Tag Archives: Books

Eight Things NaNoWriMo Writers Should Do Now

Eight Things NaNoWriMo Writers Should Do Now

It is November 30. And that  means …

Congratulations, NaNoWriMo participants!

You made it!

Before I go any further, let me set the record straight for anyone not familiar with the term NaNoWriMo.

Here is what it is not.

It is not the ghost of Robin Williams invoking Mork from Ork language.

It is not baby talk for I Don’t Want To.

It is not a term of endearment for a grandmother.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, in which thousands of determined writers attempt to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November.

To all my writer friends partaking in the challenge this year, I hope you found it to be rewarding. It is no easy task to write that much in one month.

I know from whence I speak since I was a NaNoWriMo participant last year and hit my 50,000 words. It took a lot of time … and a lot of discipline.

But in the process, I realized that you don’t have to hit 50,000 words to be successful. Even 1,000 should count as a success.

If you wrote more in November than you have in any other month, give yourself a pat on the back. Congratulations!

Last year, the day after I completed NaNoWriMo, I shared 10 NaNoWriMo Tips for Writers based on my experience. But as the days unfolded into weeks, I felt a little lost now that the structure of the writing challenge had ended and I was once again on my own.

With NaNoWriMo now over, what’s the next step? When I was in your place last year, I asked for advice. Of course, you will decide what works best for you. But here are some tips that were shared with me.

And whether or not you participated in NaNoWriMo, these are good tips for all writers.

NaNoWriMo is over. Walk away.

Put your manuscript to bed for a bit of hibernation. You’ve written a lot and you’ve been consumed for a month. You can’t be objective about it right now. Walk away and let it marinate for a couple of weeks or even longer. In the meantime …

Work on a different project.

Don’t let your writing chops languish while your manuscript does. Keep the energy going with something else.

Start to craft an elevator speech.

This will be important down the road as you pitch your book to agents and publishers. The value of doing it now is it helps you evaluate the components of your story. Is the plot strong enough? Are the characters multi-faceted? Does their motivation make sense?

Work on a second draft but understand this won’t be your last draft.

The cognoscenti advise NaNoWriMo-ers to write, not edit, and hopefully this is what you have done. The idea is to let the 50,000 words flow without worrying about how good they are. I was fairly appalled at how bad my first draft was and I think many NaNoWriMo’ers feel the same. That’s OK. Your second draft will be better, but not as good as the third.

Broaden your characters.

You may have done character development before you even started to write. That is what is recommended. I did not do that. My characters threw some curve balls my way and that helped me better define their personalities. I think even if you have planned out the wazoo, your characters will still evolve over the course of writing.

Think as a reader.

As you go through the editing process, try to think as a reader, not a writer. Do your chapters end with a cliffhanger or at least an incentive for you to continue reading? Is there enough action, pathos, drama or mystery? Is there extraneous jibber jabber that can go away?

Keep writing.

Don’t stop now! You won the race but the marathon is not over yet. The speed at which you progress is up to you, but don’t give up. A year later, my manuscript is now at 70,000 words. I am still on the second draft.

Talk about your work.

I haven’t shared my manuscript with anyone except for an editor yet, but I do talk about it if people ask. I can gauge the general interest in my story with their response. It also keeps me accountable.

So writers, carry on. You should be proud of your effort and commitment. Good luck with the next phase of your writing!

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When Your Work in Progress is Not Making Progress

I got used to the incessant drone of crickets around here.

Not the ones chirping outside our bedroom window. Those I like.

No, it’s the crickets inside my head that bedeviled me. The crickets that invaded the space where my writing inspiration should be.

When Your Work in Progress Is Not Making Progress

Writing a novel has been a lifelong dream, one that has eluded me thus far. Ten months ago I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and banged out 50,000 words of my novel. It was actually a stress-free, even pleasant experience. I let my creativity flow and I sat back and watched what happened.

