Friday, May 27, 2011

Ack! Worms...

I've been working on a story. As usual. But this one has taken on a life of its own and now I find myself having to research worms and worm farming.


Who would have thunk it?

I hate worms. As a small child going fishing with my dad on the weekend, I couldn't bear to touch those things. My dad had to always put the worm on the hook for me.

When I would walk in the rain and find worms on the side of the road having been forced from the quiet of their homes, I would take every precaution to avoid them. I did not want worm squish on the bottom of my shoe.

In high school when I would help my mom with the weeding of the garden (against my will) I was completely creeped out when a worm would be found coiled or slithering through the dirt.

I would not touch it. But I would not kill it either. Just leave it alone and let it do its thing.

And now for the story.

I won't go into details but through some thoughtful discussion with a dear friend, coupled with an absurd dream I had recently about an old friend becoming a worm farmer (quite successfully I might add) it was decided that it was too cliche to have the farmer in my story be a pig farmer so what the hell, dare to be different...he became a worm farmer. Which led me to the internet and researching anything and everything I could find out about worm farming.

But...there is always a but. The information I found was generic. Could be perceived any way I wanted it to. The only way I am going to fully understand the process is to get my hands dirty. Therefore, I made contact with a local worm farmer and will going on a field trip. Official date is not set, but I am hoping for next week. After the rain stops.

Speaking of rain. I went for a walk yesterday. The sidewalks and roads were littered with worms having been forced from their simple existence. A horrible disruption to their routine of aerating the gardens and whatever else it is they do. (To them, I imagine it's similar to those poor people in Slave Lake being forced from their homes. Or the recent tornado carnage in the US. Sadness.) And even now...more than 20 years later, I still avoid them.

No squish on these shoes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Art of the Book Review

I'm not sure I would say there is an art to writing a book review. Although many people have been coming to me lately saying they wished they could write a book review and I why don't I teach a workshop on just how to do that. My response is usually that I don't know that I'm qualified because how do I know if the book reviews I write are really that good. I just write them and hope for the best. Hope I don't insult an author, especially if it's someone I know.

But I have been giving this a lot of thought. And I remember a book review I wrote a long time ago that, for lack of a better word, sucked. It was bland and boring and all it did was describe what the book was about. That's not a review. That's a synopsis. It's the same thing you would find on the back jacket cover.

So..a little over a year ago, when I was asked to write a review, I thought I would go into full respiratory failure. How on earth was I going to write a decent review that didn't just sum up a book. A review that had substance and showed I had actually put some thought into what I wrote.

To make matters worse, the first book I was given to review as a collection of short stories. And let me tell you, writing a review on a collection or anthology is a polka dotted zebra, compared to a review of a novel or book on one particular topic.

So here's a few things I did to prepare for that review.

Research
Go through a newspaper, online or in literary magazines and read other book reviews. Ask yourself, what makes this review interesting. What about it makes you want to read the book, or not? Is there something that stands out? Is the review a summation of the book and then an opinion by the reviewer or is there a substance to it?

Be The Reader
Well this is a given. You have to read the book before you can write the review. I always read the book once through without giving too much thought to the review. Sometimes I make tiny notes or mark really amazing passages, but for the most part I read it not as the reviewer but as the reader and along the way think about what makes this book really good, really intriguing, what's intriguing or not about it. Does it remind me of something else, like a time in my life or an experience that I could compare it to? Again, don't put too much thought into the first read through.

Sit on It (no this is not some kind of weird osmosis)
After I've read the book, I leave it for a day or two. After the story has had a chance to percolate and churn, I come back to it. Grab paper and pen and start jotting down the things that I remember - the things that still stand out. Whether it's things about the character, about the theme or about particular scenes, it may all be relevant. I look for commonalities between the things I've jotted down.

Be the Reviewer
Now I go back and often reread the book. Yes, cover to cover. But now I am looking at different things. Great dialogue, great character development, interesting relationships and even the structure of the book.
In collections I usually try to pick out at least one favourite story. This usually isn't hard to do. And you may have different reasons for it being the favourite.

Excerpts
I find using actual excerpts from the book are helpful in creating a structure or bringing out a particular theme or something about the character. Make sure you reference the page number and story and author next to the excerpt.

Excerpts are not necessary to a review but I think it adds something. Not only does it show the author (and the readers of the review) that you actually put time into searching out accurate excerpts, but it gives more body to the review. I have read several reviews that don't use excerpts and I've read lots that do. I prefer reading the ones with the samples. I like getting a little sampling of the writing, but I think it's the preference of the reviewer.

Structure/Good vs. Bad

Structure in a review is almost as important as structure in a book. I like to try and have a natural progression through the review, from beginning to end.

I open most of my reviews with a thought, a comparison to something in real life that mirrors the theme of the book. Maybe even a scene that I've made up myself.

Or I start with an excerpt from the book, or a news related piece. All that relate to the book, of course.

What if I don't like the book? What if it's someone I know and I don't like the book? What if there are some really good things about the book but also a lot of bad things?

I like to structure my reviews much the way I do a critique. Start with the good, mention the bad, and end with the good. Sandwich the negative in the middle and pad it with a lot of good on either side.

But that's me.

If you choose only to write good reviews then so be it, but I think you're selling yourself short. If you choose to write both, great.

I recommend not being too harsh even if you don't like the book. This probably comes from me being a writer. Writers put so much time and energy into their projects that a negative review can be demoralizing. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to sugar coat it either.

I prefer to be diplomatic.

A dear friend asked me not that long ago, if I read a book by someone that I knew and I didn't like it, would I still write the review? I had to think about it, but I came to the conclusion that I probably wouldn't. I also, won't write a good review if I didn't like the book. No matter who it's for.

But there in lays another problem.

Lately I have been asking people to send me books to review. Some of these people are colleagues and friends. What would I do if someone I know asked me directly to write a review of their book and I didn't like it? That, I don't know and hope I never have to find out.

Perception/Interpretation
You will never interpret a book the way the author intended. If you do, it's probably pure luck. I always struggled with the thought of misinterpretation. What if I was wrong in how I perceived the story or theme? That's the thing about interpretation. It's fairly unbiased. Societal, familial and environmental factors make up who we are as a person and how we are going to perceive certain situations in a book. Don't let that hold you back. It adds more levels to the review and there are bound to be others out there that think the way you do, or alternatively, completely disagree.

All I can say is be fair.

Be honest. 

And...be creative.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Literary Erotica

Woo wee...pleased as punch that my book reviews are gathering attention across the internet. Specifically Suite101 I've been given the opportunity to do and share what I love. Write and read. Write about what I read.

And the latest reading has brought up an interesting subject. Erotica and does it have a place in the literary world?

Bad Romance was an exception to the usual definition of erotica. It's packed full of the dark stuff of fantasy and fetish. But that's not all that erotica is about.

Nude Maja
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1746-1828


Erotica has been around in one form or another for centuries. Paintings, sculptures and literature. Over the years, many have viewed erotica as nothing more than literary pornography, but it's so much more.

In its literary form, erotica is sensuous and arousing - somewhat like pornography. But it's not supposed to be gratuitous as most pornography comes across. There is a point to the story, there is something buried deep within the psyche that causes a character to need, or want. It's not just about the sex. It's about the relationships, it's about the environment, it's about the character.

You could have an erotic story about a woman who is a sex addict. The story is not about the acts, per se. The story is about the person, the addict, dealing with such an addiction and how it affects the rest of her life. Sure there are usually sexually explicit scenes but they need to have a point. Does the character feel pain when she indulges in her addiction? Remorse? Satisfaction? Does she see a problem in what she is doing? How does this addiction affect her other relationships? The woman could be married. Or maybe still lives with her parents. Maybe her days are filled with constant sexual thoughts that affect her job performance. There is so much more to be explored.

Freaky Fountain Press has brought up something different, yet tangible. The freaky side of sexual relationships. The fetishes, the painful relationships, the indignity that can be felt in participating in some of the weirder fetishes. The dark side. This newly formed book press takes us to a place that most do not wish to journey. But it's out there whether we like to admit it or not.

For so many years, gays and lesbians have been fighting for freedom, and the fight is far from over. They have struggled to be seen and heard, fought for the right to marry. And society is coming around.

Erotica has been closeted in much the same way. Why are we so afraid to talk about our most intimate desires? Why are we afraid to admit it's there and deserves its place on the bookshelf?

Time will only tell but one thing is for sure...erotica is making its way into the light.

Book Review: Bad Romance edited by Robin Wolfe

Bad Romance edited by Robin Wolfe (Freaky Fountain Press, 2011)
an anthology of dysfunctional desire

There can be so many reasons for staying in a bad relationship. The fear of being alone, the feeling of addiction to the one we love, the intensity of volatile emotion that makes us feel alive. We know they will hurt us; we know they will leave us wounded and lost. And yet we don't walk away...because when the pain is this irresistibly pleasurable, how can we? (Back Jacket, Bad Romance)

Genre: Erotic Fiction

Friday, May 6, 2011