Writer, Are You Reading?

Sometimes, certain kinds of readers become writers. They are the type of reader who walks through the snow to read every book in their local library’s young adult section before begging the librarian to let them check out adult books. They do this while devouring the Nancy Drew mysteries their mom buys them and also dipping into Mom’s Taylor Caldwell family sagas and Dad’s Mickey Spillane. Okay, that’s just me.

It wasn’t that I loved school. I couldn’t wait to graduate and start living my real life. But in that real life, I continued to read. A lot. I read many of the classics before I finally decided to go to college and get a couple of degrees in literature. I mostly read fiction. Short stories and novels. Anything I could get my hands on. Even while the babies napped and my husband thought I should be cleaning house.

We’re divorced now. Are you surprised? He didn’t like me writing, either, something I’d done since junior high. Poetry and diaries for a long time but finally when I got up my courage I tried fiction. I even got some short stories published, back when print ruled and magazines still paid good money (my early stories earned $500) for fiction.

I wrote a few practice novels before I finally felt like I had one I could send to New York. In between all that I got married to a guy who thought my being a writer was one of the most interesting things about me. 35 years later, I’m still married to him. And I’m still reading instead of cleaning house.

True confession time: I read more than I write. Way more. My writing schedule, when I’m working on a novel, is five or six days a week for as many hours as I can go. I get up, make a cup of tea, and start writing. I warm up with morning pages, and can tell when my story juices start flowing because I tear the page out of my notebook and open my current WIP document. Sometimes I have other things to do, but I usually write for at least a few hours and try for four. Six writing hours is a really good day.

This type of full-out writing only fits into my schedule sometimes, but I really try to string as many days together as possible so I stay in the flow of my story and I keep getting ideas to make it better. Life (and laundry) often intervene and occasionally I take a day off to read. I also read every night. Novels, biographies, Buddhist philosophy, blogs, even a little light science. (I love astrophysics.) I still read short stories, too, and book reviews and the Washington Post. But mostly, I read novels.

Writers often say (and it always surprises me!) that they “can’t read much” when they’re writing. What??? I don’t understand that. I can’t give up reading for even a day without feeling something in my life has gone amiss.

I’m writing a crime novel right now. I just finished the last chapter today, and there’s still much still to do with the third revision, so I’m not doing a happy dance yet, but at least I can read crime novels again. Because when I’m in the thick of a book, and the writing is humming along, I do tend to stay away from reading books too much like what I’m writing.

My friend Jaye Marie recently published a crime novel, Silent Payback, and I really want to read it, but worried I’d inadvertently lift a plot point or some clever little clue, so I have been waiting to read it until I finalized the plot in my last chapter. Meanwhile, I’ve been going through Christmas romance novels like crazy and another friend writes dystopian fiction, so I’m reading her new one. It’s so good. Blackthorn. You should read it!!!

This is JMO but I think writers, especially newer writers, need to read. A lot. And it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Writers should love reading so much that they have to take a day off from writing once in awhile just to read. Writers who say silly things like “I don’t have time to read” puzzle me. I don’t get it. I don’t know how I’d ever have gotten here (12 books published) without having been somewhere else first reading a good book. Reading, I one hundred percent believe, makes me (and YOU too) a better writer.

Author Mission Statement

I wrote my author mission statement awhile ago, as suggested by Colleen Story. It’s good to know what you really want from writing because it saves time and trouble. Your journey as a writer in the world will become less about the shiny next thing and more about what will serve the unique writer you are and want to become.

“I am motivated by creative fulfillment. The tougher the work, the more diligently I seek transcendence. I’ve gained emotional resilience by traveling into the world, observing all I see and distilling the essence into story. My writing features strong women tested by tough circumstances.”

Since writing out this statement, I’ve looked at it often, and it always centers me and settles me back into what is most important, in writing and in life. Every writer will have a different mission statement. It feels like I always intuitively knew this about my writing self, but I couldn’t quite put it into words until now.

Thanks, Colleen!

As Above, So Below

Important news from the stars for writers here on earth. Mercury will be retrograde from Halloween until November 20. I had to look at my calendar twice this morning because obstacles are already throwing themselves in my writing path. Luckily, I am in revision mode with the WIP, and Mercury Retrograde is an absolutely awesome time for revision.

Not such a great time for signing contracts or making new electronic purchases. Communication is a bit fraught during Mercury Retrograde, so watch your words, in manuscript and real life. That goes for delivery of mail electronically or through USPS, Amazon or any other kind of mail system.

Yesterday I was determined to get down to business on my WIP. I’ve been doing okay, more or less keeping up with my schedule despite some minor setbacks, but felt it was time to put all the pieces into one pile, read through everything I have, and see what needs to be cut and what still needs to be added.

Got all the various files into one master document and decided to print the whole damn thing out. I’m about halfway through my revisions, and know what still needs to be fixed and written. I even know how I’m going to do it. I have a plan plus notes and an outline. Not flying blind, here.

Was happily printing out my 62K words so far, when things started going !!!!! Literally. Laptop printer icon said !!!!! and printer flashed same !!!!! Also, the last twenty or so pages printed made it clear I needed to change the ink cartridge. Alas, my grand plan was foiled for the moment. And my tech guy (Al) was at the football game. He had recently ordered extra ink cartridges and so even though it was a new printer, and laser not ink jet, I figured I’d try to change the cartridge.

Things did not go well. I figured okay Al will eventually come home and when he gets time he will fix everything for me and I will be humming a happy tune once again. Also, I don’t use the printer on Mondays because I blog and everything is online. Then I remembered I was hosting my book group on Thursday and I needed to shop, clean, and cook before then. So…maybe I can finish what I started on Friday.

As long as things get sorted before Mercury appears to move backward in the sky, I’m good. For more on exactly what Mercury Retrograde is, see Susan’s post here.

Ten Terrific Storytellers

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Until I joined a writer’s group, I didn’t have a friend in the world who was as obsessed as I was with words. I felt kinda strange scribbling poetry and journals, like what the heck was my problem that I wasn’t like other teenagers? In my mid-twenties I finally took a creative writing class and found my tribe in a group sponsored by the professor.

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Since that first group, I’ve taken many courses, attended scores of workshops, and met hundreds of writers. Writing groups and writer friends are precious links for those of us in this mostly solitary endeavor. My current writer’s organization has introduced me to so many fine writers including published poets, novelists, and journalists.

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Cindy LaFerle

Today I’m featuring books I love from a writing group I have been a part of since 2008,  Detroit Working Writers. I am often asked for  reading suggestions, so these are that, but would also make fine Christmas gifts. If you’re looking for Michigan settings and themes, or just an excellent read to lose yourself in, I highly recommend every one of them!

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Veronica Dale

Special Star Veronica Dale’s book of short stories Night Cruiser will thrill and chill readers who want something deliciously dark. Cindy Hampel’s self-help book Its Not Personal offers hope and advice for those of us dealing with difficult people.

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Award-winning Cindy LaFerle was my first friend in DWW and her book of personal essays Writing Home remains a favorite. Debut novelist Linda Sienkiewicz knocked me out with In the Context of Love her novel of love and loss. Iris Underwood works her lavender farm and writes with equal grace. Growing Lavender is a lush adventure in verse.

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Diane DeCillis

Poet Diane DeCillis’s exquisite images and fierce emotion make her collection Strings Attached an amazing achievement. Elizabeth Buzzelli is a master of Michigan mystery who pens comic and clever plots from the northern part of our state. Her Emily Kincaid series cracks me up.

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Elizabeth Buzzelli

Speaking of “up north” C. S. Gordon’s literary novel  The Heart & Horn gives the U.P. a fresh look. Christian Belz sleuths closer to home with the Ken Knoll series featuring an architect as seemingly hapless but actually adept amateur sleuth. And Linda Anger, DWW’s immediate past president, compiled the beguiling collection Sweeping the Floors at the Full Crumb Cafe that includes poetry, fiction and non-fiction.

The DWW website features these and other Michigan authors (whose books I have yet to read). It also gives info on our 2016 writer’s conference and how you might become a member of our group. I’d love for you to join us.

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collage courtesy of Linda K. Sienkiewicz

 

Stand-Alone Sarah

Sarah’s Survival Guide is a free 40 page story right here on my website. Anyone can read it, even attach it to their tablet or reading device. Makes it sound like I wanted to do something nice for my readers. I do, of course, but the real reason Sarah’s Survival Guide stands alone is because my former editor asked me to consider taking it out. I was writing romance at the time, and Sarah’s subplot was stealing the spotlight from the main lovers. Sarah is still very much a part of The Paris Notebook, especially the penultimate scene.

What Sarah does not have in the novel is a point of view. Sarah’s story is not filled out as I meant it to be. That’s okay, I’m a tough old writer and have been edited many times. I also understand the rules of writing romance. So I’m not saying my editor was wrong. She was spot on. The problem was me, I had not written a romance. The wonderful folks at The Wild Rose Press knew I was not a romance writer, and through two novels helped me become one. Then when I proposed a women’s fiction series, they said YES. They said that was where I should be, writing women’s fiction, with more going on than true love. Nothing against true love! I’ll always have a love story or three.

Almost the minute I learned I needed to cut Sarah’s story, I began plotting. I was able to pull it out almost seamlessly. I added a few bits into the book so it made sense and I took all spoilers out of Sarah’s Survival Guide. Then, after paying a friend a shamelessly small amount for a gorgeous cover, I was ready to roll.

I don’t know how many people have read Sarah’s story. I have never, in ten years, quickly going on eleven, looked at my page views. But I love hearing people tell me they wished there was more about Sarah in The Paris Notebook. And that’s happened at least a dozen times. Every time, I say “You’re in luck! Click on Sarah’s Survival Guide on my blog.” I think it’s a sweet love story. It works as a short story, but if you read it first, you might want to know what happens next. Well, that answer is in The Paris Notebook.