My March Reads

 

Today is the first day of spring in the Pacific Northwest and for once the weather is in line with the calendar. The sun is shining, clear and strong. The crocuses are up. The birds are in high spirits. And so, apparently, are the sea otters. Yesterday, one propelled its way up from the water’s edge to our house. I know they’re cute (at least some people think so) but they’re particularly aggressive with dogs so I’m careful to watch Team Sheltie when they’re out in the garden. Because the weather is warming up, the garden is on my mind and one of my current book picks reflects that. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

Beside the pond: Plants That Speak, Souls That Sing by Fay Johnstone

Before bed: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spears

On the weekend: The Care and Feeding of My Mother by Jann Arden

Books read to date in 2019: 12

My February Reads

It’s been a month of Way Too Much Happening. And also, can I just add, it’s been a month of way too much snow. We’ve had snow here on the island – over a foot in some places, and it’s been the snowiest February on record. I also had snow when I flew back to Manitoba for a few weeks. That’s to be expected in February but it came with minus 40-degree temperatures, always a bit of a slap in the face, especially when you aren’t used to that kind of bitterness (Hardy Manitobans aren’t deterred as you can see by the picture of the Winnipeg man out walking his dog). For me, after a few days of bone-chilling dashes from car to hotel and back, I detoured into the mall to replace my lightweight West Coast gloves, and to replenish my book stash. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

Walking the Windsong by Lea Tassie

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

Books read to date in 2019: 8

 

My January Reads

It’s a new year, a new windowsill, and a new stack of books. We’ve unpacked and settled in, at least for the short term, to our temporary cottage with a view. It’s quiet here, and much more off the beaten track than I’m used to. Someone asked me the other day if the setting is inspiring my writing. I can’t say it is yet. We’ve only been here a few weeks, we’ve had days of heavy fog and my office is in a nearly windowless back room. I’m optimistic, however, that once I remember to crawl out of my cave occasionally and enjoy the stunning view, my writing will benefit. In the meantime, because I’m not popping out in the evening like I did when I lived in the city, I have more time to read.

Here’s what I’m reading this month:

At the gym: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Before bed: Waking Up in Winter by Cheryl Richardson

On the weekend: Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins

Books read to date in 2019: 5

 

The Gift of Books

Tis the season for giving but it can be hard to pick just the right book for each recipient.  I usually blog once a month about what I’m reading, and if a book makes my monthly post you can bet I’ve enjoyed it. You can source those blogs by checking through my archives for ‘My Reads.’  Here are some titles that stood out for me this year.

I really enjoyed Girl Who Drank the Moon, a middle grade novel that was published in 2016 and won the 2017 Newbery Medal. Luna was raised by a witch and must figure out how to handle the magical powers she has accidentally been given. A solid fantasy fiction choice for middle grade readers.

Teens who like realism will appreciate The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater. For an historical teen read you can’t go wrong with Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse. Set in Amsterdam during WW11, this mystery novel is gritty and deserving of last year’s Edgar Award. For teens who appreciate a terrific love story, my pick is The Problem With Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout.  Well-written and emotional, you might want to include a box of Kleenex with this one.

For older romance readers, I was captivated by Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs. This contemporary love story straddles two worlds and two cultures: Pittsburgh as well as Amish farm country. Richly-layered and compelling.

I could not put down All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin. This is a heavier, more issue-oriented story than Giffin’s usual fare and the through line that carries the novel is how far are you willing to go to protect the ones you love? Though this book is marketed for adults, one of the point of view characters is a teen and I think this story would be a great jumping off point for discussions between parents and teenagers.

For more fiction ideas, check out Goodreads Best Books of 2018. https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/books/g25361954/goodreads-best-books-2018/

Or go here to see what the CBC recommends: https://www.cbc.ca/books/the-cbc-books-fall-2018-reading-list-18-must-read-canadian-books-1.4821996

Next time, some ideas for the non-fiction readers on your list.

