First Friday Post

Ah, summer. A time to slow down, and a time to catch up on some of the reading I’ve been planning to do all year. I have a big stack of books waiting for me, and I’m eager to get at them! This is the first of what I hope will be a summer long series of book and/or movie reviews, posted on Fridays.

I finished four books this week, all excellent:

The Pale of Settlement, by Margot Singer
This is a collection of linked short stories, that all have as their central character Susan, the American born daughter of Israeli immigrants. The stories span in time  from the 1982 war in Lebanon, through the suicide bombings of 2003, deftly weaving in current events with the personal history of Susan’s family, and exploring the connection between identity, family, and memory. Beautifully written, this is an excellent read.

Bone Worship, by Elizabeth Eslami
This fiction work centers around Jasmine Fahroodhi, the daughter of an Iranian father and an American mother. When Jasmine returns home after failing to graduate from college, her father launches a plan to arrange a marriage for her.   This is a coming of age story about one young woman’s search to discover who she is in this world, and her attempt to understand her enigmatic immigrant father.  The ending seemed a bit glossy to me, but I still found the book to be an easy and interesting read.

Like the Heart, the World, by Sage Cohen
I met Sage recently at a bridge and poetry walk, and was moved by hearing Sage read the title story from this poetry collection. These poems are divided into three  sections: New York, San Francisco, and Portland, corresponding to places Sage has lived. All the poems are rich in imagery, and intertwine self-reflection with accurate observations of the outside world. This is a poetry collection that can be read again and again.

Deer Drink the Moon, edited by Liz Nakazawa
Ooligan Press published this collection of Oregon poetry. The sections are divided by geographical regions: Coastal Range, Willamette Valley, Cascades, Eastern Cascade Slopes and Foothills, Blue Mountains, Klamath Mountains, and Northern    Basin and Range. There are many well known poets included in this collection,   such as William and Kim Stafford, Judith Barrington, Floyd Skloot, and newly named Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Peterson, but these are by no means the only poets that are engaging. I found the collection well rounded, and discovered new local poets to keep my eye on. I also enjoyed getting a sense of other regions in Oregon, as I have rarely ventured outside Willamette Valley, Mt. Hood, and the coastal beaches.

Once Upon a Time

I can never resist a contest, especially one asking for 200 words or less. A few weeks ago, Powell’s Books asked for fairy tales in 50 words or less, beginning “Once upon a time…” Here was my response:

“Once upon a time…”

“Oh Mom, must you always start out that way?”

“What would you prefer, my child?”

“Just cut to the chase.”

“Okay. There was a little girl. Broke into a house. Ate porridge. Broke chair. Fell asleep in bed. Bears returned. Were angry. Girl fled. The end.”

“Thanks Mom”

“Sleep tight.”

This I Resolve… II

In the continuing effort to formulate New Year’s Resolutions at a leisurely pace, I began to think about my writing aspirations for next year. One thing that I had particularly wanted to do this year, was to write more Amazon reviews. There are two main reasons for this, the first being that when I want to decide whether a book is worth reading and/or buying, I check out the reviews on Amazon first. So what could be cooler than contributing to the collective body of reviews after I have read a book/ watched a movie/ purchased a product?

In the second place, writing a review shortly after I read a book/ watch a movie is the best way I know of reflecting on it. It provides a neat little wrap-up to the whole book reading/ movie watching experience, kind of like having to produce one of those book reports that were so ubiquitous, especially in my elementary school days.

So the resolution: Write Amazon reviews for as many books/movies/products as possible.

Some of my more recent reviews, with Oregon connections:

something has to happen next, by Andrew Michael Roberts (Oregon Book Awards Finalist-poetry, 2009)

Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, by Judith Barrington (Non-fiction)

Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques that Ensure a Great First Draft, by Laura Whitcomb (Non-fiction)

Mother Knows: 24 Tales of Motherhood, by Susan Burmeister-Brown (Editor of Glimmer Train)

Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese American Family, by Lauren Kessler (an Oregon Reads selection, 2009)

Visibility, by Sarah Neufeld (YA novel)

Bearing the Body: A Novel, by Ehud Havazelet (Oregon Book Awards winner- fiction, 2008)

You can read all my reviews at: Read ’em. Like ’em? Rate ’em! 🙂

Two Reviews: Poetry and Chick Lit

Now that the poetry challenge is over, I have a bit more discretionary time on my hands. Not that writing the haiku took all that long. It was reading all the other poems and comments that did!

I’ve started working my way down that ever expanding reading list I’ve been amassing ever since Wordstock, and writing some of those Amazon reviews I claimed I would. I’ve found from hard experience that the best time to write a review is right after you finish reading (or watching) something, so in that spirit, here are reviews of two books I read last night:

Gone to the Dogs, by Mary Guterson– This one I found that I could only give  a lukewarm review to. I heard Mary Guterson read at Wordstock and thought I’d check out this novel. Sure it’s chick lit, so I wasn’t expecting much beyond a light and entertaining read, but I found I really couldn’t get much past the anything but funny premise of a woman stealing her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend’s dog, in an act of revenge. If you’ve gotten past that sentence and you’re still intrigued, then by all means read it, but for light entertainment, there’s better out there. Interestingly, mine was the only non-five star review on Amazon. Go figure.

something has to happen next, by andrew michael roberts– I enjoyed this slim Oregon Book Awards finalist collection of poetry, although I must admit that I had to read it twice before some of the poetry registered with me. As they say though, good things come in small packages. (Do they say that? Well, anyway…) Worth the read.

Check out some of my 38 (and ever growing number of) reviews of novels, movies, books on the craft of writing and children’s lit on Amazon, and please mark them as helpful (that is, if you find them helpful!)

Book Review: Novel Shortcuts

Review of Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques That Ensure A Great First Draft, by Laura Whitcomb:

I heard Laura speak last month as one of the featured authors in the Northwest Author Series. I enjoyed her talk, so that lead me to read Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques That Ensure A Great First Draft, the book upon which the workshop was based.

I should say at the outset, that I have no novel writing aspirations for the near future. I am strictly a short story (and poetry!) writer at this point in my life, so some of what this book covers was not as relevant to me as it would be to its targeted audience, which as near as I can tell is fiction novelists actively working on drafts of their novel.

That being said, there were many helpful tidbits of information that I was able to glean from this book and apply to my own writing. Chapter One: Finding the Core of Your Novel covers discovering the heart of your story, and factors to consider in choosing the main character, setting, and story problem for your novel.

Chapter Two: Deciding How to Tell Your Story presents some of the mechanics of telling a story, including voice, tone, storytelling devices, and point of view. This was all equally applicable to the short story. Chapter Five: Balancing Scene, Summary, and Reflection has a good discussion of how to control the pace of a story through the judicious use of summary and reflection to tie action scenes together. Chapter Seven: Stealing Tricks From the Best corroborated my belief that the best way to learn about the craft of writing is to line up books by your favorite authors, and read, read, read.

The only section of the book I found somewhat troubling was Chapter Ten: Goals and Miracles, which seemed to imply that the end goal of writing a novel is to become rich and famous. Considering how few authors will ever make it to that elite status, I would say by all means write as if you will be picked up by a big-named publisher some day if it makes you feel good, but if your primary motivation isn’t the joy of the writing process itself, you’d be well advised to just hang on to that day job!

Writing Reflections- Day 16

For the rest of the month of September, I will be posting my responses from last year’s Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway both here, and on my Reflections page. This year’s response can be found on the Writer Mama Day 16 blog:

September 16, 2008- There’s some magic process that occurs when my pen hits the paper, or my fingers pound the keyboard. My writing comes from somewhere internal, not under the control of my conscious mind, and it is always a bit of a surprise to me when I read my own words on paper.

For me, the key to writing fiction is to let the characters drive the story, so I start with them first, based on real people, or some amalgam of their traits, craft a very loose plot, and then let them go and see what happens. So far, I’ve mostly stuck to flash fiction.

If I’ve learned one thing from writing these past two years, it is simply this. There are no special prizes for those lucky enough to be able to write final copy, or close to it, on their first attempt. When writing for specific calls for submissions, it is often my fourth or fifth take on a topic that is the one I’m most satisfied with. I like to think of my less than satisfactory attempts as just training ground for what I hope to write in the future!