On Monday afternoon, our reading group will discuss Sophie Littlefield’s book, The Missing Place. It was my turn to choose a book. I had met Sophie during our Women’s National Book Association event in San Francisco a few months ago, and we met again at Town Center Books in Pleasanton for her book signing.
The book is available on Amazon, Kindle, and audio. Here is how it is described on Amazon:
Set against the backdrop of North Dakota’s oil boom, two very different mothers form an uneasy alliance to find their missing sons in this heartrending and suspenseful novel from the Edgar Award–nominated author of Garden of Stones.
The booming North Dakota oil business is spawning “man camps,” shantytowns full of men hired to work on the rigs, in towns without enough housing to accommodate them. In such twilight spaces, it’s easy for a person to vanish. And when two young men in their first year on the job disappear without a trace, only their mothers believe there’s hope of finding them. Despite reassurances that the police are on the case, the two women think the oil company is covering up the disappearances—and maybe something more.
Colleen, used to her decorous life in a wealthy Massachusetts suburb, is determined to find her son. And hard-bitten Shay, from the wrong side of the California tracks, is the only person in town even willing to deal with her—because she’s on the same mission. Overtaxed by worry, exhaustion, and fear, these two unlikely partners question each other’s methods and motivations, but must work together against the town of strangers if they want any chance of finding their lost boys. But what they uncover could destroy them both…
Sure to please fans of Sandra Brown and Gillian Flynn, The Missing Place is a moving chronicle of survival, determination, and powerful bonds forged in the face of adversity.
National Geographic has an interesting article about a friendly wolf in Alaska.
Romeo appeared in the Alaskan community near Juneau, and “was a bit of a flirt, and like Shakespeare’s Romeo seemed to fall in love with”…Juliet, a yellow Labrador. Normally wolves fight with canines or eat them, but Romeo wanted to play and had his favorite humans and dogs. He would keep his distance from people but came within touching range of the author, however, Nick Jans didn’t try to pet him. He respected the wolf’s wild behavior. Romeo “would run into the middle of a game of fetch and steal the tennis ball, run off with it, throw it up in the air, and bat it with his paws.” He had his own toys that he’d bring to Jans and his friend, Harry Robinson. Romeo would pick up one of his toys, knowing how to fetch, and bring it to Harry to throw, .
The average life span of a wolf is three years and he was full grown when he came to the community. He visited them often for six more years, so he was at least eight years old at the time of his death. They didn’t feed him. He would leave for several days, apparently finding his own food.
To read more, go to the link above, or order it from you local bookstore, or go to http://www.amazon.com/Wolf-Called-Romeo-Nick-Jans/dp/054422809X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1427668462&sr=8-1&keywords=A+dog+called+Romeo
The next couple days I might not post since I need to organize my receipts for taxes.
I took a break today and read a novella by Paul Levinson called “The Other Car.” It’s available on Kindle for $.99.
James Oleson is beginning to see everything in perfect duplicate – two identical models of cars which are the same down to scuff marks and license plate, two old philosophy books with the same torn pages and inscription in old ink, and twin mail men. Is he losing his mind, or experiencing the birth of a new alternate reality via binary fission?
Back to numbers.
Lolly Winston’s Good Grief is an excellent book. I savored the last twenty pages, unable to leave the characters and their world in Ashland, Oregon, that I enjoyed these last few days. At times the story brought tears and other times, I laughed out loud, even in the reception room where I was waiting for an appointment.
Here is an example (page 256) of her style. It’s a scene where Sophie, the main character, has been avoiding the man she dated for reasons I won’t tell. He hasn’t contacted her for a while and she’s made a good-riddance list in an attempt to get over him. One morning she hears his voice on her answering machine as she’s heading out the door to go to the bakery where she works. She clutches the front door handle and listens to the beginning of his apologetic message.
“Squeezing a stack of cookbooks to my chest, I creep back down the hall to the kitchen, holding my breath as if he might hear me through the answering machine.
This better be good.”
A few lines down:
“I lean toward the answering machine as if to sniff it. Clean laundry smell, broad shoulders, narrow waist, callused warm hands. None of my good-riddance list items come to mind.”
I’ll miss Sophie, Crystal, Drew, Ruth, and Marion. Maybe I’ll reread it one day just to be with them again.
Have you read Good Grief or any of Lolly Winston’s books?
Donald Maass states on page 9-10 in Chapter One of his book, The Fire in Fiction, that there is a difference between a protagonist and a hero. “A protagonist is the subject of a story. A hero is a human being with extraordinary qualities. A protagonist can be a hero, certainly, but isn’t always. Quite often in manuscripts the protagonists are ordinary people. They may face extraordinary circumstances in the course of the story but when we first meet them they, in effect, could be you or me.” He talks about how to have a reader’s heart open to the protagonist as soon as possible, in the “early introductory moment.”
How can writers create a bond between readers and the protagonist? Maass says, “…it is necessary to show your reader a reason to care.” The character has to demonstrate a quality that is inspiring. “…signal to your readers that your protagonist is worth their time.”
On page 19, he tells us, “Find the secret strength in your main character, and it won’t matter whether you are working with a hero or an anti-hero. Your readers will bond with both.” If the protagonist is an ordinary person, showing a strength is important and needs to be demonstrated within the first five pages. (page 33) The strength “can be as simple as caring about someone, self-awareness, a longing for change, or hope. Any small positive quality will signal to your readers that your ordinary protagonist is worth their time.”
I checked my first five pages of Norman in the Painting and on the second page, Jill buys a homeless man a takeout breakfast. I’m relieved I have her caring about someone since she is an ordinary person. I can check off the first point Maass made in The Fire in Fiction.
(page 33) If your protagonist is a hero, already strong, “Find in him something conflicted, fallible, humbling, or human.” The flaw needs to be demonstrated within the first five pages. “Be sure to soften the flaw with self-awareness or self-deprecating humor.”
Is your protagonist an ordinary person or a hero/heroine?
William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust was the book chosen for our reading group’s February novel. We all agreed it was a difficult style to read. He used little punctuation. The pronoun ‘he’ in his long sentences could mean Chick or Lucas or his uncle or any male in the scene. Within the long, long paragraphs, we often couldn’t figure out which ‘he’ talked or took action.
However, we all liked the richness of the setting, and three out of five us appreciated the novel inspite of the writing style.
What Faulkner novels have you read? What do you think of his writing?
The following is Stacey Gustafson’s blog post from March 6, 2015.
Her eBOOK, for a limited time, is 99¢. Click here to get your copy, http://amzn.to/1Bgwatq
Her blog is: http://staceygustafson.com/blog/
5 Ways to Add Humor to Your Memoir
Do you believe that memoir has to be serious in order to get your point across? Think again! Let me teach you 5 Ways to Add Humor to Your Memoir.
Adding humor to memoir will hold the attention of the reader longer by lightening the mood. It also helps us remember what we were reading.
In his bestselling book, “On Writing Well,” author William Zinsser, writes that “humor is the secret weapon of the nonfiction writer.” It is often the best tool and only tool for making an important point.
1. Use funny sounding words
Words that have the hard “k” and “p” elicit humor. We can’t help but laugh. Think Dr. Seuss.
The Cat in the Hat Quotes
“Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how.” ― Dr. Seuss
Sometimes a word is funny sounding because it has gone out of fashion like mollycoddle and lollygag. We laugh because we have never heard the word before and it tickles our funny bone as it rolls off the tongue.
According to Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inherently_funny_word
An inherently funny word is a word, which can be found amusing without any given context, like onomatopoeia. Such words have been used by a range of influential comedians to enhance the humor of their routines.
The consonant plosives (so called because they start suddenly or “explosively”) p, b, t, d, k, and g are the funniest sounds in the English language.
List of Funny Sounding Words
Ker plunk Klutz
2. Use funny numbers
Odd numbers are funnier than even numbers. Would you rather have 13 mangy dogs or 10 smelly cats?
Large numbers that end in 9 catch the reader’s attention faster. Do you want to read about a kid that ate 579 jellybeans or a girl that could stuff 8 grapes in her mouth?
In the comedy series How I Met Your Mother, the character Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) uses the number 83 in his made-up statistics, because he believes the number is funny. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inherently_funny_word
For great examples of numbers in comedy, Watch How I Met Your Mother – Countdown from 50 to 1.
3. Similes and Metaphors
Use similes and metaphors to enrich your writing. Similes often use connecting words such as like, as, so, and than. A vivid simile will paint a picture in the reader’s mind and clarify an idea.
Simile – a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, as in “She is like a rose.”
Metaphor – a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our God.” Think an emblem or symbol. “Janet is a pig when she eats.”
