Best Books of February

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Initial Choice for Best Book of February

All through February, the book I had in mind for “Best Book of February” was The Devlin Diary by Christi Phillips, a double mystery set in contemporary Oxford and 17th century London. However, on February 28, I finished reading Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

breakout-novelBest Book of February

Writing the Breakout Novel is a book I have heard recommended at more writing conferences than I can even remember to count. Finally, I have read it, and I understand the raves. This book is about the characteristics that move a novel beyond the mid-list into best seller territory. Maass describes each quality, gives examples, and provides practical advice for working it into your novel. The book is both inspiring and practical at the same time. I would recommend “Breakout Novel” to any novelist, and I know I’ll be reading more of Maass’ books.

Your Turn to Recommend a Book

So, I shared my favorite February read. Tell me, please, what was yours? It could be fiction, nonfiction…any genre. What book did you or maybe your children really enjoy? What book made a major impact on you? Please use the comment space to share the title, author’s name, and just a snippet about your book to whet your fellow readers’ appetites.

 

A Reading and Writing Lifestyle: Who is This Blog Written For?

Mini orange coffee cup with notebookYesterday, I had an awesome day with one of my best friends. We’ve known each other since I was five-years-old. We’ve done a lot of “life” together, and she is a beta-reader and encourager of my writing. One of the things that made it awesome (besides going to the craft store, eating decadent fudge for a our afternoon snack, and doing an entire jigsaw puzzle in one afternoon–okay, confession, it took us until midnight) was she sat down with this blog, asked me questions, provided some pointed critiques, and made lot of useful suggestions.

The Question

The question that floored me was, “Who is your reader?” This was accompanied by the observation that lots of times I talk about writing as a profession, and when I do, it makes her feel like this blog is really only intended for pros. Whoa!

That rules out a lot of my intended readership, including her!

So Who am I Writing To?

The stated purpose of Literate Lives is to encourage a reading/writing lifestlye.  This means I want to encourage a lifestyle that invests in reading and writing as a means of enrichment for anyone.

Anyone? That’s Kind of Vague

Yeah, it is isn’t it. Here are some mini portraits of potential Literate Lives readers:

  • someone who once loved to read but has been having a hard time prioritizing that pleasure in their life
  • someone who loves to read and loves to celebrate the pleasures and rewards of prioritizing reading in their lives
  • someone who interacts with young people and wants to facilitate skill and pleasure in reading, as well as writing, in these young people.
  • someone who enjoys journaling, letter writing, or otherwise capturing their thoughts and lives on paper or on screen
  • someone who aspires to be a professional writer, or already is, that can use a little encouragement
  • someone who is interested in the lives of writers
  • someone who enjoys multiple fiction genres, but has a special love for fantasy
  • someone who enjoys fiction across multiple age levels: that written for adults, young adults, and middle graders–kids from third to eighth grade

A Whole Lot of Anyones!

My mission is to love, serve, and encourage all of you.

There is work I need to do. Some of it is as simple as making some changes to the actual appearance of my blog to make it more reader friendly. Some of it is much broader, like tracking the kinds of posts I write and making sure I write across this broad range of readership.

Your feedback is highly valued. What can I do that would make following my blog a better experience for you ?

Wonderful Words: WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron

51lN2EsBXqL._AA160_Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution…. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim to…. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.

In other words, we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world.

~Lisa Cron, Wired for Story pp. 1-2

Wired for Story examines how recent findings in the realm of neuroscience can be applied to improving the fiction writer’s craft. It was an intriguing and enjoyable read.

Oooh! The “Evil” Outline

Writing K. M. Weiland wrote an awesome post on the Writers Digest website this week titled “7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story.” His opening words hooked me in an instant.

Mention the word outline in a room full of writers, and you’re sure to ignite a firestorm of passionate debate. Writers either love outlines, or they hate them. We either find them liberating, or we can’t stand how confining they are.

Any writer can tell you, this is SO TRUE. There is no better topic to start a violent debate at any gathering of writers than that of “outlining” or “pantsing.” And the most vehement debaters seem to believe that your can only creatively, meaningfully, and powerfully write one way or the other, that the two styles of tackling story are completely antithetical. That is why I was so grateful for Weiland’s reasoned account.

Why? I’m sure you have already guessed, I do both. Mostly, it is a matter of necessity. I have far more time to think of ideas for novels than I actually have to sit down and write them. (I’m sure many of you writers who like me hold a day job probably find yourselves in this same position.) Therefore, when a good idea comes to me, I write it down. When I’m thinking of writing a new novel,which is usually when I am in the throes of writing another novel, I can’t just keep switching gears from one story to the next like a butterfly sampling nectar. If I am ever to finish a project, it must get the bulk of my attention.

And yet… Ideas are everywhere! Therefore, by the time I am ready to start a new novel, I have a pile of ideas (we’re talking multiple inches in height on materials as varied as index cards, paper placemats from my hubby’s favorite Chinese restaurant, cash register receipts, the pretty flowered stationery I keep by my bed, checking account deposit slips–you name it) and the only practical thing to do with them is to string them together in the order I want to use them, like a pearls in a necklace, lest something wonderful be forgotten.

Once I’ve got my stack properly ordered, I begin to write. Do I have every idea nailed down in fine detail? No. Do I have all the links worked out from one planned scene to the next? No. If another wonderful idea comes to me do I reject it because I’ve already organized my stack of ideas? No. If the scene or characters I am writing take me in an unanticipated direction do I lasso them and drag them back to their intended places? No.

I work freely within a framework of ideas that have already excited me. Maybe someday, if I can ever get all the novels that are incubating completed, I might need to work in a different manner. However, at the rate ideas fly at me, I think I’ll probably always have to face the hard choice of what I get to work on next.

What about you? Do you outline, wing it, or throw the two methods into your own crazy blender. Tell me how you like to pull your stories together.

The Writing/Teaching Lifestyle Balance

J Tower LogoWhen I chose to become a Language Arts teacher, I thought what better career could there be? If I can’t be writing, I can at least be teaching others how to write.  Since then, helping students learn to communicate effectively has been my joy, but also my challenge. As an employed teacher, I have so much less personal reading and writing time than I had as a writer. (I also have better health care and health care insurance, a steadier income, and of course, those three months of summer when I can be just a writer again.)

When September rolls around, it is always hard to let go of that writing-only lifestyle. However, with the big changes rumbling through our school districts with implementation of the Common Core State Standards, I am finding satisfaction in trying to help make the adjustment to more stringent literacy standards easier for both my colleagues and students.

In addition, I have come into this new school year committed to maintaining my own reading and writing lifestyle, even if in a more abbreviated form. How am I doing it?

  • I’m coming home from work and working on writing for an hour at least three days per week.
  • I am continuing to read writing periodicals and blogs. Because my husband and I commute together and he starts working earlier than I do, I use my early half hour at work to read about ways to continue building my skills and keep up with what’s happening in the writing world.
  • I am making myself go to bed early so I can get in at least an hour of reading time before going to sleep. (Is there anything more comfortable than reading in bed!)
  • I am committing to having something to share at my writing critique group meetings. (I once challenged one of my writing friends saying, “Anyone can bring a page.” Last spring she had the opportunity to hand that challenge back to me. And it’s true. We have two weeks between meetings. I should be able to bring at least a page.)

And so far, I feel pretty balanced. Yes, I yearn for more time to write and revise my fiction. However, I am also finding satisfaction in my time spent in the classroom. I feel like I am contributing to something worthwhile.

So, three weeks into the school year, how’s my balance? I can report that so far it is feeling pretty good. And by the grace of God, I can hope that it will stay that way.

Details and the Writing Life

Details, observing and recording specific details adds richness to our writing and our lives.

For example, you can describe the skin of an old woman in many ways. However, of the following two, which is more resonant with meaning?

She was wrinkly.

or

She had skin that looked like crepe paper, ridged, crinkled and brittle, but to the touch it was like the petal of a newly opened rose.

Details give life and breath and physicality to your written world, and they don’t have to be exotic to add layers of associations and depth.

Natalie Goldberg discusses details in Writing Down the Bones. Her words give hope to any novice writer who thinks she had to undertake a grand adventure or experience some hideous trial in order to have something interesting to say.

Original details are very ordinary, except to the mind that sees their extraordinariness. It’s not that we need to go to the Hopi mesas to see greatness, we need to view what we already have in a different way….If we see their lives and festivals as fantastic and our lives as ordinary, we come to writing with a sense of poverty. We must remember that everything is ordinary and extraordinary. It is our minds that either open or close          ~Natalie Goldberg, p. 75

Open your mind to some details today. See if they explode the mundane to superlative.