June 26, 2016
Holy crap, where did this month go?! End of school, my niece Ashlynn’s wedding (eek, my baby niece!), lots of family in town, a beach getaway at one of my favorite places…Whoosh! went June, but in a good way. Not a lot of writing, but all good, including some good books!
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
An incredible survival story of a woman who saved not only herself but her siblings from the poverty and abuse of their polygamist family. Somehow, she was also able to save the love. At the end of the book, there is a picture of the author on her wedding day, surrounded by her siblings. She looks so beautiful and happy, I want to pump my fists in the air and hug her.
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
What a beautiful book. Young Marietta Greer—feisty, smart, sensitive, and funny—sets out of her native rural Kentucky in a rattletrap Volkswagen Bug, changes her name to Taylor when the car runs out of gas in Taylorville, Illinois, and ends up in Tuscon, Arizona when the car dies. Along the way, a Cherokee woman hands Taylor a baby and asks her to take her, which Taylor does, naming the baby Turtle. Together, Taylor and Turtle meet a host of other misfit, loveable characters who, in the end, form a patched together sort of family.
Taylor spells out one of the best messages of the book to Turtle when she learns that the secret to wisteria vines thriving in poor soil are microscopic bugs called rhizobia, which suck nitrogen out of the soil and turn it into fertilizer for the plant. (One of my all time favorite words is symbiotic!)
“ ‘It’s like this,’ I told Turtle. ‘There’s a whole invisible system for helping out the plant that you’d never guess was there.’ I loved this idea. ‘It’s just the same as with people. The way Edna has Virgie, and Virgie has Edna, and Sandi has Kid Central Station, and everybody has Mattie. And on and on.’
The wisteria vines on their own would just barely get by, is how I explained it to Turtle, but put them together with rhizobia and they make miracles.”
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Omg, I loved this book the way I love John Green books. Loveable characters, raw emotions, clever, funny, heartbreaking, uplifting. Can’t wait to read more by this author.
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Meh. Thought I would like this more based on the success of this author, including Me Before You.
Which I read next, and liked a lot, but.
But I was scratching my head the entire time I was reading it. The story—small town girl, Lou (Louisa) leads a small life until she meets Will, a quadriplegic who led such a big life before the accident that disabled him that he can’t accept life in a chair; in her pursuit to save Will from assisted suicide, Lou herself learns to live, and love, big—is a cliché. The characters are clichés, nearly every one of them, Lou and Will themselves, Lou’s parents (poor but loving), Will’s parents (rich but detached), Lou’s boyfriend, Patrick (calls Lou “babe” and pays more attention to his workouts than Lou, until he notices her increasing attention to Will). I’d say the only characters that weren’t cookie cutters were Lou’s sister, Treena, and Will’s medical caregiver, Nathan.
At least the ending wasn’t the cliché I feared it would be, that Will would change his mind about suicide in the name of love, only to die of some random health complication. In fact, he never tells Lou he loves her, though he surely does on some level, and I love that rather than caving to the pressure of Lou, his parents, the quadriplegic community, the world in general, to essentially find the positives and build a new kind of life, he asserted his truth about continuing to live as he is. “I can’t. It’s not who I am. I can’t be the kind of man who just…accepts.” He glanced down at his chair, his voice breaking, “I will never accept this.”
So, it’s not that I didn’t like the characters or the story, I really did. I just wondered how, given everything I read daily from established writers, agents, editors, and publishers, and how they unanimously rail against clichés, how this book even got past the first critique.
But so it goes in publishing, and I already know that. In the end, it’s a good thing for me as a writer to remember: Learn everything I can from experts I admire, then write my own damn story.
I am currently (read: Still. Agonizingly slowly, STILL) editing my reproductive trauma memoir, and the difficulty has largely gone from being unable to cut the fat to trying to implement the huge amount of knowledge and feedback I’ve acquired in the past year into every chapter, scene, word. Which is, of course, the work of a writer, and I actually LOVE the process, so it’s not a complaint. But it does feel overwhelming sometimes, and it’s nice to take a breath every once in a while and remind myself that most of the time the “rules” pan out, but sometimes they don’t, and ultimately it all really comes down to just telling a good story. Write on.