And a New Year Begins . . .

I’m a little late to the ‘Happy New Year’ party but I’m here with enthusiasm, does that count?  I hope the opening chapter of your 2020 was happy/peaceful/celebratory (pick one, or pick all three). Mostly I hope it began optimistically.  

January is a time of fresh starts, new beginnings. It’s a time when many of us make resolutions. And some of us resolve to make no resolutions at all. I’m normally in the latter camp. I’m goal focused – I love to set goals and look ahead with optimism – but I’m not so much for resolutions. Only something about this year feels different, and I feel compelled to set some writerly resolutions.

This year I will:

  1. Measure productivity, not results. We’re a results-oriented culture. Most businesses measure success by results and many writers do too. We often count the number of books or articles we publish in a given year, or the amount of money we make from our efforts. But some things are out of our control. This year I will concentrate on my daily productivity and worry less about results.

2. Listen more and talk less. What are your thoughts on that?

3. Set realistic goals. Life has demanded a lot from me over the last few years. I’ve been meat paste in the sandwich generation of life and it has played hell with my output. Unfortunately, I don’t see it changing any time soon. Nevertheless, I will set goals and do my best to reach them.   

4. Practice kindness. It goes without saying, right? But I’m not always kind to myself. Someone told me recently we should treat ourselves as we would treat a best friend. I think that’s important, and it’s especially helpful when life demands much of us. Or when we’re struggling to reach #3 (see above).

5. Treat that 1st draft as a precious baby. Don’t judge or criticize. Hold a protective, tender space; know it will grow and evolve but right now it needs acceptance and nurturing.

6. Find a new-to-me author. Or three. Or six. Read someone new. Read out of my comfort zone. Read and read some more.  

7. And number seven. Ah, 7. Did you know that in numerology number 7 combines the hardworking number 4 with the mystical and creative number 3. Seven is associated with luck, intuition, inner wisdom and magic. It’s prominent in ancient cultures (there were seven wonders of the world) and it has held significance in virtually every major religion. So, it seems fitting to end with a resolution to make personal renewal a priority this year, however that looks like in any given day or week. Hard work is good. Hard work combined with intuition, inner wisdom and personal renewal is better. In fact, I’d call it an unbeatable combination.

Happy New Year and happy reading.

The Gift of Reading, Take Two

Today’s blog continues on last week’s theme of asking other writers to recommend gift books for friends and family. If you missed last week’s recommendations, you’ll find them here. https://lauralangston.com/the-gift-of-reading/

This week, the focus is on fiction for young and old. It’s an eclectic mix: two middle grade recommendations, a YA free verse novel, and fiction for adults ranging from romance and crime to historical and humor.  As I mentioned last week, be sure to check out the bios and books of the authors who are offering suggestions. Many of their titles are ideal for gift giving as well.

Sylvia McNicoll: Bright Shining Moment by Deb Lougheed (Second Story Press). Perfect for a family read aloud before or after Christmas, Bright Shining Moment is a heartwarming story about old timey hard times when the people who seemed the poorest in material things turn out to be the richest in love. Francois Tisdale’s beautiful cover illustration evokes warm seasonal feelings. Ages 8 – 12.

Sylvia McNicoll’s latest book is The Diamond Mistake Mystery (Dundurn Press) sylviamcnicoll.com

Lee Edward Fodi: Finding Cooper by Stacey Matson (Scholastic). A mystery inspired by the real-life story of D.B Cooper, a famous skyjacker who escaped with a load of cash in 1971. Fodi loved the story because it’s set in the Pacific Northwest and has a lot of humor and heart. Ages 9 – 12.

Lee Edward Fodi’s latest book is The Secret of Zoone (https://www.leefodi.com/books/secret_of_zoone.html)

Darlene Foster: Baggage by Wendy Phillips (Coteau Books) One of the best YA novels Foster has read in a long time, Baggage is the story of a mysterious young African man who speaks no English and turns up abandoned at the Vancouver airport. Written in free verse, this contemporary and timely novel highlights the efforts over several months of three teens and two adults to overturn the government decision to deport him. Ages 13 and up.

Darlene Foster’s most recent release is Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action. http://www.darlenefoster.ca/

Charis Cotter: One for the Rock by Kevin Major (Breakwater Books). A Newfoundland murder mystery with a flawed but likeable detective, this clever story keeps you guessing until the end.  Cotter is a murder mystery aficionado and says Major hits all the high notes of a whodunnit with charm and humor.

Charis Cotter’s latest book is The Ghost Road, also set in Newfoundland.  http://chariscotter.ca/index.php/books/ghost-road/

Liz Walker: Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry (Broadway Books). A single woman dives headlong from a ferry into Lake Champlain to rescue a child, and then must figure out what to do with him. A blend of mystery, women’s fiction and romance, Walker found the book so gripping she didn’t want to put it down.

Visit Liz Walker’s website here: www.lizwalkerwords.com

Barbara McDonell: Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant (Vintage Canada). Offbeat and charming, this novel features an opinionated tortoise named Winnifred and Audrey, a quirky heroine appropriately nicknamed Oddly. Her perspective (and the perspective of her pet tortoise Winnifred) are laugh-out-loud funny, even as the story deals with Audrey’s difficulty to accept the unexpected demise of her beloved father who raised her alone. A light-hearted read where the heroine applies the rules of the board game Clue to deal with many of life’s quandaries.

Barbara McDonell is the author of The Clutter Queen Spills: Insider Secrets Divulged in Three Simple Steps   https://amzn.to/36bfBTO

Rachel Goldsworthy: News of the World by Paulette Jiles (William Morrow) Set in post-Civil War Texas, this is the story of 71-year-old Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and his unlikely ward, a 10-year-old girl rescued by the U.S. Army after being captured by Kiowa. Kidd reluctantly agrees to transport the child safely back to her family. Goldsworthy called the novel a page turner and said as soon as she finished it, she searched out another novel by the same author.

Rachel Goldworth’s latest read is Green Spirits, a Corsair’s Cove Companion short story. https://rachelgoldsworthy.com

 

The Gift of Reading

For me, the holidays aren’t the same if I don’t have a new book to read. I always made sure my kids got a new book for Christmas, and even now, as adults, they look forward to the tradition.

But it can be difficult to know what book to give. With that in mind, I asked some writer friends to recommend a few titles. You’ll find their picks here over the next few weeks. And don’t stop at their recommendations. Check out their bios and their own books too. Many of those are ideal for gift giving as well! This week, several non-fiction recommendations, one board book for little ones, and a French YA novel.

Fiona McQuarrie: Swim Through the Darkness: My Search for Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali by Mike Stax (Feral House). Part biography, part detective story, and part pop culture history, Swim Through the Darkness chronicles the author’s 15-year quest to find Craig Smith – a clean-cut ’60s musician who became a “psychedelic messiah,” released a legendary self-funded double album, and then disappeared. It’s an epic story, and it’s thoroughly engaging and poignant.

Fiona McQuarrie is the author of Song Book: 21 Songs From 10 Years (1964-74) (New Haven Publishing). https://writingonmusic.com/song-book-the-book/

Lea Tassie: The Green New Deal and Climate Change by Lynne Balzer (Faraday Science Institute/Kindle edition). This is an excellent and clear explanation of the scientific concepts about climate change, by a science teacher. Over the past couple of years, I’ve read reams of articles on the subject, so can say with confidence that Balzer nails all the facts.

Lea Tassie is the author of Two Shakes of a Lamb’s Tail. For more information, check her website: http://leatassiewriter.com

Karen Hibbard: Mary: Who Wrote Frankenstein, written by Linda Bailey; illustrations by Julia Sarda (Penguin/Random House).  This atmospheric picture book is the inspiring story of the young woman who wrote one of the greatest horror novels ever written, and one of the first works of science fiction. For ages 5 – 8.

Karen Hibbard is the illustrator of Nimoshom and His Bus, written by Penny M. Thomas (Portage and Main Press). Visit Karen’s website at  karenhibbard.ca

Marjorie Gann: HERE babies, THERE babies, written by Nancy Cohen; illustrated by Carmen Mok (Nimbus). A wonderful board book for parents or young ones expecting a new addition to the family. Bouncy rhyming verse accompanies boldly coloured paintings; combined, they give young ones lots to talk about. Suitable to about age 4.

Marjorie Gann is the author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery (Tunda/Penguin Random House 2015) Her website:  www.gannwillen.com

Monique Polak: Félines by Stéphane Servant (Rouergue). In this un-put-downable book, set in the not too distant future, teenage girls around the world begin to develop feline characteristics. The shape of their eyes changes, their skin turns to fur, and they can sense the feelings of others. Fearing this “mutation,” the authorities try to control and confine the girls. But les félines are not about to let that happen.

Monique Polak’s most recent titles are Room for One More (Kar-Ben) and The Taste of Rain (Orca Book Publishers). Find her at: www.moniquepolak.com

Next week, more fiction titles for all ages and tastes.

 

My October Reads

 

It’s nearly the end of October. Yesterday’s torrential rain sent gusts of leaves falling from the trees. Good thing the garden has been put to bed for the winter because it’s the kind of weather that doesn’t encourage outside lingering. Luckily, I have some great books to keep me company when the rain is falling. Here’s what I’m reading this week:

By the fire: Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith

Before bed: Deep Water by Lea Tassie

On the weekend: The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs

Books read to date in 2019: 50

 

My August Reads

Here it is nearly the end of August; September is right around the corner. Soon school will be back in session, routines will be more in force and I’ll be back to blogging every week. For now, we’re still settling into our new home and getting used to the house and the neighborhood. As well as welcoming rabbits, squirrels, dear and raccoon to our yard, we have a family of quail that stops by fairly often. Mom (or maybe Dad) stands guard on a fence post while the rest of the family scurries along the ground. Fortunately, Team Sheltie has yet to see the quail parade. We might build a quail house next year. It’s on the list. Right now though, I’m busy revising No Right Thing, doing some freelance editing jobs and organizing my office. Oh, and finding a few minutes here and there to read. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

On the patio: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Before bed: Ageless Soul by Thomas Moore

In the kitchen:   We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time by Jose Andres and Richard Wolffe

Books read to date in 2019: 37

My July Reads

In a few short days, we’ll be moving from a cottage by the sea to a house with a garden. Though we’ve enjoyed our rocky shoreline view of eagles and herons and sea lions, it’s been seven months of uncertainty, of feeling deeply unmoored.