The outcome surprised me. My characters, with flaws and desires I hadn’t predicted, made choices I hadn’t foreseen. Major characters switched places with minor characters. My setting evolved from blurry to crystal clear, vivid and colorful, the way Oz looked when Dorothy’s house plunked down in it.

I felt like I was on the sidelines observing the action in a lively football game.

I kept at it, several hours a day. In the end, I proudly tacked the NaNoWriMo certificate of completion on my office wall. I did it! It would be smooth sailing now.

On a roll of self-confidence, I didn’t let the momentum subside. I continued to work on the draft, writing more chapters, editing, and finally in March, submitting the work in progress to a developmental editor. I wanted a professional to take an overview of what I had done so far.

Nervous to hear her say I would never be a writer get her feedback, I was relieved to get thoughtful, helpful notes of ways to improve my story.  She pointed out where the holes were, alerted me to inconsistencies in the timeline and, since I am writing historical fiction, suggested ways to give the reader a fuller context of the time period.

Charged with energy, I dove into the second draft, certain that 2015 would be my year. The year I finally finished the novel.

That’s what I thought.

Welp. It’s not happening.

Why? Well, life kind of got in the way. My son got married. My daughter got engaged. My dog got sick.

Maybe I should not have let these interruptions derail me, but I did. I was distracted. I couldn’t get back into my novel.

Chagrined, I started to feel like a failure. Would this novel never get completed? I had come so far, done so much work. Invested so much love in this project.

I sat myself down and did some soul searching. Some DIY psycho therapy. I resisted the inclination to slip into self-doubt. What could I do to get back on track if I couldn’t muster the energy to work on my draft?

I did three things.

  1. I gave myself a pep talk. Instead of my normal refrain — I can’t, I won’t, I’ll never — I told that inner voice to shut the hell up. I gave myself permission to extend my deadline. It’s my deadline, no one else’s.
  2. I continued to write, blogging at least once a week on topics of interest to me. This gave my writing muscles a regular workout.
  3. I kept reading. The hours that were not spent writing were devoted to the stack of books next to my bed. There’s nothing quite like reading brilliant writing to inspire your own.

The upshot?

I’m back. The juices are once again flowing, the wheels are turning. I’m happy to say that my work in progress is again progressing.

And I’ve kicked those crickets out of my head.

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Go Away, I’m Reading

Try to interest me in a New Year’s challenge and I will probably back away slowly.

It’s a Pavlovian response. When I hear New Year’s and challenge in the same phrase, my eyes get glassy, my palms clammy. I might start to itch.

Such is my aversion to New Year’s challenges. To be more specific, the ones that involve losing weight, getting fit, or becoming enlightened.

I admit, in days of yore I signed on for New Year’s challenges with gusto. I can change my life, I exulted (in the privacy of my own home). I can be thinner, trimmer, happier, wiser, a better mother/wife/writer/friend/dog parent. I can do this!

I couldn’t.

Well-intentioned I may have been, but out of touch with reality. My reality. I don’t do challenges well. Suffice it to say that my good intentions evaporated as quickly as January snow on a 40 degree day.

I eventually gave up on challenges. January is just another month. I probably won’t lose weight and since I haven’t gone to the gym in over a year, fitness will not be my friend. And my word for 2015 is blintzes.

So there.

But I happened to notice Popsugar’s 2015 Ultimate Reading Challenge a few days ago and was intrigued. A reading challenge? Hey, I can do that. And when I was satisfied that neither food deprivation nor excessive sweating was involved, I jumped in. That’s the kind of cardio I can do.

A reading challenge? Well, hello.

I have no affiliation with Popsugar, I am not being compensated by Popsugar and, let’s be honest,  Popsugar hasn’t a clue that I exist, which is a long-winded way of saying that I am sharing this strictly for fun with no strings attached.

The premise is that in 2015 you will read 50 books of various types. Books that you may have planned on reading anyway, and others way off your radar.  A book written by an author who has your initials. A book written in the year you were born. A book with a one-word title. And so on.

Here’s the actual checklist if you want to print it or pin it.

Go Away, I'm Reading

Book nerd that I am, I put out a call on Facebook to enlist friends to join me, and now I’m in a small but active group of bookies. We will read books, recommend books, review books and talk about books: the book nerds’ equivalent of a spa retreat.

I began with the first one on the list: a book with over 500 pages. That was easy. I had wanted to read “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and it qualified with a page count of 530.

Just let me say … well, I almost can’t. I’m speechless. OMG. What a book. A National Book Award finalist, it is about the lives of a young German soldier and a blind French girl in World War II-ravaged Europe. The writing is exquisite. As Booklist said in its review, “a novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned.”

Yes, that.

Go Away, I'm Readimg

The only consolation is that now I have a new favorite author whose previous novels I have added to my TBR list.

I am seldom without a book in hand (hence the name of my blog) so you might argue that a reading challenge is not much of a challenge. But what I like about this one is reaching out of your comfort zone for a different kind of book. By the end of 2015 I will have read a graphic novel, a novel 100 years old, a trilogy, and so much more that will be new to me.

Incidentally, if this challenge strikes your fancy and you crave an online group as I did, go on over to Goodreads and see what other readers have to say.

I’ll share a secret with you. I started Weight Watchers three weeks ago. And I’m tracking my cardio every day. So I’m not giving up entirely on personal improvement. I’m doing what I have to do.

And saving the rest of the time for reading.

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Book Buzz: The Bookman’s Tale

A romp through the centuries to unravel a Shakespearean mystery that could forever change the face of English literature. An appearance by the Bard himself. A cliffhanger embellished with intrigue, adventure, deceit and narrow escapes. A romantic story of deep and abiding love.

Have I piqued your interest, bibliophiles?

The Bookman's Tale

The Bookman’s Tale

Written by Charlie Lovett, “The Bookman’s Tale” is subtitled “A Novel of Obsession” for good reason.

Peter Byerly is a recently widowed American antiquarian bookseller; that is, he deals in literary works that are centuries old. After the untimely death of his young wife, and finding it painful to be around the physical reminders of her, he flees the US for their second home — a cottage in the pastoral English village of Kingham — to deal with his grief and ultimately reignite his passion for old books.

While browsing in a bookstore in Wales, he pages through an 18th century tome he has taken off a shelf and finds tucked between the pages a small watercolor. To his astonishment, it is a portrait of his late wife.

How can this be? His wife died in 1994 and the portrait is clearly from the Victorian era.

Thus begins his obsessive search to uncover the truth.

More questions than answers.

As he gets more deeply entwined in this mystery of the painting, other questions arise. He learns of an artifact that may provide the resounding answer to doubts about Shakespeare’s authenticity: an artifact so valuable that others will stop at nothing to beat him to it, and his life is suddenly in jeopardy.

Conniving family members, rare books, forgery, murder, secret underground passageways, love and desire – all there. The story is also a fascinating look into the world of rare book selling and acquisition, a subject the author knows well, having been an antiquarian bookseller himself.

How does the painting relate to the artifact? You’ll have to read this to find out. Bouncing from late 16th century London to 1870s English countryside to modern day North Carolina, this engrossing tale kept me riveted, with many quirky characters, drama and twists and turns, and an ending full of surprises.

The underlying theme is one that all of us book lovers will relate to: the way we cherish books and the authors who write them, the thrill of holding a treasured book in your hand, the reverence we hold for literary masterpieces written hundreds of years ago that live on.

I also recommend “A Bookman’s Tale” as an excellent choice for book clubs, and Penguin has provided a wonderful online book club kit for your use..

A New York Times-bestseller, “The Bookman’s Tale” is now in paperback and I am delighted to offer a copy to one of my readers. Please leave a comment and a winner will be selected at random.

And good news, Lovett has a new book coming out this fall that I can’t wait to read. “First Impressions — a Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen.” Doesn’t that sound delicious?

First Impressions

Disclosure: I received a copy of “The Bookman’s Tale” from Penguin for review. No other compensation was received. This review reflects my opinions only.


