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On Creativity And Cat Litter, With Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk

Creativity is a mystery. One day your ideas flow and eight thousand words pour out onto paper in an hour or two. Another time a complete short story arrives at three in the morning, as fast as you can write it down. A few days later, the brakes come on and it is a struggle to write more than a sentence or two. How do you deal with this boom and bust?

Creative Ways To Deal With Creativity Problems

Some writers have come up with coping mechanisms or ways to describe the process that help the words keep coming

For example, Elizabeth Gilbert shares how poet Ruth Stone “captures” a poem.

…she [Ruth] would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.

The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page.

 

Gilbert tells the story during this wonderful TED talk about the fickleness of the creativity.

 

Gilbert suggests it helps to develop coping mechanisms like talking to the elusive creative genius in the corner of the room. Whatever works to get rid of the angst.

Describing the process in concrete ways can help, too. Take Shannon Hale’s quote:

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

Nice sentiment. Unfortunately, my current work in progress feels more like I accidentally shoveled in kitty litter instead of sand.

Ritual

Some writers resort to rituals, like always using the same pen, drinking coffee from the same mug, or sitting in a certain chair. Shortlist reveals authors who stand up or lie down to write. They report Maya Angelou checks into a hotel where everything has been taken off the walls of the room. If I could produce work like hers, I would certainly give that a try.

Relaxing Sounds

Listening to certain repetitive sounds or music can improve focus and boost productivity. Stimulating your senses can get your creative juices flowing, too. YouTube has a number of videos that run from two to three hours with relaxing background sounds. I’m listening to swamp sounds right now. Blizzard winds are nice, too.

Play

Play stimulates creativity in children, why not adults? Try making friends with your inner child. Toss a ball. Play a game. Dress up as your favorite character. Finger paint. Make some actual sand castles. Whatever sounds like fun at the moment.

Get Feedback From Creative People

Although at times negative critiques can freeze up the writing process, look for one of those positive, imaginative people who energize you and bounce some of your questions off them. They just might help you over the hurdles.

Walk, Nap, Etc.

Taking a walk can get the blood flowing to your brain if you’ve been sedentary.

On the other hand, don’t forget that the type of thinking that writing requires takes energy. Take a nap to recharge those batteries. Connecting with your subconscious isn’t a bad thing, either.

According to an article about thinking in Scientific American, Claude Messier of the University of Ottawa writes:

“The brain has a hard time staying focused on just one thing for too long. It’s possible that sustained concentration creates some changes in the brain that promote avoidance of that state. It could be like a timer that says, ‘Okay you’re done now.’ Maybe the brain just doesn’t like to work so hard for so long.”

So, there you go. Give yourself permission for some R and R, and perhaps that fickle organ will produce something worthwhile. If not, you can always go change the cat litter.

Have you ever struggled with creativity? How did you jump start it again?

#BookBeginnings Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

Today we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeDaddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Why does Kate Connelly ask a retired employee Gus to meet her at the family’s antique furniture museum at four thirty in the morning? What are they doing when the building explodes, leaving Gus dead and Kate in a coma? Are they victims or perpetrators?

First Sentence of Prologue:

Sometimes Kate dreamed about that night, even though it wasn’t a dream.

 

First Sentence of Chapter One

At four o’clock in the morning, Gus Schmidt dressed silently in the bedroom of his modest home on Long Island, hoping not to disturb his wife of fifty-five years. He was not successful.

Discussion:

It’s interesting that the book opens with the two characters who according to the book blurb are soon going to be in a coma and dead, respectively.

Mary Higgins Clark is now 89 years old and has written some 51 books. That is a remarkable career!

What do you think? Would you keep reading? Are you a fan of Mary Higgins Clark?

#BestsellerCode100: Number 79. Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Why does Kate Connelly ask a retired employee Gus to meet her at the family’s antique furniture museum at four thirty in the morning? What are they doing when the building explodes, leaving Gus dead and Kate in a coma? Are they victims or perpetrators?

Have you read Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark ? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Daddy's Gone a Hunting

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Daddy’s Gone a Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark ? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

The next book is number 78. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (2010) – Discussion begins September 4, 2014
Animal-themed humorous short stories

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is categorized as Literary Fiction.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

I Am Ready

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a rather unusual story, in that it’s told from the viewpoint of a dog, Enzo.  Enzo belongs to Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.  But Enzo knows he isn’t just a dog; he’s a dog on the cusp of being reincarnated as a man.  Enzo watched television and he heard on a program about Mongolia on National Geographic Channel that, “When a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man.”

Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.

I am ready.

Themes

Racing is a major theme in this novel by Garth Stein.  Every major plot turn is prefaced with a short chapter describing some aspect of driving a race car.  As a reader that is a race fan, I really enjoyed these chapters that give insight to how a race car driving thinks and reacts when on the track.  Early in the book Denny explains to his wife Eve why he is able to race in the rain more successfully than many other drivers:

“When I was nineteen,” Denny said after a moment, “at my first driving school down at Sears Point, it was raining and they were trying to teach us how to drive in the rain.  After the instructors were finished explaining all their secrets, all the students were totally confused.  We had no idea what they were talking about.  I looked over at the guy next to me–I remember him, he was from France and he was very fast.  Gabriel Flouret.  He smiled and he said: ‘That which you manifest is before you.’ “

This is a recurring thought throughout the novel, “That which you manifest is before you.”  Sounds a bit New Age, doesn’t it?  But Enzo contemplates on Denny’s statement and I have to agree with his conclusion:

Such a simple concept, yet so true: that which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny.  Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.

Creators of Our Own Destiny

Roberta stated in her Writer’s Review that she felt manipulated by the string of bad luck that Denny endured.  Was it all bad luck, though?  When Eve became ill, it seemed logical to Denny that Eve and Zoe should with Eve’s parents.  Eve’s parents had more money to provide care, more space for hospital beds and such, and they were retired, so they had the time to devote.  How would Denny cope with illness and hospital beds and Zoe’s care and still be able to work?  And yet he was setting himself up for long-term heartache and legal troubles.

We are the creators of our own destiny.  Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.

 

Enzo, Race Car Driver?

Throughout Eve’s illness and then the subsequent custody battle, Enzo does his best to provide Denny with moral support and companionship.  In one memorable scene near the end of the novel, Enzo is able to change Denny’s mind when Denny has decided to give up on the custody battle, and the way he does so makes his message impossible for Denny to misunderstand.

I first read this book in 2012 and enjoyed it thoroughly then.  Five years later, I found it to be just as enjoyable.  Enzo does his best to provide Denny with moral support and companionship.  In one memorable scene, Enzo is actually able to change Denny’s mind when Denny has decided to give up on the custody battle. In the last chapter, we discover whether Enzo was successful in his desire to be reincarnated as a human, and more specifically, a race car driver.  Was he ready?  I hoped all along that he was.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Have you written about The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 80. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (2010) – Discussion begins August 21, 2017
Gothic mystery

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of The Art of Racing in the Rain

Let’s take a look at The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein from a writer’s perspective. The discussion began here.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Plot of The Art of Racing in the Rain

Literary fiction rarely unfolds in strict chronological order. In this case most of the story is an extended flashback as the narrator remembers his life. The very last section flashes forward into the future, which is a bit of a stretch because he is no longer available to tell the story.

Characters

The story is told in the first person from a dog’s point of view.  Th narrator is Enzo, a lab-terrier mix, who lives with race car driver Denny Swift, Denny’s wife Eve, and daughter Zoë.

Having a dog for a narrator has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, the author doesn’t have to delve as deeply into his human characters. For example, if Denny was the narrator the reader might expect to sit in the car as he races around the track. Because he isn’t the narrator, the reader gets the TV-viewing dog’s analysis of events instead.

Disadvantages include:

  •  Ability to travel is restricted. Enzo can’t go to the trial with Denny, for example.
  • The dialogue is tricky because the dog doesn’t speak. Enzo can only report dialogue he overhears.
  • The dog has physical limitations, like having no thumbs and having limited color vision. The author must keep track of all these differences to realistically limit his character.
  • It also leads Enzo to be a bit unreliable because he can only guess what is going on from his narrow observations and memories.

Setting

The story is set in Seattle, but we don’t get a strong feeling of setting because of the limitations of a dog narrator. It might have been informative if the author had described what Seattle smells and sounds like from a dog’s perspective.

 

Public domain photo via VisualHunt.com

Themes and Symbolism

As a work of literary fiction, The Art of Racing in the Rain has deeper themes and symbolism than a genre fiction title might have. One of the symbols is the toy zebra who runs amok in a surrealistic scene. He symbolizes what can go wrong in life, and possibly helps with foreshadowing.

There is a strong theme of death and dying, and both Eve and Enzo die before the end of the book. There is an emphasis on Enzo’s idea of reincarnation and that death is a step towards becoming human.

On the other hand, it is also about love and relationships, particularly the unbreakable bonds between Denny and Enzo, Denny and his wife Eve, and Denny and his daughter Zoë.

Discussion

Because Enzo could only report what he witnessed, it had the effect of distancing the reader from emotional lives of the human characters. Some readers don’t find that troubling and report crying in all the appropriate tissue-wringing spots. Other readers see the gap between dog’s reporting and what the people are feeling as too artificial. In fact, the author may have added the long stretch of tear-inducing bad luck to counteract the emotional insulation of having a dog narrator.

I think we’ve all known people who’ve had more than their share of misfortunes, such as multiple deaths in their families, economic troubles, etc. That said, the string of bad luck Denny endures seemed unbelievable at best and blatant manipulation of the reader’s feelings at the worst. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt manipulated by literary fiction (see my discussion of Olive Kitteridge, for example), which may be why I don’t enjoy it as much.

Have you read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 80. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (2010) – Discussion begins August 21, 2017
Gothic mystery

The Last Train by Michael Pronko

I loved Barry Eisler’s thriller set in Tokyo, so when the offer to review The Last Train:  A Tokyo Mystery  by Michael Pronko came into my mail, I was intrigued.

 

Blurb:

An American falls in front of an express train and main character Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is called in — even though he’s supposed to investigate only white collar crime — because his boss wants someone who is fluent in English on the case. Questions begin to pile up. Was it a suicide or murder? What was the role of the mysterious woman seen on the security footage? It will take all of Detective Shimizu’s stamina to find out.

Review:

Although the cover says it is a mystery, this book is technically a thriller because the killer is revealed early in the story. Unlike the typical thriller, however, the pace is relatively leisurely as Detective Shimizu journeys around Tokyo gathering clues.

This is not a bad thing. You want Detective Shimisu to wander around Tokyo, because Pronko has a talent for describing all things Japanese in a unique way.

Roppingi pulsed and glowed. Lighted signs listing the clubs inside zipped up the sides of buildings from sidewalk to rooftop. The names shouted over each other — Black Moon, Abrazos, Kingdom Come, Patpong Alibi, ManZokku, Balibago Den… Light cascaded out of these mini-marquees that climbed the buildings like electric ivy.

I’ve seen the neon signs in Las Vegas, and “electric ivy” seems like an apt description.

These sort of clever turns of phrase are sprinkled like gems throughout the book. Take this quote about Hiroshi’s AWOL girlfriend:

Hiroshi could understand now how her loneliness piled up with boredom at teaching and the pressure of adapting to a new culture…– so much so that the pressure pushed her into action and she left. When she did, she handed the loneliness to him.

She handed his loneliness back to him? Incredible imagery.

That is not to say the novel is perfect. It took me some time to get used to the unusual rhythm of Pronko’s voice. It seemed to come in fits and starts, and at times I wanted to pull out my editor’s pen and smooth it out. My guess is it may be because he lives in Japan and he’s subconsciously adopted some of the rhythm of the Japanese language. Anyway it is not a severe issue and many readers probably won’t even notice it.

If you like thrillers/mysteries and have traveled to Tokyo, want to travel to Tokyo, or are interested in learning more about Tokyo, then this book is for you. The Last Train may be Michael Pronko’s first foray into fiction, but it deserves a second look.

 

#BookBeginnings A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Today’s book was a gift from  friend who is a reader and a writer. Let’s look at  A Man Called Ove:  A Novel by Fredrik Backman for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-fredrik-backman

A Man Called Ove:  A Novel by Fredrik Backman

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Ove’s middle name is “curmudgeon”. When a young family moves in next door and disrupts his life by running over his mailbox, will they be the next victims of his grumpiness?

First Sentence:

Ove is fifty-nine.

Discussion:

What a simple first sentence. Apparently the author didn’t feel the need to grab the reader with a harpoon.

Here’s the next paragraph:

He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to order white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a medium-sized white box at him.

Sounds like this novel is going to be character driven.

What do you think? Have you read A Man Called Ove:  A Novel by Fredrik Backman?

#BestsellerCode100: Number 81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Told from the first person (dog) point of view of Enzo, a lab-terrier mix who lives with race car driver Denny Swift.

Have you read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Have you written about The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 80. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (2010) – Discussion begins August 21, 2017
Gothic mystery

#BookBeginnings The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Today we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What:  Told from the first person (dog) point of view of Enzo, a lab-terrier mix who lives with race car driver Denny Swift.

First Sentence:

Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature…And that is why I’m here now waiting for Denny to come home — he should be here soon — lying on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor in a puddle of my own urine.

Discussion:

I have to admit when I read this book was written from a dog’s point of view, I was a bit concerned. Without a doubt, I envisioned something “cutesie.” The tone of the first paragraph isn’t at all what I expected. Would you have guessed the narrator was a dog except for the “puddle of urine” clue?

I’m looking forward to reading it now.

What do you think? Would you read a book told from a dog’s perspective?

Have you read this novel?

#BestsellerCode100: The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison, A Writer’s Review

Let’s look at our next book from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison, from a writer’s perspective. (The discussion began here.)

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Silent Wife: A Novel* by A. S. A. Harrison

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife explores the dynamics of a marriage on the rocks. It is a treasure trove of examples of writing techniques that aren’t often used in novels.

Plot

Present Tense

Although most novels are written in the past tense, Harrison writes The Silent Wife  in the present tense.

The dog, a golden retriever with a silky blond coat, sits at her feet as she works at the cutting board.

Does it work? Yes. It doesn’t take long to adjust to the change and it gives the book a sense of immediacy.

Prolepsis

By definition, thrillers reveal the killer/antagonist early on in the book. In this case the author states flat out in the second paragraph that the protagonist is going to kill her husband. This is an example of prolepsis, or telling the reader from the start what is going to happen.

Does it work? Believe it or not, the book remains suspenseful regardless of the early reveal. We wonder whether she’ll actually do it, how it happens, and whether she’ll get caught. A twist at the end keeps the reader on tenterhooks the entire time.

Character

One way Harrison is able to pull off the prolepsis is because her protagonist, Jodi, is an unreliable narrator. Normally I’m not a big fan of full-blown unreliable narrators, but this one is mild. She withholds information and shows signs of psychological weakness, but she isn’t a bad person. For example, she says she’s married, but we soon learn she and her partner have lived together for twenty years without getting married. Looking at her routines, we see evidence of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, but she is still functioning fairly well. Her worst defect is her memory issues. She seems to forget many things rather than dealing with them.

The main antagonist is Jodi’s partner, Todd. He lies, he cheats, and when he gets a much-younger woman pregnant, he doesn’t tell Jodi he’s moving out until the last moment. He gives Jodi plenty of motive to kill him.

The novel flips between the point of view of these two characters so we can see that Todd is also crumbling under the stress of his actions.

Dialogue

The dialogue in this book is incredibly sparse. Pages and pages go by without a single conversation. What little dialogue there is occurs mostly in the sections told from Todd’s point of view. Jodi speaks very little, partially because she is alone a lot, but also because she uses her silence to control herself and others (hence the title of the book, as Karen explains in her review.) Her conversations are short and clipped down to the essential conflict.

Limited dialogue is a technique I’d love to learn because I tend to try to carry too much of the plot through conversations. Although writing books suggest breaking up narrative with blocks of dialogue is good because it speeds up the pace, in this case the density of the narrative doesn’t slow things down. The pace remains tight and quick, regardless.

Setting

The novel is set in the city of Chicago. Most of the action takes place in a high rise apartment along the shore of lake Michigan. Her descriptions were good, but the novel could have been set in any city, or almost anywhere for that matter.

Photo via VisualHunt

Discussion

A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife breaks the thriller mold with some less-commonly-used techniques, but still has the reader guessing what’s going on until the very end.  It is exceptionally well written for a debut novel. Sadly, we can’t find out what more she had to offer, because the author passed away shortly after it came out.

Have you read The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after its start date.

The next book is number 81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008) – Discussion begins August 7, 2017
Literary fiction told from a dog’s point of view

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