Archive for category: Book clubs

I’ve been feeling stressed over my reading.

I get this way sometimes. I’m a reader, but I wouldn’t use the word “voracious.” I go through periods of voraciousness, but then I have quieter periods as well.

In the writing world, especially, there’s a ton of pressure (and it’s real) to always be reading. I get it. Reading with a critical eye can help improve a writer’s craft—to a certain extent.

But writers need to write. They need to write regularly. They need to get comfortable with revising. They need to develop a ruthlessness about their own work. None of these things comes from reading.

So while reading is one item in the writer’s toolbox, it’s not the only thing. Nor is it the most important, in my opinion. I know many voracious readers who struggle conveying their thoughts clearly on the page. But it’s also true that I do NOT know any good writers who don’t read at least somewhat regularly.

It’s a balancing act, for sure, especially when there are other storytelling mediums (media?) that can serve as teaching tools as well. We’re living in a Golden Age of television (that started with The Sopranos). Writers CAN learn many aspects of craft and storytelling from watching TV, although your snootiest writers would likely say otherwise.

I don’t apologize for watching TV. I think visually, so great TV is a great playground for me. I’m pretty much exclusive to Netflix these days. Binging does affect what I’m able to take in and process, so I will binge and then go back after some time and re-watch shows with a critical eye. I’ve done this with The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, The West Wing, The Newsroom, Dexter, and probably others I’ve forgotten. I’ll often watch pilot episodes a half dozen times, since pilots (when done well) effectively and efficiently set up the narrative and characters.

Anyhow, back to my point.

Despite everything I just said above, I still feel self-conscious when I get to the end of the year having read only 10-20 books and some of my colleagues have read 60, 70, even 80 books.

I do think I could—and should—read more. I definitely waste a lot of time doing stupid stuff (ruminating is a biggie), so my goal for 2017 is to shift my mindset when I get anxious and ruminating-y and do something else. Not just reading, either. Getting out and about. But definitely reading more.

So first up is this book: American Heiress by Jeffery Toobin.

It’s for a book club I’ll be crashing later this month. I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book on my own. Going in, I was only mildly interested in Patty Hearst. But the book IS good—and not just because of the sensational story that it was (and still is), but also because it’s providing me with a sense of time in history that I’ve paid little attention to. I was born in 1973, so while I was alive during these events, I obviously don’t remember them…or even have a sense of the time.

In terms of the book (I’m about half way through it), my biggest nit so far is Toobin’s vocabulary. He’s obviously a smart guy (regular writer for The New Yorker, after all), and he loves impressive words (which are probably normal words to him, and probably normal for the average New Yorker reader). I have no problem with this. I’ve acknowledged over the years that I have a weak vocabulary. No shame in that, since I’m aware and am constantly trying to improve. I’m friendly with my online and paper dictionary and love learning new words.

That said, certain words should be used only once in a book (e.g. whipsawed, peripatetic, perfidy—several of these are used within a few pages, and even a few paragraphs, of their first mention). All are great words, but let’s mix it up a bit.

I don’t blame Toobin as much I blame his editor. A good editor should save a writer from himself or herself. I suspect Toobin wrote most of these words. But the editor should have flagged the second and third mentions, especially when such great synonyms exist. For example, perfidy and treachery. They mean the same thing, and they’re both good words.

After this book, I might read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. It’s been sitting on my shelf forever.

What are you reading?

I visited a book club in Uxbridge, Mass., last night and we discussed all things related to What Happened in Granite Creek. They had fabulous questions and plenty of insightful comments. It’s always fun to get in the trenches with readers and hear what they have to say about the books they read.

A question I’m sometimes asked is how people can help get the word out about my book. I’m always hugely humbled that people are so willing to help. I created a little checklist below—this applies to ANY book you fall in love with, especially books by emerging authors. Please share!

13 Ways to Help a Book You Love

I’ve been rounding up the questions I’ve gotten from recent book club visits and creating blog posts where I answer ’em. Here’s Part I. Here’s Part II. Below, is Part III.

Q: What are some of your favorite books and authors?

A: Favorite authors include Lionel Shriver, Jodi Picoult, Chris Bohjalian, Susan Orlean, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, and Jo Ann Beard. Favorite books include The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. My favorite essay is “The Fourth State of Matter” by Jo Ann Beard. Favorite authors from my youth include Judy Blume and Jack London. Favorite books from my youth include Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatly Snyder, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie, “To Build a Fire” by Jack London, and “The Veldt” by Raymond Bradbury. The last two are both short stories.

Q: How do you handle it when book club members don’t like your book?

A: Here’s how I set up book club visits: I always join the group — either in person or via phone — about half way through the meeting. That way, if members don’t like the book, they can talk about it freely without worrying about me sitting in and listening. It makes it more comfortable for everyone. Then, when I join the meeting/conversation, members can ask me questions — questions about the story, character development, my writing process, you name it. My time with clubs tends to be less about who loved or hated the book and more about the craft of writing, so it’s a win-win for all involved. Even if people don’t like the book, I find they’re usually still open to hearing how I developed the story, my process, etc. I haven’t encountered any impolite members yet — everyone has been awesome. 🙂

Q: Do you have any novels that you haven’t released?

A: Yup. In this blog post, I talk about the fact I’m not a novel virgin. In my 20s, I was working on a novel called Lily’s Legs. Lily, I think, was a thinly veiled version of myself, and I’m still not sure why her legs were so important that they warranted being in the title. That’s a dead book, and I hope it never sees the light of day, since I have no idea what it was about. In between Forgotten April and What Happened in Granite Creek, I started on another novel…but it just wasn’t coming together. I also wrote a few short stories, some of which were published and/or I published. After Granite Creek, I spent almost nine months working on what I thought would be my third book. It wasn’t happening, and I finally put it aside, but I may come back to it. I’m now working on book 3.5, as I call it, and I’m confident this will be my next release. Having fits and starts appears to be part of my process.

Q: Did you try to get traditionally published?

A: Yes. I queried various drafts of Forgotten April — long before it was called Forgotten April — to agents. I had requests for partial and full manuscripts. I received compliments and encouraging remarks from agents, but no offer for representation. I swore I’d never ever self-publish, but that all changed in the summer of 2010 when I had an epiphany. I’m still interested in traditional publishing if it makes sense for everyone involved. My goal is to write fiction full time and make a good living doing it. I’ll happily consider whatever gets me to that goal, be it self-pubbing only, traditional publishing, or a hybrid model (I feel the latter option is the most likely scenario at this point). But who knows? The publishing landscape has changed dramatically in the two years I’ve been self-pubbing. It will be interesting to see what happens during the next two years.

A couple of  weeks ago, I shared the first installment in questions from book clubs. Here’s part two.

Q: When do you write?

A: For me, I try to hit a daily word count of 1000 words (seven days a week, including holidays). Do I stick to this schedule 100 percent? Nope. But I’d say 90 percent of the time I do, especially when I’m deep in a draft. As for when, I prefer early mornings, but that’s not always possible, so it comes down to whenever I can — that might mean afternoon or even late at night (last resort) just to get the words down and keep the rhythm going. The key is “butt in chair.” That’s the only way a novel gets written.

Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?

A: Margaritas and Law & Order SVU marathons. Only kidding. Mostly. Listen, negative reviews are all part of the game. They can sting, but the key is to avoid fixating on ’em. That’s the part some authors can’t get past and then said authors do something crazy like respond directly to a review, which almost never ends well. All books have bad reviews. Look up any favorite book on Amazon — be it a classic, a commercial best seller, a self-pubbed book, whatever. If it has a wide enough readership (and this is a key point), it will have some 2-star and 1-star reviews. I’m not the first person to say this, but reviews are written for readers, not authors. A review reflects one person’s opinion. Some writers say they don’t read their reviews. Right now, I still do. But I try not to get too hyped up over the good ones or too down over the bad ones. It’s hard at times, but overall, it works for me.

Q: How can we help you get the word out about your work?

A: My answers here are true for ALL authors, not just me. If you love a book, tell a friend. Tell many friends. Seriously, happy readers are a writer’s best form of advertisement. Consider writing a review. Tell a friend (do a status update on FB, for example). Send the author a note (we love hearing from readers). Tell a friend. Follow the author on social media. Add the author’s book(s) to your Goodreads shelves. Oh, and did I mention you should tell a friend? Yes. That. 🙂

I’ve been doing more book club visits, and I absolutely LOVE the questions that members ask me. I thought I’d do a roundup of some of the most popular questions and answer them in a couple of blog posts. Here are the first three:

Q: Do I outline?

A: Not in the traditional sense. I don’t start with an outline. But with Granite Creek, after getting 80 percent of the draft done, I went back and did a chapter-by-chapter outline so I could see what happened, where the gaps were, and double check the timeline (dates, ages, etc). I didn’t do this for Forgotten April.

However, at 23,000 words into my current WIP, I’ve stopped and I have started a skeleton chapter-by-chapter outline, because it’s clear that I need to move things around, and I feel ready now to write things in order. Most of the 23K words I’ve written so far are necessary, but I’ll be gutting, deepening, and revising. The outline is helping me map it out.

Q: Do I ever suffer from writer’s block?

A: I don’t believe in writer’s block. That doesn’t mean a writer won’t have tough writing days or pain-in-the-ass scenes that require some distance or moments when the prose isn’t coming out as easily as other times. But that’s not a block. Usually, for me anyway, it’s a sign I need to walk away and take a break. Often, just a mere 24 hours away from my desk provides the distance or the rest my noggin needs.

Q: Do I ever read something after it’s published and wish I’d chosen a different word or used a different phrase?

A: Absolutely! And I know I’m not alone. I’ve attended readings where the author is reading from his or her printed, bound, published book, and the author is making notes/changes in the margins as he/she reads. Perfection is the goal, but impossible to achieve.

I’ll have more Q&A next week. If you have any specific questions for me, feel free to leave them in the comments or email me directly.

Writers, how ’bout you? How would you answer some of these questions? Share in the comments.

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a Forgotten April reading group guide available, which is perfect for book clubs.

Download it now by clicking on this link (it opens a PDF): Reading Group Guide – Forgotten April.

This, of course, brings me to my next point: now that summer is just about over and the kiddos are heading back to school, book clubs will be meeting in full force again.

If you know of any that are looking for some women’s fiction to read — in the spirit of Jodi Picoult, Chris Bohjalian, or Jennifer Weiner — mention Forgotten April and send ’em to this here site.

And let them know I’m available for book club visits: in person, if people are local to Boston. Or via Skype or conference call.

Or if you would like to have me at your book club, even better!

I’ll be available to do the same with novel #2: What Happened in Granite Creek, which is coming out in October.

Read on! 🙂


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A friend of mine recently told me about an interesting thing she did for her book club. I’d recommended that she read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. She brought this recommendation to book club and added an interesting element: read A Moveable Feast AND The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which is written in the voice of Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife. A Moveable Feast recounts Papa’s time in Paris with Hadley, and McLain herself was inspired to write her book while she was reading A Moveable Feast.

I thought the idea was brilliant.

My friend said the book club discussion went well, even though not everyone could get through Hemingway’s memoir (a book I love, by the way).

This got me thinking about other “book duos” that can lead to enriching discussions. During my MFA program, we read Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty about her friendship with the late author Lucy Grealy, and we read Grealy’s magnificent Autobiography of a Face. Our instructor didn’t dictate what order we read the books in…I read Patchett’s first, and I’m sure that tainted my reading of Grealy’s work, which had been published years earlier. Still, it led to a fascinating discussion.

What other book duos can you think of? I want to start a running list. Leave your ideas in the comments.

PS — that’s Ernest Hemingway’s passport photo circa 1923 on the right — I love old pics.

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We’re snowbound here in the Northeast. This doesn’t matter too much to me since I work from home. Still nice to have an official excuse not to shower or go out. (Not that I need one.)

So I wanted to share two things: a cool find for book club lovers (and authors who would like to reach them) and my latest book trailer (I’m loving Animoto‘s software — what fun)!

Book Movement describes itself as a place where over 27,000 (!) book clubs share and talk about the books they love. Members can create a page for the book club, and there’s info on how to start a book club for newbies. It also has great advertising opps for authors. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments below. Or if you’re already a member, let us know how you like it.

Okay, and here’s my book trailer for “Orange Pineapple,” which I released last October. Make sure you have your speakers turned on/up. If you like it and want to share it, you can pick up the embed info from my YouTube Channel here. Please share!

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