Wednesday, May 27, 2015


I'm knee-deep in a couple of projects that are requiring a lot of my brain space at the moment, so I thought this week I'd simply share short reviews of some books I've read and enjoyed recently.

Cinders
Michelle D. Argyle

This is a great crossover read for folks who like literary and women's fiction to give fantasy a try. The fantasy elements are light touch; it's the emotions that take center stage here.

I think the novella format was perfect for an expanded reflection on the tenuousness of Cinderella's "happily ever after." Argyle's considerable talent as a short story writer is clear in the emotionally-charged, sensory-filled scenes that hum with tension and subtext. Her gestures toward a larger milieu might make die-hard fantasy fans feel a little shortchanged, but I found the economy of her descriptions refreshing--lush without drowning you in detail.



Just One Day
Gayle Forman

I am often a sucker for a good travel story, but this book is so much more, and goes directions I could not have anticipated. Forman understands the travails of late adolescence/early 20s exceptionally well, and seems to really get millienials and their unique challenges as a generation. While this one isn't as lyrical as If I Stay, it offers so much, I think I love it nearly as deeply, but differently.

I love how the story upends a lot of very naive fantasies about travel romances. While the sheltered girl, Allyson, steps out of her comfort zone and takes a risk, it's not an unrealistically all-positive experience. Growing and changing isn't a seamless process; some bumps and bruises will come along the way. And for some, the task of individuating can be as much an inner war as one with authority figures. Allyson's character frustrated me at times in the best possible way--I so wanted her to fight for a self she could happily own. And she does, eventually. I'm so glad Forman didn't glibly skip over the painful processes that get her there. It makes this story so powerfully real, and one I think will be very encouraging to young women out there in this phase of life, trying to figure themselves out.


The Good Luck of Right Now
Matthew Quick

I've been meaning to pick up one of Quick's books since I heard him speak and give a reading last year. His insight about "voice driven writing" really resonated.

What immediately hooked me in The Good Luck of Right Now was the narrative voice--charmingly awkward and wise at once. Bartholomew doesn't entirely seem like someone you'd ever meet in real life. A good 20 years of his existence seem unaccounted for. (No, seriously, what has this guy done with himself from age 18 to 38? Not even an attempt to hold a job? Really?) But that seems beside the point. This book is far more interested in the future than the past, for some people don't truly live until those who have defined them die, leaving space to individuate.

I enjoyed the quirky cast that assembles around Bartholomew, especially the troubled priest, whose devout heart is admirable in the midst of his suffering. Bartholomew's therapy partner Max is pretty hilarious, if a bit painful to hear (he drops an F-bomb in every single sentence he utters, a sign of his stuckness in rage). Bartholomew's grief counselor-in-training Wendy and "The Girlbrarian," his love interest, are two more wounded souls that round out the ensemble. Together they challenge and begin to heal one another. I found the theme of role-playing--how we pretend with one another as a way of coping, or dodging emotional minefields--well done and thought-provoking.


The Glassblower
Petra Durst-Benning

I'm not a big historical fiction reader, perhaps because so much historical fiction strikes me as stilted sounding or, conversely, full of anachronisms. For the most part, this book did neither. The translation was relatively fluid and didn't use overly modern-sounding idioms. It felt "past" without beating you over the head about it.

This is a lengthy story, and may feel like it drags to those who are accustomed to novels that wrap in 250 pages. Durst-Benning does a fairly good job covering the storylines of all three sisters, though I felt the youngest, Marie, got short shrift compared to her elder sisters.

I really enjoyed watching these three women grow over the course of years and learn new skills that enabled them to become self-supporting in an age when women were largely blocked from being heads of household. Their ups and downs were thoroughly enjoyable to read. I especially appreciated that the first installment of the series wraps up enough that there's a sense of closure, but with tantalizing hints of more drama to come.


Attachments
Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park set my expectations for this author fairly high. While the characters were largely likable, the story itself is a predictable romance plot with little in the way of real tension. A few times I felt a bit impatient and irritated with the characters' stuckness in unhappy situations of their own making. That made me root for them a bit less.

I'd seen other reviewers complain that the newspaper's draconian e-mail policy doesn't seem realistic for 1999. I'd agree if we were talking about a big city on the East Coast, but this story is set in the Heartland, which lagged behind, especially then. I very much remember my employers in Philly being this weird in 1995-96 about the potential for lost productivity and scandalous/illegal Internet use. Gen-X readers will probably like the story more than younger folks, who probably can't entirely fathom just how much tech has changed how we behave in a relatively short time.

What have you been reading lately?
Wednesday, May 27, 2015 Laurel Garver

I'm knee-deep in a couple of projects that are requiring a lot of my brain space at the moment, so I thought this week I'd simply share short reviews of some books I've read and enjoyed recently.

Cinders
Michelle D. Argyle

This is a great crossover read for folks who like literary and women's fiction to give fantasy a try. The fantasy elements are light touch; it's the emotions that take center stage here.

I think the novella format was perfect for an expanded reflection on the tenuousness of Cinderella's "happily ever after." Argyle's considerable talent as a short story writer is clear in the emotionally-charged, sensory-filled scenes that hum with tension and subtext. Her gestures toward a larger milieu might make die-hard fantasy fans feel a little shortchanged, but I found the economy of her descriptions refreshing--lush without drowning you in detail.



Just One Day
Gayle Forman

I am often a sucker for a good travel story, but this book is so much more, and goes directions I could not have anticipated. Forman understands the travails of late adolescence/early 20s exceptionally well, and seems to really get millienials and their unique challenges as a generation. While this one isn't as lyrical as If I Stay, it offers so much, I think I love it nearly as deeply, but differently.

I love how the story upends a lot of very naive fantasies about travel romances. While the sheltered girl, Allyson, steps out of her comfort zone and takes a risk, it's not an unrealistically all-positive experience. Growing and changing isn't a seamless process; some bumps and bruises will come along the way. And for some, the task of individuating can be as much an inner war as one with authority figures. Allyson's character frustrated me at times in the best possible way--I so wanted her to fight for a self she could happily own. And she does, eventually. I'm so glad Forman didn't glibly skip over the painful processes that get her there. It makes this story so powerfully real, and one I think will be very encouraging to young women out there in this phase of life, trying to figure themselves out.


The Good Luck of Right Now
Matthew Quick

I've been meaning to pick up one of Quick's books since I heard him speak and give a reading last year. His insight about "voice driven writing" really resonated.

What immediately hooked me in The Good Luck of Right Now was the narrative voice--charmingly awkward and wise at once. Bartholomew doesn't entirely seem like someone you'd ever meet in real life. A good 20 years of his existence seem unaccounted for. (No, seriously, what has this guy done with himself from age 18 to 38? Not even an attempt to hold a job? Really?) But that seems beside the point. This book is far more interested in the future than the past, for some people don't truly live until those who have defined them die, leaving space to individuate.

I enjoyed the quirky cast that assembles around Bartholomew, especially the troubled priest, whose devout heart is admirable in the midst of his suffering. Bartholomew's therapy partner Max is pretty hilarious, if a bit painful to hear (he drops an F-bomb in every single sentence he utters, a sign of his stuckness in rage). Bartholomew's grief counselor-in-training Wendy and "The Girlbrarian," his love interest, are two more wounded souls that round out the ensemble. Together they challenge and begin to heal one another. I found the theme of role-playing--how we pretend with one another as a way of coping, or dodging emotional minefields--well done and thought-provoking.


The Glassblower
Petra Durst-Benning

I'm not a big historical fiction reader, perhaps because so much historical fiction strikes me as stilted sounding or, conversely, full of anachronisms. For the most part, this book did neither. The translation was relatively fluid and didn't use overly modern-sounding idioms. It felt "past" without beating you over the head about it.

This is a lengthy story, and may feel like it drags to those who are accustomed to novels that wrap in 250 pages. Durst-Benning does a fairly good job covering the storylines of all three sisters, though I felt the youngest, Marie, got short shrift compared to her elder sisters.

I really enjoyed watching these three women grow over the course of years and learn new skills that enabled them to become self-supporting in an age when women were largely blocked from being heads of household. Their ups and downs were thoroughly enjoyable to read. I especially appreciated that the first installment of the series wraps up enough that there's a sense of closure, but with tantalizing hints of more drama to come.


