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.

 

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

Why I Scrapped My Novels and Why I’m Okay With That

I now once again have a blog that I can devote entirely to my love of writing and literary things. Oh how I’ve missed it! It took longer than I had hoped just because there were so many kinks to work out. But I’m here now, and that’s what matters.

I’ve decided to initiate this blog using a piece that I previously posted on my Facebook page:

 

I began writing my first novel at 17. It was a young adult book with a topic I felt very passionately about, and I poured my heart and soul into this piece. When I finished writing it last year, I felt like I was on top of the world. I actually wrote a novel. Granted, it needed a lot of work, but a first draft was better than no draft. I began the second book in the series, thinking that I needed to take a few months off from the first book before I went back and started on edits. I had planned for book #1 to be the first book in a trilogy.

I was halfway through writing the second book when I came to a realization: I had started book 1 when I was 17. I was now 21. My writing style, my voice, my outlook on life…they had changed completely. The things that mattered to me at 17 no longer fit with what I wanted to express in this story. The writing process came to a halt.

I was panicking. Did I do all of that work for nothing? I needed advice. Thankfully, I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by wonderful poets and fiction writers on a daily basis. So I ran to Mike, a good friend and poet who doubles as my reader. He’s the friend who will honestly tell me if the story I just finished sucks, and I appreciate his never-ending list of suggestions. I explained to him my predicament, and his reply to me was, “You’re hiding behind a 17 year-old. Don’t be afraid to tell the story you really want to tell, because right now it doesn’t sound like you’re doing that. Scrap and start over.”

And he’s right. In retrospect, that jumbled mess of a first draft wasn’t saying exactly what I wanted to say. I was afraid to write about my feelings back then, back when the slightest amount of criticism would send me running to the nearest cave to live out the rest of my days safe and alone. I have matured into a more confident person since then and have learned to accept myself and my mistakes for what they are. I no longer cared what people thought of my experiences and viewpoints. I  realized there was no salvaging these novels. They had become a jail cell.

Of course, that’s not to say that I’ve erased those manuscripts. They’re a part of my history, my journey to becoming the writer I hope to be one day. They have been printed and lovingly placed in a drawer. I will always hold onto them and will look back at them one day to see how far I’ve come. I will always be learning new things as a writer. This particular experience has shown me that sometimes you just need to let go, because not every brilliant idea is going to work out.

Maybe one day I’ll come back to these manuscripts. If not, that’s okay too. Letting go of 17 year-old me was hard, but I think she would be proud of my decision.