Sunday, August 26, 2012

Not so positive review of Eat, Pray Love

I came across this interesting review of Gilbert's book. It's a different take on the many reviews that have been done so far. It draws into question the author's honesty, in relation to her writing of the book and what she had to do to make it entertaining. In fact, Ms Mertz found it embarrassing.

Traveling for the Book – How Far Must a Writer Go?
A Review of Elizabeth Gilbert’s
by Carol Mertz

As is often the case, travel contributes to the making of a book.

Elizabeth Gilbert created Eat, Pray, Love following a lengthy respite from her normal activities as a writer. She traveled to Italy, India and Indonesia and conveniently used the three “I” countries as sub-divisions within her book.

I found this memoir, though it presents more like a novel, outright embarrassing, so much do we learn about aspects of Gilbert’s private life we’d rather not know. Because of her humor and her ability to write with clarity and with what many regard as honesty, she nearly won my respect. In the first part, particularly hilarious, she is nearly undone by Italy’s pasta offerings and within weeks gains about twenty-five pounds. Was this true, or did she as an author, know how to play up her food indulgences for the sake of her book’s structure? This very overindulgence is what draws her so-called honesty into question.

One senses Gilbert worked intensely with her editor, and together they knew just how far she had to go to make the book entertaining. Her subsequent movie deal and the popularity of her book prove she was successful, by today’s cultural standards. (Eat, Pray, Love was released by Columbia Pictures four years after the book’s publication in 2006.) My slanted eye notwithstanding, her writing, to me, is suspect. She’s willing to go to any lengths. Since she portrays herself as one who knows no boundaries in her writing life or in her private life, she appears willing to risk all for the sake of the sale. This ultimately makes her writing contrived and perhaps unworthy, in my judgment.

If we take Gilbert’s self-portrayal at face value, we see a woman with enough financial resources to travel far and long enough to sort through the devastations of her failed marriage and to select a new path, in this case, an initially salacious arrangement with a Brazilian. The relationship may or may not prove to be one of ultimate loyalty.

Many women, I imagine, are shocked by, or envious of, her ability to travel alone. This freedom is not an essential “plot” element of the memoir, but underlies it. It’s easy to assume most women in the throes of divorce would not be emotionally free enough to take off on a trip, or physically free enough to travel with no foreseeable deadline and no urgent financial or familial obligations. Those of us who bear real family allegiances might be justifiably envious.

Gilbert portrays little guilt about her failed marriage and yearns only for freedom and escape from her suffering. Early on, she tells us she has no religious guide in her life except the zen teacher to whom she is introduced in NYC.

The author contrasts each three segments of her book vividly and artfully. Throughout she exercises no restraint in any of the countries she visits and portrays herself as entirely free to follow her inclinations into any pursuit. I find her attempts at meditation in the ashram not entirely plausible, depicted as passionate strivings toward an elusive something. In my view, Eastern meditation practices value detachment over striving.

Gilbert gains twenty-four pounds during her first few weeks in Rome. In India (Pray, part two of the book) she scrubs floors and supposedly does learn how to meditate, with the help of her guru.

In part three she finds her man. And vah-voom! How she and her man click! Again I ask, contrivance?

If Gilbert truly fund-raised among her U.S. friends to provide housing for a poor woman she meets in Indonesia, and if, as is hinted, she used funds from the sale of her book to help this woman, perhaps we can forgive her her exaggerations.

Elizabeth Gilbert Eat, Pray, Love Viking (Penguin Group) New York, NY (2006) ISBN 0-670-03471-1

- Carole Mertz

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lee Child Debunks the Biggest Writing Myths

Author Lee Child
Born is Covertry, England in 1954, author Lee Child finished law school in Sheffield and ended up in the theater. He then joined the Grenada Television company as a director, where he remained for the next 18 years. He was fired at the age of 40 as a result of restructuring, and, having been a voracious reader, decided to try his hand at writing.
The result was a successful novel by the name of Killing Floor, the first in the Jack Reacher series. The Killing floor, which launched the Reacher series of thrillers, has grown in sales and impact with every new installment.

In the following article, written for Writer’s Digest magazine, he explains what really keeps a reader reading until the end. Like his famous protagonist, Jack Reacher, Lee Child is a bit of a rogue badass—especially when it comes to his thoughts on writing, and debunking popular myths. Here, he tells us  “Why Writing Rules are Mostly Wrong,”

Show, Don’t Tell
Picture this: In a novel, a character wakes up and looks at himself in the mirror, noting his scars and other physical traits for the reader.
“It is completely and utterly divorced from real life,” Child said.
So why do writers do this? Child said it’s because they’ve been beaten down by the rule of Show, Don’t Tell. “They manufacture this entirely artificial thing.”
“We’re not story showers,” Child said. “We’re story tellers.”
Child said there’s nothing wrong with simply saying the character was 6 feet tall, with scars.
After all, he added—do your kids ever ask you to show them a story? They ask you to tell them a story. Do you show a joke? No, you tell it.
“There is nothing wrong with just telling the story,” Child said. “So liberate yourself from that rule.”
Child believes the average reader doesn’t care at all about telling, showing, etc. He or she just wants something to latch onto, something to carry them through the book. By following too many “rules,” you can lose your readers.

Don’t Start With the Weather
“If the weather is what’s on your mind, start with it,” Child said.
Simply put, all-time great Alistair MacLean did it all the time. Enough said.

Suspense is Created by X, Y, or Z
For instance: Suspense is created by having sympathetic characters. More and more, Child said, this rule doesn’t add up. Case in point: In The Runaway Jury by John Grisham, Child said there isn’t a sympathetic character in the entire book—there are bad guys, and worse guys. Instead of sympathetic characters, the book is driven by what the verdict of the trial at the heart of the story will be.“And that’s how you create suspense,” he said—it all boils down to asking a question and making people wait for the answer.

Child added that one thing he has learned throughout his career as a television writer and novelist is that humans are hard-wired to want the answer to a question. When the remote control was invented, it threw the TV business through a loop. How would you keep people around during a commercial? So TV producers started posing a question at the start of the commercial break, and answering it when the program returned. (Think sports—Who has the most career grand slams?) Even if you don’t care about the answer, Child said, you stick around because you’re intrigued.

Ultimately, he said writing rules make the craft more complicated than it really is—when it comes down to it, it’s a simple thing. “The way to write a thriller is to ask a question a the beginning, and answer it at the end,” he said.

When he’s crafting his books, Child doesn’t know the answer to his question, and he writes scene by scene—he’s just trying to answer the question as he goes through, and he keeps throwing different complications in that he’ll figure out later. And that very well may be the key to his sharp, bestselling prose.
“For me the end of a book is just as exciting as it is for a reader,” he said.

You might also like:
Ann Rule on Breaking Into True Crime
Marketing Essentials Every Writer Should Know About
Thriller Writing Made Easy: 4 Steps to Starting a Thriller
Catherine Coulter: 9 Simple Ways To Be a Better Writer
Giveaway: Win a day pass to ThrillerFest, featuring Jack Higgins, Lee Child, Ann Rule and many others

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment