At a Crossroads: Contrived Plots vs Quiet Stories

IntersectionDuring our lives, we occasionally have periods of lethargy, of standing still, as if on a four-way street corner wondering whether to cross the street, turn left or right, or go back home. And it’s fine when we come to these places, if we stop and ponder what to do next. If we really think about it, rather than just plod on doing what we’ve been doing because that’s what we do.

I’ve been writing for several years now, and I love to write, although I haven’t been commercially successful with it. In fact, the ink is red when looking at income versus expenditures. I’ve thought about quitting, about reentering the work force, about volunteering.

I am confused about all of it. I haven’t worked on a novel in nearly a year now, because I made the decision that I’d market what I have first. It makes it harder to get going in the morning, when faced with marketing. I’d much rather sit down and reread what I wrote the day before, and tweak it, which is how I work.

Marketing is just a swirling mass of stuff. It’s easy to get a book out there, in either print or electronic form, or both, and there are so many good writers and so many good books, that it must be like Halloween to a five-year-old. Where should I go first? Which should I choose? Which is better, best? Which is funnier or more haunting or has the best characters or the best plot or the best action?

With so much competition, and much of it so good, and dare I say, better than my own,  it’s no wonder it’s hard to get books in front of readers.

Sad 3D Man FreeDigital Photos Dot NetFor several months,  I’ve been waking up in the morning with a bad feeling. I’m not moving towards a goal. I’m like a fly at a picnic, I don’t know where to go next. What’s the best way to spend my time?

I think it’s because I’m not working on a novel. I’ve been thinking about another book, but the ideas have been coming slower than usual. I can’t seem to get it going.

The new one will be different from my other novels.

This might be the one. If I can pull this off, and can say to myself that this is the best I have ever written, then I can be satisfied I will have accomplished what I have set out to do.

Okay. So that’s decided.

Meanwhile, I saw a tweet (Twitter must work) from a woman from whom I have taken several classes. And they were mostly good classes — I learned a lot. This class is in story structure, which I thought I could benefit from. My novels are so character-oriented that this time, I want more.

After reading the description of the course, I decided to do it. It lasts for one month, the month of April. Online, very convenient, work at your own pace, and at your preferred level of involvement. Perfect.

Three published authors were mentioned in the synopsis who will contribute to the lectures.  These authors must have great story structures, right? Since they are offering up their expertise?

A good thing to do, thought I, in preparation for this course would be read a book by all of these authors, and dissect the stories and see how each story fits into the structure.

Doesn’t that make perfect sense?

By not mentioning the name of the course or the authors or titles of the books, I can protect their anonymity since I don’t intend to write reviews of either the course or the novels.

Book #1 was the best written of the three. It was funny, sarcastic, cleverly written. Wow, I thought to myself, I am really going to enjoy this book because I love the writing. Even though this is not my usual genre, I am going to really like this a lot. And I will learn so much from it because it will have great writing and I like the main character and the plot will be, like, totally cew-ell. About half way through things started to get confusing. Everyone double-crossed everyone else. There was so much double-crossing going on I was bleary eyed and found myself shaking my head and saying “wha-att?” In the end, there were five murders, IRS agents who were really assassins, an ex-girlfriend who was really a murderer,  murderers murdering other murderers, and the grand finale, the final double-cross by the hero. There was one character who turned out to be a double-crosser and ultimately a murder victim, which still makes no sense to me. It seemed to serve no purpose other than to get the hero (who was a nearly good guy) off the guilt hook.

Book #2 wasn’t so well-written. It started with one murder and one disappearance.  The alleged perpetrator was a character who was written as hugely malign. There wasn’t one shred of decency in this horrible man. Bad to the bone. Nasty, mean, vicious. Accused of the crimes, shipped off to jail. Years later, it was determined that Mr. Bad Guy didn’t really do it. Even though he was 100% evil, he did not commit the murders. So who did? Two murders later, we find out. What a contrived story that was. And the son of the wrongly-accused-yet-horrible-man alleged murderer and the daughter of the wonderful father never-did-no-wrong-to-anybody murdered guy, end up together in the end. Okay! Whatever.

Book #3 was worst of all. Interesting, that I read them in the sequence I did. What starts out as an accidental death on a park trail, (woman pushes man, man falls over cliff and dies) ends up with woman covering up the death because they were arguing at the time about whether to keep a sack of diamonds  which was found on another dead body they happened to encounter along the trail. The evil woman wants to keep the diamonds, the good husband (who recently found Jesus) says no way. This book contained no profanity (“he called me a name you would call a mean woman”) and interspersed throughout were Bible verses and references to being saved. Gulp. Okay, last chapter. The body of the husband was deliberately switched at the morgue with a John Doe. But wait! He wasn’t really dead! He was in a coma. Thankfully, he came out of it on the last page but that’s where the story ended. Oh, and the coma guy’s sister and the coma guy’s best friend got together. Ah.

