Book Club: Me Before You

mebeforeyou

You know when someone tells you do a thing, and you’re like, “Yeah, sure okay!”

And then someone else tells you to do that thing, and you’re like, “Weird, someone else just told me to do that thing!”

And then it’s like, “Yes, I know, I must do that thing. Everyone keeps saying so.” And then it becomes, “You know what? I don’t think I will do that thing, just to prove the point that I am not swayed by the madding crowds and the peer pressure of it all. I am strong! I am iconoclastic! I shan’t do that thing!”

And then everyone is like, “Okay, chill out, that’s fine, don’t do it.” And then everyone leaves you alone and you forget about it for awhile.

And then, about two years later, you find yourself doing that thing?

Enter Jojo Moyes and “Me Before You.” I could not get my friends to stop talking to me about this book. The premise always seemed interesting – a quadriplegic and his caregiver fall in love despite a looming and tragic deadline – and I am a sucker for true romance, the against-all-odds kind, like The Time Traveler’s Wife or Jane Eyre. I don’t really need for books to be tied up into a neat little bow, it’s the complexity and the heart-shattering reality of these stories that gets me.

It was just my own stubbornness and the need to read less popular (i.e., more literary) books that prevented me from reading this wonderful book for over a year. Thankfully, I got over myself, read it in two sittings, and then spent the entire weekend sobbing. Mission accomplished, Ms. Moyes.

At Big Sur, I had the pleasure of taking an incredible master class called “The Elegant Geometry of Story” that has changed the way I think about structure for my own novel, and has changed the way I read, too. You can google Four Act Story Structure and all kinds of things will come up, but what I learned there is what’s working really well for me as I revise, and I thought it would be fun to run “Me Before You” through the paces of the Four Act Structure, both for people to learn from and me to keep flexing these muscles on something that is not my own book.

Act I: Orphan. Our protagonist Lou isn’t a literal orphan, but she IS alone and emotionally marooned in ways that fit her into this category: The Buttered Bun has just closed, and with it, her waitress job of six years. She can’t find a job in her tiny hometown that isn’t demeaning or disgusting and her family is struggling financially. Her parents also clearly favor her younger sister, and Lou gets the shaft in so many ways: the tiny room, the joking about her intellect that hits too close to home, and a boyfriend who’s phoning it in after seven years of dating. Lou lives a very small life.

It would be easy to see Louisa as tragic, yet she is plucky. As readers, we look for moments that redeem our protagonists when they don’t lay out perfectly (and they shouldn’t ever) and those moments of redemption are called “save the cat” moments by screenwriters. Lou saves the cat allll the time: when we learn she gives part of her wages to her struggling family, when she takes the smaller bedroom just so her single-mother sister can have the big one, when she’s kind to her grandfather who no longer speaks. Lou is a hero we can root for.

The Inciting Incident: getting a job caring for Will Traynor, a young quadriplegic, former playboy and world traveler, now an angry 35 year old who is stuck: both in his chair and in the same small town as Lou. He hates his life and Lou’s entry into it kicks off the real plot of the book.

Act II: Wanderer. In the wanderer act, the protagonist is reacting to the environment around them, but not necessarily driving the plot forward themselves. As Lou gets acquainted with an embittered Will and his cold family, she simply tries to exist around them: cleaning, feeding Will, staying quiet and trying not to disrupt anything. But after Will’s ex and former best friend come to announce they are getting married, Will lashes out by breaking picture frames and Louisa, rattled by this outburst, is sick of treating Will with kid gloves while he’s so arrogant and mean to her. Because she shows backbone, Will finally starts to respect Lou. It’s a turning point in their relationship.

Wanderer also refers to how protagonists react to other characters, and Lou and Will continue to wander around each other in this section. She offers to give him a haircut, he starts to tease her in a kinder way. They visit a maze on the castle grounds and Lou reveals a deep secret about a sexual assault in her past that helps Will see why her life is so small and contained: she’s scared. They begin to understand each other and build a foundation for not sympathy, but empathy and not just friendship, but perhaps even love.

The Turn: Often, there is a moment that turns a protagonist from a wanderer into a warrior. For Lou, it’s when she overhears Will’s mum and sister discussing his previous suicide attempt and his new plan to commit doctor assisted suicide in Switzerland. He promised them six months, and Lou realizes she might be the only one who can help him see that life is still worth living. She also realizes that they only have a few months left, which propels her into action.

Act III: Warrior. In warrior, protagonists are now driving plot forward and making action and conflict happen. Louisa realizes she can make plans and book trips that will get Will out of the house and start to see the beauty of life. Some of these trips are a disaster (horse racing) while others are simple (picnics, walks, dinner with Lou’s family) And some are milestones: a wedding where they dance together, a concert where Will sees his plan – to show Louisa there is a great big world out there for her to play in – is also coming to fruition. They experience ups and downs during this act and as they do, they begin to grow closer and their relationship becomes romantic. For Will, this is a heartbreaking consequence of letting his guard down. For Lou, it’s the exhilaration of first love and knowing perhaps she has made a difference.

Then, Will almost dies from pneumonia. Louisa sees that Will’s not strong enough for her final trip: a bungee jumping, zip lining California adventure. So instead, they go to Mauritius to recoup in the island sun. This act culminates when Lou confesses her love for Will. Will admits that he loves her back, deeply, but that his love will never be enough to make his frozen life worth living. She hasn’t changed his mind, he will still commit suicide in Switzerland when they return. Lou is devastated and must now mourn both her friend and her true love.

The Oracle: The oracle is a character who holds the last bow in the quiver of the protagonist’s knowledge. Lou has leaned that she is capable of great insight, planning and execution, creativity and bravery. But what she ultimately needs to accept is that nothing she ever could have done would be enough, including unconditional love. Nathan, Will’s medical caregiver, tells her that while he, too, loves Will, he understands why Will is doing what he’s doing. Nathan helps her see that she couldn’t change it. Nathan’s wisdom sits with Lou for the next few days, after she’s handed in her notice and refused to speak to Will.

Act IV: Martyr. Lou finally realizes that she could have done nothing to stop Will and that, in fact, he’s gone to Switzerland while she was at home grieving. Then, Will’s mum calls Lou and begs her to fly to Switzerland for a final goodbye because Will is begging to see her before he ends his life. She flies there, despite opposition from her own mum, and realizes that in doing so, she has handed Will the final arrow in his quiver – the knowledge that he was so, so loved – and he’ll be able to see that Lou is taken care of. This ends Will’s journey of internal knowledge, as well as his plot.

Lou has realized what she needed to learn, but the epilogue where she reads Will’s last letter in the marais, is now the end of her plot, closing the loop on whether or not she will go out and explore the world. Will has left her the resources to do so, and now she’s in Paris doing it.

Will’s theme (i.e., what he needed to learn) was how to let love in.

Lou’s theme: how big the world is, and that she must find her own place in it.

Once the protagonists realize their themes, it’s the end of their internal journey and also the external journey, which is plot.

This idea of the four act structure has been a game changer for me as I write and revise. And if you, also, are an aspiring writer, get out there and do that thing. “That thing” of course, being either reading this wonderful book or figuring out the four act structure for you own books!

Book Club: The Raven Cycle

IMG_6245

I have been up all night and it’s Maggie Stiefvater’s fault. But I HAD to know – was Gansey going to die? Would Blue ever kiss Adam? Would they wake the ley line? WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MY LIFE!

Very few of my questions were answered, but because Maggie Stiefvater is a magical piper who drags us deep into her imagination, I am already into book two.  There are people* who happen to be sitting in my apartment, watching the fog swirl in, thinking that maybe they should go outside today despite San Francisco’s commitment to crappy weather. Today is looking very un-promising for those people. You know who things are looking promising for? COFFEE.

The best part about going deep into a new series as a reader is the fact that you just never know what’s going to get you. I can easily predict the books I’ll be interested in: historical fiction, fairy tales reimagined, YA romance that guts you from the inside out because YA writers will always go for the jugular (i.e., one of them has cancer, or will time-travel away from the other, or has to make an impossible choice and there are no other options.) Books with a strong voice, books that are cheeky, books that are set during WWII. Automatic me-getters.

If your book is a cheeky romance about Cinderella nursing  Prince Charming back to health after he was hit by a German shell, but then! Wait! No! It turns out Cindy has cancer and Charming’s only hope in the whole world is to time travel into the future to get Cindy the chemo drugs (and shiny hair wig) that she so desperately needs…well. SIGN. ME. THE. EFF. RIGHT. UP.

There are also books about things you are not interested in, and some about things you actively dislike. Things like medieval times, dragons, pillaging, architecture. (Ken Follett, I’m looking at you) are things I have no interest in at all. While I am curious about most things – after all, it’s the job of a writer to follow the flare of curiosity – the zeal required for digging deep, investing time, and going the distance is limited to certain things. I know what makes me tick. And what I’ll spend months upon months researching and writing and working on and thinking about. In other words, what I’ll let occupy the limited mental real estate that is my head.

Enter The Raven Cycle.

Prep school boys? My interest in this begins and ends with Dead Poets Society. Coincidentally, so does my crush on this dude. My 15-year old heart still says hellll-oooo.

Psychics? Bleh, move along please.

The mash-up of Welsh lore and Virginia? I can barely spell Virginia.**

I don’t like any of these things. And I LOVE these books. I so, so love them. I’m not even really going to tell you why, but will instead strongly encourage you to buy the books or hightail it to the library to see what’s what. Advance apologies to San Francisco public library goers, because I have them alllllll.

And THIS is the triumphant fun of being a writer. Seeing what a writer can do to make you care, get invested, make your time and investment take the shape of their book. Even when that book isn’t something you’d pick up ordinarily.

For me, the not-yet-published kind of writer, reading good writing is a chance to try and take it apart, that interest, and then examine it and see how it’s done.

Do I know what makes you, a reader, tick? Let’s find out.

*Those people = just me

**I can totally spell Virginia, but you know what gets me every time? Conscience. Concious? Couscous? LIFE IS HARD.

My Life in France

Julia with rolling pins

My life in France, thus far, has consisted of a few days here and there, scattered with many croissants and much Nutella. And a lot of “mon français est pauvre, mais je suis en train!” That’s my best sentence in French – I say it a lot when confronted with real, actual French people, or when I’m in real, actual France myself.

But I recently finished Julia Child’s book My Life in France (on a trip home from Singapore, strangely) and it’s suddenly very easy to see why this large, lanky lady captivated the country for so many years.

Did you know that she failed her final exam at Le Cordon Bleu the first time? That she used to work for the OSS – what is now the modern-day CIA? And that her book was rejected multiple times before being published? And did any of that get her down? No it did not!

My new answer to that old question “If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive…” just might be Julia Child. As long as we got to cook the dinner together first.

And if you’re looking for a book that will both delight and inspire, My Life in France cannot be recommend highly enough.

Hegel the Hedgehog

Hegel

If you are in need of whimsy or delight in your life, follow @theflyingzebra on Instagram. Not only is her photography beautiful and her feed a beautifully monochromatic experience but…there is a philosopher hedgehog named Hegel chairing the whole thing.

Go, go.

While you do, I am plotting how to get a hedgehog.

Off to London today! See you on the other side!

Friday Scraps

{From last week’s trip to Telluride, Colo.}

. Old book porn.

. Manly chandeliers! Mandeliers, if you will.

. Surprising facts about toddlers. If you’re into that kind of thing.

. Thinking about buying a crock pot this weekend so that I can make this. Right? Right.

Happy weekend, young people! We are all about pizza dates, yoga, and baking cookies around these parts. Have a good one. And if you have a cookie craving later, you know where to go.

 

Friday Scraps

{View from the Top of the Mark}

. I want to age this gracefully – and happily!

. Brilliant gift wrap idea.

. How to de-stress in only six minutes.

. I’ll take a wolf, thanks. But not a woof.

. Cracking up because a) I adore Mr. Rogers (well documented fact, people) and because b) I’ve done this, and yes, it looks almost exactly like this.

What’s on the schedge this weekend friends? I’m partaking in some date night, some pool sitting, and starting to think about packing for Vegas! Yahoo!