Unbroken: A Review

June 7, 2011

I finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand last night. Where do I begin? I thought I knew a little bit about WWII. I knew nothing. I thought I knew a little about POW’s and Post Traumatic Stress. I was wrong. 

Laura Hillenbrand has once again created a masterpiece. This amazing book ranks as one of the best books I have ever read. Why? Could it be the way she captured my heart with the descriptions of little Louie Zamperini? He seemed so tough yet so lovable.  Maybe it reminded me of the stories I’d heard from my own mother–who grew up in an Italian-American family with older brothers and cousins in pre-war Connecticut. Could it be the remembrance of the closeness, love and emotion that I grew up with in my traditional family?  

The portrayed emotions in the book are full and real:  From the joy, ecstasy, and arrogance that come from winning in sporting contests to the depths of humiliation, desperation and ruin that come from war. We see through Laura’s writing the pain families suffer when loved ones are lost to us. And the struggles of one day believing a son is alive to bearing the burden of being told he is lost at sea, dead…but never knowing for sure. 

We experience through the accounts of survivors the brutality of living as a POW in WWII Japan. Some of it would be incomprehensible and hard to believe were it not for the painstaking bibliography and immaculate citations of this fine author who left no stone unturned to assure accuracy. 

In the descriptions of family life, including the pot of sauce on the stove being prepared by a devoted Italian mamma, I adopted this family into my heart.  I experienced a lifetime in 398 pages.  I lived and breathed the book for the week it took me, morning noon and night, fitting in a page or paragraph at every break in the work day. And when it ended, I flipped right back to the beginning.  

I now know Louie Zamperini, his family, and his beautiful and courageous wife who refused to let him go down in despair, and thus saved his life yet one more time.  I loved his friends and fellow POW’s, and I hated his tormentors. 

What a book!

Big Sur

March 26, 2010

A week ago, I attended the Big Sur Writing Workshop.  This is a workshop, not a conference. In addition to sessions on writing craft, we actually worked on our manuscripts.  Yes, we were expected to write.  Andrea Brown set the tone from the start.  She told us that the faculty had not come to tell us how great our work was, but where we could improve and what we needed to do to get published.

The weekend was divided into four two-hour critique sessions.  Each critique group consisted of five or six writers and a pro (an agent, editor, or author).  In these sessions, each participant read 5-6 pages of their manuscript and received feedback from the other group members.  Throughout the weekend, we were encouraged to rewrite and present our revisions in later sessions.

As promised, my work received its fair share of “filleting.”  But I learned A LOT and met many talented writers along the way.  I returned from the weekend exhausted, but informed and excited about my novel.  I now know what my manuscript needs and feel ready to tackle the revisions necessary.

One Approach to Critiquing

September 2, 2009

The Writers on the Journey critique group first formed in April 2006.  Back then, the group consisted of five aspiring authors: Margaret, Fran, Susan, Nannette, and me.  We met at one of Charlotte Cook’s creative writing workshops (Charlotte’s website) and struck up a friendship. Once the class ended, Fran and Margaret proposed that we continue to meet to encourage one another in our writing.

Over the years, the composition of the group has changed as former members left to pursue other goals and new members joined.  If you’ve read our bio pages, you’ll see that we’re a fairly diverse group.  You can’t pigeonhole us by genre, manuscript length, or audience.  In spite of our many differences, we all share at least one common experience.  We’ve all been students of Charlotte’s workshops, and her critiquing philosophy informs our meetings.

Submissions for critique are distributed or emailed ahead of time to give everyone ample time to read.  We read each submission beforehand and come prepared for discussion. We begin by reading excerpts that we particularly liked and thought were well-written.  The critique continues with a discussion of story, arc, and what works in the manuscript.  We follow that with offerings, noting passages that were confusing and giving suggestions for improvement.  Our goal is a balance of honest praise and constructive criticism, acknowledging strengths while encouraging growth.  With each revision, we hope to be one step closer to a polished manuscript and one manuscript closer to becoming better writers.

— Cheryl