Write, Write, and then Read a Book


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.

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.


Family Wednesday: Snow Day

Unknown-2A picture to tantalize you of the wonderful seasons to come: spring and summer.

There’s a new four-letter word in the continental United States: snow. Many parts of the United States haven’t just been affected by snow; they’ve been deluged. To paraphrase a scene from Forrest Gump, we’ve had fried snow, snow jumbo, snow fricassee, snow scampi, and baked snow. In other words, there’s been so much snow and ice around the continental forty-eight that no one wants to hear about it anymore. So what am I doing? I’m writing about my family’s snow day. That is quickly becoming a snow week.

Four kids, one roof. There are some general truths about adulthood. Once you graduate college, people tend to look at the ring finger of your left hand. Is there someone special in your life? Are you engaged? If so, who is that special someone? If not, why not? Is there something wrong with you?

Then you meet that special someone and the two of you announce your engagement. The questions change. When are you getting married? The stories change. Once an engagement ring is slipped on your finger, everyone starts regaling you with stories of his or her wedding. Oh, I remember the time. It goes by so quickly. It goes by so slowly. You hear joyful stories, but you also hear the horror stories. His cousin twice removed got plastered. The dog ate my cake. I got jilted.

You get married, and you think you’re in the clear. The questions change yet again. When are you going to have children? Once again, the stories change. Maybe you’ll be in the break room when you get assaulted with the question followed by anecdotal stories. When I was married for a year, we had our first child. Oh yeah, we had twins. Oh yeah, we had quintuplets.

Then you have your first sweet child. That sigh of relief is almost palpable. Everyone will now get off your back. You’ll be in the clear. Soon you’ll be the person asking the questions instead of being on the receiving end. Nope. The questions only change again. When’s the darling little baby going to have a baby brother or sister?

It’s only after the second child, the questions stop coming. There are those of us, though, who didn’t stop at two. In case of my WH and myself, we went for a third and lo and behold, we had twins. The questions started all over again, but this time there were preceding snips. You have a boy and a girl. Why’d you go from man-to-man to zone defense?

Usually I shrug the questions off with a grin. I love all of them. Even with lots of love in my heart, I know snow days are hard and sometimes try my patience. So what to do?

Movie night. I’ve told them all that tonight I’m introducing them to one of the greatest joys in life: Bringing Up Baby. Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Asta as George and a leopard. It’s age appropriate for all of them, and it’s one of the best movies ever made. This morning, I bought extra popcorn specifically for this purpose. Tonight there’s no Scout meeting, late practices, or any other excuse for us not to sit together and watch a movie (unless the power goes out and in which case, I have my laptop).

Books. I have a great slate of books. I just finished Jill Shalvis’ Forever and a Day and Tanya Michaels’ Mistletoe Mommy. Those are two romance novels that will definitely steam up your winter days with some fun and sassy characters. I recommend anything by either of those excellent romance authors. I’ve just started Debby Giusti’s The Officer’s Secret. After two chapters, I’m enjoying this romantic inspirational thriller. I can’t wait to read more of it.

Food. One good thing about six people under one roof is that each of us has different favorite foods. On the way home from picking up the twins at preschool yesterday, I stopped at the grocery store with the four of them, telling them they could each pick out a snack. I’m a chocoholic and I knew I had enough chocolate at home. My WH told me today he picked up queso dip after work yesterday because he wanted that. At the store, Kath asked if we had popcorn. MJ picked out his favorite type of yogurt. Chunk picked out a cantaloupe. And, believe it or not, Cupcake wanted celery. So we have enough food to last a while. Plus the good news for Cupcake is I don’t think we’ll all be running to the refrigerator for an extra stalk of celery when our snack cravings take over.

How have you made it through winter in your neck of the woods? Let me know.

Reading Wednesday: Something for Everyone

My daughter is back, safe and sound from her trip to Boston. We talked this morning, and she said that only herself and another girl brought books on the trip. On the way back from Boston, they talked on the plane about their favorite books. As a writer, I sat back in the easy chair and blinked. Kath is on the debate team. Not to promote stereotypes, but most of the time two groups of high school students are particularly stereotyped as studious: the debate team and the robotics team. I delved deeper into the conversation, asking why aren’t these kids reading? Some occupy their minds with other things (i.e., texting, talking, etc.). But some don’t find reading interesting. I had to bite back my tongue. There’s something out there for everyone. If you like Game of Thrones on television, read the books. Like Outlander on television? Read the books. Like Orange is the New Black on television? Read the book. (Please note I have only read the first three in the Outlander series and have not read any of these other books, but my husband loves the George R.R. Martin series). If you prefer movies to television, let’s explore some recent movies. Like The Fault in Our Stars? Read the book. Like Mockingjay? Read the book. Like 50 Shades of Gray? I’m sorry. But seriously, if you’re in high school, ask your parents if you can read the book (I don’t believe in censorship, but I do believe you should respect your parents’ decision about a book with mature themes until you are out of the house and can make an informed decision on your own, but that’s a different blog). There are books out there for all different age levels and all different interests. I will call on stereotypes for a minute. Like role-playing? Try science fiction, try fantasy, try alternate history. Like manicures and pedicures? Try young adult, new adult or romance. Like running marathons? Try thrillers, try mysteries, try something with an intricate plot that’ll give you something to think about between mile markers ten and twenty. In other words, no matter what you like to do, there’s a book out there for you. There are so many good books out there that it hurts my head to think there are high school students who don’t read with the mere explanation there’s nothing out there to suit them. Now, unlike any time in history, there are so many alternatives for devices that enable a book to be read: tablets, e-readers, smartphones, iPods, laptops, computers, and more. Not to mention the oldest device for reading that I know of: a plain old book in either hardcover or paperback. When I click on my Kindle to a major retailer, up pop a number of categories from humor to romance to biography. On Facebook right now, there’s a funny story making the rounds of one guy making his own categories in a bookstore. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. I laughed really hard. It’s on boredpanda.com, and the first picture reclassifies romance novels (I’m a romance writer and I think his characterization is hilarious), followed by cookbooks and other books. What I particularly love about these classifications is how he’s using humor to showcase books and showing how different books can appeal to a wide range of interests.

I’ll end with this true story. For those of you who don’t know, I have four children: Kath, MJ, Cupcake, and Chunk. MJ and Chunk both taught themselves to read at an early age. MJ was three and, believe it or not, Chunk was two. Before Chunk turned five last October, someone came up to me and asked me how I taught Chunk to read. I was taken aback and said he had taught himself to read. True, I have read books over and over to him and Cupcake. When MJ was in kindergarten, his homework assignment was to read to me every night and at the time I was pregnant with Cupcake and Chunk. Every day at five o’clock, MJ would read to me. Every day at 5:01, Cupcake would kick in response, presumably hearing MJ’s voice as he read aloud. Cupcake and Chunk have been exposed to reading before they were even born. When I was telling WH (wonderful hubby) the story of someone asking me how I taught Chunk to read, I paused and said, “I only wish I had told her I truthfully don’t care what age each of them starts reading, I care that they have a lifelong love of reading and continue to read even after they leave home.”

I meant it then and I mean it now. I want my kids to have the same joy of settling down with a book, opening the cover or touching a screen, and getting lost in a great story. There really is a book out there for everyone. I hope more high school students find books that capture their interest. Next time, I hope more than two students take some books with them on a trip.

What about you? Are you the type of person who suggests a book to someone if they tell you there’s nothing out there to pique their interest? What have you done to instill the love of reading for others? Let me know.

Reading Sunday: A Book for All Seasons

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My grandmother used to love to start jigsaw puzzles in winter. A huge football fan, she’d wait for college bowl games to end. The second they did out came the 1000 piece puzzles and we’d sort through the pieces to find the edged ones to put those together first. She’d finish one, carefully put the pieces back in the box, and start a new one. Come spring and summer, we’d go for a walk to Flamingo’s, the local ice cream parlor, and leave the puzzle assembling behind for next winter. For some people, puzzles occupy the winter doldrums. Others love quilting (or knitting or crocheting) while still others head to the library and stock up on new releases. With winter upon us, it brought up the question to my mind: in what season do you read the most?

Winter, spring, summer or fall? In the winter, I love to snuggle up with a good book. Maybe you’ve seen the meme on Facebook or somewhere else: Keep Calm and Snuggle with a Good Book. In the spring, I love to get a bowl of jellybeans and curl up on the patio with a book. In the summer, I love to read while traveling somewhere on vacation. And in the fall, I love to pull out the blankets, send the kids to school, and well, you fill in the next three words (read a book). I’m an equal opportunity reader who loves to read regardless of the season. I don’t need an excuse to read although sometimes I need extra time to read.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Little by little, I’m absorbing the information and knowledge imparted by this book. From setting to characters, the author weaves his observations about writing to convey craft information about forming more memorable novels. How to up the conflict. How to create more compelling characters. How to take the ordinary and up the ante so the reader feels a bond, feels the urgency of the conflict. I’d definitely recommend this book to writers of all levels. It’s extremely readable, and the information makes you think about getting into the minds of your characters more and coming up with even more conflict.

Four Weddings and a Kiss by Margaret Brownley, Mary Connealy, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Debra Clopton. (A note: I received a free copy of this book at RWA 2014.) I think I’m going to stay away from anthology novellas for a couple of months. While it’s great to read new authors, the past couple of anthology novella books I’ve read have left me conflicted. I enjoy reading different authors, observing their writing styles and getting involved in the story. But in this book like the others I read this year, I’ve enjoyed two of the stories much more than the others. For some reason, I liked Spitfire Sweetheart and Courting Trouble the most out of the four. Maizy’s tomboy ways in Spitfire Sweetheart endeared me to her. Grace’s conflict with death hanging over compelled me to read to find out what happened to her. I just finished the book last night, and it’s worth checking out of the library, especially for the first and last stories.

The Rancher’s Reunion by Tina Radcliffe. Oooh, Kath had to borrow my Kindle to read Jane Eyre for school, and I didn’t get much further, but the next ten pages had me wanting to curl up in an armchair with my new dog and read, read, read this book. I am so enjoying this book whenever I have a few minutes here and there. I so want to find out why Will has never noticed Annie before and how they get together.

No matter the season, I love to read. For some people, winter means more reading, for others, less.

Do you read more in one season than the others or do you read the same amount year round? Let me know.

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.