Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When is a bookstore not a bookstore?

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore has something for nerds of all stripes: books nerds, Tolkien nerds, typography nerds, technology nerds, just to name a few. With a few more elements of universal appeal thrown in: friendship, romance, quest for immortality, and a mystery, and voila: a fun and engaging read. 

I do have to confess that at times, while following the narrator's line of thinking as he solved the mystery, I got slightly lost. There were quite a few Aha! moments that, for me at least, turned out to be not quite as momentous as the book portrayed them. 

This book has been compared on many end-of-year lists to Where'd You Go, Bernadette? as books that are written for an intelligent audience who may need a short reprieve from deep, thought-provoking book but still want to be transported by excellent writing. It seems like a bit of a back-handed compliment, especially for an author who touched on some Big Themes, albeit delivered in easy-going, almost slacker language. I think I understand what there readers are trying to say though, and I agree. This is a very well-written book without pretensions and affectations. I enjoyed it.

Here is a quote from the book: 
"I always thought the key to immortality would be, like, tiny robots fixing things in your brain," she said. "Not books."
My only question is, why is the font on the cover not in Gerritzoon?       

Monday, October 15, 2012

Life is Good


That's the sound of a contented sigh. What brought it about? The last few books that I have read, all of which have been good. My faith in humanity is reaffirmed. 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? and Broken Harbor are both hugely popular books, which usually means I approach them with fear and trepidation because however much I try, I always go in with heightened expectations. At the back of my mind is always that niggling naysayer. 

But both of these more than lived up to the expectations. Isn't that always such a relief?

First, Bernadette.

What is the book about? It's about the redemption of a self-absorbed woman. No, not exactly. It's a quest of a fifteen-year old to find her mom. Not totally. It's about mistakes. It's a family story. It is a mystery. It is a story told in multiple points of view via email and letters and regular prose interwoven together. It's about Microsoft and robotics and penguins and Antarctica and architecture and Seattle and artists becoming the menace of society. 

(I really would love to know the elevator pitch of this one. Or even the synopsis.)

The novel contains all of the above yet (cliche alert!) the result is not only so much more than the sum of its parts, it is a totally different species.

It is a story well told that is in part hilarious, without overt cleverness, and in part sad. The traits of the characters are scarily recognizable and unlike my prose here, not cliched-ridden. If I were told earlier on that the story would be told partially through email and letters from different povs, I'd conclude that it was a lazy choice, a gimmick. But it's not. Or maybe it is, but I didn't care. I was drawn into the story and its characters, without really identifying with Bernadette nor her daughter, Bee (just who is the main protagonist, anyway?) and was willingly being taken along for the ride. 

A great ride. A wonderful read. 

(Next up, my thoughts on Broken Harbor.)  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

So that's what she looks like?

You know how when you read about a character and start forming ideas about what she looks like and how she sounds? I do anyway. And as I continue, the image is either confirmed or modified by new information. Most of the time, I feel all smug like a good student when I get it right.

But every once in a while, the surprise that the character is nothing like what I've formed in my mind is priceless.

Audrey Griffin, a parent at a private school who is going to host a brunch in her home for prospective parents. I thought: nice hair, good skin, tasteful clothing, posh accent.

Then I see her--running, puffing, her grey hair coming loose from her ponytail, wearing a down vest and pleated pants--and I just feel pure delight!

(Name the book and tell me if you aren't enjoying it.)
(hint: I just mentioned it recently on my face book author page.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Post conference bookapalooza

The Lines and Letters Conference organized by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI this past weekend provided a time of recharging for me. My mind has been provoked and opened and challenged. I'll do a quick recap soon but for now, here is the list of books I am going to read as a result of recommendations:


Have you read all/any of these? Any thoughts? Favorite passages? Most unforgettable characters?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Escaped the claws

This is just a short post to report that I did finish my manuscript for my critique group and now I am working hard on the revision. 

The most eye-opening result of this little exercise is this: the reason I had so much trouble finishing up the manuscript is that I had been trying to write two stories into one. Too many relationships were left shallow, several characters left single-dimensional, and most important of all, each of the main character had to nip/tuck their stories to fit the other's.

I have to say that the realization not only made a lot of sense but brought a degree of calmness. I have restarted the novel focused on only one of the two original protagonists--assuring the other that I will come back to her another day for her very own story--and find that my mind feels less cluttered and distracted.

I'm on Chapter 5 and I have a good feeling about this. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Read it, Maybe

Yes, it's a cheesy parody, but it's fun. 

Also, did you notice I inserted a comma in the title? 

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Gauntlet...

...has been thrown down.

The next time I submit to my critique group, my first draft will be finished.

Part of the reason I can't finish the book is that I have lost the focus of my original vision; I have been distracted by other shiny possibilities and strayed off the path. Or maybe subconsciously I think that if I don't finish it I don't have to face this product that is so far from what I imagined in my head. If I hold on to the fact that "I am still writing the story" I can still salvage what has become an unwieldy mess in my mind. 

But my critique group, patient saints though they all are, has had enough of my 40 years of wandering, and has given me the command: finish the thing, and do so by September. 

It's time. Enough. The end is near.

I accept the challenge. (Or suffer the consequences at this gauntlet.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

WFMD Challenge Day 15



Hoping it will take fewer than seven days for me to reach a productive writing day

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


It's to be expected. Falling off the wagon. Household emergencies, health issues: those were the reasons I didn't write for a few days. 

Those particular situations are over now and it's time to start over. Not guilt trips, no lament over but-it-was-just-starting-to-get-good.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Then, on the Seventh Day

Most of what I had written in the first seven days of WFMD Challenge were not words that would see the light of day. I was writing for the sake of writing.

But something happened on the evening of the seventh day. 

I had already written that day, but in the late afternoon, I decided to open a file that I had been avoiding. It was the current chapter in my YA novel, a chapter that had been giving me fits. Like any good procrastinator, I just chose not to look at it. 

I am not sure what the initial spark was for wanting to return to this chapter, but I know it was not guilt, it was not a sense of duty. It was something closer to curiosity: I wanted to see what I had done and what I could do. (Ignoring it deliberately does have its merits. It allowed me to read what I'd written with a more objective perspective.) As I read the rough words, I started writing and editing. While I wouldn't describe the process as having the heavens open up, I was able to work and push forward instead of fighting with the stop-and-start-and-stutter phenomenon that had passed itself as the process of writing in recent times. 

 So it is true. Write consistently: drivel, rubbish, cliches, doesn't matter. The habit will make it easier for the real writing to take place. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Inviting monsters

Laurie Anderson provides writing prompts every day on her blog during the August Write Fifteen Minutes A Day Challenge. Today's prompt, especially, hits me with that strange combination of fear and excitement. 

Inviting my inner monsters? Isn't that just a crazy idea? I spend my time avoiding them, why focus on them now? Why give them the attention?

And yet. 

There seems to be some wisdom in choosing to face down a foe instead of running away or closing my eyes and ears and singing "lalalalala" whenever there is a chance of being confronted with it. 

So today I'm going to do it. If you don't hear back from me tomorrow, I hope it's not because I am rocking back and forth in a fetal position in the darkest corner of my house. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gold bars and badminton and priorities

Badminton is a favorite sport in my family. Growing up, we watched as many of the Thomas Cup and All England matches as were broadcasted on TV. We watched amazing feats by the international greats such as Rudy Hartono, Han Jian, Svend Pri, and Lim Swie King as well as Malaysia's own Punch Gunalan, Sidek Brothers, Ong Beng Teong, Cheach Soon Kit. Just typing these names bring back so many fond memories. 

The current Malaysian top player, Lee Chong Wei, was in the finals of the 2012 London Olympic games. He lost, but not before winning the first of three matches and going all the way to tie at 19-19 in the third. Lin Dan from China took the gold.

