Days of Our Reading Lives: This Rock, Book Review

This Rock by Robert Morgan tells the struggle of a family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Rating:


Sum It Up:

Powell brothers, Moody and Muir, faceoff in a struggle to become men without a father. Ginny, their widowed mother, pushes younger brother, Muir, harder to work on the farm. Ambitious, Muir wants to take his life another step and achieve something monumental.

On the other hand, Ginny waits for Moody to sober up from his wild bootlegging nights before she bothers him. Moody and Muir argue and fight to the point Moody burns down a house Muir attempts to build in the beginning of the book.

After the deaths of her oldest daughter and husband, Ginny continues to struggle with widowhood and dedicates herself to the care of her family.

As Moody attempts to change near the end and Muir journeys to discover his purpose, This Rock explodes to show what one brother will do for the other no matter the cost.


Photo taken during a trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Thoughts:

I gave the book four stars out of five. Morgan’s writing reads with beautiful prose-poetry of nature and how people work. With the intimate and down-in-the-dirt farm imagery similar to poet Josephine Dickinson’s Silence Fell, Morgan weaves imagery and work into a magnificent blue sky of his own.

In the few scenes when there was action, you were a part of it. You wanted to watch and try to get Muir and Moody to get along.

Past reviews describe the book as gritty. When it comes to it, the farm, the bootlegging, the church and the ending all capture that grit and dirt. Morgan does a great job making the reader grit his or her teeth while reading intense scenes, such as the moment Moody holds a knife against Muir or when Ginny finds Moody all beat up.

Ginny is a great character. One of the best chapters Morgan writes is when she thinks about her widowhood. She says the loved dead always walk with you.

The downside of This Rock was Morgan did not fully develop his characters other than Ginny and Muir. As I wrote in my previous post, I expected the book the read from Muir and Moody’s point-of-view. Moody was a shadow at times, and I wanted to enter Chesnut Springs, where the bootleggers lived. I wanted to see the action he experienced in Chesnut Springs.

Peg Early – a character mentioned throughout the book, but seen one time – could have been more fleshed out had Morgan wanted to focus more on the relationship between the brothers. The book left the disconnection between brothers at points.

What kept me from a 5-star rating was the end of This Rock. Maybe Morgan wanted a disconnected ending. A lot was left unresolved. It didn’t make sense. The only theme the end carried with the book was grit.

But, I will read Robert Morgan again.


Southern poets are still writing narrative poems, poems in forms, dramatic poems.” ~ Author and Poet, Robert Morgan

Words and Photos by Rebecca T. Dickinson

Note to Readers: Working to return to regular blog schedule this week. Thurspiration will return. Apologies work, toddler and family have kept this blogger busy.

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Thought for the Night: Simplicity

Write simple words.

Mold them, shape them.

Keep them simple.

Who will read them?

The greats.

Sure. There are the greats, but they sit on thrones above.

The ones who want a break from work. The ones who want a break from bills. The ones who want a break from screaming children. The ones who want a break from boyfriends and girlfriends or spouses.

Yes, make words simple.

You never know who will read.

Days of Our Reading Lives: This Rock, Part I

Inspired by Pat Conroy’s The Reading Life, I created a new themed post, Days of Our Reading Lives.

Why is it important?

Reading for a writer is sensual. It is an endurance of an author’s passion over a long period of time much like a strong relationship. Books connect you to people, open new doors and relationships you never expected.

Had John, my husband, not introduced me to Robert Heinlein, I would lack an improved understanding of how a Science Fiction author explored love.

As fellow blogger, Pete Denton, wrote in his recent post “Research,” reading in your genre will help you polish your craft as a writer.

Courtesy of http://www.tower.com

This Rock

A few weeks ago, I went to the library and researched books set in the nineteen twenties and thirties about teen boys. I was interested in stories about characters outside of Chicago and New York, because I’d read many of those books. Since Chicago in the Roaring Twenties is an entirely different subject, I wanted to focus on rural themes and a good read.

When I selected This Rock, I did not realize it was part of series. I was able to read it without having to read its predecessors. Introduced to author Robert Morgan – a native of North Carolina – you could tell his natural poetic voice carried into the prose about the Cain and Able struggles of brothers Muir and Moody living with their mother, Ginny.

Pick Your Narrator

I experienced the flow of literary fiction mixed with descriptions of nature and two rich main characters. Surprisingly the duel P.O.V. was not what I expected. The author switched back and forth between the mother and son, Muir. I thought this was odd, since the description focused a lot on the bootlegging brother, Moody.

Some characters authors do not wish to examine too closely. Moody was one of those characters, and as a reader, I yearned to know more about him.

Duel P.O.V. is a tough thing to pull off in a book along with deciding the direction in which you will go with your narrator.

I’ve read contemporary authors who write from the P.O.V. of many characters, such as Joanna Trollope. I believe it is a way to stay connected to the ability of a story to be examined in multiple aspects.

Morgan writes in first person. As the novel continues, he tells the story more from Muir’s P.O.V.

The original editor who worked with me told me not to write my book in first person or from one point of view. I chose third person dual P.O.V., and it has taken time to clean it up. I learned how to become the pit crew for my book by reading books like This Rock.

Your brain begins moving with the story: Wow, this is awesome, or What was the author thinking here?

My husband says you’re supposed to read books for enjoyment. Yes, you are, but I think writers naturally analyze them. How P.O.V. is done in books like This Rock will work the narration part of your brain.

I believe Morgan should have written chapters from Moody’s point of view because I think – as a reader – he was more of a counterbalance to Muir than was Ginny. That said, I know why Morgan decided not to write from his point of view.

In Sons of the Edisto, I write from the P.O.V. of JD and Owen. They are opposites in their view of the world. One boy, JD, believes shoes and name brand bikes say a lot about a boy. Owen looks down the train tracks wondering how long it would take him to get to Michigan to meet Henry Ford.

Bootlegging, Science and God

The other lesson I examined in This Rock was how Morgan wrote about bootlegging. The one time in the book when the mother Ginny entered bootlegger Peg Early’s place, I was entranced. I wanted to know more. Unfortunately, Peg Early appeared in one scene.

Morgan focused on Christianity much more than I do in my own writing. Again, I believe it goes with what the author fits into his or her narration. His main character, Muir, wants to become a preacher.

As a Southern writer, I understand the importance religion can play in stories whether good or bad. My main character, Owen, wants to enter the field of science and looks at the future. What I learned from Muir is how he became disillusioned with his dream when he messed up.

That is essential to all young characters. They mess up at some point.

How do you, as the author, make them relatable?

How do you ground them?

Are they closer to religion, art or science?

How do you narrate their story?

The questions are within the pages you read.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson


Friday Night Lights: The Thing about Why

Shots echo.

Not many.

Just enough.

Congress votes down

new gun law.

 

 

Children dead –

six year olds 

remebered from Sandy Hook.

Once smiling faces

not enough to move

men and women

in big boy

and big girl suits.

 

Yesterday, an armed man

threatens the school

where I used to

substitute.

The police got him

before he ever arrived.

 

 

Blue strobes of light

flash around a house

and a boat with a man.

No answers as to why.

 

Explosion,

Texas,

Clover.

Why?

 

A lot happened this week. More than words can express. In fact, I could not find words to express how I felt about what happened in Boston, the Senate, Texas and at a school where I used to substitute teach. The moment I found out I thought of Sandy Hook and September 11, 2001.

Journalists are busy right now. They will answer the who, what, when and where.

The why is harder.

Why would someone set off bombs?

Why would someone limit certain people access to guns?

Why are innocent people killed?

Why are children killed?

There is no certain answer.

Only this:

We, the writers, compose to explore the why.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

Thoughts, prayers and love for Texas, Boston and Clover High

Write like a Turtle, Edit like a Fox

Courtesy of http://fadingamericans.wordpress.com/featured-animals/green-sea-turtle/

The sea turtle, box turtles and large land turtles take their time getting somewhere, but they choose different paths, have a hard shell and get where they’re going.


Courtesy of http://www.frmheadtotoe.com/2012/10/fox-halloween-tutorial.html

The fox watches, waits and listens. Those are essential to editing. When you think you’re ready to send a piece out, step back into the grass and hear your story read out loud again.

Turtles are born with hard shells.

Most writers are not.

With time you build one. If not, you quit. Sure, there are still critiques that hurt to hear, but we need them said.

I need them said.

Turtles also move slow to get where they’re going.

Every writer, journalist and author sets out on a different path. Many writers have deadlines. I lived by deadlines at one time, and now I set them for creative work.

That does not mean you look for the short cuts.

Today, I smiled when I completed writing my longest story to date, 22 pages, When Tomorrow Comes. I began writing the story sometime between July and October 2011.

You say: Come on, Rebecca, it’s 2013 and that’s only twenty-two pages.

I say: Yeah, but it took a long time to figure out where the story was heading.

I knew I had a story about a mother who lost her husband and job as a financial advisor in the city. She lost her house, and her popular teenage daughter lost her prominent place at a private school. She attended a public school with a two-star rating online.

Those ideas took time to develop and unfold. Only in the last five months has the story really molded into what I wanted, and I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Sometimes I like to slow down and read over the last couple of paragraphs before I write again. Scientists do not want to mess up formulas and most that I’ve observed – on television – pour their solutions slowly into another container.

If the words invite you dance, then let them lead. Take slow steps. Watch the words pour on the page.

When I completed my story today, I felt happy. I have written many stories I am not happy with or were for the pure purpose of self-help during tough times. I never planned to use them for anything.

As I wrote back and forth between Catherine, the mom, and Tara, the daughter, I could not stop.

I must admit the story is not a first draft. It’s more like a sixth because I’ve edited it many times before I began writing the next section. Yes, I edit stories before I complete them, but every author is different. I do the same with my Elliot McSwean  stories.

In my approach to editing, I look like a fox.

  1. Watch

    Read through one paragraph or page at a time. Soak it in. Take in the scene.

  1. Poke your ears up.

    Listen. Read your work out loud. Then listen to someone else or a computer voice read it back to you. I use both of these techniques, which have helped me improve my self-editing.

  1. Slow Approach

    Have you watched an Arctic fox sneak up on a rabbit? A good hunter approaches its prey that never hears it coming.

    Be that way in your editing.

    As proud as I am of the fact I completed writing my story today, I know I will go back and slash out words and dialogue that just does not work.

    If you’re good, those unnecessary words and accidental punctuation won’t hear your backspace or return button go click-click-gone.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

Thank you again to all of my readers who have stuck with me even though I haven’t stuck to my schedule. My mom is doing better and she is out of the hospital.

When We Write Letters, Part VIII: Letter to Mom

10-6-12 Canon Download 513

Dear Mom,

Will you walk with me for a few minutes in the garden?



Photos taken on my father-in-law’s farm late last summer where many beautiful plants and trees grow.

I think of you walking with me in the garden. Instead of shopping for dresses, we will look at ripples in the river. Don’t you see them dancing there? The goose took off, and his wings tapped the water.

You walk with me, though you don’t know it. When I find my peace beneath the trees next to the Catawba or when I am lost in the Blue Ridge Mountains, you go with me.

I wish we’d traveled together when I drove above the mountains in mid-winter. You could not tell wood from mountain side in mist so white.

You have asked me to go shopping so many times or for a bite to eat.

I did not go.

Now guilt burns.

You see, Mom, I live with you. I could not take money from you. My loving mother, you would not see it that way for you love and give in the way you can.

For now you cannot walk with me to see the trees blooming. Yes, Mom, I wish you could see the dogwoods blossom near the Greenway. Soon the bees will be shopping for honey.


You wished I would go to lunch when I put on my apron. The flour was poured into the mixing bowl.

“When will I spend time with you?”

“Here I am. We could cook,” I said.

A few days later you lie in your hospital bed. You and I, different women we are. Let us find a new way to live as mother and daughter. Until then, remember I think of you always when I wander between the trees and beyond the river.

I ended the When Write Letter Series a few weeks ago, but after my mother went to the hospital Saturday morning I changed my mind. One more was needed. You will notice this post and Thursday’s Thurspiration are connected. Thank you, readers, for your constant support!

Words and Photos by Rebecca T. Dickinson

Thurspiration: Strength to Stand

Spring has taken it’s time this year. It waits beneath the fallen leaves and frost at the end of March.

As April begins, we try to remember the last time we experienced a spring starting late in the Carolinas.

Maybe the seasons want us to wait and remember.

See death was not done collecting lives and scaring souls. It still had a say on Black Friday and Easter. For those left behind in the Purgatory between winter and spring, the grandmother tried to hide her pain, and the mother was asked to speak at her best friend’s funeral.

The mother dug beneath the black soil of her spirit. From it, strength blossomed so she could speak about her longtime friend. After all she died during a time Christian families celebrated as the renewal of life: the resurrection.

The grandmother taught me, the granddaughter, that our Christian faith speaks with a soft voice. We worship behind closed doors. We do not shout speeches, but we practice faith through action.

Let faith speak quietly, and let your hands make work.

I watched her fall – not once— but twice.

In my grandmother’s first fall, she faced a tough decision. As cheerful as she sounded on the phone, I knew beneath her stubborn determination to show strength it grieved her to have her loyal cocker spaniel of almost ten years put to sleep.

If you’ve ever owned or loved an animal, you know the mixed pain of anxiety, frustration, guilt and sadness that enters your heart and mind.

Summer Plays with pretend doggy

Summer plays with her Christmas toys.

She was ready to give away most of the dog’s things after her death, but she kept Summer’s bed.

You hear a scratch at the door. A nose pushes open the door. She licks up the leftovers underneath a toddler’s chair.

It takes strength to remember No More.

Mom lost her best friend. She was asked to give a speech in front of an audience.

My grandmother lost her dog. She still had to make food for Easter dinner and welcome Easter guests.

 In the hoped-for quiet days to come, she planned to make a cake for the veterinarians who had cared for Summer.

The test was not over for I would be reminded of what I’d lost and what I still needed to gain.

On the way out of my aunt’s house Saturday night, my grandmother, son and I tried to see the path down the stairs. Missing a step, “Mimi” fell. She did not break any bones or suffer any bruises.

I could not stand the thoughts lurking in the gray pools of my soul. A sad memory emerged.

I never interviewed my Grandfather and Grandmother Dickinson about their early lives. Their heroic stories I learned mostly from my father and second cousin for Sons of the Edisto.

Mom, who had not seen or heard much from her best friend in last few years, would have loved to tell their stories together.

Mimi, who has decades left ahead of her, still has stories, and I have a recorder.

There is a time for strength.

There is a time to write.

Then there’s the time to listen.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson