Reading South Africa and South Carolina Novels

Since I had a lot to say about both of the novels I’ve finished reading so far in July, I decided not to wait until my August 7 blog post to tell you about them. One was set in South Africa during the Second Boer War. The other was set on an island in South Carolina in beginning in 2004. Quite a contrast in location and time!

The Lost History of Stars, by Dave Boling

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The History of Stars, by Dave Boling

One of the categories I chose for my 2017 Reading Challenge was to be sure to read a book that takes place on each of the seven continents. Without that being part of my personal challenge, chances are I would not have read The Lost History of Stars, by Dave Boling.

I’m amused at people who brag that they only read nonfiction. They think there is nothing to be learned from fiction. I used to fall into that category. I was a nonfiction snob, so my sister couldn’t believe it when I told her in 2001 that I was taking a fiction writing course.

I minored in history in college, but what little I learned about the Second Boer War has long since been forgotten. The Lost History of Stars is a novel about that 1899-1902 war in South Africa. It follows an Afrikaner family throughout the war. It is not a history of that war, and I admit that I still know few details of it; however, from reading this book I learned that the British burned the homes and farms of many Afrikaners and rounded up the women and children and put them in concentration camps. Disease and malnutrition were rampant in those camps.

From the inside flap of the book’s cover, I learned that “some 3,500 Afrikaner farmer-soldiers lost their lives. However, in the concentration camps, hastily assembled by the British forces to limit resistance among the general populace, the human toll was much higher:  it was there, while their husbands and fathers were away fighting, that more than 26,000 women and children died.” Take time to reread this paragraph and let the injustice set in.

It is interesting to me that the author, Dave Boling, was inspired to write this novel after learning that one of his grandfathers was a British soldier in South Africa during the Second Boer War. That must be the reason he wrote about a camp guard who did not wish to be there, finding it distasteful to be guarding women and children in a concentration camp.

The book is written with chapters alternating between the farm and the concentration camp. Some chapters took place in the concentration camp, and then the next chapter took place a year earlier on the farm. I would have preferred the book being written in chronological order, but that’s just my personal preference.

This is a story of family loyalty and the sheer strength of will to survive.

 

Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin

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Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin

Author Wiley Cash recommended the writings of Gail Godwin. She has had two novels published – Flora and Grief Cottage. I decided to read Grief Cottage first. It’s her new book.

Grief Cottage is set on an island in South Carolina in 2004 and partially in North Carolina in 2018. Eleven-year-old Marcus is an orphan who has been sent to South Carolina to live with his Aunt Charlotte. Charlotte is an artist and is used to living alone.

Marcus takes on the project of finding out the names of the couple and son who were lost when Hurricane Hazel hit 50 years ago in 1954. They were vacationing on the island and staying in what later became known as Grief Cottage when Hurricane Hazel hit. I thought the climax of the book would be when Marcus learned the names of those three people, but that happened less than halfway through the book.

Maybe it was just me, but I thought the story dragged in places and some information was repeated two or three times. That aside, I did enjoy the book.

Marcus’s mother had given him a picture of his father and promised to tell him his father’s name when he got older. She was killed in an automobile accident before that happened. It wasn’t until the last page of the epilogue (set in 2018) that Marcus learns the name of his father.

There are subplots that include such things as loggerhead turtle eggs and hatchlings, Charlotte’s paintings, alcoholism, and bullying. The plot takes a huge turn in the second half that I didn’t see coming. In case you haven’t read the book, I won’t say more.

I’ll probably read Gail Godwin’s other novel, Flora, after I check off a few more items on my 2017 Reading Challenge.

Until my next blog post

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

I hope each of you has a good book to read. I’m reading The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins for Rocky River Readers Book Club this month; The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peelle; The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff; and Bird  by Bird:  On Writing and Life, by Anne Lamont. (This is what happens when all the books you’ve been on the waitlist for at the public library come in at the same time!)

Excuse me while I get back to my reading.

Janet

A Line from Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

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Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

Today’s blog post features a line I liked in Tom Rob Smith’s novel, Child 44.

“Their mother, a stout, tough-looking woman who looked like she could swallow bullets and spit them back out, was in front of them, shielding them with one hand on each of their chests.” From Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

Don’t you just love the way Tom Rob Smith described this woman in Child 44, the first book in his Child 44 Trilogy? I aspire to write descriptions like that – descriptions that conjure up an image in your mind.

