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IMG_6093I’ve said time and time again that I prefer novels to “literature” because novels tend to contain plot, whereas much literature focuses on language.  That’s true, and I stand behind that.  However, many classics and literary fiction, I’m finding, also contain ideas.  I love ideas and thought exercises.  In looking at the books I most enjoy, they blend plot and character with ideas.  The books aren’t just about Jane Doe who does something and interacts with Jack and Jill and does some stuff.  The books I love most are about concepts.

The Fault in Our Stars, for example, was laced with existentialism.  I read complaints that teenagers don’t really talk the way August and Hazel do, but I disagree.  As a teenager, I was an amateur philosopher, discussing grand ideas with my friends.  As two teens intimately acquainted with dying, I can believe that August and Hazel would look to symbolism and philosophy to find their place in the world.

I’ve realized recently that many of the books I read most are not the ones I actually enjoy the most.  I really like reading romance novels.  They’re easy to get through, fun to read, and fast.  But on the enjoyment scale, most of them hit around a 3 out of 5, meaning I liked them but didn’t love them.  Same with many YA novels.  In contrast, books like Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Martian by Andy Weir, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel are among the books I enjoyed most last year, because they’re about concepts and ideas as well as plot and character.  They’re about racism, loneliness, isolation, the characters’ places in the world while being narrated by an engaging person in an interesting plot.

One of the things I like best about my book club is that the other women pick books I’d probably never choose to read on my own.  Some of those books have ended up being favorites of mine.  Or if not favorites, have made me think.

Now, how does this post relate to the title?  Well, French fries are my favorite food.  I could eat them all day, every day, except that they’re not actually that good for me.  I love salad, but it never seems as appealing to eat as French fries do.  Yet, sometimes when I dig into a salad and taste all those fresh flavors, I’m reminded of why I love them so.

Books are kind of like that.  While there’s nothing wrong with junk food novels, when I fill up on them, I don’t have any room left over for the good stuff.  Yeah, sometimes those other books end up being bland and flat, but every once in awhile, I find one that’s so fresh, full of invigorating ideas, that it causes me to look at the world differently.

I live for those books.

 

insecure2bwriters2bsupport2bgroup2bbadgeI’ve joined the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. On Wednesdays, we all post about our… well… insecurities.  Like the group name.

How long does it take to write a novel, anyway?

I’ve been working on mine for the last two years.  Give or take 20 years.

I first got the idea when I was in college, and though it’s evolved quite a bit since then, some things haven’t changed.  I’m working on writing it and editing it and all those novel-type activities.

I start to doubt myself when I realize how long I’ve been working on it.  It shouldn’t take this long, should it?

If you ask George RR Martin, he’d say between 1-6 years.  Stephen King comes out with a new book once or twice a year, plus short stories.  And Nora Roberts?  Four or five books a year.  Wow.

So, I guess the point is that it takes as long as it takes.  I’ve written several (bad) practice novels.  Each time, I get a little better.  Since joining a writer’s group, I’ve made a lot of progress with my writing.  More than I had with online writing groups.  It’s tempting to just want to be done with it, to say that it can’t possibly be good enough if it’s taking this long to write, but that’s just not true.

I really believe that failure only happens when people give up.  And I’m not ready to give up.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.”

-Neil Gaiman

 

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Longhorn Cavern State Park, Marble Falls TX

There are no great stories that start without adversity. No one wants to hear about the rich man who got richer or the smart woman who got smarter.

We want to hear stories about people who beat odds. Who overcame obstacles.

Sometimes those obstacles are external. Life situations like poverty or bad parents. Racism. Oppression.

Sometimes the obstacles are internal. Like mental health issues. Perceived messages from others, like “You can’t do it” or “you’re not good enough.”

If Scrooge had been a philanthropist from the beginning, there wouldn’t have been a story. The narrator in Fight Club started off feeling powerless, and went on to make something bigger than himself. Abraham Lincoln was poor and mostly self-educated.

I know many successful people who beat themselves up for not being perfect. Of course, they know they’re not supposed to be perfect, will tell you that it’s impossible to be perfect, but then stress out over mistakes.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Maybe because we know we’re capable of being better than the mistakes we make? Maybe because we judge ourselves by our mistakes and worst behavior? Or we’re worried that others are judging us that way?

I’m sure that it’s all more complicated than just one or two reasons. Our brains are magnificent, frustrating, complex entities, capable of creating art and science, and capable of telling us that others have nothing better to do than remember when we say or do something we shouldn’t have.

Here’s the thing: your life is just a story. It’s a series of memories, and moments. You get to pick what you put int that story. You’re the narrator. Are you going to pick on your main character every time they screw up? Or are you going to treat them kindly, putting in only the learning from the mistakes?

