It’s Summer, You Should Be Reading (A Love Letter)

It is summertime, and it is hot and nobody feels like doing anything. So, in my book (hahahaha) that means it is time for a lot of reading.  Hot summer afternoons are made for lying on a hammock, or in air-conditioned comfort, giving yourself over to a book.

Who has time for such things? You do. You must. Please don’t tell me you don’t have time to read. Because if you are a writer and you’re not reading, then you are not a writer, period. Writing is your first job. Reading is your second. And it is almost as important.

I think most writers come to writing because of their love of reading. I know I did.

When I was a kid, we lived about five blocks away from the library. My sister and neighborhood friends and I used to walk to the library (back in the days when you didn’t need as much adult supervision) and stagger home carrying huge stacks of books. Then we’d lie on cots under our car port and while away hot afternoons reading, every once in a while stopping to run through the sprinkler to cool off. I still go to the library—but now I walk to my car with stacks of books cradled in my arms.

These trips to the library drastically influenced my future career. Thank God. I don’t remember the moment when it occurred to me that all those books I loved to read were actually written by somebody. But I do remember thinking there ought to be a career for readers. And guess what? There is. It’s called writing.

Because one of the best things about being a writer is that reading is actually part of your job. During my first semester in my MFA program, I remember lolling on the couch reading a novel that my mentor had assigned me, luxuriating in the feeling that I was actually working.

 It’s no surprise that many MFA programs base their programs on reading, because it is one way you can teach yourself to write. And it is no surprise that writers like Inglath Cooper say, “Everything I know about writing books I learned from reading books.”

Lately I’ve been trawling the pages of Amazon (it’s too damn hot to get to the bookstore) looking at best book lists for two reasons:

–We are looking for a suitable title for our book-in-common for the France workshop

–I’m looking for a couple of books I can study that have good twists and turns.

Here’s why:

During the France workshop we always select a book to assign everyone and then we use it as a teaching tool. For some reason this year we are having a hard time coming up with one that Debbie and I agree on. Some titles we have read before include Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, and They May Not Mean To But They Do by Cathleen Schine.   Any suggestions?

And I’m looking for examples of books with twists and turns, preferably not too dark, because I got notes from my agent. She’s happy with my novel the way it is and we could go out with it this way….but she also thinks that if I added a twist or two, we could go bigger. And I’m all for bigger! So, people, tell me—books with twists and turns?

So, upshot of the story—if you have any recommendations for either of these categories, do hit reply and tell me. Or just leave a comment and tell me what you’ve been reading!

Writing and Reading; Reading and Writing

If you want to be a writer, or consider yourself a writer, or are planning to be a writer, do not let me catch saying you don’t have time to read. Ahem. Because, really? You have no business writing if you’re not reading. Everything. All the time. Books and blogs and magazines and the backs of cereal boxes. (Maybe they aren’t so good to read anymore, I’m not sure–I rarely eat cereal these days.) You should be inhaling words from your reading as much as you are flinging words at the page.

Most of us writers come to writing because we loved reading so much. Who among us doesn’t have a childhood memory of being transported to another world by a book? Who among us hasn’t read a book and thought, I wish I could do that. Or even, I could do that way better than he did.

Words in, words out. The more I write, the more I feel I need to read. (Sort of like this weird paradox I described here.)  It is as if I need to fill myself up with enough words so that I have a store of them to spit back out again. Have you ever felt like that?

Just in case you’re not reading everything you can get your hands on, here are a few tips:

Read as a writer

Once you start writing, reading is never quite the same again–because you are paying attention to all the things that slid past before.  Cultivate this habit.  Consider how the author writes description, and dialogue.  What does she do to make the character leap off the page? What kinds of stylistic techniques does he employ? How does setting figure into the story? And how is the book structured? Jane Smiley’s book on reading the novel is a useful starting point. Oh, and you might want to consider reading a book twice.  You’ll be amazed at how much you learn the second time through.

Write about your reading

Lately, as part of a journaling template I’m following in the morning, I’ve been writing a few words about what I’m reading. I find this a helpful practice because it helps me notice. In the book I’m reading now, for instance, I’m admiring the way the author uses fresh verbs and original descriptions. In the previous book I read, I noted how the author did some interesting loops with time.  This noticing is why MFA programs as well at the writing program I teach at requires their students to write essays about their reading.  Because deep reading is an excellent way to teach yourself to write. And writing about your reading is even more effective.

Read in your genre 

In all genres, from mystery to romance to horror, there are certain tropes. If you’re writing in a genre, you need to know these tropes. Here’s the deal: if you’re writing mysteries, it is likely you love reading mysteries. And by reading a lot of mysteries, you’ve soaked in these tropes without even being aware of it. Which is why reading a lot is so good for the writer.

But don’t limit yourself

Branch out from the genres once in awhile. Read a memoir or some heavy literature, or how about a book of short stories or essays? You might be surprised what you find. And it just might inspire you to write something different, too. It can be really good for your writing to fool around in a different genre.  Read dumb bestsellers and obscure classical novels, or at least take a look at them.

Always carry a book or Kindle or something with you

You never know when you’re going to get stuck in a line, or waiting for a child, or when you’ll be early for an appointment. Have something to read. Take it with you to the gym, so you can read it while on the treadmill (they always have boring TV shows on at the gym anyway).  You can’t read if you don’t have something to read with you. Righ?

Okay, those are some of my ideas. How do you read as a writer? Has your reading changed since you started writing? Leave a comment. Or head on over to the Facebook group and discuss.

This article contains some affiliate links.

Five on Friday: Good Friday Edition

What I’m writing: Draft Two of my first romance novel.  I am living proof that you can write a Really Shitty First Draft and make it into something.  With previous novels, I’ve known more about the plot and characters and thus had a more polished first draft (still crappy, though).  There are many places in this one where I write in all caps things like I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE, and I really didn’t.  There’s tons of boring narrative summary and endless paragraphs of characters thinking, thinking, thinking.  But I got the story down–and now I’m having a blast figuring out better ways to present it to the reader. I’m pretty happy with it.  So if you’re in the middle of a draft that you’re despairing over, take heart.  Oh and here’s a pertinent quote I found today:

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist.” Jane Smiley.

I love it. By the way, that photo to the left is of Horn Seven. He’s my new writing buddy, given to me (and named by) my grandson to sit by my computer. (Follow me on Instagram for lots of photos of the writing life. Well, my writing life anyway. IG is my current favorite social media.)

What I’m Reading: Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang, and Dior or Die by Angela Sanders.  The first is a collection of short stories, one of which the movie Arrival was based on.  Chiang is the current darling of the sci-fi world and I waited months to get this book. And…I’m fascinated with it but it makes me feel dumb because I don’t always get the stories.  Sigh.  Dior or Die is another great mystery by my friend Angie. Go buy it and read it.

What I’m Watching: The current American Experience: The Great War, about World War I. I’m now fascinated with this era, thanks to the Maisie Dobbs books. (Book two in the series is next on my reading list. It will actually be the third one I’ve read, because the one I found that introduced me was way out of order.)  Anyway, it may or may not be true that I fell asleep on the couch watching American Experience, but still, it is worth mentioning.

What I’m Excited About: Nia, an exercise class. I wrote a whole thing about it in my newsletter that comes out this Sunday. If you’re not on my list to get it, you can subscribe from that banner up top. And you might want to, because I mentioned something exciting in it.

What I’m Excited About 2: Ordering groceries online. THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER.   A huge time saver for me. I’m not a human that likes going to the grocery store. At all. Ever. So this is a godsend.

Happy Good Friday and Easter, everyone. Hope you get some writing in even though its a holiday weekend!

PS. As I’ve mentioned, we are offering two sessions for the France workshop this year. But the first session is full (though we could accommodate you if your begged, or bribed us), and the second session is filling up fast.  So check it out!

Five on Friday, It’s March!

What I’m Reading: The Mapping of Love and Death, one of many novels in the Maisie Dobbs historical mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear. I love this book. It’s my kind of mystery–one where the sleuth’s story is almost as important as the mystery she is solving.  I’m planning to go back and start at the beginning of the series. These books are set in London between the two world wars, and Maisie is a plucky, deep heroine.

I just nabbed The Art of Character by David Corbett at the library (after a long wait) and so far I love it.

What I’m Loving: The way I rearranged my office so that I have a place to sit other than my computer desk. It’s a nice spot for journal writing, reading manuscripts, all the non-computer work that I love to do.

What I’m Watching: Riverdale. Okay, okay, I only watched a little bit of the first episode when I found it randomly the other night, but it looks like quite the great show and I plan to return to it. Because, I loved the Archie and Veronica comics eons ago.  And who among us remembers Katy Keene? That name just popped into my head.  Oh man, I loved her comic books. When I was a kid, I wanted to be either a writer or a fashion designer. And yeah, admitting the latter goal takes some guts, seeing as how I slink around in leggings and oversized tops most of the time these days. And sometimes I don’t get out of my jammies until…well, never mind. Clearly the goal to be a writer overtook the idea of becoming a fashion designer.

Oh, but we are going to try very, very hard to go see La La Land this weekend. Because, the last five minutes of the Oscars.

What I’m Reaffirming: The crazy conundrum that taking time makes time.  I get more done if I write in my journal in the morning, and I speed through my to-do list if I take time to meditate, read, and/or knit or stitch. It’s crazy, but its true.

What I’m Looking Forward To: A two-day writing retreat at the Oregon coast in mid-March.  Concentrated time to work on fiction, hooray!

Five on Friday: Gloomy February Edition

I know, I know, you get back what you put out so I shouldn’t be calling February gloomy. But for cripes sakes, it kind of is.  I mean, we’ve got the Donald, and here in Portland we’ve had so many ice and snowstorms I’ve lost count (give me plain old Oregon rain any day), and there’s just so much going on it is hard to concentrate. But, people, we must. And so let’s chat about good things. (Yes, you may call me Pollyanna.)

What I’m Reading. I’ve had the worst dry spell. Had a few books on hold at the library and when I went to pick them up I found more on the featured shelves. And then…disaster. They were all a bust. So I went back to the tried and true and I’m reading A Light in the Window, by Jan Karon, second in the Mitford series books.  For the uninitiated, Mitford is a charming town where nothing too terribly bad happens.  Truthfully, not all that much happens in general.  Perfect antidote to these times.  Oh, and another trip to the library netted another hopeful armload of books, among them The Fortress, a memoir by Danielle Trussoni. She had this rather wild and wonderful book about angels that I enjoyed a few years back. And, wait for it, this book is set mostly in a small town in the Languedoc region of France, where I go every year. (And you can, too.)  Not having a good book to read is like not writing….

(And don’t forget about my buddy J.D.’s book.)

What I’m Reading Online. This series by Shawn Coyne on love stories just wrapped up.  It is brilliant, and for the record, it is not just about romances.  He makes the point in earlier posts that love stories in one form or another underlie just about every story.  But, for the record, romances comprise 45% of the Ebook market on Amazon.

What I’m in the Market For: A new phone. Oh my checkered history with phones! I was an Iphone girl for a long time, and then I switched to Samsung, because I got bored and wanted something different.  Loved my Samsung Note 4 for a couple of months until it started doing odd things. Like rearranging the icons on my home page. Hanging up on people. Calling people.  And then there are the strange noises that occur in the middle of phone calls. I convinced the phone is tapped.

But, glory Hallelujah, this oddity is nearly paid off and I can get a new one! I was all set to go back to the Iphone and then they released the 7 without a headphone jack. People, I spend half my life on the phone coaching, I need to use headphones. So that’s out. I’ve narrowed the field to the Samsung 7 Edge or the Google phone (which I understand I can buy through Google, even though I use ATT. Does anybody have any suggestions? I would love to hear.

What I’m Excited About: Friday night at home by the fire. (Except it has been freakishly warm the last couple of days, so maybe no fire. Damn.) I’ve been out every night this week: Monday to Happy Hour with my biz partner and a new friend, Tuesday to babysit grandchildren, Wednesday to the bi-weekly writing group Debbie and I run, and last night to the Women Without Rules Happy Hour.  This last is a group of women who got together when one of them put out a call on Next Door Neighbor (one of my favorite obsessions).  They meet for coffee every Monday, have Happy Hours every other week, and do other fun activities as well. I don’t go nearly often enough because I enjoy it when I do.

