Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Writing lessons learned from HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET

This book wasn't just an amazing read--it was an experience. The main characters and their tangled lives are still simmering in my mind. What a beautiful, enduring love story. *Sigh*

HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford spins a tale of a 12-year-old Chinese boy, Henry, who becomes best friends and falls in love with an American-born Japanese girl during WWII, when persons of Japanese ancestry were sent to internment camps.

Of course I learned so many great writing lesson from this book, and here are a few:
  1. Choose a captivating title. From the moment I saw this title, I knew this was a book I must read. To me, the title emotes melancholy, conflict, and promise. And it didn't disappoint. For help with titles, agent Rachelle Gardner wrote a great post about how to title your book.
  2. Choose a unique point of view from a familiar time period. I'm fascinated by stories from the WWII era, and I've read many. But never had I read about the existing conflict between Chinese and Japanese Americans during that time. And this POV switched between Henry at 12-years-old, and Henry as an older man in 1986. Fascinating.
  3. Include a tangible representation of something special. In this case, the symbol was an original recording of a 1942 jazz song. This elusive record appears throughout the book, and represents a special time in the main characters' lives.
  4. Readers don't have to be banged over the head with conflict. Instead of a hammer of conflict, the troubles Henry faced were woven into a beautiful tapestry of honor and loyalty.
  5. Tap in to common feelings. Affection, longing, regret. Perhaps most people have wondered about the road not taken, and this author tapped into those feelings with soothing words about characters you can't help but love.
We've all read books we wished we'd written, and this was one of those books for me. Sara Guen, author of Water for Elephants, called it "Mesmerizing and evocative, a tale of conflicted loyalties and timeless devotion."

I couldn't have said it better myself. Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Or is this type of book not your style?

And WriteOnCon starts today! Will I see you there?

28 comments:

  1. Nice essay. Learning from good (and bad) writers is one of the things that interferes with my reading experience everyday. Nice when the learning process doesn't edge out the enjoyment. -- RMW

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  2. Thanks for this book recommendation. It sounds like something just down my alley. I love when characters have to deal with conflicting emotions and loyalties -- and the bitter sweetness of knowing that something may not be meant to be.

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  3. I love that book. It was originally titled The Panama Hotel, but the publisher didn't think it captured the essence of the story. I believe it was his agent that came up with the title. Living in Seattle, after I read it, I had to tour the International District & find The Panama Hotel (yes, it does exist) and other landmarks. I don't usually read historical fiction but this story was tender and sweet & kept my interest the entitre time. I highly recommend it, too!

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  4. Would love to be there, wish there many more hours in the day!

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  5. You are awesome! I just wanted to say that. And I love the post. I love how you relate good books back to writing. You always make me want to read things outside my genre, which I know I should do, but I don't do enough!

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  6. I haven't, but I will now, thanks to this review, Julie. Thank you. Water for Elephants was one of my favorite reads, BTW.
    Karen

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  7. Sounds like an interesting book. Have fun with writeoncon. I won't be able to make it till this evening.

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  8. I'm pretty diverse so I'd definitely read this! I love great books in any genre, and this one sounds like it was great!

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  9. Thanks for the wonderful recommendation! I've been wanting to read this book. I like books about WWII (recently read The Book Thief- SO amazing!) and you're right there's not much from the Chinese and Japanese perspective (which is surprising, considering the two countries' long and terrible conflict is well-documented). What a unique angle! Can't wait to read it.

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  10. It's so interesting what you say about this book, Julie, as I've followed this books since Kirsten Nelson first blogged about it on her blog PubRants. I remember her enthusiasm and excitement with finding it, her thrill when it sold well, the cover release. You could tell this book was special to her.

    It's great to see you analyze exactly why!

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  11. I haven't read it yet but I want to. Sounds wonderful!

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  12. I've never heard of this book. But I love the sound of it, and the title is excellent!

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  13. No, I haven't read it, but I've had my eye on it for a while ;)
    Now I want to read it MORE! :D

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  14. This is now on my TBR list. I love historical fiction--as Laura mentioned, The Book Thief is one of my all time favorites. I really like your point about conflict not having to bang the reader over the head with conflict. Conflict can be subtle and heart-wrenching. Love that.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  15. I hadn't head of this book but will look for it.

    Excellent points of reference.

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  16. I started it but didn't finish it because I had to return it to the library. I didn't check it out again because it felt too similar to Snow Falling on Cedars, which is one of my all-time favorite books.

    Now that I read your post, it makes me want to go back and finish it after all...

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  17. It sounds lovely. Wasn't on my radar. It sure is now. I so appreciate the connections you make between good lit. and writing tips.

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  18. Great tips... I'll have to give the book a read!

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  19. Like you, this title captivated me the first time I read it and I instantly put it on my wish list! Thanks for the great essay!

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  20. Sounds like a great one and I agree that the title and cover are both wonderful to look at. :O)

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  21. I have heard wonderful things about his novel, but I have not read it yet. Your post has renewed my interest. : )

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  22. The title of this book intrigued me, too! I still haven't read it, but it's on the list:) It made me realize how important a good title can be.

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  23. I like all kinds of styles of books. What a unique title! Thanks for the mention of this book and the review. :)

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  24. I have read this book and agree with you on all points. There is good reason why this book continues to do so well.

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  25. I have not read the book, but have heard about it. The title is unique.

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  26. I don't know how I found my way here. Fabulous post for a fabulous book. I read it non-stop after hearing about it from a relative. Word of mouth will get me every time.

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