Attachments
Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park set my expectations for this author fairly high. While the characters were largely likable, the story itself is a predictable romance plot with little in the way of real tension. A few times I felt a bit impatient and irritated with the characters' stuckness in unhappy situations of their own making. That made me root for them a bit less.

I'd seen other reviewers complain that the newspaper's draconian e-mail policy doesn't seem realistic for 1999. I'd agree if we were talking about a big city on the East Coast, but this story is set in the Heartland, which lagged behind, especially then. I very much remember my employers in Philly being this weird in 1995-96 about the potential for lost productivity and scandalous/illegal Internet use. Gen-X readers will probably like the story more than younger folks, who probably can't entirely fathom just how much tech has changed how we behave in a relatively short time.

What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Journaling is a kind of focused freewriting that can be useful for exploring, in a loose and free manner, either a character’s thoughts or your own.

Image: Teo Studio, www.etsy.com/shop/TeoStudio
Like the childhood diary that could be padlocked, think of journaling exercises as a “for my eyes only” prewriting. As with jots, the goal is to get ideas out as quickly as you can without judgment or revision.

Journaling is especially helpful for voice-driven writers who first need to get inside the protagonist’s head before planning any story events. It can also be a way for you to mentally process key parts of your plot. When preparing for revision, it can be a helpful way to think through what is and isn’t working in a manuscript. It’s also a great warm-up for beginning any writing session, especially if you’ve been away from the manuscript for a period.

Journaling exercises


Journal your key characters’ important memories that shaped them most
Journal about your key characters’ deepest fears
Journal about your key characters’ ambitions and dreams
Journal about your protagonist’s bucket list
Journal your protagonist’s opinions of other characters
Journal your antagonist’s view of the protagonist
Journal about your protagonist from the viewpoint of another key character
Journal a fiasco moment in your character’s voice
Journal about a moment your character would feel empowered
Journal about potential plot events as a character might experience them
Journal about conflicts among characters
Journal your protagonist’s impressions of key settings in your story
Journal a basic arc of your story in your protagonist’s voice
Journal your impressions of each character in your story
Journal about scenes that are almost ready, and how you might polish them
Journal about problem scenes and how you might repair or replace them
Journal your hopes about this manuscript
Journal your concerns about this manuscript

How might journaling help you keep moving forward with a project?
Wednesday, May 20, 2015 Laurel Garver
Journaling is a kind of focused freewriting that can be useful for exploring, in a loose and free manner, either a character’s thoughts or your own.

Image: Teo Studio, www.etsy.com/shop/TeoStudio
Like the childhood diary that could be padlocked, think of journaling exercises as a “for my eyes only” prewriting. As with jots, the goal is to get ideas out as quickly as you can without judgment or revision.

Journaling is especially helpful for voice-driven writers who first need to get inside the protagonist’s head before planning any story events. It can also be a way for you to mentally process key parts of your plot. When preparing for revision, it can be a helpful way to think through what is and isn’t working in a manuscript. It’s also a great warm-up for beginning any writing session, especially if you’ve been away from the manuscript for a period.

Journaling exercises


Journal your key characters’ important memories that shaped them most
Journal about your key characters’ deepest fears
Journal about your key characters’ ambitions and dreams
Journal about your protagonist’s bucket list
Journal your protagonist’s opinions of other characters
Journal your antagonist’s view of the protagonist
Journal about your protagonist from the viewpoint of another key character
Journal a fiasco moment in your character’s voice
Journal about a moment your character would feel empowered
Journal about potential plot events as a character might experience them
Journal about conflicts among characters
Journal your protagonist’s impressions of key settings in your story
Journal a basic arc of your story in your protagonist’s voice
Journal your impressions of each character in your story
Journal about scenes that are almost ready, and how you might polish them
Journal about problem scenes and how you might repair or replace them
Journal your hopes about this manuscript
Journal your concerns about this manuscript

How might journaling help you keep moving forward with a project?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

We live in an information-saturated world with greater access to reading material than any other time in human history. In such a glutted marketplace of ideas, quality matters more than ever before.

