June 29, 2013

Movie Review: The Bling Ring ***

I love Sophia Coppola's movies - Lost in Translation is one of my all-time favorites. But The Bling Ring doesn't have the subtlety of that film and it doesn't have the same investment in the main characters. 
The Bling Ring is interesting - it's based on a true story - and it's about a bunch of kids who break into the homes of celebrities and steal clothes and jewelry and whatever else strikes their fancy, almost including Paris Hilton's dog - to the tune of nearly $3 million.
We end up with scene after scene of the break-ins, and at first I watched with fascination and tension, conflicted as to whether I wanted them to get away or get caught, but after a while it was ho hum. I wanted more. There's little character development, minor relationship development, and the motivation behind the break-ins is hardly explored at all. 
I had high hopes but The Bling Ring left me flat. 

June 25, 2013

Writing Tip: 6 Tips From John Steinbeck

From The Atlantic,
The legendary author explains why you should abandon all hope of finishing your novel. If this is indeed the year of reading more and writing better, we've been right on course with David Ogilvy's 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller's 11 commandments, and various invaluable advice from other great writers.
Now comes John Steinbeck—Pulitzer Prize-winner, Nobel laureate, love guru—with six tips on writing, culled from his altogether excellent interview it the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.
1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn't belong there.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
But perhaps most paradoxically yet poetically, 12 years prior—in 1963, immediately after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception"—Steinbeck issued a thoughtful disclaimer to all such advice:
"If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story."
Read the rest of the article.

June 20, 2013

Writing Tip: Let It Be Crappy, Part 2

I recently finished the first draft of my second novel, The Ones You Left Behind. I have to say there's something very thrilling about typing "The End."
Everyone has their own writing process and I'm still developing mine. I did it differently this time around. Last time I wrote and edited, wrote and edited. This time I wrote and wrote and wrote, all the way to the end. Believe me, that wasn't easy - I'm a serial editor - but here are the reasons I really liked doing it that way:

  1. I get to meet all the characters 
  2. I find out how the entire story unfolds
  3. It's easier to edit when I know what happens
  4. I know which characters are important and which ones can go
  5. Inconsistencies are more obvious
  6. It keeps me more focused on the story
  7. It helps me get to know my characters
  8. It makes me more confident about the story
  9. It gives me permission to write less than perfect prose
  10. I get to type "The End" sooner
All of this is fantastic for the revision. Basically, when I began writing this book, I knew the beginning and end of the story. I also knew the two main characters. I knew they had children but I wasn't sure how many. So what happens between the beginning and the end came as a surprise. What fun, right?
There are writers who believe in outlining in great detail but I'm not one of those. It works better for me and  feels more creative to just write. In order to work right through to the end I have to give myself permission to let it be crappy. It's not all crappy, of course, but a lot of it is. And that's okay because now I'm working on the first revision. Now is when I fix the inconsistencies, smooth out the wrinkles, add more details or take unnecessary ones out, consider my word choices, remove or add characters, fill in all the holes. The first draft is the foundation. Now I make it pretty.
How do you work? Do you outline or just let it flow?
Okay, time to get back to work now...

June 12, 2013

The Writer's Handful from Patricia Ann McNair

Patty McNair is the author of the exquisite book The Temple of Air, one of my favorite books that I read in 2012. So how honored am I to be featured on her blog, in her The Writer's Handful feature? Check it out:

The Writer’s Handful with Samantha Hoffman
Week seven of The Writer’s Handful welcomes Samantha Hoffman, whose debut novel, What More Could You Wish For, is delightful. And Samantha has a really good story about its origins…but you are going to have to go to her website to find out more. All you are going to get here is Samantha’s gracious answers to my little questions and a nudge from me that you might want to think about this book for your book club.
Welcome Samantha!
1. Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?
I did write today. Yay! My deal is that I write for at least five minutes every day, which means I always get something done. I rarely write for just the five minutes but somehow it seems less daunting knowing that if that’s all I can manage it will still suffice. What’s five minutes, right?
2. What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?
I wrote a short story in third grade. I lived for years with guilt that I was a plagiarist because I’d read a story I loved and then rewrote it for my class. It wasn’t til I was older that I realized that that’s done all the time and stopped feeling guilty. Anyway, my teacher, Mrs. Allen, read that story aloud to the class. I consider that my first published work, and the beginning of my literary career.
Read the rest of the article.


Patricia Ann McNair has lived 98 percent of her life in the Midwest. She’s managed a gas station, sold pots and pans door to door, tended bar and breaded mushrooms, worked on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and taught aerobics. Today she is an Associate Professor in the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago, where she received the Excellence in Teaching Award as well as a nomination for the Carnegie Foundation’s US Professor of the Year.
McNair’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, and journals including American Fiction: Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging WritersOther VoicesF MagazineSuperstition Review,Dunes ReviewRiver TeethFourth GenreBrevityCreative Nonfiction, and others. She is also published in The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction edited by Dinty W. Moore. She’s received numerous Illinois Arts Council Awards and Pushcart Prize nominations in fiction and nonfiction.
McNair divides her time between city and small town with her husband, the visual artist Philip Hartigan (www.philiphartigan.com).