A New Novel and A Whole Lot Of Accountability

Any time someone finds out that I’m a writer, the conversation is usually followed up with, “Oh, I’ve always told myself I’m going to write a novel someday, when I have some more free time.” No, seriously, that’s the response. If I got paid every time someone told me they were planning on writing a novel, then I’d already be living on that 5-acre farm my husband and I dream about with some sheep, a cow, and an underground greenhouse. But I’m not.

In fact, the reality is that I’m not much better than those people, despite my intense hatred of that line. Yeah, I have two children’s books. Sometime this week, the article I wrote for an RA website is going live too. And yes, I’ve been submitting shorter pieces I’ve written to different publications. But it’s be a really long time since I’ve written a book. Maybe I haven’t been doing such a great job at this writer thing?

I’ve been itching to turn an idea I have into a middle school/young adult novel. A few weeks ago, I started writing the first chapter. It’s a terrible first chapter, quite frankly, but I wrote it. I started. The hardest part is finishing. Unlike past projects that I abandoned halfway through (cough, NaNoWriMo) I really want to stick with this one. I need to prove to myself that I’ve still “got it,” and that I haven’t turned into that whiny-pants person that’s always complaining about lack of time to do things. I’ve done a lot of excuse-making recently too, but I’m over it.

But just to be on the safe side, Internet, I want you to hold me accountable. I’m one of those people who can’t stick to a diet for more than two hours unless I tell a bunch of people (I hate being a disappointment). If I know that random strangers all over the globe can read this, then I’ll be less inclined to indulge in a cheat day and skip writing for TV.

Now, excuse me while I go cover my closet door in sticky notes that detail my entire plot.

 

Book Review: Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne

Disclaimer: I received an uncorrected proof of this book through the publisher. I am not being compensated in any way for this review. All of the opinions expressed here are my own.

 

224 pages Dundurn Group Release Date: February 17, 2015
224 pages Dundurn Group
Release Date: February 17, 2015

I hate to give negative reviews of anyone’s published work. I know the amount of effort that goes into writing and the sting of rejection that comes with it. Unfortunately, no matter how much I’d love to give every book I read a raving review, I would much rather be honest.

The back matter for Mary Jennifer Payne’s new young adult book, Since You’ve Been Gone, intrigued me. Edie and her mother are on the run. Things seem to be going well after their sudden move to London until Edie’s mother disappears. Now Edie is on her own and can’t run to the police for help.

Despite its interesting subject matter, I was disappointed. Payne uses mostly simile when giving any kind of description, but the similes are not very original or interesting. They’re also quite frequent, and at some points are found in every other sentence. They throw off the flow of the story rather than add to it.

The story as a whole, strangely, is both rushed and slow moving at the same time. The overall plot did not move fast enough to keep me entertained; I was halfway through the book and still had no information as to why they were running or why I should care about Edie’s life. On the other hand, smaller events in the book happened so quickly that they felt unrealistic.

I really disliked Edie as a character. So much so that I couldn’t connect to the story. Her inconsistencies made it hard for me to believe anything about her. Actually, I would love to see all of the characters in the book developed more fully.

So, overall, this one’s a no for me. The concept had great potential, but the execution left something to be desired. Of course, that’s just my personal opinion. There are plenty of positive reviews for Since You’ve Been Gone floating around, so give it a shot if this hasn’t deterred you.

Writing fiction is hard work. The same rules we’re told to follow are also rules we’re told to break. We have the task of creating complex plots and even more complicated and believable characters. Sometimes writers nail this formula. Many don’t, at least not on the first try. It’s a learning process. Maybe I’ll review Payne’s next book sometime in the distant future, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised when she blows me away.

 

A Review: Heather Slomski’s “The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons”

Iowa Short Fiction Award. 146 pages University Of Iowa Press. Release Date: October 1, 2014

First, a general disclaimer: I received an uncorrected proof of this book through the publisher. I am not being compensated in any way for this review. All of the opinions expressed here are my own.

 

The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons is Healther Slomski’s first published work and the winner of the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award. It is a collection of fifteen short stories of varying lengths that examine the delicate nature of human relationships and the ways in which we deal with loss. Slomski’s work joins reality with the surreal. In the title story, we are sitting in a restaurant observing two unfaithful couples coming together to acknowledge their shortcomings. Two stories later, we find ourselves engrossed in the tale of a store mannequin’s lost love.

Loss remains a consistent theme throughout, but the stories always seems to be accompanied by hope. The first story in the collection, the title story, gave me the warm feeling of a second chance despite the chaos the characters find themselves in. The last story, “Before the Story Ends,” was effectively able to reduce me to tears, which is a rare occurrence. Despite all of the sadness, the last line was eerily uplifting.

