Sunday, November 23, 2008

Meet the New Piedmont Poet Laureate: Jaki Shelton Green

On Saturday November 15th at the NC Writers' Conference in RTP, the Raleigh Arts Commission, the Durham Arts Council and the Orange County Arts Commission revealed the 2009-2010 Piedmont Poet Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green. Jaki is famous for her personal poems, most recently compiled in Breath of a Song. Jaki teaches creative writing to marginalized populations such as the homeless, the newly literate, the incarcerated, and the writer-as-survivor. In 2003 she received the North Carolina Award in Literature. Here's the link to a story about Jaki's new role.
I got to know Jaki when I served on the board of Carolina Wren Press. I sold many of Jaki's books at her Breath of a Song launch in 2005. If you don't her, she's warm, funny and dedicated to her craft. I can't think of a better poet to represent Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
After he read this blog posting, Thomas Pearce, reporter for the Daily Tar Heel, wrote this piece on Jaki's new position this week.

The Glass Castle Review

The Glass Castle: A Memoir The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Glass Castle is a book whose images and characters you'll have trouble getting out of your head. Jeannette Walls's has said in her interviews that she had to face the demon, which was telling people about her poverty-stricken childhood. Her parents moved her family around a lot when she was under 10 to avoid the landlord and the bill collectors. Sometimes the children went without food and these kids were never supervised. She feared that once her New York friends found out about where she came from they'd leave her at worst, or laugh at her at best. Neither fear materialized. The Glass Castle stayed on the New York Times Bestseller List for a year and her book encouraged her readers to tell her about their difficult childhoods. There'll soon be a Glass Castle movie.

To me, the "Glass Castle" represented her parents, Rex and Rose Mary's, lost potential. Rex was brilliant in math and science, but was an alcoholic and Rose Mary could have made a living as a artist, but she lacked discipline. Rose Mary told the kids that they'll learn from their mistakes, but they never did. At one point, they even owned a house outright, but still moved anyway to face more poverty.

Jeannette had to survive being tossed out of a car, a dark, bumpy ride in the back of a U-Haul, bullies, explosions, child molesters and cockroach attacks. And there's more. I can't imagine having to live without running water for seven years or hearing your mother saying it's OK to eat maggotty-ham.

The amazing thing is that Jeannette's early experiences made her stronger and she still loved her parents despite everything they put her through. One of the sweetest moments of the book was her dad giving her $950 to finish school.

Please read this book even if you don't normally read memoirs. You'll find a true example of unconditional love and forgiveness.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

The NaNoWriMo Handbook

No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a great book to bolster your courage if you are attempting "National Novel Writing Month" in November. I've had this book on my bookshelf for a couple of years and finally pulled it out. After reading as much as I could (Chris Baty tells readers not to skip ahead to the "Week 2" before you start your novel) I believe I have the faith and stamina to pump out a 50,000-word tome. Baty also includes sidebars about where to go to write your work, shares his experiences and those of other winners and also (this was interesting for me) mothers and fathers share their experiences on how they managed writing with their young children during the month. A great resource!

I'm now at the 16,000+ mark on my novel and pray that Baty gives me more inspriation in Week 3~ This is hard but I will kill the chicken!

View all my reviews.

Kill the Chicken

This post is also at Christine Kane's blog. Christine Kane is a singer/songwriter and creativity coach.

Whenever I hear the word “chicken” I suddenly think of doing something I’m afraid to do. I think of my doubts and insecurities. I think about looking stupid. But I’m a writer and I’m always insecure, always trying new things, always pushing my writing skills and jumping before I’m truly ready. So, what does a reasonable person do? I kill the chicken. Yes, I kill the chicken of doubts, realize my value, and conjure up the faith I have in myself.

When I first became a serious writer, I was so enthusiastic and happy to be out of my old career I wasn’t afraid of anything. I placed my efforts in the right spots, I made up business cards, and I started a writing group. But the more invested I became in my work, the more I felt the presence of the deadly chicken. I’ve decided my chicken likes to come out during a full moon and when I have a deadline.

I felt my chicken roost when I was halfway through writing my thesis and my deadline was coming in three days. I had to write at least 50 more pages and add to my research. I’d been getting a total of ten hours of sleep in two days. My thesis advisor wanted more depth and I had to deliver, or else. The chicken told me, “So, Alice, it’s okay if you don’t finish. You need your sleep. You can finish your thesis later. If you don’t finish you won’t have all of this horrible stress.” And I really wanted to stop and take it easy. But if you stop and take it easy, you won’t get anything done and you won’t be anything! I couldn’t walk away from my thesis writing after all of my prior work! I did a few sit-ups, stretched my legs, and pushed through the chicken to get my thesis completed.

Same thing happened when I had a freelance assignment. I couldn’t get my words to work. I kept hitting the blank screen of white death. I heard that chicken. So I went to bed at 11pm, and got up a few hours later to finish my writing. Maybe I fooled my chicken my taking a short nap and recharging, but I didn’t hear from her again.

I coach emerging writers and so many of them make excuses to not get their writing done. They know writing is hard and revealing, plus who wants to do something painful when they can watch The Office or clean their bathtub? They tell me, “It’s too overwhelming and why try, anyway? Who’d want to read my work?” I say to them: Take it one step at a time. Set some time aside, say fifteen minutes and write. The next day revise what you wrote the day before. Keep adding to your writing time and you’ll see. You’ll see. Above all, I tell my clients to take themselves seriously as writers. If they don’t take themselves seriously, no one will.

So the next time you feel doubts creeping up and that old voice inside of your head is telling you to drop a creative project, please kill the chicken. You’re bigger than her anyway.



Sunday, November 02, 2008

True Blood Book Review

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 1) Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I'm now a big fan of HBO's True Blood - in fact, I look forward to the repeats! But the first episode of True Blood didn’t hook me until Vampire Bill presented at the night meeting of the Descendants of the Glorious Dead (Episode 5). Poor Bill Compton, make a vampire only when he was trying to find a safe haven after the Civil War ended. When I found out that True Blood was first the Sookie Stackhouse series, I got the first book in the series right away. It's told from Sookie's point of view and she's a likeable voice -- intelligent, a little corny and very brave.I got the book with the "True Blood" photo on it and it's a lot better than the original cover.

If you’re familiar with the HBO Series, then I’d recommend reading Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse “Southern Vampire Mystery Series.” Harris is a competent writer, although she’s no Alan Ball, the series’ writer and creator. What I mean by that is that Ball uses clever foreshadowing, objects as emotional connections (Sookie’s grieves over Gran’s death by slowly eating her pecan pie and Bill grieves over his human loss by throwing an antique toaster into the fire), and fine characterizations to give as much weight to this series as it can hold. Both the book and series have humor, but the series’ humor is definitely dark without being silly. Without Ball’s fine touch, True Blood would descend into a cheesy drama found on Fox that probably would have last 3 shows. But to her credit, Harris sustains a very quick pace throughout the book, never slowing down too long for personal reflection or to smell the flowers. Her Sookie is a character who is quick to anger, na├»ve, and assumes the worst in her boyfriend Bill. Sookie (the book is told in first person) has to tell the reader exactly what she’s wearing – one of the dangers of using first person, but at least she doesn’t look in mirrors all of the time. Because of its fast pace, Sookie doesn’t have a chance to grieve over Gran’s death and minor characters aren’t given the chance to develop like they do in the show. Sadly, Jason, Arlene, Rene, Sam and especially Lafayette are one-note characters. Andy Bellfleur, surprisingly, is fairly well-drawn and we know more about him in the book than in the show. Perhaps Tara makes an appearance further in the series, but she’s nonexistent here. Dead Until Dark is sometimes serious and sometimes goofy, but always entertaining. I couldn’t put it down and finished it within a week as I worked on other reading and writing projects. That said, I loved Harris’s characterization of Bill and his love scenes with Sookie were well-written. They were neither quick and pat or X-rated, ala Anne Rice. She writes this line using a strong sensory image as Bill and Sookie are about to consummate their relationship, “My hands began to rub his arms helplessly. Strangely, I thought of a pan of caramels my grandmother had put on the stove for a candy recipe, and I thought of the melted, warm sweet goldenness of them.” Bill’s phrasing is just like in the series — he sounds both old fashioned and modern, depending upon the situation. When Arlene’s kids find out he doesn’t give Sookie flowers, he tells them, “I must mend my ways.”

I’d like to read more of Harris’s vampire series, one because I like Sookie’s voice, and two, because I now care about the characters, which is more a result of the show True Blood than this book.

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