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Book Buzz: Lydia’s Party and The Office of Mercy

I don’t love airplane travel — who does, anymore? — but I do enjoy having forced downtime that allows me to read for hours uninterrupted. Last week I had two absorbing books with me, “Lydia’s Party” and “The Office of Mercy,” that made the time go by very fast. Before I knew it, I turned the last page and was at my destination.

Lydia’s Party Lydia's Party

As a woman in midlife, I’m still learning, still growing, and making new friends, especially through social media. I have gotten to know people who share my interests and add a new dimension to my life.

At the same time, I cherish the friendships that began at a much earlier time in my life and remain strong. When we moved to our community many years go, I met other women who were navigating marriage and motherhood like I was. Our children are now grown, but our friendship remains.

And even further back on the timeline are my high school friends, with whom I get together a few times a year, despite the miles that separate us. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has elapsed. We just continue from where we left off the last time.

Being with friends who knew you back in the day is just plain fabulous. And often therapeutic.

I think that is why the bittersweet “Lydia’s Room,” a story of friends in midlife who reunite every year, resonated with me so strongly. Lydia invites six longtime friends to her home for an annual dinner party. Purposely scheduled for the dead of winter when, goodness knows, we all need to come out of hibernation, this dinner is a much anticipated binge of eating, drinking, laughing and reminiscing.

Author Margaret Hawkins gives us a glimpse into the lives of each of the women as they get ready for the dinner. We learn about their marriages and relationships, job successes and failures, doubts and dreams. These are women whose trajectories may have changed, their ambitions sidelined or altered, and their transition to middle age fraught with a few bumps and bruises. Like my circle of friends, they talk about aging, regrouping, celebrating the happy times, acknowledging regret, and trying to maintain a sense of humor about it all.

This particular evening takes place in a snowstorm, which adds to the intimacy and sets the stage for a startling confession from Lydia. Beautifully and touchingly written, this is a book that all women of any age can relate to. If at all possible, read it when the snow is falling and the logs are crackling in the fireplace.

The Office of Mercythe office of mercy

I rarely read science fiction, but the industry buzz about “The Office of Mercy” was so enticing that I decided to take a chance on this book. And I’m glad I did.

Author Ariel Djankian paints a Utopian society known as America-Five in which citizens live forever, never experience pain or suffering, and are programmed to not feel empathy. This futuristic society came about suddenly after a global catastrophe that wiped out nearly every human on the planet.

But not quite everyone.

The America-Five citizens live and work in a high-tech universe called the Dome that is protected from the Outside. The protagonist, Natasha Wiley, works in the Office of Mercy, a government unit responsible for routine annihilation of the survivors, or Tribes, on the Outside. Taught to believe that murder is an act of compassion, Natasha nonetheless feels a twinge of discomfort that grows into fervent rebellion when she ventures Outside and comes to learn about the history of the Tribes.

This is a graphic and sometimes brutal thriller about what might happen when world over-population, food and water shortages and economic collapse spawn an apocalypse. It is a fast-paced page turner with some dramatic twists and turns that I did not expect. If you liked “The Hunger Games,” this book is for you. Like “The Hunger Games” and Orwell’s “1984,” this book portrays a chilling vision of the future that seems simultaneously remote but not far-fetched.

I am delighted to be able to give away a copy of each book to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and two recipients will be chosen at random.

Viking/Penguin provided me with a copy of each of these books for review. I was not compensated. These opinions are my own.

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I am My Father’s Daughter

My dad’s high school English teacher wrote the following on his yearbook cover:

To Irv,

 You have a future in journalism!

Miss Ludwig

Miss Ludwig was an excellent judge of talent but her prediction proved to be wrong, for my dad set his sights elsewhere. Fresh out of college and recently married, he had all the markings of an entrepreneur: ambition, drive, passion and an intuitive business sense. Maybe a touch of chutzpah as well. He borrowed a few thousand dollars to launch a manufacturing company that would be the first of many successful ventures over a long career.

As his business grew, he experienced both the rewards and challenges of being a sole proprietor. Clearly there were times of stress and disappointment as well as intense satisfaction. There were demands made on him, contracts to settle, conflicts to deal with.

All I knew, as his daughter, was that my daddy was the funniest and kindest man in the world, and when he came home in time for dinner every night he was all about us, his family. I don’t remember him ever working in the evenings or on weekends.

He was a doting, affectionate, hands-on dad, always.

Dad liked to get in my playpem with me.

Dad and I in my playpen

 But back to journalism.

 So he didn’t become a professional journalist. His oeuvre is pretty much limited to the occasional letter he sent me at summer camp or a funny poem for one of my children. I have kept every one of them.

 Like any gifted writer, my dad is a voracious reader, and we share an affinity for the well-crafted story. As I grew older, he introduced me to the works of John Updike and John O’Hara, two terrific authors who hailed from our little corner of Pennsylvania, and a third John, John Irving, whose writing and character development we found remarkable.

My dad enjoys sharing articles that he knows I will like. Recently he cut a story out of The Wall Street Journal about a girl who loved horses (I always have). If there is a thought-provoking article in this week’s The New Yorker we will discuss it. An opinion piece by one his favorite columnists in The New York Times can inspire a conversation.

My dad and I appreciate the beauty in many forms of art, and literature is one we almost always agree about. We can marvel over a cleverly strung phrase with as much gusto as we admire a painter’s canvas or a sculptor’s carving.

 If I am my father’s daughter, it is because we can lose ourselves, and find ourselves, in great literature.

I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

Dad holding me on his lap and reading

We have always shared a love of reading.


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Without Borders

This was a tough week. I unhappily bid farewell to a friend who was always entertaining, full of light and had an uncanny knack of drawing me in. Naively, perhaps, I thought our relationship would last forever. So I am in denial that things are over.

RIP, Borders.

My sadness is tinged with a bit of indignation. What does this say about our culture that a well-respected, successful, forward-thinking corporation that sells BOOKS has sputtered out of steam? Was this a long time coming, or did I ignore the signs of malaise? Was the writing on the wall, as it were, when mom and pop bookshops collapsed one by one like stricken toy soldiers?  We mourned the end of that era but understood the economics. Rising coats, competition, we got it.

But not big, strong, iconic Borders??

With the announcement of the closure came a collective moan could be heard across the land. Well, in my office, anyway. Author Jennifer Weiner tweeted, “Very first reading for my very first book was at Borders on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. Sad to see them go.”

Does Borders’ demise sound the death knell for the few bookstores that remain? For the record, let me disclose that yes, I do order books online. Amazon is easy and efficient, and the free shipping is enticing. But it is simply not the same experience.

Will the next generation of readers, the multi-tasking, attention-challenged, sensation-hungry demographic that it is, ever while away a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon at the neighborhood bookstore? Will our grandchildren yawn when we describe the art of browsing bookshelves with heads tilted 45 degrees, contentedly shuffling sideways as we perused new titles and old favorites? Will they roll their eyes when we wax rhapsodic about the joy of selecting a book and rifling through its pages?

You can’t take your kids to Amazon and let them roam free in the children’s section while you nose around the cookbook stacks and your husband gets absorbed listening to tracks of new releases in the music section. Same goes for story hour, author appearances and girl scouts cookie sales by the front door.

Borders was my go to store more than any other. I caught up friends over a cup of coffee. As an alumni admissions interviewer for my alma mater, I sat with prospective students in the comfy armchairs. If I needed to buy gifts, Borders afforded one stop shopping, with free gift wrap, no less. Best of all, though, was the idle time spent looking and savoring, and often discovering literary gems just by happenstance.

I can accept that popular reading devices, like the Kindle, are rapidly usurping the hard copy book. I can acknowledge that newspapers and magazines are shrinking, if not disappearing, and books are being eschewed as pre-millennial. Even our libraries are reducing their inventory in favor of the electronic variety. But not having Borders … well, that borders on crazy.

And  now let me get back to my book.

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