Learning From My Three Favorite Novels

the ones on the shelf instead of the floor

the ones on the shelf instead of stacked on the floor

The novel writing book I’m reading by Donald Maass asked for the reader to pick their three favorite novels and intuit or look for why they’re favorites. I chose “Silent In The Grave” by Deanna Raybourn, “The Year Of Pleasures” by Elizabeth Berg” and “A Walk In The Woods” by Bill Bryson.
The character in the Raybourn book is very likable and honest with herself. It’s the descriptive quality of her relationship with people and things around her that I enjoy. She’s wealthy and the story takes place in Victorian times. Many Victorian novels seem bleak to me and while this one isn’t fluffy or frivolous, it is lighter. I love the sense of place and descriptions of clothes, furniture, homes and gloriously, food. It felt good to read of Lady Julia Grey’s relationship with some of her servants, which could be humorous but not in an over-the-top way.
The Berg book (which darn it, I loaned out and will have to obtain a new copy for myself) is about a favorite theme of mine–a mature woman whose old life is gone and the steps she takes to find her way into a new one. It’s what I liked about the film “Under The Tuscan Sun”, a favorite of mine. The book isn’t about drama and angst and suffering. It is subtle and the descriptions of the place and things and the interior journey all blend well together in a way that’s soothing and sensual to me.
Bryson’s book is the funniest book I’ve ever read and I laugh out loud until I have tears. Even though he’s a guy I can relate to the process of setting an incredibly unrealistic goal, forging ahead without proper conditioning and preparation and then the ensuing inner conflict of realizing he’s in way over his head. Again, there is a lot of description of the Appalachian Trail and his relationship to it.
As I read a little further in Haass’s Writing The Breakout Novel, he mentions how 19th century novels treated the landscape as a character in the story. Of course! The outdoors and nature are very alive to me. Setting and landscape can feel more important to me than the action part of the story, although I resent being jerked around and manipulated by the action part and for personal reasons I don’t tolerate tragedy and unfortunate endings well. (I avoid Oprah’s book selections.)
I love the Britflick series Midsomer Murders and it isn’t for the story. It’s for the amazingly gorgeous settings and the relationships.
Relationships between people and things and surroundings are interesting to me as well as relationships between people. In at least one of my posts here, I’ve mentioned that I like stuff. When meeting new people as potential friends, not only do I notice how they treat others but also the way the relate to their cars, electronics, clothes and the environment among other things.
I’ve also mentioned I like the show “Burn Notice” and it certainly isn’t for the story, blowing things up, etc. It’s for the character’s integrity and their relationships to each other. I would never read books about those stories, I think, because it’s a visual thing and the actors do a great job. Although I can appreciate the written descriptions in Robert B. Parker’s novels.
Since I tend to over-analyze and think things to death (oh, you’ve noticed?) I usually stay away from books making intellectual points (although I love the novel Ishmael) and go for more sensual stories.
I avoid books about illness and suffering with the exception of Stephen White’s books. He has a character with MS and he does an awesome job of portraying her as a complex, whole, interesting person who is so much more than her illness.
Now there, I’ve learned a little something about myself and what I look for in a book. And one thing I know for sure–as I’m learning to write, this is the approach that will more likely bringing me an enjoyable experience. I’m well aware that the craft part, very little of which I remember from high school (nope, didn’t take any courses in college on that) and grammar and such–well, I have a lot to learn and refresh there. It isn’t the place to begin for me. So much of my introduction to various things in life have been more of a turn-off and discouragement instead of an inspiration. I’m going to approach it from a direction that might work a lot better for me.


