Tag Archives: books

Books Read in 2013

Each year, I set a goal to read 25 books. Reading widely across all genres, including non-fiction work, is essential for fiction writers. This year, I fell short of 25 books. I also wanted to read more contemporary best-sellers, but I didn’t accomplish that, either. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the books I did read. Some were written by friends and colleagues, while others were penned by best-selling authors. The diversity of voices and stories have enriched my writing and I thank all of the authors on this list.

Fiction

The Lightning Charmer, by Kathryn Magendie
Waiting, by Ha Jin
The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan
Third Willow, by Lenore Skomal
The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
Dune, by Frank Herbert
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
News From Heaven, by Jennifer Haigh
Dented Cans, by Heather Walsh
Almost Armaggedon, by Jamie Beckett
Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane
The Night Eternal, by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo DelToro
Dear Life, by Alice Munro
Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe


Non-fiction

Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, by KM Weiland
Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling, by Donald Maas
Wired for Story: the Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Sciences to Hook the Reader from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron
Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell

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Favorite Book of 2012: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

I read a number of outstanding books in 2012. Among these were Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, Generosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers, Defending Jacob by William Landay, and Canada by Richard Ford. However, my favorite book of 2012 was Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.

This is a highly subjective judgment, but, for me, a great book not only must have great characters and tell a compelling story, but it must say something important about the human condition. Chabon’s book does all of these things and more. It holds a mirror up to the times in which we live. The 2012 national election was proof yet again that we live in a divided nation, with 51 percent of voters supporting President Obama and 49 percent voting for his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. Yet, political analysts noted a subtle, but permanent change in the electorate in 2012. No longer will elections be decided by older white males. The demographics of the country are changing. As I write this, Congressional leaders are deadlocked over a fix to the fiscal cliff, further evidence of what divides us.

Chabon acknowledges this diversity in Telegraph Avenue, but his message is one of hope. Telegraph Avenue is the fault line between a hardscrabble neighborhood of Oakland and the University of California at Berkeley campus. Chabon mines the rich diversity of this area as the setting serves to underscore the themes of racial, gender and political divisions, but he is not just interested in what divides us, but what brings us together.

The story centers on business partners Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, who operate a barely surviving used record store called Brokeland Records. The store is threatened when superstar athlete-turned-business-tycoon Gibson Goode,  proposes a mega entertainment complex for the neighborhood, including a used record store that will put Brokeland Records out of business.

One of the major aspects of this novel is music, specifically the soul music of the 1970s. At one point, Goode laments the changes he has witnessed in music. “The world of black music has undergone in many ways a kind of apocalypse, you follow me,” says Goode. “You look at the landscape of the black idiom in music now, it is post-apocalyptic. Jumbled-up mess of broken pieces. Shards and samples. Gangsters running in tribes. That is no disrespect to the music of the past two decades. Taken on its own terms I love it…But face it, I mean, a lot has been lost. Ellington, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, we got nobody of that caliber even hinted at in black music nowadays. I’m talking about genius, composers, know what I’m saying.”

Goode is talking about soul music, but he could just as easily be discussing politics, civility, or the state of our nation as a whole.

Later in the story, Nat Jaffe reflects on the unlikely business partnerships that he and his white wife, Aviva, have struck with Archy Stallings and his wife, Gwen Shanks. The breakup of their partnerships, he concluded, had more to do with class than race. “The differences in class and education among the four of them canceled out without regard for stereotype or cultural expectation: Aviva and Archy both had been raised by blue-collar aunts who worked hard to send them to lower-tier colleges. The white guy was the high school dropout , the black woman upper middle-class and expensively educated. It just turned out that a tower of elephants and turtles was no way to hold up the world.”

In the end Stallings has an epiphany of sorts and the reader is left with a feeling that things will be okay, that this volatile cast of characters will figure out a way to get along.

What was your favorite book of 2012?

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Get More Out of Writer’s Conferences

I am excited about the upcoming annual CAPA-U Writer’s Conference this Saturday in Harford, CT, sponsored by the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association (CAPA), a fantastic organization composed of a group of dedicated independent authors and publishers. This is my third CAPA conference and I’ve met agents and talented writers and editors, while expanding my knowledge of the craft and marketing.

Advance planning will help writers get the most out of these conferences. Writers should ask themselves some key questions:

  • Who is the sponsoring organization? Is it a reputable organization? Is the agenda/schedule available? Are the workshop topics appropriate for a writer of your level?
  • What do I want to get out of a writers’ conference? What are my goals?
  • How can I meet other writers and establish connections?
  • Do a have a novel (finished manuscript) to shop? If so what agents do a want to meet? What will I say when I meet them?
  • What workshops should I attend.

So many questions…where to turn for answers?

Here are a few tips for writers to get the most out of conferences:

  • Study the agenda carefully. Choose workshops based on where you are as a writer. If you’ve just published a first novel, workshops on marketing and maximizing social media may be for you.
  • Dress appropriately. Business casual is the norm. Wear comfortable shoes, not sneakers. Don’t walk in wearing a pair of jeans and a rock and roll concert tee-shirt.
  • Get there early, collect your materials, and network. You don’t want to walk into a crowded general session late and slink into a seat in the back of the room.
  • Bring business cards or a marketing piece. Make sure it has your contact information, website or blog address.
  • Select the right agent, if there are opportunities to meet with agents. Review the agent bios and go on their websites. Pay attention to what types of authors and genres they represent.
  • Some conferences allow authors to sell their hard-copy books. Take advantage of this.
  • Select a mix of craft and business workshops. Take a notebook with you and take notes.
  • Network at every opportunity. I found my book editor because she happened to sit down next to me at lunch during a writers’ conference and we got to talking.
  • Be as positive as you can be when you meet with an agent. These meetings can seem like cattle calls. You only have ten minutes or so to make a good impression. Be friendly, tell the agent about yourself and your work and engage the agent in a dialogue. Be interesting and engaging. Smiling helps.
  • Never vent about frustrations you have experienced in getting your work published or represented by an agent.
  • Volunteer to “cover” a session for the sponsoring organization’s newsletter. Volunteer newsletter editors have a thankless job and are always looking for articles. You will make two new friends–the editor and the presenter you write about.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the work of authors you came to see. Check out their websites.
  • Be nice to everybody. Treat the volunteer who gives you your name badge and conference packet with the same respect you show to the author you came to see. A minute of boorish behavior can undo a lifetime of good will.
  • Prepare an elevator speech. Don’t make it long–30 second to a minute on who you are and what your work is about.
  • Take an interest in other people’s work. Actively listen to the other writers you meet. Get their contact information and drop them a line telling them it was nice to meet.
  • Don’t let a lack of interest by an agent ruin your day. Agents must be selective. Your work might not be appropriate for them.
  • Don’t walk around with hurt feelings and a scowl on your face because an agent doesn’t take an interest in your manuscript. It will happen more often than not.
  • Finally, if there is a reception where drinks are served, watch your alcohol intake.

For a low-cost resource with a lot more on attending writer;s conferences check out this book by authors Bob Mayer and Jen Talty.

Writer’s conferences will advance your knowledge of the craft, expand your network of contacts and possibly help you to land an agent. I recommend writers attend at least one writer’s conference a year and more if resources allow.

How do you get the most out of writer’s conferences?

 

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What Are You Reading Now?

Writers benefit when they read widely, not only in the genre in which they write, but across all genres, and non-fiction as well as fiction. In addition to the inherent pleasure of reading a good book, writers gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the craft of writing: how to structure a story, character development, use of dialogue, balancing narrative, dialogue and action, creating rising action, and much more.

Each year I set a goal to read 25 books. I just finished reading Ann Patchett’s latest novel, State of Wonder. I’ve always been a big fan of Ann Patchett’s work and her new novel does not disappoint. Here are some books I’ve read recently:

In Zanesville, by Jo Ann Beard

Northwest Corner, by John Burnham Schwartz

Maine, by J. Courtney Sullivan

Innocent, by Scott Turow

Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro

The One That I Want, by Allison Winn Scotch

Decoded, by Jay-Z

Where do I find out about books? I choose books mainly based on reviews in The New York Times, Goodreads, fiction writers’ blogs, or recommendations of friends.

I gravitate toward family sagas, because that’s the genre in which I write, but I also enjoy murder/mysteries, women’s literature, biographies and even the occasional sci-fi thriller. I read mostly for pleasure. Sometimes I am drawn to a  book because of similarities to what I am currently writing. At other times, I select books for research. I read Decoded because I am working on a novella where one of the major characters is a
rapper and I didn’t have a clue about how to write that kind of character. I like Jay-Z’s music and the book gave me some great insights into the psychology and sociology of rap music.

What are you reading now? How do you decide on a book you’re going to read?

 

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