Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Cup of Comfort for Writers ed. by Colleen Sells

A Cup of Comfort for Writers, ed. by Colleen Sell. Avon, Mass: Adams Media, 2007. 327 pp., paperback.

"I write because, if I don't, I will explode" Camille Moffatt writes on page 30 of A Cup of Comfort for Writers; a collection of short prose pieces (1000-2000 words) by such notables as Sally Bellerose, Pat Gallant, and Lauren Kessler. Many of the writers in A Cup of Comfort for Writers knew early on that they were writers, some as early as grade school. Essays about experiences with teachers and mentors, rejection slips, writing workshops abound. Writers who need short interludes between the vast expanses of solitude will find kindred souls and a cup of comfort in this book. Those who don't write probably won't be interested.

sapphoq reviews

Friday, October 26, 2007

Please Stop Laughing at Me by Jodee Blanco

Please Stop Laughing at Me, Jodee Blanco.
Avon, Mass.: Adams Media Corp., 2003. .

Jodee Blanco was teased in fifth grade for befriending a deaf girl who also had severe vision problems that also attended her school. When Ms. Blanco refused to play a mean trick on an elderly woman, her classmates turned against her. Sixth grade continued to be hell. In seventh grade, Ms. Blanco transferred to a school for the gifted.

But gifted kids are not immune to the lures of being bullies, and once again Ms. Blanco found herself on the fringe. By high school, she was getting beaten up regularly. She was also mocked for having a physical deformity which required surgery to correct. Her parents sent her to a shrink who recommended pills; and then to biofeedback sessions.

In the pages of this personal treatise on bullying, Ms. Blanco records her repeated public humiliations and grapples with serious issues.

...Why are the kids who get picked on by the school bullies always the ones who
end up being poked and prodded in psychiatrists' offices? Why aren't the bullies
ever taken to psychiatrists? Why do doctors keep telling the parents of the victims
that it's their children who need help? And what about the parents of the bullies?
What is wrong with all the adults? It seems that if you are mean or cruel to another
kid, that was "okay" because it was just a normal part of growing up. If you are on
the receiving end and allow it to bother you, you were the one who needs help. What
kind of logic was that? p. 87

Please Stop Laughing at Me has plenty of insights about vulnerability and humanity. Ms. Blanco matriculated into New York University (N.Y.U.) and later on became a media success. The reader will wince at the defeats of her earlier school years and applaud at what she has become.

For those who are intrigued by a sharp environmental analysis, the book is highly recommended.

sapphoq reviews

Sunday, October 14, 2007

National Novel Writing Month

I'm writing a novel in November. Yes, a real novel of at least 50,ooo words. I've signed up over at the nanowrimo site: and gotten my Novel Writing Kit from the bookstore on Friday.

The NaNoWriMo site is still a bit buggy however it is loading faster than a week ago. That is the place where one can sign up, have a small "about me" profile, and subscribe to a regional board or two if one so desires. It is free. Donations will not be turned away [to help pay for hosting of the website and to help build new libraries in Southeast Asia]. Participation does not depend upon financial ability to contribute.

Here are some stats pasted directly from the media kit located at:

Founded: 1999 in Oakland, CA

Annual participant/winner totals:

1999: 21 participants and six winners

2000: 140 participants and 29 winners

2001: 5000 participants and more than 700 winners

2002: 13,500 participants and around 2,100 winners

2003: 25,500 participants and about 3,500 winners

2004: 42,000 participants and just shy of 6,000 winners

2005: 59,000 participants and 9,769 winners

2006: 79,813 participants and 12,948 winners

[end of direct paste]

NaNoWriMo has built 22 libraries via site contributions and sales from its store. Additionally, fifteen authors are listed as having novels published. Perhaps I too will get on the list.

Word counts can be uploaded every day during November and a final word count [of the potential novel which may be submitted in scrambled format] may be submitted at the end of November. Winners are those who have reached or surpassed the 50,ooo word limit. There are no prizes, except perhaps for the satisfaction of having written at lest 50,000 words in one month. Some regions may hold any of the following: a meet and greet, a pre-kick off party, a kick-off party, and a hooray it's over party.

The novel-writing kit which I've gotten from the bookstore [also available on the NaNoWriMo site at their store] is strictly speaking not necessary. It contains a booklet of inspirations, a card-a-day card pack, a log and gold stars, pep-talks in the form of letters, a novelist certirficate,
commitment coupons, and a button. I bought the kit for the card-a-day pack. The commitment coupons provide an opportunity for others to get the would-be novelist promise to do "things" if failing at the word count. I plan not to use those. I will probably hang up the chart with the daily count and gold stars. I will be wearing the novelist button before I reach my word-count as a way of evangelizing the program and my participation in it. I figure the more people know what I am up to in the month of November, the more I will be motivated to actually get my 50,ooo words down.

Folks have already asked me what my novel will be about. The truthful answer is something along the lines of, "I have no idea" [adding the hopeful word "yet" in my head while swallowing panic]. I am doing this and hopefully I will find, claim, sweat out, torture a novel into existence somehow. And the month of December is for the re-write. Maybe by January I will actually be submitting the novel or portions of the novel to a real publishing house.

IF the novel I write this November actually sees publication [not self-publication], I pledge to donate some portion of my royalties to NaNoWriMo and their library-building project. The universe does not distribute riches and bonuses for free. There is always a price.

This is my first crack at trying NaNoWriMo and at a novel. It is not my first crack at writing. Besides the numerous blogs zooming around in electronica, I also do have bunches of poetry, a couple of essays, a few short stories, and some really bad 2 dimensional drawings which have been published in a variety of literary magazines, fanzines, as well as in four anthologies. [Oh noes, I've been anthologized!] Whether or not the stuff is of lasting literary value is irrelevant quite frankly-- because I have been published extensively I can indeed call myself a writer. I do not know if I will ever attain the status of a Stephen King or a J.K. Rowling-- being among the sainted 5% who are able to quit their day jobs and write for a living. I do know that writing is lots of work and writing professionally is highly competitive. This has been a lifelong dream of mine and so I have reached a crossroads of sorts.

I would encourage anyone who has secretly or not so secretly dreamed of being a writer to submit their work and to begin reading publicly at coffeehouses and open mic nights, join a writer's group at the local library, and to write regularly. I further encourage anyone who is serious about wanting to write a book to join up over at and commit to the dream.

sapphoq reviews

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Field Guide to American Houses, by Virginia and Lee McAlester

A Field Guide to American Houses, by Virginia and Lee McAlester.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.
525 pps., including index.

Virginia and Lee McAlester succeed admirably well in this volume at what they have set out to do. A Field Guide to American Houses is a treasure trove of black-and-white line drawings and photographs designed to help the reader identify houses commonly found in the United States. I became interested in architectural styles in the course of planning renovations of my own one and a half storied front gabled craftsman with a centered side dormer and eyebrow. I was also able to identify a friend's home as Germanic Gothic, the Victorian stick down the street, and the Sears bungalow around the corner.

Through A Field Guide to American Houses, I learned quickly to study houses in a new way. The text is readable and the book is sensibly divided into sections based on a timeline of building styles. Highly recommended for anyone with a serious interest in the guts of houses. The forty dollar price tag may be out of reach for some; however the atmosphere of many of today's bookstores allows for reading and study without purchase. I have spent a week of Sundays doing just that with this book. I found out just today that I am getting this book for Yule as a present from my honey. Hooray for me!

sapphoq reviews