Favorite Author & Multi-Book Review

untitled (6)Joanna Trollope is my favorite writer when it comes to working through the family situation. Her well-written characters are as diverse as the personalities one encounters in his or her own family and just as frustrating. I’ll no sooner have my favorite characters chosen only to have him/her say or do something completely stupid, and my allegiance changes to the character I used to hate. In this way, Mrs. Trollope reels you in and casts you back throughout the story.

The way in which she presents real-life, everyday situations isn’t boring in the least. Her ‘fly on the wall’ perspective into the lives of her characters offers the same guilty pleasure as witnessing private conversations and/or arguments.

Further, her conclusions aren’t always neat and tidy happy endings. Much like real life and family, there is a definite end to the situation, but rarely does it go well for everyone. You’ll struggle, suffer, rejoice, and celebrate right along with Mrs. Trollope’s characters, often identifying with them or recognizing them in your own family members.

I haven’t read everything written by this author, and I haven’t experienced her writing under her pen name Caroline Harvey. What I have read has been enjoyable, the most recent being Daughters in Law. Her novel, Other People’s Children, received my strongest reaction. As expected, the book is replete with interesting characters in different walks of life. There is, however, one character in particular who I fantasized killing in the most heinous ways imaginable long after I had finished reading the book. That may sound horrible, but I believe it’s testimony to Joanna Trollope’s excellent writing skills.

Here is a list of Joanna Trollope’s novel in order of publication.

Writing Inspiration

This morning, I seriously entertained the thought of chucking it all and applying at the local grocery store.  This writing/author thing is hard.  The thought of disconnecting from social media, abandoning my author platform and potential audience, and leaving behind the fear that comes from staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page sounded wonderful to me.  I realized I needed more encouragement than Mom or my husband telling me I could do it.

Thank you Anne Leigh Parrish for coming to the rescue.  What it Takes to be a Writer was the kick in the pants I needed to go on.  Mrs. Parrish didn’t candy coat the fact that writing is hard.  Instead, she offered ways to overcome the nagging doubts.

In the same vein of thought, I would direct you to Neil Gaiman’s speech Make Good Art.  I usually think of art as a painting or sculpture in a museum or gallery, but I needed to change my perspective about that.  Anything we have created, including writing, is art.  No matter how long it takes or how many times we mess up, keeping pressing forward.

Enjoy!

Mira Contemplates Her Choices

The visual writing prompts I receive in my writing circle are making a liar out of me!  I said I wasn’t a writer of fantasy stories, but this picture also generated a fantasy tale.  What is going on inside my writer’s brain?

Anyhow, this story is the flashiest of flash fiction.  Very short but receiving appreciation among my peers.  Enjoy!

Mira Contemplates Her Choices

whitby-89225_1280Mira wrapped her arms around herself, the tail ends of her shawl grasped in each fist. She longed to dive head first into the cold, black water, disappear from this life she used to wish for. The idea of a husband and baby once dominated her every waking moment. She could have had both at any time. There was no shortage of males who would have obliged her. Only Mira’s desires didn’t run along normal conventions. Now here she was, trying to decide whether or not to return to the world of merfolk or walk up the hill to the abandoned castle where Sean was waiting for her. It would have been such a release to tell him the truth about her origins and that she’s carrying his child.

Love for the Aging Collie

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Hound Dog Diva

Aria turns ten today. According to the Pedigree Dog Age Calculator, based on her breed and age in human years, she is 75 years old. Happy Birthday, ole girl.

She’s been in the house ever since her brother, Tasu, was hit by a car. Aria was confused by his disappearance. She didn’t witness the accident; she simply saw him wedge his way out of the kennel and never return. Her ears perked and she looked for him any time his name was spoken. We were careful not to do that after the first three days. It was like watching a newly widowed woman.

Although I’m not a fan of big dogs in the house, I couldn’t leave Aria outside alone. She was silently grieving Tasu. We had her groomed at the Posh Pooch in Springfield and brought her inside. At first, she tiptoed around cautiously. She became my new shadow. I spoke to her in reassuring tones, but the moment I left a room, she was right by my side. Her restlessness concerned me.

I soon realized we both needed something to take our mind of the loss of Tasu, so I enrolled Aria in obedience classes at PetSmart in Canton. She knew a few commands my son taught her while working toward the Pets merit badge for Boy Scouts. After a quick assessment by the instructor, Leslie Jeandrevin, Aria was able to skip Beginner class and go straight to Intermediate.

Fresh from the groomers.

Fresh from the groomers.

The experience did wonders for my lonely dog. At first she was clingy. Over time, the socialization helped Aria relax. She had never been around another dog except her brother. She even made a best friend in a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Isabelle.

I am proud to say she completed Intermediate and Advanced I & II with flying colors on the first try. Technically, she’s CGC certified. Lazy me never sent in the paperwork. I thought about doing therapy with her in nursing homes or conducting school visits. It’s a lot of work and money to maintain the standards of grooming required for these trips. Those two facts are also why we stopped with CGC instead of pursuing Pet Partners status.

Lately, Aria is napping more, sleeping more deeply. I can get out of a room and return before she notices I’m gone.  Her actions and responses are slower than they used to be. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on her this winter since it’s supposed to be colder than last year. Weather can take a toll on an old dog despite the fact that she’s inside. I believe they truly do feel it in their bones.

I don’t know how much longer we’ll have Aria in our lives. What I do know is that I will continue to love her every moment of her life. Each year past ten is supposed to be a bonus for a large breed dog. If she doesn’t slip away peacefully in her sleep, I will not let her suffer. Enough of that talk for now; it’s her birthday!

The occasion calls for a car ride, a visit to PetSmart, a new chew toy of Aria’s choice, and a bag of Pupperoni, and then home to nap.

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She’ll nap anywhere.

Stolen From Gypsies by Noble Smith – Book Review

untitled (6)Ambrogio Smythe is a hypochondriacal British nobleman living in a miserable world of his own creation. The frail aristocrat is obsessed with memories of gypsies from his childhood, plagued by delusions of grandeur.

During the war between France and England, Ambrogio willingly strands himself in Tuscany with his faithful yet filthy servant, Antonio. In truth, he fled because he could not stand by and watch the woman he loved accept the hand of another.

While in Tuscany, Ambrogio endeavors to write his version of a swashbuckling tale based on a scrap of parchment purchased from a wandering storyteller. In the style of The Princess Bride with a heavy dash of The Bard and a large pinch of Monty Python, author Noble Smith weaves an adventurous, laugh-out-loud tale within a tale.

Magicians, spells, ravishing beauties, unlikely heroes, pirates, demons, and a useful glossary of archaic terms all serve to make Stolen From Gypsies an enjoyable read. Why it hasn’t been printed seven by seven times, bound in fine Morocco leather, and sent to the finest universities in Europe is beyond me.

Tackling Chapter Breaks

Ah, the chapter breaks. How do we write them in such a way as to keep the reader hooked? Admittedly, I like a cliff hanger as long as it doesn’t come across like the Friday episode of a soap opera.

The advice in 4 Ideas for Ending Book Chapters So Readers Will Kill to Know What Happens Next is another helpful tool for my writing toolbox. Not surprisingly, it’s by K.M. Weiland. The four ideas presented in her post are subtle changes intended to keep the reader desiring more without the cheesy cliffhanger effect.

Enjoy!

To NaNoWriMo, or not to NaNoWriMo, that is the question

I first heard about NaNoWriMo two years ago from my friend who heads our Writer’s Group. The idea of writing 50,000 words (an entire novel) in thirty days was both exciting and terrifying. As luck would have it, I had been kicking around an idea for a great novel. NaNoWriMo seemed like a good way to get the story out of my head and onto paper.

Before NaNoWriMo, I wrote short stories and children’s stories of picture book length. I had never heard of outlining a novel which might have been helpful for my first NaNoWriMo experience. Undaunted, I began writing near the end of the book leading up to the scene that was the catalyst for the whole novel. That’s when I realized I need to go back to my character’s beginning. My first experience with NaNoWriMo was a jumbled mess.

I reached my goal of 50,000 words but didn’t have a complete novel. There was more to the story than I originally thought. The rest of the year was spent creating those portions while editing and chucking large sections of what I wrote for NaNoWriMo. I began to wonder if my November efforts had all been for naught when NaNoWriMo rolled around again. What to do?

I cheated again. I used the 50,000 word goal to keep writing new stuff my novel needed and editing what I had written last year. Perhaps the Deities of NaNoWriMo would smack my fingers with a ruler for this, but I justify what I did with the explanation that at least I wrote.

This year marks the third NaNoWriMo since I first participated. I didn’t join. I also didn’t use it as a motivational tool for rewrites and editing. I let myself off the hook with the understanding that my schedule and novel were in different places than what NaNoWriMo required. In short, I didn’t have the time and there wasn’t anything new to write or edit to meet the word count. I also didn’t want to start another novel when I already had one under way.  I’m not sorry for having tried NaNoWriMo, and I’ll probably do it again. In the meantime, I shall continue working on my second round of editing and looking for beta readers.

If you’re trying to decide whether or not NaNoWriMo is for you, consider the following article by Christopher Shultz. He’s much more eloquent in his explanation of what one needs to consider before jumping feet first into NaNoWriMo without knowing what it’s all about. I agree with his opinion that one should make NaNoWriMo work for him/her and that it isn’t a ‘must’ or ‘mustn’t’ situation in the life of a writer.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Movie Review

MV5BMzM5NjUxOTEyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjEyMDM0MDE@._V1_SX214_AL_I admit I am not a movie buff. I don’t know directors or writers, I don’t leave comments on cinematography or storyline on IMDB, and I don’t watch the Oscars. Most of the movies I watch are because my son or husband wanted to see them. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie at the theater. I wait until they come out on DVD and borrow them from the library.

I’m not telling you this because I’m criticizing movies or film buffs in any way. Rather, it’s so I don’t embarrass myself when I try to review The Grand Budapest Hotel.

My faith in Ralph Fiennes as an actor was reaffirmed in this movie. He hadn’t impressed me lately, not that I believe for a minute that Mr. Fiennes lives to do so. In Skyfall, his character was stodgy at best, his acting flat. As Gustave H, I fell in love with him again.  Although his character is scandalous in every way possible, you can’t help but be charmed by him.

There are plenty of other well-known actors and actresses in the movie as well.  Whether in main roles or bit parts, they all do a wonderful job portraying their character.

This movie was laugh-out-loud funny, macabre, melancholy, sweet, and twisted. In my opinion, some of the best lines in film occur in this movie. The CGI used was an old-fashioned technique, I looked this up out of interest, but the effect only adds to the charm of the movie.

I did ask a film-fanatic friend if it was just me or was this movie similar in feel to The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou?  She confirmed my suspicion by pointing out that Wes Anderson directed both.  I had to laugh at myself even though I was kind of proud for noticing.

I’m sure better reviews exist. You wouldn’t have to search very hard to find one. All I know is, when I see a movie I enjoy as much as The Grand Budapest Hotel, I like to share it.

A Wish for Snow

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I wrote the following flash fiction based on the picture to the left.  I immediately thought of Band of Brothers and decided to write my story from the German point of view.  It was also based on an account my husband, William, mentioned.  He watched a documentary where several members of Easy Company met with their former German enemies, all of them very old men by that time.  The soldiers of E Company asked their German counterparts why they didn’t overrun the American position.  The Americans admitted they were fewer in number and without supplies.  The Germans’ response was that they knew the “Eagle Heads” were over there.  So impressive was the reputation of the 101st Airborne Division that the German soldiers were hesitant to attack.

I post this in honor of Veterans Day.  God Bless every member of the American Armed Forces, both retired and currently serving.

A Wish for Snow

Private Franz Stieber refuses to open his eyes. He huddles in a machine gun nest in the Ardennes with three other soldiers, trying his best to fend off the bitter cold. He can hear two of them, Emil and Poldi, blowing on their hands to keep warm. The fourth, Corporal Kneller, kicks Franz’s boots.

“I know you’re awake, Stieber. Get up,” he orders.

The otherwise peaceful morning is disrupted by the corporal’s constant litany of barked orders. One would think the man a General the way he swaggers around regaling them with heroic war stories. No one has ever witnessed one of his deeds. They laugh behind his back, wishing an American sniper would take him out.

Franz opens his eyes to pale winter sunshine piercing a blanket of thick fog. What would normally be a welcome respite from the gloom of overcast days is a curse to the German troops hunkered down in the Ardennes. He has yet to decide if waking each morning is a blessing or a curse.

For weeks they’ve been fighting over this God-forsaken stretch of land. Much to the German Army’s shame, little headway has been made in this particular battle. For just over the rise, just across the open field, just through the bomb-blackened trunks of splintered pines are the Eagle Heads, formally known as the 101st Airborne Division.

No amount of shelling or machine gun fire can unearth these demon warriors. Their ranks never seem to diminish, their spirits never flag. Now, with the advent of a sunny day, Franz is sure they will be given the order to attack the American Army’s position

“I will storm their ranks, kill one of their officers, and cut out his heart for a trophy,” the Corporal brags around a mouthful of brown bread and cold coffee.

Emil and Poldi stare in disbelief as Franz spits at the Corporal’s feet.

“No, fool, you won’t. You’ll be lucky to not piss yourself at the order to charge,” he says.

He turns away, unwilling to meet Corporal Kneller’s eyes. Giving him the attention he craves only encourages him, and his youthful bravado will get them all killed. Franz steels himself, expecting to be shot for insubordination once Kneller recovers from embarrassment. The cowed Corporal simply shoves the rest of his bread into his mouth.

As they finish their meager breakfast, the sun retreats behind a mantle of clouds. Franz breathes a sigh of relief as snow begins to fall. There will be no offensive, only more shelling. Today he will not die in the Eagle’s talons.

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