Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey, Harper: HarperCollins, Feb. 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed this contemporary Jane Eyre!

What I loved: The modernization hit just the right balance of remaining in the spirit of the original while providing a fresh perspective. Gemma resonated with me, so I was completely engaged the entire length of the book. Very atmospheric which is almost essential for me. There’s hardly a wobble in the entire narrative and the 443 pages went extremely fast.

Although the portrayal of Mr. Sinclair didn’t detract from the book, he wasn’t as captivating a character as Mr. Rochester. I think it’s because the dark elements of Mr. Sinclair aren’t as dark as Mr. Rochester’s. This led me to ponder how dark characters, especially heroes, resonate and it poses some interesting questions—enough for another post. It’d be great if some of you would be thinking about your favorite dark characters.

As always, please chime in on the comments, if you have any thoughts about this book or comments on anything you’ve read and would like to tell us about!

Melinda

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Supervillain.

It happened gradually as I wrote.  My heroine's best buddy started acting a little funny. He began making some choices that were harmful to her. I watched in horror as he deliberately sabotaged something that she was doing.  I stepped back to read what I had written.

How did he know to do that? How could he be such an evil jerk after everything that they had been through together?  Slowly it dawned on me that the very evil I had written into him had come from inside my head.  Once I observed this happening in my own writing, I revisited some familiar passages with a new eye.

If Robin Cook wanted a character in Shock to die from a hemorrhage during an egg extraction, then he had to convincingly portray the behavior of a doctor who would allow a patient bleed to death while a lucrative surgery proceeded.  The author didn't have to experience this himself as a physician.  He could take some ideas and feelings from his practice as a doctor and let his imagination extrapolate them into something new and criminal.

As I am learning to write fiction, I get flashes of insight and potential behavioral choices that come from the supervillain inside my own head. I don't intend to act on these impulses or ideas.  But my imagination is capable of writing about these criminal choices.  This is both scary and intriguing to me.  It signifies a deep understanding of evil that comes from my imagination, not my experience.

When writers tell stories, they relive and rehash and even suggest horribly unpleasant incidents.  Some of them choose to leave readers there in the negative. Some are neutral and pragmatic. Some of them pull readers back out to a triumphant good over evil ending.

So far in my own writing, my subconscious pushes for my protagonist to always leave my supervillain soundly defeated. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why We Read or Just Read!

In my experience, most folks read fiction for the entertainment value of experiencing a story. Of course, there are as many different tastes as there are people. Some like the unfolding of events of plot-driven fiction and others enjoy the drama as characters react to events in character-driven stories. Some want to experience completely different worlds and stretch their imagination in fantasy or a historical period. Another variable is how much a person wants this form of entertainment.

But then there are those who don’t like to read. One of my daughters reads more sci/fi in a week than I could process in a life-time, and she does that most every week. Her twin sister sees little value in books at all. (Her texting skills, however, may be approaching legendary proportions.) Since I encourage her to read a little for the benefit of her developing brain, she chooses stories that focus on people.

My twin girls have taught me so much about how different people are. My regard for them certainly isn’t dependant on what or how much they read, just like their differing taste for food isn’t significant to me.

No one should ever feel intimidated because their sister reads more than they do. Or because their neighbor reads literary books and they enjoy popular fiction or romance. I’m convinced if people will read what appeals to them, they may grow to enjoy different material at some point. There’s no reason for anyone to force themselves to read anything for pleasure that they don’t like. I enjoy genres now that I turned my nose up at when I was younger. Reading tastes may change or expand, like clothes and d├ęcor, in the same age group, as well. But if my reader-twin never enjoys anything but sci/fi, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Reading, for the writer, also has another element. I think of it as similar to how children assimilate their parents’ speech patterns and mannerism and incorporate them into the fabric of their individuality. Writers may also analyze things like craft or structural issues in their reading material for learning purposes.

We would love to have some of our visitors comment on whatever they are reading. Your opinion of a book is as valuable as ours! We really enjoy hearing different perspectives.

So, please, don’t be shy!

Melinda

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tastes Like Chicken

Resistance was futile, though I’ll be the first to admit I offered little. With only the slightest nudge disguised as opportunity, I was assimilated into the happy ranks of e-readers.

 It all started with one Christmas gift, an afterthought, really. I expected to adore the diamond earrings and new iPhone, but when I unwrapped my Kindle, I was shocked, a little awestruck, and secretly relieved I didn’t have to abandon my principles and buy one for myself.  You see, until very recently, I was at best wary of e-books and at worst, their vocal opponent .

My reticence stemmed from fear. Plain and Simple. E-books struck panic in my writer’s heart. Even though I heard them billed as the future of publishing, I didn’t care to listen. E-books were EVIL. They were single-handedly destroying the big-box book stores, and with their vile little readers, were diminishing my opportunities for publication.  

In my ignorance, I thought e-books were a writer’s enemy. How could an author be properly compensated by a percentage of $3.99 per unit when the list price on the paperback version is set somewhere around $7.99? Imagine my surprise when I went to the Kindle store and purchased my first e-book for—you guessed it—$7.99. While I wasn’t looking, e-book pricing had become more competitive with traditional books. After the most cursory of investigations, my erroneous theory is busted.

My next big hurdle was losing the sensory experience of reading a book. The tactile sensation of paper sliding through your fingers, the sound of pages turning, and the smell of a freshly bound book contributed heavily to my enjoyment. But you must also weigh that against the finger calluses from too much page turning, and the sheer weight of a print book. Let’s face it.  If you read as much as I do, you’re looking at blisters and carpal tunnel after a single rainy weekend. In weight alone, the Kindle wins, hands down (pun intended).

My final big concern (believe me, there were plenty of small ones, too. I can pick nits with the best of them) was convenience. The majority of my last year was spent in doctor’s offices and hospitals while my husband underwent treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia. When you spend anywhere from six to twelve hours in close quarters, and I do mean close, trying to be helpful when needed and invisible when not, I cannot overstress the value of quiet entertainment. But carrying multiple books can be cumbersome and heavy. With an e-reader you have access to the entire book store without having to lug it around.

Despite minor downsides, such as typos in scanned and reformatted backlist books— point non plus appeared in a recent read as point rum plus—I have grown to love my e-reader. As the new publishing model unfolds, I have no doubt their popularity will only rise.

So now I’m stuck chewing a mouthful of loud, impassioned words, and I must say they’re not all that bad. In fact, most of them taste like chicken.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Favorite Reads Early 2011

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown Putnam/Amy Einhorn, 2011
An exceptional women’s fiction follows the personal journey of siblings. The alternating stories kept the female angst at a pleasant level. Unfortunately, the Shakespeare snippets were beyond me—but didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book.

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen Bantam, 2011
Mystery with a fantasy element--deep enough to keep me totally engaged for a completely pleasant reading experience. Nice out-of-the-ordinary romances and a family mystery to be solved. What a treat!

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett Harper, 2011
Women's fiction with sci/fi element. Well-crafted, fresh plot and atmosphere. Characters believable and well drawn. Thoughtful themes really deepened the narrative.

Room by Emma Donahue Little, Brown and Company, 2010
Despite my reservations about this author, this really was masterful. I couldn’t imagine getting through a novel with a 5 year-old narrator, but it speaks to the skill of the author. The tension of the mother and child's situation was almost unbearable at times, but remained manageable and due to the juvenile narrator spared the reader some of the raw elements.The themes of mother-child relationship and complexity vs. simplicity of our culture were nearly flawlessly carried out. Book club loved it too!

Thanks for stopping by!
Melinda