What I’m Amazed About: That, even on the busiest days (and I had some doozies this week), the more regularly I take time out to meditate or knit a few rows on a current project, the more easily I get things done.  I just found an article related to this here. It speaks to the benefit of getting the freak away from computers and smart phones and tablets and having another hobby.

What is going on in your world? Please do leave a comment, I love hearing from you.

The Return of Five on Friday! Snippets for Your Writing and Reading Pleasure

I’m cautiously dipping my toe back in to bring you these Friday compendiums.  I started these last year and liked doing them a lot, but then I wandered away. As I do.  Probably because blogging has felt wonky and unpredictable to me over the last couple of years.

But, like so many others, I am feeling called to step up. And in the connection calls I’ve been enjoying with y’all, I’ve gotten feedback that you appreciate my blog posts, as well as the newsletter. (Thank you!) And my word of the year is launch. And, over the next couple of months, you’re going to see some design updates here.  So here we go, back to Five on Friday. But here’s my new idea: it’ll actually be four on Friday with the fifth thing being a tip or a prompt. How does that sound?  Let me know if you like it in the comments.  And let’s have at it:

What I’m Reading. The best thing I’ve read this year is something you can’t have yet. Sorry! I was a beta reader for my friend Angela Sanders’ latest caper, Cat in the Bag. Loved it!  Quirky, endearing characters, all former criminals of one sort or another, live together in an old folks home of sorts and get the better of anybody who tries to cross them.  Head on over and sign up for Angie’s list (her newsletter is so fun) so you can find out when this title will be released. She’d got lots of other mysteries you can read while you wait.

I also recently finished Leave Me by Gayle Forman and Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple. Both okay, but not stellar. Funnily enough, they both feature privileged white women whining about how hard their lives are.

What I’m Watching. Victoria, on Masterpiece Theater. Loving this series, with stellar acting and wonderful historical detail. I’m in awe of what odds the young Victoria faced and surmounted, as she became queen when she was barely of age. Highly recommended. And I’m in love with Rufus Sewell. Don’t tell my husband.

What I’m Loving. My Wild Unknown tarot cards. I find them uncannily accurate at unearthing my inner state. Can’t lie to yourself with these babies around! I tend to draw the same card repeatedly, and, as in so many aspects of life, keep drawing it until I learn the lesson the card references.  They are also useful for creative projects, as mentioned in my last blog post.

New Site I Discovered. I’m probably way late to the table on this one, but I just found Farnham Street. Fascinating collection of articles, that, as they tell it, “help you learn to make better decisions, create new ideas, and avoid stupid errors.” Their “best articles” tab has about a gazillion things I want to dive into.

Writing Tip.  PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE. We need your voice right now.  How can you share your work this week? Write a blog post, submit to an agent, send a story out, write or call your elected officials? If it seems overwhelming, break it down into tiny steps.  (My newsletter this week is on a similar topic. Its been much on my mind lately.  By the way, if you’re not on my list, the sign-up is to the right.)

Okay, amigos, that’s it for now. Remember to leave a comment and tell me what you think of the new-ish format (the addition of the writing tip or prompt).

Home at Last: What’s Going On

Pont du Diable, in my beloved Ceret, where I just spent two weeks.
Pont du Diable, in my beloved Ceret, where I just spent two weeks.

After three weeks in France, I’m home again. Even though the Google and my phone still feed me the occasional search result or ad in French, it is nice to be able to understand the language people are speaking around me. (It’s always a shock to land back in a U.S. airport on the journey home and suddenly realize everyone is speaking English.)  It has been awhile since I blogged, with the exception of the prompt posts, so here’s what’s going on (a sort of Five on Friday on Saturday):

Reading — I’m reading the first book in the Cal Claxton series by Warren Easley. It is set in and around Portland, and I think it’s terrific.  I don’t read mysteries or male authors very often, so that’s saying a lot. By the way, he’s reading at one of my favorite bookstores next weekend–more info here.  I read a light novel by one of my favorite authors, Barbara O’Neal, while in France–she is great for frothy women’s fiction.  This one was called A Piece of Heaven, and is set in Taos, one of my favorite places. I also finished Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, one of the books we taught at the workshop. It is not a quick read, but I loved it.

