Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Insect Farm

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It it won’t be long until I head out the the Fayette County Fair but, before then, I want to get caught up a bit on my reviewing…  This time it’s The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble.  This one looked sufficiently creepy and interesting enough that I requested a reviewer’s copy through Net Galley and they were kind enough to approve it in exchange for my review.

As usual, here is the quick synopsis of the book so that you know a little bit about it…
The Maguire brothers each have their own driving, single-minded obsession. For Jonathan, it is his magnificent, talented, and desirable wife, Harriet. For Roger, it is the elaborate universe he has constructed in a shed in their parents’ garden, populated by millions of tiny insects. While Jonathan’s pursuit of Harriet leads him to feelings of jealousy and anguish, Roger’s immersion in the world he has created reveals a capability and talent which are absent from his everyday life. Roger is known to all as a loving, protective, yet simple man, but the ever-growing complexity of the insect farm suggests that he is capable of far more than anyone believes. Following a series of strange and disturbing incidents, Jonathan begins to question every story he has ever been told about his brother–and if he has so completely misjudged Roger’s mind, what else might he have overlooked about his family, and himself?

The Insect Farm is a dramatic psychological thriller about the secrets we keep from those we love most, and the extent to which the people closest to us are also the most unknowable. 

Sounds a wee bit dark and creepy, doesn’t it?  Especially when you look at the cover as well.

Strangely enough, it really isn’t.  Or at least not as much as I had been expecting.  It’s a character driven novel that deals with what one character is thinking, and feeling, and is completely unsure about.  And, because this character is narrating the book and doesn’t know any more than he’s telling you – the reader – any revelations or surprises are shocking to him as well.

Okay, I’ll admit that I wasn’t actually surprised by any of the “shocks” or “twists” toward the end.  But that didn’t take away from the writing and the talent of the author.  Because the book takes place in the fairly recent past, there’s kind of an old-school feel to the story.  In fact, I couldn’t help but be reminded of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.  Totally different story, some similar character elements as the narrator is growing up, and similar straightforwardness in the author’s writing skills…

Unfortunately, this novel probably won’t be one that I ever read again – I guess when you’ve completed a ‘thriller’ or something that leads you on with what you don’t know and need to find out, once you know the ending, you can’t go back and get the same satisfaction.

But, if you find yourself curious about this one, I’d highly recommend it.  I need to figure out my own unique rating system (stars and thumbs up being so yesterday), but in any rating system, this one does phenomenally well.  Now…what to read next?!?  After this one, I think a comedy is definitely in order…

 

County Fair Time

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July is almost over which can only mean one thing….  County Fair Time!  The time when everyone takes a break from going to Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Rural King and comes together in a field to fight over parking so they can purchase tickets to go in and buy 4,000 calories of food for dinner before buying tickets to ride in spinning buckets of metal that were just taken off the truck and bolted together this morning.  Ahh, the fair…

The Fayette County Fairgrounds are located just a quick five miles up the road from where I live, so I’m practically a part of it.  Not close enough that I can make a buck charging people to park in the front yard, but close enough that in the evenings when Graham and I go out for a walk, we should be able to hear carnival music and the roar of the cars in the demolition derby.

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I have access to a pass for free entry, so of course I’ll have to go there to check out the crazy assortment of people (and have a deep fried Twinkie or two).  And the fun thing will be to see how subtly I can take pictures of good ol’ Fayette County people without getting caught.

I’m not sure how I’ll blend in though.  I don’t have any muscle shirts with pictures of trucks on them. Actually I don’t own any muscle shirts.  And I don’t own a pair of denim shorts.  Am I completely out of style or what?

I used to live near the Minnesota State Fair, where you could get every kind of food on a stick and see butter sculpture busts of the girls vying for State Fair Queen.  But here you get egg judging, a dog show and an angel food cake competition.  There are bands you’ve never heard of, the hypnotist that comes back every year, the tractor pull and the judging of horses, steer and swine – watch your step.

