Book Review

An Aid To Kicking it in Your Writing

KITW_400_wideThis is a book review for which I did not receive compensation, but did receive a free copy of the book.

"I would go as far as and I could and hit a wall, my own imagined limitations.  And then I met a fellow who gave me his secret, and it was pretty simple.  When you hit a wall, just kick it in."  Patti Smith

Such is the advice that playwright Sam Shepard gave to singer, writer and all-around awesome person Patti Smith and it is this same advice that inspired Barbara Abercrombie's book of writing exercises and prompts.

The book is called Kicking in the Wall: A Year of Writing Exercises, Prompts, and Quotes to Help You Break Through Your Blocks and Reach Your Writing Goals.  At the top of each page, you'll find an inspirational quote on writing and then two or three writing prompts.  Abercrombie encourages writers to spend five minutes on each prompt.  At the end of the book, she includes examples of exercises completed by her students–which gives inspiration to see how far-ranging you can go in just five minutes.

Here's a sample of some of her prompts:

–Write what you know of your parents' courtsthip.  Is there one common story, or are their two versions?  Or more? Or no stories?

–Write about an apology that failed.

–Write what you are.  Start with "I am…"

–Write about a transformation you once had.  Or need to have now.

–Write an opening of a scene with someone asking a question about a pair of shoes.

As you can see, this book is not a book that you read for information on writing, there's none of that in it.  Rather, this is a book you keep beside your computer and use when you get stuck.  So often we writers tend to stare off into space when we're blocked, when really the best thing to do is figure out a way to get writing again. 

Prompts and exercises can be very useful to get words on the page, and I recommend using them in a variety of ways, which is why I think this book can be very helpful for writers from beginner to professional.  (I have my own page of prompts, which you can access here.  Mine are of a bit different type, simple made-up sentences which encourage creative responses.)

Kicking in the Wall is due out May 13th.

Do you use writing prompts to jump-start your work?


Adventures with Book Reviews

In my continuing effort to be as transparent as possible about the publishing process, today our topic is book reviews.

As in, how to get some.

This will be a short post, because I'm not yet adept at this skill, apparently.  Kidding, at least about the short post part.

But book reviews are important because they sell books.  There are several places to get your book reviewed:

  • Amazon
  • Goodreads
  • Other book sites such as Shelfari and a gazillion I don't know
  • Book review bloggers

And, yeah, I know there's more places, like sites where you can buy reviews, but I'm not going to focus on them today.  I'm going to focus on book blogger reviewers.  Who are, as far as I can tell, very overworked and under appreciated.  They get inundated with requests to review books, probably mostly from people they've never heard of, and once they agree, they have to read the book and then write a review.

I don't know about you, but I think writing reviews is hard.  I ran a book review blog for awhile and took it down when it got overwhelming, which happened in about three months.  The minute I put that baby up (and bear in mind, it had like, 2 readers) I was bowled over by how publicists, authors and others hit me up for reviews.  Actually, I thought it was great and said yes to nearly every request, because–free books!  What's not to like?  But then you have to read them, and think about them, and write about them in a coherent way.  And give your opinion.  And this all takes time.  I always felt like I was behind with my reading, and half the time I was reading because I had to for the blog, not because I wanted to.

(By the way, every once in awhile publishers find me on this blog and ask me to review a book.  I've got a really good one coming up soon.  Well, I think its going to be good, I don't actually have the book yet.)

And my experience in running a book review site was a few years ago, before the current self publishing boom.  Which I gather has increased requests for book reviews exponentially, given the number of book review sites which will not consider self-published novels.  (Most of them are very clear that they have nothing against self-published novels, they just have to draw the line somewhere.)

I have to tell you, this process reminds me a lot of the process of submitting the book in the first place.  Yeah, bad news.  You have to go through it all again.  For real.  Not kidding.

So here's the process I'm going through:

1.  Research sites.  My publisher sent me a list of over 700 sites, and I've come up with lists through my own research.  This is a time-consuming part of the process.  You have to go to the blog and check it out.  Is it still current?  Does it cover your genre?  What is their review policy? I'm finding many, many blogs that are no longer accepting books for review, most temporarily, because they are so inundated.  And often I land on one that hasn't published in months.  I get this, because it happened with my book review site.  I just couldn't handle it anymore.

2.  Query them.  There's that dreaded word–query, the one you thought you'd never ever hear again once you were published.  Ha! I have a standard letter I use which I personalize for each blogger I write.  Part of this, for me, is to try to feel okay about asking complete strangers to do something for you–read your book and review it.   Of course, they get a free book, but they have to do a fair amount of work for that book.  In terms of man-hours, they'd probably be better off just to buy it.

3.  Wait for the replies to inundate your inbox.  Um, this part hasn't happened for me yet.  I've probably sent out 15 requests and gotten back….wait for it…one reply.  (Which was a yes, and its a good site.  This blogger is overwhelmed with review requests, but is going to interview me.  I will promote the hell out of her interview, I can tell you that!)

So that's the process, and as you can tell, I've not mastered it.  I think I feel more comfortable with guest posts, in that I take on part of the work–the writing of the post itself.  But I'm going to keep going with this review process in spare moments and see what happens.

What's your experience with reviews–both getting them and giving them?  Also, do book reviews influence what you read?  Where do you read most of your reviews?

**Are you struggling with even getting to the point of publishing, i.e., with your writing?  The best way to improve your writing skills is to work one on one with a mentor.  Like me!  I offer a variety of services around coaching writers, and you can check them out here.

Photo by austinevan.

Book Review: Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine alone.

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

by Jennifer Chiaverini

After seeing the movie Lincoln, now nominated for a gazillion Oscars, I've gotten curious about all things Lincoln.  (The movie is that compelling–if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.) So I jumped at the chance to review this book.

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker is historical fiction, based on the real historical character of Elizabeth Keckley, who was, as the novel relates, the dressmaker and confidant of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.  Keckley was a slave who bought her own freedom and consequently started her own dressmaking business in Washington City (now Washington D.C., of course).

There was a lot that I liked about this novel.  I soaked up all the historical details and loved learning about Elizabeth Keckley, who, in her later years wrote what turned out to be a scandalous memoir.  (It was scandalous because she revealed many intimate details of her friendship with Mrs. Lincoln.) To me, there's nothing like an historical novel to bring history to life.  I'll fall asleep reading a non-fiction history book, but hand me an historical novel and my bedside light stays on late.

While much of the book was well-written (and Chiaverini clearly is an adept writer, as she's had several New York Times bestsellers) and brought history to life for me, I did feel that an over-abundance of narrative summary slowed certain passages down.   During the years of the Civil War, for instance, there was much relating of the progress of various battles that were perhaps necessary to the book but not written in an engaging manner.

After we slogged through those years, the book picked up and I ended up liking it a lot.  So, I recommend it if you're interested in the Lincoln years.

Have you seen the movie Lincoln?  Are you interested in that era?  Leave me a comment!

Reflected In You: The Hullabaloo About Erotic Romance

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine.

Reflected in You, by Sylvia Day, is currently number one on the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list.  The reasons for this are a mystery to me, but then so is the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray, and by many accounts the Crossfire Novels, of which Reflected in You is book two, is a Gray clone.

I thought it would be fun to review this book to see what all the fuss around erotic romance is about.  I do have a bit of experience with the genre, having endured a brief career editing it a few years ago, but I thought things might have changed since then. (Read a post I wrote about writing erotic romance here.)

As in, I thought maybe an actual storyline might have become important.

But, no.  Not so much.

Because in erotic romance, the story is all about the romance.  So once the two lovers have mated, there needs to be ways to keep them apart.  And therein lies one problem I have with this genre, which is that keeping two people who are attracted to each other apart can come across as contrived, to put it mildly. Very mildly.

The other problem is that the main story line is the romance.  All the rest of it–minor career issues, a roommate with love problems of his own–seems thrown in for seasoning, nothing more.  And honestly, watching two people histrionically come together and break up over and over again is not my exact thing.

But I am no doubt in the minority here, because erotic romance is a hot, hot genre.  If you're interested in writing it, I think the Crossfire series is probably an excellent introduction to the field.

Book Review: Daring Greatly

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine.

What is vulnerability?

If you are like most people, you probably answered weakness.

But shame researcher Brene Brown argues in her new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, that vulnerability is actually not weakness.  Instead, she says, "It's being all in."  It's showing up and allowing ourselves to be seen. It's daring to share our authentic selves, instead of hiding in shame. This ability to show up and be who we are is daring greatly (the title is taken from a Theodore Roosevelt quote).

Sounds a lot like what we as creatives, do, doesn't it?  Which is exactly why I wanted to review this book.  And Brown does have a section on creativity, which I read avidly.  Brown argues that shame is the opposite of vulnerability and its shame that we feel when our inner critic (she calls it a gremlin) gets activated and says things like, "Dare not! You're not good enough."

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?  We talk about variations on these themes all the time on this blog.  But I like Brown's approach of talking about the shame tapes that get played in our heads as we try to work.  She also reminds us that this shame may not even be the result of what we're currently doing, or the project we're working on: "Sometimes shame is the result of us playing the old recordings that were programmed when we were children, or simply absorbed from the culture."

There's more, so much more to this book, including discussions of narcissism (which is really just the fear of being ordinary), bullying, shame in our culture and how to parent in a daring greatly way.

It's a great read, with lots of thought-provoking ideas.

How about you?  Do you get consumed with shame when you are writing?  (We all do, some of just cope with it better than others.) How do you deal with it?

Review: Artist’s Way Toolkit

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions are mine.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a huge fan of Julia Cameron.  I've done the program laid out in The Artist's Way on my own and in groups led by Julia herself (in Taos, New Mexico, one of my favorite places on earth).  I think that Julia's work on creativity is seminal and that nobody has beat it yet for its sheer power to get people creating.  I also believe that every writer and artist can benefit from her book.

So I leapt at the chance to review Julia's new site, an online collection of tools from the book.   There are all kinds of interactive goodies here, including a daily quote from one of Julia's books, such as "The reward for attention is always healing" and your choice of creative affirmations from Julia, like, "I love others for their true selves."

