Monday, December 5, 2016

Book Shopping Time is Now Writing Time

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

(I had grand plans for my December blog posts, but illness has changed everything. I love the Backpack Literature course I'm auditing. I shouldn't have scheduled it during the holidays. Rather than rush it, I'm moving my next Backpack Literature review to January 30th.

I've moved up posts I wrote in advance so I can rest up and recover. Hope to be back on track with book reviews soon.)

          Not buying any more books for a year as discussed in my November 14th post has already freed up a lot more time for writing. I didn’t realize how often I visited online book-selling sites. Some people facebook. I just book.
         Almost daily, I used to check out new titles and titles-new-to-me. Between recommendations from friends, family, and coworkers and book reviews, something always piqued my interest. Sometimes I would buy, sometimes just put it in the cart.

I confess I buy more books than I delete. If you are a voracious reader who likes to make books her own with underlining and marginalia, it’s hard not to buy books. Since most of my friends and family give me bookstore certificates for gifts and I give myself a book budget, it's easy to buy books.

Also, I read every day. I read more than I do anything else—except writing on deadline.

Yes, this means I get up very early so I can read an hour or two before my day’s responsibilities start. I read while I watch TV and when waiting in lines or waiting for someone. I do my chores and run my errands as efficiently as possible so I have more time to read.

My jobs require reading so even when I’m working, I’m reading.

I need a steady stream of incoming books so I never have to scramble for books to review and so I’m never bored. However, I created a backlog for myself (buying ten more books than I read each year for a decade adds up); hence, the no buying of books for a year.

I’ve changed my habits. I’m not visiting online sites that sell books so I’m not tempted to browse or buy. If I hear about an interesting book, I look it up. If interested, I put it in my shopping cart and leave the web site. If I visit my local bookstore, I’m buying only a writing magazine or two.

Now I have more time to write. With the holiday season here, I’m trying to write my posts and book reviews in advance so I can enjoy all the festivities.

A big upside to my new way of life, I’m saving money. Since there are always bills to pay, a retirement to fund as well as opportunities for family fun, this money will be well spent or saved.

I never have and never will consider buying books a waste of money or reading a waste of time. I’m reading the same amount of time. I’ve merely narrowed down the book choices to those already in my home. 

Once I’ve caught up, I’ll go back to buying books. There will always be a backlog, but I’ll never let it build up to the point I have to stop buying books for a year—maybe only a month or two.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Best Bookmarks: Gifts for Readers and Writers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I like to look at pretty and clever bookmarks, but I don’t use them—mostly because I can never find them when I need them. If I’m reading my own books either I turn the books over and leave them splayed where I left off or I use a ripped scrap of paper from a nearby magazine or note pad. This is also what I use when marking a page in a friend’s book.

I know there are sticky page marker tabs. They are perfect bookmarks if you take one and stick it to the book cover. Whenever you need it, there it is. Peel it off and stick it to a page. When you start reading the book again, peel it off and stick it back on the cover. But the pads are so small, I can’t always find them either.

Then some neon page markers caught my eye. The bright pink, orange, yellow, green, and blue translucent tabs are stuck to a clear sheet of plastic. Between the neon colors and the size of the backing, they are easy to find in a drawer, on a desk, or a bedside table.

I love the colors so much I have given up folding the bottom corners of pages to denote favorite sentences and passages. I now put a neon sticky tab on each of those pages. Since they are translucent, I don’t have to move them to reread a page.

I stagger the tabs and colors. Sticking up about a quarter of an inch, they look like confetti—a party in a book—which makes me smile every time I see them.

If you are looking for a gift or stocking stuffer for a reader or writer, these neon sticky page markers are a fun choice!

Due to illness, Backpack Literature post will run next week.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Reads for Writers: Why We Write About Ourselves edited by Meredith Maran

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I write first person essays for several outlets so when I discovered Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature edited by Meredith Maran, I had to read it. Another selling point, several of my favorite memoirists are in the book including Anne Lamott, Sue Monk Kidd, and Cheryl Strayed. After reading the book, I have many more memoirists’ work I want to read.

Each chapter begins with an introduction of the memoirist, vital stats, a list of published works, then his or her answer to: Why I write about myself? The rest of the chapter subheadings are different as each author discusses his or her writing process and beliefs. At the end of each chapter, there are Words of Wisdom for Memoirists.

Here are some of my favorite passages:        

“Don’t be afraid of writing into the heart of what you’re most afraid of. The story of life lives in what you would rather not admit or say.”
--Kate Christensen (page 20)

“…I firmly believe that there are things we already know and spend a lot of time resisting. You can try, but the amount of energy you spend trying not to know what you already know will be exhausting.”                     
--A. M. Homes (page 102)

“The reason to write memoir is to put something important out into the collective consciousness, to distill one human life as you’ve come to understand it…”
--Anne Lamott (page 140)

“Know that the writing will lead you to places you can’t imagine you will go…writing comes from a place beneath intellectual consciousness. The only way to get to that place is by writing. Trust the magic of that process.”
--James McBride (page 164)

“My work doesn’t hinge on shock value. I tell only what needs to be told for the work to reach its full potential. I’m not interested in confession. I’m interested in revelation.
--Cheryl Strayed (page 212)

“If you’re not uncomfortable and scared while you’re writing, you’re not writing close enough to the bone.”
--Ayelet Waldman (page 230)

“You get the most powerful material when you write toward whatever hurts. Don’t avoid it. Don’t run from it. Don’t write toward what’s easy. We recognize our humanity in those most difficult moments that people share.
--Jesmyn Ward (page 242)

 I want to read many of the books listed by the authors in Why We Write About Ourselves including Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Other Impossible Pursuits which sounded interesting and familiar. Searching through my unread books, I found it—a future book review.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Year Without New Books

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          About five months ago I reviewed Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. In this memoir, Hill goes looking for her copy of Howards End on her landing, but it isn’t in that bookcase or in the many other bookcases in several other rooms. By the time she finds it, Hill comes across about 200 books she hadn’t read yet. Deciding to read these books, Hill decides she will not buy any new books, unless required by her publishing job, for a year.
         I’ve been reorganizing some of my books and realized I have a few hundred of my own that I haven’t read or started but haven’t finished.

How does this happen?

It’s easy. While I read every book I received as a gift or bought through the Scholastic catalog in school when a child, as an adult I can buy or borrow more books than I have time to read. As I’m a voracious reader, most friends and family members give me gift certificates to bookstores for birthdays and holidays and it doesn’t take long to fill a shopping cart/basket.

Although I read and write for a living, I have to read most books on deadline. When looking for novels to review, I have to read two or three to find one to I’d like to review. For non-fiction, I don’t have to finish reading the book before I decide if it is review-worthy so I save a little time there, but end up with a lot of partially read books.

I don’t get rid of them because sometimes these books are review-worthy, but I can’t complete reading them with enough time to write the review by deadline so I save them for the future. Sometimes I need to digest books so a few months after I read them I decide to review them. No wonder books pile up.

Not surprisingly, I have decided not to buy any books for a year. This moratorium started on November 1st.

So far so good! All these unread books caught my interest or they wouldn’t be piled up in my home so it’s not painful to concentrate on them. As I read and review them, I’ll lend or give them to friends or donate them—unless I truly love them. These books will grace the shelves of my personal library.

Unfortunately, the pain will come when I hear or read about fantastic new books or favorite authors have new releases. Luckily, I can make a list or pile these books in an online shopping cart. In only fifty weeks, I’ll have room to pile them up at home again!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Reads for Writers: Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

         I believe in supporting writers of all ages so I’m recommending Word After Word After Word by Newbery Medal-winning author Patricia MacLachlan. While written for children ages 8-12, this book is inspirational for writers of all ages.  

In summation: Miss Cash’s fourth grade class welcomes Ms. Mirabel, a writer who will be speaking to them for six weeks about how writer’s work. On her first day with the children, Ms. Mirabel was asked if what she wrote was real or unreal. She replied, “Real or unreal. They’re just about the same…They are both all about magical words!” (page 16)

Later Ms. Mirabel whispers to a student named Lucy who isn’t sure she has anything to say, “You have a story in there…Or a character, a place, a poem, a moment in time. When you find it, you will write it. Word after word after word.” (pp. 20 & 21)

“Remember this if you remember anything from our time together,” said Ms. Mirabel. “Writing…is…brave. You are brave.” (page 114)

Great advice for writers of any age!

In this book, five of the students meet under a lilac bush to discuss writing and the happenings in their lives. True to real life, the children are experiencing happiness, tragedy, and changes they have no control over. As words come to them, they write poems and stories.
         When I was a child, I dreamed of being a writer. I had stories and songs and poems inside me that I jotted down. Yet, as I’ve grown older, I only write essays and articles. Where are the songs and poems and stories that poured out of me in the beginning?
         This book inspired me to grab a notebook and pen, sit under my favorite tree, and write songs, poems, and stories about life and love—word after word after word.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Magazine Timing

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          For anyone who wonders what it’s like to be the editor of a monthly magazine, here’s one aspect that takes getting used to:

          I always find this time of year a bit confusing. Halloween hasn’t even arrived and I’ve been doing nothing but think about Thanksgiving for weeks as I just sent the November issues of the magazines to the printer on October 24th. The next day, I started planning the December issues.

          Trick-or-Treaters will arrive even as I sort through emails about December events and plan holiday covers. One year I asked a friend how her children’s Halloween Party went three days before the party date. In my mind, Halloween had come and gone as Santa is now making his list and checking it twice.

          With my work schedule blurring timelines, I have to be really organized when it comes to the holiday season. I shop early. I actually try to have my Christmas shopping done before I buy Halloween candy and my gift wrapping done before Thanksgiving because when others are preparing for Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or any other December holiday, I’m wrapping up the January issue and planning for Valentine’s Day.

          Happy…whatever holiday is closest!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Masterclass: Backpack Literature Chapters 4-5

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          In continuation of my post on September 26th, I’ve completed chapters 4 and 5 of the textbook Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing 4th edition by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia. It’s as informative and engaging as the authors promised.
          I love this textbook! I’m so glad I’m auditing this class.

          I had planned on finishing a chapter a week, but my editing schedule only allowed me to complete chapters 4 and 5 this month.

          Chapter 4 covered elements of setting. After reading pieces by Kate Chopin, Jorge Luis Borges, Jack London, and Amy Tan, settings are part of the experience for readers, but writers use them in different ways from mimicking characters’ moods to plot points.  The setting in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” captured freezing cold perfectly.

          To learn to write about settings, I choose to write all the details about a place I like to visit then write a paragraph about what sort of mood is suggested by it. As often is the case, the mood wasn’t exactly what I thought before I completed the assignment. Writing is the best way to discover what you really think!

          Chapter 5 covered tone and style with short stories by Hemingway and Faulkner. Irony in its many guises was discussed then highlighted in pieces by O. Henry and Kate Chopin. I loved the inner dialogue of Mrs. Mallard in “The Story of an Hour” by Chopin which, of course, had an ironic ending.

          For the writing exercise, I chose to describe a city street as seen through three different characters in different moods and stages of life. The moods and ages are part of the exercise. I loved this assignment. It’s so freeing to step outside of yourself and see things through someone else’s eyes. The same street isn’t seen the same way. Fascinating to discover different actions taken because of a mood can make you oblivious or obvious.

          I recommend this textbook to all writers.