December 18, 2014

Bookish Secret Santa



Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday but despite that, this was my first year participating in a Secret Santa blogger gift exchange.  The lovely Michelle from The True Book Addict posted on Facebook that she was organizing the event and I just had to get in on the fun. 

I was thrilled and excited to receive my Secret Santa package last weekend. 





Traditional Christmas candy, yum!  What could be in the packages?




A new Sarah Jio book!  Squeee!   A pretty little notepad to hold my (crazy) thoughts and ideas!

Thank you to my Secret Santa, Kristen of We Be Reading - - she did a fantastic job and her gift definitely got me into the Christmas spirit.

Thank you, Michelle, for organizing the Secret Santa gift exchange - - I will most definitely be participating again next year!

Readers, do you participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange?  If so, what's the best or most unusual gift you've been given? 



December 14, 2014

JANE AUSTEN'S FIRST LOVE by Syrie James



DescriptionIn the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy, and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honor of her brother's engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door—the wealthy, worldly, and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realizes that there are obstacles—social, financial, and otherwise—blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.
 
Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned. 




My Thoughts on Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James

One of the greatest tragedies in classic literature, in my opinion, is that Jane Austen died young, leaving us with only six pieces of work.  Brilliant pieces but only six.  Author Syrie James has given us Janeites a real gift in conceiving a novel imagining a fifteen year old Jane Austen's first love and how it shaped her as the future novelist the world would come to know and adore.

I am not wholly an Austen purist; I appreciate and enjoy a variety of Austen and Austen inspired variations but I am picky.  I accept creative license with "our Jane" but within reason - - I still want Jane to be Jane.  Jane Austen's First Love checked all the boxes with me and then some.

To put it plainly, I loved this book.  I read it in one sitting, quite an accomplishment for someone who works full-time outside the home, with a variety of outside activities, including writing, and with a touchy back and neck that often makes sitting for long periods difficult.   I simply could not put this book down.  I was enraptured from the first sentence, desperate to know about this first love of Jane's, feeling her heartache and emotions and falling in love with the feisty character of Jane as well. 

Having the viewpoint be from a teenaged Jane was inspired.  Many fictionalized accounts of Jane's life place her as either a young adult or toward the end of her life.  Seeing an adolescent Jane, with her personality developing into many of the characteristics the author Jane Austen would be noted for, was rewarding and oh so enriching.  I was particularly fond of seeing small flashes of strength, willfulness and wit that would become fully developed in the adult Jane. 

Jane's relationship with her sister Cassandra was showcased to perfection.  The sisters' clear love and joy with the other was heartwarming - - they were confidantes and seeking counsel from the other from early on.   While their personalities were different, they were a perfect offset to the other.   Cassandra was clearly Jane's biggest supporter.

As to the other characters, and there were many in Jane Austen's First Love, Ms. James penned them vividly.   From the Austen parents and siblings to the families of the Knights, Bridges and Paylers, these wonderful people came alive through Ms. James' talented hand.  Turning the pages, I could distinctly visualize the haughty Fanny, competitive Elizabeth and their snobbish mother Lady Bridges; the sweet natured mediator Sophia and the sickly Marianne; their genial father Lord Bridges and Mr. Lewis Cage and Mr. William Deedes.  Not given short shrift are the amazing estates - - Godmersham Park, Goodnestone Park and Bifrons, the home of Edward Taylor.

Ah, Edward Taylor.  Is it wrong that I fell in love with this young man that so enchanted Jane Austen in this telling?  (Don't answer that.)  Mr. Taylor seems to be the best combination of Jane's future literary heroes, complete with their strengths and foibles, bringing out Jane's own prejudices and first impressions.  Sound familiar?   He matched Jane wit for wit and adventure for adventure.  Even knowing how the story must ultimately end, my heart was hurting for these two, wanting so desperately for them to end up together.  

Jane Austen's First Love is full of romance, not just that between Jane and Edward.  We are given an entertaining glance as to the seeds of not only Pride and Prejudice but also Emma and Mansfield Park and this glance is richly gratifying.  Picking up on these ciphers made an already jubilant read an outright blissful one.

Already a fan of Syrie James and her earlier works, and having had the great pleasure of meeting her, Jane Austen's First Love only cements my opinion of her as one of the very best historical fiction writers today and one of a small and elite group of  Jane Austen successors.   Having her Author Afterward detailing how the idea for this book was brought to fruition and the immense amount of research she conducted, using real people and events, was a parting gift at the end of this work.  

Thank you, Syrie James, for this enchanting, sweet and lovely book - - one that has earned a permanent place in my home library and easily one of the very best books I have read this year.  Thank you too to Laurel Ann Nattress for encouraging the author to write this charming story.  Your dedication is well deserved.

Jane Austen's First Love is a delightful tale, not to be missed by fans of Ms. Austen, Ms. James or any reader who appreciates historical fiction of the highest caliber.  I wholeheartedly and highly recommend it. 

So readers, tell me . . . what story of Jane Austen's (based on her life or on her work) would you like to see published next? 

I'd like to hear your thoughts - - plus commenting on my question enters you for the FANTASTIC giveaway below!

Amazon

Author Website

Author Facebook Page

Author Twitter Page    



FTC Disclosure: The review copy of this book was provided by Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose for the book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.  In no way did the provision of the book affect the outcome of my review.  




  
Grand Giveaway Contest
 
Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages
 
To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen's First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the 
Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour
.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie's unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!
 

