Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Compulsion and Other February Reads

I finished twelve books in February:

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
The Wolf of Tebron by C.S. Lakin
The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones (audiobook)
The Ruins by Scott Smith
Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquirel
Compulsion by Martina Boone
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
End of Days by Susan Ee
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (reread, audiobook)
No Easy Target by Iris Johansen (Digital ARC)
Innocent by Scott Turow
Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

An impressive count for a month that only had 28 days, if I do say so myself.

Here’s the part where I say something profound about my favorite book, or one that made me think about something important, or feel something deep.

This is awkward. I am looking over this list, and I really just don’t have much to say.

Yes, there were books that I really liked (Compulsion might have been my favorite read of the month).

Yes, there were books that I didn’t like so much (names withheld to protect the innocent).

But there is nothing here that I feel I want to rave about. There is nothing here that made me have deep thoughts.

I just read. I’m okay with that. That is a large part of the purpose of stories, right? Entertainment. Escape.

In other news, I started writing a new novel this week. This is my fourth novel. Which is terrifying. And exciting. And feels completely unbelievable.

This novel is set in a school of the arts. Which makes the story both easier and harder to write. It’s easy because that was my high school experience. It feels like coming home and having everything be exactly the way I left it.

It is harder because I feel obligated to do it right. I am the voice of the world I loved in this story. (Not to mention everyone I went to school with may read the story, looking for themselves in it.) I have to create a fictional world that is every bit as rich as the real one I came from.

Now that I have made myself sound like an alien from another planet, I think I’ll stop.

What did you read this month?

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Gallows Girls

In today’s episode of Chuck Wendig made me write it, I was given a choice of ten titles and told to go forth and write a story to match one. Go here to see the list of titles and what other writers have created. Here’s my story.

Sometimes we leave bits behind. Pennies. Stubs of pencil. Bites of bread. Things we tuck into our pockets to save for later. Things we forget about, at least on the surface.

The things are shaken loose when the rope snaps tight, our weight heavy on the noose. The rebound bounce of our bodies frees the prizes. Or the rustling of the boys as they swing our bodies, cut the rope, drag us away.

Sometimes we leave. But our bits are there, lying on the ground. In the pit.

It’s disgusting. The waste. Worse, the attitude. Helena and her boys have so much that they can’t be bothered with the bis we leave behind.

We bother.

We pick up after ourselves.

Today I watch. Like always. Yes, our presence is mandatory. But most of us avert our eyes, or just turn our gaze inward.

Most of us can’t bear to watch.

There is no way to avoid the sounds. The smack of wood on wood. The rush of skirts falling through air. The sharp crack of spine.

I find it easier to take if I can see the drop. I can blot the sounds a bit if my eyes are full.

Plus I can see the bits. See what falls, where it lands.

I am careful to keep my eyes away from her face as she stands waiting for the floor to drop. Meeting Sarah’s eyes would only speed the cycle. So I watch her hands. Sarah’s fingers twitch, memories of the signs and symbols that put her in he noose dancing through them.

My hands echo hers. I clamp the damp fabric of my skirt to silence them.

The floor finally falls.

Sarah falls.

I watch the hem of her skirt. A bounce. A continued sway.

Two objects fall from her to the pit below. Two bits of Sarah. Two bits of us.

I stand silent and staring as the crowd filters away, the sea of skirts retreating home. The boys come then, joking and jostling as they pull Sarah down, cut her free, drag her away. They don’t notice the single skirt still standing in the square.

Once they are gone, I slip forward, slide down into the pit. A glint of silver catches my eye. I let my fingers graze the surface of the the soil, the water, the fluids and lift the shiny.

I polish it on a fold of my skirt and turn it on my palm. A small mirror. Twice the size of a penny. Infinitely more valuable. I lift it to my lips and press a kiss to the glass. Into my pocket it goes.

Two bits fell.

