Friday Fiction: The Power of Three

Among the mainstays in the world of fiction is the TRILOGY. As I cracked upon Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, I wondered why a set of three is so common. 

 

It made me think how decorators are always saying that knick-knacks, vases, and other décor should come in sets of three because that is more appealing to the eye. There are the clichés that “Good things come in threes” or “Bad things come in threes,” depending on whether you are hearing it from an optimist or a pessimist. My own faith, Christianity, values the number three since God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit constitute the Trinity. More threes include the Three Musketeers, the Three Stooges,  three Charlie’s Angels, three branches of government, three parts of a nucleus, the three Chipmunks, three primary colors, Christopher Columbus’s three ships, and three judges on American Idol (that fourth one never worked). 

So are we just fascinated by threes, and thus the fictional trilogy seems the perfect length to tell a tale? After all, when we talk of a story having a beginning, a middle, and an end, that’s another three. 

Here are a few of the fiction trilogies I’ve read.  

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – The ultimate fantasy trilogy which set the standard for many that followed. The Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, and Return of the King relate the tale of a reluctant hobbit and his friends’ quest to overcome forces of evil in Middle-earth.

Maggie Quinn vs. Evil – Author Rosemary Clement-Moore calls this a series, but until she writes a fourth book (go right ahead, Rosemary!) I’m calling it a trilogy, which I read this year. Prom Dates from Hell, Hell Week, and Highway to Hell are the three so far, which deal with Maggie Quinn and her brushes with demons. 

Midnighters Trilogy – Written by Scott Westerfeld, this young adult trilogy consists of The Secret Hour, Touching Darkness, and Blue Noon. It’s a fascinating series about teenagers with supernatural abilities and evil lurking at midnight. 

Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis – Consisting of The Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, this science fiction trilogy takes place in three planets of our solar system. Lewis had started a fourth, The Dark Tower, but he didn’t finish before his death in 1963. 

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Okay, I know it’s not a trilogy, but it was originally intended to be. I did read Hitchhiker’s Guide, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, the Universe, and Everything. Adams still used the word trilogy, calling Mostly Harmless “the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named trilogy.” And I think that’s funny, so I’m keeping it on the trilogy list! 

There are several others that began as a trilogy (The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice), caught fire, and led to a slew of books in the series. It’s awfully tempting for an author to keep giving readers what they seem to want and are definitely willing to buy. (Check out this interesting article about “Trilogy Creep” –  the strange tendency of trilogies to expand and see more and more works added.) Mind you, I only read the first three of Rice’s vampire series and happily have no idea what happened after that; presumably more blood-sucking. 

What do you think of trilogies?  Why are they so popular?  What trilogies have you read?  Which ones would you recommend?

So Writer, What’s Your Day Job?

Instead of talking about books today, I’m talking about writers!  Actually, about writers before they could pay the bills as writers. 

When people ask me what I do now, I respond that I am a writer.  If they probe about where they can buy my books, I have to add the word “unpublished” or “unpaid.”  (I do not say “aspiring” because I don’t aspire to write; I do write.)  But no shame in that, people!  Most full-time authors start out with other jobs that pay their mortgage and utilities until they can strike out on the book tours and interviews that accompany a best-seller and a writing career.  

Bob from The Incredibles tries a day job

Here are a few examples of the day jobs of famous authors (before they hit it big): 

Douglas Adams – Security Guard

Mary Higgins Clark – Radio Script Writer

Stephen King – High School English Teacher

Stephenie Meyer – Stay at Home Mom

Nicholas Sparks – Pharmaceutical Salesman

Kurt Vonnegut – Saab Dealership Manager 

But of course, you can find best-selling authors with just about any day job in their past.  Because in case you think you should simply declare yourself an author and quit your day job, you might want to rethink that. 

In addition, plenty of authors keep their day job even after publishing.  In the tough competitive world of book sales, it often makes sense to keep that anchor.  Moreover, you might find that your day job lends to your writing in helping you come up with ideas, dialogue, etc.  You might also simply enjoy both your day job and your writing (see Jeff Kinney, author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid). 

Admittedly, for myself, I have my fabulous husband paying the bills.  Call me a kept woman, if you wish!  But I do have a “day job,” so to speak.  I am a stay-at-home mom, housekeeper (so wish I could hire this one out), and volunteer.  And yes, I include volunteer because it requires time and effort to work in the school library, write and prepare Bible class lessons, and co-direct a kids’ camp.  Between those tasks, writing, and (okay) long lunches with friends from time to time, I stay busy. 

So what is the perfect day job that facilitates writing?  Screenwriter John August suggests a few criteria in his post Good Day Jobs for Writers and Others.  Moreover, author Jennifer Jabley makes a great case for keeping the day job in her post for Writer Unboxed. 

If you are a fiction writer, what’s your day job?  How are keeping the roof over your head and food in your belly?  Do you hope to be able to quit that job someday?  Do you want to keep it?  Why?

Friday Fiction: Celebrities Write for Children

North Shore Books, North Muskegon, MI

Last week, I talked about how celebrities (actors, comedians, politicians, etc.) often try their hand at writing books (last week’s post). You can add the word “author” to the bios of Carrie Fisher, Steve Martin, William Shatner, and Pamela Anderson. Celeb novels range in quality, but I did make a point of saying that Fannie Flagg is a wonderful author and, in my opinion, only a so-so actress. So I guess she at least has found her calling. 

There are plenty of celebrities also writing children’s books!  Here a few I’ve found: 

Julie Andrews – The Broadway and screen star of such beloved tales as The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and Princess Diaries, Julie Andrews has authored children’s books for over thirty-five years, including some co-written with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton. Titles include The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles, the Dumpy the Dump Truck series, and Simeon’s Gift. 

Jamie Lee Curtis – Known for appearances in Halloween, True Lies, and Freaky Friday, she starred in one of my favorite films – A Fish Called Wanda. But she began writing children’s books when she told her own story of adopting a child in Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born. Since then, she has written several others, including Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods that Make My Day and When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth.

Sarah Ferguson – Ah, what’s a duchess to do with her spare time! Apparently, one option is to write children’s books. Thus, Sarah Ferguson, the spunky Duchess of York, has penned Tea for Ruby and the Little Red series. 

Whoopi Goldberg – Comedian, actress, and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg authored Alice back in 1992, an urban retelling of Alice in Wonderland. But she is better known for co-writing the series Sugar Plum Ballerinas with Deborah Underwood. 

Fred Gwynne – Yes, he was Herman Munster. But did you know that he had a role in On the Waterfront? In addition, before his death in 1993, Gwynne wrote and illustrated several children’s books, with wordplay titles such as The King Who Rained, A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, and A Little Pigeon Toad. 

John Lithgow – Known for television roles in Harry and the Hendersons and 3rd Rock from the Sun, Lithgow also launched a children’s music career in 1999. Then he authored several children’s books, including The Remarkable Farkle McBride and Micawber. 

Madonna – If you had told me back in the 1980’s when she was wearing lace bustiers and singing about her sexuality that Madonna would one day write children’s books, I would have called you crazy. But motherhood can alter your priorities. And so Madonna indeed authored the much-touted The English Roses which has spawned a series. 

Henry Winkler – Arthur Fonzarelli is now Author Winkler. Having experienced dyslexia firsthand, he has co-written a series of books with Lin Oliver about a dyslexic adolescent named Hank Zipzer. There are seventeen books in the series now. 

Of the ones listed above, I have only read a couple of Winkler’s Hank Zipzer series and a few from John Lithgow. However, I distinctively remember reading Marsupial Sue by Lithgow to my children when they were younger. 

Do you know of any other celebrities who have penned children’s books? Have you read any of the above? If so, what did you think? Once again, do you have an opinion on actresses, politicians, and other celebs writing books? Do you think it’s a good use of their creativity or a diabolical plot to keep the rest of us from getting published?

Friday Fiction: A Secret to Getting Published

Want to become a best-selling author? I have the secret to unbridled success! Become a celebrity first. 

Of course, celebrities have long been known for publishing memoirs, autobiographies, and tell-all books. But in recent years, a large number of the famed and fortuned has dabbled in the world of fiction – with mixed results. Some of these authors are genuinely creative individuals whose ability to convey a story on the screen translates well to telling a story on the page. Others are less . . . well, gifted, shall we say. 

But when I see the words “New York Times Bestselling Author Nicole Richie” on the cover of a novel, I have to wonder if my efforts at publication should have included being born to a pop singer icon. Nevertheless, here are few authors who have entered the world of fiction: 

Carrie Fisher – Best known as Princess Leia in Star Wars (although my favorite role of hers was Marie in When Harry Met Sally), Carrie has authored several novels including Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, and Postcards from the Edge. 

Fannie Flagg – In case you’re not old enough to recall, Fannie Flagg was an actress in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Her acting credits include three appearances on The Love Boat as three different characters! But her writing career has overshadowed her acting with books like Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man. Her most recent release is I Still Dream about You. 

Gene Hackman – This actor’s credits are too numerous to name, although I probably became aware of him when he portrayed Lex Luthor to Christopher Reeve’s Superman. He co-wrote three novels with Daniel Lenihan but has set out on his own for his latest release, Payback at Morning Peak. 

Jimmy Buffett – The singer who has inspired a lot of tequila consumption through his hit, Margaritaville, is also an author of three novels – one co-written with Helen Lansford. The other two are Where is Joe Merchant? and A Salty Piece of Land. 

Kirk Douglas – The unmatchable Kirk Douglas is not only an amazing actor, the original Spartacus, and father to actor Michael Douglas, he is an author as well with three novels to his name: Dance with the Devil, The Gift, and Last Tango in Brooklyn. 

Meg Tilly – Best known for her role in The Big Chill, Meg Tilly was also Sister Agnes in Agnes of God. She still acts from time to time (e.g., Mother in Caprica) but is now the author of Singing Songs, Porcupine, and Gemma. 

Nicole Richie – Yes, this daughter of former Commodore Lionel Richie, then reality TV star (The Simple Life), and BFF to Paris Hilton has penned two novels:  The Truth about Diamonds and Priceless. 

Pamela Anderson Known for being C.J. in Baywatch, Lisa the Tool Girl in Home Improvement, and wife to Tommy Lee and Kid Rock, bombshell Pamela Anderson has written Star and Star Struck. 

Steve Martin – Almost a modern-day Renaissance man, he tells jokes, acts in movies, plays incredible banjo, and writes novels. Formerly a “wild and crazy guy” on SNL, Steve Martin has penned The Pleasure of My Company, Shopgirl, and An Object of Beauty. 

Tyra Banks – Supermodel, talk show host, and America’s Next Top Model producer, Tyra is coming out with her own novel in September titled (of course) Modelland. 

William Shatner – Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek, T.J. Hooker in the series of the same name, Denny Crane in Boston Legal, and many more TV series appearances are in William Shatner’s bio. Beyond those achievements, and his Priceline gig, he has authored over twenty books, including the popular science fiction Tek and Quest for Tomorrow series.  

I haven’t read most of these, so I am by no means recommending that you pick up these novels– except for Fannie Flagg who is wonderful – but I find it interesting that these celebs are channeling their creative juices into writing fiction. So maybe I should rethink my plan and try to get on a reality show! However, I don’t have any crippling addictions (my love of Coca-Cola doesn’t count); I’m not a rich, single gal looking to date 20 men to find a hubby; and I don’t want to race across the world in record time. Oh well. 

Just so you know, I did not include any celebrities whose books listed a second author, although certainly some of the titles above could have been ghost-written. And I plan to cover celebrity children’s book authors another time. If you want to see more information about celebrities who write, check out the following websites: The Millions: Celebrity Book Club, Culture Mob: Celebrity Authors and the Books They Write, and Celebrity Cowboy: 40 Celebrity Book Authors 

Have you read any of these books? How do you feel about celebrities taking up their pen?  Do you feel they have an unfair advantage? Or do they have something unique to offer given their background and creativity? Do you know other celebrities who have written novels? Do you have ones to recommend?

Friday Fiction: What Are Your Guilty Pleasures?

Yes, of course, we are all high-brow literature lovers with titles like The Brothers Karamazov and A Tale of Two Cities gracing our bookshelves. We can’t wait to hear the winner of the next Pulitzer Prize and dutifully read New York Times bestsellers. We can discuss for hours the perplexities of plot, the merits of foreshadowing, the symbolism in great novels, and the tragic characters of the classics.

Except when we don’t.

Reading is a bit like your diet. Perhaps we should all be eating healthy meals with plenty of vegetables and scant fat. And much of the time, we can keep our temptation under reasonable control and genuinely enjoy the delicious food on our plate. But now and then, forget the love handles and the bathroom scale, I want a piece of cheesecake! Or a chocolate sundae! Or a Snickers bar! We love our guilty pleasures. 

