October Book Review

Since a couple of these were over the 300 page mark, I read considerably less books this month than usual. I am not endorsed by any of these writers and now that I no longer feel guilty for not finishing a book (see my earlier posts on Life Audits), these are books that I felt were worth my time and kept my interest.

The Inn at Ocean’s Edge (A Sunset Cove Novel) This was a quick, easy read. One of the main characters, Claire Dellamare, is determined to figure out a decades old mystery: why she went missing for a year. The premise is good, the characters are well-written. The mystery, coupled with the fact that a woman went missing at the same time and people suspect the two incidents are related, is beyond intriguing. The story is dubbed a romantic suspense and I suspect that if I thought it was just a romance, I would have enjoyed it more. The build-up was good, but the suspense was loosely brought together at the end. As a lover of suspense novels, I prefer that part to pack a punch.

Rich Dad’s Rich Dad’s Guide to Investing: What the Rich Invest in, That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not! by Robert T. Kiyosaki was very interesting. He introduced a different way of looking at finances that I haven’t encountered before, which was refreshing. So many finance books revolve around how to save money and Kiyosaki challenges his readers to think about how to increase their wealth, not just live within their means. He lightly touches on the different types of categories (such as employees vs. small business owners, for example) and explains the differences in how they’re taxed. It’s a good read for those who want a different kind of finance book and want to get out of the rat race.

Rich Dad’s Rich Dad’s Retire Young Retire Rich: How to Get Rich and Stay Rich by Robert T. Kiyosaki had a lot of crossover material with the Guide to Investing, which is a good way to learn it and he says it slightly differently, so there were a few things that made sense in this book that I didn’t quite grasp in the first one I read. I like the underlying themes that anyone can get rich if they believe it’s possible and take action to do so and that by being financially educated you put yourself ahead of the rat race in many ways. Like any good salesperson, he gets you interested in the topic and then the “secret” info is available in paid seminars and webinars, which is to be expected. It feels like he says wealth is attainable and that he can give you ways to do it, but it feels like the first few rungs of the ladder are missing and I’m not sure how to get started. Maybe that’s just me. The writing is easy to follow and there has been a good deal of information, so I’ve decided to get book 1 in the series (it wasn’t available when I first looked for it), which may clear up any confusion.

Debra Clopton’s Counting on a Cowboy was a good Christian Romance read (I was just in the mood for a good-moral book after some heavy technical reading). Abby moves to a small town as a way to reset her life and is immediately folded into the town’s gossip, friendship and strife. It’s an easy read and the author gets some Christian messages across subtly. Overall, it was a good Christian Romance.

Sarah Jio’s Always. This is the second novel I’ve read by Joi and I’m hooked. The main character, Kailey, has a picture perfect life until she runs into a past love. He’d disappeared after a fight and it’s shaped who she’s become, but when she finds out that he had a brain injury and forgotten who he was, she begins to question the truth she thought she knew. It’s been a long time since I read a book in one day and there was no way I could put this down until I reached the end.

Ignite Your Passion

Life has a funny way of giving you the same lesson over and over and over until it finally (hopefully) you get it.

Six years ago, I found myself with the rare opportunity to start over and create the life I wanted. I’d self help read myself into frustration, ran myself thin and ragged and made things so outwardly perfect that when I proclaimed I was going abroad to backpack—alone—my parents just begged that I didn’t do anything hasty for a year. When I met friends for happy hour, I’d insist we talk about happy things. I quit watching the news, opting instead for documentaries on people who were living the lives they wanted. I came across an idea that changed my perspective on everything: life audit.

Now, there’s a website and a book and a woman who breaks it down, step by step, because she coined the name. Essentially, you look at the areas in your life where you spend your time: work, hobbies, friends, online gambling, whatever, and then compare it to the list of how you want to spend your time. Sure, I need to do laundry (mostly because I’m always cold so being a nudist isn’t an option, and because I’m not rich so I can’t afford to just buy new clothes all the time), but showing up for the book club I hated? Optional. Volunteering for extra projects at work that left me feeling drained and didn’t advance my career or bring in any extra money? Unnecessary. So I began “cutting the fat,” as I like to call it, and get down to the basics. I quit the book club and started writing, eventually self-publishing a novel, which was my ultimate dream (it cost more to make than I made, but the sense of accomplishment and pure joy it brought me are unparalleled.. You can get). Instead of picking up the same vegetables at the store (I hated broccoli, yet I ate it faithfully because it was good for me) and started picking up something new each shopping trip. Now I love a Brussels sprout salad, spaghetti squash instead of noodles and beets. I haven’t eaten broccoli in years and I’m 100% okay with that.

Fast forward and now I’m looking to make even more changes in my life: instead of training for long races, I’ve started weight lifting. The simple act of opening a jar without having to bang the lid with a knife, try to grip it with a towel or ask for help is something that delights me. There are bigger changes, too. For the first fifteen years of my adult life, I worked steady jobs with good benefits and a retirement plan and two weeks off a year. I woke up early, commuted in the snow or rain or when it was so gorgeous I’d rather be outside hiking. I shuffled into work like a zombie, did my 8-5, stopped at the grocery store on the way home, did laundry, made dinner, rinsed and repeated. I hoarded my vacation days like they were the last bar of chocolate. I was so desperate to have adventures, yet at the end I was so disheartened because I knew it would be another year before I could save up enough vacation hours to go enjoy myself. I bought pretty dresses and went to nice restaurants and when people asked what I did for a living, I’d tell them I was a social worker, but then I’d ask what they were passionate about.

Do you know how amazing it is to ask someone what excites them and see their whole being change from the inside out as they talk about it? It’s equally as depressing to be met with a blank stare; to be met by someone whose dream has died or who never even dared to dream in the first place.

I’ve been doing a of thinking lately, and talking with people about their dreams. I’ve been writing again and working out in a different way. I’ve listened to friends bemoan that rent is too high, they hate their job, the beautiful house they were excited to buy feels like a noose. I read blogs and look at pictures of people who are living outside the 9-5 lifestyle. I’m fascinated by people who are RVing (yes, I’m making it a verb) around the U.S., a Midwest woman living in the Costa Rica jungle teaching yoga and connecting with people, travel bloggers, etc. Those who aren’t chasing money or working for money, but chasing the dream and making money work for them.

I’ve always said that I just want to be happy, that I don’t want to be rich. I’ve scrimped and saved to try to live on less, to shave my expenses. At someone’s suggestion, I’ve picked up a stack of books by Robert Kiyosaki. I’ve read the Happier Now book by Nataly Kogan. The idea of enjoying life now and in the future is enticing. I want to learn and experience and enjoy life. I want to be rich in terms of happiness and in wealth- to be free to travel, and to invest in people I believe in, and to spend time doing things I like with people I like. Those are the things I’m passionate about. I don’t care what your job title is or that you know how to angle yourself right for your Instagram photos or that you have a fancy car. I’m interested- what are you passionate about, what are your dreams, what would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail and why aren’t you doing it anyway?

Book Review: Sunshine Sisters

As a voracious reader, I have to admit that I read a minimum of a book a week. Usually upwards of three. More, if one of them is non-fiction or I’m researching travel, writing or serial killers. I digress.

I have gotten to the point where I’ll pick up a dozen books, read the first page, and return most of them to the shelf. I love a good hard-boiled mystery, a non-cheesy love story and anything by Lee Child (his descriptions! The action! The ways he uses math and science to explain how Reacher moves in a cave make me want to like math and science!) I’m a sucker for travel memoirs and anything about the journey to the self.

The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green is different than anything else that I’ve read in quite a long time. It’s about three sisters (you guessed it- the Sunshines), following them from childhood to their mid-thirties or so. The think I find most fascinating about the story is the set up. We get the backstory upfront, as vignettes from the girls’ childhood. It’s like going through a photo album of them at 5, 12, 19, 27 and seeing the highs and lows. We understand why one sister never feels good enough, why one feels too much and the other shuts herself off from everything. Mid-way through the story, we’re smack-dab in the present and watch them struggle to reconnect with themselves and their mother, a well-known actress.

