Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Today I welcome a special guest, author Jennifer R. Hubbard, whose second novel, Try Not to Breathe, released in January. I've read it in both draft and published form, and friends, it is a great read. It has some of the best insights into adolescent depression I've ever read, a well-balanced mix of seriousness and humor, and my favorite kind of romance--one based on friendship and trust built over time.

I asked Jenn to share some insights about writing opposite-sex narrators. Take it away, Jenn...

Try Not to Breathe is my second book written with a male narrator, and people often ask how I write from the opposite-sex point of view, or whether it gives me any problems.

Writing as a male character wasn’t something that struck me as unusual until people started asking me this question, after my first book (The Secret Year) came out. I wrote short stories for years, and some of them had male main characters and some had female main characters. I thought of myself as a person and my characters as people, without dwelling much on which of us were male or female. So much of what we experience in life—the taste of a tomato, the feel of rain on our skin, the pain of a toothache—has nothing to do with whether we’re male or female.

Nevertheless, there are real cultural differences. In our world, for example, aggression is still encouraged, or at least tolerated, far more in boys than in girls. On the other hand, talking about emotions is expected more of girls.

One advantage a writer has in writing across gender lines, which may not be the case when writing across lines of race or religion or ethnic group, is that we spend so much time with each other. Chances are very high that we have family members of the opposite sex, that at some point we live with people of the opposite sex. We have father-daughter, mother-son, brother-sister relationships. We may have aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins. We may have classmates, teachers, or coaches of the opposite sex. We see each other at the grocery store, on the bus, at concerts.

I grew up having male friends and relatives, male teachers. I grew up reading books by male authors. I think that’s why some of the characters in my head speak with “male voices.” One good test, for anyone who’s having difficulty writing a male character, is to think of the guys you know. Ask yourself: Can I imagine any guy I know delivering this line I just wrote? Not a guy on a movie screen, saying what I wish he’d say, but a real-life guy?

You can also solicit the opinion of male readers. However, not all guys are alike, so don’t assume that any one person can speak for a whole gender. Dick Cheney is a guy. So is Justin Bieber. So is Chris Rock. So is the Pope. But they’re all different people with different worldviews and experiences, and they would all speak and think differently.

===

Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of the contemporary young-adult novel Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012), in which the 16-year-old survivor of a suicide attempt befriends a girl who is trying to understand her father's suicide. Hubbard's first book is the The Secret Year (Viking, 2010).

For more information about Jenn's books, including links to purchase copies, go to http://jenniferrhubbard.blogspot.com/p/publications.html.

Have you ever attempted an opposite-sex narrator? What excites or intimidates you about it? Any other questions for Jenn?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Laurel Garver

Today I welcome a special guest, author Jennifer R. Hubbard, whose second novel, Try Not to Breathe, released in January. I've read it in both draft and published form, and friends, it is a great read. It has some of the best insights into adolescent depression I've ever read, a well-balanced mix of seriousness and humor, and my favorite kind of romance--one based on friendship and trust built over time.

I asked Jenn to share some insights about writing opposite-sex narrators. Take it away, Jenn...

Try Not to Breathe is my second book written with a male narrator, and people often ask how I write from the opposite-sex point of view, or whether it gives me any problems.

Writing as a male character wasn’t something that struck me as unusual until people started asking me this question, after my first book (The Secret Year) came out. I wrote short stories for years, and some of them had male main characters and some had female main characters. I thought of myself as a person and my characters as people, without dwelling much on which of us were male or female. So much of what we experience in life—the taste of a tomato, the feel of rain on our skin, the pain of a toothache—has nothing to do with whether we’re male or female.

Nevertheless, there are real cultural differences. In our world, for example, aggression is still encouraged, or at least tolerated, far more in boys than in girls. On the other hand, talking about emotions is expected more of girls.

One advantage a writer has in writing across gender lines, which may not be the case when writing across lines of race or religion or ethnic group, is that we spend so much time with each other. Chances are very high that we have family members of the opposite sex, that at some point we live with people of the opposite sex. We have father-daughter, mother-son, brother-sister relationships. We may have aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins. We may have classmates, teachers, or coaches of the opposite sex. We see each other at the grocery store, on the bus, at concerts.

I grew up having male friends and relatives, male teachers. I grew up reading books by male authors. I think that’s why some of the characters in my head speak with “male voices.” One good test, for anyone who’s having difficulty writing a male character, is to think of the guys you know. Ask yourself: Can I imagine any guy I know delivering this line I just wrote? Not a guy on a movie screen, saying what I wish he’d say, but a real-life guy?

You can also solicit the opinion of male readers. However, not all guys are alike, so don’t assume that any one person can speak for a whole gender. Dick Cheney is a guy. So is Justin Bieber. So is Chris Rock. So is the Pope. But they’re all different people with different worldviews and experiences, and they would all speak and think differently.

===

Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of the contemporary young-adult novel Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012), in which the 16-year-old survivor of a suicide attempt befriends a girl who is trying to understand her father's suicide. Hubbard's first book is the The Secret Year (Viking, 2010).

For more information about Jenn's books, including links to purchase copies, go to http://jenniferrhubbard.blogspot.com/p/publications.html.

Have you ever attempted an opposite-sex narrator? What excites or intimidates you about it? Any other questions for Jenn?

Monday, February 20, 2012


I'm back after a fun but exhausting weekend throwing our Harry Potter party for eleven kids ages 7-10.

Guests selected wands from an assortment we'd made from wood "candle cups" and dowel rods from JoAnn Fabric that my husband tapered using a wood rasp and sandpaper, then stained various shades of brown.

Gold paper bags with each child's name in calligraphy were at the ready to be decorated with a themed sticker. The kids could take home all their party creations plus wand in the bags.

We sorted the group into two houses--Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. My daughter wanted to be a Ravenclaw like Luna Lovegood, one of her favorite characters from the series.

The two houses competed against each other in the transfiguration game I described in my previous post. They then rotated between two other classes I'll describe below.

Care of Magical Creatures
The children made their own pygmy puffs by making yarn pom poms and decorating them with googly eyes and felt scraps for ears, feet, fangs, antlers and what have you. They then named them and got to describe to the group their puff's special abilities or magical powers.

The ones in the photo my daughter made with paper or felt eyes instead of googly eyes. I recommend the sticker-back type googly eyes for best results, available at JoAnn Fabrics.

Potions
We transformed our kitchen into a potions lab! Using old glass jars--from spices, preserves, syrup, vinegar, we scrubbed off old labels (Goof off helps remove adhesive) and relabeled them as potions or potion ingredients.

There are loads of printable labels if you check in Google images. Finding potion-looking contents for the jars was pretty fun too. Ginger root become bubotubers, rye flour became slug repellant, dish soap became Erumpent fluid. You get the idea. I think one of the more gross/cool items we had on hand was a jar full of dried sardines from a Japanese former boarder. No need to label them!

Potions activities

Wave jars
I prepped a bunch of old baby food jars, cleaning the label glue off the glass and spay painting the lids with some old car touch-up paint we had on hand.

The children filled the bottom of the jars with tiny seashells and festive confetti that's heavy enough to sink in water. We then filled the jars 1/3 of the way with water and added food coloring. Not many kids wanted blue waves for some reason.

Next, we topped off the solution with baby oil, leaving some headspace to create motion. Kids could mix glitter into to the oil layer. (Our pre-test showed it tended to get trapped between layers if you added it to the water).

Secure the lids tightly and tip the jars to make waves. If carefully shaken, the solution would make bubbles that would reseparate into layers if allowed to rest.

Slime
I found a very easy recipe for homemade play-slime that uses white glue, borax (a laundry booster), water and food coloring. Unfortunately the proportions weren't that precise, so a few kids had to start from scratch when the slime didn't set up properly. Therefore, I won't post a link to the recipe I used. But if you google "borax slime," you'll find directions. I recommend directions that enable you to make small portions in paper cups. This is easiest to manage with groups of kids. I had no major messes working with six kids at a time.

This was probably the most popular activity of the day. Lots of oohs and ahhs as the colored, diluted school glue became a rubbery fun toy by simply adding a little borax solution.

For more Potter Party ideas, see Harry Potter Guide and Cookbook.

What Hogwarts classes do you think muggles could approximate?
Monday, February 20, 2012 Laurel Garver

I'm back after a fun but exhausting weekend throwing our Harry Potter party for eleven kids ages 7-10.

Guests selected wands from an assortment we'd made from wood "candle cups" and dowel rods from JoAnn Fabric that my husband tapered using a wood rasp and sandpaper, then stained various shades of brown.

Gold paper bags with each child's name in calligraphy were at the ready to be decorated with a themed sticker. The kids could take home all their party creations plus wand in the bags.

We sorted the group into two houses--Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. My daughter wanted to be a Ravenclaw like Luna Lovegood, one of her favorite characters from the series.

The two houses competed against each other in the transfiguration game I described in my previous post. They then rotated between two other classes I'll describe below.

Care of Magical Creatures
The children made their own pygmy puffs by making yarn pom poms and decorating them with googly eyes and felt scraps for ears, feet, fangs, antlers and what have you. They then named them and got to describe to the group their puff's special abilities or magical powers.

The ones in the photo my daughter made with paper or felt eyes instead of googly eyes. I recommend the sticker-back type googly eyes for best results, available at JoAnn Fabrics.

Potions
We transformed our kitchen into a potions lab! Using old glass jars--from spices, preserves, syrup, vinegar, we scrubbed off old labels (Goof off helps remove adhesive) and relabeled them as potions or potion ingredients.

There are loads of printable labels if you check in Google images. Finding potion-looking contents for the jars was pretty fun too. Ginger root become bubotubers, rye flour became slug repellant, dish soap became Erumpent fluid. You get the idea. I think one of the more gross/cool items we had on hand was a jar full of dried sardines from a Japanese former boarder. No need to label them!

Potions activities

Wave jars
I prepped a bunch of old baby food jars, cleaning the label glue off the glass and spay painting the lids with some old car touch-up paint we had on hand.

The children filled the bottom of the jars with tiny seashells and festive confetti that's heavy enough to sink in water. We then filled the jars 1/3 of the way with water and added food coloring. Not many kids wanted blue waves for some reason.

Next, we topped off the solution with baby oil, leaving some headspace to create motion. Kids could mix glitter into to the oil layer. (Our pre-test showed it tended to get trapped between layers if you added it to the water).

Secure the lids tightly and tip the jars to make waves. If carefully shaken, the solution would make bubbles that would reseparate into layers if allowed to rest.

Slime
I found a very easy recipe for homemade play-slime that uses white glue, borax (a laundry booster), water and food coloring. Unfortunately the proportions weren't that precise, so a few kids had to start from scratch when the slime didn't set up properly. Therefore, I won't post a link to the recipe I used. But if you google "borax slime," you'll find directions. I recommend directions that enable you to make small portions in paper cups. This is easiest to manage with groups of kids. I had no major messes working with six kids at a time.

This was probably the most popular activity of the day. Lots of oohs and ahhs as the colored, diluted school glue became a rubbery fun toy by simply adding a little borax solution.

For more Potter Party ideas, see Harry Potter Guide and Cookbook.

What Hogwarts classes do you think muggles could approximate?

Thursday, February 16, 2012


The countdown begins to my daughter's 9.5 birthday party on Saturday. We are having a total blast preparing for it. I thought I'd share a little about what I've been up to.

Invitations
We sent the invitations a month ahead: a customized "Hogwarts acceptance letter," inviting the children to attend an orientation session (and half-birthday party), signed by headmistress Minerva McGonagall. I used fonts downloaded from MuggleNet, a line drawing of the Hogwarts crest, and printed the letters on parchment paper from AC Moore (also available at office supply stores in their stationery department).

Games
I visited dozens of websites looking for age-appropriate games before I hit the motherlode: Potter Parties. I was blown away at how many great ideas are on this site--including games that 8- to 10-year-olds won't consider babyish. Another goodie: Harry Potter Party Guide. Here are the four ideas we plan to use:

Hogwarts Word Search
Using an online puzzle creator, HERE, I whipped up a 26-clue word-search puzzle in about ten minutes. You can set the puzzle size (mine is 20 characters square) and enter all the words to be hidden within it. You can also set the difficulty level (in other words, for younger kids than mine, you might not want any of the hidden words backwards on a diagonal). The puzzle creator algorithm will also filter to prevent any bad language from accidentally being created. So no worries of secret F-bombs in your puzzle. It generated a plain text puzzle I copied and pasted into Word, adjusted the font size and printed onto parchment. It also generated a solution page I could print and have on hand to determine a winner.

Hogwarts Alphaspell
Players must come up with a word from the Harry Potter world for each letter of the alphabet. I created a puzzle sheet for this game, and filled in one example, "Xenophilius Lovegood" for X.

In Word, I set up a two-column page, then typed up each letter of the alphabet in Hogwarts Wizard font (downloaded from MuggleNet) with a blank line behind it. You get the most uniform results using a right-aligned tab and a "leader." To do this, put a tab after each letter and select all. Go to the paragraph menu in Word, click the "tabs" button on the bottom. In the Tabs menu, I chose 3" for my tab location (because of the two columns), chose right alignment and option 4 (underlining) for my leader character. Click "OK" and voila, perfect blanks to fill in.

Pass the Quaffle
This is a Hogwarts spin on "hot potato." The children sit in a circle and pass around a rubber ball (we found a perfect small, red kickball at Dollar Tree) while music plays. I expect we'll put together a playlist of Wizard Rock songs for this purpose. Whoever is holding the quaffle when the music stops is eliminated, until all but one child is out.

Transfiguration (sculpt-ionary)
This is Hogwarts riff on Pictionary. You'll need a game board of some kind, a die, a one-minute timer, playdough and game cards with wizarding-world words on them. Split into two teams--Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw, for example. Roll to see which team goes first. One player will draw a card and "transfigure" the dough into the shape on the card, while her teammates try to guess what the object is. If the team guesses correctly within the time, they roll again and the next player from the team sculpts. If not, the opposing team resumes play. Whichever team gets to the end of the gameboard first wins.

I'll be back tomorrow with details about our two "classes" and a little about the menu.

Have you ever thrown a theme party? Which of these games sound fun to you?
Thursday, February 16, 2012 Laurel Garver

The countdown begins to my daughter's 9.5 birthday party on Saturday. We are having a total blast preparing for it. I thought I'd share a little about what I've been up to.

Invitations
We sent the invitations a month ahead: a customized "Hogwarts acceptance letter," inviting the children to attend an orientation session (and half-birthday party), signed by headmistress Minerva McGonagall. I used fonts downloaded from MuggleNet, a line drawing of the Hogwarts crest, and printed the letters on parchment paper from AC Moore (also available at office supply stores in their stationery department).

Games
I visited dozens of websites looking for age-appropriate games before I hit the motherlode: Potter Parties. I was blown away at how many great ideas are on this site--including games that 8- to 10-year-olds won't consider babyish. Another goodie: Harry Potter Party Guide. Here are the four ideas we plan to use:

Hogwarts Word Search
Using an online puzzle creator, HERE, I whipped up a 26-clue word-search puzzle in about ten minutes. You can set the puzzle size (mine is 20 characters square) and enter all the words to be hidden within it. You can also set the difficulty level (in other words, for younger kids than mine, you might not want any of the hidden words backwards on a diagonal). The puzzle creator algorithm will also filter to prevent any bad language from accidentally being created. So no worries of secret F-bombs in your puzzle. It generated a plain text puzzle I copied and pasted into Word, adjusted the font size and printed onto parchment. It also generated a solution page I could print and have on hand to determine a winner.

Hogwarts Alphaspell
Players must come up with a word from the Harry Potter world for each letter of the alphabet. I created a puzzle sheet for this game, and filled in one example, "Xenophilius Lovegood" for X.

In Word, I set up a two-column page, then typed up each letter of the alphabet in Hogwarts Wizard font (downloaded from MuggleNet) with a blank line behind it. You get the most uniform results using a right-aligned tab and a "leader." To do this, put a tab after each letter and select all. Go to the paragraph menu in Word, click the "tabs" button on the bottom. In the Tabs menu, I chose 3" for my tab location (because of the two columns), chose right alignment and option 4 (underlining) for my leader character. Click "OK" and voila, perfect blanks to fill in.

Pass the Quaffle
This is a Hogwarts spin on "hot potato." The children sit in a circle and pass around a rubber ball (we found a perfect small, red kickball at Dollar Tree) while music plays. I expect we'll put together a playlist of Wizard Rock songs for this purpose. Whoever is holding the quaffle when the music stops is eliminated, until all but one child is out.

Transfiguration (sculpt-ionary)
This is Hogwarts riff on Pictionary. You'll need a game board of some kind, a die, a one-minute timer, playdough and game cards with wizarding-world words on them. Split into two teams--Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw, for example. Roll to see which team goes first. One player will draw a card and "transfigure" the dough into the shape on the card, while her teammates try to guess what the object is. If the team guesses correctly within the time, they roll again and the next player from the team sculpts. If not, the opposing team resumes play. Whichever team gets to the end of the gameboard first wins.

I'll be back tomorrow with details about our two "classes" and a little about the menu.

Have you ever thrown a theme party? Which of these games sound fun to you?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Yes, writing can be creative and fun, but at some point when your work goes into print, it will become something more--a business. With income. Expenses. All that jazz.

I don't see too many writers talking about the need to get your head out of the sand when it comes to treating your writing like a business. I guess it's because many creative people tend to get a glazed look when you mention the T word. Yeah, I mean taxes.

You might think you can jettison this worry onto someone who cares about this stuff--like your accountant. You can't. Not entirely. There are some things only YOU can do. And if you want to avoid a whole lot of headaches and stress, it honestly pays to educate yourself a little about this business-money-tax stuff.

Last week I attended an adult education small business tax workshop just to pick up some of the basics. Now that my head-cold fog is beginning to lift, I thought I'd share a little of what I've learned.

Business or hobby?
One of the first things to consider is whether you believe you will actually bring in some real income from your venture. Having substantial start-up costs and taking a loss is normal for the first few years. But if you plan to deduct all of your writing expenses, you need to post a profit within a few years, or the IRS considers your writing efforts a hobby.

Are you agented and out on submission? There's a good chance you could land a book deal, and with it comes income you will owe taxes on. Take the time now to get all your financial ducks in a row to minimize your tax liability. By that I mean register yourself as a business (likely a sole proprietorship), and track your deductible expenses. There are LOTS--from web design to business cards to your home office utilities. Even if you plan to use an accountant, you will need to keep records of your expenses. The teacher recommended the US Small Business Administration site (http://www.sba.gov/) as a great resource for getting started.

Ditto if you plan to self-publish or to sell short pieces to paying markets (and make more than $250 annually doing so).

If you sell stories or articles and only receive token payments, that's hobby income. The kinds of things you can deduct as hobby expenses are explained here: http://www.irs.gov/publications/p17/ch28.html. Note that you can't deduct losses (expenses that are over and above than what you got paid), you can only claim expenses up to the amount you made as hobby income. Tracking hobby expenses and income is a great way to get up to speed before you land a book deal, so do seriously consider doing some magazine work. Seriously. The writing credits and networking are some additional benefits.

First steps
~Remove your fingers from your ears and stop singing "La-la-la."

~Educate yourself about the rules. You must deal with three taxing entities: the federal government, your state government and your local government. The laws may have some overlaps, and may have some significant differences. An adult education class is helpful, and your local chamber of commerce and the SBA are also great resources.

~Apply for a federal EIN (employer ID number), for free, at the IRS site: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=102767,00.html. You must have one to open a bank account that you dedicate to your writing income and expenses. It's really best to do this--keep your writing business as its own entity. It's much, much easier to track what comes in and goes out when it's not mixed in with your personal finances. You'll also need and EIN to deduct the cost of some services you hire out for, like editing.

Self-publishers take note: if you plan to set up your own press, WAIT to apply for an EIN until after you have registered your press name that you will be "doing business as." More information about is available from the SBA here: http://www.sba.gov/content/register-your-fictitious-or-doing-business-dba-name/.

~Apply for a small business license as required by your state or local government. The SBA has all the needed state links: http://www.sba.gov/content/business-licenses-and-permits. My municipality requires a license for any kind of business, so be sure to check in with your local government to see what their regulations are. Your local chamber of commerce may be able to help with this step. Don't be shy, give them a call if your local regulations are difficult to find.

~Open your checking account, using your EIN as the ID number rather than your SSN. Use it for all your business expenses: your web designer, your caterer for the launch party, etc. Deposit royalty checks here and link it to your paypal or Amazon account. This step will save you a ton of headaches!

What aspects of writing-as-business surprise you? Intimidate you? Was this post helpful? What else would you like to know?
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 Laurel Garver
Yes, writing can be creative and fun, but at some point when your work goes into print, it will become something more--a business. With income. Expenses. All that jazz.

I don't see too many writers talking about the need to get your head out of the sand when it comes to treating your writing like a business. I guess it's because many creative people tend to get a glazed look when you mention the T word. Yeah, I mean taxes.

You might think you can jettison this worry onto someone who cares about this stuff--like your accountant. You can't. Not entirely. There are some things only YOU can do. And if you want to avoid a whole lot of headaches and stress, it honestly pays to educate yourself a little about this business-money-tax stuff.

Last week I attended an adult education small business tax workshop just to pick up some of the basics. Now that my head-cold fog is beginning to lift, I thought I'd share a little of what I've learned.

Business or hobby?
One of the first things to consider is whether you believe you will actually bring in some real income from your venture. Having substantial start-up costs and taking a loss is normal for the first few years. But if you plan to deduct all of your writing expenses, you need to post a profit within a few years, or the IRS considers your writing efforts a hobby.

