Monday, May 23, 2016

Reads for Writers: My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop or as I call it--Bookstore Vacation Destinations

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

          For readers and writers planning summer vacations, check out My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, edited by Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America, published in 2012). There are eighty-one independent bookstores in thirty-six states to choose from as an added bonus to or as the main purpose of any trip.

          After reading the fantastic tributes by writers like Isabel Allende, Wendell Berry, Meg Waite Clayton, Fannie Flagg, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Pete Hamill, Ann Hood, Mameve Medwed, Ann Patchett, Chuck Palahniuk, Michael Tisserand, Luis Alberto Urrea, Abraham Verghese, Terry Tempest Williams, and Simon Winchester, not surprisingly, I want to visit all of them. Luckily, two are within an hour of my home. On the next trip to see my dad, we will visit the one within an hour of his home.

Then I will branch out with friends and other family members in tow. I think we could visit maybe ten or twelve more in daylong trips from their homes—only one or two a day so we have plenty of time to browse, read, and shop once we arrive. That is the point after all.

All of these tributes mention the importance of the book-loving owners and knowledgeable staff. Beautifully summed up by Ann Haywood Leal in her tribute starting on page 201: “Finding a book a home in someone’s heart is a talent. They may not know it, but…the staff of Bank Square Books [Mystic, Connecticut] are in the business of matchmaking.”

Some excerpts from the tributes:

The floors have to creak, of course. There should be a bit of a chill inside—not dank, or damp, but enough to bring on thoughts of curling up somewhere with one of the bound companions. If the table displays, favorite picks, and the like have a quirky randomness to them, in defiance of the latest imperatives from publishers, all the better…

All of this you take for granted at The Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle.

                                                Timothy Egan (page 88)

At Watchung Booksellers [in Montclair, New Jersey] there’s a daily rhythm to the life of books. Kids are running around—a bookstore like this is where kids are first brought into the wider world of reading—and there are the sounds of conversations about books, and the humming quiet of the browsers, and the crisp tearing and folding of gift-wrap paper at the counter, and it smells like books, with that fresh, subtly seductive smell. Independent bookstores such as Margot’s [owner] collaborate with writing in such an intimate way that makes cyber bookselling seem merely retail.

                                                Ian Frazier (page 119)

…The event is an author series called Book Your Lunch, and it’s the brainchild of bookseller Jill Hendrix, owner of Fiction Addiction an independent bricks-and-mortar bookstore in my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. Book Your Lunch is a fantastic way to bring readers and a wide range of authors together—from mystery writers, to award-winning novelists, to non-fiction and cookbook authors. Fiction Addiction sells tickets in advance, and the featured author reads from her work, or gives a short talk, followed by a Q&A session, a delicious lunch, and then an on-site book signing.

                                                          Mindy Friddle (page 121)

Some of the writers of the eighty-two tributes may not be familiar to readers. All of the essays end with writer bios, listings of their books/works, and/or website addresses. (While 84 writers wrote tributes, two were collaborations and The Strand in New York City received two tributes so in total eighty-one bookstores are celebrated.)

As if dream bookstores and writers new and familiar to readers weren’t enough to delight readers of this book, within the essays many of the writers mention their favorite authors.

What more could a reader ask for? Well, I do wish the bookstores’ addresses, phone numbers, and websites were listed at the end of the essays or in the Bookstores by Location index on pages 375-378. Not hard to find online, but still it would have been better in the book.

Whether you are traveling or not this summer, My Bookstore is plain fun--fabulous destinations and numerous book suggestions for readers. It’s almost as good as visiting one of these treasured bookstores!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ready, Set, Write! But What If I'm Blocked? Plus Bonus Recycled Essay

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m ready to write. I’ve set aside time to write. I’m sitting in front of my computer, but I’m not writing…yet.

          It’s frustrating when I’m ready to write essays but nothing comes to mind. The only thing more frustrating when it comes to writing is when I have thoughts, ideas, or sentences in my head, but can’t write them down because I’m too busy doing something else.

          I sit here waiting for thoughts to come, my muse to visit, or for some glimmer of an idea. Too distract myself from becoming more frustrated, I look around my office.

On the shelves of a nearby bookcase, I have a favorite pair of small watercolor paintings of the same stand of maple trees—one done in the greens of spring and one in the golds and reds of fall. They are serene and beautiful. They also capture the passing of time.

