Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Would Readers Respond, Real Life

My co-worker and I, I'll call her Schmegan, (no I won't, that's just ridiculous) are doing our usual thing- yelling through our cube walls to carry on a completely inane conversation. Today's was about a romance novel that she's reading. (She's always reading romance novels. It's what I don't understand about her.) Apparently, she hates the main character in this new book, as it's already obvious that the character is going to cheat on her fiance out of boredom. He's a nice guy, I guess.

You have to wonder - in this situation, are your readers going to route for the nice-guy fiance, or are they going to hope for the lurid affair? It's the same for any decision a character has to make. Will readers be for or against it? And while a writer can certainly persuade the audience to feel a certain way, I'm sure that they can't always get the intended result.

This reminded me of something, this presentation of plot. And I'm wondering if anyone else out there does this also.

I yelled over/through the wall: "Have you ever had a really big decision to make and so you think about your life like a story you might be reading and think about what the reader's reaction might be to both of your choices and decide that way?"

Her answer: "No! But that's a really good idea!"

I'm sure only the bookish would be inclined to ever think this way, but maybe I'm just being prejudiced. Or maybe, I'm the only crazy out there. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ypulse Guest Blog Post on Wintergirls

Yesterday's Ypulse post, The Advantage to Penguin's 'Point of View', (which is really excellent!) reminded me that I've yet to post the review that I wrote for them defending Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls ages ago on here.

(Ypulse is a fantastic blog geared towards marketing to today's teens, tweens and Gen Y)

Here goes:

"The tagline had me incredibly worried: "I swear to be the skinniest girl in school. Skinnier than you." While I don't profess to be an expert on eating disorders, I was an active member of the Eating Disorder Awareness Committee in college and held more than my share of "Ana" and "Mia" hands, both male and female. Anorexia and bulimia are not trivial disorders and should never be characterized by any trivial symptoms – such as the desire to be pretty or to be the skinniest girl in school. These disorders are larger than that. They go deeper than that. And so when I saw this tagline, my immediate response was, "Oh… no…" (No, no, no, no, no!)
For me, the premise of the book raised two major concerns. Was Wintergirls, in misunderstanding what these diseases are to those who experience them, going to offend a large community of people? And, more importantly, if it was a complete misrepresentation of eating disorders, did it run the very high risk of being a novel packed with triggers? Too often, as a recent New York Times article (reg. required) points out, in their attempt to be as realistic as possible, books about eating disorders become how-to manuals.
Fortunately, Laurie Halse Anderson does not offend and does not misrepresent. Wintergirls is a very raw and real representation of what it is to battle an eating disorder without drawing the reader too close to what the main character, Lia, refers to as "dangerland."
The story centers on Lia as she deals with her best friend Cassie's ED-related death by using her own eating disorder as a crutch. As is the case with many, the disorder can often become the one constant – something that is always there. The reader experiences everything that Lia experiences. We feel her need for control, her need to hide, her need to remain anorexic. But we also feel her world slipping away from her. We simultaneously feel her fear. And, most importantly – we understand the consequences of Lia's decisions.
But it's Emma, Lia's innocent and doting younger sister, who really opens our eyes to the horrors of eating disorders. With a best friend dead and parents who can't seem to truly understand her pain – Emma is the only character whose love means as much to Lia as the disorder itself. This parallel is frightening, strange, and extremely important when it comes to understanding anorexia and bulimia.
The tagline I mentioned earlier does have a special place in the book. Lia has already witnessed Cassie's bulimic habits. But, it's one New Year's Eve that the girls decide to support each other. Cassie as a bulimic and Lia as an anorexic. Once read in context, it's actual a very real and typical occurrence, for teens with eating disorders to find a friend to inspire and help them through the struggle of denying oneself nourishment. After Cassie’s death, Lia finds encouragement through online Ana and Mia chat groups and blogs. Ana is the name these groups give to anorexics, Mia to bulimics. These groups are only too real and very protective of their members – other wintergirls.
In the end, Lia gets the help that she needs. She's able to recover. But for all recovering anorexics and bulimics, life without an eating disorder is an ongoing battle that must be fought every day. Lia says, "There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward." For many of the people I have known, this means making a choice every day to live healthfully and raise eating disorder awareness.
In my opinion, Wintergirls is this small step upward. Teens today are flooded with images that promote a negative body image. This is often linked with a message of success, beauty. control. Anorexia and bulimia are diseases that are all too prevalent in our society, and which, too often, are misunderstood. Laurie Halse Anderson’s exquisite novel provides a better understanding of the disease and is sure to spark further, much needed discussions the true causes, societal pressures, consequences, and ways to help and prevent."

Purchase Now from Amazon: Wintergirls

Friday, September 11, 2009

To Jump on the Bandwagon and To Never Forget

It was 12th grade AP English. I can't remember if that was 1st or 2nd period. But it was early. And we had a fire drill.

What strikes me most about that day is the moments directly before our lives were forever changed. Scarred by terrorist attacks and eight long years of virtual inaction. I have a photograph. I'm really not sure why I had my camera. Probably because it was my senior year of high school and bringing cameras to school was cool and I wanted to document everything I could. I randomly took a picture of my 11th grade AP English teacher and another teacher in the department. They look so happy. The look on their faces is sort of stupid. Probably wondering why I wanted to take their picture so early in the year.

We came back inside, all tripping and laughing and smelling like the outdoors. Happy we missed 15 minutes of class. Mrs. ___ turned on the TV. Which - was odd. I think someone may have asked her what she was so oddly doing, because I remember her saying -

"I just want to see something." Something she'd heard. Another teacher left her cell phone on and her husband called and

And tuning in just in time to see the second plane hit the second tower.

I can remember the rest of the day perfectly, but I won't bore you with the minute details. Details you probably remember yourself, in your own way. The halls were filled with kids, running, crying. In my science class, someone running down the halls stopped at our door and announced, "The Pentagon was just hit," before taking off to tell others. Most teachers let us watch the news. Others felt it was important to treat the day like any other day. Before lunch, my history teacher from the year before came out of his classroom. He looked at me. "The tower fell," he said, and grabbed my arm and pulled me into his classroom with his other students. I didn't eat lunch that day. I watched him wander around his classroom with a wounded, haunted look in his eyes.

I live on Long Island. And I didn't know anyone who worked in the towers. But I know firefighters and cops who responded, and thankfully are still alive and healthy today. We spent the day not knowing. Not hearing from them. Watching the news and looking west - towards the haze on the horizon.

A family friend, a firefighter, carries around a business card he found in the rubble. Everything, he told us, everything was essentially pulverized. They found dust. No desks, or chairs, or computer parts, or file cabinets. Just dust. And this business card to remind him.

It seems sort of cliche to be writing this. Like jumping on the bandwagon. But I don't really want to ever forget this day. The day that everyone seemed to pull together. The day - the year - many of us felt an intense nationalism for the first time. So. This is that.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

That Writing Itch

I've been feeling the overwhelming need to write all of a sudden. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with Wonder Boys, or if it's just the fact that - it's been so fucking long since I've written anything.

Anyway, here is a fragment of something I might think about actually putting into something larger. I'd like to do something the right way, for once. With an outline and more than two paragraphs.

What are your honest and brutal opinions?

She stands at her kitchen sink, staring out the window to the front lawn. At a distance, she can see the Eastman’s house. Halfway between the brown Mrs. Eastman had painted it last month, and the olive green she decided to start painting it today. A restless house. Never satisfied in its image. Closer, she spies a FOR SALE sign on the Eastman’s lawn and tries to remember how many FOR SALE signs she’s seen there over the past sixteen years. She can’t. Too many. Yet, the Eastmans had lived there the day she’d moved to this block. And they live there still. And her front lawn. Their front lawn. Neat and tidy. The Japanese oak stunted, yet vibrant and full of fire. She remembers seeing a dried up mound of dog shit at its base this morning. Fucking dogs. And the owners who let their dogs shit on her lawn – their lawn – with not even the pretense of cleaning up after the canines. Fuck them.
She drops her hands into the sink. Full of dishes. Always. Cereal caked to the side of the deep blue bowls. Coffee and lipstick ringed mugs. One inside the other and a dinner plate balanced artfully atop a milky spoon. Now with the water on and a sigh. She leans over to open the dishwasher. Her silent dishwasher. It was emptied this morning, but not without begging and ultimately threatening. Rinse and place is the motion. The repetition. The sequence of events for the next twenty minutes. An engine sounds somewhere down their street and still stooped, she cocks her head to see who might be there. It passes, but she notices a little spot of something on the window and moves closer for better inspection. It is brown. Reddish brown. A splash of reddish brown color on the window. Standing on her tip toes and using the granite counter top for balance, she peers onto the grass directly below the window. There she spies only a small pile of white and gray feathers. A small pile of white and gray feathers and a splash of reddish brown color on the window.
Today, she thinks. Today

Wonder Boys - Michael Chabon

Rating: 3 stars
Shelf: Now Reading

Firstly, I realize I completely skipped over reviewing The Mysterious Benedict Society. Don't worry, my trusty followers, (You know, those of you that I forced to follow me...) I'll have the review up soon. I wrote it in my notebook, then I changed bags, then I changed bags again, then the LIRR overcharged me for my ticket. You know how it goes.

My review:

There is some sort of snooty aspect to this book that makes me feel as though stating that I didn't really enjoy it means stating that I didn't really "get" it. I get it. At least I think I do. A pot addled writing professor can't seem to finish his mammoth manuscript for his magnum opus - Wonder Boys, which turns out to be hugely symbolic of his failure at life. And once he lets go, he's free.

There's also a tuba.

Purchase Now from Amazon:  Wonder Boys: A Novel
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