But Is It Weird Enough?

I like to consider my ongoing writing a work of fantasy.  Which, technically speaking, I suppose it is.  But lately I find myself wondering if it’s really weird (or fantastical) enough for my chosen genre.  Certainly there are plenty of “other world” elements but believe me it’s no The Left Hand of Darkness of Ursula K. Le Guin fame.

I came across a book dedicated to helping authors create imaginative fiction aptly named Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer.  I’ve decided to work through the exercises in the book to see if it will help unleash my inner creative freak and ultimately enliven my story. The first challenge was to write a story about the below image.

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Well here goes, I hope you enjoy!

Writing Challenge 1 (Wonderbook)

Montague’s Miscalculation

Montague Creek was always in a foul mood.  He began life as a happy, carefree lad growing up in the countryside with his mother and aunt.  Some whispered that they were witches, but Montague knew better.  They were just eccentric widows who preferred to live simply and possessed a vast respect for Mother Earth and all her creatures.

Theirs was a quiet life.  Montague was home schooled and didn’t have much need of travel.  His entertainment was found in the forests and streams of his youth.  Here he ran free, his imagination preparing him for the inspiring world that he just knew lay beyond his childhood home.

All childhoods come to an end and Montague’s was no exception.  At eighteen he was shipped off to the city to attend University supported by monies he never knew his mother had.   She had saved her last penny to ensure Montague was able to attain higher education so that he would be able to leave the forest and make his life elsewhere, if he should choose to do so.

At first Montague very much enjoyed his new surroundings.  City life was full of glamor and excitement, with indulgences on every corner.  Temptation became overwhelming for innocent Montague, and he spent all his funds for University before ever completing his degree.  While the harsh reality of the world crushed down upon him, Montague never once considered going back to his humble roots.  City life showed him how pitiable his upbringing was and he would do whatever it took to remain in this sophisticated world.

Montague demonstrated a knack for numbers during his time at University.   He was able to secure a modestly paying job at a luxury department store soon after dropping out of school.  Month after month, year after year, Montague balanced the store accounts.  He was bombarded with the excesses of socialites on a daily basis – the furs and leathers, the glittering jewels, and the shiny new purses.  Why should he be denied such pleasures?  Over time Montague grew bitter and disenchanted with his lowly station in life.

Montague’s only joy in the store came from the two caged parrots that greeted customers with insults as they entered the store.  The silly patrons!  The parrots were such a novelty they ignored the insults hurled in their direction.  They thought the birds were telling jokes but Montague knew that the parrots only told the truth.

One evening when Montague was working late he decided to let the birds out of their cage.  They squawked excitedly and immediately flew to the back of the store where a large indoor koi pond emptied into a river outside of the store.

Montague wandered over to the koi pond following the flight of the parrots.  This part of the store was dark, lit only by the moonlight streaming through the large bay window that overlooked the outdoor stone patio and the river below.  He was reminded of the ponds and streams of his youth.  Where has all the magic in the world gone?

Almost as if in response to his musings the two parrots flapped down onto Montague’s shoulders.   To his great delight, the parrots began to chant.

“King Koi, King Koi, King Koi.”

Montague was surprised to see ripples at the very back of the koi pond.  I must be dreaming, he thought to himself.  A large wave was slowly moving towards where he stood, with the two parrots chirping on his shoulders.  Was that a shadow moving under the water?

A large gush of water shot up from the pond and drenched Montague from head to toe.  The parrots flew to the rafters where they continued to chant, King Koi, King Koi.

When Montague rubbed the water clear from his eyes he was stunned to find an enormous koi fish standing upright before him.  How could such a creature find it’s way into the store pond?   It had a huge and silly looking head, slick and thick body, and was somehow perched upright on his tail.  The fish spread its enormous fins and began to sing.  It was a soothing sound, deep and melodic, like the sound of waves underwater.  Montague began to feel drowsy; surely I am dreaming he thought once again.

A scream from the parrots jolted Montague out of his daze.  The last thing he remembered seeing was the fish’s huge mouth opening and the body crouching low, as if the creature was preparing to jump.

 

My Latest Obsession: YouTube Reaction Videos

Amazed couple watching tv

It’s a strange thing to admit, I love reaction videos.  Well, I should clarify, certain types of reaction videos, namely those that deal with entertainment pieces that (a) I love and, (b) evokes a strong reaction.

I’m trying to remember what piece of entertainment drove me to watch a reaction video.  I think it was The Force Awakens trailers.  I saw the first Star Wars movie when I was about seven years old at a drive-in movie theater with my family.  It was a very impressionable age and I was blown away not by the special effects (though I loved those too) but by Princess Leia.  Up until that point the only princesses I had been exposed to were Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty.  For various reasons, not my cup of tea.  Now Princess Leia, here was someone special!  There she was on the drive-in movie screen mixing it up the boys, powerful in her own right, and flying across the galaxy on a mission of justice.  Just awesome.

Like many others I was disappointed by the prequels so when I heard JJ Abrams was taking over the franchise at the behest of Disney I was cautiously optimistic.  This sense of excitement grew as the teasers and the final movie trailer was released.  The imagery, the music, the droids, and Han and Chewy (!) all transported me back to that magical, impressionable seven-year-old at the drive-in.  I think the final official trailer actually brought a lump to my throat.

To be perfectly honest, I felt ridiculous to be moved to tears by a movie trailer.  What on earth was wrong with me?  I couldn’t really talk about it with many of my peers so I turned to the virtual world in search of validation and on YouTube I struck gold.  Hundreds of The Force Awakens reaction videos were available on-line.  Here people of all ages watched the trailer and recorded their powerful emotional reactions.  Watching them I began to feel a little less ridiculous and instead experience a sense of virtual camaraderie with like-minded individuals.  You see, the power of Star Wars for us wasn’t simply being entertained, but more of a remembrance of what it felt like to experience child-like awe and a belief that anything was possible.

Since I discovered the world of reaction videos they are my go to place whenever I watch a piece of entertainment that provokes a strong reaction.  I enjoy watching realization dawn on the faces of others as they figure out what’s coming.  The tears of joy, the laughter, the cries of shock or horror are all highly entertaining to me.  It enhances the original work and also exposes me to countless others who are on my wave length, at least in terms of entertainment options.  Because I’m a serious of a sci-fi/fantasy geek two “Reactor” groups I very much enjoy on YouTube are The Normies and Blind Wave.  They are quite knowledgable about the shows/movies they watch, are highly expressive, and offer insightful commentary as to what they believe is happening with character development and plot.

If you’ve just watched something you can’t get out of your head a la The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, go watch a few reaction videos on YouTube.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

If You Build It, They Probably Won’t Come

READER -Realistic Neon Sign on Brick Wall background

I’ve written a book. A good book I think but of course I would say that wouldn’t I? I’ve explored self-publishing options. It’s definitely doable, by that I mean anyone with a book and a few thousand dollars to spare can absolutely self-publish. There are plenty of publishing platforms available (e.g. CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, AuthorHouse). But self-publishing a book really isn’t the challenge. The challenge is getting people to BUY your book. That’s where the rubber hits the road, so to speak.

For a new author, attracting an audience can be a daunting task. How does one get noticed? An agent certainly can help by securing a deal with a publishing company well versed in a specific genre, with the distribution and marketing muscle needed to attract the right customers. Sadly, it’s quite difficult to secure an agent these days and probably always has been.

Jumping into a hot genre can also help – think young adult dystopian or doomed teenage vampire romance – where the audience is already established with an insatiable appetite for new material.

Gaining positive word of mouth is another grass roots strategy. Just ask EL James of the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy. Her steamy content spread through the internet like wildfire (literally and figuratively) and established an entirely new genre I believe referred to as “Mommy Porn”. Pause and deep sigh…

My grand opus really doesn’t fit into any of these categories. In fact, a commercial agent I did speak with said while the work was good it was a “hard sell’. I took that to mean she was unsure of the audience. I thought I could try and build an audience myself by making my content available on a free platform that claims to attract the type of readers I seek. I thought they’d arrive in droves, helping to establish an audience. I thought these fantasy readers could act as those critical “Beta Readers”, providing feedback that would help me shape the work into something that would be attractive to an agent. I thought my content would get hit after hit helping to spread positive word of mouth.

None of these things have happened.

