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Summer Reads: The Writer’s Books and On Writing, Stephen King

28 Aug

I was planning on doing a day on books for writers as one of my Summer Reads, but then my dear friend Kaige did a wonderful job revamping her Writer’s Resources page — she’s my go to girl for the HONEST opinion of how helpful a craft book is (or isn’t) — Not only does she give description and Amazon links, but she also links back to her writer’s journey blog posts referencing the books — did I mention she’s Honest lol


Hey, I’m not above borrowing here, I mean – why re-create the wheel when I can give a shout out!


So, if you’re a young writer – go check them out — hey, if you’re any kind of writer, go check them out.


Personally, for those just starting that want to see the world through a writer’s eyes, I’d recommend On Writing, by Stephen King. I didn’t think I’d be a believer (as much as I adore the man’s writing) when I tried to read the book four time — I guess I didn’t expect the memoir aspect of it in the beginning, I just wanted to somehow download the genius that is the Man.  Then, one day I was going to have to run “an errand” and the drive was three hours each way.  So I dashed to the local library and got On Writing in CD format.  Hearing him tell his story, his understanding of his life and how it shaped his writing. And then – his writing.


If you’re new to writing, this book is a must read. Before the craft books, before the industry books — read On Writing


Oh yeah, then go read the craft books.

Summer Reads: JACOB I HAVE LOVED, by Katherine Paterson

25 Aug

I try not to get to overly personal in my blogging – I blog about my writing and the path its taking me on, but as I came back this month and decided I’d do one last week of Summer Reads, I glanced at my bookshelf and pulled down Jacob I Have Loved and found that I couldn’t blog about it — Oh, you think I’m blogging about it, but I’m not. I’m blogging about the lifesaving act that sometimes writing a book can be.


Jacob I Have Loved has remained on my bookshelf for years for one very simple reason: Katherine Paterson (as she shows in every single book she writes) UNDERSTANDS.


Louise’s journey and my own so clearly run parallel in some ways it’s almost frightening. I was the forgotten child in my family, the one judged more harshly, the one misplaced — you know the story the families joke around about forgetting one child on a trip and having to go back – raise your hand if you have some type of family folktale like that you’d also like your parents (but mostly your siblings) to stop retelling.


I was nerdy, awkward, ungraceful, shy and introverted – glasses, braces, freckles, underweight, last to develop. Wow, what a cliche — but the saddest part is, looking back, a lot of that can be attributed to many things Louise struggled with as well – a sibling who not only was beautiful and (wrongly) considered perfect, but the words and actions of others that reinforced that (although sometimes accidentally).


My brother, like Louise’s sister Caroline, was condescending to me publicly and hurtful privately – although I suspect (also like Caroline) he loved me in his own way. But while I was smart and successful and kind – he was everything you needed to be to be successful in high school then – good looking, athletic and ruthless. My parents adored him – when they caught him with drugs, when the caught him with girls, when they caught him stealing. Of course, if you were me, leaving a sweater on the floor got you grounded.  I know these words are enough to convey the differences – that large groups of us survived that same childhood and (like Louise) grew up to be the person others look to – smart, successful, and kind – only now these things are what matter. 


Like Louise – I escaped the island and built my own life, making myself a beautiful place in the world where I’m happy and content. But it took leaving – which, maybe, I learned from Louise. People from my childhood meet me again and say one of two things “I never would have recognized you” or “You’re exactly the same.” I guess outwardly I’m very different, but I doubt inwardly I’ve changed that much, so I guess they’re both right.


What got me through is what got most people like me through: BOOKS. Every single book I could get my hands on let me into a world where I could escape and (flaws and all) triumph. I could see things that in my small town were outside my reach, but not my scope. I could stand on my own without being compared to a sibling who I had a difficult time respecting even if I loved him with all my heart.


Books are a portal and a shield – a friend and a mentor – a mirror and a sword – a companion and a map. Books change our lives in ways we don’t even see until far later in life.


So, looking back on Jacob I Have Loved, I couldn’t bring myself to make that painful journey with Louise again – I couldn’t allow myself to feel the ache of being the overlooked, misunderstood one even though in the end it is Louise who is a good, strong and loving woman who sees the world clearly.


But I can tell you this, if I never open that book again, it will remain on my bookshelf with the other Books of Honor – those that are portal, shield, friend, mentor, mirror, sword, companion and map – it will sit there with some of the greatest works of literature and some complete unknowns. Why? Because it was not only all those things to me, but also a lifesaver because Katherine Paterson UNDERSTANDS.


So, other Rescued Souls – to what writer, to what book, do you owe your salvaged childhood?

Breaking Dawn: Getting on the ‘Not Getting On It’ bandwagon

9 Aug

Show of hands – Who is avoiding all the Breaking Dawn gossip and rants and raves?


Last year Stephanie Meyer was coming to “speak” at the B&N by me. The one I write in every day. The manager was kind enough to explain the situation to me a few days before and I thought “What the heck, I’ll read the books and go hear her.”


Well, I found the first one a bit of a slow start, but was quickly sucked in. Emotional stripped and dragged along would be a better way to put it.  And at the end, I couldn’t wait for Breaking Dawn — even the INSANE 10,000 kids who had them shut down the B&N and the hi-way exit nearby didn’t dampen the reads. 


But then I got away from them, away from the intensity and it felt about a bit like that really bad, super-intense relationship you had in college (or maybe high school) where you life was all about the other person and you lost yourself (not in the good way) in them and that it didn’t matter what they did, it was the right thing and the next thing you know they’re defining you – telling you who you are and starting to change you in ways you never wanted to be changed —- Yeah, maybe that’s it, maybe all of us have had that relationship to some level — the symbiotic feeding and taking  that makes you less of a person in a lot of ways.


But, if you’re lucky, you escape that and, while coming off it might be a lot like struggling through the painful passage of drug withdrawal, the end result is an over-whelming relief and a re-finding of your own emotional grounding and a singleness that is, in itself, a new learning experience.


That’s how I feel about the Twilight series.  Being in it was an emotional high that pushed and dragged and forced me through the books with a desperation to hold on and see what would happen next – when I finished the last one at that moment I NEEDED the next one — but it wasn’t there. I returned to the high again, looking at  favorite passages, wondering how Meyer made me angsty and achy with heartbreak. But slowly, other books came along — Julia Quinn’s witty dialogue, Jay Asher’s real to life pain, regret and renewal, SEP’s arrogant but approachable jocks — And I found my need wasn’t as much. I still wanted to know what happens, but only if its the outcomes I want.


It was like bumping into a friend who had abused my friendship over and over but wanting her to be the friend I had first thought she was – to be what I needed her to be. And I did what any smart woman does. I said “Nice to see you” and turned and walked away.


And so, Breaking Dawn, I’m seeing you everywhere Dawn, but I’m not even reading the spoilers – In my world you are what I want you to be but you aren’t sucking me back into the overwhelming roller-coaster of turmoil you promise.  Everyone else can say “Oh, that’s just how Dawn is,” but not I.  I wish you luck, and maybe – one day when I’m emotionally a stronger person – I’ll let you visit and see if you play nice and not rip my heart out like your siblings.

Summer Vacation and Packing Books

21 Jul

Well, this week and next I’ll be preparing and then attending a writer’s conference on the other side of the country — so, I’m backing off from blogging.


But – of course – it brings up a new question.  This conference is going to send me home with my share of free and paid for books, so packing on seems a little space stupid.  And yet, I can’t seem to help myself.


The idea of the summer read began for me when I was 10 and made my mother buy the Narnia collection so I could read them in one swoop. Since then, summer seems to be about reading running through backlists or series.


So, what’s your favorite type of summer read? One book a time, chewing through an author, slow and steady, an old stand by?


Lets hear it?

Summer Reads: THE QUIET MAN, by Maurice Walsh

16 Jul

The week of short stories continues.

 Anyone who followed our writings over at the Purple Hearts, knows how I feel about cadence. Sometimes, the cadence of a a story tells as much as the words. The Quiet Man is just such a story.

This is another great short and great movie that have little to do with one another – yet, I highly recommend them both. As usual, the movie can’t help but adding an obvious motive and expressing it more clearly than a man at the running of the brides.


Sometimes a man just wants to escape himself. That’s what Shawn Kelvin does when he returns home from America. Instead of fighting for his family’s farm, he takes a quaint cottage on the hillside, as distant and quiet as he is.  Knowing that he’s come to care for the only woman he cannot court, the sister of the man who stole his family’s farm, he remains content.


Until. . . .well, untill you read the story for yourself and find the hidden strength the man carries within himself. Very few stories show this preciesly the importance of knowing who you are and being confident in it.


Plus, I mean, played by John Wayne. . . .just saying 🙂

Summer Reads: THE DEAD, by James Joyce

16 Jul

I did my senior symposium on James Joyce. It was a long semester, but I walked away with a short story that took over my mind as perfection. The plot, story, characters, symbolism – how many layers you can read this on. . .The ending and the demolition of what you think you see and feel as a person who can’t honestly see inside another.


I’ve forced this short on many of my friends and ended up in cafe’s with coffee (ok, tea. I don’t drink coffee) discussing the more easily missed symbolism that is common enough if you read a lot of Joyce. Even the walk on characters have a very clear role in the heavy picture of things. 


Did I mention it neared perfection.


It basically tells the story of Gabriel Conroy spending an evening at a house party thrown by two spinster, piano teaching aunts and their odd collection of friends. The evening turns into Gabriel’s own personal firewalk.


Of course, the academics say in a different way:  “The Dead” is a story about “man’s withdrawal into the circle of his own egotism” (Daiches, The Novel and the Modern World)


Surprisingly, this story carried personal weight for me as well. Graduating from college, I had a lovely coffee (tea) with one of THOSE professors – you know the ones. Older than the ivy clinging to the side of the dean’s center and just as brilliant. The one that when he asks you for coffee, you’d turn down dinner at the white house to go.


The conversation turned down a frightening path when he asked me what my greatest fear was.  Being a Short writer, I replied that it was to be Poe: Brilliant at shorts and sucking at the novel. . .yes, I said sucking. We referred to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym  as the original ‘read it and weep’ ….

The good doctor turned to me and said, “Ms. Quinlan, I believe you can do anything you set your mind to even half-heartedly. My biggest fear for you is that you will be Molly Ivers.”


I have never been quite so stunned in my life. At that age, in that competitive environment, it never dawned on my to fear personal outcomes instead of academic or professional. It saddened me that (in this era) we can still as women educate ourselves out of the marriage pool.


So, read the short HERE and let me know, was Gabriel trapped by his own ego? Did Molly lose her femininity through education? Was Gretta truly never in love with him or did he only come second or gain her love eventually? Did the catholics treat Mr. Brown differently? AND, most importantly – what does it mean?


I know, I know. A horribly broad question. But with Joyce and his focus for that collection of shorts and his view of Ireland, family and life, it really is the most important place to begin.

Summer Reads: The Lady or the Tiger by Frank Stockton

14 Jul

This weekend, someone asked me if I liked short stories. Seeing as that was my chosen medium in college, I went on a short story tirade — she’s probably sorry she asked.


And so, this weeks summer reads are all short stories.  The great thing about them is they’re all so different. Different time periods, genres, lengths, feels, voices. 


And so, today’s short story is The Lady or the Tiger by Frank Stockton.


This is one of my favorite works because it never leaves you. I first read it in high school – freshman year – and could not stop thinking about the ending. What would be behind the door? Would her love equate with jealousy or protection? How would their being a barbaric people effect how she made her decision? Could I give up my soul mate to another person? Could I (no matter how barbaric my upbringing) watch him be torn apart by a vicious animal?


