What Would Make You Happy?

On the heels of reading seven books in June, I took a step back in July and “only” read five books. I’d let the pressure of reading books so I could blog about them get too much of a hold on my life. That’s why I planned to not read as much in July. That didn’t work out very well, but I did start taking a closer look at the types of books I was reading and wanted or needed to read.

If you read my August blog posts, you know there wasn’t a fluffy beach read in the bunch. In fact, there wasn’t a novel in the five, and they were all about serious and sobering topics.

Photo credit: John Mark Smith on unsplash.com

September and October came along and most of my reading was dictated by the writing course I was taking. For two months, I read what I had to read or needed to read. It didn’t leave any time to read what I wanted to read, although I did start reading The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s not a book that can be read quickly.

Reading is important for a writer; however, writing needs to be more of a focus for me now. I’ve procrastinated and let reading take too much of my time the last couple of years. I don’t regret reading any of the books I read, but I’ll never finish writing my novel at this rate!

What would make me happy?

About six weeks ago, I took time to discern what will make me happy. The things I came up with were (1) to work on my book; (2) to work on my genealogy; and (3) to get back to sewing and quilting. I haven’t sewn in going on two years now. I hope I can remember how to turn on the sewing machine. I have tubs of fabric that need to be turned into gifts or quilts and other household items.

The fourth item on my list is to get back to playing the mountain dulcimer. I should play it every day. I haven’t touched it in months. I hope my muscle memory kicks in when I take it out of its case today. I’m not very good at it. The reasons for that are (1) I’m not musically-talented and (2) I don’t put much time into it.

The Gifts of Imperfection, by Dr. Brene Brown

I recently reread The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown. It reminded me not to be so hard on myself and not to worry about what other people think of me. I listened to her book, Rising Strong, and it inspired me to be brave. That’s what finally prompted me to hire a professional editor to critique the first 50 pages of my novel. (See my July 12, 2021 blog post, 4 Other Books I Read in June 2021 and my July 26, 2021 blog post, How My First 50 Pages Stood up for Critique.)

Rising Strong, by Dr. Brene Brown

I’d been working on today’s blog post early in July, when I read Barbara Strickland’s July 11 blog post: Limit the Limits – Barbara Strickland – Author & Blogger (brstrickland.com. After reading an article in LinkedIn, Barbara blogged about a methodical way to figure out what your dreams are.

Her post sort of dovetailed with what I was writing four months ago that ended up being postponed until today. She looked at her list of dreams from a view of practicality. I didn’t have to consciously do that when I made my list because it’s not my nature to dream about doing or having things I can’t afford or don’t have the health to do.

Taking stock on this milestone year

I graduated from high school 50 years ago. There. I’ve said it. Do the math. Yes, I’m 68 years old.

Photo credit: Zoltan Tasi on unsplash.com

There’s something jolting about admitting I graduated from high school 50 years ago. I don’t know what it is about those anniversary years that end in a zero. I was not prompted to take stock of my life last year, 49 years after my graduation.

Our 50-year high school reunion was planned for last month but had to be postponed until sometime next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

I was in a class of 191. At least 33 of my classmates have died. Talk about a sobering thought! More than one of those were special, lifelong friends of mine.

Assessing my blog topics

Once in a while, I need to take a step back and evaluate my life – how I’m spending my time, what I’m accomplishing, what I’m doing to benefit others, and what I’m doing to improve myself. This is one of those times, so please bear with me.

This is supposed to be my writing blog. My reading is important and integral to my writing; however, since the Covid-19 pandemic started, I haven’t written much about my journey as a writer until this summer when I decided to get the first 50 pages of my novel manuscript critiqued by an editor.

A blog is supposed to serve a purpose. It’s supposed to benefit the reader. I hope my continued journey as a writer will serve as fodder for my future blog posts and those posts will enlighten or entertain you in some way. Otherwise, you don’t have any reason to keep reading my blog.

No pressure there!

Photo credit: Daniel Thomas on unsplash.com

There are many things I enjoy about blogging. Over the years, I’ve developed friendly relationships with a few readers. They live all around the world. Many of them have opened my eyes to things I didn’t know. They’ve helped me understand different perspectives. They have enriched my life. I will never meet them except via the internet.

People in 20 countries visited my blog the last week in October. Since I started my blog, people in 144 countries and territories have looked at it. That is surprising, gratifying, and a bit scary.

I never know what’s going to strike a chord with readers. When I have a reader from China or some countries in Africa, it especially catches my attention and I feel a heightened sense of responsibility.

I appreciate your taking time to read my blog. I’ll try not to let you down.


Since my last blog post

Here in North Carolina, we raced right through autumn last week and jumped into winter. There was snow in the higher mountains in the state and our county had a freeze warning. It just doesn’t seem quite right to have a freeze warning before having a frost warning, but that’s life in North Carolina.

Photo credit: Janet Morrison

I’m still decluttering my home in hopes of making space for more creativity and less stress.


Until my next blog post

Have you assessed your life lately? What would make you happy? What’s missing in your life? What are you waiting for?

I hope you have at least one good book to read.

I hope you’re happy and have everything you need.

Janet

Giving God the Right of Way

I plan. I make lists. I find great satisfaction in checking off the items I complete on my to-do list. There are some problems with this.

First, I always think I can accomplish more in a day than I can. This leads to frustration and feelings of guilt.

Second, I don’t allow for “down days.” Even if I didn’t have chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, having a rigid daily to-do list would be foolish.

Third, and most importantly, I tend to leave God out of the process.

If you followed my blog this summer, you know I’ve gone through some upheaval with the novel I’m writing. I started writing it more than a decade ago. I honestly don’t know when I started it. It languished on my computer for the last several years.

In July, I decided it was “no or never.” I hired a professional editor to critique the first 50 pages of my 303-page manuscript. The feedback I got from her was constructive and attention-grabbing. At the same time, it was disheartening yet exactly what I needed to hear.

A failed plan

That detailed critique prompted me to stop procrastinating and start focusing my attention and energy on learning the skills I needed to learn so I could finally finish that novel. I made a plan. I made a daily (Monday through Saturday) to-do list for what to study and what to practice or write each day. I thought by not working on my book on Sundays I was doing the Christian thing. I would give myself Sundays off and, thereby, do what was pleasing to God. That worked fairly well for a couple of weeks.

But guess what happened. I became a slave to my plan. It was my plan. I thought I had been clever to create this plan with its one-day-a-week set aside not to work on my writing. By doing so, I thought I was “keeping the Sabbath.”

It was my plan, but it was wearing me out.

Photo credit: Glenn Carstens Peters on unsplash.com

I fell behind on August 16. I’d assigned myself too much reading, too much writing, and way too much nuts-and-bolts work on my novel regarding details about my characters.

I’d set myself up for failure.

By pushing myself to do everything on my list, I threw myself into a chronic fatigue syndrome relapse for the next three weeks; however, I read something on August 17 that got my attention. It was the third chapter in Seven Things That Steal Your Joy: Overcoming the Obstacles to Your Happiness, by Joyce Meyer.

Led by the Spirit

Ms. Meyer wrote the book in 2004. I’d bought it as a used book many years later and kept meaning to read it. I read the first chapter on August 15 and the second chapter on August 16. It was “on my list” to read the third chapter on August 17.

Little did I know that God had a reason for leading me to Chapter Three on August 17. I don’t believe in happenstance when it comes to such things. The title of that chapter is “Joy Keeper: Be Led of the Spirit.” By “Spirit,” Ms. Meyer is referring to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is our Helper, if we are just open to It. From the first sentence in Chapter Three (“One of the most dynamic ways to keep our joy is to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in the way we should go.”) to the last sentence in the chapter (“God will write His laws on your heart, then you won’t need reminders to keep your joy.”), that chapter was exactly what I needed to read in the emotional and physical place I was in on August 17.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my six days-a-week reading and writing plan – as detailed and as carefully- and methodically-planned as it was – lacked one thing. It lacked the most important thing. It lacked God. I spent hours working out a plan that I thought would lead me to a point next February when I’d have all this knowledge in my head and be ready to rewrite my novel’s outline and then start rewriting the manuscript.

