How to State the Obvious

I keep a notebook in which I write down sentences I like in the books I read. There’s method to my madness. I’m trying to learn how to write good prose.

In my May 7, 2018 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/05/07/reading-in-april-2018/, I wrote about reading The Last Child, by John Hart. In that novel a sentence jumped out at me as a clever way to state the obvious.

The Last Child, by John Hart

“He reached inside and caught the bat where it leaned against the doorjam. It had dents and scars from a time he beat the television to death over a fumble in a playoff game.” ~ from The Last Child, by John Hart

What a great way to say Burton “Jar” Jarvis is crazy without saying, “Jar is crazy.”

Since my last blog post

I have worked on my novel outline and rewritten the first scene. I think I have some plot problems figured out. If you’ve read my blog recently, you know this is a breakthrough for me. For instance, in my December 17, 2018 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/17/to-write-or-not-to-write/, I revealed that I was having doubts about finishing my novel. I hadn’t seriously worked on it since June.

Being the early days of a new year, I was also inspired to weed three cookbooks out of my collection. You have no idea how surprising and necessary this accomplishment is. It’s a start.

Determined to get back to my genealogy hobby, I scanned more than 100 family photos into my genealogy software program.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading In the Woods, by Tana French.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

What are your hobbies?

What are you reading?

What are you writing?

Like “Jar,” have you ever beaten a TV to death over something that came on the screen that you didn’t like? If you have, you probably need to be in therapy instead of reading my blog. Correction: You probably need to be in therapy in addition to reading my blog. Please don’t stop reading my blog!

Janet

Fiction & Nonfiction Read in September 2018

I read an interesting mix of books in September. I thought about just blogging about the novels I read but decided to include the nonfiction books, too.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

the-death-of-mrs-westaway-9781501156212_lg
The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

This book really kept me guessing! Harriet “Hal” receives a letter requesting her attendance at the funeral and reading of the will of her grandmother. Or is Mrs. Westaway her grandmother? Hal’s mother is dead, so she can’t ask her. Or was the woman who raised Hal really her mother?

Hal has never heard of Mrs. Westaway, but she could really use some inheritance money. Off she goes to meet this family she’s never known to try to be their long-lost relative long enough to grab her inheritance and run. That’s just the beginning. Sound like a novel you’d enjoy?

Ruth Ware is also the author of The Woman in Cabin 10, which I read last year and blogged about on October 4, 2016:  What I read in September.

 

The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

The President is Missing
The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Right off the bat, I’ll say I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’d never read a book by James Patterson, so I thought this one would be a good first selection. It did not disappoint.

The premise of the book turned out not to be what I was expecting. The book kept me on the edge of my seat – which isn’t easy for a 500+ page book. Since I am technologically challenged, the story grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let me go. I’m not going to ask anyone how plausible the story line is because I’d just as soon not know the answer. If it’s possible, there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

If you enjoy a thriller with non-stop action, you’ll like The President is Missing. If you aren’t a fan of former US President Bill Clinton, do yourself a favor. Forget he was the co-author and enjoy the book.

 

Women, Food and God:  An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, by Geneen Roth

Women, Food and God
Women, Food and God, by Geneen Roth

I went into this book not knowing what to expect. Now that I’ve read it — well, more than half of it, — I don’t know what to say.

Don’t quote me on this, but I think the takeaway I was supposed to get is that it’s not about the food. If you over eat it’s because you’re trying to fill a void in your life. The deeper the book got into meditation and analyzing yourself, the more my mind drifted to other things. Things like, “What’s for supper?”

One thing I found in the book more than once was the recommendation to only eat when you’re hungry and to eat what you want to eat. I have tried to be more cognizant of eating when I’m hungry and not just because the clock tells me it’s time to eat.

If you’ve read the book, I’m interested in knowing what you thought of it. Maybe I missed something critical and life changing.

 

The Harvard Medical School Guide to A Good Night’s Sleep, by Lawrence Epstein, M.D. with Steven Mardon

Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night's Sleep
The Harvard Medical School Guide to A Good Night’s Sleep, by Lawrence Epstein, M.D. with Steven Mardon

I see you rolling your eyes. You’re saying, “You’ve got to be kidding!” I’m not kidding. I read the book. It includes many recommendations, depending on what your sleep problem is. There were five categories. The problem was that I checked off three.

That led to some confusion over which path I should follow to help with my sleep. For instance, for one of my problems it recommends that I stay on a daily schedule, including eating meals at the same time every day. So much for Ms. Roth’s recommendation to only eat when I’m hungry!

I have instituted some of the general sleep hygiene guidelines. One recommendation is to cover all the lights from electronic equipment in the bedroom. I now have a box over the light on my TV converter box, a dark blue washcloth over my clock radio, and business cards propped up over the green light on the side of my hearing aid Dry & Store.

I’m doing better about going to bed at a regular time. I no longer watch TV in bed. (The box over the converter box helped take care of that!) I listen to soft instrumental music when I go to bed. I try not to look at a computer screen for two hours before I go to bed. I try not to eat anything for two hours before bed.

After following these basic guidelines for a few weeks, I will probably have to see a sleep coach for additional instructions. With chronic fatigue syndrome, my circadian rhythm is off by four to six hours. After dealing with this for 31 years, I’m tired fighting it, and I don’t know what a sleep specialist can do about it. Time and a few appointments with a sleep coach will tell.

 

Snap, by Belinda Bauer

I read the first four or five chapters of this thriller before I had to return it to the public library. The first three chapters really had my attention. Then, it took a turn and I wondered if I’d missed something.

I’m interested enough in the characters to try to read it again. Have you read it? What did you think about it?

Since my last blog post

I’ve been following the United States Senate Judiciary Committee hearings about the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh for appointment to the United States Supreme Court. The political science student in me just can’t help herself. The hearings became quite explosive on Thursday and Friday. This promises to be another interesting week. I’m seriously considering not looking at Facebook again until the current crisis ends.

I’m trying to follow the news of the recovery after Hurricane Florence in eastern North Carolina and South Carolina, but the news is getting more difficult to access as politics and other topics are taking the spotlight.

Sample Carolina Hurricane Quilt Blocks
Sample Carolina Hurricane Quilt Blocks FromMyCarolinaHome.com

If you sew or quilt, a blogger I follow has launched a project to make quilts for the people affected by Hurricane Florence. If you’re interested or know someone who might be, you can learn about the project at https://frommycarolinahome.com/2018/09/26/carolina-hurricane-quilts/. Links to instructions and all the information you need can be found on Carole’s blog. I plan to try to make a few blocks to contribute to the project.

The news reports and photographs of the tsunami in Indonesia over the weekend are heart wrenching.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris. It’s based on a true story.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation. Have you read any of the books I mentioned in today’s blog post?

Janet

2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans

Last year I made up my own reading challenge for the year. On January 1, 2018, I reported to you how I’d done. I fell a little short of my goals, but overall I was pleased. I enjoyed many books last year and found lots of new authors to follow.

My 2018 Approach

I’m taking a different approach in 2018. A couple of months ago I made a list of books I wanted to read. Finding nearly 500 books on the list was more than a little daunting. (I’m not kidding!) Rather than setting goals for reading certain books by genre or category in 2018, I plan to just work on that ever-growing list of books I want to read. No doubt, the list will grow more than enough throughout 2018 to counteract the number of books I read during the year. How fortunate I am that I can read and I have free access to most of the books I’d like to read through local public library systems!

The other change I made for 2018 is to include a monthly writing goal. I recently read that a task will fill up the time allotted for its completion. There’s a lot of truth in that for procrastinators like myself. I will never finish writing my southern historical novel if I don’t give myself some measurable goals and deadlines. I’m excited to see how the year and my manuscript go!

January Goals

I hope to add an additional 2,000 words to my scenic plot outline for my historical novel with the working title, The Spanish Coin. That’s a conservative goal for the remainder of January. On a good writing day, I can turn out 4,000 words. I haven’t had a good writing day in quite a while, so I’m starting out small this year.

aaron-burden-123584
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I hope to read three books.

If I’m accountable to my blog readers for my reading and writing in my first blog post each month, that should be enough incentive for me to get a lot of reading and writing done in 2018. However, I also want to sew, quilt, and play the dulcimer – three hobbies I neglected in 2017. Watch for my February 5, 2018 blog post to see how I did.

I got my dulcimer out of its case last Thursday and felt like I was starting all over learning how to play it. I definitely need to practice at least several times a week or I’ll lose everything I ever knew about playing it.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The King of Lies, by John Hart. It’s the January pick for Rocky River Readers Book Club.

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

Janet

Correlation Between Writing and Azheimer’s?

In addition to the novels I’m reading this month, I read The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s, by Jay Ingram. After finding a connection between writing and Alzheimer’s Disease, I decided to give this book attention in a blog post by itself.

The author, Jay Ingram, has no medical training; however, he is a science writer and was the co-host and producer of Discovery Channel Canada’s “Daily Planet” program. The book is well-documented with sources to back up his writing.

9781466887916
The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s, by Jay Ingram

The book gives good explanations of plaques and tangles, which are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. It goes into more scientific detail than I wanted to process, but it appeared to give a good overview of where Alzheimer’s knowledge stood at the time of its publication in 2014.

The more I read in the book, the more I came to realize just how complicated the research is. The cause of the disease remains elusive. Do the plaques and tangles cause Alzheimer’s? Or does Alzheimer’s cause the plaques and tangles? Why do some people with numerous plaques and tangles in their brains show no signs of having Alzheimer’s?

The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s gives good explanations of what is known about the disease and pulls no punches when it comes to how far we probably still are from identifying its cause. In the meantime, drugs attempt to treat the symptoms.

As a writer, I was intrigued by Chapter Nine about the Nuns Study. I’m referring to the 1990s study directed by Dr. David Snowdon with 678 School Sisters of Notre Dame. As Mr. Ingram explained, “They’d have their lives measured, their minds challenged, and in the end, their brains autopsied.”

The ninth chapter of the book is about some of the study findings. The study result that grabbed my attention was that it found a correlation between the idea density in essays the nuns wrote when they were 20 to 22 years old and their incidence of dementia 60 or 70 years later.

Idea density is defined as how many ideas are expressed in every 10 words. According to the Nuns Study, as reported by Jay Ingram in The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Azheimer’s, the lower the idea density in an essay written as a young adult, the higher the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease 60 or 70 years later.

The biographical essays the nuns had written in their early 20s were also evaluated for grammatical complexity. Mr. Ingram wrote, “Grammatical complexity challenges working memory as you struggle either to follow someone else’s edifice of a sentence or to keep your own words under control. Each additional clause soaks up mental resources.”

Working memory generally decreases with age, of course, but no correlation was found in the Nun Study between grammatical complexity and the chance of getting Alzheimer’s. Mr. Ingram stated in the book, “Only idea density has that mysterious relationship.”

The correlation between idea density and Alzheimer’s might turn out to mean nothing. Most of us don’t have copies of essays we wrote when we were 20 years old. I’m glad I don’t. I might be embarrassed by my writing skills at that age. If my idea density was low at age 20, I don’t want to know at 64 that there is a higher probability that I’ll develop Alzheimer’s than if I’d been a better writer back then.

That is just one example of the complexities of Alzheimer’s Disease and the effort to determine cause and effect. The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s tells about numerous other studies and their findings. Some recent studies indicate that the “epidemic” of Alzheimer’s might be slowing. Drug and other treatment trials continue.

The book addresses the part DNA might play in the disease as well as some information about treatments. It tells about the theory from the 1970s into the 1990s that aluminum causes Alzheimer’s. Other food items have been considered for possible connections with the disease.

Mr. Ingram tells about Suzanne de la Monte of Brown University and her theory that there might be a connection between sugar and Alzheimer’s. In fact, her article in a 2012 issue of Current Alzheimer’s Research makes the case for thinking of Alzheimer’s as possibly being Type 3 Diabetes.

According to Mr. Ingram’s book, Alzheimer’s accounts for 65-75% of all dementia cases, but we need to be mindful that 25-35% of dementia cases are not connected to Alzheimer’s Disease.

I found this book to be enlightening and helpful. I am not an authority on Alzheimer’s Disease, but I was impressed with the documentation Mr. Ingram gives. It was the most thorough book about Alzheimer’s that I found at the public library from the last several years of publication.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Deep Dark Descending, by Allen Eskens and News of the World, by Paulette Jiles.

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

Janet

Anne Lamott’s Gems for Novelists

My blog post on August 7, 2017 (Late July Reading) was about the three books I read during the second half of July. I wanted to share more words of wisdom I gleaned from Anne Lamott’s book, Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

12543
Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

As I stated in that post, as someone learning the art and craft of writing, I enjoyed Bird-by-Bird, by Anne Lamott. The following quote from the book also sums up how I feel about good novelists.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve thought that there was something noble and mysterious about writing, about the people who could do it well, who could create a world as if they were little gods or sorcerers. All my life I’ve felt that there was something magical about people who could get into other people’s minds and skin, who could take people like me out of ourselves and then take us back to ourselves. And you know what? I still do.”  ~  Anne Lamott

Ms. Lamott waxes poetic about what makes a book a good book. I cannot say it any better than she does in the first chapter. She writes about all the things books do for us.

She has some words of wisdom for people like me. One takeaway I took from the book was that I need to get over being a perfectionist.

Ms. Lamott talks about characters and gives tips about how to get acquainted with a character before you write about him or her. However, she cautions that you won’t really get to know your characters until “you’ve started working with them.”

My interpretation of one of her recommendations is for writers to focus on character and the plot will fall into place. You have to know what means the most to your protagonist so you’ll understand and can convey to the reader what is at stake in your novel. To quote her again:

“That’s what plot is:  what people up and do in spite of everything that tells them they shouldn’t,….” ~ Anne Lamott

Ms. Lamott writes about the parts of a novel and the importance of the writer paying attention to those details. If no one is changed in the course of the novel, it has no point. She writes about dialogue and how it must be written as real people talk. It’s essential to get voice right in order to get character right.

She writes, “We start out with stock characters, and our unconscious provides us with real, flesh-and-blood, believable people.” (I hope she’s right. I hope the unconscious part of my brain kicks in as I rewrite my manuscript for The Spanish Coin!)

All this is just the tip of the iceberg. She writes about a writer’s self-confidence and the importance of a novelist deeply knowing the setting for their novel. She says that a writer needs to recapture the intuition they had as a child and let that lead their opinions.

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with two more quotes from the book:

“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.” ~ Anne Lamott

“Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you are a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act –  truth is always subversive.” ~ Anne Lamott

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. I also recommend that you read Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.

Janet

A Line from Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

Child44cover
Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

Today’s blog post features a line I liked in Tom Rob Smith’s novel, Child 44.

“Their mother, a stout, tough-looking woman who looked like she could swallow bullets and spit them back out, was in front of them, shielding them with one hand on each of their chests.” From Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

Don’t you just love the way Tom Rob Smith described this woman in Child 44, the first book in his Child 44 Trilogy? I aspire to write descriptions like that – descriptions that conjure up an image in your mind.

What a writer shouldn’t do

As I continue to learn the craft of writing, I make a note of sentences that grab my attention in books I read. Yes, it sometimes takes me out of the story, but I read now as someone who is learning to write fiction. Writers are told not to write anything that will pull the reader out of the story, but I take an exception to that for myself at this stage in my journey as a writer.

A few words about Child 44

As I stated in my February 14, 2017 blog post (The First Line from a Novel by Tom Rob Smith), Child 44, is about a serial child killer in Stalinist Russia. It is the first book in Mr. Smith’s Child 44 Trilogy. I haven’t had a chance to read the other books in the trilogy. My February 14, 2017 blog post was about the first line in Child 44 and its being a good literary “hook.”

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin. Now I have the joy of deciding which library book in that stack on my desk I will start reading next. Due dates will influence my decision.

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

I invite you to share my blog by word-of-mouth and by clicking on the social media icons below.

Janet

Words That Give Me Trouble

Words-That-Give-Me

Writing keeps me humble. There are words I worry about now in my writing that I used to not be concerned about. Since I’ve claimed aloud to be a writer, I feel the spotlight on all my written words. Sometimes I come up short.

Memory and Age

Memory and age begin to take a toll. Words that I used to spell or remember the definition of without a second thought now fall into the “need to look it up” category. Some words I’ve thought to be synonymous aren’t quite equal when examined. I continually learn of words I have used incorrectly all my life. It happens often enough that I’m losing my confidence.

Mark Nichol’s list

After creating an account on StumbleUpon last week, I stumbled upon Mark Nichol’s article, “50 Problem Words and Phrases” https://www.dailywritingtips.com/50-problem-words-and-phrases/. In today’s blog post, I’ll share a few examples of words that give me trouble.

  1. Compare to / compare with – Compare to implies only similarity; whereas, compare with   implies similarity and contrast.
  2. Each other / one another – Use one another when more than two are involved. (Who knew?)
  3. Jealousy / envy – If I am jealous of you, I resent your having something. If I envy you, I   covet something you have. (I’ve didn’t realize there was a difference until reading Mr. Nichol’s article cited above.)
  4. Since / because – As stated by Mr. Nichol in his article, “Informally, these terms are  interchangeable, but in formal writing, since should be used only to refer to time.” (This one from Mr. Nichol’s article was new to me, too.)
  5. Transcript / transcription – Mr. Nichol stated, “A transcript is a thing; a transcription is the process of creating it.” (I know I’ve been guilty of using “transcription” when I  should have written “transcript.”

I need to keep Mark Nichol’s list of “50 Problem Words and Phrases” handy as I’m writing. The more I read about the sometimes subtle nuances of words, the less confident I am in my writing.

chicago-manual-of-style-008

Self-Editing The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

I’m having flashbacks of the days when I had to follow the 1,000+-page gold standard of American English, The Chicago Manual of Style, as I self-edited the manuscript for my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.* That’s when I began to realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.

Writing-keeps-me-humble

Writing keeps me humble.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (Among other things, I’m reading Camino Island, by John Grisham.)

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and a better memory than I have for spelling and proper word usage.

Janet

*Shameless Plug:  In case you haven’t purchased a copy of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, please look for it at any independent bookstore. If it’s not on the shelf, please request it. If that doesn’t work, you can order it from Amazon.com.