Great Books and a Quote

How to Cook

How to Cook a Crocodile: A memoir with recipes.  Bonnie Lee Black.  Peace Corps Writers, 2010.

Bonnie has produced a well written and very interesting Peace Corps memoir of her time in Gabon.  As she was writing from an adult female point of view I found it relatable, even though I served as a young adult.  Perhaps the best part of her book is the way she introduces us to the people of her village in Gabon.  Her characters are interesting and strong.   It’s one of the few books that left me feeling that I was actually there.  Even more, I wish that I was there, even though I’m sure that I could not take the heat.

Hey Joe01 “Hey Joe” Poems and Stories from the Peace Corps.  Robert F. Nicholas.  Robert F. Nicholas, 2013.

Bob served in the Philippines, on the island of Romblon from 1968-1970.  Nearly every poem and every story mirrors some part of my experience in the Philippines.  He clearly shows us the emotions that volunteers experience, before, during, and after their Peace Corps experience.  There is his very funny poem, “Creeping Crawling Flying” where we are introduced to the bugs of the Philippines in a fresh new yet familiar way.  Then there is the reality check we all experience with his poem “Culture Shock” comparing the shock of being there with the reverse shock of returning.  I would highly recommend this easy, fun, read to anyone interested in the Peace Corps experience and especially to people familiar with the Philippines.

Hey Joe02Check out the back of “Hey Joe”.  Yup, that’s my name right at the top.  Thanks again Bob for using a quote from my Amazon review of “Hey Joe”.

My quote on the back cover:rsz_hey_joe02 (1)

To learn more, check out Bob’s site.

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More Reading than Writing: A long cold winter.

Sorry about my long winter absence.  I suspended all writing while going through several health issues.  Reading has been continuing throughout this time and I have enjoyed many fine reads.  I have also succeeded in getting my name on a book.  Note: I didn’t say published.*

The Wonders of a Kindle!  As I’ve stated before I didn’t think I needed or wanted a Kindle reader; as I volunteer at a library and thus have an abundance of books available to me.  However no one had ever mentioned ‘Amazon Prime’.  With ‘Prime’ I can borrow one kindle book a month, free.  I can purchase kindle books for less, I can watch movies, some free (when I can make streaming, stream), and free 2nd day shipping on Amazon orders (usually three days where I live).  Now to you city folks this may not seem very special, in fact it may seem expensive as ‘Prime’ has a price but just borrow eight, $9.00 books and that’s covered.  Not to mention fast, free shipping of practically anything and everything you need.  Obviously, I don’t have a Barnes and Noble or any other store just around the corner.

Some of the books I’ve read this winter:

Nonfiction

Off the Beaten Path by Dennis Ogden

Steve’s Adventures with the Peace Corps by Steve Hunsicker

Off the Leash by Jean Ellen Whatley.

Sweet Teeth and Loose Bowels by Michael S. Gerber

I Never Intended to Be Brave by Heather Andersen

Running in Flip-Flops by Abigail Fay

Away from Home by Lillian Carter

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Exploring Historic Hilo by Leslie Lang

The Springs of Namje by Rajeeve Goyal

America the Beautiful by Ben Carson, M.D.

Moving to Hawaii…by Michele Meyer

How to Cook a Crocodile by Bonnie Lee Black*

“Hey Joe” Poems and Stories from the Peace Corps by Robert F. Nicholas*

Fiction

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

*More in next post

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Book Review

Dodging Machetes: How I Survived Forbidden Love, Bad Behavior, and the Peace Corps in Fiji by Will Lutwick.  A Peace Corps Writers Book, 2012.

Will’s memoir is insightful, funny and romantic.  It is a well written memoir of his Peace Corps experience. He has crafted a story that reads more like a fine novel than a dateline of experiences.  He provides great details of the Fiji people and culture while maintaining plot and just the right amount of humor.

He makes it easy for the reader to understand the main characters; their emotion and what drives them.  He successfully creates suspense as well as romance.  His use of dialog is well done as it enhances and moves the story forward.  He clearly shows time and place right to the end with the suspense filled Selective Service Board hearing to gain III-A status.

Dodging Machetes takes place in the late 60’s and early 70’s and he portrays that era flawlessly.  Will’s Peace Corps experience was unique yet familiar and believable.   I feel his writing is a fine representation of a Peace Corps experience in the early seventies with a wonderful story to boot.

I would highly recommend Dodging Machetes.

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Book Summary and Thoughts

Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol.  1995 Crown Publishers, Inc.

This is not a book review. This is an older title and unrelated to the “Writing Peace Corps Memoir” topic.  I needed a change of pace and this was a book that had been on my read list for a long time.  It certainly brought me back to earth.  It took me away from the writing rules, Peace Corps, Hawaii and the Philippines and placed me into the slums of New York City.

Yes, it is somewhat dated but I’m sure that the slums are still there and undoubtedly worse now than in 1995.  In a way it made me feel a bit like I felt when I returned home from my Peace Corps service.  Back then I was acutely aware of the terrible way this country wastes food, while others go hungry.  Then there are always the wasted resources, the dishonesty and the misuse.  On top of that there is our failing educational system which is given cursory coverage in this book but the author has written another book about that:  The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home: A Bold Inquiry into the Values and Goals of America’s Schools, 1990.  I will keep this book in mind when I need another writing break.

Why isn’t there a Peace Corps for the slums of New York?  There are a thousand why’s with no real answers.

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Writing Questions and Some Answers

This writing stuff is difficult.  I think I said this before.  Writing Alchemy (book review below) has helped by giving me a method for a more productive revision/rewrite.  I found this method to be far more in-depth than the A.R.R.R. process discussed below.

Say you have written a wonderful couple of paragraphs that describe a specific scene.  You have added great descriptions in an effort to ‘show rather than tell’.  But have you added anything that would show how you, or your character, felt in this scene.  You might have included sight and sound but did you include smell, tough or taste?  Did you talk with anyone in the scene?   Could you use that conversation to move the story along or to better show your feelings at the time?

Elements:  Sensation and Perception; Emotion and Effect; Dialogue

This stuff is fascinating.  It is also very hard to do when you are creating a memoir of events that occurred in 1967-1969.  No, I don’t remember the exact conversation, but the fact that I remember the jest of the conversation tells me that it was important at the time.  I remember why the conversation was important.  So, if it helps to tell my story or to show my reader who I was and how I felt, than it is probably a conversation that should be included.  Or at least, it is worth trying to recreate it.

In my memoir, I am trying to include a side of food.   There are many reasons for this, but the primary reason is because food or lack thereof is very important to a Peace Corps volunteer.  Also because I truly underwent a food revolution during this time span.  Of course writing about food is just a perfect place to include the senses.  So each time I speak of food, I need to remember sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.  Not to mention how I felt about that food at that time.

Building characters is a huge part of writing.  The problem here is that although I felt as one with all the other volunteers, I didn’t really, I mean really, know any of them.  Beyond the commonality of time and place all I really knew was what was printed in the training book.  Of course we were all young and probably most of us were idealistic.  In some ways there was not a vast amount of experience or knowledge to be shared.  I think it was really more about our shared experiences as Peace Corps volunteers rather than each of us as individuals.  On the other hand as a Peace Corps Volunteer Secretary my job, and my life during that time, centered on providing assistance to other Peace Corps Volunteers.  So how do I show these volunteers to my readers?  Through my experiences with them via our brief encounter over this period.  This feels shallow and weak to me.  Somehow I must convey to the reader our intense shared bond, our special camaraderie, our sharing of the bad times and the fun times.  I’m still working on this one.

Elements:  People and Characters; Time and Place

The method is to deconstruct the various parts, examine and rewrite or write new stuff, then using the best parts of all you have created.  Writing Alchemy talks about writing ‘fast and deep’ and their recommendations are to write your book from scratch using this method.  Since I already had my first draft I am deconstructing as a rewrite.  Essentially I’m writing it again but better.  Let’s hope!

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Book Review

Writing Alchemy:  How to Write Fast and Deep, Memoir Edition, by Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett,  Knowledge Access Pubishing, 2012.

When I first started writing the first thing I did was search the internet for sites about memoir writing.  The first site I found was Woman’s Memoir, a blog about writing memoirs and much more.  A few months ago they offered Writing Alchemy and I decided to give it a try.

After reading the first chapter I was able to ‘deconstruct’ the first chapter of my memoir.  I  creating stronger characters, added more emotions and even added dialogue.  I then rewrote my first chapter and the difference was amazing.

Essentially this book gives you tools to write as they say ‘fast and deep’.  As writers we know most of the rules: forming characters, using the senses, using dialogue and show don’t tell.  What this book gives you is a formula for incorporating these and more into your writing.

Matilda and Kendra go in-depth into character building and emotions.  Which I personally found less useful for my needs; yet I believe others might find these sections very enlightening and useful.  The ladies also provide free on-line videos to those who purchase the book, as well as Workshops that may be purchased.

This book is not your usual book on writing.  Go ahead and read, Writing Well and Your Life as Story then get Writing Alchemy and as they say, ‘start writing.’

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Book Review

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton, Random House 2011.

How about a foodie memoir?  Blood, Bones & Butter is a great example of food writing.  I found it to be in the same league as Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain.  Gabrielle takes us from an interesting childhood to spending time in Italy with her Italian in-laws.

She seems to see, hear, smell, taste and touch food in every sense of her being.  Along the way she also incorporates confusion, frustration and near the end nostalgia.  She takes us with her as she treks through Europe, through romance and marriage, and most of all through food.

Her knowledge and love of food is the heart of this memoir adding depth and richness at all levels.  Although she provides great descriptions of people and places, it’s the food that is the star.

Under all the food is a life story that would hold the interest of any reader.  Yet, it would seem that one would have to really know and love food to be able to fully appreciate all that this memoir holds.

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