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GIMME A CAPPACHINO: 5 CAFFEINATED GOTTA KNOW READS

October 22, 2014 Books, Writing 6 Comments

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By Randy Susan Meyers

Halloween nears. Winter approaches. In the Northeast we face snow shoveling, icy roads, and bleak grey skies. Our rewards? Sundays curled on the couch with a great book. I could offer lists of classics you can finally settle into, uber-literary masterpieces to read with your dictionary at your side, or I can tell the truth. There’s nothing like a ‘gotta know’ book to get you through a blizzard. (Think Gone Girl … those books you absolutely must finish, cause (as Stephen King says in On Writing) you ‘gotta know’ how it ends.

For me, gotta know can be anything from a memoir on mountain climbing to a novel of a woman battling a town’s humiliation. It’s all about books that stole my sleep:

THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY by Tiffany Baker

 

When Truly Plaice’s mother was pregnant, the town of Aberdeen joined together in betting how recordbreakingly huge the baby boy would ultimately be. The girl who proved to be Truly paid the price of her enormity; her father blamed her for her mother’s death in childbirth, and was totally ill equipped to raise either this giant child or her polar opposite sister Serena Jane, the epitome of feminine perfection. When he, too, relinquished his increasingly tenuous grip on life, Truly and Serena Jane are separated—Serena Jane to live a life of privilege as the future May Queen and Truly to live on the outskirts of town on the farm of the town sadsack, the subject of constant abuse and humiliation at the hands of her peers.

“…the kind of book you find yourself stealing time from workday chores to read.” USA Today

THE DEEPEST SECRET by Carla Buckley

 If you read The Deepest Secret late at night, better drink some coffee. This multi-layered story of a family beset by multiple crises is outstanding—the beauty of Buckley’s writing has us treasure each character, even as we cringe at the choices they make.

 

“Smart and thrilling…A taut family drama about a mother blindly obsessed with protecting her teen son from the UV light that could kill him.” PEOPLE magazine

THE KEPT by James Scott

In the winter of 1897, a trio of killers descends upon an isolated farm in upstate New York. Midwife Elspeth Howell returns home to the carnage: her husband, and four of her children, murdered. Before she can discover her remaining son Caleb, alive and hiding in the kitchen pantry, another shot rings out over the snow-covered valley. Twelve-year-old Caleb must tend to his mother until she recovers enough for them to take to the frozen wilderness in search of the men responsible.

Scott’s characters are dark brush strokes of appetite and deceit.” New York Times

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

 Shelved as YA, it’s is most certainly an incredible read of adults.

A harrowing and horrifying account of the forcible relocation of countless Lithuanians in the wake of the Russian invasion of their country in 1939. In the case of 16-year-old Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, this means deportation to a forced-labor camp in Siberia, where conditions are all too painfully similar to those of Nazi concentration camps. Lina’s great hope is that somehow her father, who has already been arrested by the Soviet secret police, might find and rescue them.

“This superlative first novel by Ruta Sepetys demonstrates the strength of its unembellished language. A hefty emotional punch.”—The New York Times

TOUCHING THE VOID by Joe Simpson

 Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, had just reached the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes when disaster struck. Simpson plunged off the vertical face of an ice ledge, breaking his leg. In the hours that followed, darkness fell and a blizzard raged as Yates tried to lower his friend to safety. Finally, Yates was forced to cut the rope, moments before he would have been pulled to his own death.

The next three days were an impossibly grueling ordeal for both men.

“One of the absolute classics of mountaineering…a document of psychological, even philosophical witness of the rarest compulsion” —Sunday Times

Now get yourself a nice wool blanket, some cocoa, and enjoy…. 

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Turning the Tables on a Bad Writing Day

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By Juliette Fay

You can tell when it’s stacking up to be a bad writing day.

You look at the list of non-writing stuff that needs to get done, throw up your hands and think, No possible way.

Or the thought of whatever project you’re working on ignites that gnawing insecure feeling that hisses, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING. TURN BACK NOW.

Or you’re in a foul mood, perhaps after a miserable morning with kids who do not feel like going to school, or making their lunches or picking up the wet bathing suit they left in the hallway last night. Parent-child skirmishes ensue: “That’s not my bathing suit – Yes, it is, it’s your favorite – I’ll get it later – Please get it now before it goes brown with mildew and stinks up the place – Don’t freak out! – I’m not freaking out! – Yes, you are! You always freak out about little stuff! – Well, now I’m freaking out about how disrespectful you’re being!”

(Please tell me I’m not the only one who has these brain-singeing early morning conversations with offspring.)

On the days when, for whatever reason, you’ve determined that All is for Naught, here are some suggestions that are guaranteed to get you back on track.

Open the file. The babiest of baby steps, true. But just do it. Then walk away if you need to, but if it sits there waiting for you like a sad puppy with a leash in its mouth, silently begging for you to take it out for a puppy tinkle, you’ll feel that much more inclined to wander back to it.

Lay off the Joe, Joe.  Yes, okay, coffee is “writer’s little helper,” and it’s tempting to think another cup or six will sling you by your jangled nerves toward productive land. A little extra can be good, but too much and you may find your characters are suddenly threatening one another in all-caps.

Get out. Are you sick of hearing exercise is the solution to everything? Yeah, me too. However, even a quick spin around the block can get the blood oxygenated and the synapses firing and other science-y stuff like that. (Damn it, Jim, I’m a writer not a doctor!) Here’s the twist: go alone and go gadget-less. Let your thoughts flow unimpeded by any input other than the sight of falling leaves and your neighbors’ garbage cans.

Write somewhere strange. And I don’t mean Starbucks. The end of a dock, the lobby of a museum, a friend’s kitchen table (ask first, though, because being there when they wake up in the morning is intrusive and weird). Change of venue can spark new and unusual ideas.

Be the ball, Danny. Get in your character’s head. If your protag likes to cook, pick a recipe he would like and make it for dinner. Ruminate on what he’s thinking as he prepares it. If you’ve got a character who clog dances or paints on velvet, do those things as him or her. For bonus points, do it in costume.

Set a timer—egg, hourglass, mental or otherwise. Start with 20 minutes, park yourself in front of that file you opened (see above), and write just one really crappy paragraph. Giving yourself a time limit and permission to be mediocre can stifle the internal critic and get the gears whirring. At a minimum, you’ve got one more paragraph than you had before. Yeah, it’s crappy but you can fix it later.

Reward/Punish Yourself “If I write X number of words, I get to fly to Luxembourg for dinner. If not, I have to clean the bathroom in my senior prom dress, film it and send the video to my high school boyfriend under the caption I Really Miss You.” You get the idea. Be creative.

Self Shaming. Okay so this suggestion is probably not endorsed by the American Psychological Association, but let’s get serious here. You say you can’t write because you have so much to do or your insecurities are getting the best of you—or because (melodramatic sigh) you’re not in the mood? Well, boo freakin’ hoo. Not all obstacles are minor, but here in the First World, many of them are. So get your whiny hiney in that chair and produce some verbiage, you big baby.

What are your favorite ways to turn a bad writing day around?

(Originally published October 10, 2013)

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