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Category Archives: What I’m Reading

Writing, Reading, and Work

writer writing

Post Killer Nashville Conference: I left the conference bursting with writing motivation. Couldn’t wait to get started with my new project and then life slams a pie in my face. We had 5 hours of overtime last week. We have 10 hours of overtime this week. I work four ten hour days to have a three day weekend every week. I do this to allow me time to write. Today it didn’t happen.

Since I can work from home sometimes, I decided it was bad enough I had to work on my day off and there was no way I was going into the office to do it, so I got up at 5:30 and was sitting in front of the computer at 6:15 in my pajamas. I thought I would work until 12:15 and then only have to work one extra hour a day to finish my overtime before the weekend. Then I got to thinking that next weekend is a holiday weekend and I really didn’t want to work late on Friday, so I decided to work an extra hour. Well per company guidelines, if you work longer than 6 hours, you have to take a lunch. I ran down to the kitchen to see what I could fix fast. Looked like I was down to peanut butter and jelly but the bread was a little iffy, even if I toasted it. So I ran back upstairs, pulled off my pajama bottoms, put on the shorts I’d worn the day before, a bra, and my pajama top – no need to put on clean clothes to run to the fast food drive through and besides I couldn’t fit in a shower and lunch too. Ran a brush through my hair and took off for the drive thru. Hurried home, ate my lunch at my desk while I continued working.

But then, I got stuck on a piece of work that took me 15 minutes into the next hour. I figured I might as well work another hour and then only have 2 hours left to finish before Friday. So my plan to be done by 12:15 PM stretched out to 2:45 PM. When I was done working for the day I hurried up and showered and dressed. This is why I could not work from home every day. I felt like a sloth.

I really wanted to start either working on my new project or edit a little of my manuscript I finished before my trip to Nashville but I couldn’t with a good conscience sit down to write until I made a trip to the grocery store. I then remembered that I would be working late a couple nights this week and for my husband’s sake decided to make him a nice dinner tonight because who knew what the rest of the week would hold. 11 hour days do sometimes wear me out.  I hurried to the store, came home, stuck a ham in the oven, and then turned on Netflix. I know, I could have sat down and started working on my book but I really needed a little break.

By the time I finished watching my show, it was time to finish fixing dinner. We ate and then I did the dishes and then I remembered I wanted to get my weekly blog post out so here I am. It is now going on 9:00 PM and I have no energy left to write. But I will. Since I only have two eleven hour days and two ten hour days this week, I am sure I will get something done. If not, I have saved my weekend. Since it is a holiday weekend, I am fairly sure I will have all three days free, rarely does the company allow us to work overtime on a holiday because it is time and a half. My only fear is that we will have ten hours of overtime again next week and I will then lose one of the following weekend days to overtime but I won’t know until Thursday. I will think positive thoughts that somehow the overtime will vanish and I can reclaim my days off.

In the meantime, I have been developing my new project a little. Writing notes down about the characters and plot ideas. Here are the things I know. I want to develop a mystery series. I want my protagonist to be a female private eye. I haven’t decided on her name yet but here is the background so far. Her mother died when she was a child. Her father raised her alone. He was a cop, so she followed in his footsteps. He died while on duty and she questions his death. She questioned the wrong person and lost her job so now she is a private investigator. This idea didn’t come from a headline in the paper or a television story, it was just an idea that I’ve been mulling around for a while.

My first story will be about a missing teenage girl. There will be a continuing thread about her investigating her father’s death. I plan to use the title – Finding Faith. The missing teen is named Faith and I hope to use it for both her name and my protagonist finding faith in herself, somehow. It is a working title. Publishers don’t often use the working title but for now, I like it.

Here is one of my research books I will be using, one of many. Robert Randisi edited this book and I think he also founded The Private Eye Writers of America. I sat with him and his wife at the Saturday night awards dinner at Killer Nashville. He is a very prolific writer. He has written a book a month since the 1980’s. To be honest, he looked really tired that night. Even if I could, I don’t think I would want to push myself that hard but if it’s working for him, I can’t knock it.

Private eye3

And here is what I am currently reading. Some how I do find time to read. I think it’s essential to any writer to read. While work and everyday life seem to suck the energy from me, reading helps motivate me and Julia Keller is one of my favorites. I think this is her fourth. It is set in West Virginia, her protagonist is a prosecutor who isn’t trying to convict someone, she’s trying to convict the right someone so she conducts her own investigations while going to trial. I don’t know that much about the law and whether every thing is correct but I do know her books are a pleasure to read.

Last RAgged Breath

If you write, how do you begin a project? Do you start with the plot or the characters? Feel free to share your methods. I am truly interested in the craft of writing. I think it is amazing that someone can come up with a story out of no where and everyone seems to have their own system.  I think it can take a writer a long time to find what works. I also think it changes. Each project is a little different and what worked for one book may not work for the next.

Well it’s bedtime and tomorrow I have to do it all over again.

Until next time, keep writing and reading.

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Writing with a Few of My Friends

Winter snow 2015

“Molly the pit bull used to sit in the chair just behind me while I worked at my desk. She never commented on the writing, but since she loved everything I did, her presence did give me a sense of (unearned) security about it.” Billy Mernit

As you can see from my photo looking out my office, I am spending the day inside. It has been snowing since yesterday evening. Last I heard we were supposed to get 10 inches. I think we’ve passed that prediction. I have been having a very enjoyable day at home, catching up with laundry, reading, and writing.

I belong to a closed on-line community – The Perley Station Writer’s Colony. I have only actually met the one person who started this group. The rest I have come to know, a wee bit, online. We are there to share ideas and motivation and several times a year we do something that we call Writer’s Camp. We started the first one for this year today. It runs for the entire month. We set our own personal goals. They can be whatever we feel we need. We don’t judge, we just support. I am getting back into the habit of writing and it feels good. When I am not writing, I feel off. Unless you write, you probably wouldn’t understand. But I feel like I am again in a good place and writing is an important part of my life.

I easily write short stuff, stories, articles, columns but when it comes to a large project, I get overwhelmed and abandon them. This is the year that I plan to stop that bad habit. This year I want to complete at least one project but would like to complete more. That will entail more frequent writing so my goal this month is to write every day. I am using a book – 90 Days to your Novel. It has a daily chapter of advice and exercises. It starts out with 28 days of questions to answer regarding your story. You do it by free-writing for five minutes with each question. He suggests you write for two hours a day by doing the daily assignment as well as additional questions that can be found at the back of the book. I am committing to doing the daily assignments. That takes me at least an hour. I do feel that the questions are helping me with the story. They guide me so that I dig into what the story and characters are really about. On day 29 I will actually start outlining.

I have tried Nanowrimo over the years and have completed a 50,000 word projects but when I got done with it I always felt like it was just 50,000 words – never something that could ever be a story.. I am willing to take longer to develop a story that really has some feet on it. And I think by starting out this month writing every day will help me to develop that habit.

The writer’s in this group are at all levels. Some are published, some are not. Even though we haven’t met, they feel like friends. So like the quote above, they give me a sense of security. We don’t judge but we are there for each other to answer questions and to cheer each other on. I do have the feeling they could be like a pit bull from the quote above, grasping and never letting go until you do reach your goals. I am so grateful that Theresa invited me to be a part of this group. I feel as though I belong and that is a good thing. So this month, I will continue to press ahead and even when February is done, I will keep moving forward one day at a time until I get to the end of those 90 days. When I reach that goal with a completed project, I know my writer friends will be there to help me celebrate.

What else have I been up to?

Well did I say I’d been reading? I finished a friend’s book this week. “Yip/Tuck”. A cozy mystery by my friends Sparkle Abbey. I have known them for many years. We belong to a couple local writer’s groups and I am very proud of their success. In the last few years they’ve published through Belle Bridge Books six novels and they have a contract for two more. I would love to have something like that to show for my effort. Because I’ve watched their success, I know it’s possible, so I keep writing…

Do you have something you do to keep moving forward with your writing projects? Do you have someone to support you and make you feel like it’s all worthwhile? I feel like this is my year to shine. I know it will take a lot of work and I feel like I’m ready. Is this your year? How are you going to make it happen?

Until next time,

Virginia

 

 

 

 

A Few of My Favorite Reads

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“Reading usually precedes writing. And the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.” – Susan Sontag

Often when I find it difficult to write, I read. I have been dealing with some life changes, some health related and probably the most difficult was my brother’s death. He was in home hospice for several months before he died this past December. I tried to spend as much time with him as I could while working full-time and trying not to neglect my husband and kids.

I wanted to write but my heart wasn’t in it. During those months when I did have some spare time, I spent much of it reading. That has always been my favorite escape.

As you can see I got through quite a few since September. I discovered some new authors and caught up with some of my favorites.

I have been a fan of Jodi Picoult for years. “Breathing Time” is her newest and it was fantastic. It was one of those stories that surprised me at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone. The twists and turns will keep you up late.

Dorothea Benton Frank was an AVID (Author Visiting in Des Moines) author this past year. I picked up a couple of her books and because she talked so much about “Sullivan’s Island”, I bought it even though it was not her most recent book. She said there is a scene in there that actually happened so of course I had to read the book to find out what she was talking about.  I can’t tell you about the scene here, I really think you need to let her tell you about it. If you get a chance to hear her speak, do it. Her stories are women’s fiction – set in the south.

Mary Kay Andrew’s “Christmas Bliss” was one of my holiday choices this year. I love her books. The characters are spunky and you never know what they are going to get into. She is another author I have read for years.

I discovered a new author to me – Julia Keller. I read a couple of hers – “A Killing in the Hills” and “Bitter River”. She has a third out and I plan to get it as soon as I get my to be read pile down a little bit more. Her stories are set in the Appalachia area. Her protagonist is a prosecuting attorney who has a teenage daughter and an ex-husband. Her stories are a little more nitty-gritty about the side of life that isn’t so pretty. She has won awards for more than one of her books. If you like suspense, you will like these.

I met an Iowa author –  Heather Gudenkauf. I had read her first book a while back – ” The Weight of Silence” and didn’t realize that she was from Iowa. This time I read – “These Things Hidden” Her stories are well crafted and will keep you guessing. She also is a great speaker. It was one of those really cold Iowa winter nights that she spoke at the West Des Moines library. I ran into some writer friends and it was so worth it.

My Sisters in Crime group has a book exchange every year at our Christmas party. We share a book that we really liked. This year I got one that had been on my wish list for a while. William Kent Krueger’s “Ordinary Grace”. It was just as wonderful as I thought it would be. His protagonist told the story of a murder that happened in his hometown when he was a boy. It is no wonder he won so many awards with this book.

The last book on my list is from one of those authors that I have been reading since his first in the series. Alan Bradley writes cozy mysteries with a little girl sleuth named Flavia De Luce. It is set in England in the 1940’s and they are so cleverly written. I have reviewed some of his books here before and I continue to look forward to each new one. This one was “The Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust”. If you like cozy mysteries, you have to check this series out.

One of my goals is to read more this year. I can’t count all of these toward my goal but I am starting with this Alan Bradley novel as my first for this year.

I read for pleasure but I also read because it motivates me to write. I read novels and books on the craft of writing too but novels are what I turn to most. What do you read? Do you set reading goals?

This year I also want to review more, not just here but on Goodreads, Librarything, and Amazon. Do you know that reviewing a book could be one of the best things you could do for your favorite authors?

I hope you add at least one of my suggestions to your to be read pile.

Until next time,

Virginia

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2015 in What I'm Reading

 

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What Are You Reading?

“I learned that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything — at least not at the same time” – Dan Millman

I am one of those people who has a very difficult time juggling work and pleasure. I put my writing in the pleasure category because for now it is still more hobby than career. I tend to put more energy into my day job and that is where the trying to balance comes in. Sometimes I can come home and start writing. Sometimes I come home and feel like my brain is fried and can’t. I tend to give more energy to my day job but I continue to write as often and as much as I can, even if not every day.When I don’t have the energy to write, I do read. It is  one of my favorite past times. It is more than entertaining.  Reading relaxes me, it inspires me, and it teaches me how to be a better writer. I continue to plug along with my novel slowly but forward progress at any speed is better than standing still.

 

I finished – Grave Justice by Glen Albert Ebisch. It is the second in a series and I enjoyed it as much as The Crying Girl, the first. If you like your cozy mysteries with a touch a paranormal check him out.

I am now reading – Kitty Kittty Bang Bang, a cozy mystery written by my writer friends Sparkle Abbey. I have posted about them before. They are Marylee Woods and Anita Carter. They collaborate on this series set in Laguna Beach. Marylee writes the odd number books while Anita writes the even. They each have their own protagonist, share the setting and secondary characters. It is all about the pets in Laguna Beach. The pets do not solve the crimes though. Their fourth book – Yip, Tuck, just came out recently. They have a great series. I love the titles, Desperate Housedogs, Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bank, Yip Tuck.They are currently working on the next two.

Another writer friend has a new book coming out this week. The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey. This is her second book under the Jess McConkey name. The first was – Love Lies Bleeding. This author also has a cozy mystery series about witches as Shirley Damsgaard.

Writing is something I can’t stay away from too long or I get grumpy. If you write you know what I mean. Reading helps me heal and deal with the stress so hopefully this post will give you a few more ideas when you need to escape into a story.

Until next time,

Virginia

 

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2013 in What I'm Reading

 

What I’ve Been Reading…

 

When I wasn’t shopping, putting up the tree, decorating, and cooking, I spent December indulging in everything Christmas. I had read Kate Kingsbury before and decided to read the new one that came out this year as well as some of her back list. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, which I am, you will love this series. Since I have read a few already, I have come to love the characters. Cecily Sinclair Baxter is the protagonist. She owns the Pennyfoot Hotel/Country Club. There have been so many murders around the holidays that everyone has come to think of the Pennyfoot having a holiday curse. Luckily Cecily has a knack at solving the mysteries. You will get entangled in the lives of the servants as well as Cecily. These stories are satisfying cozy reads and you too will become attached to the characters. I picked up several from this series but only managed to read two. The rest will have to wait till next December. Here are my thoughts on December 2012 reads.

First I read ‘Herald of Death’ –  This one involves a murderer who kills with a different method each time but leaves an Angel sticker on the victim’s forehead. I would give this one 4 stars.

‘The Clue is in the Pudding’ – involves a maid finding a dead guest in his bed. At first it looks like he was poisoned by some Christmas pudding served by the new housekeeper. Pudding the cook was saving for guests for Christmas day. You then discover that though she might have a motive so do several more characters. 4 stars.

Santa Cruise‘ by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark was the third book from December. I have read a couple other from this series co-written by mother and daughter but it had been a while. This one was okay but found myself not caring so much about the characters. To be honest, I had a hard time telling who was the protagonist of this story. The characters who appear in the series are Regan Reilly a private investigator and her husband head of the NYPD Major Case Squad. I would have assumed they were the main characters but it felt more like Alvirah Meehan, a lottery winner who must have solved a few crimes in previous books in this series was also telling the story. Needless to say, I did finish it, something I don’t always do now – so many books – so little time. If you like a cozy mystery set on the sea, do check this one out. I would give this one 2 stars.

I resolve to continue reading. I believe you have to read to write. What have you been reading? Any suggestions for 2013?

Till next time,

Virginia

 

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in What I'm Reading

 

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H is for Hooks – Forktail Dinger, Snapper Slapper, and Googly Worm

“The whole point is to hook people and keep them interested.” – Penelope Ann Miller

Writers are a lot like fly fishermen. They spend a lot of time trying to create something to hook the reader (or fish) and pull them in.

Fly fishermen can spend days trying to create the perfect lure, the one that will catch that elusive fish in the pond. They get their inspiration from nature. That’s why some lures resemble insects.

As writer’s we don’t have too far to go to get help with our own writing. Just as the fly fisherman looks to the world around him, we can look to the books we love. What did that author do that pulled you in and how can you take that trick and make it your own?

Because a hook is so unique, it is often the first piece of the puzzle in developing a writer’s voice.

If you are going to open by introducing a character, make him charismatic, someone the reader will be drawn to and want to spend more time with.

  • Shock the reader with a first scene that ends in a way that the reader didn’t expect and can’t put down.
  • Ask a question the reader will stay up late to find the answer.
  • Hook the reader fast. If you can’t hook the reader by that first scene, do it at least by the end of that first chapter.

This should be a great week for writing, as long as you have air conditioning.

What have I been reading? – Just finished Miss Me When I’m Gone by Emily Arsenault. It was an arc I won from Librarything recently so will have a review on there and Goodreads soon. It is the story of two women, friends from college. One a successful author working on her second book when she falls down the stairs of a library after a book signing. Turns out it wasn’t an accident. Her first book was called Tammyland. All about the women of Nashville and country music but mostly about Tammy Wynette and the similarities between her and the fictional author’s mother who had been killed when the fictional author was a child. The protagonist of the story is a pregnant journalist and is asked to be her friend’s literary executor to finish the second book. She feels compelled to complete the project before she delivers, knowing she won’t have time after the baby is born. While questioning the same people her friend interviewed, notebooks and a couple laptops are stolen and though she knows she may be asking questions of a murderer, she continues. The first book I’ve read by this author and I would read more.

How is your writing project going and what have you been reading lately?

If you’re in the Des Moines area, the next AVID author event is Meg Cabot, Thursday July 10th at 7:00pm, Hoyt Sherman Place.

Virginia

 

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In The Bleak Midwinter – Book Review

 

This is the first Julia Spencer-Fleming novel I’ve ever read and I thought it was an enjoyable read. Her protagonist is a female priest of a small Episcopal church in an upstate New York town called Millers Kill. Isn’t that a great setting for a murder mystery? Come to find out kill means the river running through the area. Being in the Midwest, I have never heard that term. We call our waterways rivers or creeks, and occasionally  maybe a crick but nothing as interesting as a kill.

The story starts out with the protagonist, Clare Ferguson finding a baby on the steps of her church in December. Who and why would someone leave a baby there like that? The story introduces you to some of the residents of Millers Kill, some good and some not so good. Kept me guessing till close to the end. Clues were spread out so that you didn’t feel cheated when everything was revealed.

I especially liked the little romantic twist. The hero is a police officer Russ Van Alstyne who doesn’t go to church and lets Clare know from the beginning that he questions his faith. The author explains a enough about the denomination so that we know that even though Clare is a priest, she is able to marry.  There are sparks of interest between Clare and Russ but the twist is that Russ is married, making it a forbidden romance, not because she is a priest. I plan to read more of this series. Clare is a strong female lead and Russ is a good Beta male lead that feels natural when the two work together.

The author described the setting so well, I could feel the cold and snow they had to trudge through and it made me that more grateful for the mild winter we’ve had so far here in Iowa. Any mystery lover should enjoy this series. Thanks to Library Thing again, I discovered a new author. Well, at least new to me.

On another note, I have been working on my own novel, slowly progressing. Developing my characters, setting, and plot a little more with each writing session. I have finally concluded that I will never be able to sit down and outline a story from start to finish and complete it. Once I have outlined the story, it feels like I have already told it and lose my enthusiasm. I have decided that I have to plot out just enough to feel like I have some structure and a little direction, then just write.  So for now, I have plot points determined and each time I sit down to write, it gives me a direction but I have to discover how I will get there. I may write myself into a corner and have to back track. That’s okay. For now, I’m enjoying the journey.

Currently reading Mary Higgins Clark‘s “I Heard That Song Before.” My Sisters In Crime chapter decided we needed to read a romantic suspense for February.

Tell me a little about your writing process. Do you outline everything first and then write or do you let the story unfold as you go?  Also what are you reading now?

Next week, I have a guest blogger, Lois Greiman.    

Until next time,

Virginia

 
 

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