November 26, 2014

LOST IN AUSTEN (2008): A Movie Review



Movie Description:    Amanda Price is sick of the modern world. She yearns for the romance and elegance found in the books by her favorite author, Jane Austen. But she's about to get a rude awakening as one fateful evening, she is propelled into the scheming 19th century world of Pride and Prejudice while that book's Elizabeth Bennet is hurled into hers. As the book's familiar plot unfolds, Amanda triggers new romantic twists and turns within the Bennet family circle as she clumsily tries to help the sisters nab husbands and even captivates the tantalizing Mr. Darcy herself. But what about Elizabeth...and what will become of one of the world's greatest love stories?





My Thoughts on Lost in Austen

I want to love this movie.  I mean really love and flat out adore this movie.  It has Jane Austen, it has Pride and Prejudice, it has Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy and it has a modern girl transporting back to Regency England and into that amazing book.  Can't go wrong, correct?  Unfortunately, no.

Let's start with the good.  The concept is gold.  If you're a Janeite (like me), devoted to Pride and Prejudice (like me) and feel that Mr. Darcy is the greatest romantic character in literature (like me) you have fantasized about saying "screw it" to this modern world and waking up in Regency England to being Elizabeth Bennet and being courted by Mr. Darcy (like me).  So Lost in Austen is already ahead of the game because those bases are covered.   Amanda Price doesn't wake up in Regency England but rather finds a portal in her London flat that transports her to Longbourne, the Bennet home, while bringing Elizabeth to modern day London.  So far, so good.  Amanda escapes her apparent lackluster job and completely unromantic boyfriend (who drunkenly proposes to her with the tab from a beer can, ugh!) to stay with the Bennet family.

And this is the best part of the miniseries.  The crazy Bennet family and Amanda's culture shock over not only daily life during the Regency period but that this fictional family is apparently real.  This is also one of the biggest failures of the series but more on that later.

Mr. Bennet, true to form, keeps to himself in his study, reading his books and shutting out his shrill and melodramatic wife.  Mrs. Bennet and her ever-present nerves spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about what will become of her and her daughters should her daughters not marry well.  Jane, the eldest Bennet daughter, is sweet and accommodating while Lizzy is more adventurous although we don't really get to know Lizzy very well since she is in Amanda's modern day London while Amanda is at Longbourne.  Mary is serious and studious, although a bit more lighthearted here than ever before.  Kitty and Lydia are silly and precocious.  All of that is well and good.

We, the viewers, expect that Amanda will find the reality quite different from the book.  And yes, we even expect for her to throw a wrench into Ms. Austen's beloved tale.  I did enjoy Amanda's confusion at what constituted a grand dinner at Netherfield as well as the primitive instruments used to brush teeth.  But overall I was disappointed and flat out angry with the character of Amanda.

She claims to have been a fan of Austen's and Pride and Prejudice from the age of thirteen and that she has longed for Mr. Darcy for thirteen years.  Given that, wouldn't you think that she would know how to conduct herself accordingly for the Regency times?  Yes, we can allow the initial culture shock and that she's not dreaming or on a reality show with hidden cameras.  Once she realizes that she is indeed within this story, wouldn't she realize that addressing persons by their Christian names is not allowed?  When she addresses Caroline Bingley by "Caroline", I cringe, or Charlotte Lucas upon first meeting as "Charlotte."  It simply was not done during that time and Amanda should have known that.  Additionally, allowing her hair to be down made me stabby.  There is no way any of the Bennet women, most especially Mrs. Bennet and Jane - - the model of propriety - - would have allowed Amanda to walk around with her hair loose. 

As mentioned above, Amanda not only throws a wrench into the general plot of Pride and Prejudice, she turns it on its ear.  Parts are humorous and downright funny but others are painful.  I am not an Austen purist, I enjoy variations of all types, but certain liberties were taken with some of the characters that changed not only the overall story but the characters themselves.  In that regard, I suppose I am a purist and I thoroughly disliked what was done.

Amanda was a troublesome heroine for me.  On the one hand, I liked her.  I liked her at the start of the movie and felt for her when she merely wanted to read her book and her boyfriend had other ideas.  I liked and empathized with her confusion over finding Lizzy Bennet in her bathroom and then meeting all of these fictional characters come to life.  But she lost me when she became borderline unhinged and began acting out and doing things that simply were not done in Pride and Prejudice.   She did continue to try and correct where the plotline went off the rails but her corrections oftentimes led to further (and worse) disasters and that led me to a gradual dislike of her. 

The actress playing Amanda did a fine job, as did the others.  The acting wasn't an issue, nor were the locations and sets.  I have read online distaste for Elliot Cowan as Mr. Darcy but I have to say that I found him rather amusing and fairly well cast.  He fit the shoe, so to speak, looks-wise and he certainly nailed Mr. Darcy's haughty command and personality.  Perhaps the haughtiness continued too long but that may have been more an issue with the script than with Mr. Cowan's portrayal. 

Speaking of Mr. Darcy, while I had no issues with how he was played, I did take serious issue with the notion that he would ever develop feelings for Amanda.  Like ever.  In a million years.  Nevermind that Amanda was completely disgraceful by Regency standards, she was rude and crass and that Mr. Darcy at one point told her he was repulsed by her.  This, by the way, is likely exactly how Mr. Darcy would feel but as a gentleman, he would never make such a comment aloud to her.  It is beyond farfetched to think that within a few days of making that un-Darcy like statement to her, he would then be professing his love.  Just . . . no.  

The most egregious error on the part of Lost in Austen was that Lizzy - - Lizzy - - became a secondary and supporting character.  For me, Lizzy was the heart and soul behind Pride and Prejudice and for this production to relegate her to basic cameos is downright sinful.  I expect they hoped the viewers would attach themselves to Amanda and root for her but it simply did not happen here. 

Lost in Austen is most definitely not for the Austen purist who will likely be horrified over what has been done to their beloved characters.  It is a somewhat entertaining romp through Regency England for a rainy afternoon and one not to be taken seriously.  I have seen it a few times and certain aspects do have charm upon repeated viewings. 

Amazon

FTC Disclosure: This movie is from my own personal collection and was purchased by me. I was neither paid nor compensated (ha ha) for this review.

November 19, 2014

Audiobook Review: STORIES I ONLY TELL MY FRIENDS: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Rob Lowe




Description:   A wryly funny and surprisingly moving account of an extraordinary life lived almost entirely in the public eye.

A teen idol at 15, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at 20, and one of Hollywood's top stars to this day, Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio who was uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-70s Malibu, where he embarked on his unrelenting pursuit of a career in Hollywood.

The Outsiders placed Lowe at the birth of the modern youth movement in the entertainment industry. During his time on The West Wing, he witnessed the surreal nexus of show business and politics, both on the set and in the actual White House. And in between are deft and humorous stories of the wild excesses that marked the 80s, leading to his quest for family and sobriety.

Never mean-spirited or salacious, Lowe delivers unexpected glimpses into his successes, disappointments, relationships, and one-of-a-kind encounters with people who shaped our world over the last 25 years. These stories are as entertaining as they are unforgettable.







My Thoughts on Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

As a teen of the 80s, I was superficially familiar with Rob Lowe, the actor.  I knew him as Billy from St. Elmo's Fire, Sodapop from The Outsiders and a handful of other roles.  I knew him as the one-time boyfriend of Melissa Gilbert and Princess Stephanie of Monaco.  Who could forget the details of his sexcapades during the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta?  Not this former Atlanta resident.  I wasn't a fan but I wasn't opposed to him either.  He was just another Hollywood actor in my book, albeit a stunningly good looking one. 

I purchased this audiobook for a road trip, thinking it would be entertaining and likely a piece of fluff.  Imagine my surprise when after listening to this audiobook, not only do I consider myself a fan of Mr. Lowe's but I can also add "author" to my mental description of him.

Put aside all of your previous opinions of this former (and, honestly, still) pretty boy and read or listen to this book.  It's worth every moment.  Mr. Lowe gives a painfully honest account of his background, from his family to his rise in Hollywood to his days of being in the Brat Pack.  He is never mean, he doesn't throw anyone under the proverbial bus but he also doesn't mince words or spare details. 

He speaks openly about his dysfunctional early family life and his mother's myriad of quests for living all naturally (to the point of hysteria) and dealings with depression.   He talks of knowing from a very early age that he wanted to be an actor, but having a strong attraction to politics, and of arriving in Malibu and being an outcast for years.  Unlike today, back in the 1970s it was not cool to be an actor.  Even friends, and future thespians, Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and the Penn brothers, were not necessarily the popular kids.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Lowe's recounting of Malibu and Hollywood in the 1970s - - how fascinating was it to hear that he was present at one of very early shoots on the then unknown Star Wars?  That Charlie Sheen's first love wasn't acting but baseball and that he hoped to be drafted and play major league ball?  And that Mr. Lowe himself had already decided to throw in the towel on his minor career and attend college when he was cast in The Outsiders

Did anyone know that Mr. Lowe and John F. Kennedy, Jr. had met and spoken about John's decision on marrying?  I certainly did not although Mr. Lowe begins his book with a recounting of meeting the one person he was most excited and humbled to meet - - yes, John F. Kennedy, Jr.  In Mr. Lowe's retelling, Kennedy is a down to earth, all around nice guy who loved the sneak peek he was given of The West Wing and demanded that Rob Lowe, and Rob Lowe alone, be given the cover of his new magazine George.  It is somehow shocking to know that Mr. Lowe was doing the same as the rest of the nation back in July of 1999 . . . waiting to hear news on the plane crash and being shocked and saddened over the loss.

Serious Rob Lowe fans may already know this but Rob Lowe has lived a heck of a life so far.  He has met scads of famous people, from trying to meet Telly Savalas (unsuccessfully) as a child in Ohio to getting future career advice from Liza Minnelli to the pre-career and teenage Darryl Hannah to the aforementioned Princess Stephanie of Monaco (whose lifestyle will make you scratch your head in wonder.) Despite the many connections, the women, the alcoholism and career success, Mr. Lowe manages to come across unscathed.  He's your next door neighbor, the father of a child in Little League, someone who is incredibly humbled by the good fortune bestowed upon him and who ultimately holds himself to a high standard.    Surely I wasn't the only one feeling triumphant over his comeback with The West Wing.    

Perhaps this is the most surprising part of Stories I Only Tell My Friends. . . Rob Lowe can write.  No, really.  He is as blessed with the pen as he is with looks.  From the first chapter, his prose draws the listener/reader in, inviting you into his world and his story.  Listening to the audio version of this book versus reading it, I was privileged to hear his own voice and his incredible impersonations.  He is a gifted narrator, from the pleasantness of his voice to verbal inflections.  His impersonation of Tom Cruise had me giggling in the car.

There was one thing I didn't like about Stories I Only Tell My Friends and that was the book had to end.  It was so good and so enjoyable I did not want to part company with Mr. Lowe.   The upside is that he has generously written a follow up memoir, one I will be picking up to savor.

I would not hesitate to recommend Stories I Only Tell My Friends.  It's the perfect celebrity memoir -  interesting, fun and dishy without being catty or cruel. 

Amazon

Audible

Author Website

Twitter

FTC Disclosure: This audiobook is from my own personal collection and was purchased by me. I was neither paid nor compensated for this review. You're welcome. 

November 18, 2014

Giveaway Winner: MY SISTER'S GRAVE



The lucky winner of a copy of My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni is . . .


Jennifer Ricketts


Congratulations, Jennifer!  I hope you enjoy your new book.  I will be emailing you directly to get your mailing address for your new goodie.

A big THANK YOU to all who visited Psychotic State Book Reviews and entered this giveaway.  I appreciate each and every one of you taking the time to visit and to post your entries. I hope you will stick around for future reviews, giveaways and interviews. 



Thank you to TLC Book Tours for making this giveaway possible.

November 14, 2014

A Ball at Pemberley!



Have you RSVP'd for the Pemberley Ball this weekend? 

Lady Vee at vvb32 reads is hosting a ball at Mr. Darcy's lovely estate Pemberley and all are welcome! 

Stop by, partake in the food, dancing and socializing.  Will you take a dance with Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Mr. Wickham or Mr. Collins?  What mischief will Lydia Bennet be up to?  And how will Mrs. Bennet's nerves fare?

In addition to the wonderful ball, there is also a Darcy Surprise Prize Pack to be won!

Hope to see you there!

November 12, 2014

The Rules on Writing


The rules are . . . there ain't no rules!



You have to write about what you know.

You have to write every day.

You have to outline.  Everything.

You have to start on Chapter 1, page 1.

You have to know how your story will start and end when you begin.


Sound familiar?  I'm sure you have heard at least one of the above "rules", if not all of them.  What do they have in common?  They all start with "you have to" and as the old saying goes, the only thing you have to do is pay taxes (well, you should!) and die. 

I have been writing in some form or another since I was eight.  I remember hearing all these rules at some point while in school or while reading various books on how to write. 

There are no set rules in writing.   Some authors write every day, without fail, because it works for them (paging Stephen King!).  Others write every other day, or write Monday through Friday giving themselves the weekends off.  Still others write only on the weekends. 

Some writers never write an outline or use index cards while others get heart palpitations thinking of going without them.  By the same token, you will find authors who swear by knowing every detail of their work before putting pen to paper while others enjoy the adventure of seeing what happens as they go. 

Stephenie Meyers, the author of the Twilight series, began her successful first book not with Chapter 1 but writing a scene that ended up happening in the middle of the book because she dreamt it and it was vivid in her mind.  After she wrote that scene, she went from there and went back and sketched out the beginning of the book. 

I find that starting can be hair-pulling at times but simply writing a random scene in your work can not only be fulfilling but successful in helping you to find your book's voice and flesh out your characters.   There doesn't seem to be the same pressure or weight that may paralyze you when starting on page 1. 

I took a creative writing class last year and one of the first things the instructor said was "Just sit down and write."  It's probably the best piece of writing advice you can have.  Don't think too hard about it and don't read too much about it. (When I think of the sheer number of "how to" books I've read over the years, I shudder).  Just do it.

In short, there isn't one right way or one wrong way.  Whatever works for you is the way to go.

As the great quote from Grease above says, remember that the rules of writing are that there are no rules.

Isn't that thought insanely liberating? 




November 10, 2014

MY SISTER'S GRAVE by Robert Dugoni



Description:  Tracy Crosswhite has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is the guilty party. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy became a homicide detective with the Seattle PD and dedicated her life to tracking down killers.

When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger.




My Thoughts on My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni

I have been a fan of Robert Dugoni's for many years, since picking up my first novel by him.  I found him then to be an engaging writer with tight plots and heroes you could root for and his newest installment, My Sister's Grave, does not disappoint. 

Mr. Dugoni wrote a fantastic hero in David Sloane (first introduced in The Jury Master) and he manages to conceive an equally awesome heroine with Tracy Crosswhite.  Our gal Tracy is no helpless woman.  She's a Seattle detective who's strong willed and determined and while she's unmarried, she's no man hater.   Plus girlfriend has been seeking justice for her sister for twenty years so she's definitely loyal.  I have found that a number of female "leads" are written as nearly unlikeable but I liked Tracy.  A lot. 

Additionally I felt a kinship toward the fictional town of Cedar Grove, written so vividly that I could picture the downtown street, the houses with the wraparound porches and the friendly neighbors.  As far as I'm concerned, Cedar Grove was a supporting character in this book.

Mr. Dugoni's background shows with the courtroom scenes and legal terminology but the book  definitely falls under the mystery/thriller umbrella versus the legal one.   There is also a decent amount of forensics but this reader found it just enough to be of interest and not necessarily tutorial or educational in nature. 

The actual mystery itself was extremely well thought out and executed, making it difficult to put this book down.  I was surprised by the reveal and was quickly turning the page to get to the outcome.  I found the resolution satisfying and was pleased. 

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend My Sister's Grave and look forward to another literary encounter with Tracy Crosswhite.  Bravo, Mr. Dugoni.

