Five on Friday

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1. My latest on “elephant journal.” I cried when I wrote it, cried when I read it.

2. Excellent piece by David Ebenbach on trusting yourself.

3. Love all of these 21 things by Robin Black. Seriously. Can’t even choose a favorite. I need to print it and hang it over my desk. 

4. Intriguing take on the eclipses coming this month.

5. To practice yoga you only need one thing.

Books Read in March

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“The Isle of Youth” stories by Laura van den Berg

The first thing that went wrong was the emergency landing.

How could you not read on after that first sentence? These stories mesmerized me. Women of various ages navigate lives cloaked in secrecy and deception: two sisters run a P.I. business together in Florida; a newlywed couple embark on a honeymoon fraught with turmoil, both inner and outer; a teenage girls acts as her magician mother’s assistant but is up to her own intrigue after hours. Beautifully written stories combined with complex characters add up to one amazing read.

What I learned: How much I love and admire the perfect first sentence to a story. It’s what I aspire to write and this collection is filled with them.

“When We Woke” a YA novel by Karen Healey

My name is Tegan Oglietti. One of my ancestors was a highwayman, and another was a prince.

Imagine being shot. Then imagine waking up only to find that one hundred years had passed. One hundred. That’s Tegan’s story. She finds herself trapped within the confines of government bureaucracy and secrecy, in a world where she knows no one and the future isn’t as positive as she had imagined or hoped. It’s an awesome premise that kept me turning the pages.

What I learned: That song titles (in this case for the Beatles) make an interesting structure/container for the story.

Books Read in February

Lots of my own writing and editing going on this month so that means my reading has dwindled a bit…

“I want to show you more” stories by Jamie Quatro

The vision started coming when I was nine.

These linked stories, set around Lookout Mountain between Georgia and Tennessee, contain sin and joy, adultery and religion and everything in between: a wife and mother recounts the stages of her affair; a young girl attends a pool party with her quadriplegic mother; an elderly woman is determined to walk over three miles to the post office to deliver her handwritten letter to the President of the United States. Alternating between realist and fabulist, these tales are sure to stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

What I learned: That even fabulist tales are rooted in the nitty-gritty details of that particular story’s world.

“the impossible knife of memory” a YA novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

It started in detention. No surprise there, right?

Hayley and her father move back their hometown after five years of being on the road. They are hoping for a “normal” life but there is nothing normal as Hayley tries to protect her father from himself and the demons he carries with him wherever he goes. There is nothing normal about having to parent your father. There is nothing normal about watching him sink back into drugs and alcohol.

Told in the compelling voice of Hayley, this story honors both veterans and their families as well as the relationship between and father and daughter.

What I learned: That it’s okay to have chapter lengths vary widely. And I know I say this often, but I just love a strong voice that hooks me in the first sentence.

The Art of Surviving a Funk

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I was in a funk when I sat down to write this. Maybe hormonal. Maybe the weather. Maybe a combination. It was still a funk no matter what the cause. To me, a funk is a stagnation of energy. And this frigid cold, bundle up, hunker down and hibernate kind of weather we’ve been experiencing doesn’t help.

I’ve learned it’s important not to fall for false energy starters like sugar, shopping, talking just to fill time instead of genuinely connecting, mindless channel surfing or web surfing, too much reading. Wait. What? Too much reading? Is there such a thing? There was a time when I would’ve said absolutely not. There was also a time when I claimed there was no such thing as too much hot fudge. Turns out I was wrong on both counts. Too much reading occurs when I read in order to avoid myself, avoid my writing. Instead of creating energy and words and movement  in my own life, I immerse myself in the words of somebody else who has taken the time to create. I can tell when I am reading this way when I carry a stack of books around the house with me, not quite committed to any of them, not quite sure what I am in the mood for and once I choose one, my focus is scattered, my gaze flitting across the page, not engaged at all through no fault of the write. Totally my bad in those circumstances.

What I’ve realized is that it’s the playful artist in me, chomping at the bit to play with my own words, to create my own sentences, my own worlds. I’m learning to heed that longing. Nothing lifts me out of a funk quicker than creating something, anything. A sentence, a sketch, a blog post, a list, a pot of simmering soup. Creating anything creates energy and funks can’t thrive where there is energy. 

Five on Friday

1. Incredibly moving photos taken by a husband of his wife. (May need to grab a tissue for this one.)

2. 32 Unusual Benefits of Yoga.

3. A writer shares what she’s learned about the craft and process of writing over the years.

4. Ways to get more done in your mornings.

5. As much as I love going to the studio, I feel the desire to really fall in love with my home practice as well.

Books Read in January

“The Obituary Writer” a novel by Ann Hood

First sentence: If Claire had to look back and decide why she had the affair in the first place, she would point to the missing boy.

Claire is a pregnant 1960’s wife and mother who is feeling stuck in her marriage and her life. Vivian is an obituary writer in 1918 searching for the lover she lost in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. This lovely novel that reads as part love story, part mystery, alternates between the two women’s lives. Each narrative is compelling on its own, but they also weave together in a surprising and satisfying way.

Sentence(s) I wish I wrote: The grief-stricken want to hear the names of those they’ve lost. To not say the name out loud denies that person’s existence.

What I learned: How the structure of a novel can be yet another layer that reveals character and plot.

“The Round House” a novel by Louise Erdrich

Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation.

Thirteen-year-old Joe’s life is irrevocably changed the day his mother is viciously attacked. The very foundation of his entire family shifts. Joe’s father is a tribal judge and immerses himself in getting justice for his wife through official channels. Joe, having no faith in the official channels sets out with his friends on their own investigation that leads them to the Round House, a sacred place of worship in their community. With his mother slipping away from the family day by day, and his father desperately trying to help in any way he can, Joe finds himself hovering outside the bounds of his family, becoming involved in situations way beyond his years.

What I learned: Interesting impact of not using quotation marks throughout the novel. It made it seem more in Joe’s head, his retelling of the story rather than being immersed in the scenes as the story happened.

“Cartwheel” a novel by Jennifer duBois

Andrew’s plane landed at EZE, as promised, at seven a.m. local time.

Inspired by the events of Amanda Knox, this novel explores the life of Lily Hayes, who, while studying in Buenos Aires for a semester abroad, becomes the prime suspect in the murder of her roommate, Katy Keller. The novel rotates POV between Lily; her father Andrew; Edaurdo, the smart and determined prosecutor with a conscience and Sebastian, Lily’s next-door neighbor and boyfriend who is her main alibi for the night in question. Each person including her mother and sister, host family and the media have their own perceptions of who Lily Hayes really is. This story explores the complex relationships we have with our family, friends and ourselves and leaves the reader wondering how well do we really know anybody, including ourselves.

What I learned: How POV is really a prism through which to see the story. The prism was so much more evident here since each character saw the story and Lily differently.