80 Days of Words

Dear Reader,

I have agreed to help sponsor the step-sister of NaNoWriMo,  Round of Words in 80 Days, pulled together by Kait Nolan.

The idea is pretty cool, actually. Instead of 50k words in 30 days, you set what you want to accomplish in 80 days. For me, it’s going to be edit and publish four more short stories so I can release the anthology of all five short stories in the book Love or Lack Thereof in time for Valentine’s Day. I also want to complete a tentative outline for the new historical novel.

By the way, the first story, “Mad Maxine,” is now available for purchase for $1. What is it about?

This is a story of girl meets boy. The girl, Maxine-called-Max, never thought she would find love before she died. The boy, Phil-her-husband, never thought he would get a girl like Max to look at him. This is not a love story. That story is over before this one begins. This is a story of fixation.

Love or Lack Thereof is a departure from my usual quirky historical fiction. The stories are still quirky because I wrote them and I can’t help but be weird and quirky, but it isn’t straight historical fiction. For whatever reason, my short stories are almost always contemporary.

Not sure you want to take the plunge into something different? Wait until next Monday, December 20. If you comment on that post agreeing to review “Mad Maxine,” you will receive a free copy. You can also read an excerpt at the Love or Lack Thereof information page here on my website.

Best,

Belinda

Book: The Reincarnationist

Title: The Reincarnationist
Author: MJ Rose
Genre: Historical Suspense
Length: 455 pgs.

Summary: Josh Ryder, an investigative photographer, is the survivor of a terrorist bomb that exploded a year ago in Rome, Italy. Thanks to the bombing, he is now the victim of odd flashes that have the “emotion, the intensity, the intimacy of memories.” But they couldn’t be memories. In these flashes, Josh is a pagan priest in ancient Rome, desperate to save a woman named Sabina and the treasures she is hiding from the marauding Christians. As his flashbacks uncover his previous life, deaths start piling up around Josh: whatever that woman Sabina was protecting in ancient Rome, someone today thinks they’re worth killing for.

Excerpts:

pg 36 – Josh experienced a flash of completely unfounded jealousy and unexpected emotion: a white-hot surge of jealousy unlike anything he’d ever felt for any lover he’d ever had. He wanted to rush over and pull Rudolfo away, to tell him he had no business leaning in so close, no right to get so near to her. Josh hadn’t known that this corpse even existed an hour before, but his recollections had taken over and in his mind he saw muscle appearing, then being covered by flesh, the flesh plumping out her face, neck, hands, breasts, hips, thighs and feet, all coming to life, her lips pinking, her eyes being colored a deep blue. … A million images crashed inside his head. Centuries of words he’d never heard before. One louder than the rest. He snatched it out from the cacophony. Sabina. Her name.

pg 261 – “You might as well be one of those stone sculptures,” Alex mused out loud. “Immune to falling in love. No one has ever made your eyes shine the way a stunning unset gem can.”

“Stop worrying.”

“One day you will stop believing in the possibility of heroes, accept the reality of the people you meet, deal with their limitations and learn to make the best of it.”

“Why should I do that? You didn’t. Aunt Nancy didn’t.”

pg 374 – “When you look into the eyes of someone you’re photographing, and glimpse a terrible suffering, don’t turn away,” his father had once told him. “It’s a gift to see into the depths of grief, because only when you realize that someone can be in that much pain and still function, speak civilly, shake your hand and tell you how nice it is to meet you, do you understand why you can’t ever give in or give up. There’s always another chance, another day. That’s the miracle of the human spirit. Take on the pain, Josh. Give it its due. That’s the only way to beat it.”

Why should you read this book?

You can always tell when I really like a book… I have a lot of excerpts from it that I think are the best-written passages. Let me tell you this: I’m in graduate school, and I’m super busy all the time. But I made time for this book. I read it in two days, despite all my assignments, because I was desperate to know what happened.

Read this book for a great example of suspenseful writing, for fleshed out characters, and even for some well-written intimate scenes. If you’re trying to write emotion but don’t know how to begin, this is an awesome start for you. If you’re tackling the idea of fate, and fate bringing your characters together/splitting them apart, read this book.

Book: Arranged Marriage

Title: Arranged Marriage
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Genre: Short Stories
Length: 307 pgs

Summary: A powerful, eye-opening, easy to read set of thoughtful short stories set in India and the USA about the lives and loves of Indian women in the world.

Excerpts:
pg 59 – You hate it when he talks like that, biting off the ends of words and spitting them out. You try to tell yourself that he wants to hurt you only because he’s hurting, because he’s jealous of how much [Mother] means to you. You try to remember the special times. […] You try to shut out the whispery voice that lives behind the ache in your eyes, the one that started when you said yes and he kissed you, hard.

Mistake, says the voice, whispering in your mother’s tones.

Sometimes the voice sounds different, not hers. It is a rushed intake of air, as just before someone asks a question that might change your life. You don’t want to hear the question, which might be how did you get yourself into this mess, or perhaps why, so you leap in with that magic word. Love, you tell yourself, lovelovelvoe. But you know, deep down, that word solves nothing.

Why should you read this book?
This is a powerful testament to Divakaruni’s talent as a poet and prose writer. The excerpt above shows how powerful her writing is; my theory is because she was a poet first and then turned to prose. You can tell how carefully she picks each word, how she puts them together to get just the effect she’s looking for.

Read this book for an example of how to organize your short stories/chapters in a way that is thoughtful and provocative and for heartbreakingly human characters. For those of you writing about Eastern culture, read this book for one author’s take on how to introduce Eastern culture to a Western reader in a subtle, sophisticated manner.

Book: The Time-Traveler’s Wife

Title: The Time-Traveler’s Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Fiction, Science-Fiction
Length: 518 pgs

Summary: This is the story of Clare and Henry. Henry time-travels, but not because he wants to, and he has no control of when or where he may end up, or how long he will be there. Clare, like the rest of us, lives each day, in and out, with none of the hiccups that Henry suffers from, and with the task of waiting for Henry to come back.

Excerpts:
pg 19 – Henry: I draw her to me. We kiss. It’s a very…compatible kiss, a kiss born of long association, and I wonder just exactly what we’ve been doing in this meadow of Clare’s, but I push the thought away.

pg 25 – Henry: It would fill me with a feeling, a feeling I later tried to duplicate with alcohol and finally found again with Clare, a feeling of unity, oblivion, mindlessness in the best sense of the word.

pg 104 – Henry: When Clare draws she looks as though the world has fallen away, leaving only her and the object of her scrutiny. This is why I love to be drawn by Clare: when she looks at me with that kind of attention, I feel that I am everything to her.

pg 274 – Clare: The compelling thing about making art–or making anything, I suppose–is the moment when the vaporous, insubstantial idea becomes a solid there , a thing, a substance in a world of substances. Circe, Numbug, Artemis, Athena, all the old sorceresses: they must have known the feeling as they transformed mere men into fabulous creatures, stole the secrets of the magicians, disposed armies: ah, look, there it is, the new thing.

Why should you read this book?
This book has been on my To Be Read list since I first heard about it early last year. This book is tragic. And beautiful. For once, a story told from two perspectives where it was the right choice to make. I don’t even know how to talk about this book, really, seeing how I just finished it.

If you like the tv series Dr Who, you’re going to like this book. (Maybe not the Dr Who/Rose-shippers, a la Doomsday episode.) If you like the movie versions of The Time Machine, you might like this book, but let me tell you, they are not a quarter as gritty and heartbreaking as this book is, and not a quarter as determined as the characters are to be happy in the here and now, never taking anything for granted.

Writers, read this book for an entirely new take on the old story of time-travel, second-chances, and waiting to find The One, for the absolute organic and painful quality of their lives, for a devoted love story, and for a great example of contemporary fiction. This book is what I’m sure Emerson would call a “creative read,” because it demands so much from you, the Reader. If you need a book to completely engross you (and if you don’t mind crude language or sometime-explicit scenes), this may be the book for you.

Book: Evening

Title: Evening
Author: Susan Minot
Genre: Fiction
Length: 264 pgs

Summary: Ann Grant Lord is dying. As she lays in bed drifting in and out of consciousness, memories of a long-forgotten love affair are triggered by the smell of a balsam pillow.

Excerpts:
pg 12 – Bertie frankly found her a little distant and cold. Dr Baker found [all women] mysterious to a point and Ann Lord had her own brand of mystery. She always looked well turned out and was a little cool ten she would surprise you with a little jolt of something witty and inviting. It was nearly flirtation and challanged something in him. Of course he did not relate that to his wife. He knew that much about women.

pg 14 – No doubt at the time they affected her, stirred some reaction, irritated or pleased her, but now most of them gave off neither heat nor cold and she watched them drop into the gaping dark hole of meaningless things she had nto forgotten, things one level up from the far vaster place where lay all the unremembered things.

pg 179 – Hope is better than mistery, he said. Or despair.
Hope belongs in the same box as despair.
Hope is not so bad, he said.
At least despair has truth in it.
You’re in a dark mood today.

pg 241 – Later in life Ann would learn that when certain men made decisions they would stick to them no matter how much it might torture them afterwards they would stick to their decision. Men, she learned, would rather suffer than change their minds or their habits. They could develop elaborate systems for containing pain, sometimes so successful they would remain completely unaware of the vastness of the pain they posessed.

