(Leslie was one of my mentors in Converse’s MFA program)
This Angel on My Chest by Leslie Pietrzyk is a collection of linked short stories is both difficult to read and hard to put down. It is difficult to read because it is based on Leslie’s own life–becoming a widow at a young age–and entering into the grief of each of these women is a hard thing. But also a wonderful thing as each story is told in a different format, with a different point of view.
Pietrzyk’s writing draws the reader into the small orbit of each woman’s struggle with the unexpected death of a loved one–how does one continue on when such a devastating event threatens to bury you as well? But each character does, in her own way and in her own time.
I want to open a bookshop after reading Jen Campbell’sThe Bookshop Book, (but I won’t because I know it won’t end well–I can’t very well sell books that never make it to the shelves because I need to read them first. Quality control you know.)
Campbell’s book is filled with tidbits and interesting details about books, bookshops (mainly in Europe, esp. England, but there are a few from other places around the world), readers and writers.
The book itself is divided up into easy sections for reading; but the most difficult part about this book is putting it down.
We’re not talking about rooms that are just full of books. We’re talking about bookshops in barns, disused factories, converted churches and underground car parks. Bookshops on boats, on buses, and in old run-down train stations. Fold-out bookshops, undercover bookshops, this-is-the-best-place-I’ve-ever-been-to-bookshops…
The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world.
Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity and being creative
interested me in her newest book Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear. What draws me to Gilbert’s theories on creativity and creative living is her willingness to embrace mystery and the unknown in regards to the creative process. Her words are a challenge the status quo regarding creatives in general and writers in particular. I’m not going to list them all, but just a few ideas that caught my attention and made me think deeper about the creative process.
Gilbert writes in a clear and encouraging manner, defining living a creative life as “living a life that is driven more strongly about curiosity than by fear” (9) and then writes about how to allow your curiosity to trump your fear. She writes “creative living is a path for the brave. We all know this…fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun” (13). Fear is a constant companion to those practicing any type of creativity; “This is common knowledge; sometimes we just don’t know what to do about it (13). Gilbert tells you what to do about it, and it isn’t the same tired advice about working through, shoving aside etc. She makes space for her fear; “plenty of space” (24).
It isn’t like a lot of books on creativity I’ve read and that is a good thing. I’ve never bought into the “books are like my children” line of thought; no, my children are far more precious and special than any book I will ever write.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear. Riverhead Books: New York. 2015. Print.
Every once in a while it is nice just to read something because the books are fun reads; guilty pleasures if you will. I started with Isabella Alan‘s first Amish Quilt Shop mystery Murder, Plain and Simple, because she has set the series in territory not far from my home, and I wanted to see how she fictionalized real places, because it is a technique I am trying to integrate into my own writing and I wanted to see how someone else did it and did it successfully.
I was hooked after the first book and ordered the rest of the series. Not because I am enamored of the Amish (I don’t get the fascination to be honest), but because Alan has created likable characters, both Amish and non-Amish; given the heroine a love interest, complicated by the fact his former wife lives in the area; she loves her parents but clashes with her mother; and it is all written with a sense of humor–even though these are cozy mysteries and dead bodies are involved, and the Angela feels compelled to help the sheriff bring to justice the guilty party.
Angela Braddock is a transplanted Texan. She moved from Texas to Rolling Brook, Ohio, after inheriting her Amish aunt’s quilt shop. She is also trying to get back on her feet after her fiance breaks off their engagement. Her French bulldog–who suffers from a bird phobia–moves with her and is unsure of what to make of all the fresh air, grass, and wildlife. He is, after all, an urban dog through and through.
Her partners in crime solving are Old Order Amish women; members of her late aunt’s quilting circle. Colorful characters in their own right, they are joined by the handsome sheriff and non-Amish citizens of Rolling Brook, including a tea shop owner whose tea concoctions are some of the worst ever foisted upon civilization.
Murder, Handcrafted is due out this summer. I’ve already per-ordered mine and am anxious to see what trouble Angela and the residents of Rolling Brook are up to now.
#artmatters and that is why it is so important to #saveRuminate. I’ve subscribed to numerous literary magazines over the years, letting some subscriptions expire, debating with myself about if I should renew or not with others, but with Ruminate, there is never any thought of letting my subscription go. It is one of the few literary journals I’ve held onto throughout the years and not having it around anymore is just to painful to think about. But it could happen. The all-volunteer staff is exhausted and they need paid help to keep going. So—are you in or out? I’ve made a donation, signed up for a monthly donation and for today and tomorrow subscriptions and gift subscriptions go to saving Ruminate.
