Crossing the NaNoWriMo Finish Line

On November 1, 2011, I stood at a starting line where hundreds of thousands of authors have stood before me. I had spontaneously decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. I'll be honest; like any other self-loathing writer, I had dark plans of starting a novel, having real life interfere, going through a downward spiral of anger and junk food, tossing out the book idea and coming out with a story about how hard it is to write a novel in a month. Instead, I managed my regular writing schedule -- which is more than 40 hours of work a week -- and gave up most of my sleep to crank out a novel in 19 days. Who says you need a month to write a book?

Okay, so I did not come out of NaNoWriMo with a masterpiece. In fact, if I were to write a Cracked Spines review of my book right now, I would warn you to never even so much as borrow it from the library. Such is the state of my first draft, but I am still proud of it. I crossed the finish line ahead of the pack and can now get back to my regularly scheduled work. Will I ever do it again? Well, I already have an outline for next month's first draft of horrors.

Now that I am done with the book, I will be back to reading regularly. Right now, I am working on "Atonement" by Ian McEwan. You can expect a review within a few days. I hope you are looking forward to it, wherever you are, whoever you are, if there is anyone even listening. For those of you out there still chugging along on your novels, best of luck. The trick is to think like that annoying Ellen fish from Finding Nemo, but instead of swimming, you want to write. You may also want to switch the cutesy cartoon voice for something more like a personal trainer on steroids.

Shelly Barclay

Review of "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" is the second novel by acclaimed writer Khaled Hosseini. It is a novel that, much like his first novel "The Kite Runner" pulls the reader in and does not stop pulling until long after the novel ends. Hosseini's cleverness and insight into romantic relationships, friendships, Afghan culture and the complicated lives of women ring through on every page.

The novel follows two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila. In the first two parts, it tells two very different stories. The first story is that of Mariam, an illegitimate child whose father is insincere and whose mother is mentally abusive, but loving in her own way. Mariam's world is torn apart one day and she finds herself in a situation that many Afghan women find themselves in, though it is not the rule. For the sake of leaving the story a mystery for those who have not read it, the details will not be divulged here.

The second part tells the story of a well rounded, relatively well off, Laila, whose love for her best friend becomes the center of her world as war tears apart her family. Laila too has a day that destroys her life as she knows it and she comes to be a part of Mariam's life. From there, the two women struggle with animosity, guilt, regret and a deeply loving friendship that forms the heart of the "A Thousand Splendid Suns."

The way the story is written, it gives snippets of happiness, mixed with disillusionment, grief and despair, only to bring you back around to happiness again. The rare moments of joy the characters feel are made more intense by the sense of impending doom that hovers over much of the plot. Khaled skillfully makes his readers feel anxiety, hope and triumph for and with his characters. Every aspect of "A Thousand Splendid Suns" is skillfully done. He erects no cultural barriers between his readers and the Afghanistan of his novel, just as he did with "The Kite Runner." Several reviews will say that "A Thousand Splendid Suns" is the better novel. In truth, there is no comparing the two. They are both excellent stories in their own right.

Shelly Barclay

Dear Readers: Novel Writing, My Absence and Writing Too Much

Dear Readers,

On the off chance that anyone regularly reads my book-related gibberish, I thought it prudent to write and inform you, whoever you elusive readers are, that I will be absent for the month of November. I may find time to read something and tell you how good or awful it was, but the chances are pretty slim. You see, this month is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. I, your humble and not horribly articulate book reviewer, am trying my hand for the very first time. Therefore, I am writing a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. I will be back, hopefully a winner, on the first of December.

I am happy to tell you that my first day was a 3100 word success. This, on top of my regular, work-related writing, has left my hands feeling as if I am a full time cook again. However, I am proud of myself, as novels are my greatest fear. I have written a few that no one, save me, has ever read and that were only possible through the help of copious amounts of hard liquor. I no longer imbibe, so I thought I might find myself stumped. I didn't. I am still not sure what tomorrow will bring, but I am off to a good start.

Whoever you are, if you are out there, wish me luck. I'm going to need it.

Shelly Barclay