Photo credit: 5demayo from morguefile.com
Editing is your first line of quality control in developing excellent written products. You shouldn't entrust your work and reputation to anyone who claims to know those elusive comma rules. Because perfectly placed punctuation is not enough to stand out. Message matters. Presentation matters. Clarity matters. Beauty matters.

Are you ready to take your writing to the next level? You’ve come to the right place. I am a veteran wordsmith who brings decades of editing experience to every project entrusted to my care--and I'm taking new clients.

Check out my new tab, "Editing services" to learn all about what I can do for you!

Tell me, what do you most look for in an writer/editor relationship? 
Wednesday, May 13, 2015 Laurel Garver
We live in an information-saturated world with greater access to reading material than any other time in human history. In such a glutted marketplace of ideas, quality matters more than ever before.

Photo credit: 5demayo from morguefile.com
Editing is your first line of quality control in developing excellent written products. You shouldn't entrust your work and reputation to anyone who claims to know those elusive comma rules. Because perfectly placed punctuation is not enough to stand out. Message matters. Presentation matters. Clarity matters. Beauty matters.

Are you ready to take your writing to the next level? You’ve come to the right place. I am a veteran wordsmith who brings decades of editing experience to every project entrusted to my care--and I'm taking new clients.

Check out my new tab, "Editing services" to learn all about what I can do for you!

Tell me, what do you most look for in an writer/editor relationship? 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

I volunteered to run a workshop on writing at a women's retreat for my church. Our congregation has more than its fair share of highly educated people, situated as we are near several major universities and medical institutions. With that in mind, I've been busy assembling some writing exercises to appeal to brainy spiritual people who want to take a break from the grind and do something different.

The retreat speaker's theme is "Things Not Seen," which provided a good jumping off point for the kinds of exercises I plan to offer. I don't know exactly who will turn up and where they are in their particular writing journey, so I've had to think broadly about topics that could be thought-provoking and nourishing to both veterans and newbies.

Things Not Seen: Writing Explorations


We cannot see the wind, but its force is powerful.

Hidden blocks: why I don't write


Distractions
"Losing our voices is a natural outcome of trying to ignore what bothers us." --Georgia Heard, Writing Toward Home 34.

What rumblings in daily life are too painful to face? Make you feel resigned and helpless? Write about what is rumbling for you, what bothers you. What prevents you from seeing or changing the situation? It's not an ideal environment that you most need, but rather honesty and awareness. Brainstorm what your personal blocks are and how you might move toward clarity.

Inner Critics
"To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." --Elbert Hubbard

To write, you have to face the inner sources of criticism, those harsh voices in your head that fill you with doubt and a sense of defeat. Identify them. What do they look like? Where do they work? How did they enter your life? How did they gain power over you? Personify these voices in as much detail as you can.

Write a letter to your critics and let your anger flow. How have they harmed you? It might help to express the specific fears you have about writing that they have exacerbated. Express how you will protect yourself from their negativity.

Now imagine your muse/guardian angel/Holy Spirit who knows and loves you and wants you to flourish and help others flourish through the beautiful truths you share. Write what you hope and dream for your writing. Write how you would like this protective spirit to keep you safe inside, what messages you most need to hear, and what resources you need in order to write.

Lack of vision
"Where there is no vision, the people perish." Proverbs 29:18a

Perhaps your desire to write has been a vague rumbling you've been unable to articulate. Without a sense of the why, you indefinitely put off starting any project. What you most need is to draw to the surface an inner passion that has been pushed to the back burner.

Take some time to brainstorm and think more deeply about why your desire to write exists. Complete this sentence: I want to write because _____. Be specific. Is there a particular truth you want to share? An audience you want to engage with? Have stories shaped you in a significant way that you want to engage with more deeply at this stage of life? Is there a set of skills you want to develop? A favorite author you wish to emulate?

Hidden Emotions


Emotions are the raw material for all creative writing (and quite a lot of nonfiction as well). Use one of the following prompts to delve into a strong emotion, and let your exploration lead you toward the beginnings of a work of memoir, fiction or poetry.

