Sunday, January 14, 2018

Five Stars for The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley!

Last year was the Year of the Three Star Book for me. I read a few really good books and suffered through a few "dog with fleas" publications but the vast majority gravitated towards the mean of 3.0. Don't get me wrong, three stars signifies a solid offering that I enjoyed reading but can leave me unsatiated and longing for more. The Holy Grail of this book lover is the elusive 5.0 star read.

To my great delight, my 2018 reading season has opened to the upside with a magnificent 5 STAR story ... The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. I highly recommend this emotionally seductive and addictive tale about the life of career criminal Samuel Hawley and his relationship with his teenage daughter Loo as she matures from child to young adult in the north shore town of Olympus, MA and comes to terms with the criminal past of her father and the life and death of her mother. I experienced a few episodes of leaky eyes!

My full review can be found on Goodreads.


Friday, January 12, 2018

January Meeting Reminder

Just a reminder that the WhipCity Wordsmiths will be meeting at Blue Umbrella Books at 3PM on Saturday, January 20th. Bring a favorite brief piece of you own writing to share. We'll do a writing prompt and have another PepTalk and share some more of our thoughts on writing, and talk about our projects if anyone s working on something. I have something going on that begins at noon that day, but will be at the meeting, although I might be a few minutes late.

My Muse 2

     My muse sits on the patio, elbows on the glass-topped table, shoulders hunched, a shock of dark hair streaked with golden sunlight fallen across his brow as he idly pushes the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle around, occasionally making an attempt to unite two pieces.  When he has bent and peered underneath the table for the hundredth time, craning his neck to look up at the underside of the table and the pieces thereon I step out into the shadow beneath the eaves and ask, “What are you looking at?”

     He straightens up in his seat, fastens those piercing eyes upon me and replies, “Sometimes you have to look at things from both sides in order to understand the thing in its entirety.”

     For someone who appears to live like a bohemian, so casually, he sometimes spouts raw wisdom that can cut you to the quick.  His intelligence comes in slashes like the flashing blades of too sharp knives and leaves me feeling wounded with inadequacy for not having had these insights on my own.  “I see,” I say.

     His grin is quick and infectious.  “Don’t lie to me,” he says, “Just tell me how lucky you are to have me around.”

     I capitulate too easily. “I am incredibly fortunate to have you here tormenting me with your brilliance as you do.”

     He picks up a piece of the jigsaw, holds it up as though it is a glass of wine he is studying.  I frown slightly for the piece does seem opaque as though it has captured some of the light and locked it away deep within itself.  “Here is the heart of the matter,” he says, winking before he locks the piece in place.  “Now go inside and write like the wind.”

     “Will you be breathing down my neck?”

     “With every period, every semi-colon, every exclamation point.  I really do adore exclamation points, you know. They’re so cheeky.”

     “British today, are we?”  He usually prefers French, sometimes Latin, occasionally Irish as he can be so full of blarney at times.


     “Cars or pumpkins?” I inquire, turning away.  In my peripheral vision he shimmers.

     “Why not success?”

     “Why not!”

     “That’s it, love!” he calls.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reflections on the Art of Writing

Reflections on the Art of Writing by Susan Buffum

“Writing should be a labor of love, not an agony of labor.”

“I have no clue where this is going, but that is the joy of writing- going on an adventure, not knowing where the twists and turns will be. It is a journey through the funhouse that is my imagination.”

Holding my Minion-shaped USB in my hand this thought strikes me: “This is my minion, Stuart. When I plug him into my computer’s USB port and the titles of the files he contains appear on the screen I feel like how Howard Carter must have felt at his first glimpse into Tutankhamen’s tomb. ‘What do you see?’ he was asked. ‘Wonderful things!” was his reply. Yes, indeed, wonderful things.

“New characters were whispering in the wings and have now stepped out upon the stage in the theatre of my imagination. And we, the characters and me as their appointed scribe, are currently writing tonight.”

“I am either a writer or I have some high functioning form of insanity.”

“I never know what I’m actually writing until it’s finished.”

On writing fiction: “The best thing about writing fiction is tht you construct a world, populate it with characters from your own imagination, and then manipulate them within that environment that you have created, also from your own imagination, and anything can happen in that world. Anything at all.”

“It’s a powerful and profound experience to be the one in control of an entire world and its inhabitants.”

“It is humbling and amazing to be able to draw a reader into that world that you have created in your novel and to influence their emotions just by the use of words written ust so on the page.”

“I suppose writing is like staging a playhouse production- building sets, telling a story, directing a diverse cast of characters, and making at all come alive in the theatre of the reader’s imagination.”

“The thing about writing that constantly amazes me is that the story that I think I am writing when I begin typing always morphs and shape shifts seemingly all of its own volition, leading me down roads that I ordinarily would not have traveled because they are not rutted and worn by frequent passage, but are rather more mere paths that wend into dark, shadowed, wild woodland where anything can happen- anything at all.

The thrill of getting lost is visceral and real. The relief of following that unblazed trail and discovering something within yourself, within your own psyche, and forging a story from those shapes and shadows is no small feat for an author. It is an epic feeling of discovery mixed with the euphoria of triumph, of victory. You have conquered a world!

But then follows the soul wrenching anxiety of offering that world to the fickle caprices of the reader. Hope is so delicate, so fragile, so ethereal a thing…so easily shattered, so quickly broken. I suppose all writers suffer this duality- the ecstasy and then the agony when a story they have written is made available to the real world.”

