Read Like a Writer Book Club Recap

We had a great July meeting and discussed Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty.  If you missed it and would like to see the notes, click below.

One thing that came up in the meeting was that we would all like to see a Story Grid/Bookmap analysis of this novel.  I am not promising anything, but I have added it to the list of possible future projects.  I do love a good spreadsheet.  🙂

Our next book is Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the master work of epistolary novels, IMHO.  It is available for free at Project Gutenberg and on Kindle, or you can get a paperback copy if that is your wont.  If you would like to join us for the August meeting, drop me a line at readerlybooks[at]gmail[dot]com.  

Mindset Shift: Is it a Cold Dark Night on the Side of Everest for you as a writer?

Writing a novel is hard.  If you’ve been writing for a while, you know this, it is not news.  But sometimes we scare ourselves out of doing hard things, because we think of stress as only a bad thing.  You are not alone; our culture embraced the idea that all stress is bad stress a long time ago, so you are getting constant messages related to reducing stress.

I understand that not all stress is good either and knowing the difference is key, but psychologists have been learning that stress and the use of it as a growth opportunity combined with our mindset around that can determine many of our outcomes.  I am sure you’ve heard of grit.  Well, mindset is a related concept that involves how we think about the things we do and the experiences we have.  The way we conceptualize something frequently determines the way we interpret it, which in turn affects our outcomes and choices as we go forward.  

Think about this for just a minute.  What if Marie Curie had thought, “You know, I don’t have to figure this out.  It probably isn’t important anyway.” Or Hedy Lamar had decided that she was just a pretty face.  Or Liz Cheney had said to herself, “this is going to cost me.”  Stress can be a limiting factor, or it can be fuel for growth.  

One of my favorite authors is Laura Hillenbrand.  She has a way of taking a historic moment and making it real.  She puts in the research, she interviews, she writes and she rewrites.  She does all of this, as some of you probably know, with a debilitating condition which limits her ability to work. What if she decided it was just too hard and the stress was too much?  We wouldn’t have Unbroken in the world.

If stress is something you are dealing with that is limiting your ability to write or revise your novel, think about reframing it.  A lot of the things that are most worth doing are difficult.  If they weren’t, everyone would do them. I listen regularly to the Hidden Brain podcast, and the title for this piece came from a recent episode (linked below) about reframing stress and using it to empower yourself to do hard things.  

The story goes that psychologist Alia Crum was in the lab working towards a graduate meeting with her advisor.  She was stressed and out of ideas.  The IT guy happened across her and when she told him how she was feeling, his response was, “Just another cold, dark night on the side of Everest.”  Then he walked out.  She says in the podcast that this was a turning point for her.  She realized that getting a Ph.D wasn’t supposed to be easy, just like climbing Everest isn’t easy, and I would add, writing a book isn’t easy, but it is a thing worth doing.

Your novel is worth writing, even if it is hard.  Even if sometimes you are stressed and out of ideas. Take a walk, call your coach, call a writing friend, go for a jog, get a cup of coffee, do whatever it is that lets you take a moment and breathe.  Acknowledge that you are doing something hard and that is okay.  It will challenge you, and that is a good thing!

Here are the links to the podcasts, listen to both, but the first part is the one that inspired this message.  🙂

Austenalia: Review of the new Netflix Persuasion

You knew it was coming, dear reader.  I could not call myself an Austen fan without at least taking a look at the new Persuasion on Netflix.  Honestly, I don’t have a lot to add that hasn’t already been said, but just in case, here is the skinny.

First, go read this review in The Spectator  

I completely agree with everything she said.  Fourth wall broken egregiously, check.  Wooden Wentworth, check.  Ridiculous reconception of Anne Elliot who did NOT need reconceptualizing, check.  In fact, the only thing that kept this from being a complete and total waste of time was Richard E. Grant, who delivers the only performance worth watching in the whole thing.  And even he cannot save it.  

It is horrible in every way, whether you are a purist or not. And I write this as someone who enjoyed the new Emma, which was a little offbeat.  See that review here.   

Anne Elliot is not some wine-swilling smart *ss in a Regency gown.  She is a heroine of the first order and reducing her to a heartsick featherweight is a travesty.  Frederick Wentworth wrote what is perhaps the most beautiful letter in the history of literature and here, you will just want him to go to sea and be gone.  I am not sure, nor do I think the director was sure, what he is supposed to be doing.  He tries to look soulful, but he just looks like he needs new glasses to keep his eyes from crossing, really.  

Perhaps while they are in prison, they will read some Austen and understand what the story is actually about, but I doubt it.  HINT: It is not a modern rom com in dress up, it just isn’t.  If you haven’t watched it yet, don’t feel like you need to.  If you want to watch it and discuss how terrible it is with your friends, definitely do.  

Book Review: The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

A novel written with book people in mind, this is a delightful examination of how reading can change lives and bring people together, which is, of course, a topic near and dear to my heart.  I will not tell a lie, the analysis of the titles on the list is surface at best, but the book isn’t really about the books, it is about the people reading them.  

Mukesh is a widower who is struggling with his loss.  He eats the same thing every week, he hardly goes out, and his daughters and grand children can’t seem to connect with him the way they did with their mother.  Mukesh’s beloved wife was a reader and he decides in an almost desperate attempt to remain close to her to go to the library after reading a library book he found while tidying up over a year after her death.

There he meets Aleisha, a library employee (not a librarian, as she is referred to in the book.  This is a bone of contention for librarians who have advanced degrees, but I digress…).  She is not a reader, and she is having a bad day.  After her mistreatment of Mukesh and the subsequent berating by her boss, she calls to apologise and make a peace offering—a book recommendation from a mysterious reading list.

The list cycles through several people.  Some characters only appear for a scene, but the list binds them all together, and it is a good list, though the connections between titles are not evident at first. Through the course of reading the books on the list, Aleisha and Mukesh become friends, grow, and are able to cope with the difficulties life throws at them.  As Mukesh says, the books are not just an escape, they teach us things.  Indeed, they do.

There is plenty here for bookish types.  Favorites are read and loved by characters, geezers get second chances, a young girl learns that she doesn’t have to handle things on her own. This book is like a warm cup of tea.  Comforting, familiar, peaceful, and enjoyable.  Sure, there is a little bitterness near the end of the cup, but that just makes the next cup sweeter. If you are a book person, you will want to add this to your reading list (pun definitely intended).

Save the Date:  October 21-23 for the First Annual Readerly NaNoPlanMo Virtual Writing Retreat

Do you dream of joining in with others during NaNoWriMo, but run out of gas about half way through? Do you have an idea for a novel, but you are not sure how to get started and make real progress? Do you struggle with finding time to write, because you have a busy schedule and no trust fund?

Join me, guest authors, and other writers to stop procrastinating and get started with concrete steps.  If you have already started your novel, you will benefit from learning different styles for outlining, which will work for drafting or revising, and the strategies for finding time to write so you can meet your goals.

What writers get:

  • Time with other writers!
  • Inspiration for finding time to write your novel
  • Dedicated writing time
  • Practical help outlining your novel
  • Everything you need to outline your novel, set writing goals, and get started on your book in the run up to NaNoWritMo

If you are looking for inspiration, practical strategies, and dedicated time to write, the Readerly NaNoPlanMo Virtual Retreat might be for you. Details coming soon!

Is your luggage too full? What about your novel?

Readers of the Readerly Tea Break will know that my husband and I recently came to Estonia with the intention of staying long term.  One of the decisions we made was to economize by only bringing two checked bags each—at the last minute through the kind offices of a friend group, we were gifted an additional bag, for a total of five.  

Think about this for just a second.  You need to pack everything you might need for a year into 2.5 bags.  Obviously, we will purchase some things and apartments in Estonia are largely furnished, so we aren’t bringing household items, though I did manage to pack my French Press and some of my favorite teas…  But everything you will wear or want from home must go into 2.5 bags.  And there is a weight limit of 23 kilos (about 50ish pounds).  What do you put into the bags?  What is important enough to go and what has to stay?

Writers are faced with a similar dilemma when they revise.  You must sort through that first draft and make decisions about what is working and what is not.  You may not be stepping onto a literal scale to weigh your baggage as we did, but you will make difficult choices.  If the French Press stays, what gets left behind?  If you add the family photos, what do you remove from your bag?  If you leave the inciting incident the way it is, is the reaction of your protagonist believable?  Is the incident enough to kick off the story?  What about the consequences of your characters’ decisions?  Are the stakes high enough?  Do you need to add something and take away something else?  Most likely all of the above!