Is that really a surprise? I’m not going to name the platform just yet because to do so would be like holding it partially to blame for my lack of attention. That isn’t fair, though is it? I don’t know how to attract an audience and have done nothing to draw readers my content. The other simple explanation is that my idea/book isn’t any good. I’m starting to think this website is a golden opportunity to explore that concept more deeply. Hopefully the answer won’t prove too depressing!

“Game of Thrones” and “A Song of Ice and Fire” – How Will it All End?

Let me start by saying that I love pretty much everything Game of Thrones.  I love the books, I love the TV show, the comic con panels, the fan base, everything.  Even my eight-year old daughter knows I’m obsessed.  Season 7 of the HBO series just concluded this week and I find myself feeling, I don’t know, a little troubled.  I’m wondering what George R. R. Martin thinks of this spectacle and where it all seems to be headed.

The show is now officially beyond the reach of the books and I do wonder if the path the show is following is the same path that GRRM intended.  While visually stunning and certainly entertaining, this season has seemed a little too predictable.  The character arcs are too obvious.  Parallels to events earlier in the series are in abundance.  The result of all this is a clear signaling to where the story is headed.  Whatever GRRM intended he was never obvious.  What I love about “A Song of Ice and Fire” is the subtly in which events unfold.  Certainly, some big plot twists are foreseeable if one pays close enough attention, R+L=J springs to mind, but for the most part clues are only obvious after an event has occurred with consequence being a direct result of character.  There was nothing surprising in Season 7 of the television show, except perhaps, that nothing surprising happened.

GRRM has two more books to write before his grand opus comes to an end.  I hope he writes the books he always intended and does not force his vision into the current HBO story line.  Even worse, I hope he does not allow the conclusion of his masterful creation to be told by someone other than himself.  How awful would it be if he simply told the HBO showrunners how it all is supposed to end and allow them to drive the story to completion?  Worst of all that he never finishes the series as suspected by many in the rabid fan community. For me personally the best possible outcome is to let the Game of Thrones TV show reach its own conclusion.  It is a different animal than the books, particularly after this last season.  GRRM would then be free to write the end of A Song of Ice and Fire without limiting himself to the plot of the TV iteration.  It’s also a brilliant marketing ploy.  I can almost see the advertising –

 

“You’ve seen the end of Game of Thrones, now read the conclusion of A Song of Ice and Fire as intended by the creator, George R. R. Martin.”

 

I have no idea how the TV show or book series will end.  Maybe they will share the same conclusion.  The only thing I do know is that GRRM has said the ending will be bittersweet so here is my prediction.  Dany reaches the Iron Throne but dies in childbirth.  Jon (the father) reluctantly comes forward to claim to the throne he never wanted until his son comes of age.  My only hope is that if that happens Tyrion is by his side.  Then, in my world at least, all may not be perfect but all will be well.

If it were in my power in addition to Jon and Tyrion I would save all the remaining Starks and direwolves, Drogon and Rhegal, Davos, Tormond, Bronn, and – most importantly – Jaime Lannister.

On Anonymous Blogging

Wonderful commentary on the constant evolution of the social media landscape.

Tiny Rubies

typewriter

It’s the mid-noughties. I’m at university, London is blowing my mind, and I’m tapping away on my LiveJournal like my life depends on it. I’m documenting all of my experiences, preserving them through writing, and reading the blog posts of strangers around the world doing the same. I’m reading (and writing) about breakups, sex, mixtapes, road trips, family drama, and beautiful vignettes about places visited, or wild nights out, or a feeling.

I treated my LiveJournal as a kind of late night confessional, a place to process and unpick and get things off my chest. There was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Snapchat back then. Facebook was just taking off, the wifi connection in our halls of residence was patchy at best, and everyone still spent hours creating MySpace layouts. People didn’t think about ‘managing’ their online presence. Anonymity still had value on the internet, in fact it was the…

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Lessons From My First Blog: Examining What Went Wrong

Mess Up Learn Repeat Life Lessons Mistake Knowledge Improve

I had a previous blog, now defunct, that I toyed with periodically for over seven years.  It wasn’t a success, but then again it was never really meant to be.  It was an experiment.  An experiment that taught me a lot about what not to do, mostly.  There are many lessons to learn in failure if one is willing to put ego aside and consider past missteps objectively.  I’ve never really been shy about evaluating my own failings so after much consideration here are the three main areas in which I think I went wrong during my first blogging adventure:

No Strategy

Why was I blogging?  Was the blog meant to be a promotional tool for my work in progress?  A confessional about how hard it is to write and publish a book?  An online diary of my daily struggles?  A commentary on current affairs?  In retrospect, my first blog was a mash up of all the above.  I guess if I had to define my strategy I had initially thought that a blog would be a great way to attract readers, an author platform if you will.  I’m sure you can probably already see the glaring flaw in my logic.  If I had no strategy, how was I to be sure I was attracting the right readers?  Specifically, the type of readers that would be willing to read my book once completed.

As it happened I did attract some readers.  Who there were or why there landed on my site I’ll never know because I never took the time to figure it out.  More on that point later.

No Commitment 

I blogged when I felt like it, ignored it when I didn’t (or got too busy in the “real world”).  In addition to a lack of overall strategy there was no regularity upon which a reader could expect a new post.  I could go months without posting when suddenly six posts would appear in a three-week period.  Not great for my readers and not conducive to developing a consistent writing practice and content generation scheme.

The fact that I separated my blog from “the real world” is also evidence of my lack of commitment.  The blog was a hobby, and a sporadic, part-time hobby at best.  It’s not really a mystery why it never gained sustainable traction.

No Metrics for Success

Despite my stumbling around in the virtual dark I did manage to attract some readers.  Quite a few of them in fact but statistics can be deceiving, especially when you don’t understand what the data may be saying.  For example, I would occasionally get huge spikes in hits on my blog on a given day without any new content.  I never understood what drove this behavior.  I had visitors, even quite a few repeat visitors, that appeared to read much of my content.  Yet, over a seven-year period not one person ever liked a post, commented, or signed up to receive e-mail updates.  Finally, and perhaps most perplexing, one post got approximately 74,000 +1’s from Google Plus.  Was that post really that good or was that result simply a quirk in the dataset?  I’ll never know because I never took the time to really understand the analytics of the blog.

I’m not foolish to think I’ve uncovered the secret to blogging success, or that I won’t repeat my past mistakes.  However, I am interested to see how improvements in these three key areas may impact my blogging effectiveness.  If nothing else, I’m sure more lessons await.

 

This is a Tough Sell

Rejection Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Storm Clouds and Sky.


You write well and I enjoyed your submission, but this is a tough sell.

That’s the advice I paid $200 to hear.  I guess that’s better than the deafening silence I heard from my other queries to literary agents.   Some feedback, any feedback, is useful even if I had to pay to get it.

Let me clarify just how I got that feedback lest you think I did something improper.  Rest assured, I did not.  I enrolled in a Writer’s Digest course on how to make the first ten pages of a manuscript sing.  The first ten pages are important as they are often what literary agents will request with a query submission.

I have enrolled in several Writer’s Digest courses in the past and have always found them helpful.  This was no exception.  My big take away was that while Fantasy is an established genre the focus of my story (hint: it’s not dystopian, vampires/wizards/witches, or steampunk – whatever that is) makes it difficult to identify an audience.  The feedback was not entirely surprising.  I myself was having difficulty identifying an appropriate market comparator.  I couldn’t simply say it’s Harry Potter with vampires instead of wizards, for example.  The closest I could come up with is it’s The Hobbit with a female protagonist and a doomed love affair for a 17+ audience.  But that’s not exactly correct either, it’s simply the best I could come up with on my own.

So, what to do?  One option is to re-write my story for an established commercial audience.  While that sounds logical it wouldn’t be all that easy to do.  Plus, to quote George Costanza, what about my artistic integrity?  The other option is to go out and find my audience on my own.  This idea, while I’m quite sure is even more difficult, intrigues me.  How to do it?  Do I have an audience, who are these mysterious readers, and how do I reach them?  Honestly, I don’t know if it’s possible to find them but I feel like I should at least try before re-designing my original (yet possibly unmarketable?) creation into something I no longer recognize a la it’s Fifty Shades of Grey with a male protagonist and a doomed love affair (the horror!).

For those of you who remember George Costanza I’ll leave you with my all-time favorite quote:

“The sea was angry that day my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli!”

First Blog Post: Hello & Welcome!

Vintage typewriter
Vintage typewriter

This is not my first rodeo, uh I mean blog.  Several years ago, I was a dissatisfied middle manager in Corporate America longing for escape of any kind.  In this moment of desperation, the idea for my first blog was hatched – a real-time chronicle of my attempt at writing a best-selling book, retiring from the corporate world and living the good life.  Sounds good, right?  Too bad it was much easier said than done.

This is not to say that my first blog experience was a complete failure, maybe more like 95% failure.  On a more positive note I did learn quite about blogging and surprisingly found that I enjoyed it immensely.  All in all, not a total loss I suppose.

Closet Novelist is an attempt to learn from my past mistakes and move forward in my blogging/writing journey.  Why the name?  Well, I’m not a full-time writer.  In fact, I’m currently managing a growing consultation business in an unrelated field.  Having a “public” blog about my creative interests could prove detrimental to my fledgling company (or not, too soon to tell) hence the idea of pursuing my creative outlet under a digital cover.

You may be wondering, if secrecy is a necessity why blog at all?  Well, one of the most surprising things I learned from my first blogging experience is that writing and blogging were essential to boosting my overall creativity.  This increased engagement with the right side of my brain made me more effective at my other professional committments.  For me, writing also provides a greater sense of overall engagement in life and a nurturing to another side of my personality too long ignored.

So, join me if you will, on this journey to balance the two parts of my personality.  This blog will mostly cover my attempt to finish and publish the first book in an intended Fantasy series.  Along the way, I’m sure I’ll discover other things to write about.  As the tagline suggests, I never know when inspiration is going to strike.  When it does I’ll be certain to blog about it!

"The Leftovers" Series Finale Review (No Spoilers): The Beauty of the Struggle

 – From Archived Site – 

Wow, just wow.  Almost a week later and I’m still reeling from “The Leftovers” achingly perfect series finale.  Where to begin, what to say?  First, for those who haven’t seen the show it’s a limited HBO series, only three seasons from start to finish.  Honestly, three seasons is probably enough. While the show and cast are brilliant the pervasive melancholy of the storylines, not to mention the haunting score, can feel suffocating at times.  Unless you are a glutton for punishment I wouldn’t watch it all in one go. Personally, I think it’s best viewed and absorbed in smaller chunks.

Season One is the hardest to get through.  It is very bleak.  For those of you who don’t know the premise “The Leftovers” is a set in a world where 2% of the entire population inexplicably vanishes into thin air.  The entire show revolves around how the remaining 98% cope with that loss. Suffice it to say, the leftovers do not manage well.  No, not at all.

When I first heard about that premise I thought, “Ah, 2% disappears that’s not so bad.  Especially if the so-called “Departure” didn’t directly involve a loved one.”  But then I thought through the ramifications of such an occurrence.  Millions of people gone without a trace with neither science or religion offering any plausible explanation.  The tent poles of faith and reason were rendered moot in an instant and could no longer offer shelter from the raging storm.  The world held its breath waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, while at the same time sprouting unique explanations to make sense of the nonsensical. Those explanations built narrative of the series and were, with few exceptions, bat shit crazy.

To be completely honest I initially stopped watching after Season One.  It was just to damn depressing!  I wondered at the fate of the characters, many of whom I grew to love, but needed a break from the steady stream of emotional torture.  Luckily my husband is made of sturdier stuff than I am and continued to watch regularly.  From him I learned of major plot developments such that when the finale rolled around I was curious enough to want to see how it would all end.

What a finale it was!  Since the beginning of the show we have been watching all the characters try and survive in a world untethered from reason.  I was reminded of Joan Didion’s astounding book on grief “The Year of Magical Thinking.” In it, she describes the little stories she would tell herself to continue living after the loss of her beloved husband.  I think anyone who has been through a traumatic experience can understand the things we need to tell ourselves to help process and overcome grief.  What ultimately helps the mourner is the fact that the rest of the world remains solid, rooted in reality.  When they are ready to re-engage, most will be grateful for the normalcy and consistency that this provides.  In The Leftovers, it’s been seven years of magical thinking and a new normal has yet to be established.  That must be an exhausting way to live and many of the characters are reaching their breaking point as the story draws to a close.

I’m not really going to say much about the finale beyond the fact that I loved it so much I went back and watched Season 2 and 3.  I’m happy to say that while the subject matter is still sad, there are moments of humor and glimmers hope in the remaining episodes.

It’s probably worth also worth noting that I am now a life long fan of both Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux.  They play two characters – Nora Durst and Kevin Garvey, respectively – who claim to want to survive in this new world but fail to see how their choices and behaviors conflict with this notion and are self-destructive.  How they marry what they think they want with their actions is beautifully depicted in the finale.  One couldn’t ask for a more fitting resolution, absolute perfection.

Book Review: The House of Seven Gables – Portrait of a Cursed Family

– From Archived Site – 
The House of Seven Gables – not to be confused with  Anne of Green Gables – is a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne that takes place in Salem, Massachusetts.  Given the setting it is probably not surprising that the alleged “curse” arises from a humble farmer named Matthew Maule who was executed for wizardry.  The basic story is this, a wealthy and prominent local man, Colonel Pyncheon, identifies the ideal spot to build his family mansion.  Unfortunately, the land is currently owned by Mr. Maule who refuses to sell his plot.  After much negotiation neither party is willing to budge and the result is the execution of Mr. Maule during the witch hysteria in Salem, subsequently freeing the land for purchase by none other than Colonel Pyncheon.  Here he builds his House of Seven Gables.
How was poor Mr. Maule cast as a wizard?  Well, the origin of that claim in the book is intentionally hazy, much like the actual accusations of witchcraft in Salem in historical record.  One could suppose that the whispers that strategically began in the village led to suspicions by the authorities.  Authorities would then interview prominent people in the community to collect “evidence” from which a judgement and sentence would be derived.  Not unlike the scant evidence and faulty judicial process that doomed twenty people to death in Salem, Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693.
Was Mr. Maule a wizard?  No, of course he wasn’t.  He was simply a righteous and innocent, but sadly unfortunate, soul who defied the wrong person during a time when the locals were hunting witches.  His dying words to Colonel Pyncheon provide the context for the curse upon the House of Seven Gables.
“God will give him blood to drink!” 
All this context is set in the beginning pages of the book.  The story really centers on the dying embers of the Pyncheon family, long having fallen to destitution and despair.  The house itself is in a state of disrepair and only a handful of family members remain alive.  Throughout the book, I was reminded of the classic theme that the sins of the fathers will taint future generations.  Indeed, this idea is directly discussed in the context of the surviving Pyncheons.  They believe they are cursed, not necessarily by the questionable actions of their ancestor but by the dying words of a wrongly convicted man.
Can a family really be cursed? I found myself pondering this question as I read the book.  I believe they can, but not by some extraneous words flung by are disgruntled acquaintance.  No, a curse is only powerful if one allows themselves to believe it.  Which unfortunately the Pyncheons, with one notable exception, seem to readily – if resignedly – accept.  This acceptance brings their family to the brink of extinction.
Amid all this darkness and doom comes a ray of sunshine, however.  The youngest Pyncheon arrives on the scene early in the story.  She has been raised away from the House of Seven Gables and as such does not allow an ancient curse to color her expectations for the future.  The bulk of the story centers on how the remaining Pyncheons come to terms with their colored past and in doing so try to imagine a better future.  This is laborious process, however, and requires the Pyncheons to acknowledge truths about themselves, and their ancestor Colonel Pyncheon, that are disturbing and uncomfortable.  But only in facing the truth can this family finally be set free.
Published in 1851 The House of Seven Gables is not an easy or fast read.  Like the authors of the day, Hawthorne painstakingly describes settings, character motivations, and backstory over pages of long and complex paragraphs.  It takes some time to sink into the tempo of the novel.  So different from many books of today where action is packed into each page.  This is not a book for those with a short attention span.  At least not initially.  But if you can commit yourself to the story a rich portrait of a New England family emerges, and proceeds, albeit slowly, to a well-earned and satisfying resolution.

PS: I’ve never actually read Anne of Green Gables.  Maybe I’ll tackle that book at some point in the future.  Now, though, I need a break from all those gables.  Liane Moriarty is calling!