Archive for July, 2017

Wedding in the Family !!!

Via: Daily Prompt – Fragrance

 

The side effect of having been born and brought up, then living abroad my whole life is never truly bonding with relatives. Worse, with my father’s job as a diplomat resettling us country-from-country every half-a-decade, I sort of built a sense of emotional independence that to outsiders might seem like detachment. I’m the sort of person who is caring about everyone in general but close to only a tight-fisted handful. I won’t call to check up on people but if someone needed my help, I’m there – I like to help.

 

On the practical level, I find that there is just not enough time in the day to keep up with all the friends and relatives one accumulates over a lifetime. On the emotional level, I can never comprehend why anyone would want to keep up with my life – I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling like an outsider – and therefore, I don’t give others the opportunity to reject me.

They find ways to reject me anyway.

Particularly my relatives. I don’t blame them. My relatives, especially cousins, have grown up with one another all their lives. They know each other’s interests and emotions on the root level. I grew up all over the place, my interests are not similar to theirs and neither are my emotions. My reactions are paused and analyzed while they tend to just lay it all out there. To my cousins, even after interacting with them at family gatherings for the last dozen years that we have been settled in Bangladesh, I’m that aloof girl who is too arrogant too self-sufficient to mix with them. Whereas, I feel that they are more engaged more involved with one another for me to penetrate the fold. It’s a vicious cycle and quite unbreakable.

When my father retired and we finally settled down in Dhaka, I had hoped that I would actually have the time to foster a proper bond with my cousins. This did not happen. The fault is mine. I had to get through my BBA and MBA and then “the corporate life” hijacked all of my attention. I realize now that given that I am the outsider, instead of expecting them to accommodate my lifestyle, I should have evolved enough to fit their calendars.

But instead, I subscribed to the Business Plan. You know, the one that is a grade above the Free Plan where you have not enough at stake to actually care about what goes on and therefore only receive spams but not as premium as where you get your own personal representative to always keep you up-to-date about the newest developments. It’s the plan that promises I will attend the family events just like anyone else but probably will not always be available for impromptu get-togethers and brunches on the side. The brunch invitations never came because the problem with interacting only at family gatherings is not knowing all the secrets that are shared during all the other meetings to understand what the discussions at these gatherings are really about. Still out of the loop.

In fact, it seems that settling down in Bangladesh has done more harm than good. When we lived abroad, I at least had the excuse of national borders to not know what is going on. But now that I live in the country, I have a moral obligation to subscribe to the family newsletter and contribute also by divulging all the secrets of my own dysfunctional life. I sound resentful and sarcastic, I know. No wonder they don’t like me.

Thankfully, I do have a set of cousins with whom I get along superbly. My mother’s favorite-sister-and-best-friend-for-all-purposes lives with her family just down the road. The proximity has made my interaction over the years frequent enough to form a true affection for one another. We share secrets and trade gossips and do all the things that cousins do. Of course, these cousins are some 7-9 years my junior, but I don’t let how pathetic that sounds stop me. I love them with all my heart and am pretty sure they feel the same way about me.

And one of them is getting married! The younger one has been living in the US the past year for his Ph.D. in applied physics and is returning for the tail end of summer vacation to marry his fiance. He will be here for only three weeks but we have been working tirelessly to get all the wedding paraphernalia ready in advance. Do you see that? WE are getting things ready. I’m in the fold of all the engagements and I have thrown myself in to participate and assist wherever I can – with relish. I’m facing all the crazy emotions and hurdles that weddings pose and I’m loving it. Let it be wrong shades of roses or raspberry filling instead of strawberries in the cake, I’m ready, baby!

Which is why I cannot post my regular WRITING CHRONICLES or WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS the next couple of weeks. I hope the above ranting makes up for the truancy. But I cannot say that I’m sorry for the lapse as it is all in the cause of achieving one of my life goals.

Hooray for me!

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#AuthorToolbox 04: the art of landscaping in fiction writing

Via: Daily Prompt – Soil

The cold was bitter, different from New England’s. Outside the city the wind spilled across the sweeping, open land dotted with abandoned farm machinery and old houses buckling in on themselves. You wouldn’t think such houses were habitable, but once in a while there would be a tacked-up sheet in the doorway, or plastic nailed over the windows, and the trace of smoke from a chimney.”

~ Brown, Karen. “The Clairvoyants.” Henry Holt and Co., 2017

51htld99dbl-_sx328_bo1204203200_I finished reading this book over the weekend. And like most well-written (or poorly written, for that matter) novels throughout my reading experience, it left me with a heightened sense of awareness of that “something-something” to consciously add to in my own work. After all, authors learn by reading the works of other authors. I thought, for this month’s blog hop, I would review some of this novel’s more beautifully written passages to summarize how fiction can be enhanced by adding descriptive imageries that are carefully composed and artfully woven to match the subject of the story [I’ll try my best to titillate without giving away any irrevocable spoilers]:

Relevance. Without a doubt, the prose was the strongest suit in The Clairvoyants. Brown approached its various outdoor and indoor sceneries to set the mood for this novel with poetic gusto, addressing both the mental state of the story’s protagonist, Martha, and the themes that adhered to the overall plot, i.e. an observant and slightly self-absorbed young woman with the ability to “see dead people” and a sense of victimhood towards her entire life, who stumbles upon a potential murder mystery when she is abandoned in a new environment. In fact, the landscape mirrors the one prevailing ethos of every character in the novel, who make a motley group of disturbingly selfish individuals, gravitating towards one another in search of companionship one moment and then forsaking each other the next.

Now, beyond my mother’s profile at the wheel of the car, Route 79 wound alongside green swaths of hills still damp from the recent rain. This was an isolated valley with a poor yearly sunlight allotment and haphazard cell phone reception—another version of a sanatorium, a place my mother could tuck me away, the way you pressed a photograph into the back of a drawer—and be free of me. But I might be free of her, too, and I might find someone else to love me.”

Precision. A bit of mastery in the medium of your writing can go a long way – and, of course, shorten the sentences. Words hold connotations that pose parity even among synonyms. Instead of depending on generic nouns and verbs to describe each action, character, object, or surrounding, knowing specific words to allocate to them will not only contribute to their appropriate portrayal but also provide the reader with a richer sensory experience. Obviously, this means having a strong vocabulary is important but does it also mean you need to swallow the dictionary? If you can, kudos to you; otherwise, do a little extra research on each subject matter you introduce in the story, as Brown has in this novel when labeling architectural attributes.

The house stood on a street of similarly grand old places, each shaded by a tree, their roots disrupting the cement sidewalks in front. Mine was a brick Italianate house with a wide cornice and elaborately carved brackets and window caps. The apartment was up a staircase that once might have been glamorous when the house was still a single-family residence. The place had been advertised as a “studio.” I would be living in one room with a twelve-foot ceiling, a decorative fireplace, and an efficiency-sized stove, sink, and refrigerator—so small they seemed like playhouse furnishings.”

Economy. We all know about the taboo on overusing adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives and adverbs are to be preserved for blurbs, and yet, funnily, that is where authors tend to scrimp thanks to a misguided sense of modesty – but that is a topic for another day. Furthering the argument for precision, knowing specific nouns and verbs is particularly useful when editing redundant descriptors that only serve to weaken and obscure the image you are trying to depict.  Consequently, you may also reveal more information about the plot and characters when relinquishing modifiers.

I had thought he wanted me. But when I touched him he took my hands away, like a correcting parent. I was resigned to kissing him, and even that he interrupted with a story about his motorcycle, a Triumph he was eager to ride again in the spring.”

POV. At every turn, it is crucial to ask oneself if the character whose POV is being used to narrate a scene, would actually experience the situation in that manner. For example, cold is a recurring premise in the novel, of which Martha is constantly aware. Other than simply using it to describe the winter that persists throughout the plot or the relationship fostered among the characters (and the wide range of dead people, in retrospect), Brown also associates it with how Martha undergoes the changes in her life or encounters new phenomena, e.g. when she tries martini for the first time.

I admitted I’d never had one, and she insisted I sample hers. She held her glass toward me by its stem, and I took a cautious sip. I said it was like drinking partially melted snow, and she laughed and poured me one, too.”

Pace. While the vivid narration is what I enjoyed most about the novel, the accompanied tangential style also led to its biggest holdback. I could fully understand why, given that the novel was written in first-person and people tend to digress when relating their experiences, Martha would oscillate between her past and present, actions and expositions. In fact, it even added to the mystery. But at one point, this became monotonous when the tempo should have picked up. The mystery began to chase its own tail and Martha’s continued attention to the mundane details of her surrounding seemed unnatural, relatability yielding before consistency, such as while escaping the scene of a supposed murder.

We drove through farmland spread for miles in either direction. Del fiddled with the radio, her hand shaking, and found a station playing Dixieland jazz, and we passed through a landscape distorted by the windshield ice—the wide open space, the few remaining outbuildings of an old farm, their gray, splintery wood darkened by the sleet, jutting like carcasses. “There are bones of families out there,” I said. Spread under layers of soil, compacted in their separateness. The Dixieland band played its tinny hopefulness. We drove this way for a long time until we could see nothing of the land we passed through save an occasional kitchen light in a house set off the road. Then we reached an intersection, a small town, like Milton, with a gas station and a diner, and Del pulled into the diner’s parking lot. After David Pinney died we’d gone on, pretending he hadn’t. I could say we were murderers now. This didn’t happen to other people twice.”

To wit, this novel made me sit up and take notes. My own stories tend to consist more of dialogues and actions than discussions on the setting but I could certainly appreciate the patience with which Brown weighed in the haunting atmosphere in her narrative. It reminded me of something I learned a few months back while attending an online course on writing fiction. There was a lot of emphasis on note taking and journal keeping throughout the syllabus. Until I took the course, I always wondered how writers sit in public places such as cafes and parks while composing tales without becoming distracted by their environments. Turns out they don’t become distracted at all because they are too busy recounting what they witness on their pages and screens.

 

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Finally, a word on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop:
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event, hosted by the gracious Raimey Gallant, featuring various resources and learnings for authors written by authors. It is open to writers at all stages of their careers and the rules of sign-up are available in the overhead link. Also, if you are just interested in connecting with actual authors and see what they have got to say, the sign-up page has a list of participants to direct you to their pages. Happy reading and writing, fellow authors!

 

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #24: The Americanization of Emily starring James Garner & Julie Andrews

Via: Daily Prompt – Grit

220px-americanization_of_emily_posterTitle     The Americanization of Emily

Starring     James Garner, Julie Andrews, and James Coburn

Director     Arthur Hiller

Writer(s)    Paddy Chayefsky (screenplay), William Bradford Huie (novel)

Genre     Comedy Drama War

Release Date     October 27, 1964

Filming Location    Dukes Avenue, Muswell Hill, London, England, UK

Parental Guidance     PG for thematic semi-nudity, carousing, and war imagery

IMDB Rating     7.4

Synopsis: Lt. Cmdr. Charles Madison (James Garner) of the US Army is a “dog-robber”, or batman, to Adm. William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) and is known for managing the best supplies to make his superior’s lifestyle near the frontline of WWII opulent. Even based in London, Charlie can arrange the best prime cuts for the Admiral’s lunch, the most lavish food, drink, and women – down to the preferred hair color – for the evenings, and the biddable bedpartners for his best friend and co-worker Lt. Cmdr. Paul ‘Bus’ Cummings’s (James Coburn) nocturnal exploits with less than 24-hour notice. Such blatant display of pleasure-seeking in the middle of war rationing is something that Emily Barham, a driver from the British military motor pool and a woman who has lost her father, brother, and husband to the war, finds deplorable and has no compunction informing Charlie of her feelings to his face. Charlie too is wary of her moralization and forthright about giving her a piece of his mind. Charlie, who openly advocates his anti-war sentiments and is a self-proclaimed “practicing coward”, enjoys his position as the Admiral’s adjutant because it keeps him from having to actually fight in the war and feels Europeans have caused wars for centuries, which is nothing to boast about. However, soon Emily realizes that there is a kind of charm in his cynical honesty and approaches him to initiate a no-strings-attached affair, which quickly develops into a more serious meet-the-parents kind of tableau. When the Admiral, already depressed from the death of his wife, has a mental breakdown over the Army and Air Force overshadowing the Navy and initiates an idea of filming a “reality” movie of the bombing on the French shore of Omaha Beach on D-Day, Charlie is assigned the responsibility of getting it made and Bus is adamant to get Charlie onto the war site, putting a damper on his amorous plans for Emily and even risking his very life.

