Before its over, I may end up writing five different blogs about John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. And since its a classic, thought-provoking, 600-page piece of art, I think it deserves the attention.
In college, I had a creative writing teacher who encouraged us to discuss the “Stuff” of different authors/works we read. The Stuff consists of the topics the author repeatedly brings up, the things you can tell are on the forfront of their mind, and the truths they were trying to understand by writing this piece. The Stuff is more broad and more specific than the theme. To me, the stuff always turns into a list, and East of Eden’s list may be longer than any other list of Stuff I’ve ever encountered before.
**Check out my previous blog on East of Eden: “I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents.”
Before further ado, here it is.
East of Eden’s Stuff:
- Religion, Biblical discussions
- Farm culture
- The clash of cultures
- The evolution of culture
- Family and Ancestry
- Does our blood(ancestry) determine who we become?
- Meaning of Life (doesn’t every book??)
- The way Death finds us
- Truth, lies, and what they bring us
- What is at the root of happiness?
- Love vs Respect for parents
- The roles of a parent
- Single parenting
- The effects of inheriting large sums of money
- Attitudes of soldiers/ reasons to become a soldier
Book Review: Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). Published by Sphere Books.
I like to mix it up. I’ve been trying to read a large variety of books lately and although I favor certain genres and authors over others, the variety keeps me fresh. It reminds me that every genre has something special to offer and every genre can be a beautifully crafted piece of literary art.
I have to admit a bit of hypocrisy after the above statement because although the Cuckoo’s Calling, a true-to-the-bone murder mystery, is a different genre for me, it was chosen because of my familiarity with and love for the author, J.K. Rowling. Published under the pseudonym, Rowling’s anonymously-published book did receive praise from Crime Fiction lovers, but the book was not a commercial success until Rowling’s identity was revealed.
Enter: Cormoran Strike, a private detective who on the eve of the opening scene was dumped by his girlfriend and kicked out of his house. Forced to sleep on a cot in his office, Strike struggles to pay the rent as his total clientele = one.
Enter: Robin Ellacott, a beautiful young woman in her mid-twenties who on the eve of the opening scene “said yes” as her boyfriend proposed to her in the city park. The book opens with Robin gleefully surprised to show up at her latest temp-agency assignment to a door plaque reading “Cormoran Strike, Private Detective.”
Enter: Strike’s second client, John Bristow, a young lawyer determined that his sister’s death was not suicide as the police proclaimed three months ago. Bristow hires Cormoran Strike to discover the truth and the plot begins.
Enter: Lula Landry, a gorgeous, mixed-raced, high-class model that jumped (or was pushed!?) off her balcony three months previous. Before her death, the adopted, mixed-raced Lula was on a search to discover her biological parents, especially the African American side of her.
A great murder mystery should be designed to make every character a possible suspect. If the author gives away a hint too early or too obviously, it drains the curiosity and therefore pushes the reader to toss the book aside permanently. Rowling does a superb job of making several characters act suspiciously and therefore kept me guessing who was involved in this girl’s death and why. Rowling did such a good job spreading out the suspicion among multiple characters that when the accusation scene came, I wasn’t even sure the truth was coming out! I thought that Strike was accusing this person to get them to reveal something that would lead to a bigger truth.
The Ending (no spoilers)
Personally, I was a little too surprised at the ending. The mystery was revealed all at once with many details being revealed after the accusation. I would have preferred some of these details to have been revealed leading up to the accusation so I could have connected the dots myself instead of having them laid out in front of me.
I greatly appreciated the fact that the main characters had romantic relationships with characters that were not largely present in the novel. I would have been highly disappointed if Strike and Robin had fallen into the typical Boss-Secretary affair. Their outside love lives played a large and successful part in their characterization, but it did not define them.
Although the story did start off slow, all the pieces came together cleanly in the end. The only connection I made between Cuckoo’s Calling and Harry Potter was the flawless way Rowling wove simple details into the early picture to later reveal their intricate meaning as a central piece to the main puzzle. When it comes to such detail-weaving, she is truly a master. Three and a half stars. Maybe four. Its not higher because although it was an interesting plot with solid prose, it never truly hooked me. I never once wanted to abandon it, but neither did I feel that I could not put the book down.
How I found this book: Popular demand. My boyfriend had the audiobook on his computer so I claimed my place among many HP fans and read a J.K. book outside of the epic series.
“Doesn’t that itch?”
“I condition it every other day.”
“Good for you!”
I compiled this list while reading Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips. The book is a collection of quotes and passages that Hemingway wrote about writing throughout his life. All the passages I quote here are from the section titled “The Qualities of a Writer.” Enjoy!
- Talent- “First, there must be talent, much talent. Talent such as Kipling had.”
- Discipline- “Then there must me discipline. The discipline of Flaubert.”
- Seriousness About Writing- “…real seriousness in regard to writing being one of the two absolute necessities. The other, unfortunately, is talent.”
- Belief in Oneself- “Then there must be the conception of what it can be and an absolute conscience as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris, to prevent faking.”
- Intelligence and the Ability to Learn- “A good writer should know as near everything as possible. Naturally he will not. A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heaviliy for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things…”
- Honesty- “Good writing is true writing. If a man is making a story up it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge of life that he has and how conscientious he is; so that when he makes something up it is as it would truly be.”
- Sense of Justice and Injustice- “A writer without a sense of justice and of injustice would be better off editing the year book or a school for exceptional children that writing novels.”
- Imagination- “[Imagination] is the one thing beside honesty that a good writer must have. The more he learns from experience the more truly he can imagine. If he gets so he can imagine truly enough people will think that the things he relates all really happened and that he is just reporting.”
- A Bullshit Detector- “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”
- A Love of Words- “All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time…”
All avid readers have a few books that leave a lasting impression on them. Wether it be a character that touched their heart or a plot that had their heart racing. It could be a book that changed the way they think about a certain subject or a book that was like nothing else they have ever seen before. Somehow, some way, that author wrote a story that touched the reader in the deepest way possible, in a way that will never be forgiven. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is one of those books for me.
The Art of Racing in the Rain is narrated by a dog nearing the end of his life. The dog, Enzo, has a deep and philosophical insight, free of the judgments humans have clouding their vision. The clarity and pure emotion that Enzo expresses throughout the story as he looks back on his life and the life of his “master” is unmatched. That clarity and emotion come through as we see his master, Denny, struggle through life; hope always lighting the way, but happiness slightly out of reach. Enzo narrates Denny’s story through the unexpected death of his young wife and the resulting custody battle between Denny and his in-laws over his only daughter.
Denny’s up-and-coming racing career completes a full spectrum of emotion. HIs talent brings him rare opportunities, adventurous travels, difficult choices and sure moments of bliss.
Having read this book over two years ago, I do not have any specific writing critiques for this blog although I remember it to be a smooth, pleasant read. The POV was utilized brilliantly. Stein used the dog’s point of view to introduce humor, clarity and pure emotion. The POV allows a unique distance from the human characters while still expressing the heart-felt nature of the events first-hand.
The book is sure to touch and dog-lover’s heart. I recommend this book to EVERYONE! 5 stars, without a doubt.
“The Art of Racing in The Rain has everything: love, tragedy, redemption, danger, and–best of all–the canine narrator Enzo. This old soul of a dog has much to teach to us about being human. I loved this book.” — Sara Gruen, Author of Water for Elephants
Write a poem or a scene in prose that is filled with color. Describe the color in metaphors and similes. Let the color set the mood of the piece. Let it characterize and describe. You can choose to focus on a single color or many. For example: a poem on red could be about murder and the pool of blood surrounding the body. A poem on green could be about nature. A poem on black could be about depression. If you want, use the photos below to inspire your creation.
As always, HAVE FUN and pingback if you complete the exercise!
One hundred pages into East of Eden, I am absolutely loving it! The writing is spectacular and I love the way the narrator wanders away from the plot to talk about life, society or whatever he wants. I love the mystery of who the narrator is. We know he is connected to the people he is discussing (some are his ancestors) but he is not present in the plot. The story in no way seems rushed yet all I want to do is sit in my reading chair all night and flip pages.