My November Reads 2018

Dusk comes early at this time of year, and the short days remind me that another season has come and gone. The garden has been put to bed, the greenhouse has been tidied for the winter, and the seeds are all packed away. Spring lettuce and summer tomatoes are a sweet memory as we snack on this year’s crop of kiwis.  I’m spending my evenings getting ready for the holidays and, when time permits, relaxing in front of the fire with a book. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

 

By the fire: All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

At the gym: The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith

Before bed: Love Among the Ruins: A Memoir of Life and Love in Hamburg, 1945 by Harry Leslie Smith

Books read to date in 2018: 73

In The Beginning, Take Three

Our lunch was winding down but our beginning writer friend had several more questions. What, she asked, is the one habit that most effectively supports your writing career?

My answer came relatively quickly but I couldn’t limit it to one habit; I had two: writing every day and finishing what I start. Those two habits are the backbone of my writing career.

While I’ve blogged before about the importance of a daily writing practice, I haven’t spent a lot of time discussing the importance of finishing what I start. To be fair, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have a few half-baked ideas waiting for me in the drawer. I was going to call them partially finished manuscripts but they aren’t even that. They’re embryonic ideas in paragraph form. A couple of them go on for maybe two or three pages. They’ll be there when I’m ready for them.

Elizabeth Gilbert believes that ideas are waiting for us to give them life. That they hang out in the ether somewhere until a creator comes along, picks them up and breathes them into being. I don’t know if it’s true, though I love her idea. What I do know is that once I start a story or a novel, I can’t not finish it. Even when I suspect the story isn’t hanging together or the character’s motivations aren’t working or I don’t like what I’m producing, I can’t stop. Finishing it becomes a compulsion. To leave it undone would be akin to gathering the ingredients for a cake, preparing the pans, mixing the batter and failing to put the whole thing into the oven. Finishing what I start and writing every day have taken me from unpublished to published. It’s as easy (and as hard!) as that.

For Lea Tassie, www.leatassiewriter.com her most effective daily habit is self-discipline and making writing part of her routine. “It’s not easy,” she says, “but it’s necessary.”

The last question our beginning writer asked was also the hardest for me to answer. What has been your most rewarding accomplishment?

There were milestones for sure: my first sale, my first foreign edition, my first award. And while those certainly were accomplishments, with the exception of my first sale which I definitely had something to do with, many of my other career milestones came about because others worked to make them happen, or because of serendipity. Claiming them as my accomplishment didn’t feel right. And the more I thought about it, while getting books published was an accomplishment I was proud of, it wasn’t the true reward. The real reward came later when readers wrote to say how much they loved my story. Touching readers through my books is, and always will be, my most rewarding accomplishment.

Lea Tassie shares the sentiment. In her futuristic Green Blood Rising series, trees fight back against development and begin to take over the world. One of her most rewarding moments came when someone read the novel and afterwards commented that they were “driving home one night and these young trees were growing up out of the ditch and I got scared.”

Writing a book that lives on in the hearts and minds of readers is the most gratifying achievement. In the end, I think it’s the only accomplishment that truly matters.

In the Beginning, Take Two

It’s time for more questions from our new writer and answers from more seasoned ones. This week: what lessons did I learn the hard way, and what did I wish I knew starting out?

Let’s take the last question first. What did I wish I knew at the very beginning of my writing career? As I told our beginning writer friend, I wish I’d understood at a visceral level that this whole business is a long game, a marathon really, and nothing even close to a sprint. After my first book came out and I was contracted for my second, I figured I was on my way, or launched so to speak. Not that there wouldn’t be plenty of hard work ahead – I had no illusions about that – but I didn’t envision so many hills and valleys, so many meandering paths taking unexpected turns.  I hadn’t yet learned the importance of fluidity, of pacing myself, and of being open to adjusting for the unexpected. Like a marathoner pays attention to training, to footwear, to staying healthy and hydrated, and bases their success on a slow, steady pace, I’ve learned how important it is for me to pay attention to craft, to my health, and to a balance of work and play.

Lea Tassie, https://leatassiewriter.com author of the Green Blood Rising Series, wishes she’d had more patience back in the beginning, and that she wasn’t so naïve about the publishing industry. Her comment about naivete is the perfect segue into question two: what lessons did you learn the hard way? “I learned that money flows first – or it should flow first – to the writer, not to people like editors or agents who are providing services,” Tassie says. Never go with an agent or publisher who demands money up front, she adds.

