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.


“Left in the dryer too long”

My blog post today highlights a line I like from a book written by the late Sue Grafton. Ms. Grafton died last month after a two-year battle with cancer. She was known for her alphabetical book series. The first book in the series is A is for Alibi. Ms. Grafton had written her way all the way through the letter “Y” at the time of her death. Her fans are disappointed that there won’t be a “Z” book.

A is for Alibi

I was late to jump on Ms. Grafton’s bandwagon and have only read A is for Alibi and B is for Burglar. I was in my early 60s when I read A is for Alibi, so the following line from that book resonated with me. Today is my 65th birthday, so I wanted to share that line with you.

“She was probably 65, with a finely wrinkled face, like something that had been left in the dryer too long.”  From A is for Alibi, by Sue Grafton.

I love that line! I have a finely wrinkled face, but that is the least of my worries. In the grand scheme of things, wrinkles don’t matter to me.

Out of curiosity, I looked online to see how old Sue Grafton was when she wrote A is for Alibi. Since she was 41 years old when it was published, I guess she wasn’t dealing with wrinkles yet. It would have been interesting to ask her about her thoughts on the matter when she turned 65 in 2005.

Photo by Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen on Unsplash

I truly cannot believe I’m 65 years old, even though over the last few months I have received mail from just about every insurance company in the United States proclaiming in bold and large font that I would soon be turning 65 and it was time for me to select Medicare supplemental insurance.

It seems that two or three times a week I receive notices via Facebook that more and more of my high school classmates are having birthdays – and I can’t believe any of them are turning 65 either.

I celebrate today, and in the coming days and weeks I’ll try to embrace my age and remember to say or write “65” when asked my age. With a little luck, I’ll continue to think Ms. Grafton’s “left in the dryer too long” line is funny.

Can you do me a favor?

At the end of last Monday’s blog post I included a request for your name, your e-mail address, your location (because I’m curious about where in the world you are), and a comment so I can start building a mailing list. I filled it out myself, just so I could test it and make sure it was working. I received an e-mail letting me know that I had signed up for my own mailing list. I didn’t hear from anyone else, as in zip… zero.

I’m including the same form at the end of today’s post, except I’m going to try to override the required comment.

If you filled out the form last week, please let me know so I can try to determine why I wasn’t notified.

If you follow my blog via e-mail you probably think I already have your name and address, but I don’t have access to that information.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier.

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

If you are also 65 years old, I hope you’re happy in your own skin, and that includes not minding if you have “a finely wrinkled face, like something that had been left in the dryer too long.”


P.S.  Please fill out the form below. I promise I will not overload your inbox with e-mail.

“More in common than we think”

For today’s blog post I’m highlighting two sentences from Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent. You may recall that I read this nonfiction book in September and commented about it in my October 2, 2017 blog post, Some Great September Reads.

Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, with Lynn Vincent

“ʻEver man should have the courage to stand up and face the enemy,’ I said, “ʻcause ever person that looks like a enemy on the outside ain’t necessarily one on the inside. We all has more in common than we think.’” – Homeless man Denver Moore speaking in Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent.

Lessons to learn

We can all probably learn many lessons from Same Kind of Different As Me. I think the theme of the book is that under the pigment shade of our skin, we are all the same. When we judge others based on their outward appearance, we often rob ourselves of an opportunity for making a new friend, or at the very least, an opportunity to have cordial interaction with a stranger.

I’m not naïve enough to advocate that we just approach strangers willy-nilly and befriend them. There are people out there who are up to no good; however, that is not a good excuse for being afraid of everyone who does not look like we do.

Polarization in America

In our current polarized population in the United States, it seems we’re becoming more a nation of “they” and “us” than the “melting pot” I grew up learning about in history classes. We tend to fear the unknown. As long as our fellow citizens whose skin is a different shade from our own are seen as people to be feared or as an enemy, we will continue to be a divided people and none of us will be able to reach our potential. Our nation certainly won’t reach its potential until we learn how to get along with one another.

This applies to people of another racial or ethnic background, but it also applies to people who espouse political stances different from our own. I’m old enough to remember when Democrats and Republicans could agree to agreeably disagree. Now it seems that neither side has any desire to try to reach common ground on any issue.

Discovering the fun of compromise

As a political science major in college, one of the courses that still stands out in my memory is the one called The Legislative Process. Going into the course, I wasn’t very excited. I had never been a political person. I was studying political science to prepare myself for a career in city management (or so I thought.) Much to my surprise, The Legislative Process turned out to be an invigorating course.

Class members were arbitrarily divided into two groups. Each group was assigned a piece of legislation they had to fight to get passed. Of course, the two proposed laws were polar opposites of each other. The two groups had to work together and create a compromise bill.

I recall that one day when the bell rang and we were supposed to leave the classroom so another class could come in, the professor struggled to get us to stop debating and leave. Although we knew we could pick up where we left off at our next class meeting two days later, we were so wrapped up in the process – and HAVING SO MUCH FUN – that we didn’t want to stop. I have forgotten many of the intricacies of that political science course, but I accidentally learned that compromise can be fun.

The “takeaway”

Let’s stop being afraid of one another and start letting ourselves find the fun and joy that come from interacting with one another and finding common ground. And when we cannot readily find common ground, let’s remember how – or learn how – to compromise.

Find a place for compromise in your own life and work to get compromise back into the vocabulary and mindset of our local, state, national, and world leaders.

When I sat down to write about those two sentences from Same Kind of Different As Me, I thought I knew where I was going. I anticipated writing a short, maybe 300-word blog post. Like life and the legislative process, though, writing has many surprises. One of them is that this blog post is approaching 1,000 words.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. David Ignatius’s new thriller, The Quantum Spy is in transit to me at the public library. I have enjoyed his other novels, so I’m looking forward to reading this one.

After being overwhelmed this year with books I wanted to read, I plan to cut back somewhat on my reading for a while and spend more time on my writing. It is said that one has to read a lot in order to be a good writer.

I’ve learned a lot from the many good books I’ve read in 2017, and now I look forward to putting some of that new knowledge into practice by getting back to work on my historical novel manuscript with the working title, The Spanish Coin.

It’s been fun to work on my manuscript’s outline the last few days. There’s another surprise! I never thought I would use the words “outline” and “fun” in the same sentence. Outlining a work of fiction is hard work but, when I’m in the proper frame of mind, it can also be fun.

If you are a writer, I hope you have found the perfect balance between reading and writing. I hope you have productive writing time.


Description Written by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors. She has a talent for addressing difficult topics in her fiction writing that makes the reader wrestle with a moral issue. In her most recent novel, Great Small Things, she tackles race relations in America.

Great Small Things focuses on a nurse of one race and a couple of another race whose baby is in a life-or-death situation. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend that you do.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

In Small Great Things, Turk Bauer is a white racist. Ms. Picoult could have written pages of prose to describe Mr. Bauer’s personality and demeanor, but she was able to sum it up in the following sentence:

“Turk Bauer makes me think of a power line that’s snapped during a storm, and lies across the road just waiting for something to brush against it so it can shoot sparks.” – Jodi Picoult in Small Great Things.

What a vivid picture! If you read nothing else about Turk Bauer, that one sentence would tell you pretty much all you needed to know about him. I hope I can write character descriptions like that some day!

More and more I’m learning that in order to be a good writer, a person needs to read a lot. I’m so absorbed in reading books this year that I have spent very little time writing. I need to strike a happy medium and make time for both, but the public library has so many good books and a number of my favorite authors have new books being released in October. As the saying goes, “So many books, so little time!”

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to a novel on CD, The Saboteur, by Andrew Gross. I read The One Man, by Andrew Gross, last year and blogged about it (What I read in November.) I’ve wanted to read some of Mr. Gross’s other books ever since.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I generally don’t like to listen to books on CD. The waitlist at the public library for Mr. Gross’s latest novel was shorter for the CD than for any other format, so I decided to give it a try.

Listening to a book on CD usually gets on my last nerve; however, I’ve worked out a routine, with The Saboteur. I listen to one disc each day, which takes a little more than one hour. I use that time to do my physical therapy exercises for my shoulder. I like being able to get two things accomplished at the same time, and I’m finding that the length of one disc is about my attention limit.

What about you?

Do you prefer to read a traditional paper book, listen to a book on CD, or read a book on an electronic device? There is no right or wrong answer. Aren’t we fortunate to live in a time when there are books available in many different formats?


A Line from Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

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.


“Not a rope . . . if drowning”

Prayers the Devil Answers, A novel by Sharyn McCrumb

My blog post today takes a look at a line I like from a novel, Prayers the Devil Answers, by Sharyn McCrumb. Ms. McCrumb has mastered the art of capturing the independent spirit of the people of the southern Appalachian Mountains in the following sentence:

“Not a one of the folks from up there would ask for anything – not food if they were hungry, not a rope if they were drowning.”  From Prayers the Devil Answers, by Sharyn McCrumb.

How succinctly Ms. McCrumb gets to the core character of the people who live in those mountains and whose ancestors have lived there for up to 250 years! As a writer, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to state it any better.

What do you think?

Have a go at it. Try to write one sentence that sums up that southern Appalachian independent spirit.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth and Fredrik Backman’s novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer.

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


“Like a Throwback to Dracula”

I’ve been reading about describing characters. There are two schools of thought regarding that. Since writers write for readers, some readers were asked what they thought about character descriptions in novels.

Some readers want every last detail about the physical appearance of a character to be spelled out, but it seems that most readers don’t want a lot of physical details. They prefer to take what the author gives them and take it from there. They like to imagine in their minds what each character looks like.

Damaged, by Lisa Scottoline

In Damaged, by Lisa Scottoline, protagonist Mary DiNunzio managed in the following quote to give just enough description of fellow lawyer Nick Machiavelli:

“He wore his hair slicked back, like a throwback to Dracula, and his eyes were narrow slits, with dark brown irises that were the exact color of baking chocolate, and Mary would know.” – from Damaged, by Lisa Scottoline.

Ms. Scottoline could have written, “Nick Machiavelli was greasy” or “Nick Machiavelli was a greaser” and I would have conjured a picture in my mind; however, the phrase “like a throwback to Dracula” and his eyes that were narrow slits paints a more vivid picture of him in my mind.

“the exact color of baking chocolate”

Ms. Scottoline also cleverly threw in that Machiavelli’s irises “were the exact color of baking chocolate, and Mary would know.” That is more accurate than her just saying that he had brown eyes, and I love the phrase “and Mary would know.”

If that’s all we knew about Mary, we’d know that she either likes to bake with chocolate or she likes to eat things made with baking chocolate. Maybe both. Any chocolate-loving reader will immediately identify with Mary!

As I start to rewrite my novel, The Spanish Coin, and flesh out all the characters, I’m learning from writers and from readers what readers prefer. Therefore, I will minimize physical details and concentrate on describing them through their words and actions.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.