Book Reviews: John Grisham

SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham.

I've never, ever read a Grisham novel. No particular reason why except the plots were not something that interested me. Until I read the publisher's summary of this novel. I added this to my very long list of books I want to read and there it has sat. But recently, in between book club selections, I picked this up and decided I'd give it a try.

I really liked it! Even though it was over 600 pages long it read very quickly. It grabbed my attention from the get go and I found that I wanted to keep reading even after I put it down for the day. My most favorite part of Grisham's writing is his characters. I very much enjoyed them and felt their unique personalities came off the page. Even though this is connected to his previous novel, A TIME TO KILL, I found I didn't need to have read that to understand the backstory that Grisham uses to explain relationships and motivations in this story. The author provides enough of the history from that novel so the reader doesn't feel left out. The only aspect of the writing that I felt was weak was the reason why Seth Hubbard did what he did. I figured this out/guessed pretty early on. But even knowing that I didn't really know how the court case was going to work out until it did. 

Will I go back and read something else he wrote? Probably not. But I have no hesitation in telling people that I did read this and I recommend it. 



The Process of Becoming a Writer, Step 2

I spend a lot of time researching but not for a novel I want to write. Nope, I spend much time reading about the career called writing. I talked about this in my very first post. As time has gone on I find that what I seek information on isn't necessarily about how to get published but rather the actual practice of writing. 

I'm six months into making a conscious effort to become a writer. I have found that I really struggle to actually get any writing done. This produces a great deal of panic or guilt, depending on the day. I complain to very few people about this because A. I haven't shared with very many people that I'm trying to make a career change and B. to those that I have, I'm embarrassed. Because, really, how hard is it to sit down and type? One person in particular, who has had the 'privilege' of hearing me complain, has suggested that I look at my behaviors. When he first said this I immediately balked. My lack of writing had nothing to do with my behaviors. It has everything to do with the demands on my time and I rattled off the names of my three kids, my husband and 'the house.' I may have even thrown the dog's name in there. But his observation stayed with me.

I started to read more blogs and articles that talked about writing practices, the best/worst writing advice, how they made the transition from X career to writing, how they juggle competing demands. I felt very relieved to see that many have the same struggles and fears that I do. But what really got me to think about looking at my behaviors was how dedicated writers made the time to write. That's what sets them apart from me and when the proverbial light bulb went off over my head. It IS my behaviors. It is me not taking the 10 minutes here, sneaking 20 minutes there. It is me putting the 'if I can't have at least an hour of solid writing time I'm not going to do it' wall. It's allowing what I call "Writer's ADHD" rule when I do sit down to write: re-reading what I've written, re-writing, looking things up on the fly, checking in on the author/writing websites I have bookmarked, starting a new novel for the latest idea I had that morning in the shower. 

So this week is Spring Break for my kids. We made plans back in the middle of frigid February to get the heck out of NY for this week. We rented a house right on the ocean…it's beautiful and very restful (and warm!!). I brought my lap top and told myself that I was going to write 1,000 words a day while we were here. Of all the story ideas I have started, there is one in particular that is jumping up and down, arms waving, saying "Pick me!" And I've done it. It helps (a lot) that I don't have all the responsibilities I do if I was home. But when my husband offers to take the youngest to the beach I let him. When said child is crying I don't run to intercede. I let my husband or his sisters handle it. My daughters entertain themselves. Dinners are quick and easy. I am looking at websites as I drink coffee in the morning. I am not trying to write the story perfectly the first time around. I'm just letting it out as it comes to me.

I want to be able to say that I'm a dedicated writer. I recognize it is easy to start these new behaviors in this less demanding environment. The trick will be if I can practice them when I get back to the (hopefully warmer) real world. 

Book Review: BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent

The author, Hannah Kent, imagines the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir who was found guilty, along with two others, and executed (beheaded) for murdering Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson. The novel is based on a true story that took place in 1828 Iceland; this was the last execution in that country. Through meticulous research and reliance on the country’s strong oral tradition, the author builds a story around what led up to and the reason for the killings. 

Agnes is sent to live with the family who occupies the farm in Kornsá while she waits to learn when her execution will take place. Initially, she shares her story, starting from her birth, with Assistant Reverend Tóti who is the religious person she asked to be assigned to her as she prepares herself for execution and, eventually, the family. She tells them that she met Natan, a reputed medicine man/sorcerer and womanizer, at a farm she was working on; he befriended and then seduced her. He asks her to come to his very remote farm, Illugastadir, to be his housekeeper and oversee Sigga, a maidservant already living there. Shortly after she arrives, Agnes begins to realize that Natan hasn’t been truthful with her - not about her role at the farm, Sigga’s relationship to him nor about himself. Natan’s reputed lover, the poet Rosa, shows up one day with her child by Natan on her hip and gives Agnes, albeit not very friendly, a warning about Natan. Their nearest neighbor, Fridrik Sigurdsson, begins to make visits with occasional long periods of stays. He is a 19 year old mean tempered, jealous young man who ends up developing a relationship with Sigga. As the long, bleak Icelandic winter progresses, the relationships shift and become very tense, ultimately culminating in the murders.

The author does an eloquent job painting a bleak, harsh, and lonely picture of life in the northern part of Iceland. She achieves this in large part due to her repetition of images: fires fueled by dung, the constant unpleasant odor of animals and dirty bodies, temperatures so cold that ice forms while characters sleep. Inter dispersed between chapters are copies of correspondence between the various officials in charge of carrying out the punishment. There is such a matter of fact tone to these documents it sends shivers down the spine; that men could talk of putting to death two people so unemotionally has an almost nightmarish quality to it. 


Who Is Writing In My House

I've been struggling to find a topic to write about. Part of this is because I'm trying to keep this blog focused on writing related topics. Since I haven't been doing very much writing I don't have anything worthwhile to say.

While I have been sitting and staring at the computer screen, my younger daughter has discovered Wattpad. In her words "best app ever" as she is doing most of her writing on her phone. She has been busy writing stories, reading other users' writing and developing a network of readers and writers. Clearly I need to take some pointers from her. And for English class she has been working on writing a realistic fiction novel complete with artwork, author and dedication pages. I guess it is no surprise that she has been talking about being an author. Her enthusiasm is pretty impressive and it's hard to kick her off the electronics knowing that she is using them to pursue our mutual interest. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit to envying her greatly the night she sat at MY computer complaining that she was on page 17 and couldn't figure out how to end the story…she was only suppose to have 15 pages!

My older daughter also likes to write. Two summers ago she spent much time on another website, Quotev, writing a love story for Peter Pan and a reverse telling of Beauty and the Beast. She told me recently that she has started writing out there again and is more into creating short stories. She likes short stories because she can finish them more quickly (time being a highly valued commodity when you are a teenager). She is in her last 20 weeks of high school and her English class this semester is one she self selected - Creative Writing. I haven't heard any complaining (yet) and she has talked to her teacher about using some of the material she has already wrote on Quotev as a springboard for her assignments. I'm crossing my fingers that this is a positive experience and she learns a thing or two. 

I guess if I treated my own writing like a homework assignment that was going to be graded I would accomplish more!?

I didn't get it but I got it

On Monday I checked on the status of the very short piece of fiction I submitted to Glimmertrain. Unfortunately, my piece was not selected. I waited for the sense of disappointment to come. And I waited. And I waited. Now it is five days later and I have to say I still don't feel bummed. Where is my sense of indignation? The tears of defeat? What do they mean they don't want me?! 

I'm a bit surprised at myself. But pleased. I take this to mean that I not only understand but accept that writing takes perseverance and time. There are lots of other publications for me to submit the piece to for consideration. And I have another short story done and in the review process. I also finished an essay on my experience with post partum depression that I hope to submit for consideration in an anthology being developed about women who have struggled with this issue. And lets not forget the various story ideas hanging around inside my brain.

So onward I go!

So many ideas, so little time

So now that I've been letting my muses loose, I have no shortage of story ideas. Short stories, novels, essays. Heck, once in a while I think about a poem! 

But there in lies the problem….I have TOO many ideas. I literally have six different pieces started. 

I feel a bit like I have multiple personalities. Each piece is very different. I suppose they represent different parts of me and the topics I'm interested in. It reasons that depending on my mood any given day, a particular piece will call to me to write. If I keep following this method of writing, I'll never get anything finished! 

In the beginning

In the beginning there was a woman, a lap top, and many ideas running around said woman's brain. This, I thought, was all that I needed to launch a career as a writer. It turns out that I was wrong. 

When I decide to do something new I like to research. I want to know what it is I don't know. And honestly, I like to research. I like learning. This is definitely one of those times I'm very grateful that I did my research. I had no idea what else was involved in establishing a career as a writer. Oh I knew after I corralled an idea and got it down on paper I still needed to draft a query letter, create a list of literary agent names and/or publications to submit my pieces too, find a lucky penny, and wish on a shooting star. I didn't realize that I should have a web site, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and blog to help promote my writing. 

I was pretty bewildered and overwhelmed. After all, at this point in time, I'm trying to find the time to write and be brave enough to send it out there. Now I have to add creating these various social networking accounts and come up with content…….and let's not forget maintaining/updating said accounts. What the heck?! I have bookmarked the web sites of some of my favorite authors where I can read their blog posts. I knew they used Facebook and had Twitter accounts. I assumed they did all of this AFTER they became best selling writers. And maybe some of them did; especially if the advent of these social media outlets occurred after they had established their successful careers. 

So after more researching (read: hemming and hawing) I reached out and asked a question on the writer's web site, She Press, where I am a member. When do I create these very public presences? The response I got was it was my preference. Depends on my comfort level and how aggressive I want to be. Okay, I like that this is something I can control. I don't have to go crazy and establish a whole universe. So after more researching (now read: delay tactic) I have chosen to use a web site with a blog and Twitter. 

If you are reading this blog, congratulations! You found my web site…..or more realistically I told you were to find it! Feel free to bookmark it in your browser to check back and see how I am doing. And, if you are a Twitter user as I am now, feel free to follow me there too: @lynnmandrews.