But aside from setting aside the Sabbath to not work on my novel or my writing skills, I’d left God and the Holy Spirit out of my grandiose plan. I shredded my plan.

What’s next?

Don’t get me wrong – I still believe in having a plan, but what’s new is that I want to start each day by seeking God’s will for me that day. He may want me to tackle the next item on my novel “to-do” list, or He might have a better “to-do” list for me for that day.

I still believe God wants me to write. He might want me to write the novel I’ve had in my head and on paper for 10+ years. He might have an entirely different novel in His plan for me. He might have something else altogether in store for me.

Ms. Meyer wrote in the third chapter of her book, “If you keep your plan before the Lord, you must be ready to let Him change anything at any time. If you do this, your path will always be right and prosperous.”

She also wrote, “… and we will never find joy if we think we have to know everything before we take our first step in the direction He is leading us.”

Today is the last class in the “Eight Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel” online course I started on September 6, so it’s time for me to create a new plan.

This time, though, I’ll try to be reasonable, and I’ll try to remember to seek God’s will every morning and be ready to ditch my plan for His plan.

Since my last blog post

I’ve always been a pack rat. I keep things “because I might need it someday.” I’ve transitioned into, “I’m never going to need this.” Last week I concentrated on my file cabinets. That alone dates me. I’ve purged file folders of all descriptions.

I don’t need the paperwork for the car insurance I had in 1995. I don’t need most of the recipes I kept in the 1980s. I don’t have the energy to do much cooking. Plus, I’m trying to eat healthier in 2021 than I did in 1981. The list goes on.

This is a work in progress, but it feels good to let go of some things.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or productive time if you’re writing one.

Whatever season you’re transitioning into where you live, try to enjoy the gift each day is. This is a challenge for me. You know I don’t like cold weather.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to read my blog post.

I’ll leave you with this short sentence from the third chapter of Joyce Meyer’s book: “To walk in the presence of God, we must give the Holy Spirit the right of way.”  I love that!

Until my next blog post – which I have planned for next Monday – I hope you and I both give the Holy Spirit the right of way.

And wait on tiptoe to see what happens.

Janet

#FixYourNovel #5 – Authentic Details Nail Time and Place

I had a bit of fun last week in posting a five-part series about my bizarre accident in January and the equally strange ensuing weeks. I hope you enjoyed my tale of woe.

Today it’s back to work, though, on the craft of writing. This post is geared toward writers, but I think we can all learn how to communicate our thoughts more vividly whether in the written word or in our conversations.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Advice from Barbara Kyle

In her email on March 27, 2020, author and writing coach Barbara Kyle gave some welcomed advice for writers having trouble concentrating on their writing during the coronavirus-19 pandemic. She recommended that writers use this time to do research, if they’re having difficulty producing creative words on the page.

In my recent weeks of confinement due to my fractured leg, I’ve worked on some blog posts in advance. That’s the case with today’s post as I continue my sporadic #FixYourNovel series.

Time and place

The more a writer knows about the geography, demographics, history, culture, and people of her story’s location and time period, the better. You don’t have to tell everything you know. In fact, please don’t! You do need to draw from your first-hand knowledge and research to discern which details to give the reader.

Example:  The historical novel I’m working on

The historical novel I’m still editing is set in the backcountry of the Carolinas at the close of the 1760s. Specifically, the story is set in present-day Lancaster County, South Carolina and present-day Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, and Rowan counties in North Carolina.

Without knowing what I was preparing myself for, I’ve soaked in the history of this region all my life. My study of local history, colonial American history, and my own family’s history have grounded me in the time and place in which my novel manuscript is set.