Are you agented and out on submission? There's a good chance you could land a book deal, and with it comes income you will owe taxes on. Take the time now to get all your financial ducks in a row to minimize your tax liability. By that I mean register yourself as a business (likely a sole proprietorship), and track your deductible expenses. There are LOTS--from web design to business cards to your home office utilities. Even if you plan to use an accountant, you will need to keep records of your expenses. The teacher recommended the US Small Business Administration site (http://www.sba.gov/) as a great resource for getting started.

Ditto if you plan to self-publish or to sell short pieces to paying markets (and make more than $250 annually doing so).

If you sell stories or articles and only receive token payments, that's hobby income. The kinds of things you can deduct as hobby expenses are explained here: http://www.irs.gov/publications/p17/ch28.html. Note that you can't deduct losses (expenses that are over and above than what you got paid), you can only claim expenses up to the amount you made as hobby income. Tracking hobby expenses and income is a great way to get up to speed before you land a book deal, so do seriously consider doing some magazine work. Seriously. The writing credits and networking are some additional benefits.

First steps
~Remove your fingers from your ears and stop singing "La-la-la."

~Educate yourself about the rules. You must deal with three taxing entities: the federal government, your state government and your local government. The laws may have some overlaps, and may have some significant differences. An adult education class is helpful, and your local chamber of commerce and the SBA are also great resources.

~Apply for a federal EIN (employer ID number), for free, at the IRS site: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=102767,00.html. You must have one to open a bank account that you dedicate to your writing income and expenses. It's really best to do this--keep your writing business as its own entity. It's much, much easier to track what comes in and goes out when it's not mixed in with your personal finances. You'll also need and EIN to deduct the cost of some services you hire out for, like editing.

Self-publishers take note: if you plan to set up your own press, WAIT to apply for an EIN until after you have registered your press name that you will be "doing business as." More information about is available from the SBA here: http://www.sba.gov/content/register-your-fictitious-or-doing-business-dba-name/.

~Apply for a small business license as required by your state or local government. The SBA has all the needed state links: http://www.sba.gov/content/business-licenses-and-permits. My municipality requires a license for any kind of business, so be sure to check in with your local government to see what their regulations are. Your local chamber of commerce may be able to help with this step. Don't be shy, give them a call if your local regulations are difficult to find.

~Open your checking account, using your EIN as the ID number rather than your SSN. Use it for all your business expenses: your web designer, your caterer for the launch party, etc. Deposit royalty checks here and link it to your paypal or Amazon account. This step will save you a ton of headaches!

What aspects of writing-as-business surprise you? Intimidate you? Was this post helpful? What else would you like to know?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

It has taken me a little while to digest Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, a turn-of-the-century novel I'd picked up largely because it had been mentioned in an article I'd read. That article--which among other things discussed dangerous relationships forged on trains--should have clued me in a little more that Dreiser's novel is not exactly typical gilded-age fare. In fact, the handful of online reviews I've read say the book was a scandalous shocker when it came out in 1900.

In Sister Carrie, small town girl Caroline Meeber seeks her fortune in Chicago, beginning humbly as a factory girl who lives with her married sister and family. By story's end, Carrie is a New York vaudeville star who lives in a posh high rise.

How she gets there is anything but a Horatio Alger-style, hardworking hero, rags-to-riches story. Carrie moves up in society largely because she a) isn't willing to settle for humble circumstances and b) is willing to duck around a whole lot of rules of propriety to get where she wants to be.

What makes it such an interesting ride is that Dreiser doesn't editorialize about anyone's behavior. He simply lets the plot unfold, with alternating points of view, never letting on whether he approves or disapproves what his characters get up to. I finished the book not quite sure whether Carrie was meant to be a heroine or a tragic figure. Surely she is a totally new kind of woman--someone skilled at using her femininity to control men without ever seeming manipulative. It's an odd kind of power dressed in sweet, girlish charm.

I especially enjoyed descriptions of the various venues, getting a sense of how it might have been to live urban before cars and many modern conveniences. While the characters weren't the type I could especially like or relate to, they certainly did fascinate and keep me guessing.

Dreiser's Sister Carrie is available for free for Kindle HERE.

Read any classics lately? Picked up a book on a whim and been surprised by it?
Thursday, February 09, 2012 Laurel Garver
It has taken me a little while to digest Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, a turn-of-the-century novel I'd picked up largely because it had been mentioned in an article I'd read. That article--which among other things discussed dangerous relationships forged on trains--should have clued me in a little more that Dreiser's novel is not exactly typical gilded-age fare. In fact, the handful of online reviews I've read say the book was a scandalous shocker when it came out in 1900.

