Thoughts on my first public Reading (well, not really public, but still…)

So last Thursday, I did my first short story reading to an audience. It was pretty fun. It wasn’t a public reading, though; it was for an art show our organization put on. I thought that since I knew everyone there, it would be an easy thing. I was suprised, therefore, when I spent most of the day with the jitters.

Reading something for strangers is easy, because once they hear you, you never really see them again, unless they liked your work so much they go to your blog. But people you know is a different story. In this case, the people I read to are my co-workers, people I see every day. It wasn’t that I was worried that they wouldn’t like the story (I read “Click”, which is the only story you can’t read online). In fact, as I read it out, I kept thinking, wow, this is a good story! I don’t know if I can write anything to top this.

I think what made me nervous was that this was something “I” wrote, not some nameless, faceless writer. So when I read it to my co-workers, it was like baring a part of myself to them. It’s strange, because I don’t write my stories just to hide them away. I want them out there to make a connection to other readers. It’s the best way for me to communicate. But at the same time, it is personal. So when I read it in front of people I know, I feel a little funny.

Then again, I haven’t read in front of complete strangers yet, so what the heck do I know?

Anyhoo, the reading was a success, and I had lots of people come up and say they really, really liked it and that I read it wonderfully, which makes me happy. I had so much fun reading it, I’m considering sending it out again. I think it will make a good reprint. The question is finding the right placement for it. It’s not a standard fantasy story; more on the experimental side. Plus, I need to do some light editing. It was funny–I was actually making revisions in my head as I read it aloud (Ooo, that sentence would be better if I said it this way; I need to delete these adjectives so they’ll have greater impact later on). Funny how a story is never really finished, even after it gets published.

And another one bites the dust…

Realms of Fantasy will be ending with the April 2009 issue…

I was looking forward to the day when I get published in that too.

Sigh.

Why do I get the feeling that by the time my writing gets good enough for the pro-markets, there won’t be any pro-markets around anymore?

Book Review: “Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them” by Francine Prose

Finally, I’m getting back on track with my blog posts. Here’s an overdue book review for you. My reading for the past couple of months have been very slow, but it’s been worth it, especially with this book, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.

Finding this book at B&N for $6 was perfect timing. I was getting our house clean for selling; I hardly got any writing done. I needed something writing related to keep me sane as I was chewing my nails, worrying if the next people who came to a house showing would be the ones to buy the house. Reading Like a Writer was the perfect escape for me.

I heard about the book a year ago from listening to the Writer’s on Writing podcast. Francis Prose said on it how surprised she was not to find such a book on the market, that the best way to learn how to write was to read–carefully read–great stories. Her slant in the book was to take it slow, read word by word, sentence by sentence, to get the full impact of how a writer crafted the story.

The excerpts she used in the book are mostly from classics like Dickens and Austin, though she also includes more contemporaries literary authors like Denis Johnson and Scott Spencer. She lists the excerpt, then goes on to pick it apart depending on what the chapter is discussing. On the chapter Sentences, for instance, she quotes an excerpt from Raymond Carver’s “Feathers” and then goes on to say:

“The sentences could hardly be more plain. There are hardly any adjectives except for the gray of the peacock’s feet. And there is that chilling phrase, “conniving streak,” which is all the narrator chooses to tell us about his kid. The lovely Fran has become “his mother,” “Her.” “Especially her”–two words that convey a universe of resentment and estrangement. The sentences break down into sentence fragments, just as they would in speech–in this guy’s speech–punctuating the long bass notes of the sentences that begin: ‘I remember…I recall…I remember…'”

I found Prose’s book very much like a class, a class of one, yes, but I could understand and get what she was trying to get across. I didn’t agree with all the examples she gave, but for the most part, she opened my eyes a lot in studying the different passages. And the advice she gives comes in handy. I liked how in the Narration section, she covers not just 1st and 3rd person point of view, but also the allusive 2nd person, which I’m currently doing a short story in and really appreciated the advice she gave on it.

This is a very different book from most of those writing books out there. It teaches you how to study writing of works so you can imply that knowledge to your own work. She also gives insight on how different writers spun their craft, from Dostoyevsky struggling with the best way to write Crime and Punishment (Prose lists how he wrote several sections “in the first person, as a diary, as confession, as memory, and as a combination of journal and drama”.) to Henrich von Kleist’s deadly flirtation with suicide when he wasn’t working on his novella.

As I went on, I started to try and guess what point Prose was trying to get across from the excerpts. In doing that, I began to discover on my own how to read the excerpts. I began to see the techniques the writers used. There was an especially long passage she listed that as I read it, I slowly begin to realize that two of the characters was of a different race than the protagonist. It’s never mentioned in the excerpt–I had to figure it out for myself from the clues the writer puts in the story. I had fun doing it, and I’m looking to get the book so I can read how things turned out.

In fact, Prose does include a reading list of all the books she excerpts. It’s something I’m seriously thinking about doing–just the other day, I was garage sling (ah, now there’s a verb for ya!) and came across a couple of hardbacks that looked interesting. After picking them up for a quarter apiece, I picked up Prose’s book and lo and behold, one of my books was on her list. (And for the record, let me just say, when it comes to books, garage sales in Madison rocks.) So I already got one book taken care of. 127 books to go.

But as for writing books, I know that this one is a definite keeper. I plan to keep it on my shelf, to page through it on occasion, to mark and highlight the death out of it. It’s not a easy book to read straight through during a weekend. This is a book to take it slow, to savor, to read a page and then sit back and think. And I think that’s how Prose intended it to be. Five books out of five, and if you’re looking for that interview of Prose, you can go right here to get it. Think I’ll listen to it myself.

Book Reviews at the Cafe (Or why should you care what I think about the Mists of Avalon…)

If you’re a regular at the Cafe, you’ll notice that I haven’t done any book reviews for a while. I can say that I’ve been busy working on our house, so I haven’t had time to read, much less write. And while that’s true, there’s also a more simpler reason–I got a bit burnt out on writing reviews.

It’s a big downside of being a writer. I can’t really read a book out of entertainment anymore. When I pick up a book, there’s a part of me that turns into an scientist of sorts, analyzing every word, every sentence. Why did the author chose ‘this’ word instead of ‘that’? Why would he chose to do this whole passage in dialog without any tags? Why put the description of the eyes ‘here’ when he could have done so at the beginning of the book?

Granted, it’s also a big plus, being a writer. It means that there are two levels I can enjoy the book: for entertainment, and for instruction. If it’s a really wonderful book, I learn how to incorporate its techniques into my own work. If it’s a mediocre, or even a horrible book, I learn what not to do and correct my writing accordingly. Writing book reviews is a way of cementing the lessons I learned into my brain, while at the same time giving you guys out there advice on what books to read and which ones to run away from (in some cases, screaming).

I’ve been wondering these past couple of months if I should continue doing book reviews at the Cafe. It’s not like I can’t do the same thing at a book review website–and I have been wondering if I should branch out a bit more to other blogs and such to gain more writing experience. Getting paid to review books is an option, too, though I don’t think there’s many avenues for this anymore. The book review as a whole has grown somewhat devalued since this whole blogging thing has started. And since “less people are reading books nowadays”, many newspapers have begun to cut down on their book review sections (I wasn’t surprised to learn that our own paper chose to move the book section from their Sunday section to their Saturday edition–which was a lame blow). Why bother paying for some schmoe’s review when a person could log onto anyone’s blog and read a review of it…for free?

I might look into doing some reviews on some outside blogs once everything here settled down into normality again (if that will ever happen), but in the meantime, I think I’ll continue my reviewing here. I can be open and honest with what I think, and I can write about any book I want, old or new. Plus, most of the people coming to the Cafe come to read my book reviews, according to my blog stats. If it’s a way to bring more people to the Cafe, then hey, come on in and dine to your fullest intent.

I think what I might do is limit myself to one book review per month. That way, I won’t get so burnt out in writing. I will list what I am reading for that month, so once I figure out that widget, I’ll put it up. And feel free to make comments of your own if you read the book or not. I have gotten some very interesting points of views from people who I don’t normally agree with, but the Cafe is an equal opportunity place. As long as you don’t say anything extremely nasty, we welcome all opinion.

And I should point out, all the reviews at the Cafe are copyrighted by LaShawn M. Wanak. Anyone using a Cafe review on their own website without permission will be bonked on the head with a plastic mallet.