Tag Archives: reading

Oops!

I am sorry this post is late today. Life has gotten in the way, but in a good way. 🙂 I had a fantastically lazy and relaxing Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t worry about very much (for a change) except reading my book and getting caught up on some chilled out family time. With all that laid back time, I just didn’t get my post done this weekend.

Then last night I went to see a production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, starring Sir Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench, broadcast from the Garrick theatre in London’s West End through a Fathom Events Live special showing at a local movie theater. It is a treat to see something like this, or NT Live’s Coriolanus, which I have seen a few times in local movie theaters. I have seen a few others and am also thinking I will HAVE to check out the Fathom Events Live broadcast of Sherlock – The Abominable Bride that will be here in the US in January.  With all the excitement of seeing the play, I didn’t manage to get anything written by the time the play was over at almost 10:30.

So even though this is late, I wanted to share a story with you from my super relaxing long weekend. Before we go to sleep at night, we take turns reading to the kids. They can read on their own, but there is something about having that time, reading aloud to the kids to get them to sleep. I have one book I’m reading to the twins and I had another I was reading for quite awhile to my oldest. He had gotten the book, The One and Only Ivan, on his school librarian’s recommendation, at the last book fair at school. We always end up spending a boatload at those book fairs by the way. 🙂

We read this book for a little while, though it is a children’s book with very short chapters. (I love short chapters for night time reading sessions!) The story is basically about this gorilla, Ivan, who has lived his life in a small cage, not in a zoo or in the wild, but doesn’t seem to mind too much until he meets a baby elephant named Ruby who needs his help. He makes a promise to his friend Stella the elephant to help save Ruby.

It’s a sweet and easy read, which I’d recommend reading, regardless of your age. What I wanted to share with you, though, was that I had one of those ugly cry moments (as Oprah might say) reading it to my son. I thought he was asleep so I’m just all choked up and unable to get any words out, then I look over and see he is waiting patiently for me to continue. It took me a few minutes to get myself under control enough to finish reading it to him.

I admire writers who can tell a story that makes a reader feel so strongly as to break into an ugly cry. I admire writers who can make a reader feel sad, or happy, or even angry reading their stories. The book I was reading myself over the weekend wasn’t the Great American Novel, but rather a feel good romance novel I knew exactly what to expect from the author as soon as I checked it out from the library.  This author may not give me much that is unexpected, but she manages to stir the emotions up from time to time in each book of hers I read.

I like reading books that make me feel and hope to be the writer that manages that for my readers someday.

Thanks for stopping by and for your forgiveness for the lateness.

Have a great week!

~CJS

To Blurb or Not To Blurb

I subscribe to a blog called The Passive Voice, and if you are a writer you should be subscribing and reading this fantastic blog. Yesterday there was a post about blurbs that I found fascinating.

What is a blurb?

blurb    /blərb/
noun
a short description of a book, movie, or other product written for promotional purposes and appearing on the cover of a book or in an advertisement.
or
verb
write or contribute a blurb for (a book, movie, or other product). 
The article was about the second definition.
What we’re basically talking about here are endorsements from other authors and/or celebrities, those compelling “reviews” popped onto a book’s back cover or first few pages, to get the reading public to buy the book.
For a self-publishing writer these acclaims can help sell books, and when you are talking about having to self-promote, every little bit helps. Including blurbs.
For example? Go Google The Martian by Andy Weir. Completely self-published beginning as an online serial then going onto Amazon at $.99 then selling 35,000 copies in four months in 2013. That’s when it got Hollywood’s attention. In March of 2014 the book was no. 12 on the New York Times bestseller list, and by November that same year the book sold 180,000 copies. A huge coup for self-publishers.
But what happens when you get people to read your book and leave reviews on sites such as Goodreads and Amazon?
This became a huge concern of mine just before summer. You see, Amazon, in all its amazing glory, decided to take down any reviews if it was discovered that these reveiws were written by friends of the author. I have put up reviews for writers who, at the time, were not my friends. I met them through blogging and became a source to them for helping their promotion efforts. Eventually, through further interaction we did become friends but does that make my blurb/review of their work any less credible?
What about those well-known authors who seem to write blockbuster after blockbuster? Do blurbs really help them since they are well-known already in the industry? I mean, honestly, what more can you say about a famous author that hasn’t already been said, or read? Critiquing their current work is one thing, but seriously, how many times do we need to hear how he/she is today’s  Tolstoy, Austen, or Shakespeare? And let’s be honest, they aren’t those writers, and their writing resembles the classics the way a goose resembles a swan. They may be birds and have feathers and can swim and fly, but one look tells the truth.
Personally, when I buy a book, whether it is self-published or traditionally published, I ignore the blurbs. I don’t care for them. I’m looking for word of mouth and my own interests. If someone I know tells me I should read a certain book then I am more likely to do so than reading an endorsement from a celebrity or well-known author. Those people do not know me, but my friends and people I talk to often know my tastes or can guess easily. And if there are people I know personally endorsing a book then you can bet I’ll be reading that book. In fact, I have a lengthy list of books on my Goodreads Want-To-Read list thanks to those friends whose books I have read and heartily endorse.
To blurb or not to blurb, that is today’s question? Should blurbs be done away with and the writing stand on it’s own? Or do we like blurbs and think they are a useful marketing tool? Sound off in the comments.
Jesi

Borrowing Trouble

Last week I was required to take a TSI (Texas Success Initiative) assessment test so that I can begin registering for certain classes come fall. This is just a program/test that determines your skill level in the core areas and helps line a pathway better suited for each individual. It covers the basics with sections in writing, reading and math, totaling almost 200 multiple choice questions and a written essay and you have five hours to complete it in.

Five long hours.

There are worksheets and books out there designed to help you study for these types of things, but I was given exactly 12 hours notice before I was to take the test and that included time needed to make dinner, handle the night time routine with the kids, sleep, wake up and travel to the testing site. Needless to say, studying was not given an opportunity.

Did I mention, five hours of testing WITHOUT prior study.

My apologies, reiteration seemed necessary.

Now I am going to be real honest with you
 I hate math. I absolutely detest the numbers and equations and simplicity of something that manages to give me so much grief. Sure, I can add, subtract, calculate percentages in my head – especially when there is a good shoe sale going on – but ask me the square root of anything and I am out of there. Numbers and I, we just don’t really get along, it’s nothing personal.

So when it came time to do the math part of the test, you might be surprised to learn that I truly didn’t sweat it much. I answered to the best of my ability and when all else failed, I any many miny moe’d what I didn’t know. At the end of the day, math is just not my thing and I was alright with whatever my math score was. The worst that was going to happen was me being told that I was not good at math. No big deal.

Out of the three parts, I was most excited about the reading part. Shoot, I can read! Reading is fun. It is an adventure, bring on the reading test!

What had me really panicking was the writing part. I am talking heart palpitations, sweaty palms, eye twitching, it wasn’t pretty. My husband just laughed, informed me to calm down and take a breather because this was not a pass or fail sort of test.

There was a lot of glaring going on at my house after dinner that night.

He didn’t understand. I wasn’t worried about passing or failing really. Sort of. It was more than that.

best-good-enough

I am a writer. I have spent the last ten years of my life with one goal in mind – write. What if this stupid assessment told me that I wasn’t very good at it? Then what? It was too much to handle, too much to consider and I almost called it quits last Wednesday. College just wasn’t for me. Not if it meant taking a stupid test that told me that I didn’t pass a writing assignment.

By morning, I stopped borrowing trouble and remembered something. I am a writer. So what if I didn’t score well, I would just learn to improve whatever I scored low on. That is the great thing about being a writer, there is always room for improvement. A first draft is just that, a first draft. No one expects you to get it right the first time, so do not expect as much from yourself either. Allow yourself room for growth and improvement, and remember
 perfection is boring.

Have you ever been in a situation that made you doubt your abilities? If so, share with me in the comments below. 

Till next time,

~AJP

In case you are wondering, I failed the math section by 19 points, but scored a 7 out of 8 on my writing essay! All is right in my world.

 

To read or not to read

That is a question many authors, especially new authors, ask themselves. Should they be reading anything while writing a book? Should they read the genre they write? How about other genres? Or, if they write fiction, maybe they ought to read only non-fiction.

This question has always amazed and confounded me. That was especially true when I read a comment by a new author who proudly said she never reads in the genre she writes because she doesn’t want her wonderfully original idea to be diluted by what she reads. Yes, you read that right. Not only did she honestly feel she had a truly original plot but that it would be “tainted” by what she might read in the genre.

There are two basic problems with that statement. The first is the belief that she had a truly original plot. Sorry, but there are only so many basic plots out there. Originality comes with how you handle that plot. The important thing is to remember that. Your story may be one of exploration — nothing new — or a coming of age story. Again, nothing new. But how you handle that story, what you put your character through and how your character handles what life throws at him, that is what you make your own.

The second issue is with believing your plot can be tainted by something you are reading. Now, if you are afraid you will wind up lifting elements of the plot from the book you are reading, well, the problem lies with you. You either don’t have a plot already set in your head or you are so uncomfortable or so unsure about what you are writing that you unconsciously know you are in trouble.

But that doesn’t answer the question of whether you should read the genre you write.

My answer is a resounding “yes”. You have to read your genre to know what is selling, to know what the readers want. I don’t mean to just read what comes out of the major publishers either. You need to look at the best sellers list on Amazon to see what indie books are selling well and read some of them. This is important because indies can and do, on the whole, publish more often than traditionally published authors. So you can read multiple books in a series in short order.

You also need to read outside your genre because, whether you realize it or not, my guess is your current work in progress encompasses more than one genre. You may be writing a mystery but if there is a romance as a subplot, you need to read some romantic suspense books to get the feel for what sort of cues you need to put in. It’s the same if your mystery has a ghost story interwoven through it — read some horror.

Last week, as I prepared to write Nocturnal Challenge, an urban fantasy/police procedural, I read several books in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. I also read the last couple of Eve Dallas books by J. D. Robb. Now that I am working on Challenge, and knowing that the next book I will be writing is Honor from Ashes, I’m reading David Weber and Peter Grant. Once I start Ashes, which is science fiction, I’ll go back to reading fantasy in preparation for writing Dagger of Elanna, the second book in my fantasy series.

So, while I don’t read in my genre while writing it, I do read it before and after. I will also throw in a healthy dose of non-fiction and other fiction genres like mystery/suspense and, heaven help me, even some romance because several of my series have romantic sub-plots.

But there is another reason why authors should read. We learn by reading. we learn the pitfalls of the craft we want to avoid and we learn how the better authors plot or develop characters or worldbuild. But, if you are like me, you also read for entertainment. I have loved getting lost in a book for as long as I can remember. My imagination is much more powerful than the images on a movie screen or on TV. I can — and have — read something and had nightmares afterwards because it set my imagination flying.

But what about you? Do you think a writer should read the genre they write? What’s the last great book you read? (Yes, I’m looking at padding my “to be read” stack)

 

“Nobody goes to libraries anymore.”

One of my favorite movies as a kid was The Pagemaster with Macaulay Culkin. It was about a boy who found himself taking shelter from a storm inside a very empty library except for the lone librarian. The boy ended up having to overcome these different obstacles and adventures before he was able to return back to normal.

The idea of getting lost in a library only to have to live out the stories fascinated me. Along with the fact that I could never quite understand why such a grand library was so deserted. (The library in this movie was beyond cool looking.) With all of those books to be read, the idea that no one was fighting over getting to read as many as possible always baffled me.

Now fast forward 21 years and I find myself dealing with a similar feeling.

“Nobody goes to libraries anymore.”

These words struck me as odd when I heard them while watching a TV show with my husband the other night. I had to rewind the scene to make sure I heard the dialogue correctly. Sure enough,I heard correctly. My husband laughed a little and muttered that they obviously hadn’t met me.

Touché husband, touché,

It was Monday night and already I had been to the library twice this week. Just earlier that evening I had taken my son and a neighbor’s daughter (ND) so that they could pick up a stack of books for after test reading this week.

When we arrived, I let the kids loose to find what they wanted. At first I noticed that ND was kind of wandering around, looking for something but she had a scrunched up face about her. She had wanted to search for a specific book, but the one of the catalog computers was out of service and the other was occupied. She hadn’t ever been out of the “children” section before so when I took her to a different machine in the “main” part of the library, her face was in awe. It was incredible. She was down right giddy.

“Oh, I like mysteries!” she said. And after further conversation, I determined that what she was looking for was the horror genre, not mystery. We quickly found the book she had been looking for and then I steered her towards R.L. Stine’s collection (safely back in the children’s section) where she went home with his first two Goosebumps series.  (Thank God, I wasn’t sure how her mother would have felt had I let her come home with a stack of Stephen King novels.)

In a matter of minutes, these two had their arms loaded down with books. It was hilarious, partly because at this moment they were competing on who could check out the most books. The other part was because I kept waiting for one of them to drop their stack – I am the mom who likes to point and laugh…

UnFortunately, no books tumbled to the ground, we managed to check out with 40 books between the three of us (some of these books were designated for the two younger siblings that were unable to tag along), and I had the pure joy of experiencing someone else’s excitement over books.

This leaves me with the question… why does Hollywood think that libraries are dead?

Do they think we aren’t reading? Surely they are smarter than that.

Is it because ebooks have come up in the world full force, and that is great, but guess what? Any given library has an exceptional ebook collection.

There are more published writers in today’s world than ever before so this can’t be the reason.

Today’s library isn’t just for old dusty books anymore (were they ever?), and it is not just a place for someone to use the computers for free (Monday night, the computers were almost all vacant, thank you very much.)

The library is a community for the community. It is a place for all, it doesn’t care what your race is, your gender, your age, your likes, dislikes. No matter who you are, there is something at the library for you.

Just please, do not bend the pages.

Do you have a favorite library? Is there a special library that you hope to visit one day? I’d like to visit all of them…

Happy reading,

~AJP

(Too bad I didn’t think of this post last week during National Library Week…)

 

Reading and Writing (No Arithmetic)

 

image

Lately I’ve been so busy with work and with my very limited amount of writing that I have spent far less time reading than I would like. I am really missing it.  Reading offers so much to me for sheer escapism and reading pleasure, but also because what we read can be such an inspiration for our writing and a practical lesson in how to write well.  Or, depending on the book, how *not* to write! 😉

Stephen King says so well in his great autobiographical writing book, On Writing:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others, read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

While I simply enjoy reading and always have, I totally get the idea of reading to be a better writer. When I read now, I always read with an idea in mind about what I like about what the writer is doing, and what I don’t think works that well. I can’t help but see those details.  That’s not to say I don’t get completely wrapped up in the story sometimes and forget to pick up on any details, because I do that a lot, too. But those are learning moments as well.  I can ask myself what made me get lost in the story or why was it so compelling.  I may not be able to tell you details but I can tell you an overall impression.

I go through spells where I read obsessively. Sometimes it’s because I find something I especially like to read and sometimes just because of the circumstances at the time. But for lots of reasons, the largest being just an insane work life right now, I have cut my reading down significantly the last few months.  In the last few weeks, though, I’ve been having a serious craving to read more.

I like the quote at the beginning from J.K. Rowling because I am an escapist reader. I like to read stories that let me escape my own reality and explore someone else’s.  I will read stories that have a lot of conflict or horror, but they aren’t my first preference because I don’t like to spend a lot of time in a stressful world.  If it serves the story well and the writing is good, I’ll still enjoy the book, but I like to enjoy the world I visit.

I recently read an article I found on Twitter – 32 Books You’d Like to Read Again For The First Time and was thrilled to see most of my choices represented. I’ve read a lot of the books they have on the list and am tempted to check out some of the others that I haven’t. Two of the selections were very popular series so were not at all surprising. The number one selection was the Harry Potter series, which I love and wholeheartedly agree would be a great one to read again for the first time. Another was the Hunger Games trilogy. I would love to read both of those series again for the first time again because they are just so good. I’ve re-read them several times, but to read them again for the first time would be a real treat. Many classics were also listed that are also favorites of mine, like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. Both might feel like the first time again since it’s been so long.  But one book I didn’t expect to see on the list is one I would definitely include on my list – The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. I’ve read this book so many times and can I just tell you the movie based on the book is a total disappointment if you’ve read it.  Read the book, don’t watch the movie.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the other hand (also on the list), is a great movie, so I’d recommend giving both a shot.

So I need to find something new to read. I have quite a lot on my ever growing To Be Read list, and have more than a few sitting unread on my bedside table and on my Kindle. I’ll keep you posted if I find a new one that I especially enjoy. But whether I end up with great new find or not, I will be happy to be reading. 🙂

Do you read a lot? Wish you could read more? What are you reading now? Are there books you’d like to read again for the first time? What are they?  Do leave a comment and let us know.

Thanks for *reading* and have a great week!

~CJS

Like A Box Of Chocolates

“Writing is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Yes, I totally cribbed that from Forrest Gump. Not sorry about it either. Actually, I think it’s dead accurate. I can tell you from experience that just because you sit your butt down in a chair to write on a work-in-progress, that doesn’t mean that’s what you’re going to work on. Half the time I sit down I have a general idea of what I want to write about, and I end up going some place completely different. The story takes over and does what it wants, which isn’t always what I want it to be. What I have discovered when this happens is that resistance is futile. The story will fight tooth and nail until it gets its way. Characters, too. For instance, a current story idea I am working on involves a half-elf, and he won’t shut up. But when I try to sit down to work on his story, I get nothing. Stupid half-elf.

Sometimes you have to fight for every word. Like trying to pull a thin sliver of a splinter out of your hand, pulling words out of thin air can be difficult, slippery, and painful. I should know. That’s how the half-elf came into my life in the first place. I had sat down to work on an idea I’d had during an exercise in a workshop and suddenly I was fighting, almost strangling my brain, for every word. And I had worked all day on it. I even got up and walked away at one point but it didn’t help. By the time I was serving supper I’d only managed 1000 words. At the time I was managing around 2000 words a day, and that in only a few hours of working. A thousand words all day? Really? Argh!

Well, I had my supper, cleaned up, then sat my butt back down in the chair determined to hit 1500 words at least and then give up. If it wasn’t working, then it wasn’t working. I’d try my best and then let it go and work on it later. I even had a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey to fortify myself. That’s when this sarcastic British voice popped in and said “maybe you should have tried that earlier.” And then ensued a conversation in which a full-formed character introduced himself to me. Ever since that night I have been plagued/fascinated/annoyed/intrigued by this character in my head. I love him. But when it comes time to actually sit down and write about him…nothing. Jerk.

But that’s how it goes sometimes. The thing is, I ended up after the snarky comment writing about 3500 words, and I left with ideas and scenes ready to be written.

Most recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading (if by that you understand that I walk into a library with two books and come out with 25-not even kidding) and one of the books I finished last weekend was Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. I was intrigued by one of the stories in it, A Study In Emerald. Gaiman took Sherlock Holmes and put him smack dab into a Lovecraftian world. It was a very interesting story and I was hooked. I love the idea of mashing up stories and seeing what happens.

So, after reading on into the book I realized my attention kept wandering because I was engrossed in coming up with ideas for this story that had taken hold of my mind. Combined with a poem I wrote called Femme Fatale (posted a few weeks ago) and my love of gothic horror stories, the ideas finally forced me to sit down and write a flash fiction piece based on Jack the Ripper. It is completely out of my normal writing genre (fantasy, romance, poetry) and it was fun and fantastic, and I am completely excited about it. It has what I hope are some very cool twists, and I am considering extending it into a short story. Partly because I have a deadline to meet by August and I am trying to come up with some ideas, but mostly I think it would be a great story. And sometimes, it goes that way, too.

What about you? Have you ever sat down and realized that what you thought you were going to write isn’t what you are writing? How did that affect your story? Did you end up writing a scene completely different, or did you begin a whole new story?

By the way, want a snarky half-elf? He’s driving me up a wall lately.

Jesi

What’s your genre niche?

When you go into a book store/library, what do you find yourself browsing for in a book? Is it a spicy romance novel that has your heart racing? Or a thrilling horror that has you screaming when your kids startle you
 by merely going to the bathroom in the middle of the night? How about a travel through time to see the world how it used to be? Maybe you prefer an exciting trip into a world not quite like our own? There are so many varieties out there that it is mind boggling.

It is human nature to find something you know and like then to stick to it.

Growing up I tended to read more of the horror genre only sneaking my mom’s romance novels when I was really desperate. Then as I became a grown up, I read whatever book was passed to me from my mom and grandmother ; still mostly romances – Nora Roberts, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Danielle Steel, etc.

Somewhere along the way, the three of us branched out a bit further, now my grandmother tends to pick up suspense and mystery novels; my mom is more of a thriller junkie.  Me, I still read whatever is usually passed on or referred to me.

As a writer you have to read a lot. They say read what you write and write what you read. Research your genre and see what works and what doesn’t.

How does that work if what you write isn’t necessarily what you like to read?

When I read a book, I want my characters to have a happy ending. I know, I know, how boring. Life doesn’t always have that happy ending and neither does a book. I don’t care, I like what I like and good should over come evil, the bad guy should get his butt kicked by the end of the story, and the couple that is madly in love should have their happily ever after. Oh how it kills me when a romance story kills off one of the main characters at the end.

However, when I write, I don’t follow my own reading rules. This makes things a little difficult when trying to juggle reading for pleasure and reading to better your writing.

When I started writing the first draft of my current novel, I had no clue where I was going with it. In fact, it had started out as a short story to let off some steam. Once I had finished the short story, I realized that it wasn’t completed. There were other voices that needed to be heard, other point of views that needed writing. After all was said and done, I approached Amanda with my first draft and asked her just how crazy was I in doing what I did.

Her response
 Eek. You did what? With how many different


Like I said, what I have been writing is not something I generally like reading.

Being able to write something that wasn’t overwhelming or confusing and had people wanting to read it meant a lot of research in finding what worked and what didn’t. I was left with the possibilities of having to change so much that I considered giving up many different times but I kept going, expanding my story and plotlines.

Then it came time to start reading what I was writing
 and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Again I contemplated just leaving it as a first draft and cutting my losses.

Research is fun for me
 as long as it is not a requirement. Then it becomes tedious. So not only was I faced with having to read a bunch of books that I was sure I would dislike, I also had the chore of figuring out what books would benefit me the most. Needle in a haystack. (Ha! more like a book in a library.)

As I mentioned earlier, most of the books I read come as recommendations from friends, family or other bloggers. I have been extremely lucky these past months, almost every single book that has been suggested to me has somehow helped me with my current book.

Books ranging from a YA ghost story, a dystopian collapse of mankind that spanned over 70 years in time, a YA written in present tense, a historical two-person view that absolutely broke my heart, and a multitude of books all written by the same author who has many titles under their belt exploring multiple POV’s.

As far as research reading goes, I hit the jackpot. And it was because I did not stick to one specific type/style of book. I had to branch out and jump around from shelf to shelf, picking my way through what works and what didn’t work for me. My job isn’t done, I am still reading and with each new book, I am better equipped with the knowledge that I need to do the best that I can do.

If I had stuck to only one particular genre, I’d have probably given up on my novel by now.

Do you have a favorite genre? And does it help your writing? Let me know in the comments.

~AJP