Write, Write, and then Read a Book

pexels-photo-415078.jpeg

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

Unknown-32.jpeg

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 Thursday: Anthologies and Novellas

Lately it seems as though I’ve read as many short stories as I have full-length novels. This isn’t a new trend. In high school, I read many short stories by the queen of mystery, Agatha Christie (and let me give a quick shout-out to the fact that this past week marked the 125th anniversary of her birth). Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence, and Poirot were as familiar to me, if not more familiar, as my classmates. In law school, I fell in love with Jude Deveraux’s books and would pick up anything written by her, even anthologies featuring one of the Montgomery clan or a Taggert. I’d read all the novellas in the anthology but rarely would reading a story by another author lead me to buy one of her books. Fast forward to now. It seems like there are so many anthologies available right now. If you go online to your favorite book retailer, chances are there will be an anthology in your suggested reading list box. Right now, on my Kindle, I am reading-yes, you guessed it-an anthology. And my paperback? Drum roll, please. An anthology. With all these recent anthologies, I asked myself some questions, and what better place to share three of them than my blog?

Why novellas? The most obvious place to start is the most obvious question. Why am I reading two anthologies comprised of novellas? One answer that jumps out at me actually has four components: Kath, MJ, Cupcake, and Chunk. When I’m on the go, I can read novellas in a hurry. I’m also not as likely to stay up to two in the morning with short stories. (My WH might send some of the authors a thank you note for that). Too often I find myself reading a Sarah MacLean or Jodi Thomas novel, and I can’t put it down. With short stories, I haven’t really had that problem. I’m usually done with one in a relatively small amount of time and can easily wait until the next day to start the next offering.

But another reason isn’t so obvious. They are everywhere right now. So many authors offer a novella free on online book retailers in the hopes of enticing the reader to buy more in their series. It’s easy to download several free stories, and then look for something short to read in the car rider lane.

Am I enjoying them as much as a full-length novel? This was a harder question to answer. Some of the stories blow me away. I was literally on the treadmill at the gym crying as I read His Beloved Bride. (Thank you, Ruth Logan Herne. BTW, if you haven’t read this inspirational author, she’s an author worth reading.) While part of the reason revolved around events in my personal life, Ms. Herne knows how to pack an emotional punch whether in a novella or a full-length book. A while back, I was reading my Kindle while waiting for Kath’s concert recital doors to open. I was laughing my head off at a novella in an anthology. So at times, yes, I am enjoying them.

But the problem is I often like three out of the four offerings. I’ve discussed in my blog before that I’m not the type of person who can put down a book without finishing it. And when it’s a short story, even more so. There’s not a lot of time invested in individual stories, so what if it’s bound to get better? I don’t want to miss the good part. But so often lately, there is always one story in the collection that I’m not enjoying. Enough to start thinking about whether novellas are worth my time. But then I think about the times they have made me laugh or cry, and I usually go ahead and download another novella.

Do I buy any other books as a result of reading a new (to me) author in an anthology? As a writer, I would love the answer to be yes. But as a reader, the answer is (with my head hung low) usually not. The problem is I usually read an anthology because I love one of the contributing authors’ works. I don’t usually pick up an anthology out of the blue. Right now, I have very particular reasons to be reading these two anthologies. One I acquired at RWA2015 in New York City. I love Jodi Thomas’ books. Ask Me Why has a Harmony short story. Free book plus Harmony? I’m there. The other book I downloaded for free with my Amazon Prime membership because I’m going to write my next book in that genre. This book actually led me to write this blog because I loved the first two stories but was only so-so about the third.

Now there was a time last year when reading the prequel novella did confirm to me that a book I wanted to read by that author was going to be worth my time (and I was absolutely right-I’ve loved all three of the Milford series so far. If you haven’t checked out Piper Huguley’s Home to Milford College novella and books, they are wonderful, and the novella is free.)

With the glut of novellas right now, I will probably switch it up and read full-length books for a while. But I applaud those authors who dare to try something new, and team with other authors to try to expand their fan base. And when I read a short story that makes me laugh or cry, it’s like any other book-it goes on my keeper shelf.

What about you? Do you read anthologies? What if you don’t like one of the stories in the anthology? Do you skip it and move on to the next? What was the last anthology you read and would you recommend it? Let me know.

Reading Friday: Through My Children’s Eyes

stock-photo-young-man-reading-a-book-244451953I love my two oldest children, but they tend to fight. A lot. Kath is liberal and strong-willed. MJ is conservative and equally strong-willed. My usual thought is to let them settle their differences unless one is sitting on the other or blood is spurting profusely out of one of them. Then I step in. My WH says if they ever figure out how to work together since they are also both very intelligent, we’re in true trouble. So when they aren’t fighting and are having a real conversation with the other, I tend to listen. One to make sure they aren’t plotting against my WH and myself, and second because when they agree on something, it’s worth hearing.

