When Fiction Reflects Real Life

About once-a-month I like to blog about a line I like from a novel I’ve read. I’ve written down so many examples in the last couple of years that I had a difficult time this weekend selecting the one I wanted to highlight in today’s blog post. I chose the following line from Lisa Duffy’s novel, The Salt House.

The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy

“How many times can you argue about something before you decide that the argument is more destructive than the thing you’re arguing about?” – quoted from the narrative in The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy.

We live in contentious times here in the United States. Many politicians seem to be more antagonistic than ever before. At least, that’s how it seems on Twitter. It has become difficult for people with opposing views on an issue to converse in a civil way.

Most Americans tend to discuss politics only with people who agree with them. Worse yet, assumptions are often made about people’s political views based on where they worship, which region of the country they live in, or the color of their skin.

Are you caught up in an argument or misunderstanding that “is more destructive that the thing you’re arguing about?”

Since my last blog post

I wrote a new “About Me” page and added a “My Books” page on my blog site. I’ve read some good books, and I’ve watched some exciting and some disappointing NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) men’s basketball tournament games on TV.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland, and I hated to put it down long enough to write this blog post.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality thinking, observing, and writing time.

If you haven’t yet signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletter mailing list, please do so by filling out the form below.


Blogger looks at Artificial Intelligence

Today’s blog post is a little longer than usual. If you have no interest in artificial intelligence, please scroll down to the sub-heading “Since my last blog post” to find out what I’ve been doing and to find several links to websites and video clips you might enjoy.

Social Media and me

If you don’t count blogging as social media, I haven’t blogged about social media since June 9, 2017 (6 Things Learned about Google+) and I must say that I haven’t missed it at all. I just don’t “get” some of it.


I received an email from LinkedIn on Friday. It explained major changes in their newsfeed algorithm. Granted, they lost me at the word “algorithm” because I pretty much glaze over at any reference to math, but I kept reading. It didn’t take me long to learn that if I don’t mix up my posts on LinkedIn with video, images, and text, I’ll just be whistling in the wind. Sounds like I need to just close my account since I don’t do videos.

Google’s RankBrain

Even though I’m no authority on the topic of social media, occasionally I try to point you toward people who can help you better understand and utilize it. There is a blog about blogging by Janice Wald that I follow. I read her blog several times every week and have found it to be informative. Always. Her February 25, 2018 blog post, “RankBrain: This is Why You’re Doing SEO Absolutely Wrong” (https://www.mostlyblogging.com/how-does-rankbrain-work/) is a prime example of how helpful Ms. Wald’s blog posts are.

I had never heard of Google’s evolving algorithm called RankBrain. The name reminded me of humorist and inspirational speaker Jeanne Robertson’s nickname for her husband, Jerry. She affectionately calls him “Left Brain” in many of her routines. (More on that later.)

Ms. Wald’s blog post explains Google’s RankBrain as follows:

“It’s an artificial intelligence that tries to understand exactly what the Google user wants to find by analyzing important factors.” – Janice Wald

The changes RankBrain brings include a lessening of the importance of using long-tail keywords. I must admit that my brain glazed over when I read in Ms. Wald’s blog post, “Use only one (medium tail) keyword and then add LSI Keywords (Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords),” but I kept reading and so should you if you’re trying to be found on Google.

Since Janice Wald is much more computer savvy than I am, I refer you to her blog post if this is something you want to understand as things constantly change. Of course, now I’m more nervous than ever about choosing titles for my blog posts and making my posts interesting enough that people will not only find them on Google but will also click on them and read them before bouncing around to other search results.

The other side of the Artificial Intelligence coin

I’ve gotten some great tips from Janice Wald’s blog over the years, but the post by guest blogger, Nidhriti Bhowmik, on her August 12, 2017 blog (http://www.mostlyblogging.com/chatbot/) keeps ringing in my ears. Her February 25, 2018 blog referenced above brought guest blogger Nidhriti Bhowmik’s post to mind.

Mr. Bhowmik’s post prompted me to draft a blog post about my reaction last August, but I hesitated to post it because of its negative tone. I reread it a few days ago. Since it still struck a nerve in me, I decided to edit the post I’d drafted and include some it in today’s post.

I don’t doubt that Mr. Bhowmik is gifted when it comes to computers. It goes without saying that he knows much more about computers than I do. I just don’t think what he proposed in his August 12, 2017 blog post is the way I want to communicate with people. Maybe this works in other businesses, but I’m trying to establish myself as a writer.

A can of worms

Using artificial intelligence to discern what search engine users are looking for makes sense to me, but using it to communicate instead of speaking for myself is a whole different can of worms. I suppose it’s similar to the old-fashioned form letter, yet it’s different. A person actually wrote those form letters, but computer-generated tweets and other forms of communication just aren’t my style.

Mr. Bhowmik’s guest blog post was about a new “hack” designed to make my life simpler. As a middle-aged woman just trying to learn the art and craft of writing so I can write a novel, I could use some things that would simplify my life, but I guess I’m too old-fashioned to latch onto the one explained in Mr. Bhowmik’s post.

Mr. Bhowmik’s topic was something called chatbots. He is an “AI Evangelist.” Artificial Intelligence Evangelist.

I’d never heard of chatbots, but that’s not surprising to me or anyone who knows me. I read the post and it just made me sad. In a nutshell, it seems that a blogger can sign up to have a computer generate all their tweets, Instagram whatevers, etc. 24/7.

The clincher for me was the following sentence:

“To put it simply, a chatbot is an amazing piece of computer software designed to simulate conversations with a human user, usually via text.” ~ Nidhriti Bhowmik

Keywords there are “simulate conversations with a human user.”

I’ve already gotten caught in the web of something like that. I tried a free trial of a product I won’t name. Since it was free, I couldn’t seem to get rid of it for months. It sent messages to people who followed me on Twitter to thank them for following me AND encouraged them to sign up for the product I won’t name. I prefer to personally thank the people who follow me on Twitter. Let’s face it, there aren’t that many of them.

And this sentence from Mr. Bhowmik’s blog post:

“They bring everything about you in one place, package our content in an appealing format and interact with the world as you, 24/7 on all channels.” ~ Nidhriti Bhowmik

I don’t want a computer program interacting with the world as me around the clock.

Last, but not least:

“And the best part? Chatbots can start smooth flowing conversations, ask your readers what they are looking for and respond with high-value content relevant to their pain points.” ~ Nidhriti Bhowmik

It is possible that a computer program can generate higher-value content than I, but that’s just not the way I want to communicate. I don’t want you to feel valued because a computer program simulates conversation with you. I want you to feel valued because you are valued. And if you have “pain points,” I’m probably not the person you need to be dealing with anyway.

Have we completely lost our ability to talk to each other?

I enjoyed watching “The Jetsons” on TV when I was a child in the 1960s. The technology they used was science fiction then and it was fun to imagine living in such a universe. But you know what? Even the Jetsons talked to each other.

Since my last blog post

Sonni signed up to receive my sometime-in-the-future newsletters. Sonni has been generous with what she’s learned from experience since my early days as a blogger. Thank you, Sonni, for your continued support of my writing journey. In addition to daily advocating for reforms to the prison system in the USA, Sonni is a gifted writer, pianist, and composer. You can find her blog at http://mynameisjamie.net. Her improvisational music on the piano is amazing to someone (me) who took piano lessons and still can’t play well. You can find Sonni Quick’s music on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv6dycDAXCytFYvf–Njxrw.

I’ve finished reading several novels since last Monday’s blog post. I enjoy reading fiction and seeing how published authors write. When I’m reading, it’s not just for fun. I’m looking at writing style, voice, point-of-view, plot, sub-plots, and always watching for a clever turn of a phrase.

