Author: Tara Westover
Review by: Judy Bobrow
Every once in a while, a true story surfaces about how someone overcomes the desperate obstacles brought about by child abuse and neglect to become a person of integrity and substance. The evidence of their survival flies in the face of everything we know about the impact of early life experience on who we become. One question is, “what is it that allows a person to rise above a terrible childhood? Is it something innate – some chemistry – like cream rising to the top? The second question is, “how do they do it?” In Tara Westover’s “Educated,” the “what is it?” remains a mystery. But the “how do they do it?” is laid out step-by-step through 323 pages of a gripping, often disturbing memoir.
Westover is one of seven children growing up in the mountains of Idaho. Her parents are survivalist who believe that the medical and educational establishments are not to be trusted. Only three of her siblings have birth certificates. Accidents and illnesses are treated at home by Westover’s mother, who is a midwife and herbalist. She also is responsible for the children’s formal education, which includes only rudimentary reading, writing and arithmetic. Historical events are never addressed so do not exist in the lives of the children.
“I had been educated in the rhythms of the mountains,” says Westover in the prologue to her book, “rhythms in which change was never fundamental, only cyclical. The same sun appeared each morning, swept over the valley and dropped behind the peak. The snows that fell in winter always melted in the spring. Our lives were a cycle - the cycle of the day, the cycle of the seasons - circles of perpetual change that, when complete, meant nothing had changed at all. I believed my family was a part of this immortal pattern, that we were in some sense, eternal. But eternity belonged only to the mountain.”
In equally beautiful prose, Westover takes us through her childhood: her desperate struggle to survive, to learn about the world outside of the mountain, to think for herself, and ultimately to balance love of family and comfort in the life she creates for herself. Sometimes painfully and sometimes exhilarating, Westover shows us how it is possible to become “Educated” despite all odds. JB
By: Judy Bobrow
My mother often quoted a philosophy she called the Law of Compensation. It was her way of rationalizing what we saw as the negatives in life by turning them into positives - and sometimes it drove me crazy. But I’m trying to employ that philosophy today, as I recover from recent back surgery. Suddenly, I am transformed from a busy, physically active person, into someone who needs to walk slowly and constantly monitor every movement. My new normal is: Don’t Bend! Don’t Lift! Don’t Reach! Walk Carefully! So, I’m looking for the positives, and here’s what’s been revealed.
Slowing down can be good! Imagine that!! The whole process has made me appreciate time in a new way. Instead of keeping one eye on the clock to make sure I get to the next activity on time, I am reading whole books in one sitting and writing with a much clearer mind. Most important I have time to think about the things that require the luxury of time for pondering and appreciating the small things – like watching the birds at my feeders and the slow rising of the sun in the early morning when I can’t sleep.
I certainly don’t want to go through surgery again any time soon – back or otherwise – but there is an important lesson for me in my mother’s Law of Compensation. It is possible to turn negatives into positives if I just allow myself the time. And perhaps the biggest positive is that lengthening my time now is good training for the future, older me.
Thanks Mom! JB
By: D.A. Henneman
Perhaps I shouldn't be so
Rough on myself and
Overly demanding of my time
Clearly I should be working on my book but the
Reality of it is ... I'm really not
Able to focus on one thing at a time.
Sometimes demands fight for my
Time and most often they win.
In those moments I throw my hands in defeat and do
As I sit with my own thoughts, staring at a blank sheet
The realization that I will need to work twice-as-hard later kicks in and
I am pained that I have wasted yet another afternoon
On menial tasks that keep me from working on the
Novel once again. I suppose there is always tomorrow.
Author: Madelyn March
Genre: Women's Fiction, Inspirational
Publication Date: July 6, 2017
What if circumstances beyond your control made you question everything you believed about yourself and your life? This is what happens to Amy Clark. Her structured ways and reclusive tendencies offer her no protection against the changes to come. Amy’s life begins to unravel after a fateful phone call. Her estranged father is dying. She returns to her childhood home in Northern Michigan to find that she can no longer control her life. Voices and hallucinations come uninvited and she is powerless to stop them. Even more terrifying, she experiences shocking visions about the lives of strangers that she encounters. These glimpses into other people’s lives convince Amy that her sanity is slipping away. She struggles to understand if there is any meaning in her visions before they destroy her. She questions her choices and her path. Did she make a mistake creating an isolated life? Does she have the courage, or time, to change?
For more about the author, click here!
In his book, How Fiction Works (1), James Woods gives a name to a technique I’ve been aware of, but never seen discussed. He calls it “free indirect speech,” used to show what a character is thinking. He demonstrates it this way:
“He looked over at his wife. She looked so unhappy,” he thought, “almost sick.” He wondered what to say.
That is direct, quoted speech.The most common technique, he says, is the “indirect speech:”
He looked over at his wife. She looked so unhappy, he thought. Almost sick. He wondered what to say.
“Free” indirect speech he demonstrates with this version:
He looked over at his wife. Yes, she was tiresomely unhappy again, almost sick. What the hell should he say?
On page 14 of the book Woods does a wonderful analysis of a passage from Henry James’s What Maisie Knew, which shows James using the “free indirect style” to show Maisie’s understanding of the adult world around her. Woods points out all the different voices in Maisie’s head: the things she believes adults have said, as she understands it.
Woods points out the opportunities the free indirect style offers for irony, when the author and the reader know more than the character does. I find a wonderful example in Hilary Mantel’s Fludd. In this paragraph the author tells us what the architect was thinking when he designed a supposedly “medieval” church.
The Church was in fact less than a hundred years old; it had been built when the Irish came to Fetherhoughton to work in the three cotton mills. But someone had briefed its architect to make it look as if it had always stood there. In those poor, troubled days it was an understandable wish, and the architect had a sense of history; it was a Shakespearean sense of history, with a grant contempt of the pitfalls of anachronism. Last Wednesday and the Battle of Bosworth are all one; the past is the past, and Mrs. O’Toole, buried last Wednesday, is neck and neck with King Richard in the hurtle to eternity… (2)
As I find more and more examples I remember something from discourse analysis/text linguistics, which study how text coheres, what holds a paragraph together and defines it as a paragraph.One example is the following:
Tom and Sam decided to go to a movie so Tom and Sam went down town and Tom and Sam bought tickets and then Tom and Sam went into the theater.
Sounds like you keep starting over and over, so the text linguists point out that the use of a pronoun subordinates the rest of the paragraph to the sentence with the proper names, and so gives the paragraph structure and coherence:
Tom and Sam decided to go to a movie so they went down town and they bought tickets and then they went into the theater.
Which still has too many pronouns, but it isn’t so distracting as the repeated proper names in the first version. It does sound like a complete paragraph.
If we take out all the pronouns it begins to sound like “free indirect speech.”
Tom and Sam decided to go to a movie, so went down town and bought tickets and then went into the theater.
I’m interested in how leaving out the pronouns binds the paragraph more tightly. It changes the density of the prose.
He looked over at his wife. She looked so unhappy, he thought. Almost sick. He wondered what to say.
When we take out the “he thoughts” we also subordinate that sentence within the paragraph, just as the pronouns serve to subordinate the sentences in the paragraph about Tom and Same. And it gives that “chunk” of prose a tighter, more cohesive structure. And it happens when we leave out the repeated pronoun subject:
He looked over at his wife. Yes, she was tiresomely unhappy again, most sick. What the hell should he say?
This prose is efficient, as well as vigorous. - SQ
1) Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008
2) Henry Holt and Company, 1989, p.16.
Author: Madelyn March
Genre: Women's Fiction, Inspiration
Published: May 13, 2015
Darkness is growing within Anna Montagna and she can’t control it. She’s hurt someone that she loves. She fears that mental illness is descending upon her, like it did her mother, except her mother never hurt anyone. Scared and alone, Anna flees to small-town Mikamaw in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to save her family from the monster that she has become. Anna hopes to find anonymity and solitude in Mikamaw, but instead finds a slightly-psychic friend, nosy locals, and the healing nature of the landscape. Despite the hundreds of miles Anna travels to escape her past, it continues to haunt her. She tries to drown her life’s regrets in alcohol and deep water, but they always resurface. When her husband and best friend find her in Mikamaw, she must decide whether to confront the past or turn and keep running.
For more on the author, click here!
Why can’t I seem to get out of my own way?” is the question Cheston Knapp asks in his recent book of autobiographical essays, Up Up Down Down. The question caught my eye in a review of the book in the February 25 Book Review section of The New York Times, by writer and comedian Michael Ian Black.
Knapp’s question is one we can all ask ourselves as we struggle to solve life’s complexities. Our habits of thinking, the places our minds go when nobody is looking, our hardwired perceptions of our own abilities – they all get in the way from time-to-time. But for Knapp, who is struggling to move forward from aspiring reader and writer to literary reader and writer, the question is asked in the context of his writing life.
Like Knapp, I am constantly trying to “get out of my own way” when I write. Instead trusting that how I see something deserves to be taken seriously, and that I am the best person to express what I am feeling and seeing, I find myself struggling with my own insecurity. The voice in my head is saying, “Who do you think you are? Yours is not an authentic voice. When they read what you’ve written they will see that you’re not a ‘real writer.’”
The voice in my head often stops me from sitting down to write at all or changes my writing voice to one that is someone else’s. It suggests that maybe my descriptions need expanding. Perhaps a sprinkling of metaphors would be a good idea. How about searching the thesaurus for more impressive word choices? Valid suggestions all but at some point, perhaps, I should just let my own voice come through. Although not perfect, it is authentic and honest and – mine.
As I consider Knapp’s question, I am paying close attention to what critic Black, managing editor of the Portland Oregon-based literary magazine, Tin House, says.
He advises Knapp to take a deep breath, swallow his insecurities and trust in his already excellent writing voice. In short, drop the question mark and simply get on with getting “out of his own way.”
Sounds like good advice! I think I’ll give it a try myself. JB
In 2017, the published authors of the Muse Crew decided to dabble in some self-promotion and participate in book events. We started by asking our local librarians and searching on the internet to determine which events had the most potential for positive results. We also looked for events whose charges would be the most cost effective for us. We made a list and applied for the events as soon as their registration processes started.
Out of our group, there were four of us that participated regularly, and we ended up with a list of seven events from June to November, ranging in costs from $0.00 to $150.00 per space. Most were specifically book events, while some had other things to see and do, such as craft shows, festivals and food events.
We found that the best way to tackle in-person events was to share the burden of cost, set-up, and customer interaction, which we managed pretty effectively. We purchased a banner and matching table cloth that represented the group, decided on common display elements, and decorated each quarter of the space based on our individual book offerings. If members weren’t available to participate at a particular event, the members who were there represented them and were prepared to take a credit card sales by listing the other author’s books in their square accounts. A supply of everyone’s books were at each event, even if the author was unavailable.
I have found that participating in the events was well worth it even if I didn’t sell a book, and especially when entered into as a group. Here’s why:
Help with set-up: I have been doing events like these, for various products, off and on my entire adult life. I can tell you from experience they are a lot of work. There is a lot of preparation that goes into designing a functional and mobile display. Depending on the venue, there could be quite a distance between where you park and your booth space so it is always helpful to have more than one set of hands to help with the work, or at the very least a wagon. Be sure to do a trial run of what your table will look like prior to your first event, and have other members of the group present. That way, everyone in the group will know how the set-up works and will be able to create a consistent and professional looking display, no matter who is able to participate with the event.
It lowers the cost: This was important for each of us. We are all just starting out and don’t have huge book sales or budgets to offset the expense of doing costly events. We are also aware of how many books we need to sell to meet the “break even” point, which did sway our decision on some of the more expensive book shows. Being able to split the cost four ways for the season of events allowed us to participate in more shows than would have been possible individually.
You have someone to talk to about the craft: This by far was my favorite reason for doing these events with my writing group, since we were able to chat all day about the issues we were having with our WIPs (works in progress). Our bi-monthly meetings are invaluable to dissect and receive feedback on a particular scene, but time doesn’t always warrant a deep dive into plot structure or character development. Being at an event for 6 to 8 hours allowed for a lot of down time between customers to work out issues I was having on book 3 in my Power of Four series. A special thanks goes out to Madelyn March for helping me navigate the finer points of elemental magick and guiding me toward creating believable back stories for all my baddies. I had a blast at the Kerrytown Bookfest!
Networking: Extremely important! Can’t stress this enough! Writers, you need to get out of your house and get out there with other writers! There are so many talented people out in the world to connect to, most of which have at least one thing in common with you… their love of writing! I was able to connect with many talented and gifted writers who were happy to mentor me in the things I felt I needed help with. They directed me to online writing resources, offered to do author interviews on their blogs, and provided direction on conferences and events that would be most beneficial to me when building my author business. I would like to send a special shout out to Melissa Keir, S.J. Lomas, and Sylvia Hubbard, who each, in their own way, pointed me in the right direction at the just right time in my journey.
Some must haves for book events:
These events were not always money makers for me, in fact, there were times that I didn’t sell one book. I suppose Fantasy Romance isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, although I find that thought impossible to consider. But even if my sales were low, I came out of each of these events with one more idea, one more contact, even one more challenge that I was able to overcome. One of these events even led to a speaking engagement, which was an awesome and nerve-wracking experience. It offered me the opportunity to level-up in my professionalism as an author, practice my public speaking skill-set, and now I am more empowered to meet the next challenge head on! These lessons, about writing, business, and even myself, are invaluable to me. They are giving me the building blocks I need to make tweaks in my business model and, at the end of the day, sell more books. These experiences also put me in the best position to connect to readers who are interested in hearing about the stories I have to tell. There couldn’t be anything more important than that in my mind, it is what writing is all about for me. DH
I can't recall the last time I read a book in one sitting, but this was one of them! Beautifully written, and very close to home for someone who can relate with some of the things the main character, Maggie Abernathy, has been through. The book touches on grave misunderstandings, loves that are lost and found, and the hesitation we sometimes feel when faced with the decision to share our weaknesses.
The relationships were real, sometimes raw, and I found myself laughing, crying, and at times shaking my head at the antics of the characters that Ms. Bradley brings to life. What a wonderful book, and my only disappointment was when it ended and I realized I would need to go on to book 2. Suppose you could call that a win win though! Looking very much forward to the continuation of Maggie and John's story! - DH
I often sit down to write but quickly find my thoughts wandering. I need to do that before...I need to get...I need to... I can't focus. Can't get any more words on paper. But I love to write! I want to write! So why can't I seem to settle down long enough? Why am I so easily distracted? That's when I usually do more research. Research on writing. Research on writer's block. Sometimes research is my distraction. But there is something that helps. It's called freewriting.
Freewriting is writing randomly, whatever pops into your mind. Or it can be simply working on a project without stopping to think about it. There are no rules. You simply write. You don't worry about spelling, grammar, form or put any other constraints on your writing. With freewriting you get your thoughts on paper (or computer) before you have a chance to forget. Before you feel stuck. Blocked. When you have an idea, or know what you want to say, you don't stop to correct grammar or spelling, and you don't loose your words. You don't tend to become so distracted because you don't allow gaps for other thoughts to creep in.
This exercise in free thoughts can sometimes create writing that is un-useable. But you may find that more creative thoughts come your way. You may get a flash of creativity that helps combat writer's block. Use it like you use brainstorming.
Edit later. If you can't think of a word you want to use, substitute with another word or put an XXX in it's place. I like to use the XXX, so I can do a find and replace when I go back through and edit. Don't get bogged down trying to come up with the ideal word, phrase or metaphor. Save it for when you edit.
Freewriting works best if you set a goal. It can be an amount of time, like 10 or 20 minutes, or a set amount of words or pages. Then just start writing. You can use this technique with your novel or just as a warm up exercise. Do it for fun. It can help drive out the distractions. Give it a try, let your free spirit guide you and see what happens!
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