In the literary world today, book reviews are ever so important. Authors use the book review to build a following, and readers to find something new. Without them, the inundation of new novels that flood the internet daily makes things difficult.
A book review is not just a brief synopsis, but a chance to open a critical lens into the story. What did you think about the story? Did it compel you to turn the page and keep on reading? Were you satisfied at the end and would you read another book by the same author? These are just a few questions a reader should think about when writing a review.
I was recently combing Amazon searching for my next best read and found, The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Amazon readers rated it 4.7 out of 5 stars. A rating like that caught my eye. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The book was well written and affected me in many ways. It’s so much more than a dog book, but having the story told through the eyes of a dog elevated the read into the stratosphere. Life after death, hope, and the importance of paying attention to life’s details resonated throughout the story. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone but a box of Kleenex should be within reach.
So the next time you finish a book, leave a review. The author and your fellow reader will appreciate it.
Recently I have had some, thankfully minor, health scares. Luckily for me they are all easily fixable and will lead to my leading a much healthier and happier life. Now, what, you might think, does this have to do with writing? Well that's easy.
One of the problems I have been having was related to sleep. While I won’t get in to all of the details, one of the doctor’s solutions was to not look at screens for two hours before sleeping. Crazy right! In this day and age how could I possibly not look at a TV, phone, or tablet for two hours? What would I do?
Turns out the answer was simple. I read! Though a lot of this has sucked I have loved getting back to the days of reading before bed. And I’m reading real books too. Holding them in my hand. None of this e-book or audio stuff.
At first I reread some of my favorite cozy series. They helped remind me why I love the genre and inspire my next novel. Then I got to go to the bookstore! Since that’s basically my favorite place in the world it was a great day. I picked up a bunch of great new stuff, much of it in new genres. And since its doctor’s orders my husband can’t tell me I spent too much money!
But in all seriousness, while the circumstances that led to this weren’t the best, I relish the chance to get back to my roots as a writer, to read again.
Book signings. They are one of the sweet benefits of an author’s life. While we write, we seclude ourselves away from the world with only our characters for company. However, after publication we welcome the public to come.
And the 518 Publishing Company savored a sweet last weekend with their first book signing at the ‘Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza’. Our premier anthology, ‘Dark & Bitter’ was front and center and was well received. Four of the 518 authors read excerpts from their stories, welcomed readers, and signed copies of the book. It was such a crush.
But no matter how much you plan and prepare for an event, there is always something that would work better. For instance, the flow of customers coming into the book store was not to our advantage. Even though we were right in front by the door, people would come in look at what we were doing, then keep going. Customers had to be invited into the book signing. Not that it was a bad thing, but the 518 staff had to be diligent. Maybe a big sign by the door inviting people to come sit and listen to the stories would help. I guess it’s a lesson learned.
All and all, it was a smashing success and we like to thank the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza for hosting us. And if you missed it, no worries, there are many in the future.
A Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry. It has 17 beats, 3 lines with 5 beats in the 1st and 3rd lines and 7 beats in the middle. It's the only type of poetry I have any success writing. They are quick and easy for anyone to dabble in, even me.
Here are a few examples on the Japanese Haiku.
Recently I reintroduced myself to two of my favorite genres of books, Memoir and historical fiction. Interestingly, though I love to read both of these genres, I haven’t been able to write in them.
I fell in love with historical fiction at an early age. I loved that the stories that I was reading could be real. Though the characters were fictional the times and places were not. At the time I loved the “Dear America” series. This allowed me to explore time periods that I didn’t know much about through characters who were my own age. I have always wanted to write in this genre, yet I never have. I think that the research aspect scares me. I wouldn’t want to get important historical details wrong, but I would also want to stay true to my characters. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, having read a lot of this type of book both through my work as a teacher and on my own. Maybe I will explore it again soon.
The other genre, Memoir, came to me more recently, but in somewhat the same way. Once again, I loved exploring real events and real people, only with memoir it is actually real. I find myself fascinated with stories of people’s experiences in events I’ve only heard about in the news. As for writing, this one is a little easier to explain. Thankfully my life is pretty boring! I haven’t lived through any event that would really interest readers. Maybe someday, when we are all famous writer, but for now I am content to read about the lives of others.
Choosing a genre to write in can be difficult. One of the best places to look can be your own bookshelf. Don’t be afraid to explore new things!
It’s a cold Super Bowl weekend, and I’m staying warm with a cup of coffee and chatting with my good friend Shannon Yseult. I met Shannon at a local write-in a few years ago, and we have traveled the road to publication together. Her story, Over-Extraction, is featured in the 518 Publishing Company LLC’s premier anthology, Dark & Bitter. The short story is a fast-paced alternate thriller, and a great read.
