Archive for September, 2009


Book Review: ‘Homer’s Odyssey’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

Homer’s Odyssey – Gwen Cooper (Memoir/Animals)

Yes, it’s another animal memoir book. Yes, you’ll laugh, cry, groan, smile, and sniffle all the way through. But before you sigh and say “I can’t handle it, I know what happens at the end of animal memoirs”, let me forewarn you – and I really don’t consider this a spoiler – that the cat doesn’t die at the end. That’s right, she wrote the memoir while the animal was/is still alive, and thus ends the tale without a final death scene. Happy? I was.

So now that we’ve eliminated that fear, how about the book? Wow. Yes, wow. A young woman adopts a blind (actually, eyeless) kitten that no one else wants… and it turns out to be the most intelligent, active, curious, life-loving cat I’ve ever heard of. This cat took daring leaps from the tops of furniture, loved to roughhouse with other cats and humans, hunted flies by sound (and *always* caught them), and in general, was an incredible testament to how an animal can overcome what we might see as a disability and thrive through it.

Throughout the course of the memoir, I was struck by how vibrant and full of life this little blind cat was. He never knew what it meant to see, and yet that didn’t slow him down even a tiny bit… his world was what it was, and he loved it.

It comes down to this: If a little creature like a blind kitten can take what he’s given in life and make the most of it – love, live, and thrive – what can’t we, as humans do with what life doles out to us?

Because I’m not sure whether my description does the book justice, here’s the product description from the webpage:

Product Description
Once in nine lives,
something extraordinary happens…

The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart. Then Gwen’s veterinarian called with a story about a three-week-old eyeless kitten who’d been abandoned. It was love at first sight.

Everyone warned that Homer would always be an “underachiever,” never as playful or independent as other cats. But the kitten nobody believed in quickly grew into a three-pound dynamo, a tiny daredevil with a giant heart who eagerly made friends with every human who crossed his path. Homer scaled seven-foot bookcases with ease and leapt five feet into the air to catch flies in mid-buzz. He survived being trapped alone for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and even saved Gwen’s life when he chased off an intruder who broke into their home in the middle of the night.

But it was Homer’s unswerving loyalty, his infinite capacity for love, and his joy in the face of all obstacles that inspired Gwen daily and transformed her life. And by the time she met the man she would marry, she realized Homer had taught her the most important lesson of all: Love isn’t something you see with your eyes.

Homer’s Odyssey is the once-in-a-lifetime story of an extraordinary cat and his human companion. It celebrates the refusal to accept limits—on love, ability, or hope against overwhelming odds. By turns jubilant and moving, it’s a memoir for anybody who’s ever fallen completely and helplessly in love with a pet.”

Rating: 5 out of 5

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It’s All in the Timing

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

A typical morning for me includes, in sequence:

  • Waking up (shocker, I know)
  • Coffee
  • Checking email, Facebook, LibraryThing, blog feed, Twitter, various forums I’m members of
  • Reviewing stories for Flash Me
  • Wandering about online
  • Opening various work pieces & staring at them for awhile
  • At 10am, the bird gets woken up & fed
  • Rinse & repeat with the checking email, etc sequence…

So when do I get around to actually writing fiction? Well, more often than not, I don’t. I usually only get fresh fiction writing done on days that I head to our local cafe and sit down determined to type. I have excellent focus there, and I always get lots done. But as I’ve been trying to reorient and reorganize myself this fall, I had to take a hard look at how my time was spent and admit that one or two afternoons a week just isn’t going to cut it. I have too many ideas, too many aspirations, to produce so little.

I thought about NaNoWriMo. Every November, I manage to punch out 50,000 words in a month — how is it that I can manage to produce so much in that one month, and then fall off drastically for the rest of the year? Unacceptable.

At the urging of my husband, and prodding of my own heart, today I started a new plan. I’m taking a page out of James Scott Bell’s book, and am going to try and get my writing done in the morning. According to his Twitter feeds, he always writes 500 words in the morning, no matter what. His daily quota is 1000 words, so if he can get 500 done at the very beginning of the day, then getting the second 500 is a much less daunting task when the entire remainder of the day stretches out before him.

I agree! And while I may be bleary eyed, cranky, fuzzy-headed, and rather immobile in the mornings, for whatever reason, that’s the time my Muse loves best. Maybe that’s because my Self isn’t fully conscious yet, so she’s able to communicate with me best before my left brain takes over for the rest of the day.

Today was day #1 of the plan. The goal is 1000 words in the morning, and then even if I get precious little accomplished during the rest of the day… at least I’ll have that 1000 words to be proud of, and which will accumulate over time. If for some reason my Muse sleeps in one of these mornings, that 1000-word quota can be transferred to my ebook writing or SEO article creation. It doesn’t matter what… I just need to produce, and do it at a time that I know works best for my own mind & body.

Some people work best at night, or in the evenings after dinner. Some work best on weekends. Everyone is different, so my question for today is, when does your Muse prefer to come out to play?

