Friday, June 21, 2019

Dahl Study: Taste

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

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"Taste" from Collected Stories (read 1/11/19)

A wine connoisseur comes to a man's house for dinner. The man loves to challenge the connoisseur to identify his wines, and this time he thinks he'll have him stumped. He wages a bet to make it interesting. The connoisseur keeps raising the stakes, and since the man is so sure the connoisseur won't guess correctly, he keeps agreeing. If the wine connoisseur loses, he gives the man two houses. If the connoisseur wins, he gets to marry the man's daughter. The connoisseur takes his time identifying the wine, building suspense, and eventually guesses correctly. Everyone is dumbfounded, until the maid brings the connoisseur his glasses from where he left them in the study when he went in and looked at the wine bottle's label before dinner.

"Taste" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 6/4/19)

This episode was just like the story. It was somewhat jarring to see how young the daughter was and how old and creepy the wine connoisseur was, but I guess that just adds to the suspense of the marriage bet. I think there was a little more foreshadowing about the study in the episode, because it's mentioned several times. The man is initially in the study before the wine connoisseur comes for dinner. When the wine connoisseur comes over, he asks for soda water to cleanse his palate, and goes away to use it privately. It is discussed at dinner that the study is the best place for wine to breathe, and that the man determined that location with help from the wine connoisseur. So it was not surprising when the maid brought in his glasses and said she found him in the study. It made sense that they would be there and that the wine connoisseur knew where the wine was kept, but still packed a punch for the ending of the story to realize what happened and that he's a cheater.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Dahl Study: Poison

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"Poison" from Collected Stories (read 1/11/19)

A man comes home and finds his roommate stuck in bed, unmoving, because of a venomous snake that crawled onto his stomach and fell asleep. The suspense is interesting and unique, with the ticking timebomb of the sleeping snake, being quiet and motionless to not wake him up, and trying to figure out what to do about the whole predicament. The man gets a knife ready so he can cut the bite and suck out the poison. He calls a doctor who brings a somewhat ineffective serum, but they try anyway. After using chloroform to keep the snake sleepy, they pull the sheet back and find nothing! It's implied that the roommate imagined it all, possibly due to PTSD. 

"Poison" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 6/4/19)

The episode was similar to the story, though I don't remember if the man brought a woman home. I don't think he did, because later in the episode she steals the doctor's car, and I don't recall that from the story. I think she was added into the episode to make it more dramatic. The bulk of the episode is the same as the story, with the added aspect of the woman hiding in the kitchen so the roommate and doctor don't see her and tarnish her reputation. After the sheet is pulled back and there's no snake, the doctor asks the man if the roommate might have imagined it all. When the doctor sees his car is gone, stolen by the woman brought home, he gets angry. The man tries to calm him down and says he knows where his car is, and that he'll take him there. After they leave, the roommate gets up and goes to the liquor cabinet. He wants something strong to take the edge off his anxiety from the snake. He reaches for a bottle and the snake coils around his wrist and bites him. He dies. I loved this ending so much more than the story, though I like being able to compare them both, because I think it makes the episode's twist stand out that much more.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Learning How to Move Plot Along from TV Shows

One of my biggest problems with fiction writing has always been the plot. I have no problem creating characters and putting them in certain situations, but I often have trouble raising the stakes from there. Or I have trouble getting them out of problems I've created for them.

I've been reading less lately, which is not the best thing to admit on a book blog, but I'm happy to announce the shows I've been binging on Netflix has great plots that move right along and keep me hooked (hence the binging).

First up was Dead to Me on Netflix, at the recommendation of some coworkers. The concept was compelling enough, but the secrets revealed towards the end of each episode made for perfect cliffhangers. I know cliffhangers are necessary for shows, especially season finales, and sometimes for book chapters. But cliffhangers can be well done, or they can be so overly dramatic that, when they're resolved, you feel like you were duped. Like when the resolution turns out to not be a major plot point, but just a fake-out. And I think there were one or two of those in this show, but overall I felt like the use of suspense and slowly letting the viewer learn secrets was perfectly done. The season finale was also a nice balance of suspense, but believable events.

I recently saw that there will be a second season, though no date has been set yet. I'm eager to see what happens - and if you haven't seen the show yet, you have time to catch up before anything new is out!

After finishing Dead to Me and wanting more, More, MORE!, I turned to Good Girls.

Season one of this show is on Netflix, and I recommend you watch it... but try to have a way to watch season two, because you'll be hooked and wanting more! I was able to watch a few episodes of season two through a friend's on demand account, but now I need more! The last few episodes of season two are on Hulu, but I haven't been able to find 1-8 on any streaming service.

Viewing difficulties aside, this show is amazing. It's a little more over the top to me - it's somewhat realistic, but three women planning a major robbery and getting away with it (to the point I've seen, anyway), is a little tough for me to believe just because there were so many witnesses and secrets coming out. Once the gang gets involved, things get a little more unbelievable for me, but I love the show so much I'm more than happy to suspend my disbelief and escape into their crazy world for a binge.

I love the balance of humor, crime, and mystery, which makes me think of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone series or the early books in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. I like serious dramas sometimes, but the humor in Good Girls is perfectly timed and dry, and always elicits a genuine laugh from me. I love humor and comedy, period, and have typically attempted to use it in my own writing, but felt like it was hard to pick up on unless someone shared my sense of humor. This show helps me see that it's always worth adding humor, and if someone gets it, they get it. If not, it's just over their heads - it doesn't detract from anything if it's well done.

Both of these shows have been teaching me a lot about what a good plot is made up of, and how to create one without going over the top into unbelievable territory, or being underwhelming with a slow moving story. And while reading definitely teaches me all of these things, too, I love watching quality shows that help me become a better writer when I'm not in a reading mood.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Dahl Study: Fat Chance

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"Fat Chance" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 6/4/19)

This episode was unique because there was no matching story in Collected Stories. The story is actually written by Robert Bloch, but since it was part of the series I still wanted to view it and see how it fit in. Dahl does introduce the story on film, as he does with his own.

The episode has a good, but fairly common concept, but of course with a nice twist. A pharmacist is having an affair with his wife's best friend. He and this woman act in local plays together, so no one seems suspicious of them. While this is going on, the wife is going to a weight loss clinic because he husband calls her a compulsive eater. She's often shown eaten candy hidden in her purse while he's at work all day. She hides the report cards from the weight loss clinic, but the pharmacist knows where she hides them and always checks - she's not losing weight. He's frustrated with her, and the mistress is frustrated with their relationship. She tells the pharmacist he needs to leave his wife, but he's reluctant to change anything.

The best friend/mistress goes to visit the wife and plants seeds that the husband is cheating on her. The wife gets mad and says she'll take him for all he's worth. When the husband hears this, he and the mistress both agree he can't divorce her, because then they'd be poor. The mistress implies that he needs to kill her, and that he can since he's a pharmacist and has the knowledge of what might work, and has access to lots of pills.

The wife always asks the husband to bring home low calorie treats from the pharmacy, but one day he surprises her with a box of chocolates. He injected the chocolates with a drug and carefully covered his tracks so she'd eat them. She's happy but puts them aside for the night. The next morning, the mistress comes to the husband at work and says she's going away for awhile, and will only come back if the wife is out of the picture. When the pharmacist comes home his wife is stretched out on the couch; she looks dead, but wakes up when he leans over her. He asks if she ate the chocolates, and she excitedly tells him that she's realized she's not losing weight due to her own lack of willpower, and now she's determined to lose weight. He asks where the chocolates are, and she says she gave them to the best friend/mistress when she came over to say goodbye.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Dahl Study: The Hitch-Hiker

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"The Hitch-Hiker" from Collected Stories (read 1/10/19)

A man in a fancy car stops to pick up a hitch-hiker because he remembers hitch-hiking and getting passed by. The hitch-hiker convinces the man to top out the speed on his car, so they get to 120mph before a cop pulls them over. The cop writes a ticket and threatens jail time, and writes the hitch-hiker's name on his notepad because his face looks familiar. The men drive away and the driver worries until the hitch-hiker proves he is a fingersmith (pickpocket) and stole the cop's ticket book and notebook, which they pull over and burn.

"The Hitch-Hiker" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 1/10/19)

This was similar to the story but with a much better ending! While getting the bonfire ready, the hitch-hiker asks the man to get more sticks. When the man comes back, the hitch-hiker has stolen his car!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Family Book Clubs

I'm posting this well after the fact, considering I hosted these book clubs for School Library Month in April, but I've just started thinking about my next round of book clubs and was excited to share these.

April was National School Library Month, with the theme of Everyone Belongs @ Your School Library. To welcome "everyone" (of course just the extended school community, with safety and privacy concerns), I hosted Family Book Clubs for each age level.

Early Childhood students (3-6 years old) read The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. Families read this book at home, and I sent home two emails of talking points, articles of interest, and discussion questions. 

Parents and children were invited to share their answers at the book club meeting. We also made a craft - a Beekle crown out of metallic gold paper! I created bookmarks of other books written and/or illustrated by Santat. This age group is the largest population in our school, so having a more informal book club meeting with a few questions/talking points, a craft, and of course snacks(!) was perfect.

Lower Elementary students (1st-3rd grade) read The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl. Just like for the younger students, families read the book at home. For this age group I wanted to pick a book that was more challenging than a picture book, but wasn't so long it seemed daunting. I also wanted the book to be one that parents and children could read together, or independently. I sent emails out with talking points and discussion questions.

There are fewer students in these grades than in Early Childhood, so their questions asked more of the students - more imagination, more room to talk and draw. I knew our club time would be a little more structured and that they would be able to explain themselves more... let's say concisely than the younger ones. 

We had snacks at the meeting, of course - books and snacks just go hand-in-hand! We also made a craft - an Enormous Crocodile magnet clip!

Upper Elementary students (4th-6th grade) read Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. This is the smallest group of students in our school, and of course the oldest. I sent out two emails (in code), challenging them to code secret messages and create their own codes. I was blown away by this group! I had reports from parents and teachers that all they were doing at home and on the playground were creating codes! We had so much fun at our book club meeting, cracking either others' codes and answering each others' secret questions. I also had a scavenger hunt based on trivia questions from the book. I hid clues around the library and let them loose with the first clue, coded of course. The hunt branched off from there, and the winner got a hardback copy of the second book in the series, The Unbreakable Code!

I had so much fun planning these book clubs and sharing the stories with students and their families. I'm already planning another set of book clubs for the fall, with the hopes of holding them every fall and spring, instead of just during School Library Month!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Dahl Study: Galloping Foxley

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"Galloping Foxley" from Collected Stories (read 1/10/19)

Mr. Perkins is an old man who loves his daily routine and commute is shaken when a stranger starts taking the same train as him. Something about the stranger seems familiar - his looks, the way he talks... It makes Mr. Perkins feel slightly afraid. Then he realizes this man was his school bully! He remembers all of the awful things this bully did to him, and is determined to politely embarrass the bully. He introduces himself, and the bully introduces himself back - it's not the bully.

"Galloping Foxley" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 1/10/19)

The film was pretty similar to the story, with some changes to make it more visually appealing. At the end, Perkins told everyone the awful things that happened at school before asking the man to introduce himself, and it turned out the man wasn't the bully. I liked this more than in the story where Perkins only introduced himself. Though I'm still half convinced, in the film version, that the man WAS the bully, and was just lying because that's the type of person he is. Who would listen to those awful things being said about them and then admit they are that person??

Friday, May 17, 2019

Dahl Study: Skin

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"Skin" from Collected Stories (read 1/9/19)

A man meets a young artist and commissions the artist to paint his wife's portrait. One night the three get drunk together, and the husband has the artist tattoo a large portrait of the wife on his back. Years later, the man has lost touch with the artist, but sees his name in a gallery window. The man is old and poor and dirty and almost gets thrown out of the gallery because of how he looks, before he takes off his shirt and shows everyone his tattoo. They recognize it as the artist's work, and a bidding war starts - they want his skin! Finally, he chooses a man who wants live art at his resort - the resort owner wants the man to live at his resort and be pampered, as long as he walks around with his shirt off so all the guests can see the artwork. Later the skin is shown framed and hung.

"Skin" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 1/9/19)

The film followed the story well, except it seems like the artist and the wife he painted had an affair. In the story, the artist lusted after the wife, but I don't think she reciprocated.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Library Volunteers - available today!

My book, Library Volunteers: A Practical Guide for Librarians, is being released in the wild today! You can order it from the publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, or on Amazon.

The book is a handbook about how to create and maintain a volunteer program. While the specifics, such as job duties, focus on library volunteers, this handbook can truly work for any organization that can benefit from volunteers. And let me tell you, from my experience, almost any organization can benefit from volunteers! You can read more about my writing and researching process here.

I pulled from my background of creating the volunteer program for a nonprofit to lay the groundwork, so that information applies to any organization. Sample paperwork is even include, which can be copied directly from the book, or tweaked a bit for specific organizations.

I genuinely think this book can benefit many organizations. It's not a book that I would ask friends and family to buy to show their support, but please consider recommending it to your local library or any nonprofits you know that use or could use volunteers! That's the best way to help this book make a difference.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Parallel Universes in Realistic Fiction

I first read The Other Life by Ellen Meister in 2011, shortly after it came out. I loved the concept and the writing, and loved Meister's other books when I read them later. But the overall concept of The Other Life stuck with me. Quinn finds a portal in her laundry room that allows her to travel between the life she used to live with an old boyfriend, and her current life with her husband and son. I've previously written about the book:
There is a supernatural element of the portals that take Quinn from her "real" life to her other life, but they are explained very well, and it was easy to picture the fissures and Quinn's travel without feeling like you'd been displaced into a sci-fi novel. The portals are logically discussed before the end of the book, and with the focus being more on people and relationships than the paranormal, I would say this book is literary fiction more so than being classified in any sub-genre.

I loved the concept because I always liked wondering what would happen if. I remember being a kid at my grandparents' house, spacing out and wondering what things would feel like if I didn't exist. I wouldn't even know what I was missing. Pretty strange thoughts for a seven-year-old, but I think that's where all my wondering started. Every time I've made a big decision relating to moves, jobs, schools, etc, I take a few minutes to imagine how each path might turn out. I know there's no way to really know how things will be until you're in the moment, but some of my decisions have been drastic enough (like being offered two jobs in dramatically different fields) that I can speculate.

Then the TV show Community rocked my world with "Remedial Chaos Theory", a remarkable episode of television, especially for a half-hour sitcom, that approaches the concept of parallel universes. Each time the dice are rolled, a different outcome plays, showing everyone all the things that could have possibly happened if one thing was changed. 

I recently got hooked by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and loved her book Maybe In Another Life. It was more like The Other Life than "Remedial Chaos Theory", but it was really well done. Hannah has been feeling adrift in her life, unsure of everything from what career she should pursue to what city she should live in. When a friend convinces her to come back to her hometown of LA, Hannah is willing to try, partially because her high school boyfriend still lives there. On her first night back, Hannah goes to a bar with her friend to have a "welcome home!" party. In one universe, she goes home with her high school boyfriend to rekindle their romance. In the other, she goes home with the friend she's staying with. The chapters alternate from that point on, and the story develops so beautifully.

By the end, I did have a few questions about some of the "meant to be" aspects in one universe that didn't seem to completely apply in the other, so I need someone else to read this and talk to me about it! The last couple of chapters also had some of the same paragraphs copied and pasted - I know it's to show how things can be the same in both universes and still be "right" in each separate one, but as a reader, I don't want to see the exact same verbiage twice. I skimmed those paragraphs, but that was my only minor "issue" with the book.

