The Critique

Today I had planned for a post on short chapters and how I really prefer them. I sent it to the Editor like I do almost every other post and after reading it. She basically thought it was a pretty drab, weak read.

This sounds really harsh, and to be fair she was very gentle in her presentation which I appreciate. But, honestly, this was the best critique she has probably ever given me.  Because after re-reading it, she was right. It wasn’t my best. It wasn’t even very good.  This made me really happy for two reasons.

Firstly, I’ve always been concerned that the critiques I receive have been too nice so as not to hurt my feelings, and I totally get it.  I have the stereotypical writers’ sensitivity. But this honest critique made me know that I’m getting truthful opinions and that’s what I really want. They may be hard to hear, but I need them.

Secondly, and even more importantly, how am I ever going to get better if I’m constantly babied?  I want to get paid for my writing someday. If everybody reviewing my work tells me my writing is better than it really is, I’ll never achieve my dreams.

Thus, I will take this crappy post on short chapters and re-work it. And hopefully form it into something that I can feel confident about when I put it out there for the world to read.

Writing is a learning process, and today I learned that I have an awesome editor, a thicker skin than I used to, and the opportunity to do better.

Happy writing!

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My Favorite Flavia

In all my reading, I’ve met a lot of characters. There have been some I have liked and some I have disliked. A few I have hated beyond reason and precious fewer that I have absolutely adored.

My favorite character of all time is probably Flavia DeLuce. She a bit more obscure but has a winning series all her own. I read Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley many years ago.  Someone in the book group I was a part of at the time suggested it. I hadn’t heard of the book. I didn’t have any expectations when I picked it up, but by page four I knew I was in love.

I believe it was the line, “If you’re insinuating that my personal hygiene is not up to the same high standard as yours you can go suck my galoshes.” Flavia says this to her older sister Feely, and I knew right then Flavia and I were going to be the best of friends.

I devoured the book with sweet relish. It was wonderful and hysterical.  I’ve never been so excited to attend a book club get-together. I got there and settled in to hear and give praise to this wonderous book and its brilliant main character.  Then, the unimaginable occurred.

No one else liked it! One other person modestly did, but part of me wonders if she said that as she sat across from me and could easily see my shock and dismay. The rest of the group thought it was a silly notion that an eleven-year-old would be solving a murder, and they certainly wouldn’t be reading any of the sequels. I was remiss with their brush off, but I was ecstatic to learn there were other books. But later once I had gotten over my shock I thought to myself. This is why they call it fiction, people!

Anyway, years later I was reading the latest addition to the Flavia saga when I met up with a professor from college. He asked what I was reading. I explained it was from a series of books where a very precocious pre-teen solves murders and spends the rest of her time dabbling in chemistry.

He smiled while listening, “Ah…self-projection I see.” I laughed. He in a single sentence nailed it. I love Flavia because I can identify with her uniqueness, her love of science, her need to be taken seriously by her elders. I, too, had a chemistry lab when I was a kid and was referred to as rather peculiar on more than one occasion.

Flavia is so dear to me, and yet, probably due to the book club experience, I rarely recommend her to anybody. It’s selfish I realize, but I want to protect her and, in way, me from the scrutinizing literary world.

However, I get it, not everyone thinks it’s normal or cool to have a bicycle named Gladys.  Or think that chemistry is the bee’s knees, but for those of us that do, Flavia is a very special character that we hold dearly in our hearts.

Who is your favorite character? Do you feel protective of them?

An Unlikely Pair: Chocolat & Choke

I have a very eclectic reading spectrum.  In fact, besides straight horror or romance, I’ll read pretty much anything. I also tend to switch gears between books. I stray away from reading several books of the same type in a row. After I finished reading Chocolat, I wanted to save other lighter reads for later, but I did want something quick for my next read. Thus, I grabbed the shortest book I had:  Choke.

Now if you are familiar with these books you know that this is about as far apart as you can get on the fiction spectrum…but then again, is it?

In college, I had a professor task us with writing a compare/contrast essay on The Life of Brian and The Passion of the Christ. I’m proud to say I aced it.  This assignment popped to mind as I finished reading Choke. Wouldn’t it be funny if I compared Choke to Chocolat? Is it even possible?

After some thought it actually seemed more than possible. Both are stories with main characters attempting to find a sustainable life.  Victor, in Choke is trying to pay for his mother’s health needs, get past his fucked up childhood, and potentially do something more with his life than pretend to choke at restaurants to get money and have sex to forget about his miserable existence.  Vienne, in Chocolat, is trying to find a place to call home permanently, something that she has never experienced due to her own messed-up formative years and her battles with religious doctrine and social norms.

Both characters are raised by single mothers that believe in, and do some, screwed up things.  Both characters use sex as a remedy for attention. Vienne’s is mainly in the past while Victor’s is current, but Vienne does venture back down this road. They can each be at times selfish, but also self-sacrificing.

These stories show character progression and yet in the end leave the reader with the knowledge that they still have a long way to go before achieving what they want or need.  And there is the distinct possibility that they never will. They keep doing things which make you wonder whether they have learned anything from their past.

Both plots have influential, manipulative side-characters.  In Chocolat it is the village priest, the clear villain who is crazed with “righteous” religious behavior. While in Choke we have Dr. Paige Marshall, who isn’t necessarily the villain. She’s trying to “help” her patients the best she is able, but Paige has got some issues of her own.

Obviously, the tone of the stories are very different.  Choke is raw, direct, in your face. It’s done intentionally to make you uncomfortable and possibly face some of your own insecurities.  Chocolat is much softer. It relies on the reader completely understanding the issues that the characters grapple with; the answers aren’t force fed. But in the end, they both present the general idea that life is messy and incomprehensible and yet somehow as humans we manage.  It’s the difference between industrial lighting in a warehouse and the soft glow in a mahoganized university library.

Choke and Chocolat are about as far as possible from each other in the general fiction section at B&N, and yet weirdly close, like sweet potatoes being a part of the morning glory flowering plant family.

Let’s Get This Over With

Have you ever had a book that is on your TBR list because a book club or a friend recommended it, but you’re just not excited about it? If you had your druthers, you simply wouldn’t read it. But since you don’t have your druthers, per se, you decide you just need to start it, so you can get it over with?

This is how I feel about The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  But I’m not reading this for book club or because a friend recommended it to me. I’m reading it to break a tie of sorts between two friends.

I have two friends who are into the book life like me. One friend loved The Handmaid’s Tale, so she recommended it to my other friend. Unfortunately, said other friend hated it. I’ve been asked to read it and see who’s “right.” However, this is problematic.

First off, I’ve read Atwood before and I wasn’t a fan. In fact, I really hated it. So much so I haven’t picked up another book by her since. She can be a bit verbose for my taste. However, that was many years ago, so there is a strong possibility that my tolerance for verbose politically charged literature has changed. I mean, I am a fan of Orwell and Bradbury.

The second major concern is the pressure generated by such a debate. To say that my two friends are firmly on opposite sides of the spectrum would not be an understatement. And if I’m being honest, in regard to delivering a verdict in this matter, the jury pool has been tainted. I’ve heard a lot about why this book is horrible not only from reviews I’ve read, but also the friend who hated it. We work together so I would get daily updates on why she felt it was the worst book ever. On the flip side, I do know that it’s critically acclaimed and that most people greatly enjoyed it.

The reality of the situation is that I need to stop all my hypothesizing and musing about what I’m going to think and read the damn thing to see for myself. This is the only way we are going to find out my actual opinion, tainted or not. So despite my reservations, wish me luck because here I go!

First Anniversary

Holy Smokes! Can you believe it? I’ve been doing this blogging thing for a year.  It’s been a whole year of reading (about 62 book in total), writing (104 posts), and learning (such as blogging is so much more than writing something and posting it).

It’s been an exciting year.  I’ve had the opportunity to read a lot of great books.  I’ve found so many wonderful blogs.  I’ve greatly enjoyed the discussions, book recommendations, blogger knowledge, etc.

I’ve grown in my writing.  I’ve gotten far more serious about it, and I believe blogging has a lot to do with that. Since I’ve started, I’ve posted two blogs per week every week. It’s made me be more dedicated to my writing and in doing so I’ve generated a lot of ideas. I’ve played with many different forms and styles.

My blog has caused me to look at writing and reading differently, but in a good way.  I’ve tuned into things I’d never noticed before. I’ve also learned to adjust my perspective on what blogging success looks like. I’ve realized my blog is a place to play and experiment. Some of those experiments will be hits and others won’t, but the only truly bad posts are the ones never written.

I’ve excited for the year to come.  I’m excited for the books and the writing and the learning. I’m excited to try new things, make new friends, discover new blogs and keep this first-year mojo going forward.

This Book Sucked. Here Read It

We have all heard and probably even said:

“Oh, this tastes disgusting! Here try it.”

However, with terrible books we tend to be martyrs and steer people clear of going through the pain and misery we endured.  But I have lately discovered two instances where I have totally pulled:

“This is terrible. Here read it.”

The first instance was for a book called Possession by A.S. Byatt.  First off, I didn’t exactly think this book was terrible.  I just wasn’t a huge fan.  I also went into the book thinking it would be something entirely different than it was. Nevertheless, this didn’t end up on my recommendation list.

But…

I was originally recommended the book by a friend. We have differing book tastes, and I have another friend who seems to have similar book tastes to the friend who recommended Possession to me; thus, I thought she might enjoy it.

While my intentions were wholesome I must admit that it is awkward to hand a book to a friend and basically imply:

“Hey! You should read this book that I thought was bunk, because the friend I got it from has the same questionable tastes in books that you do, so you might like it.”

I used the best diplomacy skills I had to not imply this, but I don’t know how successful I was. I don’t think people necessarily agree with the notion that all books have an audience you just have to find the right one.  Just because a book wasn’t for me, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a book for you.

Anyway, the second instance where I want someone to read a terrible book is for the sheer need to have somebody to gripe about it with.  I can gripe about it to them, but it’s not the same as when they are in the trenches with you and you can have an all-out haters meeting of the minds.

Granted, you do run the risk that they read the book and absolutely love it which totally bums monkeys; but in that case you can have a very lively debate so all will not be lost.

I get wanting to skip the bad books because life is short.  But at the same time reading bad ones can make you appreciate the good ones and can be entertaining in and of themselves.  However, with this said, I will not be finishing the Twilight Series or reading 50 Shades of Gray. I still have my limits.

Something to Chew On

At the book swap a while back, I saw Choke sitting on the shelf.  Chuck Palahniuk’s name stuck out.  While I, of course, have heard of the famed Fight Club I have not read the book or seen the movie. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the infamous Chuck.

When I mentioned the book, my friend said it was great. She yanked it off the shelf and threw it in my to-be-read pile.  It’s a short book, so I figured it might be a good introduction to his style.

Mr. Palahniuk did not disappoint. I would equate him with the likes of Quentin Tarantino. Their work is stylistic, brazen, and pushes the boundaries of all decorum.  It seems that Chuck is not seeking to be known as a great or even a good writer although he is.  He is seeking for you to pay attention.

Weirdly, while the main character, Victor, appears to have little to no redeeming qualities, there is something gripping about him… Namely the fact that he knows he has very few redeeming qualities.

Yeah, he’s a con man with a sex addiction; yet, he’s strangely human. He demonstrates the rawness of humanity and while he is far from being a hero, he is also far from being a villain despite his best efforts.

Choke is not a book for all.  It, like Pulp Fiction, is a great work but not something everyone is going to be able to stomach.  It’s vulgar and unrelenting.  There is a message and there isn’t a message, all at the same time.

I think Chuck probably gets a good chuckle out of screwing with people’s heads, and the angrier he can make you, the better.  Chuck plays a game where you shouldn’t look too deep because if you do, you’ve fallen victim to wanting there to be more. But you should try to look below the surface, because there’s a hint of something going on behind the façade. Just what exactly that is, however, is difficult to determine. What I’m trying to say it’s a game. Are you smart enough to figure it out or are you going to be the poor schmuck that gets duped? If you’re up for a different kind of book and understand what you’re getting into, Choke can be a very enjoyable read.