I’ve liked Jane Green since her first book, some stories more than others. This story was intriguing but what struck me as a writer was the way in which the story was told. It was new and interesting and really made me feel like I knew the characters. So often in writing and in life we’ll skim over details that might be small now but were huge at the time. Our first kiss (maybe he smelled like tuna and now you can’t eat seafood without thinking about him), something your parents always said or losing a grandparents who was your best friend.

It got me thinking that they are all just small moments in time that add up to a bigger picture. One paint stroke in the portrait. We’re a blank canvas before we smile. Or frown.

What stories do you use to identify yourself? Are they the ones that shaped you, truly shaped you? Are they the ones you choose when defining who you are, at your core? How do you pick what stories are relevant about your characters when you’re writing?

Whenever a story makes me think about the bigger picture, I feel I’ve spent my reading time well.

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I am an affiliate and will get compensation if you purchase through this link, but in no way does this alter my review (in fact, I added this link 10 months after this initial blog post).

Work in Progress

It’s been a while since I posted last. I’ve moved (twice!), got a great job (and left it to become an entrepreneur, both as a reseller and to focus on my writing) and am editing a work in progress, not to mention writing the rough draft of a new book. Whew! Part of me wonders what normal people do- work, help the kids with homework, household chores, fall into bed when they’re beyond exhausted and start the process all over again the following day?

This blog– if all my hopes, dreams and crazy scheming become reality– will be undergoing some changes in the future. For one, I’m working on nitty gritty women’s fiction at the moment. I love reading thrillers and mysteries and anything that’s a psychosocial mind f***, but I also love a Happily Ever After (HEA, I’ve come to learn) more than anything. After being a social worker for over a decade where I saw and heard some of the most heartbreaking truths, I want some more HEAs in my life.

I’m on hiatus at the Oregon Coast for the next couple of months and loving it here. It’s gorgeous and ping pings between being 65 and sunny and storming with high winds and the temp doesn’t get above 35. It’s a great place to decompress and to focus on writing. Walking along the ocean every day and watching the sun set over the crashing waves most nights (when the sky isn’t a blanket of black clouds) is also pretty amazing.

I’m learning Spanish and how to fly crash a drone. It reminds me of all those stories where a character sequesters themselves off in a cabin or house swap or cave and learns about themselves, coming out the other side a better person. It’s like I’m in a cocoon! As long as it doesn’t turn in a Misery situation, I’ll be happy (thank God that Stephen King’s mind doesn’t control my life)!

Balloon Animals

I just finished reading A Dangerous Age by Kelly Killoren Bensimon and it really made me think about characterization and story structure and subplots. In a nutshell, the book is about a group of women who are are all facing their own issues and the main character is trying to keep her marriage together (or, rather, figuring out if she wants to try to keep it together), texting an anonymous admirer and trying to track down an elusive quasi-celebrity in the NYC scene. 

I didn’t particularly like the characters: the dialogue, their high-society problems and the way they all talked about each other. However, I love the way the author braided together the MC’s issues, threading them throughout the entire book and dropping hints in scenes when they’re out clubbing or doing yoga or eating take out. While I thought I knew who the admirer was and what was so special about the person she was trying to locate, I didn’t quite know. It was enough to keep me guess– and reading. 

Writers talk a lot about plots: how to plot, should you plot, is it better to wing it, storyboards, outline, Scrivener, napkin notes, etc. While subplots are mentioned, I don’t think they’re always successfully executed. I get such a thrill when the story has an element that reminds me of a good mystery, like a trail of breadcrumbs from beginning to end. 

What I want, really, is for reading the book to be like wathcing a clown make a balloon animal. I see the balloon blown up and tied off and then the twisting starts. It starts with a leg, then two legs, and then I think wait- is one of those legs a tail? More twisting. Probably a funny face from the clown for a distraction. Then another flick of the wrist and what I thought was a elephant is now a seal balancing a ball on its nose and I think “yes!”. I’ve been amused, entertained, made to think I knew what was happening and then pleasantly surprised. Of course it was a seal– didn’t the clown make all the other balloons into sea animals? There was also a corny joke I missed about how he “really better seal this balloon up tight”.

I want a story like that. I want the author to bring their best every time. It’s also the type of story I’d like to deliver. Every time. Which is why I’m working hard on my novel, slogging away at a rewrite and trying to make the characters genuine and the plot interesting. I hope it’s engaging and lets the reader get lost in the story so that they read two minutes over their lunch break at work or burn the sauce because they forget to stir it, book in hand as they make dinner. I want them to be anxious to get to the end to know what happens but sad to finsih it because they’re enjoying the story.

Wait…wait…is this a romance?

I’m fortunate enough to have stumbled across an amazing online writing community, Scribophile, and am even more thrilled that I found a small group of intelligent, hilarious, kind, honest, motivated women writers willing to exchange beta reads. One of the best things, besides the fact that I felt like I had my very own cheerleading squad, was just how motivational they are. We are diverse in just about every way possible yet we share the same dream: to be published authors. 

We want the early mornings or late nights, the neglected piles of laundry, the bowls of cereal the kids had to have for dinner, the excuses to friends (I swear I really was home writing. Yes, ALL of November), the pots of coffee we shouldn’t have had for dinner and every other side affect of this obsession to be worth it. To “count”. Despite how hard we might be on ourselves, though, we are ever-helpful and encouraging to each other. 

The hardest part about an internet community–and which I suspect many of my fellow introverts would mark in the pro column–is the lack of physical interraction. As awkard as live writing groups are, if I overstep the bounds with a comment, I can usually tell it bothers the other person and fumble all over myself trying to make them feel better. It’s easier, I think, for feelings to get hurt and people to fade away in virtual groups. I thought originally that people would be more callous and bold, but I’ve found the opposite is true: we are more cautious with our words and find succinct ways to get our point across without verbally ripping up the paper. 

Oh, there are passionate discussions, and it’s hard when you can’t catch a quiet moment with that person before or after the meeting at a coffee shop and say, “hey, I think I came across a little too strong last time. I didn’t mean your character was one-dimensional, I just meant that I’d like to see you describe the hero in as much detail as you do the villain, becaues you’ve captured my interest with the villain”.

I’d like to think that both sides keep in mind that the other is doing their best to give and receive feedback and to improve in both regards.

When it was my turn for a critique, I wrote down every scrap of comments because I value their opinions and admire them as writers. The suggestions they had were great, but I was sitting down to write my revision and…nothing. It felt stilted. What about the character development I’d outlined? The plot holes they helped me fill in? The main character and her love interest didn’t kiss enough…cue sexy loving scenes.

Wait. What? Full stop. I love reading what’s dubbed as “chick lit” (I’m looking at you, Jennifer Weiner, Katie Fforde, Meg Cabot). I l write darker stuff, though. The story in question, about a woman who returns to her hometown licking her wounds has romantic elements, yes, but if I had to categorize it, I’d call it woman’s fiction. When I confessed this to the group, weeks later, after we’d already broken apart a bit to work on rewrites, I felt nervous. What if they were mad they wasted their time? What if I should be writing a romance book? The response i got was so great – it’s my story, write what I want to, they’re happy to read the revised version – and I felt even more emboldened as a writer. Plus, they still found my plot holes and helped me develop my character and taught me countless other lessons.

I’d set out writing this post to talk about having a plan in mind, but being okay with taking a different path if you choose. In writing it, though, I think I really just want to acknowledge the group I’ve found- you ladies are AMAZING. These are the type of people I want in my life, be it in person or via the internet, because they’re not afraid to be honest but they know how to deliver news gently. They’re quick with praise and Friday afternoon photos. I wish everyone could have such an awesome critique group, because the sense of community really does keep me sane in the writer’s block moments.

New Projects

Not one for resolutions, I’m a little late to the game when I say that 2017 is the Year of Writing. Having survived another round of NaNo last November, I’ve immersed myself in the land of writing, which is thrilling and scary and intense and educational. What’s different about this year is that I’m not alone in this journey. As much as I love writing, I have been honest with myself about the fact that the act of writing in only a piece of the puzzle. It’s marketing and networking and being part of a critique group. Through my critique group, I’ve met a writer who has opened my eyes to the world of romance (and writing about sex) and whose rich characters are people I’d like to know in real life. She’ll be coming out with a book soon, so check out her website: http://www.teddyhester.com

 Last week I met for coffee with one of my old writing buddies—someone who would meet me at the 24-hour coffee shop at any hour to hash out a scene and who does an amazing job at world building with his novel, Mister Mercury. Giando shared with me a new project he’s working on, a Write-O-Tron: http://www.giandosigurani.com

 As for me, I’m in the rewriting stage of a new novel, Sound Roots, about Becca Campbell, who realizes that her small-town roots aren’t all that bad after all and maybe, just maybe, a simple life is the good life.

Introvert Love Story

Roughly two years ago, my extroverted boyfriend (who can literally sell ice to an Eskimo) suggested I have a bigger presence in social media. I had many of the usual arguments: how can I be writing if I’m so busy on social media? I’m a writer, hence an introvert- people should like my books, not me. Social media is a downward spiral; I get on to post about writing on Facebook and three hours later I’m looking at cute dog photos and haven’t posted a single thing about writing. He keeps nudging and I keep resisting.

Then I noticed something. I really like quotes from writers. Especially if they have a cute dog in the background. So I set up an Instagram account. I can share with people the intersting things I run across in the course of my day related to writing and can take a break and get some inspiration when I have writer’s block. There are also loads of cute puppy photos.

So, please check out my Instagram: https://instagram.com/p/BPi8D8Rjn60/   or you can find me as uncagethewriter

Because that’s it, isn’t? Opening the zoo door and letting the wild animal that is my writing self free. It’s taking the restrictions off that I’ve placed on myself, the expectations from me and from society, and let my inner 8-year-old who declared she’d be a writer run free in the world. I figure that if I was brave and quirky enough to dress up as Poe for my 4th grade wax museum project, then I sure as hell better bring that same enthusiasm to my day and grit to ignore the naysayers.

Write for the love of it. Social media, because if you’re too damn shy or quiet or absorbed in how to kill off your next character to pay attention to the world around, because it’s just one more avenue to get your voice heard. It’s networking and marketing for the introvert, and a strange part of me loves that.

Perserverance

The goal was 50,000 words in 30 days. The annual challenge of NaNoWriMo entices and exhausts me, but it’s always a great experience. This is the first year I’ve completed it before the 11th hour and I hope to spend the next few days polishing my story. For those of you still in the middle of it- keep going! Don’t give up! The world needs to hear your story! 

 

NaNoWriMo

For those of you that don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month. The challenge: 50,000 words in 30 days. I’ve participated for several years and “won” (completed the challenge) all but last year. It’s great for moving forward with my writing and getting in that habit, but that’s just one benefit. The list is exhaustive, but here are a few. I think they translate into more than just writing, and I often say that the two worlds- reality and imagination overlap.

It gets me in the habit of writing. Every day. Regardless of whether I’m tired or sick or it’s gorgeous outside or I have writer’s block. It doesn’t matter. 1,667 words a day.

Practice strengthens my craft. Even though this is more of a freewrite exercise (this isn’t choosing between antique white and cloud white. Choose white and go! Don’t look back. Don’t second guess) and it’s just that- freeing. 

Community. I’ve met such an amazing group of writers over the years and am so happy that I have found my tribe in them.

The children. Seriously, this is a global practice and the school based programs get kids involved and excited about writing.

No. It’s truly liberating to have a month to say “no” to the million little things I don’t want to do (attend a book group that never reads anything I like) so that I can say “yes” to myself and my writing this month. It’s routine now; friends and family know I check my email and texts when I’ve hit my word count for the day. If it’s important, they know to call me. 

Countless friends have thanked me for showing them it’s okay to make themselves a priority. 

Like I said, those are just a few of the benefits I never imagined. Of course, I’d love to pick up an amazing writing contract and be able to extend this 30 days into a lifetime. But maybe that’s the point: get in the habit of writing daily on deadline and with that dedication, the money will follow.