Stick Figures

To Skim or Not To Skim?

imageBack in the days when I spent my hard-earned, part-time dollars on paperbacks at the old B&N, I read books cover to cover always.  Now that I have less time and virtually limitless access to books both inexpensive and free (oh yeah, the library–what was I thinking?!), I find myself growing impatient with some books.  So, I occasionally succumb to what I once considered a grave insult to the soul of a book.  I skim.

I usually hit the threshold of, “Yup…gonna skim this,” for one of two reasons.  I might find there are no layered plots, new interesting characters (that add to the existing story), or instances of rising tension to carry me along.  It just draaaaags.  Or maybe the book has the opposite problem–a bunch of new characters, settings, and problems drop in seemingly out of nowhere and proceed to bump around like plastic toys in a washing machine–ruining what was a delicately woven story.

When I skim, it’s no more than 10%–I swear!.  I skim for sanity because otherwise I’d take what seemed like a very promising book and hurl it at my backyard gnomes.  My gnomes deserve more respect than that.

I can’t really blame the writers on this–only my own lack of patience.  I’m struggling toward an ending right now that makes me want to chuck my laptop out, too so that it spins end over end before landing happily in a flooded ditch.  I know how hard it can be to first envision a fitting conclusion and then get your characters there without taking a major detour through the Oh-My-God-Where-The-Heck-Is-This-Going Forest.  Still.

Do you skim?  How do you feel about skimmers?  Would you like to throw us in a ditch?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Do We Really Need Happy Endings?

imageHave you ever read a book or watched a movie that was utterly destroyed by its ending?  You follow the characters passionately from beginning to end only to have the floor ripped out from under you in the last five minutes.  As avid consumers of media, we have been raised with an understanding of the tropes of specific genres.  Authors whisper promises to us between the lines, and we feel betrayed when those promises are broken.

We are well trained.

One of our common expectations, in Western literature at least, is to have a happy ending–or at the very least–and ending that is clear cut and lacks ambiguity.  That is not to say that there aren’t plenty of examples of pieces that rally against this and readers/viewers (myself included) that take great pleasure in endings that leave us in a grey zone–a questioning, confused, you’re-on-your-own-Jack zone.  It is up to the reader/viewer to try and answer those questions, and in doing so, ask even bigger ones.

It is the nerdiest and best kind of fun to get inside a piece of art(books/movies) and see how it ticks.  I love finding art that comments on art itself as well as the process of creating it, and best of all, I love finding art that comments on the viewer–that finds a way to take that viewer’s thinking apart as the viewer is taking the art apart.

This is exactly what I found in The Bag Man.  This movie got bad reviews, but I watched it anyway because–hey–I’m obsessed with John Cusak.  As I watched it, I thought I understood why it failed.  The movie was written to comment on scripts–on plot conventions and tropes of the fiction crystallized beautifully in De Niro’s monologue in Room 14 toward the end of the film (which I won’t ruin–just watch it!).  There was also a nifty supernatural layer that made the viewer question whether they were dealing with angels and devils–if only for a brief time.  I surmised the reason most viewers couldn’t connect with this movie was because they couldn’t grasp those layers–that it was a movie more for critics and weirdos like me than for general audiences.

But then I reached the true horror of this film–its ending.

The last five minutes seemed rushed and out of place.  This “happy” ending gave undue closure to what was otherwise a grotesque/beautiful pool of ambiguity that led the viewer to ask questions about our dark hero and how “good” he really is.  THEY SHOULD HAVE LEFT IT!!

I am neither for nor against happy endings.  I love all kinds of endings as long as they fit.  When something is forced in because it is expected…it’s pretty sad.  We remember endings and beginnings best (brain science, baby), so make them count!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

NJRW’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference ROCKED!

imageSomewhere between grading, lesson plans, curriculum, and the general pull-my-hair-out stress that comes with the beginning of the school year, I lost myself.

All that was left of me dissolved into my job.  Still–and I hold true to this–never a day without a word!  I crawl into bed exhausted, cuddle up with a notebook, and write, write, write because there is no therapy like word therapy.  I have literally been sleeping with notebooks.

But today…I got to wear my writer’s hat in the daylight.

The expertise and enthusiasm of the presenters at our workshops gave me the little kick I needed to get back on the book train. There are too many “best parts” to count, but Roxanne St. Claire’s workshop on scene revision definitely resonated with me.  We share a similar revision process which I won’t go into detail about, but it was good to hear that I’m not the only one who stops in the middle of her first draft and goes back to rewrite it from the top.

On that note, I’m returning to my latest WIP, mid-draft revising it for the second time and writing (finally!) to the end. So here’s to finding myself again, buried deep in the words.

Have you ever been to a writing conference?  If so, what’s the best piece of advice you learned there?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

What Makes a Book “Good”: Complete Opinion from an Omnivorous Reader

imageThere is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to saying what makes a book “good.”  For me, it’s not just what the story is about but how it’s told.  I’ll do my best to explain that by unraveling two very different though equally incredible books I’m reading right now.

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline is a masterpiece of 80s and video game geek nostalgia that takes place in a dystopian future where the only escape from reality can be found via the OASIS–a massive online video game that constantly references popular video games, movies, TV shows, and bands that were important to the game’s designer–a child of the 1980s.  This world-building makes the book really fun to read, but that is not the story.

The heart of the tale is the development of our ultra-introverted main character Wade, a boy from a futuristic trailer park who’s absorbed as much 80s culture as possible in order to win a contest created by the OASIS’s designer.  Wade, unlike the evil cooperation racing against him, loves everything about the 80s and will use both his brain and his heart to win the contest.  He is the underdog, smart, and openly flawed–it’s hard not to like him.

The writing itself including tone, voice, structure, ect. hold together well, and the book has its moments of “deep-reaching” with enough existential reflections about playing a game within a game to keep me satisfied.  It’s important for all this to come together in order for me to classify the book as “good.”  Otherwise, it would just be an excuse for a string of random pop-culture references a la Family Guy.

That said…the best parts of the story in my opinion are Cline’s clever combinations of 80s culture and science fiction.  I had typed some examples here then erased them for fear of ruining the book.  Read it.

Another excellent book I’m currently reading is LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell.  It’s my third Rowell book in a row, and it makes me feel like I could read anything she’s written and love it.  I tried explaining the plot to one of my coworkers but gave up because this book is less concept and more character–the kind of character that must be experienced.  Georgie’s marriage is thrown against the rocks right around Christmas time, but when she plugs in an old landline phone in her bedroom, she’s “magically” able to communicate with her husband before he was her husband–her Neil from the past.  Through their conversations and Georgie’s surfacing memories, we learn more and more about these characters, growing closer to them as we read.

Rowell’s power in writing is in her ability to create intimacy.  Her dialogue is so on–her descriptions of the body so perfectly imperfect–I’m at a loss for words.  I don’t want to use the cliché “She brings the characters to life” because I think that descriptor is overused.  Until you read a book like this–that is as grounding as its title–you might not know what it means for characters to be real.  And if you haven’t read a book like this in a while–if you’re only choosing books based on their concepts–you may have forgotten.

So, I am happy right now to flip back and forth between Cline, a master of concept, and Rowell, a master of character.  Both of their books are “good,” well-written and whole, but what makes me ultimately say they’re good is completely different.  That’s based on the book itself…kind of like falling in love.  It’s sort of fitting how READY PLAYER ONE is the book I’m listening to at high speeds–rushing through the world, and LANDLINE is the book waiting for me when I come home.

What makes a book “good” in your opinion?  Shout out below!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Passenger Seat Boom Box Blasts Books on Disc: Yes I Am That Ghetto

imageThe shifty used car salesman who demanded cash for my “clean as a button” Civic must have know that, sooner or later, the car would try to kill me.  The Button, as I came to call it, would pull such stunts as stalling on the entrance ramp to a highway and spinning merrily in the middle of a downpour to face oncoming traffic.

I’ve spent a stupid amount of money trying to fix the broken air-conditioning in this thing (which still isn’t working–grr!), but forcing me to sweat while the idiot lights flash on the dashboard–announcing the cars own slow, oncoming death–wasn’t enough for Button.  On Monday, my CD player decided it was time to go off to that laser disc dance party in the sky–leaving me in silence.

No CD player, no CD books.

I am cheap as hell.  Almost all my physical and audio books come from ye olde library.  I could borrow audio books in an MP3 format (and listen to them with one of those snazzy tape converters in my car–high tech, I know), but I might need to wait longer for certain books to be available…and some I can only get in CD format.

So I took my old boom box, slapped some over-priced batteries inside, and voila!  Ghetto books deluxe.

As I’m rolling to work with Ready Player One blasting in the cab (windows down), I am struck by how much of a nerd I am.  Not necessarily a smart nerd–a terribly awkward nerd who’s desperate enough to hear the rest of a book that she will drive around with a boom box like an idiot and doesn’t care if the teenagers in the expensive SUV next to her are staring.  It makes me feel this…sick sense of pride.  Because screw the rest–the book is all that matters.

What desperate measures have you taken to finish a book?  Tell all below!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Sudden Obsession With Writer Syndrome

imageHave you ever read a book by an author that immediately made you want to read everything he or she had ever written?  If so, who is your obsession?  Tell me about it below!

Rainbow Rowell is a literary goddess.  I must possess all that she has written, take it in through my eye sockets, and absorb it into my imperfect being.  Alright, maybe that’s a teensy bit over the top, but in all seriousness, her writing makes something inside me sing. 🙂

So far, I’ve read Fangirl and Eleanor & Park.  They were both incredibly humorous and smart with walk-off-the-page characters and quirky details that brought everything to life.  Landline is next, but I’m spacing it with other books because I’m afraid I’ll read through everything she’s written without grounding myself in other books so that I can appreciate hers properly.  Must…gain…control.

Read on, book junkies!

Michelle Joyce Bond

 

Stick Figures

End of Summer Reading Spree

imageDo forgive–lack of posts due to continuous unabashed reading.