Yesterday, MJ started talking about an informal poll he took in his seventh grade math class. He asked his fellow classmates what their favorite book is. He expected a lot of people to say The Hunger Games and expected to extrapolate some data on reading habits for his math project. Most of the people in his class told him they don’t read unless it’s for school. Now, some of them may have said this because reading may not be perceived by some seventh graders as the coolest activity (and for the record, reading is the coolest activity, ever.) Nevertheless it struck me that for some kids in middle school, they no longer want to read books.

Kath heard this and jumped into the conversation. Her observation was that these kids have no problem reading all the texts on their phones, so they obviously do read. Then she asked a question that struck me to the core and became my blog topic for today: “What do people who don’t read do with their time?

MJ piped up immediately and said he didn’t know and didn’t want to know. They talked some more about the topic, both agreeing (which, if you didn’t gather from the first paragraph, was a minor miracle in and of itself) that a life without books isn’t what they want from their lives.

As a parent, I loved this conversation between them, but as a person, it left me worried. What do people who don’t read books do with their time? There are some days I may only get to read a couple of pages of my book, but I love to read and try to read everyday. To me, one of the things I’m looking forward to in winter is snuggling in front of the fireplace with a roaring fire going and a good book.

With the proliferation of the home computer and now the sheer number of television programs, are people eliminating books from their daily lives? I hope not. There’s something to be said for living life, and days are often full with work, school, children’s activities, the rare date with WH, family time, meals, and so on. But to me, the day isn’t complete without opening the pages of a book or opening my Kindle and reading part of a story. The wonderful thing about reading is I’ve gone to outer space, medieval times, tropical islands, pioneer America, the cold climes of Canada, and more all from the comfort of my couch or my bed or wherever I open my book.

The other day, Cupcake came home and said her teacher gave her books to take home. I tried to explain to her that I bought the books from Scholastic and paid for them. She didn’t care. She just wanted me to read them to her and Chunk. They cuddled up with me, and I read to them.

Yesterday as MJ and Kath were debating what people who don’t read do, I was struck once again with the age differences between my kids. But I’ve written this before, and I think it bears repeating, I hope that kids and adults of all ages continue to read books even after they graduate from school. I didn’t have an answer for MJ and Kath about what people who don’t read books do all the time. I still don’t have that answer. But it made me think. There’s a book out there for everyone. So go find one and read.

What are you reading now? When was the last time you finished a book? Let me know.

Reading Wednesday: Not for a Day but for a Lifetime

images

When we moved into our house, my mother-in-law and father-in-law drove their truck over and delivered boxes of old toys to us. They were tired of my WH’s toys cluttering up their life. It was time for the toys to become part of our cluttered life. For a couple of weeks, we’d paw through the boxes whenever we had the time. We’d laugh at the headless GI Joes and the Han Solo heads, wondering why on earth a bunch of toy figures missing arms, legs, torsos, and other body parts were all thrown in a plastic bag without any rhyme or reason. My in-laws (who are truly wonderful people) had saved Fisher-Price construction play sets and various other toys. When I was young, my father was in the military and we moved around a lot. Many of my childhood toys were who knows where, but through all the moves, my parents insisted on keeping my Dr. Seuss books and I insisted on keeping my Trixie Belden books. So I dug through my WH’ s boxes searching for all the books his parents must have kept for him. I found a couple of Disney books, a couple of Choose Your Own Adventure books, and some others, but nothing like my stash of treasured books that no matter where we went always came with me. And it dawned on me. Not everyone saved his or her childhood books.

When we moved from place to place, there were always books with new characters to read. Those were a constant for me. When I was pregnant with my first child, I dreamt of reading her the stories that fascinated me as a child. Lo and behold, I discovered my child had her own ideas of what fascinated her as far as stories (which is how it should be). While I was into romance novels, mysteries, and biographies, Kath has discovered her own favorite genres and authors. (Whatever you do, never get Kath started on John Green who is her very favorite author, and she will talk about how wonderful he and Hank are.) For a while, though, I was worried. Kath didn’t start reading on her own until she was six. Oh, I read to her. We’d go to the library. She’d pick out twenty books and I’d have to plop down and read until I was hoarse. She loved books. She just wasn’t reading on her own. Her kindergarten teacher listened to my worries and patted my hand. She was sweet as can be and assured me there wasn’t anything wrong with my daughter. We each develop at our own pace, and when reading clicked with her, her reading comprehension would zoom. The teacher was right.

Chunk, my youngest son, is the opposite. He taught himself to read when he was two and has been reading everything in sight since then. At preschool, I had a parent come to me and ask me, “How did I do it?” I assured her that I didn’t do anything other than read to him, but I added something that I thought was much more important. I don’t care what age my children start reading. I care and want them to continue reading all their lives. It’s more important to me that they don’t just read for one day. I want to encourage them to keep reading, keep exploring, keep finding new stories.

If you have children, how do you foster a love of books for them? If you don’t have children and you love to read, then who started you on your path of reading? Let me know.

Reading Monday: What’s in your vacation tote?

130890640264ycmYMy family and I went to Charleston last week for our yearly vacation. We loaded all six of us into our minivan and traveled east to our destination. I’m fortunate enough to be able to read in a car. My husband and two of my children can’t read in the car because then they get carsick. So my husband often does the driving, and if I don’t fall asleep, I get to spend mile after mile reading. At least I read my books when I’m not mediating any arguments or reading to my five-year-olds. Most of the time, I tend to read romance novels or cozy mysteries. As a romance writer, I love reading all the different genres of romance: contemporary, historical, inspirational, and even the occasional paranormal. With my lifelong love of mysteries (I was hooked on mysteries the minute I opened the covers of a Trixie Belden novel), I love mysteries series, especially Carolyn Hart’s Annie and Max. Most people grab mysteries and romances when they head on vacation. I grab my presidential and celebrity biographies and hit the road.

This time I spent some marvelous hours in the car with Harry and Bess Truman in their quest to drive cross-country, thinking they’d have some anonymity now that they no longer lived in the White House. In his book Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure, Matthew Algeo goes into great depth about why that was not the case. Everywhere they went, people mobbed them, wanting to shout “Hey, Harry” or get an autograph. Police chiefs held their breaths until the former president left their jurisdiction. In the days before former presidents were accorded Secret Service protection, they left their Secret Service detail at the White House. Many of the police chiefs where Truman visited would spare officers in order to protect him and Bess as they traveled in their 1953 Chrysler New Yorker.

My wonderful hubby also got to spend hours in the car listening to whole passages from the book as I recounted story after story to him. I’d tell him about people’s reactions when they realized that the man traveling with his wife and stopping at their family’s restaurant or hotel was no other than Harry Truman. I shared with him the passage about the rise of the modern highway system and with it, the advent of the hotel.

When my oldest son fell ill in the middle of the next to last night, my wonderful hubby and I debated whether to head home but decided to stay to give his stomach a chance to settle before a six-hour car ride. My hubby took the other three kids to Patriot’s Point while I wrote the last blog and finished reading Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure. I missed my hubby when I read of the night Harry ate dinner at 21 in New York. Who else was at 21 that night? Thomas Dewey. The manager believed neither knew the other one was there that night thanks to some careful rearranging. In my hotel room, I finished the tale of Harry and Bess’ car trip. It was their last such trip. Over the course of the adventure, they came to realize people knew who they were, and people wanted to talk to them. Harry and Bess could not be any more anonymous than Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower.

Now that I’m home, I’m reading Marie Force’s All You Need Is Love and Jenna Harte’s Old Flames Never Die, a book that combines my two reading loves-mysteries and romance. On my next family vacation, I have a biography of Spencer Tracy that I can’t wait to open.

What about you? What do you like to read on vacation? Let me know.

Reading Weekend: Childhood Memories and The Wednesday Witch

kids-reading-27387783

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read. When I was very little, my father served in the military and was stationed in Germany. Even though they barely had two nickels to rub together, my parents made sure they found books in English and started a book collection for me, some of which I still have to this day. My copy of Dr. Seuss’ ABC has British spellings so I always misspelled pajamas as pyjamas because that’s how it was spelled in my book. Through my very early childhood, I was usually found nose to a book, reading through the Encyclopedia Brown series, the Happy Hollisters and all of the Trixie Beldens. Some kids were jealous of their classmate’s bicycle or scooter. Not me. I was jealous of one classmate’s family collection of Cherry Ames novels or one cousin’s collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder books. This past week, I was on Amazon and decided for the fun of it to look up one childhood book that was a particular favorite of mine: The Wednesday Witch by Ruth Chew. Although my parents saved my Dr. Seuss books and I saved my Trixie Belden books through countless moves, I didn’t save a copy of The Wednesday Witch. I found out the book is coming out on Kindle in August. That made me stop and think for a minute. Do I want to reread the book and see what made it so special for eight-year-old me? Or do I want to retain my memories of what I considered to be a really good book intact and not ruin them by rereading the book? When I was in law school, I decided to indulge in a box of Cookie Crisp (a particularly high in sugar cereal). After all, it was one of my favorite things to eat when I was eight. I almost spit out the cereal after the first bite because it was so sweet (and this from a chocoholic with a huge sweet tooth). Same thing with a bottle of Yoohoo. As of right now, I’m undecided, but no matter what I decide, I’m glad the book will be available for e-readers and is being rereleased. Even though my oldest daughter doesn’t share my reading tastes (how can someone not like Rebecca and Jane Eyre?), I’m glad I’ll be able to share this book with my younger daughter and that The Wednesday Witch has a chance to enchant new readers all over again.

What about you? Have you reread any of your favorite books from your childhood? Let me know.