Years go by and every once in a while I pick it up and re-read it. Every time I come up with a new question. Every time I still don’t have an answer.


Stockton later wrote a little heard of sequel called The Discourager of Hesitancy which I have never read — out of fear. What are the chances that it will be a Godfather II and not a Speed 2? The question has captured my imagination for years, what if it’s been answered and the answer is less fulfilling than the ambiguity? What if. . . what if . . . what if. . . .


So, what work (short/full/novella/movie/poem/etc) has left you questioning things

Summer Reads: THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton

9 Jul

Every time I think of the brilliance of this book I have to ask myself “What the heck have I done with my life?” Ms. Hinton wrote The Outsiders while still in high school, influenced by the social divide she saw every day.


While all schools have social structures, the extremes here are telling. This isn’t just who plays what sport or what type of clothes they wear. This book is about the bone deep difference that occurs when raised with values, expectations and privileges so different that people feel as though they come from different worlds, not the same town.


One of the reasons I included this book (beyond it being one of my favorite YA books) is the fact that Ms. Hinton wrote it so young. For every one out  there who has no one encouraging them to chase after a dream – look to this! For everyone who listens to people say “after high school” or “after college” or “after you have a steady job” or “after you get that promotion” – look to this! To everyone who thinks that young people can’t channel that emotional core they haven’t yet lost sight of – look to this!


The one thing I beg you is – if you haven’t read the book, go get it today. You’re robbing yourself if you believe the movie holds a candle to it – no matter how many hot guys are in it!

Summer Reads: ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by LM Montgomery

8 Jul

I found out about midway through high school that, as usual, I was doing yet another thing backwards.  I had been reading books my parents couldn’t understand where I was getting (the English professor next door and the librarian down the street) let alone discuss because they’d never heard of most of the authors. But then, some time around 17 or 18, I found some young adult writers and fell in love again. But it wasn’t until college that the YA bug really bit me, but it got a taste on long bus rides to track meets.


That was when I met Anne and instantly fell in love with her. (To this day, one of the best complements a guy ever gave me is that he liked me because I reminded him of his boyhood crush: Anne of Green Gables! I’ll take that!) – Her spunk, her intelligence, her loyalty and imagination – she personified everything I wanted to be as a girl and often could not because of the difficulties at home.


She’d overcome painful memories and tragedies to live in optimistic zeal. She embraced life with a zeal she never grew out of. She loved with her whole being. She chased learning with a veracity that impressed. She new when she was wrong and humbled herself with a sincere apology.


But most of all, she was well and truly her whole self her whole life. Not many people (fictional or otherwise) can make that claim. I hope to always remember the lessons I learned from Anne.


Ms. Montgomery — thank you for teaching me that a character can be interesting when her flaws and strengths aren’t necessarily different.  Looking at yesterday’s blog about Elizabeth Bennett and today’s about Anne Shirley, I can see that – while Anne would call them Kindred Spirits – as a writer, their differences are what make them both characters who are unique and worth studying.

Summer Reads: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen

7 Jul

Long before there was a “YA” category, there were still books young adults loved to read. Personally, the incomparable Ms. Austen has always and will always fit in that category.


I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was 12 – and fell in love. Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, Bingley, Wickham. . .characters that have been replicated for generations now.


When I was young, I feel in love with Elizabeth, I saw so much of myself in her and justified her actions, thoughts, and words in everything she did regarding Darcy and those around her. Every few years I re-read the book (sometimes two times in a row because I hated for it to end) and saw the hero and heroine more and more on equal footing – something they both had to come to see for themselves.


It wasn’t until a few years ago that I saw the unbelievable – the FLAWS in Elizabeth. How her own stubbornness, judgementalness and a couple other -ness’s kept her from SEEING the man she loved. How her sharp tongue, while entertaining to the reader, was harmful to herself. How being clever is not always as uplifting as being kind.


