Friday, September 30, 2016

Book(s) of the Month

This week I have lots of book news, beginning with a heads-up from Library Thing that I've won a copy of 50 Ways to Wear Denim by Lauren Friedman from the September batch of Early Reviewer Program books. It might seem like an odd choice, but I've been trying to put my name in for a wider assortment of available titles. This increases my chances of being selected, and I can also test-drive some new-to-me genres and authors. While I don't own a lot of denim clothes, I thought I might learn something that would tempt me to wear what I have more often. I'm also going to have my very fashionable daughter take a look at it and share her thoughts.

I usually start talking about National Novel Writing Month in August, but being off on hiatus has me a bit behind. They've already posted the official participant badges and banners here, and, well, let's be honest: the little space guy looks like an elaborate ninja can opener. I'll see if I can put together something slightly more attractive to offer as an alternative. As I mentioned earlier this year I won't be joining in the fun, but as always I will write up some pep talks, hunt down some helpful links and otherwise shake my pom poms from the sidelines for all of you who decide to write a book in thirty days this November.

My book of the month for September was actually a short story: Second Son by Lee Child, which can be found in the back pages of his novel The Affair. It can also be purchased as a standalone e-book.

This was not a new read for me; it happens to be one of my favorite short stories of all time, so there wasn't much the other books I read could do to compete. As a very early prequel to the Jack Reacher series Second Son meshes quite well with the novels, and explains a bit of the mysterious family dynamic that resulted in Reacher becoming the somewhat psycho savior he was fated to be. It's intensely satisfying to see how Reacher deals with a bully and manages to solve two other mysteries in the process. I will caution you all that there is a particularly vicious fight scene between minors, and if bullying and violence between kids are triggers for you, you should give it a pass.

Expect some clean, spare, precise (almost surgical) depictions of Reacher and some other very interesting people. There are fascinating glimpses into the lives of children who travel with an active duty military parent. Each time I read it I fall a little in love with Reacher's father, too; his POV is presented just briefly but it makes the whole story. I think it works well as a standalone, and as an introduction to this universe (if you are one of the two or three people left on Earth who haven't read this author, start here.) It's not so long that you get mired down in a lot of stuff you won't need to know if you want to move on to the series, either. On top of that it's superbly written. I highly recommend it.

What was your book of the month for September? Let us know in comments.

Monday, September 26, 2016


I have a new e-reader, and it's a Kindle Paperwhite. The primary reason I have it is that I got it for free, along with the case, from my guy's employer. He gets points every year from work that are redeemable for stuff online, but he never uses them. If he retires next year he will lose all the points, so we decided to cash them in this year. I first tried to talk my kid into getting a tablet (he also had enough for a small one of those) but she wasn't interested in that or anything else that was available.

I've made peace with finally having a Kindle, too. I've resisted getting an e-reader for years, until the family bought me a Nook. That finally died on me earlier this year, and (even if I could afford it) I'm not sure getting a new Nook is a good idea. I worry about B&N and what's going to happen to it after the holidays. So I've been reading e-books on my desktop for the last couple of months to compensate, and it's difficult to finish anything because of the big monitor in my face.

Honestly, I'm not thrilled to be supporting Amazon, but I was already buying from them a few e-books that I couldn't get from any other bookseller, and rental textbooks for my college kid. A lot of my favorite authors have gone exclusive with Amazon, so a Kindle is necessary if I want to continue to read their work, especially when they publish in electronic format only. I can keep telling myself I didn't pay for the e-reader, so it doesn't count, but of course it does. I want to support my author pals more than I want to boycott Amazon, so it's an easy decision.

I also have the chore of transferring all my unread my e-books from my desktop Kindle reader to the e-reader. I decided to move one e-book at a time, and read it before I transfer another file, which will allow me to avoid having two TBRs. The only thing I have done is start putting my name in for ARC e-books at Library Thing when there is no paper copy available in their Early Reviewers Program. Having a Kindle may help me get more free books that way.