Karin Gillespie is a fellow Converse grad and a knockout writer, which is why when she speaks writing, one should listen….translate–read. From her blog post “Are You the Next Emily Griffin? The One Quality Every Bestselling Author Must Have”
An eye-opening encounter
Speaking of success, a few years ago I was one of the guest authors at a book festival. At this particular festival authors were expected to sit for eight hours, peddling our wares to the public. It made for a long day and few books by unknowns were sold. I got to know the other author sitting next to me, and we spent a long time chatting and dreaming of the day when our book lines would be long, and we would be so well-known no one would dream of asking us to man a table for eight hours.
My new friend bought my book and I bought hers, and we promised to stay in touch but lives get busy and we never followed through. I didn’t think of her for a long time until one day I came across her book at the Barnes and Noble. Her name? Cheryl Strayed. She wrote a book called Wild.
Had I not been in the library, my jaw would’ve hit the floor. Instead, I sent a message to Karin. 🙂
The Write Crowdby Lori A. May is a great little book on literary citizenship, a topic I’ve discussed on the blog in an earlier post. Geared toward writers, chapter 2 is titled “The Writer and the Writing Life,” the book has good ideas for promoting literary citizenship for readers as well.
May starts the book with the chapter “What is Literary Citizenship? An Introduction.” She writes: “most often, contemporary writers refer back to Walt Whitman’s efforts in advocating a society connected through literature,” (2) so even though the phrase ‘literary citizenship’ seems new, it isn’t. Writers have a long history of promoting not only their own work, but the work of others, in an effort to enhance the common good. Now the common good not only applies to local communities, but to the World Wide Web, encompassing societies in ways Whitman couldn’t begin to comprehend.
May gives solid advice throughout the book, with one of the earliest pieces being one all writers are familiar with, but may not—like me—follow through on—the writing comes first. But if we focus on just the writing, we lose out on much more: “participating in the broader community, in engaging with others, and sharing our skills and passion with peers and emerging fellows, there is so much joy to experience outside of our individual worlds. We become more.” (11). It’s important to protect the writing time, but not to the point we exclude others. Writers need not just readers, but other writers.
May’s advice throughout the book fits writers (and readers) of all types—big city or rural (like me), those with a knack or willingness to work with organizations—established or built from the ground up—or introverts who’s day job drains them of energy, and mingling with more people is the last thing they can handle (again, like me.) The section “Creating Connections Online,” in Chapter 4, is the one I find most helpful because it fits where I’m at in life right now. May writes about Matt Bell, a Michigan author, but also a reader, and he uses his blog to post an ongoing reading list, seeking to connect to like-minded readers whose reading tastes run toward the unconventional and indie presses (48). I am first and foremost a reader, and sometimes finding fellow readers is just as difficult as finding fellow writers in my rural community, so examples such as Matt give me ideas for finding and connecting with others sharing my own reading and writing tastes.
Plenty of the ideas in May’s book are also free to do—so not having any spare cash isn’t an issue. Volunteer at a local organization, or a national one—an appendix in the back lists different organizations in need of volunteers. The chapters in the book cover a wide variety of topics, and one can find something of value in all of them.
One of our own bloggers–Gabrielle Brant Freeman–has started a kickstarter project titled: An Imposition of Joy: Poetry, art and inspiration.
From her kickstarter site: Challenge met! Almost. Help me turn my 100 poem social media poetry experiment into a book complete with art, prompts, & writing tips.
How do you make a character convincing? You give them realistic dreams, hopes, fears, and failings. You need to know their history, their present, and their future. If you fail to give a character a back story that feels true or a fear with no backing readers will know. If there are holes in your characters, your readers will find them. So what can you do? Flesh out your characters. Your protagonist may only take up twenty pages in a short story, but you need to have more information. Even if it doesn’t make it to the final draft, or even the second draft, you should know the details of your character’s life.
One way I like to go about filling out characters is to interview real people. If your character is a teacher, interview a local teacher. If you are writing about a bartender, go to a pub (during off hours), tip well, and ask for their story. Not everyone wants to be interviewed, but enough will that you can find someone. Ask them about their daily routine. Why do they prepare in the ways they do? What are the problems that are obvious to someone in that profession that aren’t clear to an outsider? You can get some great background information for your characters this way.
Your goal should be to create a character who is believable in their profession to both laypeople and experts. You want the computer programmer in your crime story to feel authentic to your grandmother and to the software engineers at Google. However, one pitfall of this engorgement of character information is putting too much of it into your story. It’s useful to know how the waiter in your story serves their customers and the shorthand they use for taking orders. But does that level of detail need to be visible in every story? No. Much of the information you come up with on your characters will serve to bring them into focus in your mind, and as a result they will be clearer to the reader. Think of all those small details as being marked ‘for your eyes only’. Your reader won’t know what they are, but they’ll know if those details are absent.