This one definitely speaks to me. Ideas swirl around my mind, coming at me so fast that before one is complete another has formed. The problem is that they often come when I’m in the shower or juuuuu-st nodding off to sleep. But when I sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper? Crickets.
I did a lot of thinking during the last month of the year and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m writing this blog about the wrong subject. Or, I should say, writing about the books I read isn’t enough. While I am always reading something, what I read does not always inspire me to write a full-blown blog entry. Therefore I’ve made too few entries this past year. And my heart wasn’t always in those I did post. So I feel that I either must end this blog altogether or expand the subject matter beyond my bookshelves.
Now, I have many, many interests but I am an expert at none. My first instinct was to expand my entries to books and movies. Then I thought I might add TV shows and music to the list of subjects about which I write. But like with reading, I feel that one’s taste in movies, shows, and especially music is very personal. And maybe it’s the trauma of middle school talking but I don’t trust that I won’t be judged harshly for my tastes. Nothing personal, but the internet hasn’t shown itself to be the safest place to pour one’s heart out.
I’ve also considered posting snippets of my own fiction writing. Again my trusts issues come into play. Even though the writing is probably mostly crap, I can’t trust that my ideas won’t be stolen. I have issues. We all do. I know that but I’m only now beginning to realize that these trust issues of mine are holding me back not only in my blog but with my fiction. Maybe, instead of the usual resolution to get fit or be more responsible with money, my 2017 resolution should be to work on my trust issues. And not just my trust of strangers on the internet but also I need to learn to trust myself. This, I believe, would greatly benefit my writing as well as other areas of my life. Which I don’t trust you enough to talk about. Still, if I’ve actually posted this, it is a step in the right direction. Right?
Now, before the trust exercises begin I must post my annual Year in Review of the books I read in 2016. I went well over my goal of 30 books with 46 but that’s because I didn’t do very well at my other resolution to focus more on my fiction writing. I could blame a particularly tough year but the truth is I’m just really good at believing my own excuses. Neither did I succeed in completing Reading Challenge I attempted.
I thought it would be simple with only 12 books but I’m still working on the book that intimidates me – James Michener’s Alaska – and I never got around to the book I should’ve read in school or the one I’d previously abandoned. That’s not surprising considering that I didn’t want to read them the first time around. Here are the books I read to complete the other challenges:
I know I didn’t give it a full 5-star rating but it was just such a fun surprise and I think many people would enjoy the tale based on actual events. Don’t believe me? Go to the author’s page dedicated to these three brave women. I think it just proves that librarians really do know the best books. Plus there’s a fantastic sequel for when you finish long before you want it to end.
Marian Keyes, the popular and immensely talented Irish writer, has a gift. Well, she has many but the one that fascinates me the most and makes her novels, which have a way of tackling some tough subjects with a wicked sense of humor, is her talent for characterization. I’ve read five of her novels now and all of her work is populated by very human, flawed characters that it is sometimes difficult to like. Yet, somehow, she develops them in a way that makes them impossible not to root for. Her Walsh Family series focuses on a family with five pretty much grown daughters, but each novel in the series focuses on one of the daughters. In The Brightest Star in the Sky, Keyes tackles not one or even two major characters but 7. Seven major, fully fleshed out characters which she develops thoroughly and gradually. In less capable hands, this would become tedious because getting to know all of the characters takes up a good portion of the novel. Most of the action that brings the cast together doesn’t happen until the final 100 pages.
Keyes develops her characters through glimpses into their history, dialogue, and interactions with the other characters. And it is magical. When I began The Brightest Star in the Sky, I was confused and worried that I was about to encounter my first disappointment at the hands of Marian Keyes. It is narrated by an unknown entity – a spirit of some sort – which drifts from apartment to apartment of 66 Star Street, Dublin. And it’s just strange. But before long, I forgot about the unusual narrator and became absorbed in the lives of the residents and the people in their lives. And what a diverse group it is:
Katie – A responsible woman who is still unmarried as she turns forty, has a love of shoes, stationery shops, and drugstores.
Conall – Katie’s workaholic boyfriend whose job is to streamline companies after a takeover.
Lydia – A brash twenty-something cab driver who is seen as rude and hard but is secretly dealing with personal issues no one in their twenties should have to deal with.
Jemima – A wise older woman with a beloved dog, Grudge, and a beloved foster son, the voice of reason in the group but with a tragic secret.
Fionn – Jemima’s man-child of a foster son, moves to Dublin to star in a gardening show and wreaks havoc along the way.
Matt and Maeve – A young married couple that, on the surface, seems like a sweet, innocent couple but they are harboring a painful secret.
They aren’t always likable – then again, who is? In fact, there are a couple that I initially did not like at all and at least one that I like at first but ended up not really rooting for. But there are, as we know, two sides to every story. Once I got to know those characters more deeply, I discovered redeeming qualities and saw how the complexities of their lives colored their actions and behavior.
Creating complete and complex characters is a gift I, and I’m sure all writers, wish to possess. It is important for holding the reader’s interest in the story and also for making an emotional impact like the one I experienced when the truth behind the strain in Maeve and Matt’s marriage came out. If I hadn’t grown to care about them I wouldn’t have been quite as affected by Maeve’s experience as I was (though it is horrific no matter who it happens to). If I hadn’t gotten to see what good people they truly are, I wouldn’t have been so infuriated by their treatment by the justice system and the reaction of their so-called friends. How, I ask, couldn’t anyone who truly knew Maeve think she was lying?
First off, let me apologize for not making a real entry in so long. Along with just being a bit of a slow reader, my literary life has been in a bit of a mess the past few weeks. You see, all of my writing – fiction, outlines, blog ideas, lists, etc. – were stored on a single jump drive. Which I lost. I’m still hoping to find it somewhere in my bedroom but, in the meantime, I’ve been attempting to recreate all of the important files. Like my painstakingly detailed book list. It is time-consuming. Fortunately, I do have a hard copy of nearly all of my fiction but I’m still heartbroken over the little bit that I have lost completely (unless I find that drive). I’ve learned my lesson (you’d have thought I’d have learned it after my jump drive went through the laundry). I now have two digital copies of everything and I have yet to write any of my fiction on the computer. I’m a coward. Also, I’m feeling uncommonly creative these days so my hand right hand is badly cramped by the end of each day.
But the woes of the disorganized are not the subject of this entry. In much of my education as a writer, I keep reading about how important conflict is to any story. I get it now.
I just finished reading Amy Rivers’s debut novel, Wallflower Blooming about a shy but successful young businesswoman who steps out of her comfort zone to help with her cousin and best friend’s political campaign for mayor. Along the way she gets a taste of the bad as well as the good that can come from opening herself up to a more social life and though there is a time she thinks it may break her and she will follow in her father’s footsteps, she comes out stronger and happier. It is a nice, uplifting story but I don’t feel that it reaches its potential. On the surface, it has conflict aplenty. The typical conflict between the two candidates; verbal and at times physical conflict between the incumbent and practically everyone; Val’s inner conflict about her father and her own discomfort with the spotlight, and the conflict that comes at the beginning of every new relationship. There is potential for a lot of drama here but each of these conflicts is resolved too easily. The two candidates don’t actually interact a lot and their interactions seem watered down. We never discover the cause of the incumbent’s volatile behavior even when it comes to a head in a scene that could have been so much more dramatic and empowering. Val’s family issues are on the mend after just one phone call, she’s a stronger, braver person after just one visit to the therapist, and she comes to terms with her trust issues and fear of the spotlight in a matter of a few short months. The romance only has one real bump that is quickly surmounted before everything is perfect. Everything is just too easy. And easy, it turns out, isn’t interesting. I found myself – more than usual – thinking of directions the scenes could have taken that would have made it more interesting and unpredictable.