This blog’s for you!

Sometimes I get carried away and forget my blog is for you. It’s not for me. You have a limited amount of time to read, so I’m flattered that you read my blog posts.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

If my blog doesn’t fill a need of yours, then reading it is a waste of your time. The pressure is on me every week to inspired you, make you laugh, give you something to think about, or at least put a smile on your face.

Although I’ve been blogging for almost nine years, I’m still learning. If there is something on my blog page that isn’t of benefit to my readers, I need to delete it.

Deleted national flags widget

In an effort to declutter my blog on February 4, I deleted the widget that showed the flags of all the countries in which my blog readers reside. I realized that showing those 93 flags was for my own edification, not yours. That widget was providing information that you probably didn’t care about. I’m a geography nerd, so I found it very interesting.

Actually, I found it shocking and a bit frightening to know that people in that many countries had looked at my blog at least once. The biggest surprise was when the flag of the People’s Republic of China first appeared.

My most popular posts

In place of the national flags widget, I added a widget that lists my 10 most popular blog posts. This should help my new reader find some of my best posts, and it will help me see at a glance the topics that garner the most interest.

An unexpected source

I knew my blog was for my readers, but it wasn’t until I started reading Building a StoryBrand:  Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, by Donald Miller that I was prompted to try to view my website and my blog through the eyes of a first-time visitor.

Everywhere Building a StoryBrand says, “customer,” I mentally substitute “reader.” Sometimes it works better than others. Although Mr. Miller’s book targets business owners, it made me ask myself how my website and blog portray me as a writer. I’ll continue to make changes that help first-time visitors become loyal readers.

Mr. Miller says a person should be able to look at my blog or my website and know within five seconds what I’m about.

I’m reminded of Alan Alda’s book

If you read my February 11, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/02/11/the-other-three-books-i-read-in-january-2019/ you know I read Alan Alda’s book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

That book prompted me to ask myself, “What does my reader need?” and “What is my reader hoping to gain by reading my words?” Mr. Miller’s book dovetails into Mr. Alda’s book and reinforces what Mr. Alda said about communication.

The purpose of my website and blog

Mr. Miller’s book prompted me to state the purpose of my website and blog in one sentence. When I got to the heart of what I’m trying to accomplish, this is what I concluded: 

The purpose of my website and blog is to show you that I write with authority and skill and, therefore, you can trust that my writing is worthy of your time.

If it sounds like I’m boasting, that’s not my intent. I’m setting the bar high for myself, and will read that purpose every day when I sit down at the keyboard.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Midwife’s Confession, by Diane Chamberlain. (Audio books come in handy when a reader has vertigo.)

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Don’t forget to look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow when I’ll reveal two books that remind me of someone. (Writing prompt provided by “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog post on January 8, 2019 (https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646)

Let’s start a conversation

What are you hoping to find in my blog? A smile? Humor? Something to ponder? Inspiration? My take on a book I’ve read? Samples of my fiction writing? A variety of these?

Janet

Two for Tuesday: Two Books that Helped Me Fall in Love with Reading

Today’s blog post is my second time to participate in “Rae’s Reads and Reviews Blog” #TwoForTuesday blog post prompts. I learned about it in her January 8, 2019 blog post:  https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646.

My third grade teacher, Miss Ruth Jarrell, was a soft-spoken woman with beautiful handwriting. When a student asked Miss Jarrell how long she’d been teaching, she said that was her 13th year. We thought she was ancient if she’d been a teacher that long. It was only when I was in my mid-30s that I realized I was as old as Miss Jarrell had been when she taught me. Thirty-five no longer seemed old.

Another thing I remember Miss Jarrell for was her reading to us. If we behaved in the school cafeteria, she would read to us when we returned to our classroom after lunch.

White Squaw:  The True Story of Jennie Wiley, by Arville Wheeler

White Squaw: The True Story of Jennie Wiley, by Arville Wheeler

The book Miss Jarrell read to us that is still vivid in my memory was White Squaw:  The True Story of Jennie Wiley, by Arville Wheeler. Jennie was abducted by Native Americans in 1789 in Bland County, Virginia and taken to Kentucky. After almost a year in captivity, Jennie escaped and was helped back to her husband in Virginia.

The word “squaw” is offensive to us today, but since the word is part of the book’s title, I decided to write about it anyway. Any book that one has fond memories of more than 50 years after hearing it read deserves recognition.

Teachers never know which seeds they plant in their students’ minds will take root and flourish. It was only when I was thinking about today’s topic that I realized White Squaw was my introduction to historical fiction. Miss Jarrell didn’t live to see me pursue a career as a writer of history and historical fiction.

Follow the River: A Novel Based on the True Ordeal of Mary Ingles, by James Alexander Thom

Follow the River: A Novel Based on the True Ordeal of Mary Ingles, by James Alexander Thom

Twenty or more years ago, Janie Snell, a friend of mine who lives in Ohio, recommended that I read Follow the River, by James Alexander Thom. It is a novel based on the experiences of Mary Ingles – not to be confused with Mary Ingles Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame.

This Mary Ingles lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She was kidnapped by Shawnee Native Americans in 1755. After being held captive for months, she escaped her captors and by herself followed the Ohio, Kanawha, and New Rivers back to her home.

It is merely coincidental that White Squaw and Follow the River are about white women who were abducted by Native Americans in the 1700s. They are the two books that instilled in me a love of books – a love of reading.

If allowed to name four books

If today’s blog topic prompt had been “Four Books That Helped Me Fall in Love with Reading,” the other two I would have written about would have been Roots, by Alex Haley and Centennial, by James A. Michener.

Three of the four books I’ve mentioned today were read when I was an adult. It was as an adult that I started reading fiction. As a young adult, I was a snob – a nonfiction snob. I thought reading fiction was a waste of time. When I had time to read for pleasure, I wanted to read something true, something real.

I have to laugh at my old self. I still enjoy an occasional history or political science book, but now I prefer fiction. My sister thinks it’s hilarious that I’m now trying to write fiction after all those years of turning my nose up at fiction and the people who read it.

Since my last blog post

I’m relieved that the glitch I was dealing with when I prepared yesterday’s blog post has been resolved, so I was able to include images in today’s post.

Let’s continue the conversation

Which two books helped you fall in love with reading?

Janet

The Other Three Books I Read in January 2019

One thing all bloggers are told they must do, if they hope to attract readers, is to include images in every post. I’ve worked hard to do this for the last several years. I did it last week when I included images of the books I wrote about; however, as I put the finishing touches on this post last night, I repeatedly got messages from WordPress.com saying “Given your current role, you can only link an image, you cannot upload.” Therefore, in today’s post I’ve included links to images of the books I’m writing about. I’m unsure how this will appear until the post goes online. I have no idea why this has happened.

Since I read 6.25 books in January, I decided to split my comments about them between my blog post on February 4, 2019 and today. I hope you’ll find what I have to say about three of the books I read last month worthwhile. These are discussed in no particular order.

The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger

The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger

The Banker’s Wife was a change of pace for me halfway through January after reading The Library Book. The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger, is a financial thriller. In this novel, Ms. Alger takes us to Paris, Geneva, New York, the Dominican Republic, and the Cayman Islands. Primarily through the eyes of two strong female characters, we get a glimpse of the vicious and deadly world most of us never experience – Swiss bank accounts, the people who have them, the people who assist them, and those who are unfortunate to love someone in either of the other two categories.

If I had done more research about Cristina Alger’s books before reading this 2018 novel, I would have known that it is a sequel to her 2012 debut novel, The Darlings. Now, I want to read that book, although being a North Carolinian, “the Darlings” conjures up visuals in my mind’s eye of that ne’er-do-well Darlin’ family on The Andy Griffith Show of the 1960s. It’s difficult to associate wealth with that name. I’m sorry, it just is. I offer my apologies to all the people with the Darling surname.

The Banker’s Wife is Ms. Alger’s third novel. The book captured my attention early on and the fast-paced writing kept me turning pages to see what was going to happen next – and to find out which characters were dead and which one’s deaths were staged to cover up the real story.

