Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October Blogfest

Today I am participating in Bish Denham's blogfest to celebrate 4 years of blogging and 300 followers. Yay, Bish!

I will write a 300-word story that has to do with Halloween, trying to incorporate the numbers "4" and "300" in it.

Imagine a mysterious bass voice speaking the following:

This. Is a True Story. It happened one cold and dark night in a small town in Colorado. 

The people around the fireplace in the house on this December evening look like any other holiday revelers, munching on cheese and crackers, sipping cider. But soon the lamps are turned off, leaving the fire the only light source. Plates and glasses are put away, replaced by  sheets of paper. The real reason for the gathering is about to begin. And it's not to discuss how consumerism has killed the holiday spirit. No. These are writers. Writers don't idly complain. They take action.

Tonight, the action is to reenact a tradition that celebrates the season with meaning. Tonight, they gather to share ghost stories.

Charles Dickens would feel right at home as one writer after another reads stories about dark forests and empty graves and mysterious fumes in hushed tones. The temperature drops lower with each story. The computer programmer zips up his jacket. The librarian wraps her cardigan tightly around her. The two golden retrievers, who have been happily licking faces and wagging their tails, are now trying to squeeze in among the people. The shadows thrown by the fire take on more recognizable shapes: a sickle here, a werewolf there. 

The fourth writer starts on her story; it's one that her Norwegian grandparents have assured her to be true. She has everyone hanging on every word, breathing with every cadence. 

"Janus heads to the wharf, where a light shines intermittently. His heart beats in his ears, drowning out the low moan that emits from the dilapidated boat. This is it. Finally, he gets to face down his darkest fear. Only a few more steps, and then--"


Everyone in the room jumps. A few shriek. The host runs to the kitchen and finds that the glass from the hurricane lamp on the kitchen counter has shattered into a hundred shiny pieces, reflecting the light from the candle. 

broken glass by ~zeh235

The lamp has been a gift from her daughter, who bought it in an antique store in Norway the previous summer.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Goon Squads, Book People, and Forgotten Gardens

With thousands of titles currently available, finding a great read seems like such a gamble sometimes but recently I hit the jack-pot with three fabulous books. 

It was many months after I bought the book that I finally read it. Pulitzer Prize winners have been good to me and I was afraid the heightened expectations would mar my reading experience. And when I found out the structure of the book was non-standard--one of the linked stories was told entirely in power point slides--my anti-gimmick-o-meter lit up and made me even more hesitant.

Which just goes to show how external things--covers, synopses, structure, and reviews and, yes, even awards--can fail to show what a book really is. All these worries were unnecessary. The book is like an elegant 3D puzzle. It takes an extremely creative and logical mind as well as authority to pull it off. 

I am not sure how a novel without a central protagonist (there are several recurring characters) or a real plot can evoke so much empathy and intrigue. I am not even sure I'd know how to analyze the book to find the secret ingredients, so I'll just recommend that you read it. 

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
I had been meaning to read Geraldine Brooks for a while. After browsing excerpts from several of her books at the bookstore, I took this one home. The premise of the story is simple: a book-restorer tries to uncover the mystery of an ancient treasure.

We travel to different times and places to where this book had been. The historical and cultural aspects are so richly described that they jump to life. Reading about them made me feel at once aware of my ignorance and hungry for more knowledge.

The book is much more than a history and social studies book, of course. The characters, some of whom appear for only a short time, feel authentic, with palpable struggles and hopes. For me to be able to go along on their journeys, to be privy to how they make moral decisions, difficult and life-changing, was what kept my mind going back to the book long after I"d finished it.

Forgotten Gardens by Kate Morton
When I started the book, the constant moving of the story from one protagonist to the next and one time period to the next pulled me out but I was willing to put up with the intrusion because the writing was engaging  I was also very much aware of some of the devices the author had used to enhance the story: repeated themes--losing a child; children being taken and plopped down in foreign environments--and characters with evocative names: the evil landlord named Swindell and the rat-catcher named Rodin.

At some point, however, I realized I no longer paid attention to those things. All I wanted to do was to finish off whatever I was doing: cooking, talking on the phone, chauffeuring children, so that I could get back to the book. It recaptured for me the delights of my childhood reading experiences. It reminded me what a otherworldly joy reading can bring. The book may contain stock characters or cliched phrases, but I didn't notice, nor did I care. My writer-self was convinced early in the book to stay out of the way and just let my reader-self have at it. Smart self, that one. 

Read any books lately that have given you the goose bumps or made you laugh or brought your nostalgia?

Friday, October 7, 2011


A critique partner said my latest submission to our group reminded her of at an intersection where three cars all tried to go at once; one to turn right, one to cross the intersection, and one to turn left. And they all crashed

Makes my day when someone gets my work at a level I'm not even consciously aware of.

Keep writing from your naked place.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The sweater of choice

..for those who do not want to be hugged. Say you're an introverted writer who does signings in cities with exuberant and friendly fans.

I just finished writing a short story that seems better on the page than in my head. (Ask me again tomorrow.)

And that's why I'm looking at fall fashion.