Monthly Archives: January 2013

Reading List

In response to the Writer’s Toolbox post, herein I decide my reading list from now till Aug 30th.

I think I will have to change my reading habits for this venture.

Instead of reading 6 different works at once, I should probably read only one until it’s finished. And then the next one. Then the next. That way, I can do a thorough, focussed review, having immersed myself in a single author’s style.

I have 7 months, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t go ahead and read 7 books. A book per month isn’t too crazy, in addition to having a full time job, Crossfit 3 times a week, and trying to finish a manuscript. Right? Right. It sounds easy without friends, sleeping, cleaning, and feeding myself mentioned in that lineup. My relationship with my cat may suffer.

I admit having serious anxiety about choosing one title to sustain me for a whole month. All by itself. I tend to balance serious novels and nonfiction with young adult fun stuff. I suppose I need to choose books in some middle ground, then. I’ll limit myself further. WIth respect to my bank account, I shall pull only from my pile of books that I already own, but haven’t yet read. I will  exclude my (small) rare and old book collection, as I’d like to annotate and jot notes in margins per my custom for this directive.

Observe my stock.20130125_205054    

My choices (phew was that a tough exercise!):

  1. For fun: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith
  2. From an influence of mine: Hard Times, Charles Dickens
  3.  Directly pertaining to my manuscript: The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis
  4. A new experience: Captain America: Marvel Masterworks by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (the world of comics is utterly unknown to me)
  5. Easy reading: Choke, Chuck Palahniuk
  6. Personally challenging: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert
  7. A global phenomenon: Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea

There you have it! I’ve overcome some serious anxiety and produced….a list. I’ve come so far.

I’ll update about this venture in posts categorized “Review”. I’ll probably do a few check-ins with each book before the final review.

Feel free to follow along in your books. 🙂

With Your Grace

1) Muse’s directive: “Write about a noise– or a silence– that won’t go away.”

Vanguard Log: March 20th, 2075. 103rd day of her voyage to Mars

We are at the end of our rope. I am the only survivor now. The Vanguard has been without power for 18 days and 21 hours. I am floating in an abyss of stars and the flotsam of trash we have been sending up here since we managed to penetrate our own orbit.

God, I admit I am beginning to unravel.

And, while we’re talking, is it so wrong for me to ask you for a sign? The tiniest shred of assurance that they are on their way would sustain me. Even if they are not going to make it before the food stores are depleted.  Christ, I don’t want my body floating out here in this coffin of metal and dead light.

Everything has been so quiet since Jared…Commander Stance, went silent. Emily, should this account ever be retrieved for you, know that your husband’s death does honor to his memory. I beg your forgiveness, but that is all I shall say on the subject.

I’ve decided to implement my plan. I found one more battery hiding among Jared’s things. I’ll have one chance. If the jump works, I’ll be able to signal MarsArk as they enter the 8th quadrant. Dear God, if they’ve postponed that mission…

If it should fail, Lord, I call on your mercy. I have designed my own end, and I ask that you forgive your forsaken wanderer.

It’s the silence I can no longer endure. One moment it haunts the darkness all around me, and the next it stands upon my shoulders like a giant. It is the only gravity left.

The language of silence is memory, and it is most fluent in pain. It decorates itself in tears, and it is fortified by the shrieking and wailing of my utter defeat.

Oh master of torture, give me your cold, jagged edges and hungry fire, but leave me not alone with silence. Silence, chiefly savage, covers my ears and conjures memories that swell my mind to bursting under his pressing palms.

I wake in his grip and I see those things in my past which revealed to me the true identity of happiness: a duplicitous witch with her own conniving devices.

I see my kitten cradled in my young hands, bleeding from mortal wounds when I realized I couldn’t save her. And the dog, chastised and confused.

I see my knee, blooming with blood and gravel that day I was miles from home and realized no one would come to save me–that I alone could carry me to the comfort of home.

I see that smirk on every boy’s face, that attitude of ridicule that I’m sure I painted there, each time I realized that I was the only one in love.

Dear Lord, I have tried and tried to sing. But all I hear is silence reminding me that I am helpless. That no one is coming. And I leave no love behind. Please bless my last resort, or accept my end.

With Your Grace,

~Evelyn Rossi, Flight Engineer

2) My current word count for my novel is: 15,199/30,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Write about a less-than-remarkable aspect of your life.”