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? by Alan Alda

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? by Alan Alda

This book held some nice surprises for me. I’ve been an Alan Alda fan since the days of the M*A*S*H television series. I became even more endeared to him when in answer to my request that he donate an autographed copy of a book he’d written for an autographed book fundraiser held a few years ago for the Friends of the Harrisburg Library in Harrisburg, North Carolina.

Mr. Alda graciously donated an autographed copy of the script for an episode of M*A*S*H that he wrote. It turned out to be the hit of the fundraiser and resulted in a bidding war between two individuals.

That said, I was drawn to the book by the title and the author’s name. I thought it might be helpful to me as a writer since the book is about communication. It was, but not in the ways I anticipated.

Here are a few of the impressions I took from the book:

                1.  Improvisation not only helps actors, it can help anyone get over their fear of talking in front of a large audience.

                2.  No matter what you’re trying to sell – whether it be a tangible product or an idea – the key is to focus on what the customer is thinking and what he or she needs. As a writer, I need to put myself in the mind of my reader. What does my reader need? What is my reader hoping to gain by reading my words?

                3.  Mr. Alda has concluded that the key to the great success of M*A*S*H was the fact that instead of disappearing into their separate trailers on the studio lot, they gathered their chairs in a circle and talked and laughed together as a group between “takes.” He said the connections    they made off camera carried over when they were in front of the camera. It made them all better actors and their genuine comradery came through to the audience.

                4.  Much of Mr. Alda’s book is about empathy and the importance of empathy in communications. The book offers several things a person can do to increase their empathy for others. Mr. Alda says that true communication cannot take place between two people unless each one       makes an effort to understand the other person and why they think the way they do. I couldn’t help but think of how polarized Americans are politically today. There really is a lack of understanding – or empathy – between The Right and The Left, between Republicans and Democrats. This doesn’t bode well for the 2020 election.

                5.  As a writer, start with what your reader knows. Don’t insult the reader by including basic information.

Now You See Me, by Sharon J. Bolton

Now You See Me, by Sharon J. Bolton

Published in 2011, Now You See Me was the first in Sharon J. Bolton’s Lacey Flint series. Flint is a detective in London. The story opens with her seeing a woman dying while leaning on Flint’s car. This thriller grabbed my attention from the beginning and kept me turning pages well into the night. It’s rare that I read a quarter of a novel in one sitting, but that’s what I did with Now You See Me.

Detective Flint is forced almost immediately to try to discern who she can trust within the Metropolitan Police Department. Is she seen as a crime scene witness, or is she viewed as a murder suspect? She’s very convincing as a witness.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the killer is patterning his actions after Jack the Ripper. (Spoiler alert:  this gets more gruesome than I’m used to reading, but I had to know what happened next.)

What about Flint’s fellow police officer, Joesbury. There’s definitely something weird about him. Is he the killer?

No. Someone else is caught… sort of.

I thought the book came to a good stopping point just shy of halfway through. In fact, I thought I might not keep reading. This seems like the end of the story. I could move on to another book.

But I read a few more pages.  Wow! What a turn of events! I’m glad I kept reading!

Since my last blog post

I continue to do a lot of reading about writing and about blogging in an effort to get better at writing fiction and blogging. I made good progress writing a short story I’m calling “From Scotland to America, 1762,” writing 1,400 words Saturday afternoon.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Before and Again, by Barbara Delinsky; Button Man, by Andrew Gross; and A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy.

I rarely listen to a book because I find it irritating to listen to someone talk on and on and on; however, since I’m having a bout with vertigo, I decided to give the Maeve Binchy audio book a try and I’m really enjoying it. It probably has something to do with the lovely accent of the reader, Rosalyn Landor. It’s nice to just shut my eyes and listen.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and plenty of time to read.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’ve read any of the books I mentioned today, let me know what you thought about them.

Janet

Two for Tuesday — Two Books that Taught Me Something

In “Rae’s Reads and Reviews blog post on January 8, 2019 (https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646), Rae mentioned her idea of starting a “Two for Tuesday” tag.

I thought she was launching the idea, but I found a link (https://educatednegra.blog/2018/07/19/what-is-two-for-tuesday/) to her July 17, 2018 blog post in which she talked about it. She invited other bloggers to participate, and I took the bait. She supplies the writing prompts. All I have to do is share my thoughts. How hard can that be, right?

Today is the first day of this #TwoForTuesday adventure for me. The prompt is:  Two Books that Taught Me Something.” That sounded easy until I tried to narrow it down to two books.

The first 11 books that came to mind

I made a list of books that taught me something. I thought of the following 11 books right off the bat (in no particular order):

Whose Gospel?  A Concise Guide to Progressive Protestantism, by James A. Forbes, Jr.

Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I., by David Grann

Lessons from a Sheep Dog, by Phillip Keller

Unthinkable Choice, by Sampson and Lee Ann Parker

Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ron Cotton

Left to Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza

The Third Reconstruction, by The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

The Story of the Covenant:  Fifty Years of Fighting Faith, by T. Ratcliff Barnett

The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker

Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson

Then, I narrowed it down to two books

Both books are nonfiction. Both books taught me that, with God’s help, people can withstand much more than seems possible and then come out stronger than they thought they could ever be.

Unthinkable Choice, by Sampson and Lee Ann Parker

Left to Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza

Unthinkable Choice, by Sampson and Lee Ann Parker

I personally know the authors of Unthinkable Choice. If you want to read a book by a couple who overcome the impossible and the unthinkable, this is the book for you. Sampson and Lee Ann take turns by chapter telling their story.

Sampson made an unthinkable choice and had Lee Ann’s support throughout his battle to survive the consequences of that choice. Sampson’s story begins with a horrendous farm accident. Lee Ann’s story begins the moment she is notified of Sampson’s accident. After reading this book, I think you’ll agree that Sampson has the right name.

Please read this book of true courage.

Left to Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin

I’ve seen Immaculee Ilibagiza interviewed on television. Hers is another jaw-dropping true story of courage and beating the odds. She survived the 1994 Rwandan Holocaust by hiding with seven others in the tiny bathroom of a Hutu pastor’s house for an astounding 91 days. She lost most of her relatives during the three-month slaughter of nearly 1 million Tutsis.

If you haven’t read Left to Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, I highly recommend that you do so.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. Please consider Unthinkable Choice and Left to Tell. They are both true stories that will stay with you forever and, hopefully, inspire you to get through the hardest times in your life.

If you’re new to my blog, thank you for finding it. I blog on Mondays and, at least through the month of February, also on Tuesdays. Thanks for stopping by for #TwoForTuesday!

Let’s continue the conversation

What are two books that taught you something?

Janet

3.25 of the 6.25 Books I Read in January 2019

My reading in January brought an interesting mix of fiction and nonfiction. In fact, when I wrote the first draft of this blog post about the 6.25 books I read last month, it was too long for one post. You’re all busy people and you only have so much time to give to reading my blog. Therefore, I’ll write about 3.25 of the 6.25 books today and the other three books next Monday.

At Home on the Kazakh Steppe:  A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens

At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir, by Janet Givens

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish! Janet Givens gives an informative and entertaining glimpse into the experiences she and her husband had while serving in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan for two years. I learned a lot about Kazakhstan and the mores of its citizens. Ms. Givens had to learn most of the idiosyncrasies of the Kazahk people the hard way – by trial and error, but she took all her faux pas in stride.

Ms. Givens approached her stint with the Peace Corps with a sense of wonder and adventure. There were many trying days and awkward relationships but by the end of her second year in Kazahkstan, Ms. Givens hated to leave.

I highly recommend this memoir to anyone curious about the work of the Peace Corps or the countries in the former Soviet Bloc.

The Reckoning, by John Grisham

The Reckoning, by John Grisham

The Reckoning is not your typical John Grisham legal thriller. It includes the law and a man who choose to break it and it’s a thriller, but it is very different from Mr. Grisham’s usual offerings. The story opens with  Pete, a World War II hero back home in Mississippi in 1946.

