Book Review

Book Review: Joanna Shupe’s Magnate

Every book review should incorporate a fun word like Knickerbocker.

A book review a day later than expected is always tastier than one which shows up at the usual time. Well, that’s my rationale, anyway. And what’s on the menu today? Joanna Shupe’s Magnate, one of the four books in her Knickerbocker Club series.

I generally avoid books which focus on the tribulations of being vastly wealthy. I mean, please.

But I am intrigued by that time period in American history. 1870-1900 was an incredibly exciting time to witness. Industrial growth, extremes of financial fortune, and women’s rights are fascinating themes for an author to explore and to weave in and around the central story arc.

Shupe incorporates all three of these aspects of life in the late 1800’s without missing a beat.

That’s significant because I often find novels set in far-away places or times contrived.

Sometimes it feels as though the author needs to justify her cruise down the Danube to a beleaguered IRS employee. “See here,” she can say, pointing vigorously at chapter 19, “That’s an exact description of the meal I ate in a tiny café near Schonbrunn Palace.”

Or, if it’s a historical, she has probably spent hours and hours in dusty archives. All that curling over ancient documents practically requires a professional masseur. “See the fifteen pages delineating the growth of shirtwaist production?” The IRS agent nods sadly and makes a notation. “That was a four hour massage, right there.”

But to my delight, Shupe respects her readers.

The setting and time frame are so intrinsic to the plot, I was never once distracted by a protracted lecture on, say, the history of the Rossini Club. That sort of information was organic to the flow.

As a reader this matters to me. As a writer, it matters more.

Like any good teacher, Shupe holds back a little. She tells the reader exactly what the reader needs to know. Which makes me curious. And a curious reader is exactly what an author wants.

Now I’m hooked.

And I also have a better sense of how to hook my own readers.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

group

Group Dynamics Redeem Themselves

Turns out joining a group can be fun!

I never had much experience with the benefits of group membership as a child. The groups I was acquainted with were the unpleasant sort. The kind which incorporated mean kids and ruled the playground with an iron fist.

But as an adult, I have slowly come to understand how helpful a group can be both as a social bridge and a professional aid. Which is why I have become such a fan of the writing community and the groups which it forms.

At Rhode Island Romance Writers monthly meetings, I’ve received advice on writing, branding and marketing skills. Just as important, I’ve been able to meet a group of actual writers who, it turns out, are amazingly friendly.

As part of attending the Boston area romance writers conference, I joined New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America (NECRWA). At the conference I had the chance to meet several of the members. They too have been uniformly welcoming and helpful.

The NECRWA conference itself was an extraordinary experience. On a professional level, I was exposed to in depth information on the business of writing and selling books I wouldn’t normally have had access to. But the social aspect, again, took me by surprise.

I made friends.

I don’t know if this is a function of the groups I am meeting, but I’ve been blown away by a universal camaraderie. Experienced authors share information and advised rank beginners with a notable and laudable spirit of generosity. Fellow beginners share their knowledge, secure in the sense that this experience is not about competition but about lifting each other up.

Someday, I will attend the big one – the Romance Writers of America conference. I don’t know whether I will find the same level of welcoming friendliness there, but I think it’s possible.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about writers since I started meeting them, it’s that we all have the same hill to climb and we have to climb it again every day.

This takes a lot of the hierarchy out of writers’ groups.

Because even a million dollar writer starts out every morning the way she did when she first began – staring at a blank sheet and hoping the words will come easy today.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

fortune

Fortune Cookies and the Optimism of Destiny

Fortune cookies are cheerful by nature. Consider their crunch, their smooth surface, their mild sweetness. Note the way they can be snapped into neat halves in one smooth motion.

More importantly, check out the incredibly upbeat messages inside.

For years, every time I had a fortune cookie, I saved the little slips of paper. Now I have a collection of flattering if sometimes conflicting descriptions of myself.

Who doesn’t want to know she is charming, sweet tempered and destined to succeed at whatever she puts her mind to? But none of the fortunes, no matter how varied are negative.

Maybe the people who write the maxims on fortune cookie slips are incurably optimistic. Or maybe they are simply wishful about humanity. A few of them may believe they are changing the world one fortune cookie insert at a time.

And they might be right.

Still, I sometimes wonder what sorts of descriptions and predictions might arrive in my cookies if the writer was having a bad day. You are temperamental and have a tendency toward procrastination, one slip might say. Avoid Gluttony – Start by not eating this cookie, might be another one.

Or how about: The path before you is difficult. Go back to bed.

I’m not quite sure why I keep those little slips. The messages are neither deep nor personally insightful. But somehow I can’t make myself throw them out.

They’re a bit like a smile from a baby in a passing stroller. The smile isn’t personal. The baby doesn’t know you. But still, a baby’s smile has a kind of intrinsic value regardless of what the baby was thinking at the time.

The fortune cookie strips I keep are like this – impersonal but still bearing an odd significance.

Among the pile of paper strips, the one I love most is the one I understand the least.

He is kissing her triding keepsake.

I still wonder what the writer meant by that.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

organization

Organization: The Science of Optimism

I love organization books and tips.

When my children were babies and I was dogpaddling in a sea of dirty laundry, I happened on an organization book by Pam Young and Peggy Jones called Sidetracked Home Executives. The sister authors recommended an index card system of chore scheduling and you know how much I love index cards.

But eventually, I grew into other organization books. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was my bible for a while. His focus is on determining the relative importance of each task in the greater scheme of your life. If your life’s dream to juggle porcupines you will prioritize for practicing that skill over, say, washing the bugs out of your kitchen light fixture.

Then I stumbled on Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Allen’s philosophy of listing every single thing you want and need to do in your life is another way to decipher what is important to you. It’s a good way to de-clutter your brain. A bit like Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Although you don’t end up with a satisfying collection of eleven bulging boxes of goods to unload at your local Goodwill at the end of the session.

So I was delighted to happen on Anna Carrasco Bowling’s June 28th blog entry.

In it Bowling describes how she organizes her daily goals. She color codes the items in large groups. Essentials and big ongoing projects like editing or drafting different manuscripts each have their own color.

But what I love most is the category Bowling calls Problem Solving. She defines it as “anything I need to do before I could get down to business, or could affect my ability to write that day.” What is so brilliant about this, is the idea of scheduling time to think.

We all schedule our time, but what gets written on our lists are physical activities. There is a time for cooking, for cleaning, for writing, for bill paying, even for play.

Rarely do we block out time on our calendars for thought.

We should. Because thinking is the hardest part of our work. And the easiest to avoid.

So next time I write a to do list, I’m pulling out my colored pens and focusing on what’s most important in my day. Problem Solving.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Public Opinion

Public Opinion and Cookie Recipes

Public opinion can be devastating.

Remember the first time you realized someone didn’t like you? A classmate, or perhaps one of those playmates you had to get along with because your mother was friends with her mother. Maybe it was the neighbor boy across the street who always called you names while you waited for the bus.

As we grow up, we stop expecting to be liked by everyone. But then, we have children. And we relive that difficult realization all over again. It’s worse watching your child process social rejection than experiencing it yourself.

One of the hard parts of writing novels is how much you hope other people will like them. I’m not accustomed to worrying about whether people like me anymore. And I’m beginning to think that might be a reasonable approach to writing novels as well.

Of course, if you want readers, you must supply a product a reader can enjoy and want more of. There is no point in whipping up a batch of olive-cauliflower-limburger cheese cookies if no one can get past the smell long enough to take a bite. You certainly won’t be selling a boxed set of them.

So I’m not saying public opinion doesn’t matter.

But I do think, as authors, we have to remember our novels are not our children. Well, obviously. Children bear a disturbing resemblance to deciduous trees, but no novel will leave a chicken wing behind his bedroom door for a week. No novel will climb into your bed at five in the morning with a soaking wet diaper and ask for a cuddle.

Novels are not our progeny, they are our products. If someone didn’t like your product, you wouldn’t run into your room to lick your wounds. Instead, you would ask how it might be improved. Then you might take that information and turn your olive-cauliflower-limburger cheese cookies into chocolate mousse tartlets and make a fortune.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Friday

Friday is One Day We Can’t Do Without

Don’t Cancel Friday!

Recently I drove by a local church which hosts an annual fair for the weekend. But this year the sign listed the times the fair was open with the following caveat: Friday has been cancelled.

Really? Was my first thought. And then: is this a temporary cancellation or a permanent one? I mean I can see cancelling Friday occasionally, the ones with papers due, final exams or a bathtub which needs scrubbing. But if this is a permanent situation, I am concerned.

Cancelling Friday leaves us with six days a week. The immediate issue is, of course, the iconic Beatles’ song, Eight Days a Week. When there are seven days per week, the chorus sounds like a cheerful exaggeration. But if we lose Fridays and establish a six day week, the lyrics lose their punch.

I don’t have to tell you how catastrophic that would be.

For Muslims, Friday is the Sabbath,  for Jews it is Sabbath Eve. In either case, cancelling Friday would lead to general crabbiness among the many folks who depend on that day to rest and rejuvenate. It would be the  religious equivalent of cancelling nap time.

Never a good idea.

All of these reasons are important, but the most significant impact of going Friday-less from my perspective is the library book issue. First, I go to the library most Fridays so I don’t have to be book starved on the weekend.

More importantly, at present the books are due two weeks, fourteen days after I take them out. If we cancel each Friday, I will have only twelve days to finish my reading. This means something in my calendar will have to give. Because it certainly isn’t going to be my reading schedule.

So I’m not complaining, because cancelling Friday might just be my best excuse ever for not scrubbing the bathtub.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Book Review

Book Review: Nick Petrie’s Burning Bright

Book Review Wednesday strikes again!

Whether I’m reading a romance, a suspense novel, a mystery or even non-fiction, I’m a sucker for good writing. Which is why this week’s book review is about Nick Petrie’s Burning Bright.

I plucked it from the library shelf primarily because I am fond of Blake’s poem, The Tyger, which should tell all of us authors something about the impact of title choice. I checked the book out and brought it home not because of the review quotes on the back cover but because of the endorsement from Lee Child on the front cover.

If you write a novel whose main character is like Petrie’s Peter Ash, you can’t do better than an endorsement from Lee Child.

And, true to that endorsement, Peter Ash has a lot in common with Jack Reacher. Both are former military and have super hero level physical and mental skills. Both men wander about the country avoiding permanent attachment to things and people. Although, in Ash’s case, this is an attribute he would like to change.

Which makes me curious to find out how Ash will grow emotionally in the next book and the one after that.

But the real reason I will read the previous novel in the series, The Drifter and wait impatiently for the third, is because of sentences like these:

“He had wide, knuckly hands and the thoughtful eyes of a werewolf a week before the change.”

And this:

“A beer truck came at them, eating the whole lane.”

And, oh my goodness, this one:

“A car drove by, the sound of its tires on the still-wet pavement like painter’s tape peeling off the roll.”

There is a sensory precision in these gifts of sentences. And Petrie tosses them into the mix of his story with the careless precision of a master chef. Taste it for yourself, and tell me what you think.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

perfect

Perfect. Exactly What You Don’t Want.

Perfect is not the goal.

You can learn how to write a perfect first draft by taking college level courses, by hiring a coach, by lots and lots of practice and, my personal favorite by going to a pub.

Last week, my husband and I were on the road in Portland, Maine and happened to choose Andy’s Old Port Pub for dinner. The food was good but the music was better.

The Unsinkable Ronda Dale and her pick up crew of excellent musicians served up a platter of blues, country, R & B and a whole bunch of other songs you probably recognize but don’t remember the words to. Some of the attendees were friends but Ronda drew strangers in too.

As customers settled into their seats, Ronda included each one in her performance. Some picked up a microphone to join her in a song. Those who were too shy to sing, were handed rhythm instruments. Ronda didn’t ask if you had music experience before handing out shakers or if you had performance skills before sharing a microphone. Because perfect was not the point. Fun was.

And this is also the thing to remember about beginning a manuscript.

If it’s perfect, you are doing it wrong.

Writers have issues with first drafts. Okay, I have issues with first drafts. But I’m guessing you do too. It’s safer to get sidetracked into fixing errors than to risk a leap forward.

This is an excellent way to remain at not quite perfect chapter three for the rest of your life. Fun? Not.

And this is wrong, because writing, like musical improvisation is a chance to play and chances to play don’t come along often when one is a responsible adult with boring obligations like taking out the trash every Wednesday night and bringing the cans back in every Thursday..

So, if you visit Portland on the second Tuesday of the month, stop at Andy’s Pub for the most fun you’ve had in a while. If Ronda invites you to sing, say yes. Even if you can’t sing and you don’t remember the words.

And if you want to finish that first draft, take a piece of paper, nail it to your wall and inscribe it with the following in big red letters: It’s a frickin’ first draft. It shouldn’t be perfect.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Energy

Energy Currents and the Writing Cycle

Writing with Energy.

Yesterday evening, energy flagging, I pulled my car to a stop at a deserted rotary. In the shadow of an overpass, a black sign board crouched. The letters, upper case for seriousness were picked out with yellow bulbs. They glowed in the twilight.

Night Work Begins.

I wasn’t sure whether the pronouncement was meant as a warning, a promise, or a prediction. Maybe the person who chose the wording ran out of space for the date on the front and had to put the rest of the message on the back of the sign. Perhaps the head of the DPW ordered something prosaic in the vein of Road Work Ahead.

Instead, that employee created a shimmering invitation, a tantalizing whisper of mystery.

Because each word pulses with an energy of its own.

I associate night with quiet endings, projects laid aside, lingering caresses drifting into dream. But the thriller reader in me links darkness of night with obscured vision and hidden menace.

Night can symbolize danger but also promise. Midnight, the tipping point into tomorrow, has a distinct sort of momentum, an excitement of its own. Midnight is the moment of change.

Beginnings invigorate even while they are scary. Beginning a new relationship, a new direction, or even starting that novel you always dreamed of writing creates as much energy as it consumes.

And work? The act of writing surges with energy.

Even on days I hate the process, I use energy to hate it. On days I love it, my writing carries me as much as I carry it. But even when the words come easily, when the plot falls into place and the characters do exactly what they need to do, it’s due to night work.

I write, plot, edit and re-edit during the day but huge leaps happen overnight.

The energy we absorb, redirect and share during the day doesn’t dissipate when we close our eyes. It snaps and sizzles its way from one idea to another, interconnecting thoughts and ideas in ways we cannot predict. And could not have linked as easily any other way.

Some of my best writing happens when Night Work Begins.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Book Review

Book Review: Good Naked, Reflections on Writing

A book review on a Monday?

Normally I do a book review, if I do one at all, on a Wednesday. But this one couldn’t wait. Because even two days without Joni B. Cole’s Good Naked on your shelf is too long.

I generally borrow a book from the library and sample it before making the leap to purchase. A book has to be compelling and enduring to make it onto the seat of glory which is my writer’s bookshelf. You know, it has to have a long shelf life.

Members of this elite group have to be useful resources without being egotistical. Okay, Stein on Writing is egotistical, but he’s entitled. And it’s nothing personal.

The Elements of Style is more like a dictionary. You can be fond of it, and I am. Still, it’s hardly something you turn to when you are looking for consolation.

But last time I visited the library, I accidentally ended up in the non-fiction section of new books. And I was lured into sampling Cole’s delightful guide to writers.

I’m a sucker for a serious writer who laces her work with a puckish sense of humor.

And Cole does.

Good Naked is a coherent account of the challenges and joys of writing. But it’s also a series of freestanding essays. Each one addresses a single writer issue with a kind of brisk compassion you hope for in a good therapist. Cole discusses handling destructive criticism, the mythical literary advantages of being a tortured soul and writer’s block in a way only someone who has dealt with these issues can.

Each essay is like the conversation you wish you could have over a cup of tea and a plate of scones on the back porch of your friend’s home overlooking the river. Boats laze in the sun. A bee bumbles through the overgrown rose bushes. And you are laughing because what your friend is saying is so funny but also so true.

I’m buying Good Naked. Because when I am stuck, it’s good to be reminded I’m not the only person who has ever fought this particular battle before. And to remember that the sorts of battles writers fight with their spiky pens, laser sharp pencils and laptop shields are winnable.

Good Naked belongs on every writer’s bookshelf.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.