Write, Write, and then Read a Book

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Forget how Gollum pronounced the one ring to rule them all “my precious.” In today’s world, something that is very precious to all of us is those minutes of free time, the ones where work obligations, family commitments, or other duties aren’t crying out to be fulfilled. What’s more is there are a thousand and one options for those few minutes: Netflix or other television programming, crafts like knitting or crocheting, puzzles for those who like piecing together a challenge. Yet reading opens worlds to people, fantasy worlds like Middle Earth and Hogwarts, worlds of life in the past like L.M. Montgomery’s Avonlea and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander’s Scotland, and contemporary places like the made-up Mitford or Stephanie Plum’s Trenton. And for writers, reading is one of the most important activities to improve your craft.

Read broadly and keep your ear out for new authors. Not only is there a genre for everyone, but there is a different genre for everyone to explore. Although I gravitate toward cozy mysteries and romance, I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Classics, biographies, and modern literary fiction occupy space on my to-be-read pile and my keeper bookshelf. I always keep my ear out for new authors that should be on that list. Everywhere I turn lately I’m hearing great things about Helen Huong’s The Kiss Quotient as well as Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project. Those are two books I’ll definitely look for in the near future. Reading broadly can expose a writer to different outlooks and make you aware of the differences between different styles of writing.

Read often. I always have my Kindle with me. If I’m early for a doctor’s appointment, I whip out my Kindle and read. When I’m at the grocery store and I can’t use the self-checkout, I whip out my Kindle and read. I’m always reading one hard copy of a book (something in paper, whether a hardback or paperback) as well as something on my Kindle.

Read with a careful eye. Look carefully at the writing style and voice of authors you admire. Do they use verbs like took or got or walked? Since I have the paper copy of the book I’m reading right next to me, I opened Stirring Up Strife by Jennifer Stanley to the middle. Verbs like beamed and grabbed and loitered jumped out at me. As a writer, I look for emotional arcs in the protagonist’s journey. In the case of Stirring Up Strife, the main character’s attempt to kick the bad habit of smoking goes along with her attempt to kick out the bad memories of her broken relationship as she becomes involved in a murder investigation (this is a cozy mystery).

 

And I’m going to go one step further. Those books you want to put down, the ones that don’t grab your attention by page five (and let me add I’m on page 268 of Stirring Up Strife, which I’m enjoying), read them to figure out what you don’t like. If you don’t like the heroine, why? If a plot device doesn’t appeal to you, why?

 

In my opinion, reading often is one of the best gifts a writer can give herself. What are you reading? Let me know. I’m always on the lookout for a good book.

Books, Books, Everywhere

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I’m a sucker for book fairs. Last week, Cupcake and Chunk brought home the school flyers for their school’s annual book fair. They knew without even asking I’d agree to take them. It was just a matter of which day worked best. Why? Why of all the activities at their school did they know this was the one I support wholeheartedly, even giving them a set budget every year for books (not the gadgets and posters or toys) for something that supports the school library? Because I want each of my children to keep reading after they graduate and leave home. My WH (for those of you who don’t know, WH is my Wonderful Hubby) and I read to each of our children the day they were born. Before they were born, I selected books to read to them on their birthdays in the hospital. Before she became an older sister, I’d take Kath to the library and she’d spend an hour (literally an hour, if not longer) in my lap with a pile of books at my side and I’d read each of them to her before we checked them out and took them home for two weeks. Kath is now in college and there are times I wonder how my daughter could not like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier or anything by Jane Austen, but she’s found her own authors to love, read, and follow so I’m not complaining. MJ has read each of the Harry Potters multiple times, and now Cupcake and Chunk are picking out their own books, finding authors they think will interest them and seeing if they are right. Cupcake loves the “Who Is/Who Was” series of books while Chunk loves Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter. At night, they see WH and myself reading books. I’m usually reading one book on my Kindle and one hard copy of a book, usually a paperback. Books open up new worlds, introduce new friends, and carry messages of hope. Yes, I’m a sucker for book fairs. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

[Thanks to Lena Gregory, one of my favorite cozy mystery authors, and Jen Gilroy, one of my favorite contemporary romance authors, for the inspiration for this blog. Stay tuned for next week’s blog on why taking time to read is so important for authors.]