“Another thought on being a writer- writing is a creative process, an engine that constantly runs within me. It thrums alongside the flow of my blood through my veins. It cohabitates with my ordinary, mundane thought processes but follows different routes through my brain, separate tracks, if you will. I can be sitting at my desk paying bills, balancing the household budget, or standing at the kitchen counter baking a batch of brwnies or preparing dinner, or sorting laundry, answering the phone, sweeping the floor- just doing normal ever day tasks or chores- but always on that other track in my head the little engine of storytelling is chugging along.”

“As a writer, I only capture a very minute percentage of the stories running  through my head on a daily basis. When I sit down to write, I can only write one story at a time although there are many more stories pushing and clamoring to be told. It can be discouraging and defeating to lose so much because I am unable to write everything down. However, it would be even more devastating not to put down the stories that I do catch, like butterflies in a net, because to allow them all to flutter free to vanish into the void of lost memories would be like driving a stake through my own heart. It would be like killing myself, the stories and I are so closely intertwined.”

“My muse is the one that constantly stokes the firebox that powers the little engine of creativity along the track in my mind where inspiration flashes full steam ahead.! That is how writing is with me.”

Monday, January 8, 2018

Looking For Ideas for Author/Literary Local Events

I'll be attending an Artworks Westfield Board of Directors Brainstorming Retreat and would like your input an ideas on the types of events you'd like to see in Westfield in 2018. There is already an Articulture2018 planned for the end of April that will host artists and authors like the past two years. WhipCity Wordsmiths had a presence at PumpkinFest this past fall when we joined with ArtWorks for an Art&Lit event in the Old Town Hall during PumpkinFest- a truly terrific event that was more than well attended!

What would you like to see this year or in 2019? Let me know and I will pass ideas along so we can continue to make things happen in Westfield. The retreat is the day of our next meeting, so I will be there for several hours before joining everyone at Blue Umbrella Books on January 20th.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Oh That Ending!

How does an author think about the ending of a book?

My inquiry stems from my very first experience with New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J.T. Ellison and her most recent release Lie To Me

The first three hundred seventy-five plus pages were amazingly addictive, the story robust and complexly layered with the past and present circumstances surrounding the disappearance of writer Sutton Monclair. Of course her husband Ethan Montclair is the initial and prime suspect but the police officer handling the case senses something is amiss. I could not wait to get back to the story each time life interfered with my reading time.

For me, this amazing story was hollowed out by a very soft ending. As I raced to the end and dashed into the final scenes, my gut sighed, "That's it?" Disappointment. Anticlimactic. Bummed out.

The twist embedded within the twist was very clever and transformed the story from a tale about a broken marriage to one of conspiratorial vengeance and mistaken identity but the articulation and exploration of the ending twist was ... shallow and so unfulfilling. The author blew it! Or was it the editor?

You can read by full review on Goodreads.

What was shaping up be a wonderfully absorbing 5 star read to close out 2017 ended up being a 3 star disappointment.

I am curious how the conclusion of a story fits into the creative process. Thoughts?


Friday, December 29, 2017

I Recommend Where We Go by Melissa Volker

Before Christmas I received a message from author and Wordsmith Melissa Volker to expect a package in the mail. I had no idea what she was sending me. Therefore, I was thoroughly surprised and delighted to receive a package from Amazon inside of which was Melissa's new book of stories and essays on writing- Where We Go.

Being a fan of hers, I dived right into the book. On the following morning after receiving it, I was eating breakfast before work and reading and wound up with tears tumbling down my cheeks as I got halfway into Muse and had to leave for work or risk being late. I felt that story viscerally as well as cerebrally because it expressed feelings I understood perfectly well, even though I am not a musician. If I substitute the keyboard/computer for the piano, a manuscript I am dissatisfied is easy to blame the machine for the failure rather than myself. How many times have we passed the blame for our own failings?

I couldn't get home fast enough to finish the story and read the rest of the book. The essays and writings on writing are especially insightful. All writers find that they share at least some of the experiences, habits, frustrations, approaches, etc. of other authors, but writing still remains a process unique to the individual author because while we share some things in common, we are also unique individuals with differing experiences and perceptions.

Kelly and I often find startling similarities in what we write, but yet we each have our own take on things. We used to take a first sentence and run with it for twenty minutes, like a writing sprint and then swap pages and read what we each wrote. It was always a revelation to find those similarities and the different approaches we each took.

Reading another authors musings on the craft of writing can help you to not feel so alone in the creative world of putting words down on a blank page. To read of another authors triumphs and less than spectacular attempts helps ground you. Writing doesn't come easy. It has to be worked at, fine tuned, tinkered with, and sometimes totally scrapped and started over before it all clicks.

Sitting down with Melissa Volker's Where We Go and a favorite beverage and snack, you'll feel as if you have her right there in the room with you, or perhaps sitting across the kitchen table from you, sharing and swapping stories and ideas about writing. She'll move you and make you feel as if you're spending quality time with a friend.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. The stories at the beginning of the book are well crafted. Every word is like a stepping stone forward into the story. The pieces on writing are personal and mind expanding. Melissa demonstrates the craft of writing in this book.

I don't know whether to slide Where We Go into the bookcase among her other books or frame it and hang it on the wall because it is an example of the art of writing, and doing it well.

Bravo, Melissa!