Movies — I didn’t watch as many movies on the long plane rides to and from Paris, because I was reading, but on the way I enjoyed the Melissa McCarthy movie The Boss and another one I can’t remember. Which says a lot about it, right?  On the way home I watched Me Before You. We taught this book two years ago and I’d loved it and the sequel and really wanted to see the movie. And I did. And I liked it.  A lot.

Writing — I’ve decided to do Nanowrimo. Want to do it with me? C’mon, it will be fun. I have an idea for a romance that I want to get out. Between now and then, I’ll be doing some prep work, and also taking the time to finish a novella I started this summer.  And maybe try to figure out how to rewrite the novel I finished a first draft of last year. That ought to keep me busy for a bit.  And by the way, my Bonne Chance bakery novel is in the hands of an editor, so think good thoughts, please.

Cooking — I woke to rain this morning, yay. I love the rain and I’ve been so looking forward to the return of fall weather.  “Live starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This turn in the weather coincided with the arrival of a new cookbook yesterday.  Called 30-Minute One-Pot Meals, it is full of things to cook now that it’s cooler out. (We mostly grill all summer.) You know how some cookbooks you get and there’s some stuff you like, but tons of stuff you’d never consider making? In this cookbook, there’s like two things, period, that I can’t imagine cooking. Score!

Fiber — I carefully toted my knitting with me to France, because I found the year before that it calmed me in times of anxiety (like when I had to mail a package at the post office).  But this year I didn’t pull it out as much.  Now that I’m home, I’m back at it.  I’m actually going back to the basics and trying to re-learns some things. I’ve knitted all my life, but first learned from my 4-H teacher and then taught myself stuff, which has meant picking up bad habits and missing a lot along the way. So I’m following the simple patterns on this site and I’ve already learned some cool new things.  There’s a lot to be said for the beginner’s mind.

And that’s it, that’s all I’ve got, except for this: Debbie and I are meeting on Monday to begin planning our 2017 writing workshop in France. We already know where it will bee–Collioure, where we stayed last year, a wonderful seaside resort town full of picturesque scenery, cute shops and fabulous restaurants.  Leave a comment or pop me a line if you’re interested and I’ll put you on the list.

What is going on with you? Do tell. I’ve missed you.

Five on Friday: July 8, 2016

RocksWell, howdy. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Five on Friday, mainly because I’ve been busy doing stuff but no particular things stand out, if you know what I mean.  But since I know you’re just dying for an update (ha, like you don’t have five million things going on yourself), here goes:

What I’m pondering: Podcasting. As in, good ones to listen to. Podcasts for writers and creatives. Got any recommendations? Also, as in, maybe I’d like to start one. Do you listen to podcasts? Would you be interested in one on motivation, inspiration, productivity, etc., for writers and creatives? It is somewhat of a big production so I’m pondering this even longer than usual.  I get these big ideas and then realize how much work they are going to be and forget about them.

What I’m watching: Le Tour de France. I’m so excited to be returning to that beloved country in two short months (I just booked my Paris hotel today) and I adore the shots of the glorious countryside. There’s only one problem–all those bicycles zooming along are like the best soporific ever. Hub and I both fall fast asleep.

What I’m reading: Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, so that I can read his newly released sequel, Everybody’s Fool. And because we might use it for the France workshop.  And books on organic gardening, weaving, and food.  Oh, and Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt’s book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes. 

What I’m looking forward to: A writing retreat on the Oregon coast with my friend and biz partner Debbie. Two full days to write! I’ll be working on the most recent rewrite of The Bonne Chance Bakery.  And a few other bits and pieces here and there.

What I’m excited about: Rocks! Some time tomorrow, God and the delivery truck willing, we will have gotten a yard of small river rock dumped on our driveway apron. We have an awkward spot in the backyard by the fence to our neighbor’s backyard. We love our neighbors. Our visiting dogs love their dogs.  So much running about and barking in this area ensues, leaving it unsuitable for gardening.  So it is going to become a sculpture garden.  It is likely that I am more excited about this project than hub, because my job is to rake rock as he loads wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load and transports it to the backyard. Fun times!

What are you working on? What has your attention?  Please leave a comment and let me know. Also–there’s one spot left in the France workshop. It’s going to be awesome!  Let me know if you’re interested.

Otherwhere: May 9th

pencil_notebook_writing_237689_lI have a veritable cornucopia of links for you today, so let’s dive right in. Here goes:

Writing

Finish that novel already! (I know, it’s not that easy.)

Writing historical fiction

For the love of it

Write great YA fiction

How to become a ghostwriter

Writing setting (a topic dear to my heart since I wrote my MFA critical thesis on landscape as character).

How to make comments and use track changes in Word.

Reading

The late science fiction writer Octavia Butler was a genius in many ways. Here’s a quote about how she read.

Travel

France porn. (We still have a spot left in our France retreat!)

Food

I’d much rather write than cook, but every day the same need arises: figure out something to fix for dinner. Here are some imminently makeable but not-necessarily-good-for-you ideas.

That’s it! That’s all I’ve got! What have you been browsing through lately?

 

Five on Friday: Itchy Edition

Behold, the lion cake.
Behold, the lion cake.

Good morning. It has been another week of lovely weather, though the record-breaking high eighties we had at the start of it were a bit too much for me.  Here’s what’s been going on:

The best thing that happened: Making a lion cake to celebrate my three-year-old granddaughter’s birthday. Her four-year-old cousin came to help, and his mother, thank God. (We were both exhausted at the end of the day.)  The cake idea comes from an ancient pamphlet distributed by Baker’s coconut waaaaay back in the day. It shows a variety of animal-shaped cake ideas, all sprinkled liberally with coconut, of course.  Olivia loves pouring through this little book. So we decided to make on. You can see the results.

What the lion cake was supposed to look like.
What the lion cake was supposed to look like.

The worst thing that happened: Chiggers. Never in my life have I given any thought to the chigger. You probably haven’t, either. I didn’t even know they existed in these parts. Until yesterday, when I told my naturopath about the massive mosquito attack I’d endured earlier in the week. She took one look at me and said, “Those aren’t mosquito bites, they are chiggers.” Okay, that made sense. Because, A. I didn’t know a mosquito could bite me in quite so many places (my legs are covered) and B. never in the whole entire history of the world, ever, have I itched so much.  Ever. I didn’t sleep for two nights.

Chiggers like shady spots with high grasses and low bushes and I picked them up on Sunday when I spent the afternoon at the park to celebrate the above-mentioned granddaughter’s birthday.  I’ll spare you the gory details, but thanks to two scrubby showers and lots of cortisone cream, I slept last night and I think the chiggers are on their way out.

What I’m reading: The Charles Duhigg book I mentioned yesterday, Smarter, Faster, Better.   Also, a novel by Cathy Lamb I’m not quite sure about. I’ve never read her before so I don’t know for certain, but it seems like a departure from previous books.  I’m reading it on Kindle and there are weird jumps that happen all in a rush and I can’t tell if it’s the formatting or the book.  I think it may be a crappy formatting job, because she’s got a gazillion books published. I have a couple more in a to-read stack from the library, so we shall see.  Oh, and the main character of this one is not immediately likeable–she drinks way too much and has anger management issues–despite the fact that she has suffered a terrible tragedy that makes her act these ways. I’m interested in how other authors handle unrelatable characters since I have a tendency to write them.  At least that’s what happened with Emma Jean.  The book is called The Last Time I Was Me and there’s a pretty interesting Q and A about it here.

What I’m Sad About: The death of Prince, of course.  I was never an uber-fan, but I do appreciate how he has stretched the boundaries of music, the music world, and creativity.   He died way too young.   I also, shockingly, just heard of the death of a friend who spent time at our retreats in France.  I feel really bad about that. RIP, Joe.

What I’m doing this weekend: Teaching How to Write a Book at Another Read Through bookstore in Portland. It is a very small group and we have room if you want some individualized attention to your latest effort. Join us at the store at 9:30 AM Saturday.

What’s going on in your life? What are you reading? What are you writing?