Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Reading List

To mark the end of 2011, I though I'd take a look back at some of the books I read this year. This is an incomplete list - its mostly books I read in the second half of year.

Recently, I became curious how many books I read in a year. Next year, I'd like to keep better track and compile a complete list for 2012.

Here are a few of the books I read in 2011:

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox -  Maggie O'Farrell.

Save Me - Lisa Scottoline

Writer With a Day Job- Aine Greaney

Angela Sloan - James Wharton, Jr.

Misery - Stephen King

Here's the Deal Don't Touch Me - Howie Mandel

Ghostbread -Sonja Livingston

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L Frank Baum

Life Without Limits - Nick Vujicic

Night Road - Kristin Hannah

The Heart of the Matter - Emily Giffin

One Thousand White Women - Jim Fergus

Mudbound - Hillary Jordan

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford

Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay

Room - Emma Donoghue

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Misery, Stephen King

For whatever reason, I seem to avoid books and movies that are all the rage. I've never read the Twilight books or seen a Star Wars movie. And until very recently I'd never read Harry Potter or seen any of the movies.

So despite the dozens of books he's written, I've never read a Stephen King book. Mostly because I'm not particularly interested in the genre. I've seen some of the movie adaptations, who hasn't? Carrie and It (and I'm still leery of clowns to this day) So, as an aspiring writer, I decided it was time to read a novel by one of the most widely recognized writers in the world, Stephen King.

I chose Misery simply because I'm familiar with the plot after watching the movie years ago (love Kathy Bates in this role) and I figured it would be pretty harmless - no scary clowns, or creepy crawly things, just a crazy lady holding a writer hostage.

I read Misery and enjoyed it. I even read it before bed several times without having any spooks or nightmares.

I finished the book within a few days and while I was tempted to try another King book, I decided against it and immediately moved on to reading something easy and lighthearted. Four days later I found myself dreaming about people running around town in black robes and those freaky white masks from the movie Scream, torturing people. Not sure why the Scream tie in, I haven't seen a Scream movie in about a decade. All I know is, I've never before had such a bloody, gruesome dream. But I know, it's because of reading Misery.

There's no denying Misery is a gruesome book. I found myself recoiling with disgust (you can't close your eyes when you're reading!) yet reading feverishly to find out what happened next. Much of the book is spent inside Paul Sheldon's head and his inner dialogue is riveting and sometimes downright funny. I like the stream-of-conscious approach there, actually following Sheldon's train of thought. I loved the mind games and Sheldon's analysis of Annie's ever-changing psychological state.

There is also a novel within a novel as we read Misery's Return, the book Sheldon is writing at Annie Wilkes' demand that he bring back the beloved character of his widely popular Misery series. I wasn't particularly interested in the story of Misery Chastain, however, and I found myself scanning through these parts, eager to get back to the action inside Annie Wilkes' home. I do see though, the relevance of including these excerpts as a means to exploring Sheldon's state of mind and how his time with Annie affects his writing.

So now I can say I've read Stephen King. And perhaps I will again.

With the hopes of writing my own novel(s) someday, I feel I must read everything I can get my hands on, from the classics to modern bestsellers and everything in between.

My next quest will be to read my first Danielle Steele novel.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Books for Writers: Writer with a Day Job

As writers, many of us dream of the day we'll be able to give up our day jobs to write full time. We struggle to find time to write between, work and/or school, and the other obligations we seem to rack up. We often find (or make) excuses.

In preparation for NaNoWriMo I began reading, "Writer with a Day Job" by Aine Greaney. I was grabbed by the title and subtitle: "Inspiration & Exercises to Help You Craft a Writing Life Alongside Your Career."

This book lists challenges (read: excuses) and ways to overcome them. This book offers suggestions to find time to write during your day whether it's before work, after work, during your lunch hour or on your commute. No more excuses for not writing!

You'll also find writing exercises and prompts to get you started with tutorials focusing on things like dialogue and point of view.

This book came to me at the perfect time. It helped me through NaNoWriMo. In reading this book, I was inspired to wake up early and write in the morning before work, edit on my lunch break and brainstorm during my commute. I found, it's surprising what I was able to accomplish in just 15 minutes time. I highly recommend this book to anyone who works full time and struggles to find writing time in their schedule!

 I think the idea is, we don't have to write Pulitzer Prize winning work everyday. Write something, anything in the time you have. Jot notes about your characters, map our your next scene. Make observations about the people/places/things around you.

Many of us will never be able to quit our jobs and write full time. Let's face it, with exception of a very luck few, publishing a book will not allow you to quit your day job. But changing your attitude and the way you approach those extra few minutes of your day can make all the difference to finding balance between work and writing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Now What?

