Tag Archives: reading

In Celebration of Summer Reading (as a Writer)

Canada has turned its northwest wind toward Minnesota and we are finally enjoying real Minnesota summer days with dewpoints in the 50’s, temperatures in the upper 70’s and low 80’s, and that wonderful cool Northwest breeze. This weather brings a flood of memories — not of baseball in the sun, swimming, playing tennis or boating. No. It brings a flood of memories of reading, usually outdoors in the shade either on a porch or under a tree, the sounds of swimming, water-skiing and boating on the lake in the background, a lawn mower grazing with a buzz nearby, and the smell of suntan lotion laced with coconut oil. Urban noise pollution wasn’t a part of my childhood, but a lake house, a library card, and lots of free time were.

Today, I’m reading a classic science fiction novel published in 1977 that reminds me of the mid-1970’s rage for disaster movies — Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It’s a fat paperback — my favorite kind — full of characters I can relate to in some way, caught on a planet in the path of an ancient comet.  Will they all survive a direct hit? What will that hit be like? And who cares just how plausible the premise is, right?

Summer reading. Book marketers go immediately to the stereotypical beach reads: thrillers, mysteries, more thrillers, and action adventure stories set in lost worlds of the past or far future. What are your favorite summer reads? Is there really such a thing?

I have a particularly potent memory of one week in August when I was in junior high school. My family was at our lake house. I had been to the library and checked out a pile of books, among them, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a collected works omnibus of Sherlock Holmes stories. That August week was unusual for its weather: cool, overcast, often foggy from the humidity, with especially damp chilly nights. We had built a fire in the fireplace and hunkered down inside. I read on the squishy soft sofa upholstered with pink flowers on a dark green background about 6 feet in front of the fire, engrossed in The Hound of Baskervilles. The weather outdoors with its cool enveloping mist created the perfect environment in which to read this scary story. And wild hounds could not have roused me from that sofa.

When I was ten, I discovered the romantic suspense of Mary Stewart in her novel The Moon-Spinners. It was blistering hot outdoors, too hot to sit in the sun or go boating, and after a swim, I would curl up on the rocking lounger (upholstered in dark green vinyl) on the front porch and read about the rugged landscape of Crete, the heat of the Mediterranean sun, the beautiful beach, a small inn run by a Greek family and the mystery surrounding a young Englishman named Mark. From that summer on, I was convinced that the British were the masters of mystery stories.

The year after I graduated college, my first year living in Minnesota, I picked up a book with a strange title: Watership Down by Richard Adams. It was the title that caught my eye. Once I began reading, I couldn’t put that book down, and to this day I’m still amazed that a novel about rabbits could have so powerfully held me in its grasp. A friend had invited me to spend a week with her and her family at their lake cabin in the north woods and I took the book along with me. Now I associate that specific location in northern Wisconsin with reading Adams’ novel.

When summer rolls around, I feel my attention as a writer and a reader circle away from anything heavy or philosophical and toward fun. And fun means mysteries primarily, although this summer I’ve added a science fiction disaster thriller to the mix. In addition to the Niven/Pournelle novel, so far this summer I’ve read The Private Patient by P. D. James, Death and the Maiden by Gerald Elias, Finding Moon by Tony Hillerman, and Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart.

What have you been reading this summer?  Any recommendations?

Advertisements

Is Anyone Out There?

Photo: NASA

One of my lifelong interests is stars, planets, galaxies, and everything about them. Today, I saw an article about seeing the light from galaxies that were formed over 3 billion years ago. They are so far away from us, it has taken 3 billion years for their light to reach us. Distance in the universe often confounds my imagination. I was thinking, in response to that article, that the blinking lights in the night sky that have always fascinated me are not necessarily single stars but probably entire galaxies. Those tiny blinking lights. Does sentient life in those tiny blinking lights ever look to their sky and see us?

As a writer, I often feel like a tiny blinking light in a massively gigantic universe, and I’ve struggled to find how to be inviting as a writer and encourage readers to read my stories. After all, as a tiny blinking light I am most likely an entire galaxy of planets, stars, black holes, and stardust. And I’m really not 3 billion years away, I’m right here. My stories are right here, too. But how would I ever know if anyone came to visit?

Is anyone out there?

Hope Clark, in her Funds for Writers newsletter several weeks ago, wrote about her perception that nobody is reading anymore. She has that perception because she’s not receiving the responses that she used to receive — at her blog, via email, with book reviews. If people are reading, she’s concluded, they’ve stopped “talking” about it.

Photo: Marina Shemesh

She has a point, but I’m not certain that I agree completely. It’s only been in the last 10 years or so that I’ve considered responding to an author about a book of theirs I’d read. Before that, I read and read, and it never occurred to me to try to reach out to an author to let him or her know how much I enjoyed their work. Now that I’m an author myself, I know how it feels to read a person’s review of my work, or to have a reader comment here, or to send me an email. It’s wonderful to know that my work has been read. Like most writers, I don’t like writing and sending my stories into the black hole at the center of our galaxy and never knowing what happened. Up until 10 years ago, though, I would have said isn’t that to be expected?

Now, we have so many ways to connect with people whether or not they are strangers.  One of the things that I learned over 10 years ago — and it made me want to find a cave somewhere in which to write — was that writers must be accessible in some way to publicize their writing. Traditional publishers expect writers to market their work as well. So writers need websites and/or blogs. They need author pages at all the places online where books are sold, and they need to be an active presence on GoodReads, Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media they can find time to join and be a presence on. It exhausts me just thinking about it.

One of the things I decided to do, though, to be a presence as a writer is to write reviews of books I’ve been reading. I read voraciously — new and old books, fiction, nonfiction, good and bad. I post my reviews at GoodReads, and then if the book is relatively new, I try to also post the review where others will see it and can immediately buy it, like Amazon and B&N. What a difference it would make if all readers took a half hour (or less) after reading a book and reviewed it online? It’s not a big deal, either, and doesn’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning review. Just what you thought of the book and why, and if you’d recommend it or not.

Writers will know then that their work hasn’t disappeared down a black hole, and they are not alone, a tiny blinking light far away in a black sky.

How do you choose books to buy?

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”  — Winston Churchill

Sam Shepard

In another word, perseverance.  Success and what it means has been in the back of my mind this week.  Sam Shepard died as the week began, and reading about his life as a playwright, writer, and actor proved provocative to my mind. Shepard told an interviewer once that he felt most comfortable in the theater, writing for the theater. That made me ask myself where do I feel most comfortable in my creative life? How does that feeling relate to production and success? I know I am happiest when I am writing fiction.

This morning, I ran across a short essay by Hope Clark, a mystery writer who has a well-known newsletter called Funds for Writers. In this essay, Clark wrote about what the most important thing is about being a writer.  Is it getting credit for writing and publishing? Or is it giving the world a great story experience?

My next thought was that maybe success could be measured in just how great the story experience was that you’ve created. But how does anyone know that? And could one person’s great story experience be another’s failed story experience? Today, for example, I finished reading a novel that has won rave reviews and that I’d heard friends and acquaintances rave about for a long time.  I didn’t think it was that great at all.

I don’t rely solely on what my friends and acquaintances recommend when I’m looking for a great story. I read reviews, I subscribe to the NY Times Book Review newsletter, as well as reading the review sections of other papers and magazines. I have to admit that I don’t pay much attention to marketing blurbs or any kind of promotional pitches. What I pay attention to are the descriptions of the novel’s story, and then a little to genre. I love books, though, that blend genres or bend them. So I guess it’s important to know your own taste and interests before going off to Amazon or a bricks and mortar store to buy books. I do miss bricks and mortar bookstores where I could wander around and actually see, touch, and smell the books!

In her essay, Clark describes the kind of promotional copy that will turn her off a book, and the kind of promotional copy that will spark her interest. Her ultimate point in the essay, though, is that authors need to remember their responsibility to readers, i.e. to provide them with a great story they’ll be glad they paid good money for and spent their time reading. That whatever they say in their pitches and promotions, they focus on the story.

So, Mr. Churchill, I think I’d define success for a writer in this way: Committed to writing the best you can, knowing what makes your stories great,  giving your readers one great story after another, and attaining the recognition of being a writer who produces great stories, i.e. the kind of stories that people want to buy and read.

What draws you to a book? How do you choose the books you buy? What was the last great story you read? Please respond in the comments section!

Ach, the Liebster Award!

Clipart: Emily McRoberts from Clker.com

Thank you to Adam at Write Thoughts for nominating me for the Liebster Award!  It is like a blogging chain letter of sorts that asks of the recipient a bit more than the conventional chain letter. I’ve responded to a similar award back in 2015 that was set up a bit differently from this one. This will be the last time I participate in this sort of thing. If any of my readers receive such a nomination and think of me for their list of nominations, please just skip me! I would like to keep this blog focused on the Perceval novels, writing issues and interests, classical music, and the occasional book or movie review.

The Rules.

Say thank you to the person who has nominated you for the Award.
Answer the 11 questions the person has asked you
Nominate 11 people (comment on their blog to let them know)
Ask the people whom you have nominated 11 questions

Adam’s Questions for his nominees:

1. What is your favorite book, or if you prefer, your favorite author? I really don’t have one favorite book or author. There are certain authors whom I read faithfully because of the high quality of their prose, plotting, character development, story, and dialogue. Those writers are: P. D. James, John le Carre, Daniel Silva, Madison Smartt Bell, Virginia Woolf, Connie Willis. and Ursula Le Guin. I just added Connie Willis to this list, and if you were to ask me this question a week from now, the list might be a little different.
2. Is there a country you have always wanted to visit, if so where? England. I’ve been to the other countries on my list: Russia, Austria, Germany, New Zealand. I’ve been to Northern Ireland and traveled through London on my way to various places, but have not stayed to actually visit England. I’d also like to return to Finland.
3. What do you enjoy about blogging? When I began blogging, I was extremely nervous about putting myself out there on the internet.  Who would read my posts? Would they like my ideas? Would they read my Perceval novels?  The first few months were a bit nerve-wracking. It’s been nearly 10 years now, and I find that I enjoy getting the ideas for posts, thinking about, exploring and researching those ideas in order to write about them, and then seeing if anyone responds. I love hearing from people so it’s been especially fun when readers leave comments and a conversation has ensued.
4. What’s your preferred writing space? I write at my desk in my living room. The desk faces the wall between the kitchen and the hall that leads to the front door. Behind me is the living room and its windows. I see the windows reflected in the large picture that hangs over my desk.  At least as much as I can see between the multitude of colorful post-its that I’ve stuck to the picture with notes to myself.
5. How do you find inspiration? In life.  In people.
6. What do you like to do for fun when you need a break from writing? Since I’m writing all the time even when I’m not at my desk, it’s rare for me to completely separate myself from it. However, I love movies, theater, and classical music concerts, spending time with friends, and walking around the lake that’s a block from where I live.
7. What started you down the road of writing? I honestly do not remember if there was one spark that got me going. I read voraciously all through elementary school, and I wrote plays and short stories starting in sixth grade. I do remember that one story in particular started in my mind when I was doing my lunchtime stint as a safety patrol kid outdoors and noticed the grill on the storm drain that ran along the curb. I’ve written about that here.
8. What’s one story you keep recommending to others? I do not have one story or book that I recommend to others all the time. I usually recommend authors, or sometimes a book I’ve recently read that impressed me.
9. How do you keep yourself motivated? It can be especially tough when life keeps butting in! I think about the characters. They keep me motivated.
10. What superpower would you choose and why? So, is this a trick question? The geopolitical situation right now is in crazy flux. Russia continues to try to reassert itself as a superpower. China is rising into that status but isn’t quite there yet, especially when they have some interesting issues with other countries that don’t bode well for China to become a superpower.  The US is definitely enjoying a decline in influence in the world, especially after last year’s election. However, the US still has the economy, military and weaponry to remain a superpower. The other countries are in an increasingly stronger position to challenge that status. I live in the US, so I suppose I’d choose the US, but honestly, I’ve lived in Europe and almost prefer that way of life.
11. What four people would you invite to a dinner party; contemporary, historical, or fictional? Ludwig van Beethoven, J. S. Bach, John le Carre, and Queen Victoria.

My Nominations:
I hope you all will respond, but from my perspective, it’s not required at all!

My questions are the same as Adam asked me:

1. What is your favorite book, or if you prefer, your favorite author?
2. Is there a country you have always wanted to visit, if so where?
3. What do you enjoy about blogging?
4. What’s your preferred writing space?
5. How do you find inspiration?
6. What do you like to do for fun when you need a break from writing?
7. What started you down the road of writing?
8. What’s one story you keep recommending to others?
9. How do you keep yourself motivated?
10. What superpower would you choose and why?
11. What four people would you invite to a dinner party; contemporary, historical, or fictional?

 

 

How do you find your next read?

Books everywhereGood question. A co-worker saw me reading during my lunch break last week and asked what the book was. He was looking for something to read. Then I saw this Roz Morris post at Nail Your Novel, and I’m thinking this is something in the air this week.

Yes, book marketers want to know! Book authors want to know also! What catches your attention and interest? The cover? The author? How do you find interesting and fulfilling reads?

To be honest, I don’t think about searching out books as much as they pop into my life. I read a review in The New York Times or I find a book because I’ve read something about an author. I sometimes will print out the review (or cut it out of a magazine or newspaper) and put it on my to-do pile. Or I’ll immediately go to my library’s website and put the book on my to-read list. I haven’t been buying many books lately because I don’t have the money to spend, sadly. One of my favorite things is to peruse a real bookstore or add books to my wish list at Amazon. I can easily spend way too much money doing that.

A while ago, I signed up for BookBub and have been receiving the bargain e-mails from it. I don’t always look through the e-mails, but when I have, I’ve been surprised to find titles that look interesting to me. If they are free, I will go to Amazon or B&N and download a copy. If not, I’ll sometimes go to my library’s website and put the title on my to-read list.

Photo: Marina Shemesh

Photo: Marina Shemesh

Meeting authors is another way I become aware of a title. I meet authors through my two blogs and through GoodReads. I’ve also been approached through LinkedIn which I found kind of amusing. But I’ve read books by people I’ve met in these ways. Sometimes the books are good, sometimes not. I had one bad experience with an author who had asked me to read and review his book. I agreed if he’d read and review mine. I fulfilled my side of the bargain. He never fulfilled his.  Now, I’m very wary of such requests.

I don’t read much nonfiction, but when I do, it’s usually about a subject that has grabbed me or a biography. I’ve also bought and read memoirs in order to get an idea of writing memoir. The last nonfiction book I read was about a film editor who’d edited a lot of films I’d seen written by a literary author whose books I’ve enjoyed quite a lot.

Friends often suggest titles or give me books to read. A friend sent me a novel several years ago that had been written by an author who’d grown up near where I grew up. After reading that book, I wanted to read all that author’s books. I’m a member of a science fiction group — we are passionate about science fiction of all kinds and regularly talk about books, films, TV shows, and exchange ideas about the different aspects of the genre. I get a LOT of book ideas from them.

My interests dictate what catches my eye. Recently, I’ve gotten interested in Gothic fiction, i.e. not Gothic horror but Gothic romantic suspense or Gothic romantic thriller. This interest developed as a result of reading an article in The Writer about transforming a screenplay into a novel. That article got me thinking about a screenplay I’d written about 10 years ago that I really like.  Then I re-read The Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart, and suddenly it occurred to me that maybe the screenplay could be transformed into a Gothic thriller novel like Stewart’s novel.

So how do you find your next read? Check this out:

Designed by Christopher Bohnet, xt4, inc.

Designed by Christopher Bohnet, xt4, inc.