Books

Us, in Pieces: A Book Review

Image result for us, in pieces

I have moved away from writing book reviews in recent years because I’ve come to realize just how subjective they can be. Though I might love a book and totally resonate with it, that may not be the case for someone else. But, every once in a while, I come across a book that I love so much that I want to share my thoughts about it with others. Us, in Pieces by Tasha Cotter and Christopher Green is that kind of book. The characters are brought to life on the page and the writing is so beautiful. About twenty pages in, I was thinking about how much I would love to see their story in film. And when I saw the pages thinning towards the end of the book, I waited an extra day to finish, because I just didn’t want Lilly and Adin’s story to end.

Part of my love for this novel is that I’ve previously been in a rekindled relationship from the past, and I can totally resonate with what the characters go through. But more than that, the novel addresses what happens when we don’t communicate face-to-face. So much of our communication these days is in the form of text messages, e-mails, and social media, and this novel accurately portrays what happens when we try to interpret what someone is trying to say when we don’t have them in front of us to see their facial expressions or hear their tone of voice. So much gets lost, so much miscommunication happens when we are too afraid to face each other and say what it is we think and feel. The novel highlights how far we’ve moved away from being vulnerable in our communications (choosing texts and e-mails over face to face or phone conversations) and the consequences. I love that the novel alternates between the two main characters – Lilly and Adin – and that the reader can see their perspective on what is happening. It gives us a birds-eye view of how our intentions can be misinterpreted with digital communications and wreak havoc in people’s lives. But more than that, the alternating narrative puts up a kind of mirror that exposes the self. In trying to interpret digital communication, all of our own insecurities and preconceptions rise up like an ugly monster and are promptly placed on the person who is not there in front of us to defend themselves. We do this so we don’t have to look at the most vulnerable parts of our self.

Something else that really spoke to me about this novel was how well the authors portrayed what it is like to rekindle a long-lost relationship. We often believe the person, even ten years later, is still the same person that we fell in love with so many years before. That is almost always not the case. And so, we must navigate the loss of the person we thought they were while also figuring out if the person they have become is a person that we can love and share our lives with.

An underlying current in the novel is a shared love of music between Lilly and Adin. The authors put together a playlist which I thought was really cool. You can find the Us, in Pieces playlist here.

A few favorite lines:

“This was my only chance to see what had become of Lilly, this girl who had become almost like a character from a book that I had once loved as a child” (p. 33).

“It was even darker now, a heavy low-hanging sky pregnant with snowfall” (p. 133).

There are so many more lines like these that make you pause and take a deep breath so you can take in their beauty.

writing

Round Two is Done!

Writing a novel is hard. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Through this process, I have learned that it is so much easier to talk and dream about writing a novel than it is to actually write one. I’ve also got a newfound respect for those who have written a novel.

I just finished the second draft of the novel I wrote at the end of last year. I wrote the first draft in six weeks and it was 88,825 words. The second draft has taken me nearly four months to complete. It is 80,242 words, but I cut out 44,312 words from the first draft. So, in this second revision, I rewrote half the novel. And it has been really, really difficult. The writing itself has been hard, but the coming up against myself again and again has been especially harsh.

There was a moment earlier this week, when I thought I was just going to quit. I only had one chapter left, and I just could not write anymore. There is something deeply emotional happening in me. This novel is more than just a novel. I don’t quite know how to language it yet, but I have come up against some very persistent internal demons throughout this process. They are loud, obnoxious, and yell horrible things at me constantly even in my sleep. The past two days, instead of writing, I made art to try to shut them up, but they persisted. Today, I woke up, I made art, and they finally were quiet enough for me to finish the last chapter.

I know round three is coming, but for this moment, I am celebrating making it through round two and surviving. This writing, it is hard, it is brutal, but I have made it through yet another round, and I am still standing.

Image by ktphotography from Pixabay

Art · writing

Lessons Art Taught Me About Writing

I’ve always had a warped sense of how things should be. It is the thing that most often brings me down. I had this dream of writing the perfect first draft of a novel, no revision necessary. Yes, you can laugh, it is quite funny. But, I had developed a bad habit in college of sitting down at the last minute and writing papers (even if it took all night), and it had worked really well for me. I trained myself to self edit as I wrote, and after many, many, many years in college, it became a natural way for me to write. It wasn’t that I didn’t do revisions, but I wrote/edited/revised all at the same time, and all in one sitting. This did not carry over well to novel writing. It was impossible for me to sit down and write a novel in one sitting, and so I got stuck, and then I quit writing altogether.

Enter art.

Unfortunately, my bad habit of trying to create in one sitting has carried over to my art practice. I sometimes spend upwards of eight hours working on a piece. I forget to eat. I forget to drink. I forget everything but creating. I am working on changing that, but it seems to be something that is hardwired in my brain. Even when I try to walk away, my mind is buzzing with ideas about it, and I end up going back to it. Despite this bad-habit carryover, I have learned a very important lesson from the process of creating art. What art taught me, what creating art has helped me to see, is that my art can look like total shit, and I can think there is no hope for it, but then I add another layer, and maybe another layer, and maybe just one more layer, and then something beautiful emerges. I cannot tell you how many times I have looked at a piece of art when I am done and wonder how in the hell, me, who started out with zero artistic talent, could create something so beautiful out of nothing.

It took me a while to believe this could be applied to my writing, too. With my writing, I had always believed I needed to have everything perfectly planned out first. But with my art, I have learned that it is okay to jump right in, throw a bunch of shit at the page, and see what comes out. This has helped me to let go of “perfect first draft” syndrome. And now that I am nearing the end of the second draft of my first novel, I am getting excited about starting on the third draft. This kind of thinking would never have been possible without my experience creating art.

Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay