Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review - Catching Fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The sequel to The Hunger Games. Just as riveting. Just as creepy. There are some things that Collins does with this book that I just flat-out admire. But I can't really mention them, because then I would give the story away. Let's just say that Collins knows what she's doing.

The Hunger Games is very culturally relevant, and I find many of the things that Collins discusses to be a fascinating mirror (or even prediction) for our society. In this way, it reminds me of Feed by MT Anderson.

As a critical reader and as someone who just gets bored (and often angry) with poorly written literature, Suzanne Collins gets so many things right that I almost despair writing something as good as The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I've thought about writing a dystopian.  After reading Suzanne Collins series, I think, "Whoa. I could never do this."  But I really think that Suzann Collins' series is post-apocalyptic AND dystopian, so there.

Well done, Suzanne Collins, you've created something complex, beautiful and memorable. I can't wait to see how it all turns out for Katniss and the rest of the human race.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sleeping Rainbow Recap

Here's my breakdown, complete with photos from my camera:

Wenesday: As we drove four hours out to Capitol Reef, I got to know John Bennion, professor at BYU and novelist. We talked about current projects we're working on. I told him the concept of my novel and he worked the idea into his workshop, so I better finish the manuscript soon and get it sold! John is a delightful guy, and it was a privilege working with him.
Here's the sunset splashed across the sky that evening:

We were introduced to the field station at 11pm, so I didn't get a really good look at it until the next morning:

The field station is set against a backdrop of wilderness, huge walls of rock, the scent of creosote, sage and juniper. Pictured above are the two dorm buildings. I stayed in the one on the left.

9/15 Thursday: Got up at 7am to make breakfast with my workshop group. Scrambled eggs, smoothies, bacon, dark bread, juice. John had us play two get-together games after breakfast. For one we wrote our first name (Lee), our place (w/Ty), and our totem animal (penguin) on a Post-It. We then were handed someone else's Post-It and had to wear it on our forehead and try to guess who we were by asking yes/no questions of people in the group.
10am: My workshop group is named Chinle (a rock formation) and today we work with Karin Anderson, professor at UVU and creative nonfiction writer. Mostly Karin reminds us how important each sentence is. She gives us a list of her favorite sentences. Karin's favorite phrase: "Attend to the sentence!" (Maybe it's not her favorite, but it's the one that sticks with me the most. I heard it a lot this summer.)

Wisdom from Karin: "I tend to forget what writing is. The strain to find the right words is epic. Thinking really hard burns calories. It's an exhausting process. Write against your instincts. Read authors you don't normally. Pay attention to things you do well and do them better. Believe in your palette, your colors, your array of words. It can't be perfect the first time. Write
the crap down."

She sends us away to work on a paragraph.

12pm: I sit on a wall and stared at the sandstone cliff. A little mouse jumps across the ground toward me, gone in an instant. I look forward to working on my novel. To eating. To seeing Ty.

2pm: Sit down for a 1 on 1 with Karin. We go through my braided essay page by page. She has suggestions for polishing sentences, adding another section or two. She is very generous. Lots of positive feedback. "It's almost there," she says. "Keep pushing it."

3:30pm: Lying down in my room, I close my eyes for a while after I read a chapter in The Monstrumologist. I dream briefly about The Never Ending Story. Glide through the clouds on Falcor's back. My roommate sleeps silently on her twin bed. It's hot outside.

4pm: John Bennion tells me he's read the selection from my manuscript I handed to him earlier for a consultation. "I'd like to read it again before we meet," he nods. "It's good."

5pm: I spend an hour and half making chili with a couple of members of Chinle under the direction of Scott Hatch, professor at UVU and brilliant poet. I dice peppers, chop cilantro, shuck garlic and sautee ginger. We add white beans, chicken, celery leaves, jalepenos, Sprite, lime.

Scott is excited about the chili. "One of the best ways to learn about writing is to cook. Cooking is an amalgam of so many things, pushing, pulling the ingredients, creating the best out of working and reworking the recipe. Intuition." I don't like cooking. We eat it with cheese and tortillas.

7:30pm: Filmmaker Eric Temple comes to share his insights on Edward Abbey. He tells us about Abbey, shows us a documentary that he made about Abbey. Abbey was a writer who spoke out against the destruction of the wilderness areas. "Ed wrote about himself and what he took in from the surroundings."

10pm: It takes me a long time to fall asleep. It's very dark here. The moon is bright amid a sweep of stars.
9/16 Friday: 5am - I skip the dawn hike. I hear later that most of it was vertical. No thanks.

10am: Hau takes us on a hike. He talks to us about Leave No Trace. He makes me think of an old Native American shaman, teaching us about connection to the earth. He shows us some wall art: petroglyphs and pictographs created by the Fremont Indians. One of the images looks very much like an alien face.

11:30am: Today Chinle works with John. He gives us a few tools to generate ideas for our projects. We ask our main character questions in regard to five elements of story: place, people, values/ideas, events and things. It's a great exercise. I'll use it on my novel.

He talks about Zen Buddhist compositional writers. Find an emotional center of a piece that manifests itself in an image or tableau. He calls it imaging. Take a piece of writing and find the imagistic center, then write towards that. He sends us away to write an image.

I write a scene that I'll use in my book.John meets with me 1 on 1 to discuss my manuscript. He tells me it's very good. That it will make a good book. He has suggestions for character development. His remarks are very encouraging.

1pm: I work the rest of the day on my manuscript. I get ten pages written while I sit in this little nook:

People come and go outside the window. At 8pm Emily says to me through the window, "Lee, there's a hummingbird out here." I keep writing until bedtime.

10pm: Hard to fall asleep again. I miss Ty.

9/17 Saturday: Chinle meets with Linda Shelton today, professor at UVU and expert in personal narrative. Highlights from Linda's workshop: Histories can help us add the details. Research is a spiral. Creative is a messy business. Details are powerful. Oral histories help complete human understanding. Word choice can definitely change the angle of vision.

1pm: Work all afternoon again on my manuscript. Get another five pages written. I ended up cutting ten pages that I wrote before the conference and I got back on the right track again. I sit in the window nook and watch the desert. The rock wall. The golden light drifting down.

6pm: Sit with Linda for an hour while she interviews me. I didn't realize that's what it was at first, but the personal narrative expert gets half my life story out of me. She tells me she's glad I was able to come to the conference. I agree with her. It's been wonderful.

8pm: David Williams comes to play for us. Black curly hair, a full beard, piercing eyes, slender in his unassuming clothes. Acoustic guitar and soulful vocals. He stands, a dark silhouette against the purple backdrop of the desert. His voice plays through the evening wind. Here is a video of Dave from YouTube. Imagine him, soft-spoken, lost in shadow, the moon high overhead.

He strums his guitar. His voice is lonely, cool.

We get in the van after he finishes his set.

I get home early Sunday morning. These flowers are waiting for me. Roses and lilies.

I'm glad to be home. I learned a lot. I feel blessed to have been chosen for the experience. Thank you Scott, John, Karin and Linda. Thank you Hau, for sharing the field station with us. Thank you Dave, for the inspiring music. Thank you Ty, for encouraging me always in my creative pursuits.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Speak Loudly

Here is a list of books. I want you to guess what all of these books have in common.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Harry Potter by JK Rowling
Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Call of the Wild by Jack London
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

oh, and The Bible

Any guesses? That's right. All of these books have been banned at one time or another. I know, there are a lot more books that have been banned than these. These are ones that I've read personally and feel have something valuable to offer to the human race.

Did you know about Banned Books Week? It starts on September 25th. It's the only national celebration of the freedom to read. Every year, people come out of the woodwork to challenge and ban books. (I think it coincides with the advent of a new school year and optional or required reading lists being shown to parents.) Anyway, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak is being challenged again. Read here for Laurie's post on her blog regarding attacks on Speak. I agree with her. 100%. Rape isn't porn. And as my husband pointed out, when it becomes seen as porn, it's that much harder for victims to come forward and begin to heal.

I believe that Speak is a very important book. It discusses the topic of rape. It is not graphic. It is difficult, powerful, uncomfortable. But worthy of attention. I would hand Speak to anyone having gone through a similar experience. It emphasizes the importance of TALKING about it. I don't mind people expressing their opinions. We do live in a free country after all, and that is what Banned Book Week is all about. But I do believe that people will read his article and not give Speak a chance, thus cheating themselves or someone they know out of learning something valuable.

I don't believe every book is for every reader. If parents are concerned about what their children read, then they should talk with their children. Open a dialogue. Decide together what it appropriate for that particular child. That's what my eleven-year old and I did when she wanted to read Twilight. I feel better knowing that she understands my objections to specifics books for her. She knows that I care about what she puts in her head. We talk about what books mean, how they can change you, how powerful literature is.

Not every book is for every reader. But for books like Speak, there is someone out there, who thinks that no one would understand, that they are to blame, that they are alone in their experience, that they just can't talk about it. And when they find that important book, the one that is uncomfortable, disturbing or inappropriate for other readers, it can help set them on the path to healing.

My personal experience with Speak: I wish I would have been able to read it sixteen years ago. The title isn't just a hint, a suggestion or a request. It's an imperative. Communicate. Open your mouth. Be empowered. Educate yourself and others.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Reviews - The Monstrumologist, Boy Toy and 13 Reasons Why

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

As heavy issues like child sexual abuse become more common to discuss in the social arena (used to be nobody talked about stuff like this), books with characters like Josh will also be more available. At least we can hope that. We can hope that some writers will stand up and be courageous and write about things that real children sometimes face, even when those things are ugly or horrible. I think books like this are important. I don't think they're for everyone. I wouldn't recommend to everyone I know to read this book. I believe it would be inappropriate for some readers. I have a friend who is quite sensitive, and there are two books in this alone post alone that I wouldn't recommend to her. But there is an audience for this book.

Josh is struggling with the aftereffects of the sexual abuse he endured at the hands of his seventh grade female history teacher when he was twelve. Five years later, he suffers from flashbacks and emotional overload, confusion about relationships and about his own sense of self.

Boy Toy was a riveting read. Frightening, powerful and disturbing. There are undoubtedly children who have gone through experiences like these. Many of these children suffer in silence, confused about their abusers, their relationships and their identities. Books like Boy Toy can help bring a child (or adult still struggling with such issues) out of isolation. If this book reached one person who needed to be reached, I would consider it to have fulfilled its purpose. If someone comes to an understanding after reading this book, about themselves, or someone else, I would consider Barry Lyga's job well done.

Boy Toy is a harrowing book infused with pain. It reminded me a lot of Speak. Speaking of Speak, all the things I said about Boy Toy apply to Speak as well. The incidences of teen rape are much higher than incidences of teachers seducing underage students I'm sure, but the pain experienced by the characters felt just as authentic and raw to me. Thank you Barry Lyga and Laurie Halse Anderson for writing about things that are uncomfortable, so that we can expand our view, open dialogues and begin to heal.

Warning: Boy Toy is graphic. There's also language. As I said, it's not for everyone.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Hannah Baker killed herself. Clay Jensen wondered why. Now, thanks to a box of cassette tapes that arrived on his doorstep, he'll find out.

Jay Asher uses an interesting format, combining two simultaneous narratives. One comes in the epistolary form: Hannah's voice on the tapes, listing thirteen people and their actions that affected her and added to her decision to commit suicide. The other narrative: Clay's inner dialogue... I guess I should say monologue, in reaction to what he's hearing. Over the course of twenty-four hours, Clay follows a Hannah-made map and listens to what could make a girl decide not to live anymore.

Asher puts forth the interesting idea that "everything affects everything". There are no isolated incidents. One thing always leads to another. Thirteen Reasons Why: fascinating format, tightly woven narrative and well-developed characters. Contemporary topics of suicide, bullying, sexual harrassment and date rape are explored with sensitivity and insight.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Twelve-year old orphan Will Henry is assistant apprentice to Pellinore Warthrop, an emotionally unstable scientist dedicated to the study of monsters. Set in the late 1800's, Will Henry's narrative begins with the discovery of a specific kind of monster in the New England area. Over the course of the tale, Will's faith in his caretaker is tested as they attempt to forestall something horrible: the infestation of a new predator on the North American continent, the terrible Anthropophogai. (I think that's how you spell it.)

I'm not sure exactly why Yancey chose to set Will Henry's story when he did, or why to use the complicated prose he did, but I applaud both choices. The Monstrumologist is like HP Lovecraft for kids (older kids). Well-written and scary. Such words as: rheumy, acumen, pate, immutability, disparate, fortitude, piety, congeal, appear in the text.

Now, those of you who know the manuscript I'm working on will appreciate my reasons for loving The Monstrumologist so much.

1. The main character of this very dark novel is twelve.

2. The vocabulary is ambitious. Stylistic. EDUCATIONAL.

3. Did I mention that it's dark? That it will appeal to readers of all ages? (I wouldn't recommend it to a young reader, it is quite scary.)

Be warned: blood, gore, body parts, corpses and ravenous monsters abound. And pus. There's quite a bit of pus that I wasn't expecting. And gore. Did I mention the gore?

Hats off to Rick Yancey for crafting a page-turner of densely packed prose that features a monster I've never read a story about. It was fun. And in the case of Will Henry's character development, a bit touching as well. Those who like Lovecraft will enjoy The Monstrumologist. Read it with the lights on.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Review - Ship Breaker

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Nailer isn't sure how old he is. He isn't sure if he'll live another day. There are a few things he's sure of. Luck and loyalty have a lot to do with survival. Family doesn't mean blood. If you live on the beach, you'll die on the beach.

Ship Breaker is a young adult dystopian beginning and ending in the Gulf Coast area sometime in the future. And the future is bleak. Children join hard labor gangs to feed themselves. Killer storms wipe out entire areas. Some of our most beloved cities are under water.

Bacigalupi's vision seems original and interesting. His explanation of setting and ships creates a very vivid place for Nailer's struggle. The level of poverty that these people live in seems very real and their cultural practices convincing. It's interesting to think that while this is a work of futuristic fiction, there are ship breakers operating now, and people living in this kind of poverty.

Ship Breaker is dark and violent. It's very fast paced and a quick read. It may fill the gap for people who loved The Hunger Games and are waiting for the next great dystopian. Bacigalupi's concept of half-men was very interesting....

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I was in bed. My co-worker called. "Turn on your television, right now!"

I watched in horror. Monstrous plumes of smoke, a landmark in ruins, rising death tolls. I didn't go to work that day. Held my children. Wept.

I was raised in a very patriotic family. My father was a Special Forces Green Beret in Vietnam. My mother regularly organizes groups to write letters to soldiers. We put our hands over our hearts when the flag is honored, we take off our hats. We sing the national anthem. Every word.

Today I write this to honor those lost in battle. The battles in New York, the Pentagon, in PA. In Vietnam, in Korea, in the muddy trenches in Europe. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fronts across the globe. I honor you.

And to those still out there: thank you. Thank you for fighting to preserve the freedoms I enjoy. Thank you for your willingness to sacrifice your life for me, for my children, for all of us. Thank you for going out there so that I can sleep safe in my bed, the way I was that early morning nine years ago.

Thank you.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sleeping Rainbow Workshop

So. Today I received an email inviting me to participate in an exclusive UVU writers' workshop next week. I had to send in an application, as well as provide a sample manuscript of my work. From what I understand, the selection of participants is very careful. We will be heading up to the Capitol Reef field station in Utah's beautiful national park of the same name.

There will be workshops, nature excursions, 1-on-1 consultations, readings, writing instruction and personal writing time. We leave Wednesday afternoon and return Sunday morning.



Book Review - The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Katniss is sixteen. She lives in Panem, the country where the United States used to be. Every year, The Capitol requires two tribute children from each district to participate in The Hunger Games, a battle to the death. As someone who has had to fend for herself and her family since childhood, Katniss is used to hardship. How will she fare in this year's Hunger Games?

Okay, I know all of you have heard of this book. I put off reading it because I knew it had sequels as yet unpublished. Also because I heard so many people talking about it. "Oh, The Hunger Games! It's amazing!" There are other book series proclaimed by teens and adults to be amazing that I was... shall we say... disappointed with. (Carol you know what I mean.) So I waited.

So, let's just get it out of the way. The Hunger Games is amazing. Collins' world building is impeccable. Her characters are complex and believable and riveting. She lays out the heroine's story with a sure hand. I am thoroughly impressed. I look forward to reading Catching Fire and the recently released conclusion: Mockingjay. The Hunger Games: read it!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Review - Chains

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Isabel is a thirteen-year old slave girl living in 1776. Chains follows Isabel and her younger sister Ruth, as they struggle to cope following the death not only of their parents, but their owner. The girls find themselves relocated to New York, under the roof of Loyalist masters. Isabel's only thought is to protect Ruth and stay together. But when their tiny family is put in jeopardy, it's everything Isabel can do just to survive.

Set against the upheaval of the American Revolution, Anderson creates a riveting story told from inside British occupied New York. The setting is lushly described. Anderson has done her homework. The heroine speaks in an honest, heart-rending voice of confusion. Confusion at questions of good and evil, liberty and captivity. Beautiful and painful, Chains is an important book.

My only disappointment: the story doesn't end when the book does. There's a sequel (which I was unaware of) slated for release in 2010. It's called Forge. I'll be reading it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Writing is Work!

So I've been working on short pieces for the university publications here at UVU: Touchstones and Warp&Weave. I have three stories to revise, a creative non-fiction piece and a couple of concepts to explore. I will also be submitting some poetry.

So the novel is on hold for a bit. But it's good. I think I needed a break from the heaviness of Eleanor's story.

Ty and Lish have been lecturing me on my love of the written word. They think I should change my major to creative writing. I've had a few professors mention similar notions. Their biggest reason: "You write for fun!" We'll see.

The new semester has started, so it's back to the old grindstone. I'll be busy mixing oil paints, cranking out 200 pages of sketchbook and rendering the human head until I never want to look at another head again. w00t!

Book Review - Catalyst

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
High school junior Kate Malone has only applied to only one college: MIT. But the stress of possible rejection isn't the only thing on her mind. Kate is obsessed with academic excellence, portraying the perfect daughter for her father's church congregation, and following in her mother's footsteps. After a neighbor's house burns down, Kate's father brings Teri and her baby brother to live with them. Kate isn't happy about it, as Teri is a social outcast who used to beat Kate up in elementary school. But as events unfold, Kate learns empathy and compassion. Maybe getting into the college of her choice isn't as important as she thought.

Anderson creates a vivid picture of a struggling teenage girl.  But if you're going to read an Anderson book about a girl who attends the fictional Merryweather High, read Speak.  Catalyst is good.  Speak is great.