cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “writing”

Author Spotlight: Brian Selznick


I confess: I’m a binger (interestingly spellcheck kept turning that into “bungee”–flexible strength in reading? hmm, maybe…).

Once interested in something I latch on and absorb as much as possible. Sample binges include: Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, the educational geography game, the reboot of Dr Who, and of latest interest, Brian Selznick’s works.

I can’t remember which I read or watched first concerning The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Both the film and the book and the audio book are stand alones, yet complement each other emphatically.

The bonus DVD disc in the audio book is an engaging interview of Selznick explaining his creative process. He is quite personable and his enthusiasm for his craft is inspiring.

The next book I read is his first published title: Houdini’s Box. His understated humor in both his drawings and story are evident and it’s hoped he writes more of these shorter humorous stories.

Selznick’s trademark seems to be a unique approach to storytelling in which it’s a bit of graphic novel, somewhat of a fable in text, that leans toward a wordless flip book. His talent for story and illustration is equally balanced–quite the gift.

Speaking of illustration, Selznick has illustrated for numerous authors besides his own writing, including Ann Martin Pam Muniz Ryan.

Having recently finished Wonderstruck, I, of course, needed to watch the film adaptation. Turns out he wrote the screenplay. This man’s talent and energy is astounding.

I rounded out my reading-fest with The Marvels, which I had mixed feelings about due to the graphic story being far more interesting than the accompanying text. I look forward to his next title.

I came across an enlightening New York Times interview with Selznick that revealed some interesting facts:

  • Yes, that Selznick. He is related to the legendary David O. Selznick of Hollywood fame.
  • Ray Bradbury sent him a fan letter.
  • He researches extensively.
  • Splitting his time between three homes in three different parts of the country is a norm.

If you are not familiar with his works, I suggest starting out with Houdini’s Box, moving onto Hugo (do listen to it while you read it–such a double treat), then watch the Scorsese film of Hugo (the book is the book, the movie is the movie). From there? Explore, enjoy, maybe even binge a little.

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Hazy Daze: August Fire Season


August is proving to be a difficult month in our area. For the last three years forest fires have created smoky days so bad that air alerts are issued. Often the wildfires are started with a July lightning strike, although it is estimated 85% of the fires are started by people either through accident or by arson. No matter how the fires start, everyone suffers. At one point the rating was 160–unhealthy is between 101-200, and then moves into extreme.

Red sunrises and sunsets are reminiscent of being in a Ray Bradbury short story as blue skies disappear and the days are shrouded in paleness that is somewhat disorienting. The world as we knew has morphed into one continuous mono sky of creamy grey. The tree topped mountains bear streamers of thickened mist that almost looks like the early morning fall fogs. These mists hover ominously all day with a suppressing heaviness.

With numerous fires burning throughout our area and no relieving rain in sight, changes are apparent in the community’s usual routine: athletic events are cancelled, as are church picnics, tourist traffic is decreased, people are wearing masks. Few people are in their yards. Fewer people are walking and cycling. The beach is nearly deserted. The most activity is at the fairground.

The local fairground is providing campground space for the fire fighters. Colorful pop up dome tents are scattered all over the scruffy yellowed grass. Four wheel drives and diesel trucks line the makeshift fence keeping the row of porta-potties company. A few people wander about, especially in the early morning when I pass by them on my daily walk, when I detect a breeze and go for a quick stretch. I say silent prayers of keeping them safe, and tears of gratitude unexpectedly escape as I reflect on their efforts. I wonder how their mothers are dealing with their sons and daughters risking their lives daily with the flames. Many of the firefighters are volunteers. There is a banner at the front of the parking lot where people are signing their thanks, prayers, good wishes, and leaving uplifting messages.

As our community deals with the smoke and haze, my reading has become an escape since going outside is now a health issue that can’t be ignored. Curtailing my usual walk is a consideration as I am developing a tight chest, sore throat, and find myself clearing my throat and coughing. Running the air conditioner is not advised on some days. Even vacuuming is not advised since it stirs up particles. Barbecue is not on the menu. The lawn is becoming shaggy as mowing it in this soup bowl of haze is not wise. I quickly spritz flowers and my strawberries with water. And this is where it is interesting. Since the haze veils the sun the usual heat of August, the intense 90-100 degree days are nil. Pleasant temps of 75 degrees are the norm. The lack of direct sun means flowers aren’t withering in the heat. The ground is actually staying moist. This has become the best year for strawberries. The plants are still flowering and bearing tasty berries–tartly sweet, small but quite tongue pleasing in flavor. I carefully rinse and rinse again as a guard against particle matters.

So, with outdoor activities curtailed I am reading. A lot. It’s almost embarrassing how many books I have read in August. I could have used this time to work on my own writing projects, yet I need blue sky for inspiration. These days of opaque horizons are suppressing my energy for creativity. Books are my balm and retreat.

Are you living with wildfire threat and hazy days? How is your community coping?

Update: Prior to posting it rained in the night! What a difference!

I can see clearly now (and the air is soooo fresh).

Writing Quotes


Usually I dedicate a chunk of time during the summer to writing projects: finishing, editing, revising, submitting. This summer writing has taken a back seat to my dealing with healing. Typing with my left hand, mainly my left thumb while my right hand passively observes, is not conducive to getting a lot of writing done. There is a deadline of 10 pages by August 21 I’m gamely trying to meet.

So–I get sidetracked. One of my more diverting diversions is looking up words on dictionary.com and I came across these quotes of encouragement. Hope one of them rings true for you:

   
               

The Writing Mews 


As Hemingway once said: “One cat leads to another.”

This is exactly what happened to me. 

I wrote a story for Highlights magazine about Mark Twain’s affection for cats and decided to keep going with other writers and the cats in their life.

This has become a much bigger project than anticipated. 

One great thing about the Internet is that there is the ease of getting information. It’s only a click away. The truly terrible thing about the Internet is the ease of posting information. There is way too much traffic of absolutely wrong information out there. It’s a game of “telephone” in an exponential factor of believability because it’s so vastly repeated.

Their are no less than a bajillion sites devoted to writers who loved cats. They all say pretty much the same thing about the same set of writers. For instance, Sir Walter Scott, famous for Ivanhoe, as well as being credited for creating the historical adventure nivel, is down for being a wondrous cat lover.

Getting correct or first source information takes determination and endurance. 

I spent all day yesterday tracking down Sir Walter Scott’s supposed love of cats.

Where did people who have posted on their cat sites that SWS loved cats? He owned at least five dogs and owned ONE cat. They didn’t even spell the cat’s name right.

But I dug, and I dug. I reformatted my search inquiry again and again. I looked and looked in Google books. It’s a delightful accomplishment to find that grain of sand in that vast sea of information.

This process has been repeated pretty much for each of the writers selected.

Sigh…

I have a couple of more weeks to get my first draft in working order, because end of August is the beginning of school and once school starts my brain and writing time goes into teacher mode.

So while the muse is available I will focus on my mews.

BtW: if you know of any agents, editors, or publishers looking for an amazing book about authors and that special cat connection, send  them my way.

Here’s some fun cat/author facts:

1. Edgar Allan Poe really loved animals. Don’t let his story “The Black Cat” mislead you.

2. Macho man Ernest Hemingway was a total softie for cats. He kept over thirty of them at one point. 

3. Ray Bradbury was another cat collector. He and his wife owned around twenty felines during their marriage.

4. Louisa May Alcott connected cats with having a happy home. Check out Little Women sometime.

5. L.L. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables fame, definitely depended on Luck, her cat, when it came to writing happily.

As for me? I’m felineless for now, but I married my husband because he owned four cats. Okay, that’s not the only reason why. His house had an ocean view. I’m also prone towards freckles.

And we did own quite a happy little clutch of cats when we lived out in the country. Seven. They did not sit on my desk or shoulder while I wrote. They had their house and we had ours.

See, old Poe did like cats.

Writerly Wisdom: Quotes on Setting


One reason I read books is because I dread ever so much to travel. I do like the “here I am” of arriving. It’s all that packing, squishing into miniscule airline seats, fretting about schedules, realizing I brought the entirely wrong things to wear, that make traveling drearisome. I do like the exploring, discovering, reveling that is part of going somewhere new. This is a big reason why I read novels. Reading, especially fiction, takes me places that doesn’t involve packing a bag. This month’s Writerly Wisdom set of quotes focuses on that aspect of writing involving place: setting. How does a writer put me in the “there” of their writing?

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

“An author knows his landscape best; he can stand around, smell the wind, get a feel for his place.”
Tony Hillerman

Eudora Welty said, “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else… Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?…”

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” –Anton Chekov

How important is setting for you when reading? Is it more important than visualizing the character? What memorable settings have you discovered in reading–which authors are able to transport you to that place in the writing?

Cricket’s Hamlet Aventure: Day Six–Reading Room Remiss


Today was our last day in the reading room. The Folger Reading Room is the heartbeat of the Folger Shakespeare Library. This is where one goes to seek information, conduct research, and revel in past history. Yes, the majority of the collection is centered around Shakespeare, yet the library contains other information that relates to Shakespeare such as politics or manners for the time period.

I couldn’t help but notice the regulars that spend ALL day researching. I imagine we disrupted their mojo a bit this week as we whispered and bustled about in our scant time among the stacks. I asked one gentleman what his project concerned, expecting some dry thesis point about act three of Richard III. Nope. He was working on an Irish murder mystery that took place in medieval times and has been gathering background on law, setting, etc. His notebooks were overflowing. I wasn’t clear if he was gathering the material with the intent of writing a novel. I kind of hoped I was witnessing a renowned writer at work. We were unable to continue our conversation as I had to hustle back to Hamlet School. Here are a few memories of the Reading Room:

 

so much to learn in such little time

  

on the left is a “snake” which holds the page down –it’s a lead string

  

as Hamlet said so well:”Words,words,words”

  

plus drawings that bring it into better focus

  

the interior is richly Tudored and the stained glass at the end is Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man

 
I will definitely miss the Reading Room. Tea Time was served promptly at 3 o’clock every day. Cheerio!

The Giver et al


I have rediscovered The Giver. 

the-giver

sometimes the movie reminds the reader the greatness of the book image: bookopia.com.au

When it arrived on the scene in 1993 I was not an impressionable YA reader. No, I was a thirtysomething wife/mom/librarian and read books no matter what age they were intended for. Hmm. the only thing that’s changed is my age and the fact that I’m a librarian at heart while teaching English.

Like most readers, I felt a bit cheated at the ending. It was not neatly wrapped up and presented as a conclusion of satisfaction. Ambiguity can be quite frustrating, yet that’s one reason why The Giver is so memorable. We all want to know what happened to Jonas. Having rediscovered The Giver through watching the 2014 film led me to discover the other books in the series: Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. And here I thought all these years that the story ended with that famous sled ride.

Apparently it took twenty years for the book to become adapted to the screen. Jeff Bridges bought the rights and had originally wanted his father Lloyd to play the part of Giver. It didn’t happen, but viewers can watch a family reading of The Giver as one of the special features selections on the released DVD. Having finished reading the entire quartet I am smitten with the entire story. I hope there is a continuation of the series since each adds to the overall understanding of Jonas’s world.

An added bonus to rediscovering The Giver was reading the latest edition which contains author Lois Lowry’s twenty year reflection of The Giver’s impact.

A goal for this year: revisiting novels, particularly juvenile and YA novels, to gain a different perspective and insight.

Anyone interested in doing the same?

 

Breaking Out


December 19th is a happy day for several reasons:
1. Christmas Break begins as soon as I turn the key on my classroom door.
2. I’m invited to the library staff Christmas party (being a trustee has it’s perks)
3. The next time I enter my classroom it’ll be a new year, meaning we’ve turned the corner and we’ll be heading towards June graduation.
4. Because the 20th is when our very own kinder plus the wunderkind begin arriving for Christmas.
5. I will not be grading papers and don’t have to create lesson plans, although I might fuss and dabble with the ones I have ready to go for January.
6. My room is prepped ready to be painted over break, transforming it from bowl-of-oatmeal-blah-grayish taint to contemporary calming tan and teal.
7. I anticipate two weeks of napping, reading, exercising, visiting, snacking, writing, celebrating a joyous season, and overall relaxing.

I’m contemplating some serious Shakespeare reading–I have a mungo long TBR list of background bio books on the Bard. I’ve a hankering to write a middle grade novel about Wm. Shakespeare, something that will fetch up some interest in him prior to forced readings of his plays in middle school and high school–something that will pique their interest. To go where no author has gone before with the Bard. I know, that’s a tall order for two weeks.

I’m also considering revisiting former reads such The Hobbit and then watch the film adaptation.

I might also start a series I’ve never encountered before. Mystery? Adventure? Sci-fi? Historical? So many options. Any suggestions?

Of course, I could do a thorough scrubbing of my writing and edit and revise and market and well, that sounds an awful like work and aren’t I supposed to be relaxing?
Whatever I decide to do, I want you all to know I appreciate your comments, views, likes, and follows. I hope to end out the year with 25,000 views and a 1000 followers.

Happy joyful season of friends, family, feasting, and most of all, thanks for the Star of Bethlehem.

Blog Spotlight: Book to the Future


My latest spotlight is on another blogger whom I’ve exchanged commentaries since the beginning of my blogging foray.

In his own words:

Everyone calls me Ste J.
I am an obsessive book creature, in fact I spend more time between the (book) covers (I read in bed as well though) than I do with ‘real’ people.
Which means I probably spend more time with you guys than anyone else. Feel privileged.

Ste J is a bona fide bibliophiliac. He loves books. That’s a bonafide fact. Proof: he once read 100 books in 362 days, just to see if he could do it.  His blog is neatly organized into genre and with a mere click, a person can investigate reviews and titles. His tastes are eclectic, his insights meaningful, and his replies clever.

For a sampling of his classics page, click here.

Lately, his posts have wandered a bit off the original track of being primarily bookish in content and he writes on whim. I can relate.  I too have strayed from my original intent of providing astute book reviews that would dazzle and benefit bookdom and have taken to writing as serendipity taps the muse.

So, I hope you will check out Book to the Future and meet the intrepid Ste J, where as his banner states “more book than a mad ‘orse.”

Remaining the Orphaned Narrator


It is always exciting to discover a new-to-me author. In this case it’s Kazuo Ishiguro. I know, I know. I’m a bit late in my discovering; however, better late than never in finding an author of mesmerizing style.


I knew the movie Remains of the Day, before finding the novel and didn’t realize the movie was the adaptation.
How could I possibly pass up a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson?
Flash forward five years later and I’m perusing the AP Literature list (“read that one, will never read this one, not reading this one again”), when I recognized the title Remains of the Day and connected it to the movie. Then I read the author’s name and I must admit I expected something like Adrian Smythe or Winston Greene, not Kazuo Ishiguro. After all, the novel is about a very proper English butler and his reflections of what it takes to become the best of English butlers. Wouldn’t one need to be English to understand that sort of nationalistic pride? I’m not getting points here for narrow-minded thinking, am I?

It turns out Ishiguro is quite well-suited to the task of writing about the English since he moved to England when he was around six years old. This gives him the ability to have an insider’s view with a somewhat detached perspective. The result is  basically a stream-of-consciousness narrative concerning the tunnel vision of a man’s quest for the unattainable. Trying to live a life that is beyond reproach, to achieve a status of perfection, requires sacrifice. Can sacrifice be made without regret? This is the hidden truth Stevens, the butler is searching for, except he does not realize it.
A quest novel of notice did not go unnoticed, for Ishiguro’s debut garnered him the Man Booker Prize and set a bar. Would he be a one shot wonder or would this be the first work of a noteworthy word smith?

image: goodreads.com This cover indicates the layers found within the story.

My literary taste buds curious for more, I trotted down to the library. Grabbing any title of his that caught my eye on the  shelf, I opened up his fifth novel When We Were Orphans. I immersed myself in reading it to the point the MEPA queried, “Still a good book?” Yes, thank you. Prognosis? After reading two novels, indications are Ishiguro is wordsmithing wonder.

Here are some bio facts and  stats:

  • Two novels have been adapted to the screen, Remains of the Day, and the more recent Never Let Me Go. Both have been received well, considering Ishiguro’s stories are mainly first person narratives, making them difficult to translate into a cinematic plot.
  • His novels are historical in nature, with attention to detail.
  • The stylistic viewpoint is that of the unreliable first-person narrator, one who is flawed in outlook.
  • Although born in Japan, he did not return until thirty years later.
  • He has received four Man Booker Prize nominations
  • The Times ranked him 32 on the list of the 50 most influential British writers since 1945.

As for an actual review of When We Were Orphans, I leave it to the more qualified:
New York Times
 review:

I plan on continuing my course of exploring Ishiguro’s work and look forward to introducing a contemporary author to my APters, who, I’m sure, would like a break from dead white folk now and then.

Any thoughts on Ishiguro’s writing? Any suggestions for the next title I should read of his?

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