Time flies when you’re trapped at home, am I right?
Still though, I didn’t realize it had been a whole month since I last posted on the blog. I’ve been working so hard on my podcast (not to mention wrapping up teaching for the semester) that I’ve neglected the poor blog. So here I am to touch base and share an update, especially on how the podcast has been going.
Today marks the release of my fifth weekly episode, which has me excited! I’ve been enjoying talking about some awesome books, and the positive feedback from you all has been such an encouragement. Thank you to each one who has listened, subscribed, reviewed, commented, or sent me a message. When you do something like podcasting (i.e., a process of brainstorming, writing down notes, recording yourself, editing, and finally sending an audio file out into cyberspace on a wing and a prayer….and repeat that every week), any kind of feedback from a listener is pure gold.
So here’s the recap of the books we’ve covered so far—C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early, Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. All fiction so far (special nonfiction episode coming next week!), but already these books represent quite a variety of eras, styles, and worldviews.
A tidbit you may not know is that I have a Pinterest board dedicated to the books I’m reviewing in Unknown Friends. Each week I’m updating it with new pins related to the book currently under discussion, so if you’re curious to see book covers, illustrations, or quotes, you can check out my growing collection of images here on Pinterest.
In today’s episode on Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go, I told the story of the writing contest I entered when I was 16, where one of the judges mentioned that my entry brought to mind Ishiguro’s novel. I knew a few people might be interested in reading the entry and the judges’ full comments, so I’ve copied them here (yep, I kept those comments for eight years—speaking of feedback being pure gold!).
This little competition was one of many similar contests the website Go Teen Writers used to host regularly (and I believe they still do sometimes), and I so enjoyed and learned from them when I was first trying to get serious about writing. The authors who managed the blog would initiate a story idea, with a phrase or image, which contestants would develop into a paragraph or so that was supposed to sound like the opening of a novel.
The contest in question, in May 2012, was framed thus: in writing the opening lines of our imaginary story, contestants could use a maximum of 100 words plus we had to include the exact phrase “I would want to be told” somewhere in our entry. Below is my 106-word entry (yep, I used every permitted word!), which to my great surprise won me first place:
Five days since my Reassurer quit. Unfamiliar ripples of fear wrinkling my thoughts. Blurred memories sharpening, pricking like needles.
They aren’t real.
I press my fingertips together, studying the applicant. “You have experience in Reassuring?”
The girl smiles. “Aye.”
That’s promising. I reach up and finger my long, graceful earring. “Your employer was pleased?”
“Excellent.” I close my eyes. “Now. The details of this position. I’d want you to constantly assure me of my beauty, prestige, intelligence, and unselfishness. And I would want to be told. . .” My muscles tighten, fragile images dancing through my mind. Don’t believe them. “. . .that my daughter is alive.”
And the two guest judges gave me some lovely feedback:
“I absolutely loved this entry. It reminded me a bit of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, in that there’s heartbreak just under the surface. In just a few words, the writer was able to create a world that made me curious while giving me reasons to both like and dislike the narrator. The idea is original and the characterization is solid. Great use of subtlety and understatement, two things that take years of practice to perfect. Well done!”
“Wow! I’m hooked. Great writing, good pacing, excellent internal thoughts, and strong ending hook. Nice job. Such an interesting premise. I definitely want to read more!”
They were so kind. Sadly I don’t remember who the judges were, but their encouraging comments made a huge impression on me at the time. I’m thankful they took the time to help out with an online contest for a bunch of aspiring teen writers and give personalized feedback to each of us!
Anyway, that’s the story behind my special interest in Kazuo Ishiguro, and specifically his novel Never Let Me Go. It’s so difficult (well, impossible) to do justice to any of these incredible writers and their books in half-hour podcast episodes, but I hope my discussions can offer at least a glimpse of the brilliant work these writers do.
So after all that, I have a question for you, podcast listeners! I’ve streamed my first five episodes now, and I would love your feedback. Which has been your favorite Unknown Friends episode so far?
You can comment simply with the number (1-5) of your favorite episode, or if you have any other thoughts, please share! I’d love to know what books or topics you’ve particularly enjoyed, and I’m open to critiques as well! I’m reviewing these books for you, so I want to create content that you find relevant and interesting. So let me know your thoughts on these first five episodes, and I can’t wait to share with you the amazing books I plan to review over the next several weeks. Hope you enjoy!