I’ll probably check it out tomorrow night to celebrate the start of the weekend.  I just need to make sure my phone is completely charged before I go so that I can take plenty of pictures…

But before then I probably need to get in a workout or two.  Because I’m getting in the mood for some fair food.  Deep fried sugar, here I come!

Novel Revisions & U-Turns

imageI have no fear of the blank page.  I think it’s exciting to start a work of writing from the very beginning.  And, considering that I can already think of my next four novels off the top of my head, I’m not at all worried about writer’s block.

But I think where the true “work” of writing comes in is right about where I’m at with my current novel.  When so much has already been written, yet so many things have changed about the story since it started and it’s time to edit, delete and re-write.  And for me…deleting out sections that are no longer going to work is massively painful.  But, unfortunately it’s necessary.

I’ve always been one of those people who gets excited by reaching certain landmarks.  If I’m making a 500 mile trip, there’s something about knowing when you’ve made it 200 miles, or 250, or 300.  There’s a sense of accomplishment that gets you through the rest of the drive.  As I’m writing, I love reaching 10,000 words in my rough draft, then 20,000, etc.  It’s exciting to see the progress.  And it’s a horrible feeling to see a thousand words completely removed.  It’s like making a pit stop for gas and caffeine and then getting back on the highway and realizing twenty minutes later that you’re heading the wrong way…

My current novel in progress has three main characters.  Four if you consider…well…that’s hard to explain but it’ll make sense when you read it.  One other character wants to be a main character but sorry, not gonna happen, no matter how much you pout about it.

I thought in the beginning that I had a pretty good idea about the direction everything would take and just how it would end.  Umm…wrong.  My writing is always character driven and sometimes….well sometimes those characters  take you in directions that you didn’t expect.  That’s why I never outline what I’m planning to write.  What’s the point?

I love the ending of my novel.  I’ve already written the last chapter and it was a complete rush to type it in.  But, unfortunately, there are other sections that no longer fit with that ending and need to be chopped.

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That’s kind of what it feels like.  But, if everything stayed on course and went like it was expected to, it wouldn’t be the same story.  So I love my characters just a little bit more for taking me on a a little more scenic route than I’d planned.  And for getting me all the way to the coast instead of letting me stop at “America’s Largest Ball of Twine”.  It’ll all be worth it in the end.

I just want to be able to whine and complain about it for a bit as a way to stall before I use that delete key and start re-writing.  Then, I’ll be curious to see if my first readers like the direction I take them.  Or if they’ll be back seat drivers and simply ask  “Are you sure you’re going the right way…?”

 

Fayette County Culture

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This past weekend was the State Theatre’s presentation of Mary Poppins in Uniontown, the main city here in Fayette County.  I was in attendance for the Saturday night show, a possible surprise as I had been working backstage during the last week of rehearsals.  Without getting into the details, I ended up supporting the cast – and the Theatre – by sitting in the audience with a purchased ticket.  But I’m okay with that.

Sure, it was Fayette County and there were issues in the audience (I had a bottle of water dropped on my foot and a purse strike me in the back of the head without acknowledgement or apology).  And I was struck in the funny bone by a French Horn during intermission – a sentence I’m certain I’ve never used in my life – but those are just the hazards of being out in public.  I guess…  I also saw more pairs of denim shorts, flip flops and barefooted children running around in the aisles, but that’s just life in Fayette County.

So I’ll focus on the performance itself, because that’s what really matters…

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Kayla Grimm played the role of Mary Poppins and did an excellent job.  You’ll have to settle for the picture above since I was going to get my picture taken with her for the purposes of this blog, but chose not to deal with the line.  Ahh, the sacrifices that I don’t make for you, my wonderful readers…

Kayla is from the area, recently graduating from High School here in Fayette county and has been involved in a number of other productions in the area.  She has a beautiful voice, excellent stage presence, and seemed to really enjoy and take on the role.  And you could tell that she had faith in the people and equipment responsible for ‘flying’ her across the stage.  That in itself is impressive…

The role of Bert was played by Jonathan Furedy, a non-local who was brought in from out of state to play the role.  Having performed the role previously elsewhere, and being a very experienced stage actor, he was as professional and polished as you would expect.  And, he brought the equipment with him to walk up the wall and upside down during “Step in Time” with the other chimney sweeps.  Even singing well while hanging upside down.

I’m not going to go into the performances of the other main characters.  You don’t know them and don’t care (understandably so) and one I consider a friend so my opinions might seem biased to you.  What I’m trying to make clear is that there is more to Fayette County and there are some interesting things that go on.

It’s not all mullets and McDonalds.  It’s not all camouflage, bars and yard sales.  Sometimes there’s more…

So congratulations to the cast and crew.  It was a lot of hard work and it all paid off…

 

How To Write A Novel

imageLately I’ve been reading so much, and spending so much time working on my own novel, that my mind is everywhere…  Reality has been pushed aside by the fictional world and my imagination has been running rampant.  Add that to my every night dream-fest, and I’m waking up each morning wondering where I am and am in a state of disbelief that I have to do such mundain things as pay bills, go to the grocery store and do laundry.  I’m not complaining a bit.  For a writer, it’s amazing to be able to be completely immersed in that world of imagination and creativity.

Reading is inspiring when you’re writing.  Some books are so bad that you can’t help but think “Mine is way better than that.  I’m definitely going to get published!”.  Others are so good that they push you to work harder and do better.  Then there’s How To Write A Novel by Melanie Sumner.  I received a copy for free through NetGalley in exchange for a review and am more than happy to do so…  First, the usual description so that you know what the novel is about:

Aristotle “Aris” Thibodeau is 12.5 years old and destined for greatness. Ever since her father’s death, however, she’s been stuck in the small town of Kanuga, Georgia, where she has to manage her mother Diane’s floundering love life and dubious commitment to her job as an English professor. Not to mention co-parenting a little brother who hogs all the therapy money.

Luckily, Aris has a plan. Following the advice laid out in Write a Novel in Thirty Days! she sets out to pen a bestseller using her charmingly dysfunctional family as material. If the Mom-character, Diane, would ditch online dating and accept that the perfect man is clearly the handyman/nanny-character, Penn MacGuffin, Aris would have the essential romance for her plot (and a father in her real life). But when a random accident uncovers a dark part of Thibodeau family history, Aris is forced to confront the fact that sometimes in life—as in great literature—things might not work out exactly as planned.

Written from the perspective of a girl who’s 12.5 years old, and who is continually keeping up with the plan of writing a novel in 30 days, it’s a kick in the tookis, motivating me to work harder, faster.

Okay, so I know that it wasn’t actually written by a kid.  And I’m sure it took much longer to finish than a month.  But it’s still motivating.

This novel is all about characters.  About the way they think and react to what life throws at them.  It’s grounded in reality, what’s normal, what’s possible and what we do in response to life’s setbacks and challenges.  And in that way, it’s universal.  And it’s extremely well written – enough so that I flew through it in just a few days, even with real life intruding.  It’s a fun read, but more than just mindless entertainment.  It makes you think, and makes you feel for the characters, especially the 12.5 year-old narrator.

Now that I’ve finished it, I need to look to see what else this author has written.  After all, we’ve got to support the talented writers out there!

But, first I think I’ll write a few hundred more words on my novel.  I can’t let myself fall too far behind a non-existent fictional kid, right?

So…back to work!

 

He Wouldn’t Hurt A Fly

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The patient hunter

He really wouldn’t.

Once, as a kitten, Graham spent an afternoon chasing a fly around the house.  For hours, I watched him sliding across the kitchen floor, jumping over the coffee table, hopping up on the bathroom sink, having the time of his life chasing after that thing.  Then, once he’d been calm and quiet long enough to make me wonder, he came up to me and sat down at my feet.

He calmly looked up at me, opened his mouth and that fly took off.  And, with a look of complete satisfaction, Graham ran off again, back to the hunt.

He was born a city boy, staying mostly inside our places in the Minneapolis area.  At one place where we lived, he would hang out on a 2nd floor deck to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine when it wasn’t covered in snow.  He stayed active and crazy, but wasn’t much of a hunter.  Not until Fayette County got into him.

He and I spend a decent amount of time outside now, enjoying an area where we can stretch out a bit without worrying about anything more than the thoughts of our neighbors.  He hates the wild cats that live in the woods but they usually stay away.  And when a house cat was lost and came into our yard, Graham gave me serious attitude – and a few hisses – for petting it and feeding it until it could make it back home.

He likes the family of gophers that lives here, but will chase them away if they come too close to his house.  Wild turkeys are fun to watch, but only from a distance, while deer are like his big buddies that just won’t let him play along.  And Lil Squatch, the mole?  He treats that little guy like a toy that came to life.

But he and the birds?  They’ve got issues.  And it’s only going to get worse…

They talk trash back and forth, from the trees to the ground and back again.  And some of the birds used to swoop down at Graham until they saw his leaping skills.  For a cat that always takes the stepping-stone approach (jumping to a chair and then to the table rather than directly to his highest goal for example) I was shocked to see him leap straight up, five or six feet into the air, to practically swat a robin to the ground.  Word seemed to get around after that.

I’ve seen Graham stalk a bird that isn’t paying close enough attention, startling it out of a tree and chasing it in laps around the tree and across the yard, mere inches behind its wildly flapping wings.  It’s been funny to watch, and I’ve repeatedly told him “next time” when he trotted back over to me.  But, that was just for his morale as I never actually believed it.

Until now…

It was a hot day and I was doing a little yard work and I thought he was just laying out on the grass, enjoying the sun and the occasional breeze.  Until I heard a thump.

When I turned around, the deed was already done.  They were close to a tree, but Graham had taken it out of the air, landing on it as he came back down to the ground.  It was one of the sparrows, usually quick and agile birds, but Graham can be deceptively fast.  Now that he’d gotten one however, he didn’t know what to do.  And, since I was so close, I was able to pick him up and take him inside before he did anything more.

At least the bird didn’t suffer – and I didn’t have to put it down.  The shock and the crash to the ground did it in.  And it’s quiet outside now.  The birds have been giving Graham silent respect as they mourn one of their own.  And he’s been pretty quiet himself, staying close to the house on that side, or walking on the other side away from where the incident occurred.  But that’s all temporary I know.

It’s in his nature, but not something that had occurred until now.  And I’m sure the bird/cat rivalry will be renewed and back in full force before long.  But until then, there’s a fly that got in, and I’m hoping I can convince Graham to go back to the hunt.

Sic him boy!

 

Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed

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I’m a fan of dysfunction.  Dysfunctional relationships and dysfunctional families make for the best stories.  Or maybe just the ones that I relate to the best.

I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t have high expectations from this novel though.  I thought that I was probably getting a poor-man’s Jonathan Tropper at best, or a poor re-tread of other stories that have dealt with the same issues and family dynamics.  But, I’ll admit that I was wrong.  And I’m glad that I took the chance.

Here’s a short description of the novel by James Bailey – one that I received free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review –

Ten years ago, C.J. Neubauer fled his family, trading coasts to provide himself three time zones of buffer space. Random email and social media posts yield all the contact he needs. Until a late-night phone call from his wistful father. Unaccustomed to hearing his dad say “I love you,” C.J. freezes, vowing instead to reciprocate the next time they speak. But when the phone wakes him the following morning, it’s his older brother informing him their father has committed suicide.

