Writing Seriously – Update Weeks 2 and 3

Well it’s been a while and I’ve been extremely busy trying to keep it all together.  Work is booming and adding to the complexities of my weeks.  I’m trying to do it all but my reading is suffering the most, which I knew it would.  I’m reading about four books at the same time.  I usually never do that!  I’ll be spending the next four days trying to finish reading Water Street, Corregidor, Reading Like a Writer, and You, Me & A Bit of We.

As for my writing course, things have been going really well.  I had excellent feedback on my writing assignments for session 2 and 3.  The main focus of week 2 was point of view and character for week 3.    We looked closely at how first, third, and second person can be used to write a novel and how it affects the reader as the story develops.  We had to choose from two writing assignments: 1.  Write a first person account of someone waking up in the morning and finding something surprising in the kitchen in 300 words.  2.  Try to recreate an unreliable character – write a first person account of someone you know in rather unkind terms but try to suggest that the narrator secretly likes the person but doesn’t want to admit it.  All of this must be finessed in a subtle way and in a maximum of 500-750 words.  I went for assignment #1.

I wasn’t sure where to start so I asked my family for suggestions of what could be surprising to find in a kitchen.  I then set out writing stories on the different surprises.  I wrote four different versions.  I rewrote each of them twice and tried to round them out the best I could. I then had trouble picking the one I was going to put up on the forum.  I finally decided on one and worked on it until I felt it was ready to be seen.

The outcome of the assignment was amazing! There wasn’t one story that resembled the other.  There is so much creativity in this group.  There were only a few who attempted assignment #2.  The second week has made me look at point of view even more closely than I would normally do when reading.  It’s so important and can be the difference of the novel drawing the reader in or pushing him/her away.  It made me look at some other of my favorite books and how point of view was used and analyzing why it works.

Week 3 we delved into character.  I notice when I come up with an idea I usually have the main character detailed in my mind, however developing the other characters that are important to the story aren’t nearly as fleshed out.  They gave us a character questionnaire which lists some points to help define the character in more detail.  Some of these points are: Name, Age, Gender, Sexual orientation, Marital status, Place of birth, Current location, Education, Religious, beliefs, Political beliefs, Occupation, Health, Family, Friends, Pets, Hobbies, Favourite music/books/films/tv, Newspaper/magazines, Clothes, Holiday preferences, Food preferences, Desires/hopes, Fears/anxieties, and Secrets.  This extensive list should definitely help develop characters, but also the storyline.

The writing prompts for week 3 were interesting and revealing.  We were told to try 1. using images for example from a magazine, making up everything from name, occupation, marital status, etc, sketching another person by writing a character sketch on someone we know in first-person, 2. writing about ourselves in a difficult situation thinking about how we may appear outwardly and how we feel, while keeping in mind that no one will see it, and 3. looking at strangers on the train, in the supermarket, etc. and get into noticing the details of their appearance (clothes, shoes, hair-styles, jewellery, tattoos, the things they carry, the type of dog they have).  It was suggested we use one detail as a starting point to develop the entire character.

Observing people has become my new pastime, the thing I never really did before at least not in detail. I’ve even started carrying a small notebook where I can jot down details that I see during the day.  I’ve learned so much in these three weeks not only about writing but also about reading.  I feel like I don’t read in the same way.  This has been altered because we have to critique our peers and we have to respect the critiquing pointers to do it:  clarity, point of view, pace, characters, setting, over-writing, spelling and punctuation.  I seem to be looking at all of this; all the time.  It’s making me a lot more critical than I was before.

The writing assignments which were to be posted on the forum for week 3 were 1. write a character sketch on someone we know well, and could be written in first or third person 2. show a character in action – has just witnessed a crime, has had an argument with a neighbor, or is in a public place with someone they like very much, but that person is unaware of their strong feelings, and had to be written in third person, or 3. write a first person monologue as the opposite sex.   We had to write between 500 – 750 words.  In the end, I chose exercise one and wrote a piece that was really close to home about a teacher going to a student’s house to tutor him in English. She hasn’t seen the student in 5 years.  He’s 18 years old now and still isn’t any good in English.  It was different, but I feel it was the worst thing I’ve written since the course began.  🙁 Nevertheless, I got good feedback and was told that my descriptive writing was my strong suit and I should stick with that.  So I am…

The Best Books of 2013

Well now that we’ve started 2014 and I’ve had the time to really reflect on my reading experience of 2013, I feel that it was pretty darn mediocre.  I’d hoped to read more books that would wow me but that wasn’t the case.  It was if I chose my books because they just fell in my lap.  That’s not how I want to proceed with my book choices this year.  You’ve already seen a select few of the big books I plan on reading this year, but just know that there will be more engaging and thought-provoking titles added to that list.

My reading goals of 2013 comprised:

1. reading more works of people of color

2. reading more classics

3. reading graphic novels

4. reading out of my comfort zone

I guess two out of four ain’t bad.  I managed to do one and three, but only really read one book that was a little out of my comfort zone.  So I know now what I need to concentrate on this year.  I’d like to have a well-rounded reading year but most of all I want to read more books that really speak to me, move me.  2014 is the year of quality! I hope.

So, in no particular order, let’s take a look at my top ten best books of 2013:

Firstly we have the books by authors of colour or about people of color:

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Well as you can see that’s half of my favourites list.  All I can say is these five books really stuck with me and enlightened my reading experience as well as taught me some things.  I was taken aback by the passages in Black Like Me.  The descriptions written by John Howard Griffin, a white man who was just being a black man for a few months struck me to my core.                                   If Beale 

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Street Could Talk weighed on me heavily as well reading about the injustices of the seventies, while in the back of my mind knowing these situations are still happening today.  Cutting for Stone was that epic African novel that surprised me at every page.  I really couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen next or where the author was leading me.  I felt like I’d traveled stretches of kilometres to Africa to  meet and follow Marion and Shiva from their beginnings to adulthood.  That was a rich and informative reading experience that taught me a lot about Ethiopia, a country that I almost visited over sixteen years ago.  Kindred took me back to the days of slavery, filling me with fear and disorienting me in a world where the codes didn’t correspond to me or Dana the main character.  Lastly, but not least The Cutting Season brought me back to my home state of Louisiana. The story brought out anticipation and fear of the unknown – who killed that young woman on the plantation grounds called Belle Vie?  I could feel the heat, the humidity, and smell the earth.  Darkness engulfed me and Caren the main character.  Running through it for fear of what she might find or worse what or who might be waiting for her.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman was the only classic I read last year.  That is if you don’t count Harry Potter and the Philosopher’ Stone and If Beale Street Could Talk.  Those two could technically be considered modern classics.  Ok enough of me trying to stretch my non-existent list of read classics.  In spite of it all,  I can thank my 56034book club for choosing this one.  For without them, I’m not really sure when I would have read it, in spite of it being on my physical and mental TBR for aeons.  I could also place this one under number four of my reading goals because it definitely got me out of my comfort zone.  In the beginning I didn’t think I’d make it through, but at the halfway mark something changed.  I became more invested in the story, not to mention that the writing style changed for the better.  I also started to get used to those omniscient footnotes that lead me through the story that was going on above like a dog on a leash.  Undeterred by it all I finished and loved it!  Now that doesn’t often happen to me.  I usually give up if I can’t get into a book by page 150.  It was a worthwhile reading experience and I persevered to the end!  So I definitely have to read more classics this year.

1261125351GiFItYmkLThe next two novels were my comic relief of the year.  I don’t often pick up comical books and that’s probably because it’s not a genre that I’m really familiar with.  I was compelled to pick up Where’d You Go Bernadette  since everybody was talking about it in the blogosphere and about its unorthodox style of being written in email and letter form.  I like epistolary so I thought why not.  It turned out to be a great choice.  I read it in one afternoon and laughed out loud a bit.  Oh Bernadette! She was a mess!  I liked her though.  Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff Christ’s Childhood Pal was the same.  It took me longer to read but boy did I have some laughs.  The wittiness of that novel is just simply brilliant!  It’s a must read if you haven’t gotten to it yet.

Now you know I’m not that over the moon about Young Adult novels and any time I read one it’s so that I can41WvR8-CBUL suggest it to the students I tutor in English or to my daughters, and of course because I suspect it might be good.  I ran across Speak because I saw a couple of bloggers talking about it.  I read it in one sitting and fell in love with the way the story was told but most of all with Melinda’s voice.  Superb!  A reader couldn’t ask for a better narrator, especially a young adult reader.

12280827Last but not least, my absolute favourite and best read of 2013 was The Sense of an Ending.  What a fantastic way to talk about memory!  I got so much from this little tiny 150-page book.  Unbelievable! There are so many themes packed into this book.  I was asking myself what took me so long to pick up a novel by Julian Barnes.  Nevertheless, I finally did and it was also thanks to my book club.  Book clubs can bring out the best and sometimes the worst in one’s reading however in my experience it’s been great at 100%.  Check out this wonderfully woven story of middle-aged Tony after school, marriage, children, and divorce.  Memory can be deceiving after the fact and at times spot on…

Well that’s my wrap up of my top ten books of 2013.  I hope you enjoyed reviewing some of them with me.  Clicking the titles will take you to the reviews.  So how about you guys?  Was your reading year a 3.0-3.5 like mine or better?  Let me know below and don’t forget to include your favourite books of the year.  I love getting recommendations from you!  Happy reading y’all!

Classics Club Spin #4

The Classics Club is a group of bloggers that try to encourage book lovers to pick up some classics through IMG_2165the year.  I’d mentioned wanting to read more too but as the year 2013 dashes to an end, I realise that I could have read a few more. Sigh.  So here’s my chance to try to redeem myself before December 31, 2013.

Here’s how it works.  Below you will see my list of 20 classics numbered.  On Monday the 18th of November, Sam over at the blog Tiny Library will post the number, from 1-20, generated from random.org.  From there we will read the book that is numbered the same from our respective lists.  I grabbed all the classics that I had in plain view and I secretly hope that Moby Dick doesn’t come up either Sam because no matter how much I want to read it, it intimidates me and it’s hella long!  I need to read eventually.  It’s been sitting on my shelf way too long.  So here’s my list:

1. Les Liaisons Dangereuses – Choderlos de Laclos

2. Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan

3. Casino Royale – Ian Fleming

4. On the Road – Jack Kerouac

5. Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

6. Easter Parade – Richard Yates

7. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

8. Rabbit Run – John Updike

9. Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

10. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

11. The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon

12. Orlando – Virginia Woolf

13. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

14. Black Boy – Richard Wright

15. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf and Spell #7 – Ntozake

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16. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe – Carson McCullers

17. Persuasion – Jane Austen

18. Sanctuary – William Faulkner

19. Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

20. Moby Dick – Herman Melville

Comment below and tell me what you think? Have you read any of these?  If so tell me which ones and if you liked or hated them. I hope some of you will join me in this hazardous reading venture. We’ll have until the end of the year to finish the book. Sounds doable right?