A place for writing off-the-cuff
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In 2011, my main focus will be on writing a novel. Since I'm a novice novelist, I've decided to come at the project from different angles, exploring the genre and experimenting with its elements. This blog and its offsite sister blog will be my journals where I attack novel-writing one day at a time.
As I was creating my BlogSpot page, the inspiration for the blog solidified in my mind. I named that blog "One Significant Moment at a Time." In essence, I want to use the format as a reminder to walk through my life with my author's eyes open, taking in the details, feeling the emotions of the day. As moments unfold and I feel their affects on me as a person, a woman, a mother, a sister, a member of the world community, I'll let the writer in me talk about it.
Creative Nonfiction is the genre most fitting to describe what I envision accomplishing here, moreso than blogging or journaling. The style is best suited, I feel, for my ambitions as a novelist.
In addition, Friday entries will not be written by me. Instead, I'll turn the keyboard over to one of the characters in my novel. He or she will relate the events of the day as s/he saw them, through the filter of his or her perception.
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2011 Reading Goal = 25 Books in 52 Weeks. To see the list of books I've read so far, CLICK HERE
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|Literary Fiction is often thought of as a catch-all genre for writing that doesn’t fit comfortably into easily designated genres like chick lit, mystery, science fiction, political drama, speculative fiction, etc. Most people define works of Literary Fiction with phrases like: “provocative writing with heavier language and lush descriptions”; “complex character-driven plots”; “leaves a deep, powerful impression on the reader”; and “multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas.”
I consider myself a Literary Fiction writer because of the characteristics that naturally arise in my work. I’m drawn to the complexities of a character’s personality, and my focus is foremost on the inner conflicts pulling the person in opposing directions. My writing style tends to include desciptive language that shows more than tells, and I like to indulge in literary devices. Also, I want my work to say something. Usually, I don’t start a story with a character or plot idea. Instead, a theme forms in my mind and the story becomes a vehicle to deliver that theme.
My greatest challenges within the genre are coming up with interesting plots to support my characters’ journey of self-discovery, and finessing my writing so the tone and language aren’t pretentious or convoluted. Many of my rewrites concentrate on voice and making the writing sound poetic and beautiful instead of grandiose and ostentatious.
Goodreads.com defines literary fiction as: "serious fiction with claims to literary merit, and focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character. (As opposed to genre or popular fiction)." Here are the top ten Literary Fiction novels, as determined by that site members' votes. Are any of your favorites here?
To Kill a Mockingbird -- Harper Lee
The Catcher in the Rye -- J.D. Salinger
The Power of Persuasion -- Shelagh Watkins
Crime and Punishment -- Fyodor Dostoevsky
Jane Eyre -- Charlotte Brontë
Lord of the Flies -- William Golding
Gone With the Wind -- Margaret Mitchell
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- C.S. Lewis
Memoirs of a Geisha -- Arthur Golden
One Hundred Years of Solitude -- Gabriel García Márquez
To read the entire list of the top 100 member picks, click HERE .
I enjoy experimenting outside the genre of Literary Fiction and have written short stories that include Horror, Speculative Fiction, Erotica, Action/Adventure, and Comedy. Even then, I noticed an aura of Literary Fiction aglow in each story. It's definitely true that an author's voice is as unique as her fingerprint, and its evidence can be found on everything she touches.
Do you experiment outside your genre? Can you still hear your author's voice loud and clear?
|I was watching last night’s American Idol on TiVo as I drank my first cup of coffee this morning. Cutie sixteen-year-old Aaron Kelly sang a Rascal Flatts song I’d never heard before. (I like country music all right, but I rarely pay much attention to it.) I didn’t catch the title when Ryan Seacrest introduced him, but as Aaron sang the opening verse, my writer’s ears perked up.
It begins, "I can hear the truck tires coming up the gravel road / And it’s not like her to drive so slow, (must be) nothing on the radio / Footsteps on the porch, I hear my doorbell / She usually comes right in…"
These lines demonstrate perfectly the power of Show, Don’t Tell descriptions. There was no doubt in my mind that something was wrong, that “she” was the bearer of bad news. The anticipation I felt and the strong mood those opening words created made the chorus that much more poignant: "Here comes goodbye / Here comes the last time / Here comes the start of every sleepless night / The first of every tear I’m gonna cry."
Showing descriptions pull your readers into the story. By asking your audience to pick up on the important clues sprinkled across each sentence, to connect the dots and reach the correct conclusions, you invite readers to participate in the story. Reader interaction can’t be underestimated. Your readers will become emotionally involved on a deeper level with the characters and plot, which boosts the overall entertainment factor of your work.
For anyone who missed it last night -- Enjoy!
When do you concentrate the most on writing showing descriptions? Does it come naturally to you and appear in your first drafts/word vomitting sessions? Or do you comb through your scenes during the revision process and incorporate showing descriptions where you just "told" in the first draft? Or both?
|I raised an eyebrow when I turned down the hallway at six a.m. this morning and spotted the light spilling out from underneath my daughter’s bedroom door. Usually, waking my kids for school is like rousing a couple cadavers, (corpses who, to my chagrin, effortlessly self-resurrect before sunrise on Saturday and Sunday mornings). Sidney had complained about a tummy ache yesterday, so I half-expected that a campaign to miss school was underway. When I pushed open her door though, I encountered a smiling little girl.
She stood in the middle of her room, her belly button peeking out beneath a too-short pajama top, and her long braided hair bent into a pair of boomerangs flanking her shoulders. In her hand she held her diary.
“You’re up early, sunshine,” I greeted her. “Is everything okay?”
Her eyes sparkled. “Mommy!” she began. “James-y woke me up.”
James was our sweet kitten who passed away from feline-leukemia a few weeks ago. As Sidney's declaration sunk into my pre-caffinated brain, a smile remained fixed on my lips but my eyebrows knitted a little closer together. “What?” I asked.
“James woke me up, but it was still dark. So I peeked out my window and you know what I saw?”
She didn’t wait for me to answer. Drawing in a deep breath that sent her belly button a little further into the room, she said, “Down by the tree, I saw three black cats! They were so cute, Mommy, and they came right up to my window.” She held up her diary. “I’m going to write about it!”
That’s my girl!
Our reality is dictated by our beliefs. Sidney believes James woke her up so she wouldn’t miss seeing those cats. Why not? (I hope it’s true!) One of the goals I embrace as a writer is drawing my readers into my brand of reality, suspending their disbelief. It comes down to the level of authenticity in the writing which can be achieved many ways: through the logical chain of events in the plot, believable dialogue, realistic characterizations, etc.
What’s your favorite device for creating authenticity in your writing, or for suspending your readers’ disbelief? Can you think of a time when you were the reader or viewer, that your disbelief wasn’t suspended? (Think Clark Kent hiding his Super Identity behind a pair of glasses!)
|I had a fantastic time this weekend with friends from France, who spent Thursday through Sunday at my house. All five of them can speak some English, but we spoke French ninety-nine percent of the time. My husband was born and raised in France, but since he learned to speak English, it has become his preferred language for day-to-day conversation. This is unfortunate for me, who desperately needs to practice my French. More often than not, when I begin a conversation with him in French, he responds in English, even though it's generally considered bad manners among bilingual people to answer in "Language B" when someone initiates a conversation in "Language A" (provided, of course, that both speakers are fluent in both languages). As a result I am perpetually out of practice, and the first two and a half days of our friends' visit were torturous for me and my tongue.
It struck me, as I stumbled over pronunciation and searched for every third word, that there's actually a lot in common between being thrown back into using your second language and picking up rollerblading after a couple years off skates. How, you ask? I believe it comes down to muscle memory.
A few weeks back I took my daughter and her friends to the roller skating rink. In my twenties, I lived on the coast in Los Angeles (Hermosa Beach) and clocked more time on my rollerblades than I did in tennis shoes. However, tying a pair of skates on after all these years proved deceptively challenging. I could keep up with the girls, propel myself forward, glide, and come to a reasonably quick stop, but all my movements were jerky and barely in control.
After a few dozen laps, I felt the muscles in my shins relax. My inner thighs remembered to do most of the work. As I sat back more on softer knees, I noticed my weight transfer from over my toes to over my heels. I got my glide on. It was as if the clock had turned back a decade and the fluid, slolam sashay returned to my movements. With little effort, I sped down the straightaways and crossed my outside skate over the inside one on the curves. It was awesome, like flying.
This kind of muscle memory also comes into play when picking back up a second language. English speakers keep their tongues more or less in the center of their mouths when they speak. When speaking in French though, your tongue must perform crazy acrobatics in order to push the correct sounds out. Also, English is spoken from the front of the mouth, where French is throatier and more nasal. It took several days for my throat to relax and my lips to adopt the proper pouty purse. It wasn't something I could force, because the more I concentrated on how French I sounded, the more I lost track of the words I was trying to say. Either way, I stumbled. It was frustrating, but sure enough after a little time, my fluency came back.
Of course, as soon as that happened, it was time for our friends to leave. (*sigh*) Oh well, at least I won't have as much trouble getting back into the swing of French this summer when we spend three weeks at my husband's family's home...I hope :)
How was your weekend? Did you do something you haven't done in a long time, or did you try anything new?
|[This was my Valentine's Day post, that I didn't get a chance to post yesterday. It's the story of how my husband and I first met. I hope you enjoy it!]
The sound rumbled like sudden thunder, shattering the still African night. Vibrations coursed through my mud brick house with fingers that stripped me of sleep and forced me upright in the bed. I knew my searching eyes were open, but I was blinded by the inky air, devoid of light. In my confusion, I couldn’t get my bearings. Then I realized what I was hearing. The sound, coming in waves of intensity, was a car engine being revved on the dirt road in front of my house. Not a car, I thought, a truck. And then I heard a man’s voice call out.
“Pascal! Ouvres-moi toute suite!”
My heart, hammering in my chest from being shocked awake, skipped to a new tempo. Christian! Christian was here. I sprang into action just as I heard Pascal respond with a sleepy “Oui, Patron.” It would only take him a few seconds to open the wide bamboo gate and emit the Land Cruiser. I scrambled across the lumpy mattress to the edge of the bed and groped for the mosquito net. Clumsy, misjudging hands pushed hard against the coarse openwork, knocking a candle to the floor from its perch atop the three-legged stool outside the mesh, pushed up against the bed frame. No matter, I thought. I knew besides the candle and the book I was reading before I blew it out, there was a flashlight on that stool. At the edge of the mattress, I grasped two handfuls of the netting just as the engine cut outside, and silence rushed into the darkness around me.
I yanked up on the mosquito net and it came untucked from the mattress. I paused, heard Christian speaking in a muffled tone to Pascal, the Central African employed by the Peace Corps to guard my house each night. I wondered if Christian was scolding him for sleeping on the job. Christian was a Frenchman employed by an Italian construction company, working on a World Bank funded project to resurface the country’s dirt roads washed away each rainy season. Unlike me, he hadn’t been sent to the Central African Republic on a grass root mission. He was a boss man, un patron, a kota zo. Someone the Africans respected without question.
I pushed my legs out and let them dangle off the edge of the bed while I pulled the bottom of the mosquito net behind my head. I was naked. At just four degrees north of the equator, there were exactly twelve hours of daytime and twelve hours of night. At six in the evening, the sun slid below the horizon during a five-minute-long dusk that reminded me more of God simply hitting the wall switch. Darkness as black as midnight reigned for the entire twelve hours, but the intense heat absorbed by everything during the day radiated long into the night. Inside my stifling bedroom, pajamas weren’t an option.
There was a quick succession of raps on the door that I felt in my chest. Christian called my name through the rough wood. I shouted, “Just a minute.” My toes felt around for the flip flops on the floor, and my hands fumbled for the flash light on the stool. I was more awake now, and suddenly nervous as hell.
I’d met Christian the week before. I was riding my Peace Corps issued mountain bike back home, from the little town ten kilometers away where I’d chosen to launch my project. The day had been brutally hot, and no shade reached me as I rode along the wide, dirt road. Periodically, a bush taxi the size of a yellow school bus lumbered past. Each time I had to stop, straddle my bike, and cover my nose and mouth as a choking two-story-high cloud of red dust engulfed me. It clung to my sweaty skin, and I looked redder and redder as the day wore on. New rivulets of perspiration left tracks in each subsequent layer of dust. To add to my less-than-alluring appearance, my long hair was pulled into an unattractive ponytail, and I wore my glasses since the dust was certain torture for my contact lenses. I shudder imagining what I smelled like.
Christian pulled his Land Cruiser up alongside me. Through the open passenger side window, he introduced himself in French and commented on the heat. He asked where I was headed and I told him I lived in Bambari. I still had about seven kilometers to go, so when he offered me a lift I took it without hesitation. Plus, I thought he was pretty cute.
The conversation was surprisingly easy, considering my French was so bad. We laughed easily, and the ride was over too quickly. He lifted my bike from the back of his vehicle and propped it against the gate in front of my house. My smile stayed on my lips long after he drove away.
The next day, I saw him again on the road, and he asked me to lunch the following Sunday. I’d been in-country for almost a year at this point, and I hadn’t felt excitement like this since leaving the dating game behind in the States. I even pulled out my dusty make-up bag, vainly included when I packed but not taken out of my luggage since arriving. The mascara was clumped from the humidity, but I managed to coat my lashed just the same. We spent an amazing time together, and I didn’t make it home until Monday morning.
That was three days before. Since there were no telephones, I had no way of talking to Christian if we weren’t face to face. Those days following our date were torturous. I wondered if I’d ever see him again. I worried he’d lost respect for me, or that I’d lost respect for myself. As the days went by, I second-guessed every conversation, every look, and every touch. And now, in the dark of night, Christian was here, knocking on my door.
My heart pounded. Every nerve was alive. My hand closed over the flash light and I pressed the button. Nothing happened. In the dark, I jabbed the button over and over, but the flash light remained off. Shit.
“Nicole? Tu es lá?”
“J’arrive!” I called out. Goose bumps covered my body now. Reaching under the mosquito netting, I pulled the queen-size sheet off the bed. I stood, wrapping the cool, white cotton fabric around my suntanned back and under my arms. I held the whole thing about me like a giant bath towel; gathered fabric excess fell over my arm like a train. I could feel my long, bed-mussed hair drape across my bare shoulders and fall down my back. Shuffling across the gritty cement floor, feeling my way through the gloom, I made it to the front door.
When Christian tells this story today, he says that when I pulled open the door, I was the most beautiful thing he’d ever laid eyes on.
|[Back cover blurb:] Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war of fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community.
When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now it's time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.
The Giver is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a long time. Lois Lowry created a world where society has eradicated hunger, poverty, and war. There is no inequality, no conflict. And no choice.
The story is told through the eyes of young Jonas. It begins, "It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened." By the end of chapter one, I'd assumed a truth about Jonas, one he'd soon learn about himself: He is special. This was made known to him at the annual Ceremony, when he and the other "Twelves" (the Community identified its children as groups based on their age) were to receive their life assignments. The Elders brought each Twelve to the stage one at a time, and Jonas watched with anticipation as his friends Asher and Fiona went before him to receive their occupations. But when it was his turn, Jonas learned he has been chosen for something rare, a unique vocation bestowed on only a few in the history of the Community. This honor put him under the tutelage of The Giver, an Elder who must pass the torch of knowledge and wisdom to Jonas.
In this provacative, John Newberry Award winning novel, Lowry asks her readers to contemplate the price of utopia. If, by collective concensus, humanity organizes itself in ways that only tolerate fairness and equality, then every citizen prospers. The risk of famine disappears when overpopulation is resolved. When children are observed from birth, and their natural talents and aptitudes are recognized, they can be placed in occupations which will render them the most content, productive, and successful. But at what cost?
In the course of his training, Jonas learned hard truths about freedom and choice. Justice and injustice became blurred, subjective, and confused to his new way of thinking. Rules didn't look the same to him anymore. As I followed Jonas in his journey of awareness, I began to see my own world through new eyes.
One of my favorite moments in this book (the following is not a spoiler) was when Jonas realizes there is color in the world. The Sameness his society had adapted, and which he had always known, relied, in part, on the absence of color. This concept made me think about what we classify as paranormal. There are documented cases of people who possess the ability to read minds, travel along astral plains, move objects without touching them. Yet the overwhelming majority of our society disbelieves these possibilities. Most grow up being told paranormal experiences aren't real. They don't exist. Perhaps, like Jonas, we only have to believe those things are possible to bring them into our sphere of reality. The first time Jonas glimpses color reminded me of the first time I saw an aura. I was overwhelmed with emotion, in part because I could finally confirm auras do exist, and partly because I realized I'd always been able to perceive auras, I just didn't know what it was I was seeing.
The ending of The Giver is as debatable as the questions raised throughout the book. In fact, I was inspired by the last chapter of this book to write the February mini-workshop lesson about story endings, found here "Young Stars Shine Your Light Contest" . Lowry doesn't hand her readers the story's conclusion wrapped up with a pretty bow on top. Instead, she lets you interpret her words. My son, Cody is eleven and read The Giver before me. Yesterday, I asked him what he thought happened at the end. I won't share our conversation, except to say one of us sees the ending through the eyes of an idealist and the other through those of a realist. I don't think it matters who's right. Regardless of how you interpret the ending, Lowry uses The Giver to make a statement: Free will is synonymous with Freedom.
The Giver is book one of a triology. The other two book are:
Gathering Blue -- In this speculation on the nature of the future of human society, life in Kira's community is nasty, brutish, and, for all the ill and dis-abled, short.
Messenger -- In this novel that unites characters from "The Giver" and "Gathering Blue," Matty, a young member of a utopian community that values honesty, conceals an emerging healing power that he cannot explain or understand.
I highly recommend this book. Book clubs will love discussing it!
The Giver, Copyright 1993 by Lois Lowry
Published by Dell Laurel-Leaf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books
|[Book cover blurb:]
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to
participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before -- and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Acclaimed writer SUZANNE COLLINS, author of The New York Times bestselling Underland Chronicles, delivers equal parts suspense and philosophy, advernture and romance, in this searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.
I couldn't put The Hunger Games down. Collins created a harsh, post-apocolyptic world where a cast of vivid characters captured my attention in the first chapter and clung to my fancy until the final sentence. Heroine Katniss Everdeen was smart and adept, fiercely loyal to her sister and best friend, and a true survivor. I rooted for her unwaveringly. Her allies became my friends: Gale, Prim, Cinna, Peeta and Rue. Her adversaries became my enemies: Cato, Clove, Glimmer, and the other tributes. I was drawn into Katniss' world where oppression and deceit were the norms, and the near-constant tension was excruciating. This was one exciting read!
Collins is an author who clearly understands the concept of high stakes in fiction. The premise for The Hunger Games could have been inspired by the realily television show "Survivor." It's plausible to imagine Collins thinking, I could write a book about a survival game where instead of voting players off the island, you eliminated them by actually killing them. The last player standing wins more than a million bucks, she wins her LIFE.
Like "Survivor," her version includes a television audience (viewing is mandatory) and all the pageantry that goes into an Olympic-level sporting event, including stylists whose job is to project through the player a certain character; costumes that portray the personality of that character; and constant surviellance by camera crews that capture every moment, real and construed, for the audience.
As if the concept of watching a fight-to-the-death game of survival on television weren't intense enought, Collins raised the stakes again: She made the players children. In her futuristic country of Panem, the totalitarian government requires that one girl and one boy between the ages of twelve and eighteen be chosen from each district to participate. No child can refuse; no parent can protect his family. And everyone must watch or be cruelly punished.
This was one of those stories where I constantly found myself thinking, How the hell is Katniss going to get out of this situation? And each time her thought process worked through what I fathomed as hopeless, and she came up with a clever course of action that, with some luck along the way, got her through to the next crisis.
The only time I questioned the narration was in the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. It was hard for me to answer Collins' calling to accept whole-heartedly Katniss' naivity towards Peeta's feelings for her. Katniss misreads every look, every inkling that pointed to Peeta's true emotions. Although her whole life growing up in District Twelve was bleak and carnal as far as finding food and other means to survive, I couldn't help thinking these kids were nonetheless teenagers. Where were Katniss' raging hormones? How could she be so physically close to Peeta, kissing him, with his energy so tuned into hers, and not react to him? It was hard for me to buy into, even though I found myself believing all along (even if Katniss was, again, clueless) that her heart belonged to Gale. In fact, I can't wait to read Catching Fire to learn what happens next with Katniss and Gale.
I'd read many shout-outs around the blogosphere from YA writers, accolades for The Hunger Games. I officially lend my voice to their cause: Read this book! You won't be disappointed. But beware, don't start it if you can't devote time to reading that week. I devoured it in two days, and I'll bet you'll find yourself unable to put it down too.
The Hunger Games, Copyright 2008 by Suzanne Collins
Published by Scholastic Press
ISBN - 13:978-0-439-02348-1
Did you read this book? What did you think of it? Would you recommend it to others?
|Yesterday, I learned a great deal about my WIP's protagonist, JK. More specifically, I realized her occupation -- which is important to her central conflicts -- won't work. I have to scrap most of her scenes and go back to revise her character arc outline.
You see, JK is deeply affected by a death that occurred in her early childhood, and her sub-conscious obsession leads her to ignore her true passions and pursue a career as an end-of-life caregiver.
At least, that was the plan until yesterday. I'd scheduled a meeting with a hospice nurse whose daughter and mine are in the same class. She in turn invited her collegue, and the three of us sat down at the private care facility they operate. I'd arrived prepared with fifteen or so questions to guide me through the interview.
I needed to understand how patients come to be under their personal care, and what exactly their jobs entailed. But those things weren't what I was most interested in learning. The questions I couldn't wait to ask were: What was it like the first time you witnessed a patient die? Do you become emotional when some patients pass? What's the worse death you've ever witnessed? Morbid, right? As I'd anticipated, the direct experiences they shared with me shed light on how I can craft JK into the character I envision her to be.
Unfortunately, I also realized that JK is too young to be a hospice nurse. I see her nearing her mid-twenties, at that confusing time in a person's life when she must face her childhood demons or resign herself to a lifetime under their oppression. The nurses told me it's unheard of for a nurse straight out of school to be hired by a hospice organization. There must be a minimum of clinical experience in a hospital setting, they said. I learned this when they responded to this question: What personality characteristics do you possess that helps you the most in your job as a hospice nurse? They both answered, "Self-confidence." During follow-up questions, they explained the patient's family members look to the hospice nurse as the expert, the one who garners their sense of security at a time when they feel helpless and frightened. A hospice nurse calls all the shots, relying on her ability to quickly assess a situation and prescribe a course of action. Unlike a hospital nurse, who isn't allowed to change a Band-aid without a physician's order. They both agreed that a nurse fresh out of school is simply unqualified to perform the tasks thrown at a hospice nurse.
So, I have some decisions to make. Either I have to alter JK's age so that she's worked in the field long enough to be a hospice nurse (which undermines most of what I already know about her), or I have to change her career path. Perhaps she's finished undergrad work and taking a year off before nursing school? During that time, maybe she's working as a Home Health Aide in a hospice environment. No matter what, I have a lot of rewriting to do.
One thing is for sure: Yesterday, I felt like a novelist. Conducting research was exciting and enlightening. I captured sights, smells, and sounds from the facility. I talked briefly to two of the hospice patients. I've been invited by the nurse to follow her on rounds one day next week, where I'll record as many descriptions and emotions as possible.
What kinds of research do you do for your novels? What tools do you bring along: notebook and pen, audio or video recorders, laptop computer, camera? Do you have any advice for me as I continue my research?
|[Back cover blurb:] For years Helen Knightly has given her life to others: to her haunted mother, to her enigmatic father, to her husband and now grown children. When she finally reaches her limit and crosses a terrible boundary, the world comes rushing in at her in a way she never could have imagined. Unfolding over the course of a single day, this searing, fast-paced novel explores the complex ties within families, the wages of devotion, and the line between love and hate. It is an unsettling, moving, gripping story, written with the fluidity and strength of voice that only Alice Sebold can bring to the page.
I'm a huge fan of Alice Sebold's break-out, international best-seller The Lovely Bones, so when it was my turn to select The Rising Stars Book Club's next read, I chose her most recent novel, The Almost Moon. It was only when I visited Amazon.com to gather publishing information and the book's back cover blurb, to share with the club, that I first read the reader critiques. I was shocked to learn that the overwhelming feedback was negative. Scathing, in some cases. I worried I'd chosen a terrible book, and a quiet panic squeezed my heart.
I'm here to tell you: Don't let those reviews dissuade you from reading this book! Alice Sebold is brilliant. She's a writer's writer, so I can understand how a reader who isn't passionate about the craft of creative writing, who reads strictly for entertainment, would be frustrated by The Almost Moon.
The story opens with a shocking admission. "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily." The first chapter is devoted to describing how it happened. Although the descriptions are horrific, blunt and violent, the pacing is excruciatingly slow. There are fifteen chapters in all, but the book covers only the twenty-four hour period following her mother's murder. All the while, Helen is introspective and grapples with her emotions as she tries to make sense of what she's done, and why. Many readers who commented on Amazon were frustrated by her and couldn't understand her motives and actions. Many even admitted being unable or unwilling to finish the book.