“Shannon, the fans of the 518 want to hear about the Dark & Bitter authors, and I’m glad you had time to be interviewed,” I said.
“I’m happy to do it. You know I always enjoy a cup of coffee, and chat about writing,” Shannon said.
“Excellent. How did you get into writing, and when did you realize you wanted to be an author?”
“When I was in third grade one of the librarians was encouraging us to write stories. Even at that age I was into mysteries like 'Nate the Great', so I wrote about 'The Mystery of Witch Island'. I don't remember the story that well, but I do remember being SUPREMELY proud of my final product. I read it, and reread it, to everyone who would sit down with me for five minutes.
Once I got my own computer in eighth grade, I realized that there was this thing called 'fanfiction' and I was all over that. I wrote myself into a number of series, and while the writing was terrible I enjoyed every second of it. By the end of high school I realized that I could write my own characters AND my own stories and started to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The first year I wrote and agonized over the perfect 1,779 words in a story about dragons, and never got any farther. Since then I've written something for NaNoWriMo each year and have successfully completed it a handful of times now.
Despite the trials and tribulations natural to a writer's life I've been interested in some form of writing since I learned to read. That proud moment of showing everyone my third grade book still sings in my heart as I continue my writer’s journey,” Shannon said.
“Wow, third grade. It was much later that I got interested in writing. Who is your favorite author? What is your favorite book?” I said.
“This has been changing quite a bit recently. At the moment Michael J. Sullivan with his series Riyria Revelations is at the top of my list. Patrick Rothfuss and his book 'The Name of the Wind' is a close second. 'The Mote in God's Eye' is also a huge favorite of mine, and I can't see it leaving my favorites list ever. If you're looking for a less well known then I highly recommend Wen Spencer, particularly her book 'Tinker',” Shannon said.
“I’ve read ‘The Name of the Wind.’ It was excellent. I’ll have to check out the others. I’m always looking for the next best read. What genre/genres do you write?”
“Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and YA. It sounds weird when listing them all in a row, particularly ending with YA. The natural follow up question is why, and the irony of the simple answer isn't lost on me; I'm a complicated person. My ideas don't fit into a single genre mold, and I don't force them into one. I take the idea and test drive it in different genres in my mind before choosing the one that I think will give the best story and go from there,” Shannon said.
“I’m with you about writing different genres. Crossing boundaries and not staying in a small box is paramount to a well-rounded person. How would you describe your daily writing routine?” I said.
“The most consistent part of it is going to writers group on Sunday's at Denny's. Being around so many fellow writer friends is an inspirational pleasure. Right now I'm in the thralls of editing the novel I wrote in November 2017 for NaNoWriMo (another consistent part of my writing life). So I'm taking each week to focus on a different part of the story (plot, character, etc). Next I'll put together a game plan for fixing the story and then I'll go about editing it. Basically, I'm doing a daily editing routine right now, but I'll get back to writing for NaNoWriMo 2018!” Shannon said.
“Yes, staying connecting with the writing community is important to any author. Friendships are formed, and are a support system through the many trials in life. What is your writing Kryptonite?”
“Reading a good story! Also if I'm writing along and know that something is fundamentally wrong with the story. If I have a good outline this doesn't happen as much, but for those times I'm pantsing it's like throwing on the emergency breaks,” Shannon said.
“I hear you. A good story is definitely a distraction. Where do you get your ideas?” I said.
“All over the place!
Sometimes I'm reading about a new scientific discovery and think 'what if'.
Sometimes I'm talking about a specific genre/writing style/etc, realize that I haven't written anything in that format, and challenge myself to do so.
Sometimes I use a random word generator, or random plot generator, or random religion generator, until the sparks of ideas colliding take over.”
“Generators are great. Many writers use them to inspire when the ideas dry up. How long did it take you to write the story 'Over-Extraction'?” I said.
“It didn't take me long to write the first draft, once the ideas fly writing can be quick. However, the amount of time I spent editing it was quite a lot,” Shannon said.
“Yeah, editing can be long and sometimes painful. Well Shannon, I like to thank you for your time and I look forward to your next story.”
Our debut publication, Dark & Bitter, is now live on Amazon, and the 518 is continuing with interviews with the authors. Today I’m talking with SJ Garman. She is the author of ‘The Bracelet’, a paranormal story about a woman and her journey home from work one snowy night.
