Need Help with Summer Reading?

Last week I wrote about some of the classic books that PBS suggested people read (or love) the most. But if you’re looking for a new book or genre to read, Goodreads has a list of suggestions for you.

[Source: Goodreads]
Goodreads has brought in Lori Hettler, the founder and moderator of The Next Best Book Club, to put together a couple of curated lists of summer reading challenges. The two lists are broken up into sub-categories to help you make it through the challenge.

List 1: Beginner Level

  • Summer-related tasks
  • Tasks to stretch your comfort zone

List 2: Expert Level

  • June Reads
  • July Reads
  • August Reads
  • What to read during any month to stretch your reading comfort zones

These two lists include broader challenges (i.e., reading a book of poetry) to more specific tasks (i.e., reading a book that features a yellow, green, or “sandy” cover).

This could be a great challenge for people who feel like their reading list is lagging or that they’re stuck in a rut, reading in the same genre.

Have you started this Goodreads challenge? What list are you using and what reading task are you most looking forward to?

need help summer reading

Cathryn Hankla Returns to Richmond

cathryn hankla returns richmond
That’s an announcement I’d dearly love to see! Last night was her first reading and signing in Richmond and I, for one, want more. She read from her two newest books. She started with a selection from lost places: on losing and finding home which was released in April.

 

cathryn hankla lost places
It is a memoir in essay form. But unlike the many trauma memoirs out there, this is more an exploration of her life in relation to people and places. She uses home in both a physical and metaphorical sense, and much of what she writes speaks to all of us.I bought the book only last night, and so have not read most of it, but it’s jumped to the top of my list!

 

cathryn hankla galaxies
GALAXIES is a poetry collection published last year. She ended the reading with several selections, including “Galaxy of Virginia History”—both humorous and appalling.

 

Cathy’s writing often elicits adjectives such as droll, urgent, inventive, graceful, passionate, compassionate, unpredictable, and imaginative. She’s published more than a dozen books of poetry, short stories, novels, and now essays. Choose one and become a fan! (As you can tell, I’m one already.)
cathryn hankla published works
Among my favorites are Learning the Mother Tongue and FORTUNE TELLER MIRACLE FISHCathy is a fabulous storyteller! Both of these collections evoke her Appalachian Mountain roots—vividly, poignantly, and endearingly.

 

I actually met Susan Hankla first. I won’t go into that now, having recently blogged about Susan twice. It was in one of Susan’s classes that a fellow student suggested I attend a writing workshop at Nimrod Hall. As many of you know, I’ve been returning to Nimrod Hall since 2004, and intend to do so this year as well.

 

Main building Nimrod Hall
The main building of Nimrod Hall
That is when and where I met Cathy. It was immediately apparent that we have much in common. Besides our shared Appalachian roots, we both have been college professors and chaired our respective departments, albeit her department is English and Creative Writing and mine was Psychology.
writing workshop nimrod hall
Cathy Hankla in our workshop
Cathy conducts helpful and enjoyable writing workshops—which is why I go back year after year. No doubt she is an excellent classroom teacher as well, judging by students of hers who attended last night’s reading. She’s great at both big picture critique and detail editing.
 
cathryn hankla land between blue moon poorwater
 
If you are more inclined to novels than short stories, consider these. And  BTW, she’s poetry editor of The Hollins Critic. Bottom line: whatever your preference, give Cathy Hankla a read. Or a listen, if Richmond is so lucky as to get her back!

 

cathryn hankla returns richmond

The Great American Read

Great American Read
 
The flyer pretty much says it all. PBS has compiled a list of books—goodness only knows the criteria—and invites people to vote for their #1 between now and October 23. The list is pretty much alphabetical, which seems to be the only organizing principle.
There are children’s books, such as Charlotte’s Web, The Little Prince, and Harry Potter (the series).
great american read charlottes web
[Source: Scholastic]
Then there are sci-fi and fantasy, e.g., 1984, Jurassic ParkThe Lord of the Rings (series), and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
 
alices adventures in wonderland
[Source: Amazon]
Mysteries are well represented, including And Then There Were None, and Alex Cross Mysteries (series). It’s a mystery to me that Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey didn’t make it.
and then there were none agatha christie
[Source: Amazon]
The list includes old books, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Little Women, Gone With the Wind,  and The Great Gatsby.
 
And then there are really old books such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Moby Dick. My personal favorite in this category is Pride and Prejudice. If a book’s popularity is judged by the amount of fanfiction it’s generated, then Pride and Prejudice must be the hands-down winner, for there are literally hundreds of those out there.
[Source: Tripping Over Books]
I’ve already indicated that the list includes series. Others areThe Chronicles of Narnia, Foundation, Game of Thrones, Hatchet, The Hunger Games, Left Behind, The Twilight Saga, and (my personal favorite) Outlander. I’ve written about Diana Gabaldon in the past so I won’t go into that series here, beyond saying it’s one of the greatest soap operas ever written. And I wonder why the Poldark series isn’t on the list.
chronicles of narnia book series
[Source: Idea Wiki]
A series which is on the list is Fifty Shades of Grey, and I can’t help wondering why. The writing is dreadful, the story line is cliché, and the sex scenes repetitive. I read them all, trying to figure out why they topped the best-seller lists for so long. It got to the point that I’d think, Oh, elevator sex again, and turn the page. Or, Another shattering orgasm, and roll my eyes. I finally decided that the appeal was that of Cinderella, updated with cell phones and private jets. The couple’s apparent obsession with each other might have made readers recollect the infatuations of their youth—or the youth they wish they’d had. I can’t imagine that the real appeal was the S&M aspect. One can find better online—for free—or so I’ve been told. Of course, all this is just my opinion. What’s yours?
50 Shades
BOTTOM LINE: Peruse the PBS list and vote!

I’m Not Alone Here

commonly misused english words
The right word vs. the almost right word is the difference between sounding articulate vs. sounding pretentious—and uneducated. This has long been one of my pet peeves. Indeed, I blogged about it in the past.

 

Not surprisingly, many others agree with me. Dr. Travis Bradberry blogged about it at Huffington Post. His words were:

 

accept vs. except
affect vs. effect
lie vs. lay
bring vs. take
ironic vs. coincidental
imply vs. infer
nauseous vs. nauseated
comprise vs.compose
farther vs. further
fewer vs. less

 

And to his list, I would add sit vs. set. The former is settling oneself, as in sit on a bench. The latter is placing something, as in setting the vase on the table.

 

You can find “The 58 most Commonly Misused Words and Phrases” by Independent. Their word fails include the following:

 

adverse vs averse
appraise vs. apprise
amused vs bemused
criterion vs. criteria
datum vs. data
depreciate vs. deprecate
dichotomy vs. differentiate
disinterested vs. uninterested
credible vs. credulous
enervate vs. energize
enormity vs. enormous
flaunt vs. flout
flounder vs. founder
fortuitous vs. fortunate
fulsome vs.full
homogeneous for homogenized
hung vs. hanged
regardless vs. irregardless
literally vs. figuratively
mitigate vs. militate
noisome vs. noisy
proscribe vs. prescribe
protagonist vs. proponent
reticent vs. reluctant
simplistic vs. simple
staunch vs. stanch
tortuous vs. torturous
unexceptionable vs. unexceptional
untenable vs. unbearable
verbal vs. oral

 

No, I’m not going to define these differences. If you aren’t absolutely sure of a pair, look it up! Indeed, you are more likely to remember if you actively look it up vs. passively read it.

 

The examples I’ve listed here are just that. These lists aren’t exhaustive. Indeed, wikipedia lists hundreds of such words, alphabetized and defined. It’s worth a read. Bottom line: only use words you know for sure.