I scan the muck, looking for the missing piece of Sarah. I don’t see anything. No sparkles. No shines. Not even a nub of brown bread.

Just mud. Endless mud.

I shuffle forward, sifting with my naked toes. Grit. Slime. Nothing with any sort of form. Nothing of substance. Nothing of Sarah.

Where is it?

I lift my hem and drop to my knees, plunge my hands deep. I close my eyes, let my fingers do their work. They dance, sing, call through the soil until the bit is in my hand.

I have Sarah back.

I open my eyes and smile, lift my face to the straggling rays of the sun.

“Oh, looky. Another one.”

My smile drops away. Two of Helena’s boys stand at the edge of the pit.

They watch as I scramble out of the pit, slip the bit into my pocket, smear the slop from my hands onto my skirt.

Then their hands are on me, wrapped tight around my arms as they pull me away.

I wonder which of us will come to retrieve my bits.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Book Thief (and other January Reads)

I finished 12 books in January:

Reversible Errors by Scott Turow
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Dark Tower by Stephen King (reread)
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Behold the Bones by Natalie C Parker
Limitations by Scott Turow
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
The Ketogenic Diet by Kristen Mancinelli
The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston
Winter by Marissa Meyer
The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

Two of these books were monsters- giant books that wrapped up a series (The Dark Tower and Winter), so I am surprised that I managed to read this many books this month. Two of these were audiobooks (The Book Thief and The Grimm Legacy), so that did help.

Overall, the month was full of great reads. But I’m going to talk about just one.

The Book Thief. If you have not read this book, it is set in World War II Germany. It focuses on one girl who has been sent to live with an older couple. This couple also takes in a Jewish man, hides him, protects him, saves him.

While the story focuses on young Liesel, it is told by a narrator who stands just outside her story. He does not clearly identify himself, but we know his job. His job is to gather the souls of those who have died. His job brings him near Liesel at the start of the story, where she catches his attention. Intrigued by her, he keeps an eye on her over many years and tells us her tale.

Like every book I have read set in World War II, there were parts of this story that horrified me, parts that made me cry, parts that made me angry, furious. What was different with this book was that it planted a little niggling nugget of confusion. A worm has lingered and wandered through me, growing and changing as time  has passed.

All because of when I listened to this story. I started listening in late December and finished in early January. Unlike previous WWII stories I have encountered, this time I lived in a world where I could see the potential for the events of this story to happen in my world, my country, in my lifetime. This time, I wasn’t reading a story that showed me a piece of history, that gave me an opportunity to learn from past horrors. This time, I was presented with a past that could be repeated. I saw how it could happen.

Since I finished this book, our country has changed dramatically. The thing that maybe, might could happen has started to happen. I feel like I am at the scene of train wreck. I am watching the slow-motion slide into disaster. I want to be rid of this worm.

None of my lingering response to The Book Thief is what Markus Zusak intended. There is no way he could have, no way he could have seen the world shifting in the way it has.

Had I read this book in 2006 when it was released, my response would have been completely different.

Which has me thinking a lot about storytelling and what it can do. Stories have the ability to change people, change the way they view themselves and the world around them. That’s huge.

It’s a huge responsibility as a writer. The words that you write have power.

This responsibility has made me question what I am writing. My stories are not political statements, they are not morality lessons. I worry that the stories I tell don’t say enough.

I considered changing what I plan to write next. I considered writing a story with an agenda. A story that had a clear point, a clear moral. A call to action, perhaps.

I hesitated. Those aren’t the stories I am driven to write.

And that is okay.

My stories still have something to say. Their message is smaller, quieter. But no less valuable.

Some stories give us a message of hope. A promise that we can have the lightness, the joy, the happy that we want. They remind us what we are fighting for.

My point is, write your story, no matter what it is. We need them all. Make us laugh. Make us cry. Make us smile. Make us frown. Make us love. Make us rage. Make us dream.

“Stories make your heart grow.” — Winnie the Pooh