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

TORCH_Front_Cover-330I’m reading Cheryl Strayed’s novel, Torch. I read her memoir Wild last year, about her solo 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail with no training or hiking experience, and I loved it. I was inspired to read more of her work after  listening to her speak at a ceremony for the Art of Fact Award from my alma mater, The College at Brockport, State University of New York this Spring.

Torch is about Teresa Rae Wood who is dying of cancer at the age of 38. Her family is left reeling and must deal with the loss and their grief.

So far, it is heartbreaking.


What I’m Writing

The short story I have been working on was recently read and critiqued by a writer friend of mine, so I am in the process of editing and revising that. Once it is ready, I will be researching literary magazine and possibly some short story contests to submit it to. More on that to come!

I’ve also been doing Morning Pages. Although I have to admit I haven’t been writing consistently every day, I am enjoying getting into the habit of writing (almost) every morning as soon as I wake up.

 

My Favorite Quote of the Week

“A writer, like an athlete, must ‘train’ every day. What did I do today to keep in ‘form’?”
Susan Sontag

 

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

What Editors Want: A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines
This is an article that came at the perfect time – I will be referring to it in the very near future! It is thorough and very helpful.

Two Pages a Day
From the Writer Unboxed blog, this post has some great insights on how to take small steps to reach big writing goals.

21 Little Lifestyle Changes That Will Help you be Healthier
I enjoyed this article and its useful tips – thought I would share!

Just for fun, here are 28 Signs you were an English Major
I know the majority of these apply to me!

 

What about you? Did you read anything interesting this week? What are you working on in your writing? I hope you’ll share in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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This Week: What I’m Reading and What I’m NOT 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 ReadingThe Mermaid Collector

I went to the library this week without anything in particular in mind, and come across “The Mermaid Collector” by Erika Marks. I was drawn in by the premise of the book about the legend of the Mermaid Mutiny in 1888, when a lighthouse keeper left his wife and waded into the ocean with three other men to reunite with their mermaid lovers. I’ve hardly been able to put it down, I’m nearly finished with it!


What I’m NOT Writing

You read that right. I sent off the short story I’ve been working on the past two months or so to my first reader, who is a longtime friend and fellow writer. So although I’m taking a break from that story while it is read and critiqued, my mind isn’t taking a break from it. I’m still thinking about my main character, her life, her story. Which brings me to my favorite quote of the week:

My Favorite Quote of the Week

“A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.”
– Eugene Ionesco

I love that, as writers, our creative minds are always at work, even when we don’t realize it. I don’t need to be at my keyboard with my WIP in front of me to be “working” on it in some way.

Blogs I’m Reading

Drive, Don’t Chase
From the Writer Unboxed blog, Jael McHenry writes about the temptation to chase book trends, and why its important not to simply write something because we think it will sell.

A Life Lesson from my 10 Year Old
I enjoyed this post from Gwen Stephens, the 4a.m. Writer, on remembering why we write.

What about you, what are you reading this week? What are you writing?

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 ReadingThe Namesake

I just started reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. I’ve heard so many positive things about Jhumpa Lahiri since her collection Interpreter of Maladies won her the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, among many other awards and honors including the New Yorker Debut of the Year award, and the PEN/Hemingway Award. It earned the highest critical praise for its grace, and compassion in detailing lives transported from India to America. I can’t wait to see what’s in store from this writer.


What I’m Writing

I finished a short story I’ve been working on the past two months or so, about a young newlywed about to have her first child, who is haunted by strange dreams throughout her pregnancy. I spent much of my Sunday working on the third draft, then rushed home from work to finish it Monday night. I’m giving it one last edit and read through before sending it off to my first reader, who is a longtime friend and fellow writer.

My Favorite Quote of the Week

“The faster I write, the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.”
– Raymond Chandler

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

Writing and Creating Magic – When Less is MORE
From Kristen Lamb’s blog – one of the most helpful and interesting writing blogs I know.

