Before We Were Yours

May 26, 2018 by

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for more than 35 weeks now and shows no signs of dropping from the list any time soon. Having aspirations of my own to equal such an accomplishment some day, I read books that make the list and hold on, to see what level of writing it takes to make the big time so that I, too, can hone my skills.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a good read, but there are issues with the craft.

Sometimes, however, I’m left wondering.

The story itself, historical fiction of the Memphis, Tennessee Children’s Home Society, and the fictional Stafford family of South Carolina is good. I think Ms. Wingate has done a good job of blending enough research fact with her imagination to make a compelling story. In fact, I did like the storytelling.

The Craft

What bothered me, however, was the actual craft. And it’s here I am trying to be careful as I have a query in to the same agent who reps Ms. Wingate–of which I’m likely to shoot my chances to hell and back. But I found it amazing how loosely edited this book was.

Just last week I read an agent, might have been on Writer’s Digest, and the agent was saying the easiest way to spot an amateur writer was by the wrongful use of the ellipses in one’s writing. Particularly by using an ellipses as a comma or a dash in a sentence instead of … a comma. (sic)

Ms. Wingate uses an ellipses as a comma or a dash and they are … everywhere.

Now obviously, this is not affecting sales. So maybe that doesn’t matter then, one might argue. But as writers, don’t we have an obligation to use grammar properly?

I also realize this is women’s fiction, but it’s also clear that Ms. Wingate is unfamiliar, even as a “former journalist” of what the life of a U.S. senator is like. Particularly one in South Carolina. She often has Avery Stafford, the daughter of the senator, talking about how they’re getting in and out of a “limo.” Um, no. Not even the governors I worked for in Alabama rode around in limos.

Showing v. Telling and Telling and Telling

This book sets a new record for me for the one thing every creative writing course, manual and website I’ve ever seen says not to do and that’s to show vs. tell. In fact, as the headline for this subsection goes, Wingate tells and tells and tells and tells. Part of that she gets away with because she’s doing first person accounts in alternating characters to tell the story–female characters with all their emotions at that. But Heavens to Betsy!

This book drips with telling. There were points as a writer I wanted to get out a red pen and start marking through portions as I read where what was included was not necessary–or wasn’t left for me to decide how the characters were actually feeling on our own. It was all force fed.

Look, I enjoyed the book. Don’t get me wrong. But these technical aspects bugged me like scratching fingernails on a chalkboard. Most readers most likely won’t care. The book being on the bestseller list so long is proof of that. The story about what happened in the Tennessee Children’s Home Society should be told loud and clear. This novel is a great messenger for getting the word out and I applaud the effort made by Ms. Wingate and the people who worked to bring this book to market. And congrats to all of them for being on the NYT Bestseller list for so long. That is quite an accomplishment in this day and age, and one, clearly earned by the story in this book.

It’s just hard to stomach seeing a book be so successful when so many rules we’ve been told not to do have been broken in this one and it has done so well. Like May Weathers and Rill Foss, I’m trying to figure out who is to be believed….

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The Paris Wife

May 11, 2018 by

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is a fictional account of the marriage between Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway as told through by Hadley.

Most accounts, A Moveable Feast, and Hemingway In Love, are told by Ernest or A.E. Hotchner. I don’t know how much of The Paris Wife is fact or fiction. I have yet to read the biography Paris Without End, The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife by Gioia Dilberto, but it seems plausible.

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is about the marriage between Hadley and Ernest Hemingway.

McLain’s book tracks right, I mean the events within line up against those mentioned in other works about the Hemingways, so by now, I’m beginning to feel like I know them fairly well. This book is a splash of color, certainly, one that I did enjoy reading. I wish there’d been a note or two at the end that spoke about her assumptions.

The book reads matter of fact. McLain handles her assumption of the mind of Hadley Richardson with great poise and authority. One feels like he/she is in the head of Hadley the entire read and that is quite an accomplishment. When the noose of Pauline begins to tighten and Hadley is unaware it is happening, the story reads innocently. Only from having read other accounts did I know what was going on. McLain handled this perspective so well.

She also handled the revelation, the realization, when Hadley figures out that Pauline and Ernest are having the affair, well. I do not know if there are diary accounts or letters that explain this, again, I’m looking forward to Dilberto’s book—maybe I should have read that one before McLain’s—to better understand how McLain chose to write these scenes. I know how Ernest described the trip to château country in France, what I don’t know enough about is how Hadley truly reacted to Pauline, her sister and Hadley all riding off together and Hadley coming to the realization that Pauline and Ernest were having an affair while they off on the trip.

For anyone studying Hemingway, as I continue to do, this is a must read. Even though it is a fictional account of their lives, it helps to see another side of the story of their lives. I enjoyed this book and recommend it, even if you’re not studying Hemingway. It’s a good story and you’ll learn something. The accounts of F. Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda are funny, too.

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On Chesil Beach–Book Review

May 5, 2018 by

On Chesil Beach

Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, (book 67 on my reading list) a book I read for the Dallas bookstore Interabang’s book club, is a work I am not sure I would have read on my own and am not sure how I will feel about openly talking about at book club in June. But once you get past the vivid descriptions of honeymoon sex between Florence and Edward, the two main characters in the book, there is a tremendous story, and I do mean a tremendous story that makes the book a fabulous read. It’s just the sticky parts, if you will pardon the pun, that make it, well, yeah.

On Chesil Beach

Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach.

McEwan’s writing is colorful and deliberate. There is no mincing of words in description and emotions of the characters is right there on the page for all to see, feel, and experience. I’ve been working on a book that at parts my advisor from SMU warns might get me banned from libraries. I promise you, it has nothing on this book. NOTHING.

But the parts where McEwan explores the heart of Edward and his feelings about his love for Florence, his new wife, are exquisite. On page 152, Edward thinks to himself, “He was discovering that being in love was not a steady state, but a matter of fresh surges or waves, and he was experiencing one now.”

Pages 177-78 set up the crux of Florence’s inner argument in such an amazing way:

“It was the brooding expectation of her giving more, and because she didn’t, she was a disappointment for slowing everything down. Whatever new frontier she crossed, there was always another waiting for her. Every concession she made increased the demand, and then the disappointment. Even in their happiest moments, there was always the accusing shadow, the barely hidden gloom of his unfulfillment, looming like an alp, a form of perpetual sorrow which had been accepted by them both as her responsibility.”

The San Francisco Chronicle called the book a “perfect novel.” I’m not sure there is such a thing. With all the sexual content, I cannot agree with that. Yes, I know this is part of life, birds and bees and all, I just can’t dub the perfect novel one about so much vivid sex. The back story that feeds it, yes. And I understand why it’s necessary to have it to feed the backstory, just call me a prude. I’d like to take my daughter to book club next month and I’m not really going to feel comfortable doing that given the nature of this book.

The writing is quite good, that said. The story is one I do recommend. It will stick with you and make you think. And that is what a novel and good characters are supposed to do. And what the perfect novel is supposed, in fact, to be. Yes, I’m contradicting myself. Read a few pages as a parent with children and you will understand why….

The Movie

As you may know, the movie, starring Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle, will be released on May 18, 2018. Reviews for the film are not out, but I will update the post, or make a new one once the movie is out. It will be interesting to see how they externalize the emotions of the two characters when so much of the book is internalized. The trailer looks quite good and in reading the comments, most commenters have little idea what the story is about. Though I did find it comical when one described it as “Fifty Shades of Gray, limited British version.”

Here’s the trailer for your benefit.

What I did notice in the trailer and you can see in the image above as they’re sitting out by the ocean, he’s wearing his coat and tie. On page 175 when he comes to her there in the book, she thinks to herself, “At least he had not put on his tie!” So the adaptation skews from the book and ventures into its own territory. It will be interesting to see how far.


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Hemingway in Love—His Own Story

May 3, 2018 by

Hemingway in Love—His Own Story

Hemingway in Love—His Own Story is a memoir written by A.E. Hotchner, a friend of the late Ernest Hemingway. Hotchner used letters and tape recordings of Hem to write the book, often using straight transcripts of Papa to fill the pages direct about topics, particularly of his marriage to his first wife Hadley, and second wife Pauline.

Hemingway In Love

Hemingway In Love–His Own Story by A.E. Hotchner is a memoir about Ernest Hemingway and a very poignant book. A must read for any student of Papa.

The book gets into Hem’s paranoia about the FBI tapping his phones and what led to him receiving shock treatments, descriptions of how painful they were, not to mention how unsuccessful they were in treating his ailment—and then at the end reveal that Freedom of Information Act disclosures who how J. Edgar Hoover really was surveilling Hemingway after all.

But if one has any romantic feelings about how mystical and wonderful Hemingway’s life might have been, this book will remove some of that.

The parts about his being torn between his love for Hadley and Pauline are simply tragic.

After he lost both women, as predicted by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who told him to dump Pauline before he lost Hadley, his wife, Hemingway is truly torn with regret for the rest of his life. And it shows in this book. In fact, from Hotchner’s account, Hemingway spent the rest of his life looking to fill the hole in his soul left by the absence of Hadley.

This is a touching and rich book that is a must read for anyone who finds themselves studying Hemingway. He remarks and fills in the blanks about what he was thinking when he wrote several of his short stories and The Sun Also Risesand For Whom The Bell Tolls.

There are special ways that Hemingway talked in his day to day expressions we don’t hear anymore that come to life in this book. Ones I underlined and found colorful and clear.

“No matter what they tell you about reliving the past, it’s not a bridge, and you can’t go over it.”

“Poverty’s a disease that’s cured by the medicine of money.”

“They have remained in the museum of my mind.”

Like I said, this is a must-read book for anyone studying the nature and psychology of one of the most famous writers of the last 100 years. Reading his work is one thing. Hearing him talk about it is quite another. I’ll read this book a couple more times to see what I missed the first time. You should, too.

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The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

Apr 24, 2018 by

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

One of Ernest Hemingway’s suggested readings in A Moveable Feast was Marie Belloc Lowndes’ suspense novel The Lodger, based on Jack the Ripper and published in 1914. What an interesting study it is, to say the least, and what a difference has come about in the English language in just 104 years.

Set in the heart of London, Mr. and Mrs. Bunting are on the verge of losing everything when a queer man, (queer in the 1914 sense of the word) arrives at the door and pays them a tidy sum for use of their upstairs rooms. This averts the Buntings from heading to the poor house.

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowdes is an excellent read.

Murders begin happening round about their area of London by a man calling himself The Avenger and it is near half the book when Mrs. Bunting begins to make work of the timely connections between the murders and the activities of her lodger, who calls himself, Mr. Sleuth.

The writing is superb, and I found it quite charming the way British English was used to tell this tale of mystery. Terms such as “hark,” and “queer” are used frequently throughout the novel and are hardly used today or have a far different meaning than they did when the book was written.

There was a time while reading when I wondered, (there was a big reward offered for Mr. Sleuth,) why the Buntings didn’t turn Mr. Sleuth in, (they had a detective, Mr. Joe Chandler coming round their place by the day to see Mr. Bunting’s daughter, Daisy, and easily could have given him a clue) but it was explained somewhere around Chapter 22 that having the law mixed up in their affairs would have cost them their reputations as gentlepersons in London and they would have been tarnished for the rest of their lives. But if they’d had the reward money, seems as if they could have moved off to the English countryside somewhere and not bothered with T London culture said about them ever again. I guess I’m thinking too much into the story.

I won’t tell you how it ends. You will have to read it for yourself. Though I suppose on one hand the previous paragraph was something of a spoiler, I did not, however, tell you what does happen, so I suppose that leaves it as fair game.

This is a highly-acclaimed thriller and I admit the book did keep me entertained. Why we humans find so much fascination in tales about the morbidity of the minds of mass murders one will never know.

The book is an excellent read at 252 pages. Worth every bit of the time. Pour yourself a spot of tea. Lock the doors and windows and hope Mr. Sleuth doesn’t have an inkling to cut your throat….

