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

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

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!

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My “Sound Bite” and My Author Brand Story

Those of you follow my blog are probably growing weary of reading about author brand. I feel your pain! After today’s post, I look forward to blogging about other topics. Thank you for bearing with me as I went through this necessary journey and soul searching in preparation for what I hope will be the publication of my first novel in the next couple of years.

A Reductive Phrase or Sound Bites

On her company’s website,, Theresa Meyers defines a sound bite as “a reductive phrase that encapsulates more than the words contained in the phrase.”

She says an author must “boil down” his or her message points to “a one liner that will be used in every interview, every speech, every talk you give.”

I needed to ask myself why I write southern historical fiction. It’s what I’m naturally drawn to. It’s like all my life experiences have pointed me in this direction. But Ms. Meyers nudged me to go three more steps. I had to verbalize why people read southern historical fiction, what makes it sell, and why people seem to be gravitating toward it. As if that weren’t enough, the task was to come up with one phrase or sentence that would answer all of those questions.

My thought process as I pondered those three questions:  I think people read southern historical fiction, buy southern historical fiction, and gravitate toward it because The South is a state of mind. It is a place and feeling that its children cannot easily define or explain. It is unique due to its history. It is at once looked down upon and held in a place of fascination by the rest of the country. It is a place that one cannot begin to understand without having lived there, or perhaps without having been born there. It is probably the most misunderstood place on earth.

My conclusion, in one sentence or phrase:  Southern Historical Fiction touches the heart.

My Author Brand Story

If the following five paragraphs might sound like I’m bragging, that’s not my intention. It is my understanding that an author brand story is a writer’s statement of what qualifies him or her to write what they write. The next five paragraphs are my author brand story.

My 40 years of tracing my various family lines back to the colonial days in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia as well as collateral family lines back to the pioneer days in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi has served to reinforce and strengthen my knowledge of and history of The South (i.e., the southeastern states in the United States of America.)

I have done extensive local history and church history research and writing. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era. I identify with people who lived through the American Revolution, though I doubt if I would have had the physical fortitude to survive that period in our nation’s history. My studies have given me a profound appreciation for the hardships endured and sacrifices made by that generation of Americans that laid the foundation for the country and freedoms we enjoy today. Their blood runs through my veins and the red clay soil of the North Carolina piedmont is in my soul.

I am detail-oriented. Living my entire life in North Carolina and most of my life on land that has been in my family since the mid-18th century gives me a strong sense of place.

Having lost my first and second careers due to my health, I need to prove to myself and others that I can still contribute to society. I have been a writer all my life – just an unpublished one until recently.

My background, education, and desire to write historical fiction make me uniquely qualified to pen southern historical novels.

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Until my next blog post, I hope you have a good book to read and, if you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. Thank you for coming along on my journey as an aspiring novelist.