Not having caught the game on TV (somebody please tell me the best place to watch the match?) I read some articles on it. I found out that a rich businessman in Malaysia offered to gift any Malaysian badminton players with a gold bar if they won the gold. Malaysia is a small country and while she has seen some sports glory on other international stages, the Olympic gold medal is one that has eluded her.

The offer got me thinking. I can't believe that Lee Chong Wei, a person at the top of his game, who has known what it takes to remain a champion, and who has lost to Lin Dan more than he has won in recent years, needed an extra motivation to do better in an Olympics finals!!!!! That he would say to himself, "well now that there is an additional $600,000 involved, I'd better train harder,' is inconceivable. 

I have to say though, if someone offers me a gold bar for winning the TKD Top Ten or to get a book contract, I may shift my priorities. The thing about wanting a balanced life and learning different crafts is that there is always tension. Should I be playing Clue with my children? Should I work on my TKD form/core strength/balance/flexibility? Should I write? Pursuing excellence in one area often means putting aside another area, at least for the time being. There is always a cost. 

But I have to say, if someone were to offer me a gold bar for winning the world championship and getting a book published, I don't think I'd be doing anything much differently. That's a good sign, isn't it?


Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Challenge of Saturdays

Saturdays: lazy mornings, breakfast stretched into lunch,  impromptu bike rides, movies. 

Setting aside time to write? Not so easy. So I'm going to do it now before the rest of the family emerges from their brunch and books to ask expectantly: "what are we doing today?'


Friday, August 3, 2012

Exhausting or energizing?

It's Day 3 of WFMD Challenge.

What's on my plate today: an overall examination of my young adult novel that is (finally) nearing the end of the first draft. I have become aware of a number of things that are not working but wanted to finish the draft before revising. Now it's time to retrieve the new knowledge and insights I'd filed away to figure out how I can make it work. 

It's another one of those difficult processes to begin, because there is so much that is new and untested, and it is difficult to seperate the essentials from the peripherals. Plus, I know that the next revision, my second draft, will depend on this new road map, and I really would like to avoid as many false paths as possible. 

In other words, too many decisions have to be made based on too few indisputable "knowns." 

I used to love this very situation as a young piano teacher. Every year at the end of summer, I would take out folders of my students for that year (I taught at a community music school, and while most of the time we kept our students for years, we did get students new to us every year because of scheduling  issues or teachers leaving.) Sitting at my desk with their folders before me, trying to piece together what each student need was a most enjoyable and energizing process. 

Now the prospect of that just exhausts me. 

Let's see if this free writing with no (wink! wink!) real expectations of an end product will lead. 

What are you writing today?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mind games

Day 2 of WFMD Challenge allowed me time to explore the thoughts, some unformed, all unrelated, that have been brewing beneath my alert mind after I finished Ann Patchett's State of Wonder. 

Like any good book, State of Wonder has not only engaged me while I was reading it, but also kept my thoughts turning to it repeatedly after I had finished. 

Judging from previous experiences, however, I probably would have just allow these simmering thoughts to die away unexamined. 

It's never easy to put into words feelings and thoughts that are multifaceted and rich and meaningful in my mind. Sometimes it's easier to just let them stay unwritten. Or so the procrastinating, perfectionist writer thinks. 

This time, however, I have decided to use my allotted 15 minutes to figure out these still nebulous ideas and see where it would lead. After all, 15-minutes isn't a long time. If I ended up with nothing but rubbish, I wouldn't have wasted too much time. 

Not giving myself any expectations of an end product, not having to Write A Review, also made the process much easier.

None of my book reviews came easily. The authors and their agents and editors and friends had invested so much into these books and for me to pass judgement by just having read them once seemed ludicrous. Yet I also wanted to share my thoughts, and so each time I fretted and hummed and hawed before coming up with reviews that I felt did them justice. 

Promising myself that I wouldn't try to wrestle my thoughts into a review relaxed me considerably. Words came out onto the paper with a flow that I don't think I had ever experienced when writing a book review. 

