Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spring Reading Recap

Given our political climate, perhaps I should not be surprised that the three books at the top of my reading list all explore some aspect of the concept "us and them." In each of these novels, the main characters struggle to understand themselves in the context of their family, community and belief systems, and in contrast to those they see as "other," racially, religiously, economically, spiritually, and even intellectually. 

I finally filled the gaping Barbara Kingsolver gap in my literary education by reading THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, a breathtaking exploration of a misguided Christian preacher's attempts to convert the denizens of a village in the Belgian Congo, and the decades-long repercussions of his efforts. I've been told that Angie Thomas's New York Times best-selling THE HATE YOU GIVE should not be missed, so I picked it up next and discovered that, with wry, stunning honesty and insight, Thomas, like Kingsolver, brings readers into a place few have ever experienced themselves and makes us question every assumption we've ever made about the inner city, gang life, and the urban violence and gun incidents we experience only from the safety of our sofas while watching the evening news. Next up: ONE L, which was coincidentally recommended to me by a lawyer friend of my husband's the same week an actress referenced it on NPR as a research source for preparing to play the role of an attorney. As I read, I'll be looking for those "other" tensions between students and faculty, among the students and between the rarefied law school community and the "outside world."

Take a look at your spring reading and ask yourself:

  • Do you see any themes or trends? 
  • Do you feel a connection between the way you look at stories and your current questions about the world? 
  • Which recently read novel do you most wish you had written yourself and why? 

Boy, do I take my reading seriously--maybe too seriously? Sorry folks. Nerdgirl out!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Going There" - A Lesson in Plotting from HOMELAND and THE AMERICANS

I've been struggling a bit with the manuscript lately. And I don't think it's just because life has been busy. I think, at the core, my problem is that I'm tackling something bigger--darker--than I ever have before and I am nervous. Is my story too dark? Are my scenes too melodramatic? What am I doing?

In an epic act of procrastination, I did some binge-watching. Okay, a lot of binge-watching. I watched the entire current season of HOMELAND on Showtime and every available episode of THE AMERICANS on FX. 

And I learned something.

I love big drama. Huge moral questions. Explosions. Dire twists with dark ethical consequences. Love and loss. In the words of our current Voldemort, I like my tv "huge." So, why not my book?

Inspired by the television moments that took my breath away, I decided to "go there" in my manuscript. That is to say... 
  • When in doubt, kill the beloved character. 
  • Make the good guys impossibly conflicted...
  • And the bad guys impossibly relatable. 
  • Let there be blood and sweat and tears. 
  • Let bad things happen to good people. 

Go so far that fat tears fall from your author eyes onto the keyboard as you write.

Now, I'm not going to lie. There are some moments from HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER that stretch even my tolerance for outlandish storylines and descend into a melodrama that somehow distances me from the characters. But the truth is that the world is full of scary people and bad decisions--and nobody can deny Shonda Rhimes' multi-million-dollar ability to pack a plot punch.

So, I let go of my misgivings about my crazy head, the twisted plot I had dreamed up  (and the need for constant subtlety), and I let myself write page after page of that lunatic psychological thriller.

And I got somewhere.

I suppose the conclusion here--my "advice" if I have any right to offer some--is to follow the lead of HOMELAND writers (who let Carrie trust the untrustworthy and love the doomed) and THE AMERICANS writers (who make us fall in love with two murderous Soviet spies). Think big. Think bold. Break hearts. And embrace what happens.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Thank Goodness that April is National Poetry Month!

Just when I begin to worry that the pounding rain on my Pacific Northwest roof may drive me mad, the Academy of American Poets sweeps in to soothe my spirit with National Poetry Month. It's a balm for the soul and a wellspring of writing inspiration. My favorite feature of the month is the Poem-A-Day, but there's plenty of word beauty from which to choose, so please do celebrate in your own way.
And here are a few beautiful, recent verse novels (MG and YA, fiction and nonfiction) to add to your poetic reading list:


There's also a pretty cool list of upcoming YA verse over at Stacked.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

FREE CLASS THIS SATURDAY AT KCLS WOODINVILLE: Beginnings & Endings with Kevin Emerson

SATURDAY, April 8, 2017
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
 Second Saturdays Writing Program at Woodinville Library 
17105 Avondale Road NE, Woodinville 

How do you hook readers to ensure they don’t put your novel back on the shelf after chapter one? What questions must be answered—what mysteries must be solved—on a novel’s final pages? Do the rules change if you’re writing a stand-alone, sequel, or series?  Kevin Emerson, teacher, musician and author of LAST DAY ON MARS, BREAKOUT, and the ATLANTEANS series, will share tips for bookending your stories with powerful, effective openings and conclusions.

This workshop is open to writers in grades 7 to adult. Registration is not required. For more details, click here