Sunday, April 21, 2013

The House of the Spirits

I don't often re-read books. I always tell myself I know the ending, I've read it before, so how could I enjoy it again?

I'm especially wary of books I read in high school.

The House of the Spirits, by Isabelle Allende was one of the few books assigned in English that I remember truly loving. Now that I'm older, when I reflected on why I really couldn't remember. Was the book that good, or did I love it because there was a controversy attached to it (a number of parents thought it was inappropriate for high school students)? Did I love it because I read it during an important, emotional time of my life, or was there something deeper and more meaningful to my remembered emotion?

A few weeks ago I stumbled across it in my library and, just for grins, I picked it up and started reading. It really is that good. Allende creates a cast of characters that run the gamut from outrageous and hilarious to dreadful and menacing. I'm sure we discussed it in high school, but it wasn't until this time around that I understood this is the story of Esteban Trueba, not the story of Clara and her daughter, Blanca, and grand daughter, Alba. They are integral parts of the story, and are really more dynamic than the angry, self-absorbed Esteban, but it is more the story of his life than it is the story of any of theirs, even as Alba and Clara narrate.

In high school the main objection voiced by parents concerned about THotS was the amount of sex. I was too young then to notice it (plus, I was a reasonably sheltered girl) so the sex kinda went over my head. I caught it this time. I'm still pretty sure the sex that was there wasn't unnecessary. It certainly wasn't overly titillating.

Along side the sex (and the issue I wonder might have actually been at the heart of the parental misgivings) is a debate over economics and fairness in the economic system. For most of the book the country is run by capitalists, meaning those who are wealthy are also the ones in power. Esteban Trueba, as a rich, hard-working man, is one of the people in power. I wish I still had the book to quote directly, but he elucidates a viewpoint I think most rich people in this country espouse: they're rich because they earned it and if they were to hand over their wealth to those who work for them the workers would simply squander it. It's certainly a sentiment I've heard enough from conservatives in this country.

Esteban is the embodiment of the whole ideal--he pulls himself up by his bootstraps (fortunately firmly anchored to family land), turning a neglected hacienda into the prosperous foundation for further business. It's true that he worked hard, and it's true that the hacienda was effectively fallow when there was no patron. The workers on the land only lived at subsistence level without Esteban at the helm. On the other hand, once he took over he did exploit them, paying them in company scrip, enriching himself and not really rewarding the people who did the bulk of the hard physical labor, forcing them to adopt his views on vitamins, education, and nutrition. And then there was all the raping of the daughters, the illegitimate children he refused to claim.

Sure, Esteban is a self-made man, but he's also a duche.

Pretty much everyone around him is more liberal than him, and more willing to believe that poor people don't deserve to be downtrodden and constantly in want. There's a constant pull, then, between Esteban and the more liberal people around him. To his credit, Esteban indulges his liberal relations and because of that his fortune becomes a force for good in the lives of many people.

What I really loved about this book is that there aren't right or wrong answers to the economic questions, or really any of the questions posed in the book, with the exception of military intervention into the political arena. This isn't a book where all the bad guys a communist or fascist, or capitalist. There are enough positive and negative aspects to each character to make them whole, and a whole person is hard to see as entirely bad. The arguments each makes, the viewpoints each holds are similarly complicated, similarly whole, and thus, it's impossible to dismiss any of them out of hand. They're all right in some ways and wrong in others.

Something I definitely want to work into my own writing.

Friday, April 19, 2013


This month is Camp NaNoWriMo, which is kind of a NaNoWriMo where you set your own goal. Fortunate for me because 50K words is way out of the realm of what I could do. 10K words, on the other hand, that I can manage.

The cool thing is, I am managing it. I'm not necessarily writing every day, but I am writing consistently, and finding some benefits to that consistency. For instance, the writing is easier, both to get into and to finish. What I write flows better, sounds better to me, and is going over better with my writing group. Not that I've gone through the exercise yet of reading out loud, but I'd guess the things I'm writing now will sound better out loud. I'm getting a better idea of my characters, and remembering them better. Oh, and my secondary characters actually have personalities because the primary characters are more cemented, leaving me mental space to give secondary characters some attention.

Best of all, I'm having more fun writing.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The proposal

Yes, I know. If I watch rom-coms I deserve what I get.

I watched "The Proposal" last night. Wow, what a stinker. I mean, it's kind of a bad thing when you're watching a romantic comedy and hoping the besieged couple doesn't make it. The Sandra Bullock character was so unsympathetic--blackmailing your secretary into a marriage? Passing on his manuscript to keep him at your beck and call? Cutting in line?--I really wanted her to get caught and sent back to Canada.

The secondary characters might have been good--c'mon! Betty White was the granny!--except that, in typical rom-com style, they were totally overplayed, one-dimensional, stereotypical characters. 

The only reason to watch this movie is the great scenery. Pretty landscape, pretty people. Other than that, it's a pass.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


I really hope I'm not out of commission for writing.

Tonight I thought I'd clean some glass in my house. As it so happens, my kids love Windex. My son, determined kid that he is, tried to pull th bottle from my hands. In the process he broke the bottle, cut my hand, and strained some of the tissues in my hand to the point I can basically only use my thumb.

Sigh. I was right on target for my April Camp NaNoWriMo super easy goal. I hope this heals quickly, or I get very good at this kind of typing quickly.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Where March went

So, it's this funny thing. March is gone and I have nothing to show for it. I didn't write much; I didn't read much; I basically didn't blog at all. All I have to show for the month of March are a couple of kids who were fed, clothed, and entertained reasonably well, and who only sustained minor injuries during that time. Oh, and Easter candy. Lots of Easter candy.

In April I'm doing camp NaNoWriMo with a very modest goal (10,000 words). So far I've done pretty well with that goal--I'm just a little bit ahead of where I need to be to finish my 10,000 words in one month. It's not entirely true that I didn't write in March. I finished one chapter (badly, but 2000 words, so not nothing) and I did a bit of outlining. Really, I did quite a bit of outlining.

I'm a discovery writer. I almost never start with an idea of where I want to end up; I start with an idea I think is cool and see where it takes me. Unfortunately, usually I just write around in circles. I'm attempting to get around that by listening to the advice of other writers and figuring out my ending and then what I need my characters to do/have happen to them to get to that point. It's a bit like figuring out a puzzle. I find I do enjoy the thought process, though then meshing the outline with the writing is still a challenge.

You see, I have a hard time doing mean things to my characters. I decided to shove one of them off a cliff in February, and another couple just lived through a massacre, so it's not like I can't do mean things to them externally, but then figuring out what my characters are going to do in response and how that works into the outline...