Friday, March 16, 2012

Bonus Round!

There are so many wonderful writers out there that it was difficult narrowing my list down to 10. In fact, that is the reason I didn't make it 5...there are just to many to choose from! I'm still preparing the third post for my "official" list, but in the meantime I wanted to share my thoughts on another author that I love...Thrity Umrigar, author of The Space Between Us.

I tend to be a creature of habit so I probably would not have discovered this book if it hadn't been required reading for my Women's Lit. class and I suppose that is part of the reason I feel the need to spread the word about it - to bring others attention to something they may not typically look for or pick up.

Set in Bombay, The Space Between Us is about the lives of two women: Sera Dubash (a wealthy housewife) and Bhima (the Dubash's housekeeper who lives in the slums). The book alternates between the two women, revealing their individual stories and the unfortunate truth that while we are all connected by our experiences in life we still allow ourselves to be separated by class and culture.
As Umrigar puts it, "It is impossible to have two human beings work and live in a contained domestic space all day long and not form some kind of bond or human connection," but "there is always the elephant in the room, and that elephant, of course, is class. There is always a formality, a ritualized 'space' that can never quite be bridged."

There is a clear message here that life does not care about our social status or outward appearances, underneath it all we are the same - we all experience love, loss, joy and pain. However, it isn't a forced message and it certainly isn't a sugar coated one.

That is exactly what I love about this book, the realism. There is a parallel between their fictional experiences and your own reality. It's a type of realism that hits so close to home and feels so true that it stirs you emotionally and becomes comforting because you realize you are not alone. You care about these characters because they could be you.

On the surface, this book is about two women in India, but at its core it is about people and how the only true differences between us are the ones we choose to create.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Remember Your Roots

Beatrix Potter is a somewhat unique addition to my list because her stories hold a lot of sentimental value for me. My grandmother (aka Honey Gram) loved Beatrix Potter so I can’t read these stories without thinking about her and how much it meant to have her share them with me. 

I did hesitate at first to add her to my Top 10 because I felt like it was purely based on emotions, but looking back I can see that both Honey Gram and Beatrix Potter had a large impact on how I have developed as a writer and more importantly as a person. As an adult I have lamented the fact that I didn’t take the time to learn more from my grandma, simple things such as knitting and baking, but she taught me something much bigger without me, maybe even without her, ever realizing it. She taught me how important it is to always maintain your sense of humor and a sense of child-like wonder. 

I’m going to ramble on a little more about my grandma here, but stick with me because it all ties back to Beatrix Potter…I promise.

Growing up, I loved spending time at my grandma’s house because there was always fun to be had. She taught me how to play cards, had shelves full of books, and introduced me to some of the best things on television…British comedies and MacGyver…that’s right, my grandma watched MacGyver (coolest grandma ever!). I knew that she enjoyed spending time with me, but I suppose part of me also believed she did it because it was her duty as my grandma. I didn’t make the connection at the time (who does when they are young) that this was how my grandma was teaching me who she was, not simply as a grandma, but as a fellow human being. 

I see the same thing now when I think about Beatrix Potter. Her stories are full of mischief, humor and nature (another thing my grandma loved) and that is why they appeal to children, but those elements are also there because those are the things that appealed to Potter. Those are the things that made her who she was at her core. Potter spent hours and hours just watching, drawing and eventually writing about the world around her. She had a true passion for nature and collected an assortment of pets, including rabbits which of course led to the beloved characters Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny. 

*Fun fact: the story of Peter Rabbit was first written as a “picture letter” to cheer up a little boy who was sick.

Once published, Potter became an instant classic, The Tale of Peter Rabbit  has been in print ever since it was first published in 1902. I think it’s because her stories have such a genuine feel. There is a love and a quality that you rarely find in children’s books today. You can see it in the details!

I’m sure many people are familiar with Peter Rabbit, but if you haven’t read her other books you are missing out on so much. She wrote about mice, cats, squirrels, frogs, ducks, hedgehogs…and every single one has own personality. She was not a one-trick pony, that’s for sure! Her characters are so full of life and bring out such a sense of wonder that reaches you at any age it’s just amazing! Again, you rarely see a children's book with characters that have this kind of heart and natural spunk...especially when it comes to animals.

What I also love about Beatrix Potter is that she was a true environmentalist. She used the money she earned from her books to buy 16 farms and over 4,000 acres of land. She wanted to protect them from industrialization and ensure that future generations would be able to enjoy the natural landscapes through more than a painting or a book. This makes her someone that inspires me not only as a writer, but as a woman in general. The world needs more people like this! People who don’t shy away from who they are, who hold on to that youthful spirit and are compelled to share it with others. 

For my daughter’s first Christmas, Honey Gram gave her Peter Rabbit’s Giant Storybook, a collection of Beatrix Potter’s stories. It is a book that means so much to all of us because opening it brings out so much more than just the stories written on its pages, it brings out stories about our family.

Whether it is by writing a book or simply passing one along to our children and grandchildren, these are the things shape us…they make us who we are and teach us who we want to be.

"I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations." 
~ Beatrix Potter

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ladies First...

We’re kicking off my “Top 10 Writers List” with J.K. Rowling, author of the famed Harry Potter series.

I have to admit, when Harry Potter mania first hit the U.S. I totally dismissed it. I was 21 and had a baby,  Harry was 11 and had a wand and, despite my love of fantasy, I just didn’t think it would appeal to me.
Still, it wasn’t long before I saw the first film which led to reading the first book (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) which led to the second book (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) which led to the third book (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) which led to true love. :)

Don’t get me wrong, I love the entire series, but Azkaban is when it became something personal for me as a writer. I still remember reading it for the first time and being in pure awe of it. It sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true.

So what exactly is it that makes this book stand out for me?

The details. I love details and this book is bursting with them! By details I don’t mean adjectives, but the way everything connects, the way everything serves a purpose and falls perfectly into place to reveal the whole picture. This may seem obvious…after all, isn’t that what writing is? Putting together pieces to form a whole? Yes, but it is rare to find it done with this level of care and ability. This is the type of writing that I strive for, that I read and think… “this, this is what I want to do.”

Warning: This is something you will see me touch on quite a bit in these posts because, in my opinion, it is those kind of details that make a good writer great. 

Rowling’s books create an active reader. You are not just reading the story you are discovering it. There are so many “Ah-ha!” moments in this book that it truly makes you feel a part of something special. Passages that occur in the first few chapters have taken on a whole new meaning by the end of the book…small things that were touched on in the first two books, such as the “Whomping Willow” and Ron’s pet rat, are suddenly major plot points…you can’t take any character or even scene at face value because there is a history there that hides more and while that could have led to a book full of cheap twists, the pay-off here is strong and feels completely natural. 

The love that Rowling has for her characters and this story line really shines through here. You can’t just sit down and write something like this, it doesn’t work that way. It takes time and planning and dedication to do it right. She has a personal investment in these books and not just because they have made her richer than the Queen of England. In fact, it’s not about money at all, it’s about something inside her that was driving her to tell this story. It was a deep connection to these characters, an exploration of their world and who they are and that, at its heart, is what writing is about!

Out of the ten writers on my list only two of them are women, but it is important to note that this is not due to a lack of strong female writers (they are out there!). It is because this list is about more than talent. It is not only Rowling’s work, but also her diligence which has inspired me. I can’t tell you how many times that voice of doubt has crept into my head. That voice that says I’m too old to be putting my energy into this, that I should be pursuing something more stable, that I need a 9-5 job where I know I will receive something for all my efforts, but J.K. Rowling has basically made all of that blabber null and void. How can I allow myself to stop when she has already proven it is possible. She was an unemployed, single-mother who became a published author just before her 32nd birthday and all because she didn’t allow herself to quit.

Sure, she may be the exception to the rule and I certainly don’t expect myself to ever reach her height of popularity, but that’s fine. I don’t need to become rich and famous, I only need to know it’s possible to get my words out there. That as small as I may feel sometimes there may be someone out there, even just one single person, who needs my stories as much as I needed Harry Potter and that is enough to keep me more more more page.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Flip the Tape, Hit Rewind...

Alright, it has been far too long since I posted here and it's time for me to get back to business!

I have been trying to put together a larger project for my blog, but until that really comes together I will be posting some smaller bits and pieces.

On a whim I recently compiled a list of my top 10 favorite writers, people who have inspired me, entertained me and whose work I basically cannot seem to get enough of. This list includes novelists, comic book writers and screenwriters and I have decided to post it here week by week (in no particular order) along with why I think they are so awesome and why you should check out their works!

It should be a lot of fun so I hope every one follows along! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Procrastination, Perfectionism and Me

I can't deny it, I am a procrastinator! If I spent half as much time doing things as I spend thinking about doing things I would be a much more productive person. A prime example would be this blog which I have thought about doing for months before, finally, just jumping into it. I'm not generally a jumper...I'm a planner.

I think it is important to note that my procrastination does not stem from laziness, but from my least when it comes to writing.
This wasn't always the case, however. There was a time when I wrote freely, with little regard to form or function. A time more commonly known as my youth.
When you're a kid everything is possible. Your future is not a matter of "if," but a matter of "when." I was going to be a writer when I grew up.  Not, if I graduated from college or if I found time while raising my children or if could find a publisher to accept my work. I just believed it would be. It was that simple.

Then I turned 18 and started to wonder just how practical becoming a writer would really be (there is another word we overlook as children, "practical"). So I became, undeclared, stuck between what I knew I wanted and what I thought I needed. I now refer to this as "writer's purgatory" and I think it is something a lot of writers/artists experience at some point or another.
It was during this period that the perfectionist weaseled its way into my writing time. I was convinced that the only practical way to be a professional writer was to be a perfect one. Every plot, every line, every word needed to be just right or I would never get anywhere.
The result? I went from writing all the time to barely writing at all. It sucked...a lot.

So, how does one escape from writer's purgatory, to roam freely in writer's heaven?
It is definitely a process, but here is what I can tell you about my journey.

I would have never made it this far if I didn't have a friend who believed in me. Who believed in me even more than I believed in myself and refused to let me give up.
I think the most important things you can do as a writer are to surround yourself with people who support and believe in you and to always, always, write for yourself first. Write with passion, even when it's garbage because it is the only way to reach the good stuff hidden in inside you and trust is there!

Bringing things around full circle, from child to adult, I have to include this incredible quote from Jim Henson's Muppets because some things never change, no matter how old we get.

"If just one person believes in you
Deep enough and strong enough
Believes in you hard enough and long enough
Before you knew it, someone else would think
'If he can do it, I can do it'
Making it two. Two whole people who believe in you
And maybe even you can believe in you too."
~ Robin and the Muppet Gang

Monday, April 11, 2011


Well, I have finally done it, I have created a blog!

I know it looks bare right now and the only people reading it are probably friends and relations, but stick around and spread the word because more and more of my work will be showing up here.
Of course, some random babbling and pop-culture references can also be expected...after all, this is the internet!