What a writer shouldn’t do

As I continue to learn the craft of writing, I make a note of sentences that grab my attention in books I read. Yes, it sometimes takes me out of the story, but I read now as someone who is learning to write fiction. Writers are told not to write anything that will pull the reader out of the story, but I take an exception to that for myself at this stage in my journey as a writer.

A few words about Child 44

As I stated in my February 14, 2017 blog post (The First Line from a Novel by Tom Rob Smith), Child 44, is about a serial child killer in Stalinist Russia. It is the first book in Mr. Smith’s Child 44 Trilogy. I haven’t had a chance to read the other books in the trilogy. My February 14, 2017 blog post was about the first line in Child 44 and its being a good literary “hook.”

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin. Now I have the joy of deciding which library book in that stack on my desk I will start reading next. Due dates will influence my decision.

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

I invite you to share my blog by word-of-mouth and by clicking on the social media icons below.

Janet

You Must Read (Some of) These Books!

First, I wish all my fellow Americans a Happy Independence Day or Happy 4th of July tomorrow!

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I read some good books in June, so I will share my thoughts about them in today’s blog post. You might want to read one or more of them.

The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve

I was drawn to this novel by the title. I got on the waitlist for it at the library as soon as it was on order. The book was inspired by the wildfires in Maine in October, 1947. I didn’t know about those fires, so I learned something.

The book is suspenseful as it follows Grace, a young mother whose husband has gone to fight the fire. Suddenly, the fire is upon the small coastal town where they live and Grace is forced to run for her life with a child in tow. I don’t want to spoil the book, in case you haven’t read it. If you prefer to read “happy books,” this is not the book for you. Much of the story is dark, yet the reader can’t help but cheer for Grace as she overcomes tragedy. It was a page-turner for me.

The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth

As with The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve, The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth, is not what I would call a “happy book.” Ms. Hepworth follows a 38-year-old woman, Anna, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The book chronicles Anna journey from diagnosis, through the months that she is very much aware of her diagnosis and the mental and physical deterioration that will be her future. Anna accepts her illness with humor as she adjusts to living in a residential facility where most of the other residents are decades older than she. The other young resident, Luke, befriends Anna, and the main plot of the book is their friendship, which grows into romantic love and how their relatives and the facility’s staff deal with that.

A subplot is about the widow of a businessman who loses everything and has to create a new life for herself and her young daughter. She takes a job at the facility where Anna and Luke live and gets more involved in their lives than the administrator wishes.

Although the subject matter of dementia is a frightening diagnosis, I found the book to be almost delightful due to Ms. Hepworth’s writing style. Each chapter was written from a different character’s point-of-view, which allows the reader to get into the head of Anna and to get a better understanding of what a person in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease thinks – their feelings and emotions.

As someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), I could identify with some of the issues Anna faced. I have memory problems and, when put on the spot, I have trouble formulating a comment or an answer to an unexpected question. When Anna talked about not being able to think fast enough to join in a conversation, I immediately identified with that. Ms. Hepworth let Anna articulate so well how it feels when by the time you formulate a comment, the conversation has moved on to something else. That was a paragraph that made my mouth drop open because I felt like the book was describing me. It was eerie to realize that some of my CFS/ME symptoms overlap some early Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms.

The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth, was June’s selection for Rocky River Readers Book Club. We had a good discussion about the book on June 26.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

By the time I remembered to check this out from the public library, I’d forgotten how I’d heard about the book or why I wanted to read it. It had a catchy title, so I dived in. Lo and behold, the author, among other ailments, has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

This is a unique book. It probably wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it. It is the true story of the author’s months of being bedridden. One of her friends comes to visit one day and brings wild violets and a snail. The snail started out living in a flowerpot with the violets. Much to Ms. Bailey’s surprise, she developed quite an attachment to the snail.

She realized one day that she could hear the snail eating. One thing led to another, and the author was soon reading everything she could get her hands on about snails. She studied the habits of the snail and by so doing, along with her readings, learned a great deal about the species. In the course of reading the book, so did I! I had no idea there was so much to learn about snails.

Being a “country girl” for most of my life since birth, I have encountered many snails, but until reading this book I did not know that they have row-upon-row of teeth, their eyes are on the tips of their tentacles, they cannot hear, they have an acute sense of smell, and their one foot is called a gastropod. That’s just the tip of the iceberg so, if you’d like to know more about snails – and what it’s like to be bedridden with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I recommend The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

Although I’ve been ill for 30 years, Ms. Bailey was able to articulate some of my feelings better than I have ever been able to in writing or verbally.

Camino Island, by John Grisham

John Grisham’s latest novel, Camino Island, is a little different from most of his novels. There’s still suspense and there are still bad guys, but the hero isn’t a lawyer this time. The story is about the underworld of those who deal in buying, selling – and sometimes stealing – rare books. The book takes place in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and France. The book held my interest, as all John Grisham books do. If John Grisham’s legal thrillers aren’t your “cup of tea,” you might want to give Camino Island a try. I think anyone interested in books will enjoy it.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella, by Fredrik Backman

After liking A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman in May, I was eager to read another of his books. In June I read And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella, by him. It is about a man with dementia, his son, and his grandson and how the man’s dementia affects his relationships with his son and grandson.

Perhaps it was just me, but I had some confusion keeping up with when we were in real life and when we were in the thoughts inside the man’s brain. For that reason, I had trouble getting into the book. The longer I read, though, the more I got out of it.

Detective Cross (a BookShot), by James Patterson

I wrote about a BookShot by James Patterson, Detective Cross, in my June 16, 2017 blog post, “What’s the Verdict on BookShots?” (What’s the Verdict on BookShots?) I read it out of curiosity. I wanted to know what a BookShot was like, and I’m one of the last people in the world to read a book by James Patterson. His books are known for their fast pace, and this BookShot was no different.

Mr. Patterson’s BookShots are designed to be read in one sitting. It took me longer than that because, as I’ve mentioned before, I am a slow reader. I guess you could say that a BookShot is longer than a short story and shorter than a novella, but don’t quote me on that. I’m no expert.

As I pointed out in my June 16 blog post, Mr. Patterson has long been a champion of children’s literacy, and his BookShots are an attempt to put short books in the hands of adults who might not otherwise pick up a book to read. I hope they accomplish that!

Put the Cat in the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen:  A Concise No-Bull Guide to Writing Fiction, by Jake Vander Ark

I must admit that I was drawn to this book by its title. I would never put a cat in an oven, but I just had to see what the author had to say about writing fiction. It was a humorous book, and it held my attention. The jest of it was that you need to get your reader’s attention before you start giving a lot of description.

Among other points, the author said if a minor character doesn’t have an effect on the main character, take them out of the story. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I rewrite the manuscript for The Spanish Coin. Another thing he said was, “You need to scare your protagonist and shock your audience.”

He also said that a writer should let the “protagonist determine the placement of the #$%! Moment.” (This is usually called the “inciting incident.”) He suggests to hit the reader with the inciting incident the moment the reader grasps what “normal” is for the protagonist. I picked up a few other tips from the book, but I don’t want to bore non-writers with the details. If you’re a beginning writer, you might look for this e-book yourself.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

Where My Blog and Novel Stand

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

 

Janet’s Writing Blog

Since writing Friday’s blog post (Getting Blog Traffic in 2017,) I’ve decided to change my routine and just blog on Mondays. When I read that blogging once-a-week was ideal for someone trying to establish their brand, I thought, “That’s not for me. I like blogging twice-a-week.” I couldn’t get the theory out of my head. By late Friday night I had decided to start blogging just once-a-week.

I’ve chosen Mondays. I wanted to choose Tuesdays, but for those of us who manage the WordPress.com blogs we read by getting them in a weekly format, they arrive on Monday. If I wait until Tuesday to blog, some readers won’t receive my post until the following Monday. That’s not good. I’ll try early Mondays (right after midnight on Sundays) for a while and see how that works. The great thing about a blog is that the blogger makes up her own rules. My kind of activity!

The Spanish Coin

Something happened on Saturday that told me I’d made the right decision about my blog. Or, perhaps what happened on Saturday came about as the result of the stress relief Friday night’s decision gave me. Follow?

If you’ve been following my blog for very long, you know I’ve been working on a novel manuscript with the working title of The Spanish Coin for more than a decade. (I’m not only a slow reader, I’m a slow writer!) Several months ago I discovered some facts that made it clear that I needed to make major changes in my historical novel. Another name for that is REWRITE, as in START OVER! After 10 years of work, this realization knocked the wind out of my sails. I have struggled over this for about three months – maybe longer. (It feels like three years.)

I knew I had to change the names and location of my novel. I believed I could keep the working title, The Spanish Coin, but many of the details of the story and perhaps most importantly, the climax, had to change. After kicking around ideas for weeks, on Saturday I finally settled on a new location for the story. I changed the names of most of the characters, and I changed the year it happened. Those decisions freed me up to start writing the new outline. By the time I turned off the computer at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 25, I had written 300 words of backstory, more than 2,500 words of outline, and 250 words of character sketches. I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders!

Saturday was just the beginning, but I can’t tell you how invigorated I feel knowing that I have started the rewrite. I’m optimistic about what I will get accomplished this week!

Until my next blog post on July 3

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Secret Speech, by Tom Rob Smith.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and feel as optimistic about your work in progress as I do mine.

Janet

Getting Blog Traffic in 2017

Tomorrow is my blog’s 7th blogaversary. My first blog post was on June 24, 2010. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been blogging for seven years. There’s a good reason for that. In 2010 I only blogged four times. I blogged once in 2011. In 2011 I blogged only seven times. It wasn’t until July 7, 2014 that I started blogging on a regular basis. That was the month before the publication of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. I finally felt like I had something to write about!

 

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Happy 7th Blogaversary to Janet’s Writing Blog!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I am constantly learning more about blogging. You may have noticed that I’ve started trying to write catchier blog post titles. I’m also trying to limit my post titles to five words. I read somewhere that’s ideal, but now I don’t remember why. Seems like it has something to do with showing up in a Google search.

MostlyBlogging.com

Janice Wald’s blog post on June 10, 2017 (http://www.mostlyblogging.com/generate-better-traffic) said something that made me stop in my tracks and reread a couple of paragraphs. The post was written by Raymond Crain, who works for E2M, a social media marketing agency based in San Diego.

In a nutshell, Mr. Crain said that blogging daily is out and blogging good content is in. Yay! I don’t have to feel guilty for only blogging twice-a-week!

He said Google now puts more emphasis on the “intent” of the searcher and the “quality” of the blog post. If you’re blogging for your own enjoyment, posting daily is fine, but if you’re trying to get your brand out there and drive more traffic to your blog you might want to read Mr. Crain’s article. This was just one of his five recommendations.

A Writer’s Path blog

Guest post contributor Shelley Widhalm said on Ryan Lanz’s A Writer’s Path blog on June 13, 2017 (https://ryanlanz.com/2017/06/13/why-blogging-is-important-for-writers/) that blogs are here to stay, but that it is quality and not quantity that’s important when establishing your brand and your credentials as a blogger worth reading. Therefore, there is more to blogging than attaining high search engine optimization (SEO.)

Ms. Widhalm stated, “Research shows that blogs should be posted once a week on the same day of the week . . . .”

She did not cite that specific research, but I will take the statement under consideration and continue to watch to see what becomes standard practice. Blogging is a creative outlet for me, so I won’t promise to conform to recommended schedules.

What do you think?

Would you prefer that I only blog once-a-week? I might give that some thought.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have good book to read. I’ve just finished reading Camino Island, by John Grisham and Put the Cat in the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen, by Jake Vander Ark. (More on that in July when I blog about the books I read in June.)

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

Janet

Words That Give Me Trouble

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Writing keeps me humble. There are words I worry about now in my writing that I used to not be concerned about. Since I’ve claimed aloud to be a writer, I feel the spotlight on all my written words. Sometimes I come up short.

Memory and Age

Memory and age begin to take a toll. Words that I used to spell or remember the definition of without a second thought now fall into the “need to look it up” category. Some words I’ve thought to be synonymous aren’t quite equal when examined. I continually learn of words I have used incorrectly all my life. It happens often enough that I’m losing my confidence.

Mark Nichol’s list

After creating an account on StumbleUpon last week, I stumbled upon Mark Nichol’s article, “50 Problem Words and Phrases” https://www.dailywritingtips.com/50-problem-words-and-phrases/. In today’s blog post, I’ll share a few examples of words that give me trouble.

  1. Compare to / compare with – Compare to implies only similarity; whereas, compare with   implies similarity and contrast.
  2. Each other / one another – Use one another when more than two are involved. (Who knew?)
  3. Jealousy / envy – If I am jealous of you, I resent your having something. If I envy you, I   covet something you have. (I’ve didn’t realize there was a difference until reading Mr. Nichol’s article cited above.)
  4. Since / because – As stated by Mr. Nichol in his article, “Informally, these terms are  interchangeable, but in formal writing, since should be used only to refer to time.” (This one from Mr. Nichol’s article was new to me, too.)
  5. Transcript / transcription – Mr. Nichol stated, “A transcript is a thing; a transcription is the process of creating it.” (I know I’ve been guilty of using “transcription” when I  should have written “transcript.”

I need to keep Mark Nichol’s list of “50 Problem Words and Phrases” handy as I’m writing. The more I read about the sometimes subtle nuances of words, the less confident I am in my writing.

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Self-Editing The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

I’m having flashbacks of the days when I had to follow the 1,000+-page gold standard of American English, The Chicago Manual of Style, as I self-edited the manuscript for my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.* That’s when I began to realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.

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Writing keeps me humble.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (Among other things, I’m reading Camino Island, by John Grisham.)

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and a better memory than I have for spelling and proper word usage.

Janet

*Shameless Plug:  In case you haven’t purchased a copy of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, please look for it at any independent bookstore. If it’s not on the shelf, please request it. If that doesn’t work, you can order it from Amazon.com.

 

What’s the Verdict on BookShots?

James Patterson launched a new idea in publishing a year ago. Anthony Mason interviewed Patterson on “CBS Sunday Morning” on June 5, 2016, and I just happened to watch. That was the first I’d heard of Patterson’s BookShots. The first BookShots book was released on June 7, 2016.

The idea of BookShots caught my interest enough that I made a note of it, but it was a year before I checked one out at the public library and read it. I read Detective Cross this week. I read it for a couple of reasons:  (1) I was curious to read a BookShot and (2) I’m probably the last person in the world to read a James Patterson book. It was about time.

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Detective Cross, a BookShot by James Patterson

What BookShots isn’t

I thought a BookShot book might be comparable to a Kindle Singles short story, but Kindle Singles are much shorter than a BookShot. For instance, Witness to a Trial:  A Short Story Prequel to The Whistler, by John Grisham is 36 pages and No Time Left, by David Baldacci is 15 pages.

What’s a BookShot?

Dianna Dilworth described BookShots this way in her article, “James Patterson’s New Imprint Has Sold 1 Million Titles” on [http://www.adweek.com/galleycat/james-pattersons-new-imprint-has-sold-1-million-titles/123220]on August 2, 2016:

BookShots, is a line of novella-length titles designed to get people that don’t read to pick up a book. The imprint, which is under the Little, Brown and Company, features titles that have less than 150 pages and the books cost less than $5.”

Has Bookshots been successful?

Daisy Maryles reported the following in “The Year in Bestsellers 2016” on https://www.PublishersWeekly.com on January 13, 2017:

“Innovative bestselling author James Patterson came up with a new idea to promote reading: a series of thrillers that are short (150 pages or less), cheap (around $5), and fast paced. Called BookShots, the idea looks like a quick success: 16 titles held 53 spots on the bestseller lists in 2016. Patterson is hoping to soon have them at grocery store checkout lines.”

Patterson’s first BookShots release, Cross Kill, sold 18,000 copies the first week! BookShots sales have been good, but are BookShots getting in the hands of people who never or rarely read a book? Are they being read by people who don’t desire to or have time to read a novel of several hundred pages? That was Patterson’s objective in launching the idea.

I suppose it’s too early to get a reading on that. I couldn’t find any progress reports or even any speculation about that. Patterson has long been a childhood literacy advocate, and this is apparently a tangible attempt by him to encourage adults to read.

A naysayer might say that Patterson came up with the BookShots idea to increase his bank account, but I can’t imagine that is the case. According to Natalie Robehmed, writing “The World’s Highest-Paid Authors 2016:  James Patterson, Jeff Kinney and J.K. Rowling Top Ranking” on the Forbes website on August 3, 2016 [https://www.forbes.com/sites/natalierobehmed/2016/08/03/the-worlds-highest-paid-authors-2016-james-patterson-jeff-kinney-and-j-k-rowling-top-ranking/#450fb5cd711c] “Patterson topped our list for the third straight year, earning $95 million pretax,” so it’s not that he needed the money.

Call to action

Have you read a BookShot? What’s your opinion of BookShots? Leave a comment below. Share this blog post on social media by using the icons below. Thank you for sharing.

In closing

I hope BookShots will be successful. If they are sold in drug stores and other retail outlets that traditionally have not gone for the hardback several-hundred-page novel, I believe it will fill a niche and reach people who aren’t avid book readers. I’m in favor of almost anything that gets people to read!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Camino Island, by John Grisham.

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

Janet