Archive for category Books

A book round-up

Life in Motion

Anyone who knows me has to be aware that I read voraciously. My partner sometimes calls me ‘Wormie,’ since I’m such a bookworm. So, while it is always my intention to review the books I read, sometimes I’m plowing through them so rapidly that I just can’t take the time. I thought, instead of lengthy reviews, that I’d list some of the books I’ve read in the past few months, with a few comments about each of them, and why I picked them up.

I was wandering around our local Barnes and Noble and found myself drawn to the three for the price of two table. Well, okay, I’m always drawn to that table, but I don’t usually buy anything because I can never find three I want to read. But this time, I did. I’m already through the two memoirs:

I picked up Life in Motion: an unlikely Ballerina, by Misty Copeland, largely because my niece, Audrey Rachelle Stanley, started out in ballet. Audrey danced for two years with the Nashville Ballet’s second company, before switching to Contemporary Dance. She now lives in New York City, and dances with Teresa Fellion, among others. I was curious about the ballet world, and about the way a black woman has made it in what I know to be an extremely competitive and demanding profession. This inspiring book is partly about that, and partly about Ms. Copeland’s crazy childhood, and the wonderful people who inspired and helped her along the way. I could hardly put it down. Certainly, the chapters where she talks about dancing on injuries because she was afraid she’d lose her position confirmed my suspicions about the ballet world, but much of the book says that if we have enough passion, and we work hard enough (and maybe have that extra something special?), we can achieve greatness.

I also picked up What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Way Dogs Perceive the World, by Cat Warren. I enjoyed this book, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected: I thought there’d be a lot more science about how dogs and humans smells things, but it’s more about the training of dogs to become cadaver dogs, and testing of other species for that purpose. There’s enough of her personal story with her dog Solo to keep the story moving, and I learned some things about the use of dog-generated evidence, but my main take-away was that I shouldn’t feel bad that my two corgis don’t listen to my commands when they feel that they know better than I do.

I also picked up Freud’s Mistress, by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman, off the sale table while I was at B&N. This book is based upon what is known about Minna Bernays, the sister of Freud’s wife, and Freud’s relationship. I imagine that this book would be very  interesting, since Freud himself has been so influential, and I have enjoyed novels about Hemingway’s wife and Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress. Also, Freud’s Mistress has received a fair amount of press. I’m sure that the authors did their research well, as they include many details about life in that time. For my taste, they are too caught up in the details, and the guilt that Minna feels, and the prose is stiff. Freud comes across as a horrible man, and I wonder why Minna would find him attractive. Perhaps he was awful, but it seems over-done. I plan to finish the book, but I keep picking up others instead. I think a lot more could have been done with this material to bring it to life.

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Molding a short story – an example

With a sigh, Josephine dropped her head on the chest, hoping to catch a little of the jasmine scent Grandmother Rose used to wear, and feel again her grandmother’s kindness and love. She imagined burying herself in the old woman’s arms. If she could only bring her back to life, she would stop being so lonely and upset. But that, of course, was impossible.

The lid lifted easily, its leather hinges still intact. Velvet skirts covered in beads and mirrors filled the top tray. Again, she was a child. Her mother walked in the front door at Grandmother Rose’s in one of these outfits, her arms loaded with presents. Josephine ran to her, and she swung her around and around. Then Josephine ripped the paper off one of the presents to reveal a baby doll in a pink dress with a matching hair bow, exactly liked she’d wanted. She squealed and hugged her mother.

Her mother hadn’t stayed long, maybe a few days. After her mother left, Grandmother Rose held her while she cried herself to sleep. How many times had that happened before she’d learned not to get excited when her mother visited? The last time, the day of Rose’s funeral, she’d seen her mother park in front of the house, and she’d gone into her room and closed the door.

 

That’s an excerpt from my short story, Heritage. The full story can be read by downloading Mosaic, a Compilation of Creative Writing, by the Cartel Collaborative. The book is free, and you can get it on Amazon by clicking the link below. Or go here to find other formats.

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If you’re curious about the story behind the story, here’s a little bit about how I wrote Heritage.

This story was born out of a writing prompt in my local writing group. I no longer remember what the prompt was, but I remember what I free-wrote in our twenty minutes; Josephine took a necklace she’d found in her mother’s home to her aunt. I opened with Josephine driving up to her aunt’s home in a downpour.

With this, I had two themes: cleaning out the home of a mother from whom she had been estranged; and a beautiful old necklace found there, which belonged to her aunt.

The rewriting started immediately. At first, I attempted a very short story, which I took to my writing group. They found it too complex for something that short. It must be a novel, they urged. I went home and tried expanding it, adding a father, two brothers, and a host of relatives. It grew into a childhood of gypsy wanderings, with all kinds of complexities, but I couldn’t make it work. I researched old necklaces, trying to build a story around the one Josephine finds. Eventually, I abandoned the enterprise, but my subconscious kept the ideas alive, and the files stayed on my computer.

Along came James Lee Schmidt, with his suggestion to compile a book of stories. With a short deadline, I scanned back through my computer and found my abandoned novella. Why not pare it back to its origins? Goodbye brothers. Goodbye wandering childhood, and so many other unnecessary bits and pieces. Josephine, though, needed expansion. She was a cardboard character in my original story; she had to come to life. With more years of writing experience since the initial version, I knew this was key. Who was she – not just what she looked like, and what she did for a living, but what was her character like? What made her that way? I don’t want to give too much away, but I made her a high school physics/math teacher. To match that, she’s introverted, a bit intimidating, a bitter loner who takes refuge in numbers, yet she’s sweet underneath the hard crust.

This may sound like an awful lot of modification, but I think of a story as a wad of wet clay. So long as you keep it wet, you can create a bunny rabbit, wad it back into an amorphous form, make a horse, add a saddle, then change it into a donkey. Until it’s dried, it can become anything, and that’s half the fun.

Once I liked my story, I sent it my co-authors for critiquing. There were a few comments which were along the lines of “what are you talking about?” If a reader says that, I know something needs fixing, even if it isn’t the spot they marked, so I made a few more significant modifications — adding cousins, for one—and sent it back to them. There were far fewer instances of “huh?” this time. After that, it went to a professional editor. By now, I was pretty tired of this wad of clay, and it was getting dry, at least in my mind. Mirel Abeles, my wonderful editor, suggested brown eyes, longer ears, and a larger saddle. I saw the wisdom of most of her words, so I dug in hard one last time. Finally, came the day when she gave me a thumbs up and it seemed I had a nice tale, free of extraneous commas and other bloopers.

Now comes the hard part, at least for me, which is asking for your feedback. Please read it and leave a review on your favorite retailer (or all of them). Reviews are the only way we, as independent authors, get found. Thank you so much!

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