I is for … Improv

April 10, 2012

Improv. Improvisation. Acting without the roadmap of a script. Some actors revel in it, others, I suspect, dread it. A website like learnimprov can help a person to understand the basics, but there’s nothing like just getting up there in front of people and doing it. (Scary as that may sound.)

Improvisation is also a facet of music, especially jazz. Have you ever listened to a really good jazz pianist take off and go where the music leads? It’s amazing.

Improv can also be a great tool in writing, not that it’s usually called improv in this application. It’s useful if one is stuck, feeling the brick wall of writer’s block. At such times, try improv. Let the ink and the thoughts flow and take you wherever they want  to, without a roadmap, just like acting without a script, or playing music without a score.

Improvisational skills are also good to have when one is a blogger. I had all my posts for the A to Z Challenge written and scheduled when my friend and writing colleague, Patricia Tilton, emailed me and asked me to re-post a couple of posts from my old blog for Autism Awareness Month which is recognized in April in the United States. So I changed my script a bit. I’m improvising, and sharing with you reviews of a couple of books that mean a great deal to me. Click the magic words:

This was first posted on April 8, 2011. It means that my post today is longer than the suggested length for an A to Z post, but I hope you will bear with me.

I’m tying this post to Patricia’s post earlier today regarding Autism Awareness Month — I hope you’ll read Pat’s thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

My cousin, Bev Brenna, who writes thoughtful and thought-provoking YA books (as well as middle-grade novels, and picture books — Bev is versatile) has written two YA novels about a girl in her late teens, Taylor Jane Simon, who deals with Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is a condition on the autism scale, but is not the same as high-functioning autism.

Wild Orchid, the first of these books, takes place the summer after Taylor has graduated from high school. It is set in Waskesiu, Saskatchewan, Canada, a setting that Bev knows well as her family spent time there every summer as Bev was growing up. Bev’s love of, and understanding of the natural world are evident in Taylor’s keen interest in wildflowers, and wild orchids in particular. The rare, elusive wild orchids that Taylor hunts for almost obsessively perfectly symbolize Taylor herself.

The book is written in the first person, which takes the reader more deeply into Taylor’s world, her ways of thinking, her frustrations, her misunderstandings, than even the most observant narrator ever could. The book is written as Taylor’s journal — her Grade Twelve English teacher suggested that she write in a journal in order to “let off steam” — a phrase that had to be explained, since Taylor takes all such phrases literally. In her journal, she describes her experiences and her reactions, and Bev has written this so skillfully that one really feels as if they are seeing into the mind of a person with Asperger’s. It’s a powerful — and rather unsettling — experience. Through Taylor’s journal, we experience her summer in Waskesiu along with her, feel her dislike of her mother’s boyfriend, learn the difficulties of navigating what seem “ordinary” social situations, see what it’s like to have one’s first job when one has Asperger’s. By the end of the summer, Taylor has learned many things, and so have we. I highly recommend this book.

Wild Orchid used to be my favorite of Bev’s books… until I read the sequel, Waiting for No One, this week. It blew me away. It is even more powerfully written than was Wild Orchid, again in first person, taking the reader even further into Taylor’s mind and world.

Waiting for No One is set just after Taylor and her mother return home after the summer in Waskesiu. It is written as if Taylor herself is writing a book about her experiences. Taylor attempts to find a job, which is complicated by her way of reacting to situations. We get a deeper look into the difficulties she faces, in contrast with her obvious intelligence. She tries to cope with things in a more and more obsessive/compulsive manner, which complicates her life even further. It is an intense experience to go through this with Taylor. Taylor also copes by interacting with her pet gerbil, Harold Pinter — pets can do so much for us (I remember pouring out my teenage troubles to my very understanding cats). (Added: a caution about some of the language in the second book. Taylor no longer has restraints on her use of “swears” in the second book, and so parents of younger readers might want to read the book first before deciding if their children will read it now or later.)

One shouldn’t think that these books are heavy and tragic, however, despite the fact that they are intense. There are numerous humorous situations, some quite inadvertent. I know my writer friends would enjoy, as I did, the chapter that was half a page long, followed by a chapter entitled “This is My Book and the Chapters Can Be Just As Long As I Want”. I like that. A lot.

At the back of Waiting for No One, there is a Question&Answer session with Bev that I found very interesting and enlightening — and I was delighted to read in it that she’s started work on the third book about Taylor.

I highly recommend both books (and not just because Bev is my cousin!) And now I guess I have TWO books of Bev’s that are my favorites.


 

A to Z Challenge

18 People reacted on this

  1. Improvisation is so important – you are right. And both of Bev’s books sound REALLY good. I will have to add them to my TBR list. Any writer who can get so authentically into the mind of someone different from herself is someone I can learn from! Thanks for sharing, Beth!

    1. Thanks, Susanna! Glad to hear you’re going to put Bev’s books on your list! And tune in tomorrow for an interview with Bev, this week’s Wednesday Worthy!

  2. I used to love improvising as an actor. I guess it plays into my writing in that I hate to plot! So glad you reposted this review, Beth, I loved both these books by Bev and they are well worth highlighting again for Autism Awareness month 2012! I especially love the gerbil!

    1. Harold Pinter is a delight, isn’t he? The gerbil, I mean. But you knew that…

      I’m better with a script safely tucked away in my brain. But I still struggle with plotting!

  3. Beth, so happy you shared these two gems again during Autism Awareness Month. I especially like Bev’s books because she shows a teen making a transition into adulthood. Very few books show this as the kids graduate from high school and want to go to college, work and live independtly. And, she’s the only author I know of that is completing a trilogy, with another book to be released. I hope teens, young adults and their parents read Bev’s books. There are many talented kids with ASD that will make their mark. We only need to look to Temple Grandin to see how she made a huge contribution.

    1. Thank you for the nudge that got me to repost this! I so appreciate your comments and your support of Bev’s writing.

      Stay tuned for the interview tomorrow!

  4. When I think of improv I immediately think of Robin Williams. Just amazing at coming up with something, anything, on the spot. I suppose most comedians are good at that.

    Both of the books mentioned sound very intruguing. I’ll have to check them out.

  5. Lovely post, Beth and congrats to your cousin on the second book release! I was just wondering…since the Children’s Festival of Reading is going to include YA, would your cousin be interested in participating? If so, she can shoot me an email at tkd2lady (at) yahoo (dot) com and I can get her mailing info. Just didn’t want to leave her out if she is interested in FREE promoting of her wonderful books…;0)

    Good luck with the A to Z challenge!

    Donna

  6. Improvisation is so scary to me – which means it’s on my list of something to try more of in life! Now that I’m starting to do more public speaking, I know being comfortable with improvisation will benefit me!

    I’m definitely noting Bev’s books and recommending them to my friends and colleagues who work with children with autism and Asperger’s. These books are much needed in our world!

    Thanks, Beth, I’m thoroughly enjoying your posts!

    1. Thank you so much, Taslim. Improv is scary for me, too. I prefer to have a script or written speech to work from! Good attitude — something that’s scary means it’s on the list to try more of. I like that idea.

      I’m so glad you’re going to recommend Bev’s books! Thank you!

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