Monday, January 27, 2020

Story on Plot Twists From The Hidden Brain podcast

Spoiler Alert delves into plot twists and surprise endings, examining what it is about the brain that can be tricked, and even more, why we like to be tricked in this way.  I heard it soon after seeing the current movie Knives Out, which was clever and one of the most enjoyable movies I've seen in a long time. It made me think how much I love the kind of stories where everything is turned on end at some point--where the bad guys end up being the good guys, where the world is really not what it seemed, where the audience/reader had no idea what was going on even though the evidence was all there. It seems so advanced to try to write a story in this way... but perhaps a good challenge!

Monday, January 13, 2020

2002 Reading List

As I've learned about writing I've had a hard time finding books that are compelling to read.  I just can't fall into a good book and forget the writing anymore and I've had trouble finding books with writing I admire. However, I know that reading good books is important to my development as a writer (and I do love reading), and I know there are good books out there, so I'm committing to do more reading this year.

As I blogged about, I read On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong through the Writers Who Read book club hosted by Gary McBride. He provides careful, thorough and (even) numerical analysis of a wide selection of books through the Boulder Writers Alliance meetup group. I will attempt to read and make his meetings, because not only do I like his selections and analysis, but I think more when I know I'll be put on the spot at the meeting to say something interesting. Asterisks in the list below denote books for the group

 I'm going to try to read one additional book per month. Sound paltry to many of you (and good for you!) but I doubt I've even read twelve books in a single year since I had kids.  I will update the list below as I start and finish books. I hope that I read more than intended, especially as I'm reading a lot of middle-grade books right now in order to get a sense of the genre, and they are quick reads.

On going (with my kids)
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous* by Ocean Vuong. Read from 12/23-1/4.  Review
Trust Exercise* by Susan Choi

Ghost by Jason Reynolds, Started 1/6 (loaded to a friend on a hut trip.. on hold)
Zepheria's Call by Nathan Lowell (audiobook, ongoing...)

The Lady In The Lake* by Laura Lippman

Fleishman Is In Trouble* by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead* by Olga Tokarczuk

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Review: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

It was no surprise to learn that the author is a poet. The phrasing is wrenchingly gorgeous. The text is packed with figurative language and juxtaposition that forces the reader to grapple for connections.

It is also no surprise to learn the author is an academic. The fourth wall is broken, the act of writing is examined, the use of metaphor is ultimately questioned, the format is malleable, and historical and current writers are referenced.

What did surprise me was easily finding a classic three-act structure within what appeared to be unstructured text. The author even splits the books into three labeled parts. Part I is clearly family (thesis, childhood), II is romance (anti-thesis, adolescence), III brings family and lover together under the theme of death (synthesis, adulthood).

Another classic plot-driving technique the author uses is raising questions. I had a hard time putting the book down, despite there not being an obvious plot and realized that the author was using
the unstructured nature and incoherent timeline to introduce and develop characters and events in a way to keep the reader going, searching for the next tiny hint or larger answer. Who is the woman holding the girl? Who is the soldier by the road? Who is the white, teenage boy and why is he bleeding? These are the kinds of questions I've learned from Rachel Weaver that compel the reader to continue through more conventionally structured novels.  The key, though, still is character: I had to care enough about the protagonist and his friends and family to want to find out what was happening.

One of the major questions I had while reading was how much was drawn from the author's life and how much was fiction. I read an interview with the author in which he said his poems aren't always from his point of view, and indeed it is too easy for readers to assume a protagonist who matches the author in gender, race, age and apparent life situation is drawn just from that person. However, this book apparently qualifies as auto-fiction, which is somewhere between fiction and memoir.

Overall, I enjoyed reading it, it tugged on my emotions and I had no trouble finishing it, which is a significant accomplishment at this stage of my life and writing career.  (More on that in my next post!)

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Writers Who Read book club hosted by Gary McBride. 
Click on the title (of this, and many more) for his slides containing an intensive analysis of the text.