My hard lesson was learning and coming to accept that publishing is a business, that decisions are often made with the bottom line in mind, and not always on the merits of a particular manuscript. A ‘no’ on a manuscript doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with the story in question. It could be that the publisher has something similar due for release next season, or that their marketing department feels, for whatever reason, that the marketing hook isn’t strong enough to generate a good sell through on your particular story. Of course, this is all based on dealing with traditional publishers. Going the indie publishing route means you’re in control of if, when and how to publish. But that option, as lovely as it sounds, also comes with added responsibilities.

Next week, what is the most effective habit you possess to support your success as a writer . . . and what has been your most rewarding accomplishment?

 

In The Beginning

Not long ago, I was asked by a woman just starting out on her writing journey if I’d be willing to answer a few general questions about the industry, and some specific questions about my path to publishing. Our conversation really made me think. Over the next few weeks I’ll bring you some of her questions and my answers, along with answers from other authors as well.

This week, question one: what does your writing day look like?

That one was easy. I write every day, or at least every weekday. I don’t strive for a set word or page count, nor do I put in a minimum number of hours, but I usually work from 9 or 9:30 until 4 in the afternoon, with a short break for lunch. Mornings are reserved for whatever novel I’m writing, and if I have an article to write or an editing job to do, I usually tackle those in the afternoon. Unless I’m on a deadline, I don’t write on weekends. Perhaps it’s a throwback to when my kids were young and I wrote when they were in school, or perhaps it’s a holdover from my days working a five-day-a-week job, but I usually take a break on weekends. I might ponder my work-in-progress or attend a writing workshop or do some kind of research, but I try to avoid sitting at my desk and staring at a screen.

Author Stephen King has been quoted as saying that when he works, he ‘works every day, three or four hours, and aims for six clean pages.’  Working daily for two months, he ends up with a 360-page manuscript. And if his books and interviews are to be believed, he also doesn’t outline. He starts with a basic ‘what if’ premise and sees where it takes him. I like the idea of deep daily immersion in a story, and I LOVE the idea of producing a 360-page manuscript in two months. But without an outline? It’s unlikely to work for me. For one thing, I don’t have King’s experience. He’s written close to 90 books; I’ve written about 25.

Ernest Hemingway wrote every morning, without fail. Susan Sontag wrote every morning too, and always by hand. Another Susan – Susan Wiggs – also writes her first drafts by hand, in a spiral bound notebook and always with a peacock blue fountain pen. Michael Connelly writes daily and wherever he finds himself, but if he’s at home and in any kind of routine he prefers morning since he ‘likes to get a lot done before the city wakes up.’  Stephenie Meyer is the exact opposite: she can’t focus on writing anything fresh when the sun is out. Only when her kids are in bed for the night can she concentrate on writing her books.

Which just goes to show you that a writing day can also be a writing night.

Next week, what lessons did you learn the hard way, and what do you wish you knew starting out?

A Time of Transition

Today is Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, also known as Samhain to those who follow these sorts of things. Traditionally, October 31/November 1 marks the end of the harvest season and the start of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year.

It is a time of transitions. We are halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

Transitions mark the process of changing from one state or condition to another, apropos for this time of year and also for me personally as we ready ourselves for the transition to a new home. Personal transitions aren’t always easy because they upset the status quo. Fictional transitions can be difficult too, but they’re incredibly necessary. Transitions hold scenes together, weaving the bits and pieces of your narrative into a cohesive whole, and giving an important sense of completeness to your story.

Transitional scenes can be used to break tension, provide description, to slow the pace or advance time, to change location or even to change viewpoint characters. In the same way a falling leaf can signal the start of a transition to fall, certain words and phrases can signal to the reader that there’s a transition coming. Consider these phrases:

A week later

Months passed

On the first sunny day

When the snow finally came

Labor began in the wee hours

After the diagnosis

To celebrate

Spring was late that year

It took weeks but

 

Transitions. Often overlooked, frequently feared but incredibly necessary if we (and our stories) are to move forward.

Happy Samhain everyone! 

My October Reads

Some days chickens, other days feathers. When the feathers are flying and the chickens are in short supply – in other words when life isn’t unfolding according to plan, escaping into a good book can be a godsend. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

Beside the fire: The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

At the gym: The Road to Enchantment by Kaya McLaren

Before bed: Bringing Your Soul to Light by Dr. Linda Backman

Books read to date in 2018: 65