Archive for the 'Cathy Belben' Category

Good Reads for Writers: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Cathy BelbenReviewed By Cathy Belben

Writing historical fiction must be one of the most challenging endeavors novelists face. Besides picking characters that will appeal to readers, unless she’s writing strictly plot-oriented bodice-buster romances about shirtless pirates, the historical novelist must be meticulous about period detail and the basic facts of her characters’ lives if she hopes to create convincing stories.

Nancy Horan succeeds remarkably in her first novel, Loving Frank, which imagines the circumstances of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s long-term affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney from their initial meeting through to the tragic end of their relationship, primarily from Cheney’s point of view. The mother of two but intellectually dissatisfied in her marriage and home life, Cheney’s attraction for Wright develops as the two share thoughts and ideas about the renovations Wright is completing on her home. Wright falls in love with Cheney, and the two pursue a passionate, intellectual affair.

To escape scandal at home, Cheney joins Frank Lloyd Wright in Europe, where he is completing several projects, and she becomes involved with the feminist Ellen Key, translating her radical ideas about women’s freedom and “free love.” But even another continent and intellectual fulfillment can’t protect Cheney from her sense of loneliness, nor can it stop the rumors and reports of the scandal from reaching her. Eventually, the pair returns home, where Wright begins building their dream home, Taliesin.

Period details, exquisite descriptions of Wright’s architecture and ideals, and Mamah Borthwick Cheney’s perspective make this fictionalization of their relationship a superior, gripping work of historical fiction and a superb example for writers aspiring to novelize the past.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

Good Reads for Writers: Mountain Man Dance Moves, The McSweeney’s Book of Lists

Cathy BelbenReviewed By Cathy Belben
When, if ever, is a list literature? Although the editors of Found (www.found.com) might argue with me, I believe it’s a rare list that qualifies as entertaining, intelligent, engaging, thought-provoking and original. Unless finding Grandma’s grocery list for corn niblets, a new plastic hair bonnet and kitty litter meets these criteria for you, it’s unlikely that you’ll find many memorable lists.

Enter McSweeney’s (www.mcsweeneys.net). The site maintains a regular feature (open to submissions; see Web site for details) consisting of lists that do meet high standards—they’re funny, unique, smart and sassy reflections on history and pop culture. After all, isn’t it about time someone confronted Charlie Daniels, as John Moe does, in “Thirty-Nine Questions for Charlie Daniels Upon Hearing ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ for the First Time in Twenty-Five Years”?

Checking in with the online compilation of lists is sufficient to keep up with the cultural zeitgeist as captured in lists, but to truly appreciate the form and its humor and insight, it is imperative to read the collected works as they appear in Mountain Man Dance Moves. You might be confused (“The Week Ahead: Five-Word Verification Strings to Watch For”) or skeptical (“Notable Bands of 2005”) about some of the entries, but you’ll assuredly be entertained by at least one.

McSweeney’s Mountain Man selections offer creative and (and occasionally bewildering) ideas about practicing expression through precision and meticulous word choice. As a left-brained, list-making alphabetizer, I’m delighted to see the form exalted by McSweeney’s, and I think other writers will be too.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations by Simon Rich

Cathy BelbenGood Reads for Writers
Reviewed By Cathy Belben

Quick and quirky, Simon Rich’s collection of short, humorous essays, Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations will probably take you about a half an hour to read, but it’s unlikely that you’ll forget his work.

Rich has a talent for taking unusual perspectives on ordinary situations and imagining them in the funniest possible light, and yet with a knack for hitting on observations and questions that many of us probably have.

What is life like for the ants in the ant farm? What would the world be like if punishments were handed out like they are in hockey? What are the disadvantages of being invisible?

My favorite pieces in Rich’s collection were those that revolved around school and childhood, including one about the day he got his first calculator, an essay about “what goes through my head when I am home alone (from my mom’s perspective)” and his idea of situations (there are only 2) in which he imagines that high school math will be useful to him as an adult.

Writers stuck for ideas will appreciate Rich’s solution to this problem: imagine weirdness all around you, ask ridiculous questions, formulate possible answers, and write about them without worrying whether or not anything you say follows the rules of logic.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

Good Reads for Writers: Send: The Essential Guide to E-mail for Office and Home by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe

Cathy BelbenReviewed By Cathy Belben
HAS THIS EVER HAPPENED TO YOU? HAVE YOU RECEIVED AN E-MAIL WRITTEN ENTIRELY IN CAPS? DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU WERE BEING YELLED AT?

Maybe you’ve had your in-box filled with “reply alls” that didn’t need to be, or you’ve been involved in a never-ending RE: RE: RE: RE: e-exchange. Hurt feelings, leaked information, wasted time, and inappropriate requests are all a part of the electronic communication culture.

In Send: The Essential Guide to E-mail for Office and Home, David Shipley and Will Schwalbe delve into the history of e-mail, telephone, the written letter, and conversation, analyzing how e-mail differs from the others, why we err both in writing and reading e-messages, and how we can avoid making embarrassing mistakes in judgment and propriety when we communicate via the keyboard.

Citing examples of public officials whose e-mail embarrassments have been made public (e.g. FEMA’s Michael Brown), Shipley and Schwalbe explain why the form causes so much trouble: we forget that it’s not private; that it creates a permanent record; it’s quick to write and send; it is difficult to convey tone in e-mail; personal conversation and letters allow more room for expression and revision. We get cues in conversations—pauses, frowns, sighs, laughs—that we don’t get in e-mail, so it’s harder to modulate our messages to accommodate our audience.

The authors remind us to reconsider our modes of communication, and to judge carefully which form best fits our message—just because we can e-mail doesn’t mean we should. Some messages (“I think we should end our eight-year romance and see other people”) might be better suited to a personal conversation, whereas others (“Let’s go see a movie tonight” or “Hey—could you send me that illustrated book about the history of flyswatters”) are fine for e-mail.

Throughout the book, the writers focus on language and how its meaning is affected by the mode in which it’s transmitted, and how personal and professional relationships and impressions are strengthened or weakened based on how we use our words and with whom. This is, truly, essential reading for anyone interested in electronic etiquette, and especially those who depend on their finesse with words for their livelihood!
Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

Good Reads for Writers: “Twin Study” by Stacey Richter

Cathy BelbenReviewed By Cathy Belben

One Amazon reviewer enjoyed Stacey Richter’s Twin Study so much, she says, that she rubbed the book all over her body after reading it. I can’t say I blame her, although as usual, my advance-reader’s copy has been crumpled beneath my bed sheets and sat too close as I ate––among other things––to a Reuben sandwich, a handful of Girl Scout cookies, a goblet of purple liquid, and something that left an amoeba-shaped stain on page 42. Once I got to the end, I was hesitant to turn the final pages without tweezers, let alone rub the book on my skin.

Instead, I’ll just yell. STACEY RICHTER IS A GENIUS. I know there are people shaking their heads and renewing the vow they made in 9th grade to never read another short story, but I command you: UN-VOW NOW. Short stories are among the most underappreciated works of art in the panoply of underappreciated works of art. Occasionally hazy and often pretentious, short fiction can make us feel like undereducated lint balls who’d be better off watching American Idol. There are short stories that are sassy, fun, unpredictable, and sheer genius for creating tiny, twenty-page worlds peopled by dynamic, complex characters. Stacey Richter hasn’t written all of those stories, but she has written a chunk, and readers who miss them are bound to have little holes in their lives where her brilliant wordplay and stunning imagination might have nestled.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

“Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say by Judith Martin

Cathy BelbenGood Reads for Writers
Reviewed By Cathy Belben

Judith Martin’s etiquette advice, laid out in chunky chapters, might be a very dry read. But “Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say,” is formatted as quippy personal questions and answers. Her guidance assumes a conversational tone; it becomes a dialogue that’s easy to follow, and thanks to Martin’s tangy sense of informed propriety, a laugh-aloud eavesdrop.

The question-and-answer format is a fantastic choice for both readers and writers; and a skilled presentation like Martin’s can be not only informative, but entertaining. Because they aren’t dependent on maintaining continuity, question-and-answer books are perfect for readers with limited time. For me, this means I can spend months reading through a number of different Q & A books without having to hang onto characters’ identities or plotlines. I can pick up any number of books like Martin’s during a spare moment and enjoy an easily digestible segment.

Writers will appreciate Martin’s approach to a relatively serious topic—her answers to etiquette queries regarding everything from child-rearing to office romance are sensible, succinct, but most importantly, they combine good sense with humor. Any writer approaching a serious and potentially dry topic will benefit from reading and considering both Martin’s tone and format for a creative alternative to standard prose.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder By Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman

Cathy BelbenGood Reads for Writers
Reviewed By Cathy Belben

If your desk is a mess and you find yourself wasting valuable writing time trying to tidy up, you’ll be relieved to know that help is in sight–and not in the form of a multi-hundred-dollar organizational system. In , authors Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman tout the overlooked positive side of messes and messiness. Citing examples of our culture’s expensive and often inefficient obsession with organization, the authors claim that there’s often more to be gained from systems and situations that are less orderly.

If you’ve ever berated yourself for having a sloppy workstation or for working on twenty different pieces of writing at a time, fear not. While a certain amount of focus is necessary, these authors want readers to look at the possible advantages of living outside the box (or the file folder, calendar or Palm Pilot). Letting go of rigid routines can allow people to think more freely, adapt to change with more flexibility, and often, come up with ideas that they might not otherwise have developed. Even writers, who are often thought of as being creative, get stuck in ruts. And who would have thought that the solution might not be getting more organized, but getting more messy?

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

The Know-it-all: One Man’s Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs

Cathy BelbenGood Reads For Writers

Reviewed by Cathy Belben

Writer A.J. Jacobs discovers early in his wise and witty journey through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) that “the Britannica is not a book you can skim. This is a book that you have to pay full attention to, like needlepoint or splinter removal…The reading is much, much harder than I expected.”

 

What happens to someone when they read the EB in its entirety? Jacobs finds that random conversations trigger memories of his new (and sometimes trivial) knowledge; he makes some unexpected discoveries about himself, and he learns about the book—its history and construction, its errors, omissions, prejudices, and peculiarities. In a particularly funny section, he lists his deduction of how something gets an entry into the EB. Getting beheaded generally works, as do winning the Nobel prize, being the mistress of a monarch, and “becoming a liturgical vestment.”

Reading The Know-It-All is not just reading a book about a guy reading a bunch of books. It’s a trip through history, a reminder about just how much there is to know, learn, do, see, and appreciate about the world.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

What Would MacGyver Do: True Stories of Improvised Genius in Everyday Life Edited by Brendan Vaughan

Cathy Belben

Good Reads for Writers

Reviewed By Cathy Belben
A short list of things I have not done: destroyed a laser using binoculars and cigarettes, plugged a sulfuric acid leak with chocolate, converted an umbrella into a grappling hook, built a bomb out of toothpaste. My greatest act of improvised genius? Devising a better way to empty the cat box.

Even if you weren’t a fan of the ’80s TV show MacGyver, whose main character was notorious for his ingenious solutions and incredible escapes, you’ll enjoy the essay collection What Would MacGyver Do: True Stories of Improvised Genius in Everyday Life edited by Brendan Vaughan. Writers describe scenarios in which their creative problem-solving has allowed them to do everything from cleaning the gutters to stopping an asthma attack.

Except for a couple of cameos by better-known writers (Esquire’s Chuck Klosterman, for example), most of the contributors are regular folks who had a good idea and a fun story to tell. Besides learning some novel strategies for situations like using Chex Mix for car traction in the snow, I was also inspired by the idea of writing about unique solutions to problems, and I think other writers will be, too. As you read What Would MacGyver Do,consider writing about your own life and the unique, creative ways you’ve solved problems or escaped from uncomfortable situations—you’re almost certain to come up with a fun writing topic.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

Cathy Belben

Good Reads for Writers

Reviewed By Cathy Belben
My summer experience as a nanny for an infant required that I find things that I could do while watching him (at least from a short distance) and that could be done in the 5-10 minute intervals of time during which he wasn’t crying, pooping, or otherwise requiring attention. Surprising not only myself but many people close to me, I began cooking. And I don’t mean the usual cooking I’d been subsisting on for the last 30+ years—the kind that involved poking holes in a microwavable pouch and then spinning the food around in the magic box for a few minutes.

I mean actual cooking. The kind that requires drizzling tomatoes with olive oil and blanching things and soaking small fruits overnight in a bisque of brandy and cranberry juice. I made white sauce, clam sauce, pesto, chili, artichoke-garbanzo bean soup, and a bunch of other stuff that’s much easier to just buy in a can. But now I know what it feels like to be Julie Powell. Sort of.

Powell is the author of Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, her account of the year she cooked every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. No easy task, but Powell, feeling stuck and bored in her job as a temp, was eager for a challenge. Child’s cookbook is “childishly simple and dauntingly complex, incantatory and comforting,” Powell writes. Reading it, she says, “I thought this was what prayer must feel like. Sustenance bound up with anticipation and want.”

I won’t spoil the story for you, but I will say that reading about food is almost as fun as eating it, especially in the talented hands of a writer like Julie Powell. She could’ve written a book about deciding to watch NASCAR racing every day for a year and I probably still would have found it hilarious, fascinating, and completely impossible to put down. She’s that entertaining. Even if it doesn’t send you to the kitchen, Julie and Julia serves up a terrific sampling of how to weave a story and a life into an entertaining memoir.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.


RSS RSS Subscribe to Writers on the Rise

  • This Blog Moving to ChristinaKatz.com as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: http://christinakatz.com. And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
    The Writer Mama

RSS RSS Subscribe to WOTR Comments

a

Christina Katz's Facebook profile
April 2014
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930  

Blog Stats

  • 245,000 hits

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers