Tag Archives: reading

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!

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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.

 

 

 

Living in a Narrative Culture

Some days are like slogging through a desert.

Some days are like slogging through a desert.

During this last week while I’ve juggling several different aspects of my life and making myself exhausted and frustrated, I’ve been pulled by memories every which way. The stories of my life. Moments of clarity, moments of pure joy like stomping hard in a rain puddle. Exchanging moments of personal history with co-workers. Knowing failure intimately. A realization emerged from all of this: I am not the only one drawn to stories during times of high stress.

The Writer November 2016

The Writer November 2016

I read on the city bus commute to and from work. This week I was reading the newest issues of The Atlantic Monthly and The Writer.  The November 2016 issue of the latter is chock full of interesting ideas and information, especially about computers and blogging. Megan Kaplon interviewed the food blogger Elissa Altman about her blog Poor Man’s Feast and her recent memoirs.  One of Altman’s comments stuck out for me. She was talking about how we live in a “narrative culture,”  programmed to expect that all the loose threads of a story will be tied into a neat bow at the end. She continues:

“…life is not really this way: we don’t all live happily ever after. That’s fantasy; that’s fairy tale. Reality is steeped in the unknown, the discomfiting, the ambiguous.”

This comment slapped me flat on my forehead. Duh! I’ve been consuming novels lately like a starving woman and now I know the reason for my urgent reading. I’ve been trying to keep reality at bay! Even in our nonfiction, we want there to be a “happy ending.” But are stories for escape or for learning? Or both? And as a writer, am I a teacher or an entertainer? Providing the reader/escapist’s drug of choice?

Our world right now threatens us. The media each day bombards us with stories of destruction, death, discrimination, injustice, pain, and fear. It doesn’t help that America has a candidate for president who fuels all the fear and paranoia. No one individual, however, has control over it all. I don’t. You don’t. That sense of powerlessness leaves us fearful as well. We don’t know when the terrorism will stop, if it will stop, if we will be a victim, if someone we love will be a victim, if the hatred will increase and spread to consume us. We want to be safe, secure, and happy, and to be successful. We want good things not bad. So why have we ended up with such a frightening place to live?

Photo: Marina Shemesh

Photo: Marina Shemesh

In stories, we read a beginning, a middle full of conflict, obstacles and suspense, and an ending, usually one in which the protagonist achieves his or her goal, although sometimes not.  When we read this structure in a story, it creates a sense of control over a narrative that we do not have in real life. So, I read mysteries and thrillers, and these stories feel familiar to my real life, so their endings (where the protagonist prevails as well as justice) give me a sense of control I don’t have in my life. I learned a long time ago that I have control only over my own thoughts, feelings and behavior.

Change can be difficult and requires openness to learning and ease of adaptation. Change is the only constant in the universe. We will have it in every day of our lives, both tiny and massive. Reading books can anchor us so we can tolerate and embrace change in our lives. We share our stories, too, with friends and family every time we tell them about our experiences. We live in a narrative culture.

I think the human need for story, for narrative, is a little bit of genius to enable our survival.

 

Learning and Growing as a Writer

Thanks to "No, I do NOT have too many books!" on Facebook for photo.

Thanks to “No, I do NOT have too many books!” on Facebook for photo.

“…you cannot grow in the great art form, the integration of action and contemplation, without (1) a strong tolerance for ambiguity, (2) an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and (3) a willingness to not know and not even need to know. This is how you allow and encounter mystery….”           — Father Richard Rohr

Allow and encounter mystery. Collaborating with my imagination means allowing and encountering mystery. I have no idea how it works, I just know it does and that’s enough for me. I tolerate not knowing, ambiguity, and anxiety in order to participate in this collaboration because I know it works, it’s fun, and it is deeply satisfying.

Above my desk is a post-it in light green and on it I’ve written “TRUST in the PROCESS.” Let go of control. Play. Trust my imagination. As I’ve been working on Perceval’s Shadow this past week, I’ve realized that my imagination demands that I tell Evan Quinn’s story even if it takes me five novels to do it and a totally unknown amount of time. That is certainty I’ve not felt before. It rides on a sense that even though I’ve been away from Evan and his story for a while, he has not gone anywhere, but has waited patiently for me to return. I find this both reassuring and spooky.

Shadow-People-460x287

Then today, as I was digging through my pile of notes for things to write at this blog, I found the quote above, and a list entitled “Lessons Learned from a Private Investigator” without attribution. I suspect I’d saved the latter because of the note about the website where the writer had found the list: Diligentiagroup.com.  This website is for a private investigation business in New York that also has a blog. The writer, a mystery writer, noted that he/she spent a lot of time researching websites, blogs, and books by police, agents and private investigators for her/his writing and had found this particular website’s blog. The list could be also titled “Lessons Learned from My Years as a Writer.” Here’s the list:

  1. Always be learning. Learn by doing and observing others.
  2. Know thyself. Know your strengths and where you need help, and don’t be shy about either.
  3. Differentiate yourself. Don’t be ordinary. Create a brand.
  4. Authenticity. Being genuine and authentic is very attractive these days when the world is wrought with fake and “Buy my book.”
  5. Stick to your principles. Be honest and straightforward. Protect your reputation.
  6. Be helpful. Good things happen when you lend a helping hand.
  7. Don’t be everything to everyone. Pick your genre, find your readership base, and avoid trying to write for every reader out there.
  8. Do work you are proud of. If you write slow, so be it. If you write Christian, erotica, YA, whatever the style, voice, genre, own it.
  9. You are never the smartest or dumbest person in the room. Ask questions. Learn more. Help others do the same.
  10. Don’t stop thinking of new ideas. You’re in a creative environment, and change is happening all around you. Be constantly seeking ways to be unique.
  11. Adapt. This industry changes fast. Roll with that change.
  12. Embrace technology. Yes, that means learning ways to publish, brand, and network, whether you like it or not.
  13. Follow the facts. Make decisions or form opinions based upon fact, not rumors, gossip, innuendos, or half-truths.
  14. Be inspired. Be aware of the world around you.
  15. Do great work. Don’t shortchange the quality of your writing.
  16. Be skeptical. Operate with a critical eye. Don’t fall for the latest class, how-to, software, or book that claims to teach you the perfect way to (fill in the blank).
  17. Persistence. Probably the most important of the list, persistence carries you through those times when you think you should not be writing.

And then I would add two more, two very specific things:

  • Read everything but especially read what you love because that is what you will write. I learn something from every novel, essay, poem, short story, or nonfiction book I read.
  • Write something everyday. Even if it’s only a paragraph in your journal or a letter to a friend, write, write, write.

If you haven’t already found it, here’s my job description for a creative writer.

Keep writing, learning, and growing!

Credit: Walt Disney

Credit: Walt Disney