Psssst…Wanna Know a Secret?

I’ve hit a lot of important milestones in my life.

  • I ate solid foods.
  • I learned to walk.
  • I learned to talk and haven’t shut up since.
  • I learned to read and do it obsessively.
  • I learned to print and write in cursive.
  • I learned to tell time.
  • I learned to read music and play the piano…and the french horn…and the trumpet…and now, in a rudimentary way, the guitar (I WILL MASTER THE Bmin CHORD IF IT’S THE LAST THING I DO).
  • I learned to drive a stick shift.
  • I graduated from high school. And college. And another college.
  • I earned a certificate from a night school program.
  • I landed several jobs.
  • I got married.
  • I had kids.
  • I got unmarried.
  • I braved okCupid, tinder, coffeemeetsbagel. I didn’t end up hating all men. (Trust me, that’s noteworthy.)
  • I did my own taxes.
  • I bought a car.

All these things are great. I’m proud of what I accomplished. But, there’s one thing I’ve wanted to do since I learned to hold a crayon: write a novel. I’ve written a lot of poetry and short stories. I’m a daft hand at flash fiction. I can write an essay that would convince you to sell all your belongings and join a circus. What I haven’t been able to do (yet) is come up with an idea for a novel that sustains me past the first 5,000 words or so.

But, 40-something years later, I haven’t given up. I keep buying books on how to write novels. I read them. I try some of the exercises. The latest book in my arsenal is The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird.

secrets

I was hooked by the first paragraph:

You’ve just boarded a plane. Your iPhone is loaded with all your favorite podcasts, but before you can get your earbuds in, disaster strikes: The guy in the next seat starts telling you all about something crazy that happened to him–in great detail. This guy is an unwelcome storyteller trying to convince an extremely reluctant audience to care about his story. We all hate that guy, right?

~Matt Bird, The Secrets of Story

I hope Mr. Bird is going to explain how to capture a reluctant audience’s attention and hold it. From the table of contents, it looks like he might. He includes “the thirteen essential laws of writing for strangers.” But that’s not all! He also provides “The Ultimate Story Checklist.” This should help me keep a reader’s attention after I’ve first caught it. I’m really excited about this book!

Now, if I could only come up with a really excellent idea…I’ve already scrapped the idea about the Sasquatch hunter who is allergic to pet dander.

sassy

P.S. I’m going to participate in Nanowrimo again this year. While I didn’t get far the last time I tried it, I did end up generating a lot of material that became short stories. Will any of you be participating?

 

 

 

 

Calling All Cat People!

chiChi’s Sweet Home by Konami Kanata and translated by Ed Chavez, is the pawsitively charming story of a kitten who gets distracted when on a walk with his mother and siblings and ends up lost. It’s a big and “fwightening” world for such a little creature, full of barking dogs, roaring cars and wide open spaces.

Distraught and lonely, Chi breaks down sobbing in a large urban park. Luckily, Yohei Yamada and his mother stumble upon the poor kitten and take her home, despite the fact that pets aren’t allowed in their apartment.

And that’s when the fun adventures begin! The Yamadas must keep Chi’s presence a secret from their nosey neighbors, while satisfying the kitten’s needs for affection, food and play. I was particularly amused at the story of how Chi ended up with her name. You’ll have to read this to find out.

As much as I wanted to highlight a book in translation, the words are not the star in this book. In fact, I didn’t particularly like the baby talk used to represent the kitten’s first impressions upon her new environment, but I have to concede that it was an appropriate choice. Chi is a baby, after all!IMG_3584

What really shines are Kanata Konami’s brilliant illustrations that express the unbounded curiosity and playfulness of her subject. The kitten’s sweet “purrsonality” shines through each and every panel. If you are as enthralled with cats as I am, I guarantee you will adore this book.


Konami Kanata (jp. こなみ かなた, Kanata Konami; born 3 July 1958, Nagano) is a Japanese cartoonist best known for her cat characters Chi’s Sweet Home.
Her works revolves around the daily life of house cats.

konami

Lifel1k3 is the Real Deal, Not a Cheap Piece of Fugazi

6105kSuTLdLI had never heard of Jay Kristoff before this year, which most book bloggers would take as a sign that I’ve had my head buried under a rock. Along with Amie Kaufman, he wrote the Illuminae Files, a wildly popular series, which may be turned into a movie sometime in the near future.

After reading Kristoff’s Lifel1k3, I’ve succumbed to a full-on case of FOMO and will be reading every last thing he has ever written. It’s just that good. No, it’s better than you might imagine. In fact, if an aspiring author wanted me to suggest something for her to read which hit every note perfectly, which was paced exceptionally well, which asked big questions, and which was thrilling to read from start to finish, I’d hand her a copy of Lifel1k3 without thinking twice.

Frankly, I was surprised that I liked the book so much. Nothing about it is usual for me. I don’t read a lot of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and the idea of synthetic lifeforms only interests me in so far as they might be programmed to make coffee or do the particularly disgusting parts of housekeeping like cleaning out the cat box.

Why did I buy a copy? Well, I was in my favorite book store, the scent of fresh paper and ink was heady, and I liked the cover. It looks like a honeycomb and made my mouth water.

What is it about? I’ve heard it described as a mash-up between Romeo and Juliet and The Terminator. That’s fairly accurate, except it doesn’t capture its humor and philosophical earnestness.

The main character is a seventeen year-old girl who is trying to scrape out a living on a junk heap situated in the middle of a radioactive wasteland. All she wants to do is make enough money to buy her grandfather some medicine to ease his suffering and avoid local gangs and religious zealots. Unfortunately, she attracts all the wrong kind of attention when the robot gladiator she built ends up as a smoking pile of spare parts and it looks like she destroyed its opponent with the power of her mind.

A host of fascinating characters accompany Eve on her adventures. There’s Cricket, her cautious robotic sidekick; and Kaiser, a loyal robotic dog. True to their artificial nature, they don’t evolve throughout the course of the novel. Their constancy is a helpful touchstone and is what we end up loving about them.

Lemon Fresh is Eve’s best friend and the fizziest character imaginable. Even when things are at their worst, she hitches up her sassy pants, throws down some eye-popping taunts, and reaffirms her love for her best friend.

“I don’t care who’s after you. Where you’re from or where you’re going. It’s you, me, Crick and Kaiser. No matter what. Rule Number One in the Scrap, remember? Stronger together, together forever.”

Finally, there’s Ezekiel, the impossibly perfect Lifel1k3 who will protect Eve at all costs, but whom she doesn’t trust. If one could imagine the perfect lover, he would be remarkably similar to Ezekiel: dimples, chiseled abs and a penchant for saying the right thing at the right time:

“Deviation’ or whatever you want to call it? That’s just another expression of it. You call it freakish. I call it incredible.” (Translation: you’re perfect because of your faults, not despite them.)

Every romantic on the planet will swoon when he or she reads this line:

“It’s simple to love someone on the days that are easy. But you find out what your love is made of on the days that are hard.”

This rag-tag bunch takes off on a doomed flight, travels through the belly of a sea beast, scrambles through the warrens of a crime-ridden city and races across the desert to rescue Eve’s grandfather and find sanctuary.

There’s scarcely a moment to breathe between one crazy, heart-pounding experience and the next. The pacing makes it nearly impossible to put this book down. If I were to suggest one critique of the book, it would be this: There weren’t enough quiet moments for the reader to look around, absorb everything and get her bearings. I only offer that in a half-hearted fashion, though.

Lifel1k3 poses some deep questions: How real is too real? Is truth really more important than belief? Does one’s past matter as much as one’s present? Is subjugation of any class of beings ever acceptable? If you don’t truly know yourself, can you truly love? Why do villains like chewing tobacco so much?