For some, guilty pleasures include the romance novels bought on impulse in the grocery store line – you know, with the bare-chested muscle man embracing the curvy heroine. Or the horror novels with suspense and gore lining every page and a bloody book cover that makes the average reader recoil. Perhaps it’s the biographies of celebrities who have appeared in every tabloid newspaper with their latest scandalous event. Or an over-the-top political rant book from a hard-core advocate of whatever your political position happens to be.

I recently realized that I haven’t engaged in a guilty pleasure read for a long time. I feel that I should read the classics, expand my knowledge of young adult fiction, learn something new, get inspired, or delve into the kind of novels I want to write. But where is my guilty pleasure? Where is my literary slice of cheesecake?

What’s my adult equivalent of the comic books I read as a kid? I honestly don’t know. But I feel the need to break out of my vitamin-enriched reading diet and dive into a vat of chocolate for a change. Just this once.

So I’m wondering which not-so-good-for-me read I can pick up. Mind you, I’m not a horror or erotica gal (period) and political ranting gets old to me pretty quickly. What I really crave is a good belly laugh.

So what are your guilty pleasures? What suggestions do you have for me? Do you have some kind of books that you don’t readily announce to others that you read?

Friday Fiction: It’s a Classic!

Don’t know what to read?  Pick up a “classic.”

There is a reason that some books survive the weathering of time and become classics.  While we may not enjoy every read in that section of our library or bookstore, plenty of gems await those brave enough to read a work crafted by someone who lived 100 years or more before you spoke your first word.

Yes, the language is sometimes stilted or contains linguistic quirks of the day.  You may also need a little historical information to provide context to the story (e.g., knowing about the Napoleonic Wars helps when reading War and Peace).  It isn’t always as easy as picking up a contemporary work of fiction and breezing through it over a Starbucks’ coffee mug on the weekend.  But a classic is often worth the effort.  Classics, after all, are considered the best of the best. 

Several years ago, Penguin Classics came out with its 100 Classic Books You Must Read Before You Die List.  Several others have compiled lists of recommended reads in the classic literature area.  Library Booklists has a wonderful page linking to several of these.  As for myself, here are a few I think just about everyone should pick up at one time or another:

1984 by George Orwell – Orwell expertly wrote this dystopian novel in which the totalitarian government has eyes and ears in the form of the Brotherhood and one man’s love affair comes at great personal cost.  Because of this novel, I still shiver when I hear the words “Room 101.”

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – This is the sprawling tale (as Tolstoy is wont to write) of Anna Karenina, a woman whose marriage is unsatisfying and whose affair has consequences.  This novel also covers the politics of the day, while keeping readers engaged with the personal life of the protagonist.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Certainly one of my favorites of all time, this is a story of murder, love, choices, and consequences. Enough said.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra – Perhaps the most romantic character in literature, Don Quixote is half-mad and full of charm.  An ardent believer of chivalry, he is in pursuit of adventure and Dulcinea – the object of his affection.  So many quotable lines are in this book; I wish I had highlighted them all.

Dracula by Bram Stoker – The vampire book that started it all!  Stoker’s rendition has a creepiness all its own, and the vampire on these pages is quite different from the Dracula portrayed in films – far more menacing, I think.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – The best of the Brontë sisters is perhaps this novel in which Jane Eyre becomes the governess to Adéle, whose guardian is the enigmatic Mr. Rochester.  Jane and Rochester fall in love, but Rochester has a secret that threatens their happiness.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – Emma desires more than the boring life she leads with husband Charles Bovary, and she gets it.  Two love affairs and her fluctuating financial status give her life an up-and-down experience that has an impact on the people around her as well.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – It’s a toss-up for which Jane Austen book one should read, but this may be the most beloved.  Austen’s writing is always witty and enlightening, and the story of the Bennett daughters and proud Mr. Darcy is engaging throughout.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – The scarlet letter is an “A”, and if you don’t know why, you need to find out.  Hester Prynne’s pregnancy brings her shame and punishment in mid-17th century Boston, and the identity of the baby’s father overshadows her and the town.

What would be on your list of must-read classics?  Do you have any goals to read classic literature?  What classics have you not read yet but want to?

Friday Fiction: The Club Picks

Like many of you, I’ve been in a book club for several years now. Our book club meets every other month, reads one or two selections, and discusses the book(s) for a little while and our personal lives for a long while. With six members, we each host once a year, often providing a dinner that connects with the book theme. For instance, a couple of books about Jews during the Holocaust got us to eat a delicious kosher meal at a nearby restaurant and two books set in Africa had us making suya meat on a stick and fried plantains.