That said, I admit I’ve spent more time reading than writing since my blog post last Monday. I continue to work on my character profiles. With the theme of my historical novel manuscript, The Spanish Coin, established, I’ve changed the first scene in the book. That shifts everything I’d already written in the outline. This is all part of the process, and I love it. I wrote 1,200 words one evening as I brainstormed my new hook. After using the same hook for The Spanish Coin for more years than I want to admit, it’s refreshing to start the story with a different incident.

I hit a milestone last week on my blog. I now have 1,401 followers, which I can’t quite get my mind around.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read that wasn’t written by a computer. I’m reading The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard.

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time using your own intelligence instead of the artificial kind.

Please take a minute to fill out the form below if you haven’t already, if you would like to be on my mailing list for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters. By the way, that is completely separate from signing up to follow my blog. Please do both, if you haven’t already. Thank you!

Getting back to Jeanne Robertson, if you don’t know who she is, please scroll up to the second paragraph under the “Googles’s RankBrain” subheading. If you haven’t been exposed to her North Carolina humor, you need to do yourself a favor and watch some of her video clips on YouTube, such as this one, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YFRUSTiFUs. You’re in for a treat!

Thank you for spending a few minutes with me today.


Reading and Writing in February 2018

In my January 8, 2018 blog post (2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans) I expressed a need to be accountable to my blog readers. In order to do that, I said I’d set monthly writing goals. I gave you an embarrassing writing progress report in my February 5, 2018 blog post (Reading and Writing in January 2018). February was productive, but not in word count.

My goal was to write 6,000 words in the rewrite of my novel in February. That just didn’t happen, but I nearly finished the character profiles and settled on the location and the theme. That might not sound like much, but it wasn’t easy. More on that later.

Writing Goal for March:  Finish writing the scenic plot outline

My reading in February

Although I read six books in February, my “want to read” list had a net gain of ­­16. Like I wrote on February 5, this trend is unsustainable. With so many good books being written, though, I don’t know how to reduce my list. In my younger adult days I didn’t make time to read fiction, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy

The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy

This was Ms. Duffy’s debut novel. It was published in 2017 and was recommended by my friend, Karen. Set in Maine, The Salt House follows each member of a grieving family the summer after the toddler in the family died unexpectedly. Each chapter is written from the point-of-view of a different family member. The father, the mother, and the two surviving daughters each handle their grief in their own way in this well-written novel. Grief can pull a family apart or pull them closer together. It can even erupt in violence.

The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn

This debut novel by A.J. Finn hit the bestseller lists and hasn’t slowed down in popularity. This psychological thriller will keep you guessing. It will even make you doubt what you think you see, think you hear, and think you know. In the process, it is a study in agoraphobia.

The Hope Chest, by Viola Shipman

The Hope Chest, by Viola Shipman

This is a novel about a woman with ALS and the items in her hope chest – items collected as far back as early childhood. Ill now with a terminal illness, she looks at each item and remembers what each one means and why she kept it. This was the book read by the Rocky River Readers Club in February.

Incidentally, The Hope Chest was written by Wade Rouse who adopted the pen name “Viola Shipman” to honor the memory of his grandmother.

Fighting to Win:  Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers           

Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers

This book was instrumental in getting me back to work on my novel. I wrote an entire blog post about it on February 19, 2018 (Using Samurai Techniques in Writing), so I won’t repeat my thoughts on the book here. Please read that earlier blog post, though, and see if it sounds like this book could help you.

In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende

I gave In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende, five stars in my review on Goodreads.com. In the Midst of Winter weaves together the lives of strangers. Each of the protagonists have unfortunate backgrounds. They discover common ground and form a bond while getting deeper and deeper in covering up a murder.

Ms. Allende did a brilliant job gradually bringing in backstory that included revolution in Chile, human trafficking in the USA, the horrors many Latinos face as they desperately try to cross into the USA, and life in the shadows for people who have come to the USA illegally.

Many others on Goodreads.com have given this novel three stars, saying they were disappointed with it. Maybe it’s the history buff in me that prompted me to give it five stars.

In his November 21, 2017 review in The Washington Post, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/its-a-snowy-day-in-brooklyn-and-theres-love-in-the-air–and-a-body-in-the-trunk/2017/11/21/bb8643d0-cda2-11e7-81bc-c55a220c8cbe_story.html?utm_term=.3b398baedf24) Ron Charles wrote the following:

“The emotional range of Isabel Allende’s new novel is stretched so wide that it’s a miracle the book’s spine doesn’t break. We’re used to dark comedies, the ironic mingling of humor and despair, but In the Midst of Winter is a light tragedy, an off-kilter mix of sweetness and bleakness held together only by Allende’s dulcet voice.”

In the Midst of Winter was translated from Spanish to English by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.

The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

I read V.S. Alexander’s debut novel, The Magdalen Girls last March and got my name on the wait list at the public library for his second book, The Taster, as soon as it appeared “on order” on the electronic card catalog. (See my April 1, 2017 blog post, The Authors I Read in March, if you want to read my thoughts on The Magdalen Girls.)

As with his first novel, I had to keep reminding myself that V.S.Alexander’s The Taster was a work of fiction. He writes so convincingly that I felt as if I were reading an eyewitness account.

The Taster is the story of a young woman in need of a job and living in Hitler’s Germany. The job she got was not a job she wanted. She was selected to be a food and drink taster for Adolph Hitler. Hitler was mortified of being poisoned, so all his food and drink had to be tasted in advance by a replaceable woman. If a taster died, she could be replaced. Hitler, of course, did not see himself as replaceable.

Since my last blog post

I have received helpful feedback from friends in Australia, Scotland, and Belgium after they read my February 26, 2018 post, Hook in Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods. Thank you, Chris, Iain, and Beth!

Chris Andrews immediately recognized my blunder in summing up the theme of my work-in-progress, The Spanish Coin, in one word. Thank you Chris, for pulling me out of the ditch and putting me back on track!

Thank you, Ann, for signing up for my planned future newsletters.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah and Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting, by Chris Andrews. This is a collection of four sci-fi short stories by my Australian writer friend. For those of us in the USA, Chris’s e-book is available on Amazon.com.

Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting — by Chris Andrews
The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

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

If you have not yet signed up for my planned future author newsletters, please take a minute to fill out the form below. I promise my newsletters will be few and far between and your email address will not be used by anyone but me. Thanks!


Hook in Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods

Writers are advised to start a novel with a hook – something that will grab the reader by the throat and compel them to keep reading. The first sentence doesn’t necessarily serve as the hook, but when that happens the reader is usually in for a great ride.

I recently read Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier. For me at least, his first sentence got my full attention and I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen in this story.

“Luce’s new stranger children were small and beautiful and violent.” – The first sentence in Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier.

Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier

I’d be hard pressed to think of the opening line of another novel that piqued my interest or struck me quite like that one. In 10 words – just five more than the title of this blog post – Mr. Frazier introduced the book’s main character; told us that there are new children in her life who are strangers to her; and not only are those new stranger children small and beautiful, but they are also violent.

Do I have your attention? Okay, okay. Here’s the second sentence in Nightwoods:  “She learned early that it wasn’t smart to leave them unattended in the yard with the chickens.” Now you know that the misbehavior of those children will surely be a recurring theme in this book.

It turns out that Luce has “inherited” the son and daughter of her deceased sister, and they are wild.

Since my last blog post

I have made good progress with my work in progress, The Spanish Coin. Rather than being measured in number of words written, last week’s progress was made as I worked on character profiles and my book’s thematic statement. I realized that I had not tried to put the novel’s theme into words. Maybe I didn’t even know what the theme was?

I had to come to grips with the theme of my novel in order to be sure I had chosen the right protagonist, or main character. Discerning that the theme of The Spanish Coin is slavery was a milepost and surprise for me. I thought I was writing a murder mystery set in the Carolinas in the 1760s – and I am; however, the theme of the book has turned out to be slavery.

Five people have signed up for my newsletter since my February 19 blog post. This was given a boost, no doubt, by the fact that David J. Rogers reblogged my post on his site, https://davidjrogersftw.com.  As far as I know, this was the first time a post of mine has been reblogged. Thanks, David. Thank you, Philip, Gary, Katherine, Paul, Michelle, and Kay for signing up for my newsletters.

Until my next blog post

Speaking of my newsletters – which have neither been scheduled nor written – if you wish to be added to my mailing list, please fill out the form at the end of this blog post. With your encouragement, I believe The Spanish Coin will indeed be rewritten and published, giving me some news to put in a newsletter.

I will continue to put meat and bones on the characters in The Spanish Coin and perhaps get back into the outline. All the while, in the back of my mind I’ll continue to mull over my book’s hook.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Taster, by V.S. Alexander.

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




Using Samurai Techniques in Writing

Based on the title alone, I doubt that I would have considered reading Fighting to Win:  Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers. After all, what could I possibly learn from Samurai Techniques that I could apply to my life at my age?

Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers

I follow David J. Rogers’s blog and he follows mine. Visiting his website,  https://davidjrogersftw.com, I discovered his books and decided to give this one a try.

It turned out that the timing was perfect. My writing had floundered for nearly a year since I came to the conclusion last April that I needed to make such massive changes in the manuscript of my historical novel work-in-progress, The Spanish Coin, that it amounted to a complete rewrite. This was devastating. I had written 120,000 words and edited it down to 96,000. I knew my characters better than I knew some of my close relatives. I was overwhelmed by the prospect of starting over, and I wrote almost nothing but my blog for the next 10 months.

I’ve always been a world-class procrastinator, so I put my novel on the back burner along with a number of other projects including some areas of housekeeping. Then, I read Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Life and Work. I started putting into practice some of those techniques long before I finished reading the book. For one thing, I had to get my spirit in the right place. I had to move from, “I probably can’t do this” to “I can do this!”

Examples (and I’m simplifying and paraphrasing) of Samurai principles and techniques that I’ve come away with after reading David’s book include the following: keep one’s body, mind, emotions, and spirit under control; never let your fears get the best of you; don’t personalize problems or opponents (i.e., it’s a problem, not your problem); don’t whine; when you have a task to do, concentrate on it; do the most difficult or most feared task first and get it over with; always strive for self-improvement; and never hesitate or procrastinate.

The book prompted me to evaluate what is holding me back externally (such as having a chronic illness) and internally (such as fear of failure). A fiction writer does or doesn’t make her living, as the case may be, by asking, “What if?” in order to make her protagonist’s life as difficult as possible; however, she can be paralyzed in her personal life if she dwells too much on the “what-ifs” of life. (I need to make a sign that reminds me of that every day.)

After identifying my “inner dragons,” I was prompted to list the things in my life that I’ve been avoiding instead of doing. It turned out to be a longer list than I anticipated, but I’ve begun to put some Samurai techniques and principles into practice. By attacking the items on my list in an orderly fashion I’ve already made some incremental progress toward getting some things off the list. Ironically, this is pretty much the way my mother approached life and her tasks. She never knew she was using Samurai techniques! Her philosophy of life was, “You do what you have to do and you don’t complain about it.”

The most rewarding aspect of reading David’s book is that I got my focus back on my novel! Writing is hard work, but I have regained the joy of writing this month thanks in great part to reading this book. By focusing on my book idea again and determining a logical order in which to “attack” the work of writing a novel, I have made a good start and I no longer feel overwhelmed by the entirety of the task.

David’s book gives the history of the Samurai in bits and pieces, and I found that aspect very interesting. About all I knew about the Samurai was what I picked up in 1980 by watching the TV miniseries “Shōgun” starring Richard Chamberlain. Since I’m a history buff, I enjoyed the historical aspect of the book, too. It includes many intriguing examples.

If I can overcome my fear of failure, as well as my fear of success (yes, you heard me right!) and my fear of having to pitch my book to literary agents, I just might get my novel written and published, get some quilts finished, lose some weight, and get the clutter in my house under control.

