Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writer's Block

Lately I've been suffering from a severe case of writer's block.  So much so that I can't get anything from pen to paper.  It's not that I don't have any new and fresh ideas, I just can't seem to get them into a story.  I write a few paragraphs that I believe are brilliant.  I'm so proud of myself and how far my writing abilities have come.  And then there it is, that huge brick wall.  The story stops and I can't get it to go any further.

Since I am so full of fresh new ideas, I put that story aside and move on to the next idea.  And the same thing happens.  I find myself staring at the page, switching back and forth between the stories and going nowhere.

That novel about Cleveland has been sitting around waiting for some more polish.  It's already 78,000 words but still has significant holes in the story.  I had put it aside also since I felt like I was over thinking that story too.  Seeing that nothing else was working, I looked at it again.  I changed the names of the main characters, hoping some sassier and more interesting people would emerge.  I found I missed Mandy and Violet and wanted them back.  But the holes in their story persist.

I have even started to wonder if I have what it takes to be a successful writer.  It's been my dream for so long but is it really what I'm meant to do.  Maybe it's time to move on to a new dream.  Nothing however comes to mind that excites me any more than creating interesting characters, putting them into an unusual situation and seeing what happens.  I'm always surprised by the outcome.

The writer's block will pass.  At least I hope it will.  And sooner rather than later.  I have to keep plugging away at it.  What does it say on my coffee mug that I start each morning with?

                            A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Buddah in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Atttic by Julie Otsuka

I'm not quite sure how I ended up reading two stories in a row about Asian picture brides of the early 20th century.  The Buddha in the Attic is on a list of books people are reading in Cleveland.  I'm writing my own novel set in Cleveland, so I'm kind of obsessed with what they like to do there.  After reading this novel, I have a whole new respect for Clevelanders and their taste in reading material.

The last book I read, Honolulu told the story of Korean women ending up in Hawaii.  The Buddha in the Attic tells the story of Japanese brides trying to make a new life in San Francisco.  Their stories are very similar, quick weddings, quick wedding nights and then off to the fields for years of hard labor.

 The difference in The Buddha in the Attic is the way the story is told, singularly, collectively, beautifully.  Ms. Otsuka writes in a style I'm not sure what it would be called, but it is wonderful and captivating. I didn't want to put this book down.

The brides face constant struggles to earn a living and find their place in this strange country called America.   Racism stares them directly in the face and yet they move on all in the name of caring for their families.  Their children ignore the Japanese culture the brides long to keep alive.  Their lives are filled with joy, heartache, disease, and despair, the ebb and flow of all human life.

Until one day they disappear and are sent away to internment camps for Japanese during World War II.  The families had become a part of the landscape, running businesses, making friends, sending children to school.  And suddenly they were gone from our lives.  We never thought of them as different.  Until they were gone.  

The Buddha in the Attic is beautiful, heartwarming, and unusual but a novel I will hold close for a long, long time.  Thank you Cleveland for sharing it with me.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Honolulu by Alan Brennert

Honolulu by Alan Brennert

Honolulu, with its gorgeous orchid lei cover has waited on my shelf since I read Moloka'i several years ago.  With anticipation of a summer vacation in Honolulu, I thought it was time to read it.

Jin, is a Korean picture bride of the early 20th century.  Smart and curious, she despised the culture of her country that kept women uneducated and secluded.  Her parents had named her Regret simply because she wasn't born a boy.  She devises schemes to sneak from the family compound with her friend to arrange her passage to Hawaii as a bride for a man she's never met.  In Hawaii, she's told,  the streets are paved with gold and she will have a life of happiness and prosperity.  And be able to go to school.

Once in Honolulu, Jin's life is anything but happy.  She and the other picture brides are forced to labor in the cane fields.  Beaten at the hands of Mr. Noh, her husband, Jin manages to escape and later divorce Mr. Noh.  Something that would never have been possible except in America. 

Life is hard and obstacles are many but Jin pieces together a life full of promise that would never have been possible in Korea. This novel is full of diverse and interesting characters, love and hope,triumph over adversity.  Overall I found the story a little flat.  The happy ending was too predictable.  

I must admit I enjoyed Moloka'i more but Honolulu depicts a little known and very interesting piece of history.  I can't wait to see all the landmarks on my vacation that were so beautifully described by the author.  The novel is an enjoyable learning experience, well written and leaves the reader full of hope.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Did you know that there was no Pulitzer Prize for fiction awarded in 2012?  The panel couldn't decide.  I like to read Pulitzer prize winning books. They are usually very good reads in my opinion.  This year the finalists were a novella titled Train Dreams, The Pale King and Swamplandia! I've haven't read Train Dreams but will probably look it up.  The Pale King was hysterical but really rough since it was a manuscript found after the death of the author.  And then Swamplandia!  Don't forget the !.

Swamplandia! has all the ingredients of a story I love.  It's set in Florida in a swamp complete with alligators wrestlers, theme parks and wacky tourists.  The Bigtrees who own and run Swamplandia! are crazy and quirky.  They live on an island only accessible by the daily ferry that brings the swarms of people anxious to see real live alligators or Seths as the family calls them, and buy every tacky souvenir imaginable.  Ava, Osceola and Kiwi live a charmed life at the hands of the family business.  Until their mother, Hilola dies from cancer before she has taught them the tricks of her trade.

 When the tourists stop coming after a new park opens called the World of Darkness, the family starts to fall apart.  Grandpa Sawtooth is sent to a retirement home which is a houseboat.  Osceola elopes with a ghost named Louis Thanksgiving, Kiwi runs off in the middle of the night, landing a job at the World of Darkness and Ava is left at home all alone.  A stranger, the Bird Man shows up and agrees to accompany Ava on her search for Osceola and her husband, the ghost.

Karen Russell is a talented author.  I also loved  her short story collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.  It too is set in my home, Florida. It's not to say that I thought Swamplandia! was perfect.   Osceola and the ghost dragged on too long and Ava's trek through the swamp bored me at times.  But their dramatic rescue drew me right back to where I wanted them to be.  In Florida, at home, and together.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Driving Miss Daisy

Our granddaughter, Jessie is turning 15 next week.  In Florida, a 15 year old can get a temporary driver's permit to learn to drive.  They can't get a license until they turn 16 but a year's worth of practice should make the roads a little safer for us all. I'm sure that was the lawmaker's logic.

In Pennsylvania, however, where Jessie lives, 16 is the age for a learner's permit.  This next year is going to be a very long wait.  She's itching to get behind the wheel. 

"Richard.  Jessie's birthday is next week.  What do you want to do for her?" I reminded him since I am the keeper of the family calendar of events and occasions.

He immediately went to the phone and dialed. When the answering machine click on, he left this message.

"Hey, Jessie.  I understand you're having a birthday next week.  What do you want for a gift?  Here's your choices.  One.  A couple more tutoring sessions.  Two.  A trip to Florida for a few driving lessons with Poppy.  Or three.  Some cash.  Call me and let me know."

"Do you think she'll call us back?"  I asked. 

"I doubt it. Those kids never call us."  He hung up the phone and went about the rest of his day.

After dinner, we took our usual spots on the sofa to watch the evening news.  The phone rang.  I love when the caller id pops up on the television.  It was Jessie.  I was closest so I picked up the phone.

"Hello.  How are you?"

"Linny, I want the ticket to Florida for driving lessons."

"Really?  You want driving lessons with Poppy?"  Richard broke out in a huge grin.  I handed him the phone.

While the two of them chatted, I laughed to myself.  There is a family story that one time, Jessie's mother came to Florida to visit her father around the age of 15 and got some driving lessons.  Upon her return home, an uncle left his car keys accessible.  He left the perfect opening for a teenager to do some joy riding.  Needless to say the car was on the losing end of that deal.  And in the days before air bags, no one was hurt. No one has ever let her forget it.

Jessie may want to come to Florida for driving lessons, but rest assured her mother will not allow it.  This summer when I take her on vacation in Utah, Poppy and I hatched a plan to stop at the Bonneville Salt Flats and take a picture of Jessie, behind the wheel of the rental car.  For now it's a secret.  Maybe Jessie's birthday wish won't come true on her birthday but maybe it will sooner than she thinks.


City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...