 

commonly misused english words

Guest Review: Let’s No One Get Hurt

Like most readers, I have my habits. In the service of exposing my readers to a wider perspective, I have invited Christina Cox, fellow book lover, to offer her opinions on a recent read. Thank you, Christina!


I first found out about Let’s No One Get Hurt because the author, Jon Pineda, teaches at my alma mater (The University of Mary Washington). I’m a big fan of his poetry, but I’d never read any of his fiction, so I thought I would give it a shot.

lets no one get hurt
[Source: Goodreads]
The premise of the story piqued my interest immediately. From Goodreads:

Fifteen-year-old Pearl is squatting in an abandoned boathouse with her father, a disgraced college professor, and two other grown men, deep in the swamps of the American South. All four live on the fringe, scavenging what they can–catfish, lumber, scraps for their ailing dog. Despite the isolation, Pearl feels at home with her makeshift family: the three men care for Pearl and teach her what they know of the world.

Mason Boyd, aka “Main Boy,” is from a nearby affluent neighborhood where he and his raucous friends ride around in tricked-out golf carts, shoot their fathers’ shotguns, and aspire to make Internet pranking videos. While Pearl is out scavenging in the woods, she meets Main Boy, who eventually reveals that his father has purchased the property on which Pearl and the others are squatting. With all the power in Main Boy’s hands, a very unbalanced relationship forms between the two kids, culminating in a devastating scene of violence and humiliation.

With the cinematic and terrifying beauty of the American South humming behind each line, Jon Pineda’s Let’s No One Get Hurt is a coming-of-age story set equally between real-world issues of race and socioeconomics, and a magical, Huck Finn-esque universe of community and exploration.

I was about ten pages into the novel when it clicked that this was the best book I’d read all year (what made it even better was that I was reading it by the river, so I really felt like I was right there with the characters). You can tell Pineda’s a poet; every line in the novel is meticulously worded and placed. The novel gets dark– and I mean really dark– in some places, but through it all shines Pearl, who has proved herself to be one of my favorite literary heroines. Consider this great paragraph:

My mother used to say that poems were never finished, that they were only abandoned. I like to take some things my mother said and flip them on their head. For instance, I think all abandoned things are poems. In this way, if this place where we live together is truly abandoned, then we are living inside a poem.

My father says I’m fifteen going on fifty.

I’d absolutely recommend this book. It’s a great size read, especially for the summer. While you’re at it, you can check out Pineda’s poetry as well!

How Weather Affects Your Characters

weather affects characters

Just as characters affect one another in your writing, they are also affected by the weather around them. In fact, just like people do with the setting, think of weather as a character. Keep in mind that weather and climate are two different things and will affect characters in different ways. Climate tends to affect lifestyle, social structure, and culture, whereas weather affects daily choices. There are myriad ways weather can affect your characters. If you can think of more to add to my list, I’d love to hear them!

Symbolism/metaphor

This can sometimes be overdone, but think of the symbolism of some weather forms. Is your character confused or unsure of something? You could make it foggy outside. Is the plot building up to a big climactic scene? Maybe a storm is approaching as well.

weather affects characters

Foreshadowing/Mood

This could apply both to the mood of the piece or the character’s mood. Weather could either complement or contradict how the character is feeling, e.g., if they’re upset the weather could either be stormy or ironically sunny. Depending on which it is, it could deepen the character’s mood. After all, long periods of darkness may result in moodiness or depression. The build up to a storm can increase irrational behavior and sensitivity to pain.

Health/Survival

Weather can affect health in subtle or extreme ways. A walk in the rain could lead to anything from a minor cold to pneumonia. Take hypothermia, for example: you don’t need to be in freezing conditions to develop that condition. “An unfit person in wet clothes can be hypothermic in temperatures as mild as 15oC (60oF). A hypothermia victim is often confused, and can be the last to be aware of their state,” writes expert Candida Spillard.

