Books within Books: Novels Featuring Writers

Many writing teachers tell their students to “write what you know.” And what do writers know better than… writers? I love a good story about a writer, and so jumped at the chance to read ARCs of Joani Elliott’s The Audacity of Sara Grayson and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot.

The Audacity of Sara Grayson

Synopsis:

What happens when your mother’s dying wish becomes your worst nightmare?

What happens when the world’s greatest literary icon dies before she finishes the final book in her best-selling series?

And what happens when she leaves that book in the hands of her unstable, neurotic daughter, who swears she’s not a real writer?

Sara Grayson is a thirty-two-year-old greeting card writer about to land the toughest assignment of her life. Three weeks after the death of her mother—a world-famous suspense novelist—Sara learns that her mother’s dying wish is for her to write the final book in her bestselling series.

Sara has lived alone with her dog, Gatsby, ever since her husband walked out with their Pro Double Waffle Maker and her last shred of confidence. She can’t fathom writing a book for thirty million fans—not when last week’s big win was resetting the microwave clock.

But in a bold move that surprises even herself, Sara takes it on. Against an impossible deadline and a publisher intent on sabotaging her every move, Sara discovers that stepping into her mother’s shoes means stumbling on family secrets she was never meant to find—secrets that threaten her mother’s legacy and the very book she’s trying to create.

My thoughts:

Joani Elliott knows how to write! Well crafted novel with a realistic depiction of the art of writing — the insecurity and hopelessness and futility and accomplishment, cycling in an endless, introspective loop. If you think the story synopsis above sounds interesting, the book storyline should be right up your alley. Elliott’s writing is empathetic, and feels uplifting, in a real, truthful way. As someone who dabbles in writing, I found much of this book inspiring. I definitely recommend if you are a writer. You will love Phil, because he’s the best.

The book also has a couple of adorable and believable romances.

My only issue with this book (which, unfortunately, is a big one), is that we spend the majority of our time with Sara Grayson, and Sara Grayson is… kind of awful. Whiny, full of excuses. Literally everyone she knows is like, “Your writing is so good! You need to do this! Also, you’ve been unhappy. Trying this new thing may help you realize what you want and feel fulfilled.” And she doesn’t trust herself, she doesn’t trust those she loves, and she’s fucking annoying about it. It’s probably realistic, but it’s very difficult to spend so much time with her when she’s insufferable, and, like, not in a fun way.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 typewriters

The Plot

Synopsis:

Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written–let alone published–anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot.

Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that–a story that absolutely needs to be told.

In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.

As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?

My thoughts:

Thriller novels are difficult, in that they rely on either:

  • creating tension/suspense that causes the readers to avidly keep reading out of desperate need to find out what happens/get resolution;
  • have a twist that changes the lens by which the story has been viewed;
  • have writing so amazing, that even if the twist is predictable, the reader doesn’t care, because it’s so fun getting there.

I applaud Jean for the work that she put into this book. The concept is interesting, and writing a book is a lot of work.

However, I was able to see the “surprise twist” about 20% of the way through the book, the writing was fine, but nothing that particularly filled me with wonder, and given that I knew where everything was likely headed (and I was correct), lacked the tension/suspense I would generally want from a thriller.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 typewriters

Little by Little

The shrinking started slowly. She had heard of people’s hearts closing after a bad breakup, but for Mary, the entirety of her being began to grow smaller after Dave crushed her with his “I thought I loved you… But I don’t,” before he moved towards her with feigned niceness that was a feeble attempt to have goodbye sex and Mary grabbed her purse and left, even though they were in her apartment.

She went to the grocery store, but didn’t buy anything – there wasn’t enough ice cream in the world to make her feel better, and for the first time in her life, Mary wasn’t hungry. She returned to an empty apartment, Dave’s key glinting on the dining room table. She went to bed with puffy eyes and an empty stomach.

When she awoke the following morning, she felt shorter… and older, and withered, and fragile, and like an idiot. She felt cold, all the way down to her bones, even after she put on her thickest socks and wrapped herself in a warm fuzzy sweater. She took a mental health day, pulled on her coat, and walked for hours. Fittingly, it began to rain, and she returned home colder and wetter than she had left it. Her stomach growled at her, but nothing in her kitchen seemed appetizing. She settled on a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee, then settled on the couch with a thriller, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open long enough to finish more than a sentence.

The days, weeks, flew by in a daze, until one morning, Mary woke up and realized she needed a step stool to reach the bathroom faucet handle. Of course, she didn’t have a step stool, so she dragged her desk chair into the bathroom instead. Her chair had wheels and slid around beneath her as she applied and removed soap – her brain flashed through news stories of people who died or became seriously injured from slipping in the bathroom. Her teeth were a shade more yellow than Mary preferred, but she liked having all of them in her head, and she had used all of her sick days at work and couldn’t afford to recover from concussion. She went to her car, but no matter how straight she stretched her leg, or how much she pointed her toe, was unable to reach the pedal, and she was finally forced to give up and take the bus.

A girl with exactly half of her head, including her right eyebrow, shaved was gossiping with her reflection in the bus window. An older woman with a snake tattoo on her left arm was biting into a raw onion like it was an apple, the syn-Propanethial-S-oxide making Mary’s eyes water. A man with a pronounced limp kept getting out of his seat, slowly making his way up and down the aisle, knocking aside the unlucky few who were standing and holding onto a strap. Maybe she wasn’t really shrinking, Mary thought to herself. Maybe she was just losing grip on reality.

She had just logged on to her computer at work when Shannon stopped by, said the boss wanted to see her. Mary entered his office, excuses on the tip of her tongue about why she had been late, but Mr. Harrigan didn’t really care, since he had already been set to fire her.

“I’m fired?!” Mary asked, in shock.

“Honestly, the company can’t afford the liability having a shrinking person creates,” Mr. Harrigan responded. “It would be one thing if you were simply small, and had always been small. Even an inch or two, we could have overlooked. But you have lost several feet at this point, Mary, and we aren’t sure when it’s going to stop. We can’t accommodate your special needs, because they are unpredictable, and without accommodating your needs, the workplace is too dangerous.”

“I’ll be very careful, and if I get hurt, I promise, I won’t sue you!” Mary protested.

But Mr. Harrigan shook his head. The matter, he said, had been decided by individuals far above him in the company. Her exit interview was scheduled with HR at 2 that afternoon, at which point she needed to hand in her work laptop and would receive her final paycheck.

Mary walked back to her desk, then realized there was no point in putting forth effort working. She had been fired; she didn’t owe anything to this Company. She began submitting her resume to temp agencies, and scouring Craigslist for odd jobs that didn’t appear to have been posted by serial killers luring in the next victim.

She didn’t have much luck.

At two-fifteen in the afternoon, Mary was walking out into the sunshine, her last paycheck snugly tucked between her wallet and her cell. She wandered the entire parking lot twice before remembering that she had not driven, and reluctantly boarded the bus once more. Most seats were empty, and she plopped into one near the middle and behind the driver.

She was too numb inside to be bothered to go to the bank, or run the errands she needed to run. Mary tugged her shoes off of her weary feet, and burrowed into the warmth of her comforter. She couldn’t be sure how long she slept – it could have been an instant, it could have been a year – but when she awoke, her bed had become gargantuan. She tried to sit up, but the cotton filling of her bedspread had become ineffably heavy.

She took a deep breath, pulled her core in as tightly as she could, focused on shifting her body up from its’ prone position into a plank, using the muscles in her arms and shoulders to push her up.

She then thrust her hips up and back into the world’s most uncomfortable down dog.

Her arms and legs quickly began quivering, her body covered in a sheen of sweat, but Mary pulled her abs in tighter and began walking her hands back to her feet.

She then started slowly rolling up through her spine, the weight of the comforter continually pushing her back down, so that she was bouncing slightly up, back down, back up, slightly down, for what felt like (and maybe was) hours, until finally, she was standing as tall as her miniature frame would allow.

She began moving forwards, pushing against the cotton comforter with all of her might, until the bed gave way beneath her, and she was falling.

She grabbed at the comforter, able to slow down her descent and make it slightly more controlled so that her teeth only clattered against each other a bit, and then she lay down on her back and fell asleep once more.

She woke, and all she could experience was pain. It hurt to open her eyelids. Tiny muscles she hadn’t realized existed in her arms and abs were making themselves known. She didn’t want to move, but existing hurt too much, so she forced herself up into a sitting position.

She had no idea where she was.

She seemed to be outside. Currently, she was sitting on various large, sharp blades of grass. She moved to the right and sliced her left arm on one of them. Blood trickled from the wound, but she wasn’t capable of feeling more pain, and just watched the red escape down her arm.

She eventually grew bored enough to force herself to stand, take a few tentative steps.

She smelled something sweet, and realized she was hungry, for the first time since her break-up. In trying to locate the source of this deliciousness, she stumbled into a banner. Her brain made sense of the words on it – “Little by Little” right before she fell into it, and brought down the two wooden totem poles holding it up upon her person. She lost consciousness for the second time that day.

She awoke strapped to a bed, still in pain, and began to scream. She may not have been entirely sure what had happened to her, but being restricted from movement was never a good sign. A man rushed into the room, looked around, and said, “You’re awake! Would you like some hot chocolate?”

“Why should I trust you to give me a beverage? I’m assuming you’re the jerk who strapped me to this bed.”

His mouth quirked down. “Ah… yes. Sorry about that. It’s just – you seem to be having trouble moving, and I couldn’t bear the thought that you would ruin my art.” He gestured to the top of a nearby dresser, where small (even by her current standards) wooden figurines were covering every visible surface.

“You made all of those?” Mary asked.

“I did,” he responded, his chest puffing up like a bird warming itself or trying to find a mate.

“Ew,” Mary said involuntarily.

He didn’t seem to notice. “These,” he continued, “are my Littles.”

After a few seconds of silence, Mary asked him what he meant by that.

“My Littles! I am Little – that’s my name, I mean – these are mine, these are little – that is, tiny – and I am trying to sell the sons-of-bitches, but you pulled my banner down and ruined two of my larger art pieces, so I don’t know how anyone will know I am a purveyor of littles.”

“Sorry about that,” Mary said.

Little shrugged. “It’s fine. You can help me make a new banner when you’re feeling better.”

“How long have you been making littles?”

“Since I was a wee boy. Although, I used to be taller than this, when I was a wee boy. But you know how that is.”

“I mean, I guess. I also used to taller; I only began shrinking quite recently.”

“It’s nice, being small,” Little told her. “It’s easy to find enough food to fill you up, no one bothers you about stupid shit that doesn’t matter, you can kind of just do your own thing.”

“How many of us are there?” Mary asked.

Little shrugged. “Fuck if I know. I run across someone every now and again, but I mostly keep to myself.”

“I see – sorry to have barged in on you like this,” Mary said, wondering why she was apologizing to this man who had restrained her to the bed.

“Thanks. Sorry I had to tie you up,” Little returned, making Mary feel marginally better.

“Do you think you can un-tie me now?”

Little looked skeptical. “We can try. But try not to mess up my shit, please.” Mary chose not to verbally respond to this, smiling sweetly so this crazy man would let her go.

She was still starving, and decided to chance it that Little’s food and beverages were not poisoned. The hot chocolate was sweet and creamy, the warmth soothing as it went down her throat. Little also gave her bread and cheese, and a red grape he had cut into cubes of a more manageable size. Everything tasted amazing, and it had been so long since Mary had eaten and enjoyed it that she ate too much and too fast, her stomach protesting as she sank back into her chair and finished her hot chocolate.

“Feeling better?” Little asked, and Mary nodded, her mouth turned up at the corners, her limbs growing heavy with satiation. “Good, let’s fix that banner,” Little said, holding out a hand to haul Mary to her feet. He pulled so hard, her head snapped a bit, and Mary saw small brown and black squares dancing before her eyes for a few moments. “C’mon!” Little urged, striding away toward the front of his shoppe. Mary followed, and was soon surveying the damage with him.

One of the totem poles holding up the banner did not sustain any noticeable damage; the other had broken into 6 pieces. Little grew a little red in the face, but his voice was calm as he said he would need to make another one. The banner, made of sturdy paper, had been torn, and needed to be re-done. Little thrust some paper and a chunk of purple crayon broken off of a full-size crayon and whittled into a usable writing implement at her, and she set to work. Mary’s writing was not intricate, but it was neat and legible, and she made the letters large, and was done within an hour. She showed her work to Little, who nodded his head briefly, then said: “Thanks. You can go now.”

“Go… where?” Mary asked.

“Anywhere! The joy of being little is that you can pretty much do whatever you want. And I want to live on my own. So, you know, scram.” He turned back to his totem, where an owl was slowly taking shape.

“Can I have some food for the road?” she asked.

“What road?”

“Figuratively speaking.”

“Then yes, you may have figurative food. Here you go!” He held out his empty hands, cupped around nothing.

Mary carefully removed the non-existent food from Little’s hands, turned around, and walked away. She walked aimlessly until she was done feeling sorry for herself, looked up, and recognized exactly where she was. Approximately two feet away was the red door of Dave’s apartment. To the right of the door were Dave’s black-and-white checkered Vans, caked in a layer of mud, next to a pair of tall pink heels with pointed toes.

Mary trekked to the door, sneaking through the mail slot, and smelling the citrus-scented candles Dave lit when he was making love. Her eyes involuntarily trekked to the right, even though a very large part of her really didn’t want to see who her replacement was. Due to her size, however, all she could see was wall. She breathed a sigh of relief.

Dave walked right in front of her, and her heart began beating very fast and her cheeks reddened, but again, due to her size, Dave didn’t even notice her. He loped into the kitchen, where she heard the fridge open, running water, the clatter of counters and dishes, and he loped back before her and into the bedroom holding a tray with a bowl of strawberries and a canister of whipped cream.

Part of Mary burned with anger that Dave was already sharing a sweet aphrodisiac with someone else; part of Mary was somehow hungry again and craved strawberries herself. So she did what any woman in her position would do, and followed him. The woman luxuriating on Dave’s silk sheets was thin and tan, and when she sat up, her long blonde locks cascaded over her back and splayed on the pillows. Her visage was flushed, round red cheeks and lips plump from kissing. Her eyes glinted out from her face like two dark sapphires. She was perfection, to the extent that Mary’s mind couldn’t even draw a comparison between herself and this other woman – it was almost like Dave was dating a different species.

Mary heard a low giggle, and heard the blonde one ask: “You can’t possibly be ready to go again?”

Dave set the tray down on the bedside table, nuzzled his face into the nape of the blonde’s neck, and said: “Are you kidding? With you in my bed, I may never be flaccid again.”

The giggle again. “What an odd way of saying you find me attractive.”

Kissing sounds ensued, and Mary looked longingly at the ripe, red strawberries just lying, untouched, on the bedside table. It was far too high for Mary to easily reach it. She looked around, to see if there was anything to help her, and as luck would have it, there was a blanket that lay half on, half off of the bed, it’s length spilling down to the floor in an awkward tangle that looked difficult but possible for Mary to climb. She embarked on the climb/hike, slowly making her way up to the bed where her ex-boyfriend was engaged in sexual congress. She was exhilarated to reach the top, tumbling off of the blanket and into the blonde one’s foot.

A bloodcurdling scream resounded through the apartment.

Dave: “Lauren, what’s wrong.”

Something just touched my foot.”

Mary had already retreated out of sight into the blanket.

Dave: “I don’t see anything.”

“Are you saying I’m crazy?! Something definitely touched my foot, I’m not making this up.”

“What did it feel like?”

“I only felt it for like a second, but it was big.”

Dave went to the end of the bed, smushed the blanket with Mary inside of it a little closer to the edge of the bed. “There’s nothing here.”

“Well, you’ve got mice or something. I’m too hot to deal with a guy who has barely any money and probably has mice in his place.”

“Lauren! I’ll – I’ll call the exterminator on Monday. But really – I keep my place clean, and I’ve never seen or heard a mouse in here.”

“Well, call me after your apartment’s been taken care of, if you want. I probably won’t see you again, though.” Mary heard the sharp rustling of clothes being pulled on with hurried, jerky movements.

She heard Lauren walk out of the apartment, then Dave quickly follow. The door slammed behind him, and Mary slowly exited the blanket. She made her way to the bedside table with quick, confident strides, pulled out the smallest strawberry slice she could find, and took the largest bite she was able. Red juice from the strawberry ran down her chin, her heart felt light, and Mary felt the vastness of opportunities proffered by her life as she ate and listened for the sound of Dave’s return.

Response to ~M, Putting My Feet in the Dirt’s Prompt “Little by Little.”

9 Ways Princess Switch: Switched Again Could Have Been Better

My husband and I recently watched the Netflix original movie The Princess Switch: Switched Again, a movie so lazy its’ creators couldn’t even pretend to put thought and effort into it, thus resulting in a title that I literally laughed at when I first saw it. Because I love camp, and laughing at things that are ridiculously bad, I did somewhat enjoy this movie. Having said that, there are various ways that this movie could have been better. [Note: If you haven’t seen this movie yet, and don’t want any spoilers, you should stop reading here. If you have seen the movie or don’t care – read on!]

Here are 9 of them:

  1. The princess and Stacey decide to just swap places, and therefore husbands, whenever they start going through the inevitable couple slump (because letz bee real – happily ever after doesn’t happen, and even if it did, it would take helluva lot of work to keep).
  2. Stacey kills the princess (why not? she’s from Chicago, they’ve got a high murder rate #plausible) and pretends to be both of them for the rest of her life. The prince and her best friend never figure it out.
  3. At the ball/dance/fancy party, Kevin realizes upon meeting Fiona that Margaret’s weird, poor cousin is probably game for some really freaky sex, absconds with her to the bedroom and never looks at Margaret again.
  4. The prince calls Stacey on her bullshit (serious, just tell the man, who is supposedly your life partner, what is going on) and dumps her ass.
  5. The entire switcharoo scheme recurrence is actually an elaborate plot of Stacey’s to get her husband laid, because she thinks their sex is boring.
  6. The prince espies Kevin kissing Margaret, who he thinks is his wife, because his wife’s too stupid to be honest and transparent and tell her husband what she’s doing, and he kills Kevin, causing Margaret to lose the love of her life, and Stacey to lose her best friend. Everyone’s sad. #toobad
  7. In the airport, Margaret and Kevin’s spontaneous wedding vows are more akin to things people would actually come up with when put on the spot. In my mind, it goes something like this:
    1. Margaret: Wassup?
    2. Kevin: You dope.
    3. Priest: Whatever, I guess you’re married? I’m gonna go catch my flight.
  8. At her coronation, Margaret runs through the holy man after being crowned and announced as queen (sword hidden beneath the throne), because he almost crowned her cousin queen. Her cousin! Doesn’t anyone have a brain?

Let me know your favorite, or your additional thoughts, on how this terrible movie could have been better.

NaNovel 2020: Recap

My novel is not done, but I am writing more frequently, and I plan to continue working on it.

Word count goal not met, but writing initiative has been ignited. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of sloth and binge-eating, I will continue to write (and aim for 1,667 words per day, which I likely will not reach daily, but which inspires me to write longer each day than I otherwise would). So overall, I think NaNoWriMo was a win for me, although I was not a NaNoWriMo winner.

How has your November been?

NaNovel 2020 – 1 Week In, 9,516 Words Behind

Pros: I have written every day except last Friday (when I got a killer migraine that necessitated going to bed whimpering and wondering if my head would ever stop hurting).

Cons: Hitting 50k has gotten… more difficult, and may not happen.

For those participating in NaNoWriMo, how are you faring? For those not participating, how’s life treating you?

Joining the Madness

I vacillated pretty much all of October between whether or not to join NaNoWriMo this year. I don’t really

have enough time,

and sometimes,

I don’t really like my idea,

and

I have work deadlines this month,

and

I feel sick too often because I have allergies and my colds when I get them are never ending and cabin fever is definitely kicking in.

But then, I remember

how amazing it feels

to finish a piece of writing.

& how

it is a goal of mine

to become a writer,

which I don’t currently consider myself,

because I’m not writing every day.

& I remember

that there will always

be more work

&

another deadline,

so if something is important to me

I need to figure out how to work it into my life

anyway.

So I have taken the plunge. Signed up to strive to write 50k words this November 2020. I have met my daily goal for November 1, and am feeling hopeful, and am hoping that I’ll meet the 50k goal, but if I don’t, thinking that at least this could be a kickstart towards writing every day.

Anyone else hopping on the NaNoWriMo train? Leave me a comment below – let me know how the beginning is going for you!

Awhile back, I mentioned that I had read Sue Miller’s Monogamy, and that a post would be forthcoming. From the first glimpse of this book, I was intrigued. I mean, they say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but look at that cover:

This book left me transfixed – I liked pretty much everything about it. To save you from my babbling fan-girling, I thought you might prefer a succinct list.

  1. The writing – Miller’s actual word choice and sentence structure is eloquent – generally simple word choice arranged in a pleasing order that conveys the information succinctly and connotes the feelings and impressions readily. There is a difference between writing simply and using each word carefully. Miller doles out words precisely, resulting in a book filled with beautiful writing.
  2. The characters – No Mary Sue’s in this book! Miller’s characters are real. In reading this book, you are delving into the intimate thoughts and feelings of people who do amazing things, and love fully, who reminisce, and feel betrayed, and make mistakes, and live (or don’t) complicated lives. To be completely honest, this book doesn’t have a ton of plot, but if you’re a character reader, reading this book is the culinary equivalent of biting into a warm slice of apple pie.
  3. The marriage – Probably not shocking, given the novel’s title, Monogamy analyzes a marriage. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, and the questioning. What does it mean to tether yourself to another person in a civil and/or religious ceremony? Is it possible to remain in love with the same person for the rest of your life? Can you ever really know the people you are with, even the ones you are very close to? As someone who is married, this novel resonated with some of my own thoughts. I don’t think you need to be married to appreciate this thoughtful and in-depth analysis of one, but since I am married, to be fair, I may be wrong.
  4. The creativity – As a vein running throughout this book is the idea of creativity. Annie, one of the main characters, is a photographer who has had some success. Graham, her husband, founded a bookstore. Both of them interact with other artists – writers, musicians, painters, etc. The book itself is a work of art. Reading this novel was inspiring to me, personally, and reminded me that art can be difficult, but if you feel fulfilled by creating something, then it is worthwhile.
  5. The setting – Miller writes about the town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, wherein much of the novel takes place, with love but not so much detail you want to throw the book across the room. I’m not the biggest fan of exposition, but reading this novel makes me want to visit Cambridge. Being stuck at home due to COVID-19 could be a factor in this desire, as well, but at least part of the credit goes to Monogamy.

Of course, my perspective on this book is biased, and not everyone can have the correct (i.e., my) opinion. Monogamy, the ARC I am woefully behind on posting about, has now been available for sale since September. Have you had a chance to nab a copy and read it? Do you agree/disagree with my assessment, or possibly have your own points to add? Please let me know in the comments below; would love to hear your thoughts!

Should YOU enter writing contests?

Subtitle: My response to a potentially fictional post I thought I read on Longreads that I can no longer find

So, I could be sheepish and apologetic that I haven’t posted in awhile, but I think you’ve been okay without my random blogging, and I’ve been busy at work, so…. I won’t.

#sheep

While I was in the midst of struggling to meet a deadline for work, I read this article about why you shouldn’t enter writing contests that I thought was on Longreads, but I’m having trouble finding it, so it’s possible I’m either mis-remembering the source or I made it up, so… No hyperlinked source for this one, but enough other people have posted on this topic that I feel okay with responding to this potentially fictional article.

This is probably exactly what Hamlet would be like if I had written it.

I think there are some decent reasons not to enter contests – the judging of writing is fairly subjective, and even if your writing is flawless, it may just not hit someone’s buttons, and if you’re going to be depressed if you don’t win, then… you probably shouldn’t enter contests.

On the other hand, contests have this thing called a deadline that can be very useful if you need a fire under your ass to finish anything.

As long as you’re not actually expecting to gain, like, notoriety from the contest or anything, and enter purely as a means of driving yourself to finish something, I think it’s reasonable to enter a writing contest. I recently entered a Wattpad contest, and there is a rush from completing something, and I actually created something that I really like, so I feel like it was a win. But whether I win, or don’t win, doesn’t really matter. Winning is nice. Not winning isn’t a big deal. And no matter what anyone else thinks, I like what I wrote.

Thanks, Hamlet.

What are your thoughts? Do you enter writing contests? Why or why not? And what are your thoughts on Hamlet (Shakespeare’s or mine are both up for grabs)?

Plain Bad Mediocrity

Brookhants, a property housing a boarding school that was last peopled with students in the early 20th century, is haunted. Parents stopped feeling comfortable sending their girls there after the mysterious deaths of several of the students, as well as members of the faculty. The terrible deaths surrounding the property, as well as the unconventional lifestyles and love interests that people the property’s tragedy, made for a fascinating, bestselling read when literary talent Merritt Emmons had her non-fiction book featuring the mystery published as a precocious teen, and are now in the works to become a (hopefully) blockbuster, (at the least) expensive movie featuring the famous and beautiful Harper Harper and her B-list co-star Audrey Wells. … what could go wrong?

If I were to draft a book wishlist, a book description fairly similar to the synopsis of Plain Bad Heroines would be on it. As a fan of thrillers/horror since elementary school, as well as enough of a follower to read shit because Emma Roberts’ book cult suggested it, it’s almost like Emily M. Danforth’s novel was crafted specifically for me. Sprinkle in characters that challenge heternormativity, and an intelligent, rich mentor character who met Truman Capote, and I have got to fucking read this book.

Give me ALL the books!

Unfortunately, although the plot and characters are interesting, this book was not as enjoyable as I was hoping.

Plain Bad Heroines is an interesting conundrum of a novel, in that it has really forced me to evaluate what I desire from the books that I read. Objectively, I consider the plot to be interesting. It has two primary timelines – one occurring in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, the other occurring more recently, in the early twenty-first century – and both timelines include interesting plots and have an approximate equal weighting. Objectively, I consider the characters to be interesting. There were characters I liked more than others, but the majority of the characters are either fairly well fleshed out, or appropriately rely on stereotypes that allow the reader to quickly understand them. I will say, not all of the characters really grow or change, but given that this novel is in large part a thriller/horror novel, I think that is okay. When you think about a lot of famous horror movies, the main character struggling to survive is often a static character, who may become traumatized, but has not really changed at his or her core, and has instead shown how his or her character has allowed him or her to remain alive. So, given that I agree that the plot and characters in the novel are fairly well done, what, exactly, was my problem with the novel?

That is an excellent question.

I’m going to try. Also, way to call bullshit on my stalling tactics.

Right.

I think the missing element for me with this novel was writing style. There were moments, brief glimpses, where the prose style was enjoyable to me. However, for the most part, the writing of this novel felt a bit plain. It was not that the sentences were even necessarily poorly crafted, they just didn’t appeal to me. The information that should have been conveyed was conveyed, it was just done in a way that felt too simple, that drew too straight a line from point A to point C. In essence, I think that this novel shows craft and shows writing, but just does not do so in a way that is in accord with my artistic sensibilities. I would not be at all surprised to discover I am in the minority in my feelings while reading this novel. At the same time, my honest, true feelings are that the writing style takes an interesting idea peopled with interesting characters and fails to elevate the story, leaving the book instead one more mediocre novel populating store bookshelves starting October 20th.

Ugh – I wanted to like this so much more than I did!

Did you read it, or are you planning to do so? If so, what did you think or what is most interesting/intriguing/appealing to you?

Timing

I was too late to make the deadline, but this post was written in response to The Wordsmith’s Weekly Writing Contest (15-21). Thanks for the prompt, Ms. Rachel Smith!

The ticking was cacophonous in the small room wallpapered with clocks of all shapes and sizes, each with its’ own slightly different measurement that resulted in there not being a single moment without sound. The lack of carpeting only increased sound, with every step George took in her high-heeled boots echoing loudly. She had to get out of here before the hour struck, not merely to save her brother, but also to save her sanity.

Robert had always had a knack for getting into dangerous situations, and George marveled to herself that it was slightly amazing that she was not yet tired of saving him. It probably helped that this time she was not saving him from himself. Robert may have been an alcoholic gambler and compulsive liar with impulse control problems, but he had not kidnapped himself nor absconded to this odd time dungeon voluntarily.

Glancing at the wall, George noted she had approximately 12 minutes to grab her brother and get out. Luckily, she did not also have to find him. There was nowhere to hide, and he lay 12 steps before her, his wrists bound in a thick, oil-smudged rope behind his back, his mouth gagged with a dirty rag, his chest rising in jagged breaths that belied the impression that he was no longer save-able.

She hurried to his side, curling over her toes and making her arches scream as she knelt. She pulled the rag roughly from his mouth, causing a scream and the plink of at least one tooth against the hard, cold floor.

“Jesus!” Robert screamed, red flushing across his face.

“Not Jesus,” she corrected. “George.”

“Fuck, George, what the hell are you doing?”

“Saving you.”

“Well, dammit, be more careful! I can’t afford veneers.”

“I think the words you’re looking for are, ‘Thank you for coming to rescue me, dear sister in shining armor. Losing a tooth sucks, but is probably better than losing my life. I also 100% realize that this loss is likely partially my fault, because I have terrible oral hygiene.’”

“It’s not my fault; I’m an alcoholic.”

“I don’t think that removes responsibility, but… Shit. 9 minutes. Why don’t you shut the fuck up so we can get out of here?”

“Why don’t you both shut the fuck up? You’re giving me a migraine.” The voice was cold, female elegance overlaid on the polar ice caps.

Cold and familiar.

“Of course,” George muttered. “I should have known.” She turned and greeted the woman: “Hello, mother.”

She woke up, the raucous chimes letting her know it was several hours later. Her arms were tied tightly behind her back, a thick and salty rag was in her mouth, and she had a splitting headache.