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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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Stuck But Digging Out

SAMSUNG

Again I apologize for the time between posts. I know it isn’t a real excuse but I have been taking classes since before Thanksgiving on the writing craft. I think I have hit a wall where I need to take all the information I absorbed and actually use it for my story.

Luckily I have a strong support group of writer friends who have been taking some of the classes with me. One of the organizations I belong to is Iowa Romance Novelists. It is our local chapter of Romance Writers of America and the source for some of my free classes.

Each year we try to put together programs to help our members at whatever level they are with their writing to move forward and succeed. We do have a handful of published authors including Sparkle Abbey who I have featured here before who write the Pamper Pet Mysteries and Kathy Bacus who writes the Calamity Jane series. This years Theme for IRN is Survivor. In January, our challenge was to write a synopsis. It didn’t have to be ready to submit but a work in progress. Our reward was chocolate. February we had to write down our goals for the year and our reward was a nifty Survivor bracelet.

DesperateHousedogsCover   168339333

All of this activity has prompted me to move forward and I am feeling pretty darn good about meeting my goals this year. My synopsis helped me to determine exactly what my story is about and I have been using that to plot it out with note cards. I am using Scrivener, not actual note cards. I continue this week to fill in the holes.

With all the changes in the publishing world, it could be easy to get discouraged. But instead of looking at the negatives, I’ve decided to look at the positives and embrace the changes. I look at it as more options for everyone.  It is always easier to go with the flow than try to swim upstream against the current. Disliking the direction things are going in will not stop change from happening but it could affect your mood and your writing.

I found myself trying to force a story and I kept getting stuck. No matter how much I wanted it to work, it wouldn’t so I asked myself what would make me excited about this story?. That question led me to bring back a couple characters I worked with on another project and always felt they should be part of a series.  Picture two old ladies wearing polyester slacks and matching sweatshirts with a slot machine embroidered on the front. Those characters are Agnes Hughes and Frieda Kirkpatrick. Both over 65 years old, friends since childhood, like to play slots and bingo and are always getting into trouble. I could have fun spending time with these two. I merged them into the story I have been struggling with and now I have something I can’t wait to write.

 

Our challenge for March is entering a contest. I plan to enter the Montezuma short story contest again this year. Hoping that will count. The reward is a drawing for a paid entry fee.

What have you been doing to keep yourself moving forward? Do you have a support system of other writers? Do you take classes to sharpen your skills? Do you attend writers conferences and support local authors when they come to speak?

My mantra this year is “I will survive.”  Will you?

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2013 in Write a Novel

 

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Tuesday Tip

What comes first the characters or the plot? I’m not sure it matters. If you are inspired by a character, go with developing that character. What are the goal, motivation, and conflict? After you determine that start asking story questions and the plot will develop.

If you have a story idea that comes to you first, play with the idea for a while until you start seeing a plot. Start asking questions about who might be involved in that kind of story? Start adding characters to the story and developing them.

Either way that you enter into a story, I think the key to developing it is to ask questions and keep asking questions until you figure out enough to write the story. Unless you are a writer who has to have a complete outline. Answer enough questions to get into the story and go with it.

How do you start out? Do you start with characters or plot?

Virginia

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Writing a Novel

 

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What’s Up Wednesday

This has been a fun, busy week. Had two meetings Saturday. Iowa Romance Novelists met in the morning and Sisters in Crime in the afternoon. Katy Madison from the Kansas City chapter of RWA presented a program in the morning – Writing Blind – Revising Brilliant. She is a pantzer who whips through her first draft as soon as possible and then spends her time revising. She broke it down in the steps that she uses to revise. This was a great workshop with six pages of detailed information.  Very thorough. She must be doing something right, she is a 2012 Daphne Award winner.

Sara Humphries gave a talk at the Sisters in Crime meeting about ‘Fifty Shades of Red: A Study of Reader Expectations and the Contemporary Mystery. This lady likes details. She found “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories by S.S. Van Dine from 1928 and we discussed whether each rule was relevant for contemporary mysteries.

We meet the third Saturday of the month and it feels like a monthly mini-conference. I always leave feeling motivated.

I have been writing a scene a day on my current story and feel like it is finally starting to come together. I understand that this will take me a while to complete and will keep pushing forward.

Lots of writing events coming up. The Montezuma Writer’s Conference is mid September and I am going to a Debra Dixon Workshop for ‘Goal, Motivation,and Conflict’ the end of September so I am trying to get as much writing done before those events.

If you live in the area and want any information on either the group meetings or workshops, feel free to comment. I would be happy to share that information with you.

Have a great week writing.

Virginia

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Writing a Novel

 

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B is for Backstory

“A writer is a man who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do.” – Donald Barthelme

If you have ever started a story and got stuck in that first act and couldn’t go on, maybe it’s because you never really understood what happened before the story starts. Knowing where to start can sometimes be confusing. Do we go back to the very beginning or do we jump in with the action. Most times you will start with the action but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what happened to get the characters there. The key word is know. You need the information to put all the pieces together. You don’t necessarily need to share that information with the reader. At least not all of it. The important stuff can trickle in with the telling.