Sporting a nagging conscience and a chip on his shoulder, C.J. books a flight home on his girlfriend’s credit card. All he wants is to bury his father and try to make sense of what led him to take his own life. All he has to go on is a note that reads, “Sorry I wasn’t what you needed.” Was it intended for C.J. and his siblings? The mother who walked out on them twenty-five years ago? Or someone else altogether?

Maybe I can relate well to a character who’s made sure to be so physically distant from his family.  The character who only finds dysfunction when finally being reunited with family after years apart.  But I like my dysfunctional characters/narrators to be a little less loser-ish, or at least to be a little more willing to accept his/her issues and want to improve on some level.  C.J. isn’t really like that, and yet I still found myself impressed by this novel.  The dysfunction made sense, the characters’ issues balanced each other out and went well to tell the story.  In fact, I was even thinking of giving the novel  5 out of 5 as a final rating.  But then…..

Some people can do endings.  Some can’t.  And this one was just far too frustrating for me.  The main character seems to become more of a loser the more you learn about him, and there doesn’t seem to be any real attempt at growth.  Then, the relationship between him and his girlfriend is never explained and, consequently, it never makes any sense.  And then, the word that comes to mind in wrapping up the final chapter?  Oedipal.  And that’s not good.

Something clicked with me on this novel, I’ll admit it.  I didn’t like the main character, but the story pulled me along and kept me reading.  It just feels so odd to like a book that much more while I was reading it than I did when I was finished.  And to know that I won’t have any desire to pick it up again in a few years and want to read it again.  So I feel torn.  I’d recommend it, but not enthusiastically.  I’d give it a 4 out of 5 but not consider it one of the better reads I’ve had.  So I walk away from it a little dizzy and confused.

But maybe that’s what dysfunction is supposed to do to you – leave you feeling a bit off.  I just don’t really care what would happen next to these characters.  Instead, it gets me thinking about my own writing.  I want to delve deeper into my own characters I’m writing about to ensure my future readers feel a deeper attachment to them, a sense of comradery with them, and an ability to laugh at them through their messed up attempts to better themselves.

So it’s time for me to move away from reading someone else’s creation and get back to work!

 

“I’ve Got Your Back”

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Don’t mess with our turf…

Just four little words that I said yesterday…

I was taking Graham for a walk and, as we came to the area as close to the road as he’s allowed, we saw a dog.  A large dog.  A large Rottweiler actually.

The dog was trotting across the street from us and, when he turned and noticed us, Graham dropped into the customary posture he adapts when he sees large dogs – he dropped down onto his belly in the grass with the goal of becoming invisible.  Maybe it was because I was right there with him, actually choosing to be friendly with the dog, but his ploy didn’t work.

The dog turned and started to trot accross the road, checking us out and, seeing his positive gait and knowing he wasn’t going to be a threat, I whispered down to the brave cat laying between my feet, joking “don’t worry, I’ve got your back”.

As soon as I said it, Graham hopped back up onto his feet (err…paws) and took a determined step forward.  The dog stopped in the middle of the street for a moment, cocked it’s head, and started walking towards us again.  And, wouldn’t you know it, the little furball decided to show off his bravery.  Just as the Rottweiler touched our side of the road, Graham let out a growl that completely surprised him, stopping him in his tracks.  He took a few more steps along the side of the road, looking at us, but no longer prepared to come directly at us.

Then, after a moment, he decided to take one more step toward us, Graham let out a hiss and charged.

Somehow, I managed to catch the little guy before he’d gotten very far, going down to my knees before turning to see what the dog had decided to do.  Fortunately, he’d taken a few steps away from us, not wanting anything to do with the challenge.  Then, Graham turned to look at me, gave me a look that said “what are you waiting for, we can take him!”  And with that, he pulled away from me, hissed as loudly as he could, and took off.  And so did that dog.  Just as fast as he could with a furry orange streak in his rear view.  He wanted nothing at all to do with us.  He probably thought we were crazy…

Sure, I’d stand up to a 50-lb Rottweiler for Graham.  And that’s a good thing for him to know in life.  After all, you’ve always got to have someone who’s going to be there for you through anything and everything.  But I’m going to have to teach him the next part of the lesson – don’t go picking fights just because you know I’ve got your back.  We don’t actually have to fight.  I’m more than willing to pick you up and carry you into the house to get away from potential trouble.

And then we can tell everyone stories about how brave we were later.  We can even tell them there were two Rottweilers.  Whatever story you want to tell, I’ve got your back.

 

 

Ahh, Mary…

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I’ll admit up front that I’m not much of a Disney fan – the reasons why would make up a couple of posts in themselves. But, somehow I’ve gotten myself in a position where I’m singing songs from a Disney musical to myself wherever I go.  What happened is this…

The local theatre is working on a production of Mary Poppins. And, as they get closer and closer to the dates of the shows, I was asked if I might possibly be interested in helping out backstage. My thoughtful, giving nature prompted me to answer “maybe”, knowing that I could change that to a “no” fairly quickly, while looking like I actually seriously contemplated it. Unfortunately…my “maybe” was heard as a “yes”, so now I’m on the backstage crew at the State Theatre’s production of Mary Poppins. I’m still not sure how that happened.

The first production is in only three days, so obviously they’ve been doing a fine job preparing without my assistance. But, because of the fine amount of potential the 19-year-old in charge saw in me, I’m responsible for moving one 4-foot wide curtain every time they move the sets.

If they’re moving one of the sets off-stage, I grab the little curtain to pull it out of the way. If they’re moving one of the sets on-stage, I grab the little curtain to pull it out of the way. Now, if you’re saying “wait, slow down. That’s too complicated for me to understand”, don’t feel bad. I’ve had two whole practices – a total of 12 hours – to get it all figured out. So I’m an expert.

During the time that I’m not actively moving that curtain of mine (Yes, it’s mine. I’m already feeling possessive of it), I’ve figured out that it’s my job to stay out of the way of the high schoolers that are running around backstage trying to impress each other with their British accents.  So it’s move curtain, fight to retain sanity, move curtain, get out of the way of the giggling dancers as they run on and off stage, move curtain, repeat.  Good thing I have another practice in another hour…

So if my posts have convinced you that there’s no such thing as culture in Fayette County, now you know better.  The musical is in the same theatre where they had the meeting about Bigfoot sightings last year.  And the same one where there’s a rap concert in a week and a half.  So there’s plenty of diverse “culture” going on around here.

So come on down to the State Theatre July 17th, 18th and 19th to check out Mary Poppins.  Good seats are still available. Wait, I take that back… I don’t know if they’re sold out or not. I’ve been too focused on my little curtain.  Too much responsibility…..

Scream For Ice Cream

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It’s a warm, partly sunny day here in Fayette County today.  Hey, if it’s a summer day without rain this year, it’s a beautiful day…  And it has me thinking about ice cream.

I heard the area’s ice cream truck driving around the area the other day and I was extremely disappointed that it didn’t come down my street. Not because I was in the mood for a Dilly Bar. But because I really wanted to get a picture. I wanted to have visual evidence that I wasn’t exaggerating when I describe that truck to you.

So, I decided to see if they’re on-line and might possibly have a picture I could use there. But instead, I found this little beauty.  Seriously, Fayette County isn’t all bad, but this video involving our local ice cream truck shows the place in an extremely bad light…

Whad’ya think………?

http://m.wtae.com/news/woman-tries-to-rob-uniontown-ice-cream-man-fires-shots-into-truck/33228078

Sometimes you just have to see something to believe it.  Me, I’m just glad the guy wasn’t really hurt so I can keep laughing at it and not feel completely heartless.

Okay, the sun just came back out and is seriously hot.  I wonder if our ice cream man tweets his location so I can find him.  ‘Cause I could really go for a Push-up Pop.