“On a third-floor ledge, threatening”

“On a third-floor ledge, threatening”

Do I have your attention? Good! That’s the purpose of a hook in a novel. I made a note of this one when I read Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich in 2015:

“Ginny Scoot was standing on a third-floor ledge, threatening to jump, and it was more or less my fault.” – Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich

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Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich

After reading that opening sentence, you have to keep reading. The next sentence clarifies things a tad for any reader who has not read any of Ms. Evanovich’s previous 21 Stephanie Plum novels:  “My name is Stephanie Plum and I work as a bounty hunter for my bail bondsman cousin Vinnie.”

I read Janet Evanovich when I want something light and amusing to read. She did a good day’s (years’?) work when she came up with the characters in her Stephanie Plum series. Great character development!

Fans of the Stephanie Plum series know there is a story to follow that hook, no doubt filled with numerous missteps by Stephanie and probably at least one blown-up car. The opening sentence introduces Ginny Scoot to you and tells you she is in dire straits. You wonder what has happened to push her to the edge. What in the world did Stephanie Plum do to cause this crisis?

A good hook grabs you. It gives you just enough information that your curiosity is piqued and you are compelled to keep reading. The first sentence doesn’t have to carry the whole load; however, if the reader isn’t hooked by the bottom of the first page, chances are he or she won’t read the second page. That’s a lot of pressure for a writer!

Since my last blog post

I was fortunate to find one copy of The Carolina Backcountry On The Eve Of The Revolution:  The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant, edited by Richard J. Hooker in circulation in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library System. It has been useful in my research for the historical novel I’m writing.

More letters have been sent to independent bookstore owners to encourage them to place orders for my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, as spring is finally approaching in western North Carolina.

I’ve continued to hone my new skill of creating graphics for Pinterest using www.Canva.com. In fact, someone at www.Canva.com saw my last blog post and contacted me. She was complimentary of my blog but requested that I give the whole URL (www.Canva.com) instead of “Canva.com” as I had in my blog. I corrected that in last week’s blog post.

Last week’s blog post, How Can a Writer Use Pinterest?, has only been liked by four other WordPress.com (or WordPress.org) bloggers, so Pinterest doesn’t appear to be a popular blog topic for me. I have gained several new followers via email, though, so perhaps it was of interest of a few people. I’ll be watching my Pinterest analytics to see if my original graphics get any attention.

I read on www.Goodreads.com that Jennifer Ryan is considering writing a sequel to The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. I commented on how much I liked it in my April 1, 2017 blog post, The Authors I Read in March. I look forward to reading the sequel, if it comes to fruition.

Going off topic

The highlights of my week were seeing several birds that make rare appearances in my yard. First came a male scarlet tanager to get a drink of water on Sunday. Two days later, two male indigo buntings, and a rose-breasted grosbeak came to eat. The grosbeak usually stops by our bird feeder every spring, but he’s just passing through. The indigo buntings graze on the ground under the feeder.

Sometimes the rose-breasted grosbeak stays for two or three days, but this year I only saw him once. He feasted for a good 15 minutes before flying away. Other birds came and went, but he was not deterred. This is much different behavior than is displayed by the northern cardinal. The northern cardinal is the most skittish bird I’ve seen. We have them in abundance.

I’ve only seen indigo buntings a few times in my life, but this was only the second time I’d seen a scarlet tanager. I didn’t get any photographs this time, but I found it interesting when I looked back in my photo files that the indigo bunting and rose-breasted grosbeak showed up on the same day in 2007. I photographed them on May 9 that year. It was the first time I’d ever seen either species.

This year they showed up on April 24. Concluding that the two species apparently migrate together, I did a little research. I learned on https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/indigo_bunting (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology) that indigo buntings “migrate at night, using the stars for guidance.” Perhaps it is coincidental that they and the rose-breasted grosbeak both show up in my yard on the same day.

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Male Indigo Bunting, photographed March 9, 2007.
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Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, photographed March 9, 2007.

When I chose the topic for today’s post, I had no idea I would include a segment about birds. I selected the above photo of the grosbeak because it was the best picture I took of him. It just occurred to me that he sort of illustrates the title of this blog post. Okay, use a little imagination. Work with me here!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good place to watch a variety of birds.

I also hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. I’m usually years behind in reading award winners, so I decided to jump right on this one.

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

Feel free to share my blog posts on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or via email.

Thank you for reading my blog! What birds have you seen recently, and what are you reading?

Janet

The Authors I Read in March

Today is the first day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge. The challenge is for a blogger to blog on 26 specific days in the month of April. If that weren’t enough, there is a big caveat:  Each day’s blog must be based on the next letter of the English alphabet in chronological order. Therefore, today’s blog has to have something to do with the letter “A.”