David J. Rogers is going to be surprised when he reads this blog post. I hope I have described portions of his book accurately. In fewer than 1,000 words, I have merely touched on a few of the highlights and lessons in his book.

Since my last blog post

I have joyfully worked on my novel, done some reading, and attended five basketball games in a weekend tournament in Charlotte that one of my great-nieces played in, after which I crashed twice for hours due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It’s been a great week! The crocuses and daffodils are blooming, promising that spring is on the way.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m into several books to varying degrees. The one I’m most enjoying is In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende.

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

If you’d like to be on my mailing list for future news about my writing, please fill out the form below. I thank those of you who have already done so.


Can an Individual Make a Concerted Effort?

Can an individual make a concerted effort? I can hear what many of you are thinking:  Who cares?

Who cares? Right?

I’m attempting to be a writer, so it’s my business to ponder such things. After reading three different times recently about someone making a concerted effort, it hit me that it just didn’t sound right.

“Concerted” comes from “in concert.” Can an individual be in concert with himself?

What did Google say?

I went to my friend, Google, to see what I could find on the subject. Grammarians say an individual cannot make a concerted effort because it takes more than one person to work in concert. Less picky people who took the time to comment online said a person can make a concerted effort if they put all they have into the effort. In other words, all their concentration, physical strength, mental capabilities, etc. can work in concert.

I’m not convinced. “He made a concerted effort” just doesn’t sound quite right to me.

I can hear what you’re thinking again:  Janet has too much time on her hands. No wonder she can’t finish writing her novel!

You’re right, but writers do have to consider such minute issues as they strive to choose exactly the right words.

Since my last blog post

Thank you, Ann G., Ann A., Cheryl, and David for signing up for my mailing list!

I couldn’t help but laugh. Several new people “liked” my January 29, 2018 blog post – the one about my wrinkled 65-year-old face – “Left in the dryer too long” including someone who sells wrinkle cream. I should have seen that coming.

I finished reading A.J. Finn’s debut psychological thriller, The Woman in the Window. If you like that genre, I highly recommend it.

I also finished reading The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy. I liked it, too. It’s about a family dealing with grief after the unexpected death of their toddler.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m still reading Fighting to Win:  Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, by fellow blogger David J. Rogers. I’m taking lots of notes, David, and the book has already helped me get some things accomplished that had been hanging over my head for a long time. I’m getting a lot out of this book!

I haven’t given up on finishing Beartown, by Fredrik Backman. I’m just having trouble getting to it and into it. I’ve started reading The Hope Chest, by Viola Shipman, for Rocky River Readers Book Club.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time. (I hope I do, too!)

If you’d still like to sign up for my newsletter, please fill out the form below. I promise not to burden your inbox with a bunch of e-mails. I’m told I need to have a following before I get my novel published and that I need to send occasional newsletters to interested parties. Right now, I don’t have anything to put in a newsletter.



Reading and Writing in January 2018

January is over, so it’s time for me to “fess up” about how I spent the month. Perhaps a better way to say that is “what I accomplished.” In my January 8, 2018 blog post (2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans) I felt I needed to be accountable to my blog readers. In order to do that, I said I’d set monthly writing goals. For January, I set a modest goal of adding 2,000 to the scenic plot outline for my historical novel, The Spanish Coin.

My writing

For starters, I failed miserably on reaching my 2,000-word goal. What I did, though, was brainstorm about story location. I continue to wrestle with what direction to take in re-writing my historical novel manuscript. The working title remains The Spanish Coin.

Historical novel progress

In January I settled on a location for the story. At least, I hope I will not change from this latest locale. I did some 1700s research on the place and worked on the story’s timeline. Location plays an important role in historical fiction. The era for the novel is the 1760’s, which is a decade earlier than my original plan.

Spanish Coin location reveal

Curious about the story’s setting?  The Camden District of South Carolina. Choosing a location for the story has freed me to proceed with the outline.

Goal for February

I tend to write detailed outlines, so I’ll go out on a limb and set a goal of 6,000 words for February.