The site is cleverly laid out like a notebook with tabs featuring:

  • My Contract
  • Artist's Dates
  • Artist's Way Exercises
  • Creative Pages
  • Creative Notes

You'll notice that "Creative Pages" and "Creative Notes" both feature blank pages which you can fill with your own words, but there is not a space anywhere for Morning Pages (three pages written stream of consciousness first thing in the morning).   This is because Julia believes that morning pages should be written by hand, because the hand has a direct line to the brain and that is lost a bit when you introduce a keyboard to the mix.

There's a few more links across the top of the notebook, one called "My Creativity Library," which leads you to a page of where you can buy Julia's books.  Smart marketing. 

I really wanted to like this site and was excited to play around with it, but honestly, I've been less than thrilled with it overall.  The main value of it that I can see is access to the affirmations, quotes, soundbites and exercises. For some people who like to do creativity exercises on the computer, it would be a boon, but I'm old fashioned and I like to write them out by hand, just as I do morning pages.  And it is a bit of a shame that you can't do morning pages on the site, as they are one of the most vital parts of Julia's program.   Overall, I'd be nervous that all my notes and ideas that I'd collected on the site would be lost if I forgot to resubscribe or decided not to.  I'd rather keep such things in a journal where I know I can access it.

Have you read The Artist's Way?  What did you think about it? 

Book Review: The First Husband

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions are mine, all mine.

The First Husband

by Laura Dave

This book is snappy.  As in, it snaps right along.  Pick it up and begin reading and before you know it, you're fifty pages in.  The novel tells the story of Annie Adams, a travel writer with a glamorous column for a big-time newspaper (I'm imagining we're supposed to remember the days when such professions were actually still possible).  She's in a fabulous relationship with movie director Nick, whose career is just hitting the big time.  Life is good.

And then Nick dumps her. 

In her grief, Annie repairs to a bar late at night and meets the adorable chef Griffin, who she marries, abruptly and pretty much on the rebound.  Hilarity ensues.  It actually really does–the book is very funny, besides being snappy.  (Maybe funny makes it snap?) 

If you've guessed that this novel is not going to win any literary prizes, you are correct.  But I don't care, I liked it.  I like reading funny novels.  Plus, my novel is funny and many's the agent who told me they loved it but they couldn't sell comedy.  So I'm pleased to be reading a book that is funny.

Also, there's this.  The book is written in first person.  I had been reading it the night before I awoken with the directive to change my novel from third person to first person.  Coincidence?  Probably not.  So reading this novel gave me a creative charge, and I'm grateful.  (For the record, you as a writer should be reading every single damn thing you can get your little hands on and this is why.  Because it inspires you.  And teaches you.)

So that's my book review.  I'd love to hear from you how a book has inspired your writing.  Please leave a comment.

Excerpt: The Moon She Rocks You

For my Monday post, I have something different for you: an excerpt of a cool book called The Moon She Rocks You by Gurutej.

MoonSheRocksYouCoverIf you are a woman, knowing about The Moon Centers gives you power over your negative emotions. If you are a man, it gives you the key to understand women of all ages. You learn to listen to the voice of their emotions. Women – we can have control over those crazy emotional times in our lives. For more information, visit the author's website or her Amazon page.

What are Moon Center cycles and why should we as women care about them? Because these cycles have a direct and deep effect on us. Have you noticed that some days you feel strong and powerful and can take on the entire universe and other days someone looks at you cross-eyed and you want to find a bathroom to hide in? Why is that? This theory of Moon centers will shed some light on all this. This is not a shield to hide behind but information to make us more aware, informed complete with support tools that will make you more powerful.

Moon Centers unveil the hidden secrets to the inner workings of women. This is the next biggest leap after Men are from Mars Women are from Venus. Do you want to understand yourself as a women in your many aspects? Men do you want to be able to see and chart the emotional and devotional landscape of the women in your life? You will know when and how to support yourself and your women and when to move away from the firing line. Priceless information.

Moon Centers is a secret and sacred science: Do you want Greater harmony in your life? If yes then skip the text and just say yes buy it now. If you need more information carry on. If only all women and men for that matter could learn of these moon centers in their teens what a wonderful world it would be. This is an ancient secret science unveiled, how the moon affects women each day.

This is the secret code to women’s inner states. The positive, challenged and neutral aspects within each center, within each women. The moon moves into a different part of a women’s body every 2.25 days. Learn how to utilize the gifts of each center and recognize the moods that come from the challenged aspects ahead of time. Then turn them into harmony. Utilize the gifts of each center. All this can be yours

About the Author

To know Gurutej, you first need to know her name, which means “the one who brings you from darkness into light at the speed of light.” What she teaches emanates from her name and her purpose to lead others towards their inner self by mastering their own energy. Even at six years old, she already had the vocation to help others connect to their essence through healing, meditation, yoga, and chanting. She is a born leader, a creational genius, and a visionary. Her boundless energy enlivens the day and her gift for lightness, comedy, and humor radiates with every breath and every word of her powerful message. Gurutej is one of Yogi Bhajan’s original disciples and close collaborators. She is a true Master Teacher of Kundalini Yoga.