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 Alexander’s first novel, I had to keep reminding myself that The Taster was a work of fiction. Alexander 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

 

 

Reading and Writing in January 2018

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

My writing

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

Historical novel progress

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

Spanish Coin location reveal

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

Goal for February

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

My reading

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

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

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

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

The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

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

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

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

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

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The Last Castle, by Denise Kiernan

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

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

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

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

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Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

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

The King of Lies, by John Hart

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

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

Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier

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

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

What about December?

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

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

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

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

Until my next blog post

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

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

If you subscribed to my mailing list last week, you renewed my faith in mankind. Thank you, Vicki, Colby, Katrina, and Glen!

In case you haven’t signed up for my mailing list, you have another opportunity to do so using the fill-in form below. I appreciate it!

Janet

“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.

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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.”

Janet

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