IMG_0765So, I’m comfortable with being unusual. In June, 2014, there was a move to that island where we used to spend summers, where I would write and revise while my kids ran barefoot and swam and caught tiny fish with their bare hands. But living there? That was not the same as a summer there.  Living  on an island with no bridge, only accessible by boat, with two teenage boys and a 10 year old girl for a year?  That was different.

The kids made use of the Florida Virtual School program, a computerized version of home school, one where I was not the teacher, thank goodness.  While living on the island, my daughter and I started a book together. It’s got fantastic potential, but has sat untouched for months. Work meant nursing jobs at two facilities specializing in care of psychiatric, detox and substance abuse clients. Early on, a coworker asked me how the shift was going and I said it was like being paid to go to a family reunion.

But, as I became more involved, I saw more. Living in an isolated environment while caring for those the every day world is incredibly uncomfortable discussing at Chipotle was incredibly draining. Always observing, I absorbed new people, their  mannerisms, tics, what they tried to hide and could not, their grammar, body language, their lies, their undercurrents, reactions to other clients and to the staff, all this new information flooded me and I absorbed it like a sponge. But by the time I got home, I was dazed. Journals wouldn’t hold my new understanding of human behavior. I needed sleep, but there were children. Learning personalities of staff at two facilities, which soon became three, exhausted me more.

My writing friends keep saying, this will show up somewhere, everywhere. I did not have time to review books; I did not have the brain space, or the emotional bandwidth. All the synopses sounded too close to home or far too unrealistic. I turned requests down, one after another, out of fear I’d critique too harshly.

We left the island for the big city of Sarasota once school started again, because… socialization. Which sounds minute compared to Atlanta, but Atlanta is made of thousands upon thousands of suburbs and not many people who say they are from Atlanta LIVE in Atlanta. Moving from suburbia to island to city has changed conversations in our family considerably, but it is also a combination of my kids’ maturation, their increasing awareness and my job. Nine days into the school year my two younger kids were pulled to a TAG school located  around the corner from one of the facilities where I work. Across the street from them is Planned Parenthood, the Salvation Army and a cemetery where some  homeless clients sleep and pass the time.

One morning walking them in, I spotted one of my regular clients, running through traffic in cut off shorts and a yellow t-shirt, leaning into every SUV and Audi, shouting, “Hey Mister! Anything you want for a 20.” This is not something my kids were exposed to in Alpharetta, Georgia. Also fantastic book title: HOW TO SPOT A HOOKER ON METH. Send me that for a book review and you have my attention.

With all this activity, I have been creatively drained, or should I say, my creativity has been diverted to other areas for quite some time. I’ve been actively navigating new territory and giving quick, neutral, humorous or encouraging responses on the fly, keeping my cool when threatening clients act out. I’ve found that psych facility staff offer creative and fun friends that write, draw, paint, sing, and make music. We make jokes faster than I can blink while holding a psychotic man down and giving him a shot in the ass. With the sadness and the sadsacks, the environment needs a turn of phrase, a laugh as often as possible. And what is storytelling, if not plunging into psych? The reasons why we all do what we do? Yes, my writing friends are correct. Something will come out of this.

 

SUBLIMINAL: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior – Leonard Mlodinow

“Over the past two decades of neurological research, it has become increasingly clear that the way we experience the world–our perception, behavior, memory, and social judgment–is largely driven by the mind’s subliminal processes and not by the conscious ones, as we have long believed. As in the bestselling The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Leonard Mlodinow employs his signature concise, accessible explanations of the most obscure scientific subjects to unravel the complexities of the subliminal mind. In the process he shows the many ways it influences how we misperceive our relationships with family, friends, and business associates; how we misunderstand the reasons for our investment decisions; and how we misremember important events–along the way, changing our view of ourselves and the world around us.”

I’ll let you know what I think ASAP –

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EMOTIONALLY REWARDING

It’s hard to think of a mother who plans to kill herself as a heroine.
Sometimes, reading simply provides appreciation for the problems we own by escaping into someone else’s, but readers want a heroine, despite insurmountable odds, to triumph. With FIVE DAYS LEFT, some readers struggle with the “Brittany Maynard” premise. Because there’s a child involved. Because, they think, what if the daughter finds her? What if? What if? All these questions are propel readers forward.
FIVE DAYS LEFT is structured around Mara’s problem: loss of control. A universal fear – being completely dependent on those around us for our every need. We’ve all thought, “Please, not like that!”
Mara has one thing in her corner. She “knows” how she will die, if Huntington’s takes her.

It will be progressive. And it won’t be pretty.

But, she’s decided to take that back. The how she dies part. Because it’s all Mara has. And if you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself, damnit. Under the banner of protecting her family’s memories, sparing them “seeing her like that”, Mara has made a pact with herself to end her life on her own terms, when the time is right.

THE TICKING CLOCK

All stories have them, so the audience knows when they get to turn out the light, get a snack or… pee…
Many readers wrestled with Mara’s decision to end her life based on peeing in her yoga pants. There’s several ways this opening scene would function better, revealing more without continual flashbacks to push the plot along.
Sure, untimely pee is embarrassing, but public humiliation is only truly PUBLIC when some you KNOW sees something you’re trying to hide. If Mara had been with her daughter, whom she’s trying to give a “normal” childhood or had she been approached by a colleague from her law firm, well… readers would have squirmed more during the market scene.

A way to make it better?  Include references to the existing scene with rude little boy, but let this be the SECOND peeing incident. The public humiliation is worsened, revealing the thing Mara’s been denying/trying to hide due to her birthday’s approach. Even a workaholic, driven lawyer would have second thoughts about her “plan.”
The decision on the first-pants-wet makes her seem suicide-happy because Mara’s degenerative health profile has not been explained at this point in the novel. The decision to end her own life based on wetting her pants ONCE, coupled with remarks about her “sexy” kitchen and replacing herself with a car as a gift for her husband (This is no moment of humanity. It tells the audience she believes her worth is equal to a vehicle: replaceable, shiny, only good in top condition) are misplaced. Maybe Mara doesn’t get this because she’s an adoptive mother, but bladder issues during and after carrying a child are part of the way life works. TRANSLATION: It doesn’t just happen to the elderly. These combined assumptions make Mara seem shallow, not simply depressed. This conflicts greatly with the love shown by the people surrounding her. If Mara had one moment of internal reference to jumping the gun emotionally in a previous situation, based on viewing herself this way, readers would see this as an internal, universal flaw, making her more relateable.

PROBLEM, PROBLEM, WHO SOLVES THE PROBLEM?

The heroine, naturally. Mara’s ironic problem is that her gift to herself, her gift to family is seen by some as robbery. Robbing her family of time to pour love on her and learn things about one another before the final end. But there are always what-ifs in retrospect, right? Everyone wants MORE TIME. And Mara, she wants time the way she wants it. Readers can identify with this desire, can say, well at the very least, she deserves THAT. Because of these desires we have, wills are written, letters to open on landmark birthdays, weddings, videos about our pride in accomplishments for graduations … All methods to comfort, to control what happens after we’re gone, so things don’t fall apart. Control when life is chaos.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Bring tissues

Hey, Remember me? That snarky book reviewer who posted from an island sometimes & Atlanta others? Yeah, I know it’s been awhile. Like, 13 months. Because of me going back to school and becoming a Real (Live) Nurse. RN.
Again. As in, recertification for a paying job that I once did. That took time& continues too. More letters behind ones name = ? (They tell me it’s important)
Also, there’s some weird triple threat about having 3 strong-willed kids turn 10, 13 and 16 within 3 months of one another.
And moving. That whole Atlanta gig?
Trashing that. Embracing island lifestyle.
Kids & school? Virtual, baby. We’re rebels here.
More coming soon!

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The-FirebirdWith a simple touch, she can see an object’s past. All who have wanted it. All who have owned it. All who have stolen it.

Nicola Marter was born with a gift so rare and dangerous, she keeps it buried deep. But when she encounters a desperate woman trying to sell a modest wooden carving she claims belonged to Russia’s Empress Catherine, Nicola knows the truth.

There is one with greater powers than Nicola’s, but he’s a man she can neither love nor lose. Together, they’ll pursue answers and perhaps untold rewards. In once-glittering St. Petersburg, the tale of The Firebird unfolds, irrevocably changing all who’ve pursued its secrets.

Beloved by readers as varied and adventurous as her novels, you will never forget spending time in Susanna Kearsley’s world.

What I Think:

FRESH DYNAMIC: From the opening page, the intimate relationship between Nicola and Rob pulled me in and held my attention. With this novel having a dual story line, I have to say Anna and Colonel Graeme’s scene’s were also very sweet.

EMOTIONALLY REWARDING: There were plenty of ups and downs in THE FIREBIRD, enough suspense to keep long-haul readers interested. I felt the middle hundred pages could have been sharper, but I am used to reading shorter, tighter books. Simply a matter of preference.

DUAL HEROINES: This is where things get muddy. Who truly is the story’s heroine? Nicola or Anna? Nicola meets her greatest fear head on, but does Anna? IS Anna an active heroine or is she tossed about, merely a feisty observer?

FINAL THOUGHTS: This book is a good beach read, but it doesn’t move fast, so settle in with lots of coffee. And Chocolate.