• Like Simba’s presentation ceremony in the Lion King, my guys handed me a heaping platter of smoky, charred delights. http://staceygustafson.com/barbeque-battle-mom-vs-man/
• The kiosk guys eye me like a polar bear on a hunk of meat. http://staceygustafson.com/kiosk-christmas-causes-chaos/
• At that moment, like Jolly Ole’ St. Nick, his eyes sparkled and in a loud voice and he said, “Where’s the nearest Home Depot?” http://staceygustafson.com/happy-fathers-day-mr-duct-tape/
4. Add Dialogue
Use dialogue to move the story along. It develops your characters. Natural dialogue will make your story believable. Use contractions. It sounds more relatable to say, ‘I can’t go” rather than “I cannot go with you.” Speaking like a character in a Shakespearean play will always be a turn off.
To improve your dialogue, ease drop on customers at Starbucks or take notes at the dinner table. Read it aloud to others. Listen to television shows to understand the cadence of language.
“What’s for dinner?” he said, sniffing the air for a hint.
“Leftovers,” I said as I turned on the microwave.
5. Sound words
Bang! Crunch! Slurp! Zing! These words are called onomatopoeia, words that sound like what they mean. By adding them to your writing, you animate your prose and amp up the visual.
Example “Shut the Hell Up I’m Taking a Nap”
I popped up in bed, blinking like crazy. Out the window I spied a saw. And a tree. Timber. Next up, I watched as he reinstalled loose fence panels with a hammer. Bam, bam, buzzzzz. When finished, with a flourish he let out a big whistle for the kids to join him and admire his workmanship.
By that point, the dog couldn’t contain himself. He charged the open window and jumped up and down to get a peek at the commotion. Ruff, ruff, growl.
For more pointers, read How to Write Funny http://staceygustafson.com/write-funny/
Do you have any humorous writing tips? Please share!
Victoria Zackheim & Contributors read from Zackheim’s anthology, Faith: Essays from Believers, Agnostics, and Atheists at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley on February 25th. Zackheim is the author of the novel The Bone Weaver and the editor of five anthologies, the one before Faith was Exit Laughing. She writes documentary films and teaches creative nonfiction in the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program.
Among the readers at Mrs. Dalloway’s event were two writers I recognized from the San Francisco Writers Conference:Tamim Ansary and David Corbett. I remember hearing Ansary speak for the first time at the Pleasanton Library about five years ago when he promoted his book: West of Kabul, East of New York. At Dalloway’s, he read a short excerpt from his essay titled “A Secular Mystic”
David Corbet read from his “Love and Insomnia”. Corbet is a speaker at the SFWC and will speak at The California Writers Club, Tri-Valley Branch’s Conference in April, 2015.
At the reading, Zackheim described the surprises she experienced when the essays for Faith arrived. Each writer approached the question, “What do you believe?” in various ways. From Islamic roots that led to secular mysticism to another writer’s heated, anti-religious rant, a reader will find wit, humor, candid personal truths…something for everyone.
Faith is a book I recommend and perhaps it will be an inspiration to consider…what do you believe?
Neal Sofman of Bookshop West Portal sets up tables at the SFWC to sell books written by the presenters, attendees, and volunteers. This table is one of three at the Mark Hopkins Hotel where the conference is held every year.
https://www.bookshopwestportal.com Photo credit for Coach Teresa LeYung-Ryan http://writingcoachTeresa.com
Teresa LeYung-Ryan’s book Love Made of Heart is on the right at the top with the girl whose eyes are closed.
My anthology, Written Across the Genres is on the left,
Below my book are DVDs by Maryjean Ballner who wrote Cat Massage: A Whiskers-To-Tail Guide to Your Cat’s Ultimate Petting Experience and Dog Massage, both books were published by St. Martin’s Press. She has been on the David Letterman Show and “Live With Regis and Kelly.” She presents workshops in Japan and the U.S. http://www.catmassage.com
I’m forever grateful to Maryjean for introducing me to the SF Writers Conference in 2006.
Yiyun Li, in her keynote speech at the San Francisco Writers Conference, said we should eavesdrop on our characters and their lies, lies to other characters and to us. When asked how to eavesdrop on them, Li said to let them be and see what they do. The author is like a translator and listens to the characters.
Kinder Than Solitude is a profound mystery in which three friends’ lives are changed by a murder one of them may have committed. It has been described as dark, stunning, sleek, and powerful.
Her short story collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the 2005 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and all her books have received numerous other awards. She has been compared with Chekhov, Faulkner, and Alice Munro. The New Yorker named her one of the top 20 writers under 40. When I talked briefly with her at the conference this last weekend, I thought she was under twenty-five based on her youthful voice and physical appearance.
Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing, came to the United States in 1996, and now lives in Oakland, California. She teaches at the University of California, Davis.
“To write is to eavesdrop on people’s hearts.” Yiyun Li