          Time is the resource most writers need and most writers waste. If you have the time to write, then write. Keep going even when it is painful prying words out of your head. Eventually something will click. The flow of words will increase. The writing will become less painful.

In the rare cases when it doesn’t, I flip though one of my monthly notebooks looking for a phrase or an idea that inspires me to write now. I also keep a running list of topic ideas at the end of the list of all the posts I’ve written.

I write as long as I can, but if the words don’t start to flow I find it’s better to stop and take a walk or tidy up a room. Inspiration often strikes when I’m not writing. If I’m lucky, it strikes while I still have time to go back to writing at my computer. If not, I jot my ideas down in a notebook planning for my next writing session.

The best writing happens when I’m in the zone. I have an idea and just go with it. It seems so easy. However, sometimes writing is really hard work. I’m prepared with topics, but inspiration doesn’t always take the bait so I have to dig deep to uncover something else to tempt my muse. It’s worth the effort, but can be excruciating.

The reality is the more you write the less often writing is painful. But when it is painful, work through it. You will never get this time back so be ready to make the most of it—whatever it takes.

Below is an example of recycled writing mentioned in post dated 5/2/16. I wrote the essay for today's blog first. The recycled and yet new essay below appeared on my magazine’s facebook page.

On the shelves of a bookcase in my office, I have a favorite pair of small watercolor paintings of the same stand of maple trees—one done in the greens of spring and the other in the golds and reds of fall. They are serene and beautiful. They also capture the passing of time.

          Time is the resource most of us need, but most of us waste. These watercolors remind me I’m in my office to work. The sooner I finish, the sooner I can spend time on other—sometimes more fun—stuff.

          Since most of us have to work, it’s the downtime that we get to allocate. We prioritize family, friends, hobbies, TV shows, music, chores, errands, etc. Then there are unplanned emergencies or other surprises. Do we ever get this balance right?

          It would be nice if there were a savings bank for time. If we mow the lawn faster or fold the laundry quicker, we could sock those minutes away for another day, build up balances so we could be at every birthday party, dance recital, game, or get together.

          Since there isn’t a way to save time for another day, we are left to make the most of our time the best we can. It’s important to remember to enjoy the moments when we love exactly where we are and who we are with. These memories sustain us when we can’t be there.

          I read somewhere that Leap Day should be a worldwide holiday. It’s a bonus day. It should be treated with reverence and spent doing fun things we never have enough time for with the people we love.

          In fact, I think every holiday should be that way so make time for your mom this Mother’s Day. She spends a lot of time caring for and thinking about you. Return the favor.

          Memorial Day deserves our time, too. Line the town parade route on May 30 at 10am. Visit a military site or cemetery. These veterans gave not just their time to us; they gave their lives. There is no greater gift so remember and honor them and their loved ones.

We wouldn’t have the freedom to choose how we spend our time without their sacrifice. Thank you to all of them as well as all veterans and active military personnel.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Reads for Writers: The Book Lover's Anthology

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          My book recommendation this week is The Book Lover’s Anthology: A Compendium of Writing about Books, Readers & Libraries published by Bodleian Library. It’s not a book you read straight through, but one you pick up when you only have a few minutes to read or just feel like browsing.
There are inspiring quotes, passages, and poems about: The Friendship of Books; Old and New Books; Good Books and Bad; The Joys of Reading; A Sentimental Education; Bibliophilia; Literary Worlds; and The Library.
          Among my favorite passages are:

                   Rich Fare
…There are other evils, great and small, in this world…Of these, Providence has allotted me a full share; but still, paradoxical as it may sound, my burden has been greatly lightened by a load of books.
          Thomas Hood, letter to the Manchester Athenaeum (page 29)

                   Books are men of higher stature,
                   And the only men that speak aloud for future times to hear.

                             Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lady Geraldine’s Courtship (page 35)

                   Love and the Library
                   I do not know that I am happiest when alone; but this I am
                   sure of, that I am never long even in the society of her I love
                   without a yearning for the company of my lamp and my
                   utterly confused and tumbled-over  library.      

                             George Gordon, Lord Byron (page 182)

                   I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books
                   than a king who did not love reading.
                             Thomas Macaulay (page 210)

          Enjoy discovering your favorite passages!

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Benefits of Recycling Writing

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I have taken on writing two more columns for the facebook pages of the magazines I write for and edit. Each week I alternate between book reviews and musings of my choosing. Sounds like a lot more work—and it is—but there are many benefits.

          For the book reviews, I often recycle the ones I’ve posted here. However, since they are slanted towards writers, I have to rework them to fit a general reading audience. This is an excellent way to hone my editing and rewriting skills. It means looking at every line to see if it works for a different audience. Great lines have to be cut, but, when I’m working hard, new great lines appear.

          This is fun work as I love these books. I want more people to discover them.

          Conversely, my musings for the facebook column have led to rewrites for posts for this blog.

I have the freedom to write about almost anything in the column. This can be overwhelming, but the deadline means pressure so thoughts I wasn’t planning on appear on the page. The surprise of discovering what I think is one of the best benefits of this type of writing.

                    How do I know what I think until I see what I have to say.

                                                                   --E. M. Forster


While I’m editing these facebook columns, I often see a way they tie into writing. With a bit of rewriting, I’m sharing these thoughts with my blog audience.

          Taking on more work is working for me. Getting two pieces from a blog post or column topic as well as strengthening my editing and rewriting skills are all terrific benefits to recycling my writing.

Recycle your writing whenever you can. Writing more leads to more writing. As writers, that’s the whole point.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Reads for Writers: Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.

          The April masterclass post seemed perfect for a review of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett. This book caught my eye for two reasons: I love rain and the cover is beautifully clever. On a white background, tiny silver raindrops fall from top to bottom except for the two inch wide by six inch long space in the center under a black umbrella where the title and author’s name appear.

          I expected to learn many facts and figures about rain and I did in this fun read. Fun? Yes, especially for writers as you will see.

          Here are some of the facts:

Amid the worst drought in California history, the enormous concrete storm gutters of Los Angeles still shunt an estimated 520,000 acre-feet of rainfall to the Pacific Ocean each year—enough to supply water to half a million families. (page 11)

Rain is sex for the exquisite orchid Acampe rigida…When raindrops splash inside, they flip off the tiny cap that protects the pollen…[then] they bounce the pollen precisely into the cavity where it must land to consummate fertilization. (page 16)

In medieval Europe, the 1300s marked the beginning of a five-century climate shift known as the Little Ice Age…The second decade of the 1300s was the rainiest in a thousand years. (page 39)

In his 1615 memoir of the native people of Mexico, the historian Fray Juan de Torquemada described an ingenious local skill, one his men wished they could take home to Spain. The natives knew how to make rainproof garments. (page 96)

The history of the waterproof mackintosh [coat] in Europe (patented in 1822) begins on page 98.

Along the Mississippi, in the third-largest river basin in the world, the same federal government that doled out 160-acre homestead plots to small farmers in a land too dry for corn built levees promised to withstand floodwaters in a land too wet for cities or cotton. (page 144)

In the early twentieth century, Eugene Willis Gudger, an ichthyologist with the American Museum of Natural History and editor of the museum’s Bibliography of Fishes, reported he had authenticated seventy-one accounts of fish rain, spanning A.D. 300 through the 1920s. (page 249)

Villages Cherrapunji and Mawsynram in India vie for the world’s rainiest place receiving close to 470 inches a year…the rainiest metro area in the US is Mobile, Alabama [which] pulls in 65 inches annually. (page 278)

          What I did not expect was for so many writers and authors to be referenced and quoted including in order of appearance: Ray Bradbury, Keats, Isaac Asimov, John Burroughs, William Carlos Williams, Victor Hugo, Charles Darwin, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Evangelista Torricelli, Douglas Adams, Jonathan Swift, William Faulkner, Kurt Vonnegut, Helen Keller, Thomas Wolfe, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Alexander Frater among many more. Rain, mighty storms, and their consequences make for good copy.

An author even changed people’s customs on rainy days:

The disdain of the Europeans for umbrellas is noted on page 103.

“Surely that weather watcher Daniel Defoe and his 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe also helped popularize—and defeminize—the umbrella.” (page 105)

Although, the history of the umbrella goes back 3,000 years notes the art writer Julia Meech. (page 106)

In fact, Chapter Nine is entitled “Writers on the Storm” which discusses how rain plays a major part in the lives and works of Steven Patrick Morrissey, Charles Dickens, George Sand, Isak Dinesen, Emily Dickinson, Dante, Thomas Hardy, Longfellow, Hemingway, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, James Joyce, Woody Allen, Mark Twain, and others.

In 1816, Mary Shelley might not have written her classic tale if not for the Little Ice Age.

…The eruption of Mount Tambora the year before dimmed the sun…It was the coldest summer ever recorded in Europe. Shelley and her poet companions [husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron] had to stay holed up in their villa, huddled over a constantly burning fire. Lord Byron suggested they each write a ghost story. Frankenstein was hers. (page 200)


Many writers find rainy days good writing days.

The Seattle-based writer Timothy Egan…did his own informal study of book authors to figure out if they accomplished their best work in the murk of the dark months. (page 203)

…Seattle transplant Jennie Shortridge said she took seven years to finish her first novel in Denver, with three hundred days of annual sunshine. “When I moved to the Northwest, I wrote the next novel in fifteen months, and subsequent books every two years,” she told Egan “The dark and chill keeps me at my desk.” (page 203)

One writer decided rain was essential to his work.

In the late nineteenth century, a western poet named Joaquin Miller, living in the mountains overlooking Oakland, California, loved rain so much that he created his own personal rain machine to make water roar down on his roof. Anytime he needed some writing inspiration, he could twist a spigot inside his house to summon a shower outside. (page 275)

          I wish I had a personal rain machine as well since rainy days inspire me to write. After I read this book, rainy days now also inspire awe.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Dazzled by Nature

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          After all the time I’ve spent reading and writing about Mary Oliver’s poetry, I’m observing and writing about nature more often.

I was up earlier than usual one day so I took the dogs outside at 5:42 AM a few weeks ago. As we walked out the door, a practically full moon was shining through the many tangled branches of a large maple tree. It was so bright, we could see our shadows.

          When we walked around the corner of the house, the rosy hue of a rising sun was visible along the horizon. Turning my head back to the moon, it looked dark as midnight. Turning back to the sun, it was clearly the break of day.

          We all know night turns into day, but I had never seen it happen this majestically. Both sides had staked their territory. I could only marvel at the beauty of the moment and promise myself I would see this battle again.

          Up and outside minutes earlier than usual meant I witnessed moonlight and daylight in a way I never imagined—in a way I’ll never forget.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reads for Writers: The Slammed Trilogy by Colleen Hoover

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Colleen Hoover’s trilogy for young adults, Slammed, Point of Retreat, and This Girl, follows the love affair of the tragedy-filled lives of 18-year-old high school senior Layken Cohen and 21-year-old neighbor Will Cooper. In this romantic trilogy, neither of the main characters is sick or dying, but death plays a big part in both of their families’ lives.

           Furthering the depth of emotions involved, the novels showcase poetry slams—and the poems are not only fantastic, but integral to the plot—as characters can share deeper thoughts through poems than conversations.
          Hoover, who writes eloquent prose, not only includes the illuminating poems the characters perform on stage, she bolds and italicizes words so readers know how they sound and, therefore, have a better sense of how the characters feel.
Hoover’s poetry is vigorous—the poems are part of a poetry slam after all. She uses verbs of muscle and adjectives of exactitude (Mary Oliver's phrase) perfectly. No topic is off limits.
I didn’t include any poem excerpts as the poems need to be read in their entirety as they tell stories. I don’t have permission to reprint a whole poem.
          However, here is Layken’s reaction to hearing the poem “Blue Sweater” at her first slam on page 49 of Slammed:

The lights come back up and the audience roars. I take a deep breath and wipe tears from my eyes. I’m mesmerized by her ability to hypnotize an entire audience with such powerfully portrayed words. Just words. I’m immediately addicted and want to hear more.

          Layken hasn’t yet heard Will, a favorite of the audience and the judges, perform. Her reaction to his poem “Death” on pp. 53-55:

I find myself hoping he gets lost on his way back to our booth so I have time to absorb this. I have no idea how to react…The Will I watched walk up to the stage is not the same Will I’m watching walk toward me. I’m conflicted, I’m confused, and most of all I’m taken aback. He was beautiful…He put it all out there, right in front of me.

…I don’t understand the connection I feel with him. It all seems so fast. I put my hand on top of his and pull it to my mouth, then gently kiss the inside of his palm as we hold each other’s stare…

…It feels exhilarating. Or I feel exhilarated. I can’t tell which. All I know is that I wish the last two hours of my life could repeat for an eternity.

          As much as I enjoyed these novels, Slammed and Point of Retreat from Layken’s point of view and This Girl from Will’s point of view, I would also love to read an entire book of slam poetry written by the multi-talented Colleen Hoover. Like Layken, I’m addicted.