From time to time, I am asked what books our club recommends. Well, we often disagree. Reviews can be mixed on various books. For instance, no matter how much anyone else in my book club liked it, I hated Life of Pi by Yann Martel. (See my post on that one.) And not everyone found The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath as compelling as I did. But we have unanimously concurred on a few selections, and I readily recommend the following:

Bel Canto by Ann Padgett – A famous opera singer, a Japanese tycoon, and a group of diplomats gather for a party; soon after, a group of eighteen terrorists invade the home. A hostage crisis ensues in which author Padgett develops characters on both sides of the negotiations and brings together people who would otherwise never bond.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Told from the point of view of Death (yes, the Grim Reaper), this book chronicles the life of a young girl whose adoptive German parents struggle to put food on the table, to hide a Jewish man, and to keep clear of the Nazis taking over their country. Meanwhile, the young girl learns the value of books to help them through this horrible time in history.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – This is a murder mystery told from the perspective of an autistic 15 year old. Haddon does a wonderful job of dropping the reader into the mind of an autistic boy and showing the challenges he faces in making sense of his world, his family, and the false accusation that he has killed a neighbor’s dog.

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg – From the author who brought us Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, this is another tale of an unorthodox young lady in the South – this one being 11-year-old Daisy Fay Harper. Flagg takes us through Daisy Fay’s hilarious journey in the 1950’s toward a pageant title in her home state.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett – This novel takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s, where “the help” are African-American women hired to be housekeepers for privileged Caucasian women.  Two women – one black, one white – are challenged to rise above their circumstances and shed light on the racially unbalanced and complicated relationships between society women and their hired help.

Hill Country: A Novel by Janice Woods Windle – Author Windle tells the story of her incredible grandmother, Laura Hoge Woods (1870-1966), who lived in the Hill Country of Texas. A formidable woman in any century, Laura survives an Indian attack, raises seven children, and interacts with prominent political figures of the day.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – Politically tumultuous Afghanistan is the setting for the story of a wealthy businessman, his son, and his servant’s son. A single tragic event shapes the lives of those involved, as the Taliban is taking over the country. The servant’s son struggles to deal with the fallout of his country’s turmoil and his personal shortcomings.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – There may not be any women left in America who haven’t read this one, but it’s a love story extraordinaire. Henry and Clare are not star-crossed lovers, but time-crossed lovers. With Henry’s “Chrono Displacement Disorder,” they meet for brief periods of time and try to experience a lifetime of love in their fleeting moments.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks – Somehow, reading a book about a 17th century plague doesn’t sound intriguing, but we all liked this one. This historical fiction novel describes an English town in Derbyshire struck by the plague and the choices families make as loved ones become sick and the healthy must decide whether to risk themselves to tend to the dying. Relationships are changed as the calamity unfolds.

Are you in a book club?  If so, what books has your club read that you unanimously enjoyed?  What must-read recommendations would you make to the rest of us?

Friday Fiction: Getting Hooked

If not for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Carolyn Keene, would I have become such an avid reader?  I don’t know.  But my memories of books as a young girl include hours delving into the lives of Laura in the Little House series and Girl Detective in the Nancy Drew series.  It was finding topics I liked and characters I could identify with that opened me up to the worlds that an author’s words create.

Whenever I hear a kid say that he doesn’t like reading, I think, “You just haven’t figured out what you like to read yet!”  Everyone agrees that the key to making a reader out of anybody is finding an author, a topic, or a genre that they enjoy.  If the successes of J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer have proved anything, it’s that kids and teens still enjoy reading if you give them something they like! 

Frankly, this is true with adults as well.  Sometimes, we think a reader is a person who picks up classic literature, current bestsellers, or book club selections. But people who visit bookstores (or download titles onto their ebook reader) might enjoy graphic novels, cookbooks, magazines, online newspapers, self-help books, thrillers, or romances.  The important thing is to get people reading!

We all started somewhere – often with a Dr. Seuss book or an Archie comic in hand.

A few of my own suggestions for getting kids to read these days:

Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park (ages 4-8) – I admit to never having read a single Junie B. Jones book.  But I enjoy this author, and this series comes highly recommended by many of my friends with daughters.

The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne (ages 9-12) – I volunteered in my kids’ school library for two years, and these books were checked out all the time.  They are quick reads, but the author takes children through history in a fun way.

Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker (ages 9-12) – I fell in love with Clementine on page 1.  She’s a spunky elementary girl with excess energy, creative thinking, and a few stories to tell.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney (ages 9-12) – A combination of text and pictures, these books chronicle the life of a wimpy kid whose experiences are easily understood by most children.

The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka (ages 9-12) – Boys in particular will love the adventures of three time-traveling friends and their humor.  Let’s just say that the first book includes a giant with giant-sized snot.

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen (ages 9-12) – This is the hilarious tale of a young boy just trying to make a little extra money and finding himself an illustrious entrepreneur.

Piper Reed series by Kimberly Willis Holt (ages 9-12) – Both girls and boys will love this daughter of a Navy officer with two sisters, a dog, and a fresh perspective on childhood.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan (ages 9-12) – Greek mythology can seem dull to most kids, until you read Riordan’s retelling of the Greek myths with teens as demigods. Then hold on for the fantastic ride!

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (ages 9 & up) – Yes, I would still recommend this series to any child who hasn’t read it.  I love how the author weaves the average challenges that all kids face in school with a wizarding world and the fight of good vs. evil.

 
Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (ages 12 & up) – Tweens, teens, and adults will find these dystopian books to be page-turners. Collins creates an intriguing world and has us rooting for the main characters from the beginning and throughout.

 

 

What books got you reading as a child or an adult?  What books or series would you suggest to non-readers to get them hooked on reading?

Friday Fiction: What to Read Next?

My Next Reads Stack

It’s a toss-up for whether my Netflix queue or my Next Reads stack is larger.  My husband recently said, “I could have three lifetimes, and never get through all the books I want to read.”  I agree:  There simply isn’t enough time to devour all the books I want to read.

Since I can’t get to everything, what causes a book to land in my three-foot tall stack of Next Reads?  For me, here are some criteria:

Book Club Choice.  I’ve been in a book club for years, and if we choose a book, I try VERY hard to read it.  Every now and then, I have been caught at a meeting having no idea why Charlise chose to leave Steve for the plumber and become a missionary in remote Africa, since I don’t even know who Charlise is.  But, for the most part, Book Club books get moved to the top of the stack.  There is, after all, some accountability for whether I’ve read the selection.

Reading with My Kids.  I have participated in programs with my kids for which I needed to read middle grade or young adult books at the same time they did.  This is also accountability because they know if I’ve read the book, and once I read it, I know if they’ve read the book!  I have truly read a lot of fabulous novels this way.

Next in the Series.  If I’ve started a series that I like but haven’t made it through or the author recently published another one (keep writing, Rhys Bowen), the next one goes in the stack.  I definitely read novels sequentially and want to know the whole story of characters I fall in love with.

Recommendation.  If a friend with similar taste highly recommends a book (or loans it to me), I usually get to reading.  This word-of-mouth advertising is what authors rely on!  I’m far more likely to grab a book suggested by a close Facebook friend than a New York Times book review.

Authors I Like.  If I loved your last book, I’ll probably like the next one.  It’s not always true.  For instance, I love Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series, but I honestly don’t enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse novels.  Still, it’s as good a bet as any.  And just like we order the same menu item in our favorite restaurant over and over, people like the certainty of reading an author they are almost certain they will like.

Classics.  I admit to feeling internal pressure to read the greatest literature of all time.  I have made it through works by Tolstoy, Austen, Hardy, Dickens, Steinbeck, Brontës 1, 2, and 3, and many more.  However, I still haven’t read Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Victor Hugo, and others.  Somehow, I feel that I must make it through a good number of the classics before I leave this world.

Authors with a Personal Connection.  There is a mystery author in my hometown, and I happily picked up her books (Leann Sweeney, author of Yellow Rose and Cat in Trouble mysteries).  I have also become acquainted through conferences, groups, and social media with other authors who make it far more likely that I will read their tomes (e.g., We Are Not Alone by Kristen Lamb and Making Waves by Tawna Fenske).  I could mention quite a few that fall into this group.  And they keep publishing more!  Which will keep me on my toes.

Catches My Eye.  This is the least likely way to get on my list, but it is often what authors are hoping for.  Sometimes, I do browse bookstores or libraries and find an interesting title, an eye-catching cover, and a book jacket description that makes me want to read the contents.  Once again, I have come upon some wonderful reads this way (e.g., A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson).  However, it is a crap shoot.

So what are your methods for deciding which books to read?  How big is your Next Reads stack?  Do you want your book to make it into my stack?  Let me know the title!

Friday Fiction: Flash Fiction #2

Having finished a first draft of my middle-grade novel, I am awaiting editing comments from a beta reader.  I’m not ready to delve into another large project, but I do enjoy continuing to write fiction.  Thankfully, there are some great short fiction challenges out there.  I am eager to try the 5-Minute Fiction challenge that Leah Petersen hosts every Tuesday, but once again I have taken on a Flash Fiction challenge from Haley Whitehall.

Here are the rules: 

  • You must start your story with the sentence: ”He should have never been there in the first place.”
  • The story must be 500 words or less.
  • Your story needs to have a clear beginning, middle and end.

The challenge ends June 1st.

Wounds

Confederate Soldier

He should have never been there in the first place, Matthew thought, holding the cloth tightly against the wound on his brother’s leg.  The Conscription Act of the Confederacy designated eighteen as the earliest age to serve, but Matthew was seventeen – old enough to know what he was getting into.

Meanwhile, Edward was only fourteen – still growing so that his pant hems now grazed the top of his lace-up boots.  Why had Edward followed Matthew?  Why was he there?   The question plucked at Matthew’s mind for the one-hundred twenty-third time since they had left home three months earlier.

Thus far, they had encountered brief skirmishes with Yankee soldiers, and both brothers had held their own with rifles wielded from childhood.  Of course, shooting a deer and a man had a different feel.  But day-to-day concerns of eating, staying well, finding a place to relieve themselves, and more deflected their thoughts from the three adversaries who had died at their hands.

Edward groaned.

Matthew yelled over the clamor, “Don’t move!  The doc will be here soon!”

The handkerchief was scarlet-soaked, and blood oozed through Matthew’s fingers.  He pulled the cloth away briefly to see Edward’s shin ripped open like a blossom of flesh with muscle and bone exposed.

The cannon boom echoed to the right, and rifle blasts, battle cries, and wounded screams cut through the smoke-filled air.   Just feet away on either side, gray-uniformed soldiers fired at others once deemed fellow countrymen.  A navy-clad combatant over the hill had sent the bullet that had blown Edward’s leg apart and had him gushing and mumbling incoherently in the ditch.

He should have never been there in the first place, he thought again.  Number one-hundred twenty-four.

Matthew knew that nothing could be done until the fighting ended.  He couldn’t carry his brother off the battlefield, and medics wouldn’t arrive until the exchange of gunfire eased.  Yet every passing minute meant greater blood loss and the likelihood of losing limb or life.

“C’mon, c’mon,” Matthew muttered through gritted teeth, wringing out the cloth.  Then tossing aside his hat, shotgun, ammunition, belt, and jacket, he wriggled out of his shirt and balled it up to the wound.  Edward muttered under his breath, reached out, and pulled Matthew close to his face.

“We are foolish, brother,” Edward breathed with a crooked smile on his face.

Matthew crinkled his brow and checked the wound again.  It continued to flow.

“Foolish,” Edward whispered.  “We don’t even have a slave.”

“What?” Matthew asked.

Edward chuckled.  “I just lost my dang leg to keep a slave we don’t own.”

Matthew rocked back on his heels, reapplying pressure to the small bleeding crater.

The sound of gun shots subsided.  Was one side winning?  Was the fighting nearing an end?  Or were soldiers merely reloading?

Matthew considered the words Edward had choked out amidst his pain.  He thought once again, He never should have been there in the first place.  But then, should either of them have been there?

***

Round of Words in 80 Days: I haven’t given a decent update in much too long!  So a reminder of my goals, along with my progress:

1.  5,000 words per week on middle grade novel.  I kept up fairly well with this goal, especially thanks to wordmongering, and completed a first draft.

2.  If first draft finished, edit through once.  I edited through once and sent my manuscript this week to my wonderful beta reader, Alison.  She will read and comment on whether my story is worthy of America’s bookshelves or Gallagher’s Sledge-o-Matic.

3.  Three blog entries per week.  If you follow me, you can see that I’m doing okay with the deadlines here.  Like it or not, you are hearing from me three times a week!

Best wishes to all of the other ROW80 participants!