“SJ, I know you are busy and you are all the way out west, but our readers would love to know the person behind the tale,” I said.
“Thanks for having me. I’m happy to chat with you, Lizette,” SJ said.
“I absolutely love your story. A fast-paced thrilling tale that I can imagine happening to me. What was the inspiration for ‘The Bracelet’?”
“I came up with the basic premise for ‘The Bracelet’ many years ago, but when I saw an eerie spider bracelet with glowing, ruby red eyes in a second-hand store, I knew it needed to be the focus of the tale,” SJ said.
“Wow. I always wondered where writers got their ideas. I love thrift stores. And to think, a trip to one spawn you to write such a fabulous story. By the way, how did you get into writing?”
“I never intended to be an author. My love for writing began with a summer project to help improve my son’s writing skills. We created the alien world of Sabathea as we sat fishing in the middle of a lake in Northern Wisconsin. My son decided writing wasn’t an interest for him, but I was hooked,” SJ said.
“Well, me and all your readers are thrilled you went on that fishing trip. ‘The Bracelet’ is a paranormal thriller, but I wonder, do you write in other genres?”
“I’ve written a series of young adult science fiction novels. The first two novels, The Betrayal of Sabathea and The Rise of Tophet, have been completed and I am in the process of choosing a publisher. The third novel, Operation Gemini, is a work in progress,” SJ said.
“Sci-Fi YA is a hot genre now. Finding the right publisher is very important. A small press like 518 Publishing, LLC is a niche publishing company helping writers to reach their dreams. I wish you luck with the series.”
“Thank you,” SJ said.
“How would you describe your daily writing routine?” I asked.
“It seems strange, but I don’t have a specific writing routine. While performing boring household chores, like mopping the floor, folding laundry, or mowing the yard, I’ll think about my plot and how I want to proceed with the story. I even dream about sections of my story that aren’t flowing in order to work out the kinks. This process allows me to explore several plot options before I ever put them to paper. When I get a few free moments during the day, I’ll write the paragraphs or chapters down on a legal pad, allowing my thoughts to flow. As I reread it, the scratch marks and arrows will appear all over the pages! My second round of edits occurs as I type the pages into my computer,” SJ said.
“I guess writers do what works. Me, I’m a plotter too. I love the ‘Snowflake Method’ by Randy Ingermanson. Though I do a modified Snowflake. Sort of half plotting and half pantsing. How long did it take you to write the story?”
“The story was written over a single weekend,” SJ said.
“Impressive. It takes me forever to get words down. I tend to edit while I write, which I must say isn’t good. But when the story is itching to come out, the words flow. And that leads me to ask, what is your writing Kryptonite?”
“Silence and scheduled writing times are my kryptonite. I can’t write in a quiet place; there has to be noise!! I also never set writing times – it creates too much pressure to get things done. I’ve found that I write best with minimal structure. Having a productive fifteen minutes can be better than an hour sitting in front of a blank computer screen,” SJ said.
“Do you have any favorite authors?” I asked.
“When I was young, I'd scour the library for short stories and novels by Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Daniel Keyes. They created and explored breathtaking, new worlds while raising and discussing difficult ethical questions. These authors pondered issues regarding medical, societal, and technological advances that still hold true today,” SJ said.
“Well, I’ll let you go, SJ. Good luck with your work in progress, Operation Gemini. I look forward to reading the series.”
Readers, don’t forget you can read SJ’s story, ‘The Bracelet’, in the ‘Dark & Bitter’ anthology. It’s now on Amazon.
November is filled with excitement. The holidays are almost here, National Novel Writing Month is underway, and the 518 Publishing Company’s debut publication will soon be released. Dark & Bitter is an anthology of short stories by authors from the New York’s 518 area code and beyond. The common denominator of the genre-spanning anthology is: characters who enjoy coffee. Many of the authors selected are heretofore unpublished, and it was a great experience to work with them. We kick off November with a series of author interviews from our maiden publication: Dark & Bitter.
I’m at Denny’s having coffee, of course, with Rosanne Braslow. Her story, What Waits in Quiet Places, is an intriguing mystery with a shade of paranormal.
“As you know, 518 Pub is blogging about the authors of Dark & Bitter, and you are the first interviewee.”
We clinked our red coffee mugs in honor of the upcoming release of the anthology.
”What’s your connection to the 518?” I ask.
“I went to college in Albany and lived in the 518 for many years. Although I’ve moved around the country, the Hudson Valley is my home base. I’m all about Upstate NY. It’s the setting for most of my stories.”
“Albany’s a great place, with many notable schools of higher education that bestow not just textbook knowledge, but a sense of being. How did you get into writing?” I asked.