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Cameron, Fitzgerald, Hanks & Hemingway

Apr 5, 2018 by

Cameron, Fitzgerald, Hanks & Hemingway

Credibility, May Day, The Past is Important to Us & Fifty Grand

I witnessed a cosmic literary alignment this week when reading selections of Julia Cameron, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Hanks, and Ernest Hemingway randomly together. Each of them fit together in a unique way.

Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s essay “Credibility” taken from her Right to Write fits with the others like a glove.

Four great writers who sat down and wrote to overcome their fear of whether or not they were good enough.

The essay says that in America we have a conviction “that being published has to do with being ‘good’ while not being published has to do with being ‘amateur.’ We treat the unpublished writher as though he or she suffers an embarrassing case of unrequited love.”

Her male counterparts understood the importance of the act of writing.

What if F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Hanks, and Ernest Hemingway had all said to themselves, “My writing isn’t good enough to publish. I’m just going to stick it in the drawer.”

Or worse, “I’m just not good enough.”

Or worse still, “I’ll never be good enough, so I’m not going to write at all.”

You may think I am joking about this, but how many people do you know who have said this? The answer is too many.

Anyone can sit down and write. And the more they do so, the better they will get. As long as they are reading, too.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “May Day,” his first great novelette, was published in July 1920, and related to a series of events that took place in his life in 1919. He feared that he had “unsuccessfully” woven the events into a pattern in his story. But he published the story regardless and it is a wonderful piece of writing.

His story details a Yale reunion on May 1-2, 1919 in New York and follows the antics of Gordon Sterrett, Phillip Dean, Edith Bradin, Carrol Key, Gus Rose, and Peter Himmel. The tale is sad, but has moments of color, yet is told masterfully.

Gordy is caught in a pickle and a situation of misery he seems to have created on his own. But reading the story one gets the sense of the true genius of Fitzgerald’s writing.

Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks’ “The Past is Important to Us,” in his book, Uncommon Type, introduces us to Bert Allenberry, also in New York City, who has developed a time machine that allows him to go from near future to June 8, 1939 where he frequents the World’s Fair and finds himself infatuated with a woman from another time.

Hanks weaves a great tale of Bert not being happy with what he has, all the money he could want, and longing for something he can’t have. Like Gordy, Bert’s demise is created out of his own greed. The underlying theme is very much the same between the two stories written almost 100 years apart.

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s story, “Fifty Grand,” from The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, The Hemingway Library Edition, involves a washed-up boxer named Jack Brennan who is facing his last fight and puts $50,000 down on himself to lose.

This is another story set in New York city. In this edition, there are extras with previous versions of the stories included. Right behind the published edition is exhibit 12A which has the note, “1st 3 pages of story mutilated by Scott Fitzgerald with his—.”

Boxing stories aren’t really my thing, but Hemingway’s writing is so rich and concise. Remember, he says 80 percent of a story should be like an iceberg—with the bulk of it unseen.


So how is it that I can pick up four books randomly and read four separate pieces together and they have overlapping themes?

That remains a mystery, but in part, Hemingway and Fitzgerald hung out together as best friends. They fed off each other. Tom Hanks has been an actor, screenwriter, director, and producer. His writings also have appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker. His book Uncommon Type, where every story features a typewriter, is his first collection of fiction.

Each of these writers overcame what Julia Cameron wrote about in her essay “Credibility.” They, like all writers, heard the call all writers hear and did something about their need to write. They sat down with blank sheets of paper, pricked their fingers and poured their hearts out onto the pages before them. Then they went back time and again and revised and made their words better and better and better.

I’ve been studying and writing short stories of late. Writing short stories is a pathway to the soul of writing. They don’t allow for lengthy writing. A writer must be concise. The transformation of the lead character must happen in a few paragraphs. The whole story is contained to about 1,500 words. This demands practice and determination. Once a writer perfects such a medium, he/she is better prepared for novel writing. Or so the theory goes.

I’m about to do my fourth revision of my novel The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. I’ve been writing short stories for about two months now. They are a joy to compose and challenging as well. My word usage is much tighter than before. That’s the biggest thing to come from this exercise, but so is the joy of telling new stories. I highly recommend such a study. Not to mention reading from masters like the four authors above. You will be surprised how much you will learn.

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