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Book Review: “The Rapture: A Novel”

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

I have avoided reviewing this book for a reason… and not because it’s bad. Nope, it’s extremely well written. It’s compelling, captivating, and will make you lose sleep at night… but at the same time, the subject matter is disturbing, slightly horrifying, and might make you lose sleep at night for an entirely different reason. This book had such a profound effect on me that I simply didn’t want to revisit it in any way… even through a review.

First, the plot. We have a disturbed teen in a psych ward who spouts prophetic words, predicting natural disasters before they happen (or does she?). We have a young psychologist who is assigned to the teen’s case, and who slowly but surely begins to believe that the teen’s crazy ramblings are, indeed, predictions about upcoming events (for a more in-depth plot summary, I suggest you visit the page and read the synopsis there… I don’t want to give away too much, in case you’re the kind of person who prefers to just jump in without knowing piles of plot details, especially with this kind of book!).

I’ll admit it: I have a crippling fear of severe, uncontrollable weather phenomena… which made this a, well, rather poor choice of book to read. Heh. As the predictions begin to come true (not a spoiler, you know this is going to happen), we’re treated to detailed, sense-tingling descriptions of how the weather affects the places that it hits. Tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, whatever… I don’t even recall which ones are in the book or not… but the author is so skilled that you’ll be able to close your eyes and feel like you’re truly there in the midst of it all.

Combine this with questions about the apocalypse, the book of Revelation and tribulation, and some incredibly flawed people (the characters are very well drawn), and you have a novel that not only entertains, but makes you think… and shudder… and ask questions… and if you’re someone like me, you put the book down, try to walk away, but it won’t let go. I was so shaken by the book that for the rest of the evening, I would randomly begin weeping, crying for no apparent reason other than the profound sense of darkness and foreboding that crept across my soul when I closed the last page.

My husband and I went for a walk to try and clear my head, but being outside simply made it worse. I felt like, at any moment, the whole world could collapse in on itself. I tried to describe it using words like “doom” and “pervading negativity”, but that doesn’t really do justice to what I felt. In the end, in order to chase away the disturbance from the novel, my husband sat me down on the couch and insisted that I play a fun, light-hearted video game, which was chased by chocolate and a comedy film.

I was much better after this. However, the experience of this book and how I felt afterward has been enough to keep me from discussing it further with others (beyond some initial impressions) or reviewing it here.

It was an excellent novel. I believe it’s already been optioned for a film, too. However, it was so vivid – and the questions posed, so real – that I want nothing further to do with it. It cut to the deepest root of my fears – uncontrollable weather, and the obscurity of what “End Times” really means – and it makes me wonder… is that a good thing? I’m not sure. Given the choice to go back in time, would I make the same choice and read it again? I really don’t know.

But like I said… it truly is an excellent novel. Whether or not it’s the kind of experience you want to take with you is another thing entirely.

Rating: …I’m going to skip the rating on this one… for the above reasons.

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Where Am I Now?

   Posted by: Faith    in Everything Else

It’s mid-September, 2009. How did we get here so fast? Another summer zipped by, and another fall is well on its way… and what do I have to show for it?

Well, not much. Or at least I feel it’s not much, but here’s where I stand in terms of WIPs and so forth:

  • A Work in Progress (2007) – First Draft complete, currently under second read-through.
  • The Door in the Wall (2008) – First Draft complete (minus a few paragraphs at the end), currently under first read-through.

Yikes. That’s a lot of work… the 2008 manuscript needs a lot more work before it’s coherent in any way, and I feel the 2007 novel is much, much closer to being ready than it was a year ago. Lots of edits still to do, but progress is progress. The frustrating part is that I want to be able to devote myself to new stories, and I wish these ones would just be done & get out of the way for awhile. But, that’s not how we writers do things, is it? :) Baby steps, baby steps.

In the meantime, I’m trying to:

  • Plot my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel.
  • Think about which novel to write as part of a course I’m taking (more on that sometime soon).
  • Do the work for above mentioned course.
  • Finish my cat care ebook.
  • Finish edits on an inspirational booklet for a client.
  • Learn my way around in my new volunteer editor position for an online flash fiction magazine (more on that another time too!).
  • Find more work that I can actually be paid for!

This comes in the midst of teaching 2 dance classes a week, taking an additional 3 dance classes for myself (two of which are performance troupes), trying to read & review all the ARCs that keep showing up in my mailbox, maintaining this blog, editing the blog for Lifeline, keeping my friends (haha), caring for a cat/bird/husband & all associated things that come with a marriage and household. Ah, and I have an application in to be this year’s NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for my region (which I should hear back about within the next week).

It’s a lot. I probably missed something in there, but that’s that, and now it’s documented… so people can bug me about getting my work done! I figured, it’s been awhile since I updated everyone on what I’m doing, so there you have it! Apologies if it came off as whiny… not my intention :)

And to all of you who have huge projects you’re dealing with, or many little ones you’re trying to juggle, I wish you all the best in the coming months. Autumn is a beautiful season (my favorite, actually), but is it ever busy… yet somehow, I look forward to it every year. Good luck with whatever you’re doing! And if you’re really excited about it, please go ahead and share it with us in the comment section!

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The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle – Avi (Children’s Fiction/YA)

I read this based on the recommendation of a friend (and because I found it for $0.25 at the book sale), and am very glad I listened to her. In fact, she’s the same one who told me to read Catherine, Called Birdy at the beginning of the year. If I track down I Capture the Castle and get that one out of the way, I’ll have completed the circuit of her “highest YA recommendations”. Huzzah!

But anyway, back to the book. Despite not being too sure about it when I picked it up, it turned out to be an enjoyable read with a strong female lead who I really liked. Her transformation from a timid, well-bred society girl to a courageous young woman was very well done, and I liked how things turned out at the end – not quite the way I expected, and yet it was just right. Definitely recommended.

Rating: 4 coffees out of 5

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What Box?

   Posted by: Faith    in Creating Coldcuts

This past weekend, I attended a conference in Seattle. No, it wasn’t a writing conference… it was a gaming conference. Yes, I’m that geeky. But wait! Don’t run away yet! The conference was started back in 2004 by a couple of guys who wrote a little webcomic known as Penny Arcade. For whatever reason, they gained a following, wanted to give back to their fans, and started a convention “by gamers, for gamers”. It was to be a conference where the media didn’t take front & center (ie. E3), but the people who actually would buy and play the games.

Here we are at year six of the convention; I’ve attended for the past four years. Year one, attendance was something like 2000 people. This year, we’re talking 80,000+ people over the 3 days. And you know what? They’re still writing the little webcomic.

Penny Arcade is a team of two guys: Mike & Jerry, also known as Gabe & Tycho. Gabe does all the artwork, while Tycho does all the writing. Talk about a good deal! Unlike many other comics where one person tries to do both, this is a team where each person does what he does best, to the best of his ability.

Each year, there are two Q&A sessions with Gabe & Tycho, as well as one ‘Creating a PA Strip’ panel, where there’s even more Q&A… and each year, there’s a pattern of sorts that shows up in the questions. Many individuals are attempting to start their own webcomics and are looking for advice or inspiration. Others simply want to know what kinds of tools are used for the writing and drawing. And others, already in a creative field, want to know… how do you keep coming up with ideas, day after day, week after week?

The response is something we novelists would do well to keep in mind. Sure, we may not be writing comic strips, but does that make a comic strip writer any less of a writer than a novelist? Of course not. We both tell stories. We both write beginnings, middles, and ends. Comic writers just have fewer words to tell their stories in. Thus, we would do well not to dismiss this advice from Tycho: “I don’t set limits on my writing.”

Say what? Excuse me? You’re writing a comic, with continuous characters… aren’t there limits at all?

No, he says. When you set out to write with limitations, you place barriers on your creativity that hedge you in. When he wants to take a character in a certain direction, he’ll do it. If he has a great idea that doesn’t fit with something the character has done in the past, he does it anyway. Now, the difference here is that he’s writing a comic where the team has consciously made a decision to reject continuity in the belief that it limits creativity. For a novelist, we need continuity throughout our stories – or else they won’t really go anywhere – but does that mean we can’t take our characters in completely unexpected directions?

Of course not. The next time you’re writing and get stuck, and have no idea what should happen next, remember Tycho’s words. Stop placing barriers and just write something. Maybe later on you’ll realize that isn’t something that can work with your character and story – you are a novelist, after all, and not working in the comic format – but don’t set out to box your writing in. Don’t box your characters in. Human beings aren’t always predictable, so why should your characters be predictable (unless that’s an attribute you’ve written into a specific character)?

Cut that box up and send it out with the recycling. Your characters deserve a little unexpected excitement.

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Book Review: ‘Fearless’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

It’s release day for the new book from Max Lucado, ‘Fearless’. It’s no secret that Lucado is incredibly skilled at catering to people’s emotions, and he does it again in his latest release, which addresses the ‘culture of fear’ that society (specifically North American) has built up around them, regardless of whether they realize it or not. Bad economy, job losses, terrorist attacks, mortality, crime-laden news media reports… there’s more than enough fear to go around. But what if you could live your life without fear? Live fearlessly, relying on God’s strength in the face of things you can’t control?

Lucado weaves anecdotes in and around his statements on fear and living fearless, tugging on the heartstrings and provoking an emotional response. Some might say he manipulates emotions through the anecdotes he shares, but doesn’t every writer manipulate emotion in one way or another? At the very least, the book is timely and will likely be a beacon of hope for those struggling with job loss, uncertain financial futures, and so forth.

The book is a good reminder that we can’t control everything, and we wouldn’t want to. God is the only one who knows what’s going on, and He has promised the best for us… so why not stop being afraid and start trusting more?

Rating: 3.5 coffees out of 5

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