Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I Started Reading this Series in 1986, and I'm Still Not Finished--Brian Katcher


That, ladies and gentleman, is Clark Savage, Jr, AKA, Doc Savage, AKA, The Man of Bronze. His exploits were published in the pulps in the 1930s and 40s, reprinted in the 70s and 80s, with some new works in the 90s and more recently. About two hundred books in all. I've read about 150 of 'em in the past thirty years. I've gone on a binge and read of a few of them this past week.

 I have my uncle to thank for this. He gave me his collection for Xmas of '86.

Doc was the prototype superhero. A crime fighter, adventurer, scientist, and he-man. He was Batman before Batman existed.

He also apparently only owned one shirt.

Doc has been the steadfast rock in my crazy life and it's nice to know that whenever I have nothing to read, I'll always have him (I have a complete collection of his adventures). Of course, I can only read about him exploring a mysterious island where there are still dinosaurs so often, so he's a panacea best used sporadically. 

You'll be 113 years old this year Doc, but you'll always be my hero.

For more about my man crush on Doc, read my thoughts here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What I'm Reading

             What I love about working in a middle school is the constant exposure to books that are old favorites and ones that may become new ones.

              As a language arts teacher, I love introducing new books to kids. Many books I love. Some I don't. With one, I've even chimed in when a student said, "Ugh. I can't stand this book."

              "Not my favorite either," I answered. I hated it, actually. But I didn't go that far.

              And it got me to thinking. We're reading this book. We're going to keep reading it. Let's make the best of it. I started looking for things about the book that validated it. When I found a quote I liked, I marked it down. When a character acted in a repugnant way for no reason whatsoever, I tried to see why (never found out why, but still tried to be non-biased). Each time I encountered something about the book that bugged me, I looked for something that didn't. I got through that book and we moved on to something MUCH better (The Contender by Robert Lipsyte).

                Fast forward to this year. It's time to read above book again. I brace myself, cringe as I open the first pages, and then breathe. This time around, it's not as bad. I'm enjoying it a lot more. I'm picking up on things I didn't the first time around. This book will never be on my list of favorites, but something happened when I decided to give it a chance. Now, when students gripe and moan about it, I can honestly help them see a different perspective.

                I had a similar experience with a different book, but this time I wasn't the one who didn't like the novel. We were about to read FLIPPED. I had never read this before but loved the premise. One of the teachers who had taught it before said it wasn't her thing so I was a little weary opening that first page. But from Bryce's first lines, I fell in love. Not with him because he was not the nicest kid, but with the voices, with Julie, with the perspective and message. I mentioned this to the teacher, and she said, "You know. It's been a while since I've read it. Maybe it's me."

               I don't know if I changed her mind, but my head-over-heels passion for the book definitely made her reread parts and take another look.

               Unfortunately, outside of work, I don't do this. I have an almost seven year old, am working on writing projects, am getting too close to deadline on another and I don't have the luxury of giving a book I don't like a chance. Recently, my library did this AWESOME event called "Blind Date with a Book." Books were wrapped and you knew nothing about it except for the age group (picture, YA, Adult, easy reader, etc.). My son excitedly chose a picture book, and I a YA and adult. Seeing that book unwrapped was better than any blind date I ever had. The YA was one I'd been meaning to read so I was excited about it. The adult was one on my list too because it got lots of awards, was acclaimed, there was a movie. But then I read the first page of adult book and had to put it down. I picked it up a few days later and tried to read two pages. Nope. Not my thing. You know after a while which styles you like and want to put time into.

              But I am glad for my job that allows me to give books many chances, and compel students to do the same.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

What I'm always reading (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Rather than list the specific titles I’m reading now, I thought it might be fun to look at the categories they fall into. I suspect many others have some similar categories in their to-be-read piles:

The friend’s book. I want to read it, not only because it looks good, not only so that I can talk to my friend about it, but also because it has already been sitting here too long, getting buried by other books. Luckily my friend is not likely to take offense at the delay, since chances are that one of my books is also sitting in her immense TBR stack.

The serious, important book. I know I should read it. It will help me understand what’s going on in the world. The quality of the writing will be a good lesson for me as a writer. But I just feel so heavy when I look at it. Like I’m back in school. I’ll save it for a long, rainy afternoon when I can really concentrate. 

The book everyone’s talking about. I don’t necessarily want to read this one. But I feel like I should, just so I’ll understand all the references and inside jokes, and figure out why so many people have bought it.

The gift book. I wouldn’t have bought this for myself, but someone got it for me. I haven’t been in the mood for it yet, but I will try it eventually. (Some gift books miss the mark. Others, like Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris, a gift from my husband, become new favorites of mine.)

The guilty pleasure. It won’t change the world or even my life. But I’m pretty sure it will be fun to read.

The award winner. I want to see what’s being celebrated and admired in YA right now, and why. 

The free book. My library was giving this away! I had to pick it up. I know I’ll want to read it someday.

The book I’m not ready for. I definitely want to read this, either because the subject appeals to me or I love the author’s other work (or both). But I haven’t been in the mood for it yet. I know that when I’m in the right mood, I’ll devour it.

Most of the books in my stacks are just books I know I want to read, but haven’t gotten to yet. I read every day, but I can never catch up. The upside of that is: I’ll never run out of reading material, either.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Month in Books--April 2014--Ellen Jensen Abbott 
I am a pretty constant reader. Downloading the Kindle app to my Android sealed the deal. Now I'm reading on line in the grocery store, during my daughter's orthodontist appointments, and while waiting for car pool. Because I am an English teacher in addition to being a writer, I also read for school. Most of the time, I have more than one book going, and this month was no different. I am currently reading four books, having just finished the fifth. Here's the run-down:

For my Advanced British Literature class, I'm reading Dickens' Great Expectations, a book I have loved for years. If you haven't read it, or haven't read it in a while, seek it out. Read it for its laugh out loud humor, its brilliant characterization (Wemmick with his postbox mouth, Jaggers biting his forefinger, Miss Havisham in her tattered wedding dress), and its mostly unlikable main character rendered likable through Dickens' artful present and future narration. 
For my Advanced Writing Seminar class, I'm reading The Making of a Story, by Alice LaPlante. I've read this book four or five times along with my students and gained new insight into the craft of writing stories each time. I particularly appreciate LaPlante's chapters on point of view and dialogue. And for each chapter on craft, she includes one or two stories/essays which illustrate the element of craft she discussed. Even better for writers, she offers two exercises to practice the same craft element. I wish I could say I've written as many exercises as I've read chapters, but whether you're reading or writing, this is a great book to have on your shelf.

Another book on craft I'm currently in the middle of is The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. This book has rocked my world! Friends who have read my fantasy trilogy (Watersmeet, The Centaur's Daughter, and The Keeper) are surprised that I hadn't read The Writer's Journey before because my books reflect a lot of the structures that Vogler discusses. But this just illustrates the brilliance of The Writer's Journey. Vogler takes Joseph Campbell's theories about the Hero's journey described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (which I have read) and translates each step of the journey into a structure for the archetypal Story. My books seem influenced by Vogler because I've read and internalized so many of the stories that Campbell studied as he developed his theory. So if I recognize these story structures on an intuitive level already, why does The Writer's Journey rock my world? Because Volger takes ideas that all of us know and understand and makes them explicit. His discussions of story structure are clear and cogent and well-illustrated by familiar movies. I was floundering in my current WIP when I picked up The Writer's Journey and suddenly I had the tools I needed to think through the structure of my story. I suspect I will keep The Writer's Journey by my bed for years to come. 

One of the stories I read that Campbell (and therefore Vogler) discusses is Homer's Iliad, and that brings me to the book I just finished, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. This is one of those books I picked up on a Kindle sale because it looked good (I'm addicted to Kindle deals). It wasn't good. It was excellent! (And it also turns out that it won the Orange Prize for Fiction.) It's a retelling of the story of the Trojan War from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles best friend, and in the case of Song of Achilles, love. The novel (Miller's first!) is very well researched and stays true to the events in Homer's epic while still bringing lots of fresh ideas to this fascinating relationship. You don't have to be a Homer buff to enjoy reading this compelling, interesting book. (If you are a Homer buff, you’ll love her depiction of Odysseus.)

And finally, I am reading a book that has also been influenced by The Writer's Journey. I know this because it is The Princess of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen, my friend who recommended Vogler to me. I'm only about 100 pages in, but Meg, the main character, has crossed the Threshold to Adventure (in Vogler/Campbell speak) and I'm hooked. This book is the sequel to The Dragon of Trelian, another book I loved, and a good representative of a constant on my reading list—YA Fantasy.

So what's up for next month? Mrs. Dalloway (Woold), Divergent (Roth—I know—I'm late), Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told you About Being Creative (Kleon), and selected poems from The Oxford Anthology of English Poetry: Blake to Heaney. Better charge my Kindle!

How I Learned to Stop Grumping and Love Book Clubs...and The Books They Read (Jennifer Castle)

Confession: I have a checkered past of enthusiastically joining book clubs, then laming out of them. I always ended up feeling they just weren't my thing. That maybe for me, reading was a personal experience, not a social one. Plus, there was always one person in the club who reminded me of Annoying Goateed Ponytail Guy or Arrogant Pseudo-Intellectual Girl from every English lit class I took in college. No thanks.

So you can imagine my surprise to currently find myself a happy and enthusiastic member of not one but TWO book clubs. And to make things worse, I freaking STARTED one of them. Because here's what I finally figured out:

Book clubs force me to read a hot-damn terrific variety of books. And whether I "like" a book or not, my world gets a little bigger with each one, and with the opportunity to share the reading experience with others.

It happened like this. Not long ago, after meeting so many women my age who FREELY ADMITTED that they enjoyed reading young adult fiction, I had a notion: a YA book club! For grown-ups! Or at least, those of who pass as grown-ups! I mentioned it to a friend. The friend didn't let me forget it and hounded me for oh, a year, until I finally took the leap. Somehow, magically, we pulled together a fantastic group of readers who are also writers, editors, and teachers. Our reading list thus far:

Book: FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell
Dynamic discussion of: Writing. College. Love. Family. Anxiety. Figuring out who you are. Making out on narrow dorm room beds. Making out, period.

Book: CHARM AND STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn
Passionate discussion of: Secrets. Pain. Psychology. Narrative unpeeling, like an onion. (I don't think I can reveal more without spoiling the story.) We were lucky to be able to Skype with Stephanie after our discussion and get amazing insights into her process.

Book: CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein
Fervent discussion of: Friendship. Courage. Fear. War. Survival. Voice. Plot Twists. Brilliantly crafted characters. How to push through slow parts in a book. (Holy spy girl, did I love and ugly cry over this one.)


I read a lot of YA, obvs, but most of these are books I would never have gotten around to. Diversity in reading is like stepping back a little farther to get a much better, more enlightening view of the landscape in front of you.

Around the time of our YA Book Club's first meeting, I finally jumped into another book club that I'd long been flirting with joining. This one has been around for years. I'd gradually gotten to know many of the women in it, and they were all fabulous, so how could I resist? I'm glad I didn't. Otherwise I would have missed out on:

Book: SAVE YOURSELF by Kelly Braffet
Great discussion of: The world of the small town, and how to remake yourself within it. Mistakes and regret. Redemption and salvation. The likeability of beautifully flawed characters. How shifting POV's can add gorgeous layers to a story. We were lucky with this one, too, because Kelly was there in person to illuminate our discussion (it helps that she's, uh, a member of the book club herself).

Book: A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan
Fascinating discussion of: The novel as "concept album." Interlocking stories, timelines, characters. What time does to us. The sheer impressive craft of this book. And the effing brilliance of the PowerPoint chapter, which slayed me. Honestly, the whole thing slayed me. *claps for Jennifer Egan*

Book: DOUBLE FEATURE by Owen King
Discussion of: We shall see! The club meets tonight. But I will say that as a reformed screenwriter and eternal movie-lover, I really enjoyed the themes of family and self-identity seen through the prism of film and filmmaking. And it's such a damn funny book.

Ah. Proud to say I love my book clubs. (The wine, cheese, and chocolate help too, but that's another blog post.)

My book clubs look nothing like this. Thank God.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

So Many Books, Not Enough Bookshelves (Patty Blount)

Do you like the title of this blog post? I just saw it as a Facebook meme from Eloisa James and I had to use it because that's a good indicator of my reading interests.

I met Eloisa when she addressed my local RWA chapter. I adore her fairy tales series, especially When Beauty Tamed the Beast. 

I'm also a huge Kristan Higgins fan, after getting to meet her at another RWA event. I have a mad passionate love affair going with her hero, Levi Cooper, from The Best Man. 

Show of hands, how many of you have heard the names Jeannie Moon or Jennifer Gracen? If you haven't, you will -- I promise. I've had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know both of these talented ladies when I joined my local RWA chapter, the Long Island Romance Writers. Jeannie's third novel in the Forever Love Story series is coming out next month -- it's my favorite in the group. And Jennifer's first novel was just released. It's the first in a new series called Seasons of Love. 

I'm also diving into the New Adult pool. I'm reading a boxed set from Lyla Payne on my Kindle. New Adult is more of a classification than a genre, but it seems like it's beginning to take on genre-like properties. I've been enjoying the discussion -- and the debate -- on what New Adult is. I love authors like Lyla, bravely paving the roads for the rest of us. 

I belong to a great book club called Book Hungry. Our name is a tribute to the first novel we read, The Hunger Games. (See what I did there?) Every month, one of us picks a novel that we discuss, critique, argue about, and eventually review on our respective blogs. Some of us are authors, but all of us are readers and that's what makes it fun. I've read books I've hated, books I expected to hate but loved, and books that left me kind of confused or downright frightened. It's been great fun busting out of my reading rut and finding new things to appreciate and aspire to in my own writing projects. We just had an active and spirited discussion over the final Divergent book, Allegiant. 

If you read last month's YA Outside the Lines post from me, you'll remember that my son and I have a little book club of our own. We've been reading the Game of Thrones and True Blood books together. Which is better -- the book or the HBO show? For Game of Thrones, we agree the show is better, but for the True Blood, we think the books rock. 

I love to read and it shows, doesn't it? Here's a picture of the wall over the window in my living room. I love to read in front of this window. The quote over the window is from Longfellow. It
says "The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books." 

Thursday, April 17, 2014


I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how my reading habits have changed.  I’ve always read voraciously.  But when I was a girl, a book was also something I could sink deep into, give myself to completely.  As the years went by, I slowly stopped reading that way.

As a literature major, I had a prof I really dug who used to tell me that it wasn’t my job to determine whether a book was “good.”  Other, more qualified people had already determined the classics I was reading were good.  My job, he insisted, was to figure out why.

I carried that attitude into my pursuit of publication, post grad school.  I looked at every published book and thought, “Why did an agent rep this?”  “Why did a publisher pick this project?”  Again, I came to a book thinking, “Someone else decided this was good.  Why?”  And I do think this reading technique went a long way toward pushing me toward my own first publication.

Now, though, I find myself drifting back toward the way I once read as a girl.  I’m once again giving myself permission to determine on my own whether or not I think a book is good.  I find myself drifting, too, away from the bells and whistles of technique and back toward story, which is what snagged me as a reader in the first place.  

In fact, I find myself drifting toward story in all sorts of mediums—I allow myself to get invested in TV shows (THE AMERICANS is my current fave); I adore movies (especially vintage), and regularly now turn off the computer, put my WIP aside, and plunge into a new flick.

…I wonder, as I wrap up my current MG and take the first steps into a new project, how this attitude will change my writing from here on out.  That in itself is a story I can’t wait to dig into…