When I finish this 600-page monster (pun intended), I will post a complete book review. Please check back in a week or two! Until then, enjoy page 71 of East of Eden (below) and check out my previous book reviews here!
I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies; some are born with no arms, no legs, some with three arms, some with tails or mouths in odd places. They are accidents and no one’s fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishments for concealed sins.
And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience. A man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he cannot miss them. Sometimes when we are little we imagine how it would be to have wings, but there is no reason to suppose it is the same feeling birds have. No, to a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare to others. To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.
-John Steinbeck, East of Eden p.71
Book Review on William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow. Published by Vintage.
This 135-page novel is unique in many ways. The structure, the voice, and the POV all have very distinctive qualities. John Updike’s quote on the back cover reads, “What a lovely book, utterly unlike any other in shape I have ever read.” And he is not stretching the truth.
This first-person-POV novel is told from the eyes of an old man looking back on an event from his childhood that left a lasting impression. The narrator, who was not a very popular boy, found comfort in his quiet, neighborhood friend until the day he wasn’t there anymore. The boy’s father was suspected of killing his friend who was having an affair with his wife, but before anything could be proven, he took his own life. After this dramatic small-town event, the boy’s mother moved their family to an unknown city.
A year goes by and the boys have no contact. Until, the narrator moves to Chicago and happens to see the boy in the hallway of his new school. This moment, more than any other, is the moment that haunts our narrator and pushes him to write down the story.
It’s not so unusual to read a story narrated by an adult looking back on their childhood. It’s so common in fact that I recently posted a book review on such a novel titled Rainy Lake by Mary Rockcastle. Check it out! The unusual part about this character’s voice is his doubtful and anxious tone. His descriptions are straight forward and emotionally flat, as if he is simply trying to tell us the facts of the story.
A good example of that emotionless writing is the opening chapter, which tells the reader about the murder from a physically distant place. The first characters we meet—who never show up again—appear nameless in the second paragraph and “heard what sounded like a pistol shot. Or, they agreed, it could have been a car backfiring.” After a few casual sentences of description, Maxwell writes, “The sound was not a car backfiring; a tenant farmer named Lloyd Wilson had just been shot and killed, and what they heard was the gun that killed him.”
The doubtful narrator lets us know that his memory of the time is vague and sometimes missing important pieces of information. He collects all the information he can on the event through old newspapers but they provide only a generic picture.
Later on in the book, he narrates entire chapters from a third person point of view that he admits has little to no factual claim behind it. These chapters delve deep into the friendship of the murderer and his victim leading up to the event, as well as the affair. I cannot recall ever having read a first person narrative that jumps into a section where the narrator is neither present nor has any solid basis of what happened at the time. It was a very interesting choice.
Besides this part, the novel read very much like a non-fiction book. The fictional character even says at one point, “This memoir—if that’s the right name for it—is a roundabout, futile way of making amends.” And that sentence describes the book more than any I could possible compose.
Point of View
The most memorable part of the POV came late in the story where the POV would slip into a dog’s perspective. After the murder, the victim’s fatherless family leaves the farm but leaves their dog behind. Again, this plays into the narrator’s emotionless, distant voice. Because we are in the dog’s POV, we don’t get a clear view of the family’s sure-to-be-emotional move. We get the facts. They pack up the car, throw a lot of possessions away, lock the dog in the barn and drive away. The dog waits for them to come back and howls and howls when they don’t. The change we see in the once obedient dog when the new owners arrive was the most emotional part of the book for me. It’s worth noting that I felt more emotionally connected to that dog that we only saw for a couple chapters than to the narrator of the story (an effect of the tone used).
Also important to note, is how Maxwell transitioned into this switch from the narrator’s perspective to the dog’s perspective. When he jumps into the fictionalized story of the murder and his victim, he simply tells us what he is going to do and informs us that he has no knowledge to back it up, breaks for a new chapter, and off he goes. Before we jump into the dog’s head full time, Maxwell casually slips in single sentences in the dog’s POV amongst the normal story. These slips in perspective take the jolt out of the complete switch.
Because I feel like I’m always talking about structure in my book reviews lately, I’ll keep this brief. So Long, See You Tomorrow’s structure takes a page from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by giving away the dramatic event of the story at the very beginning. We are told about the murder of Lloyd Wilson on the first page and know that he was discovered with a bullet in his head by his youngest son who went to fetch him after he was late for breakfast.
Chapter two throws the reader way back in time to the very beginning of the string of events that led to that moment. Like Romeo and Juliet, it is not about the deaths themselves but about the events leading up to it and the emotional impact it has on the survivors.
I recommend this novel to anyone who wants to read a novel unlike any you’ve read before. The uniqueness certainly has its devoted fans (this book has received high praise by many) but the style didn’t strike a chord with me. The writing itself would earn 5 stars, but overall, I have to award it 3 stars.
How I found this book: One of my college professors recommended it.
This weekend I attended my first ever writer’s conference. It was an excellent experience and this blog is my way of sharing it all with you!
Summary of Event
The 11th Annual Bloomington Writer’s Festival and Book Fair took place at the Theatre and Art Center in Bloomington, Minn. The keynote address was given by Nancy Carlson, a children’s author and illustrator who has more than 60 children’s books. Carlson was one of 25 speakers who presented throughout the day and one of 75+ authors who were marketing and selling their books in the lobby. Twenty-two 1-hour classes and panels were offered throughout the day. The classes covered subjects such as writing techniques and trends, marketing and publishing, fiction and nonfiction as well as writing for children and were led by local authors, editors and other authorities in the field. Twenty-one authors were also chosen to read 10-minute excerpts from their published works.
Although the festival was not extremely large, there was a lot to get involved in. One could easily stay busy and entertained throughout the entire 8-hour event.
My Class: Every Good Story Contains a Mystery
The most luring part of event for me was the classes. Ranging from $13-26, any writer could find a class that fit their interests. I attended a class titled “Every Good Story Contains a Mystery” led by Mike Kalmbach, an author, freelance editor and creative coach located out of Rochester, Minn. Kalmbach argued that any piece of prose should implement mystery (small or large) to keep their reader attentive and interested. He suggested things as simple as describing a closed door or a concealed box in your story, leaving the reader to wonder what lies inside. Reveal something surprising about a character’s past without revealing how or why or when it happened.
Throughout the hour, Kalmbach gave the class writing prompts to write about for a few minutes. For one of these exercises, he showed us a picture of an old door in a large, stone archway and asked us to write for a few minutes about what we might see when we open the door. One of the participants who volunteered to read their writing from this exercise stuck with me. Paraphrasing from memory, this is part of what she wrote:
Behind the door, six people sat around a green felt-covered table playing poker. The four men and two women were playing for large stakes, hundreds of dollars worth of chips piled high in the center of the table. One of them was a murderer.
When stakes run that high, so do emotions. If the murder happens to be one of the players that loses everything, the tension is sure to build. But who is the murderer? That question will be at the forefront of every reader’s mind until the mystery is solved. It is a brilliant technique.
More noteworthy comments from the class:
In good stories, each character should have…
- Different perspectives
- Different reactions and opinions to the events of the story
- Unique goals
- Unique skills
Writing prompts can help writers relax and focus their creativity. At times, working on the same piece day after day after day can become draining. Sparking your creativity with an unrelated writing prompt can get the juices flowing again and help you think differently about your main piece.
Ways to improve a slow scene:
- Add surprising elements to it
- Add details that hint at something bigger to come
- Add an interesting train-of-thought from the character
- Add a powerful emotion to the otherwise dull actions of the characters
- Rewrite the scene in brief summary to get to more interesting parts quicker (sometimes you simply have to cut it)
- (Kalmbach shared an excellent writing exercise for this that I plan to share in a future blog)
- Should always fit the overall plot
- Should reflect something from the beginning
- Don’t want things to end too perfect for the characters
Having a character sacrifice themselves in some way can be an excellent way to raise the stakes. If one character sacrifices themselves, something bigger and better should be yet to come, and the reader will anticipate that.