Last year I started writing down some of my bigger decisions that led to one thing and could have gone a totally different way. It was my goal to write poems about what might have happened if I made the opposite choice. I haven't been able to find a good starting point, but reflecting on these books and episodes might be giving me the creative kick I need.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Dahl Study: Royal Jelly

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"Royal Jelly" from Collected Stories (read 1/9/19)

I had no clue what this one would be about, but once I started, I was hooked. A beekeeper is reading about royal jelly in a magazine. Royal jelly is made by bees to make a queen rich and healthy, and studies have been done on rats with similar results. When the beekeeper and his wife have a baby after nine years of trying, they are upset that she is rapidly losing weight. The wife is stressed, and when her husband drones on and on about royal jelly, she keeps picturing him as a bee excitedly buzzing around. Her husband reveals that he has been feeding the baby royal jelly, which helped her grow rapidly. The wife is pleased, but then gets worried. The husband reveals he has been taking it, too - that's how they finally had a baby after nine years of trying!

"Royal Jelly" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 1/9/19)

This started off like the story, but the beekeeper gave an interview on TV instead of reading about royal jelly in a magazine. It made me wonder why it took him so long to use royal jelly with his daughter, since he knew about it and had been using it on himself already. The ending is pretty hokey, with the man slurring his "s"s into "zzzz"s and the end fading out with a weird screen effect and a scream, like a cheaply made YouTube clip. Check it out on my Instagram account and let me know what you think!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Dahl Study: The Way Up to Heaven

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"The Way Up to Heaven" from Collected Stories (read 1/6/19)

A woman gets incredibly anxious about making appointments on time (I could totally relate to this, and felt anxious with her in many parts of the story!). Her husband often makes her wait a few minutes for him, and her eye starts to twitch. Before leaving for a long trip to Paris, he makes her wait and antagonizes her about her anxiety and punctuality. He runs back to the house for something. She waits, then starts to go after him. She changes her mind and leaves him. When she returns, she seems to know something is up and calls a repairman to come fix her elevator. I guess she knew he was trapped in there? I'm not sure.

"The Way Up to Heaven" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 1/6/19)

The film closely followed the story, but clarified a lot for me. As soon as I saw the elevator was metal/mesh, I understood the ending. There was also a clarification in that the wife heard her husband calling for her from inside the house when she went back to look after him. She peeked through the mail slot before leaving him there. She knew he was trapped, but might have just left him hanging. She doesn't seem surprised or sad when she comes back from her trip and he's still there. She also went to New York instead of Paris - I wonder why the change?

Monday, April 29, 2019

David Sedaris Live

Last week, I saw David Sedaris live for the third time, and it was just as good as the first two. He is so touching, so humorous, so down to earth, while being so out there, that I couldn't stop laughing and marveling at his wit and thought processes.

Sedaris is an author I've loved for years, and his writing really inspires me. I've clipped articles about his diaries - why he keeps them, what they mean to him - and he inspired me to start doing something similar. He pushes me to think about my seemingly-ordinary days in different ways and mine story ideas from the happenings. He pushes me to edit and revise and see how my writing can be polished.

This time, I noticed him making notes when the audience laughed, or when we didn't laugh. I wonder what he wrote, and how he'll revise his pieces - if at all. Maybe he's just taking notes for the sake of keeping a record, like his diaries.

He said he kept records about all his shows - how many people were there, what pieces he read, what diary sections he read, what book he recommended. He looks over these notes before re-visiting the same city, which he'll do in Memphis in November, since this show sold out. It got me thinking about how much work his job actually is. I think the dream is that authors get to sit around and dream up stories, even though that can be tough with writer's block, revision, promotion, etc. But when Sedaris tours, he goes to a new city every other night, reads, makes notes, visits and signs books until everyone has left. That's a lot of work. Signing alone would make your hand ache, but can you imagine being onstage for an hour or two, then making small talk with people for another two or three hours? It's nice of him, generous of his time and spirit, but it makes me realize I could never be that type of author. It's hard for me to make more than awkward small talk with people I somewhat know, much less with strangers. I can't imagine what my voice would sound like after reading onstage for so long, then talking more. I guess you'd get used to it, but it would definitely feel more like "work" to me than just writing. And I know this is his personality, and he seems to genuinely enjoy meeting people and hearing tidbits about their lives.

But I also know that if I became a successful writer, I'm much more likely to be a Harper Lee than a David Sedaris. What about you?

Friday, April 26, 2019

Dahl Study: A Dip in the Pool

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"A Dip in the Pool" from Collected Stories (read 1/3/19)

A man is on a cruise. There is some sort of auction where passengers vote on how far they think the ship will travel in a day. It seems a storm is coming, so the man bids on a low number and goes to bed. He wakes up to a beautiful day, and the ship is speeding to make up time. He gets scared because he bet his life savings and his wife will be mad, so he decides to slow the ship down. He makes sure someone will see him, then jumps overboard. But the person who saw him was an old woman who just thought he was jumping in to get some exercise.

"A Dip in the Pool" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 1/3/19)

The film was pretty much the same as the story. The actor playing Mr. Botibol was better than I could have imagined! Everything about him was perfect. I want to go back and re-read the story with him in mind. The film actually clarified the auction/betting aspect of it for me, too, so this might be one of the rare cases where watching the film first might be a good thing to help flesh out the story.

I think this has been one of my favorite stories and film adaptations of Dahl's so far!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Dahl Study: Edward the Conqueror

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"Edward the Conqueror" from Collected Stories (read 1/3/19)

This story was so weird but very interesting. A man is cleaning up his wild yard with a bonfire, and his wife rescues a cat from it. She takes the cat in even though the husband hates it. She plays piano for it and becomes convinced, through its reactions, that the cat is Liszt reincarnated. She shows her husband but he thinks she's crazy. She researches Liszt and it sure the cat is him because of various markings, and wants to make a big public deal about it. Her husband is embarrassed she wants to do this. While she cooks dinner for them, the husband throws the cat in the backyard fire.

"Edward the Conqueror" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 1/3/19)

This was pretty similar to the story in the beginning: cat comes to yard, woman plays piano for it. The library scene had me cracking up! A chatty librarian sharing theories and "research" about reincarnation. So busy talking while shelving that he doesn't even notice she left! That was added in, of course, but appreciated! The ending was different because, while it seemed like the husband got rid of the cat, the wife went after the husband with a knife, and later the cat came back in through the window.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Daisy Jones and the Six

I don't remember how I heard about this book - everyone's buzzing about it, so maybe I saw a friend was reading it via Goodreads, or saw it on #bookstagram. Either way, I put it on hold at the library and didn't have to wait too long to start it. I was so excited to crack open the cover, which felt amazing in itself, because I haven't been reading much lately.

Then I started the story. WOW. Not only do I love classic rock and band drama from the '70s, but it's so well-written, and presented in an interesting way of the author compiling a narrative from all parties involved.

Also, it's totally the book I've been trying to write for decades.

I'm not saying the author stole my work or my idea or anything like that! I'm just feeling validated that this idea I had as a thirteen year old Aerosmith fanatic might actually have literary merit! I thought the story I was writing was glorified fan fiction, but  Daisy Jones and the Six has me rethinking that, and revisiting my story.

There are so many quotes about how you can't be a writer without being a reader, and I've always been a reader. And I've always loved music. And falling in love with Aerosmith as a young teenager gave me a way to connect music and writing. I worked on my fan fiction novel off and on for several years. I'm not exaggerating when I say I think of it often, even as an adult. I think of the title (which I still think is pretty perfect), and the main character, and what really should happen in the end. Because of course I haven't finished it!

But now, on the cusp of finishing Daisy Jones and the Six and honestly having no clue what will happen, I'm intrigued about my own story again. I want to re-read what I wrote so long ago, and see how my age and wisdom (ha!) might influence how the story will pan out. It's so refreshing to find a book that has not only made me fall in love with reading again, but has also made me fall back in love with writing, imagining, and all that comes along with that type of creating.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Dahl Study: Neck

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"Neck" from Collected Stories (read 1/3/19)

This story was a little strange overall. It took a bit to get into the action, then I think the ending was over my head (no pun intended). A newspaper columnist meets an important man's wife, and manages to get invited to their estate for the weekend. The husband used to own a newspaper when he was single, but he got rich, his wife nailed him down, and now he is an art collector and has huge statues all over the estate. The columnist hits it off with the husband while the wife is very rude and flirts with other guests. The newspaper columnist and husband walk the grounds and see the wife goofing around with a guest, even kissing him. She gets her head stuck in a statue and the husband has to cut her out with an ax or saw... but the ending was ambiguous to me. I think he lets her die from asphyxiation? 

"Neck" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 1/3/19)

The show cut to the chase quickly, having an art historian (instead of a columnist) come to the estate of an art collector and his wife. The wife came on to the art historian in his room one night - something that wasn't in the story. The backstory of the husband owning a newspaper and his wife chasing him into marriage came out in later dialogue. The sculpture scene and kiss happen, but the husband first tries to put Vaseline on the wife's neck to pull her head out. It makes her mad that he makes her messy trying this, because it makes her look silly. I was hoping the film would show the ending to clear it up for me, but it still had him going for her/the sculpture with an ax, and her screaming, so who knows. Maybe he chopped her head off with the ax in this one?

Friday, April 5, 2019

Dahl Study: The Landlady

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"The Landlady" from Collected Stories (read 1/3/19)

A young man takes the train to a new city for his job. He is supposed to find his own room, and asks for a recommendation. On his way to the recommended pub, he sees a cozy-looking room with a bed and breakfast sign in the window. He stops there instead of continuing on to the recommended place. It's cheaper than he was expecting, so he stays. The woman seemed to have been waiting for him, and she is very...into him. She has him sign the guestbook and he sees two names only. The names sound a bit familiar to him. Then he learns the woman is a skilled taxidermist, and she says her two other guests never left...

"The Landlady" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 1/3/19)

This starts off similar to the story, but is more explicit in laying it out. The landlady gives the young man tea and explains about her taxidermy and then the young man starts feeling sick. She takes him to his bed as he tries to figure out how he knows the two other names in her guestbook. It then shows her "caring for" the two taxidermy men before returning to the newest young man, donning her apron, and readying her supplies.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Reading Life: 1st Quarter 2019

My reading life for the first three months of 2019 has been pretty sad. I read 8 books in January, 3 in February, and 7 in March. You can see all my reviews on Goodreads, but I wanted to share my top three here.

Goodbye, Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival
by Kelly Sundberg 

Recommended by a friend, and I would in turn recommend it to pretty much anyone. Sundberg is so open and honest about her relationship history, her marriage, and being a mother. Her prose is beautiful and emotional and touching. Many sections had me nodding in agreement, others had me biting my nails, and others had me weeping. A must-read.

by Jennifer Mathieu

I cannot rave about this book enough. I keep thinking “I wish I had this when I was in high school” but honestly, it seems just as important to me as an adult. It’s inspirational, moving, and will make you feel empowered. Beautiful writing, wonderful story. Highly recommend for EVERYONE to read.

Alice Isn't Dead
by Joseph Fink

I haven’t really listened to the podcast much due to listening time constraints, so I was excited to get my hands on the book. I loved this creepy, surreal story that made such a realistic commentary about human nature. Now I’ve got to carve out time to listen to the podcast.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Dahl Study: Lamb to the Slaughter

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"Lamb to the Slaughter" from Collected Stories (read 12/28/18)

A woman who was always serving her husband - drinks, homemade dinners, etc. - is told that he's leaving her. On autopilot, she goes to get some meat from the freezer to prepare dinner for him. Before putting the huge leg of lamb in the oven, she clubs him with it, then runs to the grocery (for vegetable sides) to have an alibi. She comes home to "find" her husband dead and calls the cops. Her alibi checks out with the grocer. The cops can tell her husband was hit with a heavy object, so they are looking for it, but agree to take a break when she offers them some of the lamb that's been cooking, since it's way too much food and she's not hungry, anyway. 

"Lamb to the Slaughter" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 12/31/18)

The film was BEAUTIFUL. I actually loved it more than the story. To be fair, if the story had been done the same way, it would seem like the author was withholding information, so I guess it's fine as it is. The film, though, starts with showing the wife coming in from the store and seeing the body. We're in the dark, but the pieces are revealed to us through flashbacks as the cops question her. So well done (no lamb pun intended!). I would love to see this as a play.

There are a few nit-picky spoilers I noticed in the film, particularly since I'd read the story and knew the outcome. When the wife comes in from the grocery store, she is already/automatically looking at the floor where her husband's body fell after she bludgeoned him. Also, she sees her husband dead on the floor and stays in the house to wait on the cops, not worried that whoever killed her husband might also come after her.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Dahl Study: William and Mary

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"William and Mary" from Collected Stories (read 12/28/18)

This is an incredibly weird, Twilight Zone-y story about a philosopher who is very ill and dying. He is approached by a neurosurgeon he knows from working with him at the university. The neurosurgeon convinces the philosopher to donate his brain to science, and the neurosurgeon is sure he can keep it alive. The neurosurgeon works to explain to the philosopher how it will work, how they can even take an eye so the brain can see, and how nothing would be lost if it doesn't work. This is all happening while the philosopher's health is declining.

The reader only finds all of this information out after the philosopher's death, at the same time as his wife. She gets a letter a week after her husband has died, laying out all of this information in his own words. He tells her who to contact to visit his brain, if she chooses.

The wife has been unhappy throughout most of their marriage, but decides to contact the neurosurgeon and check on the status of her husband's brain. It's there, in the lab as he described it would be in the letter. It's hooked up to things that keep the brain alive and eye functioning, so he can see his wife as she approaches the tank.

This is an interesting take on life and thoughts and what it's all worth, and how it could all work.

"William and Mary" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 12/31/18)

The film is quite different from the book, since the bulk of the story is told through the letter the wife gets after her husband's death. This had to be changed so the film wouldn't be boring, watching a woman read a letter while listening to a voiceover. Instead, all of the backstory is presented by the neurosurgeon to the wife, but this presentation lessens some of the shock that comes from reading the story. While the background is given, we are shown footage of a similar experiment done to an animal that succeeded, so some of the wonder of "will it work?" is lost.

The story ended with the wife wanting to take her husband home, but in the film she gets him and it's a bit hokey to see the whole set-up in their living room, with the wife sassing the brain. I like the ambiguity of the story more, but I guess the shock factor and the definite ending were needed for the film version.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Stinky and Dirty Show

I'm loving all of these children shows being developed from children's books! I reviewed the first episode of Pete the Cat a looooong time ago, and unfortunately haven't watched the rest of the show yet! It's one that I feel like I should watch with my son, but he'd rather watch the same episode of Paw Patrol for the hundredth time - anyone else have that problem? I'll probably watch several of these Amazon Prime and Netflix kids' shows on my own, and just let him sit in if he wants.

One we can both agree on, however, is The Stinky and Dirty Show. This show is loosely based on books by Kate McMullan and Jim McMullan. It's such a cute show, with the catchiest theme song ever. I love how childlike the characters are, and how full of wonder they are. Stinky and Dirty (from I Stink! and I'm Dirty!) are the main characters, but Brave and Mighty have their own books, too.

I love hearing the voices picked for the characters on the show. Billy West (Futurama), Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants), Jane Lynch, Andy Richter, Joan Cusack, and Whoopi Goldberg all voice characters! Mostly I just love that the two main characters are children. When I read the books aloud, I automatically use a tough voice because the stories are all about showing that different vehicles can do. I read it as a "You don't think I can do this? I'll show you," attitude. Hearing the friendly tones of the show made me wonder if I was totally misreading the books! I might have been reading the book characters a little rude - whoops!

There are already two excellent seasons of this show, and my son and I are both excited to see more! The stories are really cute, and I love the animation style! It's pretty true to the book illustrations, but just looks amazing on screen.

Have you watched The Stinky and Dirty Show? Have you read the books? What did you notice that was similar or different?

Friday, March 15, 2019

Dahl Study: Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" from Collected Stories (read 12/28/18)

I was originally put off by the framing of the story - "Let me tell you a story I heard..." It reminded me of stories in undergraduate creative writing workshops, even after we were told to not frame them that way or as dreams.

The meat of the story was SO GOOD. I had no clue what would happen with the pawn shop, and my mind was churning trying to figure it out! I was trying to decide how and why the pawn shop clerk had ripped off the husband before deciding to root for him.

This is a great O. Henry-esque story with a nice twist. It's an interesting case where both characters are "bad" people - so you want to know what happens to them without really being invested, which makes for an entertaining read.

"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 12/31/18)

In the introduction, Dahl says the story is short but took him a long time to write because he had to get the plot just right. The film was a bit different - no frame of "Let me tell you this story I heard," which of course made me love it more. There were some minor differences in that Mrs. Bixby traveled by train from New York City to Brooklyn in the story, but flew abroad on film, which also changed how long she was gone and how often she visited.

Everything else was so well done, just like in the story. I would pay good money to know what happened in the elevator after the credits rolled!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Dahl Study: Man from the South

My author study of Roald Dahl started with a reading of his Collected Stories while watching the accompanying episode of Tales of the Unexpected. Each Friday I'll recap a story and show (with spoilers, just so you know), but I encourage you to read and watch them on your own if you're interested!

- - -

"Man from the South" from Collected Stories (read 12/27/18)

The suspenseful build-up of this story is very well done. I knew the story from Four Rooms, which Tarantino adapted as "The Man from Hollywood" - but the ending of the film is drastically different! I was waiting for that ending, so the suspense might have been ramped up a bit for me. It made the "real" ending seem like a little bit of a letdown, especially after being on the edge of my seat for the bulk of the story. It still has a nice twist at the end, though.

The start of the story had a Salinger-ish feel to it, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" in particular. It's interesting to read Dahl's children's books with energy and adventure and nonsensical words, and then read a straight-forward story with tension and little emotion.

"Man from the South" from Tales of the Unexpected (viewed 12/31/18)

Introduced by Dahl, he explains that he only writes two short stories a year because he knows he has to keep the reader's attention for every second, or else he's "dead".

The story is followed exactly, even really filmed in Jamaica. The suspense during the lighter scene had my heart pounding even though I knew what would happen. That's the sign of a good writer and a powerful story - not dependent on a hook or twist ending that keeps you from enjoying it on repeated readings/viewings (ala The Sixth Sense). Very well done.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Roald Dahl Author Study

Roald Dahl has been one of my favorite authors since I read several of his books as a child. I knew he wrote books and stories for adults, but never read any of them until a couple of years ago, when I first read "Man from the South" after seeing Four Rooms.

I've always wanted to do an author study on Dahl, so I finally made time for it! I started reading Collected Stories over winter break. In true booknerd fashion, I also borrowed the DVDs of Tales of the Unexpected - a British TV show that Dahl used to write for.

I will be posting recaps of the short stories from Collected Stories and short films from Tales of the Unexpected every Friday, starting this week and running until my photography show wraps up... and maybe a bit beyond.

Oh, I forgot to mention that, didn't I? Last year, I had a photography show, Full Power of Magic, up during the run of James and the Giant Peach at the Circuit Playhouse. My exhibit was inspired by the book. This year, I'll have a photography exhibit up while Matilda runs at Playhouse on the Square. My exhibit this year is inspired by titles of Dahl's short stories. So I guess the start of this author study could also count as photography research...

Articles of interest:
New Zealand McDonald's are giving away Roald Dahl books in Happy Meals

My other posts relating to Dahl:
Banned Books: The Witches
The Many Matildas

Monday, February 18, 2019

You: Books to Shows

You and Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

I've wanted to talk to everyone about You after I binge-watched it on Netflix, but it's hard to find people who have watched it, read it, or both. A friend loaned me the book in October with the disclaimer that she, a fan of psychological thrillers, bought it based on the back cover blurb alone. I'm always excited to have books recommended to me, and I don't judge reading tastes, so I was looking forward to it... and read it in about a day.

As soon as I started reading, I realized the language is pretty brutal and it’s VERY creepy. Overall I couldn't put it down and sought out the follow-up, so what does that say about me?

It was very twisted but I think a lot of the language was over-the-top, and while it didn’t seem out of character for Joe, it could have been taken out and he would come off just as creepy and horrible. Some of the situations in the book seemed like they were there for shock value - or at least the language used to describe them was for shock value. It made me like the story a little less.

But the show polished up the story and took out a lot of the language and scenarios that seemed to be too much. They added some characters, like the little boy, and added some scenes that weren't necessary, but I won't pretend to understand what makes good TV. I'm sure they had reasons for adding in the kid and the abused neighbor and all the drama that brought in.

I think this has been one of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations, because even though I didn't like the book much, I thought the story was interesting, and that was really given room to shine on screen. The writing was what brought down the book, in my opinion, so having a chance to revise the story really made it better.

As I mentioned, I read the sequel and have heard that it will be "season two" of the show, so I'll definitely be tuning in for that!

Did you watch You? Did you read the book before, or after, or not at all? What did you think of the book compared to the show? I love dissecting things like this, so leave your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Writing Habits

My January writing stats - I got a sticker for every day I wrote 2 pages.

In undergrad and grad school, I studied creative writing and wrote all the time. I'd get writer's block for sure, but often it was not being able to finish a story as opposed to not being able to start anything.

I wrote a lot the years I freelanced and traveled; I kept detailed journals but was also inspired to write fiction. Once I settled down, I woke up early every morning to walk three miles and then come home to write three pages before work.

All of that changed when I had a baby. I still wrote, but it was sporadic. Of course it didn't make things easier that I started my Masters of Library Science a week before my son was born! Most of my writing was book reviews and research papers - still enjoyable, but not too creative and not on a routine, like I used to have.

Even as my son grew older and more independent, I still struggled to write. I struggled to find the time and the energy. The silence the let my own thoughts have a voice. Not that I had any ideas to explore. My brain seemed incapable of doing anything more than writing To Do lists and budgeting money. Great qualities when you're head of the household, but not much fun, creatively.

I tried so hard to find the right creative outlet, because I was sure there were still stories inside me, somewhere. I turned back to photography, which I've always loved and has always inspired me. I tried making miniatures out of clay. I tried to launch podcasts with different formats, none of which felt right. I tried to lessen the creative pressure on myself by coloring in coloring books. Nothing helped the stories come back to me.

Last spring I pushed myself to write a poem a day. It didn't last too long, because I started with haikus just to "get it over with", and then didn't hold myself to the routine. But it still sparked something inside me. When I was making New Years Resolutions for 2019, I knew writing had to take priority. I set the goal of completing one writing prompt a week, then started mining my brain for words, phrases, concepts, ANYTHING that could be used as a writing prompt.

I have a list of prompts in a notebook. I completed one, the first week of the new year. I started another the second week, but haven't yet finished it. It turned out to be more of a novella than a short story, so I wanted to dedicate time to it. What I found, though, was that the routine benefits me more than the goal of writing some-finished-thing.

My resolution has since informally morphed to "write two pages a day". I would still like to finish a handful of short stories this year, but I'm currently more focused on establishing the routine than creating something quality every week.

In January, I wrote 28 days out of 31. I've noticed that waking up earlier helps with my creativity (I woke up early every day I wrote my first short story of 2019) and doesn't give me a chance to put off writing for the day. My goal for February is to wake up early every weekday and write, so I can't use the "I'm tired" excuse when I get home from work.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Shifting Shelves

I know all about switching books out on shelves according to season, themes, colors, etc etc. You can't be on Instagram/#bookstagram and not see that stuff, honestly. While I understand the concept and appreciate the idea, I just never had time for it. Plus, whenever I switched out my kid's toys, he would immediately ask for the toys I just put away, even though he hadn't touched them for two months prior! So playing the same game with his books just seemed exhausting and pointless.

After doing the 12 Days of Christmas Storytime with my son, I realized how fun it was to have a different book to read every night. I'll admit I have some favorites that I love to re-read, just like he does. But... we often don't agree on which ones we'd like to read over and over again. Reading new books together made bedtime fresh and exciting for us, so I realized it was definitely time to go through his shelves and change things up.

I pulled his books into stacks, such as: 
  • spring and summer books, including birthday books because he's a summer babe
  • fall and back to school books
  • Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and winter books
  • series and favorites

I left the series and favorites on the shelves, because we read obviously read our favorites a lot, and with series, there are multiple titles, so while we're reading the same characters for several nights, each book is different. I also left out some of his board books. While some board books can be intended only for babies, the ones I left out have more of a story to them, or are favorites, or are ones he can "read" independently.

We have tons of children's books, so I added some "random" anytime titles to the seasonal stacks, just to have fresh books on the shelf that aren't specific to the time of year. I also culled some to donate, because we already have more than we need, and we go to the library to max out our cards fairly often! We'll donate some to a local women's and children's charity, and keep some to put in Little Free Libraries around town.

As an added bonus, there's now room on his shelves for some of his smaller toy bins. They also fit under his bed, but often get pushed back too far to reach, so this is a great solution. I love how his shelves look right now, but the real test will come in March when I get out the spring and summer books, because... what will I get rid of? I guess I can use his Goodreads account to keep track of what we read this year and put those away to bring out next year after Christmas? Who knows! It's an interesting experiment I hope I can keep up with, especially given the volume of books we own!

Do you change out your child's bookshelves? Or your own? What themes or system do you use to change them out? Share in the comments!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Bird Box: Books to Movies

Everyone has something to say about Bird Box, the book, the movie, or both. So I'm going to assume that if you're reading this, you've read the book and seen the movie. If not, stop here because SPOILERS. I am going to be comparing the two, so be warned: no holds barred.