Book Reviews, Fiction

Summertime reading and more!

Phew! It’s been one of those years, months, weeks… Know the feeling? When life gets hectic and stressful, what’s your go-to “summer reading” genre? For me, I like “cozy mysteries.” But not too cozy. At one time, the cozier the better (cat-themed, knitting sleuths, baking detectives, and even ghost-loving detectives), but now I like cozy mysteries with a slight edge. Like Sue Grafton — her alphabet murder mysteries have a tinge of “noir” about them, and I love the fact that they’re set in the 1980s! Just a touch of nostalgia.

Another writer I enjoy is Nevada Barr. If you love nature, you’ll want to pick up one of her Anna Pigeon mysteries. Anna is a no-nonsense U.S. park ranger, and each of her mysteries is set in a different National Park. The last one I read (A Superior Death) was set at Isle Royale National Park, Lake Superior, Michigan, and features scuba diving on ship wrecks and floating dead bodies!

I tried reading Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series, but it’s not quite for me. Set in Sicily, the books DO have lovely descriptions of Italian food, and there is a pleasant, unhurried feel about the way Chief Inspector Montalbano goes about his days. I finished The Patience of the Spider and started reading another but found some irritating similarities in Camilleri’s style; beautiful women keep appearing half-dressed in front of the inspector, their robes just happening to fall open in front of him. I have nothing against this happening as part of the story, but when it keeps happening, I suspect the author’s penchant for nude women is getting in the way of the plot!

Please share your “escapist” books — fiction or nonfiction? Cozy or Edgy?

Author experiences, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, History and culture, Nonfiction, Writing Tips

Digging into your past for relief … and stories!

When I was 16, my grandmother and I had a falling out. She died in 2010, still furious (or perhaps oblivious). I had written to her a year earlier in a final attempt at resolution. But she wasn’t interested and informed me that if I was after her money, she’d already told her lawyers not to give me a dime.

Fast forward to 2021… I see a post on Twitter about a new app that can bring old photographs back to life; I’m not a fan of “deep fake” technology, but I have to admit, I was curious. I tried it on an old photograph of my grandfather (my grandmother’s late husband who died before I was born). His younger self beamed back at me, his smile wide and infectious, eyes twinkling, and I was charmed!

My dad at about four years old.

Right away, I began digging to find out more about my grandfather and my late dad’s side of the family. It turned out my grandfather used to work in a mental health institution, and his dad was a blacksmith. His mother was a school teacher. In the 1950s, he and my grandmother lived in Malaysia, my dad traveling on a troop ship when he was only about seven or eight. The timeline began to shift around, blurred spots becoming clearer, pieces floating into place like a magical jiggle puzzle, and a gap that I hadn’t even realized existed began to fill inside of me.

It turns out, the past takes up a lot of space if it’s not resolved. The unknowns, misunderstandings, and falsehoods hit each other at odd angles, leaving empty pockets. Those “pockets” stick around until you open up the photo albums, read the old letters, study the registers of births, death, and marriages, and have the difficult conversations with family members who don’t really want you to hash it all up again. With dust motes and the bitter scent of dried glue on the backs of black-and-white photographs hovering in the air, that’s the time to talk, cry, think, sigh, take a deep breath, and let it all go.

Two doves from my mom’s garden. Tomorrow is a new day!

Right now, I don’t know where this path is going. But I already have a couple of good ideas for story characters –a mysterious secretary who lopes around a graveyard at night and a proud woman who secretly hates herself for being born a girl. It’s all fodder, after all.

If you have relatives in Great Britain you’d like to research, here are some of the sites I’ve found helpful:

FreeBMD Home Page – this is a great FREE resource to find listings of births, deaths, and marriages in England and Wales.

https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/ – where you can look up wills and probates of the deceased and purchase a digital copy if you want to.

ancestry.co.uk – you can get a free 14-day trial, and this site will help you build your family tree and keep it organized!

Home | Search the archive | British Newspaper Archive – you can search for free, but if you want to read the actual articles, you have to pay. Still, once you know the name of the newspaper and the date, you can always look the actual paper up through a library or other type of archives.

General Register Office (GRO) – Official information on births, marriages, civil partnerships and deaths – the “biggie,” where to order official certificates, etc…

Author experiences, Book Reviews, Embracing Creativity, Fiction

How the Pandemic Inspired a Love Story — Women Writers, Women’s Books

This is a re-post from the excellent website, “Women Writers, Women’s Books.” They always have interesting articles by women authors. This one caught my attention because Ms. Holloway talks fondly about her grandfather, and my grandfather started writing stories later in his life, so we had that connection that I’ll always hang on to.

After my grandfather had a heart attack four years ago, I moved in with my grandparents during his recovery. Late in the evenings, as my grandmother slept in her recliner beside him and my poodle sprawled across his feet, he and I would watch movies. His preference, inevitably and humorously, was Hallmark movies. I worked…

How the Pandemic Inspired a Love Story — Women Writers, Women’s Books
Author experiences, Book Reviews, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, History and culture, Writing Tips

A Strong Sense of Place — Women Writers, Women’s Books

This is a re-post from the excellent blog, Women Writers, Women’s Books. How do you handle setting in your fiction writing? I admit that setting is sometimes an afterthought for me, and I constantly have to challenge myself to place it up front!

Should I have chosen an exotic location in which to set my new novel?  Research can be done anywhere in the world (or at least, it could, pre-covid).  Armed with a suitcase, laptop and my writing head firmly switched on, I set forth on a magical adventure to research my new book.  But it was…

A Strong Sense of Place — Women Writers, Women’s Books
Book Reviews, Fiction

The Best Mystery Books of 2021 (Anticipated) — The Bibliofile

This is a re-post from the excellent blog, The Bibliofile! Start planning your reading list with the perfect set of mysteries for rainy, dreary winter weekends!

This is a list of The Best (Anticipated) Mystery Books of 2021. There will probably be more new releases announced in the coming months and through the years, but here’s the best of what’s been announced far to be published in 2021. Will you be reading any of these books when they come out? I’ll…

The Best Mystery Books of 2021 (Anticipated) — The Bibliofile
Author experiences, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, Getting Published, History and culture, Nonfiction, podcasts

Improving Writing Productivity Amid a Pandemic — Women Writers, Women’s Books

This is a re-post from the excellent Women Writers, Women’s Books

Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and supports Delhi’s underprivileged women and children, volunteering with organisations who work for this cause. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. Her novel You Beneath Your Skin will be free between 7th and 11th August […]

Improving Writing Productivity Amid a Pandemic — Women Writers, Women’s Books
Author experiences, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, History and culture, podcasts

What is authenticity in writing?

Hidden BrainI recently listened to an episode of the excellent podcast Hidden Brain by NPR,  hosted by Shankar Vedantam. This particular episode focused on the author Gail Shepherd (who sadly passed away in February this year) and her novel The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins.

Originally, Shepherd had written her main character as half-Vietnamese, based on the life of a very close friend who is half white and half Vietnamese. But after much research and talking with friends of different races, Shepherd decided to re-write her novel with a white protagonist. Despite already having her good friend’s “blessing” to write the story, Shepherd worried that critics would say she was appropriating another culture.

Listening to the podcast, I remembered that while in graduate school I had written two short stories with Chinese and half-Vietnamese main characters. I wrote the stories based on my own knowledge (my boyfriend and now-husband is Chinese-Vietnamese, and we’d traveled to Vietnam together). I also had Vietnamese friends, so I didn’t think too much about it.

Today, I’m more educated about and aware of white privilege. I understand Shepherd’s decision. She had to consider dynamics of the publishing world, her own feelings about cultural appropriation, and her readers’ feelings. I was pretty much oblivious to all that in graduate school!

But I also agree with a point that host Shankar Vedantam made — Shepherd’s original version of the novel included insights about race and growing up Asian in the American South. Possibly, some American-Asian girls could have benefited from reading this story. While Shepherd was not Asian, she knew her friend’s story very well. She was telling an authentic story. That version could have been very insightful.

Shepherd argued that while people of color are not fairly represented in the publishing world, she didn’t feel comfortable writing as a different race. But if her friend wasn’t a writer and couldn’t tell her story, wasn’t better that someone she loved and trusted did?

It’s the job of fiction writers to tell lies to describe truths about life. Of course, there are some stories we can’t write — I don’t know how to write from a Black character’s point of view. I feel okay about writing from a 3rd person perspective of an Asian American character — but maybe not as much as I used to. If we are creating from a place of honesty and empathy — NOT using cultural stereotypes — I think it can be useful to have these stories told, regardless of the writer’s race.

And as one of the guests on the podcast, philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, said a person’s identity is not wholly their race. They are also parents, grandparents, teachers, artists, philosophers, plumbers, athletes, and a multitude of other roles and identities.

But I am a white person and, so, can only see through the lens of a white person. What do you think? Story tellers use their imaginations, but are there some things we just can’t imagine well enough to write about? 

Author experiences, Book Marketing, Conferences, Education, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, Getting Published, Nonfiction, Writing Tips

Spring writers’ conferences in NC

With the weather heating up (at least in the southeastern USA!) and the flowers starting to bloom, it’s a great time to think about upcoming writers’ events! In North Carolina, we’re fortunate to have lots of creative writers — of both fiction and non-fiction — who are really motivated and ready to learn.

Please share any upcoming conferences you know of (wherever you live) in the comments section!

NC events coming up …

JoCo Writers Conference 2020

March 28 — the Johnston County Writers Workshop in Selma looks fun and very affordable! If you are in the area, I’m sure it will be well worth the visit — but sign up soon, as seating is limited!

WF2020POSTERJPG

April 17 – 19 — Asheville Word Fest offers a whole weekend of speakers and workshops with a spiritual and cultural slant. Prices for tickets start at $25 and are based on what you can afford. Presenters get 80% of funds, so be generous if you can!

April 18Charlotte hosts the 2020 North Carolina Writing Workshop, a full day of classes with the theme “How To Get Published.” Literary agents will be on-site! Seating is limited, so call head to make sure there are still places available.

April 27 — the NC Writers’ Network have their one-day spring conference at UNCG (Greensboro). I’ve been to this before, and their workshops are in-depth and focused on improving your creative writing. Limited scholarships are available.

May 2Write Now! is an excellent one-day conference hosted by the Triangle Association of Freelancers in Raleigh. I try to attend every year — the classes are very practical and are geared for writers who want to sell their articles and creative work.

So, that’s just a taste of upcoming events — there are sure to be many more! Keep writing and reading, y’all!

 

Fiction, Getting Published, Writing Tips

Happy Halloween! Editing discount for writers — Kendra Olson

This is a re-post. My fellow writer-friend Kendra Olson is offering an editing Halloween special! Hurry, don’t miss it!

This post originally appeared on my editing website: https://kendraolsoneditorial.com/blog/ Have you written a mystery/suspense, dark fantasy or ghost story? If you have and you’re in need of developmental editing, then you could be in luck. To celebrate Halloween, I’m offering a limited discount on my editing services for writers of mysteries/suspense, dark fantasy and ghost […]

via Happy Halloween! Editing discount for writers — Kendra Olson

Author experiences, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, Writing Tips

Making the Case for Epilogues — Suite T- The Author’s Blog

This is a re-post from the excellent Suite T – The Author’s Blog. Do you like epilogues? I love them because they let me spend a little more time with the characters and, hopefully, tie up any remaining questions I had about the story.

By Dania Voss“Goodbye is the hardest thing to say to someone who means the world to you, especially when goodbye isn’t what you want.” – UnknownAs authors we strive to bring our stories to a satisfying conclusion. We want the end to be rewarding for our readers. But what if as writers, we’re not ready…

via Sometimes it’s Hard to Say Goodbye, Making the Case for Epilogues — Suite T- The Author’s Blog