Have you heard of en.esosounds.net? (Pardon the pun!)

I recently discovered a helpful website (http://en.ecosounds.net/) as I was trying to add local flavor to the sounds my characters were hearing as they rode along a dirt road in July of 1769. It was a cold, dreary, blustery day as I was trying to transplant my mind and ears to a hot and humid piedmont Carolina day in July. Since I grew up in a rural area there, I know in my head the sounds I want to share with my reader. Putting those sounds on the page can be a challenge. I have to assume my reader is not familiar with the mid-summer sounds in rural South Carolina.

Something I found beneficial as I wrote the sounds my characters were hearing in the countryside on that hot July day in 1769 was this website:  en.ecosounds.net. On that site you can listen to recorded sounds form various localities. Listening to a couple of those recordings was the perfect backdrop for me to listen to while I edited that particular scene.

Borrowing the wisdom of Barbara Kyle again

In her book, Page-Turner:  Your Path to Writing a Novel that Publishers Want and Readers Buy, Ms. Kyle writes about the importance of using “concrete” words and images in one’s writing. Here’s a quote from chapter seven:

“For example, let’s say you’re describing a man in clothes that are damp from rain. If the reader is given just the appearance of those clothes, the man could be across the room, but if they read that the man’s sweater gives off the musty, wet-dog smell of damp wool, they’re right next to him.”

Ms. Kyle goes on to explain that including sensory details in our writing pulls on the reader’s emotions and thereby makes the writing more memorable for the reader.

Barbara Kyle’s website is https://www.barbarakyle.com/, in case you want to know more of what she has to offer writers.

A case of serendipity

I love when serendipity happens. I had been working on this blog post on March 3 when I changed gears and stopped to read some blogs. I follow Joanna Penn’s Creative Penn blog. I read her March 2, 2020 blog post, ”Opportunities in Audiobook Publishing with Michele Cobb.” (Here’s the link to it: thecreativepenn.com/2020/03/02/opportunities-in-audiobook-publishing-with-michele-cobb/.)

Michele Cobb is executive director of the Audio Publishers Association, the publisher of AudioFile magazine, and a consultant for the audiobook business at Forte Business Consulting.

In an interview Joanna Penn did with Ms. Cobb, they discussed the speed at which audiobooks have caught on around the world and the trend that audiobooks are the thing of the future as people like to listen to books while driving, cooking, crafting, or doing any number of other things.

The thing that jumped out at me from the interview was the following quote from Michele Cobb:

“And when you create specifically for the audio format, you might have multiple narrators, you might have music, you might have sound effects, and you may never want to put that experience into a print format because it wouldn’t work with your eyes.”

Joanna Penn added, “Actually, enhanced ebooks are audiobooks with all the sound effects.”

Maybe such ebooks exist. I haven’t listened to one yet.

I couldn’t help but think about my experience of listening to meadow and forest sounds on en.ecosounds.net while editing that scene in my book. How the book listening experience could be enhanced if there were sound effects on an audiobook! The possibilities are limitless.

In the meantime, a writer still needs to hone her skills in writing sensory details. I think we’ll always have printed books, even if eventually the only “printed” format of books is electronic. If the prose is particularly beautiful, I want to read it over and over again. If I were writing this in 2040 or even 2030, perhaps I’d say, “I want to listen to it over and over again.”

My head is swimming as I try to imagine an audio of my novel with the buzzing of flies and bees, and the chirping of native birds playing in the background as my written words are being read.

I guess you could say I’m “old school.” I just started listening to books on CD a year or so ago, and more recently started downloading MP3 books onto my tablet. In the interview with Joanna Penn, Michele Cobb said that of the CD versus digital books being published today, 4% are on CD and 96% are digital!


Since my last blog post

I’ve sat in my chair with my fractured leg elevated on a stool. My chair is by a south-facing window through which I can watch a variety of birds at one of our birdfeeders. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve watched the maple tree go from bare limbs to tiny red buds that blossomed into green leaves.