There may still be a review in the future, but by assuring my anxious mind that I didn't need to produce one loosened the grip on that hose through which my words flowed.

On that questionable metaphor, I will stop today's post.

Day 2, completed. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It's about habit-building

It's August, and that means I start the Write 15 Minutes A Day Challenge organized by author Laurie Halse Anderson.

It seems so insubstantial, doesn't it, 15 minutes a day? Surely we can all find 15 minutes a day to write. Sadly, it's all too easy to keep putting it off until writing even 15 minutes sounds too big a hurdle. 

It's the same thing with exercising. How can I possibly let days go by without spending at least 15 minutes a day doing some form of physical exercises? Yet I do.

So here it is, a small step toward re-building one habit that has gone by the wayside over the summer, and really, the month before that while dealing with the whirlwind that was the end of a school year. 

So I am making this modest effort. Care to join me?

Also, I'll post what I've written here for the next month. So if you don't see a new post, please feel free to nudge, bully, or otherwise hold me accountable.

Today I wrote about 500 words. A story about an incident in my childhood that has stayed me with so long I figured it needed to be written. I did make myself a much more interesting kid than the placid, gullible child that I was, though. Funnier. Or maybe just less painful. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I've been reading

... a timeless middle grade novel about two families adapting to new cultures.

...a young adult novel that describes a Big Brother society so vividly that I've started checking for hidden cameras.

...about life on a new planet where gold is plentiful but coffee is contraband. People live and fight for what they believe in and reach out to others in this strange world much the same way as we do in our strange world where gold is bought by businesses housed in at temporary stripmall storefronts and where coffee costs $4.95 + tax.

...about a girl who has to survive her mother's disappearance in a world invaded by aliens whose favored stomping ground is the mall.

...about a college freshman who finds out her professor is none other than her estranged father and he now comes with a psychotic admirer in tow.

...about a young woman whose wish to escape her destiny is accidentally fulfilled by invention of a young man who is trying to escape his destiny as the drunkard's son.

These are the works-in-progress of my writing group members. I've said it before many times about how much I appreciate them, but while catching up on my critiques last week, I was reminded once again of just how privileged I am to be in on their creative process.

I can't wait to see these books in print. In the mean time, I urge you to check out their published works:


Monday, May 14, 2012

Flowers and Bruises

Why so many pictures of  plants? Because they are a lot prettier than a picture of my foot, and they include all the colors that have graced my foot this past week. 

You see, I sprained my ankle in a Tae Kwon Do class. No, I wasn't sparring (so there is no other guy who looks worse) and I wasn't doing anything fancy. I was simply showing some students how to do a jump front kick, a simple kick I had done hundreds of times. I was concentrating so much on talking to them about proper execution so they wouldn't hurt themselves that I forgot to pay  attention to what I was doing.  

Ironic, you may think. Embarrassed was how I felt. I should have been more careful. I had worked out twice that day and was feeling pretty tired but thought that teaching wouldn't be that taxing. Turns out fatigue is one of the biggest reasons for sports injuries. I had also been strengthening my legs in the last few months so that I would jump higher for the jump-kicks in my own form. Perhaps I did gain a few millimeters and it messed up my coordination. (Just indulge me, okay?) Or I may just be plain old clumsy.
In any case, this ankle has been occupying a lot of my attention. What does this have to do with writing? Take your pick:

  • pay attention , especially when you're jumping, or writing about jumping;
  • when you're too tired, step away from your writing before you injure its plot or flow or character development;
  • color is not directly related to pain, the boldest purple may not hurt but that faint green stretch that doesn't look like much may;
  • just because the swelling has gone down doesn't mean you should resume normal activities, especially driving, playing the piano, or pivoting;
  • learn from babies when trying to negotiate stairs: going downstairs backwards is the most efficient
  • that one tiny little thing can REALLY MESS UP YOUR LIFE.