Amazon

Author Website

FTC Disclosure: The review copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.  In no way did the provision of the book affect the outcome of my review.    

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing Psychotic State Book Reviews to be part of this tour.



After reading the synopsis and my review, would you like your own copy of My Sister's Grave?  Of course you would! 

Use the Rafflecopter entry below and leave me a comment letting me know what one mystery you would solve if you could.   Me?  I would like to know once and for all the true identity of Jack the Ripper.  (Yes, I have a dark mind.)

Enter now.  U.S. and Canada only.  Giveaway ends Monday, November 17! 


http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/3d34989f2/" rel="nofollow">a Rafflecopter giveaway



November 5, 2014

The Goal of NaNoWriMo



As it is November and some of us are either gliding through NaNoWriMo or paddling desperately to stay afloat, I thought I would pen a few entries of my NaNo experience as well as (hopefully) help others.

Here's a little secret. This is my second attempt at NaNoWriMo. I signed up a few years ago, determined to write my novel in 30 days. Go me! That lasted until the second or third day when I was informed on my dashboard that I was behind in my word count and that I would need words each and every day in order to hit 50,000 words by November 30. I was panicked, overwhelmed and generally freaked out so I quit.

This year I began NaNoWriMo with an entirely different attitude and objective. The 50,000 word count is great but my priority is to just write. If I hit 50,000 words by the end of the month, hooray! If I don't . . . well, I don't. It's not like the NaNo police are going to show up and arrest me or even post my name and picture on their page for all to see.   No one is going to take my laptop away, my head is not going to blow up and it's not going to mean that I'm not a "real" writer.

If I write for the majority of the month, if I get the story that is nagging me incessantly onto the screen (seriously, these characters just will not shut up) - - and not even the story in its entirety but a portion of it - - I consider NaNoWriMo a success for myself.

Because I'm writing.

Repeat after me.

Because I'm writing.

Tell yourself that because, really, isn't that your ultimate goal? Isn't that why you sit down in front of a terrifyingly blank screen after working all day or early in the morning or while your friends and family are out playing (or all three) to pull every ounce of creative juice we can out of yourself and weave a story?    Or is that just me?

If you're participating in NaNoWriMo this year, give yourself a pat on the back. Shout it out! You deserve it! Tell yourself that whatever you achieve, whether it's 50,000 words or 5,000 or 500, is an awesome accomplishment because it's more than you had on October 31.

Jump in. Let me know what you think and how NaNoWriMo is working for you.

September 15, 2014

Author Interview: RANDY SUSAN MEYERS

Today I'm excited and honored to welcome Randy Susan Meyers, author of The Comfort of Lies, The Murderer's Daughters and the newly released Accidents of Marriage, to Psychotic State Book Reviews.



Can you tell us a bit about the book and the relationship between the characters?

Accidents of Marriage asks what is the toll of emotional abuse on a family. It’s an account of life inside a marriage that seems fine to the outside world, an account of emotional abuse, traumatic injury, and how a seeming accident is really the culmination of years of ignored trouble. It’s the story of an unexpected gift of clarity making the difference between living in hell and salvation.

For Madeline Illica, the love of her husband Ben is her greatest blessing and biggest curse. Brilliant, handsome and charming, Ben could turn into a raging bull when crossed—and despite her training as a social worker Maddy was never sure what would cross him. She kept a fragile peace by vacillating between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their three children, until a rainy drive to work when Ben’s temper gets the best of him, and the consequences leave Maddy in the hospital, fighting for her life.

Accidents of Marriage, alternating among the perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Emma, takes us up close into the relationships between all family members. The children, lost in the shuffle, grasp for sources of comfort, including the (to them) mysterious traditions of their Jewish and Catholic grandparents. Emma and her grandparents provide the only stability for the younger children when their mother is in the hospital. Ben alternates between guilt and glimmers of his need to change, and Maddy is simply trying to live.  Accidents of Marriage reveals the challenges of family, faith, and forgiveness.

How many different titles did you experiment with before deciding on Accidents of Marriage?

My first working title was A Thousand Suppers (which comes from a line in the book, but ultimately made no sense out of context.) The title I used when I presented it to my editor was simply Maddy & Ben. After many long sessions with poetry books, anagrams of words, and other methods that I use, I came up with Accidents of Marriage.

How has working with batterers and victims of domestic violence influenced your writings?

Working with batterers taught me far more than I can put in a paragraph, but here is my version of the most important take-away: Never underestimate the hatred some men have of women. Never think that people (other than the truly damaged)  ‘snap’. If they chose to find it, people can access at least a sliver of decision-making. We have agency. We do not choose to hit and scream at our bosses. We choose to hit and scream at people in our homes. The hierarchy of power always comes into play.

Women (and men) do not choose abusive people as their loves—they pick the charming folks they meet in the beginning of a relationship. There might be signs to look out for, but abusers keep those traits in check until the relationship has solidified, when breaking up is more difficult.

There is not a black and white line between being abusive and not being abusive. There is a continuum of behavior, and most of us fall on the wrong side of the best behavior at some point—whether is be yelling, silent treatment, or some other hurtful conduct. Learning that this can be controlled is a job for everyone.

Batterers can change; we can all change our behaviors, but most often we choose not to do the difficult work that change requires. This is something I hope I bring to my writing.

Can you discuss the role of Maddy and Ben’s daughter in the book?