And now…..the literary blasphemy: I love Colin Firth – he will always be Darcy to generations of Austen lovers, BUT, the Darcy I read years ago hidden in the stacks of my Jr High library was not he. Shockingly, as poor as the movie itself was (although I think for a 90min version, it wasn’t horrible, but why bother when the BBC has perfected the story already — oh yeah, money.)  Matthew Macfadyen played a closer Darcy to the one I knew in my heart.


That Darcy was not only prideful, but uncomfortable. Strangers, groups, and the woman he fell in love with against his own judgement made him anxious. The Darcy I loved was a combination of arrogance and anxiety. The scene where Elizabeth is playing the piano and he tries to tell her this — that scene was always Elizabeth’s downfall to me. The scene where a proud man lowers his shield away from his heart and feels the lance of her sharp tongue for it.


I’m sure your Darcy is even different than mine — So, which Darcy do you love?

Summer Reads: BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE by Annette Curtis Klause

2 Jul

The first time I read this book, it blew me away. I was sucked in by the author’s use of sensuality (and I don’t mean that necessarily in a sexual way, although there are tones of that as well) — Imagine you are a wolf. Do it for just a second. Or if you can’t, then go with a dog. Watch them and how they watch things, how the sniff, how they recognize and deal with one another.


Now layer that over being human.  That is essentially the task Annette Curtis Klause took on and overcame in her book Blood and Chocolate. While other authors hint and dance around and try to overcome the duality of being two things – Ms. Klause (IMHO) hits it on the head.


Not only that, but she goes on to tell a tale so universal in its soul that everyone can identify with it on some level.


Vivian is 16 (yes, darn it. I said 16. DO NOT RENT THE MOVIE unless it’s to mute it and watch Hugh Dancy. . .) and a typical high school girl — Ok, not at all. Vivian is 16 and the only female coming of age in her pack. The boys all show off for her and even the older Gabriel seems to glance her way. But now, after a fire the boys had a hand in, her father is dead, her mother has become a flirt and her whole world has been uprooted and moved to a new town.


Enter sensitive-poet-boy, I mean Aiden. Aiden is the antithesis of the boys she knows – softer, kinder, focused on words and thoughts and feelings instead of the intense physicality that carries the boys she knows with their instincts.


Oh, there is popularity and other girls and other couples and outings and school to deal with. But, in the long run, it’s the same things that attract Vivian to Aiden that eventually pushes them further apart.


The ending is great and she ends up with one of the seven guys I had FELT was right for her. I like the draws of her fighting against what seems like destiny in the end. Of having very clear ideas of what she SHOULD want. I won’t give anything else away, but no other guy could have pulled her out of her emotional state at the end of the book than the one who ended up being the hero.


And she does this all while carrying amazing sub-plots and secondary characters through out the book without causing them to be a distraction


Another book to be studied. Buy it. Mark it up. See if you can layer half as well and hope for the best!


If you want to know who to cross into another world, to create and layer and be honest,

Summer Reads: MOON-SPINNERS by Mary Stewart

1 Jul

Mary Stewart is one of my all time favorite writers. An agent asked me to pick one and I picked three (the other two were Austen and Hardy) – one seemed so unfair.


My love affair with Ms. Stewart began when I was six. I grew up in the middle of no where and there wasn’t any cable or near by video rental (I hear you gasping) but every summer I was guaranteed of a couple of movies on the second dial channels (Hey, if you know what I mean, you know my age now lol) — The Beach Blanket movies (I said I was 6), Creature Double Feature and most of the 60’s Disney’s movies getting that “It’s been YEARS so we can show these for free” movies.


One of those Disney movies was Moon-spinners – and I watched for it every year. A young British girl in Greece, a handsome adventurer, a nasty bad buy and a hidden treasure. Really, need I say more?


Years later I picked up Ms. Stewart’s Merlin series (first book: The Crystal Cave) and searched frantically for more by her. When I found out she wrote my favorite childhood movie, it began a reading binge seldom seen in non-senior-year-finals-cram sessions.


