Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Monsoon Season: Book Review

I just got a review for Monsoon Season from Mary Vensel White, author of HarperCollins' The Qualities of Wood:

Monsoon Season is the story of Riley and Ben, two young adults who meet and fall in love. Author Katie O’Rourke handles the burgeoning relationship with deft hands, showing in moments and gestures how the two become acquainted and enamored. Here, Riley’s hand meets Ben’s amidst sparks and spasms; there, he reaches down and readjusts the blankets to cover her cold feet. Facets of their personalities emerge as we follow their movements. They spend hours playing board games and staying in, and days exploring the surrounds of Tucson, where Riley has moved from the east coast after graduating college. The terrain is foreign and new, as is the landscape of the relationship.

And yet Monsoon Season begins with Riley on a bus, en route to her childhood home and separating from Ben. From the intimacy of their fledgling love, the novel’s lens widens to include a supporting cast. Donna, Riley’s roommate who has stood by as one friend after another abandons her for romantic pursuits. Laura, Riley’s childhood friend who got married young, after an unexpected pregnancy. Ben’s mother, Teresa, still dealing with the repercussions from her own marriage. And Riley’s parents, Mark and Carol, a seemingly normal middle-aged couple who may have more problems than they let on. As the young couple’s circle widens, as the past and present come together to illuminate how they have found themselves in their current state, we begin to understand the complexity of their relationship (of all relationships), and the influences they’ve absorbed. And like the cracked Arizona earth unable to withstand the torrent of a monsoon, Riley finds herself at the center of a storm, life launching an onslaught from all sides. In the end, she must either drown or dry herself off.

Monsoon Season is touching and feels honest; at times, the prose is lyrical and knowingly observant. Part coming-of-age, part love story, part family drama, it is peopled with vivid characters and tells a story that pulls at the heart and engages the mind. This is what it’s like to love someone, to make a mistake, to start over. These universalities and their nuanced delivery are the strength of Katie O’Rourke’s debut novel.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pima Writer's Workshop - Day Three

Today's most helpful speech was Joshua Mohr's Character-driven Plotting: Why Our Characters are in Charge. As a writer who considers my characters the whole point of the story - I've often said plot is just something I have to include in order to spend time with the people I make up - I was really interested in what he had to say.

Mohr explained that our main characters need to WANT something, that they should face an internal and external conflict and we need to create impediments to them achieving their goals. He suggests writers allow their protagonists to decide what's meaningful, even if that means that the writer has to "tussle" with their main character.

At the close of his speech, Mohr urged us all to have fun in our writing process and to "enjoy playing with your imaginary friends." This feels much more connected to the kind of writer I am than the tortured writers that seem to be considered the norm. The diversity of writers at the workshop was something refreshing and noticeable. More on that in my next post.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pima Writer's Workshop - Day Two

Today I ran into some of my old writer friends. It was nice to reconnect and it makes Tucson feel even more like home.

The first speaker of the day was Kevin Canty, an author of several novels and short story collections. His speech was How to Steal: Reading as a Writer. He spoke of the blurry line that exists because "we're all derivative, working within the tradition we've inherited". This session was very interactive, with the audience deliberating over what is acceptable to "steal" from another writer. Metaphor? Cadence? A clever turn of phrase?

My own feeling is that anything that can be considered fair game - like a metaphor that has been used so much that it doesn't really belong to any one writer - is tired and not worth using. On the other hand, anything original enough to want to "steal" should be off limits.

Canty's advice was somewhat along those lines: decide what it is you like about the line and find your own way of saying it.
He made another comment about blurry lines - the one between fiction and non-fiction - and the public perception these days that "if you write fiction, they assume it's about real people and if you write non-fiction, they assume you made it up."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pima Writers' Workshop - Day One

I just moved back to Tucson and one of the things I've been looking forward to is the ability to attend the annual Pima Writers' Workshop. I've attended previous years and missed it. It's a little different this time because I don't have to listen as closely to the speeches about how to get an agent.

My favorite speaker of the day was Justin Torres, author of the semi-autobiographical novel We The Animals. His speech, Writing from Personal Experience,  was about the dilemma many writers face when using material from their own lives in their fiction. While writing a story that so closely resembled his own difficult childhood, he found himself having to reconcile the value the book could have to a the world with the pain it could cause to his own family.

I can relate to this dilemma. While Monsoon Season is not strictly autobiographical, there are certainly bits of my life that my loved ones will find familiar. Torres spoke of the benefit of using the fiction label to mask autobiography - that his readers will never really know which parts of his book are from reality and which are from his imagination. In this way, he conveys "emotional truth without factual constraint."

Perhaps that is what all good fiction does.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The author site

I've been working on this for awhile, so I'm excited to unveil my new author's site. Here, I will keep you updated on all things directly related to my books - release dates, reviews, etc. I will still be blogging - mostly as a reader, but also with in depth stories about the publishing process through the eyes of an author.

I hope you like it!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Being braggy

I am working on my author's site right now. It isn't done yet, but I thought I'd share one of my favorite comments for Monsoon Season:
"Reading the first chapter immediately put me in mind of the likes of Margaret Atwood and Alice Sebold. This is literary fiction with real emotional strength. Moments of seemingly quiet devastation rise up to suddenly punch you in the gut - the scene where Riley's father thinks she has something on her face which turns out to be a freckle says more about a strained relationship in a couple of lines than I've seen entire novels take five chapters to do. Yet, in spite of the immediate tragedy in the novel's opening chapter, Katie O'Rourke manages to inject subtle moments of humour that give her protagonist both credibility and above all, humanity."
                                                   -Malcolm Richards, The Hiding House

Richards' book is one that I enjoyed from authonomy.com and it means so much more coming from a writer I respect.

Friday, May 18, 2012

One more time

I just got the final copy of Monsoon Season - the one that's being sent to the type setter. The layout is book shaped, not just another word processing document like the one I've been staring at and working on for the last several years.

It's beautiful.

I have to read through it and make sure there are no typos. One more read of Monsoon Season and it gets sent off. Out of my hands and into the world.

Off to read it for the 3,000,001st time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Review: The Long Way Home

Karen McQuestion is the author of A Scattered Life, which I reviewed several months back. I think I'd have to say I didn't like this one quite as much- but that's less a criticism of this book and more a continued gushing for her first.

In The Long Way Home, four women become unlikely travel companions, drawn together by grief and a common need for change in their lives. Each woman is feeling stuck in her own way. Marnie's long time boyfriend has died suddenly, resulting in the even deeper loss of the boy she raised for the last decade. Rita is learning to cope with the death of her daughter and the injustice of her unsolved murder. Laverne is settling into her widowhood and becoming depressed and agoraphobic. Jazzy, the young free-spirit who feels compelled to help them, is also struggling to find her own path.

The story is told in alternating third person narratives and each woman's voice is distinct and powerful. As they drive from Wisconsin to Las Vegas, so Marnie can see her step-son, they face challenges that help them to become the women they need to be. Even though much of what they're dealing with seems like such dark territory, McQuestion manages to pull off a light-hearted romp.

The Long Way Home is about the bonds between women, the power of friendship, and the potential to grow as a person- at any age.