It was an interesting experience to see authors market and sell their books. Some sat casually behind their table and waited for participants to approach them; others stood in front of the table and actively drew people in to discuss their books. Many handed out bookmarks promoting their published work. I found it interesting how individual authors would summarize their books. Most focused on the plot of the book but other’s focused on genre or the audience they imagined it for. Some of the non-fiction authors discussed what inspired the writings and one of the children’s authors I talked to focused on the illustrations.
I was surprised by how poorly attended the readings were. For a few, I was the only person in attendance besides the volunteers and individuals who videotaped the sessions. If I had been in involved in the event management, I would have put the readings in a larger and more open area to encourage more participation.
Of the handful of readings I sat in on, all but one simply introduced themselves and read excerpts from their book or books. The other reader, an editor of a collection of stories about individuals who survived polio as children, did not read any except from her book. She discussed her interest in the area and her process of collecting the stories. Her explanation seemed to drag on and repeat itself and even though her excitement was evident, it lacked interest for me and I assume the same for others who lack a personal interest in the subject. I would have preferred her to read one of the more inspiring/interesting stories from her book.
The writer’s festival was an excellent experience and the perfect size for my first event of the type. I plan to attend many similar events in my future and look forward to each and every one. No matter what you’re interests, finding a way to be involved in a community of like-minded people is a very valuable experience.
To see more about the event, visit the Bloomington Theater and Art Center’s website.
I made the rookie mistake of not taking photos at the event, I hope you’ll forgive me.
How to Catch a Falling Leaf
by Sarah Schneekloth
The number one rule is it has to be spontaneous. Planning such a sporadic event is bound to end in disappointment. Isn’t the whole beauty of life those unplanned moments when something so breathtaking happens you wonder if there actually is a little magic in this world? Let me put you in a possible scene right now, but don’t you dare try to copy this moment.
You’re on your lunch break from whatever it is you do on a weekday. A cool brisk breeze circles the courtyard. It brings you the fresh scent of fall as people around you trample over brown leaves curled into the fetal position. You know there is not going to be another warm day this year. You’re not wearing a jacket today because you refuse to get it out of storage before October. The breeze halts; red leaves, orange leaves, yellow leaves, brown leaves and a few pristine green leaves float to the ground in a silent symphony. Setting your briefcase or backpack or shopping bag on the sidewalk, you walk onto the grass beneath the lone oak tree.
Before the spur-of-the-moment impulse hits, there are a set of techniques every leaf catcher should know. One: Quite obviously, you need a tree whose leaves are about to fall. You’ll know it when you see it, trust me. Two: Set yourself on the outer perimeter of the tree so all falling leaves will be within sight. Judging the direction of the wind is a difficult science but if you can master it, leaves will fall into your hands every time. Three: Ready position. This depends highly on your visibility to passerbys and your tolerance to embarrassment but I recommend the low football stance; hands in front, fingers wiggling. Whatever style you choose, be ready to jet. Four: Whatever you got to do to catch that leaf, do it. Practice is the only true teacher here but quickness and commitment are key factors. Always be prepared to dive if necessary. Repeat until successful and never get frustrated. Five: Hold that leaf in the air and high five all surrounding strangers. Six: Invite others.
And when you’re out there, breathe that fresh fall air. Feel the chill capture your lungs and hold it there, freeze time. Sit on the soil and lean your back against a thick trunk and stop thinking about time because that seed was planted long before you were born. This tree will celebrate countless more fall birthdays with natural confetti than you will blow out candles. At night the tree dreams of living in endless forests with streams so clear you can see the sun sparkle off the fish’s scales as it flows along with the current. At dawn, the tree wakes with the sun and stretches toward the sky, growing imperceptible amounts each day and by the time your grandchildren lean their backs against this tree, it will be twice as tall and stronger than ever. At the rate our schedules become increasingly full, I just hope their generation can pencil in time to catch a leaf or two.