Book Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

One of those books! I finished it last night, right before I fell asleep and I miss Joe already. Although his is not a voice you want to have in your head, I enjoyed the experience humonstrously. Why? He loves a girl who reads and his love is epic. When I was in high school, I read The Catcher in the Rye multiple times and all of Salinger’s books (the rest only once each). I recognized the Holden Caulfield influence early, before Joe even uttered the word “phony”. Eventually, the author makes the connection super obvious, right down to the red hunting hat and a character named “Salinger”. Joe, however, escalates Holden’s unreliable narration to psychopathic heights Salinger might have dreamed of, but never revealed in his writing. For those of you who read (current popular literature and the classics), this novel is a literary scavenger hunt of the highest calibration (A Moveable Feast of hints, clues and allusions).

One tiny caveat: The first person voice is male and the author’s female and I completely bought into it except for one tiny bump. Joe refers to his girlfriend as twisting her hair into a high bun. To me, he slipped out of character for one heartbeat there. He didn’t seem like a guy who’d use girly-talk words. Most of his personal language was action-packed, witty, intensely intelligent and smutty (to the point where I cringed but enjoyed cringing). Otherwise, he stayed masculine and in character.

If you enjoy a darkly twisted read and a gargantuan page turner, treat yo-self ASAP to this one.

One more scary thought: When I was single, I so would have dated him.


Marcel Proust’s Questionnaire

IMG_1394Answer these questions if you dare. David Bowie’s answers are “on-the-spot”, glib. I took some time with mine. I still want to go back, edit and reflect.


Here is Marcel Proust’s Questionnaire:

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  2. What is your greatest fear?
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  5. Which living person do you most admire?
  6. What is your greatest extravagance?
  7. What is your current state of mind?
  8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  9. On what occasion do you lie?
  10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
  11. Which living person do you most despise?
  12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
  13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  16. When and where were you happiest?
  17. Which talent would you most like to have?
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
  21. Where would you most like to live?
  22. What is your most treasured possession?
  23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  24. What is your favorite occupation?
  25. What is your most marked characteristic?
  26. What do you most value in your friends?
  27. Who are your favorite writers?
  28. Who is your hero of fiction?
  29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
  30. Who are your heroes in real life?
  31. What are your favorite names?
  32. What is it that you most dislike?
  33. What is your greatest regret?
  34. How would you like to die?
  35. What is your motto?


Here are my answers to Marcel Proust’s Questionnaire (constantly subject to change):

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

a book and a cup of Earl Grey Tea

  1. What is your greatest fear?


  1. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

fear to express myself during an argument…I hate arguments because people expound and get loud and don’t listen to counter arguments. It’s boring and scary.

A quiet debate is so much more productive.

  1. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

talking and not listening…disrespect

  1. Which living person do you most admire?

Stephen King

  1. What is your greatest extravagance?

generosity toward my children, anyone’s children and my dog, anyone’s dog

  1. What is your current state of mind?

ruminative, imaginative, meditative, almost anything that ends in “-ive”

  1. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

consistency   Like Thoreau said “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

  1. On what occasion do you lie?

to protect someone I care about  (Sometimes that someone is myself.)

  1. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

everything that’s sagging or aging or receding or spreading outward

  1. Which living person do you most despise?

Isis and Donald Trump…anyone who’s powerful but demonstrates no humanity

  1. What is the quality you most like in a man?

confidence and intelligence, paired with humility and imagination=humor

  1. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

creativity paired with the confidence to express it=humor

  1. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Recently: Into the Valley of Death rode the 600.

In my lifetime: Quintessential  (It’s a bombastic, pretentious and egotistical word.)

  1. What or who is the greatest love of your life?


  1. When and where were you happiest?

home, reading and/or writing, conversations with creative people, preferably with a water view

  1. Which talent would you most like to have?

confidence without ego

  1. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’d be a better and more respectful listener.

  1. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My children, my teaching, my books – My most important life’s works.

  1. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

A more improved, wiser version of myself.

  1. Where would you most like to live?

a warm (but not hot), tolerant, small city by the ocean, with lots of public parks, forest trails, shoreline

  1. What is your most treasured possession?

a cameo brooch my grandfather gave my grandmother, carved from a single seashell … Something small enough to hold in your hand and carry with you that you hope you never lose.

  1. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

feeling frustrated when a situation is impossible and I have no control, no voice

  1. What is your favorite occupation?

the cultivation of hope.. that’s what the editing process is all about, not just editing my writing, but my life. I like do-overs. That’s why conversation makes me feel anxious. You can’t erase and then rewrite something you’ve said. I guess that’s called an apology. Apologies are tough but necessary.

  1. What is your most marked characteristic?

I’m thoughtfully hopeful and optimistic.

  1. What do you most value in your friends?

creativity and humor

  1. Who are your favorite writers?

Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare (for the classics)

Camus (for essays and reflections – nonfiction)

Jeffery Deaver, Thomas Harris (only the first two books), Louise Penny, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child – for contemporary. I like mysteries and crime.

  1. Who is your hero of fiction?

Huckleberry Finn – his journey, his logic, his willingness and ability to change his fundamental beliefs about humanity and how this journey mirrored the profound changes the USA went through during his lifetime.

  1. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Joan of Arc, Martha Corey… someone who was executed for the crime of witchcraft

  1. Who are your heroes in real life?

Abraham Lincoln

Martin Luther King Jr.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday

Jane Goodall

writers, musicians and artists…so many     Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Bach, Marvin Gaye, Gauguin, Degas…

  1. What are your favorite names?

Tibalt and Cerulean    

  1. What is it that you most dislike?

People who brag about money and material possessions.

People who exploit their weaknesses to earn sympathy.

Physical and emotional cruelty

  1. What is your greatest regret?

Anytime I’ve ever bragged about anything.

Misrepresenting myself so I appear to be way cooler. (Same thing)

  1. How would you like to die?

quickly and with as little pain as possible… Gunshot to a vital organ, if that fits the aforementioned description.

  1. What is your motto?

“In the depth of winter I found there was within myself an invincible summer.” Camus


David Bowie’s answers (His 69th birthday was last week.)



  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?




  • What is your most marked characteristic?


Getting a word in edgewise.


  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?


Discovering morning.


  • What is your greatest fear?


Converting kilometers to miles.


  • What historical figure do you most identify with?


Santa Claus.

  1. Which living person do you most admire?


  1. Who are your heroes in real life?

The consumer.

  1. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

While in New York, tolerance.

Outside New York, intolerance.

  1. What is the trait you most deplore in others?


  1. What is your favorite journey?

The road of artistic excess.

  1. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Sympathy and originality.

  1. Which word or phrases do you most overuse?

“Chthonic,” “miasma.”

  1. What is your greatest regret?

That I never wore bellbottoms.

  1. What is your current state of mind?


  1. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

My fear of them (wife and son excluded).

  1. What is your most treasured possession?

A photograph held together by cellophane tape of Little Richard that I bought in 1958, and a pressed and dried chrysanthemum picked on my honeymoon in Kyoto.

  1. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Living in fear.

  1. Where would you like to live?

Northeast Bali or south Java.

  1. What is your favorite occupation?

Squishing paint on a senseless canvas.

  1. What is the quality you most like in a man?

The ability to return books.

  1. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

The ability to burp on command.

  1. What are your favorite names?

Sears & Roebuck.

  1. What is your motto?

“What” is my motto.

Happy Merry New Year

2016 – In this year, I resolve to take my writing seriously even if no one else does. Still crouching cowardly behind a transparent shield of self-deprecation, I’ll find the courage and the confidence to keep going.

Keats — “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination”

Which brings us to WORDS (the world’s most holy natural resource).

As destructive as any weapon ever invented,

As dangerous as any venom ever injected,

As passionate as the most devoted lovers,

As lyrical as the rippling notes of an aria,

As graceful as the splash of the artist’s brush,

As slippery as the stones on the brook bottom,

As ominous as the storm’s first breath,

As cold and deadly as the ocean floor,

As claustrophobic as a deep and monstrous cave,

As empty as the air atop the highest mountain,

As huge as the orca,

As tiny as the sand flea,

As powerless as the civilized mind of the limp and useless poet,

As mesmerizing as the tales of a twisted storyteller,

As limitless as anything ever imagined by anyone,

And absolutely free.

– Alyson Larrabee

Reflections on 2014: What Haunts Me

writer weirdness joke

What Haunts Me


Alyson Larrabee

  1. A furry, bark colored creature who beckons to me with one, long, dark leather-skinned finger. (a scene from my work in progress)
  2. People with beautiful souls who lead tragic lives.
  3. Children singing almost anything, especially in harmony.
  4. The poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, read aloud.
  5. Icicles hanging from the bare branches of a tree.
  6. The silence of snowfall.
  7. Kissing the cheek of a chubby baby.
  8. Whole-hearted, pee-your-pants laughter.
  9. Being left alone in the cold and the dark.
  10. The flame of a candle, blazing logs on a campfire, the glow from a lantern.
  11. The brave little heart of my three legged dog. R.I.P., Doc.
  12. The clean corners at the ceiling of a room.
  13. The smell of sawdust.
  14. Sitting like a giant limp tea bag in a tub of hot water.
  15. Anyone’s death. Thank you, John Donne.

One for every year of the 21st Century.

My Low Tech/No Tech Vacation

sand turtleAnnie on the Beach RI








Last week my husband and I went on a vacation together, with the dog, and stayed in a small, essentially two room cottage near the ocean. It was built in the 1920’s and has no cable, no internet and poor cell phone reception. When I told one of my friends what we were doing, her reaction was, “You’re going to be at each other’s throats.”

That gave me pause. I became anxious. We were less than a mile from a beautiful private beach and the house came with a beach pass, so we’d be outside most of the time, but…What if it rained? What would we do? We got lucky, only two rainy days. On one of them, we drove around and looked at houses for sale because we love the area. We saw Taylor Swift’s house. Not for sale; way too big for us anyway. On the other rainy day, we did a little sightseeing: The Nautilus Submarine Museum in Groton, Connecticut. I love museums. My husband was interested in experiencing the close quarters of the submarine. Something for both of us. Great day. The other days, we spent some serious time on the beach; walking, reading, swimming. We talked to each other. We brought the cribbage board and Scrabble but never even got around to it. We both read a lot of books and I worked on the third novel in my series. My daughter Annie visited and built a sand turtle on the beach. (See photos.)

Another thing our love-nest didn’t have: an oven. No cooking. Yay! We tried several great restaurants and sampled everything from $32.00 swordfish, eaten at a table with a view of the ocean, to chowder from a takeout window, eaten at a picnic table overlooking a busy street. Heavenly. Paradise.

We found a dog park. Nigel, our redbone coonhound mix, had never been to one. He loved it. Lots of tail wagging and butt sniffing, two of his favorite pastimes. The dog owners sit around and chat about their pets, children and jobs. The poop bags are free.

So we survived our “off the grid” vacation. I’ve been back for over twenty four hours and haven’t turned the TV on yet. Can’t say the same for my husband.

Consensus: We really enjoyed ourselves and we’d do it again. Tomorrow would work for me.

Why I Love My Day Job

My Fifth Period Class

My Fifth Period Class

larissa d

June 13, 2014 – 9:09 PM (10 hours ago)

to me

Mrs. Larrabee, I would like to inform you that my friend and I are so inspired by your work Enter If You Dare that we decided: why don’t we write a story ourselves? So we’re getting to work! It’s going to be a bit like the format of Nothing But the Truth by Avi, (which our class is reading now) because we are going to change the P.O.V. (Point of View) between the two main characters who are a girl named Ariel and a boy named Edward. Here is basically a summary of our story (We haven’t come up with a title yet.):

“Ariel is one out of three children and having divorced parents isn’t the easiest, especially when you’re the youngest and still living with your parents; or shall I say parent? Ariel moves across the country from a small town in Massachusetts to California with her Dad while her mom and siblings stay in Massachusetts. Ariel meets a boy named Edward who doesn’t have it so easy either. He lives with an alcoholic mother and his father left him when he was just a baby. Edward is considered the “Emo” of the school because he feels hurt by the words of many of the students. Ariel and Edward’s friendship grows closer, as do their feelings for one another, but they make a promise. As much as they love each other they can’t show it because they don’t want their friendship to end. But Ariel smokes and ends up dying and Edward is in great grief and so are Ariel’s parents and siblings. When Ariel was alive he showed his love for her and it grew stronger everyday as she grew weaker 😦 but he couldn’t do anything to tell her but hoped one day they would be together. But now that she’s gone he has no chance, and still loves Ariel and only her. So Edward comes up with an idea to write her letters and read to her at her grave site and he always brings her some sort of gift and tells her he misses her and that he loves her. While Edward knows Ariel’s physical appearance is gone her spiritual one still lingers in the lives of her loved ones. Ariel tries to communicate with Edward but always fails. Ariel also regrets not telling him she loved him while she was still living……” that’s the idea of our book so far. I was wondering if you could give us some tips and stuff because our moms think that we could actually publish this (but with our parents) and people could read it. I came to you because I love your work, Mrs. Larrabee, and I honestly can’t wait to read it in August while I’m in Brazil. But if you could give us some tips about our book that would be great!


Larissa D and Her Friend Sarah

Alyson Larrabee

8:16 AM (0 minutes ago)

to larissa

Dear Larissa and Sarah,

Number One: The fact that you’re writing to me on a Friday night in June (when many students are not thinking about their English teachers or writing) inspires me beyond anything most people can imagine. Your idea for a story is original and interesting. It has both physical action and an emotional and spiritual message. Mark Twain said that every good book should have action, adventure, romance and a lesson about life. (I’m paraphrasing.) Lesley Fiedler was an American literary critic and we had to read his book Love and Death in the American Novel when I was in college. He basically said, in his book, that all great literature is about Love or Death or both. You two girls seem to understand this, even though you’re not in college, yet.

Number Two: Here are a few words of advice.

Begin your story with an action scene that no one can turn away from. The reader will only want to turn the page to find out what will happen next. Make the stakes high for a character who’s important. Make the readers care about your character immediately by having her/him do something everyone can relate to right away. Something that makes her human (awkward, bumbling, idiotic). You have a great premise (basic inspirational idea) and it’s filled with opportunities for high stakes action. You have an alcoholic on-board, a rocky marriage. People can scream things and throw things. Go for it.

Change the way Ariel dies. I think it usually takes a lot of years for someone to die as a result of smoking cigarettes. You want her to die young, right? Not when she’s fifty or sixty? Also, cancer has been done big and recently, by John Greene in The Fault in Our Stars. Brainstorm some good death ideas: accidents, illnesses, murder Then choose one. I think that you want her to linger? Is that right? Not a sudden death? And that’s cool because then the two main characters can have some emotional scenes together and you can wring some tears out of the readers. People enjoy crying, especially teenage girls, hence the success of The Fault in Our Stars.

I LOVE the Point of View idea. You’re really challenging yourselves with that one, but it’s a great idea. And you can do it. I have confidence in you.

Also, change the guy’s name. The romantic interest in the Twilight series is Edward. Your ideas are unique and exciting, so let’s take out anything derivative (copying other famous, popular books).

I would like to publish your email to me and my response to you in my writer’s blog. Do I have your permission? Let’s get this thing going and keep it going. I’m PUMPED!

Mrs. Larrabee

PS. There are a lot of good blogs, written by writers that might help you. I’ve read some blog articles on co-writing books and I think you’ll find them both helpful and inspirational. I’ll give you some blog web addresses in school next week.

My Rules for Writing


summer officeWhen you write, do you: identify with a character? Relate to a character? Care about a character? Hate a character? Judge a character? Objectively describe the character and then let the reader decide? Does it matter what the author intends? The answer is “No”. In the end only the reader’s reaction matters. Not the reader’s interpretation (That only matters if your book is being taught in somebody’s English class.) The reader’s reaction matters because that’s what drives them to keep reading (unless their teacher has assigned it). And that’s what authors want, for readers to read their books. If you want something else, quit now. If you’re writing to show off your vocabulary, share your philosophies or display your superior craftsmanship, quit now. Because if no one reads your books, it doesn’t matter what you write or how you write.

So what are the rules? What should writers be doing? How can writers engage these readers?

Here’s a list of famous writers’ rules for writing:

Neil Gaiman: 8 Good Writing Practices
P.D. James: 5 Bits of Writing Advice
Jack Kerouac: 30 Cool Tips
Ronald Knox: 10 Commandments of Detective Fiction
Elmore Leonard: 10 Rules
Michael Moorcock: 10 Tips for Good Storytelling
Andrew Motion: 10 Techniques to Spark the Writing
George Orwell: 6 Questions/6 Rules
Edgar Allan Poe: 5 Essentials for the Better of a Story
Annie Proulx: 5 Techniques for Good Craftsmanship
Zadie Smith: 10 Good Writing Habits
Strunk & White: 11 Composition Principles
Kurt Vonnegut: 8 Basics of Creative Writing
Billy Wilder: 10 Screenwriting Tips
Rejection: 3 Methods for Coping
Tracy Kidder & Richard Todd: 10 Writing Insights
Joyce Carol Oates: 10 Writing Tips from Twitter
Henry Miller: 10 Writing Tips
John Cage: Ten Rules for Students and Teachers
Margaret Atwood: 10 Rules for Writing

Here’s one example. Elmore Leonard. He’s old but he still gets published. He writes mystery/thriller-type page-turners. Even though he writes popular bestsellers, critics and writing teachers respect him.

Elmore Leonard started out writing westerns, then turned his talents to crime fiction. One of the most popular and prolific writers of our time, he’s written about two dozen novels, most of them bestsellers, such as Glitz, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, and Rum Punch.

What’s Leonard’s secret to being both popular and respectable? Perhaps you’ll find some clues in his 10 tricks for good writing:   *

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6.  Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

* Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle” – (I only included this part because I love the word “Hooptedoodle”.)

Ten minutes ago, I took a peek at my first to-be-published novel ENTER IF YOU DARE. I used the word “suddenly” seventeen times. Took a peek at HER EVIL WAYS (just signed the publishing contract)…30 “suddenlies” Yikes! Color me stupid. Fortunately, I can still edit the damn thing before it goes to print. Phew!

So, even though I’m an incredibly clueless writer of monsterful schlock…

Here are some of my rules:

  1. Tell a story the way you want to tell it. It’s your story. Nobody should try to make you write LITERATURE if no one reads LITERATURE unless it’s assigned.
  2. This doesn’t mean you should throw out all the rules and ignore advice from people who are good at what they do (people who have readers…because that’s what you want…readers. Let’s put that in all caps: READERS).
  3. What you want is 21st Century READERS because, after all, it’s the 21st Century. Duh. One writer whose rejection letters had offended her, recently complained online, “Charles Dickens would get rejected by (whatever publisher or agent had rejected her).” And, she was right. He’d get rejected. No one reads Charles Dickens anymore. He’s brilliant. He’s immortal. Students of Literature read him and their teachers, but no one else. He’s too wordy. The stories move along way too slowly, bogged down by thick swamps of description and figurative language. We might study him. We might watch the film versions of his work. We might read the Cliff Notes for one of his books. But most people don’t read him anymore.
  4. Open your veins and let the words pour out. Don’t edit until after. Spill your passion across the page. Don’t over-think ever. If you do, you won’t write. You’ll just dream about writing. You’ll read people’s books and criticize them and say things like, “That stupid book is a bestseller! I could do better than that.” You’ll never do better than that if you never pick up your metaphorical pen, which is really whichever electronic device you use for writing, because you’re a 21st Century writer. Don’t let your own inhibitions and judgments constipate you. Pick up your ideas and your device and go!
  5. Be ready for criticism and rejection. Don’t let it tie you up and gag you. Whoever wrote 50 Shades has been the recipient of crap-loads of criticism. Most of it deserved. (I snobbishly refuse to read it, but I respect the author’s success. And my 83 year old aunt has read it.) Naysayers be damned. Man your word-torpedoes and full speed ahead.
  6. Let people read your work and if they compliment it, use these compliments to construct a humongous skyscraper of confidence. You’re gonna need it when you start getting all those rejection letters and criticisms.
  7. If you’re lucky enough to receive any criticism (most agents and publishers just say NO (not even “no thank you”)) (Double parentheses, not even sure if that can be done. But I just did it.) take the criticism seriously, only if it contains advice. One editor told me that the story (ENTER IF YOU DARE) began when the two main characters met. So I took out the first 10,000 words of the book. And now I have a publication date: August 2014.
  8. At the end of the list: Just because you’ve read a book doesn’t mean you can write one. So instead of reading crappy books and saying, “I can write better than that.” Pick up your device and write this “better book” you’ve been bragging about.
  9. Be sneaky. Spy on people and listen to their conversations. Someone once called Mark Twain a “prodigious noticer”. I would like to be called a “shameless eavesdropper”. Wear sneakers, tiptoe up as close as possible to people. Then look and listen. You’ll develop a better ear for dialogue and this will make its way into your writing.
  10. Write stuff down as soon as you think of it. Eminem has shoe boxes full of rhymes. However, don’t try this while you’re driving. You can do it at red lights, but everybody beeps if the light turns green and you’re still writing.

Hence, my ten rules. Follow them or not. The choice is yours. Because it’s your freakin’ book if you ever get off your butt and write it.