2017 A to Z Challenge Badge
Blogging from A to Z Challenge Badge 2017

Since my first blog each month is about the books I read in the preceding month, I’ve tweaked my usual post title to read, “The Authors I Read in March” instead of the usual, “What I Read in March.” Without further ado, let’s get to those authors and their books. I had a rewarding month of reading in March!

Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America

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One of the categories I included in my 2017 Reading Challenge was to read a book that might change my mind. Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson definitely fit the bill. Reading this nonfiction book still haunts me four weeks later. Page after page, it drove home to me how those of us who are white in America take for granted our white privilege. It even goes farther than that. For the most part, we aren’t even aware of our white privilege.

An example is that, as a small child, I was told by my parents that if I ever got separated from them out in public to look for a police officer. I was told that police officers were my friend. A police officer would always help me. It has taken me to middle age to recognize that children of color in America are not told that. Their parents and grandparents have not been able to trust law enforcement officers, so they cannot be told to automatically trust such people in authority.

If I am driving and see a police car in my rear view mirror, my eyes immediately drop to the speedometer even if I’m fairly certain I’m not speeding. For a split second, I’m afraid I might be doing something wrong. “Afraid” is probably too strong a word. It’s just a fraction of a second when I think I might get a speeding ticket, but with a glance at the dial on the dashboard I’m reassured that I’m not breaking any laws and I am perfectly safe. It is impossible for me to put myself in skin of a darker shade than my Scots-Irish heritage gave me. The emotions a person of color must feel when being approached by a police officer is something I cannot identify with because I am Caucasian.

These are just two examples. The roots of this problem run deep into the foundations of our country. Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson made me think about these issues in more depth than I had otherwise been forced to think about them. Just by being born with white skin in America has given me privileges that I have been oblivious to all my life. It is that white privilege itself that has made my oblivion possible.

It’s not enough for me to be aware of my white privilege. It is my responsibility to work for social justice.

Michael Eric Dyson is a sociology professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. This is the first one of his books that I’ve read. I wanted to read it after seeing him interviewed by Tavis Smiley on PBS.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir book cover

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan is a 2017 novel that is getting much-deserved praise. I gravitated to it because it is a work of historical fiction. Set in the early days of World War II in England, it is a story of how a group of women found their voices and their strengths after all the able-bodied men in the village were called away to fight the Nazis. Each of the women came about this epiphany in her own way and at her own pace. Subjects such as abortion, black market dealings, and the British class system are among the topics woven into this novel.

A native of Kent, England, author Jennifer Ryan lives in the United States. Her earlier career was as a nonfiction book editor. She wrote The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir in the form of letters and documents, much in the vein of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. Like that 2008 novel, the characters I met in this debut novel by Jennifer Ryan will stay with me for a long time.

The Magdalen Girls

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The next book I read in March was The Magdalen Girls, by V.S. Alexander. It is not the kind of book I would say I enjoyed; however, the story was compelling and I had trouble putting it down. I will be haunted by the characters in this novel. It is a dark tale based on the homes for “wayward girls” in Great Britain in the 1960s and beyond. This story is based specifically in 1964.

The Magdalen Girls paints a painful picture of the nuns who ran this particular convent and “home” (“prison” would be more accurate!) for girls and women deemed too much of a temptation for boys and men. As with any good work of fiction, just when the reader thinks things can’t possibly get worse for 16-year-old Teagan and her fellow “Magdalens,” things get progressively worse until this reader can scarcely stand to turn to the next page. The Mother Superior/Sister Anne is hiding a secret that is tearing her to pieces. Unfortunately, her way of coping with her own demons is to heap abuse upon the girls and young women under her care.

Upon entering the confines of the convent, the girls are stripped of their dignity and their identities. They are assigned new names and are never to refer to themselves or others again by their birth names. The book shines a bright light on the double standard held worldwide that girls and women must always live to a higher standard than boys and men and bear the punishment even when the male is an adult and the female is a minor.

V.S. Alexander’s next novel, The Taster, due out in January, 2018, is about one of the women who had to taste Adolf Hitler’s food in order to ensure that he wasn’t being poisoned. I’ll be on the wait list for it as soon as it shows up in the public library’s catalog. That’s just how good Ms. Alexander’s writing was in The Magdalen Girls. It wasn’t a pleasant read for its subject matter, but the writing was so vivid that I felt like I was imprisoned at the convent along with Teagan, Nora, Lea, and all the others.

Right Behind You

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The next book that rose to the top of my wait list at the public library was Right Behind You, by Lisa Gardner. Although this is her seventh and latest (2017) installment in her Quincy and Rainie FBI profiler thrillers series, it is the first book I’ve read by Ms. Gardner. This novel made me want to read more of her books. Perhaps I should go back and read the first book in this series, The Perfect Husband, which was published in 2004.

