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

The Spanish Coin, Rescued?

In my H is for Historical Fiction blog post on April 10, 2017, I announced that I needed to make some major plot changes and rewrite my novel manuscript titled The Spanish Coin. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do that. All is not lost, though!

The-Spanish-Coin-Rescued

 

I’ve brainstormed and come up with an idea for rescuing the book! I hope to start the actual rewrite by the end of the summer. I plan to retain the working title – The Spanish Coin. It won’t be the same story as the original idea, but it will still take place in the Carolinas in the years just prior to the American Revolution. This weekend I started doing deep character work on my protagonist.

I’m getting help!

Barbara Kyle’s “Your Path to a Page-Turner” program [https://www.barbarakyle.com] has been a tremendous help to me as I start creating the people who live in my novel. Andrea Lundgren, my writing coach, [https://andrealundgren.com] cheers me on and gives constructive feedback. I am also encouraged by the comments my blog posts receive on the blog itself and on my Facebook pages.

You have all been very patient with me on my journey as a writer. I hope we will all be rewarded someday with The Spanish Coin held together by a spine and two book covers!

Liebster and Versatile Blogger Awards

A few weeks ago, Andrea Lundgren nominated me for the Liebster Award and blogger YellowFuzzyDuck nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. While I was honored by both nominations, I had to decline due to my health.

I thought it only fair that I acknowledge the nominations in this blog post and explain why I couldn’t fulfill the requirements. I thought that telling this personal story might also serve as an explanation for anyone thinking that I’m taking too long to write a book.

CFS/ME

One requirement of both those blogging awards is that the nominee must tell some things about themselves that their readers probably do not know. Something that most of my readers don’t know is that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. That’s its lame name in the United States. In most of the rest of the world it is called Myalgic Encephalopathy or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I was diagnosed in 1987. My energy level remained essentially the same throughout the first 29 years except for a very gradual decline.

Shingles

Having shingles (May 2016 until recently) has taken an additional toll on me, and I have been unable to regain the energy level I had prior to that illness. My right cornea is still not happy!

Energy slumps

I’ve had slumps before. I choose to believe that this is just a longer-than-usual slump. I choose to expect to improve any day now. That positive attitude has gotten me through the last 30 years. I am, by no means, an invalid. I don’t want to leave that impression!

My life at the present time

I am pretty much at home, though, because getting out and about is draining. For instance, a trip to the grocery store can land me in bed or on the couch for a day or two. I’m fortunate that writing is, for the most part, a sedentary occupation.

Having to rewrite The Spanish Coin is daunting. I love to write and I enjoy doing the research required in order to write historical fiction; however, that doesn’t mean it isn’t work. I refuse to give up, though!

Call to Action!

Please visit Andrea Lundgren’s blog, https://andrealundgren.com. Andrea writes insightful and informative blog posts about various aspects of writing. As my writing coach, she has her work cut out for her!

Also, please visit YellowFuzzyDuck’s Turtledesk blog, https://turtledesk.wordpress.com. This blog takes on a variety of topics and contains beautiful photographs.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. My blog post on Friday will be about the books I read during the month of May. I read some good ones!

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. If you are still learning the craft of writing, you might want to visit https://www.barbarakyle.com and check out Barbara’s “Your Path to a Page-Turner” program.

Janet

V is for Vocabulary and Voice

On this 22nd day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, the featured letter is “V.” Two options came to mind as I considered “V” words that have something to do with writing. Not able to decide which one to go with, I am writing about both:  Vocabulary and Voice.

V is for Vocabulary

As I do on a fairly regular basis, I’m going to show my ignorance. One of the things I like about reading books on my Kindle Fire is that I can simply rest my finger on a word I’m not familiar with and its definition pops up on the screen. I even find myself doing that while reading a traditional book! I laugh at myself and reach for a dictionary.

When contemplating today’s post early in April, my first thought was to blog about “V is for Vocabulary.” I started jotting down new words that I was learning.

Bildungsroman

Since Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville, North Carolina agreed to sell my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in 2014, I’ve been on the independent bookstore’s mailing list. I receive e-mail invitations to author events hosted by the shop. On April 6, the e-mail announced that Jackson County author David Joy would discuss his new novel, The Weight of This World, on April 22 at 3:00 p.m.

I’ve read about David Joy and his debut novel, Where All Light Tends to Go, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it. It picks up on the widespread drug problem that plagues the mountains in western North Carolina just as it does the rest of the United States. (Bear with me. I promise to get to Bildungsroman soon.)