Ms. Stewart inspires and impresses me with her timeless characters and amazing twists (which are often replciatated to the point of cliche now.) I highly recommend trying her out. She wrote my number one favorite Untrustworthy Narrator (If I told you which book, it would ruin it), some of my favorite plot twists, plays with the idea of never knowing who is truly the bad guy, and brings the ordinary into the extraordinary. Not only that, but she paints lavish word pictures in an amazingly short word count.


Ms. Stewart is an author worthy, not only of reading, but of studying.


This site isn’t by her, but two amazing fans. It’s worth checking out HERE.

Summer Reads: TWILIGHT by Stephanie Meyer

30 Jun

Every once in a while a book comes along that so grasps the imagination of a generation that it creates almost its own subculture. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight does this – I swear. Just go to one of her book signings — or try to. It has an almost cultish feel to it.


And now, there’s a movie. (link has spoilers)


The thing about the book is: I love the book. I hate the book. 


I’ve seen very few books (or movies) that now how to contiunially pull you in emotionally and then up the ante again. On the flip side of that, but the end of book 3 (which I still loved and hated) I was beginning to feel like my emotions were purposefully being played – that every move was specificly made just to make me ache a little more.


Don’t get me wrong, I loved feeling that ache, the angst. Book two made me physically hurt. I’m not exaggerating. It triggered something from calling off my almost married relationship in college – all the sorrow and lost hope rushed back through me and I relived it with the characters.


If you another artist who can play you like that — especially in the last couple years — and you don’t realize it while it’s happening, let me know. Ms. Meyer shows a genius of know how and when to hit just the right cord to resonate not with her or me or you or your friend, but with just about everyone who reads her books.


The love story builds slowly and intensely and (for once) someone wrote a book where teens AREN’T haveing sex for a real and believable reason. The characters are memorable and (I think) we can all find something to relate to in each of them.


So let me know, what did you think?  Did you get sucked in as far as I did?

Summer Reads: MAJOR CRUSH by Jennifer Echols

26 Jun

I very clearly remember the cultures within cultures within cultures in high school.(Yup, I just shied away from counter-culture as the description — it’s more of layered culture, because the school as a whole effects each layer.)


I also remember the difference between that structure in New England versus the midwest. Maybe that’s one of the reasons this book hit home for me. While my Boston friends might not get the importantce of being Drum Major. (I had to EXPLAIN the movie Drumline to some of them!)


But Jennifer Echols Major Crush is more than just a look at a different group’s definition of cool and the power struggle that goes along with it. It’s a sweet look at what it means to be a girl, the roles the people you love expect you to fill and the path you take when you follow your heart.


Virginia and Drew have a lot to get past (beyond his girlfriend and the rumors they both have to deal with) – their own competitve spirits have them pushing away from each other when they’d rather be pulling each other close.


 Jennifer Echols knows how to tell us a great, fun story in a new, interesting way.


Summer Reads: TWO WAY STREET by Lauren Barnholdt

25 Jun

I LOVE  a good He Said/She Said book. I said “good,” right?  There aren’t a lot of those.


Lauren Barnholdt’s Two Way Street surpasses good – and goes into “I read it in one sitting, had to go back read it again and put sticky notes all over it” good.


Mismatched-surprise couple Jordan and Courtney are in love — no wait, they broke up — but they’re still driving from Florida to Boston together to start their freshman year of college. Hidden in all the lies, there’s a truth that could be more devisating than the actual break-up.


Jordan is one of those heroes. You know. The guy you aren’t sure you can forgive. Even when you get what he did and why you aren’t sure. . .and then again, maybe you can.


Courtney is a girl we can all relate to – sweet, smart and surprised that the hot player wants her. And then not so surprised when he doesn’t.


I highly recommend Two Way Street. It does one of those things life does: hands you humor while you’re hurting. I mean, what other book could make blaming My Space for basically everything wrong in the world believable?


If you’ve read it, let us know what you think. . .If not, go grab it and get outside!