Slomski writes beautiful, flowing prose with many quote-worthy passages. It doesn’t feel as though she is trying hard to impress us, and I love that she could take situations that seem so mundane and turn them into something magical.

However, the endings she chose for a few of her pieces left me frustrated. I don’t always expect closure when a story comes to an end, but some of Slomski’s last lines felt abrupt and unfinished and wanting something else. I understand that this is a stylistic choice and that many readers love it when endings are left wide open for interpretation. It just doesn’t work for me personally. That’s not to say I appreciate her work less. It’s just a difference in technique.

Bottom line: yes, I do recommend this book to anyone who appreciates literary short fiction. I give it 4/5 stars and will be looking forward to any future publications.

The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons won’t be released until October, but it’s available for pre-order here.

A Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The GoldfinchThe reviews for Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch seem to go one of two ways. Readers are either absolutely in love or vehemently despise it. I personally have given it a four-star rating on Goodreads because I haven’t been this emotionally attached to a book in a long time. It may be worth mentioning, however, that I experienced the novel as an audiobook, which provides a very different experience from that of the hardcover version.

Like most longer pieces of fiction, it’s difficult to sum up the plot of this story because there are so many different threads. Thirteen year-old Theo Decker miraculously survives a New York museum bombing that results in his mother’s death. Before running to safety, he takes Carel Fabritius’ 1654 painting The Goldfinch from the wall. For the next 700 or so pages (30 hours for me), readers follow Theo and the painting on a journey that spans fifteen years and a lot of lies, drug use, and heartache.

The length of The Goldfinch is probably one of its biggest criticisms. The problem with a book this large is that the few people daring enough to undertake such a task eventually lose interest in slow-moving plots.  I did find myself questioning more than once Tartt’s emphasis on Boris and Theo’s illicit habits and their repetitive drunken blackouts. I agree that many of the scenes could have been reduced by half. But Theo’s philosophical insights and Tartt’s poetic and mesmerizing sentences did wonders for the pacing of the story.

I personally love long books in general because I am allowed to grow up with the characters, and I found myself growing very attached to Theo. He did nothing in the book to really earn this endearment, of course, considering what a pathological liar he is. But there is something captivating about him that I really can’t put into words. I felt empathy and became excited when I found common bonds, even though I should hate him. The book ended and I found myself at a loss. I wanted more, wanted to see how the rest of his life was going to play out.

While this only applies to the audiobook version, it’s worth mentioning that David Pittu is probably one of the best audiobook readers I’ve ever come across. He gives each character in The Goldfinch a distinct voice, which makes every conversation more animated. Boris’ accent would not have felt quite as real to me if I had to attempt it in my head, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make the sentences in Russian sound realistic whatsoever. I would still love to read the hardcover version when I have time to spare, since lack of free time was the reason I went with the audiobook in the first place.

I encourage everyone to read The Goldfinch. I haven’t talk so much about a book in a long time. Any book that takes me on an emotional roller coaster like Tartt’s did deserves a chance, even if most of the reviews aren’t stacked in her favor. As for me, I’ve added Tartt’s earlier works to my “To-Read” list, in the hopes that they will touch and inspire me as much as The Goldfinch has.

Carel Fabritius (1622-1654)
The Goldfinch, 1654

Reject

I spent the better part of last semester pulling my hair out over grad school applications. I spent countless hours with my head bent over teeny scraps of paper, paper that had once been 8 pages of my writing sample but had been subjected to the old-school cut-and-paste method. I anguished over my personal statement for weeks. I triple-checked each application before it was sent out. I was confident that I’d be accepted into at least a couple of MFA programs.

I just got my third rejection letter this morning.

I’m probably not as upset as I should be. I imagined myself crying over each and every rejection letter that came in, or using those letters as an excuse to consume disgusting quantities of Cherry Garcia in one sitting. But really, I’m good. I will admit that the anxiety of waiting for two more schools to give me an answer is slowly killing me though. I mean, if you’re going to rip the band-aid off, might as well do it quickly, right?

I haven’t come to a point yet in my writing career where I’m getting this many rejections in such a short span of time, but I know that kind of life is on the horizon for me. In the next few months I’ll be submitting at least five different pieces to various magazines, and I’m not naive enough to believe that all of them will be chosen for publication. I’m going to be more of a reject than a winner, at least for awhile, and I don’t mind belonging to the rejects corner. I have a lot to learn still, and not everyone is going to be okay with the kind of things I write. Besides, I think that finally being accepted somewhere will feel ten times sweeter after a wave of “nos” right?