Just as we had to edit our bags, you will have to edit your story; and there will be pain.  I love shoes and to be honest, I have many more pairs of shoes than I need.  I had to leave more than half of them behind.  I had to be very careful about the ones I did pack—would they hold up to all the walking, would they work for a rainy climate, were they comfortable enough?  Most importantly, were they cute?  Only some of my shoes made the cut.  They had to be comfortable, durable and cute enough to go with lots of outfits.

When you revise, you will edit your story in just such a way.  You will start with more words than you need.  You will check to see whether the scenes you have written serve the story you are telling.  WIll they move the story?  Will they reveal character?  Will they keep the reader engaged?  If not, they may end up in your “cuts” folder, the way some of my shoes ended up in storage.  It’s okay!  You may use some of those cuts in other books or you may not.  I may wear some of those shoes again, but it may also happen that by the time I see them again, I don’t need them. Less can actually be more, it’s true. 

New Stump the Chump Video and more…

Do you have a research question for your novel?

In preparation for the FREE session on 23 July I am recording shorts of me answering writers’ research questions.

Catch the latest installment of Stump the Chump to see what it’s all about: 

The research question being considered is “could a hot air balloon go from Estes Park to Pagoda Springs, Colorado?  How long would it take?

The next meeting of the Read Like a Writer Book Club will be 19 July at 7 PM CST and we will be discussing Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty.  Would you be interested in joining us? Drop me a line to robin [at] readerly [dot] net to have the details delivered to you.  🙂

Throwback Thursday: Germinal by Emile Zola

Originally reviewed June 2015

First a little background:  Emile Zola was a French novelist during the late nineteenth century and is credited with founding the naturalist school of fiction writing.  His contemporaries, and indeed friends, included Flaubert, Balzac, and Stendhal.  Zola attempted to apply the methods of natural science to fiction writing to make it more realistic.  As a result, he was sometimes censured for his somewhat graphic depictions of sex and some of his plotlines contain characters who are less than savory.  I would not recommend Zola to young students for these reasons as well as the mature themes and generally depressing tone that pervades some of his work.  

Having gotten the disclaimer out of the way, a little about Germinal.  There are passages in this book that rival Flaubert for beauty.  When Zola describes the mine as an organic being that is chewing up the lives of the miners, it is not cheesy and the reader wants to reread it again—this one did anyway.  The main character Etienne is on the road, having lost his job.  He approaches the mining town of Monstsou, where he meets various members of the downtrodden proletariat and proceeds to become a Socialist, leading the miners on an ill-fated strike, in which there are no winners—only losers.  The descriptions of the starving workers, especially children are not for the faint of heart, but the value here is the beauty of some of the writing and the realistic depiction of the working classes, warts and all.  Zola has been called the Dickens of France, and having read this novel, I can see why.  The suffering of the miners and the families is beyond understanding, but Zola makes us understand.  There is also a possible discussion of Etienne’s socialist “conversion” and what it really means to him.  He wants to help the workers, but Zola is honest about what Etienne is gaining—popular acclaim, respect, even money are his through his association with the socialists.  At the end, when the miners are back down in the mine having gained nothing for their efforts, Etienne is on his way to become a part of the socialist machinery—his lot in life has actually improved.

Read this if you are looking for something to balance th4e beach-fare of the summer.  It clocks in at just about 600 pages and it fairly heavy going, but worth it!

Writing Retreats: Give Yourself the Gift of Time

There is no shortage of writing advice in the world.  Use an outline, don’t use an outline.  Write every day.  Write when you can. Write for the market. Write the book of your heart. On and on it goes.

One thing is  true.  You can’t revise and query or indie publish a novel if you never finish a draft.

Finishing a first draft is a step on the long journey from beginning to finished book.

What Would Help You do That?
  • What if you could give yourself the gift of  twelve hours, four of them dedicated to writing, over two days?
  • What if this twelve hours included sessions about getting organized for starting or revising, writer self-care, and time management?
  • What if this twelve hours came with tools and follow up and a built in writer’s group with professional support? 
Could You finish That Draft?

The Gift of a Writing Retreat is for you if:

  • You know that writing is hard, but feel a calling to do it anyway.
  • You who want to connect with other writers and a coach so you can make forward progress on your work.
  • You are done making excuses and ready to write NOW, not someday.

The Gift of a Writing Retreat is not for you if:

  • You want to write a novel “someday.”
  • You want to talk about writing, but never actually do it.
  • You think writing a novel is easy, if only you had the time.
Are you ready to give yourself the gift of time to write and support in your writing?