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 Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

May 12, 2018 by

The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, the Hemingway Library Edition is a collection of 26 short stories written by the late master, which also includes a foreword by sons Patrick Hemingway and Introduction by Seán Hemingway. Just as important is section entitled “The Art of the Short Story” by Hemingway himself.

The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway contains 26 short stories by Hemingway plus an essay by him on the art of the short story.

This book is critical for anyone working to hone their skills in the art, and writing short stories is truly an art, and something of a skill that all writers should seek to develop, (I will not use the word perfect).

Hemingway said that writing short stories was something that if you can do, you do it. “You don’t have to explain it. If you can not do it, no explaining will ever help.”

He goes on to say that “If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless.”

In his own words, Hemingway said, “The test of any story is how very good the stuff is that you, not your editors, omit.”

This book is a must read for anyone wanting to write a better short story. The bonus in this book is that the Hemingway Library has added the rough drafts of each story and also marked where Hem crossed out language he didn’t use. This is quite beneficial as one studies each story to get a better understanding of his thinking.

There are so many good stories in this book, the ones he is famous for, and of course, the ones that aren’t as well-known, but they are all here for one who is truly the student of Hemingway. “Up in Michigan,” “Fifty Grand,” “The Killers,” “A Canary for One,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” just to name a few.

This book is a treasure in my collection. I will pull from it many times in the future. There is much to learn from in these pages.

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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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Your Boat Sailed

Apr 27, 2018 by

Your Boat Sailed

Your boat sailed a long time ago
And you were in it.
Now my life is an embargo
Of anything you deposit.

Your Boat Sailed. The perfect message that needed to be expressed and was and is over with. Like the thoughts expressed, this is out of my head, not that the thoughts were active, either.

I do not sit around thinking about you
And have not in a while.
For me the skies are once again azure blue
And my face wears a smile.

There are no longer storm clouds on my horizons
Or eggshells where I walk.
No longer unfair accusations or suspicions
With whom I chose to talk.

I don’t have to worry about who I’ll meet at the door
When I come home at day’s end.
Or if I’ll find you lying passed out in the floor
And lie about it to our church friends.

Yes, you still project your fears onto me
And cast your evil sins my way.
That’s the way it’s always been and will be
At least that’s what the doctors say.

They tell me to let you howl into the night
Like the wolf at the Moon.
That doesn’t seem to make things right
But you’ll stop howling soon.

For not too long from now there’ll be a guy
A sucker just like me;
Who will come a long and be fooled just as I
For you to sink your fangs in, we’ll see.

It’s always my fault, but really it isn’t
I’ve come to see that clearly.
You’ve tried to turn me into a ruinous peasant
But you’ll never topple me.

Because I’m stronger than you will ever be;
For one simple thing is true.
It is okay for me to be in love with me
And you will only ever find hate for you.

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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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