I'd like to take the Kindle with me when I'm away from home, too. For one thing it's a lot smaller and lighter than the Nook, and the non-glare screen is easier on my eyes. It would be nice to have some books with me when I'm waiting somewhere, or maybe sit and read at the park or an outdoor cafe. This might open up a whole new way of reading for me, especially when cooler weather rolls around soon.

Now if I could just figure out how to keep the damn thing from turning itself on . . . .

Friday, September 23, 2016

Summer Fun

It's funny that almost the minute I come back from hiatus, every other thing that pops up in my face is about two very famous people getting a divorce (and forgive me for not naming them, but I'm not inclined to join in the hen party/crow fest.) These were the same two people who got together in properly scandalous fashion back when I started PBW, so it's a little ironic that I've outlasted them. Or may not. The day I retire they'll probably get married again or have a secret baby or something. Well, at least they're not Kardashians.

What have I done that I can talk about . . . I finished quilting the lap quilt I made for my Mom's birthday:

I machine pieced it but hand-quilted it, and battled my aversion to the color yellow in the process. Yellow pretty much won me over, but it was a necessary surrender. Since Mom is spending the winter in Oregon I wanted this to invoke summer and sunshine. The pattern is Atkinson Design's Yellow Brick Road, which uses blocks made by cutting up fat quarters into strips and piecing them in different ways. Very easy to do, with nice results.

I also rehabbed a Victorian-era photo album into an art journal, which was a first for me. Here's how the album looked with its worn and torn velvet covers, and dirty celluloid flowers, before rehab:

This was a delicate challenge, because I had to carefully remove the celluloid before I cleaned the cover. I also made a new binding for it and handstitched it together. Here's how it looked after being cleaned, repaired, and bound with my journal pages:

I loved being able to show on the front some of the original blue velvet used for the covers, which the dirty flowers actually protected for a hundred years or so. Here's a peek inside:

I made all the pages with recycled papers, old calendars and some pages left over from another art journal. It turned out massive but so worth it. I have another old photo album in red velvet that I'm going to rehab in the same way.

Finally my kid and I made our annual summer pilgrimage to the no-kill cat shelter to make a donation and spend some time with the kitties. They really love her:

Even the suspicious ones were cute:

And of course I fell in love (again):

My guy and I have made the difficult decision not to adopt any more cats, as they tend to be very long-lived with us, and we're not getting any younger. We also don't want to introduce an older cat into a household that at present has two very active, nosy dogs. That and we really are dog people. But that just means I can go and visit the shelter whenever I need a feline fix.

So did you all have any creative adventures over the summer? Share your stories in comments.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Books of the Hiatus

With work and creative rehab taking priority for me this summer I didn't read a huge amount of books during July and August, but I did take time for at least one or two reads per week. My favorite book from the batch I read in July was Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, which I've taken to rereading whenever I feel really blue.

There is something about this novel that just drop-kicks whatever is bothering you to the curb. For writers I think it reminds you of the thrill of writing. Reading Garden Spells always makes me happy, and it's the book I still most often give other readers in real life (just last month I gave a copy to my favorite indy bookseller in town.) It's a beautiful story. If I believed in magic, I'd think there even might be anti-ugliness spells printed invisibly behind the test.

If you writers want an example of book with multiple genre appeal, this is one to study. It's literary, romance, and paranormal, all without being pretentious, maudlin or too far out there. It's also funny without becoming a caricature of itself. The realism is what I like best; the setting of Bascom, North Carolina reads like a real town with a lot of charming secrets. The characters are interesting, quirky, and deceptively simple. Nothing happens without a reason in a Sarah Addison Allen novel (she must have paid attention during that class on Tolstoy) but nothing seems artificial or arranged, either. That's very tough to do.

I first read Garden Spells back in 2011 (and wrote it up here), and to this day it still reads as fresh and fun and magical as it did then. If you want to treat yourself to a wonderful novel, this is the one to invest in, no question.

I got a real treat in August when I found a copy of Rebecca Flanders' Wolf in Waiting in a thrift store. This paranormal romance was one of my favorite reads of the 90's, and I was curious to see if it retained its delight after all these years. Which it did, so well that it ended up becoming my #1 read in August.