Dogwood blossoms. Photograph by Janet Morrison

I’ve watched a dogwood tree transition from bare limbs to tiny buds to gorgeous white blooms. I’ve watched as the goldfinches almost overnight went from their drab winter US Army greenish brown to their brilliant yellow and black feathers. The Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are due back from Central America any day now, so it’s time to put out our hummingbird feeders. Many of our azaleas are in full bloom.

Azalea. Photograph by Janet Morrison.

I am blessed to live where I do. Sunshine streams through my south-facing window every morning. I can see the road on which an occasional car, truck, bicycle, moped, or green John Deere tractor passes. I can see the Carolina blue sky and puffy white clouds. I can see the pollen piling up on my red pick-up truck. I can see my brother’s pine tree farm.

I can see the open meadow across the road that is now harvested for hay to feed local cattle. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the rows of soybeans Uncle Ross used to grow there, but I especially remember the years he planted red clover to replenish the soil – and how the red heads of the clover swayed in a soft summer breeze when I was a child.

What more could a person have than what I have outside my window?


Until my next blog post

I hope you stay safe and well as we all journey through this coronavirus-19 pandemic. We truly are all in this together.

I hope you have a good book to read or listen to while you live under “stay-at-home orders.”

Please tell your friends about my blog.


Let’s continue the conversation

As recently as a couple of years ago I did not like listening to books. Now audiobooks make up probably 75% of my reading.

What about you?

What are the pros and cons of audiobooks?

Have you listened to an ebook that included sound effects?

Janet

Anna Jean Mayhew’s Tomorrow’s Bread Reading and Book Signing

Anna Jean Mayhew, author of The Dry Grass of August and Tomorrow’s Bread

If you’ve been following my blog for a few years, you know I love nothing better than attending an author’s book reading and signing. After not getting to one in a long time, on April 4, 2019 I had the pleasure of attending Anna Jean Mayhew’s at Park Road Books in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ms. Mayhew’s second novel, Tomorrow’s Bread, was published on March 26, 2019. I shared my thoughts about the book in my April 1, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/01/this-is-not-an-april-fools-day-joke/.

I thoroughly enjoyed her reading at Park Road Books. She read selected excerpts from the book and talked about the three narrators. She also played a song written specifically in conjunction with Tomorrow’s Bread and had copies of the words for all in attendance.

If you’d like to listen to the song and see the accompanying artwork, go to http://shari-smith.com/trio-2019/ and scroll down to Tomorrow’s Bread. The song and artwork came together with Ms. Mayhew’s book through the work of Shari Smith and an entity called Trio.

Trio pairs books with songwriters and visual artists to create a total package based on a novel. I hadn’t heard of Trio or Shari Smith before, so I was thrilled to learn about this concept at Ms. Mayhew’s book reading in Charlotte.

Many of her high school classmates and other friends from when she lived in Charlotte were there, as well as Catherine Frey, who had assisted Ms. Mayhew with her research.

Janet Morrison with Anna Jean Mayhew at Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC

I was delighted to renew my acquaintance with Ms. Mayhew. When I got the chance to talk to her at the end of the event, she again offered me encouragement on the writing of my historical novel. She has been an inspiration to me on my journey as a writer.

Since my last blog post

I have enjoyed rewriting several more chapters of The Doubloon (former working title, The Spanish Coin) and forgive me if I toot by own horn here. Since last Monday’s blog I’ve had a net gain of 20,525 words. The current word count is 50,850. I’m more than halfway to the completion of this rough, rough, rough draft of my novel.

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 and your projects are moving right along.

Look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­“Two Books that Make Me Smile.”  Thank you for providing the writing prompt, Rae, in “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog. Here’s a link to her April 1, 2019 blog post in which she listed all the #TwoForTuesday prompts for the month of April: https://educatednegra.blog/2019/04/01/april-two-for-tuesday-prompts/.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments section below or on Facebook.

Have you attended any author book readings or book signings? What do you like best about such events?

Janet

Too much reading, not enough writing!

It’s important for a writer to do a lot of reading; however, I wonder if I’ve taken that to the extreme. The other day I realized I was using my stack of library books as an excuse not to work on my novel.

Most of my writing the last couple of years was for my blog. I aspire to be a novelist. For that to happen, I have to put in the time that first book requires.

“H” is for Historical Fiction

If you’ve followed my blog since April 10, 2017 [https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/10/h-is-for-historical-fiction/ ] you know that I had finished the first draft of a historical novel when I discovered a fact that prompted me to make major changes in that 96,000-word manuscript. In fact, I concluded that I had to start over.

I hit a brick wall!
(Photo by Janet Morrison)

Here are three key paragraphs from my April 10, 2017 blog post:

“One of my dreams is to write a historical novel. The historian in me struggles with the fiction in historical fiction. The writer in me wishes I could run fast and loose with the facts.

“Over the weekend, I did a lot of reading on the subject in preparation for writing today’s blog post. In the process, I found some information that shed more light on the historical event that serves as the basis for the novel manuscript I’ve been working on for the last decade or so.

“The combination of the new information I found about that event when paired with some of the reading I did yesterday about the craft of writing historical fiction made my head spin. The combination of the two, in fact, has convinced me that I must start over writing my novel. Yes, you read that correctly. I must start over.”

Where I went from there

I changed the location, the year, and the characters from the original story. Although much of the plot could remain intact, the necessity of starting over and getting my head around a new location when I thought I was getting close to trying to get the novel published took the wind out of my sails.

I tried to see it as an opportunity. The reality was two years of procrastination.

Common sense told me it would be a challenge to start writing “page 1” again, but I didn’t fully grasp how difficult the rewrite would be until I found myself unable to sit down to do the work. What I’ve learned over the last 24 months is – at least for me – writing is fun/enjoyable work but the idea of rewriting a full-length novel is gut wrenching.

In terms of production, my journey as a fiction writer has been abysmal the last two years. I continued to study the art and craft of writing, and I know I benefited from those studies. I benefit from reading good fiction, but it is time for me to stop writing about writing and get back to the actual work of writing.

The following words from my April 10, 2017 blog post haunt me today, since I have not had the grit I needed in order to follow through:

“I’m certainly not the first writer who never got her first novel published. There are numerous stories about first manuscripts being lost. Some succumbed to fire, while others were mistakenly left on a train and were never seen again. Many first manuscripts get rejected so many times by publishers that the writer eventually puts it away and moves on to another novel. Most writers have had to start over. That is what I will do, and I believe the end product will be better than The Spanish Coin manuscript.”

My April 10, 2017 blog post was a pep talk for myself, but it didn’t work.

Since my last blog post

I’m weary of making excuses – and maybe that’s what it took for me to finally start rewriting The Spanish Coin in earnest last week. I wasn’t satisfied with the new location for the rewrite. I threw caution to the wind on Thursday and took the story back to its original location. I’m familiar enough with The Waxhaws section in present-day Lancaster County, South Carolina, that I think I can make it work.

The true story that inspired my original manuscript is my inspiration for the new story. The year is probably 1767 instead of 1771. There is still a mysterious murder, but the victim is now a fictitious character.

I changed the working title from The Spanish Coin to The Doubloon. New title, new story.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Since Thursday, I’ve written 14,000 words. The monkey is off my back! I’ll report my progress in my blog posts on Mondays, so you can hold me accountable.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See. It’s a historical novel about an island off Korea where the women have an incredible ability to dive in the ocean and harvest specific fish and other sea life. I’m eager to start reading Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew as soon as it is released tomorrow!

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time. If you, too, are facing a novel rewrite, I wish you the stamina it takes to see the job through.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow:  My Two Favorite Unsung Female Heroes.

Let’s continue the conversation

I always welcome your comments. I appreciate your moral support and constructive criticism.

Janet

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.

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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