The Art of Fiction Snooze

John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction is pretentious and not one of my favorite writing books at all. I’ve heard about this book for sometime and figured I would give it a try. So I picked it up from the library, hoping to learn something new and enjoy the book. I usually don’t bash books on the blog, but I cannot recommend this one outright.

Gardner’s style of writing in the book bored me to tears; it reminded me of those professors that put the class to sleep in college. I was an eager college student who wanted to learn in every class, but there were those teachers that don’t have the knack to keep students’ attention. John Gardner, I fear, is one of those people…or at least that is how he came across in this book.

What I can say that is good about it is that it helped me discern the type of story I have been working on and how to frame it better. I discovered this information in the section where he discusses tales vs. epic vs. yarn. I’m glad that I read that section of the book because it was helpful, though that was near the beginning.

Much of this book is written in a way that puts down the reader who is less familiar with Gardner’s “favorites” who are mentioned often, like Thackeray. I almost felt like I had learned nothing in my undergrad English major, though I know the contrary to be true.

In the copy of this book I got from the library, I found a small pen-written “Amen” in one section that highlighted what many students feel about literature classes in high school. Often students find classes overly focused on the classic writers, like Coleridge, when “Howard the Duck” is more entertaining. Gardner uses this discussion to draw a line between popular fiction and what he calls “art.” I wonder if he meant to be condescending in this passage. I got the impression that popular fiction is the crap on his heel as he walks down a pristine garden path.

However, there are some great nuggets of information in this book. He recommends that authors/writers allow their characters to have free will and not impose their own desires or direction upon characters. This same advice is reiterated throughout the book in regard to style. Gardner also points out some common mistakes made by amateur writers. I won’t list those here, but they were helpful in many ways. Sometimes, I slip as well.

Quick Contest Information

Hello dear readers,

I wanted to let you know about a contest at She Reads Books for a celebration of her 62nd post on her blog. There are five books that will be doles out as prizes and all you have to do is comment on her blog, and if you would like to, link to her contest in your own blog. So here I am increasing my odds of winning….posting the contest on my blog, which by the way runs through June 3, so hurry and get your entry in.

Also please check out this year’s Read-a-Thon! Unfortunately, I cannot participate because I will be traveling the weekend of June 27-29, but I encourage anyone else reading this blog to participate. Sounds like great fun!

FYI, I learned about both of these items from Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot.

Word Nerd Questionnaire

Word Nerd Questionnaire

1. At what level would you describe yourself as a writer (for instance, just starting to take myself seriously; searching for a graduate program, etc.)?

I would love to finish a novel. I have three started, and none are finished. I am a published poet with several poems published in online and print journals.

2. What genre(s) do you write?

Poetry, novel, and short story

3. How do you fit writing into your life right now?

Usually on Wed. nights because the Hubby is off at class.

4. What is your goal for this project (June 1-Aug. 31)?

To finish a novel or get so close I can taste it.

5. What steps do you plan to take to reach that goal?

Set aside more writing and editing time, make definitive efforts to keep to a schedule

6. How do you reward yourself (or how would you like to be rewarded) when you meet a goal?

A stop at the library or bookstore for a book I am dying to read. Chocolate or cheesecake are good as well.

7. What writing craft books do you have/like?

I have a ton of writing books, but the 3am Epiphany has helped with my writer block.

8. Any craft books you’re interested in checking out?

I’m open to most any book, particularly those dealing with the long haul of writing novels, though I cannot outline to save my soul. I would really love to get the Art of Fiction by Gardner.

9. What inspires your writing?

My muse; honestly, I have no idea…things I observe in life

10. How would your author’s blurb read?

Small town girl with big dreams writes larger-than-life stories

11. Tell us about your family (partners, kids, pets, etc.)

One husband, one dog, two cats; that’s enough; some great and not so great friends.

12. Have you ever participated in Nanowrimo (finished or not!)?

twice, never finished. (one of the unfinished novels is a result of Nanowrimo)

13. What can you do to make it easier on yourself to meet your goal for this project?

Set an achievable writing goal for three days out of the week.

14. What are you looking for in terms of support from a writing partner (ex. Exchanging work for critique, being held accountable for meeting a word count goal, etc.)?

critiques and being held accountable to the writing times

15. What crafty pursuits do you enjoy when you’re not writing?

Photography and scrapbooking

16. What other hobbies/past times do you like?

Reading and tennis and hiking

17. What non-writing-craft books have you enjoyed?

Pride & Prejudice is my favorite.

18. What else would you like to share with us?

I cannot wait to get started.

Books on the Cheap and Open House

Since I am always looking for local writing events and book events to post on the blog for those local readers, I figured I would share with you the latest events at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md.

Summer Book Sale June 3-22

The Writer’s Center’s First Annual Summer Reading Sale!

When: June 3-June 22 (Every day except Sundays and Mondays)

Where: The Reading Room (We’ll have tables set up to make bookbrowsing easier.)

Choose from our wide variety of used books: $1 per pound

Or selected New titles 30% off the cover price (40% for members)

The Writer’s Center will also host an Open House on June 7th in Bethesda, Md., for those who are interested and have never been to this wonderful resource and venue.

Memoirs of Fiction

Syrie James‘ The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is a fantastic addition to all things Jane. The novel invents the discovery of Jane Austen’s memoirs in an attic chest and spins a artistic web that intertwines the beauty of Austen’s novels with historical truths and imagined fictions.

***Spoiler Alert***

The memoir is discovered in an old seaman’s chest, which has been bricked up into a wall–perhaps by Jane’s sister Cassandra. Many of the facts we know about Jane’s life are peppered throughout the book, but the crux of the novel for me was the way in which James easily winds in bits of Austen’s novel, Sense and Sensibility.

Like Elinor, Jane falls in love with a gentleman who matches her wit and humor–Mr. Frederick Ashford. Ashford is a man of great fortune who is taken with Jane almost instantly. And we wondered why Jane could write such romantic novels without having experienced love or passion. This fiction sheds light on a possible reason why Jane succumbed to spinsterhood, or should I say chose to remain a single woman.

Ashford is not only resembles Edward Ferrars, but he also bears some of the similar burdens of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, though not in personality, but in familial burdens that come with wealth.

Tragically, Jane does not get the happy endings her readers so desire or that she provides to her readers without a second thought. However, she does get the passion, love, and kisses she deserves for her brilliance, her humor, her love of life, and her devotion.

***End Spoiler Alert***

I don’t say this often, but this is one of those books that must go into the pile that I will read again and again in the coming years. Perhaps after re-reading various Austen novels and following supplemental novels with her characters as seen through the eyes of contemporary authors, like Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange.

After the fiasco that was The Jane Austen Book Club, I was a bit tentative about picking up another contemporary book about Austen and her characters, but James does a beautiful job weaving together elements of fact, fiction, and imagination, which made this reader believe in the truth of her fiction.

Also Reviewed Here:

Book Escape

Polysyllabic Spree

Nick Hornby’s Polysyllabic Spree is an interesting look at what one man buys and reads in a given month. The commentary about his choices and his reads are fantastically amusing. It’s good to see that us readers and writers are not alone in our efforts to catalogue our finds and keep a running tally of our progress.

It was intriguing to learn how he chose his books in a given month and how one choice led to the others.

One thing I think I took issue with was Hornby’s contention that he has not felt like part of a music concert or show in a long time, like he can become part of the action in a book. I find that I don’t have this problem. I get into music in much the same way that I do books. I’m not sure what is different about my make-up compared to Hornby’s, but I am certainly not in the mainstream.

I’m a bit younger, so maybe that plays into it. I’m not sure, but I can tell you this. When I do make it to a concert (when I have some money) I am right there, in the crowd, with the crowd, in the moment of the song, and in the moment with the singer. Then again, maybe it isn’t just me, maybe it is the singer’s themselves or bands that create that feeling for me and others at the concert. I’m not sure. My favorite concerts are those with Godsmack. They always put on a crowd-involved show. I always leave feeling completely satisfied and pumped….ready for more…there is no total utility there for me. Maybe that has something to do with talking to the lead singer long ago before they were famous and I had no idea who he was…just an interesting guy to talk to between sets at a local concert venue for local bands.

Regardless, if you are feeling lonely in your list-making, just pick up Hornby’s book, and you’ll see there are a lot more of us out there than you thought.

This is just one of the books I have picked up and read because of another blogger’s review, so it qualifies for the Irresistible Review Challenge! One down, seven more to go between now and Labor Day!

The inspiring review can be found:
Things Mean a Lot

Other Reviews are here:
Books ‘N Border Collies

Who Would You Trust All Your Secrets To?

Sophie Kinsella’s “Can You Keep a Secret?” blew me away with its wit and humor. There were times when I roared out loud with laughter and there was a time near the end of the book where I wanted to weep. This book surpassed my expectations. After reading the Undomestic Goddess, I was expecting a book that was similarly amusing, but Emma is a much funnier character.

***Spoiler Alert***

When we meet Emma Corrigan she totally messes up a “slam-dunk” business meeting and is headed back to London from Scotland on a flight that gets rather turbulent in more ways than one. In some ways, the turbulent plane ride becomes a metaphor for her life throughout much of the book after meeting a fellow business executive, who turns out to be her firm’s founding owner–Jack Harper.

Emma spills all of her secrets to this stranger on the flight while others on the flight are praying that they will land safely in London. These secrets range from her hatred of crochet to her attempts to kill a co-worker’s plant with orange juice. She thinks nothing much of it at the time because he is a mere stranger on the plane. However, she soon gets back to the office to discover that the man on the plane is none other than Jack Harper, the partial owner of Panther Corporation.

The banter between Emma and Jack sets the stage for the ultimate betrayal. Emma runs the gamut of emotions in this book from pleased with herself that she and the CEO have a secret understanding to head-over-heels in love to disappointment, embarrassment, and betrayal.

***End Spoiler Alert***

This books examines relationships in their many forms: love, romance, friendship, family. Emma learns a lot about her familial relationships and that even the best of friends have secrets from one another. She learns that honesty may be the hardest option in some cases, but it generally is the best road to undertake. Her evolution throughout the novel is fantastic and well-paced. I enjoyed Emma’s struggles, which often reflect many of the struggles other women have in balancing the many relationships we have.

It begs the question, who do you trust you secrets to? I for one spread them around to various people. I have to keep everyone guessing at some point, don’t I? It also makes me wonder, how many of my secrets have been passed along to others in the heat of the moment.

That’s a question for readers…Have you told a secret to one person and not another, and why? And have you ever blurted out someone’s secret accidentally without meaning to harm the person entrusting you with that secret?

Jane’s Book Club

Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club is an interesting amalgamation of characters, but the book for me was not as satisfying as I had hoped. Many of the characters reminded me of Jane Austen’s characters, though a bit more modern. Jocelyn reminds me of a modern day Elizabeth Bennett, while Prudie reminds me of Elizabeth’s mother, especially because she prattles on and on.

For this book, I really won’t be doing any spoilers. This is one book you would have to read on your own. The characters I found most interesting, however, were the ones not delved into as much as I would have liked. I really enjoyed Sylvia’s daughter, Allegra, but unfortunately, you don’t see much of her. The narrator, who I’m not really clear on, seems to assume we know quite a bit about Allegra’s character, when we really don’t. I wonder if the narrator is an omniscient outsider or an actual book club member–this was not clear to me.

The resolution to the book club seems about rushed, and I wonder if the book club continues with another author’s works or whether it simply disbands after all of Austen’s works are discussed by the members. Fowler may have something here; perhaps she should consider writing additional book club books with character parallels from different authors.

Also Reviewed by:
The Written Word

Weekly Geeks Challenge 2

Hello all. I took it upon myself to start up a new policy in which I like to other blog reviews of the books I review here. Luckily, I had limited it to the last two reviews, “Human Dark With Sugar” by Brenda Shaughnessy and “Remember Me?” by Sophie Kinsella, plus all future reviews. A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore was one of the first to take me up on the offer. However, some gave me links to their reviews for older reviews on my site, like The Bookworm, who provided me with her Twilight series links. I added her posts anyway.

I believe I even offered some of my links to other bloggers as well, though right now I am struggling to remember to whom. I have a terrible memory and should start writing these things down, particularly if I plan on participating in challenges. I believe I offered a Pride & Prejudice review link and Stephenie Meyer links to The Bookworm. I also think I gave a link to my The Road review to Book Escape.

I really enjoyed reading other bloggers reviews, and I like the idea of reciprocity between fellow book reviewers and bloggers. I think it is a great idea.

I hope more people offer their links to any of my reviews. Just know it will take me some time to add your stuff to older posts.

Dirty Domesticity

Sophie Kinsella’s The Undomestic Goddess is a quick read for commuting and equally as amusing as her other books. I enjoyed Samantha Sweeting’s character much more than I did Lexi Smart. I also didn’t see as much of Becky Bloomwood in this character as I did in Lexi Smart. Kinsella has a fine talent for getting to the heart of high-powered career women who forget about the finer things in life while they are competing (and winning) in a male dominated profession.

****Spoiler Alert***
Samantha Sweeting is a powerful attorney in London, who much like her mother strives to be the best at her job. To accomplish her goal of becoming a partner at Carter Spink, Samantha works more hours than the other attorneys and barely has a social life. When she finally manages to get time off to have dinner with her mom and brother, she ends up having dinner with two cell phones, an assistant, and singing group of waiters. Suffice to say, her personal life can’t get much worse. That’s what you would think, but then the senior partner from the firm, the one she does not have a cordial relationship with, moves into her building, two floors up.

Early on, something goes terribly wrong at the firm and she panics. Heads out of town to the countryside where she is mistakenly hired as a housekeeper. At first she takes the job because she is still in a state of shock, but as she learns of the fallout from her “mistake,” she decides that being a housekeeper could be a fine change of pace. After many dirty domestic mishaps, Samantha realizes she needs some cooking and cleaning lessons. Nathaniel, the gardener, offers his mother’s services after laughing at her expense when she fails to start the washing machine and can barely make toast and coffee. Iris, his mother, sets about helping Samantha become domestic. She teaches her how to make food, bread, pastry, and other items, but most importantly, Iris helps her slowdown and relax…take in the little things about life and cooking. The scenes with Iris and Nathaniel on the weekends are fantastic.

***End Spoiler Alert***

I won’t go into all the details of the book, but there is a great scene in the garden between Samantha and Nathaniel that just made me swoon. Yes, I said swoon. I wish that romance of that caliber were real. Don’t get me wrong, love is still here in my life, it’s just different. The puppy love of this scene made me reminisce. The resolution of the book is exactly what you would expect; well, maybe not exactly as you picture it. But you get your just desserts.

Also reviewed at:
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore
Book Escape