They missed out on a profound literary experience. Sebold masterfully weaves symbols and themes into her plot. There are layers of meaning to Helen's every thought and perception. At first, I couldn't understand her, and all my sympathies were with her mother, Claire. But as Helen's story is exposed and her lifetime spent with a mentally ill mother is revealed, I found myself choosing sides. In the end, I sided with Helen, who became a wholly sympathetic character in my eyes.
The Almost Moon will stay with you long after the final chapter. Its scrutiny of relationships, particularly the inseverable bonds between mother and daughter, resonates with honesty and complexity. And if you are a writer, you will be inspired to take your craft to the next level. For Sebold truly is a masterful writer.
The Almost Moon, Copyright 2007 by Alice Sebold
Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group USA
Have you read this book? If so, did you enjoy it? Would you recommend it to others? And if you haven't read it, are you interested now to pick it up?
|A literary device that fascinates me is the Unreliable Narrator. The unreliable narrator is one whose credibility has been compromised, so that the story filtering through his or her perception is untrustworthy. At some point, the reader realizes this. The success of the device hinges on whether the reader believes the narrator is incapable of figuring out that which the reader can deduce.
An unreliable narrator can be first person or third person limited POV. (I’m going to call the narrator “he” from here on out, because “s/he” and “his/her” gets annoying for me to type, and you to read!) Something in the narrator's personality or psyche severely hinders his awareness as the story unfolds around him. His prejudice by race, class or gender may skew his observations. His perception could be distorted because his age differs greatly from that of the other characters, as in the case of a child interpreting an adult’s world. He could suffer from drug addiction or dementia. He may be a person of low intelligence or with mental impediments. The unreliable narrator may also be consciously deceiving, as in the case of a pathological liar or a narcissist.
Like all literary devices, the writer must craft an unreliable narrator with authenticity, presenting the narrator’s point of view in a way that convinces the reader to believe and to feel sympathetic. Technical writer, poet and blogger says:
“When done badly, a story written from [the unreliable narrator’s] point-of-view can be viewed as manipulative, misleading, confusing and pretentious. When successful, however, the results can be powerful and fascinating.” (Read Hewitt’s article here.)
Here are some celebrated books that use unreliable narrators:
To Kill a Mockingbird (child narrator)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Fynn (child narrator)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (dementia)
The Tell Tale Heart (deranged, paranoid narrator)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (drug-fueled hallucinations)
The Native Son (skewed societal views)
A Clockwork Orange (skewed societal views)
The Catcher in the Rye (narrator personality flaws)
Flowers for Algernon (mental impediments)
Fight Club (multiple personality disorder)
I experimented with the unreliable narrator when competing in KiyaSama's former contest "A Picture Is Worth A 1000 Words." The picture prompt that round was a digital image that had obviously been photo-manipulated, because it depicted a man at the wheel of a car that had just missed a hairpin turn in the narrow road along the edge of a cliff. It was as if the photo had been snapped moments after the car had burst through the guard rails, as it hung suspended in the air seconds before plummeting. I’m not a big fan of stories that end with, “…and then the world went black,” so I decided to go with an unreliable narrator when I wrote this:
Have you ever experimented with developing an unreliable narrator? Have you come across a story with an unreliable narrator you thought was successful? Unsuccessful?
|Standing at the sun room windows, looking out at the backyard's monochromatic landscape, I contemplated my plight. I've been writing short stories for several years. There are dozens of them stored in my portfolio, each more tightly written and higher impacting than the last. And now I'm writing a novel. A novel. I feel like someone switched off the light and left me groping and disoriented in abysmal darkness. My chin dropped and my gaze fell to the peace lily beside me. I stared wide-eyed. Was that a flower forming on one of the tallest fronds? My disbelief was absolute; never in the three and a half years since it was carried over the threshhold had I been able to bring it to flower. I blinked to be sure I wasn't hallucinating.
In the arms of a friend the day she offered her housewarming present, the lily had boasted three small flowers. But its decline began that day. Within a week, the flowers had fallen away and the leaves were browned at their tips. My mother had once told me when a peace lily isn't doing well, put it in a closet. It made sense, sort of, since I knew the peace lily was a shade plant that thrived on a rain forest floor. So I repotted the plant and put it in a corner away from the windows. It didn't improve. Over the next two years, I moved it from location to location, starved it of water at times and over-watered it at others. Another friend said tropical plants like "moisture" not "water," and suggested I mist the leaves every day. After a while, I decided the plant just didn't like me. I resigned myself to its demise.
One day as I repotted another plant, hubby said I should put the peace lily in the window. Mom's advice floated through my mind, but I ignored it. Why not? I thought. Maybe that'll finish it off once and for all. A few days later, the lily's last remaining three fronds appeared slightly perkier than before. I pretended I didn't notice, in case the plant was toying with me. Some wicked plot hatched in vengeance. I watered it that Saturday along with the others on a once-a-week feeding schedule. By the next Saturday, new shoots had pushed their heads through the black soil. I took it as a peace lily peace offering. It began to thrive, and we've been friends ever since.
Still, in the last year of our renewed friendship, I'd never seen a flower! As I stared at it, I started to think about the long, hard road I'd walked with that plant. I'd struggled; I'd tried new things that failed. I almost gave up along the way. I listened to a lot of people's advice before someone pointed me in the right direction. It occurred to me that my transition from short stories to novels may turn out resembling my peace lily experience.
Right now, I feel pretty lost. I have twenty chapters written, though they're drooping and the edges are browned and curled. But, I know my novel project will blossom because I'm willing to do the work, explore the genre, learn. But I wonder if any of you have shifted genres like this? Any advice for me? Did you find it was hit-or-miss, that you had to re-start your first project(s) until you found your way? How did you battle your insecurities?
|One of my favorite things to do in Barnes and Noble is go down a shelf row, pulling one book at a time and reading its first line. Sometimes the whole first paragraph is the hook, but I give snaps to authors who can grab my attention right out of the start block. So what is it about an opening line that makes it sensational?
For me, the best first lines have shock appeal. It’s an art form, really, because it’s so easy to do it wrong. The line must astonish rather than revolt, and possess a certain subtlety that draws readers to it instead of repelling them from it. Short, smart lines often work well.
An exceptional opening line sets the tone of the whole book. The mood descends upon you, envelopes you in its possibilities, casts its spell on you. The meaning of the first line goes beyond that of its subject and predicate; it tells you something about the entire work. And it insists you read on.
I was re-reading the first lines of books I own. Five favorite first lines from them are:
“When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.” -- The Almost Moon, by Alice Sebold.
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” -- The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath.
“It was not easy to cut through a human head with a hacksaw.” -- Travels, by Michael Crichton.
“Even Grade walked past the spot on the bridge where Canaan caught the bottle with his head and saw the blood mark was still there, but just barely.” -- Mother of Pearl, by Melinda Haynes
“On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madame François Derbanne slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes.” -- Cane River, by Lalita Tademy.
Here is one blogger's list of literature's ten most outrageous first lines. It's even more fun to read the comments below it, especially by those debating Orwell's meaning when he used "a clock striking thirteen o'clock" in the first line of 1984:
Do you have a favorite first line? Or what about a favorite book with a terrible first line? (Think Bulwer-Lytton's "It was a dark and stormy night.") What's your criteria for a sensational opening line?
|Ray Manners is writing today. He's a fictional character and the antagonist in "Overcome," my novel-in-progress. Ray is a thirty-four year old telemarketer struggling to keep his life orderly and organized. It isn't easy, considering the open wounds from an abusive childhood that refuse to scab and heal. No matter how tight his grip on the day-to-day, everything in his perception is linked to that old pain. The following is a moment from his life. [Note: This is NOT an excerpt from the novel. It is a writing exercise in which I practice capturing the voice of my character.]
It was eleven a.m., but that's lunchtime for me. Not because I'm hungry, I don't start missing food until mid-afternoon. I just can't take the noon hour swarms of people in the delis and restaurants. Hell, you can't even find a place to park at that time of day, and the chance of someone not paying attention and dinging your car quadruples. No thanks. By the time I finish my meal each day, the office is emptied out and quiet, just the way I like it.
I was in the mood for a sub, but I bypassed the sandwich shop close to work. The fat chick in there took meat off the customer in front of me's sandwich one day, when he changed his mind at the last minute and opted for roast beef instead of ham. Then she tried to put that roast beef on my bread. She looked at me like I was crazy when I complained. I don't want food that touched someone else's food, what was crazy about that?
I had my pick of spots in the grocery store lot. As soon as I walked in, a greeter in a goofy green smock said hello to me. Here's a concept I can't explain. Why do they station someone inside the doors? Are they that worried the shopping experience they have to offer won't beat the competition's unless they gush with enthusiasm at my arrival? Two more people in smocks shouted hello from their scattered positions before going back to their tasks of restocking shelves or sweeping the floors. I didn't even look at 'em, just kept my head down and headed for the deli.
The place was spotless, I'll give 'em that. Of course, the rush of people needing a quart of milk or something for supper was still to arrive once the five o'clock whistles sounded. They'll come bustling in, scuffing the floors and leaving unnoticed scraps of trash in their wakes. Ever go to a store around ten at night? The place is trashed. People are unbelievable.
There was no one waiting when I got to the deli. A dry old woman with a hairnet greeted me. I watched her struggle to pull the latex gloves over her liver spotted hands, but I looked away before she glanced up apologetically. Finally, she constructed my roast beef sub to order, and I was glad to note the cleanliness of the sandwich board and the fresh appearance of the condiments. A clock on the wall reminded me this area wouldn't look as neat and clean in another forty-nine minutes. I took the wrapped sandwich from the woman and thanked her.
I headed straight for the express lane to pay. A woman was paying at the register, and behind her was the only other customer in line, a big bellied man with a ten gallon cowboy hat on his head. The hat distracted me from noticing what was in his cart, but a moment later I looked down. Tex began transferring his items to the belt, and I counted along in my head. One, two, three...eight... I looked up at the express sign that read, "10 items or less"...eleven, twelve... I set my jaw. Sixteen items covered the conveyor belt when he was finished. The cashier greeted him with a smile, and ol' Tex spoke right up. He apologized for having so many items.
"Oh that's alright, sugar," said the cashier.
I felt my eyes narrow and heat rise up under my collar. I didn't think it was all right at all. I'd passed two other registers that allowed an unrestricted number of items, but Tex here must have wanted to get in and out without waiting. Must be his schedule was more important than mine. He didn't turn and look at me. Didn't offer an apology or anything. I guess I was shit in his eyes.
I clutched my bag and stormed out the store, ignoring the cheerful good-bye tossed out by the greeter. I wanted her to know my shopping experience wasn't that great. I drove to the stop sign you have to pass before turning down the short lane to the road, and whose truck arrived at the stop from the opposite side but Tex and his ridiculous hat. He pulled right out and made his turn first, even though I had the right-of-way. I slammed my hand so hard on the horn that I think the emblem in the center of the steering wheel embedded in my palm.
People really are unbelievable.
|The mental image I had of Lisbeth Salander as I read The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo looked nothing like the girl on the book cover below. I saw her vividly though, as clearly as if she were sitting across from me, riding downtown in the same subway car. Author Stieg Larsson did a wonderful job describing her appearance, and his characterizations were strong. So why didn't I ever feel a sense of intimacy with her?
I think the problem was Larsson's use of omniscient narration. When more than one character's inner thoughts and feelings are coming at me from the same page, I feel like I'm floating above the book. It's like watching the scenes unfold shoulder-to-shoulder with God, rather than from out the eyes of a character. Lisbeth Salander was a character I wanted badly to connect with, but I never really got there. Too many POVs stood between us.
My favorite books employ multiple POVs, but their success hinges on the fact that the authors allowed only one character-narrator per chapter. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice comes to mind. Rice shares the POV between several characters, two of which are central players Michael Curry and Rowan Mayfair. As each chapter filters through the perspective of one of these characters, the reader develops a strong, intimate bond with him or her. After reading that book, I felt closely connected to all the characters.
I've never attempted omniscient narration in my own writing. My short stories tend to be third person limited or first person narration. The novel I'm working on switches POV at the beginning of each new chapter.
What POV narration options do you prefer to write in?
|I smelled Wanda's perfume the rest of that summer day. It'd permeated the fibers of my shirt and the wall around my heart that protected me from her vicious attacks. Each time the spicy, floral scent wafted up I was transported back to her embrace, back to her words...I have breast cancer...back to her apology for all the terrible things she'd said about me. My unsolicited enemy was now my friend. I couldn't stop thinking about her.
We spent a long time talking outside the elementary school just before Christmas vacation, after we'd applauded our fourth graders' first semester academic achievements. I complimented how pretty she looked in the auburn wig she wore. She fingered the ends with lengthy, French-manicured nails and told me she missed her blond hair. She was getting better though, she said. Her health was returning, no thanks to her ex-husband. In typical Wanda fashion, she spent the next twenty-five minutes talking trash about her ex, how cruel he was to her, how he'd refused to help her in any way through her treatments. I just want to be happy, that's all. Just me and the kids, happy. Her words haunt me.
Four weeks later, Wanda was discovered dead in her apartment. I heard the news as if sitting on the bottom of a pool, the weight of the water pressing down on me, muffling the words. Details bobbed and floated below the surface of my comprehension. A friend was saying they'd found her alone, her body, so the police couldn't rule out suicide or murder. I blinked hard, remembering back to earlier in the day. It was 8:30 a.m. and I was on my way to the gym. I came around the corner lost in my thoughts of how I'd organize my day. Movement caught my eye, and I turned my head as I passed Wanda's house. Her ex-husband, now sole resident of the place, was in the driveway, gesturing enthusiastically at me. He beamed as he waved; I returned the greeting as I drove on.
I could see that giant smile in my mind's eye, and the hair on my arms stood up.
A few days have passed now, and I still can't believe she's gone. That space she took up on the sidewalk opposite me feels empty when I picure her, standing there a few short weeks ago in a long brown leather coat and high heeled boots. She was a tiny woman, especially after enduring chemotherapy, but she was larger than life. Her insecurities drove her to dress provocatively, to stand too erect, to apply evening-appropriate make-up during the day, to push back when someone, real or imagined, pushed first. Her personality wasn't compatible with mine, but our energies drew us together. If she was in the same restaurant or school gymnasium or at the pool, I was hyper-aware of her. There wasn't anything obsessive about it, but there was something connecting us. I feel it still.
I wonder at the impact Wanda made on me, and why we shared that enigmatic connection. There is a lesson in our story, and as I work through its meaning I celebrate her in my heart. She died young, before her bumpy road smoothed out. I find comfort in the belief that her objectives for this lifetime were met, and that she's again Home and at peace.
|Today's guest blogger is a main character in the work-in-progress novel entitled "Overcome." Amanda Watson is the best friend and sidekick of the protagonist, Julie Knotts. She and Julie met when Julie's family moved next door when the girls were ten years old. At the time, Julie's family was reeling from the sudden death of Julie's younger sister, the victim of an accidental drowning. Amanda knows better than anyone the burdens her friend has struggled with ever since, but right now her energies are focused elsewhere. [Note: The following is NOT an excerpt from the novel. Rather, it is a creative writing exercise to help me capture her voice.] Yesterday (Friday), I "took" Julie to the mall. Here were her impressions:
There's something about the mall that lifts my spirits. The air itself is charged with an electricity that hums through me, and I'm not be the only one. I couldn't believe all the smiling faces! People walked with purpose and a skip in their strides, especially those with brightly colored plastic bags dangling from their arms and bouncing against their legs with each step. Maybe it's the scent of new clothes that intoxinates the masses, subconsciously calling upon childhood excitement reminiscent of the first day of a new school year. Or maybe my perception was just plain distorted. Being so crazy in love will do that to you.
I caught my reflection in Ann Taylor Loft's plate glass window as I approached the mall's main entrance. I swear I saw the diamond sparkle on my hand as I passed by. How is it possible that even its monochromatic reflection is gorgeous?
I entered the mall at the food court, a massive atrium with potted trees whose top branches reach the second level. Over the din of the crowded area I heard the birds that fly freely in the canopy twitter and chirp to each other.
I needed to visit the restroom first thing, so I headed in that direction. Walking toward me was the most beautiful little girl I've ever laid eyes on. She was tiny, perhaps three years old, though I'm a terrible judge of children's ages. She was dressed in a brown jumper with cream-colored tights and a matching turtleneck underneath. Her thin legs appeared more narrow by the chunky, camel-colored, Uggs-style boots on her feet. Her hair was the same light brunette as mine, and her mother (I presume) had gathered up the top-most section in an elastic and finished the hairstyle off with a large red bow. I couldn't take my eyes off her as she trotted along a few paces in front of her mother. I wondered what my and Paul's children will look like? An electric tingle shot through me following that thought. I realized how widely I was smiling.
I left the restrooms a few minutes later and headed toward Nordstrom's. I hoped there'd be reasonably priced dresses on the after-Christmas sales racks. It's funny; I've never been one to look at price tags when I need something new, never counted pennies before. But now that I have the wedding to plan, and a life ahead of me that promises a new home, children to raise, and college funds to plan for, I've noticed a shift in my priorities. For example, I don't want to spend a lot of money on a fancy dress for the benefit I have to attend next weekend. I rarely dress up to that extent; it's not like I attend a gala every other week. I'd rather put my money toward the important things in life, like my future.
I was enjoying these musings and thinking about Paul when the first kiosk worker stepped in my path. I almost stumbled into him. I politely declined the offer to test the sea salt exfoliater he tried pumping into my hand, but he wasn't easily dissuaded. The mall shouldn't allow those people to pester shoppers. There ought to be a square on the floor, a perimeter they can't cross, so that I'm not obligated to actually sidestep their persons.
It happened three times between the food court and Nordstrom's, the anchor store on the far end of the mall. I may have lost my mojo mood completely had it not been for the sight of all the little children playing in Simon Kidgits Klubhouse. An open-air romper room of sorts, it occupies a stretch in the middle of the mall corridor that has been sectioned off, fortified by benches on all four sides. Within the low wall of benches, colorful carpeting runs underneath climbing toys in the shapes of cars and dinosaurs. In the center is a clubhouse with gadgets and gears mounted on the walls, stimulating children's hand-eye coordination. Mothers chatted with one another, a vigilant eye always on their little tikes, and snapped pictures of the children's antics. My smile was back. I glanced down at the diamond shimmering on my finger, and daydreams of good times to come again flooded my mind.
I attracted the attention of a sales associate the moment I crossed the threshhold at Nordstrom's. When she asked me what I was shopping for, I surprised myself. Instead of inquiring about a sale on dresses, I asked on which floor I'd find children's clothes.
|I've finished my entry in the "Dear Me..." contest. I'm interested in hearing reviewers' thoughts on the overall effect of the letter, as well as verb tense choices and punctuation usage. There were a couple places I was unsure of in regards to both.
Thanks in advance for helping me out!
|The more you know about your character, the better your reader will understand and identify with him. The character’s name and physical appearance are important and will help the reader visualize the character you’ve created. But how the character speaks, moves his body, thinks, acts and reacts is what makes the character come alive in the reader’s imagination. Capturing the essence of your character is one of the challenges you must overcome to achieve a story that is engaging and entertaining.
For inspiration, some writers turn to personality profile typing charts. Leaders in the field of psychology have studied human behavior and determined that people fall into personality categories based on how they systematically act and react to social situations. Two such researchers were the mother and daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers.
Myers and Briggs developed the MBTI, a psychometric questionnaire consisting of seventy-five yes/no questions based on Carl Jung's theories on human personalities. They first published it in 1962. A taker’s answers are tabulated and indicate which of the sixteen personality types the taker falls into.
I have taken the MBTI test several times over the past couple years, and every time I’m typed as ENFJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging). To give you an idea of how the personality types can inspire your characterizations, listen to how an ENFJ character would be described: Warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as a catalyst for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership. My wheels are turning already; aren’t yours?
To take the Myers Briggs Test yourself, follow this link: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp
To read a description of each of the sixteen personality traits, follow this link: http://typelogic.com/
David Keirsley, PhD also studied human behavior. His description of the Four Temperaments of the human psyche gained him international acclaim. He, too, devised a test to determine personality types called The Keirsey Temperament Sorter®-II (KTS®-II). According to his website, “(The KTS-II) is the most widely used personality instrument in the world. It is a powerful 70 question personality instrument that helps individuals discover their personality type. The KTS-II is based on Keirsey Temperament Theory™, published in the best selling books, Please Understand Me® and Please Understand Me II, by Dr. David Keirsey.”1
Keirsley claims every person falls into one of four temperament categories: The Guardians, The Idealists, The Rationals, or The Artisans.
[I took The Keirsey Temperament Sorter on 1/12/2010, and was typed an Idealist. In paranthesis were the letters (NF), or "Intuited Feeling." This is exactly in line with my results for the MBTI: (ENFJ).]
Learn about each temperament by following this link: http://www.keirsey.com/handler.aspx?s=keirsey&f=fourtemps&tab=1&c=overview
And to take the KTS-II, click here: http://www.keirsey.com/sorter/register.aspx
Exploring personality types is a fascinating way to create and develop fictional characters. Let the type descriptions spark your imagination, lead you down unexpected storylines, and inspire you to write authentic, life-like characters.
|[Post Edit 1/13/2010 -- see list at bottom ]
Each day feels busier than the next, and every evening I'm amazed at the tasks that are pushed over into the next day's to-do list. Instead of fretting about it though, I'm going to make myself a list of must-do's for tomorrow. It's official when it's on the list:
Nicki-D(o)-List For January 13, 2010
Review the entries for the North Star contest.
Publish the next TWIST email.
Update the Sig Shop.
Finish first draft of "Dear Me..." entry.
And that's it....seriously Nicki, do nothing else until you've completed these tasks....and stay off the phone....and remember to drink plenty of water....oh, and you're meeting Lorri at the gym at 9 so be productive the two hours after the kids go to school and the couple hours between getting home from the workout and when they get home.
Now go get some sleep. Go.
See, organization is a snap. (We'll see about that tomorrow....)
~ ~ Peace ~ ~
Nicki-D(one)-List For January 13, 2010
Review the entries for the North Star contest.
Publish the next TWIST email.
Update the Sig Shop.
Finish first draft of "Dear Me..." entry.
.......Not too shabby...!
|This weekend set in motion my focus for the week to come.
Mornings are my best time of day. I'm energetic, happy, and look forward to participating in the unfurling day. An habitual early-riser, I was at my computer before the sun came up on Saturday morning, my fingers flying across the keyboard, giving life to an inspired stream of thoughts. I jumped at the voice of my daughter standing at my shoulder. I hadn't heard her come in.
"Mommy," Sidney began. "I want--"
Donuts, I thought, as the word sailed out of her mouth a nanosecond later.
My son, Cody inherited a lot of my genes: my looks, my temperment, suseptibility to headache and teeth-grinding, and my love for writing. But Sidney got my sweet tooth. In fact, she got Cody's share too. Double dose.
While the boys slept, Sid and I headed to the grocery store. I'm clinging to the diet wagon and refuse to fall off before my trip to New York at the end of the month, so we only picked out a couple for each of the three of them. When we got home, Sidney tiptoed through the silent house like an elephant crashing through the brush, and within minutes the boys were awake. The promise of fresh donuts brought Christian and Cody to the kitchen in time to see the last bite of Sidney's first donut disappear behind glaze-smeared lips.
Cody chose one of the two donuts his sister announced were "his," a blue iced affair with a face of gummy ring eyes and a red licorice smile. He ate it slowly, putting in down on his plate between bites. By about Cody's fourth bite, Sidney finished her other donut. She eyed him suspiciously when he declared he was full and excused himself from the table, leaving a half-eaten donut behind. He shouted "No!" over his shoulder when she asked if she could eat his second one.
The next day when I asked the kids what they wanted for breakfast, Cody was all smiles. "I'll eat my donut!" he said cheerfully. I looked over at Sidney, her arms hanging at her sides like a cut flower's wilted petals in a five-day-old bouquet. She was staring half-heartedly at the short row of cereal boxes on a pantry shelf. Cody followed my gaze.
"Little S," he said, "you can have half my donut, if you want."
Sidney and I both said, "Really?"
I was so proud of him! He wasn't prompted or goaded, except by an innate desire to do the right thing. And the look on Sidney's face was priceless. She went from partly cloudy to sunny in less than the blink of an eye. I hugged them each tight.
When I came back to the kitchen for a second cup of coffee an hour later, the kids were playing a collaborated game involving Bionicle robots and Littlest Pet Shop bobble heads. Their voices trilled with genuine happiness as the bizarre cast of characters interacted with indiscriminate ease. I stood there a minute, in awe of them. As if I'd made a sudden noise, they both looked up.
"What's wrong?" they asked.
I told them how wide my heart smiles when I see them getting along so well. And I pointed out that Cody's act of kindness in sharing his donut with Sidney started them both on a path of friendliness and high spirits. After all, if Cody had been stingy and not shared his donut, Sidney would have watched him eat with envy and resentment. She'd probably have delighted in needling him at every turn, irritated him to the best of her ability all morning. The day was more enjoyable because everyone felt the positive effects of Cody's action.
I was interpreting a life lesson for them, but I was teacher and student at the same time. Once again, my kids were a mirror reflecting life in its purest form, reminding me how we should act. The power of kindness overwhelmes all else; its light douses the darkness. You may not see all its effects, but if you tune in to the world around you, you will feel it.
Lesson learned, again. Thanks, kids!