“The Bookshop Book” by Jen Campbell

Bookshop

I want to open a bookshop after reading Jen Campbell’s The 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.

From Campbell’s website:

Every bookshop has a story.

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.

That it is.

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Living a Creative Life without Fear is “Big Magic”

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.

CreativeGilbert 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.

Guilty pleasures-Amish Quilt shop mystery series

guiltyguilty

Book information here

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.

Murder, Simply StitchedI 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.

Murder, Served SimplyHer 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, HandcraftedMurder, 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.

 

 

Karin Gillespie on Bestselling authors

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. 🙂

 Read more on bestselling authors at Karin’s site.

Literary Citizenship & “The Write Crowd”

The Write Crowd by 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.

After reading The Write Crowd, there are no more excuses for not doing even a small bit of literary citizenship. If you’re reading this, you have internet access, so send a tweet. Start a blog. Post on Facebook and share with the world at large your favorite books and support your favorite authors.

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From LoriA.May.com
From LoriA.May.com

A Dead Letter in Reverse: Melville’s Bartleby

From Jeffery Schrecongost at South85:

I was assembling my ENGL 112 course syllabus the other day, and, in reviewing Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” I was reminded that an argument for Bartleby as antiestablishment hero is not indefensible. The harmless, if not initially loveable, chap is curiously comedic in his hell-bent defiance and awkward introversion and can ultimately be viewed as a martyr for individuality. Conversely, an interpretation of Bartleby as individual-to-a-fault can be successfully supported as well.

Read more of Jeffery’s post at South85

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If You’ve Ever Dreamed of Becoming a Best-Selling Author-A Caution

then you may want to read Kevin Kaiser‘s article over at Writer’s Digest: The Dark Side of Being a Bestseller. Kevin says:

The thing is, there is a dark side to being a bestseller. There are secrets they don’t share publicly.

 

I know because I’ve worked inside the Publishing Machine for nearly a decade, advising multi-million dollar bestsellers and publishers on everything from creative development to grassroots marketing. I’ve been equal parts strategist, editor, and counselor.

 

Bestsellers carry secrets, and if they were to share a few it might be these.

 

Read the rest of the post; well worth it.

Kevin has a lot of good information in his weekly newsletters, and I look forward to reading them every week.

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Check out Kevin’s webpage and especially his podcasts.

Everything I Never Told You-Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You is Celeste Ng’s debut novel and she sets the bar high. Her novel revolves around the a Chinese-American family living in small town Ohio, a rarity in the 1970s.

What works in this novel is Ng’s use of a third person narrator, and through this narrator, we learn how deeply dysfunctional and non-communicative the Lee family is. The novel begins: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six-thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this Innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast” (1). Lydia’s death reveals how isolated each family member is from all the others. Set apart from their community because of the bi-racial nature of the family, they are also set apart from each other. Lydia’s death isolates her family further from their community–her death is a suspected suicide–and, when most needed, each other as well.

Ng’s third person narrator slowly reveals the inner thoughts and disappointments each family member harbors. Through her death, this narrator also shows each family member struggling to cope with what the each wanted reality to be, and the truth. The old saying is the truth shall set you free. In this case, the truth severs the frayed threads tying this family together, sending each of them tumbling through their grief, unmoored from each other.

Lydia is sixteen and a perfect mix of her genetic heritage: “But Lydia, defying genetics, somehow has her mother’s blue eyes, and they know this is one more reason she is their mother’s favorite. And their father’s too” (3). The ‘they’ in this quote are Lydia’s siblings, her older brother Nate and younger sister Hannah. Within the first few pages, the narrator reveals several secrets. Nate and Hannah know black-haired, blue-eyed Lydia is the favorite child out of the three. The only hidden secret is the parents unaware their other two children have picked up on the favoritism.

Marilyn Lee sends Nate and Hannah off to school and takes a mug from the cupboard, a routine gesture in a morning suddenly thrown off the routine. As she does so, she flashes back to a memory of Lydia when Lydia was eleven months old. Marilyn left Lydia playing in the living room on a quilt, and had gone into the kitchen for a cup of tea:

             “Marilyn took the kettle off the stove and turned to find Lydia standing in the doorway. She had started and a red, spiral welt rose on her palm, and she touched it to her lips and looked at her daughter through watering eyes. Standing there, Lydia was strangely alert, as if she was taking in the kitchen for the first time. ..The thought that flashed through her mind wasn’t How did I miss it? but What else have you been hiding?…Marilyn often had her back turned, opening the refrigerator or turning over the laundry. Lydia could’ve been walking weeks ago, while she was bent over a pot, and she would not have known” (4).

Here we learn through the narrator Marilyn doesn’t know Lydia as well as a mother should, especially when it comes to walking. After a short time, Marilyn calls the police and James at work. Eventually, through the narrator, we learn this isn’t the first time the police have been called about a missing family member.

We also see James, grading history papers in his office. He’s a tenured faculty member, a professor of American history, at Middlewood College. When younger and:

“still junior faculty, he was often mistaken for a student himself. That hasn’t happened in years. He’ll be forty-six next spring…Sometimes, though, he’s still mistaken for other things. Once, a receptionist at the provost’s office thought he was a visiting diplomat from Japan and asked him about his flight from Tokyo. He enjoys the surprise on people’s faces when he tells them he’s a professor of American history,” but becomes defensive when people “blink.” (9).

He still feels the outsider, set off by his ethnic heritage, even though he’s as American as the people he is talking too.

Throughout the novel, Ng’s effective use of the third person narrator continues to reveal the secrets of the Lee family and how those secrets keep the family isolated from each other.

Toward the end of the novel, Ng also uses her narrator to flashback to Lydia, when she was alive, allowing the dead girl at the beginning of the novel a voice in her own story. It is an inner story that has shaped Lydia’s life, one she needs to revise, with devastating results.

The novel raises questions: how well do we know family members? Is what we “know” true, or assumptions, because it’s far easier to deal with assumptions–what we want to be true–than what really is? Everything I Never Told You is a novel that has stayed with me, long after I finished reading it.

Ng, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You. New York:Penguin Group. 2014. Print.

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Coming Fall of 2015-“This Angel On My Chest” A collection of short stories

Leslie Pietrzyk, fiction mentor in Converse College’s MFA program and friend to Why The Writing Works bloggers, made a big announcement at winter residency:

My manuscript of short stories won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize!  My book, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST, will be published in the fall of 2015 by the University of Pittsburgh Press!  Oh, yay!

Read the rest of her post here.

I still miss Leslie’s (and her co-leader Marlin Barton) workshops. 🙂 If you’re interested in learning from this fantastic writer, apply here.

The online conundrum and great advice from Writer Unboxed

The online conundrum–build a web presence. Write–don’t worry about a web presence. You need a website. Not all well-known authors have websites.

Argh.

Over at Writer Unboxed, Jane Friedman writes about the social media conundrum: “The Online Presence That’s a Natural Extension of Who You Are And What You Do, (Is It Just A Fantasy?).”

She writes: “I’ve been reading with interest (and sympathy) the comments on Porter Anderson’s Unboxed post last week, where we see the familiar Sturm und Drang of writers grappling with the demands of online marketing—or how to be publicly communicative and chummy when it’s against our nature, perhaps even against our work.

This has remained a problem for a long time now, hasn’t it?”

Read the rest oft her post.

Also read the comment by Donald Maas.