10 Words You’ve Probably Been Misusing
For the Word Nerd in all of us.

Just for fun, here are 25 Signs You’re Addicted to Books
Book lovers, you’ll be able to relate to this.

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I’ll leave you with this inspiring post shared by Cheryl Strayed, from writer Nancy Peacock on how to get the work done :

I see a lot of books that promise to show you how to write a novel in a weekend, or a week, or a month. You can try it if you want to, but I don’t advise it. Instead, I suggest you relax, recognize that writing a novel is slow food and takes time. I wrote LIFE WITHOUT WATER, my first novel over a period of two years – first draft in a year, and second and third in another year. I recognized the reality of my life and created a schedule around it. I knew if I did not get any writing done before going to work, I wasn’t going to get any done at all. I was simply too tired after a day of house cleaning (my day job at the time) to write coherently. So I scheduled myself to write for one hour every morning before going to work. Just one hour. I also decided – quite randomly – that my novel was going to be 12 chapters long, and that I would complete one chapter a month. For a whole month I could futz with a chapter, edit, revise, and so on – but at the end of the month I had to move on, even if I didn’t feel 100% about it. I gave myself weekends off and five “sick days” a year, meaning if I really was sick, or hungover, or just didn’t feel like it, I could skip it – but only five days in a year. I kept track of it. And it worked out. I still work this way. For me it’s important to do a little editing as I go along, rather than forbid myself to change anything before the end of the first draft. But it’s also important to keep it moving, and not mire down in the swamp of perfection. Above all, be real about your schedule and your time. You will only be disappointed in yourself if you set unrealistic goals. You might think you’re not a writer because you can’t write a novel in a weekend, or a week, or a month. But maybe you just need to get real about it all. It takes time, and there is nothing wrong with doing something that takes time. Go easy on yourself. Be gentle but steady. The rewards of this life are more abundant than you know.

What about you? Did you read anything interesting this week? What are you working on in your writing?

11/22/63, Stephen King

At 850 pages, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is a commitment. It was more than three weeks before I finished it, but once I was finished, I was glad I had invested the time.

I’ll preface this review by saying, I’m not a huge Stephen King fan. Aside from this book, the only books of King’s that I’ve read are Misery and his memoir, On Writing.  But the premise of traveling through time to prevent the Kennedy assassination intrigued me more than most other King story lines.

Jake Epping, an English teacher living in 2011, learns about a portal to 1958 and takes on the challenge to prevent the Kennedy assassination on November 22nd, 1963.

11-22-63The book takes its time getting to 1963. And though I was hooked from the beginning, there is the underlying sense throughout, that much of the book has very little to do with the actual Kennedy assassination. If you’re looking for a book to learn more about Kennedy, this isn’t it.

For a while, I was okay reading along while King establishes life in 1958 and shows us the impact of Jake time traveling and changing events of the past. He spends the first section of the book laying the ground work – though it seems to me there might have been simpler ways to do this. Regardless, I was entertained and continued to read.

And I continued to read as the years ticked by and Jake finds a love interest and establishes a new life in Jodie, Texas teaching and directing the high school play. Again, entire sections that  have nothing to do with the main premise about the Kennedy assassination – but I didn’t mind. With Sadie as Jake’s love interest, Jake became much more human and likeable to me. What I was pleasantly surprised to discover is that underneath it all, Stephen King has really written a love story.

My biggest complaint about the book was the time spent focusing on the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. I was patient with the many divergences from the main premise of the story, but it was Jake’s lengthy observations  Oswald that I became impatient with.

In the end, I can see King’s reasons for divulging into such tangents, although I felt the book most definitely could have been a tighter and, ultimately, (perhaps several hundred pages) shorter.

While the novel was much longer than necessary and a bit self-indulgent on King’s part, overall I found it to be an enjoyable and interesting read.

Stephen King is not a literary writer, but he is a good storyteller.

What I’m Listening to in Audio Books: Tell the Wolves I’m Home and Heaven is for Real

A few months back, I wrote about my new found appreciation for audio books. I love that audio books allow me to find extra reading time in my day. I rarely listen to the radio in my car any more, and instead spend my driving time “reading.”

Tell the WolvesI recently finished the audio book version of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. This is a book I’m not sure how to review, but I can certainly recommend. It is the type of book that a plot summary won’t do the story justice. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is moving, emotional and a beautifully written debut novel.

It is a book about love, about loss and grief and finding yourself through the loss. The relationships are complex, the characters are flawed and real. The main character, June, is caught in the transition from childhood to becoming a young adult. She is a romantic, happier in her imagination pretending to live in a simpler time than she is in the real world. I loved seeing and learning about the world through her eyes. But the death of her uncle Finn leads June to discover, like most teenagers eventually do, that her family is not perfect.

The story is not only about June’s relationship with Finn, it is a story about siblings: June and her sister Greta; the girls’ mother Danni and Uncle Finn.

I’m glad I listened to the audio book version because I was able to hear aloud the beautiful prose in which it was written. But I would love to read the book again just to highlight and underline those mesmerizing passages.

I also just finished listening to Heaven is for Real,  a story about a little boy who undergoes surgery for appendicitis and afterward claims he has been to heaven. Over the weeks, months and years following his surgery, Colton tells his parents about his trip to heaven in the simple words and nonchalant tone of a young boy. Heaven_Is_for_Real_(Burpo_book)_cover

I’ll admit I was skeptical going into this book and I was still a bit skeptical coming out. Colton describes heaven, and talks about meeting Jesus and John the Baptist. His parents are astounded at the stories he recalls from his trip to heaven and how closely they match scripture.

What dilutes the story for me, is that Colton’s father is a pastor. Colton’s parents claim he describes things he couldn’t have possibly known, like the color of Jesus’ sash – but growing up within the church with a pastor for a father and attending Sunday School each week, I imagine a perceptive young child could pick up on certain things without his parents even knowing. But then there are things Colton couldn’t have known, like what his parents were doing while he was in surgery.

Diluting it further is the fact that Colton’s father, Todd Burpo, is the author and narrator of the story, not Colton. By the time this book comes out, Colton is eleven years old, old enough in my opinion to tell the story himself perhaps with the help of a few adults.

All of that aside, it was a quick and interesting read.

After reading this, I have added Proof of Heaven to my To Read list. While the premise is the same, Proof of Heaven is written by a neurosurgeon who comes from a scientific, not a religious, background.

An Evening with Cheryl Strayed

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the evening with Cheryl Strayed – along with about 450 others.

Cherly StrayedStrayed, author of New York Times Bestselling memoir, Wild, was the recipient of the prestigious Art of Fact Award from my alma mater, The College at Brockport, State University of New York, in recognition of her excellence in literary nonfiction.

I read Wild last year when it was all I seemed to keep hearing about. Strayed tells the story of her solo 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail with no training or hiking experience. Her impulsive decision to hike the trail came after her own failed marriage and the sudden death of her mother which left her family shattered.

It becomes remarkably clear how ill-prepared she is for her hike before she even gets to the trail, when she finds herself unable to even lift her backpack. As I was reading, I found myself wondering what she was thinking, hiking alone? As she hikes through mountain, desert and snow, I was shaking my head in disbelief that she kept going. In her filthy Bob Marley t-shirt, despite the blisters and the loss of several of her toe nails she kept hiking with her destination in mind. I continued reading, knowing I could never have endured the challenges of the Pacific Crest Trail, and certainly I could not have done it alone.

My favorite parts of Wild are the sections in which she talks of her mother. I was devastated, sobbing as I read the passage where she describes losing her mom. It was some of the most heart-wrenching writing I have ever read.

What I realized, listening to Strayed speak about her book, was that she never had one, life-changing “Aha moment” on her hike. I think, as a reader, I expected this single moment of realization that is so often found in these sorts of stories. She explained that it was a journey, both inside and outside, of coming to terms with her life. I had my own Aha moment in hearing her describe her journey this way.

Strayed is often asked why she waited so long to write about her hike and she said she had to learn to be the writer who could write this book. On her website she writes, “It took me years of apprenticing myself to the craft before I could write a book.” She also says time gave her the perspective she needed in order to write about the experience. As a writer, it’s encouraging to realize that our experiences, while they may be initially difficult to write about, can make great material down the road.

Have you read Wild? What did you think?

If you haven’t yet read Wild I highly recommend it.

For more about Cheryl Strayed and her books, visit her website www.CherylStrayed.com

What I’m Reading in Non Fiction: The Gifts of Imperfection

I read a lot of fiction. In fact, I read almost entirely fiction, but I do try to read a variety of styles and genres. Then, I made a goal at the beginning of this year to not only spend more time reading, but to read things that will inspire me – including email newsletters and my Twitter feed-  but most importantly, books.

I’ve tried, and failed, a few times so far this year to read non-fiction books that I thought would help me to be more positive and grateful. They were books that I picked up but couldn’t get into. These books, which shall remain titleless, were dry. I had to force myself to read them and found my eyes growing heavy after only a few pages. I hate to not finish a book, but there are too many good books out there to spend my time forcing myself to read ones I don’t enjoy!

Then, I found Brené Brown. Full disclosure, I found her through Oprah. She was featured on a two-part episode of Super Soul Sunday, a show I happen to enjoy. I didn’t expect to be moved, but I was.

Fundamentally, Brené Brown is a researcher specializing in vulnerability and shame. If I had known this before seeing her on Super Soul Sunday, I probably wouldn’t have picked up her books. Who wants to read about shame??!

The_Gifts_of_Imperfection_Book_-_Brene_BrownI watched the first episode with Brené Brown on Super Soul Sunday, and after the second, I knew I HAD to read her books.

First, I picked up The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who you Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. She talks about embracing our imperfections, and offers guideposts to living wholeheartedly. 

Here is a paragraph that points to what is at the heart of The Gifts of Imperfection: When we can let go of what other people think … we gain access to our worthiness – the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend  a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing and proving. p 23

I think this is something a lot of us can relate to. This is not my typical reading, but so much of what she says just hit me over the head!

What I love about Brené Brown is that I never feel as though she is some lofty, Ph.D talking down to me. After watching her on Oprah (and eventually her TED talks as well) I had her straightforward, Texan voice in my head as I was reading.

Here are just a few highlights from The Gifts of Imperfection:

  •  Brown says Wholehearted living is a process, a journey. We must decide every day to be our authentic selves. We must practice courage, compassion and connection in our daily lives.
  •  My first “aha” came on page 14 when she writes: “…I’ve learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn’t take the pain away when it doesn’t happen. It does, however, minimize the joy when it does.”
    I am always downplaying the good things in my life, then find myself frustrated when others don’t seem excited when good things happen for me. How can they be excited when I’m the one downplaying it! Enjoy and celebrate the good things, and when things don’t go your way you can share in the bad as well.
  • “Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves. This is a tall order given how hard most of us are on ourselves.” p 27.
    Self-talk is something I am working on so this really hit home for me.
  • “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.” p 50
    We live in a society that wants us to conform. Her first guidepost is, Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What Other People Think. She quotes e.e. cummings, who wrote: “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight – and never stop fighting.”
  • My favorite is guidepost #6 Cultivating Creativity: Letting go of Comparison. On Super Soul Sunday, Brene Brown said: “Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame.” As a writer, I can relate to this one on a very personal level. She expands on this in her book, saying “There’s no such thing as creative people, and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”
    YES!! As a writer, I know this to be true!

I don’t believe I can really do this book justice in one blog post, I truly can’t recommend it enough.

I’m now reading her latest book, Daring Greatly. If you have read her work, I would love to hear from you! If you haven’t read any of her books, I encourage you to check her out on YouTube and see what you think!

For more information or to purchase Brené Brown’s books, visit her website, BreneBrown.com

You can also follow her blog, Ordinary Courage

Here is a clip from Brené Brown on Super Soul Sunday: