What are you reading?

What are you reading? This question was posed in a  comment on an earlier blog, and I promised to respond. As I told her, I’m an eclectic reader — which only means I will read anything, even the back of a cereal box if nothing else is handy.

It’s a tough question, so I went to my bag o’ books that I toted home from my last library visit. Here’s what I found:

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (almost finished)

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison (recommended!)

To Die But Once by Jacqeuline Winspear (yes, I’m a fan of Maisie Dobbs)

That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Cooper

Circe by Madeline Miller

I haven’t read the last two yet, so no comments.

Then there are the two books on my schedule for my book clubs. One club is reading The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe. I have it on order. The other club is reading See Me by Nicholas Sparks. I may take this one to the beach with me next week.

Speaking of the beach, my favorite beach read authors are Nancy Thayer, Mary Kay Andrews, Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Alice Monroe, Elin Hilderbrand, Barbara Delinsky, Susan Mallery, and Debbie Macomber. I have probably left out a few.

I also love big, sweeping historical novels by Ken Follett, Edward Rutherford, Philippa Gregory, Colleen McCullough, and Diana Gabaldon. Gabaldon is my all-time favorite. History, romance and paranormal all in one. My kind of book. The TV series is the only one I ever felt compelled to buy. I could watch them over and over, and no, it’s not all Jamie.

As for mysteries, give me Anne Perry or Elizabeth George any time. If I see their name on the spine of a book on the library shelf, it’s in my hands immediately.

Of course there are many others. And, I like to try new authors by browsing Book Bub and Ereader News Today. (I like the solid feel of print books, but also the convenience and portability of my Kindle.)

I also read biographies and other non-fiction. My son let me borrow SPQR by Mary Beard. It isn’t a book you read all in once sitting. But I am slowly getting through it.

And where do I put Anne Rice, Anne Lamott, and Pat Conroy? Also favorites.

After The Prince of Tides, I wrote Conroy a gushing letter telling him how much I loved it. I had never written a fan letter before and didn’t expect an answer. But he sent me a postcard from Rome where he and his family were staying while he worked on his second book. It was a picture of the hotel where they were staying and he even marked the window of the room they were staying in. I still have it somewhere.

So that’s what I read. Anything, even the history of ancient Rome, which is interesting enough to keep me reading, but not so interesting that I won’t put it down in favor of something a little (ahem!) sexier.

And, in parting, if you are looking for something to read this summer, hop on over to my place and browse the shelves. You may find something you like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Growing a book

I have been on a roll, waking every morning for the past six days to roll  out of bed  and walk two laps around the park. Then home for coffee and to read the newspaper, after which I sit down and write.

Yes, I have also been writing every day. I’m pleased with my progress and how the story is developing. Maybe I feel just a little smug as I pat myself on the back.

I fully intended to follow that routine today, but so far the walk is the only goal I can check off. It’s been hot (have I said that before?) and because it hasn’t rained in a few days, my plants started drooping. So after my walk and checking the news, I decided to water them. Then I needed to pick off the dead blossoms.

I remembered I had purchased new clippers the day before, so it seemed like a good time to try them out while it was comparatively cool. Noticing that the grass and weeds around some of the larger shrubs had grown, I got out my

I wish my astilbe looked like these!

weed-whacker and  whacked away, accidentally decapitating one lily plant. Oops.

That done, I clipped around some plants and pulled some weeds. One weed was wrapped around an astilbe, and I accidentally (not a good day) pulled out part of the plant. So I dug a hole and replanted the separated plant and while I was at it, dug up and re-planted another that had unexpectedly popped up several feet from the parent plant. So now they are all in a nice row.

Swept the sidewalk, washed my tools, and washed my knees which were muddy from kneeling on the ground.

Gardening is a little like writing. You start with an idea, and it grows. Then you need to weed out the parts that don’t belong. Sometimes a scene needs to be moved from one chapter to another to make the story flow more clearly. As you write, time slips away until you realize you have accomplished more than you had planned.

It’s a good feeling, either way. My flowers are happy and now I am off to work on my novel.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer … bugs or books?

I don’t know what the temperature is your way, but here  in North Carolina it is hot! I mean, in the nineties hot.

Too hot to work outdoors, which I love doing in the summer.  But after a bout with both poison ivy and an allergic reaction to a couple of mosquito bites, I don’t plan on doing much yard work without a hazmat suit.

As you all know, the really best thing about summer is reading. And when the weather is hot and humid, I like to find a cool corner, a glass of iced tea, and a book. Doesn’t matter if it is an e-book or print. I am like a voter who refuses to pledge allegiance to either party.

