What are you reading?

It’s summer (in the USA), and for some reason, I always feel like taking stock of what books I’m reading during this season. Maybe because I associate summer with the beach and beach-reading, relaxing… Anyway, here’s what I’ve been working on lately…

Kids Books

When you have kids (and maybe when you don’t), you tend to read a lot of children’s literature — some are bad (think Cinderella’s wedding…urgh) and some are really good. Here’s a very good one my son convinced me to read:

Cover for The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is based on a real-life gorilla who was forced to live in solitary captivity for more than 20 years. In the novel, Silverback gorilla Ivan befriends a baby elephant, Ruby, a scrappy mutt named Bob, and a little girl who helps him find his artistic side. Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal, it’s a heartfelt, well-written book. Appropriate for adults and kids (mature readers starting around 9, but more likely 10+) who like honest, bittersweet stories.

Cover for the first book of Amulet the graphic novel series.

My daughter started reading the Amulet series but stopped because the drawings were a little bit too dark for her. I took a look at the first book and realized she was right — scary pointy-toothed elves and creepy houses and parents going missing. Adults and kids (over 10) who don’t mind the darker side of things, plus some awesome adventure, will probably love these books. They’re a quick read but very intense and pull you right along.

Okay, so I have to plug my daughter’s book, The Mysterious Glowing Rock. She wrote it under the pseudonym F. Nighthawk (ever dramatic!) and we used Kindle Vella to publish it. Basically, Vella lets you publish one chapter at a time. The first three chapters are free, and then readers must purchase a bundle of “tokens” with which they can read lots more chapters. It’s a fun, easy way to publish chapter books — just don’t expect to earn big bucks! So, The Mysterious Glowing Rock is about a seventh grader who finds a magical gem that gives her strange powers. Avid readers 8 and up will enjoy this quick-paced adventurous read!

Grown up books

Currently, the books I’ve read for adults are few and far between. But here’s one I’m nearly finished — it’s not new, but it’s by an author I really like, Kate Atkinson.

Cover for Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum is definitely not a light read, but once you pick it up, it’s hard to put down. The book follows a family during different generations and time periods (World War II, the sixties…). It’s taking me a while to read because I only read it before bed, and often I’m too tired to read for very long. But every time I open the book and read the first sentence, I’m back into the story as though I’d never left. Sometimes I will forget who certain family members are, but there’s always a detail to jog my memory. Sad, funny, and witty, it’s definitely worth a read!

To Recap…

In summary, at this time in my life, it’s clear I read more children’s books than adult books. But I have to say, literature for kids can be extremely well written and poignant. I am in awe of writers who write about seriously deep topics in a beautiful, compassionate voice that resonates with young audiences. And so, I will keep taking my children’s book recommendations! What are you favorite reads this summer? Please let me know in the comments!

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? 

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

When Your Brain is the Enemy: Life as a Writer with ADHD — Women Writers, Women’s Books

This is a re-post from the excellent site booksbywomen.org. Are you a writer who struggles with health issues that make writing harder? What strategies do you find helpful to keep on task?

Writing and publishing a novel is an accomplishment few achieve, and those who do know how much work it is to make it to ‘the end.’ Countless hours of inspiration, plotting, writing, editing, re-editing, pulling one’s hair out, self-doubt, critique, and finally—finally—something ready to send out into the world. Now imagine doing all that when…

via When Your Brain is the Enemy: Life as a Writer with ADHD — Women Writers, Women’s Books

Dealing with Scene-Stealing Secondary Characters — Southern Writers – Suite T (via Roger Johns)

This is another re-post because I think it’s a valuable article for lots of writers. One of my writer friends has said that she worries about her secondary characters seeming more interesting than her main characters!

I think this happens a lot, especially on T.V. dramas, where the main character’s friend or sidekick feels more sympathetic and relatable than the over-achieving main character. (No one can quite live up to Sherlock Holmes!)

By Roger Johns

In the early days of my writing journey, I was repeatedly cautioned to restrain my secondary characters because they had a tendency to upstage my principals. I tried, but soon became convinced the greater danger came from underutilized secondary characters that didn’t sufficiently challenge my main character, leaving her less realized and less…

via How I Deal With Scene-Stealing Secondary Characters — Southern Writers – Suite T

Latest read…a Scottish thriller!

A few weeks ago, I hit the jackpot at Purple Crow Books in Hillsborough — hardback thrillers on sale for $5 each!! So, I immediately snatched some up. The first one I read turned out to be written by a Scottish author, Catriona McPherson.

                             HOUSE. TREE. PERSON. by Catriona McPherson

House. Tree. Person. is an unusual thriller, set partially in a grubby flat near the ruins of an abbey where monks had been buried years before. Ali and her husband Marco were forced to downgrade from their spacious home to the flat due to money problems. Their teenage son, Angelo, seems ambivalent, although he likes to spend time hanging out at the ruins for some reason.

The story gets interesting when a body is discovered at the ruins, and Angelo gets caught up in the murder investigation. At the same time, Ali fakes her way into a well-paid beautician job at a mental health institution located on nearby military training grounds. From day one, the place feels weird to Ali — a young woman keeps claiming to have murdered her own father. A bedridden woman, Sylivie,  appears catatonic but responds to Ali’s gentle massages and manicures.

Meanwhile, Ali must hold it together while the police question her son and flashbacks of a traumatic past threaten her sanity!

I really like the dark, moody atmosphere McPherson sets up — the ruins of the abbey in the background and the foreboding military grounds with days when staff and patients aren’t allowed to wander, due to practice shots and explosions. I love Ali’s interactions with the patients, the kind way she suggests fixes for their skin and problems; she’s very believable, and her character comes alive the most during these scenes.

At times, the dialogue felt a little “clunky” and even a bit forced; mainly this happened with interactions between Ali and her oddly unpleasant boss, Dr. Ferris. I think the Dr. Ferris character could be fleshed out a bit more. Also, the end felt a little rushed and slightly convoluted, with Ali dashing outside at times and then running into characters in hallways.

But, overall, I enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to those who like a good mystery – it’s darker than a typical “cozy” and makes for a satisfying read!

My Mother’s Blessing To Be A Writer — Women Writers, Women’s Books

This is a re-post from the excellent Women Writers, Women’s Books website… Wonderfully written and, I believe, many writers and artists can relate.

It’s been eleven years since my mother passed away, eleven years since I last heard her voice. She was sixty-three years old, unquestionably too young. After she died, I began paying attention to the experiences friends had with similar losses. Some of them spoke of messages they believed their loved ones had sent – birds…

via My Mother’s Blessing To Be A Writer — Women Writers, Women’s Books

10 Elements of Gothic Literature via Flavia the Bibliophile

This is a re-post from Flavia the Bibliophile’s excellent blog! I thought it was perfect for anyone wanting to write a ghost story or spooky novel for Halloween and/or NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which is every November.

With both Halloween and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) coming up, I have decided to partner up with Invaluable to bring you an epic infographic! For those of you planning on writing a novel that’s more on the spooky side, the below infographic depicts and explains the 10 main elements found in Gothic literature! In the spirit…

via Guest Post: 10 Elements of Gothic Literature — Flavia the Bibliophile –

 

Picture book resources

This is a re-post from Jean Matthew Hall’s excellent website!

Picture Book Builders is a blog about picture books. It features reviews of picture books by authors of picture books. Whether you are a writer of picture book manuscripts, or a parent or teacher looking for great picture books to share with the children in your life you’ll find Picture Book Builders a useful addition […]

via Online Resources for Writers–Picture Book Builders — Jean Matthew Hall

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