Pete wakes up one morning and decides that is the day. Just that: today is the day. Mr. Grisham pulled me into Pete’s life. Fairly early in the book, we see what Pete does that day that will change his and many other lives forever, but we don’t know why. We have a hunch, though.

The second part of the novel goes back to when Pete met his future life. We learn about the life they made together, but we primarily learn what Pete endured in the Pacific Theatre during the War. It’s not pretty, but it’s authentic. That part of the book at times reads almost like a history book, but Mr. Grisham writes in a way that makes it personal and real.

The third and final section of the book goes back to 1946 for Pete’s college-age son and daughter to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to make sense of what their father did. And that hunch we had in Part One proves not to be correct when the truth comes out in Part Three!

The Reckoning is different from Mr. Grisham’s usual legal thrillers, but I liked it.

The Boat People, by Sharon Bala

The Boat People, by Sharon Bala

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m put off by novels that don’t use quotation marks. It’s irritating, and I shudder to think that might be the wave of the future of publishing. Let’s save some ink and omit the quotation marks! I’d read good things about The Boat People, though, so I persevered.

The book held much promise in the opening chapters as we were introduced to several of the 503 Sri Lankan asylum seekers in a boat as it nears Canada. A father, Mr. Mahindan, and his six-year-old son are the focus of the book. Upon landing in Canada in 2009 they are separated from each other because all women and children are detained in a separate facility from the men. It was immaterial that Mr. Mahindan and his little boy only had each other.

The separation was gut-wrenching and traumatic for both of them. It hit me right in the gut and immediately brought to mind the even more severe and inhumane separation of women from men and children from adults on the US-Mexico border this winter. Just as Canadians couldn’t believe what was happening in their country in 2009, we Americans can’t believe what is happening now along our southern border. Don’t get me started!

I usually don’t mention on my blog the books that I don’t finish reading, but this one held such promise and I just couldn’t stay with it. If you read it, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

I read the first one-fourth of the book (hence, the title of today’s blog post) and just lost interest in the 2002 backstory for this 2009 event. The back-and-forth between the two years didn’t appeal to me. That, combined with the lack of quotation marks delineating dialogue, made me close the book and move on to ….

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

I read in advance reviews of The Library Book that the event that prompted Susan Orlean to write the book was the April 29, 1986 fire at the Central Los Angeles Public Library that destroyed 400,000 books. An additional 700,000 books were badly damaged. It was (and still is) the largest library fire in the history of the United States. I’m an avid reader and big supporter of public libraries, so I wondered how I could have missed hearing about this tragedy at the time it happened.

It turns out that most people never heard about it because it coincided with the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Russia. For days and days after the April 25-26 disaster, the nuclear scare predominated the news.

The Library Book not only tells about the fire and the employees and volunteers cleaning up the mess left behind; it also delves into the cause of the fire, and the history of the Los Angeles County Public Library System. Many interesting tidbits about libraries in general are included in the book, and one can tell by the tone of the book and the words used that Ms. Orleans loves and reveres libraries.

The fire, the search for an arsonist, and some of the little known facts and quotes about libraries was interesting and worth the read; however, I got bogged down in the history of the library system in Los Angeles County and found myself skipping paragraphs and, eventually, skipping pages.

I picked back up somewhere along the way and enjoyed the rest of the book. The book reinforced the warm and fuzzy feelings I have about libraries.

Since my last blog post

I’ve done a lot of reading and worked on a short story and my novel’s outline.

I’ve also worked on an extra blog post for tomorrow after reading about Rae’s idea of starting a “Two for Tuesday” tag in her January 8, 2019 blog post, 2019 (https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646. Please check in tomorrow to learn about two books that taught me something. #TwoForTuesday

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Creating Character Arc:  The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M Weiland; and Red Notice:  A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and lots of time to read.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’ve read any of the books I mentioned today, let me know what you thought about them. Did I “miss the boat” by not finishing The Boat People, by Sharon Bala?

See you tomorrow for a bonus #TwoForTuesday blog post!

Janet