It’s clear I can’t compete with this kind of stuff. Nor would I want to. I will continue with the class, but comparing my plot with some of the other students’ plots? No way. Let’s just say  — No puedo hacer eso.

I can’t do it. I’m sticking to my Quiet Stories.

3D Man photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.

Eight Words That Empowered Me to Become a Writer

Today, it is my pleasure to introduce guest blogger Carol Fragale Brill. Carol has just released her novel, Peace by Piece. I am excited to read it, as it sounds like a storyline I will enjoy, and isn’t it a clever title?

Front Cover.4075736 Final UTO BookBabySix years after fleeing college and Thomas’s betrayal, Maggie has nearly given up on love. Enter Izzie, a motherless eight year old, and every maternal instinct kicks-in. There is not the first love thrill with Izzie’s dad, but Maggie lets herself believe loving Izzie will be enough to finally lock Thomas out of her heart.

Dealing with unshakable first love, family, relationships, the difficulties of being a step-parent–all overshadowed by the curse of anorexia and bulimia–Peace by Piece is ultimately about hope and second chances.

Lynn, thank you for the opportunity to visit and talk a little about my writing journey and the support of other writers–like you!

About 15 years ago, when I started writing my novel, Peace by Piece, I had no creative writing experience, had never attempted to compose even a short story, or taken a single creative writing course.

I was such a newbie, I didn’t know what I didn’t know—or that what I didn’t know could fill a bookcase. What I did know is that there was a book inside me that longed to be written—a not-yet-imagined story burning to get out.

By the time I finally joined a writing critique group, I had fantasied about writing a book for 20 something years. Empty-handed at my first meeting, the other writers urged me to draft something to read at the next meeting. Two weeks later, I timidly read the three handwritten pages it had taken me hours to write. Our meeting host, a kindly writer named Herb asked, “Where do you want to go with that?” Eight simple words, yet somewhere from the depths of my uncertainty those eight words empowered me to blurt out, “I want to write a book!”

Now mind you, I had just read three dreadfully over-written, scribbly pages—if they had been typed, they would barely have filled one double-spaced page.  Yet, Herb didn’t laugh, or say you must be kidding, or (and this would have been warranted) your writing stinks. He smiled reassuringly and said, “Good, you’ve got a start. Now, one page at a time, write your book.”

That night, if Herb or any of the other writers had been truthful about the sorry state of my writing, they could have shattered my writer’s ego. It might have taken me years to find the courage to try again. But, those writers knew I was a newbie and it wasn’t their job to tell me whether I did or did not have talent, or how much my writing needed to improve. (Later in my writing journey, as I gained some self-confidence and thickened my writer’s- skin, there would be plenty of opportunities for feedback like that!)

Instead, Herb and the others simply encouraged me to keep writing.

Developing as a writer, completing a novel, and facing down the publishing process has been daunting at times.  More than once, I have asked myself, “If I knew then what I know now, would I have even tried?”

I will always be grateful for Herb’s simple words of encouragement, inspiring me to page by page write Peace by Piece—and nudging me, word by word, to become the best writer I can be.

How about you—any shout-outs to other writers whose feedback has impacted you?

Carol Fragale Brill’s novel, Peace by Piece is available at:


Amazon: Paperback:

Amazon e-book:






Carol-001 - 188 x 250 72 ppiCarol earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Poets and Writers named her fiction the 2010 Maureen Egen Writer’s Exchange first runner-up, A novel excerpt turned short story was selected as a favorite for the Philadelphia Stories Anthology. She writes book reviews for New York Journal of Books. Her work has also been published in Wide Array, Philadelphia Stories, and The Press of Atlantic City. Find her blog at



The Next Big Thing Blog Hop Makes a Stop Here

3D Man Holding Perigee MoonThanks to Carol Fragale Brill of 4 Broad Minds for tagging me in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. Carol’s new novel, Piece by Peace is coming out very soon and I am excited to read it. I have read all of Carol’s thoughtful reviews of other books, and I have a feeling her novel is going to be a good reading experience.

As part of this exercise, I am to answer 10 questions about my latest work:

  1. What is the working title of your book? Perigee Moon (Just typed “perogee”, isn’t that some sort of Polish potato treat?) But a definite maybe for the title of an oncoming new novel. Perogees at Noon.
  2. Where did the idea for the book come from? One night, in Clearwater FL, I was awakened by the full moon shining in the window. I got up to go outside and look, and take pictures of it. It was so bright that the sky appeared burnished, more brown than black, and the moon glowed a bright gold and little wispy clouds floated past it. Later, I learned the reason it seemed so ethereal (fancy-schmancy word which means “real purty”) was because it was one month before the Perigee Moon, when the moon appears much larger to us earthlings. It was a nature phenomenon when one thinks about how we are all pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of the solar systems. I got the idea of a character feeling that same way. Later it evolved into him having an “oh I get it now” moment when he views the Perigee Moon. Then the idea of the controlling woman, the bad marriage, the change in lifestyle the character wants to make and finally, the reconnection with a woman from his past.
  3. What is the genre of the book? It is women’s fiction, and as a sub-genre it is baby boomer lit, since the character grew up in the fifties/sixties. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Big boom in boomer lit these days!
  4. Which actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition? For the main character, Bradley Cooper. Demi Moore for Kate,  since she did such a good job of sexually harassing Michael Douglas in Disclosure. Perhaps Diane Keaton for Abby. Think these actors are up for this challenge?
  5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Perigee Moon is the story of a man who has a life crisis, who comes to realize that he must be true to himself and makes the changes necessary to remove himself from a ruined marriage and the “should do” world in order to have the lifestyle he craves.
  6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency/publisher? Self-published. I have neither the time nor the patience to do otherwise.
  7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? About one year.
  8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? My other two, Second Stories and Whatever Happened to Lily? No really, I’d like to say works by Elizabeth Berg and Anne Tyler but that is a privileged society of which I am merely one of the unwashed who elbows her way to the front of the line in order to get a closer look at the limo.
  9. Who or what inspired you to write this book? I was inspired to try humor. I tried to inject it in certain places, although to say it’s a real thigh-slapper would be frugal with the truth. Whether the attempts at humor worked or not, I am not sure. Like everything else, humor is personal. What’s funny to one is inane or misunderstood by another. There are a lot of my own reflections in it, especially the “workspeak” where Luke has his second epiphany about where he should direct the rest of his career. Things that became intolerable to me, found their way into this novel. Sometimes we need to step back, take a look at what we’re doing, decide if it is providing the satisfaction we crave, or whether we’re like the proverbial hamsters, doing what we do because it’s what we do and what we’ve always done.
  10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It’s a nice story. It’s a character-driven novel, and those characters are, I think, believable. And everyone can relate to what happens to Luke. We make choices when we’re young and sometimes they aren’t the correct ones. We turn left, but a right turn would have been better. (No pun intended. Ah. The English language, so ripe for punnery.) We can watch a character become true to himself, and instead of doing what others want, he learns to do what he wants.

Now it’s my turn to tag three great authors. I’d like to pass this opportunity on to Jenny Gill, Johanna Van Zanten and June Collins. These women have become good cyber-friends of mine and I have read an reviewed all their books.



The Baby Boomer Reviewer?

I’ll drink to that!

This post started out as a whiney, complainy, bogged down piece of crap-writing that I started weeks ago and then decided never to publish. And I keep whittling it down, taking out the Poor Me stuff until this is what remains.

I’ve been on this marketing project for several months now, and not getting anywhere with it. As a matter of fact, it’s downright discouraging. Many of the new writers I have come to know are having a lot more success than I am. I am beginning to suspect that there are a lot of folks out there who have no interest in what I write, which is fine. Not everyone likes the same thing.

However! It might be time to ask, “Hold up a minute here! What’s the problem?”

So far I can’t figure out what the problem is. Whether I am not reaching my target audience or whether my target audience really would rather read the Twilight series or Fifty Shades of Grey.  

Photo by saratogajean

Where did everyone go?

Recently, I did a free giveaway of the Kindle version of Perigee Moon and got less than 200 downloads and no reviews out of it, the reviews being the main point of the giveaway. So what good did the whole exercise do? I went to all the book free day sites and made the announcement. I don’t see any positive results in doing any of it, although maybe it will take time for reviews to come in. The more good reviews a book has, the better it does. 

On a more positive note, I believe I have learned a lot about the writing craft in the last decade or so. I know what I perceive is good writing. I know whose voice I love and whose I don’t. I can recognize good writing, believable characters, and excellent stories. So I am thinking very seriously of becoming an “official” book reviewer.

I wrote a post recently about trying to find sites to get my own book reviewed, about the criteria I used to determine if a site would be a good fit. I wrote about the overabundance of people willing to review books about vampires and monsters and other foul creatures, but there were very few, make that none, that I could be absolutely positive would be a site that would want to review books about baby boomers finding their way at last, determining who they want to be later on in life, finding love.

One thing I have always believed, and still do, is that our generation is one of readers. We didn’t have video games and computers and other electronics to distract us when we were growing up, we had television and books. And while many of us have embraced the technology that makes our lives more connected and more interesting, we still basically love to read. As we start to retire, we have more time to read, and what better subject to read about than our own generation?

What if I become the Baby Boomer Reviewer? Books by and/or about that generation? They wouldn’t all have to be in my exact genre, but if they are written by baby boomer authors who just want to get reviewed then I’d be willing to do it. Hell, you don’t even have to be a baby boomer. Just a new author trying to get a start. And, of course, these reviews will be given with no currency exchanging hands.

If I can help to spread the word, help a new author, then why not?

Here’s the catch. I’d have a very hard time telling an author that I didn’t like his work. I’d have to be really honest and that will be hard for me, but a review isn’t worth anything unless it’s genuine. And who’s to say, I might not like it but someone else might love it? I’ve sure noticed that all people don’t like the same thing myself.

I’d be reluctant to give 5 star reviews. I have given them in the past, but really, I think 5 star reviews are reserved for truly great pieces of literature. Prose where I marvel at the beautiful sentences, and the exquisite phrasing. You all probably know by now how I feel about Scott Spencer and Jonathan Franzen. These men have both written books I would consider 5 star quality. But for the rest of us, well, we can’t all be authors of that caliber. We just can’t. It isn’t possible.

I’ve written quite a few reviews lately. Few of them were 5 star, but some of them were really, really good books. I’m including a link here to my Amazon reviews.

I’d post each review on a new My Reviews page as I do them, with a link to Amazon (or wherever the author would like the review directed). Here are some of the genres of books I would review:

  • General Fiction
  • Historical Fiction
  • Literary Fiction
  • Baby Boomer Fiction
  • Memoir
  • Mystery/Thrillers
  • Short Story Collections
  • Non-fiction (as long as I have some knowledge of the topic)

No genre romance, no inspiration, no erotica. No urban fantasy, no vampires, werewolves or drudges. No steampunk — and if anyone can explain to me exactly what this is, would you please comment? None of these interest me and I wouldn’t be able to give a satisfactory review of that material.

I’d love to hear if there are any new authors who would be interested in having me review their work.

Should a Newbie Author Pay For a Review?

Speaking of reviews, Perigee Moon had a nice one here. Thanks to Carrie (AKA Connie) Rubin for including me in her list of books by fellow bloggers. I read her new book too and posted a review here. And no, it wasn’t a case of “you give me five stars and I’ll return the favor”, it was a genuinely fast-paced, exciting, well-written first novel. I recommend it, especially if you like medical thrillers with a little Sci Fi thrown in. Really, I recommend it to anyone.

Another blogger, Peggy Strack, in her post about Credible Reviews and the Debut Author, talked about how she decided to spring for a Kirkus review. Kirkus will review pre-released novels, which can be a great marketing tool, supposing that you get a good review, especially if you are self-publishing.

They (Kirkus) don’t make any promises, send them a crappy novel and you’ll get a crappy review.  If it happens that way, that the review is bad, the author has the option of not accepting it and it will never be seen by anyone. So, hmmm. Doesn’t that mean that all Kirkus reviews will be good ones? On the other hand, why not? If it’s good, it’s good, and if it’s bad, no one will be the wiser, except the author who can cry about it in private.

Kirkus charges between $400 and $500 for a review, which is pricey, and probably another example of an outlay of cash for my rather expensive hobby. My books aren’t selling well, and I am struggling with marketing them. So I’m considering it.

There is another more inexpensive option that I could try, $149 for a Publisher’s Weekly review. Authors submitting to them may or may not have their books accepted for a review. 25% are accepted, and the review still is not guaranteed to be good, which of course it shouldn’t be. These reviews get published on their website, bad or good. I’m considering that too.

I also consulted the Book Blogger Directory, which is a list of blogs/sites of book reviewers who will review for nothing. Normally they specify a genre that they prefer, but sometimes they’ll say “I’ll Review Anything!!” yet when you look at what they have reviewed you see (yet again) books about vampires and drudges and werewolves. So I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to be into character-driven novels about people who came of age in the sixties.

I delved into this huge list alphabetically, and went to each site and looked to see if it could be a fit. I got through the B’s which took days of endless searching. And it has to be on a Good Internet Day, which is another story, but the short version is I have a Verizon Mifi Hotspot which tends to suck, on and off, and provide me with less than optimum opportunities to surf.

Literally, I went through hundreds of sites, and found 3 which may be applicable but learned a lot about who I might approach for a review and who I would not. The following is a list of reasons I would bypass a particular review site:

  1. Your blog says “Grand Opening June 30th, 2012” and it’s already August.
  2. The dreaded “Error 404 No Page Found” comes up. This one is self-explanatory.
  3. Your blog is not in English. This wouldn’t be a problem for an author who speaks your language, but you know, it’s probably going to be a bit of a communication barrier for us.
  4. Your last post was one year ago. Got a problem with commitment?
  5. You say you are “not currently reviewing books”. Then what are you doing on this list of book review blogs?
  6. I see reviews for books about “faeries”. Or any of the above-mentioned stuff, for the above-mentioned reason.
  7. You deign not to review self-published books. Aren’t we fussy?
  8. You say you are “currently without internet access”. Well, I know all about that. It can be a real problem, but still, better get on that if you want to be a book reviewer.
  9. You apologize profusely for your absence and give an explanation of “where you have been”. I wonder how often that happens with you, Ms. Book Reviewer. Not sure I want to take the chance that you will go away again and I’ll think it’s because you can’t bear to give me bad news.
  10. Your site offers the possibility to “embrace my decadent desires” and there is a warning that it is a “Mature Site”. Pretty sure this isn’t a good fit.
  11. Your review policy is “Coming Soon”. Shouldn’t you have this figured out before you created your site and appeared on the list?
  12. Your website/blog color combo is such that it makes it impossible for my older eyes to read the text. An example: yellow lettering against a red background. This is obviously an age discrepancy, which probably makes us incompatible as reviewer/reviewee anyway.
  13. Your reviews are so chock full of bad English and misspellings that I don’t think you’d recognize good writing if it fell at your feet. (How do you spell misspelling? Is that right?)
  14. There’s a picture of a guy with a six-pack on your latest review, and it’s not the kind that comes in cans, it’s the abdominal thing.
  15. Your site is too pink. This is irrational, I know. Just  got a feeling about it.
  16. You review The Hunger Games and the latest Nora Roberts romance novel. These books don’t need your reviews, they have the New York Times, among others.
  17. Your latest post wishes me Happy New Year (2012). See #4 above for a question about commitment.

This brings me to question if I might do reviews myself. I already have my Review Policy worked out. I’d review books in my own genre, by new authors, of my particular age group. Is there a market for it? Would anyone be interested? Would I be able to give bad news to aspiring writers? Does anyone care what I have to say anyway?

Is there a future for baby boomer literature? Or matron-lit as it’s sometimes called, although I do hate that term. Don’t you think there must be a lot of retiring boomers out there with more time on their hands now? Wouldn’t they like to read stories about their own age group?

Or are they all living in Fifty Shades of Fantasy Land?


Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

(I must be in Rome now. Probably ready to be home again.)

I don’t remember how I heard about this novel. Maybe Goodreads or someone may have mentioned it in a blog or a comment to a blog. Whenever I see an opinion about a book, that it is “beautifully written”, I’m intrigued and if it’s even remotely within my genre comfort zone, I investigate.

The Sense of an Ending was short-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which is awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe. It is a very prestigious award, and the winner can be assured of international success. It is a mark of distinction to be included in the shortlist, or even to be nominated for the longlist.

The novel takes place over a span of forty years, beginning in the sixties up to the present. Now I’m really intrigued, because that is exactly the time frame for my own novels. It’s written in first person POV, which is probably my favorite, and the main character is a very likable, if a somewhat dull, boy/man.

The first section is the backstory, in the sixties, and is a very amusing, frank account of coming-of-age as only men can do it. Men seem to be so forthright about that time in their lives when they write about it, I often wish I could enjoy the same candor.

The story takes place in London, so notwithstanding the subtle language differences as written by an English author, it is, in fact, “beautifully written”, and comedic and insightful, yet puzzling. Tony is constantly told that “he just doesn’t get it” and I must admit, I didn’t get it either, and still don’t and I think the author probably intended it that way. It’s one of those stories where, once you know how it ends, you figure out what probably happened to cause it to end the way it did.

Tony is involved with a girl, who is a PITA when she’s young, and after she comes back into his life forty years later, it’s clear she hasn’t improved, and in fact is worse than that, as if her life between then and now has been filled with sadness and hard times or both.

The book starts out with the sixties timeframe for less than half, then jumps to present day, with Tony narrating what has happened to him, as he remembers it. This is an important point because, memory, or lack of, or imperfect, is a big part of the story. How much of what we remember is true, and how much is what we have always told ourselves is true, and embellished and exaggerated as time goes on? How much of memory is what we wished had happened, so over time it morphs into being that way?

Here are some of Tony’s thoughts about memory:

  • Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.
  • What you fail to do is look ahead, and then imagine yourself looking back from that future point. Learning the new emotions that time brings. Discovering, for example, that as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or have been.
  • We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it’s not convenient — it’s not useful — to believe this: it doesn’t help us get on with our lives; so we ignore it.
  • How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but — mainly — to ourselves.

In the present day part, we discover that Tony had written a letter to a friend, which seemed out of character for him, in that it was cruel and unnecessary. This part bothered me, that he would do such a thing and I didn’t think it rang true. Also, did anyone use the term “control freak” during the sixties? I am always very careful of this, in my writing, did they really say this or that back then? Because, language has changed over the years and phrases we use commonly now weren’t necessarily used back then.

The letter was my main issue, I can forgive the control freak part, but it seemed like we should have been given more of the answers than we were. Everything was a bit of a puzzle. And the woman, Victoria, who kept saying he didn’t get it, I wanted to tell her, of course he didn’t get it! How could he? He wasn’t privy to the information.

But it was an enjoyable read, and once I had read it, I discovered that I needed to read it again, knowing what I now knew and when I did that, it seemed less puzzling but still, it’s clear it has been left to the reader to figure out what happened.

The observations made by Tony are priceless, and I’ve included some here that I marked while reading.

  • Most people didn’t experience “the sixties” until the seventies. Which meant, logically, that most people in the sixties were still experiencing the fifties— or, in my case, bits of both decades side by side. Which made things rather confusing.
  • There’s nothing wrong with being a genius who can fascinate the young. Rather, there’s something wrong with the young who can’t be fascinated by a genius.
  • It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.
  • What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him? Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realised? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid the bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels? One whose self-rebukes never really inflicted pain? Well, there was all this to reflect upon, while I endured a special kind of remorse: a hurt inflicted at long last on one who always thought he knew how to avoid being hurt — and inflicted for precisely that reason.

I would recommend this book to anyone. It’s a short read, can be done in one sitting. It is an example of how an everyman, who pictures himself as uninteresting, boring even, is far from it. As if every life has had interest and drama along the way, even if you don’t remember that it did.

Book Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

(I must be back in London from Paris by now. We wanted to take the Chunnel Train for that experience. I hope the French people were okay with my woeful French!)

Initially, I was interested in The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry because it’s the success story of a self-published author making it into the big time, and a two million dollar contract. In doing my research for this post to get the particulars, I came upon an NPR story that aired back in 2008. According to that piece, Ms. Barry and her husband thought they could publish the book themselves, since they had a company which published games, but found that the game experience, while helpful, wasn’t exactly the same. The book is set in Salem so they started locally there, and gained support from local book stores, who recommended The Lace Reader to book clubs nearby. The first two clubs got printed pages of the book in boxes, as none had been printed yet, and the book clubs were encouraged to respond with feedback.

Eventually they printed 2000 copies, word of mouth spread to book clubs all over the country and the local bookstores talked the book up and helped them make important contacts in the publishing world. This led them to a publicist who got the book to the influential Publishers Weekly, and the book got a good review.

Once that happened, a Ms. Rebecca Oliver happened on the scene, a literary agent with a somewhat snarky manner and a disgusting Valley Girl accent. “When one thinks of self-published, there’s a sort of a whole, UHHM, idea of what self-published means and that’s that the author has probably tried to sell the book previously to New York publishers and they’re selling it out of the trunk of their car now. And you assume there is a certain quality to the work.” I wonder if Ms. Oliver has changed her mind, as a few years have gone by since she said this and, as we know, the self-publishing world has evolved just a bit since then, and many agents are looking for other ways to make a living.

I wish there were a way to get that VG accent onto paper. The growly, twanginess and that cute little uplift at the end of the sentence, which makes it, like, a question?

Supposedly, the book has “the kind of plot twists that readers like to dissect”. Yes. That the book has a “very compelling ending”. No.

I beg to disagree. The ending has been described by some to rival The Sixth Sense. Remember that one, where Bruce Willis finally realizes he is dead and neither he (nor the audience) had known that before? It worked, but it was a stretch. Well, this novel’s ending is a real stretch and it doesn’t work. I am frankly amazed that it can be described as “compelling”. To me, it was contrived and unbelievable. Yes, I know. It’s fiction. But still.

I liked the book mostly, the editing was perfect. It started on a somewhat funny note, a nice hook, which I always appreciate. The characters were not perfect people, which I also liked, but the mystery surrounding the drowning death of one woman, and the disappearance of another, while compelling, was resolved in a ho-hum sort of way. The real clincher came very near the end, and I nearly threw the book away at that point.

There were pretty, almost poetic lines at the beginning of each chapter, about the lace and how it could be read, which I liked. There were characters who didn’t need to be in the story at all, which I didn’t like.

I’ll do the Page 99 test on this book and find something I liked and something I didn’t. This page happens to be the first page of Chapter 11. I like the blurb at the beginning of the chapter, it is well-written. The half page of text contains short, choppy sentences. I lot of “I did this and then I did that” – Hemingwayesque, without the distinctive writing style.

The book is written in first person present tense, very difficult for an inexperienced author to do, but I thought this was done well.

I liked it well enough, I had started it once, got halfway through and shelved it before taking it up again and starting over. It was a compelling enough read for the most part, but the ending blew it for me.

Book Review: The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg

By this time, I have spent one week in London. I hope it’s going well (these posts have been schedled in advance). Here’s a lovely Women’s Fiction Novel.

Elizabeth Berg writes women’s fiction, and she does it well. She was born around the time most of the people who read this blog were, and she mostly writes stories about that age group. Her books aren’t romance novels but are stories about friendship, families, divorce, even death. I really like Ms. Berg’s novels, I’ve read several of them and I will likely go on to read many more.

The Art of Mending is about a woman, Laura, who makes her living as a quilt artist, designing custom creations for clients. She was always the domestic type, hence the title and says the following about the art of mending:

You’ll always notice the fabric scar, of course, but there’s an art to mending: If you’re careful, the repair can actually add to the beauty of the thing, because it is testimony to its worth.

