Spoiler Filled Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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This review of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD contains MAJOR of spoilers. If you want to read this book, do not read this post. 

You’ve been warned.

Disappointed. That’s the word. And not like those people who were shocked and dismayed to discover the hefty hardback they’d preordered was a play instead of a novel.  When I bought my copy I knew what I was getting. The play itself isn’t even written by J.K. Rowling, but by Jack Thorne (which it says right on the cover by the way). But even the knowing of these things did not prevent me feeling cheated as I read the script, nor did it prevent me from directing my disgruntled emotions toward J.K. Rowling, because it was the plot that I found lacking. That, I believe, was all her.

The opening scene of the play is a dramatized version of the prologue in Deathly HallowsThis didn’t bother me at first, because it made sense to me as a springboard into the new story and would appeal to fans of the books. But that wasn’t the only old scene that was put into the story.

The plot centers around the use and misuse of a time turner. Now, time travel is tricky any way you slice it, and in my reading/viewing experience, often leaves approximately 458,290,002 plot holes behind that you need to caulk and spackle. Kudos to anyone who does it. But this rolling back of time, plus the occasional nightmare of Harry Potter, had multiple scenes thrown in from the original books. While this is a lesser complaint, I was hoping for more new content.

I was also frustrated by what seemed to me like a whiny violin play for sympathy over characters that I most often see mooned over by fans. Namely Severus Snape (who by the way is my favorite), Cedrick Diggory, and Neville Longbottom.

The initial jump back into time is all in an effort to save the tragically killed Cedrick Diggory. This screws up life and the world because Cedrick apparently turned Death Eater and killed Neville at the battle of Hogwarts. If Neville dies, then Voldemort lives, because Neville is responsible for destroying one of Moldy-Volde’s Horcruxs.

Now, we can rush past the whole Hufflepuff Cedrick becoming a Death Eater issue and play the “Author knows best” card, but by the time I hit this part of the play my eye was already twitching. Then when Severus Snape turned up alive in this new world, and gave his life AGAIN to make it all be right, I felt like I’d been roped into crying over the same crap I’d already been through with Deathly Hallows. Plus, there was this whole emotional moment when Snape is told that Harry named his child after him. Snape’s dying words are, “Tell Albus Severus Potter, that I’m proud he bears my name.”

But by far the worst part for me, was when I found that Voldemort was the father of Bellatrix Lestrange’s child, a little girl born just before the battle of Hogwarts. Sex? Voldemort? No. That is an oddity that no amount of “author knows best” can excuse in my mind. I just don’t buy it. I felt like I was reading fan fiction. Nothing wrong with fan fiction! I’ve written some myself. Except, I just think that Rowling doesn’t need to do that.

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I’ve read The Cuckoo’s CallingI’d give it a solid 5 stars. I heard mixed reviews on it, some harping on the fact that it didn’t really sell until the news popped out that Robert Galbraith was J.K. Rowling. Of course that made it sell. J.K. Rowling had already been tested in the fires of unknown authordom and found brilliant. Rightfully so. She is utterly fantastic. Nobody knew Robert Galbraith. Why risk picking up his book instead of John Grisham’s? I call it courage to go through those fires again when her name would have sold it easily without the initial rejection.

But that’s just what I mean, she’s too good to have to repackage the old franchise. She’s a true writer, and probably has a thousand untold stories dancing in her head. And while I love Harry Potter, I think she deserves to work on the new and not fall under the hypnosis of the MORE HARRY! MORE HARRY! chant from fans and publishers. That’s what Pottermore is for. She has there the blessing of a forever fandom, where she can post endless anecdotes and updates on her characters to the eager approval of all. Most authors just have to walk away from their favorite characters when the story is done being told.

And stories do end. Harry’s mortgage, petty marital arguments, and eventual aging arthritic knees will not make for compelling sequels. Harry has now saved the world for Voldemort TWICE. How many times can a person save the world from a super-villian that they’ve already vanquished? Is Harry a Saturday morning cartoon of a DC comic now?  And if I have to believe he is going to save the world THREE times from He Who Shall Not Be Named…well, I just won’t.

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In case this post sounds utterly negative and like I hate the continuing Harry Potter franchise, I LOVELOVELOVED Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  The world she created in the Potter books was bigger than just Harry. Give me more new characters like Newt Scamander and I’ll come back forever. Also, the play is scheduled to open in NYC. If by any chance I could secure tickets, I would sure as anything still go, but it wouldn’t be because I was in love with the plot. It had some very fascinating special effects written in, which I would love to see worked out on stage.

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To Turtle, or Not to Turtle?

I’m not accustomed to this level of praise from anyone but my husband. My professor is holding out my short story to the rest of the class, my √++ a loud red against the white paper. It’s screaming, “loved it” almost literally, because that’s what he’s written next to my grade.

“Look at the format. This is what you need to do. The heading there, in MLA. And it’s six pages, so now what? She just has to hand in four more and BOOM! she’s done with her portfolio.”

I can’t make eye contact with anyone, barely even my friends. I don’t know if I’m smiling or just red and blotchy. If I am smiling, there’s a good chance it looks arrogant and cockeyed because I can’t tell if I’m pleased or I want to vomit because I’m embarrassed. I thrive on positive encouragement. In fact, I can take nearly any criticism if it comes with a dose of hopeful praise or a sincere, “I love you.” I just get it so rarely that when it comes, I don’t know how to handle it. Usually when he’s reading my stuff aloud, even if nobody knows it’s mine, I turtle. This is when I pull the neckline of my shirt up over my face so the tip of my nose is covered, and stare vacantly across the room at some lonely piece of dust. And for a moment…we are one. Sometimes I throw shade and do this when somebody else’s stuff is being read, just in case anyone’s watching and has caught on to my tell.

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me turtling

I read my story to the group, that’s how it goes for the stuff in workshop. It’s the first piece of prose I’ve handed in for Creative Writing. I wrote it early in the semester, but it took me weeks to convince myself to hand it in for critique. I’ve LITERALLY been having nightmares about this moment since I passed it out. The windowless basement classroom becomes the ninth circle of hell, my professor is Virgil, telling everyone my sins of shitty writing while my classmates chew on what’s left of my hopes and dreams, like Satan on the head of Judas Iscariot. The only reason I didn’t have to come into class with a large consoling cup of peppermint tea (a necessity for my Sci-fi/Fantasy Class) is because I sneaked a peek into his stack of papers and already knew he’d given me an A. *crosses herself and looks gratefully toward heaven*

Just him alone, I can swallow the negative critique. He’s published about 6 collections of poetry and, obviously, knows his stuff. If he says it sucks, I cry a lot, pick up the pieces, learn and grow. But for some reason the critique of my peers just scares the crap out of me. I mean, there’s so many of them, and just one me. And I’m thirty years old for crying out loud! Most of them are barely legal. How freakin’ sick would it be for me to burst into tears in front of them. (“Don’t mind me. I just paid all this money to find out I suck. Thanks for making my Mother right. Again…”)

I finish reading (badly) and he starts up again. More or less, he had nothing negative to say. Just a few suggestions and pointing out of silly mistakes. He praised my use of figurative language, dialogue, alliteration, and verbs. He said my story made him laugh every time he read it. He even praised things that I thought I did poorly. I was worried that my story wasn’t deep or thought provoking at all. I was worried that my characters weren’t dynamic. He mentioned these things, but not in a way that made it sound like it mattered, that somehow my story was still “really good.” He said my piece was excellently staged, “like it could be a scene from a movie. Great use of senses so you feel like it’s real. Like you’re really there.” That’s something about my writing I’m constantly worried about, that my setting isn’t visual enough to draw in the reader.

I’m shuffling and glowing and want him to stop and want him to never, ever stop. I mean, I adored him from the first day. But now? Gosh. He’s on his way to being one of my all time favorites. Honestly, I can’t tell you how much his praise was needed. I’ve had so many down points since the summer. I’ve been fighting and struggling to find my purpose, my gift, what it is I’m supposed to leave behind me. I’ve been told by so many people for so many years that I am this and that. I locked them out, but they are the forever recording in my brain that tells me, You are not enough. You are not enough.

But maybe I am. I’m not Tolkien. I’m not Sylvia Path or Donna Tart or David Mitchell. But I’m me. And maybe I am enough of me to be enough.

Do I think I’ve arrived? No way. I mean, this is INTRO to Creative Writing. Maybe next semester I’ll have a Prof who hates my stuff. Writing is a thing that you’re always learning how to do better, and I’m still so new at it. I know my novels need a ton more tweaking before I should try my hand at querying again. But at least now I have some concrete assurance that I don’t completely suck at this. And sometimes, that little something can be everything.

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Unconditional

Some people get cranky when they’re tired. Some when they’re stressed. Some when they’re hungry or sick or when they’ve been cooped up inside from a snowstorm.12605531_10153376992302963_4298170848787498067_o.jpg

Me? I get cranky for all of the above reasons, but this particular night was the second day in a row that I was cranky from studying for my French quiz. Jon saw me come in favoring my tender, twisted ankle after a literal run in with the six year old.12140878_10153214699457963_8518091886176476593_o

“Aww,” he said. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

I snarled a groan at him and waved him away, “Just leave it, okay?” And that was just the beginning. I took everything else he said completely out of context and chewed him up to the best of my ability before throwing myself on my bed and sobbing into my blankets like a Disney princess with PMS.

I felt like…well, a jerk I guess. I’d like to use stronger language, but I try to keep it clean around here as best I can. I fell asleep hating myself, thinking about how, even if he had meant his words the way I’d taken them, I was still being unfair. He’s tired too and working so hard. I should at least be giving him as much grace as I’d want for myself.

First thing I woke up, I sent him a text: “I’m sorry I’m a jerk sometimes.

I saw him around the house but couldn’t make eye contact with him. I was too afraid that he’d still be upset at me for being so horrible the night before. On my way out the door, he called my name and came up to me with his arms wide open.

“I got your text,” he said, as his arms closed around me.11081166_10152783748617963_5494858081283997201_n

“I love you Jonny.”

“I love you too.” He pulled back a little and looked at me with his head cocked slightly to the side. “But seriously, I don’t remember you being a jerk.”

Every. Single. Time.
This bizarre treatment isn’t just specific to my brother-in-law. No. It started with my husband. Even when I know he knows I’ve done something to hurt him, even at the times I’ve brought tears to his eyes, he just says, “It’s okay. I forgive you,” and it’s done. It never comes up again. There’s no wall, no hate, no slamming doors or days of silent treatment and shunning.

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His parents are the same. I can openly disagree with them. I can do something they don’t like. I can be a snarky, nasty, easily annoyed female dog for days and they still just…

love me.

12622269_10153376950777963_1368095368960911501_oThis version of love is new to me. When I first found it in my husband, I just assumed it was so wild and beautiful because this was the way true romantic love was when you’ve finally found THE ONE. I never dreamed that I would find it in others. Yet here I am, living in a home where everyone just loves me. Not the nice me that nobody would have trouble loving, but the real me, the one with all the dirty broken bits.

It’s beyond my understanding, this concept of a love that13391473_10153678715022963_2054460552765938291_o does not have to be earned; that’s reaffirmed daily by action and word. Growing up, love was something I had to fight to gain. When I didn’t keep my behavior, thoughts, and attitudes properly in order, I was tossed aside until I got it right. I spent so much time groveling, hoping that if I just said enough right things or did enough right things or buried enough of the parts of me people didn’t like or understand, that I would finally receive the love I wanted so desperately.

Over the past few years I’ve come to realize that people who put that many conditions on love, are not worth the time spent in trying to gain their affections. So, I stopped trying. I thought this decision would mean the end of family for me, that I’d only have one again when Timothy and I had children and a home of our own.

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12961212_10208680190820471_2361922664253489059_oBut here are these people, these beautiful people, that I have no blood relationship to, that have no reason to want me around, who live with me day after day after day and see what a hot mess I am and yet CHOOSE to love me. It’s as though they made a decision to love me the first time their son brought me through the door. They didn’t even know me then, and they loved me. They know me now and love me just as much. And they give and give and give and want nothing back. And I’m just wrecked by it, in a good way, because I can’t wrap my head around the idea that the love I’ve always wanted, my whole entire life, the love I begged and wept for my whole childhood, the home I need now more than ever, was waiting for me in the arms of a family that I didn’t even know existed until eight years ago.

I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever understand it. I know I’ll never deserve it. But please, you guys, please don’t ever stop. ❤

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Breakthrough

Since starting school, I’ve had little time to work on my personal writing (or breathe either, when it comes down to it), but my characters and novels are never far from my thoughts. I miss them. I’ve spent the last three years pouring my life into them and it feels like someone viciously stripped me of half myself.

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So it was no surprise when, on the way home from school the other day, I began to talk to my husband about a problem I’ve had with “Through This Darkness” for over a year.

I know the first chapter sucks. I’ve KNOWN the first chapter sucks. I was just hoping that someone would tell me how or give me some suggestions on it.

I’ve given a lot of people opportunity. I’ve handed out over 10 copies of my manuscript to friends and family. All the people who read it had something insightful to say, but most of them have said nothing. I waited for a while, but at this point some of them have had their copy for over a year. Now I just assume they hate it so much they’re afraid telling me will permanently damage our relationship.

This assumption has led me to pick, prod, cut, and cull my manuscript in a desperate search for flaws. Good news is I’ve found many. Good news is I’ve solved many. (Bad news is there is all these crappy copies of my manuscript floating around out there. I lose sleep over that…if you read this and you have one, please, just burn it.) The most glaring problem in my mind was still the first chapter, the hook, the thing that will make or break potential agents, publishers, and readers. With nothing else to go on, I figure the majority of the people I’ve given it too can’t even get past the crappiness of those first five pages to finish my story.

I’ve been whining and groaning about it to my husband for a while, just wishing someone who knew would help me see what I can’t. Last Monday, my husband turned to me during one of my rants.

Him: “What would happen if you just deleted the first chapter and started at chapter two.”

The space after he said these words was not as long as it felt. It felt like I had time to watch my entire universe explode and realign in perfect order. I said, very softly, “…sh*t…”

As the conversation developed, my husband and I came to the conclusion that this might be one of my hiccups as a writer, and why I struggle so much writing short stories; I just take too much time to set up a scene, instead of getting right into the action.

I’ve begun to comb through the chapter, searching for anything important I might need to squeak in later on. The rest of it *snaps fingers carelessly* gone! I’ve had to kill several chapters worth of darlings in this novel, but this? Nope, nuh-uh, sorry punk, ain’t gonna miss ya.

I’m hoping this change will not only be a huge leap forward for my novel, but my writing in general. And it’s all thanks to my brilliant, wise, patient, dearly beloved husband. I love you Buppy! ❤

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So I read, “The Shining”…

I scare a little too easily to take much of a shine to the horror genre, but in the past months I’ve been experiencing a severe emotional shakeup that reaches back to the roots of my childhood. All the raw and repressed pain and anger I’m dredging up has been attacking me in my sleep, filling my dreams with rejection and abandonment.

You may think it strange that I chose a time such as this spend my leisure reading on things that go bump in the night, but I did it on purpose. I wanted to be frightened by something that I knew wasn’t real for a change. I wanted to be able to wake up from a nightmare, brush the perspiration for my brow and say, “well, good thing spiders can’t mate with pirañas. Even the mutant ones,” then roll over and return to slumber bliss.

It worked, with a slight misfire.

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I started reading Stephen King’s The Shining on Saturday. I was feeling crappy, so it seemed a good day to spend reading and hiding from people in general. By bedtime, I was a long ways through. It was dark out. My bedside light was on. My husband was reading beside me while stealing glances at the MLS game on the television.

I’d love to tell you exactly what was happening in my mind during this particular chapter, the tension and discomfort I was experiencing vicariously through the poor five year old hero, but it contains spoilers (for those of you who’ve read it, I’ll say “shrubbery” with the high pitched sharp intonation of a knight who says “NI!” and say no more). I squirmed a little on the bed. I was developing that uncomfortable feeling I used to have as a child, like something could come up behind me if I didn’t sleep with my back to the wall. My back pressed firmly to the mattress, I continued to read.

Five pages later, I slowly lowered the book and said, “Hey babe?”

My husband looked at me. “Yeah?” he said.

“This book is scary.”

This didn’t seem to surprise him as much as it had me. Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting it to be this intense. “Yeah?” he said again.

Assuming his apparent disinterest was only due to a lack of communication on my part, I expounded on the current situation with the words, “And I’m scared.”

He cracked a smile. “I’m sorry,” he said, with a sort of amused sympathy.

“What if…” I laid the open book on my chest and looked around the room. “What if we had to sleep with the lights on?” My eyes landed on the closet and I swallowed. “Could we do that?”

I looked back at him. He was just smiling at me. “If you like,” he said. He followed my gaze back to the closet. “Do you want me to open the door?”

“NO!” I checked myself, put my back safely against the mattress again and said, “No. Because I won’t be able to see the bit behind the wall there and…I’ll wonder. No. Better to leave it closed.” I looked back at the book. “And the light on.”

I kept reading, hoping that I would finally hit a spot where things leveled out so that I could repose with a little less fret. I gave up eventually, and spent the majority of the night willing my eyes to stay open in the event of…things. When I did finally sleep for a few hours early in the morning, I had two dreams related to the book. They were significantly less horrifying than any of their predecessors in the last few months. So basically, my plan worked. *gives herself pat on the back*

It was an excellent book by the way and I’m super glad I read it. If you’re not into horror as a genre, but you’re into writing fiction, I recommend getting a copy from your local library and just reading the (not very scary) part one. It was a perfect example of a flawless opening. The background information about the family, including flashbacks, were seamlessly worked in with the current action of the plot, so you never felt slogged down by an “information dump” like you find in the beginning of so many novels. Writing peeps should check that out if nothing else.

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Silas: Vampire and Guardian

Reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is an extremely emotional experience for me. Unlike many book lovers, I don’t make a point of rereading my favorite books every year or so. My “to read” list is so long that I just don’t seem to get around to it. But in the past two years I’ve read The Graveyard Book three times. I have purchased four copies of it and I know I’ll be buying at least two more (the audiobook and the two volume graphic novel). It’s easy for me to get lost in the poetic prose of one of my favorite authors, but the story and the characters reach for me in ways that make me want to hold the book to my chest like it was more teddy bear than paperback.graveyard-book

I love the characters. I love Bod, how strong and brave and foolish he is. How real he is. I love Mr. and Mrs. Owens and Miss Lupescu and Liza Hempstock. But most of all, I love Silas.

Silas, Bod’s guardian, is by far my favorite character. I love how he shelters Bod, protects him, and sees to his needs. I love how he is able to reach a point where he can see he’s sheltering him too much, and learns to let go so that Bod can grow into a man. I love how he can find the humility to apologize for the wrong he’s done. I love how real the love between Bod and Silas is, despite the lack of physical touch or open expression with words and phrases like “I love you.” In their final goodbye, they simply shake hands, but in that handshake so much is said, so much genuine love and affection. Silas’ love for Bod was so evident and unmistakable through Bod’s childhood that, to me, their one final handshake is as good as a thousand kisses and hours of cuddling. Neither of them show evidence of broken dissatisfaction in their parting, the kind that leads to permanent hurt and rifts, because they know they are completely loved and accepted by one another, even if that love always appeared in a less conventional way.

I’m jealous really. I’m jealous of what Bod was given by Silas. I’m jealous of the real love Bod was given in his childhood, not just by Silas, but the whole of the graveyard. All those wise loving departed souls that took a genuine interest in seeing Bod learn to live. They had lived their lives already, and instead of them taking the opportunity of a living boy residing in their midst to vicariously experience another lifetime, they chose only to assist him in learning to live his life on his own.

Cover of Vol. 1 of Graphic Novelization. Silas standing behind Bod.

Nobody has perfect parents, but I think it’s a damn shame when parents tell their children how to live the life God gave them. One of the jobs of a parent is to open the eyes of a child to the world, all the ways of living and being. It’s all well and good to decide in your child’s youth that this or that avenue would be good for them, but should they turn out to want something different for their life, if you respond by cutting down their dreams, force feeding them your views, and breaking their wings so they never learn to fly, or even fall, on their own, you’re not helping them to grow; you’re destroying them. You had your chance to live and choose. This is their life, their choices, all of them: good, bad, or indifferent.

Since my miscarriage, I frequently go back and forth on if I want to take another shot at having a child. I don’t know if I want children, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll be a rotten mother, but I think if I could be certain that I could be a mother like Silas, then that would be enough for me. For on the day my child picked up their bags to leave their childhood, I’d know they knew I loved them, even if it was in my own strange way. I’d know that I’d done everything to protect them from danger in their youth, until they were old enough to take care of themselves. I’d know that I wasn’t perfect, but that my willingness to apologize for my shortcomings had gained me my child’s respect, not censure. I’d know that they would miss me, and be grateful for my influence on their life. I’d know that they would never be afraid to come home, even if they’d made decisions that they knew I would disagree with. They’d know there was a still a place for them because they were loved, unconditionally.

I’m not under the illusion that Silas was somehow perfect. Perhaps the intensity of my current struggles has made me latch onto him a bit unreasonably, reading more into his and Bod’s interactions than was ever intended. Silas wasn’t perfect, but I can’t help but dream and wish that he could somehow have been my guardian too. I think this is what makes reading The Graveyard Book such an emotional experience for me, so that when I turn the last page my eyes are streaming tears and my heart is a twisted knot of hope, longing, and unrecoverable loss.

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illustration by Chris Riddell

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Crazy Summer 2016

This summer is going to be madness. I’m writing this post on the second day of June, and already I’m about to tear out my hair by the roots. Between doctor’s appointments, my brother’s wedding, and various other items under the vague category of “things,” Timothy and I have been running around like a horde of ants whose home was just squarshed by a massive foot.

Honestly, half of the madness might just be charged by emotion. These past three years have been hard. I’m still fighting through a lot in the depths of me, and what I really need is time with just Timothy and nobody else. I need time with MY family. OUR family. Just us.

I grab at that whenever I can. He referees soccer during the summer and fall, and I’ve been following him around toIMG_4129 all his games, just for the alone time in the car. Another plus is I’ve seen a lot of lovely New Jersey parks. One of them had one of the sweetest war memorial’s I’ve ever seen. It was understated, simplistic, and therefore twice as moving to walk through. And the sunsets! I’ve seen some of the most breathtaking sunsets from the passenger seat. Full palettes of color dropping over hills and mountains, and falling down along the highway as we drive home with his hand resting on my knee.

I’m looking forward to fall for multiple reasons. First being that the madness will be over. Second, I’ll be starting classes at William Paterson.

Being a the nerd that I am, I have already purchased two of my textbooks for fall. They both have bookmarks in them as I have also already begun to read them. I am hopeless.

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So, until fall, if I’m not around here or twitter or anywhere else but everywhere else, I’m going to be focusing my time on writing the needed edits for Through This Darkness and the rewrite of Immortal Bond. I don’t know how much time I’ll have for them come the beginning of classes, so I’m pushing hard to get as far as I can.

Lots to do in the next three months. Here’s hoping come September that I don’t find myself one fry short of a happy meal. *crosses fingers*

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Not Ready Yet

It wasn’t the rejection letters that made me think it over, not really. I was expecting them. Honestly, I think it was the fact of my so definitely expecting them that made me really think it over, like I didn’t have a chance in hell.

It’s because my query letter sucks, I thought. I just need to rewrite my query.

And then I thought, No. It’s something else. It’s not ready. But what could be wrong with it? I have combed over it near to 1,000 times! I’ve checked on every comma, every line of dialogue; what else could be wrong? What’s missing?

That was the key to the puzzle, “What’s missing,” because the answer to that question is, “a lot apparently.”

One of my favorite writing gurus is Roy Peter Clark. He’s written a bunch of books about writing, most of which I own. I was reading Help! for Writers in conjunction with a book on query letters, The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt – Thomas. I think it was the combination of their advice that helped me pinpoint the problems in my manuscript.

In the section called “finding focus,” Clark discussed the need to cut your writing back to its essence. He suggested writing down the theme of your work, like a missions statement, so that you can chop off the unnecessary limbs. In conjunction with this, he mentioned deleted scenes in movies. He suggested watching the deleted scenes of your favorite movies and decide why it was that they cut that particular scene.

At first, this was all just information in my head. I could feel it mattered, but couldn’t pinpoint why or how it applied to my novel.

Then I picked up my query letter book. One of the examples of a good query opened differently than most of the others I’d seen, with a succinct statement of the major theme of the story, written in such a way that it tantalized you to read down to the pitch synopsis below. I’d read about these in other query books, but never before seen the tactic so well employed. I wrote one for mine:

“Told through a mixture of letters, poetry, and smatterings of cheeky dialogue, Through This Darkness is a novel about death interrupting the plans of the living and finding a new path of love through the darkness.”

I don’t yet know if I’ll employ this in my query letter and I’m not sure if the wording is right, but the exercise of writing down the theme of my book helped me put the rest into focus.

I was finally getting it.

Now I know what I’m missing. Now I know what needs to go.

So, I’ve cut a chapter of my novel (for the greater good) and I’m in the process of writing at least two more letters along with a slew of new dialogue. Plus, I’m now twice as thankful for those five rejections. Not only do they mean I’ve crossed over the threshold into the realm of those who tried, but also no one requested to see a full manuscript for a book that would not actually have been ready.

Sometimes your inner critic DOES know what they’re talking about. 😉

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Little Kid’s Lit

I find myself reading more and more children’s books as of late. It started when I moved in with my in-laws. They have two little ones, 5 and 10 years old. My siblings and I were all close together, so living and interacting with small children is a skill I’ve yet to master. When I learned they both loved books, I began to take children’s books out of the library for them. Sometimes, I’ll sit with them on the sofa and read a stack aloud. It’s a love language all three of us understand.12346561_10153295763692963_5493365539956720945_n

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Mo Willems & that cheeky pigeon

Through this, I’ve discovered so many fun and quirky kids authors like Mo Willems, Sandra Boynton, Bonnie Becker, and Bob Shea. Their books can be laugh out loud hilarious, complete with running gags and adorable eccentric characters. I fell in love with them right along with the kids. It almost worried me how excited I became when we found a new book on the library shelf written by one of our favorite authors, or how sad I was when I realized we’d read all of the Elephant and Piggie books.

The more I branched out among the shelves of the children’s room, the more treasures I found. My parents mostly read us religious children’s books, so other than the odd Dr. Seuss I missed out on most of the classics, Harold and the Purple Crayon or Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to name a few.

Another gift I’d missed out on was the illustrations. Personally, I lack any artistic skill whatsoever when it comes to urlpaints and sketches and the like. So when I pick up a book like  Jim Arnosky’s Every Autumn Comes the Bear and find inside lush watercolor autmn landscapes, I find myself doubly impressed.

But the craziest thing to me, was the poignancy of some of the themes in these books.

Writing a children’s book, a good children’s book, is a lot harder than I used to give it credit. If you’ve decided you want to talk about how to deal with the death of your closest friend, you have somewhere around 20 pages and 100 words. Brevity is key. It also requires simplicity in phrasing so that a child can understand the depth of your chosen theme. Making this work is a gift.

Sometimes I find a book so well done that I’m more choked up than the child I’m reading to. Like when I finished reading The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and my sister-in-law asked me why I was crying. I, of course, insisted I wasn’t then walked her up to bed, biting my lip and hugging the thin hardcover picture book lovingly against my chest.

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New York in the Fog

Tim and I randomly drive into New York to play tourist. I think I’m afraid that someday soon our life will come into focus and we’ll end up moving to Kentucky or something and I won’t have access to Central Park anymore. New York is dynamic, constantly changing and shifting. It never looks the same twice to me. Perhaps if I actually lived there I’d feel different about it, but each time I drive in I see something crazy and beautiful that I never noticed before.

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This particular day was wet and cold and foggy. We were planning on seeing The Museum of Natural History, but the parking we’d prepaid for was mysteriously full up. We ended up just driving around New York instead.

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It was amazing. The fog was dense and clung to the tops of the buildings like smoke rings. Sometimes we couldn’t tell if the buildings were ended or the fog had just swallowed up the upper stories. I tried to imagine what it would be like to work in one of those offices, to look out your window and see nothing but smoky grey, instead of the usual bustle and beat of the city below you.

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The bridges too were smothered, so that as we drove over the George Washington, we could barely see the other side of the river.

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I’ll never forget how beautiful it was.

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