“My students were middle-class kids who were ashamed of their background. They felt like unless they grew up in poverty, they had nothing to write about…I felt sorry for these kids, that they thought their whole past was absolutely worthless because it was less than remarkable.”

~David Sedaris

A Writer’s Toolbox: Ghost Story with a Wrench vs. Light for the Underworld

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~Stephen King

I take the above quote to heart because it rings so true, in fact it resonates. Inasmuch, I should probably start getting more bang for my buck by embellishing my existing reading habit. Therefore, I’ll start doing two things:

1) I’ll come up with a reading list for myself from now till August

2) I’ll provide some commentary and reviews for those works as I go through them.

Because 1) seems so daunting, I’ll jump right into 2) for the moment.

We’ll start easy. I drive a lot, and instead of music for company, I often opt for audio productions of young adult fiction. This is a habit developed from  adolescence. All family road trips were accompanied by audio-books  It sets the tone, infuses the trip with amusing character references, and keeps the driver awake. I’ve discovered that if you try to listen to audio performances of novels, the innate maturity and temporal development cadences lull the driver to sleep. Also, it destroys the rapport at roadside meals because everyone is contemplative instead of enterprising.

I just finished listening to the audio recording of two works that I think have wonderful capacities for the compare/contrast breed of review.

A] The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau; narrated by Wendy Dillon


B] The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; narrated by the author


City of Ember is a work of children’s fiction. The setting is futuristic-in an underground city meant to preserve humanity from some assumed end. The city is running out of supplies and it’s experiencing increasingly alarming blackouts. Its people, generations beyond the first settlers, do not know that they live beneath the ground–in fact only the mayors were entrusted with that secret and even they were obliged to pass it down in a time-sealed box, not privy to the information they protected. The protagonist is a plucky young girl, however, the story is really propelled along by the influence of her radical best friend.

In contrast, The Graveyard Book is set, as one might expect, in a graveyard. The main character is named Nobody Owens, “Bod” for short. I love that name because Bod is orphaned in the first chapter and his name sounds like “Nobody Owns”. Bod is fostered by the ghosts of the graveyard’s tenants, and protected by its sanctions. The plot is propelled by his learning process about the differences in life and death via the mystery of his parents’ murder.

Both works are coming of age stories, but I would rank Graveyard as quite a bit more mature. I do admit a bias here, because Neil Gaiman is not only one of my favorite authors, but he’s an extraordinary and prolific one–a modern classic.

Both works are community-centered, and in both, the protagonists are motivated to mobilize away from their home. The plots illustrate the decision process for the main characters. They are not epic sagas with one great travel followed by the next. Instead, the plots demonstrate the internal process influenced by one’s community, and the inevitable, immutable propulsion into adulthood.

Graveyard was an especial treat because it was narrated by the author, therefore privy to more warmth and innate connection to the characters and prose than one finds in the production of Ember. My favorite  aspect of Graveyard was the development of Bod from an infant to a young man. Gaiman articulately illustrates the naiveté and energy of youth, the flustered brooding of adolescence, the grappling for independence of the teen years, and finally the conscious step into adulthood after one has bravely chosen to live boldly, though conscious of grave dangers

My favorite aspect of Ember was the author’s keen description of that heady rush one feels as a buyer–that moment you realize you are besotted with something you merely had a fancy for before–and the rush that comes when you’ve completed the transaction. The author completes the cycle later in the story, with the inevitable shame and question of worth, especially if the buyer was unfortunate enough to purchase beyond their means.

Unknown to me until JUST THIS SECOND, The City of Ember was made into a movie back in 2008. Even more exciting, The Graveyard Book is in the making, to be directed by Ron Howard! Definitely something to look forward to.

From Cal to Cow–A Cautionary Tale

1) Muse’s directive: “Write about someone who is pretending to be someone or something that he is not.” 

My little brother Cal and I were best friends despite the fact that he was in the third grade, and I in the sixth. People were shyly jealous because Cal is cool. Not jock cool. Cal cool. He made his own genre, and kids were awestruck since most were just beginning to spell personality with an “I”.

The art museum is to blame for our schism. When Mom announced her plans that ill-fated Saturday morning over vegan pancakes, I stifled a groan and angled for a compromise.

“So can we go for ice cream after? Marble Slab’s right next door, I proffered casually, as if rebellion weren’t hinging on her answer.

I bit back the grin threatening to betray me when Mom’s face contorted into the grimace of one who’s just unwrapped a diaper to find dijon surprise. She thinks sugar is a gateway drug for cocaine. It turns out, drug addiction is a chance she’ll take if necessary to to impart a little culture in her children.

At the museum, I endured Cal’s meticulous analysis of every placard by imagining what the women with the pained expressions were saying to the exhibitionist cherubs. Mystery Science Theatre-style.

“Watch where you point that arrow. Have you seen him without that loincloth?” 

“Whatever it takes, Cupid. This chastity belt is ridin’ up.”

I left willingly, eager for my sugar coma. Cal had to be evicted from the premises on threat of grounding. He was never himself again. He became…artistic.

Our grades share recess, but that Monday he didn’t meet me at the seesaws. I was obliged to wander around looking for him. I knew he wasn’t in detention. Teachers aren’t immune to Cal cool. I found him by the jungle gym and immediately wondered how hard it is to divorce your brother. Cal was on all fours, hobbling around in the grass with his nose to it. He snorted and grunted and pawed at the turf with hands that were curled into fists. With a tight hitch in his upper lip, he stretched his neck way out toward a dandelion. He emitted a sound that was like the mooing of a cow, except with that unique Cal-flare, that I was sure all the doggies in hearing range would be imitating by Wednesday. His tongue shot out of his mouth and curled, pink and limber, around the unsuspecting dandelion. He wrenched his head back, decapitating the weed without remorse. He chewed sloppily, emitting the loudest slurp-smack ever recorded in the 4th grade at Harper Middle. The occasion was second only to the soundtrack of the whole lunchroom on Spaghetti day.

With my face in my hands, I turned from the scene, resolving to use this disaster to illustrate for my Mother, for once and for all,  the dangers of a diet free of dairy, and rich in culture.

My words fell on deaf ears, and so this story ends with my brother, fallen from grace and headed straight for drama club.

2) My current word count for my novel is: 13,646/30,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Write about a noise– or a silence– that won’t go away.”

Introduction and Invitation


This is an enterprise, and you’re cordially invited.

The objective of this endeavor is, at first blush, highly individualized: namely, the publication of my first novel. However, I must assert that you play a pivotal role in the realization of that lofty goal. For now, however, I must ask you to engage in a willing suspension of disbelief. The specifics on the part you will play will become obvious as we go along.

For now, I’ll tell you what to expect from me. Allow me a few moments to give you the briefest of background.

Years ago, I began to draft a manuscript.

Today, I have a half-finished manuscript and a writer’s block self-help aid entitled The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood. Most importantly, I have an idea.

The Muse has a different directive on every page, like “Write about trouble resulting from a good deed” or “Write a sex scene and make it funny”.


With this book as the backbone, I shall do 3 things.

Weekly, you will find in my posts:

1) A 300-500 word response to a single page in the Muse.

2) A report of the added word count on my manuscript since my last post.

3) The directive from the next page in the Muse so you have something to look forward to.

In case you’re worried that I’m one of those aspiring authors who spends most of their time haunting that corner at Starbucks, agonizing over the perpetual lack of inspiration, I’ll tell you a bit about myself. Just so you know you’re on an adventure with an adventurer.

I make my money traveling around maintaining nuclear power plants. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with that environment, it requires a lot of patience, way too much training and paperwork, and an ability to adapt to ridiculous situations). I’m an engineer. I design the tools and processes, and then I travel to implement them. Well, in the best cases, I travel. In the worst cases, I sit at my desk having been told that “the best engineer doesn’t need to be involved at the implementation stage”. I will suppress the frustrated diatribe I have prepared for rebuttal when I no longer need the paycheck.

In my spare time (in other words, what I spend that money on, besides the college loan payback) I run, bike, swim, rock climb, and involve myself in such crazy endeavors as the Warrior Dash. Crossfit will soon be among these activities.

I’m also involved in Toastmasters. Though I aspire towards eloquence,  I do suspect my time spent volunteering at a historical shipyard is counterproductive to this goal. But who doesn’t love the occasional “Arrrggh”, and the colorful profanity germane to the linguistic style of sea dogs?

I read too much for sanity, and sing too much for that of my cat. We won’t even talk about my dancing.

So without further adieu, I begin.

1) This entry will count towards my writing goal for today (Judge away, please)

2) My current word count for my novel is: 13,479. The goal is approximately 30,000 by August.

3) Muse’s directive: “Write about someone who is pretending to be someone or something that he is not.”