I like getting messages in my inbox every morning from BookBub and Ereader News Today. I read the blurbs and sometimes click on the book to read more on Amazon — in particular, the reviews. You can also read a few pages of the book to get a sense of the author’s style.  I like the free books, naturally, but I do buy some. I’ve found a lot of great, new authors this way.

But, I do love to visit the library and peruse the shelves to see what’s been added since my last visit. Sometimes I score with a new book from a favorite writer. The librarians are helpful in telling me what other people thought of a book (reviews!) and often ask me what my opinion is. I come home with my tote bag full and settle in, usually with one of the cats on my lap.

Another place to find books are used book stores. We don’t have one near me, but when I visit one of my kids (who all live in bigger cities) that is one place we can mutually agree on making a stop.

And, when a really, really favorite author comes out with a new book I buy it simply because I want to a) support them and b) because I like owning a book I know I will read again. When my shelves get full, I go through and pick out those I know I won’t re-read or maybe didn’t love all that much after I read it, or were given and told to share after I finished reading them. These go to the senior center bookshelf, which is like a Little Free Library.

I know people who think summer is for swimming, hiking, boating, and other physical activities. Good for them and I hope they remember their sunscreen and bug repellent.

I’ll take a comfy chair and a good book any time.

 

 

 

Why I don’t use my desk and other excuses

Writers often share photos of their work space:  organized desks with computer, printer, and file folders neatly aligned.

Mine is not like that. I am not even going to take a photo of my messy, disorganized and paper-strewn table (yes, a gate-leg table that may or may not be an antique because I  can’t remember where or when I acquired it). It gets progressively worse when I am working on a book because I don’t have the patience to put things back where they belong.  At any given moment, it holds the printer and computer, a stack of CDs I seldom play, a

calendar, phone, several 5 x 8 yellow tablets for notes, a coffee cup filled with pens, my camera, and and a glass of iced tea, a church bulletin, a flashlight, and my external hard drive because I learned the Lesson of the Lost Files the hard way.

 

I do have a desk. It is bare. I add this picture to show the reason why it is bare. I have three cats and during the day one or two of them are draped across its surface. I don’t put anything on the desk because within minutes of said cat(s) jumping on top, objects are swiped off and onto the floor.

They don’t jump on my table either because there is no room for them or because (my favorite reason) they see all the stuff on it and realize they are too inherently lazy to push it all off.  Also, the desk faces the windows and gets the afternoon sun.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was busy formatting my book. That has been accomplished, and now I am trying to come up with an alternate ending for the one that was rejected. So I am not so much writing as thinking. I don’t believe non-writers realize that when writers are sitting gazing off into space that they are actually working.  My hope is if I turn the story over in my mind often enough I will come to an Aha! moment and visualize the perfect ending.

And, I have been sending out my completed ms. to agents. I am by turns either hopelessly optimistic or bleakly despairing of ever again publishing another book. But nothing ventured, nothing gained and if I don’t at least try, the result will be a big, fat nothing. It’s hard to have faith in yourself and your story-telling ability, which is why I occasionally re-read my reviews so I can tell myself that somebody out there likes my books.

I don’t know if all authors are this neurotic. I suspect most are. What other professions depends so much on someone else’s opinion, which may or may not be objective?

Meanwhile, there are days I just wish I were a cat. Basking in the sun and thinking of absolutely nothing.

 

 

Looking for joy

This little visitor to my deck brought me joy this morning.

 

It’s easy to be pessimistic about life. Sad things happen. We lose family members and friends. Our jobs have gradually ceased to bring us satisfaction, but have become a chore. Children grow up and move away, leaving us more alone that we ever imagined. Our bodies age and we reluctantly agree there are some things that we just can’t do any more, much as we want to.

Sometimes our minds get set on our losses and sorrows, and we can’t seem to find our way out.

But there is a way to change that mindset. It really is simple. Bear me out.

In our NETworX program, as we support people overcoming generation poverty we ask that each participant tell us something good that happened to them that week.

In our monthly church leadership team meetings, we ask people to share “glory sightings”–something that brought them joy and gratitude.

We don’t have to wait until someone prods us during a meeting to come up with something positive in our lives. We can look for it every day.  I wake in the morning and remind myself that today  I am going to find something that makes me happy.

It doesn’t have to be a winning lottery ticket. Once I went to pay my check for lunch, only to be told someone had already paid it.  That was huge! Another time, I found a flower blooming in a spot no plant could possibly grow–yet it did. And one day I went to the library and found not one, but three books by three of my favorite authors! What a dilemma to decide which one to read first!

Sometime it’s an unexpected call from a friend, just when I need it, or maybe turning on the radio and hearing a song I love and haven’t heard in many years.

As you look for these “glory sightings” or “joys” or whatever you choose to call them, they will appear more and more frequently. And you begin to realize that your outlook on life has slowly changed.

At this point, you will start to wonder how you can bring joy to someone else.  Maybe you pay the charge at the fast-food drive-in for the family behind you. Or ease up on the gas pedal to let that person trying to merge get off the ramp and onto the highway. Smile and thank the cashier at the grocery story or the teller at the bank. Swallow that snarky remark that may seem funny to you, but may be hurtful to the recipient.

As you look for ways to spread joy as well as finding it, I think your life will be better … both for you  and for your loved ones.

I read in a newspaper column that the writer’s one resolution for 2018 was to be kinder.

If all of us made that resolution, wouldn’t it truly be a wonderful world!

Best wishes for you and yours in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To this point, I’ve considered historical fiction as beginning with Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear and ending with All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I read all of Auel’s books, but confess I never read the World War I classic.

However, I notice a change creeping up on me like gray hair and arthritic knees. The big thing now is World War II novels, such as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Kristin Hanna’s The Nightingale. If you haven’t read these two novels, stop right now and get them from your library, download them on your Kindle, or do whatever you have to do. I’ll wait.

These are both marvelous books that take you right into the war and its effects on those who lived through it … or didn’t. But as I read them, I wondered, “How is it that these are labeled historical fiction?”

Isn’t history events that happened before you were born?

I haven’t been coy about my age, but evidently I am older than I thought. You see, I remember World War II. Not as a historian would view it, but through a child’s eyes. I knew there was a war going on, I just didn’t exactly know what a war was.

Thank God for that.

To me, war meant Victory gardens, and a scarcity of certain commodities like sugar. I knew sugar was scarce because my mother complained bitterly when she was ready to make jam from the berries she grew along the side of our vegetable garden and couldn’t buy any, even with her ration book.

War meant saving bacon grease in a tin can, and rolling string into balls. It meant carefully peeling the tin foil from its paper backing after unwrapping a stick of chewing gum and saving it.

War meant seeing beautiful wrought iron fences disappear from the lawns of stately homes and drawing the shades down at night so not one glimmer of light could escape.

These were minor and forgettable things compared to what others went through. But we didn’t know about the others. Not then. We didn’t know how blessedly safe we were.

But war  touched many other children: children shot, starved, gassed. The novels I mentioned brought this home to me. We know war is evil, but until a skilled writer brings our emotions to the fore, we can’t really understand what it is like. Hanna and Doerr put us in the picture, and after reading their novels, we can’t say we don’t understand any longer.

And still it goes on. And on. Korea, Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria…

I would love some day to know that all wars belong in the historical category. I know I won’t live to see it, but I hope my great-grandchildren will.

And they will read the stories and thank God such madness has ended.

 

 

 

 

An island never cries

I didn’t expect the response I received after posting last week, both here and on Facebook. My goal was to say that we can turn our emotions, even such raw ones as grief, to  make our writing more authentic.

I didn’t intend to imply that my grief was somehow more deep or valid than anyone else’s. The truth is, at some point we are all going to hit that wall head-on and stagger into a new and confusing reality. And it hurts. There is no “more than” or “less than.” It just hurts.

We will lose those we love. There is no way to sugar coat this fact or turn it  into a euphemism. We will eventually lose our parents. We will lose siblings. Of the three of us, my brother, the youngest, was the first to go. My sister and I couldn’t understand it. We still can’t.

We will lose dear friends and people we admire but don’t know in spite of feeling a close connection to them.

Each loss is another blow, another chipping away at a heart already wounded.

How can you avoid this pain? It isn’t easy, but you can close yourself off. You can be like the subject of Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “I Am a Rock” and tell yourself a rock feels no pain … and an island never cries.Related image

You can distance yourself and avoid intimacy. You can turn your heart to stone.

But is it worth it in the end?

Wouldn’t you rather have had your parents, your spouse, your friend, in spite of the loss? Isn’t the memory of their love dearer than an island’s isolation?

Life hurts, my friends. If it doesn’t, you aren’t living.

But life also holds great joy and grace.

Hold on to that instead of your grief. Grief will diminish (although it never goes away), but joy and grace only increase if you let them.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 

 

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