I loved the Silhouette Shadows line when it debuted, which in those days was kind of a bold move for a publisher to take (vampires had yet to be Hamiltoned or Meyered back then.) I'd never read the author, and somehow missed book one in the trilogy, but that actually was for the best. This was the strongest novel of the three, and offered a lovely, hip romance between a gorgeous royal werewolf and a delightful would-be were who can't shift. The world-building is magnificent for a Silhouette, which tend to be very light in that department. There's mystery and intrigue, and a dinner scene between the main characters and some snobby weres that to this day I remember when I need ammunition for a social confrontation in a story. The end twist is even better. The end twist is amazing.

Since this book is over 20 years old now you probably won't find a paperback copy unless you stumble on it at a thrift store, or have a really good romance UBS in your town, but it has been repackaged and released as a standalone e-book and part of a trilogy bundle. You can absolutely read it without investing in the other two books, as it's an excellent standalone, but for fuller appreciation of the world-building you probably should read the other two (which oddly didn't wow me half as much.)

So those are the two books of my hiatus. What were your two favorite reads of the summer? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Work Comes First (Again!)

Sorry I did not get a post up today (looking at the clock, I mean yesterday) as promised, everyone. I literally just now sent off my manuscript to my client, and I'm really not exaggerating when I say how busy I am.

More after I get some sleep. . . .

Friday, September 16, 2016

PBW Changes

Along with getting my zen together during my hiatus I've made some decisions about the blog.

Big one first: I'm not going to shut down or delete PBW. I thought about it a lot, and here's what I concluded:

1. While I don't have the glamorous job in traditional publishing anymore, I believe I can still offer content that is helpful to other writers.

2. I have no web site or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or what have you, so aside from e-mail this is the only place online where my readers can have any contact with me.

3. What I do here, and all of you PBW regulars, have been a big, happy part of my writing life for the last twelve years, and I'm not inclined to let that go.

So: PBW stays in business. You should also thank our blog pals LJ Cohen, who kept checking on me and took the time to discuss some issues that were driving me batty, and Maria Zannini, as she also kept tabs on me while I was on hiatus, and got me thinking of things other than that at-the-time-very-tempting Delete Your Blog button, and (last but not least) Theo, aka nightsmusic, for helping to make my birthday extra-special, and reminding me that the internet has brought some really wonderful people into my life.

I do need to change some things with the blog; primarily to create more writing time so I can keep up with my freelance work, and make the income I need to get my kid the rest of the way through college. Family and my financial responsibilities have to come first. I'm booked solid for the rest of the year, and since I want to give my clients my very best blogging daily isn't an option for me anymore.

I'm tired, too, and that was another reason I considered shutting down the blog. I've always tried to be a good sport, but I just don't have the energy or inclination to deal with toxic people anymore. After all the ugliness and stress caused by the contract-meddling nonsense in June (which was so ridiculous as to be almost the last straw), and all the bliss of the last two point five months unplugged, I think what I actually need is more downtime from the internet. A lot more downtime.

What I believe is the best solution is to cut down on posting and just blog two or three times a week for now. So effective immediately, you can expect new posts on Monday and Friday, and also possibly on Wednesday if I have the time. Occasionally I will post on other, random days when I have something important to share; I also plan to go on hiatus again as needed. Also, a note on my weekly Just Write feature -- with my workload at present I can't keep that up on a weekly basis, either. I will keep writing Twenty-One and other free stories for you, and post new material for you to read on a regular basis when it's ready to be read; maybe once or twice a month if I have the time. Right now I don't.

So that's all the bad news. The good news: I do have a few new ideas I want to try:

Going Green: One thing you know that I'm passionate about is recycling and upcycling, and I'd like to share more ideas on this with you all. I thought it might be fun to come up with ten ways to reuse something specific, like an unwanted book, used paper, junk mail, old magazines, etc., with any links to online tutorials I can find. I'd love for you all to contribute your ideas, too.

Just Write Voting: When I'm ready to start a new Just Write story I can post some ideas I'm interested in pursuing and get you all to vote on which you'd like me to write for next. This would include things like a sequel to Ghost Writer or Club Denizen, for which I've had innumerable e-mail requests. I'd like to finish up Twenty-One first so this probably won't start until next year.

Your Book of the Month: Each month I talk about the book I liked best out of the lot I've read; I'd like to hear what was your favorite read of the month, and why. We could just do a post where everyone posts their recs in comments, or put up a list of titles and one-line recs, or some other variation.

Now it's your turn: what changes or new content would you like to see on PBW? Please let me know in comments.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Offline Endeavors Ten

Ten Things I Did While on Hiatus

Anger Management: It took awhile, but I channeled my temper in some positive directions, resolved an ugly, toxic personal situation without responding in kind, accepted that which I will never be able to change, and generally walked the Serenity Prayer path every step of the way. Sometimes you really do have to turn it over to your higher power, and I did. If you're ever at the same crossroads, this is a good way to go.

Baby Bunny Rescue: While my guy was doing the lawn he accidentally uncovered a nest of three tiny baby bunnies about a foot away from our back porch. The babies were so small you could literally hold them in the palm of your hand. Because of the damage to the burrow, and the threat of our dogs (who then knew exactly where it was) we couldn't leave them where they were, so we put them in a carrier. My daughter and I then drove for an hour through a pretty hellacious storm to get them to a volunteer at a regional wildlife sanctuary. This place will care for them until they're old enough to be released back into the wild.

Best. Zen. Revenge. Ever.: This also took some time, but I straightened out all the contract headaches caused by the fake reviews posted for a story I never wrote on that site I'm never again going to mention by name here (this to keep away Googling trolls.) In the process I sold translation rights for two stories that I actually did write and made a nice pile of money. These earnings will pay for a big chunk of my kid's school expenses this semester. So in the end the mess turned into something terrific for me, and very helpful for my college kid.

Edited Stuff: I finally got the chance to edit and post the final version of my Just Write novella Ghost Writer, which you can read, download, print out and share with friends for free by clicking here.

Flying Solo: I handled my first major contract negotiation with a publisher in another country; this without an agent or anyone helping me. I'd say I did very well, and oddly enough the universe did not collapse. Who knew?

Road Trip: My family took me to a beautiful little fishing village on my birthday, where we spent the day walking around and taking pictures and having fun together. Being with my crew and recharging my creative batteries is the best way to spend any birthday.

Sewed and Created My Brains Out: All the time I usually spend on the blog went toward sewing for fun and getting a jumpstart on my holiday projects. I made tons of pillows, taught myself the basics of silk ribbon embroidery (still need a lot of practice, but wow, really a cool way to embellish), designed and pieced a queen size quilt, and pattern-pieced a lap quilt, embroidered a silk needlebook with a lace jellyfish on it as a tribute to my birthday trip (see pic below), and even rehabbed an old Victorian photo album into an art journal. I also made a new and extremely creative, inspiring friend, and tried some stuff I've never done with vintage fabrics, silk and reclaimed wool. Basically eight weeks of creative bliss.

Slow-Cookery: One of my birthday gifts was a beautiful multi-function slow cooker that also steams rice, makes yogurt and even bakes cheesecake. It really does just about everything but set the table for me. I then found a slow-cooker recipe book at BAM, and I'm trying a new recipe every week. This will come in handy this winter, too, when we want more substantial meals.

Spruced Up: Another nice thing I did for myself was to clean up and clear out my spare bedroom and office. I'm now working on the closets in both rooms, which are way overloaded with stored stuff I'm probably never going to use again. Everything we don't want to keep will be donated to Goodwill or the Families in Distress shelter, as applicable.

Wrote: About 100K altogether for the clients, but also some poetry and lots of journal entries. I also finally cleaned out the last of my e-mail accounts.

I am still working on a few things yet to be decided, finalized, etc., but all things considered my two point five months away were very productive. My next post will be on this Friday, the 16th, at which time I'll explain more of what's ahead and everything that will be changing with PBW.

So what's been going on with you all? Did you miss me, or was it a nice vacation for you, too? Anyone read some great books? Publish their own? Please catch me up in comments.