Here it is two years later, and Mr. Joy’s second novel has been published. I was not able to go to Waynesville on April 22 to hear Mr. Joy speak but I plan to read one of his books the first chance I get.

Getting back to “V is for Vocabulary,” it was when I visited the website for the Cabarrus County Public Library system that I discovered that the genre in which Where All the Light Tends to Go is categorized as Bildungsroman. I didn’t have a clue what that meant.

Since I was at my computer, I took advantage of Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. I learned that Bildungsroman is the combination of two German words: Bildung, meaning “education,” and Roman, meaning “novel.”

Hence, according to www.merriam-webster.com, a Bildungsroman “is a novel that deals with the formative years of the main character – in particular, his or her psychological development and moral education. The bildungsroman usually ends on a positive note with the hero’s foolish mistakes and painful disappointments over and a life of usefulness ahead.”

Anaphora

Ironically, later that same day, I read a post on JstinsonINK.com about the word anaphora. Quoting from Jonathan’s post, “Anaphora – This is a form of repetition where you repeat the beginning of a phrase multiple times in succession. Think the quote from The Help:  ‘You is smart. You is kind. You is important.’”

I talk to my dog, sometimes to the point that he gets up and walks away. He is a rescue dog, so he has self-confidence issues. I often say to him, “You is smart. You is kind. You is important.” Until three weeks ago, I had no idea that what I was doing was an anaphora.

I don’t regret majoring in political science in college but, if I’d known I would someday be a writer, I would have taken more English classes. It seems a shame to be my age and just now learn the meanings of Bildungsroman and Anaphora.

V is for Voice

A writer’s voice is his personality. It’s the way she expresses herself. Every writer has a unique voice.

Liebster Award

Since being nominated by Philip Craddock (philipcraddockwriter.wordpress.com) for the Liebster Award last April, I have found my voice on my blog. A criteria after being nominated for the Liebster Award is that you have to open up about yourself. It was then, in my April 6, 2016 blog post, that I “admitted” I have an illness that has my circadian clock off by about six hours, but I didn’t reveal the name of the illness. (I’ve always been a “night person,” but now I’m a “middle of the night person.”)

In my blog post on April 11, 2016, I listed 10 random facts about myself – which was required as a nominee for the Liebster Award. I explained that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) as it’s known in the United States. In the rest of the world it is called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), so some of my readers in other countries might be familiar with it at ME.

My reticence

I was reticent to reveal this about myself because I didn’t want sympathy. I wanted people to read my blog because they liked what I had to say. I thought being open about my illness would hurt my chances of being represented by a literary agent and getting my work published.

Found:  My Voice!

What I discovered, though, was that sharing those very personal details about myself gave me the freedom to write more from my heart. I had found my voice!

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

10 random facts about me

Liebster Award

In my blog post a couple of days ago, I wrote about being nominated for the Liebster Award. One of the requirements was that I post 10 random facts about myself. I put that off until today, for reasons that will become more clear when you read my list. I have tried to keep my limited energy a secret from my readers, but it is time to “come clean.”

1. I have what is called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in the United States but is known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) in the rest of the world. My energy and stamina are limited, and my memory problems and mental fog make my research and writing tedious and time consuming. I often feel as if I live in a vat of molasses. Nothing comes easily.

2. I started working on the manuscript of my proposed historical novel, The Spanish Coin, in 2005. I am still tweaking it.

3. As a young adult, I was a “fiction snob.” I thought there was nothing to learn or gain by reading fiction. You can imagine how shocked my sister was when, at the age of 48 in 2001, I told her that I had registered for a fiction writing class! That’s when I started learning to write fiction.

4. Although my appearance, manner, and personality give the impression that I am conservative, I am a liberal when it comes to politics.

5. After wanting to play the Appalachian lap dulcimer since first being introduced to the instrument as a college freshman, I finally purchased one and attended a four-day dulcimer workshop in 2010. Due to random fact #1, I still don’t play well and probably never will; however, I do play for my own enjoyment. I often listen to dulcimer music while I write. (I’m listening to some as I write this blog post.)

6. I live on land that has been in my family since the 1760s.

7. I sleep in a bed that my father made of pine from our land in the 1940s.

8. I wish I could sing.

9. I could drive a tractor before I was old enough to drive a car.

10. Taking the fiction writing course and attending the dulcimer workshop were life-changing experiences for me, and I will forever be grateful that I got out of my comfort zone and took advantage of both opportunities.

No matter your age, stretch yourself and follow your dreams. What do you have to lose?