Five on Friday: Everything New

Hola! Its a beautiful Friday afternoon in Portland, Oregon, and I am posting the very first post on my new blog. Well, its not exactly new–just the design and the host (WordPress instead of Typepad).  So, there’s a bit of a learning curve here and I’ll be playing around the next few weeks.  But seeing as how it is Friday, its time for another edition of five things are going on in my life.

What I’m Working On: NaNoWriMo, in a cheating sort of way.  Cheating because I already had around 17,000 words written when I started last Sunday and the rules say you can’t start until November 1.  What I’m doing is using the collective energy to help me writing every day.  And its working–I’ve got 10,000 more words racked up then I did this time last week.

What I’m Reading: After You, by Jojo Moyes and a book on meditation.  Speaking of which:

What I’m Crazy About: Meditation.  I know.  But I’ve managed to put together a daily meditation practice for three weeks in a row now and I’m pretty happy about it.  Researchers say the brain changes after just six weeks of meditation and I believe it, because I feel different.  More in a blog post about this next week.

What I’m Doing This Weekend:  Attending Wordstock, our local literary festival, reconstituted after a year’s hiatus.

What I Need You To Be Aware Of: The fact that if you followed me on Typepad and arranged to get notification when a new post published, that might not have transferred over.  Then again, we’re not sure.  So if anybody got here via email, please let me know!  Meanwhile, I’ll try to figure out how to let you subscribe in the comments box.

And, um, yeah, there’s no photo–because I haven’t figured out how to add one yet.  All in good time, people, all in good time.

Five Things on Friday: August 14, 2015

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I saw a sunset just like this one!

Where I've Been: I kinda fell down on posting at the end of last week (no 5 on Friday post) and the beginning of this week.  That's because I was at the beach.  I stayed with my family at my daughter's in-law's house in Garibaldi (thank you, Dennis and Carlene).  We also visited old, old, old (and by old, I mean since birth) family friends in Arch Cape.  I shouldn't be posting about Arch Cape here because it is pretty unknown, as in on a weekday in summer the beach is deserted, and I would like it to remain that way.  So don't go there, (as one of our favorite governors famously told people about coming to Oregon to live), please.

What I've Been Reading: Have I obsessed about Dietland here yet?  It is the best book I've read in ages, so full of unflinching, radical and incredibly brave commentary about body image and the way women are treated in North America.   Every woman should read it immediately.  Men, you should too, but prepare to become very defensive.  I'm now reading The Ambassador's Wife, by Jennifer Steil.  I kinda put it down to read a couple books about writing, but I like it well enough.  

What I'm Excited About: A really, really, really, really good publisher is considering my novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery.  Think good thoughts, please!

Where I'm Teaching Next Fall and Winter: I'll be teaching my Get Your Novel Written Now class right here online this fall, starting in October and early-bird pricing is good until I leave for Europe on September 1st.  And then, for those of you farther east and south, I'm part of the staff of the reborn Room to Write in Nashville in January.  Join me at one or both.

What I'm Obsessing About: Clothes.  As in, what to take to Barcelona, Collioure, and Paris.  I gave away half my wardrobe (not exaggerating but I will admit to having a lot of clothes) earlier this summer and felt like I had nothing to wear.  So I've been ordering things like crazy.  I love shopping online.  I think I have it all figured out now.  And I realize how very lucky I am to have this problem.

Oh, and by the way, I'm going to try my best to post regularly from Europe.  Yeah, that worked out well last year.  But on the off chance you've had an idea for a guest post, this would be the time to hit me up with a query about it.

And also–follow me on Instagram because I'm going to be posting photos from my travels there, and at the moment you can see pictures of Poo and Mr. Rock.

What's going on in your world? Please do tell.

Five Things on Friday: July 24, 2015

AnotherReadThroughSignHere we go again.  It's still summer, still hot, but rain is forecast tomorrow.  Yay!

