Archive | December, 2011

The Overwhelming Challenge of Finding a Satisfying Book to Read

30 Dec

All of us who read know the glorious feeling of being lost in a good book. “Lost” probably isn’t the right word, because although we may be lost to the physical world around us, we are very much present in the world an author has created.

But how do you find those books? I find myself frequently picking up books that turn out to be less than satisfying, but like many people, I rarely set a book aside and don’t finish it, especially a novel.

I just finished reading The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell. I picked it up because I know she is a popular suspense writer and wanted to see what she was all about. I am a fast reader, and I made it through 400+ pages because I wanted to find out “who done it” and why, but I found it repetitive and slow going. So much for that. I also tried to get through The Gulag Archipelago by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. I am giving up after 242 pages. Just can’t do it, but I’m glad I made the effort.

Now I sit wondering what to read next. Shall I read one of the books waiting on my night stand, or go out to the book store this afternoon and find something new?

Just for fun — Here are a few of the books I read in 2011 that drew me in to the world created by the author.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave – An African immigrant to the UK. A story that touches your heart and makes you think.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – Now that the movie has come out in the US, everyone knows these books. I loved all three of them. Although the stories are violent and sometimes difficult to read, the characters are unforgettable.

An African Affair by Nina Darnton – I keep recommending this book. The author is a former journalist who lived in Nigeria and her novel draws on her experiences there in the 1990s.

Children and Fire by Ursula Hegi – A teacher in Germany in the 1930s and her growing understanding of who and what the Nazis really were.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett – Another one that most people are familiar with because of the movie. Both were excellent — funny and thought-provoking.

Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela – A wonderful look into life in Sudan during the British colonial period.

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford – Set in Seattle at the beginning of World War II. It is the story of a young Chinese boy and his friendship for a Japanese girl.

I used to link book title to Amazon. From now on I will link to the author’s website. You can buy them wherever you want. I recommend supporting an independent bookstore — if you can find one!

 

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Twenty Year of Journaling

26 Dec

In the winter of 1990, I began keeping a journal. It was a time in my life when I was lonely and had time on my hands. I was divorced and living alone. My daughter had just gone off to study in Spain for a semester. I was recovering from a year long relationship with a man I met after my divorce. I needed to work my way through the things that had happened to me, to figure out who I was and where I was going for the next stage of my life. I bought a notebook and started to write.

I had always played around with writing, even sending a few pieces off for publication, but I was easily discouraged and didn’t pursue it. But this time I stuck with the journaling, and it became as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth.

My journaling has evolved over the years and had its ups and downs as I have. Sometimes I simply jot down something significant that happened that day. When I am traveling, I try to write as much as possible of the sights and experiences of my trip.When I am upset or trying to work through a problem, I may go on for pages, and I always feel better at the end.

I also use my journal for writing exercises. Currently I am working my way through Julia Cameron’s book The Right to Write. I read a chapter and then do the exercise at the end in my journal.

I usually write in the morning. It helps me organize and focus my mind for the day’s work, writing and otherwise. I miss a day once in a while, but I always come back to my journal.

I plan to write more posts on journaling, and go back and review some of my old entries from years back. It will be enlightening to see how I have changed, and perhaps be helpful to other journal writers.

A Second Chance

22 Dec

My first novel, The Gate House, will be re-published by Whiskey Creek Press. Release date is set for May 2012.

Although I have another manuscript almost finished, and several other pieces in various stages of creation, I am thrilled to have a second chance with The Gate House.

The book was originally published by Virtual Tales, a group of wonderful people who unfortunately had to move on to other things and the company went out of business. At the time of the original release, in the summer of 2009, I was overwhelmed by difficulties in my personal life. My mom passed away that month, and I was working at an extremely stressful teaching job in an urban school. I didn’t have the time or the energy to promote The Gate House the way I should.

Nevertheless, the novel was a finalist for an EPIC award in the mystery/suspense category, so I knew my writing had promise.

Now I have quit the teaching job and am substituting at a nearby high school, which gives me much more time to write. My brothers and I have finished the task of cleaning out our mom’s house and selling it. This task was made even more challenging because she lived in a small town in Illinois, I live in Pennsylvania, and my brothers live in California and Alaska!

So I am grateful for this second chance. Virtual Tales may have done me a favor by going out of business! I have learned so much about book publishing and promotion in the past couple of years. I have the confidence now to say, “I am a writer.”

The high street. Setting in The Gate House.

Friday Book Review

10 Dec

Review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

      James Halliday, the genius who created OASIS, the virtual reality that occupies the lives of most people in the dreary world of 2044, has just died. He left his fortune to whoever can follow his clues through his virtual world and find “the egg.”

     Several years have passed and no one has even found the first “key” in the treasure hunt, when a geeky eighteen year old boy in a trailer park on the outskirts of Oklahoma City finds it, and his avatar name “Parzival” appears on the scoreboard.

     Even for someone as ignorant of video game culture as I am, this novel pulled me in. Cline has not only written a gripping story, with good guys pitted against bad guys, but he has done it all in the context of avatars, virtual reality, and an obsession with 1980s pop culture. In order to reach “the egg,” players must be familiar with the Rubik’s Cube, the Walkman, and movies such as War Games and Monty Python’s Search for the Grail.

     The details of life in this future world, where the majority of the  population spends their time wearing visors and haptic suits that allow them to experience an alternate reality, are nothing short of amazing. “Parzival” even attends a virtual high school. Cline creates layers upon layers of virtual experiences with his knowledge of everything from Pac Man to prizes in Cap’n Crunch cereal. And his heroes must also possess this knowledge to reach the “egg” before the “Sixers” do, which means they have spent most of their lives watching ‘80s TV and movies and playing video games.

     This book is beautifully written and the humanity of the characters wonderfully portrayed with all their genuine emotions. It doesn’t matter that most of the story is told through their avatars. This is an unusual work that deserves a place among the best of innovative novels.

 {Review originally published in Suspense Magazine)

 

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project

7 Dec

As a writer, I love to encourage other people to write. I believe that everyone can and should express themselves in writing, even if they are never formally published. Everyone has a voice, and that voice deserves to be heard.

In some ways, the voices that most deserve to be heard are those of people who have little voice and few listeners in their own lives.

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project has been created to give women of Afghanistan a chance to use their voices. I urge everyone to check out their web site, read the poems and prose pieces that these women have written, and leave comments.

Their stories will touch your hearts.

A Best Book of 2011

4 Dec

One of the best mystery novels I read this year. This reviews appeared in Suspense Magazine.

If Thy Right Hand by Robin Lamont

     Ilene Hart is the Chief of Special Prosecutions in the DA’s office, specializing in the prosecution of pedophiles. When a teenage boy she has recently prosecuted is found shot to death, she begins to make connections with suspicious deaths of other sex offenders.

     As a single mother with two sons – one an autistic nineteen year old and the other a rambunctious eleven year old, she struggles to balance the demands of family and career. Then her older son is accused of molesting two young boys at an elementary school where he is working on the computer system.

     At the same time, parents are up in arms over the presence of a rehabilitation facility for young, low risk, convicted sex offenders that has opened in the community. Their protests take on the character of a witch hunt as several parents with fanatical religious beliefs incite the others against Ilene and her son.

     The novel explores the difficulties of a single mother with a demanding career and her relationship with the Chief of Police, a relationship made more difficult by the accusations against her son. Her two sons, one autistic and one “normal,” who have always been close, also struggle to define their relationship when the older is accused of deplorable acts.

     Author Robin Lamont has created characters who struggle with their own inner demons and try to come to terms with what is “normal” for any individual. The tendency for a parent to protect his or her child at all costs often conflicts with the rights of the community at large, and only when the truth is revealed, do we learn the source of the evil.

     Lamont has treated a painful and difficult subject within the context of an enthralling mystery. If Thy Right Hand is a superb first novel. Lamont has created a seamless murder mystery that also serves to educate the reader about  autism, a condition afflicting many children today.