Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tied to the Tracks

Like any reader, I have a keeper shelf. I also have author shelves, genre shelves, and best ref shelves. They're filled to capacity and then some (my best ref section is soon to become three floor-to-ceiling bookcases.)

One shelf I haven't yet filled is my writer's writer shelf. Few authors get on this one. To me, a writer's writer is someone who teaches, wows and comforts all at the same time. I learn from these intensely talented folks (the teaching.) I am also knocked on my ass by them (the wowing.) And in a strange way, I reconnect to my own writing through them (which is comforting, and maddening, and a few other things.) That's likely a lame way to describe it, but it's as close as I'm going to get without using a French bakery analogy.

One more disclaimer before I talk about the latest addition to my writer's writer shelf. Books set in or written about the southern United States are not my favs. Harper Lee may have written the greatest novel of the twentieth century, but she also instigated a literary attitude toward writing about the people of the south that is now about as applicable as calling someone from New York City a seersucker-suited carpetbagging Yankee.

Author Rosina Lippi's Latest Novel You will not find any outdated stereotypes in Rosina Lippi's Tied to the Tracks. Instead, you'll discover Ogilvie, Georgia, a Monet of a small college town, populated by all manner of southern kin and kind. John Grant, son of Ogilvie's equivalent of gentry, is about to marry a much-loved local beauty; Miss Zula Bragg, the town's fearsome literary giant, has at long last decided to permit a film to be made about her long and colorful life, and Angie Mangiamele, Jersey girl and owner of Tied to the Tracks film productions, is coming to town to make the documentary about Miss Zula. Angie also happens to be John's ex-lover. When Angie and her crew arrive in Ogilvie, the real fun begins.

This novel has so much in store for the reader: romance, intrigue, humor, new lovers and old secrets, old lovers and new secrets. There are characters you love and characters you'd love to run down in the street and back over a few times. John and Angie and Miss Zula are the heart of the story, but the town of Ogilvie and its fascinating residents as well as Angie's crew are right there, too. That's what makes this such a marvelous work: nothing is forced, nothing is faked, and yet nothing is left unattended. That is the southern way, folks.

I generally read books quickly, but the writing of Tied to the Tracks made me ride my brakes from start to finish. My deference to the novel's many charms, surprises and pure delights, but also to the storytelling itself, so splendid that you slow down simply to enjoy it. I also admire the great care the author took with crafting this novel, because while you can't see that on the page (it reads smooth as peach skin) it shines through between the lines.

You all don't have to take my word for it, of course. In comments to this post, name someone or something that teaches, wows and/or comforts you by midnight EST on August 24, 2006. I'll pick three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of Rosina Lippi's Tied to the Tracks. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something at PBW in the past.


  1. Anonymous12:50 AM

    I have to post on this one, because I was so tickled to see you mention Rosina Lippi. I've read her earlier work under that name, but it is her novel, Into the Wilderness, written as Sara Donati, that is my comfort quilt, my treasure in words that I read when I need to just feel good. Another author who puts me in that same zone is Gene Stratton Porter, who wrote Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost.

  2. Anonymous1:08 AM

    Laurie R. King's mysteries, especially the Mary Russell ones, are my touchstones for a tough day. O Jerusalem, especially.
    for deeper (or darker) times, Rilke's poetry. For hope? most anything by Charles de Lint. Thanks for sharing Lippi.

  3. Stephen King's On Writing wows me.

  4. Anything by William Goldman. The man has been my teacher for many, many years and doesn't even know it.

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  6. Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth is definitely a triple threat. At first its daunting size did just that, daunted me. But once I got the resolve to read it, all I did was think about it constantly trying to play out in my mind what I thought would happen to the characters. Of course, Follett constantly surprised me with what actually did happen, but I found it easy to be an active reader.

    Truly inspiring.

  7. I find it hard to go past the poetry of Raymond Carver for inspiration. His simplicity seems so effortless. The writers who write in a way where you can't see the machinery of craft operating I both love and envy.

    I'm with Marjorie Liu (another writer I've recently discovered and love - it was great to see her at the RWA literacy signing), Rosini Lippi writing as Sara Donati's Into the Wilderness series are among my favorites. Her blog is great too.

  8. Dorothea Benton Frank (Saving Grace, Sullivan's Island) is an amazing story teller. I usually read fast, but her books I savor. I actually forget I'm a writer when I read her books. It's the same with Kim Harrison (Dead Witch Walking). I get totally lost in the world she's created.

  9. Anonymous8:33 AM

    Joss Whedon. His characters, their strengths, flaws, humor, and the way they balance being individual and part of a group. The lines that continually make me smile and laugh (although, of course, many of those are attributable to other writer).

  10. Thanks for the recommendation. For writing books, I've just rediscoverd Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones.

  11. Larry McMurtry and Alice Hoffman. There is such a knowing, amusement, and sympathy for the human condition ... all wrapped up in a story that feels as real as if it's right next door ... and I want it to be!

  12. My True Love has taght me the meaning of "unconditional," wows me with every smile, and gives me the comfort of knowing that I will never live without love.

  13. Nora Roberts always wowed me with the way she pulls the reader into her stories. I guess I could go so far to say that it was her work that inspired me to try my hand at novel writing. But since I’ve been writing, I read books a whole lot differently and the formulas she uses to write her books is very transparent. So much so that I can usually predict the outcome within the first few chapters and this is extremely frustrating.

    I recently grabbed a copy of Barbara Delinsky’s, Looking for Peyton Place, when my husband was in hospital and I really liked the first person narration she used to tell the story. It was the first book of hers that I’ve read, but I doubt it will be the last. I also look forward to trying my hand at first person narration although I’ve a feeling it’s harder than it looks.

  14. Anonymous10:02 AM

    I have several 'go-to' writers who never fail to inspire me. The brilliant Ishiguro is one, as well as another writer of the Southern persuasion, Josephine Humphries. Most recently, there's Julie Orringer, who writes amazing short stories.

  15. There are several books on my Keeper Shelf but one in particular that I don't really need to re-read is THE ROAD TO AVALON by Joan Wolf. (pubbed by NAL in 1988) As soon as my fingertips touch the spine, the scenes flash through my mind with the familiar comfort of an often-watched film. However I do choose to enjoy this retelling of teh Arthurian legend at least once a year for the beauty of the language and the heart of the characters.

  16. I would have to say anything by Debbie Macomber.

  17. Anonymous10:41 AM

    Short story: Terry Bison's "Bears Discover Fire," or most anything by Joyce Carol Oates.

    -michael snell

  18. Anonymous11:09 AM

    Joan Opyr's "Idaho Code" for fantastic characters. It's her debut novel and has a few newbie issues, but overall, her characters are alive and her humor carries the story.

  19. I am inspired by Wally Lamb's writing because it is both heartbreaking and hopeful all at once.

  20. Anonymous12:27 PM

    Between, Georgie by Joshilyn Jackson. Very original characters and clippety-cloppety pacing.

    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Excellent use of detail, and an example of seamless historical writing (you aren't just reading it: you go back in time).

    The Whole World Over by Julia Glass. This is a brilliant example of voice and the use of a narrator that is not a POV character.

  21. Anonymous12:52 PM

    I would have to go with Eva Ibbotson and Eliabeth Goudge. They have such delightful and inspiring characters.

  22. Anonymous1:21 PM

    Elizabeth Moon's books have taught me that fight scenes can be engaging and battlefield strategy can be interesting. Also how to defy stereotypes in military books with a female protagonist that doesn't feel contrived. Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens' essays are so great for perspective in writing and crafting. Recently I've learned something from Charles Dickens - which is pretty amazing to me since he was slaughtered for me in high school. But dusted off, he's got a lot to tell.

  23. Anonymous1:42 PM

    Two female authors do this for me: Ursula Le Guin and Lois McMaster Bujold.

    Every time I finish reading something by UKL I look up, sigh, and realise that the world has somehow changed while I was away from it, because I've changed. Her characters and worlds are beautiful, terrifying and real, and her prose is so utterly alive that if I were ever to meet her, I would honestly bow down at her feet.

    Lois McMaster Bujold writes about terrible, terrible things, and somehow makes the horror and suffering her characters endure something sacred and even good. She can describe concepts large enough to be almost beyond my grasp in a single sentence, making me go 'Of course! That IS how it would be...' Above all, she helped me to understand faith and religion in a way I never had before.

    If I ever write anything good, it will be because of these two ladies. May the Muse bless them.

  24. Anonymous1:52 PM

    Kim Harrison, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Series, and almost anything from Janet Evanovich.

  25. Lois McMaster Bujold, because she does it all; humor, romance, space battles, intrigue. She does everything so damn well it makes me gnash my teeth. And wait impatiently for the next book. And re-read all the other books in the meantime.

  26. Anonymous2:25 PM

    I can read Jerome K. Jerome anytime, anyplace ;0). I just open the book randomly and enjoy. Each time I'm wowed till my toes tingle, again and again.

  27. Anonymous3:09 PM

    All my books in general comfort and wow me. :-) I couldn't live long enough to read them all, but it's a comfort knowing they're here.

  28. Anonymous3:46 PM

    Lois McMaster Bujold, for the pitch-perfect blend of character development, plot, humor, and meaning.

    Megan Whalen Turner and her Thief series. Like Bujold, a great mix. Read it once at breakneck speed to see what happens. Read it again to savor particular turns of phrase. Read it again to hang out a little more with the characters and think about issues of honor, loyalty, trust, and duty, with a side order of wit.

  29. Deborah Challinor's Tamar Trilogy: Tamar, White Feathers & Blue Smoke. Not only was the story gripping, it have me an insight into my own country's history and inspired me in my writing.

  30. Anonymous4:25 PM

    The book I'm reading now is doing all of that. Within the first 66 pages, I caught myself both laughing aloud and on the verge of tears.

    The book is The Way the Crow Flies by Ann Marie MacDonald. Her writing is subtle; her themes are dark. The thing that gets me though is the setting and the "drive-by" characters. It is set in Centralia Air Force Station in southwestern Ontario during 1962-63. I was born in 76, so the era isn't mine, but the people, the place - I recognize it in my soul. My mother may call me a "city girl" now because I lock my car always, but in my heart I'm still a farm girl from Huron County - and The Way the Crow Flies reminded me of that.

  31. Anonymous4:36 PM

    Judith McNaught.

  32. Right now I am inspired tremendously by Talyn. I'm halfway through and I lug the book everywhere so if I have a minute I can read another page. I spent 15 minutes the other day standing by the washer with a bottle of stain remover in one hand and kid jeans in the other reading Talyn propped on the dryer. I think I'd still be there if my husband hadn't walked by and asked what I was doing.

    And I love the movie The Princess Bride. Whenever I feel cynical about loyalty and true and the good guys winning I watch it again.

  33. For me, there are a few:

    * The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop

    Even though I can recognise the flaws in this book, I'm still wowed by the character depth of her protagonists and her worldbuilding. The "horror to hope" plot arc is also ... very comforting to me, because even though the characters go through absolute hell, they win in the end -- and it's not something they have "given" to them, they gain it through their own sacrifices and persistance.

    * A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

    I would kill to plot like this man. Enough said.

    * The Black Dagger Brotherhood novels by J. R. Ward

    I'm consistently wowed by her heroes. I don't know how she manages to write heroes that turn me to goo within a few pages.

  34. I'm going to go with Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler for all three: teaches, wows and comforts. Many years ago I went on this kick where I'd randomly pick a book from the library and read it. On one such occassion I picked Parable of the Sower. This was also a time in my life where I was questioning my beliefs and organized religion in general. It was amazing how much sense this book made to me. I didn't exactly take up Earthseed as a religion, but I guess I learned it was okay to question things and make up my own mind about them.

    This is now my favorite book of all time. Of course I have my own copy now, which I sometimes pick up and read from wherever I happen to open it. It still makes me cry and it's still brilliant after all this time. I didn't stop at this one book, though. I've read almost all of Octavia Butler's books and they are all fantastic.

    So yeah. That's what teaches, wows and/or comforts me.

  35. My cat, Natasha.

    With her touchiness, she teaches me perception, so I can anticipate when petting her and rubbing her chin is beginning to annoy her, allowing me to avoid toothmarks in my body.

    She wows me with how fortunate I am to have her -- she waited in a foster home for two years (half her life) before I discovered her on an internet web page and inquired about her.

    And she comforts me all the time with her affection and attention.

  36. Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card.Tanith Lee.The Kushiel's Dart series by Jaqueline Carey.Talyn by Holly Lisle.
    Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

    They're my favorites and they're packed in my attic awaiting a move and new bookshelves. I miss them.

  37. Let's see...

    I can't pick one so here's a few.

    My girlfriend for putting up with me and teaching me that I am worth it. I know what I go through dealing with her and I'm sure that I'm ten times worse. ;)

    Knitting because it always sets the world to rights.

    And, fiction, particularly SF. SF is the perfect platform for any idea to bounce, roll around, get dirty, and come out the other side with a hundred different perceptions of it. All of them perfectly valid. It is what real life *should* be-whatever you make of it.

  38. Anonymous11:31 PM

    Oh, lord, now my library hold list is bulging at the seams again. I love threads like these, where I can find lots of good stuff to read, just when I'm getting to the end of the last list of good stuff.

    My comfort book is Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens. I reread it at least once a year because it makes me laugh and laugh.

  39. Talyn by Holly Lisle. Wow that book just floored me. And the things I learned you could do with POV. :)

  40. Jenny Cruise for her crazy characters with funky habits who are so real that I could greet them on the street.

    Donald Maass for his breakout novel book and especially the workbook which should be every writer's Bible.

    And Stephen King's "On Writing" -- this just tells it like it is.

  41. - This blog, right here, teaches me stuff all the time.
    - I regularly get wowwed by this guy.
    - Call me strange, but I get a lot of comfort from Miss Snark

  42. Anonymous9:22 AM

    HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON wowed me in second grade and still does. I love it because Harold "draws" himself into situations and has to draw himself out of them. Each picture becomes a springboard for the next situation. Isn't that what we do as writers? -Tawn

  43. Anonymous9:57 AM

    Barbara Kingsolver does it for me. Her and Deborah Smith.

    Both of them can just cut right to the heart of an emotion and the truth of a moment.

  44. Anonymous12:10 PM

    I have to concur w. the Diana Gabaldon post -- she is very gracious about talking about writing at the compuserve forum -- I feel like I'm taking a class when I read her thoughts. I would add you and this post -- I starting reading your blog and am now reading your books. While this is backwards for me it's been really fun approaching your novels after seeing what you've written on writing -- seeing it all in action. Finally, I'd the books that have been my treasures the longest, the Little House series. I read and learned from and loved them as a child, but recently renewed my admiration for them when reading them to my daughter. I was struck by the fabulous decriptions and how well the story was crafted. It made reading them again as an adult both a comfort and a new experience.

  45. Not sucking up I swear, but for me... it would definitely be you.

    Also Mercedes Lackey and Mary Wine.

  46. I have a writer's writer shelf too... This contains the books that I've allowed myself to write in. The spines are creased. Pages dogeared. They might contain scraps of paper with notes on them. Normally I keep all my books in pristine condition, but these are worn and used. They are my references.

    I don't have many books on this shelf either, and not all of them are there because I love the whole book. But...I have Barbara Samuel (writing as Ruth Wind) Jezebel's Blues for strength of voice, emotional depth and characterization, Linda Howard Mackenzie's Mission for her fantastic sexual tension and the sex scenes themselves, Jennifer Crusie Manhunting for her humor, voice, attitude and snappy dialogue, also for dialogue I have Julia Quinn An Offer from a Gentleman, and finally Nora Roberts Irish Thoroughbred because 166 books ago (or whatever) she was still Nora. That one is for confidence.

    There are also three books I reread at least every two years just because they are as close to perfect as books can be...The Windflower by Laura London, Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, and The Fire-Flower by Edith Layton.

    There are other books I reread...mostly from my childhood and adolescence...but those are more comfort reads than craft reads.

  47. Jennifer Crusie's books wow me.


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