My Outrage Awakens

Force Awakens

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie yet but plan to, then stop reading.

If you’re still with me, then you’ve already seen it, or don’t care one whit about this galaxy far, far away and will stop reading anyway.

If you’re a fan like me, then I think we can all agree The Force Awakens is a spectacular movie in every sense of the word. It delivers on all of our (admittedly  high) expectations concerning storyline, action, special effects, and most importantly, perhaps, heart. For me, the beloved characters from the original trilogy were the big draw, and the fresh-faced new characters didn’t disappoint me. Despite a few familiar tropes (droid with important information wandering around on a desert planet; the need to destroy a gigantic planet-killing orb), I loved every minute of it.

Well, almost every minute.

It’s fair to say Han Solo’s death scene was the most painful of my movie-going life. Not only am I shocked, devastated and heartbroken, I’m slightly outraged that this iconic character was done away with in such a way. Not just killed, but murdered by his own dark side-loving son.

Now, I understand that this scene is supposed to evoke a strong emotional response, and it has. But not the kind, I think, the writers were striving for. I understand the symbolism involved: Han was literally and figuratively stabbed in the heart. That his own son could deceive and kill him in such a manner is heartbreaking.

The problem is, I couldn’t connect these two characters as father and son in any meaningful way. We’d just found out about their kinship a half hour before; there’s no history there, no bond that we know about to be severed in such a violent way. To me, Kylo Ren is simply a bad guy cutting down a much-loved character, a character who deserves to go out, if he is to die, in a blaze of glory. Instead, he’s thrown over the railing like so much meat.

And that’s just not right.

I know that scripts, especially in film, are like any other kind of writing: they need to be tight; there can’t be a single unnecessary scene or line. There’s just no time to get into the background of these characters. I get that. But I still feel that they got short shrift here. I can’t help but feel that if Han Solo were allowed to appear in one more movie, we might have found out more of their history, and so give his tragic death more meaning and relevance. But it’s not to be.

We’ll inevitably learn more about Kylo Ren (“Ben”) in the next two films, and hopefully more of his childhood and relationship with his parents. I’m sure we’ll be expected to root for his eventual redemption and return to the light. But at this point, I’m not sure I can forgive him for this, no matter how young and misguided he is.

As Yoda might say: Very upset I am.

He knows

Older Han
We still love him.

Mystery Across the Pond

Rebecca Book

For its first two selections, my book club chose two very different suspense novels: Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, and The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins.

I read Rebecca many years ago and loved it, but I’m glad I forgot details about the plot so I could enjoy the mysteries of this wonderful novel again.

It’s the story of a young woman (who remains nameless throughout the book) who meets and marries a dashing but mysterious older man named Maxim de Winter, and goes to live with him in his ancestral home, Manderley, a gothic-looking mansion by the sea circa 1930’s England. Despite an idyllic honeymoon in Italy, the marriage takes a darker turn once back at Manderley. The beautiful house is haunted, not by an actual ghost, but by the memory of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca, who had drowned in the sea while sailing her boat the previous year.

Rebecca quote 1

The dread begins with the creepy and cruel Mrs. Danvers, who had doted upon Rebecca, and makes it abundantly clear the new Mrs. de Winter is not welcome. It continues with others’ reluctance to speak of Rebecca, and most distressingly, Maxim’s increasing coldness and secretiveness towards his new young wife. Our heroine finally concludes that Maxim doesn’t really love her, and only married her to try to forget his glamorous first wife, the indomitable Rebecca.

But the reader is aware that all is not what it seems, for the novel begins with Maxim and the heroine in later years, happy and in love, living abroad–but not in Manderley. The famous first line of the book, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” alerts us that something happened there that drove them away. The mystery of the novel is, what happened, and what was the real nature of Rebecca’s death? The story slowly draws us in with rich language and characterization, the mystery deepening with every page.

Girl on Train

The Girl on the Train is a thriller of modern techniques, grabbing us immediately and not letting go until we’ve devoured the entire book in a few blurry-eyed days. It begins with the unreliable narrator Rachel, who we meet as she commutes to London on a passenger train.

In those first few pages we find out that Rachel is an alcoholic prone to blackouts, and that her marriage ended the previous year. Everyday on the train she passes the house she’d shared with her husband, now occupied by her ex-husband Tom and his new wife, Anna. She also passes a house not far down the street occupied by another couple, who she dubs Jason and Jessica. She makes up a whole life for this couple, a fulfilling relationship, the happily ever after that her marriage clearly was not.