Experience: I think there is a bit of a pattern among my celebrity crushes and I realized it after seeing James Garner in this movie. It’s a weird revelation too. I like men who have wide foreheads with horizontal creases on them. Do you see it?

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Be still my heart! There is something similar about their physique as well, though at different levels of buff. I just had to get this out of the way before I carried on with the review.

Aside from Garner, there is another heart-stopper to sigh over in this movie. I think the whole world has been crushing on Julie Andrews since The Sound of Music. With additional star actors Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn, this movie was destined to shine. But it’s not only the cast that makes it a success but also the eccentric plotline, the unabashedly candid characters, the snappy dialogue, and the unique theme for its time that helped it win hearts – at least, it did mine.

Let’s talk about the message of the movie. There is no doubt that the producers and director of the film took a big risk when they decided to make an anti-war dark romantic comedy at a time when the US government was only becoming more aggressive in its foreign policies throughout – or maybe it was just the perfect time. Sure, there was also a rising anti-war sentiment among the public but did it constitute the dominant segment of the public? Hardly. So the movie could have tanked.

But the plot carried the message of the movie by ensuring that it was “the virtue of war” and not the men and families who sacrificed their lives and loved ones that deserved criticism. We see an old man, bereaved by the loss of his wife, dictating and demanding what the movie should feature: a make-believe unnamed soldier who is the first to die on D-Day to stir up public sentiments for the glory of the Navy. He goes on as far as to enlist the president’s endorsement for a monument for this fake martyr. The idea reeks of the same self-indulgence that is depicted earlier in the movie where we see the American military that “can buy anything with a Hersey bar” enjoying a good bout of hedonism. With a finely written script, the argument cuts deep and succinctly.

Speaking of his lines, I was quite taken with how magnificently Garner delivered his dialogues. There is no apology in his expression when Charlie presents a set-down to Emily after she demonstrates her disdain for the amount of “swanky goods” occupying the bedroom-converted-pantry in the Admiral’s quarters. You would never imagine that he was talking to a beautiful woman that he had been slapped by after patting her bottom during their initial meeting. And Andrews, always the epitome of sophistication, demonstrates a starry-eyed enchantment even as she sincerely tells him why he is just all-wrong.

In fact, there is a bit of name-calling between the two throughout the movie that aptly describes the traits of each character. She is “something of a prig” with an “ingrained British morality”, “facile” yet a “fancy Euro”, and “emotionally sticky” with a propensity for “sentimental contempt” who takes “sensual satisfaction in grieving”; he is a “rascal”, “charmer scoundrel”, the “most immoral man [she] ever met… a shameless coward, selfish as a child, and ruthless about what he wants”, “a Yank who can’t even show affection without buying something”, “dotty” but who “cuts to the core of things”. Gee, tell us how you really feel. But it really makes you want to see the two actors saying it all to each other, doesn’t it?

And the two actors wear their roles like finely fitted gloves. Andrews manages to generate a certain softness towards him even as she is exasperated with him and listing out all his negative qualities. While there are such competence and cockiness to Garner that a girl cannot but help swoon. In fact, there is this scene early in the movie where Charlie goes about folding clothes and running baths and doing all the things a valet does while preparing the bedtime rituals for the Admiral, and I was so mesmerized watching him in action of domestic efficiency that I had to keep replaying the scene to catch what the Admiral was yammering about. It made me think there’s a man who is comfortable in his skin no matter what the situation. Garner in motion is a graceful thing to watch. That scene alone is worth re-watching the movie.

Recommendation: It’s a fine movie, as efficient in delivering the message as the actors were in playing their roles. Prepared to be riveted.

 

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WRITING CHRONICLE #24: the happily ever after

Via: Daily Prompt – Quill & Caper

 

There is a growing trend of romance novels with alternative endings to HEA (Happily Ever After). There’s HFN (Happy For Now) and also conclusions that are not so happy at all – like hero/heroine/both die(s). This post is not about them. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to romance novel endings. I’m perfectly fine putting my romantic MCs through the mills during the conflict phase, but the resolution must be that they live and enjoy a full life together. Anything less than that is an overpromise – nay, a prank on the unwitting reader.

 

Which brings me to my next point. For centuries, happily ever after has received a bad rep (among non-romance-readers, at least) and to no fault of its own. I don’t understand why people feel that romance novels set “unreasonable expectations”; if anything, I believe they set a standard we should all aspire to. Why should a person settle for anything less than happiness in love? What else would be the point? And for those people who think “happily ever after” is equivalent to a permanent cheering charm, let me assure you, it’s not. It means that our couple now knows that to stay together they will have to work at it and face the ups-and-downs of relationship; but long as they are teamed up, they will remain content and it will be okay. In fact, that the couple goes through so many obstacles during the novel to reach that place where they decide they were meant to be together is a testament to their commitment. So happily ever after really just translates to

“Committed ever after. Happily.”

Having said that, for a romance author, attaining closure is not that easy. I mean, as a reader, you must’ve realized how each time you reach the end of a good book you feel that sense of bereavement when finally putting the book down, right? Well, you have spent only a handful of hours getting to know those characters; imagine what the author must’ve felt closing the book on those wonderful characters after giving birth to them and then nurturing them for months, maybe years. So a romance author (or any kind, for that matter) needs all the help he/she can get to give their writing that flourish.

So what does a good romance ending make?  Read the rest of this entry »

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Wednesday Reflections #23 – Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale

Via: Daily Prompt – Pluck

13552311Title     Seducing Mr. Knightly

Series     The Writing Girls #4

Author     Maya Rodale

Genre     Historical Romance | Regency | Adult

Publisher      Avon

Publication Date      October 30, 2012

Format      eBook

Setting     London, Great Britain, 1825

ISBN     0062088955

Synopsis: It has been exactly three years, six months, three weeks, and two days since Ms. Annabelle Swift fell in love with her boss Mr. Derek Knightly, the owner and editor of The London Weekly. This is precisely the amount of time she has been employed as one of the Writing Girls to feature in her own advice column and since the day she laid her eyes on the tall, dark, and determined Knightly. Unfortunately, not only is he totally unaware of her feelings but he seems also oblivious of the fact that she is a living breathing flesh-and-blood single woman worthy of male attention. Exasperated with being continuously overlooked and desperate to get out of her brother’s house where she lives as an unpaid servant and governess to her malicious sister-in-law, niece, and nephews, Annabelle decides to resort to drastic measures – she courageously reaches out to her readers for advice for a change on how to attract the attention of the nodcock! she’s in love with. Suddenly all of London swoops in to assist her cause, sending mails carrying the most outlandish and scandalous advice and, with the additional help from her fellow Writing Girls, she finds herself in lowered bodices and silk unmentionables, waltzing with lords of the ton, flirting up a ruse with fellow male colleagues, and being dropped off home after work by Knightly in his private carriage. Her quarry is finally paying attention but one obstacle still stands in the path of true love. Knightly, who has built his empire and reputation as a media tycoon to raise himself from the status of a by-blow of a late earl, has one other life goal: marry high into the aristocracy so that his half-brother is finally forced to acknowledge him as one of his class. Unfortunately, this puts Annabelle squarely out of the running for his affection… or does it?

Experience: I came to know about Maya Rodale a little late. Only this year, in fact, upon watching the live feeds of the #RomanceisFeminist discussion hosted by Avon Romance at The Strand bookstore in NY, NY where Rodale was on the panel of authors. I appreciated a particular comment she made about being more than willing to “throw historical accuracy under the bus” for the sake of diversity and inclusion. That is precisely what I have found – as much as the realm of believability will allow – since I began reading her works (three novels so far) and thought I should do a review of at least one. I picked Seducing Mr. Knightly because I have a soft corner for heroines who write professionally and this is the most hilarious piece of Rodale’s works I have come across thus far.

Imagine Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy and you will get a rough idea of the kind of scrapes Annabelle gets into in this novel. Short of hitting our hero in the eye with her spilling bosoms, she has done it all – leave a shawl behind to find herself alone with him at work during after office hours, fake a swoon and fall lush into his arms so she can awaken his “baser inclinations”, make all of London – including the hero’s best friends – fall in love with her and defend her heart for her candid attempts to lasso the hero, and climb into his bedroom via a gradually-splintering bark in the middle of the night in hopes of ravishment, etc. And Knightly likewise reciprocates with a steady repeat of “Oh Annabelle, you have some explaining to do” whenever he finds himself at the end of her courtship tactics. It makes the relationship between our heroine and hero positively adorably frustrating – just what good romances require.

But apart from the cat-and-mouse conflict development of the romantic plot, the individual characters of Annabelle and Knightly are also fully plausible. I enjoyed how much pluck Annabelle demonstrates as pushes herself to cross her self-imposed boundaries to blossom out of her shell even as her natural timidity continues to attempt to keep her in check. She may be meek by genetic disposition (her brother shows fairly submissive traits in his marriage too) but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t dream big or aim high. After all, she pulls the wool over her family’s eyes for over three years pretending to go out on charity work while really working for a national newspaper and saving up for rainy days. She continuously challenges her shortcomings and faces her fears, which is a lovely display of feminism.

Our hero too has his demons to fight and has been fighting them quite successfully for over a decade. Being the firstborn son of and earl and a renowned stage actress, he craves acknowledgment from his step family and society. He has slogged day-and-night to build up his newspaper, laboring at the press himself and pushing boundaries of polite expectations, to get himself noticed, following three simple rules of life: “Scandal equals sales, drama was for the pages, and be beholden to no one”. It’s has made him a bit stoic but it has worked for him. And even as his heart tugs while watching Annabelle amidst her antics and his heart begins to unfurl the more details of her he starts to notice, he refuses to examine the burning question being asked in parlors across London, “Who is the nodcock that has yet failed to fall in love with Annabelle?” because he is afraid the answer might demand he surrender his heart to the heroine, which he is not in the position to do. Because all he wants to do is marry Lady Marsden, claim his rightful place in society while avoiding getting his newspaper shut down by her brother Lord Marsden’s mass inquisition against media extortion and nefarious means of procuring news, and kill two birds with one stone. The struggle is real.

Yes, I truly did enjoy reading this book. The only thing perhaps that did not suit me entirely was Rodale’s roundabout way of prolonging the story. While I loved each scene, I found reading through all the inner workings that bracketed each scene that mostly related the same conclusions over and over a bit tedious. Frankly, I felt there was more room for editing and perhaps leaving a little for readers to infer. But this is easily discounted for the fact that the overall content was engaging and oh-so-funny.

Recommendation: Well, if you haven’t read it already, what are you waiting for? I thoroughly endorse this novel as an experienced romance reader.

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WRITING CHRONICLE #23: prologues, anyone?

Via: Daily Prompt – Passenger & Sail

Image: Wikimedia, CC0

Prologues. Some authors swear by them; some readers roll their eyes at them and skip ahead. Me? I believe that, like most literary devices, prologues have their time and place, i.e. some stories need them while other stories are better off without them. If used with moderation-but-pizzazz, The Prologue is a vehicle that may really put your story into gear and make the reader buckle in. However, writers without a firm handle on the steering wheel may drive their story to an early death [especially when querying], so beware.

Ok, enough with the vehicular metaphors. Here are two lists of when and how prologues may work – or not:

Read the rest of this entry »

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