What I'm grateful for: Friends and family who turned out en masse last night to hear me read from The Bonne Chance Bakery manuscript, and to also hear Kayla Dawn Thomas read from her latest novel, Tackling Summer.  She and I are Twitter friends and since she lives in Washington and I live in Oregon we'd never met until last night.  So fun. She's awesome!  The bookstore where we read, Another Read Through, is awesome, too, and owner Elisa offers readings every Thursday night.  She's a huge supporter of local writers and a really cool person, too.

What I'm reading: The last two weeks I've been struggling through Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. She's a NYT bestselling author, but frankly, I was not overly impressed with her writing.  It was certainly serviceable enough, but the characters never grabbed or charmed me. I looked up the reviews on Amazon, and while many were over-the-top glowing, several agreed with me.  I also learned that she is known for her twists at the end, so I skimmed and skipped to find out what this one was.  And can I just say that if I'd bothered to read the whole thing I would have been furious? Like, throw-the-book-across-the-room, rip-it-into-shreds-even-though-it-was-a-library-book furious.  The twist was as hackneyed and stupid as the old it was all a dream schtick.  

Now I'm reading, sort of, Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  I say sort of, because it's sort of depressing.  Not giving anything away here to tell you the premise, which is that the moon gets whacked out of orbit by an asteroid and terrible things happen on earth.  It's all written from a teenager's perspective.  It is compelling, but sometimes I just can't take apocalyptic fiction. Although, in looking for a link I've just discovered this book launched a whole series, so that's hopeful.  I also discovered that Pfeffer retired from writing books last year, which I just don't get. I want to write books until they shovel me into the ground, many years into the future.

I'm also reading After Perfect, a memoir by Christina McDowell, the story of a wealthy family losing everything.  Another cheery one.  But its good.

Where I've Been: Seattle, last weekend.  More to the point, the suburbs south of Seattle, near the Sea-Tac airport.  My cousin (and fifty million other cousins) lives up there in a house a few feet from Puget Sound.  Nice spot, to put it mildly.  We were celebrating the wedding of her youngest daughter, and even though I nearly got arrested (I'm exaggerating the tiniest bit) by an overly zealous traffic-type person who didn't want to let us cross a street where a parade was congregating, it was a lot of fun.  After all, few things are better in life than watching your three-year-old grandson entertain a roomful of people by dancing to Shut Up and Dance.

 

What I Need: A housecleaner.  Every time I gaze (in a writerly manner) in any direction in this house I see cobwebs. Sigh.  At least I'm making progress on sorting through files and books in my office, in advance of moving it back downstairs.  I WILL get this project done before I leave for Europe in September.

What I'm Reading Online: I read a lot of blogs and newsletters, but surprisingly, not a lot on writing.  Oh well, my tastes have always been eclectic.  For writing blogs, I recommend Writer Unboxed (I love Barbara O'Neal's posts there), Janice Hardy's Fiction University, and Shawn Coyne's work on Story Grid.  Oh, also Steven Pressfield.  

And now, here's my compendium of non-writing blogs and newsletters I follow: thekitchensgarden, where New Zealand transplant Cecilia writes every day about her "farmy" and also dispenses all manner of practical wisdom; Dispatch From La and Kelly Rae Roberts for visual inspiration, emails from Steve Chandler and Brian Johnson for kick-ass motivation, and Leonie Dawson for a combination of visual, crazy, and down-to-earth inspiration.  I know there are more, but these are enough for now.

And that's enough from me for now! What's going on with you as we cruise toward the end of July? I think we should all take a cue from Henry and get some dancing in this weekend!

Author Interview: Kayla Dawn Thomas

I'm happy to share an interview with my friend, Kayla Dawn Thomas, today.  Actually, Kayla and I have only met through social media (primarily Twitter and Instagram), but that is about to change. Because this summer, she and her family are visiting Portland.  And on July 23rd, the two of us will be doing a reading at a cool local bookstore, Another Read Through on Mississippi, one of Portland's happening neighborhoods.  I love this bookstore, and I love that the owner, Elisa Saphier, is a huge supporter of local authors.  So come on out and join us on the 23rd at 7 PM.  And even if you can't come that night, please do drop into the store if you live in town or are visiting. And now, without further ado, let's find out more about Kayla Dawn. KaylaDawn

Tell us a little about yourself. I’m a family, book, wine lovin’ lady. My husband, daughter, and I are living a mostly peaceful, quiet life in Eastern Washington (Go Cougs!) 

How and why did you get started writing novels? 

It was something I wanted to do since about second or third grade. That’s when the reading bug really bit me, and I wanted to make cool books like the ones I was tearing through. I wrote stories in one form or another all the way through high school. Some harsh college professors slashed my writing confidence, so there was about a decade where I didn’t write anything. Then one day in my early thirties, I started journaling. I was battling anxiety and depression. The idea was to work through that, but what ended up happening was a novel! My childhood dream came true in the midst of that darkness. It’s amazing how life works.

Please tell us a little bit about each of your titles.

Swept Up is my first novel. It was the result of scribbling in that journal. The process of writing broken characters and working them through healing, and of course, falling in love was very cathartic.

TS Cover finalThe Jenna Ray Stories have been a hoot to write. It all started when a Twitter friend posted a picture of a note he found in a library book that read: Have a stranger come to the bar-tell her he loves her-asks her to go to Chicago with him the next weekend-she doesn’t go. I let my imagination run wild and created a woman vigilante who’s life’s mission is to put an end to wandering penis syndrome (AKA cheating husbands). After writing Narrow Miss on a whim, my husband encouraged me to make it a series. Currently I’m working on the fourth installment. At the moment, I believe there will be five total.

 Tackling Summer is my newest novel. It’s very near and dear to my heart as it takes place on a cattle ranch very similar to the one I grew up on. It was fun to revisit childhood memories and the beautiful mountains that left their indelible mark on me. There are so many adventures one can have out in the sticks. I have a feeling there will be more books in this type of setting. 

 Why did you decide to go the indie publishing route?  Do you plan to continue in this arena? 

Ahhh, the million dollar question. First off, I’ve always wanted to work for myself. After doing LOTS of homework and realizing I could turn my passion for writing into a viable business, there was no question of the direction I would take. The idea of skipping over the gatekeepers and doing things my way was beyond exciting. At this time, I plan to continue with indie publishing.

 Who inspires you?  In the same vein, who do you like to read? 

 It’s tough to narrow down who inspires me the most! First off, my mom and sister. They are both successful entrepreneurs in different fields, and it’s been very inspiring to watch them grow their businesses. Toby Neal and Shanna Hatfield are the two female indie authors I want to be when I grow up. They’re producing great work, run impressive businesses, and are downright good people. They always make time to answer my newbie questions and have been so encouraging to me.

I read a little bit of everything except horror. I hate being scared and/or grossed out. I like happy endings. I turn to Shanna Hatfield when I want something light and friendly. Janet Evanovich is my got to when I want to laugh. Toby Neal and J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts oftentimes take care of my need for a mystery/romance combo fix. I guess there’s a common thread running through that list. I like a good love story, and they can take many forms.

 Writing plans for the future? 

I’m working on the fourth novella in the Jenna Ray Stories. I’m hoping to have that out in early fall. I’m also sketching an outline for a novel based around Webb Baker’s sister, Celeste, from Swept Up. I knew the moment I typed “the end” on that manuscript that Celeste had a story to tell.

Where can we connect with you? You can find me over at my website www.kayladawnthomas.com. My monthly newsletter is the best way to keep up with my new releases, sales, events, special giveaways. I also spend a fair bit of time on Facebook

Kayla Dawn Thomas writes general and women’s fiction, as well as chick lit novels and novellas. Her mission is to give her readers an escape, from a chronically busy, overwhelmed world offering them the opportunity to settle in and discover someplace new, maybe crack a smile, and find a little romance. She’s been a storyteller all her life. Before she knew how to write, she told stories to a jump rope. Thankfully that stage ended once she learned how to work a pencil. Now she’s blessed to be able to write full time and looks forward to sharing her crazy ideas with readers. Always a romantic, Kayla managed to marry her high school sweetheart. They have a very bright, active nine-year-old daughter.

When not writing or being mom, Kayla can most likely be found in a cozy spot with a good book. Reading, sunshine, and hanging out with family and friends bring her joy.

Five Things on Friday

Sunflower-remind-flower-81168-lIt's summertime, in case you hadn't noticed, and my brain is feeling lazy.  So, inspired by Tim Ferriss, who sent out a 5-Bullet Friday to subscribers (I'm one, though I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with him), I thought I'd write a lazy blog post.  Besides, today is a holiday, or sort of one (for those of you not in the states, tomorrow is our Independence Day, more often known as the Fourth).  So here goes:

Book I'm Reading: Little Night by Luanne Rice.  Jury is still out on this one, a women's fiction novel to be sure.  I've read a ton of her books so I'm sure I'll end up liking this, too.  (By the way, she's got a nice piece on writing novels on her blog.)  And, since I'm feeling lazy, I'll add a couple more books I've read lately rather than write a whole post on this topic.  I finally got The Girl on the Train from the library, and read it in a couple of days.  The first couple hundred pages were fantastic, and then I got a bit weary of it all.  But read it as a primer on adding conflict–lots of it–to your novels.  Also read A is For Alibi by Sue Grafton (duh) for purposes of a structure discussion. This is the first book in the series that is currently at X, coming this summer, and it held up well.  I loved these books when I first discovered them and got to about F or G, before I got bored with the same set-up over and over.  But this series was groundbreaking in presenting a female private detective, and its fun to read a book set before the internet and cellphones changed the world.

What I'm Writing: My next novel.  It involves crystals and female correspondents of the journalist type and that is all I will say.  (The macaron novel is currently being shopped.)  Oh, and I'm managing to pen the occasional blog post.

What I'm Listening To: I don't listen to music when I write and I always feel a bit inferior when I read the elaborate play lists that other novelists compile for each book.  But I do love music, and in our kitchen the radio is always on (weird old-school habit I got from my mother) and it is always tuned to our local station, KINK-FM, which plays a fantastic variety of tunes.  Go to the website and stream it and you'll see what I mean.

What I'm Complaining About: The heat.  It was 97 degrees here yesterday, and that's after a couple of weeks of temps in the 90s, with more to come.  Bear in mind that I live in Portland, where the joke is that summer starts on July 5th, the day after Independence Day, which is always rainy. Not this year.  We've had a crazy warm and dry winter and spring and now a hot, hot summer.  Ugh.

What I'm Loving:  Getting up every morning by 5:30 and sitting outside on the deck writing.  It's my favorite time of day.

So, what's up with you this summer Friday?  Please share.  You can use one of my "whats" above or create your own. I'd truly love to hear what's going on with you!

Photo by remind.

Books I Read in April (And Part of May)

WhatremainsHerewith, my semi-regular list of books I've been reading.  Why? Because I love and adore reading posts what others have been reading (so write more of them, y'all).  And I figure you might get a few ideas from my list.  

Here goes:

Fiction

Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther. (See bonus author video at the end of this post.) I enjoyed this novel about three women of different classes crossing from Europe to New York on an ocean liner.  Parts of it were a bit contrived, but it kept me turning pages.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson.  This is the story of a single woman who owns a bookstore in Denver.  Nothing so rare about that, right?  Well, this was set in the sixties, so it was unusual.  But every night she goes to bed and dreams that she has a whole other life, complete with adorable husband and children.  I thought this one was really well done.

The Shortest Way Home by Juliette Fay.  She's a wonderful women's fiction writer, and I think I've now read all her books.  This one is about Sean, a male nurse who comes home after spending much of the last 20 years working in war-torn countries.   Right in my wheelhouse. Loved it.

Secrets of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore.  Whoops.  Didn't finish this one.  Slow in starting and I lost interest.

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante.  I started this one in April, and finished it in May.  Ha.  I actually read it on the plane to and fro Nashville.  As I've been telling people this one is brilliant.  It is dense and gritty and claustrophobic and sometimes difficult to keep track of all the characters (buy a hardcopy because you'll continually flip back to the cast of characters in the front), but brilliant.  It is the first of four in the series called the Neapolitan Novels.  They are set in the city of Naples and follow the intense friendship of Elena and Lila from childhood on.  Oh, and I love this–the author's name is a pseudonym and nobody knows who she really is.  I've got the second one in the series and have to sit on my hands not to rip through it.

Besides the novels, I read (more like perused) a couple of beautiful books on embroidery. (But have I yet picked up needle and thread? Um, no.) I also leafed through a title on homesteading, hoping to glean inspiration for you own little back forty and read part of a book on how to plot your novel. (I'm still working on that one so don't feel I can list it yet).

I've already finished a couple of really great titles in May, but they will have to wait until next month's post.  And, up next….ta dum….

My friend Helene Dunbar's book, What Remains.  When I was in Nashville last week, I was so honored to receive one of her first two copies of the book.  Years ago, at a now-defunct writing retreat called Room to Write, Helene and I brainstormed ways to end her novel.  Mostly what I did was sit and listen to her talk, but she credits that conversation with saving the book.  I am SO excited to read it!

 Here's that video I promised:

What, pray tell, have you been reading?

Guest Post: Who Will Read My Writing?

Please welcome my friend and fellow writer Anthony J. Mohr to the blog today.  This post made me laugh out loud–probably because I'm all too familiar with the sentiment behind it.  And I've been an admirer of Anthony's essays about growing up in Hollywood back in the day when it was still truly glamorous for quite some time now.  (He does write about other things, too, and just as gracefully.)  Enjoy!

Sometimes (okay–all the time) when I’m writing, I wonder who will read my work. Not just whether the audience will consist of millennials or astronauts, but whether an old friend or a long lost crush will happen to see it thanks to a Google search or, better yet, because someone will tell her, “Hey, you used to know that guy Mohr? You’ve got to read what he just published in the Left Toe Review.”

That hasn’t occurred yet. Everything I’ve published seems to have vanished, passing by the earth’s seven billion souls without touching anyone. I understand. After all, how many people subscribe to the Left Toe Review? But I did make it, once, into the Christian Science Monitor and, twice, into Chicken Soup for the Soul. And still nothing from the long losts.

Twenty-five years ago, I walked by a news truck that was parked along a West Los Angeles street. When I stopped to see what they were doing, the reporter asked for my view on some issue of the day. Of course I agreed to say something on camera. I was a lawyer, then, and thought the exposure would land me a client. I answered the question; they broadcast five seconds of my brilliance; and that night, my phone began ringing. At least ten friends saw me. So did a potential client, who never paid his bill.

For years my friend Amber has been struggling to escape from her reporting job at one of those tabloids, the type that runs headlines like “Cheerleader Becomes Dear Leader’s Sex Slave.” Amber longed to write something meaningful, an essay that would spark debates across the chattering class. It took four years of research and at least forty drafts, but one of the nation’s most cerebral journals accepted her piece about – if I remember right — the transformation of Asian society and its impact on post cold war diplomacy. The day it hit the newsstands, Amber stayed home by her phone, waiting to hear from the world.

Her phone rang once.

It was the wimpy nerd who had bothered her through high school, a kid who’d been too dense to take a hint. She hadn’t been able to shake free of him until graduation. Now, twenty years later, thanks to Amber’s assiduous efforts, he was back, still trying to cadge a date.

So I ask once more: why do I bother to write? Other than attaboys from close friends to whom I send links to my stuff, I’ve resolved to hear from precisely nobody. I use my imagination – the same imagination I call on to write — in order to envision someone reading my story. I imagine that person showing it to her spouse, who at the end blinks back a tear or falls asleep thinking about my stunning last line instead of his kid’s dental bill. I refuse to imagine that person tossing my pages on the floor before he turns out the light.

Photo Judge MohrAnthony J. Mohr’s work has appeared in or is upcoming in, among other places, California Prose Directory, The Christian Science Monitor, DIAGRAM, EclecticaFront Porch JournalHippocampusThe MacGuffinWar, Literature & the Arts, andZYZZYVA. Three of his pieces have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. By day he is a judge on the Superior Court in Los Angeles. Once upon a time, he was a member of The L.A. Connection, an improv theater group.

Books I’ve Been Reading

Books_Olympus_ompc_79830_hI started this series of posts at the end of January with a blog post titled, Books I Read in January. And I fully intended to do one post a month.

But then my life blew up, I got an agent, and I needed to turn my attention to rewriting my book.  So my blog posts suffered.  So did my reading–at least a little bit.  I haven't been reading quite as much as usual, but I've still been reading a lot.  And, let me tell you, reading novels helped me with the rewrite.

I'll explain in a minute, but first, let's discuss: do you read similar books to yours while you are in the process of writing or rewriting?  I do.  Let me explain.  I likely would not read another novel set in a macaron bakery (and I'm hoping to God there isn't another one) but I do read women's fiction, and lots of it.  I know some writers fear that if they read novels that are too similar to their's, they will be unduly influenced.  But I'm the opposite.  I often feel like I need to inhale words in order to spit them back out on the page.  And while I'm inhaling those words, I'm continuing the lifelong process of learning how to put a decent novel together.

While I was rewriting, for instance, I read How to Knit a Heart Back Home.  (See below.)  Rachael Herron, the author, did some things with description that were active and engaging, not just dead on the page.  And since my agent and her reader both felt I needed to work on my descriptions of characters (and ironically, macarons), I studied what Rachael did and copied her a little.  Of course, it came out completely different because I'm writing a completely different book with different characters.  What I copied was her approach to craft. 

And that, my friends, is why we writers read.  Because it teaches us about writing.  So here's what I've been reading since January.

Fiction.

How to Knit a Heart Back Home, by Rachael Herron.  I love this series of books set in Cypress Hollow, a fictional small town in California.  All the characters are knitters in one way or another, and she has a knack for creating characters you love.  She's recently branched out into stand-alone books, and her latest book, just released, is Splinters of Light.  I also recommend Pack Up the Moon.

At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon.  I read the most recent book in the series after I got it for Christmas, and have now gone back and started at the beginning of the series.  The books are gentle, sweet, and yet have a depth to them based on the protagonist, Father Tim, who is and Episcopal priest.  Plus, my Mom loved them.  She'd be thrilled I'm finally reading them.

The Lanvin Murders, by Angela Sanders.  Angie is a local author, and a friend.  She is doing very well with this series set in a vintage clothing shop.  (This novel is the first in the series; there are two more already.) Subscribe to her monthly newsletter for all kinds of cool info!

The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter.  A fun book, but I wasn't as impressed with it as I was with his novel, Beautiful Ruins (which we used as our teaching book the first year in France).  Not sure why this one didn't hit with me.

Non-Fiction

Gotta Read It, by Libbie Hawker.  A quick read (and inexpensive–its a $.99 ebook) on how to write a synopsis.  It's really about how to write a pitch for a completed book, but I found it helpful in thinking through my next novel as well.  (And I just bought her book on how to outline a story, called Take Off Your Pants).

The Bible.  I took a class in February and March called Jesus as a Wisdom Teacher, in which we examined the actual words of the man, as opposed to the religions which grew up around him. Woo-ee, I learned some interesting things.  And a whole new respect for the guy.  There were a couple other books I was supposed to read for this class, but, um, I really didn't, fascinated as I was. I needed to focus on my rewrite, and there was limited bandwidth in the old brain.

In Process

How the Brain Heals Itself, by Norman Doidge.  This is a wonderful book, full of amazing research about what the brain can do.   There's a lot of medical and technical stuff in it, but the author is adept at using stories to carry the serious stuff.  Even so, I'm a bit stalled on it.  Will continue to beat away at the pages.

Start with Why, by Simon Sinek.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was reading this last time around.  It is a great book, I just got stuck in the middle when I suddenly had to put everything aside and focus on the novel rewrite.  I'm determined to finish it.

The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson.  By day, Kitty, our heroine runs a book store in Denver in the 60s. But at night, her dreams lead her to a different life–one with a handsome husband and two adorable kids.  Slowly, the nighttime dreams become more and more real…I'm enjoying this debut novel a lot.

Books on Embroidery and Knitting.  For research.  Really.  I swear I don't just look at them for the pretty pictures.

Up Next

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  I think I have the time to start this one now.  (I've been told not to open it until I have time to sink into it.)

Younger, by Suzanne Munshower, which was free as an Amazon preview for Prime subscribers.  I know her from Twitter and this book was published by and Amazon imprint which shot to the number one spot of all Kindle ebooks.  So, why not?  Plus, it looks entertaining.

So that's it for now.  Do tell: what are you reading?

Photo by Brian B.

Books I Read in January

(Yes, I know–I promised Part Two of the Care and Tending of Writers.  It is all written in my journal, I just need to get it up on the computer.  That will happen next week. Promise, and my fingers aren't crossed behind my back, either.)

Today I'm starting a new series on the books I've read each month.  Why? Well, first of all because if you are a writer or you want to be a writer, you should be inhaling books.  I find that the more words I put on the page, the more words I need in ingest.  Really.  And second of all, because I love reading lists of what other people are reading.  I get all kinds of ideas that way, so maybe you will from mine.

Here goes: Annabench-shakespeare-paris-1147326-h

Fiction

The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal.  I found one of her books at the library and read it cuz it looked interesting. Turns out she writes the kind of books I love–women's fiction extraordinaire.  (The first one of hers I read was The All You Can Dream Buffet, about bloggers and Airstream trailers–what's not to love?) This one got a little draggy in the middle but I stuck with it and I'm glad I did.  It helped that the main character was a Unity minister, and I attend the Unity church here in Portland.  

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel.  This one was a bit of a disappointment.  I love, love, loved, and even adored her novel form 2014, Station Eleven. Lola is an earlier effort and I found it a bit dry and distant.  But she does really interesting things with structure and for that it was worth reading.

Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante.   A man is murdered at the Westin Hotel in Palo Alto and it quickly comes out that he had three wives.  Slightly unbelievable but a page turner for sure.  The problem for me was that I didn't like any of the viewpoint characters much and the ending was a great, thudding, dud.

Somewhere Safe, With Somebody Good by Jan Karon.  This one is still in progress–I'm about half done.  It is the most recent in the Mitford series of novels–stories set in a charming small town in North Carolina.  There are quite a number of these books, and they are very popular.  I am reading it because I'm interested in how series are put together.  What I find fascinating is that, at least in the first 100 pages of this novel (I'm still reading it), not all that much happens.  And yet–I can't put this book down.  I surmise it is because the conflict is of the day to day sort that we all face–dealing with a chronic health problem that is under control but needs to be paid heed to; annoying friends; befuddling neighbors; spouses we love but whose brains remain a mystery to us. 

Non-fiction

Delancey by Molly Witzenberg.  Another one I plucked off the shelf at the library.  Its a memoir by the writer of the blog Orangette, about the process of she and her husband opening a restaurant. Apparently the pizza place is quite famous as I asked my friend Linda, who lives in Seattle about it, and she said of course she'd heard of it.  I skimmed through parts of this book, but overall I enjoyed it–because I always enjoy stories about people who are doing things, especially when they are creative things.  Oh, and there are recipes–and if you are as obsessed with dates as I am, find this book for the date recipe (short version: saute them in olive oil until the skins turn crispy and sprinkle with salt).

Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  I'm loving this one.  It is business-y, but also of great interest to anyone doing creative work.  Sinek writes about the value of starting from the inside, with your why, instead of your what or how.  He uses Apple as an example of a business that always keeps their why (challenging the status quo to empower the individual), as opposed to their what (selling computers, at least initially) front and center.  His insights into this are brilliant, and I found myself applying them to character motivation and plot in my stories.

Make Your Own Rules Diet by Tara Stiles.  I've not gotten very far in this one, but she emphasizes healthy foods, yoga and meditation, so what's not to like?

Up Next (We'll see if they make the list of books read next month)

Macdeath by Cindy Brown.  This is by a friend of mine.  I attended her book release party last week, which was standing room only as a troupe of local actors did scenes from the book.  Quite entertaining!  This is the first in a series of mysteries set in the world of the theater, and I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter.  We used his book Beautiful Ruins as our book-in-common at our first France retreat, and I hear this book is really fun. I think its safe to say that some of us have a bit of a writer's crush on him.  He's speaking in town next month and I'm excited to hear him.  I promise I'll behave.

All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  This one is getting rave reviews, and from people whose opinion I trust, not just the critics, so I'm going to bite.  

So that's what's on my nightstand.  What have you been reading this month?

Photo by austinevan. 

Wednesday Within: The Tension of Reading

Book-books-page-35496-lLike so many other writers, I came to writing through reading.  From the time I first learned to recognize words on the page, I was fascinated with those words.  And from the time I figured out that somebody actually put those words there, that's what I wanted to be–a writer.  I remember back when I was a freshman in college, discovering that I could major in journalism, and more to the point, that there was actually a practical application for my love of writing.

But, as I said, before my love of writing came my love of reading.

For something that has had such a big impact on my life, you'd think I'd remember the moment when it all came together and I started to read.  But I don't.  I don't remember if someone taught me, or if I figured it out myself.  What I do remember is my excitement about it, and proudly sharing this accomplishment with a fellow first-grader.  (We were a bit slower in those days–nowadays kids learn to read long before they hit elementary school, it seems.) The other student–all I remember was that she was female–sneered and said, "You can't read!  You're lying!" (I'm pretty sure this scarred me for life, in subtle ways like sometimes being unwilling to step into the limelight for fear someone will shout the adult equivalent of "You can't read! You're lying!")

I thought about all this recently because I read a really good book.  Now, I read a lot, as all writers should, everything from magazines and newspapers to blogs and books.  But even with all that reading, it has been a long time since I read a book that transported me as much as this novel did.  It is called Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, and you should go buy it or get it from the library NOW.  Don't let the subject matter turn you off.  On the surface, it is about the world 15 years after a flu pandemic has wiped out most of the world's population, and all of the infrastructure we take for granted, too, like electricity and the internet and cell phones.  But really, it is about the importance of art to our lives, the strange and wonderful connections between people, and hope.  (It was also a National Book Award finalist this year, one of the first science fiction novels to have been so nominated.  Though I would not really call it science fiction.)

And it reminded me of the tension of reading. 

What do I mean by the tension of reading?  To me, it occurs in two ways:

1. Between wanting to find out what happens and not wanting the book to end.  I have this thing I do when I'm reading: I get so curious about what's going to ensue that the tension becomes unbearable.  So I open the book further ahead and peek–just a quick glimpse–at a page. Yeah, sometimes this backfires and gives away big spoilers, but often it gives just enough of a hint to defuse the tension and let me keep going.  And sometimes it makes me think one thing is going to happen and then something completely different does! (Serves me right.)

2. Between wanting to start a new book to have the same transporting experience again–but not wanting to leave the world of the book you just finished.  When I finished Station Eleven, I wanted to start another book immediately because I wanted to duplicate the reading experience I just had.  I'd just been to the library and brought home a stack of books–a particularly good haul, I'd thought.  But when I went to peruse my pile and choose what to read next, none of them appealed.  Much as I wanted to enter a new reading world, the old one of Station Eleven still lingered. 

This was really the first time I've identified these tensions in such a direct way.  I've felt each of them for years, of course, but never really fully named them.  And, as a writer, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that tension is the most important element of any work of fiction (and I daresay non-fiction, too). I'm quite sure the tensions of reading and writing are related.

So those are my Wednesday thoughts this week.  Please leave a comment--do you have a weird reading habit?  I know one of my loyal readers, who shall remain nameless, reads the end of the book first!  So c'mon, fess up–what are your reading habits?

Photo by pontuse.