Train quote

But then one day, as she passes by in the train, she sees Jessica kiss another man. And not long after that, Jessica, whose real name is Meghan, goes missing. On that very same night, something happens to Rachel, as she wakes up the next morning with a bump and cuts on her head, but no memory of what happened due to an alcohol-infused blackout.

What happened to Meghan, and who is responsible? The lover? The husband? Rachel herself? The story alternates between Rachel of the present, Meghan of the past year, and later, Anna. All of these people have secrets and sins, and the reader finds herself relentlessly turning the pages to find out the truth, buried beneath layers of lies, deception, and repressed memories. The only good thing about my recent illness is that I was able to dive into this mystery and stay there for a while as I recuperated, carving out large chunks of the book very quickly.

I loved both of these books, although reading each one brings a very different experience. One is slow and insidious; the other is fast-paced and shocking. I read very few thrillers and mysteries, but based on these two superlative examples, I think it’s time I read more.

What about you? Have you read these entertaining books? What’s your favorite thriller or mystery? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writer Pet Peeves

 

I don’t mean to complain. Writing is hard enough for most people, especially me. But there are some things that just stick in my craw. For instance:

1.People who want to be writers but don’t like to read.

I’m totally baffled by this paradox. The only explanation I can come up with is that the person is in love with the idea of being a writer, rather than having any real passion for the craft. It’s like wanting to be a dancer, but not bothering to learn the moves; or someone who wants to be a rocket scientist, but just can’t bother with the math stuff. My love for writing was born out of my love of books. In reading stories, I wanted to create them, too. It’s a symbiotic relationship–I can’t see one without the other.

2. A writer gets his or her first rejection–and then never submits again.

As a writer who has received many rejections, I can understand this one. One never quite gets over the sting. I remember a writer in a critique group who was so devastated/humiliated/infuriated by his first rejection, he decided to self-publish on Kindle exclusively. That’s a perfectly viable option, I suppose, and self-publishing is something I’d like to explore someday. But a thick skin is something every writer should develop, on many fronts, and learning to deal with criticism (constructive and destructive), as well as the inevitable rejection letter, helps in this regard. For me, every rejection only makes me more determined to get that elusive acceptance. It’s a matter of stubbornness now.

3. That self-published writer who is a marketing and promotional genius–but the writing is mediocre, at best.

I’m not knocking self-publishing. As noted above, it’s an opportunity I’d like to look into when I feel ready. And there are self-published authors out there who are also outstanding writers.But no one can deny that the market is flooded with cheap, crappy writing. It certainly behooves a writer to know how to market and promote their work effectively, but it needs to be backed up by strong writing. Learn the craft, then market. It’s why I’m not ready to self-publish yet; if and when I go that route, I want the writing to be the best I can possibly make it, and I don’t know if I’m there yet. As I said above, rejection letters tend to make me work harder, learn more, make it better. It’s a spur to improve. And if my work ever reaches a level I’m proud of but it’s still not finding an audience through traditional means, then it might be time to put it out there on my own. But that’s just me.

4. A writer who balks at rewriting.

I am totally guilty of this, so I include myself in this category of peevedom. Writing is re-writing, of course, and I’ve had to learn to love the process. It’s not so much revising itself that stymies me, it’s the form I’m working on. Short stories, or even novellas, are small enough not to send me into a panic; it’s novels that tend to overwhelm me. Where to start? But at least I’m addressing the issue by taking a revising course taught by Joan Dempsey, and maybe I can then tackle that awesome dragon novel sleeping in my desk drawer. I don’t want to become a collector of rough drafts.

Grinch

Maybe it’s my inner Grinch coming out this close to Christmas, but I thought I’d get these things off my chest. Merry Christmas, and happy writing!

 

Surrender to the Bed

No, this isn’t about sex (maybe some other time).

I’ve been sidelined by illness this past week, a nasty cold with laryngitis that’s kept me to my bed for far longer than I expected. Body aches, cough, more phlegm than Baggles on iCarly  (it’s a garbage bag filled with yogurt, and…nevermind). You know when you’re sick but you feel like you can still function, get some work done, muddle through your day like an almost normal person? Yeah, no, not this time. I was hit by the proverbial bus on this round, and it was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning to get my (thankfully healthy) kid to school. Then more Nyquil and back to bed until early afternoon, at least. You get the idea.

Baggles

At this point in my writing journey, I’ve trained myself to write something everyday, a page, a paragraph, a sentence, anything writing-related. I think there’s a fear that if I don’t, if I miss a day, or several days, I won’t ever go back to it. For a long time, it was difficult to give myself permission to write; now it’s difficult to give myself permission not to write. So when something like this happens, and I simply can’t do it, frustration and panic sets in.

I often wish I was like those who don’t let illness get the better of them. I’m thinking in particular of a well-known blogger that I love and whose energy is admirable and inspiring, when it’s not downright maniacal. This is a woman who wrote a NaNo novel in two weeks with the flu. How is this humanly possible? But of course, I’m feeling like a big baby and a weakling for not accomplishing half as much during my own little cold, believing I don’t have what it takes to make it in this business. Work harder, go the extra mile, sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, is what I’m hearing and reading about all the time.

Should be writing
I’m not a superhero.

 

 

Well, I love writing and I want it bad, but there are some things I’m not willing to sacrifice: my family, and my health. Illness happens, and when it does, I just have to surrender to the bed. I’m not writing, and that’s okay. There’s a place for healing, too, and dreaming, a refilling of the well that’s vital to any kind of creative pursuit. On that note, I think I’ll retire to the couch (an upgrade!) and read a book.

Social Media Madness

world before

So once I decided to blog, I realized I probably needed to get involved in various other social media, as well. Not only to expand my blog’s reach, but to use the medium in other ways that might help create my “platform”. Believe me, it doesn’t come naturally to this old Gen-Xer.

I’d already had a Facebook page, sadly underused. I have a total of about 35 friends, mostly family. It’s primarily my way of keeping up with what’s going on in my family’s life, and letting them know what’s going on in mine. I can’t really see what good it can do my writing at this point. I’ve linked it to the blog, and a few family  members might get a kick out of it. But that’s about it. I think Facebook becomes more important if you actually start selling books, and have actual fans. But building a base? Not really.

Before the blog, I had no interest in Twitter whatsoever. But I think it’s been helpful in garnering a few followers (I have a grand total of 5). When I signed up, I had no idea how it worked, or how it would help me. I thought it odd that total strangers started following me, but of course, that’s how it works. It’s how people meet each other these days . I have about 120 followers, and follow about 200. I understand there’s a way to “buy” followers on Twitter, but that seems like cheating. I’d like to build my base organically, one follower at a time. It’s linked to the blog, of course, and I make a few tweets now and then, usually writer quotes, or replying to someone else’s tweet. I still have a lot to learn there.

Hashtags
Me trying to figure out Twitter.

 

And then there’s Pinterest. I wasn’t really sure how this site would help my writing, but once I waded in, I didn’t really care. I could spend hours scrolling through pins, from quotes on books and writing, to funny memes of favorite TV shows and movies. I actually have to limit myself on time spent there (okay, you have twenty minutes on this, go!) or I’ll fritter away my time and accomplish very little. I do get most of my images for the blog here; and I created a board to visualize my novel-in-progress, Wolf Dream, which was fun. I’m having problems with links in my posts right now, but if you’re curious to see it, there’s a link to it in my About page that works.

bean pinterest
Seriously, I have a problem.

 

 

I just recently linked the blog to Google+, but admittedly don’t know much about it. I’m still exploring it. It seems like a combination of the above sites, which only confuses me. But I’m determined to figure it out in time, and make the most of it.

There’s plenty of other social media sites out there–Instagram, Linked In, Snap Chat, tons of others I know nothing about. I think I’ll stick with the above for awhile and see where they take me.

What about you? Do you love social media, or see it as a necessary evil? What’s your favorite social media site? Leave a comment, and we’ll talk about it!

 

Taking Stock

With NaNoWriMo over and the busy holiday season underway, December is a good time to sit back and take stock of the previous year’s writing accomplishments, and think about next year’s writing goals.

This year I submitted quite a few short stories to magazines, online or otherwise, and though nothing came of them except rejection notices, I’m proud of actually having done something with those stories that have been lying around for awhile. One of them came quite close; it made it to the second round of consideration for publication, and though it didn’t make the final cut, it’s encouraging.

I did accomplish my very first publication this year with my essay The Birth of Courage, for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible. It’s an essay on my reaction to and acceptance of my daughter Lilly’s spina bifida diagnosis at birth. It’s not my usual kind of writing, but when I saw the call for submission for this particular Chicken Soup book, I knew I had to write it. It came from my heart, and I’m proud of it.

I also started this blog, something I thought I’d never do, but it’s turned out to be a fun and interesting way of expanding my writing journey. I’m learning to put myself out there, I’m meeting new people through blogging, and I’m getting familiar with various forms of social media. It’s been a bit bewildering, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. I think.

I finished the rough draft a NaNo novel, and have lots of ideas for continuing the story. I can’t wait to get back to it, actually, but first, a few things:

This week, I’m taking a free revising course run by Joan Dempsey and Jane Friedman called Revise Your Writing. I’ve taken a revision course with Joan before, and learned a lot of new ways to look at my writing objectively. This is an abbreviated version, and I’m looking forward to refreshing my memory on a subject I’ve struggled with for a long time. I’m hoping to use these revising methods on a novella I wrote some time ago and plan on submitting it to a publication where I think it will fit. I’d like that done by the end of the year.

In January, more submitting of stories that have been previously rejected. Sometimes it seems there’s no point in resubmitting. My thinking goes, It’s been rejected already, that must mean it stinks. Who else would want it? But I’m trying to stay positive, and remember that publication is often just a numbers game, or that the story simply didn’t fit the magazine. Think Possible!

I’d also like to take a writing course taught by a short story writer named Cat Rambo called Literary Techniques for Genre Writers. I’ve read a few of her excellent flash fiction stories over at Daily Science Fiction, and she’s a Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominee. It’s an at-your-own pace course, and very affordable, two things that recommend it to me! I’ll write about both courses on this blog and tell you what I learned.

And after that, maybe a new short story, and getting back to the novel.

So that’s my end-of-year writing review and 2016 plan. And as always, the plan changes as I go along, kind of like straying from the outline of a story. It’s not written in stone, and sometimes the detour is worth it.

 

 

 

 

Journals, Diaries, and Writer’s Notebooks

cafe

I’ve kept a journal for many years now, since that heady time called adolescence. When I was thirteen, I found myself in possession of one of those blue booklets that teachers often used for essay tests. I remember feeling for the first time (a familiar sensation now) of wanting to fill those clean, empty lines with words. I think I wrote something about a field trip our class had taken, a boy I thought was kind of cute (but didn’t really have a crush on), and that I had no idea how I wanted my life to turn out. House with the white picket fence and 2.3 kids? Maybe. The future was a blank space I couldn’t fathom, kind of like the blank booklet I was writing words into. Little did I know then that filling those blank lines was, in itself, the life I wanted.

It took a long time to figure that out, or at least to find the courage to admit and pursue it. In the meantime, I kept filling up black and white composition books, more or less consistently, through my teens and twenties. Sometimes I wouldn’t write for months, either too busy worrying about the latest boyfriend (or lack thereof), or simply sick of my own repetitive thoughts and complaints. But I always went back to the page, no matter what. It was the one constant in my life, besides books; my  notebooks were friends I went to again and again.

Once I started writing my own fiction, I began keeping a Writer’s Notebook. These days, I have several different kinds of writer’s notebooks: one general notebook in which I explore story ideas, either through writing prompts or ideas of my own; a non-fiction notebook in which I explore ideas for essays, articles, or this blog; and notebooks specific to  whatever story I’m working on, usually novel-length works where I flesh out character and setting, plot an outline, and begin a rough draft. There are also pocket-sized notebooks I keep in my handbag for ideas on the run.

handbag

I have so many notebooks, my husband is seriously bewildered.

But these notebooks are a repository of my life, black and white towers of everything inside me. It’s a bit old-fashioned. These days everything is digitized, and young people pour their hearts out on Facebook and every other social media outlet for all the world to see. I salute their bravery, but that’s just not me. As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m an extremely private person. It took everything I had to put a picture of myself on my social media accounts. Just a picture!

This blog is a big step for me, and though I hope a little bit of my personality shines through these posts, I’m keeping it more on the professional side–resources I think might be helpful to writers, book and movie reviews, my writing process. These are my interests and my joys, and I’m happy to share them. Perhaps once a week, I’ll share a more personal post, something in my day that moved me or got me thinking.

Everything else? Placed in my precious notebooks, for my eyes only. I like the intimacy of notebooks, the cramped hands and inky fingers, the relationship between pen and paper. It’s what made me a writer.

london quote

What about you? Do you keep manual journals or writer’s notebooks? Or do you prefer digital media? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!