“I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but not taking it seriously. Seven years ago, a friend introduced me to NaNoWriMo, and later I joined a critique group. This month I’m celebrating my first published credits: a short story in Dark & Bitter, and a poem in 56 Days of August,” Rosanne replied.
”Congratulations! National Novel Writing Month is a fabulous way to get a novel under your belt. Just think, 50,000 words in 30 days. It was the same for me. A good friend encouraged me. It was a challenge, but I did it. And a critique group is crucial for growth as a writer. What genre(s) do you write?”
“Primarily horror, but I’d like to try lighter fiction, maybe a mystery. I’d love to create work that is both horror and literary fiction, like Shelley’s Frankenstein or Stoker’s Dracula…,” Rosanne said. “I also write poetry (non-horror!)
“I love horror. Where do you get your ideas? Sometimes they come from peculiar sources.”
“I was raised on Dark Shadows and Creature Features. My mother is a great storyteller and a believer in ghosts, so my love for the supernatural was passed down. Everything we’re exposed to sparks ideas, everything we read and hear. It helps to believe in things that you can’t see, nor explain, if you are going to write horror,” Rosanne said.
“Your mother must be an interesting person. I love to listen to stories from older people. What was the inspiration for your story, ‘What Waits in Quiet Places’.”
“My protagonist was originally intended to be a grown-up Nancy Drew. When I submitted it for a Nancy Drew-themed anthology, the publisher felt that my Nancy Drew who enjoyed martinis was irreverent! So I tweaked it and submitted it to Dark and Bitter, where I thought it might be a good fit. Thankfully, 518 Pub agreed.”
“518 Pub is pleased you submitted. Your story is fast-paced and mysterious. I loved it,” I said. “Last question: what is your writing Kryptonite?”
“Inertia. When I haven’t written for a while, I fear that I’ll sit down and find that the words have dried up. The longer I go without writing the harder it is to sit down again. Hence, a daily routine makes good sense.”
“I was thinking that, as I work on my own NaNoWriMo novel for 2017. I’m so glad we got together so that our readers have an opportunity to know a little about the author behind the short story, ‘What Waits in Quiet Places’.”
My favorite part of any story is the characters. It is these people who truly bring the story to life for me. And I’m not just talking about the main characters. The best stories, to me, have fully formed minor characters, a whole world that feels real. This is also something I strive to do in my own stories. As a writer there is one thing I like do to make characters seem real.
Almost every character that appears in my stories has a fully thought out back story written down somewhere. This technique came from my time as actress. It was very important for even the minor characters, even the ones who didn’t speak, to know their motivation in any given scene. This meant creating detailed histories and discussing them with those around you.
One of my favorite theatre stories involves a girl who had no lines. We created an inside joke that two other characters had bet her not to talk for the whole weekend (that the play was set in). This made us giggle every time it would have made sense for her to talk. Though no one in the audience, and very few people in the play, knew why we were laughing, it added another layer to play.
I use this same technique in my writing. Knowing a characters personality and motivation effects everything, from their mannerisms to how they react to people. If you think about it in regards to real life, compare how two people react to a death. Someone who recently lost someone will react more strongly than someone who has not. It is human nature. Since these characters are human it makes sense to create lives for them.
Once your characters have a life, even if your readers never know it, the world they live in will feel more real. This makes your story more enjoyable for everyone.
Since I’ve started to write in earnest I’ve started to read differently. While great books still draw me into their nebulous depths those books that are on the borderline of good have me asking a lot more questions. Why isn’t this as great? What could they have done to make this better? Can I apply this to my writing? These are all useful questions for improving my writing, but they do distract from the story at hand.
I’ve tried to channel my analytical mind by filling out a book review while I’m reading. Sometimes getting the idea on paper is all I need to let the problem go, and enjoy the story more.
The questions are simple:
What are the themes of the story, and are they working?
What are three things I liked?
What are three things I disliked?
I think the key is limiting both the liked and disliked to three things. When I write a review for a great book it’s hard to limit the things I liked, and often I can’t even think of three things that I disliked. Yet when reviewing a bad book it’s important to know that there are still things that I can learn from it (by filling out the things I liked section), and that just a few key changes would drastically improve the writing.
Since I’ve started to use this questions to review others novels I’ve started to subconsciously apply them to my works when editing as well. They mindset that even if it seems bad there are still good parts to my writing helps my writing confidence. Knowing that just a few changes can improving my writing makes the editing seem more manageable.
Do you notice different things when reading now that you’re a writer?