 

Reading for a Lifetime

In my house, you can’t find a room without a book or some sort of reading material. Even the garage has books in it as I have set aside some books I’ve read to donate to the local library. In my house, you will find books for all age groups that span all genres. Toddler board books? Check. Children’s dictionary? Absolutely essential for the parent of twin second-graders. Sci-fi books? We have several. Classics? I kept most of them, even my copy of Madame Bovary. Romance novels? Of course. How to write a romance novel? Below my desk in a neat row. I love books, and if there’s one thing I pass on to my children, it’s a love of reading.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer. Or maybe it’s because I’m the mother of four, but people ask me when my children started reading. I say it’s not important at what age they started reading, but what’s important is I read to every one of them the day they were born. What’s important is whether they keep reading throughout their lifetimes.

I’m even writing this blog at a library. Looking around I see books on a variety of topics: Soul Food Love. Fishing for Dummies. American Guide to Hiking Trails. (Note: I try to sit near the nonfiction so I’m less likely to stop writing to go look at a book that’s caught my eye.) There are books for everyone.

As a writer, I love books and often have my Kindle in my purse so I’m never far away from the book I’m reading. Yet as a parent, I often wonder if my kids will read when they are adults. The other day when I was driving my son to school, he told me he knows kids who don’t read outside of school. They haven’t picked up a non-assigned book since elementary school. Yesterday, my youngest daughter and I were talking in the car about schoolwork. I told her one of the best ways to do better in school is to read at home. I told her the more she reads, the more she’ll improve her vocabulary, the more she’ll be able to read the math word problems on her own, and the more she’ll be able to understand the textbooks. I stopped when I started to sound like the narrator of the wonderful children stories by Laura Numeroff, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

What was the last book you read (I won’t ask when)? Let me know.

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Reading Wednesday: When Do You Read?

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As a parent of an inquisitive five-year-old, I often get asked about time. How many seconds are in two hours? How many minutes are in a day? How many hours are in a week? And to sound like a cliché, it’s times like that I realize I need six or seven clones or thirty hours in a day to get everything done. This week was one of those weeks that went by in a blink of an eye. Doctor visits, dentist visits, and writing occupied much of my time. And with many of my minutes occupied driving from one place to another or bouncing like a yo-yo between different rooms in a doctor’s office, something had to give this week. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read as often as I like. That brought a question to my mind: when you are busy, what is the first thing that gets eliminated on your schedule? I hate to admit that reading got pushed back to mere minutes instead of hours. When you get busy, do you seek more time to read to try or do you set your book aside for a couple of days until your schedule evens out?

For me, I always try to read my craft book before I read my fun books. I think that was one of the reasons I loved Stephen King’s On Writing so much. It was the guilty pleasure book that read more like a pleasure book than a book about the craft of writing. So there were days this week I read part of Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel and nothing else.

Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel. Now that the introduction by Anne Perry and the first chapter are out of the way, I’m reading more about his pointers for writers. I’m enjoying his insights into a well constructed and breakout novel. For instance, he asks writers to stop at think not only about their character’s stakes in the book but what is the writer’s personal stake in the book? His point is writing a novel to meet a deadline isn’t the greatest personal stake in the world. Chances are if you’re no longer having fun, your characters may reflect your disinterest in writing. As I read through the section, I considered his questions. Thought-provoking questions for a thought-provoking book. So far I recommend this writing book. It helps you think about the character’s stakes in the outcome, it sprinkles in ideas to help with crafting different genres, and it addresses the premise of the book. And all of that in the first eighty-plus pages. This book is worth the time and money.

The Book That Shall Not Be Named. It’s been great to hear from people about why you stop reading books. If I were going to start putting a book down in the middle, this book would be the book. As a writer, I understand how hard it is to write a book. As a person, I try not to give bad reviews (except for the Holiday Inn I stayed at with my WH in Charleston-13 years later and I’m still willing to give that hotel a bad review). But as a reader, I cringe at not finishing a story, always hoping for a little nugget somewhere in the book. I’m still waiting with this book for that nugget.

The Rancher’s Reunion by Tina Radcliffe. This is the book I’m reading on my Kindle. It’s a category inspirational romance. So far I’ve only read the first twenty pages, but I’ve loved these twenty pages more than any of the pages in the book that shall not be named. Will has picked up Annie at the airport as she has just returned from Kenya. Over the next week, I look forward to finding out more about these two: why did Annie leave his ranch the day she realized she loved him, why is she returning to the ranch? So far it’s a great story, and it makes me want to finish the other book so I can spend some enjoyable time engrossed in this story.

This week promises to bring less doctor’s appointments and less deadlines. Family Friday’s blog will introduce a new member of our family, creating another reason I haven’t had as much time to read. But hopefully things are settling down because Donald Maass’ book is becoming interesting and thought-provoking, Tina Radcliffe’s book is promising a relaxing few hours of fun, and well, the other book has a finite number of pages.

Is there anything in your life that reduces the amount of time you read or do you try to stay consistent with the amount of time you devote to reading? Let me know.

Reading Wednesday: Do you finish what you start?

stack-of-books-10022022There’s a trend going around that I’m not on board with. A lot of people who like to read are discussing how they’re more than willing to give up on a book early on if they don’t immediately fall in love with the story. I’ve talked to more than one person who has told me that life’s too short to read books that don’t interest them. Overall, that’s not my nature. I try to finish stories once I start them. It took me three tries to finish A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, but I finally made it all the way through the classic. I’ll admit something. Right after MJ was born, I tried to read Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. While a classic, it’s not the best book to read two weeks after having a baby. I couldn’t get past the realistic violence. Instead, my WH had started reading the Harry Potter books and convinced me to give them a try. I never picked up For Whom the Bell Tolls again. But the fact that I remember quite vividly the one book I couldn’t finish in the past twelve years does show that I do believe in reading a book all the way through.

Before I write about the books I’m reading now, I have another little story. My WH kids that I’m a high maintenance person masquerading as a low maintenance person (I love When Harry Met Sally). But my WH is pretty lucky in one respect. I love to get books for Christmas. Now that I’ve attended three writing conferences, my bookshelf is heavy laden with books acquired at them. I still ask for the occasional book, but it has to be one that I don’t have on my shelf. More often than not, I either ask for a book about the craft of writing or the next in a series I absolutely love. So I was excited to receive Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel at Christmas from my WH. Yeah, I actually enjoy reading books about how to become a better writer. So, without further ado, here’s what I’m reading.

Craft book. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. So far, I’m only on the second chapter. I enjoyed the foreword by Anne Perry. She posited one very interesting premise. People choose books more on word of mouth and previous author experience than the cover. In the past couple of years, cover reveals have taken front and center on many authors’ blogs, but I still give credence to what Ms. Perry proposed. Even though I acquired many books at the RWA 2014 Conference, the minute I came home I headed to my laptop and ordered Sarah MacLean’s Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake. Why? Because I heard so many great things about this book at the conference. And I wasn’t disappointed. It really is a wonderful read. I highly recommend Nine Rules. To me, it illustrated the truth of what Ms. Perry wrote. Even though I had shelves filled with books, I put this book at the top of my must-read pile because so many people recommended it.

To me, the first chapter boiled down to the following. No matter what, the craft of writing is the foundation for writing a book. It’s not creating and maintaining a website. It’s not about an advance received from a publisher. It all comes down to dedicating time to learning the craft and putting what you learn to work. The breakout novel comes from finding the story within you, taking time to properly write it, learning the craft, and weaving a complex tale that people will want to read and tell their friends about.

I’m continuing to read the book, little by little. It has some interesting points and I look forward to finishing it.

Romance Novel. I’m not going to name the romance novel because while I like it and it’s getting more interesting as it’s going along, it’s not my favorite and I try not to give a bad review. It’s not that I would give the book a bad review. After all, I do like it, but I wouldn’t tell someone to rush out and buy it either.

Kindle book. I just finished reading three anthologies of Christmas novellas on my Kindle as well as Tiny Treats, small snippets of 1000 word tidbit stories designed for a reader to become acquainted with different romance authors so the reader could then explore new authors in the upcoming year (I read it in 2014). The great thing about novellas and anthologies is getting introduced to new authors when you’re reading new stories by authors you’re already acquainted with. With me, I really liked 9 of the 13 stories in the three volumes, liked 1 of the 13, was so-so on 2, and really didn’t like 1 of the 13 (but I did finish it, much to the dismay of my WH who got an earful on why I didn’t like it). The great thing about reading nine really good stories is getting introduced to some new authors. And to my delight, I have one of the author’s stories already downloaded on my Kindle from a time when it was offered for free. So I’ll get to read it in the near future.

Do you finish every book you start or do you put some aside? Let me know.

Reading Wednesday: Turning the next page

What makes you turn the pages of a book? I’m not talking about why you start reading a book in the first place although those reasons alone could take up a whole blog with reasons such as a friend’s recommendation, a great cover, or a free copy. I’m writing about what makes you turn the next page and the next page of a book. For me, I’m a character driven reader. When I like the characters of a book, I try to steal extra minutes to find out what happens to them. To my wonderful hubby’s dismay, I’ve even been known to read late into the night to find out how the hero and heroine overcome that black moment or find out the identity of the villain. That’s how I know whether I really liked a book or not: if I can’t wait to finish the book. My own personal benchmark for whether I liked a book or not is whether the characters stuck with me while I was doing other things and whether I couldn’t wait to get back to read the rest of the book.

This month, I’ve been fortunate enough to read three books that make my qualifications for a good book.

The Preacher’s Promise by Piper G. Huguley. First a brief disclosure. I know the author as we are both members of Georgia Romance Writers. Now, having disclosed that, I have to admit I was more than pleasantly surprised by the high caliber of this work. When Cupcake, Chunk, and I went out to lunch, they played in the play area while I whipped out my Kindle to find out more about Amanda and Virgil. This was definitely a book that stayed with me while I wasn’t reading the story. The book itself takes place in 1866 in the states of Ohio and Georgia. Amanda Stewart, a recent graduate of Oberlin College, is taken aback when she discovers the extent of her precarious financial situation. Her father, a lawyer, has passed away and left her penniless. She finds an offer to teach newly freed slaves and their children in the town of Milford, Georgia. When she arrives in Milford, she meets the town’s mayor, Virgil Smithson, who was expecting a man for a teacher. Virgil is adamant that Amanda gets back on the train and travel back to her home state of Ohio. Amanda is equally adamant that she fulfill her purpose by becoming the teacher to students eager for an education. The book is an inspirational, historical romance that follows Amanda and Virgil as they struggle to discern God’s will for each of them in the antebellum South. The book is a thoughtful exploration of that time period through the eyes of two African-Americans who were raised in different conditions and have endured different paths that lead to Milford.

Hope for the Holidays: The Historical Collection by Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, Myra Johnson, and Julie Lessman. This is the book I am currently reading. I’ve finished the first two stories and loved them. I found myself reading “Sophie’s Other Daughter” and not being able to put it down. On the night of Kath’s band Christmas concert, I was in the high school lobby glued to my Kindle laughing over Ike’s reaction to Clay McClellan who, while holding a rifle, tells Ike that the McClellan Ike should fear is his wife, Sophie. While the orchestra set up, I would steal a couple of minutes of reading time to find out more about Ike and Laura. Then I’d listen to the music and then return to my Kindle while the next band set up on stage. I tried not to laugh out loud during some of the scenes so as not to draw attention to myself. So I enjoyed this short story. I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the next story nearly as much, and then I started reading Edward’s and Sylvie’s story. And opened my Kindle at Cupcake and Chunk’s preschool playground while they played. And opened my Kindle while I was eating breakfast to read more pages of their story. So this passes my test for a good book: I’m reading it whenever I can and I’m thinking about the characters when my Kindle isn’t in my hands.

A Little Night Murder by Nancy Martin. I didn’t think I’d like my Kindle, but I do. However, I still like to read a paper book that I can hold in my hands. There’s something about the smell and feel of a book that I can’t resist. I’ve now read nine of the ten books in this series. I like the Blackbird sisters, and this book kept me company in doctor’s offices for the past week as I disappeared into the world of Philadelphia society and the backstage world of the theater. This cozy mystery was well worth my time, especially with the fact that it was a library book.

But throughout the year, I’ve been very fortunate enough to read some books that kept me turning the pages for more. A huge thank you to Jill Shalvis, Nicki Salcedo, Sarah Mayberry, Sarah MacLean, Mary Connealy, Piper G. Huguley, Kristan Higgins, Carolyn Hart, Stephen King, and all the other authors who have written the books that I’ve loved reading this year. I’m sure I’ve left off some wonderful authors, but these were some of the authors whose books I couldn’t wait to continue reading and whose characters or lessons taught me something.

What about you? What are you reading? How do you fit in reading time to your day? Let me know.

Reading Wednesday: A PSA about the importance of reading plus Three New Books

 love_of_books_202371I love to read. That’s why I have reading Wednesdays. To share books that I’m reading because I don’t agree with the statistic that says 89% of Americans never pick up a book after high school. At least I hope that many people don’t stop reading after high school. Reading opens doorways to bold characters, different lives, and new worlds. Reading challenges the mind and opens the heart. Recently someone asked me about my four year old son, known on my blog affectionately as Chunk, who has been reading for two years. This woman asked me, “How did I do it?” First of all, I didn’t DO anything. He learned by himself. But when I recounted this story to my wonderful hubby, I added something to the story. I told my wonderful hubby that I wished I had told her it doesn’t matter at what age someone starts reading, it matters that people continue to read. My four children each have a different path to learning how to read. For me, however, as their mother, I’m not as concerned with how they learn to read, but whether they continue to read after high school. As their mother, I hope they all see me reading different books and want to continue reading about new worlds.

     On my last reading Wednesday, I highlighted three books: Techniques of a Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, The Lawyer’s Luck by Piper G. Huguley, and Somewhere Along the Way by Jodi Thomas. I’m happy to write that I’ve finished all three. The first, Techniques of a Selling Writer, is a must for any wannabe writer. This is essential reading for establishing the importance of scene and sequel. Detailing the structure of a book through the beginning, middle and end, this book covers a lot of ground. For anyone who wants to write a book or does write books, I highly recommend this guide. The second, The Lawyer’s Luck, is a thought-provoking novella (with emphasis on novella). While too short, I highly enjoyed reading the story of Lawrence and Realie. Rather than painting two dimensional characters, Ms. Huguley depicts layered emotions for each character in her novella. The novella challenges a person to reconsider what he or she learned in history class and dig deeper into the complexities behind the heinous act of slavery. Told in alternating points of view between a runaway slave and a free man with African, Native American and white ancestry, the inspirational romantic novella examines the courtship of Lawrence and Realie over a geographic area from Ohio to Georgia. I recommend this and look forward to reading its sequel, the full length inspirational romance, The Preacher’s Promise. The last book, Somewhere Along the Way, is the second in the Harmony series which is more of a novel with strong romantic elements. I’d definitely start with the first in the series. While this book can be read as a stand alone, the characters’ stories are continued from the first book. I’d have felt lost if I started with this one. But Ms. Thomas weaves interesting characters in an interesting town that I’ll continue to visit from time to time.

     But now I’m reading three new books. I’m at the very beginning of two of them. I’m reading one book about writing, one book from the library, and one on my Kindle.

     ON WRITING BY STEPHEN KING. When I started Techniques of a Selling Writer, I decided to read five to seven pages a day since the writing was so dense with practical advice. So when I started On Writing, I didn’t know what to expect. I have never read a Stephen King novel. Don’t get me wrong. On a personal level, I have the highest respect and admiration for this author whose books have gripped so many. My grandmother was a Stephen King fan. She thought he wrote dark comedy. I’ve only seen one movie adaptation of his work: The Shawshank Redemption. This movie gripped me, and I watched with my husband wondering whether Tim Robbins’ character would break free of prison or get caught in his attempted escape. The acting of Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins bringing such subtlety and humanity to complex characters still astounds me even though I saw the movie eight or nine years ago.

    Even though I liked the movie, I’ve never read the short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption on which the movie is based. I’ve never read Carrie or Cujo or The Shining or The Stand or one of the many other novels read the world round. But everyone says On Writing is a must read for writers. And now I know why. This book is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Hands down. I’m reading it everywhere I go. On MJ’s curriculum night, I had my head stuck between the pages as I navigated the familiar hallway taking care not to step on anyone’s feet, but I had to keep reading the story of Stephen King’s 8th grade self selling his jelly-print published copies of his take on The Pit and The Pendulum. When I pick up Cupcake and Chunk, my head is stuck between the pages while Stephen King describes his grandfather’s toolbox and the tools that should be in every writer’s toolbox. I had to laugh at one point when he wrote about the act of writing. The line is “It’s not church.” I had my head stuck in the book on the grounds of the church where my twins attend preschool. I’ve read this in a doctor’s office, while waiting for children, on curriculum night and nearly everywhere else. I am engrossed in his curriculum vitae, his toolbox, and his advice about the act of writing. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I understand why everyone recommends this book.

    The Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson. Even though I love On Writing, I’m also reading some books for fun. I’ve gravitated toward reading more romances lately because I’m a romance writer and I read them for pleasure as well as to analyze POV, characterization, dialogue, etc. But I also love mysteries, and I’ve allowed myself to catch up on three of my favorite series by three of my favorite mystery authors. I recently finished the latest Rita Mae Brown mystery as well as Carolyn Hart’s latest Bailey Ruth book. I’ve read all of the Goldy catering mysteries, and this book was finally available at my library. I’ve only just started and am at the start of Chapter 3. I’m already hungry as I am whenever I read one of Ms. Davidson’s mysteries as the heroine runs a successful catering company. My wonderful hubby and I listened to one of her books on tape during a trip a long time ago. He even told me his stomach grumbled at the description of all the marvelous food. 

     I keep reading these books because I admire Goldy’s resilience and tenacity. I also like the cast of supporting characters from her police husband Tom to her best friend Marla (and I keep reading because Goldy found happiness with someone after the Jerk and I want Marla to find someone also) to her catering assistant Julian to her teenage son Arch. Jake the Bloodhound and Scout the cat are also making appearances. 

     Pull Me Closer by Lauren H. Kelley. I belong to Georgia Romance Writers. At the first meeting I attended, I met two writers: Lauren and Jeanine. Lauren has gone on to self-publish three books in a series and Jeanine has become my critique partner. I love GRW, and I love to read works by the talented members who help and encourage each other. I spent three very enjoyable days with Haywood Smith’s Wife-in-Law, laughing and commiserating with the main characters. I thoroughly enjoyed Piper G. Huguley’s The Lawyer’s Luck (featured above). And I’ve spent quite a few hours enmeshed in Tanya Michael’s books revolving around either a family or a hot cowboy. 

     At RWA’s National Conference, Lauren asked me to read her third book. I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again, I can’t start in the middle of a series. So I purchased the first two books for my Kindle. I’ve started reading the first book. This steamy novel set in corporate America is a change of pace for me. I generally gravitate to romance books that revolve around a small town or regency England or the the pioneering wilds of America. I’ve only just started Pull Me Closer as well, but it’s interesting to read Kerrigan and Axel’s story. This is a steamy novel, and it targets an adult reader. Ms. Kelley’s background in corporate America is helping add detail to her story.

     So I’m reading three totally different books. But the important thing is that I love reading. I hope I pass that love of reading onto my children.

     What are you reading? Let me know.