Author Visit: Sonja Livingston

In my home city of Rochester, New York, we are fortunate to have an amazing literary non-profit called Writers and Books. Just the name of it sounds magical to a fiction writer and bookworm like me!

In addition to offering writing classes and workshops to kids and adults, the center hosts readings and talks by visiting and regional authors. Amazing, right? One of the programs they offer is called, If All of Rochester Reads the Same Book. Each year, Writers and Books selects a book for the Rochester Reads program, then hosts a series of events around that book. I’m in favor of any program that gets an entire community excited about reading!

This year’s pick for Rochester Reads was Sonja Livingston’s collection of personal essays, Queen of the Fall: A Memoir of Girls and Goddesses. I became a fan of Sonja Livingston after reading her first book, Ghostbread in which she shares stories of living in poverty as one of seven children with nearly as many fathers. She writes in honest but not overly flowery language in a way that doesn’t seek pity, it merely asks to be heard and understood.

When I learned that the Rochester native was going to be in town, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity to meet her.

There were several events held around town leading up to her visit and multiple readings during her stay in Rochester. I attended a reading at the local library and found myself in awe of how down-to-earth this talented writer was as she stood at a podium in front of a room full of people talking about her life and her work.

Sonja Livingston

One of my favorite moments came during the Q&A portion of the evening when Sonja was asked about her writing process. The part of the question that interested me most was, “How do you know when you’re done?”

As a writer, this is something I often struggle with – at what point do the revisions end? I was eager to hear Sonja’s answer. She responded that, even as she read to us from her published collection of essays, she still found spots that she would like to edit.

She went on to say that she gets each piece to a point that she feels good about it. It was reassuring to hear that even a published writer doesn’t always get to the point where they feel their work is perfect. Later in the evening, she talked about how she might do as many as fifteen complete revisions on one single essay – but that she loves it.

I was fortunate enough to have my book signed and to talk briefly with Sonja. It is such a privilege to meet a writer whose work I so admire.  I’m excited to add Ghostbread to my collection of signed books on my shelf.

Livingston just released another collection, Ladies Night at the Dreamland. I look forward to reading this collection as well.

Have you attended an author talk? What was your experience like?

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What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing: Reading challenge update and preparing to submit

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audio books and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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As Spring timidly begins to show her reluctant face, things are picking up. I have a busy few weeks ahead and it seems the first half of summer is already spoken for. In preparation of events to come, I’ve been quiet on the social media front. While I have certainly fallen behind on my blogging, I haven’t fallen behind on my reading. In fact, with 13 out of 44 books read so far this year, I’m one book ahead of schedule on my 2014 Reading Challenge!

Here’s a look at what I’ve been up to.

What I’m ReadingApe House Sara Gruen

In the last few weeks, my selection of reads have been across a variety of genres. I took a nostalgic trip to my younger days, listening to the audio book of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I first read this as a teen, and I was surprised to find how much of it stayed with me over the years that have passed.

I read my first Neil Gaiman book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a magical and transformative read. I listened to the audio book read by Neil Gaiman himself which itself was a treat!

I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a fun and quirky read. I flew through a lighthearted read, The Men I Didn’t Marry, and slogged through Proof of Heaven, a book I thought I would enjoy but didn’t.

Now I’ve just picked up Sara Gruen’s Ape House. Have you ever loved a book so much, you were afraid to read another book by the same author out of fear of not loving it as much as the first? Water for Elephants ranks among my favorite books of all time, and since reading it years ago, I’ve avoided reading any of Gruen’s other novels.

I have finally put my reservations aside to read this book that I’ve wanted to read for so long.

 

What I’m Writing

After going through two rounds of critiquing with a trusted writer friend, and another set of revisions, I’m preparing to submit a short story for publication. This will be my first attempt at submitting a piece I have written, and I am equal parts excited and anxious.

I’ve begun researching literary magazines to possibly submit to (more on my lit mag adventures later) and am bracing myself for the rejections that are sure to come. I will be sure to share my progress along the way!

 

My Favorite Quote of the Week:

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

Five amazing tips to help you write your novel
I love these tips from Alice Hoffman.

Advice every young writer needs to hear
A collection of short videos from published authors sharing their advice.

Oh, the Places you’ll Go!
From the Write Unboxed blog, how to create an authentic sense of place in fiction.

The 9 Ingredients for Character Development
Some tips from Writer’s Digest

23 Essential Quotes from Ernest Hemingway
What can I say, I just LOVE quotes about writing. This is a great collection of some great ones from Hemingway.

10 Life Lessons to Excel in your 30s
I enjoyed this article and hope to get a head start on a few of these things before I enter the next decade of life!

 

Enjoy the weekend!

What are you reading? What writing projects are you currently working on? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing: Winter Reads and Editing

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audio books and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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As we officially settle into mid-March, I wish I were writing this post in more Spring-like conditions. In my part of the world, we’re moving on after a pretty substantial snow storm that brought blustery, bitter winds and, of course, snow. Just last week we set a record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in March: -9 and that’s air temperature, I’m not talking about wind chill here, people. I live in an area that can handle the winter weather, but even us New Englanders are ready for winter to be over.

To give you an idea of how ready for Spring I am, I actually dreamed that I woke up to flowers blooming outside my window. Unfortunately, I will have to wait a few more weeks before that dream comes true.

The advantage of this cold, harsh weather is that it provides the perfect atmosphere to curl up with a good book and a warm beverage.

What I’m ReadingGone Girl

I just finished listening to the audio book of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This was one of those books I just kept hearing about. I heard some slightly mixed reviews although the reactions have been mostly positive.

I was hesitant to pick this book up, partly because I have a tendency to avoid super popular books until they have fallen off most peoples’ radar, but also because of its length. I hate to admit it but when I realized the audio book was 15 discs long, I cringed a little. But I decided to give it  a listen to see for myself.

It took me a few weeks to get through it after missing a few days for work travel, I’m glad I decided to give this book a try. I found it to be suspenseful, entertaining and cleverly written.

Now I hear there will be a movie coming out this year and the rumor is that the move ending will be different than the book. I can’t say I’m surprised as I found the ending to be a little lackluster after all the buildup. I wonder if this is a case where the move might be better than the book?

snow childAnother book I’m excited about is Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child. I heard of it when it was selected for 2014’s If All of Rochester Read the same Book.  This awesome program through Writer’s and Books spotlights one book each year and sparks a plethora of related literary events.

The author will be visiting Rochester next week, and I can’t wait to attend a reading and Q&A session! I will blog about the experience so be sure to check back!

In the meantime, I am immensely enjoying this book – and it is very weather appropriate!

What I’m Writing

I am currently in editing mode. I have sent my current WIP off to a trusted reader for a second round of critiquing. My goal is to get this short-story polished in preparation for submitting it to some literary magazines in the near future.

This will be a first for me, but I’m excited by the challenge.

My Favorite Quote of the Week:

“Put everything you’ve got into everything you do.”

– John Maxwell

(See above!)

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

Should Authors Have to “Market Themselves”
I read Kristen Lamb’s blog religiously and this post is another example of why I never miss a post!

A Mighty Girl
As a long-distance auntie, I am always on the lookout for interesting and empowering reads for my nieces. I learned about this website and fell in love. Follow A Might Girls on Facebook and Twitter for updates and inspiration.

10 Great Gifts for Grammar Geeks
For fun…

The 10 Best Beauty Uses for Baking Soda
This isn’t a literary link, but I found it rather fascinating and thought I would share! Thanks, Dr. Oz!

What are you reading? What writing projects are you currently working on? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

This Week: What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audiobooks and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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It’s been a while since I’ve written a wrap-up post. But I’ve finished my first book(s) of the new year and I’m working on a writing project –  I’m ready to share and I hope you will too!

What I’m Reading

The Cuckoo's CallingI started the year with a pick that is a bit out of the ordinary for me as I don’t read many mystery/crime novels.  My first read for 2014 was The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling.  I selected it because I heard it was a “brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein.”

The author isn’t reinventing the crime-novel here. The Cuckoo’s Calling has many of the signature crime-novel elements: a down-on-his-luck private investigator, smarter than the cops who investigate a death they rule a suicide but that some are convinced was murder.

There is no trace of Harry Potter here, but Rowling writes a decent crime novel. I enjoyed
Rowling’s descriptive writing sets and the characters are likable.

Though it didn’t rock my literary world, I found it to be an entertaining read. Has anyone else read this one yet? What did you think?

Shanghai Girls

I also recently finished Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. The book’s description piqued my interest:  two sisters living in Shanghai who move to Los Angeles in the 1930’s to find new lives.

As Japanese bombs fall on May and Pearl’s beloved city of Shanghai and their lives begin to crumble, their journey to America is not at all what they imagined it would be. Their stories are heartbreaking as misfortune finds them at every turn; their naivete is frustrating as they refuse again and again to see the gravity of their situation.

Told over two decades, I felt the story lost its intimacy as the novel seemed to go on and on. I kept thinking, how many more bad things can happen to these girls? The story of May and Pearl’s journey to Los Angeles was powerful, but the novel continued on, telling of the hardships they face in America, the discrimination they endure, and their struggles to become Americanized while trying to honor their Chinese traditions.

After finishing Shanghai Girls, I learned there is a second book, Dreams of Joy. After browsing some reviews, I learned that some readers enjoyed Shanghai Girls more once they had read Dreams of Joy and felt the books are best when read together. Has anyone read one or both? I’d love to hear your experience. I plan to read Dreams of Joy in the future. Perhaps reading the follow-up with change my opinion.

What I’m Writing

Earlier this week I wrote about stories that I keep coming back to but always leave in some state of in-completion. My writing goal for 2014 is to (finally) finish a short story and submit it to some literary journals with the hope of publication. One such story is one I wrote this past summer that I think has potential. I’ve already written several drafts but have been feeling that it isn’t quite ready to submit.

I’ve been making revisions to this story over the past few weeks. I rewrote the opening scene and deleted a few paragraphs. I am focused on the details now, adding a sentence here, a description there.

Next month I will be sending it off to my writer friend to be read and critiqued! I will be sharing updates on the story’s progress.

My Favorite Quote of the Week:

you cant edit a blank page

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

For Readers:

Here are some Crafty DIY Bookmark Ideas 

10 Amazing Novels That Are Super Long, But Totally Worth It
This list makes me want to pull my copy of Anna Karenina off the shelf. Well, we’ll see…

For Writers:

Five Ways Writers can Recycle Their Discarded Material
This post from blogger and fantasy writer Victoria Grefer is what got me thinking about the practice of writing and how everything we write is useful.

Days Without Writing
A great read for any writer with a day job.

Read any good books lately? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

My Year in Books: 2013

My reading list in 2013 saw my usual range of contemporary novels mixed in with a few classics, a couple of memoirs, with a dabble in “chick lit.” I read more Young Adult fiction than I have ever before and they were some of the best books I read this past year (more on that later.)

I also made an effort to read more non-fiction, with books like Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly both of which I loved.

Here are some of my favorite books I read in 2013 (in no particular order)

Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell
So much more than a teenage love story, this book will take you back to  high school, to the horrors of surviving the bus and gym class, to your first love. I listened to audio book version which just made the reading experience even better.

The Fault in our Stars – John Green
Another great YA novel, The Fault in our Stars is heartbreaking in the best way. Green’s writing is exquisite, and though his young characters seemed wise beyond their years, I loved their chemistry and their dialogue.

The House Girl – Tara Conklin
Part historical fiction, part legal drama this is a book that was on my to-read list for a while before I was able to pick it up. I loved Conklin’s description, the detail with which she wrote about both a slave in 1850’s Virginia and a first-year associate at a law firm in 2004.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt
A beautifully written debut novel about love, about loss and grief. I loved that the characters were flawed and real. It is moving and emotional – a great read.

Here is a look at all the books I read in 2013:

2014 Book part 1 (1280x561)

2013 Books part 2

 

What were your favorite reads in 2013?

Life of Pi, Yann Martel

I came upon Life of Pi at a used bookstore a while back. It is one of those books I had heard about and knew I had to read. After I bought it, it sat on my bookshelf for months, untouched. I even loaned it out before I had read it for myself. It wasn’t until I saw the audiobook at my local library that I finally went on the wild ride of Pi’s life. Life of Pi

The book opens with the unusual story of Pi’s name and delves into his exploration of religion, and life as a zookeeper’s son, waking up to the sound of a pride of lions rather than an alarm clock. Though I learned a lot about zoology and theology, the first third of the book read almost like a textbook at times. Still, I loved the descriptions of the zoo and the animals. He describes the zoo as a “hot and humid place, bathed in sunshine and bright colours…” with a “riot of flowers…” He says, “To me, it was paradise on earth.” It felt that way to me, too.

Part Two begins with the tragic sinking of the Tsimtsum and the start of Pi’s fantastical story as a castaway for 227 days. Yann Martel paints the world of life at sea so realistically I could nearly feel the sun and salt on my skin.

Martel tells the story in such a way that, no matter how unbelievable the events of the story may be, you believe every word.

“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? … Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

Life of Pi is both heartbreaking and inspiring. It is at times, bleak and at others, uplifting. I found myself on the verge of tears and depressed the entire morning after reading about the last pages written in Pi’s diary on the lifeboat: “Do you see these invisible spirals on the margins of the page? I thought I would run out of paper. It was the pens that ran out.”  This was the moment my heart broke for Pi. As a writer, I found this moment among the most tragic of events in Pi’s adventure.

The language is simple, but beautiful, colorful and imaginative. It is a book that makes me believe in the art storytelling.

If you are like me and left this book to collect dust, I implore you to go pull it from your shelf now. When you have finished, go watch the movie. The movie will make you fall in love with the story all over again.

 

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

This Week: What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audiobooks and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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What I’m Reading

Falling to EarthI picked up Falling to Earth, a debut novel by Kate Southwood. The story is set in 1925 and centers around the Graves family. Paul Graves and his young family are the only ones who still have everything after a devastating tornado flattens their fictional town of Marah, Illinois.

When I read the description of this book, I just knew I had to read it. I can hardy put it down.

 


What I’m Writing

With NaNoWriMo approaching, I’ve started preparing for my NaNo novel. I’m mostly freewriting to get to know my characters. Last year, my struggle was that I didn’t feel I knew my characters well enough to tell their story. I fizzled out about halfway to the 50,000 word goal. This year, I’m preparing and on November 1st, I’m going to start over. This time, I’ll tell the story from a different perspective. I’ll be blogging about my progress!

 

My Favorite Quote of the Week

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
–  Louis L’Amour

 

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

Your Writer’s Mind
I loved this relatable post from blogger Jamie Lee Wallace about the mind of a writer.

5 Ways to Write Like Your Hair is on Fire
On the Today’s Author blog, I love Jacqui Murray’s suggestion to “Write everything as though I have a deadline that must be met.”

Writers, you’ll appreciate these 10 Thing Writers are Tired of Hearing

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Read any good books lately? Are you preparing for NaNoWriMo? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!