More March 2018 Reading

March brought a return of cooler weather than we had in February in North Carolina. It also brought a stack of good books. I blogged about some of them last Monday (Some March Reading), and today I’m blogging about the rest of those that I read last month.

Four Short Stories:  In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting, by Chris Andrews

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

Science fiction and fantasy are not my reading genres of choice, but Chris Andrews and I connected with each other in the blogosphere as two struggling writers. (Actually, I’m struggling. I’m not so sure about Chris.) We live in different hemispheres but I have learned a great deal from him about writing. He recently published an e-book of four short stories and I was eager to read them.

“In Need of Assistance” leads off the short story collection. Well written and suspenseful, this person (me) who never reads sci-fi got pulled into the story and thought it ended too soon. In other words, I wanted to know what happened next.

The second story in this e-book is “Saving the Unicorn.” It is about a magician who travels 4,000 years back in time to free the last unicorn…. or is it?

“Faerie Blues” is the third story in Chris’ book. The identity of the faerie is a surprise.

The fourth and last story in the book is “Trophy Hunting.” This story is survival of the fittest with a twist.

Following the four short stories are the first seven chapters of Chris’ novel, Divine Prey, which is due for release in May 2018.

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

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The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

This historical novel was inspired by the creation of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II and the top-secret work carried on there in the development of the atomic bomb.

Ms. Beard invented characters from all walks of like and guides the reader to like most of them and identify with them as much as is possible for we who live in a different time. I liked that she included the black people as well as the white people who lived and worked at Oak Ridge because, as much as they had in common, their housing and treatment by the US Army was quite different. It was in the racially segregated South and the book stands as witness to the prejudice and unequal treatment that existed legally at that time.

The author included not only Christians but an atheist and a Jewish physicist. This book’s cast of characters runs the gamut from redneck bigot to the Jewish scientist whose family had surely died in Germany during the War. True to the history of the facility at Oak Ridge, some characters are poorly educated while others are highly educated, but the emphasis is on the everyday people who worked there and did not know what they were working on.

Ms. Beard follows each character and through them she allows the reader to experience World War II on the home front in the USA and through the stress and struggles of the people who worked in complete secrecy at Oak Ridge. She brings to life the inevitable inner conflicts experienced by some of the scientists who worked there and at Los Alamos, New Mexico as they were simultaneously excited by the physics of the atomic bomb and yet horrified by the realities of what the unleashing of such a weapon would mean and the suffering it would cause for thousands of innocent people.

I never had really thought about how conflicted some of those scientists must have felt. I’d also never given much thought to how many thousands of people worked at Oak Ridge and the majority not knowing they were working on developing an atomic bomb until the day the first one was dropped on Hiroshima.

Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland

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Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland

This is a debut novel by Karen Cleveland. It has received rave reviews from highly-respected authors, so I was eager to read this espionage thriller. After having read it, all I can say is, “Wow!”

Written by a former CIA analyst, this novel has a female CIA analyst working in a division studying Russia and looking for Russian sleeper cells in the USA. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I’ll just say her marriage and work ethic are tested to the limit.

This novel will make you wonder who you can trust. It is the story of betrayal on many levels, and it will keep you turning pages and wishing you didn’t have to stop to eat, sleep, or work. If you like to read espionage thrillers, you will love this book.

A Piece of the World, by Kristina Baker Kline

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A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

We’re all familiar with Andrew Wyeth’s most famous painting, “Kristina’s World.” This historical novel is based on the imaginary life of the woman lying in a semi-prone position in the grass on the hillside below the house in that painting.

The author, who also wrote The Orphan Train, did a beautiful job developing the characters in A Piece of the World. They were so believable, the reader will forget the book is fiction. The woman in the painting, Kristina, becomes increasingly disabled due to an unknown condition affecting her legs. She lives in the grey clapboard house on the hill as depicted in the painting. Unable and unwilling to empathize with their daughter, Kristina’s parents do little to try to get her help.

Drawn to the feel and essence of the old house, Andrew, the son of artist N.C. Wyeth comes and asks if he can paint. He sketches and paints Kristina’s brother, but the brother has little patience for posing so Kristina becomes his most consistent model. He continues his work for years.

Kristina falls in love, but is it with Andrew? I’ll leave that for you to discover if you choose to read the book.

Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

Another Ocean to Cross by Ann Griffin
Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

After reading Ann Griffin’s guest blog post on Writers in the Storm about how to or how not to use family history in your fiction (http://writersinthestormblog.com/2017/12/writing-fiction-using-family-history/), I pre-ordered her debut historical novel, Another Ocean to Cross. I followed her blog and she, subsequently, followed mine.

In Another Ocean to Cross, Ann Griffin weaves a compelling story about 18-year-old Renata Lowenthal, a Jewish woman desperate to escape Germany in 1938 as Hitler makes life ever-more tenuous for the Jewish population. Renata is an artist and her gentile boyfriend is in the military. He has to leave Munich, but he is smuggling Renata’s renderings of the Third Reich’s mistreatment of Jews to journalists in Switzerland.

No matter what the world throws at Renata, she meets the challenge.

The descriptions in this book are vivid and draw on all the senses. Being about the Jews who escaped to Egypt, this book enlightened me about an aspect of World War II that I hadn’t known much about.

Renata struggles to convince her parents that it is imperative that they get out of Germany and try to get to Palestine before it’s too late to escape. The tale Ms. Griffin spins will keep you turning the pages of this book and staying up at night to read just one more chapter. I will not give more details because you will want to read this novel and I don’t want to take away any suspense for you. It will take you and Renata to some surprising locations.

Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose

In case your eyes have glazed over, I’ll save my comments about this book until next Monday’s blog post.

Since my last blog post

I have continued to read about writing and study areas I need help with. I have worked on my outline for The Spanish Coin, the working title for what I hope will be my first novel.

One of my readers reported difficulty in getting my comments section below to work. If you have trouble with it, too, please send me a message through the contact form/newsletter sign-up sheet below. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.

My blog steadily attracts more readers and followers, which is gratifying. One new reader and follower, Neil, also signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters. Thank you, Neil.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Last Child, by John Hart, so I’ll be ready to read The Hush in a few weeks.

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

If you haven’t signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters, please do so by completing the form below.

Janet

Some March Reading

I usually wait until the first Monday of the next month to blog about books I read this month, but I’ve read so many good books in March I decided to split them up between today’s blog and my April 2, 2018 blog post.

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

After reading Kristin Hannah’s best-selling novel, The Nightingale, last year, I eagerly awaited the release of The Great Alone. What a masterpiece! I don’t want to spoil the story for you if you haven’t read it.

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The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

I’ll just state the basic description – that it is the story of a troubled Vietnam War veteran and POW survivor who took his wife and daughter to Alaska to escape the craziness he saw in life in the lower 48 states.

Ill-prepared for life in the wilds of Alaska, things went from bad to worse for the family. Domestic abuse is a thread that weaves throughout the novel. Can love outlast the horrors this family lives with?

The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen

This historical novel alternated between World War II and 1973. After the death of her father, 25-year-old Joanna travels from London to a remote village in Tuscany where her father’s fighter plane was shot down in 1944.

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The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen

Since her father’s death, Joanna has found an undeliverable and returned-to-send letter he wrote to an Italian woman named Sofia. In the letter, he references “our beautiful baby boy” who is hidden away where no one but he and Sofia can find him.

Joanna had no knowledge of this woman named Sofia until discovering the letter in her father’s belongings after his death. Who was Sofia, and is “our beautiful baby boy” a half-brother Joanna knows nothing about?

White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

This historical novel was a difficult read for me because the subject matter was so bleak, violent, and sad; however, I’m glad I read it. I learned a great deal of history.

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White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

White Chrysanthemum is about man’s inhumanity to man – or more specifically, man’s inhumanity to woman. The novel was inspired by the plight of Korean girls and young women who were abducted by the occupying Japanese soldiers during World War II. The girls and young women were physically- and sexually-abused and were forced to be “comfort women” for the Japanese soldiers.

This is also a story of the human spirit and what it is able to endure due to the innate will to live. It is also about the love two sisters share for each other and how they long to be reunited.

It is not for the faint of heart, but I recommend it to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the early- to mid-20th century history of Korean-Japanese relations. As recently as 2015, the treatment of Korean girls and women by Japanese soldiers from the late 1930s through the Second World War was being swept under the rug.

In 2015, the governments of Japan and South Korea agreed “to remove the Statue of Peace [in Seoul] and never speak of the ‘comfort women’ again” according to the timeline in the back of Mary Lynn Bracht’s book. Thanks to her novel, a whole new generation will learn about his piece of history.

The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, by Anu Partanen

I checked this book out because the title intrigued me. The author grew up in Finland but moved to the USA as a young adult. This book is her perspective on the social and governmental differences between the two countries.

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The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, by Anu Partanen

The prologue was interesting in that Ms. Partanen expressed her surprise in finding that Americans are less free and independent than the people of her home country. Her opinion is that

  1. the fact that most Americans’ health care is dependent upon their employer, we in the USA are tied to our jobs;
  2. Americans are sometimes forced to stay in unhappy marriages because the income tax laws are written to reward couples filing jointly;
  3. the tax laws in America encourage young adults to depend upon their parents for paying for college and supporting them financially in other ways past the age of 18; and
  4. the policies of the US government saddle parents with too much expense in the raising of children and saddle too many middle-age adults with the financial burden of caring for their elderly parents.

 

Ms. Partanen boiled all this down to what she calls The Nordic Theory of Love.

My brief summary doesn’t do justice to this 450-page book, but maybe I have piqued your interest. I enjoyed a couple of days’ break from reading depressing World War II novels, but about halfway through Ms. Partanen’s book I decided I’d rather read fiction. Some short stories and novels were vying for my attention.

Since my last blog post

I’ve worked on letters to send to 40 bookstores to encourage them to place spring orders for my 2014 vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I’ve done a lot of reading, and I’ve studied book marketing and writing in deep point-of-view.

Until my next blog post

If you haven’t already signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters, please fill out the form below.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline. Perhaps you’ll want to read one of the books I wrote about today.

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

Janet

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.

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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.

Janet

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.

LinkedIn

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.

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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.

Janet

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

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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

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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

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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           

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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

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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

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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.

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Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting — by Chris Andrews
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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!

Janet

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.

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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.

Janet

 

 

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?

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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.

Janet