Books of note include:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky — A classic not to be missed!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins — Humorous, adorable, and romantic.  Seriously, why is this not yet a movie?   

And my favorite of the week that made me laugh out loud in an airport and totally freak out the family next to me: Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

Happy end-of-the-summer reading,

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Stand Alones vs. Series

imageOften, I feel the first book of a series would’ve been a pretty good stand alone.

I will read either as long as they’re well-written, but I’m partial to stand alones because the narratives are tighter. Consider the shape of a story. We have a character who struggles to achieve a goal, passing through numerous obstacles that force that character to change (though not always–there are great literary examples that break the mold). We enjoy watching that character struggle because we are sick, sick monkeys.  But our characters reach the climax, their goal (or not) and there’s a quick race to the finish.

With a series, the author needs to set new goals and challenges before the character, forcing them to change EVEN MORE. This is difficult, especially when we’re talking about young adult literature. These stories are often (though not always) coming of age narratives. By the end of the book, a character has proven him or herself to be older, wiser–more of an adult. It is difficult to sustain that effect again and again over the course of several books. How much more does said character have to learn that he or she didn’t learn in the first book?

That said, there are several series books that have compelling enough characters, story worlds, etc. that most readers are comfortable–even excited–to follow them a little longer.

But let me ask you this: Are you usually satisfied with the ending of a series? Does it leave you disappointed because maybe it got to be like fast food and you just wanted more (not necessarily a bad thing, lol). Or do the endings to these extended narratives fail to live up to your expectations because you wanted something more for the characters? Did you really need to see every bit of their “happily ever after” or would it have been more satisfying to leave some of that up to the imagination?

Or maybe you like the way they end. 🙂 Would love to hear from you!!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Why I Want to Be Published: A Somewhat Meta Review of Reviews

imageI don’t write negative book reviews.  My reasons for this are mostly selfish.  Perhaps one day I’ll be lucky enough to get published and a hypothetical bunch of people will write somewhat flattering reviews of my book…though I suppose scathingly harsh reviews wouldn’t be so bad (because, as the cliché goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity).  But writers hope for good reviews since they’ve struggled to send that over-edited block of textual thought (which is, in the end, a rather solid abstraction of the fluid, unattainable work of the imagination) out into the universe…and they’re hoping to see ripples come back.

My husband once asked me, “Why is it so important to you that you get published?” The question stumped me.  I had plenty of reasons for writing–some selfish, some not– but publishing is more an issue of connectedness.  I don’t want fame.  I want people to have read my words, empathize with the characters, lose themselves a little bit in their lives, and be haunted by the ghost of the book even after they turned the last page.  I want them to think about it later.  That would mean something in the essence of the book moved from short-term enjoyment to long-term effect.  I want to–as corny as it sounds–move someone.

They say art is a mirror to life–that we react to books and paintings and music and other abstractions with the essence of the human element in them because we see something of ourselves.  So…if I make art, does it count as art if nobody is there to experience it?  (Insert tree falling in the woods metaphor here!)  Well, I suppose, I am reading it.  I see surprising bits of myself in my writing and react to them, so I guess there’s that.  But how much more cool is it to know that someone else read your human bits and are approximating the same thing that you are–that they are also human and their humanness is reacting to your humanness.  Fire catching fire.

And what if someone who read my book was kind enough to write a review?  That review would be another block of textual, abstracted, thoughty bits, but in it, I might see evidence of the fire I set.  And I guess that would make me feel…warm. 🙂

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

A Book So Good You…Have To Put It Down?

imageThere is a book in the other room that wants to eat my brain.  I’ve shut the door, I’ve turned the key…but I can still hear its voice in my head…

Reeeeeeead meeeeee…

Tension keeps the reader hooked.  Masters of tension know how to manipulate us because they know what makes us tick.  They use our own psychology against us, keeping our eyes glued to the screen or the page–twisting us all up into ball of contradiction and unanswered questions, spinning us so we’re never sure where to look, leading us on a merry uphill chase, and allowing us to think we may have reached the answer right before kicking us back down the street and into a stranger’s yard where everything blows apart and we’re left to try and make sense of the pieces.

There are few books that have made me this tense in my life–probably a result of the fact that I’m not big on suspense novels.  I don’t think a book necessarily has to fit into that genre to make my heart feel like it’s about to rip out of my chest and do the Can-can across the floor.  In fact, the last book that did this to me was Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop which is a fantasy novel.  But suspense novels are written with the express purpose of doing just that–they are wonderfully intricate machines of thought that turn you inside out.

What book is causing such delicious frustration that I’ve purposely left it in the other room because I really, really want to find out what happens next but am so twisted up, I can’t stand to turn the page?  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  It’s one of many on my long I’ve-saved-you-up-for-summer-and-now-here-it-finally-is-so-YAY!-let’s-do-this summer reading list.

What I’ve taken away from this experience is namely this: I need to go back in the other room and turn that page.  I need to read more books like these as articles or books on the craft of writing suspense because I WANT TO MAKE MY READERS FEEL LIKE THIS!

What are some books you’ve read–in any genre–that were so good you had to put them down?

Michelle Joyce Bond