In Sister Carrie, small town girl Caroline Meeber seeks her fortune in Chicago, beginning humbly as a factory girl who lives with her married sister and family. By story's end, Carrie is a New York vaudeville star who lives in a posh high rise.

How she gets there is anything but a Horatio Alger-style, hardworking hero, rags-to-riches story. Carrie moves up in society largely because she a) isn't willing to settle for humble circumstances and b) is willing to duck around a whole lot of rules of propriety to get where she wants to be.

What makes it such an interesting ride is that Dreiser doesn't editorialize about anyone's behavior. He simply lets the plot unfold, with alternating points of view, never letting on whether he approves or disapproves what his characters get up to. I finished the book not quite sure whether Carrie was meant to be a heroine or a tragic figure. Surely she is a totally new kind of woman--someone skilled at using her femininity to control men without ever seeming manipulative. It's an odd kind of power dressed in sweet, girlish charm.

I especially enjoyed descriptions of the various venues, getting a sense of how it might have been to live urban before cars and many modern conveniences. While the characters weren't the type I could especially like or relate to, they certainly did fascinate and keep me guessing.

Dreiser's Sister Carrie is available for free for Kindle HERE.

Read any classics lately? Picked up a book on a whim and been surprised by it?

Monday, February 06, 2012

...was not my bachelor's program in English or my master's in journalism, though they certainly helped. According to Steven Pressfield in The War of Art, my best preparation for a writing career was having a string of really crappy jobs to put myself through school. Why? It's essential to learn to do what it takes to get to a larger goal. Work ethic and professional spirit are learned in the trenches. So when I'm tempted to potter around instead of write, I have to apply the same mindset that kept me diligently on the job selling spark plugs to huge, tattooed truck drivers. Wearing an enormous Strawberry Shortcake foam-head costume around a county fair and talking in a helium voice to mobs of sticky three-year-olds. Scraping nine-month-thick layers of soap scum off of dorm tubs and disinfecting urinals. Vacuuming an acre of cafeteria carpet for two hours a day, seven days a week.

Pressfield says that accepting and even expecting misery as part of one's work experience is what separates the pro from the amateur. A pro shows up for the job day after day, even when it's boring, back-aching, humiliating and gross. She makes work a priority even though she has hayfever and needs to cram for a history exam and ought to visit her lonely grandpa. She does the difficult tasks, perhaps cranking her music, or joking and commiserating with coworkers, or dreaming of Bermuda. But the job, for all its misery, is a means to an end. She pushes through for the payoff--a paycheck.

In writing, one pushes through to a gripping story and a clean, error-free manuscript. Getting there may entail misery--insomnia and loneliness and boring Google searches and humiliating critique sessions.

Most of us start out writing for fun and as a form of play, and that's fine for one's early stages of development. But writing for publication requires taking things to the next level, Pressfield argues. Moving from amateur to pro. And the best training for that is developing a work ethic that can persevere through hardship and humiliation. For Pressfield, it was a stint in the Marines. I'd personally rather not handle firearms, thanks. But there are plenty of other unglamorous jobs that can provide the same mental and emotional training.

Have you worked crappy jobs? How have they shaped you?

*this is a repost from Sept. 2010
Monday, February 06, 2012 Laurel Garver
...was not my bachelor's program in English or my master's in journalism, though they certainly helped. According to Steven Pressfield in The War of Art, my best preparation for a writing career was having a string of really crappy jobs to put myself through school. Why? It's essential to learn to do what it takes to get to a larger goal. Work ethic and professional spirit are learned in the trenches. So when I'm tempted to potter around instead of write, I have to apply the same mindset that kept me diligently on the job selling spark plugs to huge, tattooed truck drivers. Wearing an enormous Strawberry Shortcake foam-head costume around a county fair and talking in a helium voice to mobs of sticky three-year-olds. Scraping nine-month-thick layers of soap scum off of dorm tubs and disinfecting urinals. Vacuuming an acre of cafeteria carpet for two hours a day, seven days a week.

Pressfield says that accepting and even expecting misery as part of one's work experience is what separates the pro from the amateur. A pro shows up for the job day after day, even when it's boring, back-aching, humiliating and gross. She makes work a priority even though she has hayfever and needs to cram for a history exam and ought to visit her lonely grandpa. She does the difficult tasks, perhaps cranking her music, or joking and commiserating with coworkers, or dreaming of Bermuda. But the job, for all its misery, is a means to an end. She pushes through for the payoff--a paycheck.

In writing, one pushes through to a gripping story and a clean, error-free manuscript. Getting there may entail misery--insomnia and loneliness and boring Google searches and humiliating critique sessions.

