Archive for August, 2011


One of the reasons I went to London was to shake things up a bit.  I needed to break out of my routine and give my creativity a jolt.  New surroundings along with a temporary shift in my every day life seemed like the perfect way to see things from a new perspective and possibly find new inspiration.  The muse is more likely to sing when she’s given something unexpected to ponder.

I expected my muse to get the same jolt with a Wreck This Journal page that literally gives instructions to make an unpredictable move.  I was wrong on so many levels, but ultimately for the best.  When I first encountered this page, I hesitated and started to do what I always do when given a task . . . I made plans.  About two seconds and three plans later, I realized that I was not following directions.  Nor could I even argue I was interpreting them in my own way, for there’s no such thing as planning an unpredictable move.  So, I closed the journal and put it aside.

A few days later, a random moment struck and I picked up my journal.  Without thinking, I flung it into the kitchen and watched it crash against a wall and ricochet off the laundry room door.  The movement was violent and incredibly irresponsible as I could have broken a couple glasses that were sitting on the counter.  Regardless, I found the whole process exhilarating even though it disrupted my peaceful home and self.  I may have been looking to shake up my muse, but the moment rattled something else entirely.  That flying book made me wonder what kind of writer was hiding underneath the fear created by my inner critic.

Too often, I let my inner critic decide the strength of a piece or whether I will allow anyone to read my work.  The choice should really be my own and I should be making that decision with more confidence. Perhaps, I need to stop over thinking and just start believing.  Who knew flinging a book across the room could lead to such an epiphany?

I documented the event by drawing my journal’s trajectory through the air as it flew into the kitchen. The book took a few hits, but doesn’t that always happen during a brave and bold move?  I’m bound to sustain a few bruises after deciding my novel deserves to do more than just collect dust on my desk.  New readers are on the horizon and the search for an agent is about to begin.

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Previous Wreck This Journal Posts:

Igniting the Spark

Keep Reaching

Letting Go

c.b. 2011

The Best Souvenirs Are Free, but books come in a very close second.  This is especially true if they are used and include inscriptions from previous owners.  While I wander through my travels, I always keep my eyes peeled for a bookstore where I can peruse local authors or maybe find a new treasure to put on my bookshelf.

Books are a favorite souvenir for they not only tell stories, but they keep them as well. New books pique my curiosity because the authors are unknown to me and I want to know how they reflect the place I’m visiting.  Used books connect me to people I’ll never meet and have a history that reaches beyond bent covers and cracked bindings.  I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

This is the first in a series of posts about books that hold special memories for me.  Much like stones and shells, books give me more than a tacky magnet or keychain ever could.

Books From Ireland:

UTZ by Bruce Chatwin 
Winter Garden by Beryl Bainbridge 
All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

On a walk through Killarney, I found a charming store called The Dungeon Bookshop. On the upper floor is a mess of used books stacked on shelves, the floor and wherever else there’s room. And none of them are organized beyond genre.  It’s a good thing I had an entire afternoon free and had on a good pair of walking shoes.  I’ve never been to a bookstore where climbing over piles of books was required in order to get from one shelf to another!  In the midst of the chaos, I found three thin novels by quirky authors, the likes of whom I’ve never encountered.  Chatwin has a unique voice he uses to create amazing metaphors, while Bainbridge proves she’s a legend with her elegant prose.  Then there’s Kaufman, a Canadian writer who deserves a far wider readership as he makes the allegory into an art form all his own.

The Dungeon Bookshop, Killarney Ireland

All three reads continue to be at the top of my list for original writing. It’s quite fitting they came from such a strange shop that defies all the rules.  Although, I realized some time later I may have broke a little rule, too.  The man at the counter seemed surprised to see a tourist in the shop, no less one who was actually buying something.  He was more surprised still that I was American . . . and then he smiled.  All I could think was how this bookshop appeared to be a safe house for misfits.  Whenever my fingers run over the bindings I feel the marvelous chaos that surrounded my feet that day and I hope quirky books and people continue to find their way to the friendly haven on The Dungeon’s second floor.