Plot/Setting

Even a small turn or change in weather can lead to a turn or change in plot or characters’ movements. Weather is a huge factor in decisions people make throughout the day. For example, if it’s raining, fewer people will be outside, which could be a way for there to be fewer witnesses in, say, a plot involving murder.

weather affects characters

Do you have more examples to add to this list? Let me know in the comments section! And remember: depending on where your character lives, the climate (and weather) will vary based on season and location. Do your research!

Short Blog for a Short Book

short blog short book
Last week I blogged about Susan Hankla as a teacher. But thinking about Susan, and about the RTD article about her as a poet that prompted that blog, I decided to explore her writing. Besides ordering Clinch River, I also acquired a copy of this 1979 chapbook.

 

There are eight poems in this chapbook:

 

  1. “The Air Is Getting Thin”
  2. “Lost Glove”
  3. “Burning Your Letters”
  4. “Hours”
  5. “Pleasing Mrs. Faris”
  6. “Three Foolish Things”
  7. “A Larger Pain”
  8. “Running Home”
Each poem includes rich images, unexpected transitions, and surprising endings. You can read this book in minutes. Or hours. Or over days. But if you can get access, do read it.

 

Only 350 copies were printed, so there aren’t that many copies floating around—which is unfortunate.

 

Good luck in your quest!

The Upside of Arguing Badly

upside arguing badly
Arguing has a bad reputation. No one wants to be known as argumentative! In my opinion, that’s because disagreements become arguments when they are handled badly. If all goes well, they are more likely to be labeled discussions! Having characters arguing badly is a powerful tool for writers. Here are 11 ways of arguing badly you might not have thought about recently.

 

1 One person is trying to dominate another. A symptom of this type of arguing is shouting. Of course, it doesn’t always work. Often the exchange devolves into a shouting match. Or a non-shouter will eventually just physically leave.
2 Name-calling. Insults up the emotion—often pulling resentment into the mix, leading the insulted person to defend against the insult and veer off the topic of the disagreement and into mutual character assassination.
3 A related tactic is comparing the other person to some disliked other person. E.g., you’re just like Aunt Agatha. Here the reaction depends largely on whether the person compared to Aunt Agatha likes or dislikes her.

 

upside arguing badly

4 Physical violence or the threat thereof—e.g., punching the wall or throwing things. This doesn’t settle a disagreement, it just stops the expression of it, leaving the threatened party to stew silently—and perhaps plot revenge.

5 Kitchen-sink fighting—i.e., throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the argument. This often involves bringing up past grievances, failures, or misdeeds that have nothing to do with what originally started the argument.

 

upside arguing badly
6 Not letting it go. Once the parties are stale-mated, instead of agreeing to disagree one or both parties bring up the issue repeatedly, nag, and/or sulk.
7 Trying to gain allies in the argument. This is simply trying to get others to take one’s side in an argument. It could be friends, neighbors, co-workers, or—perhaps most damaging—family members, especially children.

 

upside arguing badly
8 Interrupting. Not waiting for the other person to finish a point is another great way to up the emotion.
9 Not listening. This is similar to interrupting but not so active. One person is trying to make a point and the other person is reading, watching TV sports, texting, etc.

 

upside arguing badly
10 Make things up. One party simply asserts facts that aren’t. These sound authoritative, informed, and relevant—as in 89% of people do X, or as Abraham Lincoln said in 1873…. They backfire when the truth comes out—as in, the other party knows Lincoln died in 1865. Being caught in a lie escalates the argument.
11 Last but not least, add alcohol. Alcohol disinhibits, meaning that people speak and act more freely. And depending on the amount of alcohol, one or more of the parties may not be thinking clearly.
upside arguing badly
People are creatures of habit. For your characters, establish a pattern of arguing based on his/her typical weapons. Conflict is a beautiful thing!

Learning from Susan Hankla

learning susan hankla
Today’s Richmond Times Dispatch (5/15/18) had an excellent article about local writer and teacher Susan Hankla. It talked a lot about her Appalachian roots and includes seductive snippets from her most recent book, Clinch River. The article focused on Susan Hankla the writer. I want to talk about Susan Hankla the teacher.
clinch river susan hankla
For ten years I enrolled in at least two of her classes per year, usually three. I can just imagine you rolling your eyes and asking, “Why?” Because every class was different, even when it carried the same title. The assignments were her creations, nothing taken from the plethora of writing books and prompts out there. And unlike many writing teachers, Susan created a new syllabus for each class—typically including readings associated with the assignment.
susan hankla
Susan’s teaching covered a broad range of themes. The classes I took with her included such titles as Fiction, Magical Realism, Memoir, Mixed Forms, and Writing Fiction Based on Works of Art. She also offered classes in poetry. Per the Times Dispatch interview, Susan said she isn’t a novelist. Well, I’m not a poet.

 

learning susan hankla
I have now published more than fifty short stories in literary journals and anthologies. Dozens of my short pieces began as three-page assignments in Susan’s classes. For a sampling of some of the weirder ones, often funny, check out my collection in Different Drummer.

 

The RTD article “The World Inside Her” talked about Susan’s inner world. But she was able to bring forth the worlds inside dozens of her students, certainly including me. Many of us came back again and again, beneficiaries of her creativity as a teacher.
susan hankla
Susan’s classes were always structured the same. First day, we received a syllabus for the semester, including assignments, due dates, and class rules. We met once a week. At each meeting, each student distributed their work (3 pages max, double spaced) to everyone else and then read it aloud. Then Susan and each of the students would give feedback. Seeing how ten or so other people working from the same assignment went in ten or so different directions was incredibly enlightening.
 
Even more enlightening was comparing what readers made of my work compared to what I thought I’d put on the page.
 
From high school until my first class with Susan, I had no formal writing instruction. (I’d tested out of freshman composition in college.) I learned the basics of non-academic writing from Susan, AND I learned to give and receive helpful feedback.
 
susan hankla
 
Susan cared passionately about her students. When she “graduated” me after ten years, I felt the loss of her mentorship deeply. I shall always be grateful for the ten years I had with her.

Consider Personal Symbols

I recently read The Thorn Chronicles by Kimberly Loth. This is a 4-book series for an early teen audience.
thorn chronicles
[Source: Goodreads]
It’s a fairly familiar plot line of good versus evil, with an eventual twist of trying to mediate and balance those forces. (Frankly, the books could use a good edit to catch repetitions, omitted words and using the almost-right word, e.g. viscous when the context suggests the right word was vicious.) I’m writing about it because within this series, the two major women characters had symbolic plant connections.

 

The series opens with Naomi, a sixteen-year-old girl, running away from an abusive home. While at home, Naomi gathered strength and peace working in the rose garden her grandmother started. Each chapter begins with a rose the name of which ties to the content of the chapter.

 

The characters age slowly, but they do age. Their save-the-world challenges are so big-stage that the reader (I, at least) must readjust when there is a reference to going to school, being suspended for a week, etc.

 

I’ve read that YA fiction features protagonists who are 3 to 5 years older than the target audience. Perhaps that’s the reason for the shift in the second two books.

 

secrets kimberly loth
[Source: Goodreads]
In the third book, the focus shifts to the POV of a younger protege of Naomi’s. She was 12 or 13 when Naomi befriended her, and is now 15 or 16. The plant symbolism shifts to cacti. Each chapter starts with cactus facts, names, and/or descriptions.

 

lies kimberly loth
[Source: Goodreads]
In the latest book of the series, both women are prominent. Each chapter begins with a plant epigram, either rose or cactus, signaling POV.

 

The point here is that having signature symbols can ease transitions between/among POVs. It needn’t be plants. It could be pets. It could be something astrological, or mineral elements, or whatever your imagination suggests.

 

Bottom line: Consider some symbolic representation for your protagonist and/or other major characters.