Tag Archives: books

Gina with the Cross: A Vingette

I first came across vingettes when reading The House on Mango Street. This book is a series of vingettes. Instead of having a single plot, where each chapter flows in chronological order, this novel is more a series of photographs. Each picture shows a scene, a snapshot into a person’s life. In the case of The House on Mango Street, that life is of Esperanza Cordero, as she grows up in an impoverished Latino neighborhood that she’s determined to leave, only to discover that once she fulfills her dream, she’s drawn back through the need to once again see the people she left behind.

Intrigued with the vingette, I decided to try my hand and create a scene that’s more about conjuring meaning through imagery than plot:

Gina with the Cross

166642911_123b31c585_b

Gina, petite squirrel girl with emergency red flare nails and gold cross necklace, one purple rhinestone and one missing because she liked to pick, was my girlie friend who loved to pray.

“All you have to do is ask for forgiveness,” she said, staring at me, her brown eyes wide. Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap and her elbows were going to leave indents in her knees.

Despite her whispering, her words charged down the pews, bouncing off the stone floor and the stained glass windows. Nail polish puddled around the purple rhinestone in her left index fingernail, trying to suck the stone down into the sea of red.

“Why?” I asked. My hair fell about my face, and as I stared at my friend, her face was cut into strips: pale, pink flesh divided between strands of coarse mud.

“If you don’t, you’ll be excommunicated.” She scooted closer to me, until our knees bumped against each other. “Just tell them what you did.”

I tugged at a loose flap of skin clinging to the edge of my fingernail, twisting it around and around and then yanking. A plum of pain stabbed into my flesh. I yanked again.

What I did? I wanted to breathe, to expel all the air from my lungs. Just shove it all out there and away, but my throat was constricting. A lump formed in it. My lump, a callous, lopsided chunk of lard and ash. Soot-coated and reeking, it slicked against my esophagus, twisting, trying to grind up the soft tissue there.

“I have nothing to apologize for.” I frowned. My voice had choked on itself, like some piglet trying to squeal, but who had its mouth taped shut.

“Don’t say that.” She grabbed my hands, squeezing my fingers until pain spiked up my wrists. “You’re going to Hell, if you don’t.” Her forehead bumped against mine; her breath burned my cheek. “Worse, you’ll be ostracized. What will your pa say if he knew? You’re going to give your ma a heart attack.” Her voice dropped, quivered. “What about me? What am I supposed to do?” Her head started shaking, almost as if it had a life of its own. “I can’t keep this secret.”

I ripped my hands from hers. “Then, don’t.” I rose. Pain spiked through my jaw. It raced down the side of my neck and made my ear throb, a double bass bashing against my eardrum.

The backs of my calves banged against the pew and the wood shrieked against the stone. A few parishioners swiveled around from closer to the altar, but I didn’t care.

I opened my mouth to shout: What are you looking at! You think you know me! You think you know who I am! But no words came out.

My gaze fell to Gina. She stared up at me; her lips parted in a stark O, her Bambi eyes bright in the dim candlelight. “Tell them whatever you want. Whatever makes you sleep better at night.”

My palms pressed against my jeans. My index finger poked through the hole worn at my knee. “You can even tell them that I wanted it. That’s a lie, but you know that’s what they’ll say. I asked for it.” The big cross gleamed in the background. Massive and golden, it hung heavily over the altar, waiting for the perfect moment when its cables would snap and it would crash, banging against the stone, and squashing whoever was standing beneath it. Perhaps I should stand there. Perhaps it would fall on me. “After all, our bodies know when to get pregnant and when not to.”

“Aislinn…” Her hand fluttered to her mouth. I hoped she could feel my eyes piercing her. I hoped they seared her ribs black. “I know you didn’t want it. I know you were forced – I believe you – but…you killed your baby.”

The lump grew larger, churning and elongating. It would turn my throat to stone. “It was never mine.” I spun around and abandoned the pew. My Keds squeaked against the aisle. One of my shoelaces was untied. The white flopped against the red of my shoe, and dragged along the gray stone. I glared at it, but didn’t stop.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Gina hadn’t moved.

Solid oak doors rose in front of me, stretching far above my head and arching. Iron bars locking them in place. I stopped and stared stupidly, my hands frozen at my sides, unable to press the bars. I’d been able to enter this place. I should be able to leave.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood. There were eyes on me.

My nails pierced the palms of my hands – there would be little crescent moon imprints that would refuse to fade – as I slowly turned, my heels digging into the stone. Great, golden eyes from a tilted head, encircled by jagged thorns, watched me. They shouldn’t be able to. The head was pointed down and to the side, the ribs jutting out against the flesh, the stomach caving in, but still the eyes were on me.

I could have been so many things. I’d wanted to be so many things. What was I now, to Him? To everyone?

Noise rose in my throat, shoving upward, scraping and clawing at my tongue and lips, trying to pry my jaw apart. An uproar about to burst free, shredding me from the inside out, but my lump wouldn’t allow it.

I steeled my hands – iron could only burn – and shoved open the doors.

(Picture courtesy of arbyreed.)

Character Sketches: How They Bring Fictional Characters to Life

9781270733_e3e28651e6_kCreating fictional characters can be challenging. You might get a glimpse of a character in your head, but when you go to write a story about that character, you discover that he is one-dimensional. Developing a character sketch enables you to purposefully design your character. It gives you the opportunity to brainstorm and then organize physical and non-physical characteristics, such as height, eye color, personality, the character’s backstory, and the character’s inner and outer conflicts.

Character sketches can be written in various ways. One way is in outline form, where you have categories and subcategories. An outline form works well for highly organized people, because it acts as list, like the partial character sketch example below:

Character Name: Marcelo (Marc) Meier

I. Physical Description

   A. Eyes

  1. Color: Caribbean Ocean blue
  2. Glasses or No: No glasses, no contacts; perfect vision
  3. Any striking features: His eyes are blue to the point where they seem inhuman, like he’s wearing colored contacts.

   B. Hair

  1. Color: Dark brown
  2. Style it’s kept in: Cut short and straight
  3. Any striking features: His hair usually smells like chlorine.

Sometimes an outline can seem too rigid. In that case, consider doing a character sketch in paragraph form. By asking questions about your character, you create a quasi mini-story, as if you’re describing your character to the reader. There’s no plot to this mini-story, but you learn in depth about your character and have more room for creative expression, as in the below example:

Character Name: Marcelo (Marc) Meier

What does your character physically look like?

“Water droplets flung free from Marc’s dark brown hair. It always amazed him that no matter how short and straight he kept his hair, chlorine seeped in and refused to budge. Not that he’d express that to any of his teammates. He didn’t want to be called a wuss and get rat tailed. By the time swimmers got to high school, they’d perfected the art of towel snapping.

“He was already nicknamed “pretty boy” because of his eyes. He couldn’t help that they were ridiculously blue. It irritated him anytime some girl mooned over how his eyes reminded her of the Caribbean Ocean.”

A third way to create a character sketch is much more fluid. It’s where the character speaks directly to the reader, and relates his personal story in a conversational manner. This type of sketch usually contains stream of consciousness elements, as in the following partial sketch:

“Hey, I’m Marcelo. (You can call me Marc.) I’m co-captain of the varsity swim team at Mount Crest High School. I’m seventeen. A junior. (Can’t wait to be a senior.)

“My best friend is Ana Arias. Yeah, my best friend’s a girl. Get over it. (And no, we haven’t done it. Have I thought about her naked? Once. It was weird. Like accidentally glimpsing my mom naked when I was ten. Not something that can be unseen.)

“I have this crazy ex-girlfriend. Hot as all get out, but nowhere near hot enough to stay with. My teammates think I’m the insane one for letting Vicky go. They say sex with crazy chicks is the best type. Seeing as how she’s the only girl I’ve done it with, I wouldn’t know. (She was flexible and had a thing for pinching. I always ended up with bruises.) Though there’s this girl Stephanie (Steph) Blake who likes me.

“Steph’s a sophomore. She’s pretty. Got a great butt. She likes wearing shorts that let half of her butt hang out. (Steph is biracial, and without sounding like a complete girl, she has the smoothest skin I’ve ever seen. Don’t think she’s ever had a zit. And to make me sound even more like a wuss, her eyes are beautiful: almond-shaped and hazel. Any guy should jump at the opportunity to get with her. She’s got this demure, Catholic girl thing; it’s like part of her personality is missing, and she lives by a literal interpretation of the Bible. I’m Catholic, but not that Catholic.)”

Character sketches are especially helpful if you have a large cast of characters. Too often it’s too easy to confuse characters or have them all sound the same. When your characters become living, breathing individuals with dreams, fears, and goals, they become unique and relatable. They become people that readers want to invest time with.

Have you created a character sketch? Did it help you visualize your character and his personality?

(Photo courtesy of Danica Saerwen.)

Reading Challenge 2016: Top Book So Far

At the beginning of this year, I joined Goodreads’ 2016 Reading Challenge. In this challenge, you pledge to read a certain amount of books during the year. While some of my friends stated they’d read 50 or even 200 books, I challenged myself to read 30. For me, this is a lot…it’s about a book every two weeks. I’m two books away from my goal, and I’m happy that I’ll complete this goal.

5518988345_9ef6af4df9_oI wanted to share one of my favorite books so far this year:

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

If I could give this book more than five stars, I would.

At first, I was put off by the amount of cursing within the opening chapters (heads up there’s several f-bombs), but I quickly became engrossed with the protagonist Henry’s personality, trauma, and, most importantly, story.

This novel engages readers, and forces them to witness bullying, mental illness, and come to understandings that they would normally otherwise rather not think about. Shaun David Hutchinson uses Henry to send some very important messages to readers: “Remember the past, live the present, write the future” and that we do matter; maybe not to the universe or in the grand scheme of things – all of us will be forgotten in time – but we do matter and because we live the present, we’ll keep on.

After all, we’re the ants. And what do ants do? They keep marching one by one.

There’s a deepness to this story that isn’t initially apparent, but then showcases itself brilliantly through the pain of loss, the presence of new love and the guilt and fear that sometimes accompany that love, and much more.

This novel begins with Henry telling readers about how he’s been abducted by aliens multiple times, and that they’ve now given him a choice: press the button and save Earth or don’t press the button and on 29 January 2016 the world is going to end. The question remains: will Henry press the button?

Though there is a love story within this book, this novel is so much more complex than a YA romance between Henry and Diego. Henry’s ex-boyfriend Jesse – the love of his life – committed suicide. Henry’s mother is a chain-smoking waitress, who cannot stand her one-time dream of being a chef because that dream reminds her too much of Henry’s dead-beat, door-slamming father, who abandoned them. Henry’s brother is a college dropout. The most popular boy in school alternates between bullying and making out with Henry. Henry’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s. The list goes on, and it is dark and amazing and heartfelt, and at times when readers need it most, comical.

Insight abounds in this novel, and what’s more is that the insight is conceivable. Usually in YA books, the protagonist possesses an awareness other characters miss, and often that insight is too deep or advanced for that character. However, in this novel Henry struggles with the big life questions. He asks others for answers, and the answers they provide create a well-rounded and realistic picture, with each of their answers reflecting the events that have occurred in their lives and how those events have impacted them. This story and its characters are believable to the point I imagined it as real life. That’s a big part of what makes this novel so engrossing, and what had me smiling, crying, and feeling all the emotions throughout the tale.

This book left my mind reeling with thoughts long after I closed the back cover. Definitely take the time to read this.

I’ve read some fantastic books this year, others that weren’t so great, and one that I would have been happy never picking up. Currently, I’m reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I’m only 10 chapters in, but so far this novel has impressed. It’s reminiscent of 19th century gothic novels and is a novel rife with subplots and breathtaking twists and turns. I can’t wait to finish it.

What’s your favorite novel of this year?

(Photo courtesy of Sweetie187.)

When the Books Start Piling Up: How to Settle and Read One Book at a Time

4442380869_6799f03bb2_oI’m always looking for the next book to read. This is great because I never run out of material. However, this often means that I have a teetering tower of books waiting for me.

Too often I find that when I go to select my next book, what I wanted to read a week ago is very different than what I want to read today. Add to that the fact that so many books exist, and I’m constantly finding more books to add to my list. This explains why my to-read list is one hundred three books strong and growing.

When I was younger, I’d attempt to read more than one book at a time. Usually, this resulted in me confusing which characters and stories belonged to which book. I ended up taking longer to read each book and enjoyed the novels less than I would have, if I’d read them one at a time. Then, there are times when I get so excited over new books to read that I lose interest in the current book I’m reading.

I used to force myself to finish every book I started, but with time and energy continuously feeling like they’re shrinking, I put down books much faster nowadays. Which is fine, if the book holds zero interest or is poorly written, but more often I find that I get distracted, whether by other novels I want to read or by the vast number of gizmos and gadgets that surround me…Netflix is a big one.

So, I’ve tried out different techniques to help me focus on the novel I’m reading:

  1. Find a place away from electronics. I keep the TV off, turn my phone on silent (sometimes I’ll flip it upside down), and put my laptop away. It’s too easy to get sidetracked by a text, email notification, tweet, or whatever else crops up. I also enjoy reading when it’s quiet. I’m so easily distracted that I can’t have any type of music playing in the background, even if it’s your standard elevator music.
  2. Schedule time to read. Everyone is busy. It seems like we have a million things to do every day, and no matter how hard we attempt to get every item on our to-do list crossed off, we never quite make it. Knowing how many other things we have to accomplish can make it difficult to concentrate on something that’s considered a leisure activity. However, reading for pleasure has many benefits, including “increased empathy, improved relationships with others, reductions in the symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved wellbeing.” So, pencil in time to read, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes a day.
  3. Read widely. It’s easy to fall into a rut. This includes with what you read. Occasionally, I’ll find myself reading the same types of books. After a while, I begin to get bored. Books I normally would have enjoyed are irritating me, because they seem exactly the same as the ones I’d previously read. Therefore, I like to mix up what I read. Maybe I’ll read two young adult fantasies and then pick up a six hundred page non-fiction book. After that, I might go to an adult mystery novel. By reading widely you’re doing more than staving off boredom. You’re boosting your creativity, expanding your understanding, increasing your emotional intelligence, and enhancing how different parts of your brain link to each other by growing neural connections.
  4. Join a reading group or reading challenge. At the beginning of 2016, I joined Goodreads’s yearly reading challenge. I pledged to read thirty books this year, which is about a book every two weeks. With each book I read, my challenge is updated, and any of my Goodreads’s friends can see my challenge status. Since I take this challenge as a promise to myself, I’m unwilling to not reach my goal. I want my homepage to show that I succeeded in what I set out to do. Giving yourself goals and letting others know about them, creates a community in which you’re responsible for what you promised to do. This motivates you to achieve your goals, and you get to connect with people to discuss what you’ve read, see what they’re reading, and feel like you’re part of something greater than yourself.

Sometimes, however, nothing you do will help you focus, even if you’re reading something you enjoy. In those moments, put the book down and do something else. Your mood will change, and you’ll end up coming back to the book and binge reading.

(Photo courtesy of hawkexpress.)

Death Match: Books vs. Movie Adaptations

 

85684225_93d62dbb3c_bI enjoy both books and movies, and with Netflix, movies and TV shows based on books are readily available. However, while I thoroughly enjoy TV, I find that often I prefer reading, and that almost nearly as often, I am wary about watching a movie or TV series based on a novel. Especially if I really liked the book.

Not everyone prefers books over movies. I can think of several people off the top of my head, but they’re the type of person who doesn’t enjoy reading. For those who do, I’m curious whether they prefer books or movies?

I think that oftentimes a movie detracts from the book, not because the movie isn’t good (though sometimes the movie is really bad), but because a movie has a much more limited amount of space than a book does. Many times, this means that plot and characters aren’t as developed as in a novel.

Also, novelists usually have no control in how their book is portrayed in a movie or TV series. They don’t write the script. They don’t do the casting. They don’t get to say what parts of their novel are cut from the movie, what parts are added to the movie that weren’t in the book, and what’s emphasized and what’s not.

In books, readers are able to see inside characters’ heads, even more so depending on the point of view. Therefore, readers get a more in-depth feeling of characters’ personalities, and get to experience their emotions to a greater extent.

Even if I am wary about watching a movie based on a novel, I’ll most likely still watch it, after I’ve read the book.

Who knows? Maybe the movie will be better than the book. It’s happened, just not that often.

Do you prefer books or their movie adaptations?

(Photo courtesy of Helmuts R.)