Most of us don’t focus on all the times Harry Potter screwed up. He destroyed Voldemort in the end, so what does it matter that he drove a car into the Whomping Willow or that he didn’t learn occlumency? People still read Twilight, despite the fact that Edward was an emo sparkly vampire. (Maybe not the best example. And yes, as much as I make fun of it, I read and enjoyed Twilight. But please don’t tell anyone.) We still like Kevin Smith, even after Gigli.

Mistakes don’t define us. It’s how we deal with mistakes that counts.

I love used books.  Bonus points if they have writing in them or other markings.  I bought a used copy of Good Morning: 365 Positive Ways to Start Your Day by Brook Noel, and inside the book is a handwritten note to Laurie, wishing her a happy birthday, and a good day everyday.

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The note made me a little sad.  I wonder who Laurie is, and why she gave up the book.  I imagine she was a teenager, and that she didn’t want a book in the first place.  Or maybe a girlfriend gave Laurie the book, and when they broke up, she disposed of anything that reminded her of that relationship.  Perhaps the book just got mixed in with a stack of things headed for Goodwill, and even now, Laurie wonders what happened to it.

I’ll probably never know.

A friend recently recommended People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks.  I didn’t know what to expect when I read the back cover, and I didn’t expect to like it much.  I read it anyway, since I know that it’s happened to me (more than once) that a book I didn’t expect to like ended up on my list of favorites.

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This book was fantastic.

It’s about a Haggadah, which is a Jewish book telling how to perform Passover Sedar.  This particular book is about the Sarajevo Haggadah, which is a real book and one of the earliest Jewish books to be illustrated.  This story mixes fact with fiction.

In this story, Hanna is a conservationist who is commissioned to stabilize and preserve this ancient book.  In it, she finds a butterfly’s wing, a hair, a wine stain, and salt.  As she tries to piece together the book’s history from these items, the author takes us back to each even in the book’s existence, telling us what may have happened in its history.

I hate history.  Hate it.  In school, any time I had to read my history textbook, I would literally fall asleep.  To me, it’s all a bunch of dry facts that don’t matter.

The history in this book, however, is alive with humanity.  The peoples’ stories didn’t happen, but they could have.

I love the idea that this book bears silent witness to history.  That’s the reason I love used books and antiques.  Though they can’t tell me their stories, those stories are etched in their energies somehow.  And I’m connected to those stories.  I don’t have to know and understand to feel that connection.

“Of course, a book is more than the sum of its materials.  It is an artifact of the human mind and hand.”

-Geraldine Brooks, from People of the Book

First Date is a short horror story I wrote awhile back, and it was published in the Blood and Roses anthology in 2013.  It was accepted by Digital Fiction Pub, an online magazine.  It’s available now, so check it out, and I’d love to hear what you think.

imagesWhen I was a kid, I was scornful of people who read comics.  Actually, I was scornful of lots of things.  Some might have called me a bit of a snob.  I prefer to acknowledge that I was a bit of a brat.

A few years ago, I friend got me interested in webcomics.  There are a few I read regularly, and they tell quite a good story.  Truthfully, I’ve always envied people who can draw, so to be able to tell a good story and draw is quite an accomplishment.

Anyway.

I love quotes.  I have a notebook full of them, where I write my favorites.  I have others printed and pinned up on my wall, and still others made into posters and framed.

Zen Pencils is a webcomic, where Gavin Aung Than takes quotes and turns them into comics.  He’s done a variety of them, and has also published two books.  His interpretation of some of the quotes has deepened my understanding of them, and also made me work harder to come up with my own interpretation.

I got to meet him at a book signing a few months back, and he’s a very nice guy.  He quit a job he didn’t like to work full time doing his comic.

While many of the quotes he’s illustrated speak to me, his story has also influenced me.  He worked hard, and kept working.  But ultimately, he made the leap, quit his job, and was able to do what he loves.  I find that combination of hard work and fearlessness to be inspirational.

I love to write, and think I’m a pretty good writer, but there are days when I’m tempted to delete everything I’ve ever written (not quite as dramatic as burning it, but these are the days of the computer).  And then I remember that it’s not the most talented people who succeed, but the ones who keep trying and aren’t afraid to work for success.

That’s a fitting end this month of blogging, don’t you think?

“So maybe what you’re doing right now isn’t ideally where you’d like to be, but perhaps it’s just practice for your dream job in the future. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.”

-Gavin Aung Than

Unknown-10The end of the alphabet is always tough.  I could only find one book starting with a “Y” that I’d actually read, and it didn’t affect me in any way.

This book was one of the many on my “W” list, and when it occurred to me that I could get creative and use it, I was thrilled.  This is a book that I feel very passionately that more people should read.

Why People Die by Suicide, by Thomas Joiner, is a book that was recommended to me when I started my job as a crisis therapist.  It opened my eyes to so many of the reasons that people attempt suicide.

There are a lot of myths about suicide.  We saw that after the death of Robin Williams.  People had opinions.  Many people expressed that he was selfish or cowardly.  It’s easier to believe that, I suppose.

The truth is that when people die by suicide, they often feel that they’re doing a good thing for their friends and family.  They honestly feel that others will be better off without them.

Suicide touches the lives of many people, and I think it’s important to talk about it, de-stigmatize it.  Talking about it gives us all power.  Plus, as I learned while working crisis, you never know when talking to someone frankly about what they’re dealing with can help them to make a less permanent decision.

Suicide is a permanent reaction to a temporary problem.

This is an accessible book for anyone who’s interested in learning more about this topic.  The clinical psychologist who wrote it started asking the question after someone in his family died from suicide.  The information is tied into research, but there are also anecdotes and

This book helped me gain a better understanding of this topic, but it also helped me be more empathetic.  It’s hard for most people to understand what goes through the mind of someone who chooses to die, which is what makes books like this one so important.

Understanding, love, compassion are all things the world could use a little more of.

 

Unknown-9So, before I get into the meat of this post, you should probably know that I actually do know that W comes BEFORE X.  I’m not really sure how or why I posted X yesterday.  My only excuse is that I’m on a trip visiting family, and I was distracted.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.  :)

I first read When Rabbit Howls when I was a teenager.  I was extremely interested in dissociative identity disorder ever since I’d watched the movie Sybil (and later read the book).

When Rabbit Howls is an autobiography about Truddi Chase, telling the story of how she discovered she had survived a traumatic childhood and split into 92 personalities to handle it.

This book wasn’t the first I’d read on child abuse or mental health, but it stuck with me more than any of the others.  Maybe because it was written from the point of view of the personalities.  It was intensely personal, and made me want to learn more.

This story made me realize that all of us have more than one truth.  I was already starting to believe that truth was somewhat subjective, and this book pushed me further along that path.  It got me interested in all the amazing things the brain can do, including creating 92 people to protect one person.

If you’re looking for a riveting autobiography, I’d recommend this one.  But be warned; the author was abused as a child and she discusses it.  Because of that, it’s not a book for everyone.

What’s your favorite book about mental health?

“I cherished her individuality, that spark of independence no child should lose to life’s restrictions and parameters.”
― Truddi Chase

IMG_5580I don’t have a specific book for “X.”  I tried, but I got nothin’.

So instead of a specific book, I’m going to talk about crossover books.

When I was a kid, people either read kid books (which included young adult) or grown up books.  Then, along came Harry Potter, which everyone read.  After Harry Potter was Twilight, and suddenly the barrier on YA was blasted wide open.  Now it’s a legit genre for adults, and everyone is reading it.

I’ve never stopped reading young adult books and even some middle grade books.  If they’re well-written, I don’t see any problem with my enjoying them.

I’ve had people ask me why I was reading a particular book, “Isn’t that a kids’ book?” and my answer is always, “Because I like it.”

Since everyone started reading young adult books (or admitting they do), it does mean I have more people with whom I can discuss these books.

I think that genre is becoming less important with books than having them be interesting with characters people can connect to.  They also must have at least a little magic.

Many of the books I’ve written about during this challenge are books that I loved as a kid and still love as an adult.  Special mention of several other books that I won’t be talking about during this challenge, but have also managed to stick with me: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, Watership Down by Richard Adams, Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter, anything by LJ Smith, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Are there any books from childhood/ teenage years that you still read?

Unknown-1I saw the movie, V for Vendetta when it first came out, and it’s one of those rare movies that I loved.  I loved the wordplay, the philosophy, and the idea that one man could create so much change.  I also loved how Evey changes so much over the course of the movie.  When the end credits rolled and I saw it was based on a book, I hurried to Amazon to buy it.

Imagine my dismay when I found out that it wasn’t a book, but a graphic novel.  A comic book.

I didn’t read comic books as a kid.  Partly because there weren’t enough words in them, so they moved too slowly for me.  Partly because I was a snob and thought they were somewhat too childish for me.

I couldn’t resist V for Vendetta though, and I learned that, as with so many other things, my pre-judgement was wrong.

It’s true that graphic novels tend to have fewer words and rely more heavily on visual storytelling, but it’s just a different way to tell a story.  It’s not better or worse than novels; they are their own medium.

The movie and the graphic novel are different, but this is one of the few times that doesn’t bother me.  They are both quite good versions of the same story.

I think I’m finally to the point where I don’t say that I won’t read something.  I know that I don’t know what something’s going to be like until I try it.

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