My reading

I got my concentration back and had fun reading in January. I read what I wanted to read instead of tying myself down to any particular reading challenge.

That said, I picked up the rules for the 2018 reading challenges for the public libraries in Harrisburg and Mint Hill (I couldn’t help myself!), but I don’t plan to let them dictate what I read. With 500+ books on my “want to read” list, though, I might meet those two challenges without really trying. Incidentally, even though I read seven books in January, my “want to read” list had a net gain of 39. I realize this is not sustainable. I would have to be a speed reader and live to be a centenarian to finish my ever-growing list.

52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You, by Brett Blumenthal

The book title says it all. I took note of the suggested change for each week. This week seems like a good week to start, since I didn’t begin in January. This week’s small change:  Drink enough water to stay hydrated. I’m told I should drink approximately 80 ounces of water every day. Since I normally drink less than half that amount, this constitutes more than a “small” change for me.

The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

This latest John Grisham novel took a little different tack from his earlier books in that The Rooster Bar is about a group of law school dropouts practicing law without licenses. I found it to be more humorous than other Grisham novels I’ve read, but it was still full of suspense.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, by Ryan Holiday

I blogged about this book on January 22, 2018, so I direct you to that blog post if you missed it: (Works That Last.)

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, by Denise Kiernan

The Last Castle, by Denise Kiernan

I’ve been reading so many novels the last couple of years that I’d forgotten how long nonfiction book titles tend to be. Or maybe it’s just the three I read in January.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book about the Vanderbilt family and the Biltmore Estate. Living in North Carolina, I have toured the Biltmore House four times. The first time was on a sixth grade field trip. Motion sickness on the bus as it wound around the endless curves on old US-74 east of Asheville is my main memory from that day, but I digress.

My other visits to the Biltmore Estate have been very enjoyable. Reading this book made me want to plan another trip to Asheville and tour the mansion again. It is a delightful book.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

This novel was inspired by the shocking history of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society during the first half of the 20th century. It is a gripping story and is expertly written. It is not a happy read, but I highly recommend this book.

The King of Lies, by John Hart

This was the January book choice of the Rocky River Readers Book Club. The novel is set in Salisbury, North Carolina, so I was familiar with some of the streets and buildings referenced in the book. It’s fun sometimes to read a book set in a location you have visited.

I though Mr. Hart could have omitted some of the “woe is me” theme in the first third of the book. The narrator’s whining about the wealthy people in this small town got old after a while. If you’ll hang in there, though, you’ll probably get so involved in trying to identify the killer that you’ll get to the point you can’t put the book down. You’ll think several times that you’ve figured out the villain’s identity but, chances are, you haven’t.

Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier

This novel has been on my “to read” list for several years, so I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finally read it. It is set in the mountains in western North Carolina.

Nightwoods is a tale about a woman who unexpectedly “inherits” her deceased sister’s twin boy and girl. The children give their aunt/new mother a challenge every day – and then her late sister’s widowed husband/killer comes to try to get the large sum of money he thinks the children took with them. The children are wild and uncommunicative. Add to that the fact that the aunt has no idea why her ne’er do well ex-brother-in-law has suddenly shown an interest in his children and has come to hunt them down.

What about December?

I just remembered that I never did blog about the books I read in December. They were a mixed bag of novels:  The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius; Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich; and The Secret, Book and Scone Society, by Ellery Adams.

David Ignatius’s political thrillers never disappoint me. The Quantum Spy was no exception.

The last two Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich disappointed me. I used to eagerly await her annual next installment of these funny novels, but “Twenty-Three” and “Twenty-Four” were too predictable.

The Ellery Adams novel is an entertaining read about four women who want to form a friendship, but each one is required to reveal a secret about herself before they can truly trust one another.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, by my fellow-blogger David J. Rogers; The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy, which was recommended by my friend Karen; Beartown, by Frekrik Backman, which is the February pick for The Apostrophe S Coffee Chat online book community; and The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn. That’s about one book too many for me to read at the same time, but they are different enough that I’m not getting the story lines confused.

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

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