Ticket to Ride by Dennis Potter

I’ll be honest and admit this book was not an accidental find.  After reading Potter’s Hide and Seek,  I was on a mission to get my hands on more of his work.  In particular, I was after Ticket to Ride.  The only problem is the book is out of print and virtually unavailable in the States.  Seeing as I was on my way to Ireland, I decided my best hope of finding it resided in my trip, despite such slim odds.  Throughout my journey on the Emerald Isle I stopped at every bookstore I could find and came up empty until the last day.  In Dublin, I visited The Winding Stair, an incredibly cute and cozy used bookshop that literally has a winding staircase.   I scanned the fiction shelves and found nothing, so I headed towards the back corner where the bargain books were shelved.  I had to get on my knees in order to go through every book on the bottom shelf, but it was worth it the moment I spotted the magic words:  Ticket to Ride.  I found it!!  I’m pretty sure I gasped and did a little dance.  At the bargain price of €4, victory became even sweeter.  Although, Potter’s book was as good as gold to me no matter the price.

When I opened the cover I found the added bonus of an inscription from a previous owner:

It doesn’t get any better than this!  My curiosity continues to wonder who wrote it and why. What does the phrase mean? What colorful story inspired this person to pull out a pen?  I will never know, but with these few words I am connected to a total stranger.  I’ve always found that small connection to be a powerful thing as my memories are forever intertwined with memories of another.  For that simple reason, Ticket To Ride will always be priceless and meaningful on a deeply personal level.

The book still evokes a strong sense of exhilaration whenever I pull it off my shelf.  One touch instantly brings back the memories of every bookstore I visited as well as the rolling green hills that separated one shop from the next.  This is a book that triggered my book vibe before I even saw it and has proven to be a reader’s delight.  Potter’s writing may be dark, but it’s beautiful and bold in ways I can only hope to achieve as a writer.  I will always be thankful that somehow Ticket to Ride ended up on a dusty shelf in Dublin and I was lucky enough to find it.  It’s battered and worn from a life I can only imagine, but it now keeps the adventure of my treasure hunt safely between its pages.

c.b. 2011

The Obituary Writer

The Obituary Writer by Porter Shreve is in a word: Quirky. Gordon Hatch is the son of a supposedly famous newspaper reporter who had bylines on tons of articles following the Kennedy assassination.  However, Charlie Hatch died when Gordon when just a young boy, so everything he knows about his father comes directly from his mother.  After hearing so many wonderful things, it’s only natural for a son to dream about picking up where his father left off.

A year out of college, Gordon begins his quest by writing obituaries for a St. Louis newspaper. He is certain his inherited journalistic instincts will kick in and lead him to a story that will make him famous just like his father. Until then, he figures he’ll get his feet wet writing about the recently deceased.

Things start to get interesting when a woman named Alicia calls him repeatedly to write a feature about her dead husband. The problem is her husband is no one special. He’s just an ordinary guy who lead an average life. Still, Gordon’s “instinct” buzzes and he decides to follow the story. As he digs into the details, not only does he find an intriguing story, but he also falls in love with Alicia. Up to this point, Gordon seems to be a well-adjusted and normal guy, but once he starts pursuing this woman all his insecurities and faults come to light. For lack of a better description, he’s a little nutty.

While already a compelling read, Shreve does a fantastic job of infusing history into the storyline.  The Revolutions of 1989 serve as a backdrop as a well as an interesting reflection of Gordon’s life.  As major stories unfold, he misses one opportunity after another to make a name for himself in journalism.  The events of 1989 literally redefined Eastern Europe and changed the course of the Cold War, yet Gordon, insecure in his abilities fails to follow the story and create headlines.  Just as Eastern Europe collapses, so does he.

While his state of mind can be a little unnerving, that which leads him to his downfall is somewhat sympathetic. Gordon is a man so driven by what he believes is his destiny he never stops to wonder if it’s what he really wants. In that respect, the obituary writer is just as dead as the people he writes about.

c.b. 2011

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always imagined a little spark inside of me.  It flickers, smolders, and flares to life depending on the mood of my creativity.  Sometimes it needs a little kindling, but never once has it gone out. As I continue to embark on the journey of an aspiring writer, it’s become even more important to me to keep that spark ignited and let my imagination burn wild with possibilities.

This week’s Wreck This Journal page was one of the first I completed because it reminded me of my spark.  The directions instructed me to “Burn this page.” Once I got past my aversion to setting any part of a book on fire, I grabbed a box of matches out of the pantry and got to work.  The idea was to simply add a few little burn marks, to give the page a weathered look, like it had been on the outer reaches of a forest fire, (as usual my imagination had created an entire back story).   What I failed to remember is that paper is highly flammable and the moment I put the match to the edge, the whole page erupted with a brilliant flame!  It was terrifying . . . and absolutely beautiful.  The flame’s vibrant color and warmth made it feel like my spark was right in front of me rather than just inside of me.  Although totally necessary,  it was sad to put out the fire and turn it into a cloud of smoke, (I promise I’m not a pyro).

To keep the flame alive, I drew and colored some flames around the burned edges.  Then, I glued down the matchstick that started the fire.  I wish I could take credit for the matchbook, but that is Keri Smith’s handiwork. I can, however, take credit for giving it color and adding glitter to the flame on the cover.

My spark shows up just about everywhere in the journal, but the scarred edges of this page serve as an autobiography for a fire that just won’t go out.

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Previous Wreck This Journal Posts:

Letting Go

Keep Reaching

c.b. 2011

Books I Can’t Write Without

Like many aspiring writers, my bookshelf is loaded with various books related to the craft of writing. Along with the standard dictionaries, thesauri, and grammar guides, I have books that cover everything from how to write a novel to college textbooks that pick apart short stories.  What I can’t figure out is why I have so many of them! If I’ve discovered anything over the last few years, it’s that the most valuable writing books are the ones which actually inspire the act of writing.

Favorite “How To” Books:

From First Draft to Finished Novel by Karen S. Wiesner

When I decided to start writing a novel, it became glaringly obvious that I had no idea what I was doing.  Wiesner’s book gave me a wonderful place to start in plain, simple language that gave me some hope of actually achieving my goal.  She uses a wonderful analogy of how building a house is similar to the process of writing a novel.  For example, the first phase of building a house is laying the foundation just as brainstorming is the first step to writing just about anything.  As an added bonus, the back of the book is filled with appendices that include checklists, graphic organizers, real world examples, and outline layouts.

Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass

Maass taught me how to craft a plot line and map out characters with thought provoking exercises and questions. He asks writers to constantly challenge and question every word and every segment of a work in progress.  It’s time consuming and even frustrating at times, but ultimately the blood and sweat leads to a more finely polished novel.

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Lukeman gives excellent advice on how to make a novel a page-turner right from the first sentence. He’s a literary agent that explains what makes a manuscript attractive and how to avoid the slush pile. I found this book while in the middle of writing my first novel and it has proven to be an invaluable reference during the revision process.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King

Editing is not any easy task by any means, but Browne & King  make the process a little less painful. They have a great sense of humor as they offer fantastic advice on how to polish a manuscript. Everything from point of view, dialogue, and pacing are outlined with before and after examples that show the difference between good writing and great writing.

Favorite Books For Inspiration:

You Know You’re a Writer When . . . by Adair Lara

This thin little book has made me laugh so many times!  Whenever I have a tough day, I just open up to random page where I’m guaranteed to read something that reminds me I have the soul of writer.

For example, You know you’re a writer when  . . .

. . . You wonder if there’s another word for thesaurus.

. . . There are three empty cereal bowls next to your computer – one for each meal.

(Yes, I’m guilty of both.)

The 3 a.m. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley

This is easily my favorite book of prompts.  Kiteley has put together a collection of unique and unorthodox exercises designed to push at a writer’s boundaries.  Prompts cover a wide range of elements including setting, imagery, characters, description, and dialogue.  Whenever I’m stuck this is the book I pull off my shelf.

Now Write! Edited by Sherry Ellis

Writers often look to each other for inspiration, which is probably why Now Write is such an amazing collection of advice and writing prompts.  A wide array of novelists, short story writers, and writing teachers offer up their best exercises designed to both challenge and inspire.

A Writer’s Space by Eric Maisel, PH.D.

While Maisel offers some very intriguing prompts, his focus on the creative process is what inspires me the most. He encourages writers to pay attention to and foster the muse within by creating a space in which to work, (both internally and externally).

Wild Card Books:

Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith

Recently, I started posting pages from the journal I’m wrecking as it has been an incredible source of inspiration. Actually anything by Keri Smith is bound to loosen the bolts of the imagination. Her books are literally full of dares to step outside the box.   As a result, my writing has become bolder and more honest than ever before.

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace

While not a book on writing, it is one of the most inspiring books I own.  It’s a transcript of a speech he gave at Kenyon College where he posits the notion of seeing the world with idea of choice in mind.  To him, the mundane, day to day existence of humanity is rife with extraordinary beauty.  A trip to the grocery store or even the aggravation of getting stuck in traffic jam can be a fantastic journey, but only if we choose to see it that way. Thanks to Wallace, I try to walk into the world with an almost constant sense of wonder. If that doesn’t given me a reason to write, I don’t know what will.

What books inspire you to keep writing?

c.b. 2011

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