Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rainforest Pickings #5 - Book Reviews

One of my vices - Real books

A writer needs to gather the tools of the trade.  Reference books are a good addition, and the two writing instruction books below are recommended.  The Paris Wife was a gift, and the old mystery story by Tony Hillerman was one that caught my eye at the local library. 

From the Rainforest Reading Room: 

Writing up a Storm

Released Spring 2011

By Celia Leaman, a Gulf Islands, BC writer, originally from the UK, but now settled in the Pacific Northwest.

Celia was an instructor at Writers Digest University, an online writing school in her recent past.  She's written a play, short stories, a novelette, and a historical novel (suspense/paranormal) placed in the UK .

Writing Instructions. Self-published May 2011.  Available in print or e-book format.

This is NOT a writer’s bootcamp, but a gentle journey leading the novice through the process of creating a novel. For the experienced writer, it offers a substantial number of links for further research and practice in honing the skills needed to produce quality work. The main theme is motivation.

Writing up a Storm offers information on self-publishing and highlights points to consider before you make your decision. Other publishing options are explained briefly, in overview. The content is easy to digest and honest in its perceptions of the publishing industry. For those seeking to enlarge their TBR (to-be-read) pile, a list of writing books by various authors is included at the end.

An excellent resource of writers’ sites, writing skills and encouragement. It’s part of my own reference library and an easy read.  Check it out at Celia's site, and have a look at the delightful short stories she writes about life in the Gulf Islands with the local eccentrics. 


The Paris Wife - a Novel

Written by Paula McLain, published by Doubleday, a sub of Random House, Spring 2011 release. For all fans of the Hemingway legend.

In 1920’s Chicago, Toronto, and especially Paris, Hemingway’s first wife Hadley follows as he steamrolls ahead in his ambition to become a respected writer. From poignant sketches of the cafes and salons of Paris to the bullfights in Spain, we see what life as the wife of a struggling writer was like during the early 20th century, when the LOST GENERATION made its mark on literature and on Jazz Age Paris.

Everyone seemed to be coming to Paris, all the expatriates disillusioned by the effects of WWI, an event which turned their world upside-down. What is morality when one might die the next day? With companions like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and the Fitzgeralds, Hadley, Hemingway, and their circle perceived life through an alcoholic filter considered elegant and social at the time.

Then the bittersweet part comes into play. The female huntresses come for sport and for a prize, Hemingway the writer. Watching the growing popularity of her husband and his attraction to one female after another, Hadley is forced to make a painful decision. Hemingway stays true to his own principles, but the price he pays is a high one.

Paula McLain has written an empathetic story of love & loss which highlights the creative mind’s need for constant approval. It’s never enough.

If you like to read about Hemingway’s early life in Paris, this is required reading. I breezed through the book, revelling in McCain’s succinct assessments of the shallow society life that many of the Lost Generation writers led after their initial flush of success. Her portrait of Hadley helps the reader to see the marvellous woman behind the great writer. Highly recommended, in case you didn’t notice.


Revision and Self-Editing

Techniques for transforming your first draft into a finished novel; by James Scott Bell, Writers Digest Books, F+W Publications 2008, (Write Great Fiction series) Writing Instruction.

The book is divided into two parts: Self-Editing and Revision. There are twelve chapters on self-editing, each identifying the various elements of a novel and what to look for when it’s time to revise. He includes examples and exercises for practice.

In the second section on revision, Bell includes a great tool: the Ultimate Revision Checklist. This alone would have made me a fan of Mr. Bell’s if the rest of the book hadn’t already done that. The checklist is a valuable resource and helps to break the revision process into manageable parts.

I read this every day at breakfast, marking lots of important points. I love books and generally don’t desecrate them, but (for me) instruction books are meant to be used, marked and corners folded for quick access. Don’t miss the introduction to the book, which compares learning golf to learning to write and revise a novel. I golf sometimes, and he’s right. Practice is the thing.

Once you’ve completed your first draft, I’d recommend getting a copy of this book. It’s in my writing reference library and used often.


The Shape Shifter

Worth-a-second-look book by Tony Hillerman, ‘the master of Southwest Mystery fiction’ with a native twist. Mystery

This is an old series by a recognized writer of mysteries involving some of the Native Indians of the Southwest USA and since I’m researching the techniques of the mystery masters, I thought I’d check him out while at the local library. Our North American native tribes, US or Canadian, have always intrigued me, mainly due to my interest in their beliefs/spirituality and the mistreatment and injustices so many received.

In Shape Shifter, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, now retired, is confronted with news relating to a cold case from his younger years. Bored and intrigued, he can’t resist being drawn into the search for a Navajo rug rumoured to be bad luck for the owner. The rug, made to commemorate an important & painful event for the Navajos, comes to light via a magazine article on the homes of the wealthy. Thus, the chase begins. Digging out facts from this cold case, Leaphorn keeps calling old contacts while trying to dodge the person who is trying to eliminate any witnesses.  He didn't take too kindly to those who were inquiring about his ownership and acquisition of the well-known rug. Beneath all this, we have a chameleon perpetrator who keeps everyone guessing.

Hillerman weaves the native lore into his stories, while keeping us wondering at the capacity for duplicity in the criminal mind. His tolerant viewpoint comes through in his books. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this book,since I hadn’t read Hillerman before. I would definitely read more in the series, in order to follow the Joe Leaphorn saga. Hillerman may no longer be with us, but his fiction and his characters live on.

Isn’t that what all writers want?

So much to read, so little time. Escape today.

Comment received from C. Leaman, author of Writing up a Storm:

"I always enjoy reading others' book reviews as each reader takes something different away from every book. As a writer, I find it interesting because sometimes a reader will see something in my books I didn't even recognize was there. So constructive reviews can be very helpful to a writer. I shall have to check out Hillerman as I haven't read him yet.

NOTE from DG:
Posting comment above received via email.  Wordpress and Blogger seem to speak different languages, not recognizing IDs.
June 1/11