Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg: A Review

Prompt #45 on the 2018 Reading Challenge list is a book with a fruit or vegetable in the title. I was not at all inspired by this prompt and I had a hard time choosing one. Ultimately, I landed on Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe after my sister suggested it.

Framed within the memories of Ninny Threadgoode, an eighty-six year old woman, this is a story about a murder. But that isn’t all this book is about. It is also a book about Evelyn Couch, a forty-something woman in the middle of a personal crisis who befriends Ninny by accident.

I chose this book because of the familiarity of the title. I thought maybe I had seen the movie, but only few pages in, it was clear to me I had not. It is well written, and filled with fascinating characters. The book travels back and forth between Ninny’s recollections in 1986 to the narrative of the story itself from the 1920s through the 1960s. Like true memories, the story doesn’t follow a linear path, rather moves fluidly through time.

While I enjoyed this book, it isn’t the sort of book I typically prefer to read, and I likely would never have picked it up except for this reading challenge. Still, I can’t deny the masterful way in which Flagg wove this story together. It meanders through time, but never gets lost. She has painted a delightful, if at times tragic portrait of a small southern town.

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Unlock the Muse – May 23, 2018

This weekend, in the United States, we will celebrate Memorial Day – a day set aside to honor those who died in service to their country. Born out of the Civil War, it was originally called Decoration Day and was “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country.” (General John Logan, 1868)

Inspire
Here is this week’s random writing prompt:

What event would you never write about, and why?

I’m not sure how to answer this. If it is something I would never write about, how can I possibly answer? Doesn’t that mean I will have to write about it?

What is it you will not write about? War? Joining the circus? Your high school reunion? The death of a loved one?

Encourage
In Brian Kiteley’s 3 A.M. Epiphany, this exercise appears in the chapter on Women and Men, which deals with “ways of seeing.”

Write a short scene in which a woman becomes invisible briefly, for no explained reason. I leave it up to you what she will observe in her state of lucidity and transparency: her boyfriend’s or husband’s or male friend’s life, a short scene of men without women, or a scene of another woman and her man (innocent or not). No one can see or hear her. She is not a ghost, and at the end of your narrative, return her to her fully fleshed out self, again with no explanations. In other words, don’t worry too much about the problem of imperceptibility. Just jump into the story and follow its political, rather than science fiction, consequences. 600 words.

Equip
I will leave you this week with a quote from one of my favorite authors. And, since I’ve been reading vampire stories, I thought it should have something to do with those fascinating creatures of the night.

Fantasy is my favorite genre for reading and writing. We have more options than anyone else, and the best props and special effects. That means if you want to write a fantasy story with Norse gods, sentient robots, and telepathic dinosaurs, you can do just that. Want to throw in a vampire and a lesbian unicorn while you’re at it? Go ahead.
Patrick Rothfuss

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

 

Unlock the Muse – May 16, 2018

Another month half gone already. This year is flying by too fast. My first soccer season is nearly over. The kids will be out of school soon begging to put up the pool. And this weekly writing prompt adventure is a year old!

Inspire
Speaking of time passing, here is this week’s writing prompt:

Aging happens. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror, and write a poem praising the changes that the maturing process has brought to your face.

My mother has beautiful silvering hair, and doesn’t look remotely like the 68 she is. I can only hope time will be as kind to me.

Encourage
In the second section of The 3 A.M. Epiphany, Brian Kiteley focuses on Images, on the idea of showing a story, not telling it. He says: “Image is the primary engine of most fiction.” The first exercise in this section is titled “No Ideas, But In Things.”

Write a very brief story told only in images—concrete, simple, visually efficient movements and details. This exercise does not ask you to eliminate people from your prose, just to watch what they do and what objects they crave and caress rather than what they say or think about these objects and actions. 300 words.

Equip
The last several weeks I have been taking my oldest son to soccer practice at least once a week, often twice. Thus, we are spending a lot of one on one time together, trapped in a car. I am a captive audience to his million and one questions. Anyone else have an exceptionally curious eight year old?

One of the questions that has popped up recently is in regards to street names. What is a boulevard? Why is that called Foster Avenue? Why? Why? Why? I decided why, indeed? What makes a road a road? What makes it a boulevard or an avenue or simply a street?

The word for this month, therefore, is boulevard. What does it mean, and where does it come from?

boul·e·vard

ˈbo͝oləˌvärd/

noun

A wide street in a town or city, typically one lined with trees.

From etymoline.com:

1769, “broad street or promenade planted with rows of trees,” from French boulevard, originally “top surface of a military rampart” (15c.), from a garbled attempt to adopt Middle Dutch bolwerc “wall of a fortification” into French, which at that time lacked a ‘w’ in its alphabet.

The notion is of a promenade laid out atop demolished city walls, a way which would be much wider than urban streets. Originally in English with conscious echoes of Paris; in US, since 1929, used of multi-lane limited-access urban highways.

Wherever your adventures take you this week – along wide, straight boulevards, or winding, country roads – happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, by Susanna Clarke: A Review

I chose this book for the prompt a book set in a country that fascinates me. It is set in England in the early 1800s, but it is an alternative history, one where magic is real. While it is true, I am fascinated by England, there are other countries I probably find more fascinating. Places like India, Israel or Zimbabwe. But I was determined to read this book this year, so I needed to find a place for it on my 2018 Reading Challenge list, so I put it here.

This is the story of two magicians – Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – trying to bring magic back to England after several centuries. Magic has all but passed into the realm of lore. At first glance, this book is about the often volatile relationship between these two magicians. However, this conflict is really the framework on which Clarke hangs a larger plot.

I don’t quite know what to say about this book. It is very long – more than 800 pages. It is slow and meandering. I saw one reviewer that said it “reads like molasses,” and that is an apt description. I spent a good part of this book not quite sure if I liked it. I could never quite decide I didn’t like it, however, so I kept reading.

This book is written a bit more like a history than a novel, complete with footnotes. There are places where excerpts from magical texts are inserted into the narrative. The story wanders off into seemingly random directions. But Clarke ultimately brings all the threads together and manages to finish this huge tome in a beautiful way.

If you have the stamina for it, it is worth the read. It may be huge and slow, but there’s enough action and interesting mystery to keep reading. I needed to find out how all the pieces came together. This is an ambitious book that in the end, I decided I really did enjoy.

Unlock the Muse – May 9, 2018

This second week of May has brought sunshine punctuated by thunder storms. All just a part of spring in the Pacific Northwest. My writing this week has sort of mirrored this. Periods of sunshiny idleness punctuated by frantic thunder storms of activity. I can only hope the moody “weather” of spring will result in rapid growth, much like the front lawn.

Inspire
Last week the assignment was to set a certain time to write, and then write during that time. While I managed to stick to the thirty minutes of writing each night, I often did not write at my assigned time. Usually, I was later than I wanted to be. Still, I managed to organize the new material I wrote last month during Camp NaNoWriMo, and twice complete a blog post.

This week, your task is to:

Imagine you’re the creator of a fantastic weight-loss formula… with one odd side effect. What’s the drawback?

Encourage

Writing is hard work, but this book can make that hard work a little more fun, a little less painful.
Brian Kiteley, The 3 A.M. Epiphany

The unanimous vote (of one!) has me reading The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction, by Brian Kiteley. Thus I’ll share a few bits of wisdom as I encounter them. It isn’t the usual book on writing craft. Rather, it is a series of prompts designed to stretch the fiction writer beyond their usual routine.

The first section of the book includes a handful of exercises centered around the theme: point of view. Here is the first exercise which Kiteley has titled “The Reluctant.”

Write a first person story in which you use the first-person pronoun (I or me or my) only two times – but keep the I somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing. The point of this exercise is to imagine a narrator who is less interested in himself than in what he is observing. You can make your narrator someone who sees an interesting event in which he is not necessarily a participant. Or you can make him self-effacing, yet a major participant in the events related. It is very important in this exercise to make sure your reader is not surprised, forty or fifty words into the piece, to realize that this is a first-person narration. Show us quickly who is observing the scene. 600 words.

For added fun, try using the prompt from the Inspire section above in this exercise.

Equip
In this week’s grammar lesson from The Elements of Style, we’ll take a look at a word that has been diluted by overuse.

Hopefully. This once useful adverb meaning “with hope” has been distorted and is now widely used to mean “I hope” or “it is to be hoped.” Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. To say “Hopefully I’ll leave on the noon plane” is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you’ll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you’ll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven’t said it clearly. Although the word in its new, free-floating capacity may be pleasurable and even useful to many, it offends the ear of others, who do not like to see words dulled or eroded, particularly when the erosion leads to ambiguity, softness, or nonsense.

I confess, I am guilty of using hopefully in this incorrect manner in my daily conversations. I don’t know that I use it in my writing, however. I hope I do not!

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Reading Challenge Speed Bumps & Distractions

I haven’t finished a book from my 2018 Reading Challenge for quite a while. Consequently, I have also not posted a new book review. I haven’t quit reading, I’ve just run into a few… challenges.

Speed bumps…
Speed bumps are intended to slow traffic down. And they have the same effect on a reading challenge. They just look a little different. In this case, a speed bump looks looks a lot like an enormous book.

When I arranged my reading list for this year, I intentionally stacked my books so that the largest ones would be read first. My thought was that it would be easier to get the biggest books finished early on, and not reach the end of the year with them still looming.

As a result, I’ve ended up in the midst of my largest print book so far – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke at 846 pages – at the same time that I am working my way through my longest audio book – This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein at 20+ hours.

Clarke’s book is sort of slow and meandering, though not dull, or boring. Besides, I am not a fast reader by any stretch of the imagination, no matter how much I’d like to be. And I usually only get to listen to the Klein book during my brief 20 minute drive home from work each day.

Distractions…
Besides the slow read through of an enormous book, I’ve found my attention pulled away by other books. I have recently acquired a number of e-books, so I’ve been trying to work my way through the backlog. After finally reaching the end of the Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe, I went back through my e-library and started with the books I’ve had the longest.

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
Protecting Her Heart, by Chris McFarland
The Paper Magician, by Charlie N. Holgrem
Blood Sisters, edited by Paula Gruen

These were intended to be short, fun reads to keep me busy in the “in between” times, like waiting in line at the grocery store. However, I’ve found myself compelled to read them more and more, and not just in short bursts.

I also picked up Shadowplay, by Tad Williams. I started this series last year, and finally decided I didn’t want to wait any more to continue reading it. It sits on my bedside table and I read a little bit of it each night before sleeping.

Then I decided to participate in Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon and chose not to continue my current print book, but instead picked up an entirely different book – City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare. I read most of this book during the event, but couldn’t quite finish it.

So I find myself caught up in more books than is probably healthy. Worse, most of what I’m currently reading isn’t for the 2018 Reading Challenge. Up until this week, that didn’t matter since I was current, or even ahead of schedule for the Challenge.

I keep telling myself it’s only May, however. There’s still plenty of time left in the year to get past this speed bump. Now let’s see, what’s next on my e-book list…

Unlock the Muse – May 2, 2018

Happy May! Camp NaNoWriMo is over again (until July!) and I reached my goal of 25,000 words. Plus, I finished one of the two middle grade novels I was working on, so I count the venture a success.

Inspire
Your writing prompt this week:

Assign yourself a certain time to write. Write during that time.

Between a full time job and taking kiddos to soccer practice three nights a week plus games on Saturdays, finding a regular time to write is difficult. It is often after the boys are in bed that I have time for writing. For that reason, I will set my writing time at 9:30-10:00 p.m. each day this week. What time will you write?

Encourage
I’m between writing craft books again, and I just don’t know which one I want to read next. So, I need your help. Which of these books should I read next?

1. The 3 A.M. Ephiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction, by Brian Kiteley

This book has been on my shelf for I can’t remember how long. Several years, I’m sure. On the back cover, it says: “Open the book, select an exercise, and give it a try. It’s just what you need to draft refreshing new fiction, discover bold new insights, and explore what it means to be a writer.”

2. Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury

I haven’t had this book long, but I’ve wanted to read it for quite awhile. In this collection of essays by one of sci-fi’s greatest, Bradbury “shares his wisdom and enthusiasm for writing as he examines a lifetime of creating and composing scores of stories, novels, plays, poems, films, television programs, and musicals.”

3. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard

I’ve only just picked this one up, but it’s been around for awhile. More of a memoir than a writing craft book, in this “surprising narrative, Annie Dillard describes the working life of a writer. These are vivid and ironic encounters at a desk.”

So, what should it be? Which one would you choose? Let me know in the comments below.

Equip
The question of the month for May is this: Who do you write for? Who is your audience?

Maybe you write for that large audience, the YA fiction fans, or the readers of cozy mysteries. Maybe you write for your children, or your parents, or your significant other. Or maybe you’re just writing for yourself. Regardless of who you write for, make it the best you possibly can!

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here: