Archive for April, 2013

So many books…

Prueba1675This week, I’m still on deadline. In fact, the deadline has become a kind of looming nightmare. I pretty much sleep and dream and eat and breathe the book I’m finishing up.

But even in such a state, I must read. My one concession to the Big Truth of the deadline is that I’m turning to short stories. Just quick palate cleansers to take me out of my own hamster wheel of a brain for a few minutes.

Daddy's bookplateTurns out, I have a really nice collection of short stories, many of which bear my father’s bookplate or my mother’s annotations. handwritten notes on short stories

Obviously, I come from a family of short-story fans. I have several life-long favorites, about which I’m absolutely passionate. I thought I’d share some with you, in the hopes that you might turn me on to some I might have missed. Here are a few of the ones I think are magnificent:

If you’re looking for funny:

WHY I LIVE AT THE P.O., by Eudora Welty. OMG, when I first read this one I laughed until my stomach ached.

MY FIRST CONFESSION, by Frank O’Connor. Ditto. You’ll never look at a butter knife, or a confessional, the same way again.

JUNIOR MISS, by Sally Benson. As every parent knows, the teenager can deliver a put-down like no one else. Sally Benson captures this complicated sibling relationship perfectly!

If you’re looking for great twists:

I’m assuming you’ve read Guy de Maupassant’s THE NECKLACE, but if you haven’t, do that today! 🙂 Otherwise, here are some really fun ones…

BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Don’t judge Fitzgerald by the bloated silliness of the Benjamin Button film, or even by Gatsby, if you were forced to read him in high school. Bernice is fabulous–she stands for the mistreated ugly duckling in all of us. And, even better, she’s the perfect illustration of the expression “even a worm will turn.” 🙂 Bernice has been one of my best fictional friends since I was a teenager, and I promise you’ll be standing on your chair and cheering for her at the end!

FORBIDDEN BRIDES OF THE FACELESS SLAVES IN THE SECRET HOUSE OF THE NIGHT OF DREAD DESIRE, by Neil Gaiman. What fun he has with all our cliches and expectations! If you’re a writer, don’t miss this one!

WAS IT A DREAM? by Guy de Maupassant. I just discovered this short story this week! My daughter recommended it, and boy was she right! It’s short, and packs a quick, nasty punch. De Maupassant really knows how to build tension. You know what’s coming, but that doesn’t spoil the effect. All you can do is wring your hands and dread the moment the anvil falls!

ROMAN FEVER, by Edith Wharton. Maybe I really like Turning-Worm stories. This is another, with the bonus of Wharton’s magnificent descriptions and razor-sharp characterizations. Ah, Mrs. Ansley. You wonderful, terrible woman!

If you want to think while reading lovely, lovely prose:

DANCE OF THE HAPPY SHADES, by Alice Munro. If you ever took music lessons, you’ll recognize so much here. Even if you didn’t, I doubt that you’ll forget Miss Marsalles and her pupils.

RUNAWAY, by Alice Munro. Beautiful, sad, creepy, layered and textured and just plain wonderful. Read it before you get married. 😉

BLISS, Katherine Mansfield. This is as light and shimmering as sun on water, but the melancholy it creates will linger in your heart for…well, maybe forever.

HILLS LIKE ELEPHANTS, Ernest Hemingway. If you haven’t re-read this since it was assigned in English class, give it another try. Once it’s released from the chains of compulsion, it comes perfectly to life. Even those of us who far, far prefer Fitzgerald’s lush prose to Hemingway’s lean muscle can finally see why he’s so widely revered. So real, so understated, and so tragic.

AUTRES TEMPS, by Edith Wharton. This lovely Wharton story makes us take a look at how defined we are by our times, how many of our ideas of right and wrong come from outside us, not from some deep moral place, as we like to imagine. It feeds a true understanding of “situational ethics” in the most delicious fictional serving.

women of weird coverIf you’re in the mood for creepy:

A ROSE FOR EMILY, by William Faulkner. As a Southerner, I found this particularly believable. But even if you didn’t grow up surrounded by picturesque eccentrics with the occasional True Crazy thrown in, you’ll love the broody, creepy tone of this lovely piece of writing.

RAPPACCINI’S DAUGHTER, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. His prose is a little turgid, but the image of Beatrice moving about her beautiful, doomed garden is…though I know I’m overusing the word…unforgettable.

THE ONES WHO WALK AWAY FROM OMELAS, by Ursula Le Guin. Beautifully imagined…haunting. This story lies heavily on your spirits for a while, and then it becomes one of the Terrible Truths you accept about life. What an extraordinary tale!

Okay…those are mine! At least for today…this list might be quite different tomorrow. And already I’m thinking of some great ones I didn’t mention. A SUNRISE ON THE VELDT,

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Prueba1675I have been doing more writing than reading this week.  When my deadline is closing in, I have to protect the real estate inside my head, and prevent other stories from moving in, taking over the neighborhood!

So this week I’m going to mention a few writing craft books I have pulled off the shelves and stacked beside me on the desk.  These are all books I have found so enlightening, entertaining or inspiring that just having them nearby helps, even if I don’t open them even once!

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. Why it stands out:  It’s great all around.  Every page makes sense.  But here’s what it does that I haven’t seen done as well anywhere else:  It compares good writing with BETTER writing.  Most how-to books will show you a badly written paragraph, then show you how to make it better.  But I suspect that most of us look at the “bad” paragraph, instinctively believe that we wouldn’t ever have made that mistake in the first place, and therefore don’t pay much attention to how to “fix” it.  In Browne and King’s book, they show you work that’s already pretty well written, the kind of stuff you DO believe you might have created.  And then they show you how it can be made even better!  It’s impressive, and it’s full of those ah-ha! lightbulb moments.

Immediate Fiction, by Jerry Cleaver. Why it stands out:  Cleaver offers a very tangible, concrete theory…  Yes, I know that’s an oxymoron.  What I mean is that Cleaver doesn’t just have a nebulous theory of how to make your work better.  He has specific advice about individual sentences.  The first time I read it, I almost felt a physical flood of relief that there were specific questions I could ask, specific sentences I could identify, specific changes I could make to achieve specific results.  My favorite take-away:  Let your character reactions to events be individual, not universal.  The inside of people’s brains are quirky and unique, and that’s what fascinates us.  I may have the details wrong, but I remember being particularly struck with his comment that a person who suddenly faces a man with a gun in an alleyway won’t necessarily start thinking, “I’ll never see my children again!” He might actually think, “OMG, now I’ll never get to pick up that dry cleaning….”

Master Class in Fiction Writing, by Adam Sexton.  Why it stands out:  You’re never going to get a more sophisticated, helpful analysis of the various POV choices than Sexton gives you here.  Not only does he differentiate among lots of sub-types, but also he shows you why they work, and what their uses are. Plus, it’s just loaded with great writing, which I find inspiring when I’m stuck. I can’t look through great romances, for fear I might subconsciously pick up a style or a phrase, but I think I’m safe looking through Nabokov’s “Lolita” without risking any unconscious plagiarism! 🙂

The Describer’s Dictionary, by David Grambs.  Why it stands out:  Admit it.  You get stuck.  I get stuck.  We all get stuck.  This book will unstick you! 🙂

Roget’s Thesaurus.  Why it stands out:  It won’t, unless you get one of the old-school versions.  The newer ones may be more user-friendly, but they just don’t have enough cool words.

emotion thesaurus coverThe Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Bella Puglisi. Why it stands out:  Also excellent for unsticking.  This isn’t just an abstract, theory-of-writing book.  Though I think those are marvelous in their moment, “their moment” isn’t the eleventh hour of a deadline!

These are my favorites…the ones I wouldn’t have the nerve to write without. How about you? Have you found some great how-to books along the way? I’m always on the lookout for new gems!

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