At a family reunion, her sister reveals some things, things that happened during their childhood, about their mother, things that Laura doesn’t believe, or maybe she half believes, or maybe she really knew all along, but didn’t want to believe. I was hooked, on the suspense of what it was Laura’s sister would tell her, and it kept me reading.

I liked this book, but it might not be my favorite. Some of the others were funnier. Ms. Berg has a distinctive voice, and some of her characters are unusual and quirky. She writes about everyday things, things that could happen to anyone, from breast cancer to broken marriages to high school reunions.

There were characters and revelations and situations and I wasn’t quite sure why they were in the story. An example: Laura decides to throw a small dinner party and the attendees promised to make an interesting mix and then it didn’t happen. Everyone cancelled and I wondered why it was brought up in the first place. I didn’t clearly understand the motivation behind a certain revelation from her husband, and occasionally I felt like some of the story was “filler”.

The author has a way of ending a chapter that is filled with meaning. There might be a name for it; Jodi Picoult does it to an even greater degree than Elizabeth Berg, a way of saying something and then twisting it around, so that it is more dramatic. Here’s an example:

My mother, smiling brightly, looking directly into your eyes before she embraced you tightly, would feel a million miles away. My father, averting his gaze before he took you into his arms, would be the one who felt close.

(If anyone knows the name for that particular technique, please comment!)

There is a section I particularly liked, as Laura described her life and the love she has for her husband. She married later in life, he had lost his first wife, and they are a genuinely happy couple. Laura talks about how nothing has changed for her, as far as her husband is concerned, that he still thrills her, and as a couple, they are as they always were. It was a very sweet internalization, and it made me think.

I would recommend this author to anyone who likes good women’s fiction.

Book Review: Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer

My first full day in London. Bet I’m still jet-lagged! Below is a review of a great novel. It could be called Women’s Fiction, but maybe General Fiction is a better category for it.

This is not the first book I have read by Scott Spencer, but I guess I’d have to say it’s the best I’ve read so far. But I might feel that way, because I’ve just read it. I probably felt the same way after all the others.

There’s just something about Mr. Spencer’s books, his judicious use of passive voice and present tense, that makes his writing lyrical and melancholy. That’s the feeling I got from this novel, an underlying sadness. Something happened, something that was never supposed to happen, that could have been avoided if only Paul, the main character, hadn’t been where he was at the time he was. And still the event could have been avoided even then, but it happened and it was just plain bad luck that it did. It was traumatic. Life changing.

Once the event has taken place, and everything has changed, Paul has to adjust to it. And not only does it change his life, but the life of Kate, the woman with whom he lives. Kate showed up earlier in A Ship Made of Paper and I liked her then too, but since that time, she’s become a recovering alcoholic and written a self-help book called Prays Well With Others. She feels she’s been helped by God, that she has seen the light, that her life is now guided and she shares it with her readers, and because she is a superb writer, she becomes very successful. She and Paul live with her daughter, Ruby, in a rural farmhouse in upstate New York.

The event involves a dog. The dog witnessed the event, and Paul takes the dog to live with him. And Mr. Spencer proves he can capture the essence of the dog, as well as he does his other characters. The dog has a personality, a quiet animal with good days and bad days. He’s predictably sweet and Paul, Kate and Ruby settle in with him, until they can’t remember when he wasn’t around.

Paul is the strong, handsome type, a carpenter, completely smitten with Kate, and Kate loves Paul with a love so all-encompassing, it matters little that there are differences and silences between them. It’s a beautiful love story, and Kate might be a little quicker-witted than Paul, and she makes the majority of the money that supports their household, but that doesn’t matter to her. To be trite, he “completes” her.

There are internalizations of Paul and Kate, which seem to be essays in themselves. No dialogue, just beautiful words, masterful sentences. One of my favorites was one of Kate’s. She is on a timetable, always plotting, planning time for she and Paul to be alone together. He’s a little more casual, he doesn’t seem to recognize that there might be a half hour here or there, when they could be “together” like Kate does. She hurries through life in order to get back to Paul while his path through life is less planned.

An example:

She doesn’t mind doing the work, because of the reward. The slow fill of him as he notches his hips inch by inch closer to her, she enjoys the anticipation of the bright delirium sex unleashes in her, an extremity of emotion and abandon that she has never before experienced and never actually believed other people experienced, either, and she enjoys moving things around in her schedule so there is more time for them to be together. It’s like clearing brush so the flowers can be seen. But there is no question in her mind that if Paul were in her position right now he would not be thinking of how to get out of the city in time to be home so that there was a chance to lie next to her.

Scott Spencer is one of those authors who says so much in a few words, it’s as if each word is carefully chosen. I like to think of his wonderful sentences rolling off the keyboard one after another, but they are so perfect, I doubt that’s how it happens.

He is also a master of adult love affairs, the positive and negative aspects and with obsessive love, evident in his earlier novel, Endless Love, which was made into a movie. I have yet to see it, and maybe I never will because I’ve heard it’s different from the book and a bit, well, cheesy.

Once in a while, a graphic detail might pop out at you, and it can be a little shocking. I saw it in a couple of his other books but not this one so much.

When I’m reading a Scott Spencer novel, I like to read a chapter and think about what I’ve read before starting another. I’m going to be very disappointed when there’s no Scott Spencer books I haven’t read. I like to wait a while between reading them, because I find myself thinking for weeks about what I’ve read.

I give this novel five stars. An enthusiastic five stars.

Malapropisms for a Monday Morning

A malapropism is the (usually) unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase. It includes the use of a word which sounds somewhat like the one intended but very wrong in the context. This is one of the funniest vehicles to portray a character who is clueless or misinformed.

The terms malapropism and the earlier variant malaprop come from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals, and in particular the character Mrs. Malaprop. Sheridan presumably named his character Mrs. Malaprop, who frequently misspoke (to great comic effect), in joking reference to the word malapropos.

The alternative term “Dogberryism” comes from the 1598 Shakespearean play Much Ado About Nothing in which the character Dogberry produces many malapropisms with humorous effect.

So the malapropism has been around for a few hundred years or so, and is still as populace as ever!

Here are some by famous (sort of) people:

  • “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.” (Dan Quayle)
  • “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” (George W. Bush)
  • “It is beyond my apprehension.” (Danny Ozark, baseball team manager)
  • “This is unparalyzed in our state’s history.” (Gib Lewis, Texas Speaker of the House)
  • “Gentlemen, get this straight once and for all—the policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.” (Richard Daley, former Chicago mayor)
  • “He was a man of great statue.” (Thomas Menino, Boston mayor)

Ringo Starr was famous for his malapropisms which became Beatle’s songs:

  • “Tomorrow never knows”
  • “It’s Been a Hard Days Night”
  • “Eight Days a Week”

 Archie Bunker was known for malapropisms of all kinds:

  • “A witness shall not bear falsies against thy neighbor.”
  • “The hookeries and massageries…the whole world is turning into a regular Sodom and Glocca Morra.”
  • “Off-the-docks Jews.”
  • “A woman doctor is only good for women’s problems…like your groinocology.”
  • “I ain’t a man of carnival instinctuals like you.”
  • “All girls go cockeyed during pooberescency.”
  • “A menstrual show.” (minstrel)
  • “Irene Lorenzo, Queen of the Women’s Lubrication Movement.”
  • “Buy one of them battery operated transvestite radios.”
  • “In her elastic stockings, next to her very close veins.”
  • “Last will and tentacle…”
  • “Patience is a virgin.”
  • “A Polack art exhibit!” (Jackson Pollock)
  • “As youse people say, Sh-boom.” (Shalom)
  • “A kuzeeknee.” (zucchini)
  • “In closing, I’d like to say Molotov!” (Mazel Tov)

The Sopranos:

  • “He was prostate with grief.” (Tony Soprano)
  • “Create a little dysentery among the ranks.” (Christopher Moltisanti) 
  • “He could technically not have penisary contact with her volvo.” (Tony Soprano to Jennifer Melfi)
  • “There’s no stigmata connected with going to a shrink.” (Carmine Lupertazzi Jr.) 

Ricky (Robb Wells) from Trailer Park Boys has many well known malapropisms, known by fans of the show as “Rickyisms”. Here are a few:

  • “Get two birds stoned at once.”
  • “Worst case ontario.”
  • “I’m not a pessimist, I’m an optometrist.”
  • “Survival of the fitness.”
  • “Passed with flying carpets.”
  • What comes around, is all around.”
  • “It’s clear to see who makes the pants here.”
  • “Tempus fuck it.” (Tempus fugit)
  • “It doesn’t take rocket appliances…”

Of unknown origin:

  • “He had to use a fire distinguisher.”
  • “Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination.”
  • “That looks like an expensive pendulum around that man’s neck.”
  • “Good punctuation means not to be late.”
  • “He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.”
  • “Michelangelo painted the Sixteenth Chapel.”
  • “My sister has extra-century perception.”
  • “’Don’t’ is a contraption.”
  • “Flying saucers are just an optical conclusion.”
  • “A rolling stone gathers no moths.”
  • “Their father was some kind of civil serpent.”
  • “The flood damage was so bad they had to evaporate the city.”
  • “Well, that was a cliff-dweller!”

As coined by various members of my family:

  • “He must be rich, he lives in a high-rise condom.”
  • “She went to an ivy-covered college.”
  • “He plays the cello in the Philharmonica.”
  • “He has to have surgery on his coroded artery.”

Got a favorite malapropism to contribute?