I just spent the last thirty days working on a novel. I woke up early every single day to write before work - well okay, every day but one. I wrote every day, multiple times a day exceeding my own expectations, writing further than I thought I could, writing beyond what I had outlined.

Here's what I learned:

1. I am capable of getting out of bed an hour early every day to write. I am not a morning person. But it's what I need to do to make the time to write.

2. Though I am a night owl, I had some of my most productive writing sessions before the sun came up. Evenings, for me, are full of distractions and temptations I can't resist (read: prime time television) If I want to make writing part of my day, mornings may be my answer. And coffee of course.

2. A little brainstorming goes a long way. I never thought taking ten minutes to think about my writing could be all that beneficial. But several times this month, I picked up a pen and paper and just started writing my next scene. In just a few minutes time, I gave myself a jump start on what I could work on writing that night when I had more than ten minutes. It helped me overcome that glaze of starting at the cursor, trying to figure out where to begin.

So now what? For starters, I need a break from this story. I need to set it aside and come back to it in a few weeks with a fresh eye before I can do any editing and revising. I hope to get it to a point where I can consider submitting it for publication, but optimistically, that is a way down the road.

One thing I do know, is I'm ready to start working on something else. While working on this novel I've had a few other ideas emerge, ideas I'd like to explore and see where I can take them. Perhaps the biggest challenge of NaNoWriMo is to keep the writing momentum going.

But in the end, I have a novel. A beginning, a middle, and a end. 350+ pages of my ideas down on paper. And that's a really good feeling.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 Winner

I did it! I finally won NaNoWriMo and wrote (slightly over) 50,000 words in 30 days.

In the three years I've participated, this is the first year I won.

The end of November and National Novel Writing Month coincided nicely with the end of my novel. While the novel is far from being done, I finally wrote my way to the end of the story I've been trying to write for four years - that is an even bigger accomplishment than the 50,000 words!

Too tired to reflect any deeper tonight. Right now, I need a break from writing!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Day 29

Almost There!

Words written today: 3,221
Total NaNo2011 word count: 47,800
Words to go to 50,000: 2,200 with 1 day remaining
Total Novel word count: 72,274
Percent Complete: 96%

Monday, November 28, 2011

NaNoWriMo: The Final Days

November is almost over, that means National Novel Writing Month is coming to an end.

I've already written beyond my outline, beyond where I saw the story ending. Back at 13,000 words to go, I thought I didn't have that many words left in this story - but since then I've written my way through half of that.

While I got a lot of writing done over the long weekend, I've been dealing with a stomach bug that cost me a whole day of writing. 

Right now I'm at 43,690 words. It seems impossible not to make it after getting this close. There are only two days left and I still have 6310 words left to write in order to reach the 50,000 word goal. I have no idea how I'm going to do it. But I guess I'd better get started at finishing this thing...

Words written today: 1,960
Total NaNo2011 word count: 43,690
Words to go to 50,000: 6,310 with 2 days remaining
Total Novel word count: 68,164
Percent Complete: 87% 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Debbie Davis, Midtown Athletic Club

So many women today juggle multiple roles. I talked with Debbie Davis about how she balances, work with being a single mom to a child with autism and still finds time to work out every day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

NaNoWriMo Day 20

I've been trying to get caught up this weekend, and now I'm back on track. I'd like to get some more writing in today, so I can get ahead. But it feels good to not be behind anymore!

It's also a good feeling to be on the other side of the halfway point and inching closer to the 50,000 word mark. I have to step back for a moment and recognize that I've written over 33,000 words so far this month! Even if I don't win NaNoWriMo this year, that in itself is quite an accomplishment!

Words written today: 2,459
Total NaNo2011 word count: 33,372
Words to go to 50,000: 16,628 with 10 days remaining
Total Novel word count: 57,846
Percent Complete: 67%

Saturday, November 19, 2011

NaNoWriMo Day 19

So I've had some pretty pitiful word counts the past few days and I've fallen behind. I've dedicated this weekend to getting caught up so I can get back on track - and, if I'm lucky, get ahead!

I spent at least three and half hours writing today but I'm still a bit behind. Here are my stats:

Words Written Today: 2,698
Total NaNo 2011 Word Count: 30,913 (Should be 31,673)
Words to go: 19,087
Total Novel word Count: 55,387
Percent Complete: 62%

I'm getting very close to the end of the novel. I only have a few scenes left in my outline. I'm worried I may not have 19,087 words left to tell of this story, although that would put me right at a great novel length (I've read most editors look for the 75,000-120,000- word ballpark for an adult novel.)

Of course an outline is only an outline and I may find I have much more to tell. The only the way to know is to write my way through it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NaNoWriMo Week 2 Wrapup

Week two is traditionally harder than week one: the novelty wears off, you find yourself daydreaming while at the keyboard - fantasizing about doing something, anything but writing!

I'm officially behind! I've been meaning to catch up the weekends, but that hasn't worked so far.

I find I'm having my best writing sessions in the morning. In the morning I'm fresh and not too tired from my day, or distracted by prime time television. If I could get out of bed even earlier, say an hour and a half, I could start meeting my daily goals in the morning (but that means I'd have start going to bed earlier too!)

Here are my current standings:

Total NaNoWriMo 2011 word count: 22,152
Words to Go: 27,848
Total Novel word count: 47,636
Percent Complete: 44%

Friday, November 11, 2011


Here's a tool I've found helpful that I'd like to share with other writers: Dropbox.

If you're not using Dropbox, it's a great way to access your files from multiple computers and it serves as a sort of backup system for your writing!

Dropbox is a web-based hosting service where you can save and share up to 2GB of documents, photos and videos for free (for up to 2GB of file storage). The files sync so that your updated files are available on any machine on which you've downloaded Dropbox. So I can work on my novel on my laptop, and have the updated version already on my desktop and pick up right where I left off.You can also access your files on your web account, in case you're on a computer that doesn't have Dropbox installed. Dropbox has versions for multiple operating systems and mobile devices.

It's easy to use and its Free  No more emailing files back and forth to yourself or carrying around your USB drive (though backing up on your USB can't hurt!) Watch the video or download it at

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaNoWriMo Week 1 Wrap up

I have to say, I think week one of NaNoWriMo 2011 was a success.

I've been finding success with having two (or more) writing sessions a day. I'm no early bird, but every day I've gotten out of bed an hour early to spend some time writing before starting my day. In these morning sessions, I've been able to write a few hundred word (and today 1002!) so that when I sit down for my evening session, I have a less intimidating word count goal.

I must admit I'm starting to slow down a bit. Although I'm following the outline I created before the start of NaNoWriMo, I'm realizing I made need to change the order of events and that I need to add some subplot action. I'm trying to put these thoughts out of my head and just keep writing - I know I can always add subplot and rearrange the sequence of scenes later!

Here's where I stand:

Total NaNoWriMo 2011 word count:  15,020
Words to Go: 34,980
Total Novel word count: 39,472
Percent Complete: 30%

I'm on track so far!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Solutions Studio and Spa

Congratulations to Judy Fridd, Jennifer Grim, and Jackie Leturneau of Solutions Studio and Spa for winning the Greece Chamber of Commerce 2011 Small Business of the Year Award!

I met these great women who have run and maintained the family-owned salon since 1993 and I was inspired by their passion. You can read about it here:

Friday, November 4, 2011

NaNoWriMo Day 4

This morning, I had a great writing session. I've been engaged in the writing since the start of NaNoWriMo, but today was the first time since November 1st that I was really inside the scene. Other writing sessions, there have been interruptions, or I've been preoccupied, eyeing the clock to make sure I'm staying on schedule. This morning was solid hour of writing where the real world fell away and I was right in that room with my characters, walking around amongst them. It's an exciting feeling to feel that the story is already there in your mind, you just have to get out of the way and get it down on paper.
Some days, sitting at the laptop and getting the story to come out can be painful. Those days, the writing doesn't come easy and often, that's when your personal Critic comes in and starts telling you to give up. Other days, the writing feels effortless. Days like this remind me why the difficult days are worth it. And you have to get through those not-so-easy writing sessions to break through to the great ones.
That's what's great about NaNoWriMo - if I didn't have this goal to write every day and to write the next 50,000 words of my novel by November 30th, I probably wouldn't have been at my laptop at 6 o'clock this morning.

Words written today: 2,240
Total NaNo 2011 word Count: 8,689
Words to go: 41,311
Total Novel word count: 33,141,
Percent Complete: 17%

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 Kickoff: Day 1

Today marked the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month 2011. My goal for this year is to write the next 50,000 words of (and hopefully finish) the second half of the draft of my novel. I knew I couldn't just wake up on November 1st and pick up where I left off from the last time I wrote (which was over a week ago.) So last night, I prepared by doing some outlining. It got me thinking of the progression of the second half of the story, and how I will lay everything out. This is one thing I got hung up on last year that prevented me from reaching the 50,000 word goal. Now that I have more clear direction, I think 50,000 will be more achievable.

I set the alarm an hour earlier than usual to give myself some time to write before heading to the office this morning. By the time I hit the snooze a few times, fired up the laptop and made a cup of coffee, I was nearly a half-hour late getting started. I was able to write 999 words in about forty-five minutes, 668 words shy of the daily goal.