Emma is an average teenager who is thrown into very un-average circumstances. She becomes the stand-in mother, a role she takes on without credit or even being noticed. She is also the keeper of secrets, an impossible position for her to take on. In every stage of her family’s trauma, she is the silent absorber, who ultimately will break or find strength.

How did you portray someone with a traumatic brain injury so well?

I did an enormous amount of study. Luckily I find medical research fascinating. My shelves are crammed with memoirs of those with TBI and caretakers of those with TBI, workbooks for those with TBI, and medical texts—as well as spending time on line reading medical information for those in the field and information for those affected by brain injury. I had someone in the field read the novel and am also lucky enough to have a doctor in my writer’s group.

Did you have any say in choosing the cover for the book?

Yes! The final cover was the fourth one presented. It was tough finding the right ‘mood’ for the cover, but I was very pleased with the final version. Of course, most authors (including me) would love to actually design the cover, but my guess is our final products would not be the graphic success we imagine.

What made you choose a car crash as the tragic turning point between Ben and Maddy?

Abusive and bullying behavior very often plays out in driving. Road rage is a real problem on our motorways and seemed the logical vehicle for demonstrating how Ben’s bad choices result in devastating consequences.

Parts of this story make the reader begin to empathize with Ben. Why did you choose to do this?

I don’t believe books that present characters as all good or all bad can adequately capture life’s totality or experiences. It’s important for me to tap into how we are all the stars of our own show and how we often convince ourselves why it is ‘okay’ to act in awful ways.  Ben is not all bad, despite doing awful and bad things. The question I explore about Ben (among others) is can he change? Is he, are we, capable of change, and if so, how does will and can that change manifest?

Is Maddy modeled after anyone that you know?

Maddy is modeled after about a thousand people I know—including myself and my friends and family. Most of us have some Maddy in us, at least at some point. We close our eyes to the worst, or we use drugs or alcohol or food or something else to tamp down our feelings. We live in a maelstrom of problems and pretend it’s all okay. We deny and lie to ourselves. Until we can’t anymore.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Accidents of Marriage?

Abusive behavior is wrong, whether it is physical, emotional, verbal or any other type of hurtful behavior. It overwhelms a family. Raising children with verbal and emotional violence is harmful and the ramifications last forever.

Most important, we can control our behavior.

But, most of all, I hope readers take a page-turning story from my book. I don’t write to lecture; I write to tell the stories that mesmerize me, and thus, I hope, fascinate others.

Excerpt from Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers
 
Chapter 1
MADDY
 
Maddy ran her tongue over her teeth, imagining the bitter taste of a crumbling tablet of Xanax. After a gut-wrenching day at the hospital nothing tempted her more than a chemical vacation. Nothing appealed to her less than cooking supper. Churning stomach acid—courtesy of work—coupled with anxiety that Ben might come home as frenzied as he’d left made a formidable appetite killer.
She could bottle it and make a fortune.
Each morning she spun the wheel on the Ben chart, hoping the arrow would hit happy husband, or at least neutral guy. Today his arrow landed on total bastard, holding her personally responsible for Caleb’s tantrum, which—oh, horror!—had cost Ben twenty minutes of work.
 
She considered taking a pill, but the rites of family happiness demanded her attention. Gracie and Caleb sprawled on the rug, recovering from their day at camp: seven-year-old Caleb, half asleep, rubbing his cheek with his thumb; nine-year-old Gracie’s glazed eyes fixed on the television. Emma, her oldest, a day camp counselor at fourteen, would be home soon.
Sluggish inertia kept Maddy stapled to the couch despite her long list of waiting tasks. Chop vegetables, pay the mortgage, and catch up on laundry before the kids ran out of socks. Find a stamp somewhere in the mess she called her desk so she could mail the electric bill. Give her children feelings of self-worth. Plus, since she and Ben had fought that morning, he’d need soothing. Fellatio came to mind.
Indestructible fabric, the sort bought by parents with children prone to transferring their sticky snacks to the upholstery, prickled against her bare arms. She lusted for air-conditioning as she’d once longed for peace, justice, and her husband. Each suffocating Boston summer their badly wired Victorian became more hateful and Ben’s warnings about global warming swayed her less. According to Ben, her environmental ethics turned situational with each drop of perspiration.
Pressing the small of her back didn’t ease the permanent knot lodged deep and low, nor did shoving a small hard pillow against it. Her stomach growled despite her lack of desire for food.
Fish sticks would be easy, but she couldn’t bear turning on the oven.
The back door slammed. Emma banged her backpack on the table. Her daughter’s way of saying I’m home.
 
"Emma?"
"What?"
 
Maddy struggled up from the couch and headed toward the kitchen. "Just making sure it’s you."
"Were you expecting someone else?" she asked.
"It could have been Daddy."
"Right." What an all-purpose word right had become in their family, their polite way of saying, I am acknowledging you have spoken, but am choosing not to engage in any meaningful way. Lately, they used it all too often.
Newspapers they’d tried to read at breakfast covered half the table. Emma stared into the refrigerator as Maddy gathered the papers, unsure whether to recycle them. Had Ben finished reading the Boston Globe? The New York Times?

"There’s nothing to eat," Emma said. "In Caro’s house—"
The sound of breaking glass followed by Caleb’s scream interrupted before Emma could specify just how superior a shopper Caro’s mother was.
"Mom!" Gracie yelled. "Come here!"

Emma followed as Maddy ran to the living room.
"Jesus, what happened?" Maddy crouched next to Caleb, her stomach dropping at the sight of blood pouring from his foot. Shards of glass surrounded him, liquid droplets of milk clinging to the pieces, a larger white puddle pooling on the wooden floor. She grabbed a wadded-up napkin to staunch the blood, crouching awkwardly to avoid cutting her knees.
Gracie’s mouth trembled. "I just got up, that’s all, and I knocked over his milk glass. He got mad and screamed, then he stood up and kicked the glass and it broke. He stepped on it. It wasn’t my fault!"
"It’s okay, Gracie." Blood soaked through the napkin, dissolving the paper as she exerted pressure. "Emma, get me a damp towel."
This was preventable, Ben would say. This is why we have plastic glasses.
"Make it stop, Mommy!" Tears cut through the dirt on Caleb’s cheeks.
She pressed harder. Gracie mopped the spilled milk with a dirty T-shirt from her backpack.
"Here." Emma held out a dripping kitchen towel.
"You need to wring it out, Emma. Never mind, just get a clean one."
Emma stomped out with Gracie in her wake. Wet cloth slapped in the sink.
"Give this to Mom." Emma’s voice from the kitchen was extra loud.
Using the hem of her black cotton skirt, Maddy covered the napkin. Gracie returned with a new towel. Emma watched from the doorway, twirling the bottom of her long brown braid.
Maddy peeled away her skirt and replaced it with the towel, Caleb whimpering. "Do I have to go to the doctor?" He squinted as peeked under the towel. "It doesn’t look too deep, but it has to be cleaned," she said. "I don’t think we need a doctor." Maddy’s pulse calmed. She stopped rushing ahead in her mind: wrapping Caleb’s foot safely enough to hold in the bleeding until they got to the emergency room, packing the kids in the car, calling Ben. She looked again—making sure her decision was based on wisdom and not wishful thinking. It wasn’t gaping. The bleeding had slowed.
He tried to pull his foot away. "No! No cleaning. It’ll hurt."
Emma squatted next to them. "You let Mom wash out the cut and I’ll play Monopoly." Caleb’s smile came through like a sun shower.
"That’s sweet, honey." Maddy should appreciate Emma’s goodness and stop losing patience with her sulks and eye rolling. "Thank you."
"Can I play?" Gracie asked.
"No," said Caleb. "Just me and Emma."
Gracie’s lip quivered at her brother’s words, leaving Maddy torn between soothing and yelling Stop it, especially when she saw Gracie make the tiny sign of the cross she’d picked up from Grandma Frances, Ben’s mother, a woman given to reflexive ritual blessings. Gracie’s gesture unsettled Maddy. Next thing she knew, her daughter would be genuflecting at Our Lady of the Virgins. Buying her a Jewish star or a Unitarian flaming chalice, before Grandma Frances hung a crucifix over Gracie’s bed, went on her to-do list. Mixed marriage only went so far.

"Monopoly is better with more people, Caleb." Pregnant women should be required to take classes in referee and negotiation skills along with breathing and panting lessons.
"No. I only want to play with Emma."
Gracie pulled at her camp-grimy toes. "How about you and I make chocolate sauce while they play?" Maddy suggested. "We could have hot fudge sundaes for supper."
"Ice cream for supper?" Gracie raised her chin off her knees.
"Why not?" She pushed back her daughter’s sweaty black curls, the only visible part of Maddy that Gracie had inherited. The kids divided their parents’ parts and shared few: Skinny Caleb had Ben’s thick brown hair, Maddy’s long lashes and narrow shoulders. Poor Gracie, like Ben, would have to fight a tendency toward getting thick in the middle. Emma, wiry like Maddy, had her father’s sharp cheekbones.
Emma rolled her eyes. "Healthy, Mom."
"Shut up, Emma," Caleb said.
"You shut up. Or I won’t play with you."
"I’ll play," Gracie said.
"No. Emma picked me. Wash my cut, Mommy."
 
***
A child leaned on either shoulder. With feet propped on the coffee table, Maddy drifted in and out of sleep. Dirty bowls decorated with blobs of hardened fudge littered the room. After cresting to a quick high of giggles over supper, they’d slumped into queasy sugar comas.
They stirred at the sound effects of Ben’s nightly return: The car rolling on gravel. Scrape of heat-swollen door opening. Keys dropping on the hall table. Briefcase thudding to the floor. Sighs of relief or disgust indicated his mood level. Despite their early-morning fight, Ben sounded audibly benign. Thank God. Maybe it would be a Swiss night, with the living room their first neutral zone.
Ben entered the living room and surveyed their collapsed bodies and the scattered Monopoly pieces. Gracie pulled away and ran to him, throwing her hands around his waist. He stroked her black ringlets into a little bundle at the back of her head as she leaned into his slightly softening middle. He had the body of a forty-three-year-old man who fought gravity by playing handball twice a week, but who’d given up crunches. Not bad, but unlike Maddy, who ran and used free weights and the rowing machine in their basement, his battle against time brought fewer visible rewards.
"What happened?" he asked. "It looks like a war zone."
"We had some excitement. Our boy cut himself." Caleb held out his bandage-swathed foot while still staring at the television.
"You okay?" Ben asked. He gave Gracie one last pat and went to the couch. "Hurt much?"
Caleb shrugged. "I guess. A little." He studied Maddy as though seeking the right answer.
Ben laid a hand on Caleb’s calf. "Can you walk on it?"
"Sorta. I hop on my heel on that side."
"It’s on the ball of his foot. The inside," Maddy said.
"How’d it happen?" Ben tugged on his chin—his poker tell that steam could build at any moment.
Maddy leaned over Caleb and kissed her husband, hitting the side of his mouth he offered. "Forgetting anything?" she asked. "Hello, Maddy? How are you?"
 
He exhaled. "Don’t start. I’ve had a rough day."
Kissing was starting? It is when you’re being sarcastic, she answered herself, using Ben’s lecture voice. "He fell asleep and then got up without remembering there was a milk glass next to him. It was an accident." She knew the lie was barely plausible, but she also knew it was just enough for him to avoid being prosecutorial.
 
"Where was he sleeping? The recycle bin?"
"Very funny. A glass broke. End of story." There. The truth snuck in.
"Why can’t the kids eat and drink at the table like they’re supposed to? Why weren’t they using plastic glasses?" He ran his hands through his hair. "Look at this place. It’s a mess. No wonder everyone’s always having accidents."
Caleb rubbed his thumb back and forth across his knee. Gracie crossed herself.
"Not now, okay? Please." She sent him a significant look.
Ben flexed his shoulders, leaned back on the couch, and stared at the ceiling. He took a deep breath, seeming to remember the anger management sheet Maddy had forced on him six months ago, after he’d thrown a shoe. At the wall, he insisted each time she mentioned the incident. Not at you. But her message had landed. For once, she’d broken through his endless rejections of her careful observations about his temper.
Good thing. She’d gritted her teeth through his rages, but she’d be damned if their house became a physical battleground. He’d scared himself when he’d thrown the shoe—just as he had years before when he’d thrown a bottle of detergent against the wall. The difference was this time he’d listened to her. He’d read the sheet despite hating it when she supposedly social-worked him. Save it for your clients, he’d yell when she deconstructed him. The children. Their marriage. You’re not my shrink, you’re my wife.
If he didn’t want her to social-work him, then she sure wished he’d learn to manage his own moods. Maddy’s sister insisted that one day it would be too late for anger prevention sheets and other tricks. Vanessa had no patience for Ben’s rages, but Maddy blamed herself for the antagonism her family felt toward Ben. Maddy overshared. Everything negative, anyway. When had she last called her sister to say things were going great? To brag about Ben taking an entire day to make sure Gracie could ride her bike safely? How often did she mention that Ben took the kids to the movies while she went for a massage?
At least her mother pretended to love Ben. For which Maddy was grateful.
"We had ice cream for supper," Caleb announced.
Emma’s shoulders squared. Gracie pressed into Maddy.
Ben turned to Caleb. "Ice cream?"
"With hot fudge," Caleb added.
"Nice to be rewarded for breaking a glass, huh?" Ben kicked off his shoes. "Since I haven’t fallen or broken anything, what do I get for supper?"
Emma jumped up. "Should I make you eggs, Dad?"
"Thank you, honey. That would be terrific." He leaned back and closed his eyes, pushing off his shoes with his toes.
Gracie tapped his forehead. He blinked and gave her a tired smile. "What is it, cupcake?"
"Want me to cut up carrots for you?"
Maddy grabbed the laundry basket from where she’d dropped it in the corner of the living room and hurried out before she had to witness the girls wait on Ben. It drove her crazy watching them being trained in the fine art of placating an angry man, but try explaining that one. What, a child couldn’t feed a hungry father?
After throwing in a white wash and rummaging through the crowded shelves for fabric softener, she dragged over a small dusty step stool and climbed up, stretching to reach behind the jumble of cleaning supplies. She pulled out a dusty baggie that held a few tablets, took out a yellow one, bit off half, and swallowed it dry. Sometimes she wondered if she could remember all of her caches. Keeping them scattered around the house gave her a convoluted sense of peace and safety. She might reach for one pill in a week; she might reach in every day. Either way, knowing that they were never more than a few steps away comforted her.
***
Back in the kitchen, remnants of Ben’s eggs and carrots littered the countertop.
She cleared the debris to one side to make sandwiches for the kids’ lunch boxes. Trying to spread cold peanut butter made her hate Ben’s mother. Frances had spent the past forty-six years appeasing Ben’s father’s neuroses by keeping a spotless house and refrigerating peanut butter, on constant guard against food poisoning, bacteria, and dust.
Because of Frances, they ate hard peanut butter.
The bread tore. She folded it around the wad of Skippy and shoved it in her mouth. Then she got a fresh slice and began making the sandwiches again: grape jelly for Caleb, blueberry for Gracie, and for Emma, Maddy’s mother’s homemade orange preserves.
Anger exhausted her. She waited for the kiss of Xanax to kick in, Prince Charming bearing a sheath for her nerves.
Ben hadn’t cared if they ate hot mayonnaise and slept on typhus-encrusted sheets when they’d met, not while they burned off the searing heat of their early years. He’d been exciting, her Ben, a public defense lawyer demanding the world give his wrecked clients a break—a little justice, a fair shot. She could barely breathe around him, some part of her always needing to touch some part of him. Her hand on his shoulder. An ankle casually leaning against his calf.
Ben dwarfed everyone, racing through life with exclamation points coming out all sides. Poverty to the right? Boom! Racism? Pow. Dirty landlords? Gotcha!

Who knew all that passion and rage could be directed at a late car payment? A missing button.
Her.
 
 
Coming up . . . my review of Accidents of Marriage!