V is for… [V]iews #AtoZChallenge

Plans change. When you start building, you don’t expect to find an underground river beneath your foundation. When a bride-to-be hires you to design her gown, with intricate lacing and beading, you don’t expect for her to tell you that the wedding is in a week. When you have a novel all planned out and eager to be written for NaNoWriMo (which seems so far away now), you don’t expect to eliminate what you thought could have been a main character—and certainly a co-narrator—along with their subsequent subplots.

But that’s exactly what I did.

The editor bitch in me has awoken (I knew it was time), and she’s itching to make some changes. Better to change things now before I start writing. I know all too well how editing a story before it’s even finished can completely derail progress.

So what’s changed?

Reviewing my latest posts, I’ve discovered that Detective Maye isn’t as essential to the plot of the story as I had originally intended. While I won’t ax his character altogether (we still have a “Lost Boy” to find) his part will get significantly reduced to make room for Tony, who’s character grows more and more with each new post.

A few things contributed to this change. First, I’ve barely mentioned Detective Maye since K is for Kindred, and his last dedicated post was I is for Ice Cold, which seems like ages ago. However, what really sealed Maye’s fate was the outline, or more specifically, the fact that if you sneezed, you probably would’ve missed him.

I’ve said before that Lost Boy is a family story, and the outline was an obvious clue of which family I needed to focus on. So I’m not going to force a subplot that simply isn’t there. A good writer (or maybe a better editor) knows when a character has overstayed his welcome. The three scenes that Maye had (without Leslie) didn’t really affect the plot much, and I don’t think they would be missed if I tossed them, so…

Let it gooooo!

I don’t want to completely give up on the Detective Maye character, which I think is very strong on its own, so stay tuned—you make see more of him on this blog in the form of a separate short story or flash fiction.

However, concerning Lost Boy, Maye is now just the cop Leslie enlists to search for Gregory. He won’t have any dedicated chapters, although I will keep the multiple points of view structure (for now), alternating between Leslie and her son Tony. With Leslie and Tony as the narrators (actually, I think I prefer Leslie’s chapters to be in first person, and Tony’s in third), you will get to see the drastic contrast in how the two main characters react to Gregory’s disappearance.

Well, that’s it for today’s post. A short one, I know—I’m just relieved to post it at a reasonable hour for once. I haven’t decided what “W” is going to be about. I’m debating between a post on potential research interview questions for Leslie’s prison ministry (which is currently still a plot point until editor bitch decides otherwise), or another backstory on Tony. What’s your view? Which do you prefer?

By the way, if you’re wondering if anything else will change with the novel between now and NaNoWriMo, the answer is a definite YES. I still need a real title!

Until tomorrow, A to Z-ers!

Book Review: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Book Description:

60931Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her 26th birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stays grow longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.


Kindred, a neo-slave narrative (fictionalized account of slavery), shows how slavery can still affect us, even when we’re generations removed from it. For Dana, it has a very literal effect. While unpacking her things in her new home with her husband, Kevin, Dana falls under a sudden dizzy spell that sends her back in time to antebellum Maryland, where she meets a distant white relative (hence the title, Kindred). She’s drawn to him each time his life is in danger and must assimilate herself into a very different era and culture — become a slave — and when needed, save his life enough times so that he can eventually father her great-grandmother. Every time Rufus draws her, the stay grows longer, extending from hours, to months, to even years, and Dana must come to terms with the fact that she must play the part of a slave woman, denying herself the basic freedoms she had back in 1976, in order to survive until she can find a way back home.

So often we treat slavery like a history lesson — a dark chapter in our country’s distant past that we choose to forget or pretend has no relevance in today’s world when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Slavery very much becomes a reality for Dana, and no matter how hard we try to ignore it, it has been a reality for us too. Think of terms such as light skin vs. dark skin (house slaves vs. field slaves), Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, the “N” word, white guilt, or white privilege — all are effects of slavery that still sting today.

Chapter three presents an excellent example of white privilege. It’s Dana’s third trip back, and this time, Kevin accompanies her. In this chapter, we learn that Kevin is white. For two months, Dana and Kevin “act” out their roles of slave and slave master. Then Kevin makes the mistake of saying life in antebellum Maryland isn’t so bad. To him, it would be like acting, but Dana is constantly reminded how she fits in this world. She sees the little black children play slave auction, learning their own objectification early. She’s forced to watch a man have the skin whipped off his back — a warning to the other slaves against insubordination. And later, she herself receives the same beating for teaching another slave how to read.

But Kevin will soon learn that antebellum life isn’t so easy, and it will age him, tremendously.

Reading Kindred made me want to retrace my family tree, as Dana had. While my Ancestry DNA results revealed a lot about my heritage, they did little to connect me with my distant relatives, so I found a 100% free database to search for records using the names I had from our family tree.

Unfortunately, especially for blacks in America, we will inevitably reach a date where all the information suddenly stops. For me, it was 1870, roughly seven years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in the U.S. From that 1870 census, I learned that my great-great-grandfather, who was rumored to have been white, was actually labeled mulatto, and his parents — also mulatto — were more than likely born slaves. As far what happened to them prior to 1870 — who their parents were, who their masters (and most likely my distant relatives) were — I’ll probably never know.

That’s how slavery slaps you in the face sometimes.

Like it slapped Dana, and beat her, and whipped her, and attempted to rape her. That’s another harsh realization Dana has to face about her ancestors (and I about mine, as well); it’s highly probable that she — or rather, her great-grandmother — was not conceived from a mutual love between two parents, but from one overpowering the other simply because there’s nothing that tells him he can’t.

What’s most striking about this novel is its concept of home. The more time Dana and Kevin spend in the past, the harder it becomes for them to adjust to normal life when they return “home.” And even when they’re back in 1976 California for good, the first thing they do is fly to Maryland to visit their ancestral home to see what happened to the people who had become like family to them.

Of course, they’ll never know what happened. If they did, we wouldn’t still be asking questions today.

Why do we continue to run back to the past? Yesterday, I was telling my aunt that every year, there’s a new movie or television special out about slavery. This year, Hollywood is releasing two feature films: Free State of Jones and The Birth of a Nation. On TV, the History Channel is presenting Roots on Memorial Day, and Underground premiered earlier this Spring on WGN.

I fear we’ll always have questions about our troubling past, and no matter how many books we read, how many movies with watch, how many plantations we visit, or how many historical databases we search, we’ll never find the answers we seek. We may be over 150 years removed from slavery, but it’s not rid of us yet. It probably never will be. It’s why I love how this novel ends so much. Some may find the ending unsatisfying, but can any answer we receive from slavery ever truly be satisfying? What happens on Dana’s final exit from the past is a very literal and physical illustration of how slavery snatches so much away from us, even when we’ve never experienced it ourselves.

Kindred is probably the best novel I’ve read so far this year, and while I felt some parts could have been edited or polished better, especially in the beginning and in some of the character dialogue, it didn’t make that much of a difference on my score…

4.5/5 stars!

four_half-stars_0-1024x238

Book Review: Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

pretty-baby-mary-kubicaBook Description:

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head… 


Have you ever read a book that just completely ruined your life? You never asked for it. You just wanted something to occupy the time when work was slow, or when boyfriend still hadn’t called you back. You didn’t expect to get swept into this twisted realm of lies, sexual abuse, kidnapping, and murder, to the point that once you finally got to the end, you had a mental break just like the characters.

While many novels that I’ve read lately lollygag for the first two or three chapters before finally getting to the plot, Mary Kubica’s Pretty Baby opens right into the action.

Heidi Wood, a charitable woman who works for a nonprofit organization helping illiterate refugees and other unfortunate souls, spots the wretched Willow Greer with her infant daughter standing in the pouring rain—apparently invisible to the rest of the commuters on the train platform—and can’t resist the urge to help her. Eventually, she invites Willow and baby Ruby back to her home, much to the dismay of her never home investment banker husband, Chris, and her temperamental 12-year-old, Zoe.

As the novel progresses and you learn more about Heidi and her past, you start to wonder if maybe it wasn’t Willow she wanted to save, if maybe her motivations for bringing Willow and Ruby into her home were more perverse than we might have thought. Eventually the question becomes not whether Willow will pose a threat, but is she or any of the other characters safe, alone in that house with Heidi? Once you reach the climax of the novel, everything happens so quickly, you’re forced to go back and read it again to identify the exact place in the novel where it all suddenly went south.

Overall, Pretty Baby is a great read. There were some parts where the plot dragged, but I’m glad I stuck it out. I wouldn’t quite classify it as a psychological thriller. In a psychological thriller, I want my head to spin, and unfortunately, Kubica’s plot twists didn’t surprise me as much as I wanted them too. However, there were some surprises that I didn’t see coming, and while I figured out the ending early on, the quickness of how everything deteriorated was definitely a shock.

Unfortunately, I do have two major issues that almost got this book shelved. First, am I the only one who thinks that telling a story from three or four different points-of-view is extremely overdone? Personally, I think it disrupts the flow of the story, especially if the next character’s chapter doesn’t pick up where the last character left off. For example, the end of one of Chris’ chapters had me dying to know what happened next. Unfortunately, I had to go through six or seven Willow and Heidi chapters to get there. It didn’t help that all of Willow’s chapters were set in her past (by the way, the novel is written in present tense—something excitingly different). By the time I got back to Chris, the novel had jumped to the next day, and all that tension from his previous chapter was gone.

Secondly, I absolutely hated Willow’s foster father, Joseph. Not because he was an unlikeable character, because anyone who reads my writing knows I live for unlikeable characters. Joseph, however, was obnoxiously unlikeable, and his character was so stereotypical that I was left wondering if Kubica put any imagination into his profile at all. Why is it that every literary antagonist that is a devout Christian is so despicable that his very existence would cause Jesus to swallow his own vomit? I’ve seen this type of character in too many novels. Note to writers, if you’re thinking about making your novel’s main antagonist a hypocritical Christian, stop right there! I promise you, it’s been done before, in every genre. There is no way you will ever be able to make that kind of character original. Avoid the melodrama and take another route.

Thankfully, Willow’s chapters were usually short, so I didn’t have to deal with that disgusting pig for long.

Other than those two cons, I really enjoyed Pretty Baby, and for that, I give it (drum roll, please) . . .

3/5 stars!
3-5

A lot of Amazon reviewers said that her debut novel, The Good Girl was much better. I’ll be the judge of that. I’ve already downloaded the free sample, and if I like it, I’ll buy the book and finish reading, but first . . .

 

Why I Didn’t Finish It: The Ophelia Cut by John Lescroart

ophelia-cut-john-lescroatBook Description:

When a brutal rapist is murdered, a loving father stands accused of the crime. Defense attorney Dismas Hardy must defend his brother-in-law and old friend Moses McGuire in a thrilling case that hits far too close to home.


So, I’m thinking about starting a new book review series title, “Why I Didn’t Finish It.” I know it’s strongly advised that authors don’t give bad reviews, but as some of you may know, I didn’t find my pot of gold at the end of the reading rainbow in 2015. I read a dismal five books! While I attempted to read plenty more, I found myself giving up on a lot of novels for a variety of reasons—editing, dull plot, unbelievable characters, etc. So, in case that drought continues in 2016, I just want to explain to you how it is absolutely possible for an avid reader such as myself to only finish five books in a year.

It took me three months to read Pretty Baby, and it took me that long because I was really trying to give The Ophelia Cut a chance. Co-workers would see the book on my desk collecting dust and say, “Oh, I love his books! I can never put them down!” Well, I couldn’t even pick this one up. I literally fell asleep on the last chapter I read, and for most of the novel, I had no idea what was going on. Finally, a co-worker said to me, “It’s ok to let it go, Nortina.” So I did.

My mistake might have been choosing a book that was 14th in a series. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, and when I found out, I was under the impression that it could stand alone. It couldn’t. From the beginning, I was lost. There were way too many characters to keep up with, and because I’d never read the previous books, I couldn’t connect with any of them. They also kept referring back to an event that happened in the last novel, and I felt Lescroart didn’t provide enough background on what happened or why it happened so that I’d understand how it would eventually connect to the events of this novel. Add on top of that, the main conflict of the story, the thing that hooked me into choosing the book in the first place, the above quoted description, didn’t even happen until well after I’d given up.

I might give John Lescroart another chance, preferably with a stand alone novel, but I’m on a mission to read more than five books this year, and I cannot be held back.

So what do you think? Have you read Pretty Baby or The Ophelia Cut ? How did you like them? I’m crossing my fingers that “Why I Didn’t Finish It” will be a one and done. I hate giving up on books.

My next novel to read is Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Hopefully it won’t be June before I write a review!