I shared this other little trick in an earlier post but I think it is worth sharing again, in case you missed it the first time. Determine the back story of each of your characters. Go back a month before the story starts with each character individually. What was the character’s goal, motivation, or conflict at that time? What was going on in their life? Determining that information for the secondary characters and antagonist and suspects or victims, depending on the genre of book you are writing can help you develop sub-plots.

I hope the past week has been a productive writing week. I have to admit I spent more time reading than writing. When life throws me a curve it’s easier for me to escape into a book than push myself to write. As some of you know, my brother passed away so I have been dealing with his loss. I also had a medical procedure at the end of the week. Everything turned out fine but these little personal detours seem to wreck havoc on my writing goals. It boots me out of a healthy writing mind set and it takes me a little while to climb back in the saddle and point that pony toward my book’s completion.

No matter what happens though, if I stay away from writing too long, I get that urge that won’t leave me alone until I sit down and put some words together.

If you live in the Des Moines area and are looking for a writing group, Central Iowa Fiction Writers meet the third Saturday of each month at the West Des Moines Community Center in Valley Junction at 10:00 AM.  If you have an interest in mystery writing or reading, Sisters-in-Crime Iowa meets the same day at Smokey Row Coffee Shop at 3:00 PM. Maybe I’ll see you there.

May this be a productive week for all of us. Look forward to seeing some of you Saturday.

P.S. Finished ‘Get Fluffy”. Now I gotta get it autographed.

Virginia

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Novel Writing

 

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Sacrifice – S.J. Bolton

There are maybe five authors I read that I can’t wait for their next book. Whenever I find a new author to add to that list, I get excited. S.J. Bolton is one of them. Awakening was the first S.J. Bolton novel I’d ever read. It involved snakes. Lots of snakes and a female protagonist who as a veterinarian, gets pulled into helping investigate the deaths because she is one of the few people who is an expert on poisonous snakes. The story starts when she is called to the neighbors to get a poisonous snake out of a babies crib. Within a short time, several residents die and there are a few close calls. The snakes involved in the deaths are not from the area.  It was a mystery with a little paranormal twist and I loved it.

I finally found the first book – Sacrifice. It too is a mystery with a dash of paranormal story line. This one has a female protagonist who is a medical doctor who delivers babies at the local hospital on the Shetland Islands.

It starts out with her digging a grave for her horse and finding a body. At first they think it is an archaeological burial because the body had been buried in peat that causes it to be more preserved than you would expect with a normal burial. When she finds an engraved wedding ring, she suspects the body is more recent. The story goes into a local legend about an all male race of trolls with special abilities. The mothers are, of course, sacrificed for the cause but no one will believe her. It looks like all the prominent men in the area are involved, including the police and her own father-in-law and husband.  Ms. Bolton weaves the story line in a way that you believe.

Bolton is great at pacing. She tells just enough to reel you in and when it gets to the scary stuff she draws it out just enough to make you suffer. Because you never know exactly what is happening, I would call her books more mystery than horror. There is always a puzzle to piece together right to the very end.

There are a couple more for me to read and with my pile of to-be-read growing steadily, I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets another out before I get her current stuff read.  If you like your mysteries with a little bump in the night, you need to check out S.J. Bolton.

 
 

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Conflict in Life and in Your Story

Sometimes it feels like my life is a total conflict. I always have more than one thing I want and need to do; leaving me conflicted, making it difficult for me to focus on my goals. I need to be more like Scarlett O’Hara. She was a woman who knew what she wanted and whatever got in her way, she either bulldozed through it or connived her way around it.

Conflict is something we try to avoid in our daily life but avoiding it in our writing will kill the story. There is no story without conflict. Who wants to hear about little miss perfect who always has every hair in place, is never late, never gets mad at anyone, never trips, never runs out of money, is never jealous, her house is perfect and somehow she manages to do it without a housekeeper, even though she can afford one, she doesn’t have to work because she is independently wealthy because some unknown relative died and she didn’t care and so inherited by default, all men are drawn to her but somehow she always knows how to keep them all happy. You get it, she is boring. Even though she has everything, she doesn’t have a story to tell.

The really good stories are those that torture the main character. They have to struggle. Think Scarlett O’Hara. She seemed to have everything, she was beautiful, lived in a gorgeous home, was cherished by her family and most men were drawn to her like ants to a plantation picnic, except the one she wanted. Even though Ashley had a small part in the movie and the book, without him, there would not have been a story. Scarlet’s goal was Ashley and her conflict was that he was in love with another woman, Melanie; a sweet woman who befriended her when no one else would. Rhett was a complication but he wasn’t a conflict. He wanted Scarlett and because of that, he sometimes got in her way but her focus was always on Ashley, until the very end when she realized she did love Rhett.

Take a good look at your story. Do you need to torture your characters more? Have you been coddling them?

If you are struggling with conflict in your stories, run, don’t walk, to your nearest computer and sign up for Cheryl St John’s September class on Conflict. You can find her blog on my list of blogs or at the link below. She is a worthy teacher and the price of $10.00 for a month long class cannot be beat. The class has just started so you should be able to catch up. What are you waiting for? Go do it, now!  http://cherylstjohn.blogspot.com/2011/08/september-workshop-conflict-makes-story.html

When you get done signing up, check out a few more of the blogs listed on my site. I’m sure you’ll find something of interest there.

Oh, fiddle dee dee, now I must get back to my writing.

Virginia

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Writing a Novel

 

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