I was a bit discouraged by that low number. But I came home from work, fired up my laptop again and exactly twelve hours after my morning writing session, started writing again. Despite some technical difficulties and a reboot, I wrote another 1009 words for a total of 2008 words today. Now I'm back on track.

Words Written Today: 2,008
Words to go to 50,000: 47,922
Total Novel word count: 26,460
Percent Complete: 4%

Looking forward to seeing what the rest of National Novel Writing Month has to bring!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thelma's Boutique

About a year ago, I learned of a unique local boutique that helps women who have experienced breast related-surgery. Thelma's Boutique in Rochester not only helps women before, during and after their treatment, they help women to feel good about themselves again. Going to Thelma's was a special experience for me, after I learned my grandmother was a customer there after she underwent a double mastectomy. Here is one more article in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Thelma's Boutique By Jennifer Magar
As printed in the August 2010 issue of
Rochester Woman Magazine
The needs of a woman with breast cancer extend well beyond surgery and chemotherapy. Among the many things a woman must deal with in her battle against cancer are the changes to her body and her appearance. Sandy Schwab, a registered nurse who works with patients after breast-related surgery, found that there wasn't a place that provided the post-surgery products they needed, nor the service and sensitivity they deserved.

In 1982, responding to this need, Sandy and her aunt Thelma, a then corsetiere at a leading department store, opened Thelma's Boutique. The boutique sells bras, prosthesis, head wear, swimwear and even lingerie for women who have had a mastectomy or other breast-related surgery. Additionally, Thelma's has certified fitters who help women find the perfect bra just for them. Thelma's has helped thousands of women find the best products for their needs while providing moral support as well.

Sandy says she loves that in the boutique women share their stories and intimate information with each other because its a safe place. "There's a lot of sadness," Sandy said of her customers. "But the wonderful part is, people will come feeling badly, but when they realize they can get back to normal, their confidence comes back."

Over the years, Sandy and Thelma have had to contend with tightening government regulations and in order to stay in business as a prosthetics dealer (changing coverage from insurance companies). Sandy credits the boutique's longevity to dedication to service and compassion. "I feel like it's a gift," Sandy said. "I get more, being here, than I give."

Sandy encourages women to come to Thelma's Boutique before their surgery to ask questions and learn what they can expect. Most of all, Sandy advises women to be their own advocates in their fight against breast cancer by staying informed about their procedures, what their insurance covers, and writing things down. "It can be overwhelming," Sandy said, "but the more prepared you are, the more successful your recovery is because you had a hand in it."

Sandy says the plans to carry on the boutique with her vision of service and taking care of the customers. :I love what I do," Sandy said. "It's been a very rewarding business. You never know who you're going to touch."

Thelma's Mastectomy Boutique is located at 251 Park Ave Rochester NY 14607. (585) 256-2460 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

Next month is National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in just 30 days. That's 1,776 words a day, every day, for thirty days straight.

This will be my third year participating in NaNoWriMo. Though I haven't yet won and achieved the 50,000 word goal, NaNoWriMo has helped me get into the practice of writing every day which is an achievement in itself. My goal this year is to (finally) finish the novel I currently have in the works.

In preparation, I blew the dust off of my draft and have started planning so I can pick up where I left off.

Here's a great checklist I found on the blog of S.M. Worth to get yourself ready for NaNoWriMo 2011.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Breast Cancer Survivor: Kimberly Ray

Last year, I had the honor to interview Kimberly Ray, local radio show host and breast cancer survivor. This story was especially personal for me after my mother's breast cancer diagnosis. I loved talking with Kimberly and hearing her strength through her diagnosis and treatment.

Here is Kimberly's story.

Kimberly Ray by Jennifer Magar
As Printed in the October 2010 issue
of Rochester Woman Magazine

When Kimberly went to her doctor for bronchitis in 2008, she had never had a mammogram; she was two years overdue. But Kimberly wasn't worried: she was just 42 years old and didn't have a history of breast cancer in her family. So when her doctor referred her for a mammogram, she almost cancelled the appointment. Rather than hassle with rescheduling, Kimberly went. She was sent for an MRI and then the news came, it was breast cancer.

"I was shocked," Kimberly said of the diagnosis. "I had no breast cancer in my family. I was never a smoker. I was working out." Kimberly had two surgeries and underwent eight weeks of radiation.

As co-host of the radio morning show The Breakfast Buzz with Kimberly and Beck on 98.9 The Buzz, Kimberly continued with her regular schedule during treatment. She says she got through it by simply pretending she didn't have cancer. She awoke at 2:10 a.m. to feed her dogs and cats and went to work. "I never missed a day of work," she said, "We had a show to do." And so she kept busy, spending time with her daughter, living life as if she weren't a cancer patient.

"I didn't want to be the breast cancer radio girl," Kimberly said. She didn't want cancer to dominate the show and wanted to find a way to do what she does best, make listeners laugh. "I had to figure out, how am I going to make cancer funny?"

So Kimberly made an unusual request of her doctor, asking the doctor to take a picture of her tumor after surgery so she could post it on the radio station's website. Kimberly wanted to encourage women to get mammograms by showing them that a tumor just like hers could be in their bodies and they might not know it.

Kimberly said that she, along with co-host Beck and the show's producer, Pat, got through the show by laughing every day. "We laughed our way through it and I never cried once. And maybe that's the message; through the laughter you don't have to cry."

Cancer-free since November, Kimberly recently remarried and is feeling great. She said since being diagnosed with breast cancer, she won't put off things in her life. "I'm not going to let anything get in the way of what I want to do."

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Brow Diva

For this month's Rochester Woman Magazine, I interviewed Rochester's Brow Diva. She told me all about how she started her business as a boutique specializing exclusively on brow sculpting and filled me in on the importance of a well-sculpted brow for your overall look!
Read the full article here:

Sculpting the Perfect Brow
by Jennifer Magar
As printed in the October 2011 issue of Rochester Woman Magazine

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October is National Book Month

Book lovers unite! This month is National Book Month - it's time to pick up that book you've been meaning to read and read it!

No matter how busy life gets, I believe we are never too busy to find time to read. Read on your lunch break, read for twenty minutes before bed, read while you wait at the doctor's office this cold and flu season!

To show my support, I went to a small, non-chain bookstore and purchased Angela Sloan a novel by local author (and a former professor of mine) James Whorton, Jr.

Support bookstores or your library - the good old fashioned book is not a thing of the past!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Pink Ribbon: How it All Started...

October is almost here and you'll likely be seeing a lot of Pink Ribbons around in honor of Breast Cancer awareness month. We all know what the pink ribbon symbolizes, but how did it come to represent Breast Cancer? I wrote about it in last year's October issue of Rochester Woman Magazine and thought I would share:

How it all Started... By Jennifer Magar
As Printed in the October 2010 issue
of Rochester Woman Magazine
Ribbons are a symbol of support. We wear ribbons to support a cause, research and awareness, or to support a loved one. For decades, people have been wearing ribbons to show their support for cancers, the troops or AIDS.

The movement began during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979,when the wife of a hostage tied yellow ribbons around trees in her front yard. The nightly news explained the ribbons were a symbol of hope for her husband's safe return. Suddenly, yellow ribbons spread acros the country in support of the hostages in Tehran.

When the popularity of the yellow ribbon surged again during the Gulf War, AIDS activists asked, "What about something for our boys dying here at home?" The activist art group Visual AID is credited with changing the yellow ribbon to red - the color of passion - in honor of those living with HIV/AIDS.

By this time, the stage was set for the pink ribbon to emerge. It all started when the Susan G. Komen Foundation began handing out pink visors to more than 8,500 walkers in its Race for the Cure in 1990. The following year, the foundation handed out pink ribbons to all the participants in the New York City race.

While the Susan G. Komen Foundation was the first to distribute the pink ribbon in support of breast cancer, there are other who are believed to be the originator of the pink ribbon. In 1992, Alexandra Penney, the editor-in-chief of Self Magazine, had the idea to pin ribbons to each cover of their second National Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. Realizing it was impractical to pin ribbons to the cover of every issue, she partnered with Evelyn Lauder of Estee Lauder, who had the idea to distribute ribbons at the company's cosmetic counters.

Around the same time, however, 68 year old Charlotte Haley was creating peach ribbons in her dining room. She had a history of breast cancer in her family and she attached a card to the ribbons that read: The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only five percent goes to cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legistlators and America by wearing this ribbon."

Self Magazine contacted Haley asking her to collaborate with them with one stipulation; she had to hand over the concept of the ribbon. Haley refused, fearing the ribbon would become commercialized. And so, they changed the color of the ribbons from peach to pink. Estee Lauder distributed 1.5 million pink ribbons in the fall of 1992 popularizing the ribbon as a symbol for breast cancer and spreading the myth that Evelyn Lauder was the creator of the pink ribbon.

Today, pink is widely recognized for respresenting support for breast cancer. But the pink ribbon has not been without its share of controversy. More and more corporations began endorsing pink products in support of breast cancer, but these products are not always used to put money back into the cause. Some products are meant only to promote "awareness" and do nothing to raise money for cancer research, leaving some to wonder whether these corporations are using pink simply to make a profit.

We wear ribbons to honor survivors and those who are currently fighitn an illness. But they also show support for the friends and relatives who encourage their loved ones during their battles and honor those whose battles were lost. Ribbons show support for the doctors who help those in need and the researchers who work toward a cure. In addition to being a symbol of suppport, ribbons are also a sign of hope. They represent our hope for survival and hope for a cure.

This October, don't just wear a ribbon, take action to support Breast Cancer Awareness.

Information was acquired from (Official Website) International Breast Cancer Awareness and Funding and the official site for Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Help: Movie vs Book

I recently saw The Help in theaters and I have to say, this is one case where the movie version does a good job of portraying the book. I'm always disappointed when the movie changes the storyline and leaves or critical scenes, but I think this is one case where the film did a good job of representing the book version. That being said, I think the movie simply couldn’t put all 444 pages into a movie a little over 2 hours long.

I recently read a guest essay in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. In it, Essayist Karen Culley writes about the discrepancy in historical events when told by white people and African-Americans.

She uses the movie adaptation of The Help as an example saying that the film “displayed a familiar wispy nostalgic picture: The black mammy, scrubbing, cooking and washing her heart out, completely devoted to her white employees, while her own family is merely a footnote in the film.”

I was disheartened to read this as I thought The Help did a good job at portraying both sides of the story. But reading this essay brought me to realize that perhaps the movie adaptation did not do as good of a job at representing black domestics in 1960s Mississippi as the book did.

In the movie, we just don't get to spend as much time with Aibileen and Minny. The movie focuses instead on Skeeter publishing a book about black domestics in 1960s Mississippi and the risk and backlash she faces in doing so. We don't get to see as much of their side of the story, hear about their families and their own struggles like we do in the book which they each take turn in narrating.

Maybe Culley is right, in pointing out that Hollywood can create a feel-good version of history that glosses over the details. But it's important to also see the friendships that can come out of an awful period in American history and I think the movie version of The Help highlights this. To Culley, and others who have this criticism of the movie version of The Help, I encourage them to read the book.

At the end of The Help in what she calls, Too Little, Too Late. Kathryn Stockett, in her own words, Kathryn Stockett says:

“I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.”

She then quotes one line in the book she truly prizes:

Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

After reading (and loving) Kathryn Stockett's The Help I was shocked to learn that the novel was rejected by publishers 60 times before becoming a bestseller. I'm glad Stockett was persistent (or as she puts it, stubborn) enough to keep trying and get this book published.

The story is told from the point of view of colored maids, Aibileen and Minny, and the white woman who wants to tell their stories, Eugenia Phelan, better known as Skeeter.

The Help is set in the turbulent early 1960's in Jackson, Mississippi. The Help presents us with a hypocritical time when white people simultaneously loved and shamed their colored help. It was a time when the Help were part of the family, yet they weren’t allowed to sit around the dining room table to eat the meal they cooked; instead they were required to eat separately in the kitchen. The maids raised white children but were forced to use separate bathrooms for fear they might spread disease.

 “We all know about these laws,” Skeeter says of the Jim Crow laws, “we live here, but we don’t talk about them. This is the first time I’ve ever seen them written down.”

While the issue of civil rights is certainly not a new topic, and the treatment of African-Americans in this time period is not news, what’s refreshing about this book is the relationships between the characters. Skeeter’s decision to write a book from the point of view of the Help is a risky one, but one that ultimately brings the women together in a way they never would have otherwise known. They crossed the line drawn between the white side of town and the colored side to tell the stories that needed to be told.

We see Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child whom she affectionately calls Baby Girl about whom Aibileen says “I know, deep down, I can’t keep from turning our like her mama.” We see the pain in raising a white child only to have her grow up to be just as racist as her parents:

“I see her listening to Miss Leefolt call me dirty, diseased. I want to yell so loud that Baby Girl can hear me that dirty ain’t a color, disease ain’t the Negro side a town. I want to stop that moment from coming – and it comes in ever white child’s life – when they start to think that colored folks ain’t as good as whites.”

Stockett examines the "lines," between blacks and whites, between maids and the families they work for. Minny says, "Not only is they lines, but you know good as I do where them lines be drawn... I know they there cause you get punished for crossing em. Least I do."
In response, Aibileen says: "I used to believe in em. I don't anymore. They in our heads. People like Miss Hilly is always trying to make us believe they there. But they ain't…”

Readers will fall in love with Minny for her tell-it-like-it-is attitude and Aibileen for her nurturing side - in the end, she feels like a mother to all us.

For her debut novel, Stockett took on risky subject matter. The result is a story that will draw you in and stay with you long after you've put it down.

After reading the book (twice) I’m left with something Aibileen said about the “lines” we draw between us. Lines we still draw today: for example between the rich and the poor, lines that exist simply to make us believe some of us are better than others. But we’re all people, and just as Aibileen tells Minny: “All I'm saying is, kindness don't have no boundaries."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rafaella Borasi, Dean of The Warner School

In college, when I told people I was an English major, I almost always got the response: "Oh, so you want to be a teacher?" To which I would respond: "No, a writer." But that's not to say I haven't considered a career in teaching.

In college, when I thought of being a teacher, I could only think of late nights staying up grading papers written by kids who were bored to death by Shakespeare and Dickins.

I'm a little older now, and while I'm not a mom I am an aunt to two young girls. I care about their education, and as a book nerd, I want them to love to read. So now when I think of being an English teacher, I think of it as an opportunity to instill a love of reading and an appreciation for literature in a child. Idealistic? Perhaps.

But after interviewing Rafaella Borasi, Dean of the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester, I am reminded of the importance of good educators. It’s not only what our children are learning at school but how they are being taught – that too, will stick with them.

The Warner School offers an incredibly opportunity for future educators to be innovators and change the way we look at teaching our children. Click Here to read about it in the September 2011 issue of Rochester Woman Magazine.
Dean Rafaella Borasi of The Warner School
by Jennifer Magar
as printed in Rochester Woman Magazine, September 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Books for Writers: Bird by Bird

Whenever I want to learn more about something, I read a book about it. It's why I own Small Business for Dummies, and why I hold on to texts from college classes on topics like Greek Mythology and Documentary film.

It's also why I have acquired a nice collection of books about writing. The first book on writing I ever owned is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I received it as a Christmas gift from my aunt when I was in high school and dreaming of becoming a bestselling novelist. I read the title and thought, "Why is she giving me a book about birds??" But when I looked at the full title I noticed it said: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

 It's a book I didn't fully appreciate for a long time until I finally sat down and really read it. I have since re-read it many times and often pick it up to reference particularly helpful passages. I find that I discover something new each time I read it.

One of my favorite bits of advice from Anne Lamott is about shitty first drafts. Most writer's have heard the quote from Ernest Hemingway that "The first draft of anything is shit." Lamott expands on this, encouraging writer's to write shitty first drafts. "You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something - anything - down on paper." Lamott goes on to say the best way to get started is to simply write it all down without self-editing "because there might be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about... but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages."

Lamott also writes about the writing life and issues like jealousy and silencing your inner critic (see the chapter on Radio Station KFKD.) She writes about publication (and the myth of publication) about which she says, "...if what you have in mind is fame and fortune, publication is going to drive you crazy" (she reminds us the real payoff is the writing itself.)

Anne Lamott is funny and honest, sharing her own triumphs, tribulations and humiliations. Reading about her experiences reminds me that I'm not alone in those moments when I sit at my computer staring at the cursor blinking back at me, feeling as though I should just give up on writing altogther.

If you are a writer this book is an absolute must-have.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult

If you’re looking for a page-turner to immerse yourself in, for these last dwindling days of summer, look no further than Jodi Picoult.

Her novels are about relationships, families, and loss. And you can usually find a controversial moral dilemma at the heart of her novels.  Jodi Picoult is the author of eighteen novels (something that I admire but also astounds me) of which I’ve so far read a few. My favorite of those I’ve read is My Sister’s Keeper

Like many of Picoult’s books, My Sister’s Keeper is one that will make the world fall away and keep you reading for hours. Picoult explores the controversial topic of stem cell research and so-called “designer babies.” Genetically engineering a baby to ensure the presence or absence or particular characteristics is a tricky topic, but what if a baby’s genes are specifically chosen to donate blood, marrow and organs to her sick sibling? Picoult takes an already controversial topic and turns it on its head.

My Sister’s Keeper is full of complex characters, particularly Sara, the mother of the Fitzgerald family, who is easy to simultaneously criticize and empathize with. She loves her children fiercely, yet devotes so much of herself to her daughter’s illness, it’s as though she sometimes forgets she has two other children with problems of their own.

Picoult’s writing is as thought-provoking as it is knowledgeable, her vocabulary ranging from medical-jargon and legal proceedings to astronomy and arson. It’s clear that this novel is thorough and well-researched, something that, as a writer, I appreciate.

Perhaps what I find most enjoyable about Picoult’s writing is the way she masterfully tells the story alternately from the point of view of six different characters in the book. She transitions seamlessly from one character to another, portraying the affect one child’s illness has had on an entire family. I admire Picoult’s ability to transcend gender lines and write believably as a male or female narrator – not always an easy feat.

After reading several of her novels it’s hard not to notice the similarities in the story lines: in many of her books you’re likely to read about a legal battle, a unraveling relationship teetering on the verge of divorce and/or an illness. But Jodi Picoult knows what she does well and thoroughly researches each topic so that it feels genuine down to the last detail.

And Jodi’s characters stay with you, their stories lingering in your memory long after you’ve put the book down.

I know Labor Day is drawing near and the unofficial end of summer is upon us. If you’re worried you won’t be able to squeeze in one last summer read, fear not. If you pick up My Sister’s Keeper, chances are you’ll finish it within a few days.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rochester Women's Giving Circle

I recently had the privilege of meeting a group of women who are dedicated to giving back to the community. They are philanthropists who have formed a giving circle, pooling their money together to donate funds where they are needed most.

Rochester Women's Giving Circle
By Jennifer Magar
as printed in Rochester Woman Magazine.
I was most excited to learn about tutoring program the Giving Circle has awarded funds to, helping young girls achieve their math goals.

I am thrilled to be able to help get the word out about these women and the Rochester Women's Giving Circle. You can read the full article in the August 2011 issue of Rochester Woman Magazine

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ghostbread, Sonja Livington

In the summer, I like to enjoy a few good beach reads. Books you don’t have to think too much about or invest too much of yourself in but that are entertaining and enriching in their own way.

Admittedly, I have been known to pass up the more literary reading selections in the warmer months to reach instead for the easy-to-read page-turners. And that’s the only reason why I didn’t pick up Ghostbread sooner. But I’m glad I finally did, as it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while.

It was recommended to me a by a friend who explained it was written by a local author, native to the Western, NY region. This alone was enough to pique my interest, but it was my friend’s description of Sonja Livingston’s writing style that made me pick up the book.

Reading about my hometown and the surrounding areas I’ve come to know, the street names and the schools even the weather patterns, felt as comfortable as old pair of worn-in shoes. Yet the places Sonja describes are foreign to me even though I’ve lived here all my life.

is a non-fiction story of Sonja Livingston’s upbringing in the 1970s as one of seven children, most with different fathers, raised by a single mother. “Five girls, five fathers. And only one of us from the man my mother actually married.” Sonja’s siblings seem hardly like brothers and sisters; they are a family loosely held together by the common thread of their unconventional and often disengaged mother. “So many people crowded around the edges of our murky family, it was hard to keep track of who was there or not.”

Sonja takes us to the parts of Western, NY relatively hidden to many of its residents. From an Indian reservation, to a motel room, to a dead-end street in an urban neighborhood, Sonja and her siblings follow their mother around from one place to another, each home only a slight improvement on the last. Despite all the moves, poverty is a constant in their lives.

Sonja writes about her family’s poverty and her desire for bread when night after night dinner consisted of only soup. “Bowl after worn plastic bowl of unfocused ingredients floated before me in strained broth. Corn, carrots, cabbage and whatever else could be found were softened in water and flavored with animal fat. We had soup on the reservation every day, sometimes twice.” Sonja writes, “When you eat soup every night, thoughts of bread get you through.” As Sonja enters high school, life’s challenges continue to mount as she gives up on her schoolwork and sees her chances at college beginning to slip away.

While Sonja’s story is a sad one, it is never self-pitying. It is only an honest story-telling. “I had no father, which sounds much more dramatic than it was. If I’d known girls whose daddies held them tight and gazed at them with so much pride it tore at the eyes, I might have thought that all girls should have such a thing. But I never knew such girls. And how can someone miss what she’s never had?”

Sonja tells us the tale of Ghostbread – bread made in celebration after warding off gagohsa, what the Seneca call a spirit who visits mortals in their dreams. “Light on the tongue and heavy in the stomach, Ghostbread drove the taste of soup away, and was far better than any religion for convincing me of heaven.”

The book’s format of short chapters (some only a single page in length) initially threw me off. It felt at first the story was difficult to get into. But I came to appreciate that each chapter acts as it’s own stand-alone story, many of which were printed as essays in the Iowa Review among others.

This book is well worth the read, no matter the season.


I'm just a simple girl who spends most of her free time hiding behind a book or typing away at a laptop. I'm a freelance writer and an avid reader soaking up all the great literature and interesting modern reads. 

In this blog I'll be sharing both my reading and writing endeavors. Here you'll find links to my freelance writing work. I'll also be dishing about my latest read as well as sharing my experiences in creative writing as I uncover what kind of writer I am.

Here you'll get to learn a little bit about me. Perhaps you'll find inspiration for your own writing, or maybe you'll discover a new good read.