Anyway, take care.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Aint' That The Truth, Part II

When I read Cold Cereal, there were other passages that made me think "Ha! How true is that!" but I could find only one. I found another one:

"You're still upset." Emily told him. "About Denton teasing you."
"No. No. I'm fine."
"Forget about it," said Erno. "Everyone else has."



Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ain't that the truth

I love fiction for so many reasons. One of the foremost reason is I find truth in it. 

Take this passage from Adam Rex's crazy book*, Cold Cereal, for example: 

"We're going to see a play. On Broadway."
"Is it Makin' It? I saw that once."
"No, it's called Oh Huck! It's a musical Huckleberry Finn. We just finished reading the book, so..."
" Uh-huh. I saw the original cast of Makin' It, with Reggie Dwight and Ashlee Starr. My sister knows someone, got us tickets."
"That's great."

Have we not had those conversations? 

*When I say the book is crazy, I mean it in the nicest way. It seems as if someone wrote a bunch of ideas on pieces of paper and then randomly chose 6 or 7 of them: an evil corporation, leprechauns, Merlin, the Queen of England, Giants, genius children, unicats, and of course, cold cereal, and put them all in a story. I don't know how it works, but it does.

Monday, April 9, 2012

YA Ventures by Best-Selling Authors

In the last few years, quite a few best-selling authors have started publishing young adult books. Perhaps it's because YA sales are still in the stratosphere. Or maybe people, authors included, are increasingly able to recognize that YA fiction isn't a watered-down  stepping stone for kids getting ready to read "real" fiction, but a vibrant category that includes great stories and brilliant writing.

Having enjoyed two recent Nick Hornby books--you can read my reviews here for A Long Way Down and Juliet, Naked--I picked up Slam recently. I thought Hornby's sharp observational skills and sly wit would be perfect for YA. 

For this YA title, Hornby chose a first person POV that is determinedly conversational with a what's-up-dude, chummy tone. Add to that the often unnecessary spelling-out and explaining of events, and I find myself wishing he had stuck to his regular style of writing. 

What I appreciate the most about Hornby's books is how he presents his characters' flaws and self-absorption in a way that evokes sympathy and understanding: there but by the grace of God. Sam the 18 year-old, like protagonists in the other books, is certainly flawed. But instead of gaining a better understanding of him and finding him more sympathetic over the course of the book, I just felt my sympathy erode. I don't see any signs about the way he treats people or makes decisions that shows real growth in his maturity, compassion, humility. And the way the book ended, [Spoiler alert} with him making out like a bandit, just seems incredulous.

Now, granted, I'm not the target audience (although I do read a lot of YA and have slept in the Holiday Inn Express) so my reaction is to be taken with large pinches of salt. Maybe teens are in fact unable to see outside their own concerns. I don't completely buy that idea. But say that I do, then here is my question: would these teens have any inclination to read about other teens who are completely self-absorbed? 

Or maybe this whole thing is a satire and I just didn't get it.

Another author whose work I usually enjoy, Harlan Coben, also ventured into the YA world recently. This NY Times bestseller, The Shelter, is tied in to Live Wire, his latest Myron Bolitar books. The tone and voice of his YA book are not that dissimilar to those in his general fiction ones. Good choice. He got across the character of Mickey Bolitar, nephew of Myron, without resorting to gimmicks and cheesy cultural references and fake teenness.

While doing research on the web (ahem) for this post, I came across Book Aunt's much more extensive post on the topic. She lists at least a dozen titles written by authors better known for their general fiction. She also includes a top-ten list of what not to do when writing for young adults, which is definitely worth a read. 

Have you read any of the YA novels by crossover authors? What do you think? And speaking of crossover authors, are you excited about J. K. Rowling's venture into general fiction?

Monday, April 2, 2012


Variations On A Theme is published! I wasn't able to post it here earlier because other things in life took precedence over blogging this past week. What a thrill it was to hold copies of it in my hand! The variety of stories in this anthology is amazing, given that all of them are supposed to have been inspired from the same two tales. 

If you haven't read got a copy, do go to Amazon and get one, or eight.

So the above is the "sweet" part of the title of this post. 

Today, I learned that The Literary Lab will not continue as an active blog. Davin, Michelle, and Scott will keep it available as a static, meaning anyone can read their archived posts. 

Part of me hopes that it's an April Fool's prank --although I think I may just go wring their individual necks if that's the case--but part of me recognizes that every good thing must come to an end. I will miss the thought-provoking posts, lively interaction among their loyal readers, and sublime silliness that can happen in the comments section. I wish them the best.

And that, was the bitter part of the post. 

Maybe I should have titled my post "dark chocolate" today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


A fellow blogging writer said that currently he hates every word he writes and that is why he keeps writing. 

It strikes me as a very sensible and practical thing to do. 

I too, am not fond of my words these days, so I am getting rid of them, by flinging them from my mind onto the screen. Be gone, you bland, weak, imprecise, lame words!

On a different note: happy Vernal Equinox!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The TBR shuffle

Like every other book lover, I have a big To-Re-Read pile. It is pretty fluid, that is to say, I may think I'm going to read The Corrections as soon as I finish my current book, but I may decide to read Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince instead. 

Some of these decisions are totally pragmatic: when a book I put on hold at the library becomes available, I usually read it right away. Sometimes, the decisions are a lot more capricious. Say I planned to read Alice Munro's newest story collection but am feeling sadder or more introspective than usual, then I pick up Nick Hornby or Jonathan Tropper instead. Sometimes several people recommend a YA title but I've just finished 4 YA books,so I may read a few more chapters in my non-fiction pile, about parenting/mindset/fast and slow thinking/happiness. (For some reason, I don't finish a non-fiction book continuously as I do fiction so I always have several that are on-going.)

So lately this is how my TBR shuffle has played out:

What about you? What are you reading now and why are you reading it? How often do you switch your books on your TBR pile?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Typing With My Eyes Closed

In case you think that "typing with my eyes closed" is euphemism for something else, say, writing without passing judgment, or this is something so easy that I exert no effort, you'd be reading too much into the title.

You see, I have to close my eyes frequently when I write these days. I had two cataract surgeries last month. (I know, most people don't need them till they're older, but I'm among the lucky few.) My eyes are healing well, but they are very dry and they tire easily. I also think that the fancy coating on my glasses had been doing their thing because now that I don't wear glasses, except to read up close or to drive, my eyes are more sensitive to light, whether sunlight or the light from my computer screen.

And that is why I have been typing with my eyes closed. And even though this course of action was born of necessity, I find that I am, in fact, writing with less inhibition, and faster, because I have fewer things to pay attention to, namely typos and weird spacing in my words. Thoughts are flowing more smoothly from my mind to the screen.

I wouldn't say that my new way of working has freed up my writing all that significantly, but I am rather enjoying the process. If you will tolerate a bit of pop-psych terminology, I'd even say that I am embracing this unexpected gift. 

Maybe you'd like to try it sometimes and see if helps.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Happy Dance, Part II

The dancing turtle from yesterday's post was cute, but look at what I had originally wanted to use:

My hair never curled like that, but those are pretty much my dance moves. 

These are drawn by the talented Maria Mercado, whose website I found as I searched for a picture for yesterday's post. I hadn't heard back from her with regards to having her permission to use the images and I was impatient to share my good news, which is why I chose the dancing turtle. But now that I've heard back from her, I have to show them to you.

Check out her blog for more wonderful doodles. Someone who can draw like that even when she's sick is definitely living and breathing her art.

Hope you're having a happy dance sort of a day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy news!

I have long been a fan of The Literary Lab and so was doubly excited to find out I won the top prize in their Variations on a Theme contest!

These folks not only organized and judged the contest, they also put up their own money for the winners. It's clear that they love fiction and are doing their part to spread their love. 

This anthology, their third, will be available in March. In the mean time, I hope you'll support their effort to promote good writing by checking out the first two

You know what else is cool? That when I look at the names of the other authors whose work will be included, I recognize quite a few  from having interacted with them at the Lit Lab blog. And let me tell ya, the comments section is half the fun over there. Davin, Scott, and Michelle chime in often, and do a great job in creating a fun and welcoming place to discuss and ask questions. It's no wonder they have a loyal following. 

So, while you enjoy reading the diverse works from these anthologies, I will go resume my happy dance!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Juliet, Naked: A Brief Review

Nobody writes insecure and neurotic people as well as Nick Hornby. Okay, there's Woody Allen. But Allen lacks the uniquely-British calm facade that pretends everything is fine; splendid, in fact. I'm not British , but as I was reading this book, I was impressed by how, just from having grown up in an ex-British colony, I have absorbed a lot of that into my psyche. I completely bought into how each of his main characters over-thinks and second-guesses their own actions and how the spoken dialogue is but a fraction of the one that goes on inside the character's head.

The story is about Annie and Duncan, a couple, and Tucker Crowe, the singer-songwriter who is the object if Duncan's obsession. After Annie splits up with Duncan, she makes the acquaintance of Tucker and ends up having him (and his young son) stay at her house. 

An absurd story line, really. But who says absurdity is bad? Especially when the absurdity carries truth in it, such as the way Duncan justifies in his mind to himself that he is superior to the young man who, like him, is standing outside the house of Tucker's old girlfriend; and the way Annie uses algebra to calculate how much of her 15 wasted years with Duncan has caused her.

It was a delicious read for the most part, and a slightly uncomfortable one as well, when I recognized my own neuroses and insecurities. I have to say, though, about three quarters of the way through, I needed a break from all those wounded and fragile egos. Luckily (cunningly?) Nick Hornby inserts a laugh-out-loud scene using a common and totally benign greeting when two of the characters meet. That scene is priceless. Had the novel ended there, several threads would have been left hanging, but it would have worked for me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Strength of conviction

Last year in November, my writing group decided to do our own version of the popular NaNoWriMo. Every one of us was in the middle of a novel and we decided we would use November and December to push for the end. 

The experiment was an interesting one for me. (I was forbidden to say I failed. Don't hit me. T.)

You see, I'd never done NaNoWriMo before, and have always been a slow writer who edits (obsessively) as I go. During those two months, I did have a few days when I just wrote without worrying about how well I was writing or how the current chapter fitted in the entire novel. Those days were awesome, awesome, awesome. 

Then there were those (many) other days that found me stalled and hesitant and semi-paralyzed or just plain busy. (Yes, we decided afterwards that it was silly to try this during the most holiday-heavy time of the year.)

Now it's a new year and new years tend to fill me with hope again. Call me naive. So here I am, resuming my intention for my novel, which is to move forward so that I have a finished draft to slash, I mean rework. 

And I'm finding that it's just as hard in January as it has been in November and December.  

Just when I am fidgeting and the butt glue is coming loose, I get an email from my writing friend. And it's about how we need to give up grandiose ideas about ourselves and our writing, and then we can write what we need to write.

I have grandiose and less grandiose ideas about my writing. I have doubts and fears. I have a repertoire of craft principles gleaned from writing professionals. I have the lasting impressions and memories of millions of sentences that have passed through my mind. 

But none of it, whether it is a wish to touch someone with my book or a fear that it will not be good enough for anyone or the recognition of brilliant sentence or an assurance I have portrayed a character honestly, is helpful at this writing stage.

What I need is to clear my head of anything extraneous to the story I'm writing.

Easier said than done, obviously, but an excellent reminder for when I'm lamenting my cliche-heavy prose and confusing dialogues and wooden characters and meaningless plot twists and the over-abundance of interiority. 

To just keep writing. Humbly and with great conviction that it needs to be written.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

One Word

Irene Latham is going to be fierce this year. 

My one word to define the new year?


To be more bouncy and less stodgy
To bounce back after discouragement
To let everything negative  bounce off

What's yours?