Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review—The Fiction Class, a novel by Susan Breen

Susan Breen’s The Fiction Class, a Plume book published by Penguin Group, offers a great story while feeding your creative brain like a portable fiction class.
To be honest, I was rushing to an appointment when I stole a quick glance through a secondhand bookstore and picked up this gem.(Couldn’t resist—I had five whole spare minutes.) I made the purchase based solely on the title. I assumed the book would be another one of those how-to-improve-your-writing texts. Why not, I thought? I didn’t notice the two little words “a novel” in the upper left corner.

Needless to say, my surprise turned to delight. Reading Breen’s work felt like gleaning the gold from a well explained how-to book, while diving into the lives of interesting characters and a setting I related to on Page 1.

Through a teacher and a class of eleven wannabe writers, Breen unveils the secrets to crafting interesting and believable characters, pumping up dialogue to grab the reader, plotting, pacing, and the question of theme, as well as the importance of voice. She even shares the assignments given to the class and offers discussions on the aspects of writing, all dramatized through engaging scenes. The novel speaks to the heart through the love between man and woman; mother and daughter; and the complex relationships, heartache, and loss that evolve through those loves.

You can read The Fiction Class as a novel, become fully involved in the characters’ bitchiness and silliness, dream for them and weep for them, while at the same time, learn to sharpen your writing as though you’d just taken a ten-week course on fiction.

I’d recommend this book to anyone, writer or not. Readers with no aspirations of becoming a writer won’t be dissatisfied, and writers will be enthralled.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Your Best Friend Is Your Best Resource

Have you noticed your best friend lately—the one who makes you laugh even when your eyes are rimmed with tears? The one who forgives your mistakes, because it’s more fun to dance through a pile of leaves on a breezy day than to waste time dwelling on darkness? The one who convinces you the bananas in your cream pie are fruit and therefore, the delicious slice of heaven is actually healthy? The one who convinces you to take a break on writing that Fibonacci poem you’re supposed to be working on, and instead sit on the deck and blow bubbles for a while?
Remember her? She’s your inner child—your best friend.

She can help you whether you are recovering from illness, wading through family or career obligations, or noticing the pain in your arm that is forever grasping at a bar that keeps rising as you near it.
Take a step back and pay attention to what your inner child is suggesting you do. I’m not saying listen to her evil twin who’s prodding you to take a year off, but if she is simply asking you to  stroll down the sidewalk while not stepping on any cracks ( please save your mother’s back), then do it. She is the one watching out for you, your sanity and preservation. Chances are, if you give her 15 minutes a day, the load you return to won’t feel nearly as heavy as it had.

Are you working on writing a legal thriller? Put on a striped hat and a polk-a-dotted jacket and jog around the block, waving at every dog you pass to see how loud the barking gets.

Are you revisiting that same spot again and again in the oil painting you think you’ll never finish? Cut out a picture of a goldfish, stick it to your trouble-spot and eat a chocolate bar as if it were an ice cream cone, while pretending you are a six-year-old with the freedom to paint anything you want, and work on the rest of the painting.

Are you stuck in that never ending rut of finishing the laundry? Give it up—throw away all those unmatched socks so that you never see them again. Socks are cheap. Buy a few new pairs, and let your imagination pick out the funky designs you’d never wear to church. Wear them anyway, with extra long pants. Wear them to places you think you shouldn’t, but secretly. You’ll be surprised at the little tingle you get every time you think of them. It’s the sneak of a thing that makes it fun.

Is one of your relatives still upset with you when you just want to call the feud quits? Write her or him a note that says:

 I’m sorry. Do you like me? Circle yes or no.
                       Yes          No

I bet you’ll get a good answer.
On your bad days, what does your inner child tell you to do? Do you listen?