Writing Tools—Roy Peter Clark

I bought this book while I was in Kelowna, British Columbia at a wonderful store called Mosaic Books. That was September 2012. I am fairly certain that I didn’t read it until a while after, but I am so glad I squeezed it in my reading list because it was one of the better books I have read on the subject, and it covers everything from grammar to useful habits. There are 50 of these tools and I love how they are suggestions; as the author says, “You need tools, not rules”.

Now—I am a really bad person. I write in my books. Margins, underlining, arrows, you name it, I’ve done it. Even smily faces and exclamation points, and not always in pencil (I try to use pencil, but if I have a pen in my hand, then a pen it shall be!). Some people get really cross with me but you know what? MINE BOOK! I want to remember all the things! It was the best thing for me while I was at University, my class notes were right on the pages, right near the quote in question. I had tried writing in a notebook, and then referring myself to line 45 on page 53 or whatever and it ended in a bunch of lost passages and unintelligible notes, so it became normal for me to write directly in the margins. And it works.

That being said, I have written 5/5 on the first page of that book right under the date and location I bought it. I like seeing the date I bought a book so I know how long it took me to get to it—I have a serious lineup problem! Anyway, 5/5 because it really is most excellent and I recommend it to any writer, poet, journalist, biographer, whatever. Read this book, you won’t regret it.

I liked this one so much I went out and bought Help for Writers and Write it Short by the same author, but have not gotten to those yet. I will do though!

Bird By Bird—Anne Lamott

I recently finished reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which I bought a while ago but had not gotten to it yet. I have a lineup, you see.

Funny thing bout my reading habits in general: I read a fiction book, and then I read a book on writing. I feel like it gives me balance between relaxing and active reading. It works my brain out. I also read poetry, but those are all over the place. A bit here, a bit there, wherever I can!

So now: about the book.

At first I thought it was a cool, groovy lady giving cool, groovy advice to likeminded people about writing. I liked the funny and neutral beginning. When I read books on writing, I love seeing the aspects of that person through the writing, only in this case, that’s when things started to get weird for me. I feel like I want to get to know the person that is ostensibly teaching me something, and maybe that is because I have been able to do that at University through listening and talking to my professors. It is natural for me to want to do that. But I was unable to get close to the speaker because I could never “contact” who she was.

As I said, at fist she was funny and neutral, but then it took a Christian turn, and then Yiddish words started to come in. Then I googled her to see if I could find a photograph just out of curiosity, and I did, and was surprised to see that she is a tiny white lady with dread locks. I have heard arguments for and against misappropriation and I don’t think that a hairstyle belongs to a race in particular, for we all have hair, and I’m sure back in the pre-comb days that people’s hair got matted no matter what, but I also understand that certain hairstyles can be seen as meaningful to a particular culture, and I have no choice but to respect that, so I don’t know how to feel about white people with dreadlocks. I am not going to argue one way or another, and I don’t want to judge either. If she is fine with it, then so too am I. But still I want to “get” this person.

There was stuff about serious alcohol binges, then animal sacrifices, then back to church related and those things threw me off again. Then she talks about her friend dying over and over, and it made me sad and I felt like I didn’t want to hear about it anymore, it sucks to have friends die, but this is a book about writing, not mourning. I know what you are going to say, and that is that sometimes we write to mourn. I get it. I have done it. I think that what I am getting at is that I was reading the book for inspiration  with my writing and I ended up caring more about the person writing it, and having empathy for her grief.

The one thing that is clear is that one mustn’t give up. I know this. I am a terrier, and I might not always finish the things I set out to do, but I always mean to and eventually I get there. But I am rarely able to give up on something, unless I change my mind, or if the project shifts in another direction.

Anyway, this book was worth reading. I really do appreciate Lamott’s particular brand of sarcasm and wit. Any complaints I have about her being a little bit all over the place I attribute to her being more of a worldly person than I am and that is totally fine. I’ve noticed that writing/being a writer seems to make people somewhat crazy. Also totally fine.>

Writing The Paranormal Novel—Steven Harper

No, not that Steven Harper. Besides I think he spells it with ph.

Politics aside, this book is a good reference although sometimes I was bothered by it.

The cover of the book announces in yellow caps: “techniques and exercises for weaving supernatural elements into your story.” Great! Information! I love it! But the author goes on to say that you can’t weave the paranormal in because it either is or isn’t a paranormal novel. He discusses the fact that you should not be able to remove a characters super power without completely ruining the book. It’s a good way of thinking about it, for sure! But where did the weaving go?

So the beginning and middle of the book go on as though you have a work in progress or beginning novel, or maybe just a bunch of location and character sketches, but by the end, it assumes you have a manuscript. So it goes from treating you like a noob to treating you like a pro. Interesting approach! I felt like there was a lot of information that I would call “elementary” but I have been studying a long time! For someone just beginning their career as a paranormal writer, it would be great. This book encapsulates SO MUCH of what regular (I mean non-paranormal) writing instruction books have in them.

Now I don’t know about you but I read a book in (depending on how many hours I have, weekend or workday, bus trips, metro etc) 2 days to a week for any given book I have on my list. If I start the book and finish it in a week, I certainly will not have a MS done! But I realize that this is one of the unavoidable problems with books on the craft. I’ll definitely write myself a note to go back and read it closer to finishing my novel, because the last chapters are informative and wonderful.

One great thing about this book is the prompts and exercises. Love them! Can use them on anything and everything and hopefully will.

I do recommend this book! It brushes the surface on many essential topics, not just for paranormal writers. Go for it!