Most of us start out writing for fun and as a form of play, and that's fine for one's early stages of development. But writing for publication requires taking things to the next level, Pressfield argues. Moving from amateur to pro. And the best training for that is developing a work ethic that can persevere through hardship and humiliation. For Pressfield, it was a stint in the Marines. I'd personally rather not handle firearms, thanks. But there are plenty of other unglamorous jobs that can provide the same mental and emotional training.

Have you worked crappy jobs? How have they shaped you?

*this is a repost from Sept. 2010

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Jane opens Brenna’s fridge and sees neat rows of French mineral water, bins stuffed with fresh veggies, and hiding behind a row of organic condiments, a half-eaten shoo-fly pie.

Who is Brenna?
A) A Southern grandma who runs Jane's quilting circle.
B) An upwardly-mobile, urban gym-addict who's ashamed of her rural roots.
C) A disorganized, free-spirited artist who rarely remembers to eat.

If you guessed B, then you know that what’s in a character’s fridge tells you a lot about her. Specifically, it can tell you about the following:

relationship to food
Does she love to cook and have lots of interesting ingredients on hand? Does she eat only out of necessity and give little thought to food?

level of tidiness and ability to plan
Is her fridge dirty or sparkling? Is it bare or full enough to feed an army at a moment's notice? Are foods in logical places? Do oddball items find their way inside?

health-consciousness
Is she a raw-foods vegan? A junk-food junkie? All organic? Cares only if the food is quick and tasty?

level of sophistication
Does she eat only plain, all-American foods or does she try cuisines from all over the world?

socioeconomic status (or strivings)
Is her food pricey foreign imports, middle-America name brands or cheap generics?

willingness to indulge herself
Does she allow herself a tiny pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a freezer full of it? Does she have a freezer-burned 5-gallon vat of generic vanilla ice cream because it’s a “good value”?

spending priorities
Does she skimp on one food category to spend more on another? Is eating organic more important than, say, having cable TV? Does she stick to only WIC-covered items?

ethnic or socioeconomic background
Does she keep specialized ingredients on hand from a particular culture? What are her childhood comfort foods she hides?

place on the traditional to trendy spectrum
Does she have Tupperware containers of leftover tuna-noodle casserole or cartons of takeout from the hip Vietnamese place? Ranch dip or hummus? String beans or edamame?

What's in your character's fridge? How can you use this exercise to know your character better, even if a fridge peek would never fit your story?

*repost from Sept. 2010
Wednesday, February 01, 2012 Laurel Garver
Jane opens Brenna’s fridge and sees neat rows of French mineral water, bins stuffed with fresh veggies, and hiding behind a row of organic condiments, a half-eaten shoo-fly pie.

Who is Brenna?
A) A Southern grandma who runs Jane's quilting circle.
B) An upwardly-mobile, urban gym-addict who's ashamed of her rural roots.
C) A disorganized, free-spirited artist who rarely remembers to eat.

If you guessed B, then you know that what’s in a character’s fridge tells you a lot about her. Specifically, it can tell you about the following:

relationship to food
Does she love to cook and have lots of interesting ingredients on hand? Does she eat only out of necessity and give little thought to food?

level of tidiness and ability to plan
Is her fridge dirty or sparkling? Is it bare or full enough to feed an army at a moment's notice? Are foods in logical places? Do oddball items find their way inside?

health-consciousness
Is she a raw-foods vegan? A junk-food junkie? All organic? Cares only if the food is quick and tasty?

level of sophistication
Does she eat only plain, all-American foods or does she try cuisines from all over the world?

socioeconomic status (or strivings)
Is her food pricey foreign imports, middle-America name brands or cheap generics?

willingness to indulge herself
Does she allow herself a tiny pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a freezer full of it? Does she have a freezer-burned 5-gallon vat of generic vanilla ice cream because it’s a “good value”?

spending priorities
Does she skimp on one food category to spend more on another? Is eating organic more important than, say, having cable TV? Does she stick to only WIC-covered items?

ethnic or socioeconomic background
Does she keep specialized ingredients on hand from a particular culture? What are her childhood comfort foods she hides?

place on the traditional to trendy spectrum
Does she have Tupperware containers of leftover tuna-noodle casserole or cartons of takeout from the hip Vietnamese place? Ranch dip or hummus? String beans or edamame?

What's in your character's fridge? How can you use this exercise to know your character better, even if a fridge peek would never fit your story?

*repost from Sept. 2010