Reading Challenge 2018 – What Books Did You Read This Year?

It is the love of books that made me want to write one of my own.

I am one of those writers who firmly believes that reading is essential to good writing, even if the books you read are purely for research and education. For the past several years (I’ve lost track) I’ve been participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge and setting a goal for the number of books I’d like to read within the year. This year’s goal was 26 books –one for every two weeks of the year. I surpassed it easily, reading 39 books in 2018. However, that figure represents a decline in the amount of time I’ve spent writing –not exactly the goal I had in mind. Call me easily distracted!

I always vary the types of material I read: fiction, non-fiction and poetry. For  the exhaustive list of all the books I read this year, you can follow the link above to Goodreads if you want to have a look.  Here are some of the highlights of this year’s list:

In my ongoing research into World War One I read:

  • A Short History Of World War One – James L. Stokesbury
  • Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania – Erik Larson
  • The Spy – Paulo Coelho (about Mata Hare, alleged spy for the Germans)

In the realm of psychology and philosophy I read:

  • The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror – Thomas Ligotti (a real downer, let me tell you…)
  • The Divided Self: An Existential Study In Sanity and Madness – R.D. Laing (fascinating!)

And the other assorted non-fiction I read included:

  • Fear: Trump in the White House – Bob Woodward
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil DeGrasse Tyson (fabulous read; very disappointed to hear the news regarding the author’s behavior)
  • In Cold Blood – Truman Capote (reads like a novel, but the story is true)
  • The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way – Bill Bryson (this author makes everything he writes about interesting!)

I indulged in several works of science fiction this year:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (my new hero)
  • Artemis – Andy Weir (big disappointment)
  • Ubik – Philip K. Dick
  • A Pack of Dogs – Andrick Schall (fellow blogger and indie author)
  • The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick (nothing at all like the TV series, but I love both)
  • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick (my favorite of the three works by this author; a real mind bender)

Finally, I read a few classics that I never got to in required reading for school:

  • The Trial – Frank Kafka (such an excellent but frustrating read)
  • Metamorphosis – Frank Kafka (prompts pity and self examination)
  • Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett (so oddly compelling… nothing really happens)
  • Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  • Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes (broke my heart)
  • The Golden Ass – Apuleius (translated from Latin, the only work of fiction to survive in entirety from antiquity and totally readable and entertaining!)

I am assembling my list for 2019 and setting my goal at 30 books. So tell me what books you read and enjoyed (or despised) this year.

Happy reading and writing in 2019!

The Writers Tag

I’ve been tagged by fellow author, GJ Stevens, to participate in a tag for writers to get to know one another. GJ is releasing his first novel this month so be sure to visit his blog and read all about it. The tag was created by Lorraine Ambers and Ari Meghlen for writers to connect with one another and help expand this lovely writing community. We are asked 12 questions and encouraged to tag other writers. As always, no obligation on any of my nominees. Here are my answers and my nominees:

Name one novel that inspired you to write. 

I can’t say there is one novel which inspired me to write, but there are quite a few novels that I would aspire to write. My current work in progress is historical fiction set partly in the time of World War I and partly in modern day. An author who manages to slip seamlessly between time periods in her books in Kate Morton, so I will choose her novel The Forgotten Garden as a book that inspires me.

What’s your favorite genre to read and to write?

I read avidly and across many genres. I’m writing historical fiction AND science fiction at the moment, but I suppose the genre I find myself reading most frequently are mysteries/detective stories. And as a result, four of my five published novels are mysteries.

Do you prefer to write stand alone or series?

Thus far, my published novels are a series. The Bucks County Novels are romantic suspense stories set in the region of Pennsylvania where I live. These five books have repeating characters but each plot focuses on a different one. It was a great deal of fun to include local restaurants, bars and other businesses in the books as well as being able to send the characters to the city of Philadelphia which is only about an hour away. I am not entirely sure whether I will continue the series because of the other projects I have going, but I won’t rule it out.

Use three words to describe yourself:

Curious. Adventurous. Distracted.

Reveal your WIP aesthetics or an image that represents your main character or setting.

This a a collection of art and photography (some of it my own) that represents the historical novel I’m working on.

How long did your first manuscript take you to draft?

I worked relentlessly on my first novel. I think I finished it in about six months. However, the first draft was only one of many versions of that novel. I revised it again last year and republished it as a second edition. AND it totally paid off – Three Empty Frames won the Writers Digest first place award for mainstream fiction in 2017.

Who is your author idol?

It’s a tie between Jonathan Kellerman and John Grisham. Both these writers have been writing for decades and their books are consistently good. That’s not to say that having just one good novel in you is a bad thing, but I’d love to have a lengthy novel writing career like these two guys.

Share a writing memory that made you determined to carry on.

Getting positive feedback from an independent source is definitely a strong motivator. Your parents or your spouse are pretty likely to be biased in their support for you, but when a total stranger loves your work, that is really validating.

Tell us something surprising or unique about yourself.

Tough question. Despite being friendly and rather outgoing on my blog, I really am a pretty private person. I keep a lot of things locked tightly inside my head.

Share the hardest part about being a writer and how you overcame it.

I think this is something many writers can relate to: having people ‘read into’ what you are writing. In other words, people thinking maybe you based a character on them, or a scenario you’ve written hits a little close to the truth and they assume you (the writer) feel the same way the character does. Borrowing from real life to write fiction is not a direct progression but sometimes it isn’t easy to convince the people who read it. How to overcome it? Add a disclaimer and remind everyone that an author can write about serial killers without having a basement full of bodies!

What’s your favorite social media and why? Share your link.

Not a huge fan. Social media is, however, a necessary evil for authors hoping to get noticed. I have a Facebook Author Page, a LinkedIn account and a Google+ account —all of which I have linked to my blog but mostly ignore. I have a private Instagram and I mostly ignore that too, at least for sharing my own stuff. Do you really want to see what I had for dinner? But it is a nice way to keep in touch with friends who are far away.

Share some uplifting wisdom in six words or less.

Carry a notebook, inspiration is sneaky.

I nominate the following writers:

I understand that we’re all busy with writing and probably with a day job too, so if this is extra task is too much, I completely understand! But if you can, I’d love to hear your answers to the questions.

Sandra – What Sandra Thinks

Darnell Cureton

Rebecca Moon Ruark  – Rustbeltgirl

Tom Austin – abitsa

Andrick Schall

Instructions:

 Post the Tag and Image (see above) on your blog.

 Thank whoever nominated you and give a link back to their blog.

 Mention the creators of the tag and link back to their blogs.

 Answer the 12 questions.

 Nominate 6+ bloggers and notify your nominees by commenting on their blogs. (Optional!)

Serial Distraction

The disadvantages of writing a piece of serial fiction never occur to me until after I’ve started writing and posting on my blog. I get these story ideas and find that they’re too long for one blog post and suddenly they take on a life of their own. Then I find myself facing the pressure of writing a new section each week whether the ideas are forthcoming or not! I should have learned my lesson last time.

Even with a well outlined plot, each segment of a serial piece is a little short story on its own and has to have a mini story arc in itself. To keep the readers’ interest from week to week, there needs to be action and intrigue, there is less time for character development and transition between scenes. Imagine the difference if the reader had the entire piece to read all at once. Both the writer and the reader would have time to explore a little history and character backstory, and the physical location or setting. The hook at the start and the cliff hanger at the end don’t need to come every 800-1000 words. It can be exhausting! Nevertheless, I treat these serial pieces as explorations and of course, they are truly at the rough draft stage, needing revision and expansion. So if each section of the current serial is less than perfect, I hope you will take those things into account.

I remind myself when I get frustrated, that the novel I’m working on began its life as a serial piece —you know, that WWI story I keep talking about? Yeah, I really need to get back to that!

So even though I’ve been distracted from my main work in progress, I still believe these serial pieces are valuable. They can be filed away for possible development and eventually I’ll have two more potential novels in progress.