Some people need roots and I am one of them.

I’m looking forward to finally getting settled, to planting another garden, and to unpacking the many boxes we’ve had in storage. Within walking distance of our new home is a beach (pictured here).  There’s a great, long stretch of sand where we can walk for miles in either direction. Sometime soon, when I need a break from unpacking, I’ll grab a book and wander down for a waterfront reading break. Meanwhile, here’s what I’m reading this month.

At the gym: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

On the weekend: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Before bed: The House Whisperer by Christian Kyriacou

Books read to date in 2019: 30

My June Reads

It’s peony season. Stunning pink flowers are in full bloom outside our cottage by the sea, and red peonies grace the back yard of the house we’ve just bought. In the language of flowers, peonies represent love, romance and good fortune. In Greek mythology, the peony is linked to the moon. It was said that the moon goddess, Selene, created peonies to reflect the moon’s bright beams during the night. That’s especially true of very pale or white peonies. And interestingly enough, I divided some ethereal white peonies before we sold our old house so I could bring a few peony tubers with us. Those potted plants are now unfurling frilly white flowers. Soon it will be time to transplant them into the garden at our new place. For now, though, gardening is on hold while we renovate. At the end of the day, after showering off concrete dust, I relax with a book. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

 

At the gym: Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

Before bed: Lasting Impressions by Geoffrey Jowett

On the weekend: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal

Books read to date in 2019:  24

My April Reads

There’s a lot happening here this spring. A possible house purchase (fingers crossed because this one has a gorgeous garden), another trip out east to help my father, slow and steady progress on my current YA novel and plans in the works for another Laura Tobias title.

My head is so full with ‘to do’ lists and changing circumstances that I’ve found myself yearning for consistency: writers who deliver with good writing, excellent stories and a happy ending. The books I’m reading this month have given me all three:

At the gym: By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank

Beside the pond (and by pond I currently mean ocean): Cottage by the Sea by Debbie Macomber

Before bed: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins

Books read to date in 2019: 17

You Know You’re a Writer When . . .

Here’s a blast from the past. . . a blog post I wrote in 2013 that’s as true today as it was back then.

I wasn’t that odd as a child, not really, although if you ask my father he’d probably disagree. I was sensitive to my surroundings (especially to the undercurrents of conversations and what wasn’t being said); I was prone to storytelling (others referred to this as exaggeration); and I had three special (imaginary-to-everyone-else) friends. I played with them, had conversations (and arguments) with them and I ate meals with them too. This did not please my rational father. He didn’t realize he had a writer-in-the-making in the house.

How do you know you’re a writer?  You know you’re a writer when –

You had imaginary friends as a child only they were real to you.

You are prone to wild imaginings that can literally make your heart race.

Conflict makes you smile.

You don’t get non-readers.

You laugh out loud at conversations in your head.

Some of the letters on your keyboard are worn off.

You have pens in every room of your house, including the bathroom and beside your bed.

A song on the radio sparks a story idea.

You stare at random people and memorize their quirks.

You can predict the conflict or turning points in movies, and your family has made you promise to keep quiet until it’s over.

You get excited by Scrivener.

Eavesdropping is second nature.

You love bookstores (but hate them if they don’t carry your books).

You live in a constant state of ‘what now?’ closely followed by ‘what if?’

Twist is not a cinnamon stick.

You have scribbled an idea, a word, or a piece of dialogue on a restaurant napkin, boarding pass, old envelope, school newsletter, or empty toilet roll.

You find those odd bits of paper – sometimes indecipherable – in pockets, wallets, purses, drawers, stuffed between the pages of a book, and you save them.

Pacing is a concept not an activity.

You found it easier to write when you first started.

You have missed a turn, an exit ramp or possibly a plane because you were so absorbed in your story.

You weren’t comfortable as a journalist because you always wanted to change the end of the story.

Proofreading is automatic.

Character is not about your personal ethics.

A hero must be flawed. But sexy as hell.

You gather ideas, thoughts, bits of trivia and snatches of dialogue like black pants gather lint.

You visit a cemetery and take notes.

People you barely know ask you to read their book, their article, their life story. Or ask you to write it.

You have a weird combination of insecurity and confidence.

Finishing the scene is more important than answering the phone.

The Muse is an intimate.

And, finally, you will read anything.

 

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