Monthly Archives: April 2014
Book Review on The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni. Published by Putnam.
In this Young Adult novel, Peter Bognanni reminds the reader that no matter how strange one’s life is, no matter what extremist views they hold or what kind of futuristic ideals they strive for, every human being alive experiences moments of self discovery, a first crush, the power of music and unyielding love.
The House of Tomorrow introduces the reader to Sebastian Prendergast, a sheltered teenage boy who lives in a glass-walled geodesic dome with his fanatic grandmother on the outskirts of a small town in Iowa. With his parents dead, being homeschooled his whole life, and no siblings or friends, all Sebastian knows is what his grandmother has taught him; proper English and the teachings of philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller. Sebastian’s grandmother looks up to Fuller as a sort of godly figure and belives all his teachings are the key to the future. By following in Fuller’s footsteps, Sebastian is going to save the world. At least that’s what his grandmother’s plan is until she has a stroke and Sebastian meets Jared, a punk rock kid from town.
Pace (*slight spoiler*)
As a writer, you can create convenience and that is exactly what Bognanni did with his timeline. The next event was always ready and waiting to happen, with very little “down time” in the story. Sometimes the characters would make plans so the reader would now what was coming, other times surprising things just occurred that kept pushing the story forward. One specific instance of this was the big event at the end of the novel when the boys’ band played in the talent show. Before their last song was even over, the next event intervened and caused the boys to leave the stage before the scene could run its full course. One part of me wished I could have seen the uninterrupted aftermath of their concert but I also appreciate the fact that Bognanni kept the story moving forward, avoiding the possibly stereotypical, drawn-out “encore.”
Humor & Contrasting Characters
Bognanni successfully pulls humor from something very simple, the contrast between Sebastian and Jared. Listening to the audiobook, I literally laughed out loud at times! Sebastian’s innocent, proper, sheltered personality clashes with Jared’s punk rock, f* the world attitude that it literally shocks you. The reader becomes familiar with Sebastian and his formal, yet bizarre, way of life first so when Jared comes into the picture, his foul language and risk-taking attitude are a slap across the face. Their personalities are in a constant tug-of-war game, adding genuine humor to the novel.
The House of Tomorrow is centered, like Sebastian’s life, on the teachings of Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, author, designer, inventor and futurist. Fuller, who died in 1983 at the age of 87, never physical appears in the novel but is always present. “Bucky” directs Sebastian’s thoughts like God directs the thoughts of a child who grew up in a Christian home. Fuller’s large presence in the novel encouraged me to look into his life and from the little I’ve read, everything that is mentioned about him in the book is based on truth, including the term her popularized “Spaceship Earth.” Adding that kind of thorough research and seamlessly blending it into the story is very enticing. It adds a layer of interest that nothing fictional can.
Where did this story come from? I love asking that question after reading a piece of fiction. I think its safe to say that Buckminster Fuller and his teachings inspired Bognanni to begin this story. I would be truly be truly shocked to find out Fuller appeared after the story had begun.
How I found this book: Browsing a book store. Enticing cover. After I finished the book, I found out that Peter Bognanni lives in Minnesota and works at a college down the street from the University I attended. Small world!
Check out my previous book reviews!
A raving review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review captures the heart of thousands of unexpected readers. Read here.
In Citrus County, John Brandon “calmly remind[s] us that the world is far more startling than most fiction is.”
Citrus County was published by McSweeney’s Books, a small independent publisher in San Francisco. When the above review appeared in the New York Times, the publisher had to put out another printing of the novel as sales skyrocketed! (The power of a well-written, widely-read book review!)
I read Citrus County last year and after taking two writing classes taught by John Brandon. His prose goes beyond well-written. It is precise, interesting and always strikes true. I am currently reading Brandon’s debut novel, Arkansas, and will bring you an original book review soon. Stay tuned!
Also check out the NY Times Book Review on John Brandon’s third and latest novel, A Million Heavens.
You’re Writers Notebook does not have to simply be writing. So many of the things we write are expressed through the visual. Show don’t tell, they say. The characters physical description, the setting, facial expressions, clothing, darkness… As writers we try to express the visual through the written word and how are we suppose to do that successfully if we don’t look at the things we try to describe?! So, my tip for you today is this:
Cut and paste pictures in your Writer’s Notebook!!!!
Put in family pictures, pictures from the internet, newspaper and magazine clipping, drawings, bubble letters, artistic prints, the cover of your favorite books or authors, and anything else you can get your hands on!!! Your Writer’s Notebook should be home to anything and everything that inspires you or makes you think about something in a different way. And that should never be limited to words.
Consciously or not, our characters take on a part of ourselves. They might take on our quirks or our bad habits, they might take our sense of humor or our fears. Our characters take adventures we wish we could experience and they face adversity with the strength we wish we could muster. Sometimes. Other times, our characters express the worst of us. They bully the nerdy kids we once were and they accompany us as we wallow in our own misery. The revelation could be life-changing but more likely realizing your character has adapted part of yourself will make you smile as you sit alone with your computer one day. Becoming aware of that part of yourself will open up that character—and probably yourself—to a new understanding.
2. Practice creativity
Creativity is a muscle that needs to be toned. Using your creativity to string together unique sentence structures and weave multiple plot lines into one story will help you devise creative solutions to life’s more pertinent problems. Understanding your character’s deepest ambitions, fears and truths will help you relate to your friends, family, coworkers and hopefully even strangers on the street a little more.
3. To become a better writer
Becoming a great writer takes practice. Building a plot line from scratch and following it through to the end is a huge accomplishment because it’s not easy. I’ve heard too many stories of writers who have quit halfway through writing a novel; pushing through and writing a hundred little scenes that come together as one story will teach you things nothing else can. Writing a novel will force you to create a complete world and unlike short stories, you will need more than a few characters to populate it. Things get complicated. Unraveling and then controlling those complications is a necessity to writing a great novel and practice is the only thing that will get you there. You will make connections you didn’t see before and you may just find some magic that you never knew was there.
4. Create a character that surpasses round
The most brilliant writers can create round characters in a single sentence and have you sharing their tears by the end of a short story. Unfortunately, most of us are not quite that good. Sticking with your main characters through the length of a novel will force you to fully develop them. They will follow you around throughout your day and hopefully by the end of the novel they will be the ones showing you where the story needs to go next. Learning to understand a character to that depth will help you develop more round characters in the future.
5. Patience, hard work and dedication
That’s what they always tell us it takes to make it in the world. What better way to prove you can do those things then by sitting down night after night, putting words on the page without any immediate reward?
How often do you have the power to create an entire world to your exact liking? If you wish our world had magic or mummies or dragons, nothing is stopping you from making that true. If you want to know what kind of world it would be without electricity or without fear, write it. If you’ve always wondered what it would like to be an astronaut or a detective or a shark’s best friend, write it and have fun with it! Create anyone you’d like and have them do whatever you wish you could do. There are no limits.
7. To call yourself a writer
Sound shallow? William Faulkner once said, “Don’t be a writer, be writing.” Once writing becomes part of your everyday routine, you won’t feel the need to tell everyone you meet, you will simply be.
8. There is always hope
You may not believe it will get published but you have to start somewhere. Even if every publisher and agent turns you down, they will at least have heard of your name.
“To accomplish great things we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”
-Anatole France, French novelist
Check out my previous list: 10 Qualities of Good Writers According to Ernest Hemingway
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…”