Reading a Writing Book

Sometimes I enjoy reading novels and sometimes I like to write. Sometimes really weird and interesting things have happened in my life or to someone I know and I’ve wished I had the skills and other qualities it takes to write a book. When I read an amazing book I often wish I’d written it.
It’s only been lately that I’ve taken up the notion of writing a book for the experience of it. Actually, I’ve written one accidentally and that’s for another post.
Where to begin? I know about eating the elephant one bite at a time but I don’t know where to start. Organizing and structure in life are not my strength. I can be visionary and see the huge, cosmic picture and also get lost in details but as for any kind of structure that resembles what others consider functional–it’s overwhelming to me and I have to feel my way into it. My intellect balks.
Not being averse to really crappy first efforts (as long as no one is looking) I’ve collected three books on novel writing. The first is Chris Baty’s “No Plot, No Problem” which I used for support in writing that first accidental novel.
The second one, which I’ve recently begun is “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. I chose it because I buy a LOT of books from Amazon and bless their business-like hearts, they are always showing me recommendations for books that I’d never find any other way. I also look at reviews (with skepticism) because often I am not in agreement with critics, people who don’t like something seem more likely to write reviews than people who think it’s just fine and also because I don’t trust the judgement of many of the reviewers. Something about the reviews of this book made me want to give it a whirl and I ordered a used copy.
The book was published in 2001 and the beginning of it has to do with the changing publishing world, which of course is way different now. The publishing world isn’t what I’m wanting to learn about right now and I’m smart enough to know things have changed anyway so I proceeded on.
I like the book and even though I’m not very far along in it I’m already noticing things differently when I read fiction. (I’m reading “Breaking Dawn” right now. Don’t judge me.)
Reading the chapter about Premise, which I’d never thought about before, I got stuck for a little while on the exercise where the reader is to choose their three favorite novels for consideration. Novels they’ve read over and over and that they can go to the shelf and pick up and put in front of them.
After putting too much energy into the exercise, I told myself to just move on. It isn’t a test and there’s no wrong answer and no one cares.
I chose Deanna Raybourn’s “Silent In The Grave”, Elizabeth Berg’s “The Year of Pleasures” and believe it or not, Bill Bryson’s “A Walk In The Woods”.
It’s not clear to me yet why I really like these books so much but I’m sure that it will dawn on me. I mean what the books have in common that fit the elusive-to-describe criteria of what’s magic for me.

Looking Forward To

Very recently I learned of three films in the works with my favorite actor and a book by one of my favorite authors. I like what I like.
This is what I’m writing about today because my brain isn’t working. Every morning I write morning pages and this morning I repeatedly wrote the opposite of what I meant. My nervous system is fried right now. Don’t worry at all–this has been going on for years before I began writing this little blog and I’ve done all the inner work and know about attitude and whatever.
This blog isn’t meant to be mainly about my health issues and other quite significant challenges. I’ve looked around a bit and there are blogs like that available here and quite frankly, while I’m a very compassionate person I can’t stand to read them.
I’m mentioning this because I am using my super powers to do what I can and if it doesn’t seem at all what you care for, kindly move on. This blog is meant to be part of my solution.
Here, I’ll put it in a handy literary quote: “And to deal plainly, I fear I am not in my perfect mind.”–William Shakespeare.
The actor is Richard Armitage. I’m not much of a celebrity watcher, but I really, really like him. I think maybe I’ll write about him from time to time.
On July 22 of this year, Captain America: The First Avenger opens. This is the kind of film I would never, ever watch if Richard Armitage were not in it. He plays a bad guy–Heinz Kruger. Other actors in the film that I’ve heard of are Samuel L. Jackson, Hugo Weaving and Tommy Lee Jones.
The other two films are The Hobbit Parts one and two. Richard plays the dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield, which is a bit perplexing to me because he is quite tall. The films will be released in December 2012 and December 2013 respectively. Which is quite awhile to wait.
Another film I’ve been anticipating is Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp playing the role of Barnabas Collins. I fear I may not like it, but must see it. I’m a fan of the 1960’s gothic soap, Dark Shadows and own the entire series on DVD. Yes, I’m aware of all the criticisms about many aspects of the show. I enjoy it anyway and am smiling right now.
The book I’m looking forward to is The Dark Inquiry by Deanna Raybourn and is available June 21. It’s her fourth in the Lady Julia Grey series. Victorian England again. Not only do I enjoy the books, I like reading her blog. She’s delightful.
Creating things is not a stroll in the park. I appreciate the folks who make my life more enjoyable and uplifted by their creations, be it art, books, films or music.