts that will evolve into great works. I hope that those not participating are still holding true to their writing dreams and being passionate about their own artistic visions.

And I hope that next month is national Nutella month, because peanut butter is highly overrated....

                                                Arrghh!! Too Much Pressure to Write!!!!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Reading Lists and Writing

I looked at the bookshelf next to my bed last and realized that I'm currently reading three vastly different books at the same time: The Maltese Falcon, The Dog Stars and The Last of the Mohicans.

Underneath this stack were the two most recent books I've finished reading: Allegiant and Sea of Glory.

Other books I've read recently include: Under Heaven's Banner, Last Train to Paradise, The Maid's Version, Salinger, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Wiseguy.

Aside from making me feel better about being addicted to The Walking Dead (see "Zombies and Writing"), I started wondering what my current choice in books says about me as a person and as a writer (which are pretty much impossible to separate, so....). A girl in Barnes and Noble the other day asked me what types of books I like to read and I wasn't sure how to respond. Basically I answered "good ones."

So what does my reading list say about me? I tried to break it down to see.....


Noir Bird
Apocalyptic Airplanes
Frontier Americana
Dystopian Teen
Exploring Ships
Psycho Religions
Maniacal Trains
Southern Fire
Disturbed Recluse
Psychological Well
Honest Mobster

Yeah, hmmm.... if anyone wants to take a crack at what these books say about me, I'd love to hear it. Please leave your ideas in the comments. And if you happen to analyze your own reading lists and come up with something conclusive, I'd love to know about it as well. Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Zombies and Writing

I resisted at first. The Walking Dead. It just didn't seem like the show for me. For one, I don't like zombies. Not zombie movies, not zombie graphic novels, not zombie Halloween costumes. And two, I'd heard the writing for the show wasn't very good. I'm the kind of television viewer who gets into a show and then analyzes it to death. I'm so obsessed with the incredible writing of my favorite show, Justified, that I am sure there are episodes I've seen over fifty times (and this is probably a low guess). I like to watch shows, and then re-watch them, and then re-watch certain scenes, all with an eye for breaking down and understand what's going on with the writing. So while everyone else was talking about The Walking Dead at work, I just believed it wasn't my cup of tea.

Well, I still don't like zombies and I still think that the writing in The Walking Dead is nothing to right home about. And I'm crazy about it.

I love The Walking Dead BECAUSE it's not about the writing. It's a show about people killing zombies. Yes, there are some interesting archetypes and yes, it can be viewed as commentary on human nature, but really, it's just awesome entertainment. It's a show that I don't have to think about- I can just enjoy it. The characters run around with guns and shoot (or stab, or decapitate...) about a hundred zombies an episode. And I don't have to think to myself, "hmm... now I wonder why she killed that zombie?" because it's a zombie after all. The zombies want to eat people and the people want to survive. It's as simple as that. The show is dramatic and straightforward and bad ass. Period.

It's not about the writing. And that's why I love it.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book Review: "The Maid's Version"

Daniel Woodrell is one of my writing idols. Without Winter's Bone, without his stark, heart-wrenching stories, without Woodrell's dedication to the authentic voice and unflinching honesty of his characters there would be a deep hole in my perception of what it means to truly be an author.

So I was beyond excited when Woodrell's latest novel, The Maid's Version, was released this past September. I bought it the very first day it came out and dove in greedily, ready to enjoy the tale and analyze his writing style. And I have to admit that at first I was disappointed. I was expecting the rawness of Winter's Bone and the violence often found in his short stories, and I found something very different. I was slightly unsettled when I finished the novel- I set it down after turning the last page and tried to wrap my head around what I had just experienced.

It took me a while, but I've come to the conclusion that the merit of The Maid's Version lies not in its deliverance of expected Woodrell style, but rather that it is the most accessible of his works. This novel is a story for all readers, not just those who like dark tales and jagged prose. The Maid's Version is much more literary than thriller and certainly wider in its thematic scope. The writing is gorgeous, and the story- which takes through the reader through different moments in time as the narrator explores the mystery of a tragic, dancehall fire- is intriguing without being disturbing. Woodrell may have taken less of a risk with The Maid's Version, but I think this novel will encourage more readers to gravitate to his work. And, in that sense, I am very thankful for The Maid's Version indeed.