Why should you read this book?
The text has a certain poetry to it, once you get used to its peculiarity. For instance: there are no double-quote marks denoting speech. My third excerpt above is an example of every conversation in the book. That’s one of the more straight-forward conversations. The entire book is a sort of rambling narration, disjointed in its timeline and sometimes in its sentence structure. Makes for frustrating reading if you don’t have the patience to work through it. An interesting idea, with an interesting execution, I can’t decide if I actually liked this book. As the narration is hazy, seen through the drugged mind of a cancer patient, the reader has a distinct level of abstraction so that no real connection is ever made with the characters or, dare I say it, plot.

Book: Never Let Me Go

never_let_me_golargeTitle: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Genre: Fiction
Length: 288 pgs

Summary: Kathy grew up in the sheltered, English countryside at the Hailsham boarding school, where the students were raised to believe they were special. Only in her teens does Hailsham reveal how special the students are. Kathy’s narrative slowly reveals from hindsight how a simple deception defines her life.

Excerpts:
pg 195 – But I didn’t say or do anything. It was partly, I suppose, that I was so floored by the fact that Ruth would come out with such a trick. I remember a huge tiredness coming over me, a kind of lethargy in the face of the tangled mess before me. It was like being given a maths problem when your brain’s exhausted, and you know there’s some far-off solution, but you can’t work up the energy even to give it a go.

pg 208 – Sometimes I get so immersed in my own company, if I unexpectedly run into someone I know, it’s a bit of a shock and takes me a while to adjust.

Why should you read this book?
This story is intense, subtle, delicate. Its characters are flawed, obsessively so. The overlying plot is science fiction, but without the hopeful ending we expect from genre fiction. Definitely a literary piece, I’m debating whether I actually liked it. For you writers, however, read this for a good example of a first-person narration where the narrator is sensitive, passive, and suspicious without really knowing why. There is no real oppressor or antagonist, reflecting life. If you liked Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which I did, then you will definitely like this book.

August 2010 Update

This book is now being made into a movie, which looks breathtaking: Never Let me Go theatrical trailer

Book: The Extra-Large Medium

Title: The Extra Large Medium
Author: Helen Slavin
Genre: Paranormal Women’s Fiction
Length: 288 pgs

Summary: Annie always thought chocolate brown was the new black, because everyone was wearing it. It didn’t take long for her to realize that no one else saw these people wearing all-brown outfits, and that these people happened to be dead. As a grown-up, Annie begins to treat her habit of finishing the ghostly “unfinished business” as a job; it is when her husband disappears and doesn’t return to her, wearing brown, telling her his unfinished business, that things become seriously wrong.

Excerpts:
pg 1 – In Hell they all wear evening gowns. Heavily boned bodices. Dress-shirt collars just that bit too tight. Your forehead just that bit too sweaty and the perspiration running like an itching, infuriating river down from your armpit into the elastic of your knickers. The point where it pinches your waistband.

pg 36 – Funny how the words for the male member all smack of stupidity. ‘Member’ for a start off, some idiot politician. John Thomas, who no doubt plays a banjo in Tennessee. Todger, the thick dog who can never find where you’ve thrown the stick. Dick, the man who wears the most hideous golf sweaters at the local links. Cock, a strutting brainless bird puffed up with his own importance and getting around ALL the birds. Donger, a dwarf breed of conger eel. Prick, so quick you hardly notice and before you turn your head it’s all over.

pg 46 – Most of the young men, and a couple of the older ones I picked out, seemed only interested in one thing. They made small talk, ate dinner or pretended to listen to your boring recollections from your day at work because they felt that this would work some miracle on the elastic of your knickers. They didn’t want you. They wanted sex. Conversation was just some boring form-filling requirement that had to be gone through to get to the sex. No one seemed any good at it either.

pg 47 – For a brief time at the university I was known as the Ice Maiden because I was notoriously hard work on a date. Then I discovered the Ice Maiden Sweepstake. The bet was on as to who could crack the Ice Maiden. ‘Crack’. It was their word. I would have preferred ‘thaw’: you melt the ice with the heat of your passion. But no. They would have a ‘crack’ at it.

Why should you read this book?
If you think perhaps this book has a theme similar to The Sixth Sense, that’s what I thought too. Except instead of being a thriller of sorts, this book is insightful and humorous, with a succinct tone that doesn’t forgive any character and yet makes you feel for them nonetheless. At its heart, this book is about a woman who loses her husband and waits, against her will, for the day she has to legally declare him dead.

For you writers, read this book to learn how to write about a topic (like death) without depressing the reader. Every character is flush and real, people we can relate to or have had a conversation with. Annie is a great anti-hero, as well; she is flawed, can’t seem to hold on to material objects or the people around her, and yet is crying out for someone to ground her from her ethereal calling. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and read it in one evening, I couldn’t put it down.