Don't be afraid to begin with brainstormed jots and lists, or snippets of conversation, or messy stream-of-consciousness musings. Think of your first step as "making clay" that can then be shaped.

Anger
Repressed anger can be a major block to creativity, as it tends to fester and cause deep soul damage. Release anger by writing about it, as a journal entry, a poem, or channeled through a fictional character. Be brutally honest, holding nothing back.

Grief
Unresolved sadness in your life can be another major creativity blocker. Write about a significant place of loss you have been reticent to address. Circle around the edges, gradually going deeper into details and the emotions they stir up in you. Turn these musings into a memoir of loss, a poem, or story about a character grieving a loss--or struggling to do so.

Shame
Your deepest secrets are your deepest, truest sources of story material. To access that material, you have to bravely allow those secrets to come to the surface, at least in your own consciousness. Write a list that completes this sentence: "I could never tell...." Feel free to throw in some pseudo secrets and to scribble out anything you are completely mortified to admit. The goal is to think about and acknowledge these deeper stories. The act of acknowledging them to yourself will allow you to tap into the power this material has.  You might find, in giving your secrets to a fictional caretaker to grapple with, the old shame releases its hold on you.

Fear
Being scared is one of the key drivers of all human behavior. It often tinges even places where we should feel most confident or at ease. Write about the things that consistently leave you uneasy or even terrify you. What worst-case scenarios often invade your imagination? Write about them in detail. Put a fictional character through your worst fears. How will he or she cope?

Love
Desire and longing--inner passion--are powerful drivers that can combat fear. Think of a time when you fell in love, whether with a person, a place, or a discovered passion for something. Write about that experience, either as memoir, poem, or channeled through a fictional character's slightly different details. What did this person, place, thing, experience call forth from you (or him/her)? What fullness did it offer you (him/her)?

Comfort
A desire for peace and harmony is a deep longing of the human heart. Write about a time/place when you experienced being fully welcomed and loved. Include as much detail as possible. Alternately, think of what kinds of moments, relationships, or environments would enable you to experience comfort and peace. Describe it for yourself or a fictional character.

Pivotal Moments
This is a mix-and-match exercise for exploring emotion in all its complexity. Choose a word or phrase from each list to select a mattering moment. Consider why it is significant to you, or a fictional character you create. How did/does it shift your/her self concept, approach to tasks, relationships? Write a memoir piece, poem, or short story.

List A
first, last, best, worst

List B
memory, accident, surprise, school day, class, performance, game, event, outing, vacation, holiday, pet, project, date, kiss, relationship, job, car, home

Final discussion

At the end of our time, we'll wrap up with sharing a little of what each person has written or a reflection on the exercise chosen and what was gleaned from the experience.

Which of these prompts appeal to you most? What is  your experience with retreat workshops?
Wednesday, May 06, 2015 Laurel Garver
I volunteered to run a workshop on writing at a women's retreat for my church. Our congregation has more than its fair share of highly educated people, situated as we are near several major universities and medical institutions. With that in mind, I've been busy assembling some writing exercises to appeal to brainy spiritual people who want to take a break from the grind and do something different.

The retreat speaker's theme is "Things Not Seen," which provided a good jumping off point for the kinds of exercises I plan to offer. I don't know exactly who will turn up and where they are in their particular writing journey, so I've had to think broadly about topics that could be thought-provoking and nourishing to both veterans and newbies.

Things Not Seen: Writing Explorations


We cannot see the wind, but its force is powerful.

Hidden blocks: why I don't write


Distractions
"Losing our voices is a natural outcome of trying to ignore what bothers us." --Georgia Heard, Writing Toward Home 34.

What rumblings in daily life are too painful to face? Make you feel resigned and helpless? Write about what is rumbling for you, what bothers you. What prevents you from seeing or changing the situation? It's not an ideal environment that you most need, but rather honesty and awareness. Brainstorm what your personal blocks are and how you might move toward clarity.

Inner Critics
"To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." --Elbert Hubbard

To write, you have to face the inner sources of criticism, those harsh voices in your head that fill you with doubt and a sense of defeat. Identify them. What do they look like? Where do they work? How did they enter your life? How did they gain power over you? Personify these voices in as much detail as you can.

Write a letter to your critics and let your anger flow. How have they harmed you? It might help to express the specific fears you have about writing that they have exacerbated. Express how you will protect yourself from their negativity.

Now imagine your muse/guardian angel/Holy Spirit who knows and loves you and wants you to flourish and help others flourish through the beautiful truths you share. Write what you hope and dream for your writing. Write how you would like this protective spirit to keep you safe inside, what messages you most need to hear, and what resources you need in order to write.

Lack of vision
"Where there is no vision, the people perish." Proverbs 29:18a

Perhaps your desire to write has been a vague rumbling you've been unable to articulate. Without a sense of the why, you indefinitely put off starting any project. What you most need is to draw to the surface an inner passion that has been pushed to the back burner.

Take some time to brainstorm and think more deeply about why your desire to write exists. Complete this sentence: I want to write because _____. Be specific. Is there a particular truth you want to share? An audience you want to engage with? Have stories shaped you in a significant way that you want to engage with more deeply at this stage of life? Is there a set of skills you want to develop? A favorite author you wish to emulate?

Hidden Emotions


Emotions are the raw material for all creative writing (and quite a lot of nonfiction as well). Use one of the following prompts to delve into a strong emotion, and let your exploration lead you toward the beginnings of a work of memoir, fiction or poetry.

Don't be afraid to begin with brainstormed jots and lists, or snippets of conversation, or messy stream-of-consciousness musings. Think of your first step as "making clay" that can then be shaped.

Anger
Repressed anger can be a major block to creativity, as it tends to fester and cause deep soul damage. Release anger by writing about it, as a journal entry, a poem, or channeled through a fictional character. Be brutally honest, holding nothing back.

Grief
Unresolved sadness in your life can be another major creativity blocker. Write about a significant place of loss you have been reticent to address. Circle around the edges, gradually going deeper into details and the emotions they stir up in you. Turn these musings into a memoir of loss, a poem, or story about a character grieving a loss--or struggling to do so.

Shame
Your deepest secrets are your deepest, truest sources of story material. To access that material, you have to bravely allow those secrets to come to the surface, at least in your own consciousness. Write a list that completes this sentence: "I could never tell...." Feel free to throw in some pseudo secrets and to scribble out anything you are completely mortified to admit. The goal is to think about and acknowledge these deeper stories. The act of acknowledging them to yourself will allow you to tap into the power this material has.  You might find, in giving your secrets to a fictional caretaker to grapple with, the old shame releases its hold on you.

Fear
Being scared is one of the key drivers of all human behavior. It often tinges even places where we should feel most confident or at ease. Write about the things that consistently leave you uneasy or even terrify you. What worst-case scenarios often invade your imagination? Write about them in detail. Put a fictional character through your worst fears. How will he or she cope?

Love
Desire and longing--inner passion--are powerful drivers that can combat fear. Think of a time when you fell in love, whether with a person, a place, or a discovered passion for something. Write about that experience, either as memoir, poem, or channeled through a fictional character's slightly different details. What did this person, place, thing, experience call forth from you (or him/her)? What fullness did it offer you (him/her)?

Comfort
A desire for peace and harmony is a deep longing of the human heart. Write about a time/place when you experienced being fully welcomed and loved. Include as much detail as possible. Alternately, think of what kinds of moments, relationships, or environments would enable you to experience comfort and peace. Describe it for yourself or a fictional character.

Pivotal Moments
This is a mix-and-match exercise for exploring emotion in all its complexity. Choose a word or phrase from each list to select a mattering moment. Consider why it is significant to you, or a fictional character you create. How did/does it shift your/her self concept, approach to tasks, relationships? Write a memoir piece, poem, or short story.

List A
first, last, best, worst

List B
memory, accident, surprise, school day, class, performance, game, event, outing, vacation, holiday, pet, project, date, kiss, relationship, job, car, home

Final discussion

At the end of our time, we'll wrap up with sharing a little of what each person has written or a reflection on the exercise chosen and what was gleaned from the experience.

Which of these prompts appeal to you most? What is  your experience with retreat workshops?