That writing thing

It’s been a long time since I’ve written any poetry or fiction. Having three jobs – a full-time job, part-time job, and teaching a couple grad classes to library science students – tends to slow down the creative writing process.

Back to just the full- and part-time jobs, today I took a Fiction Basics class at The Loft taught by Brian Malloy. The class was only two hours long and was about the five parts of a story – Exposition, Rising Action, Crisis/Turning Point, Falling Action, and Resolution. We talked about what goes in each part and then we did an exercise at the end where we started the Exposition and then passed the papers to the right until the Rising Action and Crisis/Turning Point were filled in by other class members.

That exercise was both cool and terrifying. It was cool because you could see what other classmates thought may happen in your story, but it was terrifying for that exact same reason.

I was not excited to fill in the Rising Action and Crisis/Turning Point for other people. I think this is where I lack the most in fiction, which is a really bad thing and what I need to work on. I think I’m good at Exposition, starting a world, creating characters, but then I get tangled in what they should do and where the story should go and I find myself starting a different story. It’s a problem. People have told me that I should introduce all the different characters from all the different stories I’ve started and see where it goes.

But I get stuck on what my characters should do. I’ve read a lot of different things from authors, and most of them say things like: make your characters do things they wouldn’t typically do, put your characters through hell, and have them end up far from where they were at the beginning of the story.

Malloy basically said this today, too. He talked about how the Falling Action part of the story is now the new normal, different from the normal in the Exposition. It’s what’s happening after the Crisis you have put your character through and it should be something that has changed them, but whatever that change is is up to you, the author, the god of this world.

So I have to start putting my characters through hell. Maybe some of them will literally go to hell, who knows, but I’m going to start doing bad things to good people.

New cookbooks

A year ago I started a different blog, one just for cooking, and declared I was going to work my way through some cookbooks. I’m not the best cook, but I can make a meal when I have a good recipe, so I was going to finally start making more of the recipes in the cookbooks I’d been collecting over the years.

That blog no longer exists. I was updating the blog once every couple months because I wasn’t enjoying only blogging about cooking. It’s one reason I started this site, because I wanted to blog about anything and everything, including cooking.

My friend Leah didn’t know I got rid of the other blog. She just sent me two cookbooks that she wanted to “donate to the LeAnn cooks project.” That project still exists, but on this blog instead, so the cookbooks are not in vain. Check out the two she sent me.

cookbooks from Leah
I’ve read part of the Amy Sedaris book because that’s Amy Sedaris. She’s hilarious. I’ll read anything she writes. I never tried any of the recipes in the book, though, so I can’t wait to dive into that one.

I’m a little intimidated by The Smitten Kitchen. It looks very posh with some recipes calling for things like mussels and vermouth. I’ve never had a mussel in my life and I had to Google “vermouth.” But the good thing is that I don’t think I like mussels, so I can just skip that recipe.

There are other recipes that look good in this book and totally doable. I am very excited to try the Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes. Doesn’t that sound great? And I almost don’t want to tell you how awesome the Chocolate Raspberry Rugelach looks. (I had to Google “rugelach,” too, and I don’t really know how to say it, but it’s a pastry. Who doesn’t love pastries?)

Thanks, Leah! Your cookbooks will be put to the test.

The Bookman’s Tale

bookmans taleShakespeare is always at the top of my favorite-authors list and I’m a sucker for Shakespeare retellings and Shakespeare in literature, and I get weirdly, obsessively pissed over conspiracies claiming it wasn’t the Shakespeare I know and love who wrote his plays. I tend to avoid monstrosities like the movie “Anonymous” and crackpot research claiming it was Marlowe or Elizabeth I. If you want a good book about how Shakespeare could’ve (and did) write the plays, read Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt.

The reason I bring up Shakespeare is that I just finished reading a lovely novel that I wish were real because it would put Shakespeare authorship questions to rest.

The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett is told in three interconnected stories: one set in the 1990s with Peter grieving over his wife, Amanda; one set in the 1980s when Peter met Amanda; and one that begins in 1592 and includes a Shakespeare artifact.

Grieving over the loss of his wife, Peter moves to the English countryside and dives into his work as a bookseller. He buys, repairs, and sells rare books to collectors, and in one rare book he discovers a watercolor of Amanda, only it was created 100 years prior. Peter becomes obsessed with the watercolor and as he learns more about it he also stumbles upon a book that may prove, once and for all, that Shakespeare wrote his plays.

This is the type of mystery I love, one surrounding books and history more so than murder. And though this is a mystery, it’s not extremely suspenseful or shocking, with twists and turns around every corner. It does have its moments, but it’s a much more subtle, charismatic tale about the rare book world and history come to life.

Besides the mystery, I also loved the story of Peter and Amanda. Going back and forth between the 80s and 90s worked perfectly and we can see how awkward both of the book nerds were in college and how much they grew together. It really is a great love story and I could feel Peter’s pain over his loss.

And, lastly, the big thing I loved here was Shakespeare. He actually plays a very small role, but what he does touches so many other people in this tale, and seeing how it affects them is great. I could’ve read a book all about this story and left out the grieving bookseller.

But don’t get me wrong, I loved Peter the bookseller and his quest for answers, and these three stories come together perfectly in the end. To get to the end we get glimpses of Shakespeare and underground book deals, insights into the rare book world, and we come away feeling a profound love of literature. It felt like a gigantic hug to all the book lovers out there.

Reviewed at Minnesota Reads.

Under the Dome, the show

Wow. There are a lot of differences in the “Under the Dome” TV show.

In preparation for the show, I recently read Stephen King’s Under the Dome. It was 1072-page beast, but I raced through it, and while the ending wasn’t my favorite, the story as a whole was fabulous.

And I knew that they’d have to cut things and change some characters for the transition to the small screen, but I don’t think anyone is the same.

MAJOR SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT (run away!).

First of all, Dale “Barbie” Barbara, what the hell? He’s supposed to be our savior, our ex-military man, our idealistic, never-do-wrong hero. Why was he burying someone at the beginning of the show? And not a nice burial in a cemetery with a clergy, family and friends, and flowers. He was in the woods burying someone on the down low.

And when he drove away (he’s not supposed to have a car), who was he talking to on the phone where he said, “Your guy, Smith, shows up. He doesn’t have the money. And then he tries to renegotiate, aggressively.” What?

At least the actor they got is delicious, because Barbie was delicious in my head, too.

As for Rose the diner owner, she’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s Aunt Zelda! There’s nothing majorly different about her, at least yet, but her voice is so distinctive that I instantly wondered what spell she was cooking.

And then there was the dome. I was so hoping for the perspective from the woodchuck, but alas, no woodchuck. Instead we get a cow sliced in half, the long way. It was gross. And funny. It probably shouldn’t have been funny. I’m not a serial killer, I promise.

And couldn’t they hear through the dome? Here they can’t. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong, but I thought they could speak to people on the other side. And they said it was 20,000 feet high, but in the book it’s 47,000 feet.

Julia Shumway is also different. I pictured her older with more balls. Maybe she’ll grow some as we go.

Oh, and she’s supposed to be single, but here she’s married to Peter the doctor, who’s supposed to survive for a long time, but he was actually the guy Barbie was burying.

My head is spinning.

There’s a lot more. Norrie doesn’t live in the town and she has lesbian parents. The radio station plays rock music instead of Christian music. Phil in the radio station isn’t crazy and Dodee is helping him. Angie and Dodee don’t get murdered by Junior, but Junior keeps Angie prisoner in a storm shelter. And Joe is apparently now Angie’s brother. And Duke was part of Big Jim’s drug trade.

Although I’m still not sure it is a drug trade. It seems like it will be what with the massive supply of propane tanks, but no one has mentioned drugs yet.

With all this being said, I actually really like the show. They set up the panic of the dome really well with the plane and car crashes into the dome, the silence from the outside world, and the subtle but fabulous story Angie tells about a goldfish trapped in a tank eating the other goldfish. That’s foreshadowing, folks!

I think from here on out I have to ignore the book. I kept comparing things while I watched it and tweeting the differences, but the show is really interesting. I kind of wish I hadn’t read the book because I would’ve loved the show. Right now I like it, I’m intrigued, and I’m going to keep watching.

One thing I was happy about was the ending of the episode where Duke’s pacemaker bursts out of his chest, killing him. I’m so glad they kept that from the book.

Really, I’m not a serial killer.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

oceanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane is the first adult novel Neil Gaiman has written since 2005, and it’s very different from his previous works for adults. I was expecting more American Gods and Good Omens but I got a grown-up Coraline. I really liked Coraline, and this is better, but it was definitely different than I expected. I think the difference is that this is such a quiet, intimate story, more so than what I’m used to from the creator of The Sandman.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is narrated by a man who returned to his childhood home for a funeral. For reasons he can’t explain, he goes on a drive through the country and is drawn to the farm at the end of the lane where odd Lettie Hempstock used to live.

He knew Lettie, didn’t he? There was a pond at the back of their farmhouse that she called an ocean, right? As he stares at Lettie’s ocean, memories from forty years earlier wash over him and he remembers: the opal miner who committed suicide in the Hempstock’s driveway; Ursula Monkton, the spirit who followed him from the Hempstock farm and tore apart his world; and the three Hempstock women – Lettie, her mother, and Old Mrs. Hempstock – and how they tried to help protect him.

If you’ve read or seen the movie Coraline, the story the man recalls from when he was seven is quite similar. A child discovers a scary world and a terrifying spirit, and his parents don’t believe him, leaving him to fight the evil spirit on his own. This base tale is the same as Coraline, but Coraline was written for children and is treated as such, while here the dangers are more pronounced and an older man’s recollection of how he views it now and how it changed him is what’s key.

I went back and forth with my feelings on this. While reading it, I kept wondering why this was on the shelf next to American Gods and not Coraline. We hear mostly from the 7-year-old, so why is this billed as an adult novel?

But then I realized that many soft spoken, quiet observations may not be understood by young children. Sure, young kids can read this book and find a lot of enjoyment in it, I know I would’ve loved it as a kid, but would I have understood it all? Probably not. It would be like how I watched “Dirty Dancing” as a kid and I just thought she had a really bad stomach ache.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is more than a kid fighting a spirit. What we get here is a man reflecting on his life, piecing together how he is where he is, trying to understand why, and contemplating his worth. We get the impression that this is also how he felt when he was a child, how we all feel, and that these feelings are always prevalent in our lives, though may manifest in different ways. This is much more subtle, peaceful, and quiet than I’m used to with Gaiman, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s different, but good different. I loved it.

Reviewed at Minnesota Reads.

Eleanor & Park fan art

I wish I were an artist. The extent of my skills lie with paint by number and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, but if I were a good painter/illustrator, I would totally make some fan art for my favorite books.

I squealed like a teenager when I ran across some awesome Eleanor & Park fan art, like this great one from Andiree on Tumblr:

eleanorPark is so dreamy.

But there are other pieces I ran across. Here they are kissingHere Eleanor is listening to the tapes Park made her. Here they’re in Park’s room. And more kissing.

Man, I loved this book.

Eleanor & Park

eleanorYou know when your friends are like, “You need to read this book. Not want. Need.” Friends, Eleanor & Park is that book. You have to read it. Have to. Especially if you want to feel that giddy rush of first love all over again.

Jodi gushed about Eleanor & Park months ago and she was one of the people who told me to hurry up and read it. I crushed so hard on this book.

Eleanor & Park is a love story between two misfit teenagers in the mid-1980s. Eleanor is chubby with frizzy red hair and secondhand clothes. Her family is very poor and her stepdad is an ass. Park is a comic book and punk music lover and he’s half-Korean, which in Omaha, Nebraska makes him the only one wherever he goes in the spot-the-non-white-person game. Eleanor and Park feel like outsiders in different ways and love slowly grows between them as they share a seat on the school bus.

Rainbow Rowell perfectly captures the anxiety, awkwardness, confusion, and excitement of having a crush and falling in love. Eleanor and Park go through many emotions like doubting their feelings, being thrilled and nervous when they start holding hands, feeling awkward being a couple in public, and cautiously testing the boundaries when things start heating up. It was so real.

And it doesn’t hurt that Park is pretty dreamy. He woos Eleanor like all men should: with comic books and good music. No, really. He found something they were both interested in and he wooed her with it in adorable ways. Park is Robert Downey Jr.-in-the-80s dreamy. Hell, he’s Robert Downey Jr.-now dreamy.

And despite what you see on the cover of the book, Eleanor is not the same size as Park. He is quite thin and she is not. I love that this book does not feed into society’s idea that only thin people are beautiful and deserve love. That doesn’t mean that Eleanor doesn’t worry about her size, because she does, but it doesn’t stop her. And it shouldn’t.

I also love a teen love story that doesn’t involve perfect people like we hear about in Taylor Swift songs. There’s no prince or princess here because that’s not real. Eleanor and Park feel like real teens that we could see on a school bus. I loved them for their strengths, flaws, and everything in between.

I could go on and on because this is a great book. It made me think about embarrassing and happy moments from my past and I felt silly and giddy many times. If Rainbow Rowell writes characters this well, I’ll continue to read her.

Reviewed at Minnesota Reads.