Right Behind You is the frightening tale of a brother and sister who are separated from each other into numerous foster homes after the murder of their father. The girl is nurtured by loving foster parents, while the boy is not so fortunate. He never receives the psychological care and support he needs as a result of his father’s gruesome death. That propels him onto a path of trouble, violence, and the over-riding guilt of not being able to protect his little sister.

I don’t want to reveal other details of the book, in case you haven’t read it yet but wish to do so.

One of my objectives when I created my 2017 Reading Challenge was to read many authors I had not read before. That’s what prompted me to look for a book by Lisa Gardner. I can recommend her to other readers now. I’ll read more of her novels as time allows. “So many books! So little time!”

Chasing the North Star

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For the March meeting of Rocky River Readers Book Club, each member of the group was asked to read any book of their choice written by Robert Morgan. I’ve read a number of novels by this North Carolina author, in addition to Boone:  A Biography, which is a biography of Daniel Boone. For book club, I read Morgan’s latest novel, Chasing the North Star.

A slave on a plantation in South Carolina, Jonah runs away on his 18th birthday. The book follows Jonah and a female runaway slave, Angel, on their dangerous trek north to freedom. At times, the story got slowed down with details of the tree branches encountered as one runs through the woods. That aside, I soon became invested in both Jonah and Angel as I cheered them on and tried to will them to reach Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada.

Robert Morgan will be the guest speaker at the public library in Concord, North Carolina on Saturday, April 22, 2017. It was in preparation for that author event that Rocky River Readers chose to read books by him in March. I look forward to hearing Mr. Morgan talk about his writing.

My next blog post

My next blog post is scheduled for Monday, April 3, and it must have something to do with the letter, “B.”

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I’m reading The Heavens May Fall, by Allen Eskens.) If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

 

11 Things I’ve Learned about Social Media since February 21, 2017

Certain social media platforms continue to be the bane of my existence. My February 21 blog post was 5 things I learned about Social Media this weekend. I continue to learn things. Some are more useful than others. Here are 11 things I’ve learned about social media since that earlier blog post.

  1. The first word in my blog post title is the most important word, as far as Google is concerned. (“11” probably isn’t the best choice, although I’ve read that it’s better than using “10.”)
  2. I need to use long-tail keywords in my blog post title, within the post, and also in subheadings. (I had to Google “long-tail keywords.”)
  3. Long-tail keywords are a targeted search phrase of three or more words. An example is “How to write a” or “How to get to.” These are the type of things that will bring your post up on page one of a Google search. Most people don’t move on to page two. (Since I’m still learning the craft of writing, I can’t very well title a blog post, “How to Write. . .” anything.)
  4. For $9.99 per month I can pay Alexa.com (an Amazon company) to tell me how people are finding my website and blog. That’s not in my budget. (I think I’ll just keep relying on WordPress analytics.)
  5. The “block” feature on Twitter comes in handy when creepy-sounding people follow me. (I think I’ve blocked three people so far.)
  6. One of those social media intricacies is “avatar.” Why can’t we just call our ideal reader an ideal reader? There is too much terminology springing from social media. (Yes, I am officially too old to be using this stuff!)
  7. With a free account, Commun.it will send out automatic weekly “Thanks for following me” Tweets; however, those Tweets include a flashy advertisement for Commun.it. That was embarrassing!  This seemed to continue even after I went into the website and deactivated this feature which I admit I should have be aware of when I signed up. In order to prevent the ads, you have to upgrade to a business account, which is pricey for someone in my situation. I’m still trying to determine how to best manage social media.
  8. Quora.com isn’t working out for me so far. Since I majored in political science in college, the site automatically sends me government questions. Since it has been 40 years since I was in a political science class and since my interests lie more in the realm of the craft of writing today, I wish they’d send me questions (and answers) about writing.
  9. A few of my pins on my “Novel in Progress:  The Spanish Coin” board on Pinterest have been repinned by others, which is encouraging. (I hope they remember me when my novel gets published!)
  10. I read that the best times to Tweet are Monday through Thursday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Eastern Time. Reading this on a Thursday night was not as helpful as it would have been on Monday morning. (It seems like this recommendation would depend on where in the world you live, but what do I know?)
  11. (And this is a constant) The more time I have to spend learning the intricacies of social media, the less time I have to read good books and work on my writing. (Actually, I learned this before February 21, but it deserves to be repeated.)

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I just finished reading The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan, and I highly recommend it!)

 

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan

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

If you like my blog, please share it on social media by using the icons below. I would appreciate it.

Janet

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