Friday Book Love #2

In this series, I give a brief snapshot of three unrelated books that I recently read and enjoyed. If you decide to read them too, I’d love to hear what you thought! 

icapturethecastleThe Category: Historical Romantic Fiction

The Book: I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

In Three Words: England. Passion. Awakening.

Biggest Takeaway: Cassandra, the youthful narrator, is one of the strongest female protagonists I’ve ever read; this is a must-read for anyone who loves writing or reading coming-of-age stories.


happiness of pursuitThe Category: Nonfiction/Self-Improvement

The Book: The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

In Three Words: Epic. Inspiring. Travel.

Biggest Takeaway: I’ve always been a goal-oriented person, but I’ve never considered the types of deep, life-changing quests that Guillebeau profiles in this book. It put me in the mood for dreaming big. The focus on travel-related goals also made me crave planning a big trip.  [Read more…]

Make Time For Creativity

flower clockWhen I started writing in a truly serious, committed way, I was on maternity leave following the birth of my son. I stayed home with him for two years, and during that time, my creative spirit blossomed. I didn’t have hours and hours to write (naptimes were my friends) but I did have time and space to think. Everything takes time when you have a small child. Moments stretch long, and single activities can absorb an entire morning. During those quiet times, watching my son kick at the activity mat, taking him for a walk in the stroller, or preparing his food, my mind was able to wander. In fact, it almost had to wander, because spending most of your time with a child with limited communication skills can be stultifying. While I was going about my day, my brain was stewing in creative thoughts: what the angle on my next blog post should be, how to flesh out a minor character in my novel, the best way to phrase the first sentence of my query letter. And then, when I sat down to write, I was already ready. My fingers flowed. There were still good days and bad days (the bad days were usually following a wakeful night with my son) but overall, it was a very productive time.

Now I’m back to work full-time and juggling a teaching job with parenting duties. I’m just as committed to writing, and I schedule time every day to devote to my projects. But I often find it more difficult to sit down and be inspired, because my head is now crowded with lesson plans, parent phone calls and instrument repairs. [Read more…]

Give Your Characters A Personality Test

When you want to get to know someone, what do you do?

Spend time with that person and ask questions, right?

You find out what she likes to eat for breakfast, what makes him mad, and what makes her laugh out loud. You work from the outside in, gaining insight into his true self as you go along.

But what if you were forced to suddenly be that person? To get inside her head and dictate her actions and words? Would you know enough about her inner self, simply by learning a series of facts about her? Would you be able to stay true to her personality?

Now imagine that you’re writing a novel. You want to understand your characters before you start, so you (very wisely) decide to do a “character study” on your principal performers. You write a list of questions like the ones above, designed to find out about the character. You use these questions to “interview” the characters, and through that process, you, the writer/creator, begin to solidify your idea of who these people are. You now know the character’s facts, fears, foibles and physical features.

You start writing. And then, just as in the above scenario, you are forced to be that person. [Read more…]

Valentine’s Day: Literary Couples Mash-up

With Valentine’s day tomorrow, most book bloggers will be writing a version of the “famous literary couples” post. (Last year, my version was called 5 Great Literary Lovers.) I’m going to put a twist on it this year by matching up five couples who never met in the literary world. Some were written centuries apart, but that doesn’t matter- literature and love are both eternal.

book love(Side note: I am in no way suggesting that these couples are better matched than their originally-written partnerships; this is just for fun.)




Couple #1: Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables) and Laura Ingalls  (Little House on the Prairie)

Why they’d be good together: Gilbert has proven that he likes a strong woman, and Laura is one of the strongest. As a doctor, Gilbert’s skills would be handy in the remote places that Laura prefers to live. Their complimentary temperaments (Gilbert’s easy-going manner, Laura’s stubbornness) would make them a happy match.

Couple #2: Hermione Grainger (Harry Potter) and Hercule Poirot (Murder on the Orient Express, etc.)

Why they’d be good together: Their age difference is extreme, even if you take Hermione’s age at the end of Deathly Hallows, which is 34. But it’s a promising May-December romance. [Read more…]

How To Edit Like A Musician

Today I have a guest post on bestselling author Laura Vanderkam’s blog about how to practice smarter. The material is gleaned from my experience as a musician and music teacher, and the lessons I’ve learned about productivity that can be applied to writing as well as other hobbies. The post below is a companion of sorts.

If you’re clicking over from Laura’s blog, I offer you a warm welcome, and I hope you stay awhile! 

So you’ve written a first draft: congratulations! Now it’s time to start editing. But how do you approach it? Should you make a plan of attack, or just dive right in? Every expert has her own method of editing; one that really got me thinking about the process was this post from DIYMFA referencing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There are an infinite number of approaches to editing, but the “right” one is going to depend on the individual writer’s frame of reference. For me, with my background in music and music teaching, it’s easiest to make sense of editing by structuring it the same way I’d approach learning a piece of music. Here are five things that writers can learn from musicians about taking a piece or manuscript to the next level:

1. Do The Big Things First. music pic

When you’re learning a new piece of music, you can’t focus on things like dynamics and articulations until the notes and rhythms are learned. In the same vein, it doesn’t make sense to look for repeating words, grammatical errors or unnecessary adverbs until the basics of plot and character are in place; it’s a waste of time to fix the details when major parts of the draft still need to be re-written. I admit, I often slide into this trap by telling myself I’m just doing a “read-through,” but end up fixing tiny errors instead of figuring out what to do about gaping holes in the story. Believe me, it’s not productive in the end.

2. Turn Weaknesses Into Strengths.

Remember to think of the big picture: it’s not just about the quality of this individual manuscript, it’s about making yourself a better writer overall. [Read more…]