Richard Powers – Orfeo

Orfeo is a musical composition transformed into a novel. It is at times lyrical, at times dissonant. It is full of joy and pain, love and frustration. At times I feel I’m taking a course in music appreciation as I read it. I find myself searching for and listening to classical music works mentioned in the story as I go along. One reviewer (Ron Charles, Washington Post) suggests the book could be expensive, even if you check it out of the library, due to the desire to purchase music mentioned in the book. It may not be possible to enjoy this novel if you have no connection with music, either as a performer, writer, or at least an involved listener. Yet Powers is a master with words.

It is the story of Peter Els, a retired musician, composer, professor, who is mistaken for a terrorist and pursued by Homeland Security because of his hobby in bioengineering. In his amateur lab he is trying to design music into DNA. It is also the story of Els life interwoven with his current dilemma. It also has social, political, and cultural underlying themes.

About the writing…
I realize that in my last post I was complaining about literary novels and the lack of quotation marks in some. This is definitely a literary novel with not one quotation mark to be found (though he did use italics for dialog). Yet it held my attention and kept me reading. Granted, it was difficult reading at times (not because of the lack of quotes) and it wasn’t a book I finished in one night…or two or three. In my opinion, this man can write way beyond the capabilities of most of us.

Richard Powers is new to me even though he is a highly acclaimed author winning numerous awards for his novels, including the National Book Award for Fiction. [Wikipedia] I looked up Powers, his work, and reviews of Orfeo because I was curious and intend to read more of his books. Below are some links to reviewers who cover the book in more depth if you’re interested. There are many more if you search.
Jim Holt, New York Times
Steven Poole, The Guardian
Heller McAlpin, NPR from the crowd)

Quotation Marks (or lack thereof)

I guess it’s supposed to be fashionable to write without quotation marks. But to me it usually marks an author who is trying to be “literary.” I know that I have read and enjoyed some books in the past sans quotation marks, but they were good stories.

Last night I gave up on a book written by an author who according to his credentials has a degree in English and creative writing. The lack of quotation marks drove me crazy. He added way too many “he said” and “she said” (the quotation marks are mine) to guide the reader. This made the writing choppy. A talented writer can add he said and she said without the reader even noticing. This was not the case with this book. Sometimes each quote was a separate line and sometimes he bunched them together in one long paragraph. So there wasn’t even consistency in his style. I might have continued reading if the story didn’t feel jaded and cynical. I wasn’t in the mood for that type of novel. It was supposed to be humorous, but I guess it wasn’t my kind of humor.

This morning I decided to look up the lack of quotation marks in certain novels and found a lot of people who agree with me. There’s a post in Jenny and Kelly Read Books blog that I liked called, “No More Books Without Quotation Marks…EVER! /mommie dearest.” I found an article by Lionel Shriver in the Wall Street Journal of all places called “Missing the Mark.”

The article I found most interesting goes into the history of quotation marks. A post by Richard Lea is in The Gaurdian’s Book Blog, “Don’t be scared: dialogue without quotation marks.”

In case you’re wondering, the book I didn’t finish was The Bend of the World by Jacob Bacharach. I can’t give you a review because I didn’t finish it. Who knows? It might be a great book.

Jordi Puntí – Lost Luggage

Four brothers (Christof of Frankfurt, Christophe of Paris, Christopher of London, and Cristòfol of Barcelona) never knew the others existed until their shared father disappears. The authorities in Barcelona notify Cristòfol that his father, Gabriel Delacruz, is missing and his apartment is abandoned. When Cristòfol visits the apartment he discovers the other three brothers and contacts them. The four brothers set about tracing their father’s history, sharing stories about how he met their separate mothers and his adventures on the road as an international mover/truck driver. None of the brothers or their mothers have seen Gabriel in many years.

The book is full of stories and sidetracks which all relate to the central plot or theme. It is filled with fascinating characters and wonderful settings. The writing contains humor and trickery, pain and sadness, connections and disconnects. It took me much longer to read than I normally take with a novel, partly because at times I would lose track of long ramblings. But I kept picking it up to continue because it is imaginative, fanciful, humorous, and very well written. Even though it’s likely classified as a literary novel (which I don’t usually read), it has a definite plot and the mystery of, “What happened to Gabriel?”

This book was translated from Catalan.

More about writing reviews…

I am in the process of publishing reviews on this blog that I’ve previously posted on Amazon. I’m linking them to this post.

Post to Post Links II error: No term found with slug "florida-authors"are authors I know from our large group of writers at Gulf Coast Writers Association and/or Fort Myers Writers Meetup or I have met them at book signings. I’ve read these books and liked them. (I’ve purchased other books at these book signings that I wasn’t so crazy about and haven’t reviewed them.)

I’ll add more to this post later.

About Writing Reviews, where do they go?

For those of you who don’t know me, I belong to the Gulf Coast Writers Association in Southwest Florida (I’m their webmaster). It’s a large group of around two hundred writers. I like to buy members books from time to time and if I like the book, I write a review on Amazon. As a writer, I know that good reviews help your sales. I always appreciate a review for my book. More is better.

But…where do they go?

I write a review and see it on Amazon. They even send me an email telling me it posted. A week or a month later, when I go back to check on my review, it has disappeared. The same thing happens to reviews people write for my book. Currently I have one review on Amazon. I asked this question, “Where do they go?” and was told that they need to be able to verify purchase. I can almost understand on the books that I buy from the authors at a book signing or a writer’s meeting. Yet even the reviews I’ve added for books I’ve purchased from Amazon have disappeared.

So…where do they go?

I don’t know how to solve this problem. I’m going to start adding my reviews of these books to other websites, like goodreads, indie bound, aNobii, and LibraryThing. There may be more. The other places I found to leave reviews online seem to be either bookseller sites or sites that have been bought out by publishers/booksellers. So you may have the same problems there that you have with Amazon.

Meanwhile, I’m going to start adding those reviews here on my blog and on one or more of the other places I mentioned. We’ll see how it goes.

Janet Evanovich – Takedown Twenty

Humor is difficult to write – at least for most of us. I think Evanovich has humor etched into her personality. Even though I sometimes feel her Stephanie Plum series has probably gone on too long, I still laugh at the antics. Where else would you find a giraffe running loose in a neighborhood in Trenton, New Jersey, or any other city? It doesn’t show up on the news, there are no police reports…people are ignoring a giraffe.

I think the best scene in this book (notice I say scene because these books are very visual) is when Stephanie is getting a lesson about how to cook a steak and she manages to burn down the house. But you have to read it to appreciate it.

On Writing – Writer’s Block

Every writer probably has writer’s block at one time or another, unless they are very disciplined. Even when writing, sometimes we are suffering from writer’s block. We just keep writing words even though we know they are not going anywhere, or at least not where we intend them to go. For me there are several types of writer’s block.

Procrastination: I’ll do it tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…for days, weeks, or even months.
Possible solution: Schedule a time to write every day. At least write something.

Priorities: I need to do “this” first – task, project, work, play, or whatever. For me it’s usually my work. I’m self-employed and always feel guilty when I write for myself before finishing the work piling up for my clients. Which is more important – editing my current book for publication and working on the next one or finishing the website, cover, or book format for someone waiting for their finished product?
Possible solution: Schedule my writing as if I’m a client.

Complete writer’s block: I sit in front of the keyboard and can’t think of a thing to write.
Possible solution: Just write anything to get started. (This blog started as an exercise in writing something, even if it’s not the manuscript I should be working on.)

Writing goes nowhere: Maybe the plot isn’t going where I think it should or I don’t like the way the character is developing or a thousand other excuses. Whatever the reason or non-reason, what I write isn’t doing anything for me.
Possible solution: Stop! Outline the plot or write a backstory for the character. Go back to the beginning and read to see where it went wrong. Try to read it as if it was written by someone else. Organize.

My main “writer’s block” is setting my priorities. If I’m going to get any worthwhile writing into my busy schedule, I need to consider my own writing as important as my clients’ work. Let’s see if I can serialize my last published book for Kindle, finish editing and publish the next one, or complete the draft of the story that’s stuck in the middle.

I’d love to hear other writers’ opinions on this subject. Leave me a comment.

And wish me luck…

Donna Leon – By Its Cover

Donna Leon is an ex-pat from New Jersey who has lived in Venice, Italy for the past 30 years. In her Commissario Guido Brunetti series, while leading us through the waterways of the old city, she plunges us into the slow-paced atmosphere of Venice’s culture – its beauty, food, people, and problems. By Its Cover has Brunetti looking into the theft of rare antique books and pages (illustrations and maps) cut from books in a library. An ex-priest who was a possible witness to some of the thefts turns up murdered.

I find the pace of this story interesting as Brunetti starts his investigation apparently relaxed and not too concerned and increases his tempo and concern to the point where is barely taking time out to eat or sleep before he solves the crime.

Leon’s settings are fascinating and her plot keeps you reading, but for me the best part of her writing is the characters.